It’s creeping along in the shadows and would appear to be with us soon. The sequel to 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows looks to be heading to Xbox One in the first quarter of 2017. To set up the hype train for the new title, Cyanide Studio and Focus Home Interactive have released a small batch of screenshots into the light.
Styx: Shards of Darkness picks up where Master of Shadows left us. After taking care of business in City of Thieves Thoben, our green-skinned Amber addict, Styx agrees to steal an ambassador’s scepter in exchange for vast quantities of the magical Amber. It’s not long before this task takes an unexpected turn and Styx is thrust into a dangerous world of shady politics and powerful magic.
In Shards of Darkness, Styx has access to a far greater arsenal of tools and abilities to fit with a range of playstyles. Hunt guards with potent Amber powers, or stealthily avoid them. Teleport yourself into a newly hatched Styx clone or spend time on the fresh crafting system. This will allow you to adapt to situations as you progress, giving you the ability to craft lethal traps and other devices from components stolen on your adventures.
This open-ended approach extends beyond Styx himself. Shards of Darkness will feature highly vertical environments, far grander and more non-linear than the previous title. There is more than one way to achieve each objective, trying out many different routes and tactics along the way. Lurk in the shadowy depths or launch silent and deadly attacks from above. How Styx progresses will be entirely up to you.
The four images released show off the heavily guarded Port of Korrangar, airships in flight and the impish nature of the titular hero himself.
Styx: Shards of Darkness is heading for a first quarter release on Xbox One. Should you decide to preorder, you’ll get access to the exclusive Akenash set, granting you the iconic outfit and dagger seen in Styx’s first adventure.
In the latest Space hulk Deathwing trailer, coming fresh out of gamescom, the Xbox One logo has been dropped from the closing credits. What does this mean for Xbox One owners? For now, all that has been confirmed is a November PC release window.
In the previous teaser, showing off gameplay, the closing credits included console logos next to PC – have the console versions now been dropped altogether? Vermintide was another Games Workshop game, set in the world of Warhammer, that had a planned console version before going quiet then finally announcing an October release date – hopefully the same can be said for Space Hulk – myself and Greg were looking forward to busting open some Genestealer skulls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Le Tour De France 2015 is another installment in the Tour De France franchise by Cyanide studios which puts you in the heart of competitive cycling in the annual Tour De France event. As you can imagine it’s a racing game where you compete against others, (lots of them) to win a series of races and become the overall champion. However if you’re into your race games then clear all your thoughts and ideas from your mind as this isn’t a fast paced racer with lots of options and customizations to keep you tinkering for hours but in fact a hard long slog with a huge dose of strategy behind it. If you are a keen cyclist, into the Tour De France or just fancy a change in pace then this is definitely the game for you so don your Lycra, grab your gel packs and prepare to get sweaty.
Compared to other games I have seen in the past Tour De France 2015 doesn’t just put you in charge of a single racer but an entire team and this is where the strategy comes in. You can only at any one time focus on a single rider within your team, deciding when he sprints or drafts whilst all the time watching his energy to make sure he doesn’t burn out. Like in real life, the quicker you pedal, the longer you climb hills or sprint, the more energy your burn until eventually you run out, at which point you can watch the world and all the other racers pass you by. If you do feel you are starting to fade then you switch riders to one of your team mates or even call one to come up and take the lead so you can draft him or another competitor for a while allowing you to replenish your energy. This team play and strategy is key to successfully winning events and races and ultimately the tour.
As soon as the game started stunning footage of cyclists racing through the sunny hills and vineyards of France filled me with some excitement and then the main menu appeared laying out six options for me from a tutorial to teach me the basics of the game to various timed events, multiplayer options and the jewel in the crown the Tour De France race itself. Thinking there can’t be much to this game I clicked the tutorial option and then my jaw dropped. As the screen loaded a splash screen appeared showing the controller setup. Now I thought it’s a cycling game how hard can it be, you pedal with one trigger, brake with the other and steer, oh how wrong I was.
I was faced with RT to pedal, LT to brake and the left thumbstick to steer (I got that bit right at least). However RB is to change gear, LB is to assume a low down aerodynamic position (useful when you are going down hills and don’t want to peddle). X button allows you to trail a competitor (slipstream), repeatedly pressing the A button allows you to attack so you can catch players or try to break away. Button Y allows you to consume energy packs and gels and finally button B opens up comms allowing you to control your other teammates and issue tactics like attack or swap control to another cyclist, this I used a lot as I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing and found I was running out of energy all the time and needed to swap to another rider. – phew, you still with me?
The races themselves vary and before you get started you pick your team and this determines the aim of the race. This is a nice feature as it kept my focus on the race because it wasn’t necessary to win some events but just to make sure all your team finished in the top 10. Once you have decided on a race you then have to choose what Gel Packs you take, these replenish your energy but can only be taken at set times within the race so use them wisely. After all that I was finally ready to go.
I thought the first race would take me 5 or so minutes and as it set off I was amazed by the sheer number of cyclists at the start, it was truly an impressive sight and brought a real sense of the sheer size of the task I was about to undertake. A short sprint burst to get me ahead in the lead pack and I was away. 30 minutes later I was still cycling on a lifeless road with the lead pack, looking at lovely scenery and once in a while a group of fans lined along the side of the road. At some points I really didn’t know where I was in the race, there is a map on the side of the screen but I found the information it was telling me confusing, from the gradient of slopes to distance cycled. Occasionally there was a burst of excitement when someone tried to break away and you have to react quickly to catch them (lots of A button mashing). My lead and potential victory was short-lived though as just before the end of the race I burnt out as I had completely used all my energy. Within seconds the entire pack of riders passed me and now at the back of the pack I found it difficult to fight and my way through them. I finally staggered over the line to be pleasantly faced with a podium ceremony for sprint champion and my own jersey. A sense of pride came over my again and I soon forgot about my disastrous finish.
The main thing that separates this game from others is all the factors that you have to keep an eye on during the race. As explained before, energy is the most important thing in this game. However, you also have to take into account the gel packs you can consume in the specialised marked out feed zones (to be honest I wasnt sure when I was in one of these) during the race, the hilly terrain, the length of the race and the number of turns. They have even factored in the wind to aid or hinder you as if you ride into a headwind you will find yourself burning more energy, but drafting or riding alongside another player can shield you from this. This makes the game come into its own as you have to plan your attacks and a real sense of strategy and how the real life riders tackle the race comes into play.
The game also offers multiplayer and co-op mode allowing you to race with a friend of compete online with others. This brings a level of excitement to the game that sometimes is missing in the single player as the challenge you face racing with others and the unpredictable nature it brings opens up the true dynamic of the game. Work together as a team for time trails or go head to head to prove you are the best.
So, what’s wrong with the game?
The main game screen has a wealth of information and this can be quite confusing. I still don’t really know what half the information truly means. Also as mentioned above the races can be very long and sometimes you feel that you are cycling by yourself with little or no interaction from anyone else and due to the before you go out or pick up the kids, it needs time and dedication. The quickness that you can go from being in the front 5 to 31st is also annoying as you can lead for 20 minutes and then crawl over the line last, but then again this might just be my general lack of skill in this game. The other issue faced was the collision detection within the game. No matter how hard I tried to run over some of the cheering crowd I couldn’t, I even tried the old Road Rash classic of charging and sideswiping another competitor’s bike but I just seem to bounce of them. One last thing to mention is the brakes, I found a slight tap on them brought me to a complete stand still and then you had to burn precious energy to get back up to speed. There seem to be no difference on how far I pulled the trigger on my controller it was either off or on. I could imagine my rider flying down a hill, applying the brakes and then catapulting himself over the handlebars and propelling himself over the finishing line mid-air like Superman, but however hard I tried I could not do this.
Overall this game does have it problems but then again what game doesn’t. As I played my family looked on and commented on how boring it was but I found myself being drawn into the races, learning from my mistakes and how I could better myself and tactics for the next one. Is this one to invite your friends over to play on a Friday night? No and I can’t see myself playing this over and over again. The game is visually stunning and if you haven’t played a game like this before then I feel you should give it a go because as far as cycling games goes this is the best one yet. It’s a Marmite game, you are either going to love it or hate it, but it’s for you to decide.
This years Game Developer Conference is from March 4th to 6th in San Francisco and with less than a month before it all kicks off, Focus Home Interactive; an independent French publisher, have today revealed a line-up of titles and new announcements which will be showcased (behind closed doors!) during the show.
Blood Bowl 2 developed by Cyanide Studio, combines Warhammer and American football together, in an explosive cocktail of turn-based strategy, humour and brutality. Blood Bowl 2 is set for a Spring release this year.
From developer Spiders comes The Technomancer. Set on Mars and in the same universe as Mars: War Logs, this dark sci-fi RPG is currently in development for Xbox One and other platforms. You can read our review of Mars: War Logs the surprise Xbox Live Arcade RPG hit title of 2013 here.
Farming Simulator 15 is coming to Xbox One. Developer Giants Software will be meeting press to discuss this surprise hit series and reveal its plans for console release later this year. Read our review of Farming Simulator when it was released for Xbox 360 back in 2013 here.
Maybe not everything in the above list is your cup of tea, but is there something you are keen to see more off? After the success of Mars: War Logs I am really excited to see The Technomancer released.