Posts Tagged ‘Review’

They came from the deep (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

They came from the deepWhen looking at They Came From The Deep it would be unfair not to take into account how it was created. Birmingham City University are currently offering a “Gamer Camp” course, this game was created by some students on the one month “Nano” version. With the first week being pure tuition, this means the game was created in around three weeks.

They Came From The Deep is a tower defence game, very similar in style to the incredibly popular Plants vs Zombies from developer Popcap. Enemies, in this case sea creatures rather than zombies, stroll slowly from the right side of the screen to the left. It’s up to you to use the various defences at your disposal to stop them. You must collect treasure coins which randomly appear on the beach to pay for your various contraptions. Deciding when to stockpile them for a more powerful defence and when to go on a spending spree is the key to success.

As one might expect from a game created in just under 3 weeks, They Came From The Deep isn’t as refined and polished as Plants vs Zombies. That being said it is mightily impressive in it’s execution. The art in the game is simple but surprisingly high quality, with some lovely painted backdrops and charming enemy designs.

Gameplay can be a bit slow to ramp up, a problem which Plants vs Zombies suffered from too. Since each level starts from scratch you’ll have to amass your stockpile coins again and rebuild all your defences, which is fine except this means each level takes around a minute or so to really get going. The pace of the game in general is very slow, even when there are a lot of enemies on screen there’s rarely a sense of urgency. Whether that suits you or not will be down to the individual player but impatient players probably won’t appreciate it.

They Came From The Deep feels very much like a proof of concept, it’s short and doesn’t really end, rather once you get to the end of the last level it just stops. That being said, as a showcase of what can be done in less than 3 weeks it’s very impressive indeed. It’s easy to imagine the potential outcomes if these students were given a little more time and resources. The app is free so there’s no reason not to check it out.

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Poopocalypse (XBLIG Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

PoopocalypseWhen a developer chooses to name their game Poopocalypse one can safely assume it isn’t supposed to be taken too seriously. That’s definitely the case here, as you take control of an especially chubby pigeon and proceed to defecate on just about everything. Not without reason, as the opening cut scene self-seriously explains. The reason said pigeon is so overweight is because people have been feeding him. Now someone has put a ban on feeding and this pigeon is not pleased. So of course the only course of action is to poop – on everything.

This is a game though, so there’s a little more point to pooping – high score! By aiming your bird’s butt at certain objects you will gain points and increase your multiplier. There’s a variety of objects to poop on, from the classic human to bicycles and kites. Then there are the landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty, which will give you a significant points and multiplier boost.

Going from the left side of the screen to the right while pooping on the many poop-worthy objects can be a surprisingly tense affair. As the best way to keep your multiplier going is to go as fast as possible, obstacles such as hot air balloons and planes will be much harder to dodge. Even those high-stakes landmarks can be dangerous when you are flying toward them at high speed.

Much like the best Xbox Live Indie Games, Poopocalypse‘s strength is in its charming (if mildly vulgar) premise that is surrounded by an equally endearing aesthetic. The game has a silhouetted art style that works extremely well and allows for minimal animation which doesn’t look out of place or cheap. Then there’s the over-the-top – and what can only be described as ‘rockin’’ – soundtrack, you’ll want to keep the title screen on for a while and mosh it up in front of your telly.

For 80 Microsoft Points Poopocalypse is a great little game for those looking for a quick five minute palette cleanser in between the meatier Deus Exs of this world.

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Star Marine: Infinite Ammo (iOS Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Star-Marine-2Star Marine: Infinite Ammo is a fairly apt title for this iOS shooter. It’s a generic hodge-podge of standard iOS conventions in the form of a side-scrolling shooter. Oh, and if you were wondering about the subtitle, your main weapon has infinite ammo for some reason.

Gameplay consists of guiding your titular Star Marine from the left side of the screen to the right. Along the way you will face increasingly large hordes of enemies, which you’ll want to dispatch quickly to build up a highscore and combo meter. This is particularly important here because you earn gems as you hit certain score milestones. These gems allow you to purchase upgrades, weapons and various items. Being an iOS game you can also buy these gems for a fee, allowing you to get a little extra progress without having to grind through levels.

The difficulty in first few levels is inconsistent to say the least. At times it can be hard to get through an encounter without taking damage, especially bosses. On other occasions you can quite easily stand at one end of a room and hold down fire until all waves of enemies are defeated, with absolutely no danger of being attacked. As a result feelings within levels range from boredom to frustration with little to no fun or challenge in between.

To make the bosses easier it is almost essential to purchase a new weapon or upgrade. As otherwise they are quite a chore, with health bars which drain far too slowly. But earning gems takes longer than one would hope, so using the micro-transaction system almost feels necessary at times. Without that purchase it is likely you will have to play through the first couple of levels a few times to upgrade your Marine or buy a more powerful weapon. It’s also worth noting that those weapons have limited ammo, which can be replenished at very specific points in a level, so even purchasing them can’t guarantee you’ll have an easier time.

Star Marine‘s art style, much like its name, is fairly generic. It’s colourful enough but it doesn’t have much identity, it wouldn’t be hard to find a handful of other iOS shooters with very similar styles. It isn’t particularly well animated either, looking a little like an older flash game in movement. However the backgrounds within levels are often impressively attractive, especially in the later levels. It’s a shame the same aesthetic doesn’t apply to the rest of the game.

Directional range of your weapon is arbitrarily restricted to eight directions, which isn’t initially clear as the onscreen analog stick doesn’t indicate such a restriction. This often makes trying to aim a little more frustrating than it should be as you can’t always tell how far you have to go to get to the next pre-determined direction. The ability to fire freely in any direction would certainly make some of the more hectic encounters a little more bearable (and feel less cheap).

With very little originality and fun in short supply, there’s not much reason to recommend Star Marine. It has recently received an update to speed up the gameplay and slightly lessen the milestones needed to unlock gems. Sadly, it needs more work than that to improve the core experience. As it is, there are just better games on iOS worth your time and money.

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Deep Black: Reloaded (PC Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Deep Black ReloadedOne of the first things you’ll notice, and never forget, about Deep Black is its lack of a run button. That might seem like an odd thing to mention first, but it’s the prime example of the many bad design choices that hinder enjoyment throughout the game. In itself the inability to run doesn’t sound like a huge issue. Surely if there’s no run button that means the game has been designed with that in mind, right? But a few hours into this third person shooter you’ll begin to wonder who said they didn’t need it.

The main characters default movement speed on land doesn’t feel especially slow on its own. When facing a group of enemies and trying to get to cover however, it feels like the most casual of walking speeds. A fact that is compounded by the extremely poor feedback on just how much damage you are taking. It’s remarkably inconsistent, leading to countless frustrating deaths when you suddenly die with little indication as to what killed you. It also doesn’t help that the button layout on a 360 controller is horribly unintuitive, requiring middle fingers on triggers and all sorts.

Shooting feels fine, if you’ve played any other third person shooter with cover in the last five years you’ll have no trouble getting a handle on it. The weapons themselves sound relatively beefy but they don’t feel it; with enemies taking a good 10 seconds to go down on the Normal difficulty setting. Then there’s the issue that cover often doesn’t fully protect you from gunfire. In a game where damage feedback is essentially broken, this leads far too many situations where you can do almost nothing to prevent death.

Checkpointing is poorly implemented too, resetting the action long before and tedious boss fight or cutscene. This situation is made worse by the fact you are often encouraged to explore, with ammo caches and weapons hidden away in side rooms or a branching path leading to a dead end.

If you do take the time to explore these areas, you will be rewarded with a path full of enemies upon going back the way you came. It’s a baffling design choice that will quickly discourage players from straying from the main path, for fear of repeating another annoying shootout.

Deep Black’s unique hook is in its underwater sequences, the cover system carries over here too. The Default movement speed underwater is immediately faster, on top of that you also have a boost. This allows you to get through some tougher currents and solve the occasional puzzle, as well as giving increased manoeuvrability during combat.

If there’s any fun to be had in Deep Black, it’s underwater. Swimming around feels great and your manoeuvrability leads to some much more fast paced and exciting fights than any of those on land. The maddening part though is that the underwater areas make up only about 30% of the game.

If one good thing can be said about Deep Black it’s that it looks great. Underwater sections especially are beautiful, again making it confusing why they aren’t the primary focus. Light passes through water beautifully, and seeing missiles streak through the water is a fantastic if mildly terrifying sight.

Gears of War with an underwater twist is clearly what developer Biart was going for here. Unfortunately a lack of polish, uninteresting combat and a long list of poor design choices mean they fall a long way short of that lofty goal.

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Dream Chronicles (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dream Chronicles logoYou’d be forgiven for having not heard of Dream Chronicles, a port of a 2007 PC game released with little fanfair on the same day as Super Meat Boy and Costume Quest. Dream Chronicles is a hidden object game for the most part with some puzzle and adventure elements thrown in for good measure, with a style very reminiscent of Myst and similar games.

You play as Faye an occupant of the Village of Wish which has had a spell cast over it causing all humans to fall asleep. Faye’s husband (Fidget who we discover is actually a fairy) managed to awaken Faye before being captured by the Fairy Queen of Dreams, Lilith. It is Lilith who is responsible for Wish’s current slumber. You must find your way to Fidget but Lilith uses her magic to slow you down at every opportunity.

As a result you will find yourself searching a single screen/room for objects to help solve puzzles that will allow you to proceed to the next area. Inevitably that area too will have a puzzle to hinder your progression

Dream Chronicles Screen 1

What we liked:

Light, generic but adequate motivation – The story above sounds like fantasy fluff, and it is, but it remains interesting and intriguing enough to make you want to solve each screens puzzles. Upon finishing a chapter you will unlock more messages from Fidget in which he often reveals more back-story. It’s certainly not the most well written or deep fiction but it serves it’s purpose well. This is negated somewhat by the fact the game ends with a fairly abrupt cliff-hanger however.

Soothing soundtrack
 – The music throughout the game won’t win any awards but it certainly helped create a relaxed atmosphere. And that’s exactly what one would want while playing a game like this, something to put the mind at ease so you have a clear head for puzzle solving.

Dream Chronicles Screen 2

What we didn’t like:

Too simple for it’s own good – Dream Chronicles lacks any real challenge, most of the time it ends up being nothing more than a pixel hunt. Searching out objects in itself could be a fun challenge if things were hidden in a crowded screen but often items will be fairly obvious or irritatingly placed on the very edge of the game screen. The ability to lean into the room does add a little bit of depth to the searching, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Once you have the objects you need to complete a puzzle, the actual puzzles themselves require very little thinking on the players part. Simply placing items in the right spot or in a specific is usually the extent of the puzzles challenge. The difficulty is further reduced by the fact you will only encounter the items you need for the part of the puzzle you are currently engaged in. So while some screens may have multiple puzzles to solve the items for each one will only (“magically”) appear once those preceding it have been completed.

The only puzzles that pose any challenge at all are arguably not even puzzles and the challenge they give isn’t particularly fun. They are memorisation games. You’ll be played a sequence, perhaps music on a piano or a series of lights and then you must repeat them correctly to proceed. Thankfully they only appear a few times throughout the game but when they do they are simply tedious

Ghastly graphics – Some of the visuals in Dream Chronicles bring to mind bad CGI from a late 90′s TV show. They’re bright and colourful enough but they lack detail and have an odd sheen to them which gives the whole game a low budget feel. The graphics are also notable for their almost complete lack of animation. This is a game only 3 years old and yet it lacks even the most rudimentary animation, the most sophisticated thing you will see is a piano key being pressed. You certainly won’t see anything as complex as a crank being turned. Perhaps this is acceptable in the casual PC space but when a game is put up against the standards of other XBLA titles a shortcoming such as this really stands out.

Dream Chronicles Screen 3

Dream Chronicles may appeal to people who enjoy hidden object games but better versions of the genre no doubt exist elsewhere. It may be unfair to judge it so but when a game is released on the same day as the fantastic Super Meat Boy and the wonderful Costume Quest one can’t help but think it doesn’t belong. Much like the objects you must find throughout the game, Dream Chronicles feels out of place.

Score: Skip it

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Beyond Good & Evil HD (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment


Beyond Good & Evil is considered by many to be a cult classic. It was well received by critics and gamers alike during the last generation of consoles. However it didn’t sell particularly well and as such the apparent sequel has been in limbo for a while.

The game tells the story of Jade, a photo journalist living on the planet of Hillys. Jade also runs an  orphanage for children whose parents have gone missing during attacks from the Domz, an alien race who currently have the planet under siege. A group known as IRIS soon recruit Jade to help expose a conspiracy between the Domz and the Alpha Sections who rule Hillys.

Ubisoft Shanghai were tasked with porting the game to current-gen consoles, which in this instance also meant reworking some of the games graphics. It’s this extra work that sees the game add the ‘HD’ moniker. To sweeten the deal the game has been released for the lower price point of 800 Microsoft points (with most big releases lately costing 1200). It seems Ubisoft is trying to give this game more of a chance than it got before, but does it deserve it?

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Charming, character – The first thing that becomes immediately apparent when loading up Beyond Good & Evil is its charm. Hillys is a very interesting world to behold, with an array of odd and unique wildlife. And its inhabitants, most whom are various types of anthropomorphic animal, have a lot of character in their stylized designs. It makes for a good first impression. The game is often very cinematic, cranking up the slow-mo and pulling the camera around for grand sweeping shots. It doesn’t always work quite as planned but most of the time coupled with the soundtrack it leads to some dramatic action sequences.

Delightful diversions – Outside of the main missions there are a variety of mini-games to partake in. The most notable of which is the games photography mechanic. Early on Jade is tasked with taking pictures of all of Hillys’ wildlife, which is currently in danger due to the Domz attacks. A lot of the wildlife won’t be too hard to find but some require a little more exploration and occasional puzzle solving. While very simple, figuring out how to capture a picture of certain creatures proves immensely amusing and addictive. There are also various challenges presented by select characters which range from races in Jades hovercraft to an air hockey style game. Players are encouraged to try their hand at the mini-games as they often award pearls, the games most precious currency, for completion.

Unique and endearing soundtrack – The music in Beyond Good & Evil is varied and unique but almost always a joy to listen to. From odd up tempo pop during mini-games to almost ethereal and soothing background music during down time. While it could flow a little better there is no denying that the music is well cued, if it’s an action scene the music will get the blood pumping. If it’s a poignant emotional moment then your heart-strings will be tugged. There are few game soundtracks that can claim to be as eclectic as what you’ll find here.

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

HD isn’t enough – While it’s great to see that Ubisoft decided to put a bit of effort into this port it’s hard not to feel like they could have done more. The graphics look good for the most part, though they clearly aren’t quite up there with the best looking XBLA games. The texture work done by Ubisoft Shanghai is impressive, although occasional graphical glitches do crop up especially toward the end. That being said there are lots of instances where little or no work appears to have been done. The games controls or camera seem untouched for example, and both could have been greatly improved.

When every game needed stealth – Back in 2003 when Beyond Good & Evil was first released there was a trend in which many games included stealth sections. While stealth in games isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does have to be well implemented and executed. Here however the stealth sections, of which there are many, are tedious and often infuriatingly obtuse. Sadly a lot of the gameplay consists of these stealth sections which really leaves a bitter taste when particularly irritating parts need to replayed over and over. These parts usually involve instant death upon being discovered by enemies.

Puzzling endgame – The tale of the liberation of Hillys is an interesting and often intriguing one and the cast of characters you meet throughout while shallow are usually good fun. However this all seems for naught once story comes to a head at the games conclusion. Everything takes a rather odd turn quite out of the blue and it’s jarring to say the least. On top of that the game ends on a cliffhanger of sorts which leaves much of these twists completely unexplained.

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD Screen 3

Beyond Good & Evil HD is a commendable attempt to give the game a chance to reach the audience it failed to the first time round. However it seems half-hearted, the original game is not without its shortcomings which could and should have been improved for this release. Those two little initials of ‘HD’ really do only apply to the visuals.

For those who have played the game before there’s little reason to jump in again unless you really want a slightly better looking version. Anyone who has yet to play Beyond Good & Evil and is looking to see what all the fuss is about would do well to be aware of what to expect. There is a lot to like here but it is marred by outdated mechanics and sensibilities.

Score: Try it

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Battle: Los Angeles (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Battle LA Logo

Battle: LA continues a recent trend of movie license games coming to downloadable platforms. It’s a strategy that has been met with some success – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World took the spirit of the movie/comic it was based on and created a great game with it. Smaller downloadable games often have shorter development time and small budgets so it actually makes sense for publishers to target the market for these types of games.

With Battle: LA developer Live Action Studios appears to be trying to bring the big budget shooter experience, a la Call of Duty, to XBLA. It’s an idea that seems good in theory, most of said shooters have fairly short campaigns which would be well suited to an XBLA game, but does it work in practice?

Battle LA Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Impressive visuals
 – Considering it’s an XBLA game Battle: LA is a surprisingly good looking game. It won’t give Call of Duty or Halo Reach a run for their money but it does have some nice visual effects, with impactful explosions and fluid character animations. The game also manages a few moments of arresting scale which you rarely see in XBLA games.

Set-pieces – For a game about an alien invasion you’d expect lots of interesting action set-pieces. There aren’t many (for reasons outlined below) but there are a few cool set-piece moments throughout the game. Aliens will constantly be falling to earth, complete with a cool streak of smoke and fire, billboards will be shot down and land nearby with appropriately grand crashes and debris and there are some other little moments involving planes being shot and the like. These are generally will executed and do add some atmosphere that the game otherwise lacks.

Battle LA Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Can you say short? – Battle: LA has three difficulty levels, the standard Easy, Medium and Hard. Each one can be played through in less than an hour. This would be acceptable if there was some replay value to be had. However there is very little reason to replay the game, even though there are unlockables. By completing the game on each difficulty (unlocks and achievements do not stack so you will need to finish each difficulty separately) you will unlock concept art, small behind the scenes videos and “mods” (essentially cheats). None of these unlocks are particularly interesting and they certainly don’t warrant the three separate playthroughs required to acquire them.

Unoriginal and generic – At this point we have a countless amount of first person shooters, and in order to stand out from the crowd a new FPS needs to bring something unique or interesting to the crowded genre. Call of Duty has its bombastic blockbuster campaign and expertly executed multiplayer model, Halo has its grandiose sci-fi storyline and unique multiplayer gameplay. Battle: LA does absolutely nothing that hasn’t been done before, there are no unique weapons, the combat scenarios require almost no skill or strategy and the gunplay is weak, boring and just plain not fun.

Battle LA Screen 3

Battle: LA is an interesting experiment, unfortunately it seems half-hearted. The insultingly short and shallow campaign will do very little to sate most FPS players’ needs. Production values are all over the place; while the game’s engine is mildly impressive, the cutscenes (essentially a motion comic) and voice overs are of shockingly low quality.

There is simply not enough content here to warrant anyone paying 800 points. Even at half the price it would be a difficult game to recommend with so many more interesting and fulfilling experiences to be found on XBLA.

Score: Skip it

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Castle Crashers (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Castle Crashers

The Behemoth have quickly become a developer to watch. After starting life with the flash game Alien Hominid on Newgrounds they expanded the game to consoles and eventually to XBLA with Alien Hominid HD. The game had a unique and striking art style created by artist Dan Paladin, and breathed new life into the almost forgotten side-scrolling shooter (complete with punishing difficulty).

After Alien Hominid The Behemoth moved onto a completely new game in Castle Crashers. This time they decided to have a go at another classic genre, the side-scrolling brawler. Dan Paladin’s unique art style remains, but Castle Crashers is a much bigger and more ambitious game than Alien Hominid. The Behemoth took the basic 2D brawler gameplay and added a few things on top, with an RPG-like (or lite?) leveling system and a little more depth to the brawling itself.

Castle Crashers Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Clever childish humor – Not everyone can appreciate a good ‘ol poop or fart joke but The Behemoth knows there is a place for that kind of humor. It may be childish and immature but there’s something to be said for seeing an adorable cartoon deer being propelled along a level by explosive diarrhea. Castle Crashers is littered with this kind of visual gag, although they aren’t always quite so vulgar. It’s this childish charm that can keep you going forward, with every level filled with lots of new amusing things to discover, it’s hard not to eagerly anticipate every new level.

Unrivaled presentation – Dan Paladin’s art style is a joy to look at, Castle Crashers is filled to the brim with character as a result. The game looks like a cartoon, with the wonderfully animated player characters and enemies brawling in lovely high definition. Castle Crashers is how we all expected games to look back in the day before we even thought about 3D. For the games music The Behemoth turned to their roots and sourced the Newgrounds community, the result is a varied and outstanding soundtrack. There’s everything from mellow old timey sounding tracks for walking in the woods to straight up techno as you fight off ninjas on a boat.

More than a brawler – As awesome as the art, music and humor are they don’t count for much if there’s no actual game to play. Castle Crashers takes the traditional side-scrolling brawler gameplay and adds a few pretty compelling systems on top. First up is magic, each character has several unique magic attacks which do varying amounts of damage. When you combine this with the usual light and heavy attacks, not to mention a few items like a bow, it really does make the combat interesting for far longer than most similar games. These systems also change as you level up which you do by gaining experience from fighting enemies. Once you reach a new level you might unlock a new power and you will earn points to spend on improving your stats. The RPG elements are fairly light but they add even more depth to an already packed game.

Content, content, content – This entire review could very easily just be a huge list of all the great content stuffed into Castle Crashers. The single player is a pretty decent length and has an insane amount of replay value. Almost all the levels contain some kind of secret, whether it be a new weapon, new animal orb (little creatures that follow your character and have their own special abilities) or just a cool easter egg to check out. As you progress you will also unlock new characters to play, 28 in total, each with their own unique magic abilities and attacks. To see and unlock all this content will take most gamers weeks of dedicated play time.

Castle Crashers Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Difficulty – Castle Crashers can be punishingly hard at times, continuing the tradition started with Alien Hominid. The majority of the game is challenging but not too tough, however there are a few spikes. Oftentimes death will come very unexpectedly as you get surrounded and are quickly overwhelmed by a mob of enemies. Some of the boss battles also become more difficult due to unclear patterns or methods of attack, and they occasionally drag on a little too long.

Just a little bit more… – It seems crazy to ask more of Castle Crashers, there’s just so much to the game. That being said (magic aside) the games combat system is fairly basic with only a few very simple combos, it would’ve been great if characters had more moves. It’s not something that brings the game down too much but extended play sessions do bring on that lingering thought that things would get less repetitive with a bigger combo library.

It should speak volumes that there are so many positive things to say about Castle Crashers but coming up with complaints is a struggle. There are few games on XBLA that offer such amazing value for money. One could easily have bought Castle Crashers on release and still be coming back to it now to unlock new things or check out the great DLC packs that have been released.

Castle Crashers is a classic, you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise. It can compete with many disc based games in terms of content and sheer fun-factor. Thanks to it’s awesome art-style it will no doubt stand the test of time far better than those games. And while it may not be for everyone the brawler gameplay, complete with excellent additions, will definitely remain fun for years to come.

Score: Buy it!

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Iron Brigade/Trenched (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment


Trenched boxart

Double Fine has found great success so far with their downloadable titles. Costume Quest and Stacking were well received, critically and commercially. Each title has been unique in gameplay, setting and style. Trenchedis no different, a mech-based tower defense game set in an alternate history with all the charm and character you’ve grown to expect.

A signal of unknown origin is broadcast across the world killing a large portion of the population. The signal has a different affect on WWI veterans Frank Woodrof and Vladamir Farmsworth who gain increased intelligence. Vladamir invents the TV but is soon driven mad and builds an army of TV based robots (called Monovisions or “Tubes”) with which to spread the mysterious signal. Woodrof, who lost his legs in the war, uses his new found intelligence to build mobile trenches (mechs essentially) to help other soldiers like him. These Trenches become the de facto weapon against the Monovisions. It’s certainly a unique premise and it sets up the world well. As a Marine serving under Woodrof you’ll use your Trench to hunt down Farmsworth and discover the mystery behind the strange signal.


Here’s what we liked:

Trenches, TVs and turrets. Oh my! – Trenched isn’t the first game to combine third person shooting and tower defense, heck Monday Night Combat already did it pretty successfully on XBLA, but we’d dare say it’s the best. The action is fast, fluid and often very challenging. It’s incredibly satisfying too, laying down turrets (known in-game as emplacements) takes mere seconds allowing you to get straight back shooting Tubes. You’ll want to get stuck in too as those emplacements require scrap to build, which you’ll need to collect from dead Tubes.

Just rewards – Trenched rewards you for completing missions and it does so in abundance.You’ll get cash to spend in the shop, experience points to level up and new equipment to upgrade your Trench. You can also sell your loot if you don’t want or need it. It can be a tad overwhelming at first, as you often get six or seven new pieces of equipment for each successful mission. Once you get into the flow of things though it makes the post-mission screen almost as gratifying as the actual gameplay.

Top hats for everyone – Our character is currently rockin’ a Tuxedo with a pair of stylish sunglasses straight out of Top Gun. His Trench has a giant artillery gun which fires a rather hefty explosive on one side and a combination of machine guns and shotguns on the other. It’s also sporting a rather sleek black paintjob. The only drawback to our current setup is that we can only carry one emplacement. We could easily trade all that firepower for more emplacements or choose a chassis that’s somwhere in the middle. There is no right way to play Trenched, even when playing alone you can decide how action or strategy orientated you want things to be.

Sure sounds sweet – The sound design in Trenched, especially considering the game is a downloadable title, is absolutely amazing. The voice acting is solid, charming and funny. The Tubes make suitably otherworldly noises. The loud thunderous thumps of your Trenches weapons leave you with no doubt as to how powerful they are. It cannot be stressed enough how high the quality of Double Fine’s audio is in this game.

Large scale on a small scale – Trenched manages something that you rarely, if ever, see in an XBLA game — it feels epic. For a game with such a small playing area it manages to combine it’s various excellent visual and sound design elements to create an incredibly exciting atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of exhilaration you experience facing off against a screeching behemoth boss character while the crashing and flashing of an electrical storm explode all around you.


Here’s what we didn’t like:

Could you repeat that? – While the sound is one of the highlights it can occasionally be one of the low points too. This is the first of Double Fine’s downloadable titles to feature proper voice acting. The voiceover work itself is great but there’s not enough of it and as such you’ll hear the same few voice clips more than you’d like. It’s a small annoyance in the scheme of things but when the rest of the game is so polished it’s the little things that stick out.

Please sir, can I have some more? – Once you’ve completed your first run through Trenched‘s 7-8 hour campaign you will have likely reached the level cap (currently 10). You’ll also have the majority of the best weapons and upgrades. All this means you don’t have much reason to replay levels other than to get gold medals. We would’ve liked to have a little more to unlock after you’ve finished the story. The ending does heavily hint that there will be more Trenched so presumably we will get some downloadable content somewhere down the line. It’s especially likely considering Costume Quest and Stacking both received DLC after release.


It should speak volumes that one of the few things we didn’t like about Trenched is that even with a 7-8 hour campaign there just isn’t enough of it. There’s plenty to keep you entertained here, especially if get three friends to join you. There is still plenty of fun to be had playing alone though, in fact it adds a lot more strategy to the proceedings. Solo play just means you’ll have to play several roles at once, which is often an exceedingly satisfying challenge. The addition of other players makes things a little easier to manage but also far more hectic; it’s a different but equally fun experience. If you like mechs, tower defense and if you like taking part in epic battles against robot televisions then there’s no question, you need to own Trenched.

Score: Buy it!

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

BloodRayne Betrayal (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment


Bloodrayne Betrayal Logo

You may not have heard of BloodRayne before so let us fill you in. The BloodRayne series consisted of a pair of fairly average action games on the last generation of consoles. There were also a pair of incredibly bad movies, helmed by noted video game movie-murderer Uwe Boll. BloodRayne gained at least a little attention for it’s somewhat unique premise of a sexy half vampire fighting nazis using her arm mounted blades. As the name implies, there was also a lot of blood.

So it came as a surprise when it was announced WayForward were working on a new BloodRayne game for Xbox Live Arcade. BloodRayne was known for it’s over the top violence and scantily clad protagonist Rayne. WayForward’s last notable console game was A Boy and His Blob, a game which was downright adorable, to the extent that it had a button just for hugging! It didn’t seem like a particularly good match, but once we saw some trailers of the game and got a glimpse of the art style and animation we were left wondering. Now we’ve played through BloodRayne Betrayal, we are still left wondering…

Bloodrayne Betrayal Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Magnificent melodies – The first thing you’ll notice (and probably instantly love) about BloodRayne Betrayalis its outstanding soundtrack. As soon as the title screen appears you are greeted by a somber piano ballad. Then upon entering the first level some suitably bombastic gothic rock plays throughout. There’s a little more repetition than we’d like, with some tracks being used over the course of many levels. That being said the music is so good it’s hard to complain, there’s even a hidden 8-bit version of the soundtrack that’s just as awesome.

Wonderfully animated art – The second thing that strikes you about BloodRayne Betrayal are the super crisp and extremely well animated characters. WayForward are known for their great 2D art and they really shine here, with some of the best looking 2D artwork you’ll see on XBLA. Rayne has lots of elaborate and cool looking combat animations all of which flow together really well to create some spectacular battle scenes.

Simple but deadly – Combat in BloodRayne is fairly simple, you have one attack button which you can use to execute various combos. There are plenty of ways to mix things up however, even if it’s just moving the analog stick in a different direction to change up the combo or launch an enemy into the air. Rayne also has a bite attack which allows her to infect certain enemies and then use the Y button to make them explode. It makes for fun and frantic fights that can be as varied as you want them to be.

Bloodrayne Betrayal Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Difficult in the worst way – BloodRayne is a hard game, seemingly taking it’s cues from old school NES and SNES era games. This would be fine for some, there’s nothing wrong with a game presenting a challenge to the skilled player. But there are many times in this game when skill won’t help at all, there will be cheap deaths aplenty throughout even the most adept gamers playthrough. If you aren’t a particularly experienced gamer then there’s another issue that will hinder your enjoyment.

Not helpful – After the first few levels any kind of tutorial aspect of the game is essentially non-existent. There are many times after these levels where the solution to a puzzle requires players to use the games mechanics in ways that haven’t been previously explained. A prime example of this is the air dash, accomplished by using Rayne’s dash move while jumping, this move is crucial to many platforming sections in the latter half of the game. You are never told that this move is even available to you. You are given dash and jump but never told to combine them nor is it even indicated you can. It’s something that will make perfect sense to some but we can easily see others becoming frustrated and stuck when they are unable to figure out the solution.

Poor platforming – Action games invariably share the same flaw; platforming sections. BloodRayne is no different, in fact it could be one of the worst offenders. Around half, possibly more, of the game is made up of platforming and platforming-related puzzles. Unfortunately Rayne does not control well enough to make these sections enjoyable. Her jumps are not precise or consistent enough so these sections quickly become nothing but trial and error.

Bloodrayne Betrayal Screen 3

BloodRayne Betrayal makes a dazzling first impression, with exquisite art, fantastic music and fast, brutal combat. As the game goes on though it becomes more and more of a chore and any enjoyment is quickly replaced by frustration. It’s for that reason that it’s hard to recommend the game, unless you enjoy getting angry at irritating game design. You can appreciate the good parts of BloodRayne by just playing the trial, the rest isn’t worth your time or money.

Score: Skip it!

Originally published on

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,