Category Archives: gaming

Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice | Review | Gaming

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game SeriesPeople die. One fact anyone familiar with either the book or TV adaptations of Game of Thrones will already know. The real trick is, can a game trick you into caring about its characters as much as the ones fans of the show, in particular, know and love?

An episodic game, very much brought into the mainstream by Telltale themselves, this incarnation of Game of Thrones is very much part of the world, with the familiar characters (even voiced by their respective actors on the show) being positioned on the edges of its central narrative, rather than relying on them.

Ramsey Snow (or Bolton, as he becomes in Series 4 of the show at least) is a definite highlight, with Iwan Rheon relishing every syllable of his utterly contemptible character, and even new characters managing to make a good first impression.

Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun
Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun

Later episodes may dictate how significant some characters can be, since Telltale’s talent for tailoring the path of story to every player’s decisions is present and correct, but based solely on the opening chapter the narrative, and its protagonists, are interesting and diverse enough to leave us wanting more.

In action scenes the style creaks a little, with the slow motion quick-move-the-cursor moments proving frustrating at times when you ask yourself things like “Is he really only going to swing that sword twice?” Whether Telltale can keep the variety going through the rest of the series remains to be seen.

In all an ideal first stab, especially for fans, with plenty more blood left to spill.

James Michael Parry

My week with Destiny | Review | Gaming

DestinyTruth be told, I haven’t played enough of Destiny to give it a traditional review. Not just because it is a game with a lot of different elements, but because the best experience of the game is the one you make yourself. Much like I imagine is the appeal of Skyrim, your memorable moments in Destiny are just as likely to be pottering about on the surface of the Moon as they are tackling a tricky Strike mission (the Raids, at the time of writing, are still to come).

The best is yet to come

Destiny
Competitive multiplayer in The Crucible is a nice addition, but nothing to write home about.

Destiny is definitely a game, that much we can be sure, a computer game even (or video game, if you want to be all American about it…), but past that it can fall into half a dozen specific genres of game – FPS, RPG, MMO…the acronyms go on and on.

The other thing we can definitely say is that it is good fun. Even those who take exception to the fact that the story is light touch generally concede that the gameplay has some fun bits in it – however short-lived or repetitive they turn out to be, and there’s potential for a lot more from a title which is supposedly designed as a franchise to be expanded over the next decade.

The game I find easiest to compare Destiny to is Sega Dreamcast classic Phantasy Star Online (no, not Final Fantasy, different thing, trust me). Comparing the two games, the amount of content available is a massive step forward, particularly considering PSO required a hunter’s licence to play (about £5 a month) and initially was around when internet speeds were cripplingly limited by modern standards – it’s a surprise the game ran at all.

Fast forward to the world of Destiny and persistent online play is a completely different kettle of fish, but that said it is still a kettle and they are still fish at the end of the day. Failure to ‘get over’ the fact that this game is being made Bungie’s way and no one else’s is essential. That’s not to say that they won’t respond to player feedback – they already have in many areas, such as the questionable voice acting from Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage – but changes which are made will be to improve the experience for the gamer rather than change things fundamentally.

The aforementioned Raids for example, an ultra-hard game mode which is only unlocked once you have finished basic ranking and got some snazzy gear, requires a party of six friends to complete and that will always be the case. There is matchmaking in Strikes, the Raid’s younger brother, but we are definitely expecting something altogether more complex from Raids, a bit of depth to missions, which at present tend to involve a lot of killing things and waiting for Dinklage to scan and/or hack things.

We need a hero

Perhaps not legend, but your character is at least your own
Perhaps not legend, but your character is at least your own

The central excitement of the game might come from frolicking about with others, but it’s the gear and levelling up which will keep you coming back for more. Although the initial level cap is a mere 20, light even by PSO standards, levelling continues above that by acquiring ‘motes of light’ which are derived from equipping rare items and other general looting, which forces you to play the game very differently, and, according to Bungie, it’s where the game really begins.

As I sit on the cusp of level 20, with all the excitement just around the corner, I still don’t feel like I’ve really got to the bottom of what the game is all about. I’ve still got a planet to visit (Mars), but otherwise the areas themselves are discovered, and explored to varying degrees. There are three (or so) alien races, who have various different monsters and creatures up their sleeve (or robots in the case of the Vex), and three classes to choose from (with two subclasses each) and three races to play as within that.

Of course, for the sake of the (admittedly vague and fairly limited) story, you ARE human. My Awoken Male Warlock (race, gender and class respectively) seemed to get very confused when the story led him to visit the Awoken Queen and he had lots of questions such as ‘Where do they come from?’, which you would expect he might know…

Regardless the prospect of replaying as a different class at least is appealing, since different classes and subclasses (which can be changed at any time) do have a different playstyle.

The game certainly isn’t for everyone, however much Bungie would like it to be, and for every soaring climax of the fantastic soundtrack there’s a niggle that crops up, but it doesn’t stop it being a thoroughly enjoyable with lots to do and discover. Become legend? Perhaps not, but, at the very least, it’s memorable.

James Michael Parry

Five things you should already know about Gamescom | Opinion | Gaming

Gamescom 2014By now you may have heard that a European games conference took place this week, but if you haven’t had time to catch up on everything, here are the key facts.

1) Microsoft finally ‘beat’ Sony

Xbox One Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Edition
The 1TB hard drive with this custom console will be the draw for those who to shop digitally

They love to say it isn’t a competition and pat each other on the back (well…Microsoft have paid a few compliments to Sony this year at least…), but really it’s war.

As we approach a year since the latest battle between Sony and Microsoft began – sorry Nintendo, you’re benched – competition is fierce as each console has hit its stride.

MS began their conference strongly with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, including a custom Xbox One console (above), which interestingly is missing Kinect, alluding to one of the many things about where Xbox One is now which differ from day one.

The last few months may have seemed to be backtracking, and they are, but they are also offering a slew of new and exclusive games both in the rest of 2014 and beyond, while Sony’s initial momentum, and impressive initial sales numbers, appear to be slowing.

Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn't as 'indie-ish'
Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn’t as ‘indie-ish’

It’s not quite the tortoise and the hare, a LOT of people have and are buying a PS4, but there’s increasing feeling that the console hasn’t perhaps leapt the industry forward as much as it could have, focusing on power (as usual) rather than innovation.

That could change when Morpheus, Sony’s answer to the imagination-grabbing Oculus Rift, properly launches, but for now the company is focusing on its game streaming service: Playstation Now, as well as system updates and indie games.

The lack of triple-A franchises shown off prompted many to award the win to MS, who, by comparison, filled their presentation to the brim with exclusives and as usual got the multiplatform games out of the way quickly so they could show only exclusive games for the rest of the show.

2) Exclusives = arguments

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft’s latest outing is proving to be the latest argument-bait online

Slightly controversially, Rise of the Tomb Raider (above) was announced as Xbox One exclusive, though unsurprisingly only for a limited time, and there was plenty from the big MS exclusives: Sunset OverdriveForza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The mention of Tomb Raider itself was fairly quick and painless, but it’s been the subject of a lot of internet debate since the event, with some PS gamers feeling scorned for being ‘denied access’ to a franchise they have put time into.

The first game in the series famously made the first PlayStation (while destroying perceptions female protagonists in games for a decade), so you can sort of understand why people are miffed, but are so much anger and tears really justified?

The debate calls back to discussions around the Destiny Beta, which had three extra days on Playstation, not to mention the final game having timed-exclusive DLC.

With Bungie having worked with MS for so long on the  Halo series, it seemed to some entitled people that they deserve to play Bungie’s games forever more, as if they aren’t a business.

The subject of what ‘exclusive’ really means as a term is already blurred as it is, expect further musings on the topic before the end of the year.

3) Watching pirated films is easy

Halo Channel
The Halo Channel is one way MS is bringing its video and gaming content together

A feature which wasn’t present during MS’s conference but did come out during the week was the fact that they are increasing the number of video formats which the Xbox One can play, opening up people’s ripped DVD and Blu-ray collections to be played using the device.

If you’ve downloaded them from the internet (legal or otherwise – for shame!) then you’ll be able to enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa without awkwardly balancing a laptop on top of you or scrambling for the right HDMI cable to plug it into the TV.

Since Xbox was always intended to be the ‘hub’ of the living room this enhancement makes sense, and is supposedly in response to players’ feedback, plus there’s plenty more system updates coming to the One monthly, unlike Sony who have only managed a handful of steps forward with their software.

4) You can’t escape Assassin’s Creed

It's easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good
It’s easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good

Not one, but two games, and lots and lots of trailers now plague the internet in the wake of Gamescom, giving both current and past gen gamers something to brutally kill people in with their hands.

The franchise appears to be drifting apart, not unlike the fancy pirate-y ships which serve as a key mechanic in new announcement: Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Unity, which was announced ahead of E3 earlier in the year, ditches the nautical side completely and focuses instead on co-op play as it’s key USP.

At a total of seven main titles and a handful of handheld and other games, the franchise is reaching the stage where it is at risk of growing stale if it stands still and so it makes sense to pursue to different styles (and largely different markets) with these two games.

Due to its popularity, it isn’t a series which is likely to fade away any time soon.

5) Online multiplayer isn’t going away, but neither is single player

Come September, become Legend (lag permitting...)
Come September, become Legend (lag permitting…)

There’s lots of games coming out in the next year, shocker I know, but people seem to be coming down on one side of the proverbial playstyle fence or the other at the moment.

The fear is that as MMO games begin to gain momentum on consoles, developers won’t spend time developing ‘proper’ single player games.

It’s understandable, since more players mean more money, and we know publishers in particular like money, but is it going to happen? No, no it won’t.

No matter how social you are as a gamer, there’s always times when people feel like being on their own, and gaming has always been one of the safest havens when you are in that mood and because of that passion, single player will continue to be an important part of console experiences for a long while yet.

The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail
The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail

Even if Destiny and The Division are a commercially success, they will never match the renown of something like Skyrim as it has to many stories which people can share and talk about, for Destiny these experiences will be few and far between.

Different people like different things, and gaming now is more diverse than it ever has been, plus technology and innovation has made the escapism you can reach when you are absorbed by an amazing game is second to none.

James Michael Parry

Why co-op gaming is the way forward | Opinion | Gaming

EvolveI’ve never been much of a single player gamer. For as long as I’ve been gaming I’ve always enjoyed the comfort and security of having a buddy around to revive you when you inadvertently fall of a ledge or get caught on some clutter strewn across the floor of a level – designed to add richness to the setting but in fact amounting to another thing to navigate your character around.

Never has the value of having human co-op players on side been more clearly spelled out than when playing Left 4 Dead, a game which had a single player campaign in name only since even playing alone saw three AI teammates join you as you try to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Being Human

Left 4 Dead 2
Going it alone in Left 4 Dead (or its sequel, pictured) is a speedy shortcut to Dead City.

Add in human players instead and, providing they are half decent, the balance of the game changes entirely and is far more entertaining. Original developer Turtle Rock (not Valve as I had first thought, who merely published the first and developed the second) have kept this point of difference in their new game Evolve.

The game is based around an asymmetrical multiplayer mode which pits four hunters against a monster. The monster begins fairly weak and must snack on local wildlife to evolve (ahhhh now you’re getting it) to become a force strong enough to take down the hunters one by one.

At the same time the hunters must try to find and take out the monster, and if they don’t kill it before it reaches its stage three of evolution, an all-out fight begins to either destroy or protect the power generator for that particular area.

Getting it together

With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.
With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.

What does this have to do with co-op I hear you ask? Well granted, for the monster there isn’t a lot of co-op to be had, but it would be a completely different game against AI rather than humans, since it is all about reading the opposing team, tricking one hunter into saving another so you can take them down too, for example.

On the hunters’ team, good communication and cooperation are vital to survival. It’s a game where you rely on your team just as much as in Left 4 Dead, except there’s no escape – you have to face this monster – and it’s a far more sophisticated predator than the likes of the Tank.

In the old days you’d need to get three (well four, really) friends around to complete your team for a game like this, and sofa and TV space are a precious commodity. These days co-op is far easier, with Xbox Live (and other services which I’m less familiar with…) connecting players across the world in seconds, and with minimal lag even at low connection speeds.

When faced with such a wide range of possibilities as that – even in a single multiplayer map with single character choices (of which there are in fact multiple, even for the monster) – it’s difficult to imagine a single player experience matching up to it.

In your own little world

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Many have lost hundreds of hours to Skyrim, an entirely single player experience, but will they lose more to the Elder Scrolls Online?

That said, there are many who find escapism, solace and relaxation in single player, and I absolutely understand that. That experience will never disappear from games, but you only need to look at the biggest releases due for the rest of 2014 to see some clear signs of where console gaming is going – Destiny being a particularly high profile example.

The fact is that people are more easily connected than ever before, so it’s no wonder they want to share their favourite past time, but let’s hope the experiences we are presented with in co-op gaming going forward are well thought out, feature rich and diverse, and not just a clone of the main character bolted on to the campaign for the sake of it.

James Michael Parry

Six exciting things from E3 2014 | Opinion | Gaming

E3 2014We’ve been going on about E3 for years (seriously, it’s our most rambled about subject…) but this year’s show was something different and exciting – it wasn’t a disappointment.

After the tough time Microsoft in particular had last year, the general air of positivity to come out of this year’s show is genuinely astonishing.

Seriously, game announcements were tumbling out of people’s mouths so quickly people’s eyes started to bleed from all the shiny new-ness…

And so what do we make of all of this? We make precisely six (totally not a random arbitrary number) things which we’ve decided to tell you a little bit about, in no particular order.

It’s like Crackdown on crack

CrackdownIt’s always nice to see a game resurrected from the dark corners of the past (OK, that may cease to be the case if they release an HD remake of phone game phenomenon Snake), and Crackdown brought a smile to many a gamer’s face when it exploded on screen – multiple times – at Microsoft’s conference.

The original game in the series proved a hit, but its sequel didn’t set the world on fire. Now MS are bringing it back, with the number three conspicuous by its absence and complete with the original voiceover announcer.

Destruction made up a big part of the game’s reveal, suggesting it could be a big part of the game, which could make reaching the highest buildings tricky, knowing how trigger happy the title makes you – here’s hoping the buildings respawn, or at least there’s something to bring them back, perhaps a weapon in the vein of Red Faction‘s nanoforge…

Lots and lots of Halo

Halo 5: GuardiansOver 100 maps. One hundred. That’s how many multiplayer battlegrounds are included with Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

It seems ungrateful to complain, but we’ve never been much of a fan of re-releases. The plus side is that not only is this a re-release done well, the first to make us sit up and take notice since the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil.

All multiplayer modes, vehicles and quirks of each iteration are included, with both Halo 1 and 2 benefiting from a visual clean-up, but the Halo series isn’t just about multiplayer, unlike other shooters we could mention.

The clever way in which 343 have pulled this together is impressive. The release not only includes a Halo 5: Guardians Beta (and a TV series produced by Alien king Ridley Scott), but serves to tool up the protagonist of the new game as they begin their quest to find Master Chief following the convoluted events of Halo 4.

It is your Destiny

DestinyThough Bungie, developers of Destiny, may always be remembered as the team who originally gave the world Halo, they are going to great lengths to set themselves apart from their past with this new title.

There might be a few visual and gameplay similarities, but the ambition drives the genre forward into new territory. There’s a strong emphasis on coop play, though it isn’t essential for most of the modes, as well large, expansive worlds and exploration.

It might not be far-flung from the heights reached by games in other genres (Skyrim is no doubt a frequent reference point), but this is the first time on console where an MMO – or Massively Multiplayer Online – title has really captured people’s imagination.

Defiance caused a stir with its own route into the world in 2013, but failed to have the staying power demanded by a lot of players. Destiny has got an awful lot packed in, and though we haven’t had our hands on it yet, everyone who has agrees it’s an experience difficult to put across in words.

WiiU may have been down, but it’s not out

Super Smash Brothers WiiUNintendo has had a rough time the past few years, and with the release of the WiiU failing to reach the benchmark set by the Wii they were left feeling like Metallica after their unfortunate 2003 album St. Anger, treading water with a sad look on their faces.

Unlike Metallica (who, coincidentally, took five years to hit back with another, better album), Nintendo didn’t let the bad publicity around the WiiU stop them from doing what they are good at – making games.

So finally this year we are seeing the fruits of those efforts with more Super Smash Brothers, more Zelda and the already very tempting Mario Kart 8.

Thanks to this strong first party showing, something Nintendo can be relied on when they get their act together and focus on their core franchises, they have shown that they aren’t worth forgetting about just yet.

Colour comes to next gen

Sunset OverdriveLet’s face it, there’s a trend in media these days across the board to be gritty, realistic, dark and suspenseful. Don’t we all miss how it used to be? A giant ‘pow’ for every Batman villain foiled? (scroll down for more of that)

Apparently, we do, and our prayers have been answered in the form of another Xbox exclusive (or Xclusive…) – Sunset Overdrive. The beginnings of this game last year were just as colourful sure, but now we’ve seen some actual gameplay, and it’s looking even more fun.

The E3 reveal trailer began by a nice bit of fun poking at the FPS genre in general, and the fourth wall-breaking protagonist is a refreshing change of tact from some of the other new protagonists shown off through the week.

Focusing on momentum, there’s wall running, rail grinding, and a crazy array of weapons to take down mutants in a game which, clearly, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and, in an industry which is supposed to be about entertainment, all too often that gets lost in translation.

The Dark Knight rises (sorry…)

Batman: Arkham KnightWe all knew Batman was back, and in fact it almost looked like a misfire out of the gate when it was revealed the game had slipped from the end of this year to next almost immediately.

Luckily, we have nothing to worry about with series heavyweights Rocksteady back at the helm for their conclusion to the series Arkham Knight.

Despite showing up in the Sony press conference, the game is also making its way to Xbox One (as is GTAV, not that Sony would appreciate me pointing that out), and is looking very very good.

The Batmobile sounded like a bit of a gimmick when it was first announced, but the gameplay videos shown off for the game show how slickly it compliments the gameplay (and, as if on purpose or something, here’s some gameplay).

So, there you have it, some stuff like what you should get excited about. Sadly it won’t all be with us in 2014, but there’s a fair chunk of good stuff on the way. Expect more game reviews and stories going forward (for Xbox One at least) and possibly some video reviews too, once we’ve worked out how to bully the computer into editing.

For now, run along and play.

Dark Souls II | Review | Gaming

Dark Souls IIDark Souls III died. So many times.

It was to be expected of course, the original Dark Souls was notoriously difficult, and this sequel is reportedly even harder.

As a newcomer, I had heard tales of such dastardly game design, a system which teaches players how to play the game by punishing them with death at every turn. Foolishly for a time I thought this truth may have been exaggerated, but this quickly changed as soon as I took my first steps in the game.

A path filled with danger

Shortly after the opening cut scene, which sets up a story filled with light and dark, dead and living, good and evil, I found myself in a field. Grass gently blowing from an unsettling wind I heard a rustling. At first one, then more wild dogs appeared, pursuing me.

I turned to flee, but didn’t watch my step, and quickly found my way to a bottomless pit. From here, the fate of my character (Dave) did not improve dramatically (on the upside though, I did earn my first achievement).

Once you have got over the constant fear of death – as much as is possible for any vaguely rounded human being – the biggest thing to hit you about DSII is how open it is.

Death, is only the beginning

This is not an open world game per se, but it does leave the player to make their own way in the world, in what is often a very hostile place. A tutorial area introduces you to the basics, briefly, but once you are out of the woods and into Majula, the least prickly of the game’s areas, you are left to chose your own path.

Early on, I found myself taken down a passageway beneath a church. The journey seemed innocent enough, but when I reached the other side I was faced with a heavily armored warrior (possibly made of armor) blocking my path.

Dark Souls IIAfter countless attempts to slay him and escape with my life I succeeded, but alas, another of his company waited for me around the corner to put an end to my foolish optimism.

The game begins, as many RPGs do, by asking you to pick a class. Nothing out of the ordinary perhaps, would you choose the warrior, a sturdy all-rounder, or a specialist such as the swordsman?

In a universe which entertains both giants, dragons and magic there are many dangers and no character has any real advantage overall. In the end I opted for the magic-wielding sorcerer, equipped with a staff and the Soul Arrow spell, but with little else to hold the forces of evil at bay.

Do your homework

Another area where novice/incompetent (delete as appropriate) players may struggle is getting to grips with the game’s various items. Herbs may be familiar to the Resident Evil player within you (in fact the game as a whole has a feel reminiscent of Resident Evil 4), but countless other items require significant scrutiny to make sense of, even to understand the descriptions offered by the game.

Even harsher is the fact that if you miss one lone NPC you can miss the means to level up your character entirely, the realisation of which makes you all the more attentive and persistent to the mutterings of any character. You’ll eagerly press A after every line to see if there is more of the story to tell.

The currency of the game is souls – you are undead after all – and whenever you die those souls remain, waiting to be reclaimed when you walk over the spot where you once fell. These souls buy you items as well as levels and there will be times when you re-play areas to boost the number of souls you have.

Bonfires are one of the core mechanics, another one of the few things I knew about before picking up the pad, and they continue to be your small, warm corner of safety amid a land of horror.

Dark Souls IITransporting between them is painless, and you can power them up with the right materials. The trouble it isn’t always obvious where they are, meaning you can be drawn into an area not knowing what is effectively a save point is hiding behind a stray tree.

Not that you are ever safe, as even simple refuge has a sting in its tail – whenever you rest the basic enemies around that area immediately respawn.

The game is technically well put together, with great graphics even in the twilight of a hardware generation and particularly effective lighting affects, offering dynamic shadows which are key to some gameplay elements and brutal sound effects which offer a more realistic edge to the clanging steel of the likes of Soul Calibur.

Stockholm Syndrome?

Hard work has gone in to make you lose yourself in this world, to believe that all hope is lost and that you must embark on a quest for salvation for souls, whether it be a simple hollow man or a towering tree giant (hint: risk = reward).

For some the difficulty will be too demoralising, and at times it does slip into irritation rather than challenge, but in all the balance is struck well. If you fancy an even tougher challenge, and are, in fact, a masochist, then there is a covenant in Majula which offers to top up the difficulty.

The game has a lot to offer, but it like a treat surrounded and obscured by barbed wire: to reach its tasty centre you must suffer through its trials and earn it. I have never been a gamer who falls into RPGs with anything less than extreme difficulty, but, strangely, something about DSII has me longing for more, daring me to pick up the gauntlet once again, and it’s an experience done so well that I am more than tempted to try again…and again.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures Xbox 360 | Review | Gaming

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresIt ain’t easy being yellow. Pac-Man first came chomping onto arcade machines back in 1980 and after a number appearances over the years, he’s back to set new records in chomping, munching and guzzling.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresIn many ways, Pac-Man is a homage to the over-indulgence of society, constantly eating anything that moves, whether it be a tasty treat (cherries, lemons or, in this game’s case, hamburgers) or various enemies.

Since his 2D hayday Pac, as he is trendily known as, has developed a few new skills to help him with this 3D platforming adventure. The titular ghosts are as you might expect, each with their own move and colour coordinated appropriately so you can anticipate their attacks, although in some areas their over-enthusiasm to hurt you can lead them to charge at you, miss, and fall off the map to their death – despite floating in midair for the most part.

Design

Technically otherwise though, there’s little to complain about. The visuals look clean, bright and colourful – everything you would expect from this children-focused title – and the camera does a reasonable job of keeping up with your twists and turns.

That said, there’s little in the way of a tutorial, and some of the mechanics require fairly precise timing on button presses to pull off, which may be too much for younger gamers. The frustration of repetitive deaths is irritatingly present, since it is a platformer, but there are enough mechanics going on to keep things fairly varied.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures

Gameplay

The gameplay is very very similar to games like Mario Galaxy or Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, although sadly the game doesn’t have the imagination of the former or the style of the latter, making it feel like a bit of a copycat, attempting to cherry-pick the best elements of both.

Standard Pac-Man can double jump, dash forward with his trademark chomping noise – which can be chained together through multiple enemies – and ‘scare’ the ghosts with an overly dramatic “Boo!”, turning the enemies into the blue, vulnerable iterations which hark back to the original title.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresThere are times when the game tries to take the character further, in the form of themed power-ups. Most of these are limited and some make movement an extra challenge, the camera doesn’t help here as when jumping (or bouncing) across platforms it isn’t possible to move the camera up to bird’s eye view so you can judge how far you need to go.

Collectables in the game are limited and the only explanation for what they do is offered through fleeting loading screens. One of the neatest is a homage back to Pac’s early days through arcade machines in the hub world, a school, which you can play with tokens once you have completed enough levels to unlock them.

Plot

Story-wise the game is based on the TV series of the same name, which sees Pacopolis (yup, really) attacked by ghosts after the seal on the Netherworld was broken by accident, releasing evil antagonist Betrayus and his ghostly army. Sadly we don’t get to see too much of Betrayus in the game until an underwhelming stand-off at the end, instead being subjected to increasing size and complexity of ghosts, which can largely be run past or ignored to clear an area.

The game is split across six zones, largely elemental (fire, ice etc.) and each has around six levels within it, each taking about 20 minutes to complete – unless you die lots of times on a frustrating floating platform section – making a 12 hour game in theory if you max out every level, but there’s not much to compel you to re-play.

Pac-Man and the Ghostly AdventuresThe game is fairly well put together considering its intended audience, though mum and dad might need to help out more often than not, and is fairly entertaining for a short spell, but don’t expect this game to push the boundaries in any way and certainly it won’t deliver the sort of memorable experience you might have got from something like Mario Galaxy or Banjo Kazooie.

Rating: 2/5

James Michael Parry

Titanfall Beta first impressions: Should you buy Titanfall? | Hands-on | Gaming

TitanfallYou might think that it’s all getting a bit robot-mad around here at present, but in my defence this is one of the most anticipated games of the year, particularly on Xbox One (though, of course, it’s worth pointing out you can play it on 360 and PC as well).

The Titanfall Beta began on Friday 14 February. So, “What’s it like?!” I hear you ask. In a nutshell this game takes the first-person shooter genre and adds another level to it, in this case the one I’m talking about isn’t the massive robots – although they do change up the gameplay considerably – but playing vertically.

Making your way around maps designed to allow pilots to take advantage of going up and down as well as side to side makes the experience incredibly refreshing. Plenty of other games have done this before, no doubt, but here the execution is excellent, lumbering titan-like strides ahead of even seasoned franchises with killer multiplayer like Halo.

Being a Beta, there is only some much which can be taken away, and as such my reactions are still held in check a little with the anticipation of the full whack we are due on March 11. That said, even with limited modes (just a standard deathmatch, king of the hill/conquest and Titan v Titan) the gameplay takes first place.

Graphical fidelity will be less than the full version of the game too, but still the game looks solid. It’s missing a few water effects which players may have become used to and other touches, which may be included at retail, but the animation is strong and not juddery considering the amount going on on screen.

TitanfallA lot of blabbing has been done over both resolution and also the number of players per side. Firstly, the frame rate, which I personally think is more significant to gameplay, does well despite the game being online-only and secondly, the number of players feels right for the size of the maps so far, particularly when all the titans are in play.

The feeling of being in control of a titan is so powerful at times that you quickly forget how vulnerable you are as a colossal, reasonably slow-moving target. Maneuverability feels quite familiar, in that the titan is an extension of its pilot – we aren’t talking Pacific Rim scale after all, the titans are the size of a two-story building.

Dodging and sprinting make a big difference, though it takes a while to adjust the bulk and avoid getting stuck on lampposts and other debris. It almost seems a shame that this game isn’t one of the umpteen titles being developed on Frostbite 3, as destructive environments would really push this title to the next level.

Of course, it would quickly become increasingly difficult for pilots, so perhaps that’s why developers Respawn decided to not go down that road.

The two maps available in the beta give a hint of the excitement to come, reportedly these only scratch the surface, as you would hope, and the loadouts system seems promising. The default loadouts alone give enough variety to keep the gameplay interesting, particularly since you select titan and pilot weapons, equipment and abilities separately.

One area which will be uncovered in the full version is how the narrative is woven into the game, since it is multiplayer only, but even without that set-up, the Beta is well served by its comprehensive but not overly-long tutorial training.

In all Titanfall will definitely be a game that all Xbox One owners should want at the very least, not because it’s the first exclusive which PS4 owners will really start to feel some jealousy over (and then buy on PC), but because it’s a game which begins to flex the muscles of the system and bring fresh ideas to the table.

James Michael Parry

Xbox One: The full review (so far…)

It’s been a while since Microsoft released its latest console, the Xbox One, and with the Christmas rush out of the way it’s high time it was put through its paces.

Xbox OneOf course, the version of the Xbox One we have now is far from its potential and there are plenty of possibilities for the future, but at the same time, a lot of people have paid a lot of money for this console, so what did they get for their cash?

Features

Xbox One Launch
The vision of an all-in-One device is more attractive to some users than others.

The Xbox One is a gaming machine built for a connected future. Though I won’t get into the tech specs debate (may touch on that later), the key thing is that this is a considerable step up from the Xbox 360.

The increase in memory (eight times to be vaguely approximate) is the most noticeable change,boosting draw differences and the amount that can be going on on screen substantially.

Kinect 2.0 is a big improvement on the original and is pretty reliable – providing you pay attention when going through the setup process. There are a lot of optimisations and refinements to come with this, but to perform this well pretty much out of the box is a real plus.

The multimedia features of the box are one of the main selling points for some, since the console’s vision of being king of the living room actually seems to work in practice. Jumping between DVD, Netflix and games using voice commands is seamless and soon you will wish you had the same functionally in all of your devices.

The HDMI passthrough is the feature which still holds the biggest potential, since at the moment the much-touted TV services are very much US-orientated, but hooking up the Xbox 360 works pretty well (apart from the One having to be on to play it).

Games

Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.
Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.

The launch line-up was reasonable, and showcases what the console can do, to an extent. Forza Motorsport 5 (to give it its full, overly-wordy title) is a solid game. It looks beautiful, it plays smoothly and the drivatar system, which builds AI racers based on the drive style of your friends and other players, makes the competitive experience far more compelling.

There are some issues with multiplayer games at present, some of which are more the One’s fault than the games, but when you do get into a game it’s good fun, though you can’t help but feel some of the Top Gear humour seen in the single player could have been extended to give a selection of ‘party’ race types, which emphasise the sillier aspects of a game which is generally fairly stuck up.

Dead Rising 3 delivers more of what fans wanted and puts an impressive number of zombies on the screen, but doesn’t offer much in terms of story or anything which is particularly ‘next-gen’.

Ryse, heralded as the shiniest of the first party launch trio. Has strong visuals with somewhat lacking variety in terms of gameplay. The controls can be a pain as well, with a simple action, such as picking up and throwing a spear, being a pain.

Performance of third-party games is strong, although there’s no getting away from the fact that the PlayStation 4 handles them with greater ease. Battlefield is a strong example of how a tried and tested gaming experience can be taken forward, with the scale of 64 player battles undeniably impressive – it’s just a shame about all the bugs.

Interface

The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.
The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.

Which leads us neatly onto the not-quite-baked interface. Generally most tasks are intuitive enough, particularly when you use voice commands to bring them up, but delving through the menus can be a chore.

Luckily the ability to ‘pin’ games and menu items on the left hand side of the home screen is a great help to making your life easier, though it would have been nice to see the customisation taken a step further.

The biggest issue is that everything feels a bit slow, as everything is now its own ‘app’ rather than just a part of the UI which was running in the background. Plus there are a raft of basic menu options, particularly relating to friends and parties, which are just inexplicably missing.

When you work out how to get everyone into a party, turn on party chat (still baffling that the default is off with no option to change) and get that party into a game, things are fairly simple. The trouble is the combination of different invites and different places to do different things is dizzying and most players would have lost patience long before it became obvious.

It seems in their strive for simplicity, Microsoft have taken out a lot of the basic functions which were actually so commonly and easily used that they became second nature, making their disappearance cause to learn a whole new way of doing things.

It’s not dissimilar to the switch of the start button to the start screen of Windows 8, by no small coincidence, but it is frustrating when the logic isn’t obvious and it’s easy to feel as if things have just been changed for the sake of it rather than because it enhances the player experience.

Controller

Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.
Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.

Probably the strongest element of what the Xbox One has to offer, Microsoft kept thing similar but made a lot of refinements under the hood – perhaps an ethos they should have extended to the interface overall…

The controller feels sturdy, has a comfortable weight and feel and reacts precisely. The rumbles in the triggers, probably the most obvious change from the 360 iteration, go a long way to adding to the immersion and it will be interesting to see how it is used in genres such as survival horror to catch players of guard.

The D pad is leaps and bounds ahead of the 360s bloated mess, and the buttons generally are solid without being stiff. There have been some objections to the sharpness of the edges of the thumb sticks, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference.

Of course Kinect is also a controller, but with little on the table to prove itself just yet. The viewing angle is much improved and it works well in a more confined space but it can be fussy if you have something between it and you in the middle of the room, such as a coffee table.

Updates and tweaks will see this go from strength, but considering how little the first Kinect progressed from its release, you can be fairly sure that any change from how the new version is working now is fairly close to the peak of its potential.

Verdict

Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.
Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.

The Xbox One is a machine which offers new experiences, but often at the expense of the old. The slick feeling of effortlessly breezing through things with voice commands is excellent, until you reach a point where you have to press a button on the controller and you wonder why.

The social side is where Microsoft has to do the most work. The Xbox LIVE community, probably Microsoft’s greatest success to date (at least in its gaming division), has been fractured with this new console release, in a way which wasn’t as significant when the Xbox 360 came along.

Online is undeniably where the future of console gaming lies, and online functions and integration are going to become increasingly important as time goes on.

More games will be online only, more will have integrated social functions, possibly supported by tablet devices, drawing on the benchmark set by the new version of Xbox Smartglass, and players are going to become increasingly impatient.

Some work needs to be done to plug the gaps and rethink the oversights, but by and large the Xbox One is well set for this future. Being future-focused brings the drawback that the current experience might feel like a bit of a let down.

Once more games come along, particularly Titanfall, Destiny and Watch Dogs, there will be a much more rich variety of things to do on the machine, but for now things can be particularly empty, especially if you are purely focused on gaming.

If you take the One as it is, it might not knock your socks off, but if you bear in mind the long-term and the potential of what Microsoft are clearly trying to create, then you will appreciate it a lot more.

For now, the key is getting together with people who you know. Even having one team mate playing with you, who you can rely on and communicate with, makes all the difference in most games, and multiplayer adds life and soul to otherwise clinical titles such as Forza.

Most importantly, enjoy it and try things out. If you haven’t unpacked Kinect yet then it’s well worth exploring, since it does add a lot to the user experience. In the words of Colonel Stars and Stripes whatever you do, try to have fun, otherwise, what’s the point?

To game online with This Is Entertainment, message gamertag ‘Decent Jam’ or visit the forums at http://www.oxm.co.uk.

James Michael Parry

The future of online gaming | Feature | Gaming

DestinyOnline gaming today has more players and costs more money than ever before, so what happens next?

OK, so we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to know any more than you, so don’t read on expecting undeniable facts.

What you can expect (read right to the end, we’re watching you), is our thoughts on where the online side of gaming is going, and what experiences we can expect to encounter.

A digital future

Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.
Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.

The two next-gen consoles stand primed to clash in the greatest technological showdown of our generation, but what about the games?

One thing is clear – offline-only games are going to be few and far between. The rise of online-only games was felt more this year than ever before, in both successes and catastrophes.

The latest Sim City gave players cause for concern when it’s online requirement backfired spectacularly, but the highest profile casualty has to be Grand Theft Auto Online.

While the game is, if nothing else, incredibly ambitious, Rockstar fell under pressure quickly when there were countless problems with the game – a free addition for players of Grand Theft Auto V.

Weeks after launch, and after several title update patches to try to iron out the issues, GTA Online still feels creaky and glitchy. Not to mention the race to level up has left many players behind, particularly in races where no amount of money can buy car upgrades which they haven’t unlocked yet.

With so much seemingly against online games then, why do publishers and developers keep pushing for more?

It’s not about the money, money, money

Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.
Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.

Building an online platform, especially from scratch, is a massive undertaking which requires a lot of initial investment and on-going maintenance.

For big publishers like EA and Activision, these sorts of technologies are already on hand and so often can be adapted or acquired more easily, but for many games there isn’t so much backing on tap.

The title which really stands out in this regard is Defiance, whose developer Trion Worlds reportedly invested $70million to get the game up and running for multiplatform release earlier this year.

Despite a shaky start, the game performed well and lived up to nay-sayers who suspected it would never work. Unfortunately it has struggled more recently as the player numbers have began to fall.

Thinking inside the box

Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.
Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.

Where Defiance has an opportunity to remain relevant is the fact that first and foremost it is a multimedia enterprise, married up with TV network SyFy who have created the companion TV series alongside it.

Could multimedia hold the key to a sustainable future for online gaming?

Microsoft is very well placed for a multimedia revolution and the likes of Netflix (available on all consoles bar the Nintendo ones…) are announcing exclusives and special shows on an increasingly regular basis. Will we see games which tie-in to these net-based shows?

Then there’s the game spin-off TV shows themselves. Halo is working with the well-respected director Steven Spielberg and there is also a live action Need for Speed film in the works starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Of course tie-ins of the latter sort are nothing new, indeed there have been plenty of embarrassing crossovers in the past, but with the opportunities of distribution through this new round of the consoles all the more smooth can we expect more?

It’s in the game

Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.
Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.

The way we play has also affected the games themselves, not just driving titles to being always-online (to get those coveted ‘living, breathing worlds’), but in terms of how they are structured and how they play.

Hotly anticipated next gen title Titanfall foregoes a traditional singleplayer campaign, opting instead for a skirmish-based cooperative campaign. The cooperative part is key, since the game wants you to play with others and grow with your characters and your team.

The risk here is that without a singleplayer campaign, players won’t get sucked into the story elements or the lore of the title and end up merely taking it at face value.

Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny
Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny

In a similar boat is Bungie’s Destiny. Responsible for establishing the Xbox with the original Halo, the company clearly know what they are doing when it comes to gaming.

Bungie simply describes Destiny as an ‘action’ game, suggesting that players will enjoy “a compelling storyline, competitive multiplayer, cooperative gameplay choices, wide open public combat destinations, and third-person community spaces where you can repair and rearm before going out on your next adventure.”

Once again, despite also offering player vs player modes, the main focus is cooperative, one of exploration and creation. It remains to be seen whether players will lose themselves in Bungie’s new world, or if they will just spend their time grinding for new items to use in team deathmatch.

Stormy weather

Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.
Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.

The power needed to keep all of these games afloat is potentially limitless, as countless players around the world all interact, much as they have for years, except with bigger, richer and more dense worlds to explore.

That computing power has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that cloud-based processing power will become increasingly important, especially as the games grow and change to adapt to their developing environment.

It’s unclear how effective or how close gaming will realistically get to the potential of the technology. The biggest stumbling block, and criticism, particularly in the UK is that internet speeds simply aren’t quick enough yet.

The cloud can take over processing power for things which might be able to be sent back through the web without the player seeing a lag, but for things like fighting games where split-second timing is key it’s unlikely the cloud would ever be able to ‘take over’.

The end game

Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.
Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.

The opportunities and possibilities of the continuing trend of converging media have the potential to make gaming more mainstream than ever before.

Ubisoft’s The Division sees players fighting in teams over a sprawling, dystopian world map. This game will use multimedia to link into players real-world lives and draw them back in by sending messages straight to their phone or allowing players using tablets to interact directly with players on the console through a meta-game function generally known as ‘commander mode’.

What is key to the success of these sorts of big ideas though, is whether players actually make use of them, and that gaming companies actually make money out of them.

Micro-transactions, DLC and in-game advertising are a whole other side to the funding debate entirely, but what will be the proof of the sorts of innovations above is if they substantially lengthens the lifespan of the game.

What to expect from next gen online gaming then? In a nutshell more of some of the things we know already and plenty more coming besides that. Better warm up the router now…it’s not going to get a lot of rest soon.

James Michael Parry