Games - PC (Commercial)

Steep Review by Allison James

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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.

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.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review by Allison James

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.PleasingWhat 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.FrowningThe 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.OverallArkham 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.4s

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst Review by Allison James

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.SummaryFaith 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).PleasingBoy 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...FrowningThe 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.OverallMirror'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.4s

Psychonauts Review by Allison James

It's a little saddening to see half-decent games underselling and disappearing off the face of the gaming planet. It's even more saddening when the game in question isn't half-decent, it's astonishingly good. Psychonauts is one of these - an original, amazingly fun, varied platformer that was swept under the carpet while poor sequels jumped off the shelves and into people's gaming collections.In Psychonauts, you play as a boy called Razputin who has inherited psychic powers. His dad doesn't want him to use them, but he does, so he's run off and joined a psychic school. The tutorials take the form of lessons. As you progress, the plot darkens.What makes Psychonauts truly stand out is the variety. Using a device given to you part of the way through the game, you can enter the minds of other people. Each person's mind takes a different form - it's there that the variety (and originality of many of the levels) comes in. The standout level sees you entering a janitor's mind and hunting for someone called the Milkman. The level is a rural district, which's road twists around like crazy.Psychonauts - Hunt for the MilkmanOther fascinating levels include one where you enter the mind of someone playing a war board game - you actually go into the board itself and have to complete the game by moving pieces safely to their destinations. There's also a hunt for playing cards in the mind of a matador, which culminates in a battle where you have to fire arrows at a bull using telekinesis.Graphically, Psychonauts isn't (and wasn't at the time of release) stunning, but it's certainly adequate. You can always tell what's happening.Psychonauts is available from game retailers at a very undeservedly cheap price. It can be bought for PlayStation 2 (the version I have), PC, and Xbox (and Xbox 360 if you include its release on the Marketplace). Alternatively, you can play it for free with adverts on GameTap. If you haven't already, go and do it now. You're missing out.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=md_8uDtbffQ](96%)

Saints Row 2 Review by Allison James

When I found out the sequel to the awesome but Xbox 360-exclusive Saints Row would be multiformat, including a release on the PlayStation 3, I was happy. Sure, I'd lose out on some of the back references, but I'd at last have a silly alternative to GTA. That was pretty much the main reason I bought Saints Row 2 - to play about. What I wasn't expecting was a game with both the gormless fun of playing about the city, and also a surprisingly clever, engaging plot.For the plot, there are three storylines you can follow. Once these are all complete, there is a final fourth one. Each of the three initial storylines focuses on one of three opposing gangs (you being the member of the fourth gang, the Saints), the Brotherhood, the Ronin, and the Sons of Samedi. The Brotherhood are a tattooed, thuggish lot, the Ronin are oriental sorts with katanas and... motorbikes, and the Sons of Samedi are hippies. Finishing a storyline results in the eradication of that gang from the city, with each mission resulting in one piece of their "turf" being handed over to you, and the climactic missions all involving killing the gang leaders in a platformer-boss-style fashion. The final storyline then sees you fending off an evil corporate giant looking to clean the city of gangsters.So, what sort of stuff is covered in the mission spectrum? There's all sorts - burning drug crops, making someone accidentally kill their girlfriend with a monster truck, burying someone alive (then, at any point after in the game, returning to the grave and hearing his screaming), and even a thrilling mission in which you tow a car to a garage. Yay!That's the bit of the game I wasn't expecting to be awesome out of the way. Here's the bit I bought the game for: messing about. There's a lot you can do - full car customisation, plane piloting, fight club participation, insurance fraud (jump infront of fast cars and sue them), spliff smoking, making your own radio station out of tracks in-game, etc. There are a ton of cheats which can aid messing about, too, including some to make it rain pedestrians, lower the gravity, set all cars to attack you... whatever suits your fancy.The music in-game is probably the strongest part of Saints Row 2. Despite the seemingly constant gangster theme of the game (which includes unchangable, expletive-filled rap forced through your ears on the main menus), the radio stations cover a wide range of genres - rap, classical, easy listening, electronica, and even '80s pop. And, in a move Grand Theft Auto games should really have had, you can switch off certain radio stations so you never need listen to them. Add to that the fact you can buy (with in-game money) tracks and remix them into your own radio station, and you won't be forced to listen to anything you'd rather not again.Then, of course, in a second move GTA should've done before - complete online two player co-op. That means you can both be doing missions together, or even playing in the city independently (no San Andreas-style limits, you can be on opposite ends of the city, in two different cars, in buildings together or separately, anything). There are also several games to play together, including the incredibly fun Death Tag. In this, there's a time limit, you both have randomised weapons with infinite ammo, and most deaths loses.So, my opinion of Saints Row 2? If you're over 18, get it. If you're under 18, wait until you're 18 then get it. If you have it, play it. It's an absolute blast whichever way you'd rather play it.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meP62UPanio](Note: Content Warning: strong language and depictions of virtual violence)(92%)