PICKS OF PAX – Indie Edition


The Best Things About PAX Aus!

With all the huge titles about to debut, its easy to forget about the wealth of incredible and unique indies out now, coming soon and in early access. I’d love to list all the games I played on show at PAX Australia, but here’s some of my favourites direct from the show floor.

Never Alone – Upper One Games

Never Alone is a unique game that puts you in the shoes of Nuna, a young Alaskan girl. With a newly befriended arctic fox, the two of you set off on a tale based in Alaskan culture to find the source of a never-ending blizzard.

This game has an absolutely gorgeous aesthetic and does things only a few games have even attempted, immortalising a culture and their history, while showcasing it to and educating an audience that may never have experienced it before. The game plays as a puzzle platformer akin to Limbo or Braid with a co-op aspect, but also takes inspiration from some of the recent UbiArt Framework titles, Valiant Hearts and Child of Light in its approach to narrative. Another interesting factor of Never Alone is that each of the collectibles in game unlocks a small documentary style video relevant to its place in the game, giving cultural insight from the Inuit people that expands and contextualises what you’re experiencing at that moment.

Never alone launches on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 18 as a download only product from the digital stores. You can read more about it here. It’s an exciting new step for games, and it’s co-op features make it perfect for playing with a friend, family member, or even on date night!

Screencheat – Surprise Attack

Screencheating isn’t cheating right? It’s a legitimate strategy!

Screencheat keeps this philosophy at it’s core, creating a four person multiplayer game where you’re all invisible and the only way to shoot each other is by watching other players screens to track them down. The game plays surprisingly well, after one or two matches you really get a feel for the way it works – it has this real sense of nostalgia about it with quite a unique spin. The weapons you can wield in game are as zany as the concept, with electro-crossbows, a blunderbuss and even a hobby horse which allows you to charge into enemies. There is a lot of fun and laughs to be had here, a game that can bring even strangers together in a tense and fun match of old school inspired shooting.

Screencheat is available now for PC on Steam, GOG and the Humble Store. You can find those links and read up on the game here. So what are you waiting for? Grab a few friends and settle in for some seriously entertaining multiplayer sessions!

Submerged – Uppercut Games

Imagine the world of Wind Waker combined with that of Lara Croft. Throw in some survival aspects and you have the basis for Submerged, a narrative driven exploration game in a sunken wasteland.

The game starts with a young girl and a young boy in a boat, sailing amongst sunken buildings. You play as the girl, Miku, and carry the boy, Taku, to safety in a ruined clock tower, then begin to search for supplies and an explanation of where you’ve found yourself. After sailing around for a little while I knew this was a world I wanted to get lost in. The environments in this game lend themselves perfectly to the premise, blending mystery with a sense of adventure. The story is one which unfolds the more you play, taking you on a journey of discovery with the protagonist. This really looks to be an ambitious project, one which will be very exciting to dive into when it releases.

Submerged is due to be released in 2015. You can follow its progress for more information on Uppercut Games’ Development Blog.

Expand – Cjohnson Games

Expand is a ‘meditative’ game that follows a small, black square through an ever unfolding circular labyrinth, and strangely enough, manages to be one of the most powerful games on the market.

As you move about this evolving worrld, paths and arcs unfold and shift in quite an evocative manner. It’s one of those things you could watch for hours, with new and unique forms shifting out of the humble sphere. Add to this a truly incredible soundtrack and short, simple phrases and the game becomes a much deeper experience, hinting at higher meaning and allowing you to relate this small square’s journey to your own life experience. It’s simple, tranquil and ultimately emotionally resonant, and I’m sure each player will have new and unique experiences when playing it.

Expand is set to release sometime in 2015, and you can follow updates on the title here. The game will also ship with a level editor, something that personally I’m pretty excited to play around with myself.

Metrocide – Flat Earth Games

Metrocide is like old school Grand Theft Auto and Bladerunner had a baby. A pixel art, kickass baby.

As a famed contract killer you must navigate through this dark futuristic world, avoiding enemies like gangs and cops as you hunt down your targets. Permadeath is present here, making all your movements and actions even more important if you don’t want to wind up back at the start. The top down view and visual style really allow the tone of the game to come through without being over-complex, making way for a game that’s challenging but also a lot of fun. Fans of action-stealth games or anything retro inspired should really give this one a go.

Metrocide is out on Steam Early Access right now, which you can find here. You can keep up with the game’s progress on Steam or on the official website.

So there you have it, a few of my personal favourite indie titles from PAX Australia this year. There are countless more exciting and awesome indies out there, don’t forget to check out what else was on offer – and if I’ve missed your favourite please let me know in the comments or on social media!

Jayden Perry ©2014

PICKS OF PAX – Australian Expo Edition


The Best Things About PAX Aus!

PAX Australia 2014 was a brilliant expo that showcased both the amazing talent we have here in Australia of those making games, and the nationwide community that enjoys them. For three days fans descended upon the Melbourne Exhibition Centre to play the best in Indies and AAA titles, as well as chill out with board games, panels and good food.

Picks of PAX is my way of looking back on the great weekend I had, chronicling the best of the Expo and games from my time at the event.

First, the Expo itself.

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The Signs

‘Welcome Home’. Before you even walked in the doors of PAX, the Melbourne streets around the Expo had taken upon the feel of it. Signs hung around the venue with messages like “why your IT guy is out sick” and “we’re back, with less tents”. These little signs made me chuckle more than once and were widely shared across social media, it was great to see that the organisers put this extra effort and community touch into their promotion, making it fun and enjoyable before PAX even began.

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The Panels

If there’s something I wish I could have seen more of at PAX, it would be the panels. The couple I visited were really well put together and provided a lot of thought provoking discussion. I heard a lot of good reports from others, but between clashes and media appointments I missed a fair few. You could attend PAX and just hop panel to panel for the three days, barely touching the show floor, and still have an amazing time. Lucky for me, and for those of you who didn’t end up at PAX, a lot of the panels were streamed on Twitch and available to watch right now right here, on PAX’s Twitch channel.

The Booths

The big hitters on show at PAX had equally huge booths, ranging from League of Legend’s stage to showcase local matches and Oceanic finals to Ubisoft’s maze of screens and AAA titles. This year booths were given to a huge range of companies, with even Harvey Norman and the Australian Classification Board (mostly unmanned for the weekend) getting their own stands.

One of my favourites was Wargaming’s booth, filled with a tank, a stage and plenty of computers to play on. Another of the cooler ones was Media Molecule’s booth in the Indie area, decked out in all sorts of papercraft creatures in true Tearaway style. All in all, the booths managed to be really different and despite the crowds I never had too much trouble navigating them!

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The Cosplay

For a convention without a cosplay competition, there sure was a lot of cosplay. It was really impressive to see so many people decked out as their favourite characters on the show floor. Thanks to the large presence Riot Games had at the expo, a vast majority of the outfits were characters from League of Legends. Similarly, Borderlands cosplay were not in short supply, thanks to the presence of Randy Pitchford and the recent release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The cosplay was one of those awesome things that served to really amplify the atmosphere of a convention. Wherever you went around PAX you saw characters you knew and loved, be that in the hallways, outside or even in the Crown food court nearby!

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The Handheld Lounge; Clear your Streetpasses or even take a nap!

The Community

In my opinion, the best part of the entire convention was the community. From the exhibitors to the developers, the con-goers to the cosplayers, PAX has to be the most positive show I’d ever attended. Kotaku published an article on why PAX was the perfect antidote to the negativity and clashes going on in game culture, and I couldn’t agree more. Everyone was friendly, accepting and enjoying the wonderful world of games, tabletop and indies together.

The Diversity Lounge, a place that really helped foster this atmosphere, contained several booths including one for the charity group ‘Medic‘, working with Special Effect, a group who help disabled people to enjoy games, in the UK. It also showcased games that encouraged diversity, with one of my favourite indie games ‘Never Alone’ on show there. They even had panels and tournaments running in there during the expo, creating a really encouraging space that I feel symbolised a lot of what PAX was about.

All in all, PAX Australia was an incredible experience. From playing tonnes of fun and interesting games to meeting new people and bonding over shared loves, the show was really something special. I’d like to thank everyone involved in organising, exhibiting and even attending for making PAX Aus such a memorable expo. I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Jayden Perry ©2014

Samurai Warriors 4 Preview


Prepare for battle!

There’s something about smashing through a sea of enemies that really gets your heart racing. You charge down a hill at the wall of minor encumbrances before you, only to hit them with a wide slash, sending them flying back through the air and clearing a path for the next move. Samurai Warriors 4 takes this feeling and keeps it at the forefront of it’s combat, making for a game you’re sure to spend a lot of time in.

Samurai Warriors 4 marks the tenth anniversary of Tecmo Koei’s Samurai Warriors series, making it’s first debut on the Playstation 4. The game will also be available on the PS Vita and the PS3 at launch, with cross-save features, but only as digital downloads.

After a few hours hands on with this title one thing was immediately clear; this game felt much more like a next-gen title than the recent ports of Orochi Warriors 3 Ultimate and Dynasty Warriors 8. From the general presentation to the smoothness of play, veterans of the Musou (Warriors) games will find this title to be familiar but sleeker than ever.

The graphics are another area you’ll see improvement from previous entries, with the game looking much sharper, as well as allowing a lot more enemies to be rendered on the screen at once. I found the render distance felt further than previously too, stopping enemies who are retreating from disappearing off-screen all too regularly.

The game’s story mode takes the form of regional stories that tell the tales of individual families and factions, and the unification story following the narrative to the end of the warring states era in Japan. Throughout these campaigns there are over fifty characters playable, giving you a huge range of options both in the story and other modes, such as free mode and chronicle mode.

You can customise everything... even individual eye colours!
You can customise everything… even individual eye colours!

Add to this roster custom made characters and you have a seriously impressive amount of options for how you want to play when jumping into the action. The create a character system has been greatly enhanced with this title, allowing for a much greater degree of control. From the armor type, hair style, voice and weapons, pretty much every option you could want to quickly create diverse, extra characters has been offered.

After this, you can take that character (or an existing one) into the all new ‘chronicle mode’, allowing you to explore Japan as a travelling warrior, meeting famous warriors and writing about battles as you yourself become one of the toughest in the land. This was a really fun mode to play around in as it lets you craft your own campaign and story, long after you’ve completed every faction’s arc. It’s up to you where you start, who you meet and where you go while travelling and exploring some really well put together battlegrounds.

I found that the battles, while lasting a good thirty to forty-five minutes, really drew me in. I didn’t find myself getting bored at all during the scenarios I played, even losing track of time at one point. The stories weaved into the scenarios are more than enough to keep the battles varied throughout, and levelling up to receive new, more showy and devastating combos is something I found myself all too happy to keep killing for.

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My only qualms with the game at preview stage were ones that have plagued many a Tecmo Koei title, namely the camera and sometimes overcrowded HUD.

The camera mechanics shared by the Musou games is something that never ceases to produce minor annoyance. There’s something about the angle and it not properly adjusting to your movements that can be a real pain in the heat of battle. For the most part though its functional and can be adjusted, but it’d be great to see something a little smoother in the future.

Given the choice, I’d much prefer to play or watch a Japanese product in it’s original Japanese with subtitles. The Japanese voice acting and dialogue is pretty good throughout. as is the translation, but the placing of the subtitles box really isn’t. Rather than writing along the bottom of the HUD or in a bubble to the side, the dialogue bubble continuously pops up in the bottom third of the screen, right over where your character and the main action is happening. That many enemies all at once can become confusing easily without a big box adding to it. While this isn’t a constant or a huge problem, it’d be nice to see a way we could move its placement in the full game.

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Despite these small issues, the game performs admirably. It’s a ridiculously fun and satisfying title that I’m sure will be a real time sink for many people. With the large variety and amount of content this is one to look out for, for both hardened fans and newcomers alike.

Samurai Warriors 4 is set to release on PS4 on 23rd October.

Preview conducted at Mindscape Games Headquarters, Sydney.

Jayden Perry ©2014

First Impressions: The Crew (Beta)


Let me start with this: I’m not great at racing games. This became evident as I was presented with a “Mission Failed” screen not seven seconds after starting The Crew. Okay, to be fair, I have been playing MMOs for weeks now, and had my hand poised over WASD, when in fact I should have been on the arrow keys. My second mistake with The Crew, was playing it like every other racing game I’ve played on PC. My third mistake, was not ever expecting to be distracted by an arcade racer’s visuals. The Crew boasts a massive map, co-operative and competitive gameplay, and an ambitious social element. I’m going to relay my first impressions of The Crew Beta.

Map

I’ll start on the visuals, which are incredible. The Crew’s map spans the entire United States mainland, and everywhere is accessible. That is one large map. Not only are there sights to see, they are damn worth seeing. Running on max graphic settings, the scenes are beautiful and nicely detailed. You might spot some weak textures if you park next to a large wall, but it’s a racer. I rarely found myself idling on a sidewalk.

I haven’t been to too many places in the USA, but as soon as I entered St. Louis after a long drive from Detroit, and that immense, looming Arch appeared on the horizon, I knew that locals to the real area would be pleased with the recreations. The cinematic visuals are stunning, and are about as close to real as cinematics are these days, there was a moment in the beginning where I thought Ubisoft were bringing back live-action cutscenes. It’s unfortunate that the cutscene awe stopped short of being properly interesting.

My first impression of The Crew’s story: pretty generic of an arcade racer. For at least the first few hours that I played The Crew, I was told a story I had heard many times before. In The Crew, you work with a financially endowed woman who needs you to climb the hierarchy of a national racer gang called 5-10. It all sounded distinctly Need For Speed Most Wanted and The Run. Don’t get me wrong, it sounded as if there was some potential for a better story in there; corrupted cops, vendettas and the like, but within the first few hours… again, quite generic.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting a story at all, much less one like this. It felt completely out of line with the premise of the game; driving around the USA with a crew of friends online. Throwing in a story that names every player ‘the chosen one’ seems to me a questionable move. The game would be just as strong without it.

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In light of the story, the marginally weak plot does little to taint the gameplay. As a player of few racers, the game was fun and despite ‘rage quitting’ on numerous occasions, I always went back to try again. However, the controls are very, very fiddly, and it took maybe 5 to 10 minutes to comfortably adjust the sensitivity settings. Even after the adjustments, the steering does take some getting used to. Having experience with particularly few racers, I played The Crew as I played any other game, and it was a catastrophe. Crash cam was an unfortunately familiar experience, and my best moments felt like a kiss from Lady Luck.

The controls handle differently in The Crew to any other racer I’ve played, and once I shifted my mind into the right gear, I started improving drastically. All of the tinkering and practice, next to the quickly increasing difficulty made for a steep learning curve. I was also thoroughly disappointed with the first race; the car was sliding all over the place, the brakes didn’t work, and my impressions of the game were darkening. It turns out, all of that was just the damn car. Once I’d finally beaten the first race, and had chosen my own car, my experience became much more enjoyable. The first time a giant, gold 5-10 appeared was a proud moment.

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The world map is peppered with, for lack of a better term, mini-games that always activate just when you don’t want them. Unlike races and missions, just driving through a skill or speed test will initiate one of a number of objectives. Ones I encountered include a slalom course, staying on the road at a high speed as long as possible, and propelling your vehicle off a ramp onto a large target. Different cars will improve your performance on particular courses, and the experience points gained from completing them successfully is worthwhile.

The downside to these challenges is that they’re not entirely optional. If you happen through the start point, you either complete the challenge, or be faced with a “wrong way” message until it finishes. Regardless of whether or not you complete the challenge, you’re then presented with an intrusive score screen that has to be confirmed. It broke the open world immersion of The Crew, one of the features that was quite intriguing about the game.

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Another intriguing element about The Crew is social gameplay; banding together with friends and strangers to race and traverse the United States. It seemed rather absent in my experience, and I wasn’t even sure how to initiate a ‘Crew’. I found myself paired with another player accidently at one point, but other than that, social gameplay was rather nonexistent. I won’t comment further on it, as this was a closed-beta and I’ll give the benefit-of-the-doubt on the social game in this circumstance.

Overall, for a non-racer fan, The Crew was enjoyable, and I’ve continued to play it beyond my first impressions research. It has a couple of immersion breakers, and the story is quite tacked on, but it’s also in Beta testing stages, and there’s still time for Ubisoft to offer up some welcome improvements. If you’re an arcade racer fan, you’ll love The Crew, and if you’re a realism racer, the realistic environments and beautiful scenery will draw you right in. Come release, when more players hit the road, this game could be the racing MMO people have been waiting for.

Post-E3 2014: A Look at What Nintendo Had to Offer


Nintendo’s Line-Up at E3 2014

Unfortunately Nintendo stopped doing media conferences a few years ago, but that didn’t stop them from showing off a great line up. Nintendo had a lot to offer, and some would say they needed to, with the Wii U having lack-lusted sales since it’s launch, and certainly disappointing in comparison to the Sony and Microsoft’s sales of the PS4 and Xbox One.

Here is a line up of what Nintendo had to offer at E3 2014.

Super Smash Bros Wii U logoPreview: Hands-On

Thoughts:  Super Smash Bros. has to be the game for Nintendo this year. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about Nintendo’s fighting franchise, all that can be said is this incarnation of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is certainly worth the wait.The 3DS version also looks great, but takes a little getting used to with the different style of controls that you’d be used to for your typical fighting game, only a 2-player battle system was available at E3.

Several announcements were made throughout the day by Nintendo, including the use of NFC (Near Field Communication) on the Wii U gamepad, calling their system ‘Amiibo’. Nintendo are now making NFC enabled toys with their franchised characters that can be used in multiple games, including both Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 to name a few.
Other announcements made were several new characters available in Super Smash Bros., including Mr. Game & Watch, Pac-Man, Palutena and the use of Mii’s, which will have 3 different types of fighting styles, although, unfortunately, were not playable at this years E3.Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS will be available on the 3rd of October, 2014, with the Wii U version doesn’t yet have a exact release date, Nintendo are aiming for a holiday 2014 release.

Yoshis Woolly World logo

Preview: Hands-On

Thoughts: Surprisingly, out of all the platformers Nintendo have available, there isn’t a Mario game in sight. However, Yoshi does return, in woolly form.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is the same sort of gameplay you’d expect from a Yoshi dedicated game, thankfully, unlike the Yoshi’s Island titles, there is no baby Mario to cater for.

Gameplay is also familiar to previous Yoshi titles, but you can’t help but feel that it’s inspired by a previous Nintendo title, Kirby’s Epic Yarn. You’ll find yarn balls to collect, enemies to defeat, and even loose threads to pull to reveal secret areas or alternative routes.
Yoshi’s Woolly World is set to be released sometime in 2015.

Mario Party 10 logo

Preview: Hands-On – Just new mini games

Thoughts: The game you play with your friends that ruins friendships is back! Mario Party 10 for Wii U is not only the first Mario Party game in the series to be in HD, but also introduces Bowser mini-games, where someone in your group can play as Bowser, using with Wii U gamepad, and face-off against four other players. In one example, the player controlling Bowser is able to shoot fireballs in set directions, where every other player attempts not to get hit.

Mario Party 10 is also set to be released sometime in 2015.

Hyrule Warriors LogoPreview: Hands-On

Thoughts: Pair up two beloved franchises, The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors and what do you get? Nintendo’ and Tecmo’s latest offering, Hyrule Warriors.With an all-star cast from The Legend of Zelda series, featuring Link, Zelda and Midna, as well as other characters to be revealed at a later date.Those familiar to the Dynasty Warrior series will feel right at home playing this game, as the game style is very similar.

In Hyrule Warriors, and can protect and reclaim landmarks seen in previous Legend of Zelda games, defeat classic enemies as well as some new ones, collect rupees and other items from chests (in classic Legend of Zelda fashion) and even team up with a friend, with local co-op mode.

The game looks, feels and plays great. and will be available September 26, 2014.

Splatoon Logo

PreviewHands-On

Thoughts: A bit of a wildcard of all the Nintendo announcements, rather than relying on an existing franchise, Splatoon is Nintendo’s third-person shooter. You join in on a four-on-four watch, which involves you to not only to defeat your enemy, but to claim as much ground in your own team colours as possible.When I first saw this, I admittedly didn’t think much of it, and thought it was a strange release for Nintendo. However, playing it on the showroom floor, I had epiphany, I really enjoyed it.In a world full of violet shooters, like the Call of Duty and Battlefield series, Splatoon is a breath of fresh air into the genre.Your character basically has two modes, your standard shooter mode, and squid mode, which allows you to move a lot faster (in your own paint colours), hide from enemies and refill your ink tanks.Splatoon is set for release in the first half of 2015.

Mario Maker LogoPreview: Hands-On

Thoughts: Despite being such a simple title, I was really looking forward to Mario Maker when I first heard about it. In the E3 version, it had it’s limitations, as it still seems as if it’s in it’s early stages, but still has a lot of potential. Whether you want to make a infinite 1-Up machine, recreate well known Mario levels, or you’re just a glutton for punishment and want to make ridiculously difficult levels. You can even view them in either classic NES Mario Bros. style, or in the style of New Super Mario Bros. U.Mario Maker (working title) is set for release in the first half of 2015.

Captain Toad LogoPreview: Hands-On

Thoughts: Originally a mini-game in Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad gets a full fledged game on the Wii U. In Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, you lead Captain Toad on his own adventure through a variety of maze-like stages to find all the hidden treasures and gold stars. Vastly different to your typical Mario game, Captain Toad doesn’t really have any abilities, he’s slow, he can’t jump and he has no powers, so you have to use use the Wii U Gamepad which gives you a closer perspective of the the dangers and hidden items. Although Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was originally a mini-game in Super Mario 3D World, it will be interesting to see how this plays out as it’s own featured game. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will be available in the later half of 2014.

Bayonetta 2 HeaderPreview: Hands-On

Thoughts: The Witch is back. Bayonetta 2, being developed PlatinumGames Inc, published by Nintendo, and with Sega acting as an advisor, due to being owners of the franchise.Although on a Nintendo console, Bayonetta 2 certainly hasn’t been toned down to cater for a younger audience. Bayonetta 2, much like it’s prequel, still features the same style of gameplay, over-the-top weapons and Bayonetta’s climax techniques.Featuring a new two-player online co-op mode called ‘Tag Climax’, as well as online quick matches, where you can wager ‘halos’, the in game currency and prove yourself against your online partner. Bayonetta 2 is set to be released in October 2014, and as mentioned before, is a Wii U exclusive.

Also bundled with Bayonetta 2 is the original Bayonetta, which was never released on a Nintendo console. As an added bonus, Bayonetta will have additional Nintendo themed costumes based on Link, Samus and even Princess Peach.

What wasn’t on show?

Both The Legend of Zelda (Wii U) and Star Fox (Wii U) were only shown via Nintendo Direct, and only offered a small glimpse of what may be the final product.

Both games have no set release date, but may be released sometime in 2015.

©2013 Yvan Zivkovic

E3 2014: World of Tanks: Blitz Preview


Tanks on the go!

At this year’s E3 the Wargaming team showed off their new mobile title, World of Tanks Blitz. The game is going to be released globally on iOS on June 26th, with an android version coming in the future, and will allow players to compete and battle tanks just like in the core World of Tanks game, but on their tablet or smart phone.

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The version of the game I got to try out was the current version from the soft launch in Nordic countries, played with a fast connection speed in the United States. Upon opening the app I could choose my tank from the garage and upgrade it’s components with permanent and single use items (via the in-game store), much like in the PC version of the title. It all felt very familiar, and the intuitive and simple touch controls work great to both manipulate the camera and to customise your tank.

Battles play out against real opponents in teams of seven vs seven, I played against real people participating in the Nordic soft launch version. World of Tanks players will be well at home here, this app shares a lot of similarities with its PC counterpart once again, the main difference being that maps are much smaller in size for faster paced on the go gameplay. An especially neat feature of the app is the ability to customise the controls in the user interface, with each of the virtual buttons and analogue sticks able to be scaled or moved to allow a comfy and personalised layout for every player. The touch controls lend themselves well to the title, allowing both new and experienced players to jump in and do battle.

In terms of loading and lag, I had no issues with either. Even from a connection in the United States to Nordic servers it was easy and fast to find a match, and in-game assets loaded up in no time. As the game releases worldwide we should see plenty more players jumping on to the servers, but thus far both the game and servers seem to perform well on mobile devices. Wargaming has said that the app will even be playable on older devices such as the iPhone 4 and iPad 2, which is great for gamers that haven’t grabbed the latest iOS device.

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The game will launch with three playable nations at first, Russia, the United States of America and Germany, with more to be added in the future. You’ll be able to use your existing Wargaming.net account for this title, and it will even incorporate friends and platoons as well as Facebook integration for invitations and sharing.

World of Tanks Blitz is free to download and play from the App Store now. You can find more information on the official site.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Beta Discussion


Our take on Bethesda’s ambitious MMO

Just like many gamers out there, we here at OXCGN can’t get enough of the Elder Scrolls series. We jumped at the chance to be able to take part in the latest beta test held this past weekend like thousands of you out there. But instead of providing readers with a stock standard preview or impressions piece, both myself and Jayden have combined our powers to present a discussion relating to our experience with the latest from The Elder Scrolls Online.

Daniel: It’s safe to say that the Elder Scrolls games have been a popular series over the years, even more so with the release of Skyrim in 2011. It seemed like gamers from all walks of life found enjoyment in Bethesda’s highly-detailed worlds. It’s no surprise then that once The Elder Scrolls Online was announced, fans old and new couldn’t wait to travel across Tamriel with their friends. Being an MMO, I think most people were a bit hesitant to see how Bethesda would transform a historically singleplayer experience into a multiplayer one. There’s no argument that the worlds created by Bethesda afford it, but I was a bit sceptical, expecting the game to lose some of it’s shine to accommodate an MMO experience. I’m happy to say that I was proven wrong here. It still feels like a lore-rich Elder Scrolls game, but with an added addition of being able to interact with people across the world.

Jayden: Indeed, at it’s core the game looks, feels and plays like an Elder Scrolls title. From the snowy mountains of Skyrim to the outlandish deserts of Hammerfell the world is populated with the beasts, structures, landscapes and people that make the Elder Scrolls lore so unique. Even in the very beginning, situated in Molag Bal’s Daedric Realm, other players pour through the dank dungeons alongside you, a constant stream of escapees to aid you in the fight against the hordes of daedra. It felt good to be surrounded by other players once you arrive in your chosen faction’s home province. It adds real life and a sense of business to the world, seeing such a diverse range of characters all hunting, questing and forging in the world around you. There’s a great spontaneity to be found when you see a group of enemies and without a word you and a few newfound companions are able to take them down utilising the various classes and abilities to dominate the field.

Daniel: That’s what the Elder Scrolls still retains. At the heart of the series, is creating a character to representing you in this great big world. You’re still able to customise a character to suit your tastes, and while it is nowhere near as deep as the previous Elder Scrolls titles, there is still a lot of sliders to play around with, which no doubt will have players spending the first hour or so perfecting their chosen character (I should know, as this happened to me).

Jayden: One of my favourite things about the Elder Scrolls stems from this idea of having your own, unique character. As a part of the in-game crafting system for weapons, robes and armor there is an option called “Style”. By finding lore books around the world you are able to craft items in the style of a race or culture found in Tamriel instead of the usual early game ‘steel’ or ‘leather’ armors, giving you a little extra personality and choice right from the word go. There are no restrictions in relation to styles going together. If you like the look of the Dunmer Cuirass you can craft that, then add Daedric greaves, Imperial pauldrons and dual wield some curved Redguard scimitars. Each of these pieces can then be improved and built upon so what once may have been early game armor can now become something that holds back the toughest of endgame enemies. It’s all about making your character as you want, then taking them out and exploring the world how you see fit.

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Daniel: And you’re given pretty much free reign to do things as you please. While as you said, everyone has to go through the obligatory ‘tutorial’ in the from of the prison in Oblivion, you’re then let loose into the world of Tamriel, depending on the race of your character. My Nord, The Hammer of Talos, belongs to the Ebonheart Pact, and begins his quest just off the coast of Skyrim. As you start to find your feet, you soon start to see players from across the world trudging across the land. After doing a few obligatory quests to open up the game’s backstory, I found my way to Morrowind. It is here the game really started to open up in my opinion. Not only are there more diverse quests, where you can pick and choose to undertake at your discretion, but your given information on your faction’s enemies, which filled with other players across the world, form the base for future PvP encounters. Just wandering around the town of Davon’s Watch, many people were doing things there own way. Some were questing, others were enchanting items, crafting armour and weapons, while others were experimenting with alchemy. It makes the world feel so much more immersive, how every Elder Scrolls world should be.

Jayden: Much like your Nord, my Breton Templar, a member of the Daggerfall Covenant, wound up in the city of Stros M’kai, a tropical oasis. After a similar amount of introductory questing I found myself on the Orcish isle Betnikh, where the game really does allow you to start your own journey. I played through the introductory story for both members of the Daggerfall Covenant and Aldmeri Dominion. Despite the basic introductory story similarities, it was quite a fun introduction to the faction you were about to become a part of. The characters you meet here are the ones that really shape the traditional Elder Scrolls world, managing to keep the story in the forefront of your character’s exploration and development without hindering the more open ended nature of the title.

Daniel: That’s another thing that surprised me. I was fortunate to play the game at E3 last year, and while I thought the characters we well voice-acted, they didn’t seem too fleshed out. Over the following months Bethesda have had developing ESO, I’m pleased to say that the characters have a bit more life now. While you can recognise some repeated voice actors, each character feels different, each going on with their daily routine. You can extend that to the world itself. From what I’ve seen, the world is quite beautiful and detailed. While ESO was never going to have as polished graphics as Skyrim (which some people absurdly thought), it’s definite adequate enough to make you remember journeying through the previous Elder Scroll lands of Skyrim and Morrowind.

Jayden: Too add to that, unlike in Skyrim, the combat has been dialled back a little from previous instalments. It was a little jittery and inaccurate in parts, but I assume that the overall control accuracy and movement will be polished a lot more in the final build. Using magic and abilities generally provided the most accurate and useful damage dealing, with area of effect attacks and guided attacks reliably hitting home. Dual wielding and melee works pretty well too, but blocking is generally not overly useful. Archery is the real hit and miss in the combat, with sneak attacks and proper aim rewarding the player with one hit kills. In open combat, however, it’s a little less reliable thanks to the beta being a little inaccurate with hit detection. Overall the combat and abilities, whilst being a little simplified for an MMO format, are still quite effective and fun, and will only get better in the final build.

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Daniel: I have to agree. I am playing as a Dragonknight, the Warrior class, and for the majority of the time it feels like all I have to do is keep swinging my sword until the enemy is dead. I never got anywhere close to being in any danger. There really was no incentive to use my unlocked abilities from levelling up, as my primary weapon was working too well. Overall though, I’ve been impressed with ESO. Although I feel like it would have been far better to showcase the PvP elements a little bit more. Hopefully in future Beta tests we’re able to dive right into that. If you had to pick one feature as a favourite so far in ESO, what would it be? For me it has to be the emotes. Silly little interactions that enables you to perform all sorts of actions in the world. I spent a good hour in the middle of Bal Foyen with my shirt off, doing jumping jacks and push ups. Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before I was joined by 20 other people.

Jayden: That’s what makes Elder Scrolls Online so great, the other players that populate the world. My favourite thing was the openness and diverseness of the world. You can keep walking and walking, past the story mission objectives, and you’ll keep finding side missions, players and exciting new sights and enemies. There’s just so much to see and do, and when you think you’ve found the end, there’s a whole new continent to continue into.

Daniel: That’s what will bring ESO to life, the ability to explore Tamriel. I think linking back to the previous games through stories and tales will make it feel like a huge, living breathing world. But it’s not without any faults. There were a few bugs to do with the UI, I’d be stuck in the Dialogue Menu with NPCs on a few occasions, which was only fixable by reloading the UI. While not game-breaking, it was still an annoyance. I was fortunate to not encounter anything harsher than that. I guess my least favourite feature is the sheer amount of people complaining in the side chat, but over time those people who simply jump online to flame the game will leave us Elder Scrolls fans to enjoy Tamriel ourselves.

Jayden: Once the game has been in the hands of the community for a little longer the developers should have enough feedback to fix the minor issues and bugs that have popped up in the beta. I too got stuck in a few menus and conversations, but found no other major issues. The Elder Scrolls Online’s Beta has only cemented my faith in the series. To have a chance to relive my experiences with the previous titles and revisit iconic locations all over Tamriel with a new character and new companions is very exciting. I cannot wait to get my hands on the final build of this game and just get lost in this diverse fantasy universe once more.

Daniel: It’s plain to see we think Bethesda are on the right path with ESO. While I have enjoyed my time so far with the Beta, I’m yet to be 100% committed. Certainly Bethesda have crafted a fantastic and deep world, and will continue to do so with continued testing and feedback, but I’m still waiting to hear the final word on their subscription model. I need justification on spending money for the game, plus a monthly fee. While interactions with other players have been fun, it’s more a question of asking myself whether I want to pay a monthly fee to experience the whole of Tamriel.

Jayden: It will be very interesting to see how the subscription will work on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One and how the accounts connect with the PC version. I’m pretty excited to see how the game progresses and develops up to release and how Bethesda will continue the Elder Scrolls Online universe in the future!

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Be sure to check out ESO’s official page to check out the latest on any future beta tests. The Elder Scrolls Online will be available on the 4/4/2014 on PC, with console releases to follow shortly after.

©2014 Daniel Geikowski

Red Cross Australia Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Preview


Become Dracula in Castlevania’s most impressive outing to date

Last week the Australian Red Cross, in collaboration with Mindscape, gave the media and general public an early taste of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This event aimed to educate gamers on the importance of donating blood whilst previewing the latest vampiric offerings from Mindscape.

This event was a great success, with pledges and blood donation happening during the evening. Awareness of important issues like blood donation in the specific demographic games like Castlevania aim for can always be improved, and this type of event was a really clever way to reach out. I have to thank both Mindscape and the Red Cross for allowing us to come and test out the game, and to commend them on the excellent event held. I really hope we start to see more events like this, focussing not just on amazing new games, but also on important topics within our society. You can read more about blood donation, and even donate on the Blood Service website.

Even Vampire donate blood
Even vampires donate blood

Now, onto Castlevania. During the event the first three hours were playable, taking us through the tutorial, prologue and then giving us a look at the modern-day missions and open world. In a great move for newcomers, the game introduces the core story for the series over the course of a long cutscene to bring players up to speed with the series, and as a person who hasn’t played a lot of the Castlevania games before this, I felt quite comfortable following the plot.

We first meet Dracula as the game opens in his throne room, sitting atop his throne with a chalice of blood. Before long he’s interrupted, the door shakes as it’s hit by an ornate battering ram over and over. The doors shatter and enemies start to pour in; Dracula’s castle is under siege, and our tutorial begins.

The combat is fairly simple but quite well put together. Using a series of light and heavy attacks, plus blocking and dodging, you can reliably knock down enemies health and sometimes even stun them to perform a gruesome finishing move. You soon become quite good at predicting the moves of the basic enemies, but the bigger enemies and bosses mix up the pattern quite nicely. You also gain two different special weapons for use in combat, the Void Sword, which allows you to absorb health from enemies upon hitting them and the Chaos Claws, which can be used to break through enemy defences and shields. These weapons add a nice sophistication to the combat, making you think about how and when to use your weapons.

The more you use your weapons and powers, the more they can be upgraded through ‘masteries’. You can also unlock more abilities and attacks by collecting experience orbs, broadening moves and attacks from the initially somewhat basic combat roster.

Just as you slide into the comfort of fighting basic enemies the game shows you its impressive set pieces, giving us a stunning view over Dracula’s castle under siege. For a moment you can take in the impressive gothic fantasy world that has been created here, before being attacked by a walking siege castle and a shining gold paladin, whose only aim is to kill Dracula.

The golden Paladin, a fierce early game enemy!
The golden Paladin, a fierce early game enemy!

The game has a great balance to it with its enemies and bosses. It’s not too hard, but hard enough to be a challenge. Enemies and bosses will kill you, but this is no Dark Souls; you won’t find yourself throwing a controller across the room because of them. Slight hints and tells balance out the un-blockable heavy hits, and used wisely, the Void Sword keeps you pretty well stocked on health.

Upon completion of the Prologue you are introduced to the modern-day world through a series of (overly long) cutscenes. Whilst the dialogue can get a little overdramatic, the story is intriguing and the voice acting is quite strong, lead by actors like Patrick Stewart and Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame). Regardless of length the lore cutscenes have a great visual style to them, playing out like the pages of a dark fantasy novel across the screen.

Even the in-game or cinematic cutscene have quite a dark feel to them. In one instance, after Dracula’s re-emergence to the modern-day, you are given a real weakness as a shrivelled and old vampire. Directly following this, the game hits the hardest that I saw in its first three hours. In a dark and quite disturbing way you’re forced to murder a family in order to feed to regain your youth and strength, which whilst fitting in with the tone of the game, I found overly brutal. It reminds the player that even though Dracula is the protagonist, he is in no way a ‘good’ guy.

Outside of combat you get an open world to explore in the modern-day, filled with mission based ‘dungeons’ of sorts. I was able to complete the first mission, to in

Gothic architecture and climbing make for some great scenes
Gothic architecture and climbing make for some great scenes

filtrate a science and technology company believed to be a front for the allies of Satan, paving the way for his return. You can smash all sorts of items that litter the area for experience and art unlocks, as well as keeping your eyes open for crystals to increase your health and magic. Lords of Shadow 2 has a very Darksiders feel to it outside of combat. You’ll climb and jump your way through levels whilst gaining powers (such as a crystal that lets you freeze and climb waterfalls), all the while solving basic puzzles to progress.

In the first three hours the game had no really hard puzzles, but almost all of them required a little thought at least. Adding to the puzzles is the drift between the present day and Dracula’s time. You’ll enter a stark modern passageway, or industrial service hatch and come out into a grand ballroom line with chandeliers and torches. It has a beautiful visual style that keeps things pretty exiting all the way through.

Castlevania also employs some stealth gameplay that works well in sections. You can possess rats and hide in the shadows to avoid enemies and traverse passageways unnoticed. Whilst these sections were fun, the game really shines in it’s cool combat and diverse enemy roster.

All in all I very much enjoyed my time with Lords of Shadow 2. With pretty fresh gameplay and an intriguing story it has all the hallmarks to be an exciting entry into the series, and I’m eagerly awaiting it’s release, February 27th, to play more of this game. Once again, a huge thanks to the guys at Mindscape and the Australian Red Cross for hosting the event and giving us a hands on preview of the title!