Monday, 25 April 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Film Review.

By Sam Coles:

Star Wars! Say that to anyone and they will know what you’re talking about even if they’re not a fan of the franchise. It’s amazing how this franchise has remained popular since its first release back in 1977 and in recent years with the prequels they haven’t been given too much love. J.J. Abrams takes the director’s chairs with Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens and does he succeed in bringing the magic back to the Star Wars universe? In short yes.

The film begins on a dark and foreboding night on the Planet Jakku and a pilot named Poe is being briefed for a mission to deliver a map to the resistance. It’s not long before The First Order which is a basically the new version of The Empire are attacking the small village where they are stationed. I have to say that this film is very brutal and violent for a Star Wars film and I’m surprised with this I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing it’s a welcome change to make the Star Wars universe darker. After they get what they want Kylo Ren the new Sith Lord orders the Stormtroopers to execute the entire village which is a very shocking and powerful moment in the film and this is only the opening scene.  

Then film switches gears and we’re introduced to the character Rey who is a scavenger who has been on her own since she was a child and she scrapes by everyday by scavenging parts so she can eat. It’s not long until she is caught up in the madness when she meets Fin a Stormtrooper who has defected from The First Order and they then go on a galactic adventure to fight against The First Order. This is the highlight of the film; these two have excellent chemistry on screen you can tell that they’re really enjoying these roles as they bounce between serious situations to the more comedic moments. That’s another aspect I love about this film is the fact they can happily switch out the serious mask out for the laughing one so it’s not constantly dark throughout the film it can suddenly be light hearted as Han Solo cracks another one liner.

Kylo Ren as the new villain is excellent because it’s not too over top although he is in some scenes when he gets very angry, but most of the time he is calm and collective with his mysterious presence. Even when he is torturing someone he is somewhat calm as he says “You’re my guest”. Adam Driver nails the role as the new villain as he seems sympathetic in some scenes because you can see him trying to fight his feelings with the light side then he stabs someone to combat that problem, so he has a mixture of someone you can hate but like at the same time.

Let’s talk about the visual effects and spectacle of the film and I have to say these are some of the best looking battles I’ve seen in any Star Wars film with great air combat scenes and gun battles on the ground. The sounds effects are punchy and beefy with the mix of the traditional sounds of Star Wars blasters and lightsabre noises, but with added bass so it really sounds like the weapons do damage. The visual effects are a joy to look at where it doesn’t have too much CGI but enough to build the beautiful vistas that are housed within the worlds that are created.

The film is shot beautifully with great establishing shots introducing the new worlds with the hot sands of Jakku as you see sun set behind the hills. There are some great close ups especially during the interrogation scenes with Kylo Ren and other characters you really feel how tense the situation is as he gets up close and personally with the prisoners.

I was pleasantly surprised with The Force Awakens as I was a bit hesitant but my mind has been put to rest after watching it. It has great characters, action and beautiful visual effects and I urge you to watch this film if you haven’t already.  

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Two Worlds II Review - Learning from their mistakes.

By Sam Coles:

It’s not often that developers learn from their mistakes and produce a good product with a sequel. Two Worlds II is a good example how they learnt from their mistakes and gave us a bigger and better sequel compared to the first game. Here is a bit of a history lesson. The first Two Worlds game was released when there basically no western RPG’s on the Xbox 360 except for Oblivion, so when the game was announced it was immediately compared to The Elder Scrolls IV. The developers said that Two Worlds would put Oblivion to shame and it was ten times the size of Oblivion.

When Two Worlds finally dropped it was a disappointment to say the least as it was plagued with frame issues and poor hit detection. Although this game was poorly received I saw something in it and powered through it and finished it in the summer of 2011, when I heard there was a sequel I picked it up and was stunned with what was produced with the sequel. So let’s go over with what they did right with Two Worlds II.

The story starts with your main character shackled to a chair next to his sister as the great Gandohar is trying to resurrect and ancient Orc god within your sister. It’s not long when you’re rescued by a band of Orcs who take you to their leader and basically tell you Gandohar is evil and you have to stop him. The story isn’t that interesting and your character has a voice like he has been locked in a cellar for 10 years while he chained smoked 200 cigarettes every day, he could be trying to help you and you would still call the police.

Once they let go into the world you’re free to do anything you want whether you want to carry on with the main quest or flesh out your character class, because like Skyrim you’re not chained to one class you can be whatever you want to be. Want to be sword and shield character you can just keeping using said weapons, want to be a rogue type class then use bows and daggers or you can be a mage with probably the most creative magic system I’ve seen in recent years.

Let’s talk about the magic system because it is so amazing what you can do as a mage in this game because if you can think of it you can more than likely create it in the game I would recommend Youtubing Two Worlds II magic and you’ll see some crazy stuff. How the system works is through a card system and they come in a variety of elements and effects so you can combine ice with earth and you end up getting ice balls swirling in a tornado it’s really entertaining to see what you can come up with you can spend a playthrough faffing about with this system.

There is so much to do in this world with side quests or just exploring the environment and see what you can find. There is a deep customisation of your weapons and armour especially with the armour you can make your armour look the way you want it to look through dying it etc. It really feels that the game gives you complete control of how you want to shape your character and doesn’t give you any boring and asinine tutorials of what is recommended.

The presentation is a huge step up from the first game with varied and detailed environments from the hot savannahs at the start of the game to feudal Japan inspired villages and jungles the detail is beautiful and I can just stand there in awe for hours. The music has been given a good boost as well fitting with each area so you’ll have Japanese style music in one area and Egyptian style music when you’re in a representation of the North African deserts. The only thing that stand out that are bad in terms of the presentation are the character models, they are really bad with their sausage links for arms. The presentation as a whole though is fantastic.

The only problems I have with this game the voice acting is still bad, it’s better than the first game where they sound like they’re pretending to act but it’s still bad. Another problem is that sometimes when you teleport and it loads up your character has a habit of locking up and you can’t move at all!

Two Worlds II is a good example of how a sequel should be made by making it bigger and better and you learn from your mistakes and in this game’s case a huge mistake. It’s an apology letter in video game form which I can recommend if you like open world RPG’s. It can be fairly hard to find in shops as I don’t see too often but it’s not expensive.    

Friday, 22 April 2016

Fear 2 Review - John Woo action meets Japanese horror.

By Sam Coles:

I don’t know what it is about sequels sometimes that are people split down the middle, but it seems to be the case with certain games it’s mainly with third instalments but in this case it’s the second game. When I was reading about Fear 2 I noticed a lot of negative attention towards it and I don’t know why? The main comment I kept seeing was a weak one which was the fact that they toned down the damage of the shotgun which was an over powered weapon in the first game. So they’re getting flak for rebalancing a game to make it more challenging. I for one like this game it has great pacing with fast pace action to slow and tense situations.

The story takes places after the first game where the psychotic child named Alma has been released and has totalled the area surrounding the institute she was being held in. You play as Beckett a soldier who is part of the First Encounter Assault Recon or F.E.A.R for short probably one of the worst acronyms I’ve ever heard. Alma takes a special interest in Beckett as she manifests in his thoughts as he experiences hallucinations with nightmarish imagery. It truly is a trippy experience in some parts of the games when you get to the quieter moments.

The gameplay is the true star of the show here mixed with traditional shooter mechanics like med-kits and fast paced combat, but the stand out is the slow motion mode where you can take down squads of soldiers as you see bits of debris and blood flying everywhere. It’s not all fast paced action; the game will happily switch gears and slow down to embrace the horror atmosphere when Alma will start to stalk you. These situations can get really tense especially the level where you’re going through a school this level is very slow and tense and you don’t engage in combat that much in this level it’s all about the atmosphere which is extremely creepy with school lockers flying open to the creaking floorboards.

You can carry four weapons at a time which these can range from your standard fair like pistols, sub machineguns, assault rifles and shotguns to the more exotic like the penetrator which will shot nails and stick enemies into walls. There all nice and varied and pack a punch.

The visuals are fantastic and considering that this game came out in 2009 the detail is nothing short of amazing. When you go into slow motion and throw a grenade it’s amazing to look at because you see bits of shrapnel and body parts flying everywhere! Did I mention that this game is very violent? Well this game is very gory and it is so satisfying to blow chunks out of enemies especially with the shotgun as they explode or their arm flies across the room.

The only problem in this game is the hit detection is pretty bad with melee attacks because it won’t always register it even when you’re aiming at them. Another problem is there are segments where there are ghosts assaulting you and you lose health when you they hit you and this very annoying because your view is obscured and it can be very frustrating on higher difficulties.

Fear 2 is a fantastic mix of Japanese horror and fast paced John Woo action and is a must play if you still have your Xbox 360 or PS3 kicking about or PC if you want. It’s very cheap and easy to find so go and get it!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Dragon's Dogma Review - A good mix of mechanics from other games.

By Sam Coles:

I don’t know what it was about the summer of 2012, but there were a lot of really good RPG’s that I played that year such as The Witcher 2 and Kingdoms of Amular. There is one unique game that stood out from the rest and in my opinion is really underrated and that game is Dragon’s Dogma, this game takes mechanics from other games and blends them together to bring you a brand new RPG. So imagine this you take The Elder Scrolls, Shadow of the Colossus, Dark Souls, Monster Hunter and Devil May Cry you get a good action role playing game.

Dragon’s Dogma takes place in the region of Soren where you’re nothing more than a peasant to begin with, until a dragon attacks your village where he then rips your heart out. The fortunate outcome is that you’re still alive and the reason why you’re alive is because you’re an Arisen. What an Arisen entails is that they can command a legion part of a mindless race called Pawns and of course speak to dragons *cough* *cough* Skyrim.

The unique part of this game is the Pawn system, how this works is that you only create one companion and you recruit others from other players into your party and they collect loot for their masters and you give them a rating when you swap them out for others. The same goes with your Pawn he or she will be recruited by other players and will return to you with loot after you have rested, but most of the time you’ll get trolled and players will give a carrot or a rock rather than anything worthwhile. I like this system and I wish more RPG’s would adopt this method of recruitment it’s unique and you tend to get more variety in terms of classes and character looks.

The open world is huge with lots to explore and different monsters to battle and speaking of fighting monsters let’s talk about the combat system. This has to be one the best combat systems in any action RPG it’s fast and exciting with meaty sound effects when you strike your foe. You have a grab button where you can pick enemies up and throw them or when you’re fighting larger enemies you can climb up on their backs and strike their weak points and this is where the Shadow of the Colossus comparison comes into play. This system hasn’t been used in any other game to my knowledge and it gets really tense when you’re battling a dragon because they will take off and fly away while you’re still holding on which adds an extra layer of excitement to the battle.

Graphically this game is a mixed bag the character models look too clean and what I mean by that their faces have no blemishes such as scares or blood when they have been in battle it reminds of the old Dragon Age character models. The environments on the other hand are absolutely beautiful with rolling green hills, dark and dingy valleys, the spectacular architecture in the capital and the fantastic lighting at night as you wonder the land with your torch.

This game isn’t perfect by all means and there are few things that really annoy me about this game. First aspect that really ruins the experience are the pawns dialogue, which I have no problem with your companions conveying information about monsters or the area you’re in, but when they keep repeating the same line over and over again it starts to try my patience. Secondly there is no default fast travel system and I know what people are going to say there are the teleport crystals but they’re extremely rare and they only take you back to the capital city, it’s unacceptable to not have a fast travel system in a big open world. Thirdly the lip syncing during gameplay with the dialogue is abysmal it is completely out of sync because they will start moving their lips before the dialogue starts, in cutscenes it’s fine which is odd why couldn’t they get it right during gameplay. Finally it’s not clear what quest is a main quest or side quest and it doesn’t help that they don’t tell you if you’re the right level or not.

Dragon’s Dogma is a fantastic RPG it’s hard to begin with but that is all part of the learning curve so you get better similar to Dark Souls. The game isn’t terribly expensive these days I would recommend getting the Dark Arisen version because it comes with all the DLC and you can get it on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Republique Review - Good concept poor execution.

By Sam Coles:

There is always something about episodic games that rub me the wrong way, it’s because there is never a reliable release schedule I’m looking at you Tell Tale games. When people ask me if I have played the latest episode of whatever is popular at the time I just say “I’m waiting for the disc that will come out and it will turn out cheaper” *cough* *cough* Hitman. Republique is another episodic game that came out in full recently on the PS4 which has a good concept, but has its annoyances.

Republique is set in an Orwellian future where everything is monitored it’s not a terribly original plot that we haven’t seen in video games before because we’ve been beating this plot in many forms to death. You play as yourself helping out a girl named Hope who wants to escape an institute where the residences are called “Pre-Cals” where they are born and raised in the institute as they monitor how she grows up etc.

When the gameplay starts it has a fixed camera angle similar to Resident Evil (the first three) as you have the perspective from the CCTV cameras which is interesting. You control the girl as well, but it’s a chore because the game decides to put tank controls in a stealth game which does not work because you leave one screen and enter the other and you end up walking back in the other direction. This is quite infuriating because you could end up walking back into the enemy who you’re running away from which resulted with me nearly biting my controller in half in frustration. The gameplay aspects I liked about this game was the CCTV perspective because you can leave girl where she is and scout a head and see what threats lie ahead or loot you can find to help upgrade your hacking abilities. Overall though the gameplay is extremely clunky in terms of controlling the girl because someone on the dev team has had a lobotomy and thought tank controls work with stealth games.

Graphically it’s okay, nothing special because sometimes it can look great with some of the lighting effects especially in the intro cutscene when the main character is talking to you with her phone. Other times the game can look very ugly with burly and bland textures coupled with lacklustre character models with poor animations which look right at home on a PS2.

Republique is a game I can’t recommend because it is more frustrating than good for me to carry on through the plot with its clunky controls and bad stealth elements. Give this one a miss.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Blues and Bullets – Review on the first episode – A Noir Detective Game

By Kim Arnold

Twitter: @wildestdreams93

Blues and Bullets is a crime thriller developed by A Crowd of Monsters. There will be 5 episodes in total with Episode 1 and 2 available to play now on PC.
The player plays Eliot Ness a retired cop in which runs his own diner called “Blues and Bullets”. With turn of events of children going missing and the police ignoring the situation, Eliot Ness decides to take matters into his own hands through a gruesome crime scene in this first episode.

Blues and Bullets is set in a black and white noir style with the occasional hint of red in places that stands out, in which reminds me very much of the film Sin City. The game itself looks graphically stunning and has a great atmosphere  throughout the episode but is let down slightly by some poor animation. Saying that, the game grabbed my attention from the moment I started playing it, and I didn’t stop playing it until I finished the episode.
In terms of gameplay you play Eliot in a Third Person perspective, and during the episode you will be given the opportunity to make decisions throughout to influence the story for the later episodes (I believe ).  There are also some Quick time events in the game and a Rail shooter in which you cover, aim and shoot the bad guys which I felt was a nice touch to the game.  I should also mention this game has a really great soundtrack.

As you progress through this story – oriented dark game you will be looking to pick up clues for your investigation and will need to piece together your findings which concludes the story a bit more and leaves you in suspense.
I purchased the first episode on PC for £3.99 to see what it was like and I have to admit, I really loved it and finished it within a couple of hours. So if you are still unsure on the game, just buying the first episode should give you a good taster of what is in store for the full series. It has certainly left me wanting the rest of the episodes, and now the waiting begins.

DOOM Closed Beta Thoughts - The old school shooter is back!

By Sam Coles:

Doom is only a few weeks away I’ve managed to get into the closed beta because I bought Wolfenstein The New Order with a code which I completely forgot about because I bought that game two years ago.  Does the Doom multiplayer beta capture the old school quick gameplay from 90’s FPS? Yes it does.

The first thing that hit me when I started the beta are the graphics, they’re absolutely amazing the new id Tech 6 engine looks absolutely stunning with brilliant lighting and particle effects. Environments have a dark and industrial look to suit the setting of Doom coupled with the detail models of the space marines. The game also runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second for the most part I did notice some frame drops when it got a bit busy. There is also a lot of screen tearing, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt as the game is not finished and hopefully this issue will be fixed when the game releases.

Let’s get into the meat of the beta and let’s start off by talking about customisation with your character, which is very extensive although it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. When you load up the multiplayer menu you wouldn’t be shocked if they had pinched the layout from the Call of Duty series because it looks exactly the same. You can customise loadouts with various weapons such as the Plasma Rifle, Rocket Launcher, Super Shotgun and the list goes on, there are no added attachments just the weapon and your reflexes so everyone is on an even playing field. 

You can equip hacking modules which function like perks in Call of Duty but you don’t have them for the match they have a time limit which again makes everyone equally matched which is good because it relies on the player’s skills and reflexes rather than stupid bonuses which dampen the match.

The gameplay is fantastic it’s fast which keeps you on your toes because there is no sprint button in this game it’s like the old school shooters where you run at break neck speeds, so if you try to use cowardly camping tactics it won’t work because this game requires you to keep moving. There is no regenerating health either so you can’t be a wuss and hide behind cover and wait for your forehead to grow back, no you have to find health packs around the map which brings back the skill of map control where you know where the picks are going to spawn. In the middle of matches a Demon Rune will spawn and whoever gets to it first can turn into a famous Demon from the game we only had access to the Revenant in the beta that has two rocket launchers on his shoulders and has a jetpack. This can be utterly devastating and you can really rack up kills if you need to catch up.

The only problem I have is the power of the Plasma Rifle it’s too powerful they need to tone down the damage a bit, I can understand if it is a power weapon you find on the map, but it’s not anyone can have this weapon the power needs to be turned down.

I enjoyed my time with Doom beta and it has got me very excited for the full release when it hits PS4, Xbox One and PC on the 13th of May.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

American Truck Simulator – Truckin through America

By  Kim Arnold: 

Twitter: @wildestdreams93

American Truck Simulator is another addition to the driving simulators. If you enjoyed Euro Truck Simulator 2 then no doubt you will enjoy this game.
American Truck Simulator is a smaller version of Euro Truck Simulator 2 at the moment, it currently covers California and Nevada, but hopefully someday we will see more expansion to the US. In fact they are currently working hard on the Arizona DLC as we speak which will be a free update to the game.

 The driving simulator is a great single player game if you just want to relax and drive. It consists of beautiful scenery as you drive place to place to make your deliveries. You also have the feature of the inbuilt radio which you can update via the internet. For me, nothing beats driving down an empty road with the classic rock station blaring and singing along.
You can just play the game via the Job Market and take on numerous amount of quick delivery jobs. Its a simple way to play the game while building up the money and XP, in which you can put towards building your own trucking company if you wish.
American Truck Simulator is addictive and you can easily lose a vast amount of hours to it and even more so now with the added Steam Workshop, allowing you and the community to download and make mods for the game.

Overall, it's a fantastic game in my opinion, and I for one am looking forward to seeing the game expand more with new States being added and potentially more trucks in the future.

Grand Theft Auto IV Review - A dark and serious tale in the series.

By Sam Coles:

2008 was an interesting year for games because we got sequels on the 7th generation of consoles that we’ve been anticipating for some time, games such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and Fable II. Grand Theft Auto IV had been in production for some time and was first announced late 2006 and people were a bit confused with the change in tone with the series. The reason why people were questioning the tone was because the fact that it wasn’t this over the top and wacky game like the others, but instead was a gritty crime thriller with a sympathetic protagonist.

Grand Theft Auto IV takes place in Liberty City where you play as Niko Belic an Eastern European immigrant with his eyes on the American dream. He arrives by boat where he is greeted by his cousin Roman who is completely wasted while driving his taxi. Niko takes the wheel and finds out that his cousin has been lying to him in his letters about hitting the big time and doesn’t own sports cars or a mansion. Understandably Niko is very angry at his cousin as he is a lying cheat who is up to his eye balls in debt with Russian gangsters, so Niko starts to help Roman out by any means necessary even if it means killing Roman's debt collectors.

I like the story in GTA IV, yes it’s very dark compared to the others but the humour is there it’s just presented in a dry manner because Niko has a dry wit that makes me laugh with his comebacks. You can sympathise with Niko because he is angry with Roman but he still helps him because at the end of the day he is family and you will do anything to help your family.

Gameplay was a big change because it took notes from third person games of the time where you now have a cover mechanic which was a big deal at the time because gun fights in the other GTA games where a pain because there was no way to take cover effectively. Now you can press the right bumper and Niko will slide into cover and you can pop up and take shots or blind fire from your position. Niko feels very weighty and realistic so if a car knocks you slightly he will stumble, you really feel his weight when you’re walking a long or falling over.  The car physics are the same they feel realistic which a lot of people complained about at the time but honestly it didn’t bother me I like it because you really feel the impact when you crash your car and you see Niko fly out the windscreen or when you murder someone with your bumper.

Graphics are great for the most part, when I say the most part it’s because the character models haven’t aged well at all they all look a bit weird. Rockstar have created a pretty accurate recreation of New York City with Liberty City with streets and land marks you would recognise in real life, it really does feel like you’re in a busy city especially on the middle island which is Manhattan. Car models still look fantastic with shiny paint work which can get dirty over time if you drive it in mud; the damage definition is brilliant too with smashed headlights and different dents depending on where you hit the car.

The only problems I have with GTA IV is that in certain gunfights it can be a chore to persuade Niko to get into cover especially in tight spaces, it’s the same problem I had with Red Dead Redemption.

Grand Theft Auto IV is a dark and gritty tale and is sort of the underdog in the series because of the radically different tone, that’s why it’s one my favourite games in the series because it was daring to do something different. If you have an Xbox 360, PS3 or PC grab this game and the two expansions which you can get in the bargain package that is the Game of the Year Edition.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Platinum Demo: Final Fantasy XV Thoughts.

By Sam Coles:

It’s only been recently that I have got into the Final Fantasy series, so I was ecstatic when I could get a chance to try out the latest in the series Final Fantasy XV with the Platinum demo. What I got a chance to play was great but radically different compared to the Final Fantasy games I’ve been playing recently.

The first thing I have to say when I started this demo is that the graphics are incredible it’s like you’re playing a pre-rendered cutscene from Final Fantasy XIII with superb animation from characters and environments with trees and grass swaying in the wind.

It walks you through the basics of the gameplay starting with movement which feels very smooth as you explore areas where you can sprint and jump! Finally you can jump, I know what you’re thinking “What’s the big deal”? Well I hate games that restrict you from jumping especially games that have elevated geometry, games like The Witcher 2 and Kingdoms of Amular had the same problem. It’s a small detail but I like having the freedom to movement where I want when I want.

Gameplay with combat feels very familiar if you have played the Kingdom Hearts series, well it is the Kingdom Hearts battle system where it is real time rather than turn based, and it feels very stream lined compared to previous Final Fantasy games which I’ve been playing recently. This doesn’t mean it’s bad by any means, but I can see it will annoy Final Fantasy veterans because it almost sucks the challenge and tactics from previous games where this time you can mash the attack button and dodge. This is a Final Fantasy game for a new generation and audience and I don’t think the traditional gameplay would work in the triple A market.

You play through a dream sequence and you can control what happens in that dream whether it is the day night cycle and locations. This looks as if it will play a big part in the full game when it releases where you have to deter what is real and is fiction and I like this idea.

Overall I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played of Final Fantasy XV so far and I look forward to the full game when it releases on the 30th of September on PS4 and Xbox One. 

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