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  1. DiRT Rally Steam Key Giveaway
  2. Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin ...
  3. Game Diary: Quite the Achievement!
  4. Split Second | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites
  5. Darksiders | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites
  6. More Recent Articles

DiRT Rally Steam Key Giveaway


Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin ...

Game Diary: Quite the Achievement!

Hello everyone! I realise there has been a dearth of content for quite a while though.  Hopefully this post will be just the start of a flurry of activity on the site, as I have a lot of things to write about. To begin with I want to let you know what I've been up to over the last month or so, and why both the blog and YouTube channel will benefit. So, somewhere around the end of May I noticed that my Xbox Live Gamerscore was about 12,000 points shy of 100,000, which is currently the highest VIP tier called Overlord. Those who are in the Xbox Rewards program who manage to reach this level get and increase in the amount of reward points they get back on purchases, which gets converted to cash every so often.  I decided that I would make it my goal to try and reach the 100,000 points, and also go back to quite a few games that I had only partially completed in the past.

So far I've managed to finish Far Cry 3 on the 360 as well as Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition and Assassin's Creed: Blag Flag.  These aren't the easiest achievements to get but they aren't too bad.  I'm not trying earn every achievement in every game either, as that's not my idea of fun. I did finish most of the side content in these three games though.  As well as these games there were also a number of Telltale games that I hadn't played yet - Tales from the Borderlands, The Walking Dead Seasons 2 and 3, as well as the Michonne mini series.  These are all an easy 1000 points just for getting to the end, and I had been meaning to get around to them eventually anyway.  In addition to all this I have also signed up for Xbox Game Pass and have been playing quite a few shorter games such as the Sega and Capcom retro collections for games like Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Dungeons & Dragons.  I personally think the Game Pass is excellent because I never would have spent money on games like these when there are so many AAA titles just waiting to be picked up instead, yet I would still like to play them.

Just lately I have moved on to playing Watch Dogs and have gone back to Forza Horizon 3 where I still have a lot left to do.  The same is true for quite a few of the older Forza titles as well - there’s so much content in those games that I’m never finished by the time the next one comes out.  Although I have already played Watch Dogs on the PS4, that was several years ago now and I did enjoy it. Watch Dogs was one of the Games with Gold in June so I haven't had to pay anything for it - in fact I took a bunch of older PS4 games that have since been in either Games with Gold or PS Plus to CeX and got £27 in trade in value, which I used to get Ghost Recon: Wildlands.  I haven't really played much of it yet though.

Looking to the future, I’ll be moving onto trying to polish off Mad Max and Mafia III.  I have tons of other open world games to get to – Assassin's Creed Liberation HD, Unity and Syndicate, Saints Row IV Reelected, Sunset Overdrive, Re:Core – tons!!! Right now I still need to earn just under 5000 Gamerscore to reach 100,000, so I've still got quite a bit of gaming to go.  Of course, as a result of this very Xbox centric time my PS4 and Switch are getting a little bit neglected.  I'll make up for that after I'm done though, especially as I really want to spend more time with Wipeout Omega Collection and dive in to Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age which is out very soon.  Even the 3DS is getting some love right now with the awesome looking Ever Oasis, a full on remake of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Metroid: Return of Samus!

Anyway, as I've been playing through these games I've also been capturing quite a bit of footage from them, and I do intend to write reviews and create videos for them as well.  I've been putting it off for a while because I wanted to write this very article that you're reading now, so now I've got this out of the way I shall start knocking out those reviews.  I'm also in the middle of PS2 Tuesdays Season 4 as well, so I do have to spend some of my time playing and reviewing some PS2 classics.  Speaking of which, the next one of those will be The Red Star, a great and overlooked arcade style shooting and fighting hybrid. Once I've got that made and uploaded I shall then try and find a spare hour or so to write the Sleeping Dogs review, and so on with the other games.  You should see quite a bit of productivity if I manage to stick to the plan!  If you have any recommendations of Xbox One or Xbox 360 games that I could play through then be sure to leave a comment. I have recently picked up copies of Bionic Commando (the 3D one), Wet and Kane & Lynch: Dead Men for £1 each - are any of them worth trying? What about the Lost Planet trilogy? I've been thinking of getting those too as they are so cheap.  Any advice would be appreciated!

    

Split Second | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites


Welcome to the second edition of Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites! Today I'm going to shift things up a gear by taking a look at an overlooked arcade racer by the name of Split Second.  The game was developed by the Brighton based team Black Rock Studios, who had previously released the much loved ATV game, Pure (though that one was made by a different team).  Black Rock Studios were known as Climax Racing in their previous incarnation, before Disney Interactive acquired them. It was Disney that published both Pure and Split Second, before shutting down the studio shortly afterwards. The game was released in May of 2010, just one week before rival racing game Blur was released.  This fact means that neither game performed as well as it might have done unfortunately.  I'm going to cover Blur at another time, as I think both games deserve their own episode.

The premise of Split Second is that at an undisclosed time in the near future, a reality TV series has taken the world by storm where contestants race around a condemned city that is rigged with all manner of explosive devices and traps. As you build up a power meter by drifting around corners, drafting behind opponents, narrowly missing danger and by exceuting big jumps, you can execute what the game calls "Power Plays", that let you trigger these devices around the track in an attempt to wreck your rivals.  They could be racing near a gas station for example, so you can detonate the entire place, or there might be a crane by the track that you can set swinging dangerously into the path of the race.  These examples are both fairly mild, level one Power Plays though.  By banking enough power so that your meter fills up into the red zone, you can release level two Power Plays that have the potential to completely reshape the path of a race.  See that control tower by the side of the airport track? Not any more you don't, it's just been vaporised, forcing everying down a different path for the rest of the race!  While these Power Plays do have the potential to feel a little gimmicky once the novelty has worn off, and the campaign can start to feel just a bit repetitive during the later stages, for the most part they add a lot of excitement to the game and are just dynamic enough to remain interesting. So that's the basic set up, but how does the rest of the game fare? Let's break it down in more depth shall we?


Graphics: 8 out of 10
Almost all of the events take place either at midday or at sunset with just a few set a night, so there's a lot of bright sunlight flooding the screen.  It reminds me of a Michael Bay film back before he started making nothing but crap, such as Bad Boys or The Rock.  I love the way that the game has been designed with almost no HUD at all - your speed, power meter, and lap counter are all cleverly place on a readout situated on the back of the car itself.  This lack of screen clutter allows you to focus on the race and soak in the impressive explosions that are constantly popping off.  For the most part the game performs adequately but there is the occasional frame rate dip when something major is happening such as an entire building collapsing on 4 or 5 cars at the same time.  It doens't really effect the game play too adversely but it is there so I have dock a point for that I'm afraid.  Other than that though, Split Second looks very nice indeed and still holds up pretty well today.

Sound: 9 out of 10
The sound design in Split Second is absolutely glorious, from the way the explosions totally envelop you and the shrapnel flying mere inches away from your car cuts through the air, to the dynamic music.  Special mention has to go to the music in this game, in particular the tune that plays during the Elite Races that cap every "episode" of the show.  It sounds incredibly cinematic, and as you claw your way up the field into the top three (which is the requirement to proceed) another layer of instrumentation is added with more bass coming in and some very funky guitar work.  It really helps build the tension and excitement in these events, which after all are supposed to be the highlight of each episode of the fictional show.  There is not much voice over work in the game, but what's there is very well done as well, with an announcer telling you what's coming up in today's episode and also giving you a sneak peak of the next one.  Great stuff all round!

Wiping out five rivals with an exploding power plant is actually quite satisfying - who knew?

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
I've already described how the basic races function in the intro, but there's a bit more to Split Second than that.  The main campaign mode is broken down into 12 episodes, which represent an entire season of the show.  Each episode has 6 events within it, with four being unlocked initially.  The 5th event is always a bonus event which is unlocked by wrecking a certain number of opponents within that chapter.  Normally you will have wrecked enough cars by that point to unlock it, but occasionally you may have to replay an event or two to get enough wrecks.  Event six is always the Elite Race, and is unlocked by earn a certain amount of points in earlier races.  These don't have to be from within the same episode though so say you get to the end of episode 12 and you are a little short of points to be able to take on the Elite Race (which probably will happen) - simple, just go back to a previous episode and find an event that you didn't do as well in as you could have done.  Perform better and earn some more points towards your goal.  Every event in the game has the potential to award your 50 points if you manage to get first place, then 40 for second, 30 for third, etc. While progress was fairly rapid in the first half of the campaign, by the end of it I was having to go back to earlier races for more points.

There are also a few more modes besides the standard races that I've already described.  There is also an Elimination mode much like those seen in other games, except with the added complication of the Power Plays, and a time trial mode called Detonator where you are given a fixed car for the event.  So far, so standard.  Things get more interesting after this though with the addition of some modes that are unique to Split Second.  First up we have Air Attack.  In this, a fully armed and operational attack helicopter will be firing rockets at you, denoted by red targets on the track surface.  You have to avoid taking a direct hit or suffering too much splash damage which will eventually cause your car to explode.  Get wiped out three times and your race is over.  As you clear more and more waves without losing a life, you will build up a score multiplier, and if you don't take any damage at all whilst still maintaining a decent speed you will earn a perfect wave bonus - this is the secret to earning a high score.  Later on in the campaign there is also the addition of an Air Revenge mode, where the attack helicopter returns.  This time, by building up your power play meter, you can then send the missiles back at the helicopter and eventually take it down.  Level one power plays just take one pip off the helicopters health bar, whereas saving up a full meter and releasing a level two power play takes off four pips, so ultimately it's faster to wait until your meter is full.

Finally, for the main game at least, there is Survival mode.  In this, giant big rig trucks are constantly doing laps around the track, all the while dropping red and blue explosive barrels.  The blue barrels will damage you, and the red barrels will wreck you instantly.  You don't have a fixed amount of lives, in this mode you can be wrecked many times.  Instead, you are up against a tight time limit which is increased by passing the trucks.  As you keep passing trucks unscathed, once again you build up a score multiplier.  There are also other cars on the track that are there to get in your way. The first time you play this mode it takes place in a storm drain of the type featured in the famous chase sequence from Terminator 2, which is really awesome!

So that's the structure of the game, but how does it actually play? Really well! The handling feels spot on, with each car having a different weight and drift style to it (new cars are earned by meeting certain point thresholds, by the way).  The drifting feels really good, with you really able to throw the cars around the corners with extreme precision after just a few goes to get a feel for it.  The rumble in this game is also very well implemented, adding to the immersion immensely. It's not something I would normal notice or comment on unless it is truly exceptional, as it is in this game. With Split Second, Black Rock have crafted an arcade racer that rivals the true great of the genre such as Ridge Racer, Sega Rally, and Burnout - it's a tragedy that it isn't as well known as it deserves to be.  Those who do know of it do love it for the most part, though.

This is the Survival mode - watch out for those barrels or say bye bye to your chassis!
Innovation & Cleverness: 7 out of 10
I'm going to give Split Second a fairly high score here (at least, higher than I usually give) because the combination of triggered explosions with the TV show format is quite unique, especially to the racing genre.  The closest thing I can think of is MotorStorm Apocalypse but that came along quite a long time afterwards and you don't actually have any control over the destruction in that game.  It isn't nearly as dynamic either.  Nope, there isn't really anything else quite like Split Second out there.  We may well have received a sequel, but Disney in their infinite wisdom pulled the plug on Black Rock, and the team went their separate ways.  Some of them continued to work on racing games alongside veterans from Bizarre Creations, Eden Studios and Codemasters, to form the Forza Horizon developers Playground Games.  Others moved on to making mobile games at companies like Shortround Games.  So luckily, it wasn't truly game over for most of these guys!

Value & Replayability: 7 out of 10
The main campaign mode in Split Second is actually fairly short, lasting roughly 10-12 hours.  You can add on a bit more if you are a completionist and want to try and get first place in every single event.  Also, it may be just because I was trying to play through the whole game in a fairly short space of time, but I was starting to tire of the power play mechanic just a little bit by the end of the whole thing.  I love the Air Attack mode though, so it's a shame that it's totally replaced by the Air Revenge mode about half way through the campaign and never comes back.

As usual in these reviews, I am basing this score on what the game would cost you today, and not what it was originally selling for. So, you should be able to find a copy of Split Second for a fiver or less fairly easily, which is a very good price for the amount of fun on offer. I did hop online to see if anyone was still playing the multiplayer mode, and was surprised to get into a full lobby on my first try.  This was just in the race mode though - the other modes were pretty empty.

Finally, there are some DLC packs available which add a couple of new modes, some extra tracks and cars into the game.  I thought these tracks were really good, so it's a shame they are only in the free play mode and not incorpated into an extra episode or two of the campaign. There was potential for them to do a "Christmas Special" or something and give the DLC a bit more structure.  As it is I can't really see myself playing them that much.

Overall: 9 out of 10
If you haven't played Split Second already and you still have your PS3 or Xbox 360 then you should definitely acquire a copy and play through the campaign, it's a ton of fun.  The game may also be available through the PS Now service, though I'm not sure about that.  Hopefully one day it will also be made backwards compatible on the Xbox One, though I doubt that will happen as Disney don't seem terribly interested in the game industry these days.  Nevertheless, for a short time they were putting out some solid titles with the help of developers like Black Rock and Avalanche. Perhaps we will get a spiritual successor to Split Second one day, in the meantime we still have the original, which I think holds up fantastically well today.  That's all I have for this time - next time I will probably be playing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, so see you then! In the meantime, take care!

 

    

Darksiders | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites


Welcome to the first article in a new, semi regular series entitled Last Gen Regen. There were tons of games released for the last generation of consoles that didn't perform as well as I think think they deserved, either crtically or financially, and I think they deserve a bit more love. Titles that fall under this category include Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the de Blob games and Binary Domain, just for starters. The reason that I'm not committing to a regular schedule is that most of these games take quite a while to complete, so I will just be releasing them as and when they are ready. This series also serves as an excuse to replay some of my favourite titles, so I will be savouring my time with them!

We begin with Darksiders - which was developed by Vigil Entertainment in the year 2010 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.  This team was assembled by legendary comic book artist Joe Madureira, whose unique art style is stamped all over the game.  While beloved by the majority of those who have played the game, there are still tons of people who have never given it a second glance.  With a remastered version on the horizon, and copies of the original version selling for just a few quid, now is the perfect time for you to pick it up for yourself if you have yet to do so. Now it's time for me to spend roughly ten minutes explaining why.


Plot and Character: 8 out of 10
The action of Darksiders revolves around the four horsemen of the apocalypse, or more specifically, War.  As the game begins, War is standing in the streets of what looks like New York city, doing battle with demons.  As you progress further into the prologue, angels will arrive on the scene as well.  Rather than the classical winged creatures that you're familiar with, angels in the Darksiders series make use of technology such as jet packs and guns.  Their halo is also a part of the armour that they wear. War is on earth because he believes the seventh seal has been broken and the riders have been called, but he was deceived by a powerful demon called The Destroyer and his minions.  After falling in battle against Straga, one of the Destroyer's lieutenants, War finds himself in front of the Charred Council, entities which act as the balance keepers between the forces of Heaven and Hell.  Displeased with Wars actions on Earth, they strip him of most of his power, before permitting him to set off on a quest for revenge against The Destroyer.  As a condition of his release, War is tethered to The Watcher, brilliantly voiced by Mark Hamill.  From there, it's up to you to restore War to his former glory, slaughter your way through The Destroyer's forces, and set things right.

While I am more than aware that there are plenty of people out there who hate fantasy nonsense like this, I absolutely love this kind of thing. While the game takes itself a bit too seriously sometimes and comes across as cheesy, for the most part it is really cool, and metal as fuck! War himself is built like a brick shithouse, with huge chunky limbs and a giant sword that you can do some serious damage with. So while it's definitely not for everyone, I really enjoyed the premise of Darksiders and the ride that it took me on during its 20 or so hour long campaign. Of course the game play had a lot to do with that as well, but I will get there all in due course!

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The chunky, American Football player proportions of War also apply to a lof of the other characters in Darksiders, from the Angels like Abaddon, to side characters like Ulthane, who belongs to a race called The Makers.  These guys heavily resemble the Norse gods like Thor, and wield mighty hammers like him as well.  While there were a few instances where the was some screen tearing and a drop in frame rate, for the most part Darksiders ran really smoothly and the environments look really nice. At one point the mixture of hack and slash combat and puzzle solving is punctured by a rather lengthy flying sequence on the back of a Pegasus, which is just one of many visually spectacular parts.  The huge golems that guard the various areas of the map are also impressive, and a sight to behold as they lumber away, shaking both the screen and your gamepad.

While there aren't that many in the game, the horsey bits in Darksiders are good fun.
Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The audible portion of the presentation is equally as solid as the visual component, with some great noises while you're in combat and when you make use of your abilities. The music is well composed, but not particularly memorable after some time away from the game. It certainly doesn't measure up to the epic soundtrack of Darksiders II that was composed by Assassin's Creed veteran Jesper Kyd, but that is a matter for another time. The voice work in the game is generally well done again, though the dialogue that these guys have to read is incredibly melodramatic and can come across as a tad on the cheesy side at times. Still, it suits the subject matter.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Darksiders plays out like a mash up of God of War and one of the 3D Legend of Zelda games, and that is no bad thing, believe me!  As your basic abilities are doled out during the opening hours of the game, you will find yourself locked inside various combat challenges where you have to kill a certain number of demons within a strict time limit and while using a certain ability or weapon.  Just as was starting to tire of this, roughly nine of so challenges in, they stop, never to return throughout the rest of the adventure.  The majority of the game is spent exploring huge dungeons, solving relatively mild puzzles, hacking up demons (and the occaisional angel) and obtaining new equipment or powers that allow access to further sections of the overworld.  While the world of Darksiders is fairly extensive and interconnected, with few noticeable load times, it is still fairly linear for the most part, with just a brief quest towards the end of the campaign giving you free reign to travel back to the various zones in any order you choose.

For most of the game the difficulty level is pitched just about right, with combat keeping you on your toes but never becoming frustrating.  You may die once or twice, but the penalty is very benign, with you just going back brief way to the nearest checkpoint. There is one dungeon close the finale that I did find really frustrating to beat, though - or rather, one puzzle within it that involved warping boxes through portals in order to raise and lower huge chandelier style platforms. I got quite annoyed by that one, but it's not even close to being as annoying as the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, ultimately.

As you hack apart your enemies, souls will fly out of them and these can be drawn into you.  They can also be found inside chests that are liberally scattered around world, and in inanimate objects like cars, dustbins, and street lights.  These souls act your main currency in the game, and can be used to unlock new abilties and weapons, or power up those that you already have.  Speaking of weaponry, War mainly wields a huge sword, though you do also get access to a sythe, pistols, and a deadly disc launching thing.  You won't have enough souls to level everything up, so it's best to focus on whichever suits your particular play style and focus on them.  You can also find Zelda style upgrades to your health bar and rage meter hidden away all over the place, which will often be inaccessible the first time you find them.  You know what that means - come back later when you have the right ability.

This is Ulthane, one of the Makers - you will learn much more about these guys in Darksiders II.
Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Ultimately, it's the solid game play combined with the setting that makes Darksiders such a great game, in my opinion. It's not particularly innovative, being an amalgam of several different genres, but that doesn't really matter to me. Zelda style puzzling and exploration will always be fun, and brutal hack and slash combat adds that extra spice to make it interesting.  Layer on the truly fantastic character designs and fleshed out game world, and you have something rather special on your hands.

Value and Replability: 7 out of 10
You will probably only want to play through Darksiders the one time, or maybe twice after enough time has passed by.  But that play through will last somewhere around the 25 hour range, even more if you try and hunt down every single health upgrade and the best armour in the game, which is scattered across the lands. I never felt that the game was dragging on at all, which is something that very few games get right.  The original release will probably only set you back a fiver or less, which is a real bargain.  I am not sure how much THQ Nordic is going to be asking for the HD remaster - I would guess somewhere around th £30 mark.  That's still not bad considering how much quality gameplay is on offer.  UPDATE: Since writing this article I have learned that the price of the HD remaster will be £15, which is an absolute bargain!

Overall: 8 out of 10
Xbox 360 and PS3 owners were not short of quality games to play, but there weren't many experiences that compared to the Zelda games (Okami being a notable exception). Darksiders takes the blueprint that Nintendo established, adds in a liberal dose of visceral combat, and makes the whole thing much more dark, gothic, and cool.  If the game somehow passed you by the first time it was released, then either pick up a nice and cheap copy and play it on your older system, or grab the upcoming "Warmastered" version.

Darksiders II will most definitely be getting its time in the sun at some point in the future as well, but I haven't played all the way through it yet.  Before then though, now that Lost Odyssey can be enjoyed on the Xbox One through the magic of backwards playability, I think it's time to revisit it.  It will take a while for me to finish it though, as it's absolutely massive.  To tide us over, I will try and find something a little shorter to talk about next.  I was thinking a racing game would make a nice change of pace, but which one? There's Blur from Bizarre Creations, or Split Second from Black Rock Studios.  Let me know in the comments if you have a preference, and in the meantime, take care!

 

    

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