Shadow Warrior – Preview

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Shadow Warrior may be recognisable to those of you with longer memories as a PC title from the brains behind Duke Nukem 3D. It may also be recognisable to those of you who have shorter memories and remember a reboot of the game that came out on PC last year. Well this year it’s getting the console treatment and the next-generation will not be spared the violently comical franchises it so richly deserves.

Let’s be completely honest, Duke Nukem’s modern reboot (the long laboured and best forgotten Duke Nukem Forever) was a complete bust. Long loading times, some substandard gameplay, fairly poor graphics and humour that was so purile, it was like watching your very well hidden child home videos with your fiancee whilst your parents and her chortle with glee at your hilarious pre-pubescent self, while you sit and cringe waiting for it to be over. Shadow Warrior had the potential to be in the same boat.

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I say had as, given that the game has already been out for a year, you probably know quite a bit already. But in regards to the next generation consoles, it does benefit from some excellent vibrant graphics and a control system that very ably substitutes its WASD origins for a controller. In fact I was very impressed with the graphics. Games like this, a first person shooter/slasher, can suffer with ports and reboots by being to attached to their roots. This gives them a very repetitive and bland beige colour palette to work with and in the case of Shadow Warrior, this could have been the case given the original game’s closeness to Duke 3D. Thankfully though, its roots seem to be left purely in the basics of the game.

There is something that I adore about oriental gardens, architecture and the kind of mansions and areas that you see mostly in old Jet Li movies. The vibrant colours of the flowers and trees that mix brilliantly with the wood of the buildings and the Koi ponds that, while cliche, put you in the atmosphere. That is something that Shadow Warriors does very well. It gives you a nice sense of aesthetic grounding before the chaos and comedy begins. Lo Wang is every B-movie’s best character moulded in to one. A cocksure young warrior/assassin with talent but also an ego that would see him diva his way out of a Simon Cowell X-Factor winners contract and in to rehab. The slicing, shooting and general ass kicking comes with occasional one liners and observations that thankfully don’t make you cringe like it’s forbearers roots. It leads itself away from the older siblings blatant lampooning of action tropes and gives itself its own story.

A story that sees you at the centre of a battle for an old sword between your boss and a business man that leads to you allowing a fiery demon to jump on board and help you slay many weird demonic abominations coming your way. The Kill Bill-esque nature of the absurdity of the violence and the situation has always fitted quite well with video games and with what we played already, it certainly fits the console too. One thing we’ve never got right on consoles, and I’m sure most PC games haven’t either, is the ability to wield a sword and slash the living crap out of everything in sight and give a decent game at the same time. Redsteel possibly came closest in recent years but was devoid of anything involving fun. And that’s the key to a game like this, you need to have fun.

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And fun we had. We actually did, for a time where you don’t know what to expect, given the nature of recent 3D Realms reboots, we actually have a fun game that doesn’t take itself seriously but has enough work on the mechanics of the game and the control system for it to be good fun. Especially given its graphic violence. In honesty, my enjoyment of this could be a short term thing, but it will be fun while it lasts. And that interest in revitalising old FPS franchises seems to be a big thing at the moment, especially given the success of the newest Wolfenstein game. Those gameplay mechanics -look for a key card, kill all the things, find the way to do it that you enjoy the most – seems to appeal to me as an older gamer who’s a little bit tired of the modern style of levelling everything up and unlocking every single camo pack imaginable. There are cool collectibles to find along the way and a nice part of the control system is easily being able to change weapons and upgrade your abilities with money also found in the game, which manifest themselves in tattoos, which is a nice touch. There’s even weapons in a pre order version from Serious Sam and Hotline Miami, given that this is being released by publisher Devolver Digital. I’m looking forward to the arena mode where wave upon wave of things will come to kill you. That will be bloody, good fun.

The original game, along with this game, is nowhere near a viable representation of Eastern lore or story. In fact the original was heavily criticised. And if you’re looking for a new atmospheric dark Tenchu style game to sink in to, this isn’t it. But it is a good way to spend a weekend. Given the success of the recent revamps, Duke Nukem Forever not withstanding, these games seem to be bringing a simple and less involved sense of fun to the FPS genre. I hope that one day another offshoot of the 3D Realms engine, Redneck Rampage, will come back for more. For now though, work out a weekend you can put aside this October, go and get some Ashai’s ready, order some takeout and be ready for a slashing good time.

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Project Cars interview with Andy Tudor

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Project Cars is the new offering from Slightly Mad Studios. Sean got to sit down and chat with Creative Director Andy Tudor about the game at EGX.

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Project Cars is a very big, graphically awesome simulation. Simulation is the key word here I suppose compared to everything else that’s out there.

Yeah, I think the word simulation or simulator kind of gives people the impression that it’s hard, or difficult and challenging. But actually, all it means is simulating real life so it’s accurate, realistic. But compared to the competition there is out there, we said from day one planting our flag in the sand, we were going to be a competitor for Forza and Gran Tourismo. Compared to the other guys that are in that arcade space. So if you’re looking for that Forza/Gran Tourismo kind of game with a bunch of features that have never been in those games but have been on the PC sims, just not on console, the Project Cars is just that.

I’m a child of the Geoff Crammond years so I love the… I say simulation aspect but I probably mean the more technical tweaking aspects of it. And there’s a lot of things in Project Cars in driving that you won’t normally feel in other games because of those options. Just tell us a little bit of how you managed to recreate that experience so realistically especially on tracks like Brands Hatch.

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With Brands Hatch we used a laser scan. So we have the mathematical data of it, we know the elevation changes and all that stuff. Next the track team go out there and take gigabytes of data so we know visually what its like. The third thing is getting the guys out there to try it out themselves. So if you were watching a race at Brands Hatch on TV, you would see the cars flying around the track and they’d look perfectly smooth. Get in there, get in to a Formula Brands/Formula 4 kind of car, and go down the main pit straight, the engine the right behind you 6 inches away from your head, the car is screaming, the wing mirrors are vibrating so much and you’re making all these micro little movements. When you’re braking the car is trying to get away from you and you’re hearing the tinkle of gravel, tarmac and bits of rubber underneath the car… That kind of stuff you never see on TV or hear about it in a press briefing afterwards from the drivers, you don’t see it in the grandstand. You only get to experience that when you’re doing it yourself. That’s the key to it. The mathematical data is there, there visual data is there but the emotional bit is the thing that we bring to the table.

You’ve had a lot of input from racing drivers across different disciplines. How’s their involvement in the game helped?

It’s kind of come full circle. Usually when you hear about racing drivers giving their input in to games it’s usually at the end where there’s marketing pushes. But we’ve had those guys from day one so it’s a different angle. Ben Collins, the former Top Gear Stig, we hired because he doesn’t like racing games so he’d give us completely honest feedback. Nicholas Hamilton (brother of Formala One world champion Lewis Hamilton) has been playing sim racing games on PC for years. So he gives valuable insight on the expectations of that community, what the games get wrong and how Project Cars can do it right. Ollie Webb is a test driver for BAC Mono. He’s a European Le Mans driver so he’s driven 75% of the tracks in our game as well. So he can give us incredible insight on the car on a one to one basis and give us a direct comparison and he can say “oh I was just at Monza and they’ve changed the rumble strips.”. So much so [is the games realism from driver input] that real drivers are using it for training for the real thing. It was completely out of the blue that Rene Rast, a German GT driver, showed up on YouTube with a video of him driving Project Cars on the Le Mans track and was within one tenth of his real life lap time. He was using it because the game is so accurate that when he’d go to do the real thing, he’d have the sense of training you can’t get on a multi million pound Formula One simulator.

I noticed racing on Brands Hatch, something that most racing games don’t achieve is how thin the start finish straight is and how claustrophobic it feels.

Brands has got great elevation. Your eyes have a certain field of view. In games you have a different field of view. So you need to do things to make sure you get the same as you get in real life. [At Brands] You can’t see the peak of the hill from the cockpit. So it’s little things like that .

There’s been a lot of feedback from the manufacturers. Who have you had involved?

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We’re an independent developer but we’ve been doing games for 10 years so we have a relationship with a lot of manufacturers and a lot of track licencees as well. So there are certain cases, those guys are coming to us saying “We loved what you did in Shift 2 or GT-R and we’ve heard you’re doing something new, we’d love to have our cars in the game.” They’ve been absolutely great. The cars are 1:1 recreations, we get CAD data, the technical data, the lap-time information, plug it in to our engine. The guys make the cars from million of photo references from the manufacturers. We make sure the liveries are all painted effectively. We make sure the paint schemes are all perfect as well. We make sure all the interiors are done; every car has a full cockpit with functional dashboard as well. And then we have to give it back to the manufacturers so that they can approve it. So they have to be accurate. Graphics wise, we have got to the point where we can make everything photo real. The next generation consoles are quite capable of achieving photo realisim with glass and metal which makes up about 95% of a car. So they are a 1:1 recreation.

Racing games create massive communities, people who share their set-ups, form clubs and clans. There’s already quite a big community and interest around Project Cars. 

Absolutely and it’s always in our intention to not be hypocritical and support our community after launch. Which is why we have the Driver Network. Your profile is your licence and your stats, showing your what you need to improve. Your favorite cars and tracks, tracking your reputation online, how much you cause yellow flags, etc. The other big area is sharing. Steam has the screenshot gallery, you can stream by twitch, you’ve got the Xbox One Upload studio, you’ve got the share button on PS4, and YouTube. If you go to our Driver Network Flikr pages and YouTube playlist, we’re showcasing all the best bits from the community. Some people live on different time zones and even if you aren’t, the chances of you being online at the same time as a friend is a lot slimmer than before. With Project Cars you can do time trials against each other by downloading the ghost of a friend or anyone on the leader board. So you can see how people get those amazing time. And finally you have the Driver Network Community events. These are regularly scheduled events happening all the time, and everyone loves bragging rights.

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What has the feedback from players and the community been like so far?

Honestly if it was terrible, I’d tell you. But it’s been really good. There’s so much feedback from people who are playing and what they want. Graphically it looks great, gameplay is great. We’ve got a FAQ’s on our page but everyone wants to know about what cars are coming, what tracks, Oculus Rift support, wanting to set up their driver clubs and clans. So it’s been great but we are an independent studio and it’s taken a long time. Project Cars is ambitious but it’s worked. The PS4 version is already there and Xbox One version will be 1080p and 60fps at launch. We’ve always been honest about getting there and we have.

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Project Cars will be available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 18th US and November 21st in the EU, with SteamOS and WiiU versions to follow in 2015.

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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments – Review

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The legend of Sherlock Holmes is arguably much bigger than the character of Sherlock Holmes, although myth would be more of a pertinent description given that he is fictional. In recent times the harsh and terse nature of his personality has come through with the popular TV adaptation by the BBC and Steven Moffat. Even though that itself has become more clouded due to the absolutely gorgeous hunk of enthralling talented man that is Benedict Cumberbatch… What I’m a man, I can say it, right ladies?

But Crimes and Punishments, the new adventure by Focus Interactive and Frogwares does something that takes a literary starting point, grabs a lot of the old school TV characterisations, mixes them with the modern day artistic interpretations of Holmes’s mind and puts them in to an interactive detective story that will drive your moral compass around the bend. That’s one of the slightly out there things of this game, the inspiration from a literary source that isn’t even a Conan Doyle story, despite the game taking it’s characters, setting and tone from his books.

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The title of the game comes from Dostoevsky’s similarly titled epic novel following Rodion Raskolnikov who balances his decision to raise himself out of poverty by murdering a pawnbroker and robbing her. Therefore giving him money to live and perform good deeds whilst getting rid of a fairly odious person in process. It’s this ethos that has allowed Frogwares to create a Holmes character that, whilst you are playing through him, is not the central protagonist of the game. And that is something that could and should make you a little bit uncomfortable.

Because the issue here isn’t that the game allows you to solve mysteries. It allows you to deduct and conclude on a selection of many possibilities. Whilst there is a right and wrong answer (which you can spoil if you want to) the game presents you with the strange juxtaposition, strange for a game of its ilk anyway, of having multiple different outcomes that you decide upon. The clues are presented to you and you deductions allow you to not only decide who is guilty of whichever case you are on, but also how you handle their potential incarceration; with the full weight of the law or with a lenient more liberal approach to the situation they find themselves in. What that also means is that you can be wrong but still complete the case.

The clues are very easily presented to you. They aren’t too hard to find and if you get frustrated it is very easy to just back off slightly and take stock. Most of the complex issues in the game are logic puzzles which are easily solved with a bit of time and patience, some of them involving chemistry, metallurgy and other things in Holmes own desktop laboratory. Some of the puzzles require some research in Holmes’s extensive archive and others are ones that need his expert view or the use of his imagination. The way you explore the scenes of the crimes and the people you interview very much lends itself to the more modern interpretation of Holmes, which, in the interactive form of a game, is entirely justified. Including the deduction screens allowing you to form the cerebral paths of choices with the clues you have discovered. The case book is easily navigated and isn’t a burden to the game experience either, although could be a little more encompassing and possibly even allow for a hint or two if you are getting a bit stuck.

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From a character point of view, you spend your time in the ego of Holmes. He is, for want of a better term, a bit of a prick. He has the smugness of intelligence and an overly authoritative air, but at no times does he become insufferable. And as soon as you finish the first case, you realise that he is merely the vehicle for you to make those hard moral decisions. As a character himself he does use the crime scenes and Scotland Yard as his own personal playground. He feels he is above a lot of the general day to day process of the police and the slightly dim-witted Inspector Lestrade and a fawning Dr Watson, who would have been great as a character to give hints if you so desired. He is complete with his vices, at one point coming down from what appeared to be a very heavy opium trip, which allows you to see how he is operating way beyond a merely human capacity. His eyes, his perspiration and his slightly ragged appearance at times allow you to see that he is flawed, despite his genius.

The characters around Sherlock, despite the two fairly tepid interpretations of Lestrade and Watson, are quite alive and enjoyable to talk to and discover. And by discover I mean completely judge them. The look of the characters of course allows your immediate reaction to their mindset, personalities and history, a bit like LA Noire. But their speech and utter Victorian stoic tones make extrapolating what they say more challenging in your deductions. Victorian London and its areas are very nicely recreated in the game. Everything from the Verulanium ruins in St Albans, Kew Gardens and the offices of Scotland Yard. Even the many stations in the railway case are very atmospheric and lovingly created. But they all also have that quiet and slightly antiquated air that you’d assume from a Victorian setting. Yet the stories that occur in them are full of intrigue and adventure and exploration. Especially the case where you explore the Roman baths.

From that point of view, and of course I will not spoil a single thing in these cases, they are very well designed, breeding intrigue, and have multiple characters that could all be guilty. The dialogue is well acted enough without being too hammy or not engaging enough. The addition of Toby, Holmes dog, is a nice touch too with his GTA V-esque smell tracing ability, along with some little parts of the Holmes universe that doesn’t serve a story purpose but exists for the atmosphere. The characters aren’t as well animated as LA Noire but are good enough for the type of game this is. In fact to call this is simple point and click detective game set in a 3D environment would be disingenuous as the moral aspect of the game and the lack of progression importance on what is right and wrong clearly defines it as it own.

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The only criticisms of the game that I have is that at times, and that maybe because of the nature of trying to explore absolutely everything on my part, is that the game can be a bit slow. As the puzzles become more trickier and the areas of exploration larger and more diverse you do end up taking more time to complete a case and, whilst the different endings do give you quite the replay value, it also puts you off a little because of the time you would need to sink in to it. Once you discover the run button with the right trigger/R2 it is a bit of a godsend because getting around at a walking pace is incredibly laborious. The soundtrack is nice, haunting and quite unobtrusive, but it is only really at the title screen that its noticeable and it would have been nice to have a little more in the game. The puzzles whilst challenging and as the game progresses become more challenging, also don’t seem to change much out of their three main types. Lock picking, chemical tests and the occasional logic puzzle. Some cases excel at it more than others which leaves the gameplay a little stale at times.

Crimes and Punishments presents a strange case for review because it is a successful game that you could argue doesn’t really have much depth out of its 3D adventure setting. Yet the success and point of this game is to challenge your perception of right and wrong and the moral choices you make. What kind of person are you to decide the fate of these suspects? A harsh master exacting the law to its fullest degree, a pacifist that sees the deeper side of the emotional torment in the cases or a flake who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty at all? In that way it is completely successful but does it make a game? Well we play The Sims in order to have this kind of perverse control of perceived life and this game in that way is no different. In fact it’s almost more perverse given that we discover a lot more and have a more intelligently formed decision about the characters and situations in the game. Which means that in this way, the game completely gets it right. It is pleasant to look at and enjoyable to play but is it open enough in its game play to be an amazing game? I’m not sure, I can’t decide. What I can decide though is that this game certainly sets a great standard for games of the detective genre and the shifting of moral choices directly in to your hands is the right amount of unsettling to keep me playing the game.

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[tab title=”Summary”]
Crimes and Punishments in one way fulfils its remit of being a high definition 3rd person investigation game which could be classed as middling. But the mind games it plays with its deductions and moral choice dynamic lifts it above that in to an unsettling yet enjoyable experience.

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– Moral Choice system works well
– Good stories and characters
– Visually great recreation of Holmes’ world

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Can be a bit slow
– Support characters a bit tepid
– Puzzles don’t change too much

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[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

Because whilst the game had the potential to be a lot lower score, it is a very good experience, visually well presented and the stories are enjoyable to play. Even if you spend hours debating the moral choices you make in deciding who’s guilty.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

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Escape Dead Island interview with Anthony Cardahi

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Escape Dead Island is coming soon and Sean managed to grab some words at EGX with Anthony Cardahi, a creative producer at Deep Silver, and talk about the game.

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Escape Dead Island. Very very different. It’s a very different choice of game for the Dead Island franchise. How did you come about that process?

So it’s a mixture of several elements that blended in together. One of them was that part of us wanted to deliver a game experience that was kind of related to those early trailers that had such a nice reception from audiences. And the other side that was just a desire to give a bit more background information as to what the Dead Island universe was about. That really convey the idea that there was a bigger picture that we aren’t just putting out zombie games without a link between them. Dead Island has its lore and we wanted to find a format that would be appropriate for delivering this information. It came also from some personal taste in terms of games and movies that just all blended in and gave birth to what Escape is now.

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Did cel shading feel like the natural choice?

Yeah, on several sides it was a logical art style to go for. Just going with a more narrative and story driven kind of game, that we wanted to be able to marry to the player in an impactful way, we knew we wanted those comic cutscenes that are useful to the story. So it made sense for the game itself to be in a comic style approach so you get a more wholesome feel to it and more expressiveness. Later on we realised that it was a lucky pick because it allows us to differentiate from the main Dead Island franchise, give no confusion to the players and make it look and feel like a spin off of the main series.

I suppose it also helps with the implied psychosis that your main protagonist has during the game?

Definitely. The madness that Cliff will be gonig through as he progresses through the story just begged for a visual style that would allow us to bend reality and all the crazy things that we have in the game. It helps to convey all the various faucets of this and make it much more visual and direct in to the players face.

Following the preview, the game reminded me a lot of the Keanu Reeves movie A Scanner Darkly which was a Phillip K Dick story, which was partially animated. Where did you guys draw your inspirations from?

Everyone who’s worked on the project from Deep Silver and Fat Shark. Being a Swedish developer means they have a very fine artistic side to them, so lots of different influences came from everyone. We had some strong influences from Groundhog Day, Memento and Lost. Inspirations more for tonal idea and atmosphereic impressions we wanted to make during the game. And these mixed up with the fact that we all really enjoy comics and are very knowledgeable about them. So it’s cool that we can mix these things with the key ingredients of what makes up a Dead Island game. Even after 10 seconds, you still know it’s a Dead Island game, which is really unique. So blending all this togehter gave us this result, which I don’t think anyone could have seen at the conception stage. It’s a nice process to watch unfold.

It is very different, so how do you think the fans of the franchise will receive this expansion of the artistic nature of the game compared to the previous entries to it?

I’m guessing it will depend on what type of player the fan is and what drew him/her in to the Dead Island games first. For those who have any kind of curiosity about what our world is and what the events transpiring there are, they will probably be intrigued with us giving information that relates to bothe the past games and the upcoming ones and create a kind of bridge. Also I’m guessing a lot of people might just come due to sheer curiosity with the fact its a different take but it still has the the whole “paradise turning really bloody” vibe that the main series has. So the art style might make people more curious and we have those key elements like the emphasis on melee combat, survival approach, the zombies. If you like Dead Island as you play the immune superhero, you might like the new approach to be on the other side as a regular guy and be a lot more careful and defensive.

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Where did Cliff come from because he’s a beautifully flawed character?

Yeah it was really fun trying to reach the point where we had our protagonist. We didn’t want him to be a cliche of heroic guy shows up saves the world kind of thing. Working on him and the way to bring about the regular dude venerability of the character ended up inspiring him. He’s a flawed guy, you’ve probably seen him in a lot of college comedies, or you might know someone like that like “you know he’s a cool guy but sometimes he acts like a douche.” Which is referred to quite a number of times in the game. This kind of dual dimension and his prescence there I think also helps to explain all what he’s going to go through. He’s showing up on this island wanting to be the new Vice, [thinking] “I’m going to film this documentary that’ll prove to the world what’s happening here, I’ve got to unveil the truth.” He’s really enthusiastic but ultimately disconeccted from reality, never achieving anything in his life, in his fathers shadow and wanting to prove himself. Daddy issues to some extent which is a driver, but also a component of what Cliff’s going to be going through during his adventure, or misadventure.

So why haven’t you gone to next gen with this game?

Well the majority of our audience is on the past generation consoles, plus Dead Island 2 being the flagship title for next generation, we thought we’d stick to that. But we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hope it does well.

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Escape Dead Island will be available on 21st November for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. You can see our preview from GamesCom here!

[author]

Lords of the Fallen – Hands on Preview

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The last time we saw Lords of the Fallen was back in April. At that time, we got to see a big demonstration of a level by executive producer, Tomaz Gop, and had a few words with him. This time, he gave us the game for an hour and personally guided us through our play through! Which was nice, seeing the developer enjoying you playing and noticing how you play. So I apologise if I inadvertently nerfed anything. Given my last impressions, there were a few things that were worrying me, but with time spent playing the game these fears have definitely been addressed. Although the news broke just after I played that the Xbox One version will run at a lower resolution than the PS4 version, there is time to find some extra memory to ramp it up which I’m sure Microsoft will insist on.

The joys of having a game that shares similarities with other RPG titles like Dark Souls and The Witcher (the latter especially given Gop’s previous involvent with the series) does help you pick up and play the game, even though he admits the controls can be very tricky without the use of a tutorial. Whilst you get the basic idea very quickly there are a lot of nuances to the controls and your approach to the game that are best picked up in action. However the choice you make before you even start playing also dictates the style of game you play along with the controls you’ll be using.

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It’s not terribly over the top, you’ll have three classes to choose from. But the options after that and how you unlock things and progress later on in the game are all dictated by this choice. In this way the accumulation of spells, disciplines, armour class choices and the like owe a lot more to table top RPG gaming like Dungeons & Dragons. The way you can bank your experience is very useful. You aren’t set against just having enough XP for a level up. You can pick and choose how much you want to use towards each upgrade and slowly build it up without having to blow it all on one point upgrade at a time. It’s quite a nice system so that you can feel your progression and feel that you’re using your XP in the best way for you. The art style both, in game and in menus, is given a full on fantasy role playing vibe. Much like Magic the Gathering in the way a card system is used to help the character profile screens. You can still be over encumbered and things your character can’t use are still available, like boss drops. It all adds to how you handle the role playing element which doesn’t punish your smashing bad guys element of the game too much to be completely infuriating. Instead it compliments it well and visa versa. Which as a fan of fantasy but a hater of complex inventory/XP systems I very much approve of.

I started as a guy with medium armour which meant I was dead within a few shots but could move with enough agility to avoid most of the damage and time my attacks. There’s a lot of dodging but also the option for stealth which, especially when you get a few blind enemies around you, allows you to pick and choose your battles. The levels are very dynamic as well. It isn’t just enemy after enemy after enemy followed by boss. There’s lots of hidden places you can explore and extras you can get if you keep your eyes open. Hidden passages and the like can be found along with scrolls that open up a audio note style story nuggets, like Bioshock. Which is nice and it doesn’t move you out of the game. One thing with the controls though, especially given that they can be tricky to start, is how unobtrusive everything is to the in game screen. Everything is a nice size to allow you to see the world and spot all those nooks and crannies. If you change your weapon or magic for example, you’ll have a small notification of what it has changed to.

The thing is with this game is that you can play it how you want to. I’m not a stealthy guy. I’m a very smash and move kind of guy or I’ll pick people off from afar. Unless I know a lot about the world, I won’t care too much about the sheer volume of consumables and objects that can encumber you. In fact the size of Skyrim and everything you can get is one of the things I occasionally dislike about that game. But Lords of the Fallen has this very fluid, very easy to pick up feel about it which, once you acclimatise yourself to it, rewards you greatly. Its screens and options for objects, items and upgradable parts aren’t too overwhelming enough to detract you from playing the game.

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Additions to your weapons this way feel smooth and you really adapt them to how you play with them. When I switched to my second character with his dual daggers, but lighter more death inviting armour, it was a style I was not accustomed to and I found it harder. But with my starter character, I would have progressed him and made him better for my style of play. Lords allows you to do that very easily. The magic options are also very cool if you go down that route. There was a gauntlet which gave me a poison grenade launcher and a magic missile. It’s fun and adds more tactical elements to how you attract and damage enemies. My favourite magic has to be one that mimics your every move for a short time, including attacks, effectively doubling your attack for that time. It’s all very cool.

There are several little things that make me like this game a bit more than the onslaught that Dark Souls brings. Firstly, the lockable camera allows you to keep your focus in battle on a specific target and is easily switched. That’s a great help for the amount of times you duck and roll and keeps you in the fight rather than bouncing off the environment and getting one-hit-smashed to oblivion. You’ll find special challenges throughout the map that are dimensional portals. When you die the ghost of you remains, like Dark Souls. Except, this can be an advantage as your ghost gives you a health buff while you’re in the vicinity of it. I used it, once I died to a boss, as a health regeneration point and kept it there so I could fight the boss around this buff. You won’t get the XP straight away but it’s a nice tactical approach that can aid you. Strike combos make you feel like you’re achieving some awesome damage, much like a Dynasty Warriors game would. The influences from other games are very noticeable but that isn’t to the detriment of Lords, in fact it accentuates its positives.

Those positives are that the game is very easy to play, the control mapping isn’t all over the place and uses held buttons rather than complex D-Pad selections. In fact you can select and deselect your favourite consumable options to make the D-pad essentially your healing potion button. The art is visually stunning and each area feels as atmospheric as Dark Souls and the enemies are just as nasty looking as those in Doom and other horror/fantasy games. The demonic mini-boss I faced reminded me of the devil from Dungeon Keeper which has always looked incredibly cool. The game is tricky and challenging but not in the constant death way of Dark Souls. You don’t get that sense of frustration that sometimes Souls gives you. The game gives you the right amount of options to be able to carve your own Harkyn and your own style of play. The bosses do different things during their battles and it makes fighting them more challenging than just noticing their attack and vunerability cycle. The extras are nice to find and don’t completely obscure you playing the game and keep you in the world more so than the Elder Scrolls games do.

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Back in April I was excited for Lords of the Fallen but a little bit worried it’d be too much like other games or slightly tepid or more focused on the visuals to create a game worth playing. Now I’ve played it, my opinion has completely changed. It’s a game I can’t wait to play, I can’t wait to see speed runs for and I can’t wait to talk about. The next generation hardware was always going to give us good benchmarks for future games. There’s lots of fantasy RPG’s coming out with Shadows of Mordor and Dragon Age. But I think Lords will keep a very good and dedicated audience happy and set a bench mark for other RPG’s to aspire to in the coming years.

Lords of the Fallen is due for release on 31st October for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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Dragon Age Inquisition interview with Neil Thompson

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Dragon Age Inquisition is the new offering from Bioware in the franchise that has very quickly become a fantasy icon in video gaming. Sean got to sit down at EGX with Bioware’s Director of art and animation, Neil Thompson, and have a few words about it.

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It’s a very interesting art style compared to other Dragon Age games, especially with the Frostbite 3 engine. How did that come about?

Well the interesting answer is the adoption of Frostbite. We did the previous two Dragon Age games on a Bioware engine called Eclipse and I think it’s safe to say it was starting to show its age. We wanted to take Dragon Age Inquisition on to the new hardware and new generation. What does that mean? Well a lush, diverse and complex experience and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to us like everyone else. We’d already seen what Frostbite was capable of with Battlefield and we wanted a piece of that.

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How has that approached how you create the game? Before the previous Dragon Age’s single player experiences very much in the Bioware theme and the characters and now it’s multiplayer and more open.

Multiplayer is one aspect of the game but the single player and multiplayer are still two different things. The single player experience is still an immense priority for us. We wanted to extend that single player experience, larger worlds, and better combat. You don’t allow the paradigm of the hardware or the engine to dictate what we wanted to achieve with the franchise. We wanted push the pillars of Dragon Age with a more open world experience, a larger or more diverse world. That’s what we wanted to use for the game because we felt it would be a better experience for the player.

The advent of the new generation consoles has come along at the right time for you to embellish that as well?

We are on all five consoles with presents a challenge in itself. But the move to the next gen has made the older generation versions better because of it. We try to satisfy the needs of the players across all platforms. We don’t want the last generation console owners to get less of an experience than the other console owners.

The art style has changed, partly because of the Frostbite 3 engine and you’ve been able to put new features in to the game like the tactical view. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.

Well it’s the result, not really of Frostbite option, but between the team and the creative director that they wanted that RPG experience. Origins and many of our games have that dynamic and I think it really enhances the combat. You can play the game with the traditional third person way and its fine. But if the challenge becomes too much you can always pause and think about it more strategically and from a party perspective. Rather than just playing from the one view.

Where did the inspirations of that mode come from and for it to be as seamless as it is, because you can see comparisons to MOBA’s and Warcraft?

Well I think Bioware’s inspiration goes back further to Baldur’s Gate and those top down RPG’s.

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The game is the third in the franchise, so you’re fairly well established with Dragon Age and what you do. There’s a lot of other games as well coming around at the same time with competition like Lords of the Fallen, Shadows of Morder, Elder Scrolls Online. How will your game go in that kind of market as it is very different and unique compared to what is there?

It is and what I think is good and that is positive for the Fantasy space market is that it is possible to sustain multiple franchises. And it just encourages strength across the board. Fantasy has had something of a revival in recent years with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and stuff which is fantastic, a positive environment for fantasy and the games that inhabit it. So I think it’s great for everyone.

You say fantasy is having a bit of a revival, I’d say role-playing as well is having a renaissance. Dungeon’s and Dragons is back again with new rules, simplified. There’s a lot more indie gaming that’s using the mechanics. How do you keep things accessible when there’s a lot of other options and different things about?

It is challenging. I think you can’t be stuck in the position where you’re trying to please everybody. You end up diluting the experience so what we’ve tried to do is allow you to play Dragon Age the way you want to play it. If you want to get more in depth and in to the tactical side of things then you can absolutely do that. But if you are a more casual player and if you want to go through the narrative without getting as deep in to the ability trees then you can. What we’d like to see, if you are a more casual player, is that you get introduced to it and you just dip your toe in the more complex systems and if they enjoy it then they do.

With art & design, you’ve probably seen enough concept sketches to keep DeviantArt running for years to come. What kind of artistic inspiration do you take, how do you get that world created?

We try to go as broad as possible. We’re keen to have a broad palette for our artists, not just from the genre of games but from film, TV, architecture, fine art, contemporary art, sculpture, writing. You name it people are passionate about it and it provides the spark of creativity then it’s a wonderful thing. So we look very broadly with our inspirations.

There’s a lot of things that come from the games characters, how much of the classic Bioware character driven style is still in the game, given all the changes? 

It’s still incredibly core to the experience. You start with the narrative perspective, get the story outline, introduce the characters. Their personalities are explored and evolve right from the concept artist even before the 3D side of things. It is still absolutely part of it. Dragon Age Inquisition is a game about a vast and threatening diverse world and the people in that all have needs and desires and that’s key to the experience.

DAIINT4I suppose it might be a new thing for a Dragon Age game where you’re going in to an online world where the key is community. Destiny has shown already how many people, even on consoles, will form groups, discuss the game, play the game, etc. How do you see Dragon Age being received by the community like that, as the genre leans very heavily towards that kind of community?

I think Dragon Age and Bioware itself already has a very vibrant community. There’s no shortage of passion for the franchise. I hope Dragon Age will get people more involved and more emotionally interested in these characters and drive further conversation and further collaboration between fans and Bioware.

So what’s been your favourite thing so far in developing the game and what have we got to look forward to?

It’s hard to say, there’ve been so many things. It’s been a challenging development. Anything like this is difficult to achieve. I look at the final game now and I see how the design and the art has gelled in to the experience and I feel very satisfied and I and the rest of the team are very proud of it. We’re always working on new ideas and Dragon Age has always got more stories to tell. So there’s a lot more to come.

How about getting the Xbox One version up to spec with the PS4?

Game development is challenging, it’s always difficult. I think the key is trying to give the same level of satisfaction and experience across all the platforms so we hope to achieve that.

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Dragon Age Inquisition is due out on November 21st on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.

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