Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Contrast (Xbox One) - Review

Contrast is out now on the Xbox One having previously been released on the last gen consoles. It was one that I kept meaning to pick up, but never got round to before getting my One. Having not played it on the 360 I can't really comment on whether there are any improvements between the two versions. It does feel rather last gen, so I wouldn't be surprised if there hasn't been any notable graphic improvements made. 

In parts the game can look really nice - the levels are quite pretty but the character designs, whilst initially pretty good soon reminded me of 'Alone in the Dark Jack is Back', a game I played on the PS1 back in the day. Now I'm not saying the graphics are that bad,  this was more in the movement as all the characters look pretty good initially but they all moved a little bit too unnaturally, quite clunky and forced looking really. Dawn, the character you play as is a nightmare to control because of this clunky movement. Her legs are too long so I was forever overstepping or over-jumping obstacles and running into walls. For a character sprite that looks so lean and lithe she moved with all the grace of an elephant. 

Pretty sexy for a young girls imaginary friend!
For those of you that haven't played the game yet, you take control of Dawn, the imaginary friend of Didi. Now maybe this is the mummy in me but I was really shocked at how sexualised Dawn is at first, really struggling to believe that this corset wearing woman was the imaginary friend of a young girl. My childhood imaginary friend certainly didn't look like that! But as I played more of the game I guess it kinda made sense. The game is set in the 1920's and Didi's mum is a lounge singer, so I for one didn't find it quite so difficult to believe anymore. As I said though, this particular problem for me is probably nothing for a lot of people. It being set in the 1920's leads me to the best part of this game in my opinion - the sound. The voice acting and the jazz music soundtrack are fantastic. 

Didi seems to be the only real person Dawn can see...
Now when I first heard about Contrast I was really excited about it. And loading it up I expected it to be a game that felt full of heart, but really it kinda falls flat. Maybe it's because everyone but Didi is shown only in shadow, which can be seen as ruining any sense of immersion in the story. It felt pretty hard to empathise with any of the characters. I feel like in theory this game was fantastic, but in practice I'm not so sure. The story is fairly interesting, but I just didn't feel any real connection to it, it felt quite pedestrian, like a bad cover for the fact that this is just a platform game. I guess I expected this game to feel more narrative based then it was, which is totally my bad. As a massive fan of games as storytelling devices I wanted more from the story. All the aspects were there for an emotionally driven narrative, but it fell short and at some points was pretty soulless.

Use the shadows to get around the levels
Dawn can move through the 3D area and the 2D area that is the shadows on the wall. Now this is a key thing for this game, and it is done really well. There are parts where I was questioning whether I really couldn't go another way, like did I really have to morph into the shadows if this had been real life, but for the most part it made sense, and it was pretty fun to jump in between these two very different styles of play. The 2D took some getting used to. I found Dawn kept switching back out when I hadn't told her so and the shadow jump really took awhile for me to 'get', but it does prove to be a fun gameplay mechanic.

The levels are very linear, really. It seems like they are not at first glance but the first time I tried to deviate from Didi's instructions I was told off and turned back. The next time, she still moaned at me but I didn't have to turn back. And there are A LOT of collectibles. Seriously there are that many that at times you will find three in one room. They give an interesting bit of back story, but it kinda feels like there are too many for them to be of any worth. Also when you do press to view them it ruins any immersion, as when you back out instead of being in the game world, you're at the pause screen, just giving an extra level of separation really. 

What annoyed me the most about this game is that there didn't seem to be any reason given to it. There are these things called 'luminaries' that you run round collecting, and for awhile you're just left wondering why the hell you are doing it. Then you use them to make a spotlight work. Didi seems to know all about it, though, but still no explanation is given. Also there are huge holes in the games universe. Literal holes. The world looks like the little worlds on the British Gas adverts, but less cutesy and colourful. What the hell is that? There are a lot of nonsensical things in Contrast really. Dawn can break down massive metal scaffolding, but apparently can't open a simple door. It sometimes feels like the game is sending you the long way round just to drag out the game, which is pretty short. 

A HUGE problem for us was one that many may not encounter, but we were both sat down whilst I was playing, and then Kinect picked up that he was in the room and promptly KICKED ME OUT OF THE GAME. What the hell?! I had to redo a fairly large portion of the game because it knew someone else had signed in and it didn't like it. So sign everyone in when you load up this game on your Xbox One, for fear of them walking in and the Kinect doing it for you - Contrast really doesn't like it.

Generally this game feels like it could have been much more. It was an absolutely cracking idea let down by some pretty poor execution. Dawn doesn't move the way you expect her to and seeing as some - if not most - of the puzzles depend on refined movement and waiting for the exact right moment, this is a pretty tough problem to overlook. The music really is fantastic and the puzzles are good. It's currently on sale on Xbox One and I would say it's worth it at that price, but I'd say it's not really worth full price unless you're a huge platformer aficionado. 

5/10 TRY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review.

Friday, 19 September 2014

KickBeat: Special Edition (Xbox One) - Review

KickBeat: Special Edition is coming out next week and the nice guys at Zen Studios sent me a code over so I could review it for you!

KickBeat is a rhythm game with a twist. Rhythm games have been pretty popular over the last few years, and in my mind peaked with the amazing Rock Band Blitz, which I loved when I reviewed it. Rock Band Blitz, however good it is, doesn't give you much to look at other than the buttons that mess with your vision long after your finished and this is where KickBeat comes into it's own.

KickBeat is Kung-Fu themed. Yes, really. Kung-Fu. The main protagonist fights wave after wave of enemies as you press the buttons. There are even 'Boss Levels' (The first of which is really good fun and played out to my favourite song off the game 'The Beautiful People' by Marilyn Manson). When I first read it I have to admit to thinking it'd be pretty bad. But when you think about it Kung-Fu does seem pretty rhythmic. I have NO experience whatsoever in the martial arts so I'm not sure how true that is, but certainly when you see a martial arts sequence in a film or whatever the choreography certainly makes it seem that way.

When you first load the game it looks pretty budget, just from the menu. But I didn't immediately go into the story mode (which is a rookie error BELIEVE ME!) so didn't see straight away just how gorgeous the art style is. It's hand-drawn and really is beautifully done.

So not being a complete idiot I did go to play through the tutorial first. Which would be a good idea if they weren't so boring. I know a tutorial is never going to be the most fun part of a game, but with rhythm games the music drives it, makes the player feel energised and the tutorial features a metronome only. There is a lot to take in with this game at first I feel, but nothing that doesn't make sense eventually (like holding the button down if the enemies are leaving a yellow trail behind them) and it does all feel very familiar if you have ever played another rhythm game.

I only stuck it through the first level of tutorial at first before I just wanted to play to some music. And this is where I made the biggest error...please don't make it yourself. I went straight into Survival mode. Survival mode is TOUGH. Which is great as you get better at the game and definitely adds to the longevity of it, but as a newbie it SUCKS! It is SO difficult and for about the first seven attempts I lasted only somewhere between 20-40 seconds. Which the first time I told myself wasn't too bad, until I realised that Survivor mode is graded in the amount of TRACKS YOU CLEAR. I still haven't managed to clear one!

So I ventured into the story mode. Which is OK. The story isn't as bad as it could be, but come on, it was never going to be groundbreaking either. The reason I prefer the story mode is for the pure fact that there is a learning curve present with it, whereas in Survival mode you are just thrown in at the deep end.

I did have to really battle against myself with this game though. By this I mean that because you are fighting enemies my natural impulse was to mash their corresponding button so as not to get got. Which, inevitably, lead to me getting battered. It is something that I really struggled to quell, as I'd see them moving closer and closer and just want to strike. Old habits die hard I guess.

There are some breaks in the game which shows your character pull a cool move on the last enemy they attacked. I actually really enjoyed this as it showed how much the developers have thought about the music and how much thought they put into making it fit the game perfectly. These moments always happen at a natural break in the rhythm of the music, like in the bridge before a chorus for example, and really help keep the game flowing, giving the player a moment to relax their stressed out fingers.

This game is tough but it is fun. There is also a Split-Screen mode, so that you can play against a friend which is a really good feature, and definitely one that a game like this needs. It is tricky but in a good way really, as I for one definitely don't feel I'll ever be proficient enough at this game to tire of it. There is plenty of life in it, and is a good one to load up if you have a few friends round for a last man standing type of game. I'd say that it is definitely worth trying!

6/10 TRY IT!
A code was provided for the purpose of this review

Monday, 15 September 2014

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition (Xbox One) - Review

Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition is, quite honestly, the type of game I usually dislike, at least a little. I find that they normally lack a cohesive, engaging narrative and soon dissolve into a mass of button-mashing whilst mindlessly travailing the extremely linear path set out for you.

Now if you expect Diablo III to not feel a little like the above at some points then you've clearly never played a dungeon crawler before. But even though that style of game usually sees me scrolling through my Twitter feed in one hand, whist mindlessly bashing a random sequence of buttons on the limp controller in my other hand, I enjoyed Diablo III. Immensely. Let me tell you why...

So the first time I put this game in I wanted to really test myself. I decided to play it solo (or rather my co-op partner was at work!) and went straight away for the highest difficulty available to me. Now if you know me at all you will know that this is completely NOT what I would normally do. I'm a cautious gamer on my first play through of any game, I usually play through on mid-difficulty for the first play-through, telling myself it is because I want to 'fully immerse myself in the story'. This isn't true. My choice in difficulty level usually boils down to one simple fact: I'm shit-scared of most things and HATE repeating because I died.

My epic battlemage!
So after choosing this difficulty and commending myself on my bravery I then did another silly thing that is completely UNLIKE me. I chose to play my FIRST EVER game of Diablo in 'Hardcore' mode. Hardcore mode means that if (or rather when) your character dies they do COMPLETELY DIE. No do-over. No second chance. They are just GONE. Or in Diablo III, all progress in the story is lost but your character 'Will be remembered'. The only other game I've ever played in Hardcore mode is Fallout: New Vegas. And that is because the VATS system rules. And I am a pretty awesome adventurer.

So my first ever character created for any Diablo game was Mallory the Demon Hunter, (NOT the character pictured above, more about her later). Later, reading up on Diablo on some forums I discovered that this is the class most people would STAY AWAY from if they were to play the game solo. Awesome. I started my game thinking 'Ah well, it'll be a fun 15 minutes'....

But my character is STILL ALIVE TO THIS DAY. I am still in a state of shock really. I played with Mallory for a couple of hours, getting more and more nervous, especially when I got any cool stuff, that this battle would be her last. For the first hour I told myself I didn't care, but after that I couldn't hide it anymore...I cared about her a lot, and knew I would be extremely mad if I lost her because I'd ticked one stupid box. I got to the bit where you find the fallen star with her and then had to quit to make the family's meal.

Coming back to it that evening my partner and I decided to play together. Not wanting to subject Mallory to anymore torture today (and to be honest wanting to keep her away from any game that my partner was playing with me because really he is an AWFUL co-op partner!) I created a new character. Valeri, the wizard (see picture above). Sam picked the Demon Hunter class and away we went.

So instead of boring you to death with more of the same I'll get on to the meat of the review, the stuff you all come here for...Should you part with your hard-earned cash for it or not?

Gorgeous scenery
The answer is a HUGE YES. As I said above, I'm not really a dungeon-crawler fan, but I have sunk many an hour into this game now, and I am still hungering for more. I go through every are with a toothpick in order to get the most loot. I beg my partner to play 'just another hour' until it's 3am and we both have to be up in 3 hours. Missing out on this game is truly missing out on one of the greatest games on the Xbox One so far.

Yeah, it has some issues (which games DON'T?) but they pale into insignificance when faced with how much fun this game is. The 'A' button can be particularly annoying, as it is used for your Primary Attack, but also to interact with the world around you and to move to different areas - we often found ourselves going in and out of the same door due to the fact that there were enemies waiting immediately inside. And sometimes the auto-aim can be a little bit silly and instead of aiming at the more immediate danger, i.e the guy right next to you, it aims at someone about 20 feet away. But all is forgiven Diablo III, I love you despite these things.

Dungeon crawling is always better with a friend
And the good stuff is really GREAT. Visually the game is GORGEOUS, with beautiful landscapes and scenery and gorgeous character designs. The story is good too, albeit not the best but good, especially for a dungeon crawler. The voice acting is a little hammy, but again it's to be expected from this type of game. And one of the best things about this game is that you don't feel like your'e being babysat. The tutorial doesn't force itself on you, interrupting the action to tell you to use the LS to move (like anyone REALLY doesn't know that?!). Instead it is the reassuring friend in the background, there for you to glance at to know you're doing the right thing.

So if you haven't already guessed, or if you're one of those who just skips to the end of a review for the 'answer' so to speak, this game should definitely be on everyones Xbox One shelf. It managed to charm me. which is no easy feat, especially considering my lack of love for the genre. But after playing this game I would't be without it, and I look forward to my nightly visits to a dungeon. So grab a copy and join in!

10/10 BUY IT!
A promotional copy was provided for the purpose of this review.