Game Reviews

Steep Review by Allison James

steep.jpg

I miss the extreme sports genre of gaming really badly. During the noughties, they came in droves and were largely incredible games - Tony Hawk's, SSX, Aggressive Inline, Skate, Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, Rolling, Jet Set Radio, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, Amped... I'm sure I'm still missing some out, but that is a list absolutely packed with quality. I grew up with these games, and grew to love them for their ability to provide moments of thrilling gameplay bliss that weren't predefined in any way - landing your own ridiculous combo in SSX or Tony Hawk's, or just breaking every bone in your body in Skate, was better than any "epic" cutscene I've ever seen.

Sadly, the genre has had it rough in the "tens". Skate 3 kind of got into the decade, arriving in mid-2010. Since then, we've seen the SSX reboot of 2012 (decent game, but was fairly pared back from its predecessors, and did nothing to make me want to play it over SSX3, Tricky or even On Tour). Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD showed promise but was a glitchy disaster. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, not to be done by the HD remix of the original games, was an even bigger glitchy disaster and a blatant cash grab on a license threatened by expiry. Indie gaming has dabbled with the genre, with games such as Olli Olli, which were fun but not what I want from an extreme sports game.When Steep was announced, I was very excited. For the first time since SSX 2012 (THPS5 screamed "disaster" from its first announcement), Steep looked to be a reincarnation of the genre, finally bringing a new game to the table with a modern backbone and a wealth of features that the PS2 could only have dreamt of enabling. The idea of it being more of a simulation as opposed to SSX's arcade styling were a little sad to hear, but I had the same feelings about Skate originally, and Skate turned out to be a cracking game that happily coexisted with Tony Hawk's.So with a large emotional investment and the highest of hopes for Steep, how was it?

Smiling

Steep really does deliver on its promises of being a game that could only be done with the power of current systems. Featuring a gigantic map containing multiple mountains and being orders of magnitude larger than any snowboarding game that's come before it, you can mindblowingly immediately teleport to totally different locations seamlessly - pushing the "mountain view" button zooms the camera up so you can see everything, pushing another button on a spawn location of your choice zooms it down to that spot where your player is sitting there ready to immediately begin runs. I've never seen this sort of thing done this beautifully before, and am assuming it's a result of the low amount of detailed needed to render a snowy mountain, but it's very welcome.

The core gameplay is good, too. With shades of SSX, Steep's snowboarding and skiing both feel good to use once you're used to them - although I favoured snowboarding purely because I found myself constantly skiing backwards. The wingsuit is responsive and fun to use as well.Its big strength comes from being able to teleport to the top of Mont Blanc (or one of the other peaks of your choice, but MB is the highest and therefore the best), and then snowboard or ski down it for what seems like forever, in your own time, while casually doing tricks or speeding up or stopping to admire the view - it's serene, cathartic, and superb in ways I've never seen from an extreme sports game before.

The Mountain Stories are interesting as well - well, the idea of them. Steep personifies its peaks - Mont Blanc is a husky-voiced woman that knows she's the best mountain in the range. Matterhorn is a devilish aggressive bastard. They all have personalities that match the difficulty to traverse them, their size etc. It's a really novel concept that provides a lot of life and a little bit of lore to the game world.

Frowning

The online. All of it. Watch Dogs 2 did this too, but you could disable it all in that. In Steep, online crap is so embedded into Steep that it is an online-only game. The first time I booted it up, I was greeted with a 1GB patch. Bypassing it for my first session with the game, I "hit X to Start" on the game's main menu, and... nope! Couldn't play it until my horrid internet connection had downloaded and installed the patch.The forced online is grim. If my connection flaked out, BAM booted from the game. If I shared a video from the game to YouTube or Twitter, or stuck a video service on for a bit and then returned to Steep... once again, totally kicked. If that's not bad enough, even if you lose connection, even just pausing the game will kick you from your current run back to its beginning, presumably so other people can't see you hovering in statis. Infuriating if you're looking to do one massive run from the peak of a mountain to the map's low points, more so if you're on the tedious "paraglide up an entire mountain" challenge that has a bronze medal time of 25 MINUTES - if you have to stop on minute 24, kiss all of that progress goodbye.

More annoyances with the online is that, while finding other people outside of challenges is fun in an almost Journey way (like in Journey, you can hit a button in Steep to say random enthusiastic lines, and it becomes a rudimentary way of communicating with people), having them in missions is screen clutter at the best of times and excessive extra difficulty at the worst. Several of Steep's wingsuit missions require you to fly through very, very tight sections of cave and rock formations. More than a few times, I died because online players, through no fault of their own, were in the same coordinates as the game camera and all I could see was another person's arse in wingsuit latex... followed shortly by my corpse rolling down a hill.

But it's okay, because most of the challenges are dire anyway. Steep is essentially Superman from the N64, that game that's infamous for making you fly through rings... continuously. Well, Steep is that as well. The predominant challenge variety, the races, aren't really races - they're time trials through rings. You do see three other people racing you, but they're not really racing dynamically, they're on set paths that demonstrate gold, silver and bronze medal times. Steep manages to be worse than Superman with its ring challenges, by the way, thanks to the downhill nature of snow sports. There is no correcting yourself, if you miss a ring by a millimetre your run is dead.

The rings manage to permeate other challenge types and ruin them as well. "Tricksmaster" has it worst of all - it's a "score by doing tricks" challenge set in a snow park. But for some infuriating, baffling reason, you have to go through rings while doing it. And the rings are ON TOP of the ramps. And thanks to how gravity and hills work together, you CANNOT get on top of the ramps if you didn't get onto them in the first place. All of this leaves the challenge completely destroyed and devoid of any fun it might have had.

The one time rings are tolerable is when they pop up during Mountain Story missions, because those allow you to get off your board and walk through the rings rather than potentially missing them - it's slow, but I'd rather that than one small mistake forcing me to redo masses of previous rings. In any case, they still suck though - the epic reveal of the Matterhorn is dampened dramatically when its evil presence is followed up by rings.It really does feel like someone at the development team behind Steep had an ace idea for a game, then deferred the job of designing the game's challenges to a clueless imbecile. The missions in Steep are insulting to its excellent backbone, dragging it down from a potentially awe-inspiring experience down to a piss-poor wet fart of a game. With such a magnificent open world, and how great the missions are when they only have a singular goal at the end and let you perfect your own racing route (a system that Burnout Paradise managed to perfect nine years ago, and other games like Mirror's Edge Catalyst have also recently used successfully - no ring in sight in either of those games).Everything is rings in Steep, and even when a challenge isn't a series of rings, the end point still is. Even on a snowboarding/skiing trick challenge, it is completely possible to clear the gold medal threshold, and then slightly miss the ring at the finish, nullifying the run entirely. Why not just a big line of "if you go past this point, you've finished"? Why not two flags like, you know, skiing uses? Or, novel idea, if I'm in a challenge and you want me to keep it to a certain area, cordon off that area during the challenge - I'll put up with the loading time if it means I'm not being bombarded with miserable design decisions, and as an added bonus, you could then stick an audience in too!

Late-game missions ramp up difficulty by making the course more difficult to traverse than requiring actual skill, which is also kind of irritating. One of the trick challenges I had to do later on only had one usable ramp - it was easy to get a gold medal score from the single ramp no problem, but then you spent a couple of minutes hoping to your deity of choice that you didn't fall over down the rest of it - even when I managed to win the challenge, I was very close to being KOed (which nullifies your run) thanks to lifelessly falling down most of the course - just being lucky that I didn't take more rocks to the bonce.A couple of minor complaints spring to mind as well, although in the grand scheme of things, they're not things I really mind any more. The world geography is quite lumpy and makes some runs a little unenjoyable - I'm guessing this is a result of them using existing heightmap data for the real-world locations. Could really have done with a little bit of smoothening, though. Paragliding is pretty tedious - I avoided doing it unless mountain stories required it. And I didn't like that licensed music was tied exclusively to challenges - the game has a great soundtrack, tying it to challenges that are frequently well under a minute in length, rather than exploring the open world, is insanity. I never managed to hear the chorus of Bomfunk MCs' "Freestyler" in Steep despite its inclusion in the soundtrack, and I love that tune!

Overall

I really hope Steep gets a sequel. It has an engine behind it that works to perfection. And then it's agonisingly torn apart by terrible design decisions and tedious missions. I mentioned that free-roaming from the top of Mont Blanc is where the game is strongest - you don't unlock that peak until you reach level 23. And for context on where that lies in the game, level 25 is the cap - you have to scrape your way through a barrage of crappy missions, and thousands of rings along the way, to hit it.

The backbone of Steep deserves better than this. I've never been more disappointed in my life by a game - this is the most significant case I've ever seen of a whole game being killed by one of its parts. I'm annoyed, I'm sad, and for now, it seems like the extreme sports genre remains on standby. But if Steep 2 comes out, I think it could easily fix everything wrong with the first.

For now though, I'll be playing some more Steep now I'm free of the shackles of the challenges and have full access to the map, because I can enjoy myself with it in my own ways, and enjoy Steep's strengths without suffering.

Pokémon Sun & Moon Review by Allison James

I've been a lifelong Pokémon game fan. Ever since the initial craze swept me up in the late '90s with the trading cards, the animé, the original games (my first being Yellow, although I played some of Red at a friend's house prior) and the endless swathes of merchandise - the books, the board games, the Burger King toys, the spin-off games, the clothing, the furniture... if it had Pokémon on it, I wanted it. Although of course I've aged since then, I'm still nearly as much of a sucker for the franchise as I ever was - I still buy the main games, I have a continually growing collection of the cards, and... okay, I don't watch the cartoon any more.

So this review might be a shade biased. Here are my views on Pokémon Sun and Moon (particularly Sun, the one I got), having spent 135 hours and counting on it, completing the Pokédex and owning three shiny Pokémon and counting.

Smiling

I'm fairly confident that, going forward, Gen 7 is going to be my favourite generation (knocking Gen 5 off of the throne). Sun and Moon are bursting with content - comically moreso than X and Y before them, and perhaps more than any "base" games since Gen 2's double region. And unlike Gen 2, Alola is packed with content - it doesn't drag at any point through the main story. The replacement of gyms with "trials" means that, rather than getting eight gyms with fairly predictable puzzles, a few grunts to beat and then a final battle, you often have to get through some very unique scenarios.

There's a ton of stuff to do beyond that as well, with post-game quests, little menial money-making jobs, favours, and even some sneaky content that pops up without any warning - most memorably, a bizarre clone of Nugget Bridge from Generation 1 pops up, level-matched to you but with identical Pokémon - seeing people with Lv 55 Pidgeys, Caterpies and Weedles is unsettling. Custom clothes and hairstyles also make a return from XY, having been missing from ORAS. And for those like me that are into collect-a-thons, Sun and Moon even has that in the form of 100 hidden items that come together in an awesome way when all collected.Speaking of which, the main story is actually endearing this time. Three years on from initially completing X, and two years since I finished Y as well for the heck of it, I have two memories of their story - AZ summoning that little Flabébé thing with the unique skin you can't obtain in-game (boo) and the hilariously obvious "twist" of Lysander, the tall, redheaded, bearded blatantly-the-bloody-villain turning out to actually be the villain. Sun and Moon, in comparison, contains twists that are actually surprising, comes dangerously close to making you care about its characters by giving them actual depth, and brings it all together at the end in a satisfying way.

The world is, in most ways, great. Sun and Moon finally completely do away with the grid movement that XYORAS started to hint at removing, which makes the region of Alola a far more dynamic-feeling place. If you're climbing a mountain, you're no longer just following a path with rock tiles - it feels like you're on an actual, real mountain. Paths are twisty, turny, bumpy and hilly, and it's a change that is surprisingly significant-feeling for something so minor.

There are extras in Sun and Moon that can greatly increase your time with the game, and give you some pleasing bonuses in the process. Poké Pelago is an upgradable, almost "Cookie Clicker" style minigame that lets you harvest beans to feed your Pokémon for friendship upgrades, grow berries and a more pleasant way than having to keep travelling to a field and tending to plants, seek treasures (making finding evolution stones and farming money) far less painful in this instalment), raise Friendship levels and also increase statistics and levels. It plays a little like a mobile game, except there are no microtransactions to skip wait timers. Which is good, it limits yout time with Poké Pelago to a few minutes a day so the concept never gets tedious and is never over-powerful. One little extra great thing about this addition is that you can farm new "rainbow beans" - feed three of them to a Pokémon with an empty stomach and it will instantly gain full affection, so it can auto-cure status ailments in battle, is extra-evasive and is more likely to critical-hit opponents.

Festival Plaza is a second minigame, this time essentially a rehash of Join Avenue from Black 2 and White 2. As someone that adored Join Avenue, this was very, very welcome indeed. It essentially lets you create a small shopping district, which you can upgrade by interacting with visitors and playing online challenges. It also houses several neat features carried over from XYORAS, such as the GTS and Wonder Trade. (These are effectively identical to their Gen 6 counterparts.)

On small changes, there are a ton of little ones in Sun and Moon that are really, really welcome. The removal of HMs in favour of "Ride Pokémon" is ABSOLUTELY EXCELLENT and I'm not sure I'll be able to go back to old generations any more - having to carry slave Pokémon just so you could navigate bodies of water and areas with tiny little trees seems like such an awful design choice in hindsight. UI tweaks make a lot of functions that bit quicker and more pleasant - PCs now just chuck you straight into box management instead of bafflingly asking you if you want to do the same things with limited functionality, and receiving Pokémon or Eggs from the Nursery, other NPCs, or even just catching them throws a new prompt that lets you either direct them into your Box as normal, or eject one of your party members to the box and replace it with your new acquisition.Breeding, as a result of the above, is a lot more pleasant. Before, if you wanted to breed as quickly as possible (either for shinies, as I do, or for training), you would have to carry 5 eggs (the sixth slot being one active Pokémon). When one hatches, you'd have to check it for the stats/shininess you want. Assuming it wasn't eligible, you'd then walk into the Breeder building, open the PC, go to "Organise Boxes", drop it off into a box, and then walk outside again and talk to the kid outside to get the next egg. In Sun and Moon, once one of the eggs has hatched, you can go straight to the kid (or in this case, a farmer lady), ask her for the egg, and then choose to replace the hatched Pokémon with the new egg - the hatch goes straight to the box, done and dusted. It also seems like Sun and Moon has reduced what counts as a "step" (due to there being no more grid system, it measures actual distance as steps), so breeding is faster - you can get a proper "production line" of babies going if you pair all of that with a Flame Body Pokémon like Talonflame.

Frowning

XY and ORAS from Gen 6 introduced features that got me strongly into shiny hunting. Horde battles threw you five Pokémon at a time in the wild (and could be guaranteed triggered with a Pokémon using Sweet Scent), meaning encountering shiny Pokémon was instantly five times quicker. Add the Shiny Charm from national Pokédex completion and the odds increase further. You could also, in ORAS, find strong Pokémon (and work out the encounters in an area without relying on the internet) using the excellent Finder tool. XY also had the Friend Safari, which offered excellent Pokémon selections and made shiny encounters eight times as likely as in the wild. And all of that is gone in Sun and Moon, sadly. Working out the potential encounters on a route is back to looking on Bulbapedia or Serebii, hordes are replaced with a frankly crappy "call for help" thing that takes a lot of time to take advantage of, and there's not a whiff of even a regular Safari in Alola - which is a massive shame. Breeding now seems to me like the best way to obtaining shinies - the Adrenaline Orbs that supposedly trigger a "call for help"from wild Pokémon, from my experience, is absolutely useless.

There are parts of the Alola region I find disappointing. While the region feels more varied and fun to explore the first time, it's sadly quite lacking in the city department - it has 4 or 5 of them, none of which are even close to the scale of Lumiose from XY or Mauville from ORAS. It seem like a deliberate decision and fits with the world's calm Hawaiian atmosphere, but damn did I miss that feeling of setting foot in a city and not knowing where to start eating it up.

A lot of the new Pokémon are great, but I was disappointed in how much energy the game spent on Alolan formes of old Pokémon. As a living Pokédex collector (ie I collect one of every unique Pokémon), I wish that energy had instead been spent on a wider range of new Pokémon. Plenty of people have complained about Pokémon reusing basic ideas for its monsters (eg multiple cats, birds etc), but it's never been an issue to me - real life also has multiple similar creatures like that. On the whole, Sun and Moon introduce around 70 new monsters, about the same amount as XY and not as many as I'd have liked to have seen (Gen 5 managed over 150 new ones!).

Lastly, bits of the game felt rushed. Entire areas, such as the Power Plant, are present but do absolutely nothing at all, while some others (a golf course beside one of the hotels was pointed out to me) are totally inaccessible but look like they should be. And the final island in the game, Poni Island, feels small and empty when compared to the other three - a "city" comprising about six buildings, a few large plains of grass and little else, and a canyon that is cool but again little more than a glorified Route. And the latter half of the game does occasionally feel like it was rushed in - early Z-Crystal acquisition is limited to long quests and trials, where in the later game, you can stumble across them just sitting in the middle of nowhere.

I really hope that the rumoured Nintendo Switch port of the games brings back the structure that previous "third games" such as Yellow, Crystal and Emerald used, where they expanded on the world with new content and locations. This theory is backed up by the areas that go nowhere and the several identical piles of building equipment that seem to suggest actual buildings were intended but either left out due to time/budgeting or are being held back for DLC or upgraded versions.

Overall

In all, Pokémon Sun and Moon were astonishing games - not perfect, sure, but none of them ever were. It retains every scrap of charm that the series has always held, adding new content and shaking up key elements of the established formula to bring a surprising layer of freshness to the experience. But not an unsettling amount - they are still, at heart, Pokémon games.

And stellar ones at that.

Watch Dogs 2 Review by Allison James

I seemed to be in a relative minority when it came to Watch Dogs - I absolutely adored it. Its shortcomings (predominantly its story and characters and how its marketing over-promised and over-hyped) were largely in areas I didn't really mind shortcomings in, while the things it did well (mission structure, lively and engaging open world, fun side activities) were some of the elements I value most highly in games.

So the announcement of Watch Dogs 2 was a highly exciting one for me - and it seemed the rest of the world too. From the first trailer, it looked to build upon everything its predecessor did badly while enhancing its best parts. And how was it in the end?

Smiling

There's very little in Watch Dogs 2 that wasn't better than the original. The world is more vivid, the characters are genuinely likable or dislikable depending on their role in the story, the story actually makes a level of sense in a game world based on hacking, and the game in general slightly eases up on the serious tone that the first one over-did - there is drama in Watch Dogs 2, but it doesn't tie the story down with anything as unsubtle as the "AIDEN'S CHILD IS DEAD, GO VISIT ITS GRAVESTONE, LOOK AT IT, SADNESS AND THINGS" from Watch Dogs 1.

The world is so, so much more vivid. It has more colour, for a start. San Francisco is a more varied place, too - you can go from hick bars in the countryside to neon-lit graffiti-riddled downtown nightlife, visiting Alcatraz, Lombard Street and the Golden Gate Bridge on the way. The people are more animated and interesting than in Watch Dogs... in general, it just feels like a really "positive" game world to live in.As suggested at the top of this review, stories in games aren't something where I require a level of quality. If a fun game has a crap story (Watch Dogs 1), I still love the game. If a crap game has a fun story (Mafia III), I don't. But Watch Dogs 2 is a fun game WITH a fun story. I went into it wholly expecting the "hacker-life" to feel contrived and cheesy - bar a few squiffy lines (Marcus finding the machine of his dreams and continuously screaming "I can't even!" springs violently to mind) and the odd dodgy character or two, it honestly felt genuine. I wanted to see the good guys get the happy ending and the bad guys get brought to justice - the only reason I cared if Aiden even survived his story in the first game is so I could keep doing side stuff after finishing it.

A lot of good stuff in Watch Dogs 2 was present in WD1 as well, and it was highly welcome to enjoy those same aspects in a better world with better everything. The simple ability to analyse ANYONE in the world, see their full names, career, salary, personalities etc gives the world an insane amount of life - it's weird for a video game to give you a feeling of sonder, but when you analyse someone you've just accidentally hit with a car and the game giving them a complete life abruptly halted by your mistake, it's gut-wrenching.

The freedom of how you complete the game is wonderful, too. Almost accidentally through the mechanics being imperfect, Watch Dogs 2 discourages all-guns-blazing by having enemies able to drop you in fractions of a second. But there are many ways to complete missions without drawing a gun, and they're so satisfying to pull off. I became an early advocate for using an unlockable ability to forge a nasty criminal record onto anyone I pleased - with a little patience, you could have an entire hostile area systematically arrested. When I grew a little more bloodthirsty, I added a similar ability to forge evidence to gangs that people of my choosing were traitors to their gang - two heavily armed members would then drive up and blast them into oblivion without me being anywhere near the scene.Sometimes, that wasn't a viable option (or I simply didn't want to play it that way). If my objective was to hack a computer within a restricted area, I could launch my little RC car, which I could carefully navigate through the area while avoiding enemies' lines of sight with it. Upon reaching the computer, I had it extend its little robotic arm and plug its USB into the target PC's port, downloading, uploading or otherwise hacking it without ever even setting foot in the place.There are so many other methods of playing Watch Dogs 2 beyond just those two, and you can also mix and match - while I didn't get much use from it, I quite enjoyed equipping the RC car with the ability to shout "hey, f***face!", luring enemies out of the way of my route to my objective... as long as they couldn't take out the car with a well-thrown stone or some reckless gunfire first.And I'm wholly convinced that the newly-drivable scissor lifts and other various ways of gaining height are the greatest thing to ever grace any game. Without any method of flying (which isn't really a big loss in all honesty), it's always fun when a mission marker is atop a tall building working out where the nearest forklift, scissor lift or even crane is, so you can hack it, step onto it, and see San Francisco from its dizzying highest.

Frowning

While there isn't MUCH in WD2 better than the original, I do miss some things. Watch Dogs 1 felt like it had more tiers of activity - you had main missions, then side missions, then activities, and finally collectibles. Watch Dogs 2 feels a lot more like it compresses main and side missions into one big blob (they're mixed together in the mission select and there's no real difference in their significance) and the amount of smaller content to do is reduced dramatically.In the first game, you had ~100 "collectible" spots where you could spy on someone for a little while and see a humorous cutscene. There were tons of minigames like chess (yay!) and competitive drinking (eugh, but still nice just to have it) in WD1 - now, your humorous camera spying is limited to a few missions, and those minigames are gone completely. I could see the rationale for removing those to stop 100%ing the game being so obnoxious as WD1 was, but WD2 doesn't even let you see your game completion. Worse still, you can still go into cafés and bars where you would have played these games, but in WD2, all you can do is meaninglessly order drinks. There are other things to do in WD2 (such as the ScoutX picture locations and the Driver: San Francisco - funny joke - Uber-esque taxi jobs) but WD2's San Francisco does just feel that smidge emptier than the predecessor's Chicago did.

There were a few other minor niggles. My previous review, Mafia III, featured complaints about how it utilised a "parkour button" - rather than a conventional jump, you held down a button in that game and Lincoln Clay would then jump, vault and climb... maybe 20% of the time you wanted to. If I'm not mistaken, Watch Dogs 1 might have actually popularised this system, and Watch Dogs 2 brings it back. And while it's not nearly as dysfunctional as in Mafia III, you will still find occasions where Marcus should clearly be able to jump a gap, but where the game decides that it's having none of it. It's most prevalent in "improvised" solutions to puzzles - I couldn't find a scissor lift to reach the top of a building, so I instead parked several cars and a bus in a way to make myself a staircase up. Parkour button? Nah! I got 95% of the height needed, but that final clamber from the face of the upright bus to the roof was clearly not designed to be possible, so I fell to my near-death.

Overall

Watch Dogs 2 was bloody excellent. Exactly what I wanted from a sequel, and I'm happy that it's so good that even people disappointed with the first can now love the Watch Dogs world. I cared about the characters like I never expected to, and still got my hours after hours of enjoyment from messing about, snouting into the lives of other people, and playing every mission in a way that felt like I'd made it up myself.

Fantastic stuff.

Mafia III Review by Allison James

Weird one, this. I was paying a lot of attention to games coming out this year that I was REALLY looking forward to - Watch Dogs 2, Pokémon Sun & Moon, Steep and the like - and have found quite a few games take my interest out of the blue. I didn't really know Mafia III was a thing until about a week before it came out.

Decided to buy it anyway, generally being a big fan of sandbox crime games, to see how it was. And here are my thoughts!

Pleasing

Mafia III's story is pretty great. A somewhat non-linear affair set largely in the late 1960s, you play Lincoln Clay, an army veteran in New Bordeaux, Louisiana, who becomes tangled with the antagonist after a brutal series of events that comes pretty much out of nowhere. It takes on themes such as the period racism and segregation, handling it respectfully as a grim, haunting, but accurate portrayal of the time - Lincoln (a black man) is cursed at by the less tolerant city dwellers, and forbidden from entering establishments brandishing a "No Coloreds" sign.

Along with the story in its time, Mafia III has a soundtrack which takes the absolute best of 1960s music and brings it all into a genuine treat for your ears - Mafia III is to '60s music what Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was to '80s - "Sympathy for the Devil", "Paint it, Black", "House of the Rising Sun", "King of the Road", "I Fought the Law", "Son of a Preacher Man", "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida", "Ring of Fire", "Pictures of Matchstick Men" and "Wild Thing" are just a few of my personal highlights from a packed, perfect setlist. I'm not sure if it was done deliberately, but a lot of the tracks are also ones that successful, modern tracks of the 2000s and 2010s have since sampled - so for someone who doesn't know '60s music inside out, I still felt familiar with tracks like Somebody to Love (thanks to the Boogie Pimps cover/sampling).

I might be alone on this one, but I really wish that the system the game used to let you weaken crime bosses - throwing a bunch of markers on the map to show their associates to kill, their money-making locations to trash, their vehicles to destroy etc - was the entire game. Whenever a character asked you to do this, that area suddenly became really fun to be in, as you systematically wiped the markers off the map one by one. I think I would have been a lot happier with Mafia III if that had been the entire game, adding all of these markers at once and letting you tackle bosses in any order you pleased.

I was really impressed by the number of shops, houses etc that you could go into. Sadly, they didn't really add anything of substance to the game thanks to their sameness and how insubstantial the rewards for doing it were (you can find stacks of $250-2500 all over the place in a hostile area - robbing an entire shop might get you $30. And houses often contain nothing collectible). But it was great to see that it was technically possible, and added to Mafia III's world.

New Bordeaux has intriguing, if not enthralling, bits and pieces to it - it's quite nice after being in the city setting for a while to be able to travel south and enjoy a complete scenery chance in the form of the game's bayou, a series of small islands containing decrepit houses, trees up the wazoo, and crocodiles that will eat both Lincoln and any corpses he throws into the river (a convenient way of permanently disposing of corpses during any gunfight going down near one and keeping still-alive enemies from discovering them).

Frowning

It took hours and hours for me to get into the game to any degree. When a game offers me an open world, I tend to leave missions until I've basically cleared the entire map of collectibles and minor objectives so I can enjoy their rewards. However, Mafia III only begins to actually introduce content after you've played several missions. It means that, until you've done this, the map feels devoid of any life.

Witnesses to your crimes can't report them to the police for a while, so pedestrians are basically punching bags. You also can't wiretap initially - wiretapping lights up all of the stuff to get in an area, so until that's done, it all just feels super empty. It was only when I had boss-weakening objectives (as mentioned above) to undertake that the map would start to feel lively... but they were only ever in small areas in any case, and once finished, the map was back to being a massive, barren world with a single main mission somewhere and nothing else.

Good grief, the AI in Mafia III is terrible. And it's made worse by how the game balances gunplay. It's difficult to play gunfights all-guns-blazing, because getting hit by a guy with a shotgun will stun you for a few seconds and blur the screen it. So you're forced to play it tactically... which, when you "master" it, makes gun fights both a tedious bore and ridiculously simple. When you've been spotted, entered a "combat" phase, then stayed hidden long enough for them to drop to a "searching" phase, you can hide behind cover, and the AI will, one at a time, walk straight past your cover and open themselves up to a one-hit-kill knife takedown. Continuously. Until every single one of them in the area is dead. Hostile areas can contain upwards of 20 enemies, and every time, they will employ this exact tactic, even when their 19 brethren lay dead in a pile right next to Lincoln.

The unpleasantness of all that was exacerbated by the unchangeable control scheme the game employs, which goes against nearly ever other crime sim I've ever played - I cannot bring to mind another game in the genre in which it is impossible to make Triangle (Y on Xbox) the "get into car" button popularised by Grand Theft Auto and used in everything else since. I got used to using Square instead eventually, but not after multiple instances of bailing out of the car while trying to handbrake.And visually, the game wasn't exactly a feast for the eyes. Maybe it's true to the 1960s - I don't know, 1969 was 22 years prior to my first breath. But the entire game felt really unsaturated - everything was brown, grey, brownish-grey or something-with-a-hint-of-brown-and-grey. When the game already feels so empty that I start suffering from mild sensory deprivation, a lacking colour palette really doesn't do anyone any favours.

NEVER FALL IN THE WATER. Mafia III is the latest offender of a trend I'm really not that keen on in 3D games - limited jumping. You know, that thing where you can't just jump if you want to - you have to be near a ledge or a gap, and then push or hold the magic "do a bit of parkour please" button and hope to Christ that the end result is what you actually want to do. In Mafia III, the result is never what you want to do - you'll flail against knee-high obstacles, fall down gaps and generally splat into anything that is splat-into-able. This control is never more infuriating than when you're stuck swimming - there are very few actual exit points, and Lincoln is completely incapable of navigating even the lowest ledge if it would mean he was leaving the water in the process.

Overall

The biggest thing I have against Mafia III was simply that very little of the game was actually fun. While the story was great, it was never too long before the cutscene was over and you were either driving to your next destination, beating up casks of booze, or locked up in a gunfight stabbing a long, slow queue of mentally deficient enemies - occasionally dying when impatience takes its toll, you attempt a rush on the remaining enemies, and you end up getting destroyed by a dude with a machine gun when Lincoln decides that he's bored with vaulting over things and fancies getting stuck on them for a while.

Elements were there. There were core ideas that were great, and so much of it was so close to being good. But nothing, to me, was quite right - the world was lifeless, the missions were fairly boring, the AI was bad... it was one of those games where no single element was bad, but every single element was subpar. I feel like in a week, I'll have forgotten most of what I accomplished in Mafia III, and in a month, I'll have forgotten there ever was a Mafia III.

With nothing to pick up the slack and help improve the overall experience, Mafia III was dull.

Tearaway: Unfolded Review by Allison James

I spent £13 on Tearaway: Unfolded. I feel doubly guilty - as a PlayStation Vita owner, I never bothered buying Tearaway despite being somewhat interested in it, and then didn't even get its PS4 counterpart until it was too cheap to pass up.

So how did it fare?

Pleasing

Atoi is the sweetest character I've ever seen in a game. Dialogue-less until the very end, she instead squeaks and makes small Link-like noises for various actions. Absolutely adorable. The NPCs are the same, too - all their dialogue (excluding the narrators) are squeaky, wonderful gibberish.What an utterly beautiful game. Tearaway's fully-papercraft art style is unique, gorgeously-done, and so, so cute. Like LittleBigPlanet before it, Media Molecule succeeded on bringing a style to life. It's complemented by the story, which takes you through every type of area imaginable, from sunny plains to desserts to icy mountains to futuristic laboratories to evil caves and everything inbetween.

I was ready to praise Tearaway: Unfolded but dock it marks for its shortness - six chapters, and around six hours in, the game made me feel like it was concluding. Since the game was never priced as highly as other, full-price AAA games, I figured that was my lot. Nope, a plot twist threw me into an entirely new area, and treated me to six more chapters. A hearty chuckle to myself, and an inner sense of glee at the prospect of only being halfway through this adventure, kicked me off. And all of this was cool, except for at the end of the 12th chapter, IT DID IT AGAIN AND HAD ANOTHER SIX! It took me a good 15 hours to finish Tearaway: Unfolded, and it was 15 hours of densely-packed joy.

Tearaway: Unfolded manages something that few games do - it has a large array of different gameplay mechanics that are employed throughout the game, but it never feels complicated - and that's thanks to how evenly their introduction is spread out. You get plenty of time for each mechanic, and how/when it is to be used, to sink into your brain.

The mechanics are generally great, too. One of the first ones, the Guiding Light, is shining a godlike light out of your controller onto the game world to dazzle enemies and otherwise stimulate the world and its characters. There are drums/trampolines that bounce whatever is on them when the touchpad is tapped. You can cause a gust of wind by swiping the touchpad. Many other mechanics continue to be introduced even up to the last few chapters. And, pretty much, they all feel like they connect together well.

The sticker mechanic is so pleasing - Media Molecule clearly already know from LittleBigPlanet how satisfying it can be for a user to personalise, or desecrate, a game world to their heart's content. The moment I realised that, despite a squirrel asking me to draw her a bow-tie, I could also satisfy her desires by sticking the word PISS to her forehead, was a wonderful one. And the game never lost its beauty, even when it snowed the word WANK.

Frowning

I have my PS4 and TV by a settee, which means I can lay down on the settee while gaming. Whether it's an issue with the game or with the PS4's tech, I found that laying down made the controller tracking difficult - which effectively meant I was forced to sit up if I ever needed to use the Guiding Light (a mechanic used continuously throughout the game).

The camera also let the game down on many occasions. It was never a problem when the camera was under my control. But Tearaway: Unfolded likes to lock and/or steer the camera itself for certain obstacles and locations, either to be cinematic or "helpful". Maybe 20% of the time, it was one of these - the other 80%, it was causing me to arbitrarily have no idea which direction I was facing, or straight-up knocking me out of the camera's view so I veered straight down a ravine.

The most extreme example of this - late game, there is a section where a waterfall is splashing over the only path (a series of stepping stones) to progress, and you have to jump across while using gusts of wind to keep the waterfall off of it. The camera locks into a wide-angle view so you can work out that that is the solution to the "puzzle", but remains locked until you're on the other side, already making this part difficult because it seriously hinders judgment when jumping across the stones. But there is a secret that requires you to walk BEHIND the waterfall, that is very, very easy to fall off - and the game's obsession with locking the camera means that unless you can carefully avoid the trigger that does this, it will then lock into the same location... meaning the waterfall, which is not see-through, entirely blocks your view of Atoi.

Overall

Tearaway: Unfolded is superb. I really hope Mm isn't done with it, because I feel like I've stolen from them at the price I paid, and would like a sequel to give them full price for.Barring the camera and the odd kerfuffle with the controller tracking, Tearaway: Unfolded was a near-perfect experience - memorable moments densely packed into a thrilling adventure that felt both minuscule due to the papery worlds, but also vast in scope.

If you have a Vita or a PS4 and haven't already... do it.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review by Allison James

4s

4s

I must admit I'm a little bit blind when it comes to superhero games. I played the two excellent Spider-Man games on PlayStation 1, and had goes here and there of other games, but that was about it. I missed Batman: Arkham Asylum entirely, and only got its sequel, Arkham City, because I had preordered a Wii U and didn't fancy my chances at enjoying Zombi U or Nintendoland very much. The latter was fine, Zombi U was pants, but Arkham City... wow, that was a great game, even with the goofy Wii U tablet controls crowbarred in.

I missed Arkham Origins as well due to it being released as a "last-gen" game - I only really jump back a console for the odd truly special game, like South Park: The Stick of Truth. But when Arkham Knight was announced for the current generation, I figured it was worth diving back into the world of Batman. Here's what I thought about it, having completed all of the game's main and secondary missions and activating Knightfall.

Pleasing

What a beautiful, immersive rendition of Gotham City. Arkham Knight uses the heft of the upgraded console hardware effectively. Everything's more detailed, rain and other such effects are absolutely gorgeous - the world gels and is a joy to navigate. I didn't get sick of it despite the hefty playtime I needed to complete the game to Knightfall level.

I was worried to hear how prominent the Batmobile was in Arkham Knight - I loved Arkham City and would legitimately have been happy with Arkham Knight if it simply stuck a few extras onto the formula and called it a day. But the Batmobile sections weren't just good - they were excellent. The Batmobile is a well-equipped, highly powerful vehicle which handles beautifully, is versatile, and is great fun to play with in every instance the game uses it, from races, to enemy unit destruction sequences, and in all the little unique bits like Riddler trophies and missions.

Speaking of, there was a ton to do, and it was for the most part a heck of a lot of fun. The main missions involving the Arkham Knight were great, but any game that gives me an open world and a massive clean-up job of fun distractions is very much my thing. Make some of those things lateral-thinking riddles and we're onto a winner here. There were perhaps a few too many Riddler trophies, but since you can unlock map locations by taking down specific marked informants, it wasn't a massive hassle.

Batman feels good to play with as well. I'll get onto the niggles I have with some of the actions he can do, but the ability to propel yourself around the map using your retracting hook, gliding about the place and springboarding yourself with the Batmobile is satisfying in the same way the previous games, and other ones like Just Cause, achieve. On top of that, the game's combat system is great too - very simple, very gratifying. And very Batman.

Frowning

The control scheme, although fine once you're used to it, is ridiculously convoluted. Gadgets, actions and controls for everything are all over the place, with even some of the more mundane actions being a chore to do. If you are presented with a destructible wall you want to progress through, you have to: hold a button to open your gadget wheel, push your stick left to select your explosive gel, let go of that button, move up to the wall, push another button to spray it with gel, back off a little, and then push yet another button to detonate the gel. All for an action which realistically could have just been a single button to punch through the damn thing.

Although I completed the game on PS4 and it ran great on that, I also got the PC version cheap for a later second playthrough. It appears to have since been patched and now works well, but my first attempt at playing it was met with a glitchy, laggy mess, not dissimilar to Mortal Kombat X, another 2015 WB release. I hope WB and its devs, going forward, can take more care in their launch PC ports and not just end up fixing them months later when, shockingly, they're met with backlash as PC players complain in droves about their new games being unplayable.

I know Batman has a massive library of villains, but Arkham Knight feels like it's trying far too hard to squeeze as many of them in as it possibly can - and it can be detrimental to the game's story and logic. Arkham Knight is an interesting, brand-new villain, and I really wish the story could have used that character as a singular focal point. Unfortunately, the Arkham Knight is the co-main-villain of the big story with Scarecrow. And they're cultivating a gas that turns everyone into the Joker. And Batman has been infected, so the entire game contains Joker hallucinations. Harley Quinn naturally gets involved too. So does Poison Ivy. And there must be 20 or more other villains that appear in the various side missions of the game. The entire events of Arkham Knight supposedly take place during a single Halloween evening - it almost becomes comically nonsensical how many different villains Batman is taking down in such a small time span, and makes you wonder what the hell Gotham's police dept is there for.

Overall

Arkham Knight truly feels like the best kind of sequel anyone can hope for - it keeps everything that made people fall in love with its predecessors and adds a wealth of new stuff, including some fundamental additions, to make it a fresh game in its own right, potentially drawing in new fans without alienating more than a few old ones that are completely allergic to vehicular combat.

But if it gets a sequel, don't preorder it on PC.

Bully (aka Canis Canem Edit) PS4 Review by Allison James

5s

5s

Bully, called Canis Canem Edit in UK thanks to one Jack Thompson (remember him?), is, put simply, my favourite game of all time. Since I first got it in 2006, I've now played it in various forms and on various formats four times: twice as Canis Canem Edit on PS2, once as Bully: Scholarship Edition (now taking the Bully name in UK thanks to Thompson having lost his job by then) on Xbox 360, and once also as Bully: Scholarship Edition on PC - that was the first playthrough of the game I 100%ed it.

Now I'm most of the way through playing it again, once again as Canis Canem Edit but as an enhanced PS2 classic on PS4. Here are my thoughts on the game as it currently stands, where it's aged in the decade it's been around, how the PS4 port is, and what I miss and don't miss from the enhanced Scholarship Edition.And I'm calling it Bully from now on. As visually pleasing as the UK alternative name - Latin for "Dog Eat Dog" - is, Bully is more concise.

Pleasing

Goddamn I still love this game. I genuinely believe that Bully is the purest, most condensed Rockstar game out there. I adore Rockstar, but I can find fault in the Grand Theft Auto series, the Red Deads, the LA Noires etc because of how much downtime there can be in them at times, how the mission formats can become a tad stagnant, etc. It's not a problem in anything Rockstar does in my eyes, but there is room to distill and refine them - with Bully, there's barely any of that.

The mission variety is exceptional, and missions are very unique. Bully is a Rockstar game without any characters dying - it has classroom hijinks, petty crimes. As a result, Bully doesn't contain one too many shootouts, or one too many of anything. In one mission, you're in a scrapyard trying to guide your friend towards an electromagnet to attract a clique leader's bicycle as he smacks you with a plank. The next, you're fighting the Bullworth Bull in an empty swimming pool. Then you're sneaking through the girls' dormitory, stealing their knickers to sell to the perverted PE teacher. You might be breaking into an insane asylum to sneak out the alcoholic English teacher, or taking covert pictures of the people stealing the preps' boxing trophies, or guiding a pair of incontinent nerds through a Fun House at the carnival, triggering obstacles to knock out the jocks pursuing them...

I honestly have to stop myself reeling off more examples, because I've only touched the surface of the missions contained in the game. You can take almost any mission from Bully and have an experience incomparable to any other mission from the game... and often incomparable to any other mission from ANY other game.

Alongside missions, the game offers classes, which are all, except Shop, great fun too. English is a minigame where you get six letters and must make as many valid words as you can from them, Chemistry is a rhythm game-esque button-to-the-beat minigame, PE is a mixture of wrestling and dodgeball minigames, Photography is as you'd imagine and Art is a fill-in-the-picture game I've seen before but don't know the original name for. Shop is the only duff one - you either have to rotate your left analogue stick in the indicated direction or repeatedly tap the indicated button, doing this eight times. The game seems very quirky on how it registers these - especially a problem for stick rotation, because the game shows the stick rotating slowly, but if you do it anything but VERY fast, it will fail you. There are five of each class, and every single one grants you a small but useful perk, such as health bonuses for kissing people, access to faster BMXes, free prank items and weapons, new fighting moves, and more.

And speaking of classes, Bully is, in general, a better experience than Scholarship Edition. On top of some glitches in the enhanced version (including a savage one that can stop you reaching 100% by stopping errands from appearing, which I got in my playthrough), to put it bluntly, all of the classes in the new one were bad. Maths was an easy multiple choice minigame, Music was a drumming minigame that seemed to have a very odd opinion on what constituted a successful or failed strike, Biology's a dissection minigame that is hellish to play on a controller but probably easy with a mouse on PC (it's like join-the-dots with a strict time limit), and Geography literally just relied on you knowing the exact locations of countries and US states on a map - if you don't, you'd better have an atlas to hand. Bar Geography (which I'll get to later), the other three had really bad new perks too, since there was nothing else the game could really offer. But this is a review of the original Bully, so you don't have to suffer any of that!

Side missions in Bully, for the most part, are cracking. Delivering papers is remarkably fun, BMX and go-kart racing are excellent, and errands offer yet more variety in stuff to do, such as taking a picture on someone's cheating spouse, catching a corrupt police officer breaking the law, and dressing up as a box of french fries (you heard me) to deliver hot food to customers. You have a carnival which is entirely interactable, from the minigame stalls to the arcade cabinets to the rideable rollercoasters and ferris wheel - in 2006, it was so nice to have a game with a funfair that teased you with amusements before making it clear that it was all just for show. Heck, even games as new as Grand Theft Auto V gave you a pier with flashing lights, shops and amusements, and then let you interact with the drinks machines and f*** all else.

I've mentioned games' "feel" before, and Bully has that in spades. The aesthetic of Bullworth Academy and the town it resides in, the ambient soundtrack with its catchy, undeniably "schoolish" tunes, and the variety of schoolmates (all of which are named and unique) really do add so much to it. You can get lost and immersed in the world of Bullworth, and you can feel part of it. The way the game threatens to confine you to the school itself but then, at the head of Chapter 2, show the school gates slowly opening and offering you to explore further, and then how unique and interesting all the other parts of Bullworth are as well - the residential areas, the carnival, and later on the dilapidated New Coventry area and the grim factories and trailer parks of the perfectly-titled Blue Skies.

Frowning

Bully has aged. Although it's visually aged, that's not much of a problem. But there are areas in the game where we've since evolved as game developers and learnt better how to do things, and I imagine these are things that would irk people coming to Bully for the first time in 2016 or later.For one, to save the game you must find a registration book. Initially, there's one in your dorm and one in the headteacher's reception area. You unlock more as the game progresses, both within and beyond the school's walls. It's an irritating, archaic way of doing saving, and annoying to have to keep turfing back to the nearest book to save when you're used to autosaving and quicksaving being ubiquitous in modern games.

Another one, a PS2-era Rockstar favourite, is that dying or being arrested in a mission will fail it entirely, forcing you not only to do everything again - even if you were 15 or 20 minutes into one - but also to getting to the marker to trigger the mission in the first place, which can be the other side of the game world in some cases.One other area it has aged, actually something fixed in Scholarship Edition, is that to 100% the game you have to collect a bunch of different things. And some of them are very hard to find - not GTA hard, but still, when you're on 74 of 75 rubber bands and the game hasn't given you a single hint on where the last one is, it can get irritating to then scour the internet for a map of one and check every single location until you find it. This was fixed in Scholarship Edition as completing the new Geography classes unlocks markers for them on your map.

The arcade machines can honestly go and do one. If you're looking to complete the game's main story and nothing else, you don't have to encounter them at all. If you want to complete all of the missions but not necessarily 100% the game, you have to beat one of the nerd's highscores on Consumo. And to 100% the game, you have to be #1 on Nut Shots and Monkey Fling.

Monkey Fling sees you eat bananas and throw the consequent poo at spiders, which take one of your three lives if they land or crawl onto you. It's the closest of the three minigames to being playable, but doesn't manage it - if you get the highscore first try, you'll already never want to see the game again. It gets worse from here. Consumo has a ridiculously high highscore set on it (so much so that I dare you to resist knocking the bastard that set it out afterwards) and is an ultra-simple game in which you have four-directional movement and must touch some things that float across and down the screen but not others. For about 20 minutes. And that's if you win it first time. It's the slowest 20 minutes ever.

The worst minigame by far is Nut Shots, which is difficult AND tedious. It's a side scrolling shooter. Shoot 10 bees, you encounter a bat. Shoot 3 spawned bats, you encounter an eagle. Rinse and repeat. Three lives lost, you're dead. You have to go through at least 7 eagles to pass the highscore, which means you also have to go through 21 bats and 210 bees. The bees shoot at you, with their bullets being difficult to spot thanks to the dazzling, ugly background, and the bats fire a massive wave of sonar that becomes very difficult to dodge if you're really far to the left (since it grows as it moves). I absolutely hate Nut Shots with a vengeance, and it's mandatory to get 100%, as well as a trophy on PS4. I'll bundle this in too - the PS4 also has a trophy for destroying 300 bottles at the carnival's shooting gallery. The shooting gallery is janky, unpleasant, and tiresome - expect to hit about 5 bottles total in each of your first several 2 minute tries at the minigame, before your body oddly adapts to the crapitude of the chore that is the shooting gallery.

Overall

I know the Frowning section is quite big for a game I consider my all-time favourite, but it's such a small portion of what is, besides that, an absolutely incredible experience. I don't know if I can ever put into words what exactly, at the end of the day, brings it from being a great game to my personal slice of interactive heaven, but to me, Bully just has it - the X factor, the je ne sais quoi, the intangible quality that, while flawed, and possibly now aged enough to detract new players, makes it my favourite game of all time.

I would kill for Rockstar to release a Bully 2, but if it ever occurred, I would be scared of it. Scared that, despite modernisation (which believe me, I am not against), it might lose whatever it is that makes the original what it is in my eyes. I desperately want it, but at the same time, I don't think I'll ever stop loving Bully. And I'm happy that the PS4 trophies have given me a reason to play it again.

Fallout 4: DLC / Season Pass Review by Allison James

2s

2s

Fallout 4 has now received six DLC packs, supposedly the only six it will receive. Having played through them, built with their workshop items and completed their stories, here are my general thoughts on how they were, and whether the Season Pass is a good purchase.Please note: I am a huge fan of the workshop and building in Fallout 4. If you couldn't care less about that, very little of the DLC is likely to appeal to you. Also please note: spoilers are afoot.

Summary

Automatron gives you a short story in which you have to take down the Mechanist, an evil character that is creating deadly robots in their hidden factory. Wasteland Workshop expands the Workshop to include stuff like animal cages and cage fighting, enemy traps and the like. Far Harbor adds a new series of quests set on an all-new island with new enemies, guns etc. Contraptions Workshop lets you create machines to automate the creation of things. Vault-Tec Workshop lets you build vaults and gives you a new Workshop location, a massive, sprawling underground cave that was intended to be Vault 88. And Nuka-World introduces another new location, an old Nuka-Cola theme park now overrun by three raider cliques.

Pleasing

It was great to have new places to explore and new things to do. Far Harbor and Nuka World each added several hours of new missions, in new locations. Nuka World particularly felt very much different to the base game - but it was still in keeping with the theme in general.I loved, with Automatron, the ability to create custom companion robots, and the versatility of the creator. I found it was especially useful for creating sentry bots for each of my settlements - for extra comedy, I could then give them cutesy voices and have them work the hospitals until the base was attacked.

Memorable quests and characters littered both DLCs too - I particularly enjoyed helping an avid Nuka-Cola fan into completing a pre-war Nuka World contest, which led to a hidden mini-vault containing the depressed, disembodied, but mechanically-kept-alive head of the founder of Nuka-Cola. And who could forget the bit in Far Harbor when you hack into the all-powerful leader robot's brain, turning Fallout 4 into an unexpected Minecraft-esque light-bending puzzle game?!

The integration of new content into the Commonwealth was good too, though it could have gone further. It was fun to see the enemies from Automatron start cropping up in random encounters, and choosing to side with the Raiders in Nuka World and systematically overthrowing every single one of your own settlements was interesting.

Many of the smaller additions to the Workshop were really, really good - arguably things that could have been in the base game, but very much welcome and added perceived value to the Season Pass. Neon lettering, electrical logic gates, armour/clothing mannequins to display collected one-off apparel, and a general boost to the variety of all things available to build were excellent and really helped in improving the number of possibilities with bases.

Frowning

Far Harbor ran like crap on PS4. I swear I was hitting 10FPS in some places - generally the foggy locations. Far Harbor is a very foggy place.Contraptions Workshop is almost hilarious in how useless it is. Its concept conjured up thoughts of automatic drilling and excavating machines, resource miners... heck, even just being able to assign settlers to go and keep scavenging copper and feeding it into a machine, giving you a Cookie Clicker-style exponential resource generator and making it never again that you run out of something when building something big. Haha, no. Contraptions Workshop does not have anything to GENERATE resources. All it can do is suck up resources you already have and create things that, frankly, aren't necessary - maybe a gun generating machine would have been good in Fallout 3 when they kept jamming. But in Fallout 4, you're going to have a modded, beautiful gun, and your settlers can be tossed the guns that a few dead enemies dropped. I couldn't think of a single legitimately useful function for anything in this pack, what a waste.

Vault-Tec workshop was so, so promising, until the build limit reared its ugly head. It provides the cave which just seems like it's begging for you to create a massive, beautiful custom vault within its confines. But the build limit caps out when you've only just added the basic vault walls and floors... to about a QUARTER of the entire actual map. There's a big part of me that loved making my own places but really wanted to be able to make my own community, and this DLC seemed like it was finally going to provide that, but nope - ran out of space before i could ever do it, and like with other locations, 10 people plus your charisma stat is the maximum number of settlers you can have. Bah. The DLC is great for the stuff it gives you, but crashes back down to Earth with how it throttles you beyond that.

Nuka World felt so great for a while, but the way it wound down, I fiercely hated. To turn on the main power for the theme park (which feels like the final goal), you have to take one of two drastic measures, neither of which feels particularly good - either completely eliminate the Pack, the Operators and the Disciples from Nuka World, or guide those three raider groups into either a hostile, or persuasive, takeover of one of your settlements in the Commonwealth. While they're Raiders, and Raiders are dicks, killing them all after they provided such an entertaining set of quests for Nuka World felt bad. And having their presence leak into the Commonwealth in a way that I didn't want to happen wasn't great either.

Speaking of Nuka World, I also didn't like how the game handled certain events with the three cliques. You give each of the five zones of Nuka World to one of the cliques - I gave two to the Pack, two to the Operators, and one to the Disciples. From then on, the Disciples treated me like complete shit. I wanted to evict them from their one place and give it to a different clique... but I couldn't. I couldn't tell them to shut the fuck up (despite being Overlord), not an option. If I killed or injured one, every single Disciple... and every Pack and Operator member, AND my second in command, ALL permanently turned hostile on me, killing off every raider quest I had.

Overall

Every piece of Fallout 4 DLC felt like it could have done more with what it did. Every pack, to varying degrees, had a lot that I expected upon first hearing about them, but that they didn't deliver. Automatron would have been cool if synths (even just Gen 1/2s) could be made with the station. Wasteland Workshop could have added a little more. Far Harbor and Nuka World should be easier to jump to from the Commonwealth - having to double fast travel or use a boat or train to get to their locations is a faff. Vault-Tec should have found a way to ease the building limit, even if it meant segmenting off the building area a bit more and loading the place in segments.

I feel like I got £24.99's worth out of all of it in total - that's what it cost me before they announced a price hike to £39.99. I don't feel like I got £39.99's worth - but that might be impacted by how the base game alone cost me that amount, and I got hundreds of hours out of it.Fallout 4 deserved a little more love, I think. There is good fun to be had, and useful extra content to come from all of the DLC. But having left the base game feeling like I'd had the time of my life, to leave it this second time now feeling dissatisfied and disappointed bums me out.

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst Review by Allison James

4s

4s

I loved Mirror's Edge. A lot. But, seeing how the game failed in sales - how it was half price within a month. and a pittance within six, I'd written it off as one of those one-off experiences alongside Bully, Brutal Legend, Psychonauts, Sunset Overdrive and many of my other all time favourite games. So when a reboot/sequel was announced, I was over the moon.

Summary

Faith Connors is being released from jail after a two year sentence, and must take down evil benevolent leader Kruger and his daughter. Or something. But we'll get to that. Faith can parkour her way through a freeform world (rather than the original's more linear levels).

Pleasing

Boy oh boy, it's good to have.a new Mirror's Edge. It's not like I've touched the original in a while, but Catalyst just felt natural immediately. The formula still works, parkour remains immensely satisfying to perform, and nailing a line squeaky clean is nothing short of ecstasy.

The world presented in Catalyst looks and feels great. The city of Glass is a futuristic, shiny, clean level. You can look off of the edge of a building and see city dwellers bustling at ground level - for as lonely as you are on the rooftops with a smattering of delivery people and Kruger security as all your company, it feels truly alive. All of the beauty of Glass is complemented by an absolutely exceptional ambient soundtrack that brings everything together.

And for all the simplicity of the game's presentation, its expansive map, that expands as you progress through the story, is visually varied from location to location is quickly easy to learn and navigate without referencing the map more than needed.

Collection elements and side quests keep you busy parallel to, or beyond, the story, unlocking extras for the online segments of the game (which I cannot comment on as I didn't touch them) and new skills for Faith.Story missions were memorable and enjoyable. The final mission particularly was, although a little bit set, breathtaking, seeing Faith escalate an epically tall skyscraper as it gets systematically destroyed. And the story? Well...

Frowning

The story is bad. There's no two ways about it. Faith makes silly decisions which are unavoidable. Icarus is insufferable. Noah is tolerable if generic, and Kruger is as vanilla a villain as you could get. Rebecca is perhaps the best written character as she has a couple of actual two dimensional motives, but... don't get Mirror's Edge: Catalyst for the story.

My other issue, which stopped me gunning for a 100% completion, was that I found the running side quests to be very difficult. I managed to complete the main story without too many resets, but the running side quests are clearly designed and balanced for those people who like to continuously repeat and perfect their runs tens or hundreds of times. It is satisfying to do this I'm sure, but it's not for me, especially because the fragile deliveries had someone repeat the exact same snippets of dialogue in every attempt.

Overall

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst was absolutely great. Skip the story cutscenes and the strict timed runs and you're left with a joyous world to explore, trick around and experience at your own pace - something that I've been missing from my gaming life since Skate 3. The slight lack of focus compared to the tight original Mirror's Edge is made up for by the successful open world elements and the higher quantity of content.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review by Allison James

5s

5s

It's been five years now since Uncharted 3 came outand capped off an absolutely stellar trilogy of games. A trilogy that is now a quadrilogy, thanks to the latest instalment, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Did it live up to the quality bar set by the last two?

Summary

Uncharted 4 takes place in three different points in time, all of which focus on Nathan Drake's interactions with his brother, Sam, a new character to the series. The earliest point in time shows how Nathan was pushed onto the path of thievery by Sam, a midway mission has them escaping a prison prior to the events of Uncharted 1, and the rest, the bulk of the story, is about Sam returning into Nathan's life after the events of Uncharted 3, having married Elena and replaced his criminal treasure hunting life with a steady and legal job retrieving cargo from sunken ships.

Pleasing

There is so little wrong with Uncharted 4 that it's not even funny, but let's start with the graphics. The game looks mind-blowing. It's stunning quality-wise. Furthermore, nearly every chapter introduces you to a completely different setting - from forests, to mansions full of people, to dilapidated castles, to caves, to boats in the middle of the ocean, to muddy island gulches, and everywhere inbetween - and nails everything on the head.

The attention to detail with how Uncharted 4 is presented is breathtaking. If you slide down a stony hill, you can see all of the rocks you dislodged form a tiny rock slide. You can see your footprints in the snow. The car you can drive, because you can now drive in Uncharted, will get splattered with the mud you drive through. All of the effects are the kind of detail the series was famed for on PlayStation 3, but with the extra heft of the upgraded console behind it.

None of the graphics would matter if Uncharted 4 wasn't fun to play, but - surprise! - it is. If you weren't keen on the original trilogy, number 4 probably won't be your cup of tea either. But it takes the familiar shooting and obstacle traversal of 1-3 and splashes in new, neat touches, all of which work really nicely. You have a grappling hook which can be used in set places to swing yourself around. You receive a makeshift climbing pick around halfway through the game which can be planted into soft cliff faces to aid in climbing. There are now even pushable crates and other objects which you can freely manipulate in order to reach higher paths or unblock lower ones. Tall grass that can camouflage you in enemy encounters is another neat addition to the game.

The story and presentation then complement everything else beautifully. Uncharted 4's story isn't of the calibre of a high-end film plot, sure, but it does its job beautifully. It features some wonderful throwbacks to the original trilogy (if you haven't played those, I'd recommend playing them first - they will enhance your experience with U4) without affecting how their events played out, it adds extra dimensions of depth to Nathan, Sully and Elena from the pre-1-3 events, lets you see the continuation of their story post 1-3 and Sam's inclusion makes complete sense.

And, as you'd expect from Uncharted, the presentation is great as well. Sam accompanies Nathan for the majority of the game, and the two will bounce dialogue off each other at everything they see, do, and experience. It never actually gets grating, and some interactions will be genuinely funny. I got particular fun out of driving into, and destroying, all the cairns in the gulch level - Sam will berate Nathan for doing it, but as he does, reveals that he dislikes the word "cairn". Nathan naturally plays on this, and the dialogue between the two keeps escalating the more you find and destroy them.

And of course, even with the game being as long as it is, there's plenty to go back to. You can jump back to the start of any chapter you've already played and find any treasures, optional conversations (new to the series) and journal entries (also new to the series, essentially little mostly-optional clues to proceeding through the game). Also new to the series, you can jump to any enemy group encounter and replay those too.

Frowning

If I have one issue with the game, it's that some of the enemy encounters in the late game become a little grating. One sees you standing on top of (or dangling off the edge of) a car elevator as waves of enemies attempt to kill you, the person you're with, and the car. They can pretty quickly destroy the minuscule amount of cover on top of the thing, and pretty quickly you'll find yourself out of ammo - but it's difficult to get to a vantage point on solid ground without at least one angle having enemies with a clear shot at you, as it's an open area and enemies appear a full 180 degrees around you.

There are a couple of other encounters after this that are frustrating as well, including one where two minigun-toting heavy units both absolutely wreck you if you don't have a full arsenal of grenades and access to an RPG - they also appear after you've already mowed through several enemies, and if they defeat you, the respawn point makes you redo the grunts. All of this while Nathan reels off the same lines of dialogue again.

Overall

But they're such a tiny fraction of Uncharted 4, a game that is otherwise absolutely stuffed to the brim with memorable moments and incredible fun. I can't recommend this enough to anyone, and really hope that this isn't the end - they could make Uncharted 5 and 6 and have them essentially be expansion packs to 4, and I'd still pay full price, and I'd still love them - it's one of those few games where I really, really wanted more when the credits rolled.