Saturday, 19 September 2020

NBA 2K21


Welcome to our review of NBA 2K21, available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.


Another year and another NBA 2K game. The annual release cycle of the basketball juggernaut can leave some people to wonder what really changes with each iteration. But real fans will know all too well that the little updates, however small, can make all the difference in whether a game is a slam dunk, or if it gets served. Where does 2K21 stack up in the rankings? Read on to find out...

Firstly, although it looks very, very similar to last year’s predecessor, there are some small but welcome graphical updates. For example, player facial expressions now look much more natural, helping to bridge the uncanny valley just that little bit more. With that being said, it wasn’t like last year’s game looked bad at all, and it’s perhaps better to look at it that this year’s is maintaining the high standard. It’ll be interesting to see how the aesthetics fare on next-generation consoles in a few months. 


The sense of movement has also been improved, feeling a lot more fluid and realistic. The ball moves much more believably, rebounding off surfaces and being handled by players so well, at a glance you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference from the real thing. We have experienced the odd texture glitch which can be annoying, but unfortunately, it’s almost to be expected with 2K sports titles nowadays. Fortunately, these were few and far between. 

Arguably the biggest update this time is the controls. The Pro Stick shooting mechanic is back for the first time since 2K17 and allows you to not only control the accuracy of your shot but the correct angle too. Admittedly it proves to be a steeper learning curve than previous entries, but it’s all the more satisfying when you pull off a sweet dunk and gives you an unparalleled level of control.

What’s more, 2K have done their best work yet to recreate individual players’ playstyles. You could honestly spend hours getting accustomed to everyone’s strength, speed, footwork and more, demonstrating a staggering level of detail. 

MyCAREER has had some great additions too, including the return of NCAA college basketball. You play as the son of a local basketball legend, working your way from high school all the way through to the peak of the NBA. It’s a real narrative-driven campaign, and offers a welcome, albeit slightly gimmicky add on to the base game. 

Then we get to the controversial MyTeam mode. Similar to Ultimate Team in FIFA, you have to either grind or pay up to get the best players for your team. Although it’s been rebranded to look less overtly like a casino this time, that’s still largely what it is. It’s all about making money, and although there is a greater emphasis on customisation, with you now being able to choose different skill paths for your evolution cards, it still emphasises the scummiest practices of 2K.


To wrap up, NBA 2K21 is a case of evolution, rather than revolution. It provides some welcome tweaks to the graphics and particularly the gameplay mechanics, without really breaking the mould all that much. If you enjoyed last year’s entry or NBA in general, you probably don’t need me to convince you to pick up 2K21. For everyone else, it’s a much harder sell.

★★★☆☆
Tom Baker




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Friday, 18 September 2020

Tenet


Beyond Memento, I’ve never been a fan of Christopher Nolan. I know, I know, that’s pretty blasphemous. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike his work – there’s certainly a place for it – but I’ve just never found much enjoyment in the pretentious pseudo-intellectual filmmaking style that is so evident in films like Inception and Interstellar. While Tenet was marketed so heavily and delayed three times due to the Covid-19 pandemic over the last few months, I felt pretty fatigued by the whole thing before even seeing it. And now that I’ve seen it and had time to think it all over, it’s time to discuss it.

I’m going to keep this review spoiler-free as much as possible, but of course, basic details will be littered throughout. If you want to see the film totally blind, close this review and come back when you’ve seen the film.

Now that the hype of the Tenet has died down, we can finally state that…Tenet is far from Nolan’s best. The film follows a secret agent (John David Washington) as he manipulates the flow of time to prevent World War III, with the help of his handler (Robert Pattinson). I’m not going to divulge any more plot points because although the film has been out a little while now, I don’t want to be the sort of person who spoils a Christopher Nolan film – mainly because I’m afraid to feel the wrath of the fanboys. But rest assured, there’s more to Tenet than meets the eye. Narratively, at least. But in terms of execution? Ehhhh.

Tenet is not a bad film. There’s a lot to like here – whether the stellar central performances from Washington and Pattinson or the astonishing visual effect sequences, Tenet is a film that certainly feels like a product of quality. I certainly can’t knock Nolan’s ability to make spectacle cinema. But the po-faced delivery of the preposterous narrative just made the 150min runtime feel like far more of a slog than it should’ve. The film feels self-indulgent and tedious, and the near-incoherent narrative that ‘demands repeat viewings’ just feels like a gimmick more than anything. I wasn’t engrossed or excited by any of the story, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it just felt like something I’d seen before. There’s a reason why the fan rumours that Tenet was a sequel to Inception felt so believable – because it feels, at times, like the same film. 

I get that my response to Tenet might have an element of bias to it, coming from someone who hasn’t particularly enjoyed a Christopher Nolan film for almost a decade. But this isn’t me ripping Tenet to shreds – as mentioned, there is a lot to like. The visuals are stellar and the film does feel like an ‘experience’ on the big screen. But after all, is said and done and the hype fades away, and we are watching the film on Blu-ray from the comfort of our homes, people will realise that it’s just not all that great. The film just feels like it’s trying to win Christopher Nolan bingo as it ticks the boxes of all the cerebral self-indulgence we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker’s work. 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love



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Thursday, 17 September 2020

PS5 Showcase 16/09/20


After all of their hesitance, Sony has finally come out to announce the price and date(s) of their next-gen machines. They also took the opportunity to show off some of the console's launch releases, as well some of (a lot) of future releases. 


Final Fantasy XVI

Rumours of this started leaking out a little while back and as an FF fan, I can’t say I’m excited for this. It looks like someone added some Witcher to FFXV and it's gone back to being a medieval knights and sorcery affair, à la 5...6...12...and it looks a lot like Realm Reborn. The big thing of this announcement being that it’ll be console exclusive to PlayStation.

No release date given. Expect this to be a long way off yet.


Spiderman - Miles Morales

This was a decent length gameplay demo, which largely looks like it plays the same as Marvel's Spider-Man, but that’s not really a bad thing as that game was great. Set pieces and combat look are graphically stunning and look to be as good as always... The game is set a year after the first and Miles' mum is running for Mayor. The trailer does a decent job of showing off how Miles has a different set of abilities to Peter Parker (outside of web-slinging of course).

This is also coming to PS4. Available at Launch.


Hogwarts Legacy

Harry Potter has been a pretty big influence on generations of people, so an open-world game set within that world seems like it should be pretty popular amongst those that can separate the franchise from the author.

Hogwarts Legacy is an action RPG set in Hogwarts and the surrounding areas. Periodically it's set 100 years before the events of Harry and his friends, so don't expect to be seeing them but do expect dragons, trolls and fantastic beasts. 

Release set for 2021


COD: Black Ops - Cold War

Macho shooty stuff. I’m sure its campaign will be kind of mindless fun, as always, and it’s online full of the same adolescent chat trolls. Not much needs to be said about Call of Duty at this point. Its name's on the tin. 

Available at Launch. The big announcement was that the Playstation 4 gets the online Alpha, starting this Friday


Resident Evil VIII: VILLAGE

Continuing the story of Ethan, the only unrecognisable Resident Evil character, and seemingly involving Chris on a dark one. Village takes place in, well, another cult village that seems to have a werewolf problem. Mia's section of the trailer has me the most curious as it changed to a style that looked more at home in an indie title like Limbo. 

Release date 2021.


Demon’s souls

This was a long lengthy chunk of gameplay. Janky but solid is kind of their playstyle and there was plenty of that. It sort of makes sense for them to remake the first souls game that most people missed. Remade from the ground up, it looks really pretty. I look forward to dying a lot. 

Available at launch to start dynamic rolling. 



God of War 2: Ragnarok

This was nothing but a voice-over teaser and a logo… But that's all everyone needed. A date for next year seems a bit sooner than I thought it would be so hopefully it's not rushed and has been in the works for longer than it seems. Or maybe it's expanded DLC, like Miles Morales. Only time will tell.

Set to release in 2021.


While the Showcase itself was good and Sony showed it has some decent games in the pipeline, the console's launch lineup is pretty weak. As for the console, I see more benefits with the Optical PS5 over the Digital Only as the Digital version loses functionality I'd actually be interested in. The ability to play your PS4 library being one of them. Also having it as a 4K Blu Ray player is a plus. The cost of digital games is also upwards of an extra 20%, so you’ll soon be spending more than you initially saved. That and you don't really own anything, digitally. You can't do anything with it after. I'd rather lend it out or sell it on when I want to upgrade.

The console launches on November 12th for USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
For whatever reason, the UK and the rest of the world gets it on November 19th. 


Launch Games Lineup:

Astro Playroom

Sackboy

Fortnite

Destruction Allstars

Dmc5 (digital only)

Spiderman: Miles Morales

Demon's Souls

Godfall

Cyberpunk 2077

Assassins Creed: Valhalla 

Dirt 5

FIFA 21

NBA 2K21

COD: Black Ops - Cold War

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Monday, 14 September 2020

TOP Xbox One Sports Games


9. NBA 19


With NBA 2K19, 2K celebrated 20 years of sports gaming with ground-breaking new modes and an incredible, immersive career story mode with an all-star cast. Gameplay mechanics are stellar here too, with team chemistry elements particularly impressive encouraging teamwork. Certainly the finest NBA game on the market currently, and one that handles authentically. Get on the court and shoot some hoops with your heroes!


8. Tennis World Tour


Tennis is one of the most under-represented sports in gaming, so it’s a good thing we have Tennis World Tour. Giving players the choice to step into the shoes of one of the 30 best players in the world across 18 different courts, you will lob, slice and topspin your way to victory in either career or arcade mode. With a focus on tactical and thoughtful play, Tennis World Tour is the thinking man’s tennis game.



7. FIFA 20


Fifa is the pedigree of football (soccer, fine) games and offers by far the most high-quality footie experience in gaming. The online experience has always been a highly competitive area of esports, and the career mode is more detailed than ever. Create your own manager, respond to the media before each game, talk to your players and even foster talent - there’s endless replay value, even for those familiar with the franchise.



6. UFC 3


With revolutionised fighting movement and new animation technology, UFC 3 is almost photorealistic in its visuals. With every single punch, kick, block and counter captured and animated on cutting-edge animation tech, the game looks and feels authentic and visceral. Packed with game-types like Knockout Mode, Submission Shootout and Stand & Bang, UFC 3 is packed with content and some of the very best and most lifelike visuals seen in gaming.



5. The Golf Club 2019


The Golf Club 2019 is not an arcade sports game – this is a real simulation, which requires patience and skill to master. The Golf Club series has always been for the more discerning golf lovers, making those victories feel all the more rewarding. A course editor feature means the number of playable holes is really unlimited, but The Golf Club 2019 really shines in the career mode – essential, if you want to refine your skills in the game. Hole in one!



4. MADDEN 20


Boasting one of the best career campaigns in the genre, Madden 2020 introduces QB1 mode which puts you in the shoes of a Quarterback as you experience the journey from College Football Playoff all the way through to the league. Also introduced is the Superstar X-Factor, an all-new abilities progression system – a very innovative and well-implemented mechanic that makes the game all the more strategic. This one is a touchdown, and ideal for fans of the sport.



3. Cricket 19: The Official Game of the Ashes


Along with the usual career mode, Cricket 19’s highlight was the Scenario Mode which gave players the chance to tackle historical scenarios from classic matches through the ages. This exciting new feature was thrilling for cricket fans, putting them in the shoes of their heroes – but it wasn’t the game’s only high point! Enhanced, intelligent AI and rich gameplay made this one the next level of cricket simulation.



2. NHL 20


In NHL 20, a staggering 45 new shot types made every attack from the AI a threat. Playing NHL 20 is a rewarding and lifelike experience as the game learns from your playstyle and attacks it with precision. This is one of the most intelligent and fully-realised sporting games, especially with the Signature Shots system making the stars look and feel more authentic than ever. A hockey fan’s dream.



1. eFootball PES 2020


In the crowded football game genre, PES 2020 takes the cake. With stunning visuals and a focus on finesse and slow, strategic play, PES 2020 is a thoughtful and addictive sports game that encourages practice and skill progression. With a huge number of pitches, game types and a stunning managerial mode, PES 2020 is stuffed with content that makes this the finest sports game currently available – whether you’re a football fan or not. Back of the net!



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Sunday, 6 September 2020

Desperados III


Desperados III is the latest entry in the Western-themed real-time stealth series and the first since the 2007 spinoff Helldorado. Serving as a prequel, players will find themselves in the Wild West of the 1870s, exploring the origins of the protagonist John Cooper. 

Utilising squad-based action, you have to coordinate plans however you see fit to solve puzzles and eliminate your enemies. This humble reviewer went into the experience having never played a Desperados game before, so hoped that the prequel nature of it would help make it accessible to greenhorns such as myself. But is Desperados III any good? Read on to find out…


Firstly, the biggest strength of the game is the maps; they’re rich, varied and require real lateral thinking to beat. You’ll go from the swamps of Louisiana to the rugged landscape of Colorado and even south of the border to Mexico. The sense of scale is unlike anything I’ve seen in an RTT game before. There are so many puzzles to solve and ways to utilise the environment to take out enemies, that you can expect to sink at least 30 hours into it. 

Some of our favourite sequences came from non-combat zones. Here you can walk around without drawing attention to yourself, listening out for clues to help you with your next plan. For example, you might overhear that the heavy sign two pesky guards are standing under is a little loose, and it wouldn’t take much to make it tumble down on top of them. 

And with this grand scale comes plenty of variety, both in terms of content and the ways you can approach gameplay. Naturally, as a largely stealth-based game it’s better to coordinate attacks to take out targets before they even know you’re there. However, playing purely stealth will require constant quicksaving and restarts as the AI is pretty spot on. A split second can be the difference between a flawlessly executed plan and a total catastrophe! 

But if you haven’t got the patience for the sneak, you can always rely on your sheer firepower to blast your way out of trouble. I found myself relying on this a tad too much, but I can’t argue it doesn’t fit in with the whole cowboy aesthetic. 

Now normally in these reviews, I’ll tell you what I enjoyed and then dive into the bad. But the gameplay difficulty of Desperados III falls somewhere between the two. Maintaining a full stealth run can be extremely difficult, and at times I found the constant quicksaving and restarting really frustrating. It does feel good to finally succeed, but I wonder if I would’ve stuck with it, had I not had to review it. Of course, this is very much a matter of personal taste, and I’m sure more seasoned players of tactical stealth games won’t suffer the same pitfalls I did. Over and over and over and over again!

What is a little less contentious is the lack of a narrative. Most missions are as simple as getting from point A to point b. This isn’t a huge deal, as it’s the sandbox gameplay that rightfully takes centre stage and actually makes it easier for new players to jump into the series without having to catch up on reams and reams of lore. Just don’t go in expecting a sprawling story ala Red Dead Redemption. 

I did find it less excusable how the emphasis on gameplay occasionally comes at the expense of immersion. The main culprit that kept coming up for me was the way your team can talk it hushed whispers despite being on opposite ends of the map. In a game where every detail of a mission feels as fine-tuned as a grandfather clock, these cross-map conversations felt like an irritating oversight.


To wrap up, Desperados III is one of the most ambitious real-time tactical stealth games I can remember playing, both in terms of scale and ways you can approach the game. The gameplay completely steals the show; a tight, rewarding experience if you’ve got the patience to persevere and not be a scrub like me. I’m really excited to see clips of the inventive ways players manage to beat levels. 

Sure it might not be that deep on story, but that’s not the reason to play Desperados III. This is a sandbox through and through, and a damn fun one at that. So to answer the title of this video, should you play Desperados III? If you’ve got more patience than a dummy like me, it’s a hard yes!

★★★★☆
Tom Baker




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Saturday, 5 September 2020

Skater XL


Welcome to our review of Skater XL, available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with Nintendo Switch port dropping soon. We’ll tell you everything you need to know before you play. 

Developed by Easy Day Studios, Skater XL boldly claims to be the “The Ultimate Skateboarding Game”. Strong words indeed, but after two years in early access, it’s definitely built a loyal fanbase of players who argue it blows ol’ Mr Hawk out of the water. Now in 2020, a fully-fledged PC and console release means the rest of us can see what all the fuss is. Is Skater XL an X Game, or is it more Jackass? Read on to find out…


Firstly, it has one of the most intuitive controls schemes of any skating game we’ve ever played. On a controller, the left stick controls your left foot, and the right stick your right foot. Not only does this give you unparalleled precision in your movement, but also unlimited variation. Much like with the real thing, you’ll never do the same move in quite the same way, and if you’re anything like us, you’ll spend plenty of time perfecting a move until you’ve got it just right. It’s easy to pick up, but very difficult to master.

And this fluidity extends to the structure of the game too. Although there is a challenge mode, most people will play Skater XL as a sandbox. There’s an undeniable emphasis on you to make your own objectives, trick lines and find your own enjoyment. It’s far removed from the more arcadey nature of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, and if you aren’t already familiar with the basics of skateboarding, you might struggle from the lack of handholding. However, if you’re looking for the most realistic simulation of what it’s like to pull off tricks, this is it. 

That’s why it’s so disappointing that this realism doesn’t extend to the rest of the game. It’s pretty glitchy throughout, and that early access funk is still very much lingering. In our playtest, we glitched through the floor when cruising, and clipped through walls and cars when we bailed on tricks. Although it doesn’t necessarily affect the hands-on experience, it makes everything feel pretty amateurish, and harder to justify the price tag.


What is less forgivable is how difficult grinds are, compared to literally every other trick in the game. Within a few hours of playing, we could land a 900 pretty easily, but still struggled to keep on a rail for more than a second. This imbalance in difficulty is the only time the execution of tricks didn’t feel authentic, and the imbalance in difficulty was enough to evoke controller-smashing rage at times. But then we’d land a sweet heelflip, fist pump the air and all would be well again.

To wrap up, Skater XL is a game of extremes. When it’s bad, it’s really bad and feels more like a broken student project as opposed to a 1.0 release. But when it’s good, it’s the most unparalleled virtual skating experience we’ve ever come across. The freedom it allows you is just a joy, and the satisfaction when you finally pull off a trick is second to none. 

To any skaters or anyone interested in skating, this is an easy recommendation. But to anyone a little more casual, we’d suggest waiting for the remaster of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 & 2 dropping later this year.

★★★☆☆
Tom Baker




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