The whole reason why I noticed Time and Eternity (or Toki Towa as I knew it before it was announced for a Western release) was because of the vivid and interesting art style. It’s different from the norm, even when RPGs go with the cel-shaded style to give it an anime vibe; it’s never been as anime as Time and Eternitydemonstrates, with its gorgeous hand-drawn characters. But what lies beneath this beauty is a game that, sadly, doesn’t match its wonderful visuals.
Toki, the innocent, red-haired young woman, is the star of the game along with her fiancée, who are shown in an opening scene getting along happily before the day of their wedding. Their special day arrives and all seems normal, until they are about to seal their vows with a kiss and the door is knocked down by a group of assassins who attack Zack and kill him. Just as he’s fading away in the void of white light, he sees Toki transform into a blonde-haired alternate personality and watches as she gives the assassins a beat-down. It seems Toki has two souls in her body, with the other one belonging to Towa. Using her special powers, Toki travels back in time to figure out why her wedding was attacked, and at the same time save her husband-to-be. All isn’t what it seems in the past, and players are taken on a comical ride to stop everything interrupting her special day.
As stories goes, Time and Eternity isn’t all that interesting. It’s a light-hearted romp that never takes itself too serious, but that’s kind of the game’s problem. It’s so full of jokes and other nonsense that the core story never feels like it was written to be the main focus. The two personalities of Toki and Towa are the most fascinating part of the plot, but after a while, even the idea of two different people with different traits begins to blend together, ending up with a girl who changes her hair colour as often as a female pop star. Zack is the game’s pervert, and depending if you’re into those kind of jokes will determine if you can stand him or not. I personally have nothing against jokes of the perverted kind, but it probably happens a little too much in the game. He’s able to get away with these jokes because after his death, he is transported into Toki’s pet drake, and since no one really knows it’s him until a few hours into the game…well, you can guess what happens with his new “cover.” Zack has wild dreams of seeing Toki in the shower, along with all these other hyper-hormonal ideas. I guess that is what happens to a person in love when they have yet to kiss their girlfriend, even after dating for a few months.
Toki is often surrounded by her friends, which all fall into generic anime cliché. There’s Enda, a young girl who was school friends with Toki and has strange taste in men; next is Reijo, a posh 16-year-old who isn’t afraid to boast about her money and is ready to jump on anyone who hurts Toki; and lastly, Wedi is the smart one of the bunch – the wedding planner – who will make sure everything is perfect for her good friend. The same can be said for the people you run into, especially this one guy who won’t leave Toki alone. He just wants to be her loved one, and he just doesn’t give up – that’s the problem. Every one of these characters are about as thick as a sheet of paper, meaning that once you’ve seen them once, you have an idea of what to expect from them for the rest of the game. It’s enjoyable for the first few times, but after that it becomes tiresome.
The storyline progresses through quests, which are highlighted on the static world map with little exclamation marks. The world map is similar to titles like Final Fantasy X or Suikoden III, in which you point to places you want to travel to and then are warped into that area to proceed. If you get to the other side of that zone, then you’ll open up the next zone on the map that will allow you to continue to your desired destination. Locations aren’t particularly exciting – often just open areas without much life to them.
Battles are a key mechanic for the genre, and Time and Eternity is full of them. The game’s battle system pits Toki (or Towa) against one enemy at a time. A battle can consist of more than one foe, but you will never face them together. When you beat one of them, the next one comes into focus and you start the fight again. The battle mechanics are very action-oriented, since battles are in real-time and aren’t dependent on a character’s speed stat to see who goes first. Toki’s basic attacks are her rifle (at long-range) and her knife (up-close). The player is given the option to pick how to fight. If the player stands back at a distance, they can hammer the attack button to pump the enemy full of lead – but be careful: the enemy could block or do an attack that isn’t susceptible to stun. Pressing Up will force Toki to move in towards the enemy (if possible) to deal close-range attacks. Again, hammering the attack button will cause her to do a combo, but the enemy can do a “kick back” move to send you to your starting position. These rules also apply in reverse, so they can also come in at you and you can also knock them back.
My initial hour or so with the battle system was met with a positive attitude. Fights are fast-paced and engaging for the player, but the reality soon rears its ugly head when you find out that an enemy always does the same attack pattern. It forces the battle to become stale, because as soon as you see what you’re fighting, you know exactly what is coming and you can counter against it. Fights only get exciting when you meet a new enemy, but again, after a few fights, you know how that enemy is going to fight and you’re back into a state of repetition again. I ended up doing rifle shots into magic attack – which does a ridiculous amount of damage early in the game – for about 75% of the game’s combat. The developers even included a time mechanic that allows you to rewind time, but this only works well on bosses, since you already know enemy attack patterns. It’s a real shame, because when the battles are fresh, they are a lot of fun.
It upsets me even more that the combat isn’t better, because there is a dynamic between Toki and Towa that could have gone somewhere. Every time a level-up occurs, she transforms into the other personality that isn’t active. Each of the two characters have specific skills for battles. Toki (red hair) specialises in long-range, while Towa (blonde hair) is the master of close combat. When you win a fight, you gain skill points that can be put into learning new skills for whoever is “out” at the current time. The skill tree between the two is different, as their skills, both active and passive, are based around their strong points. To be honest, even though one had a better advantage over the other in specific areas, I was never put into a situation when I felt I would do better or worse if I was fighting with the other persona, due to the bad enemy AI.
On the presentation side, the game looks lovely with its 2D, drawn characters, but that isn’t without its problems. It can be a little jarring to see these aesthetics mixed in with the 3D world, which is rather plain for the most part. The game doesn’t offer itself up for exploration, as everything is marked on the map – even “hidden” chests are shown, which kind of defeats the purpose. Character animations are jumpy, due to their hand-drawn nature and shortcuts taken to reduce the animation required. Views of the characters are also limited. For example, when you are on the world map, you can only see from behind Toki/Towa when exploring. The camera can be twisted, but since her front doesn’t exist (this is a drawing, not a model), the character will turn with it, which comes off weird. The look is spot-on for the anime aesthetics, but the animation feels like it’s from a low-budget anime show – and just like those shows, it tries its best to save its budget by pulling the trick of recycled characters and palette swaps, and that spoils the main attraction of the game’s visuals.
Voice work covers a range from decent to laughable. It’s the typical high-school impersonation you are probably expecting from a game featuring young females. Fans of Nippon Ichi Software will probably recognise a voice or two, since a lot of these voices have been in past NIS America titles. For people wanting the original voice track, it’s there in Japanese. The music is solid but is forgettable once you’ve finished playing through the 25-hour story. To my surprise, it’s actually composed by Yuzo Koshiro, the amazing talent behind such classics as Streets of Rage. But Time and Eternity’s tracks don’t reach the memorable status as those classics do.
I’ve come away disappointed with Time and Eternity. I’m happy the game was released in English and that I got to play it, but I’m sad it wasn’t as good as I was hoping. It had potential to be a great game with an outstanding visual style that hit the anime vibe spot-on. Sadly, while the game does have its fun moments here and there, the game breaks apart with monotonous and predicable combat, boring side quests and poor pacing. It’s one for the hardcore fans, but even then, I’m not sure how well they can admire this.
I am a huge fan of music and rhythm games, especially ones that seem to be far-fetched from the definition of “normal,” which is why some of my favourites include titles like Bust-a-Groove,Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, andGitaroo-Man. Knocking around on Steam is an indie title calledRush Bros., a game that advertises itself as a “pulse-pounding, music infused Platform Racing Game.” We have had music fused into other games before, such as the brilliant Rez and its on-rails shooting or Audiosurf and its addictive “ride the music” gameplay.Rush Bros. is a game that hopes to successfully fuse music with challenging platforming that is trying to compare to the wickedly, amazing Super Meat Boy, so how does it do?
Amazingly, the developers have managed to construct a set up for the game. It goes like this. Two big star DJs, named Bass and Treble, used to be a duo act, until one day they decided to split and become independent artists. Both DJs have become highly successful following their solo route, so to determine who the better DJ is they decide to have a race against each other. It’s probably not what you might expect when two DJs try to prove they are the best, but if we went with logical answers, then we would end up with a DJ Hero rip-off.
Let’s begin by breaking down Rush Bros. into its two core gameplay features, the platforming and the music.Rush Bros. is very similar in design to other challenging 2D platformers, but unlike those, Rush Bros. lacks any real objective in single player. This is due to the time trial focus. It’s a racing game crossed with a platformer, with the single player acting as nothing but a time attack mode – think a practice mode – so that players can keep the deaths to a minimum and improve their times. Even the remix modes of fast-forward (speeds up the game) and survival (one life to beat the level) don’t add much to the solo experience. Seriously, the single player’s existence is to let players train to get used to the game’s 43 levels, so they are prepared for the multiplayer challenges.
A platformer needs controls that are easy to grasp, and Rush Bros. delivers that, since you only need a button to jump and a button to interact with leavers. DJs can also do wall jumps by holding a direction against the wall and pressing jump, and can slide to get under obstacles by simply pressing down while moving. The first couple of levels start off easy, are small in size and filled with basic traps, like spikes and pits, to ease you into the way the game plays. Rush Bros. moves at a thunderous pace, and you’ll soon hit levels that throw in awkwardly positioned springs (think Sonic the Hedgehog), hidden keys to unlock doors and complicated level designs that require the use of memory to get through them without a hiccup. The level designs themselves are mostly well thought out and will truly test your skill, but if you’ve played any indie platformers in recent years, then you won’t find anything new mechanics. One particularly frustrating feature is that you cannot control the height of the DJ’s jump, meaning you have less control for precision jumping. This becomes supremely irritating when you try to complete some of the devilish jumps towards the end of the game. Jump controls are personal preferences, so if you don’t mind that concept, then it won’t irk you as much as it did me.
On to the musical integration, which to be honest is a bit of a mixed bag and doesn’t work as brilliant as I had hoped. Music, more specifically the beat of the song that is currently playing, affects certain characteristics of the level. For example, obstacles that move up and down or the jump spheres that are used to gain extra jumps over large gaps will pulsate or transition with the beat of the song. When this works, it’s fantastic, because you mould into the groove and can gracefully get past traps by timing with the music. A key feature is being able to change your music on the fly with the shoulder buttons of the Xbox 360 pad, which I might add is much better to use than a keyboard. This switching of music adds a layer to the game. A fast song will help you get through easier sections quickly, but might prove too hard on a trap that swings with the beat. Switch the song to a slower paced tune and this gate will move slowly. It’s like the music is helping you get a better time, and I really like that fusion of song and gameplay when it worked. Sadly, this doesn’t work nearly as well, as I felt that a few of the songs included, which are all very good when it comes to speaking about the quality of the soundtrack (it’s a mixture of dance and trace) didn’t seem to be picked up by the level, with beats apparently off timing to the song, which is a shame, as you would think they would make sure their own songs would be the ones to show off this implementation.
Your own library of MP3s and OGGs can be used for the soundtrack, but more often than not, my unique taste of Japanese metal, Korean-Pop and video game soundtracks weren’t exactly the best music to test this with. I couldn’t see much difference in the activity of the traps and obstacles in the level, with only dramatic changes in tempo, such as going from a thrash metal song to the slower beat of a hip-hop tune, affecting the level to the point it was clear the song was shifting the speed. I do wish the music had more of a drastic change on the game’s level design, like Audiosurf or Vib-Ribbon (remember that PSX game?) as I feel that would offer fun for the lacking single player portion of the game. Instead, what you get is very trivial alterations to traps – when it works – that I wouldn’t exactly call astounding.
Multiplayer, which is both locally and online, is where the game feels alive, and is clearly the focus (and best part) of Rush Bros. It’s so easy to jump into a game, because you can either be playing the game in single player and enable challenges from other players or search for people playing the game. Drop-in multiplayer is a smart idea. You can be practising to your heart’s content, and then out of nowhere someone comes to play with you and within a few seconds you are racing against another DJ on a level of your choosing. Music can also be your own, so you don’t have to be playing the same tune as the opposite player. Power-ups add an extra flavour to multiplayer. During solo time, you only get the double jump and double speed power-ups, but in multiplayer the game drops in items that can mess up the other DJ, such as reversing the controls or zooming in the camera to restrict the view of the level. It’s a blast to play, and while multiplayer seems to be a contradiction to the time-attack idea – due to the interaction of another player, which has to be there, or the multiplayer would then be glorified time-attack – I am willing to let that slide because it’s a joy to play.
The neon aesthetic art style turns Rush Bros. into a very good looking game. It fits perfectly with the idea of a musical DJ blasting out his tunes in a club or to some trace inducing music video. The backgrounds are splashed with colour and giant sub-woofers vibrate to the tune of the music. The art itself is crisp and sharp, although, characters are very simple looking and lack any sort of real animation, but it fits with the rest of the art.
Rush Bros.’ potential of music blended with platforming falls short of its promise and its unsatisfactory implementation of custom music and inadequate single-player content hurts the overall product. The core game itself and the platforming is still respectable enough to warrant a check though. For £6.99, the game isn’t asking much from you, so if like the genre and have drained most of the options out there when it comes to stimulating platformers and don’t mind a game that is tailored towards leaderboards and multiplayer, then you’ll have some familiar entertainment with this loud and noisy platformer.
I jumped into the TrackMania series with TrackMania Sunrise, the second entry in the franchise. Sunrise was a great-looking game for its time, coming with the three environments of Island, Bay and Coast for me to experience. Environments are a key part of TrackMania: each one has its own appearance and vehicle with unique handling. I remember hating the Coast environment’s car, because it was a heavy piece of crap with no traction. I spent ages roaring in anger over trying to beat and master those levels. Sunrise was my entry into the awesomeness and madness that is the TrackMania gameplay, and because I always want more, I loved Nadeo for releasing an “ultimate” collection with TrackMania United Forever, featuring every environment fromSunrise, the original game and TrackMania Nations. This was great for the first game, as fans could see the tracks of Rally, Snow and Desert updated with the new Sunrise engine.
Enough reminiscing. Let’s move to the present, where TrackMania 2 Valley is now available to buy from Nadeo themselves or on Steam. This new release also shows how much Nadeo’s design philosophies with content have changed since the ManiaPlanet idea surfaced a couple of years ago (I’ll explain later) for the release of TrackMania Stadium. Valley is the third entry for TrackMania 2, bringing a new environment, a vehicle with rally car handling, and 65 new levels in solo play to challenge your skills.
The new car, which looks like a deformed sports mini, handles a lot differently than the drift-based car inCanyon and the F1-inspired race car in Stadium. The car no longer drifts easily – trying to drift in the Valleycar ends up slowing it down way too much to become a viable method, so tight corners need the use of heavy breaking and correct cornering to get the best times. As for the tracks, the theme is based on rallying, so it includes a small town village with tarmac tracks and trees, and muddy/dirt tracks with splashes of water thrown in for good measure. Handling on tarmac with this rally car is like glue on paper – it holds to the road well, but when thrown into the dirt sections, the car becomes a bit more slippery to control. Driving on dirt requires more control on the acceleration and brake to master its trickery, and this makes the valley environment unique compared to the two other themes Nadeo have released.
For everyone wanting to know: Yes, this is more of the brilliant TrackMania gameplay that fans love, and it still plays just as fantastic and snappy as it always has. Never played it? Then you’ll have no problems trying to grasp the concept. All you need is the arrow keys to control the car to drive through checkpoints situated on amazingly-designed courses and beat the required time to win. It’s time attack, but built around challenging and exciting tracks that will make you go “whoa! Awesome!” Getting the gold time is where the hair pulling begins, and this is the ultimate test for anyone who has the patience to learn the track and abuse the backspace key to instantly restart with a fresh clock when it all goes wrong. It’s addictive, frustrating, but most of all, it’s bloody good fun.
Multiplayer is the same idea, except rather than aiming for gold, you’re aiming to be the fastest person to finish the track from the list of players. A server can include up to 100 people at one time, and it’s crazy seeing all these ghost cars driving around the course and often suffering the same fate as yourself. It’s extremely easy to join a server with fan-made tracks, as the game will download the map from the server into your game, so you’re never left waiting long to experience the joy of not knowing what to expect on your first encounter with a new track. The life of a TrackMania game is always extended tenfold thanks to the wonders of the community, and Valley seems no different from the early levels I’ve seen people produce so far.
There are some problems I have with this release that makes me wonder what’s happening for the future of the franchise. I’m not one to involve price much in a review, but I feel I have to forValley, because of the situation the franchise finds itself in with these single-environment releases. If you look back on TrackMania 2, Canyonwas first and was priced at £19.99 on day one (currently £15.99 on Steam) and came with 65 “race” tracks.Canyon received a free upgrade that added “platform” mode to the game and included 23 more tracks. It was the first entry and the price seemed appropriate for the new graphics engine and the jump into the sequel, not to forget the huge supply of content from fans, thanks to its powerful track editor (check this out).
Stadium followed over a year after Canyon, popping up as an open beta in February of this year. Now this is where things get interesting, as Stadium’s proper release only happened a few weeks before Valley arrived, but Stadium was priced at £7.99 and contains the same amount of tracks (65) as Valley. So why is Valleydouble that? It literally makes no sense to charge double the price. It’s not like Valley does anything different in regards to content. Both are new environments for TrackMania 2, both contain new cars and different physics, and both contain the same levels and features (online, track editor, etc.). I’m just a little baffled by the decision in the price hike.
A free update could come with more tracks (it happened to Canyon), but I can’t deny that I’m bummed that Nadeo doesn’t seem to be bringing the other modes that populated the first game. Platform made a small appearance in Canyon, but where is it in Stadium and Valley? It also doesn’t include Puzzle, another fun and intelligent mode from the original games. Nadeo seems to be leaving it to the fans to come up with more content for the game. I don’t have a problem with that; I just wish Nadeo were at the forefront in showing how it should be done within the game.
I’ll stop being Mr. Negative, because the game itself is still great, and the Steam version does come with the update of Steam Workshop, allowing fans to easily find new tracks and cars though the Steam interface. This is much better to use than the horrid UI Nadeo keeps creating. Graphics are still gorgeous, and the use of a sunset makes for some amazing light shafts and shadows on the track. They aren’t many sounds in the game, but the car engine is beefy enough to come off sounding good, and the soundtrack is very tranquil and strangely calming. I’m guessing this is a design choice to stop people getting frustrated at the many mistakes players will make while trying to aim for a good time on the clock.
TrackMania 2 Valley is a strange one to score. It makes me sad that I’m not seeing more modes added with each of these new releases, but at the same time, the gameplay remains just as great as ever. When I am playing Valley, my love for the series explodes, as I’m having so much fun blasting down a muddy road, doing a loop-de-loop, or performing a barrel roll in the air (Peppy Hare would be proud) that the problems no longer bother me. I certainly recommend it for fans; for newcomers, I’d say start with TrackMania 2 Canyon, or even pick up the great-value-for-your-money TrackMania United Forever and see if you like that. If you do, then you’ll love what is to come. I just hope there is a surprise in store for the next release in theTrackMania 2 series.
There’s no doubt that Telltale’s The Walking Dead was a smash hit last year. It sold in the millions and ended up being the studio’s biggest release ever. It wasn’t just the sales that Telltale had to be happy with, since the game was given waves of critical praise by the media.The Walking Dead won so many Game of the Year awards (also my own personal GOTY) that I remember losing count when trying to tally all the honours coming in from various websites and magazines. A plan for a second season was known soon after, but unlike the popular TV show, we don’t have to wait a year to get a sample of more The Walking Dead. A nice little surprise from Telltale in the name of The Walking Dead: 400 Days has arrived as downloadable content to bridge the gap between season one and season two, and give fans a little teaser of what to expect in the upcoming season.
It seems weird that I’m talking about a follow-up to a game as a season, rather than a sequel, but for The Walking Dead, it just seems natural to speak about it that way. If I was to speculate, it is safe to say that the following season will feature the same graphics and gameplay that we experienced in the first season, and if400 Days is anything to go by, then I’m right on the money. 400 Days isn’t the place to start with the series. It’s content for fans that are eagerly waiting for Telltale’s continuation of the The Walking Dead. 400 Days is what we would call a filler episode in the world of television, and I don’t mean that as to criticize the quality of the content – it’s great, but for different reasons to Clementine and Lee’s journey through the horrors of Savannah.
400 Days takes place over the span of 400 days. The emphasis of this add-on is the focus on five new short stories that happen at various points during that time span, eventually coming together as one in what seems to be a setup for the beginning of the new season. This isn’t a huge investment, coming in around one hour and 20 minutes to get through, but what it does is open up more of the world of The Walking Dead and allow fans to see how other people are dealing with the situation, some in worse positions than others.
I don’t want to spoil what happens in 400 Days, but I’ll set up the scenarios so you can get an idea of what to expect. Any of the characters can be played in any order, which are selected by a bulletin board that has pictures of the survivors and a name tagged under them. I personally played them from left to right, since I like going in a nice orderly fashion. As you are probably expecting, these plots don’t just revolve around the zombies, but other humans and the brutish nature the world has been transformed into. Vince is a convicted criminal locked up in a prison bus with other inmates during the early days of the outbreak; Wyatt and his stoner buddy are trying to escape from some unknown attackers; Shel is stuck in the central truck stop (a place that is a key focus of 400 Days) and must settle with a hard decision; Russell is having a walk down a specific road (you’ll know what it is when you see a certain something); and Bonnie is a junkie who wants to stay off the drugs after meeting with her new friend and his wife.
What’s great about having these small scenes is that each one is aimed at covering a different theme and makes for some very varied scenarios. All of them are well-paced, interesting, and don’t waste time with getting the player in a position to know the character. Instead, you’ll know them from their actions; although, because you hardly spend time with the characters, it can be hard to get a sense for or care for them as much as the five-episode trip you spent with Lee and the wonderfully adorable Clementine. I’m not saying you won’t like them or feel a sense of attachment, because some of the characters do come off as likeable, even if they are “evil.” The game is once again throwing hard decisions at the player without enough time to reason with, but since your investment with the characters is limited, your heart won’t be in the same place when making these decisions as it was in season one.
Relating to season one, there are some minor cameos and dialogue included that anyone with an eagle eye will be able to spot. It’s nothing to get in a frenzy over, but it’s nice to know Telltale are showing that this is a continuous world based around the player’s selections, and that makes us feel important when it comes to building our own outcomes for a game about moral choices. It’s the same for the final piece of 400 Days, where depending how you played each section determines something that happens at the end, which would seemingly lead to affecting something in season two. Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it, but some people might want to replay 400 Days to get the best outcome, unless you really don’t like any of these characters. I don’t know what is planned for them, but Telltale has done a good job at smartly introducing a new cast of survivors with no relation to anyone from the previous game.
Mechanically, nothing new is introduced in 400 Days. This is the same gameplay from season one, and I feel this will carry on with the upcoming second season – it’s the reason why calling it a season sounds more appropriate than naming it a sequel. If you liked the gameplay of The Walking Dead, then 400 Days will surely delight you with more of the same. Similar is said for the presentation. The graphics still retain that comic book vibe, and even though these aren’t the best animations, they convey personality and emotion well.
For a fantastic price of £3.99, fans should not hesitate picking up The Walking Dead: 400 Days. It might move at lightning speed, and we might not get the most out of these new characters, but the sense of drama coming from these short stories makes for a tantalising time. What it really rests on is how 400 Days is used in the second season, which will ultimately determine how great of a bridge between seasons this downloadable content ends up being.
Jack’s back – and no, I don’t mean the CTU agent made famous by Kiefer Sutherland. I mean Jack Keane, the hero from the game with the same name. The original Jack Keane was a 3D point-and-click adventure title with some family-friendly charm, due to its Indiana Jones inspiration crossed with a dose of Monkey Island (remember the first game’s box art?) salad dressing, but suffered from unfortunately poor translation work and voice acting that ended up losing some of the ring to its one-liners and overall comedy. After five years, Deck13 Interactive is returning with Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within, a follow-up that returns the charm of the original, but still suffers from some executional problems that stop it from being a great adventure title.
The game begins a few years after the first game in the year 1899, with Jack Keane following a rumour about a mysterious treasure in a Chinese city. For Jack, the journey to China isn’t one of glamour, and as often with rumours, there is trouble waiting, as Jack ends up getting himself slammed in a cell in a Shanghai prison. Lucky for Jack, his roommate happens to be a shaman with the power to reveal where treasure is hidden. Unfortunately, the shaman dies while entombing this information into the hero’s subconscious. With hints locked in his head, Jack must escape the prison with the help from his lovely partner, Amanda, and travel the seas to find the rest of the amulet pieces and discover what awaits him. But just like all the good action-adventure flicks, there’s a bad guy who wants to stop him and claim all the loot as his own.
In typical point-and-click fashion, there are a lot of interactions to be done between characters and the world.Jack Keane 2 makes it a fun time to get through the game’s plot. This is due to the light-hearted nature represented by the characters you meet on Jack’s journey and the humorous attitude that surrounds the game’s story. It’s not often that you can say you hired a Gorilla as a cook on your ship that only serves banana-based meals. Another great example is that the game isn’t afraid to acknowledge some carefree banter, such as when you arrive at the Hamburg docks. This shipping area is populated by Germans, which the game makes fun of by explaining that Germans have no sense of humour – the developers are German, so it’s nice to know they can put themselves in for a joke without getting insulted. During your time in Hamburg, you meet a worker who won’t tell you his name. This is where the dialogue takes a turn to break the fourth wall when Jack explains that “when the mouse points at you, it says Rolf.” Breaking the fourth wall rarely happens, but when it does, it doesn’t come off feeling cheap – it’s tucked neatly in with the rest of the game’s comedy.
It’s a theme that suits well with the game’s 3D cartoon-like aesthetic. Jack Keane 2 is truly well-presented, and the characters and environments look great in this visual flair. Since the game is in 3D, it means you can use either the WASD keys or the mouse to direct Jack (or whoever else is in control at that given moment) where to go. The mouse is not the recommended control scheme for this game; the nature of the fixed camera angles in the 3D world make it hard at times to judge where to drag the mouse so that Jack follows correctly. One example is when you try to walk down a volcano in one of Jack’s visits to his subconscious, and very bizarre, mind. Jack refused to walk down it, and that was the point where I transferred over to the WASD buttons, which solved most of the control problems I had with the game. The only other thing I wasn’t too keen on (ha, get it?) is the inclusion of jumping and using that as a requirement to get to some areas of the world – the fixed camera doesn’t help the player to judge a simple jump. It feels really bad, and even if you make it, the angle messes up on the keyboard that you’ll accidentally fall off and have to do it again. It’s all very cumbersome.
Puzzles are an essential part of a point-and-click game, and Jack Keane 2 is full of many to solve. Unlike the recent The Night of the Rabbit, Jack Keane 2 is much easier to come to the conclusion of what you should be doing to solve the problem that lies in front of you. I never found the game too difficult to figure out, and its linear progression makes sure you’re never doing more than a puzzle or two at a time. It also helps that there is a light bulb in the corner of the screen, which when highlighted will glow all objects that can be picked up within the environment. I ended up using this once in every room as a way to check to see if I had missed anything. It can be quite hard to see which items are available to take without them glowing with the help of this feature. Your inventory never becomes overwhelming, and for the most part you often use the items soon after acquiring them. There is some trial and error (when is there not in this genre?), but you’ll figure it out fast due to the limited stock of inventory items you find.
To distinguish itself from the normal classic adventure game, Jack Keane 2 throws in a relationship mechanic that is very simple at best. The idea is that you pick between certain dialogue options at specific points in the game when two of Jack’s female friends, Amanda and Eve, are asking for Jack to agree with their side to a discussion. This ranges from giving one of them a snow coat to agreeing if one is better at seducing men to make them talk. The banter between Amanda and Eve in the game did get annoying towards the end. The two females bicker an awful lot that you end up feeling just like Jack Keane does – fed up and annoyed at their little pitiful arguments. Another part of the game is the fights. They don’t feature often – around five or six times – but they aren't exciting to deal with. It’s trying to copy the idea of Monkey Island’s insult sword fighting, but instead with funny martial art attacks. It’s not amusing. The fights are a game of choice: you pick a defensive move that will work against the opponent’s incoming attack, then answer with your own attack and hope it’s the right one so it isn't blocked. Taking part in combat is just dull – there’s no other word for it.
Even though Jack Keane 2: The Fire Within has some issues with its controls and features a relationship idea that isn't fleshed out, the time you spend with Jack and his chums is no doubt enjoyable and manages to hit most of the right notes for a point-and-click game. It moves at a steady pace without interrupting the player much with mystifying puzzles, which is helped by the fact that they can be solved without having to think up inconceivable solutions. Jack Keane 2 might not be the smashing excellence in the genre that The Walking Dead was praised for last year, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give Jack Keane 2 a try if you like a bit of delightful comedy in your adventure games.
I’ll be honest with everyone reading this review: I don’t know much about Van Helsing. The limited knowledge I have is that the character was created in Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel and is known for hunting down vampires and other monsters. Oh yeah… He was also played by Hugh Jackman in that okay Van Helsing film, but I couldn’t help but notice he was missing those hairy sideburns and was sorely lacking adamantium in his hands. Jokes aside, I wasn’t sure what to expect from NeocoreGames’ first attempt at an action RPG. Last year, there were some big hitters in the genre, with titles like Diablo III and Torchlight II sapping a lot of daylight away from me with their addictiveness. It’s a new year, so does The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing set the same standard as those two games did last year?
There isn’t much customisation in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. One model is all you get, and the only thing you can change is the colour of his cape and his first name before you’re sent to help the people of Borgovia from its invasion of various vile beasts and monsters. As far as the genre standards go for action RPGs, Van Helsing has them all. Normal attacks are done by clicking the left mouse button on enemies, and magic skills are done on the right mouse button. There is no magic linked to shortcut keys, which is what you often find in action RPGs. Instead, you can switch your magic by using the Tab Key that swaps between the ones unlocked and assigned to the right mouse button.
Rather than offering two weapon builds to allow players to switch between weapons with ease,Van Helsingadjusts this by granting the ability to fight in a melee stance or a range stance with a simple click of a button. The character’s build needs to be focused on what your preferred method of killing is. I went for a melee build, so I barely used my rifles or pistols, instead opting to get face-to-face with my enemy and slice them to pieces. When you level-up, you are granted the capability to place stat points in one of four categories (body, dexterity, willpower and luck) and are also given skill points to place into a melee-focused (called Mystic Warrior) or ranged-focused (called Occult Hunter) skill tree. There is one other section called tricks and auras, which is for additional active and passive skills that are learnt from NPCs.
It’s not a super in-depth skill tree, but there is enough here to twist Mr. Van Helsing into your own killing machine. Skills also have branched-off power-ups that can be activated with the use of Rage points. Rage builds up from hitting enemies or getting hit by enemies. When you have enough, you can activate these power-ups with a press of 1, 2 or 3, each one representing one of three power-ups that can be activated on that one spell. For example, one of the power-ups for my ice ring spell was to increase its damage output by 50%. If I was to use a Level 3 version of this move (by pressing its corresponding button three times), it would then offer 150% damage for my next attack. These are very handy when you find yourself in places where the enemy completely outnumbers you – which in an action RPG is usually all the time.
Van Helsing takes Torchlight’s concept of a pet companion and turns it into a fully-fledged AI teammate. This partner is Katarina, a ghostly spirit that always hangs around with Van Helsing. She has the ability to fight alongside him, gain experience so she can level-up, and place her own skill and stat points into her own skill tree and categories. She can also be your shopper by sending her off to the store to sell items and buy potions to bring back. NeocoreGames have done well with the implementation of Katarina. She can change states between attacking with her melee weapon or standing back and dealing ranged damage, just like Van Helsing himself. Her AI can be tweaked to pick up specific items, focus her fighting by limiting what Katarina should emphasis on in battle, and you can even make her use potions when her health hits a targeted percentage.
Having companions seems to be becoming an increased feature in games. The Last of Us was the last title to do this exceptionally well, with Ellie being a fantastically-built character who I loved having around with me. While Katarina isn’t as well-developed as Ellie (to be honest, she doesn’t need to be), she is still a fun girl to have around. The banter between her and Van Helsing is one of true friendship, as Katarina will throw insults and jokes for some quick laughs. The best thing from all of this is she can fully look after herself – Katarina never had problems getting stuck in walls or doing things she wasn’t suppose to. An AI partner that can do that is a well-crafted one in my book.
The world of Borgovia is a dire place – which fits with the theme of the game – but includes a lot of locations that are stereotypical in such titles. At the beginning you arrive at the traditional village, then go to explore a forest and a swamp, before making your way through a mine and arriving at a steampunk city. The steampunk setting, which features heavily for two of the game’s three chapters, is the more refreshing part of the game, but you are there so much that it becomes a tiresome location. In whole, the world isn’t one that you’ll probably care much for but are happy to just walk around in and smash monsters – which are well-designed and capture the essence of mythological beasts that we all have come to know in the lore.
One thing you will surely find in Borgovia is loot, lots of loot; that’s what makes an action RPG appealing to play – mostly anyway. While it’s great that there is plenty to discover, it’s all a bit generic with its naming and attire. Rather than go all-out with bizarre names for a weapon or a piece of gear, you get more conventional titles that will cover the same type of gear but include different statistics to make it unique (think Earth Defence Force 2017). On appearances, this doesn’t alter all that much. The hat might be a different colour or the sword might have some slightly jagged edges, but overall, a player’s avatar will look very similar to another’s.
That moves me into my next section: the multiplayer, which is often a joyous part for the genre. Boy, oh boy, what an experience this was; an experience I don’t want to go through again, because the online in this game is one broken mess. It’s one of the reasons why I delayed this review until now, because I wanted to see what the development team would fix after being given time. I felt enough time has passed since the game’s release to explain my story to you and why you shouldn’t buy the game for the multiplayer.
During the first week, my fellow colleague and I tried to play online in Van Helsing. At that time, the game was a complete wreck – we couldn’t play for more than 10 minutes a session without the game crapping out on us. This would involve time-outs, severe lag, mouse clicks not working, broken scripting and AI, and complete crashes to desktop. We tried for two hours, to the point we got fed up and stopped. We tried again after three patches… It was still just as bad. Finally, we gave it another shot a couple of days before I typed this review up and it was better, but I wouldn’t call it functional for retail release. The problems were far less, often getting to an hour before hitting a crash to desktop, a character freezing or the AI scripting messing up. We even managed to break the quest system by missing out a few quests and finishing a tower defence game – which I might add is never fully explained – without any help from additional towers placed by me. I can’t get across how frustrating this whole experience was, and I wasn’t the only one (by the look of the Steam forums).
It’s a complete shame that The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has such major problems with its multiplayer, because the core game itself is good. It pains me to have to score it as low as I have, but I need to review the product as a complete package and not just the single-player portion – which works perfectly fine and is a blast to play.
I can give a recommendation for The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing for any fans who love action RPGs and are looking for a new fix for a short amount of time, but only if you plan to play it on your own. If you’re looking for a multiplayer fix, then look elsewhere, as you will be solely disappointed with the wreckage of online cooperative play – a mode that spoils this otherwise solid video game.
Looking back at the huge catalogue of racing games that came out in the 7th generation of console gaming, I would say that Codemasters’ original GRID was certainly up there as one of my favourites. GRID was filled with variety and excitement, and it ended up being an addictive track race that looked gorgeous at its time of release. We must not forget that GRID was solely responsible for the fantastic idea of being able to rewind back a few seconds to correct a mistake in a race, thanks to its Flashback mechanic, which has made its way into other Codemasters racing games and even Microsoft’s Forza franchise.
It’s crazy to think that such a well-received game had to make its fans wait five years to get a sequel. Codemasters were seemingly ignoring the franchise in favour of pumping out Dirtgames (Dirt 2, Dirt 3 and Dirt: Showdown) and their recent wave of great F1 titles. Finally, we no longer have to wait, as GRID 2 is here, but it is a title that has some minor design flaws and also plays it safer than what its predecessor did back in 2008.
GRID 2 tries to bring a sort of story element to its career progression. Longtime fans of Codemasters’ racing games might remember the TOCA Race Driver series implementing the same idea. In regards to GRID 2, it’s about one American billionaire called Patrick Callahan, who is launching a new franchise – World Series Racing (WSR) – and has noticed your dazzling skills in the game’s opening introduction race. From there, you become the material to promote WSR across the world and are given the challenge to bring more people to the sport. How do you do this? By beating all the other rivals around the world. Little videos accompany the career mode to build this story up, but in reality, it’s nothing more than a piece of media – a fancy cover – to build the atmosphere and setting as the organisation gets larger throughoutGRID 2’s five seasons.
An assortment of events populate each season in GRID 2. For example, the first season is set in America and involves racing from point A to point B, but then you move to season three, which is set in Asia and includes events like Touge and Drifting. Along the way you’ll also get to participate in elimination races and overtake challenges. It’s fantastic that the game is throwing a varied amount of events at the player, but one problem I had was that you spend too long racing in the same location. By the time I was getting to the end of season one, I was a little bored of racing in America, due to the sheer lack of different tracks. It would have been much better to have more locations from America featured, instead of the four featured – California, Miami, Chicago, and Indianapolis – with slight modifications to them. By the time season four comes around, the player has already seen every location and event type, and the only thing the game can do is switch the lights off for some nighttime racing. It’s like GRID 2 blows its load too early before coming to a finish in season five.
Even the newly advertised LiveRoutes feature doesn’t do much to compensate for the feeling of déjà vu. LiveRoutes is Codemasters newly implemented course changer and was one of the big bullet points in the game’s pre-release marketing. These events take the track layout and dynamically alter the route you drive through, making it different each time you race in this event type. No map is displayed, so it’s all about keeping an eye out for what is coming. Track changes are done by switching barriers, so where once was a right corner might become a straight or a left into another area of the track. The idea itself is good, but in a racing game likeGRID 2, the unexpectedness of a track can become chaotic for the player, especially one who wants to excel at getting the best time. I find that not knowing what corner is coming defeats the concept of the racer knowing the track to excel at it. At least this isn’t forced upon the player much, as LiveRoutes is one of many events throughout the game’s career mode.
Making your way through the seasons introduces more powerful cars. Even though GRID 2 includes around 45 cars, it manages to cover a range of types. There’s nothing here in the same vain as Toca: Race Driver, where you had Supertruck, Rallycross and various other car events, so apart from the Tier 4 race machines, the rest of the vehicles in GRID 2 are general road cars set for racing on circuits and street courses. Tier 1 includes such vehicles as BMW 1 Series (Sports Coupe class), Dodge Charger (American Muscle class), Ford Focus ST (Hot Hatch class) and Nissan Silvia Spec-R (JDM Classic class), and as you work your way up through the tier list you come to get your grubby hands on some speed machines, like the Ariel Atom 3 or the McLaren MP4-12C. Someone is going to have their favourite cars missing from the list, but what’s available feels evenly distributed across the world’s manufacturers.
Once again, Codemasters has managed to pinpoint that line between realism and arcade racing, allowing anyone who enjoys racing games but isn’t into those that try to represent a serious realism of the sport to come to GRID 2 and get in with humble ease. Cars handle differently as well. Some vehicles are prone to sliding more easily than others, while some will stick the roads like glue, creating a sense of learning and adaption needed for some of the higher-tier cars. No matter how you play, you should be able to find a car type that fits your driving style. The damage system gives an option of visual or complete, with the complete damage model affecting steering and speed of the car if the vehicle takes too many bangs or crashes. Of course, if you mess up or trash your car, you can always use one of the limited flashback tokens to rewind the car back into a more favourable position.
AI, for the most part, is good and feels to have been given an aggressive characteristic, as these racers aren’t afraid to grind metal with metal with the player. While in most race events this is fine, in one event that it is completely infuriating is the Touge. If you've not heard of Touge, then let me explain. The concept is that two racers go head-to-head in a point-to-point race with a best out of three to decide the winner. No cars are allowed to touch each other in the race, as this will end in a disqualification for the offender. GRID 2 has a funny way of deciding its wrongdoer – in other words, it’s always you (well, it seemed that way). I break for a corner, the other car comes from behind and hits me, disqualifying me. I turn for a corner, the other car comes from the inside and hits me, disqualifying me. It’s an event I refuse to play online, because whatever calculation is checking for the disqualification is seriously messed up. Some guy drove full speed into the side of me on a corner, pushing me into the barrier, and – yes, you guessed it – I was flipping disqualified. It’s so damn frustrating.
Ignoring Touge, the rest of the online multiplayer is great fun. Players can set up their own playlist of events and what cars to use. At first, the online is limited with its vehicle selection, since the online multiplayer has its own level-up system. Hitting a target level will unlock more cars, which you can then purchase with the earnings you get from taking part in race events online. I did find it a little weird that the single-player and multiplayer were split up. None of the single-player is carried across into the multiplayer, so you are required to earn all your cars again. What’s even more baffling is that the multiplayer has a performance upgrade system for cars, which is non-existent in the single- player. It’s weird to see a multiplayer aspect of a racing game seem more robust than the single-player outing. The last bit of online content is that the single-player has an “Autolog” style leaderboard for each event, so you can match how fast your time was against a friend’s. Signing up and logging into Codemasters’ RaceNet will offer weekly challenges and new rivals who are around the same skill level as you. Overall, it’s a good online system with entertaining multiplayer, but if you’re already bored of the tracks from single-player, then you won’t find anything here to change that.
GRID 2 is a fantastic looking game on the PC. The cars look great, which makes it a total shame that Codemasters felt the need to rip out the cockpit view, because I can imagine it looking spectacular in this game’s engine. The tracks shine with plenty of details and look great to drive around. Courses can sometimes feel empty, but when a little squirrel runs across the road or a plane swoops in the sky, all those tiny additional appearances give the tracks more personality to stand out from each other. Codemasters are known for their awesome menu designs, but GRID 2 plays it safe in this regard. Menus still offer great presentation, but not as much flair and animation is going on this time around. Sound design is brilliant, with loud, roaring car engines blasting out, giving that sense of power coming from high-performance cars.
The return of the GRID franchise isn't as ground-breaking as I would have hoped for from a sequel to one of my favourite racing games this generation, but that doesn't mean it’s not a great racer. Codemasters still brings that balance of simulation and arcade racing with great graphics, quality sound and solid gameplay, but what stops GRID 2 from being this generation’s swansong racing game is its sheer lack of any real new ideas that made the first GRID such a cutting-edge racer for its time
After the reveal of The Last of Us and hearing that the extremely talented people at Naughty Dog were behind this new IP, I was never going to be concerned if this was going to be a decent game. Just look at the studio’s history and you can see that quality is something they have refined, from Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter to their latest Indiana Jones-esque trilogy of the Uncharted franchise. All are great in their own way. My concern was if Naughty Dog could pull off a serious, down-to-earth, post-apocalyptic setting. The studio hasn’t done anything like this before, so I was expecting it to feel similar to Uncharted. But oh boy, from gameplay to the story, how completely wrong I was to worry.
The Last of Us is a completely different beast, with a serious tone that is similar to The Walking Dead game that most of us all seemed to have enjoyed last year. The astonishing start of the game builds up the setting and attitude for what to expect from the rest of The Last of Us’ 14-hour adventure, and this dark and gritty world never gives up showing the punishment and pain the survivors of the fungal infection have to deal with over the game’s year-long story arc. I don’t want to speak much about the plot, because this is a game that tackles a dark theme with unexpected twists, and displays a worthy effort to get the player to question people’s humanity in such dire situations. Much of the context might not be fresh, but it’s rare to find them stitched together so well. It should be known that this is a tale that brings every emotion – you’ll care, you’ll laugh, you’ll hate, and of course, you’ll be sad.
Unquestionably, one of the main reasons why I cared so much for the game’s two main survivalists is the fantastic characters and their development throughout the game. Joel is the adult – the old experienced man – who has toughed out 20 years of this disastrous infection to still be living to talk about it. He knows how to survive and will do what must be done to make sure he and the people close to him will stay alive. Even though the player hasn’t experienced such situations as Joel finds himself in, he’s a character that players can connect to rather easily. His true feelings are always showing, and it’s easy to understand his actions.
We must not forget about Ellie, though, who is just as important and is arguably better-developed than Joel (she deserves to be on the cover!). Ellie is a 14-year-old girl who has grown up and adapted to this rough world. She has no concept of what the world was like before the infection, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t detached from a young teenage personality. She’s spunky, cheeky, straightforward, and wants to know more about the world prior to its current state. This supplies lighthearted and comical moments that crop up when the game is kind enough to shed some sunlight into the grim storytelling. Both Joel and Ellie grow together into a father-daughter-like relationship and the chemistry between the two is exceptional. The fine work from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson must be mentioned, as this makes everything that happens in the game all the more convincing.
When I sit down and think about the gameplay of The Last of Us, it amazes me that Naughty Dog has managed to blend concepts popular in survivor horror so well with this action-adventure title. For instance, ammo is scarce, so mechanically, players cannot act as if The Last of Us was a pure shooter, because you will soon find yourself out of bullets. Enemies don’t often drop much when taken down, and if they do, it’s a measly bullet or two. The game secretly is telling you to approach situations in a different manner – and the tools are there to do such a thing. Joel can crouch and hide behind cover to stay out of sight of both human survivors and the nasty infected. Multiple sections of the game allow for scenarios where you can get by a section without even attacking anyone. For areas where you can’t, Joel still has the skills to sneak behind someone to choke them out, or if you have the shiv in your arsenal, you can kill them for a faster animation.
Scavenging the surrounding environments for items, such as alcohol, blades and sugar, is a must to keep Joel equipped with gear, though there aren’t many items to pick up. Each one fits into one of six types, but from these items you can craft health packs, bombs, and even attach tools to melee weapons for an instant kill hit. Crafting and scavenging is a very simple mechanic, but it keeps with the game’s theme of survival. Another part of scavenging is looking for pills and cogs, which act as the title’s point system to increase Joel’s stats and the weapons he carries. These points can be spent in gaining more health, faster recovery and better hearing (more on that later). Cogs do the same, but for weapons, meaning you can increase the ammo capacity for the shotgun or increase the reload speed of a rifle. Increasing Joel’s own stats can be done on the fly, but weapons have to be done at a workbench, similar to the combination mechanic in the Dead Rising series.
Prior to the game’s release, I noticed there was some worry about the hearing ability of Joel. If you haven’t seen it, what this ability does is enable an X-ray-like view to let Joel see silhouettes of enemies through walls. After playing the game, it makes sense and isn’t nearly as overpowering as one might think. It has a limited scale on its distance, so in fact you’re only ever able to notice people in close proximity. The idea is to act as hearing, and if thinking about that for a second, in real life you’d be able to get an idea of a where someone was located by hearing their sound. In a video game, this is hard to do since sound comes out of the speakers, often in front of the player. So this limited X-ray allows the concept of locating by sound and it helps to pinpoint where someone is when all you can hear is the grunt of an infected stumbling around. If you hate the idea of it so much, then never press the R2 button.
Combat is more diverse than, say, something like Uncharted. You can use your various shotguns, pistols and rifles to shoot people from behind cover; set down traps using your gear; sneak up on them; or you can run at them and use one of the melee weapons found in the environment, like the metal pipes, which can be used to aggressively take down hostile opponents. Yes, it’s violent, but it never feels out-of-context for the game, nor does it display the violence as a “trophy” to say “Look, we’re one gory-ass game!” It’s a brutal world where people do the most awful things to keep breathing that bit more, so when you’re using the context-sensitive surroundings during melee combat and you see Joel take a guy’s head and ram it into the wall, it doesn’t feel far-fetched from the reality and mind-set of the characters placed in such dreadful circumstances.
One thing I liked about participating in the gun fights is that none of the humans felt like bullet sponges, and what is even more surprising is that Joel himself isn’t one either. Both enemies and Joel have stun animations when getting hit by a bullet. Get shot by a shotgun up-close? You get pushed down to the ground. Get popped by a pistol? You’ll crumble to your knee. This stops the player from being able to spam bullets when getting hit and puts more emphasis on staying out of sight and being careful about how you approach combat scenarios.The Last of Us is a linear game, but the game’s environment feels more open than the arrangement ofUncharted, and this helps in such fire-fights, as you can use this openness to plan attacking the most efficient way.
There is a nice balance between fighting against the humans and surviving against the infected. The Last of Us, while not necessarily scary, creates astonishing levels of tense atmosphere with its encounters. You could be walking through a darkened, collapsed building, using your torch to light the way, but then you hear the distinguished sound of a Clicker as it uses its bat-like sonar to detect movement (I should note that these Clickers also kill in one hit). You crawl, turn off your light (since other infected can see it) and creep slowly towards the dangerous section. Surveying is very important, as infected can be often “hidden” in dark areas. Just experiencing this is nerve-wracking, because Joel is your average guy. For example, if he gets swamped with infected, he is pushed to cower and protect himself from the beating, and the only way to push them off is to press the sprint button to try and leap away. The experience – the “story” that you’ll speak to your friends about – with The Last of Us is less about the setpieces created by cinematic-style gameplay and more about the minute-to-minute advancements you make through the game’s level design and its hazardous occupants.
Due to the narrative, you’re transported to a variety of curious locales that keep the game feeling fresh. After the prologue, you find yourself in the quarantine zone, and then move onto the outskirts, eventually to other cities and suburbs that all look believable if such outbreak would occur in America. Trees protrude out of buildings and the cemented ground, and places look ravaged, as if looters had stolen everything during the disastrous event. The designers have done an exceptional job at recreating a broken-down America and its loss of a society. Even though the player never finds out the reasoning behind the outbreak, the little letters, notes and voice recordings left behind build a picture up that can be interpreted. All this adds to the immersion, getting the player to slot into the world and adapt to it. The Last of Us does that exceptionally, but there is one problem, which really is my only gripe with this otherwise amazing game: the AI.
In general, the AI is good. Ellie and other partners you meet never get stuck or do game-breaking things, but what I did find is that they can break the engagement of the atmosphere between the player and the infected. This really is about one type of infected: the Clickers. They see by sound, and so when Ellie decides to come out of cover, get up and start sprinting towards another piece of cover – which involves running directly past a Clicker and said Clicker completely ignores her actions – it can be a real deal-breaker on the atmosphere. It’s not a rare thing, either, as this must have happened at least a dozen times. This matter is the only negative I have for the whole game. Some people will be fine with it; for me, I felt it threw me out of “the zone” – the experience and setting I was getting so wrapped up in was slightly shattered in front of me.
Naughty Dog excels at making games with high-quality presentation and remarkable graphics.The Last of Usis no change in that design. This game is pushing the PS3 to its limits to bring one of the console’s best looking titles. The world is splashed with detail and great texture work. Performance capture is once again able to reflect the characters’ emotions and attitude across to the player through stellar animation. When Joel is angry at someone, you see it in his face; if Ellie is annoyed at something, she’s going to give you the eye, or sulk. It makes the journey across America with these two characters one memorable trip, and having it look as good as it does is magnificent. The game’s soundtrack also beautifully captures what is happening on-screen through its musical score.
The brilliance of The Last of Us’ campaign makes it easy to forget that this game does include a multiplayer mode called Factions. It’s actually pretty good, as it manages to throw in a metagame on top. The setting for the multiplayer is that after 20 years since the outbreak began, the factions have been fighting over territory and supplies, and live to grow their influence over such land. On first boot-up of the multiplayer, the player is given the choice to join Hunters or Fireflies and become a leader of a pack of survivors. The choice is locked until the faction dies or survives long enough to win. Gameplay-wise, it’s similar to the slower pacing of the main campaign, and everyone can die quite easily, but it has a spin on the norm – you need to pick up salvaged equipment from dead bodies or from search points around the multiplayer map to be able to upgrade gear and keep your faction alive. Each match you participate in counts as a day, and if successfully kept alive, you will eventually work your way through twelve weeks of in-game time.
Relating to the metagame, if you keep winning matches, finding items and beating the challenges the game throws at you, then you can increase the size of your faction. This requires more resources to keep them alive. If you fail at this, then your faction will decrease in size. There are leaderboards for the faction size (as well as for other stuff), and you can gain one-use boosters to help in a battle, but you can completely not care about it if all you want is to shoot people. A funny thing is that you can add your Facebook account for the multiplayer and it will take your friends from there and add them as people who join your clan. You get news posts saying things like “Leanne has put up a perimeter,” and of course they can die if you fail to supply the rations. It’s an insignificant piece of fun, not as ground-breaking as it first seemed to be from the hints coming out at Naughty Dog.
At the end of the day, one detail is all that matters about the The Last of Us: its single-player campaign. Naughty Dog has taken what it’s learnt from crafting the Uncharted franchise and spun that experience into a more down-to-earth, realistic adventure that shines with storytelling excellence, great combat, tense atmosphere and the highest quality in presentation, making The Last of Us one of Sony’s best exclusives for the PS3’s ever-growing library of great games.
It’s ironic that I am covering a game about memories when I had completely forgotten about the first reveal of Remember Me. It first surfaced back in 2011 at Germany’s GamesCom show, where it was teased as “Adrift” and targeted as a PS3 exclusive until Sony let go of the game, due to the newly-formed French studio, Dontnod, having creative disagreements with the Japanese corporation. It wasn’t till GamesCom 2012 that the title resurfaced with a new name and a new publisher – Capcom came in to fund the remaining development of the project for a multiplatform release on 360, PS3 and PC. There’s no doubt that Remember Me has the attention of people, for a multitude of reasons: It’s a new IP, it features a mixed-race female lead, and the protagonist doesn’t get to use guns. It’s far away from the safety net of “dudebro” action that publishers and developers use as an excuse for their choice of game and lead characters, and that’s fantastic. So then, will Remember Me be remembered for being a good game and not for the studio’s design decisions that brought the attention of gaming fans tired of the same typical action games?
The year is 2084 and the setting is the futuristic city of Neo-Paris, where civilians have become addicted to Memorize Corporation’s brain implant (Sensen). This device allows anyone to share their memories with other people or even forget about upsetting or unpleasant situations that have happened in the past. One of the demonstrations of this concept is shown during the adverts that are plastered around the city. “I relive the first day of my love for my partner everyday” is what one woman states, forever locked into that feeling of fresh affection. Access to new memories is as easy as going to one of the many machines that act like ATM cash points, in which people can trade gold for a new memory and ask for what you want. Memorize has such a grip over its civilians that a group of rebels known as Errorists are trying to bring it down and free people from their obsession of throwing away bad memories instead of learning from them.
Players take on the role of Nilin, a memory hunter turned Errorist with a gifted ability to remix memories. She begins the game waking up in the process of having her memory wiped. On the way to the final memory removal stage, a call comes in from a stranger known as Edge, who introduces himself as the leader of the Errorists and tells Nilin her history to encourage an escape. From there, players must help Nilin return back to the Errorist hideout and carry out their plan to remove the presence of Memorize for good – while having her own agenda of recovering the memories stolen from her. Nilin, as a protagonist, is a very likeable character who can handle her own. She’s fleshed-out enough to give a good representation of a strong female lead. The rest of the characters introduced are all over the spectrum – some bad, some respectable, along with a constant supply of British voice acting that follows the same quality as the game’s characters.
After the opening scenes, it’s not long until you see Remember Me’s setting as a thing of intriguing, visual beauty. It’s striking to see the contrast of the dark, gloomy slums, lit only by sun rays skipping over the breaches in the ceiling. Hostility is found thanks to the hosts of humans who have abused the use of memories, twisting into deformed human beings known as Leapers. Then you have the carefree, “refined” citizens of Neo-Paris, and gorgeous architecture that blends with Blade Runner-esque electronic billboards, advertising all the wonderful benefits of getting memory replacement. This stylish world is one that deserves your attention and in all honesty is the game’s main attraction to pull you in. A shame, then, that the game is linear, to the point you can tell which areas are going to be the battle zones; you’re never given the room to fully explore such beauty.
While it excels with its art direction, it isn’t quite as strong in regards to the gameplay. One of its key features, the Combo Lab, gives the ability to fully customise Nilin’s combos through a menu, offering options to adjust combos to suit the desired situation. Players are given pre-set combos – up to four in total – which can be slotted with Pressens (using X or Y) to activate positive features during the combo the Pressen is assigned to. Pressens come in four varieties: Power (heavy damage), Regen (heals a little bit of health, deals less damage), Cooldown (reduces cool down by a certain amount on special moves), or Chain (doubles the effect of the previous Pressen hit).
This sounds fantastic on paper, but in reality, it’s far from the amazing concept it advertises to be. You’ll be doing a lot of fighting in Remember Me, and so having a well-built combat engine goes a long way to fight off boredom from doing the same thing over and over again. The combo lab doesn’t resolve this, because the fact is you are only given up to four combinations to work with. The first one is a simple three-button combination, while the last is around nine hits. You never change these button presses, so throughout the game you’re doing the same four combinations. Even if you are seeing different animations due to the various Pressens in effect, it doesn’t stop it from becoming repetitive towards the last third of this seven-to-eight-hour adventure. The fight system isn’t for button mashers, as you need to time the next press accordingly, making the combat have a rhythm; but even then, I noticed that you could get away with bashing the next button in the combo sequence until it highlighted, throwing the need for rhythm out the window if you can memorise the correct button order.
Nilin also has the ability to use S-Pressens that will help her overcome tough battles. There are five in total and their use covers areas such as the ability to spam X or Y for continuous combos; invisibility, to sneak up to someone for a one-hit kill; and using machines as a bomb that sucks in all opponents and blows everything up together. S-Pressens require the use of one block of focus, which is a metre that grows every time Nilin hits an opponent or takes damage and will require a cooldown before it can be used again. If you save up enough focus, you can deal some destruction by using multiple S-Pressens at once. On the side of defence, the game incorporates the extremely popular Batman: Arkham mechanics of being able to dodge an incoming attack by pressing a button at the correct time (there is no parry, counter or blocking featured), signalled by a red exclamation mark above an enemy’s head. Combos can still be sustained after a dodge if continued within the limited time frame.
Remember Me is full of ideas that could potentially lead to something great but just fall short of hitting that mark. The memory remix is one such mechanic that happens only four times in the game. Nilin jumps into the assignment’s memory and watches a scene play out from a scripted perspective. Once over, the player is asked to rewind and look through footage for glaring glitches that can be altered to plant an alternative outcome to what the target originally had lived with. Not all glitches that are activated will bring the desired outcome, so there is some trial and error involved, but either way, the memory plays out differently and it’s nice to see the developers go into that much detail. I would have liked these to have been fleshed-out more, offering a more analytical approach to the situation and the surroundings, and being able to interact with more objects, but I understand that the focus of the game is on action. Memory remixing is also the game’s best way of making the player feel uneasy. You’re entering minds and readjusting their memories like rearranging food in a fridge, and one specific memory in the game will stick with me for a long time. I was left in disbelief that, even though it was a memory, the game let me do that.
The rest of the game revolves around Uncharted-inspired climbing dilemmas and actions that offer minimal freedom slotted between each combat arena. What’s even more bizarre is the game is constantly pointing out to you where to go with these little yellow waypoints. These aren’t even optional (I wouldn’t mind it assigned to a button to show this information), as waypoints hover on-screen at all times, be it the next ledge on a climbing sequence or a drop you need to fall down from. It has no trust in the player to let them just play, as if the Memorize cooperation doesn’t just have a grip on the population of Neo-Paris, but also on the playertaking on the role of Nilin. Have more trust in your audience, developers, because Neo-Paris deserves such freedom of exploration.
There are parts of Remember Me that are likeable – smart, even – and sit teetering on the brink of potential greatness. It helps that it’s backed up with an attractive location and strong atmosphere, which saddens me more that one of its core features – the combat – is not engaging enough to transfer the game into greatness. Mix that up with linearity and its simple climbing sections, and Remember Me is prevented from being anything more than a decent title that will most likely be forgotten by most and remembered by so few.
The foundation of the story is one Jeremiah Hazelnut’s inescapable adventure as a magician’s apprentice into the wonderful world of magic. After summoning a humanoid rabbit named Marquis de Hoto, Jeremiah is whisked away to a place called Mousewood to get his induction as an apprentice. All doesn’t seem right, and trouble begins to brew soon after a pesky illusionist begins creating problems for the habitants of Mousewood and the other worlds connected by the legendary portal trees.
This is not an adventure on a grand scale, as most of the tale is situated in Mousewood and is spent interacting with its friendly, or not so friendly (damn you, you grumpy old hare), animals. I was a little disappointed that the journey didn’t open its doors to let players see more of Daedalic’s crafted world, since a plot about portals to other realms lends itself well for a point-and-click adventure game. What you do get to see in the game’s self-contained environment are the occasional portal jumps to other worlds, such as the Leprechaun’s lovely green isle coast or the mysterious fox’s Asian-inspired water temple. While these are all wonderfully crafted, they are so small and you are only there for a very brief moment to solve a puzzle or two before returning to Mousewood.
That’s not me saying Mousewood isn’t a delight to explore – it is, and the limited locations you do come across overflow with charm and character. Originally, after covering the preview forThe Night of the Rabbit, I thought there might be daily life activity going on within the confines of Mousewood, due to the movement of NPCs travelling throughout various scenes. This is not the case, but instead, there is a spell that allows you to switch between day and night, switching the situation around and having a new view on the life of Mousewood’s citizens – guards camp out in the night and there’s a birthday party going on for a huge family of hares.
Story is a very important aspect of a point-and-click adventure game, so on that topic, I have a problem with the pacing of The Night of the Rabbit, mainly due to the fact that a lot of answers are thrown out in the ending video. Rather than feeding the information to the player to figure out pieces of the plot, it feels like you’re doing a lot of the things in the game because it’s an “adventure game,” and this leads to the game opening other layers that might build to something but end up becoming nothing.
The Night of the Rabbit is so inspired by the genre classics of old that it’s hard to find something completely refreshing within its gameplay. Players will be doing a lot of clicking on characters and around the environment to find key items or to progress the plot. To help players who get stuck, Jeremiah has a special coin that acts as the game’s way of giving the player hints. An easy press of the Space Bar activates the ability, and all places in the environment that can be interacted with become highlighted with a rainbow-coloured flicker. While this helps with finding undiscovered interactions, it doesn’t help people overcome solving some of the game’s harder puzzles. Even the magical hint spell doesn’t help at all to solve this problem, highlighting my concerns from the preview build that it was an unserviceable feature.
One of the problems with solving puzzles is the game’s open-ended way of dealing with them. You’re never locked to an area, so some of the more illogical puzzles don’t have their scope shrunk down to help give the player an idea where they need to be or what to do. There were a few times I was dumbfounded and spent time clicking and combining everything and getting no luck. It was frustrating. I know there is occasionally that trial and error aspect of a point-and-click that exists, but there’s a difference of having a clue and trying to solve the conundrum based on that hint, compared to haphazardly throwing items together from the inventory or scenery for a solution. It also doesn’t help when the game will have a couple of puzzles active at one time and parts of them can only be done once another puzzle is finished. A more clear-cut hint system would do miracles to solve this problem.
Solutions to puzzles do turn out to be rather clever when you manage to decipher them. Since Jeremiah is a magician, there is, as to be expected, a selection of spells that can be used to solve the challenges put in front of the player. There’s the Greengrow spell that allows vegetation to sprout, handy for making things big in a short period of time. Another is the Fox’s Cunning, which allows Jeremiah to pretend to be something he isn’t, fooling NPCs that otherwise would ignore you for being human.
It’s a misfortune that The Night of the Rabbit knocks over a hurdle on one of the key aspects of the genre, because the rest of the package is a delightful time into the mind of a child’s imagination. Jeremiah is a likeable main character, never sounding stuck-up or cocky, and can make jokes that hit home with anyone who loved walking through their local woods and looking for adventure when they were a child. Jeremiah’s voice actor portrays this with high standards, and what makes the feeling come across as more genuine is that Jed Kelly, the British voice actor that plays Jeremiah, is only 13 years old according to the developer interview on GOG. As a fellow British citizen, I say: Bloody good job, mate. It makes me wonder how many young voice actors are in the industry today. The rest of the voice acting is mostly good work, but the dialogue, while for the most part solid, can be a repetitive or drawn-out at times. There’s only so much I can hear from one mouse speaking about how he sells things of every kind at Churchmouse and Son.
From beginning to end, the one area that The Night of the Rabbit never falters on is its spectacular hand-drawn look. Take a look at any screenshots or video and you’ll clearly see the game’s striking art style. Wandering into a new environment is met with excitement, seeing if the artist can still keep the surroundings looking enchanted and alive with fairy-like charm. Its aesthetics remind me of an old cartoon or children’s book that has sprung to life from a magical painting, with some of the portal worlds teasing the awesome potential these artists have when they put their paint to a digital canvas.
Let me make this clear: The Night of the Rabbit isn’t going to be the best adventure game you have ever played. It wasn’t created to do that. Its design upholds the genre’s conventional mechanics to the point that it doesn’t open itself that well to anyone but fans of the genre. Does that really matter, though? It’s completely filled with charm, beautiful art, lovely music and good characters. While we shouldn’t ignore its problems with the flow of the story and illogical puzzles, this shouldn’t stop anyone who is a follower of the genre from jumping into this world of magic and talking animals to enjoy one kid’s dream of a delightful summer adventure.