Back in the day, Colin McRae games were seen as definitive when it came to rallying. Since his tragic death in 2007, the series somewhat fell from prominence and was largely replaced by titles that tried to fill the rally niche, but found little fanfare. Codemasters have decided to put an end to that by re-entering the race with the latest in their flagship DiRT series, which takes it back to its origins.
On the visual front, it's hardly a graphical powerhouse, but they certainly do the job. Cars are decently modelled and become sufficiently knackered as events play out. The road surface texture detail is good, allowing you to very easily work out what you're driving on, which is important when gauging braking distances. The landscapes around the track edge can look quite flat and lifeless, though further off in the distance there are some nice views rendered. For a game so dense in trees the foliage is quite poor, though when you're in-motion (pretty much always), it hardly matters, as you'll be concentrating on what’s ahead.
Special mention goes to the audio. Played with headphones, it's very immersive; car engine noise and throttle vary a lot vehicle-to-vehicle, and you even hear the gravel dinging off the underside of the car, or twigs snapping under the weight of your wheels. The menu music consists of a listenable, if repetitive, set of mild electronic tracks.
Special mention goes to the audio. Played with headphones, it's very immersive; car engine noise and throttle vary a lot vehicle-to-vehicle.
One disappointment was the lack of vehicle customisation. While there's a decent range of cars on offer, the only visual changes the player can make to them is swapping the decals from a set selection. You can't make your own car designs, or even change colours.
More bizarrely, for a game claiming to be “the most authentic” rally game ever, it's odd that you can't manually upgrade your car, or choose tires based on what you think will be best. Instead, upgrades are earned based on time spent with each car - even then, there are only three available, all of which increase your speed. This means that whenever you buy a new vehicle you're at a disadvantage from the start; a real problem in rallycross, as you'll likely struggle to keep up with the AI.
Further frustrations are introduced by the level of difficulty. The handling isn't the only twitchy part of the game, as the physics are equally eager to flick you off the track. Whilst, yes, this is obviously a skill-based game, and one that requires a lot of concentration, it's far too easy to find yourself off the track and heavily damaged. Clipping an obstacle will often stop you dead or send your car tumbling - realism's all very well and good, but when the slightest mistake can cost you the whole race it can become tiring. Frustrating even, especially when trying the daily/weekly races which can only be attempted once. Add to this the unmarked teleport zones (some only a few metres from the road), the resultant time penalties and track designs that frequently see you get wedged at the roadside whilst attempting to get back on track, and you'll need some real perseverance.
Rallycross is especially unforgiving, I personally didn't manage to get past the first event, as even the tiniest mistake almost ensures last place - there is no margin for error. Rally and hill climb, on the other hand, start you off with generous time allowances.
Players can set up or matchmake into rallycross races online and there's a system of daily, weekly and monthly leaderboard tracks with higher-tier rewards on offer for high placement. Bizarrely, you can't set up a custom rally event with friends unless you sign up and do so via the Codemasters website.
This might all sound very negative, but if you can accept some frustrating moments, and a tendency for the game to screw you over, then there's a lot of content to be found here. Races get longer, harder and more satisfying as you progress, whilst cars earnt through this progression increase the satisfaction twofold thanks to their improved handling.
Ever since debuting, the Souls series has been synonymous with difficulty, establishing and fully embodying its taunting “Prepare to Die” tagline. Whilst this remains true in the case of Dark Souls III, the supposed final entry in the franchise, you shouldn’t be put off by the challenge; instead embrace it to discover an exquisitely rich gameplay experience.
In the face of such horror, it’s incredibly easy to be panicked into button mashing, but there are few faster ways to invite your own hollowing. To succeed, you’ll need to carefully monitor enemy attack patterns, block, parry and dodge with finesse to be presented the perfect moment to launch a satisfyingly weighty counter-attack. Even in these moments, you must be careful not to be too greedy, as if you consume all of your stamina on the offensive, how will you answer the opposition’s rebuttal? Cool heads prevail in Dark Souls III - great care and consideration must always be employed, which, if you’ve grown accustomed to Bloodborne’s scrapper take on series combat, may take some readjustment.
Yuka Kitamura’s stunning composition is goose-bump-inducing - you owe it both to her and to yourself to play wearing headphones...
Players are spoilt for choice, which can admittedly be daunting, but it really serves to ensure everyone can find their niche with a little experimentation.
The experience is further distanced from Bloodborne by the plethora of weapons available to the player, rather than the former’s more succinct arsenal. As usual, provided you have the relevant stats to wield them, each weapon has both a one and two-handed stance variation, whilst new to Dark Souls III are Weapon Arts. With a weapon two-handed, a simple button press will employ what’s essentially the weapon’s special move - these vary from sharpening a blade, to deal increased damage for a time, to steeling oneself, delivering devastating combos, automatically positioning for a critical backstab, charging forwards with a polearm and more.
These powerful abilities are limited by the new FP bar, which whilst we can’t tell you what FP stands for, we can confirm functions in much the same way as a typical mana gauge. FP also governs the use of Sorceries, Pyromancies and Miracles - the new Ashen Estus Flask serves to replenish FP, doing away with the old system of limiting casts to a certain number between rests at a bonfire safe haven. It makes more sense, and lowers the point of entry somewhat for newcomers. Even more accommodatingly, the Estus allotment can be changed at any time, meaning if you wish to simply have a hoard of standard, health-replenishing Estus and no FP-replenishing Ashen Estus, you can - and vice versa.
Players are spoilt for choice, which can admittedly be daunting, but it really serves to ensure everyone can find their niche with a little experimentation. It also means tactics can always be switched on-the-fly to best combat any of the numerous and varied enemy types housed within each different environment.
It’s no exaggeration to say these environments are gorgeous. Visually, there are some truly breathtaking vistas to behold. From a game design standpoint, they’re even more impressive, the gracefully interconnected world holding innumerable secrets that beckon you to explore deeper and deeper into the crushingly oppressive rabbit hole. You aren’t explicitly guided down any of the multitude of split-paths, instead the resistance you face offers a gentle indication of whether you’re ready to tackle it. If you’re up to the challenge, only your grit and determination stand in the way of progress, offering a liberating sense of freedom. Miyazaki offers another absolute masterclass that sees the series return to its glorious roots, following the slight misstep in his absence during Dark Souls II’s development.
The one and only foible on this front is that some environments hold a reasonably strong sense of déjà vu. Whilst this is contextualised by the repeating lifecycle that the narrative’s built upon, some more variation would’ve been nice. The game as a whole is more of the same, but frankly that’s only because they had the formula perfected right from the start.
Underpinning everything is the returning, uniquely integrated multiplayer. If you’re playing in online mode, you’ll see remnants of other players as they make their journey through Lothric - ghostly phantoms relay their current location and actions in real-time, bloodstains on the ground can be interacted with to gauge how adventurers met their end, inviting you to adjust your approach accordingly, and messages scrawled on the ground either serve to help or hinder their fellow man.
Whilst these passive effects add to the world’s already stellar ambiance, more actively, players can engage in co-op and PvP. If you’re struggling to overcome a particularly difficult boss, pride permitting, you might summon a couple of pairs of helping hands. If you’re low on Souls, you can invade another player’s world to pillage theirs, though be warned that the favour can be returned. These PvP duels are incredibly intense and range from well-mannered - the invader presenting themselves and bowing to bookend a fair, clean fight - to deviously deceptive - the invader laying in wait to launch a devastating ambush.
Covenants return to encourage online interactions, each varying in respectability and tasking the player with different objectives. Completing a relevant objective grants covenant items, which are subsequently used to deepen your allegiance and unlock unique rewards. Changing covenants is now a simple case of switching your sigil; gone are the desertion penalties that previously somewhat discouraged experimentation with the system.
Turbo marks the first time the TrackMania franchise has appeared on either Xbox or PlayStation consoles, so it’s safe to say there’s probably a large number of people for whom this game will be their first experience of TrackMania.
While there may be more than 200 of them, most of the tracks are incredibly short, some lasting no more than 20 seconds. There are a few multi-lap tracks thrown into the mix, but nothing that takes longer than three minutes to complete.
It’s a bit of a shame as some of the tracks are very well designed and do a great job of inducing the feeling of vertigo as you fly around the more outlandish ones at high-speeds to perfectly choreographed music. Most are over all too soon though, and it can feel a little anti-climactic as a result.
The counter of this is that the bite-sized courses can be incredibly hard to master, requiring multiple runs to learn every corner and obstacle in order to earn the best time, which does help to prolong the experience somewhat. The difference between victory and defeat can be milliseconds, and even the slightest mistake such as grazing a barrier or starting a drift too early can ruin a perfect run, sending you right back to square one.
This may be the appeal of TrackMania games to many but for those who aren’t a fan of the formula, when a mistake happens just before the finish line and with progress to the next track or area blocked until a certain number of medals have been won, it can start to become a grind as you hit the B button to restart the same track again and again.
It can quickly become tiresome, especially when racing in a less favoured arena or car and the obnoxious commentary can really start to grate. Hearing “Did you mean to do that?!” or “Hey, watch the paintwork!” after every crash is a cert to get the blood pressure rising. Thankfully there is an option to turn these off in the settings.
No doubt there will be many TrackMania enthusiasts out there who will gladly gather up the 150 gold medals required to open the final set of courses locked away in the Black Series, but for many the grind and steep learning curve may be too off-putting to get further than the opening few levels.
The saving grace of Turbo’s arcade action turned out to be the multiplayer. Competing in time trials against other players is a much more enjoyable experience than riding solo or against an unfaltering AI.
The presence of other players makes it easier to forgive the flaws of the campaign, and actually gives you a reason to customise your car with the various paint jobs, emblems and numbers unlocked by earning medals.
Numerous filter options allow you to pick the race type and courses when competing online, though it’s probably a good idea to choose the lobby with the highest number of players for the best experience.
At the time of writing Turbo’s servers seem a bit sparsely populated, which is a little worrying seeing as the game was only recently released. Still, find a lobby with a decent number of people and there’s a lot of fun to be had.
Hurtling around corners with dozens of drivers (there can be up to 100 in a race) can be an exhilarating experience, especially as others start to spin wildly out of control, creating some almost set-piece like crashes. There’s no physical contact between any of the cars, so don’t expect to be able to use aggressive tactics to get ahead, it’s all about skill here.
Most efforts will end up mid-table finishes, but there will be times when for one glorious moment your name sits atop the Leaderboard. It’s not all about the glory though, and chasing the pack is by no means less enjoyable. Whittling down your time by fractions of a second to close the gap on the leaders has an “I can do better” appeal to it and will keep you coming back for more.
The local multiplayer options feel like they are catered towards a party atmosphere, something which you can enjoy with friends for a bit of couch co-op. Double Driver mode has two people controlling the same car, and numerous players can take part in arcade style time-trial competitions with limited restarts, solo or as part of a team. Turbo even features that rarest of multiplayer modes these days – split screen, for up to four players.
A custom track builder is available and allows you to come up with your own extreme designs, with a random generator for those a little more creatively challenged. It’s fun to watch the latter churning out procedurally designed courses piece by piece, but they can sometimes lack the finesse and fluidity of some of the tracks found in the main game.
There’s probably enough in Turbo to keep those who love to smash personal records or see their name climbing a Leaderboard entertained, and it could definitely work as something to have on in the background when friends are over to dip in and out of, something the game even suggests in the loading screens.
If you approach TrackMania Turbo expecting to find the core aspects of a more traditional racer in an arcade wrapping, then you’ll only end up disappointed. However, accept the game for what it is and not what you wanted it to be, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
Delivering a unique experience is something which many games strive for, but few accomplish. For Quantum Break, the challenge was combining a compelling game with a convincing live-action experience.
Not only can you interact with the story, you gain an incredible amount by taking the time to actually read the emails and other story items you find throughout the world, dashing through just focusing on the combat will lead you to miss out on some of the strongest moments in the game.
It’s the little touches which really make the experience feel well thought out. One notable example sees an employee from Monarch (the game’s evil corporation) emailing someone about a screenplay which they have written. Not only is the screenplay written out in full, but towards the end there’s the payoff of finding an incredibly cheesy-looking trailer at the employee’s desk. It’s not significant to the story, and you could easily miss it out - just like you can skip the 20 minute live-action episodes - but you would definitely be missing out if you do.
At its core, Quantum Break is a fairly straightforward game, but thanks to the inherent complexities of time travel it immediately becomes something which requires extra thinking power. Ashmore plays Jack Joyce, one of two brothers who left town when his parents were killed in a car crash and never looked back. Now he’s returning to riverport at the request of one of his oldest friends, Paul Serene, played by Game of Thrones’ Peter ‘Littlefinger’ Balish, to witness an experiment which his brother, Will, played by Lord of the Rings’ Dominic Monaghan, has been involved with.
Of course nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and things don’t go to plan, quickly making Serene the villain of the piece and setting the two at odds through the game. Unfortunately aside from a brief conversation at the very beginning, nothing is really said about the relationship between Jack and Paul, aside from the fact that they’ve known each other for years and always trusted each other.
Did Serene help support the brothers when their parents died? Did Paul look out for Will at Jack’s request? We don’t know, and really this is the core of one of the weakest parts of the game’s story. You believe that Jack feels betrayed when things start to go wrong, but you don’t quite know why.
Elsewhere in the game there are other missed opportunities, things referenced but never really explored such as a moment where you see yourself a few yards ahead climbing a fence after travelling in time. It hints at a time loop moment where you could appear twice in a given scene and play alongside your former and future self.
Or there’s the frequent references to ‘Shifters’, beings caught out of time - only slightly explained if you pay a lot of attention to the extra story material - as they threaten to turn up at numerous points as some new, deadly kind of enemy with strong foreboding but never materialise (so to speak). That said there is a lot more depth to explore by replaying the game and making different choices and the discussion about the motivations of certain characters should give players ample ammunition for discussion.
It might seem like an afterthought to say it so far down this review, but the gameplay is really strong. The time powers are well balanced, and mastering how they combine is good fun. The game is just the right level of difficulty on normal to push the player but not lead to a frustrating number of restarts.
The cover mechanic is probably the only slightly weak area, as it isn’t as cut and dry as something like The Division (nor should it be), which can lead to your character standing up when you think you should be in cover. Also the guns are fairly forgettable, though there were a few times when we were wishing for a sniper rifle.
In all the game is an experience which lives up to the sum of its parts. The live-action episodes add another level of investment in the characters, particularly the minor ones you don’t see as much of in the game itself, and offer characters believable enough for you to care about them. The money developers Remedy must have spent not only on the production but the actors involved must have been eye-watering, but it really goes a long way to making the game feel different.
It might not be the best ever execution of some of its ideas but Quantum Break gives Xbox players a brand new franchise they can be proud of, and hopefully, if enough people give it a go, one we will be able to revisit in the future.
République first launched back in late 2013; a runaway Kickstarter project that graced iOS devices and impressed, thanks to developer Camouflaj’s successful condensing of a console-quality experience. Now, years later, République takes its rightful mantle on console, in a re-release that reaffirms the quality of the product.
As the gameplay evolves with progression, so too does the story, becoming a tangled web of conspiracy.
République is somewhat miraculous in its ability to feel quite so unique, as it draws from a pretty vast pool of inspirations. Many of these are literary, but the most notable on the video game front are some of our all time favourites: Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Bioshock. Remnants of each are ever present in the setting, characterisation, tone, story, visuals, sound, gameplay - everything, really. The rich dystopian locale actually manages to rival the respective Spencer Mansion, Shadow Moses Island and Rapture; a character of its own and another example of deft environmental storytelling.
Hope isn’t totally helpless as you guide her through the harsh world, with lootable tasers and pepper-spray canisters helping to even the odds on the occasions your stealth-oriented directives aren’t quite tactically sound. If you’re caught without these means of defence to hand, you’ll be escorted to a nearby holding-cell and your possessions confiscated, though escape and reacquisition - through pickpocketing the arresting guard - make the process more of an inconvenience than a threat. As the episodes progress, patrols become better equipped to both resist and arrest, donning protective clothing and equipping sleep gas grenades to take you down from a distance.
If you take the time to unearth dirty laundry by reading documents, hacking email inboxes and listening to voicemails, it can be sold to a black market vendor reminiscent of Resident Evil 4’s beloved merchant. Thereafter, you’ll be able to purchase OMNI View upgrades that provide a range of benefits and further tools to help in Hope’s escape. Just be aware that employing their use will drain battery power, so, just like in real life, you’ll want to avoid certain applications if you aren’t near a charging station.
An intelligently written and well-acted game that raises many a burning question.
As the gameplay evolves with progression, so too does the story, becoming a tangled web of conspiracy. You may elect how many strands to follow, as it’s up to the player to discover half of the context independently through exploration, and the consumption of the the written and audio data uncovered. Whether you choose to do so or not, République is an intelligently written and well-acted game that raises many a burning question - though if you don't like religion, social and political issues brought into your entertainment, you may not appreciate it.
The literate, thoughtful and inventive story of technical advancement vs morality unfortunately derails somewhat in the hugely departed fourth episode, and leads into an equally predictable and nonsensical finale that leaves many loose ends left untied. You won’t be left with a clear picture of any form, and we don’t doubt that’s to encourage fine-toothed-comb replays and online conspiracy theories, but that doesn’t make the latter chapters any more satisfying. It’s a shame, as we were deeply invested before things gradually fizzled out towards the end; yet with that said, despite the destination, the journey’s definitely still worth taking.
Despite its gameplay flaws and slightly botched ending, République is a compelling and innovative journey, ever complemented by its ambient future soundtrack. Holding up outstandingly (outside of some ugly character models) for an ageing mobile game, it reminded us of some of our favourite moments in gaming, and more importantly, why we fell in love with gaming. As such, it’s easy to recommend you at least give République a chance to shine - you just might fall in love with it.