Saints Row 4 Re-Elected & Gat Out Of Hell – Review

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We here at TheGameJar have previously been very positive regarding 2013’s Saints Row 4, as well as previous Saints Row games. I personally however have never been in that bracket having never really experienced the franchise. I know, I’m a bad person but life, other games and just general laziness has kept me from the franchise before. If anything it puts me in a unique position as someone who can come to the newest gameas a new player and see if it’s really accessible to a new generation of console gamers.

But the questions you must be asking yourself, and presumably you ask for every next generation remaster, are these: Is it worth me buying the game again, has much changed or improved and is there any point to doing this anyway?

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Firstly, there might be if you’re interested in the standalone “expansion” pack Gat Out Of Hell, which I shall come to later. Secondly, it is my firm belief that a lot of the final games of this past generation of consoles really stretched them to their limits and having this new tech is a good way to show what their game really could do. This isn’t the first open-world remaster I’ve played/reviewed and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.

So here is the thing… I can’t decide if it was worth doing. That’s not a negative yet, so hear me out. The game runs very smooth although its upper frame rate of 60fps is rarely held that high and the game, despite a massive overhaul in textures, still has a lot of jagged last-generation textures in it. Along with fairly flat and uninviting tall building with boring static lights-behind-a-drawn-curtain images that give it a very inorganic feel. It’s touches like this, which also appear in Sleeping Dogs, Watch_Dogs and even GTA V that make you realise that these games are last generation. That’s not a bad thing for the nostalgia kick or if you’re a fan. But this really isn’t too far off the PC version of the original release graphically. Work has obviously been done but it makes it more apparent where work hasn’t been done… If that makes sense. It is certainly an improved and smoother experience compared to what it was, but all that really does is make you realise what it should have been when it was released.

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Which is why you really need to want to buy this game. I’ve enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong. But it is riddled with in-jokes and references to the series’ previous iterations. Failing that though, the game is still the exact same fusion of gaming and pop-culture references piled in to one big comedic world fiction. It is funny. Yes it can be puerile and filled with ridiculous machismo but it is still the right side of funny. Whilst for a new player, the characters are already established lampooned tropes of action movie characters in a Matrix-esque world and plot, the whole thing is still fun to play. Even though for the earlier part of the game I had absolutely no idea who anyone was or what was going on. I can see though, if you’ve played it all before, there’s very likely to be nothing new for you here.

In fact the greatest thing about this isn’t the remaster itself, but the package that comes with it. If you put it off the first time after Saints Row The Third then now is a good time to get back in to it. As the original release doesn’t differ massively in graphics from The Third, this version certainly does. Along with all the DLC and the expansion, it makes a very good cost effective package. And what isn’t great about shooting up aliens in a virtual city and capturing areas, only to be greeted with the ’90s infectious rhythm of Haddaway’s What Is Love when these sequences are over.

Gat Out Of Hell, Saints Row 4’s standalone expansion, sees us take control of Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington as you are flung in to hell to save the President (i.e. you) who has been unceremoniously sucked in to the underworld thanks to Matt Miller’s party game going the way of an early ’00s teen horror. Again this is definitely more for the fans of the series rather than a new guy like me, given the plot and people involved, but sadly this game doesn’t really do much more than Saints Row 4 did anyway. The superpowers are changed for arcane ones (flying with Satan’s wings for example), and the world is a new area with the same darkness and gloom as Saints Row 4’s perpetual early evening atmosphere. The plot, involving stopping the president from marrying Satan’s daughter with the help of former adversary Dane Vogul of Ultron, is typical of the franchise but stretches in to the realms of being too over the top. The strangest thing is that the streets and the general art look doesn’t remind me of Saints Row so much as Carmageddon.

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Yes there are new weapons, new things to do, interesting pseudo religious entertainment tropes and Satan to kill. Including the much publicised Armchair with mini-guns. But the game offers exactly nothing that Saints Row 4 already does, except with a new skin. It feels like it’s interesting and cool for about ten minutes and then you realise it’s just what Saints Row 4 did with a lick of paint and maybe a bit more demonic inspiration and then you tire of it very quickly. That is where this pack does lose its value a bit because you are essentially getting exactly the same type of game, challenges and humour that you’ve probably already grown tired of by playing Saints Row 4 or the Re-Elected version again. I can’t help but think that if this release was closer to the game’s release date (i.e. not 18 months later) then it wouldn’t seem so repetitive. Thankfully both versions of these games are available separately on the digital stores for Xbox Live and PSN and Gat Out Of Hell is available on PS3 and Xbox 360 as a standalone release. So if you think you’d lose out on enjoyment by having the whole thing, there are options for you.

Essentially this game or collection of games is exactly what you’d think it would be. A sharper, smoother version of the over the top, well balanced open world shooter with crazy customisation, and full to the brim of gaming cliches and references that we all know and get. Does it deserve a second term? Maybe, but I’m sure fans would want to see something new instead and for the uninitiated like me, it does make me wonder what kind of game the next one would be. This is a last generation game with the veneer of the new generation loading and processing. It does the job, but in another way it’s a bit like a middle-management role that no one really asked for or knows why it is there, except to contrast against the seriousness that makes up most of our AAA gaming at the moment.

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Whilst Re-Elected is a nice return to something you’ve probably already finished, there’s a certain replay value in the experience but not much more. Even for someone who hasn’t played it before, you can see where it can get repetitive and tiring. Which is why Gat Out Of Hell just feels like it missed the mark. Otherwise, if you’re a fan and you want to add to your collection, go for it. If you really want more of the singular experience of the expansion or the original game then these are all available separately and that might be better for you.

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– Smoother and more playable experience.

– Still the same Saints Row you know, with the same humour and disregard for propriety.

– As a package it’s pretty good value, especially if you’re new to the series.

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– Very little has actually changed or improved apart from textures.

– Gat Out Of Hell is more of the same, quite literally.

– Can be very unaccessible to new players for early parts of the game.

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When the game came out, we originally gave it an 8. It was and is a good well balanced open-world third person shooter with challenges and things to do. But other than texturing and general smoothness, very little has actually changed. That also extends to Gat Out Of Hell, which feels more of a byproduct of the remaster rather than the game itself. Entertaining but nothing we’ve not seen before, quite literally.

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

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LEGO Annouce Dinosaurs and Superheros (Jurassic World)

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It’s not often we cover news, but this one was certainly too big for me to miss posting about.

Warner Bros Interactive have announced the TT Games/LEGO line up for 2015. These include another Marvel tie in with LEGO: Marvel’s Avengers, new LEGO Ninjago game: Shadow of Ronin and iOS releases of The Lego Movie videogame and Lego Batman: Beyond Gotham (the 3 has been dropped).

But the big news is that we’ll get more Chris Pratt, along with Sam Neill, Richard Attenborough and a double helping of Jeff Goldblum. If you’ve worked it out already (without looking at the obvious title), clever girl. Some of the more astute of you who have played and competed LEGO Batman 3 might have noticed this pictured dinosaur in the credits, along with John Williams’s famous score. Personally I blinked and missed the connection. But finally dinosaurs are coming to LEGO.

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LEGO: Jurassic World is a tie in to the upcoming 2015 movie reboot of the series also titled Jurassic World. But it will also include parts of the first three movies: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park: The Lost World (Dino-Godzilla) and Jurassic Park 3 (Island+Dinosaurs+Sam Neill=Cash). In traditional LEGO game style all of these movie tie-in games will be available for every console (360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, PC, Wii U, 3DS) along with LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin being 3DS and PS Vita only.

So a few things we’re looking forward to? Well obviously being able to repeatedly punch Dennis Nedry and the kid from the first movie who got himself electrocuted. We’re looking forward to dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett being brought in and turning TT Games area of Manchester in to a crazy Velociraptor party. But mostly, we’re intrigued as to what LEGO: Marvel’s Avengers is actually going to do.

LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes was already a fairly big game that had bits of the cinematic universe lore from phase one and two of the movie collection, along with comic book versions of properties Disney don’t have the movie licences for. It does seem like it’ll be a tie in to Age of Ultron, wgich is due out later this year, but it promises to include the previous Avengers movie as well (and presumably some more of the recently and soon to be expanded universe).

But I’ll leave you with this fun fact. A Samuel L Jackson character will now have been in three LEGO games. Mace Windu (Star Wars), Nick Fury (Marvel Super Heroes) and now John Raymond Arnold (Jurassic Park). It seems we shall indeed know his name when he rains his blocky virtual self upon our gaming systems.

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What’s Next For Resident Evil?

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Resident Evil has been mentioned quite a lot recently. In the normal run up to Halloween and when any survival horror game is released, the game of PlayStations past is invoked as if grand royalty has entered this panicky jump-ridden realm. It has also come up because of The Evil Within, a game that our writer Andy reviewed most positively, as Resident Evil creator/director Shinji Mikami was at the helm of that production.

But we have two new Resident Evil releases that are due early next year, thankfully not movie franchise releases that have been ruined by Paul W.S. Anderson, although one is coming apparently. You know if you look at the movies in his repertoire, you might not be shocked to see how bad that series of films are. But the guy did Event Horizon, I mean how much more intensely atmospheric do you want to get? You’d think Resident Evil would be in safe hands… I’ve digressed.

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We will be receiving the next generation spin off Resident Evil: Revelations 2 in 2015 along with the remake of the remake. The GameCube’s remaster of the original Resident Evil game is getting yet another remaster to bring it up to next generation standard. On Halloween, the lovely guys at Capcom invited us to their offices to try the games out and see what we thought. Bribes were only provided in the form of fizzy drinks and seasonal Krispy Kreme’s.

Firstly, let’s tackle the remaster. You’d be forgiven for asking why this is happening. It seems like games publishers are torn between what us as gamers want and what us as gamers want… Bear with me here. On the one hand, despite our critical moaning about a lack of creativity in big game producers to come up with new ideas, we do like to see the games we love brought up to date and given a new lease of life. We want be able to show them off to our current significant others as to why this was a life changing game for us and not get laughed out of our relationship because of the now very dated graphics and hilarious FMV cutscenes. So this edition of Resident Evil kind of satiates that itch.

The game plays exactly the same way as the GameCube version does with an upped resolution although the textures and general artistic design are basically a complete port with some shine on them. If you’re looking for a new look and angle for the game you love, this probably isn’t it. Unless of course you never played the GameCube version, in which case, this is definitely for you. The thing is of course that nothing’s changed, but ultimately you don’t want that much change. There is the option to go full retro controls, or “WHERE’S MY F**KING ANALOGUE STICKS???” controls as I like to call them. Which is actually quite a nice reminder of how much better and more patient you used to be at playing video games. You can of course update it to use the sticks and that makes for an interesting experience. The stick controls highlight how the newer technology is adapted to the older games control and movement methods, which is rather strange as they suit the turning and running but the rest of the controls don’t exactly compliment them. It’s something you get used to of course but is a learning curve to start with.

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The option to have the original FMV sequences is there although you should probably only do that if you’re the kind of person that regularly searches their TV’s channel guide function for the worst that SyFy, Horror and Movies For Men has to offer on a lonely Tuesday with a 2 for 1 pizza offer in the wings. The game is a great reminder of how games were and how the mechanics they used would scare the crap out of you.

In fact, it’s a great experience in seeing how good the original game was in inventory management, atmospherics (although it does feel a tad too bright for me) and how to navigate complex controls under panicked stress. It will certainly bring back good memories and if you’ve missed it before, and it looks worthy of being added to your collection.

On the other hand, there’s those of us that love the genre and what the franchise can bring, and so we want to see new things. More new ideas, more new environments, puzzles and games. NEW, we tell you, NEW! And so we have Resident Evil Revelations 2, the sequel to 2012’s Revelations. We’re in to the realms of all things third person now which is great because that naturally goes very well with survival horror. But it does make me lament for the sometimes obstructive but much more terrifyingly voyeuristic cameras that the original game has. This game has moved away from 2012’s nod to the Resident Evil lore and becomes a bit more of its own entity.

No more Jill and Chris in the demo we played. This time we get Claire Redfield and Moira. Moira’s gift with the more colourful expressions of the English language make this game hilarious at times, and undoubtedly will involve many different versions of certain lines having to be used. In all the new generation glamour of dirty abandoned places being wonderfully sharp in resolution, you can enter a new world of hunting for ammo and supplies, crafting magical herbs that heal you and, more importantly, seamless swapping between characters to your advantage. The way you move between your two protagonists to solve puzzles AND give yourself more inventory space is excellent. It’s like Skyrim’s companion but much more useful. She’ll find things with her torch skills and run distractions for you as you take on headshot duty.

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The enemies kind of move between your traditional slow moving big powerful zombie and super fast crazy psycho zombies, the ones you don’t want in real life. But fighting them makes you think about your ammo usage. You can’t just unload your gun in to one guy and then pick up more ammo. No this resource is scarce and more enemies will come, so you have to think about how to use your tools and your environment to your advantage. Especially where there are traps that can be used and different enemy weaknesses.

The demo we were thrown in to made us feel like it was some crazy Saw-like adventure. You have no idea what was happening and whilst your character remains quite resolute under this pressure (less so than Moira) you begin to get intrigued as to why you are here and what the hell is happening.

It’s this more contemporary take on the survival horror tropes that make Revelations 2 quite intriguing. You’ve got the quality and design hallmarks of Resident Evil but you’ve also got the inspirations from other successes like The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. The series has moved on a lot from the Romero inspired house of horror that the original, and the remake, and the aforementioned remake of the remake, provide. It almost feels that a different branch of the universe, one that doesn’t have to be stuck in the lore of the other games and characters, is begging to emerge and mature. Whilst it is tied by name and situation, it appears to be quite free. The only thing I’m finding is that there is potential for it to get a bit long in the tooth. There’s a very strange lock picking mechanic that I’ve never seen used before and, quite honestly, I can see why. It’s not awful and once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get the hang of using both analogue sticks to find an unlock point and tapping R1 to activate it, but it certainly could be more user friendly. The controls come in that weird backward option where X is back and Square is confirm (although I’m sure that will change for western audiences) and eventually it will become second nature to you rather than you screaming “What in the Cock is that?” in early game frustration.

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Both games should be out in 2015 and the last part of this year has raised the horror genre into interesting territory. The Evil Within has given us more of the same updated for a new generation and Alien Isolation has given us the ultimate in terror, crafting and very little action whilst still delivering an atmospheric game. There’s said to be a new Alone in the Dark in the works and newer first person games like Outlast and Daylight have taken the genre to a different area.

But Resident Evil looks safe and appears to be satisfying both of the fans demands. Bear in mind that we are now around 22 games in to this franchise so you could forgive it for getting a little stale or similar. However Revelations 2 should be an interesting experiment in to where the series should go next and Resident Evil’s release will certainly nod us in the direction of the series forefathers and make us want to experience the new.

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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare – Review

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It’s a little strange heading in to Call of Duty Advanced Warfare because I haven’t played a Call of Duty game in four years, my last being Black Ops. The series has come a long way in this, its first truly Next Gen outing. It hasn’t held back on its punches either by drafting big names like Kevin Spacey of American Beauty and House of Cards fame and Troy Baker of all video game voice fame (The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite).

It’s weird because in a way, Call of Duty is almost a multiplayer game before it is a single player shooter. Sledgehammer Games have come on board along with Raven Software. If you don’t know, Raven have as much good pedigree as Sledgehammer, who created Dead Space and co-developed Modern Warfare 3. Raven have a wealth of awesome titles in their history including Hexen, Soldier of Fortune, Star Wars Jedi Knight 2/3 and Star Trek Voyager – Elite Force. The last game being not only an excellent shooter but quite possibly the best Star Trek game ever made. Just so you know who you’re dealing with.

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The comparisons between this game and Titanfall have been raging since its announcement and of course there are some. Respawn, who created Titanfall and were formerly Call of Duty developers, set themselves very squarely in a futuristic Mech-based vein and Advanced Warfare does at least one of these things and maybe riffs off others. In fairness to the game, that kind of thing is nothing that Halo 4 didn’t do before either of them, and the movement perks of the Exo Skeleton suit aren’t anything that isn’t in Destiny’s multiplayer. So as far as that goes, it’s one of those industry coincidences that happens from time to time. Like every game due for release in 2015 seems to have a monster called a “Kraken”… Trust me, you’ll notice that next year.

PC gamers might want to skip this paragraph. When it comes to the performance of Call of Duty, this game doesn’t disappoint, unlike Ghosts did before it. Everything is at 1080p on PS4 and an upscaled 1080p on the Xbox One. Don’t get grumpy yet. The game downscales as and when the quality is needed on the Xbox One (dynamic scaling) so the game holds a constant 60fps for the most part. The PS4 version does suffer occasionally with frame rate drops although to be honest these are not really that noticeable and are few and far between. So in theory, despite the resolution drops, this could be the first game on the Xbox One that outperforms the PS4. The game holds 60fps mostly though on both consoles, especially in the multiplayer, which is exactly what Call of Duty is known for and what the community has requested. So, job done in that sense, box ticked. The game is absolutely excellent though visually, as you’ll hear later with the work done on the actors. But there’s still something that makes everything feel a little blocky, a little sharp-edged maybe? It’s hard to describe and for the most part it excels in the graphical scrutiny but the city levels and the multiplayer at times feels a bit too angular compared to the complexion and work that is in other areas of the game.

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The campaign, in one regard, plays out like any Call of Duty game has since Modern Warfare – Massive set pieces in recognizable places with different types of military based gaming from tanks to boats, ground assaults, drone attacks and airplane dogfighting. In fact the story begins in an almost lawsuit-inducing similar way to Halo 3: ODST. Without spoiling anything, the story is as trite as an action military based plotline can be, and the series has still found a way –despite being set 50 years in the future – to bomb/assault Baghdad and jab at the North Korean’s with repelling an invasion of the South. Could have chosen anywhere in the world but no, still obsessed with modern Mesopotamia and introverted communist nations, aren’t we… I digress.

The thing is, regardless of whether or not you think the series is insensitive to any particular world view (regardless of the infamous “No Russian” mission), it has never pretended to be anything but fictitious entertainment in a terribly militaristic sense with a slight, possibly unintentional commentary on the state of the world at hand. Much like both versions of Red Dawn, except much better. Modern Warfare 2 had it with the grainy helicopter camera perspective of shooting white human outlines fleeing in a field in shots reminiscent of recent friendly fire footage. This game has it in its sense of accountability and bureaucratic freedom of private security and military forces, which if you’ve ever looked in to are a dangerous and scary proposition to the geopolitical conflicts at large. And, guess what, you’re part of one.

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No spoilers here, you should experience the game for yourself with its trips to Camp David, New Baghdad, Seoul and Greece, as well as the much-advertised San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge shootout. But in the other regard, the game comes in to its own with the care and attention taken in animating and voicing the two main characters. Troy Baker stars as Jack Mitchell, a Marine who’s prematurely ended career gets given a new lease of life under Kevin Spacey’s Jonathon Irons, and his corporation Atlas who develop military tech and are the worlds largest private security/military firm. The rest of the voice acting is as you’d expect in Call of Duty with Gideon Emery doing his best Jason Statham impression. But the two main names give some excellent performances, backed up by some incredible CGI animation of themselves both in cutscene and in-game sequences. Spacey’s performance is by no means the intense yet disturbingly compelling level that Frank Underwood is but as far as video games go this is a pretty big performance from a two-time Oscar and BAFTA winner and certainly some excellent casting. Both Baker and Spacey add a good bit of depth to a game which doesn’t really push the boat out in terms of narrative, but that’s not something you really care about in a Call of Duty game. You’re happy enough to just sit and be entertained, regardless of vaccum packed bodybags, terrorist threats and coordinated global destabilization that seem to be the go-to military plotlines in our post-24 gaming narratives.

The weapons for the most part seem well balanced, although at times the pistol, the Atlas 45, is completely gutless and other weapons, including a Minigun, seem to take an absolute age to kill people despite aiming for headshots. Possibly this is the trade off of futuristic armour, etc, that you can plough a guy with bullets from 6 feet away and still take 10 seconds to kill him. Despite being Advanced Warfare, nothing is too advanced to be outrageously fictional or space-age and everything – except a particular sniper rifle, EMP’s and interchangeable option grenades – aren’t that much out of the realms of your standard gun+bullet=shooting fare. It’s easy enough to get a grounding, get your preferred weapons and have at it. The little extra modifiers such as the bullet time-esque overdrive are cool to a point, and I do love using the Sonic noise option with the Exo suit and creating a mass of easy targets. But for the most part they only become usable in certain missions where they are designed to be used, like cloaking technology in a stealth mission. So your game style doesn’t really change or benefit from them. Which is a shame because, as you head to the end of the game, it would have been nice to actually benefit from these features rather than just use them like level-based perks. The biggest thing about the exo skeleton suit, the jumping and boost options are again only usable in certain missions so you don’t really get the full effect that you might have been hoping for in the single player campaign. But it has to be said that when you stealth kill some people with your grappling hook, especially when you rip a pilot out of mech suit and smash him face first into the ground, it is quite satisfying, despite the lack of times that you can do so.

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That’s where the multiplayer comes in to play. Super smooth gameplay, well designed maps, interesting gun gameplay and a fairly balanced leveling system which is easy to get up to an intermediate level. The game modes are well tested over years of Call of Duty multiplayer and their experience shows.   The exo skeleton in this mode is where it seems designed for. It allows you to jump farther, boost yourself around with relative ease and it feels perfectly balanced to the pace of the game. Most people I speak to say that Modern Warfare 2 was the height of the franchise’s multiplayer action and if that’s the case then this is just as good if not better. The Uplink mode, which is basically like Basketball or Halo’s Oddball/Headhunter game types, works incredibly well, especially with the elevated goal making use of the exo skeleton. This is certainly ticking all the boxes that the competitive gaming scene have asked for but it feels accessible enough that you can just jump in and have fun, not worrying about being smoked out by people who are already level 30+. At least that’s what it’s like at the moment. If you get used to playing then you’ll do well and for once, it seems like the games are balanced enough that it rewards someone who has a good game rather than people who camp and get cheap kills. At no point yet have I started screaming, “HACKS!” or “CHEATS!” or “Aren’t you aware there’s other games you could play or possibly read a book?” And at no point has my families gender or lifestyle been questioned or insulted in a triad of voice breaking abuse, so I’m happy.

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In all seriousness though, the multiplayer is a joy to play, and it’s not often I say that about a Call of Duty game. There isn’t the ridiculous kill perks that constantly wipe out the map every 40 seconds, or anything that really puts you out into a constant sprawl of death. Of course there are several times where you’ll have bad luck or a run of poor form but the game doesn’t make you feel put out or that you’re spefically at fault. It sounds weird but it’s enjoyable enough that you may have a bad game and you don’t immediately rage quit. It’s like the game sort of hugs you a little and says “never mind, give it another go.” The fact that matchmaking is rather quick and the performance in game is super smooth, definitely aids that decision to soldier on and get back to your fragging. Certainly, there are no launch server issues here. This means that even with a few hours play you can make some serious progress in your multiplayer gaming experience. There are several custom loadout options as you go through and unlock all the weapons and armour extras. There is a bit of avatar customization but it isn’t really that in depth, as in depth as you’d like anyway, but it’s a nice little touch in personalizing your online experience with different armour and hats (again something that has already been done quite well in the Halo games). All of the modes are there like capture the flag, deathmatch (both team and free-for-all), big team games, domination, objective destruction and a few modified playlists (like limited HUD and ranked play), with Zombies reportedly to return in DLC. Given that, as I remarked earlier, Call of Duty is almost a multiplayer game before it is a single player it is quite the improvement from previous years and a job well done.

The big question with this game and with the multiplayer specifically is whether the exo skeleton and the futuristic basis for the game really changes the Call of Duty franchise for the better. In one way, no because it is ultimately a plot point in the campaign that could have been any kind of technology and the multiplayer dynamics behind Call of duty Advanced Warfare are very good anyway, so much so that all it kind of provides is a jumping boost and opens a lot more of the maps up along with different combat tactics. In the other way it does because it really brings the franchise up to date with its competitors (Titanfall, Halo 4, Destiny) and has the benefit of seeing what they’ve done for the past three years and how to implement these new gaming styles in to their already well established and tested formula. In truth Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is the start of a new generation for the franchise that appears to have trimmed its last generation fat and stepped forward into a promising future. It doesn’t change too much but gives an entertaining package that you can rely on.

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Call of Duty Advanced Warfare benefits from a big overhaul in its multiplayer but to credit that purely on the exo skeleton would be unjust. The game feels generally a lot more balanced and whilst the suit is the selling point, it’s merely a vehicle for the rest of the fun the game has. The storyline is traditional Call of Duty fare despite the big name cast of Kevin Spacey and Troy Baker giving it some volume. This is a return to form for the franchise and feels like a well balanced and rewarding game and multiplayer, but it doesn’t jump out of anything that we kind of rely on with Call of Duty or push itself to really WOW us. A good, but comfortable effort.

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– Great visuals and performance

– Multiplayer mode is a vast improvement

– Exo Skeleton doesn’t make the game but certainly frees it up

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– It isn’t a huge reach from Call of Duty’s past

– Campaign story doesn’t push the boat out narratively

– Use of Exo skeleton in Campaign too restrained

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[tab title=”Why a 7.5?”]

This game is good. It is a return to form for the series and the exo skeleton does enough to revitalise some of the gameplay, but mostly revitalising the interest and the effort put in to the multiplayer mode as a whole. But, whilst visually stunning and with some good big name performances, it kind of sits comfortably on the Call of Duty mantle without pushing itself out to be the stand out game or completely wowing us. Definitely enjoyable and worth the 7.5 score but just misses on something higher due its lack of drive to really elevate the franchise up to the next level.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game

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MX vs ATV Supercross – Review

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If you read our preview of MX vs. ATV: Supercross back in July, you’ll know a bit of the history behind that franchise. But we’ll give you a little bit of a recap just in case. Nordic Games is one of the many people who snapped up some properties after the great collapse of THQ. One such thing they did was restart Rainbow Studios who have previously produced the other MX vs ATV games and got to work on producing something that the studio loved and did well.

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Which is why we are here now, tinkering around with the clutch cables on our Rainbow MX125 and tearing up a lot of dirt on the track. I’ve already made a pun before about this but when you think Supercross bikes in this country (UK) you do really think of a group of young men sat around their back gardens with oily clothes tinkering about before letting rip down your street in what sounds like a cross between a swarm of bees (bees?) and someone furiously trying to use a blender on unmelted chocolate. But in truth Supercross racing is the second most popular form of motorsport in the States, behind NASCAR apparently. Even bigger than IndyCar, Moto GP, Formula 1, etc. So whilst this may seem like a bit of a niche angle for us Brits, it may not be so much so over the water.

The easiest way to go about MX vs ATV Supercross is to look at it from the arcade angle. Now this game has been loving constructed by a studio who are a complete bunch of petrol heads, I know, I’ve met them. Their studio is next to a large expanse of desert which they regularly enjoy tearing around in so they know how the machines feel. Sadly of course you can’t really licence Honda and the likes who’s engines are used so a little bit of old school “name-everything-after-us” wording is in use throughout the game, making the two main constructers of vehicle either Nordic or Rainbow. But others are there. You’ll see Oakley sponsors, among other motocross sponsors which if you’re a fan you’ll recognise, as you tear around the well designed indoor dirt courses. And they are all really well laid out and a bit challenging lap upon lap. Even if you know them because they always evolve and the handling is so dependent on momentum, bumps and other course objects, that you’ll rarely take the same line twice. It evolves in a way that the course actually remembers the dirt imprints of every rider out there so you’ll get all the slides, mistakes and well ridden areas of the banked turns and jumps showing up on the track. This is one thing the game does excellent, the track deforming and changing over the course of a race.

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Sticking with the arcade angle, you jump straight in really without a tutorial. It’s up to you to get yourself up to speed. You can do this via the free ride mode which gives you a good handle on jumps and clutch control. The clutch control is effectively, in arcade terms, a power boost. You’ll have to get used to it but hitting the clutch ups the revs and launches you off which is great after you’ve slowed down from a corner or lost momentum after a jump. It’s a little tricky to get the hang of especially if you’re used to the pump-and-squirt type of throttle control most games have. But once you have got used to it, that’s where the challenge effectively ends. Pretty much everything that happens at this point, until you have to readjust yourself with the ATV’s, is in your direct control. If you muck up, it’s your fault. If you don’t win, it’s your fault. Basically, once you’ve mastered the clutch control the game becomes incredibly easy. A little bit too easy. The AI is fine, it isn’t entirely dumb, it doesn’t stick to the road like other racing games and it is in about as much control as you are when you bump, go off the track or someone lands on your prone head after you’ve come off. But the AI isn’t really much more than a collection of moving objects that are in your way, unless you turn it up to Pro (hardest setting) then you’ll be left in the dust. The ATV does make you readjust your riding at times and it is annoying how easy it is to lose control of it and effectively ruin your race but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.

And that’s where the allure of the game sadly ends. Much like an arcade racer, you will have a good time unlocking the extras that you can customise your vehicle and rider with through the career modes different championships. Some which help the performance of said vehicle and some which are purely cosmetic both for bike and rider. But that runs out pretty quickly and whilst the tracks are fun, they all look fairly similar. You know that brown dirt track with boards around it and a few jumps in an arena, well that’s pretty much all of them. The tracks are set all across the United States but you wouldn’t know save for the cinematic in the menu screen that shows you some skyline of areas through the upper exposed parts of the arena which, if you’re on track, you wouldn’t otherwise see. The animations become very familiar as your rag doll like physics don’t really rag doll all that much. The jump and trick system is pretty basic but ultimately is entirely unimportant to the game and not really useful except for adding a bit more excitement in to your playing. There isn’t a lot more to the game except pick a bike, go and win, unlock some more. Ultimately that is exactly what this game says it is but you’d think maybe a few surprises might come your way.

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There are some local multiplayer modes and an online multiplayer mode. The online is a bit of a double edged sword though as it runs very well and quite smooth, with no noticeable drop in performance or lag spikes. However my testing of this was based on me and one other person playing. It’s not going to be the most populated multiplayer game on a weekday afternoon due to its niche nature. If you can get a group of people who have the game and all conspire to be on at the same time, it might be worth it. But for the short term it isn’t. And you might have difficulty doing that as well. The game is last-generation only (except for PC release). Which means that not only is it on the older consoles, you’d have to be a pretty dedicated fan to invest in it and go back to the old console for it.

If you’re that much of a fan you’ve probably got your own bike so a game probably isn’t that appealing. But on a positive note, Nordic and Rainbow know this and so you’ll find it priced quite nicely as it should be at around £25. Don’t get me wrong this is an entertaining game, especially for me as a fan of motor racing. And it’s far easier to handle and get to grips with than something like the Moto GP licensed series. But it’s something made by passionate people for this particular style of the sport, for people who are also passionate for it. It may be lost on me but it doesn’t give me enough to keep my interest peaked. Having said that, there’s a lot of good things in this game that if more accessible, fun and next-generation titles come our way there’s some good groundwork put in which just needs opening up a bit more for a wider audience.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

MX vs ATV: Supercross is a game that is well executed in a “does what it says on the tin” kind of way. It has a wide range of tracks and unlockable customisation options and is probably the most accessible non-arcade motorbike game I’ve played. However its learning curve and challenge quickly evaporate and unless your a fan, it leaves the fun in its dust.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Easy to pick up and play

– Good track evolution dynamics

– Gives you a good range of bikes and quad bikes to use and unlock for

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– A bit too niche for a wider audience

– Becomes too easy very quickly

– Not enough outside of the bikes/dirt tracks to keep it fun

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[tab title=”Why a 6?”]

This is a well intentioned game and the MX vs ATV franchise is obviously in good hands. But it hasn’t really stretched the boat out to give it a good game and get a wider audience interested. The things that are done well in this game, like the track design and evolution, are great. Along with the beginning control challenge. But whilst the developers have done that well, there isn’t really anything else that has happened to make it more fun or exciting in the long run.

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This review is based on the PS3 version of the game

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[author]

WWE2K15 – Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[author]

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Interview with Matt Ellison

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On this day of DC Universe fun, we got a second interview in as many months with TT Games about LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. This time, Sean got some extended time to sit down with producer Matt Ellison from TT Games to talk about all the new things we’ve seen.

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We’ve just seen a lovely demo of the game, including London looking spectacularly small, Paris looking spectacularly small and Pisa looking very straight. What inspired you to go away from America and in to Europe with these levels?

It was always designed to be Europe actually. We do have Gotham as well so that’s American-ish. But it was an opportunity to show different things and different sights. It was really cool to be able to put London in there because we’re a UK developer and it was something we really wanted to do. Obviously Paris is very iconic and Piza with the leaning tower is very iconic and some of the other sites. It’s all things that are very cool that people recognise from a very young age.

As you say it allows you to have fun with those landscapes, like the Battersea Power Station having a load of toxic waste in it.

Yeah, stuff like that and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, it’s very cool to be able to show these things that people recognise because it gives you a different attachment to it.

lb3p2 You’ve got a very extensive character and sub-character list. As there’s so many, how have you managed to nail down which ones you wanted to do?

There are a few different things that go in to how we come up with the list that we ended up with. The first thing is the story, so the story governs which characters are going to be front and centre. Then we have the LEGO side of things. LEGO make their playsets and we always try to include all of the playset characters in to the game so if someone sees it in the game they can buy the toys. Then there are the ones we wanted to include. Some of the most famous ones, some of the more obscure ones, some of the more colourful ones, quirky ones and then we talk to DC to find out what’s coming up, who’s big right now, who should we be including. And they send us all the reference for the character outfits so that we can make sure they’re accurate and representative of what they should be. On this game more than any other we’ve been listening to the public. Throughout the game development cycle, we’ve been asking what characters people wanted to see and a couple of those have been added fairly late to the roster, but there’s so many people asking for them, we’ve kind of snuck them in.

There are so many different suit and sub character options across all the characters, how do you limit yourselves to stopping getting an OP character.

Five of the characters have 8 suits; Joker, Lex, Batman Robin and Cyborg have those eight suits you can cycle in between. But they have all these different mechanics and visuals and the visual representation of what you have to do in the puzzles remains consistent. So there are different characters you’ll have access to who’ll be able to do different things and as you unlock them, you’ll notice which abilities you’ve got and what you’ll be able to work through. It’s traditional with the LEGO games so people should know what they need and when with the characters and we’ll give them as many abilities as we possibly can. But they are all accurate as to what powers they can do and what they should have.

It’s quite a good position for the DC Universe especially with 3 TV shows based off it and as you announced at the weekend, the Arrow DLC pack is coming too based on the TV show with Stephen Amell.

It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to include this kind of add on content, which is totally outside of the game. But there is a way in which we can do something on it, so we can have a level, we can have these characters and find a way to include them into this and be part of this experience. Arrow was announced at the weekend and there’s The Dark Knight/Man Of Steel and you don’t normally get those kinds of opportunities – no one has done a Nolan Batman game before. So that’s the first time that’ll be able to be seen and we’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to get the chance to do it.

You’ve been lucky as well to use different things from different studios and franchises, including the soundtrack, from Danny Elfman to John Williams. It must be quite good to have that freedom?

The Danny Elfman music we’ve used on previous LEGO Batman’s as well and it’s sort of tied to our Batman now, it’s part of his identity. But, as you hear that, it’s great that we have the relationship with that and it’s good that people are starting to relate it to our Batman. The John Williams theme from Superman is a must from LEGO Batman 2, that was fantastic and we had to include that again. Being able to add that to Wonder Woman as well is quite cool and again it’s something that people remember, especially that older audience we have. The younger kids probably aren’t going to know that so it’ll be something that the parents will recognise and be able to educate them a little bit about the history behind it. lb3p6

There’s a lot of artistic freedom with the game because you’ve gone outside of the confines of Gotham. How do you approach the new world that’s not as obvious on the page of the comics? 

It is slightly different. We knew we wanted to make this game when we were doing LEGO Batman 2 so at the end of it we teased it by having Braniac say that he’s located the Green Lantern’s power ring. So we knew that we wanted to go in that direction. The Lantern worlds have so much stuff in them, the planets are so unique all with different vibes to them, lots of different enemies to encounter – visually they all look very different which works very well in a LEGO game having all these different colours and all the Lantern Rings, it was quite effective to replicate visually. So it’s just a great opportunity to be able to explore the wider reaches of it all. You’ve got the Watch town and the Hall of Justice as well so there’s lots of places for people to enjoy.

You’re all big fans of the DC Universe in the studio, what’s been your favourite parts?

I like the characterisation of some of the characters we have in this game. Solomon Grundy is probably my favourite addition of the new ones. The way he’s animated is just fantastic, walking around like he’s a zombie – he’s very funny. Just being able to include more of these characters I think is the best thing because we’ve got 3 times the characters we had in LEGO Batman 2, there’s just so many of them in there. Like Polka Dot Man, Condiment King, they seem so random but in a LEGO game they just add to the humour and add to the fun of it.

With the voice acting talent you’ve got Troy Baker back as Batman so you’ve got quite the talent behind the characters as well. 

LEGO Batman 2 was the first LEGO game to have voice acting in it, we brought Troy Baker back for this because he’s fantastic, it’s a bit of a no brainer. The voice acting is something we’re really pushing so we want to make it as good as it can possibly be. So there’s much more script, we’ve got Josh Keaton doing Green Lantern, Scott Porter doing Aqua Man and even Adam West doing voice overs for the game, it all adds to the authenticity of the game and adds to the weight behind it when you’ve got guys that really know what they’re doing.

Especially with Adam West it must be good for his amazing alliterative, totally tantalising dialogue that he’s got going on during this. And his era is replicated even down to the comic book “Kapow!” phrases and noises from the 60s Batman.

The 60s stuff is brilliant and is by far the most in depth bonus level we’ve ever done. That was really something we went all out on. Again it is just an amazing opportunity and was always on the wish list to try and do. So to suddenly have it happen is just fantastic for us because it’s the origins of Batman from the mainstream platforms. And it’s just fantastic having him voice it, having those “Kapow!’s”, having the Batusi dance… It all adds to it and people who know that Batman will love it and even those who don’t, it will still be bright and colourful and brilliant for them to enjoy.

lb3p5 The game is coming out in November, how much do you think you’ve left out from what you wanted to put in?

I don’t think there’s anything possibly left out. By far this game got bigger and bigger and bigger the more we got in to it. The original concept of what this game was and where we ended up is far bigger than what it was originally going to be. Because these opportunities present themselves as you’re going through it. You know you think “wouldn’t it be great to add this” and you just do it. It just builds and builds and builds and we’re so pleased we’ve got a massive game at the end of it.

I want to ask about Batcow, because that is very, very, very, very niche. So, why Batcow?

I believe the story goes: One of the designers said “We should put Batcow in the game.” And everyone said, “Who’s Batcow?” and then he showed a comic that had Batcow in and Batcow got put in to the game. I think it is almost that simple but it is a genuine thing that exists and it’s part of the humour that we have in LEGO games that we can do things that are obscure, chuck these things and widen the scope of the DC Universe in this game and it’s a very funny thing to be able to do. We’ve got lots of obscure characters in there but there are all the ones that people expect as well.

I’m guessing many other characters came about the same way.

Well, sometimes. We’ve got Manchester Black in this game because he has Manchester in his name and apparently comes from Manchester. So it varies and some of them DC said “these would be cool to include” and others people have been asking for them and we like to give people what they want. There are more than 150 characters in the DC Universe but the ones we’ve got we’re happy to have in this game.

Well if you used them all, you wouldn’t have a LEGO Batman 4.

[Laughs] Yeah, I dread to think where we can there.

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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be available on November 14th for Xboxb 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and WiiU

[author]

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Hands On Preview

lb3pft We’ve been furnished with some excellent news with LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham over the weekend. The list of characters, over 150 in total, is very quickly taking shape and we have some awesome new levels being revealed to play with.

LEGO games are LEGO games. Part of the big idea behind them is that they all have consistent mechanics. They are family games for children and adults alike, best enjoyed together. As such they all have, whatever the franchise on top of it, puzzles and gameplay that is instantly recognisable and transferrable from previous LEGO games. This ease of play and similarity with other LEGO games is key to the design of them.

It also makes them rather hard to review and preview. Because we all know exactly what we are getting. There’s some awesome things in LEGO Batman 3 that allows us to go in to further detail but for the main part, this is a fully functioning, comically entertaining LEGO game. The story is that (spoiler for LEGO Batman 2) Brainiac has the Green Lantern’s ring and is going to embark on a dastardly scheme to gain control of the Earth. There our heroes of the Justice League and usual suspects Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc will come in to save the day… Or at least prolong the saving. lb3p3

Different things occur which allow the characters to move a little bit out of their normal comfort zone thanks to the Lantern powers, especially from characters you wouldn’t normally expect. But in the scheme of things, the plot allows the game to move out beyond Gotham and out to other planets and  in to outer space. People who played the Star Wars games will easily recognise the flying/shooting mechanics and whilst the game is fun, it is never exactly challenging. But, see above… That’s the point.

You’ll also get some landscapes you’ve never seen before unless you’ve been in a LEGO shop recently. The game will take you to various European cities as well as Gotham, including our very own London. It’s interesting to note that all of the buildings like the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace could all be built with actual LEGO and the games are all designed so that you could actually build the things in them. Quite neat I thought, and maybe that’s something I should have known. Why the Battersea Power Station is filled with toxic waste, I don’t know. Maybe TT Games know something we don’t.

Speaking of what you should know, the list of characters goes way out of the established norms for Super Hero games. The DC universe has been well and truly pillaged of almost everything and the deepest darkest vaults of characters have come to grace the obsessive collecting we must achieve when playing a LEGO game. Niche people from Batcow to Condiment King to the real life comic Conan O’ Brien, director and Comic Book author Kevin Smith, the Green Loonton, the Darkest Knight (all Green Lantern off shoots) and DC Publisher Jim Lee. DLC was announced at the weekend with Stephen Amell voicing his TV Character of Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow along with other characters from that series. More niche with Toyman, Trickster, Manchester Black… The list actually can go on for a long time and will require you to have more knowledge of the DC Universe than you ever thought possible. lb3p4

The best thing so far for me is the 1960s Batman mode. You probably don’t remember the TV series starring Adam West but you definitely know the theme tune (ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ner-ber-BAT-MAAAAAN). You probably only know Adam West from Family Guy. But the art and design including the alliterative brilliance of voice acting from West, KAPOW! exclamations with brass instrument sounds and even building the Batmobile (everyone’s favourite Dinky car when they were little) put you in to an amusing trip of nostalgia and if you don’t know the series which arguably shot Batman in to the mainstream then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Other touches exist around the game, like Troy Baker (don’t pretend you don’t know him by now) voicing the eponymous hero, the John Williams Superman music returns when Superman flies and that has even been stretched to Wonder Woman getting her theme played when she takes to the air.

All told, we’ll be able to review the game closer to the release date and comment on its great level design, its fun story and its excellent humour, most of which is already apparent. But it has all the hallmarks of a LEGO game. Which you have to say is something that TT Games have done very well. They have created constantly entertaining and fun games, whatever the veneer on top of their mechanics and LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham promises to be no exception to that trend.

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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be available on November 14th for Xboxb 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and WiiU

[author]

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments – Review

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The legend of Sherlock Holmes is arguably much bigger than the character of Sherlock Holmes, although myth would be more of a pertinent description given that he is fictional. In recent times the harsh and terse nature of his personality has come through with the popular TV adaptation by the BBC and Steven Moffat. Even though that itself has become more clouded due to the absolutely gorgeous hunk of enthralling talented man that is Benedict Cumberbatch… What I’m a man, I can say it, right ladies?

But Crimes and Punishments, the new adventure by Focus Interactive and Frogwares does something that takes a literary starting point, grabs a lot of the old school TV characterisations, mixes them with the modern day artistic interpretations of Holmes’s mind and puts them in to an interactive detective story that will drive your moral compass around the bend. That’s one of the slightly out there things of this game, the inspiration from a literary source that isn’t even a Conan Doyle story, despite the game taking it’s characters, setting and tone from his books.

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The title of the game comes from Dostoevsky’s similarly titled epic novel following Rodion Raskolnikov who balances his decision to raise himself out of poverty by murdering a pawnbroker and robbing her. Therefore giving him money to live and perform good deeds whilst getting rid of a fairly odious person in process. It’s this ethos that has allowed Frogwares to create a Holmes character that, whilst you are playing through him, is not the central protagonist of the game. And that is something that could and should make you a little bit uncomfortable.

Because the issue here isn’t that the game allows you to solve mysteries. It allows you to deduct and conclude on a selection of many possibilities. Whilst there is a right and wrong answer (which you can spoil if you want to) the game presents you with the strange juxtaposition, strange for a game of its ilk anyway, of having multiple different outcomes that you decide upon. The clues are presented to you and you deductions allow you to not only decide who is guilty of whichever case you are on, but also how you handle their potential incarceration; with the full weight of the law or with a lenient more liberal approach to the situation they find themselves in. What that also means is that you can be wrong but still complete the case.

The clues are very easily presented to you. They aren’t too hard to find and if you get frustrated it is very easy to just back off slightly and take stock. Most of the complex issues in the game are logic puzzles which are easily solved with a bit of time and patience, some of them involving chemistry, metallurgy and other things in Holmes own desktop laboratory. Some of the puzzles require some research in Holmes’s extensive archive and others are ones that need his expert view or the use of his imagination. The way you explore the scenes of the crimes and the people you interview very much lends itself to the more modern interpretation of Holmes, which, in the interactive form of a game, is entirely justified. Including the deduction screens allowing you to form the cerebral paths of choices with the clues you have discovered. The case book is easily navigated and isn’t a burden to the game experience either, although could be a little more encompassing and possibly even allow for a hint or two if you are getting a bit stuck.

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From a character point of view, you spend your time in the ego of Holmes. He is, for want of a better term, a bit of a prick. He has the smugness of intelligence and an overly authoritative air, but at no times does he become insufferable. And as soon as you finish the first case, you realise that he is merely the vehicle for you to make those hard moral decisions. As a character himself he does use the crime scenes and Scotland Yard as his own personal playground. He feels he is above a lot of the general day to day process of the police and the slightly dim-witted Inspector Lestrade and a fawning Dr Watson, who would have been great as a character to give hints if you so desired. He is complete with his vices, at one point coming down from what appeared to be a very heavy opium trip, which allows you to see how he is operating way beyond a merely human capacity. His eyes, his perspiration and his slightly ragged appearance at times allow you to see that he is flawed, despite his genius.

The characters around Sherlock, despite the two fairly tepid interpretations of Lestrade and Watson, are quite alive and enjoyable to talk to and discover. And by discover I mean completely judge them. The look of the characters of course allows your immediate reaction to their mindset, personalities and history, a bit like LA Noire. But their speech and utter Victorian stoic tones make extrapolating what they say more challenging in your deductions. Victorian London and its areas are very nicely recreated in the game. Everything from the Verulanium ruins in St Albans, Kew Gardens and the offices of Scotland Yard. Even the many stations in the railway case are very atmospheric and lovingly created. But they all also have that quiet and slightly antiquated air that you’d assume from a Victorian setting. Yet the stories that occur in them are full of intrigue and adventure and exploration. Especially the case where you explore the Roman baths.

From that point of view, and of course I will not spoil a single thing in these cases, they are very well designed, breeding intrigue, and have multiple characters that could all be guilty. The dialogue is well acted enough without being too hammy or not engaging enough. The addition of Toby, Holmes dog, is a nice touch too with his GTA V-esque smell tracing ability, along with some little parts of the Holmes universe that doesn’t serve a story purpose but exists for the atmosphere. The characters aren’t as well animated as LA Noire but are good enough for the type of game this is. In fact to call this is simple point and click detective game set in a 3D environment would be disingenuous as the moral aspect of the game and the lack of progression importance on what is right and wrong clearly defines it as it own.

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The only criticisms of the game that I have is that at times, and that maybe because of the nature of trying to explore absolutely everything on my part, is that the game can be a bit slow. As the puzzles become more trickier and the areas of exploration larger and more diverse you do end up taking more time to complete a case and, whilst the different endings do give you quite the replay value, it also puts you off a little because of the time you would need to sink in to it. Once you discover the run button with the right trigger/R2 it is a bit of a godsend because getting around at a walking pace is incredibly laborious. The soundtrack is nice, haunting and quite unobtrusive, but it is only really at the title screen that its noticeable and it would have been nice to have a little more in the game. The puzzles whilst challenging and as the game progresses become more challenging, also don’t seem to change much out of their three main types. Lock picking, chemical tests and the occasional logic puzzle. Some cases excel at it more than others which leaves the gameplay a little stale at times.

Crimes and Punishments presents a strange case for review because it is a successful game that you could argue doesn’t really have much depth out of its 3D adventure setting. Yet the success and point of this game is to challenge your perception of right and wrong and the moral choices you make. What kind of person are you to decide the fate of these suspects? A harsh master exacting the law to its fullest degree, a pacifist that sees the deeper side of the emotional torment in the cases or a flake who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty at all? In that way it is completely successful but does it make a game? Well we play The Sims in order to have this kind of perverse control of perceived life and this game in that way is no different. In fact it’s almost more perverse given that we discover a lot more and have a more intelligently formed decision about the characters and situations in the game. Which means that in this way, the game completely gets it right. It is pleasant to look at and enjoyable to play but is it open enough in its game play to be an amazing game? I’m not sure, I can’t decide. What I can decide though is that this game certainly sets a great standard for games of the detective genre and the shifting of moral choices directly in to your hands is the right amount of unsettling to keep me playing the game.

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[tab title=”Summary”]
Crimes and Punishments in one way fulfils its remit of being a high definition 3rd person investigation game which could be classed as middling. But the mind games it plays with its deductions and moral choice dynamic lifts it above that in to an unsettling yet enjoyable experience.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]

– Moral Choice system works well
– Good stories and characters
– Visually great recreation of Holmes’ world

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Can be a bit slow
– Support characters a bit tepid
– Puzzles don’t change too much

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[tab title=”Why an 8?”]

Because whilst the game had the potential to be a lot lower score, it is a very good experience, visually well presented and the stories are enjoyable to play. Even if you spend hours debating the moral choices you make in deciding who’s guilty.

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

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Escape Dead Island interview with Anthony Cardahi

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Escape Dead Island is coming soon and Sean managed to grab some words at EGX with Anthony Cardahi, a creative producer at Deep Silver, and talk about the game.

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Escape Dead Island. Very very different. It’s a very different choice of game for the Dead Island franchise. How did you come about that process?

So it’s a mixture of several elements that blended in together. One of them was that part of us wanted to deliver a game experience that was kind of related to those early trailers that had such a nice reception from audiences. And the other side that was just a desire to give a bit more background information as to what the Dead Island universe was about. That really convey the idea that there was a bigger picture that we aren’t just putting out zombie games without a link between them. Dead Island has its lore and we wanted to find a format that would be appropriate for delivering this information. It came also from some personal taste in terms of games and movies that just all blended in and gave birth to what Escape is now.

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Did cel shading feel like the natural choice?

Yeah, on several sides it was a logical art style to go for. Just going with a more narrative and story driven kind of game, that we wanted to be able to marry to the player in an impactful way, we knew we wanted those comic cutscenes that are useful to the story. So it made sense for the game itself to be in a comic style approach so you get a more wholesome feel to it and more expressiveness. Later on we realised that it was a lucky pick because it allows us to differentiate from the main Dead Island franchise, give no confusion to the players and make it look and feel like a spin off of the main series.

I suppose it also helps with the implied psychosis that your main protagonist has during the game?

Definitely. The madness that Cliff will be gonig through as he progresses through the story just begged for a visual style that would allow us to bend reality and all the crazy things that we have in the game. It helps to convey all the various faucets of this and make it much more visual and direct in to the players face.

Following the preview, the game reminded me a lot of the Keanu Reeves movie A Scanner Darkly which was a Phillip K Dick story, which was partially animated. Where did you guys draw your inspirations from?

Everyone who’s worked on the project from Deep Silver and Fat Shark. Being a Swedish developer means they have a very fine artistic side to them, so lots of different influences came from everyone. We had some strong influences from Groundhog Day, Memento and Lost. Inspirations more for tonal idea and atmosphereic impressions we wanted to make during the game. And these mixed up with the fact that we all really enjoy comics and are very knowledgeable about them. So it’s cool that we can mix these things with the key ingredients of what makes up a Dead Island game. Even after 10 seconds, you still know it’s a Dead Island game, which is really unique. So blending all this togehter gave us this result, which I don’t think anyone could have seen at the conception stage. It’s a nice process to watch unfold.

It is very different, so how do you think the fans of the franchise will receive this expansion of the artistic nature of the game compared to the previous entries to it?

I’m guessing it will depend on what type of player the fan is and what drew him/her in to the Dead Island games first. For those who have any kind of curiosity about what our world is and what the events transpiring there are, they will probably be intrigued with us giving information that relates to bothe the past games and the upcoming ones and create a kind of bridge. Also I’m guessing a lot of people might just come due to sheer curiosity with the fact its a different take but it still has the the whole “paradise turning really bloody” vibe that the main series has. So the art style might make people more curious and we have those key elements like the emphasis on melee combat, survival approach, the zombies. If you like Dead Island as you play the immune superhero, you might like the new approach to be on the other side as a regular guy and be a lot more careful and defensive.

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Where did Cliff come from because he’s a beautifully flawed character?

Yeah it was really fun trying to reach the point where we had our protagonist. We didn’t want him to be a cliche of heroic guy shows up saves the world kind of thing. Working on him and the way to bring about the regular dude venerability of the character ended up inspiring him. He’s a flawed guy, you’ve probably seen him in a lot of college comedies, or you might know someone like that like “you know he’s a cool guy but sometimes he acts like a douche.” Which is referred to quite a number of times in the game. This kind of dual dimension and his prescence there I think also helps to explain all what he’s going to go through. He’s showing up on this island wanting to be the new Vice, [thinking] “I’m going to film this documentary that’ll prove to the world what’s happening here, I’ve got to unveil the truth.” He’s really enthusiastic but ultimately disconeccted from reality, never achieving anything in his life, in his fathers shadow and wanting to prove himself. Daddy issues to some extent which is a driver, but also a component of what Cliff’s going to be going through during his adventure, or misadventure.

So why haven’t you gone to next gen with this game?

Well the majority of our audience is on the past generation consoles, plus Dead Island 2 being the flagship title for next generation, we thought we’d stick to that. But we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hope it does well.

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Escape Dead Island will be available on 21st November for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. You can see our preview from GamesCom here!

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