OXCGN’s Saint’s Row IV: Gat Out of Hell Review


(Editor Note: Daniel Geikowski, wrote this review for us with a promotional copy provided by Deep Silver) Saints Row is a franchise that identifies itself with the term “ridiculous.” The first was a GTA knock-off. The second embraced a little more silliness. Volition found their niche with The Third. Finally, IV took the game to superhero-proportions by giving the player super powers. To put it simply, this is not a serious series, and it’s one of the funniest games out there.

Volition and Deep Silver have ported Saints Row IV and its new expansion Gat Out of Hell to next-gen consoles, and quite honestly, I’m not entirely sure it warrants your purchase.

For a full review of IV, please check out our original review. This review will award a score for each ported title individually, and the package as a whole. The version being reviewed is the Xbox One.

Saint’s Row IV

Saints Row IV casts the player in a role signifying the ultimate ascendance of the Saints: the President of the United States. The game starts out comical enough, but the proverbial things hit the fan when aliens invade and cause massive destruction. The President gets thrown into a simulation of Earth where he attains superpowers, and must ultimately defeat the alien menace to avenge Earth and humanity.

In this Re-Elected edition of the game, the base game includes all previously released DLC (missions, weapons, items, etc.). For its price tag, it provides value, and still holds up as a genuinely fun game. While the game does not contain very many technical issues like Gat Out of Hell, it still does not run at a constant framerate and ultimately comes off as unimpressive for a game on current generation consoles.

If you have never played the game before and have interest in the franchise, whether as a returning fan or a new one, I would ultimately say that it provides value for its entry fee. However, as of the time of review, the framerate issues are not justifiable (especially for a game that runs better on PCs with worse specs than the consoles) – especially when you can get the game cheaper on Steam.

7.5/10

Gat out of Hell

Ever since the original, Johnny Gat has been a series staple and a personal favorite of mine. Rude, sarcastic, and always witty, Johnny brings comic relief to a game that is arguably entirely based on comic relief – and that’s a feat.

Gat Out of Hell sees the player from IV, the President of the United States, sucked into hell via Ouija board. As it would turn out, Satan himself was impressed with the destruction and chaos caused by the President in his term, and wishes to wed the President to his daughter Jezebel. Johnny Gat, of course, takes it upon himself to follow the President into hell to – wait for it – assassinate the dark lord and free his friend.

The expansion revolves around causing enough chaos in hell to attract Satan’s attention, and you have many tools at your disposal to accomplish this goal. The usual activities return with hell-themed renditions; for example, the activity focusing on insurance fraud has you playing as one of the grim denizens of hell, and you must throw yourself in front of cars to rack up not dollars, but years off of your “sentence” in hell.  You also have missions to accomplish, which largely center around recruiting various people throughout real and franchise history to join your team, such as William Shakespeare, Blackbeard, and The Twins (latter being from the franchise) to piss off Satan.

Satan

You also have powers like in Saints Row IV, but these are more focused on a hell-like vision. Johnny Gat has wings and can fly, and his powers are generally focused on summoning demonic imps, doing super stomps, and things of the like. Unfortunately, while it sounds great on paper, the execution was not so entertaining. Navigating with the wings is very clunky, and God help you (pun) if you need to jump a small distance – it’s no easy task. You also cannot sprint. The game wants you to fly around and explore, but all of the activities and mission starts are generally on the ground… defeating the purpose. I hated running around on the ground. Also, at one point you get a chair with a machine gun on it and you roam around like something out of Garry’s Mod.

This brings me to my biggest criticism of Gat out of Hell: it just feels like an idea that sounded awesome on paper, but simply didn’t follow through in execution. When I first booted up the game, I was seriously confused because, as one would expect from an interpretation of hell, I expected everything to start attacking me. Nope. The strange skeleton-like denizens of hell just mind their own business. The only people posing any threat to the player are Satan’s demons, which are like the police in the game.

Johnny as a character felt off. It reminded me of Gears of War: Judgment, in that the character was more of a distant representation of someone you thought you knew from previous games that you would come to understand better, but whose performance and delivery ultimately fizzle.

Johnny Gat

The game itself was just not visually appealing. While I understand that hell can only have so much visual variety with this vein of interpretation, the game itself just looks bland. Buildings are all the same shade of greys and browns, every “citizen” of hell looks the same, and at the end of it all, it just feels not funny or scary – it feels weird, and not in a good or entertaining way.

On top of this criticism, the game is a genuinely bad port. The game jumps from around 20 to 60 FPS constantly. Even with enabling the optional v-sync in the options menu, I can’t see any visual change – and I’ve played the PC version back in 2013. The game lacks anti-aliasing and looks very dated. Saints Row IV on PC was a very optimized game; my current PC, which is probably around the power of the current gen consoles (maybe a little less), runs the game better than this.

In effect, you really aren’t getting your money’s worth in this situation. The expansion will only run you a few hours, and I could only recommend it to a die-hard fan of the series that wants to see the story continued. Maybe these issues will be alleviated with a day-one patch, but that’s what we said with Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. At this point in time, it’s a very poor rendition of the title that would only benefit someone who has never played the game before and does not own a capable gaming PC.

5/10

SUMMARY

At the end of the day, there is a pretty solid amount of content awaiting players who pick up the physical package. When grouping both together as a package, you get more value than purchasing either game individually – but take them on their own, and there’s not really much to recommend, especially with the technical issues. Maybe these issues were specific to the Xbox One, but there is no excuse for this.

Combined score (Physical package)

6.5/10

Review conducted with version supplied by the Deep Silver.

OXCGN’s Pokemon: Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Review


Originally released on the Gameboy Advance, Pokemon: Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald were released to a lukewarm reception when compared to their direct predecessors, Silver, Gold and Crystal. While I was a big Pokemon fan for the first two generations, I skipped Gen 3: I had grown attached to my Squirtle and Umbreon, and the prospect of a brand new generation of Pokemon didn’t interest me at the time. It didn’t help when I went to my cousin’s house that Christmas and saw him playing Emerald with a Pokemon I’d never even seen before.

“Which one is that?” I asked, innocently.

“That’s Rayquazza, how don’t you know him?” He replied, and I felt that I had become completely out of touch with a franchise I once adored. That feeling permeated the way I think about Pokemon now – the series is way too big for me to ever become a die-hard fan again, with more than 700 different creatures to catch, myself only being versed in about 200 of them. It is made significantly easier today, with more robust online functionality making trading much easier than it was in the past, but I find it difficult to become excited when a new game is announced.

However, having played Pokemon: Omega Ruby, I can say that the series is not too far gone for someone to get into it. If anything, it’s easier to get into than ever. With the ability to trade Pokemon across the globe, one can – with a bit of work – catch everything they want to. This could mean making up a team full of your Gen I favourites, or making up an all dragon team from the beginning of the game. I opted to mainly play with Gen III Pokemon, as I had never seen many of them before, and found it to be a very interesting roster – yet no where near as exciting as my favourite titles in the series, Silver and Gold.

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From here…

So, what’s new in these Remakes?

The biggest difference between these remakes and the originals is undoubtably the new engine, first seen in X and Y, allowing for full 3d gameplay, battles and story sequences. The Pokemon art style lends itself very well to the 3rd dimension, with the game basically looking like you are playing the anime, only without type inconsistencies that allow Pikachu to beat everything. While this does look great it can cause some frame rate issues, specifically in battle, where some dynamic camera movements cause the entire game to slow down – even more so if the 3d slider is turned on.

There is almost no reason to keep the 3D on in this game, as it’s effect is only implemented during select parts of the game, meaning that you are constantly jumping between 2D and 3D. I found it much more consistent, both for my eyes and for the game’s performance, to keep the slider off – which is a shame after having played Ocarina of Time 3D almost entirely in 3D recently.

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…to here

While we are on the topic of the game’s presentation, I find it strange that after X and Y allowed (limited) character customisation, but that this feature is wholly absent in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. You can choose between a male or female character, but truthfully, not everyone wants to play as a white kid. Many people loved the fact that they could finally pick their characters race, and the step away from this seems like an unnecessary oversight in an effort to retain consistency with the original games. Couldn’t we simply have had the option of the outfit worn by the hero of Gen III if we wanted to wear it, and if not, be able to customise our characters as we see fit?

As far as story goes, not much has changed between Gen III and now (or Gen I and now, to be honest): You are a young child who is leaving on their very first adventure, is trusted with one of the rarest Pokemon in the land, and somehow manages to defeat the best trainers and criminals roaming the space between the various towns you must travel to in your quest to become acknowledged as the greatest.

Or to catch them all.
Or to win all the contests.
Or to breed the perfect Pokemon.

The way the story is told, however, has changed vastly, with scripted sequences popping up every few hours – dropping the camera down to allow you to see the characters you are talking too. No longer are these games about sprites staring unblinkingly at other sprites – these characters are fully animated, each with their own role to play in a surprisingly grand narrative that takes you from one side of Hoenn to the other, and back, several times. I was really surprised that they managed to get some personality into each of the gym leaders, since before (in my experience) they were mostly stoic trainers who refused to acknowledge that rock is weak to water, yet in this title they each have their own quirks, and some even factor into the plot, becoming recurring characters as the narrative rolls on.

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1 v 5 battles are often against very weak Pokemon, and offer no real challenge

There is also a lot of added content during the ‘end-game’ portion of the game, i.e. once you’ve become the champ. Suddenly, a brand new plot line begins and you are thrust into a pretty interesting, if not out there, story that functions as a victory lap around Hoenn – made much easier with your ability to fly at this point in the game. There are some great battles during this story, and potentially the hardest legendary to catch in any Pokemon game I’ve played. Suffice to say, it fainted, and I succumbed to the fact that I will never own it.

The music is pretty much what you would expect. Remixed battle themes, specific music for each gym leader (as well as custom arenas, which are awesome to battle in), and hideout music are all great. There were a few tracks that actually made me think, ‘that’s really cool’, and one in particular totally caught me off guard with how perfectly placed it was in the narrative. Sound can go a long way in creating atmosphere, and truth be told, this battle has stuck with me more so than any other.

Mechanic-wise, not much has changed. You still encounter random battles, which are turn based, and fight against Pokemon of differing types with their own weaknesses and strengths. You still tackle 8 gym leaders before heading to the Pokemon League, where you face the Elite 4 and a champion. Mega-Evolutions have added a bit of variety to this system, as you can now have a super-powerful, or differently typed, version of a Pokemon you have raised, but I found that – during the main plot, anyway – once I was able to mega-evolve my starter it pretty much cleaned everything up in one or two hits.
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You eventually get the ability soar around the world, though late enough in the journey that it feels irrelevant

This brings up the problem that these games are painfully easy (even more so when using the new Exp Share, which shares Exp throughout your entire party, and is earned early in the quest). There were very brief glimpses of greatness within the game, all within certain gyms that required you to solve a puzzle before you could proceed. My favourite of these was definitely the Petalburg gym, which tasks you with fighting several trainers with normal type Pokemon (i.e. no type weakness or advantage) that is buffed to behave in a certain way. Some are made to One Hit KO most other Pokemon, while my favourite was able to constantly keep its HP at near maximum – making defeating it more of a puzzle. This actually made me think, and I realised one of my Pokemon had a move that became stronger if used in succession. After 4 or 5 attacks, and my opponent’s subsequent healing, the attack was too strong and he couldn’t heal fast enough. It was one of the only battles I felt I truly earned the victory, most other boiling down to me having a better type.

More intelligent team composition and move lists for trainers could go a long way to make these games more interesting to returning players. I don’t think it’s too much work to create a ‘hard-mode’ that rebalances the enemy trainers – not by Pokemon level, but what they have in their party and how it behaves. For example, theres no reason a rock type trainer can’t have secondary types that make crushing his team harder. Most people will go at him with a water type, which would make a grass/rock type terrifying, and make the battle more interesting.

Pokemon Contests, the latest craze in Hoenn, make a return in ORAS, but are they worth it? I suppose, if you are a completionist, having something else to do other than the same things you have done in every other Pokemon would be a good thing. For me, however, I found little reason to go back after having beaten my first contest, on my first attempt. You do receive a ‘Cosplay Pikachu’ pretty early in the game which is able to wear some outfits that appear during contests and battles, though since the mechanic is tied directly to only that specific Pokemon, I didn’t use it past checking it out.

Online seems to work nearly exactly as it did in X and Y, with the ability to trade Pokemon, or battle others, over WIFI. I have to admit, I think Wonder Trade is the best new addition to Pokemon – maybe in the series history. Putting up a useless Pokemon, and passing it over to another trainer to receive a random Pokemon in return is awesome, and very quickly landed me a well bred Dratini way earlier in my game than I could have found it otherwise, which became a staple in my team. This mitigates the regions overabundance of water types, allowing you to potentially get some really interesting team members by getting rid of a bunch of Tentacool or Zigzagoon.

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FEAR ME!

Pros:

+ Online functionality can completely change your team composition

+ Story is well told

+ Graphics are a perfect fit for the series

+ Plenty to do, both during the main game, and after

Cons:

– Way too easy

– No more character customisation

– Despite two post-release patches, game still has some technical glitches

TL;DR

Overall, Omega Ruby (and, by extension, Alpha Sapphire) really impressed me. If anything, my time away from the series was a good thing, as coming back to a well crafted, interesting tale of Primal Pokemon and Mega Evolution both helped me understand the new mechanics, and fall back into the same mindset I used to play Pokemon with. There is a lot of content in these games, probably more than I will ever see, yet I find myself wondering if I should continue catching Pokemon I haven’t yet caught, take on the Battle Frontier (an area unlocked after the credits that pits you against strong trainers), or starting again and trying out a new starter/team.

Truthfully, I don’t know what I’ll do, or even if i’ll still be playing the game in a weeks time. But, these games have reignited a flame in me that hasn’t been alive for some time, making me wonder… Will I ever catch them all?

Probably not, but at least I don’t need a link cable anymore.

8/10

Note: This review was done using a copy of Pokemon: Omega Ruby supplied to us by Nintendo Australia.

OXCGN’s Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star Review


Ar Nosurge was a new experience for me. It would be a lie to say it wasn’t a unique and interesting title, yet more often than I would like, it was difficult to connect with. Ar Nosurge continues the story of ‘Ciel Nosurge,’ a PSVita exclusive; also unfortunately exclusive to Japan. Ciel Nosurge introduces a lot of the lore and back story of the planet Ra Ciel, setting of Ar Nosurge, and throughout the game, this disconnect from the context of what I am actually doing proved a significant turn off. This game, however, brings something new to the JRPG playing field with an interesting combat system and unprecedented depth in character development. With tons of anime tropes and shout outs, this game would make any JRPG enthusiast squeal (though the excessive skin shown on barely 12 year old girls just does not go well with me, but that is another story.)

 As I mentioned, Ar Nosurge is the sequel to a game not available outside of Japan. I did not know this going into it, and well into the game while still suffering from what-the-hell-is-going-on syndrome, discovered this unwelcome fact. After reading up on Ciel Nosurge, things made a little more sense but I still felt completely disconnected to the story. This left me with a pretty shallow view of what was going on, and little motivation to find out more. Ra Ciel is a planet in turmoil, divided across the Humans, and the alien Sharl, who use Songs and Music as a magical source, an ability contracted by some humans. Constant conflict between the races is being ignited further by an aggressive cult of Humans that worship the Sharl. Beyond this, the story is a little vague:

Why does this cult want to destroy Humanity? Reasons.

Why are my characters the ones who must save the world? Because.

What am I even doing here? Things.

ar-nosurge

Where Ar Nosurge redeems itself in storytelling lies within the characters. The depth and extent to which the characters are explored is something quite unique about the series. Going into your character’s minds, literally, through Genometrics allows a unique insight into the thoughts and overall psyche of each character. Their relationships (though cheesy and occasionally overbearing) are engaging and interacting with your characters on this almost metaphysical level is an uncanny but welcome bonding experience.

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Gameplay in Ar Nosurge is as complex as the deeply explored minds of its characters. With 5 major, lore-driven gameplay mechanics, it is as easy to become as lost in a menu as it is in the story, and not the good kind of lost. Starting with exploration, it plays as any other RPG would: wander around different maps collecting items, talking to characters, and interacting with your companions. However, in Ar Nosurge, one should take the word “exploration” with a grain of salt, as the maps and paths through the scenes of the story felt very linear and guided. Sure, you could travel to any map at any time, but each section was effectively a corridor with some rooms sticking off the side that led nowhere in particular. As a more traditional RPG fan: Elder Scrolls, Sacred, Divinity, etc., I am unsure if this is typical for a JRPG, but dropping the ‘J’ it was a little underwhelming.

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Ar Nosurge’s combat system is certainly a unique take on traditional turn-based fighting. It is completely normal to annihilate 7 waves of enemies in one turn. Yeah. Combat works based on a set of four moves, mapped to the controller’s face buttons, and each carries a different action point value. However, if you combo moves in the right order, you can completely regenerate your action points and start all over again in the same turn. In the tougher battles, it takes some fairly decent strategizing to plan out when to attack and when to end your turn with a guard. It does not really go beyond “fairly decent” strategy, but it takes a long time for wiping out entire waves in one move to become less than satisfying. Battle encounters come with an obnoxious warning system while exploring; it is not the right game to require a warning for its battles. Starting off with full health and action points leaves little consequence for encountering a battle “at the wrong moment.” There is not really a wrong moment.

Ar-nosurge-Review-22.09.-01jpgAside from wiping out the entire encounter by yourself on combos, your travelling companion comes with her Song Magic, which you can charge over the course of an encounter and then unleash at any time. The longer you charge the more damage your song magic does, and there weren’t many instances where this did not finish the encounter. In short, it is an overpowered finisher. Even in boss battles, song magic and action point regeneration combos sapped any real challenge from combat. Regardless, the fast-paced total annihilation of mass amounts of enemies brings back the Dynasty Warriors satisfaction of mass destruction. It is a relatively welcome change from more archetypal JRPG turn-based combat.

The last three gameplay mechanics are where the anime really starts to show, at least for me. Plus, it is hard to deny the glowing anime beacon that is this:

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Above is ‘Synthesis’, a mode wherein you can use ingredients you have found, along with recipes you have unlocked, to create different items and poultices to improve song magic, weapons, and any number of stats. It would be a better system without the intrusive musical numbers performed by three characters, two of which just do not suit the scenario. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

Another ridiculous, if slightly less so, mechanic is ‘Purification,’ where your characters get in stereotypically revealing swimwear and bathe together, engaging in deep, personal conversation and getting to know each other more. Honestly, the innuendo is endless. As well as improving character relationships, you can install Genometrica Crystals you have collected to increase your characters’ powers. These two systems would be a little more bearable if they were not both accompanied by such unnecessary fanfare. It is humourous once; maybe twice.

Genometrics Nay

Finally is Genometrics, the interesting part. Genometrics is the process by which a person gifted with song magic, the story’s heroines, can bind their heart to another individual. This other person “Dives” into the heroine’s soulspace to help them unlock their powers by exploring and influencing the raw personality of them; leaning them towards introverted, extroverted, masochistic, or sadistic tendencies. Genometrics plays like a manga-graphic novel, in which you more or less follow a pre-written story through, but can stop and make some choose-your-own-adventure-esque decisions to influence their heart and unlock new songs and crystals. As well as gaining access to new magic and power-ups, you gain incredibly insight into the different characters and explore, literally, deep into their minds and souls. In an almost beautiful mechanic that explores characters in a way not seen in any other game.

Pros:

  • Combat is fast paced and satisfying.
  • Characters are extremely in-depth and well written.
  • Genometrics is a totally unique and welcome exploration of the characters.

Cons:

  • Combat is not very challenging due to song magic.
  • Story is lost of context due to region-exclusive prequel.
  • Story is vague and ultimately pointless.
  • Purification and Synthesis are plagued by unnecessary anime fanfare.

TL;DR

Ar Nosurge is an interesting step in a new direction for JRPGs. It has brought a new evolution to the genre that if adopted by other series’ or developers could bring out a JRPG renaissance. The story is lost to the region exclusive prequel and is ultimately pointless; the true story lies in the development and growth of each of the characters, and that is Ar Nosurge’s redeeming quality. Fast-paced and satisfying combat coupled with interesting skill and statistic development, though plagued with unnecessary additions and lack of challenge, still leave behind a unique, playable experience. If you are a JRPG enthusiast, you will love Ar Nosurge. If you are a character buff, who looks for personal development over the major story, you will also love it. If you are just an RPG fan looking for something a little different, you have right to be wary, and would be better off coercing your JRPG fan friend into buying it, and then borrowing it.

6/10

Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star was provided to OXCGN staff for reviewing purposes.

OXCGN’s Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Review


It’s easy for developers to take successful mechanics from other games and incorporate them into their own, and this is mostly what Shadow of Mordor is, combining the parkour free-running of Assassin’s Creed, mixed with Batman Arkham’s combat and adding an intricate hierarchical system in a Tolkein world that will consume you for days and days.

It really doesn’t feel like a Lord of the Rings game, rather it just takes the setting – orcs, Gollum and some lore – to create an average story to pull you through the game. Basically, you’re living on the Black Wall when orcs invade your home and gruesomely murder your family right before your eyes. You’re the last to be killed off, but your soul becomes trapped with an Elf and as one being you return to the world to diminish Sauron’s forces and break your curse. It was hard to become invested in the story, with an exception of a few flashbacks, when the cut scenes were so dry, dull and fairly short – not going into enough depth to grab your attention. Most of this is all excusable, though, because of the amazing gameplay mechanics that shine an innovative light onto video games.

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Combat works in two forms: stealth or slicing and dicing, where you can attack with your bow, sword or dagger. During stealth you perform all the usual sneaky assassinations present in Assassin’s Creed, including ledge kills, haystack deaths, air assassinations or the simple backstab. On the other hand whilst fighting with a sword you are encouraged to swing your weapon around the place, jumping over enemies and countering quite often. This countering system is very forgiving, working nearly every time. In the middle of your sword slashing, you can still perform a counter perfectly as long as you tap the corresponding button in time.

Along the way you’ll gain experience and unlock many moves and abilities giving you a variety of ways to take out your targets. I especially enjoyed ‘shadow strike’: where you aimed at your enemy and are transported right next to them to deliver a killing blow.

All of the combat feels swift and polished, leaving most mistakes your own fault, although sometimes the game can feel unfair. Stealth mechanics felt a bit clunky, similar to earlier Assassin’s Creed games, and a lot of the time when I would be attempting to jump across roofs, my character instead jumped straight down to the ground with a thump. Also, just navigating my character whilst climbing felt like a bit of a challenge at times, and more often that not didn’t go the way I intended.

The only element that is fresh, new, and quite incredible is the hierarchy system of Sauron’s forces. Whenever the protagonist kills an enemy in most games we’re rewarded with experience and a chance to become stronger. In Shadow of Mordor this system is still present – but the enemies can do the exact same thing. If they kill you they gain power, challenge others and move up the ranks with the goal to become a warchief. High stakes are now present in every single fight, and you’ll see yourself constantly trying different battle tactics just so some low level orc doesn’t get a lucky killer blow.

Uruk Nemesis System

Throughout the world you may come across many opportunities to gain intel on captains or war chiefs, and this is absolutly essential whilst hunting these opponents. With intel you can learn enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, giving you a complete advantage on the battle field. Some are completely immune to certain attacks, others terrified of things such as fire or wild beasts. Having this intel makes the game more exciting but, at times, it feels like some of these characters are overpowered. It wasn’t hard to find a war chief who was completely immune to every combat attack (even stealth hits) and instead find your only weapon would to be fire barrels that may or may not be present where your opponent lies.

There is one way to get around this though, which is an interesting concept as you progress in the game called ‘Branding’. This system allows you to take complete control of orcs and order them to do your bidding. The most satisfying part of the game for me was when I branded my own captain, raised his power to the limit through challenges and fights, and got him to take out a war chief that was impossible for me to even hit. Seeing my obedient orc trample that war chief to the ground gave me an amazing sense of accomplishment, and left me in utter awe that this is what games can do now and how our enemies can mature and change just like our character.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an incredible game, and the only thing I could nitpick on is that sometimes there are repetitive environments with no outstanding landmarks. Other than that, there is an immense amount of joy in this and you will easily be glued to the screen – strategically planning your attacks on every captain. Shadow of Mordor borrows from a lot of games but introducing a refreshing, intricate hierarchy system makes it stand out being one of the best games of 2014.

Pros:

+ Innovative and amazing hierarchy system

+ Intelligent enemies

+ Smooth combat

Cons:

– Simplistic and dull story

– Repetitive Environments

TL;DR

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an incredible game, borrowing from the likes of Assassin’s Creed and Batman Arkham, and combining it into a satisfying Tolkien world. It may have a simple narrative but with an intricate hierarchy system and an abundance of clever, unique enemies, Shadow of Mordor will keep you occupied for hours.

8.5/10

Review copy was not provided. This was a release copy as purchased by reviewer.

OXCGN’s Alien Director’s Cut Review


Revisiting the Classic

As Alien Isolation hits shelves, a lot of people will probably be revisiting the first movie in the franchise, Alien, to refresh or renew their grasp of the events before the game. We thought It’d be valuable to provide a bit of a recap and review of the original film, out now on digital stores like iTunes and Google Play, so as to tell you, frankly, why this film is so great in the first place, even thirty-five years after it’s theatrical release.

The narrative follows the crew of the Nostromo; a commercial ship on its way back to earth that makes a stop on a nearby planet to investigate a distress signal. What they discover there throws them into a nightmarish scenario; isolated in space being picked off one by one by a mysterious and terrifying creature. The beauty of the story is its overall simplicity that lets the atmosphere take over.

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The crew is made up of seven people, featuring the talents of Sigourney Weaver, Jon Hurt and Tom Skerritt among others. As they try to work out exactly what they’ve stumbled upon on this planet, and what they’ve indirectly allowed on their ship, we see the cast really come into their own. The central character’s role, that of Ripley, has come to be one of the best bets and iconic performances in sci-fi film, and set the trend for a lot of the female leads we see in more modern films.

The aspect of terror in the piece is the Xenomorph, or ‘Alien’. Even in it’s singular presence, this creature is such a powerful being, near invisible but huge, strong and beyond deadly. As it sneaks around the ship, killing the crew one by one, we are presented with a model for how scary unknown creatures could be. The camera shots used, and the close-ups of the alien in the dark are scenes that even up to today retain a surreal horror. This really is a film that doesn’t feel as old as it is (aside from all that 70’s tech!).

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The notable improvement in the Director’s Cut version of this film is the audio. Besides the few inconsequential scenes and the touched up video, the sound design has been given a new life, which is exactly what is needed to keep this film relevant against its more modern counterparts. From the little creaks and jitters of the ship, the subtle change in tones of the score, right down to Ripley’s heartbeat, all of these little details form a part of the iconic atmosphere this film has become known for.

When all of this comes together in one film, it’s nothing short of a triumph. It revolutionised sci-fi horror at the time, and even know continues to show it’s influence. The original 1979 Alien film is an example of near perfect sci-fi; it manages to create an atmosphere of terror to keep audiences on edge even with the outdated special effect thanks to it’s retouched audio, and its something that even new viewers will get a jump out of.

9/10

The release of Alien Isolation is the perfect chance to revisit this film, with the two working quite well together as complimentary pieces, continuing the tale of Ripley on to her daughter, Amanda. The game works well to capture the vision of the original film, retaining the same atmosphere, and may be the first Alien game truly worth of it’s namesake.

Review conducted via DHD Download Code supplied by Frank PR.

Jayden Perry ©2014

OXCGN’s The Sims 4 Review


The Sims 4 has by no means had the best PR scheme of any game… ever. The game was announced, and after that, the more the developers spoke, the more the fans shared their despair. Now the game is out and it all seems to have gone relatively quiet, and personally, I think it is because everyone is so involved in the game. Some fan favourite features are missing, and when the Sim Gurus said there is plenty else to do, we didn’t believe them. We should have.

If you will allow me a brief editorial, from almost the beginning, Maxis have stressed that this is not ‘The Sims 3.2’ – this is a new direction for the Sims franchise: a whole new game. So in this review, I will be analysing the game in this manner. It is impossible not to compare to previous instalments, but my final statement and rating will be based solely on ‘The Sims 4’. This will not be a comparison review, and it is inaccurate to say I can please everybody, but I will do my best to offer a fair, calculated review of what has proven a controversial title.

To begin, the Sims is a big game, and there’s a lot to cover. For a base game, the Sims 4 brings a lot to do, and a lot of different ways to do it. I will admit, going into the game for the first time I thought I would be playing for a few hours then stop due to the typical base game’s lack of content: I was terribly wrong. Even now, weeks following the release, I am playing constantly. The Sims 4 brings a staggering variety to the skills, career branches, exploration (yes… exploration), and socialisation for a base game. This review will be broken down into 5 sections as follows. These sections will make more of a point to detail content and offer my perspective, the final judgements will be made in the summaries following, so skip through if you feel you know everything and just want a straight-forward review.

  1. Create-a-Sim

Arguably one of the most vital features of the Sims franchise, create-a-sim has undergone an incredible overhaul, and the days of limited customisation, strictly Caucasian Sims, and endless slider fiddling are over. Create-a-sim is now more akin to a potter’s wheel, but with a person’s face and body. Instead of clicking through endless anatomical tabs to make adjustments to your Sims, you now click directly on their face or body and drag them around like a clay model. However, there are still a fair number of presets to choose from, and the newly revamped genetics system is unbelievable.

Each preset represents a particular cultural facial structure, and each has its own draggable parameters.
Each preset represents a particular cultural facial structure, and each has its own draggable parameters.  ~ feat. Katy Perry

An interesting note about these presets; each preset facial feature (head, nose, mouth, etc.) has its own drag-able parameters. What I mean by this, for example, is that one chin can be moulded to be comically pointed or sensibly sharp, while another can be made to look ridiculously chubby, or nicely rounded, but there is no real way to go from comically pointed to ridiculously chubby without changing the presets. This may seem limiting in a way, but once you adapt to the system it becomes quick and simple to create uncanny recreations. Whole face presets now each have a very distinct underlying bone structure, and each represents a different nationality and makes multicultural sim creation very easy, which unlike all previous instalments was quite difficult.

Each aspiration has up to 3 variations and its own specialty trait. Traits themselves feel more lively than ever.
Each aspiration has up to 3 variations and its own specialty trait. Traits themselves feel more lively than ever.

Traits and Personalities in the Sims 4 may seem slimmed down to fans initially, as being limited to 3 starting traits for Adult Sims seems like a step backward, especially when the big selling point of this game is personality. This is just create-a-sim, and when you take your Sims out into the World, it becomes quickly apparent that each trait has been thoroughly fleshed-out and offers a more staggering impact on gameplay than traits have previously.

The available selection of clothes, hairstyles, and accessories is larger than any previous base game, and each item is unique, with a vast array of colour swatches to compensate for the lack of create-a-style. The selection of swatches and designs that Maxis have provided are pleasantly sufficient, and the loss of create-a-style has little impact on the game other than create-a-sim loading faster. Though we’re now limited to 3 traits to start with for an Adult sim, the new Aspirations system offers lots of new bonuses and ways to play.

Overall, create-a-sim is a whole new ballgame in Sim creation and is definitely one of the instalments highlights.

  1. Build/Buy Mode

Yes there are no pools, and yes there is no terraforming, but I have never been the best builder and I made some damn fine houses in my time playing the Sims 4. The new tools take some time getting used to, and construction in the Sims 4 requires a whole different state of mind. No longer is building drawing up a floor plan wall-by-wall. Build mode is now more akin to playing with building blocks or Lego: creating houses is now done via ‘rooms’. Now with build and buy mode combined, not only has loading time decrease significantly, but the theme of quick changes established by the new build tools is carried over.

Clicking and dragging around rooms is now smooth and simple.
Clicking and dragging around rooms is now smooth and simple.

A room is not some fancy new system; it is literally a block that is created once you have connected four walls. Unlike in previous instalments, once you have created a room, you can now move the whole room around freely; resize it by clicking and dragging the walls; easily connect it to other rooms; even upload it to the gallery as an individual room, not with the whole house attached. This system makes building incredibly simple, right down to the point where, if you grow tired of building a house and want to just play, you can grab that last bathroom from a catalogue or the gallery, and place the entire room straight onto your house. You can even pick up and drag the entire house. The ability to drag and manipulate walls was introduced sometime along in the Sims 3’s lifespan, and it was very buggy. I can assure you, wall dragging and manipulation works beautifully in the Sims 4.

There are numerous new features available to builders, as well as further upgrades to old ones. Roof construction has been the bane of many a builder: always a sloppy mess of roof-tiling and graphic clipping. Roofing in the Sims 4 was taken back to primary school and has managed to graduate university, as it is now both simple and quick to create a nice roof to your building. As well as the new roof manipulation tools, there is the ability to add eaves and friezes to your building, alongside the ability to add columns straight into fencing and walls without the use of cheats.

3 different wall heights are available per floor, making your mansions even more formidable.
3 different wall heights are available per floor, making your mansions even more formidable.

Walls themselves have gotten a slight upgrade, and now come in 3 heights of 3, 4, and 5 metres, with 3 being the standard height of a house we have become accustomed to. Alongside new wall heights, is the option to make sure all of their grandiose height is covered in windows and wall decorations. Now you can move any wall decoration freely around the surface of any wall, allowing you to cover every inch of your room’s walls in decorations and lighting.

We may be down pools, but the returning fountain tool allows for an adequate aesthetic replacement in the meantime. The new water features are all entertaining including generic spouts and jumping features.

Build tools are more intuitive than ever, but restrict the use of foundations as much as it enhances them.
Build tools are more intuitive than ever, but restrict the use of foundations as much as it enhances them.

The new foundation tool is both a major improvement and a step backwards at the same time. You can now add and remove a foundation straight from underneath your house. You also have 8 different foundation heights to choose from, and any attached staircases will adapt according to your edits. The disadvantages, is that this foundation must be applied to every ground level room you create, so there’s no creating a garage at the side for your house with a foundation.

Catalogue view allows you to place down whole, pre-made rooms, or even buy individual items right from the picture.
Catalogue view allows you to place down whole, pre-made rooms, or even buy individual items right from the picture.

Despite some major features lacking in the new build mode, the new features and alterations to existing systems have made building easier, more convenient, and more detailed than ever. Buy mode brings a ton of objects, more than any other base game, and despite lacking create-a-style it offers many swatch options for all objects.

  1. Solo Gameplay: Careers, Skills, and Exploration

For some, the Sims is a game about building relationships and creating a family legacy. For others it is about creating the ultimate lone wolf. Mastering skills, climbing career ladders and racking up your collectable hoards. The Sims 3 introduced collectables, and the Sims 4 continues the new tradition, as well as adding new instrumental skills, a ton of social skills, and giving careers 2 times the punch.

With 19 skills and hundreds of options within each, your sims will have plenty to do.
With 19 skills and hundreds of options within each, your sims will have plenty to do.

The Sims 4 offers up a plethora of new skills for your Sims to master:

  • Cooking
  • Gourmet Cooking
  • Handiness
  • Charisma
  • Fitness
  • Logic
  • Painting
  • Guitar
  • Violin
  • Piano
  • Fishing
  • Writing
  • Gardening
  • Mixology
  • Comedy
  • Mischief
  • Programming
  • Rocket Science
  • Video Gaming

The Sims 4 offers up 6 brand new skills, with violin, mixology, and piano returning as base game content. All the skills are thoroughly fleshed out and each new level offers brand new opportunities including adding modules to your rocket ship, hacking big companies for big simoleons, composing songs to sell for their royalties, or even grafting a plant species with another for interesting new breeds. With 9 new base game skills, there is almost too much for one sim to accomplish in even the longest lifespan available.

10 careers and 2 paths each make for 20 possible careers for each of your Sims.
10 careers and 2 paths each make for 20 possible careers for each of your Sims.

Careers have also had a revamp, and though you won’t find “normal” careers (as many fans have described them) like business or education, each and every career comes with 2 paths after level 5. 10 careers with 2 paths each makes a total of 20 top-level jobs for your Sims to strive for:

  • Astronaut
    • Smuggler
    • Space Ranger
  • Criminal
    • Boss
    • Oracle
  • Culinary
    • Chef
    • Mixologist
  • Entertainer
    • Comedian
    • Musician
  • Painter
    • Master of the Real
    • Patron of the Arts
  • Secret Agent
    • Diamond Agent
    • Villain
  • Tech Guru
    • eSport Gamer
    • Start-up Entrepreneur
  • Writer
    • Author
    • Journalist

The biggest issue with careers, for a player that generally shies away from socialising with other Sims and opts for the ‘loner’ trait, is that many of the careers, particularly Entertainer, require earning ridiculous amounts of friends to level up. Not only does this mean making those friends, which is more difficult in the Sims 4, but maintaining those friendships in order to make sure you have enough to level up again. The part-time careers available to Teens don’t offer much at all, and are more a means of storytelling and role-play.

On the plus side, each job comes with daily tasks to complete that will increase your performance towards a promotion after your next shift, as well as objectives to meet in order to receive your next promotion (other than making friends). These objectives keep your Sims building their relevant skills and unlocking new content. As well as off-the-clock objectives, those random encounter messages you would sometimes get in the Sims 3, requiring you to solve a dilemma for your Sims, have become much more frequent.

Numerous varieties of gems, rocks, ores, and secrets lay about Willow Creek and Oasis Springs.
Numerous varieties of gems, rocks, ores, and secrets lay about Willow Creek and Oasis Springs.

Exploration and collecting is still present in the Sims 4 despite lacking a totally open world. Around your active lot is a surprisingly large space. I was pleasantly surprised to find, after opening up my first lot, to find a large field behind my house, with a park, running track, and river surrounding my neighbourhood on all sides. There’s a lot of open space. Filling this open space are numerous collectibles from earthly minerals to ores, and cute figurines of characters from MySims hidden in suspicious time capsules. Many wild plants are also scattered about the public space of neighbourhoods, bearing seeds for planting that cannot otherwise be obtained.

Each skill comes with hours of content each, and with 19 base game skills all equally fleshed out with its own options and rewards, the game time based on solely this content is substantial. Adding to that the extensive career options and rewards from each job and the game already offers up what the Sims 3 offered 4 expansion packs in. Some more “normal” jobs may not be available anymore, but with all the options covering all skills and tons of content, there is still plenty to achieve. The promotion requirements however, do bring significant obstacles to players who do not particularly interact with the social aspect of the game.

  1. Emotional, Social, and Familial Gameplay

EMOTIONS! Emotions are a concept we have heard about since the Sims 4 was first announced, and to many fans it seemed like a major cop out to be replacing beloved content in favour of this alien gameplay mechanic. You might believe there is only so much emotional gameplay can offer, and you are right, but in the wrong way. The extent to which the effects of your Sims new emotions reach are unprecedented.

Emotions are displayed down here, and your sim shows off their best emotional pose.
Emotions are displayed down here, and your sim shows off their best emotional pose.

Emotions are generated via the moodlets we know from the Sims 3, but each now carries some “emotional baggage.” Each moodlet has am emotional strength and depending on your Sim’s overall emotion, will either change or boost what your Sims is currently feeling. The emotions and their variants include:

  • Angry > Very Angry > Enraged > Furious
  • Bored
  • Confident > Very Confident
  • Dazed
  • Embarrassed > Very Embarrassed > Mortified
  • Energised > Very Energised
  • Fine
  • Flirty > Very Flirty > Passionate
  • Focused > Very Focused
  • Happy > Very Happy
  • Inspired > Very Inspired
  • Playful > Very Playful > Hysterical
  • Uncomfortable > Very Uncomfortable
  • Sad > Very Sad
  • Tense > Very Tense > Stressed
  • Asleep

Emotions effect your Sims every interaction and even unlock new interactions that can dissipate or increase the strength of that particular emotion. The extents to which these emotions affect your Sims are not game changing. Your Sims do not have to be Inspired in order to paint nice pictures. They do not have to be angry to earn fitness skill. The advantage given by utilising skills, however, is one worth pursuing.

Emotions come with a musical stinger every time you earn them, and it gets damn annoying. Fortunately the Sims community have already created a mod to remove it, and if you find the jingles irritating it would be worth looking in to.

Another downside to the emotions is that, for a non-storyteller, they can be a little intrusive. The sadness moodlets following a family or friend’s death are so strong that they last for days, and require many counter-moodlets to overtake. For a story-teller, this is a great tool for showing depression, but for a skill-trainer or collector, the sadness emotion can really get in the way of progress.

Emotions are heavily tied to the social aspect of the game, and they both effect and unlock new interactions, and vice versa. Telling a lot of jokes will make your Sim playful, and being playful will unlock more jokes and pranks. Arguing with another Sims will anger your own, and again unlock new angry interactions.

As a player who tends to go for skill and career development over socialisation, I found myself quite actively engaging in conversations. The emotions make conversation quite interesting, and the Sim’s newfound intelligence really adds to the flow of conversation, which I will elaborate on in the final section.

Teens and Adults are the same height, but the teens look more baby-faces and have leaner frames.
Teens and Adults are the same height, but the teens look more baby-faces and have leaner frames.

When it comes to your Sim’s family, yes there are no longer Toddlers. It still seems like a questionable move on Maxis’ part, but I can say with confidence that toddlers will make a return, and when they do, they’ll be more than just an extension of the baby life stage that can learn to walk and talk. To compromise, the Baby stage now allows for much more intimate interactions between parent and child, and the new restriction of babies to their crib may seem like a bad idea, but now Sims have stopped leaving their children out on the sidewalk or on the kitchen floor. Teenagers also share the same height as Adult and Elders, which makes for a confusing time when finding a potential suitor. Another odd move from Maxis that does deteriorate generational and story-telling experiences.

  1. Multitasking, Action Management, and “Simtelligence”

Multitasking is new to the Sims, and is arguably one of its strongest new features, encompassing both skill and social gameplay. Your Sim can now build fitness on a treadmill, while building cooking from the TV, and building their relationships with an entire group of other Sims. Multitasking allows the simultaneous use of multiple objects and conversations.

Eating, chatting, and taking selfies. All at once!
Eating, chatting, and taking selfies. All at once!

Group conversations are an interesting dynamic in the Sims 4, as it both works well and is a great inconvenience. In terms of making friends, group conversations are great, and the animations are all incredibly advanced for what we have come to know as the Sims. Sims will make eye contact with each other, and rotate not just their heads, but their bodies in natural ways to maintain conversation with each other. Where group conversations become inconvenient is, for example, when trying to flirt with another Sim. Sims tend to join in on your public conversations, and when flirting, extra Sims make the conversation awkward and flirts more likely to fail. When in private, the system works nicely. Having conversations while eating and drinking make for significantly nicer stories and gameplay.

When Sims are at work or on another lot, you can click their photo to control their actions from afar.
When Sims are at work or on another lot, you can click their photo to control their actions from afar.

Given the new neighbourhood system, when you have Sims across multiple lots, you can’t control multiple Sims without a loading screen. However, on a Sims portrait is a small icon you can select, and then choose options like “Care for Self” or “Build <insert skill>”. This allows you to control your Sims from afar, and allows you to focus on one at a time.

In saying this, Sims in the Sims 4 are very intelligent. I mean this in the way that Sims really feel like ‘people’ now, and I am comfortable focusing on one Sim’s skills while knowing that his Wife and Son aren’t going to go die or stare at a painting for hours. While building my Sim’s violin skill for a few days, his Son kept his moods up, practiced painting, did his homework, and played with his friends like any normal teenager would do. It really felt like my other Sims were “living.” In previous titles, I have never participated in generational gameplay because I was just incapable of keeping a whole family alive while trying to achieve anything substantial. Now I can safely focus on one Sim’s achievements while the others in the family all work, practice, and play like real people.

Pros

  • The new Create-a-sim offers significantly greater customisation and control over your Sim’s appearance.
  • New build mode features and tactility allow for anyone to jump in on building and be proud of their work.
  • Emotions add a whole new layer to socialisation and interaction
  • Multitasking (I need say no more)
  • Tons of Careers paths and more base skills than any other Sim game.
  • Every skill and career is fleshed out with unlockables and in-depth content.
  • Sims feel and act like competent, living humans.

Cons

  • Create-a-sim and build/buy mode require a lot of experimentation to get used to.
  • Tutorial messages come in the hundreds and require command-line edits to turn off.
  • No toddlers (yet), and teenagers are the same height as adults.
  • Moveobjects cheat, and having different foundation heights across the lot are missing.
  • Group conversations are as much a burden as they are a blessing.
  • Loading screens take some getting used to for a Sims 3 player.

TL;DR

The Sims 4 is definitely a new direction for the Sims series. The new creative tools are, dare I say it, more intuitive and tactile than ever. There are the little things, however, but these are the little things that get introduced and left behind in every reiteration of the Sims thus far. There was a lot to be desired in the Sims 3, and there’s still features left to be desired in the Sims 4. That does not however, constitute by any degree the Sims 4 being a bad game. Yes there are things missing, and yes there are some usual launch bugs, but this is the first time I have really felt like I am playing a “Sims” game since the Sims 2. The Sims 4 brings back what makes the Sims so loveable and that is a life outside of life. Sims are smart, truly unique, and bring some real personalities along for the ride.

The extensive amount of skills, career paths, collectibles and unlockables provide more to do than any base game has ever offered. The game takes a lot of getting used to, there are some sentimental features missing, but my score is based on the experience I got out of the Sims 4, not a comparison between old and new features. This is not to say that lacking features do not reduce the quality, but it also does not reduce it unreasonably. The experience I had, plainly put was “this game is The Sims through and through.” My opinion will most certainly differ from others and go against the grain, but I had so much fun in the Sims 4, and that is truly what gaming is about. I personally do not buy my games based on which has the longest list of features, and that certainly does not decide on its playability. I’m 100% confident in the future of The Sims 4, and I hope despite its terrible PR, you, as a Simmer, will give it a try.

7.5/10

Review copy was not provided. This was a release copy as purchased by reviewer.

OXCGN’s Forza Horizon 2 Review


An incredible step forward that builds on familiar roots.

Wow, Forza Horizon 2 blew me away from the moment it’s cinematic introduction began. The game summaries the car scene as a group of enthusiasts that enjoy ALL types of cars and have respect for everyone’s individual passion.

And that’s really what Forza Horizon 2 is about; the experimentation with other vehicles and learning why they are awesome in their own right, and experiencing the good things about the automotive community.

From the moment you first slam down the accelerator you’ll be behind a car that you’ll enjoy driving, and after a solid 30-60 minutes of game play, suddenly you’ll have your own Ferrari. Surprise!

Of course, don’t expecting the hyper-cars to come so quickly. However I personally found that introducing the player to a Ferrari so soon really encourages players to ‘downgrade’ and experience a variety of cars.

Like it’s brother, Forza Motorsport 5; Forza Horizon takes a similar direction for your career. A large portion of career events requires specific vehicles and you’re welcome to tackle them in whatever order you wish.

So after I was finished with my Ferrari endeavors I hit up the dirt with a Subaru WRX STI, and I was thoroughly impressed with the rally mechanics (and it was nice not to be a DLC after-thought as well).

Reviews_HUD_01_ForzaHorizon2

Considering the open world style of Forza Horizon 2, this game looks fairly jaw dropping. In fact, irrespective of the visual downgrades the game has received when compared to Forza Motorsport 5, the cars just feel more natural, exciting and personal in an open world environment. If you’re one that loves to work on your vinyl wrap graphics and custom aesthetic upgrades — you’re going to love this game.

In every Forza review, I have to credit the developers for having realistic sound effects for all the cars. And I beg everyone who is reading this review, do yourself a favour and turn down (or off preferably) all the in game music and DJ narration that frequently interrupts the exotic notes of exhaust pipes.

The good news too is full-tuning is featured in Horizon 2 and I believe should make die-fans scream with joy. All modifications are basically a copy-and-paste from Forza Motorsport 5 as expected. And my only annoyance here is players familiar with the Forza games may get frustrated having to listen to boring narrations for the first time you modify any part of your car.

Reviews_01_WM_ForzaHorizon2

The only concern I have is that Forza Horizon 2 is a little too familiar with its terrain with the time I have spent with it. However, it is much appreciated that many more objects are now destructive, meaning there’s less time spent getting frustrated at benches that stopped you dead. But there is still the occasional tree or object that will stop the car in its tracks. Thank the lord for the rewind button.

Forza Horizon 2 is a huge step forward for the franchise, and takes everything great we love about Forza Motorsport 5 and applies it here. And the best part is the entire game feels like an upgrade, unlike many complaints towards Forza 5 when it first launched with the Xbox One console.

If you love your cars, you know you’re already buying it. And if you’re looking for a fun racer that doesn’t take itself as seriously as Forza Motorsport 5 then this is definitely worth checking out. A  good time for anyone, an amazing time for any enthusiast.

Pros:

+ Amazing graphics and open-world that captures your personality.

+ Audio effects that excite you.

+ The strong focus on capturing the community and social feel.

Cons:

– Annoying tutorials for seemingly everything you do that you can’t skip.

– Open world feels very familiar.

9/10

Review conducted with a digital copy provided by Xbox Australia.

Reviews_03_WM_ForzaHorizon2

OXCGN’s CounterSpy Review


CounterSpy, on paper, sounds like a game made specifically for me. A side-scrolling stealth game set entirely during the Cold War era, featuring a protagonist who works for the kind of shadow organisation you can imagine Dr. Evil running, but presented with a beautifully tongue-in-cheek wit that boasts one of the most striking visual styles seen on consoles. It’s just a shame that not only does the title last for a measly 2 hours – it somehow manages to overstay it’s welcome.

First things first, lets talk about what the game is.

You play as a nondescript Agent working for a organisation known as C.O.U.N.T.E.R., which has been given the task of finding evidence that the two world powers, the Imperials and the Socialists, are going to fire nukes at the moon to send it off course and crashing into the other. It paints both sides of the conflict as an equal amount of insane, which is nice in a world of american-pro bro shooters.

If you think that is a thin plot, it’s because it is, and that’s really all you get. As you find more intel, you uncover more of the plan, but really this is about as strong as it gets. It’s an interesting idea, but I would have liked some more characters to give some meaning to the story.

On a lighter note – the visual style is amazing: which isn’t surprising when you take into account that developer Dynamighty have someone who worked at Pixar in charge of their visual design. The game looks truly gorgeous, especially so on PS4, with incredible charm woven into every frame of your Agent’s movement. Whether you are blowing open a safe, or ducking behind a corner to escape from vision, he does so with style and grace that is rarely seen in an indie title – less so in a developer’s first game.

The opening of the game is gorgeous, and pulls directly from the opening card sequences we are so used to in Bond films, complete with silhouetted characters and minimalist imagery foreboding the plot line.

counterspy-screen-03-us-17jun14

This excellent style carries over into the music, fuelled by wobbly guitars and sneaking bass lines, which fully transports you into a 1960s style campy espionage thriller. It reminded me, not surprisingly, of the soundtrack for Metal Gear Solid 3 – which makes sense considering the similarities between the two games.

What Metal Gear has over CounterSpy, however, is gameplay. CounterSpy is pretty entertaining once you break free of the tutorial and are allowed to test its sandbox. Unfortunately, once that first mission is complete, you’ve seen basically all the game has to offer you – shy of using every weapon and formula (a sort of power up that is only active for one mission). It’s disappointing that the game essentially ends up boiling down to sneak, take cover, shoot enemies silently, search for collectibles, rinse, repeat.

For those who do wish to see everything there is, CounterSpy gives you a lot to collect. In each mission there are lockers, safes, and computers to crack open, giving you progress through the mission, money, weapon schematics, or health. By the time I was finished the game (about 2 hours) I had around half of the unlocked content, and only 5 of the 11 weapons. There is plenty more to play with in the game, but since the gameplay isn’t as compelling as it could be, I personally find no reason to go back just yet.

Pros

+ Amazing Visual Style

+ Music is awesome

+ Plenty to ‘collect’

Cons

– Gameplay is thin, and gets old fast

– Story could have been more fleshed out

– More characters could been interesting

7/10

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