Beating EveryBuddy: Beatbuddy Tale of the Guardians Review

I don’t think I’ve ever played a good swimming section in a game. They’re all awful. Chiefly comprised of stodgey, clumsy, foreheaded controls that make trying to move less fun than drinking a puddle, and complete with controller-eatingly infuriating timing restrictions that will have you crying into your nearest sleeve within moments. Perhaps. We don’t do that. But, you know. You might.

Similarly, rhythm games serve only to remind me that whilst I do indeed play in a ‘band’, I have the technical musical competency of a week old apricot that’s rolled behind the sofa, ready to attract a small army of rodents. As such then, I met Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians, a game that takes place entirely underwater and as you might gather from its name, probably has something to do with rhythm, with a suspicious, narrowed-eyed squint that would undoubtedly make it feel uncomfortable in its own home. Like how I greet people at parties. Fortunately, Beatbuddy, is less of what I expected, and more of what I couldn’t put down.

To get things straight, Beatbuddy is primarily a platformer; a puzzley platformer with delightful hand-drawn, layered visuals and of course, an emphasis on music. You play as the Beatbuddy, a bubble with headphones that looks sort of like a Ministry of Sound marketing cast-off from the late 90’s.

As you swim through the game’s cavernous underwater levels, Beatbuddy melds the undeniably foot-coercing soundtrack intrinsically into the world, hooking up the bass drum, for example, to a pulsing bit of flora that you can bounce off of, breaking parts of the environment, thus allowing you to progress. There are hi-hat crabs that you must strike to momentarily rid your path of snail-based danger, halting the corresponding sections of the music as you do so. There are snare streams that only allow you to pass through if you do so right on the beat. There’re vehicle sections in which you pilot the perpetually, rhythmically bouncing BeatBuggy, and as a result can’t seem to stop yourself jigging along with the damned thing, much to the annoyance and concern of those in the adjoining room.

Without a doubt, it’s a harmonious musical collusion, and when that first full song kicks in, anyone with even an involuntarily partiality to the influential waves of a good beat will be scuppered into sinking the next few hours into developer THREAKS’ carefully constructed melodious mayhem.

The narrative is a playfully twirling string that ensures the game tows along gently, keeping you in the loop enough to hold your attention between the varied and in some cases charming puzzles – the inarguable star of the show. The highlight of the writing is undoubtedly in the conversations and exchanges purveyed infrequently by the other inhabitants of Symphonia, the game’s world. Indeed,  it feels as though there’s a missed opportunity here for more humour as subtly placed back-and-forths between NPCs.

Did you ever see that episode of Spongebob where he makes a 'bubble buddy'?

The layered visuals are stunning in places and make for a diverse and satisfying aesthetic across the range of colourful levels. That said, having bits of scenery awkwardly obscuring your view like the overly keen attention-seeking antics of the Microsoft Paperclip doesn’t so much feel like the game is adding an extra challenge to the proceedings, but is instead supplying you with the digital equivalent of having a fly fornicate intermittently with your ear. Fortunately these moments are few and far between, though the layers can also create more frequent confusion when quickly ascertaining what scenery can and can’t be touched or swam through.

The controls are, for the most part, a smooth and confluent joy to use, though undoubtedly you’ll fall victim to the throes of being a water-dwelling, um, bubble, at one point or another. As you zip back and forth, you occasionally need more accuracy than you’re granted from the sticks. Eventually, this actually becomes part of the charm, so don’t let a few early instances in which you decide to form sensual relations with a nearby piece of scenery instead of swimming away from danger put you off.

That's the Beat Buggy. It pulsates.

Ultimately, I’m nitpicking for faults. I sank a good seven hours into Beatbuddy according to Steam, without locating all the hidden Extras, and felt that my single playthrough could easily be duplicated with a similar level of blind, rhythmic fun. The musical highs that keep the whole thing well paced and interesting are worth coming back for, and for the inarguable price of £11.99, Respawn reckon Beatbuddy has nailed that singalong chorus.

84%

Find out more about the game HERE, or grab your copy on Steam from 6th August!

 

Max Payne 3: Review

When first I was told that a THIRD Max Payne was readying itself to perforate the realms of existence, I met the concept with vague intrigue. Intrigue, but also nonchalance and expectationless acceptance. The first was an irrevocable staple in my gaming history, one of the few games I used to own on PC, when I was (still) playing Half Life and trying to survive for longer than forty seconds on Counter Strike. I’d sit absorbing every word of Max Payne’s over-blown, hyperbolic yet incessantly poetic narrative, before slow-mo jumping down a flight of stairs emptying several clips of uzi into anything that moved. Especially the book case. And not necessarily the bad guys.

Whilst I gave the first game the time and attention such a world beater clearly deserves, the kind of pathological dedication usually reserved for the mentally unsuitable, the second was one of those I never got round to really throwing myself at. Perhaps because by that point my computer laughed, spluttered and wheezed when I casually dropped the idea of games into conversation, and because I didn’t want to play it on PS2, as that would be akin to watching Danny Dyer on telly and expecting not to suddenly attempt to tear off your own finger nails with a spoon half way through. A b-line to disappointment. And pain. So I played bits of it, but nothing close to the hours I’d poured into Max’s first peculiarly versed adventure.

Soon after being informed of Max Payne 3’s eminent birth, and soon after the handful of shrugs I warranted that news with, I was introduced to the Max Payne 3 Design and Technology videos. And I fell off my seat. So much so I wrote a barely legible, hurriedly excited scrawl about it right here on this site. In typical Rockstar fashion, it seemed like they’d taken every aspect of the core mechanics and brought them thundering into this generation with such awe-inspiring accuracy that it knocked several onlookers to the ground, injuring three children and an elderly citizen.

Well. They did that.

Although as far as I’m aware, nobody was physically injured in the process.

 

The opening hour of Max Payne 3 is a thoroughly rehearsed exercise in making you feel like an utter incomparable badass. And the rest takes that idea and barges you through a pane of glass as it runs with it.

From the opening cinematic it’s clear that Max Payne 3 is the alcohol soaked tale of noir-ish detective mystery and revenge that we were promised. Even the case looks like a mess. An angry, drunken mess. That demeanour that made the first so great is back, although you might not recognize it entirely. It’s certainly had a facelift, but every bit of that gritty overtone remains.

And the mechanics. A true achievement and a testament to Rockstar’s word, as, similar to the grounded, solid feel they claimed Max would have in those design and tech videos, the second you start playing, the system feels lithe and malleable, but proportionately weighted at the same time, and is constantly compelling to use. Watching Max scramble about as you manipulate the sticks is enough to get a nearby animator all flustered and moistened, from the way he throws himself into cover, to the post-bullet time rolling around on the ground, there’s something in the way you control Max that makes getting shot in the face no longer a problem, partly because it still looks cool, but also because it means you get to do that bit again. It’s these animations and worldly physics that take Max Payne 3 far beyond the confines of the typical third person shooter.

And speaking of sticks and control, my apprehensions about finally moving Max onto a console were null and void the moment the game planted me in control. Losing the mouse was something I was afraid to do for this series, but they’ve certainly found the balance; that sweet spot that makes it challenging but ultimately fun and instinctive to use, and sitting a third person game so well on the 360 pad is just another developer achievement.

With the glitzy Brazilian setting, we’re seeing Max a few years on, with the alcohol sodden tremors of the past still all too hauntingly habitual in his mind, he’s hired as a body guard to protect a family that ranks among the richest of the rich in Sao Paulo’s flashiest estates. We’re given a slew of playable flashbacks that send us back to the familiar streets of New York throughout the game to reconstruct the bits of the story that end up missing, and eventually uncovering a festering hive of hideous criminal activity deep in the Brazilian favelas, the underworld. From the flashy restaurants and bars of the first half of the game, to the suburban slums of the second, the environments are inescapably pretty, brilliantly constructed and ultimately believable, despite the abundance of carefully placed cover opportunities.

The action is absolutely relentless, as is the break-neck pace, which makes for hour after hour of bloody ratatating, complete with slo-motion jumps and dives and headshots, all punctuated by the final-kill bullet cam, which follows your last bullet as it soars through the air, splintering the face of the last goon in the room and framing his beautifully inert body as it drops to the floor dispensing blood like a ketchup-filled garden sprinkler.

One of the later flashbacks, involving a New York graveyard and a load of mob goons, is undoubtedly one of the most poetic and gymnastic bits of firefighting I’ve ever accomplished in any game ever, leaping around in slow motion amid a thunderous storm of bullets, the whole piece cushioned by a fitting and brilliant soundtrack. It’s really moments like that that make the game so inherently memorable, and a rollercoaster of air-punching segments that make you want to dodge dive out of your own window.

Whilst there’s been a few complaints circling the internet about the length of the game, they shockingly cite the main story as too long and too difficult. Max Payne 3 is certainly no four hour Call of Duty affair, and whilst it could be argued the battles become repetitive, Rockstar have accomplished a similar trick to the one they pulled with Red Dead Redemption, where just before you begin to wonder where it’s all heading, they reel you in for the big finish. And whilst I don’t claim to be especially good at any game, and in fact often lose to particularly tenacious inanimate objects, and even taking into account the last mission that is as tough as a conversation with any cast member of The Only Way is Essex; I managed it, and enjoyed it. So I couldn’t find equal faults where others had.

In fact, as a forty quid package, Max Payne 3 is worth every penny. The latest third person shooting technology makes it a joy to play and every gun fight an unholy, never-ending hail of slo-mo bullets, whilst the narrative makes it captivating and compelling and really bloody difficult to put down. And to top it all off, even the multiplayer isn’t bad. With its cleverly inter-twined bullet-time effects that only affect the gurgling morons in your field of vision when you engage it, it certainly makes for some interestingly paced online play, along with the mute button in the lobby.

For all that, I couldn’t find a bad word to say about Max Payne 3. That’s not to say it’s perfect, and certainly its more stylized, Earth-centric expressions shed the previous efforts’ intent on occasional sardonic humour, presumably that’s something to do with the modern era of typically terrible shooting games and marketing, but in no way does this distract from the game as a whole. A thoroughly enjoyable, must-play racket through the alcohol and painkiller-soaked tortures of Max Payne’s new life in the most glamorous parts of beautiful Brazil that are destined to drag him back into the only world he knows, the world in which he’s the hard-boiled, gritty cop that just can’t get enough jumping down flights of stairs.

And if my word isn’t enough for you, try Kerrang Radio’s Alex Baker on for size:

                                             “HAVE I PLAYED IT? MATE I LOVE IT!!!”

This is another fine feather in the cap, Rockstar. Well done.

Mass Effect 3: Review

Somebody, and I’m not mentioning any names, chiefly because I don’t know who it was, told me that the first Mass Effect game wasn’t very good. And they lied to me. Through their shiny, Satan-gifted liar-teeth. That’s right, I’m throwing personal opinion, judgement and individual perspective right out of the window here, because I didn’t play the first Mass Effect up until last year, and the release of its sequel I met with an indifferent, limp-armed attempt to move it out of the way of the TV.

 

But eventually, somewhere along the line, I was convinced to try it. And like many that had come before, it consumed me to the point that I couldn’t be expected to do things like go to work, or cook or stand up.

 

The first Mass Effect had a narrative clearly written by some sort of deity, in many ways it brought back an almost dormant feeling of progressive excitement. When, piece by piece, your passage through a story-driven game involves you uncovering a secret, a mystery, and its revelation is woven into the plot with the loving attention of a pathological cardigan manufacturer. A genius in climactic narrative design that takes some truly epic moments usually reserved for cutscenes, and plants you right in the middle of fighting your way up the outside of a space station as an impossible deathrobot and his brainwashed friends attack. It was breathtaking.

 

The second game then, brought with it a sense of grounded controllability that meant Mass Effect would really compete with third person shooters, as well as sci-fi RPGs, and it bridged the original game’s storyline across yet more cavernous troves of questionable descent. It didn’t work out quite as well, speaking solely in regards to the plot, but it was an adrenaline-encumbered slice of gaming grandeur that earned the series a place in many gamer’s hearts through and through.

 

So on to the third and final instalment then, and this one I met with the unquenchable anticipation of Justin Bieber’s prospective executioner. Or, someone.

 

In the trilogy-by-numbers book of How to Make an RPG, Mass Effect 3 is every bit the THREE you’d expect. Refining those gameplay mechanics that made the second so enjoyable and painting over the HUD a bit, whilst reinventing a few of the more general core aspects. The scanning of planets for resources? Yep, as with each game in the series, it’s been tweaked to be slightly more of a cumbersome inconvenience.

 

The controls feel similarly responsive, though the added ability to do a dramatic directional roll mapped to ‘A’ alongside the usual ‘run/sit behind a rock/open a door’ does often leave Shepard leaping and bounding around next to scenery instead of running away from it/cowering under it/correctly using it as an inter-spacial-segregation-divide.

 

Meanwhile the visuals are of course, lovely. Especially the character models of your culturally and aesthetically diverse friends, who are, naturally, all in for the jaunt. Or mostly. The ones who aren’t dead anyway. Environments are spectacular, and your intergalactic adventures are all offset by the series’ trademark heterogeneously mesmeric, colourful planets detailed with their own three-book novelistic background and the funny statues to prove it. The sight of full-scale Reapers sat happily on the horizon in amongst your interplanetary adventures is one that never gets less jaw-dropping.

 

SO.

 

My third Mass Effect outing didn’t exactly start smoothly, in fact, it started with a big ol’ jagged ‘angry refusal to put the game back in the tray’. Why? Because I’m over-actively irritated by pretty much anything these days? Well, yes, but also because my character, my Shepard, my long standing, two-game spanning hero WOULDN’T COPY to ME3.

 

Yes, the issue that plagued Bioware’s inbox before anybody had even started the game, never mind finished it, shone its irksomely angled light right in my eyes. After an abrupt and stubborn refusal to ever look at the game again, I eventually tried my hand at recreating my trusty old hideous Shepard.

 

My customized Shepard looks like he’s attempted to bludgeon his own face into the shape of a downward arrow with a bookend, and oddly that effect wasn’t too hard to recreate. I settled it in my own mind by concluding he’d change a bit, naturally, over time. Right? Right?? He would. He totally would.

 

I couldn’t stay mad at Mass Effect for long anyway. Similar to putting on the second game for the first time, half an hour in and Mass Effect 3 had re-enthralled my senses in every manner, suckered back into its enigmatic universe like a Krogan to a UV light. Or a barely sensical joke to this review.

 

From the off, you’re on a mission to literally unite the galaxy, forging alliances, wiping out entire species, meeting old friends and inviting creepy ‘uncanny valley’ victims onto your ship to be suspiciously familiar embedded journalists along the way.

 

It’s a riot. And whatever anybody says about the ending, the journey and the destination are two distinct, different faculties with ME3, and I enjoyed every second of my time traversing the universe, interacting with its inhabitants, visiting its strange and wonderful worlds and uncovering its mysteries. By and large, it is a must-play experience.

 

Even the multiplayer, which I only bothered trying due to the game’s inexplicable convolution in regards to upping your GALACTIC READINESS rating (if you’re confused about this, ask in the comments and I’ll explain… God knows Bioware aren’t going to do it) I actually enjoyed. As opposed to pitting you against other players online, you’re simply given a horde mode. Or firefight. Or whichever prestigious series you want to imagine spearheaded the rehash phenomenon. You’re fighting waves of AI enemies, completing simple missions (defend this, attack that one poor guy, hack this node etc etc) and the fact your successful excursions count toward an element in the main game actually makes it worthwhile, if slightly annoying when you realize this confluency of modes, moments before you’re about to embark on the final mission.

 

Here’s the hinge though. I’d find it invariably difficult to recommend Mass Effect 3 to someone who hadn’t played the first two games. And by invariably difficult, I mean I wouldn’t. At all.

 

For all EA’s press-garnering arm flailing, pointing excitedly in the direction of this third game, that the other two were ‘just a build-up to’, and is a ‘perfect entry point for new-comers to the series’, Mass Effect 3’s real appeal, the heart and soul that drives the player to the point of complete immersification, which isn’t even a word, is the universe and experiences the character, your character, has grown up with. The allegiances made, the friends and enemies divided, evil aliens sentenced to death or allowed passage to alternative universes, and secrets discovered, the references to events fondly remembered by those who have fought at the very clashes in question. The fleeting appearance of Major Kirrahe brought an actual redolent smile to my face; Garrus, one of the game’s most likeable, memorable and all-together excellent characters, spends half his time reminiscing about old battles won and lost and the friendship that has formed, been tested and reinforced between your Shepard and himself. If you don’t have that emotional bond with the world’s characters, and as such don’t receive these imperatively superb slices of narrative in such a way, Mass Effect loses its main hook. The chorus. The lead vocal. The gaming equivalent of listening to The Enemy. The musical equivalent of severing your own ears with a bicycle pump.

 

To be totally honest, I’m unsure just how to put this last bit into words. Without a doubt, Mass Effect 3 is an unmitigated rollercoaster of emotional circuitousness, a culmination of the effort, of the work that has gone into your previous games. At times, it feels like you’re watching a montage of famous ‘call-to-arms-to-the-death-or-glory’ film speeches that make you shout at the TV and scare other people in the living room.  But more than that, it’s a world with which to immerse, engross and lose yourself in. I’ve tried my utmost to skim past the finer details, because the less you know about the twists and turns of this epic, the deeper you’ll fall into the allure of Mass Effect’s inspiring, evocative universe.

 

So, if you’re going to embark on this prestigious voyage, do it right. Get the first two, read everything, talk to every NPC, do every mission. Then, and only then, do Mass Effect 3.

 

Oh and the ending? That’s a different story altogether. Regardless, you need to play Mass Effect.

 

 
Rob Vicars

Minecraft: Yes, Us Too.

So last week I buckled and bought Minecraft. I say buckled, what I actually mean is, I was cruelly subjected to an airy suggestion by a good friend, and as such have now lost what was left of my tiny little life. Yes my life was tiny. That makes sense. You hear!

Okay maybe that’s an over-reaction. I haven’t given my life to Minecraft, because that would mean losing my job, which I still sort of need. However it has consumed my gaming time in the same way that job I just mentioned has consumed my abject presumption that the general public have anything more advanced than a dull collection of squashed apricots residing in their heads. Ahem.

If you don’t know what Minecraft is, give me the address of the rock you live under and I’ll bring it to you. Along with a copy of the News of the World if you like. Why not. I highly suggest jumping onto YouTube and watching some videos as Minecraft’s immediate allure is in its visual dexterity. User ‘Seananners’’ collection is good place to start, as it not only explains, in great detail, the world of Minecraft, but it’s also charming and delightfully funny. Go ahead and do that now. I’ll wait.

Done? Excellent. This is fun isn’t it, kind of like those peculiar adventure books where you could choose the path the characters took by turning to different pages, which inevitably lead to you losing your page and the story and the plot and shortly after the book because you threw it out of your window. Probably. To the people who infact know all about Minecraft, for the last paragraph I bid you a thousand apologies. A thousand.

As I mentioned, the first droplet of intrigue Minecraft dolls out is its visual. The blocky, 8-bit stylized world looks oddly inviting. Bursting with charm, the world is populated, by day, with chickens and cows and pigs, and by night by zombies and spiders and Creepers and all sorts of ghoulish nasties.

The crafting mechanic is the hinge the game swings around on, allowing you to chop down wood, to turn to sticks to be the handle on an axe made from the stone that you collected whilst mining for coal to make lights so you can see down into the mine you’ve created by burrowing down into the ground with a spade you made from….

You get the picture, right? It’s all about making things, and discovering things.

The game’s heavy emphasis on both exploration and creation though, is what really grabs a hold of you and starts wildly shaking you, maniacally screaming obscenities, refusing to let go. Figuratively speaking of course.

There are two occurrences of the mind (‘thoughts’ for normal people, I don’t get them often enough to refer to them with such nonchalance) that have caused me to pause playing Minecraft and actually consider them in depth.

I remember clambering my way through my mine one day, back up toward the surface where I’d built a house, recognizing the little nuances in the manner I’d hacked away at the rocks, and using them as a signposts pointing a way through the maze of corridors and rooms I’d created whilst haphazardly flailing a pickaxe every which way.

I almost instinctively wondered how far my Partner in Mine (what?) had gotten in the game since we’d last spoke. And then it occurred to me that he hadn’t done any of this. He hadn’t seen the entrance hall, with the stairs, or the magnificent cascading waterfall in the deepest point of the mine, or even the 50ft plummet I’d mistakenly mined myself down, breaking both my legs and dropping my precious diamond axe.

If you didn’t already know, or hadn’t guessed, Minecraft randomly generates its worlds, including dungeons and mountains and trees and contours and hill sides and all that geographical jazz. So your adventure is entirely unique to you and your game. No one else knows my mine, anyone else would in fact, likely get horrifically lost in it, and would eventually be arrow’d to death by a skeleton. Which is good, because what were they doing in my mine in the first place!? It’s mine. Bedum.

Secondly, there aren’t many games that leave a ringing in my ears when I go to sleep. Minecraft does in the same way that Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts did. The monstrosities you create are limited only by your imagination, and as well as a mining, crafting adventure game, you’ve got a giant Lego world to play with. I built a hut out of wood, which quickly became a stone house, with a ladder down to the mine and a secret entrance in the side of a mountain. Then I built an underground passage that lead to the beach, where you’d find a boat and a little dock.

That kind of extraordinary building rampage leaves you thinking about what you’re going to build next. What you could build. What is possible?

There is more to this game than I’m going to cover here, and more over it’s still in beta, so huge, pivotal game mechanics are being added all the time (latest at the time of writing is the addition of Pistons) but with such an unprecedented emphasis on the two factors I mentioned earlier, creation and exploration, here are the continued foundations of a game that is a perfect demonstration of the flexibility and potential of modern video games as more than just non-descript Call of Duty sequels.

Minecraft is a gift to the imagination.

Go and get it.

Duke Nukem: Forever Review

In 1997 someone mentioned they were making Duke Nukem: Forever. That’s an entire FOURTEEN years ago. That’s right. ENTIRE. Not a second missing. The problem with delayed games is their hype. The problem with delayed Duke Nukem games, is that no one can remember what was happening fourteen years ago.

But that’s not quite as derogatory as it sounds. Allow me to explain why Duke ISN’T the smiling apologist for a decade’s worth of video game rubbish. That was ISN’T. You hear? IS NOT.

If you’re one of these internet readers, you’ll likely have noticed the abominably low dredge of scores that are being hauled in for DN:F this week. It’s become something of a talking point for the various relevant corners of internet discussion. Why oh WHY is a game that took fourteen years to hit the shelves such an insufferable disappointment.

There are, in fact, two reasons.

Number 1. The reason a game, that took fourteen years to hit the shelves, is such an insufferable disappointment is because it took fourteen years to hit the shelves. Even if DN:F had been the splintering edge of modern gaming everyone inexplicably expected it to be, it wouldn’t have been good enough. The kind of hype and expectation a game amasses over such a long period of time far outweighs anything it could actually amount to. Look at GT5.

And with this being over a decade, a development time that outlived a generation of consoles, the majority of components and ideas were changed several times. But not all of them. They changed all sorts, the engine, the team, by and large the amount of digital nudity, but there are some things here that irrevocably seemed to stay the same.

That many changes, and that many half-jobs, with different developers picking up other developers half-finished work is going to have pretty dramatic effects on the final, overall package. Effects that will likely claw up decade-old issues, mixed with fancy new technology to make a bizarre Frankenstein-esque zombie of a game.

But so far this is just a list of excuses. The meat of the show is exemplified in this second point.

Number 2. Duke Nukem was never a good game. And if you think it was, you need to play something else. Quickly.

Whilst people amass expectations over a long period of time, they also manage to forget things they used to know. Things like the original Duke Nukem games were rubbish. Certainly console efforts like Time to Kill, but yes including Duke Nukem 3D. It stood apart for its humour, and interactivity with the environment, but it was a daft shooting game at its core with a crass, titular testosterone-bulging protagonist, who was about as likable as getting stabbed.

And this never went away, because ladies and gentlemen Duke Nukem: Forever is not a good game. The animation is poor, some of the textures are highly questionable and the build mechanic feels like the world is held together by matchsticks and those tiny rolls of tape.

But in that essence, DN:F is charming. Charming because it is bad like the old ones were, funny like the old ones were, ridiculous like the old ones were. The gameplay sends echoing reminders of days when games weren’t the trillion-dollar budget raking film-fests they are now.

Genuinely, the idea that Duke Nukem: Forever was going to be some sort of time-altering, life-affirming ripple that would staple the games industry a different place for ever is baffling. It’s like there being mass outrage when Cooking Mama 3 hit the shelves because it was lacking character development, and the level structure was poor.

Seemingly Gearbox kind of picked up DNF and put it on the shelves, made it playable and put to rest one of gaming’s longest running parodies. Far from any sign of technical extremities or innovative leaps, DN:F is good for one thing, a slightly amusing, ridiculous, over-blown blast that it is entirely possible to love.

If you’re anticipating the latest in modern shooters, a Call of Duty with somehow less likeable characters, then you’ll be heavily disappointed with Duke Nukem. I, however, had no such expectation, and with that, I’m largely enjoying revisiting the insane, nonsensical adventures of Captain Dribble and his limited vocabulary. And with the same mind-set, you will too.

It’s Duke Nukem. What were you expecting? …Baby.

Portal 2 Review

You know, I’m pretty sure I’d have beat level 14 of Silent Bomber had I had a delightfully accented comedian guiding me through the game. I didn’t though, and as such Level 14 still haunts me like a giant floating illuminated ‘14’ sign that cackles when you try to shoo it away.

Fortunately though, Portal 2 provided me with the aching stardom of RICKY GERVAIS’ MATE to softly literate my short comings and point out the screaming obvious with his incessant quips. And it worked. Well probably. I don’t know that it actually helped in any way, but what I do know is that the opening five minutes of Portal 2 had me guffawing like the easily amused chubby man in the pub more so than any game I can recall. Although Giants: Citizens Kabuto might have come close.

And I’m not even talking the kind of accidental hilarity lots of games portray without ever meaning to. If you’ve ever watched Ladder Goat you’ll understand what I mean by that. Character’s doing things they’re not supposed to with hilarious consequences. Sometimes it’s the writing. Every line in the Metal Gear Solid series, perhaps (with the greatest of respect). But Portal WANTS it to be funny. And it definitely, definitely is.

So with Stephen Merchant taking the reigns as helpful AI Personality Core Wheatley, you jump back into the shoes of Chell, star of the first omnipotent Portal game. After several years in cryostorage, wherein the Aperture Facility has become over run with decay, Chell is awoken by Wheatley, who intends to help her escape. A daring removal of her cryostorage unit ends in the pair reawakening the dormant GLaDOS. And she’s mildly annoyed.

Of course, one particularly poignant difference between Portal 2 and its predecessor, is the more evident storyline. Whilst the first was more than happy to let you sidle on through its test chambers admiring the Apple-like aesthetics and trying to coax to Turrets into conversation before finally attempting escape, Portal 2 introduces new characters, new settings and takes you through the history of the Aperture facility on a journey loaded full of references to the first game and the Half Life series it takes place within.

The twists and turns of the story itself are good. The writing is brilliant. Paced, hilarious, solid and charming at every leap. Genuinely gripping, less in the sense of high-octane-shoot-stuff-rip-your-shirt gripping, more a case of, what will Aperture throw at you next, and just how have you ended up partnered with a potato.

It is visually a treat, and not just in a watch me flex my ripped graphical capabilities kind of way (I don’t know) The environments are impressive, be that the first time you recognize an overgrown chamber from the first game, now looking more like the aftermath of a party involving Boris Johnson and the contents of a green house, or gapping at the unimaginable vastness of the structures you encounter visiting the original Aperture test sites. There are warning signs and environmental touches littered about the place that magnificently capture the charming, tongue in cheek nature of the game.

That in mind, Portal 2 is a game to take in. Like a wandering homeless cat scratching at your door. Or a large t-shirt. And whilst neither of those analogies bare any relevance to the statement, or even make sense, rushing through this game will leave you feeling empty, disgusting and dead inside. Stop, take it all in, look at the environment. Marvel at the enormous cavern you just portalled across, read all the signs, refuse to do as Wheatley instructs and listen to him splurge more funniness all over the screen. Do it, and get the most out of your game. For reals.

If you’re a Portal veteran, and have braved several of the Advance Maps from the first, you’ll likely glide over Portal 2 in a couple of sittings. It isn’t the largest or most difficult game. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, which is preferable to having a fourteen hour game with ten of those being utter gutter dribble, and whilst the difficulty is invariably easier, you’ll still marvel with delight at the true unstoppable genius you must be when you complete a tricky one. Reminiscent of Little Big Planet, Portal has this level design that just makes you smile. And that smile will turn into a grin. And that grin into a chuckle. And that chuckle into a huge, booming, floor-thundering laugh. Probably.

Co-op is an entirely separate affair. It has its own story, areas and characters. All are as delightful as the single player components, but in their own, new, co-operative sort of way. Whilst I haven’t splintered the co-op mode with quite the same pathological insanity as the main game (which is because not only do I despise inane babbling children on the internet, I also hate all of my friends) what I have tried works brilliantly. Each level is specifically engineered to require you to work together, and all come packaged with that Einstein-level victorious feeling upon completion, urging you on to the next one. Oh, and those robots you play as are brilliant too. The one called P-Body’s a little unnerving at times mind.

We like Valve for many reasons. One day maybe we’ll tell you about them. Right now, the only thing on your mind should be getting out there, purchasing your copy of Portal 2 and spending the next few hours soaring through the air like an incredulous inter-spacial ball of confusion, hurtling through the laws of gravity like Richard Hammond driving a Segway through a loop-the-loop. So there.

Brink Review

Brink is a Greggs lunch. It looks delicious. An unmitigated tray of salacious gaming prospects laying sizzling under that glass counter waiting for you to devour them all in the most animalistic, and above all disgusting way possible. Disgusting. That’s you. You’re disgusting.

On top of that, it even smells good, and all those shiny hanging banners depicting people scarily overjoyed to be holding in their very grasp an unfathomably delectable looking steak bake, only make the temptation grow increasingly unbearable. Above all though the Greggs lunch holds one, always consistent, omnipotent, undeniable feather on the wing of its commemorative pigeon. Disappointment. And Brink? Brink is disappointing too.

Just so you know, Bethesda, to over sell a game is to cause impossible damage to it. And boy did you do that. You sold me Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory, and gave me a Kinder Surprise. That’d been trodden on. By Chris Moyles. In fairness that’s a little harsh. Chris Moyles would have surely eaten a stray Kinder Egg. But to drag ourselves away from yet another food based metaphor, and to put it bluntly, Brink is teeming, bursting at the edges of its vibrantly coloured box, with potential. But that’s about it.

What Bethesda’s class bass shooter appeared to be, and what it actually is aren’t a million acres apart. The problem is, it does those things it promised, but it does them wrong.

The premise is an aforementioned class based shooter, with as much emphasis on completing objectives as actually piercing the exaggerated faces of the opposing team with hot lead. More so perhaps. There’s no sign of your team deathmatch here, it’s all a defend this, blow up that, hack into this, escort that guy, kind of affair. And whilst it might sound like I’ve merely covered the online play in that sentence, that is infact the single player too. Sort of. Allow me to explain.

There are three modes in Brink, Campaign, FreePlay and Challenge. Campaign levels are punctuated on either side with short cutscenes that are apparently some vague indicator the game actually has a story line. Freeplay allows you to set up a game with your own objectives and parameters, whilst Challenge, shockingly, confronts you with several set pieces, each with its own theme and the premise of wasting your t- sorry, developing your skills.

Each mission has an attacking team and a defending team, essentially, and those teams are populated by either the real deal, flesh and bones, utterly insufferable git foundation of the entire world (online) or by computer controlled bots that nine times out of ten would be outwitted in a battle situation by a set of Homebase own-brand garden furniture (offline).

The issue offline arises from the bare bones style gameplay, a handful a side, red Vs blue, Resistance Vs Security, and success is all on the structural integrity of the team. And your team, whichever side they may be, simply aren’t up to the job, spending most of their time running backwards into oncoming gunfire, wandering off to questionably discrete locations of the map by themselves, and saying ‘excuse me ma’am’ to bits of scenery they happen to have walked into. Above all, they concentrate on the most menial objective, as opposed to the single main one that is required to finish the level. It’s like trying to play with a team of easily distracted poultry. Except with more clucking. Somehow.

For a game that advertises its ‘parkour’-enabled engine, the SMART system, as its big middle-8, the interlude, the sing along part that makes you nod in coerced agreement, it sure seems like they forgot they’d promised us that bit until the last five minutes. There are two games that might spring to mind when you say ‘parkour’ or ‘free running’, or ‘pretentious non-sport’, and they are naturally, Mirrors Edge, and Assassin’s Creed. Whilst both do it differently, and have individual styles of gameplay to marry the element to, they both pull it off, arguably, impressively lithely. Brink does not.

It’s a fumbled implementation that works to some degree initially, but manages to dispel any idea of fluency by way of its own Parkour Challenge mission. Oddly, a perfect example of how often it doesn’t work quite the way they told us it would. Agreed, both aforementioned games fall into similar pits frequently as well, but when you get it right in say, Assassin’s Creed, it feels natural, and compelling. It’s fun. It’s simply not as thorough or fluid in Brink. That said, other than that particular parkour mission, there’s no absolute necessity to use it elsewhere.

Online is where the game finally starts to fit into that tight suit that Bethesda managed to convince the press to stitch together for it. At the very least, your team are making a slightly more significant and concerted effort to accomplish the essential tasks, and if you can get a few mates who actually want to play the game in to the fray too, you’ll definitely get the most out of it.

You can switch between classes during matches to complete certain tasks, but deciding between your friends who will do what, and making on the fly decisions to lock down several objectives can be a menial bakery full of fun, and when you find a game that’s balanced, it finally feels like Brink is working the way it was supposed to.

To conclude, Brink feels like a Lionhead game. That’s not to say that it feels quirky and different. It’s to say we were lied to. Sort of. Don’t get us wrong, there is an excellent game buried within Brink’s shiny turquoise case, beneath the compelling curvature of its brilliant art style, further down than the flaws that sometimes seem to relentlessly mar the experience with a pathological intensity, lower even than the practically absent single player. Because when it works, it works well. The problem we find is that the main thing Brink does right, is done better by Team Fortress 2. So we’ll probably just play that. And put up with all the hats.

Respawn in …5 Score: 69%