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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Dishonored Definitive Edition – Review

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I am one of those people. The ones who didn’t play Dishonored the first time around. I know I’m a terrible person but you’ve got to appreciate that whilst I was studying at one of those fancy rich educational establishments (a concrete block of a North London university) I was busy playing Halo 4, and practically nothing else. I had things to do, essays to write and some neon glowing digitising necromancer to completely obliterate. Although TheGameJar did review it and you can check out what we wrote about it three years ago here.

So when I get a remaster of Dishonored appear on my Xbox One dashboard, I couldn’t be happier. Not only did I now have the time and the excuse to correct my glaring lack of steampunk-stealth, but I could do it in an uprated resolution! Bonus. It actually surprises me that this has been released now, if I’m honest. It’s quite the busy time for games and this is one of those critically acclaimed games that, from when I’ve spoken to people anyway, seems to be the one most people missed. You’d have hoped with the second instalment having been announced but not dated, it would have been released at a time to give it the best exposure.

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Normally I don’t talk about business errors and such because I’m a games critic, not a financial aficionado. But I mention it because it is a game that is really deserving of the applause and plaudits it got and definitely needs to be enjoyed by everyone for two reasons.

Firstly, this game is a bloody visual treat. From the outset the mix of dystopia, that reeks of the Michael Radford 1984 movie, is a wonderfully dark world jarring against where you start, that palatial and almost Olympus-like godly seat of power in Dunwall. The divide between the ruling oligarchy and the plague ridden masses owes a lot to the industrial era feel and there are several nods to this in the items and throwable objects in the game, things like Whale Oil (which was the preferred combusting fuel before petroleum was found).

But you know this because you’ve probably seen it/played it already/have heard others wax lyrical about it. What we do have to say is that the updated resolution both champions this and also lets it down in a few places. The characters and the sights are wonderfully detailed in their slightly Gerald Scarfe-esque way. The areas are also deliciously detailed in that Victorian London way. But only in places. Whilst the game’s uprated textures are wonderful, you can see where the original design had to be scaled back to work on the last generation consoles and sadly some of them aren’t updated. It’s inevitable that some low res and copy-and-paste textures appear in games and one of the sad side effects of improving the game for this edition is that it’s highlighted it.

It highlights it in other ways too with occasional frame skips and screen tears. I’m not one to bang on about such things as you know, I’m pretty much in the “enjoy the fucking game you stupid bastards” camp. But I have to mention it because there are times where it is very noticeable. Again this isn’t laziness or anything like that, it’s just the usual sort of problems that occur when you force an old engine to do things quicker. Lots of remasters have fallen to this issue and Dishonored hasn’t escaped it but it is by far one of the best looking and stable of the bunch.

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Which again probably goes to show how good it was in the first place and that is something that’s reflected in the gameplay, the second reason to champion this game. The “play-how-you-want” dynamic is something that we’re probably quite used to now with the release of so many open-world games, but none of them really have the same dynamic choice as Dishonored, even now. Yes you can go super stealthy or super attacking but all interwoven with the steampunk is the magical fantasy that has the powers such as the Blink ability that can teleport you anywhere within close reach, regardless of height. It definitely adds a new dimension and can meet any player at and difficulty challenge that they wish.

So thankfully this is all still really good, although slightly overpowered. The plot of Corvo trying to reinstate the rightful heir with the help of separatists, whilst also avoiding the plague that is befalling Dunwall also still holds up rather well. And that soundtrack, well it is lovely. In fact, you can listen to it hear for free and I implore you to do so. This edition also brings you several DLC packs included in the game, which include two story add ons. So there’s more Corvo for your concern.

It is a great game, and I’ve enjoyed visiting it for the first time in this semi-updated guise. Although I do have to admit that I wish I hadn’t approached it from a critical eye because the faults I’ve found are all ones of age and engine capability rather than the game. It does make me annoyed that it’s taken me this long to get in to it. I’m not a lover particularly of stealth games, but the way that this game gives you various options to go about your tasks, regardless of if it ends up as a chaotic mess, still hasn’t been bettered in this type of game, at least not in one that I’ve played.

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Well, this is exactly what it says it is really, a definitive edition of 2012’s Dishonored. The uprated graphics, rather than breath new life, do a great job of showcasing how good it was to begin with and make a great case for you to play it if you haven’t before. Sadly the graphical limitations appear thanks to the game engine’s age which can’t be helped. But enjoyable and great value with all the DLC included.

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  • Uprated textures highlight great character design
  • Still a great game with a very dynamic approach
  • Doesn’t feel like a remaster for the sake of a cash-in

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  • Some textures not improved in scenery
  • Occasional frame skip and screen tear
  • Probably not good for those who already brought the game

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Well, to be honest nothing has changed. That’s not to it’s detriment, but the improved graphics and frame rates are nice, the package is nice and the option to revisit or even start off an adventure in Dunwall is very welcome. But it is essentially exactly the same game, and so exactly the same score. Which is good really because the limitations involved make it hard to be better without changing the game dramatically and the porting across to the current generation hasn’t made it worse. So it’s quite the success really.

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Mad Max – Review

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So, in a spate of lyrical platitudes, I said a few months back that Mad Max would be the one game I wouldn’t be able to live without. A bit dramatic you may think but now, having played the whole game from start to finish, I’m going to try and keep that statement true whilst also being objective for this review. One thing I did do was look back at the movies, just to get a feel for the world.

Yes, I am one of those morons who will have a TV or Laptop on the side with something on it whilst I play games. Usually it’s sports or one of many repeat viewings of a TV series. This time, I decided to rewatch the Mad Max movies. It’s worth pointing out how tonally different a few things are, especially if you’re a fan. Firstly, the wasteland being as arid and desert based as it is in the game, is a complete by-product of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road. It is also worth pointing out that this Max is completely his own and mostly removed from any movie interpretations.

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So the one thing that this does is allow the characters, the franchise and the opportunity for a decent game to come to life in an incredibly large space. The wasteland is a huge empty opus in itself. A dystopian vision of a world reclaimed by sand and littered with the decay of humanity’s past and the cult fanaticism of petroleum-fuelled power, the very substance that caused the apocalypse in the first place. Yes it’s bombastic, ritualistic and occasionally garish in its interpretation of tribalism, but that’s one of the great things about it, the fantastical element that allows this crazy world to exist.

Max starts much in the same way as he does in Fury Road, by being beating up and having his car taken from him. But not before he manages to plant a baby chainsaw into the cranium of local warlord Scrotus. With the aid of an injured dog, you find your way on foot to a slightly crazy hunchback named Chumbucket who happens to be a wizard with cars and is currently building a new one, the Magnum Opus, which you have great need of after you see your beloved black Interceptor dismantled in one of the enemies camps.

What then ensues is a long mission, with Chumbucket as your passenger, to explore all of the wasteland, whilst doing the bidding of various underlords trying to rebuild themselves under the dictator-like poverty enforced by Scrotus. You spend your time clearing the landscape of snipers and totems (called scarecrows), dismantling enemy oil camps and engaging in big boss fights, taking out the big ‘top dog’ of the area. All the while, systematically lowering the level of threat in the area, and finding little camps where you can liberate scrap metal, historical relics (pictures from the past) and occasionally some construction parts to help build up your base.

How deep you want to go in to this side quest construction is up to you (if you’re one of these people that needs to 100% a game for instance) but you WILL have to get involved with it. Completing these missions and the side quests increases your level and also gains access to upgrades for Max and your car. It also allows you the opportunity to explore and get to grips with the enemies, the physical combat and the car combat.

To level yourself up is very easy. Doing missions, challenges, etc will earn you Griffa tokens. You take these to the crazy wandering shaman known as Griffa. This can help upgrade your strength, length of combo holds, fuel economy, etc. But it’s worth it just to engage in the introspective story of Max’s psyche, something that Griffa seems to have a direct line to. His pointing out of Max’s confused loyalties, his own torture and the secrets in his own mind that he’s trying to run from or conveniently buries are some of the best discourse in the game.

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Customisable Max doesn’t have a massive amount of customisation, but what there is compliments the increasing level and helps in the combat like wrist guards and knuckle dusters. Most things are quite easily unlocked in this regard, although I found myself basically playing the Hobo version of Max for most of the game out of laziness. Car upgrades are pretty cool such as ramming bars, engine upgrades, upgrades to your weapons (which Chumbucket conveniently fires for you) and hood ornaments collected from the destroyed convoys you encounter. Everything does become available quite easily, despite having to complete certain side-quests in some regards to earn the upgrade. One of the cool things are pre-designed car load outs called Archangels, one of which you will need in the story. But it’s a cool aside to help collect every available version of the Magnum Opus in the game.

Car combat is one of those things that can irk people. But I feel that Mad Max does it rather well. The obvious thing is to ram and grind everything in your path (be it a car, person or structure) but the options that you unlock can make this better than the constant dosey doe of close quarters vehicular violence. Yes the harpoon can be quite overpowered and is used a lot depending on what you’re doing, but that doesn’t make it less cool to use. There’s the thunderpoon (explosive on a stick), the shotgun and the side burners, the latter of which does a lot more damage than you think, if you want some variety.

But enemies usually come in threes which means that whilst you’re having to drive around finding another guy to hit, one is either coming at you or is primed to be t-boned. So there’s always someone to bash and never just an aimless creation of donuts. There is even a sneaky way to make things easier with the drivers getting out of the vehicles which allows them to be unceremoniously punched to death, quite convenient when your own car is on fire and about to explode.

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Of course there’s even more of a bonus if you can get these people out of a car and take their vehicle back to your closest stronghold. Whilst you can only upgrade your own car, you can also use any of the cars in the game as long as you collect them, which can be very useful for races or specific tasks like ramming things or collecting scrap. Once you do get out on your own and start beating up on people, you’ll find the combat very amenable indeed.

Compared to its contemporaries, you have a much more rugged feel to fighting. That’s also to do with the opponents you’re facing being rather rugged themselves, as well as Max being, well, mad. Most of the fighting removes itself from the acrobatic martial arts of Bruce Wayne and the sword fighting skills of Talion. It’s a lot more raw and brutal with shiv and skull crushing, just adding to the unforgiving psyche that Max has. This is even more apparent as you level up and progress the fury skill, an extra powerful buff earned from multiple combos.

Whilst I have been enjoying this game, there are some problems. These problems really do become a lot more apparent in the later parts of the game and one of them is due to its contemporaries. Whilst all the media attention was sited on this game being delayed and then released at the same time as the huge giant killer of Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain (which you can read our initial impressions of here), I’m more concerned with Batman: Arkham Knight and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

On the face of it, these are three different games with three different franchises from three different development studios – Monolith, Rocksteady and Avalanche. However these games in a lot of areas are exactly the same. Free-flowing combat in an open-world with various base liberation and boss battles, all of which level you up. It’s a stretch but this game does feel, when you’re playing it at length anyway, incredibly similar to Mordor. Obviously it doesn’t have the Nemesis system but the feel of it is incredibly similar. The car combat is something arguably Batman should have had and Max’s story is nowhere near as good as Batman’s. But the point is there (and probably only relevant if you played a lot of the other two games, like I did) that in the space of a year three incredibly similar games have been released by the same publisher.

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That’s not a problem if you like these games. They’re very good and the technology is there to make them good. Although Mad Max suffers towards the end of the game with big frame rate issues, especially in the storms, some races and occasional battles around the top of the map where lots of things are. It’s not game breaking but it’s frustrating given how smooth the rest of the game is. The story of the game also does something rather frustrating at the end by making you completely feel like you’ve misjudged the whole thing. Not in a controversial-yet-ideological epiphany kind of way, but more of a sad and unnecessary kind of way. It does feel a bit rushed and the game also frustrates you by overusing the map at this point. You also don’t get enough of Gastown or the amazingly bleak and dead area of the Barren Wastes. There are a few missed opportunities more than anything, which is annoying given the depth the game goes to in other areas.

One of which is fuel. I never wanted for fuel at all in this game. Not because it was easily found (although it is quite easily found), but because my character levelling made me conserve fuel more and by the time I was at a point in the game where things get very fuel thirsty, I had the economy of a Nissan Leaf but with a V8 engine. Trust me, I’ve owned a old school V8 car and that petrol practically evaporates. It was also helped that I’d done a lot of searching for parts for the strongholds so every time I went back to the central one for most of the game, Jeet’s Stronghold, I maxed out all my health, ammo, fuel and water. Obviously that was my choice but it took a little bit of challenge out of the game. One of the other things I didn’t get was how the story wanted you to blow up the oil refineries and transfer tanks to help disrupt an already leaderless Scrotus clan. Surely, given his hold on the resource, blowing it up is actually not a good thing as you need it too.

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I’m honestly glad I played Mad Max and it’s one of those games, like Mordor that I would play again and again, so in a way, I won’t be able to game without it being a part of my lexicon. And the one big reason why it has completely captured me is how beautiful the game is. I’ve been taking many pictures in the game using the photo mode (again something that was excellent in Shadow of Mordor) and it is glorious. The beauty of decay and entropy is something that is wonderful to look at and, outside of Chernobyl anyway, you won’t see it in real life en masse. The world that Avalanche has created is dangerous, violent, raw and poetically empty. When a storm hits, it’s incredibly vicious, loud and pretty. Many times, I risked death to get the perfect shot for a lightening bolt.

Normally for reviews, we use picture assets sent to us by the publisher but for this, we’ve used my own personal shots from the game. All of the pictures seen here are taken by me using the game’s own photo mode and shared via my PS4. It’s a testament that I trust how good these pictures look that I want to use them like this and it really shows off the vast visual beauty this game possesses. Combined with great game mechanics, excellent driving and combat, and an entertaining story that rewards the side quest grind for upgrades, Mad Max is definitely a game I’m reticent to put down. But I must for the plains of silence await me… If by plains of silence you mean doing some work.

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Mad Max is an excellent game which perfectly captures the sense of craziness and social human decay that George Miller’s movies evoke. The mechanics are sound, the game is huge and the landscape is beautiful. It’s slightly let down by its story and how close it is in gameplay to other games you’ve probably sunk time in to this year. But it’s definitely a game that will stay with you.

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  • Beautiful post-apocalyptic landscape.
  • Great fighting and car combat mechanics
  • Large open-world map that never feels the same.

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  • Story isn’t the best towards the end.
  • Quite close to other games in their gameplay.
  • Some bugs towards the end makes it feel a bit rushed.

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Whilst the game is excellent, the frame rate glitches towards the end let it down, as does the conclusion of the story. Plus there really isn’t enough to do outside of the quests and landscape liberation to take it to the next level. But the game is a great experience and one that truly deserves the plaudits if not for its beauty alone.

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This review is based on the PS4 version provided by the publisher.

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New Fallout 4 Cartoon Shows Off Talents – Strength

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That’s right, Fallout 4 is two months away today, and this new cartoon video from Bethesda is showing off one of talents that you can assign for yourself in the games attributes – Strength.

Bethesda are always very jovial when it comes to their game’s marketing and this is no different. A series of 1950s style public service cartoons are coming to help you learn about the games various attributes that you can assign to yourself. You’ll remember in Fallout 3, you did this as a rather mobile baby who had discovered the power to read. Your baby book was there, not for eating, but for deciding upon your character.

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In Fallout 4, this is going to be done very early on as well, by a visiting salesman for Vault-Tec. Whatever your character choice, he’ll come to your home and try to sell you a place in the local vault in case of nuclear doom. Spoiler – Nuclear doom ensues. But the old S.P.E.C.I.A.L. book has now given way to the vault registration form.

Never fear though as Bethesda are doing a video for each of the attributes: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck… S.P.E.C.I.A.L. in case you didn’t get that. This first one, released today shows us how the weapon choices benefit from the strength. The stronger you are, the more you can take that and protect from “bullies.” Although the best news is a possibility of using a paddle and ball to kill people. I mean, the video says it’s a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it, right?

Fallout 4 is due out on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 10th 2015, and we for one cannot wait. If you’re local to the Colchester area, be sure to check out our friends at Xtreme Gaming who are doing a community event celebrating Fallout on Friday September 18th 2015. (@Xtreme_Gaming). Keep it here for all the goodies!

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Rugby World Cup 2015 Xbox One – Competition!

 

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THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

It’s nearly time for the World Cup. Not that rubbish round ball thing that we aren’t very good at, NO! The Rugby World Cup. England (along with a bit of help from Wales) will be hosting this years premier international rugby competition, with the winner (hopefully England) lifting the Webb Ellis trophy at Twickenham on the 31st October.

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But as the competition starts in two weeks, we’ve teamed up with Ben Ben Interactive to give away three copies of the Official Rugby World Cup 2015 game on Xbox One! We’ll be reviewing the game shortly so you’ll be able to read our review here too!

As always with out competitions, we’re keeping this simple. We will be picking our lucky winners randomly from one of the following ways to enter, so get your entries in on Facebook, Twitter, and commenting on the site for multiple chances to win! Good luck!

You can enter via Twitter, Facebook and here on the website. You’ll find the details below for Twitter and Facebook, or you can enter simply by commenting at the bottom of the post. Make sure you read the small print and just so you know, this is for UK readers only as these are UK game codes. Sorry, America. But you don’t do Rugby anyway. *joke*

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HOW CAN I WIN?

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ENTER ON TWITTER

It’s easier than a tutorial mission, just RETWEET the message below and make sure you are following @TheGameJar on Twitter.

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— TheGameJar (@TheGameJar) September 04, 2015

 

You can enter more than once via Twitter, Facebook, or the site for extra chances to win. [divider]

 

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We’re giving away THREE Xbox One code for Rugby World Cup 2015!To enter, all you have to do is make sure you are ‘…

Posted by The Game Jar on Friday, 4 September 2015

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Don’t use social media? Not a problem – head to the bottom of this post and leave a comment… it’s that simple!

You can enter more than once via Twitter, Facebook, or the site for extra chances to win.

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The competition closes Friday 11th September 2015 at 6pm UK time, with the three winners chosen at random from all the entries and announced on the same day. This competition is only available to UK entries. Entrants on Twitter and Facebook who haven’t “liked” or “followed” our Facebook or Twitter will not be counted. Full competition terms can be found here.

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Dying Light – The Following – Preview

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It’s over two years since Techland went solo from their Dead Island franchise and found a new home with publisher Warner Bros. The result was last years release, Dying Light, which was a very familiar game if you’d played any of their former franchise. But with a focus on movement and parkour that freed up the constraints in the open world city of Harran, the game was different and enjoyable enough to earn the top spot in January 2015 for sales and became the highest selling debut survival horror franchise ever.

Now, the story continues as you take Kyle Crane to a new area of the world. Gone are the sprawling decaying concrete blocks, discoloured by the eastern Mediterranean sun, as you enter a new, vast farmland area, filled with brooks, small alcoves, interesting groves with people to find and farms and industrial buildings galore. The world is apparently four times the size of Harran. It is very sparse compared to the built up Turkish town and its not the worse for it. It allows for many different approaches to an area or a situation, which I’ll come on to later. But what you will find is that the shadows have given way to the glorious rays of sun that now dominate the skies and the view, really making some lovely use of the Chrome Engine and further solidifying why the last generation of consoles would have had no chance of running these games.

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The plot sees you trying to track down a cult called The Following. Presumably to eliminate them, although I must stress that the preview we played gave us no spoilers for the plot so we have no idea what we’re looking for or who we’re killing. But kill we shall because we are given weapons and the overwhelming urge to use them. In our preview, we climbed our way around a big mountain and dived from an impossible height down to a pool of water. As we climbed out, we saw our first hint of The Following in decorated rocks, much like those you’d see of native tribes around the world. Our journey then led us up to an abandoned house where the poor unfortunate souls before us left a gun and, most importantly, a crossbow.

Then we traversed our way across the farmland that was awash with zombies. Lots of zombies. Basically, don’t traverse the field if you can help it. It’s fun to start killing things with a crossbow, hitting people in the head, as we practiced at the house by clearing the garden. But as soon as you are outside and everyone is on you, forget it. Run. Where were we running to? An old water tower by a small farm building. There were a few ways there of course, either through the throng in whatever zig zag you’d like, up the path where the throng was less or up over the pipes that went across the field. I chose the pipes and ran my way to the high vantage point.

At the top of this vantage point, we saw our prize. A car, or to be more precise a buggy. After clearing the area of militia by using our crossbows at a sniping vantage point, we zip-wired down to the ground, mopped up the remaining guys hiding inside the surrounding buildings and jumped in to the waiting buggies. We, it must be said, was me and my co-op partner and what followed was a race and a slight moment of control adjustment to work out how the buggy went forward and reversed. The race culminated, after mowing down various zombies in the road, in a massive jump and an explosion that signalled the end of our play.

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What I managed to take away from this is that it isn’t a big leap from Dying Light, which is good. We also have a large, new area to explore and traverse. Also good. We have new interesting buildings like docks, processing plants, small villages and the like. Again, good. Then there’s the rather unknown story of this cult, The Following, and the presence of militia and zombies. It certainly gives you some intriguing propositions.

The fact it isn’t a big leap also allows you to jump back in to the game very easily. I haven’t played Dying Light since November last year (before the release) and I picked up the controls like I’d never left them. Simple, natural and the buggy was pretty good once you got your head around how twitchy it is. The weapons are fun and the options you have in approaching an area are also pretty fun. But you sense that, despite a huge world that’s been promised, a lot of it is empty and just populated with aimless zombies for you to mow down. I always find that fast transportation does allow to kind of get away with vast unpopulated areas. I might be wrong, but I’d need to play and explore more.

All in all though, the expansion is solid, the lighting and art direction is great, as it was in Dying Light, and it’s really more of the same. Normally, these things end up being just missions and a few new buildings but a whole new area is a great thing from Techland and a new storyline, regardless of your thoughts on the original’s plot, is entirely welcome. If you’ve already got the season pass then you can expect it for free (I know, right? A season pass that actually includes the add-on DLC!) or if you haven’t then it’ll be $14.99. No news on a UK/EU price yet but I’m sure you can guess one.

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Constructor HD – Preview

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Back in 1997, a game was released by Acclaim on MS DOS and then ported to Playstation in 1998. It was a very difficult game, which took on a life of its own with a dedicated following that enjoyed its sense of humour, its challenge and, probably most importantly, its playability. This game was Constructor, developed by System 3 and it was one of the first games to successfully make the leap from PC to console in the strategy market (apart from real time games like the Command & Conquer series and possibly Sim City on SNES).

The aim of the game was simple. Build houses, get tenants, compete against the computer players (or friends on a LAN) in building more and gaining control, whilst your tenants become more unruly and moan… A lot. The game had a little bit of the dodgy dealing cockney kind of 1960s feel about it. You’d probably get the sense of the camaraderie from the original Guy Ritchie movies like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrells, but it probably owes a lot more to the late George Cole’s Authur Daley from the Minder TV series. The problem with the game was that it was incredibly difficult. The dedication you’d need to keep any semblance of control, keeping tabs on the thugs, builders, tenants and the opposition whilst everything potentially crumbles around you, was immense. Of course as video gamers, we loved it and lapped it up like cats with a saucer of milk.

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But of course it isn’t 1997 anymore. It’s 2015 and the original game, re-released a few years ago on PSN and GOG, has certainly aged. The humour and style is still there but the years have not been kind to its 256 colour palette, its very close view or its steep learning curve. And in this age of remasters, forgotten classics and current generation accessibility, the game is going to return. Recently announced by System 3, Constructor HD is coming to PC, Xbox One and PS4 in 2016, in the hands of original developer John Twiddy. Why? Well in his words “of all the games I’ve done, this is probably the one I enjoyed the most.”

It hasn’t been for the want of trying though, as John told me after seeing the game at Gamescom “I know it’s taken a long time to get around to it, but it was never the right time. We always planned to do something.” Over the years of course the technology has moved along so that System 3 can improve on the game and give the fans, and hopefully new converts, something they’ll enjoy. A lot has certainly changed to make it more accessible, and I’m not just talking about the however many million more colours there are.

Firstly, the game itself is exactly the same. Same premise, same enjoyable caricatures of British or more London stereotypes, same neat animations and unique ways of dealing with problems. Thugs can still be deployed to take over a property to intentionally piss off your tenants. Or repair men can fix, or cause, any issue that the ever more demanding occupants of your properties may come up with. You’ll have local mills and cement works ready to give you the tools and supplies you need to build your property empire. All of them though are lovingly upgraded from the original drawings to the new HD era. But the best thing though, by far, is the upgrading of the user interface.

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On the face of it, it’s exactly the same design as it was in 1997. A right sided tool bar with a ticker up top and the game being displayed in a window. But now, thanks to screen ratios and better design tools, the toolbar is much more free. It’s a part of the game window rather than your game window being a part of it. The essential information is now conveniently positioned on the sides of the screen, so as to allow more game space. The biggest improvement in this though though is in the map and view itself. as you can zoom out much further and see much more of the maps that you are playing.

One of the biggest cruxes of the original game was the limited view that you had. Another crux was that the sub-menu screens dominated the whole playing area. When you clicked to see about a house or move tenants in or any kind of sub menu, it literally took over and was a bit clumsy. But now, these menus fit on the same screen and are mostly opaque so you are never fully taken out of the action of the game. And, thanks to the original simple design of the menu, the controller works perfectly with them. There are some that still need you to go deeper like selecting individual houses but for the main part of your game, construction and assigning your workforce, you’re never away from the map.

“Because the original Playstation version was a straight port of the PC version, it never really worked that well. It was always a bit slow,” John tells me. “Where as now, with the shortcut keys I actually find it easier to play with the controller than I did with the keyboard and mouse originally.” Back in the PC/PSX days, you could have a keyboard and mouse controller, which was alright but never spot on for the PlayStation. But as John told me, the use of the controllers now allows for very quick and easy accessing of various options and submenus. Something that is a lot easier thanks to the bigger screen, easier controls and very fluid shortcuts. Of course the biggest part of all of these improvements is that game retains what it originally had, which was fun by the bucket loads.

And it has. The demo we were shown allowed us to flood an enraged tenant out of their apartment. Another allowed us to have a Young Ones-esque perpetual house party, much to the annoyance of the occupants. The wooden fences went up around an empty lot that we selected and a team of builders came in and erected a house. We made someone else happy by giving them a rather garish iron fence around their property. The metro system allows for super fast travel and the yard, your base of operations, still has that backwater hut feel about it. The kind of trailer that you’d see at the back of a scrap yard and be impressed that there’d be a fax machine in it, regardless of whether it was plugged in or not.

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The game looks great of course as the original material was cartoonish and comical enough that it kind of transcends its age. In fact the only thing that really dated Constructor was the technology and graphics. So Constructor HD really doesn’t have that much change in its design. The only thing it really has changed is the aspect ratio and the easier, less intrusive sub menu system. Although the game has had some modifications to its famously unforgiving difficulty.

It’s all about rebalancing the game, John tells me. “People got overpowered by the complaints, so we’re reigning that back in to give more balanced gameplay. For the story, similarly, we’ve got new tutorial modes because it is quite a difficult game to get in to. So we’re trying to make it for a more modern audience who want a bit more ‘pick-up-and-play’ and try and improve it for them.” But they are keeping the masochistic difficulty level. “You have to make it difficult to give someone a challenge,” according to John.

Of course it might well be the right time to start looking at strategy games on consoles. It’s not been a popular genre for the twin analogue stick machines, but Zoo Tycoon is a pretty decent game. Civilization Revolution was a fantastic game on console and the Tropico series seems to have made the leap superbly. There probably hasn’t been a better time, especially with the announcement of Halo Wars 2, for a strategy IP to make a comeback. Constructor HD will probably irk the more casual gamer and if it does, then expect the boys around to trash your house and get you to move out, you complaining tenant!

Constructor HD is due for release in January 2016 for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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Mafia 3 – Preview

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The year is 1968. The Vietnam war has been raging for over ten years but the American public have begun to protest against the reality of the violent images dominating the headlines. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares he will not go for re-election after assuming the Presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which then sees the election of Richard Nixon at the end of the year. America begin to win the space race after Apollo 8 orbits the moon. Elvis Presley’s Comeback Special cements the artist’s place in music history. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated causing riots across the country and lead to the biggest social change in recent history. The Khmer Rouge comes in to power in Cambodia and a coup d’état sees Saddam Hussein become the Vice Chairman of the revolutionary council of Iraq leading to his assumption of total control. It’s safe to say that 2K and new studio Hanger 13 are right in saying they’ve chosen one of the most turbulent years in American and world history in which to set Mafia 3.

The story and the date are paramount to the sense of opportunity and upheaval that the America of the time presents. Mafia 3’s lead character, Lincoln Clay, comes back from the Vietnam War without a cause, without a family. He finds one in New Orleans with the Black Mob but as soon as he finds his new home, his world is once again shattered when the Italian Mob attempt to murder them all. Clay survives and starts his one man war against the Mob, starting his own “family” of close lieutenants and vying for control of The Big Easy.

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The development of the Mafia has pinged about a bit as 2K reshuffled themselves and the 2K Czech studio closed. But the newly formed Hanger 13 picked up the mantle over in California and for the past two years has been up to a lot of secret work developing the game. One of those secret things has been a lot of upgrading to the games engine. You probably wouldn’t believe it but Mafia 3 uses the Mafia 2 engine that has been heavily updated and it looks absolutely awesome. The open world of New Orleans looks great with tiny little alleys and small buildings with neon signs advertising Jazz. But it also seems to operate well enough with a lot of entities going around. The streets are a buzz of life and people trying to forget the looming threats in the world. The big graveyards with concrete tombs painted in the vibrant colours and celebrations of life are the perfect meeting grounds for New Orleans’s dark underbelly. The clubs are frequented by many people looking for fun and a good time and behind every door in these clubs, in every cellar, there could be a hideout for the mob, waiting for a hostile takeover.

Hostile is very much the aim of the game here, hostile and violent. In a world that has been born of corruption, ruthlessness, warfare and oppression, violence is inevitably the human answer. Open world games have come on quite a way, even since Mafia 2 and one of the things that exposes a lot of the genre to criticism is violent combat. Mostly because it is taken out of an arena where violence is blindly accepted and put in to a social, close context. The game is very violent but only in the same regards as Hollywood action movies and rolling news’s normalisation of brutality. The third person perspective gives that feeling similar to GTA V and Uncharted in that the game suddenly turns from open-world exploration to cover-shooter and stealth killer. Anything from shooting guns and hiding behind scenery that slowly breaks with more bullet holes, to pulling your combat knife from your holster and lodging it deep in to the brain of your assailant via his eye socket. Car chases will ensue where the Police and the mob will chase you, highlighting the repercussions of your actions, shifting the power dynamic. But Clay is a man that knows nothing but violence. Between war and crime, it is the only way he knows how to respond effectively. This won’t be for the feint of heart.

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That dynamic shifts as you take over the various businesses and hideouts that the mob controls. You don’t just want to kill those that tried to kill you, you want to take everything from them, everything they’ve owned, everywhere they deal, you want to annihilate them completely. Your lieutenants, after you’ve enlisted them, become vital to your operation. They can be set to control these new acquisitions and have different skills that will get different bonuses out of them. They can also be called from pay phones to help your situation, like clearing your wanted level for example. If you’re a Mafia fan, you might even recognise one of them. Vito Scaletta returns from Mafia 2 but his story has moved on somewhat. He’s joined by new characters Cassandra and Burke.

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The New Orleans of the time is a vibrant and superstitious city. Louisiana is a place of the soul and of magic, the population as enraptured with voodoo and the darkness as they are with the escapism of 1968 America. The French Ward, which we were shown around in the demo, is a colourful place that feels like there is something going on everywhere. It feels like the multicultural party city it is portrayed to be and the soundtrack especially evokes that. Some excellent cuts come over the in-car radio as well as the clubs of the city. From choice riffs from Jimi Hendrix and the great hearty soul and blues of Sam & Dave, The Rolling Stones, and others, this is a game that wants to place you within a time and within an era.

From our first impressions, Mafia 3 looks like it will be a great game. Yes it’s going to be a departure from the Mafia’s we knew before. The move forward to the end of post-war America and a game at a time of social upheaval is actually quite exciting. We’ve had many games deal with sensitive points in history but never before have we had one so focused in a particular time and place that wasn’t a satirical pastiche or a historical war game. I’m interested to see more of how the game handles the time but I’m very confident in how the game handles gaming. It looks, sounds and appears to play very well and I’m looking forward to more.

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Rory McIlroy PGA Tour – Review

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Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.

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Arnold Palmer said that. It must be said that this quote came from a world before Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Golf came to us armchair 19th hole patrons. There’s been a lot of changes to the franchise over the past four years, some of them enforced by the changing dynamic at the top of the PGA rankings, and some of them enforced by the development cycle of the current generation of consoles. So let’s first address these changes.

Firstly, Tiger Woods is gone. The name, the player, the licensing, everything that was Tiger Woods is no longer here. Yes Rory McIlroy is the new cover star but it goes a bit deeper than that. I’ve constantly found myself referring back to the name out of habit and quite possibly expecting a similar level of depth, gameplay and customisation that a nearly eighteen year franchise should bring. This game is a very different game in some respects compared to what we are used to but the kind of reliable soul that the previous games have, that kind of feeling where you know what you’re getting and you know you’ll be pleased, is gone. It’s always a risk making this kind of change because you could completely break what has made the formula successful. They haven’t broken it entirely but something isn’t right.

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Tiger Woods isn’t the only thing missing. In fact you could call the game anaemic compared to previous titles and even other EA Sports games. The game boasts eight courses and four fantasy courses, so twelve in total compared to the last game which had (including variations) thirty six. So we have a third of the courses of the previous game. We have just as much cut from the roster. Gone are the ladies tours and the amount of golfers that you can select. Gone are some of the licensed clothes, clubs and courses (The Masters deal having expired) and gone are a lot of the different faces and body looks that you can choose for your golfer. In fact, this is probably the worst cut of them all as, when embarking on a career, you lose any of the personalisation, the feel that you are a part of this career role playing and mostly just level up your character so he can hit things better. Yes, this is what you do anyway but it does show a lot more thanks to the lack of anything else.

The game engine has changed with the EA Sports signature Ignite engine giving way to the EA Games signature Frostbite 3 engine. Honestly, this hasn’t really made a lot of difference, the game still looks quite good although there are some odd moments where you have things like bushes and fences pop in and out, and the crowd very rarely moves in any fashion other than in unison. The faces in the game itself aren’t particularly great either with Rory McIlroy himself looking more like Formula One’s Pastor Maldonado. Strangely, with the menu system and everything else going on around it, it does feel quite… Battlefield-y. Like a mod of a Battlefield game almost. Not surprising given how much Battlefield there is with a humourous character and a playful destructible course. The actual gameplay is largely unaffected with very similar controls and displays as you would find in the previous games, although it does look a little easier to read, a litter tighter in the design and a little clearer overall, with the exception of the putting and green reads which are, frankly, pointless. All this is then coupled with an incredibly repetitive and cliche ridden commentary team that seems to have the NBC logo attached to it for no other reason than to look a bit like the TV. It’s absent everywhere else so it’s inclusion is confusing.

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Gimmicks are here a plenty actually with a PGA Prolouge mode that introduces you to the game, its controls and a rather bored and nervous looking McIlroy speaking to camera about his Open Championship win, which you then recreate through the tutorial. There’s a Nightclub mode where you do several challenges that look like the golf course version of a nightclub (Why? I mean honestly, why? You want to show night, I get it but a “nightclub” themed mode in a golf game? Seriously?), and there’s an online play mode but mostly, much like everything else, it has all been scaled back. No skins mode (there goes my old drinking game), no select holes (back 9 for example) and no alternative game modes really at all. Which would be ok if you could actually play a full round of golf in the career but as soon as you start, you get the highlights of the last few holes. Your entire career mode is basically not messing up what the computer has already simulated for you. Hardly my career, is it?

We’ve had a few sports games lately on the site that are entering their first current generation attempts. It feels worryingly uniform now that (unless you are FIFA seemingly) game modes and features are haemorrhaged for seemingly little gain in the new experience or anything above an expected graphical improvement. It can’t be easy for EA Tiburon as they haven’t used the Frostbite engine before now, and they’ve produced, under the pressure of expectation, a stable and capable golf simulator. Unfortunately in doing so any of the magic and fun of the previous iterations appears to have left with Tiger Woods (although he certainly hasn’t kept that magic himself). It’s an interesting reboot with a big new name and with a sport that will likely see a much more open and less solitarily dominated landscape in the future. If only the game could have captured that.

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Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a new direction for the EA Sports franchise that has had the chip lifted from its shoulder and let free again. An engine change and a new generation of consoles seems to gone well and the gameplay is still as reliable as it was before. So in one sense, job done. But the lack of game modes, massive cuts to the roster of golfers and courses, and customisation and career mode input has taken some of the spark from the game and really, for a generational leap, it has fallen way short and landed with a rather subdued thud in the bunker.

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  • A nice looking golf game, with only occasional visual glitches
  • A solid gameplay experience that has carried well from the last generation
  • An easy to read display that allows you to play well, and quickly.

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  • A complete lack of features compared to previous games
  • A huge lack of courses compared to even the last game
  • It feels like its missing a little bit of its soul, like it lacks the confidence to be a new golf game.

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I mean, honestly, it’s not a terrible game. It’s very playable if only for the time it takes to play a casual 18 holes. But the lack of anything that made the last games great has really hurt this iteration. For once, in an odd circumstance, we’re actually upset that there isn’t more in the game to do because they have transitioned to the new engine and new generation quite well. But poor looking player models, a third of the courses and with 75% of the fun removed from the experience, it needs some saving to build on the solid gameplay they have next time out.

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This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, provided by Xbox. Thanks!

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