The Week Ahead!

Ratchet and Clank finally gets a European release on PS4 this on Wednesday (Europe) and Friday (UK) with the American version having released last week, and it's looking pretty good so far - 95% of the critics on Opencritic have recommended it. A re-imagining of the first game, it's mostly been praised for its stunning graphics, and has made a few changes while still keeping the core gameplay at heart.

Also releasing is Loud on Planet X, from the developers of the awesome Sound Shapes, which hits PS4 and PC on Tuesday, and Android & iOS on Thursday. It's a mix of rhythm games such as Crypt of the Necrodancer, and Plants vs Zombies, where you have to defend your band from aliens by timing sound blasts to the beat of the music. Featuring artists such as METZ, Tegan and Sara, and Cadence Weapon (as well as 3 bigger artists that are yet to be announced) it looks to have something for everybody.

In terms of films, we have the delightfully obscure Elvis and Nixon, which hits cinemas in the US on Friday - 22 years after Nixon's death - before releasing on Amazon later. With everyone's favourite politician actor Kevin Spacey taking on the role of Tricky Dick and Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon portraying Elvis, the film is set on 21st December 1970, the day that  The King visited the White House in order to get a DEA permit, most probably in order to get access to an inhumane amount of drugs. It looks quirky and niche, but it could be a laugh.

Sam's Take: Why I Don't Think The PS4.5 Is A Good Idea

When rumours for the PS4.5/PS4k first appeared, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t true. “Surely” my younger, unwise mind of a couple of weeks ago said “Sony wouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot by attempting to divide their fanbase.” But, alas, here we are, with all signs pointing to a more powerful PS4 console being released, and I’m here to tell you why I really don’t think it’s a good idea.

Let’s start with why Sony would want to make a PS4.5. It’s obvious that Sony is very far ahead sales-wise in front of the Xbox One and Wii U, so it would make business sense for them to make a more expensive PS4 to capitalise on their big fanbase. Not only that, but Sony’s consoles have always been flagships entertainment-wise - the PS2 could play DVDs, the PS3 started the Blu-Ray craze, and, if all goes to plan, the PS4.5 should be able to play 4K Blu-Rays, as well as stream 4K video from apps such as Netflix and Sony’s new 4K service, Ultra.

However, it’s very, very doubtful that the PS4.5 will be able to play games in 4K. Most 4K PCs cost thousands and need top-of-the-line hardware to work, so it’s likely that this new PS4 will only give a slight boost in performance, and perhaps be more energy efficient - a PS4 slim, if you will.

But this misses the entire point of console gaming - everyone is on equal terms. People buy consoles because they want a system that's good for four or five years, one that can play the latest games, where they'll get the same experience that their friends are getting - and this new PS4.5 undermines the principle of that. What's the point of building a big audience when you're just going to split them up again?

I get that Sony has room to experiment - their considerable sales lead in the console race isn’t slowing down anytime soon - but I feel like this is a step too far. Many PS4 owners aren’t too happy at the moment due to a variety of reasons - the PS Plus lineups are getting more meagre by the month, and many of the features on PS3 still haven’t been brought to the newer console. Many people have dutifully pointed out that Sony have yet to massively slip up this generation, but this could very well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

With the PlayStation VR launching this year, as well as some of the console’s biggest exclusive franchises getting new instalments, Sony need to work on keeping the fans happy in order to get them on board for experiments to come. I definitely trust Sony as a company to make good decisions, but I feel that the Japanese juggernauts shouldn’t fracture the fans just  yet. After all, PS4 should be for the players, not for the payers.

The Week Ahead!

If you thought last week was quiet in terms of game releases, then this week must be close to absolute silence. Dark Souls 3 is the only video game coming out this week. Releasing on PS4, Xbox Ones and PCs on Tuesday the 12th, the latest installment of a franchise acclaimed for its difficulty places the player in the role of "The Ashen One" and is tasked with stopping the apocalypse. How? Fighting big things with magic or melee - oh, and rolling - lots of rolling (And dying). It's currently sitting at a 4.5/5 on Metacritic, so first impressions are overwhelmingly positive.

In terms of movies, we have 4 of them coming on the exact same date, that being the 15th of April. The biggest release is the live action remake of The Jungle Book. I for one think the remake is unnecessary, but it's getting a good reception. Basically: boy raised by animals, animals try to get boy to humans, tiger wants to eat boy. Although, that's just based on the cartoon original. Who knows, it might try something more "real" and "gritty". PS. please don't.

The next movie is the Thriller movie Green Room, where a band member witnesses a murder caused by white supremacists and has to survive in their venue which they own as they try and cover up the crime. It's a spin on the "trapped in a horrible place" trait found in so many horror movies nowadays, but I have no idea whether it would work or not.

Action/Thriller Criminal has a very Total Recall vibe about it, in that it deals with memories. Basically, a skilled CIA agent's memories are implanted into a convicts body. It's a cool concept, albeit one which has been done before. Maybe this could shake it up - it certainly has the possibility to make a great movie if executed correctly. 

Finally let's lighten the mood with a Comedy. Barbershop: The Next Cut is the third film in the Barbershop series. It stars Ice Cube and a host of others as they attempt to save their shop and 'hood from gang members. I myself have never seen any of these movies so I don't know what to expect. Here's hoping it isn't a generic cash grab or rehash. How did Ice Cube go from gangsta rap icon to comedy film star though? I'll never know. 

The Week Ahead!

It's a pretty quiet week for games this time around - the calm before the inevitable storm of Dark Souls 3 releasing next week - with the biggest title coming out being the console port of DIRT Rally, which hits PS4s and Xbox Ones worldwide today. Tested by Early Access players since April last year, DIRT Rally has a big variety of stages and weather settings, as well as the official license to the FIA World Rallycross, and is sitting on a very healthy 86 on Metacritic.

Also coming out is the Assassin's Creed Chronicles Trilogy Pack on PS Vita (also releasing today) which I would absolutely not recommend to anyone who likes fun. Having reviewed the latter two games, India and Russia, for Push Square, I can wholeheartedly say that 2D is not the direction that the series needs to refresh itself. The games aren't bad at all, it's just they're so average that there's nothing memorable about them. Lastly, the PC port of Remedy's experimental Quantum Break also comes out today, and is currently sitting on a 78/100 on Metacritic.

In terms of films, we have 3, all releasing on Friday. First up is The Boss, the next Melissa McCarthy comedy in which tycoon Michelle Darnell (played by McCarthy) is released from prison, and hopes to become America's next sweetheart. It's got a pretty good cast, with Peter Dinklage, Kristen Bell, and Kathy Bates all having parts, but this could end up being another forgettable comedy thanks to director (and McCarthy's husband) Ben Falcone being at the helm - his only previous film was the poorly-received Tammy, though he does have a good opportunity to redeem himself here.

If comedy isn't your thing, then Demolition may suit you. Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is - or was - a successful investment banker, but once his wife dies in a car crash, his life starts to go downhill, with his father-in-law Phil (Chris Cooper) trying to help Davis get back on track. Through a series of complaint letters to a vending machine company, Davis befriends customer service rep Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts) and starts to rebuild his life, but first tries to destroy his old one. With a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie seems to excel in the casting department but not so much story-wise, with top critic Lou Lumenick of the New York Post praising Gyllenhaal's performance, but criticising the sloppy ending.

Last - and definitely not least - we have a film I am insanely excited for: Hardcore Henry. Filmed entirely in a first-person perspective, you've just been brought back from the dead by your wife, who is quickly kidnapped by warlord Akan. With the help of a mysterious British man called Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) you track down Akan and attempt to save your wife, with guns blazing in a glorious first-person camera. It's currently on a 81% on Rotten Tomatoes (though it isn't Certified Fresh yet) and I, for one, can't wait to see it.

James' Take: Republique Review

Republique is a topical stealth-action game set in a dystopian future where the government has surveillance everywhere. The game follows a protagonist named Hope, a young fugtive who asks you for help after she is captured by this all-seeing government and put into a containment facility called Metamorphosis. Without spoiling too much, the first episode explores topics such as censorship, oppression and paranoia in the first few hours, to leave you on a great cliffhanger ending.

The Good Stuff

The gameplay is mainly focused on a very mobile game esque style of hopping from camera to camera through your own in-game mobile device. While in these cameras, you are charged with watching Hope's back and guiding her through different areas, taking down or sneaking past guards as she goes. Another interesting feature was answering her phone calls, which made a special little connection between you and Hope as she explains her feelings and the story as you progress.

You can open and lock doors too, which I  found quite interesting if you want to try and do a sort of Dishonored style 'Ghost' run as you can lock enemies out of certain areas. You can also find items such as tasers and screwdrivers, even if they are quite limited.

The game also has a great way of building tension. You won't want Hope to get caught (thankfully she never was with me) as you are put into a mix of big, small and complex rooms where you will have to figure out a safe path for Hope to move through. The possibility of getting detected just gives you a sense of caring and tension as you grow more attached and protective over Hope.

The story of Republique in my opinion was quite interesting with how it covered these topics through Hope's  phone calls and you finding different pieces of intel on desks and computers as you move through the facility. She also has good goals, attempting to subvert the system so that she can live and love, which really makes you empathise with her struggle.

The not so good stuff

Amongst the good things, there is quite a bit the game does not do too well. The gameplay can be a little tedious, with backtracking being required to get more resources from previous areas. Also, Hope's pathfinding is not the best, which almost led to me being caught in a few occasions, which was a bit frustrating.

This may be a little nit-picky too, but the game had some weird graphics. There were certain areas in which the game looked great such as when overlooking big areas, but some of the models for Hope and the security forces did not look too great. However, this is not the kind of game I can criticise this kind of thing for and it definitely can be looked past when you're enjoying the game.

Finally, the story may have been good, but it was very start-stop. This may have been deliberate to make you look out for extra details such as hacked e-mails, but it made the game dull in some areas for me, at some points making it a bit difficult to continue.

Republique for me was a very interesting and different type of game. I definitely enjoyed it, but it was a little dull and tedious at some points. I look forward to see what other kind of games the developers will be releasing next.

"I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a good stealth adventure, and  if you can look past the slow story telling, it can be a great game"

Sam's Take: EA Sports UFC 2 Review

As the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said “Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind.” Or, in the case of EA Sports UFC 2, the sequel to EA’s  first MMA outing, it’s all in the controls, and while this year’s adaptation of the popular bloodsport is as satisfying as ever, the raw fighting gameplay seems to have regressed a little.

It’s not like the game hasn’t evolved, though - there are plenty of new modes, most notably UFC Ultimate Team, in which you create a team of up to 5 fighters, earn coins, and buy packs that contain new moves and upgrades for your team. While getting a 5 star uppercut isn’t as exciting as getting Ronaldo in FIFA, or Odell Beckham Jr in Madden, it’s cool how every one of your character’s moves are rated, so you can see your strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, with an Ultimate Team mode comes two currencies, and one of those currencies, UFC Points, is buyable with real money. The good news is that packs don’t cost much - we were able to buy the most expensive pack after playing 3 matches - but it can give people an unfair advantage in online fights. Strangely, in a move that’s too close to mobile gaming to our liking, you can watch adverts in-game to earn coins, which does feel a little too dystopian.

There’s also Live Events, which allows you to bet on upcoming UFC fights in order to earn rewards, a Custom Event Creator that lets you select everything from the fightcard right down to the referees, and an online Title Chase mode, in which you work your way up from outsider to title holder. Career mode also has a Fight Night-style training camp feature, where you train in different disciplines before every fight. UFC 2 has new content in spades, and while the Career mode is an easy favourite thanks to its depth and unpredictability, always throwing new scenarios and stipulations at you, Live Events is a strong mode too, and is a good way for new fans of the sport to get into it.

While these are all welcome additions to the franchise, you’ll probably want to avoid all online modes for the time being because of some terrible gameplay tweaks. While the standing gameplay of punching and kicking feels as satisfying as ever, the clinching system is horribly unbalanced. Instead of clinch positions transitioning fluidly, it all feels very disjointed, and whoever starts the clinch has a huge advantage over his opponent thanks to their inability to escape from it. Play a match online, and more often than not your matches will be a race of who can clinch first, followed by 20 seconds of punches to the head and a knockout.

The ground game isn’t very strong either. While the new HUD is quite helpful, telling you your available transitions and how to do them, it still feels a little disjointed, and always tilted in the favour of fighter who started it. Submissions are nigh-on impossible to do - despite the new Skill Challenges and Practice Mode teaching you how to do them, as well as every other mechanic in the game - having to go through layer after layer of HUDs until you can finally initiate one. In all of our fights, we have never lost to - nor won by - a submission. Perhaps all of these problems are why Knockout Mode was introduced - a fun romp to play with friends that limits players to kicking and punching, no dastardly clinches and ground holds allowed.

Thankfully, the standing gameplay has been bettered. Thanks to the fluid upgraded blocking system and the punches and kicks being simpler to pull off, the game is a very tactical affair when the fighters are standing - unleashing a flurry of punches just doesn’t work anymore, so you have to be careful and considered, sniping whenever you see an opening. Every move carries weight with it, and seeing your fighter collapse on the mat or stumble back from a hard kick is enough to make you flinch. When matches get to the later rounds, they become very tense and nervy, and the feeling of losing (or winning) by one expert move can be soulcrushing (or satisfying)

Of course, while some of the gameplay can be pretty ugly, the graphics certainly aren’t. The individual beads of sweat on every fighter, the way their hair flops around as they swing for punches, is absolutely stunning - show this game to someone who hasn’t even heard of video games, and you could easily convince them that it’s the real thing. Every fighter - there are 250(!) of them - no matter how unpopular or obscure, has been scanned so that their every move, their every facial expression, is perfectly mapped for realism, making the game an absolute joy to look at.

This effort has also been put into the customisation aspects of UFC 2 as well, with every aspect of your fighter being tweakable. As well as the Game Face feature, there are tons of sliders that allow you to make some absolute abominations and the ability to customise every fighter’s ratings, styles, and attributes is also there to mess around with too.

Technically the game is sound, with no framerate issues or bugs being present, and the online matchmaking is very well done, only taking seconds to find someone to play against. Of course, thanks to the aforementioned clinches and ground gameplay, it’s likely to be over in seconds, too.