Tag Archives: Steam

Ark: Survival Evolved Review (PC)

So Ark is out of Early Access and is now officially released. A dinosaur based sandbox survival game, Ark sees you and your friends (or enemies) gathering, crafting, building, and taming on a tropical island (or a scorching desert in the controversial paid DLC). You go through an underpowered weakling struggling to survive on scraps of cooked meat and berries to a powerful clan with numerous complexes all over the map, mech-style gear for you and your dinosaurs and a mostly automated system of gathering so you never run out of crafting materials. But is it any fun?

My feelings towards Ark can be summed up in two brutally short stories. One evening, on an official server on the Xbox One, Naimgear and me spent five hours taming a pair of sarcosaurs (giant crocodiles) in the always-dangerous swamp. Taming involved knocking them out with a huge amount of crafted tranquiliser arrows and bolts, and then sitting by the unconcious beast while you feed it narcotics and meat for hours on end, praying that nothing from the swamp comes out to kill you. We eventually got both of them, made the dangerous swim back to our base using our very expensive saddles, and put both of them in a giant pen we had been creating for this very purpose. We logged off, satisfied that they were safe.

The next day we logged on and everything had been destroyed. The giant warehouse we kept our flyers in, the giant pen, both sarcos, everything was gone. This was because some other players had seen our base and wanted to destroy it, no other reason.

The second story was on an unofficial server on the PC with ‘TheArrow’ and Naimgear where gathering and taming was sped up to be twice as fast, making the tames and building not quite so painful. We had built up a huge metal base with turrets on top, vaults inside, and electricity to power all manner of top-tier crafting benches. We had a pet T-Rex, a Brontosaurus, a Quetzal (the largest bird in the game that is notoriously tricky to tame because it never lands) and more. While we were playing the other two had gone off to gather things from nearby mountains while I was doing some basic chores around the base, fertilising planets, filling up feeding troughs etc. Then it arrived. A gigantosaurus, the largest of the carnivores in Ark, spawned in the middle of our base. Instantly everything went crazy because it took a disliking to one dinosaur and bit it, causing every other dinosaur to attack. Suddenly the base was a flurry of tooth and claw, but the gigantosaurus was high level and was winning easily. They go berserk when they take too much damage, and this one was destroying absolutely everything with reckless abandon. The main metal base fell almost instantly, along with most of our supplies and defences. The collection of dinosaurs was decimated as many of the carnivores who might have been able to help were trapped behind the herbivores and the flyers were on passive to make sure no one could kite them out of our base. Eventually I hopped on the quetzal and led the lizard away into the sea, hoping to drown it. This involved flying close enough to make it think it could bite me, then flying up and away so it missed and chased for a while. Leaving the smouldering wreckage of our 100-hour base behind, I flew out to sea. Then it bit the bird and we lost that too.

Both of these events were immensely frustrating and the reason I quit playing on each console, but then both couldn’t have been that frustrating if it wasn’t for the tens of hours I spent building up to that moment. Ark is a game that draws you in and absorbs your time, and the thrill of exploration and expansion is very real. There’s nothing like building a huge fortress with your friends and there’s always a project to be getting on with. If you log in alone you can head off to gather some rarer materials or even just expand your buildings a little. When everyone is on together you can take on a challenging tame, or explore a cave (which are unbelievably tough challenges until you have end-game gear and levelled dinos) or raid another team’s base.

Of course there are horrible disasters that will befall you, but you can mitigate most of these through your choice of server and base location. PvP servers make the game much more exciting and makes success more rewarding, but you’re constantly faced with the threat of being wiped while you’re offline because people are cowards. PvE servers are safer, but a little more boring and you end up butting against the strange building restrictions that occur when you allow hundreds of new players to build little huts everywhere but then not letting you destroy them to make space. You can make your own servers and play offline single-player or with a small group but then you’re missing out on the social aspect of Ark altogether. The point is, you have a choice and that choice is very broad. You can play Ark how you want to play it and once you get into a server you like, there’s a huge amount of things to do and fun to be had.

Sadly, there’s also a lot of annoyances in the game that will cause you problems at some point and betray the game’s lack of polish. Dinosaurs will glitch through the map and clip into rocks, you’ll be attacked by things you can’t see (especially underwater), when you’re building things will get placed in the wrong position at the last second, wasting your materials. While Ark is an impressively broad sandbox, it’s not a very refined one, and the developers have focused on introducing new dinosaurs and tech into the game without ever really fixing some of the key problems.

Thankfully on PC you can use mods and private servers to alleviate much of this, and even add in new maps and features. It really is a very customisable game and will no doubt persist for a long while after the developers stop providing new things thanks to the excellent community that works hard to create new things for people to play with – but for a game that is now charging a high retail price (£50 at the time of writing) you’re going to be getting something of much lower quality than you would probably expect.

For all its issues, Ark is an incredible game. It’s easy to spend hundreds of hours in its worlds and each time you start afresh on a new server you’ll have all of that fun all over again, but despite it coming out of Early Access, do be aware that you’re very much paying £50 for something that feels like a work in progress.

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Fable Fortune Preview (PC)

Fable Fortune is the somewhat unexpected entry into the card-game genre for the Fable series. Unexpected because there hasn’t been a Fable game in a long while, and because the card-game genre is not only saturated but also completely dominated by Blizzard’s excellent Hearthstone.

It’s no great surprise then that Fable Fortune feels instantly familiar. Essentially this is a slight retooling of the Hearthstone formula rather than a new take on the genre. You and your opponent take turns to play cards, using up gold to do so. The amount of gold you have goes up by one each turn so you can progressively play more, or more powerful, units. The aim of the game is to reduce your opponent’s health down to zero before they can do the same to you. You have a hero ability unique to each class and create your deck from a combination of neutral cards that can be used by any class, or specific cards that are tailored to your particular brand of combat. So far, so Hearthstone.

Fable Fortune does have a few aces up its sleeve though. First of all, and my personal favourite addition to the game, is that you have a taunt ability that can be placed on any unit for 1 mana. This makes taunt-specific cards less important and frees you up to create some interesting plays. You can force opponents who run very few units to waste turns killing off your weakest units, or turn absolute powerhouses into solid walls to protect you. This ability can only be used once per turn but is available to all characters and will often save you from death.

Secondly, and a much less enjoyable change, you start with three gold on your first turn instead of one. I can see why they’ve made this change, it means there’s far fewer skipped turns at the start and everyone has some options. On the other hand, it eliminates the viability of having high-risk decks designed around killing the opponent before they have a chance to get going. I quite enjoy that kind of variety in the game but here rushing is much less of an option.

The final significant change is the morality system. At the beginning of each game you select one of three quests. If you complete this quest, you get a morality point to spend on either good or evil, and this will change your hero power. The more quests you complete, the more points you get, the more options you have. This system also affects certain morality cards that shift depending on your alignment. While it’s an interesting extra system, its impact on the game seems quite limited from what I’ve seen so far, and it would have been nice to have a little more nuance to the system, like healing units pushes you towards good and killing things pushes you towards bad? It feels like an adaptation of the worst side of Fable, which for me was how easy it was to game the morality system. Here they’ve removed any pretence of it being organic and simply let you click a button.

In terms of game modes there’s your regular PvP but also a PvE co-op mode that works on a rotation. Each ‘season’ (lasting a couple of weeks) you get to take on a boss alongside someone else. You take a turn, then the boss, then them, then the boss, then you and so on. You can make use of your team’s units but only your hero powers. The major downfall of this is how incredibly limited the communication system is. You can suggest moves using little exclamation marks, but you can discuss strategy ahead of time or chat at all. In versus you can’t even say ‘well done’, you can just concede. This lack of interaction spoils the co-op mode a bit and really eats into my enjoyment of the versus mode. Everyone is just a faceless opponent with no character, making the game feel more like a grind that it needs to be.

In terms of strategy, the game is fine, but not a patch of the variety and range of Hearthstone. Some of the decks and classes lend themselves to ridiculously long games thanks to the taunt mechanic, and fast, decisive wins are few and far between. At the moment it’s too easy to cling on for another few rounds even if you’ve clearly lost, dragging out games far past the point where they stop being fun or exciting.

Graphically it has a nice Fable-esque art-style, but very little in the way of animation. The boards have no interaction and are simply static backdrops, the cards just project a little 2d cutout of the character above them, and spell effects are basic and uninteresting.

Overall I feel like this has been quite a negative preview, but you definitely can have a lot of fun with Fable Fortune. If you’re looking to learn a new game with new cards and a few new rules, it could be engrossing and eat up your time. If you’re just a casual player like us, it’s hard to see why you’d ever choose this over Hearthstone.

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Syndrome Review (PC)

Note: This is the first of our reviews where we will not be giving a score. We are following the trend of many sites where we think a score is simply no longer meaningful. We’d prefer for you to read the reviews and see what we think rather than assign some arbitrary number for you to compare against other arbitrary numbers. 

Last week we attended the Fright Night at Thorpe Park. I hadn’t been through a scare maze for many years so was unbelievably jittery while we were queuing to be taken through a series of rooms and scared silly. When we finally got in it turned out all these people can really do to an adult is make you jump. I knew the actors were just actors, I knew the weapons were fake, I knew the blood was just make-up, so while they could easily make us jump by leaping at us out of the dark, this was no more frightening than the childhood bully trying to make you flinch. Once you realise that the whole premise becomes hollow as your fear leaves you and you start to see how cheap the props are and how bad the acting is. All of this reminds me very much of Syndrome, a horror game that is entirely capable of making you jump, but nothing more than that.


Starting off with some story exposition about waking up on ‘totally-not-the-Nostromo’, which just so happens to be a large ship that looks like the Nostromo, Syndrome drops you right into a clichéd space horror. You awake from cryosleep and everyone’s dead, except for a few groups who you’re not sure if you can trust. Syndrome is content to leave it there though, quickly introducing you to your objectives which attempt to outdo each other in how much of a cliché can they become. Find keycards? Check. Find a door code in a diary? Check. Crawl through a vent to get around a malfunctioning door? Check. That’s all within the first few minutes.

Unfortunately Syndrome doesn’t really progress from there. Of course there’s some monsters in the way of weird zombie things but they all look the same and will react to your trusty wrench smacking them, but not getting shot until they die completely. Later on you face some slightly more intimidating enemies but beyond being faster and tougher, they act the exact same way and somehow manage to sound less frightening.

All of this would be forgiven if it built up a frightening atmosphere like Amnesia or Outlast, but it simply doesn’t. The ship you’re exploring looks like it was created in the Half Life engine and just smattered with some dynamic lights. Most of the decorations don’t make sense, like awkwardly placed boxes everywhere, there’s no moments of intense fear or calm, it’s just constant grey corridors and rooms with occasional enemies to murder or run away from. The fact it’s a indie game could answer for some of this, but then the developer is charging £18.99 for what feels like a horror mod and for that kind of money you could easily buy much better games in the same genre.


Overall it’s impossible to recommend Syndrome. If you’ve played Alien: Isolation, the Dead Space Trilogy, or System Shock, it’s going to feel like a massive letdown and far too familiar. If you haven’t played them, buy those instead, they’re all much better.

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HTC Vive Initial Impressions

Thanks to the generosity of all the people who donated on the stream, we managed to pick up a HTC Vive last weekend and we’ve put some serious time into trying out everything we’ve been able to get our hands on.



Much has been made of the Vive setup being difficult or a hassle but we found it much better than we expected. As long as you take your time to find a good place in your house everything will run smoothly. If you haven’t done your research though you might be in for a surprise as the Vive requires a pretty specific space.

First of all you need physical space. You can get by with 1.5mx2m for room space but we’d recommend more than that. Our space is around 2mx2m but was really pushing up against the boundaries of how small it could be and at first it didn’t believe us that we could do what the VR setup calls ‘room space’. If you don’t have the space you can still play most games by selecting ‘standing space’ in the setup, but you’ll be missing out on some of the most exciting features in games. Don’t forget you need overhead room too. Try to make sure you’re not easily going to hit anything if you try to throw overarm, it’s unbelievably easy to get absorbed into a game and completely forget where you are. We’ve taken out the lightbulb from the overhead light fitting for just this reason. I would recommend that you find a space that you can leave set up like this for as long as you want. If you have to move furniture every time you want to play I doubt you’ll be playing very much and that’d be a shame for something so expensive!

The next thing you need to look for are plug sockets. In the area you want to play you’ll need two sockets, one for each lighthouse. Of course you can use extension cords etc but you want a minimum of clutter that you could potentially trip over in the space you’re using. You also need to make sure your PC is close enough. The cable from the breakout box is about 5m long and the USB cable and HDMI cables that you need to plug into the PC are about 1m long (remember you’ll need ports for these too or a powered USB extender if you want to use your own longer HDMI cable). While all of these restrictions might sound imposing, in practice it all seems pretty reasonable. Basically the more space you have, the better, but it’s quite accommodating if you’re in small accommodation.

Setup is quite simple really once you’ve got everything. You simply plug the base stations into the power and make sure they sync up (they just sync with each other and not with the PC, all they do is bathe your room in infrared dots that your headset can pick up, much like the Wii U sensor bar). Then you switch the wireless controllers on and make sure the headset and breakaway box are plugged in then you go through some room setup including calibrating the controllers with the space and tracing the boundary (this later becomes the wall you see if you get close to it in games) then you have an in-VR vaguely portal-themed setup that introduces you to the main controls and is a lot of fun. We’re not big fans of the tiny headphones you get but other than that using it now is easy as anything. We simply turn the controllers on and put the headset on in the tracked area. Even if you’re not in the area as long as one station can see you the VR will work for seated experiences.


The Hardware

The hardware feels premium as although it’s plastic the matte finish and foam sections all fit beautifully together and are grey and black so it’s easy to ignore when you haven’t got it on. Of course the screens inside and lenses aren’t perfect yet, it can be hard to get them entirely focused and the resolution and light bleed leave a lot to be desired, but they are industry leaders at this point. HTC have got the form factor basically perfect, it’s just a matter of time before the screen technology improves in later generations. The breakaway box is tiny and unobtrusive too, like a little lozenge roughly the size of a Steam Link.

The controllers are worth special mention. Their weird hoop-on-a-stick shape is unusual but it feels great to hold and within VR every button is easy to reach and it feels perfectly natural whether the game has skinned it as a variation of the controller, a gun, a torch, or even a lightsaber. The haptic touch pad on top can take on many functions but works very well as both a button and a joystick and the triggers feel every bit as good as those on the Xbox One pads

The Experience

Right now, nothing comes close to the Vive. Yes the Rift has a decent screen but the lack of room-scale VR is really harming its position in this competition. The VR might be a tiny bit blurry but it’s incredibly responsive (even just running on a 970) and once you get into a game you forget about the low resolution quite quickly.

Being able to move around in a game like FPS military shooter Onward is revelatory in terms of gaming. If you need to lean around a corner, do it for real. If you need to go prone, go prone. Suddenly kids have an advantage of me on the battlefield not just because of their quicker reflexes, but because they can get up with having to be careful about their clicking knees and aching back, but I love it. Throwing things like discs in Rec Room feels as natural as anything and projectiles coming towards you in game like Audioshield and the Star Wars experience feel incredibly real and elicit a surprisingly genuine response. Even cardboard cutout zombies in Zombie Training Simulator can make you feel genuine fear as you get swarmed by hordes of the paper-maché undead.

Right now there is a much-reported limit on the number of AAA games, but there’s more and more each week and there’s already plenty of adventure games and decent shooters alongside the plethora of tech-demos to keep you busy. We’ve found our gametime is limited more by the hot weather than running out of things to do and with nearly every new experience we can’t wait to show it to someone. In a genius stroke every game produces a 2D image of what you can see on your monitor so other people can still watch what you’re playing. This alleviates some of our worries about how antisocial VR would be, but we’re still hoping for some more asymmetrical multiplayer games to take advantage of this like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.



We’re a long way away from making any final decisions on this hardware yet, but we’d say if you have the money this is definitely an incredibly exciting and compelling taste of the future. It’s expensive for what it is, and the technology is very immature, but you can have a lot of fun with VR already and if you’re looking to be blown away by the next big thing, you owe it to yourself to try the Vive.

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Necropolis Review (PC)

Necropolis is a roguelike co-op dungeon crawler. Unfortunately that’s about where the interesting information in this review ends. Yes Necropolis gets some things right, notably it’s minimalist but very recognisable aesthetic (although the lack of feet is a little off-putting) and slightly quirky item descriptions, but overall you’re left with a feeling that this is quite by the book.


When you start each time you have a very basic sword and shield and you’re in what appears to be an abandoned temple (think every fantasy rpg ever). There is a sort of narrator that speaks to you regularly, and there’s plenty of snippets of lore to be found or bought with a token currency, but in an effort to be whimsical it’s completely uncompelling. Just some generic grimdark vaguely Lovecraftian mystery with the odd joke thrown in. You (and up to three friends) take an elevator down and then try to fight through ten levels until you escape the Necropolis. There’s gems to be found (you need a value of at least 200 to escape a floor, but then you can spend them on other things like items and recipes), there’s crafting to be done, there’s plenty of fighting, and that’s about it.

The fighting is slow and unwieldy. There’s plenty of weapons ranging from simple quick axes to lumbering magical greatswords, but unfortunately none of them are precise enough to make the combat exciting. There’s a lock-on system and dodging, but it feels like there’s plenty of delay and you often need to let animations finish before you do anything else. This means more often than not your death will come because you’re finishing a lengthy attack animation and a newly spawned enemy (oh they spawn all over the place, from nowhere, for no reason) has crept behind the camera and lands a combo on you that kills you. That’s two hours of progress wiped out because of something you couldn’t reasonably have prevented, unless you never use slow weapons and you constantly spin the camera. That’s the biggest problem with Necropolis, as much fun as it can be with friends, it feels far too easy, and then you die. Not because you lack skill or because the game throws a new interesting enemy at you, but because you got stun locked, or an animation took far too long, or enemies spawned from nowhere. It feels like the difficulty ramps up out of nowhere just to stop you completing it too often.


There’s plenty of extra little things to keep you coming back if you do manage to finish it. There’s lore to unlock, coloured outfits, randomised level layouts, but every playthrough essentially comes down to slogging your way through ten levels of hundreds of the same enemies. There are a few interesting types but the key word really is ‘few’ and you fight them all pretty much the same way. You dodge until they finish their ridiculously long attack animation, then you hit them with yours.

If you’re looking for a new co-op game to rush through and you can get it cheap, there’s definitely some fun to be had for an hour or two. But for £22.99 we’d say you’d be better off looking somewhere else.

Verdict 5

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Rimworld Review (PC)

Rimworld is a survival strategy game in a vaguely similar vein to Settlers or Dwarf Fortress. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as complex as DF – but it is much more complex than Settlers and is designed more around the idea of ‘how will your colony fail and die horribly this time’, rather than ‘how quickly can you win’.

There are plenty of different game setups, with a different origin point, a different dungeon-master style character who throws problems at you, and a wealth of different starting zones and colonists. You can even get more through Steam Workshop alongside plenty of quality of life mods, but we’ve just been playing with the basic vanilla game for now. The most basic setup is where you have three colonists who have crash landed on a planet. You can choose where they land and roughly what their skills are, then you’ve got to try and keep them alive on the planet’s surface until they can build a ship capable of taking them home.


Of course that sounds much easier than it really is. When you start out you need to provide your colonists with shelter, food, weapons, clothes, entertainment, warmth, cooling, protection from raiders and wild animals, alongside caring for all their other needs. Much like Dwarf Fortress, the colonists’ mental states are very important. So while it might seem like a good idea during a famine to kill the colony’s pet Jack Russell to make an extra meal, whoever had bonded with that dog are likely to fall into a bit of a depression. That might make them a bit mopey or they might go on a killing spree and end everything. Juggling all of these needs is a constantly demanding tasks and the game is good at throwing curveballs at you like a toxic storm that means you can’t go outside, or a potato famine killing your crops, or a solar storm shutting down all your electricity.

Thankfully (and importantly for us in a game like this) a lot of what you’re doing just makes sense. Enclose a generator with a wooden wall and no space and it might catch fire. If it rains, the fire will go out. Colonists can survive some pretty grievous injuries such as having an arm torn off, but then they won’t be as good at doing things that require two arms. Old age can lead to dementia, alcohol can lead to diminished responsibility, beavers can eat all of the trees. Planning ahead is difficult, but unfortunately there does seem to be a ‘correct’ way to build that lets you deal with nearly everything. The fun comes from experimenting with different methods, but once you’ve worked out the right way, the game loses a lot of its appeal. Perhaps it could do with some more specialised scenarios like Rollercoaster Tycoon, or perhaps getting new colonists should be easier so risky strategies are more worthwhile. Whatever the answer, the fun in Rimworld does taper off quite quickly when you know what you’re doing.

Of course there are plenty of ways to make the game much more difficult for yourself, to the point where you can start with no technology in a freezing desert with three people whose only ability is to water plants, but the developers haven’t worked to make sure situations like that are even possible to succeed in. They’re more there so you can see how long you can last.


There are plenty of annoyance in the way RImworld works. Often colonists won’t prioritise jobs that make sense, so when you desperately need some research completed, they’ll go and eat a raw potato, or they’ll start cleaning the floor outside. Combat is difficult to control, with keeping ranged soldiers out of the firing line of each other almost impossible. The biggest issue is simply how long everything takes as you move towards the late game. Unlike Dwarf Fortress where you seem to end up with an exponential number of dwarves, so big tasks become much easier, in Rimworld you tend to keep to quite a low number, the most we’ve had is six. By the late-game you’re fending off fairly huge disasters and raiding parties, so trying to keep on top of that while researching and gathering resource sto build a ship isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s just incredibly time-consuming. You can speed up the game clock (and you pretty much have to) but not by anywhere near enough when you’re spending half an hour watching a potato harvest.

We’ve had a great time with Rimworld. It’s smart, it’s addictive and it’s definitely one of the better examples of the genre. It’s a shame the later game turns into more a grind than an interesting puzzle, but if you’re happy to experiment and don’t mind laughing when it all goes wrong, you’ll find a lot to like in the earlier parts of this game.

Verdict 7

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Move or Die Review (PC)

Move or Die is a very appropriate title. This is a game where you have a health bar that is constantly refilling, unless you stop moving. As soon as you do it drops quickly, killing you unless you get moving again. This isn’t really the focus of the game, or even a key mechanic that you have to think about all the time, it’s more of a way to set the tone of the game, a game where everyone is constantly moving and planning ahead has to be balanced with dealing with whatever is going on right now. Move or Die is a fairly simple single-screen multiplayer party game where you and up to three others (local or online or a combination of the two) compete over a series of extremely short minigames where the goal is nearly always just to be the last person surviving. Death comes quickly and often but this is part of the charm.


The minigames in Movie or Die all share roughly the same controls which makes switching between them simple enough. They are singular in your objective, in one you must race to the finish line, in another you’ve got to try and survive while all the floor is disappearing over a pit of death dealing blocks, in another you are constantly gracefully somersaulting through the air and can fire guns at each other as you spin, trying to take the others out.

In an interesting move you level up by winning games and then every time you level you get to unlock a mystery box. Sometimes this will be a skin for your character but sometimes it’s a whole new game mode. Cleverly these are all Steam Inventory items so you can buy a particular skin or game mode if you want it, or you can even sell it. Some of the game modes are rarer than others such as the Legendary-Tier Chainsaw Backstab which sees you fighting with chainsaws that only do damage if you hit someone from behind. If you own this item you can pick it as one of the five minigames you want to play in a game, and then everyone in your lobby gets to play it. We picked one of these up and were shocked to see it was selling for £15 on the Marketplace. We’re going to be cynical and assume the devs are the ones paying these prices to inflate the prices of parts of their game but it definitely adds a new incentive to do well in games when you realise you could win something that’s actually worth money.


The minigames themselves are a lot of fun but because many of them need to be unlocked the base game feels strangely limited. Each game is simple, which makes it perfect for a party game, but they struggle to hold your interest after three or four repeats, which can happen within a single match. There’s a huge problem with skill mismatches too – all of the games are predominantly skill based so if anyone in your group has played each one before, they’re going to win. Nintendo smartly avoided this in many of their games by adding mechanics to equalise the playing field a little between skill and luck (I’m looking at you Blue Shell) but in Move or Die it can quickly become a one-sided battle, particularly online where there’s a small community that’s quite hardcore and willing to destroy anyone they get matched up against.

Move or Die is best played with friends (like any party game) and the fact both local and online multiplayer is an option is a huge bonus. It’s certainly a lot of fun in short bursts and for £10.99 it’s not too expensive either. Just don’t expect to get hours and hours of fun out of it.

Verdict 7

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The Banner Saga Review (PC)

Viking for a day


The Banner Saga is slow, ponderous, tiring and it makes you feel cold. While that might sound like a terrible thing, it’s actually exactly what the game is going for, as it tells a fantasy tales set in some Scandanavian themed land ruled by men and giants, with occasional undead or immortal foes and giant world-devouring worms making an appearance. It’s relentless in its commitment to the style, with nordic chanting providing the majority of the music and being happy to let you sit for minutes on end watching your entire group trudging through the bleak winter as they slowly starve to death. It was a lot of fun.

Working as somewhat of a cross between The Oregon Trail and Fire Emblem, you’re task is to lead two separate groups across the land as the world seems to be ending. While you’re in travelling mode you can choose to set up camp and can manage supplies and a very simple item and experience system, as well choosing from a variety of options every time an event springs up. These events aren’t random, they’re all pre-planned, but your decisions will decide who lives and dies as the game progresses, as well as having a real effect on your progress such as the amount of supplies you have and the speed of your group. From time to time you will come into contact with enemies (be they the other-worldly Dredge or simple human) and you need to fight. You get to choose a small group of warriors from your party and then play out a turn-based fight on a grid which will be similar to fans of any strategy-RPG.


The fights are sparsely animated but defined in the iconic style that pervades the whole game. All the drawing look to be done by hand, little moments of animation might be too sparse, but they give you a lot of information and it’s easy to empathise with the characters. The combat rules take a bit of a twist from the norm in that each side takes turns until they only have one character left on the battlefield. This means if you only have two soldiers left, and they have five, you won’t be overwhelmed. Few battles are easy to predict as a pair of enemies of a pair of your heroes can turn the tide surprisingly quickly. This means more than a few times throughout the game you’ll face what seem to be impossible odds and just scrape by in battles that feel worthy of a real norse saga. The combat does get repetitive, especially once you work out that’s it’s almost always best to just reduce each enemy to a single hit point until you’re ready to take them all out and gang up on the lone survivor. This takes a lot of the challenge away, but even if you fail a fight the story generally carries on and you just take a slightly different path through the tale. There is one notable exception, with the final boss that annoyingly forces you to use certain characters (that you might not have levelled up as there’s no warning) and cannot be avoided. To finish the game we just slipped the difficulty down to easy for this one fight, but it definitely left a bad taste in our mouths. The last boss isn’t challenging in a traditional sense, he’s just cheap and makes use of all the boss abilities that you’d hate. There’s unavoidable damage to your entire party at once, regenerating health and armour and a bunch of useless minions that just get in the way. If you win it’s because you found some clever little exploit or happened to have levelled up the right characters, it feels like there’s more luck than skill involved which is at odds with what you’d want.

The real meat of the game for us was the travelling sections. The map is beautifully realised with tonnes of details and history to explore if you want and some journeys become harrowing as you quickly run out of supplies and start seeing more and more of your followers die as their morale drops lower and tensions raise. Some of the situations thrown at you are genuinely interesting and few have clear cut ‘good’ and ‘bad’ options. Making a poor decision then having to live with it is the bread and butter of any branching storyline and the Banner Saga makes use of the actual game mechanics like supply levels in order to make that emotional hit. There are times where the options feel contrived and like the ‘choose your own adventure’ books of the last century you can often feel cheated by an option not really doing what you wanted it to or from a clearly ‘correct’ option ending up in some ridiculous bad luck. These events are the exception though and generally it’s written well with some smart ideas  that are entertaining and engaging. The cut-scenes can be slightly misleading in screenshots, they look like possibly the best cartoon ever, but are actually still frames with little bits of animation here and there. For the most part the story is told through these (aptly) frozen frames.


The strongest selling point of this game is the atmosphere. Even though we’re in an unusually mild Winter here in England, The Banner Saga made me feel like we were in some frozen wasteland. The music is eerie and enchanting, the art is entirely consistent and unique, with a real sense of artistry and passion evident throughout. It’s a wonderful game and worth playing just because there’s not really been anything that looks like this in gaming before.

Overall the combat is a little shallow and repetitive, the decision making can feel unfair, but the game’s beauty and fairly strong story win out in what is an enthralling  eight-hour adventure. For £18.99 you’ll need to have an interest in Scandinavia to really get the most out of it, and you’ll need to be patient but the rewards are definitely there.

Verdict 7


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Next Car Game Early Access Preview

This is a look at what is available right now on the early access version of the game. A full review with score will be coming once the game is released, but this is based on what is playable right now after you’ve paid around £19.99.


Next Car Game is from the makers of Flatout. Not that terrible Flatout 3, but the original and the second one – the criminally overlooked destruction-based arcade racers that pushed physics for raving games in a way that hadn’t been attempted before and hasn’t since up till now. You race around tracks or take part in destruction derbies and you crash a hell of a lot – that’s all there is to it. If you’re still reading, you’re exactly the sort of person Bugbear is catering for.

As an early-access game this is definitely one of the most alpha games we’ve seen. There’s two cars, two tracks and a destruction derby. You also get a nice little physics-demo playground but right now there’s very little to play. At around £18.99 for now it’s nowhere near worth that – you’re helping them to fund the rest of the development and supporting a company that have been consistently excellent – but don’t expect value for money for another few months at least.

Going through the bare bones menu systems you eventually get plonked on a track and told to press ‘enter’ to start. Sadly right now there’s no controller or steering wheel support – you’re using the arrow keys Trackmania style for this one. As soon as the countdown finishes you’re off alongside up to 23 other races who will immediately cause devastation to the track for the next quart mile or so. Cars fly up in the air, roll off the side, spin around and disintegrate in what is the most beautifully realised chaos we’ve ever seen in a racing title. Thanks to some excellent soft-body physics everything crumples in new and exciting ways, with bits of body panels bending and creasing before coming off entirely. It seems as though it’s all cosmetic right now, but as a proof of concept it definitely works.


The opponents’ AI has definitely been created with crashing in mind, rather than clean racing. Although there’s a definite challenge it feels like it comes more from the handling and sluggish controls rather than the enemy racers. Instead they do something very rare for the genre – they make mistakes. Nearly every corner you’ll see one or two misjudge it, occasionally causing a chain reaction and taking out the whole pack. The AI isn’t brain-dead though, in the destruction derby mode it’ll start reversing to protect the engine once it’s beaten up too much.

As a game, limited is the only real word for Next Car Game. It’s beautiful (thanks to the destruction, the visuals are still in early stages and look functional but uninspiring) and it’s hilarious, but there’s so little to play you need to be aware that your money is a pledge of support for the promise of a future game, not something you’ll be able to sink your teeth into right away.

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Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine Review (PC)

Redheads, moles and thieves, that’s what they call us at the towns we meet


Monaco is a stylish co-op indie heist game just released on Steam and Xbox 360. It’s been in the making so long that some had begun to think it was vaporware, an impossible dream that would never meet reality. Now it’s out it’s easy to see where that time went as we are presented with a game of admittedly limited scope, but such polish every neon line gleams into the crime-filled night.

Continue reading Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine Review (PC)

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