Category Archives: PS4

Crossout Review (PS4)

Crossout is the latest in the free to play genre of vehicular battles published by Gaijin Entertainment. Much like War Thunder or Star Conflict, in essence you are customising a vehicle then taking it into various PvE or PvP modes that don’t last too long, where you only have one life to get as many kills as you can or complete simple objectives, before taking your rewards and moving on to the next. The essence of these games is the progression, the idea that with every match you are moving closer to a more powerful machine, until eventually you move on to end-game PvP where all the customisation in the world is open to you. Or of course you can simply pay to get there quicker.

Crossout’s unique selling point is just how far that customisation goes. Taking inspiration from Mad Max and perhaps even Vigilante 8, in this you take control of cars, trucks and even small tanks that appear to be cobbled together from scrap pieces of other vehicles. In your garage you can build up these vehicles piece by piece, rotating and painting each part and then bolting it on to create something as intimidating or ridiculous as you’d like. Somehow your creations rarely look like some sort of Minecraftian monstrosity, instead they all fall within a wider aesthetic of grime and rust that makes them look ‘right’ somehow.

It’s hard to overstate just how far the customisation can go. We’ve built tanks that are compact and hide each weapon effectively. We’ve also buillt trucks with all our guns on one side, then an arm sticking out to the other with a giant wall of metal and spikes on it. Of course all of this affects the handling and where your weapons can fire, but that’s part of the fun. Do you want tonnes of armour that might get in the way of your guns? Or do you want something hyper-mobile that can escape quickly? You can only add so many parts to your vehicle (this limit increases as you level up so you’re not too overwhelmed initially) but within that there’s plenty of scope.

Once you get into a game, it’s surprisingly strategic rather than the chaos you might expect. Your guns are aimed by the analog stick (or mouse on PC) and you can shoot individual parts of enemy vehicles. You could go for their wheels to disable them, go for their weapons to disarm them, or just go straight for the hull to take them out quickly. Often in matches you’ll find yourself spinning around with one wheel left and a single weapon, trying to work out what you can do to keep helping your team. If you want you can put explosive barrels on your truck, making it a dangerous proposition for enemies with close range weapons to attack you. Having your machine guns stripping shards of armour off your opponent is immensely satisfying and gives every single weapon in the game a huge amount of weight and impact.

Of course, this being a free to play game, microtransactions are always going to be a sore point. For the purpose of this review we were granted two founders packs, and it’s undeniable that they gave us a huge advantage in early matches. Everyone else had a truck with three machine guns on while we had a tank with a 30mm cannon and two solid machine guns. Pay-to-win is definitely a thing in this game, as in the lower brackets if you’ve spent money you simply will be more powerful. The longer you play, the less important this becomes, as everyone gets randomised loot from matches and will start finding the same things you paid for. That being said, if you want to get a lot out of this game you will be spending money. The grind is so slow, it’s hard to get much value out of the game for the first ten hours or so. Games get repetitive and you’ll be itching to get your hands on some more significant firepower sooner rather than later.

We don’t see the need to pay some money as a negative thing. If this game was £40 we’d be recommending it in a heartbeat. If you spend that kind of money on it you’ll be well placed to level up while having fun and feeling powerful, you can realistically get away with spending far less. This game is definitely fantastic value for money, just don’t expect it to be completely free-to-play and still get the same enjoyment out of it as others do.

Our only real complaint with the game is the graphics on console. We played this a long time ago in the PC alpha, and it looked phenomenal. On the consoles textures are bland, geometry is simple, and particle effects are dull and flat. While the vehicles have interesting (player made) designs, this simply isn’t a good looking game. You forget about that as soon as you really get into the game, but it’s a shame when the PC version can look so good.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic entry into the vehicle combat genre. If you like War Thunder, World of Tanks, or Star Conflict, you need to take a look at this. Thankfully it’s free-to-play so you can try it and get a long way into it without paying a penny, but if you want to get the most out of it, perhaps stump up a little cash for one of the starting packs.

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Injustice 2 Review (Xbox One)

Last year Street Fighter V came out and many of us (including me) were shocked at just how little content it offered. This was a game created almost purely for the hardcore tournament goers, no single player to speak of, no progression, just a roster of character and a solid offline multiplayer and slightly shaky online. For people who are really into fighting games, that might be all they need, but for the millions of casual fighting games fans around, it felt far too sparse. Enter Injustice 2, possibly the most generous fighting game I’ve ever seen.

For starters, Injustice 2 is a direct sequel to the first game. While the roster has changed (lots of heroes have been taken away including Zatara, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, etc) the campaign follows on directly from the first game and the fighting systems are all intact. You still build up a super meter that can be used to augment attacks, bet on a wager, or unleash your super-move; you can still hit people off the stage into a new one; you can still interact with all kinds of things in each area (if you want, all of this is customisable).Anyone familiar with how the first one played will be instantly at home, but there are some new toys for anyone who was put off by the simplicity of the first game.

Now that super meter can be used for something much more technical than just adding damage to your moves. You can now use a bar of it to do a counter mid-combo to make sure you always have a chance to break free. This is a combo-heavy game and the ability to do an air-counter when you’re juggled into the air is an absolute godsend as some characters can destroy you as soon as they bounce you up. This new feature seems to make the game a lot fairer and even online all of my games have been incredibly close, with far fewer whitewashes just because someone gets control early on.

Of course all of this doesn’t mean much if you’re just here for the fancy fighting and characters you know, and that’s where the campaign really shines. It might be cheesy and over-the-top, but it manages to fairly intelligently weave in every major character (except the pre-order exclusive Darkseid) into a plot that sees many of the DC heroes facing off against Braniac and a collection of the villains. If you haven’t played Injustice the roster might be confusing, with Superman now a villain in prison and Harley Quinn on Batman’s side, but with a couple of YouTube videos you can catch up quickly and enjoy the ride.

The campaign is a series of fights with cut-scenes in between and the occasional choice of which character you’d like to fight as. The cut-scenes are fantastic with some spectacular set-pieces and outstanding facial animation. The characters sometimes look a little odd, but the animation on characters such as Gorilla Grodd and Braniac sets a new bar for in-engine scenes.

Speaking of the characters, no-one can accuse the developers of playing it safe. Alongside series stalwarts like the Justice League, the Joker, and Bane, we’ve now got a group of new additions from characters made popular by recent TV shows (Supergirl, Captain Cold, Firestorm, Gorilla Grodd), classics of the comics who aren’t given enough screen time (Swamp Thing, Darkseid), and some strange characters who I’d never heard of before (Cheetah and Atrocitus). The roster is incredibly diverse with no two characters playing the same. There’s no group of ‘heavies’ anymore, each character has their own quirks and ways of holding control, from Grodd’s incredible rushing potential to Deadshot’s extreme zoning.

All the characters also have a tonne of dialogue with specific lines for every single match up, often with references to the comics or films. Some of the designs are perhaps less convincing this time around, with the Joker being more inspired by Leto’s Suicide Squad version moreso than other popular takes on the character, and Green Arrow oddly going for the classic comic version rather than the TV show. Still, there’s always the potential for new skins and I sincerely hope (I can’t believe I’m saying this) there’s a bunch of DLC packs for skins in the near future.

To top off the progression system there’s a huge number of collectables that serve as gear on your characters. If both players agree this gear can be used in multiplayer, boosting stats as well as having a visual impact. If you like the stats of one piece (and there are hundreds of different items) but not the look, you can even transmogrify everything to keep the look and shaders you want, but with the bonuses you need. The idea of having stat-enhancing gear sounds terrifying, but so far online it doesn’t seem to have too much of an impact as most of the boosts are relatively minor or only activate until very specific conditions, like never jumping, or being in a certain part of your health bar.

To get all this gear you unlock loot boxes, which are liberally given out through the campaign, levelling characters, levelling your profile, or possibly my favourite thing about the game, the Multiverse. The Multiverse gives you loads of sets of challenges that rotate on timers, from hourly, to daily, to weekly. If you finish a challenge (with interesting mutations like being able to call in Constantine to help, or both players being able to heal by collecting pickups) you get gear and box and xp rewards, and can face off with other players on leaderboards. This means there’s constantly more things to do and if you just fancy a quick fight without the pressure of fighting online, there’s always plenty for you to do.

Of course there’s even more to this game that I haven’t really mentioned. There’s a guild system, there’s progression challenges, different difficulties, a whole season of DLC coming and built-in tournament options. It’s basically everything you could ever want in a fighting game, with gorgeous graphics, a fantastic roster, and engaging mechanics. If you’re into DC, or fighting games, this is an essential purchase.

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The Surge Review In Progress

So I haven’t finished ‘The Surge’, because it’s really hard. The first boss kicked my ass four times before I bested it, then strange quadruped monsters ripped me to shreds so much we stopped playing. I’m sure I’ll heads back into it tomorrow, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the game so far here ready for the game’s launch.

If you’ve heard that The Surge is made by the studio behind Lords of the Fallen and it’s set in a futuristic dystopia that features a lot of mechs and robots, then you’re pretty far into understanding everything about the game. There’s definitely a lot of innovation hidden away in the game mechanics, but this game is never going to escape the label of ‘Dark Souls in Space’ – at least until From Software bring out a proper sci-fi game.

I won’t spoil the opening, but early on you are strapped into a mechanised suit that greatly enhances your strength, then everything goes horribly wrong and you’re left for dead in a strange industrial complex where husks of people completely taken over by their mechanised armour roam the environment just begging to tear you limb from limb.

The early enemies are fairly simple to dispatch, either buzzing little drones that can be blocked, enemies with simple blades that can be dodged, or heavier enemies with giant hammers of fast dual blades. All of these have around three attacks each, and once you’ve got the rhythm down, you can dispatch them surprisingly efficiently.

The big headline feature of the game is the ability to target specific limbs. Once you’ve locked on quick flicks of the right stick target individual parts which will be highlighted yellow if they’re armoured and blue if they’re vulnerable. Vulnerable limbs obviously cause more damage, but making the system interesting is the fact that by chopping limbs off your enemies, you can get pieces for your own gear. So if you need a new helmet, get cutting those heads off, want a new weapon? Go for their arms. If you build up enough energy while attacking an enemy’s limb, you can do a spectacular finisher and sever it from the body, getting you something nice in the process.

Once you start getting mods that give you bonuses for finishers, each fights becomes a tactical little game of risk vs reward, where you want to get the most health back, metal (xp), or a quick kill, and you need to decide where to attack and how to finish them to achieve that.

The rest of the game is very much like Dark Souls, you have hubs (bonfires) where you can spend metal (souls) to level up or craft/upgrade gear. Out in the field you drop your metal if you die, but you can go back within two and a half minutes to collect them as long as you don’t die again.

Missing from this title is co-op, in Dark Souls if you get stuck on an area you can summon a phantom to help you out. In ‘The Surge’ you’re sticking it out on your own. This can be a good thing, after our fourth death on the first boss, we probably would have called in a summon, but we gave it another go and managed to kill it, barely getting hit in the whole fight.

Of course, while the game owes a lot to Dark Souls, it would have to be amazing to stand alongside it, and it’s not quite there. That first boss fight featured only a handful of moves, and once you worked out a safe pattern it took many minutes to take down, doing the same thing over and over. It lost its magic and just became an exercise in maintaining my concentration to take it down. The combat is definitely satisfying (and there’s some terrifying enemies we still haven’t been able to take on so the alternate routes are a blessing) but it does feel almost unnecessarily punishing when the ops centre shortcuts are a long way apart from each other and a single mistake can easily get you killed, forcing you to repeat the same (not very fast) fights over and over.

The environments are also less interesting so far, with every room being a variation of ‘factory room number one’. Once I saw a tree and that was pretty exciting, but otherwise it’s been a soulless (no pun intended) jog through generic industrial areas. It’s not that the graphics are bad, the enemy design is good and the animations are pretty great, but the overall art direction is unbelievably bland, in a similar way to how Lords of the Fallen couldn’t hold a candle to the worlds of Dark Souls.

If you’re after another Dark Souls fix, this is definitely a great buy. It’s super cheap on CDKeys (check the link in the sidebar if you want to get us some affiliate pennies) and it’s definitely a worthy challenge. That being said, it’s definitely not of the same quality and is unlikely to stick in your memory once you complete it. Other than the opening, which is great and I can’t spoil.

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Mr. Shifty Review (PC)

Mr Shifty is much, much easier than its clear inspiration, Hotline Miami. Thanks to your ridiculously overpowered ability,  there’s only a couple of rooms in the whole game that gave me any problems. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with some serious power tripping in video games.

If you’ve seen X-Men 2, you can understand the main innovation in Mr. Shifty, you can teleport just like Nightcrawler. Your bamfing is even accompanied with a little puff of smoke, and you can do it five times in quick succession before it needs a few seconds to recharge. With this ability you can charge headfirst into full rooms of enemies, all pointing machine guns at you, and dispatch them all before they know what’s happened. Bamf. Punch. Bamf. Punch. and so on. Over the course of the game you also find a variety of melee and thrown weapons that can help you out like a broom, a metal pipe, a shield, and even a trident.

The whole game only took us just under three hours to beat, but that was in three sittings and we loved every second of it. Levels are short and most stages introduce some kind of new mechanic like new enemies or traps. The levels ramp up just after they’ve introduced a new idea so, for example, when you first find proximity mines you have all the time in the world to figure out what sets them off and the fact you can pick them up and throw them once they’re activated. Within a couple of levels you’re sprinting at full pelt through a minefield, grabbing one, teleporting through a wall into a room full of enemies, throwing it on to someone’s chest, teleporting back in to the room that just exploded and watching the enemies disintegrate. Moves like this are surprisingly common in the game.

The whole thing is played from the top down perspective, similar to Hotline Miami, but it doesn’t have the same visual style. The animations are quick and sometimes impressive, and the fact that bodies will stay on the floor even when you return to an area is a nice touch, but it’s not a spectacular game and you’ll be hard pushed to remember anything about what even the main character looks like once you’re done.

Everything from the music to the dialogue is incredibly generic for a video game, I think on purpose, and this gives it a certain blandness which is unfortunate when the main mechanic of the game is so engaging.

If you’ve got a spare afternoon and £10 free, Mr Shifty is definitely a worthwhile play. It might not be a classic but we really hope we see this mechanic return for more games.

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Yooka-Laylee Review (PC)

Originally we expected Yooka-Laylee to be the next best thing to Banjo Kazooie Threeie. Turns out it’s defiantly a game of it’s own, and stands up against Banjo-Tooie without relying on it for the sake of Nostalgia.

Taking heavy cues from the N64-era of games where genre conventions were basically set in stone, Yooka-Laylee will be immediately familiar to anyone who played games like Banjo, Super Mario 64, or Donkey Kong 64. You have a central hub world, and from this you can travel to other worlds via books assuming you have enough pages (think stars or jiggies). In each world (and the hub) you can complete a range of challenges to get more pages, or you can gather the hundreds of feathers. You can also upgrade your abilities as the game goes on, gaining access to new areas.

The core gameplay is very reminiscent of the old games, but the level of polish demonstrates how Playtonic have made a modern entry into an old genre, rather than just making an old game in the modern era (like so many 8bit indie games are doing lately). You can jump, glide, roll, and spin attack and it all feels just right, with just enough extra movement to give the illusion of weight and just the right height to the jump to makes distant jumps feel impossible even when they aren’t. The abilities you can upgrade get a little confusing, but all of them make previously difficult challenges much easier, allowing you to go back and get even more out of previously-completed levels.

Speaking of this, once of the new features in the game is that you can expand each world. When you first enter a new zone it will seem huge, and have a full compliment of challenges, pages and feathers. Go back outside and spend a few pages and you can expand the zone, often to double the size. It’s an impressive mechanic and sometimes a little dismaying when you think you’ve nearly completed an area only for it to grow immensely (and often vertically).

The music is another accomplishment for Playtonic. It’s all original, but has the same uplifting jauntiness that we came to love from the music by Rare (I still have the Diddy Kong Racing theme stuck in my head nearly two decades later). The graphics too are extremely polished with particularly good character models and draw distances. Of course on PC everything is as customisable and you’d expect – this definitely isn’t a shoddy console port.

The only real issue we have with the game is the camera. During some of the games more challenging sections (usually involving a boss or big fight of some kind) the camera has a tendency to flip around, ruining the way you move. This was an issue for Super Mario 64 and I’d like to think that we’ve progressed since then, but the exact same problems are rearing their ugly head. I’m not sure if this could be fixed with a patch, but for now it’s a mild annoyance that only crops up during a handful of sections.

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is everything I wanted from this game. It’s good enough to deserve its own franchise and in many ways replace Banjo Kazooie rather than simply exist as a homage to it. Looks like Playtonic really are Rare reincarnated, and that can only be a good thing.

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The Wonders of Werewolves Within on PSVR

Werewolves within is an adaptation of a board-game where you sit around a campfire with seven other people and lie to them. It’s also the best game currently in VR.

 

Taking the general structure from games like ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’, Town of Salem, and Mafia (the card game, not the open world video game), Werewolves Within has a devastatingly simple premise. Eight of you are all given roles in secret, each with their own (individually useless) power, and you have a few minutes to work out who is lying and actually a werewolf.

There’s no visual signs to look for, no way of knowing for sure who you can trust, just a random selection of weak powers and your own powers of deduction, and a lot of name-calling and the occasional spot of begging.

Balance is key in any multiplayer game and although there’s a random element that can stack the odds for or against team werewolf, there’s very rarely a game where you can be absolutely sure you’ve made the right choices. The Saint, for example, does get to know exactly who one of the werewolves is, but if the werewolves all vote for him, the werewolves win regardless of whether they die or not. This leads to a precarious game where you try and push the rest of the group in the right direction, while keep your true identity a secret. It forces you to lie, which makes you suspicious, which might make the village inadvertently turn on their only saviour. Houndsmen are powerful as they can whisper with the players either side of them and discover their true roles, but the werewolves have the exact same power, so you can never be sure if a houndsman is really who they say they are.

Every game starts with the group going round in a circle announcing their roles and inevitably some people will claim the same role. What do you do if someone claims your role? They could be a werewolf, so you should get everyone to vote for them. They could be a Turncloak, who is working with the werewolves but wins if they die instead of the werewolves. They could be a deviant, who wins if they get killed. They could be the saint! It’s an incredibly complex psychological game that runs lightning fast thanks to the simple rules and fantastic community.

Players quickly learned to adopt certain unenforced rules, like everyone praying at the start to hide who the real saint is (they have to pray to find out who the werewolf is). While the community is small (you’ll often run into the same players night after night), that leads to friendships and vendettas. I play nearly every night and I know who’s a good liar, who’s a lot of fun, and who to avoid.

Thankfully the number of players you want to avoid is incredibly low, as players can be kicked at any time. People who are racist, homophobic, or just can’t play by the rules get kicked mercilessly, leaving lobbies full of like-minded people to play with.

In terms of the actual VR, it’s used in a subtle but effective way creating an effect you couldn’t really get any other way. Only your head is tracked, and whenever you talk your mouth moves and your character gestures. It’s surprisingly convincing so it’s easy to tell who is speaking and who people are looking at. You can also use a set of emotes if you’d like to emphasise a point or hint at someone. All of the games take place in various different environments around a small town, and while they become quite repetitive, they’re appropriately atmospheric and well designed.

If you’ve got a PSVR, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive, you owe it to yourself to try this game. It’s entirely a seated experience, the VR will never make you the slightest bit nauseous, and the gameplay is almost entirely unique to videogames (Town of Salem is a little similar). Check out the video at the top of the page if you’d like to see a game, then come and join us to hunt some Werewolves!

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No Man’s Sky Review (PS4)

So we’ve been to the centre of the galaxy, we’ve got the platinum trophy and we’ve streamed over fifty hours of No Man’s Sky over the last four days. But what do you do in the game?

No Man’s Sky is the much anticipated space explorathon that Hello Games unveiled three years ago. Coming out as a PS4 console exclusive with the Sony Marketing machine taking care of the advertising, this is very much still an indie game. You’d be forgiven for thinking a space simulator with 18 quintillion planets, a score by 65DaysofStatic and such polish was an AAA game, but it’s important to remember that this was made by a small team and not in particularly long time for its ambitious scope.

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In the game you start off with very little on a randomised world. Everyone starts on a different world, but everyone is in the same galaxy. If you zoom out on the galactic map it’s hard to get over the breathtaking awe over the numbers involved. Yours is one of so, so, many stars. You will almost certainly be the first person to ever see this planet, you’ll be the first to see the creatures that inhabit it, the particular type of landscape, the plants, and the first to experience the thrill of exploring it. Explore you must because your ship is broken you and you need minerals to fix it. Mining minerals is as simple as finding them and shooting them with your multi-tool, but finding them is the real challenge. Not a challenge because it’s mechanically difficult, but because on your way to find some big blue-black pillars of heridium you’ll discover ancient ruins, outposts, trading hubs, monoliths, crashed spaceships, amazing creatures, incredible vistas and so much more. This is at the heart of No Man’s Sky. We’ve played a huge amount of time and still constantly find things that distract and enchant us – it really is a procedural dream.

It’s not just the planets that are procedural either, the music mostly is courtesy of 65DaysofStatic and it deserves special mention because it’s just incredible. It ramps up at just the right moments, dials back when something relaxing is happening and constantly sounds fresh and innovative. There hasn’t been a single time when we’ve thought we’ve heard the same track twice in all our time of playing. It could easily be the soundtrack of the year, if not the decade.

Once your spaceship is fixed up you can head into space and explore new solar systems, black holes, huge space stations and much more, finding new things and upgrading everything as you go. Everything can be upgraded or replaced and getting a new ship really is as simple as asking people if you can have theirs – they’re always willing to sell even if it’s for an incredibly high price. New spaceships bring new capacities and capabilities and even these are procedural so you can spend ages trying to find one that looks just right. In space you really can do whatever you want, there’s a vague path where the game leads you from place to place for the first couple of hours to get some important upgrades outlined a little in our top five starting tips but you can completely ignore this if you want to. The goal appears to be to get to the centre of the galaxy, but that’s entirely up to you. Much like how Minecraft has a boss now that plenty of people will never see, getting to the center isn’t that important. It’s the journey that matters.

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Visually, No Man’s Sky is like nothing else. The developers wanted to capture that feel of the 80s sci fi book covers and they succeeded gloriously. Although plenty of planets are ugly, none of them look completely out of place. We’ve found plenty of beautiful oceans, canyons, meadows, forest, deserts, and everything else you can imagine and it feels like every single planet we’ve landed on (which must be in the hundreds) has had something interesting about it, even if what was interesting was just how barren and inhospitable it was. Every multi-tool has a unique appearance, every ship, every animal, every planet, every planet. It’s amazing how this kind of variety really helps to keep you interested and unlike lots of attempts to make things procedurally, No Man’s Sky manages to make it look like it was designed.

Of course not everything about the game is perfect. While the launch day patch went a long way to fix the problems people had early on with the game, there’s still plenty of strange glitches, the game crashes a lot, and occasionally things don’t work the way you should. This is to be expected from a game with such a grand scope and it’s certainly more stable than anything by Bethesda, but it’s still a frustration when the game crashes in the middle of something important or when you can’t do something for the arbitrary reason that the game engine says no. We also believe that much of the game is smoke and mirrors, with multiplayer being the obvious controversial example. There is no multiplayer in this game. We’re confident that there are no player models, no animations and no ways to meet up with each other in-game. You all explore the same galaxy so as streamers have shown yesterday, you can get to the same place at the same time, but you are not connected in any meaningful way. What you can do is share your named creations and others will see this. There’s a chance we’re wrong on that and I’d be happy to retract all of it, but the evidence isn’t looking good and you definitely shouldn’t pick this up for multiplayer.

NPCs are similarly designed to give the impression of intelligent life in the galaxy, but after a while you realise that all the aliens stand perfectly still, say the same thing over and over, and are generally devoid of life. This is a real shame as your interactions with them, while funny, are very limited and after ten or so hours of exploration you’re likely to encounter the same immersion-breaking events again and again.

There’s also the issue of terrain deformation. When you shoot the ground with a grenade, you make a hole. But this isn’t you mining in to the world like in Minecraft, instead you are simply creating a space with a shell around it. We discovered this when we made a hole then accidentally slipped through the edge of it and entered the inside of the empty planet. Sadly this means no adventures to the core of a planet because there’s simply nothing there. This issue won’t affect the majority of players but we felt it’s worth mentioning so you don’t spend too long getting your dig on.

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Overall, No Man’s Sky is easily a contender for Game of the Year. There’s so much to do, so much to explore and it’s an experience unlike anything else. People are constantly moaning about the lack of new IPs so I hope that people support one of the most exciting new original games to appear in a long time. It’s a beautiful and enchanting game and we can’t wait to buy it again for the PC release.

BRB – off to explore the universe.

Verdict 9

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Batman: A Telltale Games Series Episode 1 Review

Check out our full playthrough of this episode here

This is a new take on Batman. It’s not the camp man in tights from the Adam West Days, it’s not the brutal and tormented Ben Affleck Batman, it’s not even plastic nipples Batman. If anything Telltale’s take on Batman is probably closest to the ‘constantly in a moral dilemma’ Christian Bale Batman of the Nolan films. As you can tell, we’re much more fans of the movie Batman universes than the comic books or even the animated series, but it’s refreshing to see that Telltale haven’t tried too hard to imitate just one source, but instead they’ve come out with their own, and we love it.

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This is a Telltale game through and through, but as with the Lego games, each new game seems to have refined the formula and improved upon it, even if the basic elements are instantly recognisable. You still get to wander around a little bit looking at things, you have to make snap dialogue decisions that have an effect on what happens later, there’s some action sequences (more on these later) and there’s the occasional super serious binary decision that’s going to define a lot of what happens in future episodes. All of this is similar to what Telltale started with their Walking Dead series, but there’s much less of the annoying filler material (walking around huge areas with nothing to do until you find the right trigger) and the good bits, like the agonising decisions, have survived intact.

The action is worthy of note with this entry. It wouldn’t be Batman without at least a little combat and this episode definitely delivers. We would like a little more choice in how brutal you choose to be (that’s a big part of some of the best decision making in this episode) as Batman often tends towards his ‘this would definitely kill a person but it’s Batman so we’ll pretend it didn’t’ style of combat favoured in the Arkham games. Goons get smashed against stone walls and get heavy things hurled at their head, but then later it’s a serious decision about whether to break someone’s arm or not. We like different takes on Batman and we enjoy both the ‘attempts at being a pacifist’ Batman you sometimes see in the comics, and the ‘basically a psycho’ Batman from the recent Ben Affleck adaptation, but it feels like Telltale are trying to get the best of both worlds and that’s one of our biggest gripes with the game, even though in the end it’s really quite a minor one.

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The quicktime events are much harder than they have been previously, but they’re also quite forgiving in that you can mess up loads without having to start over. If you get a series of them correct in a row then you get to do a fancy finishing move at the end of the sequence. We haven’t seen what happens if you mess them up yet, but we’re guessing Batman just doesn’t quite come across as the badass he should be. Thankfully a lot of the more irritating quick time events like having to rapidly push a button have been done away with completely. Another slight improvement is how the prompts are sometimes slightly incorporated into the scene, so buttons are attached to something. We’re big fans of having in-game HUDs, like in Dead Space or Splinter Cell Blacklist, it’s something we wish more games would take note of.

The story in this first episode is definitely gripping and introduces some familiar faces in interesting new ways, but the ridiculous amount of exposition does begin to grate if you can’t laugh along with it. The death of the Waynes is talked about literally every ten minutes, to the point where you wonder why anyone hangs out with Bruce at all, literally every conversation he has ends up with him talking about his dead parents. With the slight comic book stylings and suspension of disbelief you always need to enjoy anything related to Batman, you can look past this as an entertaining quirk, but once the story really gets going it’s annoying to get bogged down with the game telling you things you already know over and over again. It’s a little like how the young versions of villains are introduced in the current Gotham TV series. “Look this girl likes plants. Her name is Ivy, she’s a bit scary, but she likes plants. Look at all her plants. Get it? GET IT?” Anyone at all familiar with the Batman universe (and who’s not at this point) will feel a little patronised by some of the dialogue, but it’s fine and the good conversations and choices that Telltale excels at more than make up for it.

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Overall we’re really excited that Telltale have managed to create an interesting and unique story within the Batman universe and we can’t wait to play more. The engine is improved, the good bits are just as good as they ever were, and a lot of the pacing problems that plagued the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones games seems to have been fixed. Here’s to more Batman!

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review (PS4) Spoiler Free

Uncharted 4 is a beautiful game, but it isn’t quite the masterpiece that it tries so hard to me. For long-time series fans, in our minds the order goes something like UC2>UC4>UC3>UC1. The series has always been great, with every entry being at the very least incredibly entertaining, but unfortunately the series has always had some significant problems that they never quite managed to solve.

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In terms of plot it’s helpful to have played the previous games but by no means essential. Naughty Dog are experts when it comes to presenting characters and while the supporting cast are significant because of their roles in the other entries, really you find out everything you need to know quite early within the game. One nice thing about Thief’s End is that although there are plenty of documents and notes, the story is told through the narrative, action and dialogue. The extra pieces of text really just flesh out the stories that Drake himself is researching. If you read everything you find on every collectible, you’ll have a much better idea of the pseudo-history that brings life to the setting, but to follow the main plot you don’t need any of that at all. The dialogue itself is absolutely fantastic, some of the best in a series that has been consistently outstanding in every entry. Every little interaction is funny, tense, or profound. Very quickly you begin to care for the main characters and a combination of great scripts and incredible motion capture and voice work brings every little worry and moment of joy they have to life. There really aren’t any other games that have the kind of spark that Naughty Dog can capture, with even Rockstar’s finest work being very hit or miss in comparison. The overall story arc is a little ho-hum in terms of treading old ground, and the characters even mention this repeatedly. This is a problem we’ve seen before in parody games, where the game makes you do something dumb, then comments on how dumb it is as if that is some great satire. Unfortunately when the game makes you do something tiresome, frustrating, or predictable, it doesn’t matter how much it pokes fun at itself, you still had to do those things. There’s a couple of sequences in particular that are guilty of this and although they don’t ruin the pacing, they could easily have been left on the cutting room floor and brought the game down to less than 10 hours and we really think it would have been better for it.

The graphics are stunning. We haven’t seen anything this impressive on consoles, surpassing even Quantum Break, The Order, and The Witcher. Not only are the models and textures supremely detailed, but there’s so many little nuances to the way things move and the way things fall apart that you find yourself sucked into whatever you’re doing, no matter how outlandish it seems. Beams you stand on flex with weight, characters are conscious of what they’re doing with their guns when they sit down, characters clamber around or over each other instead of clipping through. Ok so there’s some clipping into scenery here and there but 95% of the time, it works every time. Many of the vistas are spectacular, although the settings aren’t quite as interesting as the last two entries in the series. There’s a lot of similar colour palettes and familiar looking-caves, but it’s hard to fault this when they’re so vividly decorated and crafted. There’s a photo mode built into the game and we can imagine many players spending hours just with that trying to capture the majesty of some of the views and environments. The fact this all holds up without a hitch in the 30fps frame rate even when there’s explosion and buildings collapsing is remarkable.

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The gameplay is definitely improved from previous games, with much better combat mechanics and no real bullet sponge enemies. Enemies can nearly always be brought down with a single shot to the head and even the most armoured foes can have their armour stripped away in a fashion that makes sense. Fights are scrappy and enemies are quick to flank, even if they’re not quite as clever as they seemed in the earlier videos. They will surround you and use grenades to flush you out, and most cover is destructible so it’s important to keep moving. We died plenty throughout the game but thankfully checkpoints are exceptionally generous, often occurring in the middle of firefights and before every big jump.

The climbing is probably the single biggest improvement to the game. You can control it much as you did before, but now you can also use the analog sticks to move your arms around to grasp out for handholds. If you find one you naturally shift over to it without pressing a button. It’s very convincing and the fact that there’s multiple routes up in nearly every situation makes the whole mechanic much more realistic. You also have a new tool to play with, a grappling hook that can be used to swing across gaps or abseil down cliffs. Of course it uses some ridiculous physics, but it’s so much fun and rarely frustrating so we can forgive the magic it uses to grab on to things then detach while you’re in mid air. It’s also used for some clever new puzzles where you must manually loop it around things and hook it onto itself to drag things around. This sounds very simple but the first time you do it is a revelation after years of playing games that do that kind of thing for you.

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The multiplayer is very similar to what you’d expect from previous Naughty Dog multiplayer modes. It’s less innovative that Last of Us but is definitely entertaining and has a progression system based around coins that is incredibly generous, to the point where you can buy pretty much everything you want (skins, mostly) within not too many games. The game runs at a smooth 60fps in multiplayer which feels a little odd but is definitely appreciated, and the maps are all a lot of fun to play and very detailed. Our one gripe is that the special weapons in multiplayer are slightly overpowered and not that much fun to come up against, but that’ll probably change as we get better with the game.

Overall this is an easy game to recommend. We do think it’s too long and there’s plenty of repetitive content that could (and should) have been cut out, but when the game is good it’s really like nothing else. If you’ve been a fan of Uncharted before, this is a no-brainer and right up there with the best in the series. If you’ve been put off by Uncharted 3, we still think this is well worth your time and money to experience what might be the best adventure game on consoles.

Verdict 9.

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Firewatch Review (PC) [Spoiler-free]

Firewatch is the most stunning game we’ve played in a long time, despite being three hours long, featuring almost zero gameplay, and being almost entirely linear. After finishing it there’s the same kind of mourning as when you finish the last episode of Breaking Bad or finish reading The Martian (The Martian is an excellent comparison to this by the way, if you enjoyed that book or film you’ll get a lot out of this game), it’s a slight sense of accomplishment alongside a very real sense of grief that it’s over. We really hope Campo Santo is immediately setting to work on their next game because something like this isn’t like to come around again anytime soon.

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Firewatch as a game sits somewhere between walking simulators like Gone Home and dialog-driven adventures like The Wolf Among Us. You star as a new recruit to the a Firewatch post in a forest in North America. Your backstory is shaped somewhat by decisions you make in a text-based prologue, then for the rest of the game you drop in to various days across a Summer, completing basic tasks and exploring the wilderness. The things you are doing are quite simple, such as retrieving supplies and investigating smoke, and the game goes out of its way to present them as monotonous and every day. Because the tasks are so mundane it’s easy to get wrapped up in the beauty of the heavily stylised environment and rely on your sole companion, a radio link to your boss, for entertainment. The real heart of the game lies with your interactions with your boss and this is all done through dialog options which are then beautifully voice acted. The actors deserve no end of praise for being completely and utterly convincing and captivating. The script is similarly excellent, with incredible amounts of pathos and some genuine humour that feels so natural it’s difficult not to care for them.

A slightly more complex story expands before you and while you have some significant choices about how to react to things it’s essentially linear. This could be annoying for some but it’s also designed to avoid some of the cliches of modern games. This isn’t particularly ambiguous, things are explained and there are payoffs for all of the mysteries and questions. The soul of the story is in the telling and the way the characters deal with it, but the actual events are definitely interesting and keep you engaged in wanting to find out a little more.

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The game might be a little short at three hours and very little replay value, but the whole experience was so entrancing we would happily have paid more for this. The graphics, music, acting and script are all so good that they put many other games to shame. This is a real work of art and so perfectly realised that we sincerely hope other developers take note. This game is easily as important as Journey or Gone Home and is a must-buy for anyone who cares about stories in games.

Verdict 10

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