Rock Band 4 – A New Era of Rhythm Gaming

Plastic instruments around the world have been slowly working their way into people’s garages and lofts for the last couple of years, ever since the great rhythm game boom slowly died off and became stagnant. It was a great time, I owned many of the games and practically had an orchestra’s worth of pretend instruments, which saw hundreds of hours of usage between me and my friends when we were having house parties, or just kicking back with a few beers.

Now it seems those good times of jamming with your friends are back, for what feels like something of a reunion tour and hopefully not the last one. Harmonix is back with Rock Band 4, with new songs, new instruments and given the few years it has been since the last one, a new audience to entice into the rhythm game market.

There’s a notable omission from the game this time around, however, as there is a lack of online multiplayer, which is a big issue for those who live far from their friends. On the plus side, this game is locked and loaded for local co-op gaming, allowing you and your friends to play drums and guitars, as well as sing vocals. Whether or not online multiplayer being missing is a deal breaker for you will vary, but for me, it’s not a feature I would be using. The game is missing a few small features, but all that could change in the near future, as Harmonix has made it no secret that they’re using the base game as a content platform, with new features, songs and who knows what else coming through various updates, with several in the works already.

Setting up the instruments is easy enough, as they’re all intuitive as far as where all the components go and as a bonus, you’ll find batteries included, as all instruments bar the microphone are wireless. The drum controller has been massively updated, although it still keeps the look and shape you’ll be familiar with. It’s more responsive, durable and from what I can tell, a little quieter too! The pads are velocity sensitive, the kick pedal is durable and has a responsive spring that makes it feel natural and as a nice bonus, the included sticks are of a very nice quality; they’ll feel right at home in the hands of anyone who’s played a real drum kit.

The guitar looks stunning, a Stratocaster copy with dual neck buttons. The first five at the top of the neck, the rest above the 12th fret area for some solo and tapping action; if you’re feeling adept enough. I’ve been a Guitar Hero veteran for years and I can still hear the squeaky and clicky strum bar in my nightmares. Those days are gone, the MadCatz guitar is super quiet, and the buttons have a really nice action that’s forgiving for those who don’t hit them dead-center. Put simply, the partnership between Harmonix and MadCatz has paid off really well, as the instruments are the best this sector of the market has ever seen and they’re an absolute joy to use.

Gameplay on Rock Band 4 is right where you would expect it to be, somehow everything is new and tweaked, but at the core, it still feels like the same old game. This is a good thing and a bad thing, those looking for a new dynamic will like the new improvisation sections, but at the end of it all, it’s the same core game we came to know and love in the past. The song selection is quite diverse, offering everything from System of a Down to Uptown Funk (like we’ve not had enough of that one already), but there’s enough in there for the music lovers and the karaoke addicts to blunder their way through and keep people entertained. Of course, there’s also a huge library of legacy songs, as well as DLC tracks that are already coming thick and fast, so there’s going to be no shortage to stuff to play anytime soon.

View the complete song list here and view the complete list of legacy song here

The main “quest” if you will is entertaining enough to warrant a play through, but doesn’t span the difficulty levels as well as previous games in the series. On the plus side, you can swap instruments and even difficulty levels mid-song, meaning you’re less inclined to quit the song when things go wrong. The higher difficulties are a hell of a challenge and a lot of fun, but those wanting something more authentic can invest in the Pro Cymbal kit which launches later this year, as this will unlock Pro mode for the drums.

What this game really lacks though it big hitting tracks, sure there are a few great bands, but they’re not usually the “hits” of their respective albums. This is likely due to most of the best songs being done already with previous entries in the series, but it’s still no excuse. The DLC and more so the legacy library does patch that up nicely, but there’s still no excuses for having two U2 songs here by any measure.

Overall, great fun, incredible new instruments and a good selection of fun to play tracks to get you started. It doesn’t feel as fresh as I was hoping, but with more songs on the way, the drum cymbal add-on now available for pre-order and the promise of plenty of updates to the core game, this is still the best entry in the Rock Band franchise to date and it’s going to be a big contender this holiday season. If you’re looking to get back into rhythm gaming, you’ll not find anything better.

Rock Band 4 – Band in a Box comes with the guitar, microphone, drums and the game for $249.99, while the Triple Cymbal Expansion Kit will set you back an additional $49.99. The standalone game with the guitar is just $129.99. In the UK, the Band in a Box is £219.99, the Guitar and game is £109.99 and the drum cymbals are £39.99.

Pros

  • Exceptional quality instruments
  • All songs available to play without completing main quest
  • Drop in – drop out gameplay
  • Good range of musical styles available
  • Huge DLC library
  • Expandable drum kit
  • Virtually silent guitar

Cons

  • No online multiplay

Neutral

  • Drums expansion kit not available at launch
  • DLC prices can quickly add up to a small fortune, but with licencing rights, this is understandable
  • Not as many big hits in the base game as previous entries in the series

“Rock Band 4 is the best entry in the series so far, with the best instruments ever to bless rhythm gaming and a huge library of songs available to choose from. If you’re looking for the ultimate party game, this is it!”

 

 

Should You Build Your Own Steambox?

Introduction


Steambox has been a topic of much debate in the PC gaming community, promising a more gamer-centric PC experience, removing the need for the Windows operating system by providing you with a free alternative, while also bringing PC gaming into the casual mainstream, much like consoles, only a lot better.

It’s been an ambition of mine to buy a Steambox, simply because “why not” and while that’s all good and well, there’s not really a lot of options out there that I’m happy with. A few system integrators have released beta-systems, but what I would like to call a “final product” still seems to be sitting on the horizon. What if we could simply do it ourselves? A Steambox is just a PC with a fancy Linux Distro installed on it anyway…

I’ve picked out a few choice components to build my own Steambox, nothing crazy expensive or overly powerful, but more than enough to provide good 1080p gaming performance. I’m sure many of you love to bash consoles from time to time, so we’ll just round that up with “it’s going to be more powerful than consoles.”

GTA V – The Way It’s Meant to Be Played – 4K and Nvidia Shield

Introduction


In September 2013, Grand Theft Auto V finally hit our screens, albeit via the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, consoles that I loved playing on, but which were kept as a lead platform for far longer than they should have been. They weren’t incredibly powerful systems to begin with and time wasn’t kind to them. The buffed up release on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sure looked pretty, but they still weren’t the way I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto V, not even close.

The PC release of the game was a mystery for so long, but I kept my faith. I was sure that it will be happening and it comes as little shock that I was right on the money. The only downside to the PC release was that it took so much longer than the console editions to be released. I’ve stuck to my guns and since the original console release, I haven’t played a single minute of GTA V, I don’t know the story and the only things I have seen of the gameplay are funny videos that get posted to YouTube and Reddit.

So why did I wait so long? The promise of 4K gaming, frame rates that are at least above 30, increased texture detail, longer draw distances, mods and the multitude of other graphics enhancements that PC gaming provides us. On top of that, I love my Nvidia Shield and use it to stream games around my house, the prospect of playing GTA V on a tablet while laid in bed is just too tempting. The prospect of playing it streamed to my big screen TV in 1080p at 60FPS with the graphics dialed up to ultra, even more so.

Get Your Old Rig Gaming Ready on a Tight Budget

Introduction


Have you been looking at the latest graphics cards, then looking at your own PC and thinking you’ve got a gutless gaming rig? I know the feeling, the new cards can be very tempting, at least until you check your bank balance and remember you’re not rich. High-end hardware is great, but do you really need a $1000 Titan X to enjoy your favourite games? Nope. If you’re thinking that your current system is a little outdated, that you need to upgrade the whole thing to be able to enjoy the latest games, you’re wrong and I’m going to prove it.

Now I will admit, if you have a good bit of money saved up to replace your entire rig, go for it, it’ll be awesome. However, if your budget is limited and your system needs a new lease of life, we’re going to see how much improvement you can get for a modest investment of just £300 (approx $440 US)!

I’ll be starting out with a rather humble system, which features the hardware listed below, which I think you’ll agree is pretty unremarkable by today’s standards. The motherboard is an overclocking board, but we’ll be running at stock clocks to help better simulate an under powered system, it just happens to be the most suitable board I had at the time.

  • Dual-core i3 4330 3.5GHz
  • MSI GTX 560 Ti 1GB graphics card
  • ADATA 8GB 1600Mhz Memory 11-11-11-28
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97N Motherboard
  • Western Digital 500GB Hard Drive 7200RPM
  • Silverstone Kublai KL06 Chassis
  • Seasonic 600W 80+ Bronze PSU
  • CoolerMaster Gemini Low-Profile CPU cooler

I’ll be upgrading the system with the following components, then benchmarking it in some popular applications to compare how much the performance improves.

All prices correct at the time of writing.

As you can see, there’s nothing exciting about this system. Perhaps a couple of years ago, a system of this specification may have raised an eyebrow a little, but perhaps not so much today.

No SSD here, just a standard and rather well aged mechanical hard drive, so expect boot times to be enough to go and make a coffee.

The GPU has had a hard life, it’s actually the one we used to use for chassis reviews, so there’s are a few bumps and scrapes, but it’s still in perfect working order.

I’ve already benchmarked the system with this setup and we’ll get to the scores for that very soon, so let’s install our new Ballistix Sport memory, which has tighter timings than the old kit, it won’t be much, but it should give us that extra edge for very little investment.

The Crucial BX100, an absolutely incredible bargain at under £60 ($88 US); this will no doubt have a huge impact on the systems performance.

I’ll be using the new ASUS GTX 960 STRIX 2GB card for my upgrade.

It’s certainly one of the nicest GTX 960’s on the market right now and while I’m expecting great performance gains, it’s also aesthetically pleasing, so should provide a nice visual upgrade too!

The card also features more video outputs than the 560 Ti, giving you greater connectivity options.

It also features a nice back plate and only required a single 6-pin power connector vs the dual 6-in required by the GTX 560 Ti.

 

New components all installed, which only took about ten minutes to get them out of their respective boxes and plugged in.

The GTX 960 looking great!

Our new BX100 SSD.

Finally, the new Ballistix Sport memory.

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee New ‘n’ Tasty PC Review

Given that Abe’s Oddysee has been out for many years on the PlayStation 1 and since then, many Sony services as a digital download, albeit in its original PlayStation 1 format, this game isn’t exactly new by many standards. I loved the original game when it first came out and spent many evenings trying to solve its masterful puzzle sections and interacting with its colourful inhabitants. This game is one of the best efforts in the history of platform gaming, but how does it stand up in a modern gaming environment?

Almost nine months after the PlayStation 4 release, the PC version of the game is finally here and, of course, there’s also an Xbox One version on its way very soon. While the words Remastered or HD Edition get thrown around a lot these days, the developers at Just Add Water have gone above and beyond with this edition. This isn’t a simple texture re-buff, with a bit of a lighting tweak – the whole game has been remade from the ground up to take full advantage of modern gaming hardware.

The games iconic landscapes and 2D scenes have been rendered in detailed 3D, giving the game a stunning level of visual depth that simply wasn’t there with the pixel heavy original. This is still every bit a 2D side scrolling game, but the world just looks a lot more alive now than it ever did in the original. The same can be said about the inhabitants, from Abe, to the Sligs, characters models are vastly improved throughout. While the bulk of the animations are still what you would expect, leaving the game playing just like it did in the original, it really is a sight to behold as it flexes its new appreciation for high polygon counts. The game uses the Unity game engine, making majestic use of modern lighting techniques, high-resolution textures, particle effects and a whole lot more. It even supports 4K resolutions; which looks incredible if you’ve got a compatible monitor.

Much like the animation and controls, the sounds of the game have remained faithful to their originals, although cleaned up and improved vs their lower bit rate originals. Abe still has all his usual quirks and voice commands which you can use to interact and influence the other characters of the game world. From the simple “Hello” to the even more iconic *fart* noises; this part of the game is every bit as fun as it used to be.

New graphics, new sound are one thing, but another subtle yet hugely impactful tweak to the game, is that the page flipping has been removed in favor of a player tracking camera. This makes the game world feel much bigger and a lot more fluid than before; it’s a real game changer. It doesn’t take away from the feel of the original game, but it does make it more pleasant to play overall.

If you’ve played the original, this is the same game, from start to finish, it’s every bit the iconic game you once remembered, it just looks and feels many times better. If you haven’t played the original, what you’ll find here is one of the best platform gaming experiences ever created. A simple, yet rather deep story about Abes escape from a factory where they’re turned into slaves and as Abe soon discovers, they’re soon to be turned into food. You’ll make and lose friends along the way, you’ll interact with both friend and foe using the games intuitive action systems and you’ll find some fantastic, albeit not to taxing, puzzles to solve. The one thing that will keep you coming back for more, is trying to complete the game with a 100% success rate, as not all of your attempts to free the other slaves will be successful the first time around. Although I must admit the improved checkpoint system, as well as the ability to save and load whenever you want, can go a long way to improving your success rate.

I wish more developers would go above and beyond with their HD remasters, remakes, re-releases or whichever term you prefer. The visual overhaul here is impressive, but it’s the little attentions to detail that help make this the best Abe game to date, while remaining extremely faithful to the original release. It’s good enough to buy now, although the more patient of you would certainly want to add it to your Steam Wish List in time for any upcoming sales.

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee New ‘n’ Tasty PC Review

Pulsetense Games – Solarix Beta Preview

If you’re a fan of games like Thief and System Shock 2, perhaps even a little Deus Ex, then you’re going to be very interested in the debut title from Pulsetesnse Games; Solarix. It’s amazing to see the game reach this stage after the game unfortunately didn’t reach its Kickstarter goal. The team pushed on with zero budget, still managed to secure AAA voice actors and are showing no signs of slowing down their development progress.

The game dives head first into the Sci-Fi FPS genre, which in all fairness has been done to death time and time again by many other games, but modern games tend to focus heavily on the run and gun scenario. Solarix slows the pace considerably, going back to the steady searching, finding your way around your environment and generally putting you as a fragile victim than the Hollywood hero. The game favours stealth over action and while I’m sure many of you love the gun-toting action, Solarix uses a light meter mechanic to help you lurk in the shadows and evade your foes.

The game has a dark and eerie vibe about it. The levels are littered with dimly lit corridors, steam vents, lights behind slow moving fans. Pretty much all the clichés you would expect, but they’re all very well executed and really set the tone for the game very well. Think the movie Event Horizon with the grime of Gears of War and you’re half way there.

The game is in beta stage, so I did notice quite a few bugs along my way. Clunky scenery that occasionally stopped me in my tracks, enemies AI sending them into a minor fit when walking around objects and so on, but the game isn’t finished, so they’re allowed to have a few collision detection problems at this stage. However, it’s easy to look past the issues and soak up the games environment, at least until the pretty lethal enemies spot you lurking under a spotlight and come down on you with unrelenting force. Keep in mind, you’re a humble electrical engineer, you’re fighting for your life, your fellow crew are dead from infection and guess what? It’s down to you to contain what’s left – a mixture of freaked out people with guns and your own survival requirements; your best weapon right now is disabling lights to create dark hiding spots.

It’s easy to get lost in Solarix, most notably because it doesn’t hold your hand and feed turn-by-turn directions to you every two seconds; figure things out yourself! This much I love, I’m tired of waypoint markers mucking up my adventures and while you may find yourself backtracking a lot, the open-ended level design is a welcome throwback to the FPS games of the 90’s.

There’s not really a lot else to say about the game right now. I could pick holes in it, as there are a few rough textures, some of the shaders are not fantastic right now and there are a few control glitches that creep up frequently, but that would be like complain a car didn’t drive correctly after it was half built; this is an early beta after all!

This game has a lot of potential and for fans of stealthy sci-fi thriller games, there’s little else on the horizon to whet your appetite. I can’t wait to see what this game looks like in the near future when a little more polish has been put into it, the bugs fixed and of course, when it sees a full release. The game supports 2K resolutions at the moment and I even got 4K working via the console commands, which looks absolutely stunning!

The story is cool, the setting is classic and the atmosphere is thick – this is shaping up to be a great game indeed. A little birdie tells me there are some very exciting things in store for Solarix, which I’ll gladly share with you once I know I’m allowed to, so stay tuned!

Solarix is due for release in “early 2015”. You can find out more on the official Solarix Steam page.

SteamBox – Building Your Own HTPC Gaming System

Introduction


There has been a lot of talk in the last year about SteamBox, but at the end of 2014, very little, if anything was shown that really brought this into the hands of consumers. There’s a few systems from system integrators such as iBuyPower and CyberPower that are designed “like” a SteamBox, but Valve have yet to put their official units to market.

Now let’s not get carried away, because chances are that you’re reading this article from a PC, or that you at least own a PC. If you own a PC, congratulations! You own a SteamBox. All SteamBox is, is some clever marketing for a gaming PC, the main difference being the operating system. Valve have been working on their own version of Linux that essentially boots to Steam instead of a normal desktop, much in the same way an Xbox One boots to a dashboard rather than Windows; this is something you can achieve yourself.

I want to game on the big screen!

If you’re eager to break away from your desk and start gaming in the living room, or any other room of the house for that matter, then you’ve likely been enticed by the SteamBox concept. The HTPC gaming system market is booming right now and while there are great systems out there, it can be great fun building your own.

You’ll need to pick the right hardware for your budget, while also trying to balance things such as system heat and acoustics; this rig is going to be in your living room after all. Fortunately, we’ve already tested a bunch of chassis’ for this very task, which you can check out here in our Best Chassis For Steambox feature. Today, let’s see if we can get plenty of bang for our buck with a budget of around £800.

VR Gaming: Building Your Own Oculus Rig

Introduction


I’ve had my Oculus Rift VR Headset, more specifically the DK2, for several months now, but one question keeps coming back time and time again, what kind of system do you need to run VR software? It’s a very tricky question to ask and one that’s typically a little more complicated than putting together a normal gaming rig, but let’s see if I can help.

The first thing that you need to be aware of is the absolute minimum recommended specifications from Oculus Rift for the DK2 headset. While these are easily attainable, keep in mind they’re for the minimum level of performance on basic applications and are likely to be worthless in a few months time, as I’m guessing DK3 will be upon us in mid 2015.

Q: What are the minimum requirements and recommended specifications for the Oculus Rift Development Kit 2?

A: Minimum requirements: A computer running a Windows 7 or Windows 8, Mac OS 10.8 or higher, or Ubuntu 12.04 LTS operating system, 2 USB ports (at least one powered), and a DVI-D or HDMI graphics output.

Recommended specifications: A desktop computer running a dedicated graphics card with DVI-D or HDMI graphics output, with capability of running current generation 3D games at 1080p resolution at 75fps or higher.

Typically you’ll find that most of you are running Windows 7 or above, Mac OS 10.8 or a recent Linux distro, if you’re OS is not up to speed, then that’s the first thing you need to update. I’m running a fully updated Windows 7 Pro, so that’s that part covered.

The next issue will be graphics card/s, these need to have a DVI-D or HDMI display output, preferably both or one of each, a single output will cause you a world of problems that I’ll get to later. Since you’re likely looking at gaming via the Oculus Rift, you’re going to have to tackle on of the most important issues with 3D gaming and VR; graphics processing power. You need a fast card to enjoy many of the latest VR games and you can easily benchmark the performance of your current hardware to see how it may hold up. I recommend you download something like Unigine Heaven, if you can get that running at medium to high settings with a frame rate around or above 100fps, you’re going to be just fine and if you can hit 150fps with these settings, you’re on easy street. While Oculus Rift only needs a steady 75FPS for optimal performance, this is rendered in 3D and is reflective of rendering everything twice; hence the 100fps+ 2D benchmark.

I scored 168fps and I could see the average was well above 100fps while running the benchmark. How does your rig compare?

What if your system cannot meet that level of graphics performance? Plain and simple, you’re going to have to upgrade your rig, or only use DK2 demos that have less demanding requirements, which doesn’t leave you with a lot of options. I was running the Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti prior to getting Oculus Rift, which would have skimmed by on a minimum level with graphics turned right down, but I decided to go one, no wait, two better than that; I bought a pair of Sapphire R9 280X Tri-X Vapor-X 3GB graphics cards.

Nvidia Grid Review: Cloud Gaming at its Finest

Introduction


The latest Nvidia Shield update launched recently, bringing the Tegra powered tablet up to version 2.0 and adding Google’s latest Android operating system, Lollipop 5.0. While there were many new features, tweaks and other improvements to the general operation of the tablet with these updates, the most important one for Nvidia was the addition of their GRID gaming service.

GRID has been available in an early Beta format for some time now, but with the servers based in California, lag time for me in the UK rendered the service unplayable. Now that Nvidia has brought their EU Beta servers online, all that has changed and Nvidia have been working hard to give the service an almighty speed boost.

What is GRID? It’s essentially Netflix for gaming. You pick the title you want to play and the Nvidia super computers remotely run the game for you. Nvidia do all the heavy graphics processing for you on their high-end graphics hardware, then stream the video to your device, just like you would stream a movie. When ever you press a button on your controller, they fire that information back to their servers and stream the data back to you. This all happens in milliseconds, assuming of course that your internet is up to par with such a technology. Nvidia recommends 10mbps internet with a ping time of around 30ms to their servers.

All the screenshots below are taken directly from my Nvidia Shield. Here you can see the updated version of Nvidia Shield Hub. This is a portal app that gives you access to all your android games, PC in-home streaming and GRID games.

The GRID page has a range of games to choose, currently there are 20 top titles at your disposal.

All the games listed are big hitters and Nvidia are celebrating their Beta phase by keeping this service free of charge until March 2015.

That means you’ve got a few months ahead of you to help them test the service; just enough time to complete all the games for free?

There’s a good mixture of driving games, 3rd personal action/adventure, first person shooters and even fighting games.

That’s all the games we have available, now it’s time to put some of them to the test.

The Best Oculus Rift Experiences You Can Enjoy Right Now

Introduction


Oculus Rift is easily one of the coolest pieces of technology that I’ve ever owned. I personally own their DK2 headset, which is certainly not ready for general consumer consumption, but that doesn’t mean to say it can’t still be a lot of fun. I’m not the only early adopter out there and I’m sure I won’t be the last, especially given that the consumer model could be another year away from release.

Oculus demos, games and other types of software are steadily streaming onto the internet, many of them completely free of charge. Most developers haven’t even had their DK2 headset any longer than I have, but many of them have already produced some truly stunning experiences.

This article is obviously best suited for those who already own an Oculus Rift, or at least those who have ordered one and are eagerly awaiting its delivery. If you would love to know more about the technology, then you can check out our featured review here, or our game review/DK2 setup guide here.

Driveclub PlayStation 4 Review – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Driveclub has been one of the most anticipated PlayStation 4 games since before the console even launched. The game was delayed by nearly a year after the consoles release, which may have done more harm than good. Gamers wanted this game at launch, especially since I know of a few people who purchased a PlayStation 4 just for this game. Driveclub was supposed to have a freemium edition on PlayStation Plus that gave you a bunch of tracks and cars as part of your PSN subscription, that version has yet to surface.

So what has been done in this extra year of development time? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure. The game still doesn’t have the PlayStation Plus edition and several aspects of the game launched broken. What we have is a launch game that completely missed its window of opportunity.

The game looks fantastic, it has to be said that the developers have really put in the tool time on the game engine. Cars look stunning, the locations look equally as good and engine noises rip and roar throughout well enough to excite any petrol head. The level of detail on the sky box alone is impressive, with day and night cycles through some of the races that are incredibly to watch. It’s just a shame the developers put little to no effort into the sound track, which is a mixture of forgetful drum and bass and ambient techno. It’s so bad, the game comes with the in-race music volume defaulted to 0%; they’ve missed the opportunity to unify the racing and visuals with the dreary nonsense they’ve dubbed over it.

There are a number of modes available, with all the usual hits such as races, time trial and skill competitions that you can compete in. The game rewards you for precision driving through its Fame Bar, which is basically just EXP. Take a corner well, don’t hit the barriers, drafting behind other drivers, over taking; these will all earn you fame. Bump another car, scuff the sides of the road and you’ll lose points; it’s a simple, but effective method of tracking your progress. Personally, I think simply crossing the finish line first is an even better indication.

The social features could be better, but they’re a lot of fun when they work. You can join a “club” with up to six people, and your club can compete in challenges online. This earns you fame for your club as well as your driver, allowing you to unlock new cars and other bonuses. The challenges are a bit of a re-hash of the main single player challenges, but with an added leaderboard element; not the social revolution we were expecting, but it adds replay value to the game.

For a game that praises precision driving, it’s unclear why the games AI don’t strive for the same perfection. AI drivers will regularly shunt you for no reason and you still get docked fame for them hitting you. What’s worse is your accelerator cuts out for a five second penalty when you cut corners or drive improperly, only leaving the shunt happy AI with an ever bigger advantage over you. This is further burdened by the games whimsical approach to collision detection between the car and other road obstacles.

The Good

The game looks stunning and sounds fantastic (so long as you leave the music off). As far as great driving experiences go, they’ve got a few of the basics right. The cars handle well and there’s a good range of cars and tracks to choose from.

The Bad

The music is completely uninspiring given the games high-action themes. There are AI glitches as well as collision detection systems that penalize you constantly for not being able to maintain a clean race; often no fault of your own. The online features fall way short of their expectations; this was supposed to be a social game and it’s anything but. There are no car settings to adjust, no performance tuning or anything; this is a driving sim in arcade clothing.

The Ugly

The game was significantly delayed, the PlayStation plus edition was also delayed and as far as I can tell, the whole thing needed to be delayed even further. Developers are often criticised for rushing a games release, but even with extra time it seems that Evolution Studios have missed the mark on this one.

At its core, I enjoyed the game as I do love a gorgeous looking racing title. However, I doubt I would be happy going out and paying £40 for it anytime soon. The biggest disappointment for me is that this game came from the same people who created the PlayStation 3 MotorStorm, which was and still is one of the greatest arcade style racers out there; so what went wrong?

One more thing

Because of the games less than favourable launch. Evolution Studios are dishing out free DLC packs called “Ignition” and “Photo Finish Tour”. This adds five new cars, 22 new your events, 10 trophies and 10 livery items. The game may still have issues, but this does soften the blow and show that the developers are willing to make amends. Perhaps in a few months time when the game has come down in price and a few more patches have tweaked some of the issues, Driveclub will be worth revisiting.

Oculus Rift Configuration Guide – Simulation Gaming

Introduction


The Oculus Rift is one of the hottest gadgets on the tech market right now. Sure the hardware isn’t ready for consumers just yet, but we’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on the Oculus Rift DK2 (Development Kit 2). We already reviewed the basic hardware and features of the Oculus Rift, but also I want to take a more in-depth look into some of the experiences available on the rift; starting with Simulation style games.

Many of you will have an image of plug and play features that allow you to strap an Oculus Rift to your face then start gaming, unfortunately that’s currently not the reality. Setting up games for the Oculus Rift can be a hit and miss experience, hopefully I can help smooth out a few of these issues for you. This article is as much a review for those thinking about investing in the technology, as it is an Oculus Rift configuration guide for those who already own it.

Simulation-style games are a big market for PC gaming, so I’ve picked out a few of my favourites (that also have VR support). Of course, Star Conflict isn’t exactly a common sim-game, but there aren’t exactly rules excluding it.

  • Star Conflict
  • Assetto Corsa
  • Life for Speed (LFS)
  • Euro Truck Simulator 2

Helping me in my gaming adventures, I will be using the follow extra hardware.

Essential Oculus Rift Setup Advice

If you experience judder or low fps, drop your games graphics settings down to low. If the game runs smoothly at this point, you know it’s your graphics settings and not the DK2 hardware. If you have judder at low settings you know the problem is with a different part of your setup. It’s often also good to start games with AA and AF disabled, enable them later if the game is running smooth. I can’t stress enough how much easier it is to just get the basics working first then build from there.

Go into your GPU configuration software, this will typically be Catalyst Control Centre or Nvidia Control Panel. Set all major graphics options to “let the application decide”. This is especially important for AA and AF settings. For most games you will need V-SYNC as “let the application decide”, but some games don’t detect this properly. If your game is experiencing judder, force VSYNC on and try again, else force off and try again. Some games have their own ways of handing VSYNC and conflicts can and will occur.

If your game is still not running smoothly, go to the GPU control panel, switch your desktop display to 75Hz (if it supports it). If you can’t do this at your current resolution, this will likely drop your monitors resolution lower to one that will support 75Hz (my monitor drops to 1280 x 1024). This will prevent VSYNC from confusing the DK2 as both the DK2 and your desktop will now be running at the same refresh rate (75Hz).

Multi GPU configurations have also been known to cause stutter, albeit in very rare circumstances. If nothing else works, try running the game on a single GPU.

Be sure to adjust your IPD, lens distance and lens type accordingly prior to use. These can make a vast improvement to the overall visual quality, but they will not have any effect on the frame rate of your game, just the overall visual quality.

I find that it is worth disabling GeForce Experience and AMD Gaming Evolved software. These programs are tailored to adjust your graphics settings to get the best performance and quality, which may overwrite the settings you’ve used to configure your games for the DK2.

All testing was done with the Oculus 0.4.3 SDK. Please make sure you have the latest graphics drivers and all updates installed for your games prior to trying to replicate any settings in this article.

Nvidia Shield Tablet Android 5.0 Lollipop Review

Introduction


The Nvidia Shield Tablet has already landed many awards for being a great gaming tablet, I myself reviewed it just a few weeks ago and absolutely loved it! However, not all of the features were ready from day one and Nvidia have been working hard to bring the latest Android 5.0 update to their powerful tablet.

The Shield Tablet is already packed full of features, as you can see from the chart below. The new update not only updates the OS, but paves the way for even more features in the near future.

The most notable coming-soon feature is certainly Nvidia GRID, which will be launching in the EU next month when the new servers are brought online. We actually covered a lot of information on GRID recently, which you can read here. To celebrate the new updates, Nvidia are bringing even more entertainment to their already feature packed device with The Green Box Bundle. The bundle contains Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and Portal, which will run natively on the Shield Tablets mighty Tegra K1 processor. You can expect us to fully review the performance of that gaming bundle in the very near future.

Android 5.0 has been a long time coming, but owners of the Shield Tablet will be able to download the new OS from today! So time to get your tablets out and see what all the fuss is about. Which is exactly what I’m about to do right now!

Ryse: Son of Rome PC: It’s Boring but Here’s Why You Should Still Buy It

Crytek have had a fair streak of bad luck in recent months, especially with Ryse: Son of Rome bombing hard on Xbox One. The lackluster sales didn’t help their financial troubles at all and to help give them a boost, they ported Ryse over to PC. Given that the Xbox One hardware is very similar to PC, porting it should have been relatively simple. It’s also worth noting that Crytek don’t do lazy ports, something that is evident with the extended graphics features available in the PC release of Ryse; such as 4K resolution support.

Now I want to get something clear right from the start of this review, the game is a bit dull and repetitive. This isn’t exactly breaking news for Crytek or most consumers, as the game has been reviewed hundreds of times on the Xbox One and it didn’t fare too well in the gameplay department. So why bother porting it at all you ask? The graphics.

Impressive graphics don’t make a game better, there is no doubt about that. Gameplay should certainly be the primary focus for almost every developer. Forgetting this rule would be like Ferrari creating their best looking car, but leaving it with the performance and handing of a potato. It’s not that the gameplay here isn’t entertaining, but it does get a little repetitive fairly quickly. The combat revolves around some thinly disguised quick time event system that requires you to defend against two kinds of attack, heavy and light. Heavy attacks can be dodged with a quick barrel roll, light attacks can be defended with your shield; God of War this is not.

To attack your enemies you simply need to parry their attack, but they come at a fairly relaxed pace and the window for a parry is very wide. You would have to be incredibly slow to respond to onscreen events to ever miss one. Take a few chunks out of your enemy and you can hit the shoulder button on your controller. Doing this brings you into the QTE style mode. Your enemy will flash a sequence of blue and yellow, in relation to the colours of the Xbox controller buttons. Hit the colour that the enemy flashes and you’ll see your soldier hacking limbs off in incredible style. Hit the wrong buttons with poor timing and the same thing still happens, leaving you wondering why you’re bothering to try to get it right at all. Long story short, combat is simple at best.

The story is very linear too, walk down the blatantly obvious route to your objectives, fighting enemies along the way. There are a few objects to climb over, a few buttons or actions to press. Like the combat, the items and objectives in question flash the corresponding colour of the button you need to press to activate them, leaving nothing to the imagination and taking away all chances for exploration. Actually, that’s about as much of the gameplay as I want to discuss, because as linear and repetitive as it is, I still found myself entertained enough to keep playing. The game is very well presented throughout and while it is on rails for the duration of the game, it still puts on a great show. The addition of a combat arena mode certainly expands on the game and gives you a few extra hours of gameplay to rip through after the games’ main story.

So Peter, why on earth should I still buy this game on PC? The graphics, it’s really as simple as that. This is the best looking game I’ve seen in a very long time. I said before that graphics don’t make a game better. However, I think that Ryse may very well be an exception to that rule. This is a mediocre game in ultra-high definition packaging. Crytek is legendary for their CryEngine technology and if Ryse serves one purpose, it’s to flex the might of their GPU melting game engine in all its glory. It feels like a promo for other developers on why they should use CryEngine.

Ryse comes with support for UHD/4K resolutions, super sampling and all the special effect bells and whistles you can imagine. If you want to max out Ryse, you’re going to need to invest in a very powerful gaming rig and to put that into perspective I’m going to share my system specifications.

  • Intel Core i5 3570K @4.6 Ghz
  • 2 x Sapphire 29 280X Tri-X Vapor-X OC 3GB graphics cards (CrossFire)
  • 8GB Kingston Xpredator 2400 MHz DDR3 (2x4GB)

This is enough gaming power to run any game at max. Yet Ryse really takes the wind out of my systems sails pretty quickly. With super sampling enabled the game slows right down to sub 30fps territory and sub 10fps more often than not. So I guess my rig won’t be running it at 4K! Even at 1080p this game is a graphical tour de force. When you’ve got a screen that is filled with incredibly detailed enemies running around, with stunning lighting effects shining over their polished armour, you’re going to wish you saved up for a pair of GTX 980 cards.

Is this game worth the full retail price? No not really, I would certainly advise you to wait for a Steam sale or something similar. If you have a high-end gaming rig and you want to see what it can really do, Ryse is the perfect weapon for opening up the taps and seeing how hard you can push your graphics card. Your eyes will be in for a real treat.

The game is mindless fun at the best of times, but it lacks depth to its gameplay. If the gameplay team was staffed with people half as dedicated as the people who designed the games scenery, this would be a truly stunning game. Here’s hoping Ryse 2 (if there ever is one) addresses these issues. The concept is sound, but they really need to give the player more freedom and choice.

Ryse: Son of Rome is currently available via Steam for £34.99

Thank you Premiercomms for providing us with this sample.

The Last of Us: Remastered PlayStation 4 Review

The last of Us has proven to be one of the last generations crowning achievements since it launch in mid 2013. It had been a while since the team at Naughty Dog had departed from the much-loved Uncharted series and while it did borrow some elements from that series, it really pushed the limits of story telling in a market that has rapidly become a combination of cut-scene riddled corridor shooters and generic quest open world titles.

The game went on to sell over 7 million copies in its first year, which is hardly a surprise given that the game got a vast amount of 9/10 to 10/10 scores from the mainline gaming media and many independent review sources. Now the developers at Naughty Dog are back once again to re-release the game and likely hope that most of those 7 million customers are eager enough to buy the game all over again. Sounds silly, but I’ve been eager to replay this game for months and the promise of massively improved graphics, 60fps frame rates and a solid 1920 x 1080 resolution meant I chose to wait a little longer and spend a little extra to play this game again in all its glory, and I suspect I’m not the only one.

The game is still every bit the great game it was, none of the core elements have been changed. I could whittle on and review these aspects, but in all honestly this is ground already well trodden in literally countless reviews, including the one I wrote myself!

“The game is well crafted, the story is simply mind-blowing and it’s got a musical score and direction on par with a blockbuster movie. While some games fail to strike the balance of story and gameplay, The Last of Us delivers on both in one of the best executed gaming experiences I’ve had in years. I managed to get through the game in 20 hours on hard mode on my first play through, something that was no easy task, especially on the last section. You can go for a play through+ mode afterwards and progress your weapons further, but the impact of the story is lessened greatly the second time around, fortunately the thrilling gameplay loses nothing of its charm.” – Me, 1 year ago eTeknix

My opinions of the core gameplay after yet another play-through haven’t changed one bit, the game is still incredible to play through and the story is as griping as it ever was. Of course it’s not the same for those re-playing, but the impact of the story still carries a lot of weight for new comers, especially the opening sequence which I know left many a little choked up.

Aside from the core gameplay, the general experience of The Last of Us has been upgraded in a big way. The changes to the game engine are huge and even the numerous smaller details add up in a big way. On the PlayStation 3 the game used to drop below 30fps in the frantic scenes, LOD used to drop off details in the larger environments, antialiasing effects were basic, textures were colorful, but often a little on the blurry side and lighting effects were limited, these are no longer issues.

The framerate is now a smooth 60fps, I’ve noticed it drop a couple of times in the larger environments, but these moments appear to be in larger none action areas as the game streams lots of texture data and only lasts for a second or two. Interestingly the game can be locked at 30fps for those who love the “cinematic” effect this gives, but once you see a side by side and you’ve played at 60fps, you’ll realize why people kick up such a fuss about it and you’ll never look at the 30fps setting again, which is a juddery mess in comparison. LOD and antialiasing are massively improved, which is no surprise given that the game now runs at 1920 x 1080, not the 1280 x 720 it ran at on the PlayStation 3, also thanks to much faster hardware and a considerably increased memory pool for rendering. Textures are also a lot more detailed and it is safe to say that while the Last of Us was one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 3, it is now also one of the best looking on the PlayStation 4.

So there we have it, a lot of improvements big and small, but overall this really is an aesthetics thing. The game looks better than ever, the game sounds better than ever and little tweaks like using the speaker in the controller for playing back audio tapes and a few sound effects is a nice touch. Overall it’s the same game, but for fans of the original the changes here make it feel well worth playing through it all over again.

“As far as awards go, I’m sticking with my original judgement on this game, it won our editors choice award last time and that is something I stand by. For those who have yet to enjoy the game, this is the definitive edition (it even comes with the Single player and multiplayer DLC included) and well worthy of purchase for any PlayStation 4 gamer. For those who played the original, this is a superb overhaul that makes returning to the title a grand experience, but it couldn’t hurt to wait a little while longer for the price to drop before picking it up again.”

Pros

  • Massively improved graphics
  • Improved sound quality
  • All current DLC included
  • Use of the light bar and speaker on DS4 is cool

Cons

  • Paying full retail for a second time just 12 months after buying the game on PlayStation 3 does feel a little strange

Natural

  • Inclusion of a 30fps mode seems pointless but does add an interesting comparison for those confused by the FPS debate

The Last of Us PlayStation 4 Review

Thank you Sony for providing us with this sample.

Testing AMD’s Mantle: Battlefield 4, Thief and PvZ Garden Warfare

Introduction


“Mantle is Game Changing” is AMD’s tagline for their newest low-overhead API. Mantle has been in the news constantly since AMD publicly released the concept on September 26th last year in their public live stream. The biggest claim to fame of this new low-overhead API is its use in EA’s Battlefield 4 blockbuster and the support it has from EA’s famous FrostBite 3 Engine. However, what is all the fuss about? How does Mantle actually perform in practice? Why should you even care about it? These are questions we are hoping to address today.

What’s Mantle all about?

So we’ve briefly introduced Mantle as a “thing” but at a basic technical level, what is Mantle? Mantle is an API, or application programming interface, that reduces the level of CPU workload required during gaming. Mantle does this by offloading tasks traditionally done by the CPU to the GPU and by simplifying the communication between the two. Compared to DirectX, Mantle uses less CPU capacity for communication between a video game and its graphics card resources, as such CPU bottlenecks can be reduced or removed by using the Mantle API. In short Mantle is an attempt to bring “console-like” optimisations to the desktop PC platform.

Who can make use of Mantle?

The AMD Mantle API is currently only supported on AMD GCN products: that’s 28nm HD 7000 or Rx 2xx series graphics cards and Kaveri APUs at the time of writing. For Mantle to work the game must be programmed in the Mantle API. This is the main reason why AMD is working so hard to push its API among game developers; it cannot go anywhere without developer adoption. The Mantle API is currently in the closed beta stage, but upon release it will be fully open source and made available to all game developers, hardware vendors and industry figures.

What games does Mantle support?

Mantle is supported by a range of top-tier game titles, as of writing these are:

  • Battlefield 4
  • Battlefield Hardline
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • Plants Vs. Zombies Garden Warfare
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth
  • Star Citizen
  • Thief
  • Sniper Elite III

Mantle is supported by the Nitrous, Frostbite 3 and CRYENGINE game engines meaning the potential is there to expand it to many more game titles in the future that use those engines. The only three games on that list that are currently available to buy right now, with Mantle support working right now, are Battlefield 4, Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare and Thief. So you guessed it….today we are putting those three to the test.

Full details of game support can be found on AMD’s regularly updated list right here.

Why is Mantle important?

Mantle is important because it is the first significant attempt by anyone in the PC industry to dramatically reduce overhead on a graphics API. Although not specifically confirmed by Microsoft, Mantle has been one of the influential driving forces behind DirectX 12. DirectX 12 has been announced by Microsoft but is still in development. DirectX 12 will be Microsoft’s successor to DirectX 11.x and will also be a low-overhead API like Mantle. AMD claims Mantle will be easily “portable” between DX11 and DX12 so anyone who develops for Mantle now will be able to easily move to the next DirectX when it is released. As such Mantle is not an attempt to undercut the DirectX 12 API, but an attempt to fast track the development and adoption of low-overhead APIs.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0oz-EonmBw[/youtube]

Is Emulation the Best Feature of the Nvidia Shield?

Introduction


Emulation is a popular pass time for many PC gamers, and in recent year there has been a big increase in GPU horsepower in the mobile market, allowing us to enjoy many classic games on the go, not just  on our desktops. The Nvidia Shield is one of the most powerful mobile gaming devices on the market, and this is especially thanks to its Nvidia Tegra 4 GPU/CPU, which is not only capable of running many older games such as those from the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive, but also a lot more advanced 3D titles from consoles such as the Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast and more. What I hope to find out today is whether or not these games work well enough to justify using the Nvidia Shield as a dedicated emulation device.

Obviously there are some grey area legal issues when it comes to emulation, most of which focus around the piracy of compatible roms, so I feel obligated to mention that I do not condone anyone downloading games, but that there are also many other ways to obtain these games. There are tools and apps out there which let you rip games you own, and this applies to both cartridge based games as well as disc based games. Fortunately I’ve been collecting games for many years now and can use games I already own and have at my disposal, but keep in mind that you’re responsible for sourcing your own titles how you see fit, as we here at eTeknix take no responsibility for this, nor will be providing sources to where or how you can obtain the games. Boring stuff out of the way, let us get back to the action!

Getting roms configured on your Nvidia Shield, or to be honest any powerful mobile device can be a little tricky. Generally the more powerful your device, the better chances you’ll have of getting your games to run, as the task of emulating hardware can be quite demanding, especially when it comes to more modern titles such as those from the Sega Dreamcast. So while I am focusing this article on the Nvidia Shield, there is no reason why you can’t try this out on your mobile phone or tablet, so long as you think it’s powerful enough to do so.

The Nvidia Shield has a few extra tricks that make it a great choice for emulation, firstly because it has a controller built directly into it, as well as a high quality touch-screen display. You can use USB OTG to connect wired controllers such as the Xbox 360 controller, a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable to put the device into console mode and play on your big screen and more, so you’re not going to be limited to only playing this as a handheld, but virtually anywhere you want, on whichever screen you want (so long as it has Miracast or HDMI).

Today I’ll be taking a look at the Super Nintendo, Sega Megadrive, PlayStation 1, PlayStation Portable (PSP), Dreamcast and Nintendo 64. There are plenty more emulators and formats out there, but I feel the ones I have chosen cast a wide net over what is possible on mobile device emulation. Even older or less powerful systems such as Gameboy, MAME, NES and Master System generally all work from the same emulators I’ll be testing and already have widespread, proven compatibility with most mobile devices, so feel free to experiment with them at your own leisure.

Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom PlayStation 3 Review

This week I’ve been taking platforming adventure Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom for a spin on the PlayStation 3. Invizimals isn’t the biggest brand name in the gaming market, but it promises plenty of gameplay for a younger audience and some fun looking characters that caught my attention. The gaming market used to be full of titles like Invizimals, but with the popularity of titles in the Lego series, Ratchet & Clank and many others that are available on PlayStation hardware, many of the more unique and original titles have fallen into obscurity, especially in a still very FPS / online multiplayer focused market.

Created by the development team at Magenta Software, The Lost Kingdom is their first console title and it ties into the Invizimals series after the PlayStation Vita sequel Invizimals: The Alliance, focusing on the story of the alliance and renegade Extractor Industries. Taking the roll of Hiro who is sent through the Shadow Gate into a the Invizimals world, Hiro is set the task of joining forces with the creatures he encounters. To be honest, it’s all very run of the mill in terms of plot, borrowing from all the mediocre aspects of titles like Pokemon and Skylanders, but leaving out the same attention to detail and lore that has made such titles stand out on their own. The most interesting aspect of the game’s story is that cutscenes are played acted out with real people overlaid into the FMV, doing a steady job of narrating the plot as you progress, but also pretty much spelling out everything you need to do, leaving little to the imagination for those who like to work things out for themselves.

Gameplay is a little basic, ok it’s very basic, but it’s very pick up and play friendly that will no doubt appeal to a younger audience. As will the game’s story and kids TV style acting. The gameplay involves fusing your body with that of the Invizimals, unlocking the ability to perform new tricks such as climbing, swimming and various basic attacks, with the ability to switch characters on the fly to complete various tasks. However the gameplay does have a collect-a-thon aspect as you gather up Z-sparks to help level up your characters, but in the end that’s the be all end all of each level the game throws at you.

Liniar level design with only a few alternate routes from time to time mean that it’s fairly easy to find your way, which will once again appeal to those purchasing the game for a younger audience as the game is very accessible. There is a more involving Battle Mode that lets you fight it out with your best creatures, a welcome bonus, but it offers no benefit to the main story.

Graphics and presentation are reminiscent of games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Skylanders and similar explore / collect games, but the constant narration telling you everything that needs to be done, as well as how to do it, ruins the adventure and exploration aspects of the game.

The game is fundamentally a bit rubbish, but strangely still entertaining to play. It’s simple gameplay may not innovate, but the colourful characters and fairly decent voice acting are still pretty fun regardless. Those wanting a series adventure full of exploration and discovery, as well as better challenges will no doubt want to stick with tiles such as Lego Lord of the Rings or Skylanders, but for a fun and innocent game for kids to play, Invizimals has a lot going for it, especially for parents like myself who refrain from letting their younger children play titles like Call of Duty.

[youtube width=”800″ height=”450″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9cbcK5EKB8[/youtube]

“Invizimals: The Lost Kingdom lacks innovation and the gameplay is pretty basic, but colourfulpresentation and a fun, if somewhat clunky story will certainly appeal to a younger audience.”

Pros

  • Good graphics and presentation
  • Easy to pick up and play
  • Fun and entertaining characters
  • Can be picked up pretty cheap despite its recent release
  • Can be paired with the Vita release to share content
  • Battle mode adds value

Cons

  • Constant narration is like a gaming sat nav, walking you through every aspect with little or no room for working things out yourself
  • Doesn’t compare well to bigger titles like Lego and Skylanders
  • In game camera can be a little restricting at times

Best Games to Play While Sitting on the Loo with Nvidia Shield

Introduction


When it comes to gaming, we as consumers are not exactly short on options; we have games consoles, PC’s, mobile devices, dedicated handheld games consoles and many other gadgets that allow us to enjoy one of modern societies favourite pastimes. Gaming on the big screen with our consoles or Steam’s Big Picture mode, our gaming PC’s when sat at our desk, handheld games consoles and mobile devices when we’re out and about. However, let’s not forget the one feature they don’t really put on the box for our hand held systems, they’re great for playing games while sat on the loo!

Gone are the days where we could all pronounce “disodium cocoamphodiacetate” from our endless reading of the back of a shampoo bottle, these day’s we spend our time on the throne checking our emails, chatting on Facebook, reading the news and watching clips on YouTube. In fact, smart devices such as our phones are likely to blame for us all spending more time in the bathroom than we actually need to, so why not take things to the next level and find an even better entertainment device for the bathroom.

Mobile gaming is one thing, but we all know the kind of effect this has on our smartphones battery life and while Tablets offer benefits such as bigger screens, they’re often not much more powerful than high-end smartphones, so there is little innovation in the quality of the games we play on these devices. The Nvidia Shield however does offer some unique tricks that are ideal for gaming around the house, with Game Stream you’re able to let your PC do all the graphical hard work, allowing you to play games from your PC directly onto the Shield. That’s right, high end PC gaming while sat on the toilet, welcome to the future.

First lets explain Game Stream a little, because a few things need to be in place before you can take advantage of this awesome feature. First of all you’re going to need a gaming PC equipped with a 6xx series Nvidia GPU (sorry AMD fans, but this simply will not work for you), The minimum GPU is the GTX 650 or the GTX 600M matched up with something like the i3-2100 3.1GHz or AMD Athlong II X4 620 or above for 720p Game Stream, those wanting to get up to 1080p @ 60FPS video stream quality will need a GTX 660 and an i5/FX 6-Core or above to handle the video rendering and streaming efficiently. Other general stuff you’ll need is the latest GeForce Experience app on your PC as well as the latest GeForce drivers. You’ll also need a minimum of a 801.11a/g router, but an 802.11n dual band is router is recommended.

“NVIDIA uses the H.264 encoder built into GeForce GTX 650 or higher GPUs along with special streaming software integrated into GeForce experience to stream games from the PC to SHIELD over Wi-Fi with ultra-low latency. Gamers use SHIELD as the controller and display for their favourite PC games as well as for Steam Big Picture.”

Of course there are just a couple more things you’re going to need to get all this to work, an Nvidia Shield and some games on your PC to stream to it. That plus all the stuff above may sound a lot, but in reality there is a good chance that most of you reading this own a half decent gaming PC, a half decent router and a stack of games already built up in your Steam library after a few years of hoarding games from sales. So let’s get right into the good stuff and see what you could be playing while you’re on sat on the throne.

InFamous: Second Son PlayStation 4 Review

InFamous: Second Son has a lot of hype to live up to, it has long been regarded as one of this years hottest titles and even one of the most anticipated titles for Sony’s new PlayStation 4 console. Sucker Punch, the developers behind InFamous, have earned quite a solid reputation for the series, which has already proven its self to be popular and the last entries to the series on the PlayStation 3 were rather entertaining titles in their own right, unfortunately the same cannot be said about Second Son.

When I first got my hands on this game I was super excited to have more games to play on the PlayStation 4, I fired up the game and got right to it. First up is the story, which I actually found to be pretty good for a game of this type even if it does fall for many of the stereotype hero traits here and there. You play as a cool dude rebel Delsin, a lovable rouge / vandal who through an unfortunate turn of events, or fortunate dependant on how you look at it, gets turned into a power wielding super hero type. There is a continuing plot of brotherly love, respect for his heritage and some other guff, but it doesn’t take long before it starts to become the backing track to an otherwise repetitive gaming experience.

Graphics wise the game is right up there, the PlayStation 4 is an impressive machine at the best of times and visual effects, the city around you and the people who occupy it all look stunning throughout the game. There are even a few moment where you want to stop and say “oooooooooh that looks good”, easily one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 4 so far and a huge improvement since we last saw InFamous trotted out on our screens.

The gameplay mechanics are where this game falls down, don’t get me wrong, the core elements are solid enough and entertaining, but they’re overused to the point of extinction. You start with a couple of powers and gain more abilities as the game progresses. These range from being able to smoke dash through objects, glide through the air, jump super high and throw explosives, all of which allow you to dynamically scale the city and take on your enemies as you see fit.

The city looks great, your reason for being there is just and the controls and abilities make it fun to tear around bringing justice to the military presence that has taken control over the city. Unfortunately there appears to be nothing dynamic about what goes on in the city. The city is split into districts and you can run around as you see fit, take out the enemies and cameras in an area, spray a little spray tag here and there and you’ve pretty much covered every side quest the game has to offer. The main quest is pretty much the same too, with the once exciting and dynamic fights quickly falling into repetition as liberation of each district is pretty much an identical scenario. The main quest manages to lead you through a linear path despite the open-world nature of the game.

The real dynamic aspect of the game comes from how good or evil you are, help people and you’ll gain karma, lay waste to the city and you’ll lose karma. The impact of this is that you’ll learn new passive abilities if you’re good, more destructive abilities if you’re naughty, simple as that, since it has no impact on the missions or the story at all.

Repetitive enemies and quests are a dark spot on what is otherwise an entertaining action game, its writers just needed a kick in the butt to come up with something a little more imaginative in terms of plot and missions, because fundamentally all we have here is a last gen game rehashed with next-gen clothing. It can be a fun game, but I’d edge more towards renting it for a couple of days rather than paying the full retail price.

Thank you Sony for providing us with this sample.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch PlayStation 3 Review

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch has been on my “to play” list for quite some time now and while this is an effective spoiler for the rest of the review, I’m annoyed at myself for leaving it for so long! Hailing from the masterful developers at Level-5; who have created a phenomenal collection of games over the last 16 years, including the legendary Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, White Knight Chronicles and the Professor Layton series. Then we have the added support of Studio Ghibli; the legendary animation studio behind many of our times greatest animated masterpieces, with too many to mention. Finally the mix is complete by the publisher Namco Bandai, who have long been at the front line when it comes to Eastern influenced games. Combined, the companies have a considerable war chest to create something magical, and Ni No Kuni is the end result of such a collaboration.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a real mixture of influence, with the obvious J-RPG elements that each team involved can bring. With that, the game features a very unique range of settings and make-up that have as much in common with a western RPG as it does with a J-RPG.

Before we continue, I want to make sure that you know the following paragraph includes plot spoilers!

Set in the town of Motorville, young Oliver is your typical adventurous young boy, keen for excitement, but forever cautious of being caught by his mother while sneaking around town with his friend. A series of events lead up to a tragic loss for Oliver when events unfold and his mother passes away. It is at this point that the game really takes off, as Oliver is met by the King of the Fairies, also known as Drippy, who may in fact be the greatest sidekick in RPG history. With a thick Welsh accent that you really wouldn’t expect in a J-RPG style game, Drippy takes you on a journey to defeat Shadar, (effectively this games “Voldemort”) as you go out into the world to become a wizard, defeat Shadar and save your mother’s soul mate in the other world, which you hope will in turn save your mother’s life.

The games story is full of fantasy, mystery and a massive amount of fun. Despite the games story of despair and impending doom, the characters high spirits persevere and keep you smiling with their quick wit, jokes and puns aplenty throughout. The game focuses heavily on cooperation and friendship with the people you meet and it doesn’t take more than a few moments to feel like you’re playing around in a Ghibli universe. Characters are imaginative and unique. Young Oliver (your lead character) gets to explore a beautifully designed world full of towns, people, beasts and a whole lot more as you seek out the help you need to become a more powerful wizard, but always happy to help those in need as you quest to save your mother’s life.

It’s full of interesting twists on the typical boy saves the world formula that most RPG’s follow, especially since you’re able to freely open up a portal and travel between the human world of Motorville; a lovely American town full of happy citizens and people going about their business and the fantasy realm where you’ll find wizards, witches, and fairies with broad Welsh accents roaming around. It’s the travelling between worlds that is important, and the notion that everyone has their soul mate on the other side, and how one good deed, or wrongdoing can influence the lives of their soul mate.

The game is packed full of features that keep things fresh throughout the 60 hours or so story line,. You can play through like most any other RPG and blast through it to a certain extent, but as with most RPG’s you’ll struggle a fair bit unless you focus on side quests, which can earn you rewards, exploration and grinding a few battles, but most importantly capturing creatures to fight alongside you. It’s these “familiars” who do most of the fighting for you and think Pokemon/Final Fantasy summons to get a rough idea of how this works. Each familiar in your creature cage can be deployed in battle, be equipped with weapons and armour, level up, and even grow into new creatures and with hundred of them out there, you’ll find a lot of fun and time can be put into this.

There is a lot to love about this game, from the amount of emotions that the characters take your through, to the games gorgeous world and people who you’ll easily fall in love with. You can spend plenty of time just walking around the towns and enjoying the scenery and sounds, with Drippy providing an amusing backing track as you create your own path in this very interactive Ghibli movie/game. This is further enhanced by a “nothing short of stunning” orchestral soundtrack, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the team that developed the best Dragon Quest games (IMO).

This is one of the finest RPG’s to come out in a very long time and while it does have a few minor issues that stick out, they’re easily brushed over thanks to the most enjoyable characters and settings. The battle mechanics are great, offering a mixture of run-around combat like you would find in Zelda, with turn based commands of a more classic Final Fantasy title and a considerable amount of challenge to them to test seasoned RPG fans. Random encounters are a little too frequent at times, but you can see enemies in the world and avoid them some of the time.

Tutorials come thick and fast in Ni No Kuni, even 30 hours in your still being taught game mechanics and it can be hard to keep on track of them at times, but once all the major stuff is out-of-the-way, amazingly around the 12 hours mark,  the games pace really picks up, combat becomes more dynamic and you can really dive into the familiar capturing system that the game offers. Even once you’ve done with that you’ll find no end of imaginative side quests and monster hunts to keep you from heading for the end credits.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/WrCJQJcZ_bM[/youtube]

Pros

  • Stunning art design throughout
  • Ghibli Studios animated cut-scenes are beautiful
  • Voice overs are superb and full of spirit
  • Lots of great characters
  • Deep and involving battles system
  • Creature capture / levelling system
  • 60+ hours of gameplay and beyond for those willing to explore everything

Cons

  • Too many tutorials at times
  • Main battle mechanics don’t really take off until after around 10 hours of gameplay
  • More of those gorgeous cut-scenes would have been nice
  • Voice acting is a little more broken up with sub-titles only sections than I would have liked

“Easily one of my top ten RPG’s of all time and one I’m keen to revisit in the future if only to enjoy the magical characters and world that Ghibli and Level-5 have created. It may be a little complicated at time for newcomers to the genre, but the story alone will be enough to keep you playing through regardless.”

Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch PlayStation 3 Review

Knack PlayStation 4 Review

This week we take another dive into the next-gen world of PlayStation 4 and one of the consoles launch titles, Knack. Developed by Japan Studio, as well as having a heavy helping hand from Sony’s legendary Mark Cerny, the game was released along side the PlayStation 4 in both European and US markets, and will of course follow the Feb 22nd 2014 release in Japan.

We’ve seen many teaser videos, gameplay clips and more from Knack over the last year at various game shows, through the numerous live streams that were held by Sony, press briefing and more. Everything we saw looked fairly promising thanks to the details graphics, cool looking characters and the fact that Mark Cerny had a hand in it. The only thing that worried me was that it all looked a little simplistic to play.

A doctor who studies ancient relics finally found a way to combine the relics, a procedure which gave them consciousness, the end result being the creation of Knack. The game sees Knack helping in the war against the Goblins. As Knack, you’ll seek out more relics to incorporate into his body, each one transforming him into something greater than before.

You start your life just a couple of feet tall, but the collection of these relics can see you grow in to a giant, capable of smashing everything in your path. This is a great gaming mechanical, unfortunately it’s one that feels like it was poorly planned out. I played the game on normal mode and found it frustrating that the game is on one hand devilishly simple, but that you still keep getting killed, a lot. As the small Knack you’re stupidly helpless and weak, and just as you get yourself built up into a massive, powerful and rather awesome Knack the game finds a way to cut you down. This can be anything like a small hole that requires tiny Knack, or some other lame section of level design that forces you to power down more often that it should.

This mechanic of growing knack is great, as you collect bits you see them spin around you and join into your body and make you bigger. At the same time you hear the speaker in the DualShock 4 controller rattle and click as you hear your body being made bigger, it’s very cool. However, the game kills that feeling of progression by reverting you to previous forms and it would have been nice to see a more progressive nature throughout the game.

The graphics on Knack are nothing short of fantastic, the use of rich particle effects and physics quickly reminds you that you’re playing on more powerful hardware. The subtle things that most people don’t notice are all there too and they help build a more magical world around you, such as a solid frame rate, excellent draw distance and global lighting and reflections that see light shimmer with colour off of every surface. The characters are well realised and reminded me of those you would see in a Dreamworks movie. The story is a little hammed up, and can be a little shaky at times, but it’s entertaining enough to be enjoyable through to the end of the game and does a good enough job of progressing the gameplay.

Gameplay can be fun overall, but the limited controls are more akin to platform games from ten years ago and bare many of the quirks that I thought gaming had long since forgotten. Only having one attack button is fine, but you find many enemies are quite repetitive and getting the angle of your attack wrong will result in you suffering the wrath of the games lousy checkpoint system. As I said, I died a lot in Knack because of the dumbest reasons, poor level design, frustrating and repetitive enemies and such like, only to find that the game checkpoints are miles back and that you have to work through several sections again and again.

Co-op has been poorly tagged in and your partner can drop in our out at any time, however they have no progression of their own. The camera doesn’t compensate for the second player and only focuses on the first player. You can play as player two on the Vita with player one on the big screen, but the Vita screen STILL follows player one, what the hell Sony! So in short, co-op is here, but you’re a cheap support character (think Tails in Sonic 3 on the MegaDrive).

The first generation of games for any format are often lacking in one way or another, the developers have been working hard for a couple of years on hardware that for much of the development wasn’t finalised and it often takes a few years after a consoles release before the hardware is used to the best of its abilities. That isn’t the case here, the game looks great, and it really is a lot of fun, but for reasons I cannot comprehend, it feels like their level designers took an extended holiday.

If you pick this game up, you will enjoy it and my son (Age 7) absolutely loves playing through it. For fans of classic platformers such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, you’ll understand what Sony was trying to do with Knack, they just needed to bring the gameplay mechanics up to date as much as they did the graphics.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag PC Review

The Assassin’s Creed series has won and lost many fans with each iteration of the series, some say the games keep getting better and better, while some argue that the games are too similar and don’t innovate enough, both opinions are correct in so many ways. ACIII was by far my favourite in the series so far and the promise of taking the gameplay elements that were added there, such as the hunting and sailing, then fine tuning them into the pirate filled world that ACIV brings to the table sounded too tempting to pass up.

Pirates are often under represented in gaming, there are few truly great games out there, if any, that I can think of that took being a pirate to the level of a AAA release from a major studio and I’m certainly not going to consider the horrible tie-in games that accompanied Pirates of the Caribbean. There is Raven’s Cry coming out next year, but for now the only big hitter is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

You take the role of Edward Kenway, who is in fact the grandfather of Connor Kenway, the lead protagonist from Assassin’s Creed III. Sailing the seas as a privateer becomes a non-profit affair after nations sign treaties and your life quickly turns to piracy. Members of the Assassin order attack your ship, leaving you on your own, but being as resourceful as ever you start the game on a mission to take a boat of your own, gather your own crew and hunt down the Assassin who killed the crew of your ship. This is where the game really gets into its stride and before long you’re fully into the swing of the Assassin life, crossing the worlds of being a hitman / pirate and it really is a mix that works very well.

Ditching the Templars and joining the creed and you find yourself working with Benjamin Hornigold, Calico Jack and Edward Thatch (Black Beard) as they seek to establish a nation free of European rule where men can do as they please. The typical Assassin’s vs. Templars story line is still there, but much more of a passive story line than in previous titles, you feel much more like a free individual playing your parts in the course of events that are bigger than yourself.

Land based adventuring is much what we’ve come to expect from the series, there are soldiers everywhere that are out to kill pirates, but at the same time they’re none to fond of assassin’s either. You still skip along rooftops, climb into castles and palaces, kill using stealth to further the interests of you and your compatriots. Sea based adventuring is a huge part of the game, you have your ship and a small crew. Your crew can perish in battle and it is important to either hire crew at bars, or rescue them from guards around the games locations, such as stopping a hanging, or intervening a firing squad.

Your ship is upgradable, everything from armour, to its weapons can be tweaked and improved heavily throughout the course of the game, it’s extremely important to do so too as you’ll find the need to take on bigger, faster and more powerful ships. Hunting ships earns you rewards such as loot which can be done by either sinking or boarding, and it’s the latter that really requires you to have a strong crew, or else you’re sailing yourself into a potential slaughter. Your actions will not go unnoticed either, much like in games like Grand Theft Auto, a wave of fighting and looting will get the attention of Hunter ships, they’re fast, dangerous and put up a mighty fight on the high seas.

There are islands to explore, cities with docks, and there is much open sea for you to ride the wind and enjoy the joyful singing of your crew. The cities are packed life and full of detail, with plenty of places that are nicely tailored to the assassin lifestyle, allowing you to hop, skip and jump till your heart’s content, leaping from the rooftops upon your prey.

Animation seems a little improved, climbing is a little more fluid than before, but overall the whole thing does still look and feel just like Assassin’s Creed III, which is of course no bad thing. Graphics are as slick as ever and Ubisoft have reason to be proud of their creation thanks to some great textures, smooth voice acting and some stunning sights from the games plentiful high-spots.

Missions are great, but for the most part you’ll find that you’re either killing someone or pirating ships, it sounds repetitive and in many ways it is, but at no time did it get boring, and the pirate side of things is involving enough to have stood up as a game of its own, the assassin’s creed typical moments just sweeten the deal.

Multiplayer is still here, but despite a few minor tweaks it’s what we have come to expect from the series. There is little innovation, but the game types are still as fun as ever and it certainly adds extra value to the game once you’re finished with the sizeable main quest and plentiful side missions.

When it comes to Assassin’s Creed games, Assassin’s Creed III is still one of the best for those who love sneaking around and playing the role of the assassin. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is no better or worse in that respect, but the overall game is so much more thanks to the pirate gameplay, and it’s this that makes it the best in the series so far overall. If you loved III and you want to sail the seas and loot ships, the Black Flag is an incredibly entertaining experience.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag PC Review

Killzone: Shadow Fall PlayStation 4 Review

Killzone was one of the hottest games for the PlayStation 2, and the epic sequel that was Killzone 2 followed it with a great force. The series had a slow, gritty and powerful vibe that is a far cry from the frantic run and gun of games like Call of Duty and I absolutely love it. The Third entry in the series came on the PlayStation 3, a graphical juggernaut and it offered some brutal gameplay and hardcore online play, however I didn’t really love the game and it fell into many of the typical tropes that most of last generations shooter did, as a result it just didn’t excite me and I didn’t really feel compelled to keep playing.

Shadow fall is a launch title for the PlayStation 4, so it has great potential to be a system seller for Sony and it also has a lot to prove given the track record of the previous titles in the series. There are many highly popular shooters on the market today and with Killzone not following the yearly update release schedule that many other companies follow, there was a fear that it could have fallen out of favour with much of the gaming community.

The first trailers we saw of Killzone: Shadow Fall were when the PlayStation 4 was revealed and without a doubt there were a lot of impressed gamers, the graphics looked stunning, the action looked tight and the heavy duty futuristic vibe had been ramped up to 11. The Helghast now live along side you, divided by a giant, heavily guarded wall that divides the two nations. One living in futuristic luxury while the Helgast live in what is effectively a military controlled, dim, poor, hell hole.

Story wise the game holds up pretty tight, but it takes time for you to care about what is happening. There is a steady intro where you play out a few events from your youth, growing up to be a man who has been moulded into a soldier following the death of his father, leaving him an orphan. It’s pretty typical tripe to be honest and I didn’t care for the intro story one bit. However, things do develop very well and the twist of not always feeling like a one man killing machine is a big factor here. In many parts of the game you’re missing vital tools and weapons, especially in a section that involves escaping prison. You make some interesting allies throughout the game too and one in particular changes the whole pace of combat by having you rely on her sniping skill to do the shooting, while you focus on stealth and highlighting targets for her to take down. The pace is sometimes broken by some forced in QTE’s, that are tacked on to otherwise great cut-scenes, but overall the gameplay is involving and enjoyable.

What at some points feels like another Halo / Call of Duty clone quickly defines its self as something fresh altogether, running into this game head-on will likely get your head shot off. You have to be calculated, use your tactical abilities to scan for enemies before moving, use your side kick drone to take out enemies while you stay behind cover and my favourite, the ability to fire a zip-line and descend onto or off of the battlefield in a hurry.

Enemies are relatively smart, they don’t stop to think about flanking you, breaking off into groups, searching thoroughly for you, and they’ve fast as lightening when it comes to tripping alarms. The alarms are your worst nightmare, they alert all enemies in the area once triggered, you need to hack them to disable them fast as enemies will come to defend the area endlessly until you do.

Graphics are gorgeous, actually that’s an understatement, they’re absolutely stunning! Particle effects, dynamic lighting that catches the rain and the fog as it descends onto the metallic surfaces of a gorgeous dystopian city, and beautifully detailed enemies that move fluidly during combat. It’s easily one of the best looking shooters on the market today and it certainly gives Battlefield 4 a run for its money as this is one of the best looking launch titles for the PlayStation 4. The art style is absolutely flawless and it really reaps the benefits of a powerful lighting engine.

Enemies aren’t too varied but there is a good mixture of combat styles as you come up against melee and long range attacks, there are even some huge spider like robots to contend with from time to time that will end you in seconds if you’re not careful. There aren’t many overly huge gun battles either, it’s not like Call of Duty or Borderlands where you feel like you’re in a room while enemies take their turns to pile through the door. Things feel more naturally paced than that and encounters don’t just feel like they’ve been beefed up for the sake of making it more exciting, but that doesn’t mean the game is any less fun, it just doesn’t feel like a meat grinder. Difficulty is a big factor here too, this game is pretty darn hard at first. I’m a well seasoned gamer and certainly found my self re-spawning a lot early on in the game. It takes a while to get used to using the Dual Shock 4 touch pad to switch between abilities and then remembering to use them. For the bulk of the game you and your drone are a team and you will be dead pretty quick if you don’t utilise its full abilities to provide you with offensive and defensive backup.

Multi-player is great fun too, reminded me in no small part of the pace of Halo 3, it’s surprisingly tactical, but still packs enough action for you to keep moving and trying your luck on catching someone off guard. The game types are your usual fair, but if you’ve spent 9-10 hours picking your way through the main story first, then I can guarantee you’ll be wanting more and the multi-player aspect obviously offers more of the same challenging action. If you like shooters and you’re needing a break from the heavily commercialised worlds of Battlefield and Call of Duty, then this is easily an essential purchase for the PS4.

Pros

  • Campaign offers great story and a good 9-10 hours gameplay on normal difficulty
  • Graphics are some of the best the PS4 has to offer
  • Online multiplayer is competitive and entertaining
  • Good integrated use of the touch pad

Cons

  • Quick time events are dull and tacked on
  • Steep learning curve may put off some players

“Killzone is back on form this year with what is easily one of 2013’s best shooters. It’s still a little linear, but a great setting and story, some tight action and a rewarding multiplayer experience help it stand out from the crowd.”

Killzone: Shadow Fall PlayStation 4 Review

Thank you Sony for providing us with this sample.

Gamestick Android Games Console Review

Introduction


Android powered games consoles are all the rage at the moment, I’m not sure if they’re popular because consumer demand is high for them or if it is just a case of developers seeing good profit margins and the market being flooded with hardware, I really have no clue, but one thing is for certain, it is becoming harder and harder to decide which Android console could be the right one to buy.

With devices like Ouya, Shield, M.O.J.O. and of course the one were reviewing today, Gamestick, there is really no shortage of choice and that is before you account for all the other mobile gaming devices such as smartphones, tablets, and dedicated hardware such as the PS Vita and 3DS. Although in fairness it isn’t right to include all handhelds, or in many respects the Nvidia Shield, because even though they are Android powered, the Gamestick, M.O.J.O and Ouya are all designed to work on your TV, or any other HDMI compatible device.

Mobile gaming has taken off in a big way thanks to the way it can support smaller developers and indie gaming titles. Gamestick hopes to bridge the gap between the games we know and love from mobile platforms with the convenience of a home games console. No more worrying about your phone having enough battery to play a few more games, no more small screen, no more touch screen controls, it’s time to take Android to the big screen!

Specification wise the Gamestick is no more or less powerful than your average mid-budget tablet, and as you can see from the specs below it might not be a hardcore gaming monster, but it is no slouch either.

Specs

  • Amlogic 8726-MX SOC
  • ARM Cortex A9 CPU
  • Mali-400 MP GPU
  • 8GB Internal Flash Memory
  • 1GB DDR3 RAM
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • Bluetooth Le 4.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • HDMI

The packaging is a nicely designed presentation box that features a few images of the console and its controller as well as a few of the major specifications.

Around the back we have a nice screenshot of the interface as well as a few blurbs about how the console works.

The console comes packaged with an array of high quality cables, all finished in powder white with flat tangle free cables. From left to right we have a USB power adaptor, USB to Micro-USB, Y-Split USB and a HDMI extender cable.

Beyond: Two Souls PlayStation 3 Review

I’ve managed to keep my head buried in the sand when it comes to Beyond: Two Souls, having played and loved the developers last title “Heavy Rain” I figured I had a vague idea of what to expect from this game, but as far as the actual gameplay, story or much of anything beyond the initial launch trailer, I was going in blind and spoiler free.

Quantic Dream aren’t like many other developers, they’ve managed to stay afloat despite making some really odd games that have been both loved and hated by the gaming community, in fact it is often remarked that this game and their last game, Heavy Rain, aren’t even games, but more interactive stories and adventures (which is a game by any definition, some people are just stupid.)

One of the biggest tools at Quantic Dreams disposal is their motion capture unit, a system that uses 64 cameras to digitize the real world performances of the actors in the game. With Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe on board for the two big roles in the Beyond: Two Souls, Quantic aim to bring Hollywood performances to the world of gaming.

The game is based around the life of Jodie Holmes, a young girl who has a powerful and incredibly strange psychic connection with an entity named Aiden. While much of the game requires you to take control of Jodie, you have the ability to switch out to Aiden too, this allows you to use her abilities to move objects, scare people, see through walls and even listen in on conversations.

It’s a clever gameplay mechanic, although I use the term gameplay loosely as while many games give you controls to run around and “do stuff”, this isn’t really a game where you start in one place and work your way towards the end. The game is non linear, so the story jumps back and forth between modern-day life and Jodie’s childhood, meeting friends, working for the CIA and some rather well acted and captured human interactions that really do bring the story closer to being a movie than a game. Yet when there is gameplay mechanics to deal with, of which there are plenty of times, the game feels great, movement is fluid and there is definitely fun to be had in finding objects to interact with, even if they’re a little pre-set in order to progress the story of the game, rather than true exploration.

The game is dark, following Jodie being taken in by the CIA and her powers experimented with as she struggles with growing up in the care of paranormal doctor Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe). Story elements can be played out in real-time with the use of quick time dialogue choices, giving you a choice that often boils down to positive, negative or neutral response. The story is the focus here and while it can be erratic, it is surprisingly pretty deep and interesting.

While the game is single player, you actually can play it co-op too. You can either play by yourself and control Jodie and Aiden, or you can share with another playing and control one each, albeit not at the same time (control switches to player 2 and vice versa). Even more interestingly is that you can play from your smart phone! Since the game uses gestures on the PS3 six-axis, or swipes from the right stick, or just a tap of a button, the controls transfer really well to mobile, although I do prefer using the official PlayStation controller.

The motion capture here is fantastic, literally some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game and while I’m still confident the developers haven’t gotten the mouth animations right for when people are talking, I still uphold that it is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. The way people walk and interact with in-game objects being the most natural looking I’ve seen too, something that is backed up by (literally) the best graphics I’ve seen on a games console to date.

To say the graphics look good for a PS3 game would be selling it short, they look incredible even compared to high-end PC games and that really is saying something. This is in part to the game taking part in controlled locations, smaller sets so to speak, with less stuff to draw, there are more polygons left over for people and it’s a fantastic trade-off that looks incredible, especially when combined with the motion capture and the voice acting of industry pros likes Willem Dafoe.

The gameplay, the motion capture, the graphics are all just small parts of the overall experience that is Beyond: Two Souls, it’s not quite a movie, but it’s not a “game” either, it transcends most digital gaming media in that sense and just grips you with its story, but doesn’t reward you with much physical gameplay.

Regardless of how it is played, it feels like a good book that you just don’t want to put down. I’m not one for spoiling a stories ending, so I won’t be doing such a thing, the only thing I will remark about this game is that I enjoyed it so much that I wish it could be a little bit longer, even though it did take me 12 hours to complete. In terms of overall experience I am very impressed and despite the game feeling like it’s on rails, I haven’t been this blown away since the opening sequences of The Last of Us.

Pros

  • Gripping original story
  • Famous faces and voices really add to the cinematic experience
  • Incredible graphics
  • Smooth animation and motion capture

Cons

  • Some may not enjoy the less involving gameplay / controls.

“Those not familiar with the concept may find the experience lacking in more common gameplay elements, but those familiar with Quantic Dreams previous title Heavy Rain will no what to expect. It’s certainly Quantics best game to date and in terms of presentation and story it’s certainly an enjoyable experience and a welcome change of pace to the driving / shooting nature of most current AAA titles.”

Beyond: Two Souls PlayStation 3 Review

Thank you SCEE for providing us with this sample.

Diablo III PlayStation 3 Co-Op Review

Diablo 3 got off to a shaky start in life when it launched on PC. The Auction house was bust, the network suffered massive failures at launch, there were bugs, a poor loot system, the list goes on! Safe to say that many fans old and new came to the game and were left with a bad taste in their mouth. Yet like a Phoenix rising from the fire, Diablo III has been reborn and may now be one of the best co-op RPG’s in years!

When I heard about the console port of this game I thought “great, a broken game with worse graphics! That is just what we need”. Then in recent weeks I started hearing nothing but praise for the game, as well as a long list of improvements, fixes, tweaks and in some cases cut features that have done nothing but improve the experience. I decided to throw caution to the wind, obtained a copy and I haven’t looked back since.

While I’m sure Diablo III offers a great experience for the single player gamer, my purpose here was to play couch co-op, by which I mean player two was screen sharing and sitting next to me (the way co-op should be!). Things started simple enough with the difficulty and character selection. The game now gives you a choice of five difficulties as well as further tweaks to the difficulty of each level to make sure you get the most out of your experience, or the most experience out of your enemies, which ever way you want to look at it.

Gameplay in general is pretty straight forward stuff, it is an isometric hack and slash dungeon crawler at heart, with a huge pile of RPG progression and story telling layered on top to great effect. The game starts out with some stunning cut-scenes and some stylish animated story telling about the end of the world, evil and generally how there are a few people who can save it. It’s still typical, tried and tested RPG stuff and plays well off the original games in the series. The story is simple enough that new comers can get straight into the action, fans will enjoy the lore and for those that just want the action it’s even possible to just skip all the story, follow map markers and run around smashing things, perfect.

Everything has been overhauled here, the menu system has been completely redone and now uses a radial system that is better suited to the twin analogue sticks of consoles, allowances have been made to let you remap any skill to any button to suit your play style and co-op benefits from a smart map overlay. Online play is no longer essential and the whole game can be enjoyed over local network or screen share co-op, making this feel all the more like an old school RPG co-op experience, sitting with friends, a pile of snacks and a few drinks together with a game.

Barbarian, Witch Doctor, Wizard, Monk or Demon Hunter are all great characters and the level progression feels intuitive, after a few hours you’re working well towards having an awesome character build that benefits from the games less frequent loot drops, which now favour more rare and powerful items as opposed to endless piles of garbage that need to be sold or traded off. This new loot structure works incredibly well and it makes exploration and fighting a lot more fun very quickly, especially now that you no longer need to use an auction house whatsoever.

Graphics are really nicely done, plenty of lighting effects, physics to throw objects from the level around the screen as you smash up tables and barrels and plenty of optional graphics settings to toggle on screen health bars, attack numbers, subtitles and more to tailor the game to your liking. The only downside I ran across is that when you want to change your attributes or equipment you have to take it in turns, only one local player can access the menu at a time. The benefit of this is that you don’t have a cut down half screen menu, everything is nice and clear to read, it just takes twice as long to do it because you have to wait for each player to complete their time in the menu.

Combat is faster and more exciting than ever too, now that evade is mapped to the right stick you suddenly find the battles are more fluid that their PC counterparts. The main skills are mapped to the face buttons, with two more on the back right shoulder buttons, with target lock and heal on the left shoulder buttons. It’s a setup that works incredibly well and all fears of the game feeling “forced” onto consoles quickly dissipate once you start playing. I love playing with keyboard and mouse, but I have to admit that this is far superior an experience to the PC edition, although that could be due to the seemingly endless set of improvements to the games system overall, not just the controls.

The game has also been equipped with every patch and update that has graced the PC edition, so bugs should be at a minimum here, throughout the 20+ hours we’ve clocked on the game so far there hasn’t been a single issue with the game, characters or levelling system, so there has certainly been a lot of improvement in that area.

This isn’t a console port of a PC game, this is the Diablo III the fans wanted in the first place and while many may feel scorned by the original PC release, I highly recommend you check out the console release, although I must admit I haven’t tried the Xbox 360 release, so I can only vouch for the PS3 edition.

You don’t have to be a Diablo fan to enjoy this game at all, this is simply one of the best co-op experiences on the market today and if you’re looking for something to fill the void after completing Borderlands 2, this more than fits the bill.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/F5hefB6CERg[/youtube]

Pros

  • Can be played completely offline
  • Troubled auction house feature has been removed
  • Local co-op
  • Re-mappable controls
  • Revised loot and levelling system

Cons

  • None

“The console release is great, far exceeding the PC experience in many ways and while I admit, it should not be this way, both editions should be great! It is. However, this is a fantastic game on consoles and despite any past issues, it is well worth checking if you’re a fan of the series, felt scorned by the original release or you just want some epic co-op action”

Diablo III PlayStation 3 Co-Op Review