05-12-14
Posted by Duane at 16:43

TellTale Games' output has (deservedly) begun to gain itself a reputation. Obviously most of that is from their work on The Walking Dead, what with its really rather excellent and surprisingly relatable characters, not to mention the decisions that really put you on that spot, whilst The Wolf Among Us has turned out to be a rather excellent detective drama. This year see's the launch of two new titles in the developers armoury, one of those two is Tales from the Borderlands, developed alongside the team at Gearbox and set after the events of Borderlands 2.


Gameplay takes on the typical, tried and tested we have come to know from Telltale's output. The game pretty much plays along by itself with input only required during key moments in either the dialogue or action, the former gives you various options that you have to choose from within a pre-determined amount of time which could also lead to other events later in the series. The latter are all quick time events, requiring a reactionary input from the controller that matches the on screen icon. In this respect it seems unfair to judge any of Telltales more recent output as just a game.

That would be until The Wolf Among Us came along which, to me at least, felt like it had begun to dig up some of the studio's roots from the likes of 2009's Tales of Monkey Island which featured strong puzzle elements. Okay so it TWAU wasn't quite as much of an adventure game as Monkey Island, it still placed a heavy focus on dialogue, but that dialogue felt like it had a purpose and that you were trying to unravel the events of the game. Tales of Borderlands never really gets to that, not in this first episode anyway, nor does it have you caring or routing for any of its key characters either.



Unlike previous Telltale games, you are placed in "control" of two protagonists, Hyperion employee Rhys and Pandorian con-artist Fiona in a tale that, so far at least, is all about back stabbing and trying to figure out who to trust and when. Neither of the two leads, nor the supporting cast, are particularly likeable and the two characters I was most intrigued by have only featured a little at this point.

This all sounds really rather negative, but in fairness, "Zer0 Sum" is actually quite likeable, its just that its too reliant on the Borderlands humour to carry it and the concern is obviously there that it could continue to do so as the story progresses through the remaining four episodes and whilst humour is a big part of Borderlands' charm, it'd be great if we could see more elements of the series appear in some manner here.

GALLERY:
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24-02-13
Posted by Duane at 17:21

Usually when a horror franchise has reached its third instalment it's begun to try something new, in cinema the Halloween titles went a bit odd what with all the masks and such, Nightmare on Elm Street became more of a cheap comedy, Scream 3 tried to ignore everything that had gone before and then in videogames, Resident Evil gave us the Nemesis and a whole different feel (that being the main point of the game was to run away) whilst Silent Hill was a bit slow off the plate and didn't really get genuinely weird (well, for Silent Hill) until the launch of Silent Hill: The Room which was the series' fourth instalment. Dead Space then is at part 3, so is it more of the same? Or is it suddenly about a space man who hallucinates about fluffy bunnies trying to each his toes or something?



It actually comes as a huge dissapointment that, for the most part at least, Dead Space 3 has stuck to the formula of the previous two titles, elbeit it has more in common with the second games' more action focused gameplay. Necromorphs come out of the walls thick and fast and even if you stick to the dismemberment method of attack thats been a staple of the series they can still be rather spongey in their ability to soak up ammunition. This is most notable if you stick to the previous tried and trusted Plasma Cutter, which is probably an effort on the part of Visceral Games to encourage the player to try out the new weapon creation tools.

There's a good reason for this, the system on offer is really rather good, enabling you to create bolted together weapons from scratch or merely customise other weapons in your inventory. The level of inventiveness is incredibly pleasing too, combining an attachment that allows you to fire a sticky electrical projectile with the RB button to stun the enemies (whilst they've also been slowed down by a blast of stasis) before hacking limbs off is achievable fairly early on incredibly pleasuring to boot. But somehow it feels like it goes against what Dead Space originally felt like it was going to be about, this isn't helped by the perceived increased speed of the Necromorphs and sheer volume of numbers in which they attack from all angles (and boy does Dead Space 3 like to attack you from every perceivable direction, usually all at once), and its due to this that Dead Space 3 feels like its gone a little too far along, and whilst its still a long way off the fabled ďJumping the SharkĒ, its begun to lose that element of Dead Space-ness.

Thats not to say its all bad though, some of the franchises strong points are still apparent. Most notably its ability to make the player feel rather claustraphobic. Early moments of the game have you exploring a derelict fleet of ships and its here where Dead Space fans will feel most at home, especially as the series' strength in using audio is still at a rather high point. Audio cues are often used to distract and disorientate the player, throwing you off guard for the inevitable onslaught of re-animated and mutated corpses that are headed your way. The dulling of sound when in a vacuum still brings a smile to face because of the sheer level of detail and juicy bass that it offers whilst Isaac's footsteps, in his rather heavy looking suit, are suitably noisey and feel as though they echoe through the various ships you get to explore.

And it's not until the third act of the game that the game takes a turn for the worse, the switch to the icey environment was initially an intriguing one, but its handled much much better in the games prologue where the character has no experience of what lies before him and has much more limited resources available to deal with the situation at hand. At this point its genuinely creepy making your way through a blizzard, seeing the needle like limbs of one of the more recognisable necromorphs launching towards you, your movement speed slowed by the depth of the snow gathering at your feet. The latter stages of the game do try to keep this going, but as its already been experienced so early on in the game (and with the rest of the game feeling like its been rather drawn out), it feels like its blown its load far far too early and is now out-staying its welcome by trying to cook you breakfast after a drunken roll around the night before.

It feels rather bad to be writing such a harsh review of Dead Space 3, theres some good stuff here to like, and the production standards are never anything but rather high, and to be fair to Visceral they've tried to bring some new elements to the table, please the already established fans and poach gamers from other titles by throwing the kitchen sink in there. Co-oparatively there's a lot of fun to be had too, and if you're a fan of the series you'll want to play through it as Carver to get his side of the story as it reveals a little more than that of Isaac and has more in common with the series' origins in terms of goings on, but the developers approach to trying to make it appeal to everyone has ultimately made it feel really rather shallow and the least likeable of the four games (including Extraction)
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24-12-12
Posted by Ben at 05:56

Sonic The Fighters is a better game that I expected it to be. Like most people I never got the chance to play it on release, I did use some of the characters in the excellent Fighters Megamix, but never got anywhere near the arcade original. Iíd heard plenty about it though, about how bad a game it was.

The Sonic characters in Fighters Megamix were sluggish, limited characters with poor hit detection, although you were fighting as a giant duck so I guess thatís hardly a surprise. Based on that, and that a Sonic based fighting game sounds terrible, I really wasnít expecting much, but Iíve had fun playing through Sonic the Fighters, to a point anyway.

Sonic the Fighters has a few interesting systems, the first is that to block you activate a shield, if the shield takes too many hits (such as the final blow of a combo) it breaks. You only have 5 shields and they have to last over both rounds, so turtling in the first round will mean you have to go all out attack in the 2nd and possible 3rd rounds. Thereís juggling too, itís difficult to time, but itís something that can be practiced and improved.

With that being said I quite enjoyed my first run through Sonic the Fighters, I was pleasantly surprised there was some depth, I was able to introduce new moves in to my repertoire with each fight, and it was, frankly, fun. But 2nd time through, and third time through, and fourth time through, it became less and less fun. Not bad, just dull.

There are a few characters who differ from each other, Bark the bear for example is a powerful throw heavy character, Bean, the aforementioned duck is severely limited combo-wise but drops bombs. Everyone else though, thereís not enough to them to warrant a play. Once youíve played as Sonic, Knuckles feels the same with 1 different move etc.

So Sonic the Fighters isnít a game you should buy as a serious fighter, and itís not really got enough to it to make it as a quirky character fighter. But if you have more money than sense and want to experience it as the novel oddity it is then youíll probably get something from it, you just wont be coming back to it more than a handful of times.
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17-12-12
Posted by Ben at 14:23

Sega have a huge selection of classic games that, until recently, they havenít tapped in to. Sure Sonic gets wheeled out whenever thereís even a slightest gap in the market, Megadrive Ďclassicsí like Vectorman, but real classics like Virtua Fighter 2, itís only recently Sega have seen fit to revisit them.

Thereís no doubting Virtua Fighter 2 still holds up, itís missing some moves from the sequels obviously, but itís still a very competent fighter. The key is how smooth the game is, itís rare you get stuck in an animation, everything is very direct and to the point, like it always was. If you want to punch low then do it, if you want to kick high then do it, you know instinctively how.

It doesnít take long with a character for you to get the general gist of how youíre supposed to use them, even stringing together natural combos. For example Akira, poster boy for the series, isnít capable of long flowing combos like Pai, his moves are short, powerful bursts. Of course itís not all that simple though, truly great players, and it seems like thereís a few online, can create absurd combinations. Again itís a credit to the precision and speed of the inputs that you can juggle characters the way they do, something that is far beyond me.

In some ways what you get for your money is very stripped back, itís just the arcade game (with a few hidden extras like a ranking mode) with an added online mode, but in other ways itís quite fully featured. You can for example switch from version 2.1 to 2.0, I canít claim to know all the subtle differences here, but I did notice new stages. Theyíve also done a really good job with the graphics, theyíve kept the original aspect ratio and bordered the game, but that keeps things looking sharp. It was also impressive to see how involved some of the backdrops were, little things like heavy hits causing coconuts to drop on Jeffreyís stage.

A word of warning though, Virtua Fighter 2 hasnít become easier over time, if anything this is far more difficult than I remember the Saturn version being. Not helped by the controller, particularly the 360 pad. The PS3 pad may fair better thanks to its d-pad, which obviously canít compare to an arcade stick or a Saturn pad, but is much better than trying to use an analogue stick. A poor workman I may be, but know that if you want to play Virtua Fighter 2 seriously then youíre going to need a decent controller, which if youíre interested in Virtua Fighter you probably already have.

Growing up Virtua Fighter 2 was one of my favourite games, when I was 15 Iíd have given it a 10 without question. Well, the game hasnít got any worse, itís still just about pitch perfect, but I did find myself enjoying it less. Perhaps itís just that my patience for learning fighting games isnít what it was, which is certainly true, perhaps itís that I was frustrated by my inputs not matching my brain, my residual memory of when I was good at Virtua Fighter. Either way it amounts to the same thing, if you want a precise, hardcore fighter then youíll love Virtua Fighter 2, if you want to rekindle some old memories, then you might love it less. Everyone else, Iím not sure this is for you.
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13-08-12
Posted by Duane at 07:08

Looking back, I was a huge fan of the Tony Hawks series in its heyday, to be honest I think most people were. So a HD "best of" using levels from the first two games really piqued my interest. Honestly, what could go wrong? It had everything in place to be a must buy.



Unfortunately they've not quite hit the nail on the head. It all mostly feels as it should, the presentation has been updated a bit to move away from that rather embarassing looking "dingy" 90's aesthetic that all the menu's had and everything looks lovely. The soundtrack has taken pretty much the best of both the first two games and its just as addicitve as it always was.

However, as addictive and enjoyable as the game is, it's also frustrating for all the wrong reasons, theres still the need to find the fine limit between a big score and just being greedy when chaining tricks together but there also appears to be major clipping issues with certain parts of levels, especially the trickier "Downhill" type events, a game like this needs the player to be completely trusting in that physics and build of a level, but if a half pipe is making them bail for no other reason than that the clipping is faulty then the player is left with an incredibly bad taste in their mouth.

Loading times are poor too, considering this is being run straight from the XBox 360's hard drive there was the hope that everything would be near instant loading. But the game has to reload the level for each retry and textures pop in and out on a regular basis, it feels ever so slightly rushed to market to tie into Microsofts "Summer of Games" XBLA event which is a huge shame as a bit of extra polishing could have seen THPSHD gain the sort of praise that the Trials games have been afforded.


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25-04-12
Posted by Duane at 15:19

I'm beginning to get kind of tired of the indie scenes insistence on using pixelated 8-bit/16-bit inspired graphics. We get it, you're "cool" you don't need to rely on light rendering and other really technical things to make a good game. It just reminds me of the people you see walking around wearing "replica" NHS glasses in an "ironic" way. So yeah, I was all set to really find myself becoming annoyed at Fez.



Until I played it. And by "played it" I don't mean I tried the trial and made my mind up, because to do so doesn't even scrape the surface of what Fez is. The trial only actually introduces you to the core mechanic and then its over, which as a device intended to increase sales is pretty poor, but if they gave anymore away, then that would spoil the overall experience. So what we have here is a 2D Snes era style platformer with a twist. That twist? By hitting RT or LT the camera spins on an axle to change the plain of view making a 2D world transform into a 3D. However you can only operate on a 2D plain. Sounds complicated right? The absolute beauty of Fez is that it totally doesn't feel complicated at all when playing. Revolving the camera reveals new routes to locations you couldn't previously reach allowing you to traverse the various maps and collect the pieces of cubes that make up the core collectible in the game.

Coming back to that "hipster" analogy above, it would be so difficult to dislike Fez for its retro gaming references, but the game throws them around with such glee that you feel a genuine love for "how things were" rather than "aint I cool" that something as simple as opening a treasure chest somehow tugs at your heart strings, and thats only the games most basic emotional pull. The puzzles often feel like they're solving themselves before your eyes, but there are moments here where proper brainwork is needed, not only that but the game appears to want you to converse with other players via social network sites to try and solve its intricacies, so whilst its giving you a warm glow inside from its nostalgic references its embracing modern culture by hiding cryptic clues away (many of which are bloody ingenius) and having QR codes as textures in certain locations. There are literally layers and layers of stuff to be discovered and enjoyed in this little game and its really hard to not to gush all over it.

However, despite everything it does well, it is kind of broken with frame rate issues appearing after prolonged periods of play (which can happen often whilst you try and figure out certain... erm, things), some of the levels are also absolutely horrible, One in particular can trigger some serious headaches. Lastly, the map is far, far, far(!) from perfect, it's usable, but in this writers opinion a map shouldn't be a puzzle in itself which is what the offering Fez feels like far too often.

These things are actually on minor annoyances, the overall package here, especially considering it's available at a rather thrifty £8 is most certainly a must buy!
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21-02-12
Posted by Duane at 16:39

In a market environment thats currently obsessed with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it'd be easy to label Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning as an "open world RPG" and lead people to the confusion it bares similarity to Bethesda's monster. However, to do so would be missing the point entirely, the only similarities would be that they are both set in a Fantasy world, but in reality, initial play of EA's new IP evokes memories of Bioware's Dragon Age, Lionheads Fable and RuneWalker Entertainment's Runes of Magic.


Initially developed as two seperate titles, from two different studio's, one a story led RPG the other an MMO, Kingdoms of Legends has an odd hybrid feel to it. It gives you the impression of a huge open world, when in reality its a large number of large hub lands connected by corrider-esque pathways. I can see how that could be a negative thing, but it gives the game a sense of progression and makes it easier to see when you're heading out of one area and into another, especially as the variety of locations on offer is staggering for a game of this type. As you progress across the Faelands huge expanse, the differing is impressive and encourages the player to play on to see the next area. As you'd expect theres a variety of races to encounter along the way, some friendly, some not so and really all of them are fairly typical Fantasy RPG stereotypes, adding an air of familiarity to the game although with so many games no within this sort of setting it'd be nice for somebody to think of something new. Thats not a criticsm aimed squarly at Reckoning however.

Combat is probably the games strongest point, you genuinely feel the difference when particular stats are raised by whichever route along the class tree you take and the game allows you to mix up your abilities so you can always have a tool for a particular situation without leaving you too overpowered. It's to the games credit that I personally found myself looking for stuff to fight as often as I could whenever heading out on fetch quests when in other similar titles I'll generally just do the task at hand before moving onto the next one. This however is where the game begins to feel flat, quests are generally the same thing over and again and NPC's aren't really interesting enough, likewise the plot, for you to want to push on, its only really the scenery that draws you into the game as the rest of the lore and world feels tired and recycled, not really surprising considering R.A. Salvatore's involvement (who's biggest claim to fame is probably his Icewind Dale trilogy and his work on the Star Wars Expanded Universe which mostly uses the same characters and basic plot elements).

However, what we have here is a fairly decent RPG, an alternative to the overly serious Skyrim and some solid foundations to what appears to be a new franchise. It's not hard to see Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning as 2012's answer to Darksiders.
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02-02-12
Posted by Duane at 06:42

Word games have been a staple element of passing time for seemingly forever, but they've never really made it in the world of videogames. However, with the popularity of Words with Friends, Denki have decided to make a competetive word based game that will feel incredibly familiar to students up and down the country.



Quarrel is equal parts Scrabble, Countdown and Risk. That may sound like an attempt to pigeonhole the title into the realms of the type of people that normally sit and do the Sunday Times crossword or alternatively lie on their sofa and try and come up with rude words using the same combinations of letters that the contestants on Countdown have to use, but it goes far beyond that, mostly thanks to its Risk style elements.

As I've already alluded to, the game sets you against upto 3 other competitors, either AI controlled or over XBox Live. You each have a tile of controlled territory, with the aim of the game to control the map. This is achieved by challenging your opponent to spell a word that earns more points than you. The game gives you a set of tiles, from which you have to create a word using a number of letters defined by how many followers your occupied tile has on it. The more followers you have, the bigger the word you can use and the potential for a higher score is available. Of course having a longer word doesn't always mean it scores higher when letters carry similar points to the ones in Scrabble.

Its incredibly engaging, and thanks to the games graphical style, which is admittedly rather cute and Mii like, it becomes really enjoyable to play. The colour pallete is incredibly cheerful and friendly, and whilst losing is always frustrating in any game, the sheer joy the game exudes makes it a little easier to bare. Not only that, but scrolling along the bottom is the dictionary definition of the words submitted by those competing and the full anagram that would have been available to use if you were able to use all the letter tiles.

Honestly, its really difficult to find anything wrong with Quarrel, and its a shame that, despite its low price, that it doesn't appear to have been picked up by very many people as its the perfect XBox Live game to sit back and relax with but still play in a multiplayer environment. I for one certainly reccomend it.
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25-01-12
Posted by Ben at 17:50

Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi is an odd game. As youíd expect from a Dragon Ball Z game itís a fighterÖ of sorts. You throw punches and fling fireballs, but it feels more like youíre stringing together QTEs than really being in control. You launch attacks much as youíd expect, but once youíve landed a couple of blows youíre presented with a choice of attacks, essentially this is a toss of a coin and if your opponent guesses right youíre open to a counter. If they guess wrong however you get to launch them through the air, smashing them through mountains before leaving them as a crater in the ground.

Special moves are a tap of the analogue stick away, chaining moves is just a button press, and countering is often just a matter of mashing buttons and hoping for the best. On that point, there is a moment when countering where youíre required to press the Y button at precisely the right time, this to me feels laggy and oddly demanding of precision after youíve spent 10 seconds mashing the pad with your palm.

The thing that makes Ultimate Tenkaichi peculiar though is that it works. Itís not a fighting game and itís categorically not for anyone but fans of the series, but by replacing control with graphics and sonics it does an incredible job of capturing the essence of the series. Even when it pulls you away from the combat and into chase scenes, Ultimate Tenkaichi does really well at pairing them with scenes from the show.

Unfortunately itís when it moves you away from the normal one on one fighting that the game lets itself down a bit. The world map is largely pointless, it does let you get in to a few extra fights (such as a tournament), but you get enough of that just making your way through the main story (which is a fair few hours). Youíll fly to your destination then as you arrive the game will stop for one of its achingly long load times, before youíre back to move an inch, then watch another loading screen. Incidentally the loading screens, which as mentioned occur far too often and for too long, have you collecting capsules for absolutely no reason, they donít do anything.

The low point of Ultimate Tenkaichi is without doubt the boss fights, giant characters with only a vulnerable limb as your target. Youíre asked to rely on the games dodging mechanic and that just isnít good enough. Things are made worse by the boss fights being prefaced by un-skippable cut-scenes. Theyíre an odd difficulty spike too, out of sync with the rest of the game that seems pitched at a younger gamer.

Which brings me to my closing point, the smartest thing about how Ultimate Tenkaichi handles its licence is that because it is such a ride at times fans get what they came for, Dargon Ball Z. While Iím still pining for that well done Dragon Ball Z fighting game, the 15 year old me (*cough* 18 year old me *cough*) loves the ridiculousness of it all, an almost perfect capture of the essence of the series.

Itís games like Dragon Ball Z Ultimate Tenkaichi that were the reason we stopped giving scores for a while. Itís not technically a good game, and it absolutely hangs on its licence, but if you are a fan youíll have a great time with it. To put it simply, if you arenít a Dragon Ball Z fan donít buy Ultimate Tenkaichi, ever, but if you are then stick another point or two on whatís below
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24-10-11
Posted by Duane at 11:09

As I've only very recently become a PlayStation 3 owner, I pretty much missed out on cult hit Demons Souls. But one common opinion that surfaced throughout the internet was just how difficult it was. This, quite honestly, came as no surprise, developer FROM Software are pretty well known for making their games really rather challenging, even the easiest Armored Core will really try your average gamers patience, so to expect anything else from Dark Souls, spiritual successor to Demons Souls would be like asking Activision to not use their development studio's to churn out the same game year after year.

Now, I'm a fan of FROM Software, so I was dissapointed to miss out on Demons Souls, and as soon as I heard Dark Souls was going multiplatform it was straight on my must have list. The proposed difficulty did concern me, I'm not particularly skilled at anything that doesn't involve racing cars around circuits when it comes to videogames and fantasy settings usually put me off, so understandably I was concerned that this ultimately wouldn't be for me. I am pelased to report however, that I am totally and utterly in love with this game.

Right from the off the game makes no excuses for its difficulty, but lets get one thing very clear. There is no artificial feel to the difficulty level of Dark Souls, every single opponent feels beatable and there is no scale that changes to make the game suddenly too difficult. The game rewards memorisation, repetetition and experimentation. You may find yourself retreading the same steps over and over and over again, and you'll also become far too familiar with the game informing you that "You Died", but more often than not this feels as though it is a punishment for your own actions rather than the game suddenly throwing a curve ball. The vast majority of the time I found myself staring at that particular statement was purely down to getting myself into a dangerous situation, usually being overwhelmed or cornered or not healing before entering a room I'd already staked out in a previous life and knew full well contained more than one enemy and so would need to be approached with caution.

Thats the key word with Dark Souls, caution. Every stair case, door way, corner, corridor, balcony and bridge has to be approached carefully. Your shield is your best friend and not using it often is the sure fire way to meeting with your characters doom again and again and losing those all important souls that enable you to buy new equipment or upgrade your stats. One thing is clear, the game does not want to be your friend, it does not want you to adore it and it most certainly doesn't want to give you any help whatsoever. Nearly every single element of the game is something you have to learn yourself (or read the games manual) and this is something that gamers are no longer accustomed to. It feels odd to say this but its refreshing to play a game thats so old fashioned in this respect.

Surprisingly, considering the games difficulty, there is alot of time available to just admire the visual beauty on show here, the developers previous output either had you focusing on billions of statistics all at once (Armored Core) or in fast, floroushing battles (Otogi) and thus is was difficult to admire the level of detail put into the games visuals. Dark Souls is different, it almost feels as though it wants you to enjoy its vista's and the rather dingy and depressing crumbling castle that make up its world. As I've said, I'm not usually one for this sort of visual aesthetic, chainmail and armour usually do nothing for me, but Dark Souls has also challenged that and I genuinely enjoy being immersed into its world, in a sort of grim kind of way.

Its not really very often that a game like Dark Souls comes around, certainly not any more. Personally speaking, I find alot of games to be more style over substance, but everything in Dark Souls feels as though it has a purpose, even its rather only slightly helpful co-operative options. Where-as most co-op games you can call on a friend to give you a hand with a mission, Dark Souls only gives you the choice of calling on someone who happens to playing whilst you are and is willing to heed the call you have put out by using a particular item from your inventory. Help comes in other forms too, messages scrawled on the floor revealing that a "difficult enemy" is nearby, or "Treasure Ahead", or the eternally helpful "Beware" whilst the oddly amusing "Liar" can sometimes be found. These too make the game challenging as you really have to treat each message with caution whilst any help that comes into your game could also turn out to be an enemy if the other person is of a questionable nature.

It honestly feels odd having a game like Dark Souls available to gamers in the modern age. In a market so obsessed with guns, the military and evenly distributed checkpoints, Dark Souls shouldn't exist, but I'm incredibly happy that it does. What we have here is quite honestly Game of the Year material.
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