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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review

The Lord of The Rings franchise has had quite a storied past when it comes to video game adaptations of the franchise; we’ve had everything from grand scale strategies to old-school arcade brawlers. Most of them have been serviceable at best but honestly I’ve found all of them to quite mediocre. I was sincerely hoping that Monolith would be the developer to break this streak with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and they have most certainly delivered.

Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor (5)

Set somewhere between the events of The Hobbit and the main The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor casts you as Talion; a ranger charged with protecting the Black Gate, the main entrance to the land of Mordor. In the opening hour his outpost is overrun and Talion witnesses the slaughter of his wife, son and every soldier under his command. Talion himself also dies during the assault but he’s brought back by an ancient wraith who lends him the necessary power to exact his revenge.

Its a great setup, especially once the identity of the wraith is revealed, but the plot never really strives or achieves any of the spectacular potential it has lurking within it. In fact it feels like there’s a large chunk of the story missing towards the latter half as the ending is quite abrupt and there are plot threads just left hanging.

The writing is solid throughout though, Talion manages to be a bit more interesting than the generic revenge driven protagonist as he actually exhibits some nuance in his personality as he slowly devolves into an engine of destruction. The interplay between him and the wraith is excellent and the supporting cast (with the exception of an awfully lazy love interest) sports some really memorable and exceptionally acting characters.

The star of of the show however are the Uruks of Mordor. Instead of a nameless legion who’s only purpose is to die by your blade, the army of Mordor is a living hierarchy that is constantly changing and adapting through your interactions with them. The game’s much touted Nemesis System really delivers on its promises. Each orc captain is entirely unique, complete with his own personality, battle style, weaknesses, fears and strengths.

You approach to eliminating each of them will have to change according to their attributes and if you should die by any orc’s hand they’re immediately promoted, whereupon they gain even more strength and followers. This even applies to lowly grunts and I found that a certain dual wielding berserker who got lucky once became my most notorious enemy later in the campaign.

These captains aren’t idle with your absence though. They’re in a constant power struggle against one another, participating in duels, executions, hunts and ambushes in hopes to kill off a superior officer and take his place. You can intervene on all in all these to kill off the captains or ensure their victory and promotion to open up more opportunities later on. For instance: I assured a one captain was successful in his execution of a rival orc and shortly after this he held a feast to celebrate his victory. I snuck in an poisoned several batches of the mead that him and his men were celebrating over, this resulted in his men rioting and eventually killing off the newly promoted captain.

Its a really robust system that opens up a fantastic new dimension to the open world gameplay and none of it is pre-scripted; all of it is generated on the fly and it makes the world feel truly alive. It only gets more interesting later on as you gain the ability to turn captains to your side; which opens up a slew of new opportunities. This is is sadly only introduced quite later on in the story but its still a fantastic addition to your arsenal.

Speaking of which you deal with orcs through way of three distinct disciplines: a free-flow melee system, stealthy stabs and a host of ranged powers courtesy of the wraith. The combat and stealth mechanics are immensely satisfying and beautifully animated resulting in a true dance of death once you get a firm grip on it. As you expand your suite of abilities it to manages to encapsulate the feeling that you’re fighting as one with the wraith as he dances in and out of combat to defend and assist Talion.

The powers of the wraith complements other abilities quite nicely enabling you take enemies out an enemy at range with the spectral bow, and engage in a more up-close execution with the Shadow Strike abilities that send you teleporting directly to a target. He also affords Talion a host of powers to assist in his mobility, including a wonderfully fast sprint and the ability to survive any fall. It can get quite finicky at spots but all around the movement system is serviceable and smooth.

The game largely takes place in the outskirts of Mordor and a neighbouring kingdom. The landscape varies between barren desolate landscapes and lush jungles, all of which leverage some impressive tech to create a game that looks quite stellar at times. The overall texture quality, lighting, foliage and animation are some of the best I’ve seen on the new generation of console hardware.

More importantly though it manages to actually make great use of the LOTR art style that the films pioneered. Its a very particular style that can look horrendous if captured incorrectly, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor puts it to fantastic use especially in the rendering of its weapons and architecture. The style of the orcs in particular is near perfect and looks as if it would be right at home in the cinematic versions.

The score is another highlight as its boasts some excellent composition that brings the both the dramatic and more light hearted moments of the game to life. Garry Schyman and Nathan Grigg managed to create some really nuanced tracks that elevate the big moments, but its also measured and absent enough from some scenes as to let the characters take centre stage.

Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor (6)

A decent amount of side content and a upgrade system that adds a nice pace to the progression rounds the entire game out quite nicely. There’s also a rune system that allows you to customize the bonuses of your sword, dagger and bow,  there’s some nice variety in terms of these bonuses. These are gained via killing captains and there’s an interesting risk/reward system that opens up later on which allows Talion to send death threats to captains. They gain a significant boost in strength and a special company of guards, but drop much better runes if you’re successful in killing them off.

While its opening hours can feel unrelentingly brutal, the game gets far to easy later in the game, you are able to take on an entire legion of orcs without much hassle. Considering the wide range of interesting methods and tools the game gives you to do this rarely ceases to be entertaining. Its a game that really shines when you start to experiment in the sand-box and it constantly found new ways to surprise me.

Conclusion:

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor shows a ton of promise in its opening hours and it manages to deliver on the majority of its potential and the result is a truly wonderful game that kept me enraptured for near thirty hours straight. The plot really doesn’t capitalise on its potential but the rest of the game is so good that its easy to overlook that. The combat, world and Nemesis system all work in tandem to create an experience where the moment to moment gameplay is so extremely satisfying that I’m already itching to dive back in.

The Breakdown:

Story: 7/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound: 8.5/10

Sam Fourie

Ever so slightly unhinged, this one spends most of his time playing or writing about video games. Also dabbles heavily in tabletop, comics and the occasional bout of music creation.

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FIFA 15 Review

Ask almost anyone what the biggest sport on the planet is and they’ll probably say football. The same would probably apply when asking a gamer what the biggest sports game is; their answer is most likely going to be FIFA. The series has gained quite a following over the years with almost every instalment being an improvement over the last. FIFA 15 has been released recently and seems to take a few good steps forward while also taking a few steps back.

FIFA 15 plays rather similarly to last year’s instalment of the popular football game. Fans of the series need not be worried about any major changes as gameplay remains largely the same. However, there are some tweaks to the game which improve the experience with FIFA 15. Goalkeeping has been improved with keepers now being more fluid in their actions; they will now twist their bodies in an attempt to match the flight pattern of the ball. This is exactly what a real keeper would do and definitely adds to the realism of the game.

Unlike FIFA 14, this year’s instalment has a lot less glitches present in the game. There were times where players would experience instances where a keeper would dive to the opposite side of where the ball was going. For example, a player would shoot left while the keeper would dive all the way right. Thankfully this has been fixed with FIFA 15 and goalkeepers are a little challenging to beat at times. However, I did notice that they seem to panic a little when a player from the opposing team gets really close to their position in front of the net; I took this as my opportunity to score nearly every time. Getting through the defensive back line can be quite challenging but it certainly is exhilarating when you manage to do so right before scoring. It’s actually equally exciting even when not scoring. As a newcomer to the most recent FIFA titles, I enjoyed this quite a bit and could feel my hands tensing up when they were wrapped around my controller.

As mentioned before, breaking through the opponent’s defence can be a challenging affair; this is mostly due to the willingness of your opponent’s AI block the ball at any cost. However, the same cannot be said for the AI players on your team. Most times, I found that the AI players on my team failed to anticipate my passing of the ball to them and because of this, would lose possession of the ball. Being in possession of the ball, however, is a significantly more enjoyable than attempting to steal it away from your opponent. It’s as if the opposing team’s players have a shield around them. Players are going to have to try a lot harder when trying to steal the ball as opposition AI have learned to shift their weight to dodge an incoming sliding tackle. Manage to land a tackle, however, and you may just see one of your players earning themselves a yellow card. That applies to accidental collisions too.

Visually, FIFA 15 doesn’t really fail to impress but it does have a few issues. The addition of wear and tear to players’ uniforms is a small but noticeable feature which contributes to the overall experience. The animations of players dribbling look more fluid and definitely more realistic. With regards to realism, FIFA 15 features instances where the game would cut away from the action for a moment to show a highlight from a match. These range from a recently scored goal to a tackle that may have resulted in a free kick. It’s a nice touch that makes you feel as if you’re watching an actual football match. However, these can take some time and cannot be skipped. While I do like the cutaway feature, I feel that it should be optional; or at the very least, skippable.

Audio wise, FIFA 15 does some good and some bad. The roar of a crowd during a match is enough to make the player feel quite immersed when playing and is something that has improved over the years. The commentary, however, seems to have taken a strange twist. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith have done a decent job at recording commentary but some of it seems a little inconsistent in that each commentator has their own aspect that they would like to focus on. One tends to comment on the FIFA World Cup while the other focuses on how the ball entered the net. The two never seem to stay on one topic and this can be rather jarring for the player.

Conclusion:
FIFA 15 features some decent upgrades but also takes a few unnecessary steps back. While it isn’t a terrible instalment, it does seem to favour a more comprehensive list of new features than it does its attempt to deliver a well-rounded football simulation experience. However, it’s a little hard to deny that FIFA 15 is most likely the best football game on the market.

The Breakdown:
Gameplay: 8.3/10
Multiplayer: 8.5/10
Lasting appeal: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10

Brady Ruiters

Known as Brady Ruiters by day and GuitarDemon by night (Well, on the PSN mostly…) Professional, creative and frank, a self-proclaimed gaming journalist moulded by a passion and fascination for gaming and music, and in turn, taking a crack at shaping the rest of the world with the very same obsession. That, however, remains a trying task.

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Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments Review

Sherlock Holmes, the pompous detective has returned to solve some crimes in the only way he knows how, with style. Frogwares, and Focus Home Entertainment have delivered a masterpiece in crime investigation that will keep you intrigued for hours.

For the first time in the series the Sherlock Homes franchise has jumped into the PS4 and Xbox One, let me just say that the game is beautiful, from its detailed sub-surface scattering on human faces, to its details in ever little object. It shines and runs smoothly with very short load screens, and zero bumps.

Sherlock Holmes is alive and as accurate as ever, as he mumbles to himself and strings sentences together without a breath of fresh air, there is no doubt that this is a Sherlock Holmes title, but only due to the protagonist. As a fan of the series past there are a couple of things that have been improved. The overall pace of the game is much faster, the characters have much more to say, and the puzzles are less, but harder. The usual Baker Street apartment is shinier than before with a wider selection of clothing options, and the control options are the same, that is to say it’s a good thing that you do not need to learn anything new.

The game does not hold your hand whilst plaything through the case files, you will need to pay attention to the suspect’s interrogations, the environment, and what Holmes is saying at all times. You can easily miss out on a name drop and think it is of no importance, but it will turn out to be vital to your investigation. You will need to switch visions that allow you to see objects of importance, Sherlock Vision shows objects and areas that stand out from the usual, and there is a vison that interprets how Sherlock would visualize the objects and events either how they could appear, or how they used to. You also have the ability to pause time and look over your suspect in detail, the camera rolls over them and you need to pick out objects and details that stand out, ultimately detailing the character, both past and present. Whatever you discover will go down in their character profile and will be important during either interrogation or for general knowledge.

The nice thing about the interrogation system is that it is not difficult to perform, you just need to make sure you pay attention and at times it actually takes a little common knowledge to get through. What Crimes and Punishments do differently is they do not suffer from the tedium of other crime investigation titles, you will never find yourself bored from preforming the same task, or question the same character. Every case is unique and every character has a deep past worth exploring, and when you have finally put everything it is rewarding. The game keeps it fresh throughout, and I never felt that I was undertaking something that I did before.

The world is detailed and fine, remerging through a pile of objects to pick up a tobacco pouch, spin it around and listen to Sherlock identify something you never ever thought of is something only this game could offer. His insight and mind is all over the place but focused at the same time, it is what makes this great compared to other investigation games. The case file is your heart of investigations, everything from you past conversation to your character profiles are in it, and whenever you feel like you have hit a wall, going into it will point you to the right direction.

Conclusion
Everything in Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is polished and detailed like none before, the characters and cases are imaginative, and every second of the game feels like you are reliving the life of Sherlock Holmes. It would be a shame if future crime titles don’t use this as inspiration.

The Breakdown
Story: 9/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 9/10

Marco Cocomello

From age 12 Marco has spent every waking moment playing games, or thinking about playing games. Marco also suffers with gaming FOMO, and so now he is a gaming journalist as an excuse to play everything. He writes for a number of local and international publications.

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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review

The Borderlands series is one that delivers a great experience which features a first-person shooter gameplay style mixed with some RPG elements. This combined with its interesting setting, crazy characters and insane weaponry allows for quite an enjoyable experience. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel looks to bridge the game between the first and second game and does so quite nicely.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place between the first and second game and focuses on the other side of the vault hunt with most of the story paying particular attention to the sadistic but hilarious Handsome Jack. Fans of the series will be familiar with Jack as he was the main antagonist of Borderlands 2, and a good one at that. The game does a great job at telling Jack’s story, successfully making the player feel somewhat sympathetic towards him. However, never does the story depict Jack as a “misunderstood” villain, which is a nice touch. He’s still a bit of anass, which is how players have come to like him as an antagonist. The story revolves around Jack’s hunt for the vault, which takes place before the events from Borderlands 2. While I found the story, characters and humour very true to the standard of the series, the pacing of the plot was a little inconsistent. The first half of the game was slightly difficult to get into but the second half of the campaign was more than enjoyable.

Gameplay of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel remains largely the same aside from a few tweaks. The game still excels at shooting and looting, a mechanic which has been present since the series’ inception. New enemies show up in the game but fail to present any real challenge until a little later on in the campaign. Also, since the story takes place on Elpis, the moon of Pandora, gameplay now features some low gravity mechanics. While a little tricky at first, I found myself getting to grips with it after a little while and was able to make jumps over some rather large gaps. Players can also use the low gravity to their advantage when in combat. This is especially useful when enemies decide to hide behind cover. There’s nothing like hopping over their cover, dropping to the ground and surprising them with a shotgun to the face.

In addition to the low gravity, players are able to make use of a “butt slam” attack. It’s quite a useful manoeuvre when in mid jump and you’d like to come back down in a hurry. The attack also does a bit of damage to enemies; it isn’t much but I’ve noticed on more than one occasion that the butt slam tends to stun enemies for a second.

Since its outset, the series has been well known for itsguns. I can safely say that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is no different and has an impressive arsenal of weapons of different types, shapes and sizes. Aside from the standard selection of rifles, pistols and shotguns, the game now introduces laser weaponry. These new laser weapons utilise different elements are really powerful. In one instance, I was able to freeze an enemy with my laser weapon and then hit him with a few shots from my explosive rifle. This was enough to put quite a large grin on my face multiple times throughout the campaign. Additionally, loot drops are as generous as they’ve ever been; except for Legendary weapons, however. They wouldn’t be Legendary if they were common drops, now would they?

As mentioned before, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place on a moon which introduces the low gravity mechanic. Additionally, this means that the atmosphere is different and that there also isn’t any oxygen. This introduces a new gear type called Oz kits, which supplies the player with a certain amount of oxygen before they have to refill the tank via oxygen pockets found in the open or inside buildings. I’ll admit, first I was a little annoyed at the need to constantly replenish my supply but I grew to appreciate the new mechanic and how it could possibly change gameplay when needing to retreat from a firefight in order to fill up my kit. Oz kits are similar to shield units in that some of them have buffs that significantly increase the damage of your butt slams or of your weapons when firing mid-jump.

Being a bridge between the first two games means that the game features new vault hunters to choose from when starting your game. As always there are four different characters, each with their own crazy skill trees and even more crazy action skills. Each character’s action skill feels rather unique when comparing it to that of the other available vault hunters and doesn’t just feel like a rehash of skills from the previous games, which is a welcome change. Of the action skills, however, I do feel that Claptrap’s (yes, he’s playable this time) action skill takes the cake in terms of being unique. The annoying little robot’s action skill actually grants him different abilities depending on the situation the player might find themselves in. So if you’re up for rather strange playthrough, Claptrap’s the one for you.

Visually, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel doesn’t disappoint with its cel shaded art style. Environments have been well designed and character models look really well done. The only issue I had was some pop-in textures that seemed to rear its ugly head randomly during the game. In terms of sound, the game has some great voice acting. This is especially true for Handsome Jack, who steals the show where dialogue is concerned.

Conclusion:
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a great game and delivers on the typical Borderlands experience. However, while it does struggle with pacing at first, the game really picks up after the second half. Gameplay is as brilliant as always and adds to this with its new low gravity mechanics and new laser weaponry. The bridging story, the existing featuresand those newly added really make for a decent title in the series if you’re looking for more Borderlands, which is never really a bad thing.

The Breakdown:
Story: 8/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Lasting appeal: 8.5/10
Graphics: 8.5/10
Sound: 9/10

Brady Ruiters

Known as Brady Ruiters by day and GuitarDemon by night (Well, on the PSN mostly…) Professional, creative and frank, a self-proclaimed gaming journalist moulded by a passion and fascination for gaming and music, and in turn, taking a crack at shaping the rest of the world with the very same obsession. That, however, remains a trying task.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition Review

Bioware’s Dragon Age series has had a bit of a rocky road as far as I’m concerned . Origins is without a doubt one of the most memorable RPG of the previous generation. The game boasted one of the best RPG combat systems I’d seen in a long time, but the world which it presented had a lot of problems. The scope in which it presented it’s world felt extremely off and the sheer amount of lore that had been written up for the story came off as being overbearing for both the writers and the player.

While Dragon Age 2 was unnecessarily stripped down in terms of the world, combat and mechanics, it delivered a much more cohesive experience and one that felt very suited for the type of game it was trying to be. It was rough as all hell around the edges, and it still came across as if BioWare didn’t really know where to take the series.

Dragon Age: Inquisition doesn’t take the series far from its roots, but it delivers one of the most well crafted RPGs in recent memory and an incredibly rich game of extraordinarily realized and vast scope.

Dragon Age Inquisition (4)

Inquisition picks up shortly after the tumultuous conclusion of Dragon Age 2, where the conflict between the Mage and Templar factions had escalated to the point that full on war between the two sides was imminent. In the opening scenes we bear witness to talks of a peace treaty being interrupted by a giant magical explosion that decimates the hierarchy of both factions and leaves only a single survivor in the form of the player’s character.

Your character doesn’t escape unharmed though, you’re left branded with a strange mark that allows you to tap into the mystical energies that are threatening to tear the world apart by way of a giant portal through which demons are pouring out. Since you’re the only one around who may stand a chance at closing off this breach, you’re quickly inducted into the Inquisition; and organization with the sole aim of closing the Breach and restoring order to the land by any means.

The story that subsequently unfolds is stellar, featuring some of the best writing and characters in any BioWare game to date. It’s the first game in this series to use the massive slew of lore in a way that feels right. No part of the story or world is put to waste, everything and everyone has their own tale to tell and almost every yarn spun is a good one.

Dragon Age Inquisition (2)

The cast is the most interesting and diverse of any game this year and each character is far more nuanced than they first appear. What’s more is that there’s a real sense of loyalty and mistrust between your fellow Inquisition members. Alliances need to balanced carefully and a thankful breakaway from the binary good and evil BioWare choice system delivers some much welcome moral grey areas to traverse.

As with all the BioWare games your party members serve to still be the highlight of the whole experience. Each of them is fleshed out with broad dialogue trees and fully fledged personalities for you to interact with and there’s not a weak link in the bunch. I had favourites to be sure but each party members was interesting enough to warrant you spending some with them.

This emphasis on smaller character arcs and conflicts serves as a great contrast between the larger scale of the overall story and the world changing decisions you’re expected to undertake as a key member of the Inquisition.

This is where the real scope of the game and it’s mechanics becomes frighteningly clear. It moves the focus away from you and your small band of warriors and finally brings attention to the fast network of Dragon Age’s complex politics and alliances and throws you into the middle of it all.

You engage with the various other factions and kingdoms by way of sending your advisers and agents out into the world to undertake missions on your behalf. These are undertaken in real time with the timer ticking down even if you’re not playing. Each missions reaps some rewards and serves to bolster the Inquisition’s power and influence.

You not playing an armchair general though, you can venture out with your own small party to acquire resources and fill requisitions for the Inquisition, which either add to the influence and power of your army, or expand your own personal suite of gear like potions and weapons.

Dragon Age Inquisition (5)

Progression in the main story is actually locked behind advancing the Inquisition’s might to a certain point, meaning that the game practically forces you into exploring. While this could have been a cumbersome and annoying restriction on the gameplay it instead serves to be one of the game’s greatest decisions as it forces you into engaging with the incredibly enchanting areas on offer,

Each of the numerous zones you’ll be roaming around is gigantic and really serves to cater to the wanderlust the game instills in you. From a desolated desert to a verdant mountain range and the dreaded marshlands, there’s a stellar amount of variety in the environments and a staggering amount of things to do and missions to undertake.

Whether you’re hunting down rebels for the nearby mayor or seeking resources for the Inquisition to utilize, you’re constantly progressing and building your forces. There’s no sense that you’re ever wasting time and nothing you do is ever in vain as it all comes back to making the Inquisition a more formidable force.

Dragon Age Inquisition  (8)

Inquisition takes the a lot elements of both Origins and Dragon Age 2 to create the best combat system in the series yet. There’s still a foucs on the real-time, moment to moment combat that sees you engaging enemies in action-lite manner, but the more tactical orientated nature of Origins is here in full.

You can pause the combat at any time to bring up a tactical view mode that allows you to map the actions and movement of each party member individually. A single button press will make all play out, leaving you free to plan accordingly as things unfold. It’s a fantastic system that accommodates a large range of play styles and challenge level without sacrificing any of the fantastic depth.

The combat’s fantastic level of depth is mostly thanks to the wonderful amount of class variety that Inquisition offers. Classes are still divided into the the tried and true warrior, rogue and mage archetypes, but the numerous amounts of sub-classes and specializations available to each opens up a massive amount of variation to the combat and makes it just fantastic to engage with on so many levels.

This is the first game that sees BioWare making use of the Frostbite 3 engine and they’ve leveraged it to some fantastic results. The environments are jaw droppingly gorgeous at times, with the foliage, water and particle effects from spells standing out as some of the best in class.

The texture quality all round is just fantastic and the facial animation on each character is a serious and much needed step up for the series. Subtle nuances in the facial animation speak far more than a whole string of sentences and the game capitalizes on that reality very well.

When you look at the sheer attention to detail and the massive scale of the world it’s quite the achievement. The art style finally differentiates the series from hordes of other generic fantasy universes and lends the game quite a bit of unique flair, which was very lacking before.

Conclusion:

Inquisition is the most fleshed out and fully realized Dragon Age game yet. It uses its  massive amount of interesting lore, some incredible characters and gameplay elements that are as compelling mechanically as they are narratively to create a game that is extraordinarily gripping. It makes you feel the weight and impact of each choice like few other games can and the result is a world that I’ll be happy to return to for a good long while.

The Breakdown:

Story: 9/10
Gameplay: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10
Graphics:9/10
Sound: 9.5/10

Sam Fourie

Ever so slightly unhinged, this one spends most of his time playing or writing about video games. Also dabbles heavily in tabletop, comics and the occasional bout of music creation.

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WWE 2K15 Review

I’m back, baby! Wooo! The dirtiest player in the game, literally. But enough about me. Let’s talk about WWE 2K15, which makes its annual return to a console near you, the new generation of consoles included. Fancy a testosterone-fueled bout in the ring? Check out our brand new review.

As some of you guys will know I’ve been an avid wrastlin’ fan for quite a number of years. My WWE game repertoir in particular consists of titles in the series going back as far as WWF SmackDown! which was released on the original PlayStation (and I still maintain this is the best wrestling game to date). Between then and now, Yuke’s has made tremendous strides in the realm of wrestling games, but with great success, comes great failures. We’ve seen WWE titles in the recent years that have been truly groan-worthy, whereas in other years, the love child of Vince McMahon (yes I’m actually still talking about the WWE games) has proven to be some of the most enjoyable games in the entertainment medium. Last year saw one of the biggest rosters in the game’s history, and so many different modes that you simply didn’t know what to do with it.

Enter down the ramp, none other than WWE 2K15, and Yuke’s newest entry into the WWE series with some great new innovations since 2K14, namely the introduction of an updated momentum meter which actually makes quite a bit more sense to use during your mano-a-mano (or diva-a-diva) bouts. There’s also been a few new Superstars added to the mix, and despite the Superstars that have been stalwarts in the game series for the last few years just getting updated textures, these new Superstars has been given a lot of love and attention. Certainly something that is admirable. Speaking of new Superstars, some of the new additions are The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan), Rob Van Dam, Curtis Axel, Xavier Woods, Los Matadors, The Usos (Jimmy & Jey), The New Age Outlaws (Billy Gunn and Road Dogg Jesse James), Goldust and Rusev. Of course, if you pre-ordered the game, you also get the Hulkster, and the Icon, Sting as a pre-order bonus, but unfortunately this reviewer did not get the opportunity to test drive these Superstars. There is a total of 63 Superstars, 8 Divas and 3 Managers in the game, the smallest roster by far in recent years.

From a gameplay perspective, there literally seems to have been little to no progress made on several of the lingering issues from the previous entries. The collision system has seen leaps and strides over the years and I simply have to acknowledge Yuke’s for developing such an outstanding engine, but there are just so many bugs that were prominent in previous entries that have not been fixed yet. Prominently I noticed on several occasions how performing top-rope manoeuvres ends up with my character simply dropping next to the Superstar lying on the mat, hurting themselves in the process, and it happens more-often than not. Another issue I ran into while playing was the exceptionally sensitive (or at times insensitive) reversal system. If your timing is not 100% accurate you are either too early or too late in reversing your opponents move. When playing online, this flawed system is even more highlighted especially when lag comes into play. There has to be a more organic way for Yuke’s to implement a reversal system. The current system simply does not work the way it’s meant to.

WWE 2K15’s story modes this year are two fold. Renamed to 2K Showcase Mode and Who Got NXT Mode’s respectively. The 2K Showcase mode is your typical storymode in a WWE game in that it follows a set of historical matches with OMG or Showcase moments during matches to progress things. The focus on this year’s installment are 2 historical feuds in the form of John Cena Vs. CM Punk which led up to the beginning of the “Reality Era” of WWE and the more classical HBK vs. Triple feud, which showed off some the best matches in WWE between two of the best Superstars in WWE history. Both storylines consists of 19 matches, ranging from Singles competitions to Elimination Chamber bouts and even Tag Team match-ups. I personally found some of the objectives quite hard to accomplish due to the fact that a lot of them are just thrown out without any sort of explanation as to how to perform them. In other cases, frustration caused by having to redo most matches due to a failure of pushing the correct buttons at the correct time, or even for stupid little things such as missing an opportunity to perform the right thing at the exact time it needs to happen. I’m not putting the blame entirely on Yuke’s for this, but they could certainly have made things easier by including on-screen tips on how to perform certain things at the correct times. The Who Got NXT mode introduces you to several NXT rookies in single matches with similar match conditions as can be found in the 2K Showcase mode. It simply acts as filler, since there were so many omissions from the rest of the game, and gives you something extra to do and will probably not take you that long to complete, provided you are patient with all the objectives during matches.

WWE Universe mode unfortunately suffered a cut in several areas, such as the build-your-own story mode popularised in previous releases. There have been a few other expansions though, such as the ability to assign pre-created stories to rivalries as well as a few small things here and there. Create-a-wrestler has also suffered a few omissions in the form of a oddly missing Create-a-special-move mode, which was a fan favourite, especially with this reviewer. Aside from these glaring omissions, you can still create very well-balanced and great custom wrestlers.

Another issue I had with the game, which kinda ties in with the reversal system is the fact that overall match progression tends to get a bit stagnant, especially if you are used to the gameplay system. Whether you play the game on the easier difficulties or the harder ones, there seems to be a linear and static flow, which proves to be utterly stale. There doesn’t seem to be any real difficulty curve, and all that really makes the game hard is the inaccurate reversal system. Aside from that, I think WWE games would really benefit from a more integrated training system for newer players. I think WWE 12 had one of the best training system in any WWE game that I’ve played to date, but even that was lacking since, a more hands-on approach would be better. Imagine for a second being trained during your initial bouts, and learning about moves, instead of just being thrown in with little to no training. I mean who actually goes to look for tutorials actively when starting a new sports game?

Graphically the WWE games of recent years has always improved with every year’s new release, and 2K15 is no different, but as mentioned above, love was given more to certain areas, and neglected in others. Case in point, I noticed how picking up certain objects would glitch out the engine to such a degree that it looks like the objects and the player character are one and the same thing. Character models, as mentioned before has in some cases been improved markedly, but as can be seen in WWE 2K15, sometimes creating good-looking and realistic eyes, are incredibly hard. Ryback’s eyes creeped me the hell out. There I said it. They tried to recreate the intensity that he shows when he flips out and increases his menacingly angry fits, but his video game counterpart looks like something out of a 1980’s horror movie when his eyes pop out like that. Gives me cold shivers I tell ya.

The audio department sees several new licensed songs introduced to the new title, which I quite enjoyed and as with previous games in the series just adds to the overall quality of the game. Sound effects are as consistent as ever, and this reviewer found little to no fault with the way the environment was brought to life. There was one instance in which, during a storyline match, half-way through the audience noise just completely clipped out, and only came back during an action sequence, after which it disappeared again until the end of the match. This may have just been a bug, which hopefully Yuke’s sorts out in their next patch. Commentary has not been one of the strongest sides for the WWE games of late, and aside from a few newly recorded comments for both the main game and the Who Got NXT modes, there hasn’t been much change, but you can certainly hear that Lawler and Cole went out of their way to make the new commentary memorable.

Online has been one of the most lacking systems in any sports games I’ve ever played. This may be related to our internet locally or it may be poor design, but it has been a prevalent issue in any and all WWE games I have played to date, and as such I cannot make a comment one way or the other. Just be aware that attempting to play WWE’s online portion on Xbox 360, might prove to be difficult due to severe lag, and other players elsewhere in the world can most probably see this as I am constantly kicked out of the lobbies I try to join. The times I did manage to play, I did notice that it has the potential to be great fun, provided you are patient and allow for the shoddy reversal system.

Conclusion:
Yuke’sseems to be painting an altogether different picture for fans of the series. With a significantly reduced roster, shorter playable stories, and several stripped out features, WWE 2K15 seems to be, like so many of it’s predecessors, a weak entry into the series. There are some redeeming qualities, but they are simply too few and far inbetween. The game is simply just more of the same old same old. So if you’re a fan of the continuation, and you’d like to test drive the new 2K Showcase and NXT modes, give it a bash. However, if you’re looking for a good wrestling title, best look elsewhere.

The Breakdown:
Story: 7/10
Gameplay: 6/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sounds 6/10

Jonathan Bester

Freelance reporter for ITF Gaming. Quirky and concise. Strange and precise. Awkward hugger extraordinaire.

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LEGO Jurassic World Review

The LEGO series has brought us a wide range of enjoyable games that include standalone titles but also films that have been adapted into LEGO form. The latest film to get an adaptation is Jurassic World. Does LEGO Jurassic World live up to some of the top games in the series? Let’s find out.

The plot of the game takes a trip through the four Jurassic films. In true spirit of the LEGO games, LEGO Jurassic World takes the most iconic scenes from the four films, recreates them in LEGO and then adds a bit of a humorous twist to the proceedings. It’s all rather fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some alterations have been made to the scenes to make them more family friendly with the signature LEGO charm; it works really well and is enough to cause the player to snigger here and there. The Jurassic World part of the campaign does have some spoilers within so if you are yet to see the film, best hold off from playing this part of the campaign until you have done so.

Gameplay wise, LEGO Jurassic World features similar gameplay featured in previous games from the franchise. It involves a significant amount of brick breaking, coin collecting and interacting with the environment. LEGO Jurassic World features quite a bit of basic puzzle solving by utilising the various characters’ skills or special abilities. They aren’t amazing abilities but they suit each character’s role within the universe.

Each of the films is split into about five levels, allowing players to quickly make their way through some of the more exciting moments from each film. From evading the T-Rex in a jeep to sneaking around the pair of Velociraptors in the kitchen, it’s really quite enjoyable to relive these moments in LEGO form.

There isn’t as much combat in LEGO Jurassic World as there is in other LEGO games and this makes sense simply because all of the films pretty much focus on the characters running away from the dinosaurs. However, there are some sections that do feature combat and these are executed nicely with a great deal of style. They really are some of the more entertaining parts of the game and break up the somewhat tedious sections. However, not all of them are fantastic escapes from the puzzle solving. From the levels for the second film, the Compsognathus or Compy rears its ugly head. These little critters are just as annoying as in the films in that they are quick and once a pack of them swarm you, it’s over. They have a knack for dropping your health really quickly, requiring the player to really focus when encountering them. It’s a bit of a cheap move, especially when there seems to be an infinite of them and stopping them spawning requires a little trial and error.

Additionally, it’s very much like previous LEGO games. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it’s really easy to pick up and play, it’s a bad thing because not much has changed since and it just feels like more of the same.

What I also found a little weird was that while both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were available to be played after the prologue, The Lost World and Jurassic Park III could only be played after completing the preceding film’s adaptation.

Visually, the films have been adapted well and are quite pleasurable to look at. However, the game does seem to suffer from the odd graphical glitch.

The audio part of the game is on par with the visuals. Voice clips have been used from the first three films and enhance the experience. In addition, hearing the Jurassic Park theme is a nostalgic trip in itself.

Conclusion:
LEGO Jurassic World has its fair share of issues but is a treat for any fan of the Jurassic films. It takes what made the films great and adds in that signature LEGO charm to make it really unique. While it does feature some unfortunate Compy encounters and feels like more of the same, LEGO Jurassic World is still an entertaining experience including fun puzzles, great storytelling and thoroughly enjoyable combat sections.

The Breakdown:
Story: 8/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Lasting appeal: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 8/10

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

The Metal Gear series is one that has picked up quite a following since its inception. The series spanned a period of nearly 30 years and has just gone from strength to strength. After much anticipation, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has been released and looks to finish what Ground Zeroes started.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes place after the events of Ground Zeroes and once again, players will assume the role of Big Boss or as he is nicknamed in the events in this game, Punished “Venom” Snake. The Phantom Pain takes place approximately 9 years after the events from Ground Zeroes. Big Boss has just awoken from a 9 year coma and is not in the best shape. Weak and missing his left arm, Big Boss escapes certain death when the hospital he is lying in is suddenly attacked by a group that wants him dead.

During the escape, he meets up with Revolver Ocelot, who aids him in getting to safety and is working with a new mercenary group called Diamond Dogs. Diamond Dogs was created by Boss’s old partner from their previous group MSF. As the game progresses, Big Boss uncovers more clues about the group on which he and Diamond Dogs would like to exact revenge. He also discovers that the group, Cipher, has some secret plans that he will need to put an end to.

The story is crafted nicely and provides adequate motivation for players to undertake various missions for Diamond Dogs. However, unlike previous games in the series, The Phantom Pain’s storyline contains fewer scripted memorable moments. The prologue to the game was an excellent introduction and possibly even overshadows the story that follows. It’s a little unfortunate as the series has always been about telling a story with a few twists. The characters handle carry what story there is rather well, however, and there’s quite a fair share of them.

In terms of gameplay, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain can be a little overwhelming once the mechanics are explained to you and you are given this massive open world to explore. Once you get the hang of it, however, it makes the gameplay just so much more enjoyable.

The game will take players to various locations around the world, namely Afghanistan and Africa. Each location has a slur of missions and side ops that can be played through and these yield GMP, which is the game’s currency, and other materials used for development of new items and upgrades. The locations also have multiple areas littered with enemies, resources and ammo.

While it is primarily a game about being stealthy, The Phantom Pain lets you take the approach that you prefer to use. You may start a mission off stealthily but then decide to go loud halfway through; the best part being that it doesn’t punish you as much as other stealth games do. The game features a day and night cycle which can either aid or hamper your sneaking and guard shifts change regularly, leaving a gap for Big Boss to exploit. If someone spots you as you’re sneaking through an outpost, a brief slow motion sequence called “Reflex Mode” activates, giving you the opportunity to silently take out the enemy who spotted you in order to prevent a full combat alert. It’s a really nice touch and makes for some exciting moments. The choices made and tense moments of nearly getting caught make for some memorable instances that the campaign somewhat fails to deliver at times.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain offers incentive to not kill every enemy you come across, however, as every enemy you find can be added as staff to Mother Base, the HQ of Diamond Dogs. Players are able to play the main game without ever dabbling in the managing of Mother Base, but this can come at a serious disadvantage. Very early in the game, the Fulton Recovery System is introduced to Big Boss and this is where things become very interesting. Big Boss is able to recruit enemies to the Diamond Dogs cause by force; this is done by simply knocking them out or putting them to sleep with a tranquiliser dart. Once the enemy is out, Boss can attach the Fulton balloon to the target and it is collected by an aircraft which takes them back to Mother Base where Ocelot “convinces” them to join the cause.

Recruited individuals become a part of the Diamond Dogs ranks and are slotted into different teams based on their skills. Initially the only team available is the R&D Team, which allows Big Boss to develop upgrades for his equipment, new tools and items and of course, more guns. As progression is made throughout the game, more teams become available and additional functions are added such as deploying squads on missions to earn more GMP, resources and recruit more members. Teams are upgraded by recruiting skilled members with higher skills. The higher skilled potential recruits can be located in the world by interrogating the various soldiers littered around the map. The sheer amount of guns, gadgets and vehicles that can be unlocked via managing Mother Base is astounding. It also gives you new ways of approaching missions. It becomes quite enjoyable as the game goes on.

Visually, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looks amazing. The various locations have been crafted well and are an absolute pleasure to explore. Character models and animations look great and the slow motion Reflex Mode adds the right amount of blur to show off the slowing down of time.

Audio wise, the game excels. Regular series composer Harry Gregson-Williams returns to provide a soundtrack that hits all of the right notes almost all of the time. The voice acting is quite superb, however, this is mostly for the supporting characters. Troy Baker does a fantastic job at voicing Revolver Ocelot. Kiefer Sutherland once again voices Big Boss, but unfortunately has very little to say throughout the campaign. There aren’t any real long conversations where we can hear him really giving life to Big Boss, which is a little sad.

Conclusion:
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a great game. While its story leaves quite a bit to be desired, the supporting characters are interesting and help move the narrative along. Additionally, the gameplay is excellent and is really a treat for the player as it gives them options for approaches to missions. Many of the memorable moments that can be experienced are likely to be unscripted events that take place in the field. While the typical Metal Gear narrative is not present and some longtime fans may be disappointed, the gameplay makes up for its shortcomings and will have players hooked on the various features within the game.

The Breakdown:
Story: 8.2/10
Gameplay: 9.7/10
Lasting appeal: 9.3/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Sound: 9.3/10