Sep
25
Posted by Mark at 17:57
Away from the first parties, the Rezzed (or 'Indie', if you'd rather) zone felt an awful lot bigger than it had been in previous years, particularly as larger companies have started muscling in, and groups of developers have started to band together to create showier booths.


There was a notable number of Switches dotted about on indie dev booths- certainly more this year alone than I remember seeing Wii Us in all the years it was going, and that's not including the demo units on Nintendo's own indie booth, featuring Flat Heroes, which is a multiplayer precision platformer which expects you to move around and avoid bullets, rather than reach a goal, Dandara, a retro-styled cross between a Metroidvania and Gravity Rush where the player traverses the world by bouncing from wall to floor to ceiling rather than walking like a normal person, Dimension Drive, a port of a PC shmup where you shift between two sides of the screen, Super Meat Boy Forever and Rogue Trooper Redux.

Being a 2000AD property, Rogue Trooper comes from the dubiously indie Rebellion, whose latest, Strange Brigade made a showing in a faux-Aztec booth with its own zeppelin.

While there's clearly a lot of very straight lines to be drawn between Rebellion's Sniper Elite franchise and this, it's also clearly the direct opposite. Short, linear corridor areas lead to slightly more open and chaotic combat arenas, filled with loads of easily-dispatched enemies and one big enemy that needs to be defeated to progress.

In order to help this process along there's various boobytraps you can trigger by shooting nearby orbs, and every kill you get charges up a meter which you can exchange for what is best described as a Shoryuken. Multiplayer communication is evidently key as a light puzzle element managed to elude the pair of us playing and could probably have been avoided. I'm blaming the noise inherent in expo halls.

Square-Enix Collective, the Japanese firm's indie label, had a large showing- much of this was repeats from last year, including what seemed to be the same demo of Forgotton Anne and the already released Black: The Fall. All are on PC, but some are getting released on one console or the other.

Games that are already out are slightly less disappointing in the indie section, so it's worth giving them the time of day. Goetia- out since April- is a point and click where you control the ghost of a dead girl from the Victorian era, it's mostly straightforward, but the ability to posess items suggests it could go a bit Ghost Trick later on.

The same developer, Sushee, also had Fear Effect: Sedna on the show floor, which is simply an isometric shooter, but in controlling two characters you can pause the game and draw a track for them to both follow for pincer movements, a bit like in the first Rainbox Six, before returning to a more traditional control system.

Batallion 1944-released in May- seems to be the publisher's attempt at getting in on the CoD/Battlefield market and everything that entails. Superficially, though, it resembles PS1-era Medal Of Honor. Deadbeat Heroes is a scrolling fighter from Lionhead and Rockstar alumni and influenced by comics from the sixties and seventies. Clearly early in development, as evidenced by some limited and as a result annoying barks, its relies on normal people acquiring superpowers (or special moves, if you like) infrequently.

The last notable game from Collective was Octahedron, a neon-soaked disco platformer where you traverse levels by creating platforms underneath your feet, like that New Super Mario Bros. U mode but with one player. It features some nifty tricks like platforms that appear and disappear based on how far across the screen you are.

No Truce With The Furies- which is begging to be mis-spelled- is a 'dark noir' Planescape Torment-'em-up with a wordy narrative focus and a strong oil-painting aesthetic.

Yoku's Island Express is a surprisingly compelling pinball platformer on PC and Switch about a dung beetle who's got a job delivering the post, and has to do this by rattling around pinball-like worlds collecting fruit because videogames.

Skye, which is getting a name change you were able to vote on on Twitter to avoid confusion with thatgamecompany's Sky, is a relaxing game where you control a flying snake and solve the problems of people living on floating islands- that's coming to XBone and PS4.

Still beating the pair of them for 'quirkiest premise', though, is the iOS-focused Astrologaster, replicating the real life 16th-century tribulations of medical astrologer (again, 16th-century) Simon Forman. This involves using astrology to give advice to his patients- good advice will see them come back for more and continue their story, while bad advice will not. This is all wrapped up in a pop-up-book interface which suits the tablet platform brilliantly.

Students of The National Film And Television School also showcased their works, the most notable being Jonathan Nielssen's Falling Sky, a spectacularly ambitious one-man attempt at being David Cage, but less pretentious. A short demo sees you visit home after repeatedly phoning up and getting no answer, because Mum's gone missing. You pick up your little brother and drive him to a diner, and the demo ends.

The Grand Mission, by William Blake, is a comedic game about managing a steampunk spaceship, involving very carefully deploying workers to different parts of the ship (engine rooms, weaponry and so forth) in order to re-open space tea trade routes- like a slower, Victoriana Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime.

Gracie Drake has created the most obviously 'gamey' game in the selection in Supremely Excellent Goblins, which is a dungeon crawler in the vein of the Zeldalikes that made up the Game Boy Advance library.

My Last Son, by Sam Rowett, is Ben-bait of the highest order, being an adventure game based on the five stages of grief. That'll probably get some attention from him on its own at some point.

There's more on all the NFTS games, including four we've not covered, here.

Back in commercial indie games, Attack Of The Earthlings pitches itself as "reverse XCOM"- not that you start with a load of permadead soldiers which come back to life, but that you begin as one alien infiltrating a spaceship and, by eating the human crew, birth more aliens and evolve them into different forms (or 'classes', if you're being traditional).

Much like Fear Effect above, this features a 'group attack' where you line up a move for each character in turn for them all to be executed simultaneously.

Oil was one of the few games showcased for Apple TV, and played using the remote. It's a two-player party game which is fundamentally competitive Minesweeper. One player places oil in a grid (while the other charitably looks the other way and isn't peeking, promise) and then they both take it in turns to dig the oil up, with the winner being the one getting the most.

The Occupation has a go at Proper Topical Politics, centering around the hours leading up to a Government vote on the secretive 'Union Act'- allegedly set in 1980's Britain but feeling very American, you play as a reporter trying to uncover the law's details and get them out to the public. The Union act is hinted to be highly draconian and invites paralells to current real-world laws surrounding protest and surveillance, such as our own Investigatory Powers bill and the US' PATRIOT Act.

Over in the Leftfield Collection, we see the flipside of this is in Off Grid- which concerns itself with a much more fictionalised near-future approach to the matter of big data and mass internet surveillance, and using the inherently insecure network it needs to achieve your goals. (Amusingly, the game's website makes a lot of press quotes about data being your weapon and Edward Snowden, but still has the obligatory EU-mandated "This website uses cookies for some of it's functionality, and to help us make it better. We use a Google Analytics script which sets cookies." message at the bottom)

Just up from that is Semblance, a platformer about deforming platforms by smashing into them, making them the correct shape to collect the tokens you need to progress. Pleasingly odd, and a proper head-scratcher when it starts to add rigid platforms and objects that reset the deformed platforms into the mix.

The two most compelling games of the Collection, though, weren't videogames at all. Mystery Box was a box covered in various buttons and switches, and you had to press the one highlighted on a screen attached to it, but always displayed from an obtuse camera angle. A bit like the bomb in Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes, but nobody explodes. RotoRing, meanwhile was two rings of LEDs- you turn a dial to move the white one to avoid the red ones and reach the one that's not switched on.
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EGX 2017 Impressions:
Microsoft
Sep 24
Posted by Mark at 18:25

Alright, I was wrong- Sunday was heaving.


Microsoft was the other absentee at last year's show, but they were back this year- although notably while Sony had the PS Access lot on stage all show, and Nintendo had not only their usual stage show but also announcers over on their tournament booth, Microsoft had nothing.

Well, they had games, obviously. But no stage, which is increasingly unusual for a show where Twitch rock up with a full arena and even Dissidia (ref. Thursday's article) got a stage to itself.

The three main pillars of their booth were Forza 7- skipped today because they just released a demo, Sea of Thieves- skipped since it's been on closed beta for donkey's, and Middle Earth: Shadow of War- skipped because I don't particularly care, even if it was guarded by a massive fibreglass dragon.


Tucked into a corner of the PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (skipped because it's basically already out) area was Age of Empires: Definitive Edition.

Much like with Total Warhammer II, being a big PC strategy game it's hard to get a feel for it on the show floor, especially as its surprising popularity meant people had to be swept through the booth on a timer. However, it's clear that this is closer to a 'proper' remake than AoE 2 HD was, which just seemed to be the original game running at 1080p.

Also managing to clock up the square footage was Super Lucky's Tale, the cartoon platformer unveiled at E3 which, going off the EGX demo, might not be shit. Admittedly it's not going to make Mario shake in whatever footwear the poor sod his hat's possessed was wearing, but it's an entertaining enough straightfoward platformer.

The demo had you reunite three robot heads with their respective bodies in order to wake up a golem. The first of these was right next to the bodies- a simple tutorial- the next at the top of a small tower, and the third behind a more involved course including enemies and jumping puzzles.

Inside the Golem was another decapitated automaton whose head needed to be carried along a fireball-filled gauntlet, while Lucky himself was being chased by a larger, sentient fireball. Nothing new, but tighter and more focused than last year's Yooka-Laylee.

(Also, quite charmingly the Lucky demo pods all had bright orange controllers with light blue trim, and 'Lucky' laser-etched on them. Clearly an ad for their Design Labs customisation service, but clever nonetheless)

A few smaller games knocking about on their booth included Huntdown, which is doing the retro arcade run-and-gun thing very well, Robocraft Infinity which is combatitive Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts And Bolts, and Away: Journey to the Unexpected which starts with a late-80's-early-90's, Samurai Pizza Cats-era anime opening and hammy Japanese theme tune.

It's a kind of RPG-like game, not dissimilar to Elder Scrolls, but aiming to be a little lighter and have a- quote- 'wacky' sense of humour. So it could be good, or it could be another Citizens of Earth.

GALLERY:
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EGX 2017 Impressions:
Sony, Sega and (Ubi)Soft
Sep 22
Posted by Mark at 19:54

The Sony booth this year is the home of the Annual Update Games- specifically, FIFA and Call of Duty, with the more interesting games hidden behind them.


Notable also is the amount of space dedicated to Sony's desperate attempts to make Playstation VR a thing, including a massive VR helmet which makes the booth look like a Daft Punk tribute to Planet Of The Apes.


Like Nintendo's booth, it's full of titles that are already out, like expandalone Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Star Wars licence Battlefront II, inexplicable sequel Knack 2 and microtransaction shitfest Everybody's Golf. Some smaller new titles which were also there included Hob, which is a top-down-ish adventure game where you play as a guy with a massive hand, which he uses to solve puzzles in order to gradually unlock a tower by rotating bits of it.

I've not explained that very well. It does, however, look like what Knack was probably meant to, so there's that.

We saw Monster Hunter Stories on 3DS yesterday and today we say Monster Hunter World on PS4. A more 'curated' demo than its handheld counterpart, this does a much better job of explaining its mechanics and objectives- although this could also be related to the presence of Scoutflies, which effectively point out everything of vague interest to progressing through the mission.

The initial mission offered sees you trying to hunt a monster by first having some footprints drawn to your attention, then a scrape on the ground that the game nicely describes as "skidmarks", then another footprint and another until eventually the Scoutflies form a trail to follow to the monster. This is one of the new features added to make the game more accessible to people less familiar with the series, but it feels that it could turn the game into a box-checking exercise.

There was also Ni No Kuni II, which looks as pretty as you'd expect. The battle system can be a bit chaotic during boss fights, but it seems to work quite nicely in battles against smaller enemies in the world.

Also present was David Cage's new title Detroit: Become Human, which I didn't get the chance to watch today- although I did overhear one of the reps on the booth send one of the professional cosplayers they had manning the booth on their break by calling them over with 'Android, come here" and telling them to go into maintenance mode for thirty minutes.

Sony's recent push into phone-controlled games in the form of Playlink was represented by Frantics, by Affordable Space Adventures dev Knapnok. This is a series of motion-controlled party games, hosted by a slightly posh-talking fox, and controlled using the accelerometers in the phones- four top-of-the-line Sony devices, in the booth's case.

There were three games in my session, one where you have to avoid slipping off an ice platform by tilting the way you want to go, another where you fire yourself out of cannons so some (but not all) of you are on a platform, and another race game where before each race you secretly choose a player to have some modification to their vehicle which may or may not be helpful to them.

There was an interesting twist where, before the third game, the host 'called' one player's phone to give them a secret misison.

It's hard to fault the party games themselves, but the phone apps crashing exposed that each Playlink title needs its own individual app- Frantics ostensibly cannot be played using the app associated with That's You!, which has been out in the wild for some time- and that connecting your phone to your PS4 needs you to enter an IP address, which loses the immediacy of the browser-and-four-digit-code setup of the Jackbox games, and is a far cry from the apps-within-an-app world promised by xBox Smartglass.

Speaking of Far Cry, the Ubisoft booth next door housed the fifth game in the series. The short part of the game available focused around the obligatory Ubisoft Game tower, and charged the player with killing all the cultists around the base of it. A number of ways of achieving this was offered, from flinging in grenades to fighting them in the streets to sniping them from the top of the tower.

This, alongside stablemate Assassin's Creed: Origins which seems to have ditched parkour in favour of putting things really far away from one another and making you travel to them, were the first games to really show any seriously large queues- although Ubi made use of the extra space available to them, running lots of demo units and moving people through quickly.

Most of the booth, though, was some Mario + Rabbids demos sparsely dotted about in an almost empty space dominated by a massive fibreglass Rabbid Kong. (There was also South Park: The Fractured But Whole tucked away in a corner)


Sega, meanwhile, chose to showcase Sonic Forces, which looks like it's as good an extension on the Modern Sonic/Generations format as we're going to see. Three levels were on offer, including one of the mental genre-flip-flopping arrangements Colours perfected, a boss level, and a new 'Avatar' level where you put together disparate elements to create your own Original Character Do Not Steal and play as that. It also doesn't quite work, which I'm assuming is satire.

Last but not least, there was a few PCs running Total War: Warhammer II. Which was Total War: Warhammer II.

GALLERY:
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EGX 2017 Impressions:
Mostly Nintendo
Sep 21
Posted by Mark at 17:48

But also Dissidia and Dragonball!


Where last year's EGX was notable for two platform holders basically not showing up, this year's, today at least, feels as if it's the punters that have skipped the show.

This may be a quirk of the show feeling a bit bigger this year- it's probably not so much fewer people as fewer people per square foot, with what seems to be a lot of (very welcome) empty space between demo pods. The event marketing alleges that there's more games than ever before, but that has to be balanced by the appearance of so many games that are already out- Nintendo alone brought ARMS, Splatoon 2, Mario & Rabbids, Samus Returns, Sonic Mania (which also made a significant appearance at Sega's booth), Lego Worlds, and NBA 2K18- and that was just on their main booth. (As if to make up for lost time, Nintendo had three seperate booths this year- their main one, one for indies which we'll cover in the next few days, and a tournament booth in the eSports area)

The upshot of this is that for many games, there's not been a lot in the way of queueing- except for Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, beset by technical issues relating to the game's 3-on-3 network play meaning that for a while at the start of the day nobody was getting to play while people scrabbled under tables fiddling with wires. A functioning single-player mode was eventually deployed. Gameplay centres around using high-powered, spectacular attacks rarely rather than small attacks more frequently, making it feel less like a teamplay beat-'em-up and more like Warriors but without the chaos which makes it make sense.

On the subject of Warriors, one of Nintendo's new games was the format's excursion into Fire Emblem- much like Hyrule Warriors before it there's not much to fault in the Warriors-ing, and this iteration brings the ability to switch between characters to the table. While only a pre-set group were playable today, players can not only cycle between the four characters at will, they can also be individually directed to specific areas of the map, using a grid in a nod to its turn-based strategy roots.

There are flaws in this process, at one point all four of my characters levelled up within very quick succession of one another taking me through the a full recreation of the Level Up ceremony from 3DS four times very quickly, but this is obviously an edge case. It's also a lot of fun to see your favourite characters from the 3DS games in Glorious High Definition, so we can probably overlook it for now.

There was also the opportunity to showcase the new side-game in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions- it's not a lot to write home about, as a crowd of what are traditionally enemies from the Mario series butt heads with another automatically with minimal input from the player. A nice add-on, but unexciting on its own.

Super Mario Odyssey was also present, but that appeared to be the same build Nintendo had already exhibited at Hyper Japan earlier this year- and since there's been big previews of that recently, we'll be stepping over it here.

What is probably one of the last examples of a big third-party 3DS game, Monster Hunter Stories was also available to play. Traditionally where Nintendo have presented specially curated demos of their console games at events like EGX, 3DS games presented tend to be final retail games and that appeared to be true here- which meant the game seemed a little directionless as you were effectively picking up someone else's save file and all the mistakes they made with it and it's hard to get a feel for it. It does, however, feel exactly how you'd expect a traditional JRPG version of Monster Hunter to be.

Floating about independently of publisher booths- or at least, those as obviously branded as the first-party booths was DragonBall FighterZ, which has pulled the clever trick of running its cutscenes at a lower frame-rate than the gameplay, imitating the framerate of the hand-drawn animation of the original TV show.
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Jan
28
Posted by Ben at 17:23
I say this every year, but we do the Game of the Year thing a bit differently at Bitparade. You might, rightly, thing 'different' is a euphemism for 'late', but shut up yeah? We also have a rule where no single game can be picked twice, or in Mark's case at all



Until a couple of years ago Iíd never played an Etrian Odyssey game, then I played Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Fafnir Knight and promptly picked it as my Game of the Year. Theyíre remakes of the DS Etrian Odyssey games, and while optional, theyíve added a story and locked in characters, rather than you building your own party. It doesnít sound like much of a change, and the story isnít the worldís greatest, but it all adds up to refine the experience, focus it down to drive you forward. The only knock Iíd put on Etrian Odyssey Untold 2 is that it does feel a little familiar, but itís a better game than the first Etrian Odyssey Untold, and if youíre after an rpg to play on the go, or laying in bed, you should really check it out



I mean, hands down, Doom is the surprise of the year. It looked terrible, and Doom 3 wasnít great. I personally liked Rage quite a bit, and the 2 Wolfenstein games were great, so there was a glimmer of hope, but that multiplayer beta as a final tease didnít exactly get the heart racing. Itís brilliant though, I really donít have enough superlatives for it. Itís relentless, pacey, gleeful. Itís nonsense but in the right way, but itís also superbly precise, on PC at least, I canít vouch for the console ports. If you were holding out because itís Doom, buy it, play it, love it, but then Iím just one of a million people raving about it so itís old news that Doom is brilliant at this point.



There was a couple of games in contention for my 3rd placed spot, notably Stella Glow, which misses out just because itís a bit of a grind to finish. Really good SRPG, thereís a huge amount to like about it, but it makes the mistake of undermining its own pace by throwing a couple of uber-powerful bosses at you right at the end. Anyway, Dishonored 2 took the place, and while itís not underserved, itís a game I liked more after time passed. I think because I enjoyed the first game so much, it was a real breath of fresh air, both for its morose tone and Half-Life esque world, but also the way it made a stealth game work while giving you super powers.

Dishonored 2ís big problem is in its presentation. It still looks great, although it runs worse than it really should on PC, but the way it just tosses out its story, itís a shame, if the game doesnít care about the story then itís hard for you to, and this isnít helped by some piss-poor casting/directing/performance for the voice work.

Anyway, the good. Dishonored 2 has a few incidental bits of world building, moments where you stumble on npcs being wronged, you can watch it happen or you can get involved, shaping the game world. It pulls you in, makes you care about things and feel like youíre taking part. The Dishonored gameplay is still there, thereís still immense satisfaction to the painstaking stealth, and creatively murdering everyone. I wish theyíd presented it all better so I could have enjoyed it more at the time, I got a bit blinded by how disappointing the set up was




I'll admit I paid Overwatch literally no attention during its development. It wasn't until the open beta on console that I knew of its existence, which is probably as much down to the lack of attention I've paid to videogames in the past 12-18 months as it is anything else. But after my partner, eldest daughter and I spent an entire weekend with that beta we knew we had to own it. Fast forward some seven months since its release and we're still playing it, individually and as a pass-the-pad family activity. Blizzard have created a game that, in my opinion, is instantly accessible to almost everyone whilst having enough to it to constantly reward skill and hard work, the sheer number of characters to choose from, each with their own unique abilities, means there's always a different way to play and something new to try and even after all this time and even with us recently mostly playing the Mystery Heroes playlist (wherein you're randomly assigned a character with each spawn) there are some characters I've barely played. When it came to thinking on my list for Game of the Year, Overwatch was a no brainer and I'm genuinely excited to see what 2017 brings to the shooter.

As I write this, and with Bitparade being traditionally late to the party with these lists (we do it on purpose! Its called being fashionably late) Blizzard have just launched their Luna New Year event with the theme being centred around the Chinese Zodiac and the Year of the Rooster. With this they've introduced yet another new (but temporary for now) Capture the Flag mode that will be familiar to FPS players and, again, it just seems to work really well with you being able to take advantage of characters abilities. Its this balancing of using familiar modes and traits that gamers who have spent years playing competitive shooters will recognise, all tied to a very team based game that also has that MOBA element with the need to learn how to get the best out of each and every character and switch things up with a different tactics where needed that keeps me coming back to Overwatch more than any game I can remember since my weekly online escapades on Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow.



This game is a prime example of why we're always late to the party with these lists. If we had have been preparing for this all to be posted at the turn of 2017 then The Last Guardian wouldn't appear here. But the fact its placed second in my list at the expense of titles like Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, Grand Kingdom and No Mans Sky (quiet in the back! I really liked it!) says a lot about it. Ok, even I noticed the frame rate from time to time and there were elements of its last hour or so that I felt were a bit tacked on and came in as suddenly as that final boss in Final Fantasy IX. However, from the moment I freed Trico from his chains and then saw him stick his big stupid head through a hole that was far too small for him to fit through I knew that I was playing something very special.

The Last Guardian isn't for everyone, but I think those of us who have developed a strong bond with a pet will recognise the relationship that begins to grow between the boy you control and the beast you try to command. There are times when you want Trico to do something and its definitely apparent that there is a lack of discipline there, now of course there are also times when you know that the AI has gotten itself stuck and you've got to let it work through whatever mechanics have been put in place by the very talented develoment team, but for the first time that I recall that my companion was behaving in a manner where it wasn't a tool to lead to progression through the game but was an actual element of the game that was designed to be experienced, which is just a phenomenal thing for a game to do and is something that, in my opinion, has been worth waiting through this long and difficult development period for.



We had a bit of a discussion about this on Skype, it wasn't a particularly long discussion but it did begin with me asking if I could include Super Mario Bros. 3 on this list. The jist is that, no, I couldn't, and I understand why, its literally a re-release of a very old game, one that brings back fond memories from my childhood, but Nintendo hadn't done enough work on it to warrant its inclusion on its own. So we agreed I could cheat and include the NES Mini on the list instead. However, I did literally just buy it because I wanted to replay the original version of Super Mario Bros. 3, not the version I own via Super Mario All Stars and not the version I have buried away on my PC's hard drive in ROM form either. £50 plus another £8 for a second controller just to play the one game is rather excessive, but I did want to play some of the other games included too even if the majority of them weren't a part of my nostalgia trip as I only recall playing the 3 Mario's, Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtles and Digger T Rock on the NES that I had as a kid, but aside from a bit of Bubble Bobble, the NES Mini has been mostly a machine to introduce my family to Super Mario Bros 3.




If you told me at the beginning of last year that Iíd put down two driving games as my favourites by its end, I would have laughed back at you. With the numerous closures of various racing specialists last gen - Disneyís BlackRock, Segaís Racing Studio, Bizaare Creations - and the declining sustainability of the big budget driving game, you couldnít blame my scepticism for the genre this generation. But Forza Horizon 3 certainly delivers, and feels like the driving game Playground Games always wanted to deliver from the beginning. The original Forza Horizon never felt like a truly open world racing game since its setting forced a lot of your driving onto tarmac. Two games later Horizon 3ís take on driving across Australia is liberating by comparison - both Yarra Valley and The Outback offer tremendous variety in how you can approach each corner to the checkpointed events and races, and trying out new car types rarely feels old as a result.

The real star of the show are the bucket list challenges dotted around the map. These give you a very specific task to complete Ė Push through the mist and find the haunted house in an Oldsmobile 442! Ignore your Sat Nav and bounce your way to the Gorge in the Penhall Cholla! Ė but the unbridled nature of the landscapes youíre driving in turn these challenges upside down. Youíre not just racing to a goal, youíre taking an unplanned trek across the outback and hope for the best as your car tilts and turns, or cut across a section of rainforest to make it to the goal in time.

It can feel a little bit too uncontrolled at times. Progression is often dependent on just completing things rather than completing them well, and even the Drivatars can struggle with the gameís often unfamiliar landscapes. But these are only minor blemishes on a superbly varied, fun driving game that really does succeed at its attempts to be all things to every driver.



If Forza Horizon 3 was about having a good time and soaking in the easygoing atmosphere of your own racing festival, DiRT Rally may well be the polar opposite. But like Forza, what it sets out to do, it pulls off almost effortlessly. DiRT Rally is the return of the serious Rally game, where even the shallowest corner can throw you off course, where driving in a straight line can often prove to be a challenge, where championships are the culmination of dozens of races, not a few. Itís a rather refreshing change in identity after the DiRT games last gen focused heavily on gymkana face-offs with a flashy atmosphere that arguably lowered the tone of the sport at hand.

What really made DiRT Rally one of my picks is just how unique and peerless it feels to play: Youíve got one of the best driverís seat cameras in the business, every inch of road is modelled convincingly, the physics are satisfyingly characteristic. No course plays out in the same way, and you can never be so sure of having nailed down a perfect route through those winding roads. Codemasters has focused on one area of driving and nailed it Ė had this vision been a part of a more sprawling racer, like Gran Turismo, itíd have inevitably been compromised.



Pokemon Sun is the Pokemon sequel I never knew I wanted. Thing is, the excitement I once had for new instalments in the main series started wearing off after Pokemon Black and White 2. The games are still good, and the metagame and battle system are still in a class of their own. But I found the series starting losing the purity it once had (and regained with Black and White), and the single player campaigns were becoming increasingly contrived. Battles became even easier by way of mega evolutions and poor balancing around a new EXP Share. NPCs would keep handing you powerful Pokemon. The once-labyrinth layout of routes between towns was straightened out into linearity. The games no longer felt ďdesignedĒ in the same way they once were.

So I was pleased to find that Pokemon Sun was a breath of fresh air. The change in setting, of course, helped a great deal. But Sun rethinks a lot of aspects that had become to feel contrived. The world map is now a series of organically designed, tightly-packed islands, a big improvement from the linear routes of the last few games.

Rival trainers are now stronger and smarter, urging you to make full use of your tactics in battle and making the new EXP-sharing system share actually matter. Mega evolutions were kept out of the game until after the campaign, and in their place a much tighter system of Z-moves were introduced. Its improved approach to storytelling played a significant role in making the gameís world feel more like a living, breathing, interconnected place, rather than a series of disconnected locations. A shake-up of the gym system prevented the game from being predictable like previous titles did, too. I wasnít expecting any of this, despite the game looking promising in its trailers, and it made Pokemon Sun one of my favourite Pokemon campaigns since 2011ís Black and White shook things up in similar, but less significant, ways.
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Nintendo Switch
First Thoughts
23-10-16
Posted by Ben at 15:10

The NX has now been revealed, itís a thing, a thing without much detail, but Nintendo did show enough that itís some sort of proof of concept. Now called the Nintendo Switch, the WiiU, and possibly 3DS successor doubles as both a handheld and a home console.

Nintendo have confirmed that the Switch will come with a controller, which seems like an obvious assumption, but the 3DS stopped coming with a plug so you never really know with Nintendo. The reason itís noteworthy here is because of the way the controller works. The Joy-Con, which is an awful Ďthe controller you give your mateí name, is made up of 3 parts. The left and right sections can be slid off, the centre of the controller we donít really know, presumably there might be some sort of Amiibo reader in there but the Joy-Con left and right can be used like a Wii Remote, maybe without the pointer (but maybe?), but they must hold some charge, and can be used to control a game like the Wii Remote on its side, meaning one Joy-Con can let you play 2 player.

The whole premise of the Nintendo Switch is that it isnít just tied to the TV. While the docking station seems to exist solely to charge the device and to connect it to the tv, there are possibilities it may offer increased storage solutions. The Switch itself is the tablet style device that goes in to the docking station, and if you want to remove it, you take apart the controller, then slide the Joy-Con L and Joy-Con R on to the sides of the tablet, turning it in to something not a million miles away from a WiiU Gamepad. The Switch unit, or tablet, has a stand on the back, plus a headphone jack, so you can use the tablet as just a screen, using the controllers in a more traditional way.

Anecdotally, this seems like something that, while not initially leading to sales for Nintendo, will be something people adore about the machine. When Iím cooking I regularly prop up my tablet to watch stuff, even my phone case has a little stand on the back so I can use that, itís a great idea. Nintendoís trailer shows this being used on a plane, but also with people gathered around, and while Iím a bit more tentative about believing this one, back to back screens, so you can play multiplayer across 2 linked devices. It may simply be online match-making, weíll see.

The handheld nature of the device, despite Nintendo proclaiming that the Nintendo Switch is "first and foremost a home console" has brought to mind a few questions. The concept is fantastic, for someone like me at least. I still play my 3DS, and generally I play it indoors, in fact other than one trip I havenít played it on transport since the first year I got it. Still though, playing whist watching something else, playing in the garden during the summer, playing in the bathroom, my 3DS gets use for its convenience as well as use because itís got the games I want to play. In the past weíve had cross-connectivity, cross saves, and even cross buy, but all of them come with hunderences and caveats. The ability to just pick up your game of Skyrim and play it lay in bed, or on the couch, or Ďotherwise engagedí, as much as playing it on a plane or on holiday, itís a fantastic thing. But itís a fantastic thing that comes at a cost, battery life and power.

If the Switch is capable of, letís be generous and say PS4 levels of power, then where is that power going to be stored (thereís not a lot of room in that tablet), and how long will the battery last? If the battery is decent then how much power can the machine really have. The speculation here is that when the Switch is docked it will have be capable of running faster, when itís in handheld mode the power will be lower to save on battery consumption.

It goes without saying that itís far too early to firm to solid an opinion of the Nintendo Switch. The list of developers is promising, but if weíre going to get month late ports of games at launch, then nothing after when they inevitably donít sell to expectations, like the WiiU. For Atlus are we talking Persona 5 or are we talking 3DS standard games. Iíll take either, but what kind of support the console is going to get is still a big question, especially when the big 3rd party game featured was Skyrim, effectively a HD port of a years old game. Thereís enough about the console to have me interested though, the portability alone would do that, now we just need some details
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Sep
26
2016
Posted by Mark at 18:56
As long as the term's been in use in games, the exact definition of 'Indie' has been under constant debate.

If can consider a studio in a pokey office on an anonymous Oxford industrial estate self-publishing their game to be 'indie'- even if that game happens to be a full priced boxed retail game on three formats as part of a chart-topping series that's shifted over ten million units, Rebellion, then the opposite, where a Tokyo-based multinational, spread across multiple floors of its HQ, employing seven million people worldwide in its videogames, toys and arcade empire digitally publishing a game by a little Swedish firm counts as well.

Bandai Namco are on publishing duties for Tarsier's Little Nightmares, a puzzle-platformer best described as Unravel except intentionally creepy. The player character- a little girl in a big raincoat named Six- needs to sneak out of the oversized house that The Maw, a representation of childhood fears, has imprisoned her in.

The house seems to be some kind of live-in butchers' shop, and the range of items that can be found in such an environment make what could be a very simplistic game much more interesting- the end of the demo involves pushing hams onto a trapdoor so that they fall into a sausage machine on the floor below, which creates a string of sausages you swing from to exit through a vent, which makes a nice change from finding a convenient rope that latches onto a convenient hook.

Another good example of 'Big Indie' is Kickstarter success Yooka-Laylee. The level showcased deviated little from the template Banjo-Kazooie left for it, never showing anything too new, a lot of aspects being clear reskins of what their 64-bit counterparts were, but these are mechanics tuned to near-perfection the first go around.

If there was one aspect that could be considered too similar, however, the background music felt like it was a little too reminicent of Banjo and DK64- this could stop not just the game from truly finding its own identity, but also that of Playtonic as being distinct from Rare- a question from the audience during their Developer Session asked if they were likely to try and revisit other titles, which could be an easy path for them to fall down.

Less 'Big Indie' and more 'Small AAA' was Sega's Sonic Mania. Similarly in danger of living too much in the past, especially with one of the levels demoed being called 'Green Hill Zone', having more or less the same music as on the Megadrive and even pretty much lifting its tileset wholesale, the game sidesteps this by pulling in enough of the future.

Unlike Sonic Generations, which was self-conciously a tribute to a fading series, Mania is a 'new, old game' and free of many of the gimmicks that made a mess of the franchise (such as homing jumps and special moves) while still bringing in many of the improvements it picked up over time, retaining the spin dash from Sonic 2 and the elemental shields introduced in 3.

With that, it regains its purity as a straight platformer, which it's not really managed to do since Sonic Advance.

If Sonic Mania is a good example of what Sonic was, Mekazoo provides a good example of what Sonic thinks it is now. A shiny, almost bioluminescent platformer based around bouncing off springs and blasting through curved tunnels. These are traversed in different ways based on which of the many different animals you're playing as- so it's even managed to do Sonic's mates right.

The Little Acre was one of many point-and-click adventures exhibited. This game features two parallel plots, one set in the present day and another, earlier timeline featuring the same characters as children in a fantasy world of massive caterpillars and venus flytraps that work as teleporters.

There's not a lot you can do with the genre in gameplay terms, which means focus is on the writing- and unfortunately the lead character's dialogue in the 'adult' timeline needs work. He appears to be less describing the world in front of him as much as remembering it. If this was for the child version of the character, then it could be framed as a memory, instead he just comes off as a self-narrating arse.

Back with Square-Enix, their 'Collective' initiative of publishing indie games, in its own booth amongst its indie bretheren, rather than sandwiched between Final Fantasies, managed to chuck out Black: The Fall.

Using a muted colour pallete to great effect, the game is set in an oppressive dystopian future, the player is tasked with controlling that one guy who's seen through it all and is trying to make his escape, after stealing the laser pointer which lets him take control of his fellow citizens. There are times where the game fails to explain itself and the final puzzle in the demo, which plunges the player into darkness and relies on sound cues felt a little unfair, but these feel like minor issues that should be fixed for the final release.

Seemingly announced by Collective at the show, to the point where it wasn't even listed in the show map was Forgotton Anne. That seemingly misplaced 'O' appears to be capitalised in the logo, so it probably means something.

Set in the Forgotton Realm, the place where all those lost socks and things go, this is a puzzle platformer where the player controls the Anne of the title, who has to use her ability to control magic-electricity hybrid 'anima' to quash a rebel uprising which threatens to stop her and her master Bonku from returning to the real world.

This is a strikingly beautiful looking-game with seemingly hand-animated characters which only occasionally betray the computer-generated help it occasionally gets when moving the scenery around. The demo shown on the floor also hinted at an extended story which changes based on how you interact with the characters- a talking scarf which you meet early on and accuse of trying to con you can be burnt using anima, leaving only ashes and a caption of 'This could have ended differently'.

It's a bit less mad than it sounds. Here's a trailer:

Show/hide video

Interestingly, this was the only game in the show I made a note in my phone about mentioning it on Bitparade. Make of that what you will.

Last call goes to Trapper's Delight. One of the more 'gamey' titles seen in the weirder 'Leftfield Collection' (alongside Airheart, which we've already featured) this is a multiplayer game where the objective is to traverse a small maze made of tiles. The catch is that before each attempt, all players are able to lay traps for the other players to fall foul of and/or you to forget exists and walk straight in to.

I played this with two randoms, and after the first round of trying to work out what was going on, most of the time was spent laughing as we accidentally managed to create increasingly elaborate Rube Goldberg machines of death and made every level unwinnable. This is currently available on Early Access, and seems like the sort of thing to lighten up any games night.
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Sep
25
2016
Posted by Mark at 19:11
There's been an amount made about the state of the event at this year's EGX- and while I'll be trying to focus on the games played, there are a few things that can't be avoided.

First, and the one which created the most noise was Sony's handling of Horizon: Zero Dawn- only available to play in a closed-off area, the 30-minute demo meant that formal queuing was abandoned early on in favour of booking sessions, all of which were filled up by 11AM each day- completely shutting out anyone who didn't have an Early Access ticket to the event.

Sony are not the first people to underestimate the demand to see a title at such a show, but questions have to be asked as to why so few consoles were made available considering the length of the demo, more so when the games immediately next to it on Sony's booth were Overwatch and Uncharted 4- both well-marketed games that have been out for some time, the former of which had its own dedicated booth.

The other two platform holders were also conspicuous by their absences- Microsoft's presence being limited to showing Gears of War 4 in a corner of the 18+ area and Forza Horizon 3 making an appearance on the Twitch booth, and Nintendo not showing up at all.

Microsoft's decision not to showcase the XBox One S and let Sony hog the limelight with PS4 Pro seems like an own-goal, but at least one of their flagship series made an appearance, to an extent doing what Nintendo did at E3 with Breath Of The Wild.

The next Zelda game, like its developer, didn't make an appearance at EGX, beyond a glancing mention in the show magazine (this year just an advert for Amazon rather than telling you anything about the games being exhibited), not even in a closed-off Horizonbox or as a developer session.

Nintendo not being present is almost inexplicable, especially when you consider that in the much less-attended Hyper Japan earlier in the year, Nintendo had a not insignificant showing, including integrating BotW's UK premiere into its stage show and creating a Pokťmon showcase, capitalising on the back of the then-new Pokťmon Go.

Despite what that event's name would suggest, Nintendo's showing there wasn't entirely niche titles with little appeal outside the otaku market, so it probably wouldn't have been too difficult to simply pick up that show and drop it into EGX, maybe adding a bit of Super Mario Run if they really had to.

Mainly appealing to otakudom still probably wouldn't have hurt, if Square-Enix' booth was anything to go by, showcasing World Of Final Fantasy- one of three FF games exhibited (four if Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 counts), a dungeon crawler whose gimmick seems to be that the characters can transform into cute chibis at will, a mechanic which seems to exist solely to sell Nendoroid figures.

More interesting was the adjacent Dragon Quest Builders, the Minecraftalike that Ben has already posted the trailer of.

(And if you were waiting, this marks the first appearance of a game I actually played)

The notion of Minecraft with story and objectives appears interesting, and advanced platformer-y tasks could be seen played on Sony's stage, although the playable demo didn't seem to last long enough to reach that point. The move to third-person, despite certain control changes to accommodate, makes placing blocks slightly harder than it could be, which is likely to cause frustration.

The rest of Squeenix' booth was made up of Rise Of The Tomb Raider and Hitman, promoting their PS4 re-release and latest episodes respectively.

Possibly as a factor of the absence of Microsoft and Nintendo, aside from the usual iterative titles (This year's CoD, FIFA, WWE, Pro Evo and Battlefield) the only other meaningful showing- save for Sega settling nicely into its strategy niche, and Sniper Elite 4 helping Rebellion continue to punch above its weight- from a AAA developer was Bethesda, showcasing Dishonored 2.

The level shown in the demo featured a mansion whose rooms could shift into different configurations at the pull of a lever- meaning in order to complete the level's two objectives (saving a colleague from the first game and taking down this game's antagonist) the player has to creep around the crawlspaces under the floors- a little like a Victoriana latter half of Portal.

The enemies shown, rather than the humans which made up the previous game, were all robots, which added an extra element of strategy to combat. Decapitation causes them to attack anything that makes a noise, meaning they can be used by the player to take down other enemies.

Sniper Elite 4, incidentally, was pretty much Sniper Elite 3, but bigger. Which is absolutely fine by me.

That feels like a nice cut-off point, tomorrow I'll recap the better indie and smaller games of the show.
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Bioshock Remastered
Comparison
18-09-16
Posted by Ben at 04:15

The original Bioshock was the first game Bitparade.co.uk gave a 10/10 to, in fact it was our only 10/10 for a long time iirc. None of the current writers hold it in that high a regard if I'm honest, certainly I could leave the back half of the game's busy work, and a few of the obvious set ups.

Still thought here's something undeniably compelling about Bioshock. It starts great, ignoring the tone and scene setting as you drift in to Rapture, that first Splicer encounter, how dangerous everything seemed. It's lost a little now, I've played through the game at least twice, so familiarity has overtaken dread, although some of the more chose elements of the game still elicit that response for different reasons.

Anyway, on to the video. Remember, we aren't Digital Foundry, we're not able to analyse each frame, and I'm not really capable of picking out missing effects. But hopefully it's enough to show some of the changes, the improvements, and some of the areas it is actually a little worse.

Personally I think, based on what I've played, the remaster is "fine", I do think overall it looks better. However, given it's a remaster or a years old game for modern hardware, it's really not a very impressive port, certainly not the leap it could, and probably should have been. Again, for me, playing on PC on a version I got for free for already owning the game, I maybe can't complain too much, but a proper remastered Rapture, I think that's what the game deserves. Still though, all things considered, and the lack of graphics options on the remaster, I'd maybe consider running the original game with mods than playing this.

Show/hide video

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Jan
31
2016
Posted by Ben at 17:22
While the gap between indie games and full releases has closed immensely over the last few years itís still easy to find an excuse to miss them off your game of the year list (cue link to ours). Not that this is a ďbest indie games of the year listĒ, more some that we played, that most people maybe didnít, and we think do something interesting. Theyíre not intended to be perfect, only interesting, although some of them are in there because we really enjoyed them. Because of the stipulation that you, Ďaverage gamerí, might have missed them, thereís no Rocket League, no Undertale, but thereís also probably a load of indie games you loved that we never even touched, so just take this as our chance to give a shout to some stuff we enjoyed, or Ďenjoyedí depending on the game


I'm amazed that Deathtrap didn't get more coverage. Not just because it's a good game, and Deathtrap was a good game, but because of how it played. A cross between Diablo and a tower defence game, with maybe a touch of DOTA, it's exactly the sort of game that should have found favour on the kind of sites that specialise in video content should have lapped up. There's no revolutionary plot in Deathtrap, but it's fun, and quite polished in a simple kind of a way


David Szymanski appeared on our list last year, and put out a couple of games this year (3 if you count the Steam release of Fingerbones). A Wolf in Autumn was thematically very interesting but it was short, and a little clumsy. The Music Machine though is much greater in scope. It's hardly Witcher 3, but there's an ambition to the narrative, a bigger picture, that builds over the game's length.

The Music Machine starts as a simple wander around a deserted island, but every step of the way there's something clever. You control a vengeful ghost, killed by the father of a young girl whose advances he'd spurned, who is now controlling her body, seeking the perfect way to kill her. The Music Machine is abstract and then fantastically on point, it really is too good a narrative to miss.


Gunman Clive 2 split the site this year. I, correctly, rate it as one of the best games of the year, others are less enthused. It's on the list, partly because I'm in charge of the list, but also because I wanted something console based here. Gunman Clive 2 is a tough little retro platformer with a fantastic aesthetic. It's also a step up on the first game, more varied with tighter platforming.

Weirdly the WiiU release of Gunman Clive HD Collection showed that the series works best on the 3ds, not that it's bad on the home console, but the loss of 3D does take something from the game in a way I didn't expect


While not exactly a massively unknown game, the principled stance its developer, Thomas Happ, took meant Axiom Verge didn't find itself in any Steam sales or Humble Bundles until Christmas, which meant that it will have bypassed a lot of people.

This is a shame, as a better love letter to the Metroidvania genre (the former half of that in particular) you will struggle to find, as this game manages to pay tribute to its forebears without falling too far, as many faux-retro indie games can, into deference or pastiche.

With this having spent five years in development, Happ's next game can probably be considered to be some distance away, giving you plenty of time to explore every inch of Axiom Verge's world.


Lisa was actually released right at the end of last year, and who knows, maybe releasing in the barren month of December helped it find an audience, but I feel like no one's talked about it this year. Not unlike Undertale Lisa is an Earthbound inspired rpg, where the humour belies a darker story. And that's the thing that most struck me about Lisa, I picked it up because it looked funny, but it's actually one of the darker games I played this year.

Be prepared though, it's a difficult game. So difficult the developer added an easy mode but then hid it, which is pretty in keeping with the spirit if the game. What I will say though is that Lisa's difficulty is what stopped me playing more of the game. I liked it, wanted to play it more, but after being wiped out again it was time to stop. If only I could have found that easy mode... assuming there actually is one.


I'm a bit unsure about including Yatagarasu: Attack on Cataclysm in this list, we were sent a code by its publisher PQube, and if it has a publisher then it's not an indie game. However Yatagarasu is very much an indie game, with Nyu Media picking up a series of Japanese indie games and getting them on to Steam. It's another example of the term 'indie' getting muddied, Grow Home, Ori and the Blind Forrest, Amplitude, they're all games with an "indie" appeal produced by big publishers, Yatagarasu is different, and so I think it gets a pass.

To explain what Yatagarasu is, well, it's a fighting game. That didn't take long. Yatagarasu is a beautifully refined fighting game, it brings to mind Garou Mark of the Wolves in that regard. It's uncomplicated, more Street Fighter 4 than Blazblue. In a year that included some fantastic fighting games, not least the aforementioned Blazblue and Arcana Heart Love Max!!, Yatagarasu held its own, were it a bit more feature packed and with better net code I think it may well have been my pick of 2015's fighters.


Home Is Where One Starts is a game I was a little, not sniffy about exactly, but at the time it didn't catch me the way I hoped. I felt it was a little unexplored conceptually, there was nothing wrong with the story, and nothing wrong with the execution on its key points, but it was underdeveloped. You play as a young girl from a tragic home, a lot is left unsaid, but it's clear that her father is no good for her. You explore the nearby environment, finding hints and memories about events in her life. That I wanted more from Home is Where One Starts is a back-handed criticism, and despite my initial instincts it stayed with me. It's cheap too, very short, nice looking and well acted, I actually do recommend you try it out.


I got to feel more than a little hipstery back when The Stanley Parable came out. I'd played the original mod, even recorded a video for another site, so being ahead of the curve, being able to push people towards it was cool. That said the re-used ideas made the game feel a little too familiar Things that would have made me laugh were jokes I already knew the punchline to, twists had already been spoiled, but it was still a game I had a lot of time for. The Beginner's Guide suffered from a kind of residual familiarity, I was still too burned out by The Stanley Parable and left The Beginner's Guide until the end of the year. I'm glad I waited to give it some space because it's a special thing.

The Beginner's Guide is a collection of not even half-finished games cobbled together by a narrator. I won't spoil what the narrative is, but it's an exploration of game design and of intent. The problem The Beginner's Guide has is that the games themselves aren't very good, which is kind of the point, but it does mean that the game isn't especially fun. It's a hell of an experience though, a hard sell compared to The Stanley Parable, but well worth the work.


The Old City: Leviathan is a game I played right at the end of the year to get ready for this feature. Thereís still a handful of games Iíve not got around to, and The Old City: Leviathan was supposed to be towards the bottom of that list, maybe thatís part of why I wasnít feeling it initially. If you check out the video I put up, it moves at a glacial pace to begin with, I was waiting for it to reveal itself, and by the end of the video it still hadnít really, I even start talking about what itís missing, why itís not engaging me. So what happened after I hit stop on the capture software?

The Old City: Leviathan turns in to a stark dreamscape, both nihilistic and obsessed with theology. The world has ended and the new world is doomed to repeat itself. You go in search of a truth but begin to doubt that youíre even capable of recognising the truth if you saw it. Thereís a vein of existentialism running through the game, and while it is slow going, having you reading literal pages of text, it does pay off, and it explores theology in a way I canít recall any other game doing. If that sounds like your sort of thing, and granted, itís an acquired taste, track it down and stick with it.
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