The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch) - Review.

Link's latest adventure is one of his greatest to date, a game that all but changes the DNA of The Legend of Zelda franchise whilst still feeling familiar enough to satisfy even hardened fans.

See that mountain? You can climb that.
See that mountain? You can climb that.

From the first moments Link walks out into the vast and beautiful lands of Hyrule, you know Nintendo have created something special. The Japanese developers have long promised fans an open world experience like no other and they've done just that. Climb every mountain, swim in every lake and tackle any situation as you see fit, the level of freedom in Breath of the Wild is a great reminder why open world games can be so special. Wherever you might traverse, be it on foot or horseback, you'll continually discover new things to see and do whilst feeling like a small cog in a much bigger machine.

Upon waking from a 100 year sleep, Link's task is a familiar one. Defeat Calamity Canon and rescue Princess Zelda. But with no memories of his past he must venture forth in hope of recollection and help in defeating the vile villainy of Canon whose evil as not just corrupted Hyrule Castle, but the lands themselves. It's in discovering these memories that much of the story is told and in quite a reserved manner. Cutscenes are rare throughout your 100-plus hours spent traversing Hyrule (though expect that to rise dramatically if you wish to discover everything the world offers). Breath of the Wild is brave enough to let you tell your own unique little stories whilst still providing you with a much greater thread of story to help you along, it's a welcomed approach to the more linear storytelling of recent Zelda games.

At one point early on, you can head in one of four different directions and the choice is absolutely up to you. Never does it feel like the game is forcing you down one particular pathway and that's such a freeing experience. Want to climb those snowy peaks to see what monsters, bugs, animals or even shrines you might discover, well you can do just that. Although you might want to wrap up warm or brew up a cold resistant elixir so you don't freeze to death. Next thing you know you'll have invested a good 30 hours before you've even tackled your first big story objective.

Breath of the Wild's storytelling is surprisingly reserved, but it works wonders.
Breath of the Wild's storytelling is surprisingly reserved, but it works wonders.

To help Link meet the many challenges he'll face, he now as access to a number of essential runes which provide a variety of powers from being able to form ice blocks in water, two forms of bombs to use in both combat and puzzle solving and even a camera required for cataloging weapons, bugs, monsters and much more in your compendium. You'll use the vast majority of these powers in shrines of which there are over 100. These shrines vary from simple puzzle solving to combat trials and are there for you to hown your skills for the inevitable battle against Calamity Canon. These shrines are scattered throughout the lands of Hyrule and discovering them all will take dedication and time, though the rewards come in the ability to upgrade either your health or your stamina.

Combat is a more familiar experience, though not without one or two key changes. First of all is the fact that weapons no longer last forever, as durability now affects weapons, shields and even bows. At first this might be of frustration to some, but I came to appreciate the need to tackle any situation with the weapons that were available to me. A two handed great sword might do the most damage, but it left me vulnerable and with the inability to block enemy attacks. Combat can feel simple at first, but there's definitely depth and skill there for those looking to master it. Even after a hundred hours in, I still found myself challenged in combat especially against a large group of enemies.

Weapon durability forces you to experiment and tackle combat situations differently.
Weapon durability forces you to experiment and tackle combat situations differently.

There's no hiding the fact that the Nintendo Switch isn't exactly a graphical powerhouse, but much praise as to be given to the art style which left me gawking at the scenery on numerous occasions. The lands of Hyrule are beautiful, only helped by a splendid soundtrack and some wonderful ambient sound design that only helps Hyrule feel like a living world. Yes there's no getting away from the fact that performance isn't always great, the fact that framerate can drop dramatically in some towns and in one area in particular is a real shame. These technical issues can disrupt immersion at times, but there forgivable given how good the game can look whether in docked mode or played portable.

Breath of the Wild is a breath of fresh air when it comes to open world games. There's so much to see and do throughout Hyrule, from collecting bugs, plants and vegetables for a beneficial meal or elixir to help you tackle that tough enemy, to climbing the largest mountains and gliding your way over volcanic pools or iced over lakes. Breath of the Wild lets you the player decide how to tackle the many challenges the world as to offer. It's a wonderfully freeing experience, one that rewrites how open world games are looked at or developed from here on out.

5 STARS OUT OF 5.

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Star Wars: Battlefront 2 review (PC).

STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT 2 REVIEW.

How do I start a review of Star Wars: Battlefront 2 without discussing the microtransaction saga and pay-to-win debacle that's been raging for a good few months now, I guess I simply have to face that ugly monster in the face and get it out of the way. Because even with EA's last minute changes and apologises, Battlefront 2 still features a progression system that feels broken even with the removal of the games paid for currency and adjustments to hero unlock requirements. It's a system that's simply no fun to deal with especially when those unlocks can have such a game changing impact in-game.

DICE certainly capture that Star Wars look and feel.
DICE certainly capture that Star Wars look and feel.

But there's an even bigger problem here, even without the dodgy progression system and pay-to-win mentality that EA didn't even try to hide, Battlefront 2 is just a very average game. Whilst developers DICE have done an amazing job of capturing the looks, sounds and atmosphere of the Star Wars films, the actual gameplay feels hindered by DICE's need to separate Battlefront 2 from its close relative Battlefield. Whereas the likes of Battlefield thrive on the thrills and chaos of battle, Battlefront 2 feels like you're constantly being held back like a kid fitted with one of those toddler safety reins by a parent. Maps are filled with laser fire, explosions and spaceships but the trouble is they're all part of the background and it never feels like players have enough impact on the battle. Resulting in an experience that feels like a poor man's Battlefield.

That's not to say Battlefront 2 doesn't have its moments, as mentioned previously DICE have done a splendid job of capturing Star Wars yet again, from the most iconic of visuals to the littlest of details, credit where credit is due. Any fan of Star Wars will appreciate how well the game captures these moments with such rich detail, from flying the X-Wing in space battles against agile TIE fighters to battling in the streets of Naboo, this is simply one stunning looking game. One that highlights the strengths of the Frostbite engine. But all the lightsaber sounds and laser displays in the galaxy can't hide Battlefront 2's averageness as a whole.

The campaign is serviceable, but a real missed opportunity.
The campaign is serviceable, but a real missed opportunity.

When the original Battlefront was released back in 2015 the biggest complaint was content, or lack thereof. Thankfully DICE have (for the most part) fixed these issues with a greater variety of content for both multiplayer and singleplayer modes. While multiplayer is a similar affair with a few key changes, Battlefront 2 is the first in DICE's series to feature a story rich campaign set in the Star Wars universe. Playing as Iden Versio, leader of Inferno Squad operating as part of the Galactic Empire, it's your typically short campaign that takes you to a variety of classic Star Wars locations and at least attempts to split up the intense spells of battle with the chance to play as some of Star War's most iconic heroes.

If anything it's a welcomed introduction to how Battlefront 2 plays for when you eventually jump into multiplayer. It's a shame however that a story with such potential and promise falls for such straightforward and predictable cliches. While those not expecting a great deal from Iden Versio's story might be pleasantly surprised by her tale, those looking for something deeper will be left disappointed. It's not helped by the fact that some of the levels featuring iconic characters are some of the most forgettable in the campaign, with a few of the heroes not feeling particularly great to play as. I can't help but feel like this was one opportunity that DICE let slip.

Surprisingly, the heroes are some of the least fun to play.
Surprisingly, the heroes are some of the least fun to play.

When the time comes to jump online you'll find a very familiar experience to 2015's Battlefront with a few changes made to how you gain access to heroes and special units. Whereas the original Battlefront featured pickups scattered throughout the map, which resulted in players rushing to specific spots to try and become Darth Vader or get a chance to fly the TIE-fighter, this time round you unlock such units using battle points earned in each match. It's a change that for the most part works as intended, rewarding those who perform well whilst still giving a chance for less skillful players the ability to play as their favourite characters. There's a greater variety of maps available to covering all three eras of Star Wars and the fact that some heroes can appear in different eras is a welcomed touch of freedom we don't often see in Star Wars games.

With that said however, the multiplayer still feels lacking in comparison to other mass-populated shooters out today. While the chance to experience these iconic Star Wars battles is a big selling point, the fact is there doesn't seem enough depth to them. Space battles for example are a blast, but could I see myself sticking with them on a long term basis, probably not. Having played a good deal of Battlefield 1, a game I continually feel I can improve and learn from, Battlefront 2 feels like it lacks that deeper depth to gameplay and doesn't quite have the lasting power to keep my attention. It's certainly not helped by the messy progression or card system which as a direct impact on gameplay, but even those aside Battlefront 2 simply is average at best. It's a Star Wars theme park ride, a visually stunning one at that, but the sort of ride you quickly realise doesn't have much going for it aside from blinking lights, epic explosions and lightsaber sounds.

3 STARS OUT OF 5.

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Bayonetta 2 Review (Wii U).

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The first Bayonetta game made quite a splash upon its January 2010 release, being one of the games that introduced Japanese developer Platinum Games to many gamers, often for the first time. The action packed over the top third-person beat em up gained a great detail of praise and deservingly so. That said, it wasn't without it's shortcomings and flaws and with a sequel rumoured/dismissed for years, fans felt we might never get to see the continuation of Bayonetta and her ridiculously awesome killer hair. Thankfully Nintendo came to the rescue. Bayonetta 2 is exclusive to Nintendo's Wii U and for an understandable reason, with the news that Sega had decided to drop support for Bayonetta 2's development we worried the much anticipated sequel might never see the light of day.

Riding atop a jet fighter, nothing unusual there then.
Riding atop a jet fighter, nothing unusual there then.

Whilst the original Bayonetta was much loved, it was far from a massive seller and went somewhat under the radar. Those that appreciated its precise combat system, insane action set-pieces and most importantly of all its unique style were obviously happy to hear development was still going ahead, even if it did mean exclusivity to Nintendo's struggling home console. Its a good thing then that the investment and faith to keep the development rolling along as returned not just one of the best Wii U games to date, but one of the best games in recent years. Bayonetta 2 is simply splendid.

In many ways Bayonetta 2 feels like an evolutionary step forward from the fundamentals laid down in the 2010 original. It certainly feels familiar (especially if you've just played the Bayonetta re-release on the Wii U, launching simultaneously with its sequel) and that's a good thing, as there wasn't a whole lot wrong with how Bayonetta played. Instead Platinum Games turned the volume up to eleven and refined a great deal of the overall structure to the game. Make no doubt about it, this is some of the best beat-em up action on any system to date and for me personally can only be equaled by the equally superb Ninja Theory developed Devil May Cry. Action constantly feels responsive and fair, resulting in moments that are as exciting to watch as they are to play and a story that doesn't linger or outlast its welcome.

Fighting atop a jet fighter, now your just showing off Bayonetta.
Fighting atop a jet fighter, now your just showing off Bayonetta.

If there's any real knock against the controls, it'd be the fact that using the larger Wii U gamepad feels clumsy and tiresome for a game that requires such perfectly timed button hits, while you can of course play Bayonetta 2 this way, I'd recommend folks look into getting the Wii U Pro Controller if they don't already own one. Other than that everything else performs just as brilliantly as you'd expect. One thing to note in regards to the Wii U gamepad is the new touch screen controls which basically act as an easy combo mode for those looking for a slightly less difficult introduction to beat-em ups. Both Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 feature touch controls and they work reasonably well, though obviously you'll only want to rely on this if you're not willing to learn the superb combat Bayonetta as to offer and you really should learn that superb combat.

Bayonetta still finds herself fighting all manner of creatures from the familiar angels to the intimidating demons and a great deal more. One of Bayonetta 2's real strengths lies in how varied the enemies are that you'll face up against. Whilst the original 2010 release may have feature only a selection of enemies and bosses, Bayonetta 2 is continuously throwing new and exciting monsters to fight and enormous bosses to figure out and destroy. It results in an experience that never feels boring and keeps you on the edge of your seat. There's even a selection of extra combat bonus rooms to tackle throughout the world which upon completion can earn you some useful rewards. Mastering combat in Bayonetta 2 is essential, but it's also so damn fun, especially with the new selection of weapons introduced, all of which provide new combos and tactics in battle. You know when combat mechanics are the real star of the show when you find yourself watching a cutscene eagerly waiting in anticipation when the action starts up again, it's just that good. Though the ability to remove all cutscenes from your second, third or fourth playthrough would be nice, you can skip them but it can be a bit of a nauseous to do so.

Not sure I'd want Odin delivering me presents as Christmas.
Not sure I'd want Odin delivering me presents as Christmas.

An online Tag Climax mode has been added to, teaming you up with another player, friend or computer controlled player to tackle 6 verses (chapters) chosen through the use of cards which are unlocked through the single player campaign. Players can even bet Halos, Bayonetta's currency to see if they can earn a better rank than their opponent, which they can then spend on the large selection of unlocks, techniques and other goodies found in Odin's Gates of Hell. Speaking of unlocks you'll find some fantastic additions, from Nintendo costumes which drastically alter not just the visual appearance of Bayonetta and friends but also affect in-game mechanics. Seeing Bayonetta dressed up as Samus, rolling into a ball with the added ability to drop bombs is a charm that never went away through my playtime. Plus the fact that costumes don't disappear in cutscenes makes investing your time to get them all that little more worthwhile, especially considering they can be worth a good amount of halos.

I could go on and on about Bayonetta 2, but I'd probably do it a disservice to ramble on about one of the best beat-em ups I've played. As a fan of the original it's everything I'd hoped for and more, building upon what were already solid foundations. Nintendo's decision to back the development of Bayonetta 2 has been proven to be a smart one, yes it might not make the millions like some franchises out there, but I seriously think that come ten years time it's games like Bayonetta 2 that will be remember the most fondly by gamers. I only hope that Bayonetta's latest adventure is not her last. If you own a Wii U, you owe it yourself to check out this simply splendid game.

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review.

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Valiant Hearts shows a wonderful amount of respect and appreciation for the time period.
Valiant Hearts shows a wonderful amount of respect and appreciation for the time period.

The first world war is a period of history that isn't all too often recreated in video game form, you're much more likely to see another world war two shooter hit the market. However in many respects the bloody first world war that lasted between 1914 and 1918 was a turning point in the history of mankind and witnessed development in a great many areas of warfare, medicine, communication and so much more. It's surprising we see so little of that terrible era recreated in video games because if anything, Ubisoft's Valiant Hearts proved that there are many wonderful, tragic, heart warming and sad tales to tell.

Developed using Ubisoft's UbiArts Framework engine, the same engine powering the likes of Rayman Origin/Legends and Child of Light, Valiant Hearts tells the tales of life in the first world war through the perspective of a group of characters all affected by the war in some manner. From Karl, who whilst tending a farm with his wife Marie and child Victor is deported back to Germany to help fight the war after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, to Marie's father Emile who is soon sent to fight in the French army. Then there's Anna, a medical student living in Paris, France at the outbreak of war and Freddie a tough soldier who fights for revenge after the loss of a loved one. The tale of these few people covers the vast years of the war, capturing both the horror and immense loss of life suffered in those four years of war.

The tale of Emile, Karl, Anna, Freddie and Walt is one I won't be forgetting any time soon.
The tale of Emile, Karl, Anna, Freddie and Walt is one I won't be forgetting any time soon.

At its root Valiant Hearts is a simple puzzle game, but I'd be doing it a disservice to simply call it a puzzle game, for it is so much more. The simple puzzles are a welcomed distraction here and there, but there most certainly not the reason why Valiant Hearts stands out as a breathtaking experience of the horrors of war. Whilst its unique art style might be what you take notice of first, it quickly becomes apparent the amount of respect and research put into many areas of the game. Collecting items scattered around the level provides descriptions of a great many aspects of the war from the advancements made in medicine to the awful effects (and actions taken to prevent) chemical warfare.

In many respects Valiant Hearts attempts and succeeds at teaching players about the history of the first world war through specially written extracts that are viewable per level, covering a large sway of areas affected by war. It's this attempt to be both attractive as a video game and to teach a little bit of knowledge to players that I can't help but praise Ubisoft in somehow succeeding to do so.

As previously mentioned the art style is what might catch the eye at first with its somewhat odd joyfulness, yet it somehow captures the gritty horrors of war seen in so many photos taken from the war. There's a real charm to the imagery throughout, without it looking like it's not appreciating the source material and horrors of the time. It results in a game that's just as captivating from a visual standpoint as it does from a story standpoint. While not a particularly long tale, the story of Emile, Karl, Anna, Freddie and the ever loyal Doberman pinscher Walt is one I can't recommend enough and something I'd love to see more of in the industry. Having been a long believer that story is an essential component of a well rounded and splendid game, I'm happy to say Valiant Hearts proves this like no other game before it. Even if history might not be your main interest when jumping into Valiant Hearts: The Great War, there's more than enough heart and passion to win over anyone who gives it a try of their own.

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Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare Review (PS4).

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What would happen if Plants vs Zombies had a head on collision with Battlefield? Well you'd get PvZ Garden Warfare of course and if that sounds as cheesy as it seems, you'd be right. But wait, don't walk away just yet. Popcap's latest entry in the popular PvZ games is unashamed in it's humorous take on all things war games, from Call of Duty to the previously mentioned Battlefield, Garden Warfare's inspiration is clear to see. Despite targeting the same multiplayer focused vibe, PvZ Garden Warfare is still able to achieve a much more approachable and friendly style of shooter, one that can be surprisingly fun under the right conditions.

The lack of single player content is disappointing, but that doesn't mean multiplayer is lacking.
The lack of single player content is disappointing, but that doesn't mean multiplayer is lacking.

Whilst the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty feature single player campaigns, Garden Warfare is without any and at first this is a disappointment. Its clear however that Popcap Games want multiplayer to be the one and only focus and this isn't such a bad move. Of course if you're without access to online play, well you're pretty much screwed. However the online options while simple and predictable are backed up by shooting mechanics that are handled well and the variety of classes and customisation options allow players to find their own personal niche on the garden battlefield.

Now this being a Plants vs Zombies game you'd expect the usual odd moments of humour and takes on genre standards, be it the variety in classes on both sides with Peashooters, Sunflowers, Chompers and Cacti on the plants side and Foot Soldiers, Engineers, Scientists and All Stars making up the zombies force. They might have different names, but don't let that fool you. Each class serves a specific purpose and while there are many more slight variations within each class that can be unlocked via card packs (more on that later) you'll still be more than familiar with this multiplayer shooter. That's not to say it's without heart or effort, in fact I dare say you'll have great fun battling online thanks to the fact that Garden Warfare feeling like a much more laid back competitive shooter than some of its peers.

Customisation is at the heart of PvZ: Garden Warfare.
Customisation is at the heart of PvZ: Garden Warfare.

While player vs player modes make up a large selection of what's on offer, it's not all there is. For those looking to play co-op with friends or with absolute strangers you'll be reasonable satisfied with the Garden Ops mode, pitting you and a team of three other plants to defend a garden against those pesky zombies. In true PvZ tradition you'll have access to potted plants that act as turrets/towers against the zombie hordes and each wave can vary in which zombie types you'll have to defend your garden against. With three levels of difficulty the Garden Ops mode provides some fun cooperative action, although I soon found myself preferring the more competitive multiplayer modes.

You might have remembered me mentioning card packs earlier and that's because card packs play an essential role in what you have access to when it comes to Garden Warfare's class variations and customisation options. There are a selection of card packs with more being added in content updates. The cost of each pack depends on what you'll find inside be it a turret card for use on potted plants (yes you heard me right, there of limited use) to the higher end rarer customisation parts for each class. Then there's stickers, which upon obtaining them all will give you access to class variations as mentioned earlier. These variations are often minor but can provide an added bonus on the battlefield, for example turning your zombie foot soldier into an Arctic trooper giving you the ability to shoot ice bullets which can freeze plants in place. These variations are a nice touch though having to purchase card packs can make the whole thing feel like a free-to-play iOS game at times.

Defend your garden against those pesky zombies in the co-op Garden Ops mode.
Defend your garden against those pesky zombies in the co-op Garden Ops mode.

Card packs can be purchase using in-game currency which I found was sufficient enough to keep me playing until I'd earned enough to buy a card pack, but of course you can also purchase currency with actual money if you're looking to gain access faster. Its an odd system to see in a console multiplayer shooter, but its not quite as bad as it might first seem. Cards will also give you access to a large selection of customisation options. This is one area in which Garden Warfare can feel substantial in just how many customisable items and animations are available through cards, from new hats for your sunflower or peashooter to whole cosmetic skin changes to chompers and zombie all-stars. There's no getting away from it being a familiar trick seen in many free-to-play games, but there's something to playing just that one extra game so you can afford a new card pack and see what you've won, it might just be the thing that keeps you playing.

So does Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare turn out better than it might originally sound on paper? Well yes, in a matter of speaking. There's no doubting that the lack of a single player campaign or even single player modes is somewhat of a let down, but Garden Warfare's multiplayer offerings can still be great fun under the right conditions, even if they are standard modes such as team deathmatch, etc. But if you're looking for a more laid back multiplayer experience than Garden Warfare might be worth checking out, its slower pace makes it a much more relaxing shooter compared to others in the genre and there's something to be said for that.

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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Review (PC).

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It'd be easy to look upon Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and see nothing but a cheap cash in on the popularity and sale success of Borderlands 2, however doing so would be somewhat of an injustice. Don't get me wrong, the Pre-Sequel is very much a Borderlands game through and through, with a few new additions and variables thrown in to make just enough difference to tell the two games apart. It feels as if this latest Borderlands adventure has been created with the Borderland fan in mind, telling a story that fills in the Universe in much greater detail and tells the backstory of certain characters that call this crazy place home.

There's more to worry about on Elpis than just the lack of oxygen.
There's more to worry about on Elpis than just the lack of oxygen.

Set on Pandora's moon of Elpis, the Pre-Sequel is set between the events of the original Borderlands and its sequel, detailing many of the events that led to Handsome Jack's rise to power. Playing as one of the four new vault hunters, you'll travel a variety of interesting new locations doing the usual shooting, stabbing, looting and now, butt-slamming. Yes, you heard me right… butt-slamming. This new method of offense is only achievable thanks to Elpis's unique gravity (or lack there of) and the added ability to jump and glide with the help of boosters makes traversal both a breeze and a pleasure, once you get the hang of it that is. Butt-slamming might actually be one of the most satisfying new additions to the Pre-Sequel. So whilst you might not find yourself doing anything radically new, what's on offer is a good 25+ hours of fun, funny and action packed content featuring many, many guns.

Speaking of guns, one of the Pre-Sequels other new additions come in the form of laser weapons, these vary from your laser beam variety to your more traditional Star Wars-like laser shot. They're a welcomed new addition to providing more variety to your arsenal, not to mention the universally known fact that lasers are cool. As you might expect, these laser weapons and the o2 cannisters used to survive on Elpis and butt-slam your way to victory can all be upgraded with better and more varied versions found upon your travels. They don't drastically change how the Pre-Sequel plays, but they to help differentiate the two games.

Nisha the Lawbringer, one of the four new vault hunters.
Nisha the Lawbringer, one of the four new vault hunters.

The four new vault hunters all feature an interesting mix of gameplay styles and while they're not all as interesting as those found in Borderlands 2, they still feel varied enough. Fragtrap, the Claptrap vault hunter features arguably the most bizarre set of skills (as you might imagine) including his ultimate skill which consists of a random selection of existing vault hunter skills. So one moment you can be using the gunzerkers dual weapon ability and the next you'll throw out an Axton influenced mini claptrap turret. The fact that you never know what you'll get next makes Fragtrap one of the more interest vault hunters to play. There's Nisha the Lawbringer, whose skill will generally increase weapon damage, Wilhelm the enforcer who can summon two feisty drones by his side to tackle difficult combat situations and Athena the Gladiator who features a Captain America-like shield to both absorb damage and use as a projectile weapon in combat. A smaller but welcomed new addition is the ability to actually hear your character responding to characters and events happening around them, it helps sell the characters that bit more.

LASERS! Where can you go wrong.
LASERS! Where can you go wrong.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel isn't short on content with the inclusion of the True Vault Hunter mode unlocked once you complete your first playthrough of the game so you can assured knowing that this is more than just an expansion filler until the folks at Gearbox unveil what's next in the Borderlands franchise. Anyone who enjoyed the humour and Universe of Borderlands will feel right at home here and I found myself giggling on a number of occasions. It's also nice to see 2K Australia's own unique Australian sense of humour pop out of the covers every now and then. That said, if you were turned off by Borderlands often easy and rash humour than this won't be changing your opinion anytime soon. Like I said previously, it feels as if the Pre-Sequel was designed with existing fans in mind, those wanting to know more about the universe they've come to enjoy so much. It accomplishes this by sticking with the familiar whilst also adding a new feature or two.

It can't hurt that the Pre-Sequel is based off one of the most enjoyable loot driven shooters in recent years and those looking for more Borderlands will find themselves right at home. 2K Australia haven't looked to change a successful formula, but instead decided to help fill in the greater happenings of the universe in which it is based, in this they've done a perfectly fine job. Those looking for anything radically new will be disappointed, but simply looking for more chests to loot, bandits to shoot in the face and enemies to butt-slam will find themselves more than happy with what Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as to offer.

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Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) Review.

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Mario Kart is one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises so it's surprising than that despite it's celebrated legacy we're still only technically on the eighth iteration, hitting the Wii U in the hopes to revitalize the struggling system. It's especially surprising when you consider just how many copies the previous console based Mario Kart on Nintendo's Wii sold, over 35 million copies. So with that said, you'd expect the folks at Nintendo to be eagerly releasing a new Mario Kart every year, however we've often only witnessed one release per console system from the Japanese company.

Mario Kart 8 is one of the Wii U's best looking games to date.
Mario Kart 8 is one of the Wii U's best looking games to date.

Mario Kart 8 is a Mario Kart game through and through, don't expect dramatic changes here and in that regard it's for the best. Mario, Luigi and friends race in a large variety of karts or bikes around a selection of familiar iconic past circuits and a few new tracks that for the most part are of an high quality. You can't talk about Mario Kart 8 without talking about how good it looks, with some delightful detail placed into the smallest of things from Mario's mustache blowing in the wind to the birds that scatter as you speed through the tracks. The amount of visual quality put into tracks new and old is to be commended and proves that you don't need the latest hardware to make a game look beautiful, great art design goes a long way.

They don't just look great either, for the vast majority of tracks found within Mario Kart 8 provide a fun and frantic experience. There a selection of tracks returning from previous games including Cheep Cheep Beach, Toad's Turnpike and Donut Plains to name just a few, all these retro tracks have been treated to the HD upgrade and look fabulous, not to mention some tracks have been modified to include one of Mario Kart 8's few new features, anti-gravity. Anti-gravity sounds like it should drastically change up how Mario Kart plays, with tracks now providing unique alternative routes such as the ability to traverse walls or even travel upside down. Trouble is its impact is limited by the fact that other than the ability to collide into other racers and gain a small boost, they don't add a great deal and simply play out as visual variety.

Battle mode is shamefully MK8's weakest link.
Battle mode is shamefully MK8's weakest link.

Whether you're playing alone or with friends, Mario Kart 8 is a pleasure to play. The usual cups return in the variety of 50cc, 100cc and 150cc all offering a different level of difficulty and time trial mode gives you the ability to pull out your fastest lap times against Nintendo employees and the world on global leaderboards. Easily the most disappointing feature of Mario Kart 8 is its battle mode, a mode I've often been a fan of in past games. Sadly it appears the mode as taken a seat back with no true arenas or suitable tracks available instead of the stock tracks for you to play on. So instead of the fun chaotic fun of previous Mario Kart battle modes, you'll spend most of your time traveling back and forth on the circuit simply trying to find someone to attack. It's a shame this is the case and is easily MK8's weakest link. It's also worth noting that when playing with two or more players, the game takes a hit both visually and in framerate.

It's still Mario Kart, but a damn fine one at that.
It's still Mario Kart, but a damn fine one at that.

Now online hasn't always been Nintendo's strong point with their sometimes overprotective approach to online interaction. Mario Kart 8 is no different in regards to communication between players online, which just a few select phrases selectable when you join a room to play in. But, I don't think this is always such a bad thing and in this case it's best that MK8 keeps things simple. Instead of finding the usually negative and abrasive communities found around other games, playing Mario Kart 8 online is a pleasurable and welcoming experience. I'll personally take that over abusive comments about my family any day. Yes some might find its limitations frustrating, but thanks to the fact that playing online is one of MK8's ultimate joys it's nice that the community surrounding it seem just as friendly. Performance online has been solid through a wifi connection and I've had few issues, though there's been one or two problems that have required Nintendo to release patches to fix online performance. But if you're going to experience the best of Mario Kart 8, you have to play it online against other players.

So it doesn't revolutionize Mario Kart, but MK8 is still one of the best Mario Karts yet thanks to wonderful visuals and gameplay that's pure fun both offline and on. The lackluster battle mode is a real shame and one that can't be ignored, but thankfully the racing is better than its ever been. Mario Kart 8 is Nintendo standing tall and showing off their visual chops, proving just what's capable with the Wii U and the results speak for themselves. There are a number of small additions to gameplay that help make Mario Kart feel a little more balanced and the level of difficulty is such that it never feels entirely infuriating. All in all it's a game any Wii U owner would be proud to have in their collection.

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Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC) Review.

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Developing video games is tough, even from the outside that seems obvious. It's not impossible, but it's one hell of a challenge, one that takes patience, time and talent to name just a few of the requirements to make it in the industry. So designer Dean Dodrill's accomplishments with Dust: An Elysian Tail is one to be applauded. Having developed the vast majority of this charming action adventure game himself, it's clear throughout that this is Dean's baby, resulting in a game that's beautiful, fun and one of the most captivating 2D side-scrollers I've played in years.

Dust: An Elysian Tail looks even better in motion as it does in screenshots.
Dust: An Elysian Tail looks even better in motion as it does in screenshots.

Dust: An Elysian Tail tells the story of Dust, a being with little knowledge of his past or his own identity. He's Awaken from slumber by a talking floating sword called Ahrah and the swords protectorate Fidget, a flying bat slash cat creature thing. This strange partnership must band together to help Dust figure out both his past and future in the lands of Falana, which have been beaten down by the terrors and horrors of war. For a story, it's one that nicely contrasts against much of the games visual design and isn't afraid to touch on some mature story points from the death and killing of innocents to the terrible physical and mental impact of war on those that survive it. I found myself surprised by the direction taken by the story till the very end and it's an area of the game that held strong throughout resulting in a story that benefits in developing the world as much as it keeps the tale chugging along.

Meet Fidget, Dust's witty and likable little side-kick.
Meet Fidget, Dust's witty and likable little side-kick.

Now upon it's release Dust received some criticism for its art style, which to some degree I can understand. It's most certainly not an ugly game by any regard, the wonderful 2D landscapes are gorgeous with an impressive level of attention given to almost every level of the game, but some might find themselves turned off by the furry like characters that popular the lands of Falana. Personally I was charmed with it's interesting cast of characters all voiced to an high degree resulting in a world that's more interesting than you'd think it had any right to be. Dust's small but useful sidekick Fidget in particular is an high point thanks to some great dialogue and cute voice work by Kimlinh Tran. It all results in an high level of polish that you can't help but admire considering the time and effort put in by the mainly one man development team.

Combat remains fun throughout thanks to new powers that are as useful in combat as they are traversing the world of Falana.
Combat remains fun throughout thanks to new powers that are as useful in combat as they are traversing the world of Falana.

An action packed side-scroller, Dust is primarily inspired by the likes of Castlevania and Metroid with it's walled off sections that make traversal and map navigation part of the challenge. Anyone who's spent time with the genre will feel right at home here thanks to the fact that navigation is a breeze and finding all those treasures and secrets as always been part of the real fun with these sorts of games. An Elysian Tail is no different and while you'll be traveling a large variety of regions, you'll find himself traveling back to lands you've already visited in search of treasures that were once inaccessible to you. On his journey Dust will have access to new and varied powers that can be used to discover and access these treasures and even be used in combat. The powers range from the ability to slide under walls to secondary jumps to be able to double jump and reach higher points in the landscape. What's great about all these powers is that there just as effective in combat as they are when platforming.

Falana is a land filled with a nice variety of baddies to swing your magical sword at and thankfully combat remains fun for the most part, even if I did find myself button mashing most of the time. Enemies will reappear if you exit and reenter an area so it's possible to grind your skills and levels if you wish. One note I'd add is that on normal, Dust can be a little to easy and whilst there are a few challenges here and there, it's not exactly a difficult game so you might want to consider playing are a harder difficulty level if that's your thing. Leveling up and enhancing skills is a fun addition, as is the ability to craft and equip new items to wear, although some might find crafting items becomes a nuisance once you near the end. All that said, every gameplay mechanic at work plays well together resulting in an highly polished experience and one I had fun with until the very end.

So Dust: An Elysian Tail is an impressive achievement by Dean Dodrill and his team of various contributors in the two years of development. It's an impressive achievement because you wouldn't guess that the majority of it's development was worked on by only one man. Rich in content, visually beautiful and sounding great, not to mention a story that's more memorable than you've come to expect from the genre, it all results in a game I'd highly recommend you play for yourself, even if you're turned off by the character designs. Dust: An Elysian Tail is one of the most charming games I've played in quite a while.

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Tomb Raider (PC) Review.

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It'd be easy to look upon Tomb Raider with a cynical eye, one tinted with the knowledge that the men and women of Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal had at some point, played the highly successful Uncharted franchise and said 'hey, let's make that game but featuring Lara Croft' and to be fair on face value that's how Tomb Raider appears, a less captivating Uncharted as it attempts to reboot a franchise many would called outdated.

I can't remember the last time I saw an island filled with junk look so darn pretty.
I can't remember the last time I saw an island filled with junk look so darn pretty.

However, stop and breath in this 2013 reboot of the much loved Playstation One franchise and you'll discover an action packed adventure that's worth experiencing. Whilst it leans heavily on the fundamentals first seen in the Uncharted franchise with it's mix of over the top action sequences, ancient tomb puzzles that need solving and gun antics that feel all a little to familiar, Tomb Raider is able to hold it's own thanks to some splendid visuals and some memorable if flawed character development, even if Lara's origin story feels hampered by the fact that it's a video game at the end of the day.

On an expedition to find the mysterious island of Yamatai, Lara and a group of adventurers seek the truths of the Sun Queen, Himiko only for things to go awry. On this expedition Lara's joined by her close friend Samantha, of Japanese descent whose love for the story of the Sun Queen Himiko is what drives Lara to make it on her own, following in the footsteps of her father. Other members of the team include Conrad Roth, a friend of Lara's Father, Dr James Whitman whose driving need to rejuvenate his dying TV career puts him in constant contrast with Lara and the other members of the expedition including Alex, Angus, Jonah and Joslin. While the interaction between cast members is done as much through documents found scattered throughout the Island then cut scenes, they do a nice job of highlighting Lara's constant inexperience and innocence to the true dangers she might face on her journey. The only downside to this is that there's a little too much story and character development done through these collectible documents.

The character development of Lara is one of Tomb Raider's real high points. Even if it does sometimes contrast against the actions of the player.
The character development of Lara is one of Tomb Raider's real high points. Even if it does sometimes contrast against the actions of the player.

The Island of Yamatai is as beautiful as it is mysterious, with some stunning landscapes that feel varied enough as Lara ventures around the island. Speaking of travel, whilst it might seem that Tomb Raider offers up an open world for you to explore, it is instead a collection of separate locations that feature a wide array of collectibles and tombs to discover. These locations provide more than enough open space for you to never feel like you're being linearly driven about, but it can still feel limited. Lara controls well thanks to responsive controls though you won't be making any impossible jumps as the games pretty forgiving when it comes to traversing the island. Gun play can feel a little loose at times and isn't always the high point of Lara's adventure but it works for the most part and the ability to upgrade your numerous weapons by collecting scraps is a welcomed addition. Speaking of which, Lara will gain access to camps which allow her to upgrade her skills, fast travel throughout the island and as previously mentioned, upgrade weaponry.

"Don't look down, whatever you do don't look down"

Upgrading Lara's abilities feels justified by Lara's tale of maturity as she faces the many dangers the island of Yamatai as to offer. Seeing Lara develop from a somewhat frightened and scared women to the strong almost reckless individual willing to face any dangers to rescue her friends is when Tomb Raider is at it's best. Unfortunately this being a video game an all, the need to throw enemies at Lara's feet, constantly contradicts some of the early story points as it feels weird that Lara goes from killing for the first time in a state of fright and shock to gunning down twenty to thirty men without a single sign of regret or expression. Don't get me wrong, this is fine as we see a more mature Lara face these dangers constantly but they highlight a flaw in Tomb Raider's storytelling in the early hours. All that said, Tomb Raider provides a decent tale and a fine framework for Lara's development as a character, a reinvention that the franchise needed more than I'd thought and in this regard it does a fine job of setting the scene for future games.

Did Tomb Raider really need multiplayer? The simple answer is no, though it's not necessarily bad the whole mode feels like an after thought and one most won't return to all to often. That said, I'm playing the PC version of Tomb Raider many months since it's release and I was able to get a few games in so at least some people are still playing. To be fair to the multiplayer, it benefits from the fact that Tomb Raider plays great with responsive and fun controls, even if the gun play remains as spotty in multiplayer as it does in single player. However I'd still rather play Uncharted's variety of multiplayer modes over Tomb Raider's any day. But taken as a whole, the multiplayer doesn't exactly harm what the game as to offer as package, it just doesn't feel necessary.

So, was this Tomb Raider reboot needed and is it worth consideration? Well yes it is. That's not just because it's a fun Uncharted copy and paste experience, but that it also attempts and succeeds in adding value and depth to a character that's been often seen as nothing more than eye candy in the past. Lara Croft made waves as a video game figure back in the PS1 days, but looking back now she appears to be a thin and lifeless figure that's a lasting reminder of how far we've come in character design in video games. Thankfully the folks at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have reinvented Lara for the modern age, creating a character that feels more human and yet venerable despite her numerous strength. It sets up the building blocks for what could be a fascinating franchise in the years to come and it's started off strong with this fun and well paced action adventure.

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South Park: The Stick of Truth review.

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Hey do you like jokes about balls, poo or maybe you're in it for the fart jokes? If you do then there's a damn fine chance your a fan of South Park, if so then you're in for one hell of a treat because finally South Park gets the video game it deserves (took a while didn't it) because South Park The Stick of Truth is the best South Park game to grace the video game form. Though, let's be honest folks that's not saying a whole lot when compared to the South Park games we've been treated to in the past.

Yes past South Park games have ranged for 'just about okay' to 'bloody awful' so it's nice to say that South Park as finally got the game it deserved. We at to wait for it mind you, but The Stick of Truth is worthy of being called one of the best things South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done with the much loved TV show with the help of developers Obsidian Entertainment on hand. It's simple and short for your typical role playing game, but more importantly it's a great groundwork for South Park's risky style of comedy.

The Stick of Truth does a great job of capturing kids playtime fantasies.
The Stick of Truth does a great job of capturing kids playtime fantasies.

Set in South Park (shocker I know!), you play as the new kid who's just arrived and got everyone talking. This new kid can be customized in a large variety of ways with a character creation that will delight any South Park fan. Want to recreate yourself in the world of South Park or simply go crazy with your imagination, you can do just that with what's on offer. It's an impressive touch, only helped by the fact that The Stick of Truth pulls off such a splendid job of recreating the visual style of the show. You might as well be participating in your very own episode of South Park, which is pretty awesome if you ask me. What's especially great is that it's backed by solid, if simple turned based RPG mechanics that while easy to pick up and play, does provide the game with some much needed mechanical backbone. However these gameplay mechanics only facilitates the humor which is rightly at the forefront throughout.

Don't like the jokes of South Park? Then unfortunately there's not much here for you to enjoy. Skyrim this ain't and neither should it be. Clocking in at around eleven to twelve hours of playtime, The Stick of Truth is a short game in comparison to it's peers yet I'd argue that it's the perfect length. It never outlasts its welcome and grinding isn't even a consideration. It's a fresh and interesting change to your typical forty plus hour Japanese RPG we see so often in the genre. Humor is king here and any South Park fan will appreciate some of the shows best loved characters making an appearance and references around every corner. Rarely do Matt and Trey go for the easy jokes and on a number of occasions I was left surprised that they took the risks they did. I guess it wouldn't be South Park if they didn't take risks.

Inspired by the likes of Final Fantasy, the simple turned based mechanics of the battle system work well within the world of South Park. The Stick of Truth is an easy game, one that will rarely ever challenge you, even on the higher difficulty levels. That's not exactly it's purpose though, as the South Park humor comes first and foremost, thankfully these simple RPG mechanics remain fun throughout. One added ingredient aimed to spice the battle system up is the ability to block enemy attacks with the press of the A button (on Xbox 360) or X button (on PS3) at just the right time. Again this isn't anything new but the battle system remains fun and inventive throughout. As do the enemies you'll face on your epic journey. It feels as if the game continually throws new things at you, be that new items to dress up with, new enemies to face or new powers to lash out and upgrade. Dare I say I was even surprised with the amount of cosmetic and varied content on offer.

The battle system is simple but deep enough to keep things interesting throughout it's eleven to twelve hour playtime.
The battle system is simple but deep enough to keep things interesting throughout it's eleven to twelve hour playtime.

Now a South Park game wouldn't be a South Park game without Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny. All four can buddy up with you to help tackle your enemies in battle, along with the lovable loser Butters and comedian wannabe Jimmy. All have unique and fun powers that provide some laughable moments from Cartman shooting waves of fire from is backside to Princess Kenny's ability to "distract" enemies. Discovering what enemy and what powers he, she or it will unleash next is a big park of The Stick of Truth's appeal. You know that a game with the South Park name will have fun with everything and this includes the battle system. There's even the ability to add modifications to the many items you'll discovered scattered around the town, these 'strap ons' allow you to customize a weapon to your choosing from the ability to add elemental damage or a variety of other useful modifications to help in battle. While the gameplay and battle system are easily the best gameplay mechanics we've seen in a South Park game, there there to only facilitate the humor.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is comfortably one of the funniest and laugh out loud games I've played thanks to some wittily written dialogue and scenes that feel as random and as crazy as you'd expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The good news is that this humor is backed by some solid mechanics that remain fun for the games reasonably short length. There are a few issues I had worth noting, the interface which while serviceable I found to be irritating at times having to navigate the menus to equip and unequipped items/strap on modifications and the times when the game requires to change the buddy currently in use could have been more easily achieved via a shortcut. That said, these issues don't stop me from highly recommending The Stick of Truth. Just know that being a South Park fan is a must going in.

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