DLC Review: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode Two

Note: I’ll be avoiding spoilers for episode 2 in this review, but given both the story-heavy nature of the DLC and indeed what the story covers if you don’t want to know anything about the plot at all, I advise you to leave now.

I suppose I should have seen this coming, really. Ken Levine dismantles Irrational Games with their last product being the final piece of DLC for the excellent “Bioshock Infinite”? I should have known it’d wrap everything up and bring a decisive end to not only Infinite, but also its universe, including the original game (but not Bioshock 2 because that one doesn’t count). Characters are given extra, previously unseen depth, plot holes are filled (including, interestingly, ones that reviewers picked in “Infinite”) and everything gets tied up, “Metal Gear Solid 4″ style (although disappointingly lacking in old man fights). Take one last walk into the lighthouse with me, people, as I tell you whether or not this is a journey worth taking.

(SPOILERS FOR BURIAL AT SEA EPISODE 1) Having brought about the demise of Comstock hiding out in Rapture and pretending to be Booker DeWitt (SPOILERS END), Elizabeth finds herself on the wrong end of a revolver belonging to a thug working for Atlas from the first Bioshock. A hallucination of Booker appears and gives her just the right words to save her life, but now she’s working for Atlas in an attempt to raise the sunken part of Rapture up to the rest of the city and rescue a little sister named “Sally”. The story goes to some interesting places from there, but apart from a few instances I wouldn’t consider it to be essential information. It is, however, very interesting information that supplements established elements and characters nicely, and best of all cements and explains links between Rapture and Columbia. It seeks to fill in as many gaps as it can, with time being given to things like Songbird and where vigors came from, which can sometimes result in them answering questions you never asked. The story flows pretty well, but can sometimes feel like “Oh hey, someone left some previously-hidden backstory lying around on the way to your objective. Maybe you should look at it, it might be pretty sweet”. The ending initially left me in two minds as to whether I thought it worked, and while I’ll still be mulling it over for a while I do think it was pretty good, and it does wrap everything up in a way that makes sense in the grand scheme of things.

The biggest change here is the gameplay. Elizabeth does not have access to her powers and tears because plot reasons, so the name of the game here is stealth. Enemies can be taken out with a melee attack from behind, there’s a new knock-out crossbow and Elizabeth dies really easily. Fortunately health kits can now be carried around with you for later like in the original game, and there’s a new plasmid called “Peeping Tom” that makes you invisible and lets you see through walls. Money and ammo are incredibly scarce, and enemies seem a lot more resilient to gunfire for some contrived, rather annoying reason, making gunfights a bad option. Also, you restart from checkpoints now as opposed to respawning. So the gameplay’s quite a lot different then, but does it work?Well yes and no. The knock-out crossbow takes down enemies in one hit, enemies have a detection meter above their heads meaning you have time to react if they see you, and the melee takedown is generally effective. However, apart from said detection meter the game design hasn’t really been changed to accommodate a stealth focus, and “Bioshock” is not a stealth series. It’s hard to keep tabs on enemies and taking them out one-by-one, coupled with the low ammo and Elizabeth wearing noisy high heels meant that I often ended up being spotted, and then running through large groups of enemies to my objective. The fact that you can use this as an effective tactic doesn’t bode well. The first group of enemies you meet is genuiely tense and has a great horror atmosphere, but after that it all starts to feel like Bioshock, but with enemies not being alerted as soon as they see you. It could have been handled better, basically.

Elizabeth is still a great character, and finally getting to play as her is a nice touch. Given her place in the Bioshock canon feels right to play as her for the series’ conclusion. Booker also returns in the form of a hallucination based on her memories that acts as a sort of invisible sidekick, and although it would have been nice for him to have a physical presence, this is Elizabeth’s story.

Overall, this is a success. Whereas Burial at Sea Episode 1 felt like a fun aside to the main story until it suddenly formed an important link at the end, this one is hell-bent to bring the Bioshock universe to a conclusion and tie up as many things as it can along the way, and I think it does it well. As I said, it’s not all essential information, but everything show here feels valid and interesting. The gameplay is more of a mixed bag, with the stealth being reasonably handled and the shootouts feeling arbitrarily difficult. It was a nice try and I appreciate them doing something different, but it could have been handled better. As a piece of DLC it has some issues. As a conclusion to the “Bioshock” series and Irrational Games’ last product, it’s a triumph.

“I may not always love you, but long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it. I’ll make you so sure about it; God only knows what I’d be without you.”

By James Lambert

Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes Review

So. Here it is. The prologue to what has been my most-anticipated game for some time now. A budget-priced taster of what’s to come- giving people a glimpse of the new gameplay mechanics, plot and tone. Many have called it a paid demo, or at least commented on the game’s short length. Is it worth paying for? Or should it have just been released as a free demo?

First of all, yes- the main mission “Ground Zeroes” is about ninety minutes to two hours long, if you either take your time or don’t know where you’re going. Yes, you can get through it in a matter of minutes if you plan your route properly. There are five side missions (counting the two console-specific ones) with different objectives and set at different times of the day all within the same base. So in terms of content, there isn’t a lot here. However, I would consider this to be a case of quality over quantity for the most part.

Despite being small, the map offers multiple routes towards your various objectives, depending on where you are. It’s not particularly expansive, but it does give you a fair bit of room to plan your route through, and feels adequately designed for both an action or stealth playstyle, as well as a mix of both. It includes two prison areas, cliffs, a heliport and an administration building, with each area feeling organic enough to feel non-linear while also feeling like defined paths are also present if you need them. Unfortunately your objectives never change location except for one mission, so whichever route you take you’ll mostly end up in the same place. The time of day (here determined by the mission) actually makes quite a big difference, both graphically and practically- the “Ground Zeroes” mission sees the base drenched in rain at midnight; enemies have a harder time seeing you and the whole thing is beautifully atmospheric. Every side-op bar one is set during the day. Enemies can see you from a whole lot further away, and the sense of space improves at the sake of you feeling more exposed. Considering the base is the only location featured in gameplay, the game manages to squeeze enough out of it to keep it interesting for a while. The graphics are pretty incredible. The new “Fox” engine handles lighting, textures and details brilliantly, and the game looks fantastic in motion. It looked good in trailers, but it really does have to be seen running to get the most out of it. I played it on Playstation 4 which is apparently the best looking one, but I can’t imagine the other versions look bad.

Gameplay wise it’s similarly excellent. It plays like a refined version of “Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker”- over-the-shoulder aiming, dynamic CQC moves and smooth controls, with new freedom of movement. Big Boss can now sprint, climb over obstacles ranging from small barriers to tall fences and move while prone, amongst other things. The metal gear series  has been refining its controls gradually with each release, and this really feels like the culmination of its efforts- everything works smoothly, and makes you feel entirely in control of the situation, or at least capable of solving any problems. The big new feature is reflex mode- get spotted by an enemy that didn’t know you were there and time slows down, giving you time to solve the problem with the good old fashioned method of “Shoot them in the face”. It definitely makes the game easier, but two things counteract that: it can be turned off, and you won’t always be able to hit the enemy in question. The tranquilizer pistol has crap range and even the silenced assault rifle can’t hit enemies from too far away. Enemy alert and search phases are now relegated to audio cues as they report in to their command post, and text in the corner alerting you to what they’re doing. This is helpful enough, but it’s worth mentioning that the countdown timer from previous games is gone. Though it’s definitely not the game’s intention, it’s entirely possible to play the game as a shooter, and the controls handle this fine. The shooting is tight and responsive, and the expanded CQC moves help.

Arguably the most important part of the “Metal Gear Solid” series is its story, which is sparse here. The one story mission follows on from “Peace Walker” and involves Big Boss sneaking into Cuba-based US Naval base “Camp Omega” to extract a double agent named Paz and rescue his thirteen-year-old recruit Chico, who went into the base to rescue Paz. Anyone who followed the various trailers for both parts of MGS V will know pretty much what happens here: (SPOILERS FOR IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MGS V TRAILERS) Big Boss’ home base “Mother Base” from “Peace Walker” is destroyed by new villains XOF and Big Boss falls into a nine year coma. The biggest problem here is that the destruction of the base isn’t playable. Granted that was never explicitly stated, but it would have been nice. (SPOILERS END) The cutscenes themselves are far shorter and more concise than in previous games, and the codec conversations and slide-show cutscenes are gone entirely. What you won’t be aware of having watched the trailers are certain plot details, including some particularly dark bits. When series creator Hideo Kojima said MGS V was going to be far darker and more adult than previous games in the series, he wasn’t messing around. Christ was he not messing around. New character Skull Face is easily the most monstrous, villainous antagonist the series has- his badass look, nihilistic speeches and penchant for a whole new level of horrific torture makes him a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what Kojima does with him in “The Phantom Pain”. Actor James Horan delivers the best voice acting in the game in this role. Seven collectible tapes recorded by Chico fill in the backstory of his and Paz’s time in the camp before Big Boss arrived, and it’s unpleasant to say the least. This is a genuinely dark, disturbing story, and I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

One big point of contention has been Kiefer Sutherland taking over the roll of Big Boss from series mainstay David Hayter. I’m decidely mixed on the subject. His performance is subtle and fits the tone of the game well, but my question is: if Kojima wanted Sutherland to portray a more measured, older Big Boss, why is he in this game? This game takes place very soon after “Peace Walker”. If Sutherland portrayed Big Boss only in “The Phantom Pain” nine years later, that would make sense. I’m sad to see Hayter go, but I can’t deny Sutherland does a good job.

You probably know whether or not you’re going to buy this game. As a massive “Metal Gear Solid” fan I pre-ordered it some time ago and have been waiting to play it ever since I first saw the trailer. If you’re not already a fan you’re not going to get the greater context of the story and can only really enjoy it at face value, which is a shame because there isn’t a lot here, though what there is is great. I paid £23. 86 for it, which some would consider steep for what you get, but I consider the game worth paying at least something for, and appreciate the price coming down from £50 on Playstation 4.  Whether or nor you want to pay for it is up to you, but do consider it carefully- this is very much quality over quantity in a big way. The gameplay is superb, the graphics amazing and the story fantastic, but there is not a lot here at all, at least in terms of fresh content. The value here comes from replaying the missions, which the game does have- replay value is definitely a factor here, at least for me. Do I recommend it? Yes, if you’re a fan of the series and/or you’re willing to pay for it, and replay the missions a lot to get the most out of it. If not, then this isn’t for you.

Oh, and the use of Joan Baez’s “Here’s to you”? (seen in the trailer) as an integral part of the plot, used to convey various tones and most effectively used for the story’s darkest moments? Beautiful.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: The Last of Us: Left Behind

So. “The Last of Us” was a game that I had to play through multiple times to fully appreciate it (as can be seen in my original review for it and then later my best and worst of 2013 list), but now I view it very highly, and as such was eagerly anticipating this: the game’s first and indeed only piece of story DLC. Is it a worthy addition to the game? Or just a piece of short, throw-away fluff that doesn’t need to he here? Spoilers for the main game’s story follow.

“Left Behind” focuses entirely on Ellie during two very important times in her life. As advertised it shows what happened to her and her best friend Riley during the events leading up to them both becoming infected, and also, interestingly, includes a section starting from the moment Joel falls from the horse outside the university. She drags him into a shopping mall, locks him away for safety and then begins a hunt for medical supplies. About equal time is given to both scenarios and each one offers a very different tone, different gameplay and scenery, and both are entirely worthy of a place in the game’s overall story. Gameplay hasn’t changed much at all, but the content on display here is a must for anyone enjoyed the main game. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you don’t want to know anything about it all (and indeed I feel that’s the best way to play it) would be advised to play it before reading this review. Also, to get the most out of the DLC, read the tie-in comic “The Last of Us: American Dreams”- it’ll help with some of the things mentioned.

The prequel chapter is largely focused on exploration and dialogue- going more in-depth into Ellie and Riley’s relationship as they skip out of their responsibilities to basically mess around and have fun for a day. The lack of combat gives Naughty Dog opportunity to tell the story in a slightly different way- the optional conversations and the like are still present, but this scenario is a lot more playful and unique, with little touches being used to great effect. For example you play games like breaking car windows with a brick, there’s a small section dedicated to Ellie’s pun book, and a particularly stand-out section that for spoiler reasons I will simply describe as involving an arcade. Of course, if you’ve played the main game (or read the second paragraph of this review) you know how this is going to end, and indeed Ellie’s infection is shown, but despite knowing this is going to happen this section still manages to throw some great surprises your way, and when the dire part of the story it hits as hard as you’d expect. This is arguably the core part of the DLC, and it carries that burden admirably.

Moving on, the winter section of the DLC is a lot more combat-focused, with a generous helping of exploration as well. A lot of it reminded me of the section in which Joel is navigating the hotel basement in Pittsburgh- it’s creepy, intense, and there’s a clear drive to get the hell out of your current location. Story-wise this one doesn’t have a lot going on; there’s an interesting sub-plot featuring soldiers that’s told through notes and corpses which is good while it lasts, and Ellie’s dialogue to herself as she traverses the mall is well-written. Gameplay wise it’s the same as the winter section of the main game- Ellie isn’t as physically capable as Joel, but has all her moves as well as her weapons, and the gameplay is still as satisfying as it was originally. The one new addition to the gameplay is encounters featuring both human enemies and infected, with you acting primarily as an instigator of some good old-fashioned monster in-fighting. It’s used a few times and doesn’t really seem like “one of many options” as much as it seems like the one key that fits in the metaphorical lock, but it is a cool touch.

The one thing that really stands out is how well Ellie is represented as a character. Taken as a whole, the DLC has a great mix of gameplay showing her to be a resourceful badass in the “Joel” mold perhaps to an even greater extent than the Winter chapter and a combined story that shows her to be rounded while going into a key emotional event that shaped her into the person she is in the person she is later on. It shows she could carry a whole game as the main protagonist no problem, and also provides context for a lot of her mannerisms and outlooks in the main game. Also, there’s one rather bold, brief story element during the prequel chapter that adds subtle volumes to the whole thing. I won’t spoil it here.

Overall, “Left Behind” is a wonderful addition to “The Last of Us”. The only problem I can find is that it is rather short for £12 in the UK, though if you bought the season pass it does soften the blow. I didn’t, but I do think the content on offer here is of great quality, which helps. The mix of gameplay between exploration and plot and combat is a good one, and story-wise the whole thing is a great character study that adds depth where it needs to, lets actions speak for words where necessary, explores a touching friendship and the last effects of it, and sheds new light to an established character. If this really is the one piece of story DLC for “The Last of Us”, it’s enough for me, and as DLC generally, it’s pretty damn good. So I recommend it, basically.

By James Lambert

Outlast (Ps4) Review

It’s finally here. After waiting months for a chance to play it I finally have. Praise be to the Walrider I’ve finally played “Outlast”. Released last year on PC, I bought the game on Steam only to discover my laptop couldn’t run it in a way anyone would describe as “smooth”; I even wrote an article about it. I was eagerly anticipating the game since its very first trailer: horror and stealth are my two favourite genres in games. Add in an interesting mechanic in the form of the game’s video camera and some screenshots showing one hell of a villain (the one shown above) and I was all set. Only I couldn’t play it. Fortunately I knew it was coming out on PS4 in Q1 of 2014, and that it would be free for Playstation Plus subscribers. So I bided my time, patiently waiting to 1. Get a PS4 and 2. Have access to Outlast. Well the wait ended on Wednesday 5th February. So here it is: my review of “Outlast”, and my first review of  a PS4 game.

“Outlast” is a horror game in the same vein as “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” in that it prioritises  stealth and evasion to the point where it has no combat system. Get spotted by the enemies here and you’ll have to employ a mixture of sprinting away like you’re re-enacting the opening of “Trainspotting” and hiding like… well like you’re hiding in the dark from a lunatic armed with a pipe. Unlike Amnesia however, there are no real puzzles or the like to solve- the focus of the game is moving to the next area, sneaking around enemies, and sometimes seeking out a few switches or valves to aid in your passage to the next area. Now that may sound sparse in terms of gameplay, but it really doesn’t feel that way, as I’ll get into shortly. Point is, this is pure horror- it’s come to slap modern gaming across the face, scream at it and let it know that horror games are making a come back. It’s basically doing the job that everyone seems to think “The Evil Within” is going to do. Only far better.

The game’s story and visual design are top notch, as are the tone and atmosphere it creates. You are Miles Upshur- a young, brave/stupid/hey he’s being controlled by you so it’s your fault Journalist who, after a tip from an inside source, breaks into Mount Massive Asylum to investigate claims of corruption and horrific experiments. From there it’s a pretty breakneck descent into gory, bleak-as-hell madness as Miles is forced to go deeper and deeper into the asylum, confronted by all manner of terrible things. The story is told in two main ways: backstory on the asylum and what went on before you arrived is handled in collectible documents scattered throughout the world, and events happening here and now are documented in Miles’ notebook, provided you film certain things with your video camera (more on that in a moment).  It’s a good way to do it- you can miss certain documents but still get a good idea of what’s going on, and getting more documents means you get a decent amount of extra information, all of which is well-written. Mount Massive Asylum is beautifully crafted- battered corpses, blood pools and various organs are all over the place, and every area has a great sense of macabre to it that fits the genre perfectly. The asylum is physically incredibly dark and foreboding, with the few respites you get still managing to feel unsafe thanks to the game’s visual style, music and the fact that you often don’t know whether the people you encounter are hostile. Yes, in a brilliant change from the norm, not every patient in the asylum bears you ill will, and if they do then they aren’t necessarily going to attack you. Apart from a couple of – for a lack of a better word – “boss” characters whose sole purpose is to hunt you down and kill you, a lot of the patients will act in ways varying from completely ignoring you, through spouting gibberish or indeed attacking you at random. Some will act as “enemies” and patrol with weapons, attacking you on sight. The point is, you often don’t know who’s going to do what until they’ve acted, and by then it could be too late. It’s a brilliant touch that really fits the tone of an asylum where the inmates have all been left to their own devices, and it’s refreshing to see a game where not all mentally ill people are violent psychopaths. The game is consistently creepy and every encounter is filled with dread. It’s a proper horror game- and it revels in it. The story goes to a slightly odd place right at the end, but I felt it worked- the story really builds up to its conclusion, and although I still had some questions, everything I saw made sense in the context of the story.

Now, the gameplay side of things. As I mentioned before, the game doesn’t have a whole lot of “Game” elements, per se. Sure, it’s an actual videogame with gameplay and challenges and not some David Cage interactive movie bullshit, but it is, how should I put this… streamlined, to a certain extent. The only pick-ups are batteries for your camera. You have regenerating health, and the only time an objective becomes more complex than moving to a different area is when it asks you to turn two valves or press three switches. The game is often broken up into sections with more neutral patients and exploration, and finding said valves and switches while an enemy patrols the area. This enemy is at most times Chris Walker- a huge, self-mutilating ex-MP and star of the game’s PSN dashboard art who is completely relentless and capable of tearing your body off. Not your head. He holds you by the neck and tears your body off. Seriously. The one tool in your arsenal to really help against your pursuers is Miles’ video camera, which comes with a battery-draining night vision mode that acts as the game’s flashlight. This is easily the game’s most unique and best-implemented feature. Not only does it add to the atmosphere- drenching everything in an eerie green glow and illuminating areas while not giving you full clarity in dark areas – it enables you to keep tabs on enemies in the area and plan your movements around them, adding a layer of strategy to proceedings that really helps. It also means that you can effectively hide in most dark areas, as you can see enemies but they can’t see you- making running away and hiding a valid tactic, particularly as enemies will have a hard time keeping up with you and tracking you in pitch-black areas. The enemy A.I can be very forgiving, at times bordering on stupid, but given the genre I find this to be fair. Of course you can bump up the difficulty levels if you feel the game lacks challenge. Overall although the gameplay can and has been described as a “haunted house simulator”, I really feel this doesn’t do the game justice at all. It’s challenging, rewarding and the stealth is good, particularly when coupled with the game’s superb horror sensibilities.

Any problems? Well, one or two. The aforementioned A.I had a couple of issues in which I sprinted right behind enemies’ backs (close enough to reach out and touch them) and they didn’t react at all, and one time I ran into Chris Walker (in an attempt to spring past him as he was clearly about to discover me) only to die for no apparent reason. Also the pause menu’s save function does NOT manually save the game anywhere, but instead saves progress to the last auto-saved checkpoint, making it effectively useless. This only really caused me trouble once, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Anything new added to the PS4 version? A new difficulty- “Insane”, in which you can hold two (as opposed to ten on “Normal”) batteries at a time and have to complete the game in one sitting. The touch pad can be used to zoom the camera and the light on the back of the gamepad lights up green when using night vision, and all other times represents your health: white is fine, through yellow and orange to red, which means you’ve been killed. Most likely in a horrible fashion.

Overall, “Outlast” is easily as good as I’d hoped. The atmosphere, tone and environment are top notch. The gameplay is tense, scary and the night vision camera is a brilliant idea wonderfully implemented. If you’re like me and you love horror games, pick this up without delay. It’s in my top ten games of all time (possibly five) and if I had reviewed it last year it would have easily made my 2013 GOTY list. Expect it to feature in this year’s list.

Now if you excuse me, I have an appointment with Dr. Trager…

By James Lambert

The Wolf Among Us : Episode 2 – Smoke and Mirrors Review

The second episode of Tell Tale’s “Fables” adaptation “The Wolf Among Us” hit the PSN store on Wednesday. I loved episode 1, and speaking of which this review will forgo talking about gameplay mechanics, controls and the like apart from a brief description that’s coming along shortly. If you want a more in-depth description of how the game plays, you’ll find it in my review of episode 1.

As for that brief description I just intrigued you with, it’s as follows: “The Wolf Among Us” is an adventure game revolving around investigating areas, some very light puzzle solving, action scenes (usually brawls and chases) and making difficult decisions. It’ll be very family to anyone who’s played Tell Tale’s own “Walking Dead” game, and it’s based on the Vertigo comic “Fables”, about fairy tale characters living in modern New York. Right, with that out of the way, how was Episode 2? Light spoilers for Episode 1 incoming.

In short: very good. The quality has remained consistent to both Episode 1 and Tell Tale’s games in general. One thing I noticed here even more than the last episode is how possible – and indeed satisfying – it is to be a complete bastard- bordering on psychopathy a few times. I kept up my previous stance of basically being kind and polite to women and harsh and violent to men (which is honestly just how it turned out, really) which lead to me torturing a suspect when I could have calmly interrogated him, utterly trashing a strip club with a cricket bat and violently throwing Jack of Fables out of a bar because he wouldn’t shut up and I had things to do. This episode is lighter on investigation and heavier on action and conversation, but it fits where the story goes and keeps a good pace. Said interrogation and strip club trashing sections were the highlights, and overall the gameplay is still satisfying and well implemented- the more action-oriented sections blending well with the more old-school adventure game stuff.

Story wise it’s mainly a continuation of the last epsisode. New characters introduced are either there for a quick cameo like the aforementioned Jack of Fables, dead, or there to advance Bigby’s investigation, such as Georgie Porgie, here re-imagined as a heavily tattooed Northern English creep who runs that strip club I trashed. He also pimps out his girls, which didn’t end well for a couple of them. Also included is Dave Fennoy’s (Lee Everett from “The Walking Dead” game) Blue Beard, who is good while he lasts but is only in one scene. Also because I was a complete psychotic bastard he was on my side for the interrogation and therefore silently smiled his approval rather than interrupted me like in the clip shown before the episode’s release. You can’t have it always I suppose. The episode’s ending cliffhanger is a bit far fetched as far as I saw it and does stamp out a lot of the intrigue to a certain extent. MINOR SPOILERS; you find out who the killer is, basically. So you know who now, but not why. Personally I would have liked to see the whodunnit story stretched out a bit further, but I’m still eager to see where the next episode goes.

Episode 2 of “The Wolf Among Us” keeps up the gameplay and story standards set by episode 1. On the negative side the game did freeze up for a few seconds every now and then but it never broke the game, and that’s the only technical issue I encountered. If you’ve bought the season pass then you won’t be disappointed with this new episode. If you didn’t but you liked Episode 1, give this one a look.
By James Lambert

The Best and Worst Games of 2013

Well, 2013′s over and done with, but before we stumble fully into 2014 (we’re five days in so far- still time to back out) it’s time to look back on last year at the best and worst games that I played and reviewed. I really hoped “Outlast” would have a place on this list, but as I said a while ago, it won’t work on my laptop. Fortunately, the PS4 version is on the way, so I’ll be reviewing that one. One thing to mention first, however, is that unlike my best and worst games of 2012 list, this one will not be in any kind of order. It doesn’t seem fair to rank them numerically this time, and on top of that what is the real difference between the fourth and fifth best games of the year? I can’t think of one. So this is a list of a few games that I think stood out from the rest, either by being particularly good, or indeed particularly bad. Anyway, on to the list.

The Best:

Bioshock Infinite:

(The original review I wrote can be found here: http://www.whatson.uk.com/blog/2013/03/bioshock-infinite-review/)

Originally highly praised but taking a lot of flack now for various reasons with varying legitimacy (the story and gameplay do NOT show signs of ludo-narrative dissonance- it’s a story about a violent, horrible man in a city built on violence, full of violence. Of course the gameplay is violent.), “Bioshock Infinite” is one of the best first person shooters I’ve ever played- right up there with the likes of “Timesplitters 2″ and “Crysis 2″. The world of Columbia was brilliantly crafted and beautiful to look at, the characters all well rounded and interesting, and the story a real triumph both emotionally and intellectually. The gameplay was criticized but I really like it- solid, well-balanced shooting with well-implemented powers. Booker and Elizabeth were a great pairing and the ending… oh man the ending. An emotional sledgehammer to the guts that’s stayed right with me, and I imagine will do for a long time to come.

The Last of Us:

When I first reviewed this back in July, I enjoyed the game but didn’t buy into the immense hype it was receiving from other places. Everything from your basic “Game of the year so far” to “Console generation defining masterpiece” and “Gaming’s Citizen Kane moment” (Whatever that means. Presumably it means it’s now the default “Best game ever” for critics) was said about it, and I thought it was a good game but had one main problem in that its story just seemed like an excuse for main characters Joel and Ellie to go to various locations. Having completed the game three times now, I’ve changed my opinion a bit. Although I still don’t think it’s some generation-defining wonder-game, I would call it a masterpiece- the story is well told and has some real stand-out moments (particularly the ending, which I loved then and still love now- it ends the story perfectly), the characters are interesting and fit the tone of the game well, and the gameplay is absolutely superb- genuinely balancing melee combat, shooting, stealth, explosives and a crafting system, often encouraging you to switch between different strategies mid-fight. It’s definitely worth a look, and deserving of a place in this list.

DmC Devil May Cry:

This one caught a lot of flak from critics and fans of the original games alike, and I think this is entirely unfair. I love DMC1 and 3, but this really was a step up for me. I’m just going to say it: I love new Dante. His punk aesthetic, dickish attitude and violent tendencies all come from a genuinely horrible, tragic past that resulted in his mother being killed in front of him and his father being imprisoned and tortured forever- of course he’s going to be a bit of an arse. The story took established themes and presented them well (there’s more than a touch of “They Live” on display here, as well as “Futurama” of all things), was genuinely interesting to see play out, and although easier than before, the combat was great- punchy, extensive and above all, fun. I love “DmC Devil May Cry”, and really hope it gets a sequel. It probably won’t, but I can hope.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon:

REX. POWER. COLT! “Blood Dragon” was exactly what the trailers promised- a ridiculous, entertaining parody of 80s films and modern games alike. A great sense of humor, a fantastic aesthetic and a wonderful flair for the outlandish all draped over the solid foundation of “Far Cry 3″‘s gameplay made for one hell of a good time, and to top it off it’s a stand-alone downloadable game at a very reasonable price. The synth-heavy score by Power Glove was spot-on, and overall if you like things that both love and parody the 80s (and who doesn’t?) “Blood Dragon”‘s your game. Oh, and also: you get Robocop’s gun. Still unconvinced? Well look no further than this paraphrased quote from the first trailer for the game: “It is the near future. The apocalypse has had an apocalypse…From the toxic ashes of Vietnam War 2; a new breed of renegade soldier is born. Part man, part machine. All cyber commando.” MARK IV STYLE MUTHAFUCKA!

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag:

PIRATES! I was down for this ever since “Assassin’s Creed II”. The gameplay-style of this series really suits the setting, and for the most part Ubisoft pulled it off rather well- sailing and ship combat are properly integrated and are made an essential part of gameplay, and parts set on dry land were pleasingly tweaked from ACIII. There is, of course, one major problem with the story in that main character Edward Kenway never actually becomes an assassin. He helps them out, but never actually joins their ranks, despite what the blurb on the back cover says. Having said that, I still had great fun with the game, and am still enjoying it now, having recently picked up the PS4 version. If the series must continue, then I’m glad they’re taking it in different directions, and look forward to what they do next.

Papers, Please:

This is a strange one. Put simply, it’s a game about bureaucracy. Created by one man and released on steam, “Papers, Please” puts you in the role of a border guard in fictional communist country “Arstotzka”- you check people’s paperwork against various conditions determined by an ever-changing political climate, and at the end of the day divide your paycheck between food and warmth for your family members. The game is made unique by its paper-checking gameplay, and made special by the fact that moral choice is tightly woven into proceedings, with the minimalist graphics adding charm to the game. It’s not for everyone, but it’s totally unique.

The worst:

Ride to Hell: Retribution:

Now famous for utterly abhorrent it is, I feel the best way to sum up “Ride to Hell”, is that it has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever. Not one. Playing it is torturous, to the point where I would get genuinely depressed and think “Seriously, why am I playing this?” I finished it though, and I have to live with that. Horribly misogynistic, awful to play and incredibly ugly, it has no business existing in this world, and everyone involved should be ashamed.

Beyond: Two Souls:

Don’t be fooled by what others may tell you, this is not a video game. David Cage does not make video games. He makes terrible interactive films with plots that are completely ridiculous, cringe-worthy and universally terrible apart from the bits he steals from other people. He can’t tell stories to save his life, and his continued popularity baffles me. The man needs to be stopped. I couldn’t even finish this one (I finished “Ride to Hell” though, so remember that) but saw the rest of the game in the “Super Best Friends” let’s play, so I know what I missed. Noble homeless people, Native Americans that practice spirit magic (of course they do), an underwater base with French-accented Chinese people and giant skeleton-ghost-snake things and a game that often just ignores your choices, often because the game is told out of chronological order and therefore can’t have particularly drastic choices. You’re a hack, David Cage. You’re a hack and the fact that you’re still allowed to make “video games” disgusts and depresses me.

Aliens: Colonial Marines:

Aliens: Colonial Marines:

What a shambles this was. Sega and Gearbox were shamelessly shifting the blame for this onto one of the umpteen other developers that worked on it while they could, but then apparently stand by the product when they were hit with a lawsuit for the gameplay video they demoed that was clearly built ad-hoc and not representative of the final game. Said final game was a boring, glitchy mess of a first person shooter that wiped its arse with the Aliens license. It’s not as bad as some of the other games on this list, but it’s still terrible. It was similarly in production for years and then rushed out like Gearbox’s travesty “Duke Nukem Forever”, and is indeed a lot like that game, minus the horrible misogyny.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct:

I’m inclined to be reasonably kind to the developers of “TWD: MERLE AND DERLE POTTER ABOUT IN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE”, purely because they actually seemed to care. The main problem here was the insistence that the game be rushed out to co-inside with the ending of Season 3 of the often over-rated TV series, resulting in a game with muddy, ugly graphics, repetitve gameplay and a story that was rushed and with a terrible ending. There are good ideas here- the emphasis on survival does rear its head from time to time- and as I said, I do think that at least someone making the game cared, it’s just that it didn’t turn out the way it could have.

Crysis 3:

This was a disappointment. I love “Crysis 2″, and this looked like a cool idea- an interesting new city of New York trapped under a bio-dome and covered in vegetation, with a particularly interesting set-up for the player character (more on that in a minute), but was spoiled by two main things: it’s a boring slog for the majority of the game and it feels far too short and rushed- it essentially feels like the final third of a game. That character set-up is that you are actually playing as the Nanosuit itself, essentially- it contains the psyche of one character and the corpse of another: you’re the suit. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to save the game.

Killer is Dead:

Honestly, for the most part I actually quite liked “Killer is Dead”- I love Suda 51 (for the most part), and I like the combat and art style here. The story is pretty weak, but overall it was a step in the right direction. The game is on here for one reason: Gigolo Mode. For those unaware, this mode involves protagonist Mondo Zappa (don’t ask, we’re right near the end here) wooing various women by staring at their chests and crotches when they aren’t looking at him, then presenting them gifts until they sleep with him. It’s creepy to say the least, and really holds the whole game back.

So, those are the games I really liked and really didn’t like last year. Some of the choices were hard, some of them were a lot easier, and there are a few games I didn’t include that were also worthy of praise. 2014′s looking pretty damn good for games, and I’m looking forward to it.

By James Lambert

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 1: All That Remains Review

Grab a bottle of whiskey and brace yourself for some emotional trauma, because Season 2 of Telltale Games’ thoroughly excellent “Walking Dead” adventure game is upon us. Season 1 was my game of the year 2012, and despite one major flaw its DLC “400 Days” was largely very good, so does this new season meet the same standards? Note that this review will contain spoilers for the ending of Season 1. If you haven’t played and finished it, go and do so now. It’s alright. I’ll wait.

Set a bit over sixteen months after the end of Season 1, Season 2 puts you in the role of Clementine- the genuinely awesome and lovable little girl you were charged with protecting last time around. Slightly older and far wiser than before, she is now tasked with surviving in the zombie apocalypse, both alone and with a new group, and that’s all I can say plot-wise without veering into spoiler territory. Clem is just as likable here, and the decision to change the player’s role from teaching Clem how to survive through another player character to directly controlling Clem herself is a great one. It does feel like a natural progression to the events of Season 1. The story is largely set-up but has some genuinely harrowing, horrible moments that give you a severe punch in the gut, and the whole thing works well as a bridge between the end of Season 1 and the episodes of Season 2 that are still to come. Clem’s character is, obviously, player determined but can be any mix of her Season 1 sweet, kind attitude and a colder, more serious tone. There are a few references to Season 1, mainly in regards to Lee’s death, how it’s effected Clem and their relationship in the first game. The references are nice, but there aren’t so many as to alienate new players and said new players should have no problem picking the story up here. Having said that, I haven’t seen how “400 Days” ties into this season, but I guess that’s still to come.

Gameplay wise it plays a lot like Telltale’s recent “The Wolf Among Us” (episode 1 of which I reviewed a little while ago): it’s a point and click adventure game with action scenes that use quick time events and contextual actions. The HUD shows what you can do and interact with clearly and, like Season 1, solutions to problems are often straightforward or at the very least logical. A new action has been added in the form of holding down a button and moving the analogue stick to perform certain actions, but it isn’t used much. The fighting system is more involving than Season 1, and overall it controls well. The graphics have had a boost, also, and the cel-shaded look is still gorgeous (in a bleak, sparse way given the setting) but with added sharpness. Of course the main parts of the gameplay are the conversations and choices you have to make, and they’re back with a vengeance. Conversations still provide a range of interesting options often set to a tight time limit, and the choices are still hard to make- harrowing and set to that same panic-inducing time limit. I will say, however that the choices in this episode did seem easier when compared to some of the ones in Season 1, but that’s not really a problem as such.

There was one main problem I had with this episode, and that was a distracting but not game breaking glitch. Long story short at one point Clem is sneaking around a cabin looking for certain supplies, being careful not to alert the occupants of said cabin. All of whom were downstairs. While searching the upstairs rooms I found said characters standing motionless in the rooms, staring into space. They couldn’t see me and I simply phased through them if I walked up to them, seeing as their models weren’t supposed to be there. As I said, this wasn’t game breaking, but it definitely pulled me out of the experience. Fortunately it didn’t last long.

Overall, “All That Remains” is excellent. The control system carried over from “The Wolf Among Us” is still great, the graphics are sharper and the great storytelling and emotional gut punches are still in full effect. That glitch was annoying but not nearly enough of a problem to seriously alter my opinion of this episode, and this is a must for anyone who can handle the bleak, brutal world and story shown here. Between this and the remaining episodes of “The Wolf Among Us”, 2014 is going to be pretty well covered for great stories told well.

Now if you excuse me, I need a sit down and a strong drink.

By James Lambert

Rayman Legends Review

legends header

Why hello there dear readers. It’s that time again, when I try and make up for letting James do the bulk of the work on this here blog, by submitting a paltry review of my own. I’m going to do this more often I swear. Which I’m pretty sure is what I said last time. But I will, really. I promise. Honestly.

So then, Rayman Legends. The 12th game in the Rayman franchise, this title is a more specifically a sequel to 2011’s Rayman Origins. As such, it’s a 2D platformer which blends colourful 2D environments with fantastical worlds and generous helping of co-op goodness thrown in for good measure. The story is basic, functional and largely unimportant: Rayman and his buddies have been taking a well-deserved snooze after all the excitement of Origins. However said sleep over has accidentally taken 100 years. In that century, the Nightmares, evil creatures from the Land of the Livid Dead, (see what they did there?)  under the guidance of the Dark Teensies  who are different from their peaceable Teensie cousins by dint of their top hats and sneaky expressions,  have run amok, capturing peaceful Teensies, harvesting the benevolent Lums and generally being dicks. As such the Bubble Dreamer, who may or may not be God, and who is definitely a frog with a beard and a pipe, has awoken our heroes to kick ass, recuse the Teensies and generally be all heroic and stuff.

The plot is simple but effective, which seems to be a methodology applied to Rayman Legends liberally. The art style feels like a natural evolution from Origins beautiful simple cartoon backgrounds and characters. Each of the 5 main worlds has a distinct theme, from the fantastical Teensies in Trouble, 60’s James Bond parody of 20,000 Lums Under the Sea; to my personal favourite, the sugar coated Mexican anarchy of Fiesta De Los Muertos. However it seems the increased budget has allowed Ubisoft Montpellier to add more elaborate environments as well as some 3D animated models to some enemies and backgrounds. The most common use of these models is on the boss enemies you’ll fight in each world, and it says something about the quality of the animation that there’s no noticeable disconnect from the 2d playable characters and the much larger 3D enemies. Much like Origins before it, Legends proves (as if any of us really needed convincing) that simple, colourful designs are a viable and preferable alternative to the ‘brown, brown, bullets and brown’ aesthetics present in so many other titles.

Level design is impeccable throughout, the beautiful backgrounds zooming by as you jump, punch and glide through searching for hidden teensies and collecting every last lum. Legends is an innocent looking game, but make no mistake, it’s far from child’s play. The difficulty curve is pretty smooth, but it’s pretty large with it. Legends does a good job of marking the levels and worlds with a 1 to 5 skulls difficulty rating, and it’s only when you attempt your first 5 skull level that you realise that it really means it. That said, it almost never feels unfair. If you die, it’s a case of starting again from one of the generous checkpoints and giving it another go. There are odd instances of unavoidable frustration however, more on those below.  Each world has about 6 vanilla platform levels, and then 1 Boss level as the penultimate challenge. As mentioned above, the boss fights are challenging battles against beautifully drawn enemies that wonderfully sum up the style of the world you’re fighting in. but my personal favourite comes at the end of each world, the final level is a fast paced run through a challenging obstacle course, set to music. Again, my favourite is at the end of Fiesta De Los Muertos, Mariachi Madness; where the backing track is Eye of the Tiger. These levels are hard as nails, reminiscent of the chase levels from Origins, but whole level, jumps, enemies and all follows the tune. These are easily the most fun and unique levels in Rayman Legends. And if you manage to unlock the final bonus world Livid Dead Party, you can race through 8-bit version of each level, which somehow manage to up the challenge level to a whole new level.

Legends other real strength is the sheer mass of content included. There are 5 main worlds, with the aforementioned Livid Dead as the final challenge for anyone who collects 400 teensies. Which is a lot. But not quite as much as you might think when you consider that the total teensies available in the game is 700. Collecting the aforementioned pixie people unlocks new levels and worlds, and, as you progress through the game, will unlock Invaded levels. These are time trials based on previously completed levels that give you a set amount of time to reach the end to save the maximum of three teensies. If you want to fully complete these levels, you’re going to need to complete each stage in 40 seconds or less. So have fun with that. Lums, meanwhile have their own uses specific uses. As well as gold, silver or bronze trophies awarded for how many you collect, which can vary from 150 to 600 depending on the level, collecting a specific amount in each levels will unlock a ‘Lucky Ticket’. These care then access from the menu, and ‘scratched off’, in what I suspect was a minigame designed for the WiiU version of the game, to reveal a prize. This can be either a free teensie, a bulk deposit of Lums, a Creature which goes into the gallery and generates lums daily, or an Origins level. That’s right, you read correctly. In addition to all the new stages, the Ubisoft people have thrown in a selection of the best levels from each world in Rayman Origins. On the disc. For free. Because why the hell not I suppose. Add to this the new daily and weekly challenges, where players compete to post highscores and time trials in exchange for yet more lums and the fact that the final unlockable can only be accessed by reach 1,000,000 Lums, and it’s clear that this is a game with some serious longevity.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops in Legends land however; like any game it’s not perfect and the superb quality of the rest of the game makes the niggling flaws all the more noticeable. The first and most major of my gripes is the presence of Murfy the fairy. He’s supposed to function as a sidekick to Rayman and co, appearing in certain levels to move platforms, tilt levels and do other fun little functions. The problem however, is that he’s a massive pain in the neck. Legends started life as a WiiU exclusive before worries about potential market limitations shifted it to the other consoles. However this means that many of the features designed for the touch screen pad, like the Lucky Ticket minigame, and Murfy’s controls are clumsy and clunky with a regular game pad. It’s by no means a game breaker, but it’s annoying never the less. My other issue is the co-op mode. Much like Origins, Legends allows up to 4 player local co-op. which is nice. It also allows you to slap you friendly players about with almost no consequence. Almost. Because you can hit, collide, bounce off and in some cases, outrun your fellow players, the more delicate platforming sections can become a bit of a chore. That said, that might have something to do with the quality of players I played with. Or more likely, with me.

But overall these are minor quibbles with an otherwise stellar product. Rayman Legends is the sequel Origins deserves and one of the best platformers to be released in a long time. In a world where Mario is considered the be all and end all of 2D platformers, it’s nice to know that there are other characters ready and willing to throw their hat into the ring. Or crown, if you play as King Teensie. Although Rayman doesn’t wear a hat. Neither does Globox. But the point stands dammit! Whatever the hell it was…

Rayman Legends: tons of fun, tons to do, buy it, love it, get some friends round and slap them silly. And then play Rayman Legends with them to make up for it.

Reuben Williams-Smith


Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag Review

Back in my “Top five most anticipated upcoming games” list I said that I have wanted an “Assassin’s Creed” game involving pirates since ACII, and it was true. I’m not sure how the thought came to me but it seemed pretty simple- I like pirates, I like “Assassin’s Creed”, the two most therefore make a good combination. Seems Ubisoft had a similar notion because the latest in the series is pirate themed- taking place during the golden age of piracy and focusing on a number of real life pirates (and some fictional ones) operating in the Caribbean. I was up for this as soon as it was announced. Is it any good? Well yes, but it has problems.

The biggest one is the game’s story, or at least parts of it. There are going to be some light spoilers here but nothing major- no deaths, betrayals or anything like that. Even so, fair warning. The set-up in the opening couple of memory sequences is a great one- shipwrecked pirate Captain Edward Kenway kills an assassin and takes his outfit upon finding a letter mentioning an award waiting for him in Havana. He arrives, takes the place of said assassin and finds his new hosts to be templars who discover his ruse and place him on a cargo ship. He escapes, gets a ship and a crew and the story really starts there- a mixture of him engaging in a variety of pirate business and along the way comes across the area’s assassins guild. Now despite the set-up being good, there’s one major problem with the story: Edward isn’t an assassin. He wears the stolen uniform and uses the hidden blades, but at no point in the game does he ever join the order. The story’s focus on the pirate side of things is great and all, but the assassins don’t get much of a look-in, and to have the protagonist not actually be an assassin is a pretty big plot hole. The game never addresses it either. It’s almost like it was a mistake someone forgot to fix. Elsewhere the ending is pretty weak in my opinion, particularly the way the future segments end. Said future segments revolve around a nameless, faceless Abstergo employee sifting through the late Desmond Miles’ genetic memories (even in death Desmond still finds a way to interrupt my fun) in order to make a video game that is essentially AC IV itself. This part of the plot is a cool idea but these sections don’t really go anywhere. There’s an on-going theme that looks like it’s going to feed into the on-going assassins vs templars plot but ultimately does. The whole thing doesn’t feel entirely necessarry, but fortunately these sections are over pretty quickly.

On the gameplay side, it’s a lot more positive. Whereas the sailing sections in ACIII were a side-quest that could be avoided almost entirely, sailing here is a key element in the game from early on- you use your ship to travel between places, hunt whales and sharks (more on that shortly) and attack and board other ships for resources. The ship is both integral to the gameplay and very fun and rewarding to use- it controls well and boarding ships is easily the most fun thing about the game: wearing a ship down with canon fire, roping it in with grappling hooks then swinging over on a rope to kill the crew is a delight that stays fun throughout the game. The hunting in the game is similar to Ubisoft’s own “Far Cry 3″ in that animal parts are required to craft certain items- additional pistol slots, armor and bigger ammo pouches all require animal parts, and if indeed you must have a hunting mechanic in your game this is very much the way to implement it. Upgrades for your ship are bought with a combination of money and wood, cloth and metal taken from other ships, and range from armor to ammo capacity and the number of canons on the side of the ship. A lot of time and effort has been put into making you want to stay on board the ship and use it as much as possible (as you should- it’s important in a game about pirates) and they thoroughly succeeded. Oh, also, you can make your men sing sea shanties. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

On dry land things have been nicey tweaked but not revolutionised- tracking people is now easier due to NPCs retaining their coloured glow after de-activating eagle vision, climbing a viewpoint will make map icons appear as in-game HUD icons to show you the locations of various items, and there are now bushes you can move swiftly through and kill from. Edward can hold up to four one-shot pistols at once that can be chain-fired in sequence or, even better, aimed in over-the-shoulder view with a reticle (a great addition). Best of all though, is a change to the thing I hate most about “Assassin’s Creed”: it’s stealth. In the old games if an enemy became alerted the whole map would know of your presense even if you silently killed said enemy before he even managed to open his mouth to call out. This was ridiculous and made no sense- it ruined every mission it was implemented in and I hated it. I can only think of one on-foot mission where this is the case in AC IV- the stealth mechanics are a lot more forgiving and overall, that makes a real difference.

Overall “Assassin’s Creed IV” is a good time. The story has some problems but when it’s focusing on the pirate side of things is definitely enjoyable, the gameplay is great fun whether you’re on land or at sea, and the whole thing does a great job of making being a pirate fun. Despite the story problems I say give it a look- it’s the best since AC II, and worth the time. Sort of like “Far Cry 3″ and “Splinter Cell: Blacklist”. It seems to be something of a running theme with Ubisoft recently.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode One

This needs very little introduction, so I’ll be brief. “Bioshock Infinite” is currently my game of the year (my review for it can be read here: http://www.whatson.uk.com/blog/2013/03/bioshock-infinite-review/ and Reuben and I have been planning a video review/discussion on the game for a while), due to its fantastic story well told, solid gameplay and wonderfully inventive world. This is the first piece of story-based DLC for the game, and it’s been hotly anticipated to say the least, particularly by me. Does it meet the incredibly high standard that “Infinite” set?

“Burial at Sea” is set in Rapture; the underwater city dedicated to complete freedom for the brightest and boldest that provided the backdrop for the original “Bioshock”. It centres on “Infinite” protagonists Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth –  this time recast as a noir private eye and a femme fatale respectively – as they track down a missing girl named Sally on the day before everything went wrong for Rapture- December 31st 1959. Unlike the original “Bioshock” the city is still intact and thriving, and for a little while it can be explored to your heart’s content. The first part of the DLC is all exploration and taking in the city, and it works well. The city has been built from scratch with “Infinite”‘s engine, and it looks lovely- bustling nightlife, shops to visit and one particularly memorable moment involving a waiter who uses a plasmid to teleport around to better serve his patrons. It’s great to revisit the underwater city, but unfortunately it features no areas from the original game that I was aware, and so did feel very different. The whole DLC feels very much like it takes place “Infinite”, which isn’t a problem, but anyone hoping for a return to the original game may be disappointed (more on that shortly). For now, I’ll talk about the story.

Minor spoilers for “Bioshock Infinite” ahead

As I said, the story involves Booker and Elizabeth tracking down a missing girl. What’s most interesting here is how it plays off “Infinite’s” revelation that there are literally infinite universes in the series, and without wishing to spoil the plot of this DLC, it what happens if the story followed a different thread, with interesting consequences and a whole load of new questions. The rapture shown is an interesting one, with themes relating to wrongful imprisonment for political gain, a different side to Booker and Elizabeth and an ending that was genuinely shocking and pulled the rug out from under my feet. It’s a good mystery story and the noir elements are implemented well. It’ll only really make sense to those who finished “Infinite”, but if you did, this will be a treat. It’s a continuation of the game’s themes while exploring a different path, and it does so admirably. Particularly impressive here is Elizabeth, who while fulfilling a similar role to the one she did in “Infinite”, the DLC does enough with her personality in both gameplay and story segments to feel different and interesting once again. It’s an interesting side story that uses the characters in interesting ways, but I do wish they’d used Rapture more from a story standpoint. The narrative focuses on Booker and Elizabeth, which is great, but the city could have been used more.

The spoilers for “Bioshock Infinite” have ended now. Besides, it came out ages ago. If you haven’t finished it yet, why not?

Moving on to the gameplay side of things, it’ll be instantly familiar to anyone familiar with “Infinite”, as things haven’t changed much. The combat is pretty much the same frantic mix of gunplay, vigors (this time called “Plasmids” due to the change of scenery, although they’re still drinkable, and so don’t come in the original game’s big, nasty syringe form) but with two main differences. Well, three really, but I’ll get to the third in a minute. Firstly, you are no longer limited to two weapons at a time. You can now bring up a radial menu a la the original “Bioshock” to select from a number of weapons, however you can only quick select between two at once. This is a nice addition that helped me out in a few firefights, and was definitely welcome. The other main change is that ammo is far more limited this time around. This combined with the third change in that you’re fighting splicers (the original game’s enemies- people who took one plasmid too many and became crazed psychopaths) give proceedings more of a horror feel, and this definitely works in the game’s favour. You can feel secure, but never fully comfortable. Ammo in vending machines is cheap, but you can’t hold much and you’ll use it up rather quickly. I mentioned earlier that people hoping for a return to the original “Bioshock” will be disappointed, and that’s because it still doesn’t feature any hacking, and has very limited plasmids. It plays very much like “Infinite”, and if you didn’t enjoy how that game played, the change of scenery won’t help you. Skyhooks also return with a different look and a new name, and are this time mainly relegated to reaching high areas rather than combat involving zipping around on skylines. I felt they were used just enough given the setting, but if you loved the skylines you may be disappointed.

The main negative point is that the whole thing isn’t very long. It can easily be completed in a couple of hours, and at £11.99 (in the UK) it may seem like a pretty bad deal. However, like the “Dead Space 3″ DLC I reviewed a few months ago, I say that if you are interested in the DLC, you shouldn’t let this stop you.

Overall, Burial at Sea is a triumph, but slightly disappointing in places. The characterisation of Booker and Elizabeth is interesting and very well done, and feels different enough to “Infinite” to be noteworthy. It’s nice to be fighting splicers again, but the length and fact that the city isn’t used as much as it could be made me really want to play through the original game again. It plays a lot like “Infinite”, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It’s a very interesting side-story with good gameplay, a good story and great presentation.

By James Lambert