Category Archives: Xbox One Reviews

Standpoint review

Everyone has experienced loss at some point in their life, and have experienced the five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Unruly Attractions’ Standpoint takes you through each of these stages in a colourful, and complex, first-person physics puzzler.

The premise is a simple one, make your way through each level while manipulating gravity and overcoming obstacles with a tap of the trigger. However, with the challenges Standpoint presents you, the way to the end is never entirely clear, and the path is littered with a multitude of hurdles in your way.

Visually, Standpoint is stunning, but in a minimalistic way. Full of bright colours, and rich environments, it is a feast on the eyes. Each set of levels portray each emotion perfectly, with complimentary colour palettes to represent each stage. However, I did find sometimes that the base colour scheme of some levels made it harder to recognise the pitfalls and challenges I was expected to overcome. For example, in the Anger stages, with their bright red walls, it was often impossible to see where the instadeath lasers were, resulting in some frustrating failures. But, I never truly felt that any failure was cheap, and was almost entirely down to user error.

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The soundtrack of Standpoint is a perfect mix of light electronica and classical, which is reminiscent of the music from Minecraft, and creates the relaxing ambiance required to work through the many puzzles you will face. Each level’s music represents the emotion perfectly, and marries with the visual style effortlessly. It’s a soundtrack I would be very keen to listen to on a day-to-day basis.

Standpoint doesn’t present a traditional storyline, which confused me at first, as with previous games of this type that have often relied on a strong storyline to move you through the game. Instead, you are guided through each level by a voice, a voice who is trying to come to terms with each stage of grief, asking the questions many ask when coping with loss. This narrative also offers subtle hints to help overcome each obstacle, such as stating when things are not always as they seem, during a level where walls would disappear depending on your orientation. I thought this worked incredibly well, as it made me take notice of what was being said, instead of focusing purely on the challenge ahead, something I have been guilty of many times in the past.

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There is a great mix of challenges to face with each level set, from dodging lasers and using environmental elements to accessing hidden areas and solving puzzles with either orientation or cubes (yes, your friendly cube is back). Each stage follows a similar style of challenge, enabling the player to adapt to that particular obstacle, and increases the difficulty as you progress. One such example is the use of switches to open doors, and using boxes to hold the switch for longer, enabling clear passage through the level. Later in the stage, you will be required to use multiple boxes to activate multiple switches to progress. It is a fair learning curve, and as I mentioned before, any mistakes made are 90% due to user error, and never through cheap and unfair design.

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Overall Standpoint is a great game to while away an afternoon or two, and offers a great challenge to anyone who enjoys a physics-based puzzler. The mix of bold visuals, relaxing soundtrack, puzzles and challenges, is available to download on Xbox One for £7.99.

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Thanks to Xbox and Unruly Attractions for their support

Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut review

Before you jump into Fallout 4, you might want to try to survive the perils and dangers that wait for you in the Director’s Cut of Wasteland 2 – a turn-based RPG whose original 1988 release gave birth to Fallout, which many consider to be Wasteland’s spiritual successor.

You control a four-man squad of Desert Rangers, who roam the wasteland of Arizona willing to lend a hand to anybody that needs it. The game starts with a live action short to set the scene, after that, a whole complement of voice actors take the reins – their lines appearing on printer paper in the lower third of the screen – below this is where your ‘conversation wheel’ resides. Picking from one word answers leads to additional conversations that reveal hidden pieces of information that often lead to new locations or loot opportunities.

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Starting with a blank slate, you form your squad from a selection of pre-made characters or pre-made squads. You can also start from scratch, choosing names, biographies and investing in abilities with a limited XP budget. If this is your first time in the wasteland, I recommend you go for a pre-made squad.

Whether you decide on pre-made or creating your own, there’s only enough attribute points to create some basic characters. Skillsets and weapon preferences must be spread throughout your squad, leveling up to improve these core skills and grabbing additional abilities that your squad lacks. It’s quite the balancing act, spreading the skills and creating a balanced squad of CQB, sniper, support and assault styles.

Although you start with a four-man squad, you can recruit other survivors, that is, if you play your cards right and you don’t do anything to make them go rogue or leave you in the lurch.

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To get around the world of Wasteland 2, your squad navigates the large hub map as a Desert Rangers icon. While moving, your squad consumes water, which if depleted will leave your rangers dehydrated and on the verge of death. Randomly, there are oases that you can refill water at and most camps also have a water supply, and so the management of water consumption is only a minor consideration rather than a burden.

While in map view, random encounters will hit your squad – these skirmishes can be avoided, but fighting bandits and raiders will reward you with easy XP and you can even come across valuable loot or a new member for your squad.

Whether you engage in combat because of these encounters or while you are exploring one of the many camps, a grid is placed over the terrain. Each member of your squad then uses action points (AP) to move, shoot, reload/unjam weapons and heal. You can also place members of your squad on ambush (overwatch to those of you that played XCOM) and nail any enemies that move into their field of view.

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While locked in combat, you have to choose between the primary or secondary weapons each Desert Ranger has equipped, weapons stored in their backpacks remain out of reach until you finish each fight.

What I liked most about the combat (apart from the turn-based style) is the option to set up your position before the fight starts, unless the enemy detects you before you’ve fired the first shot. Setting up and spreading out is essential if you want to avoid being hit with an area effect weapon or accidentally hitting a friendly ranger with a wayward shot.

Ammo is limited too, and in the early hours of the game, you’ll need to consider whether you risk taking a shot that has a lower percentage chance of hitting the target. On top of managing ammo, you also have to stay on top of your squad’s inventory and rank up their skills. Wasteland’s menu system may not be as intuitive as some RPGs out there, but once everything clicks, you’ll be flying about the menus with little thought.

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There’s a steep learning curve to Wasteland 2 and the game does little to hold your hand, I’ll admit to restarting the game several times, but once everything clicks, Wasteland 2 is as enjoyable as XCOM. Your morals will be continually tested – whom do you help, who do you believe – very early on in the game, I came across a damsel in distress. Thugs were trying to open a safe containing her dowry, she needs it to be able to marry a good man who will keep her safe – what do you do? Kill the thugs and take the dowry or leave the woman to have a future? It’s choices like these that might seem insignificant but each and every one of them has an effect on your game – whether that’s a direct outcome or one that manifests later.

At times the HUD and camera can prove to be a nuisance, covering up percentage values of an attack or blocking your field of view – it’s only a minor nuisance – and with multiple camera controls, it isn’t too much effort to correct things. Other issues I experienced included doors that wouldn’t open if I stood my ranger too close and button prompts (like reload) only working from within the contextual combat menu. Missions are stored in a handy logbook, although it wasn’t necessarily as clear as it could be as to where I should be headed and what the task was.

If you want a challenge and don’t like your hand being held, then give Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut a go – it demands you pay it attention and be confident managing your squad through a set of menus. The achievements are tough to earn – this is no mere waltz through the wasteland – and you won’t be earning GS just for completing missions. The strategic turn-based combat is superb and it more than makes up for an XCOM shaped hole missing from my Xbox One collection.

Thanks to Xbox and Koch Media for their support

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Monkey Pirates review

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Monkey Pirates, from Henchman Studio, is a naval combat multiplayer game for up to four players taking up the role of one of four unique simian captains, each with their own special abilities.

There are two game modes available, multiplayer and challenge, with the latter being the “single player” component, but seeing as this is primarily a local multiplayer game, the challenge mode could be classified more as an extended tutorial.  These challenges test your sailing skills, shooting accuracy and your ability to drift (dropping your anchor in order to quickly slow and change direction) and serve as a good way of improving your skill level in each area.

Sailing is a simple and familiar process. Each direction on the compass surrounding your ship has a different strength of wind which varies your speed greatly. Red brings you to a complete stop, green sets a normal speed, whereas yellow sets you to full speed. Changing tack to make use of the best wind to get you into a firing position.

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The multiplayer on the other hand is quite extensive with nine completely different maps within which you can compete in three different multiplayer modes. Stand by the Board is a free for all battle where you have to utilise the multiple items, power ups and unique skills to defeat your friends. Jolly Roger mode has the first pirate to shoot down an opponent becomes the Jolly Roger, who then has to defend themselves against the others from that point onwards, but without the benefit of power ups which makes picking your fights a necessity in this mode. Finally, Banana Race is a score system where you need to collect as many banana barrels as possible. Each enemy killed drops their bananas, so it is essential once again that you pick your fights and decide whether a contested barrel is worth challenging. The winner in these games is decided by who scores the most points.

Each game mode also contains a variety of offensive, defensive and arena based power ups that make each map that bit more interesting. Offensive and defensive range from bouncing bombs, broadsides, speed boosts, armour and even oars which negate all wind speed requirements. Arena power ups are a bit more varied in their influence. These change the arena in many different ways. Typhoon’s swap all players position in the map, Coconut juice reverse all your controls, where voodoo masks rip all existing offensive and defensive power ups from your enemies. Picking up the three varied types of power ups can completely change the course of a game in a matter of minutes.

Thankfully, unlike some other local multiplayer games I have played, Monkey Pirates has a distinctly intelligent AI which can be applied should you wish to have a go when less than a full complement of friends are available.

Monkey pirates has taken the naval combat from older games, such as Sid Meier’s Pirates! And Overboard, and redefined and polished them into an enjoyable, if somewhat limited, couch multiplayer.

Thanks to Xbox and Henchman Studio for supporting TiX

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FIFA 16 Review

As an Arsenal fan I’m used to the disappointment of coming on fourth place, I’m also used to hearing Tottenham fans telling me that ‘this is their year’ and how North London is going to be white etc etc. FIFA has held the top spot in terms of football titles for a good few years now and where PES have been a bit like Tottenham, lagging behind but telling fans that this was the year they were going to turn things around.

I’ve wanted PES to be brilliant this year, and after playing the demo I was leaning towards picking it up, I then played the FIFA demo and it still felt like PES was the better title, but now I’ve had a fair chunk of time playing FIFA 16 I’m about to tell you why it’s still the best football game around.

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Every year when a new FIFA title is released EA Canada love to tell us about a blockbuster feature for the game, this year we were introduced to no-touch dribbling, the most skillful players in the game are now able to dazzle their opponents without having to touch the ball, creating themselves a yard of space before creating a chance for their teammates. Once you practice it works really well, but for me it’s all the little changes that make FIFA 16 great.

Last year we were overrun by the fastest players in-game and thankfully this year that has been scaled back, although there are times when you wonder why Ronaldo struggles to get past Per Mertesacker! If you are going to get on with FIFA this year then patience is key. Defenders are a lot smarter this year, those through balls that always came good last year will more than likely be cut out, and slide tackles will see defenders not only stop opponents in their tracks but actually regain possession if you get the timing right.

What I really like is that for the first time I can remember in a FIFA title is that I spend a lot of time passing the ball back to defence to restart an attack, it feels so much more realistic and tactical. Passing requires more care, although you can one touch pass around the opposition it won’t work every time. Shooting (if you take the assists off) is superb, the ball reacts as you would expect it too, off-balance shots will fly in all directions, but hit the sweet spot and you’ll burst the net. Here is one of my favourite efforts.

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Thanks to rumble feedback of the Xbox One controllers players feel weightier, when you hit an opponent with a great slide tackle or as you jostle for possession you can feel the effort going into it. It’s not always perfect, I have had some rather odd penalty decisions go for and against me, Innocuous collisions seem to be enough to make the referee point to the spot more than is needed, but we all know how what referees can be like right? Goalkeepers seem to have improved too, and with all players getting new animations the game looks more realistic than ever.

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FIFA 16 made history this year by adding Women’s football to the game, it’s a shame there are only a selection of International teams to play as, but it’s great to see how the game plays differently. It’s a lot less physical and much more tactical, and results in many different types of goals. You can only play in custom tournaments but fingers crossed FIFA 17 will expand on the Women’s game.

Elsewhere FIFA 16 is pretty much the same, with improvements to the different game modes available. Career mode has had new improvements to the scouting system, as well the introduction of pre-season friendly tournaments, which if you win can bolster your transfer kitty. Be a Pro makes a return as does Seasons mode and Pro Clubs.

It’s FIFA Ultimate Team that has had some big changes, the most advertised being FUT Draft. Using 15,000 coins or £2.39 you are given the chance to create a dream team of players, before entering a 4 game tournament. The better you perform the greater the reward, the prizes are basically gold packs and if you do well you could end up with some great players. The first draft is free so it’s well worth having a play. You can still play through online and offline seasons to earn coins and so far the online experience across the game had been good, so hopefully some work has been done on the EA servers.

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As you would expect, presentation wise FIFA 16 ticks all the boxes, it may not have the finesse of PES 2016 in terms of player likeness but the stadiums, the lighting and the UI all look excellent. The commentary is generally good, there are plenty of new lines that have been added and I like how the commentators address individual players regarding their form in the game.

There are still the annoyances that FIFA 15 had, the player swap button not always changing to the player I want, and the fact you can cut into the box far too easily and score, but with practice you can stop it, just like when you could score from kick off to easily.

Despite the small problems, FIFA 16 has done enough to stay as top dog in the football world, the fact is though PES 2016 is catching up and EA Canada need to make sure they are on top off it all they will end up second best.

Thanks to Xbox for their support.

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https://youtu.be/AfeDwkIaHNY

Blood Bowl 2 review

Competition is a compelling thing, and sports give us a safe, entertaining and regulated way to participate and spectate as two teams or individuals compete against one another. Games Workshop’s Blood Bowl is based on these same principles, minus the safe part, instead murder, loose refereeing and brutal violence – from both the teams and the crowd – allows Blood Bowl to truly earn its name. And with this ultra violent take on gridiron amongst a high-fantasy setting comes a fascinating and even more compelling competition, one where frustrations can be unleashed on opponents with bone crunching tackles and cerebral tactics and strategies for a highly satisfying challenge. Indeed the board game Blood Bowl is a superb game, and fortunately the digital version portrayed in Blood Bowl 2 is as well.

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Blood Bowl 2 allows you to take a team to the field from a selection of eight races – a couple more if you pre-ordered – and play a facsimile of American football with a heavy dose of blood soaked mayhem. Each half is made up of eight turns, with each team moving characters around the pitch with the goal of retrieving the ball and scoring at the other team’s end zone. This is anything but simple, but thanks to the brilliant core mechanics from the board game paired with the visual and audio splendour of the videogame, it’s a wonderful challenge with some excellent humour and potential for emergent gameplay.

Your movement is limited by your character’s stats and a grid that lies on the field during a turn. Within this movement grid is a safe area you can run within or you can risk it and ‘go for it’ adding a square or three of movement to your run but having to face the possibility of a trip knocking your character down for a turn. Indeed the majority of actions you can take are determined by an element of chance, often dictated on the grid as percentages. A ‘go for it’ run often has a success rate in the 80s, meanwhile, if an opponent is opposite you at any point during movement then you also have to deal with dodging their attacks, which sit in the 60s. Positioning your players next to each other also boosts stats and lowers those of nearby opponents, and this all comes together to help you strategise on creating clears runs for the ball carrier or blocking them, which is the crux of the experience.

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Positioning alone isn’t your only weapon though, a tackle, which essentially boils down to a fight between players, is another way to temporarily – and sometimes permanently – take a player out of action. When knocked down a player is no longer a threat, if you happen to stun them then they’ll miss a turn as well, meanwhile, an injury takes them off the pitch until they recover, and a death removes them permanently and hurts the team further along in the league.

Tackles once again play off chance, with your player’s stats and abilities modifying your odds. Dice are rolled on-screen to determine the result of a tackle, with more dice thrown in for larger discrepancies between the players’ strength stats. Abilities such as block can prevent your player being knocked down, encouraging you to think tactically about which players you use to attack and defend. Further strategies can be built on the other abilities and specific rolls your players have within your team, with some players more suited to catching a pass whilst others are better suited to blitzing opponents. Taking it all into consideration and the element of chance that seemed so prevalent can be minimised, yet enough of it remains to keep the game unpredictable and fun whether you’re winning or losing.

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The crowd like to get in on the action occasionally and will cheer on teams, which improves their stats, or storm the pitch knocking out and stunning random players. Push a player out-of-bounds and the crowd will descend on them, injuring and sometimes killing them. Additionally, tackles you perform or suffer from can injure or kill you. Meanwhile, negative abilities like an ogres stupidity can strike and take out your powerhouse player for multiple turns. It’s terrifically intractable, and can turn a one-sided game on its head at the snap of a neck.

Figuring out how to form strategies and understand the rules and UI is aided by the single player campaign, which sees you coach a team from rags to riches in a Mighty Ducks kind of fashion. Each game gradually introduces new elements and shows you the ropes as far as team management goes off the pitch, with buying, selling and transferring players as well as improving stadiums. It’s a fairly lengthy campaign as well, largely due to matches tacking a long time to complete. 16 turns can run for a good 40 minutes or so, which, when playing against the AI, can get a little frustrating.

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For the most part the AI is smart and aggressive but doesn’t seem to be concerned with the number of turns left, often setting up a touch down play that would come to fruition a turn or two beyond what’s available. Certainly human opponents offer a better experience, and thanks to leagues and persistent teams Blood Bowl 2 offers a superb multiplayer component, one that’s especially enjoyable amongst a small group of friends playing in a private league.

Indeed Blood Bowl 2 is a brilliant sports title, one that brings together cerebral strategy with mindless violence in a beautiful Warhammer themed package. It’s a fair few races short of the monstrous amount from the ultimate version of the previous game, the animations frequently repeat, and the commentary can get on the verge of insufferable, but the satisfaction of beating an opponent into the ground and running the ball into their end zone with a superbly formed strategy is utterly fantastic and can overcome the minor issues splendidly.

Thanks to Xbox and Cyanide for their support 

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Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 review

There are a couple of really outstanding football titles. By football, I mean ‘soccer’, of course. The general consensus is that EA Sports’ footballing game is the market leader with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series coming in with more close-but-no-cigars than Arsenal in the last few years. The latest release of the affectionately shortened PES has been busy in the transfer market since it’s last release and with it also celebrating its 20th year, Konami have pulled out all the stops to try to make ground on its main rival.

It’s been a couple of years since I played a PES title. It was on the 360 and while it wasn’t nearly as good as the FIFA title at the time, it gave as good a game of football as you’d find elsewhere. This would be the first time I’d have seen PES on the Xbox One, so, it was with trepidation that I fired PES 2016 up and awaited the roar of the crowd.

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The menu system that Konami have now adopted, while not nearly as Sky Sports polished as its rival, functions well as the ticket office to what is actually a very good game. The menus are a little cumbersome, but you’re not really here for the turnstiles and security-checks of the lobby system or game mode selection, you’re here for the 90+ minutes of sweat, power, skill and the endless, endless joy of the goals.

There are an almost bewildering number of options to set you off on your path to footballing glory. The addition of the officially licensed European competitions, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, add that edge of authenticity that previous versions I’ve played have lacked. It’s great to see some licensed teams included as options, UEFA qualified teams such as Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona all feature, although the secondary leagues are unlicensed, as are the rest of the Premier League and the Italian Serie A. This, in truth isn’t as disappointing as you might think, although it was amusing to see how my home town club was named in the game.

This matters little in the grand scheme of things if I’m honest. The players involved in the match are true squad members of whatever team you’ve chosen to play as, with all of their genius or failures on the pitch. Konami have even taken the time to detail the more famous players’ faces. You’ll instantly recognise the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. While the lesser known players may have suffered a little as a result, this doesn’t really detract from the gameplay itself as a whole.

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The gameplay then, will blow you away and frustrate you all at the same time. Konami have tweaked the control system with the main change you’ll notice being the upgraded feint system. This allows you to fool defenders into a fatal slip, but it’s not the only the change that Konami have made. Perfect Defence allows those cloggers that can time a tackle perfectly all the time, the ability to shove opponents off the ball, a boon when you’re facing a particularly tricky set of forward players. The player animations have been tweaked and look and feel a lot smoother than I’ve previously encountered in this series, but overall the controls are quirky and over-sensitive when it comes to setting the power meters. The inclusion of eleven accurate, official stadiums adds to the overall sense of an authentic experience during the game, although the crowd interaction remains a tad on the static side and are a little copy and paste graphically for my liking.

The weather effects for the game can be set and left as a permanent weather pattern, or they can be made to be changeable, as they would be in a real game. Start off in blazing sunshine and finish in a storm, with all of the in-game physics that would come with a slick pitch. There are the usual array of tackle options, including the Sunday League favourite, the sliding tackle. The addition of the weather system makes those even more critical to time. You’ll be walking a disciplinary tightrope if you mistime them, although in truth, the referee more often than not has the iron will of a quivering field-mouse at harvest-time.

The game’s graphics are good, if a little wooden, but there was one thing that definitely wasn’t right in my mind and it took me a while to figure out what it was. To me, the perspective as you played over the far side of the pitch seemed to be off. Either the pitch was twice as wide as it was long, or the players shrink as they move towards the far touchline. This aside, the player AI is roughly the same as you’d expect from the average footballer. The tackles come in but you can use your feint and dash skills to evade and escape, but inevitably you’re either tackled successfully or you’ve offloaded with a pass so random you’ll dislocate your shoulder trying to pat yourself on the back for it. If you’re lucky enough to score then you’re treated to an editable, saveable replay of your world-beating effort.

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The in-game commentary has had a refresh, with the introduction of Peter Drury, but as with previous versions, the post-match summary doesn’t tend to reflect the on-pitch action. Other than this, the audio is a mix of grunts, feet striking balls, the inevitable oohs and aahs from the crowd and a suitably trendy popular music soundtrack to fill in the menu-hopping.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is a very good football sim. The player AI is intelligent enough to be challenging but also fallible enough to make mistakes just as in the real game. The goal keeping is one of polar opposites. The opposition keeper either has a storming game or is unable to hold even a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. The graphics are well animated and although the kits for the lower league teams are not in the slightest bit accurate, you’ll have a giggle at the names these teams have had to be given through lack of licensing then forget it altogether once your favourite player’s name is up in lights after a particularly thunderous goal. While the title does suffer from a few flaws, such as the power bar being far too small and sensitive, there’s still the core of a rival to the crown that EA have been hogging for the last few years at least. Konami have built upon the successes of last year’s effort and with the possible addition of the Euro 2016 Championships coming to the game, you won’t go wrong in at least seeing what the competition has to offer, even if the title race looks to be slipping away from Konami again.

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Rugby World Cup 2015 review

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Rugby World Cup 2015 is a strange game – I’m sure that somewhere there’s a good game, but it’s buried under some awful looking graphics and rather strange game mechanics. It starts off well, just like England’s own rugby campaign, but it soon unravels.

The UI is great, and that’s the most positive thing I will say about the game. The players, pitches, crowds and stadiums look terrible – I’m talking several consoles back terrible. The commentary, while competent, is kept very neutral and doesn’t single out any one player, team or stadium, and to make matters worse there aren’t many real player names used. Ok so PES can get away with it, but this is the official game of the rugby world cup!

Not only does the game feel cheap, it doesn’t celebrate the world cup. There’s no information on the teams or the cities the cup is hosted in and if you go on to win the tournament, don’t expect a ceremony – there’s just no grandeur spectacle of the sport and it makes a mockery of the world cup stamp placed upon its cover.

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Surely it’s not quite as bad as Uruguay’s performance in the tournament? Well, to be fair it does have some other good points besides the UI. At times there are genuine thrills of excitement as you burst through a defence to score, but eventually the game is lost under the feeling of rinse and repeat tactics. The running and passing are fluid, but it eventually starts to play like there’s little intervention from you, connecting a pass effortlessly and allowing players to hold onto the ball without fear of a turnover.

Holding the LS will make your player run and using the RS will aim a pass to a teammate or initiate a spin passed a defender. Hit the ground and you have a small window of opportunity to initiate a ruck or face a penalty. Now you must find the ‘sweet spot’ to gain control of the ball – on normal or hard this is almost impossible – the game pauses as you work out what to do next, pass, kick or run the ball. It’s an odd way of presenting the ruck and consequent play, being that the rest of the game tries to keep things moving fast.

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Lineups and scrums are even simpler, with scrums resided to wrestling with the RS to push your opponents down the field and lineups a simple case of jumping at the right time. For all the game’s simplicity, the drop goal remained elusive to me, with the goal posts often off-screen and no real way of aiming the kick – I just couldn’t nail the drop goal ­– the other elements of the game have been made so simple so why not the drop goal?

Throughout the game, player movement is awkward – diving for huge distances and running across the pitch like the players are ice skating or running to the Benny Hill theme tune – had this game been released as the rugby version of Sensible World of Soccer, then HB Studios may have been on to a winner, but it’s not and it wraps up a rather awkward title that is hard to recommend.

Rugby World Cup is an odd game – in its attempts to keep things fast and fluid it becomes rather awkward sinking into a boring game relying on luck rather than skill. Instead of celebrating the world cup it washes over it and I suggest you do the same!

Thanks to Xbox and Bigben Interactive for their support

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Orbit review

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Couch multiplayer has been making somewhat of a comeback in recent years, making it the done thing to have friends back to yours for some multiplayer video gaming. 4bit Games, a small independent team from Norway have launched themselves into this arena with their inaugural release, Orbit.

Orbit pitches up to four players into multiplayer space combat that is one part asteroids, one part lander and one part Sunburn. Players must balance their limited power which controls their thrusters, special power and weapons, all while negating the effects of the many stars, planets and comets that make up the arena.

Orbit comprises of three game types, Tournament, Mayhem and Foundry. The main mode available is Tournament, playable over one to four rounds, each of which is randomly selected from a list of game types and battled out on a randomly generated system of planets.  Mayhem is identical to Tournament, but contains mini games between each of the rounds, and Foundry allows you to select specific game modes for your tournaments.

For each of the game modes, players must first pick their special ability; Warp which transports you forward a short distance, Shield which protects you from enemy fire for a limited period and Ballista which fires a high power missile at your enemies.

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Once in the arena, each “sun” at the centre of the circular map, and each satellite or planet in its orbit, have varying degrees of gravity that will affect you and your projectile’s firing arcs. Some gravitational forces will slow you and your missiles, some will speed them up, whereas some will deflect them entirely. Learning to utilise these different forces at play is key to winning each round.

Game modes include your standard deathmatch called Destroy, where you must be first to get to 10 kills, Conquer where you must capture areas around the sun and its satellites by setting yourself into a geostationary orbit for an extended period of time, Annihilate which limits you to six lives which will be depleted by any means including collisions with the environment, and survive which pits you against your friends, the environment and a whole shower of asteroids, as if navigating the zone unscathed wasn’t difficult enough.

Should you opt for more than one round, you will also be able to upgrade your ship after each, allowing you to give your ship more speed, reduce the gravitational effects on your ship, or even make you invulnerable to your own missiles.

upgrades

Orbit has a very simple, streamlined style, with much of the ships and planets made up of simple wireframe models and basic sprites which are very in tune with its retro influences, but with a thumping dub step soundtrack that keeps the pace of the twin stick combat pumping.

Playing with three or four players is undoubtedly the way this is meant to be played, with hectic gameplay balancing your power levels against the gravity of the environment, and the requirement to dodge multiple missiles as they follow their gravity influenced trajectories around the map, Orbit is local multiplayer at a highly polished and refined level.

Sadly, the greatest drawback in my mind is its primary design. With local competitive modes only, if you do not have a willing group of nearby friends to play with, this is sadly a bad purchase as there is no online matchmaking, nor the ability to have AI sub in for real players.  Furthermore the fact that each of the game types are just derivatives of the same style, makes it somewhat lacking.

If you happen to have a close-knit group of friends that frequently, or occasionally meet for gaming nights, this game will easily slot in as a go to game to finish the evening on a high with its frenetic, fun and intelligent gameplay. Sadly, this is not for everyone and you will find yourself with a deficit in your pocket and your hard drive if the aforementioned is not the case.

Thanks to Xbox and 4bit Games for supporting TiX

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Skylanders SuperChargers review

The Skylanders have returned with Vicarious Visions at the helm and they’ve brought supercharged land, sea and air vehicles with them. Kaos is back and determined to beat you and take control of Skylands. By locking down the portals and capturing your friends, there’s no way to enter Skylands and summon the Skylanders, but what Kaos hasn’t counted on is the new SuperCharger vehicles.

SSC_SuperCharged Dive Bomber

A rift engine powers each vehicle – the days of elemental portals are over – these new vehicles create their own portals to navigate around Skylands and summon new characters in to battle. Unlike previous Skylander games, you only need one of each vehicle type to be able to play through the entirety of each story level.

The Starter pack comes with two characters and a vehicle, Spitfire, Super Shot Stealth Elf, and the land vehicle Hot Streak. By combining Spitfire and Hot Streak the vehicle becomes supercharged and gains a new look – doing so also gives access to an exclusive mission. Other than that, any Skylander, including the full complement of figures you may have collected from previous games, can be used with the vehicles, although you must use a SuperCharger character to customise each one.

Hot Streak looks great, has moving wheels and is sturdy enough for my son to use with the rest of his toy cars. I also picked up Sky Slicer, an air vehicle, which lacks moving parts but is just as fun to play with – according to my son that is!

The game can be played on a variety of difficulty settings. Beginner is ideal for younger players like my son, and Nightmare is great for when he is in bed and I want more bite from the fight. Not only do all the Skylanders in your collection work with the game, traps from Trap Team also work, although instead of trapping villains they give you special ammo and a unique Skystone tile for the game’s simple card-based battle mini game.

SSC_E3_Stealth Elf 1

Skylanders SuperChargers perfectly brings together platforming, brawling and Mario Kart-esque racing into one game. There are some wonderful ideas to the levels, including a gravity flip and a “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” level. The gameplay moves at such a pace that it doesn’t dwell on one particular style for too long, keeping my son far more engaged than many of his other games – it’s most impressive and an absolute joy to play through, both with him and on my own.

While playing cooperatively a leash tethers you together preventing adult or child from charging ahead or becoming separated. The vehicle levels place one of you at the wheel while the other handles the shooting and boosting – a job my son was particularly proud of as we three-starred a race challenge! You can also team up with one of your friends to play cooperatively, although there is no matchmaking for the campaign, which keeps the game in a closed environment for your little ones to enjoy without someone coming in to ruin their game. Competitive races can be played in splitscreen or via matchmaking online. Currently it’s harder to find a match for the sea and air vehicles, but with everyone having access to a land vehicle, matchmaking a land race wasn’t an issue.

SSC_Co-op Split Screen Racing

Each vehicle controls by simply moving the stick in the direction you want to move, which in open areas felt a little awkward to start with – moving the thumbstick left made you go to the left of the screen rather than turning left in the direction that your vehicle was facing – perfect for younger gamers.

As with previous games in the series, each character has a skill tree, and new to the game, each vehicle can be modified to make them faster or stronger but you must first find the mods before you can install them. Gearbits are earned in the vehicular levels and can be used to invest in weapon and shield strength.

Lock mini games return with Live Wire and you must navigate around an engine to find and turn on the ignition – collecting optional sparks as you go. Finally, there’s a Portal Master rank that can be increased as you play or for earning emblems for achieving milestones in gameplay – ranking up rewards you with buffs for your Skylanders or extra rewards.

There’s plenty to keep you entertained throughout the game’s 12 hour campaign, and once you’ve finished the story, there’s daily quests and challenges to keep you coming back for more. The racetracks of SuperChargers will keep you somewhat happy, but are restricted to how many vehicles you own. There are two tracks for each type of vehicle, with a further two unlockable if you purchase the Action Pack, which comes with a character, vehicle and trophy. Purchasing these also unlocks Boss Pursuit, Supervillain and mirror cups – it’s a bit cheeky, but I’m happy that the campaign is far more accessible with fewer additional purchases than in previous games. Only one level in the campaign demands you use an air vehicle and is skippable if you don’t own one.

SSC_E3_Sky Slicer

Character elemental gates may be no more, but there are a set of time trial races that are locked to vehicles of a certain elemental power – they aren’t integral to the game so can be missed entirely without feeling like there’s a huge chunk of the game missing.

Skylanders SuperChargers is as sleek as its visuals – the cutscenes in particular look great – the animation wouldn’t be out-of-place in one of my son’s TV programs. After Trap Team, my expectations were rather low and I was beginning to look over the fence at LEGO Dimensions, but the new game has sufficiently ‘supercharged’ my enthusiasm. SuperChargers dips its toe into a variety of game styles and it manages to pull it off with no one style ever feeling out-of-place – well played Vicarious Visions!

Thanks to Xbox and Activision for their support

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Polychromatic review

Easy to play, hard to master and even harder to put down, Polychromatic is one addictive game – but don’t let its simplicity fool you – it may look simple with its vector enemies and cute dust explosions, but it will challenge even the most hardened Geometry Wars fan. Yes… it’s impossible not to draw similarities with the king of addictive arena based shooters.

Unlike Geometry Wars, Polychromatic takes place inside a circular arena, a Petri dish of spawning enemies, who get tougher as you progress through each wave. Racking up a quota of kills completes each one, and with each wave comes new enemy types to dispose of, each reacting to you in a different way – either idly passing you by or making a beeline for your position.

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There’s three modes to choose from; Timed, One-life and Endless – all three are pretty self explanatory – each one starts you with three blasts, three dashes, and in Endless mode, three lives. Extra blasts and dashes can be earned after each wave you beat. Lives can be earned after certain waves in endless mode and in timed mode you can add extra time for each completed wave.

A cat of nine lives? More like a polygon of nine! Should you be skilled enough, you can increase your lives, bombs and dashes to nine, but that’s it, no more until you lose or use one!

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Starting with two diagonal streams of gunfire, you’ll soon get more as you progress through the waves, which at times will crowd the screen turning the arena of Polychromatic into a bullet hell shooter. Blasts can be used to get you out of a jam and will mostly clear the area of enemies – you can also use the dash ability, making you invincible for a short period of time, able to destroy any enemies you bump into. You will also bounce off the sides of the arena should you collide with the boundary and this is a key part to Polychromatic – the simple physics engine.

Enemies will gang up on you, but by doing so they will jostle and bounce off one another – pushing and shoving never works – and for some enemies, that means veering off in the opposite direction to their plotted trajectory. At times, this can be slightly annoying particularly when you’ve planned an escape only for an enemy to shove another one into you!

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The music of Polychromatic is great and most importantly, it didn’t get annoying. The UI is clean and simple, with your score and number of lives, blasts and dashes shown in the centre of the arena. There’s leaderboards to best and the achievements are tricky to earn but that’s your lot from Polychromatic – a simple game that is damn tough (particularly if you’re tired) and even tougher to put down – don’t play Polychromatic if you want a quick five minutes – you’ll certainly be on it for far longer than you planned!

Thanks to Xbox and Brushfire Games for their support

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