Hatsune Miku:
Project DIVA Future Tone
Jan 21
Posted by James at 11:15

Rhythm action games, as a genre, have been through some tough times. Just over a decade ago a market still existed for original, mid-budget affairs, with wholly unique soundtracks to boot. Yet today these games are almost nowhere to be seen, and the mainstays of the past Ė Guitaroo Man, Popín Music, Dance Dance Revolution, Ouendan, Rhythm Tengoku Ė either died a slow death or retreated back to the arcade.

But mercifully games based on licensed music and characters have found their way to the home, and itís allowed Sega to sustainably produce and iterate on a new modern rhythm action series for almost a decade. The end result - Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone - is the culmination of all the Vocaloid rhythm games Segaís esteemed AM2 team has worked on over the years.

The Project Diva series feels like a love letter to all things Hatsune Miku, the synthesised idol from Crypton Future Media. A song list comprised of music from fan favourite vocaloid composers? Check. Plenty of unassumingly delightful nods to vocaloid culture? Itís all there. Gorgeously modelled music videos that bring the music to life? Yup.

Since the lyrics are all composed in Japanese, that last point is rather important Ė the scenarios of the story-focused music videos do a lot to bring out the meaning of the lyrics while playing to the compositionsí strengths. Itís not hard to feel the mood while playing a song like From Y to Y, for instance.

Being an arcade conversion, Sega has included over 200 songs, spanning every genre you can imagine, and not only every previous game in the Project Diva series, but the cuter, more bouncy Project Mirai series on 3DS. Those willing to give Vocaloid music a fair shake are unlikely to be disappointed with the selection on offer, and based on my own personal experiences, itís likely youíll still find something to love in the songs that you donít find catchy, thanks to the storyboards in the music video, or some rather brilliant choreography on display.

Tracklist natter aside, Future Toneís roots at the arcade means Sega have brought over some of those arcade sensibilities with it. Basically: It not only looks and sounds the part, but it plays the part. Hereís the gist of it: button prompts fly in from the sides of the screen. You clear them by pressing the appropriate button when the prompts land in their designated zones, which are placed ahead of time to the vocaloid music.

Whatís always made the series stand out is the depth to these mechanics. Not only do the flying button prompts and fixed zone markers keep things unpredictable yet fair, those that learn to ďdual wieldĒ the controller Ė interchanging the face buttons for the D-Pad and vice versa Ė will discover hidden depths to playing each song.

Dual wielding means that you can clear a button prompt for pressing Cross by tapping down on the D-Pad instead. Left on the D-Pad thus becomes the same as Square, Triangle can be substituted for Up, and so on. Which mercifully allows you to tackle more complex note charts that the developers cook up on the harder difficulties.

For instance, pressing Square, Triangle, Square in time and in quick succession to a three-syllable word would be difficult using just the face buttons, but with practice it soon clicks in your brain that you could dual wield, and either bash out Square, Up, then Square with your two thumbs, or Left, Triangle, left to the music.

This has been a staple to the series since the second entry on PSP, but Future Tone raises the bar in a way that provides a lot more depth to mastering and interacting with each song in the game. There are three main additions: Button prompts that beg to be held down instead of tapped, multi-button presses, and Left/Right markers that require either a trigger tap or a slide. At the arcades, an inviting multi-coloured touch-bar handled the slides, but on PS4 you can either hold down the left trigger, or more characteristically, tilt the controller or slide your thumb over the touchpad.

Having to now hold down some buttons, or press several at once, adds more nuance to the gameís scoring systems. For instance, holding down a button continually adds to your score, but itís no easy feat to do this *and* continue playing the song as normal using the other, unoccupied buttons. Likewise score tracking is a lot more detailed, letting you know the exact boundaries for getting a Great, or an Excellent. Itís a no-nonsense approach to rhythm action that also feels great to play Ė feedback is crisp and the sound effects are inviting, as they should be.

Itís also a return to form after the two PS Vita games introduced some odd new mechanics which had the effect of creating the illusion of more complexity; the first introduced ďscratch notesĒ that forced players onto an imprecise analogue input in response to a precise note Ė tilting the sticks or swiping at the screen. The second game replaced some prompts with on-rails markers, preventing the player from being able to read the music ahead of time.

Future Tone provides a firm but fair challenge that feels familiar and fresh to longtime fans, while keeping the hardest elements out of harder difficulties so not to alienate newer players. Some of the note charts on Extreme difficulty tended to reward memorisation rather than skill, however, but overall thereís little to fault here. Itís one of the best mid-budget home rhythm games in years Ė even if youíre not accustomed to synthesised Vocaloid music this is the perfect introduction.
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Yakuza 0

Jan 19
Posted by Ben at 11:59

One of the problems Sega seems to have had recreating the success the Yakuza series boasts in its native Japan, is that itís a continuing series. With a lot of fan noise Yakuza 3 and 4 both managed to get Western releases when many had given up hope, shining the spotlight on the series, Yakuza 5 even got a PS+ tie in, but for many the thought of joining the series midway through was enough to stop them from following through their interest in the series. Well, itís something Yakuza 0 puts right, and makes for a superb introduction to the Yakuza games

Yakuza 0, as the name might imply, is a prequel. Set while series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu is still learning the yakuza ropes, it opens with him beating a man senseless for a debt he owes a loan shark. Later that night the man is found dead, Kazuma is blamed for the killing and what follows is story of power struggles and land-grabs that involves Kazuma having to fight for his life and leave the yakuza behind. Itís a genuinely quality story, hammy at points for sure, but brilliantly well told, and a joy to watch unfold.

br> Kazumaís story is mirrored to some extent by Goro Majima, the gameís 2nd protagonist. Also cast out of the yakuza, Majima is doing everything he can to force his way back in. Thereís some great moments in Majimaís story, and the times where the two characterís stories intertwine are great, but all in all I found it less engaging. It think part of it is his character, more restrained than his usual larger than life self. Itís something that will bother newcomers less, and I suspect heís been toned down so that a narrative can be hung off him. I canít imagine the usual lunatic Majima bowing and taking the abuse he does. I suspect his environment doesnít help either, some of his side quests are fantastic, but the 2nd city is just less interesting, with less character, than Kazumaís Tokyo district.

One of the other smart things Yakuza 0 does to introduce both new and returning players is in how it staggers the content. Itís a little jarring, perhaps, having the serious crime story interrupted for some karaoke, to talk to pretty girls, to meet a foreigner whoís going to teach you new fighting moves, but it introduces mechanics to quickly dabble with, and then leaves you to decide whether you want to spend your time with them. Yakuza 0 holds back mechanics too, in the past it has felt like the Yakuza games will throw everything they have at you, occasionally (re)introducing them in a side-story or as part of the main story, but here theyíre doled out in a way that ensures youíre not overawed or swamped, every couple of chapters youíll get something new to think about, and that runs right in to the back half of the game.

There are a few areas of Yakuza 0 that have been freshened up over previous installments, the chief one is the combat. Both Kazuma and Majima have 3 different types of fighting styles at their disposal, each designed to cater to certain types of enemy. Generally speaking both characters have a standard jack-of-all-trades style as their default, theyíll pack a decent punch, have access to plenty of heat moves, and still be relatively quick. Theyíll have a more powerful moveset, weapon focused, slower, but able to attack through hits and deal large amounts of damage back. Then thereís a quicker style, flashier, littered with combos, but causing less damage per attack. Given the sheer amount of fighting youíll do in Yakuza 0, being able to easily mix things up and explore the combat system is a smart move.

Levelling up has also changed. Rather than grinding for experience, you spend money on yourself, buying your way around the skill tree. Fortunately enemies now spurt money when you slap them about, and the more flourish in your fighting the more youíll earn. It means you can fairly quickly turn both Kazuma and Majima in to solid fighters. The problem is the cost to unlock skills rises dramatically, and spending 30 million to unlock a skill you donít really want but is blocking the one you do want is a bitter pill to swallow. Itís where some of the side missions come in, Kazuma can earn a fortune through real estate if youíre willing to put the time in. Itís not a complicated system, although itís initially daunting, buy some properties when youíre out and about, pick a manager whoís going to have a positive effect on the economy, a security guard whoís less likely to attract trouble, then collect your share. Itís maybe a bit of a grind trying to amass a fortune all at once, perhaps an argument for the mechanic being introduced earlier than it is, but itís certainly quicker than fighting your way to the amounts needed.

One of the great charms of the Yakuza games are the side quests, and Yakuza 0 is no different. They can be a little run of the mill, and a lot of them will involve you just solving your problems by fighting more people, but some of them are smart, and brilliantly funny. Spending time doing the side quests doesnít net you experience anymore, but the characters can reward you in other ways, like working for you or joining you in battle. The downside to the side missions is that it can feel sometimes like youíre tripping over them. Thereís a few too many times where youíll be in the middle of a story mission and get stopped for a side mission to be introduced, even if you donít then follow it up. The same can be true of street fights that occur as youíre making your way around the city, they can get a little much.

Truth is though, Yakuza 0 is the best Yakuza game Iíve played. Itís hard to think how they could have made it more accessible to newcomers, yet thereís enough depth and familiarity for fans of the series to get hooked in to too. On a technical level the engine is showing its age, with shadows popping in, the game slowing you down (in terms of movement speed) during busy moments, and some angular geometry, but itís still a decent looking, and running, game. Yakuza 0 will be missed by many, and thatís their loss, because itís a superb, charming, well told, and joyfully violent game

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The Umbral Star
Jan 17
Posted by Mark at 04:03

Fate/Extella is a videogame about war. Specifically, a war that's taking place in a simulation on a computer on the moon, where the demise of each of the participants' avatars results in the death of their real-world Earth counterparts. Like a really high-stakes Time Commanders.

This war took place between Masters- those with an Earth counterpart- who would pit their Servants- digitised versions of legendary 'heroic spirits'- against one another until one Master remained, who would have their wish granted by the Holy Grail.

The player joins as Hakuno Kishinami, the master of Nero, a Saber class Servant who won the War during PSP dungeon-crawler Fate/Extra, as she and her crew of other Servants attempt to fend off other surviving Servants who seek to end Nero's rule, all with Masters who appear to be clones of the player.

The gameplay is very much in the Warriors mould, albeit without Omega Force's input. Bat aside hundreds of enemies in order to take control of bases on a map, every now and again unleashing a special attack which wipes out everything nearby, and then take on a boss when you've got enough territory.

Once that's all over, it's back to HQ- interestingly named My Room- where you can assign upgrades dropped by enemies during the battle to improve your Servants' skills, and talk to your Servant before entering into the next battle.

There's not a lot to criticise about the combat in the main- it's pleasingly button-bashy and the special moves have enough weight to them to not feel like it'd just be easier to use normal attacks, and all of it looks fittingly spectacular, if there is a lack of variety in some of the larger attacks.

However, around the edges it's different story. The bases the level is split into, rather than being fortresses in an open-ish field, are variously-shaped boxes connected by warps your character zips through automatically, which robs the levels of any sense of place, making navigating without the map unnecessarily difficult.

The enemy's approach to taking your bases is also a little different to the Warriors games of old- any random enemy base can generate a 'Plant', which will spawn enemies to attack a random one of your bases, regardless of how close or connected the two are. This makes conquering a full map feel more like firefighting randomness rather than strategically pushing back an intelligent enemy force.

Talking to your Servant in My Room also offers very little- the plot is mainly progressed through cutscenes immediately before and after each battle, and the dialogue in My Room centres mostly on how much the Servant and the Master love one another, certainly as far as Nero's story is concerned, which is probably a holdover from Fate's visual novel roots. Even talking to other Servants in their sidestories doesn't add very much to the matter.

It's possible to raise the 'bond' between both parties by making the right dialogue choices, but this doesn't appear to have any meaningful effect on the game, beyond dropping a handful of upgrades at certain milestones.

The main plot itself does a decent job of setting up the battles- Hakuno has been split into three parts representing mind, body and soul, and each of those parts have found themselves associated with a different Servant. The three Servants begin to fight one another to bring all three parts of Hakuno together, all while cosmic IT guy Archimedes tries to stop an outside force from destroying the Moon Cell (that computer from the review's intro) during its regular system update, which comes around every few thousand years. However, it doesn't do a great job of explaining the events that lead up to this title, meaning it's easy to let the story wash over you and get on with the fighting.

The computer simulation motif is also kept up in much of the art style and in the smaller 'Code Cast' abilities, which are written to appear similar to programming functions, a reference that will be lost on many but not in such a way that would obfuscate their meaning.

In pure game terms it's hard to recommend over the established Warriors games which do the same thing better, and there's no shortage of licenced games if the historical setting of those puts you off, especially now there's Fire Emblem Warriors on the way. It's also probably not really for the Fate newcomer, as everything in the setting seems to hinge on you knowing what happened at least in Extra.

However, for fans of Fate, the opportunity to see all the characters again in a new setting and play a new game which keeps in with the tradition of changing up the genre between releases, this is something that will go down swimmingly.
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Mantis Burn
Posted by Ben at 16:13

It might surprise a few people that Mantis Burn Racing isnít a Playstation Pro launch game, undoubtedly it should get a 2nd wind when Sonyís upgraded console comes out but itís actually available now on standard PS4, Xbox One and PC, and itís a good game even without the novelty of 4K

Mantis Burn Racing is a top town, isometric racing game, reminiscent of Motorstorm RC from a few years back. Itís a more fully featured game than you might expect, with a levelling system, weight classes of cars, vehicle improvements you equip. The game boasts a lengthy career mode, definitely longer than I was expecting, with a number of different race types, online, and split screen multiplayer. It also looks better than I was expecting. I wasnít surprised by how sharp the game looks, but the quality of the textures and the particle effects do go beyond what I expected to see. The most important thing about Mantis Burn Racing though is how smooth it is, the high framerate allows for responsive controls, allowing you control the drifts and slides on the spongey ground.

The solid frame rate does drop occasionally. Iíve only seen it maybe 3 times, but if you get a fleet of cars bunched up at a corner, with dust and debris flying around, the game will drop frames. Itís rare though, and itís not simply caused by all the cars being in one places as you donít see it at the start of a race. One disappointing note on the presentation side is the sound. Thereís not enough engine noise, squealing brakes, screeching of tyres, it makes the races sound flat, itís reminiscent of a phone game.

Itís always a bit of a relief when youíre reviewing a game and itís clear what its strengths and weaknesses are, it makes it easier to criticise, and Mantis Burn Racing is definitely one of those games. Mantis Burn Racing is undoubtedly a good game, itís fluid, controls very well, and thereís some really enjoyable tracks. Itís the kind of racing game where when you make a mistake youíll want to hit the restart button, where youíll want to replay a track because you know you can climb the global leaderboard. Itís something the Ďgearsí system encourages, thereís requirements laid out before each race, winning the event is invariably one, but it may include hitting a certain speed or jumping a certain distance, these reward you with gears that are needed to finish a season, but arenít as strict as you might fear.

Itís a shame then that Mantis Burn Racing doesnít do more to enable this challenge mentality. If you want to find out if you climbed the global leaderboard on a track you have to finish it then restart the event. The game would be helped immensely if things like leaderboards were presented more readily, similarly what track youíre about to drive, a recognisable track image or something would go a long way. One of the main problems with this is that loading a track can take an age. A quick restart should be the default for a racing game like this, Iíve no doubt thereís very good reasons why it's not there, but messing up a lap early, recognising youíve lost the event, or even just wanting to play again all mean a lengthy load time.

Iím also not entirely sure about some of the design decisions around levelling up the cars. There are stats for the cars, but itís very difficult to tell if one car is actually worse than another or if youíre just not used to it. Because everything can be modded and improved often your lap times are as much tied to you making a better car than improving as a player. Itís hard to negate this with the way the game is structured so maybe thereís no complaint there, certainly in career mode, but it is a problem when you race online and can find yourself at a massive disadvantage simply because youíve spent less time with the game than your opponent. This is true in the weekly challenges too, itís arguable that Mantis Burn Racing might benefit from standardisation in some areas.

Still though, I really like Mantis Burn Racing. Itís got a lengthy career mode, a variety of different race types, and mini challenges thrown in to make things interesting.The tracks are invariably interesting, thereís shortcuts, plenty of room to overtake, even the occasional obstruction on the track. Theyíre fun to replay, nailing drifts and learning when not to be cautious, and a big part of that is the handling coupled with the frame rate. We wonít know how it handles on the Playstation Pro for another month, but certainly if youíre looking for a game that will then make use of the extra power, Mantis Burn Racing is a fun pickup
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Posted by Duane at 02:14

I've played a lot of Prison Architect on PC, watched it as it slowly became a fully fleshed out game throughout its Alpha and eventually be fully released. I've spent hours upon hours starting and restarting my own correctional facilities. So it made sense that I take on the mantle of covering the PlayStation 4 version that /Introversion recently released.

This genre is always at its best on PC, and after trying Tropico 5 on PS4 thanks to PlayStation Plus it does still seem to be pretty much the same as its always been, a controller is just too cumbersome for quick menu navigation and analogue sticks don't lend themselves too well to adding to the landscape upon which you're building. However, Prison Architect have gotten this right and Double Eleven (who handled this port) have done it in such a simple way too. First off, it was always going to be easier to move around the terrain and build thanks to the games 2D graphical style, it just makes life so much easier when you use such a viewpoint, allowing you to see absolutely everything. It also fits in with the tone of the game, giving you a blueprint kind of development of your prison. Everything you'd ever need to run your prison is then mapped to menu's access via the d-pad. Building tools are accessed by pressing left, reports report etc and you can still slow down or speed up time.

This release, and bare in mind its been a while since I did boot up the PC version admittedly, feels more gamelike than its big brother. You're still developing your prison using Grants, which give you a list of things you need to put into your prison, but the manner in which its all done feels a little more relaxed and streamlined and its far, far too easy to get lost in adding more and more to your facility and lose focus of actually running it. Thats always been Prison Architect's biggest problem, and its one thats transferred over with this port too. You're inmates needs and behaviours aren't always obvious. Sure the game has the means to tell you whats wrong and what has been happening, but the means by which to address them aren't always obvious or simple to achieve and it doesn't really feel satisfying when you manage to overcome these obstacles.

I guess thats why its named Prison Architect as the focus does appear to be on creating a prison, selling it at a profit, then making another prison and whilst the inmates all have names and back stories (some are really rather amusing whilst others are ridiculously dark) it doesn't really feel like you're providing the means to rehabilitate them.

Its now, however, I'd like to bring up Remote Play, something I do regularly when I cover PS4 games that I think will translate well to being played on Vita. Prison Architect is exceptional on the Vita, I've no idea if Introversion or Double Eleven plan on porting it over to the handheld properly, but as it stands now the Vita is a perfect partner to playing it on a big TV in your lounge. I was more than happy to switch over and lounge around on the sofa building more elements to my prisons and the text never felt difficult to read, and its this more than anything else in this port that enforces just how much time and care Double Eleven have put into this port of Prison Architect. Its praiseworthy to them that they have not only made the game feel at home on a console, but it feels at home being played on a much smaller screen too.
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Odin Sphere:
Posted by Duane at 03:30

Odin Sphere was one of those games that many completely missed out on right at the end of the crossover between the PlayStation 2's generation and the Xbox 360 coming out. Even though it was a bit of an oddity even then, its fair to argue that the gaming landscape has changed somewhat and it sticks out even more now, despite Sony's platforms (in particular the Vita which Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir has also been released on and Ben may comment on at a later date) generating a bit of a niche for ďthis sort of thingĒ. Before we go ahead tbough, I'd like to state that I won't be comparing Leifthrasir to its predecessor. I understand this is essentially a remaster of the original game, with some gameplay tweaks here and there, and whilst I owned Odin Sphere, I did so at a time that the PS2 had been moved to a different room and thus, aside from the opening couple of hours or so, it never really got the attention that I actually wanted to give it.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is a little different from many games you will have access to on these shores, its essentially a hack and slash side scrolling RPG that looks as though every single bit of it has been hand painted. In stills its absolutely gorgeous to look at and, arguably, it stands up well to being animated too with small intricate little details like the flutter of Gwendolyn's skirt really standing out. But its all well and good looking stunning, if you don't have something under the hood then you'll get found out.

Luckily Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir packs this in spades. I mentioned before that it was ďhack and slashĒ but that really does it a diservice and strips it back to its basic combat element. You see, whilst you'll get through chunks of the early game just bashing away at the attack button, you'll soon figure out that you need to combine stick movements and button timings, plus throwing in abilities using the circle button and you're inventory of alchemic potions all in order to get the better of the more difficult foes the game likes to throw at you. Thats before you consider how to counter and dodge and rack up large combo's. The controls are incredibly responsive and you the player never ever feels like a mistake is down to the systems put in place.

Which is a very good thing, what with there being 4 characters stories to play through (the aforementioned Gwendolyn; a Valkyrie and daughter of Odin is your introduction to the game wherein you'll also get to meet the rest of the playable cast before taking on their chapters). Each character has around 6 or 7 chapters each and they can take about an hour to an hour and a half each to play through, so despite looking limited, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir isn't a short game by any standards.

I touched on the alchemy before, which is a key area of the game. Here you will pick up items that you need to mix with materials in order to create healing potions, antidotes and all the normal things you'd expect in order to keep yourself alive. You can also create offensive potions to use in battle (and personally speaking I generally saved these for the bosses and mid-bosses). Theres also a cookery element, which works in the same way but cant be done at any time. Instead you have to call upon a chef when you're in Rest zone to cook the items for you and (usually, as there are a couple of exceptions) consume them right away. Almost everything you eat carries Experience too, including the fruit you grow using a combination of seeds that you find/are dropped by enemies and the life force (called Phozons) that seeps out of defeated foes as you progress. You simply plant the seed, expel the required Phozons and wait a few seconds for the fruit to grow. Some fruit give seeds back once eaten and the cycle continues. But the way in which you have to juggle creating fruit using Phozons and using said Phozons to upgrade your abilities adds just enough element of strategy to the game to make you consider what it is you are doing. Normally there is more than enough to go around and upgrades happen quickly enough for you to never feel too overwhelmed by your opponents, but there are times when one may have to suffer to work on the other.

Truthfully speaking, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir has been a breath of fresh air. It may be an old game give (quite a bit from what I understand) of spit and polish, it might be very similar to Vanillaware's other games, but played on a big screen in the lounge its a an absolute feast and incredibly enjoyable to play.
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Grand Kingdom

Posted by Duane at 06:46

A few weeks back I joined in on the beta for Grand Kingdom, a turn-based online JRPG, and actually quite enjoyed it so have been really looking forward to its final release. Despite being released on both the PS4 and the Vita (NISA do seem to be keeping Sony's handheld ticking over in all territories...) I opted to play it on the former, the reason being is that I'm mostly housebound at the moment and dont tend to take handhelds out anymore anyway, so if I dont have access to the TV I can still play via Remote Play and enjoy it that way. So yes, I'm playing Grand Kingdom via PS4 but I honestly can't see there being all that much difference between the versions.

As already mentioned, Grand Kingdom is a turn-based strategy RPG, although it does things a bit differently to what many of us expect from the genre. Its a side on, almost PS1 era Final Fantasy-esque in battles, but still uses a rudimentary grid system, with you having an upper, middle or lower path that you can switch between/move along depending upon how full one of the many status bars is for each character. Once you've moved a character into position its time to give them an action, some of which can be combo-ed whilst others require you to have a certain range from your foe.

Grand Kingdom's focus is on a kind of ďbig pictureĒ, it is, first and foremost, an online RPG. You enter into ďwarsĒ to which you contribute towards a chosen faction by achieving certain tasks, contributing resources and by defeating online opponents. There are single player, story driven chapters, but they're mostly designed to give you an idea of the world at large and introduce you to the games mechanics, there's also not a whole lot of them. Theres a few single player skirmish type quests too that are updated from time to time, fight of X number of enemies, get to the end of the map in Y number of moves, that kind of thing. But again, the meat of the game is its online integration.

The biggest problem with all of this is that it can be really overwhelming. The core of the game takes place either in the menu's that accompany your guild HQ or the four cities you can choose from to represent (you sign contracts for a number of wars and can change, if you wish to do so, at the end of said contract) or on a tile based map that you move a chess-like piece around to collect resources, take over fortresses or battle against other players/AI opponents. You're usually told that failure comes from exceeding the number of turns you have on a map, but from my experience its pretty hard to fail in this way and more common aspect of failure comes from being unable to continue a mission as your Troop (of which you can have six, of up to four characters) are unable to continue as they lack health, morale or TP (which on the maps allows you to use skills thaqt replenish the other two, TP is earned via winning battles).

I touched on the battles before, but they deserve a little more information. Mainly because the make-up of your Troop and the members within it can have a significant effect on battles. At the point of writing this my party is made up of a Blacksmith who wields a hammer and is really rather strong, her melee attacks are generally all assigned to the circle button and after some experimentation with the order of which attack appears after which button press in the combo she has a devastating juggle/ground smash system going on. I also have an Archer who is great for picking off Troop Leaders from afar and weakening my opponent for the rest of the battle, a mage of sorts deals out fire damage whilst I have a Witch that I have jumping between lanes to deal out healing potions (although these are heavily limited so its a good idea to teach all of your party members the Quick Heal ability). Jumping back to the mention of Troop Leaders, you'll assign your own from one of your 4 party members for each Troop, as will your opponent. If you focus your attacks on these at the beginning of a battle and succesfully take them out, it lowers your opponents Morale and thus their attack and defense also drops. Its a fairly simple tactic that comes in useful time and time again.

It's only really the overwhelming nature of everything thats in Grand Kingdom that would make it difficult to recommend, if you're into SRPG's you'll pick it all up with no problem, its just that theres a lot to remember and its not always streamlined enough to make particular things feel natural when you're playing. That said, its deeply interesting and thanks to its less than formulaic nature is a breath of fresh air. I know this review is pretty short, and the game probably deserves something much lengthier and in-depth, but theres such a lot of stuff going on here that Grand Kingdom is definetly one of those games that you have to experience to even begin to understand it
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Aegis of Earth:
Protonovus Assault
Posted by Ben at 15:19

Aegis of Earth, or Aegis of Earth Protonovus Assault to give it its full name, is that rarest of things; a tower defence game that gets a retail release. A decision Iíll happily admit I questioned; why would you release a tower defence game at retail? A sub-£10 download game sure, that makes sense, but whoís going to buy it for around the £30 mark for a PS4 tower defence game? What I hadn't realised was quite how big Aegis of Earth is.

The set up of Aegis of Earth is pretty simple. You control a city besieged by monsters, your disc shaped city is split in to rings, all of which move independently from each other. Each ring is made up of tiles, some of which are quarantined and canít be used, the rest are where you build your weapons. Once youíre happy with the set up with your city you head off on Ďstrikesí. Strikes are the battles, enemies head towards the city in vague lanes and you have to spin the rings of the city to line your guns up.

Generally speaking the strikes take it fairly easy on you. Thereís certain points where the 3 inner rings (the 4th outer ring is used for shields and the like) will line up perfectly, cannons, lasers, and gattling guns will combine when lined up perfectly to form more powerful forms, needed for the giant enemies that will appear later on. As a general rule when enemies attack down multiple lanes theyíll do so in line with these tiles. Itís not always true however, and when itís not thatís when youíll have to spin things around so the very inner ring is covering one area, the middle another, and the outer somewhere else. Itís a layer of panic that makes you realise the developers could really mess with you if they wanted to, Aegis of Earth isn't that cheap too often. It is in these moments though you realise the isometric camera does you no favours. Itís all too easy to misalign cannons because you canít muster the coordination to move the camera while spinning the discs.

Fighting in battles nets you a variety of rewards. The main benefit are the crystals, used as materials for new units, with each city specialising in different coloured crystals. The crystals can also be destroyed to make illuminite, a material used to upgrade units, something youíll have to do a lot. If you do well in the strikes youíll also have refugees requesting to move to your city, rather than a swing to the right this results in more money raised through taxes, again needed for upgrades and new units. Essentially, if you want to improve your city you have to fight, easy enough to understand.

What Iím less sure of are the various character levels that can be increased. When you take in refugees your city level increases, I donít think this increases anything, the only benefit I can see if that youíll be rewarded with items youíll rarely feel the need to use, and that unlockable units and city improvements require you to reach certain levels. Same with your own level, it increases after every strike, but apart from gaining you items and access to units, I'm not sure thereís any benefit. At least thereís that much though, you see you donít run the city alone, you have various attractive young people manning various tasks. In real terms this just means a different voice giving you information, but they each gain experience and I've no idea to what end.

Your team do require some management though, use them too much and theyíll become exhausted. Early on you donít have any alternatives so the only way to recover their stamina is to commend one of them on their performance, which also nets them some bonus xp. I'm not sure if youíre supposed to be able to pick out who actually performed well and who didn't but I've never managed to. The benefit to keeping people in is that their focus increases, meaning they can use special moves more often. Leave them out too much and their focus plummets, something that feels inevitable when you have 3 characters vying for one position.

I guess this is why Aegis of Earth manages to be so long, it has a wealth of meta games running through it, a host of systems that have to be addressed for no great reason beyond giving you something else to think about. That in and of itself isn't a problem, thatís most games after all, but it becomes an issue when you have to harvest crystals. Because different cities drop different crystals, youíll find yourself having to perform strike after strike in the same one to farm the crystals you need to fortify a different city altogether, while having to bounce out to different ones to keep their happiness up.

Aegis of Earth has a visual novel story running through it, nothing major, a host of characters having crisis of confidence then pulling together. Thatís not to knock it, itís perfectly functional and none of the characters are especially grating, I actually like a few of them, but itís not the reason to get the game.

I've been down on Aegis of Earth in this review because it does have problems. The soft upressed graphics can make things a little hard to pick out, the structure can get a little monotonous, and it is far too long. However, take it as absolutely commendable that for the 20+ hours I played I would never say I was bored. The core gameplay is sound, thereís a potential to the game I never quite saw realised, but Aegis of Earth is undoubtedly a good game. I doubt many people will see the end of it, but if youíre after a novel, and substantial, console tower defence game, I'm not sure thereís too much better out there
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Posted by Duane at 08:12

Funny story, I don't think I was supposed to be reviewing MXGP2, our promotional copy arrived at my address but had Ben's name on it. Regardless, I'm the resident racing game fan so it made more sense for me to keep hold of it rather than forward it on to our resident Beam-em up player. That being said, I don't tend to get on very well with motorcycles in video games, I think the last motorcycle racing game I was any good at was a Ricky Carmichael game on the original PlayStation, which despite being of a similar racing discipline was a very different type of racing game.

MXGP2 then, if the name didn't give it away, is the latest motorcycle racing title from Italian developers Milestone (whom over the years have covered a huge variety of racing disciplines) and carries the official MXGP licenses, featuring over 60 individual bikes from key manufacturers such as KTM and Suzuki over two different racing classifications. Your key focus will be the games career mode wherein you create your own rider, partake in races and gradually earn enough money to improve your bike, customise your kit and improve your chances of winning races.

You see MXGP2 isn't like most other racing games, you probably wont be winning races from the off as your competitors will have far better bikes than you, so its all about grinding out results over a period of time, which will rub some players up the wrong way (its that or I was absolutely woeful at the game), I personally didn't mind this as it ties in well with the simulation focus that the game has. The core element of the game, riding the bike, takes an incredible amount of input that I've not experienced in any other racing game as you tend to control your rider rather than the bike, shift your weight backwards and forwards to find that extra bit of grip, riding the clutch to keep revs high as you exit corners and learning the optimal angle for taking off of jumps at in order that you land in a manner that you don't lose too much speed, its incredibly taxing and requires ,pre attention than the current highest profile motorcycle game Driveclub Bikes (which itself covers a different style of bike).

This also makes the deformable terrain an important feature. As you're riding around the ground beneath your wheels will compact and the behaviour of the circuit will change. However it only does this to a certain extent, and feels really inconsistent, what should be a key feature feels poorly realised and leads to the game feeling frustrating, as does the overly aggressive track boundaries and harsh punishments for cutting them. No one likes opponents cutting corners, but in MXGP2 there are some corners that you step ever so slightly out of the boundaries on and you're immediately punished by having your bike reset to the middle of the circuit (often further back then where you exited the corner) at a standing start with your competitors flying off into the distance. What's all the more frustrating is that this punishment is applied in an inconsistent manner, a number of times on a few circuits I was able to take aggressive short cuts on corners without any punishment whatsoever, which again, makes the entire race experience feel really frustrating. I'm not one for wanting to go out of the boundaries of a circuit, but when such harsh punishments are applied inconsistently it just annoys me.

Thing is, I really want to like MXGP2, I was really looking forward to playing a racing game that offered something different, a lot of the road bike based games cover similar circuits to a lot of the racing game that feature cars and all of those feature pretty much the same roster of cats to drive so a dirt bike game genuinely had me feeling enthusiastic about playing something a little different, and the technical mechanics of riding the bike are genuinely intriguing and challenging, but there's just so much about the overall quality of the whole experience to be gained from this game that I jut didn't want to sink anymore time into it than I felt I needed to have done to provide this review.
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Posted by Duane at 06:24

Back in the early 2000's certainly after the release of Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Ubisofts Splinter Cell, it felt like any third person action game had to include a section of the game that required you to be stealthy. These were often the weakest aspects of those games as it tended be something that both changed the pace of progression and asked the player to do something that felt against the nature of that particular game up until that point.

Whilst playing Republique, I'm reminded of this time, not because of any ďshoe-horningĒ of a game type into something else, but because its been a while since I've played anything remotely like this. The player is initially tasked with aiding Hope escaping from a prison cell and the building she has been entrapped in and to do this you have to avoid the detection of guards using a combination of the games default camera settings and Hope's mobile phone that has an app installed to allow her to control CCTV camera's to gain an advantage over her captors. It all sounds needlessly complicated but, having been initially developed for mobile platforms its genuinely not, you can happily ping around the various cameras in each room/hallway, get an idea of your surroundings,m investigate any items of interest that appear and the navigate Hope to the nearest exit.

You see, Hope needs to escape, her reasons aren't just because she's been incarcerated, but that she is also going to be recalibrated, she has gained access to literature that those in power deem to challenge their Orwellian control over the populace and they will use any means necessary to keep the people from uprising the oppression they have been placed under. In some respects it reminds me a little bit of another early 2000's era game, Ubisofts Beyond Good & Evil, this is down to a number of things, the use of camera's (admittedly done differently between the two as Jade in BG&E is documenting the oppressors actions rather than escaping from them), the game having a female lead character and the fact you tend to be in a rather defensive position rather than a need to be on the attack all the time, avoiding confrontation is usually (or in Hopes case, pretty much always) the best option. It also feels a little French, which I cant explain why, but the game feels like the kind of work we would have seen from Ubisioft prior to them just becoming a publisher that releases an Assassin Creed or Tom Clancy game every year. I suppose the develop, Camouflaj, being from Canada plays some part in that (although I only discovered that after beginning to write this review).

I actually really like Republique, although I struggle to play it for long periods of time, even though it is broken down in an episodic nature I find it difficult to play through a good chunk of each episode in one sitting. I'd say this is partly down to the games rather oppressive atmosphere, you want to free Hope, just because the game and its setting does everything in its power to make you feel that way. I also think that my struggles with it are also down to its very mechanics, the camera's aren't always clear and its sometimes difficult to know what a guard is doing as they move behind scenery that you just cant get a good view of add in that Hope isn't the easiest character to control, whilst the pace of the game is reminiscent of stuck behind someone in a town centre who just wont move out of your way and let you get on with your business. There's room for improvement here, but Republique, as a rather rare example of the stealth genre now, is actually a decent attempt at an entry into the genre and certainly rises above elements that used to get tacked onto other games, like that ridiculous stealth section in Atari's Fahrenheit.
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