Category Archives: Playstation Reviews

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.

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 if you are yearning for something to quench your insatiable thirst for arcade violence, it doesn’t get better than this.

Ironically for a game titled “Streets of Rage”, 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 overall a confident co-op title with a set of excellent visuals, good writing and a diverse cast of playable characters. Its few shortcomings only become apparent when the more repetitive segments begin to overstay their welcome. Nevertheless, the title succeeds in crafting a charming memorable experience which will certainly succeed in its aim to 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.

We Need To Go Deeper – Review

We Need to Go Deeper, a procedurally generated undersea adventure, promises to test even the strongest friendships with its chaotic four player co-op. With an intriguing premise and undeniably eye-catching visuals, does We Need To Go Deeper pack enough punch in the gameplay department to keep itself from going belly-up?

Extraordinary voyages:


Inspired by the world of Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires We Need to Go Deeper‘s setting, ‘The Living Infinite’, is an unexplored abyss at the heart of the Atlantic Ocean full of tantalising treasures and terrifying creatures.

An intrepid undersea explorer, the player is tasked with diving into these endless depths to seek out fame and fortune. Of course, this impossible task could never be accomplished alone and as such you are offered the option to bring three budding crewmates along for the ride. If you, for whatever reason, are unable to convince your friends to accompany you to certain doom, you can either try (and fail) tp do it solo or (more realistically) bring along three bots for the ride. The solid character creator helps you customise your sailor to your liking, with more clothing options available for unlock as you play.

The majority of this gameplay takes place in your submarine, which players have to work together to pilot. The cramped interior of your vessel houses panels which control the various aspects of the ship. There’s a big captain’s wheel which lets you steer, a torpedo bay and gunner’s seat – careful management of which is essential for utilising your ship’s cannons – and a whole room dedicated to controlling the allocation of your ship’s precious power.

It’s a great system, which requires a surprising amount of skill to master. It’s also quite a lot of fun not to be anything but the master. Desperately scurrying around your ship screaming at your crewmates to turn off the lights so you can power up your engines for a mad escape from an impending octopus is an awful lot of fun.

Dark corners of the sea:


Giant octopi are not your only undersea adversaries of course. With a roster of abominations a little more Lovecraft than Verne, I and my terrified crew had to battle singing sirens, multiple-mouthed monstrosities and even, at one point, a towering cyborg!

Every so often you are given the option to leave your ship and explore various dungeons in the form of ancient ruins. These take the form of brief side-scrolling sequences usually packed with an abundance of enemies and a veritable treasure trove of coins. You can spend these coins in shops located in explorable civilisations. These civilisations also offer the opportunity to recruit unique companions and even pets to accompany you on your journey.

The type of civilisation, which ranges from mer-people inhabiting sunken pantheons to ancient Egyptians living in an ancient undersea dome, is dependent on the biome. There are currently ten biomes in We Need To Go Deeper, each with its own distinct environments, enemies and lore. Seeing the charming hand-drawn style take on a variety of looks as your progress is very refreshing and the new enemy types that come with each biome have you always anticipating what you might encounter next.

A sinking ship:


Unfortunately, the superb in game visuals don’t extend to the game’s title screen, which I found unnecessarily clunky with multiple menus that often overlap. The screen transition between pressing the play button and the start of the game is uncomfortably laggy, for seemingly no reason, and the in-game graphics options can be described as sparse at best.

On the flip side, it’s clear that the development team spent all the time they could have spent polishing the menus perfecting the far more important gameplay but it’s a nevertheless a little disappointing that my first impression of a game did not at all reflect its overall high quality.

Luckily, this is a relatively simple issue to fix. With the gameplay perfected and the admirable frequency of high-quality content updates the game has been receiving in the months since its release, I am sure a sparkly new menu will be in the works some point down the line and this minor nag will no longer be an issue.

On that note, this is definitely a game you find yourself revisiting – a lot. There are very few recent co-op games of this quality around anymore, and the inclusion of a level-based progression system was an excellent choice, with enticing unlocks to keep you thirsting for more. The procedural nature of the game’s map and the capacity for random events also helps make repeating the early biomes after an unlucky death a little less frustrating than some other games in the genre.

Deep dive:


We Need To Go Deeper is overall represents a very strong point in the roguelike genre. Its highly unique visual style is a great way of drawing you in to what is a finely tuned and deceptively deep co-op adventure that will have you and your friends coming back to for a reliably great experience time and time again.

If you fancy a go at undersea exploration yourself, feel free to check out We Need To Go Deeper on Steam using the link below!


Just so you’re aware! To aid this review a copy of  We Need to Go Deeper was provided free of charge by Deli interactive.

Donut County – Review

Donut County is a unique indie puzzler, featuring an adorable racoon intent on stealing trash and a town full of animal residents just waiting to be stolen from. Released over a year ago, does this award-winning indie adventure still hold up, or does age expose some previously unseen holes?

A hole lot of fun:


The player is dropped intoin the life of BK, a young racoon who has recently landed a new job at a start-up company that collects trash by the careful manoeuvring of portable remote control holes. Each level begins with the player clicking somewhere to summon a hole which, although initially tiny, gradually grows and grows in size with the more objects (and even unlucky Hole County residents!) that end up sucked into it.

Larger holes reward your progress by allowing you to swallow even larger objects which in turn help to increase the size of your hole, creating a supremely satisfying gameplay loop. This satisfaction is further amplified by the fact that your hole-size is reset in-between each of the self-contained sandbox levels. Working your way up from a tiny rabbit-hole that struggles to suck up even a few blades of grass to a colossal sink-hole that effortlessly absorbs entire skyscrapers just doesn’t get old no matter how many times it is repeated.

As the game progresses, you gradually unlock new abilities for your hole – such as a catapult which allows the player to hurl certain objects back into the air. These are used to facilitate the majority of the puzzles found throughout the game. Whilst these puzzles are not particularly difficult, even I who considers myself extremely puzzle-inept never had to resort to an online guide, they are spread-out enough and provide just the right level of mental stimulation to keep what would otherwise be a fairly simplistic game engaging throughout.

Heart and design:


A soothing yet upbeat soundtrack compliments Donut County‘s pleasing pastel aesthetic which is just soft enough to evoke feelings of calm and warmth yet still vibrant and quirky. It’s a perfect fit, and one that makes playing a highly relaxing experience. Although minimalist in design, levels each have their own unique and memorable look – usually matching the personality or appearance of their associated characters. Moving from a rural countryside farm to the likes of a desert to a city street helps provide a much needed pallet swap every now and then.

This colourful coat of paint makes Donut County perfect for younger gamers. It’s not too difficult, and they would certainly enjoy the charming design and appreciate the pleasing tactility of the physics engine.

This colourful coat of paint makes Donut County perfect for younger gamers. It’s not too difficult, and they would certainly enjoy the charming design and appreciate the pleasing tactility of the physics engine.

Not without its holes:


I found these cut scenes often overstayed their welcome – an issue amplified by the lack of voice acting. Reading dialogue boxes accompanied by randomised babble, à la Animal Crossing, simply isn’t engaging enough to carry a game that tries to focus so heavily on story. Sometimes the humour was a little jarring too. In comedy it’s natural that for every laugh, there are a couple of jokes that fall flat. In most circumstances is not an issue but when the vast majority of dialogue is comprised of jokes, it starts to feel like every other line is yet another wearisome punchline.

There are also long “texting” scenes in which you sit and watch your character receive SMS messages, stirring occasionally to either send a duck emoji (which does nothing) or clicking a single on-screen prompt to reply. Without the colourful aesthetic of the over world or the animated bouncing of characters to keep your mind occupied, these scenes are quite frankly monotonous. They also seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. Implementing an option to choose which reply you send would be a great way to add a small element of replayability to the game.

This lack of replayability is probably the biggest issue with Donut County. Clocking in at slightly over two hours, this short length is simply not enough content for the over £10 PC price-tag and the total lack of replayability and reliance on a linear story makes this a title harder to recommend than it otherwise would be.

The hole picture:


Despite its flaws, Donut County is nevertheless a charming and memorable adventure. In spite of the fact it may struggle a little to wholly justify its hefty price-tag at its rustiest points, frequent half-price sales since launch make this title just a little too tempting to pass up, even for those who don’t feel wholly convinced. As a little bonus, the low seasonal sale prices make Donut County a great option as a Christmas gift for your Steam friends.

Speaking of sales, as if by magic, Donut County is on a half-price discount for a few days! You can check it out by clicking on the link below.