All posts by Cynibot

Review: Prey

Prey is a game in which you fight a shape-shifting race of hostile aliens with a variety of futuristic weapons and devastating mind powers… but that somehow isn’t the fun bit. What makes Prey a worthwhile adventure is the chance to explore Talos I, a sprawling space station that rewards those who make the effort to uncover its secrets.

Much like Bioshock’s underwater dystopia of Rapture, this intricately-designed space base is best described as a semi-open world. To begin with, most areas of the station are sealed off to be unlocked through story progression, but once you’ve unlocked an area you can come and go as you please. Before long, you’ll find the Zero-G Propulsion System (read: jetpack) and gain access to Talos I’s exterior, where you can traverse the station via a system of airlocks.

These must be unlocked from the inside first though, so only serve as shortcuts back to areas that you’ve already explored. It’s a frustrating restriction, but necessary to maintain story continuity. Nevertheless, I was grateful for these shortcuts when a side mission required me to backtrack, and thanks to some superb sound design, I enjoyed these occasional jaunts into the vacuum of space. All sound is suitably muffled and Morgan’s laboured breathing is a constant reminder of your hostile environment; I really felt like I was inside a space suit.

Talos I is visually striking, thanks to the colourful, 1930’s, art-deco style, another design choice borrowed from Rapture. The areas that lend themselves better to sci-fi (laboratories, cargo bays, etc.) look more industrial and modern, but in the offices and residential areas, the noir aesthetic makes it easy to forget you’re on a space station.

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Prey’s story is born from an alternate history, in which John F Kennedy survived his assassination attempt and the US and USSR worked together in the pursuit of space exploration. Talos I is primarily a scientific research station and a product of this cooperation.

You play as silent protagonist, Morgan Yu, the brother (or sister, if you’d prefer) of Talos I’s CEO. When the station is overrun by a hostile and mysterious alien species, it falls to Morgan to take drastic action.  As little as that tells you, it’s difficult to say more without wandering into spoiler territory, and it’s best to go into Prey knowing as little about the story as possible.

It’s a mind bender, but it never quite lives up to the intrigue it builds in its opening hours. You’ll have several opportunities to decide what kind of man or woman you want Morgan to be, and these choices are reflected in the ending, if not in an entirely satisfying way.

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The alien species, collectively known as the Typhon, are a mixed bag. The standout foes are the Mimics. These small, spider-like creatures can disguise themselves as nearby inanimate objects. They’re the most common enemy in the game, and the most unnervingly lifelike. Their quick, erratic movements allow them to slip out of sight and find a new disguise with which to launch another ambush.

Some of the more powerful Typhon can take control of the station’s robotic workers and automated turrets and turn them against you, others can mind-control human survivors, but these enemies are little more than floating, amorphous blobs without much animation to them.

The Typhon can at least be interesting to fight, but you have to pick the right character upgrades, as the weapons lack the punch necessary to carry the combat by themselves. Things get much more exciting once you unlock a few Typhon powers and start finding effective combinations.

Who needs a shotgun when you can trap your enemies in place with the GLOO Cannon (exactly what it sounds like) and follow up with a kinetic blast that shatters them to pieces, or deploy a decoy of yourself to lure a Typhon into a carefully-placed mine? Using Typhon powers drains your psi energy, but the item that restores it is reasonably common, so you’re unlikely to worry about running out.

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In fact, if you loot diligently, you’ll never need to worry about running out of anything. In place of a traditional crafting system, Prey has you dump your unwanted junk into a recycler, which turns it into raw materials. You can then take these materials to a Fabricator and use them to 3D-print something more useful, like ammo and med kits.

There’s something oddly gratifying about the whole process, even if, practically speaking, it’s no different to selling off your loot to a merchant in an RPG and using the money to buy stuff you need. Perhaps it’s the way the blocks of raw materials come tumbling out of the recycler like coins from a slot machine. Whatever the reason, it’s a refreshing approach. Leave it to game developers to make recycling fun.

Much like its recyclers, the more you put into Prey, the more you’ll get out of it. Stick to the story missions and rush towards the ending, and you’ll never see the game at its best. Prey shines when you slow down and take the time to really explore Talos I. Get stuck into the side quests and you’ll uncover subplots and secrets that often manage to be more intriguing than the main story, and throw up some deliciously grey moral choices.

There aren’t many games where it feels worthwhile to collect all those emails and audio logs, but the story of Talos I feels so incomplete without them; they provide context that’s too often missing from the main plot.

I enjoyed piecing together a picture of what life was like on the station before the Typhon: discovering the character sheets for a fantasy board game, or the audio diaries documenting the burgeoning romance between two adorably dorky researchers; it all makes Talos I feel like a place that people lived in – the kind of place that could actually exist one day. It’s just a shame that players have to go searching for these smaller, more personal stories that represent the best parts of the narrative.

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Exploration yields more tangible rewards as well. Completed side missions will often reward you with Neuromods, which you need to unlock new abilities and upgrades from Prey’s skill trees. Stick rigidly to the main missions and you’re likely to be stuck with a bare-bones character, giving you limited options in both combat and puzzle-solving. Neuromods can also be made from Fabricators, so the more resources you scavenge from the environment, the more you’ll be able to upgrade Morgan’s abilities.

Thankfully, you don’t need a fully-upgraded, jack-of-all-trades character build. Arkane Studios brought us the Dishonored series, and that pedigree can be seen in Prey’s level design. There are always multiple paths to your objective and multiple solutions to every problem.

At one point, I found myself unable to access a room that I needed to get into to complete a side mission. As far as I could tell, the only ways in were a locked door with a keypad and a damaged door that couldn’t be opened. The gap in the damaged door was too small for me to fit through, I hadn’t found the passcode to the locked door, and my hacking skills weren’t high enough to bypass it.

I suddenly remembered my newly-unlocked mimic ability and began searching my surroundings for something small enough to fit through the gap in the damaged door. Frustrated to find there was nothing small enough nearby, I was about to give up and come back later when I had a brainwave. I took a can of energy drink out of my inventory, dropped it on the ground, mimicked the can, casually rolled under the door, then sat back and took a moment to feel very smug and clever.

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While Prey borrows its level-design philosophy from Dishonored, it borrows a whole lot more from Bioshock. The similarities extend way beyond the open-ended environments and art-deco style: the uncomfortably large needles used to administer superpowers, the autonomous defences that can be harnessed by you or your enemies, the trusty wrench that serves as your melee weapon, to name but a few. Anyone who has played a Bioshock game will feel very familiar with Prey’s core gameplay.

Arkane Studios haven’t been coy on the subject, going so far as to call Prey a spiritual sequel to System Shock 2 (Bioshock’s sci-fi parent), but being compared to its ancestors only serves to highlight the game’s weaknesses.

Despite some narrative parallels and themes of psychological manipulation, Prey never pulls off anything as genius as Bioshock’s famous plot twist, and as wonderfully designed as Talos I is, it never comes close to matching Rapture’s eerie atmosphere.

Most of the station is well-lit, and many areas are relatively undisturbed, a stark contrast to the shadowy ruins of Rapture, where you never really felt safe. Prey has the power to startle but not to frighten, resorting to frequent jump scares to compensate for the lack of creepy ambience. Some of these are scripted, while most occur organically when a Mimic catches you unawares, shedding its disguise and leaping at you as the music spikes.

Prey 2The knowledge that every coffee mug, waste basket and office chair could be an alien waiting to ambush you did at least create a sense of paranoia. That is, until I found the scanner upgrade that pointed out disguised Mimics for me, taking away what little tension there was. For the sake of your enjoyment, don’t equip this upgrade. Identifying mimics by spotting out-of-place objects, and listening for subtle audio cues, is far more exciting than pointing a scanner at everything to check that it’s not about to jump you, face-hugger style.

But I won’t remember Prey because of its shape-shifting aliens, its combat, or its psi powers. I’ll remember it because it gave me a wonderfully unique world to explore, with plenty of compelling stories and secrets to uncover. Half-hearted horror elements and the lack of a strong central narrative leave Prey in the shadow of the classics it attempts to emulate, but it’s an absorbing and memorable experience in its own right, and one that sci-fi fans will enjoy getting lost in.

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Rainbow Six’s Blood Orchid DLC drops today

After 6 months of waiting and a 3-month delay, Rainbow Six: Siege’s Operation Blood Orchid update is finally here.

Siege’s 7th major update since launch, Blood Orchid gives players 3 new operators to play with and a new map set in an abandoned theme park in Hong Kong. Players are also promised a host of new cosmetic items.

Two of Blood Orchid’s three new operators are from Hong Kong’s Special Duties Unit. Ying comes armed with a cluster bomb of flash grenades that can be thrown, anchored on surfaces, or rolled under barricades. Her protective eyewear keeps her from being blinded by her own gadget, making it easier for her to rush in and eliminate her dazed foes.

Lesion comes equipped with several poisonous needles to place as traps for his enemies. Stepping on one will slow your movement speed and interfere with your vision. You’ll also suffer damage over time from the poison until you remove the needle, but doing so leaves you vulnerable for a moment.

Polish Operator Ela is releasing alongside the two Hong Kong characters. Her concussion mines leave her enemies stunned and slowed for a few seconds, making them easier targets for Ela and her teammates.

These new operators will be unlocked for season pass holders from today and made available for all players from September 12th.

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Operation Blood Orchid was first scheduled for release in May but was delayed to make way for Ubisoft’s “Operation Health” initiative, which eschewed new content in favour of bug fixes and technical improvements.

While improvements such as faster matchmaking and a public test server have already been deployed, the new patch contains an astonishing 1300 bug fixes and some shiny new servers that Ubisoft claims will “bring significant improvements to stability, connectivity, FPS, rubberbanding, and overall performance”.

“3 months ago, Operation Health was deployed as a major initiative to improve the game for the upcoming years,” Ubisoft explains.

“With the launch of Season 3, we are putting Operation Health behind us with our final update in Season 3, which is our largest patch we have ever deployed. In the future, we are still keeping the core pillars to focus on game optimization, top community issues reported by the community, and improving player experience. The groundwork in Operation Health will help us to continue to improve the game for the distant future.”

See the new operators in action in Blood Orchid’s launch trailer below.

Coinciding with the start of Season 3, Operation Blood Orchid will be deployed at 9am EDT on PS4, 10am EDT on Xbox One and 11am EDT on PC.

5 Not-So-Obvious Tips for Gears of War 4’s Horde Mode

Don’t put the Fabricator in a corner

While putting the Fabricator right in the corner of the map will stop enemies from spawning there, it also means lots of extra leg work for you. You’ll spend way more time travelling to the Fabricator to deposit your energy than you really need to.

Besides which, you move very slowly when setting up defences, so you want to place the Fabricator as close as possible to the part of the map you plan to fortify. As long as you place it reasonably near a spawn point, it will still stop enemies from spawning there, but there’s no need to hide it away.

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Always have a Heavy and a Sniper

Having a balanced team in general will improve your chances of survival, but these two classes are all but essential on harder difficulties and waves. Without the Sniper’s Longshot or the Heavy’s Boomshot, your team will have a much harder time dealing with heavily armored enemies like Pouncers, Scions and Guardians.

There’s no point in a Soldier using multiple Lancer magazines to hose down a Scion when a Sniper can take care of it with a single headshot. Snipers and Heavies should prioritize bullet-sponge enemies so that teammates can save their ammo for regular infantry and smaller targets.

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Don’t respawn your teammates unless you need to

Okay, so this one might sound counterproductive but stay with me. When a teammate is killed, you can get them back in the fight by picking up their COG tags from where they died and taking them to the Fabricator. What isn’t immediately obvious is that doing so costs energy, more and more of it as you reach higher waves.

A notification appears in the corner of the screen to tell you this when you pick up the tags, but it’s a small, semi-transparent pop-up that’s very easy to miss in the chaos of battle. If you’ve got things under control and you’re confident you can finish the wave without that teammate, don’t revive them. They’ll respawn at the start of the next wave for free anyway, so why spend energy on them when you could be using it to build and upgrade your defences. Which reminds me…

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You can upgrade your existing defences

Once you’ve dumped 30,000 energy points into the Fabricator, it will upgrade to level 2 (then to level 3 at 90,000 points – level 4 at 120,000). Higher level Fabricators can be used to purchase sturdier and more effective defences, but the game doesn’t tell you that, for a price, you can upgrade fortifications you already bought.

Once the Fabricator hits level 3, you can take that barbed wire fence you bought at level 2 and turn it into a level 3 lazer fence. To do this you first have to pick up the fence/decoy/turret you want to upgrade. You’ll now see the option to upgrade that fortification and how much it’ll cost you. This is often more cost-effective than buying new defences, and leaves your team’s engineer with fewer things to repair.

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You can set grenades as traps

Gears of War’s grenades aren’t all that useful when you actually use them as grenades. They have an underwhelming blast radius, they tend to bounce unpredictably, and throwing them accurately is a slow process that leaves you exposed to enemy fire.

They’re far more useful as explosive traps. Equip the grenade, aim at where you want to set the trap, then hit the mêlée button to stick it to the wall or floor. When an enemy gets close enough, the grenade will explode.

This tactic is even more effective if you set the trap in a spawn area, as this will be when the enemy is clustered together. You can stick grenades to enemies using the same method, but you risk getting caught in the blast yourself.

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Review: FIFA 17

Like many people, I was unconvinced when EA showed the first trailer for The Journey at E3. “This will add nothing to the game,” I thought. “They’ve just dressed up the Be a Pro mode with a few cutscenes and a clichéd Cinderella story.”

I was half right. FIFA’s new story mode does feel like revamped Be a Pro season, and the writers didn’t have a single original idea between them, but it still somehow manages to be the most interesting thing to happen to the series since Ultimate Team first launched back in 2009.

The Journey follows 17-year-old Alex Hunter and his, erm… journey, to becoming the Premier League’s hottest new wonderkid. After impressing at the exit trials, you can sign Alex to any of the 20 Premier League clubs. Whichever team you choose will be title contenders come the business end of the season, so the story is more credible if you sign to a top team. Still, thanks to Leicester’s heroics last season, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine West Ham mounting a title challenge.

Once you sign to a club, you must level up Alex’s skills by getting as much playing time as possible. The bigger the club, the harder this is, though as long as you complement good match performances with top marks in the training sessions, it’s trivially easy to stay in the starting XI.

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Your performance on the pitch might get you more games but seems to have little bearing on the story. For example, Alex will always be loaned out to a Championship side for the first half of the season to gain more experience, no matter how well you play in your first few games. The same goes for the Mass Effect style dialogue choices, which do little beyond earning insignificantly small bonuses or penalties to manager approval and your Twitter follower count.

The story may be set in stone, but the outcome of the matches isn’t. In my playthrough, West Ham finished as unlikely Premier League champions, but lost the FA Cup final to bitter rivals Tottenham. I was impressed that the game didn’t just hand me success for the sake of the story, but I replayed the final and won to see how things would play out differently, and discovered that all I missed out on was an extra cutscene.

The Journey has a few twists to it. It’s just a shame it insists on telegraphing every single one ahead of time on the fake Twitter feed that you can read through between matches. “Will West Ham recall Alex Hunter from loan to reinforce a misfiring front line?” Hmm, I think they might. “England manager considering squad shakeup after string of poor performances.” You don’t need to be Nostradamus’ fortune-teller to see where that one’s going.

Despite these missteps, I found myself completely hooked on The Journey. The likeable characters and surprisingly good acting were enough that I was completely invested in Alex’s burgeoning career. As I carefully picked my passes, desperate to make sure he made a good impression on his Premier League début, I realized what a difference a little context makes to what would otherwise be just another match.

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None of this would matter if the matches weren’t fun to play, but FIFA 17 shows great improvement on the pitch. FIFA 16’s scrappy, low-scoring games have given way to more free-flowing football, provided you don’t stray into the higher difficulty settings, which turn the opposition into ultra-athletic supermen, who win every header and muscle even your strongest players off the ball with ease.

Players still feel slow to respond at times (especially in online play where latency becomes a factor), but they have a renewed sense of agility that FIFA 16’s lead-footed footballers lacked. An updated attacking AI means teammates make more intelligent runs on attack and get caught offside far less often. New attacking options like the threaded through-pass and the low, driven shot aren’t exactly game-changers, but they allow for a little more creativity when putting moves together. New set piece options like the ability to change the angle of approach on a free kick or penalty, feel like change for change’s sake and only serve to over-complicate what should be a simple part of the game.

While the quicker pace of the attacking play is a welcome change, the defenders seem woefully unprepared for it. The defensive AI is stubbornly passive, rarely pressing the opposition and often failing to make easy interceptions. It’s common for both sides to have over 90% pass success at the end of a match. Still, if proactive defenders are the sacrifice that must be made to bring back the exciting gameplay of FIFAs past, then so be it.

Visually, FIFA still sets the standard for visuals and presentation. The shift to the Frostbite engine was a big part of the game’s marketing, but you’ll struggle to tell the difference without a side by side comparison; some slight improvements to the lighting here, some atmospheric fog effects there etc. It’s not the graphical revolution it was marketed as, but it’s still a generation ahead of Pro Evolution Soccer.

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The Journey is FIFA 17’s headline act, but the series core game modes haven’t gone anywhere. In fact they’ve barely been touched at all. The only significant new feature of Career Mode is the addition of club-specific objectives beyond the usual “Win the League” or “Avoid Relegation.” These include goals like expanding the club’s brand in a region by signing players from there, or promoting a minimum number of youth players. It’s a small change but it gives each club a more distinct personality. Brand exposure goals are going to be way more important at Real Madrid than they are at Bournemouth.

And then there’s Ultimate Team. FIFA’s flagship mode still presses all the same buttons that collecting football stickers did when you were a kid, and EA have added to it with squad building challenges. Build a team that meets certain criteria, like an all Bundesliga team or an all-English bronze team, and you can exchange that team for rewards. It finally gives us a use for all those bronze and silver-grade players we’ve been selling off for all these years, even if the rewards for these challenges are sometimes not worth the time and effort it takes to earn them.

Sadly, Ultimate Team still operates on a free-to-play formula. Earning coins to buy players and card packs is a painfully slow process, so you’ll need to spend real money to progress at a reasonable rate. Only players with plenty of free time or disposable income can get the most out of Ultimate Team. It’s bitterly disappointing to see a format with so much potential ruined by micropayments, especially in a game that will already set you back $60.

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Too Long; Didn’t Read

FIFA 17 isn’t FIFA at its brilliant best, but it fixes most of the issues that made last year’s entry so unsatisfying to play. Attacking gameplay flows better and players have more tools than ever to help them carve a path to goal. It’s just a shame that defenders struggle to keep up. Returning game modes like Career Mode and Ultimate Team remain largely untouched, but The Journey is a fantastic new addition that’s unlike anything seen before in a sports game. With top-draw presentation and plenty of modes framing the rejuvenated gameplay, FIFA isn’t ready to give up its place at the top of the table just yet.

Review Score 8

 

 

Review: Forza Horizon 3

Forza Horizon 3 is for people who couldn’t care less about shaving four nanoseconds off their Silverstone lap time and just want to have fun with cars.

After letting racing fans loose on the mountains of Colorado and the Franco-Italian coast, the Horizon festival has come to Australia, and Playground Games have left you in charge. You’re not just another competitor this time round, you’re the festival boss. You’ll still be doing all the same stuff you did at the last festival, but this time it’s not really about winning.

Progression is no longer tied to how many championships you win, so coming 1st isn’t important. Instead you advance the game by completing  races and events to draw more fans to the festival. When you’ve attracted enough fans you can expand the festival, which unlocks more events and race routes.

Without the ultimate goal of becoming Horizon Champion to work towards, it all feels a bit aimless. Aimless fun is still fun though, and there’s a great deal of it to be had.

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As with any Forza game, there’s an incredible variety of events to take part in. There are themed races and championships for every kind of vehicle available. Hop in a Mustang and race against other American muscle cars or pick a side in the Mitsubishi vs Subaru championship. The change in setting has brought with it more opportunities for off-road racing, so there are plenty of monstrous off-road trucks and dune buggies among the game’s 350-strong lineup of vehicles.

The racing AI has received a noticeable tune up, to the point I had to drop down a difficulty level from the one I used in Horizon 2. While the other racers won’t try to run you off the road (thankfully), they’re not above trading paint. If anything they’re a little too aggressive for a game that encourages clean racing. This is probably a symptom of the “Drivatar” system, which the AI uses to mimic the driving styles of real players.

If you feel like taking a break from racing, the Horizon Showcases and Bucket List events make for the perfect distractions. These are kinds of things Clarkson & Co would’ve done on Top Gear if the BBC didn’t have a health and safety department; dodging oncoming traffic in a Lamborghini Centenario, or racing an off-road buggy through the jungle against an old army jeep suspended from a helicopter. The showcases feel heavily scripted and there aren’t nearly enough of them, but they offer some of Horizon 3’s most memorable moments.

With so much to do, it’s easy to become paralyzed by choice. Thankfully, with just two button presses, the satnav will choose an activity for you and set a route to it. It’s a small touch, but one I began to appreciate more and more as the map became littered with potential diversions.

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Of course, if you’re not in the mood for organized fun and just want to drive around in something fast, then you’re still well catered for. Horizon 3’s Australian playground is one of gaming’s most beautiful and varied backdrops. The vibrant rainforests and expansive outback deserts look magnificent at all times of the day, thanks to first class lighting effects and weather cycles.

Horizon 2’s slice of southern Europe was dazzling but hardly diverse. Horizon 3’s Australia offers twice the size and a great deal more variety. The map is large enough to suit the needs of an open-world racer, but small enough that you can drive through a city, across a beach and into the outback in the time it takes to listen to one song on the radio.

Speaking of the soundtrack, it really adds some extra personality to the game. Drifting across the beaches of Australia in a buggy is fun, but the grin it puts on my face wouldn’t be so wide if it wasn’t to the sound of “X Gon’ Give it to Ya” by DMX. Each of the 9 radio stations plays a different genre, so you if you’d rather listen to Richard Wagner than CHVRCHES, there’s a station for that.

The Drivatar system might imitate real racers, but there are still online races and free roam lobbies for those who prefer a more traditional multiplayer experience. The 4-player co-op campaign is the new headline feature that allows up to three friends to join your festival. Any events you complete together in this mode contribute towards your progress through the main game. In a rare example of cross-platform support, there is no restriction on PC and Xbox One players joining each others lobbies and races.

Sadly, long loading times handicap the game’s multiplayer component. While I was waiting for online races to load up, I had plenty of time to contemplate how much fun I could’ve been having in the solo mode instead.

In fact, the PC version suffers from multiple technical issues including crashes, intermittent framerate dips and stuttering. These were infrequent enough to be tolerable and may be fixed before long, but for the moment the Xbox One provides the more stable experience.

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The Horizon series has always provided players with plenty of customization options and Horizon 3 throws a few more in as part of your new role as festival boss. You can create and share your own races, championships and Bucket List events, import your own playlist to listen to on the radio, and the car customization has been expanded to include bodywork mods and rims.

The driving experience can be as realistic or as simple as you want it to be. The default settings feel like a satisfying mid-point between hyper-realistic Motorsport simulators and physics-defying arcade racers, but those who want a little more realism and challenge can turn off some of the driving assists that stop people like me from spinning out on every other corner.

The cars may look like the real thing (down to the millimeter in fact), and with the right settings they’ll handle like the real thing, but this is not a racing simulator. The game takes plenty of liberties to maximize the fun factor. A 100ft jump might wreck the suspension and snap the axles in reality, but in Horizon it will bag you a lot of skill points, as will ploughing sideways through someone’s garden fence when you slightly overcook that drift. This is a game that isn’t about to let anything get in the way of you having fun, and it’s part of what makes Horizon 3 so special.

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Too Long; Didn’t Read

Forza Horizon 3 is a celebration of everything that’s fun about cars; a madcap road trip through beautiful Australian landscapes. The lack of a clear, ultimate goal dampens the sense of progression, but when the journey is this exciting, who cares about the destination? Playground Games have taken the expertly crafted Forza engine and used it to create something with all the personality that the Motorsport series lacks. When I’m belting across the outback in a McLaren P12, watching the sun bounce off the bodywork as my favorite song fights to be heard over the engine, I’m having too much fun to think about my lap times.

Review Score 9

Perception

Now that Deus Ex has finally ended the summer games drought, we must brace ourselves for the flurry of new titles competing for our attention between now and Christmas.

When we’re waist deep in Calls of Duty (Call of Duties? Call of Duti?), Battlefields and Watch_Dogs, it’s easy for the low profile indie games to slip under the radar. I know this because my cleaning lady was dusting under my radar when she found Perception; an indie horror game with a blind protagonist.

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Good horror games create fear by making the player feel vulnerable. Perception does this in a unique and clever way by taking away the player’s vision. It’s not as big a handicap as you’d imagine though; you can still “see” your environment using echolocation. It’s like The Unfinished Swan but less messy.

The gameplay is described as “hide and seek”, so we can expect to spend a lot of time hiding under beds or in wardrobes, holding our breath while we wait for something unpleasant to go away. This style has worked very well for horror games such as Outlast and Alien: Isolation.

While the unique perspective goes a long way in creating a creepy atmosphere, some of that work is undone by Cassie, the chatty protagonist. Of course, we only have trailers to go by at this point, but her commentary and oddly relaxed demeanour relieve a lot of the tension from what could otherwise be an unsettling experience.

Perception is in development at The Deep End Games, an indie studio with staff who have worked on high-profile series such as Bioshock and Dead Space. It’s expected to release later this year.

Official Website: http://www.thedeependgames.com/perception/

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/perceptiongame/perception-3

 

 

 

What No Man’s Sky Really Needs

No Man’s Sky has launched with a somewhat mixed critical reception. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a “relaxing experience of discovery in the vast unknown,” or a falsely advertised “steaming dumpster pile.”

Much of the criticism is well-founded but it’s too soon to give up on No Man’s Sky. Sean Murray, the game’s adorably awkward creator, says the focus of the game may change with future updates, so new features and tweaks seem likely. Here are a few that would help No Man’s Sky reach its enormous potential.

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Get the hell off my planet!

From the beginning, Hello Games have made it clear that No Man’s Sky is a game about exploration and discovery, so why don’t I ever feel like I’m discovering anything?

It’s probably because structures and outposts built by the game’s alien races litter every planet. Some are abandoned, some have a single alien custodian for me to talk to.

It kills the sense of discovery when most of the planets I land on have more signs of intelligent life than my hometown in South East England. Sure, I’m the first human to discover this strange new world, but like Columbus before me, the natives have beaten me to the punch.

Restricting these intelligent beings to space stations and the occasional colony world would go a long way in making players feel less like tourists and more like explorers. When I touch down on an uncharted moon, I want it to feel lonelier than a Shadow Cabinet meeting.

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Moon Buggies!

Concept art spotted in the Hello Games office suggests that land vehicles are a feature that was either scrapped during development or simply wasn’t finished in time for release.

Whatever the case, a quad bike or moon buggy to roll around in would make exploration so much easier. As things stand, your ship is your only means of transportation, so the further you explore, the longer you’ll have to trudge back across ground you’ve already covered.

Being able to range further,  faster and perhaps even remotely call our ship to us using the vehicle would unchain players from their spacecraft. Besides which, who doesn’t want to go off-roading on an alien planet?

Hey, if I can fit 15 crates of plutonium in my cargo hold, I can fit a moon buggy.

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More Landscapes

One of the most common complaints players have about No Man’s Sky is that the planets quickly start to all look the same. While there’s a great deal of variety in the flora and fauna, every planet is one of hills, mountains and valleys, with the occasional cave formation.

There are trees but no forests or jungles; grass but no fields; snow but no glaciers. Minecraft  procedurally generates these kinds of environments, and so must No Man’s Sky if it wants to offer the kind of variety players expected from it.

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Many of the best games, particularly those made by small teams, focus on doing one thing but doing it really well. No Man’s Sky has the potential to do exploration better than any other game out there. By giving us the means to explore the enormous worlds we land on, and ensuring that each discovery feels new and significant, Hello Games can make No Man’s Sky into the game we always hoped it would be.

 

Lessons Publishers Should Learn from Rainbow Six: Siege’s Success

Ubisoft recently boasted that the number of people playing Rainbow Six: Siege has almost doubled since launch. That becomes even more impressive when you compare it to The Division; a more recent Ubisoft offering which took less than three months to lose 93% of its players.

With that in mind, here are the lessons that publishers can learn from Siege on how to create a multiplayer-only game that won’t wither and die in a matter of weeks.

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Don’t Segregate Your Players

Multiplayer shooters often release with 10-15 maps, with more added later as paid DLC. The problem with this model is that it splits the community into haves and have-nots, and the haves can only play their shiny new maps with other haves.

This creates a cycle of longer matchmaking queue times, leading to players getting bored and moving on to other games, leading to longer queue times, and so on. Few games ever recover once they go into this tailspin.

Take EA’s Titanfall for example. Much like The Division, Titanfall lost most of its players very quickly. When the first batch of new maps released as paid DLC, it divided an already diminished player base.

Ubisoft’s approach with Siege has been to release one new map and two new characters for free at three-month intervals. Every time one of these free updates has dropped, the player count has spiked as players who got bored with the game have been lured back with free content.

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Don’t Cut Corners

If you’re making an online multiplayer shooter, particularly one where players can shoot each other through walls, don’t skimp on the anti-cheat system.

You wouldn’t know it if you started playing now, but Rainbow Six: Siege’s PC version was a wild west of aimbots and wallhackers until very recently.

After months of outcry from players wanting a solution, Ubisoft finally implemented the “BattlEye” system as part of the “Skull Rain” update in early August. Since then, over 3800 players have been permanently banned from the servers!

It’s no coincidence that this update saw the biggest spike in player numbers since the game’s release. Many people who gave up on the game out of frustration with the rampant cheating problem have come back into the fold.

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Use Microtransactions Responsibly

“Releasing free content and implementing a competent anti-cheat is all very well,” says a hypothetical publisher, “but those things cost money. What’s in it for us?”

I’m glad you asked, Hypothetical Publisher; this is where responsible and unintrusive use of microtransactions comes in. Microtransactions have never made a game better, but Ubisoft has shown that when used with restraint, they needn’t make a game worse.

In Siege, the items you can buy with real money are purely cosmetic (custom headgear, weapon skins etc.). No player can gain an advantage by lightening their wallet, but it means Ubisoft can continue to make money from the game post-release without having to charge for new maps and characters.

The more players, the more profitable this approach becomes. It’s in the publisher’s interest to spend money on making sure the game retains its player base, rather than focusing solely on selling as many copies as possible and then moving straight on to the sequel.

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Rainbow Six: Siege’s road to success hasn’t been the smoothest, but Ubisoft are now reaping the rewards for their commitment to the game’s long-term health. This consumer-friendly approach is why Siege has survived and thrived where many bigger budget games have run out of steam.

 

Halo 5: Guardians

2012’s Halo 4 was the product of a series in transition; Developer 343 Industries’ début  was a tightly designed and serviceable entry to the series, but by clumsily parroting more modernized shooters, they alienated long-time fans as well as failed to win new ones.

With Halo 5: Guardians, the franchise has emerged triumphant from its awkward transitional phase; embracing the qualities of modern first-person shooters without losing its identity.
Fred

After a mission takes an unexpected turn, the Master Chief and his team of Spartans go AWOL, prompting the UNSC to send Spartan Locke and his own fireteam, ‘Osiris’, to hunt the Chief down. It’s hard to say much more without giving away spoilers, so suffice to say the story soon grows beyond this simple premise.

Halo’s story has never been very accessible to newcomers and Halo 5 is no exception. Even as someone who’s played every game in the series, I still felt in the dark at times, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the journey that ‘Guardians’ takes you on.

That’s thanks in no small part to new protagonist Jameson Locke. Don’t be fooled by the marketing, which sold Chief and Locke as joint protagonists. You only play as the Chief for 3 of 15 missions; Locke is very much the main man.

He’s not exactly a fountain of charisma, but he gets more dialogue in one game than Master Chief has had in all of his put together. Add to that the playful banter and camaraderie between Locke and the other members of Fireteam Osiris, and you have a reasonably engaging group of characters to spend the 8 hour campaign with.

The ever-likeable Nathan Fillion deserves special mention. His performance as the wise-cracking Edward Buck fills the void left by Sergeant Johnson; bringing some welcome comic relief.

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Previous Halo games were designed for single player, but provided the option of up to 4-player co-op. In Halo 5, it’s immediately clear that the campaign has been designed for co-op. If you don’t bring a full complement of four human players, any remaining slots are filled by AI-piloted Spartans.

You can give a few simple orders to these AI companions with a single button-press. You’ll never be able to coordinate any kind of strategy with them, but beyond the available commands of “go here”, “pick up that weapon”, “get in that vehicle”, “shoot that enemy”, I never really needed them to do anything.

The level design reflects this change in focus. Missions are still linear, point-to-point affairs, but there are plenty of open spaces and opportunities for flanking to encourage team tactics. It’s by no means a sandbox, but it’s considerably more expansive than your average ‘corridor’ shooter.

The way you get around these levels has changed as well. Players have been given a host of new movement-focused abilities. Sprinting and climbing make traversing the environment satisfying. Abilities like the ‘Spartan Charge’ and ‘Ground Pound’ are great for quickly closing the distance between you and your enemy, and the new thruster packs allows for short, rapid dodge movements.

While you won’t be as agile as you would be in Titanfall or Call of Duty, this new-found mobility goes a long way in updating Halo to feel like it belongs alongside these games, as does the ability to aim down the sights of the weapons. Importantly, it also makes the Spartans look and feel like the super-soldiers they’re supposed to be.

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The selection of enemies you’ll fight is largely unchanged from Halo 4, but it’s worth noting that those annoying, flying enemies are now far less common, making fights against Forerunner foes feel less like banging your head against a wall until it falls down.

Headlining Guardians’ multiplayer is the new ‘Warzone’ mode. Two teams of 12 compete to either be the first to reach 1000 points or destroy the other team’s base. You earn points by getting kills, capturing and holding key parts of the map, or killing the AI boss enemies that occasionally drop in.

The maps are much bigger than anything seen in previous Halos. They have to be to accommodate the large numbers of players and vehicles. It seems 343 wanted to put their own spin on Battlefield‘s popular ‘Conquest’ mode, especially when you realize that Warzone’s variant, ‘Warzone Assault’, is very similar to ‘Rush’, another popular Battlefield gametype.

What makes Warzone so different from traditional Halo multiplayer is the REQ (requisition) system. Players earn REQ points over the course of a match, which can be spent on powerful weapons and vehicles.

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It’s a system that takes some getting used to, but it’s worth it for the added layer of tactics it creates through resource-management dilemmas. Do I spend these 7 points on two powerful weapons, or one tank? Do I spend them all now, or save some for later?

Warzone is great fun, and offers something new and different to classic Halo multiplayer. It’s a shame that, at release, there are only 3 maps for it, even if they are 3 very big maps.

Those who want a more traditional multiplayer experience will feel right at home in Halo 5’s Arena mode. New gametypes like the single-life elimination mode ‘Breakout’ and the new map-control mode ‘Strongholds’ are available alongside classics like Team Slayer and Capture The Flag. Sadly, fan-favorite Oddball is conspicuous in its absence.

This is arguably the best Halo’s multiplayer has ever been. 343 have managed to balance the weapons brilliantly, making sure that every one is useful in its own way. The maps aren’t particularly varied in design, but the new movement system makes them easy to get around, creating fast-paced matches where positioning is now just as important as good aim and quick reaction times.

It’s clear that 343 had eSports in mind when designing Arena mode. Most of the maps are either mostly or completely symmetrical, and the matchmaking system finds players at your skill level based on a league system. All this, along with the superb weapon balance, combines to create the purest, most competitive multiplayer I’ve seen in any game for years.

Like previous Halos, you can create custom gametypes to play with your friends, but the ‘Forge’ map creator isn’t available until sometime in December. Thankfully, Halo 5 has more than enough content to keep you occupied until then.

Blue Spartan Promethean

Halo 5: Guardians is an outstanding return to form. While the story is hard to follow at times, the gameplay is superb, and a major step up from Halo 4. Warzone is a fun and accessible addition to Halo’s multiplayer suite, and the Arena is a finely-tuned, competitive experience that gets the adrenaline flowing and the heart pumping like no other multiplayer can. The fact that all this plays at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second, is the icing on the cake.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

  • Characters with some semblance of personality.
  • Expansive levels
  • Greater focus on mobility
  • Warzone is new, different, and fun
  • REQ system adds depth
  • New gametypes compliment the classics well
  • Perfect weapon balance
  • Fast, exciting gameplay
  • 1080p/60fps
  • Nathan Fillion
  • Story is inaccessible and difficult to follow
  • Only 3 Warzone maps
  • No Forge… yet

Review Score 9

FIFA 16

FIFA 16 is a rare and disappointing step backwards for the world’s most popular football series.

Such a misstep was bound to happen eventually; every year we hear the same complaints that not enough has changed, leaving EA under constant pressure to find ways to keep the formula fresh. Inevitably, that pressure has led them to try to fix things that were never broken.

You see, while the many tweaks to the on-the-pitch experience help FIFA resemble real football more than ever, they ruin the responsive gameplay that made FIFA 15 such a good time.

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Beginning with the positives, the defensive AI has received a welcome upgrade. Defenders are now better at playing their way out of trouble, so last year’s tactic of pressing really high up the pitch and trying to force a defensive error won’t work.

Things will be more difficult for your midfielders too. Expect the AI to close you down and cut off your passing lanes more effectively than last year. The midfield battle is now just as scrappy as it should be.

It’s clear that plenty of work has gone into upgrading the animations as well. Players change direction much more naturally, making dribbling and turning on the ball look remarkably realistic. It’s one of the few steps towards creating a realistic football sim that hasn’t come at the cost of fun gameplay.

One of the most noticeable new features is the trainer. This is a kind of on-the-fly tutorial that gradually teaches you the controls via on-screen prompts and seems like it would a great way for complete newcomers to learn the basics.

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The women’s teams are a welcome, if not fully fledged addition to the series. There are only 12 national teams to choose from, and they’re limited to friendlies and a single offline tournament.

The women’s side of the game feels different to the men’s side. There’s more freedom in attack and physicality plays less of a role. Tactics and techniques that work with women’s teams won’t necessarily work with the men’s sides, making the women’s game more fun for players who want to play expressive, attacking football.

The rest of the changes on the pitch only serve to spoil the perfect balance that EA managed to achieve in FIFA 15.

The match day presentation is still as good as it’s ever been, even if it’s still not on the levels of Madden. Having said that, there’s very little in the way of new commentary, and players’ faces somehow look less life-like. At least they’ve finally realized that Toni Kroos isn’t ginger.

Every FIFA seems to come with a new dribbling feature. This year it’s the much-touted ‘no-touch dribbling’ system, giving players the ability to use body feints to wrong-foot defenders, the way small, agile players like Messi and Isco do.

For a headline feature, it’s surprisingly redundant, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when it works and when it doesn’t.

FIFA now has so many ways for you to beat defenders, but there are really only one or two that are consistently effective; making the others, like the no-touch dribbling, good for little more than showboating.

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What really holds FIFA 16 back is the pace of its gameplay. Passes feel like they’ve been slowed down, possibly to compensate for the new ‘driven ground pass’ feature. Players also feel less responsive and agile than they did last year.

These two changes combine to make the game feel slow and lethargic compared to its predecessor. You can’t deny it’s more realistic, but more importantly, it’s not as fun.

You can offset some of these problems by adjusting the games sliders to tweak things like pass speed, but these changes won’t apply to online games against human opponents.

What’s less forgivable is what hasn’t been changed. The small frustrations present in FIFA 15, while few, haven’t been addressed.

Slide tackles are still worse than useless. Players don’t lock on to the ball when attempting a slide tackle, so you’ll miss both the man (or woman) and the ball way too often. This is even more common against the AI, which is so good at dodging slide tackles, you’ll swear it knows when you’re going to do one before you do.

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The ineffectiveness of slide tackles isn’t helped by the referee AI. Whether a challenge is deemed a foul or not, and what kind of punishment it receives, is so inconsistent it comes across as random at times.

Perfect tackles can be punished with yellow cards and even the occasional red. I’ve also seen the referee wave play on for tackles that got nowhere near the ball. I think all football fans will agree that referee incompetence is a touch of realism we could do without.

Even the AI seems to know that slide tackling is a bad idea. It doesn’t go to ground very often, and when it does, it usually gives away a foul.

The longest running problem has been EA’s lazy approach to difficulty settings. Turning the difficulty up seems to boost the opposition players’ stats and lower your own, essentially handicapping you, not improving the AI’s decision-making.

Boosting the opposition’s technical stats would make sense; every team is entitled to an outstanding game now and then. But the game makes them physically better too, and when you see that Sergio Busquets is suddenly as fast as Gareth Bale, you feel cheated, not outplayed.

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There’s been some successful work done off the pitch. Career mode now has a training feature, giving you the option to both practise certain skills and level up your players through a series of drills.

I found it especially useful for addressing players’ weaknesses, like improving the stamina of a player I was sick of having to substitute every game.

Ultimate Team has a new ‘Draft Mode’ in which you pick a team from a semi-random selection of players and compete in a short series of matches using that team. It’s a refreshing change of pace from regular UT, particularly as you get to use players that would otherwise be too pricey.

The catch is that it costs 15,000 coins (about 6-8 hours of play time) for every time you want to play this mode. It’s the same problem that the rest of Ultimate Team has; you earn coins at such a slow rate that you’re forced to use the microtransactions if you want to make reasonable progress.

Ultimate Team, and its new Draft Mode are great fun if you have plenty of time or disposable income. If you have neither, you’ll find it way too much of a grind.

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FIFA 16 is a brilliantly presented and very accessible football sim, but it’s slow, scrappy gameplay makes it an exercise in frustration for fans of FIFA 15’s exciting, end-to-end goal-fests. If you’re new to football games, you may still find plenty to love, but for long-time FIFA veterans, it might be time to take a stroll out of your comfort zone and give PES 2016 a try.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

  • Defenders are smarter.
  • Midfield battle is now just that.
  • Slower gameplay can be offset using sliders (offline only)
  • Career mode training feature useful for levelling up players.
  • Game now matches the pace of real football matches.
  • Great presentation.
  • Women’s teams offer a different and fun style of play.
  • Gameplay feels slow and lethargic, as do the players.
  • FUT Draft Mode just another EA microtransaction scheme.
  • Slide tackling still useless.
  • Referee decisions appear random at times.
  • New passing and dribbling features not very useful.
  • Cheap and lazy approach to difficulty settings.
  • Not nearly enough women’s teams.

Review Score 6

Reviewed on PlayStation 4