Category Archives: Reviews

Panzer Paladin – Review

Whether you’re a long time player who’s chasing the thrill of childhood nostalgia or a more recent arrival to the gaming world who is simply trying to live the highlights of an era gone-by, there’s nothing quite like a great retro-styled platformer. After a few hours with the recently released game from the platforming gurus over at Tribute Games, I can report that Panzer Paladin is exactly that – a great retro-styled platformer that will certainly scratch your itch for all things 8-bit.

Gundam style


The game opens with a quick tutorial level, which introduces the core mechanics of Panzer Paladin‘s gameplay. In short, you play as the pilot of a powerful mech suit – the titular paladin – and must utilise this suit to navigate sprawling levels populated by evil demons which have escaped from the underworld. These demons appear in a number of forms including horrible insects, evil knights and even knife-throwing goblins. Each enemy poses a unique challenge, with distinctive attack patterns with must be learned to ensure success in combat.

Players can employ the mech’s in-built defences, a somewhat weak fire-ball attack, or take advantage of the plethora of oversized medieval melee weapons dropped by enemies. Paladins are able to carry a large number of these dropped weapons, each of which carries its own attack range, damage stat and durability meter. These values, which can be viewed in the game’s pause-menu work about how you would expect. Weapons like spears have large ranges and high durability but comparatively low damage when put against the likes of swords or clubs. Having your items frequently break may sound like a chore on paper, but in practice it ensures you experience the wide range of weapons on offer and incentivises you to pursue higher-level, and therefore more durable, weapons.

You can manually break your weapons by holding a button. This destroys you currently selected item but unleashes a unique-power attack, the strength of which depends predominantly on the power of the weapon you are sacrificing. It’s an enjoyable and effective way of disposing of any lower-level items you might pick up and can come in extremely handy in a fight. Weapons can also be tossed a high speeds and throwing a spear at an out of reach enemy is an awful lot of fun. You still have to be careful though, because tossing away all your weapons willy-nilly can leave you highly vulnerable until they are retrieved.

In addition to combat the game also features some light platforming elements which have you avoiding trapdoor platforms, exploding mines and spike pits galore. These sections are made easier by leaving ejecting from your power-armour which renders you more smaller and more mobile at the cost of lower health and the inability to pick up and use weapons. There are also some small puzzle-like optional elements in levels centred around breaking parts of the environment or ejecting from your suit at specific points to enter small gaps. Completing these is often rewarded with a bonus health regeneration station or unique weapon.

A world at your fingertips:


One of the first thing’s you’ll notice about the game is it’s striking art-style, a faithful recreation of colourful 8-bit graphics. Each of the thirteen levels is based upon a real-world country, selected from a world map-style level select screen, and carries its own distinctive art style. The portrayals of each country may be a little on the stereotypical side but they provide a great variety. One minute you’re taking in the spooky gothic atmosphere of an ancient Scottish castle and the next you’re navigating the bustling streets of New York. I was also pleased to notice that the game’s bosses, which are situated at the end of each level, were all loosely based upon mythological creatures native to each country’s lore. The stages themselves are accompanied by their own fantastic theme songs, featuring an exciting blend of typical 8-bit beeps and more sophisticated elements clearly inspired by each nation’s traditional instruments. Each boss fight also comes with its own, more generic, combat theme.

From the map-screen, players can also access the “laboratory” in which they can use their “spirit points” – gained by completing levels – to upgrade their weapons. An upgrade system is a nice feature to have, but it is made pretty redundant by the fact that you still have to find the weapons each level to use them with the large number of available weapons making it quite tricky to actually encounter the specific one you have just poured all of your points into. Luckily, although these upgrades do undeniably improve weapons they are certainly not necessary to complete the game and in my playthrough the availability of powerful weapons in levels meant I never really felt held back by a lack of upgrades.

The game also features an in-depth weapon creator which allows users to create their own pixel-sprites and stat sheets. Your creation uploaded directly to the Steam Workshop on PC and automatically integrated into everyone’s games. Players can find community created weapons dropped randomly by higher level enemies and the potential of finding all-new weapons contributes greatly to the replayability of the game. If for some reason though you want to stick to only the developer-made weapons, the community content can be disabled at any time via the settings menu.

In addition to encountering all new weapons, replays are encouraged by the remix mode and speedrun mode. As the name would suggest, remix mode alters the levels of the campaign mode by altering enemy placements to create a more challenging experience whilst speedrun mode challenges players to beat “ghost” versions of either their previous playthroughs or those of the top global players.

Lost the plot


I found the only real major issue with the game to be the result of questionable PC optimisation. The default keyboard control scheme can be described as ‘unintuitive’ at best and makes a game with an old-school approach to difficulty borderline impossible at times – even on easiest settings. Thankfully, this is easily remedied through either picking up a cheap PC compatible controller or purchasing the Nintendo Switch edition of the game; it is worth noting that this edition doesn’t include the Steam Workshop features, however, for obvious reasons.

The game’s plot, which is presented through some admittedly superbly drawn retro pixel-art cutscenes, is pretty straightforward and I found that, despite their prettiness, being bombarded with walls of text at the end of an otherwise exciting level made me pretty eager to skip them; particularly in some of the longer story segments. It would also be nice to have the option to change the in-game font as, although the blocky text is undeniably authentic, I found it a bit hard to read at times. These criticisms may seem to be a little nit-picky, but there’s really very little wrong with the game besides these minor niggles.

Verdict:


When it comes to retro-styled platformers, this is certainly one of the best we’ve seen yet. It may not entirely reinvent the wheel conceptually but Panzer Paladin still has a host of fantastic features and a great art direction. Any fans of the genre will certainly appreciate a particularly well crafted set of maps, some killer music and gameplay which has undeniably been tweaked to perfection.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise – Review

Over the last few weeks, I’ve really been taking my time to get to know Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise. Its predecessor, an obscure Xbox 360 survival horror title, was jam-packed with idiosyncrasies and hidden features which took months, even years, for its fans to uncover and whilst the first entry in the series appears at first glance to be a borderline non-functional mess, underneath its rough surface of iffy controls, weird glitches and general strangeness, lies some of the most unapologetically brilliant storytelling and character building I’ve ever seen in a videogame. Thus, I wanted to make sure I was offering a complete evaluation of the sequel, taking into account everything it has to offer, rather than just basing this article upon any potentially deceiving first impressions.

Past and present


Beginning in the modern day, the prologue of Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise lets players experience see for the first time the profound effect the events of the first game have had on the now series’ protagonist, Francis York Morgan. Despite his retirement, the now elderly York begrudgingly finds himself at the centre of a new FBI investigation headed by two fresh faces, the no-nonsense Agent Davis and her comedic pizza-loving sidekick Agent Jones. Despite appearing initially uncooperative, York becomes intrigued when he learns about the appearance of a mysterious red tree in New Orleans and the sudden discovery of a young girl’s dismembered body frozen in a block of ice.

It soon becomes clear that Davis’ current investigation is deeply intertwined with a case worked by York almost fifteen years prior. This takes the plot back into the past, where players meet a refreshingly young Agent York who has, by pure coincidence, stumbled across the news of a brutal murder in the town of Le Carré at the heart of the deep south. Intrigued, York swiftly travels to Le Carré and assumes control of the case. Conducting his own investigation, aided by the Le Carré sheriff and his young daughter Patricia, York is soon thrust into a bizarre world of brutal killings, strange drugs and paranormal entities.

Whilst the almost surrealist writing makes the game’s atmosphere particularly hard to engage with at first, players who persevere are rewarded with an engaging and smartly-written three-part mystery filled with unpredictable twists, a lovable cast of characters and a jaw-dropping finale. It’s also worth noting that a knowledge of the previous game in the series, now marketed as Deadly Premonition Origins, is required to fully appreciate the plot. Whilst first-time players will probably still have some vague idea of what is going on at any given time, much of the nuance will be lost.

Please, just call me York


Much like the plot, gameplay is decidedly split between both the past and the present. In the present day, the player controls Agent Davis as she interrogates York and listens to his story. As Davis in the modern day, players are confined to a fixed position from which they can select from a number of items in the environment to initiate conversations with York. These sections are short, and found at the beginning of each segment, with the rest of the episode leaving players free to explore the open-world of Le Carré at Agent York in 2005.

Much like the original Deadly Premonition, life in Le Carré operates on a week-long schedule with named NPCs having detailed daily routines. You often catch characters driving around the map to go to work or completing various chores around town. Interacting with characters during certain parts of their routines or in specific episodes gives the player access to the game’s side quests. Although these side quests are often just a generic fetch-quest, they each provide a unique insight into the life of their associated character. In addition to solving side quests, players can entertain themselves with a variety of minigames; including bowling and stone-skipping. Both the mastery of minigames and the competition of side quests provide unique rewards like special suits to wear or unlocking new fast-travel locations.

Players also have to maintain various aspects of York’s wellbeing. Skateboarding around town in the sweltering Louisiana sun is quite a sweaty task, and the player needs to make sure showers or changes his clothes daily. There is also a hunger bar, with low hunger depleting stamina and health, which can be filled by dining at local restaurants or picking up snacks from the plethora of vending machines that are littered around town. You can also pick up temporary debuffs from catching a cold, drinking too much or even staying in the sun long enough to become sunburnt! Although many of these features seem pretty mundane on paper, they make the world of Deadly Premonition 2 far more immersive than most and kept me eager to explore the open world even into the late-game.

The main story quests also offer a fantastic variety of gameplay. With access to profiling mode which involves examining reconstructed crime scenes, gathering evidence at crimes scenes and the routine solving of riddle-like clues provided by a skeletal oracle; this is certainly an investigation like no other. York also frequently enters the distorted ‘otherworld’ throughout the course of the investigation by entering portals known as ‘singularities’. The otherworld sections comprise of fighting off waves of creepy monsters in addition to some very light puzzle solving. They always close with a memorable boss-fight and shocking plot revelations.

This barely scratches the surface of many of the game’s features, but if this large number of mechanics already seems a little overwhelming; fear not! Players can always access a handy bank of tutorial guides via the pause menu at any point in the game.

A blessing in disguise


Despite all of its charm, Deadly Premonition 2 does still have its fair share of issues. The most apparent problem is the game’s absolutely abysmal framerate which often dips below ten frames-per-second seemingly randomly. Whilst closing and reopening the game frequently does seem to alleviate this problem somewhat performance is still inexcusably poor. On top of this, certain cutscenes often result in soft-locks and black screens. Although the game does have an autosave feature, I would still recommend saving frequently just to be safe.

I also found certain animations, particularly the shooting animations and even some parts of cutscenes, seem stiff an oddly unnatural. There are also a number of eerily stationary, almost dead-looking nameless NPCs spattered around Le Carré, presumably for decoration, which I felt were a completely unnecessary addition and just detracted from the otherwise good-looking locale. The game also has its fair share of general glitches, with falling through the floor, floating NPCs and enemies stuck in walls not a particularly uncommon occurrence.

Once you get past the initial teething phase, it’s still alarmingly easy to become enthralled by the incredibly gripping storyline. Perhaps the biggest compliment that I can give to Deadly Premonition 2 is that, in spite of all its glaring issues, I never wanted to put the game down. if you’re still put-off by the poor performance though, the developers have thankfully already confirmed the fact that there is a complete patch in the works – although no release date has been given.

Verdict:


It may a be a little rough around the edges but the game provides series fans with exactly what they would want from a sequel whilst still, almost incredibly, wholly subverting expectations. It supersedes the original in some respects whilst simultaneously significantly lacking in others but nevertheless provides a suitable vessel for Agent Francis York Morgan, one of the most brilliantly written characters in videogame history, to make a triumphant return. I’ve never known a game to have a more fitting tagline than Deadly Premonition 2 which, on the whole, can rightfully be described as nothing short of “a blessing in disguise”.

The Otterman Empire – Review

There doesn’t seem to have been much to celebrate recently but that certainly doesn’t stop us from being in the mood for a good party game. The Otterman Empire from indie developers Tri-Heart Interactive is one such game. A bright and colourful co-op shooter in which you play as adorable otters, might just be the you need to keep you and your friends cheerful when times are tough.

A l(otter) heart


Set on an intergalactic space colony, The Otterman Empire places players in the shoes of a customisable aquatic warrior who is tasked with defending the planet against the evil mad scientist Dr Tiko by destroying his seemingly endless army of malevolent machines. Players can face this challenge with up to three friends in local co-op play or opt to face it alone in single-player. There are eight selectable characters to choose from, each with a unique design and diverse selection of unlockable cosmetic items to discover.

From a visual standpoint, The Otterman Empire is a pretty good all-rounder. The colour palette is bright and cartoonish, perfectly complimenting the game’s character’s colourful designs. I found all of the eight included maps to be intriguing, each one covering a distinct visual theme. These range from a futuristic sport themed space arena to the gardens of a mediaeval looking castle. My personal favourite was the game’s first map, a sleek futuristic city environment which was both gorgeous to look at and a lot of fun to explore.

Your progress through the game is mapped, if you’ll pardon the pun, by the maps you unlock through playing. Each one has three alternate game-modes to try with a potential of nine total stars to unlock – three stars being the highest obtainable rating per game-mode. By unlocking a sufficient number of stars, you gain access to the next map. In theory, this ensures the player will spend a sufficiently long amount of time in each map to get really to grips with it. but in reality, this system just becomes a bit of a slog after a while; with players forced to repeatedly go over the same maps in order to get a high enough rating to progress.

In spite of the forced repetition, the different game-modes which are on offer in each map are nevertheless pleasantly varied. My personal favourite was ‘squidditch’ a fast-paced mode which challenges players to use their jetpacks to slam dunk as many bombs into enemy spawning portals as possible. Both jetpack fuel and ammunition is replenished through sliding gaily along waterways which are dotted along maps and additionally serve as a quick method of transportation when you’re in a hurry. The other game-modes on offer are similarly unique and all require a distinct set of skills for players to master.

Not quite a party


It is a huge shame that no matter which map or mode you choose to play there seems to be only two total enemy types found throughout the entire campaign. There are stationary turrets which will blast any player unlucky enough to stumble into their field of view with a laser beam and smaller, laser-firing flying drones, which are often equally as stationary. The strategy for tackling both enemy types is the same, unload as many shots into them as quickly as you can, and this tangible lack of enemy variety causes gameplay to become incredibly stale in only a matter of minutes.

Overall, the campaign mode offers a few interesting modes to try out, but the seeming lack of effort put into enemy design and behaviour leaves the whole ordeal feeling like one big wasted opportunity. It can be tackled in both a single player or as part of a local co-op but why anyone would actually want to play the campaign in co-op, and not the far more interesting versus mode which does away with the boring robot enemies, is beyond me.

Sitting down with the versus mode and having your buddies blast away at each other’s otter avatars is an awful lot of fun! It allows you to return to your favourite maps and revitalises the more interesting game modes from the campaign. PC users also have the option of Steam‘s ‘Remote Play Together’ with which you can invite a friend to play a livestreamed version of your game through an integrated browser window. It is entirely reliant on the other player having both a fast internet connection and USB controller on hand, but does you the chance to play the game with people who are not in the immediate vicinity.

Otterly baffling


I am happy to report that since launch, the game has received numerous patches and small updates – the most significant of which was a fix for the PC version of the title, which launched with a borderline unusable keyboard control scheme. It would be nice to see some further additions to help improve the overall polish of the game.

A notable area for improvement is the audio design. Whilst most of the included original music is good, the audio design of the in-game dialogue definitely needs some work. With no actual sound effects beyond a few frequently repeated, and strangely quiet, soundbites, the character interactions of both the campaign and tutorial feel completely lifeless. Another appreciated addition would be a reworking of the game’s graphics menu, which still doesn’t include basic options like changing the window’s resolution or even just the option of playing the game in windowed mode!

The UI on PC is absolutely huge and there is absolutely no way to resize the text and buttons so that they don’t occupy large areas of the screen. Simply addressing these few basic issues would go a huge way in improving the title’s overall look and feel. It would also be nice if damage taken was more obviously communicated to the player. It’s hard to keep track of your health in the heat of a battle and there were many occasions when I didn’t even know I was taking damage until I had died.

Verdict:


The saddest thing about The Otterman Empire is that the game is almost good. Whilst there has evidently been a lot of love and passion behind the title’s unique art-direction, quirky writing and superb community management over the years; a number of baffling design missteps and a lack of overall polish unfortunately prevents me from being able to wholeheartedly recommend this title. It isn’t an inherently awful option if you’re craving a local co-op fix, but many would-be players will likely find that the game’s current issues are just a little too hard to swallow.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Hunting Simulator 2 – Review

If you are yearning for a taste of the great outdoors this summer, what better way to experience it than through a computer screen? I’m serious! No more will you have to put up with long travel times to reach a remote destination; no more painful struggling under the weight of an overly-heavy rucksack and, best of all; no more awful, itchy mosquito bites! Hunting Simulator 2 is one game that promises to surpass the fun of stepping outside through providing a faithful recreation of going hunting in the distant wilderness which you can experience all from your sofa.

The great outdoors


The first thing that struck me about the world of Hunting Simulator 2 was its graphics. Few games attempt a wholly photorealistic look, instead opting for some degree of stylisation, but here the environments around you look about as realistic as they come. The forest environments are lush with huge valleys, streams, rock formations, cabins and countless trees that really benefit from the game’s superb lighting engine. The first time I saw sun rays piercing through a jagged treeline on a backdrop of snowy mountains I was blown away by just how great it all looked.

Whilst some of the six included maps, particularly those set in Colorado and Europe, follow pretty much the same art direction and feel very much the same as one another in play, the Texas and Savannah environments are a refreshing change of pace. These wider, flatter environments have little in the way of plant life and are painted with a radically different colour palette. All three maps present a different set of challenges for the player to overcome and contain a solid variety of distinct animals for you to hunt.

It’s also worth noting that parts of the included maps are based on real locations. Although I cannot fully vouch for their authenticity, having never actually visited any of the nature reserves or national parks that are featured, I can safely didn’t spot any obvious discrepancies when comparing the in-game Colorado locations to photos of the real world Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grasslands I had found on the internet.

When you’re not exploring the outdoors, you can explore your hunting lodge. This small area serves as your hub world, allowing you to access the in-game shop and change your gear. When you first launch the game, your lodge feels eerily empty as there are many blank spots allocated for you to display your hunting trophies and a gun room which showcases all of your purchased weapons. Watching your lodge gradually fill up with trophies and tools as you progress through the game is quite satisfying, and there are enough customisable display spaces to allow you to feel like you’re lodge is somewhere truly unique to you.

The lodge also allows you to, through interacting with a laptop situated on a coffee table; access the in game shop – portrayed as an in-universe website. The shop lets you pick up a plethora of new guns, all faithful recreations of real world models and brands, in addition to a wide selection of useful tools and clothing that you can use to customise your character. Like the weapons, the clothing is also based upon real brands and serves a more practical purpose beyond just aesthetics by helping you blend in more easily with your surroundings.

Money is gained by selling the animals you have killed on your hunts, with credits awarded based upon the stats of the animal and where exactly your shot has hit. This is the cornerstone of the game’s basic gameplay loop. You hunt animals to earn money, which you then use to upgrade your gear and then in turn allows you to hunt more animals and thus earn more money. To stop you snowballing through the game too quickly, and adding a further degree of realism, a hunting licence is required for a species of animal before you can legally kill it. These work on a per region basis, are quite pricey and can only be purchased from your lodge.

The licence system means you’ll end up travelling back to your lodge quite frequently and the harsh fines incurred for killing animals without a licence penalises players who become a little too trigger-happy.

Man’s best friend


Despite the large number of available weapons, the majority of gameplay involves tracking animals rather than shooting at them. Players are granted a canine companion in the tutorial section of the game who is able to detect and follow animal’s trails automatically. There are a few dogs available to purchase from the in-game shop, each with slightly different base stats which upgrade gradually as you spend more time with your companion. You can even name your dogs and, perhaps most importantly of all, pet them whenever you like.

Whilst the AI of your animal companion is overall serviceable, only occasionally glitching out or getting stuck, the creatures you are hunting showcase considerably more advanced artificial intelligence. The time my slow stalking of some of deer was loudly interrupted by the arrival of a huge bear was both very exciting and very memorable. These organic animal encounters, whilst sometimes a little inconvenient, make the game world feel considerably more real than those found of most other hunting games I’ve tried, in which the worlds feel more like a virtual shooting gallery that exists specifically for the player rather than anything particularly real.

Near miss


Although the game’s gunplay is suitably satisfying, I found the reloading animation for some weapons appeared a little stiff and unnatural. Playing in the third-person mode only exacerbates this issue, as it places the unimpressive character models, which are otherwise seldom seen, in the forefront. It’s not that the animations or character models are particularly poor by any means; they just don’t seem quite up to the high standard set by other aspects of the game’s visuals.

I found that, on the Xbox One version of the game at least, there were in-frequent bouts of lag and the occasional bit stuttering throughout my playtime. I also encountered an annoying bug in the tutorial section of the game where the in-game map-screen refused to load and when I got lost and had to consult it, it just wasn’t there. Luckily, this issue seemed to resolve itself after a quick restart of the game.

Verdict:


Although it may be a little too slow-paced for some, Hunting Simulator 2 offers a robust simulation which faithfully recreates many of the most important aspects of real-world hunting. There are a huge variety of distinct weapons to try out on the three included maps which are of an impressive scope and scale. The whole thing comes together to create an immersive world and an overall experience that the right player will enjoy getting lost in; quite possible for many hours at a time.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.

Tracks – Review

Nowadays a lot of people are understandably using some of their newfound time at home to take up now hobbies and pursue new interests. Unfortunately, whether you’re thinking of trying your hand at bird-watching or attempting to learn a new craft, getting the materials you need to try out new hobbies can be quite a large investment and one that can be especially frustrating if in the end it turns out you don’t even like the activity you have poured hours of time and copious amounts of your hard-earned cash in to. That’s where Tracks comes in – a fun way to try your hand at train set building on PC and Xbox, without the hefty price tag!

Piece by piece


As the title would suggest, Tracks is a game centred around a virtual wooden train playset. After completing a brief tutorial, players are set loose in sandbox mode where they can create their own world entirely from scratch or set about massacring one of the beautifully crafted example maps thoughtfully included – presumably to provide players with building inspiration. The secondary ‘passengers’ mode changes the pace a little, pitting players against a barrage of sporadically placed stations and the thankless task of ferrying constantly spawning groups of passengers between from selected platforms to their destinations.

In both modes, gameplay is comprised predominantly by the placing of various wooden track pieces to create routes. This is a far more relaxing process than other sandbox titles, with pieces aligning themselves to a selected end piece of track and placed through the simple action of clicking. Pointing your cursor left or right lets you create bend pieces and scrolling the mouse wheel either up or down will raise or reduce the height of pieces to create tall bridges or steep declines. Joining a new track piece to an existing line will automatically create a junction or crossroad piece. If this all seems a little too automated for your tastes; an option exists to manually switch between pieces, to undo your placed track or to clear your current piece and select a new existing area of track to alter.

These track creation mechanics are the perfect blend of simple but powerful. They are intuitive enough to be accessible to anyone who just wants to pick up the game and jump right into playing whilst also providing enough depth to be a viable method of creating and managing more complex designs. The simple control scheme has the added benefit of allowing players to rapidly place track without having to worry too much about making any mistakes that could stop the line from working – an invaluable tool when you’re battling against some of the time-limited passengers found outside sandbox mode.

Making a scene


Of course, you are not just limited to placing track pieces, with a wide variety of props being available to provide some much needed decoration to the surrounding environment. There is a surprising depth and variety in the items on offer with a pleasing plethora of objects, buildings, vehicles and plants to choose from. All the decorative items follow a low-poly toy-like aesthetic and being able to spend some time meticulously creating cutesy little rural scenes is a nice change of pace from using the more speed-oriented track creation tools.

I found building up a few small villages complete with local shops, parks and cottages, all populated by wooden figurines, made the eventual act of joining them together through stations and lengthy railways considerably more rewarding. Some props, like the houses, come with a good number of alternate colour options which helps prevent props from becoming too samey when you want to place them in large numbers. You can label your creations through placing town signs, which allow the player to input and display a text, and when placing the little wooden people you can choose between a number of clothing options, each corresponding to a profession or seasonal style.

If you feel the included set of props are not enough for you, heading over to the Steam or Microsoft store allows you to pick up one of the Tracks DLC packs on offers. So far there is only one available, a free pack which offers a collection of more urban themed props; a nice addition to the more countryside oriented items of the base game. With more DLC and future updates in the works, it will certainly be nice to have the option of choosing objects from a few more themes in future.

In addition to placing items, players can directly alter the environment from a customisation sub-menu. You can change the colour of the backdrop, time of day, add grass or mud to the base plate, add fog and, best of all, activate a winter snowfall weather effect which coats your buildings in a soft layer of snow. Props with lighting elements, like streetlamps or the windows of houses, automatically illuminate in darkness which helps you create some really stunning night-time scenes. There is even the option to alter the colour of the train and a slider to add wear-and-tear to its paintjob. The overall level of customisation in Tracks is staggering and means it’s it all too easy to become wrapped up in creating your own little world.

Full steam ahead


After you have created your dream track, at the press of a button the player can enter the first person train driving mode. As you can probably imagine, piloting a toy train is a very simple task. The player can move the train forwards and backwards and choose to steer it either left or right at branches or junctions. There is also the option to outfit your train with a whistle which doesn’t serve any real purpose beyond adding an additional degree of intractability.

In spite of the controls being a little on the floaty side, which can become quite annoying at times, appreciating the intricacy your meticulously crafted miniature marvels from a fresh perspective is still an undeniably magical experience. It is unfortunate that the lack of an ability to control the train outside of the first person perspective can often be a little frustrating. Sure, you can jump into first person to set the train going at a certain speed before jumping back to building but there’s nothing worse than subsequently having to helplessly watch your precious locomotive speed off a section of track you had yet to finish building.

The addition of a secondary set of controls accessible from the building screen would completely negate this issue and add a quicker way to test out sections of track without breaking up the flow of the game by having to constantly switch between views.

On the right track


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The soundtrack could too benefit from a few new additions. Although the title’s selection of piano melodies is excellent and contributes greatly to an almost overwhelming atmosphere of serenity and calm, its thirteen tracks all sound fairly similar and can become rather grating after a long period of play.

Furthermore, with the sheer power of the creative tools which are made available to the player, implementation of the Steam Workshop would be an excellent way for the community to more easily share their creations and download the work of others.

Verdict:


With charming visuals, excellent customisation options and an array of powerful building tools at your disposal, Tracks is an all-round great sandbox title. Serving as a perfect introduction to open-world gaming for kids and a nostalgic, calming experience for adults; creating a colourful railway system with Tracks successfully rekindles the child-like joy of creativity in everyone.


Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.