Category Archives: Xbox One

Titanfall 2 Review (Xbox One)

We’ve been excited about Titanfall 2 for a long time purely because it’s a sequel to one of our favourite multiplayer FPS games of all time. That being said, we were worried. We’d been on holiday over the beta so had missed out on that, and with Battlefield 1 being released a couple of weeks ago (and being excellent) and Call of Duty coming out a week later, we thought it might get buried, forgotten, and ignored like so many brilliant games that were released at the wrong time. Thankfully Titanfall 2 is being to shine through it’s unfortunate (or incompetent on the part of EA) release window and has actually managed to drag us away from Battlefield. Titanfall 2 is everything we wanted and so much more.

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The multiplayeris very similar to the first game in nearly all the right ways. You still fight over control points, or kill AI opponents, or capture flags, or kill enemy players in order to get points. As you gain points yu also gain percentages towards your Titan meter. At a specific point on this meter you unlock a boost like a Smart Pistol (no longer a normal equippable weapon) or a turret or mines. Once the meter reaches 100%, you can call down your Titan. The Titans make exactly the same sounds and visual impact on the game as they did before and I genuinely can’t see what Respawn could have done to improve it. Screaming from the sky in a fireball of cloud and steel they smash into the ground and await your instructions or get ready to help you climb in. Jumping into your Titan is incredibly empowering. You go from an agile but flimsy weakling darting around the battlefield to a 30ft tall death machine. Obviously as the game goes on other players will get theirs too and it quickly separates into a war of two fronts with pilots duking it out in the buildings and on objectives while Titans do their best to gain map control and prevent the pilots from going around their business. When it works and your team manages to keep a few titans while destroying all of your opponents’, it feels amazing. Suddenly you can lock down the map and quash any resistance.

Of course Respawn didn’t want that to be the end of a round so now pilots have even more abilities designed to help them get around and avoid the Titans’ attacks. There’s a grappling hook that lets you clamber up ledges and onto Titans quickly, a phase shift that lets you shift out of real space for a while and then reappear at another point, and even a decoy that will run ahead of you and hopefully confuse the opponents into shooting the wrong way. Games of Titanfall never get boring and there’s always something to do or a problem to solve, within short spaces of times it’s amazing how quickly you transition between different tactics and strategies alongside a team you’re not even speaking to, from armoured warfare to guerilla defenses to free-running sprints across the map. Even when you lsoe a game the desperate sprint to the (now much more fragile) escape dropship feels exciting and meaningful.

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In terms of what’s new for Multiplayer, there’s now six Titans instead of three, but you can no longer select the weapon for them. There’s still a 40mm cannon attached to Tone who plays the most like the old Titans, but then there’s some interesting new takes on the machines like Scorch who can set down petrol bombs ready to ignite large areas, or Ronin who can dart around and phase shift then lay waste to enemies with a giant sword. It might not be practical or realistic, but it looks amazing.

The weakest part of the multiplayer offering is definitely the maps. Although the layouts are quite interesting and work well, visually they’re very dull and nowhere near as good as those found in the base game. Thankfully Respawn have said that all future maps will be free, so perhaps they can change things up with DLC, but at the moment every map essentially feels like a series of boxy buildings. One has caves and a crashed ship, and one is in a giant building, but the rest are all pretty forgettable. We’re also a little annoyed by the lack of viewable stats, but it’s understandable that Respawn didn’t want people working to improve their K/D ratio at the expense of the rest of their team as happens so often in Call of Duty and Battlefield. At least having some basic stats like kill streaks and win percentage would be really useful.

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Now the most surprising thing about the game package is the single player. The original Titanfall didn’t even have a single player – it was purely multiplayer combat, but Respawn decided to do more than just dabble with a campaign and have created a short but incredibly impressive story that doesn’t just help to explain what’s going on in the Titanfall universe, but actually makes you care about the characters. The level design is top notch with each mission introducing you to a new mechanic or tool that feels natural to use in the situations you are presented with. Interestingly there’s plenty of platforming involves in the campaign and trying to find some hidden helmets that serve as collectibles is actually one of the most entertaining things we’ve done in a game this year. The free-running puzzles involves have been far more engaging then the entirety of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

Overall Titanfall 2 is an absolute no brainer for anyone who enjoyed the first game. If you’re new to the series this is a refreshing and entertaining take on the FPS genre and easily up there in terms of quality against the big hitters. We only hope it survives well enough against BF1 and COD to warrant a Titanfall 3.

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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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Overcooked! Review (Xbox One)

Overcooked is a couch co-op cooking game in which you either try to control two hapless chefs by yourself (incredibly stressful and not recommended) or you are joined by one to three friends and you all fight over who’s fault it was that the kitchen lorry burnt down while you were waiting for lettuce to be chopped and passed over from the other lorry (incredibly stressful and highly recommended).

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In terms of gameplay, it’s quite simple. You are given and kitchen and some orders, such as a hamburger. That hamburger order might say it needs lettuce, tomato, a bun, and meat. So you need to go and mince the meat, then start it cooking in a pan. Then you need to get the bun, chop up some lettuce, chop up some tomato, put all of that on a plate, then once the meat is done cooking you put the meat in. Then you put it in the little place where orders are served. Then once the dirty plate comes back you wash that up and do it all over again with a new order. If you leave something to cook for too long it’ll catch on fire and need to be extinguished, but other than that it’s not too complicated. Unfortunately only the first kitchen really works like that. Later on your kitchen is the victim of earthquakes, splitting it in two, or only has enough room for a single person to go past, or has customers walking through the middle of it, or is split over two trucks. On top of that you have a range of different orders coming in that require different ingredients and different preparation methods. You also only have a very limited supply of plates and cooking pans. Oh and your character controls like they’re slightly clumsy and drunk. And you might be a cat. All of this put together leads to plenty of chaos and the only way to overcome the challenges are to either split the work evenly between the two characters you control (and swap between with a press of RB) or to manage tasks as a group. It’s easy when you can have one person cooking the meat and another cutting up the veg, but often your roles will constantly be in flux based on how the environment is changing.

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Each level is graded out of three stars and the more stars you get the more chefs you unlock (purely cosmetic). Trying to get three stars on the later levels is a real challenge, but an addictive one as you constantly strive to find ways to make your kitchen ever more efficient. When it’s all working, it’s brilliant, with chefs zooming about all over the place and food seemingly getting prepared miraculously out of the organised chaos. When it all goes wrong it’s often hilarious as people try to carry on cooking while others are fighting fires and some are just running around in circles in the corner. With four players this is often how things go and it definitely feels like two players is the sweet spot, but as long as you’re not on your own it’s always fun.

There’s a lengthy campaign but in addition as you go you unlock versus modes where you split into teams and try to do the challenges faster than your opponents. This is a lot of fun and being split-screen you can always see how they’re getting on and steal their ideas if you think they’re doing something better than you are. Sadly there is no online functionality at all, and while we can understand that couch co-op really brings out the best in this game, it would be nice to be able to try and use voice chat to organise things or at least to have some leaderboards to compete against others. Ah well, here’s hoping for a sequel!

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Overall Overcooked is easily one of the most compelling split-screen experiences on offer on current-generation consoles, and there does seem to be a real scarcity of quality games that can keep people entertained. Don’t be put off by the cooking theme or the fairly basic-looking graphics, the gameplay here is genius and for the money Overcooked can provide hours of fun.

Verdict 8

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Coffin Dodgers Review (Xbox One)

Here at TPReview we like to think we differ from mainstream review sites because we factor in the cost of a game when we’re making our reviews. That being said, at £9.59 Coffin Dodgers feel to us like an absolute rip off. If it was free to play and contained no micro-transactions, we’d even be saying it simply isn’t worth your time. This is an attempt to copy other generic games that falls at every hurdle and should be completely avoided by everyone.

The developers have attempted to create a kart racer with a healthy dose of dark humour. Each character (except one) is an elderly person riding their mobility scooters through villages, towns, farms, and oh-so-hilariously – a graveyard. Get it? Because they’re old so they’re nearly dead? Brilliant.

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The characters are devoid of any kind of actual ‘character’ and instead fall into vague stereotypes about old people. The final character (that you must complete the story mode to unlock) is Death. Normally I’d consider that a spoiler, but since Death is in literally every race in single player (the roster is too small to hide anyone) and a constant voice throughout the game (spouting nonsense after each race that rarely correlates to what you actually did in the race) it’s hardly a surprise.

You spend your time racing around simple tracks and battling for first place. The only vaguely innovative feature is a melee attack that must be charged to knock other racers off their scooters in a single hit. Of course because there’s no downside to charging it, you simply drive around with it charged at all times, hitting people as soon as they get close. This eliminates any tension in the race and replaces it with frustration, skill isn’t necessary, you can just drive straight into someone at a corner and knock them off in one hit, whoever is in front has no defence so will always lose.

This theme is continued with the nonsenical powerups. There’s been no attempt to theme the powerups to the game, instead it looks more like they came as some kind of stock assets attached to the engine. You have rockets (that can only fire forwards, lock on instantly and are homing), a machine gun, a weird hi-tech shield, a boost, and some oil slicks. The only powerup that has any connection to the theme is the defibulators that for some reason sends out a shockwave around you. Just like in Mario Kart being up front for a whole race is no guarantee of victory, if you get hit by something (which you can’t defend against by trailing things behind) that’s it, you’ll just get overtaken by everyone and have to start again if you want to progress. In the story the last racer after each set is ‘killed’ and they show up as dead. Except that they don’t because they’re still in every race because of the aforementioned tiny roster. All it means is that you need to win most of your races to get through the story. Don’t think you can go back later to improve a result, you can either start the whole thing again or just carry on, retrying races to perfect them might actually have been fun.

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In terms of gameplay the racing is simply atrocious. The scooters have a tiny turning circle and there’s no drifting or boost mechanic, so you just drive around as if on rails around the bland and featureless courses. Occasionally there’s a shortcut that invariable cuts out a chicane, but that’s about as interesting as the tracks get. Ok so there’s zombies now and then, or other traffic, or trains, but they only serve as obstacles and don’t lead to any kind of interesting gameplay mechanics. You hit them and you either go through them or you get stuck awkwardly or bounce back far too far. The lamposts in this game feel like a particularly poorly designed object. Clipping within a foot or so of them will send you bouncing back the same speed as which you hit them, then you’ll stop suddenly. Other edges have similarly bad hitboxes and the physics are unpredictable in the worst way.

Graphically this feels like it could have quite easily been a mobile game. Objects are big and featureless, characters are undetailed, weapon effects are incredibly basic, and there’s zero sense of speed throughout. It’s not even got a kind of simple but endearing style, it just appears lazy and uninspired, like a rush job at a gamejam.

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The only real selling point for this is that it has local multiplayer, and like any game some fun can be had if you’ve got four people racing. Unfortunately that fun is at the expense of the game and how terrible it is. Whatever your interest in kart racers is, you’d be much better served by getting Sonic All Stars Racing, or of course Mario Kart 8 if you have a Wii U. This simply isn’t in the same league as those classics and really doesn’t deserve to be played by anybody.

Verdict 2

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Party Hard Review (Xbox One)

Party Hard was created at a GameJam and this shows. Far from being a labour of love, it appears as a cheap cash-in attempt to emulate the incredible Hotline Miami, but fails at nearly every hurdle.

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There’s some snippets of catchy music that might remind you of some of the tunes in Miami, but here they’re incredibly short and played on a loop throughout each level so you’ll be sick of them within five minutes or so. There’s pixel-art graphics that lack nearly all of the charm and identity of Miami, instead falling back on references like ‘huh, that one’s dressed as Leeloo from Fifth Element’ or ‘that one’s a clown’. There’s unlockable characters to play through the levels with, there’s a gaudy colour palette, there’s some vaguely confusing and obscure cut-scenes between the 19 missions on offer, there’s mass murder.

But the mass murder is where this game gets it all wrong. While the game might be forgiven for the shoddy presentation (there’s even a typo quite early on in a cut scene) and the absolutely awful dialogue (early on the main character explains how horrific it was to see his daughter murdered, she was so bad that he couldn’t even ID the body… so how did he know it was her?) the greatest flaw is that there’s no explanation for any of this beyond some kind of puerile outcast teen fantasy that these people are enjoying themselves so wouldn’t it be great to kill them all? With the first (and main) character your only motivation is that the party is keeping you up so rather than ringing the police you decide to kill everyone. I mean the police turn up regularly, but don’t stop the party anyway, so maybe they wouldn’t have been effective, but the game never really deals with the fact that your character is purely a psychopath. There’s not even any ambiguity about what you’re doing, the player characters are listed as ‘heroes’ on the select screen, you dance at the end of each level, surrounded by corpses. This is just a mass murder game with none of the twisted narrative and visuals that made Hotline Miami so great, there’s even less motivation than games like Hatred.

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OStensibly the game presents itself as a joke, as something that you can find funny, but there’s so little that’s funny about it. Occasionally NPCs will say things like ‘LOL’ or ‘OMG’ but that’s about as far as the social commentary goes. To begin with the ways you off people (and you must kill everyone in a level to continue) are simply mundane and disgusting. You stab people, mostly. Eventually you get access to zombie hordes and pretending to be a police officer, but at best it comes off in bad taste. At worst it’s downright offensive and that’s not something I say often about videogames.

The murder in this is so trivialised that while NPCs are meant to react to seeing corpses or blood etc, often they’ll just forget about it. Towards the end of each level they will happily dance around bodybags and blood splatters, ignore that parts of the building just exploded or were on fire, and even stand idly by while their friends are murdered around them. Clearly it’s shoddy programming but it’s hard not to see it as part of how the developers see killing in games. It’s not a big deal, whether you get seen or not doesn’t really matter. They seem to think that murdering 40 people in a level and then moving on to the next one is enough for gamers. They’ll make you lose occasionally, a policeman will turn up and seemingly randomly run towards you or just potter about then leave. If he runs towards you, you can just hop out of a window and he gets so confused he’ll leave. You can kill him with all manner of traps but another identical police officer will just turn up next time someone calls.

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There’s no depth to this game, no strategy (level layouts and objects are randomised so you can’t perfect your run like in Hotline) and restarting a level (which you will do often) involves sitting through a brief but annoying loading screen, an absolute sin that Trials and Hotline Miami were clever to avoid.

I can imagine some people playing this and thinking it’s great because you get to stab lots of people at a party. If you’re that kind of person then you’ll probably enjoy this and please stop reading my site. Everyone else, go play Hotline Miami again.

Verdict 3

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Dirt Rally Review (Xbox One)

Rally games have struggled in the last generation and it’s hard to fathom why. Beautiful landscapes, noisy cars, unpredictable surfaces – it’s a huge amount of fun for anyone involved, but not since Rallisport 2 has there been a game that attempted to take on the genre in a remotely realistic way, until now, with Dirt returning to its routes with Dirt Rally.

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From the very beginning of the game taking underpowered old Rally Cars round precarious woodlands tracks, right up to the most modern and hilariously powerful hillclimb cars, Dirt Rally is incredibly pure in its purpose. You are expected to take on every aspect of a real Rally Driver’s job, listening to a code-speaking co-driver while simultaneously trying to hold your nerve on some of the most punishing tracks in the planet. This is not a game for the faint hearted or the impatient. A single mistake on a corner can cost you 13 seconds easily, and that could cost you a whole event. It’s tempting to repeatedly restart everytime you go wrong, but this is just madness and with the races being so long and so unpredictable, you’ll end up having to accept less than perfect races with alarming regularity. Of course as time goes on you get better, you start to learn routes, you start to instinctively follow the commands of your co driver even if you can’t see (driving at night with a broken headlight is akin to turning off your pilot assists in the Death Star Trench) and you’ll start winning events. Then you’ll unlock races in a new, more powerful car and be back to square one all over again, but you’ll learn to love it.

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For all of its punishing eccentricities, this is a beautiful and incredibly well polished game. The lighting is fantastic and we’re not sure how they’ve done it but the sense of speed is much more palpable than in other recent realistic racing games. Of course there’s all the expected leaderboards and asynchronous multiplayer (like a really rally league) but there is no direct head to head, which might be a disappointment to some racing fans. Thankfully this means you don’t have to worry about people pushing you off the track on the first corner, and means once you have set up a ‘league’ you don’t even need to be online at the same time.

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Put simply, this is a rally game for rally fans, and within that specific brief, it does everything you’d want it to do. This is brutal, unforgiving and beautiful, and would take precisely one corner for you to decide if this is for you or not. If your reaction when you career off the edge of a hillside into a tree because you dipped your tyre into some loose gravel is to throw your controlelr across the room, perhaps it’s time to go back to Forza Horizon. If you accept the 13s penalty to get your car back on the track and go on to finish the stage with your bumper hanging off, welcome to Dirt Rally.

Verdict 9

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Ark: Survival Evolved Preview (Xbox One)

This morning I woke up and it was all gone. Our two-storey base made from wood and stone was nowhere to be found, the 50ft perimeter wall that had taken three days to build was mostly erased. The collection of rare blueprints, weapons and crafting materials had all been stolen. Worse still, Jeffery, our triceratops, hadn’t even been killed, he’d been re-tamed by people down the beach. I went to demand answers and all they could say was ‘you started us, you killed us earlier, we were scared you’d get more advanced and destroy us so we hit you first’. They had a point, we had killed them, we probably would have destroyed them eventually. So we rebuild.

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Ark has been around on the PC for a while now but in its foray into the Xbox Game Preview program console gamers can finally get a look in at this exciting world of multiplayer survival. If you die you lose everything, building anything takes hours, it doesn’t sound too appealing at first. Once you do establish yourself though, when you survive an attack, that’s when the game gets its hook into you. In Ark you start off with literally nothing, you can scrape together a mining pick and axe Minecraft-style by punching a tree with your fists. You’ll spend your first hour scrounging an existence off berries, running away from basically anything. Within five hours you’ll be hunting smaller dinosaurs, crafting thatch buildings and hoarding everything you can find. Eventually you get rocket launchers, can ride pterodactyls, and can build refrigerators. This is an unusual world, but a dramatic one.

Literally every time we’ve played Ark so far there’s been a story to tell. From being chased by giant ants through a forest to watching in awe as a glowing red raptor managed to destroy itself on our base’s spikes, there’s always something amazing happening. Admittedly the game is still in fairly early days and there are some features that are beyond janky. The server browser is entirely broken and as you store all your progress on a single server, the fact you can’t get back to it if it’s full (there’s no queue system) is more than a little annoying. Playing at peak times I’ve spent upwards of half an hour refreshing the browsing screen to get back into the same. Thankfully that should be fixed this coming week with a new patch. Within the game there’s lots of little oddities like physics not working how you’d expect but it’s definitely playable and often the glitches just add to the fun. The team behind Ark have a good track record of supporting the game on PC so hopefully Microsoft’s certification process won’t get in the way too much and the game will evolve over time alongside the PC version.

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Right now, Ark is a huge amount of fun if you can get over the waiting times for servers. Get a group together, it’s not fun alone, set up a tribe and go build something. Just please don’t steal Jeffery.

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Halo 5: Guardians Review (Xbox One)

Halo has been under the spotlight for many gamers since 343 Industries took over the reigns from Bungie in time to make Halo 4. We were impressed with Halo 4, it definitely lost some of the quirkiness we were used to with the series and the new enemies (the prometheans) were less interesting to fight than the Flood or the Covenant, but it had enough going for it to earn its place within what has been a consistently excellent series. After the bug-ridden shambles that was the launch of the Master Chief Collection, we were worried that Halo 5 could have been a flop, thankfully 343 are back on form.

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Halo 5’s campaign mode is now split between two teams, Osiris and Blue Team. One team is led by Master Chief along with some of the older Spartans that you might recognise if you’ve followed the novels or extra bits of animation that have been released over the years. They don’t have a huge amount of character but the game doesn’t have a hard job of convincing you of how incredibly powerful and experienced they are. Their almost blind loyalty to the chief is refreshing and with him in charge of a squad, you get a sense of why he has the rank that he does. The second team is headed up by Locke, a newer Spartan introduced in more recent fiction leading up to this. He’s supported by a fresher team of Spartans, newer models who have moved into becoming Spartans in a much more normal way than the kidnapping, cloning, and genetic manipulation that Chief had to endure. Nathan Fillion is on role again here, reprising his ODST role as Buck, and the rest of the team are generally more chatty and likeable than what we’re used to seeing from the walking tanks turned soldier. The opening cinematic that you might have seen before the game even came out quickly establishes the team as more than capable, with a spectacular piece of CGI showing them taking down a small Covenant army the moment they hit the ground running (quite literally). The cinematics have never been better than they are here and it’s exhilarating to take over the reins once you know what these people are capable of.

The real reason for these two teams of four is to make more sense of four player co-op. Now each player takes control of a separate Spartan who has their own story and place within cut-scenes and the like. It works well, especially with the chatter that flows between them and helps with the immersion, especially when you have a full team of four. The game is definitely designed for a full four players as it throws some quite ridiculous situations at you, and with four players co-ordinating the attacks is an absolute joy. We played through mostly in two player on Heroic and it was more challenging than expected, but thanks to the joy of Halo’s combat system, it felt like a great puzzle to work out, rather than a frustrating slog. Within the narrative Locke’s team is sent to hunt down Chief’s team quite early on, but this plot line doesn’t really amount to much, sadly you never get to play in sections where all eight spartans are together and this feels like a real missed opportunity. The story is entertaining enough but functions more as a way to string together some excellent set pieces while only moving on the overall arc slightly. The most interesting aspects of the plot revolve around what is happening within the Covenant, but sadly this is pushed to one side and never really explored in depth outside of one fantastic mission.

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Gameplay wise the campaign is much what you’d expect, with large areas populated with a range of enemies with different strengths, and you having limited resources to make your way through. You can now aim down the sights, sprint and clamber which adds a lot more movement and ‘flow’ to your fights. The battlefields are designed to let you make the most of it and find new angles to approach forces and there are even hidden paths dotted all over that you can bash through or places to drop down from above with a ground pound. 343 are much more willing to share their toys with you this time around and it’s not long before you get to play with Scorpions, a Mantis or two and plenty of powerful weapons. You need it too as you’re regularly beset on all sides by Wraiths, Ghosts, Hunters and more.

We did feel that there was a missing sense of grandeur about the opening to the missions. All the best Halo missions have had spectacular beginnings, and other than that first drop with the great CGI cut-scenes there were no places where you rolled across a plain or desert with the full might of the UNSC, or interacted much with the capital ships. This felt like it was more scrappy, you were the centerpiece of nearly every mission so you miss some of that ‘shock and awe’ that the early games were so good at.

In terms of multiplayer 343 have really outdone themselves. When you drop into multiplayer now there’s two different kinds of playlist, Arena and Warzone. Arena is what you’d expect from the past games in the series – a rotating mixture of playlists mostly with teams of four and a brand new ranking system for each individual playlist. Now I can be proud of my SWAT rank and hide my shame in more standard Slayer or Breakout, the new 4v4 CounterStrike esque mode where deaths are permanent and you can either kill the enemy team or take the central flag to their base. These are all played on bespoke arenas designed explicitly for competitive play. There’s a few things missing from Arena mode, a spectator mode dampens the possibility of real esports catching on for the game and there’s no big game modes (until next Tuesday when Big Team Battle returns) but that’s where Warzone fits in.

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Warzone is only set on three maps but they are absolutely huge. In Warzone you compete over three objectives, trying to capture and hold them to get points. Hold all three and you open up your opponents’ base and can try to destroy their core and end the game. In practice this rarely works out so you tend to hold as many as you can to get more points then spend the rest of the time hunting down AI controlled enemies to get more points, first team to 1000 wins. There’s also a Warzone Assault mode that plays out in a similar way, but instead of points you have one team defending each objective in a row, with the attacking team having five minutes to take each one over. If they get one the timer resets and you move onto the next until they destroy the core or the timer runs out and the defenders win. These matches are huge 12v12 battles and rather than finding vehicles on the map (like you will in Big Team Battle), you instead spend Requisition Cards to call in vehicles and power weapons and other boosts. These are earned by using req points earned in game (or bought with real currency) in a store where you open blind packs. There are different values of them and the top one costs around £2 or takes about an hour of playing to earn. In these packs you get a chance to get cosmetic items like armour and visors and even assassination animations, or you can get weapons and vehicles. Once you use a card it’s gone (like Titanfall’s burn cards) so there’s an element or risk/reward as you work out if you want to try and turn the tide of a losing battle or if you should hold on to your powerful items for a closer match. We were dubious of the system at first but it’s definitely won us over and opening Req packs is far more exciting than it has any right to be.

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Overall we’re thoroughly impressed with Halo 5. The campaign is a great co-op experience, even if the narrative is somewhat lacking. Multiplayer is of course where the real quality is though and this is a game we can easily see ourselves playing for months, perhaps years to come. 343 have already introduced new modes and items for free and there’s signs that they’ll be supporting this for a very long time to come.

Verdict 9

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Assassin’s Creed Syndicate Review (Xbox One)

It’s easy to remember the good days with Assassin’s Creed, but the series has definitely been more miss than hit. While Assassin’s Creed 2, Brotherhood, and Black Flag were fantastic games in many ways, there’s also the original, Revelations, Three, Unity, Rogue and Liberation balancing the books. Too often the game has been rolled out with little in the way of entertaining changes, simply putting the incredible freerunning animation system into a new city that looks a tiny bit like what it’s meant to. Perhaps it’s because the Paris in Unity was mostly demolished between then and now, but Syndicate’s got more than just some gameplay innovations, it’s got a rendition of London that actually feels like London beyond the landmarks. It feels like Ubisoft have really put the time in to make something special this time around, this is definitely an Assassin’s Creed worthy of your time.

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This time around we’re in Victorian London. True to the tradition of the series this means that you’ll be coming across pretty much every famous Londoner (or Scot) from that timeframe including Charles Dickens, Darwin, and Bell. Their introductions never feel realistic, but they are hugely entertaining and starting to get quite tongue in cheek (how Ubi didn’t head in that direction sooner after we beat up a Pope in the Vatican earlier in the series we’ll never know). Dickens’ missions in particular are a treat, seeing you running around investigating into ghost stories, all of which lead him on to write something or let you take part in some of London’s urban legends. The other characters are also surprisingly memorable for an Assassin’s Creed game, with Agnes being a highlight, running your train while also being oddly naive to the danger she’s in. The stars of the show, of course, are the playable twins, Jacob and Evie. While more time is given to Jacob, the writers have done a good job of making sure these aren’t just gendered versions of the same character. Jacob is on a mission to take over London and restore some order to the criminal overworld, shutting down some of the less justifiable business like drug pushing and child labour. Evie on the other had is after a piece of Eden, something that as players we know will be very important, but it’s entertaining listening to Jacob mock her interest in magic and the supernatural.

London doesn’t necessarily feel alive, the NPCs are very much the faceless, emotionless zombies they’ve always been (a far cry from the interesting and varied NPCs of GTA V for example) but the atmosphere of the city is fantastic. From the smoke chimneys of the industrial areas to the sophistication of Westminster, there’s a lot of interesting details. We found ourselves lost in the back alleys of some terraced houses and could have been in any of England’s older cities today, buildings are filled with little nuances to separate them from each other and all of the architecture is stunning. Inside buildings it’s a little more game-ified, particularly when it comes to none of the buildings have kitchens or bathrooms for some odd reason, but that’s easy to overlook when the rest of the world looks this good.

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Thankfully the biggest change to the gameplay we have this time around is something that massively overhauls the game for the better. In the original Assassin’s Creed, climbing was really the standout feature. The fact that your character searched for individual handholds no matter what kind of building you were was something of a revelation, but by this point in the series, we’re all a little tired of that. Ubisoft understands this and quickly introduces a grappling hook launcher, a genius invention that doesn’t make the game easier, but eliminates much of the tedious climbing that plagues the other games. Now when you’re at the foot of a building just tap LB and you’ll shoot up to the roof. Aim at a distant ledge and you’ll create a zip line towards it allowing you to slide down or climb up. Now you can play your approach carefully and carry out your plan in seconds without being put off because you can’t be bothered to climb a troublesome building. The zip line also adds some interesting strategy to the game as it allows for aerial assassinations from nearly anywhere, giving you a new option in many of the side missions.

Speaking of the side missions, while there are many (it is a Ubisoft game after all) it feels like they’ve been streamlined a little so that the activities you do get to do are fun are make sense within the plot. To take control of areas you need to kill templars, rescue children, eliminate gangs, and kidnap bounties. The kidnapping is interesting as it reintroduces a gameplay feature that’s been missing since the first game, a reason to play your approach. In most of the series you can just plough in, blades blazing, and take out everyone to assassinate your target. When you need to keep someone alive if you cause a ruckus they’ll run for it, so it’s often better to go in quietly then walk out with a knife pressed against their back to keep them in line. While you’re doing this a circle appears around them which gets bigger if you move faster with them or have to restrain them. This means it’s helpful to plan out a route before you go (maybe dispatching or distracting a few guards along the way) so you can make your escape to a carriage, then to the drop off point.

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The carriages are a lot of fun but clearly ridiculous. With your horse drawn carriage you can ram others, boost, and even powerslide around corners. The horses are surprisingly ok with you charging through lamp posts or slamming them into walls, in fact they seem unfussed about whatever you do. This isn’t for the sake of animal protection either, when trying to stop pursuers it’s easiest just to shoot their horse thus crashing their carriage. It’s brutal and reminiscent of Red Dead Redemption but feels slightly out of place here. The carriages are real physical objects in the world and you can run along their rooftops or hide in their trailers like you would anything else. Some of the best moments in our time with the game came from fleeing an assassination by jumping from carriage to carriage down a busy street.

Unfortunately, despite the problems with Unity, Syndicate is again plagued with small bugs. Thankfully there’s nothing as serious or gamebreaking as there have been in previous entries, but we still noted hovering bollards, enemies who were meant to run away but immediately got caught on geometry (this has happened more often that not) and a huge amount of pop in. The game looks good on Xbox One but there’s plenty of framerate issues and slowdown when you run around in certain areas. The game doesn’t look any better from a technical point of view than Unity, perhaps even a little worse, but this is mostly masked by the excellent artwork in the assets.

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Overall this is an easy game to recommend for Assassin’s Creed fans. It probably won’t win over any new converts but it’s definitely up there alongside Black Flag and Brotherhood as the best in the series to date.

Verdict 8

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Rock Band 4 Review (Xbox One)

It’s hard to comment on this game without explaining the situation at launch. To buy Rock Band 4 on the Xbox One you had four options. The first was to buy it online, digitally. Without a Rock Band 4 guitar (not sold separately) or the legacy adapter (not sold separately) it is useless. The second was to buy the pack with the legacy adapter. We still haven’t seen one of these in real life and there were various rumours that it had been delayed because it was so rare. This lets you use older instruments with the game, and we would say is probably the best way to get into the game at the moment (if you can find it). The third is the one we went for, the bundle with the guitar. This is £110 which is ludicrously expensive for a single game, and since it doesn’t come with an adapter and you can’t buy guitars separately, means you can’t play any multiplayer. At all. The final way is to buy the £220 ‘Band in a Box’ bundle that comes with the guitar, microphone, and the drumkit (and no legacy adapter or second guitar so you still can’t make up a full band with it). This means currently to play as a full band with new instruments, you need to buy both the guitar bundle and the ‘Band in a Box’ bundle, coming in at £330, for one game. Harmonix have stated that instruments will be sold separately in 2016 and we imagine it’s a production issue at the moment, but if you’ve got any wishes to play local multiplayer (which we couldn’t test for this review) then make sure you pick up the legacy adapter bundle and some old instruments, it’s the only one that makes sense at the moment.

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The guitar itself is solid and avoids many of the problems of the old peripherals, but it’s not got anything exciting or new about it. There’s a sensor for automatic calibration (although we had lots of trouble getting that to work right and ended up using manual calibration for the sound instead) and there’s a second set of buttons higher up on the neck that can be useful for quick sections and are necessary in the new solo mode. Unlike older Rock Band guitars the strum bar doesn’t squeak and seems to have quite a lot more strength but besides that it’s essentially the same guitar you’ve probably bought two or three times before. It’s disappointing not to see a huge increase in quality given the cost involved (for comparison the new Guitar Hero bundle has a guitar and the game for £80 and can be found for pre-order as low as £60).

The game itself it’s where things start to go a little better for Harmonix. First off, this is essentially the same game in many ways as previous entries, but that’s not a negative. The format worked well with a campaign mode made up of a story about going on tour filled in with different kinds of sets with steadily increasing difficulty and some fun twists (play a set just using songs from the 60s etc). There’s also the mandatory quick play modes for high-score chasing and some local multiplayer we haven’t been able to test. Unfortunately there is currently no online multiplayer at all, but apparently this is something that will be added in over the coming months.

Rock Band 4’s greatest asset and its one trump card over Guitar Hero is that your entire Rock Band music library will eventually carry over from previous platforms within the same console family. Currently it’s a little hit and miss with loads of songs either not appearing or not registering that you already have them but that’s a massive bonus for anyone who’s been buying Rock Band DLC for the last decade. On the Xbox there’s currently no way to easily sort to songs you already own (although I imagine that will change once they get more of the export options running), instead you have to manually go to them and find them. We were able to go on there and download a bunch of songs that we bought originally because we liked them so much, so it’s great to get your own playlists into the game. Even better, your DLC is fully integrated into the campaign, so the more songs you own, the better that campaign will be.

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The track list on the disc consists of around 50 songs from a variety of different genres and eras. Of course this is massively subjective, but it’s a very mixed bag with some songs that are great fun to play (Suspicious Minds by Elvis being a surprise favourite here) along with such weird choices from bands that would otherwise make sense. ‘Fever’ is an ok song, but the guitar part is really dull, why not pick literally anything else that the Black Keys have done ever? We imagine there’s a whole bunch of licensing issues stopping Harmonix from crafting their ultimate playlist, and it’s hard to deny that the previous games in the series have already taken most of the obvious choices. We’re really hoping sometime soon you’ll be able to buy the track lists from previous games without needing a legacy console to go back and export them.

In terms of gameplay the one new features are the custom solos. At certain points within songs (even legacy DLC songs like ‘My Iron Lung’ by Radiohead features them) the track will change to simply give you a simple instruction like hold a note, strum at a certain speed, do some tapping, or using the whammy bar. During these sections you can play whichever notes you want and they are transposed into a scale and guitar tone that fits with the song. Using the pickup selector on the guitar you can choose the effects that your guitar is using and you can craft some pretty impressive little solos with very little effort and zero musical knowhow. If you hold down one button it’s a note, strum up and it’s a bend, hold a combination of notes and you’ll play a different lick for each combination. There’s a lot of variation and quite a lot of control within them, you can make solos sound the way you want and this is a real achievement. Of course if you’d rather play the real music from the song you can just turn the feature off in the menus or even use the d-pad mid-song to select something.

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Other than that, this is the same ROck Band. Visually it’s seemingly identical with low detail stages and character models rocking out in surprisingly convincing ways that fit with each song. One nice touch is that during character creation, you choose whether to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ rather than ‘male’ or ‘female’. Not only is this a nod in the right direction towards more progressive character creators but it makes single characters singing both male and female parts make a lot more sense as most of the characters end up looking a little androgynous.

If you’re looking to keep playing Rock Band on the new generation, this is a fine entry in the series. We’re not impressed with the cost, or the poor launch, or the lack of online multiplayer. We wish they’d included the legacy adapter in every bundle or made it available for cheap to everyone, but most of these things will be rectified over the coming months. If you own a lot of Rock Band DLC, the fact they’ve made it all compatible with this is an absolute godsend and could be the main thing that gives it an edge over Guitar Hero. Check back next weekend for our review of Guitar Hero Live to find out!

Verdict 7

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