Destiny – Review

Destiny is quite possibly the most ambitious console game we have seen, other than Grand Theft Auto V. Quite the statement I know, especially given what you have already read elsewhere. The traditional review calls for positives followed by negatives and then a summary. But I think what is needed more is some objective input on those negatives that we’ve heard.

The first thing I will mention though is the story. It is not very good and, despite everything I’m about to point out, it is fragmented too much in its linear progression to hold the attention of you, the player, during the minimal times where we get expositional dialogue. The exposition is garbled and that is because it is trying to convey a lot of information and lore far too quickly. It makes Peter Dinklage’s Ghost sound as apathetic as Robert Webb doing TV advert voiceovers. It sadly makes Bill Nighy as wooden as Michael Gambon’s Gandal-Doore Prophet in Elder Scrolls Online. But once again, out of all the well-known voices in this game, it is Bungie regular Nathan Fillion of Firefly/Castle/Halo fame providing some amusing and enjoyable sound bytes.

In its defence however, and I suppose to play devils advocate a bit, Destiny’s story is a very complex and intriguing experiment in creating a universe, not a linear narrative story. The company that brought us many Halo’s will always have a torch held against it to produce compelling single player narrative. This game doesn’t actually set out to do that except for establishing you in its universe. The stories are your own to make and whilst the back drop of galactic war and Dune-esque family creepiness in the Awoken give you a sense of a history, the game leaves you completely in charge of how you experience it. Which is quite the gamble when you think about it, but it works once you’ve leveled up enough to get some good gaming time with your friends. It’s also worth pointing out that I cannot think of an original MMO IP which has a decent story or hint of a narrative. Remember, the Warcraft universe had been going for 10 years before WoW. Lord of The Rings, Elder Scrolls, D&D, Star Trek, even DC Universe, all had long established canon and lore before an MMO license came along.

What I’m saying is, yes the story is a bit droll and lacks any kind of empathy to its characters. But it isn’t designed to do that from what I can tell. It’s not an excuse for lackluster dialogue though, which I’m sure is hurting Dinklage as much as it is the creative team at Bungie.

The universe that they have created is visually spectacular. Bungie’s application of lighting and atmospherics has never been in question, regardless of if you liked or disliked Halo. The next generation of consoles finally has a champion of graphical power and beauty. Little inclusions that you’d never think about make this game incredibly immersive. If you’re on the moon and you look at the International Space Station debris long enough, you’ll see a few satellites flying over. You’ll also see the Earth experience its dynamic night/day cycle. The Mercury Crucible map is a great example of a map with real environmental challenges and a glorious Sun enveloping the landscape. Venus’s terraformed world with its abandoned buildings are a thing that Bungie have done for a long time, and they excel at it here. The difference between the Xbox One and PS4 versions is negligible even to the tech wizards at Digital Foundry, thanks to the freedom of memory from Kinect. It is, in a word, beautiful.

Of course you end up playing little games to yourself as well, exploring the world and trying to find little things that amuse you. I like to listen to the soundtrack, which has Marty O’Donnell all over it, and try and find where new composers have tried to make their mark. They haven’t. O’Donnell’s trademark use of soft brass instruments with choral arrangements and string based tension heighteners, completely eclipse the other music in the game, despite their efforts sounding like a decent homage to Murray Gold’s Doctor Who work. But the sound design itself is incredible. The guns sound amazing and sometimes it’s chaotic and frenetic trying to have a party chat whilst the destruction around you is filling the audio channels. My favourite part so far is not only discovering that your Swallow has a reverse warning noise like a car, but that when one goes past you like that, you get a Doppler effect from it. It’s some amazing attention to detail.

The game itself is an experimental hybrid between MMO, RPG and FPS that few have achieved. Borderlands does, without the scale of the online element, Call of Duty does, without the RPG element. Destiny, in my opinion from the game play point of view, completely achieves the fusion they were looking for. Vast areas to explore with different enemies, excellent replay value, well designed multiplayer modes and levels, fun to use guns and an excellent leveling system that allows you to really play your own way and use what you want to achieve that. The quest for Legendary and Exotic items will keep people playing more than they’ll admit and from that point of view, Bungie have got the basics of this game nailed.

The criticisms of the game though are well known and, I hope, easily addressed. The 3-person size fire team limit is too small. But the Crucible can handle a 6-person fireteam and the maps handle multiple teams, so I’m sure that the number of people can be increased. Even if it is by one, that’d still be great. I’d like to add another niggle though and that’s the lack of loadouts. The difference in the style of play between levels, and the PvE to PvP modes, are great and allow you to use multiple weapons effectively for different things. But the inability to save a set of weapons and quickly change to them is a pain. Especially when you forget and have to spend about a minute standing still and change them over in game, losing your secondary weapon’s special ammo. In fact this is quite the oversight to the mode.

A further criticism, and this ties back in with the story and the lore, is the enemies, namely the amount of them. There are essentially five different races in the game: The Guardians, The Fallen, The Hive, The Vex and The Cabal. This really doesn’t help in progressing the already confusing narrative and lore. Which one came first? Who is the worst? Who is wiping out who? Why do they give a toss about The Traveler or Earth? It’s hinted that there were pre-human structures on Venus that were being investigated before the collapse. So a timeline of the universe as the story goes on gets sketchier and sketchier, and a race could possibly have been cut out if I’m honest.

You’ll also find a lot of parables in the enemies and the way to play against them that are incredibly reminiscent of Halo. The Hive are the new Flood, Cursed Thralls are suicide Grunts, The Vex take traits of the Flood’s Hive Mind, The Cabal’s Phalanx’s are defeated in the same way as Halo’s Jackal’s, a Cabal Centurion is a Hunter, and it seems that every race at every point are using Forerunner-esque ancient structures. The visual designs are great though. The enemies look very cool. I love the way the Vex Goblins feel like Terminators with their red eyes and keep coming whilst beheaded. And the shift of weak points does keep you on your toes, even if the AI doesn’t after a while. The Vex themselves also feel like Bungie looked at Halo 4’s Promethean units and sneakily thought that they could do a lot better, which they have.

The thing is with Destiny and the plan for the game is that it is fluid. It is going to be constantly in flux and added and expanded upon. The end game, despite some repetitive grinding, is intriguing and rewarding. The whole game is especially rewarding with friends in the same way that Halo’s co-op campaigns were. What Destiny lacks in compelling narrative and confusing lore is certainly compensated in the short term by its beauty, its size and its scope. In the long term, the expansions and extras may make more sense of the very in depth and expositional lore we have already and keep the gameplay just as entertaining and enthralling as the “just one more round” addictiveness they currently have. It is by no means perfect and as consumers, critics, hype revelers, gamers, lovers of Bungie; we expect a lot, possibly too much. But for what Destiny is, a successful cross over of massively online multiplayer, role playing and first person shooter genres set in a hybrid science fiction and fantasy universe with mind blowing graphics and atmosphere, it is the most ambitious console game we’ve seen, other than Grand Theft Auto V. Certainly that is something to experience and that is something for Bungie to be proud of.

Summary
What Bungie have set out to achieve has largely been successful. The game combines the Role Playing levelling element of fantasy MMO’s with its own take on online open worlds and blending in their expertise with art, audio, level design and first person shooters. Sadly that is at the cost of their normally excellent narrative style.

Good Points

– Visually spectacular
– Successfully fuses genres
– Amazing online experience

Bad Points

– Confusing narrative and set up
– Too many enemy races
– Team size limit too small

Why a 7.5?

The story isn’t great, but we’ve played a lot worse. The success is the fusion of genres, the ambition behind it and the beauty of its worlds. A triumph and an excellent showcase of what the new consoles can do, even if it is narratively lacking.

 

Tropico 5 – Review

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(Note: This review has been approved for general release by Penultimo, General Director of the Tropico Press Freedom Commission)

Welcome to Castro Sim 2014. Once again we set sail to the colonial era nondescript Caribbean Sea islands in an effort to find our inner despot and proclaim ultimate rule. This time however, some things have changed around the region of Tropico since our golden age of technology back in Tropico 4.

tropico 5 review 1Once again we enter the world of political satire and city building in our attempt to subvert the status quo of modern democracy. We start quite literally under appointment from His Majesty, The King. The new campaign mode sees us seeking independence from the Crown and then being very careful in politically playing our way through the changing allegiances of the World Wars, whilst still building our own dynasty.

The comedy of the game, its wit and fairly tested satire, is really what always binds it together. The story of the game in fact delves in to those newer jokes, more pop-culture mockery and the constant hilarity of Penultimo who continues to administrate the islands along with your unflappable British ambassador and the anarchistic military heroine. But the political allegiances that are always in play actually mean a lot more than just appeasing local rebel insurgents. As you work your way through the instability of the World Wars and the Cold War, who you choose to keep on side will make you more or less money and better trade routes to keep your extended term as ruler.

It’s these game play elements that make the game a lot more fun to play than Tropico 4, or if not more fun then certainly a lot easier to play and therefore easier to concentrate on the enjoyment. The similar tropes are still there from before; task based acquisition of money and buildings to establish your island amidst the pirates and homeless that will plague it. Although the game hasn’t changed enough since Tropico 4 for those tasks not to get a bit old after a while.

In fact, that is possibly the only hangover that the game has from its predecssor. The city building is a lot easier than in previous versions with an incredibly simplified build menu, a new load of building designs that change through the historical eras, and all of them are incredibly easy and adaptable to place. The Almanac and the island’s layers information is not only easier to navigate but also far more readable and understandable. One thing Tropico does do, once you get into this more strategic st,yle of playing the game is make you assess your space a lot more effectively and the improvements in the game have made that a much easier and enjoyable prospect. Which for a time offsets the overused “Export me 5,000 of this because the consequences are dire if you don’t” repetitive tasks. Although as soon as you’ve established a good bit of exporting through high value crops and get mining, you can financially ignore those which aren’t mission specific.

tropico 5 review 2Which is good because creating your own paradise is very aesthetically pleasing. The games engine runs very smoothly on a system that can cope with the high graphics or just under top performance. The water crashing into the beaches, the wind blowing through the trees along with a much more inviting map fog for exploration, make the environment very nice, along with some excellent detail in the buildings, people and animations. One of the things I loved about previous Tropico games, especially compared to Sim City, is that there is a lot of detail in to creating the lives and attractive buildings in the game. This makes you more aesthetically invested in the design of your island paradise and interested in zooming in and just watching things happen. Much like Banished can do, except with a lot more Pina Coladas.

There are some things that do notch against it, admittedly. The game is moving on with the technology so make sure you can effectively run it (I had a very weird experience where the game performed fine but the menu screens were incredibly laggy on one of my test systems). The fact that the map controls are natively the arrow keys was annoying as I was so used to a WASD set up, so some ergonomic reshuffling is required. The previously mentioned repetitive task mechanic can have the effect of bogging you down in things against what your mission objectives are and it does feel a bit like a continuation directly from Tropico 4. Other strange things are the Dynasty and Swiss Bank Account mechanics. They are certainly fun distractions, and the Swiss Bank Account has more a place in this game than previous titles, but they ultimately feel positioned there to add a bit more colour to the humour more than a gaming mechanic and sometimes, I want something to pep up the game, not top up the satire.

But Tropico 5 is a very good game. Given the market options at the moment (Sim City, Banished, CitiesXL, et. al.) Tropico certainly does raise a bar in accessible strategy city building with enough humour to keep you honest about the fact that it’s a game. And if it wasn’t for those loading screens, I’d have had no idea that officially, Kim Jong-il was born on a mountain under a double rainbow and a newly recorded star, as foretold to the North Korean people by a swallow. So you learn something new and knowledge is power!


 

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[tab title=”Summary”]Tropico 5 might be a few steps away from its independence in the strategy category, but it certainly is up there with the most playable of city-building despots at the moment. A lot of fun and exactly the right level of challenge/design/world event difficulty.[/tab]
[tab title=”Good Points”]- Looks lovely, like a portrait of El Presidente.

– Very funny, like El Presidente’s bumper book of pub jokes.

– Gameplay simplified and optimised, just like El Presidente’s Consititution.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Random task system a bit repetitive.

– Can feel too close to Tropico 4.

– There are no cons and Penultimo is not holding a gun to my head to say this, Viva El Presidente.[/tab]
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Trailer


Screenshots

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Watch Dogs – Review

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So the thing you might be thinking, especially if you’ve read other reviews of Watch Dogs or if you’re hearing stories whilst waiting to buy it, is that Watch Dogs is disappointing to the hype it created. Of course there was a huge amount of hype, it was a delayed next generation launch title! But ultimately it’s created a large amount of expectation that you think it won’t deliver, given what everyone else has already reported.

That was something I agreed with for the first couple of hours of playing. To start with the game drops you right in to the action. Actually, narratively, it’s a bit too deep in to the action. So let’s address the issue of the story, as I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about it.

The story of the game is that you’re a lone technologically advanced ex-hacker who has become a vigilante in the Windy City, otherwise known as Chicago. However this occurs because your character, Aiden Pearce, carries the weight of guilt in being indirectly responsible for the death of a family member. His actions and setup make him a man on a course for redemption and satiation of said guilt, which leads you on the path of destruction and death in the name of justice.

watch dogs review 3Now the criticism of Pearce, the vigilante apparently known as ‘The Fox’ but that’s hardly ever mentioned, is that his character is unlikeable and the empathy for him is hard to come by. Which is partially correct, but there are reasons for that. Firstly we don’t know enough about what Aiden has done after his trauma and secondly, the open world nature of the game doesn’t direct us in the vigilante path unless we wish to.

This means that a very important part of this character is essentially redundant, depending how you play it. As reviewers we spend as much time as we can working to complete the game as fully as possible which means we’ve all kind of ignored the crime fighting sub-plot element of Pearce in favor of gunning down many bad guys on our lone ranger redemption fest. It’s also very weird how even with this crime fighting persona, you’re still a criminal actively stealing vast sums of money from unassuming innocent people, which further reduces the belief in Pearce’s confused psyche.

But as you go on further in the game, Pearce does become a tad more emotionally accessible and, by the end of it, you are invested in his story. The entire situation he is in is a mess and unless you appreciate the finer points of the past decade of television drama, it may completely gloss over you.

In fact the past decade of television drama has an awful lot of sway in the story of this game. I recall a preview video somewhere that said one of the villains of the piece, Iraq, is someone the voiceover referred to as Iraq Barksdale. The reference to The Wire is not amiss either as a fair portion of the game owes a lot to the gritty projects portrayed by that show.

In fact, if I was to sum up this story I would class it as this: Robocop’s OCP meets 1995 movie Hackers, interspersed with Wire-esque gang warfare and a hero based on The Punisher that, all in all, tries a bit too hard to deliver a serious message. And it does try very hard to deliver an Orwellian style nightmare of a surveillance state, ala Blair CCTV, and the dangers of integrated networked automation.

Sadly though this is let down by the fiction of the world being very repetitive and poorly constructed and acted. The random stories you find along the way hacking into other people’s conversations and phones (a device intended to humanise the world round you) very quickly become repetitive and tiresome, and the random jobs/salary and recent activity information can get a bit silly at times. The tertiary elements such as radio news pops and television broadcasts as well as the occasional DedSec interruption are incredibly wooden and far inferior to the rest of the game’s acting. Which is strange as they’re actually crucial for plot exposition but feel casual and almost throwaway.

But we’re gamers, right? We don’t give a shit about story and my dramatic criticism of the narrative construct. You want to know how it plays and want me to stop twatting around like this is an literature essay. Well, alright then.

watch dogs review 2As I have touched up on the fiction of the world, let’s discuss the world itself. It is, quite frankly, magnificent. The open world Chicago is designed very much like the original Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. There are the ropey areas, the slightly middle class areas, the big city, a more desolate backwater area and several ways to get around. The inner city is sadly a bit dull though. Apart from the enjoyment of checking in to a place on your phone and finding out some history regarding the area, the city itself is not very interactive except where the game has its set pieces. The metropolis is effectively a built up road maze with many obstacles and tools for you to escape the police, or the prying eye of the ctOS.

However, Pawnee, an area you grow very accustomed to in Act III is one of the most beautifully realised places I’ve seen in gaming. As a rural gaming environment, I’d put it up there are one of my favourites next to Bright Falls from Alan Wake. The colours are rich and deep and, regardless of the resolution blah de blah (I was playing it on a PS4), it is a lovely place to just walk around and it arguably has more interesting things to check out than Chicago itself. Even the old wooden bridges, appear in excellent detail and add to the atmosphere.

Pawnee is also one of two places that you can see the beautiful sight that is Chicago from afar. When it hits night, you can look over the largest expanse of river and see those skyscrapers lit up. The only other place is on a boat out in the water expanse on the east side of the map (presumably Lake Michigan). Whilst the game doesn’t compare at all to Grand Theft Auto V in its fiction or depth, it does portray the metropolis from a distance that GTA wasn’t able to do effectively, in my opinion.

Now, the hacking… I’ll be honest; the game revolves around this apparently jailbroken iPhone being the Excalibur of hacking and it does get a bit old quite quick. There is almost an over reliance on it. It’s far too easy to do things and, especially when earning (stealing) money, it makes the economic part of the game entirely redundant. I never once, apart from the mission where I had to, purchased anything from a shop. I brought one gun as part of that mission. The rest, the ammo, the component parts for grenades and distractions, were all found in game. I’d amassed over $200,000 and spent none of it except for a gratuitous coffee or beer. Even the clothes are just different colours of the same clothes and I think Watch_Dogs missed out on a great customisation opportunity here.

The weapons are not as comically violent as others in the genre and are very functional. Mostly sub-sets of themselves but they are all easily handled and the weapon wheel is easily used. You get by without really getting annoyed or frustrated at weapons or their selection which I am guessing is the plan for it. Driving is relatively simple but very sluggish in the early stages of the game and as soon as you can get a motorcycle and your hacking skill tree is good enough to manipulate any potential chases/ramming sequences, then it’s again far too easy. The motorcycle is in fact incredibly overpowered. It is, unless you make the mistake of going head first into something, practically accident free.

The online part of the game is relatively fun although I found it quite a distraction from playing the storyline of the game or a side mission. The game occasionally prompts you into going online, thinking that someone is actually already trying to get you. Which is fine, except that it takes you very off course of where you were initially heading. I wouldn’t say that the online is an successful expansion for the end game or between missions necessarily, but it does mix it up a bit. Although there are rewards for winning such battles of hacking prowess, there isn’t really any punishment to drive you to defend yourself.

watch dogs review 4

If I was to describe the gameplay like I did the story then it would be thus: Metal Gear Solid stealth meets logic puzzles in engineering kills/data retrieval, combined with an overused Driver-esque-ram-someone-off-the-road mechanic, and if you want you can just shoot the crap out of everything anyway. Apart from frustrating take down missions where you have to get close up to a guy and knock him out. Which is quite annoying, as you’ve previously murdered 90% of the people before him so why do you need to keep him alive? No one knows.

The other game modes are quite interesting too and there are plenty of mini-games around even though exploration is a mini game in itself. Finding cars, intercepting convoys, doing take-down hits are all fun little distractions. The two stand out games though are the Digital Trips and The Cash Run game. The Digital Trips are kind of psychedelic digitised acid trips that are games in themselves. Madness is basically Carmageddon, Alone is almost a game version of the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg movie ‘The World’s End’, Psychadellic is a trippy free falling trampoline bouncing game involving flowers and points rings and Spider Tank is a tank designed like a Spider destroying the city for points… Enough said. Cash Run however is my favourite. This turns the game in to an augmented reality, free running 3D platformer to collect coins and is great fun.

watch dogs review 1One thing I must mention is the portrayal of women in the game. Now I’m not defending GTA at all in this, but GTA is intended as a satirical look at society and its problems. Watch_Dogs is not. There are points where the portrayal of women is absolutely misogynist to the point of screaming at the game and thumping my Caitlin Moran books in its general direction. Our companion in the story, Clara Lille (with her wobbly accent), has a massive chest tattoo that highlights the fact she’s wearing a top that is unnecessarily revealing. It’s almost comical how low cut her top needlessly is. She is completely over-sexualized, especially compared to our hero Aiden who is wearing more layers than a space-walking astronaut.

Also there is an entirely random storyline involving human trafficking (The Wire season 2 anyone) and the sex slave trade. Now I get that it’s trying to be edgy, but it just felt like gratuitous exploitation and left a sour taste for me. Even the girls in the drug labs were wearing bikinis and as you first hack your way around the projects, sexual assault and sexual acts are rampant and completely pointless. It doesn’t need to be there. The entire sex trade thing didn’t even leave a message; it just felt like it was there to spice things up. If the entire sequence were a drug-based enterprise, I’d have been fully accepting. But this just feels vacuous and needlessly objectifying in an already testosterone filled game.

The thing is I actually started to enjoy Watch_Dogs a lot more towards the end. To start with I had to plough on and, much like everyone else, remind myself that this wasn’t trying to be a usurper to the Rockstar crown. And whilst I had my reservations and criticisms, I also enjoyed the game and some of its stand out moments. But this should have been a launch title and at times, it feels like it should have been. That’s not to be derogatory to it, I’ve had fun playing it and I’d rather a game be delayed so that it is ultimately ready when we get it. Watch_Dogs delivers a good impression on what a next gen console can be capable of whilst not really getting the basics right.

Summary

Watch Dogs has a lot of strong moments and is an interesting take on the open-world genre, but ultimately lacks the punch and direction to make it great.

Good Points

– Chicago looks excellent, especially at night.

– Weapons are easy and powerful

– Hacking is easy

Bad Points

– Hacking is too easy

– Story line isn’t very well set up to start (poor exposition)

– Doesn’t further the genre into the next gen like we’d hope.

Why a 7?

Well, going by the idea that other recent examples in this genre are an 9 or 10 score, this has got a lot of work to do to get that far. But it is still ultimately an enjoyable game for a time and is visually great.

Trailer

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

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 A thousand years before the Dragonborn was summoned to the Throat of the World and around 800 years before Uriel Septim was slain and the gates of Oblivion opened up around Cryodiil, there was you, caught in the events of the Elder Scrolls Online.

The Daedric prince Molag Bal is realising his machinations of world domination and will combine both the hells of Oblivion and Nirn. The Imperial City is in the middle of a battle between the three factions, each forced to coexist in an uneasy alliance to fight evil as they wrestle for control. After escaping prison (Elder Scrolls cliché number one), you awake to find yourself in the world of your faction. Your only guide on this journey is The Prophet, an observer you helped free from prison, who is trapped elsewhere and that only you can see and hear. And so you find yourself leaping from quest to quest, putting things right that once went wrong, hoping that the next… No, wait. That’s Quantum Leap.

People that played the beta realised that the introductory story arc was long and fairly uninteresting with drawn out moments of conversation with little to no action. So in the full release, this has been cut down and altered to get you into the action quicker. Like most Elder Scrolls games you start in an attempt to flee your incarceration, for reasons never to be explained, and end up in a town ready to go literally anywhere in an expansive and lonely world. Except it isn’t that lonely anymore. The story arc however doesn’t really collaborate with everything in the right order and the secondary characters and hours of questing that you start doing first is in retrospect completely unimportant and counter productive to the progression of the main story. So much so that once you get around to it, you’re confused by both strands and really don’t care.

the elder scrolls online review 3In a RPG like Skyrim, you want to spend time immersing yourself in the story and take note of every character’s narrative and impressions. In an MMO you want to raise yourself by levelling and get the best loot to do the hardest dungeon challenges and PvP battles. And so you really do just find yourself clicking through all the carefully scripted and expansively voiced dialogue with wooden characters and acting to get to it and really, you give up caring. I say carefully scripted, at some points, you don’t even get that. I’ve seen an NPC quest where you must avenge a man by slaying a creature that ate his foot, whilst he clearly still has both feet. Also (in a horrible hodgepodge of editing to facilitate the introductory story cut) the great Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon, who voices The Prophet, has to be substituted for an audibly poor voice-alike to accommodate the change in narrative.

It is written with a complete onus on the solo adventure, and as the word ‘online’ suggests, you are far from alone. With the online universe, it’s very hard to sell that story with a level 6 Wood Elf jumping up and down beside you like a hyperactive child who’s snorted ten lines of pure sherbet. My disappointment stems from the fact that it feels like a substandard Elder Scrolls game and the core ideal of the lonely player in a huge world discovering their story, and that true sense that you are changing things in that world with your actions, has suffered with the leap to MMO. It sadly means that questing can feel quite laborious and unenjoyable at times.

That being said…

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Once you have stopped caring about the game’s failing as an Elder Scrolls title, and comparing to its predecessors, you realise it isn’t those Elder Scrolls games  you enjoy and that this is a totally different beast. For all the narrative criticism I have, as a game it’s actually quite enjoyable to play. You need only look at the visuals to see it.

As far as MMO’s go, they need to be easy to run but also visually appealing and not a complete recycling of textures in the various places. The world itself is beautifully realised and if you can run the higher graphics, you will not find a better-looking MMO. There are early points where you are around an area for a while and the textures begin to bleed their familiarity into your eyes but other than that, it is a wonderful place. I’ve been playing it on a Mac. I started with high graphics and it worked well and looked stunning. I’ve since reduced the setting to give myself a better frame rate and it still looks good in comparison to its contemporaries.

I’ve not had any problems at all with bad clipping, lag spikes or any such connectivity issues in the game, apart from the launcher being pretty sketchy about any errors and log in fails. Clearer information that the login has failed due to your subscription elapsing would help enormously. To play however, it is incredibly smooth and the gaming experience is all the better for it. The first person view is good, but really doesn’t lend itself to the MMO environment that well when facing multiple enemies. The third person view however is great, easily adjustable and the HUD is brilliantly designed to allow for easy ‘hack and slash’ attacking without character boxes and inventory disrupting the view.

the elder scrolls online review 2Once you learn the HUD and get into the levelling system, which is a hybrid of Elder Scrolls basic Magic/Health/Stamina and the WoW style attack skills system, you realise that this game is actually a very good MMO. The learning curve is incredibly easy and the world design, unless you just wander off like an idiot, is very careful to level you correctly and keep you in areas that don’t make you lose enjoyment by going in too deep. The fact that there isn’t a Player to Player trading system like an auction really does help to keep you more on top of your inventory and stops people getting too overpowered due to their economic nuance.

The inclusion of the crafting system inspired by Skyrim is also very welcome. Food is much more MMO-based and useful as a tool than other Elder Scrolls games and the combination of that, drink and such as Provisioning is excellent. The ability to make your own weapons is also very well executed and whilst you don’t really think of it as much as you do in other MMO’s in looking for ore, you will occasionally spot an ore and you can casually level yourself as a blacksmith with very little change to the overall progression of your game.

In fact The Elder Scrolls Online plays so well that my only grumbles about the gameplay are very minor ones. When you find an enemy, their body will have a small red aura about it to indicate that it is an enemy. However the health bar of that enemy is red with white text displaying what it is and what level. Unfortunately every single character and player has the same health bar and white writing. I’d much rather have enemies more clearly indicated in their health bar as, as soon as I get to two or more around me, along with fellow players, it can be confusing.

The only other grumble I have is that sometimes the hit box is a bit glitchy. Especially if you are all up in their face or visa versa, you seem to lose the hit box of the enemy but you yourself will take damage. So you need to have an amiable gentlemanly distance about your melee combat. The same goes for accessing crates/boxes/etc. The game feels like the view point has been designed for the first person mode so when you spend all of your time out of it, it can be a tad annoying to find the right position to access things.

The combat is actually quite good though. You never feel too over or underpowered and enemies will only punish you if you’ve been stupid and run headlong into a throng. Resurrection wayshrines are also decently interspersed. Sadly my time flying around on different quests means that I haven’t experienced dungeon raids or PvP first hand. But from what I’ve seen, it is a good system. Cyrodiil is the setting for the entire PvP arena and you end up naturally gravitating towards joining a group and experiencing the collective battling. Despite it being a game of attrition rather than level or strength, there is a lot of reward for creative tactics and smart coordinated assaults as you attempt to take the Imperial City.

You have to argue with yourself a bit over whether it’s worth the money and if you’ll keep it up. One major sticking point, especially compared to its competitors, is its cost, as it is the most expensive MMO and PC game at the moment. I’d say it’s worth the try for 30 days, although unless the subscription costs come more in line with what is affordable in reality then it may not keep a large enough player base. When it comes to around the console releases however, this may be a very different story and I’m sure that will affect the pricing of the PC version massively. Especially given the relative failure of other MMO’s at higher prices like Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, the console market may force the price to be more competitive. Keep your eyes peeled.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

Elder Scrolls Online fails to live up to the hype created by the title when it comes to telling a story which sadly detracts from that fact that, if you can stomach it, it’s a very good, easy to learn game that rewards your faith in it.

[/tab]
[tab title=”Good Points”]- Excellent learning curve and gameplay system.

– Great graphics.

– Runs very well regardless of system.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Very expensive.

– Horrendously constructed narrative.

– Doesn’t live up to the name.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 7?”]Because the game itself is not bad. Sort out the cost, stomach the failure of an introductory story and you’ve actually got something quite enjoyable.[/tab]
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Trailer


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Screenshots

elder scrolls online 1 elder scrolls online 2 elder scrolls online 3 elder scrolls online 4 elder scrolls online 5 elder scrolls online 6elder scrolls online 7 elder scrolls online 8 elder scrolls online 9 elder scrolls online 10 the elder scrolls online 1 the elder scrolls online 2 the elder scrolls online 3 the elder scrolls online 4 the elder scrolls online 5 the elder scrolls online 6 the elder scrolls online 7 the elder scrolls online 8 the elder scrolls online 9 the elder scrolls online 10 the elder scrolls online 11 the elder scrolls online 12 the elder scrolls online 13

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[author]

SingOn Review

SingOn feat

This is the strange thing about this review – SingOn isn’t strictly a game. I mean there are gaming elements to it of course, but the truth of it is this is more of an app than a game.

SingOn is a karaoke ‘game’ that is coming for the PS3 this week for its initial release. However its plans on household domination are hoping to be stretched to most consoles and even Smart TV’s. That’s because all this game/app needs is an internet connection. SingOn boasts a rather large catalogue of over 1,000 songs of various different genres. How? Well because, in the words of Tommi Halonen, Executive Producer of SingOn, it is “a streaming entertainment service rather than a gaming title.”

SingOn will have an ever-expanding catalogue of titles on a weekly basis. Unlike the rhythm games that proliferate and, let’s face it, spam our DLC sections on the stores; it will all be streamed to the game. Much like a karaoke Spotify if you will. The idea is that this is a social game that everyone can play. Halonen, who does a mean version of ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams by the way, expanded on this further to me, saying:

“It’s a party game, it’s a family game, it’s for everybody basically. That’s why we have such a wide range in the catalogue.”

SingOn SeanWhich is a good thing to point out. At launch the catalogue will be fairly substantial with everything from rock, heavy metal and pop going up to be streamed. I managed to throw in a few verses of Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’ and some ‘More Than Words’ by Extreme. But there will be very regular updates, at least weekly if not more often.

“That’s one of our strengths,” Tommi pointed out to me, “for example, we keep updating the UK chart, so whenever there are new hits coming on radio players and Spotify we can put it on within the week, which is something no one has ever done before.”

In fact the benefit of this is that, because they are all Karaoke songs, there isn’t anything of the red tape horror of copyright legislations and all that palava from record labels/publishers.

In my most humble of moments I asked Tommi “What if I’m crap at singing?”

”It doesn’t matter. We have a few voice changing features. We have TuneOn which auto tunes your voice.”

So now you have the facts, you can have the review.

In fact there are two modes. There is the auto tuning function, which is pretty good, and there is a RoboOn voice, which emulates the kind of Daft Punk style electronic voice to the song. Advance warning, the latter seems cool, but if left on, the novelty will quickly wear off. If you do this and have hyperactive kids or irritating friends, it’s best not to tell them about it.

The service works very well indeed. The streaming of songs is quick, the words come up and your lyrics appear on the screen with an excellent sparkly fill. You’ll also get points (ala rhythm games) in order to judge your performance. This is where, as a veteran player of these games, I did notice a slight latency issue. But that could also have been me jumping the gun in anticipation of the lyrics. Something that familiarity of songs occasionally does. So in that regard the service is very good.

The catalogue is already as varied and open as it can be. In fact the only thing I noticed it was missing was musical theatre. Which, knowing several performing artists and their love for karaoke, is probably for the best unless you want to burn out your PS3 from overuse.

The social element is certainly something this game pulls off pretty well. The playlisting function and the ability to search while the songs are running is excellent. It’s smooth and it isn’t intrusive at all. So there isn’t any of that dithering silence between songs. You can get up, swap things around and have a continuous stream of people warbling their little souls out without the irritating pauses and indecision.

SingOn

So where are the negatives here? Well… You of course need a microphone. SingOn can use any mics from SingStar, Rock Band and Guitar Hero automatically. Which certainly solves the issues for console owners that have them. If not you can get them easily second hand or in a shop for cheap enough.

How much is it going to cost me, you ask? Now there are a few options here, you can have a three hour pass for around £3, a 2 day pass for £6 or a whole year for around £50. Really your choice here is a justification of how much you want to use it. The app itself is free and includes ten songs, also for free. If you think you have a party coming then your options are there. Certainly beats a DJ and people arguing over the iPod anyway.

Essentially, what you need to know is that I had a lot of fun with it. It certainly is a social game though, best enjoyed in the company of friends, family or people who are too drunk to be classified. It isn’t a game like your Rock Band’s or Guitar Hero’s. If you’re having a house party, it’s certainly something awesome to have on without the clunky, bad quality karaoke machines you can get from catalogue stores. But hey, it’s free so give it a go.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

It’s an app, not a game, which streams karaoke songs to you so you can sing your heart out (butcher) your favourite songs without downloading. The expanding catalogue and UK Top 20 deal will see it remain joyfully up to date too.

[/tab]
[tab title=”Good Points”]- Streaming works very well.

– Large ever-expanding catalogue.

– Easy to use.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Mic needed.

– Pricing options need you to work out how much you’ll play it.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why an 8?”]It is exactly what it says it is and does it well. A wonderful social gaming experience.[/tab]
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Screenshots

SingOn SingOn SingOn SingOn SingOn SingOn

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[author]

TheIndieJar: Toast Time Review

toast time feat

There’s some really neat things about playing games on the iOS/Android platforms. It’s that they have the three things that consoles and PC’s can only dream of: An easy intuitive control system, mobility/accessibility and the ability to keep things wonderfully simple.

Toast Time, from Force of Habit is a proper game. By that I don’t mean that it’s an award winning story epic, a graphical wonder or a massively multiplayer game. I mean it’s a proper game that you can take anywhere, play by yourself, have fun and enjoy.

toast time 2Here’s the idea. You are a piece of toast named Terry and you must stop enemies from reaching your alarm clock that explodes if they touch it. Your weapons are pieces of bread related ammunition, which not only kills things but also propels you around the area over a multitude of different platform based levels. Simple and easy yet also sufficiently challenging.

One thing that sings to my heart is how it replicates the golden age of British game programming, the 1980s. In this age, Spectrums and Commodores ruled the living room. The home programming market and the rise of the independent developer out of a bedroom (something we are seeing a repeat of now arguably) was a treasure trove of brilliant ideas using not very much.

Toast time harks back to that with many different angles. Firstly: graphics. Graphically this is a very simple, mostly two tone affair. The 8-Bit reminiscing echoes throughout the game but it visually affects memories of games that it is actually better than. The quick and sometimes frantic nature of the game is complimented by how simple it is graphically. Colourful explosions are normally quite distracting and the 8-Bit nostalgia actually aids the gameplay. It’s smooth, quick and has one control, your finger. Simplicity at its best.

Secondly: music. Here is where I try to be as unbiased as possible as my love for 8-Bit music is quite well known. But the music is excellent and, again, arguably better than the games of the age. It is simple and changes with the different levels without ever feeling repetitive or over the top. It’s enjoyable, almost funfair like at times and it can’t help but allow you to enjoy the game your playing without ever patronising you if you’re having a tough time. I’m sure we’ve all had frustrating platformers where the music of a level we get stuck on slowly boils us with rage. This does not boil anything except the tea.

toast time 5Thirdly, and most importantly: Humour. One of the great things about the age this game is heavily inspired by is humour. You will probably find many people who developed AAA games, even GTA (especially the first two), that will cite the crazy humour of the Brit indie scene. This has some great little touches, from jokey forfeits if you die to many customisable Terry additions like the “Gamesmaster” monocle and a top hat – admittedly my favourite combo. Plus what isn’t to like about a baguette that fires off into multiple pieces and kills egg like enemies? There are enough of these to keep you occupied for a short while but if, like me you become addicted to this game, you could run out of levels quite quickly.

This game costs a few pounds and has the added bonus of all DLC being completely free. It supports indie gaming, in a market that’s quite dominated by big studio cash-ins and knock offs. Money aside you are probably going to be playing the most enjoyable casual game I’ve played on a mobile since Game Dev Story by Kairosoft, and that is an accolade you cannot ignore.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

Toast Time is an enjoyable game in its own right, even if you can’t disassociate it from the 8-Bit nostalgia it evokes. But with the simplest gameplay, easy visuals and infectious music, you’ll have a hard time putting this down.[/tab]

[tab title=”Good Points”]- Glorious 8-Bit nostalgia
– Enjoyable gameplay
– The epitome of a casual game[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Maybe slightly too short for how addictive it is
– It’s addictive[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 9?”]Because it is a simple fun and encouraging game in a time where mobile markets seem to be completely missing the point. This game has found it perfectly.[/tab]
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Trailer

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Screenshots

toast time 1 toast time 5 toast time 4

toast time 3 toast time 2

[author]

World of Tanks – Xbox 360 Review

World of tanks feat

The title says it all really. World of Tanks is now on the Xbox 360. The MMO action game, which allows you to join other players around the world in rolling around in tanks and blowing each other up, is now a part of your console set up and it’s free.

Wargaming.net, the developer of this series, are beginning to branch out a lot with their franchises. The already successful World of Tanks on PC is being accompanied by sister titles involving Warplanes and Warships. But if you’re new to this, let me give you a run down of the game.

World of Tanks is a MMO that gives you multiple arenas to roll tanks around and engage in team deathmatch and/or objective games. You can choose from a multiple of different tanks from a multitude of different countries around the World War II era. You can select from British, German, Soviet, American or Japanese tanks (to name a few) and also different classes of these from light mobile scout tanks to big heavy marauding beauties.

The PC version of this has been around for four years and has had over 75 million subscribers (although that term is slightly redundant as it’s free) and Wargaming.net aim to make the Xbox 360 version just as successful by aiming for the 48 million Xbox Live users. Can they do this though, realistically in a FPS heavy online environment?

World of tanks 2To start, World of Tanks is very, very good graphically and in its content. The historical accuracy of these tanks is wonderful and it really gives an air of confidence in the game that it can deliver. The game actually transposes to the console with relative ease. The control system is very easy and quick to master and the online play is smooth and fluid. Anyone who has played Battlefield 1943 will instantly be able to pick up and enjoy this game.

It does look absolutely wonderful on a big screen and with a decent sound system you will hear and feel every jolt that a firing tank has to offer. It is incredibly immersive and as that was one of their primary objectives in making this game, they have definitely succeeded.

The game is still completely and utterly free. There are different add-ons and customisations that you can pay money for but you would get these anyway with enough level grinding. World of Tanks 360 is a “free AAA game” in the words of Wargaming.net and you can’t refute that it is AAA. But there are some reservations in my eyes.

Firstly: the maps. The maps in World of Tanks 360 are great and very well detailed. The Mediterranean war torn villages, the snowy icy areas and such typical WW2 areas are all extremely well presented. Whilst you don’t expect there to be many at a launch, you will find yourself losing the challenging terrain aspect of this game pretty quickly as you grow very accustomed to the areas. This presents a secondary problem that they are, for a console game, too big.

This becomes a problem because of the audience you are aiming for. One of the benefits of PC online play is that people will play a bit more tactically. They will learn a map, develop strategies and utilise cover in creating a big open tank battle from a distance. Console gamers don’t care as much and mostly will run headlong into melee battling, which quite obviously does not exist here. The result, especially in the games I’ve played, is that I die very quickly in the initial rush, or spend ages looking for someone to kill because everyone died very quickly in the initial rush. It unfortunately becomes repetitive a bit too soon. There is very little team or strategic nuance in the console gamer (not to be insulting but there really isn’t outside of extremely hardcore FPS clans or dedicated players) and whilst the game accommodates them, it doesn’t really suit their kind of style. This is no fault of Wargaming.net at all, that’s just an honest appraisal of the market and the niche of the genre against the FPS gaming arena.

World of Tanks, though is certainly a big step forward in console MMO terms and whilst it may seem a backward move to release a new game on an older console, the Xbox live market will be there for a long, long time before the now current-gen becomes available en masse. I don’t honestly think it will pry enough people away from their already very accessible and paid for FPS multiplayer gaming, but it is a nice diversion for gamers and should survive.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

World of Tanks 360 is a very enjoyable and encouraging MMO, completely free (bar the Xbox Live subscription cost) and accessible to all. But it does lack some longevity and might be a bit too demanding of tactics to keep a sufficiently large console fan base.

[/tab]
[tab title=”Good Points”]- Free. Enough said.
– Visually well presented.
– Enough options and customisations to keep you happy.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Maps a bit too big for Console gaming
– Might have a short life span for some players
– Possibly a bit too niche.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 7?”]It’s a free AAA game that is visually good with plenty of options and is enjoyable to play for a while, but big repetitive maps and gung-ho players might put you off too quickly.[/tab]
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Trailer

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World of Tanks - Xbox 360 18 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 17 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 16 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 15 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 14 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 13 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 12 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 11 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 10 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 9 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 8 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 7 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 6 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 5 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 4 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 3 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 2 World of Tanks - Xbox 360 1

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[author]

Dungeon Keeper iOS Review

… I should have seen it coming.

Those of you that have read a few articles of mine already will already note a certain cynical tone. But let it be said that I am not without my optimism. One such optimism was when EA announced that Dungeon Keeper was coming to iOS.

For those who don’t know, Dungeon Keeper was one of the best of the isometric God Sim-Strategy-Comedy romps that Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog Productions gave us towards the end of the 90s. You take over a dungeon and build up a sinister enough army to destroy the realm, alone with guidance from the silky smooth voiceover of Richard Ridings. Whilst being as objective and unbiased as possible, it was one of my favourite PC games and will regularly feature in any top 10 list I produce.

Now my alarm bells should have been ringing when I downloaded the “free” app (to purchase this game from the App Store, you impart no money) because I suddenly realised that I had heard nothing about it since that announcement. Not a screenshot, not a video, not a release date, nothing. So I should have sensed disaster.

To be fair, it is visually very nice and colourful. With some brilliantly realised character animations, remembering that these creatures looked really cool back in the original game. However within three seconds it becomes very busy on your screen. What are these meters all over my eye line? Gold of course is needed, which in this version is mined from an actual mine, as opposed to your imps taking it from the wall. But there is suddenly a “Stone Mine” and the need to harvest gems from the wall. Which also allow the speeding up of tasks… If you can see where I’m heading, skip two paragraphs.

If you haven’t skipped, you start a tutorial by having your devilish imps appear. You remember those little cute things you could slap and chuck around who’d make loads of noise? They are your workforce for this game and do your bidding. They start getting to work by clearing out some wall space for rooms. Once they start, they then get this little green icon with a timer and a gem in it. These gems will allow you to speed up the time it takes for the task to be done. All of these gems are occasionally found but are mostly available as an in-app purchase. Digging out the outer wall to expand your dungeon and acquire these gems takes approximately 4 hours per tile, real time. All of the fun and humour of these creatures and indeed the game is now apparent by its complete absence.

Now all the rooms cost Gold and/or stone, each has its own minion much like the original game to help you conquer, and gives you a little extra bonus. However the time it would take to save the resources will force the less patient/casual gamer into buying the extras. Added are the various traps you can lay to stop people raiding your dungeon. The slight multiplayer aspect is that you can raid other dungeons and yours can be raided, essentially turning the game from the hilarity it was before into a tower defence game. Everything you do slowly levels your dungeon up from its heart and of course, costs more purchase-renewable resource.

If you have skipped, I’m sorry to report that they’ve bastardised the concept of Bullfrog’s excellent achievement and turned it in to a skin of Farmville. This is basically Dungeonville to coin a probably already used phrase. It is very hard to review a free casual game that by design takes four hours to bust a certain wall down. You may think I’m being unfair and not seeing it for what it is, a casual game, designed to be played on lunch breaks, that utilises the nostalgia of players of the original to create a cash-in… Oh. That’s what it is.

I’d like to think that as a reviewer of video games, we all want something good. We don’t want to trash something that we love, no matter how easy it is to do so. But I think the luxury of writing for TheGameJar and through non-official print medium allows me to be a bit more open and honest as to what a game can be, especially when it is so blatant and shameless in conforming to a gaming stereotype that started five years ago with Plants Vs Zombies and the aforementioned Farmville. Casual mobile gaming has always swayed massively to a lot easier and simpler pick-up-and-play formats like Candy Crush, Bejeweled and Angry Birds. To me, Dungeon Keeper iOS is in gaming terms purely a backward and outdated move, completely misjudging its audience and far and away wasting a prime opportunity that the iOS platform allows. Just look at how good a job has been made of Lego Star Wars/Lord of The Rings, Sonic, Grand Theft Auto 3/Vice City/San Andreas, Minecraft, Transport Tycoon, Baldur’s Gate, Monkey Island, et al.

This is not the isometric game of nostalgia’s past and I was wrong to even hope that it might be. But given the obvious comparisons that other publishers have created, EA are severely lacking in the mobile department. It does make me worry because when you look at the plethora of isometric strategy games they could release, it makes you shiver to ponder that they could ruin them: Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Black & White, Theme Hospital. Then I remember what they did to Theme Park a few years ago… I should have seen it coming.

Summary

Dungeon Keeper in name, voiceover and licence alone. Free to play, but in the same way that condoms are free in sexual health clinics for birth control, the latter being a concept that should have been exercised here.

Good Points

– Casual gaming at its most familiar, so an easy learning curve.
– Visually very nice, new slightly less adult animations and designs
– Runs very smoothly, as smooth as Richard Ridings voice.

Bad Points

– Surgically removed all fun and humour.
– Completely different concept to its original namesake
– Even by casual games standards, very limited appeal and quick to lose interest in.

Why a 3?

Because there are enough games like this around, and the opportunity to do something great and resurrect a brilliant game, era and style of gaming has been completely missed. But somewhere a team of people has spent time designing and making cool looking little evil minions and they should be credited for their efforts.

SimCity: Cities of Tomorrow Add-On Review

I’ll be honest here, which is the least you can expect from a game reviewer. I’m still playing this add-on as I write the review. In fact I’ve started a new city and I’m at 1,400 residents. Not only have I played it myself but I’ve watched others online and I feel I’m now at a stage to review this add-on to the most recent SimCity iteration with as little hypocritical finger pointing to be directed at myself.

Why hypocritical? Because I actually really like SimCity and without spoiling other articles like the fantastic games of the year feature, I am a big fan of the game in itself. However, I feel has been sadly overshadowed by the almost comically poor approach to launch and consumer satisfaction management from EA, that seems to be a problem not just exclusive to SimCity (Battlefield 4 anyone?).

Which is why I’m ultimately left feeling utterly disappointed. I’m from a generation where an add-on pack costs £15. It gives you new levels, it improves upon features that the main game had just got a bit wrong. It basically extended the playing life of that game. SimCity – Cities of Tomorrow tries to do that. It really does try. But I feel it ultimately does not succeed. Here’s why:

Firstly, it doesn’t really bring you anything new to the game. This is partly because additions have already come to the game. They’ve been trickled out slowly and have sweetened a deal that was originally seen as a bit sour. The additional maps and potential buildings that would make this a proper package have already been released. So while there is an excuse for how little this add-on has, it does raise a question of a justifiable price for it.

To explain these additions a little more, the game has gone all high tech. Now there is an additional element in the game you can make called “Omega.” This can lead you down two roads: filthy industrial development and mega income, or a clean high-rise educational utopian vision. There are a few things that have been “futurised” as well. You get to build new Megatowers which are constructed in blocks of different game areas (commercial, residential, industrial, educational, etc) and these correspond to whichever path you decide to go down. Other new buildings include water pumps, cleaner energy/waste disposal and a neat high altitude road for connecting the “Megatowers” you construct in whichever vision you choose.

Which is where I come on to a second point. Visually, the game has always been very good. The Megatowers look stunning. The High wealth academy towers look like beautiful futuristic havens of success, almost like they are right out of the movie Elysium. But personally, I feel they pale in comparison to the dirty, high industrial Omega franchises, which have a air of Blade Runner about them. Dark, dingy buildings splattered with neon and look incredibly imposing and dystopian once put together. Visually the futurised areas also change. New house, industry and commercial building models appear, the roads have a texture that you could use to play Blockbusters on and it all looks rather swell. Even the low wealth houses with laser fences that look like dinosaur pens from Jurassic Park.

The problem though is that this is where the fun ends. Not enough of the game has changed for these really to make a difference to the overall gameplay, or to reinvigorate the gameplay sufficiently. After nearly a year playing the game that has been heavily criticised for its limited scope in building and creating the vast metropolis’s it’s famed for, all this add-on really does is give a slightly fresh lick of paint and another few buildings to try and squeeze in to an already busy and tricky economical system. Cities of Tomorrow integrates in to the existing framework so you start the game, region, road layout, city planning and everything else just like you already would. You then do the slow process of waiting to grow, timing your expansion and how to substitute the wealth factor of your residents. Overall there is zero difference between how you play the game in either the add-on or basic game. At least not enough in the early stages to warrant it being a useful part of the game and even then, it just solves some problems later on at a cost of potential building space.

Which leads me to my final gripe and it’s a gripe for anyone who’s ever heard the name Dr.Vu… You STILL can’t turn it off. Of all the additions that have been released, there is no option to deselect them from your gameplay, this included. Once you’ve installed it, you won’t be able to go back. Of course you can just not select anything from the add on, but the bubbles will pop up, your GUI will be changed and you’ll forever be clicking “No Thanks” while screaming “I DON’T GIVE A FLYING MONKEY’S MATURING INVESTMENT PORTFOLIO ABOUT DOCTOR SODDING VU!”

I’m now at 2,300 residents. The game has also made me demolish a whole row of abandoned houses, which doesn’t seem to be repopulating. My residents are unhappy, sick and I can’t get enough money because the Omega is costing too much in imported materials to produce. I’m stuck in a rather boring looking grid system town with a few trees, a couple of parks and some flat looking shopping areas… I might as well have just visited Milton Keynes.

Summary

An outrageously overpriced add-on pack (unless it’s on sale) that adds very little to the game except a lick of paint and a new resource challenge. Completely devalued by the constant release of additional content for free, although it does look rather cool.

Good Points

– Make your own Blade Runner city

– Rather satisfying clean energy and a few fresh building models.

Bad Points

– Very little change to the game

– Makes other game strategies a bit redundant

– Can’t turn it off

– Too much money.

Why a 5?

Because even though I love the game a lot, even I can’t justify the price for the lack of content and small gameplay life extension it gives.

Minecraft 1.7 Update – The Beauty of Nature-Cubed

minecraft 3

Minecraft has had an exciting time of it lately, at least in the PC market. User modifications have expanded the game to mind bending degrees (a look at a Yogscast upload list will show you how mad this has become). Customised single player adventure games have turned this into almost an indie game-making kit, much like Half Life 2 did for FPS create-your-owns. In the PC market, it’s had new pretenders challenge it like Terraria and Cube World, both of which are equally successful, enjoyably different games in their own right and are still evolving.

minecraft 2Yet even with its own rapid expansion to the mobile market, the merchandise industry, consoles and of course conventions and the ability to make stars out of YouTube gamers, Mojang are still looking out for us – the player. Even though the game is on full release, updates have come to fix bugs and add new content to the game at NO ADDITIONAL COST (read it and weep, EA) and this latest one is a biggie.

“The Update That Changed The World” is no small claim, but Minecraft 1.7 really has done just that. It’s own world that is. Earlier this year, horses were implemented in to the game, mainly because these were one of the most popular/requested modifications and, much like Valve, Mojang noticed this and helped implement it. Now however the biomes you find have evolved, the world is much more sensibly generated than previous versions and the items for construction or “crafting” have become more varied.

Biome wise there have been new areas added; a savannah (no lions yet) with wonderful acacia trees, a roofed forest which contains a brand new, bigger and darker oak tree, Ice Spikes that look like you could build wonderful fantasy palaces in them, a new Mega Tiaga with new dirty toilet-brown Podzol blocks and natural mossy cobblestone and the fantastic (and much requested) Mesa biome. All of which add a lovely and much needed visual touch up to the game, along with lots of new flowers to spruce up your gardens.

minecraft 1One of the big things though with these biomes is how they generate. No more will you skip from desert to extreme snow. The game now makes things a bit more sensible and tries to group things by temperature. If you’re in a snowy area then the next areas around you are going to be colder biomes until you get to the warmer ones, like the plains and so on. And the same goes hot for places like deserts and mesas – the further away you get, the colder it will get.

Another addition is the inclusion of stained glass. Many Minecraft fans have wanted this since it was teased as an April Fool by Mojang, but now you can have different coloured glass and, for the most part, it does look rather lush.

However, if like me you’ve been playing Minecraft for a while casually, or even if you’re someone that makes a career out of it, this does feel like a precursor to Minecraft 2.0. The new live streaming feature revealed at Minecon (where you press one button to instantly Livestream to twitch.tv) is now available, which creates an exciting new possibility for those wanting to share their experiences, although still in testing at the moment. It very clear that Mojang knows the success and survival of the game is catering to not only the fans, but the people who share their experience of it online.

minecraft feat

It’s surely only a matter of time until the game expands to make use of those empty oceans; bringing some new creatures in (friendly or otherwise), introduce multiple uses to some stagnant blocks and find something that makes redstone less technically confusing. But until then, this will quench your metaphorical thirst to explore brave and strange new procedurally generated worlds and admire the beauty of nature-cubed.

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