Why has “free” become synonymous with “bad”?
It’s no lie that the Magic video games have been declining in standard since…well, since the first Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2011. I think I am going to largely be repeating myself from my Magic 2015 review last year, which was filled with anger and distain, but I feel that the points need to be repeated.
It’s true that Magic Duels, this year’s instalment in the Magic video game series, is free. That’s an instant plus. It seems like a tactical move, since the release and success of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which I am largely inclined to download. And of course, as with any free game, there is a ‘pay to win’ feature. Well, I guess they have to make their dollars somehow… So what do you get from Duels if you don’t want to spend any moolah? Firstly, you have a story mode. Using the current ‘origins’ theme as inspiration, the story mode follows the awakening and subsequent sparks of some of the main Planeswalkers we know and love – Gideon, Jace, Lilliana, Chandra and Nissa. Each character features five (I think) battles using a premade deck that gets better as the campaign goes on. It’s a nice idea, and the stories are mildly interesting despite all being somewhat similar. The decks that you play with aren’t anything special and are actually pretty dull, notably Gideon’s. Additionally, the AI opponents that you fight are as easy as your mother, and don’t serve a real threat. As such, you can complete the campaign in a couple of hours tops. Each win awards you with some coins, which I will come back to later, and at the end of the campaign you are rewarded with a speechless short film that looks like it was made for an early PS2 game, and nothing else. You don’t even unlock the mediocre deck to play with. Not even a “well done!”. Hell, not even a stinking achievement besides Gideon! Gideon’s campaign, whilst on the subject, serves as the incredibly arduous tutorial, which, you know, is great if you have never played Magic the Gathering before, but if you know what you are doing then you just have to listen to the patronising lady voice (who may well be the same patronising lady voice from Magic 2015!) telling you how to make simple moves. Agh.
Once you have exhausted the campaign, you can participate in one v one battles with AI opponents, ranging from easy to medium to hard, or, as I like to call it, easy to slightly harder to you might lose a creature. There is no difficulty spike in this game. Enemy decks are completely randomised it seems, as I had a hard comp that just played lands until I killed him. No challenge whatsoever. So what about playing against other players? Firstly, you can participate in one v one fights against a random player across the globe by hitting the button and waiting for one of the six other people online to respond. Also, they have graciously brought back a two headed giant mode, in which you and another random player across the globe fight two other guys by telepathically communication. That is to say, there is no way to communicate with your team mate or even other players in general. Literally nothing. Additionally, if a player disconnects, a notification will flash up, but blink and you will miss it. After that, you fight an AI in their place, with no aesthetic indication. As a result, if you happened to sneeze or look away for a second and your opponent quits, you may have no idea. Which is especially helpful when a large percentage of the other six players online rage quit when they’re losing.
But what about the cards? You start off with a little starter pack that has some basic cards in. Playing matches unlocks coins. Coins unlock booster packs. Booster packs contain six cards (IKR?!) that you can include in one of your many decks. Completing the campaign will earn you enough to unlock around 5 boosters for you to open and enjoy. After that, you can earn coins by completing matches. However, a single booster costs 150 coins. An offline match win gives you 5/10/15 coins depending on the difficulty, where an online yields 20. As such, grinding for coinage becomes a tedious task, and once again our old pay to win friend comes a’knockin’; you can, if you so wish, spend IRL money to buy cards, which, obviously, some people do. However, seeing as the online community for this game seems dead before it’s even reached its toddler stage, it seems pointless. That, and I don’t want to spend money in a game like this. So to get tha’ good cards, you have to play tens of matches against either long, drawn out, effortless computer or grouchy, silent real life people. Editing decks is quite straightforward, and offers both a ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ mode. This allows you to tailor using the cards that you have won and/or bought. You can also autocomplete decks if you’re feeling lazy.
The interface, though an improvement on last year, is still a winding road of nonsense in some parts. For example, once you build your deck, you can change the name and art of it. To do this, you would think there would be a simple tab in the ‘edit deck’ region, but instead, you must go into your card choosy area, find the stats tab, and go from there. Why? Because.
Magic Duels is a free game, so how much can we complain really? You’ll kill a few hours from it, but don’t expect anything that’s really worth while, unfortunately. Whether they will release future DLC or not I don’t know, but at the moment Magic Duels serves as a brief and aggravating pastime and nothing else. As I believe I said last year, if you want a good Duels game, check out the 2012 and 2013 instalments.
Do you hear the people sing?There’s a lot wrong with Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I mean, there is a lot right with it too…but there is a lot wrong. Now, I went into playing Unity all smug like, thinking “well, I have seen Les Misérables both on stage and on screen – I am totally in the know of the French Revolution. But, apparently, there was more than one – so where Les Mis is set in the early 1800s, Unity takes place during the 1790s. So, my knowledge on the historical events were limited, with the only historical figure I recognised being Napoleon. Oh, and Madame Tussaud makes an appeareance! Not that my lack of knowing is the game’s fault by any means – I mean, how were they supposed to know that my historical knowledge was limited? But it certainly makes you less invested in the story if you don’t really know who is who. Anyway, that is an irrelevant side note.Unity follows assassin Arno Dorian throughout his adventures in Paris. Arno’s story takes an interesting, different route from previous AssCreds; it focuses more on a unity (hey? hey?) between Assassins and Templars, as opposed to the usual “we have to find these deadly artifacts before they do!” approach some of the previous games take. Despite this interesting premise, Unity fails when it comes to deliverance. The story feels very disjointed and slow of pace, with the Revolution not actually kicking in until about half way through. There are some fascinating side characters – powdered faces, ludicrous wigs and what not – but most of the main cast are pretty bland, and many share similar facial features, making it quite difficult to distinguish between who is who. One of the best features of the plot is the love side story, which plays out nicely as the game progresses. Still, Unity, somewhat ironically when you think of the title, seems to stand very alone when compared to previous Assassin’s Creed games. Granted, we have just finished what is called the “Kenway Saga”, so naturally all of those games would link, but there is barely any reference to previous instalments (apart from unlocking past protagonists’ outfits), which, considering this is only set a few years after the Kenway Saga, is a bit disappointing. If you have played Rogue, you will know how its epilogue ties in nicely with Unity’s prologue – so it would have been nice to maybe feature Shay at some point during the game, even if he is an older man by then. There is also no ‘modern day’ section of the game, bar a few cutscenes, which is a shame because it was actually quite a fun little diversion going around and hacking computers, learning about Abstergo’s secrets. As a final point on plot, the trailer/promotional art would have you believe that Unity focuses on a troupe of young Assassins who work together having banterous fun and a cheeky Nando’s every now and then. This certainly is not the case in the story, unless this kicks in right at the end. There are several multiplayer missions scattered about, and the game puts a great emphasis on completing these (I have no friends so…), but nothing in the main story, unfortunately.This leads nicely onto my next point: sidequests. Fans of the Assassin’s Creed series will know that there is an abundance of activities to complete in each game. Unity is no different. Now, opinions on this may be mixed, but I believe that Unity offers too much. The map of Paris is lovely, large and lively, and absolutely infested with side activities like moles on my back. There are chests to open. Some are locked, which requires a certain degree of lockpicking skill, which can only be obtained after completing Sequence 5 or 9, depending on the skill level. Lockpicking is also incredibly boring and tedious. There are collectibles in the form of cockades; like Animus fragments in previous games, these are dotted across the map and serve no real purpose other than gotta catch ‘em all. There are murder mysteries, which are actually quite enjoyable, in which you take the role of a Batman-style detective. They range in difficulty from piss-easy to that-required-me-to-think-a-bit. There are assassination missions, which literally highlight a random poor bugger on the map and require you to go and kill him. Alongside this we also have “Paris Stories”, mini-missions that require you to complete a few little tasks for certain characters; nothing too special. Lastly, there are Nostradamus Enigmas. Nostradamus, being the enigmatic little seer that he was, has left clues around Paris in the form of riddles to unlock some uber armour (probably for aesthetic purposes only). I enjoy a good riddle, but some of these are ridiculous – it got to the point where I just looked them up. There are 18 in total, each with three riddles, which have you traipsing all over Paris. Again, a nice idea, but piled on top of everything else, it just becomes tedious. The fact that there is no real reward, bar some aesthetic differences, also makes all of these side quests lack incentive. In the Dead Kings DLC there are some similar riddles to unlock a hilariously OP sword, but that’s kind of it. Unless you’re an achievement hunter then it feels like a waste of time. Saying that, achievements are stored on uPlay (if you’re on PC), so what the hell is the point there?
Unlike its predecessors, Unity is a ‘new-gen’ game, and it certainly feels it. With a new art style which I have mixed feelings about (a bit like water painting), and an arguably improved freerunning mechanic (it’s a lot more fluid but also a lot more restricting…play and you will see what I mean), Unity feels like a slightly less intelligent big brother to its previous instalment siblings. The clunky controls are still apparent, making Arno very difficult to control at times. Combat has changed slightly too – it’s a lot more difficult, which is a welcome change. It now requires you to actually think what you are doing, as opposed to waiting for an opportunity to counter before engaging in a kill streak. There is a vast variety of weapons and armour to customise Arno with, but, again, this is a little overwhelming. In the weapons category, you have one-handed, two-handed, long weapons, pistols, rifles and (if you have Dead Kings) guillotine guns, which are pretty much grenade launchers with axes on. You can swap these around at any time by accessing the customisation menu, but due to the clunky route you have to take to get there, there isn’t too much point. The plus side is that you can make Arno into the type of fighter you want: will you go sword and pistol? Or perhaps a spear? Unfortunately, if you choose a weapon such as one from the rifle category, that serves as both your melee and your ranged, making combat limited. I just stuck with one handed sword and pistol, occasionally dabbling into heavy. There are also a finite number of skill points, so make sure you spend them in the category that is useful to you. Now, you can also customised every inch of Arno’s outfit, from hood to gloves to belt to pants. Well, not the last one, but close. Each item of clothing offers different stats and oh my gosh it’s just too much. If you’re really into customisation, then this is great for you, but unless I’m playing an RPG in which I can actually role-play with a character how I want, then it’s limited. I don’t care what gloves Arno wears. Additionally, various weapons and clothes have exactly the same stats – the appearance is just different. As mentioned, you can also unlock previous protagonists’ outfits, and a few others, that serve as a skin for whatever armour you are wearing.
Unity by all standards is a decent game, but it falls short in a lot of areas, and lacks where games such as Black Flag and Rogue succeeded. Ridiculous load times, various texture and clipping issues (and at one point, two characters kissed, and they didn’t touch, resulting then standing near each other with puckered lips making kissy sounds…), and other somewhat silly factors that really shouldn’t occur in such an established franchise stop this game from being great.
If you’re a fan of the series it’s worth playing, but I personally wouldn’t spend more than about £20 or so on it, as seems to be the continual case with most Assassin’s Creed games.
November 2014 saw two Assassin’s Creed games simultaneously released for the ‘new’ and ‘older’ generation consoles: Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Rogue, respectively. I have always been a fan of the AssCred series, but, as previously stated in my Black Flag review, my faith wavered a little after Revelations – a disappointing end to the Ezio trilogy. Then came Assassin’s Creed III, kicking off what is now known as the Kenway saga. Whilst ACIII certainly had an interesting story with some wonderful twists and turns, the overall historical setting didn’t interest me, and the repetitive environment became very tedious. When Black Flag came out, I neglected to immediately purchase it, and instead waited until it was in the Steam summer sale 2014. Black Flag was both a brilliant Assassin’s Creed game and a brilliant pirate game. Because pirates are friggin’ awesome. Despite this, I was still hesitant when Unity and Rogue came out, though I will admit I was enticed by Unity’s pretty amazing trailer. I bided my time, and waited until these two games came on sale a few months later; I ended up picking up both for around £20 each on Steam. After consulting the wise mentors on /r/assassincreed, I started with Rogue.
Chronologically, Rogue takes place a few years after Black Flag and before (and partially during) Assassin’s Creed III and Unity, featuring some nice tie-ins with the aforementioned three, including certain characters and allusions to events. Rogue has you play as Shay “I make my own luck” Cormac. Shay begins the game as an Assassin, but becomes disillusioned with what they stand for and, in a somewhat roundabout way, ends up joining the Templars. With the exception of the beginning of ACIII and that pretty cool twist, this is the first time in the series that we actually get to play as a Templar, and moreover see their point of view, as usually they are depicted as the big, greedy baddies. In Rogue, it’s very easy to empathise with the Templar cause and actually find yourself disliking the Assassins. Part of this is due to Shay being pretty bad-ass; up at the top of the character scale just behind Edward Kenway and Ezio. Part of it is also because all of the Assassins in the games are dicks. Just utter dicks. Due to the change in perspective, the story in Rogue is overall pretty good, interesting and a new take…though I was a bit gutted that the misleading, ominous announcement trailer seemed to imply that you would be hunting Assassins, of which there is none of, apart from some repetitive side missions. Instead, the game plays out like every other Assassin’s Creed game, in which you go from mission to mission occasionally killing an ‘important’ character – nothing really new there. I didn’t find myself as interested in Rogue’s story as Black Flag’s, though this may largely be due to the fact that I know very little about the Seven Years War, in which Rogue is predominantly set, so a lot of the historical figures were lost on me (as opposed to Black Flag when I was sitting in my chair going OMFG BLACKBEARD!!).
The story itself is relatively short in comparison to other games, and ends rather abruptly. There is, of course, the chance to then continue obtaining the many, many collectibles, but, unless you’re a bit of a completionist, it seems almost pointless. Considering the story’s lack of longevity, Rogue offers an overwhelming number of collectibles…and I mean overwhelming in the bad sense. The map itself is huge, and has you travelling around the North Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River Valley and New York. However, it’s so big that the story itself only takes you to a small fraction of the entire world; the only incentive to see the rest is to collect these darn treasure chests, shanties and Animus fragments. Originally, I was planning on collecting everything, but as soon as the story ending was sprung upon me, I kind of lost interest. There is just too much for its own good. The setting itself is relatively varied, with icy climates in the North Atlantic, the tundra that is the River Valley, and New York’s cityscape. Despite this, in the former two especially, you couldn’t really differentiate one area from another – once you have seen one snowy forest, you’ve seen ‘em all. For the most part, Shay sides with the British Empire (as opposed to the French). Whereas previous Assassin’s Creed games have had maybe one faction of guards patrolling the streets, Rogue has two or three. However, it wasn’t until I was about half way through the game that I realised that the chappies in orange were in fact not French soldiers with annoying British accents, but Assassin thugs. Occasionally, these thugs hide in bushes or other well-known Assassin hiding spots and ambush you, causing critical damage, which keeps you on your toes a bit. But, as I will address later, health was never an issue, so even after being ‘critically’ injured, you can still stab your attacker in the face and walk away unscathed.
Rogue plays largely like Black Flag DLC, in that the majority – if not all – of the game mechanics are the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but players should be aware before they play. The easiest mode of transport is by ship. Like the Jackdaw, players can upgrade Shay’s Morrigan with better hull armour, cannons, mortars etc. Use these to take down ships to acquire loot to…upgrade your ship even further! Naval combat remains the same as it did in Black Flag: strong, but not without its flaws. For example, if you happen to be engaged in a fight with, say, two enemy ships…when you destroy one and board it, time seems to stop for the other – it just circles around for a while, waiting. Aspects like this make it apparent that Rouge is a ‘last-gen’ game, and one would hope that if naval combat features in future instalments, it becomes a bit more dynamic. Regular combat is the same as it has always been: pretty dull. It’s just easy. You can buy new weapons and pistols, but even those are boring. Different weapons have different stats, but you can’t really tell the difference. In hand to hand combat, you can either fight with fists, hidden blades or a dagger and sword combo – but, again, this is essentially for aesthetics as the sword seems to do as much damage as the blades seems to do as much damage as fists. I miss back in the ACII era when the sword and dagger were separate. Combat has always been relatively easy in the AssCred series, requiring you to just wait and counter at the right moment, and Rogue is no different. Luckily, these seems to have been addressed if Ubisoft’s E3 preview of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate can be believed! Like Black Flag, you can upgrade Shay too with various crafting mechanisms, improving his health etc. But, if I’m honest, I completely forgot about these, and finished the game with the same amount of health as I started. It was never an issue.
Oh, like previous AssCred games, Rogue also features a ‘modern day’ section, in which, like Black Flag, you play as a faceless Abstergo employee who is playing through this memories for totally-not-evil-scientific reasons. Again, like Black Flag, something happens to the severs over the course of the game and you have to go down and hack into them and turn them on, slowly revealing more and more about the company. The lore that surrounds the series is very interesting, especially as it is influenced and intertwined with our IRL history, so learning about this from the Templar’s point of view as you fix the severs (I don’t know why they keep all of this information encrypted on various computers but hey ho) is a nice little treat. And you’re often accompanied by a women who endearingly, and not at all irritatingly, affectionately refers to you as ‘numb-skull’. Classy gal.
Visually, Rogue is pretty impressive. Surprise, surprise, the visuals are very similar to Black Flag’s, though, again, that is not a bad thing. There are your standard clipping errors, or certain objects not rendering quick enough, but overall I can’t really complain. The only feature that could really be improved is the water, which often looked like a big ol’ tub o’ jelly…all thick and gloopy. The music is wonderful and really aids in creating the darker atmosphere that comes with Rogue. Voice acting is on par, with a range of personalities across a large and colourful cast.
At a glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Black Flag and Rogue were the same game: apart from the dramatic change in climate, many gameplay elements carry from the latter to the former. So, if you enjoyed Black Flag, or any previous Assassin’s Creed game for that matter, then I certainly recommend it. However, due to the short story and repetitiveness of obtaining the crazy amount of collectibles and exploration, I would suggest getting this game on sale. And, why, it’s on sale right now!
Over the next 1400 words, I’m going to show you that all of your problems can be solved by punching.
“Beat ‘em ups”, as a young Jamie used to call them, have always had a twisted place in my heart. I have dabbled in a few Tekkens, Street Fighters and Marvel Vs Capcoms. But, deep down, I’ve always been a Mortal Kombat kinda kid. The game has come a long way since the SEGA Mega Drive days, when I very nearly weed myself in fear after accidentally performing a fatality, to create what is one of the best looking fighter games in years. You know, in a gory, intestiney kind of way.
Mortal Kombat X is a direct sequel to the brilliant Mortal Kombat (2011), so it’s impossible not to compare it to its predecessor. In short….it doesn’t quite weigh up. Not to the 2011 game, and also not to NetherRealm’s 2013 release, Injustice. As with many fighting games, MKX features a story mode. Now, whilst some people may argue that story modes don’t belong in fighting games, I respectfully disagree (and will fight you to defend my point). The story mode adds a bit more bang for your buck, which in this economic climate when games cost £45 you need! Story mode will only take you about three hours or so to complete, but it’s a nice way to expand on the intriguing Mortal Kombat lore. It picks up pretty much where 2011’s MK ended: pretty much everyone is dead, and the fallen Elder God Shinnok is trying to restore his power. The thing is, no one really is dead; it’s revealed pretty early on that pretty much every playable character that was brutally murdered during 2011’s story mode has essentially become a zombie working for sorcerer Quan Chi. It’s kind of ironic that, in a game that thrives on the gory deaths that it creates, death isn’t really an issue. In fact SPOILER ALERT some characters even gets un-zombified and restored to normal, rendering everything redundant. Compared to 2011 MK’s nostalgic reboot, MKX’s story certainly falls short. The whole premise, as mentioned, is trying to stop Shinnok…but, I’m sorry, I just don’t feel threatened by a bad guy that looks like the Monarch. There are some interesting, new characters, but the best ones such as mercenary Erron Black are just side-lined – instead, you are forced to play as tween hero Cassie Cage and her lame friends (apart from Takeda…Takeda is awesome).
Yes, four of the new characters introduced are some sort of offspring/cousin/milkman of previously existing characters. Mortal Kombat’s character birthday list is ever extensive, with now over 70 characters featured collectively throughout games. You wonder, then, why they choose to bring back characters such as Reptile but leave out fan favourites Noob Sailbot and Smoke? It seems completely ridiculous. With today’s technology, you would imagine that they could perhaps give us an even bigger roster, like that which we saw in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Fans who pre-purchased the game have been treated to Goro, who non-loyal fans can now buy (shame on you!), which is an issue I will cover later. Fortunately, characters are diverse enough that each one plays differently. Additionally, every character comes with three variations that alter their special skills slightly. They’re not vastly different, but offer enough to change up the flow of combat (sorry, kombat) from fight to fight. The x-ray skill also makes its return, with some very creative ways of breaking your opponents’ bones and testicles. But I find myself more reserved when using them – I’m not sure why, they still appear to do the same amount of damage as they did in the 2011 game (around 30%), but they just don’t seem as awesome. Mortal Kombat’s trade mark Fatalities make an obvious return too. Some of these are absolutely fantastic and tongue-in-cheek, full of gore and splendour. Some…not so much. Quite a few just feel bland and leave you wanting more. Additionally, you can now purchase (with both in-game and irl money) ‘easy Fatality’ passes, allowing you to input the command with one button. This results in the finishing moves being pretty pointless, apart from some aesthetic pleasure. Once, it was an achievement to pull off such a crazy move…but now, anyone with a finger can do it. It’s political correctness gone mad! Thankfully, Mortal Kombat has included Brutalities. These finishing moves require you to meet a certain number of objectives in a match, such as throw three knives or tickle your opponent’s feet, then perform a certain move, resulting in a head or arm being decapitated. These are simple, gory and surprisingly fun ways to end a match. With regards to the actual gameplay and fighting as a whole, it’s never been better. Quick paced, lots of moves and relatively intelligent AI makes this the best fighting Mortal Kombat yet. There are a few environmental interactions that can be used to decimate your opponent (such as throwing an old lady at them), but it’s a shame that we haven’t seen a progression from Injustice’s radiant arenas, allowing fighters to smash through walls or portals into a new fighting zone. There are also no stage fatalities, which was a fun addition dating all the way back to early Mortal Kombat games.
Outside of story mode and single battles, you can also complete various ‘tower’ modes. The most basic is your classic arcade, in which you select a fighter, beat your way through ten rounds, fight the overpowered final boss, then get a quite badly written story ending. As well as this, other towers include ‘test your luck’ (returning the amusing feature from 2011’s Mortal Kombat), survival and the return of the ‘test your might’ mini-game – though once the latter has been completed once, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do it again. The absence of Injustice’s challenge mode or, more so, 2011’s challenge tower, is very apparent. The challenge tower in Mortal Kombat added hours more gameplay with interesting twists and requirements, forcing you to alter your playstyle to meet them. Unfortunately, nothing like that really exists in Mortal Kombat X.
There is also an online mode, which I briefly ventured onto. Naturally, I got destroyed, because these people can input kombos quickly and don’t need to look up moves like I do…losers. It’s not really my domain, so I haven’t explored very far. However, one of the first things you do in MKX is choose a faction. Ooh interesting! Not really. Factions earn points over the week, due to player achievements, and at the end the winning faction gets some koins. Maybe this has a bigger impact if you delve into the depths of online, I don’t know. Koins are used to unlock various things in the Krypt, which thankfully has gotten rid of the terrifying jump-scare monster from 2011’s game. You can unlock various alternate costumes, player cards, and concept art – the latter of which is actually really detailed and interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff. You can also unlock new fatalities (every character has two), though I would save your koins and just look these up online.
The bottom line is that Mortal Kombat X is what you would expect from a Mortal Kombat game, but lacks some of the aspects that made its predecessor so great, and fails to deliver on new additions. It looks nice, but at a price: the system requirements and memory allocated are pretty extensive. If you’re uming and aring about spending the money, I recommend picking up the Komplete Kollection of 2011’s Mortal Kombat to sate your appetite until this comes down in price. OH SPEAKING OF MONEY! So we have entered an age where day 1 DLC, or at least, DLC announced, has become a regular thing. Upon purchasing Mortal Kombat X, you have the option to buy the season pass. This will allow you to download four additional fighters when they are released (at time of writing, I believe one of them is coming out very shortly). This, on top of pre-purchase Goro, just creates a greedy image of the game’s developers, especially considering there were so many bugs on release. Pre-purchase incentive should be something small and ultimately meaningless, like some alternate costumes or maybe an additional fatality or two. Not a whole character WHO IS INCLUDED IN THE GAME ANYWAY. Speaking of, there are also some characters that you actually fight in the story mode, with full move sets ‘n’ all, who don’t appear as playable fighters. NetherRealm, what is this? Will you be releasing more characters after these initial four? Will you require me to give you another £20? When will it end, NetherRealm? When?!
Welcome to Jamietown, where I am king.
This game first caught my eye due to the super rave reviews – on closer inspection, most of these reviews were saying “fuck you EA!” and “this is so much better than SimCity!”. Nevertheless, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good simulation game, so I bought Cities: Skylines (I even went the extra mile to get the Deluxe Edition because of course I want to put the Eiffel Tower in my town). I grew up playing Rollercoaster Tycoon and Sims, so there is always a place in my heart for this type of game.
With the massive brown stain left by the disappointment that was EA’s SimCity (2013) still terrorising computers around the country, there has been a big ol’ space in the market for a new city simulation game. Cities: Skylines fills this hole, and succeeds in washing away whatever remnants of SimCity still linger using some sort of Febreeze sorcery. Cities takes what made the older SimCity games fun and exciting, and brings them into the modern day. Well, mostly anyway.
When you boot up Cities, you have a few choices of maps to begin building on. Each map is split into square sections. You always start on the same section when you load a new map, but there is a lot of room to expand as your city grows. A lot of room. This enables you to strategically expand in the direction/area that suits your city’s needs. Do you look for an area rich in oil? Or perhaps a heavily forested area? Maybe you want to build some sort of lakeside town, in which case you want a big ol’ body of water. There is a lot of scope to let your imagination run wild.
The first and foremost thing that you need to be aware of when playing Cities is the importance of roads and energy. Roads are essential in building your town, as each one creates a build zone around it. Electricity powers your town, whilst water feeds it. These three components yield a high upkeep cost, so it is important to figure out how to get the best bang for your buck. Also, make sure that you place your water waste pipe downstream of your water plant, lest you get dirty poop water. Too often do my peeps get sick due to dirty poop water.
Once you have established the basics, you can begin creating zones. At first, you have three types: low density residential, low density commercial and industrial. Finding the correct paradigm in managing these zones is key to a successful town – for example, industrial zones produce a high level of noise pollution, so shouldn’t be near residential and so on. As your city expands and you meet more and more milestones, you will begin to unlock new buildings and zones, eventually turning your quiet little hamlet into a bustling city. Unless you go bankrupt first. Which I keep doing. But more on that later. Anyway: whilst building zones, it is also important to pay attention to the way in which your roads work. There is quite an extensive choice of roads to build, including multiple lanes and one-way systems. Playing around with these will enable you to find out which road best suits that area of your town. That brings me on to traffic. The traffic system in Cities is pretty impressive. Managing your congestion will result in a happy town, so stay on top of it. Cars appear to plan their routes well in advance, resulting in intelligent lane discipline. If a service vehicle needs to stop in the road, the traffic build up will cause a massive domino effect, resulting in your city coming to a standstill.
But you have to figure all of this out yourself, because there is no tutorial. You would think that, for a game with so many complexities, there would be some sort of tutorial. There are ‘advice’ bubbles which are pretty handy for hints and tips, but I would recommend checking out some YouTube tutorials before you really get stuck in. I’ve played for four hours now and still haven’t saved a game because I keep restarting; I can’t figure out how to save money on my electricity costs! Just like real life…
The graphics are kind of what you would expect from a sim game. Nothing amazing, but nice enough to look at. Zooming in on your town reveals intricate detail and little animations that make your city feel alive (though building variation is quite limited, so neighbourhoods end up looking similar). You can also see people walking around – going to work, school, taking their dog for a walk etc. It’s a nice little addition to bring some life into the game. That being said, that’s kind of…all there is to do. Unlike SimCity, there are no disasters. No earthquakes, tornados, aliens. Even fires aren’t particularly dangerous because they don’t spread. It’s a shame, but here’s hoping that developers Colossal Order might add something like this in future DLC. Even a day/night cycle would be nice; I’d love to see my city lit up. Additionally, (and here is something that SimCity did right) there is no online option that allows you to visit your friends’ cities. Not that I have any friends, but it would be nice to have the option. If there is, I have yet to discover it.
On top of city simulation, there is also a map building tool (again, no tutorial, so good luck) and an ‘asset’ builder (buildings, roads, parks etc.). I can’t really add much more as I keep failing at this game. Which just makes me want to play more. If you enjoy simulation games, then I really recommend checking out Cities. At £22.99, it’s affordable for what it is. There are definitely some shortcomings, but with the incredible popularity and sales that is has received within just a few days of being released, there is a chance that future DLC or an expansion is on the way. To tide you over though, there are a few mods out as well as Steam community content. Now, if anyone can figure out how to maintain a positive profit, please let me know….
READING THIS REVIEW REQUIRES THE ‘GAMES ET AL DLC PACK’.
Hehe I’m funny.
DLC Quest caught my eye as one of those little indie games that you look at and think “huh, that’s a cool idea”. The premise is simple: you must defeat the evil bad guy. Problem is, the standalone game does little to aid you in doing so; to complete the game, you’re going to need some DLC.
Very much a commentary on what the industry has sadly become, DLC Quest requires you to use in-game money to buy DLC in order to fulfil your goals. DLC ranges from simply adding jumping or music, to weapons, life, and so on. In this sense, it reminded me of Evoland, as the player continues to progress through an ever evolving game.
The gameplay itself is extremely straight forward – a 2D platformer that reminded me of old Sega Mega Drive games, particularly with the environment detail and hidden caves, I felt like I was play James Pond. Anyone? James Pond? Ahh nostalgia. Ahem. The map itself is relatively small, and you will find yourself going backwards and forwards to complete objectives, but the game is just long enough at about 2 hours that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also features a lovely little 16-bit soundtrack, including some atmospheric pieces reminiscent of old RPGs!
Overall, humour is what drives this game forward. As mentioned, it is very much a satire on the current state of DLC and the sheer ridiculousness that surrounds it. DLC Quests parodies various unfinished games (requiring you to purchase DLC to continue) as well nods to well established franchises such as Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Minecraft and Plants VS Zombies. Aside from this, DLC Quest is also full of its own self-referential humour that will keep you smiling as you slave over hunting down coins to buy the overly expensive season pass (that enables you to traverse the ‘Winter Zone’), or the HD pack (tinting everything with a lovely sepia tone).
The game consists of two short campaigns, each lasting about an hour. It’s a fun way to kill some time if you have it, whilst making you think about how crazy the downloadable content market has become. I’d recommend grabbing it if it’s on sale, but wouldn’t really spend more than a couple o’ quid. There isn’t really a lot else to say about this game, other than if you want a quick, chuckle-worthy pastime, get yourself a copy. Another 69p well spent!
The Walking Dead has emotion. The Wolf Among Us has intriguing lore. Tales from the Borderlands has sheer hilarity.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog (of course you are!) you may have picked up that I’m a big fan of Telltale’s games. Now, admittedly, it’s only been in the last year that I have actually discovered these little gems, so I shan’t claim to be a diehard devoted long-time fan, but I really cannot recommend their games enough. Tales from the Borderlands is no exception.
So where to begin? First and foremost, this feels like a Borderlands game. Now this review will feature a couple of tiny spoilers from Borderlands 2 – just what happens at the end – but that’s all. Here are some line breaks whilst you evaluate whether you want to carry on reading or not.
Good. So Tales is set following the events of Borderlands 2. After Handsome Jack’s death, employees from the infamous Hyperion Corporation have been vying for power. The first playable character, Rhys, is one such employee. But after he is duped by Patrick Warburton, he finds himself on the planet of Pandora, caught up in a scheme involving a rare, invaluable vault key. Despite the obviously different gameplay style from past Borderlands games, Tales fits into the lore and overall saga perfectly. Whether this will bridge the gap between Borderlands 2 and 3, or whether it will just be a standalone story set in the same world, is currently unknown – whatever the outcome, so far it’s very promising. It certainly links to the greater Borderlands world – without going into spoilers (though you can probably guess one Borderlands character’s involvement from the episode name, Zer0 Sum…and yeah, it’s awesome).
The graphics are a clever amalgamation of your typical Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us style ‘cartoony’ graphics combined with Borderlands’ classic….um… ‘cartoony’ graphics. Telltale have managed to create a seamless blend between the two that doesn’t look out of place at all. The game still suffers from the standard Telltale defects, such as the odd clunky movement or sudden facial expression reminiscent of Sims 2. Or the occasional clipping issue, but apart from that, s’all gravy. I mean, these are the things that you kind of look over in Telltale’s games as they seem almost inevitable…for whatever reason.
The script is just what you would expect from Borderlands: violent, in your face, and hilarious. Episode One: Zer0 Sum, which is, at time of writing, the only episode out, made me laugh out loud on several occasions. One of my favourite moments was near the beginning when they take the somewhat iconic running-over-a-skag skit to another level. This is definitely a Borderlands game.
As mentioned, you play as two different characters – Rhys and Fiona, telling two sides of a story via flashbacks. Both characters play very different, but with enough scope for you to mold them how you want to. For those unfamiliar with Telltale’s style, the game is essentially an interactive story. During dialogue, you’re presented with numerous options regarding how you respond – one might be cocky or arrogant, another might be submissive, or aggressive, or even just silence. The game adapts to choices that you make (to an extent) and develops as such (…to an extent). None of the choices you make are going to cause a revolutionary difference – judging from past games the overall outcome will remain the same – but it’s how you get there that might be executed differently. But what would a Borderlands game be without action? As well as the dialogue options, you’ll also be greeted with quick time events, a bit of exploration, and even some shootouts. Whilst not quite as fun or detailed as your standard Borderlands game, these moments add a nice change of pace, sticking true to the source material.
There are a couple of other new inclusions within Tales too. Firstly, when playing as Rhys, you have the chance to activate your ECHO-eye implant to scan certain objects in the environment around you. Scanning things doesn’t affect the story as a whole, but does allow you to gather some background information on Pandora’s finest, which is usually pretty hilarious. When playing as Fiona, you can use cash to buy certain things. Again, thus far, this has purely been aesthetic (with one exception in which I bribed someone) but it’s a nice little distraction.
It’s hard to judge an episodic game from the first episode alone, although thus far I am pretty impressed. However, unlike previous Telltale games, if you are unfamiliar with the Borderlands story or style and want to just try Telltale games, then I don’t think you would really get on-board with this. If this is the case, then go and play through the other Borderlands games first. For numerous reasons. Telling the same story from both Rhys and Fiona’s perspectives could initially seem jarring, tedious and confusing, but the change in dialogue options and perspective really enables you to get into the other character’s shoes. I, for one, think that this is a fine addition to both the Telltale and Borderlands library, and cannot wait for Episode 2. It’s a game for fans of Telltale and Borderlands games alike! Next time: Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones!