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Gunpoint is available on Steam for £6.99, or you can pay a little extra for a few extra gubbins. I bought the cheapest version, because I'm the cheapest version of person, and it was worth my money. This is only a very short game: my Steam account reports only two hours played, with the story complete and 52% of the achievements unlocked. But I beg you, don't turn your nose up because of this length! Remember the original Portal? That was very short, and yet it was so successful the series went from being a small feature in The Orange Box to having a full release of its own, Portal 2. Short is not necessarily bad, it's quality over quantity, it's not the size but what you do with it, and other motivational quips for men with small pe- uh, sports cars. Gunpoint follows an event in the life of a spy-for-hire (that's you!). In it, you find yourself involved in a crime and end up 'spying' (hacking into various computers and security systems) for three different sides of a strange and sometimes confusing metaphorical chess game. There is some choice on who's side you take and who you give what information but, for the most part, you get to watch the intricate story unravel around you, whilst making witty and hilarious comments long the way. The dialogue is brilliant in Gunpoint, taking me back to the good ol' days of Monkey Island and other genuinely funny games. The gameplay between these funny dialogues essentially boils down to puzzle-solving. You'll be presented with a building filled with various entry points, electrical systems and armed guards, with the main objective usually consisting of a locked room with a computer to be hacked. Get in, get the information, get out: points are awarded for not being spotted, not using violence (OR not leaving survivors) and not making noise, and these points can then be used to buy upgrades for your character. To get through these buildings, you use your fiendish spy gadgets to hack into said electrical systems. Picture, if you will, two rooms adjacent to one another, and with a locked electrical door in between them. You are on one side, with a light switch, whilst an armed guard is on the other. You could hack the light switch to open the door, but wait! The guard is on the other side, and he'll surely spot/shoot you the moment you flick the switch! Instead, you leave the switch connected to the light and flick it. The floor goes dark, and the guard comes to investigate. He opens the door and heads for the light switch, whilst you cling to the wall above him. Before he reaches the switch, you've dropped, popped through the door he so kindly opened for you, and hacked the light switch (from range) to operate the door. Voilà! You're through the door, and the guard is locked on the other side of it. You've left somebody alive, but you've also passed silently and unseen, so great. There are several ways to complete each mission, and they're always filled with neat little moments like this that make you think, "why am I sitting here? I should be a spy, damnit!" This, with the great story, makes this a recommended buy in my opinion. Admittedly, I would also understand not wanting to pay £7 for a two-hour game: I wouldn't pay that much for a DVD!
I'd like to kick off with a statement: I do not dislike the idea of Call of Duty. If I had to choose a personal philosophy, the concept of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" would definitely be a contender. In this respect, the Call of Duty franchise and I have something in common. The creators know that the game sells well, year in and year out, and so they keep selling it. Why wouldn't they? This slightly dated article shows just how the Call of Duty games have never failed to make a sale (http://tinyurl.com/73huzu5). There is a lot of money involved here and nobody can blame them for wanting to milk the cash cow. Like I say, here, Call of Duty and I can agree. Unfortunately, this is almost the extent to which we can agree. My brother has bought a copy of Black Ops II and, now that he has moved all the way to China (from our UK base), I have reluctantly inherited possession. Occasionally I'll go online and have a few games, seeking a nostalgic throw-back to the days I spent with my classmates on Call of Duty 4, and every time I find myself on the game for longer than I had planned. Why? Because I enjoy it so much and can't bare to pull myself away? Heck no! This game puts me into a state that I can imagine is comparable to being in a coma. I sit still, watching the screen intently, and I do the following: I choose my weapon, I kill, I die, I kill, I die, I kill, I repeat. Every time I die, I immediately check the scoreboard to make sure that I'm happy with my score. Why? I don't know. Each new installment from the Call of Duty franchise attempts to make improvements on the game play and, in their defense, they often achieve this. The class customisation in Black Ops II is very good, the weapons are often enjoyable to use, there is plenty of variety here. The awards you get for high kill streaks are also varied, though the whole concept of being rewarded with advantageous equipment for already being better than everyone else is still ridiculous (note: I realise that the alternative would be to reward people for being rubbish, and this is no good either; I don't know what to suggest, other than remove kill streaks!). However, no matter how they try to mix up the gameplay with different game modes, the kill/die cycle is largely unavoidable. Unless you play Search & Destroy, this game is very simply a competition of 'who can react the fastest?' Tactics are minimal, beyond getting close if you have a short-range weapon and running away if you have a sniper rifle. The one exception to this monotony is the 'fun' game modes. They were in Black Ops as games where you bet your credits when you enter, and now they're back in Black Ops II without the betting. In these game modes you might find yourself with only one bullet, or with just knives, or trying to progress through weapon sets by killing to get the next weapon. While these game modes can be fun, I find it rather telling of the whole franchise that the main place I go to actually enjoy myself is where the vast majority of the game's core elements have been removed. The Xbox 360 controller never fails to disappoint. Everything feels nice on it (far nicer than on the PS3, I must say), it's weighty enough to give the sense of warfare in the game but not so heavy you feel like you're actually carrying an RPG around with you everywhere. As with most Call of Duty games, there is no difficulty in connecting with your friends or getting into matches. My favourite aspect of Black Ops II has to be the added feature to mute every player in the game you're in: the main problem with Call of Duty is often the community (no offense to the nice people on there, I know you're there too, but unfortunately it's not you that I get an ear full of every time I play the game). Do yourself a favour: break away from the Call of Duty franchise today. Go and buy Counterstrike: Global Offensive if you want something with some tact and skill. If everybody stops buying this trash, the people behind it will be forced to put more effort into getting our money.
Whoa. What a game! I've finished Supergiant Games' Bastion, and what an adventure it has been. After one mammoth session of seven hours, and then an extra hour the next day to finish up, I've reached the end of my journey as 'The Kid'. Well, I've finished my first play through, anyway. To those that don't know, Bastion is a action-adventure platform indie game. Giving it a category like this is easy, but it really doesn't do the game justice at all. The story is unique and gripping, the four characters have great depth and personality, and the presentation... oh, the presentation. Everything Bastion offers to your senses is beautiful and exciting. Jen Zee's art style is fantastic. Logan Cunningham's voice acting as the character Rucks will make even the straightest guy's heart melt. Your eyes and ears will take in so many stunning views, so much perfectly fitting soundtrack, such exciting combat gameplay, that you might find yourself glued to your monitor for seven hours straight. You play 'The Kid', who wakes up after an event referred to as 'The Calamity' has destroyed the city-in-the-sky you had previously inhabited. As you journey, the land forms around you, giving a real sense of adventure and constant cliff-hanger. You'll travel through the skies, witnessing the devastation of the Calamity and doing what you can to repair some damage. Along the way you'll find a large collection of weapons and story items ('mementos'), different kinds of beasts set wild by the disaster, and a handful of engaging characters. You' gain currency as you travel, which you can spend to upgrade weapons, so even RPG-fanboys (like myself) will have their appetites sated. The development of the story is aided by the constant narrator, Rucks, who gives context to your actions and tells you all you'll want to know about different characters. This element works particularly well, because the narrations will be cued to your progress through levels. Want to hear more about the story? You'd best beat the level! Every time you die, you'll immediately jump back in to try and get more of the story. It's addictive. The difficulty of the game is completely up to the player: as you progress you'll unlock totems, which you can activate to evoke the wrath of the gods. This will give enemies bonuses such as reflecting some damage or increased speed. Every totem you activate will result in more experience and currency for your character, so there's ample motivation to push yourself! The gameplay itself could arguably be a limitation of Bastion, with well-timed blocking being all you need to defeat almost anything in the game. However, the huge arsenal of weapons you'll find opens up a world of variety, with many different combinations being available to you. The element of timing with blocking doesn't need to be a cheap trick fighting, either. I enjoyed doing as much damage as I could while still leaving enough time to counter attacks with my shield. In fact, as the game progresses and the enemies grow more challenging, getting the timing right will get increasingly difficult. This is a truly great game, and at £11.50 on Steam, it's a steal. If I had had the vision to make a 'Best Games of 2012' post, this would definitely have been in contention for the top spot. In fact, it probably would have nabbed it. The trailer: http://tinyurl.com/2ctp96r The wonderful soundtrack: http://tinyurl.com/3etye9f
I'm a big fan of the Nerf range, and have purchased more of their toys than an adult male probably should have, and there are certain things I've now noticed that I consider whenever I buy them. One such thing is that batteries just don't cut the cheese like good old fashioned cock-and-fire mechanics do. This was my second Nerf gun: the first was a Maverick (http://tinyurl.com/d8lyttq) that I bought on holiday, and after that I couldn't resist expanding my arsenal. I saw this Barricade and was immediately impressed: it looked pretty similar to the Maverick I already had, except you didn't have to cock the gun each time you wanted to fire. You simply loaded it up and pulled the trigger until everything in front of you was peppered with Nerf. Lovely. The capacity exceeds that of the Maverick by a significant margin, it's not really any bulkier so it'd still work for holidays and trips to the beach. I was excited, hook, line and sinker. In the end, it was unfortunate that I was this into it before I'd paid for it, because I should have done more research. All of the advantages I just mentioned were still there, and that was great, but the battery powered element just didn't work for me. The power with which the Nerf darts are fired by the Barricade is disappointing in comparison to the apparently simpler Maverick. You'll have a while where it gets close to matching the Maverick's velocity, but then the batteries start to run down. For me, this is the worst part: why can't the batteries simply operate at maximum and then eventually and suddenly die? I appreciate that this isn't Nerf's fault but simple battery science, but I really don't like how they effect the gun. You'll have good power for a while, and the shots will become gradually weaker until they barely fall out of the gun, the hum of life when you switch the gun on is replaced by a spluttering wheeze. Of course, not everything is bad: I don't think Nerf have made an absolutely terrible product yet, really. However, this issue is a big one for me, and if I'd known how it would play, I wouldn't have bought it. When I bought mine it was just before a big family gathering, and my brother bought himself one as well, and I can honestly say that my family had a lot of fun with this model. That said, there was a clear advantage to those using my Maverick over those using the new Barricade. If you're looking for a Nerf gun, I'd steer clear of this one. While there are some redeeming factors, it simply doesn't have the power to make it a worthwhile choice. Albeit being one of the simplest, I'd still be inclined to recommend the Maverick. The newer Elite range also has the Strongarm Blaster, which uses the Maverick as its inspiration and (apparently) improves on all of its flaws, like a barrel that swings out fully and using the Elite bullets that are a HUGE improvement on the traditional Nerf ones. Remember, anything with rapid fire (such as the Barricade) won't reduce the time you have to spend picking up bullets before you can play again! Cock-and-fire all the way.
For Christmas, my brother bought me a copy of Munchkin Deluxe Edition. I've played this a few times before, and I wasn't sure about it really. This was mainly due to the endgame: if somebody comes close to the end, the other players have no choice but to stop them with everything they have. Thus, when the next munchkin comes close to winning, nobody has any cards left! This can be rather frustrating for the poor chap who was winning for the rest of the game, and almost (almost!) inspires guilt in the cheeky one who nabbed a late win. However, my concerns were unnecessary. This game is great fun, as my brothers and I discovered yesterday. The game is fit to burst with witty humour, and even reading the rules was enough to make me laugh aloud. The monsters you fight and the items you find are all ridiculous: I found myself witness to an Elf Wizard running away from a dragon and a potted plant, disguised as a salesman. Curses included having a duck on your head (bad luck, -1 to dice rolls) as well as more normal things like losing items or gear. Monsters included chicken (which would give an additional level if killed with fire, as cooked chicken is nicer). This game is utterly absurd, and a whole lot of fun. The game mechanics themselves work rather well. No turn feels wasted as you always get to draw cards that can help you out or hinder others. The only time you get nothing is if you run away from monsters like a little girly, in which case you earned nothing anyway! My favourite aspect of the game, on top of the silliness, has to be the opportunities for cooperation. You're all ultimately racing to level 10, but you can choose to help people if you can make a deal for yourself. "I'll help you defeat that monster if you give me three of his treasures," and so on. Alternatively, there are plenty of opportunities for vicious backstabbing. This can simply be through boosting the power of monsters or by more cheeky (edit: munchkinny!) methods. Promising to help someone if they summon a tough monster, and then refusing to get involved, is totally allowed by the rules of the game and will leave your adventuring partner seething with rage (and, more importantly, dead). Lovely. Death is nice in Munchkin, because it doesn't mean you stop playing. Instead, the other players respectfully loot your corpse of all your best gear and you start again. You don't even lose your level unless specified otherwise, so a death by no means elimination from the game. Munchkin seems to be geared towards fun rather than rules, and this is a theme you'll notice throughout a lot of the game: the rules themselves don't solve all issues and the owner of the game is given the final say, for example. Overall, this is a great little card game for geeks, and a great tool for geeks to convert unsuspecting normal people into their fold. I can't recommend the Deluxe Edition enough; it makes tracking player progress much easier, the cards are coloured, and it's only a couple of quid extra.
It is imperative that I bring Dark Souls to the attention of as many people as possible before it's too late. D: I say this dramatically because the first trailer and gameplay demo of Dark Souls II has been released. I implore you, do not look/play the sequel before you play Dark Souls itself! The prequal, Demon's Souls, feels unpolished in comparison to Dark Souls, and for this reason I struggled to get into it. I regret this massively, as Dark Souls has to be one of the best games I have ever played. Don't let it slip away! The most striking thing about this game is the atmosphere. It presents an incredible mood of isolation that really gives a unique feel to the whole experience: even the multiplayer is strange and distant (and incredible, I'll get to it). While it's true in most games that almost everything you meet wants to kill you, you don't often feel alone because of it like you do in Dark Souls. Those few NPCs that don't outright attack you often can't be trusted, and their voices sound like they're across a chasm and wearily calling to you. There is very little hand holding here, and this is obvious from the start: the story is barely touched upon in the beginning, and you have to work hard to get to know the land you're in; the tutorial, if you can call it that, takes a learn-by-fire approach and only tells you the very basics. The world you live in is hostile, and yet the environment is nothing short of beautiful. The moody lighting in almost all areas gives a real sense of joy to the glimpses of sunshine you see, peeking through the clouds or over ruined castles. If only I could be so ... gloriously incandescent! Don't be fooled into thinking "Prepare to die edition? Meh, I'm pro, bring it on!" This game will punish you for everything you get from it. The next bonfire (save point) can feel infinitely far away, a boss can seem untouchable, hell, a particular room can be daunting all on its own. You'll constantly be juggling the risk of getting more souls (experience) to reach the next level, or dying and losing everything you've worked on in the last hour and a half (think The Weakest Link - you need to reach a certain number of souls in order to 'bank' with a level or upgrade - one wrong move before then, and you could lose it all). If you do die, you have one chance to get back and recover your lost souls, but dying again before you reach them will mean they're gone forever. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad if what you killed stayed dead, meaning you've actually achieved something, but if you die or rest at a bonfire mobs reset (with the exception of bosses), and so losing souls can really mean that everything you've been working on has not happened in the game. Yeah, it's tough. It'll have you pulling at your hair and punching the floor. If you have violent tendencies you'll want to bubble-wrap your controller so it doesn't break when you throw it (note: use a controller! The PC port is lazy at best, and a Windows Controller will make your experience far more enjoyable). Does this mean you shouldn't play it? No! Difficult video games are few and far between these days, and the challenge of playing makes winning all the more satisfying. Picture it: you've been playing for an hour, and you're sitting on enough souls to level up. Twice (big deal). You're too far from the last bonfire for running away to be an option, and you know there are enemies ahead. Every little tiff becomes a nerve-rattling fight to the death, every platform puzzle a walk on a knife edge. You read a note left by another player: bonfire ahead. Your heart soars and you're filled with a new vigour, Maybe this run is your run, maybe you'll die and go for it again. But you know that that bonfire is just out of your grasp and, when you eventually reach it and rest your weary bones, you'll know it was all worth it. The rewards in the game are heightened immeasurably by the hardships between them. The multiplayer is unlike anything I've played before. There are no servers you need to join: instead, all the separate players' worlds are floating in a huge cloud, and often (based upon connection strength, I expect), these worlds will be able to contact one another. You'll see comments on the floor that other players have left, which can often act as great little hints or extreme troll attacks - telling you that there's an illusory wall ahead is useful, advising that you jump when only death is at the bottom is not. Rating comments positively will give a little treat to the author, so that's nice. Similarly to leaving notes, you can leave summon signs on the floor to help other players with boss battles. If they're human, rather than Undead (don't worry, not a zombie flick), they can touch your summon sign and get some help. The helper gets some souls, the helped is, well, helped. However, this comes at a risk! Becoming human is useful but also means you can be invaded by other players, who want to hurt rather than help you. You can jump into any Human game and try to kill them for their souls and humanity. This can be rough when a more experienced player jumps in and kills you, but it's great fun to do yourself as well. This whole setup only reinforces the strange, lonely experience of the game: players you meet are only as phantoms, existing temporarily in your world. Right, that's enough from me. There's so much I haven't mentioned: the complex weapon leveling, armour combinations balancing between protection and weight, treasures to be found, an incredible story. I could talk all day, but I strongly recommend that you get in there and play for yourself. You'll still be discovering new things on your third playthrough, I promise.