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3 teeny-tiny developer mistakes that had catastrophic repercussions

Believe it or not, we all make mistakes. Mistake making is one of the defining characteristics of humanity. Believe it or not, Game developers are also human, and that means they can make mistakes. Unlike the rest of us however, the smallest mistakes on their end can have absolutely huge knock-on effects.

Although it is certainly through making mistakes we learn,  sometimes it can be quite fun just to look back at some painful memories and reminisce about our (or others’!) mistakes. This is exactly what we’ll be doing here by coming together to point and laugh at 3 examples of tiny developer mistakes that had catastrophic repercussionson their games.


 

3: Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing – Forgetting to make the truck move

Image result for Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing

Platform(s): PC

Price*: NA

Developer: Stellar Stone

When it comes to Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, it’s quite hard to find part of the game that isn’t a mistake. It’s a veritable buffet of errors. Everything from the missing textures on maps to the strange behaviour of the “physics engine” and the non-existent collision detection for your vehicle aims to hamper this would-be racer.

After many hours (40 seconds) of careful deliberation however, we have decided that the most egregious error is the fact that the developers seem to have forgotten to make your opponent’s lorry move. That’s right; Big Rigs is a racing game – without the racing.

What’s worse is the fact that the developers could has programmed in your oppositions movement. In an official patch version that surfaced online some time after launch, your rival actually moves! They don’t finish the race of course, just stopping short of the finish line (sorry if I got your hopes up). At least it’s something I suppose.


2: Team Fortress 2 – The crate that crashed a market

Platform(s): PC

Price*: Free!

Developer: Valve

By 11 years old I had already made plenty of mistakes. In Team Fortress 2‘s almost 12 year career however, it had very few under its belt. After over a decade of clean updates that would put other titles to shame, Valve was long overdue a major muck-up and, sure enough, in the last few weeks it finally arrived.

Ironically, it wasn’t a large-scale update that finally broke the game; but the simple addition of a new crate. It should have been an easy task. The TF2 team was just getting ready for a nice summer break and just needed to add a few new cosmetics in a groovy summer box before they could kick back and relax. They’ve added literally hundreds of different crates over the game’s long lifetime; everyone thought nothing could go wrong.

Everything went wrong.

Some strange coding mishap resulted in the game’s most valuable items; the highly coveted “unusual” hats to drop guaranteed from certain crates. This naturally tanked the game’s thriving Steam Community Market based economy and cost some hat traders losses hundreds of pounds in real world cash. The long term effects of the mistake are still unknown, but the market seems to have stablised in the last week. At least the community seems to have taken the glitch well, with countless hilarious memes appearing on the game’s subreddit.


1: Aliens: Colonial Marines – Giving the aliens lead poisoning

Image result for Alien Colonial Marines

Platform(s): PC, XBOX 360, PS3

Price*: £24.99

Developer: Gearbox Software

Gearbox Software is no newbie when it comes to controversy. Although this year’s trend seems to be to victimise the company for their allegiance to the Epic Games Store they have fallen victim to the internet’s disdain on many previous occassions. One such occasions was the release of the highly anticipated Aliens: Colonial Marines way back in 2013.

Freshly burned by the company’s previous disaster; the absolutely dreadful Duke Nukem: Forever, many fans and critics were quick to notice that Aliens: Colonial Marines was bad. Quite bad in fact. The title was critically panned with one of the main criticisms directed at the enemy aliens’ utterly incompetent AI.

What would have been an already mediocre horror-FPS became completely farcical with enemies that got stuck in walls, jammed in corners or otherwise just failed to acknowledge your existence. It took 5 years for a strangely dedicated modding community to pin down a problem with the AI. It wasn’t that the alien’s were inherently badly programmed, but rather that their programming was jeopardised by a typo.

Believe it or not, a mere typo managed to absolutely decimate a modern AAA game. Correcting “PecanGame.PecanSeqAct_AttachXenoToTether” to “PecanGame.PecanSeqAct_AttachPawnToTeather” in one of the game’s files exponentially improves the enemy’s AI.

I’m not going to pretend that fixing this error makes the game that much more enjoyable, but it certainly makes it at least playable.


*Prices are Steam store prices (excluding discounts or sales) as of August 2019.

Max Payne – How writer Sam Lake’s face came to define one of the most iconic characters of a generation

Anyone who has even glimpsed gameplay of Remedy‘s Max Payne knows that face. The iconic look of a man having just eaten a lemon that appeared plastered over protagonist Max’s polygonic profile throughout your playtime. A facade so iconic it’s endured two console generations, a mobile port and even been poorly replicated in a Mark Wahlberg film. It’s a pretty perfect profile for a violent vigilante but did you know that this physiognomic phenomenon actually has an amusing anecdote attached.

The look of biting into a lemon more bitter than Max’s past

To understand the origins of Max’s mug it’s important to know something about the climate of game development way back in the mid to late 90s when Remedy‘s ideas for a new third-person shooter title first arose. In a world where the multi-million dollar budgets of your entertainment seem to increase year on year it’s hard to remember a time where game developers were not corporations with thousands upon thousands of employees but rather a small group of guys and gals on a hamstring budget trying to cobble together the best game they could.

A graph showcasing development budgets source: venturebeat.com

That’s not to say they didn’t do a good job. In fact, developers in the 90s with their miniscule budgets managed to make games that are a damn sight better than the titles today into which millions upon millions is poured. For a particularly relevant example, just look at Max Payne 3. Max Payne 3 cost over 115 Million US$ and although it is undeniably a great game, it just can’t compare to the first in the series accomplished with a mere 3 Million2.

The development of the first Max Payne was a very careful game of compromise. One of the biggest compromises was made with the cut scenes which, although intended to be rendered in-engine, became real life photographs filtered and set out in the now iconic comic-book style.

Whilst using photos is visually more impressive and far cheaper than rendered cut scenes it did open up the need for models to portray the characters. As the comic panels were static images, and had narration placed over the top of them, it allowed the studio to skip out on hiring professional actors. Why spend all that extra cash hiring someone to model stills when you can come up with a far more creative solution.

Enter the Remedy staff who, along with their friends, families, distant long lost relatives and pretty much anyone they could convince to come along with them, ended up becoming the game’s impromptu models. The game’s lead writer, Sam Lake, took the starring role as the titular hero and, looking at the end result, it was a match made in heaven.

A even lesser known is the fact the game’s villain, Nicole Horne, was Lake’s mother which puts a new and slightly uncomfortable spin on the hero-villain dynamic.

Although only a character model, with Max’s voice portrayed by the excellent James McCaffrey, Lake’s impact on the character is palpable. It’s safe to say that Max Payne just wouldn’t carry the same B film charm without him.

How useful is this information? Not very. I suppose it could save you quite a fright if you bumped into Lake while you’re holidaying in Finland and thought that your childhood videogames were somehow coming to life; perhaps as a twisted form of revenge for all those years you never cleaned the discs. No, more than anything this little story into Max Payne’s development highlights a sense of humanity that may have been lost in the modern age of game development – an age where games no longer come with anecdotes.


References:

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_expensive_video_games_to_develop
2https://www.gamespot.com/articles/remedy-talks-max-payne-1-and-max-payne-2/1100-6337795/

Morphies Law: Remorphed – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Morphies Law: Remorphed was provided free of charge by Cosmoscope GmbH


To say Cosmoscope‘s Morphies Law fell victim to Murphy’s law would have been a fairly ironic turn of events – and it was very much almost the case. In spite of a lacklustre Nintendo Switch launch, Cosmoscope admirably kept hard at work acting readily upon player feedback and nurtruing the game’s strong core fanbase. Almost one year later and Morphies Law has finally relaunched (or Remorphed) and accompanying it’s new PC release is a whole host of fantastic new features.

It’s not hard to say the concept behind Morphies Law is a very unique one. You shoot your enemies, or even your allies, to absorb their mass and grow and you lose your hard earned mass when hit. It sounds extremely simple, but the gameplay houses a surprisingly great deal of depth.

For one thing, matches are inherently self-balancing. The best players of either team will naturally become the biggest having absorbed the most enemies. A bigger body makes them bigger targets and a bigger target is one that can be hit more easily by a less skilled and less accurate player. Every match of Morphies Law plays quite a lot like the Call of Duty series’ Juggernaut gamemode, and it’s an awful lot of fun.

The goal of a match isn’t always just to gain the most mass either. Your aims vary drastically between game modes; from the most basic  “Morph Match”, a weight based take on a common deathmatch, to the manic “Head Hunt”, a pandemonic bid to capture your team’s misplaced giant head.

Mass also affects the capabilities of your “Butt rocket”, a rectal take on a jetpack, which, on the contrary to my basic understanding of physics, seems to become far more effective the heavier you are. Your size can also change the routes available to you while you navigate your environment. Huge morphies can jump to high vantage points and even trample over powerful fans which would send less fortunate lighter players flying to their deaths. Being small also has some perks, allowing you to dash in between the legs of enemies and find hidden tunnels through which you can scurry like a pesky neon-painted mouse.

A morphie high up in the food chain

The extremely fun gameplay is accompanied by a set of fantastically designed and delightfully varied maps. Although in the original release a few of the maps were veering a little towards the annoying side – seriously, as cool as fighting on an oil-flooded tanker sounds, the sliding around did get pretty infuriating – the Remorphed update has addressed this, and even added a few new sites to explore.

The refined version of the original maps and the all new ones added in Remorphed each bring their own unique set of hazards and a distinct theme. One match you could be exploring an ancient Aztec temple whilst the next takes you to a western town that is constantly sinking into quicksand.

Although very different, each map still adheres to the game’s great overall art style; a colourful day of the dead pastiche with plenty of cacti and neon lighting. The game’s soundtrack is a fittingly over-the-top mix of Mexican melodies, which can be pretty catchy at times. If your character’s stock aesthetic of full skeletal body paint is a little too subtle for you, can dive into the game’s host of extensive customisation actions.

One can change the body and face paint with presets, or even use the more in-depth editor to mix and match to create your own whacky design. Even animations can be customised by choosing new emotes or match introductions. Most impressive of all is the weapon customisation system, which has you combining two parts (a primary fire and a secondary fire) to create a gun that is utterly unique to you. Additionally, the new weapons added in Remorphed all make solid additions to your arsenal and are certainly appreciated.

Levelling up grants new weapons and piñatas, which are the game’s crate system. By hitting open piñatas you can obtain cosmetics. You’ll be pleased, no doubt, to hear that there are absolutely no microtransactions in sight as the crates and currency, metal nuts, can be gained solely by levelling up completing quests.

On a technical level, optimisation is good with the game running well on the Nintendo Switch whilst looking decent and running extremely smoothly on PC whilst looking a little nicer. The menus look good and are easy to navigate and UI is clean and can be understood readily at a glance. One thing I would change is the game’s current hit sound. The current one is a tad underwhelming – being a little twinkling noise – and something with a little more “oomph” wouldn’t go a miss.

The game supports cross-play between the PC and Switch which is good at bolstering player numbers. For when you want a little alone time; you can always have a blast with the game in configurable offline modes with bots.

Overall, although the original Morphies Law was a good idea hampered by a lack of refinement; Morphies Law: Remorphed is a good idea perfected. With very strong and unique gameplay, that has only improved through the frequent developer updates, Morphies Law: Remorphed is a constantly evolving shooter that you won’t want to put down and gains a strong recommendation from me.

As a nice little bonus, try out Morphies Law: Remorphed for free by downloading the hilarious Steam Demo here. If you fancy a less flatulent version, you can buy the full game on both PC and Nintendo Switch.

BIGFOOT – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of BIGFOOT was provided free of charge by CyberLight Game Studio


“Bigfoot” is a name that will certainly strike fear into the hearts of hikers, park rangers and anyone who has ever accidentally flicked on to the Discovery channel after midnight. The ancient ape has been the star of numerous media exposés over the years, most famously with the TV masterpiece Finding Bigfoot which, even after 12 seasons, is yet to live up to its name. It’s only natural I suppose. Bigfoot is, of course, far too elusive to be caught, as evidenced by his successful evasion of the hordes of armed rednecks, I mean, highly qualified Bigfoot researchers that have been relentlessly pursuing him for decades.

I am only jesting of course; Bigfoot is undeniably fictitious – a fact of which I am certain that, deep down, even the most ambiguously qualified Discovery channel “Bigfoot specialist” is aware. In spite of this fact, it’s still undeniable that to wonder about the existence of the impossible is fun and to search for it is even more so. Perhaps it’s simply down to mankind’s primal desire to hunt something truly dangerous, or maybe just an act of escapism to try and free ourselves from the cushy constraints of suburbia with which we are bound throughout our lives.

BIGFOOT‘s banner art certainly showcases big feet

Whether performing daring bank heists or fighting aliens in invincible power armour videogames have always been an excellent medium with which one can experience the impossible. It seems a miracle that until Cyberlight Studio‘s 2019 title BIGFOOT, no videogames have capitalised on Sasquatch hysteria and presented audiences with a way to truly accomplish the impossible; a way to capture Bigfoot.


In 
BIGFOOT, intrepid investigators are tasked with locating four missing persons and foiling Bigfoot’s hijinks in one of two fictional National Parks: the densely forested Ross Lake in Arizona or Alaska’s snow-drenched Glacier Bay. Players can venture out on their quest alone or join up to four friends in an online match.

Taking out Bigfoot is not an easy task but, luckily, if players choose the Ross Lake map they are accompanied by a groovy and appropriately Scooby-Doo-esque camper van which is decked out with the very latest anti-Sasquatch gear. Hunting rifles, tacking bullets, flare guns, traps, tents and night-vision goggles are all there as you would expect although far more interestingly you are also provided with a set of eight motion-detecting remote cameras, a pilotable drone and a tablet with which to control them.

These high-tech gadgets form the crux of BIGFOOT‘s gameplay, which has you exploring a huge map in order to locate the missing, who have been unsurprisingly brutally murdered, whilst also hunting local fauna to make bait and setting up cameras and traps. It’s important to not get too carried away on your scout’s adventure however, losing track of the time and getting lost after nightfall is definitely not something you want to be doing.

Once back at your campervan you get to huddle up in your corner of choice and sit watching the cameras through your tablets on tenterhooks to see if your day’s preparation will pay off. Things actually get quite scary, as the sheer quietness of the surroundings, with only the crunch of leaves and the creaking of trees, begins to slowly but surely put you on edge. The camera’s beeps, which sound upon any detected motion, will send you scrambling in a panic to your tablet to desperately try and flick through the feeds in order to find the source – usually just a stray squirrel.

Things are even scarier still at Glacier Bay, which has players begin with almost no starting gear and, worse still, no comforting camper van. Instead, players have to venture into the forest completely unable to defend themselves in a mad rush to find as much equipment as they possibly can in the various desert log cabins strewn about the map.

Once you’ve finally trapped Bigfoot a couple of times, and unloaded about two hundred rounds of rifle ammunition into his posterior, his huge health pool reaches zero and it’s time to tie him up and triumphantly drag him back to your spawn area where you’ll be able to cage him and ship him off to tour zoos around the planet and be gawked at in disbelief by generations of tourists to come.

One of BIGFOOT‘s best gameplay qualities is that it does a great job of letting you know that you’re never really safe. As a player you’re always open to attack and your precious camper van or cosy little tent can’t do very much in the way of protecting you against an eight-foot tall beast. Your fear of the creature is further heightened by the solid map design, with dense forests that are very good at shielding him from view – often leaving you with only a brief glimpse of your furry attacker.

The blood-soaked human remains that can be found in buildings around the map are also an excellent way to provide a minor scare and help build a high level of suspense which, by your first encounter with Bigfoot, has reached almost tangible levels.

On the graphical front, BIGFOOT looks good. You are surrounded by lush and rich green flora, accompanied by some excellent sun effects and a set of sharp textures all powered by Unreal Engine 4. The game’s optimisation has also constantly improved throughout the title’s course of early access and the game runs very well without experiencing any sudden crashes even in multiplayer matches.

Slightly less good are the game’s animations which, although satisfactorily conveying the actions that they aim to convey, seem a little stiff at times and could use a little more work. In a similar way, the text in the game is also a little bit off, whilst there are no egregious errors and it conveys everything it needs too, the UI and loading screen text is sometimes phrased a little weirdly. Do bear in mind that the game is still in Early Access and due to the developer’s track record of frequent and very substantial updates, I am certain that these minor issues will be resolved by the time of a full release.

With an excellent premise, demonstrably great gameplay and positive developer input that helps moves the game forward every few months, BIGFOOT is an excellent title to pick up even in early-access. With friends or solo the gameplay experience is the pinnacle of gripping, delightfully tense and overall an awful lot of fun.

Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends was provided free of charge by Hendrik Felix Pohl 


Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends places players at the foot of an insurmountable mountain and has you both struggling to climb innumerable obstacles and battling a challenging set of deliberately obtuse controls all in an attempt to drive you to new physical heights and new emotional lows.

Pogostuck isn’t the first title of the rejuvenated mountain-climbing genre, taking clear inspiration from 2017’s surprise mountaineering hit Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. For those who choose to abstain from being battered repeatedly by the latest online fads, or are otherwise just somehow unaware of its rise to fame, Getting Over It centred around a man stuck in a pot attempting to climb a mountain with the world’s slipperiest hammer, accompanied by an equally slippery control scheme. The game could potentially last forever, provided you could never master it enough to finish, and with no way to save your progress, it cruelly required completion in a single sitting.

Inevitably, the game was a huge hit with internet content creators with avid fans flocking to see their favourite YouTube-rs or Twitch streamers torture themselves with the impossible task. The game was after-all at its most fun when played with someone else; seeing the highs and lows of the journey but without requiring the commitment to sit down and finish it in one go. Not to mention that, despite the occasional bit of in-game narration, playing Getting Over It solo was a pretty lonely experience: just you and your pot for company.

Whilst it would be easy at surface glance to dismiss Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends as a meer rip-off, swapping out the pot and hammer combo of Getting Over It for a small man and pogo-stick, that would be giving Pogostuck a grave disservice. Pogostuck is actually more the natural evolution of Getting Over It‘s gameplay.

Pogostuck takes the original concept behind Getting Over It, first seen in an old gamemaker game entitled “Sexy Hiking”, and presents it with a new unique spin. Whilst you are still indeed scaling a mountain, you are doing so on a pleasingly springy pogo-stick which, when you get the hang of it, turn out to be far more fun to manoeuvre than the hammer ever was.

The game is easier than Getting Over It and Sexy Hiking although that’s not to say its “easy” per-se, and you’ll still be faced with a steep challenge (pun intended), but it certainly feels fairer and much more balanced. Although the difficulty curve is still practically as steep as the mountain, being permitted the ability to quit the game after a particularly annoying missed-jump and then relaunch it to continue seamlessly after your anger has deflated days later certainly makes the experience more relaxing. This sense of relaxation is further boosted by the cute, colourful art-style and soft cartoon-like sound effects. Although the ingame UI is at first pretty obtrusive, taking up most of the screen, it can thankfully be configured and disabled in the options menu.

The main draw to the game is of course the multiplayer. Pogostuck is inherently far less lonely than its counterparts. Even if you don’t have a friend with the game to connect to directly and try and race to the top, the game is always online – and you’ll constantly be running into other players who are too trying to make their way up the impossible hill. Whilst there is no way to directly interact with other players, it is always fun to run into someone, exchange a few courteous greeting jumps before starting a mad dash for the next disembodied ledge.

This multiplayer element also feeds into the excellent progression system, which grants XP for every inch of mountain you climb. This XP accumulates and unlocks various cosmetics. With plenty of sticks, trail effects, clothing and headgear to choose from, there are plenty of combinations which will both flaunt your progress and help you stick out from the crowd.

Although it’s certainly not as hardcore in its presentation or gameplay as other games in its genre, Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends, is still a good challenge. A challenge that is elevated by a solid progression system and the glittering potential for endless enjoyment in online gameplay creating an experience which is deeply rewarding. If you were a fan of Getting Over It or Sexy Hiking, or want a lighter introduction to the world of relentlessly hard games, Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends is an essential purchase.

If you feel like picking up a copy to torture yourself or some buddies (why not even both!) you can click here to visit the Steam page.

Executive Assault 2 – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Executive Assault 2 was provided free of charge by Hesketh Studios Ltd


The first Executive Assault is certainly one of my all time favourite indie titles. An ambitious blend of both the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres, having you building and maintaining a sprawling base on a planet you’re trying to conquer. This is aided by your ability to design and deploy robotic troops. Victory is quite skill-based, like any good RTS and requires a careful management of resources, supply and demand and production lines.

Battles occur on a very grand scale, often with hundreds of combatants as well as some really massive mechs. Unlike most real-time strategy games however, you’re not constrained to just watching your battles from above, like a wistful child pressed up against a window of a toyshop, but are rather given the option to jump into direct control. This shifts the perspective to that of an FPS, allowing you to participate in battle.

Whilst your contributions to the huge unfolding battle were certainly insignificant, and the shooting mechanics a little bit janky, the sheer novelty of being able to observe your battle unfold in person really adds a great level of reward to the hours of, although still perfectly enjoyable, simply less exciting management that had led up to that climax.

A battle unfolding in Executive Assault

Despite suffering a little in the visual department, although personally thought the clanky models just added to the charm, Executive Assault was a top-notch title and a fantastic experiment that I would certainly recommend any fans of the RTS or FPS genres check out.

Thanks to my love of the first game, I was delighted to see a sequel was in the works. Considering the already perfected concept showcased in the first title, Executive Assault 2 is certainly standing on all the required foundations for a great follow up.

Much like its predecessor, Executive Assault 2 has you stepping into the shoes of the CEO of your own customisable company. The customisation options have also pleasingly been streamlined and expanded upon from the first game, allowing you to pick the gender of your CEO, name your company, choose the nature of the goods you produce and even select a custom logo from your PC’s files to be displayed on flags and screens throughout the base.

Whilst the customisation options still aren’t particularly extensive, and a character creator would certainly be a nice addition, they are perfectly sufficient and succeed in adding a pleasing extra layer of gameplay – even if it is admittedly quite a thin one.

The shiny new visuals of Executive Assault 2

In terms of gameplay, Executive Assault 2 is still the excellent blend of FPS and RTS that was presented in the first title but with some key additions and improvements. Visually, the game looks much better; with shiny surfaces and a sleek new UI design – it’s certainly not cutting edge graphics by any means, and the admirably low running requirements can be attributed to that, but at least now the series doesn’t look very noticeably outdated.

These new visuals are accompanied by improved gunplay and a much improved set of weapon models and animations. The overall scale of everything has also been greatly increased. Whilst in the first game you were fighting for the control of a somewhat small portion of a singular planet, now you’re aiming to dominate an entire galaxy.

From your modular floating space base, which you can fully upgrade and customise by adding a plethora of rooms including factories, security centres and ship docking stations, you construct and manage a hugely customisable fleet of ships. This ships are used to scout out and collect new resources as well as keeping a close eye on your enemies.

Despite the new addition of spacecraft, which now take up the brunt of the player to player combat, the iconic robots from the first game do return, although after a good visual overhaul and in quite a different role. The robots function as your ground teams, being able to board the enemy base and helping to defend the stretching corridors of your own.

Another thing to note is that Executive Assault 2 is currently in early access and frequently receiving content updates and patches. Everything runs smoothly and in my time with the game I encountered a notable lack of any major bugs. The only time you really notice that the title is early access is in mission select screen which lacks a campaign and contains only one scenario. This scenario can either be played single-player against rival AI CEOs or multiplayer facing off against either a friend or randoms in an online lobby.

Although more levels have been promised, and will certainly be a nice addition, they aren’t entirely necessary. This singular scenario is perfectly sufficient and has a whole host of configuration options, even an included and easy to use map editor. For an early access title, especially one in its infancy, there is more than enough content provided to satisfy. In an age where the term “early-access” has become synonymous with low effort cash-grabs and unfinished garbage, it’s very refreshing to see a game that could very easily, with a little extra polish, be a full release title.

Overall, Executive Assault 2 receives a wholehearted recommendation. The extremely unique core gameplay of its predecessor is accompanied by an ever increasing array of customisation options that create a fantastically engaging experience; one that provides the perfect fix for both FPS and RTS gamers alike.

The Painscreek Killings – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of The Painscreek Killings was provided free of charge by EQ Studios


A cold case investigation takes you, the journalist Janet Kelly, to Painscreek where four years prior, in the summer of 1995, the mayor’s wife Vivian Roberts was brutally murdered. With all leads dead, the police investigation over and the town laying abandoned it is your job to solve the mystery once and for all before the truth is lost forever.

Painscreek: an ugly name for a very pretty town

The Painscreek Killings makes a bold claim when launched: a promise of “neither helpful quest markers, nor any form of handholding throughout the game”, which is certainly a delight to any frequenters of the visual storytelling genre.

Surely I can’t be the only person who faces nightly flashbacks to that glow-y ball thing in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, the thing that would lead you down long country lanes with the promise of plot revelations only to suddenly and arbitrarily decide that “whoops! No plot could be found here and now you have to walk all the way back”.

Regardless of how many sleepless PTSD-ridden nights you have been granted by that petulant guiding glow it’s refreshing to see a narrative experience that taps into the genre’s inherent tranquillity and lets you explore the world at your own pace.

Past a very brief and excellently well integrated tutorial sequence which runs you through the basics (it’s not too complex, basically you just walk around and look at things) there is a distinct lack of handholding. Some clues you find do naturally hint a locations you should probably visit next, but you’re never under any obligation to follow up on them. In fact you get the option to leave at any point.

As funny as the idea of a reporter driving hundreds of miles out to a town only to turn right back around and go home is, it would be fundamentally missing the game’s real juiciest meat.

That meat comes in the form of the variety of locations you are able to explore throughout your investigation. From wandering the eerily empty town streets, rummaging around the mayor’s colossal mansion or avoiding the terrifying hospital at all costs. The hospital I should probably mention, for the sake of saving you a potential heart attack, houses the game’s only (sort of) jump-scare.

In these locations you collect notes, characters’ personal journals and snap quick photos. Whilst doing all that, it’s well worth making a personal journal of your own. The game recommends that you take frequent notes, and record the details of what you uncover and for good reason as this notetaking is pretty much essential to the experience.

I never want to step into this godforsaken place ever again

Whilst the game does do its best to record anything you do pick up, some passwords or post-its you find simply aren’t saved. Although it would be nice to have the option to record things in an in game notepad, you can never beat pen and paper. The extra level of effort exerted by the physical recording of you evidence does however work in the game’s favour, helping significantly with your deductions rather than simply becoming an extra annoyance.

There is certainly a lot of satisfaction to be felt in the deductive reasoning of The Painscreek Killings. It feel just right; I never felt stuck or completely stumped, and while some of the deductions you do have to make do seem like a bit of a stretch, I never found myself frantically Googling solutions as I would with other frankly less well made titles.

The level of immersion felt while playing is sublime, and easily on par with the likes of Gone Home and Return of the Obra Dinn, the very best of the visual novel and investigative genre respectively.

This immersion is assisted by the game’s voice acting which is, for the most part, excellent and the overall level of visual flair with which the game is presented. Not being a fan of bloom and motion blur, I was happy to see the option to turn them both off. Once they have been disabled, and the world no longer appears viewed through melting wax, things look absolutely lovely.

The town, when you disregard its emptiness, looks cosy and warm, surrounded by a lush forest and shimmering spectral river. I almost regret the fact the player is given the ability to sprint, for it can stop you soaking in the brilliant atmosphere as you really should. Then again, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (which can’t seem to catch a break today) showed us how, rather ironically, a “walking-simulator” that confines you to walking alone quickly becomes an absolutely traumatic experience.

A small thing to note here is that The Painscreek Killings is excellently optimised. It offers you three visual settings: “good”, “beautiful” and “fantastic”. Most shouldn’t have any issues running it on its lowest visual settings. Whilst normally I would be against such a pretentious naming scheme I do have to concede that the different configurations do indeed look very “good”, extremely “beautiful” and completely “fantastic” as described.

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This scene falls under the purview of “fantastic”

One thing that looks less “good”, “beautiful” and “fantastic” than the rest is the game’s main menu. The background video that accompanies the plethora options you see upon starting the game would set the mood perfectly, however it is simply just too choppy and is compressed to the point where it looks like porridge.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned much detail surrounding the plot, and that’s a very conscious choice. The plot is central to the experience of the game and I’m a little wary of spoiling anything. What I will say is that things aren’t as simple as they seem. The mystery goes much deeper than a single murder, and is supported by a cast of characters that, although you never see them face to face, are excellently written and feel fully-realised.

The main mystery is joined by a couple smaller optional side-mysteries. These are usually more obtuse and don’t serve much purpose in the wider narrative but are a nice little bonus for anyone who wants to grasp the complete picture of life in Painscreek. They also give you a bit more time to appreciate the game’s soundtrack.

The music comes in the form of a few light piano melodies that are wholly pleasant if not slightly forgettable. The audio mixing does seem a little bit off however and on the default settings has the sound effects for certain actions, like opening doors, set far too loud. Thankfully this can be adjusted without much hassle.

Despite a few extremely minor niggles, The Painscreek Killings is a fantastic experience and one I would certainly recommend jumping in to. It has a compelling story that is elevated by the authentic glimpses into the lives of entirely engaging characters through which it is told. Not to mention the fact it’s coupled with a set of stunning visuals and a good soundtrack. It is unapologetically a superb example of games as a viable medium with which you can convey a complex and immersive narrative.

If you liked the sound of anything I’ve said, or just feel like playing detective yourself, you can check the game out on Steam by clicking here, where it is on a generous 60% off sale until the 9th of July.

Hitman 2 – The newly announced Bank map has you bumping off a discount Cruella de Vil

One of the main dishes in the veritable buffet of Hitman 2‘s extensive of post-launch content has just been revealed in the form of a trailer for the latest addition to the franchise’s extensive library of locations: the New York branch of the fictional Milton-Fitzpatrick investment bank in an upcoming mission entitled the Golden Handshake“. You can watch the aforementioned trailer below:

As well as this endearingly overdramatic trailer, which predominantly showcases the presumed target of the map: the bank’s director – a cartoonishly evil capitalist who seems just a little bit too familiar to anyone housing vague childhood memories of Disney‘s animated classic 101 Dalmatians, a series of screenshots have been released.

These latest press release screenshots show a little bit more of the settings itself: a large and surprisingly empty looking colonial building. Perhaps its eerie deserted-ness is explained by the fact the bank is currently “under investigation” for some kind of wrongdoing – exactly what that means and how that fact will impact the level is likely to only become apparent on release.

A stylish noir trench-coat, the latest addition to 47’s wardrobe

The screenshots also display a little more of 47’s new location suit which, along with a throwable gold bar and remote flash-mine, will be available as a unlock in the level’s level mastery unlock tree.

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The level mastery unlock tree

The starting locations shown in the mastery tree seem to suggest a definite movement towards the bank’s vault – perhaps the site of a dodgy clandestine meeting or maybe the location of a valuable piece of intelligence Hitman 2’s fictional spy agency the ICA need to get their grubby hands on. Indeed, the high-tech green laser grid behind the vault door shown in the screenshot below certainly makes me lean towards the idea that things are going to get a little bit Mission Impossible in this level.

The vault opens

The final screenshot, below, shows the target’s office and, judging by 47’s actions in the trailer, one of the main areas in the level where things have quite the potential to get a little bit homicidal.

The arena for the final confrontation

The setting of America for a Hitman map certainly isn’t unique; with Hitman Absolution taking place almost entirely within the United States. The idea of a bank level however seems intriguing, and such a highly secure environment contained within an indoor-only level should prove an interesting challenge, even for series veterans like me.

In order to play this content, you’ll need to head on over to your platforms store and purchase the Hitman 2 Expansion Pass. Gold Edition and Collector’s Edition owners however need not worry, the level should be available to you immediately upon its release on the 25th of June.

For the latest updates on Hitman 2 and it’s latest location check out the official Hitman 2 blog site. Alternatively, stay right here on Arcadeberry, where we’ll strive to bring you latest and most interesting news from everybody’s favourite sandbox murder sim.

Rise of Liberty – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Rise of Liberty was provided free of charge by Sandstorm Studio Inc.


It’s often quite hard to find indie titles that stand out in the current oversaturated gaming market. A market where game releases and are so frequent that even just the sheer volume alone of titles available on Steam is now overwhelming, if not quite frankly a little bit terrifying.

The indie Steam title Rise of Liberty stands out defiantly for two reasons. Firstly, its delightfully minimalist, yet still vibrantly coloured, sleek art-style that helps make the game visually pop, and secondly the fact that it manages to successfully tackle one of the most criminally under-represented historical settings in the media today.

The game’s Steam store cover

As the title would allude, Rise of Liberty is one of the few available games that takes players back to the 1770s in the U.S. of A. during the height of the Revolutionary War as a large-scale first-person tactics-oriented shooter.20190620192209_1.jpg

Being primarily a battle simulator, à la Mount and Blade: Napoleonic Wars, Rise of Liberty allows players to either re-create a handful of real-world historical battles or choose their favourite map and jump into a quick battle. With the choice of siding either with the revolutionaries or the British, picking from a plethora of maps that each bring their own unique feel and challenges and even the ability to configure the intricacies of individual spawn-waves, these quick battles are deeply-customisable and infinitely varied.20190620191813_1.jpg

The battles themselves can last for any duration of time that you would like, and be either grand-scale operations with lines upon lines of hundreds of troops on either side or just a swift twenty on twenty skirmish. You are even given the option to take a break from the action and relax as an omniscient spectator; flying around gaily and watching the carnage unfold. It’s quite amusing and very enjoyable to be able to pit 500 revolutionary soldiers against a rival side of 10 and just be able to sit back and watch the massacre unfold.

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If you don’t feel like stepping into the shoes of a sadistic god however, you will also find that participating in said battles is just as fun. You are given two customisable weapon slots and 12 unlockable items with which to fill them. Whilst most of these items do admittedly feel somewhat samey, there are afew standouts, like the devastating Hand Mortar or the whacky Axe Pistol, which serve to make these unlocks fairly desirable and present a good goal in what would otherwise be a somewhat aimless game.

The shooting mechanics are very heavily based upon the physics engine, with all gunpowder weapons firing some form of different-sized projectile shot. Whilst the guns themselves feel a little floaty, and the melee combat even more so, seeing your hit collide with a now ragdolling enemy and catching a glimpse of the flashing hitmarker gives the combat a surprisingly level of depth. 20190620191909_1.jpg

One thing to note is that whilst the UI elements, particularly those found at the top of the screen, are a little bit of an eyesore; they can be very easily disabled with a quick tap of the “o” key. Another important button is the “t” key, which activates the enthralling slow-motion which slows flying pellets and cannonballs down to a snail’s crawl and lets you truly appreciate some of the sheer chaotic beauty of the events unfolding before you.

Rise of Liberty is certainly a game at its best in spectacle. Although it may be janky in places, having only recently been released from early access, and still harbouring a fair number of bugs and odd gameplay quirks, its jaw-dropping scale and visual flair is second to none and elevates the experience to great heights.

Another small thing to note is that all this “jaw-dropping scale and visual flair” is very commendably optimised. In an age where it seems even browser level games require the latest I7 processor and a 4GB GPU, it’s definitely nice to see a game that doesn’t throw lower spec gamers under the bus. Not to mention the fact that the title’s very low price point, at only just over £5, even further defines its wide accessibility.

Whether you’re a fan of the time period in which it is set, someone struggling to find a modern game to run on their out-of-date hardware or just a fan of the more hands-on side of the strategy genre, and maybe even all three, then Rise of Liberty is an absolute must-have.

MiniGolf Maker – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of MiniGolf Maker was provided free of charge by Road Turtle Games


MiniGolf Maker by Road Turtle Games is almost exactly what the title would suggest – a tool that allows you to create, and play, MiniGolf courses.

In these kinds of sandbox level creation games, the creative tools at your disposal should be put at the very forefront of the user experience – and for very good reason. These tools are what will constitute the majority of gameplay. Luckily, with MiniGolf Maker, a set of very solid and robust in-depth tools are at your disposal. With the ability to create multiple holes, import multiple items of scenery, customise your turf with by selected textures or colours from a vast wheel and much more.

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The course creation tools in action

There are several preset themes available; for example, a befittingly tacky pirate theme, a psychedelic dream style theme or my favourite, the buttery smooth and delightful minimalistic low-poly theme. Although there definitely aren’t hundreds of items of decorations to choose from, the sheer variety of the themes and the ability to mix and match items from different themes and styles as well as adjust the objects’ size means you certainly won’t be running out of combinations any time soon.

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A low-poly themed course

If a completely flat expanse of sheer unending void is not your favourite locale for your mini-golfing action, you are also offered a terrain customisation tool which can terraform vast valleys, deep canyons or colossal sky-piercing mountain ranges. You are even presented with the ability to customise skyboxes with a variety of times and styles, which adds another deep layer of personalisation and the real ability to help your courses stand out.

Making your courses stand out is quite important, especially considering another highly commendable aspect of the game: the superb workshop integration. The workshop integration is quite frankly second to none. Everything is managed in the game tab, with the ability to create an in-engine banner for your course (mine is pictured below), add a title and description. You are even able to modify and update your already uploaded courses, complete with filling in the Steam workshop changelogs.

The in-engine banner

This excellent and easy workshop upload process has certainly paid dividends, with a very clean looking, consistently styled and vibrant Steam Workshop page. Already, there are some particularly high quality levels which truly demonstrate the power of the tools at your disposal. I can’t wait to see what other excellent creations the community can make over the coming months in the wake of new content and updates.

If you don’t feel like creating your own courses, never fear for there are 5 in-built courses. Although they are short, they are each very fun to play and excellently showcase the games’ different available themes.

The actual mini-golfing in MiniGolf Maker is good. Easy to learn, but hard to master. Ball physics are how you would expect and interactions with it are very satisfying. If you’ve played practically any other good mini-golf game, you know what to expect. MiniGolf Maker also features a multiplayer course mode with each player playing rounds in turns to try and accumulated the highest score. Whilst it is certainly an awful lot of fun to tee off with friends, and the multiplayer experience is very competent, it is definitely not the chiefest aspect of the game.

The game does suffer from some fairly typical early-access issues, with the occasional bug; most annoyingly the inability to properly deploy barriers around your turf. I do have faith however that these teething problems with be swiftly fixed in a future update. The course creator itself is quite tricky to use and, although I was provided a handy tutorial by email, it would be nice to be able to see a quick guide or even just the tutorial embedded in the game itself in a help tab.

Overall, MiniGolf Maker is an extremely promising game. I would heartily recommend it to fans of mini-golf, whether real or virtual, and more broadly to those who are, like me, fascinated by games that provide you with fantastic tools for venting your creative energy. As a final note, and as a nice cherry on top, MiniGolf Maker is priced at just over £5 Steam which, considering the potential quantity and the absolute quality of what you are getting, is an absolute steal.

Party Hard Tycoon – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Party Hard Tycoon was provided free of charge by tinybuild


Party Hard Tycoon is quite an oddity. Whilst technically existing in the Party Hard universe it bears very little resemblance to the franchise’ namesake except an art-style and one or two mentions of recurring characters.

Party Hard and Party Hard 2 were brutal stealth murder sandboxes centered around murdering the obnoxious attendees of large loud parties. However, in Party Hard Tycoon instead of serving partygoers with a nice steaming slice of murder pie, you instead try to ensure the music is to their liking, arrange entertainers and adjust the light levels to avoid hurting their precious eyes.

Party Hard Tycoon, as the title would suggest, is a very traditional tycoon management sim with a strong focus on item placement. You are tasked with trying to throw the best and most profitable party ever and have to juggle fund management with choosing new equipment to buy  from basic tables and chairs to entire fancy bars and blinding light shows.

Before starting the party you get to choose your location, the party’s theme, item layout and which unlocked staff you want on hand. After you committed to a setup you get to interact with the party real time; seeing guests flood in (or not in the case of my party involving a single speaker centred in a derelict room at the worst slum in town) and give your staff; your cleaners, waiters, bouncers and dancers, pointers on where to go whether a particularly dirty spot to clean, empty glasses to fill or scary guests to kick out.

That isn’t to say that your staff won’t work automatically, for they will go about their duties quite happily on their own, however sometimes it is very necessary to keep a very close eye on your staff due to what I like to call some “early-access erratic behaviour”. Whilst it would be nice to be able to kick back and watch your party unfold, there’s nothing more frustrating than taking your eye off the ball for a second only to look back and see that the party’s mood has tanked and you’re losing 10 guests by the millisecond. The source? Two people repeatedly throwing up into a vast puddle of puke in the middle of the dance floor while your cleaner desperately struggles to navigate a particularly sticky pot plant.

When it works well it’s a good tycoon game with a solid progression system and a very interesting pixel aesthetic, maybe a little on the basic side – with the only degree of customisation coming really from your item placement – but something perfectly worth the very low £3.99 price tag. Major issues, such as the aforementioned vomit fiasco, only really occur as a result of the game’s early access.

For fans of the tycoon genre, it’s a must have even in its current state. It provides a good few hours entertainment and with the promise of future updates, you will definitely find yourself coming back to Party Hard Tycoon time and time again. For people who may have been sitting on the fence about purchasing this title, or maybe were fans of the other Party Hard games but not of the management genre, it might be worth giving this one a miss for now and waiting until its full release and experiencing it at what will be its best and most feature rich state.

Road to Guangdong – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Road to Guangdong was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games


Jalopy, the recently free-to-grab DRM free via Humblebundle, is a game very close to my heart. A delightful little road-trip-them-up which took you through the gloomy vistas of East Berlin to Turkey behind the wheel of your mysterious uncle’s beaten up Laika brand car, aka. the crapmobile.

Despite holding an extremely engaging and unique premise, and letting you explore a setting rarely seen outside first-person shooters, Jalopy always felt like something was missing. It certainly wasn’t heart, which the game held in heaps with its endearing minimalist art-style, its charming little soundtrack and just the sheer nostalgia factor that arises from tapping into a well deep long-forgotten memories of family road trips. What Jalopy lacked was one of the elements from which most of its appeal arises: a sense of family.

Sure, you did have the option of bringing your uncle along for the ride but he never really adds much beyond some canned dialogue, a little guidance and, quite frankly, a lot of dead weight. The spiritual successor Road to Guangdong aims to rectify that void and, by the end of early access, perhaps offer come to one of the most heartfelt familial journeys in gaming today.

As previously mentioned, Jalopy took you from the dull dregs of a grey post-war Berlin to the sunny splendour of Turkey. Road to Guangdong on the other hand, as the title suggests, takes you across the bright and scenic Guangdong, China.

This new setting is presented with a delightful and extremely colourful art-style; which is very reminiscent of modern evolutions of Chinese woodblock painting techniques, in a manner that is altogether simply breathtaking. Almost any screenshot taken in game wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of trendy coffee shop.

Ironically, the visual presentation of the characters themselves can ironically only be described “blocky” – and not in a good way. They seem stiff, jumping around the screen much like the terrifying department store mannequins from Condemned: Criminal Origins and whilst in that game it added to the atmosphere, in Road to Guangdong it does nothing but detract from it.

I attributed this to a result of a general lack of animations; with the game only being released into early access this week it makes sense for the characters to have only a handful of stock shared loops. I expect that this and the apparent jarring lack of scene transitions will be rectified in a future update and preferably as soon as possible.

The reason these stiff animation issues are such a problem is that they really interfere with the narrative that they are trying to convey. As mentioned previously, Road to Guangdong is really about family. The plot itself revolves around your attempt to save a failing family business and you’re presented with a tonne of dialogue-driven interactions which have you repairing damaged relationships on top of your damaged car.

In the gameplay department, Road to Guangdong is  predominantly a visual novel and quite a good one at that, focused on your relationship with your eccentric aunt. Slices of the visual novel are delivered in between arcade-like driving sections. The driving mechanics are fairly surface level, although the car itself certainly feels very satisfying to drive with its loud engine and definite weight, you’re only really allowed to drive in a straight line in a manner only comparable to Desert Bus. The simplicity of the driving mechanics do allow you to focus more heavily on the dialogue however, which is probably how it was intended to be, but just a little bit more interaction with your vehicle would be nice and provide some much needed entertainment when the dialogue begins to slow.

Judging from an update released just today however, it seems that this wish is being very promptly granted, adding more detail to the dashboard and making some of the previously redundant dials and meters actually mean something. The game also offers some repair mechanics, but they’re very surface-level. You buy parts and repair you vehicle so it can keep going until you need to buy more parts and repeat the whole process again.

For now, that’s basically all there is to comment on – the game is certainly still in its infancy. Despite its flaws however, I would certainly recommend keeping a close eye on Road to Guangdong. It’s a brilliant story that has the potential to be a beautiful experience, despite being at the moment hampered by some characteristic early-access teething problems.

If you are completely sold on the premise alone, and don’t mind a fair bit of early-access jank, by all means buy the game at once. For those sitting on the fence, it may just be worth waiting until the story can be told at its best in 2-3 months’ time when it is fully released and luckily for you; you can expect a follow-up to this review reflecting on the finished product when it’s finally out.

Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure – The logic behind the DS’ bizzare keyboard

For many, including myself, Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure is a complete oddity. A typing tutorial game, an unusual concept but certainly one that isn’t unheard of, but for the Nintendo DS? The idea of pairing the tiny handheld device with a large stand and keyboard seems absolutely absurd, but that’s exactly what the weirdos over at developer Genius Sonority did. The strangest part however is that this unlikely match of technology came about thanks to a shockingly sound reason.

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For many, this will likely be the first time you’ve ever even heard of this product due to its rather strange release status; only seeing the light of day in Japan (obviously), The United Kingdom and Australia. Even so, in the countries where it released in the West it suffered very poor sales; evidenced by availability brand new on Amazon to this day despite being a sought-after collectors item for those in the know.

Now, before we move on to the reasons behind the odd piece of kit I just want to address the elephant in the room. Those with a knowledge of the DS’ hardware are likely scratching their heads as to how exactly this wireless keyboard works. The obvious answer would be “via bluetooth duh” but that’s not quite the whole story. No models of the DS offer bluetooth support; not even the very latest 3DS lines. This lead to the creation of one of the most interesting and unique cartridges in the DS library.

Despite its unassuming appearance and regular retail price the Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure packs its own Bluetooth chip, powered by the system power supply when the cartridge is inserted. Although I wasn’t able to find any images of this chip, and I’m certainly not cracking open my copy to check, I’ve heard from various sources over the years that it’s definitely there. That or it’s just a convenient cover story to mask the fact the keyboard operates off of some kind of ancient and extremely forbidden dark magic.

To fully understand the purpose of this device, and the reasons for its conception, it’s important to first look at the wider context of the state of computer literacy in Japan. Despite Japan’s prevalence on the technology scene, the population in fact has one of the lowest computer literacy levels in the developed world. Demonstrated by the handy graph below from the OECD Skills Outlet study1:

Source: http://www.oecd.org/skills

Many people arrive at job interviews after very little exposure to computers, some even lacking the ability to type. Likely due to cramped living spaces in cities and lesser access to resources in rural areas, a situation has arisen whereby the majority of technology used by the population is mobile. The average person in Japan is far more likely to own a mobile phone or a tablet over a desktop computer. Even more likely to own say… a Nintendo DS.

Aiming to capitalise on the lack of essential computer knowhow Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure aimed to offer those without ready computer access the opportunity to learn how to type rapidly and accurately.

This still leaves one question unanswered however. Whilst Japan suffers from a general lack of computer skills, justifying its release there, why was the very same product released in Australia and England where computer literacy levels are just fine?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Japanese keyboards are almost identical to the British (and by extension Australian) keyboard layout2. All that Genius Sonority would need to do to bring the product to these markets is simply translate the game itself, which due to the game’s inherent simplicity couldn’t have been too hard a task, and then not print the Kanji characters which sit below the letters.

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A typical Japanese keyboard

Banking off the success of the Pokémon would guarantee at least a few sales combined with the simplicity of the translation job, it would have been illogical for Genius Sonority to not bring the game to the commonwealth.

That banking off the brand didn’t work out too well however. The mediocre nature of the game itself lead to low sales and a mixed reception that quashed one of the most beautifully weird mixes of technology in gaming history. Even Amazon reducing the price to £9.99 in a flash sale failed to gain any excitement. The keyboard itself is probably the best thing to come from Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure, superbly built and quite frankly an absolute joy to type on. It’s excellent value especially considering it also boasts compatibility with not just it’s packaged game but any PC or mobile device.

And yes, before you ask, I even used the keyboard to write this review.


References:
1 www.oecd.org/skills
2 wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_input_methods and wikipedia.org/wiki/British_and_American_keyboards

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Season 1 – Review

Coming from legendary Japanese game designer SWERY, who most notably wrote and directed the supremely bizarre Twin-Peaks inspired cult classic Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die has quite the boots to fill.

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Although certainly not identical to Deadly Premonition, D4 does bare many of the same hallmarks as its predecessor. The protagonist is yet another quirky investigator who also comes across a host of weird and wonderful characters in the hunt for a mysterious killer. Both games involve a red narcotic and even share some characters.

The times where D4 distinguishes itself to its predecessor however are where the game is at its strongest. Whilst D4 is still notably weird, it’s not quite as weird as Deadly Premonition and this does the overall experience a huge service. Whilst it was extremely difficult to relate to the uncanny citizens of Deadly Premonition‘s Greenvale each with their jarring stock-sounding motifs spouting head-scratching borderline-nonsensical dialogue, the characters presented in D4 felt considerably more real. As a result, I found myself genuinely invested in the struggles of D4‘s protagonist David Young far more than I was ever engaged in the actions of Francis York Morgan and his imaginary friend Zak in Deadly Premonition.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters of D4 are still for the most part a bunch of complete weirdos but their quirks and personalities seemed far more believable. They felt like real people, odd real people but real nonetheless. Perhaps this was due in part to the far sleeker presentation of D4. Whilst Deadly Premonition housed awkward looking characters who shambled around a plain environment repeating simple dialogue while perpetually looping stock animations, D4 is smooth and stylish. With a pleasing cel-shaded filter and a delightfully over-the-top anime inspired set of fluid animations, which I only caught blatantly looping on one or two occasions, D4 is an absolute joy to look at.

Gameplay wise, D4 is a point and click adventure broken up by simple mini-games or David Cage style quick time event action sequences. On PC the game is controlled by solely the mouse, but the XBOX ONE variant offers both controller and Kinect support – Kinect support that is unprecedentedly good. To my amazement, the Kinect ended up the best way by far to experience D4, the polar opposite of my expectation. The controls on the Kinect mode are engaging, responsive and shockingly accurate. You also have the option to swap between Kinect and controller modes fairly quickly, so for Kinect owners I’d recommend certainly using the Kinect for the action sequences and then maybe switching back to controller for the slower investigation portions. Gameplay wise the experience without the Kinect is very similar to the experience with the Kinect, although certainly with less flailing around, as what would have been the position of you left or right hand is simply mapped to a cursor instead.

I don’t want to spoil any details so I’ll be fairly vague here, but story-wise D4‘s prologue and first episode are deeply interesting and very engaging, offering an intriguing mystery with fun and rewarding twists and as a stand-alone experience one of the best mystery games I’ve ever played. The issues with D4’s story begin in the second (and final) episode. Whilst the first episode certainly created a lot of unanswered questions, it was fairly standalone. Had the game ended after episode one, I would have been not only supremely satisfied but clamouring for more just to tidy up a few threads, the big overarching questions that were set up in the prologue may not have been answered but the ones relating to that specific case had and the ones that didn’t have conclusive answers were certainly hinted at.

Episode Two did nothing to enhance the story and felt like a couple of hours of total filler. It was a linear slog through a dull environment before taking a colossal narrative nose-dive with a sudden twist ending which makes very little sense and sets the stage for a follow-up episode to clear everything up. The problem is, there is no follow up episode. D4 ends two episodes in and over four years later has no plans for continuation. While for many this may seem a total deal-breaker, for me I don’t feel continuation would have really benefited the game. It definitely peaked at its first episode (and it’s a very high peak) and with the direction the plot was taking in Episode two, I don’t feel future episodes would have ever been able to live up to the standard the first one set.

Despite not being technically a “finished game” per se,  I would wholeheartedly recommend D4 but with a big caveat. For PC make sure you buy it on sale, the £15 regular price is a little too steep for three hours of entertainment, and for XBOX ONE make sure you own a Kinect – it’s not worth buying a Kinect over but if you’re an existing owner it would give you a good reason to get some use out of the damn thing.

5 times DLC was so good it would make you regret not buying the season pass

It’s safe to say that DLC is one of the most divisive topics in the gaming world today. Some people love it, some people hate it. It’s also safe to say that no matter on which side of the fence you sit we can all agree that some DLCs are definitely better than others. In light of this, why don’t we take some time to set aside our differences and discuss some of the times that DLC was so good it would definitely make you regret not buying the season pass.


5: The Crew: Calling All Units

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Base game: The Crew

Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE, PS4

Price*: £20.99

The biggest problem for me with the base game of The Crew was that it was quite frankly incredibly boring. A generic racing game with an admittedly enjoyable online open world that suffered from a severe lack of anything real to do. Luckily, The Crew: Calling All Units is a surprisingly expansive DLC that remedies that issue.

Calling All Units feels much more like what The Crew originally should have been, taking a leaf or two from games like Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Picking a side; either as a police officer or a criminal, transforms the vast open world of The Crew from a boring inconvenience you have to navigate between missions into a dynamic arena jam-packed with activities. As a policeman, you can patrol around urban the map participating in engaging police pursuits with any wrongdoers you happen to encounter and as a criminal you can cause as much vehicular chaos to your heart’s content while avoiding the watchful eye of the law.

Coming bundled with the previous expansion, The Crew: Wild Run, that £20.99 price tag feels like very good value for money – especially considering the base game is frequently free on Ubisoft’s store Uplay. As well as the online play to player content, the pack unlocks a set of very nice police and off-road vehicles, a host awesome customisation options and a even two whole new story campaigns to follow for people who aren’t too keen on the online aspects of the game.


4: Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep

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Base game: Borderlands 2

Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE (HD Ed.), XBOX 360, PS4 (HD Ed.), PS3

Price*: £7.99

Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep may be only one of the numerous DLC available for Borderlands 2 but it is certainly the strongest of the bunch. Offering an interesting twist on the Borderlands formula, Assault on Dragon Keep takes you to the world of an endearingly over-the-top parody of tabletop role-playing games.

With a distinctive artistic flair accompanied some of the funniest dialogue in the franchise, Assault on Dragon Keep stands out from the crowd. Although admittedly quite short, it’s length is certainly appropriate for the under £10 price tag and the co-op modes combined with the game’s inherent strong level of replayability means you’re certainly getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Whether for a fan of the franchise as a whole, a fan of the titular narrator Tiny Tina, around whom the whole DLC is centred, or just someone who wants to squeeze a couple more hours out of Borderlands 2, Assault on Dragon Keep is an absolute necessity.


3: XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

Image result for xcom 2 war of the chosen

Base game: XCOM 2

Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE, PS4

Price*: £34.99

XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is the most expensive DLC on this list and for very good reason. Originally conceived as a fully fledged sequel to the superb XCOM 2, War of the Chosen packs a jaw-dropping amount of content.

War of the Chosen adds a renewed level of threat to the Advent regime; with a huge number of new enemies paired with never before seen mission locations and deadly new hazards but most importantly the inclusion of several new mini-bosses; the titular “chosen” who can appear randomly throughout the campaign and transform an already brutally difficult game into a nightmarishly tense desperation fuelled bid to save not just your squad, but the whole of humanity.

On top of all this, a new faction system adds a host of potential allies in the form of other human resistance factions. These potential allies however can also be potential enemies, and an in-depth level of micromanagement allows you to carefully control and monitor your relationships with each group.

Although its immense difficulty restricts this DLC exclusively to XCOM  2 veterans (seriously if your first playthrough is with this DLC you have zero chance of success) it is the rejuvenating boost the game needs to keep its experience fresh, even many years after its release.


2: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Rise from the Ashes

Base game: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Platform(s): PC (HD Ed.), XBOX ONE (HD Ed.), PS4 (HD Ed.), NINTENDO SWITCH (HD Ed.), NINTENDO 3DS (HD Ed.), NINTENDO DS

Price*: £29.99 (Trilogy pack)

Whilst technically not a DLC in the modern sense, Rise from the Ashes – a special bonus episode added to the DS port of the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – was certainly too significant to overlook.

Rise from the Ashes fills all the check-boxes for a perfect DLC, with a length rivalling that of almost a third of the base game, a stand-alone story which introduces some of the series’ best characters, new and excellent additions to the base OST and most importantly a set of new forensic themed game-play additions which despite being all new to the series managed to fit in seamlessly with pre-existing game-play elements.

Despite being a bonus case, Rise from the Ashes is by far the strongest, most tightly written and deeply engaging of not just the first game – but arguably the whole original Ace Attorney trilogy.

If you missed this case first time or simply overlooked it, it is most certainly worth picking up a more modern variant of the game – I’d recommend the HD remasters with which it is included as standard – and see what all the fuss is about.


1: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Image result for far cry 3 blood

Base game: Far Cry 3

Platform(s): PC, XBOX 360, PS3

Price*: £12.49

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is unique on this list as the only truly stand-alone DLC. With a seperate launcher, menus and even steam store page; Blood Dragon is very good at presenting itself as a very different take on the Far Cry formula.

Whilst Far Cry 3 was an exploration of vulnerability, putting you in the shoes of a fragile protagonist and watching their struggle to overcome insurmountable odds and cope with the emotional impact of the sacrifices you had to make along the way, Blood Dragon is a power fantasy, playing as an almost indestructible cyborg power-commando in a mission to slay legions of robot troopers and occasionally the titular Blood Dragons.

Where Blood Dragon truly stands out however is not its gameplay, which is effectively just late-game base Far Cry 3, but rather in its presentation as an over the top parody of 80s action. With plenty of references, a brilliant synthwave soundtrack and many little details from the CRT overlay, the VHS tracking loading screens and ridiculously cheesy over-the-top dialogue which demonstrate that Blood Dragon is far more than just a basic Far Cry 3 reskin but rather an extremely well crafted love letter to all things 80s action.


*Prices are Steam store prices (excluding discounts or sales) as of April 2019.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – How corporate greed stole a potential gem

It’s safe to say that for many, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was a tremendous disappointment. Despite not being truly “bad” per se (although I am admittedly guilty of unfairly labeling it with the humorous portmanteau: Mirror’s Edge Catastrophic in conversation surrounding the game) but was a product that so truly wallowed in complete general mediocrity it brutally and prematurely ended arguably the most original franchise ideas to ever emerge from the creative black hole that is studio DICE – and one that I personally would have loved to have seen continued for years to come.

In order to fully explore the tragedy that was the development of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst it is first vital to understand why the original Mirror’s Edge exists in the first place. It’s no secret that around the start of Mirror’s Edge‘s development DICE was struggling to establish independence from EA – after the recent acquisition DICE by EA – with then CEO of DICE Patrick Söderlund saying that “there was a push inside the studio to do something different” and that “we were still an independent company. We wanted to push for a new IP”1. For all intents and purposes, the original Mirror’s Edge was nothing more than a tech demo – a proof of concept that became such a striking example of unique game design not by choice, but by necessity.

Mirror’s Edge‘s hybrid FPS parkour gameplay wasn’t chosen because a particular developer really wanted to make a parkour game, or that there was even a strong market demand for one, but rather because such a feat had never been attempted before. The game’s iconic art-style too was chosen almost mathematically to make a game that stood out as much as possible from the crowd, with Senior producer Owen O’Brien saying that they deliberately  “wanted a game where I could look at a screenshot and say, “Hey, that’s ‘Mirror’s Edge'”2. What better way to establish a clear division between your studio and its parent than by attempting something so risky and different – something that would never be attempted by the methodical EA – that it would surely receive a large amount of press coverage, helping to remind everyone that “yes indeed, DICE was still separate from EA”… kind of

In addition to that, the financial success of Mirror’s Edge was not ultimately necessary. DICE had the backing of EA in addition to the Battlefield franchise, which was (and still is) a reliable money maker. With the majority of the studio focused on the production of a new Battlefield game, Söderlund describes setting “several small groups of three to five developers beg[inning] workshopping pitches for something new”1. It was one of these small teams that created the concept that would soon become Mirror’s Edge.

After the 3-5 man team demo attracted a large amount of attention within the studio, wow-ing all that saw it Mirror’s Edge was greenlit and began production now with a far bigger, but still relatively small, team. The story was tasked to brilliant Writer’s Guild of America outstanding achievement in videogame writing award winning3 writer Rhianna Pratchett4 and whilst the story of Mirror’s Edge was by no means fantastic, it is veritable masterpiece when compared with what’s to come.

The musical artists selected for the game’s soundtrack were Swedish composers Solar Fieldsand Lisa Miskovsky6 and was their respective debuts into the gaming soundtrack scene. Miskovsky‘s creation, the game’s main theme Still Alive, being the stand-out track even becoming so popular as to spawn its own album of individual remixes7. Choosing composers that had done no prior work within the gaming industry was a particularly clever move considering that the unique nature of the most important aspects of Mirror’s Edge: gameplay, visual style, soundtrack was paramount to the developer’s criteria for the game’s “success”.  Miskovsky and Solar Fields both did absolutely stellar jobs in the creation of a soundtrack but for DICE that was pleasant surprise. The overall quality of the tracks didn’t matter, only their ability to stand out from the creations of other EA studios and this was likely their top priority when selecting composers.

All these factors almost inadvertently contributed to the finished product – a superbly promising game that still delights today. It is important to differentiate between comments and observations of the circumstances surrounding the game’s development and critiques of the finished game itself. I personally absolutely adore Mirror’s Edge, as you can see here in my shamelessly plugged reviewand as such can reconcile the idea that the game may have been created in circumstances some would consider cynical. The brilliant nature of the end product, I would in fact argue, was solely due to cold careful calculation and the splash of edge provided by a certain level of studio desperation that a bold idea was able, not just to be greenlit, but to come to fruition.

After discussing the circumstances that culminated in the success of the first Mirror’s Edge, it is now time to move on to the circumstances the culminated the failure of its successor Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

DICE by this time was under new management, with Söderlund vanishing into the upper echelons of EA’s management, now under the eyes of the then EA director Karl Magnus Troedsson – with roots very firmly in the Battlefield franchise. It was also announced via twitter the writer Rhianna Pratchett would not be returning8 and instead was replaced with Christofer Emgård in his return to the game writing scene after a hiatus of over nine years9. Much like the new director, the writer also had his roots firmly in the war genre, previously helming the World in Conflict franchise and going on to write the two most recent Battlefield games, the confusingly titled Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V.

In addition to confirming her departure from the franchise, Pratchett also revealed that almost the entirety of the original team behind Mirror’s Edge was now gone. It was likely that the new team was far bigger and composed of yet more veterans of the Battlefield franchise – likely resulting in the change in game engine from the original’s Unreal Engine to the in house Frostbite 3 Engine 10– with which the Battlefield devs had the most experience and resources.

The aim of the original Mirror’s Edge was never to create an engaging plot, and it at most needed to be serviceable and facilitate the gameplay. Despite floundering under one of the greatest writers in the gaming industry DICE announced that Catalyst would be far more story focused – a recipe for disaster particularly in hands of a much less capable writer.

The reason for developing Catalyst in the first place was also unclear. This coupled by the strange details surrounding the true nature of the game at launch; with many unsure if the game was a prequel, sequel or a reboot – a confusion not helped by the developer’s insistence that it was none of those11. To this day the Wikipedia page for the game erroneously states that “the game is a prequel to Mirror’s Edge, showcasing the origins of Faith”12.

This confusion of direction reflected a developmental confusion surrounding the game’s purpose. DICE no longer had anything to prove for it was firmly within EA’s grasp and anyone who did have something to prove had been taken away from the project. The new team had no experience with the IP and the change in director lead to the vast majority of the central visions from Mirror’s Edge being compromised. The most glaring example of which can be seen in the very setting of Catalyst. Söderlund stated that in Mirror’s Edge he was very careful to not name the city in which the game takes place. It was intended to be an amalgamation of already existing modern cities, one that would be relatable and could serve as a warning of the increased prevalence of surveillance and corruption throughout the world. Catalyst throws all of this subtlety and clever design away with the laughably named extremely futuristic “City of Glass”.

There are many other examples too, just read some original interviews with Söderlund and compare his vision to Catalyst but for the sake of time, I’ll just leave the direct comparisons there.

Without a clear vision, Catalyst became a strange mess of unfinished mechanics; the meaningless skill trees, the unbalanced combat, the boring collectibles, the redundant trial modes. Catalyst reeks of a game that didn’t want to be made which eventually just became a conduit to test developer’s ideas at the expense of the end product. It is no secret the Mirror’s Edge sold well above expectations and the whisking away of the property from a side team to one of the EA DICE titans of development was likely entirely financially motivated.

Under the full control of EA, such a promising franchise couldn’t be allowed to remain in the hands of what they likely viewed as an unreliable team. All the data shows that under the main Battlefield team, Catalyst would surely sell well, everything that team produced would have certainly seemed to sell well. The open-world design of Catalyst, the skill trees, the new focus on combat all of it was carefully chosen not to defy convention but to follow it.

Unfortunately Mirror’s Edge was never about convention. It was about creating an experience that was truly unique. In trying to water down the original ideas in order to create something more “consumer friendly” and more heavily focused on market demands EA created something truly awful. A product that did nothing different. A new game that would be lost in the seas of time and one without any notable legacy.

The more cynical side of me would want to argue that this was a deliberate choice – an act of sabotaging the product if you will. For EA, the Mirror’s Edge franchise was a liability. The first game had sold just well enough to warrant a sequel, but was nowhere near the level of Battlefield or Fifa, and we know from recent news surrounding EA’s latest slice of mediocrity, Anthem13, that EA values that importance of a franchise solely on how much money it can reliably make. For EA, deliberately killing Mirror’s Edge with a very poor follow up would quell demand and shift focus towards the major EA franchises. Although there is no evidence for this, it is quite a compelling theory and one that many gamers would have no trouble accepting considering EA’s reputation for anti-consumer business decisions.

Overall, even if Mirror’s Edge Catalyst was not designed to fail, it was definitely doomed to. The lack of creative vision demonstrable from even the earliest stages of the game’s development and the lesser amount of talent that was allocated to the game meant that it’s a miracle the game was even mediocre in the first place. Catalyst is most valuable as a  prime example of how utilising purely motivated financial decisions can destroy the games we love.


References:
1https://www.polygon.com/2016/5/25/11758974/designing-mirrors-edge-the-making-of-a-franchise
2http://www.mtv.com/news/2456471/ea-discusses-mirrors-edge-sickness-concerns-lack-of-color-green/
3https://web.archive.org/web/20160321080636/http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=6147
4https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1578126/
5http://solarfields.com/disco/other/
6https://www.discogs.com/Lisa-Miskovsky-Still-Alive-The-Theme-From-Mirrors-Edge-The-Remixes/master/152213
7https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/still-alive-the-theme-from-mirrors-edge-the-remixes/293058880
8https://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/01/08/mirrors-edge-writer-isnt-working-on-reboot
9https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2602734/
10 https://www.engadget.com/2013/06/10/mirrors-edge-2/
11https://www.polygon.com/2015/6/17/8795003/mirrors-edge-catalyst-open-world-game-ps4-playstion-4-xbox-one
13https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror%27s_Edge_Catalyst#cite_note-19
https://kotaku.com/how-biowares-anthem-went-wrong-1833731964

5 timeless stealth games you should definitely check out

Ever since man first killed man, man has dreamed of killing man in quieter and more sophisticated ways. Although it would be very difficult, quiet messy and of course extremely illegal to pursue these dreams in real life, the gaming industry has you covered. To try to help you find the most suitable game to quench your bloodthirsty desires we’ve made a little list of five of the most genre defining stealth titles that have each managed to withstand the test of time.

Do bear in mind however entries are in no particular order, restricted to one per franchise and must be over 5 years old  (sorry HITMAN 2).


5: Thief II – Metal Age

 

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Platform(s): PC

Price*: £4.99

Developer: Looking Glass Studios

Few other franchises have been as influential in the world of stealth games as Thief. For its time, Thief II was impressive both technically and graphically. The vast sprawling urban mazes that comprise the majority of the levels demonstrate some of the best level design seen in gaming to date. Everything in Thief II feels just perfect. From the logical placement of loot, the unique aesthetic – a striking mix of gothic and steampunk, to the variety of stealth tools at your disposal everything works in conjunction to create a stealth experience as meticulously crafted as it is engaging. Whilst the game does go completely off the rails a few hours in; with traditional guards switched out for gruesome zombies, weird ape people and spooky skeletons amongst a whole host of other lovecraftian horrors.

Although this thematic shift from equal parts realistic and gritty to equal parts fantastical and frightening isn’t for everyone, for the right player this complete tonal variety only serves to keep you engaged. Thief II is a game with no limits, and it makes damn sure you know it, keeping the basic mission structure of “go here and steal thing” as fresh in the tenth level as it was on the first. If you want a game that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder what kind of  unspeakable horrors from a dimension of pain might by lurking around every tight corner of a unfathomably vast clockwork mansion, look no further for Thief II: The Metal Age is certainly the game for you. If that doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea, well just keep reading.


4: Alien: Isolation

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Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE, XBOX 360, PS4, PS3

Price*: £29.99

Developer: Creative Assembly

Turning five years old this year, thankfully Alien: Isolation just manages to scrape its way past my arbitrary restrictions and firmly on to this list – because it would be a huge loss if it didn’t. Alien: Isolation is a very radical take on the stealth genre; combining the terrifying sci-fi horror elements that made the first Alien film so great and the deep level  of immersion that only a first-person video game could offer.

Alien: Isolation puts you head to head with an alarmingly intelligent AI Xenomorph. Apart from the odd human or  android enemy; it’s just you, a deteriorating space station and the monster. The most fun stealth aspects of the game arise when trying to circumvent an alien that, although partially blind, has an advanced sense of hearing and unprecedented predator instincts. The alien is also an ever-present threat and, ignoring a few scripted sequences, is always present nearby on the station just waiting to dart over at the sound of a gunshot or a generator powering up.

Of course, such an organic AI has its fair share of jank, sometimes hilariously getting itself stuck on a table, or somehow not feeling you accidentally standing on its tail. Alien: Isolation is certainly not perfect, but if Thief II was a moist stealth cake with a few horror sprinkles, Alien: Isolation is just a huge pile of sprinkles with chunks of cake thrown in. Although its approach may not be as nuanced and sophisticated as Thief II, but much like the allegorical pile of cake chunks and sprinkles, it is delicious all the same.


3: Gunpoint

Platform(s): PC

Price*: £6.00

Developer: Tom Francis

Few indie games have managed to steal my heart as much a Gunpoint. Despite being made by developer Tom Francis for initially less than £20 in his spare time, Gunpoint is almost perfect in every regard. Visually, it’s beautiful with pleasing pixel graphics taking great inspiration from cyberpunk and film noir. The music is very distinctive and matches the visual style perfectly. The writing is very unique; expertly managing to be self-aware enough to carry some of the funniest fourth-wall destroying dialogue I’ve ever seen in a video game and yet keeping the story grounded and the stakes high.

You must be wondering what the gameplay is actually like though. Well, if you completely set aside the fantastic music, lovely visuals and brilliant dialogue you find an equally amazing puzzle sleath-’em-up. Infiltrate highly secured buildings using high-tech hacking to rewire doors, disrupt patrols or even make guards comically shoot each other by accident. The hacking mechanics are not just the surface level mechanics found in the likes of Watch_Dogs. Obviously you can keep things basic, but the most fun comes from creating Rube Goldberg Machines of interlinked lifts, buzzers, trap-doors and alarms just as complex as they are deadly.

Gunpoint is also significant for truly living up to its name. Although you do unlock a pistol late in the game, it only has five rounds. That’s right, five rounds. And not just per mission either, no, these have to last you the whole game – and the overwhelming rapid police response to gunfire renders these bullets almost useless anyway. Instead of a weapon, your pistol is more of a tool. When pointed at an alerted guard, it stops them dead in their tracks preventing them from firing at you and giving you just enough time to make a daring escape.

There’s so much more to Gunpoint that could barely fit in here, like the best autosave system in gaming or the way the music adapts to what’s on-screen, but time is short and you probably stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. Instead, I’ll end this section with this; dear two people still reading, go buy Gunpoint. I’m serious. It’s a brilliant game that’s always cheap as chips, not to mention supporting a fantastic independent developer’s future projects.


2: Dishonored

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Platform(s): PC, XBOX 360, XBOX ONE, PS3, PS4

Price*: £7.99

Developer: Arkane Studios

Dishonored may borrow many elements from Thief: namely a few aspects of the steampunk setting; some gameplay mechanics and a profound focus on the occult. Despite this Dishonored overcomes the obvious parallels by providing its own unique experience that feels more like its own thing, rather than a Thief rip-off.

Dishonored‘s world feels almost storybook, with characters fitting common faery-tale archetypes and graphics, a kind of cell shading, which help frame the game as one ever-moving illustration in a picture book. Despite looking like a picture book, the city of Dunwall is hardly a setting suitable for children. Ravaged by plague, constant civil unrest and the murder of its leader before your very eyes; Dishonored thrusts you into the shoes Corvo Attano: a former royal protector granted dark magic by a malevolent god and tasked with recovering a young kidnapped princess.

Nine missions await you on your quest, which may not sound like a lot but believe me they are big, with a variety of lethal or nonlethal approaches. Dishonored presents a difficult moral choice with by far the easiest way to finish missions being quick and bloody. This reduces the game to a six hour long action-packed romp with plenty of swashbuckling sword fights, gripping gunfights and brutal beheadings. One of the main themes of the game however, and one that you are shown through your targets (having all committed some form wrongdoing in the past) is that actions have consequences – and Corvo’s violent actions certainly do have consequences. With every kill the state of the city worsens: plague rats become more common, conversation you overhear are more tense and afraid and guard patrols and equipment are stepped up. The true consequences of your actions however manifest themselves at the end of the game, with the merciless bad ending.

In light of that, I think it’s safe to say that it’s definitely worth committing the thirty or so hours for a full stealth playthrough. While you don’t have to be entirely nonlethal (with a leeway of about 70% of enemies being left alive per mission) to get the good ending, you certainly get extra stealth brownie points and it definitely makes the overall experience far more rewarding.


1: Hitman – Blood Money

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Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE (HD Ed.), XBOX 360, XBOX, PS4 (HD Ed.), PS3, PS2

Price*: £6.99

Developer: IO Interactive

Sleek and sophisticated accompanied by a refreshing level of piercing cynicism, Hitman Blood Money is a dark globetrotting spy thriller. As Agent 47, proud holder of the humble title “world’s best genetically engineered assassin”, you’re sent to a variety of locations across the world. From the Paris opera house to a hillbilly wedding in the Mississippi, every mission feels incredibly unique and presents its own set of challenges to overcome.

Unlike a more traditional stealth title where you would try your hardest to avoid guards and crowded areas, Hitman Blood Money‘s focus is on hiding in plain sight. With the ability to choke out a security professional and don their blue garbs to infiltrate an event or being able to casually stroll past a police patrol with just the thin wall of a foil-lined briefcase between them and your high-power compact sniper rifle, Hitman offers a gripping game of cat and mouse needing you to always stay one step ahead of site security to survive.

This dynamic is superbly supported by the intelligent and vcery well coordinated AI. Guards patrol, take rests in break rooms and talk over their radios all in their native languages, giving each setting a truly authentic edge. If your cover is compromised, by either being seen by a guard or over a CCTV, a description of your appearance and clothing is circulated via radio. Guards give you funny looks, observe your actions more closely,  attempt to follow you or hold you at gunpoint if they think you’re armed.

Each mission is loosely connected with the plot of an interesting spy thriller, but it’s honestly best to forgo the plot entirely and focus on mastering the countless approaches to each mission. As the game progresses, you unlock a verity of new toys; silenced pistols, stealth SMGs or remote mines, which can be brought back to previous levels adding an even greater level of replayability.

The award-winning score is another factor that contributes to the game’s overall brilliance and its subtle but witty social commentary gives a dark comedic edge to its world.

Hitman: Blood Money is certainly unique, and its huge variety of playstyles – with the prospect of flat out bloody violence, James-Bond style silenced pistol runs and even the option to make every kill look like an accident and become a complete ghost – means there is truly something for everyone.


*Prices are Steam store prices (excluding discounts or sales) as of April 2019.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Multiplayer Modding

Bethesda’s 2011 open world RPG is often regarded as one of the games of a generation. Whilst the company’s most recent games (The Elder Scrolls Online and the dreaded Fallout 76) have attracted harsh criticism and dwindly player numbers, Skyrim remains a community favourite and still has a dedicated base of players constantly replaying, modding and exploring the expansive fictional world of Tamriel.

The prospect of a multiplayer Skyrim experience, one where this wonderful game can be experienced with a friend, has become almost the holy grail of gaming especially after the huge disappointment many people felt with The Elder Scrolls Online (which is not necessarily a bad game per se but absolutely not the kind of game the fans wanted). As a result of this desire numerous modding projects sprang to life, all with one common goal: Skyrim multiplayer.

Even as I am writing this, a new Skyrim online mod is teetering on the edge of completion – the greatly anticipated and much talked of Skyrim Together project, now in a closed beta phase. The imminent release of an online multiplayer mod got me thinking, surely such a thing had been attempted before. A brief search yielded details of hundreds of Skyrim multiplayer projects, most of which just being concepts which never actually reached a playable state. There was however one mod which stood out. The Tamriel Online Skyrim multiplayer mod (not to be confused The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited).

tamriel online
The Nexus mod page for Tamriel Online

Initial impressions were good. The set up was quick and extremely easy, with a host of available tutorials that are very simple to follow. The editing of some files is required, and if you want to play with a friend online you both need to configure some things but it is a simple as a a drag and drop of some files shared over a file sharing service.

Once all the setup is out the way, you can jump right into a game of Skyrim online. An important thing to note however, is that starting a new game is recommended. Save files do tend to become quite severely corrupted and broken, so it’s probably best you don’t lose your endgame 1000 hours+ character for the sake of killing some chickens with a pal.

Once you’ve sat through the excruciatingly long introduction cutscene, an introduction with a vast length and providing a level of boredom only rivalled by Fallout 3, it’s time to create your character. It’s best not to spend too much time doing this, the mod certainly isn’t going to be your next playthrough of Skyrim, for reasons discussed later, and you’ll likely have a friend on the edge of their seat desperately waiting for you to finish so you can both connect to the server and let the multiplayer fun commence.

After sprinting through the well rehearsed and ever-repeated dragon attack set piece, rushing into the caves below Helgen, hurriedly dispatching some guards, spiders, a black bear and you’re finally free. You come to the end of the dark cave blinded by not just rays of sunlight, but also an overwhelming sense of freedom and childish excitement. The open world of Skyrim is now your oyster.

A rapid tapping of the tilde key informs you that you are now “connecting to the cluster” signally that the magic is just about to begin. And those first few moments, seeing your friend’s character smoothly popping into your world (in my case a very stout balding breton), are just that: magic. There was something so surreal and indescribably amazing in seeing another human pop into a far too familiar world that was, until now, completely isolated. Akin to seeing man step foot on the moon, seeing another player in Skyrim feels like a monumental achievement of human progress, something that was once relegated to the confines of dreams has become reality through the wonder of technology and the blood, sweat and tears of a modding community.

Once the buzz from the gaming equivalent of a religious experience has worn off, you will likely begin the process of careful experimentation; pushing at the boundaries of the mod, trying to find its limits. These limits become extremely apparent almost instantly, with your first encounter with an NPC. As hysterically funny as my encounter with the moonwalking mountain wolves was, it did signal something. Whilst this mod may technically “work”, it is a far from playable experience.

Crashing was extremely common throughout my time with the mod. Almost every area you enter or exit presents a very likely crash to desktop, effectively confining you to the outside world. That would be fine, there are after all many none-quest activities that can be done without entering an area, if almost every aspect of the game was not in some way completely and bizarrely broken. Hunting isn’t too enjoyable when the animals all stand still, and turn invisible when killed. Horse riding loses its charm when the horses can only travel in two of the four cardinal directions. Collectibles aren’t worth collecting if they can’t even be picked up.

All this strange brokenness creates an experience much like a fever dream. That surreal feeling I noted in the first few moments continues throughout the experience, you’re trapped in a strange world with no logic, something you can never comprehend. Tamriel Online feels like a surrealist art gallery, a series of pieces beyond any understanding, but certainly improved by the presence of a friend with whom you can laugh at the bizarre nature of everything on show.

I cannot stress enough the fact that Tamriel Online is not the online Skyrim experience you want, but it’s definitely one you need. It will provide a few hours of laughs and a handful of extremely memorable moments. It will certainly give you a renewed sense of anticipation towards Skyrim Together, which promises to build the best Skyrim online experience, but it remains to be seen.

Far Cry 2 – Review

2008’s Far Cry 2 was a benchmark game in open world design. Boldly defying the linear mission based structure of its predecessor, Far Cry offers one of Ubisoft’s most bold and realistic open world experiences – even today almost 11 years later.

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Image credit: Uplay.com

Far Cry 2 takes the player to an unnamed fictitious nation in the heart of Africa being gripped by a brutal civil war. As a mercenary employed by the CIA, it is your job to track down The Jackal, an arms dealer supplying weapons to both sides of the conflict. After landing at the airport however, the mission immediately goes south. You contract malaria and pass out, awaking in your hotel room face to face with The Jackal. After a brief monologue, you are now free to wander out into the sprawling open world of Far Cry 2.

One of the most first things you will immediately notice in this open world is its striking colour palette. Filled with dark browns, luscious botanical greens and deep blue skies. The plains of the African savanna are visually stunning in Far Cry 2, with a perfected blend of gritty realism and beautiful artistic style. This colour palette is also constantly adapting and changing, due to the game’s real time day-night cycle.

This day-night cycle also affects gameplay in very practical and tangible ways. At night patrols are much tighter, more linear with few guards willing to stray from their posts – if you mind your business, they’ll mind theirs. In the daytime however, patrols are plentiful and more dynamic with guards reacting much quicker and far more aggressively to visual and auditory disturbances. During the day, there are also many more vehicles with convoys of guards moving from outpost to outpost making the roads much more of a threat than their nighttime counterparts.

This day-night mechanic lends itself to a certain formula: nighttime is for attacking bases and completing missions and daytime is for laying low and performing lighter tasks, like searching for collectables in the dense jungle or purchasing new weapons from arms dealer shops. The inclusion of a sleeping mechanic, which can be triggered by using beds in any of the numerous safehouses throughout the map, allowing you to manually input the time you want to wake up further indicates that this was indeed the strategy the developers intended for you to take.

There is unfortunately one colossal problem with this. The game’s stealth system. Stealth in Far Cry 2 is fundamentally unfinished and incredibly broken. Unlike later entries to the series, Far Cry 2 lacks the series’ characteristic awareness indicators (the little circular things that surround your crosshair telling you who can and can’t see you) meaning that you never really know if someone can and can’t see you. Being seen yourself is also incredibly easy, with guards dirty brown camouflage blending in perfectly with the landscapes. Their hearing too is completely unmatched, if any guard makes even the most stifled of yells every single nearby heavily armed murderer and their dog will be able to instantaneously triangulate your position and set off en masse to hunt you down.

The game even teases you with tantalising black painted silenced  armaments. However, even with the quietest of weapons at the dead of night one missed shot, one seen body or even just accidentally tapping sprint will summon the inevitable collective exodus of guards from their posts to your exact location. 

If you can move beyond their unprecedented psychic abilities you will come to find that the AI in Far Cry 2 is surprisingly advanced. In combat they behave realistically, keeping low and darting for the strongest cover around them or dashing for a powerful turret. When shot, they clutch at their affected limb and begin to crawl away, or are picked up and dragged into cover by their friends and comrades. Even when all else has failed, they lie in the dirt or mud, clutching their bleeding wounds and fruitlessly taking potshots with their weak pistols until you finish them off. It is safe to say that the AI in Far Cry 2 is the most advanced in the series and presents some of the most authentic reactions to injury found in the whole of gaming.

Authenticity is one of the key aspects of Far Cry 2 that serves to make it so incredibly engaging. The experience of Far Cry 2 is one of the most immersive gaming experiences ever created. Everything, from the handheld map and GPS navigator to the practically non-existent UI creates a game where you never feel pulled out of the action. The developers went to extraordinary lengths to keep everything ingame, keeping menus and clutter to an absolute minimum. Missions are accepted in person, with documents and payment handed to you in a file after listening to a briefing from a character, objectives are marked on your map and GPS – both of which exist physically as items in your hands throughout the game rather than relying on a cheap traditional map screen. Even the usually immersion destroying menus in shops are worked around, with your transactions taking place over a clunky computer terminal, accompanied by whirring and your character’s clicking of the keys.

Even the weaponry in the game reflects this commitment to realism. Whilst later games in the series favours modern military weaponry (even at times where it makes literally zero sense, like the pirates in Far Cry 3 having access to top grade brand new military hardware) that wouldn’t feel out of place in games like Call of Duty, the weapons in Far Cry 2 are cold-war-era rusted up pieces of junk. The weapons in Far Cry 2 feel clunky, but in the most satisfying of ways. They jam constantly in combat (prompting beautifully animated animation) requiring the frantic clicking of R to unjam and occasionally just break entirely. This jamming isn’t entirely random however, and the general dirtiness and level of rust of a weapon helps indicate how much time it has left. Even the brand new weaponry from arms dealers degrades over time, becoming more prone to stoppages and reducing in accuracy. This creates a lovely feeling of completely desperation in combat. As annoying as it is when your brand new assault rifle snaps in half in the middle of a huge firefight, it makes it so incredibly satisfying if you manage to hastily grab an enemy’s gun and somehow pull through.

It is however the times where you don’t pull through that creates some horribly frustrating moments. In its commitment to realism, Far Cry 2 ditches traditional saving mechanics. You can only save at medical boxes found on the walls at towns or in beds at safehouses. Dying after having all my good guns break randomly only to then be smacked in the face by the reality that I lost 2 hours of progress prompted me to alt f4 in fuming anger at least a dozen times. Even without the unfair save system, the game as a whole is brutally difficult with the bullet penetration systems leading to a complete lack of any viable cover, intelligent AI and the overwhelming numbers of enemy AI contributing to this.

Luckily, this brutal difficulty is not a challenge you have to face alone thanks to the game’s buddy system. Travelling to bars in towns allows you to befriend other mercenaries. Once your friend a buddy acts as almost an extra life: appearing miraculously when you’re about to die to drag your unconscious body to safety, restock your ammo and provide covering fire while you heal up. Buddies also lessen the brutality of the malaria mechanic which, although not mentioned until now, is a fundamental gameplay mechanic.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Far Cry 2 knows about malaria. It is frequently joked about by the community, and even the developers themselves with Far Cry 3‘s most difficult difficulty setting advertised proudly as “Harder than malaria” (I played it and believe me, its not). For those in the dark, you have incurable malaria throughout the course of Far Cry 2. It basically serves as a constantly rolling number generator. If the trigger number comes up, well then you basically receive the gaming equivalent of a curbstomping. Your screen shakes, becoming green and muddy and motion blur is cranked up to max. If you’re in combat at this point, you’re screwed. Next, your screen becomes black and you fall unconscious – making you an all-you-can-murder buffet for local enemy soldiers. If you’re lucky enough to have recruited a buddy, they help protect you until you wake up again.

The only way to circumvent the threat of malaria is to procure antimalarial drugs, which serve as your motivation to complete many of the games side-quests. With a bottle of pills safely in hand you’re pretty much impervious to the disease’s effects – so long as you remember to take them.

Although being the butt of far too many Far Cry jokes, I would consider the contributions of malaria to the overall game to be very positive. It contributes to the game’s central theme of human vulnerability. With no array of weaponry, no mass of body armour and no volume of bloodshed ever being able to protect you from your own humanity.

This overall feeling of vulnerability is also added to by the complete lack of friendly NPCs (besides buddies that is). Every single NPC encountered outside cease-fire zones are aggressive – even if you are on their side of the war. They’re not just aggressive to you however with the two sides being seen fighting each other quite frequently and very dynamically. The world of Far Cry 2 is decidedly hostile and you are constantly trapped in the crossfire.

Although Far Cry 2 definitely has its flaws, it manages to reach a level of realism and true immersion that hasn’t been accomplished ever since. Far Cry 2 is certainly a landmark game and as the forefather of open world design its contributions to the gaming industry are absolutely huge. If you can grimace your way through its most brutally unforgiving elements, it is certainly a deeply rewarding and extremely enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone.

Mirror’s Edge – Review

Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge was certainly groundbreaking at the time of its release back in 2008; offering an extremely unique three-dimensional platforming experience which pioneered first-person parkour game-play, impacting games for years to come. However, although Mirror’s Edge may have been a breath of fresh air when it released almost 11 years ago into a market with zero first-person parkour games, does it still hold up when compared to the likes of modern parkour experiences like Titanfall and Dying Light?

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Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that it was not game-play alone that made Mirror’s Edge so groundbreaking. Mirror’s Edge boasts an impressively unique art direction, especially for its time. For many the 2000’s is a time remembered by its countless brown and muddy looking FPSs. Mirror’s Edge however, defies this trend. Aesthetically, Mirror’s Edge is the antithesis of muddy, offering a crisp and clean pristine white cityscape dotted with the occasional vibrant primary colour. While at the time of its release its running requirements were quite taxing, it is no challenge for even the most modest of modern PCs. Setting graphics settings to the highest possible settings and selecting the very best anti-aliasing mode is definitely recommended. With everything set to max, Mirror’s Edge is nothing short of stunning and its iconic visual flair absolutely still stands out from the crowd today.

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This visual style is not only beautiful but also extremely practical. The white aesthetic of the city allows for greater focus when running, yet not being so minimalist as to not allow for the occasional beautiful vista when you stop to breathe. The colour red is also extremely significant as it is rarely found natively in the world. Instead, it is used for “runner vision”, a kind of inherent intuition which colours ledges or surfaces bright red to help funnel you in the directions you need to go.

This is extremely useful, and definitely helps to reduce the number of times you will stop dead in your tracks trying to desperately work out where to go. This still happens however, and a little more often than it probably should. This is a particularly prevalent problem in the later interior missions, which involve a lot of verticality, often requiring you to make blind leaps of faith to ledges you can’t quite see. There is also the option to hold left alt to forcefully point your cone of vision in the direction of the level’s end point this however, is not as useful as it would appear. Knowing the location of the exit of a level is completely pointless when you still can’t find the ledge which will facilitate you getting there. Having your control taken away so violently also breaks immersion, I would only recommend resorting to this option if you really are massively stuck (although looking up a walk-through would be just as immersion breaking, and certainly more useful).

Mirror’s Edge is divided into levels, separated generally by cut-scenes, and levels often take place on rooftops in vastly different areas of the city. The game still manages however, to have a profound sense of geography. The city in Mirror’s Edge is cleaved in two by a river. Two extremely tall and distinctive buildings are cleverly situated at either side of this river (these can be seen in the last picture). This allows you to always gage vaguely your location in the city, and helps you piece together the journey between the previous location and your current one – which is not often shown in cut-scenes. By the end of Mirror’s Edge, you’ll probably be able to navigate the white city better than your hometown.

Mirror’s Edge also boasts a unique and very fitting score, which makes a great companion to rooftop running and helps bring the cut-scenes to life. Visually however, the cut-scenes are divisive. They have a very cartoonised hand-drawn style, and are quite contrary to the extremely clean look of the actual game-play. Personally, I am a big fan of the cut-scenes and believe that the hand-drawn look is certainly better than anything that could have been 3D animated with the technology limitations at the time.

Unfortunately, the story told by these cut-scenes is extremely lacklustre. With plain characters following a basic conspiracy type plot-line with all the predictable story beats and the obvious eventual twist.

Mirror’s Edge also feature rather pathetic combat sections. Combat in Mirror’s Edge is simply completely un-enjoyable. Whether guards manage to land a hit on you or not seems utterly random. Luckily all combat is avoidable, although due to the random nature of hit-detection your guaranteed to die at least a few times as you attempt to escape. Admittedly it was novel at first to disarm a few lightly-armed officers on a rooftop, later portions of the game which force you into tight indoor environments jam-packed with trigger happy machine-gun toting guards were anything but.

Stealth could also be considered an option, although it is so inconsistent as to be downright annoying. Guards have no cones of vision, you get too close and they become aggressive and open fire – triggering the arrival of more guards from around the level. You can allegedly disarm unsuspecting guards form behind, although I never managed this as they were always four clips into a barrage of fire by the time I got anywhere close.

The first five or so hours of Mirror’s Edge are incredible; a freedom-filled rooftop race around a stunning city. The game just becomes too bogged-down in its boring story, eventually devolving into awful combat sections and restrictive building interiors. Despite all this, for me, Mirror’s Edge definitely still holds up today. Whilst no other parkour game has managed to better it, they have managed to make its few flaws just a little bit more apparent.