Tag Archives: 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 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.

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.

Soundcore Life P2 – Review


To aid this review, Soundcore Life P2 Headphones were provided free of charge by ANKER


The Soundcore Life P2 is a new release from ANKER‘s subsidiary Soundcore. Despite achieving success as a manufacturer of quality chargers and portable power-banks, ANKER has little experience in the headphone field. Do the Soundcore Life P2s manage to avoid some of the teething problems emblematic of a manufacturer’s first foray into the headphone world and deliver an excellent experience at a budget price?

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What’s in the box?

The Soundcore Life P2‘s relatively compact packaging, approximately 18cm x 10cm x 3.5cm, comes packed with a surprising number of goodies. As expected, the each earbud and their charging case is present, neatly secured in a plastic tray with the charging cable (USB-C). There is also a feedback card, a simple quick start guide and a little booklet of legal documentation in only occasionally dubious English.

The inclusion of ten differently sized rubber eartips is a nice touch. With sizes XS/S/M/L/XL included, pleasingly arranged on little plastic pegs in the packaging, every user is sure to find that perfect fit. It would be great if some manufacturers would learn from ANKER and begin including a larger variety of eartips in their budget, and even sometimes premium, headphones.

Set up:

As the quick start guide would suggest, the set-up process is quick and painless. First, You simply charge up the case with the headphones inside, the LED indicators in both the case and the headphones helpfully tell you their battery life and when they will be ready to pair.

Paring is as simple as removing from the case once they are suitably charged, which prompts the headphones to automatically enter pairing mode, and selecting “Soundcore Life P2” on your phone’s Bluetooth dashboard.

It is worth noting that the instruction manual suggests some phones will have more trouble pairing than others. Due to the “Qualcomm True Wireless Primary-Secondary pairing names”. This means your phone may mistakenly suggest that only one earbud is connected. Luckily, the instruction manual assures us, “it will not influence the using”.

Design and build quality:

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The design of the Soundcore Life P2 is functional, if not a little unoriginal. In the shape of traditional wired earbuds, just without the wires, these headphones will have no trouble staying in your ears. This particular shape is certainly tried and tested and, thanks especially to the plethora of included eartips, will have no trouble staying in your ears.

Despite not be sold as such, the Soundcore Life P2 is an excellent sports headphone. The secure fit makes it hard for them to fly out of your ears, even while performing the most rigorous exercise, and the waterproofing (rated IPX 7) means you won’t have to worry about sweat or other moisture damaging your headphones.

The inclusion of physical buttons, to pause and skip your music, instead of touch sensors also improves this proficiency for sports. Although they can sometimes cause your earbuds to painfully dig into your ears over a long period of use, you won’t have to worry about sweaty hands rendering your headphones unusable

The construction is very light, even including the charging case, which makes carrying them around in a pocket on the go pleasingly unobtrusive. The light earbuds also contribute to the great level of immersion one can have listening to these headphones. It’s quite easy to forget you’re even wearing them, a testament not only to their light weight but also their great in-ear comfort. Just make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself frantically searching your pockets for your headphones when they’re in your ears!

A side effect of this light weight is the plastic construction of the case, which is prone to scratches and scuffs and the fact that the magnetic lid feels somewhat flimsy. Although it’s definitely not overtly fragile, I’m sceptical whether the lid would survive being left open in a bag or a pocket for too long. 

Sound Quality and microphones:

Although sound quality is, to an extent, a matter of personal taste, I found the sound quality to be good overall. It won’t blow you away, but for a budget pair of wireless earbuds it is perfectly pleasant, although the bass does sometimes lack some punch it is made up for in crispness and overall clarity.

The volume goes suitably high and adjusts at good increments, although at the extreme lower end of the volume scale the audio quality does noticeably drop. Luckily, you likely won’t have the headphones on too quiet a setting as the passive noise cancellation leaves a lot to be desired. Despite doing an okay job of drowning out audio, they don’t fair to well  in a particularly loud train car or busy room.

On the other hand, the audio for phone calls is second to none. Featured most predominantly on the front of the box, ANKER is clearly proud of th P2′s “crystal-clear calls” – and for good reason. Our tests, which you can hear below, simulated speech in first a silent and then high-noise environment over a phone call and recorded the results via a second phone. 

In a silent room the quality is incredible and sounds far better than some full-size microphones we’ve tried. The second test, which featured deafening background noise on the speaker’s end demonstrated the excellent noise cancellation. Although there is distortion, it should be considered that the speech was being played amidst painfully load background audio.

If your main concern is how you will sound over the phone, stop reading and buy these headphones immediately – you simply can’t get better than this at this price.

Battery Life:

The battery life amounts to an approximately seven-hour play time, with an additional thirty hours carried in the battery of the charging case. This is more than enough, and means that, with moderate use, you will only have to charge these headphones about once every two weeks.

Charging is done through the included USB-C cable, although any old USB-C cable will of course work. Don’t worry though, if you forget to charge you headphones and need them in a pinch the Soundcore Life P2‘s boast an hour of playback in only ten minutes of charge.

Gaming performance:

Unfortunately, the separate headphone drivers, which have the left and right earbuds appear as separate Bluetooth devices, makes pairing the Soundcore Life P2 with a desktop PC a hassle. Don’t expect to be able to benefit from the pair’s excellent microphones on your desktop without a bit of fiddling.

However, the mobile gaming performance is superb. There is little latency between the headphones and on-screen action. Playing the excellent mobile rhythm game Cytus II, which is highly dependent on timing, was a blast and the bud’s great microphones let you step up your sound quality in games with in-game voice chat, such as PUBG Mobile.

Verdict:

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Although it certainly won’t win any design awards, the Soundcore Life P2 certainly manages to make up for this in the technical department. The microphone quality is incredible and, for budget earbuds, the sound quality is a good all-rounder. The inclusion of some modern high-end features, including USB-C charging and separate earbud drivers, means that you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck.