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The Steam link – Review

Valve was always seen primarily as a game developer. After the launch wildly successful Steam gaming platform however, they began to branch off into new areas of the gaming market. Their first home console system, the Steam Machine, back in 2015 (a sort of Linux-based TV confined hybrid of PC and Console) was met with a reception that can be described as “lukewarm” at best. However, many people seemed to forget a device which was launched alongside the Steam Machine – the Steam Link.

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A Steam Link

The Steam Link is a portable streaming box, allowing you to seamlessly stream games from a PC in another room or upstairs to your TV; theoretically creating the perfect home console – a something with the power of PC, projected onto the TV at a low cost.

Initially starting with a price at around £35, the Steam Link failed to really attract any attention until late 2018, where this price would plummet to about £2 (when bought on the steam store in conjunction with a game). This colossal price drop was likely due to the device’s very poor initial sales and Vavle’s desperate desire just to be rid of the hassle of storing thousands of unsold products.

Physically, the Steam Link is a really lovely piece of hardware, it feels heavy in the hand and robust to the touch; clearly being constructed out of premium materials. The minimalist design is also very aesthetically pleasing. Along the side of the box runs all the different ports and inputs you’d expect from your traditional game console; USB for controllers, HDMI for video output and Ethernet for a fast connection – it’s all here. Even the box it came in is well constructed out of good quality nicely coloured cardboard.

You may now be wondering why exactly the Steam Link failed – it certainly wasn’t, after all, due to any physical defects or obvious design oversights. No, the Steam Link‘s biggest downfall is its performance.

Even on the fastest of internet connections, the Steam Link can’t perform without at least some lag. Input lag, audio lag and general stuttering is near constant and basically unavoidable and whilst I’m sure with a NASA like internet connection the Steam Link would run like a dream; but unfortunately that speed of connection just isn’t available to the consumer.

The best way to run the Steam Link is wired, with one big long annoying Ethernet cable, but I think that really destroys the essence of what the system was trying to achieve. If you’re going to bother setting up numerous cables running all around your house, you may as well just save yourself some energy and move your PC to plug it directly into the TV.

There is also the issue of Steam’s Big Picture Mode, which is required for the set up of the Steam Link. Big Picture Mode is in its early days, and is still extremely slow and clunky. It takes what would have been an already slightly jittery experience (purely due to the nature of streaming over WiFi) and multiplies it by a factor of 10.

That’s really all there is to say about the Steam Link, it’s an excellent idea and a very well built product which is unfortunately held back by the constraints of the speed of currently available internet. Who knows? Maybe in a couple years PC to TV streaming services will be an excellent experience and the norm for TV based gaming – but we’re not there yet. We’re not far off, but certainly not yet there. At its original price, the Steam Link is a complete rip-off – if you were however able to nab it at £2 like I was, well it certainly makes a very well-built high quality paperweight.

Hitman 2 – What’s actually changed?

HITMAN™ 2 is the most recent entry to the rebooted Hitman series, which started the well received HITMAN™ (yes the trademark is part of the name) released in 2016. Although on the surface, both games seems almost identical every regard, gameplay, graphics, story etc. (and this is true to an extent); below the surface there has been quite a lot of improvement done to the Hitman formula – many changes which long time series fans have been desperately waiting for.

Image result for hitman 2The most obvious and welcome change for many will be the new method of release. Everyone still remember the fiasco that was HITMAN™ 2016’s episode based release schedule. Whilst releasing the game episodically doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea, after all it would effectively force the player to commit to replaying the released levels until more came out – tying in one of the best features of the Hitman series: excellent replayability, it still didn’t curb the disappointment of people who had spent hours downloading a new game only to find the tutorial and a fat notice telling them to wait a month.

After splitting from studio Square Enix, developers IOI now have full control over the methods by which they release their games and have opted with their new publishes, Warner Bros., to release one game. One purchase for all 7 maps. Finally.

Speaking of the 6 new maps, HITMANbrings a noticeable change of scale. Everyone remembers 2016’s Sapienza, a glorious fictional Italian town presented in full scale with many fully furnished buildings and countless areas to explore. Unfortunately, the other maps in 2016 were considerably smaller, Paris probably being the closest in size to Sapienza (and that still doesn’t come close). In 2, things are bigger – and bigger means better. Even the first map in the game, the Miami Innovation Race is easily comparable to Sapeinza in scale and later maps like Mumbai far exceed it and are unprecedentedly colossal for the series. More map means more places to explore, more items to find and more disguises to grab. This in turn greatly increases 2’s replayability.

Things have also not just changed in terms of map geography but also in presentation, with a host of new visual changes. One of the first things you will notice dropping in to HITMAN™ 2‘s Miami are it’s stunning bright colours.

Image result for hitman 2I’m not quite sure how IOI have changed HITMAN™‘s filter, but now all colours (particularly the primaries) are vivid and full of energy. This not only provides a great feast for the eyes, but also assists in the gameplay department: most target’s now wear red clothing, allowing you to spot them for a mile off. This reduces the need to constantly stare at blips on a map to coordinate your deadly plan.

Speaking of maps, the onscreen minimap has changed. It is now higher contrast and noticeably easier to interpret. The whole HUD itself has been changed too, no matching the game’s bright colours allowing for easier reading, extremely important and making it possible to still tell your disguise has been compromised when sprawled across the sofa a good few feet away playing on a console.

A greatly missed feature of Hitman: Blood Money were the on screen live updates as events unfolded. These would cut your screen in two and on one half allow you to continue playing and on the other half, show you something of interest (such as a guard finding a body or a bloodstain etc.). This concept has been reimplimented into HITMAN™ 2 in a far less obtrusive pattern with picture-in-picture. Picture-in-picture shows a small square on your screen (instead of taking up half) with information of interest. This allows you to find out where you’ve made mistakes in your run so on future attempts you can avoid the same pitfalls.

There is also new gear: from new guard rifles and pistols to even proximity stun mines, not to mention the return of the fan favourite briefcase. These create more gear combinations and allow for even more replayability. The backwards compatibility with remastered 2016 maps also allows you to take these new strategies and use them in your favourite HITMAN™ series locations.

Sniper assassin mode makes a return from the depths of Hitman: Absolution preorders (although if you’re still interested in the original incarnation of this mode you can read our review of it here) and is better than ever. A new mutliplayer co-op option is added to the mode, allowing you to snipe with a buddy.

This whole revamped sniper assassin mode seems to be a celebration of the sniper rifle, which is new and improved in HITMAN 2. Unlike 2016’s HITMAN™guards now react properly to sniper shots, and are no longer able to immediately triangulate your position and sprint over in great numbers to put an end to your run.

There is now, however, another way to send great numbers of guards your way with the reinvigorated security camera system. In 2016, being seen by a security camera would mean an annoying detour to delete the evidence from a PC in a guard room, or just suffering a score penalty. Now, cameras are a serious threat. Being seen holding a weapon or in a restricted area will cause a security alert, with nearby guards being sent to your position. My advice for cameras? Stay well away.

These are just some of the many many additions to HITMAN™ 2, which are certainly greater in numbers than you would believe at a first glance. Together, these new additions make HITMAN™2 one of the best and feature rich entries in the series, and a true contender for the coveted spot of “best game in the series” which has been held by Blood Money for so many years.

The Beginner’s Guide – Review

The Beginner’s Guide comes from the creator of The Stanley Parable, arguably the most popular narrative “walking simulator” type games ever made – and for good reason – but this is not The Stanley ParableThe Beginner’s Guide is something different, very different, and, depending on how you view it, may even be something better.

Whilst The Stanley Parable was all about choices: the impacts of choices; why we make them; what a choice truly means and whether you can ever truly have a choice, The Beginner’s Guide is a deep and though-provoking exploration of human nature.

The game initially presents itself as a character study, with a the developer (who acts as the narrator) tells you about a friend of his. This friend, named Coda, is also a fellow developer and you are then taken through a series of small “games” made by Coda. All the while, the narrator tells you what these little games mean to him and how they reflect on Coda’s personality as well as the events occurring in his life at the time of their creation.

As the game progresses you form more and more of a picture of what Coda was really like; his emotions, his tastes, what he enjoyed, how he found happiness or how he dealt with sadness. Without giving away too much of the plot, the ending will really make you reconsider what you’ve been lead to believe throughout the course of the game and acts in some way as a commentary on art and our collective societal attitude towards art as something that must require an explanation.

Gameplay wise, The Beginner’s Guide is a walking simulator in its truest form. The most gameplay found here is the pressing of the “W” key to walk and occasionally the “E” key to interact. It should also be noted that The Beginner’s Guide is extremely short, the whole experience lasting little over an hour.

Although brief it is intelligent and incredibly poignant, The Beginner’s Guide is less a game and more of an artistic and narrative experience – and as such should be approached as one. It is a beautiful experience from start to finish, and one that, for fans of the “walking simulator” genre, would be greatly unwise to forgo.

Hitman: Sniper Challenge – Review

Hitman: Sniper Challenge is an unusual entry in the Hitman series, and one that many people don’t even know exists. Despite being given away as part of the many pre-order bonuses for the incredibly divisive fifth entry to the series Hitman: Absolution, I’ll save my opinions on that game for another time, Sniper Challenge is a surprisingly robust experience and certainly worth a play.

Hitman: Sniper Challenge came entirely stand alone from Hitman: Absolution. If digitally bought on Steam, it has its own little tab in your game library page (similarly it had its own icon with download purchases on consoles) and when purchased physically, came as a special disk with its own box complete with specific cover art. This not only facilitated the clean menu aesthetic found in both Hitman: Absolution and Hitman: Sniper Challenge, but also makes the whole experience feel more like its own thing instead of just feeling like a mode for Hitman: Absolution (which I suspect it would have done if merely placed on the menu of that game).

Gameplay wise, Sniper Challenge is very different from the previous entries in the series; and even very different from the game it accompanied, Hitman: Absolution. Instead of surreptitiously sneaking into secured sectors whilst donning disguises at the drop of a hat (or more accurately, the drop of a guard NPC’s body), Sniper Challenge is (as the name would suggest) focused on sniping. This gives the game a more relaxed feel, fitting of a pre-order bonus – it is, after all, just the entrée for the full game of Hitman: Absolution.

Image result for Hitman sniper challengeThe physics, which is the predominant feature of all sniping games, is very solid. Bullets have drop over distance and a fair bit of travel time. Although, not entirely realistic (this is certainly not the sniping experience of found in an ultra-realistic game like ARMA III) the arcade type feel is fun and gives shooting just enough skill to feel satisfying but not overly frustrating.

One of the key features of a Hitman game is its locations: extravagant parties, lavish buildings and bustling highly public events. In this regard, Sniper Challenge is certainly lacking. It is completely excusable, as a pre-order bonus, for the game to have one map there is, however, no reason for said map to be so boring. An annual company party in Chicago hardly compares to an international fashion show at a French Palace, an Italian vineyard turned drug factory or even the shady underbelly of Hong Kong. Still, despite its small scale, the essence of a good Hitman map is there.

The mission takes place over a rigid 15 minute timescale (counted in the bottom left of the screen) with events set to happen at certain times, such as the deployment of guards or the target taking a phone call. This allows a true Hitman fan to approach the level similarly to how they would a level in a previous game – with meticulous planning. The inclusion of a timer on the UI is also handy, in Hitman: Blood Money I’d often find myself having to jot down the times things happened on a map by pen and paper with a stop-clock.

Speaking of the mission, Hitman: Sniper Challenge has what is probably the best pre-mission briefing in the series so far. Beautifully rendered, voice acted and timed to a very fitting score; the pre-mission cut-scene gets my blood pumping every time. If you are at all a Hitman fan, and missed your opportunity to play this game on release (and don’t intend on tracking down a key on shady sites) I would completely recommend watching the cut-scene on YouTube. It perfectly encapsulates all things Hitman and is like a little love-letter to the series. Ironically, I’m sure if Hitman: Absolution had been approached in the same kind of way as Sniper Challenge it would have been far better received by series fans.

What Sniper Challenge really lacks is replayability. Yes, there are numerous easter-eggs which can be unlocked for a score modifier and a fair few number of sniper upgrades up for grabs there is little else in the way of incentive to come back for more. Despite this lack of replayability however, it’s a very nice addition to your library (certainly a must-have for any self-purporting Hitman fan) and I do still find myself occasionally booting it up for just a couple of minutes more of sniper fun.

Tennis – Review

Priced at just under £5 Tennis is one of the cheapest games on the Switch eshop. Boasting simple controls and promising to bring you “the joy that tennis brings” surely even a cheap game by a tiny developer can capture at least some of the fun of tennis? It’s not that hard… right?

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The promotional image for Tennis

First impressions were poor. All 139MB of game loaded almost instantly, a sure guarantee of quality, and I was greeted by the main menu. Problems arose almost immediately when I attempted to navigate said menu. Controlling the very erratic and overly sensitive select pointer with a joystick is an immensely frustrating experience.

 

You are offered a choice of “Rally challenge”, “Tournament” and “Custom play” (although good luck actually being able to select any of them with the pointer). All three modes are pretty much the same. In “Rally challenge” you try and keep a long rally and if you miss the ball you fail. In “Tournament” you need to hit the ball back and forth and if you miss twice you fail. “Custom play” is just the tournament mode except you can choose the map you play and your opponent.

After you’ve picked a mode you are subjected to Tennis‘ “gameplay”. Gameplay is so barebones it may as well be a skeleton. You have one button. The A button. This button serves and hits. This will be the only button you press in the course of a match as your character is piloted by not you, but an AI. There isn’t much in the way of challenge. You just press the A button. Forever. The game is also touchscreen compatible, so once your A button breaks from overuse you can tap until you have RSI.

In the music department, things are just monotonous royalty free loops which slowly bore into your brain with every minute spent playing. The voice acting for characters is awful, each character has a grunting noise for hits and a line they say when they win. Every character is uniquely cringeworthy and painful in their own rights.

This is all Tennis has to offer bar achievements, which are generally variations of “hit the ball X many times”. Collecting all the achievements might do something, but I doubt anyone will ever play more than 10 minutes of this game to find out.

Don’t Knock Twice – Review

Don’t knock twice is a first person horror game by developer Wales Interactive for PC, Xbox one, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. It appears to be loosely based of a film of the same and, although more poorly than the film, tells roughly the same story.

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Graphically, Don’t Knock Twice is very impressive. Each individual room of the grand mansion in which the game takes place seems lovingly detailed and is very genuine. The texture work is also impressive and even the Switch version, which appears to have had a slight graphically downgrade, is still fairly good looking.

Unfortunately, the impressive visuals are about the only thing Don’t Knock Twice has going for it and is, at its core, an incredibly uninspired and boring experience. The “horror” aspect of Don’t Knock Twice is incredibly underutilised. Although the story that the game attempts to tell is genuinely quite terrifying it is told through a series of notes or newspaper articles which you may or may be bothered enough to read.

The only other horror aspect of the game are the few incredibly predictable and very average jumpscares, each of which seriously battles against unintentional comedy – and often fails. Having scares with this level of poor execution is to be expected of a crappy Steam Greenlight title cobbled together in an hour or so by a team of IT students for their summer project not a full disc release game.

The game’s audio design is poor and the music is at times quite unpleasant to listen to. Each “scary” moment is accompanied by a mad slamming of piano keys which just obliterates any genuinely tense or scary atmosphere the game had built up.

What a “terrifying” painting.

On the subject of obliterating the game’s atmosphere, what was the deal with paintings in this game? Each room or corridor was practically filled with portraits. After looking at a painting and turning around the painting would change. Figures in it would become zombified or covered in blood. This was at best mildly disconcerting but after you discover that, with the exception of one right at the beginning of the game which opted to fly off the wall instead, literally every single painting does this, it becomes hilarious.

When I deliberately turned my back on a painting and turned around to see it change, the effect was reminiscent of a mother hiding behind her hands to amuse her child in a game of hide and seek. It was almost beyond belief how resoundingly not scary almost every aspect of Don’t Knock Twice manages to be.

The few puzzles the game has to offer were quite interesting and the bathroom steam puzzle was particularly good. Unfortunately, they are very easy to solve and the genuine interest and enjoyment the puzzles managed to create are completely undermined by the general awfulness of the rest of the game.

The plot, which seems to be a skimmed down version of the film’s plot, was so generic and predictable that within about five minutes of playing I had predicted almost exactly how it would end and nailed the ending “twist”. The predictability of the plot isn’t exactly helped by the game’s incredibly short runtime, which gave the story little to no time to develop.

Those first five minutes I played encompassed almost 10% of the game’s total runtime and easily 100% of what it had to offer.

Forget about knocking twice. I wouldn’t recommend even knocking once.

Knight Terrors – Review

Knight Terrors currently sits proudly as the cheapest game on the Nintendo Switch’s estore; but is it worth picking up?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is yeeeeees.

With interesting visuals, fun gameplay and a very low price point, what is there to lose in buying this game? At £2.69 Knight Terrors costs less than an everyday cup of coffee, and will certainly last you a lot longer.

Knight Terrors is an endless runner in its simplest form. Much like the infamous Flappy Bird, from which Knight Terrors obviously drew some inspiration, it’s this apparent simplicity which gives this game a strangely addictive quality.

The game also benefits just from being on the Switch. The crisp buttons of the Nintendo Joy-cons make Knight Terrors‘ two button gameplay a treat. Knight Terrors is also a game that is easy and fun to pick up and play, making it a perfect way to kill some time in handheld mode whilst on the move.

There are four distinct game modes to unlock, loads of unique power-ups and plenty of monsters to discover and slay. The pixelated graphics are complimented well by the music, a simplistic yet pleasant collection of various chip-tunes.

Whether you want a game to occupy you for afew hours on journey, want to get rid of some leftover quid in your Nintendo Wallet, or just want an enjoyable endless runner; Knight Terrors is the game for you.

Top 10 games of 2017

As a whole 2017 has been a fairly insignificant year in the world of gaming with most developers opting to play it safe. The fairly predictable annual releases of series like Fifa or Call of Duty did very little in the way of innovation or originality.

These 10 are some of the few titles that did manage to stand out from the crowd.

10: Ironcast

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Price: £12.99

Developer: Dreadbit

Nintendo seems to be one of the few companies still at least trying to innovate. This was demonstrated this year by the release of their long anticipated console; the Nintendo Switch.  Ironcast was a game that took me by surprise. Taken in by my love of steampunk and the low price point, Ironcast was one of the first games I purchased for the switch. As is it not only a match three game but also an IOS port, I expected afew hours of mindless entertainment, some decent graphics and maybe even a basic story. What I got was instead one of the most gripping and tense combat systems i’ve ever seen in a game, a good plot complete with a fantastic setting and a great art style. Ironcast is the very best of the match three genre and a gripping roguelike.

9: Splatoon 2

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Price: £49.99

Developer: Nintendo

The original Splatoon was groundbreaking. It redefined the dull grey third person shooter genre with its bright graphics and joyous splatting action. The biggest issue with Splatoon wasn’t the game itself, but instead, the console: the WiiU. The WiiU was one of the biggest flops in recent console history. Splatoon 2 debuts on the infinitely more popular nintendo switch Switch and despite being nearly identical to its predecessor, with the addition of the Switch’s portability, Splatoon‘s formula still feel fresh. Splatoon 2 is essential for anyone who missed out on the first game. Luckily, this constitutes almost everyone.

8: Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2 (The Great Ace Attorney 2)

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Platform: 3DS

Price: ¥2,990

Developer: CAPCOM

2015’s Dai Gyakuten Saiban was a tragic case of region locking. Arguably the most interesting entry of the Ace Attorney series probably never seeing light of day in the west. Afew years on and the sequel is here, the aptly named, Dai Gyakuten Saiban 2. Unfortunately, whilst the first Dai Gyakuten Saiban was fairly flawed , the sequel is nothing short of a masterpiece, making the lack of an English translation even more tragic. The award-winning orchestral scores of the first game return, the story winds to a satisfactory close and the characters remain some of the funniest and most interesting the series has ever seen. Although the fan translated youtube playthroughs are still very enjoyable to watch, my collection just doesn’t feel complete without a nice physical copy.

7: Resident Evil: Revelations

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Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, 3DS

Price: £15.99

Developer: CAPCOM

One of the lesser known Resident Evil games debuted on the Switch earlier this year. A 3DS port with new HD graphics, Resident Evil Revelations looks better than ever. The nautical setting suits the Resident Evil formula very well, with the tight corridors leading to claustrophobic and tense battles. Resident Evil Revelations seems to focus more on the survival horror aspect of RE and it works very well in its favour. While the campaign is lackluster in length, the bonus “raid modes” are superb fun and will definitely keep you coming back for more.

6: Sword With Sauce

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Platform: PC

Price: £1.99 – £4.79

Developer: Diatomic

I have never known another early access game with as much potential as Sword With Sauce. Great loadout customisation options, intriguing levels, an interesting art style somewhat reminiscent of Superhot and great parkour mechanics all make Sword With Sauce an immensely enjoyable and varied experience. With the prospect of future updates and an upcoming multiplayer mode Sword With Sauce is certainly one to keep an eye on.

It’s a Sword With Sauce. No ketchup

Just sauce.

Raw sauce.

(I sincerely apologise)

5: ICEY

Image result for ICEY

Platform: PC, XBOX ONE, PS4

Price: £8.99

Developer: FantaBlade Network

Yes, this is that ICEY, the one that everybody bought just for a £0.80 Steam Link The game itself is even more amazing than the prospect of getting $40 worth of hardware for less than the price of a pack of Haribo. A very linear hack-and-slash with a maleficent narrator, quite reminiscent of The Stanley Parable, with an engaging story and plenty of secrets to discover; ICEY is a very memorable experience.

4: Doki Doki Literature Club!

Platform: PC

Price: Free!

Developer: Team Salvato

A deeply disturbing, morbid and dark parody of the anime visual novel genre; Doki Doki Literature Club! is more of a physcological horror game than a dating simulator. Not wishing to spoil the experience, which is best if experienced first hand, I will say no more. Do be warned though, this game is not for the faint of heart.

3: Okami HD

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Platform: PC

Price: £15.99

Developer: Capcom

The pinnacle of the PS2 era, Okami is back and looking better than ever. With memorable characters, enchanting visuals, a satisfying plot and great music Okami HD is an adventure unlike any other.

2: Slime-San

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Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4 & Nintendo Switch

Price: £10

Developer: Fabraz

Slime-San is fun. Slime-San is a lot of fun. Leaping, from platform to platform, avoiding red spots of insta-death is as fun as it is rewarding. With plenty of collectable currency spread throughout each level and a lot of cosmetics to spend them on, you’ll find yourself  constantly revisiting each level striving for that delicious 100%. The sound effects are unique and although the art style takes alittle getting used to, it’s pretty in its way. Its own red, blue and green way…

1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Platform: Switch

Price: £49.99

Developer: Nintendo

With a beautiful map, charming graphics and varied quests: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the pinnacle of open world gaming. Exploring the wonderfully detailed world of Hyrule, full of colour and variety, with the orchestral soundtrack caressing your eardrums is a serene joy. The combat side of things is intense, satisfying and deeply rewarding.

Mechanically, the game is also incredible. With stealth options, a hugely in-depth cooking mechanic, and even a thermometer to keep track of temperature. From how Link’s breath steams in the cold, or how he slips while climbing wet surfaces, every single small detail is lovingly and intricately crafted. Small things matter, and here they work in harmony to create an experience that is, no pun intended, breathtaking from start to finish.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has something for everyone, and so much more.

Lego City Undercover and Lego Worlds – Review

From developers Traveller’s Tales comes two games; Lego City Undercover and Lego Worlds. Both games are vastly different in content yet are similarly flawed.

Lege City Undercover

The Nintendo Switch’s game library can be described as sparsely populated at best and some Lego game ports from other consoles were a much needed addition to help bolster the rather pathetic numbers.

Lego City Undercover was the first Switch Lego game I purchased and after £59.99 of disappointment it was very nearly the last. The problem with Lego City Undercover isn’t the game itself, the WiiU version was hilarious and uniquely charming whereas the Switch port is just a slideshow. Playing in handheld mode just isn’t a viable an option for this game. In handheld mode, Lego City Undercover barely tops 20 frames per second and is quite frankly nauseating.

The docked version isn’t much better averaging around 25 frames per second and dropping as low as 10 at some times. When playing co-op in handheld mode, it runs at 5-10 fps and just about double that when docked. As Lego City Undercover was marketed as a “fun for all the family” co-op was a major selling point, this atrocious performance is unacceptable.

How a game optimised this poorly was cleared for release is beyond me. With no patches, as of writing, Lego City Undercover for the Switch is certainly one to avoid.

Lego Worlds

Lego Worlds was the second Switch Lego game I purchased. Curiously, I couldn’t quite put my finger on Lego Worlds‘s target audience. Young children would surely find the building mode too complex and the missions confusing. Most adults would find the missions immensely dull and repetitive and not have enough free time to master the building mode.

The aforementioned building mode is the main focus of Lego Worlds. Almost all missions reward you with new tools and bricks to create with. The building mode is surprisingly in-depth allowing for a huge range of customisation and creation options, however, the game rarely gives you an opportunity to use them.

Sure, they can be used in the many building based missions but devoting an hour into building a small mission-specific house that you will probably never even come back to is alittle pointless. Lego Worlds could be easily improved with the simple addition of a hub world; a place where you can easily return to and showcase your new building items.

So, with boring missions and a somewhat redundant building mode, what makes Lego Worlds one of my most played Switch games?

The world generation.

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A completely randomly generated town in Lego Worlds

The world generation in Lego Worlds is astonishing. With countless biomes, infinite planets to explore, deep cave networks and hundreds of characters to interact with; you will keep coming back for more. Lego Worlds also excels in the graphics department and is visually stunning. The Switch port also runs perfectly, even outperforming the Xbox one and PS4 at some times. Handheld mode is less impressive but still perfectly playable.

With Lego Worlds running so perfectly, you are left to wonder what exactly went so badly wrong with the, graphically inferior, Lego City UndercoverLego Worlds is by no means great, it is still quite flawed, but it is still a hugely enjoyable experience and one I would recommend to everybody.

Team Fortress 2: Jungle Inferno update – day four – Review 

This is a continuation of a four part review. To read part three, click here. To read part two click here. To read part one click here.

Day 4:

Dawn of the final day, a blog post appears on the TF2 site revealing the grand information that…

Jungle Inferno has been delayed and will be coming out tomorrow. Previous Team Fortress updates have shipped in pretty poor states, so it’s nice to see valve actually trying ensure the most anticipated in update in TF history doesn’t ship broken although telling us at the height of anticipation that it will be delayed was a bit of a let down.

Crushing disappointment aside, day four has yielded one thing, a list of in-depth patch notes (probably intended to ship with the actual update).

Balance changes

Each balance change seems cleverly thought out and aims to increase the viability of the least used weapons and decrease the viability of the most overused items. Not many of the changes are truly groundbreaking but most will have at least a small impact on gameplay.

Steam controller support has, at long last, been properly implemented and some broken animations have been fixed. Overall, day four is just maintenance. Admittedly, much needed, maintenance that will certainly improve Team Fortress 2‘s overall experience.

Is day four of Jungle Inferno the amazing climactic peak at the end of this roller-coaster ride of an update that we wanted? No. But it is an additional little length track that will keep the Team Fortress ride running for a while longer.

And hey, we’ve still got Halloween and Christmas events to come!

Team Fortress 2: Jungle Inferno update – day three – Review 

This is a continuation of a four part review. To read part two click here. To read part one click here.

Day 3:

Three quarters of the way through the Jungle Inferno update and each day has gone from good to great to greater and its still looking up. Day three heralds the highly anticipated arrival of the pyro class overhaul and after the huge wait; Valve, in a generous apology gesture that would put many other AAA developers to shame, gives the community a whopping five new weapons (four pyro and one heavy), numerous overhauls and fixes, even second contract campaign all for free.

The already heavily memed “flyro”. Image Credit – teamfortress.com

The new “pyroland” (free) campaign is a small 5 mission taster of the new “contracker” system (for more info on that, see my day 2 coverage). Each mission unlocks one of the new weapons. This is in stark contrast to previous updates, which had players buying crates, desperately hoping for random drops or paying hugely over the odds on the Steam marketplace all for a chance to try out new weapons.

The new weapons added are each fairly unique, a fireball launcher, a slap and even a jet pack put a new spin on combat. For a full list of changes and some more in-depth info on the new weapons, you can visit the Team Fortress blog, right here.

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Image credit – newburgh gazette

After a long period of stagnation, Team Fortress 2 was in serious need of some seriously cool (or should I say, hot) new weapons and day three of the Jungle Inferno update is a huge game changer, no pun intended. We now eagerly await the fourth day, the final in this epic update saga. Stay tuned folks.

Team Fortress 2: Jungle Inferno update – day two – Review 

This is a continuation of a four part review. To read part one click here.

Day 2:

After a few early morning hours of doubtful waiting, the second day of Team Fortress 2’s Jungle Inferno update is upon us and with it comes a whole host of new and welcome additions.

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The “new” contracker contracts system. Image Credit – Update Page

Contracts, introduced in the 2015 Gun Mettle update, return once more. As a quick explanation for those who missed the Gun Mettle update, it introduced a limited-time £3.99 “contract pass”. Owning this pass granted the user two unique weekly challenges (or contracts), these were relatively simple tasks, “get 10 kills as sniper” or “sap five dispensers as spy”. Completion of contracts rewarded the player with a unique weapon skin. Unlike the Gun Mettle update, however, the contracts from Jungle Inferno are accessed from the “contracker”. Whilst Gun Mettle contracts were plagued by arbitrary time constraints, the “contracker” lets you do any contract you want at any time in a system eerily similar to Counter Strike’s “campaign” system.

Whilst the method of getting contracts has moved towards a much more Counter Strike style system, the rewards system has shifted to a more unique approach. Whilst in Counter Strike (and previous Tf2 updates) rewards consist of a unique weapon skin or a case, Jungle Inferno grants you “war paints” or “blood money” (no not the Hitman game, as awesome as it would be, instead “blood money” is a new type of currency used to buy war paint).

War paints are effectively just skins in a can. As a devout sniper player, the barrage of battered shotguns I received from Gun Mettle contracts that I would inevitably never use, was immensely frustrating. “War paint” eliminates this problem as it allows you to apply the pattern you want, to the weapon you want, a very welcome change.

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Image credit – RockPaperShotgun

For players with more money than sense, two new cases have been introduced. Both contain a set of community and valve created cosmetics, with some being able to be earned via contract rewards. They are all jungle themed and give players access to shed loads of new apparel combinations in the veritable fancy dress party that is Team Fortress 2.

A new set of weapons is teased throughout the update page, including a banana for heavy and a flamethrower for pyro leaving the community waiting, with baited breath, for day 3. Stay tuned folks.

Team Fortress 2: Jungle Inferno update – day one – Review 

Day 1:

After an almost 500 day period of inactivity, valve have ended their apparent hiatus and delivered the newest Team Fortress 2 update: Jungle Inferno.

Image Credit – www.teamfortress.com/

Its fair to say that last year (especially when it comes to Team Fortress 2) valve made mistakes. The July 2016 Meet Your Match update, that introduced competitive matchmaking, absolutely ruined the TF2 experience for many, even the most die-hard fans like myself.

The question on every players mind right now is, “is it time to get back to TF2?” Time to dust off those character action figures? Time to once more proudly display your Mann Co. wall posters. Time to sip on some Bonk! Atomic Punch and boot up Team Fortress 2.

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Time to boot up one of my most played games again?

So far, first impressions seem good. Today marks day one of the whopping four day Jungle Update.  With a fantastic new animated short so rich in lore that it will surely cause any fan to squeal in delight, a lot of new taunts and teasers as what’s to come day one on its own would have constituted a fantastic update.

Why stay cooped up indoors this winter? Venture into Jungle Inferno’s series of tropical themed maps. Say “goodbye” to the stuffy, dusty dustbowls and gravel pits of the USA and say “hello” to the warm jungles of Brazil.

And now begins the waiting game. So far the Jungle Inferno update looks to be one of the best updates in Team Fortress history. What wonders will day two hold? Only time will tell. Stay tuned folks.

Ride To Hell Retribution – Review

 

The title “worst game ever made” gets thrown around a lot these days. Unlike classics such as Atari’s E.T, Superman on the Nintendo 64 and Big Rigs Over the Road that have all in turn been coined as the worst games ever, most modern contenders, like Duke Nukem: Forever merely just wallow in mediocrity.

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Ride To Hell (1%)? Retribution

This all changed when the 2013 title Ride To Hell Retribution reinvigorated the “bad game” genre. Dragged out of a fiery hell chasm by developers Eutechnyx and published by Deep Silver, Ride To Hell Retribution is awe-inspiringly bad.

The story follows Jake Conway, a Vietnam war veteran who looks like hes been hit in the face by a shovel one too many times, on his courageous and daring quest to bring the murderous biker gang that killed his brother to justice. The game begins with an impromptu turret section (the developers having apparently just stepped out of a time machine to 2010) and a series of random disconnecting events occurring at the same time. A motorbike race, a brawl, helicopter jumps and a man talking blankly at the screen all fade on and off screen with no context creating an almost trippy fever-dream like effect.

A nonsensical intro transitions into an ever more confusing driving sequence. This sequence is where the game’s core fighting mechanic rears it’s ugly head. A series of quick time events. Its like that one infamously bad bar-fight mission in Hitman Absolution. It’s as if that tumour from Hitman dropped off and evolved. Evolved into the horrible mutated mass that is Ride To Hell.

The Hitman barfight

Ride To Hell‘s voice acting is legendarily poor, sounding like it was recorded with a tin can and string instead of a microphone. The music is repetitive and bland. Sound effects are dull or sometimes just missing. For a game marketed by it’s motorbikes the single monotone “whirrrr” that poses as an engine noise, and gently bores into you skull, is inexcusable.

The bikes handle like they’re on an ice rink and the physics are nonsensical; a light bump on any surface causes the screen to fade to black and respawn you in the centre of the road. This occurs very often and sometimes for seemingly no reason although rather ironically, didn’t help at the multiple occasions where I fell through the floor into the great blue void of nothing.

As the title suggests, Ride To Hell is indeed a hellish experience.

Finally, Ride To Hell features some of the most hilariously broken logic ever found in gaming. Confronted with an electric fence, most people would consider maybe walking around it, cutting through it or even driving a car through it (I mean, this is a driving game right?). Well logic is not Jake Conway’s forte. Jake Conway drives 20 minutes out of his way to the power station, yes the power station, and blows it up.

This isn’t by all means everything. There so much more untouched muck in this manure-pile of a game. The gun play is terrible, the final boss fight is anticlimactic and the list goes on. Ride To Hell Retribution is an incredible experience. A textbook display of how to not make a videogame, Ride To Hell Retribution is the gaming equivalent of a freak show and definitely worth your time and money.

 

Dreadout – Review

The Dreadout franchise is the debut horror title of unassuming Indonesian developer Digital Happiness. Unfortunately, frequent glitches, terrible translation work and a comically bad plot will work in union to destroy what would have been an already clichéd horror experience.

In Dreadout your phone is your only weapon. Image Credit – Steam Store

Dreadout follows Japanese high school student Linda embarking on a school trip. After the school minivan becomes blocked by a fallen bridge the class teacher, in a mind-boggling display of educational incompetence, allows Linda and her classmates to explore an abandoned school. Night falls and (surprise) the group becomes separated, leaving Linda alone to venture into the school in search of her classmates.

After a brief prologue and cutscene you are now left to effectively freely wander around the school, solving puzzles as you go. These “puzzles” are where Dreadout’s rather “unique” design really shines through. Traditionally a game would provide you with a hint or a suggestion as to how to solve puzzles vital to progress. Dreadout, however, resolutely opts to tell you nothing. This isn’t a problem for the most part, puzzles often follow the formula “get item X use it on object X to progress”. In Dreadout most are fairly logical. For example, you come across a rope blocking your path and later you find some scissors. Logically you use the scissors to cut the rope and bam, you can progress.

Some of the puzzles are more cryptic. When Dreadout expects you to take photos of certain areas, like a specific classroom (which I might add, that looks identical to the hundred or so other classrooms you walked past just moments prior) you might find this a little unfair. When you are then expected, without any prompting, to examine the photo closely, taking note of extremely small details which hint at what to do, Dreadout’s logic becomes impossible to follow. Finding out how to solve the larger puzzles are little puzzles in themselves. Both are equally incomprehensible.

Mediocre boss fights. Image Credit – Steam Store

After some hours of traipsing around the school, Dreadout’s mediocrity really hits you. The puzzles become more illogical and complex as the game progresses, your boredom only occasionally broken by formulaic boss fights. After the second or third iteration of systematically spamming your phone camera in a ghost’s general direction as it slowly walks towards you, even the boss fights just become another chore. Dreadout plays like a “to do” list. Todo: Fight monster, find scissors, fight monster, use key etc…

Every good aspect of Dreadout is counterbalanced by a bad one. The music pleasant but the mixture of folk and contemporary jazz often doesn’t fit the tone and just destroys the atmosphere. The voice acting is surprisingly good. In contrast the subtitles are borderline illiterate. The indoor sections are too claustrophobic and the outdoor sections are just too empty and so on.

The entire game is also overly dark, being able to see only a few feet in front of you is never fun. Luckily, unlike other games that suffer from being too dark, you’ll never find yourself running into an area blind. This is because you are seemingly unable to run. Nothing is more immersive than a fit and healthy schoolgirl, screaming in terror, lightly jogging away from a terrifying monster as if only mildly inconvenienced.

After 2 episodes, 12 or so hours, of wandering around solving puzzles you are rewarded with an unsatisfying abrupt and unfitting ending.

Too empty. Image Credit – Steam Store

In short, Dreadout is a slew of underdeveloped concepts loosely tied together by the most cliché story ever told. As the few endearing aspects of the storytelling and puzzles deteriorate over the two acts, Dreadout really does nothing to keep you engaged and isn’t worth a cursory glance by most. Perhaps some diehard horror fans will appreciate the almost old-school PS2 era feel created by Dreadout, for everyone else however, it just seems dated.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number – Review

Violent, gory and generally repugnant, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number showcases the very worst gaming has to offer. And that’s what makes it so good.

The LSD fueled cover art of Hotline Miami 2: Wrong number

Ever since the introduction of video-game age rating systems and censorship of games like Mortal combat and Manhunt, deemed to be a bad influence on children, more and more games have been challenging the status quo; gradually nudging the boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable. The original Hotline Miami was as much an orgy of intense arcade style fun as it was a parody of senseless modern video-game violence.

Hotline Miami‘s outlandish determination to push boundaries is amplified tenfold in the sequel, which is longer, even more violent and even more grotesque than its predecessor. The psychedelic visuals and pulsating soundtrack come together seamlessly to form what is an aesthetically quirky and memorable game.

Quirky Visuals. Image Credit – nuuvem.com

With a story as confusing as it’s visuals, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong number‘s lore is one you might want to do some reading on. Confusion was inevitable though, as the introduction of 13 new protagonists, each with their own unique stories which intertwine into a complex overarching narrative, paired with the game’s constant jumping back-and-forth in time and overall cryptic presentation was surely going to create some confusion.

Not only do the new protagonists bring their own stories, they also bring new gameplay features. Each protagonist feels incredibly unique and the mask system which felt lacking in Hotline Miami has been greatly improved, each new character having their own masks and each masks having a genuine effect on gameplay. In Hotline Miami many masks felt completely arbitrary, granting effects like translating the game into French, the masks in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number alter the elements of the core gameplay itself, such as allowing dual wielding or even in one case, letting you play as two characters at the same time.

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Duel Personalities: Hotline Miami 2’s Alex and Ash

The new masks and gameplay features keep the game refreshingly new and over its whopping 12 hour long campaign you will never find yourself becoming bored. The maps are well made and each one feels very different from the last. The maps are bigger than those in the original, some spanning out over three or so screens. One or two are a little overly difficult but from day one the Hotline Miami series has been known its difficulty. One weapon, hardly any ammunition, tens of enemies and one hit deaths. The rush gained from finishing a level in Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is immense and only amplified by the new increased difficulty.

Some small quality of life changes have also been made to the Hotline Miami formula. The nauseous screen shaking and seizure inducing colour changes that crippled the first game have been greatly reduced, leading to a more comfortable experience. Unfortunately, due to the new level sizes some AI does seem a little more glitchy than the original, but this is by no means a deal breaker, and can even be a great asset at times. Shamelessly defeating a level by standing behind a door and insta-knocking out anyone who comes in can be an all too viable way to pass some of the hardest parts of the game.

Painting the town red

In short, the very long Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a sublime experience from start to finish and with Steam Workshop support you will want to keep coming back. Despite a few small bumps, it is an improvement on the already great Hotline Miami and is a definite must have for the hardest of gamers.

Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine – Review

A sleek and sophisticated love letter to movies all things heist; Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine manages to maintain a consistent, and beautiful art style, without sacrificing gameplay.

A team of four robbers descend on Monaco in what can only be described as Ocean’s 11 crossed with Benny Hill as you watch your heist’s careful preplanning crumble before your very hands as you frantically rush between room and room, hastily grabbing coins, your ears filled by the blaring soundtrack and assorted yells from panicked guards.

The entire game has a very unique style, your cone of vision indicated by a bright coloured light. Unseen areas are monotone floor-plans. Guards cannot be seen around corners, unless playing as the lookout character, and this creates a large sense of mystery, especially when entering an area for the first time. Although pretty, the constantly moving cones of vision become disorienting, and sometimes a little nauseating, especially when moving very fast.

The unique visuals are complemented by the superb soundtrack, a mixture of classic noire-style piano themes combined with some modern elements. The obligatory “indie-game end credits song” (Portal being patient 0 in this epidemic of quirky music) is present and fairly memorable.

The main goal of Monaco is to acquire money. A lot of money. A lot of money, very quickly. This is done through collecting brightly coloured coins, which are found gaily scattered throughout the various maps and collecting special mission objectives, represented by trophies.

Money collection in Monaco: Whats yours is mine. Image credit- www.nag.co.za

Your coin collection can be aided by helpful character abilities, such as the beggar’s monkey (a little kleptomanic furry friend intent on grabbing all things shiny).

If stealth really isn’t your style, an assortment of weapons, from the silent crossbow to the not-no-silent shotgun are available. The small ammo pool and loud noise created by these weapons makes them fairly impractical however. Combined with the minuscule aiming graticule and over-sensitive aiming, the use of weaponry is probably more trouble than its worth.

Monaco: Whats yours is mine has a huge number of (very well crafted) maps. This is ehanced by Steam Workshop support. PC users are treated to a smorgasbord of community created content. Not in the mood for CO-OP (or just dealing with frustration from repeatedly failing a heist)? Well then, try your hand at the various available PVP modes; a series of frantic coin grabbing rushes on small square maps.

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A heist gone very wrong Image Credit- GameTrailers Youtube

The jack-of-all-trades, that is Monaco even comes complete with a zombie mode for no additional cost! (*cough cough* red dead redemption we’re looking at you). The zombie mode (nicknamed “Zonaco”) and “Classic mode” alter the game’s gameplay and change aspects of maps, and even some of the musical scores, making the Monaco experience refreshingly different each time.

“Zonaco: Your flesh is mine”

 Monaco: What’s yours is mine is one of the pinnacles of indie gaming, and being recently made available on steam free of charge (for a short time) it is definitely worth a look, even when it’s not free, the small £10.99 price tag makes it a must-have for any Steam gamer. There is also a slightly more costly Xbox 360 port available. Although more expensive, and a slightly limited experience (with the lack of Steam Workshop), paired with a few other avid heisters in local co-op, you’ll surely have a blast.

Raid: World War II – Review

Raid: World War II is the spiritual “successor”  to Overkill’s Payday 2. You will come to find, however, that this “successor” has very little in the way of success.

Image Credit – Raid: World war II Steam store page

Initial impressions of Raid: World War II were poor. Very poor. After watching the beautiful cinematic trailer,  I booted up the game to be greeted by early PS3 era graphics. Disappointing. Upon playing the tutorial I began to feel a strange sense of deja-vu.

Afew matches later I realised the reason why: Raid: World War II is Payday 2. That may seem a strange statement, after all they are both seemingly different games, however, please allow me to elaborate. The shooting mechanics in Raid are copy-and-pasted from Payday 2. No aiming reticles, hip-firing and sprinting around dodging bullets all create fast-paced, blood-pumping, adrenaline-fuelled fun. Whilst this formula works in Payday, in Raid it feels very out of place.

The weaponry is probably biggest reason why the gunplay just feels so wrong. Whilst Payday 2 has an assortment of fast-firing SMGs, LMGs and even akimbo pistols, all culminating in what is an almost comic book styled fast-paced thrill ride. Raid, however, (forced with the confines of it’s time period) has slow and cumbersome bolt action rifles. There is a huge clash between what the game so clearly wants to be (Payday-style fast paced fun) and what it actually is (slow and boring).

Bolt-Action. Image Credit – ign.com

One of the many things Raid shares with Payday is it’s game engine. Payday 2 was built on the infamously poor Diesel Game Engine, an engine originally intended for racing games (hence the name). All the characteristic “features” of diesel engine are present and correct. Huge amounts of multiplayer lag, glitches galore and constant crashes are commonplace. Despite literally running on a racing engine, the game’s cars handle very poorly. Driving in Raid: World War II feels akin to skating on an ice rink while wearing a bomb disposal suit. Slow and out of your control.  Moreover, the abysmal optimisation ensures that even the best PC’s will struggle with the veritable slideshow that is Raid: World War II‘s FPS

Most of all, Raid: World War II just reeks of laziness. The reuse of the Diesel engine has allowed the developers to copy copious amounts of Payday 2 into their supposedly “new” game. The features that weren’t directly copied, such as the stealth system, have just been made worse. Stealth in Payday 2 was carefully sneaking around with silenced pistols, answering guard pagers with baited breath and tense moments when you’re on the verge of being spotted. In Raid all it takes if for one guard to glimpse you out of the corner of his eye and bam! Gunshots. Sirens. Frustration.

Raid and Payday are both games that rely heavily on replayability. The randomised elements of maps and RPG style skill-trees that so gripped players in Payday are no longer present, instead what remains are a few samey maps and a mediocre class system.

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The four playable characters of Raid: World War II

The real cherry on top of the laziness sundae that is Raid: World War II is the direct copying of maps from Payday 2. This is seen most prevalently in the map “rogues gallery” which is a literally 1 for 1 copy of Payday 2‘s jewellery store. The only difference being the slight texture changes and the removal of some cvillian NPC’s (probably because they were too lazy to actually program new civilian actions).

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Raid: World War II (left) VS Payday 2 (Right)

Raid: World War II is an shamefully poor attempt at a money-grab. A downgrade to Payday 2 in literally every way coupled with a price tag almost 3 times that of Payday 2(£30.99 vs £10.99) make Raid: World War II a game you should definitely steer-clear of. The only thing Raid does right, is making you want to experience Payday 2 all over again, and remember what made that game great.