As you can probably tell just by looking at it, Tricky Towers takes a hefty chunk of inspiration from a certain classic title; anyone who’s ever played Tetris will be immediately familiar with the challenge of rotating, moving and stacking different shaped block pieces together as they drop from the top of the screen.
If you can gather enough people in the same room, then we can see Tricky Towers being an excellent party game.
WeirdBeard have made sure to cater to those who do prefer a more methodical approach however, by way of the game’s Survival and Puzzle modes. Survival takes away one of three lives whenever you drop a block, and Puzzle mode tasks players with using clever designs in order to keep their tower under a certain height limit. Needless to say, we didn’t fare quite so well in these modes.
When battling it out with other players, you’ll occasionally be awarded spells that can be used to aid your own progress or impede your rival’s. Helpful spells include locking in a block to make your tower more stable, or zapping away one that’s badly placed, while the harmful ones can be used to attach balloons to other player’s blocks or enlarge them, making them harder to handle. On occasion spells don’t have the desired effect - like when we dropped a piano on an opponent’s tower and it only served to make it more structurally sound, rather than toppling it over, as was our intention - so you’ll need to use them wisely.
Despite the prevalence of underhand tactics, this is most definitely a game that’s best enjoyed with others, especially in couch co-op. Tricky Towers does feature online multiplayer, but the servers seemed to be permanently deserted (at least whenever we tried to find a match), really leaving local as the only viable option.
There’s also a single player element involving the game’s three main modes, plus a surprising number of trial-type challenges, but, unless you’re really into climbing leaderboards, they’re no substitute for multiplayer.
If you can gather enough people in the same room, then we can see Tricky Towers being an excellent party game thanks to its colourful, cheery visuals, catchy soundtrack and simple, yet challenging gameplay. It would have been nice to see more cosmetic options (you only get four character skins and three block colours in the base game), but if you’re just looking for something fun to pick up and play with a good group of friends, then Tricky Towers fits the bill.
You only need to read the premise of Finish Line Games’ first-person adventure game, Maize, to be compelled to discover more. It’s a story about a misinterpreted memo leading to the creation of sentient corn, also carrying the promise that things only get more ridiculous from there. That isn’t inaccurate.
Maize is intelligently written and has a charming, endearing, memorable cast with delivery to meet the script’s standard.
We thoroughly explored areas to best absorb their infantile squabbles, but, if you’re not that way inclined, it’s possible to see the game through with a more relaxed approach, thanks to Maize’s gated progression and highlighting of key items. Classic adventure game fans might find the simplistic approach disappointing, but in a time where Telltale Games dominate the genre it’s a natural evolution.
Puzzles involve, in typical fashion, combining and using the random collection of gathered items from your inventory in their relevant places. Reading an item’s description offers an optional (and pretty obvious) hint as to its use, which pretty much rules out getting stuck and the associated frustration.
It took a little over four hours for us to reach Maize’s amazingly dumb (in a good way) ending, which left us grinning throughout the brilliant credits sequence. That parting smile is the same one we’ll look back on the game with, in spite of its unwelcome technical issues.
The story of Conan Exiles is one of two halves. On launch day (for Xbox One), we tried to give it a go straight out the gate and found it to be an extremely lag-ridden, buggy mess. In multiplayer players would drop out as soon as others joined and in single player things weren’t much better, with the game allowing you about five minutes of play before the sheer weight of everything which had to be loaded in around you caused a few seconds of lag for every second of normal gameplay. In short, it wasn’t something we were feeling too confident about as far as first impressions go.
One element which is yet to be explored in depth is the idea of religion, as you choose one of a handful of deities for your character to follow when creating them and each have their own altars with their own abilities. For example, if you character follows Yog, their shrine (the aforementioned fire pit) will let you cook human meat, which doesn’t spoil.
The combat is straightforward enough to be able to jump into easily, though the timing can be tricky as your character generally flinches when hit, and mashing attack at the wrong time can find you stuck in a loop of being pummelled to death. Fortunately your allies will generally (if they can be trusted) come to your aid, and the game is certainly enjoyed best as a co-op experience.
While everyone levels and learns recipes separately, crafting items for others isn’t an issue, meaning we were able to craft plenty of extra clothes and weapons in preparation for our game (before the team promptly threw themselves in a fire and wasted all that hard work...just watch the video).
As far as the endgame or wider story of the game goes, that remains to be seen. The in-game map feels quite vast and filled with different climates to explore once your party is ready to venture away from the comforts of home. Make sure you’re well prepared however, as hyenas and even dragons await you and will make short work of lone survivors.
Despite a shaky start, there’s a solid game to be enjoyed here - providing you’re happy to take the initiative and work a few things out for yourself. The soaring soundtrack feels like a cross between Jurassic Park and Mars from Holst’s The Planets Suite, adding to the sense of scale and grand adventure of proceedings. There’s still plenty of work to do before the full release in 2018, but in the meantime there’s no harm getting to grips with it, providing you think it’s worth £30, but all told it’s a yes from us.
This game is silly. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t mean that in a bad way, but you have to admit no one was calling for Nintendo’s iconic Mario franchise to collide with Ubisoft’s collective of crazed, rabbit-like creatures. What we’ve ended up with as a result of this unholy alliance however, is truly something special.
For many the setup isn’t that important, but the time and care put into it by Ubisoft really puts across what it meant to them to be able to work awithin the Mario universe.
Battles are where the action is of course, and while Beep-O is fine at the odd puzzle, it’s Mario and co. who you’ll be relying on to tackle the rabbids that went extra wacky during the transition. There are a few ever-so-slightly more sane rabbids on your own team, including Rabbid Peach, who constantly snaps selfies and admires herself to really inject her with personality.
Each character has access to different weapons and skills, but variety feels somewhat lacking, with the same skills having different names depending on the hero in an attempt to disguise what’s essentially a copy and paste exercise. What makes things more frustrating is that you might not unlock the character you really want until near enough the end of the game, though at least you can reset your skills at any time to tailor your team to the challenge at hand.
Speaking of which, challenge maps become available once you’ve completed each mode, these taking an existing level and throwing in different conditions like a one turn limit or added enemy variety. Some of these can be taken on in co-op as well, in a perhaps slightly underdeveloped mode which nonetheless manages to be a great time for players in the same room (there’s no online option).
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed), but, on the whole, it really feels quite different thanks to its more basic approach. For example, Mario and chums can dash through enemies during movement to deal serious damage and then attack with weapons, compounding the damage dealt in a way which also fits in with Mario's head-stomping pedigree. Things can even be further simplified by toggling ‘Easy Mode’ at the beginning of any skirmish, helping to make Kingdom Battle more accessible to all.
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed).
Enemies gain skills and health as you do, making the learning curve quite gradual, but there’s a fair amount more re-skinning going on as you progress. Despite that, when the different classes start to interact you suddenly find yourself being tested in ways you didn’t expect, making it all the more rewarding when you finally take all the units down for a victory.
In the end, there’s not much to complain about with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It could use more variety in a number of areas - namely abilities, weaponry and the cast of characters on both sides of the titular battle (there’s no shortage to draw from on that front, looking at the recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) - but, generally, this is an essential purchase for Nintendo Switch owners. An original game that’s of great quality both at home on the big screen and on the go. In fact, it’s so engrossing that at one point we may have missed our stop on the train… and couldn’t be happier about it.
Blood, guts, stealth, disco, flares and Cillit Bang; if this combo-platter sounds superb to you, strap yourself in for the latest game from master indie publisher Curve Digital: Serial Cleaner.
100%ing everything is a big challenge, but well worth it for the bonus movie-themed levels and comedy costumes - John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever outfit, anyone?
Before long you migrate from small maps with plenty of cover and a few sluggish cops, into tight corridors where you’ll have to use sound decoys (boom boxes and PA systems) and larger areas with heavy patrols, in which shortcuts and moveable objects (vehicles and sliding doors) come in very handy in avoiding the rozzers.
As you advance through the game you’ll find the police become much more unpredictable in their patrol patterns, with the size of their vision cones and their movement speed also swelling to propel the difficulty skywards. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the sanctity of hidey holes like shrubbery, Metal Gear-parodying cardboard boxes and oil drums to avoid them.
Getting caught resets the current level you’re on, which in turn leads to a new randomly-generated objective layout for the map, with bodies, evidence and the like now in different places to keep you on your toes. This adds a lot of replayability - 100%ing everything is a big challenge, but well worth it for the bonus movie-themed levels and comedy costumes (John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever outfit, anyone?) you’ll unlock - whilst also aiding in improving your strategy, which is a big help when it comes to the tenacious later levels.
Developer ifun4all have not only spoilt us with sublimely simplistic story and gameplay, but also a gorgeous graphic novel visual style. Framed from a top-down perspective, you’ll be treated to what we can only describe as a retro-futuristic style; almost as if the characters from Dexter’s Laboratory had been passed through a meat grinder. Each level has its own harmonious colour scheme too, adding to the overall diversity. Serial Cleaner really does deserve a comic book series, if anybody in the know happens to be listening...
And then we have the music, oh, how we love the music! The 70s setting provides a sumptuous musical period to plunder, and Serial Cleaner takes no prisoners in dropping cop show-style themes, disco, funky brass-riddled numbers, screechy heavy metal solos and cock rock. Every piece of music is a gem; believe us when we say, the game is worth getting for the soundtrack alone.
So, as we hide Henry the Hoover back in the cupboard, and peel off the Marigolds, we’re left with nothing but praise for Serial Cleaner. For a first time console developer to carry out such a simple premise with such character and panache is a truly admirable feat. We’d have loved a multiplayer cops vs cleaner mode, but we really can’t complain: £11.99 is an absolute steal for what is, personally speaking, the only game that’s come close to Breath of the Wild this year.
With the indie scene arguably stronger than ever, certainly in terms of the sheer number of games released every month, standing out from the crowd has never been more difficult. First impressions for Masquerada: Songs and Shadows then, are extremely important.
The investigation generally involves going to an area and exhausting the button prompts, rather than any elementary deduction or substantial puzzles, but the commentary between characters as you journey around locales is what keeps you engaged.
These interactions aren’t mere splashes of text plastered on the screen (though NPCs do get that treatment), rather the main cast are gifted full, and convincing, voiceover alongside cheerful animations that bring the characters to life. The narrative is put across in a stylised way, conversations continuing over loading screens without the transition feeling jarring, and key frames punctuating action scenes to reveal more about our heroes.
The story hits familiar notes in family and redemption, but manages to tackle them in a way which grips you more and more as you delve deeper and get to know the cast more, rather than feeling cliché.
The narrative is put across in a stylised way, conversations continuing over loading screens without the transition feeling jarring.
Progression is a little less elegant. Though your opening gambit with Cyrus is straightforward, as soon as you’re thrown into battle as Cicero for the first time it’s entirely possible you’ll have forgotten everything due to the gap in action (hopefully you have a good memory).
Regardless, you’ll soon pick up the titular Masquerada, an ornately decorated mask - think Phantom of the Opera and you’re part way there - which bestows its user with elemental powers of either wind, fire, water or earth, but mysteriously disintegrates when its user dies, providing some further intrigue as you slowly discover more about the mysterious facade.
It seems slightly unfair to tar indie titles with the same generic, low-fi expectations when it comes to presentation, but the quality of craftsmanship on display here far outstrips the game’s humble origins to provide quality on par with Torment: Tides of Numenera, only without the density which could be a headache for some.
The one complaint we have on that front is that the game’s linear design teases us with rich locales to explore and interact with as we pass through to serve the story, but doesn’t give us the freedom to properly roam or get deep into the culture of the society we’re investigating, throwing up invisible walls to keep us on track.
Enemies have some interesting designs, but knowing the best ways to combat them can be more of a tale of trial and error than a natural learning curve. On the other hand, those at home in the genre should take to it easily and may even beg for more AI and character customisation options to allow for further engagement.
In the end, Masquerada is simply very good, and a game with a different feel to a lot of releases that are currently vying for your attention. That lack of bright light and attention-grabbing sound only serves to undersell what a high-quality experience the folks at Witching Hour Studios have produced, but don’t let that put you off.
I must confess before I start this review that I fell out of love with Formula One games some years ago. I tired of the high-speed, tactical gameplay and decided I wholeheartedly preferred the crash bang wallop of BTC and Rallying. The last F1 game I played was F1 2004 - back when Jordan and Orange were still teams - which, to its credit, I did play a lot. It's time to return to the professional's choice of motorsport however, to test my mettle against the best of the best.
Following three practice sessions (which are skippable), a simple, single-lap qualifier precedes the race. The race proper begins after you select your car and pit strategy, and is more engaging than the practice sessions from the get go, thanks to the freedom to take sharper corners and the fact there are racers at the back of the pack for players like myself to contend with, instead of having everyone speed right past.
You’ll also need to contend with weather and fuel, both of which make a significant difference to how the game handles. The weather is dynamic, if not very impressive on the aesthetic front (there's no spray from standing water, as an example), and using the right tyre at the right time can make or break your race. Fuel is linked to driving style, with braking and gear changes taken into consideration, and can be eaten through surprisingly quick if you don’t manage consumption well. The suite of assist and difficulty options can help you tweak things to your liking, which should make driving feel pretty solid whatever the conditions.
There’s good physical feedback from the controller in the corners and when braking, though it’s slightly disappointing that there are just four rigid directional views when manipulating the camera in place of free movement. With the tap of a button you cycle through information screens pertaining to your standing, though this can be difficult to absorb while driving. You can ask the engineer for specific info to make your life easier, and even do so literally with convenient Kinect voice command integration.
Like most modern racers, F1 2017 features a rewind function and executes it well; you see the last ten-or-so seconds of play and can choose when to jump back in, though attempting to fast forward the video does horrible things to the framerate and it’s easy to miss the desired point. Generally you’ll want to rewind following a collision, and, on that note, there’s thankfully a damage model that sees wings and tyres fly off vehicles.
People who like their racing with a bit more depth and strategy - and, of course, fans of Formula One specifically - will find a lot to like in F1 2017.
My eyes suffered similar damage (alright, maybe not that bad) at the hands of the game’s abundant tiny text. The visuals in general aren’t quite so harsh, generally looking pretty good besides the awful track textures (not that you'll see much of them).
There's multiplayer on offer, but it’s limited to pure Grand Prix setups with no bizarre, Forza-style extra modes - probably due to the license. Instant and quick race selections have some variety as there are a few classic cars to choose from - such as the famed blue and yellow Renault or the white Shell cars of the 90s, screaming engines intact - however there's only a couple from each era, making classic races a touch monotonous. Leaderboard races round out the offering and do what they say on the tin, with your willingness to asynchronously compete with friends and strangers dictating their worth.
Clearly this is a not a game for casual players, however people who like their racing with a bit more depth and strategy - and, of course, fans of Formula One specifically - will find a lot to like in this year’s entry into Codemasters’ long-running franchise.
Mouldy Toof Studios have attempted to make The Escapists 2 bigger, better and more escape-y than the original. Whilst 2015's crossover with The Walking Dead was, essentially, more of the same, the developers have tweaked just about every aspect of this instalment, making it truly befitting the moniker of sequel.
A brief tutorial walks you through the basics, and while it isn’t exactly comprehensive, it feels like a deliberate decision meant to encourage creativity. Just like the previous titles, players must rely on trial and error.
Finding your way around once you’ve bested the tutorial is made much less of a hassle thanks to the mini-map, which will guide you towards your goal in typical fashion. Your cell’s also marked in case you need to rush back and hide any contraband, while guards are clearly displayed so that you can avoid them on the way. This helping hand is extra welcome as there’s been an increase in prison population, with the areas themselves growing to accommodate this.
Level variety coupled with a steady progression in difficulty helps to keep The Escapists 2 engaging throughout.
Starting out in Center Perks 2.0’s low-security compound - should you select the first item in the list, there are three levels available from the start - players will get to grips with the core mechanics while exploring and browsing the expanded library of craftables. Cougar Creek Railroad - also available from the get go - is the first of a new type of challenge, however. Set aboard a moving transport train, you have a limited time to make your getaway before the train reaches its destination. Without other prisoners around to sell you valuable gear, all you get is what you can find and create. This level variety coupled with a steady progression in difficulty helps to keep The Escapists 2 engaging throughout.
A new means of progression also keeps you ticking, as escaping incarceration in unique ways now awards a key, and, subsequently, unlocks more prisons from which to escape. This means that if you run into difficulty there's always the option to replay an easier level and grab one of the four keys you didn't acquire previously, rewarding multiple playthroughs of each institution and making the game more accessible to newbies.
There's enough variation in the key objectives to keep things feeling fresh on repeat runs, each one forcing you to pursue one avenue of approach at a time, rather than preparing for a handful of possible extractions, necessitating a more thoughtful and cautious approach. That said, I’m reminded by my co-op partner that I’m neither thoughtful nor cautious, and maybe that's why I've spent a vast amount of time in solitary confinement peeling potatoes...
… Playing in co-op opens up further escape options that are otherwise impossible in single player, whilst closing off others. Gathering and storing resources is easier with an extra pair of hands (or three), but the tradeoff is that any one member of your team could get caught and lose a valuable item or cause a secret hideaway to be discovered, putting everyone back at square one.
Versus mode plays like a stripped down version of the rest of the game, only with fewer restrictions, the goal simply being to be the first to break out. There is, as always, an element of luck when it comes to finding the right items, which can make a loss feel undeserved.
The Escapists 2 is definitely a step in the right direction for the series, making marked improvements on all fronts as a great sequel should. While it doesn’t offer a huge amount of longevity - despite the added replay value from the key system - the £19.99 price point means you won’t be left feeling short changed.
Severed’s arrival on the Switch is a bit of a strange one. For starters, this being a game that requires a touch-screen to play means it’s one of the few titles in the Switch’s library that has to be played in handheld mode. It will display on a TV if you dock the console, but Sasha, that game’s one-armed heroine, remains completely immobile, no matter how much you manipulate the Joy-Cons.
Slicing off limbs isn’t just for sadistic kicks though, as collecting fallen body parts is key to levelling up Sasha’s abilities. With enough currency collected - be it arms, eyeballs, wings or jaw bones - you get to pick an upgrade from a simple skill tree. It may not be as dense or branching as other, more complicated RPGs out there, but the upgrades on offer in Severed’s skill tree are clear in what they do and what’s needed to unlock them, with everything feeling useful.
If you’re looking for something you can pick up and play on a commute to work or school, then Severed feels perfectly suited for such a job.
Triumphing over the bosses that wait at the end of areas also grants new abilities, such as being able to temporarily blind enemies during a fight or snatch away their buffs like speed or attack boosts. All these extra powers are displayed on your character as living armour, which is a nice way of showing the progress you’ve made. Some of them grant special access to previously inaccessible areas, but having the willpower to go back and unlock them depends on how tolerant you are of the game’s walking animation, which sees you sort of ‘transported’ between a map’s segments that are linked together to create larger, sprawling areas. This can get slightly disorientating if you move too quickly, and using the mini map in the top right of the screen actually felt like an easier, and more efficient way to get around.
During the early stages of the game, you’ll only be tackling one or two monsters at a time, but things quickly escalate and it’s not long before you’re facing three, sometimes four at once. Taking on this many is surprisingly difficult, especially if they’re packing the aforementioned buffs, as even the weaker ones with familiar attack patterns become a real challenge when backed up by their mates. Identifying the most serious threats and taking them out first is key to your success, otherwise it’s easy to end up overwhelmed and frustrated as you frantically try to fend off a barrage of attacks.
An indicator on the bottom of the screen tells you when an enemy is going to attack via a yellow bar, which, once full, means there’s one incoming. Some monsters take time to build their attacks, and can be kept out of a fight altogether if you keep jabbing away to interrupt them, while others deliver ones that can’t be stopped and must instead be blocked.
Battles are triggered by walking into white flames that are dotted periodically throughout the game’s maps, mostly in the dungeon areas. Once activated, you’re locked in until you either emerge victorious or are defeated, in which case you just respawn at the last autosave (usually only a few moments before) with full health, meaning there’s no real punishment for failure other than delaying progress. Dungeons also feature some light puzzles, but they mostly feel like an obligatory inclusion (because dungeons) and all involve simple, familiar mechanics.
Still, if you’re looking for something you can pick up and play on a commute to work or school, then Severed’s simple gameplay, coupled with some light RPG elements and a relatively low-price, means the game feels perfectly suited for such a job. Just be sure to pick up a screen protector.
Fortnite is an early access title at present - despite already being purchasable in a four different ways(!) - and so we bring you this look at the game in its current state, in place of a more concrete verdict.
Traps are the one exception to this, as even though they follow the same rules, you often want to grab fresh traps on the fly as the action-packed defence phase kicks off. In the state of heightened adrenaline it’s easy to wish there was a button combination that took you straight to your favourites for added ease of access as hordes of Husks approach.
These enemies are perhaps the roughest edge on the game’s otherwise quite slick execution. The enemy types and variations aren’t necessarily bad, but they do feel quite generic and lacking in character, even compared to the relatively limited enemy pool of something like Left 4 Dead. Groupings of Husks behave quite randomly, rather than having them subscribe to a hivemind mentality, while different enemies each have different movements and attacks, but there’s no personality to any of the animations, which can make combat feel like a chore rather than the climactic reward after gathering resources and building your fort in preparation.
Without a cohesive team dynamic, meeting even basic build objectives - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult.
Sunset Overdrive’s occasional area defense battles make for a fair comparison both visually and thematically, with that game’s charismatic and over-the-top presentation offering up unique sound effect and vibrant visual cues that keep you engaged, whereas Fortnite is way toned-down by comparison and worse for it.
Having to take time out of the world-ending scenario to slip into build mode and make repairs or changes to your fort during active combat doesn't do much to complement the gunplay, either.
Teaming up with other players online is the real strength behind the idea, or at least it is in theory. In practice, without a cohesive team dynamic to rely upon, meeting even basic build objectives set by the game - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult, since the default for many players is to do whatever they feel like and start the attack when they’re ready, rather than waiting until everyone else has all of their traps lined up…
So far then, Fortnite is an interesting idea, executed well - for the most part - that just feels unfinished. Perhaps that’s alright at this stage, given the point in development we’re being exposed to, but the trouble is that it certainly feels like it’s being presented as more of a finished product than other early access titles. Whether or not you’re at peace with the deep microtransactions culture baked into the game may cause frustration too, but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most.
If you have a few even remotely reliable friends to jump into this with, then it’s an experience worth trying out, but waiting for the full, free-to-play release may make you feel like you’re getting the best of what Fortnite has to offer and for no upfront investment; rather than a paid game with real future potential, which is how it currently feels.
Expect more on Fortnite as the game develops in the run up to its free-to-play release, and a full co-op review in 2018.