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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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.