What’s Next For Resident Evil?

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Resident Evil has been mentioned quite a lot recently. In the normal run up to Halloween and when any survival horror game is released, the game of PlayStations past is invoked as if grand royalty has entered this panicky jump-ridden realm. It has also come up because of The Evil Within, a game that our writer Andy reviewed most positively, as Resident Evil creator/director Shinji Mikami was at the helm of that production.

But we have two new Resident Evil releases that are due early next year, thankfully not movie franchise releases that have been ruined by Paul W.S. Anderson, although one is coming apparently. You know if you look at the movies in his repertoire, you might not be shocked to see how bad that series of films are. But the guy did Event Horizon, I mean how much more intensely atmospheric do you want to get? You’d think Resident Evil would be in safe hands… I’ve digressed.

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We will be receiving the next generation spin off Resident Evil: Revelations 2 in 2015 along with the remake of the remake. The GameCube’s remaster of the original Resident Evil game is getting yet another remaster to bring it up to next generation standard. On Halloween, the lovely guys at Capcom invited us to their offices to try the games out and see what we thought. Bribes were only provided in the form of fizzy drinks and seasonal Krispy Kreme’s.

Firstly, let’s tackle the remaster. You’d be forgiven for asking why this is happening. It seems like games publishers are torn between what us as gamers want and what us as gamers want… Bear with me here. On the one hand, despite our critical moaning about a lack of creativity in big game producers to come up with new ideas, we do like to see the games we love brought up to date and given a new lease of life. We want be able to show them off to our current significant others as to why this was a life changing game for us and not get laughed out of our relationship because of the now very dated graphics and hilarious FMV cutscenes. So this edition of Resident Evil kind of satiates that itch.

The game plays exactly the same way as the GameCube version does with an upped resolution although the textures and general artistic design are basically a complete port with some shine on them. If you’re looking for a new look and angle for the game you love, this probably isn’t it. Unless of course you never played the GameCube version, in which case, this is definitely for you. The thing is of course that nothing’s changed, but ultimately you don’t want that much change. There is the option to go full retro controls, or “WHERE’S MY F**KING ANALOGUE STICKS???” controls as I like to call them. Which is actually quite a nice reminder of how much better and more patient you used to be at playing video games. You can of course update it to use the sticks and that makes for an interesting experience. The stick controls highlight how the newer technology is adapted to the older games control and movement methods, which is rather strange as they suit the turning and running but the rest of the controls don’t exactly compliment them. It’s something you get used to of course but is a learning curve to start with.

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The option to have the original FMV sequences is there although you should probably only do that if you’re the kind of person that regularly searches their TV’s channel guide function for the worst that SyFy, Horror and Movies For Men has to offer on a lonely Tuesday with a 2 for 1 pizza offer in the wings. The game is a great reminder of how games were and how the mechanics they used would scare the crap out of you.

In fact, it’s a great experience in seeing how good the original game was in inventory management, atmospherics (although it does feel a tad too bright for me) and how to navigate complex controls under panicked stress. It will certainly bring back good memories and if you’ve missed it before, and it looks worthy of being added to your collection.

On the other hand, there’s those of us that love the genre and what the franchise can bring, and so we want to see new things. More new ideas, more new environments, puzzles and games. NEW, we tell you, NEW! And so we have Resident Evil Revelations 2, the sequel to 2012’s Revelations. We’re in to the realms of all things third person now which is great because that naturally goes very well with survival horror. But it does make me lament for the sometimes obstructive but much more terrifyingly voyeuristic cameras that the original game has. This game has moved away from 2012’s nod to the Resident Evil lore and becomes a bit more of its own entity.

No more Jill and Chris in the demo we played. This time we get Claire Redfield and Moira. Moira’s gift with the more colourful expressions of the English language make this game hilarious at times, and undoubtedly will involve many different versions of certain lines having to be used. In all the new generation glamour of dirty abandoned places being wonderfully sharp in resolution, you can enter a new world of hunting for ammo and supplies, crafting magical herbs that heal you and, more importantly, seamless swapping between characters to your advantage. The way you move between your two protagonists to solve puzzles AND give yourself more inventory space is excellent. It’s like Skyrim’s companion but much more useful. She’ll find things with her torch skills and run distractions for you as you take on headshot duty.

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The enemies kind of move between your traditional slow moving big powerful zombie and super fast crazy psycho zombies, the ones you don’t want in real life. But fighting them makes you think about your ammo usage. You can’t just unload your gun in to one guy and then pick up more ammo. No this resource is scarce and more enemies will come, so you have to think about how to use your tools and your environment to your advantage. Especially where there are traps that can be used and different enemy weaknesses.

The demo we were thrown in to made us feel like it was some crazy Saw-like adventure. You have no idea what was happening and whilst your character remains quite resolute under this pressure (less so than Moira) you begin to get intrigued as to why you are here and what the hell is happening.

It’s this more contemporary take on the survival horror tropes that make Revelations 2 quite intriguing. You’ve got the quality and design hallmarks of Resident Evil but you’ve also got the inspirations from other successes like The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. The series has moved on a lot from the Romero inspired house of horror that the original, and the remake, and the aforementioned remake of the remake, provide. It almost feels that a different branch of the universe, one that doesn’t have to be stuck in the lore of the other games and characters, is begging to emerge and mature. Whilst it is tied by name and situation, it appears to be quite free. The only thing I’m finding is that there is potential for it to get a bit long in the tooth. There’s a very strange lock picking mechanic that I’ve never seen used before and, quite honestly, I can see why. It’s not awful and once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get the hang of using both analogue sticks to find an unlock point and tapping R1 to activate it, but it certainly could be more user friendly. The controls come in that weird backward option where X is back and Square is confirm (although I’m sure that will change for western audiences) and eventually it will become second nature to you rather than you screaming “What in the Cock is that?” in early game frustration.

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Both games should be out in 2015 and the last part of this year has raised the horror genre into interesting territory. The Evil Within has given us more of the same updated for a new generation and Alien Isolation has given us the ultimate in terror, crafting and very little action whilst still delivering an atmospheric game. There’s said to be a new Alone in the Dark in the works and newer first person games like Outlast and Daylight have taken the genre to a different area.

But Resident Evil looks safe and appears to be satisfying both of the fans demands. Bear in mind that we are now around 22 games in to this franchise so you could forgive it for getting a little stale or similar. However Revelations 2 should be an interesting experiment in to where the series should go next and Resident Evil’s release will certainly nod us in the direction of the series forefathers and make us want to experience the new.

[author]

Driveclub – Review

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Driveclub poses a question that is probably quite a pertinent one for this new generation of console gaming. It doesn’t mean to pose it, not in the slightest. And it possibly deserves a little more credit than what the question suggests but the question is there.

Is it enough for a game, especially in the racing genre, to be graphically excellent and for that to be its most redeeming quality?

I put this review off for over a month now for the obvious reason of the games technical issues, missing modes and multiplayer problems, and that ample time could be given for them to be fixed. Ample time has been given and… They haven’t been fixed. Believe me this review is neither bashing the efforts of Sony and Evolution Studios, nor is it not giving the benefit of the doubt that these were avoidable issues. The truth is that I have been unable to play any multiplayer content at all. Every time I try to join a lobby I get an error message, the challenges option is still unavailable and it took me two weeks to even start a club. It’s been an incredibly poor show from all concerned given the PS4’s lack of racing game content right now. The spinning wheel of loading in the games menu screens has been the majority of my multiplayer and social experience with Driveclub.

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But let us talk about the game itself for a moment. As a single player experience it is an arcade racing game with real world inspired environments based around the globe for you to race in. It goes in a complete 180 degree spin from the current crop of open world (and has to be said, excellent) options but also isn’t entirely in the vein of the track based options like Forza 5/Gran Tourismo. Instead of money, you earn experience both for you and your club (if you’re part of one) over a single player tour campaign, which consists of a mix of lap races and hill climb-like distance races, each with occasional modifiers of car, environment and challenges for you to succeed in. Your difficulty increases as you go up the rank levels and unlock the more powerful cars for you to race in ever more restricted and competitive spaces. As like most racers, a plethora of licensed supercars and sporty street hatchbacks are available for you to toy with which just unlock, so no need to mull over what to buy.

With this comes the inevitable customisation options although this being an arcade racer loses all of the simulation and performance upgrade aspects and instead focuses on the paint and decal jobs. You can design different colour schemes and a badge for your club, which you can apply to all your cars, and the different designs get unlocked with the experience you gain. You’ll also earn accolade badges, which you can adorn your car with to show your expertise off to the world… Ah, yeah the slight multiplayer problem there.

Actually there are a few issues generally I have with the game in this regard. The cars you are racing against are entirely frustrating. They have a tendency to be violent which can entirely ruin your championship if you’re half way through one. Their desire to trade paint with you at nearly 150MPH in a field of almost priceless super cars beggars belief at times. The game is based on a points=XP system which tasks you to race and drift in cars that are designed to stick to the road and navigate a tight course, avoiding clanging off of visible and invisible barriers after missing braking points. Which means if you do end up getting a little bit too much on to the dirt or end smashing up the back the incredibly lethargic AI car in front of you, you will be punished, even with them hitting you in the back or the side and you getting a points-based penalty because of it. In fact it’s quite reminiscent of the overly harsh punishments that the early Codemasters F1 games had. The problem is that it takes you out of the fun experience of racing that the game needs to keep it interesting and not frustrating.

There’s a nice mix of completely Eurocentric racing cars but ultimately it’s totally dependant on your racing style as to what you’ll enjoy. I found myself using the Bentley Continental GT Speed and the overpowered BMW M5 2011 almost exclusively as they were the most balanced cars and I’m not a huge fan of drifting in games with other cars on the track. The tracks environments are nice, challenging and the atmosphere and views around them look outstanding but they do suffer from being quite tight in places for a ten car grid, making a few of the point challenges like top 3 finish, lap times and top speed hard to get without repeated attempts and sometimes, a bit of luck. Normally this would be good. All racing games should benefit from you having multiple goes and enjoying the challenge of besting a situation but the game suffers from being atmospherically lacklustre.

This is where the game suffers. Whilst the environments are excellent and the cars highly detailed you never exactly feel, for most of the middle part of the game, that any car has its own identity except the incredibly slippery Ferrari California. In fact it’s this lack of driving dynamics that makes the single player element (the only one you can really play) get very dull. Nothing really feels like its own car and the driving becomes quite similar and predictable between vehicles very quickly, leading to you getting a bit bored of it. The driving element isn’t completely devoid of fun but there are some problems like the completely ineffectual drafting and the strict track limits on chicanes. The level of personalisation isn’t particularly inspiring either, feeling more like everything’s been lifted from an early 2000s copy of Max Power magazine rather than an actual racing community. It’s something that Forza has done very well with but Driveclub’s just feels a bit uninspiring in this regard. For something customisable, there’s a lack of customising actually available and the accolade badges are just plain ugly. Club badges are very customisable in looks but size, positioning and just general taste in these are completely lacking.

It doesn’t particularly play well to the pick-up-and-play aesthetic that arcade racers normally have as the tracks are so different that you’ll have to spend time on them to truly know them if they are lap-based races, especially if you need to get a hang of braking points and the like without spending a race looking at the mini-map. Although there are some nice rally-esque flags by each corner showing the severity of the turn. There are also some in race challenges that, thanks to the bugged online element, are completely impossible, an example being the opponent in an average speed challenge having achieved over 1,000MPH. Back to the earlier criticism of the online element being broken, it’s bugs like this that should have had ample time to be fixed by now and ultimately haven’t.

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One of the games biggest saving graces is its graphics. You can’t really do it so much in races with other cars, but driving with the in car view is truly beautiful with excellent detail. The vistas around the track are magnificent although given the speed of the cars you rarely pay much attention to them. It’s the lighting changes when the game is at its best. As the game reaches in to darkness and the lights of the cars come on, it is deep, dark and much like driving in the dark, excitingly terrifying. The only criticism I have of this is how difficult it makes racing against the AI. Because the tracks are in nature and completely out of a town environment, there is no street or flood lighting and in races it can make it too dark and especially hard to see other cars. But you forgive this and the aggressive racing the AI does in these close quarters because of how it looks, which is what ties us back in to the earlier question.

I interviewed a games developer for a racing sim who said that the capacity was there so that most games could quite easily be photo realistic in cars and tracks now, and that car manufacturers pretty much have to sign off on the cars looking their best. So in this regard, can we expect and should we expect the level of graphical detail and excellence that Driveclub provides? I think the answer is yes now, especially given the how good Forza Horizon 2 is (although if you look closely, you’ll see the shortcuts). Although a special mention has to be given to its lighting effects. But if we expect this then surely the other parts of the game have to come under greater scrutiny and if the game bases its main points under a social playing system then that system must be up to scrutiny. Whilst the single player game play is alright, which isn’t a very descriptive word I know but is the one that characterizes it most effectively, its multiplayer and online element is bugged, inconsistent and in some places non-existent. Given the benefit of the doubt of time, and the positives, this game has come up to be a shambles and even if it is updated and its problems solved in a few months time, the damage has already been done.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

Driveclub is a game based for a stage that it has failed to provide. At its core it’s a middling arcade racer with very little to offer but with graphical excellence to keep you on its road to see how its multiplayer social element comes up. Unfortunately it’s that element that is not only missing but is still causing bugs and issues in the game over a month after release, without nothing being said for the PS Plus version still unreleased. A nice car line up, excellent detail and a fantastic bit of lighting are the only positives in what has been a shambolic episode from Sony and Evolution Studios.

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– Great car list with excellent in car views.

– Tracks provide excellent and varied racing and vistas.

– Lighting is wonderful, especially in the dark.

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Online social and multiplayer still incredibly broken, giving bugs in main game.

– Customisation options are poor and not very customisable.

– Cars never feel unique and gets dull quick in single player.

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[tab title=”Why a 5?”]

The graphics and lighting in this game are excellent but ultimately we should expect that now as a standard for licensed vehicles in racing games. The online fiasco, the bugs from it and the fact that the cars never really feel to have their own identity makes everything feel very similar and never too captivating, earn this game a 5.

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[author]

Are too many games broken on release? Discuss!

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Broken games aren’t anything new, although it does seem that we have had a glut of them in recent months. Assassin’s Creed Unity looks set to join the post-development woe befalling Halo’s Master Chief Collection and DriveClub. But has it always been this way for games to be released with problems?

In a word, yes. Sadly the game medium and the ease publishing downloadable updates to consoles have seen game publishers rigidly stick to their release dates in order to fill their quarterly reports, at the expense of bad press and consumer dissatisfaction. It feels all too apparent in recent times though. Here are a few reminders of the last 12-18 months of game release failures. [divider]

SimCity

brokengame1 Those who recall the long wait for a £60 pound persistent online game only to find that they were only persistently trying to connect to EA’s servers will lament this well. It was made even worse for Mac users who had to not only wait an age for their release but for the problems to be solved as well. Was the game broken? Well there were parts of it that were, and certainly still are. A new engine and new AI was being patched quite a lot in the end to stop itself from doing silly things but for the most part (apart from the always online design flaw and small development areas) the game was fine. But the release of the game turned into a complete farce for EA.

Given that the game was “always online” and there was no offline mode, it was the lack of servers that surprisingly foiled EA’s release. The back end infrastructure they had in place couldn’t handle the amount of people who were wanting to play, nor the data it was supposed to store, leading to a long process of issues, apologies and modifications. EA had to give away a free game, Maxis had a tail between their legs and had to release certain things for free that would have made good DLC and they had to implement an offline mode after the mod community showed how easy it was to implement. Never one to be bested by such setbacks, EA did exactly the same thing six months later…

 

Battlefield 4

brokengame2 The release of Battlefield 4 actually started a lawsuit against people who appeared to be raising the game’s praise to shareholders erroneously in order to generate satisfactory financial reports. But us gamers don’t care about all that suit nonsense, we care that once again, EA’s servers were not up to the task of online play. Bugs galore as people could run around with no health and kill you, the promise of big destructible landscapes and buildings were hard to find, lots of graphical glitches and all this was only an issue if you could even connect to a server in the first place to play the game.

Personally, I found Battlefield 4 quite uninspiring as a single player game although I enjoyed the online play as by the time I’d got to it, the multitude of patches and fixes had been implemented and the multiplayer game was playable. But around its launch, very public and very damning issues beset it. Exactly who is to blame here is tricky as there seems to be quite the administrative level fallout over this, but EA once again were at the centre of the storm and directly addressing it calling the situation “unacceptable”. Two bad online releases in a year is obviously the button pusher in the EA head offices. Speaking of fallout…

 

Fallout: New Vegas

brokengame3Ok, so this game goes further than the 18 months but still, it’s worth putting in here. This game was bugged from release. I know this, which is why it’s on my gaming rack still in its cellophane wrapping. As gamers, we tend to forgive Bethesda’s mistakes in game development because of all the things they get right in their games, but this game makes my little reminisce due to it being the most bugged of them all. Fallout 3 was not without its issues and PS3 Skyrim players will recall the game breaking memory issues and save deletions.

Fallout New Vegas also had the same issues and was prone to a multitude of crashes, textures not loading properly, framerate issues, characters running away, item and character clipping, characters heads doing strange things, incorrect gender character noises, to name but a few. There’s a big old list of all the bugs on the wikia page for the game and you could summise that this is why we’re waiting a long time for another Fallout game, or a proper Elder Scrolls successor. The engine definitely needs a lot of work to be up to the scrutiny of a new generation of consoles and maybe that’s why Bethesda are being quiet about it. But that hasn’t stopped them, oh no…

 

The Evil Within

brokengame4 Bethesda’s most recent release is a fine game. It looks excellent and has only the minimal of bugs, like the headless character bug pictured. It’s a survival horror treat that is worth the time and the day one patch. If you don’t have the day one patch however, the game is a completely different story. Digital Foundry did some snooping after a couple of reports of bad frame rates, but that was just the start of the horror. The out-of-the-box version of the game is a mess. The resolution of the game is a heavily upscaled resolution that is nowhere near the 1080p or 900p it’s supposed to be for the PS4 and Xbox One respectively and is stretched to fill the screen. It also suffers from massive framerate drops, the likes of which you’ve probably only seen on a heavily overworked Minecraft server.

The patch completely changes this to a playable game. But what gets me is that the developers had time to fix this for the release edition until the game’s release was brought forward a week (presumably to cash in before Alien Isolation came out). The patch, given how much it fixes, is a monumental effort by developer Tango Gameworks. It’s definitely worth checking out the videos that Digital Foundry put up as it really does highlight the issues the retail version of the game has. To release a game in that condition is simply just not cricket…

 

Ashes Cricket 2013

brokengame5 Yes these links are getting worse. But no worse than the only game in this piece that was actually removed from sale. It even made national news due to its failure. Ashes Cricket 2013 is probably the reason that you won’t see a cricket game for quite a long while. 505 apologised and issued refunds, Steam pulled the game from sale and the console versions didn’t even appear. Why? Because the AI was awful, the character models were missing key things (such as an animation for catching the ball) and the players ambled around in such a manner that Tecmo Bowl looked superior in playability.

Everything about this game was poor although the development was just as sketcky, moving to the Unity engine and then back again, being delayed twice and only released to try and cash in with its titular sporting series in Australia back in November 2013. All in all the story of this game is quite tragic really and just a cacophony of errors that will probably see Cricket languish in video game development hell, much like Rugby has for the most part in the past decade.

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The thing is that all games release with bugs and as console gamers, we probably feel a bit precious about it given that we expect for our £50-60 outlay a satisfactory and, above all else, a ready product. And releasing games into a retail environment (that includes all the digital stores too) that are effectively broken or heavily bugged, just to make the demands of agreed times and publisher’s quarterly estimates, is quite abhorrent. That maybe a slightly cynical viewpoint though as PC gamers of all ages will know that games can be and are regularly patched to combat these problems. They always have been and they always will be. But the fact that we’ve had quite a few big name problems within the space of a week is quite damming.

brokengame6 Of course Microsoft have always had this date due to the nature of its anniversary package for Halo and the game in all honesty is intended to be a much needed unit shifter for the Xbox One. In fairness to them, the single player element of the game is fine there are just a lot of teething issues for quite a vast and probably the largest options of a multiplayer experience to date. Assassin’s Creed Unity is suffering from a number of graphical glitches in character models as well as world clipping issues. The game has already irked some due to its drop from 1080p to 900p in what is perceived to be cross platform parity. But the game has quite the demanding and technically difficult task of simultaneously processing 10,000 AI controller non-playable characters so that the experience of the crowd is more real and genuine. It’s no small matter given the processing power needed for that and what the consoles can achieve at present with how new the technology is for developers. DriveClub’s issues just seem to be poor choices that have been made at a management level to the game’s infrastructure and, if we’re honest, just a complete shambles from pre-launch to now, which is a shame for Evolution Studios.

While these bugs are certainly taking away from the game experience, and do invalidate our confidence in a publisher to develop a complete package for our hard earned electronic wealth numbers, do they constitute such a breach of trust between the consumer (us) and the developer/publisher (them) that we should be up in arms, or should we just back off a bit? After all this is all new ground for everyone, right?

Please feel free to leave comments, post on Facebook or tweet @TheGameJar and let’s talk about this.

[author]

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare – Review

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It’s a little strange heading in to Call of Duty Advanced Warfare because I haven’t played a Call of Duty game in four years, my last being Black Ops. The series has come a long way in this, its first truly Next Gen outing. It hasn’t held back on its punches either by drafting big names like Kevin Spacey of American Beauty and House of Cards fame and Troy Baker of all video game voice fame (The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite).

It’s weird because in a way, Call of Duty is almost a multiplayer game before it is a single player shooter. Sledgehammer Games have come on board along with Raven Software. If you don’t know, Raven have as much good pedigree as Sledgehammer, who created Dead Space and co-developed Modern Warfare 3. Raven have a wealth of awesome titles in their history including Hexen, Soldier of Fortune, Star Wars Jedi Knight 2/3 and Star Trek Voyager – Elite Force. The last game being not only an excellent shooter but quite possibly the best Star Trek game ever made. Just so you know who you’re dealing with.

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The comparisons between this game and Titanfall have been raging since its announcement and of course there are some. Respawn, who created Titanfall and were formerly Call of Duty developers, set themselves very squarely in a futuristic Mech-based vein and Advanced Warfare does at least one of these things and maybe riffs off others. In fairness to the game, that kind of thing is nothing that Halo 4 didn’t do before either of them, and the movement perks of the Exo Skeleton suit aren’t anything that isn’t in Destiny’s multiplayer. So as far as that goes, it’s one of those industry coincidences that happens from time to time. Like every game due for release in 2015 seems to have a monster called a “Kraken”… Trust me, you’ll notice that next year.

PC gamers might want to skip this paragraph. When it comes to the performance of Call of Duty, this game doesn’t disappoint, unlike Ghosts did before it. Everything is at 1080p on PS4 and an upscaled 1080p on the Xbox One. Don’t get grumpy yet. The game downscales as and when the quality is needed on the Xbox One (dynamic scaling) so the game holds a constant 60fps for the most part. The PS4 version does suffer occasionally with frame rate drops although to be honest these are not really that noticeable and are few and far between. So in theory, despite the resolution drops, this could be the first game on the Xbox One that outperforms the PS4. The game holds 60fps mostly though on both consoles, especially in the multiplayer, which is exactly what Call of Duty is known for and what the community has requested. So, job done in that sense, box ticked. The game is absolutely excellent though visually, as you’ll hear later with the work done on the actors. But there’s still something that makes everything feel a little blocky, a little sharp-edged maybe? It’s hard to describe and for the most part it excels in the graphical scrutiny but the city levels and the multiplayer at times feels a bit too angular compared to the complexion and work that is in other areas of the game.

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The campaign, in one regard, plays out like any Call of Duty game has since Modern Warfare – Massive set pieces in recognizable places with different types of military based gaming from tanks to boats, ground assaults, drone attacks and airplane dogfighting. In fact the story begins in an almost lawsuit-inducing similar way to Halo 3: ODST. Without spoiling anything, the story is as trite as an action military based plotline can be, and the series has still found a way –despite being set 50 years in the future – to bomb/assault Baghdad and jab at the North Korean’s with repelling an invasion of the South. Could have chosen anywhere in the world but no, still obsessed with modern Mesopotamia and introverted communist nations, aren’t we… I digress.

The thing is, regardless of whether or not you think the series is insensitive to any particular world view (regardless of the infamous “No Russian” mission), it has never pretended to be anything but fictitious entertainment in a terribly militaristic sense with a slight, possibly unintentional commentary on the state of the world at hand. Much like both versions of Red Dawn, except much better. Modern Warfare 2 had it with the grainy helicopter camera perspective of shooting white human outlines fleeing in a field in shots reminiscent of recent friendly fire footage. This game has it in its sense of accountability and bureaucratic freedom of private security and military forces, which if you’ve ever looked in to are a dangerous and scary proposition to the geopolitical conflicts at large. And, guess what, you’re part of one.

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No spoilers here, you should experience the game for yourself with its trips to Camp David, New Baghdad, Seoul and Greece, as well as the much-advertised San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge shootout. But in the other regard, the game comes in to its own with the care and attention taken in animating and voicing the two main characters. Troy Baker stars as Jack Mitchell, a Marine who’s prematurely ended career gets given a new lease of life under Kevin Spacey’s Jonathon Irons, and his corporation Atlas who develop military tech and are the worlds largest private security/military firm. The rest of the voice acting is as you’d expect in Call of Duty with Gideon Emery doing his best Jason Statham impression. But the two main names give some excellent performances, backed up by some incredible CGI animation of themselves both in cutscene and in-game sequences. Spacey’s performance is by no means the intense yet disturbingly compelling level that Frank Underwood is but as far as video games go this is a pretty big performance from a two-time Oscar and BAFTA winner and certainly some excellent casting. Both Baker and Spacey add a good bit of depth to a game which doesn’t really push the boat out in terms of narrative, but that’s not something you really care about in a Call of Duty game. You’re happy enough to just sit and be entertained, regardless of vaccum packed bodybags, terrorist threats and coordinated global destabilization that seem to be the go-to military plotlines in our post-24 gaming narratives.

The weapons for the most part seem well balanced, although at times the pistol, the Atlas 45, is completely gutless and other weapons, including a Minigun, seem to take an absolute age to kill people despite aiming for headshots. Possibly this is the trade off of futuristic armour, etc, that you can plough a guy with bullets from 6 feet away and still take 10 seconds to kill him. Despite being Advanced Warfare, nothing is too advanced to be outrageously fictional or space-age and everything – except a particular sniper rifle, EMP’s and interchangeable option grenades – aren’t that much out of the realms of your standard gun+bullet=shooting fare. It’s easy enough to get a grounding, get your preferred weapons and have at it. The little extra modifiers such as the bullet time-esque overdrive are cool to a point, and I do love using the Sonic noise option with the Exo suit and creating a mass of easy targets. But for the most part they only become usable in certain missions where they are designed to be used, like cloaking technology in a stealth mission. So your game style doesn’t really change or benefit from them. Which is a shame because, as you head to the end of the game, it would have been nice to actually benefit from these features rather than just use them like level-based perks. The biggest thing about the exo skeleton suit, the jumping and boost options are again only usable in certain missions so you don’t really get the full effect that you might have been hoping for in the single player campaign. But it has to be said that when you stealth kill some people with your grappling hook, especially when you rip a pilot out of mech suit and smash him face first into the ground, it is quite satisfying, despite the lack of times that you can do so.

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That’s where the multiplayer comes in to play. Super smooth gameplay, well designed maps, interesting gun gameplay and a fairly balanced leveling system which is easy to get up to an intermediate level. The game modes are well tested over years of Call of Duty multiplayer and their experience shows.   The exo skeleton in this mode is where it seems designed for. It allows you to jump farther, boost yourself around with relative ease and it feels perfectly balanced to the pace of the game. Most people I speak to say that Modern Warfare 2 was the height of the franchise’s multiplayer action and if that’s the case then this is just as good if not better. The Uplink mode, which is basically like Basketball or Halo’s Oddball/Headhunter game types, works incredibly well, especially with the elevated goal making use of the exo skeleton. This is certainly ticking all the boxes that the competitive gaming scene have asked for but it feels accessible enough that you can just jump in and have fun, not worrying about being smoked out by people who are already level 30+. At least that’s what it’s like at the moment. If you get used to playing then you’ll do well and for once, it seems like the games are balanced enough that it rewards someone who has a good game rather than people who camp and get cheap kills. At no point yet have I started screaming, “HACKS!” or “CHEATS!” or “Aren’t you aware there’s other games you could play or possibly read a book?” And at no point has my families gender or lifestyle been questioned or insulted in a triad of voice breaking abuse, so I’m happy.

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In all seriousness though, the multiplayer is a joy to play, and it’s not often I say that about a Call of Duty game. There isn’t the ridiculous kill perks that constantly wipe out the map every 40 seconds, or anything that really puts you out into a constant sprawl of death. Of course there are several times where you’ll have bad luck or a run of poor form but the game doesn’t make you feel put out or that you’re spefically at fault. It sounds weird but it’s enjoyable enough that you may have a bad game and you don’t immediately rage quit. It’s like the game sort of hugs you a little and says “never mind, give it another go.” The fact that matchmaking is rather quick and the performance in game is super smooth, definitely aids that decision to soldier on and get back to your fragging. Certainly, there are no launch server issues here. This means that even with a few hours play you can make some serious progress in your multiplayer gaming experience. There are several custom loadout options as you go through and unlock all the weapons and armour extras. There is a bit of avatar customization but it isn’t really that in depth, as in depth as you’d like anyway, but it’s a nice little touch in personalizing your online experience with different armour and hats (again something that has already been done quite well in the Halo games). All of the modes are there like capture the flag, deathmatch (both team and free-for-all), big team games, domination, objective destruction and a few modified playlists (like limited HUD and ranked play), with Zombies reportedly to return in DLC. Given that, as I remarked earlier, Call of Duty is almost a multiplayer game before it is a single player it is quite the improvement from previous years and a job well done.

The big question with this game and with the multiplayer specifically is whether the exo skeleton and the futuristic basis for the game really changes the Call of Duty franchise for the better. In one way, no because it is ultimately a plot point in the campaign that could have been any kind of technology and the multiplayer dynamics behind Call of duty Advanced Warfare are very good anyway, so much so that all it kind of provides is a jumping boost and opens a lot more of the maps up along with different combat tactics. In the other way it does because it really brings the franchise up to date with its competitors (Titanfall, Halo 4, Destiny) and has the benefit of seeing what they’ve done for the past three years and how to implement these new gaming styles in to their already well established and tested formula. In truth Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is the start of a new generation for the franchise that appears to have trimmed its last generation fat and stepped forward into a promising future. It doesn’t change too much but gives an entertaining package that you can rely on.

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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare benefits from a big overhaul in its multiplayer but to credit that purely on the exo skeleton would be unjust. The game feels generally a lot more balanced and whilst the suit is the selling point, it’s merely a vehicle for the rest of the fun the game has. The storyline is traditional Call of Duty fare despite the big name cast of Kevin Spacey and Troy Baker giving it some volume. This is a return to form for the franchise and feels like a well balanced and rewarding game and multiplayer, but it doesn’t jump out of anything that we kind of rely on with Call of Duty or push itself to really WOW us. A good, but comfortable effort.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Great visuals and performance

– Multiplayer mode is a vast improvement

– Exo Skeleton doesn’t make the game but certainly frees it up

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– It isn’t a huge reach from Call of Duty’s past

– Campaign story doesn’t push the boat out narratively

– Use of Exo skeleton in Campaign too restrained

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[tab title=”Why a 7.5?”]

This game is good. It is a return to form for the series and the exo skeleton does enough to revitalise some of the gameplay, but mostly revitalising the interest and the effort put in to the multiplayer mode as a whole. But, whilst visually stunning and with some good big name performances, it kind of sits comfortably on the Call of Duty mantle without pushing itself out to be the stand out game or completely wowing us. Definitely enjoyable and worth the 7.5 score but just misses on something higher due its lack of drive to really elevate the franchise up to the next level.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game

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MX vs ATV Supercross – Review

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If you read our preview of MX vs. ATV: Supercross back in July, you’ll know a bit of the history behind that franchise. But we’ll give you a little bit of a recap just in case. Nordic Games is one of the many people who snapped up some properties after the great collapse of THQ. One such thing they did was restart Rainbow Studios who have previously produced the other MX vs ATV games and got to work on producing something that the studio loved and did well.

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Which is why we are here now, tinkering around with the clutch cables on our Rainbow MX125 and tearing up a lot of dirt on the track. I’ve already made a pun before about this but when you think Supercross bikes in this country (UK) you do really think of a group of young men sat around their back gardens with oily clothes tinkering about before letting rip down your street in what sounds like a cross between a swarm of bees (bees?) and someone furiously trying to use a blender on unmelted chocolate. But in truth Supercross racing is the second most popular form of motorsport in the States, behind NASCAR apparently. Even bigger than IndyCar, Moto GP, Formula 1, etc. So whilst this may seem like a bit of a niche angle for us Brits, it may not be so much so over the water.

The easiest way to go about MX vs ATV Supercross is to look at it from the arcade angle. Now this game has been loving constructed by a studio who are a complete bunch of petrol heads, I know, I’ve met them. Their studio is next to a large expanse of desert which they regularly enjoy tearing around in so they know how the machines feel. Sadly of course you can’t really licence Honda and the likes who’s engines are used so a little bit of old school “name-everything-after-us” wording is in use throughout the game, making the two main constructers of vehicle either Nordic or Rainbow. But others are there. You’ll see Oakley sponsors, among other motocross sponsors which if you’re a fan you’ll recognise, as you tear around the well designed indoor dirt courses. And they are all really well laid out and a bit challenging lap upon lap. Even if you know them because they always evolve and the handling is so dependent on momentum, bumps and other course objects, that you’ll rarely take the same line twice. It evolves in a way that the course actually remembers the dirt imprints of every rider out there so you’ll get all the slides, mistakes and well ridden areas of the banked turns and jumps showing up on the track. This is one thing the game does excellent, the track deforming and changing over the course of a race.

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Sticking with the arcade angle, you jump straight in really without a tutorial. It’s up to you to get yourself up to speed. You can do this via the free ride mode which gives you a good handle on jumps and clutch control. The clutch control is effectively, in arcade terms, a power boost. You’ll have to get used to it but hitting the clutch ups the revs and launches you off which is great after you’ve slowed down from a corner or lost momentum after a jump. It’s a little tricky to get the hang of especially if you’re used to the pump-and-squirt type of throttle control most games have. But once you have got used to it, that’s where the challenge effectively ends. Pretty much everything that happens at this point, until you have to readjust yourself with the ATV’s, is in your direct control. If you muck up, it’s your fault. If you don’t win, it’s your fault. Basically, once you’ve mastered the clutch control the game becomes incredibly easy. A little bit too easy. The AI is fine, it isn’t entirely dumb, it doesn’t stick to the road like other racing games and it is in about as much control as you are when you bump, go off the track or someone lands on your prone head after you’ve come off. But the AI isn’t really much more than a collection of moving objects that are in your way, unless you turn it up to Pro (hardest setting) then you’ll be left in the dust. The ATV does make you readjust your riding at times and it is annoying how easy it is to lose control of it and effectively ruin your race but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.

And that’s where the allure of the game sadly ends. Much like an arcade racer, you will have a good time unlocking the extras that you can customise your vehicle and rider with through the career modes different championships. Some which help the performance of said vehicle and some which are purely cosmetic both for bike and rider. But that runs out pretty quickly and whilst the tracks are fun, they all look fairly similar. You know that brown dirt track with boards around it and a few jumps in an arena, well that’s pretty much all of them. The tracks are set all across the United States but you wouldn’t know save for the cinematic in the menu screen that shows you some skyline of areas through the upper exposed parts of the arena which, if you’re on track, you wouldn’t otherwise see. The animations become very familiar as your rag doll like physics don’t really rag doll all that much. The jump and trick system is pretty basic but ultimately is entirely unimportant to the game and not really useful except for adding a bit more excitement in to your playing. There isn’t a lot more to the game except pick a bike, go and win, unlock some more. Ultimately that is exactly what this game says it is but you’d think maybe a few surprises might come your way.

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There are some local multiplayer modes and an online multiplayer mode. The online is a bit of a double edged sword though as it runs very well and quite smooth, with no noticeable drop in performance or lag spikes. However my testing of this was based on me and one other person playing. It’s not going to be the most populated multiplayer game on a weekday afternoon due to its niche nature. If you can get a group of people who have the game and all conspire to be on at the same time, it might be worth it. But for the short term it isn’t. And you might have difficulty doing that as well. The game is last-generation only (except for PC release). Which means that not only is it on the older consoles, you’d have to be a pretty dedicated fan to invest in it and go back to the old console for it.

If you’re that much of a fan you’ve probably got your own bike so a game probably isn’t that appealing. But on a positive note, Nordic and Rainbow know this and so you’ll find it priced quite nicely as it should be at around £25. Don’t get me wrong this is an entertaining game, especially for me as a fan of motor racing. And it’s far easier to handle and get to grips with than something like the Moto GP licensed series. But it’s something made by passionate people for this particular style of the sport, for people who are also passionate for it. It may be lost on me but it doesn’t give me enough to keep my interest peaked. Having said that, there’s a lot of good things in this game that if more accessible, fun and next-generation titles come our way there’s some good groundwork put in which just needs opening up a bit more for a wider audience.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

MX vs ATV: Supercross is a game that is well executed in a “does what it says on the tin” kind of way. It has a wide range of tracks and unlockable customisation options and is probably the most accessible non-arcade motorbike game I’ve played. However its learning curve and challenge quickly evaporate and unless your a fan, it leaves the fun in its dust.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Easy to pick up and play

– Good track evolution dynamics

– Gives you a good range of bikes and quad bikes to use and unlock for

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– A bit too niche for a wider audience

– Becomes too easy very quickly

– Not enough outside of the bikes/dirt tracks to keep it fun

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[tab title=”Why a 6?”]

This is a well intentioned game and the MX vs ATV franchise is obviously in good hands. But it hasn’t really stretched the boat out to give it a good game and get a wider audience interested. The things that are done well in this game, like the track design and evolution, are great. Along with the beginning control challenge. But whilst the developers have done that well, there isn’t really anything else that has happened to make it more fun or exciting in the long run.

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This review is based on the PS3 version of the game

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Shadow Warrior – Review

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Shadow Warrior is of a different time and a different age. Yet it comes to us with the sheen and veneer of a new game. But it’s not just the license that makes this game ancient. Released last year on PC and given the next-generation port treatment, the now barely acceptable racial tropes of the mid 90s 3D Realms shooter/slasher got a modernization and is all the better for it.

Unlike the last attempt for a 3D Realms reboot, the ill received Duke Nukem Forever, Devolver Digital and Flying Wild Hog games have struck a fairly good chord, one that ultimately suits Devolver quite well given their back catalogue. The efforts that have been made to separate this game from the more unsavoury parts of its past are excellent, but somehow its past has still dictated how the game works in some areas and sadly spoils at times an incredible effort.

The story of this game wouldn’t be out of place in the plays of Sophocles and Euripides. It’s a Greek tragedy in so much that whilst the playing end revolves around you, the mortal in flesh but immortal in ego Lo Wang, and your demon compatriot Hoji, the story behind it – the Shadow Realm’s immortals specifically –  has all the hallmarks of a family encountering tragedy through lust and power with a resolution that can only be revenge. It’s story telling is so ancient that it cannot help but be entertaining and gripping as it goes on. Not that it’s anywhere near original or that the parts of the story that unfold while you are playing are anywhere near as entertaining. But the back story and the animations that accompany them are excellently produced and let on enough of the truth behind Hoji’s words and the memories that the Whisperers are tied to. It does this at the right times and drop feeds you enough to make sure you get the right amount of emotional connection at the correct point in the story. It’s very cleverly done.

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The voice acting isn’t too shabby either, especially with the potential of Kung-Fu lampooning that is at every turn. Where Wolfenstein: The New Order (which came out after Shadow Warrior’s original release) didn’t shy from its roots and managed to provide occasionally humorous turns in its dialogue and sound bytes, Shadow Warrior does the same, although it cannot escape its puerile past at times. Wang’s ego is so astonishingly adolescent at points that it kind of gets old quite quickly. Thankfully the game realizes this and tones him down as it goes on. But you can still find the mid 90s humour you’re looking for in the fortune cookies scattered around the levels, if you’re that way inclined. My personal favourite being the “404: Fortune not found”, but there are some of them which keep reverting the game back to its roots and sadly, its out-of-date humour. The sound design is also slightly weak at times, occasionally dropping out dialogue and having too many weapons and explosion noises going on at once to make sense of the cacophony you’re presented with. The music is great but after several hours playing the same three tracks it gets a bit old (although kudos on the death bunny heavy metal music). At one point I was going up a bamboo scaffolding with heavy cloth underfoot and I was getting the sound of walking on metal.

For everything this game does excellently, there’s a hangover to the original game that keeps it firmly locked in the past. The game looks beautiful. At times the scenery is stunning. We said in the preview that the bright colours and high resolution make for an excellent experience and they certainly do. This is definitely a visual treat at times, especially as you head towards the lighting and the scenery in the end of the game, although incredibly graphic in battle. This has been at the cost of performance though as the more enemies approach and the more effects/explosions/gore happens, the bigger the frame rate drop is. In fact at times it feels incredibly last generation due to the lag you get in the game from the loss of frames and as the difficulty goes up, so does your frustration. It’s the only thing that really makes you realise you’re playing a port of the game rather than something designed for the next generation console. The enemies themselves are quite well designed and have some interesting dynamics to them but the game again holds too close to its roots in its design. As the game goes on, instead of upping the difficulty or the challenge, the game makes progression more difficult by throwing more and more enemies at you at once, in more and more extremes. The levels themselves and the game becomes slightly too long because the enemy gameplay becomes a bit repetitive due to this and the sense that you are trapped in an endless cycle of the same corridors and doors can lead to very aggravating déjà vu. I’ve been to Japan and I’m pretty sure that everywhere I went wasn’t decked out in the Ikea-esque black painted wood cabinets that seem to be everywhere in Shadow Warrior, whether you’re at the docks, underground, in a oil tanker or traversing through a cemetery. Another hangover from the older styles of level design maybe?

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I did sometimes wonder whether this was just laziness on the part of the games development as the guns in the game and the leveling system is excellent. You unlock more guns as you go and the money you find on the way will help you upgrade them into quite the potent and enjoyable arsenal, much like Wolfenstein does. The ammo is readily found and the many options that you can use to take on a battle does give you some more freedom than most shooters would in how tackle a situation. The level design in that regard is very good as it gives you, for the most part, spaces to hide, things to blow up, and many secrets to be found that will aid your upgrading of skills. There are two skill upgrades, one that requires a Ki crystal which most levels have one or two, and karma which upgrades your usable skills like healing, special katana moves and protection buffs. This is all accessed via the controller and yet again the game handles this transition to console very well. The controls are for the most part intuitive and where you’d expect them to be with easy weapon selection and easy combos in order to access the more magic based skills like healing. Annoying though, this is at the cost of the more traditional “L2 aim R2 shoot” button layout, and as your upgrades demand more of the controller, using the skill combos becomes harder. Which is another pain when your faced with an enormous amount of enemies in a frame rate dropping space and the controller thinks that you’re wanting to dual wield Uzi’s instead of healing.

For every thing the game does right there’s something that, compared to Wolfenstein’s success, holds it firmly in the past. Whether or not it’s the level designs, black Ikea-esque cabinets and the throw-all-the-enemies-at-you style of difficulty increments or occasionally borderline racist humour, the game suffers from it. Which is a shame because the ease of the gunplay the nice graphics (despite the frame rates at times) and story behind the game is actually very enjoyable and if we’re honest, is what perks this game up. Along with its lower retail price it’s probably a good game to fall on if your looking for something nostalgic and with a change of pace to the heavy hitters that are coming out this Christmas. It has no multiplayer but does include a survival mode and a New Game+ option that will allow you to unlock everything and get all the secrets. If that’s enough for you then fair enough. I was pleased enough with the story that I enjoyed the game, despite its faults, and for a quick pick up and play shooter with big game style graphics, this is a pretty good option.

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Shadow Warrior does its best to bring a tired, old and slightly politically incorrect game out of retirement without falling to the errors of former sister title Duke Nukem Forever. But the hangovers from 3D Realms inspired level design and the “throw everything at you” difficulty make the game a bit too long and repetitive, although the story does rescue it. Definitely fun to play though with excellent visuals, great guns and ease of upgrades and use.

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[tab title=Good Points”]

– Visually great and engaging environment

– Quite a cool Greek Tragedy storyline

– Guns are awesome and easy to use/upgrade

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Suffers from frame rate drops in busier levels

– Gets a bit too long and repetitive in levels

– Humour still a bit politically incorrect at times

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[tab title=”Why a 7?”]

Actually, I’ve agonised about this. I went from a 7, to a 6, to a 6.5 and back to a 7. Because even though the game has its faults, I’m still drawn back to the enjoyable story and fun, easy gameplay that made me want to give it the 7 score in the first place. There are issues, yes and it’s a game you’ll probably only play through once but it’s fun, it’s something you can switch your brain off from and play and just be entertained. Which is something that’s quite hard to pull off successfully.

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

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