Feb 18
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

Ubisoft must be feeling good – Far Cry New Dawn is this week’s new UK no.1, fending off strong competition.

Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus settled for #2, Bandai Namco’s Jump Stars made #6, while the long-awaited Crackdown 3 debuted just outside of the top ten at #13.

Everything isn’t quite as it seems, though – the ever-informative GI.biz has a few juicy facts that shine a different light on things.

While Far Cry New Dawn was indeed the best-selling game in the UK last week, sales were less than impressive. Ultmately, Metro Exodus had the better week – its higher price point generated more revenue. Not only this, but sales were up a resounding 50% over 2013’s Metro Last Light. Bear in mind here the ongoing shift to digital – in 2013 physical sales still lead the way.

Now here comes the real kicker. New Dawn’s sales were significantly down not just over Far Cry 5, which was perhaps to be expected, but also the fellow spin-off Far Cry Primal. Primal outsold New Dawn by almost four times as many units, claims GI.biz.

Maybe Ubisoft isn’t feeling too good after all.

Crackdown 3’s physical sales also sound rather disastrous, shifting barely 10% of what 2010’s Crackdown 2 managed at launch. However, it has been an Xbox Game Pass poster child for quite some time – we wouldn’t at all be surprised to learn that digital downloads are fast approaching a million. It may have passed that milestone already.

Jump Force paints a better picture, at least for the publisher. Reviews haven’t been too positive yet it managed to enter at #6. This makes it Bandai Namco’s third top ten entry of the year so far behind Ace Combat and Tales of Vesperia Remastered.

To make way for the new arrivals most of the remaining titles in the top ten fell a few places each. Red Dead Redemption 2 – last week’s chart topper – fell to #3, while FIFA 19 tumbled to #5. Resident Evil 2 dropped to #6, NSMB.U is at #7, Kingdom Hearts III moved down to #8, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shifted from #7 to #9, and then at #10 it’s Call of Duty Black Ops 4, which fell five places.

Over in the Switch chart, meanwhile, Captain Toad and Starlink: Battle for Atlas both re-entered the top 20. Last week’s Nintendo Direct news doubtlessly played a part in this.

Feb 14
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

The PSone classic Final Fantasy VIII celebrated its 20th anniversary this week. For reasons beyond us, Square-Enix has marked the occasion by re-releasing Final Fantasy IX instead. Guess we can’t grumble too much – FF XI is something of a fan favourite, after all.

Available now for £16.99, this HD re-release includes seven game boosters including high speed and no encounter modes, and a new autosave system.

This week sees another surprise release – Tetris 99, a new take on Battle Royale. It’s a free download for online subscribers, pitting you against 98 other Tetris players at once.

There’s also The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, a 2D adventure entailing two lonely hearts brought together through a mutual misunderstanding. Review scores are a mixture of 7s and 8s. “The brief length can make it feel a little less ambitious, but I can’t say I was let down by this whimsical short story of a video game. Lovely art, a cute story, and solid puzzle platforming help make The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince a pleasant ride,” said Nintendo World Report.

That’s joined by The King’s Bird, a hardcore precision platformer that’s also on the receiving end of 7s and 8s.

As per usual, a few belated conversions also make their merry way to Switch. The very good Iron Crypticle combines elements from Smash TV and Gauntlet, while OlliOlli: Switch Stance brings both OlliOlli games together in one package for a reasonable £13.49.

First-person shooter Modern Combat Blackout – first released in 2014 – makes the jump from mobile, meanwhile. Even though the Switch is short on shooters, we still suggest approaching with caution.

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Feb 14
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

The name ‘Apex Legends’ may not inspire much confidence, sounding like an amateur wrestling league or an overpriced protein shake, but Respawn would doubtlessly face a backlash had they connected this spin-off directly to Titanfall. While set in the same universe, it strips away numerous core elements, including the ability to wall run and the titular titans themselves.

Being franchise staples and all, it may initially seem like a bizarre decision. It just so happens there’s no place for colossal, rocket spewing, piloted mechs and the ability to sprint along vertical surfaces in Respawn’s take on Battle Royale. When given more than a few seconds thought, it makes perfect sense. It isn’t as if there’s nothing here to replace these elements, either.

Play just a few rounds of Apex Legends and Respawn’s vision becomes crystal clear. It’s more than evident that not only has Respawn spent a lot of time trying out the competition, taking notes about what works and what doesn’t, but they’ve also spent precious development time improving and refining the basics of the genre.

The result is nothing short of impeccable. At a time when most Battle Royale games feel as if they’re being shoved out the door while they’re the current hot thing, it’s refreshing to play something clearly held back until it was good ‘n ready.

Battles begin in a familiar fashion with players being jettisoned from a dropship, swiftly descending onto rugged terrain below. In this case, an island formed of distinct areas including a riverside shanty village, industrial complexes and a forest ravaged by fire. PUBG players will know how ‘make or break’ the initial drop can be, with some individuals immediately deserting the group. Apex Legends makes this issue a thing of the past by joining squads at the hip – so to speak – during descent.

Moreover, players can call out ideal or preferred locations using the ‘ping’ system. This is Apex Legends’ trump card – a pivotal feature allowing players to pinpoint loot, enemy locations, or provide directions using just a single button press. It works effortlessly, helping teams without mics communicate in the heat of the battle without resorting to messy radial menus. In a game where teamwork and communication are critical, this feature holds the package together single-handedly.

Once on the ground, the onus swiftly shifts. Players commence battle with no weapons, armour or health packs and so there’s a sense of urgency to grab vital loot before other players. There’s a wealth of stuff to look out for – weapons, armour, ammo, backpacks, weapon upgrades, and more – and thanks to equipment falling under different tiers, rated by rarity, looting continuously remains a focal point. It taps into that primal desire to constantly improve oneself, and although it’s possible to quickly become bulked down with reserve ammo, each new upgrade raises potential chances.

The brutally departed leave loot lockers behind

The brutally departed leave loot lockers behind too, allowing survivors to rearm and swipe upgrades from the fallen, purposely left defenceless while doing so. Fallen teammates also leave respawn beacons behind – another key feature. Carry these back to a respawn charger, and fallen squaddies (Apex Legends favours three-man squads currently) can be revived. Successfully bringing a squad back from the brink of death is satisfying, inducing another sense of urgency as you scurry to the nearest respawn point. Acting as an extra lifeline, it helps keep battles unpredictable.

Apex Legends also takes inspiration from Overwatch, introducing a cast of diverse characters. Eight in total, only two of which are locked behind a paywall – being a FTP release, there’s an in-game currency that can be either purchased or gained from battle. Characters fall into offence, defence and support classes and each has a distinct personality – with Pathfinder, a high spirited robot, being a personal favourite – along with unique abilities with cooldown timers. Most abilities benefit the whole team – Lifeline can heal the crew and summon supply pods, while others can call in mortar, toxic gas and airstrikes. Pathfinder can erect a zip line for all players to use, meanwhile.

Unlike Overwatch though, Apex Legends doesn’t allow for duplicate characters in a team – if somebody picks your ‘main’ then you’re forced to settle for your second, or possibly third, choice. This seems to be a purposeful design decision, making players become adept – and potentially master – a variety of characters, rather than just one. Of course, they each have a cubic tonne of unlockables, varying from weapon skins to finishing moves. The latter animations come across as tacked on, however, not really adding anything aside from a means to gloat.

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Feb 13
By Matt Gander In This Week's Games No Comments

With no less than four big-name titles vying for both your spare time and money, this week’s new release line-up closer resembles a busy week in October or November.

Publishers definitely aren’t hoping Valentine’s Day will drum up extra sales, as all four major releases launch on Friday. This is also why reviews are slow to surface – critics had their say on Metro Exodus earlier today, but being a few days away we’re still waiting on Far Cry New Dawn and Crackdown 3 reviews.

We imagine Far Cry New Dawn will be a safe purchase. In fact, it has already recieved 9/9/9/9 from Famitsu. Crackdown 3, however, has always looked a little rough in pre-release footage. Signs of a troubled development might be visible.

The fourth major release? That’ll be the anime crossover brawler Jump Force. It launched on Tuesday in the US, yet the only review currently online is a mediocre 5/10 from SquareXO. “Jump force [sic] misses the mark by miles and these characters just don’t work in this style,” they said, referring the game’s chunky aesthetic.

Echoing this, user reviews on Metacritic are mostly average too. It seems Bandai-Namco are trying to keep this one away from critics.

As for smaller releases, there’s Nippon Ichi’s 2D adventure The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince on PS4 and Switch – a tale of two lonely hearts brought together through a mutual misunderstanding.

That’s joined by hardcore platformer The King’s Bird – also out on PS4 and Switch – and Conarium on PS4 and Xbox One, a first-person Lovecraftian game that tells the story of four scientists.

We wonder if launching a Lovecraftian game near Valentine’s Day was intentional.

New release showcase:

Metro Exodus

Reviews:
9/10 – The Metro: “The best post-apocalyptic survival game of the generation, that innovates in terms of both its varied gameplay mechanics and its incisive storytelling”

4/5 – The Telegraph: “The characters you share it with can be overly loquacious and too broadly drawn, but its sense of camaraderie in the face of hardship can’t help but endear to the bittersweet end”

8/10 – GameSpot: “The open sandboxes may not be strongest addition, but the game still embraces the sense of vulnerability and post-apocalyptic terror alongside impactful weapons used in refined combat and stealth scenarios. You may miss the mystery and intrigue of the previous games, but Exodus puts together a charismatic crew of friends and family that you’ll want to follow to the ends of the earth”

7/10 – Destructoid: “Metro Exodus is a tour-de-force in apocalyptic exploration. It offers a rich, evolving world, brought to life with stunning visuals, immersive sound and ghastly creatures. These thrills and chills are irritatingly tempered with menial tasks, poor voice acting, dull stealth and a soulless hero, all of which prevent Metro Exodus from achieving its true potential”

6/10 – Push Square: “While Metro: Exodus delivers on its promise of deep and meaningful combat situations that let you approach encounters from any angle you can think of, its technical shortcomings are simply unforgivable. Combine that with a plot that doesn’t answer its most intriguing questions and you’ve got an experience that will please at times, but will also disappoint those looking for something meaningful outside of the distribution of bullets”

Conarium

Reviews:
7.2 – Xbox Tavern: “Conarium is certainly one for the fans of H.P. Lovecraft, despite the fact that it’s less of a traditional horror, and more of a puzzler with elements of suspense present. That said, the game does a wonderful job at presenting a dark and eerie story that follows in the footsteps of its source material, complete with a great setting and several nods to its inspirations. Unfortunately, however, its slow pace and its short length holds it back quite a bit”

7/10 – GameSpew: “It’s certainly not the ideal game for those expecting sweat-inducing horror or adrenaline-pumping action, but for those who like to explore eerie environments and unravel a good story, there’s a good evening’s worth of entertainment”

3.5/5 – The Xbox Hub: “If Conarium ran at just a slightly faster pace I would have loved this game, but unfortunately it didn’t grip me nearly as much as I’d hoped it would”

The King’s Bird

Reviews:
8/10 – PlayStation Country: “It’s tough, so if you shy away from this type of game normally then be warned, but it’s also slightly more forgiving than its contemporaries. When you succeed at flying it feels fantastic and missing the target only to adjust your flight path and save it is superb. The visual and audio presentation is the cherry on top of a flight certainly worth taking”

4/5 – Video Chums: “Hardcore platformer fans will love the challenges that The King’s Bird presents while less skilled gamers can still appreciate the gorgeous game world via the incredibly helpful Assist Mode. Talk about going above and beyond!”

7/10 – Nintendo Life: “For fans of hard-mode platformers, this may arrive as a welcome treat and worth sinking a handful of hours into for that sweet payoff, but those with other tastes may want to keep looking elsewhere”

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince

Reviews:
8/10 – Nintendo World Report: “The brief length can make it feel a little less ambitious, but I can’t say I was let down by this whimsical short story of a video game. Lovely art, a cute story, and solid puzzle platforming help make The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince a pleasant ride”

7.5 – EGM: “The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince continues Nippon Ichi Software’s tradition of visually compelling games that sadly feel a little lacking in the gameplay department. This adventure of a wolf in human form leading a delicate prince through a dangerous forest could have benefitted from a deep level of puzzles and polish—and yet, in the end, it may still win you over due to its style and sentiment”

6.5 – Destructoid: “The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince only ever comes close to meeting its potential in the final stage of the game, and that’s not an exaggeration. Every time it flirts with some creative concepts, it quickly retreats to its quotidian comfort zone. I personally love this game because I enjoy a good fairytale, but unlike the titular prince, I’m not so blind I can’t see everything that’s wrong with it”

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Feb 11
By Matt Gander In UK Charts No Comments

When we glazed over this week’s UK top 40, we expect to see either Kingdom Hearts III or Resident Evil 2 at no.1. In a twist of events, it’s Red Dead Redemption 2 that claims the top spot.

It’s the first time in 2019 that Rockstar’s cowboy caper has taken no.1, and it appears a minor price cut is the reason – numerous online retailers have dropped the price to £35.99.

On a related note, Soul Calibur VI dropping to £10 at Tesco has seemingly helped the weapon-based brawler re-enter at #27. Stock was quite limited, we imagine.

FIFA 19 moved up to #2, with Kingdom Hearts III now sitting at #3 during its second week on sale.

Resident Evil 2 fell two places to #4 while Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 held onto #5.

New Super Mario Bros. U also remained at #6, making it the best-selling Switch release of last week.

Spyro Reignited Trilogy – which has seen some recent price activity too – moved up to #8, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fell to #9, and then at #10 it’s good old GTA V.

Milestone’s Monster Energy Supercross 2 was the only new arrival, making #34.

Lastly, Dreamwork’s Dragons Dawn of the New Riders managed to remain in the top 40 for a second week, now at #39.

Feb 11
By Richard In Reviews No Comments

If you’re going to name a game after someone, Amelia Earhart is a fine choice. Not only was she the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, but she also formed a feminist organisation, may have been a spy, and disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She was, as the children say, ‘lit’.

Airheart developers Blindflug Studios put this inspiration to good use. They’ve mixed 1920’s biplane aesthetic with steampunk and anime elements to create something unique. It’s certainly one of the better-looking indie games we’ve seen on Switch, full of luscious trees growing on islands, floating in a beautiful blue sky.

You play as Amelia, who lives in a floating city called Granaria. Her day job involves jumping into a biplane and catching fish. Sky fish. This is achieved simply by flying your little plane into them, earning money that’s later used to purchase upgrades.

The levels have an interesting verticality to them. Each is essentially one ‘tier’ higher than the last, and in each, you can enter something which will propel you higher.

If only things were as simple as catching fish before skyrocketing to the next tier.

Enemy biplanes, drones, and the occasional massive blimpy boss dwell within the levels. You need to get your weapons trained on them, via the age-old technique of twin-stick shooting. This isn’t a twitch shooter like Geometry Wars, though – it’s slower and more tactical. There’s a vastly different pace. It’s all about making sure you have enough manoeuvrability and that you don’t take on too much at once.

The handling on the planes is less than ideal initially, but if you persevere, the handling model is quite unique and rewarding.

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Feb 10
By Matt Gander In Reviews No Comments

It takes just a spark to ignite a war. The same can also be said for turning a peaceful protest into a full-blown riot. A projectile lobbed too hard, a push becoming a shove, or some looney turning up to a quiet demonstration with a backpack full of fireworks. The police take aim with rubber bullets and in a matter of seconds there’s hysteria on the streets. Who’s to blame? Well, this is seemingly something the press decides – this rioting simulator definitely makes a few bold statements.

It taps into the messy, unpredictable, nature of organised riots, making you guess as to whether the police are going to retaliate, or to contemplate resorting to violence yourself.

It’s an intriguing concept, and unlike similar games released over the years (remember State of Emergency on PS2?) the developer isn’t out to generate controversy. Very few riots entail brutality, and using harmless tactics is encouraged. You can, however, use violence to swing things in your favour. This is when things become messy and chaotic, and all feeling of being in control is lost. Riots can become wildly unpredictable in these instances, too. The police use live ammo so rarely that the first time they opened fire it left us rather shocked. Realism is favoured here, certainly.

The four short campaigns – lasting 20-30 minutes each, complete with pixel-art cut-scenes – are set in such locations as Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Spain. It’s possible to play through each campaign as either the rioters or the police, both of which have their own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.

Rioters always outnumber the police, often three times over. Most missions – which entail protecting or destroying structures, pushing the police back (off the screen), or simply holding your ground for five minutes – put four or five groups of rioters under your control.

Now seems a good time to mention that there’s no tutorial, which made for a poor first impression. It also doesn’t help that the HUD is extremely crude, to the point that some of the item icons – particularly for the police – are hard to distinguish. This can result in using the wrong ability at the wrong time. It seems the developers really struggled with the HUD, as it’s prone to glitching too.

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Feb 07
By Matt Gander In New Nintendo Downloads No Comments

THQ Nordic are currently knocking out Switch conversions left, right, and indeed centre. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is the third from the publisher we’ve seen this year, being a fantasy point ‘n clicker first released in 2015.

Despite its age reviews are mostly positive, including 8/10 from GameSpew and 3.5/5 from Screen Rant. It seems like there was room for improvement, though. “The touch screen inexplicably cannot be used when the game is in handheld more, nor can the Joy-Con be used as a mouse pointer when the Switch is docked,” warned Screen Rant.

The Switch also gets the far newer RIOT – Civil Unrest, Away: Journey To The Unexpected, and Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 2, three titles also hitting PS4 and Xbox One this week.

We’ve spent some time with strategic rioting simulator RIOT – Civil Unrest. Like many critics, we haven’t been left too impressed. It’s very scrappy, and just like a real-life riot, it’s very hard to tell what’s going on.

Anime-influenced FPS Away: Journey To The Unexpected hasn’t been best received by the press either, despite the appealing visuals and the ‘feel good’ vibes. The Metacritic currently stands at 45% with The Metro dishing out its lowest score – a miserable 3/10. “The intentions are good, but cute graphics and some clever ideas can’t stop this ‘feel-good FPS’ from being anything but a downer,” was their verdict.

The first reviews of Monster Energy Supercross – The Official Videogame 2 on PS4 are more encouraging – even gaining a 9/10 from Gaming Trend – but we suggest waiting until reviews of the Switch iteration arrive. The original apparently had performance issues. Hopefully this sequel has received more attention.

City of Brass is a far safer purchase. This Arabian Nights-themed first-person roguelike ticks all the right boxes, coming from the creative minds behind Bioshock. Nintendo Life deemed it worthy of 9/10, calling it one of the most entertaining roguelikes on the Switch.

Then we have Observer, the cyberpunk horror mystery from the Layers of Fear devs. Being a visually demanding game some jiggery-pokery (downgrading) has occurred to get it running on Switch, but it has made the jump mostly intact. “Despite threatening to fizzle under the weight of its reverence for Blade Runner, Observer manages to craft an impressive and affecting horror experience on Switch that doesn’t outstay its welcome,” said Nintendo Life.

Nintendo World Report wasn’t quite as impressed however, opting for a 7/10. They praised the puzzle elements but felt like some areas were nothing more than filler.

Other games of note include Defense Grid 2 – one of the best tower defence games around – retro platformer Commander Keen in Keen Dreams, and Hamster’s re-release of Puzzle Bobble 2 on NeoGeo.

Odallus: The Dark Call also steps out of the shadows. This is another 8-bit style Castlevania alike, albeit one slightly more accomplished than most. Also: the protagonist is called Haggis. Nintendo World Report found it to be a “fun and challenging” throwback, which is about as much as you can ask for.

In addition to a Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn demo, the 3DS gains the very well received JRPG Etrian Odyssey Nexus too. Critics seem englamoured by this ‘greatest hits’ role-player package, with GameSpot handing out 8/10.

“Despite a few small stumbles, the grandiose adventure Etrian Odyssey Nexus delivers is a rewarding, engaging journey you’ll be glad to take,” their reviewer beamed.

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