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Soul Axiom review

I first saw Soul Axiom two years ago at EGX in London and the game really caught the attention of not only myself, but many of the crowd there and I was excited to hear of its formal release and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. However what I discovered was a real mix of exciting creative gameplay and frustrating niggles.

Set in the cyberspace world of Elysia, Soul Axiom developed by Wales Interactive is a first-person story driven adventure, based in what can simply be described as a digital afterlife. Elysia is a state of the art Digital Soul Provider which allows you to upload your soul, making your dreams and memories into a reality. Now this idea of a digital afterlife has been touched before in games like ‘SOMA’, so again I was keen to see how Soul Axiom, who has made this the main focus for the game, delivered it.

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The game opens up with you free-falling though an electrical storm, with visions passing you by. Are you dead? Is this a dream? What do they mean? No sooner have you started wondering what’s gone on, you find yourself landing on a boat. A quick search around reveals a galleon type sail ship and once you fire up the engines you are coasting through the air. Well that’s until some huge winged creature comes and trashes it, sending you plummeting to the ground. Waking on a strange neon Tron-like world you start to discover the true concept of the game, exploring, solving puzzles and environment interaction. A great start to the game and this had me really excited as I believed I had only just scratched the surface.

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As you walk around, what you will discover in Elysia is that you get the first of your four powers, the ability to control the environment by phasing objects in and out of existence, or as the game states, you give with one hand and take with the other. This allows you to create bridges, phase through what were solid walls and interact with various environments. However this is where the game started to come apart. The use of your abilities is very linear, there is no opportunity to go out on a limb and do something different. Nearly every puzzle was very obvious and most of the initial interaction could be solved by randomly pulling the left or right trigger until something happened. Shortly after this, a Rewind and Pause ability becomes available to you, followed finally by a Fireball option. Colour coded accordingly, you can switch between the various abilities to interact and transform your surroundings and solve puzzles. This again seems very controlled and linear as the colour of the puzzle matches the colour of the skill you have to use against it, making most of the puzzle solving very point and click and not investigation based.

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Upon arrival in Elysia, via a very nice mono rail, you are ushered to the HUB and it is from here that you gain access to the various portals to other resident’s memories. These are basically huge puzzle areas forming up the bulk of the game. The puzzle areas themselves are a little bland and dark in comparison to the Tron style HUB but they do enough to keep you interested even if some of the puzzles within them don’t. As you progress further through the story though I did find one or two great places, keep an eye out for the Space Station. With over 20 hours of gameplay, 100 physical puzzles and 40 distinct locations to explore there is enough content to keep you going but at some points it does feel a little mundane. While playing I did seem to forget the underlying story line, that feels separate and even disjointed from the puzzles, but every so often I would be reminded via a memory flash, some other random persons memory or via a very strange collectible monkey with cymbals. On top of this you are constantly followed around by a large beast hell-bent on sabotaging your progress.

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The soundtrack is great and really puts a cyber futuristic feel to the game but this cannot make up for the sometimes erratic visuals, painful loading times between environments, and puzzles that in the end feel like a chore and not a challenge. I had huge hopes for Soul Axiom and feel with a little more time this game could have been great but in its current state it comes across as more ok’ish. For those who love puzzles in any shape or form with a cyber futuristic feel to it then give it a go. For those of you who are looking for a real challenge and something to stimulate you for hours then personally this is not the one.

Thanks to Wales Interactive & Xbox for supporting TiX

 

Dive Kick Review

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I’ve always enjoyed fighting games but frankly, the genre has been in dire need of a face lift. The vast majority of the games hitting store shelves are identical to the last but with a few characters having slightly different skins but DiveKick is here to break that generic mould. It’s finally hitting the Xbox One marketplace through the ID@Xbox program after releasing on every other platform imaginable.

The concept behind DiveKick is fairly simple, the game revolves around the player using two buttons to perform two different actions and yes, you  guessed it; one button makes the player dive and the other button makes you kick. It may sound simple but this two-button fighting makes some truly epic encounters between yourself, other players and the computer. As soon as you kick the other player, they’ll instantly die and it’s just a matter of doing that five times to win a match. It comes down to whether or not you’re able to bait your opponent into making the first move and whether you’re able to quickly take advantage of their mistake.

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Most fighting games have a god awful story mode but the one in DiveKick is surprisingly entertaining. Each of the characters included in the base game have their own original story which is shown in cartoon-strip form and some are pretty damn funny. DiveKick shows you the original of how Johnny Gat entered the world of DiveKick to ‘Redacted’ a skunk bear who drank radioactive waste and is now stealing cigars.

One of the most important features of any fighting game is the fighters that are available to the player and from the very beginning, they’re all available to the player. In total, there are twelve different characters, each of which have several different outfits but these are nothing more than changing the characters jacket and trouser colour. DiveKick certainly contains some of the more ‘out there’ characters such as letting you control Saints Row’s Johnny Gat to a chap who wears boots on both his feet and his hands.

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All of the characters have their own unique traits and special abilities that can be unlocked by filling the meter in the bottom corner of the screen, this can be sped up by taking advantage of the gems available which can be changed at any time. These special abilities come in a variety of different forms from super kicking speed to summoning black holes that keep your opponent stuck in the air, it’s all a bit wacky!  If you’re someone who is easily offended, you may want to pass on DiveKick as it has a very distinct sense of humour. Every character you run into in DiveKick acts and sounds exactly how you imagine.

DiveKick offers players the generic game modes that fighting games offer; an incredibly short story mode for each  character which contains a range of fairly entertaining cut scenes as well as a versus mode which can be played either locally or online. Unlike others, DiveKick doesn’t include any form of challenge or skirmish mode for people who prefer playing offline, which is fairly disappointing, especially as someone who isn’t fond of constantly being crushed online because of the games poor matchmaking. It’d be nice to at least be matched against a similar skill level instead of gods at this two-button fighter.

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Without a doubt, DiveKick is a damn good looking game from start to finish, its cartoony art style is easy on the eye and it’s worth checking out for this reason alone. Everything from the colourful and unique character models to the weird and wonderful worlds that you’ll battle people from around the world on, they all look fantastic and each come with a backing track that fits.

DiveKick is a fantastic addition to the fighting genre just because of how different it is; something so simple leads to endless amounts of entertainment, as long as you’re willing to play multiplayer as there is very little single player content and the online component suffers from poor matchmaking. It’s still colourful and crisp art style works incredibly well with the entertaining commentary and well worth checking out just for this.

Thank you to Xbox for providing the review code to ThisIsXbox

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Need for Speed: Rivals Xbox One Review

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When you look at what’s on the market for both the new generation of Xbox One hardware and old generation Xbox 360, it is hard to find many decent arcade racing games, they are a dying breed being over taken by the more serious hard-core simulation genre of gaming. Need for Speed: Rivals is the first title in the franchise to now be looked after and released by Ghost Games, and they seem to be a good pair of hands looking after everything.

Need for Speed: Rivals offers up some superb racing mechanics but from the offset is let down by a game world left feeling empty and devoid of character. It quite clearly draws on ideas and inspiration from the 2010 title, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which actually if we look closely, Need for Speed: Rivals almost acts as a sequel. Also clearly visible are features; the open world aspect especially, reminiscent of Need for Speed: Carbon, a launch title back on the Xbox 360. Don’t panic though, where Need for Speed: Rivals lets itself down in terms of a unique standalone personality, it does make up for in other areas.

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In Need for Speed: Rivals players’ progress through two distinctly different careers – one as a street racer and the other a cop charged with taking down the latter. Both careers may be switched between at any time, meaning that getting bored of playing the good or bad guy never really becomes a problem. The game plays out in the fictional picturesque location of Redview County; a sprawling 160 kilometre area made up of snow-capped mountains, windy forest roads, fast highways and small village areas. This is larger than last year’s Need for Speed game; Most Wanted.

The storyline is pretty much a moot point, there isn’t one. OK, that’s not entirely true, whether as a racer or cop you’ll be treated to a collection of over-the-top cut scenes and voiceovers via faceless representatives from both sides. It’s standard affair; racer wants to push things to the limits whilst showing the authority who is the boss. Cops want to catch the bad guys. So ignoring that, players simply complete a Speed List (checklist) made up of specific races, pursuits, and other objectives in order to unlock cars and trigger the next brief story sequence. Of course, you don’t need to follow these all the time. If you just want to take your new ride out for a spin, then of course do so. They’ll still be plenty to do out on the roads and highways of Redview County. Speed Point are accumulated via in-game actions but particularly event completions, these are then spent on either gadgets for stopping racers (when playing as the cops), or spent on various new upgrades, cars, gadgets and visuals if playing as a racer. Need for Speed: Rivals also sees the return of Autolog which tracks the average and top speeds at specific points all over the map, these are then displayed on the in-game leader boards giving players bragging rights over their friends.

Once you get behind the wheel of your car and out and about in Redview County, races, time trial, pursuits and other events are started by driving to the requisite in-world icon and pressing the LB button. This is also the same button to use if you want to challenge other racers head-to-head, it is also used when as a cop to switch on your lights and start a pursuit. This is a great system made better by the ability to stack events; a race can be turned into a hot pursuit event should it catch the attention of the police.

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Depending on whom you are playing as; racer or cop, you’ll have two distinctly different progression trees and customisations options. For instance the police have access to things like spike strips, roadblocks, and car-disabling EMPs. Although the police cars come in 3 varieties (Patrol, Enforcer & Undercover) they are unable to be upgraded other than the above toys. Racers however can upgrade each vehicle’s durability; ram strength, control, acceleration, and top speed. This being a Need for Speed game, there is a plethora of visual paint and decal customisation options included also. Where the cops have very offensive based gadgets to purchase and install, the racers are more defensive and include shields, radar jammers, stun mines, and a turbo boost for double quick getaways.

Need for Speed: Rivals is an always online, open world style racing title. This means a couple of things: 1) there is no pause feature. If you need to stop the action for any reason, you have to and literally have no other choice, find a hideout (racer) or command post (police). Because of this no pause option, players can be left vulnerable when browsing the map or delving into the games Easy Drive menu system with the d-pad. A dedicated button for “nearest safe house” would have been a great addition. 2) Connecting to an EA Server is dog shite. It is completely unacceptable to be waiting for 20 minutes and restarting 4-5 times before a connection can be found. Come on EA, it’s not just me with this problem.

Need for Speed: Rivals is as ‘arcade’ as you can come, the cars handle fantastically (far too easily in actual fact); a quick tap of the brakes while cornering allows for long, satisfying drifts, while sharper turns can be negotiated at speed using just the right amount of handbrake.

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My biggest pet peeve coming up… this grinds my gears like you couldn’t believe… you see, there is this ‘issue’ with playbacks and dodgy camera views. The first is when you crash, but the car isn’t quite a total right off. The car is placed back into the race but facing the wrong direction. Now factor in the lack of mini map during these 10 second crash sequences, and you can quickly make racing destroying bad decisions on what direction you should be going. There is also this random tendency for the game camera to do a 360 of your car. This can happen at any point, but more frequently than most just as you are approaching a corner. Of course without being able to see where you are going, corners become incredibly difficult.

This is the first time out for Ghost Games with Need for Speed, and at a time where the industry sees new hardware and graphic capabilities it can be a daunting time. The game itself is a good looking one but when all is said and done the next-gen version isn’t much of a leap beyond what we have seen with the current gen. That said the Redview County always seems alive and full movement with some incredibly gorgeous weather effects.

Need for Speed: Rivals does a lot of things well, and right. The cars are an absolute joy to drive, customisation options are a plenty and upgrading is slick and easy. Things like the day and night cycle work extremely well and the weather simply gorgeous to beyond on the Xbox One. The Frostbite Engine has been really well implemented. Minor gripes and problems aside, Need for Speed: Rivals is a great game. A step up for the franchise and it’s exciting to see where Ghost Games will take things next.

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