No Man’s Sky – Review PS4

If you’ve tried to follow any of the news about this game over the 3 years since it was announced you’re probably pretty confused as to what this game is. The release of No Man’s Sky has been irreversibly marred by controversy due to one of the creators Shaun Murray being a bit vague about whether or not there is multiplayer. People have been unfairly slamming the game with low user review scores, trying to claim refunds on grounds of false advertising and most disturbingly sending death threats to the development team. I can say up front with 100% certainty that there is no multiplayer at all in No Man’s Sky and honestly I don’t think that would have made people happy anyway.

 

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So what is this game? At its most basic level NMS is a survival game, you explore an environment looking for resources to repair your ship, power your suit and upgrade your items. There have been plenty of similar games like this (e.g. Minecraft, Don’t Starve, The Long Dark) released on PC but NMS’s gimmick that set’s it apart is its huge universe that you can freely explore.

 

Lost in Space

 

You start the game by taking control of a faceless spaceman/woman/robot who wakes up next to a crashed ship on a random planet. This serves as the game’s tutorial mission, you need to repair your ship so you can leave the planet. The interesting thing about this task is that the planet is random so you can have a pretty different experience to another person. I started out on a horrible lifeless planet with acid rain that was constantly ticking away at my suit’s life support. You have to collect various elements like iron and plutonium by mining rocks and crystals then combine them into the missing ship parts. This can take a couple of hours depending on how lucky you get with resources in the area, it becomes a sort of balancing act though because some of these same resources are also used to recharge your life support. The start of this game is very confusing, it doesn’t really make a good first impression. I think it leaves you to figure out way too much on your own which just frustrated me especially because I had to keep running back to my ship to avoid the acid rain.

 

Once you fix your ship you’re finally free to start exploring SPAAAACE! I got the hell off my planet first second I could, once you get past the atmosphere you should start to see some planets around the current start system you’re in. You can fly to any of these planets which is a video game dream people have had for years. Your overall goal is to journey to the center of the universe but other than that you’re just supposed to explore the endless planets.

 

No Man's Sky_20160808210333

 

Throughout the marketing cycle they have been boasting that the game contains over 18 quintillion planets which is an almost unfathomable number if you’re not an astrophysicist. Most people playing the game will probably only see around 50-100 before they’re done so the game never really feels that big while you’re playing. I am in no way discounting the amazing technological achievement this game is however, the developer Hello Games have done some amazing things here. In the way Minecraft can randomly generate a landmass for you to play on NMS’s universe has been built in a similar way. Hello Games figured out a formula that creates planets all with random weather, animals, plants, alien buildings and oceans which is how such a small team has created something this huge. Once this had all been generated it was locked in place so everyone playing the game right now is in the same starting universe.

 

Fear of a Meme Planet

 

One of the only interactions you can have with other players is naming things you discover. If you’re the first person to discover something whether it be a star system, planet, creature, plant or rock you will have the opportunity to name it yourself. If by chance someone else were to land on your planet they would be see what you had named it. In my hours of playtime I didn’t come across anything other people had discovered, it seems as these kinds of interactions are extremely rare. How disappointing that barely anyone will get to explore the majesty of my planet Harambe IV in the Dark Naruto 420 star system but I guess that will make it a really special moment if you do find some evidence of another player.

 

On paper this really does sound like one of the greatest games of all time but unfortunately it’s just not that much fun. I ended up getting stuck in a rut just doing the same things over and over again. I would enter a star system, land on the nearest planet, look for a inventory upgrade, sell all my extra items then do it all again. There are definitely others things I could have been doing but none of it felt worth it.

 

NMS dog thing

 

They give you a very vague path to follow which I guess you could call a story but unfortunately it all amounts to nothing. After a while I found myself skipping planets which is not something I wanted to do but they don’t give you enough incentive to explore. A lot of the planets have the same buildings and alien ruins on them and there are no quests or missions to found on the planets. If you meet another alien they usually just give you a random item recipe or teach you a bit of their language so you can eventually understand what they’re saying. The aliens have actually been my favourite part of the game. They found a way to make them really charming even though for most of the game you can’t understand what they’re saying to you.

 

NoMansSky_Monolith

 

This game works much better as a passive activity, if you’ve got some music or a podcast to listen to while you play you’ll probably see less of NMS’s downsides. This game was just a bit of a disappointment for me. I didn’t have any ridiculous expectations like some other people on the internet but I did expect it to be more of a rewarding experience. I’ll definitely come back to it from time to time because it can be a beautiful game and it is a pretty amazing technical feat.

 
★★★☆☆

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Gone Home Review – PS4

Do a cursory online search about this game and you’ll probably see a lot of forum threads asking if Gone Home can actually be classed as a video game. The gaming community has dismissively dubbed games of this nature “Walking Simulators” basically meaning it’s a game where you walk around an environment to experience a story. This is a unique type of storytelling that you can only be done in a video game, where the story can be uncovered in different ways depending on how you explore.

This review will contain general spoilers but I’ll try and keep it vague

In Gone Home you take control of Kaitlin Greenbriar as she returns home from a midnight flight in 1995. You arrive to find the house deserted and a mysterious note on the front door from your younger sister asking you not to go looking for answers. So of course my first instinct is to ignore this and start rummaging around for stuff! Along your way you’ll find handwritten notes all over the house which slowly drip feed you parts of the overall story. When you find an important piece of info you’re treated to a voice over from your sister Sam as she seems to have left you a trail of diary entries explaining what’s happened to her. 

Only 90s Kids Will Remember…

This game is awash with 90’s nostalgia, pretty much every object in the house can be picked up and examined. You’ll find cassette tapes, answering machines, old TVs, recordable VHS tapes labelled “X-Files – season 1”, Super Nintendo carts and lot’s of other innocuous household items young people won’t recognise. 

At it’s core Gone Home is a story of two young girls (your sister Sam and Lonnie) bonding over Street Fighter 2 and punk music and eventually falling in love. As you move through the house you find evidence of their cute moments together. You’ll hear about them going to a punk show together then shortly after you can find a tape of the band they were talking about which you can play in the many cassette players dotted around the house. One of my favourite parts was finding evidence of them making their own Riot Grrrl punk fanzine even showing how they glued together the front cover. This hit close to home for me because my parents met at a punk show in the 80s and punk cassette tapes, fanzines and Super Nintendo games were all things that could be found in my house growing up.

Parental Guidance 

On your travels you can also find out about their parents through notes and items. You can discover that your father is a struggling writer by finding letters back and forth with his publisher and later on coming across a depressingly large stack of his unsold books. You also find evidence that your mother has received a big promotion at her forestry job but later on Sam’s diary entries reference how distant she’s become as a result of her increasing workload. You’re not required to find out about the parents to progress the game but it really adds to your understanding of the story if you do seek it out.

It’s amazing how every piece of information you can find is connected. You’ll see something that seems unimportant like there’s a Skull ornament you can see in the foyer right at the start but you don’t find out until much later that this was the first gift Lonnie gave Sam after a trip to Mexico. Technically you could miss some of these connections too, I’m sure there’s a lot I missed on my first play through but that just makes it even more satisfying when you do link something together. 

I don’t really want to say anymore about the game because the story is best experienced for yourself. This is a pretty short game too, a normal playthrough seems to last about 2 hours depending on how thoroughly you search the house. I really enjoyed my playthrough and for me it’s been a game that has became more impressive the more I’ve been thinking about it. At the time of writing the PS4 version of Gone Home is free for PlayStation Plus subscribers till July 5th so if anything I’ve said interests you give it a download.

★★★★☆

Overwatch Review -PS4

Overwatch is a brand new game series from Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft. It’s an online multiplayer shooter where teams of 6 characters with different abilities fight it out over control of the map. I was completely unaware of what type of game Overwatch was and to be honest I think it was getting it mixed up with a few other similarly titled multiplayer games all announced at the same time (I blame you Battleborn and Paragon). Once it was out though I couldn’t get away from the unanimous praise all over social media so I knew it had to be something special.


The main mode in Overwatch is the online multiplayer, there are a few different objectives you’ll be randomly given during matches but it usually boils down to one team attacking while the other is defending. While defending your job is to either stop the enemy from taking over an area on the map or to stop them from escorting a vehicle through the level. Now this by itself is nothing special, lot’s of games have these mode but it’s Overwatch’s amazing cast of characters that are really impressive. 

You get 21 characters to chose from which is a bit daunting at first but they do try and make this easier for you by separating them into different classes. Offensive heroes will be familiar to most people, they’re your standard guys and gals with guns who’s focus is on taking out the enemy. Defensive heroes are still pretty good at taking people out but also have tools like traps or gun turrets to help the team out. A tank hero’s job is to absorb damage and generally distract the enemy so the rest of your team can move on the objective. The last category are support heroes whose job it is to heal or shield their teammates and are usually invaluable to a team’s success. The game does tell you if your team composition is lacking something before you start so you do get a chance to put it right (although people rarely pay attention). 


Heroes Never Die

Here’s a quick overview of the characters pictured from left to right above:


Genji
Is a robot ninja who excels at running round the map and surprising the enemy from behind. He can throw ninja stars, dash through people with his sword and even deflect most attacks back at his opponent. He can also run up walls and double jump letting him get to anywhere on the map.

Junkrat
Is an explosive specialist who has a grenade launcher to bombard the enemy team and also has bear traps and remote mines he can use to protect objectives when defending. His special move is a giant explosive tire that you drive around which can be devastating if the whole enemy team is close together.

Roadhog
Looks like he just came from the set of Mad Max and uses a hook on a chain you can use to reel in smaller heros an finish them off with his shotgun. He’s great for pulling snipers down off their perch where they can’t do much and he can also heal himself so doesn’t rely on any healers.

Mei
Uses her ice gun to either freeze opponents or snipe them from a distance with icicles. Her signature ability is that she can create a wall of ice which can be used to block the enemy or help protect an area.

Zarya
She can create barriers around herself and others which absorb damage and also increase the power of her own weapon. For her special she can also create a gravity well which can trap enemies in place making them easy picking.

Pharah
Is a pure attack character, she soars through the sky with her jetpack raining rockets down on anyone out in the open. The trade off to this is that she can’t take a lot of hits if you get the drop on her.

Tracer
Is another character like Genji who is meant to ambush unaware opponents. She can run rings around some of the slower characters thanks to her small size and ability to teleport. She also has the ability to rewind time for herself in case you zip off a ledge by mistake or want to further confuse your opponents.

Widowmaker
Is your standard sniper character, she can use a grappling hook to get up to good vantage points other characters can’t reach. She also has a poison mine to surprise people who’re trying to sneak up on you and her special attack reveals the enemies positions to the whole team.

D.Va
Is a really strange and fun character to use, in her default form she pilots a giant robot suit that can deal big damage up close and fly around the map with rocket boosters. Her special move is to self destruct her suit which deals a huge amount of damage over a wide area but leaves you on foot with only a handgun to protect you.

Torbjörn
Does what dwarfs do best, build contraptions. He can build an upgradable turret that will auto target enemies, this can be devastating if set up in the right place. He can also give his team mates extra armor to increase their overall health.

Reaper
With his double shotguns Reaper is an up close and personal character. He can teleport around the map to set up ambushes and if he finishes off an opponent he can collect a small amount of health to keep him going. His special is a barrage of shotgun blasts that is best used up you can warp into the middle of a group.

Mercy
The most straightforward healer in the game she has a beam that locks onto the nearest ally that refills their health. When playing her it’s best to hang back with the group so they can protect you if it gets rough. She can also boost the damage of an ally and her special can resurrect your fallen teammates.

Zenyatta
Another healer who doesn’t heal as much as Mercy but he can also weaken a single enemy at a time making them an easy kill. He also does a surprising amount of damage by himself but he’s not very durable and pretty slow moving.

Hanzo
Is another sniper type character who uses a bow and arrow to pick off his enemies. Like Genji he can also climb walls to find a good vantage point and is overall more stealthy than Widowmaker. The thing that sets Hanzo apart is his special move where he shoots a huge dragon out in front of him which pretty much kills everything in it’s path.

Reinhardt
A huge knight in a robo suit of armour who is an asset to any team. His big thing is he can generate a shield in front of himself which will block a lot of damage plus your teammates can shoot through it from behind. If he has to fight for himself he can rocket towards an enemy and pin them to a wall so they can be finished of with a swing of his giant hammer.

Winston
The super intelligent Gorilla who is one of the best characters for distracting the enemy. He has a jet powered jump which he can use to get in the middle of a group and make a general nuisance of himself. His special move Primal Rage refills your health and gives you new attacks that can knock enemies all over the place for a few seconds.

Symmetra
Is pretty unique as far as the support characters go, instead of healing she can put up shield on her allies. Her main use is to defend areas as she can place laser turrets on the floor or walls which slow enemies down and eventually drain their health is they don’t react in time. Her special is to create a teleporter so your team doesn’t have run as far from the respawn point.

Soldier 76
This guy is probably the easiest character to use. He’s your standard assault guy who has a laser rifle with grenade attachment. He can also heal himself and allies with his bubble shield making him even more beginner friendly.

Bastion
Is probably one of the most satisfying characters to play on defence. He’s basically a transformer who can bunker down and transform into a machine gun emplacement which does a lot of damage but can’t move around to dodge attacks. If you set up in the right spot you can stop an entire enemy team single handedly.

Lúcio
This guy attacks and heals people with the power of sound. This means that just by standing next to Lúcio you will be getting constant healing. He can use his sound gun to blast opponents away (or into pits if you’re lucky) so you can get away and hide behind more capable teammates. He can also switch from healing to a speed boost which is good for getting back into the action after a respawn.

McCree
Is a classic cowboy with a 6-shooter. He’s a good mid-range fighter as long as you’re accurate enough. If anyone gets close he has a flashbang he can use to stun enemies giving him a chance to unload and his special move lets him shoot everyone in his line of sight as long as they stay there long enough for you to lock on.

There’s No ‘I’ in Team

Overwatch is a really fun game, as I mentioned it can seem a bit intimidating at first because you’re going into a team game where other people are relying on you but the game will try and match you up with other beginner players. One of the more charming aspects of the game is the personality the characters have. They all have signature lines they spout whenever you activate you special attack or respawn after a defeat. One awesome thing I noticed is that sometimes at the start of a match while you’re all running to set up your defences the characters will chat to each other as you go. They also have plenty of unlockable outfits and colour swaps for the characters that you can get randomly out of loot boxes. You get a loot box containing 4 random cosmetic items each time you level up (or if you pay real cash) but the good stuff like costumes seem to appear very rarely.

The menus are really easy to navigate, you can be searching for a match with about 3 presses of the ‘X’ button but it also has plenty of in depth options if that’s something you want. I was particularly impressed by the amount of options it has for colorblind players like me. Since enemies and objectives are indicated by colour I was able to adjust the hue of these so I could tell the difference between the red and orange. There were many more colour options to chose from, if you want to change these colours completely depending on your needs. It’s nice to see a game be this colourblind friendly.

With the game’s main mode being online only this isn’t a game I could recommend to anyone who doesn’t have their PS4 connected online with PS+ because you’ll just be able to play matches against computer opponents. I don’t think that’s something you could play for a long time before getting bored.

This is the first online shooter I’ve gotten into since like 2010 for COD: Black Ops, I just felt like I couldn’t keep up with the kids who did nothing but play all day and I’d usually just die over and over. The great thing about Overwatch is that if you’re not very good at shooting dudes you can play a support or tank class instead. Having a Mercy keeping the team healthy or a Reinhardt shielding everyone can really change the tide of battle. I found myself gravitating towards Mercy if no one else is playing her, I’ve never played a healer in games before but I’ve been loving it. There’s no pressure to be killing other players but it’s still exciting trying to keep everyone alive. Plus watching your team’s health bars fill up is oddly satisfying. There is also no penalty for losing so if your team is defeated there’s no need to dwell, just try harder next time.

I genuinely think that as long as you are at least competent with first person games you could have some fun with Overwatch. Blizzard have made this game user friendly and as simple possible to play but there is still plenty of depth and advanced strategies for those who want to seek it out. I’ve loved every minute of this game so far (even being on the losing team) and honestly I can’t wait to go play some more.

★★★★★

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone PS4 Review

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt is an incredible game by itself. It’s also a very big game, you could easily spend 100 hours playing and still have more to do. I think this is the reason it took me so long to get round to playing the Hearts of Stone expansion, I was all Witchered out. But I’m glad I finally did because itwasn’t long before I was reminded why I love this series so much.

It’s worth noting up front that to even play this downloadable expansion they recommend that you’re level 32 which is pretty close to end game. There will also be general spoilers for the Hearts of Stone quests in this review.

Once again we take control of Geralt of Rivia, resident monster hunter and all around problem solver of this world. He takes on a seemingly innocuous contract to slay a monster in the sewers. This ends up being a pretty annoying boss fight that turns south and ends up with Geralt imprisoned on ship destined for a far away land to be executed. This is where the real story begins, a mysterious man appears and offers Geralt a way off the ship if he in turn helps this disturbingly sinister man out with his problems. 

A Witcher Always Repays His Debt

You’re tasked with fulfilling 3 requests to repay your debt that take you all over the surrounding countryside of Novigrad. They haven’t added any new landmass for you to explore in this update, instead they made good use of some areas that you wouldn’t visit during a normal play through of the main game. This meant a lot of the areas felt new even though they technically weren’t.

The first quest I embarked on was to show Vlodimir Von Everec one last night on the town, sounds simple enough right? Well it turns out that he’s been dead for quite a while. You end up having to go and resurrect him from their family crypt and let him possess your body so he can go and attend a wedding party. This leads to some great comedic moments where Vlodimir is being his outgoing, womanising self in Geralt’s body which is a complete contrast to his regular stoic personality. This is a great example of how the Witcher subverts your expectation that it’s just another stuffy, self serious high fantasy game and shows that it’s not afraid to get completely ridiculous and light hearted from time to time. 


The next task I embarked on was to retrieve some important documents from an auction house. The owner was less than cooperative so you end up planning a heist mission to get into the auction house’s vault. You even get a choice of which specialists you recruit to breach the vault door and scale the building. I love situations like this where they insert modern story concepts into the fantasy world of the Witcher.

Geralt’s Choice

The final task culminates in a sort of twisted retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, giving you a glimpse of everyone’s dark past. There are some tough choices for you to make along the way influencing whether certain characters live or die. The most important of these giving you a time limit when deciding your answer just to ratchet up the intensity one more notch. 


Other than these story missions (which can take around 10 hours to complete) they do add in a few extra bits and pieces. There’s a new weapon and armour enchanter who can add unique upgrades to your equipment. A snazzy new all black suit of Witcher armor to collect throughout the quests. They do add a new Witcher contract too where you have to try and find someone’s lost friend but it seemed very uneventful, unless I messed it up in some way and missed something (which I have done before).

Overall I really enjoyed this expansion, it doesn’t really fix any of the problems people had with the base game. The item system is still a bit clunky to navigate and the game can still slow down and stutter if there are lots of enemies on screen. They’ve said they would try and make some more improvements to the performance of the game this month when they release the next expansion though. If you were like me and not sure if you were ready to come back to the game I would definitely recommend it just for the new quests alone.

★★★★☆

Street Fighter V Review – PS4

  
  
In February I wrote about how I thought Street Fighter V was not worth buying at it’s time of release. Since then they have made some of the promised upgrades so when I saw the game had been discounted to just under £30 I decided it was time to check it out. 

SFV is the newest numbered entry in one of the longest running fighting game franchises ever. The first entry in the series was originally exclusive to arcades in 1987, there may only be 5 numbered entries but Street Fighter is famous for re-releasing games with new additions to prolong their lifespan. The first ever Street Fighter game I played was Super Street Fighter II Turbo which is actually the 3rd revision of that specific game, Phew! So this actually makes SFV round about the 19th unique release! Everyone still following along at home? 

It’s totally understandable that fans were disappointed that SFV launched with such a barebones list of features considering this isn’t Capcom’s first rodeo.

Missing Pieces

  

  

Street Fighter V shares a lot of similarities with many other fighting games on the market today. A regular match is best to 3 rounds with the first player to reduce the other’s health bar to zero winning. Each character has their own set of unique normal and special fighting moves they can use to do damage and trick your opponent into letting down their guard. Street Fighter is often likend to the video game equivalent of chess because it pits two people against each other in a pure test of skill. 

Unfortunately this isn’t very good for new players who can be completely outclassed if you venture online without training enough. This was the first thing that disappointed me about SFV, they still haven’t figured out a good way to teach new players how the game is played. You’re thrown into a pretty basic tutorial up front that shows you what buttons to press to do some moves but it doesn’t tell you why you should use certain moves in certain situations. Sure you could go online a find some of this out yourself but you shouldn’t have to do that. 

If you dig a little deeper into the options they have added character specific tutorials that go into more detail about the tools each character has but this is simply a video clip and a text box overlay. It doesn’t show you and then let you try it out for yourself. You’re just supposed to watch it then commit it to memory. Some of this was fine for my needs because I’ve played most of the games in the series but I couldn’t help but put myself in the shoes of a novice player. If you’re approaching this game with no prior knowledge I really think you’d have a pretty frustrating time at first, until you read some online guides or watched some YouTube videos. I just can’t help but think there’s a step they’re missing in there. Capcom should find a way to help new players make that transition from noob to pro without having to seek help outside of the game.

As I mentioned previously, Capcom did make good on their promise to update the game in March to add some new features and a new character. Frustratingly Capcom was keeping quiet and the update didn’t show up until March 30th which sent forums and subreddits into a rage but they’ll always be able to say that they technically hit their March deadline I guess. 

These features were the aforementioned character specific tutorial videos, up to 8 player online lobbies, the online shop (where you can purchase additional content) and 10 challenges to complete for each character which sees you performing progressively harder move combos. These are all things that definitely should have been in the game from the beginning but at least we didn’t have to purchase them separately so that’s something.
  

My Fight Money!

  

 

The online store at the time of writing is a complete mess. It seems as though they made it as convoluted as they possible. First of all there are 2 types of currency, Fight Money is what you earn from in-game actions such as winning matches and generally just playing the game. Then they have Zenny which is a premium currency you can buy with real money but as of right now this hasn’t even been added into the game yet! I’m just not a fan of this dual currency system, it comes from free to play mobile games and I don’t think it has a place in a full priced retail game. 

There are items in the store that probably should just be included as unlockables in the main game. Each character has the default costume and classically in Street Fighter you can select color variation on this outfit so for example Ryu can have his classic white outfit and red bandana or you could change it up with a blue outfit and yellow bandana. In SFV you only start out with 2 colours for each character and 8 more can be unlocked by beating the game’s survival mode on various difficulties. The remaining colours 11-15 have to purchased from the store on a per character basis. I don’t think you should have to spend your currency just to unlock what is essentially a colour swap of content that is already on the disc and when they add the option to be spending real money on this it’s just going to get messier.
  

Choose Your Character

  

One thing that’s always a constant in the Street Fighter series is a cast of interesting characters to choose from, let’s do a character rundown:

Ryu: Our wandering hero who is looking for the answers that lie in the heart of battle. Ryu is the classic beginner’s character that has been in every main SF game. He still does all the things you know and love. He throws fireballs, has his Shoryken flying uppercut and the spinning hurricane kick.

Ken: Ryu’s old sparring partner Ken also makes an appearance. He’s a lot like Ryu having the same basic special moves but he’s a bit quicker and has some more complicated combos to learn. He also has a better Shoryken than Ryu which travels further and sets the opponent on fire!

Chun Li: Another returning veteran. Chun Li is probably the fastest character in the game. Be ready to defend against a relentless barrage of kicks from all angles if your opponent picks her. 

Nash: As of right now considered to be the best character in the game we have Nash. Killed by the big bad M.Bison earlier in the timeline he’s now back as a reanimated corpse out for revenge! Nash has his own fireball variant the sonic boom and he can also teleport behind your opponent making it harder for them to defend.

Dhalsim: The stretchy, fire breathing yoga master is back. In past games Dhalsim has been a bit of a slower character but in SFV thanks to his teleport and air attacks it’s surprising how quick and aggressive he can be played in the right hands.

Cammy: The deadly british secret agent who’s bent on taking down Bison and his crew. Cammy is another speedy character who can rocket across the stage with her spiral arrow corkscrew kick which if timed right can also slip under your opponent’s projectiles.

Alex: Is the first of 3 wrestlers we have in SFV and he’s also the first downloadable character added post launch. Alex is a powerhouse, he hits really hard but is a little slow. If you get close to him you’re probably going to get powerbombed but he can also leap across the stage to grab you if you try to back off.

Laura: A Brazilian jiu jitsu fighter who somehow can electrify her opponents with judo hip throws. Laura’s a character who can have trouble if you keep her away with projectiles but once she gets in she’s in her element.

Necalli: Some kind of ancient soul devouring demon man with sick dread locks. Necalli is one of the new characters and he’s pretty fun to use. He charges around the stage clawing at his opponents and he can also stomp and pound on the ground to create blasts under his opponents.

Vega: The prettiest matador/cage fighter in the land is back. Vega is as imposing and tricky as ever in this game. He still has his trademark claw weapon which gives him good attack range and he still jumps off the walls to surprise people with german suplexes and strikes from above.

F.A.N.G: One of the new bad guys under Bison. This guy is pretty interesting, most of his special moves have a poison effect that will slowly drain the opponent’s health until they can land a hit on you. He’s also pretty goofy looking so it can be hard to tell where his attacks are coming from.

Zangief: Another veteran of the series the Russian wrestling champion of muscle power is back! He plays pretty much the same as he always did, your strategy should be to get close enough to put your opponent in his patented spinning piledriver. It can be risky against more projectile heavy characters but the reward is great.

Rashid: This guy is a new character who has the ability to shoot mini hurricanes across the stage with his super fast kicks. They can be hard to avoid as they go diagonally from the bottom to the top of the screen and while dodging this Rashid can still be attacking you.

R. Mika: A female wrestler from Japan who can rush at you with all manner of strikes to put you off guard. Unique to her is that she can call in her tag team partner to hit you from any side so you’ve got to keep an eye out for that during the fight too.

Karen: Is a highly skilled aristocrat with a disdain for those she deems lower class. Not the most exciting character to watch as most of her special moves are variations on kicks and punches but in the right hands she can be totally overwhelming.

Birdie: A huge chubby punk guy from London who uses his mohawk like a rhino horn to charge his opponents. He’s one of the slower guys but he can use bike chains to grab you from across the stage so he doesn’t always need to get close to hurt you. 

M. Bison: The evil dictator himself is also back to terrorise the world. Bison hasn’t changed much from the previous games. He still has his head stomp and his flipping knee attack but now he can also grab your projectiles out of the air and fire them back!

6 Buttons and a Joystick 

One thing I can’t fault in this game is the fighting. Actually playing the game feels great which is technically the most important thing in a fighting game but it’s a shame the whole package couldn’t have been held up to this standard.

You can really feel the impact of some of the hits, the fighters also do quite a lot of damage compared to Street Fighter IV so the matches have a quicker pace and are more tense when you get down to that last bit of health. They’ve also changed the way defending works in this game. In past Street Fighter games any special move that hit you when blocking would slowly chip away at your health. So if you had a pixel of health left your opponent could just mash out specials until one hit you but in SFV a move will only K.O. you if don’t block it. I think this makes it more exciting as you have to outsmart your opponent if they’re hanging on with the tiniest amount of health and blocking all of your fireballs.

Also new to this game is the V-system. Each character has a unique V-Skill activated by hitting the medium punch and kick buttons together. For example Ryu’s is a parry that can negate an attack giving you a chance for a quicker follow up or Dhalsim’s is to float in the air when you jump to avoid projectiles or mess up your opponent’s timing. They also have a unique V-Trigger activated by pressing the hard punch and kick buttons which is more of a long lasting effect but can only be used once a round typically. For V-Trigger Ryu gets increased special move damage and Dhalsim creates a carpet of flame that drains your opponent’s health if they stand on it.

In addition to this each character has a special meter which when full lets you unleash a Critical Art. Which is basically a big special attack that does a big chunk of damage if you hit but will probably leave you vulnerable if they block it. These character specific super moves are really visually impressive and are always crowd pleasers for anyone watching.

  

  

There are a lot of options during a match which is good but I often found myself forgetting to use a lot of this stuff in the heat of battle.

Another problem I found with the controls is they don’t map to a PS4 controller very naturally. You have to use the shoulder buttons for some of the attack buttons as you ideally want to use all 6 of them. Luckily I have an arcade stick controller so this wasn’t a problem for me but it’s something to consider if you only have the Dual Shock 4. 

I can’t really recommend SFV to a beginner who hasn’t really played a fighter before. I don’t think they would have a good time with it. I’m not sure if the problem of introducing new people to the genre has been solved yet but SFV didn’t do anything to help that cause. Capcom very clearly catered to the hardcore fighting game community which will probably hurt the overall sales but the diehard fans will be too busy playing it to care.

★★★☆☆

Shovel Knight Review – PS4

Being reductive you could describe Shovel Knight as another retro style indie game platformer but it’s so much more than that. It’s a perfectly crafted love letter to 8 bit (NES) and 16 bit (SNES) eras but it’s also not afraid to borrow from some more recent games where it makes sense.  Steel Thy Shovel

You take control of the titular Shovel Knight, a treasure hunting adventurer. While exploring the Tower of Fate with his partner Shield Knight they uncover an ancient amulet that traps her inside and locks Shovel Knight out. When he hears that an evil Sorceress has unlocked the tower he grabs his trusty shovel and sets out on a rescue mission. 

I get that they were trying to stick to an overall retro game feel but they could have at least tried modernize the whole damsel in distress trope. Even Nintendo has tried this over the years for Princess Peach in the Paper Mario series and they’re the ones who made their money on this cliché back in the day. It’s disappointing that in a modern game there is virtually no strong female presence throughout most of the story. 

Strike the Earth!

As you may have gathered a lot of the gameplay revolves around the shovel, this is your main form of attack. You can use it to bash enemies, smash blocks, dig up treasure and even bounce on like a pogo stick which can be used as an attack. The controls feel great, you never feel out of control of the character which is good because there are many tricky jumps ahead.

You navigate the overworld via a Super Mario Bros 3 style map complete with enemy encounters patrolling around. Each level is usually themed around whichever boss resides inside, there are 8 Knights to defeat at the end of their own themed level almost exactly like Mega Man’s robot masters. For instance Specter Knight’s level is a creepy graveyard/haunted house and Mole Knight’s is an underground labyrinth. 

The boss battles are a great event to cap off the stages. Each Knight has their own unique attacks and they come after you relentlessly. It’s really exciting when you’re down to your last bit of health and you land that final well deserved hit.

There are Zelda II style towns you can visit to buy supplies, upgrades and maybe find a few sidequests if you talk to the right person. This is where you can shop for the game’s many items, they slowly unlock as you defeat more Knights and range from fireball spells you can shoot to a spell that makes you intangible so you can’t be harmed. It really lets you play the game however you want. Whether you focus on upgrading your health so you can take more hits or upgrade your magic power so you can use the items more often, it’s up to you.

A Lust for Gold

Each level is brilliantly crafted, fitting the theme of the corresponding Knight and also slowing increasing the difficulty as you go along. The game does a great job of teaching you how to be better without straight up telling you what to do. It also rewards exploration, there are secret passages hidden everywhere full of treasure. 

Collecting treasure feels great in this game. Nintendo figured out early on with Mario that it’s just fun to collect coins and such in video games but all they did there was give you an extra life every now and again. In Shovel Knight treasure is everything. You use it to buy all your upgrades, extra weapons and to gain access to certain areas. Taking out a huge enemy or digging up a mound of earth and getting showered in riches is fun for everyone.
  When you die in Shovel Knight you lose some of your gold and are sent back to the last checkpoint but you are given a chance to retrieve what you lost. In the area that you died there’ll be floating bags of cash and if you can make it back there without dieing again you’ll get all of it back. I really appreciated this system because when making retro style games developers always seem to be tempted to make it super difficult but this really takes the pressure off and made it way more enjoyable to me. You can make it a bit more risky for yourself (if this seems too easy) by smashing the checkpoints you come to during the levels. You can get gold out of them but then you won’t have anywhere to respawn if you fall down a pit.

This system is very clearly borrowed from the Dark Souls series, where your experience is left in the area you died. it’s good to see that they weren’t afraid to borrow from some modern games, where it makes sense.

A Bard’s Tale

One thing that can’t be faulted in this game is the music. Jake Kaufman creates a masterpiece of bleeps and bloops that is very authentic to the 8 bit era while also feeling modern due to the complex song arrangements. Just listen to this and tell me it doesn’t get you all pumped up and ready for adventure:

I’ve had songs from this game stuck in my head all week which to me means they did something right with this soundtrack. You can even collect the songs in game and give them to a bard in town who will play them back to you whenever you want. They are usually pretty well hidden in the levels so it made me want to check every suspicious looking wall, sometimes at my own peril.

They even get Manami Matsumae (a composer who worked on the original Mega Man soundtrack) to compose a couple of songs for Shovel Knight, Just to take this nostalgia trip full circle.

But Shovel Knight is much more than that, it in no way relies on nostalgia to get a free pass. It’s an excellent game that could be enjoyed by anyone whether you were around in the 8 bit era or your first video game was Call of Duty. This is video gaming in it’s purest form and I loved every second of it.

★★★★★

The Witness Review – PS4 

The Witness is an extremely special game and the experience really benefits from you going in with as little knowledge as possible. The pleasure in playing this game comes from solving puzzles by yourself and having those “eureka” moments where everything slots into place. My review will end with a 5/5 score so if you were on the fence about buying this or waiting to buy it at a later date my advice would be to stop reading and experience it for yourself.
 Witness me

In it’s simplest form The Witness is a puzzle game. You control an unseen character as he or she wanders around a mysterious island solving puzzles to unlock the secrets this island holds. Right away you notice that this game doesn’t give you any written hints on what to do. All of the information is communicated visually which I think increases the level of intrigue you have during the early stages.

The line puzzles start out fairly simple but pretty soon they slowly start adding in more complex elements. In the starting puzzles you simply have to find the right path through the line maze but then you’ll start seeing different symbols on the puzzles that you have to figure out yourself. Some of these are pretty simple, like black and white squares that need to be separated on your path to completing the maze. Then you’ll come across a puzzle with what looks like a Tetris block on it which is not so simple to figure out. These Tetris puzzles took me about 8 hours of searching to finally “get it” and even then I still had some learning to do. There are also some puzzles that factor in the environment such as having to take into account shadows cast on the board or having to trace round a rock formation you can see behind the puzzle board. 

A walk on the weird side 

Luckily if you get stuck on a series of puzzles (which will probably happen) you’re free to wander the whole island to look for some other puzzles you can complete. The island is split up into roughly 12 areas, each with their own puzzle theme so sometimes wandering off to try another area can help you figure out previous puzzles because you never know what you’ll find. There are tonnes of secrets and subtle hints hidden all around the island, it’s a captivating place to explore with some of the most beautiful art design I’ve ever seen in a game. 
 This game really makes you feel like you’re straddling the line between genius and madness. There were points in the game where I had to actually sketch out the solutions to a puzzle on paper. I felt like an idiot while I was doing it but when it actually worked I was filled with a sense of accomplishment that I don’t think I’ve ever felt while playing a video game before. 
   
   

I also have countless bad photos of the TV on my phone to help me out with the perspective based puzzles:

 For me this is where I got the most enjoyment out of The Witness. This is definitely a game that is meant to be enjoyed at your own pace. There were many times I would be beating my head against 1 puzzle only to miraculously solve it in a few tries when I loaded up the game the next day. 

The mountain top
 Your main goal in the witness is to solve all of the puzzles in at least 7 of the game’s 11 areas. Each area you complete activates a laser beam that points to the final area atop a huge mountain in the middle of the island. Supposedly there are around 600 puzzles altogether, I only had to beat around 300 to actually get to the ending. But you’re not going to get any kind of closure or explanation of what the hell this island is from beating the game. There isn’t an overt story to be found but I didn’t feel like I needed that. The journey through this amazing game was enough to to leave me completely satisfied when I was done with the game. 

★★★★★