FIFA 2014 Review

A rash challenge from Per Mertesacker sees my Arsenal side concede a last-minute penalty. Bitter rivals Manchester United have one final chance to draw the game, and who else but Robin Van Persie steps up to take it. A television camera zooms in to watch him place the ball on the spot, while Arsenal’s goalkeeper stands steadfast on his line. But he’s not alone. Behind him a wall of red and white shirts take to their feet as the walls of the Emirates Stadium shake to the boos of 50,000 vengeful Gooners. This raw, angry tension is something I’ve never experienced in a football game before, but in a swipe of a boot, it’s over, replaced by a cacophonous roar as Szczesny dives to his right and palms the ball away to safety. When the final whistle blows a moment later, I can barely hear it over the screaming torrent of fans. I recently left London after four years of attending Arsenal games. For a brief moment, I was back.

While the next-gen versions of FIFA 14 retain most of the features of their current-generation siblings, the gulf in technology is immediately apparent once the teams take to the pitch. Dozens of subtle additions to the way players and fans react to each other make it a much more authentic experience. For instance, whenever a ball goes out of play, players and ball boys scurry to fetch it. Every now and again a second ball is accidentally thrown onto the pitch and must be returned before the referee will allow play to continue. The gormless doppelgangers that littered the stands in previous games have been replaced with detailed and varied fans that sway to the beat of the on-pitch action. Supporters at local derbies become embroiled in bitter chanting battles, and cup game underdogs shriek for the full time whistle. Stadium seats may lie empty if the opposition isn’t worth the ticket price, while away team goals will silence any cheering home fans. This isn’t the first time a football game has attempted to capture the magic of the stadium experience, but FIFA 14 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is the first where I’ve genuinely felt the presence of a 12th man.

The 11 on the pitch have been given new life, too. Though the game controls similarly to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, there’s a noticeable increase in the variety of animations and fluidity of motion. The entire experience is a lot less mechanical. The ball no longer sticks to your feet, so jostling for control and shielding possession are far more interesting. This freedom of movement also allows you to intercept passes and put pressure on individual players more effectively, so changes in possession occur more often. An interesting by-product of this increased jostling is that referees are more lenient. The familiar whistle blows after blocking off players or roughing them out of possession aren’t here. And though sometimes it can seem the referees have thrown away the rulebook, the pace of the match benefits overall. While past games in the series have more accurately mimicked the offensive back-and-forth of a game of basketball, possession in FIFA 14 is a lot less predictable.

The PlayStation 4 version of FIFA 14 comes with a multitude of other improvements. Impressively fast load times mean you barely have enough time to complete the loading screen skill games. The increase in resolution and graphical fidelity is apparent throughout. Better detail allows you to notice player balance and ball spin like never before, while jerseys ruffle and grass clippings are kicked up when players strike at goal. You can also press in the DualShock 4’s touchpad, or the Xbox One’s back button to switch control to the goalkeeper. It’s not a very useful addition, but at the very least, it serves as an alternative to hammering Y to rush the goalie out in one-on-one situations.

Whether you’re scoring in front of a screaming Kop or eking out an unlikely cup victory, FIFA 14 produces special moments that will live in your memory.

The crowds are more believable than ever before.

Off the pitch, FIFA 14 has a variety of modes which will be familiar to anyone who has played the series recently, but sadly, several of them have not made the cut between console generations. You can still play friendlies or take control of an individual player in Be a Pro. Career mode lets you manage a variety of teams or start a career as a player. Ultimate Team returns for fans of building their very own fantasy sides. Skill games and the practise mode are back, Pro Clubs allows you to create an online team with friends, and single-player or co-op seasons are available via Seasons mode.

However, there are some disappointing omissions. Tournament mode is nowhere to be seen, which means the many leagues and cups that make up world football are not playable independently. So if you want to enter the World Cup, take your team to the top of the Premier League, or compete in the Copa del Rey, your only choice is to invest hours into Career mode.

Latin American soccer fans will be disappointed to hear that Mario Kempes and Fernando Palomo’s commentary is not in the next-gen version either. Unranked online friendlies have also been taken out, as has the ability to allow guests to play online with you. All in all, this means the local co-op play experience has been rather handicapped. It’s a disappointing blot on an otherwise outstanding product.

Player models and animation have been given an upgrade too.

Regardless, this is the quintessential version of FIFA 14. It brings a level of authenticity never before seen in the genre and sets new standards for player control and stadium atmosphere. Too often have we seen football games flounder in the transition to new consoles, but FIFA 14 for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is a step above it’s peers. Whether you’re scoring in front of a screaming Kop or eking out an unlikely cup victory, FIFA 14 produces special moments that will live in your memory long after you’ve put the controller down.

SimCity: Cities of Tomorrow Review

We’re all interested in the future. I’ve always bought into the whole argument that it’s the place where we’re all going to spend the rest of our lives (thank you, Criswell), and box-office receipts alone show the widespread appeal of looking forward to see if we’re going to wind up in an irradiated wasteland or a Blade Runner-style ennui-opolis loaded with neon signs and noodle shops. So it isn’t much of a surprise that the first expansion pack for SimCity is Cities of Tomorrow, which reskins the game with sci-fi buildings and technology. But while this snazzy new face-lift has been pulled off with enough skill to please even the most wrinkled Hollywood starlet, virtually none of the flaws inherent in the core game design have been addressed.

Cities of Tomorrow is something of a “more of the same” add-on. SimCity gameplay has been preserved for the most part, but accentuated with futuristic touches and technology that allow you to take your towns into the future. Granted, this is a future that still features ridiculously small city borders, an unhealthy emphasis on multiplayer, and the same old always-on Internet connection that alienated so many fans last spring, but hey, it’s got all that plus mag-lev trains and robot drones now, so take the good future with the bad future.

OmegaCo revolutionizes your industries and then your entire cities in a vaguely ominous way.

All of the tweaks in this add-on collectively let you evolve past the current era into a shimmery future that represents the later 21st century and beyond. The biggest symbol of this leap forward is the MegaTower, a cloud-touching superstructure that lets you fit almost all city accommodations and services under one roof. Forget about the crippled zoning mechanics in the original SimCity; you can place residential, mall, office, park, security, waste collection, and other specialized levels into single buildings. You can even top everything off with something eye-catching, like big neon signs, parks, or tourist-drawing lookouts.

But even though building up, not out, would seem to be a good way to handle the tiny municipal footprints that are still imposed on city-builders, I had serious problems with how to use MegaTowers in my personal cities of tomorrow. Their sheer size remains an issue. Each tower occupies a tremendous amount of space, which means that you have to cram them into cities by demolishing huge sections of your original layout. Figure on getting rid of a good four square blocks of residential development to plop down just one tower, which really exacerbates the demolition-happy design of the original game. Don’t go all future on an existing city if you have any emotional attachment to it, because the old place will be gone in no time.

You’re left with a game that hides the same dissatisfying experience under a more attractive surface.

MegaTower economics are also hard to get a handle on. They’re awfully hard to fit into a budget. Unlike residential and commercial developments, which spring up instantly on somebody else’s dime after you lay down streets and zoning, MegaTowers cost huge bucks for their initial builds and then for each level that you add on to them. Because of this, they are suitable to use only later in games, once you’ve done pretty much all you can with the old-style structures and are looking for new challenges. That can be disappointing if you’re buying this add-on expecting to instantly time-travel to a century or so in the future.

The new Academy promises a way to make big decisions, programmed by people with compassion and vision.

I tried forgoing all traditional residential and commercial development in favor of a MegaTower right at the start of building a new city, forgoing all traditional residential and commercial development for a MegaTower, and almost immediately went broke without that traditional revenue. I’m not sure what the issue is: the added building cost, that towers generate less tax revenue, or some other mysterious problem. Where you can see how well you’re doing with homes and stores just by looking at them and clicking to pull up info screens, tower levels are impossible to get a visual read on. Also, MegaTowers have been jammed into one budget line item instead of being treated as separate residential and commercial options like their old-fashioned counterparts (a move that makes no sense, since the tower levels are just homes and stores and offices in a different cosmetic form), which makes things even more confusing.

Other big additions are OmegaCo and the Academy. OmegaCo revolutionizes everything. It’s a vaguely sinister omni-corporation making a vaguely sinister unspecified product called Omni that starts as an alternative industry and soon infects just about everything with franchises and drones that do much of the grunt work in this technological wonderland. You can make big bucks with Omega, although you need a huge flow of oil and ore to keep this great mystery product going, and a pretty seriously developed traditional economy before it makes sense to go in this direction. The Academy is sort of a super-university that expands SimCity gameplay farther toward a Civilization-like feel. Invest big here, and you create ControlNet, a Wi-Fi-style resource needed to power high-tech buildings. The Academy also serves as the home of research, where you can discover tech that leads to new structures such as a fusion power plant, sewage recyclers that churn out drinkable water, garbage atomizers, and so forth.

Granted, this is a future that still features ridiculously small city borders, an unhealthy emphasis on multiplayer, and the same old always-on Internet connection that alienated so many fans last spring.

Again, there are some interesting ideas here. But all come with huge price tags and generally have equally monstrous footprints. It’s hard to afford them and even harder to find enough empty space to plop them down in your cities. Almost all of the new options are geared toward players who have hit the limits of the original game and need new challenges. You’re also forced to create specialized cities throughout entire regions more than ever. The size of the new structures makes it necessary to branch out to three or four regional cities, either through taking them over yourself when playing privately or by dealing with other human mayors in multiplayer. So if you’re hoping to serve as the somewhat realistic mayor of one futuristic megalopolis, sorry, but it isn’t happening here.

A few bugs make the future look not quite so bright in spots. I encountered various odd issues. ControlNet sometimes would not connect to certain buildings, no matter how much money I was generating. Mining facilities occasionally would not hook up to water, regardless of how much I supplied, even if I plopped high-tech hydro towers practically right on top of them. Only demolishing and rebuilding on the same spot cleared up the problem. I was sometimes unable to run pipes from Omega factories to the newfangled pods that automatically delivered oil and ore. I would set everything up perfectly, with no overlaps, right over a source of the natural resource in question, but then not be allowed to place a pod for reasons unknown or get an error message about not being able to build on a road, when there was no road in the way.

Apparently, cities in the future will be modeled on the Steelport of Saints Row IV.

Everything does look great, though. Plop down some MegaTowers, and they create a sky-high neighborhood straight out of the Coruscant Imperial City planet of the Star Wars prequels, with little terra firma to be seen and huge floating neon signs all over the place. Old-fashioned buildings develop futuristic looks over time, too. Every time you add some Cities of Tomorrow sci-fi tech to the landscape, the old structures respond by growing what look to be long neon tubes. Zoom in at night, and the city streets look like something out of Tron. The developers seem to have taken design inspiration from a lot of old sci-fi movies. All of the Academy buildings and mag-lev trains reminded me of the domed city in Logan’s Run.

The gorgeous sci-fi burgs in Cities of Tomorrow prove that beauty only runs skin-deep. Once you get bored with the neon-clad gimmicks of the MegaTowers and OmegaCo, you’re left with pretty much the same flawed game that annoyed the city-building community last spring. Given how loud the critics were back then, it’s disappointing that Maxis and EA did little to address any of these gripes, particularly the restricted city borders. This expansion may be set in the future, but the game is stuck in the past.

NBA Live 14 Review

Basketball is a sport built around the beauty of raw athleticism. Five players glide across the court as one, shifting positions to ensure the best spacing possible against the disruptive mass of opponents trying to stifle their progress. When properly orchestrated, it’s a sight to behold. Power infused with creativity, grace and tactics holding hands, concluding in a dramatic showcase with seemingly endless possibilities. NBA Live 14 understands the essentials, the passing and shooting that are the dominant verbs of the sport. But it fails to replicate the artistry of the game, the brilliance that draws us to professional competition or the joy that beckons us to the local gym. Because the sloppy action of NBA Live 14 never coalesces into a satisfying whole, this is just a pale echo of the real thing, basketball in name only.

Problems are obvious from the opening tip-off. The players you have gone hoarse rooting for, who have worn silly suits to the NBA Draft and mistakenly hired Jay-Z to be their agent, are nowhere to be found. Rather, there are manufactured approximations, mannequins who have been given one night to step down from their plastic pedestals to play basketball. Their movements are stiff and unnatural, their feet hovering slightly above the court, never gaining proper traction. It’s unnerving to see LeBron James soar toward the basket. You see his face screaming in anger and his arms twisting at odd angles. And the ball leaves his palm before he even completes his shooting motion. This is the man who drew the ire of an entire Midwestern city and swore to the league that he would win seven championships?

Why is everyone standing around?

NBA Live is an eyesore. It’s a vestige of an ugly past that we thought had been banished to the ether, but it’s not because of its looks that it’s so unsatisfying. Rather, it’s how the inhuman animations and inconsistent physics affect the action that relegates NBA Live to the development league. Players hoist ugly shots no matter where they stand on the floor, unperturbed by the defender standing nearby who happily swats a souvenir to a lucky member of the crowd. If you replay that shot, which is going to make every highlight reel, you may notice something peculiar: the defender’s hand doesn’t have to touch the ball. Point guards deliver awkward passes to cutting players, giving you as much chance of completing a pass in traffic as Dwight Howard has for making a foul shot. And don’t worry about boxing out. Rebounds ricochet wildly off rims, so just hope the ball falls in your hands.

It’s unnerving to see LeBron James soar toward the basket. You see his face screaming in anger and his arms twisting at odd angles. And the ball leaves his palm before he even completes his shooting motion.

Creeping uncertainty makes running a proper offense deflating. Set up a pick-and-roll with David West and Paul George to watch the two men, along with their two defenders, stick together as if coated by glue. If West should break free of the morass, he adjusts his position after receiving the pass, turning a sure 12-footer into a 20-foot shot of desperation. If you ignore the pick-and-roll game, one of the most used plays in the NBA, and work the post, there are even more problems. Big men stumble like Shaq after an all-you-can-eat barbecue. Rolling smoothly toward the basket or flashing across the lane for a hook shot is so clunky that you’re more likely to turn the ball over than score. So you need to become a brute. Slam repeatedly into the defender, and when he falls, hope that you gain the benefit of the whistle rather than chalk up another charge.

At least the post-game highlights are nicely done.

Inconsistencies infect the very logic of NBA Live 14. In Rising Star mode, you create a rookie, prove your worth in an amateur game, and then wait anxiously for a decent team to call your name on draft night. I was banished to Cleveland. There’s nothing wrong with playing for the Cavaliers, but as a shooting guard, I knew that I would be riding the pine behind Dion Waiters, who was drafted last year. Turns out that NBA Live doesn’t care one lick about reality. On opening night, I was already in the starting lineup, even though I had played like a dog in the one game before the regular season began. Sorry Dion! In my second game, my goal was to have a better grade than James Harden. With Kobe Bryant nursing a torn Achilles and Dwyane Wade perpetually ailing, Harden is the best shooting guard in the league. That Live wants me to be better than Harden in my second game shows just how poorly this approaches the real game.

Slam repeatedly into the defender, and when he falls, hope that you gain the benefit of the whistle rather than chalk up another charge.

How do you achieve a high grade? Play smart team basketball, of course. For instance, when I drained a wild half-court shot two minutes into the third quarter, my grade went up, because that’s just fundamentally sound basketball. For the most part, the grading scale is much smarter than that half-court snafu would indicate. You’re rewarded for throwing good passes and shutting down your opponent on the defensive end, but there are enough problems that you’re never quite sure how you stack up. You may find yourself switching to a player you shouldn’t be covering on the defensive end, or being praised for handing the ball to your center beyond the three-point arc. More troubling in Rising Star than the wacky grading scale is the AI. On the offensive end, Kyrie Irving would dribble the ball while everyone else on the team was rooted in place. And this would happen every time down the floor if I didn’t run around or force him to throw a pass.

Venturing online only presents a whole new host of problems. There’s slight lag that undermines just about any viable strategy. Just try to nail the timing of a jumper or stay in front of a driving point guard when your player reacts a beat after you hit the button. It’s an exercise in failure. So the best strategy is just to drive hard to the basket on every single play. Every one. Your opponent may not realize the problems with the game. He or she may attempt to run an actual NBA offense. Well, that’s not going to work. Watch your lead soar to double digits and beyond, and then your overmatched opponent is forced to hoist three-pointers in a desperate, and ill-advised, attempt to come back. My goal shifted from simply trying to win to getting my opponent to quit before halftime. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t take pride in exploiting a busted system. But when no other tactics worked, I had no choice but to dunk until my wrists grew tired.

What’s wrong with that woman’s neck!?

Despite the myriad issues on and off the court, NBA Live has fantastic integration with the events of the actual league. Just days after Jeff Green shocked the Heat by draining a desperation three-pointer, Live lets you re-create the high point of the Celtics’ dismal season. As a Pacers fan, I embarked on challenges specifically built for them. I could replay the Grizzlies game from earlier in the season, and try to mimic the beatdown Indiana put on Memphis. Could I hold them below 79 points and get a triple double with Lance Stephenson? The answer is no, but it’s incredible to be able to try.

Sadly, even re-creating events from the NBA season is just a tease because the act of playing is so far from what real basketball should be. The on-court action is so sloppy and unsatisfying that even rubbing defeat in Carmelo Anthony’s face loses its appeal. NBA Live needs serious work in just about every aspect in order to raise its game to a respectable level.

Forza Motorsport 5 Review

Mount Panorama is a treacherous circuit, but at the crest of its dizzying 174-meter climb is a view of the Australian countryside so gorgeous that for a few fleeting moments all that exists is you and the howl of a roaring engine. Moments like this are what make Forza Motorsport 5 so special. This is a game that expertly captures the bond between car and driver, improving on a world-class racing simulation with just as much human touch as technical wizardry.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Forza 5’s redesigned career mode, where the hosts of Top Gear serve as entertaining guides through all manner of automotive styles and eras. It’s a format made up of dozens of mini-campaigns, each focused on a specific class of vehicle, ranging from vintage touring legends to hot hatches to modern hypercars. It’s a much more a la carte approach than previous Forza games: each series is unlocked from the start, lasting between one and two hours each. You’re given the freedom to progress through these themed categories in any order you wish, the only limit to what you drive next being the number of credits in your virtual bank account.

With this approach comes the freedom to navigate your own pathway through the history of motorsport, but with an overarching progression of credits and RPG-style leveling that encourages you to continually poke through Forza 5’s eclectic selection of vehicles. It’s a career mode made even better by an expanded Top Gear partnership that takes the form of narrated voice-overs preceding each series. Whether they’re playfully mocking the third generation of Ford Mustangs or recounting the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One season, Clarkson, Hammond, and May shine as automotive historians. Their entertaining yet informative prologues lend both context and humor to every category of car you choose to spend time with.

The 1971 Elan Sprint has its charms, but the 2013 E21 is the standout Lotus in Forza 5.

That same flair for personality can be seen in the new drivatar AI system. The idea is that each car you compete against throughout your career is modeled after a real player’s driving habits, a sort of cloud-based doppelganger meant to reflect how aggressive a person is in the pack or how well they can negotiate the trickiest of chicanes. Exactly how accurate these portraits are is up for debate, but the system does succeed in filling each 16-car grid with distinct personalities, drivers whose tendencies you can never take for granted. Their mistakes are far less predictable than the vanilla AI of previous games–especially when you reduce their penchant for aggression by climbing the ladder of eight difficulty settings–making those moments you capitalize on their errors that much more rewarding. There are odd AI hiccups here and there, like when they side-swipe you in the straights for no apparent reason, but such goofs are rare and nothing that a quick tap of the rewind button can’t solve.

This is a game that expertly captures the bond between car and driver, improving on a world-class racing simulation with just as much human touch as technical wizardry

All of this amounts to a career mode that feels more lively and personable than anything Forza has done in the past. There are faults, though. A sense of repetition can creep in thanks to a track list roughly half the size of that found in Forza 4, already a game that carried a profound sense of environmental deja vu. But those tracks that did make the cut have received the full next-gen treatment. Classics like Laguna Seca and Silverstone are significant improvements over their prior iterations in terms of both look and feel, bristling with race day atmosphere and up-to-date tweaks to track layouts. And then there are the new circuits: the sloping forest hills of Spa-Francorchamps, the classical European streets of Prague, and the demanding ascent of Mount Panorama. These excellent additions don’t remove the sting from the modest track count, but they do serve as wonderful complements to the stable of well-updated classics.

Easier to forgive is Forza 5’s reduced car count. While smaller overall, this is the broadest assortment of vehicles the series has ever seen, highlighted by the introduction of open-wheel Formula One and IndyCars. Piloting a 750-horsepower Lotus E21 mere inches above the asphalt is an experience every bit as exhilarating as it is terrifying, making you feel as though any switch on that cockpit could send you rocketing into outer space. But whether you’re cruising around in a Ford Focus or a McLaren P1, every car in the game’s catalog looks absolutely remarkable–both in their pristine showroom forms as well as those post-race close-ups where flecks of grime litter the exterior and scratches adorn the disc brakes.

Indeed, Forza 5 has hardly forgotten its roots as a racing sim known for its staggering dedication to realism. Improved tire physics give you a better sense of your car’s shifting weight as you barrel through sloped corners, while a clever implementation of the Xbox One trigger rumble delivers valuable haptic feedback about your current traction and stability levels. But as with previous games, Forza 5 is only as demanding as you want it to be. A generous collection of driving assists allows you to settle into your own personal comfort zone on the track, with rewards for ratcheting up the difficulty and penalties for overusing the rewind function.

But a steadfast dedication to racing physics is only part of the story. Forza 5 is a game brimming with audiovisual flourishes, little touches that elevate the driving experience just as much as the underlying science. The way sunlight comes flooding through your windshield as you race across the Prague circuit’s cobblestone bridge, or the excellent orchestral soundtrack that makes each race feel like the climax of a James Bond movie–Forza 5 is an absolutely beautiful game full of immersive detail. And nowhere is that more visible than in the remarkable cockpit views, where intricate stitch work and high-resolution textures serve as rich palettes for the game’s drastically improved lighting effects. Even the Dolby cassette deck on a ’92 Golf GTi is a thing of beauty.

Forza 5 goes out of its way to ensure that every feature carried over from previous games has seen meaningful improvements. The Autovista mode that debuted in Forza 4 (renamed Forzavista here) has expanded from a handful of cars to the game’s entire roster, making it easy to lose time ogling your latest purchase from every conceivable angle. Rivals mode remains an exciting means of challenging your friends’ best lap times, but now it has been fully integrated into the career mode so that you’re automatically presented with a new lap time to beat even as you’re racing your way toward your next extravagant supercar. Even the livery editor has been expanded with new vinyls and surface materials, giving you the opportunity to defy all that is holy by designing a wood-grain Ferrari 458 Italia, or a Lexus LFA made entirely of brushed copper.

Unfortunately, I had limited access to Forza 5’s multiplayer in the game’s prerelease review state, with only the option to choose between a pair of hoppers for A- and S-class cars respectively. But my time competing against other players revealed a stable networking environment (thanks in some part to the game’s dedicated servers, no doubt) and a lovely matchmaking system that lets you tinker around in any mode you please while it searches for an acceptable match.

All of this combined makes Forza Motorsport 5 an outstanding improvement to an already excellent racing franchise. It’s far more than just a great racing sim, or a gorgeous showcase for the types of feats the Xbox One hardware is capable of. This is a game built on the romantic thrill of motorsport in all its forms, and that love for its subject matter is all but impossible to resist.

Tearaway Review

Tearaway is about blending the real and digital worlds, pulling down the boundaries that separate us from what we’re playing. To that end, you’re not just a gamer when you’re playing Tearaway; you’re a godlike presence, representing both the ultimate goal and the protagonist.

In essence, then, you play two roles. One of those roles is as a sentient envelope on a mission. Your first decision is to take the reins of either the male envelope Iota or the female envelope Atoi. (Note the playful spelling trick.) Iota or Atoi becomes the protagonist, the driving force behind the narrative and the personality that other characters interact with. No matter which one you choose, the end goal is the same. Reach the sun–that’s all you have to do. The twist is that the sun is you. Yes, you, the player.

From the outset, Tearaway is beautiful to look at.

Through the magic of the PS Vita’s front camera, your face appears within the outline of the sun and becomes the visual embodiment of the second of your two roles. You smile; sun smiles. You frown; sun frowns. You point your Vita at your dog; sun becomes a dog. An ugly visage (in your case, perhaps less ugly) intruding and bearing down on the papercraft environment causes a bit of an understandable stir, so Iota (or Atoi) sets out to find the meaning behind and origin of the thing from another world.

And thus begins an adventure of surprising depth given the paper-thin building blocks. The immediate pull of Tearaway is the quality and charm of the visuals, sucking you in to what is a traditional 3D platformer at heart. Every element used to create every level, character, and collectible could realistically be made for real with only coloured paper, scissors, and a stick of glue. Not only is this playful aesthetic inviting, but it fundamentally enhances the link between the digital and the real.

Is there another game in which you take the role of the sun?

Much of what is present can be customised to suit your own tastes and mood. Some form of customisation was always to be expected given developer Media Molecule’s Little Big Planet roots, but the approach here is very different. While the Sackboy experience concentrated on the large-scale creation of worlds and even entire game experiences, Tearaway takes the approach of letting you customise rather than build. Your hero’s appearance, for example, can be altered as frequently and as wildly as you like. This can be achieved using either the preset shapes or the virtual paper-cutting tools that allow you to design your own elements from scratch, layering sheets of coloured paper to create more complex and more colourful objects. Additionally, you’re frequently asked to design the look of many of the game’s more important items and lead characters.

Every form of interaction is executed with skill and expert pacing, and never does one element outstay its welcome.

One early section sees you riding an energetic pig through a valley–an everyday task for many, I’m sure, apart from the fact that the pig can be altered before you start. Give it four eyes, a Santa Claus beard, and an oversized crown of gold and gems, or simply give it fangs. A hedonist pig… a vamporker… nothing is out of bounds. Remember that you’re not just the protagonist; you’re the god of this world, and a pig will look how you want it to look. Your all-powerful status extends to gameplay that makes full and excellent use of the Vita’s unique features. Many past Vita games have failed to implement the handheld’s touch capabilities and tilt functions in any meaningful way. Thankfully, Tearaway never feels gimmicky or anything less than an excellent example of incorporated design.

Miracle of science: water made from paper.

Like the visuals, the touch and tilt controls only serve to more thoroughly break down the barriers between our world and that of our handicraft hero. Tapping on the rear touchpad allows you to poke virtual fingers through certain parts of the world, which is great for dispatching enemies and moving obstacles too large for Iota and Atoi to move with their flimsy paper-thin bodies. The front screen can be used to pull parts of the scenery apart in a bid to unlock hidden areas or unroll paper to create bridges across gaps and over obstacles, while specific enemy types also require front screen interaction for you to to finish them off completely. Both front and rear cameras are used regularly to distinguish your world from that of other Tearaway players, while the gyroscopic tilt functions are reserved for slightly (very slightly) more challenging sequences later in the game.

Every form of interaction is executed with skill and expert pacing, and never does one element outstay its welcome or feel as though it takes away from the onscreen action. The mere fact that the controls feel normal is evidence enough that, when done right, each and every one of the Vita’s features can be used in tandem and as a means to elevate gameplay. The traditional input combination of buttons and sticks allow for a set of basic and intuitive movements and actions. There’s nothing here that rocks the 3D platformer boat, with jump, roll, pick up, and throw all present and accounted for. It’s impossible to be cynical about the limited range of motions, however, given the overwhelming cute factor exuded by the aesthetic and the touch controls.

Mr Rosy Cheeks One Tooth.

It’s easier to be cynical about other aspects, though. While Tearaway’s levels are the ideal length for a handheld game (none take longer than 15 to 20 minutes), there are simply not enough of them to keep you entertained for long. A couple of extended play sessions is enough to finish a complete playthrough. Hunting out all of the hidden collectibles and photographing points of interest give you reasons to return, but there’s nothing on offer that is especially taxing, and you will probably find the vast majority of items with relative ease.

Tearaway’s most lasting feature is not within the game itself, but through the inclusion of printable blueprints. Through standard progression and by taking photographs of certain objects, you earn blueprints that allow you to create your own origami editions of your favourite elements from within the game. Be warned, though, that even when you follow the instructions, some of these are incredibly tricky propositions, but if you’ve got the patience, it’s worth the effort to take the theme of connecting worlds to that next step. The fact that it’s so tempting to spend time creating these paper models is a testament to how appealing and attractive Tearaway is. It’s just a shame that one of the Vita’s best experiences feels as long as a piece of paper is thick.

Risk of Rain Review

Risk of Rain is the kind of game that speaks to the compulsive hoarder inside all of us. You travel through teleportation gates as you seek out your lost vessel, collecting its scattered cargo along the way. But you’re not wasting time collecting discarded vampire romance novels or shipments of novelty T-shirts. The items you collect are imbued with special powers, giving you an edge in your fight for survival. This 2D platformer is man versus monster, and only the impulsive drive to snatch up anything not nailed down guarantees your escape from a hostile alien planet.

You run, jump and climb across 10 different and varied stages made up of land both real and artificial, and formed out of flat lines and angles. You reach high platforms and towering spires using ladders, hanging rope, or jump pads. The goal is to level up, earn items and simply survive long enough to find the teleporter that transports you to the next area. Once activated, the teleporter begins a countdown, and the phrase “Stay alive!” is the only warning you receive before the game summons an enormous boss guardian and legions of enemies to prevent you from ascending.

Environments can range from moonlit mountain ranges to underground caverns.

Risk of Rain has a fantastic way of urging you onward. There’s a rush of excitement when a new never-before-seen item pops out of a chest or is dropped by an enemy. You sometimes have to fight the urge to wade through a wave of foes just to grab it and see what it does. Discovering new items is a ton of fun, and finding out what they do and figuring out the best method to use them provides some element of strategy. You can find one that projects a damaging aura, for instance, and another that freezes your shots. Some items increase weapon damage or firing speed, while others are passive, increasing cash flow with every kill or healing you out of battle. Items are stackable, which increases their potency or speed of activation. Finding one item that lets you fire a random missile is great, but picking up the same item many more times has you sending out a barrage of missiles during enemy encounters. Drones can also be resuscitated for a small sum. These loyal flying bots quickly become your closest friends, dishing out heavy firepower in the form of machine guns, missiles, or deadly lasers.

Even as I watched the last of the end credits roll by, I wiped the sweat from my brow and jumped back into the fray.

Progress is made by hopping through a series of teleporters guarded by bosses.

The game employs roguelike elements such as randomized stages and permadeath. Dying means having to start over, but the items you have collected are saved. Because of this, I rarely felt frustrated when my character died, and the return to the menu allowed me to peruse the item log to check out the new gear I had discovered. There is a certain “collect them all” feeling derived from hunting down items, and you may build a list of your favorite pieces of equipment and go for them when they happen to pop up in play. Items are found all over the environment, including item spawners, random shrines, and chests.

At only a handful of pixels in height, your wayward warrior stands rather small on the screen. In some stages, the open sky surrounds you, making you feel even more insignificant. From your small silhouette against the backdrop of a looming violet moon, to the darkened caves lit by blue fungi, you get an immediate feeling of isolation, but you don’t stay lonely for long. Soon after you begin your trek into the wild, enemies start spawning en masse. With the passage of time and levels gained, the difficulty increases, making each new game a race against the clock to earn items quickly in order to avoid being overrun by strengthening foes. But if you’re feeling too isolated, the game does support local and online co-op for up to four players.

It is certainly possible to collect enough gear to turn your character into a death-dealing beast, fully capable of taking down the mobs of randomly spawning elite enemies near the end of the game without breaking a sweat. When I neared the conclusion, my character, with a horde of drones at his side, dealt out an incredible amount of damage. Each blast of his shotgun knocked enemies far back, while simultaneously poisoning them and leeching away their health.

The item log categorizes every piece of equipment found in the game.

Risk of Rain is highly enjoyable, and with constant rewards of new items and character classes, it’s hard to put down once you start.

But even with my arsenal, one moment of carelessness had me running, dozens of enemies in pursuit, as I tried to mentally force my weakened health bar to please hurry up and replenish. Risk of Rain is filled with moments when you hold your breath as you just barely navigate your character past a mass of enemies and flying projectiles, and even the most seasoned player can get burned by not taking the game seriously.

There are 10 available character classes, nine of which must be unlocked by completing certain objectives, such as getting a difficult achievement. One of the characters is a venomous creature that joins your cause only if you find its cage and defeat it in battle. The entire game can be finished in just one short sitting, but certain items can be unlocked only by one class of character, so giving equal time to each combatant helps you reap even more rewards.

Unlocking character classes requires you to complete special objectives.

I was surprised by how well balanced the classes are. Each one has unique abilities, and after trying many of them, I discovered there really is no wrong class to choose. The starting commando class brings a good blend of offensive and defensive capabilities, and is the perfect way to begin your exploration. But perhaps you prefer the nimble sniper, who uses speed and a powerful rifle, but needs to manually reload after every shot. The enforcer class is slow, but his shotgun and riot shield make him a great tank character. The engineer, with turrets and mines, favors strategy, while the bandit, with comically oversized cowboy hat and all, chucks dynamite and uses smoke bombs to make a quick exit.

The game’s random nature does cause some odd issues, such as items being placed in problematic spots. More than once I discovered a shrine floating just above the ground, while another covered a ladder. This didn’t prevent me from using the ladder, but the awkward placement made a large portion of the rungs difficult to spot. It wasn’t just shrines, either: in one game, an item chest spawned high up on a mountain with no way of reaching it. The game also suffers from clipping issues, specifically with the drones. These floating machines tail you everywhere you go, but they sometimes pop into surrounding geometry, preventing any chance for them to lend you a hand.

Risk of Rain is highly enjoyable, and with constant rewards of new items and character classes, it’s hard to put down once you start. Even as I watched the last of the end credits roll by, I wiped the sweat from my brow and jumped back into the fray: I have an item log that still needs to be filled.

Killer Instinct Review

Killer Instinct is back to bust heads and break combos after an almost two-decade-long hiatus. Once you decipher the game’s free-to-play pricing, you discover a bombastic brawler whose balanced fighting mechanics buck the trend towards very long, very technical combos while still providing an engaging challenge for all types of players. With all its “auto-doubles,” “combo linkers,” and “shadow counters,” there’s still plenty to familiarize yourself with, but Killer Instinct is flexible enough that even a complete novice can hop in, mash some buttons, and cobble together an impressive-looking combo.

Building a combo in Killer Instinct is a simple matter. Special moves, such as Jago’s laser sword, can easily be linked together with normal kicks and punches to form long combo strings. In fact, you can input laser sword over and over and build a long combo that way. Granted, that combo won’t deal a ton of damage and could easily be countered, but superficially it feels good to be whaling on another player moments after you first pick up the game.

Strong combos follow a specific structure. Some special moves are combo openers used to start combos, and others are combo enders used to–wait for it–end combos. Ending a combo in such a way could reward you with extra damage, extra energy, or the possibility to start an entirely new combo depending on the attack used. Mixing and matching different attacks is a fun way to keep your opponents guessing and prevent them from successfully interrupting your assault.

In most fighting games, long combos are treated as a one-way street. If you get caught in one, there’s not much to do besides wait it out–or punch the other player in the arm. Killer Instinct handles this a bit differently. The defender isn’t a helpless peon during these long strings; quite the contrary. The tables can turn in an instant, so both combatants have to pay close attention.

The pops and crunches of Killer Instinct’s sound effects make attacks feel really painful.

At any point during a combo, the defender may attempt a combo breaker. If successful, this move instantly interrupts the combo, creating some space between you and the attacker. Otherwise you trigger a lock out and be prevented from trying again for a few seconds–at which point your opponent may gleefully pummel you without concern. Layered on top of this system are the counter breakers, which are used by the attacker to break combo breakers. They also cost half of your total energy, and if used at the wrong time leave you wide open to counter attack.

The interplay between these two systems–and trying to predict when your opponent will use them–adds an engaging layer of mind games to the traditionally one-sided process of building a combo. Successfully predicting when exactly a breaker will happen means really getting into the other person’s head–and when you do, it’s extremely satisfying.

While Killer Instinct’s combat mechanics are accommodating to a wide breadth of players, the game doesn’t go far enough to hold the interest of lone players. Versus, survival, dojo, and practice modes make up the game’s offline offerings, and while they all function as expected, they also represent the minimum standard for the genre. For fighting game veterans with access to a reliable source of competition, this is not a huge issue. But those looking for a strong narrative-focused mode, or for more of a reason to keep playing than “practice for online play,” will be left wanting.

Each fighter has a handful of cosmetics to unlock.

Dojo mode is Killer Instinct’s main educational mode. Consisting of 32 different lessons, this mode runs you through the basics of movement, the combo system, and the art of counter breaker mind games. There are even some helpful lessons on how to interpret frame data and set up frame traps, two topics that are extremely important for skilled play but are rarely explained in other fighting games. But while the content of these lessons is great, the information is presented in a very dry style that feels akin to reviewing a checklist than learning the game’s mechanics.

Once you feel confident in your skills, it’s time to take the fight online. Far and away, the most important aspect is performance, and thankfully, in all of our testing, online matches ran smoothly. This is especially important since the game doesn’t display the ping for the opponent you’re facing, denying you the ability to manually filter challengers based on connection speed. Much like the game’s offline modes, Killer Instinct’s online offerings are just the essentials of player and ranked matches, as well as a leaderboard.

Practice mode features some very helpful tools, including frame data and hit box display.

An unfortunate omission in this lineup is not being able to watch matches between other players, which is an excellent way to improve your own abilities. Killer Instinct keeps recordings of your most recent matches both online and off, but does not provide a list of other players’ replays to download in the game. The Xbox One console lets you record and upload short clips from the game, a feature with amazing potential as an educational tool but one that needs more granular filtering options than “epic fail” or “review” to be useful.

Killer Instinct successfully updates the ’90s classic into a finely tuned, competitive fighter that can stand alongside the genre’s regulars. Its muscle-bound roster conveyes a satisfying sense of weight and force with their movements, while still feeling responsive to your commands. There is a lot of flexibility in combo authorship, but the combo and counter breakers help keep both fighters on their toes even as the hit count rises.

Super Mario 3D World Review

Super Mario 3D World is a game of exceptional craft, of painstaking focus on the minute details that are integral to making it feel special. The pace at which you’re thrown from one ingenious concept to the next as perspectives, tempos, and mechanics change would choke a lesser game, but here it’s done with a seamlessness that makes such rapid inventiveness look easy. This is a game where every level is a golden nugget of heavenly platforming joy, where ideas are rarely repeated–and if they are, they’re given such a twist as to make them feel new again.

Those ideas start with the cat suit. Once you’re over the outrageous cutesy appeal of seeing Mario paw around on all fours, the new abilities it offers are intriguing. You can slash at nearby enemies instead of stomping on them, leap through the air with a swift dash attack, and scramble up walls. It’s the latter that pushes you to think about new ways of solving puzzles, and to explore the extremities of a level. Bare walls that stretch up into the vertical distance are no longer the barriers they once were, with curious climbs revealing hidden pipes, paths, and glowing green stars at their peak.

Elsewhere, you’re asked to paw at cogs, revealing tall towers for you to climb that lead to special precision platforming sections atop puffy clouds. Purple boxes transport you to timed zones, where brisk climbing and coin collecting reward you with more green stars, while flagpoles that once required a well-timed jump to earn a gold flag can be scaled with Mario’s grippy paws. Some games would build an entire experience out of the cat suit alone, clever as it is, but 3D World steadfastly refuses to dwell on one idea for long.

Some games would build an entire experience out of the cat suit alone, clever as it is, but 3D World steadfastly refuses to dwell on one idea for long.

One moment you’re riding on the back of an aquatic dinosaur, skimming it over the surface of a waterfall to collect coins and bouncing it off the backs of squishy puffer fish to reach stars, and the next you’re using cleverly angled shadows and silhouettes to spot hidden power-ups, and blowing on the gamepad’s microphone to move platforms. Another new power-up, the double cherry, creates a clone of Mario, with multiple pickups creating up to four of the portly plumbers. Puzzles start simply, requiring you to push two switches at once, but the challenge is in keeping the group alive long enough to activate platforms that need multiple characters, and to do so in the right order to reach the exit.

The game flows effortlessly from one ingenious idea to the next, the levels intelligently designed to gently guide you toward their concepts without the need for a heavy-handed tutorial or swathes of help boxes. More importantly, 3D World’s levels are some of the most fun a Mario game has dished out in years. No, they don’t quite reach the lofty heights of the sublime Super Mario Galaxy games, but the sheer joy of exploring the sharp, vibrant levels, solving puzzles, and simply leaping from one platform to the next, backed by the game’s surgical precision, is exuberant.

A top-down world map, similar to that of the classic Super Mario Bros. 3, guides you from one level to the next, ensuring that you’re never left wondering where to get your next dose of platforming action. The twist is that you can deviate from the set path and explore the wide-open space of the overworld. Bonus slot machines spit out coins, Toadstool huts bombard you with power-ups, and challenging secret levels with yet more green stars to earn are all ripe for discovery.

There are some unique and wonderfully designed puzzles in the form of Captain Toad levels too, which challenge you to guide the funny fungus around a rotatable 3D maze, all without the power to jump or stomp on enemies.

The fact that these lovely little asides are optional has always been a strength of the Mario series. Defeating Bowser and rescuing the adorable Sprixie fairies is an attainable goal for all but the most ham-fisted of players, and even then, the golden tanooki suit always ensures there’s a path forward if you get stuck. But if you want to push the limits of your skills, to explore levels that drop you onto fierce rotating platforms, and in front of fiery, cog-filled paths, the option to try to attain all the stars and collectible stamps and gold flags on every level is there.

The most challenging levels in 3D World prove to be some of the most creative and off the wall, effortlessly balancing intricacy and design elegance. The imagination that’s on show across the game’s level design, its gorgeous visuals, and its wonderful soundtrack is intoxicating, constantly pushing you to discover new ways of playing. Even the boss battles, while adhering to many of the series’ tropes, are fresh and exciting as a result of some clever mechanics and some wonderful visual trickery. You can also share the experience with four-player co-op, which is a more compelling proposition than before thanks to individual high scores and the brag-worthy addition of a shiny gold crown for the leader.

Sure, co-op play is hardly a game changer, but when so much of 3D World is so successfully built upon a bevy of brilliant ideas, this can be forgiven. Everything that you can see and do within its enchanting levels is so bright, colourful, and full of wonder that it’s impossible not to be taken in by its charms. Mario has always had that uncanny ability to cross the boundaries of age and gender, to bring a smile to the face of every player who crosses his path. Super Mario 3D World is no different. This is a dazzlingly inventive game that brings the fun in spades, and will leave you grinning like a loon from start to finish.

Deadfall Adventures Review

In many games, you unlock ancient discoveries and acquire grand treasures as a reward. But not all tombs offer something grandiose, and a long trek down a musty corridor may sometimes yield disappointment.

Deadfall Adventures is one such trek. The game draws its history from H.R. Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series of adventure novels written in the late 1800s, but the plot of Deadfall Adventures bears a closer resemblance to the Indiana Jones movie–which were in part inspired by Haggard’s books–than to Haggard’s books themselves. Set in 1938, Deadfall Adventures stars Allan’s great-grandson, James Quatermain, a hard-drinking, hard-fighting adventurer who must keep an all-powerful ancient artifact from Nazis who will use its power to gain an edge in the upcoming world war. Similarities to the Indiana Jones movies don’t end there, as familiar traps and even a minecart ride that barrels through caverns and over bubbling pools of lava make an appearance. But Deadfall Adventures’ biggest problem isn’t familiarity: it’s tedium.

Quatermain’s notebook helps you solve puzzles.

Deadfall Adventures feels like a game out of its time. It relies on tired, two-dimensional characters to tell its all-too-familiar story. The rugged Quatermain is paired with Jennifer Goodwin, a tough and flirtatious love interest, and the two are pitted against melodramatic comic book villains. Wooden voice acting and emotionless facial animations put a damper on the presentation, and Quatermain himself is lost as to what period of time he’s in. He occasionally spouts references to Indiana Jones, which merit little more than an eye roll, but sometimes he says or quotes phrases that are completely out of place. Despite living many decades before, Quatermain seems to have no qualms shouting lines from The Terminator and, believe it or not, Darkwing Duck.

Deadfall Adventures becomes hopelessly predictable, breaking down into a tiresome formula of kill rooms and effortless puzzles.

Unlike The Farm 51’s previous game, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation, Deadfall is slow paced, and your inventory is limited to three weapons at once, split into three categories: pistol, rifle, and special weapon. Combat revolves around shooting from cover with a variety of weapons, many of which are World War II-era firearms. Guns and ammunition are always plentiful, so Quatermain is rarely at a disadvantage. He absorbs massive amounts of damage before needing to drop behind cover to recharge his health. Enemies repeat the same animation to get out of cover, so it’s entirely possible to sprint into the field of battle and take each one out like a game of Nazi Whac-a-Mole while taking little damage in the process.

James Quatermain: like Indiana, except without all the fun.

Enemies exercise little caution in fights, only occasionally taking cover, and leaving their vulnerable bodies exposed in the process. They never seem to have any clue what they’re shooting at and have a habit of shooting in your direction, even if you’re in another room. It’s one thing to watch a Nazi soldier fire his gun into the crate he’s hiding behind, but it’s a rare treat to hear the sound of rifles popping in the next room as enemies desperately try to kill you through layers of dirt and rock.

Deadfall Adventures delves into the supernatural by introducing mummies who spur to life to protect the homes of their ancient masters. The mummies are invulnerable at first, but you damage them by focusing your flashlight beam, which sets them on fire after a short period. I found myself enjoying fighting these undead guardians, because they at least provide some sense of danger, and they back away or shield themselves against the harmful rays of the flashlight. In the final act, mummies charge in large numbers at a breathless rate. With every encounter, you are forced into a game of finding a corner and blasting away with a shotgun, ruining one of the few things going for Deadfall Adventures.

Glitches plague Deadfall. You can pass through some fences or rocks, while other times, enemies are stuck running along an invisible floor. Cover in combat is often untrustworthy; one boss in the game proved that if you have a big enough gun, any form of cover is penetrable, from wooden boxes to stone pillars. You might sprint off a ledge and keep charging forward in midair, and during combat, enemies may shrug off explosions from grenades or red barrels, even if they detonate mere inches away.

Not only do the invisible walls impede exploration, but their often bizarre placement creates some frustrating moments during combat.

Every so often the game prompts you to pull out a notebook owned by great-grandfather Quatermain to solve one of its many puzzle rooms–a method that should sound familiar to fans of Uncharted. Don’t expect to stress your brain solving these ancient enigmas. More often than not, the book demonstrates the steps you need to take–which lever to pull, which buttons to press in what order–to solve each mystery, turning what could have been a welcome break in the pace into a brief pause in the action while the game holds your hand through every step. If you are still having issues with a puzzle, no worries; your companions sometimes shout the solution for you, and continuously repeat it until you follow the command. There are several puzzles, however, for which the book offers no clear solution.

Solving these puzzles in particular requires an arbitrary solution. One has you placing a bundle of dynamite in a hook attached to a platform, which you then use to blow up a hanging engine block, which, amazingly, leaves the platform intact. Another has you deciphering a puzzle with your flashlight, which I solved by randomly waving my light around until it granted me access. These puzzles are thankfully rare, but they provide some of the more frustrating moments in the game.

Deadfall Adventures features some impressive-looking locations.

At the very least, the puzzles allow you to take in Deadfall Adventures’ attractive environments. Underground areas, from ancient catacombs to twisting mines, and the wild jungles of South America look astonishing. In the arctic tombs, for example, the orange of blazing pit fires complements the blue luminescent frozen walls and stalactites. Vine-choked, Mayan-inspired temples in Guatemala look appropriately aged. The style and design of these environments are an impressive foil to the blemishes and stand as the game’s champion feature.

Mummies can be lured into one of the many instant-kill traps, further enhancing the importance of strategizing your moves.

Though Deadfall Adventures includes open terrain and large underground passages, it feels claustrophobic because it’s plagued by invisible walls. For a game taking the guise of an adventure, it’s sadly ironic that any sense of exploration is stagnated by these nagging restrictions. In Deadfall, you are funneled down linear paths where you can only proceed forward if you follow the developer’s exact design. Short walls, stone formations, crates, and even some plants are little more than fancy dressing to hide irritating blockades. Not only do the invisible walls impede exploration, but their often bizarre placement creates some frustrating moments during combat. I remember fondly a time when I walked into a firefight and tried to quickly duck behind a box directly to my left. But no matter how hard I pushed the left key, I stayed in place, catching a few bullets in the process, all due to an invisible wall blocking me from taking cover.

Hunting for treasure? Take out the compass and follow the needle.

If you’re looking for more game time with Deadfall Adventures, it does include two different multiplayer modes. Standard multiplayer offers five different classes to play as, which allows you to jump in and play with your method of choice. You can build your own classes, and you don’t need to hit a certain level to do so. Custom classes are available right from the start, but certain weapons will not come into your employ until you reach a necessary level.

More interesting is Survivor mode, which mimics the ever-popular Horde style of cooperative multiplayer. Here, you are rushed by the game’s undead mummies, and since defeating them requires a flashlight, it takes more thought than simply lining up your iron sights and blasting away. This mode requires more tactics, and with a partner, you can find rhythm in the mayhem. In my play time, I used my flashlight to set the mummies alight, while my partner fired as soon as they were vulnerable. The game is set in rounds, and at the end of every rush, you get to replenish ammunition or grab a new weapon. Mummies can be lured into one of the many instant-kill traps, further enhancing the importance of strategizing your moves. Unfortunately, my time in the game’s multiplayer was limited. As of this writing, I spent more time in the lobbies than in combat. The game’s multiplayer is a ghost town, and the few players I met disappeared shortly after a round was finished.

Glitches, stereotypical characters, and dull combat betray any chance of Deadfall Adventures providing any real incentive for your troubles. Digging into this game yields not a rough-cut gem, but rather a lump of coal that should have stayed buried.

LocoCycle Review

LocoCycle features a talking, battling motorcycle named Iris that drags a mechanic behind her by the pant leg. Iris’ nemesis is a mean, gruff-talking motorbike that takes a moment to somehow munch on a giant hamburger in a roadside diner. Iris throws around Pablo, the mechanic, as if he’s a battle-ready boomerang, all in the name of attending a festival she saw advertised in a biker magazine. Iris’ Mecca is Scottsburg, Indiana. It’s there where she belongs.

Who could have imagined that a game featuring so much ridiculousness could be boring?

You, too, can rack up high combo scores with a minimum of effort!

Well, it’s not all boring, though most of the fun comes not from the act of playing LocoCycle, but from watching it. Clever live-action cutscenes introduce you to Iris, Pablo, and a variety of other kooky characters, laying out the events that lead to a motorized battle machine dragging a Spanish-speaking mechanic down the open road. These wacky scenes had me laughing out loud frequently, especially during the first 30 minutes. Iris’ translation functions are fried early on, so she constantly misinterprets Pablo’s cries to be set free as encouragement, and she lets loose hysterical one-liners proving her single-minded focus. “Pablo, do you think in Scottsburg, Indiana, that the streets are paved with flags?” she drones. “I hear that freedom rides an eagle, which rides a motorcycle.” Elsewhere, the references fly fast and furious, with Iris dropping quotes from Top Gun, Back to the Future, and Allstate insurance commercials. (Though I wouldn’t argue that Pablo is, in fact, in good hands.)

The giggles flow freely when the evil motorcycle called Spike picks up his own happy-go-lucky human companion. While Pablo routinely begs Iris for sweet release, Spike’s jocular friend keeps a grin firmly plastered on her face. She happily sips iced tea as Spike pulls her down the open road, and the strange situations that duo finds itself in are great sources of chuckles. As for Iris and Pablo, Pablo’s dialogue is all in Spanish, with subtitles splashed across the bottom of the screen, even during gameplay. At first I was annoyed that I had to keep taking my eyes off the action so I could read Pablo’s dialogue. But in time, you realize that Pablo has absolutely nothing to add, and that you can safely overlook his repetitive pleas, just like Iris does. And truth be told, the game’s biggest joke–having Iris pulling Pablo down highways and across rivers–is stretched thin by the time you reach the end after about two hours of play.

LocoCycle has no sense of when enough is enough.

Typically, you drive down the road as you might in a driving game, though there is no danger of crashing into guardrails and dying a fiery death; the game just nudges you back on track as an on-rails shooter does. You usually take down the vehicles and robots that hound you in one of two ways: either by shooting them from behind with your unspectacular guns or by mashing buttons in similarly unspectacular hand-to-hand combat. Or would that be bumper-to-bumper? In any case, the cartoonish cars and trucks that speed in front of you erupt in sparks as you fire at them, but the shooting sequences suffer from sameness and are kept separate from the melee sections. More importantly, there is absolutely no sense of danger, and thus no tension instilled. LocoCycle is the easiest game I have played in quite some time. There is little need to swerve around traffic, and there are no nail-biting shootouts between you and your enemies. The gameplay is a mechanism for delivering jokes, not for delivering interactive fun.

Talk about flying by the seat of your pants.

The close-quarters combat also suffers from a major dose of shallowness. At first, these sections prove to be a visual delight. Iris leaps into the air and pummels flying combatants in jetpacks with her tires and chassis, occasionally tossing poor Pablo around like a spinning top. (That’s gotta hurt.) But once the craziness of the concept wears off, you’re left with a simplistic combat system that only requires you to hammer on the same two buttons over and over, occasionally hitting another button to counter an attack. These battles are so easy that I don’t think I missed an entire counter in the game, and I racked up enormous combo scores without breaking a sweat. The whole idea of combo scores in this game is silly, actually, given how aimless mashing makes you an instant LocoCycle expert. You earn points to unlock passive benefits, but I’d unlocked them all before I even hit the final stage, and none of them meaningfully deepened the gameplay. Its roads may be bumpy, but LocoCycle feels oddly flat from beginning to end.

LocoCycle does try to diversify, but most ideas wear out their welcome before the game moves to the next one. Side-view boss battles are fun diversions at first, but the bosses repeat the same few attacks over and over again, and possess so much health that it takes seemingly forever to bring them down. A top-down vertical shooting sequence is a nice change of pace for two waves, but it, too, fails to rise above the most basic ideas. By the time I hit the third wave, I was bored. By the time the fourth wave arrived, I was actively annoyed. LocoCycle has no sense of when enough is enough, and as a result, too many of these detours feel like padding as opposed to creative variations.

“I hear that freedom rides an eagle, which rides a motorcycle.”

Luckily, LocoCycle comes into its own in its final 20 minutes. I don’t want to give away too much of the final chapter, since you have to see it to believe it. Let’s just say that LocoCycle takes on the guise of a pure rail shooter, filling the screen with explosions and big robots, and using live recorded footage in its background to keep you gawking. And even before that, the game finds its way to a faster tempo. The quick-time events are accompanied by crazy scenes that remind me of 2009’s Ninja Blade in all their dramatic insanity. You dodge falling boulders and careening school buses, evade Spike’s frightening chained wheels, skim under semi trucks, and hang perilously from speeding helicopters. There’s also a joyous minigame that has Iris flinging Pablo forward like a saw blade and spinning through legions of oncoming agents riding hoverbikes and surfing missiles.

I loved seeing LocoCycle through to its zany finale, because I enjoyed the jokes and Iris’ robotic line delivery, and because I loved seeing the characters get themselves into silly situations. This would have been a great short comic film. But LocoCycle is a game, and in an unexpected twist of fate, it makes the act of catching rockets, fighting soaring robots, and rushing through the rural fields outside of Scottsburg, Indiana, blander than they deserve to be.