Minecraft Story Mode Ep.1 – Review

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Minecraft: Story Mode is the new adventure from Telltale Games. If you’re a fan of Telltale’s more hard hitting, difficult choice-based stories like The Walking Dead then you might want to look away as this probably isn’t for you. However, if you like a good fun story with a slice of Minecraft, and Minecraft that has a narrative direction, then you’re in the right place.

In our interview with Telltale Games’ Laura Perusco, she explained that this is what they do, “interactive stories,” and after Tales of the Borderlands they decided to look at what they could do with other video games and thus this game was born. But just to write it off as another Telltale Game would be a fools errand. To set the scene, you play as Jesse. It’s the day of the EnderCon building competition and you are going with your friends and your pet pig Reuben to build something awesome. The prize for winning this is to meet Gabriel the Knight, one of the four heroes of the land and part of a group called “The Order of The Stone.” The comparisons to modern day convention culture and the massive success of the game in various online media is evident and it’s quite enjoyable to see it played out in an actual narrative.

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Even for me personally, some of my favourite YouTube videos on Minecraft are one’s that have involved some hilariously hammy role-play that makes things enjoyable, but there’s no ham to be found here. Not unless you consider Reuben to be food. The story does the normal multiple choice speech options that will either enamour you more with your fellow characters or cause issue at a later time. And as far as the quicktime events go, there isn’t many, which is probably to help less experienced players enjoy it with others (kids playing with parents for example).

In fact it’s this family thing that is a bit weird for the more serious player. Firstly, it’s not Minecraft, it looks like Minecraft and there’s occasional points where you get to use Minecraft objects like chests, crafting tables and swords, but it is not Minecraft. It’s also not the dark and morally disturbing game that some of Telltale’s stories have been in other franchises.

The positives of this is that the story can indulge in comedy and expression a lot more than previous franchises. There’s some great voice acting going on here from the cast, both with the male and female versions of Jesse, and Reuben the pig is quite possibly the best pet character in a game this year.  He’s charming, and, depending on your actions, all kinds of adorable. The dynamic between the friends is good and potentially venomous as well and there’s a love interest (presumably, certainly a mutual “you’re pretty” thing) between Jesse and Petra which is not changed or any different regardless of what gender you play as. Good on you Telltale.

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The criticism is that this is more of a Minecraft animation at times than a game. It takes so many visual queues from media around it that it kind of loses Minecraft itself. You’ll notice visual styles that people like Captain Sparkles and the like have made popular on YouTube over the years. But the problem is that it kind of loses the fun and soul of playing Minecraft. Which is fine if you don’t want to actually play Minecraft and go in to a more comedic thing. At one point, Telltale use their own speech system to implement a joke, which was a pleasant surprise when I noticed it, but could be easily missed.

So is it a step too far in the wrong direction for Telltale? Is the formula getting stale? It’s certainly stretching the formula a bit, as was found during the Game of Thrones series, and others are now doing it just as well with Life is Strange being a prime example. But this game isn’t the same as those other franchises in so much as it is designed to be for family entertainment and a bit more for everyone rather than fans of a particular franchise or fans of the game. If anything it’s Telltale-lite. It’s kind of reminiscent of the early games like the Sam & Max, Monkey Island games, etc. But it has a much better narrative and a much better gameplay dynamic.

Of course we end on a cliffhanger and I’m not spoiling any of the episodes story other than you set off on a vast quest across the world of Minecraft to reunite the Order of the Stone, the title of this episode. It’s definitely a good game and a lot of fun for families and people who want to engage with Minecraft in a relatable way, which is great if you have kids that enjoy it, or you enjoy Minecraft anyway. Otherwise, it’s probably not for you.

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Minecraft Story Mode is only in its first episode and i’m sure it will have a lot of visual treats the longer we go on. The story is already a lot of fun but it really isn’t the usual kind of story that you’d expect from Telltale. It’s very family friendly and it’s very light on the actual game interaction. It is also quite far removed from Minecraft as a game. But it is enjoyable and worth playing just for Reuben the pig, this year’s best game pet.

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  • Great amusing story
  • Awesome use of Minecraft visual style
  • Reuben the pig

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  • There isn’t a lot of stuff to actually do
  • Doesn’t have as much Minecraft interaction as you’d expect
  • Could be stretching the formula a bit too much

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Well, it’s a fun enough game and I mostly enjoyed it for Reuben the pig. But if I’m honest, it made me want to play more actual Minecraft. It’s fun and certainly good for families and people who want to sit around as a family and play an easy game together. But it doesn’t leap out as much as other Telltale games have. It’s a great use of the franchise, especially for the target audience, but not enough for a larger audience.

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Days Out – EGX (Eurogamer Expo)

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In a new, irregular series of features, TheGameJar goes and visits gaming events and lets you know whether or not they’re any good, how much of your wallet you’ll have left and if you’ll enjoy them.

It’s true that the forced move from the well known and relatively easy to get to Earls Court to Birmingham was a bit of a sticking point for Londoners (myself practically falling in to that catchment area). When I say easy to get to, that’s a geographical and logistical misnomer. Because Birmingham and the N.E.C. in particular is the most connected place in the country outside of London. In fact its location makes travel and attendance easier for everyone across the country.

What it doesn’t do however is help justify the cost of travel. I booked my ticket in advance on Monday for the Thursday (I could only afford to attend for the one day). This cost me £22 but it was a timed return, so I left my home town at 7:05 and had to get the 20:05 train back. Any other choice would have thrown me up to £75 for a single ticket and £158 for an open return. There are of course cheaper ways to do it with more advanced booking, group tickets, driving yourself and even using the 10% discount code EGX put on for Virgin Trains. But compared to my incredibly open £25 London travel card from last year which allowed me to go in to central London, see sights, eat slightly less overpriced food, and enjoy a beverage by the Thames, it is an extortionate cost. One that sadly is completely out of the control of the organisers and, it seems, anyone that doesn’t own a train company.

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It doesn’t help that there is practically nothing else to do. It’s like that Tom Hanks movie “The Airport” where the guy can’t leave. The N.E.C. is Birmingham only because it isn’t close to any other major city. It’s barely in Birmingham and there is literally nothing to do. I’ve added this paragraph after reading a Midnight Resistance piece on the same event which says that the loss of the community focused events, like podcast/website community meet ups, are the real casualty here as no one can meet anymore. There’s no where to have little meet-up events and the lack of those fun, semi-industry meet ups and drinks is a real shame. As someone who runs and owns a site in the same vein, I heartily agree, and there’s never going to be any convenience for sites like us to arrange a meet-up, and we’ll never have the finances to independently arrange it. Obviously you can’t blame Gamer Network for this, this is their event for their brands. But that’s another conversation for another time.

Before I go on to the more positive sides, I do have some very practical niggles about the venue itself. The N.E.C. is a veritable maze of oversized airport-esque craziness. That’s not a problem as long as you adequately signpost where the heck you are going from the station. There was one sign that said which halls it was in, about the size of an A3 poster once you’ve traversed the long concourse from the station. Then there were occasional people pointing you in the right direction. Other events were nicely signposted with cardboard cut outs of Police Officers for the emergency services show pointing you the right way. It was like the event was a dirty afterthought for the conference centre at times. So after getting my press pass, I went to the  Wetherspoons pub in the centre to get a coffee and some breakfast (much needed after a two hour train journey). There was a few people at 9:30a.m. on this Thursday already drinking. Now, I’m not an old fuddy duddy but any alcohol before 10am is only allowed socially if you’re in an airport before going on holiday. This was a family event for video games and if you’re that desperate to have a pint with your mates, then you’re probably not going to have a good time.

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Ok, the event itself was… Alright. I had a few appointments for interviews which basically gave me no chance of playing any game. The EA both is very typically busy at all times but as the event opened, the queue for Star Wars Battlefront was over an hour long. After I finished an interview, it was three hours long. This is the same for pretty much everything with a few exceptions for what is essentially ten minutes of gameplay. This is normal for events of this type but I found myself mostly watching games by looking over the shoulders of those playing. If I had a family and was paying for this, I’d need to meticulously plan this otherwise it would be utterly frustrating. I saw a tweet this morning where someone had listened to the VideoGamer podcast whilst waiting in the queues. It’s a bit silly really.

It’s mostly silly because we’d all hoped the move to a bigger venue would mean that the expo would be… Well, bigger. But most of it only felt bigger in the aisles and walkways. The idea, we all thought, was to allow for more gaming, more fun and ultimately more of an experience. But to be honest, it didn’t really feel like that was the case. Playstation had a rather large and cramped area with two loud presenter type people more obsessed with spinning a prize wheel and garnering attention away from the Xbox stand, who were also shouting rather loudly about their game footage and drawing a crowd in a slightly larger area under the promise of free things. And they weren’t alone with YouTube Gaming doing the same although their streams and content was actually quite good, including the Gamer Network owned teams, along with Cam and Sebby, showing off games with developers and watching footage of games like Total War: Warhammer and people playing Destiny.

The problem is with these events is that the games that are supposed to take centre stage get hidden behind personalities, available space and consumer demand limitations, and the apparently more beneficial longevity of the swag generation. Stick around for this whole presentation and at the end we’ll throw T-Shirts at you. In the case of the YouTube stand, people just appeared at the right time like a sixth sense. If you’ve ever been on a boat or in a harbour where you lean over the edge with some food and suddenly lots of tiny sprats appear like a swarm of locusts in a field… That’s what this is. Maybe I am sounding old here but it’s an atrocious sight to see human beings baying for branded garments for no other reason than them just being there.

The Indie area on the other hand is cramped, busy and interesting. Pretty much like it always is, and if you are more interested in this then EGX Rezzed at Tobacco Docks in London is probably better for you. But it’s fun as long as you can get around it and look at the interesting games there, although having been to many events this year, I’ve seen a lot of the same games over and over again by now. But there are good things to be seen here.

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Then there’s the awesome community around games that really love just going there to see friends and have a good time. Cosplay had a smaller stage this year but it was great to see so many people being involved and enjoying it. The Rock Band 4 stage, compared by our great friends at Xtreme Gaming, was a great interactive and fun experience to get involved with (even though the surrounding people were probably sick of hearing Tribute by Tenacious D so many times). The retro gaming area is always fun and incredibly easy to get on to the old consoles and have some fun as well.

The thing is with this event is that it’s a little too big for what they’re attempting to do. Sure you can go and and have a little shop around as there’s lots to buy, you can even go and get some food and a coffee at a price not too far removed from the previous venue. You can go there and have fun if you’re patient and organised. You can even play the games that aren’t out yet if you want to wait in queues for long enough, or go and discover a gem. But with the game release silly season coming up, the cost of getting and staying in Birmingham (if you are doing multiple days) may not be worth what you get from it. If we can get better deals on travel and accommodation, then this would be a much better proposition than it currently is.

Images taken from Eurogamer and Indigo Pearl’s Twitter Feeds

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EVE’s Virtual Reality is better than your own reality

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The old marketing line of that Xenomorph attacking movie is that “in space, no one can hear you scream.” One of the best things about Virtual Reality is that when you’re in space, EVERYONE can hear you scream – scream like you’re a cross between Marlon Wayans and Ariana Richards. There’s a small part of it that is fear, but mostly it’s crazy, unbridled joy.

From the moment you fit yourself with the Oculus Rift and sit down in the cockpit of your Wraith Mark II fighter, you are amazed and a little bit giddy. Not at the disorientation, but more at the ability to see your limbs as if they were not your own. It’s not exactly out of body because you are in control buy your head turning and looking at all of these things, but still, it does a good thing of immediately displacing your own reality and dropping you directly in to the fiction.

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And drop it does. In the most fun parts of our science fiction movie history, we get launched from a tube like the best of our Battlestar Galactica/Star Wars fantasies at a terrific velocity and in to the rather crowded arena of our fleet in deep space. This of course leads to an incredibly space battle which sees you wildly flipping your head around (that from the outside must look like it’s going to fall off), desperately searching for that enemy in some excellent dogfighting. Add in to that Katee Sackhoff doing voiceover content, customisable ships and also the potential of Sony’s Project Morpheus, and you’ve got me sold.

This is the experience I took away from my time with EVE Valkyrie whilst at Gamescom. You can see the video below which is the same demo I experienced (although from the eyes of CCP) and it was also my first proper experience of VR gaming. I know, what a fool I’ve been to miss out. But I’ve always had a quiet respect and fear of EVE. It’s a game I’m sure I would absolutely love but the difficult learning arc, deep fiction and incredibly dedicated community can make it very daunting. However, I believe that Valkyrie can change that.

The great thing that CCP have done over the years is find a way to make their product, not only more appealing but more accessible to people like me. People like me who sit on the fence and haven’t been able to go further than dipping a toe. Because, let’s be honest, giant space MMORPG isn’t everyone’s cup of team. But giant virtual reality space dogfighting is. CCP have often tried to look outside of their own box, the PlayStation network game DUST 514 being a prime example (with an first person shooter that crossover over with the online play of EVE) to take the franchise away from its PC roots and expand to a console, attracting a new audience. The comic book series, EVE: True Stories is really interesting too, delivering the House of Cards-esque economic and political intrigue of actual situations in a narrative discourse with the fall of the Band of Brothers.

So it should be no surprise that the current four year development of EVE Valkyrie with the new VR technology is doing new things and pushing the envelope. If you’ve used the Oculus Rift then you’ll know that the only criticisms have been based on delivering a resolution like current monitors can and the power of the system that will be needed to power it come consumer release. But as far as the game goes, it is absolutely fantastic. But the CCP VR journey doesn’t end there either.

EVE: Gunjack is the upcoming launch title for the Samsung Gear VR, a VR headset add-on for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. You stick your phone in the front of the Oculus developed peripheral and you’re good to go. Gunjack, developed on the Unreal 4 Engine looks absolutely excellent given the spec of the tech and and the scope it is going for. You get an incredibly similar scope of vision like you with Valkyrie but without the ship movement so it’s a lot more static. The best way to describe is is that it’s a one button shooter (the button is on the side of your headset) whilst you are in a fixed turret attacking the oncoming waves of enemies. It’s very similar to games like Space Harrier and Child of Eden with oncoming enemies in various formations with power ups abound. It’s a simple concept (perfect for mobile gaming) with a one button control (also perfect for mobile gaming) and is playable with or without the Gear VR. It also comes across very well and is just the right amount of casual for the concept and for the technology.

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Virtual Reality is constantly being touted as the future of gaming. I’ve heard it from developers, publishers, technology journalists, a random guy in a pub who frequents many business shows to sell things… By this point you’ve probably heard it from your dog in a moment of existential mania. But the problem of course has been how slow the technology has taken to get in to the consumers hands and with content for it. Just look at how 3D failed to take advantage of anything in this regard. VR however has been worked on for many years, between b-movie horror in The Lawnmower Man to crazy full body experiences. EVE has an appeal beyond it’s core online subscribers because, even if we don’t understand it or can access it, most gamers who have heard about it are secretly really interested in what’s happening in there. Whilst Valkyrie and Gunjack both give a bigger platform for exposure, they’re success will be that they’ve made it easier for more people to feel like a part of the universe.

Headset or not, one button or a controller, or a fully beefed up PC or a mobile phone, that’s what I took from playing the games. I took the connection that I’ve probably lusted for since first letting my subscription to EVE Online slip, and enjoyed every second of it. If you’re going to any conventions or shows over the rest of the year, I implore you to go and try it and see if, like me, this is the way to satisfy your EVE craving.

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Gamescom 2015 – Day One


It’s been an interesting 24 hours here in Cologne. Europe’s premier games conference and industry trade fair is buzzing with people. Today is the calm before the storm where industry and press get to see some things before the peoples of Europe come and wreak absolute carnage. How much carnage? Well the organisers are expecting around 400,000 people approximately. That’s just under the population of Cardiff.

We start today with yesterday. Xbox’s annual briefing gave us some new glances into things we’ve been waiting for, such as Halo 5 Guardians, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. The latter of which we were treated to a secondary demo of after the breifing. Lara Croft’s adventures seem to follow the exact same system and style of the 2013 remake. Some have criticised it for being and Xbox exclusive (which we now know it isn’t after Winter 2016) and that Lara was a bit too indestructible. Honestly, whilst she certainly takes some pubishment, you don’t feel that she’s immune to the physicality she endures. The game has a frenetic and terrifying way of creating urgency in how you react against obstacles and big crazy events like collapsing caves. It does look good and we can hardly be critical for wanting more of the same and getting it.

Crackdown 3 appears to be the most technologically progressive out of the games we’ve been shown. The use of Microsoft’s cloud servers in delivering a better in-game experience is nothing new (we found out last year that Dead Island 2 was due to use the system). But there doesn’t appear to be a game that has ever been so reliant on it. The 100% world destuction is an ambitious ask for a console that has begun to find its gaming feet but it raises some questions. Will this be unplayable offline, will this be reliant on server connections being stable, will the amount of players cause lag and issues? The 4 player co-op sequel is in the pre-alpha stage so it’s going to be a while but what we’ve seen is impressive. The 100% destruction is based on actual construction with elements in the buidlings. There’s no empty shells with textures, every shatterd pane of glass, broken concrete, collapsed steel pillar and brick is a physical element in itself, with each building being based on its own server as to not interrupt gameplay. The demo we saw with ultimate destruction used 12 servers in addition to the Xbox One. Is it too ambitious? We’ll see next year hopefully.

We saw new game Scalebound (a rather jaunty hack and slash with dragons), debut some gameplay, and we saw some almost blase news that Cities: Skylines (the Sim City rival/usurper) will be making it’s way to the console. But the biggest new annoucement was a sequel we were all hoping for and from a studio that we really should have predicted. Halo Wars 2 is coming and it will be developed by Total War studio Creative Assembly. I for one am sad that it isn’t in house with a reformed Ensemble Studios but I’m more exctactic that it exists with a studio that has such pedigree.

Quantum Break was given more of an outing and we saw an expansion of the third person gameplay to something that looks quite like a rival to inFamous and the like. Remedy studios appear to be brilliantly keeping their TV style presentation for the game with Aiden Gillen (Game of Throne’s Littlefinger) sticking to one accent alongside a great cast. The gameplay does look excellent but we need to see some more, less demo-y gameplay now, and maybe even some hands on time.

We also had DVR announced (if you have that much memory left then teach me your ways), a new keyboard peripheral and backward compatibilty for Games with Gold. So your Xbox 360 Games with Gold from now on will be playable on the Xbox One. None of your previous ones sadly and there’s no telling how that’s going to limit the game choice but apparently everyone is on board so, we’ll see.

The next morning EA held a conference which, from the social media reaction, hasn’t really been well received. We have more news on FIFA 16’s Ultimate Team mode, a new Sims 4 expansion, some Mirror’s Edge gamplay, some Need for Speed and, most importantly, a new trailer for Star Wars Battlefront. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much from EA than what they had already announced at E3, with a new Battlefield game being slated for 2016. I personally didn’t see it as I was busy checking out Dark Souls 3 (a preview of which will come next week) but here’s the trailer for Star Wars Battlefield.

We also has a press conference from Blizzard which introduced new characters to Heroes of the Storm including the monk from Diablo, along with some gameplay refinements. We also saw a new standalone expansion to Starcraft 2, Legacy of the Void, new Hearthstone cards and more news on Blizzard’s first person shooter, Overwatch, including new maps and their 16th character – carnival loving Brazillian Lucio.

There’s still some noise to come from Blizzard with the reveal of the new World of Warcraft expansion and I’m going to be deep in halls checking out all that I can so stay tuned to our Twitter for more and more reports over the next week.

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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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Not a Hero – Hands On Preview

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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.

NOA3

[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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Evolve – Review

Evolve preview feat

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Having played Evolve back at Gamescom, I had a few worries. Come the Alpha and the recent open beta, I still had them. Come release day, I still had them. The thing is, I’ve heard a lot about Evolve. A lot of people have talked to me quite passionately about how good it was and how excited they were for it. Yet whenever I combined those conversations with my worries over the game, the answer was always something like “it’ll be fine come the release” or “it won’t be an issue.”

Evolve preview 1

[Satirists predict 2015’s Black Friday Sales]

Evolve is an online multiplayer team hunting game, or an asymmetrical multiplayer game. The idea is that you work as a team of four to hunt a monster, or as a monster to defeat the team. You do this across a variety of maps, which are essentially alien landscape arenas with some vestige of humanity.

As the monster you walk around these arenas eating things so you can evolve your powers of destruction, and kill your hunters/destroy objectives. As the hunters, each of you has a dedicated role: Beat the crap out of the monster, trap it, shield everyone and call air strikes, or heal the idiots who just charge far away from you. You then stop the monster by death or by preventing it from completing its objective within the allotted time.

The problems I had are these: I worried that the game was too reliant on its online component (something that was a complete failure during the PS4 alpha for various reasons) and that not enough people would be interested. I was worried that the game wouldn’t have enough to do in it for it not to become ultra repetitive. I was also worried that the console versions would become very redundant very quickly. Leaving the game to the PC market only, and even then to dedicated people, and that it didn’t have the longevity of the Left for Dead series, Turtle Rock’s previous ventures.

What I have found when looking at other reviews is that people have completely misunderstood a lot of the information surrounding the game. There are massive criticisms from users on Metacritic and Steam over microtransactions. This needs addressing, as at present there is absolutely nothing in this game that is behind any kind of pay-wall to allow you to play it fully. The only thing that could be counted as such is a special edition monster only available to certain packages. There are many downloadable skins available for the game. That’s it. That will undoubtedly change with further DLC but the game isn’t requiring it in order to play, nor is there any pay to win solutions.

Evolve preview 3

[“Do you think this’ll make the Hunters Calendar next year?”]

From what I can tell so far, the problems for the PS4 that were apparent in alpha have been resolved. The game has some pretty decent matchmaking that doesn’t leave you hanging around too long. It was the top selling game in the UK last week too, so there’s obviously people playing it. There are offline elements but the need for people to be playing the game, so that you can get the best experience, is evident. However there are ways that the game tries to overcome this people quota issue.

In fact, it takes a leaf out of classic PC FPS gaming. I feel the game becomes quite similar in this regard to things like Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament, although given the developers PC pedigree it’s hardly surprising. If there isn’t enough people then the game will put in bots – AI controlled characters – to fulfill the roles. It’s quite clever in that it will help keep the online game alive even if it hasn’t filled up with actual players. It also makes up the majority of the solo play as well. Plus the AI isn’t ludicrously stupid for either you or the monster. It’s nowhere near the excitement of playing with other humans but it will do while you’re waiting for them.

This is where Evolve is at its best though. When you have a full party of people who know their roles and can communicate via chat, this game is a tactical masterpiece. The monster is a wild card and getting things exactly right is incredibly rewarding as an experience. Sadly it is rare that it occurs at the present moment. I’ll come on to the characters themselves but the way that people have been playing the game, in my experience, is very console specific in the run-and-gun style. Which can make games a tactically inept cat-and-mouse chasing simulator. If the console audience is ready to adapt their style of play and ability to communicate better then this game would truly be revolutionary. Unfortunately I still haven’t fully experienced that yet.

The positive is that Turtle Rock has given the people all the right tools to do it. In this regard they have a created a fantastic game, even if it is slightly limited by the built-in desire for online play and future DLC. The game modes are very simple and easy, yet are challenging enough to not become dull and repetitive in a short space of time. The Evacuation game mode is the highlight here. It’s masked as a solo campaign option but the five mission stages that you can complete (win or lose) is best played as a night event online in a party with friends. It’s amusing if you’re all together chatting and it is a separate enough entity that you could just do that once every few nights with your mates without ever leaping too far ahead.

Evolve 5

[And here we see one of natures most homicidal, sociopathic creatures… And what they’re hunting]

Graphically the game runs very well and with stable frame rates. The art design is excellent and creates some incredible alien worlds that science-fiction filmmakers would kill to have. My only criticism of the level design is that it can be very Monster-centric, making the early level hunters struggle to get around.

I’ve not seen many issues relating to Internet connection but there are certainly things that the game could patch like the in-game volume. It’s incredibly loud, louder than any game I’ve played, straight from the intro video. The in game sounds are also so loud that it eclipses the party chat in volume, which is a pretty key element. But these are all patchable things that can be easily addressed.

The characters or Hunters all have a different element to them. There’s four classes (Assault, Trapper, Medic and Support) and each of them have an important role to play. Which is where the need to play tactically really becomes necessary. The characters individually don’t have enough attacking power to just spray the screen with bullets. So you have to actually work together to get in to the best position to use everyone’s abilities. It becomes tricky when the environment starts working against you due to your failings and you realise that some kind of balanced personal weapons for each character is not only useful but completely non-existent. It’d be nice to have something that can tackle animals and such without your team having to bail you out or leave you for dead.

The rub of this is that more characters and monsters unlock the more you progress in the game. They are very typical of a 2K game release; slightly humorous and cliché meatheads/rednecks/smart-asses that come complete with occasional funny dialogue and cut scenes brimming with banter. They aren’t original at all, especially the first medic Val who could have been stolen straight from Resident Evil, but they are all entertaining enough in the short term that you rarely feel they make much of a difference to the game. Their weapons however do. The Assault character’s guns obviously occupy the role of a tank. The Trapper has some excellent things to help the hunt without being offensively anemic. The medic is very poorly equipped for a fight but essential to keeping your team alive, so smart monsters tend to target that role first. The Support or the buffer role is a bit weak but has a powerful yet cumbersome air strike ability. Together they work very well but if someone gets too far ahead then it can get very lonely and very deadly incredibly quickly.

Evolve 3

[Maybe he should try some Listerine?]

The monsters all have different attacks and abilities with the Goliath, Wraith and Kraken (Ed – every game has a bloody Kraken now, is Lovecraft out of copyright or something?) heading up the available line-up, unless you are rich enough to buy the special edition with the Behemoth. I personally love the Goliath’s fire breath that satisfies the inner need for me to be a dragon. The Kraken has enough lightning for me to scream Return of The Jedi Emperor quotes.

The only tricky thing with the monsters is finding a safe enough place to evolve and unlock more powers. Generally you are already on the run at that point and it feels like birds are everywhere. But you find yourself playing, again that key word, tactically. You know you’re one monster so you have to adapt, learn the map, work out how to separate the team and who to target.

The thing is that the game provides a lot of satisfaction as long as the right people are playing it at the right time. It’s like when you play an online FPS mode and come up against a clan. You are obliterated, utterly embarrassed and become incredibly jaded with your experience. For the most part, Evolve is an incredibly successful attempt at a complex style of game that challenges gamers to be better gamers and rewards them for doing so. It also is incredibly well designed, balanced and well thought out for the style of game it is. Normally the word “hunt” would go in the same sentence in gaming as Cabela or Duck. The only thing that lets it down is that it is reliant on communication, good teamwork and the collimation of that to create its online experience. Which is something that console gamers (I’m sorry for pigeon holing us but its true) so often lack. But it will challenge you and if you have a group of friends that all have the game then you will definitely have fun and if you’re willing, it will make you a better, more tactically thinking, gamer. After all, it’s evolution baby!

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Evolve is a very good game that certain audiences, in my opinion, aren’t ready for. The PC market should love it as should parties of gamers. There’s a lot of noise about DLC and things that aren’t included in the game, as well as it’s longevity. But the game itself is an excellently produced “asymmetrical” multiplayer game. The weapons and characters are all interesting to play as and the environments are great.

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– Excellent gameplay that challenges gamers

– Interesting weapons and character roles/monster abilities

– Not totally dependent on Online availability

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– Potential DLC costs a big factor

– Hard to find a good team of people regularly

– Even with bots it does have a limited longevity on console

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[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

For all the noise surrounding the games content issues, it needs to be pointed out that they are not the game. The game itself is excellent and if there was more to the formula that could survive outside of the multiplayer design, then it would be one of the best. Whilst there are short term solutions to that, the experiences I’ve had on console haven’t been showing the game to its best ability. Maybe that will improve as a core group of fans develop. But the vehicle itself, the game, is great despite its limitations.

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

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E3 Recap – Sony Press Conference

You may have heard us talk about the Sony E3 Press Conference on TheGameJar podcast this past weekend. If you haven’t then go and do it, but read this at the same time. Because, you know, multitasking right?

You could argue that Sony certainly had the most invested in their conference in terms of delivering. Their console is still outselling the Xbox One (for the fifth month in a row now) and whilst the big name Christmas stocking filler battles over Xbox DLC exclusivity, Sony have very quietly bagged themselves some big names.

destiny-alpha-screen-night-timeSince the conference, two games have had some early release testing. The much anticipated Bungie original IP, Destiny, had an early exclusive Alpha release and an exclusive PS4 beta announced. As quick as that happened, Battlefield Hardline also released a multiplayer beta for the PS4. But sticking with Destiny, Sony are obviously investing a lot into the potential this game has and I think, having watched a lot of the early access videos, it is the right decision. The white PS4 console bundle with the game could be just what the people debating how to enter the current generation console market need to convince them.

The big names that Sony unleashed with gameplay certainly felt a lot more conclusive than the Xbox conference, to me personally. Sony are obviously very confident in the power of their console and that’s evident by the amount of gameplay that was shown. There was a certain confusion and potential trepidation at the gameplay reveal of The Order 1886 in my eyes. The gameplay looked interesting and atmospheric but it felt a tad confused and there wasn’t enough to excite me.

Then there was Entwined. The immediately released game that feels like the bastard of Child of Eden and After Burner. It was interesting, especially as a debut game, but again not enough for me to jump straight in to it. Then more inFamous spin offs and I zoned out a bit… Until Sack Boy appeared.

If you don’t love Sack Boy, regardless of your thoughts of Little Big Planet, then you are morally bankrupt and dead inside. As I said in the Podcast, it always confused me how amazing some of the levels created by the community happen so quickly and so effectively. But it is definitely encouraging for the PS4 community to have a truly co-op creative platformed.

far-cry-4-fc4We can skip to Far Cry 4 and how excited everyone is about this game. It’s certainly no secret about how powerful the Cry Engine is. The amount of corners and performance possibilities that the previous generation of consoles couldn’t deliver is now behind us. Far Cry’s gameplay is always great, but the environments especially are spectacular and always have been. Far Cry 4 has nailed it already. Plus elephants. Elephants dammit!

Then there was the Dead Island 2 reveal. A game I’m excited for as the promise of Dead Island (despite the lacklustre end game) was enough for me to enjoy it.

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Let’s skip ahead to the big Naughty Dog reveals. The Last of Us Remastered looks great and for those of us who have ashamedly never played it, we get all the goodies at once. Then the reveal for Uncharted 4, presumably the final saga of Nathan Drake, but the excitement was enough to end the conference in style.

Batman… BATMAN! Wow, how good did that look? Gotham has always been the most dark and atmospheric place in the ‘open world’ genre and the PS4 certainly looks like its got it going on. It was always going to be impressive but it looks great.

It may feel like I’m rushing through these and I am. Because I want to get to the two things that greatly impressed and surprised me. Firstly, Grim Fandango. I remember the original release and anyone who’s played the Monkey Island remasters will know how great the original games are, let alone the graphical upgrade they had. If there is anything that deserves the re release and the updating then it is Grim Fandango.

NoMansSkyFieldFinally it is my place to talk about the most impressive game at E3, although how well it actually runs and how smooth it is going to be interesting, is the debut game from Hello Games. No Man’s Sky is an FPS exploration game come flight sim come combat sim that is procedurally generated. The promise of practically infinite gameplay and exploration, especially with how diverse and colourful it looks, makes this game an incredibly generation defining title. Plus Sean Murray, despite being having the same name as me bias, looks like a guy who’s really invested in creating something special and inspired by great things. Part of me worries that it could be too big and too ambitious and that delays and setbacks could halt it. Although that’s a hangover of my experience of many games too ambitious for the technology and too stuck without an end purpose. This I feel will combat that, and I hope it does because for all the big titles and particle effects and grand big sellers, this game looks to be what gaming is all about and what Playstation was all about from the beginning. So, here’s hoping.

Finally I shall leave you with two pieces of information you wanted to know but didn’t know how to find out. The music for the Metal Gear Solid V trailer was Nuclear by Mike Oldfield and The Last Of Us trailer was a cover of Nirvana’s Something In The Way by a band called At Sea.

Oh and Grand Theft Auto V looks good enough to bury Watch_Dogs and I’m going to be silly enough to buy it.

What do you think about the Sony conference? Why not leave a comment or talk about it on Facebook and Twitter. We don’t bite!

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