Category Archives: PC Reviews

Streets of Rage 4 – Review

We’ve had a few weeks now to get to grips with SEGA’s recent revival of the iconic Streets of Rage franchise. A sequel to 1994’s Streets of Rage 3, it’s safe to say that Streets of Rage 4 has been a long time coming. After an over 25 year hiatus and at the hands of a new development team, can this newest entry hold a candle to the legacy of its predecessors, or would the Streets of Rage franchise been better off left in the past?

Style and substance


The most apparent feature of Streets of Rage 4, and a notable departure from its predecessors in the series, is the game’s stunning hand-drawn art-style. The four playable characters you are presented with as you start the campaign are excellently designed and beautifully animate. Series veterans will certainly appreciate the newly reimagined renditions of classic characters, who retain enough of their original moves and animation to feel nostalgic and familiar whilst also gaining some brand-new moves which keep them feeling fresh and interesting. Of course, this entry brings a few new characters into the roster, like the slow-moving but ridiculously strong cyborg powerhouse Floyd or the fast-but-weak Cherry who provide a distinctly new experience, even for series pros.

The Streets of Rage series has always been famous for its soundtracks, and this new entry certainly continues that legacy. The soundtrack is comprised of thirty-five memorable tracks. Ranging from house to hardcore and techno to trance the sheer number of genres encompassed by the music here means that people of any musical taste will certainly find something to love in this soundtrack. The only valid issue that can be raised at the soundtrack is the fact that the looping of certain tracks, particularly in the first few stages, can become a little repetitive after a while. The music is otherwise excellent and I can count on one hand the few other fighting games which even come close to having a soundtrack half as catchy and enjoyable as this one.

Chicken out


Gameplay in Streets of Rage 4 sticks pretty much to the established series formula. Each character has their own variations on light attacks, heavy attacks, jump attacks and a plethora of special moves at their disposal. These are activated through various button combinations which are all pretty intuitive, but still manage to be fairly challenging to master. Of course, it’s still possible just to sit back and enjoy random button-mashing your way to success on the lower difficulty settings. Luckily for less skilled players, dying in Streets of Rage 4 isn’t a very big deal. Upon loosing all of your lives, you are given the option to sacrifice some of your final score for an immediate resurrection and can sacrifice a little more to gain a few lives out of it. If you become really stuck, there’s always the option to start the stage again with a new character or difficulty setting selected.

Each of the game’s lengthy stages are comprised of first beating a couple legions of almost pathetically weak goons and then a climactic boss fight. The majority of stages also have a mid-boss fight, the difficulty of which should certainly not be underestimated. Although the re-use of some previously defeated bosses at the end of some of the latter stages in the game feels a teeny bit cheap each fight is still memorable and never fails to provide a good challenge.

These stages each take place in a different environment, the background sprites for which are lavishly detailed and excellently drawn. Different lighting conditions allow for some impressive lighting and reflection effects which, despite being drawn on the sprites themselves rather than being rendered by the in-game engine, manage to look absolutely phenomenal. The majority of backdrops in Streets of Rage 4 look so great that they will leave you wishing they were available as downloadable desktop wallpapers. To spice things up, levels are also littered with various destructible objects including traditional wooden boxes, rubbish bins and even telephone boxes. Destroying these objects can drop either money or food, which serves as a health item. Watching your character beating up an oil barrel until it spouts out a perfectly crisp roast chicken is not only hilarious, but can provide a much needed health boost in the more intense combat sections.

Knockout blow


Pleasingly, each stage can be tackled multiplayer, through the form of good old-fashioned local co-op. Up to four players can team up locally to help each other in the fight (provided you have enough controllers of course) and there’s even an option to play with someone remotely through the online co-op system. Unfortunately, online co-op only supports one additional player, instead of the usual four, but just the option to experience co-op gameplay remotely is a very nice addition. Your other players are even given the option to play with the character’s original styled pixelated sprites active, which is surprisingly practical and goes a long way to stopping you becoming confused about who is who on what is an otherwise very crowded screen.

Verdict:


Streets of Rage 4 is a rare example of simple concept perfectly realised to its full potential. With incredible visual flair and an amazing soundtrack, beating up wave after wave of enemies has never been more enjoyable. For those who are not fans of the beat-em-up genre, things may seem overall a little simplistic but for those yearning for something to quench their insatiable thirst for arcade violence, it doesn’t get better than this. Ironically in a series titled Streets of Rage, in this entry at least, there’s absolutely nothing to be angry about!


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

StarCrossed – Review

The last time we covered StarCrossed was when we sat down for a lovely chat with Francesca Carletto-Leon, the game’s narrative designer, and discussed her mission to create a co-op game that brings people together in more meaningful ways. With the game debuting on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One last week and lockdown ensuring the majority of us have far more time to spend interacting with members of our own households, there’s never been a better time to grab a controller, kick back on the couch and defeat some baddies – together.

Shooting stars


StarCrossed takes two eager players to the Nova Galaxy in order to try and protect the mystical Harmony Crystal from a plethora of intergalactic nasties and their legions of ghoulish minions. There are five playable characters for players to choose from, each possible character combination is accompanied by a specific set of charming character-to-character interactions which are presenting in the game’s visual-novel style cutscenes. Although fairly basic, the plot is nevertheless engaging and provides a few much needed moments of rest between high-octane segments of gripping gameplay. There are a couple memorable moments per character and the overall theme of friendship and unity is sure to leave your heart suitably warmed by the time the credits roll.

The heart-warming plot is accompanied by a set of cutesy magical-girl inspired visuals. The full-size detailed sprites used for the various characters in their selection screen and cutscenes are excellently drawn with an instantly recognisable StarCrossed style which blends elements of high-fantasy, fairy-tale lore and traditional sci-fi. The 3D combat sprites used in gameplay are equally stunning, watching the neon lit minimalist renditions of the characters dancing around your screen as you play feels just right and helps evoke the nostalgic feeling of a traditional arcade game. The occasional use of 3D animated background rather than traditional 2D background sprites is a nice touch, adding an interesting degree of depth to scenes.

The music, whilst not incredible, is still a pleasant listen and provides a soothing accompaniment while you play. Similarly, the occasional voice lines are delivered with great enthusiasm and the good casting choices compliment the character design. Although voicing the entire script would be understandably out of the question because of its long length, just a few more special attack lines would be a nice touch and help prevent the audio from becoming a little repetitive.

Fun for all the family


Gameplay in StarCrossed is unapologetically co-op oriented. Controls are mapped like a standard space-shooter but with a pretty significant twist. Players attack not by firing individual projectiles as you would probably expect, but rather by bouncing a shooting star between them, manoeuvring the star to collide with enemies in order to cause damage. Players can also press a button to spin kick, increasing the star’s speed and damage. This requires quite tricky timing and in my experience proved to be a lethal distraction from dodging the large number of enemy projectiles which are often on screen at the same time. Players also have a unique ultimate attack, which is charged when damaging enemies and unleashed for extremely high damage.

The surprisingly steep difficulty curve and the constant introduction of new enemy types and variations keeps things engaging and ensures that players master communicating and coordinating with each other to survive, connecting well with the plot’s overarching theme of unity. Unfortunately, the frequent reuse of enemy types feels a little repetitive at times but luckily the robust auto-save system and a spattering of memorable boss-fights sprinkled throughout the campaign prevent things from ever becoming truly frustrating.

Switch it up


Designed from the ground up for local co-op, StarCrossed has a plethora of options to help you play together. Friends can split play between the keyboard and a USB controller or close friends can huddle up together for the more intimate “split controller” mode which splits controls between a single controller. The keyboard bindings are sufficient but a little fiddly and I would highly recommend playing the game on any controllers you have available. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers are supported on PC but Steam Big Picture Mode managed to do a decent job at mapping the various controllers I managed to dig out for testing. Just be aware that your mileage with this feature may vary.

Naturally, the game transitions perfectly on to the Nintendo Switch because of the immediate availability of two controllers. The colourful visuals are an excellent fit for the platform and StarCrossed stands out as one of the, if not, the best co-op titles available for the Switch. On the other hand, Steam‘s ‘Remote Play Together’ feature is a big win for the PC version of the game, allowing the otherwise local coop only title to be played pretty seamlessly online – without the other player even needing to own the game! Outside this, the console and PC versions are otherwise identical so you can be confident you will get the full experience no matter which version you pick up.

Verdict:


Cute and colourful, StarCrossed is a overall a confident co-op title with a set of excellent visuals, good writing and a diverse cast of playable characters. With its few shortcomings only becoming apparent when the more repetitive segments begin to overstay their welcome, the title nevertheless succeeds in crafting a memorable experience that will certainly bring you closer to those you choose to share it with.


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

Project Hospital – Review

One of the first things any player will notice when they first boot up Project Hospital is its apparent complexity. From the very get go, you can see that jumping into the three lengthy tutorial levels can only just begin to scrape the surface of the plethora of gameplay features available and perfectly sets the stage for a deep hospital simulation that is as unapologetically elaborate as it is intensely rewarding.

Medical imaging


Visually, Project Hospital pays homage to the forerunner of the medical simulation genre, 1997’s Theme Hospital, by presenting itself from an isometric camera perspective and similarly pleasing pixelated visuals. Despite pursuing similar visual aims, a vivid colour palette and consistently top notch texture work elevates Project Hospital far above the graphical limitations of its obvious inspiration. Almost everything that can be seen on screen at any given time practically pops and these great visuals add much enjoyment to spending hours arranging props and decretive items in ways that look just right.

Unfortunately, the overall visual flair is slightly dampened by the character sprites which are slightly too realistic to entirely fit with the overall pixel-art aesthetic. Compounding matters, characters are stiffly animated and somewhat inhuman in their movements. That is not to say that the character look overtly bad by any means; the sprites are perfectly serviceable and you certainly stop noticing any slight stylistic differences after a few minutes, but it was still a little disappointing to see the excellent visual standard let down in this way.

On the other hand, the game’s music is near flawless. Its a pleasing mix of optimistic piano riffs accompanied by various medical sounds (that’s the technical term by the way) and fits the game’s look and feel like a glove. I often found myself sitting idle on the main menu just to soak in the excellent title theme. The only complaint I can level at the soundtrack is that it is not yet available on Steam‘s music player and I sincerely hope it becomes purchasable as part of any future collectors edition.

Play it your way


The majority of gameplay is, as you would expect, focused around constructing and managing hospital facilities. This includes recruiting staff and keeping their needs met, maintaining finances and most importantly ensuring patient satisfaction across various hospital departments. These departments offer your hospital different specialisms and treatment options. Investing in an operating theatre and surgery wing for example allows you to prescribe major surgeries in your treatments.

Controlling the functions of your departments is supported by a robust building mode, which offers zoning tools, the ability to create walls and place props or equipment in addition to an almost overwhelming amount of visual customisation. If you have the inclination, you can give each individual department a distinct colour scheme and are even given the option to alter individual staff uniforms to match it. In fact, almost every item has at least three different looks to choose from and despite being purely cosmetic helps make all of your hospitals feel entirely unique.

The level of cosmetic tweaking on offer is mirrored by the possibility for practically insane levels micromanagement. ‘Management mode’ lets you check individual staff member’s efficiency, roles, specialisations, assigned areas, supervisors, satisfaction levels and so much more. This all helps you assign your staff to different time slots or different roles based upon their individual skills. You can even tweak the level of certainty doctor’s need before giving a diagnosis. Picking a lower certainty threshold will drastically increase your patient turnover (and thus your income) but could potentially have tragic repercussions.

If the level of micromanagement offered by the base game wasn’t quite enough to fulfil your thirst, the free Doctor Mode DLC lets you assume the role of a character created doctor in one of your own hospitals and take patient’s treatments into your own hands.

Naturally, this level of intrusion may not be for everyone and the game has a few features to help facilitate you in directing your attention to the elements of the game that most interest you. The building presets, for example, allow the player to almost completely circumvent the time consuming process of equipping rooms if they do not wish to do so. This level of gameplay flexibility is excellent, and something more simulators should widely aim to accommodate. It allows you to maximise fun by keeping your gameplay focused on the parts you enjoy the most.

Not so elementary


The game is also very notable for its realism. Unlike most other medical management sims, in Project Hospital you deal with real conditions and prescribe real treatments – from what I could gather with my strenuous medical experience of the odd childhood injury and a dubious knowledge of A-level biology. This of course leaves the game with quite a steep learning curve and whilst getting to grips with the inner workings of highly realistic hospital ward may seem like a compelling challenge for some, it makes it hard to recommend this title to any casual players.

Furthermore, although the user interface design makes an admirable attempt to simplify the vast number of different tools on offer, the seemingly limitless overlapping sub-menus, tabs and windows can still seem confusing even after a few hours of play.

Diagnosis:


Getting to grips with its systems and idiosyncrasies may feel confusing at first but, at its core, Project Hospital is a best-in-class medical management sim. Although not for everyone, fans of the genre with the perseverance to master its realism and complexity will find a highly rewarding simulation packaged with a set of pleasing visuals and an excellent soundtrack to boot.


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

Google Stadia – Review

These days it seems almost everything we do is reliant on the cloud. This all-consuming digital pea-soup seems to have slowly seeped into every facet of our lives, and this is most obviously apparent in the world of entertainment. Mountains of cumbersome DVDs have been antiquated by streaming services which offer immediate on-click entertainment and the rise of music streaming technology has reduced vast collections of vinyl or CDs to nothing more than a novelty. Following this pattern, the eventual arrival of cloud streaming to the gaming world was almost an inevitability and whilst various companies like Microsoft and Nvidia have flirted with the technology over the last few years; there hadn’t been a high profile consumer release of cloud gaming technology until late last year.

Google’s Stadia gaming system promised to offer an affordable library of high-profile games ready to be streamed by any of your home’s devices at an excellent quality with zero-latency or input lag. Unfortunately, when Stadia released last November it didn’t quite live up to that promise and many were understandably disappointed by the shaky performance and the almost laughable lack of available games. Now, almost six months later and with numerous changes to their system, is Stadia worth a second look?

What’s in the box?


Whilst you can buy the fancy Stadia Premiere Edition” over at the Google Store which gears you up with a shiny Chromecast Ultra (capable of streaming content in 4K resolutions) and the colourful Stadia gamepad, there are actually no proprietary hardware requirements for using this service! That’s right, the only thing you need to stream content direct from a Google supercomputer is a basic PC and a solid internet connection – although for laptop users we’d definitely recommend getting your hands in a wired mouse or controller before you try and dive into any games. If you are interested in finding out more regarding the official Stadia controllers, stay tuned as a review will be available on Arcadeberry next month.

This lack hardware requirements is definitely the biggest draw of Stadia. From super-powered gaming PCs to a lowly budget Chromebook, we were able to get Stadia up and running on every configuration we tried in a matter of minutes. All you need to do is head over to stadia.com, log on to your Google account and press play. The lack of any download time is a welcome relief in an era where games’ file sizes seem to become exponentially larger by the day and helps free up otherwise occupied space for other programs. Because all of your games are stored on external server, accidentally deleting your save data is a thing of the past and your progress is automatically carried through to all of your Stadia compatible devices.

Playing on the cloud


Serious Sam Collection

As undeniably fantastic as never having to wait for a download again sounds, the time saved is very little consolation if it is not accompanied by acceptable in-game performance. For the most part, Stadia performs surprisingly well. When you have a good internet connection, games look crisp, even at the 1080p resolution of the free streaming tier, and I personally found if any input lag is present it is not at all noticeable. Unfortunately, any slight drop in your internet connection is highly noticeable with the sudden appearance of visual artefacts, controls becoming unresponsive and plenty of frustration. Whilst this may seem an obvious drawback of cloud gaming, it is worth noting that many of Google‘s measures against this inconvenience simply do not work as intended.

The inbuilt Wi-Fi checker which theoretically tell you whether you current Wi-Fi connection is sufficient in our experience didn’t seem to show any readings other than a “Good” connection, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The feature that ensures you can immediately jump back into your games if your Wi-Fi fails (provided your connection returns within five minutes) failed every time it was required leading to lost progress and wasted time repeating lengthy sections of games we had already finished.

If you have a flawless internet connection, your experience with Stadia will still be hampered by the cripplingly small library of games on offer. We counted thirty-eight total games available on the platform – excluding listings for multiple editions of the same game and DLC packs. Nine of these games are included as part of the ‘pro’ subscription model which also grants access to some solid discounts on a couple popular titles. Although the games available are all solid titles, and Google has promised hundreds of new games (even some timed exclusives) over the coming year to try and rectify the issue, this pitiful quantity is inexcusable considering the service has been already available for months now.

The social side


The Stadia online page is accompanied by a sleek mobile app which theoretically allows you to stream your games to your phone. Inexplicably, game streaming is only accessible on a handful mobile devices (predominantly the Google Pixel line and recent Samsung models) but this is not too disappointing with the high data requirements and tricky control mapping of services like Steam Link having already shown us that streaming PC games to phones is impractical and generally more trouble than it is worth. Luckily, the streaming feature is not the main draw of the app. Instead it provides a fast and visually appealing way to browse the online store and check your social settings which is technically leagues above the generally lag-filled Playstation and Xbox mobile apps.

Unfortunately, the social features you can access are highly lacking. There is no profile customisation with only a handful of pre-selected profile picture options, username changes can only be accomplished by contacting Google directly, your achievements cannot be displayed and seem to lack any real purpose beyond frustrating completionists. Most disappointingly of all, there is still not a basic party feature to let you play an online game with a group of friends. It’s also worth noting that many features when you are in-game on your PC, such as altering your visual quality, are bizarrely (and frustratingly) only accessible through the mobile app.

Whilst almost all of these missing features are tantalisingly labelled as “coming soon”, it’s been almost six months and very few new features have actually materialised.

Verdict:


In spite of its obvious and numerous flaws, Stadia is nevertheless persistently alluring. The ability to jump straight into your games after a purchase is enticing and feels just right. If all the promised features were implemented and the game library was expanded, this novelty would make recommending Stadia a no-brainer. As it stands however, we would only recommend Stadia to users with no other options. If you only own a weak laptop or Chromebook with a reliable internet connection, and your alternative is not playing games at all, you will probably find investing in a couple Stadia games a satisfactory low-cost way to quench your gaming thirst.

Flashing Lights – Early Access Review

Flashing Lights is an open-world emergency services simulator from solo Latvian developer Nils Jakrins. With the ambitious goal of offering not just one, but three fully fleshed-out simulators in one neat inter-connected multiplayer package can Flashing Lights provide an experience a cut above its competitors in the genre, or is the almost £12 asking price highway robbery?

Jack of all trades:


One of the most compelling draws of Flashing Lights is its versatility. As the game’s subtitle indicates: “Police, Firefighting, Emergency Services Simulator”, Flashing Lights isn’t just a police simulator. Rather, it offers players the opportunity to dip into the roles of a police officer, firefighter or medic and experience a whole new set of scenarios whilst trying to master a whole new set of skills.

The open world design helps make switching roles a breeze. You start the game with the option to start in the service of your wish, but from then on changing jobs is as simple as walking into the relevant building and hitting a convenient button. The online aspect of the game has different services interacting with one another, and this in conjunction with the plethora of mission scenarios that are selected at random and presented as calls for you to respond to, which helps keep things refreshingly different each time you play.

Crime and punishments:


Playing as a police officer in Flashing Lights is functionally what you would likely expect going in to any typical police simulation. Once you have created your character and chosen a your preferred vehicle, each with subtly different functions and aesthetics, you’re thrust into an open world town.

You can patrol by foot or car, looking out for erratic drivers to stop or waiting to respond to calls. Each call is entirely optional, handy as they are frequently repeated, and cover a wide variety of scenarios. From pursuing a speeding driver to a tense shootout with armed robbers Flashing Lights lets you simulate a wide range of plausible scenarios. You can approach the scenarios in any way you see fit, and have quite a few tools at your disposal.

Whether you want to professionally and calmly resolve a violent situation in a non-lethal manner by tazing and arresting wrongdoers or, in what some would argue is a more accurate depiction of the American police force, just simply mow down everything that moves with a shotgun – your specific play style is catered to.

It is worth noting however that good conduct is rewarded with reputation points which serve to fill a reputation meter in the top left of the screen. Conversely, bad behaviour causes points to be deducted. Whilst I haven’t suffered any repercussions for letting my reputation drop too low, it provides a nice incentive for those of us who like a score challenge.

Fire and rescue:


The game-play for the fire route is very similar, also centred around free-roaming and responding to calls. Of course, the equipment on offer for someone playing as a firefighter is very different from that of a police officer and the scenarios you tackle are based around extinguishing fires rather than catching criminals. In addition to tackling various types of building fire, you’re faced with vehicles collisions and of course rescuing house cats from trees.

The firefighter game-play is the most vehicle focused of the three, requiring mastery of various types of unwieldy fire-engine. Unfortunately, these vehicles are often a little too hard to control to be enjoyable. Whilst the engine’s various features, like ladders or hoses, are fairly intuitive, actually driving to a call-out is an absolute nightmare with plenty of winding rural roads and steep hills to get stuck on.

You are given the option to drive a small fire car but, unless you’re in a game with other players driving the large vehicles for you, it is woefully under-equipped. Although they may be annoying to drive, the fire vehicles stand out as particularly well modelled; displaying many small moving parts and little delightful details.

The doctor will see you now:


The medical simulation was a very pleasant surprise. Although it still has a foundation in the same call-based core game-play, a lot of effort has clearly gone into the individual scenarios which house the titles’ most dramatic and challenging game-play shift.

With a wide variety of medical equipment at your disposal, it’s your job to successfully diagnose and offer first response treatment to patients. Examining limbs, applying a neck brace or bandage while frantically running between your car and your patient for equipment is an awful lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the medical route is more linear by nature, with one correct “solution” for each scenario which causes it to suffer a lot in the replayability department. With little in the way of progression or an unlocking system present in the game yet, it’s quite hard to justify continuing to play as a medic once you have seen every situation the path has to offers.

Luckily, the games’ frequent updates are adding more and more scenarios and game-play features which should help to the great number of different mission required to rectify this in future.

A long way to go:


“In future” is really the core takeaway from Flashing Lights in its current early access state. The game manages to only just justify its current asking price by the sheer variety of simulation it offers and as a result has a surprisingly active community – with servers that are frequently packed – but things still feel very bare-bones. From the floaty vehicle handling to the visuals that can be described as “choppy” at bests, there’s a lot to improve.

Pleasingly, the developer is doing an admirable job keeping the game up to date, offering frequent Steam blog posts and even a content road-map. If you’re a die-hard emergency simulator fan, there’s a lot of to like in Flashing Lights and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it even in its current state. For the average player however, it might be best just to hold off a little longer and wait until the game has a few of its creases ironed out.

Want to pick up your own copy of Flashing Lights? You can click the link below to reach the store page.


Just so you’re aware! To aid this review a copy of  Flashing Lights was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games.