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I bought this game when it was on sale and here's why you should do the same.

I sat on this one for a looooooong time before I got round to playing it, and this week I finally woke it up and dragged it out of my cavernous Steam library and into the harsh light of my scorn for not being faithful to the originals damn it! Vergil's all wrong! Who the fuck is this Mundus guy!?

Nah I really liked this game but you might want to take that with a pinch of salt because I was trying very hard to. I was always willing to give this one a try, and see some of the extreme reboot detractors proved wrong, but I never got round to playing it when it came out. Now that I have I'm pretty happy it exists. I'm way into this version Dante because he works so well as a precursor to the guy we know and love. So let's face it. Dante has always been a huge dick, a loveable huge dick to be sure, but still a huge dick. DMC's Dante feels to me exactly like what would happen if you turned back the clock on classic Dante all the way to adolescence and early adulthood. There's no way Dante didn't have an angsty, edgy teenage phase and I feel like Ninja Theory really ran with that idea when developing DMC. 

I know a lot of fans can't ever forgive messing with ole' whitehair and I'm not going to be the one to tell them they're wrong but if you're even a little interested in what Ninja Theory did with the reboot I'd recommend you give this one a chance. This Dante isn't just obnoxious and arrogant, in fact he's kind of a genuine asshole, but through the game he grows and matures into something better than just an angsty teen thug. He becomes Dante. He's got a proper arc, and before the end credits roll he's well on his way to becoming the wisecracking, prancing tit we all love so much.

Speaking of prancing, you do a lot of it in this game. Like older Devil's you get Dante's workhorse sword Rebellion, and the ever faithful pistols Ebony and Ivory in addition to a whole host of angelic and demonic murdering sticks which you can use to slice your broody way through hordes of demon scum. At first combat feels very shallow, and I would say it probably is far shallower in comparison to older titles, but once you get a few new weapons things heat up a little, because it's in switching weapons mid combo and chaining together moves from your arsenal that the true depth lurks. While the moveset may not be as extensive as say, Devil May Cry 3, juggling dozens of mooks in the air almost indefinitely and then slamming them all down for a gibbety finish is just as satisfying as ever it was.

Let's talk about level design because holy christ did Ninja Theory go fucking nuts on this one. The world shapes and shatters around you, reforming and repairing beneath your feet, melting out of the air and into the ether. It feels like the very ground you're walking on wants you dead and it's awesome. Levels are very linear with a few rare exceptions, and the ever shifting environments rigidly scripted, but it's so stylishly presented that it doesn't matter. I found myself exhilarated level by level and particularly enjoyed the nightmarish fizzy drinks factory that feels like playing the infamous tunnel sequence from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

Stylish presentation feels like a great summation of this game overall really. It embodies the 'spectacle' part of spectacle fighter fully, and feels like a gaudy but undeniably beautiful sports car in presentation. Gaudy is another word to keep in mind; this game is obnoxious as hell but I loved the big stupid dubstep baselines that accompany most bossfights, and the angsty metal that would play every time you get a new weapon. I suppose it's to be expected from a game that boasts almost two full Combichrist albums as it's soundtrack, and I howled with laughter at it throughout.

Bossfights follow a similar pattern to the level design; all flashy effects and flawless presentation without much actual substance but I'll be damned if I didn't get really taken in by them. My favourite, pictured above, being a fight taking place in a CNN style news report tripscape against what amounts to Bill O'Reilly crossed with Hexadecimal from Reboot. I particularly enjoyed the little third wall breaks when he shouts if you'd like him to shit down your neck for 'style points,' and another where he screams that not only will he kick your ass... he'll do it live. Cute.

This review kind of feels like a glowing endorsement so far but I do have gripes. Levels are very linear, enemies get repetitive quickly and it's just too easy. Herein lies a lot of older fans real issue with this installment and I honestly can't defend it with a straight face. I am absolutely terrible at these sorts of games and I was getting consistent A-SSS rankings whilst playing on hard mode. This is as someone who rarely scraped C's in older Devil titles.

There's a bit of very shitty voice acting too but I think that problem lies with whoever was in charge of the actors myself. Dante's voiceover in particular gets very bad at times but at others sounds great and I think it's a case of bad takes being used rather than a lack of ability on Tim Phillips' part.

So if you see this one on sale I'd say definitely pick it up cause it's way cool if you give it a chance. It's a big dumb spectacle fighter that puts on quite spectacle. That being said, fans of the older titles looking for a similar challenge should probably skip it cause goddamn it is really easy and piling on the reboot aspects will alienate a lot of people.

Bottom line: There's room enough for two Dante's in my games library.

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I will take the firstborn child of the first person to tell me if I got the punctuation correct in the title. The mystery excites me.

The original Binding of Isaac delighted me into hour after hour of icky, squirming enjoyment when it first released on Steam a few years ago and I was not alone. It got in on the 'roguelike' craze fairly early and took all of the permadeath, randomized room layouts and upgrade drops and wrapped them up in childish, Freudian terror paper, painted with crude cartoon genitalia, and oozing at the seams with bodily fluids and oh man did I love that game. It was light on actual narrative but the setup is that each run you made through the game is the result of Isaac jumping into a trap door in his room whilst fleeing his mother who is convinced that the voice of God told her to kill him. The whole game takes place in Isaac's basement and some of the things that live down there look a little familiar... It's a hilariously grim concept to base an arcadey top down shooter on and the game is swimming in imagery and concepts that a more realistic game would struggle to get past a ratings board and holy goddamn do I love The Binding of Isaac.

So when it was announced that there was to be remake complete with new content, art design and music I was awfully excited, because I am a 21st century consumer and I will buy any dumb shit even if it is basically the same shit I already have, and make no mistake, if you've played The Binding of Isaac this new Rebirth (hah) is hard to reasonably recommend. Unless you really like the first one in which case what are you waiting for? Or if you haven't played the first one in which case stop reading immediately and buy Rebirth so your dear departed loved ones can finally know peace.

I should make it clear right now this game is definitely an upgrade and I would argue more than a mere reskin. It's more claustrophobic, despite it's more expansive levels. It's subtler soundtrack lends everything a thick, oppressive tension despite a greater focus on more traditionally light and orchestral instruments, and the grimier, pixellated visuals wash the game world of all the crisp lines found in the originals games Flash based graphics. I'm even a little scared of Rebirth. The first game was a little... gooey, sort of distasteful in a way that reminded me of kid's show from Cartoon Network's golden age. Rebirth is filthy, sticky. 

Along with all the content contained in the original, including the genitalia monsters (yay) is a hearty offering of original work created specifically for the remake. From new bosses, new secret rooms and a whole shopping list of new grotesque upgrades to make a monster out of Isaac as he cries his way through the hellscape hidden under his house. I was particularly happy with my favourite bosses returning, my favourite being a pair of horrific worms named Larry Jr. who are constantly shitting everywhere, and presumably eating that shit to survive. I love this game so much. Look how mutated my Isaac got on my first playthrough. Great stuff.

The new monster designs are all fantastic but none on par with the originals laser shooting vaginas with legs, who thankfully turn up to ensure that the tone remains as high brow as possible. It's here that lurks my issue with recommending Rebirth to owners of the original. The new designs are great, the new upgrades are suitably deforming and the new soundtrack positively fucking terrifies me but there's probably not enough to justify it's £10.99 price tag when none of the new content truly blows the old out of the water. I'm trying to do this game justice believe me but I would feel wrong wholeheartedly recommending it to all because as much as I adoooore the new art style and as much as I giggle with glee to see all of my favourite barely concealed cock monsters to return to hunt me once more there's no denying this game functions almost exactly as the original does. There's full controller support which is nice, and as mentioned before a whole new, excellent, soundtrack but you could be forgiven for looking at Rebirth and thinking it was some sort of alternate texture pack for The Binding of Isaac. 

Having said all of that I love this game. I love it so much and I loved the first one and anyone who did too will get a kick out of Rebirth. I would urge anyone who hasn't played the original to come join me in the putrid green water, it's warm.

Bottom line: A solid game in the 'roguelike' catalogue, probably my 2nd or 3rd favourite premise ever, a cutely disgusting aesthetic and a suprisingly foreboding atmosphere. Held back from a near perfect score by being a remake. Shame.

8/10

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Kooram
9:07 AM on 11.04.2014

Meet Harkyn, the bigger, balder, beardier you for the duration of Lords of the Fallen. He's a fun enough protaganist; a comically grim, beardy, bald dude who's only good at one thing and ten points to whoever can guess what that one thing is. We're not given much introduction to him apart from a deliciously over the top cinematic in which he wakes up a god before we don his beard and get to the demon killing. We're at a monastery in the mountains, there are signs of battle and just around the corner is... Wait what's that? Yes it's like fucking Dark Souls. Jesus. 

I'd love to not have to make that comparison but this game feels so much like Dark Souls' younger, edgier brother that it's literally impossible to talk about it outside the framework of it's more accomplished sibling. The controls are almost exactly the same, though they're janky as all hell sometimes. It has the same deliberate, punishing combat system, even if it is executed less elegantly. Like it's role model boss fights are long and gruelling, requiring a great deal of patience and a keen eye for telegraphed moves, though the boss designs themselves are repetitive and really just variations on a theme.

So why do I really like this game?

I think it's because it does progression really well, you really feel the constant ramping of power that Harkyn experiences as the story trudges wearily along, and it's this that kept me playing through all the jank and repetitive enemies. Like Dark Souls, count how many times I type that, there's a lot of backtracking to be done and shortcuts to be found and it's simply a joy to jog up behind an enemy that gave you trouble earlier in the game and smash his dumb head in with your new Sauron mace.

Not that many enemies should give you much trouble as at least with the Cleric magic set you can choose at the beginning of the game combat is disappointingly easy for the most part. It has the Skyrim problem of sending waves of normal dudes at you that be can sliced through like cardboard, occasionally puncuated by really big assholes that will one hit you if you're not careful. But having said all that I really can't communicte how great it feels to watch those same big asshole's moves just bounce off you with nary a change in your health bar whilst your own attack cleaves his stupid head in 'twain.

As much as I'm not a fan of the enemy design, almost every enemy in the game is some variant of brutish humanoid demon we've all seen approximately ten quintillion times before, I am absolutely delighted with the visual design for the gear you acquire as the game goes on. It's the art design in this area of the game that works so well with the sense of progression I've been banging on about because you don't just get more powerful, you look more powerful and because of that you feel more powerful. The gear has this amazing Dark Souls meets Warhammer Fantasy thing going on that appeals to the oversized pauldron lover in me. Seriously, look how fucking cool I am. Look at my big magic hammer kinda thing and my dumb, impractically spiky armour. I love it.

Unfortunately the game suffers from repetition in more aspects than just enemy design; the weapons, cool as they are, all have basically the same moveset. Every hammer plays the same as every hammer, and the same goes for every sword, and every dagger etc. With a few exceptions to be found with special attacks on certain boss weapons there is a disappointing lack of effort to be found in the attack patterns you can make use of.

The boss fights are pretty fun despite the lack of any interesting design choices either visually or mechanically. Even an encounter with two boss monsters at once that desperately wants to be reminiscent of Dark Souls' infamous Ornstein and Smough battle falls embarrassingly flat as both enemies are virtually identical except for the element that their attacks use. One boss broke entirely and I was left to just batter him over his his big dumb head whilst he stood there idle. The last boss is probably visually the most interesting but is celestially anti-climactic and like many other bosses his death animation is weirdly... well shit. It's really unusual, the animation quality is pretty spot on throughout the game and yet the boss deaths almost universally look like proper amateur stuff.

And yet, I enjoyed the game. I can't even recommend it with a straight face as I'm basically selling it on the principle that you get better stats as the game goes on. Big woop, and yet that's what I'm doing right now and I dare you to stop me.

Bottom line: The combat is competent, the enemies are dull, but you get bigger swords.

6.5/10

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Kooram
2:36 PM on 02.13.2014

Risk of Rain came out on Steam in November last year to little fanfare and little to no coverage as far as I could see. So yeah it's been out for a while but it's on sale on Steam just now so it's topical okay. I've had the game since it came out and it was something of an obsession for me and a friend for a week or two, enough that I clocked in about thirty hours play time in those two weeks.

The game isn't very upfront about it's story but it's got a fairly typical set up; you're stranded on an alien planet and said planet is home to flora and fauna could be described as little standoffish at their best. Standoffish here meaning they want to tear your pixels up with their own, sharper, pixels. Combat is based on cool downs with each of the ten classes having a basic attack which you can use all the time, and three other abilities that tend to be a lot more powerful but can't be spammed like the basic attack can.

At the start you only have access to one class, The Commando, a fast gunslinger who can roll to dodge enemy attacks and has a very high attack speed. Things start off slow and easy with a simple command to find the teleporter and a few enemies to deal with along the way. Levels are prebuilt, but randomly selected and the teleporter is never in the same place meaning you have to scour the level looking for it dealing with monsters and hopefully collecting upgrades along the way. Once you find it things will get a little hectic.

Upon activation the teleporter will unleash an almighty fuckstorm of monsters and just for good measure it randomly spawns a boss from the game's fairly extensive list of larger monsters ranging from a gigantic worm made of lava, to a massive teleporting imp lord. You're then tasked to survive for ninety seconds and if you do you have to clean up all the enemies and only then are you allowed to progress to the next level. Now this sounds quite simple and it is, the only problem is that the difficulty rises steadily over time. There are stages, but progressing through to the next one doesn't make the game any harder, the game just keeps ramping up in difficulty every few minutes until before you know it you're at the center of a maelstrom of creeping monstrosities all trying to rip you face off.

This twist on tradional difficulty curves is game's greatest strength because it works so well with the progression system which comes in the form of random item drops found in chests. It's such a great design decision because drops are random meaning that you can have a run of bad luck and might want to scour a level with extra scrutiny so you don't lag behind before progressing, but then if you waste too much time dawdling trying to get every upgrade in a level you'll get outscaled by time anyway and it leads to this fantastic creeping tension that keeps you with one eye on the clock at all times. 

Items are almost all passive and run the gamut from a mortar that has a chance to fire every time you hit an enemy, to a massive electrical field that increases in size whenever you kill an enemy and that can eventually grow to larger than the screen. Items stack and you can get monstrously overpowered especially if you get items that synergise well with your class; for instance the Commando's high rate of fire means he scales particularly well with on hit items such as the mortar mentioned above, whereas the tanky melee based Miner class benefits greatly from items like barbed wire, which passively damages enemies near you. The item list is pretty huge and below you can see just how extensive it is, and that's not even all of them.

As mentioned there are ten classes and what is particularly impressive is how differently they play to each other. For instance the starting Commando class relies on kiting and dodging enemy attacks whilst getting in as many shots as possible to maximise damage whilst the Engineer relies on careful placement of his turrets and mines whilst firing grenades and missiles from a safe distance. My favourite class, the Miner, is basically a guy in a rocket suit which you use to create a human projectile of yourself by blasting through waves of enemies and using the flames to roast them alive. Also he duel wields pickaxes. He's pretty cool. Most of the classes are fun to play and feel like they fit into the game's weird world very well though there a few, such as the Sniper and Enforcer that don't work so well due to the game's tendency to swarm you with approximately fourteen billion enemies at once.

Everything surrounding the gameply is superb as well, the art style will be familiar to anyone who plays indie games regularly but it's also instantly recognisable despite the derivative art style, and I think that's some of the best praise a game's visuals can get. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal too, all futurey synths ranging from ethereal ambient to more sci-fi thriller fare.

I would urge anyone with a passing interest in either rogue-lites or 2D platformers to give this one a try. It's 40% off on Steam right now so what the hell are you waiting for? I command thee.

Verdict: 8/10

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Kooram
2:55 PM on 02.03.2014

The gods are dead, and the sun has frozen in the sky. This is all the introduction The Banner Saga gives before thrusting you into a bleak and cold world on the brink of collapse. You're forced to take control of a band of refugees on the run from an army of mute, stone behemoths and sent on your way. That's all the information you're getting about the narrative because I don't want to spoil any of it here, but fans of Game of Thrones will appreciate the relentless melancholy at the heart of the tale, it's similarly frank approach to death, and it's varied cast of weary travellers.

I sat on this title for a while before finally accepting the inevitable and getting ahold of it on Steam. I then almost finished it in one seven hour sitting. It took me roughly eight hours to play through once and I was actually pleasantly surprised several times as the game kept on giving when I thought it was sure to end. 

Gameplay is split between managing the supplies and morale of your caravan of refugees in a 2D overworld and isometric turn-based battles that begin whenever a rumble breaks out. The caravan managing is fairly simple; ensure that you have enough food to avoid starvation and take a rest to raise spirits when morale gets low.  Don't rest too long though as each day of rest consumes precious food and meandering on the road can mean you run out of supplies before reaching the next town. 

The combat is simple but challenging, and often you'll find yourself scraping through an encounter with just a couple of heroes still standing, and the ones who fall in combat have to take a day or twos rest before returning to full strength. Units have both armour and strength, with strength doubling as both a character's hit points and how hard they can hit, so the higher health you have, the more damage you deal. It's a neat idea and is implemented quite well. Armour has to be broken before you can take a crack at an unit's health and it's always a hard choice to decide between reducing an opponents armour so that they take more damage from future attacks and just directly hitting their strength outright to stop them from bowling through your own units straight away.

 

Combat can get a little frustrating at times as enemies display some questionable tactics such as chasing down low health units you've moved away from the thick of the fighting. It doesn't really benefit them to attack a unit that has already been taken out of the fight especially when you are then given a free shot to stab them in the back with your high health heavy hitters. This is doubly annoying because not only does it not benefit your enemies it just means that the poor guy the enemy chased down has to spend a few days recovering meaning that the enemy AI has gone out of it's way to actively hurt it's chances of winning the battle but still inconvenience the player in the long-run.

The battles can also feel a little pointless at times as there are few fail-states to be found, I only actually found one which was in the final battle of the game; whether there are any more I couldn't say. When you lose a fight the game just gives you a text box explaining how you were pulled unconscious from the battlefield and the game just trundles along regardless. Granted, whether you win or lose the fights does impact the story but the lack of a way to properly lose made the battles feel a little toothless at times and it's a good thing that the choices you make on the games overworld map feel suitably weighty to make up for the atmosphere of impotence one can get from fighting battles without any real stakes. But make no mistake the game is playing for keeps and people will live and die by the choices you make and the paths you take.



I haven't yet touched on how utterly and obscenely gorgeous everything is. The wind-swept arctic vistas and weary solemn marches in the caravan sections inspire the sort of heart-swelling glee reserved for listening to your favourite album and the absolutely stunning combat animations feel like some new hardcore drug ingested visually. You've read it in every review of the game yet but you can't deny the feeling of old school Disney the art style evokes but I would hesitate to draw the comparison simply because it gives such a false impression of the world weary tone. 

The Banner Saga is a game that weaves a tale of desperation and fear, of flight and heartache but it's a testament to the writing that the game includes moments of levity and hope to make it all feel real and not like some melodramatic soap opera where the only emotion allowed is misery. 

This is one of those games that honestly could probably get a free pass based on it's eye-heroin visuals and epic, melancholy story alone but you'll be glad to hear that it isn't half bad as a game either. I wouldn't give this one a miss.

Verdict 9/10

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So the short version is that Black Flag is not only a sparkly new take on a tired old series but almost definitely the best entry in said series yet and you should almost definitely buy and play it for 38 hours like I did.

For the long version, read on.

For this particular outing in Animus-Land you'll take on the role of Edward Kenway, a likely lad from deepest, darkest Wales who sets off to the Caribbean to earn a fortune for himself and his fiancé working as a privateer, which for those who don't know is basically an officially sanctioned pirate. Also, just in case you were wondering, it never gets old having a Welsh protagonist.

As you may have guessed from the above Edward doesn't start the game as an Assassin but comes into the fancy trademark hidden blades and super swish hood by getting into a scrap with a not very nice Assassin. Then it's off to Havana for some fairly standard tutorial missions which introduce some of the core gameplay that anyone who has even looked at an Assassin's Creed game will be more familiar with by now than they are with some members if their own family. You probably know the deal by now: stabbing, sneaking, awkwardly standing next to strangers (otherwise known as the games blending mechanic,) stabbing, running, jumping, stabbing, shooting, and also stabbing. Then all of a sudden something cool happens.

You get a boat.



Specifically the Jackdaw. It's at this point the game gets good. Like really good. From this point on you're free to go and do basically wherever or whatever the hell you want in the game's world and what that will mostly be is sailing about being a goddamn pirate. As it turns out being a pirate is a lot more fun than being an Assassin, and most of the game's best moments will be spent on the deck of the Jackdaw. There's something uniquely exhilarating about firing a broadside into a Spanish galleon whilst riding a wave that would give Poseidon second thoughts. I have to confess I didn't play Assassin's Creed 3 so I can't speak to how the naval gameplay compares to the previous installment but I can tell you that the ship controls fantastically. The ship physics are just arcadey enough to make the game fun without sacrificing too much realism, though many a time I found myself chuckling at the breakneck U-turns you can pull off at the wheel of the Jackdaw.

The Jackdaw is not only central to many of the game's missions but also integral to the game's neat progression system. This time around you have to work for your cash. It goes like this; you board ships and take their stuff, which will be some combination of money, rum, sugar, metal and wood. Money is pretty self-explanatory and sadly the sugar and rum you just sell to get more money. Metal and wood however are very important as you'll need lots and lots of both to upgrade the Jackdaw and take out bigger prizes, which will then let you upgrade the ship further. The system is neatly worked into the main story so you have to have a ship which is up to snuff or you'll get blown to bits in certain story missions. The system does feel a little circular as beyond progressing in the main story and a few raid-boss style legendary ships to fight there isn't really an end goal apart from having a pimped out boat but it's better than in previous games where you would invest money real estate to progress only to find yourself sucked into a money singularity protected only by the fact you've already bought all the best gear.

The ground combat sections in the game are actually fairly few and short-lived which as it happens is more or less fine by me because whilst there have been some improvements to the sword fighting it remains just as not that great as ever it was. The most notable upgrade is moving the counter function to a single button rather than making you hold down block and simply waiting for enemies to attack. Now you have to time your counters Arkham Asylum style and then press the attack button to kill your opponent. There are other counter options but I fail to see why I would throw or "hurt" my enemy when I can just outright kill him. It's not much but at least a cursory attempt at making sword fights a little more challenging has been made and when boarding an enemy ship things do sometimes approach the kind of hectic chaos one would expect from having five or six dudes all swinging their swords at you. However I will never forgive the game for the brutes, an enemy type which in this installment randomly shower you with grenades no matter where you're fighting which often leads to the painfully immersion breaking sight of seeing the idiotic AI blow itself and it's allies up.

Also on the ground the tailing mechanics have seen a bit of an upgrade and it's now actually kind of fun to follow people around being all sneaky and whatnot. The addition of an actual sneaking mechanic in the form of the new stalking zones is a welcome change. It never failed to irk me in previous Creed's how there was no way to actually sneak in the traditional low profile stay out of sight sense.

The story starts off quite well and there is a clear goal in the form of Edward searching for The Observatory, an ancient piece of technology left behind by the god-like forerunner civilization introduced in previous installments, but the story loses momentum a lot of the times when it seems like it's picking up steam and there's a lot of faffing about. It is however mostly enjoyable faffing spent with famous pirate faces like Blackbeard and Calico Jack, the writing for whom is generally top-notch, especially Blackbeard. The game does take some serious liberties with history but that's to be expected from a narrative that is simultaneously about the ongoing conflict between the Templars and an order of goodly Assassins, and the ancient aliens theory.

Remember how I said at the start you take on the role of Edward Kenway in this game? Well like the other games you actually play as a modern human hooked up to an Animus who is in turn taking on the role of Edward. Thankfully you're not Desmond this time but a floating tablet, which somehow still manages to be a more interesting character. The present day sections are first-person and I am saddened to report that the change in perspective both from a character point of view and from your literal point of view do nothing to stop these sections for being as absolutely appalling as ever and I do not appreciate the game forcibly wresting me away from being a fucking pirate to have me spend ten excruciating minutes playing awful, corny hacking mini-games. These sections are blessedly short however and you can get back to the swashbuckling pretty quickly.

Black Flag injects a sense of fun and catharthis that the series has been sorely lacking for a few iterations now, and despite some problems detailed above the shift of focus to sailing and I repeat, being a goddamn pirate makes the game as refreshing as standing at the wheel of your vessel with the sea salt spray on your face.

Verdict: 8/10
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