WRC 5 – Review

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It’s been a while since I’ve truly enjoyed throwing up the dirt, cutting hairpins and getting nostalgia for the old Subaru blue and gold colours. Sometimes it’s been sated by some excellent game modes and I have to say Forza Horizon 2 gave me some excellent car colours and choices, the Forza Horizon rally mode was an incredibly challenging but fun mode and there’s DiRT Rally for those lucky PC users in early access. But other than DiRT 3 which became more Rallycross and Gymkhana than actual rally, there’s hasn’t been a lot of love for, arguably, the most breakneck, oldest and intense form of racing in a good few years.

I’ll probably be proved wrong, but when you grew up on games like V-Rally, SEGA Rally and even the old Network Q RAC Rally games, there really hasn’t been anything in that style that has successfully entertained us. SEGA Rally is still, even now, the benchmark for arcade racing gaming for a lot of people. Having recently got back in to watching Rally, now that I’ve found it on a regular enough basis on a UK TV channel, I’m hoping for a lot when it comes to a rally game, especially in this current generation and the good racing games it has already given us. Admittedly, WRC 5 isn’t it. but it tries damn hard.

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The career mode is undoubted the best way to approach such a direct racing discipline and given this year’s other formula specific releases, it is refreshingly simple and uncomplicated, rewarding the racing and strategically effecting what you do next with a mini-game you effectively create for yourself. You start as a driver in a junior role for a WRC team. Straight away you’ll be driving but you can pick your name, nationality, gender, etc and let rip as soon as you’ve chosen who you want to drive for. The teams will be affected by how you drive but also by how the team wants you to drive. Some teams will go for a balance, some teams will want the speed and others will prefer you return the car in one piece, which also is something you should concentrate on.

If you have crashes, get a little lose, whatever, you will need to fix your car ON TOP OF the general wear and tear that your brakes, tyres, gearbox and other components that get a bashing from just driving hard. At the end of every day you’ll get garage time to repair your car but only so much. Go over and you’ll get time penalties. It’s much the same as normal rally really. But when you have three stages in a day you have to be careful. Knocking out the electrics will leave you unable to hear your co-driver and blind to the severity of upcoming corners. Gearbox damage will hurt your shifting, hurt your overall speed and even keep you stick in gear. These all may sound like obvious things, but when you have another two stages to get through before you can repair anything, it really makes you think about how fast you want to take the next turn.

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Which is where the game lets itself down, sadly. The driving isn’t the best. Regardless of assists, you still get a bit of auto correcting which can really nix your sliding. The handbrake kind of kicks you to a standstill rather than aid your slide and the braking overall feels a bit too sharp, especially on more slippery surfaces like gravel. The steering isn’t responsive enough to really get a power slide going, which is something you can tell the developers know by the amount of corners in the game designed with a straight cut.

What I mean by that is that there’s a small, well driven area on the apex of some corners that allows of the best speed and line, as if it’s a racing sim, not a rally sim. And it does at times feel like the stages are designed more like a race track than a rally course. That being said, they all look rather nice. The new Kt engine does some things very well, especially in the dark stages of a rally. It also does the particles quite well, although on more dirt like tracks, it doesn’t cope with it’s own frame rate at times and can stutter. I also have to mention how bad the engine sounds are at times. Mostly, they’re great apart from the repeated banging that sounds like a misfiring Harley Davidson. I know we’re at the rear of the vehicle but its very over the top and drowns out literally everything else in the game volume wise. But I assume this is easily patchable.

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There’s enough of it to go around though. Each officially licenced rally is represented by five stages, each driver and car is there and the online element that’s going to try and crack the eSports market looks to be well thought out and balanced against the single player elements. It’s not anemic in any way on either side, and the Rally school training part is a great introduction to people that haven’t played before or don’t get the lingo.

The thing is that, whilst it isn’t a great game, it’s not a bad game and it does everything it does rather well. It’s modes are well thought out and whilst the new engine isn’t a patch on what other games on the current generation are doing, it’s certainly one that appears quite seamless across platforms, delivering the same experience. The only thing that really lets this game down is the handling but, despite this, I still had fun. That’s important, right?

Summary

WRC 5 has got all the makings of a good rally game. It needs some engine refinement, it needs some better car handling and it could definitely do with engine volume rebalancing. But it does good things and get the other, more ancillary features, right. Normally one part of a game suffers and it all does, but the game is still fun to play and has enough of a challenge around it, like not demolishing your car, to keep you coming back for another stage.

Good Points

  • All the licenced teams and rallys
  • Good courses and time of day challenges
  • Repair mini-game makes you think a lot more about what you do on course

Bad Points

  • Occasional frame rate lag with large particles
  • Engine sounds are annoying
  • Handling isn’t as responsive as you’d hope

Why a 7/10?

Mostly because I had fun. The handling isn’t great and the graphics aren’t stellar, but they aren’t bad. The licensing is all there, the rallies are all there and the courses are nice and challenging once you get out of your head that you’re indestructible. If you gave me a single player racing game that I could just dip in and out of right now for a race or two, this would probably be it.

 

This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game.

 

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LEGO Jurassic World – Review

LJWFT

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If you had told the late Michael Crichton that his work would eventually become LEGO, he would have said “interesting, but please don’t let it be based on The Andromeda Strain because that movie has fucking bland colours”… Ok he probably wouldn’t have said that (it’s true though, watch the Robert Wise film it’s agonisingly bland in its visuals, even as a fan of the genre) but I’m sure he would have been surprised at the lengths his 1990 book would have been expanded to. Yes Jurassic Park was a book and the film rights were brought up before it even got published.

But now it is LEGO and because of that it is the new franchise for TT Games to give their trademark treatment to. On the face of it, a game that encapsulates 22 years of dinosaur action, terror, that rubbish third movie and the second one that is always on ITV2 but we never watch it, is a good idea. For years the Jurassic Park franchise has flirted with video gaming crapness, with the exceptions of the Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition and the arcade shooting cabinet of The Lost World.

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So here we are with a tricky franchise and a developer who has barely ever struck out.  Naturally, this works like an absolute charm and cleverly makes you spend money to see Jurassic World so that you can understand what’s about to happen in the game. It brilliantly mixes the fantastic visuals that the movies have created and the nostalgia that they invoke with the playful humour that has been tried and tested over many family focused games… More on that later.

As you would expect with any LEGO game, and even the ones we’ve recently reviewed, the gameplay is exactly the same as any other LEGO game – smash all the things, get all the studs and unlock all the people whilst enjoying creatively re-imagined parts of the titular franchise. It looks great on the version we played and isn’t an engine that stretches the older consoles either, so you’re all good on whatever platforms you’re using.

The two islands of Jurassic, Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna, are lovingly recreated with different areas for each movie, echoing the Visitors’ Centre of Jurassic Park, the terrible monsoon of The Lost World and the broadwalk of the new Isla Nublar complex from Jurassic World. There’s lots of interesting things for you to do and stuff to break and the levels have lots of fun things to juxtapose against the terror. Good points include the Jurassic Park theme music-box, an achievement for giving Timmy an electric shock and the continued presence of Jeff Goldblum, which is always a good thing.

It’s an incredibly evocative experience, especially if like me Jurassic Park was one of the first movies you saw in the cinema that wasn’t just a cartoon/kids film. That beautiful and dramatic score by John Williams is there in full effect, including some of the finer points of Michael Giacchino’s score for Jurassic World (the lovely horn motif that plays during the free roaming of the broadwalk is my stand out favourite). So you’ll get around twenty main missions, five from each movie, where you can revel in all of your nostalgic memories of the movies.

Like the most recent LEGO games, there are vocal clips from the movies in abundance, although a lot has also been re-recorded by the wealth of vocal talent in the industry (including Troy Baker and Nolan North). Sadly this includes Samuel L. Jackson from the first movie, but that’s presumably because his lines were delivered with a cigarette in his mouth and are quite hard to hear, and that he isn’t the most family friendly character… Again, more on that later.

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The key moments of all the movies are well represented although the first and last movies are the most creative and fun. The only problems with the others, which are problems with the movies in the first place, are that they become a little bit derivative. There are lots of leafy green areas, overrun jungles and hiding spots. The puzzles mostly involve opening things and avoiding dinosaurs, which, after a few hours, becomes very similar and familiar. Not that there isn’t new character or exactly the same puzzles but you do begin to get a sense of repetitiveness.

There are some nice chase missions that are included as a bonus, like being the dinosaurs rather than the humans. But if I were honest, I would have enjoyed them more in the actual game as a way to mix up the levels and make them more engaging. I only found a couple of bugs (a gyrosphere falling through the world and a few character changing issues, as well as a infinitely renewable coin source), which are frustrating but not game breaking. Then there’s your standard post-game free play and free roam search-and-destroy mechanics, which are the best way to explore, as always. You get that huge world sense like you did in Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter that makes you want to explore. Simple, engaging and intriguing – the perfect mix.

Yet there is one thing that hasn’t sat well with me, and it’s taken me a week to realise exactly what it was. I finally realised it is something that is completely missing from LEGO Jurassic World. Maybe I hadn’t noticed before consciously but it’s present in every other film based franchise LEGO game I’ve played. It’s possibly something to do with LEGO’s family friendly nature that they couldn’t show, despite having shown it before. So whilst I’m pointing it out and getting it off my chest, I’m not judging the game on it, and neither should you. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s one of the things that the Jurassic Park franchise not only excels at but also relies upon. I am talking about death.

One of the greatest things about the original Jurassic Park movie is how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The falling banner about dinosaurs as the T-Rex roars is not only a great visual but also an amazingly ironic juxtaposition, purposefully created. It’s an easy joke but the death of the cowardly “blood-sucking lawyer” is black comedy at it’s action movie finest. Most of Ian Malcolm’s greatest quips are about avoiding death in an almost Woody Allen-esque overly talkative way (not surprising given that Goldblum’s debut was in Allen’s Annie Hall, and he siphons the actor/director tremendously in the films). But, and this isn’t a spoiler, nobody dies in LEGO Jurassic World.

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There are the all-important people eating scenes but all of them blissfully avoid actually committing to the death of a character, regurgitating them after, or just casually changing their death to a relevant whimsical scene. But, and maybe I’m being too adult about this, death is a central theme of the film series and is something that is expertly handled by them. Most of the deaths in the movies are comically based, rather than terror based (with the exception of Jurassic World), yet the complete avoidance of them in the game actually takes away something from the story and the fiction. I get why it’s happened because, a dinosaur eating someone is pretty terrifying. But it’s not as if the games haven’t done death before.

Another thing, and maybe I’m being picky, is a completely needless mini-game involving the Pachycephalosaurus. At first I thought it would serve a purpose to teach you a new mechanic but it just teaches things you already know from the earlier missions and is just there to divert the play from the story a little so you can explore the area. But you then have a part where you use the dinosaur as a battering ram before beating off your fellow Pachycephalosaurus’s in what is almost a dinosaur version of cock fighting. All this happening in a tourist arena with P.A. bellows of “oh don’t worry, he has the hardest head,” as if crying virtual LEGO children are in the stands pleading with mummy as to why the dinosaurs are trying to kill each other. There is a relevant symbolism in this with the movie of Jurassic World, which I won’t spoil, but it’s lost a bit in the game given that it doesn’t attempt to put the more moral dimensions of the plot in to any context.

After a few hours back on the islands, I must conclude that LEGO Jurassic World is an excellent nostalgic love letter to a series we all hoped would have a good game waiting to evolve from it. Although the movies are PG, I feel that the humour and the game itself has been aimed at too younger a player and could have had a bit more freedom in using the source material (Jurassic World is 12A). All of the excellent LEGO staples are there, including character and dinosaur creations, and it all works brilliantly. It is most definitely the best Jurassic Park/World game made and a good LEGO game, but could have done with a little more appreciation of what the audience can handle.

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This is probably the best LEGO game in a while, at least since Lord of the Rings for me personally. The Jurassic Park franchise fits it very well and TT Games has yet again, excellently put their trademark humour and enjoyable gameplay into practice. There are a few unpolished bits and the games suffer mostly from the same reasons that the movies did. Fun to play, good nostalgia and dinosaurs.

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– Dinosaurs, nostalgia and no expense spared.

– Great open world map.

– Another franchise that fits great with the bricks.

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– A bit unpolished in places.

– The story suffers after a while, much like the movies.

– Tiny bit repetitive in the puzzles.

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Whilst I have some criticisms, I’m not judging a score based on them. But there some unpolished parts that more testing could have helped. The game though is a lot of fun and enjoyable for a while, and whilst the pace suffers during the third movie, the only problems mostly stem from the source material. Could have been a little bit tighter in places and the bonus levels would have been great

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

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GEEMU! – Bandai Namco’s Level Up Preview

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I’m incredibly westernised when it comes to games. Whilst I love Japan and its food and customs, I’ve never been able to really access its gaming and anime culture like so many of my contemporaries have. So for those of you who do know more about these franchises than I do (which is probably everyone), I apologise in advance.

Earlier in April, Bandai Namco invited us to their Level Up tour event. It’s a nice get together they’ve put on this year, touring the major cities and giving the press amongst others a first look in to the catalogue of upcoming games and a few bits of hands on experience. There’s another game that will be coming separately from this event. But for now I’m going to look at the incredible, and rather large, line-up of Japanese games coming to the UK. Another advance warning, as these are all Japanese games there’s very little to nothing in the way of Xbox here. Sony rules the roost in Japan and it shows with this lineup.

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Godzilla

Firstly, let’s look at something that everyone knows. Godzilla is the now 61 year old metropolis-crushing monster. Recently brought back in to media prominence by the movie of the same name starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston with less beard and more top hair. So what better thing is there to do than to bring the beast to Sony’s consoles and DESTORY! You will take charge of the titular character and destroy everything in your path to harness G-Energy. Us pesky humans have been using G-Energy as a power source and, much like most fossil fuels, is coming back to bite us and destroy our world by also awakening Godzilla. This time there’s no Al Gore to save us all.

There are around 25 levels to destroy along with an obligator versus mode against other monsters and a build-your-own mode where you can construct the perfect city to destroy. Your Godzilla will grow and level up with more of this G-Energy and apparently will also fly. I think Red Bull might have missed a wing-giving marketing opportunity here. What we have is a monster beat-em-up with smile inducing amounts of collateral damage. The game is coming this summer for PS3 and PS4 although there’s no local co-op or versus play, only online battles.

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One Piece Pirate Warrior 3

So my mind is a little blown here. It looks and plays like Dynasty Warriors, which is easily explained by the fact it s done by the same people. This is the third instalment of the series where you play as Luffy, or Monkey D. “Straw Hat” Luffy of the One Piece anime franchise, a young man with some super powers after eating a Gum-Gum fruit. So begins his adventures on the open waves and many lands to help defeat Doflamingo. You will travel through many worlds from the anime and earlier games, uniting your brothers and even playing in up to date areas like Dressrosa.

Controls, masses of enemies, combo multipliers and crazy mad magic attacks abound, this is pretty typical “Warriors” stuff. it works well and it’s crazy. Of course if you’re looking at this then you’re probably a fan of the series and the game. It’s a nice button bashing game with some awesome anime graphics and specials. Travelling across these worlds nice scenery with completely obscured by mad particle effects and many waves of enemies before big boss battles. Although for me it was made better by one of the characters (Sabo, I believe) looking like Ginx TV presenter and comedian John Robertson due to some great top-hat game. If you’re a fan, then keep your eyes open around August 2015 on your PS4, PS3, PS Vita and on Steam for PC users too.

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Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

I am a giant frog in a straw hat crushing many tiny people who look like ants and beating big rock creatures. I then, after much Warriors like gameplay, jump onto some giant tentacled or armed creature and grind my way down it, slicing it open as I do and dodging fireballs into an anime big battle climax. I’ll be honest, with the gameplay that I played there actually didn’t feel like there was a lot to this game or at least anything that distinctly separated it from One Piece’s superior wave combat. After some research I’m actually a toad with a super katana named Jutso and the PS4’s triangle button charges our attacks. The attacks are simply controlled but are still pretty fun to unleash after you’ve charged yourself up at the expense of many tiny army’s, who have no chance against your massive webbed feet.

What I did get though was some excellent graphics. Violent and vibrant colours filled my screen at breakneck speeds mixed with anime-rendered characters and sequences. You could liken it for cel-shading but the style is all of its own. And out of every game I saw it was this element and this potential that gripped me the most. If the consoles can pull off this kind of magnificence then there’s a lot of exciting things that can come of the art style. At least that’s what I thought I saw, I could have just licked the toad and tripped out. You’ll be able to find out later this year on PS4, PC and Xbox One if the consoles can deliver the full package.

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J-Stars Victory VS+

This looks like a standard cross licence beat-em-up but it isn’t. There’s a lot more than that. As me and Steven (from our good friends at GGS Gamer) sat down and picked up the controller, we selected our battlers from various universes and were shown in to an arena of an old village. There we let rip, with me playing as Goku, and kicked butt in a massive destructible environment, charging up our special abilities and using the scenery to our advantage. Our 2v2 team battle was easily lost when we realised we didn’t know the controls but we thought we were cool and that’s the important thing.

The game is great for manga/anime fans, especially those of JUMP magazine. The game gives you a huge roster of characters and environments from many different series including One Piece, Naruto, Dragonball Z, Toiko and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure just to name a few. The PS4 graphics are excellent and although we didn’t get a great deal of the game or its characters, it certainly seems to be a one stop shop if you are a fan of multiple series and like cross overs. The game play, whilst a arena style team based fighting game, is an interesting departure from the other games in this feature and could keep you coming back, even if you’re unsure exactly how the story is working. You will play and mix across all the included licences though through that story and we’re going to get an arcade fighting mode. So keep your eyes open this summer if you’re a PS3, PS4 or PS Vita owner.

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Tales of Zestiria

The Tales RPG series has long been requested in the Western markets. For the 20th anniversary of the franchise this latest game, Tales of Zestiria sees you play as Sorey. Your curiosity of history allows you to see a race of invisible people called the Seraphim and leads you to become the Shepherd, a legendary figure in this universe and you will set forth to unite both your human domain and the invisible Seraphim world. Sadly there wasn’t anything of this game playable to us but we did get to see this great trailer. The game is dual voice over in language as you will hear. The game will be available on PS3 in the fall of this year. This game returns the series in to a more action adventure style game but even in last-generation graphics, it looks like and exciting and good looking fantasy environment.

As far as fantasy RPG’s go, we are going to be pretty spoilt in the coming months. Rumours of a new Fallout, The Witcher Wild Hunt (also a Bandai Namco release), Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy and whatever HD remakes are sure to come. But for owners that haven’t yet made the jump, this is going to be a really interesting and beautiful purchase. For all of the slight cliches of the genre in the trailer the world is pretty, magical and fascinating anime landscape that could probably be a last thing for you to enjoy on the last generation of Playstation. JRPG’s have a long history and if this as good as it looks then it’s a fitting end for the console.

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Anther notable game is Project X Zone 2. A sequel to the popular 2013 strategy RPG that sees a huge mix of video gaming licences. You’ll have Tekken and Tales of Vesperia characters from Bandai Namco, Capcom’s Resident Evil and Devil May Cry characters and Sega’s Virtua Fighter and Yakuza: Dead Souls all filling an impressive roster. Again this will be a single play game for the Nintendo 3DS coming in the fall.

 

There’s also Saint Seiya: Soldiers’ Souls. A game that has some excellent anime art based on the TV series of the same name. The premise is that you, being given the golden armour called God Cloths are to defeat the Gold Saints who have returned from the grave. Again this game is due in the fall and will be on PS3, PS4 and Steam for PC users.

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Hotline Miami 2 Wrong Number – Review

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Hotline Miami 2 follows on from the enormously successful indie game Hotline Miami. For those of you that have probably seen but not played it before, allow me to enlighten you as to the status quo. Hotline Miami is a 2D top down shooter that is played at a frenetic and unforgiving pace. The style, which takes an eclectic look at the 80s through the eyes of an unnamed man (known by the community as Jacket and is inspired by the movie Drive), is a colourful and vibrant psychedelic mind explosion that is beautifully married with extremely prejudicial violence and an amazing electronica-fused soundtrack.

[Where everybody knows your name... Or mask, rather.]

[Where everybody knows your name… Or mask, rather.]

It was quite simply marvellous and extremely difficult and frustrating all at the same time. Hotline Miami 2 sets itself to conclude the story of the first game, a story that was a strange mix of imaginary and forced coercion into violent acts by the mob, and delivered by a narrator that was so unreliable, he’d probably get a job as Middle-East peace envoy. In a series of flashbacks and fast-forwards, which are beautifully realised by some excellent old VHS tape and tracking effects, Hotline Miami 2 gives you the before and the after of the first game, putting in to perspective the events that caused the extreme violence that’s tricky but enjoyable.

Whilst this is an excellent mechanic of course and the story actually tells you very little of what is actually going on (which might frustrate those of you looking for closure), it’s the constant jarring between different times and characters that will sit most uncomfortably for those used to a more linear experience. It possibly could have done well to have these flashbacks in their own chapters with the book-writing journalist bridging the narrative gaps. But as a criticism of the method in the game, it can lose you, especially if you spend a while on a tricky level and suddenly get thrown into unexplained mid-80s Hawaii with a covert military unit taking out rebels.

In fact at times in these levels the game becomes quite nostalgic for the older gamer. It’s less “Honolulu Strangler” and more “Operation Wolf.” Remember that arcade game? That big heavy plastic gun controller with moving parts that was always five times the size of your hands, whatever age you were? The comparisons don’t stop there. Where the first game echoed the inspiration of Drive, Hotline Miami 2 throws in the crime and decadence of Scarface, echoes of Platoon and Apocalypse Now in military thrillers, and a very unique look at societies fascination for physical and sexual violence in film and how it can blur reality. You are still left with questions and guesses to the real reasons of what’s going on, despite the political power plays happening in the background and the shared psychosis of the chicken mask. If this is the last one then the story is open ended enough to leave you wanting more.

[Shopping on Black Friday always ended badly.]

[Shopping on Black Friday always ended badly.]

The gameplay however isn’t as good as everything else going on around it. Playing on a controller is difficult but once you get in to it, it’s easy to use. Thankfully that responsive challenging control method and crazy pace hasn’t changed at all, but everything around it is a bit trickier than before. Which would be great if it feels like an intention of the game, but it feels a bit annoying, like the game has just copied the AI across form the first game without improving on it. Most annoying is when there are many enemies off-screen that kill you very readily.

The controls to scan around the area are also fairly short in their stretch and there are several instances where the pathing of the enemies, especially dogs, gets caught up on something and starts spinning around. The new enemies that involve a bit more of a challenge are great but almost impossible when surrounded by more than one person with a gun. Sometimes the enemies feel a bit too awkward in their positions and dogs can be especially tricky if your timing is even a beat of a millionth of a second off when hitting the button.

Although your new characters can do cool things like stretching their arms to shoot horizontally in both directions, control a chainsaw and a gun at the same time, and barrel roll out of the way of fire, it’s the lack of the weapons and masks from the first game that sadly take away some of the replayability of the game. The level designs are good but ultimately don’t feel any different from the first. I personally would have loved more interactive things around the areas and the houses in the level introductions. They are there as newspaper cuttings, but a few more and maybe some more humorous spots could have bumped this further than being sequel that doesn’t change it up too much.

[For the stars of DuckTales, early fame led to a bad crowd.]

[For the stars of DuckTales, early fame led to a bad crowd.]

With that being said, for the negative aspects of how the game hasn’t grown or changed, it has a butt load of things that it’s absolutely excelled at. If you follow any games writer, PR person or general gaming related avatar on Twitter, you’ll know the Hotline Miami soundtrack is required Friday listening. Well, we’re adding another playlist to the Friday sounds. Hotline Miami 2’s soundtrack is not only longer, but also better and amazingly posited to the levels they are on. It’s actually a bit of an artistic masterwork when you see how seamless it is and how much the music keeps you in the game during the frustrating constant respawns.

The retro look at the 80s is also fantastic from video tracking and VCR sub menus when you pause the game, to the excellent use of Video Nasty cassette tapes as the level selections and the video rewinding effects to instigate flashbacks. It’s not style over substance by any means but the style is a key part of what makes Hotline Miami 2 a great game and as great as first one.

Hotline Miami 2 is once again an incredible ode-to-violence that will divide players between those who see it as a challenge, those who see it as masochistic, those who just love the look and sound of it and those who don’t have a damn clue what’s going on. There are some criticisms of the violence it portrays and that the sexual violence in the beginning is gratuitous and unnecessary. Which it is and the fact you can turn it off is an admission of that. The game hasn’t leapt on from the first and in some cases has taken stuff away that we would have loved. But what the game does best is put an incredible pop-culture visual over challenging levels that will dictate your Spotify playlists for many years. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I can hear my phone going off.

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Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has fulfilled everything we expected and asked for in a sequel, which was “more of the same, please”. More music, more 80s style, more challenging shooty fun. But we probably didn’t realise that we’d have liked a bit more refinement, maybe a bit of cohesion between flashback sequences and bit more of an improvement in the AI. But you don’t get what you don’t ask for, right?

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  • Super awesome soundtrack
  • The conclusion and background to an intriguing story
  • More of the same from the first game

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  • Hasn’t changed enough, and removed some masked fun
  • Regular death from enemies outside of all vision
  • Narrative can be jarring in flashbacks

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There’s a great game here, and a game that when you look past the amazing soundtrack that we love, the visual style that we applaud and the unreliable narrative we all discuss, could have been better. Little things like the enemy AI, being shot from off screen too often and a lack of improvement in that area of the game holds it back a bit. But it is still a great game and terrific value.

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

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LEGO Jurassic World – Preview

LJWFT

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Hold on to your butts… Clever Girl… Life will find a way… I’m getting these out of the way early so I am not tempted to fill this preview with many puns. But it’s true, there are numerous moments throughout the history of the trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy) of the failed Dinosaur theme park that have adorned our popular culture both visually and in quotes. Which is why it makes perfect sense for it to be a LEGO game. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before but if we’re honest, we’ve all wanted a great Jurassic Park game.

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[You know back in my day – the Cretaceous period – gluten intolerance wasn’t a thing.]

There have been people that have tried but in all honesty, LEGO as a video game franchise hasn’t produced a full on turkey of a game yet. So it’s good to see that the game we all wanted may well be best served by LEGO. In fact I’ve got a list of franchises that I would love to see in blocks. For now though, I can’t wait to build my first Dinosaur.

Yes, whilst there’s a lot that we’ll talk about with LEGO Jurassic World, the important thing is that you can build your own dinosaur and wreak havoc with it. Along with the dinosaurs from the movies, including the new movie, you’ll be able to unlock them all as you play the game. Much like in the films, Amber will contain dinosaur DNA for you to collect. This will unlock one of the twenty dinosaurs, which you can then use to create your own, much like the character creator that’s already there for custom players. Except in this case you’ll also get the abilities of that dinosaur’s part. Acid spitting? Sure thing. Finally giving a T-Rex long arms? It’s about time! And we’re told there’s an arena of sorts which you can pit your dinosaur creations against each other. Which, as a sentence, is pretty cool.

LEGO Jurassic World will have a lot from the new movie of the same name although right now we’re not allowed to know anything about it, because obviously that would spoil the movie. But the game follows the original three movies as well and there have been some very seminal movie moments in them. So we were given a few levels from the first movie to play.

LJW3

[Here’s a scene we all forget where human inability to do simple logistics ends in someone being eaten.]

First up, we got to takeover as extinct-species-poop expert Dr. Ellie Sattler who gets to delve into some LEGO dung and cure a Triceratops with lollipops and fruit. You can then control the Triceratops in order to bash things and complete the mission. It’s standard LEGO stuff until the storm starts approaching. Yes, THAT storm from the movie that so excellently screws over Dennis Nedry’s escape from Isla Nublar. There is a dynamic weather and day/night system in LEGO Jurassic World, which will enable things in the exploration phase of the game to change randomly, as well as in levels to suit the film’s transposed dramatic moments.

Our next dramatic moment involves our favourite lawyer getting eaten. The scene of the T-Rex escaping the disabled electric fence and bullying a couple of kids (stupid T-Rex) in an upturned car is replicated very well. Highlights include the original voice work from the movie (including the wise-cracking Jeff Goldblum), constructing a distracting musical box that plays a version of John William’s excellent theme, and the special abilities of the characters. Dr. Alan Grant’s Velociraptor claw can cut through foliage whilst Lex Murphy, the screaming granddaughter of John Hammond, can scream which will break glass.

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[Objects in this mirror may be more blocky than they appear.]

Finally, we see the cheeky and broken-legged Ian Malcolm being rescued by Ellie and warden Robert Muldoon, before being chased by the rampantly annoyed T-Rex. You can also shoot things in to its mouth for an added bonus, but I was personally gutted to see our favourite mirror joke not make an appearance. Again this kind of level design is something that LEGO has done very well before and LEGO Jurassic World is no different.

Whilst the mechanics of play may slightly change between the games, it is a truly tried and tested formula that lends itself to a lot of nuances in Jurassic Park. One of which is the return to a more expansive open world and hub system. The Tolkein franchise games (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) all had a sense of the journey and the excellent areas of Middle-Earth. Whilst the two recent super hero franchise games have an open-ish world, it wasn’t the in depth and changeable areas that the Tolkein ones were, in my opinion anyway.

LEGO Jurassic World combats that by having two hubs and both the islands from the movies to explore, Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna. You’ll have the dynamic weather mechanic and of course the parks themselves. Mr. DNA, the theme park’s mascot, will be guiding you along the way as well as giving you education bite-sized Dino facts.

Mostly, I’ll be excited to replay various things from the movies and by association, watch all of them again. Too often I only watch the first one because it’s on TV conveniently on the same day and time that I order pizza. With LEGO Jurassic World, we appear to have ticked many boxes: Movie dialogue, excellent music, interesting levels replicated in LEGO and the beautiful South American islands of prehistoric genetically re-introduced doom. So if the early levels are any indication, then the LEGO franchise has found another new home in it’s chameleonic existence, and hasn’t jumped the Megalodon just yet.

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Not a Hero – Hands On Preview

NOAFT

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Not a Hero will have a lot of attention coming its way. Developer Roll7 won a BAFTA for their skateboard game OlliOlli and their platform shooter is equally as addictive.

The game may hark back to the days of classic platformer design, things you’d likely see from a Spectrum, Commodore and occasionally 16-Bit consoles. But the look is very much of the 80s vibe. From the days when gaming’s limited colour palette meant bright and fun level designs.

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[Bunnylord is not afraid to get his paws dirty.]

The premise is intriguing and continuously funny (I’ll explain that statement later). The idea is that the not-so-evil visionary, Bunnylord, has decided to go back in time to become Mayor. Mostly because the world got in to such a state in the future that only he could change it by going back to the past. When he is there, he hires a group of mercenaries to eliminate those opposing his leadership. You are those mercenaries.

You’re not technically the bad guys though because Bunnylord is right and although his methods might be one you’d attribute to an evil megalomaniac, you are in fact cleaning up the town. And if you’ve played OlliOlli or any other Roll7 game, you’ll know that it’s something you’ll be doing at a frenetic pace that requires precision timing. Not a Hero does this perfectly with gameplay that’s reminiscent of the best shooting platformers of the 8-bit and 16-Bit age like Robocop Vs Terminator or that decent Batman game. You have very simple options but it’s the timing that makes it work. You can shoot, which is the easiest thing, get in to cover and shoot, fly through a door and tackle enemies or execute them.

NOA1

[Someone took the Blue Pill, we see.]

Instead of the awkward, or should we say challenging, control methods of other violent games like Hotline Miami, Not a Hero is incredibly easy because it operates with only one or two buttons, and very rarely are they operated at the same time. Like OlliOlli, the time that you hit the button and the moments you choose to pop out of cover, or jump out of a building is more important than the shooting itself. Scenes of buildings with a slightly isometric front on view give a great indication of what’s around you as well as an interesting city landscape dominated by “Bunnylord for Mayor” signs. He’s not evil, he’s cute…

Until he starts speak to one of your nine characters that is. This is where the game is continuously funny and incredibly sweary. A lot of people have put a big importance on procedural generation within games, however that’s been limited to the gameplay and the levels. Just check Steam Early Access or Kickstarter and you’ll see that procedural generation is now massively prevalent. Not a Hero has put some procedural generation in the speech rather than the levels, or at least you could say some randomisation. What happens is certain key words are replaced and changed when Bunnylord is talking to you and given you orders, leading to often hilarious and new passages of dialogue every time you play. It gives a new lease of life around the game repeatedly, especially when the levels are so gosh darn replayable.

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[It’s important to utilise cover against the gangs you’re cleaning up. You know, so you don’t die?]

We are introduced to the world when Steve, a former assassin, gets involved with “mayoral candidate from the future” Bunnylord, and becomes his campaign manager. Then begins the slanted 2D, or 2 and one quarter ISO-Slant technology as Roll7 call it, craziness of the cover-shooter… Which actually isn’t limited to shooting. Samuari swords, kick ass Tarantino-esque moments, jumping out of 5 story windows directly in to a van (which was a very enjoyable part of the demo we played) and a various cacophony of comedic 8-bit violence. The missions themselves are normally a fixed objective but you do get, much like in OlliOlli, a list of secondary things that you can accomplish in the level. Things like 3 executions slide tackle 5 enemies, that kind of thing. And these are occasionally randomised as well so that brings another new level of challenges to the game.

In our play through with Cletus, our shotgun gave us some great range. Being able to shoot through doors and enter a room straight in to cover like a violent pixilated ballet gave us great hope for the rest of the game. The characters all have their own weapons and unique personalities and I’m not sure there’s a better, non-evil, humanitarian potential candidate for government than Bunnylord in all of existence. I kind of hope he hijacks our actual national election and given the pictures on the official website I don’t think he’s beyond that, especially as the release date on Steam (PC) is May 7th… Election day. Coincidence? I think not. Whoever becomes mayor, the PS4 and PS Vita will see a release later in the year.

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Titan Souls – Hands On Preview

tspft

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Titan Souls is a very interesting game by three man team Acid Nerve and is being published by Devolver Digital. What started originally as a game jam project between friends has grown up somewhat and will make its debut on PC, PS Vita and PS4 in April. The premise is simple. Boss battles. The game is a series of boss battles against you, your spritey little adventurer. There’s the added bonus that you don’t have to do much either as all of the bosses have one hit point/health point. So one shot and they are dead! Excellent.

["No Salesmen Please"... Phew!]

[“No Salesmen Please”… Phew!]

The problem with this is that you only have one hit point too. So one shot and you’re dead, although you respawn outside the boss battle room to try again. It’s made slightly harder by the fact you only have one weapon, an arrow. You can charge up your shot to fire from distance and POW! Except you only have the one arrow so you have to go and get it back or press the recall button to magically pull it back to you.

The art of boss battles is one thing that hasn’t been lost in gaming. By that I mean that, unless you play everything on such an easy level you could accidentally sneeze and hit the shoot button in something’s face, you have to study, learn and adapt to beat a boss within a game. It’s one of the things that stories are made of, how you defeated the boss, how you did it differently, how quick you did it. Boss battles are a narrative part of the gaming experience.

Titan Souls is no different. Each boss is unique and you have to adapt your approach for each one. For example, a boss with a heart in a load of slime globules will divide into more globules and that makes for a tricky area to move around in. Some bosses need to have a bit of puzzle solving applied before you strike. It’s these little nuances in boss battles that makes Titan Souls quite enjoyable.

["Follow me, I'll take you back to your FarCry 4 DLC!"]

[“Follow me, I’ll take you back to your FarCry 4 DLC!”]

One hit point and one shot may sound masochistic but the sense of achievement for beating a boss in that way is a very rewarding feeling. It’s made even better when you’ve worked out a plan and pulled it off. Or even if you surprise yourself, like I did, by accidentally killing a boss with the arrow as it was being recalled and the boss was in the line of sight. And from this you’ll absorb that bosses soul, much in the way video game characters have absorbed spinning etherial particles and exploded ever since the movie Highlander’s Connor MacLeod said “There can be only one!”*

*Disclaimer: Sean may or may not have said this rather loudly while playing.

Titan Souls is also very well put together visually. The 16-bit inspired RPG look is pretty but also uncluttered. It doesn’t detract at all from the game, the battles or anything, yet it’s atheistically pleasing. You might feel it’s more of a Pokemon style look rather than an old top down RPG one, but the actual surroundings feel more like a Lara Croft-eqsue forgotten temple to these behemoth bosses. Vines and waterfalls over stone and tribal architecture, along with murals and ‘open sesame’ doors.

The bosses as well are all incredibly individual and look great, really putting the imagination to work in the artistic approach of the game. I faced the aforementioned Heart-Glob (if it doesn’t have a name yet then I’m coining that one), a laser cube that’s adorned like the Hellraiser puzzle box and a frozen pink thing stuck in a seemingly impenetrable ice cube. There’s 18 in all and you don’t need to kill all of them to complete the game so you can approach it however you want. The best thing is that you can’t even predict the bosses when you first play. They are all so different in look, style and attack that there’s a certain excitement at what you’re going to find next.

[The Return of Audrey II]

[The Return of Audrey II]

It’s a game that has a simple premise and a simple look (which is actually very hard to pull off). The gameplay itself is challenging and something that makes you think about how you approach a situation or a battle. Not just in the tactical sense but also how you react to your plan going south, as all plans normally do. It will certainly be one of those games where you have to beat everything just to feel like you’ve accomplished something, especially as it’s a game that’s happy to kill you repeatedly for your troubles.

The PS4 and PS Vita is getting this game along with PC but it has to be said that it really does suit the controller with its simple aim, shoot and dodge mechanics. It puts itself very nicely in to your hands. It may not keep you busy for a long time, but it has a lovely look, and an interesting charm to the idea of boss battles. It kind of makes you a little nostalgic to the way boss battles used to be in platform games, and how rewarding they were before a singular omnipresent antagonist. Enjoy it when it comes as it’s a nice example of a gaming staple being given a new and interesting life.

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