Fallout 4 – Review

Fallout 4’s greatest strength is also at times its greatest weakness, which can be summed up/forgiven/excused/berated (delete as appropriate to your preference on this) as “being a Bethesda game.” Even since the initial reviews came out and having talked with many people about this, it has become a bit of a Marmite subject in that you love this or hate this. But to make such an arguably condescending phrase for the game really shadows some of the problems the game has and, equally so, hides some of the best things that Bethesda Games studio has done with this entry to the Fallout franchise.

Fallout 4 moves the action of the post-apocalyptic America to Boston, giving us a world where lots of scorched woodland areas and small satellite villages surround the massive city. It is incredibly huge and I know I missed places in my run that I’d seen in videos online, so it is entirely possible for you to miss places, no matter how dedicated you are to exploring the landscape.

It is a rather beautiful landscape, even if it is borne of destruction. There’s something about the desolation of society’s constructions, mixed with reclamation by nature, which is wonderful but hard to pull off. There are times that the scope is too much for the game and concessions are made with lower resolution textures and occasional lag in the texture streaming. This becomes a lot more evident in the built up areas but there is a lot more going on that takes your attention away from the obvious issues.

The video you see above (don’t worry, no spoilers) is the wonderful Andy Kelly of PC Gamer fame (@ultrabrilliant) and his award winning Other Places series, showing you the first area of the game and how wonderfully it highlights the sense of desperation the game evokes. This is down to a multitude of things that the Bethesda Game engine does very well. The colour palette is wonderfully vibrant and dour, capturing both the positivity of the pre-war age and the decay of the post-war world. This is apparent all throughout the world in larger historical structures or even the smaller pop-up shack communities you encounter. The grass and the ground is arid, dying but not quite dead, along with the concrete blending in with its cracked and broken roads and fallen structures. Nothing ever feels like it’s the same but it’s all disorientating enough to make you think you might have been there before, really helping with the need for exploration. The lighting doesn’t do a lot compared to other RPG visual feasts but it doesn’t need to when the morning fog rolls in, or the dark electrical storm shades the sky and your immediate vision in hues of murky brownish green.

The problem with this and the design of the world and the buildings is that it doesn’t feel very human, or it feels too tied to the more angular, broken edge feel that the last generation of Fallout games had. At times the apocalypse seems to have abandoned all curvature and the more you play, the more you feel this is down to the game design and engine rather than artistic choice. The draw distance as well, with the graphical issues of texture pop in can sometimes take you out of the fantasy and into the frustration of loading. In the actual menu screen there’s one low-resolution stretched texture, and it’s obvious and sticks out like a sore thumb.

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Once you move in to the world and explore, along with your now voiced character, you get to meet the typical people you’ve come to expect from the franchise, those being the deliciously maniacal, the weaselly, the addicted, the persevering, the cynical and the violent. These people of the Commonwealth live and die by your actions, and your assumption of responsibilities. Whether it is by building a settlement, defending one for the Minutemen or making yourself a made person in some of the bigger city communities. All of the people have interesting stories and need you to do interesting things for them that will put you in mortal danger, and at times it can feel like an over reliance on the fetch quest or clearing an area of nasty things. But it also feels, more importantly, like you aren’t really in control of your character, even when the decisions on loyalties, allegiances and betrayals come to distort your moral compass.

You might find abandoning your RPG play through of the game until you’ve done it at least once to be a good idea. For long periods of the game there is much more of a focus on the gunplay and action/adventure style than there is on interacting with the world in a unique way. One of the things that the old games were great for and has been much lauded and celebrated was the freedom in how you play and approach the world with your character, like Jake Tucker’s great piece on being a cannibal in New Vegas highlights. If anything, this game suffers from two things in the story and character interaction. Firstly, it’s entirely possibly that we’ve over eulogised the previous games and were expecting, with the voice and the better speech choice system, a new advancement to the freedom we want to have. Secondly, the story and the way the narrative is constructed really limits your choices as to what you can do, at least for the initial run.

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What do I mean by this? My example in Fallout 3 is that you are a young man just going out in the world looking for your Dad, a feat that you probably didn’t expect to actually complete, therefore you can do what you want. In New Vegas you were a nameless courier who is shot and has only the drive to find out who shot you and get revenge, therefore you can do what you want. In Fallout 4 there’s a central event that drives your character that is very human and informs that relation you have to your character. It’s incredibly hard to make your character do all the bad, evil, good, charitable things you might want them to do because the human instinct to resolve the game’s central plot stops you from really doing it. It’s hard to explain it without spoiling the story, but initially it isn’t the RPG you’re probably expecting.

When it comes to customisation though, I have three minor problems. There should be a higher camera when it comes to building the settlements so you get a better look at what you’re building. There should be a bit more of forgiveness for being over encumbered, especially as scavenging for junk now has a practical purpose, like allowing a fast travel to a local location or something. I also want to be able to wear armour whilst wearing any type of underclothes like a suit. That’s my only feedback for things I want, everything else is a great and welcome addition. Whilst the settlement construction options aren’t massive, they are excellent as a side distraction, compared to the side quests available before in previous games for escapism. There are some rather excellent ways to adjust your guns and armour, and all of these things require a smart and well educated use of the new levelling and perk system, which is simplified and much more succinct in its practical uses. But it’s because of these things that I am really excited for the mod function to become available for the console iterations of the game.

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The games issues don’t stop with the textures, or the story, or the ancillary questing being very focused on a simple fetch or kill target. There are big frame rate issues on the console during battles thanks to the overload of AI and particles, and occasionally in areas where the build up of buildings and items can lag the game down from a mostly consistent 30fps to a lot lower. Obviously the PC users don’t have that problem but it is rather annoying and can hopefully be worked in with various patching and optimisation.

But the more time you spend with the game, its quirks, its characters and its environment, the more you forgive it its faults. In a way this is the closest you’ll get to experience Stockholm Syndrome with a game. You’ll lose hours of your life and you’ll see something in the game design and construction that will make you think that the game hasn’t come on as much you would have hoped or expected in the eight years since Fallout 3 or the five since New Vegas. But then you’ll carry on, going to the next area, wanting to find where the hell Dogmeat has got to now, and you just can’t leave it. You shouldn’t be enjoying it, everything about you is saying you should stop, but you can’t.

The biggest problem with the game is the expectation, that we didn’t know we had until the game was announced, hasn’t really been matched once we got it in our hands. But much like the other iterations, it’s the repeat play, it’s the exploration and it’s the ability to have a new experience every time you start a new game that will forgive the technical limitations, even if you don’t feel it the first few hours that you play. You can say that all of this is what Bethesda does and that “it’s a Bethesda game,” but in truth it is both Fallout’s greatest weakness and also its greatest strength.

Summary

Fallout 4 might not be the game you’ve been expecting or hoping for. There’s a definite problem in that the scope of the game isn’t realised in the technical ability of the console, at least without further patches or optimisation. As such, the controls, the feel and the general atmosphere of the game feels like the last games and by association, last generation. But in truth, we wanted more of the same but better to look at, better to control and with more things to do, and that’s exactly what we’ve got.

Good Points

  • Amazing, large world
  • The new weapon modification and settlement building is a great addition
  • So vast that you’ll need several play throughs to fully experience it

Bad Points

  • Graphics and frame rate are disappointing
  • The game feels more action/adventure than RPG at times
  • The story can sometimes feel limiting to your role playing freedom

Why a 7.5?

The hangover from the previous games is most evident in that the graphical optimisation is pretty bad at times with texture pop-in lags and frame rate drops. Plus the experience you get from it isn’t really the same as you might have had previously, and might be a bit too action focused in places compared to previous games. But it is great and much more rewarding once you’ve got in to it and play it again the way you want to. There’s lots to learn and relearn but the story and the technical issues the console versions face can sour the experience.

 

This review is based on the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game.

 

 

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Star Wars Battlefront – Review

From the 17th to 19th Centuries, Nostalgia was thought of as a disease. If that’s the case then Star Wars is an epidemic. There isn’t a childhood memory amongst us that doesn’t involve Star Wars in some way, even if you aren’t a fan and your best mate over hyped it. But what’s incredible is that for many of us born before the late 90s, our fascination, our love, our passion and a canon of books, games, cartoons and toys all came from only 6 hours and 39 minutes of source material.

I point this out because Star Wars Battlefront takes from that time, at least in the core version before DLC. So when it comes to content that you can enjoy and play, the selections are limited. This has been well known and discussed. The majority of the mostly Online only game comes from the original movies experience and includes such levels as Hoth, Tattooine, Endor and the once mentioned Sullust (It has been mentioned in two movies but was cut from A New Hope, and has since been established in to the wider video game cannon).

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That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the lack of a cohesive narrative campaign doesn’t really give you an introduction to the levels or at what part of the story you enter them. Of course you already know so that’s not an issue, it’s Star Wars, everyone knows. But there’s a certain arrogance in that mindset and the game gives you the levels and just says “there you go, shoot everything.” I think that’s why I’m a little annoyed at the lack of a “story” mode, for want of a more descriptive emotional word. But in some ways the game is better for it. It doesn’t have that corny attachment to a certain sequence of events and is in many ways given more freedom to express the gameplay without the need to pick sides.

Which is what really should be the champion here because Battlefront is the best Battlefield game I’ve played. I have to admit that my earlier issues and problems with the game, the engine and the style are mostly unfounded. I’ve played the PS4 version but if the Xbox One release is anything like the beta was then I’m sure its visually awesome. The technical specs are that the Xbox is doing 720p, the PS4 900p, much like Battlefield 4, DICE’s last outing. But the main thing here is that they’ve refined the experience now so that they can achieve the 60fps they desired (with the occasional dip) and have the gameplay experience as close to the PC as is technically possible on these consoles. Which is a terrific achievement but it does show that the Frostbite Engine is definitely a powerful beast that requires much taming.

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The level design is not your average FPS level. Yes it has the various required elements but it is rather constricted by the source material and the size needed for the scale of the battles. As such, we get incredible lush foliage and startling snow, but we do lose a bit of a competitive edge when playing. Sullust on Walker Assault ends up with two or three flash points that are death funnels and the scale of the height means that vehicle play can be a tricky exercise in not accidentally dive-bombing into the arse of your own AT-AT.

The thing is that it doesn’t bother me and unless you are a serious, almost competitive level PC FPS player then it shouldn’t bother you at all either. What Star Wars Battlefront has nailed is the casual element of picking up, playing, having fun, putting down and returning in a few days time when you get the itch again. It’s not a constant must play-shoot-unlock guns-level up affair that so many others are and, quite honestly that will irk some players. But it does mean that it’s a game that won’t just jump off in to levels of frustrating play against people far more powerful than you. In this regard, its very nicely balanced with a small range of weapons and grenade/special gun loadouts that best serve you rather than being ridiculously overpowered.

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In fact, the only thing that does make the game unbalanced in places is the level design in certain game modes, although that really depends on how the rest of your team do, as you might have found out if you played the beta. The best way to play this of course is with friends and the co-op wave modes are great and frustrating fun, even on local split screen and the drop to 30fps. But it harkens back to the days where AI wave games were basic and fun, and I honestly haven’t had as much fun in this kind of mode since Halo 3: ODST’s Firefight. The challenge of continuously using active reload is great and the whole gun play feels as loose and wild as the movies have always portrayed.

The other problems come from a lack of spaces and map choices. Each map for each type of game does feel suitably different given the same location but it still can get a bit predictable after the tenth go around. Sullust in particular comes up way to much and doesn’t really offer a lot in enjoyment either, and it is totally a homage to the various locals from the prequels they couldn’t do (think Geonosis and Mustafar). This could have been a problem in taking the cue from the original movies as it really limits the actual planet surfaces you can use. Although who wouldn’t have loved some modes in Cloud City or even inside Jabba’s Palace.

But the veneer of Star Wars is what will entice you to this game. Not even the music but the overall atmospheric, despite some naff voice work here and there. It’s the clean and easily relatable gloss that the franchise has the power to do. But what that actually takes away from slightly is how good the base game is underneath it. I don’t know if it’s that both serve the other very well, or even if the modes would work as well without the franchise, but the marriage of both has made an excellent experience. Take away the franchise and the title and DICE have done something very good by giving us a game that is a “return to basics” simple multiplayer game and it excels because of that.

Summary

Star Wars Battlefront provides the best, the easiest and the most accessible pick-up-and-play multiplayer shooting experience on this generation of consoles. Its simplicity is enhanced by its smoothness and by really good optimisation of the Frostbite engine. This isn’t a big competitive Call of Duty type game, and that will put a lot of people off, most notably on PC. It is a video game for genre fans who might not really be as hardcore as most FPS fans and if you are the latter, you’ll see why you need to play it in moderation. The lack of a story mode and maps, along with some occasionally too open level design is the only criticism in an otherwise great casual shooter.

Good Points

  • Easy pick up and play
  • Looks beautiful
  • It’s Star Wars

Bad Points

  • It doesn’t have much to offer hardcore FPS players
  • Lack of maps, or held content for DLC
  • Some of the levels aren’t that well designed

Why an 8?

In truth this is a hard game to score because it’s such a subjective subject. Is this a good FPS game? Yes for the more casual/younger player. Is this a good Star Wars game? It looks great but in actual Star Wars content, probably not. Is it short lived? Well that entirely depends on how you play it. There are so many variables but I’m constantly being drawn to the fact that DICE have created a brilliantly accessible game in a genre that can really be dominated by die hard players and difficulty extremes and successfully whacked one of the worlds most popular and enduring franchises on it seamlessly, and still kept it fun.

 

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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Minecraft Story Mode Ep.1 – Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Minecraft Story Mode – Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

LP – And the pig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cities Skylines After Dark – Review

 

There is no secret here – we loved Cities Skylines. So what do you do when one of the best games of the year brings you an add-on that brings you more? Well, you rejoice, naturally as ‘After Dark’ is now here. Except that probably the biggest part of it is actually free. So what are you actually getting by parting with your hard earned money? Actually, quite a bit.

It’s something that SimCity did, and to be fair to Maxis inglorious city-building swansong, it actually did it quite well. Day and night cycles made a fairly middling game look absolutely stunning, especially with some of the futuristic buildings. If there is a criticism of Cities Skylines, it was that the passage of time didn’t really feel very much like a passage of time. Part of this was because there wasn’t a night cycle, but part of it was because the timer and the date function feels rather arbitrary.

Now with the addition of the day/night cycle, it does feel like there is a certain progression but only if you don’t pay much attention to the clock. The beauty of the mode isn’t the visuals though (which are indeed absolutely lovely and don’t tax your system that much more than your current operating requirements). It’s the ability to micromanage things that are happening in those cycles. For example, the game will naturally increase crime during the night because it’s dark and criminals often work under that cover. So you can adjust your budgeting to allow for a greater police presence in the night and less of a presence in the day to balance it out. It’s useful for other things too, including trash collection (by creating a time with less traffic to operate these services).

That visual aspect, along with the micro management side of of this expansion has been added for free to the base game. But there are little bits to make going that bit further a lot more worthwhile. There are two new specialisations that bring their own challenges as well. New to the game are the Leisure and Tourism specialities, which allow you to build new bars and entertainment strip areas along with making use of beaches and hotels. So thankfully, all of your map can be used to exploit its natural beauty and give yourself challenges. Fancy making Atlantic City? Go for it!

Also added is the new dedicated lanes for buses and public services. There’s also plenty of new buildings and services for you to unlock which has been helped by the stellar job the modding community has done. In no small part, things have been implemented in to the game because they are popular mods and there is obviously a demand for them. City services, special roads and new additions to existing buildings can make life a lot easier.

For example there’s now a bus/bike lane to help the flow of traffic or at least help your services survive it. There’s a metro station built in to the airport now. There’s better train access for cargo. Lots of things can make your life easier. But make no mistake about it, this is an add-on. Not a new game, not a change in the game’s parameters or a fantasy world, it is a new bunch of stuff to stick in to the already existing stuff and help address a few issues the original had.

It’s arguable whether or not it does that. Traffic is still traffic and will still be a big issue the bigger you are. The crime rates stay fairly similar and Chirpr still overly chirps. The main focus here is that the game is just getting some more stuff. If you want to go further in to the rabbit hole for £11 then you can, but the main focus of the add-on’s title and the benefits that it directly brings are available to you now, for free, in the updated game.

Does this then negate the add-on? Possibly, it depends how much you’re willing to spend and to be honest, the game isn’t expensive so you’ve probably not payed out anywhere near what SimCity asked of you. Plus you will get some extra goodies so that also counts for something, and everyone’s thought of making their own version of Magaluf’s notorious strip in a game before so you can exploit those tourists for all their alcohol money… Haven’t they? Just me? Bugger.

Summary

Cities Skylines After Dark adds some cool new things but that’s basically all it does – Add. It’s not a game changer, or breaker. And the biggest part of the content is included for free in the day/night cycle, which you can switch off from the main menu if your system is struggling. There’s not masses there but for a game that’s got so much mod community support, it needs very little except to start the spark. Which this does.

Good Points

  • New industry specialisation
  • The day/night cycle is visually awesome
  • The biggest part of the pack is a free update

Bad Points

  • The biggest part of the pack is a free update
  • Not a lot of content beyond the cosmetic
  • Hasn’t improved certain issues like traffic congestion

Why a 7.5?

A lot of the value of the add-on will depends upon what you’re actually looking to get. And as the game has added probably the biggest part of it already, and for free, it does question how much is in the paid additional content that you’d use. In that regard, it probably doesn’t add as much as you’d have hoped but is a nice support for the game none the less.