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.

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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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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Battleborn – Preview

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Gearbox is at it again. No, it really is. Borderlands may well have been setting the bar for co-op shoot and loot FPS games, but their sights have now been set on something much more team focused and something much more competitive, despite the inclusion of a story mode. Battleborn is the studio’s latest attempt to look at the competitive scene and maybe break in to that much coveted eSports arena.

It’s something 2K hoped to crack with Evolve but, regardless of how good the game was, the amount of people playing it and the fairly long nature of play and upgrading characters hasn’t taken off as well as they’d have wanted. But Battleborn aims to capture this market, especially when Blizzard are releasing Overwatch, and give a decent and enjoyable story mode for you to play as well.

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That mode should allow for five player co-op online or via splitscreen and is what 2K are referring to as “Modular”. What that means is that you have a voting system of what missions to do next within your party, but you can also replay missions you’ve already done for better loot. So each mission is its own module or block. Loot and experience, much like Borderlands, is a key element here but, because of the competitive nature of the game, it is much quicker and easier to implement. The DNA helix is a very nice system, quite similar to those you find in MOBA’s for quick levelling and adapting your play style to suit the objective. The helix has a tier of ten different levels and you select the path you want by hitting (on the controller anyway) left or right trigger to select it. It’s quick and easy, it works well, it doesn’t take you out of the game, and it is very… Modular.

Battleborn is going to boast twenty five playable characters, some of which you’ll see in the video below. But you’ll get characters with a lot of different specalities like healing, massive destruction, speed… The usual you would expect. But it was definitely interesting to see a bit of the behind the scenes of these characters. We were treated to a look at the test game area in the game engine to see how the destruction skills of these characters are over an area and how much damage they actually do. Ambra for example can command a meteor down from the sky and compared to her small three space area staff attack, this makes the battle area look like game of Guess Who that’s close to the end – flattened. These powers are also helped by your loot improving your player. But this kind of talk doesn’t make for a great preview. So how does Battleborn play?

Well… It plays like Borderlands really. I’ve spent a good week trying to work out, from a single player co-op perspective anyway, how I can separate the two so that I can talk about the game in a bit more depth. But with the gameplay, the style, the humour, and more, everything is Borderlands-esque. When I say that, I don’t mean it’s Gearbox-esque. Gearbox is a good studio (regardless of what you think about the ex-magician in charge) and they’ve had a great success with the Borderlands games. So really, there’s no need to change the formula. But this feeling of similarity goes beyond just the basic mechanics that make those games.

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Our four player co-op mission saw us going through a fairly cavernous and empty futuristic storage complex that had been built in to an otherwise barren rock. We went through as a team, defeating the minor enemies in the way, to get to a certain checkpoint where there would be a mini-boss and then progress through to the bigger boss. On the way we can open up containers to get some power ups or health packs in the shape of little green balls, and all around us was amber shards of rock that we could destroy to earn cash. We were being guided though with a bodiless radio communication between characters at the top of the screen giving us the exposition we needed to fulfil our objective.

Our objective was to get this automated tank like unit called a “Wolf” safely to an area where it can open up a big door and where we get ambushed by these dark gangly creatures with white faces. The cash we’ve earned allows us to activate upgrades on the Wolf to help defend itself such as a big healing shield. There’s a lot in this co-op that would be good with friends albeit possibly a bit easy and, if you’ve had the six years of Borderlands, you might be asking where the differences are.

The differences of course are going to be in the competitive arena which will have three game types. Incursion sees you trying to destroy the enemy base whilst AI minions battle it out for mid-ground supremacy, Devastation is a deathmatch-come-king of the hill type game and Meltdown which sees you throwing minions to their deaths for points (much like a reverse Lemmings really). The humour of Gearbox is there and there’s a lot of different character choices with their own styles to make that experience a lot more fun and unique, and there’s going to be a lot of differences in the arsenal that can keep it fresh at least.

But even with the new colour palette and the slightly more fantastical art look, I still felt the game was a bit too close to Borderlands to have its own identity at the moment. Although that maybe exactly what you want. It certainly works well enough and the gameplay is fun but there wasn’t enough there yet, and I stress the word yet, for me to be sinking hours in to this and enjoying that time. I think what I want at this stage is just a bit more of Battleborn’s lore to come to the front, a bit more of the weapons and loot to be explained and more examples of how it all implements to your gameplay and character progression. Battleborn definitely looks like a game that can stand on its own but still has that air of a younger sibling about it. I’m sure as soon as we get towards the end of the year and some beta testing starts appearing, we’ll be able to see how much it has grown up.

Battleborn is currently due for release on February 9th 2016 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One

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[author]

Evolve – Review

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

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[Satirists predict 2015’s Black Friday Sales]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evolve 5

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

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

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

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

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

Evolve 3

[Maybe he should try some Listerine?]

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

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

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

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

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Excellent gameplay that challenges gamers

– Interesting weapons and character roles/monster abilities

– Not totally dependent on Online availability

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Potential DLC costs a big factor

– Hard to find a good team of people regularly

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

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[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

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

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

[author]

WWE2K15 – Preview

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Like an RKO out of nowhere, it’s time again for the franchise that layeths the smack down on the fighting game genre. WWE2K15 is the latest venture into the WWE universe but things are a little different this year.

When you first heard that 2K had taken the WWE franchise, you probably got very excited given their heritage with the NBA series. Last year though, you might have been forgiven for thinking this was a bit of the same old THQ thing. History, in case you don’t know is that after the bankruptcy and demise of THQ a lot of licenses, including WWE, were left in limbo. 2K jumped in and straight away brought on board the stalwarts of the WWE games Yukes and Visual Concepts. The 2014 version picked up what THQ had already done so it wasn’t that different to what was already planned or in production.

This year however is the first time that 2K have been able to guide the game from the start and their focus has been something that is in tune with what WWE want. That is a sense of a superstar and the progression of a career. One of the biggest problems, for me personally as a more casual WWE fan over the years, is the concept of the WWE Universe and what that translates to as a game mode. In my opinion it didn’t really settle you down or give you the feeling of definite progression and felt too much of a sandbox idea to work in a sports game. Of course the 2K specialty is a career mode and WWE is perfectly poised to benefit from it.

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The career mode starts with with you as a rough young potential who’s been brought in to the WWE’s training camp. You work your way up under the guidance of Bill DeMott in the Performance Centre and eventually get your way into the NXT ring as the path to career success unfurls before you. Rising through the ranks with the help of WWE superstars like William Regal, Vickie Guerrero and Triple H, much like you’d experience in the TV shows themselves, your journey will also unlock different options as you grow. Eventually facing the stars such as Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar and the like, this element of career progression takes you around the back offices and into some in-depth choices outside the ring, as well as fighting inside. This might seem familiar from the NBA career and that’s because it is. But it translates itself incredibly well to the WWE setting. How you perform unlocks the avenues for you to explore along with stat upgrades, the ability to train with other superstars and learn their moves, access different clothing and entrance options. You will work your way up and get decisions that also help your personality. You can mould yourself in to a face (good guy) or heel (bad guy) by respecting your way to the top or cheap-shotting people in their happy areas or with a slap. This evolves the story lines your character encounters with other superstars and eventually for your title runs, this plays a key component in who you face. This is the journey of you and who you create and, much like NBA, WWE’s personal touches and customisation really give you an immersive experience as a superstar.

Immersive is another word that’s probably synonymous with 2K’s treatment of NBA but has definitely leapt in to the squared circle. A fairly large overhaul of the game could have been overdue anyway but this particular update has certainly addressed a lot of issues. Firstly, and I don’t say this lightly, this game is not only the most lifelike and realistic looking wrestling game ever, but arguably that can extend to all sports fighting games. Whilst the crowd is slowly getting better in their animations, etc, the real look of the game stems from everything around it. The ring has been completely remapped and the sounds re-recorded, the animations for the wrestlers have grown (there’s over three times the amount), and the biggest thing is the wrestlers themselves. The scanning of the wrestlers faces and complete attention to their bodies, tattoos, mannerisms and expressions is unparalleled in the genre and one of the best things about what 2K has brought to the franchise. Even Paul Heyman has had his strut motion captured. This level of detail has taken quite the effort from 2K, given the schedule of the wrestlers so it’s something that is front and centre of the new game and deservedly so. Secondly, the commentary and the television presentation has been reworked. Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler have re-recorded the commentary to be more about the story and less about move calling like previous iterations. It’s no secret that the NBA has had the presentation of television and commentary pretty nailed in sports games and they’re trying to transpose that to WWE and from what we’ve played, that’s been successful so far.

wwe153

A few things you’ve probably already heard of, which I shall reiterate for you here, is that there are several pre-order bonuses, one of them incredibly historic in wrestling history. The inclusion of Steve Borden’s character, Sting, is a first for WWE at all. Formerly only a WCW wrestler who kept himself loyal to one company during the great turbulence of the Monday Night Wars and then later TNA, Sting is quite possibly the greatest wrestler never to hit a WWE ring. His inclusion in the game as both his 90s surfer dude persona and that mid 90s reinvention of him as a gothic outcast based on comic book character The Crow is a big deal. Hulk Hogan is available on certain deals with both his classic and Hollywood personas. The roster is pretty big so there will be more information to come in future announcements and John Cena, love him or loath him, is gracing the cover and curating the soundtrack… You know he had a rap album, right? He’s qualified… More so than Jim Johnston obviously… The 2K Showcase mode is back too, this time featuring on two classic battles in WWE history. Those being Cena Vs CM Punk and HHH Vs Shawn Michaels. So to answer the obvious question, yes CM Punk is back in this game, despite not being a WWE employee anymore.

WWE games have been pretty locked down for a while in getting it around 70% right. But somehow the fun of those early wrestling games we all played, whether you were of the SmackDown generation, the No Mercy Generation or even older with the Steel Cage Challenge generation, hasn’t been the thing that came across in the THQ attempts of recent years. Possibly that was due to the direction of the franchise rather than the game itself. But WWE2K15 looks, sounds and plays in a way that makes me want to delve deep in to my DVD collection and relive old memories. Most of the feedback and suggestion of how the franchise could improve appears to have been listened to and, despite the delay in the next generation release of the game, will be worth the wait albeit setting a high bar for 2K to trump on a yearly basis.

WWE2K15 is out on October 31st for Xbox 360 and PS3, with the Xbox One and PS4 versions to be released on November 21st.

[author]

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel – Preview

borderlands-pre-sequel

If there is any game that’s going to blur the line between a tie-in/sequel between two incredibly wacky and successful games, it is going to be Borderlands.

The Pre-Sequel sets itself between Borderlands 1 & 2 and tells the story of how Handsome Jack became Handsome Jack and captures once again the craziness that the first two games provide. You negotiate the many bad guys around the moon of Pandora, Elpis, which adds a nice new dynamic of low gravity and oxygen starved environments. Firstly, fire. Fire will not work in space. There is no oxygen. So unless there is an oxygen zone you’ve set up or that you’ve entered then there will be no fire, explosions, etc. But you can still fire guns and that will give you the added option of shooting off oxygen helmets and giving the bad guys something else to think about.

The story itself adds a few new characters that you may have seen dotted around the Borderlands universe before in DLC’s, etc. But the main thing you guys all want to know about is Claptrap. Yes he is playable, yes he is funny. But there are now reasons for that. At this point, Jack is busy reprogramming Claptrap and isn’t getting it quite right. So this makes for a crazy cacophony of mixed up thought processes and hilarious speech whilst your playing. Unstable and zany, Claptrap will really steal this game.

2K_Borderlands_ThePre-Sequel_InGameArt_moonBanditsWhen playing co-op, he is so much fun with random buffs that sometimes work. If he gives you a thumbs up and you return it, buffs for all. If not, he’ll get selfish and give more buffs for himself. There’s lots of these random events with funny animations around them to show the horrible clash of poor programming that prevents him from doing some things and allows for hilarious mistakes. All of these are available on the three skill tress that every character has. Claptraps though really are much funnier than everyone else’s.

Of course the game itself has other playable characters such as Wilhelm who later becomes Handsome Jack’s bodyguard in Borderlands 2 and Nisha the Lawbringer who is the Sherrif of Lynchwood and later girlfriend of Handsome jack. You’ll also have Athena the Gladiator from the Borderlands 1 DLC ‘The Secret Armory of General Knoxx.’ The effort in Pre-Sequel to establish a lot of more the story canon to fans of the franchise and to really make this  a big arc that resolves any queries and links between the first two games.

There are lots of cool new enemies as well and the environment in the levels also gives a PvE trickiness at times, especially with the low gravity jumping. But you cannot help but realise you are playing a last generation game. Sure, we understand that the development in this game is something that Gearbox want to do, not to just cash in on Borderlands. They do care about the franchise and want to add this nice tie-in between the games. And I suppose that there is an element of that it isn’t broken then you don’t fix it with this game. The graphics and the smoothness of the cel shading has really been perfected in the engine and in the consoles that they are currently making the game for (along with the PC port).

However when we played the hands-on at Gamescom, it felt a little bit weird given how many next generation titles are coming out soon that this wasn’t one of them. It does show as a testament that the game really does stand up to those new games though given how much Gearbox have perfected this game after years of developing it. Yes we were all disappointed that we aren’t getting a PS4/Xbox One instalment anytime soon. But given that we aren’t ready to trade in our other consoles yet, then this will do nicely. Unless you are playing on a PC and are annoyed that you’re getting a last gen port again. Sorry about that.

The thing is with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is that this is totally for the fans. There isn’t going to be anything incredibly new and breath taking. Yes there are little things and new bits shoehorned in but the idea is that the story of these characters is told. If you are coming in to Borderlands fresh with this game then don’t. Go to Steam and get the first two (normally discounted) or even in the sales on the consoles. Otherwise you will be completely lost as to what’s happening whilst still admiring a nice smooth exciting shooter with cel shading graphics. But you’ve got time to get the other games done before this comes out on October 17th. Then you may well appreciate Claptrap’s eccentricities.

[author]

The Illusion of Choice

Choice (noun):

1. An act of choosing.
2. The right or ability to choose
3. A range from which to choose.
4. Something chosen

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Illusion (noun):

1. A false idea or belief.
2. A thing that seems to be something it is not.

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The illusion of choice is something that gaming truly thrives upon. Open world genre is a specialist of following through with that illusion. But I will come on to that with more detail. What do I mean by this statement?

Well the word definition above from the Oxford English Dictionary would suggest that in gaming terms I mean it is the false idea or belief that you have the right or ability to choose.

Gaming is built on this very illusion and sometimes, only sometimes, a game comes along that is clever enough to address it. Most times, we don’t even think about it or very occasionally the game surprises us by blatantly providing the illusion.

gta4Grand Theft Auto 4 is my first example of the latter. Of course Grand Theft Auto 5 is littered by choices but its predecessor provides the best example of the illusion. The final mission is a consequence of the choice you make before shortly before. But this choice is an illusion. The character may change that is affected by this choice and the end game of this might be slightly different as to who is still available to socalise with, but essentially, exactly the same thing happens.

A character close to Niko’s life dies at the hands of a betrayl starting a multi layered end mission filled of gun blazing revenge. It is essentially the same drama and this later choice isn’t really a choice that changes anything in the game except who dies. Arguably the dramatic choice is the revenge on Dimitri rather than Jimmy but the outcome is the exactly the same.

So the choice that you make at that later stage is in fact an illusion because you’re not really choosing anything except death and before that, you have no knowledge that the choice defines who dies.

That may sound like I’m clutching at straws but if that decision was placed earlier in the game and the story went on a different tangent of associates depending on that choice then I would be more convinced that it is a choice. Compare it to Grand Theft Auto 5 where your final choice redefines your accessibility to the world and the characters reactions to you.

fallout 3 1Games like the Elder Scrolls and Fallout present you with the massive illusion of choice. It is possible to survive in the world and just live in it without completing a single mission. Of course it severely limits your ability to enjoy the game and eventually you will have to succumb to completing missions so that you can buy things, survive and defend yourself. Which is where the illusion comes in. You are presented with a completely free world open to wherever you want to go. However eventually, you will have to do something that the game intends you to do. You have a lot of choice as to how and when you go about it (apart from Fallout 3’s ending stopping your game).

For example a friend of mine booted up Oblivion on his brother’s computer. Never played it before and after the prison escape, he walked around, found a cool looking gate and when through. What then happened was that he completed the Shivering Isle add on, completely unaware that it was such and hadn’t even touched the main story and to my knowledge still hasn’t. Whilst there has been a choice the game still drive you to complete its missions regardless of how linear it isn’t.

Watch_Dogs on the other hand has practically zero choice. You go through the game in an incredibly linear fashion and you have very little to do in the end game except collecting things. It is in a way antithetical to the genre as there is so little that you can do, compared to other examples in the genre. Alan Wake for example and many other games will force a repeat play through to find the things that you’ve missed which is fun sometimes because you get to relive the bits that you enjoyed and pay more attention to the world around you. These games, first person shooters especially, of course do not even bother with the illusion of choice…

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Except one. Bioshock.

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Bioshock Infinite Burial At Sea 1 featMuch has been written and lauded about the genre defining moment in which that you have been the willing pawn in a sick and twisted game. I mean you specifically, not your character. The universe of this franchise eventually ends completely destroying any illusion of choice by bringing the world into an infinite paradox. But its stand out moment way back in Rapture fully broke the fourth wall and opened up the illusion of choice in both story and gaming mechanics. It’s an amazing moment with some far reaching dramatic consequences. But it is also video gaming’s Magic circle moment where the tricks where shown and explained.

I’ve spent a good hour or so writing these thoughts on choice and I’m completely glossing over lots of games, moments and gaming theory. But I’m stuck trying to think if I can think of a game that is truly free of this illusion. Minecraft instantly comes to mind along with its building contemporaries like Terraria, Starbound and the like. Maybe some city builders too, although games like Sim City and its younger contemporaries still don’t feel completely free of direction. But one game I think really takes away all notion of illusion is a strategy giant.

If I can think of one game that completely rewards your choices, and punishes them too, gives you objectives only and leaves you to the devices of its AI and allow you to glory or failure. That game is Civilization. Arguably the mark of any good strategy game is one that gives you that illusion of your own choice and consequence to succeed how you want to and any iteration of Sid Meier’s classic franchise gives you the option to dispense of the scenario based win and allow you to sink hours and hours in to your choices. It, along with Minecraft maybe, answers as an opposite to the earlier supposition.

[author]