WWE 2K16 – Review

As a wrestling fan, I feel equally as good about this year’s WWE game as I do bad about it. There has been a lot promised like a bigger roster, more creation options and just a general improvement on everything in the game. In many presentations and demonstrations we saw, this game was being referred to as “Year One”. In the minds of 2K, WWE and Yukes, this is the first game in their WWE Franchise canon. To give you some history on this, WWE ’13 was the last THQ game before the company went under and the licence was acquired by 2K. The first game, 2K14 was basically THQ’s game, engine, everything which was repackaged. It all happened rather quickly, too quickly to really change anything in the development.

So we thought WWE 2K15 would be the first true 2K experience, but the game had a lot of omissions, a few glitches here and there and just felt rather stale. Although a lot of work was put in to the graphics and in the Visual Concepts face scanning tech to get the most realistic looks they can. So when 2K16 is seen as the first true game by the company, we have to kind of put the 2K15 experience to one side and judge this game on its own merits… Right?

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Well you’ll have noticed that a lot of gamers, critics, etc. are also big wrestling fans, and as such wrestling game fans. It’s possibly a bit cliche but a lot of people will say that either WWF No Mercy or Smackdown Here Comes The Pain are still the best games. So this game, for a new generation, has a lot of work to do, which its predecessors arguably haven’t. WWE 2K16 does at least try to address a lot of the issues that the previous game had.

The gameplay is a lot smoother and after a lot of the release bugs have been patched, although it’s still very heavy on reversing at ridiculous times. It’s a very good wrestling experience with quite an intuitive control system but those controls and the gameplay are normally only let down by the mechanics behind it. For example, the tie-up in a corner animation that seems to take an age to play out, the really frustrating submission mini-game and the incredibly frustrating AI in games with multiple characters. But everything else seems pretty good. Yes there are a few instances where people can glitch through things but with so many variables at play, it’s hard to get that right at the speed which the game operates. The only problem is that it still at heart feels the same as it has for the past four years. There’s lots of little refinements and additions but the whole thing needs a ground up shakedown to move itself forward to a new generation of consoles and fans. It might be interesting to see what cues this game takes from others in the genre that are coming over the next year.

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The showcase mode is an interesting look back at the career of Stone Cold Steve Austin but it falls incredibly flat thanks to a lot of the atmosphere it tries to create. Interestingly this comes from the commentary more than anything. JR and The King are back to re-record certain parts and it’s flat, boring and lacks any of the adrenaline and excitement that the time and they conveyed. It’s made even worse by the fact that The King is 98% less toady in this commentary than he was and I wonder if it just would have been better to use archive commentary just to get back the Jerry Lawler we all loved and loathed. And I don’t think I ever recalled JR saying “Mr MACMAHHHHN” so often.

The Showcase mode also lacks a certain accuracy thanks to various licencing issues (I’m presuming) that leaves Wrestlemania 14’s Mike Tyson to be a generic guy. The whole unlockable Attitude era thing is certainly great and leads to much nostalgia but frustratingly, it has already been done as recently as WWE ’13. The unlocakble roster of that time is also frustratingly similar to that game as well. It is better than the CM Punk/Cena snore fest of last year but it is incredibly deriviate of what’s come before it, for wrestling fans anyway. My only problem visually was that I wanted the quicktime events in the showcase mode to be more apparent for PS4. Get some colour on there, please.

The roster is big, but it does seem to suffer from a lack of entertaining choices, which again is probably down to licences. But if you’re going for legends, why not put in Roddy Piper or Owen Hart (who was a big part of the Austin storyline). If you’re visiting the old WCW periods, why not put in some of those superstars like the Harlem Heat tag team, Goldberg, or the early Ron Simmons? If you’re going ECW alumni, why not Dreamer or Sandman, or even the Dudley’s (who are now under WWE legends contracts). The most criminal thing though is the lack of the women’s division, the Divas. In a year where the women have broken out and made the rest of WWE’s PG era take notice, they are almost totally absent. Whether or not this is planned for DLC, I have no idea, but if it isn’t it should be. At least four are missing that should undoubtedly be here.

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The career mode is much better than it was last year with, as promised, much greater options when it comes to creating and downloading custom made logos and wrestlers. Although the layering system is still a little clunky and doesn’t exactly give people an easy ride in making their creations, it is quite powerful once you know how to use it. But again there are a few issues with the whole system. You can’t use downloaded arenas in the exhibition mode, only in creating a new show in the WWE Universe mode – a mode that I still personally find highly inaccessible and bloated for a casual fan wanting to just make their own show.

Creation and sharing is the best part of this game. Especially when you and your friends created wrestlers can “invade” and appear in your career mode, a mode that’s been heavily refined since last years first attempt in to the 2K style we’ve all been waiting for. But, it is still very difficult to be a heel, although a lot easier than it was, and the interview cutscenes are atrocious with their lack of name use and very limited and repetitive answers. But with the creation around you, it’s very easy to get in to a career and invest time in it.

All told, WWE 2K16 does move things on from the previous year and arguably they have most of the basics down that we all wanted. What we need to see now though is a big improvement in the “reverse everything” gameplay mechanic, a bit more work on the ancillary things in career modes and most importantly, finding a way to capture the atmosphere and unpredictability that wrestling, whatever its era, has always had.

Summary

WWE 2K16 tries to break the mould of previous games by going deep in to its creation and its appreciation of one of WWE’s icons in Steve Austin’s career showcase. But it’s nothing the series, albeit not in this guise, hasn’t done before. And with a host of issues that shouldn’t be forgiven, I found myself enjoying trying to go for the belts. If you’re a fan and you’ve missed a few years then it’s worth a look, but the series needs to show further progress in improving its gameplay.

Good Points

  • Fun Showcase mode highlighting some of Steve Austin, and others, better moments.
  • Large creation options and community sharing
  • Easy to jump in and play regardless of age

Bad Points

  • There are a lot of missing bits that can spoil the experience
  • Submission minigame is utterly frustrating
  • Gameplay needs the overhaul the rest of the game is getting

Why a 6?

The game does actually have a lot of charm and enjoyment once you can get past the issues. Which is something, admittedly, that you shouldn’t need to do. But as a fan of wrestling, I’d rather have something that’s showing improvement than nothing at all. I love No Mercy and the great games we had fifteen years ago, but that was fifteen years ago. This is definitely the best 2K game and the best since WWE 13 for the wrestling experience and the career mode is fun. But it does need to move the gameplay forward and improve the whole thing, not just update in bits and pieces.

 

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

PES 2016 – Review

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I’m just going to come out and say this straight up. PES 2016 is the best football game in years. It’s definitely the best football game of the past five years and definitely the best on this current generation of consoles. Is it the best ever? No, but that’s not because of anything the game does, more of the times we live in and I’ll tell you for why.

Before playing the game for review I was lucky enough to play it twice, once at Gamescom and once at an event in London and the passion in the rooms for this return to form was evident. And as a football cliche, “return to form” has appeared a lot in regards of PES 2016 chatter, because it truly has. The game is going from strength to strength and with the dissolving of everything console for Konami except PES, the full attention it’s getting can only mean good things for the franchise’s future.

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It’s a future that has been built on solid ground here. Every single mode you would expect is here, the classic Master League, the challenging online play, the tournaments, licensed tournaments and the card based myClub feature. In fact, the game modes are probably the least important part of why PES 2016 is the best game at present because, whilst they are fun, they aren’t what makes the game fun to play.

But there are annoyances with these modes because of things like the teams not being up to date. I don’t mean the heavily publicised data update with transfers, but the teams themselves aren’t the same teams that are in this year’s Europa and Champions League competitions. It’s not a big issue but it’s one of the licence things that cannot be got around. The myClub feature is good and the coaching dynamic works quite well. It does feel a bit more football manager like than FIFA’s FUT but my experiences have been fraught with glitches and disconnections, some the games fault and some the players.

The Master League mode is as deep as it ever was and you can do as much or as little as you want in regards to forging your career and controlling the team. The main thing is that the menu screens are fairly easy to get around, although that’s been a thing that has plagued football games in recent years, and PES isn’t completely innocent with putting various settings in hard to locate sub-menus at times.

There are also a few things that keep the visual aesthetic apart from FIFA. You don’t have as much crowd atmosphere, a limited number of stadiums, the commentary is still a bit naff (although in truth PES commentary always was and is always better played with the Spanish commentary, because as British players it sounds more exciting and we can’t tell how broken it is), and the overall presentation is at times still trying to emulate that FIFA/Sky/Premier League visual style which would be great if not for everything else making it apparent that’s all it is, a style.

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The second biggest thing that the game has is pretty much for PS4 owners only, which is the ability to import data files and images for team, league and kit customisation. Much like its PS2 forefathers, this PES has the ability, with a great community of modders, to get around that sticky licensing issue and give us the teams. It’s not the simplest thing to do and it will take you a good hour or so to get it all edited to be the way you want it to be. But it’s worth your time doing. This is thanks to Sony’s policies allowing this, so sorry Xbox owners.

Which leads us to the most important thing – This is the best playing football game that there is available on the market right now. FIFA for all of its refinement and depth is still a very arcade run, skill and shoot affair for the most part. PES has an almost physical connection to how you play the ball, how aggressive you are, how much you pass the ball, how gassed you are when you run, the battles and tussles you go in to. This is down to two things, which are the engine and the animations. PES has always been a bit weightier in how you play, realising that the laws of physics do apply unless you’ve won many Ballon D’ors. FIFA has always been quite interchangeable in how any player can do a decent 50 yard run and shot on goal, regardless of if their stats and real life counterparts reflect that.

PES has taken a lot more care in the making sure that someone like Andy Carroll is going to be dominant in the air and a great person to hold up the ball, but is less likely to open his engines up down the wing and deliver a cross with accuracy. The FOX engine is great at making minute animations mean a lot more in the game. The physicality of a challenge is matched by new animations that help your player feel more realistic, like not having full control of a header as you’re backpeddling and off balance. What this does is it makes you respect, not only the player, but their ability and how they play. It opens you up to many different ways to actually play football, to adapt your tactics and play to your squads strengths, not necessarily your own gaming strengths, and that is magnificent.

Nothing has done that before or come close to it, and I doubt that anything will in the immediate future. In a perfect world, the contracts and money would loosen up a little and the ability to get a more immersive and in depth representation of world football would be available to the PES team. Or they would go “sod it” and completely abandon the areas of the game where it tries to do what FIFA does and makes the gameplay the stand out part of the game, much like the PS2 era did. But for now, this is the best that we have and despite some post-launch support niggles, it thoroughly deserves that praise. If this wasn’t an age where presentation and TV style run rampant in sports games, arguably over the good simulations that some games do, then this would be the best football game ever. But it’s close, damn close.

Summary

PES 2016 is the best football game available and the best that there has been for a long time. There is no doubt that the lack of FIFA sheen can put off people but, you aren’t playing football, you’re playing playing FIFA. Even some poor post-launch support hasn’t dampened the quality of the game and the experience. It might be some time before anything can better that and if anything, its attempts to present itself like FIFA at times inadvertently highlights its weaknesses.

Good Points

  • Excellent graphics
  • Great fluid and physical gameplay
  • Customisation and PS4 data importing

Bad Points

  • Poor post-launch issues
  • The non-football atmosphere is a bit naff
  • Outside of football, tires to be too much like FIFA

Why an 8.5?

This is the best football game available at the moment. It’s not the most refined, the biggest or even the most accessible. But it is the best simulation of football available now. It’s not the best ever though, that honour still goes to PES 5 for me, but in this day and age of TV and rights and licenses, it’s the closest we could possibly get.

 

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

 

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.

 

LEGO Dimensions – Review

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Before I begin this review of LEGO Dimensions, we need to set the level straight on a few things, which are the most talked about issues people have with the physical and financial concept behind the game.

There’s been a lot of talk regarding how much this game is going to cost. There’s also been a lot of talk about different parts of the game being locked behind characters that you have to purchase separately and aren’t available at launch. I will answer this talk in a constructive way but make no mistake about it, LEGO Dimensions is really, really cool.

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The price point for the main game is a lot more than you’d normally expect for a LEGO game and certainly more than its main rivals Disney Infinity and Skylanders are charging. The additional packs are also more expensive than the others. But here’s the things that you need to know, the actual constructive things, that differentiate LEGO Dimensions.

Firstly, the packs are great value when you stop thinking of them as just game peripherals and consider them as actual LEGO, which they are. You get in the smaller £15 packs two LEGO things to build – one character and one vehicle/animal – which are able to used directly in the game at any time. There’s no level locking for the various franchises unlike the Infinity. The LEGO vehicles can also be rebuilt two time using the studs you get in game and can do multiple things in game. The packs vary in price and all of the packs can access the adventure worlds of their particular franchise. The more expensive packs like the level packs do give you extra playable content as well which, if you think the cost of each LEGO is £7.50, make each DLC level around the same price. Plus, because of the way it works, they can be used for any version of the game and aren’t console specific.

Secondly, you technically get a pack straight out of the box with the trio of Wyldstyle, Batman and Gandalf along with the Batmobile, the latter can also be upgraded in the same way. This also means that the LEGO Movie, Lord of the Rings and DC Comics worlds are also immediately opened. Regardless of if you own the packs, the story mode visits most of the franchises that are in the game at some point, so you will experience playing in a Doctor Who level, even if you can’t have the pack yet because it isn’t released.

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The third thing is the portal device itself which is a cool little LEGO build anyway (make sure you turn off the power save function on your console for when you’re building it), and is also a puzzle controller. At several times during the game, you’ll need to use the pad to solve colour puzzles, escape attacks and interact with the world in game. Even though all of these little LEGO things look cool, they all serve some kind of further purpose to add to their value.

In fact, we don’t often do this, but we know that people might want to see the kits and what they bring to the game. Thankfully, YouTuber GenerikB has been doing that and you should check out the playlist he’s made of unboxing everything that’s currently available.

The criticisms of the packs though are of course the cost (LEGO has always been an expensive toy though), the design of some of the builds can be a bit low key (Benny’s Spaceship doesn’t particularly fit well together and is a much more minimalist version of the ship that appears on screen) and the level packs not being exactly engaging. This last point is more directed at The Simpsons pack but it is still a fun enjoyable nostalgia trip to Simpsons fans. The problem is that some of these franchises don’t include original voice content (things are taken from the show’s archive) and that will obviously hurt narrative construction and limit the capability. Although the Back to the Future level is also a bit short, compared to the excellent Portal 2 level.

A problem here might have occurred with the actual process behind making the game being as unrelenting and in-depth as any single franchise LEGO game, and if that was a problem of having too much then it’s a good problem to have. We chatted to Mark Warburton, a producer from TT games, about how much went in to doing this behind the scenes:

“We treated every single one like a standalone game. Nothing was done small even though the footprint in the game is small. All the same research was done, the development time, time to get the likenesses to the characters, it was just as important. It made it difficult because we had to give the same amount of attention we’d usually give to just one brand to fourteen different ones.”

 

The thing is is that in truth, given everything they’ve had to work with and creatively combine, they’ve really nailed it. I mean TT Games seriously got it right and the level of enjoyment from playing the game and the nostalgia and excitement of seeing the various franchises at different points truly pays off in the playing experience.

How have they done this? Well by making a LEGO game, of course. At the core of the experience is exactly the same funny, reliable and accessible game as any of the previous games. The story is a good vehicle with which to combine these franchises and to give yourself a quest, a point A to point B scenario that enables you experience all the humour in the game. It has the same gameplay you know and whilst I’ve been critical in the past that it hasn’t moved on enough in recent times, for this it absolutely works and is necessary.

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Which brings us on to the games magical moments. There are times that the franchises themselves come out and be all they can be, regardless of their LEGO setting. Standing out amongst the rest is the truly mad and glorious GlaDOS and the Portal 2 levels that really feel like they are just more of the last game. The Doctor Who level in the game shows us how this has been a match made in heaven and it is criminal it’s taken this long to bring it about. Whilst the Back to the Future, Ghostbusters and Simpsons levels are all enjoyable, they don’t reach the heights of the other two, or the rather cool Ninjago level which sets about combating the lack of overall knowledge in the franchise by given us some great boss battles and puzzles.

The thing is, I’ve played the opening parts a number of times. Once with a friend for a stream, once for myself and once with my parents. Just to see how this whole concept worked between the most cynical of people, other games industry friends and of course the ones who teach you to hate the world. All were warmed. All were laughing. All were actually really impressed by the usage of the LEGO components and were gripped by the entertainment on screen.

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So I’m faced with a dilemma because this game does everything I want it to, yet also does all the things that cost me money and has wisely ignored my criticism of the previous games. But there are things that annoy me, like the inability to complete it without having to actually purchase certain things, and that I have to wait a good four months after release to get some of the level packs and toys. I can’t decide if that’s my impatience or my confusion that the business model is hoping post Christmas or January sales there’ll be more people playing the game after the initial release rush, and not giving everyone the opportunity to get everything straight away.

Ultimately I really enjoyed the game, I can see children and families enjoying the game as well and that’s important. Yes I’m a geeky guy hurtling towards middle age and I like and appreciate it for all the references and the franchises that I’ve enjoyed for the past thirty years. But really, I enjoyed the game too and having a game with franchises that both children and adults can understand, and seeing them interact with each other and learning about the many ages of our entertainment tastes and bond because of it.

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LEGO Dimensions does everything that every LEGO game has done before but that’s good because the portal brings a new way to complete puzzles and the obvious bonus of being able to place any character available in the game at any time. The problem is the cost of course and that completing the game for trophies/achievements needs characters that aren’t available to buy yet. But there is a joy and an great success that’s been achieved in combining these franchises in a fun an entertaining way where the game itself and not the content is the champion.

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  • Excellent franchises working brilliantly together
  • The LEGO toys themselves are pretty cool
  • The USB Portal is a great interactive element

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  • The cost of collecting everything is very high
  • Some of the content needs characters not yet available
  • Some of the content constricted by

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The game is probably the most fun I’ve had in a LEGO game since Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, in the actual game itself. But the franchises are so well adapted that, as long as you know what characters you need to get to complete the game and are happy with the cost, then it’s an load of fun and an excellent family game. It’s well executed and the game champions itself over the many potentially dominating franchises. A good example of balance, really.

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

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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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Minecraft Story Mode – Interview

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Last week, we got to play the Minecraft Story Mode with Laura Perusco, the Creative Communication Manager from Telltale Games. You can read our review of the game here shortly.

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Sean Cleaver – Minecraft story mode, it’s lots of fun. It’s been worked on for quite a while. When did you first get the project germinating, how did it come about?

Laura Perusco – It basically came from, you know how we’re doing Tales from the Borderlands? Well that came first and we were already working on a video game that’s set in the world of another video game. We started thinking about what else we can do this with. A whole bunch of people in the office play Minecraft or have kids that play Minecraft, and that’s something that doesn’t have a story. People were just creating their own stories in that world. So we had the idea of reaching out to Mojang and floating the idea of doing a game. This was way back before Microsoft brought them out so our contract is with Mojang.

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SC – Minecraft is a very precise visual style because of what it is. But you’ve also managed to find a cinematic style out of this. There’s a lot of YouTube videos that have done these small animations. You seem to have created almost a movie out of it.

LP –  That’s pretty much what we do. We do playable stories, so our games are often thought of as playable movies or playable TV shows. Just the aesthetic of the world of Minecraft is very unique in and of itself. So we actually built a lot of the environments in Minecraft first and exported them to our engine, so it would absolutely, unequivocally Minecraft. Then we added a little bit to make it look more cinematic like depth of focus and changes and stuff like that but it’s all Minecraft. Absolutely.

SC – You’ve got your main characters, a band of four if you will, it’s a very traditional…

LP – And the pig.

SC – And the pig. I’ll get on to the pig now. The pet pig, Reuben. This year seems to be the year of the Dog for video games, every game has a dog and everybody loves them. You’ve gone with the pig and he seems to be much more charming than any dog that I’ve seen this year so far in a game.

LP – Reuben is my favourite character I actually had new business cards with him on. I think something that’s really cool about Reuben is that no one ever thinks of eating dogs in video games and that’s a new dynamic that comes up because pigs in Minecraft are always thought of as food. So it has that interesting dynamic.

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SC – I don’t think I’ve ever though about having a pet pig in Minecraft. I don’t I ever use them for food either but there you go. I quite like the idea with the story building on, a bit like what Minecraft really is, the convention scene. Creating Minecraft fandom within Minecraft itself with Ender Con and the Order of the Stone. What drew you to create that story out of it? Was there a lot of going around, looking at Minecraft, looking at the world, looking at the real life interactions with Minecraft? And are there plans for any more?

LP – The community around Minecraft is so important. That’s the reason for its huge popularity. There are so many videos online and people creating their own stuff. That’s what Minecraft is, it’s about creating things and sharing them. So we knew that was a huge part of the licence.  I actually went to Minecon in London to show the trailer and that was fantastic.

There’s so much love around this game that we wanted to put something like that in there. You might have noticed but the people who come on stage to introduce Gabriel at Endercon are Lydia and Owen, their director of communications. They voiced the characters too. But the thing about the characters in this game is they don’t know they’re in Minecraft. They don’t have any meta awareness or some other real world. As for more? We hope people play it and people enjoy it but beyond that, anything can happen.

Minecraft: Story Mode by Telltale games is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC and Mac.

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LEGO Dimensions – Preview

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So it’s no secret that I’ve been a tad critical of the LEGO games as of late. I’ve found that maybe the formula had gotten a little stale and that, whilst nostalgia of the title kept my interest, they’d become a bit repetitive. Whilst I was at Gamescom, LEGO Dimensions proved me utterly wrong.

We all know and have heard the basic idea of LEGO Dimensions. Buoyed on by the success of franchises like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s Amiibo range, it’s hardly surprising that a toy manufacturer who is already in the video game market noticed an opportunity. And it would have been so easy to see it like that, as an opportunity for profit using toys in games. But thankfully TT Games is at the helm and if there’s one thing that the years of producing LEGO games has given them, it’s that they know how to hit us gamers in the nostalgia bones and give us something with love.

Firstly, the game requires a LEGO Toy Pad and a Gateway which the start pack of LEGO Dimensions comes with. You’ve seen it no doubt, the little plastic pad you put your LEGO figures on and something that looks like the Goa’uld from Stargate would use to invade many worlds. And as the announcement video starring Joe McHale of Community showed, it you build it yourself using actual LEGO. All of the LEGO is actually playable and indistinguishable LEGO, from the Batmobile included and the three figures of Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle. Having a LEGO game with actual tactile LEGO is quite a fun novelty really. Building stuff for yourself is always fun, and during the game you will get the opportunity to reconstruct some things in order to solve various puzzles, with onscreen building instructions. Very awesome.

The game sees you going through the LEGO Multiverse trying to stop Lord Vortech from being the dastardly overlord who controls it. So you set out to stop him from taking the foundational elements and achieving this domination. Of course, you will have friends that join you along the way and you can even bring your own by getting the various packs that have been announced. But enough of the exposition, how does it actually play?

Incredibly well of course. TT Games has a very good pedigree in excellent, easy to pick up gameplay. LEGO Dimensions is no exception to that with the same look, style, controls and mechanics of any LEGO game. It is something that has translated perfectly to every franchise it has graced and it works just as well with multiple franchises. The demo that we played saw us walk down the Yellow Brick Road from the Wizard of Oz. Of course, not as the Oz characters, who were up ahead of us, but as our starter trio. Upon the road were some flowers that could not be passed by our intrepid trio. And so the toy pad came in to play.

We placed the Batmobile on the pad and a dimensional wormhole opens up and pops the vehicle in to the world. Batman jumps on it and we mow down the pesky flora from the yellow bricks of Oz’s M1. Our driving only went so far until we stumbled across one of the characters aiding Lord Vortech, The Wicked Witch of the West, who then started defying gravity* in order to attack our cross-series fellowship. It’s amazing that through all of this, nothing looks out of place. You suspend disbelief that these characters and vehicles don’t belong in the worlds your seeing because, quite frankly, it’s really, really cool.

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This cool crossover of franchises doesn’t just end with the main game. The recently announced Adventure worlds are separate worlds, much like you’d see in a normal LEGO game between the missions except that they’re all based on a particular franchise. We had a little go around in the LEGO Movie world because we had Wyldstyle but other areas will be accessible with the relevant figures selected. So you’ll have to have the various level or character packs in order to access these mini worlds. We’ve already seen clips of Middle Earth, Springfield, Hill Valley and Aperture Science lab inspired worlds and there’s fourteen in total (so far) so collecting these expansion packs isn’t just going to be cool to look at or use in game, there’s decent amounts of extra content as well.

Those extra characters all come with perks too. Scooby Doo for example can swim underwater, which is great for exploration and underwater racing. Much like the free-play elements of most LEGO games, every world and level has the same kind of task appropriate character and vehicle. There’s lots of cool little nods to all of the franchises as well including some slight cel shading for the Scooby Doo levels, Wyldstyle moves like she’s in some stop-frame animation. Every vehicle can be rebuilt in three different ways and can help with different tasks like pulling things down with a winch, or flying like the DeLorean from back to the future… Or spinning wildly out of control like the TARDIS.

Yes it’s taken me 850 words to get to a point where I can talk about one of my favourite parts of the game, and as a massive Doctor Who fan (who has had a TARDIS on every desk I’ve ever written on and a fairly full DVD/VHS collection), I am incredibly biased by this part of the game. Which is why you can imagine how high my expectations are and that after playing the Doctor Who elements of the game, the poor young lady who was helping to show me the various minifigures couldn’t stop laughing at how open my mouth was in shock.

Firstly, there’s The Doctor. With all of Peter Capaldi’s swagger and vocal officiousness. Capaldi voices the dialogue which has been specially recorded but every Doctor also speaks thanks to some clever raiding of the BBC and Doctor Who archives. And yes, I said EVERY DOCTOR. Just the one minfigure gives you thirteen unique Doctors that you could regenerate in to which all have their own little quirks and personalities. Yes even the oft forgotten eighth Doctor and the following John Hurt War Doctor. If you die in the game as The Doctor then you’ll regenerate in to one of the other thirteen randomly with a nice little animation. Then there’s the TARDIS. Jump in in and you can take off, spin around and fly with reckless abandon through worlds like only a 12ft tall oblong wooden box can.

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But then you hold down the entry button a little more and find yourself IN the TARDIS. The control room is fully explorable with all it’s pomp, flashing lights, incredible decor, time rotator column, round things and control panel. The far right control panel will allow you to change the music to whichever show theme you want, the middle one takes you to the relevant level pack and the left one allows you to choose any of the Doctors and have a little regeneration scene. So I went to my Doctor, the Seventh – Sylvester McCoy with his little hat and swinging an umbrella, and left the TARDIS. But then the poor young lady told me to go back inside the TARDIS. So I did.

The console room had changed. It was now the 1983-1987 console room occupied by the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. It will change to whichever console room is relevant for which Doctor, including the first two having a black and white filter for ultimate TV authenticity. At this point I became speechless and started rambling about how much this meant to me as a fan of the show and as a four year old watching McCoy’s Doctor for the first time and the last for many years, and how strong my nostalgic connection was to this era… It came as no surprise that my time was up. But this is seriously the best job of Doctor Who anyone has ever done in a video game and this can only bring hope for further licensed stuff between LEGO and the BBC.

After my fanboy blubbering I was forced to conclude that, whilst this is going to cost me a lot of money to have everything, LEGO Dimensions is ultimately going to be worth it thanks to how unique every pack will be, how every level will have something special and how every character has their own life to them. I know parents will be asking how they can justify buying this and everything when they’re already knee deep in Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Amiibo statues and I say this to them – Buy it for you, because your kids won’t understand why this is so marvellous… Treat yourself.

LEGO Dimensions is due out on September 27th 2015 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and WiiU.

*Yes I like musicals and made a Wicked pun… Bite me.

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