A lot can change in ten years, and after a decade of working on Need for Speed titles - and playing second fiddle supporting the likes of Battlefield 1 and Star Wars Battlefront II - Criterion finally return to the franchise which put their name on the map to re-release its crown jewel: Burnout Paradise.
There’s some variety to be found in the challenges you can take on, presuming you enjoy driving cars fast, of course. Simple races start and finish between eight predefined locations on the map - mirroring compass points - and let you take any route, with an indicator at the top of the screen letting you know if you’re on the right track, and even flashing road signs indicating whether to turn left or right to course correct you if necessary.
Road Rage and Marked Man behave in much the same way, asking you to take out or avoid being taken out by AI drivers across a set route respectively. Here, arguably, is where the most fun is had thanks to the game’s cinematic approach to both takedowns and even your own crashes, should you find yourself dramatically spiralling off the road and into oblivion.
Stunt Races do pretty much what they say on the tin, placing you at a specific starting location to rack up as many points as you can. There are multipliers for moves like barrel rolls and spins, or taking out a billboard or two, but it can be hard to make the most of them early on, before you know where the best ramps and shortcuts are.
Burn Races are speed challenges for specific cars, which can be hit and miss depending on how much you enjoy the car in question. The time limits involved can be quite challenging, even from the beginning, so this is another set of events to come back to when you really know what you’re doing.
Progress through the game is gated by your driver’s licence, which starts as a learner permit and graduates through graded letters from D. Each time you achieve a new rank, your wins on completed events are reset, meaning you can revisit races and challenges you’re familiar with in order to push towards the next licence upgrade.
As you gather wins, new cars are unleashed upon the city, making it a simple case of taking them out to add them to your junkyard - the haven where your suite of vehicles live. You’ll find a selection of special cars here too, thanks to all the DLC being included, giving you the chance to take to the streets in lookalikes of some of pop culture’s most iconic vehicles, including the Delorean from Back to the Future, complete with hover mode.
Of course, as these cars are legendary (just like police cruisers and toy cars), they have pretty impressive stats, making them an easy shortcut for race wins in particular. There is a trade off though, in that many can be quite flimsy, and the ability to take a bit of damage without being obliterated is crucial in some modes.
Despite the AI’s aggression building as you climb the ranks, you’re often the biggest danger to yourself. With so many obstacles to navigate, including meandering traffic (though, thankfully, not pedestrians) you’ll find yourself slamming into walls and wrecking constantly, at least for a while as you get the hang of boosting around in your car of choice.
Each vehicle falls into one of a handful of classes, which have different ways of racking up nitrous, suited to the type of car it is. For example, a standard stunt class car gives you a big chunk of boost or fills your bar completely for going over ramps or pulling off tricks, whereas the aggression class is more risk/reward based, in that taking down other cars is a big win, but crashing out or being taken down takes away some of that hard-earned boost.
It’s elements like this which allow you to play the game in a way that’s more tailored to you, and the various systems all stem from previous games in the series, so if you had a particular penchant for Burnout 3: Takedown, you can feel right at home.
Venturing online - with a simple press of right on the D-pad - is a mixed bag. The forward-thinking drop-in/drop-out approach to multiplayer is a marvel which defines a “seamless online experience” even today, but the support systems in place around it are less effective.
You’ll launch you into Freeburn Online almost seamlessly, and other players will be loaded into their respective areas of the map. There’s a garage-full of challenges the tackle between two to eight players, as well as races which can be kicked off by the host.
The fact that challenges often require a specific location is the first major stumbling block, as without players making the most of voice chat (generally the norm in our limited experience pre-release) it can be tricky to get everyone together. There aren’t modern conveniences like group waypoints or text commands to try to coordinate everyone, and with an emphasis on making rivals online by taking down opponents, you can find yourself being smashed to pieces whilst parked at the side of the road navigating a menu.
While these are limitations also present in the original game, it could have made a big impact on longevity to have implemented a few community-friendly features, though, admittedly, as we were dealing with a pre-release audience, there’s still opportunity to be pleasantly surprised moving forward.
From LCD Soundsystem to Beethoven, the variety gives you the opportunity to cruise around with a soundtrack that works for you, with every song feeling like it belongs.
Of course, with friends it’s a whole different kettle of fish and the unhelpful map aside, players who’ve got to grips with where things are shouldn’t have too much trouble taking on a fairly wide variety of challenges, from performing near misses on traffic as a group to one player jumping clean over seven others lined up below.
Burnout has always been up there with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and SSX series in terms of iconic and engaging soundtracks, and Paradise Remastered brings that magic back with all but two of the 92 original tracks making the cut. The variety on offer, from LCD Soundsystem to Beethoven, gives you the opportunity to cruise around with a soundtrack that works for you, with every carefully curated song feeling like it belongs.
That’s especially complementary to the vast, over-the-top playground of Big Surf Island, which feels a little hidden away, located to the east of the city. Another expansion, here there are unique cars and mega jumps, which crank up the more common super jumps across the rest of the city to 11, often seeing you hurtle halfway across the entire island.
In fact, so extensive is the amount of unlocks and areas to explore, Paradise Remastered could prove a near-endless rabbit hole for completionists. Not only do you have 475 no entry gates to smash, but also 165 billboards. Once you’ve done all that, there’s over 140 cars to unlock (though some are available from the get go) and you can set speed times for every single road on the map, both online and offline.
It’s perhaps forgivable then that one of the staples of the franchise, Crash Mode, where you attempt to cause as much damage as possible at a single intersection, is absent from this game entirely, thanks to Criterion’s past decision to spin it off into its own little game called Burnout Crash!. With such a vast amount of content to explore though, across a stunningly beautiful world, it’s easy to forgive this omission.
Burnout Paradise Remastered is a slice of pure joy in a gaming landscape which has arguably become unnecessarily complex. Re-releases aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and making a habit of such things is an issue in itself, but this case feels well-deserved and expertly executed. The original Paradise raised the bar for what racing games could be, and it arguably hit a high Criterion themselves have failed to recapture since. Remastered has us feeling things we thought were long gone and is an outstanding and hugely rewarding addition to any arcade racing fan’s library.
As its He-Man and the Masters of the Universe-inspired name and neon vision of the future suggest, Blasters of the Universe is a humorous homage to the VHS era. Grandmaster Alwyn, an arcade gaming savant, is so dominant a player that he’s become one with the eponymous game, prompting you to challenge his throne across four levels of intense shoot-‘em-up action.
By tapping into the bullet hell subgenre, the game takes on both a fierce urgency and an enticing element of performance.
This cumbersome issue isn’t something the pulsing synth soundtrack and sharp presentation can’t remedy, the pair drawing you back for another hit in tandem, but perhaps not before altering your loadout. Guns are crafted by choosing a frame and associated special ability, barrel, magazine, ammo type, and a module that provides a passive buff. A lot of possibilities open up as you progress and unlock new weapon elements, allowing you to rock an arcing beam rifle, explosive shotgun, ricocheting assault rifle, or really whatever you can dream up to fit your play style.
The game can only be played with two Move motion controllers (which are tracked particularly well here), one corresponding to your bespoke gun and the other being used to deploy your choice of ammo clips and a limited-use shield. This opens up a further layer of customisation, allowing you to, for example, equip a recharging magazine and focus exclusively on shielding with your off hand, or a small magazine with increased damage output that’ll need reloading on the regular, but should, in theory, eradicate enemies before they ever give you reason to deploy your shield.
If you’re anything like us, bigger will be better when it comes to the magazine, as the manual reload process is quite particular and differs depending on your choice of frame. Such is the precise art of reloading that we’d actually recommend using your dominant hand for it.
A lot of weapon crafting possibilities open up as you progress, really allowing you to rock whatever gun you can dream up to fit your play style.
Though swapping hands can initially prove disorienting, it ultimately lead us to slay all of the game’s long-form, large-scale bosses and emerge victorious on the other side. These battles require specific aiming and avoidance techniques that make them a challenging treat, though a glitch we encountered whereby each loss to the final boss caused an obnoxious buzzing sound until the game was rebooted did make the final leg slightly laborious. Fingers crossed that bug is squashed, which seems likely enough judging by the patch support already offered since launch.
Completing the campaign should take around three to five hours, though the exact number is really dependant on player skill and fitness levels, and that’s without taking into account time spent climbing online leaderboards and interacting with a couple of additional modes that round the package out. Challenge mode hands you a pre-built loadout and an objective to complete as quickly as possible, with the task at hand rotating after a set period of time, whilst Endless mode sees you, shockingly, survive for as long as possible to gain the highest score before meeting an inevitable end.
Despite relying on a played out concept, Endless is a highlight, placing trophies just out of reach to encourage a ‘one more go’ mindset. It randomises spawn patterns with each attempt to keep things fresh, though this does also affect balance, as luck of the draw can vastly impact your performance.
Still, with this mode in its repertoire, Blasters of the Universe might actually prove endlessly entertaining. Its thoroughly rewarding combat encounters can’t be bested with a lackadaisical approach, resulting in not just a fantastically fresh take on the bullet hell shooter, but also a workout regimen that makes you feel like a virtual deity... until your humanity comes a-knockin’ and the lactic acid takes hold.
Yes, you read that right, folks: Aperion Cyberstorm is a brand new twin-stick shooter for the dusty, clapped-out Wii U (it’s also available on the Switch and PC, plus it’s on the way to Xbox One, if you’re suitably modern). We enjoyed our brief hands-on preview with the game at last year’s Rezzed, but has that early glimpse of glitter faded, or blossomed into something altogether more splendid?
Cyberstorm’s gameplay is pleasingly simple: blow everything up, look for collectibles and survive - not necessarily in that order.
We would’ve loved to have seen more emphasis on the calmer, explorative sections, as, although the arena and boss encounters are regularly thrilling, juxtaposing moments serve to make them all the more special. A stronger story and deeper exploration would’ve elevated the campaign on the whole, though that doesn’t do too much to detract from the fabulous, frenetic combat and boss designs that are on display and can be tweaked to your liking with a well-balanced array of difficulty settings.
Versus mode brings the party to your front room, in a way only a handful of titles do these days. Get four friends over and you really are in for a treat; you’ll fight each other in a variety of arenas, across nine different match types, in a sea of retina-obliterating colours and patterns.
There’s good ol’ fashioned arena fragfest, a heart-limited survival mode, the you-only-live-once anarchy of Last Stand, timed matches, standard King and Control match types, and even more. This Doctor recommends a prescription of pop and pizza to perfectly compliment the glorious, is-it-skill-or-luck fracas on offer in Versus. If you do happen to be a William-no-associates, fear not, as aPriori have been decent enough to include an option to add bots instead of flesh and blood players.
Onslaught mode is the tenser, Gears-esque Horde mode, where you smash endless waves of radiant rascals, achieving a star rating based on your lasting power. These stars then unlock new, trickier Onslaught maps to weather.
Versus mode brings the party to your front room... Get four friends over and you really are in for a treat!
It’s hard to deny the sheer amount of content on offer here, both in single and multiplayer, but there are a few areas that could’ve done with an extra bit of chim-cheroo. Aside from the Campaign mode misfires, the chief culprit here is the music, which just doesn’t quite achieve true synergy with the game's visuals. Fights generally develop into bullet hell madness, so it’s strange that the techno doesn’t follow suit and amp up the rhythmic intensity.
So, in spite of its limitations, it’s hard not to recommend Aperion Cyberstorm. The music might be a bit of a letdown, the campaign might be a tad corpulent, and the gameplay might not be particularly innovative, but what is here is just ruddy good fun. Get some friends round, bust out those Wiimotes (or Joy-Cons) and enjoy £10.99 well spent.
Everyone likes money. Making a game hopelessly obsessed with it, focusing on grabbing as much of it as possible, seems like a simple enough idea. Vostock Inc. combines a space exploration experience with a simple, Monopoly-esque construction sim to create a game with a wider variety of experiences compared to your usual idle clicker.
While you wait, there’s the twin-stick shooter aspect of the game, which can be a bit more of a mixed bag than the polished balance of the Moolah-making. You can take out asteroids and crates in space for bonuses, save managers and executives for bonuses, or even take on huge enemy bosses for, you guessed it, bonuses - generally in the form of lots and lots of yellow pieces which your tiny ship can lap up and add to your total.
Enemies spawn a little too frequently at times, sometimes appearing before the graphic congratulating you for defeating a big baddie has even left the screen, but this feels like a deliberate attempt to keep you playing and striving on to the next challenge, rather than a lapse in design.
A few times we’ve found ourselves taking massive damage by being physically stuck between two enemies and bouncing between them at high speed. Fortunately, if you should blow up all is not lost, you have a tiny life pod (which can also protect any executives you’ve collected) that’ll offer some protection as you scatter back to the Motherbase for the system to regain health. Even being destroyed completely only chops away a swathe of the cash you have on you, rather than having any long-lasting implications.
To defend yourself you’ll need to use one of the game’s colourful weapons, which range from a simple machine gun to a laser unicorn attack squad and graviton aperture gun. In practice, merely upgrading the weapon you get on best with works for most encounters, providing you have the dexterity to keep mobile, and providing you invest money now and again, the enemies are rarely overwhelming.
If that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, there’s also plenty of upgrades to Motherbase, your ship and your radar, which can certainly make your life easier - depending on what your priorities are - and there’s the aforementioned executives to look after. These overpaid fat cats (well, one of them literally is a cat lady) are only around to boost your productivity, but they’ll need to be furnished with lavish gifts to be kept happy and let you reap the rewards.
Vostok Inc. consistently punches above its weight, giving compelling gameplay and humour without layering in unnecessary systems and cluttering the experience.
Each has their own personalised 8-bit mini game, varying from driving sims to first-person shooters to Flappy Bird clones, which give you the opportunity to pick up these items, but most are pretty challenging, so you’re better off obliterating a few enemies and asteroids instead. The games themselves are a welcome distraction though, and fill out what is, on the surface, quite a basic experience.
Whether this is a game for you will depend on how you like to play. It’s at its best with a degree of passiveness and patience, waiting for the money total to tick up so you can grab that upgrade before you dash downstairs for dinner. Passing the time before bedtime with the game was initially an exercise in real-world stealth, as destroying asteroids and creating buildings set off the Switch’s overzealous rumble, putting the good night’s sleep of significant others everywhere in jeopardy, but fortunately there is an option to turn this off hidden in one of the multiple options menus.
For something which might look like it only belongs on a mobile phone at first glance, Vostok Inc. consistently punches above its weight, giving compelling gameplay and humour without layering in unnecessary systems and cluttering the experience. The later game may feel more drawn out, as everything takes longer to happen and you’ve explored all of the six systems available, but the thirst for more and more money is strangely addictive - but hopefully in a fun way, rather than the more negative real-world consequences… Without a doubt, for the price (£12.99), this is one well worth snapping up.
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.
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.
The once-prominent film tie-in has been on the decline for a number of years now, which is largely considered a good thing, as shedding the often oppressive schedules has allowed licensed games to flourish. Cars 3: Driven to Win, however, is a rare exception; a good ol’ fashioned film tie-in that’s also legitimately fun.
There’s a decent amount of content here to boot, with 23 cars (which are purely an aesthetic choice) and 21 tracks (some of which are rehashes) playable across the 5 event types to keep your 20 or so hour journey towards the Hall of Fame mostly engaging.
When you also take into consideration the pleasant visuals and fun local multiplayer, available in cooperative and competitive varieties, Cars 3: Driven to Win is a surprisingly comprehensive game. It doesn’t do anything particularly innovative, and falls short in some areas, but is still a very solid example of its genre, which is far more than most film tie-ins can boast.
Nex Machina is a top-down twin-stick shooter from Resogun developer Housemarque. Its arcade-style design harkens back to retro classics like Robotron and Smash TV, which is no surprise considering the famed designer of those projects, Eugene Jarvis, was aboard the development team.
Nex Machina demands speed and precision to the point we find ourselves playing perched on the edge of our seats, leaning into the screen with a laser-focused gaze.
That’s a lot to tackle, especially with no tutorials or hints of any kind, but by bravely leaving you to uncover its many nuances through observation and trial and error, Nex Machina ensures its self-learnt intricacies are cemented in your mind. The gameplay communicates information fluently, steadily introducing an evolving range of baddies to illustrate what attacks you can and can’t dash through, what you do and don’t have to kill to progress, or who’s the biggest overall threat and resulting primary target of a given wave. Knowing how to correctly manage enemy types to stop them controlling portions of a stage is integral to your survival, while identifying those that target helpless AI humans and dealing with them quickly will work wonders for both your score and your conscience.
That said, choosing whether or not to save humans is a constant risk vs. reward minefield; you’ll need to put yourself in harm’s way to grab them and gain the associated points to climb the online leaderboards, but, if you die in doing so, you’ll end up worse off than if you'd left them to their doom and saved your own skin.
Any single blow is fatal in Nex Machina, and death carries some significant repercussions. Not only do you lose a life and a chunk of the score multiplier you’ve worked to build - along with your all-important, trance-like flow - but you’ll also drop one of the upgrades (increased range, bullet spread, etc.) or secondary weapons (these range from a sword to a rocket launcher, with use limited by a brief cooldown period) you've collected. This often leads to multiple consecutive deaths as you foolheartedly rush to pick it back up from the spot you died, or just struggle on in its absence if it was something you were relying on. All too often we’ve been on a perfect run only to lose multiple lives and upgrades successively to the mechanic, leaving us caught in a rut and faced with besting that same difficult section now at a marked disadvantage.
You can keep retrying while you maintain a stock of continues, but when they run dry it's a legitimate game over and you have to start back at square one. Whilst that’s somewhat jarring by today’s standards - especially when you consider the fact you also can’t save, so you’re in it for the long haul when playing Arcade mode, the game's main attraction - forcing you to replay sections helps to develop your skills, which will see you glean more from the game in the long run. It might seem irritating if you don’t remember a time when this was the industry standard, but the extra practice really does make perfect.
You’ll never actually be at too significant a loss, mind, as the game only takes around two hours to play from start to finish. Despite what you might be thinking, that isn’t any real cause for concern when it comes to Nex Machina’s value proposition, as it’s massively replayable. Memorising enemy spawn patterns and the location of secrets unearthed by destroying environments is endlessly rewarding, allowing you to implement that knowledge into future runs to achieve lofty new high scores.
Arcade and Single World modes (the latter allowing you to practice Worlds out of sequence) can be played in co-op if you have a nostalgia-hungry pal to hand, which we mean literally, as it’s fittingly (though still disappointingly) local only. The suite of modes is rounded out by Arena, which tasks you with meeting gold, silver and bronze score thresholds whilst wrestling with modifiers like limited timeframes and increased tempo. They take place in the same familiar Worlds, but are just about different enough to provide an engaging break from the main thrust now and then, which is perhaps how they’re best consumed, with only eleven challenges on offer.
Housemarque proved themselves capable of keeping arcade-style games relevant in the modern marketplace with the release of Resogun, but in partnering with Eugene Jarvis on Nex Machina they’ve surpassed themselves. Filled to the brim with pulse-pounding, nail-biting and addictive action on a gorgeously impressive scale, never skipping a beat, constantly complemented by the standout, retro-infused soundtrack, the game is a modern shoot-’em-up masterpiece that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the 80s classics that inspired it.
A fighting game based on pitting DC’s biggest and best superheroes and villains against one another was never going to be a hard sell. We’ve all pondered age-old questions like whether Batman or Superman would win in a round of fisticuffs, and 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us provided a tool with which to play out these fantasies, seeing critical and commercial success as a direct result. Selling a sequel, however, can be a much harder prospect, but one that NetherRealm and Warner Bros.’ have managed to surmount by meaningfully building on the original’s strong foundation.
Whether you’re a DC fan and a genre novice, or a fighting game aficionado with no attachment to the roster, Injustice 2 caters to your niche.
If you elect to hoard your power and fill the Super Meter entirely, you can trade it all in for one devastating Super Move. These signature sequences are an over-the-top spectacle, equivalent to Mortal Kombat’s visceral x-ray attacks that, while far less graphic in their depiction, are, undoubtedly, no less deadly.
The tutorial does a sterling job of teaching the above mechanics and more, but integrating these skills against an opponent that actually fights back is a whole new kettle of fish. You’ll need to experiment extensively to figure out what combinations of attacks work, where and when they work, and against who. Though time consuming, it’s part and parcel of the rewarding learning process.
Story Mode is a good place to start out and familiarise yourself with a range of characters, as each chapter sees you take control of someone new to get a taste of the different combat styles on offer. What’s more, the narrative is genuinely engaging and presented with abundant production value, making it the premier attraction when it comes to solo play, as compared to the throwaway nature of the mode in so many other fighters.
Continuing where Gods Among Us left off, Injustice 2 challenges expectations by turning heroes rogue and villains good, though, with Earth’s future in peril at the hands of Brainiac, the sides strike a temporary alliance. The high-stakes tale is brimming with fan service and boasts a seamless, filmic presentation that culminates in an experience that, as cliché as it might sound, is akin to being a part of the latest summer blockbuster.
The lavish presentation really can’t be understated, with gorgeous character models animating fluidly against bustling stage backgrounds that help the visuals pop - especially if you have an Xbox One S and a supporting TV to play with HDR. Injustice 2 is equally enticing for audiophiles as well, with a seasoned and recognisable voice cast complementing the rousing and bombastic soundtrack.
Progress is rewarded with Gear, which can then be equipped to influence a relevant character’s appearance and stats - strength, defence, health and ability - provided they meet the level requirement to use it. You level fighters simply by taking them into battle, earning experience points proportional to your performance at the conclusion of each bout, win or lose. The wide range of character-specific Gear and Shaders available is somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style. For purists that don’t like the sound of tinkering with the game’s balance, it can also be kept purely cosmetic (which is standard in ranked online play).
The wide range of character-specific customisation options are somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style.
Gear fiends will definitely want to spend some time in Multiverse mode, as that’s where they’ll see the highest payouts. Multiverse, a universe-hopping staple of the DC comics, is a nice way of contextualising the transition of Mortal Kombat’s Living Towers, with new multiverses constantly cropping up for limited timeframes, each home to a string of encounters against new takes on existing heroes and villains under differing rulesets. Mother Boxes are rewarded for beating a multiverse and function in much the same way as Overwatch’s Loot Boxes, dishing out a random selection of items for a random set of characters when opened.
Mother Boxes can be bought with in-game credits, which you’ll earn a steady stream of and can sell unwanted Gear for, while items you’re fond of can be refreshed with Regen Tokens to bring them up to your current level. The rare Source Crystals, however, which serve to change an item’s appearance while maintaining its stats, are a more premium commodity, requiring you to part with some cash if you want to make frequent use of them. Thankfully, Gear is earned at a fair clip, so you should never be left wanting enough to feel pressured into it.
Joining a Guild is a direct route to more loot, with all members working towards specific objectives in order to share in the victory spoils. Guilds are also a good place to meet like-minded players with which to play online, as, unfortunately, both ranked and player bouts suffer imbalanced matchmaking and opposition that spam the same few attacks.
When you do find applicable human competition, the game takes on new life, with mind games that wouldn’t necessarily be utilised by or against the AI coming into play. Unpredictable use of cancels, delays and cross-ups keep everyone on their toes, making for some edge-of-your-seat encounters. While infrequent and only occurring at peak times, it’s just unfortunate that spotty netcode can occasionally throw a spanner in the works. As is the case with any precision-based fighter, anything other than flawless online performance renders the game near unplayable.
Despite that, Injustice 2 has dethroned the mighty Mortal Kombat X as king of our hill, in the process cementing NetherRealm’s place atop the genre. Sumptuous presentation, unrivalled storytelling, deep customisation systems, endless Multiverse possibilities, and a mostly solid online experience that can only improve with time make Injustice 2 the full package.
Channelling the ghosts of the past, NBA Playgrounds aims to play a game of charged-up arcade B-ball, but, like Dennis Rodman’s hair, it has some great moments, though falls short of reaching the play-offs.
Get some friends over, however, and you’ve got yourself a cracker of a party game. Elbowing a friend to the floor as they look certain to score a dunk is glorious, as is activating the score x2 multiplier when you're not on the receiving end. It’s a shame that the single player elements of the game don’t carry the same wonder, but not surprising considering the market that Playgrounds is pitched to. Online multiplayer is almost equally as fun, provided you can find an opponent who doesn’t rage quit, but it lacks the divisional tiers that make the likes of FIFA or NBA2K such enjoyable time sinks.
Get some friends over, however, and you’ve got yourself a cracker of a party game - elbowing a friend to the floor as they look certain to score a dunk is glorious...
Playgrounds’ visual presentation is a definite highlight, with both the players and the playgrounds themselves really shining. The chunky, cartoony character models exaggerate the features of each player, as well as gifting them comically bulging muscles to provide some real laughs. Courts add to the fun factor by playing on recognisable stereotypes, from Shanghai’s cherry blossom trees, to New York’s graffiti, to Westminster with the London Eye.
Shooting from deep, the game also scores on the audio front. A cracking hip-hop theme tune plays in between games, with a vocoder-infused voice blasting lines about being “a high flyer” against a backdrop of rhymes like “alley-oop to the hoop”. The fun doesn’t stop there though, as each venue has its own theme tune, again riffing on the stereotypes of that country - Paris has accordion in its tune, par exemple.
NBA Jam had classic commentary phrases as legendary as its gameplay, and Playgrounds aims for the same territory here. Jam’s very own Ian Eagle is present, along with co-commentator E.J. Johnson, creating a mostly hilarious pairing. Lay-ups are met with comments about finger rolls, jelly rolls and butter rolls, and they also take great pleasure in breaking the fourth wall with nuggets concerning your ability with the controller, which usually bring about a chuckle.
While initially entertaining, the verbal bashings get old rather quickly, mind; we’ve lost count of the number of times Mr Eagle has ended a game harping on about his own skills on the hardwood. Playgrounds is proof that new isn’t always better than old, with nothing coming close to the genius, childhood-defining delivery of “BOOMSHAKALAKA”.
So, as the shot clock ticks down and the game nears its close, it’s obvious that, although Playgrounds can be fun, it certainly isn’t the new NBA Jam. If you’re a huge fan of NBA Street et al then you’ll get your £15.99’s worth, but for everyone else, the ball will hit the rim and bounce back out.
Saber Interactive were good enough to provide us with a copy of the game for review.