Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins - Final Round Review

The Arkham series stands as testament to how amazing a licensed game can be when handled correctly, and is responsible for creating the freeflow combat system which is now a standard combat style of third person action games.

Warner Bros. Games Montreal were given the lofty task of bringing the Dark Knight back to our living rooms with an origin story, introducing famous villains for the first time through the eyes of a younger and more brash Batman.  The premise it epic; Batman has a bounty of $50 million on his head, bringing the world’s deadliest assassins together in Gotham city, at the behest of mob boss Black Mask.  They are given one night to eliminate Batman, and are competing against each other for the reward and honour.  This has you gliding and diving all over Gotham city, following clues and beating up thugs, just as you would in Arkham City.

Gotham looks and feels exactly like it did in Arkham City; obviously it’s set in the same place (that’s hard to avoid) but the game is set during winter again, giving off the same cold, dank visuals that the predecessor did.  Not to say the game looks bad, other than an odd visual issue here and there it looks great.  Getting around the city is easy with your grappling boost, unlocked from the start this time, or quick travel in the Batwing once you unblock the jamming signal in each area.

Finding where to go, on the other hand, can be a huge pain in the ass.  The indicator will sometimes plant itself as a waypoint before leading to your destination, and does not disappear from that location until you have left the area.  If you don’t know where you’re heading this can fool you into looking around a pointless area, until you get irritated enough to leave and it finally moves to your true destination.  Issues with grappling around the city become apparent during these trying times, some buildings have multiple grappling points while other ledges and rooftops will have none.  One in particular that becomes irritating is down beside the bridge, you are unable to grab the side and pull yourself onto it.  I even had times where I was unable to grapple the cranes, whose sole purpose is to help you cross at that lower point.

Once you eventually reach your destination you are greeted with two types of combat, either an all-out brawl or a stealth room.  I say stealth room because they are all essentially set up the same, complete with gargoyles and floor grates from Arkham Asylum.  There has been no noticeable change for these areas, approaching enemies has been the same experience through all three games and the repetitiveness is starting to show by the third instalment;  gadgets still don’t serve much purpose in combat, which is disappointing.  Freeflow combat has the same issues as the stealth rooms; there are no noticeable changes to the combat system, when it could really use some visual tweaks.  The biggest issue here is a lack of creativity, it seems the developers were so scared of messing with the well-established formula that they refused to alter it (for better or worse it would seem), or give it their own unique flare.

The major change to the series is Batman himself, showing a younger and more aggressive side of the hero we know and love today.  At this point in time Batman is still unsure of his overall purpose as a crime fighter but feels that he is on the right track, regardless of the punishment he takes or how close he comes to death.  This aggression and somewhat arrogant personality fits the origin story well, as he learns that being Batman means more than he ever anticipated.  I really enjoyed this side of Batman towards the villains and thugs, but it seeped into his interactions with Alfred and he is a complete dick to him (even after his life is saved on more than one occasion).  This change was a necessity and is appreciated in a sequel which clutches onto so much of the previous instalments; especially when the villains suffer from the same parallel as previous Arkham titles.

With the massive variety of villains to choose from in the Batman/DC universe, it’s incredibly disappointing to see characters reused again and again in major roles.  I was expecting a lot more variety this time around, to bring some of the other villains into the spotlight for a change. When a new villain finally does appear Batman’s interactions with them are so short lived they may as well not been in the game, which leaves these encounters rather flat and shallow.

Characters like The Joker eat up a large portion of playtime that could be well spent fleshing out the other assassins; the pathetic Deathstroke appearance in particular.  How many times can the story focus on the Joker instigating Batman?  Bane does play a larger role this time, but he is still greatly overshadowed by The Joker.  The confrontations themselves are rather lacklustre and never add up to anything fresh; again the Deathstroke boss-fight comes to mind.

The idea that each villain will teach Batman a valuable lesson as a crime fighter or as a man is absolutely brilliant, but it completely fails when there are only two instances that portray any kind of personal revelation to the character.  Borrowing such a considerable amount from the last two titles stole what potential the story had, and left us with an unoriginal plot and boring villain cameos. Batman’s origin story is faithful to a fault to the source material established by Rocksteady, and is unable to define itself as its own game; much like Batman was unable to define himself in this title.

Final Round Review - 6/10

 - Will Flynn

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate - Final Round Review

The Batman: Arkham series has performed highly for the last two games, but whether Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate – the first handheld Batman title – can step up to the plate is a whole new question.

Blackgate was not developed by Rocksteady Studios, the series creators, or even Warner Bros. Games Montreal like Origins, but was rather done by Armature Studio as their first original game.

From the very start of the game, Armature kept true to other games in the series, with similar art style and the same voice actors as used in Origins.  It is easy to see that Armature Studios worked closely with Montreal to keep the story cannon but spoiler-free, making this a brilliant companion piece that can be played in any order.

With a 2.5D display, Blackgate has very little frame-rate or screen-tear issues and the gameplay feels smooth yet solid.  Even with the depth of 3D graphics, animations, ledges to swing to, and the 90 degree camera rotations, the side-on view often feels like a side-scroller.  However, the game is quite plain. There is hardly any variation with level design and the colour palate is stuck on grey, brown and a mixture of the two.  Detective mode shows off slightly more colour, adding in blue and orange.   While Blackgate looks exciting, it ends up feeling monotonous.

Due to the 2.5D display there is only so much can be done, which is predominantly running back and forth, unlocking doors, and taking down the rare pack of enemies.  The best part of the gameplay is the combat but there is just not enough.  The majority of the time you run from room to room, trying to decipher the barely readable map, attempting to open a door you can’t find.  Backtracking is a common occurrence, especially after obtaining the required upgrade.   There is nothing new in terms of gadgets either, they are exactly the same from previous games, and are stashed conveniently around Blackgate Prison in Wayne Enterprises boxes.  When you do eventually encounter a combat scenario, they will grab your attentions and you’ll be entirely focused and engrossed in the action.  It is a shame these fights are all so short lived and simple, it leaves you yearning for more, and yet doesn’t provide.

Blackgate’s biggest downfall is the lack of game modes.  There is nothing on offer other than the story.  Sure, there are a few hidden objects during the campaign, but it could benefit from some challenge maps to show off the awesome combat system.  They could easily have shortened the story, or minimize the pointless backtracking, to give us such a mode but instead we are left with nothing once the story is complete.  Thus, there is very little replayability.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate is a solid PS Vita game with good visuals, an interesting story and some pretty fun gameplay elements.  Nevertheless, it falls short in terms of gameplay modes, replayability and, at times even enjoyment.  I can’t imagine there being any different on the 3DS version either.

Final Round Rating  -  6.5/10

 - Frank van der Merwe

Monday, 28 October 2013

GamerScore Vs. Trophies

As this console generation comes to a close (PS3/Xbox360) we fondly look back at all the games we’ve enjoyed, the arguments and discussions and, of course, the fan-boy wars.  But what has kept our hold to one side more than the other?  The exclusive games?  The controller?  The community?  Or is it the ability to prove your worth against all the others?

When boiled down, both GamerScore (Xbox360) and Trophies (PS3) show off your gaming skill and determination.  But does either of these numbers/scores hold any real validity and, if so, which is more accurate in terms of player skill?

Both systems work on the very simple basis of completing the game to receive an achievement/trophy for it.  Most games have different levels/tiers of achievements and trophies depending on difficulty or progress.  But is it fair that a player with more time automatically has a better score?

When you compare GamerScore and Trophies there is one very distinct difference.  The reward for playing a PS3 game relentlessly until you receive the Platinum Trophy is much higher than the reward for the GamerScore equivalent, making it more visually pleasing.  However, due to the more consistent nature of GamerScore it seems like a more public and competitive system among the masses of online gamers.

Some argue that it is harder to improve your GamerScore than Trophy Rank because of the lower number system, which makes it harder to rack up points, but this is an unfair comparison.  It is all just a series of numbers.  For example, if you were to take the average Trophy level of 14 (32000pts) and convert it to GamerScore, it will equate to roughly 20,300.  There is a rather large gap between two numbers, but this is due to Trophy points ranging from 15-180 points, whereas Achievements range from 10-100.

Certain games are sometimes undercut or overlooked when it comes to points.  Games in the sporting genre often get left behind, due to the different skill used in comparison to the average First-Person-Shooter or Action game.  But this means little if you want to improve your score.

As fun and brutal as competition can be between gamers and their scores, there is one rather large problem.  For the time being all your points are just accumulated and handed back to the player, nothing else.  It also seems somewhat unfair that the more games you play, the higher your score is.  Shouldn’t there be some sort of percentage system? Meaning a player’s score would drop if they didn’t excel or finishing games.  But then this comes with its own set of problems.  What if someone only ever plays a small handful of games, thus keeping their scored upped forever.  Or what if somebody played a new game on your profile, and your score dropped as a result of someone else?  There are so many issues that we can run into and will cause problems in the competitive gaming world.  But what are our options?

Sadly, we live in a time where keeping track of everything is normal and your performance is always scrutinized.  However, thanks to the countless amounts of games and modes there will always be a place for you to compete, no matter your style.  In the end, it all comes down to your skill, not the amount of hours you sink into numerous games.

Both the Trophy Rank and GamerScore hold their purpose though, they keep you coming back to complete and 100% your favourite titles.  There is a sense of accomplishment, though, when an Achievement or a Trophy pops.  I think the next generation of consoles could go a step further and take our competitive nature to the next level, whether with Achievements, Trophies, or some combination of both.

 - Frank van der Merwe

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Resident Evil.Net

When Resident Evil 6 launched in late September 2012 (due to a street date break) Capcom had prepared a lot of buzz for ResidentEvil.Net and how its features would become essential for gamers participating in its multiplayer.

Resident Evil.Net is an online service that brings players together to compete and participate in online events giving each participant rewards for breaking high scores, toping leader boards and for participation.  It offers extended online replay value for both Resident Evil 6 and Resident Evil Revelations.

To use RE.NET you are required to sign up, create a profile, and attach said profile with your gaming account (PSN, Xbox Live, or Steam).  By doing this you can sync your account regularly, allowing your participation in events and the completion of missions to be recorded and points awarded to your account.  These points go towards unlocking rewards for in-game use and profile customisation.  Even logging in regularly will reward you with a nice bonus, which continues to grow each consecutive day you log in.

Events range from completing missions as fast as possible, to hunting down certain enemy kills.  My favourite so far was the event requiring every player on the network to fight and kill 100,000 J’avo in a single week.  I didn’t think this would be quite so successful, but within the seven days we had managed to take down the J’avo threat and were all rewarded for our help in the cause (with the highest kill count members receiving bonuses).

Resident Evil: Revelations was added to the service with its release early 2013 on the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, providing additional unlocks and more events to participate in.  With an incredibly different gameplay the variations in events expanded, bringing a welcome breath of fresh air.  Personally, I find Revelations to have more enjoyable events competitively and recommend it highly.

The main reason to participate is the rewards; they can be pretty awesome, and the ability to unlock in-game content beats the hell out of paying for it online.  Each character has an unlockable EX costume, which is a variation of the already unlockable costume available in-game.  Going back to Revelations, a source of reward is the capability to unlock a substantial range of weapons, weapon skins and custom parts.  As for unlocks on your account there is a possibility for wallpapers, new diorama pieces, and building your own personal outbreak.

I hope that Capcom will broaden their attempts to create a populated online community, with changes that chip away at the clutter of tabs and links as well as speeding up the site.  A more streamlined profile where people can easily access and view your feats would also be a nice addition, that way you can show-off your badassery in different evens. 

If you are unsure whether RE.NET is worth your time, consider the fact that it is completely free and will add some spice to the multiplayer.  The unlockables are only a small reason to sign up; a common goal with the community brings a sense of accomplishment that is otherwise unseen outside of small groups and clans.  Resident Evil.Net keeps me coming back to Revelations when I might have otherwise walked away.

- Will Flynn

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sonic: Lost World (3DS) - Final Round Review

It’s no stretch to pick up a new Sonic title and fear for the worst, and Lost World is no exception.  Releasing on both the 3DS and the WiiU, I can only comment on the 3DS version.  Sonic as a handheld is both a blessing and a curse, and the new powers and reminiscent levels add to the feeling.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure whether I love or loath Lost World.  Moments of gameplay are flowing, fast and a pleasure to play; powers can be fun, the story has a hint of new flavour, and things occasionally just work.  But this is not the entire game, it’s not even close.  Other segments of gameplay feel convoluted and unnecessarily difficult, and that’s not even considering the graphics or controls that also bring this title down.

The thing that grates on my nerves the most with Sonic: Lost World is most definitely the visuals during cut scenes.  They are blurry and unfocused; the closest I can come to describing them more accurately is that they look like old school VHS footage, which has then been re-recorded with an even older camcorder.  The 3D capability does nothing to compensate this either.  But perhaps the worst thing of all is that the story is kind of interesting.  Sonic, Tails, and Eggman have conversations and banter that any age can enjoy, and the one-liners are truly to die for.

The levels are where the true confusion takes place.  As with most adventure platformers, there are a few different areas for these levels (Ice and Water are amongst my most hated, ever), and with each new area there is a new power to take control of.  Sometimes I have come across these new powers without learning how to use them first, and am stuck figuring it out for a minute before continuing.  It is near impossible to complete the level or section of map without using the power correctly, but thankfully (and annoyingly) if you die enough times the game takes pity on you and gifts you an RV to power around your obstacle.  Too bad they didn’t really teach you how to use that either.

There are occasionally multiple paths to take on your never ending quest to save the little creatures Eggman likes to capture.  Sometimes these different paths don’t actually mean much (take the left or right path), but other times you will be gifted with added lives, more coins or a faster route.  The only real way to tell the difference is by completing each level numerous times, though, and I am not sure I like it enough for that.

The special levels also fall under the love/hate category.  You are turning in circles moving your 3DS all which ways, all just to collect some orbs and a Chaos Emerald.  Unless you are in a private, or not too public, and with room to move these levels can be inane, frustrating and annoying.

Controlling Sonic is what truly kills the game.  Out of the numerous buttons and the countless possibilities of the touch screen, there are roughly 5 buttons to use at any one time.  Jump and Spin both take 2 buttons each, and also double as attack, bounce, summersault and boost.  It doesn’t seem too bad, but it can be a massive inconvenience that you can easily lose a life to.  The touch screen has some functionality as a button, but not much.

As a 3DS title, it’s not too bad.  It is easy to pick up and play for short sessions, but any longer and the issues become incredibly irritating.  It is easy to look past the flaws in design while not playing, but they come crashing back as soon as you pick it up again.  It could be an amazing game, but unfortunately Sonic: Lost World on the 3DS lacks the final polish that it needs.

Final Round Rating  -  5.5/10

 - Steff Webb

Friday, 18 October 2013

Skylanders: Swap Force - Final Round Review

The biggest questions people will ask about Swap Force are: is this the standard Activision occurrence where they release the same game with minor variations, and have they gone out on a limb and finally changed something?

Strangely Skylanders: Swap Force fits into both of these; it is very much the same game as Spyro’s Adventure and Giants but the all-round feel is just better, smoother and brighter.  My time with Swap Force has been very up and down, and not only because of the new jump ability.

There are vibrant, detailed colours that come through in every element of the game, from the clothing on NPC’s to the thousands of coins, gems and treasures you pick up.  What they have accomplished with the incredibly bright, popping colours has put an emphasis on the far off backgrounds and your playable Skylander.  This has somehow made both the background and your Skylander pop, and due to this overdrive in the playable areas it gives you a sensation of everything bursting with colour.

Skylanders: Swap Force’s gameplay is quite delightful.  The buttons are straight forward and there’s nothing too complicated going on; it’s perfect for children.  Even some the older audience will enjoy it as it is a light, enjoyable game that can’t be smashed through in one sitting.  This is because of Swap Force’s difficulty system; while it doesn’t make the game crushingly hard, it still offers a decent challenge. 

There is a pretty basic, yet solid, upgrade system for unlocking new abilities and button combinations.  If there wasn’t this game would consist of nothing but a series of mashing the same two buttons over and over.  Another great feature is the challenges that are scattered throughout the game.  They are fun and varied, albeit awkwardly controlled at times, which can be frustrating at first but the controls don’t take long to get used to.

Skylanders: Swap Force does come with its flaws.  The ability to jump at will is a fantastic improvement, but it feels like there should be a double jump.  It’s almost as if they don’t trust us with this awesome power, and are forcing us to take baby-steps.  It would have also been nice to start will all the “basic” attacks, rather than needing to unlock them; you can purchase your third base attack when you get to the first town, but it would have been nice to start out with it. 

Finally, and this is a huge No-No in my books, is the fact that there are certain areas as early in the game as the first area that you simply cannot go into unless you have a Skylander of that type.  The fact that the “Starter Pack” does not come with everything you need to play even the starter-zone is really a massive slap in the face, especially when considering the price a Skylander figurine. 

As far as the actual “Swapping” in Swap Force goes, it feels a little pointless.  It is a cool idea and gimmick to make the game that little bit more dynamic, especially since you can “swap ‘n’ change” your Skylander on the fly.  However it doesn’t add all that much to the game, and it would have been just as good without it.

Although expensive, and kind of mean, Activision has done some fantastic marketing and put it with a pretty good game, making Skylanders: Swap Force a very fun game that can be deemed worthy of the hefty investment, especially for the younger audience.

Final Round Rating  -  8/10

 - Frank van der Merwe

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Dragon's Crown - Final Round Review

Dragon's Crown is a visually stunning sidescroller that takes place in an epic fantasy world filled with huge monsters, villainess characters and of course, Dragons.

The world of Dragon's Crown is lush and colourful, with a variety of locations to loot and destroy all the while being recounted by wonderfully appropriate narrator.  Each step you take is described by this delightful storyteller, who gives the game just as much life as the brilliant visual style.  Locations range between Orc infested subterranean strong holds, to lush forests with shadowy guardians; there is a fair amount of back tracking to be had during the adventure, but it is mostly forgivable simply because of how detailed and beautiful they backdrops are.

To begin your adventure you must first choose your hero, there are 6 to choose from but don’t have too much in the way of variety.  Each class does come with a choice of colour palette that adds a small level of individuality, especially for anyone planning to play online.  These classes all have their own small twist on the standard 3-hit-combos you see in most beat ‘em up title, but end up feeling too similar to each other, which edges out some replayability.  The Elf is, by far, the most interesting of the lot as she has fast melee attacks and a bow for ranged attacks as well; the magic users are almost exclusively ranged, and the melee characters are restricted to only hand-to-hand combat.

One of the first problems that will arise is the lack of abilities or unlockable combos; everyone gets a standard combo attack by mashing square, and a specialty attack with circle.  The Fighters’ special is absolutely useless, unless its power is upgraded and even then you are lucky to hit anyone with it, and what’s worse is your weapon remains stuck in the ground for a period of time.  The loss of weapons effects the melee classes exclusively, and is an incredibly pointless addition to the game; special abilities lose your weapon, being stunned will lose your weapon, being hit to hard will lose your weapon, and every time there is a cool down that leaves you fighting off your enemies with your incredibly weak fists.

There are upgrades to be purchased as well as Armour and loot to be found on your adventures, which add to the RPG feel of the game, but the only item that actually changes when equipped is your weapon (or shield) while the rest of your armour remains the same.  The amount of new abilities to unlock is rather scarce; upgrading attacks, health, and other attributes are surprisingly abundant though as each upgrade has multiple levels to put your hard earn gold into.  Unfortunately the lack of new skills does add to the issue of similarity between classes and other players as they fight identically with the same class.

You have two companions that are always with you, who get in the way more than they help; the Rogue unlocks doors and chests for you (why you have to wait for him and could not just do it yourself is beyond me), while the fairy tells you where secrets are (or everyone chest and door in front of you by sitting in your way).  To add to the mayhem, you are able to have three more companions tag along on your trip. 

 Accidentally leaving your party empty is far too easy to do as your party resets every time you finish a missions.  They can sometimes show up half way through a mission but that is not a reliable option.  This also bothers me, as a somewhat solo player being teamed up without my approval can get annoying.  When you plan ahead and bring along the people you want it can be an epic experience.

Through Dragon's Crown you will obviously encounter monsters and magical creatures to put to the sword, while there the standard offering of Orcs, Goblins and Skeletons, the ferocious bosses are where the best combat lies.  Beasts from the deepest depths of the ocean will come for you, tearing your ship down as you fight back against what seems like a hopeless scenario.  Death itself will swing its scythe for you, forcing you and your party to bring every ounce of courage you can muster see the sun once more.  Minotaur’s will try to drag your broken body down into the dark resting place of so many other poor souls before you, and crushing each and every one of the under your mighty boot as so damn rewarding.

Dragon's Crown offers a fifty/fifty experience; on one hand the combat is easy to pick up and play, but it gives little in the way of deeper gameplay for an experienced beat ‘em up player.  The enemies are fantastic and wonderfully creative, but you will be facing off against these foes to grind experience to even compete with the next demon.

As a PlayStation Vita title it rests well in the short burst, pick up and play style which seams to be the direction the game was originally headed (exclusively too).  As for the PlayStation 3 version, it may look nicer on your big screen but it doesn't have the deeper gameplay we have come to expect.

PSV Final Round Rating - 7.5
PS3 Final Round Rating - 6 

- Will Flynn

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Pokémon X & Y - Final Round Review

Catching them all is more challenging, and fun, than ever before in the sixth generation of Pokémon.  Game Freak has once again outdone themselves, bringing a 3D world to life with great graphics, a spectacular story and plenty of Pokémon to catch.

There are so many Pokémon in X/Y that there are three separate Pokédex for the Kalos region (Central, Coastal and Mountain), and each hold approximately 150 Pokémon; that means, even though Kalos only brings 68 new Pokémon to the table, the region holds over half the known Pokémon in existence.

If you still aren’t excited, the newly discovered Fairy-type Pokémon are awesome.  When this additional Pokémon type was first unveiled I was sceptical, later the idea intrigued me, but now I realise what a great addition it is.  Rather than just a few random new Pokémon with this type, Game Freak have actually overhauled a few of the older generation, such as Clefairy and Marill.  Fairy-type fit nicely into the compatibly chart, and Dragon-type now have some proper competition.

Of course a great game doesn’t come from the amount of Pokémon you can catch, it also comes from how they battle, interact, and are trained.  Without deriving from the classic turn-based style of combat, Pokémon battles are now more cinematic and flowing, moving at a faster pace and feeling that much smoother.  Most thankfully, Pokémon are no longer 2D pixelated sprits during battles, and their sounds and animations are amazing.

Horde battles come as a bit of a fun surprise; you can either summon them, with honey, or be a chance encounter.  The Pokémon in these battles are normally 5 or so levels behind other Pokémon in the area, and are normally quite easy to best, especially if you have abilities that hurt multiple enemies.  I have yet to come across a horde of Zubat in a cave; otherwise I might feel differently about them.

Another new feature is Mega Evolution which can be either amazing or boring, depending on how you use it.  Using Mega Evolution against either dim witted AI or wild Pokémon it can be completely impractical, as you steamroll them, which takes the fun out of it.  But it is very useful against Gym Leaders and in online arenas, even if everyone has a Mega Lucario and one or more of the Mega starters.  Remember though, you can only Mega Evolve one Pokémon per battle, so use it wisely.

You can also train the base stats of the Pokémon in your party using Super Training, using specific punching-bags or by playing a soccer-like mini game for that stat you want raised.  Luckily, there is a cap on how much you can train your Pokémon, and once that is reached only levelling will increase those stats, otherwise there is no telling what the online community would be like.  Promotional Videos, taking photos and even playing with your Pokémon in Pokémon-Amie or Super Training, add an extra element to the otherwise tried and true yet repetitive combat.

The Player Search System is a great way to verse and trade with the thousands of other players around the world, upgrading upon the system in Black/White.  With just a tap of the touch screen we can even watch each other’s Promotional Video’s and see their profile image and information (such as country, favourite Pokémon type/colour).  Interacting with other players has never been easier or more fun.

Story-wise there is very little deviation from earlier titles, you play as a ten year-old, from a very small town (like, three buildings) and the Pokémon Professor wants you to complete the Pokédex for him.  Simple stuff.  The main alteration in the early stages is the speed of game progression and the fact that you have four friends/rivals, rather than only two.  Team Flare, like earlier villainous teams, are out for themselves and it’s your job, of course, to put a stop to them.  There is nothing quite like finding a grunts “key card” after he drops it and tells you “I must have dropped it 9 paces away from me, at the boulder.”  Their gaudy red uniforms and sense of flair let you know when they are around.

It is hard to go wrong with a core Pokémon game, and yet Game Freak continues to add more and more to the series.  More Pokémon, more people, a new area to explore; not to mention the great 3D world, full of amazing deigns and intrigue.  On the surface a kid’s game with simple controls and an even simpler story, can be just as intriguing and involving to the older audience.  Whether you want to complete your massive Pokédex, learn the secrets of Mega Evolution or just be the very best there ever was, X and Y are an excellent next step in the evolution of Pokémon.

Final Round Rating  -  9/10 

 - Steff Webb

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Beyond: Two Souls - Final Round Review

When approaching a game like Beyond you have to understand what kind of game it is; it’s not an action game, it’s not a stealth game and it’s certainly not boring either.  Beyond exists in a world of its own, something only comparable to other games developed by Quantic Dream.  Nothing comes close to the scope this game offers, the many places, time periods, and people all serve a purpose; to help us understand exactly who Jodie Holmes is.

Quantic Dream spent a vast amount of time working closely with the games lead actors/voice actors Ellen Page and Willem Defoe to capture their performance precisely; from the way Jodie walks during a hot summer’s day, to Nathans anguished facial expressions.  Everyone in the game looks incredibly realistic and conveys a level of realism that is not bound simply by graphics, something that’s only able to be expressed through the brilliant writing and the talented cast of actors.  Ellen Page’s performance really brings together the entire picture, you really feel for Jodie and understand her as a person and as pieces of the puzzle slowly come together you begin to understand who she is; precisely what she is struggling to do.

While it is visually astounding, Beyond can suffer from some sporadic texture pop-ins and pixelated shading; these only occurs on objects at a distance, but are noticeable.

The game plays similar to Heavy Rain but is much sleeker and simple to use, there are less button prompts – which seems daunting at first but becomes second nature after a short amount of use –  and some remnants of the old tank controls do surface but it is a rare occasion.  The simple visual prompts and lack of HUD adds to the games cinematic feel and really engrosses you into the story. Combat and action scenes rely on Jodie’s body motion to indicate what to do, and thanks to the handy slowdown feature the action sequences flow smoothly like a film.  There is more freedom than in previous Quantic Dream games, curiosity and spending time investigating things are rewarded with bonuses and unlocks.

Interacting with environments is done in one of two ways: using Jodie as a normal person, or using Aiden as a floating entity to interact in a more poltergeist manner.  With these two characters and their varying abilities, gameplay has considerable variation; stealth and open combat are possibilities that only scratch the surface of their interactions with the world.

Jodie does not directly control Aiden which can lead to some funny or terrifying outbursts from him, especially when he doesn’t like a situation.  The relationship between the two is a difficult one; their souls are tethered together, unable to leave each other’s side is both a blessing and a curse equally.

Beyond takes place over roughly fifteen years of Jodie’s life, beginning with her as a very young girl and following her to adulthood.  During this time you follow her extraordinary life and help her make choices along the way that alter her views and decisions later.  The experiences Jodie has (whether for the better or worse I won’t say) evolve you as a player, the decision maker, which in turn develops Jodie as a character.  Quantic Dream knows how to get your adrenalin pumping and your palms sweating, weaving it into an incredible and unforgettable adventure where action and suspense go hand in hand with the story.

Beyond is not for everyone, but is the most accessible title Quantic Dream has created to date.  Those that take the time to play it will find a masterfully enthralling story with a likewise complete world to go with it.  To have a character who not only has a face and name, but a history and a personality is a refreshing experience from the usually emotionless killing machine.  Jodie Holmes history is complicated, that is why she is a marvel to follow, and her story is expressed through your gameplay choices and decisions.  It’s not about killing everything that moves, or fighting for some greater good; it’s about Jodie Holmes, to understand who she is and where her place in the world is. Beyond: Two Souls is her story.

Final Round Rating - 9.5/10

- Will Flynn

Friday, 11 October 2013

F1 2013 - Final Round Review

F1 2013 is an average game that does a poor job of bringing the world of Formula 1 to the living room.

From the moment the game starts up with the opening cinematic I found myself thrown off by screen tearing and frame rate issues.  This doesn’t ruin the playability of the game, but the texture pop-ins are only marginally short of unbearable.  When the grass or gravel suddenly decides to appear on the side of the track it is downright distracting.  The real cherry on the cake, though, is the landscapes; trees and mountains are 2D and the surrounding buildings and spectators look acceptable, for maybe the last console generation.  Thankfully the road looks pretty decent.

After making it through the intro and finally into the game you get the option to choose between 3 racing teams: Ferrari, McLaren, and Red Bull Racing.  This leads into a mediocre scene with your pit crew working on your car and the mandatory tutorials (including watching videos on how to corner, ect.).

It is possible to quit to the main menu to find the other game modes, though.  The additional modes, other than the Career Mode, include: Grand Prix, Time Trials, Scenario and the new addition of Classic Mode.  Classic mode pretty much puts the same gameplay on the same track in slightly slower, older cars with a different HUD and a slight sepia tint.

It sometimes feels as if F1 2013 just doesn’t know where it should fit in, is it a simulation or an arcade racer?  It doesn’t really hit either style.  There is absolutely no visual vehicle damage, and what wear there is, is internal and displayed on the HUD.  This doesn’t cut it, we should see a change to the car and feel our mistakes, not just have the car look 100% but drive like a bumper car on a gravel road.

In any racing game, simulation or otherwise, the cars are understandably important.  There is a respectable amount of choice with cars and drivers, but there is nothing particularly unique or even enjoyable about them.  When it is hard to read the sponsor stickers on the cars due to low resolution pixels, you know something’s not right.  These details might not annoy everyone, but it’s enough to lower the enjoyment for many people.

Although the franchise has been going steady, F1 2013 isn’t up to scratch.  It feels like the last few entries in the series have not progressed, other than a very few technical and visual upgrades.  If you are a Formula 1 fan and have enough love for the sport, you may find this somewhat entertaining, maybe.

Final Round Rating: 5/10

 - Frank van der Merwe

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Rain - Final Round Review

Rain is more of an experience than a game; it is light on story but heavy on emotion, and throughout your journey amidst the rain slicked streets and abandoned buildings you will form an unspoken bond with the young girl you set out to help.

When the game begins the young hero is bed ridden and can’t leave to see the circus he wished to visit.  As he gazes out his window he sees the silhouette of a young girl being chased by a towering unknown creature, and stumbles out of bed then out the window to help her.  There is no dialog, instead story shown through text that appears on walls and surfaces around the environment.  It’s a simple method of storytelling, but it builds off the games atmosphere and really causes you to feel the loneliness portrayed.

Getting around in Rain is simple enough; running, jumping and climbing are the only buttons you require, and are all responsive during tense moments where you need to act fast.  The most essential ability in the game is the skill to disappear into places not affected by the downpour.  This helps you hide from the creatures that hunt you, and are obvious enough so you don’t miss them in a crucial moment.  The real challenge you face is sneaking past monsters that have walked into the sheltered area, as the also become invisible, however their footprints are visible so it’s mainly about caution and timing.
The biggest threat in the game is a creature called The Unknown that acts very much like Nemesis (from Resident Evil 3), it is never too far behind and is a constant looming threat as to where it will attack next, which turns some levels into a tense game of cat and mouse.

Creature designs are strange but fit the part nicely; they follow the silhouette trend, like the boy and girl, but the few details are strange enjoyable to look at.  The cityscape and the later abstract version look great, rain slicked and dark as a rainy night should look.  Levels have a few enjoyable variations, the factory being especially tense to sneak through.  Some of the city pieces can feel a little repetitive, each level is in a different location but it all takes place in the same town/city; though, the later stages do take a surprising twist.

Unfortunately Rain does suffer from some frame rate issues at times, and its simplistic style can make the game feel very easy at times.  Once the game has been beaten, collectables become available, which adds to the replay value and chapter select (with checkpoint select), allowing you to jump straight back into the parts that you loved.

When Clair de Lune begins to play as you run through the empty streets, the beauty of the game really shines. Rain is one step closer to making video games an art form (if you don’t think they are already) and is well worth anyone’s time, gamer or otherwise.

Final Round Rating - 4.5/5

- Will Flynn

Note: We at Final Round Gaming believe that Downloadable and Indy games should be rated on a different scale to that of Triple A titles/disk releases.   Because of this, our ratings for this category are out of 5.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 - Final Round Review

Pro Evolution Soccer 14 runs on a modified version of Kojima productions Fox Engine, which is being used to build the next game in the Metal Gear series, leading me to the question how and why PES 14 look so bad?  With everything this engine can produce (check out the Phantom Pain tailer), it’s hard to understand why my Huangyin Qingshun football team doesn’t look Chinese.

Most players have a very European look to them and have very little variation with the ready-made team builds.  This brings me to the crowds visuals; there is approximately 5 to 10 variations (sometimes they wear hats!) of supporters and they all look awful, from the jerky animations to the pixelated body’s.  Close ups on players (after scoring in particular) are laggy, and downright unappealing to the eye.

Controlling your player can be difficult while attempting tighter turns or stepping your opponent, I found myself sprinting beside them most of the time and out running them to get into a clear shooting position. Other than exploiting this one weakness in the lower difficulty matches, the oppositions AI are actually rather intelligent, not allowing you to run rings around them without understanding the deeper gameplay on offer.

PES 14 offers a lot of customisation options for characters, stadiums, and even the leagues themselves. This is a welcome feature considering the issues with the standard teams not appearing as they should.  Creating your own player will allow you to play through the Legends Mode (or with any player that is already available), so you can have your own customised player or try and create one that is not available in PES 14.

The biggest option PES14 offers is the Football Life game mode; stepping into the shoes of your team, as well as taking care of players off field.  Sinking hours into Football Life is an easy option for those who live and breathe Football, and offers PES 14 a deeper edge on its competition.

There are four Major Leagues to play through, covering Europe, Latin America, and Asia; unfortunately, other than titles and teams, the Cups do not differ and feel the same across the board.  Thankfully Exhibition Matches are fast and easy to access and picking your favourite team means they are always selected for you.

PES 14 is not a large step forward for the genre, encountering some rather unflattering visual issues and repetitive Leagues.  However, it is easier to access than previous instalments and can offer a lot of fun for those who are willing to put in the effort to learn the deeper playing style that Pro Evolution 14 offers.

Final Rund Rating - 6.5/10

- Will Flynn

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers - Final Round Review

From the legendary JRPG developers Atlus comes the re-release and upgrade of Devil Summoners: Soul Hackers.  Originally released in Japan on the Sega Saturn and later on the PlayStation in the late 90’s, western countries now get to experience yet another Shin Megami Tensei title, this time on the 3DS.


It is easy to see from the very beginning of Soul Hackers, that it was created back in the 90’s; from the stiff controls to the dungeon graphics that are reminiscent of Wolfenstein 3D, little has been updated.  There is still a certain charm to it, though the only people that will see it are fans of the franchise.

The tale is set in Amami City and plays out in three different forms; as the protagonist in either Amami City itself or Paradigm X (a virtual world exclusive to the city) and via experiencing the last moments of certain Summoners through memories of the soul (reached via a really odd character by the name of Kinap). The story can be interesting and involving at times, but is overshadowed by long periods of pointless dialog that generally leads nowhere.

The turn based combat feels out dated and counter intuitive, the battle screens are bland and repetitive and if you have played any Shin Megami Tensei game before then the attacks and layout will be very familiar.  Being able to talk your way out of combat with demons is a cool option, especially when they give you money or join you on your quest without having to battle them first, and their personalities can add some much needed comedic relief.

No JRPG could be complete without a massive cast of characters or creatures and Soul Hackers makes no exception.  With nearly 300 demons that can be tamed, fused together, or summoned into battle, as well as your team and the other playable Summoners and their teams, it is easy to become lost among all the names and faces.  Even your main partner is both a demon (Nemissa) and a normal girl (Hitomi).

Though Devil Summoners: Soul Hackers is a great game (and a nostalgic one for some), it will not appeal to a large audience though, and only Shin Megami Tensei enthusiasts will truly appreciate the subtle story concealed within the hours of tedium and repetitive gameplay.

Final Round Review   -  6/10

 - Steff Webb

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Armored Core V: Verdict Day - Final round Review

Armored Core V: Verdict Day has roughly 60 story missions that are all rather forgettable; most of them boil down to killing all enemies.  If you have come looking for an epic dystopian Mecha story then Verdict Day will disappoint, it brings the bare essentials to produce a story about MechWarrior’s battling each other.

Online and multiplayer are the main focus for where combat takes place; selecting one of three factions to work with per season means that each season has a new mix of players to fight with or against.  Unfortunately, as fun and exciting as that sounds, during my time with the game I could not find a single match or another player online.  The premise is great and hopefully with the servers being region free this time around the online component will be more accessible.

Verdict Day apparently takes place all over the world, yet somehow manages to make every level look like the same patch of desert or building repeatedly.  The developers seems have a fondness for brown and blue (brown is the clear favourite here), most combat areas consist of deserts and repetitive cityscapes.

If you are a beginner then opting for a faster, more agile, Mec will help you get around the terrain; speed over strength will benefit new-comers while they learn and understand the game.  Combat is restrictive for the larger Mecs, thicker shielding won’t protect against the onslaught of aerial enemies that love to hover right above your head, just out of reach of your reticule.  Most levels are a trial and error affair, returning to alter your Mec to cater for the mission, experience is defiantly required so expect to put in a lot of hours grinding and tweaking your Mec.

If you are not a seasoned player then it all comes down to trial and error; unless you are willing to research what certain abbreviations mean, delve deep into understanding the performance of parts, or leaf through page after page of information.  If you have misunderstood something, or assumed that the item is better just because the stats are higher in number, then you have to do your homework to enjoy.  If that is you thing than Armored Core V: Verdict Day offers some of the deepest customisation options I have seen in years.

Combat really depends on how you decide to utilise your Mec, ranging from heavy ground combat to dashing and hovering around the arena in a light Mec.  It is hard to get a fix on exactly how it feels to play, as everyone will have a different experience due to the extensive customisation.  The enemies, on the other hand, are the same for everyone and also where the issues with combat arise, enemies can be outrageously dumb.  Flying Mec’s can and will fly over your Mec, hovering just out of weapons reach; realistically this would be a good tactic if they could also attack while doing so, but it just becomes a case of awkward fly swatting.  When opponents do attack, they have over-powered weapons that make short work of any shielding or health you have, most of them make a B-line for you and don’t give much of an option for offensive or defensive maneuvers, leaving you to back pedal until either you or your enemies die.

Without a doubt the Armored Core franchise has been a mixed bag with the last few instalments, and Verdict Day does nothing to entice new players or lessen the learning curve. With nothing more than a few new toys on offer Armored Core V: Verdict Day feels more like an update or DLC than anything else and did not warrant a seventy dollar retail release.

Final Round Rating - 5/10

- Will Flynn