STACKING

Double Fine Productions are very much renowned for making games with a hell of a lot of character – most notably in the form of Psychonauts, which has received almost cult status amongst those who have played it. Stacking is certainly no exception to this rule.

Set within the dawn of the industrial age, you are placed in control of Charlie Blackmore, a small Russian doll setting out to free his family from child labour – orchestrated by the secretive and evil ‘Baron’. Using your ability to stack into dolls of larger sizes than yourself, there are a range of logic puzzles and challenges to overcome in a variety of different ways, with a multitude of different dolls. Each doll, it is also important to note, has its own unique ability which can be used to aid your quest – or even to just have a little bit of fun.

The first thing I really noticed about Stacking was how stylised it is: absolutely everything has been tailored to fit within the time setting, down to the costumes, environment and sounds, and all with a brilliant sense of humour running throughout – especially within each doll’s characteristics. There is a lot of fun to be found (and side challenges, known as ‘Hi-jinks’) in demonstrating a unique doll’s ability upon a selection of others – for example, clearing rooms with flatulence, or shouting out childish insults. However, as much as Stacking can make you laugh, it also makes you think. Set within this Victorian era, there are still very noticeable class divides, and in controlling dolls of higher status it is obvious as to which are more accepted within certain areas, or indeed allowed to pass through them.

As much as I can recommend this game, it is important to note that, being classed as adventure/puzzle, it is essentially a series of Find & Retrieve quests which can (more often than not) leave you feeling a little bit lost within each richly-furnished world. For each challenge you are allowed 3 hints to aid you, but with no setback in doing so. In comparison to another puzzle-based game – say, Machinarium – hints and tips are purposefully hard to access, forcing you into really assessing a situation before attempting a solution. With this in mind, Stacking can become repetitive after some time – mostly so when an area is actually complete, but there are unique doll collections to still be found.

Crossing to PC from its Xbox origins, Stacking is definitely an interesting and humourous title to explore. This game is as much about discovery as it is about the actual puzzle-solving – if you are not inclined to seek out each detail and doll within a level, then there is no real excitement to be found, as the true beauty of Stacking lies in its subtlety and the way the environment reacts to a specific action or doll. If, like myself, you do find yourself drawn into Double Fine’s elaborate windows into the industrial era then, by all means, please go out and experience this game! However, those of you who are looking for a fast-paced, thrilling adventure, I’m afraid that you’re reading the wrong review.

Visit Double Fine’s website here

Visit Stacking‘s website here

Buy it on Steam here

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NEXUIZ

If you liked Quake 3, you’ll love Nexuiz. No, seriously – it started off as a mod for it back in 2005. Now, updated on CryEngine 3 with a whole range of new graphics, weapons and mutators (think Unreal, but with a lot more variety), Nexuiz has certainly entered the modern age of arena combat.

Right, before I go all fanboy on this game, I’ll deal out some of the faults that I have encountered so far. Firstly, it can crash. A lot. I had to do 3 installs through Steam before I could even get to the menu screen and that’s not just me. It would appear that those of you boasting a shiny new AMD card will get the smoothest experience – the game having been built in collaboration with them (about 10 minutes of company logos on start-up will reinforce this into you a good number of times). Furthermore, it seems that people have been having trouble finding games to join, but I managed to get everything running perfectly and, my God, does this bring back that intensity of the past. A very big concern that I should bring up especially is that there doesn’t yet seem to be a real system of filling player spots in matches. When someone disconnects, no one takes their place. Simple as that. A couple of times I’ve felt compelled to switch teams manually, just to bring back a fair balance. Obviously, this is really an issue that needs to be addressed – and soon!

Developer Illfonic (having bought the rights from original creators Alientrap) did a really good job at finding the sweet spots that worked so well for Quake 3 originally, especially so in Nexuiz‘s pace. You’ve still got your ridiculous run speed and jump height bundled in, making every corridor a deathtrap and every open space a bouncy castle of pain. This is what really sets arena-based games so far apart from any other genre: there is a high level of skill and reaction involved if you actually want to be doing any serious damage – or indeed avoid constant death. I would certainly say that this form of fast-paced combat has been missing in a lot of recent titles, and it’s definitely been exciting to experience it on such a level again – even now I’m typing at about triple the speed, my brain still rushing from the sheer excitement of ‘Quake 3 Still Lives’.

One aspect of Nexuiz I’m not so geared up on, however, are the mutators. I haven’t noticed any kind of tutorial as of yet, but otherwise it seems to be pretty random in selection – please correct me if I’ve been horribly blind here. You’ll receive positive effects, such as infinite ammo and fast regeneration, and even whole team boosts. In some senses, the mutators are almost comparable to Mario Kart, with a whole range of crazy outcomes – enemies take damage when jumping, for instance. Personally, I’ve had enough of my screen being constantly put into greyscale (I’m so sorry, guys – when you all look the same, I’m going to shoot you regardless).

Nexuiz was really a refreshing change for me, and I urge anyone of similar interest to try it out. Of course, there’s no real storyline or plot behind this (red vs blue in space), but there would never really need to be. This is a lovely package of online, team-based combat, packed full of all the usual gametypes you’d expect – capture the flag being a personal favourite of mine. If you can bring yourself to look past its faults and crashes, I think you’ll definitely come to love Nexuiz and the old-style intensity that it so lovingly has crafted. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a hell of a lot of fragging to do.

Visit the website here

Buy it on Steam here

SECTION 8: PREJUDICE

If I had to describe Section 8: Prejudice in comparison to other games, I would probably say that it is a mash-up between the design elements of Halo, the upgrade leveling of Call Of Duty and, of course, the fast-paced, arena combat of Unreal Tournament – on which its engine is based. To many people, that combination of inspiration would sound absolutely brilliant, which is why it is such a shame that this 2011 release from TimeGate Studios ended up so very abandoned.

In terms of a single player campaign, you’re not going to get much out of Prejudice. Consisting of a couple of levels of ‘kill this/take control of that’, it’s got a repetition and ease that gets monotonous very quickly  – but, that being said, this is a frag-fest at heart and rather than nitpicking its faults, there are actually a lot of stylish, exciting additions that set it apart from being just another Unreal clone. Weapon and armour design could be seen as reasonably generic for a ‘future combat’ scenario, but nonetheless the style and aesthetics do seem very smooth and in no sense uninspired – there is a definite Halo feel, which is never a bad route to take.

With every kill you are effectively gaining experience for both your character and your weapon, unlocking future upgrades, such as grenades, ammo-types and tools that can give you an advantage on the battlefield, as well as being able to customise your loadout to form a certain class of soldier. In terms of movement, you have both a rechargeable jetpack and advanced sprint, helping navigation within the map and the ability to attack from a variety of different angles and paths, e.g. quickly scaling structures and environment for effective sniper spots. Both of these abilities work extremely well and are certainly a nice touch to the genre, however the advanced sprint has a delay in its use, which can result in it only kicking in after a few minutes of running, which can be slightly frustrating, especially so when you are rushing back to defend a command post.

TotalBiscuit gives an excellent insight into Section 8‘s gameplay, as well as expressing his own disappointment with its seemingly empty servers

Obviously focusing on multiplayer, Section 8: Prejudice contains a variety of online gametypes, which range from survival mode to territory gaining. My personal favourite has to be Assault, in which one team must defend its control points from being stolen by the opposition. When there is only one point remaining, however, the game switches to sudden death, meaning that any killed players cannot respawn. This certainly adds a nice twist of intensity, which I feel is lacking from a lot of games in this style – when you can constantly re-enter the battlefield, where’s the punishment of death?

On the note of respawning, this is certainly something that TimeGate has developed very well. Instead of your standard ‘appear back at base’ routine, Section 8: Prejudice lets you literally drop into any point of the map, plummeting through the air to your destination. Anyone familiar with the old MDK games might draw similarities between these drops and its stage introduction levels, with the danger of being killed whilst airborne due to enemy turrets and weapons. However, in the same vein of the weapon upgrades, additional armour boosts can be fitted to protect your soldier, allowing you access to much more heated sections of the warzone.

Overall, Section 8: Prejudice is a very cool, exciting title which can easily be enjoyed by any fans of deathmatch and arena styles of play. The weapons do seem to lack the sound and sense of impact you might find in other games, but that is hardly a complaint, considering the low price and replayability of this title in particular. I’m still in the early stages of playing Section 8, but I don’t see myself getting bored anytime soon. If it wasn’t for the lack of other players, I can definitely see this becoming a new favourite, extremely reminiscent of the Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 deathmatch setups that inspired it.

Visit the website here

Buy it on Steam here

FALLOUT 3

Bethesda, a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, is widely known for their ability to create stunning role playing games. They have created fan favorite games such as The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. But in 2008, they amazed the whole of the gamer community by releasing a game that to this day, is considered one of the best there is.

The Fallout series is set in the future, in a world that instead of focusing on improving its society, focused on technology. This fast advance in technology caused weapons to improve, and weapons mean war. A war between the United States ended in a nuclear conflict and left the world ravaged by nuclear power (hence the title). Set in the capital of the US, Washington D.C., you start off the game as a dweller of a vault, a bunker built for withstanding the bombs.

Fallout 3 is a spectacular game. Not only because of its story, but due to the hundreds of features the developers decided to include. I’ve always been a fan of the Fallout series, and let me be honest: I was nervous when I heard Interplay wasn’t making the next game in the series. But when I finally had the controller in hand, venturing into the wasteland for the first time, I fell in love with this game.

It is rare when you get to experience a story such as Fallout’s. The creators manage to get you attached to certain characters through dialogue and without any cut scenes at all. With a stellar cast in voice acting (Liam Neeson, Ron Perlman and Malcolm McDowell) the game transmits feeling like no other game. And let me tell you, when you hear Liam Neeson’s impressive voice acting in a specific cut scene (no spoilers here) it will surely bring a tear to your eye. And even the secondary characters, such as your companions (I’m pointing at you Fawkes) are written so well, that you will start being cautious about what you do as to not upset them.

Being a first person shooter (although you have the option to change to third person, more on that later though) Bethesda decided that they needed to introduce something innovative. And so, V.A.T.S. was created. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System will help all players getting through the game, as well as making them chuckle when they see their enemy’s head popping in slow mo (or is that just me?).

Although the graphics are not top notch, they do hold up, and in 2008 they were pretty impressive. Again, they provide a fun perspective when you kill an enemy. But the soundtrack does make up for it. When you are exploring a cave or the run-down subway, a    creepy track will play, and will tense you up. Or when you’re wandering the wastes, and all of a sudden the music turns from peaceful to threatening. This is what makes the soundtrack great.

The game also has a bit of comedy, which is perfect to break up the tension. I remember chuckling often, as a companion made a remark about the surroundings. Or when listening to the radio, as Three Dog made his PSA’s. The franchise’s fantastic mascot gives a light feeling to dark things, such as blowing people up.

So far I have only talked about the positive things. But lets take a look at the negative, shall we?

Big terrains can be a good and a bad thing. Although it gives the player much more to explore and scavenge, it also creates a few problems. Let’s face it, you get bored when you have to walk too much (although the quick travel feature really does help) and usually that means that you start fidgeting around. Many people tend to start jumping, for example,  and sometimes, if you’re unlucky enough, you might get stuck between two rocks. And since Fallout is such an immersive game, the player forgets to save. Thats not good at all.

Being such a big game, it takes a toll on the console’s systems and will often freeze. Adding on to that, if you disabled Autosave or perhaps you haven’t gone through a door yet (autosaves when you do so), it can be quite frustrating. Also, to be honest, the third person system just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because your bulky body will often block your view, giving the enemy the perfect chance to kill you.

It is a shame that the developers did not put as much effort as they did with the music, dialogue, writing and combat in the animation. The way that the people walk can sometimes be quite ridiculous, but well, thats just about any game.

But overall, Fallout’s positive aspects outgrow the negative by far, and this makes it a great game. Even though it is nearly 4 years old at this point, if you haven’t, you should definitely give it a try.