Friday, 3 October 2014

Sick Kids Save Point–Update 2

So there’s seven days to go till I undertake my 24 hour gaming marathon as part of the Sick Kids Save Point Event! I’m still looking for as many people as possible to donate, and you can all look forward to a big Facebook and Twitter push in the week running up to the event! But this update is mostly about what you’ll see on the livestream I’ll be providing!

Now all the games I’m about to mention are subject to change, based entirely on my whims and possibly, your suggestions and recommendations.

The 24 hours will be split up into various segments, each of which will involve a different game. My plan is to play something for three hours, then another game for an hour and repeat that pattern. This will mean I play six games for big three hour chunks, and six other games in smaller one hour chunks.

The three hour chunks are intended to be used for games that I’m either currently playing, or games I’ve been holding off on especially for this event.

  • Dark Souls (From Software’s punishing Action-RPG)
  • Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor (3rd Person Action-Adventure in the Lord Of The Rings universe. Think Assassins Creed mixed with Arkham Asylums combat)
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (Over the top 80’s styled First Person Shooter starring Terminator and Aliens icon Michael Biehn)
  • Civilization V (Turn-Based grand strategy game)
  • Elite: Dangerous (Deep space combat and trading simulation)

I’ve still got a space for one more title. This MAY end up being Alien: Isolation, depending on how my PC copes with it. Failing that I’m willing to take suggestions and requests!

The one hour games will be smaller or older titles. Potentially retro titles from older systems.

  • Sonic The Hedgehog – Mega Drive 
  • Super Mario World – Super Nintendo Entertainment System
  • 007 Goldeneye – Nintendo 64
  • Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night – PlayStation
  • Gradius V – PlayStation 2

So I’ve got a good mix of old and new titles to get through. Hopefully there will be something there for people to take an interest in.

As always I need as many donations as possible, so if you could all spread this to your friends on facebook, twitter etc I’d be very grateful!

Once again the ways to donate are as follows:

1 - In person. If you work with me, or know how to get a hold of me, then you can give it directly to me or fill in my sponsor form.

2 - Through my Just Giving page.

3 - Via text message: Just text SKSP83, followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070. This allows you to make your donation anytime, anywhere!

Thanks again everyone!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Sick Kids Save Point - Progress Update

So it’s been a couple of weeks now since I announced my participation in this years Sick Kids Save Point event.

Firstly I just want to say a big thank you to all the people who have donated so far. I’d especially like to thank the Charities and Sponsorship department of Next PLC, who have very kindly donated £50 to the cause. This puts me at £95 of my £250 goal so a great start but a long way to go yet.

So other than an update on how the fundraising is going I’d like to talk more about the actual event itself.

As I mentioned in my previous post I’ll be playing for 24 hours non-stop from Friday the 10th of October, through to Saturday the 11th. What you may not know is that I shall be live streaming the whole event online for people to watch. You’ll be able to tune in at any point and see what I’m playing and how I’m doing, as well as interact with me through the stream chat. The stream will be available on either my page or my Hitbox page. The actual link will be plastered over Facebook and Twitter at the time.

In the meantime I’d love people to continue to donate. Every penny I can raise will make a massive difference and go a long way to supporting the fantastic work that the Sick Kids Friends Foundation does.

As before you can donate in the following ways:

  1. In person. If you work with me, or know how to get a hold of me, then you can give it directly to me or fill in my sponsor form.
  2. Through my Just Giving page.
  3. Via text message: Just text SKSP83, followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070. This allows you to make your donation anytime, anywhere!

So once again thanks to everyone that’s helped out so far. I’ll be back with more updates very soon!


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Sick Kids Save Point 2014–SPONSOR ME!

On October 10th I'll be taking part in the 2014 Sick Kids Save Point event, to raise money for The Sick Kids Friends Foundation. The event involves playing games for 24 hours.

The foundation supports the work of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. The Hospital receives over 100,000 children through its doors each year from all over the country. Money raised goes towards extra comforts, which make time in hospital better for children as well as:

* Facilities
* Extra medical equipment
* Support for sick children who are cared for in the Community
* Funding for extra training and research

Over the past five years, Sick Kids Save Point has raised over £60,000 for the charity.

This year I will be one of the many people who will game, through the night, in support of this fantastic cause.

So I’m basically looking for as many people as possible to donate whatever they can to help out.

There are three main ways to donate:

  1. In person. If you work with me, or know how to get a hold of me, then you can give it directly to me or fill in my sponsor form.
  2. Through my Just Giving page.
  3. Via text message: Just text SKSP83, followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070. This allows you to make your donation anytime, anywhere!

I’ll be posting more in the run up to the actual event, with updates on how the total is coming on, any form of major sponsorship I’ve received (I’m currently investigating a few possibilities) as well as how you can follow the actual marathon itself!

Finally, I’m hoping for everyone to spread as much awareness of this campaign as possible. If you see my tweets, Facebook posts or even people you meet, please share them, like them, retweet them etc so we can all make a difference in lives of so many young people who need all the assistance we can give.

Thank you all.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Last Of Us – Finally

Just over a year ago, Uncharted developer Naughty Dog released it’s highly anticipated The Last Of Us. I picked it up not long after and promptly proceeded to not play it, despite the universal praise and acclaim it has gathered. Fast forward to tonight and I’ve finally finished it off, after a drawn out play through over the course of several months. So what do I think? Does it live up to all the glowing reports its received?

I’m finding it hard to put into words just how I feel about it. On one hand it is most certainly a masterpiece of technical brilliance, writing, voice acting and mechanics that make sense. On the other hand I find myself asking, “Did I enjoy it?”

No. But that’s alright, simply because of how the game presents itself. The Last Of Us is a depressingly bleak world to inhabit. Set twenty years after a parasitic fungal outbreak has seemingly annihilated human civilisation, Joel is tasked with taking young Ellie on a cross-country journey of the greatest importance. As part of their journey they have to deal with the infected populations, who have mutated into several differing forms and, perhaps most dangerously of all, other humans who care only about their own interests. The game takes place over approximately a year, split up into seasons, which focus on each part of their journey.

The interplay between Joel and Ellie is easily one of, if not the best example of a relationship in all of videogames. Naughty Dog have crafted two believable, relatable characters that you want to care about and who change and grow over the course of the main game. It’s bar-raising stuff and is rightly being highly praised for it. Voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson put in excellently subtle performances for Joel and Ellie respectively. Johnson won a BAFTA for her work on the game, while both her and Baker won VGX awards.

Technically the PS3 is being pushed to it’s limits and this is one of the best looking games you’ll find on PS3. Everything about the visuals is eye-catching, from the wonderfully subtle particle effects to beams of sunlight bursting through trees and cracks. Frame rate does suffer in one or two cases, but never at critical moments.

So back to why I didn’t enjoy myself.

The Last Of Us is in many ways about surviving, very often by the skin of your teeth. Ammunition and the supplies needed to craft everything from med kits to nail bombs, are very scarce with decisions constantly having to be made. Med kits and Molotov cocktails share the same ingredients of rags and alcohol, but with a limited supply what are you going to prioritise? Joel, while an accomplished survivor, is not a one man army and is not a trained marksman, making each shot you take that much more important. Conservation of these items is vital to progression.

Then there are the infected. Coming in three distinct varieties, each of them are extremely deadly and two of them are capable of instantly killing you if they get too close. There are often far too many to take out with guns, so stealth and sneaking become primary concerns whenever enemies are near. Most infected can be taken out with a stealth kill, but these are always risky, especially with the more deadly types.

But the real bastards of the title, are other survivors. There are quite a few that you’ll encounter throughout the game and with a handful of exceptions they’ll cause trouble and grief.

I’ve said that I didn’t enjoy the game, but it’s more because the things you do in the game are harsh and hard. You are in an unforgiving world, where death is always just around the corner and everyone in it is fighting desperately and brutally to stay alive. The tension in each combat encounter is palpable and leaves me feeling drained and exhausted.

But I still savoured every minute of it. Each tense encounter as an enemy makes their way towards my position when all I have left to defend me is a piece of pipe. Each time I swung the camera around just to take in to scenery. Each time I managed to squeeze another med kit out of my supplies before the next bullet hit me. Each time I saw Joel and Ellie grow that little bit more.

The Last Of Us deserves every plaudit and award it has picked up in the last year. It deserves the be played and discussed, as a genuine step forward for the medium. It especially deserves it for coming from a developer of high-budget blockbuster games, which so often play it safe and try not to do anything which might put off those who by little else than Fifa and Call Of Duty. The Last Of Us is a genuinely moving, and thought provoking game.

You need to play it.

The Last Of Us is available now on PS3.
The Last Of Us: Remastered will be released on PS4 on 29th July 2014.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

E3 2014: Ubisoft Highlights


The second of the big publishers to display their wares, Ubisoft once again recruited actress, gamer and voice of Lana on Archer Aisha Tyler to host their show. So what should we expect to see from one of the quirkier publishers within the industry?

Straight out of the gate we got Far Cry 4. Continuing it’s open-world tradition, the game once more features a mentally unstable antagonist for players to take on alone, or with friends.

For the tween-age girl in all of us Just Dance is getting a new edition. While in itself not earth shattering news, it comes with support for smartphones as well as the ability to record your own dance moves and share them around the world.

The game itself got demoed at the Microsoft show, but Ubisoft showed of a Cinematic trailer to give some more background to the post-pandemic world the story takes place in.

Driving games are surprisingly under-represented this year, but one of the biggest is Ubisoft’s team racer The Crew. Comprising a compressed version of the entire USA, it’s possible to conduct coast to coast race events that take up to two hours to complete.

The latest installment in Ubisofts biggest franchise, Assassin’s Creed Unity is the first game to be designed only for the next-generation systems and PC, meaning 360 and PS3 owners will have to upgrade if they want to experience everything it has to offer. As revealed during the Microsoft conference up to four players can take on Assassinations and other missions together, all to the backdrop of Revolutionary France. Launching later this year Unity looks to be the next major step for the series.

Returning to the fitness game trend of several years ago, Shape Up aims to bring competitive and video game elements into the mix to help give motivation to those who find traditional fitness games dull.

Perhaps the most thought provoking and interesting game to come out of any of the conferences, Valiant Hearts – The Great War delivers an experience of World War I, a conflict gaming has traditionally not visited before. Presented with reverence and based on real letters from those who fought in the trenches, Valiant Hearts looks to be a title well worth investigating more.

Easily the biggest surprise of E3 so far, it was also the most welcome. It’s been six years since we last had a Rainbow Six game and while it’s not clear exactly how the single player elements of the game will play out, the multiplayer gameplay show above looks utterly fantastic.

Overall Ubisoft had a very solid show. Some interesting new titles and some follow ups to old favourites should keep Ubisoft doing very well for the immediate future.

Coming up in the next 24 hours I’ll go over what Sony had to show, as well as the announcements and highlights from Nintendo’s Digital Event and Treehouse Live.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

E3 2014: EA Highlights


Following on from the Microsoft show, EA put on their own spectacular to show off their upcoming titles.

EA were first up, and started things off with a behind-the-scenes look at the DICE developed Star Wars Battlefront. Promising an authentic Star Wars experience it’s not expected until 2015.

Following on from the trailer shown at the Microsoft conference, Bioware demoed gameplay from Dragon Age Inquisition.

But it was their official announcement of a new Mass Effect that drew the biggest response as Bioware teased some details for the return of the Sci-Fi RPG franchise.

As much as EA is associated with Battlefield, Fifa, Madden and Need For Speed, it’s very easy to forget they also make The Sims. The newest version promises to create weirder stories and the ability to design your Sims’s personality.

UFC kicked off the first of the EA Sports offerings. Playable Bruce Lee was one of the highlighted features.

NHL continued the Sports offerings, with increased visual fidelity especially within the Stadiums.

Taking a break from people hitting each other, Burnout and Need For Speed developers Criterion step away from fast cars to extreme action. Taking inspiration from Youtube videos of extreme sport stunts, Criterion are hoping to be able to forge something around the idea of multiple vehicles as shown above.

Utilising the DICE developed Frostbite engine, PGA Tour takes a new step within the franchise. The introduction of “Fantasy” courses, creates fresh opportunities to give players new places to play.

Admittedly catering more to the US market than anywhere else, Madden 15 revamps the Defensive options open to players as well as introducing new replay options.

Moving into eSports territory EA highlighted their very own MOBA game, Dawngate.

Teased briefly last year, the sequel to critical, if not financial success Mirrors Edge looks to be back in 2015.

With a final look at Sports games, FIFA 15 promises to have players with memories, which will affect how they interact on the pitch.

Wrapping things up was highlight of the show, Battlefield: Hardline. Taking the basics of Battlefield and mixing it with Payday, players take on the role of either the Police or Terrorists in objective based multiplayer.

Overall it was a strange show. While there were no disappointments it was very safe, with no big surprises or reveals. Mass Effect, Criterions new title and Battlefront are too far away to get too excited about yet. So good looking games, but just a touch under-whelming overall.

Coming up soon, I’ll take you through Ubisoft and the future of Assassins Creed, The Division and more.

E3 2014: Microsoft Highlights


Another year, another E3. As usual Microsoft were first out of the gate with their conference, looking to continue clawing back Sony and PlayStations’ early lead in this new console cycle. Going into the show it was clear that there was only really one direction for them to take. Games, games and more games. No TV, Kinect or User Interface distractions, just pure games. So did they deliver?

The short answer has to be a resounding yes. With an opening promise to show nothing but wall to wall games, the new head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division Phil Spencer more than made up for previously disappointing shows at prior E3s.

What exactly did they show that made a compelling case for Xbox One? Read on to find out.

The new Team American: World Police game…. Oh wait, actually it’s Call Of Duty.

As predictable as the Sun rising and setting, there is a new Call Of Duty title on the way. Developer Sledgehammer games first title in the series jumps straight in with an all new take on the biggest franchise in Interactive Entertainment. Set in 2054 it arms players with some futuristic, but plausible, new weapons and technology, much of which is already in development in some shape or form. It looks sufficiently bombastic, with a few additions that wouldn’t be out of place in Titanfall and seems to be a rather fresh look at the fatiguing franchise. Oh and Kevin Spacey plays the baddie.

Fast cars go fast around roads. Apparently

A new Forza Horizon title was shown off in trailer form and looks to continue the spin-off from the main Forza  line. Expect to see a brand new day/night cycle and dynamic weather when it launches September 30th. Also, free Nurburgring track DLC for Forza 5 available now.

Become the beast

A new trailer for co-operative shooter Evolve shows off a brand new monster. From Turtle Rock, the team that created Left 4 Dead before being snapped up by Valve, it promises to be at least as good as it’s spiritual predecessor.

Friends that slay together, stay together.

While most details of the next-gen Assassin’s Creed title, Unity, were divulged at Ubisoft’s own show later in the evening, Microsoft were given the world-premiere of the four player co-operative gameplay that it includes. Up to four players can take control of a highly trained Assassin and work together to take out targets.

No one expects the Dragon Age Inquisition!….. Sorry, it’s late.

The latest installment in the Dragon Age franchise from RPG specialists Bioware, launching later in the year.

If there was one Xbox One exclusive that had me interested prior to the Microsoft show it was Sunset Overdrive. From Resistance and Ratchet & Clank creators Insomniac Games, Sunset Overdrive is manic, colourful and very over the top. Gameplay is fast and varied, with multiple options for navigating around the world, as well as many different ways of dispatching the various mutants and survivors you encounter. It’s certainly peaking my interest in what it has to offer.

Award for biggest smile of Microsofts Conference goes too.

I wouldn’t normally have included an announcement of DLC here, but I have for the simple reason that the trailer is just so full of win. Available now.

Return to Albion in Fable Legends

Lionhead demoed some footage of their upcoming multiplayer action RPG Fable Legends. The game allows four players to fight their way through encounters controlled by a fifth player, who can place monsters and traps to try and hinder the heroes.

Create and share your own games with friends and the rest of the world.

Returning after it’s debut at last years show, Project Spark gives players the ability to create their very own games that they can share online with other players and friends. In addition it will also include the return of classic Rare character Conker, though it’s not yet clear in what capacity this will be.

One of the brand new games showcased was beautiful platformer Ori and The Blind Forest. Looking to have a touching storyline it’s being developed by Moon Studios for Xbox One, 360 and PC.

The return of the biggest Xbox exclusive will provide a great entry point

It was next to impossible to NOT have some form of Halo announcement at E3. While Halo 5 was notably absent, the Master Chief Collection for Xbox One, provides an amazing entry point for newcomers to the franchise as well as a fantastic value proposition. The collection will launch in November and contains:

  • Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
  • Halo 2: Anniversary Edition
  • Halo 3
  • Halo 4
  • Live Action Series Halo: Nightfall produced by Ridley Scott
  • Access to Halo 5: Guardians Beta

All run from within one unified menu system, players can create custom playlists of levels, mixing and matching from each of the titles within the collection. Also included are every multiplayer map released for the games, as well as the original Halo 2 multiplayer. Speaking of Halo 2, it’s been given a full re-master, so each game on the disc will run at 60 frames per second at full 1080p HD. This astounding collection will ship on a single disc for $60 (So expect £45-£55).

From the creators of indie hit Limbo, Inside will be launched first on Xbox One.

Inside, wasn’t the only indie game Microsoft had to show off though. Several different titles were revealed through the above trailer. Particular highlights for myself included Cuphead, Mighty No 9 and Below, each of which looks to bring something fresh and exciting to their respective platforms.

Stupid name, but can’t wait for the game

When SquareEnix released their Tomb Raider reboot last year, none were more surprised then myself when it turned out to be absolutely excellent. So I was very happy when the sequel was announced and teased above. Shame about the name though.

Geralt, what a dude

The Witcher series of games has always passed me by so far. I completely missed the original title, and I’ve had the critically acclaimed sequel “Assassin Of Kings” waiting to be played for quite some time. But I think I’ll be giving it a proper go after seeing more of the newest installment. A dark fantasy world, with engaging combat and RPG elements puts it high on my list of games to look forward to in 2015.

A rebirth for a little known Xbox title, Phantom Dust was shown for the first time. While not much is known about it right now, it is slated to be released in 2015.

Another title originally revealed last year, little has been seen of Tom Clancy’s The Division since. But here we get some live gameplay footage of the multiplayer cover shooter with tactical elements. It’s certainly one to be watching over the next year.

An announcement and a trailer were all we got for Platinum Games newly announced Scalebound. Be sure to expect their signature style as well as substance as we see more in the future.

Awww yeah!

If there was one early 360 title that I loved unconditionally it was Crackdown. After a disappointing 2010 sequel Microsoft are finally bringing back the original super-powered open-world game. This was the big one for me. Not Halo, Sunset Overdrive or any of the others. Crackdown. Nothing is quite as much fun as being an over-powered agent of justice, especially when you work for the shadowy and sinister “Agency”. If Microsoft can bring more titles like this to the Xbox One in the next few years I’ll be much more inclined to get one.

So there we go. Microsoft’s offering for the next year or so. They achieved exactly what they had to do, which was show off nothing but games.

There may have been a lot of multi-platform titles, but they had some good exclusives and set the bar high for the rest of the show.

Join me in the next couple of hours as I share highlights from the EA and Ubisoft shows, as well as Sony’s 2am blowout from this morning. Capping it all off with Nintendo later this evening.


Thursday, 22 May 2014

So much to talk about, so little time…

So it’s been a couple of months since I last updated this blog. In that time there have been some amazing news stories, I’ve picked up my PS4 (Expect more about that in the near future), some of this years biggest games are about to beginning hitting shops and we’re now a mere two and a half weeks away from the gaming blow out that is the E3 trade show in L.A.

I’m going to try and get through some of this stuff in the next two weeks, just in time for E3, which should prove to be very interesting.

A quick look at what to expect in the next two weeks:

- Oculus Rift: What it is and why it could very well change the future of interactive-entertainment.

- Next-Gen Judged: Where PS4 hits and where it misses

- Watch_Dogs: Is it a glorious pedigree or a slobbering mutt?

- E3 Preview: What to expect from the big players this year

I’m especially looking forward to writing about the Rift and I’m even more excited to get a shot of one at some point.

But that should do for now.

See you real soon!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

“Never, ever, fart on another mans balls.”

Advice to live by and one of the things “South Park: The Stick Of Truth” hammers in at every available opportunity.

Announced just over two years ago, developers Obsidian Entertainment (Recently known for Knights Of The Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas) have spent the time since, crafting what is possibly the best TV show based game in recent memory. To accomplish such an unexpected feat they were joined by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who not only wrote the story and voiced the characters, but also were heavily involved in all aspects of the games development. This ensured that the title genuinely feels like its a part of South Park as much as the TV show or movie.

Players take on the role of the “New Kid” as you move into the quiet mountain town and begin to make friends. You soon encounter the main characters of the show and become involved in the type of child-like role-playing games we all played in our youth, but with the usual South Park twists. Here a Grand Wizard is just as likely to do battle with a Meth-head, Ginger Kid or an aborted Nazi Zombie Foetus, as they are to face off against an Elf.

The game itself is structured as a fairly light RPG. You gain experience through battles and various actions, which allows you to level up abilities and equip more powerful weapons and outfits. I take care to say outfits and not armour as the things you wear will be as varied as the locations and enemies you will face. You also gain various patches and “Strap-Ons” which, when attached to your gear, provide bonuses to various stats and abilities. Finally you have perks, which are permanent bonuses that you can unlock as you make more friends around the town.

Combat is very similar to that found in the Paper Mario games and doesn’t suffer at all from the comparison. Your character, who is always referred to as Douchebag regardless of what name you choose, is paired with one of several familiar characters (Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman, Butters or Jimmy), each of whom has their own specific abilities and attacks. You can choose from a melee, ranged or magic (Fart) attack to take on the groups of enemies you face.

I probably wouldn’t watch this at work…. Or in front of any kids

Farting and fart jokes, as with the show itself, are at the very heart of Stick Of Truth. They form a crucial component in battles, and are used in a number of ways even when you’re simply making your way around the town. These range from pre-emptively farting on an enemy before combat starts, or using a long-range fart to distract guards and sneak through an area undetected. The four main farts that make up your arse-nal (sorry) are learned as you progress through the game and it’s in the tutorials for these attacks that one of the games, very few, flaws are apparent.

Sometimes the on-screen directions for the attack, have no bearing on how you actually use it in game. So in effect they teach you the wrong way to do it. This lead to at least one occasion where I had to repeat the same tutorial section around ten times before I finally got it, which was intensely frustrating. But it’s one tiny niggle in what is easily one of the funniest and most entertaining games I’ve had the pleasure to play in a long time.

It’s not possible to talk about Stick of Truth without commenting on it’s visuals. The team at Obsidian, along with the guys as South Park Studios have created a game that, battle information aside, looks exactly like the show. Characters move with the same crappy animation and all the environments have been recreated with amazing attention to detail.

This attention to detail extends to the various items, quests and characters you encounter throughout the game. It’s a goldmine for South Park fans as old characters re-appear (Hello Scuzzlebutt, Mr Hankey and Damien) and there are more references than it’s perhaps possible to find.

Most of all it retains it’s wicked sense of humour. Nazi Zombie Foetuses are just one of the “I can’t believe they did that” moments you’ll encounter and certain scenes were so potentially offensive that they were deliberately censored by publisher Ubisoft on the console versions for certain countries (PC players in the UK need not worry though as it’s completely uncut). It’s produced more belly laughs, sniggers and grins than any other game I’ve played in years.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you don’t like South Park, then this probably isn’t going to change your mind. But for those who enjoy the show it’s definitely worth your time.

Now screw you guys, I’m going home.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is out now on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Titanfall or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Stompy Robots

I’m finding it surprisingly hard to articulate exactly how I feel about Respawn Entertainments debut title “Titanfall”. It’s a game that lends it’s anecdotes more to an oral retelling than through a written review or preview, as I struggle to convey just how much enthusiasm I’ve got for this game after just three days of the beta.

So what is Titanfall?

From what I’ve played I feel I can best describe it as “Call Of Duty with free-running and giant robot suits”, though that is doing the game a massive disservice. Fundamentally it plays, and in some areas feels, very much like a Call Of Duty game. You unlock new equipment and abilities as you gain XP, complete weapon and kill based challenges and complete objectives within the game. So far so COD. But it’s the changes, and more importantly the additions that Respawn have layered over the game that make it so much more than another version of that game.

The most obvious addition is the Titans themselves. When the game starts, each player has around three minutes until their Titan is available to use. This time can be reduced by killing both AI controlled “Grunts” and player-controlled “Pilots”. Once the timer hits zero you are free to call in your Titan at any point, activating the titular “Titanfall” so called as it literally falls from the sky for you to board. Jumping inside changes the nature of play quite significantly, as you switch from a vulnerable human who can die in only a handful of hits to a massive machine of death and destruction, able to take huge amounts of damage before being knocked out of commission.

Cleverly though, Titans are not invulnerable. It would have been very easy to make them nearly invincible against human players, but Respawn have made it relatively simple for humans to hold their own against these massive machines. Each Pilot loadout has an Anti-Titan weapon, designed to dish out a decent amount of damage. More interesting though is the ability to “Rodeo” on top of an enemy titan. Utilising the double jump (More of which later) you can clamber on top, rip open a hatch and inflict significant damage on them, forcing the pilot to either disembark to pick you off, or get one of their team-mates to do it for them.

None of this stops the Titans from being anything other than amazing to see and use. I defy anyone not to smile when they call in their very first Titan and watch as it slams to the Earth, ready for boarding.

Perhaps one of my favourite moments came in my last match of the Beta. I had been Rodeo riding on an enemy Titan and managed to inflict enough damage that the Pilot was forced to eject to avoid dying. The force of his ejector seat threw me far into the air and as I was on my way up I called in my Titan. As I began to fall back to earth my Titan shot past me, landed and caught me just as I was about to hit the ground.

That’s just one small moment from many others, but it was the one that made me go “Fuck yeah!” more than any other. I didn’t stop grinning for five minutes after it.

Despite being a shit shot I still come 2nd overall here!

Beyond the Titans, the movement system for Pilots has been reworked to allow some stunning free-running abilities. You can run along walls, leap from surface to surface and activate your small jetpack to provide a very short, but potent burst of height. This completely changes how you move about the levels. Windows are now a very viable entry-point for buildings, and stringing together combos of wall-runs, double jumps and climbs will allow you to get to places you’d never even consider in other FPS games.

There’s so much more to the game than just these elements though and for the most part they all work really well. However there are just a couple of things that take some of the sheen off the game.

Graphically Titanfall is nothing to write home about. It’s not a bad looking game, but for something that Microsoft are hoping will be the first system selling game for the Xbox One it’s frankly a bit of a disappointment. Textures are relatively low-res, the frame-rate sometimes stutters when there are more than two titans fighting and it lacks ANY kind of destructible scenery.

The other main gripe relates to the low player count. In a world where most multiplayer shooters are allowing at least 16v16 matches, Titanfall caps it all at 6v6, opting to fill out the maps with AI controlled “Grunts” and “Spectres”. Many people aren’t happy with the low count, but the main problem I’ve got is the poor, poor AI for the non-human characters. They pose no real threat, will happily ignore you if you run past them, and will often stop and stare at an opposing AI until you walk up to them.

I can understand why the player count was dropped. The maps probably just didn’t work with that many Titans at once. So instead of having to limit the number of available titans, they just dropped the player count and brought in AI to make up the numbers. Which is a fine idea. As the major selling point of the game, to limit who can use a Titan and who can’t, would massively reduce the enjoyment players can have. But the implementation of the AI is flawed, at least right now.

There’s nothing to say some of these flaws won’t be fixed for the games March 14th release date, but by this point it should really only be small tweaks and adjustments being made, not massive changes to the AI systems.

I’ve not even talked about the various modes and maps available, but in all honesty there isn’t much really new about them. You have standard Attrition (Team Deathmatch) and Hardpoint Domination (Capture & Hold) modes, along with Last Titan Standing (Everyone spawns in a Titan, when you’re dead, you’re out) and many more in the full game.

The two maps in the beta were both quite different as well. Angel City was a tightly enclosed urban map, with lots of alleys and buildings to practice wall-running and double jumping though. It also created some up-close Titan battles, as players would try and Robot Punch each other to death. Fracture was a more open, green area with some wide open spaces, allowing the Titans to really move around and show what they can do.

Hopefully I’ve gotten across that I REALLY like Titanfall. It takes the formula that COD has been pummelling into the ground for the past six years and gives it a fresh new look and feel, something it was drastically in need of. If you’ve ever enjoyed multiplayer COD you’ll find something to like in Titanfall.

Titanfall is released March 14th on PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Zelda games have a problem. Which is a strange thing to say about a series that is so universally adored and which has never managed to produce anything less than stellar games. It’s this very popularity which creates the problem though. Nintendo have developed the core formula that the games follow for almost 30 years now, to the point that the games have become slightly predictable.

Each new game will have a slightly different hook. Wind Waker introduced a vast sea to navigate. Skyward Sword used the motion controls of the Wii to create the most in-depth sword combat the series had seen. Most innovative of all was the introduction of the Ocarina in the seminal Ocarina Of Time, which allowed Link to travel in time, control the weather and alter the time of day amongst other things.

But underneath these features, the games remain fundamentally unchanged from 1991’s A Link To The Past on the SNES. Link makes his way through a linear series of dungeons, collecting the items within each one until he can gain access to the final dungeon and the final battle within. It’s a formula that has served the series well, but one which fans are beginning to grow weary of.

Enter A Link Between Worlds. Ostensibly a sequel to A Link To The Past, ALBW returns to it’s predecessors version of the kingdom of Hyrule and tells an all new story within its established world. This time around the kingdom is being threatened by an evil from an alternate version of Hyrule known as Lorule. This allows for the same world-hopping gameplay as the original title, with Lorule taking the place of the Dark World.

It takes a lot of cues from it’s older sibling. The sound effects, music and visuals are all updated and reworked for the more powerful hardware of the 3DS, but it’s all recognisable as coming from A Link To The Past.

So far so Zelda. However it’s the changes here that make the game stand out from more recent entries in the series.

Link can rent items at any point in the game. Previously Link would have to gain each item individually, and only when the game dictated he should. These were located within the various dungeons Link would encounter and could only be tackled in the order the developers intended. Now if you have the Rupees you can get all the items within the first half hour. The catch being that if you get killed you lose all your rented stuff. Later on you are able to buy the items outright which costs substantially more than renting, but is well worth it as you can then have them upgraded. This means that the dungeon designers can focus more on creating interesting puzzles instead of locking off half of the level until you’ve found the correct item.

It’s a massive change which alters the flow of the game significantly but also allows for the other major change in the game.

Dungeons no longer have to be tackled in a specific order. If you want to go straight to the Ice Palace you can do that. If you’d rather attempt the Thieves Hideout first, then you can do that as well. Each dungeon signposts if there are any items you need, so you can go in prepared. It creates a fresh feel to the game as you can no-longer predict exactly what you’re going to run into next.

One of the main annoyances in the games from Ocarina Of Time onwards, was that of the “helper” characters. These would constantly push Link in the correct direction, ensuring that you were never stuck wondering where to go next. Some would pester Link regularly, while others would be borderline patronising as they explained the most basic of in game mechanics even as you neared the end.

Thankfully ALBW doesn’t have anything like this. As a result you’re more likely to stumble onto new and interesting things as you just explore the world. As a concession to newer players though there is a built in help system for those times it’s not clear what they should be doing.

Finally there is what is the probably the most traditional of the new mechanics. Link now has the ability to merge in to the walls and surfaces he encounters, becoming a 2D painting that can manoeuvre through tiny gaps. This has many applications, not all of which will be immediately obvious, and it encourages experimentation. It has some especially excellent uses in the boss fights throughout the title.

It is also the way that Link travels between Hyrule and Lorule, as he slides into cracks in walls. As with the Dark World from A Link To The Past, Lorule is a twisted mirror of Hyrule. The layout of the world is the same, but it’s inhabitants and its structures are radically different. It creates the basis of some excellent puzzles, as Link travels back and forth between the two.

It’s hard to find anything to complain about here. The whole package is highly polished and refined and is without doubt one of the best Zelda titles in  recent years.

For players who may have gone off the Zelda games, or have just never played one before, this acts as a great way to get into the series. For Zelda fans it’s a glimpse of what Nintendo could potentially do with the series going forward.  It’s certainly a must have for owners of 3DS.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is out now on Nintendo 3DS.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Alien: Isolation

Almost one year ago Gearbox Software released what is quite possibly the most disappointing title of the past generation. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a mess of gargantuan proportions, riddled with bugs and bearing little resemblance to the title people had been promised. As such many people saw it as the nail in the coffin of the Alien franchise in video-games. Which made the rumours of Alien: Isolation all the more surprising when they began to emerge several months ago.

Today the title was officially unveiled with a trailer and several websites detailing hands on time they had spent with the game.

In your living room, people WILL hear you scream.

Probably the first point to make is that first and foremost this is a game based on the movie Alien, not Aliens. With a focus on creating a tense and terrifying experience, developers Creative Assembly (Best known for the Total War strategy games) are creating a game that has more in common with horror hits like Amnesia and Slender than anything else.

The player takes on the role of Amanda Ripley, daughter of the films primary protagonist Ellen Ripley, as she searches for the whereabouts of her mother. Not much else is known about the plot at this point, but she somehow finds herself on a ship with a Xenomorph loose aboard. The aim of the game is to escape from the ship and the creature, while presumably discovering more of Ripley’s fate.

Perhaps most interestingly of all is the fact that there is only going to be one Alien in the entire game. Where previous games based on the franchise have thrown waves of the Xenomorphs at a fully armed player, Isolation instead focuses on one, highly dangerous threat. Amanda has no real weapons to speak of, instead relying on what implements she can find or craft as she makes her way through the game. This makes that one Alien extremely dangerous and the best tactic is one of avoidance, so expect to spend lots of time peeking round corners and hiding in lockers.

The Alien franchise has never had an exceptional game based on it. There have been some good games and some horrendous games, but Isolation is currently making all the right noises. If Creative Assembly can live up to this early promise and indeed take the franchise back to its horror roots they may have finally given the movies a game to be proud of.

Alien: Isolation is currently set for a Late 2014 release on all major formats.