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.

Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam – Interview

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Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam is now out on PC, Xbox One and PS4. You can read Andy’s review of it here, but Sean has keenly followed the game’s progress over the past year and enjoyed his time with the game and its concept. He also a massive book nerd, so we got him to chat with the author of the book and the game, Christopher Brookmyre and ask him a few questions.

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Sean Cleaver: So how did this novel turn in to a game, and how did you decide to change the protagonist’s dynamic in both forms, book and game?

Christopher Brookmyre: A lot of it was assisted by the fact it was conceived of as one thing, when I was writing the novel I’d already written the outline for the game. So I was picturing a first person perspective, which is what you do when you’re writing a novel. You genuinely are picturing how the world looks to one character at a time. But when it came to adapting it for the game, it’s all about the dialogue at that point, because you can only describe so much. Obviously the level designers bring that to life so it was all about telling the story through the things characters were going to overhear and I think it’s quite satisfying to the player instead of them being held up and forced to watch a CGI cutscene, no matter how impressive the CGI cutscene is, you still feel like this is the bit where you’re no longer interacting with the game. You’re just watching something. I think it’s far more satisfying to the player if they are overhearing things. And not everything they overhear is necessarily relevant. I think that’s sometimes the trick, to give texture and detail to the dialogue to create characters but really kind of drip feed the clues as to what’s going on. The fun part with that was creating a character like Heather (Athena) and making her vulnerable and yet confident in herself at times. So it was a great vehicle for creative swearing, very, very well brought to life by Kirsty Strain.

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SC: That’s another interesting dynamic as you’ve got some of the cast of comedy show Burnistoun to voice the characters in the game, adding this very Scottish nuance to the vocal performances. How did that come about and how did you decide to change the lead character from the book in Ross Baker, to Athena in the game?

CB: I suppose the first stage was having decided to have a new protagonist. Having quite early on in the development we discussed how we didn’t want you to play as Ross Baker because I think if you’re playing as a character who’s story has already been told effectively, I think that kind of takes you out of it a wee bit, you like to think it’s you doing it. The point of reference we had very early on was how exciting it was when you played Half Life’s Opposing Force expansion pack when you occasional catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman who you played as before but you see that he’s still out there. And we thought that would be exciting for anyone who read the book to be in the same universe as the book and that Ross Baker would be in there too and you’d be trying to catch up to him. We thought it would be better if you felt like you were telling your own story. And I didn’t want to just create a whole new character, because I thought that would essentially be creating Ross Baker with a different name, so that’s why I thought I’d make it a woman and that will give me as a writer a whole new impetuous. The novel and the game is an affectionate pastiche of tropes and conventions of video games. So to make it from a female point of view gave it a whole new dimension for me. So I wrote it all out and I had great fun with it but at that point, I didn’t know who was going to play the character.

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I’d done some stuff on stage with Rob Florence. he was creating a section of the Glasgow film festival and he did a video game event with guests on stage, and we talked about the game. And every so often he’d get in touch and ask how it was going and how it was developing. It was one of those lightbulb moments and I thought “why don’t I ask him if he wants to do the voice?” And then when I thought about that, I thought what about Kirsty Strain? The thing that struck me was that these were people that did Sketch Comedy and in that you have to create many different characters. So I thought they’d be ideal for doing Bedlam because they might have to voice a few characters. As it happened they didn’t so much. Kirsty does a few other voices in there, but when you’ve got characters that you’re going to hear a lot of, you don’t want them to do too many voices.

We had a fantastic time doing it because it was one long day in a studio in Glasgow. Kirsty wasn’t quite as well versed in gaming so I would sometimes have to explain what it was that her character was reacting to or why she was saying it in the way she was saying it, but she just brought such qualities of vulnerability and charm to it that she nailed her lines. And in the afternoon that day when Robert was in we absolutely battered through that recording, and he at one point stopped me and said “are you not going to give me any direction?”, but because he’s so well versed in games culture he knew exactly what he was doing with every line, he was nailing every line first time. But that was a fantastic experience for me and almost every other voice in the game apart from those two is me, because we obviously didn’t have the budget for a massive cast. One of the god like voices you hear at some point in the Real Time Strategy world in the story is voiced by Harvey Summers who did the music and sound design for the game. But almost everyone else is me with various clever sound effects so it doesn’t all sound like me.

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SC: Of course the biggest thing in this is that you’re a gamer, so what kind of games are you playing now?

CB: The whole project was like a big love letter to games down the years. I can’t lay claim to being such a big gamer now in recent years, I know it sounds terribly grown up but I’ve just been so busy doing various novels and actually working on the game and everything that goes with it. But my son’s a big gamer so most of my gaming is done vicariously over his shoulder. Which means I do stay up to date with what’s going on but I don’t get to play as much. But I was hugely involved in the early, what I regard as pioneering, days of online gaming culture in the UK. I played in clans for Quake 2 and Quake 3. I’ve written about it quite a bit and what really appealed to me as a project was that I could really just write about the things I love. That’s something I’ve tried to do with lots of my books, is write something I’m passionate about.

I’m getting to see it but my son has his PC in the same room as mine. So I see what he’s playing but I’m really not getting to play much at all these days. Every so often there will be a gap in the schedule so I get to play something. So I played Alien Isolation, or cupboard simulator as I started to think of it, and that was terrifying. I think my glory days are brought out in the novel. Anyone who knows games will be able to see there’s a point at which whoever wrote this has ceased to evolve. Which is why there is very much an emphasis on the late 90s and early 2000s shooters in there. But I’m fascinated by what I do see and how much more sophisticated the games are able to get, and in that I suppose I’m talking about open-world games and RPGs. What amuses me about the FPS, as Bedlam is very much about the evolution of the FPS and it’s evolved in a lot of ways but there’s a lot of ways that it hasn’t evolved at all. I mean the gameplay dynamic of Doom is still in there and whatever FPS comes out next.

SC: So now you’ve seen it all brought to virtual life, what’s your favourite level in the game?

CB: Oh!, Well… I played a lot of the early levels far more because of how the early access structure allowed me to go through them. But for me the one I like the most is the Planetfire, the second of the Planetfire levels was kind of up in the clouds, because I like if anything for me it sums up what we were trying to do with the game, it’s that you’re in this quite modern looking, quite comparatively polished in terms of the graphics, and I loved the level design but most importantly, you’re being strafed by a sort of voxellated, pixellated 3D version of a 2D arcade game Defender type ship. So that to me is what we were trying to do, it’s as if something escaped from one game in to another. So being strafed by this Defender 2D thing whilst running around in a far more futuristic looking shooter, that I think there’s something quite elegant about that level so I really kind of like it.

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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.

 

Turtle Beach PX24 Headset – Review

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There are quite a lot of headsets available and, for the price, this isn’t a bad deal at all. The market at the moment is full of differing prices, compatibility and brands making confusion rife for people probably buying one. We do like to do some hardware reviews for those of you who might not have the time to wade through everything, and probably only see the most expensive thing on the market.

Retailing at £69.95, the Turtle Beach PX24 headset isn’t the cheapest (that honour goes to the Gioteck HC-4). You will also need an adaptor if you own an old design Xbox One pad (which, unless you’ve got the 3.5mm jack current Xbox One pad, is what everyone has), but for all other mediums you’ll be fine. The headset itself is a standard headset with a jack input so it can be used with pretty much anything. Which is great if you’re needing a headset for anything PC or Mac based, be it gaming or simple Skype calls. This is also where the mobile compatibility comes in although really it’s just a pair of headphones at this point, but if your serious about gaming and want that quality then having something multi purpose like this definitely beats the overpriced Beats.

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The sound quality is actually very good and listening to other people chat is very clear, as soon as you’ve done some minor volume adjustments on your gaming device. The foam cushions are nice and comfortable and the band part of the headset also has a foam cushion so it’s quite nice on the head. The microphone has some good quality to it and the flexible mount feels very stable and tough, but it also can’t really be moved into many positions make sure it’s away from clothing or you’ll get lots of scratching. Thankfully, you’ll notice that as the mic also plays in the headphone’s output so you can hear your own voice. This feedback is pretty good in stopping you from shouting and looking like a fool to passing people. To me, that’s one of the key components here as audio feedback on yourself is something a lot of lower priced headsets lack and is really useful.

The amplifier itself has a lot of charge to it. I’ve had it on quite a bit and even forgotten to turn it off at times, yet I haven’t had to charge it after a week. To do so is a simple micro USB cable that plugs in to anything. You have four options on your functions, changeable by a central button, which are Volume, Surround Adjust, Mic Volume and Bass Boost. All of those options are altered using the wheel on the side. On the opposite side is the platform selector (PS4/Xbox One, etc) and then two other buttons which are Mute and Superhuman Hearing.

The headset boasts the virtual surround sound option and it kind of works. It’s not as surround as you think it would be but it uses some clever panning on the audio channels. I heard it best when hearing a musical box in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, one of the many secrets you can find, and was then able to locate it by hearing the change of direction in the audio. This was mostly let down by their being less notable difference in the levels when facing the object and having your back to it, but side to side, it was fine. The speaker quality does pull this off, but it’s something that’s best served with balanced audio and not blowing your speakers out, which the next feature has the potential to do.

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The problem is that the Superhuman hearing is pretty obtuse. It kind of sounds like the headset bumps the volume loudness, trying to make it as uncompressed as it can and kill as much of the noise reduction that engineers spend so much time implementing. It doesn’t really herald any real quality boost but more of a large loudness boost that really hurts your ears if you aren’t prepared for it, or turning it on during and explosion, like I did. I’m sure if you balance the audio levels a bit better then you might like it, but it really didn’t add anything more me that the headset wasn’t already doing. If anything I turned it off pretty quickly in the hope that I didn’t bow the speakers out. If having that kind of loud audio is you’re thing then be my guest, I’ve played in bands all my life and know first hand how much my hearing sucks now. Personally, I prefer a balanced and well mastered audio being reflected in the best quality and the function, by being an amplified volume boost, looses a lot of that quality.

The build quality feels good, compared to another Turtle Beach headset I have which was uncomfortable and had bits of plastic break off it when I tossed it on to a bed one… A soft bed. It’s certainly a good entry level headset and one that’s very useful if you’re in possession of multiple systems and need an all round device and aren’t going to spend over £300 on a wireless pair of Astro’s. For sub £100 this isn’t a bad deal and is certainly comfortable enough for several hours of gaming which, to me, is possibly more important than a volume boost that makes my tinnitus ring.

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Battleborn – Interview with Randy Varnell

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Back at Gamescom, Sean got to check out Battleborn, the new first person shooter from Gearbox that marries elements of online play and the MOBA character style with their unique design and vision. He was recently invited to check out how the game has moved along since then and also got a chance to sit down with Randy Varnell, the  Creative Director of Battleborn, and talk about the game.

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Sean Cleaver: I played this at Gamescom and at this stage it feels like it has a lot more of its own identity. At Gamescom it was good but it still felt like it was Borderlands. Since then, we’ve had the videos of the 25 characters, it’s moved on and it feels like it’s become its own thing now. Does that feel the same developing it as well?

Randy Varnell: Yeah I think so. I started this right on the heels of Borderlands 2, I was one of the six that rolled right on to this project and very early prototypes were using Maya and little miniature Axtons as the dwarf. We did that for some reason, but we prototyped a lot, we had some similarities in gameplay like the action skills. So we did some things and had some rapid changes to the engine, just to try and prove out the concept. There was a time we were even using psycho midgets instead of robots for the minions. There was a point where it really started to deviate and it takes so long for us as developers, we use proxy models and prototypes for so long, and then all of sudden you’ve got enough characters and enough art in.

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Honestly, it was Wrath that did it for me. The very first time we had a full on melee character implemented in to the game. He was our first and the one where experimented a lot of different ways. How do you make melee work in a first person game? How do you balance it, and balance it against ranged players? He was our character that we learned on and he got in at one point with almost a Zelda-esque melee combos. Almost like Zelda and a fighting game rhythm combat and it started to really satisfy us.

It took a while and you guys are now beginning to see it. I mean we were competitive for so long so when layered a campaign back on top of it, we got some really cool and weird characters to fill out the roster. Marketing has its own plans and wanted to emphasize campaign for all the right reasons, it’s one of the things that is unique about our game. I’m glad that you can finally see enough parts that it’s something new and expanded from Borderlands.

Three years we’ve had this and it’s been playable for tow. August/September 2012 was right around the time Borderlands launched. By the time that it did I’d already been working with this for two or three months so we were already putting the first touches on. I think we had a playable rough prototype as early as October/November 2012. I mean it was really rough, and it was pretty quick. It took six months for us to be comfortable with the game and then another for the big art stuff to come in. We were still working on other games at Gearbox, Borderlands DLC, and other things.

About February or March 2013 we had enough to do a Gearbox wide play test, with some folks at 2K and this was the first time that we knew we had a game. There’s been some changes since then but, it’s been a while.

SC: One of the things being Creative Director and coming from Borderlands in to this. I think a lot of people are interested in how the brain goes to the screen, from the writing and everything how it gets from the brain to what you see. What kind of processes happen?

RV: Well there’s a lot o different ways and, to give you a bit of an overview, those first few months Randy Pitchford was very instrumental. He sat down and helped us with the overall game vision. He helped come up with the concept of the fiction. The whole “last star” idea, it’s not been done a lot in sci-fi. That’s an extreme epic and that was a big moment, deciding that we wanted to express our characters through factions and taking some inspirations. We always loved what Game of Thrones did. There’s always fighting but sometimes people need to ally together and we wanted that kind of vehicle.

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When you get the art and start working on the character, I mean very early on it was gameplay first. We knew we wanted a melee guy, we wanted a ranged guy and we wanted a support. We started with those first. Thorne, Wrath and Miko and to an degree Montana was one of our early characters too. We called him the big guy, but was also playing with his size. In a first person game size makes a huge difference so when you have a big guy like Montana you balance him differently than you do a little scrawny character like Origi, who is tiny and thin and jumping about so much that he’s really hard to hit. So you have to do things with the speed, the health and the hitboxes to get through all of that.

Then you get to the art and go through a process of what we want the game to look like. We have our art director, Scott Kester who was one of the guys who was very intrumental for the Borderlands franchise. He came on for Borderlands 1 and was one of the guys that helped that visual style change of Borderlands, if you remember earlier the earlier screenshots from that game. So this is, I think his first full project as art director and honestly, I love Scott so much.

We said “This is a big vibrant sci-fi colorful game, what do you want to do?” so in that case I gave Scott an open ring and said “do something.” So he got a couple of concept artists and they went through a process of doing this and trying that and make the big art sheets and bring them all together. He started some stylistic treatments and some environment concepts and very early on he developed the language, he said “I’m going for Pixar meets Anime.” He wants that clean line kind of smooth rendered Pixar character, almost like the 3D model, but also the edginess and the maturity of anime. It still needed an edge to it, it’s not a kids game. I mean a lot of people are going to be able to play, but anime has that great maturity, it has a certain style elements that really exaggerate character features. And when he got the first few models, the first one we hated, the second one we loved. And then we started with the concept artists and started to go wide and explore.

One of the things I think is reflected in the art and playing the game is the tone, I suppose you’d call it a trademark Gearbox tone of “We’re not being completely serious, take it with some humor,” you know with things like Butt tactics which is one of the character’s videos.

You know quite early on with the heavy stakes of the last star in the entire universe, we were contemplating what the sky looked like. Well it’s black, there’s no stars. We actually contemplated for several months right at the beginning trying to be a bit more serious and dynamic, thinking this was going to be our sci-fi franchise. And I think it was Oscar Mike, our standard assault soldier who was originally named Chuck Abrahams. It was also the name of the developer who was making the character so it was weird and when someone suggested that, because he was a caricature of a soldier we should just call him Oscar Mike, like the military language for “On Mission,” it changed. And then he was the first VO test for the game and our writer Aaron Linney came in and started playing with that and writing, he’d have some dumb lines like “I’m going to air strike a pizza party” or something. And when he explained that he’s not really a caricature, he’s just very earnest. It became “Airstrikes are bad ass” and everything he said is in that tone of voice and acted in that way and we said “that’s really funny, oh we’re going to make a funny game again aren’t we?”

And then you get Montana and you start to go there and then you just go from there. I think it’s a great thing for us, we don’t get too dire or two serious on topic. I think we come out somewhere between Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who, in the way that our tone and our humor works in there and it’s quite a unique place.

SC: What would you like to see really come out of the game between now and the February release date?

RV: I’ve worked on several big games now and one of the things that’s the most important thing is polish. You know I think you’re already feeling some of the promise on content. People are playing five or six or seven games and they’re not even able to play all of the fifteen characters we have on display today. So that’s not even a quarter of what we’re revealing that’s been played today. But polish is the thing that really goes from making it a pretty good game to a great game. And that’s a lot of things, like really telegraphing that you’ve been hit, adding that hit feedback, the messages, the sound and so on. And with having so many characters and being able to go back and see that it’s there really makes a difference between “that was pretty good” and “this experience was amazing.” There are times where we’ve got the effects and colour, we’ve got a who was an artist on The Iron Giant and that kind of Don Blume 2D animation style who came in and sat with our effects team and took the 2D hand drawn effects and mapped them on to 3D objects like the explosions and again, that’s another touch of stylistic effect and art on that.

And then we’ve loved it so much but there are times were there’s so much colour and you can’t see what’s going on so you have to expand and pull back, expand and pull back, and polish is all of those things, and those touches. And I think more than anything else it’s about having the time to go back and tune and polish and balance. We need to create the content and get it out there and make it as cool and satisfying as what you’ve seen tonight and I think the polish is what’s going to make it a really awesome game.

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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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