Formula One 05
PlayStation 2 – 2005
Studio Liverpool returns with an updated F1 sim, featuring 19 tracks, 10 cars and 20 drivers of the 2005 season. Similar to its predecessor, it only features those that started the season. The game is more evolution than revolution but those small changes help to improve the game. The cars and tracks look great, including the new Istanbul circuit. The control scheme is very similar to last year’s, with you being able to use either the buttons or right stick to accelerate and break. Break bias and traction control toggles still exist but oddly they’re not on the default controller layout. The game once again sounds great, full of engine noises and tyre screeches. There is supposedly a pit crew who communicates with you (I know this because it has a volume setting) but throughout my play through I never heard from them. The game features a selection of game modes, from Race Weekend, World Championship, Career and even Online play but I’d imagine that mode is now defunct. The game comes with Driving Aids, such as Steering Assist, Braking Assist and a Racing Line, which are great for starting out but I wouldn’t recommend leaving them on. You can change them in the main menu or in the pause screen while driving. The menu’s look tidier and no where is this more noticeable than in the Career mode. Career mode has also seen improvements. It now has a difficulty option, fuel and tyre wear settings (both of which can’t be changed after starting), race length and rolling starts. These are small changes but they make a difference. For example, rolling starts mean you don’t have to drive the out lap for a Qualification Lap. Car setup also returns and is necessary on higher difficulty levels but with Easy mode, you can just dive in. Driver customisation is more or less the same with one exception, you can no longer pick your helmet. Instead, you unlock a new one after every 30 points you get and can’t go back to an older one, which is a pity. You start Career mode by test driving for one of three teams and you can even be offered a First Driver contract if you’re good enough. For switching teams, you have to apply for roles when they open up, which is great as it meant Minardi and Jordan weren’t spamming my inbox with contracts despite me leading the Driver’s Championship. One other little feature the game added was interactive pit stops. They’re only quick time events but get them down and you can improve your chances of winning. Race presentation has also been improved, with the game showing the Grid Layout before a race. Overall, the little changes really made the difference.
Formula One 04
PlayStation 2 – 2004
Studio Liverpool’s racing simulator is based on the 2004 Formula One season. You can race as any of the 10 teams or 22 drivers that started the season across 18 tracks. The game has three core modes: Arcade, Simulation and Career. Arcade and Simulation see you choose one of the 22 drivers as you take on race weekends, a full season, time attack or time trials. Career has you create your own racer and compete across 5 seasons to win the Formula One World Drivers Championship. The cars and tracks all look fantastic, even now. The sounds are what you’d expect, lots and lots of engine noises. There is no commentary in this game, instead you will have a race engineer relay important information to you. There are some customisable options, from rules to damage and even fuel usage. Rules and damage seem strange. You can take shortcuts if you don’t overtake a car but pass another driver, even a back-marker, off the track and you will be penalized. The cars are more robust than later entries, which is a good thing because the AI will aggressively defend its racing line or try to overtake, ramming you to one side. Control wise, the game has an interesting concept. You can use X to accelerate or use the right analogue stick. It took me a while to adapt to the right analogue stick method but it’s worth doing as it gives you more control. I spent a lot of time in Career mode while playing this one. It’s a noble first attempt that just falls short. The creation options are limited (my nationality isn’t present for a start) but its not bad. This mode doesn’t really have any custom options. The race length is set, rules and damage are enabled and there are no pit stops (unless you pick up damage). You start out taking trials and can be a Test Driver for bigger teams, which is a nice feature. You will have to properly set up your car as if you don’t, you’ll spend most of your time near the back. Once you do and you start scoring points, you can move to bigger teams such as Williams and Ferrari. Each car drives differently and it can take time to get used to but stick with it and you’ll get there.
PlayStation 4 – 2019
Indivisible is an RPG-Platformer hybrid from Lab Zero Games. You control the young Ajna as she attempts to stop the world’s destruction. Along the way she’ll meet companions who will aid her in her quest. The game is a “Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of none”. The platforming is solid, with Ajna learning new skills as she progresses in the game. These new skills will open up new areas in previous maps, similar to other Metroidvania games. The RPG element is light. You can gain experience points and level up your party but there is no equipment. The characters also have three base stats that determine their strength, HP and defense. Leveling up isn’t really important as Ajna gets stronger naturally as the story progresses. Attack and defense is also more linked to the Ringlets you collect, so it’s important to find them . You can’t grind as enemies don’t respawn until the next part of the plot. The battle system is interesting. Each character is assigned to a button and pressing this button makes them attack or defend depending on the circumstance. Hitting the attack button plus Up or Down can initiate a different attack for characters, useful for breaking enemy shields. There is also a special meter but not every character has a special move. The game does suffer from some balancing issues. At first, the enemies can be a grind but in the second half you can blast through most of them. The second half also focuses more on the platforming side, with the final dungeon requiring you to master Ajna’s skills to get through. The game looks visually stunning, with everything hand drawn. A few cutscenes are animated but most are still images. The music and voice acting are wonderful. There are a lot of party members (or “Incarnations” as the game calls them) to recruit, some mandatory and some optional. These Incarnations come with their own stats and they do make a difference in battle. Sadly, some are a lot more useful than others, for example, I rarely played as Zahra but always had Yan in my team as she’s an absolute beast. Each character has their own little side story to complete, which helps to flesh them out a bit more. The game has some wonderful humour, with some characters being incredibly funny or witty (Razmi, I’m looking at you). Overall, its a fun game with an easy Platinum Trophy (if you’re into collecting those) that doesn’t always stick the landing.
Xbox One – 2017
WWE 2K18 is another entry in 2Ks annual sports franchise. The game features a large selection of wrestlers to play as, from classic technicians such as Bret Hart to modern day powerhouses such as Brock Lesnar. The game also has a great variety of matches. You’ll have your regular One vs One matches but also Hell In A Cell, Elimination Chamber and the glorious Royal Rumble. If you’re not happy with the current selection of matches, wrestlers, arenas or belts, you can always create your own. The create-a-wrestler has a lot of depth to it but I did miss the layering system of older games. Sadly, you can’t import your own music into the game as an entrance theme but this is more a limitation on the consoles part and not the games. Create-A-Finisher is strangely absent but there is a good selection of moves to choose from. The two main modes are WWE Universe and My Player. WWE Universe has you editing matches, setting up promos, adding or removing superstars from the roster, and most importantly competing for gold. It has a good depth to it that should keep you entertained for hours. My Player is a career mode where you’ll create a superstar and guide them from NXT to Wrestlemania. This mode has potential but it falls flat on its face. Most moves and equipment are hidden behind loot crates which can be purchased using VC. Attribute points can be earned by doing side quests but these are limited. Instead, the game encourages you to use the Road to Glory mode to build up your superstar. This is an online mode that is now defunct. The storylines often felt flat, especially compared to the older Smackdown games. I honestly hadn’t a clue how to do Promos and they often just felt random. As mentioned above, VC is used to unlock loot crates but also to use attributes, purchase gear, skills, abilities and hidden wrestlers. The game leans heavily into VC which is earned through matches but it is slow to accumulate. I purchased the Deluxe Edition which meant all the wrestlers, belts and arenas were unlocked straight away. Gameplay for the most part is fluid. Its easy to pull off moves, reversals and finishers. There’s also a wealth of customisable to tailor the experience to you, from Blood to Squash Match rate. There was the occasional slowdown when I was running around backstage or in a match with numerous other competitors. Targeting opponents during a match was a pain as I had to cycle through the wrestlers before I got the one I wanted and it often led to me being hit. Overall a fun grappler let down by its over reliance on VC and loot crates, a defunct online mode and an uninteresting career.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity
Nintendo Switch – 2020
Set before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Age of Calamity follows Link, Zelda and their comparisons as they attempt to stop the rise of Calamity Gannon. The game is developed by Koei Tecmo and is a hack’n’slash adventure, similar to their other offerings. Each level is set on a battle map, with objectives such as capture an enemy fort, defeat a certain enemy or escort an ally to safety. The combat is fun if a little repetitive in places. There are a range of characters to play as, each with their own style of fighting. I found some to be much more useful than others. The main campaign is broken into chapters, with story missions to undertake. There are also Challenges and Quests to undertake. Challenges will have you replaying a small section of a story level. These are also used as a tutorial for new characters. The Quests simply require you to gather items on your way or purchase supplies from the shops to complete them. They help to power up your characters, unlock new characters and power up passive abilities. The game can be played in 1 or 2-player. The two player mode is a blast to play through with a friend but it does have some issues. Slow down is common when a special is used, especially Urbosa’s. It can also be difficult to see certain enemies life bars. One thing I did find annoying was how difficult it was to hit flying enemies. There is no jump button, instead certain combos will launch you into the air or you can vault off a wall. The game looks good but there is some pop up. I noticed this most with grass textures. The sound is wonderful and when you hear the legendary tune, it gets the blood pumping. Overall a fun game to play, especially with a friend.
Xbox One – 2016
Mafia III is Hanger 13’s first attempt with the series. Set in New Bordeaux, Louisiana, in 1968, it follows Lincoln Clay as he attempts to get revenge. It’s a game that has a lot going for it but ultimately falls short. The unique setting is fun to explore, if a little empty. You can blast through the streets of the French Quarter or ride roughshod through the Bayou. The story is incredible, with a likable cast of supporting characters (including a returning face). However, I’m not a fan of how it’s presented. It’s shown in a sort of documentary style where people look back at the events. On a few occasions it did spoil an upcoming event, which I found disappointing. The main story progression is split into taking over rackets and taking down the boss. Taking down the boss of each District is exhilarating and the missions do have a nice variety to them. In order to reach them though, you have to take over their two rackets and this can be a bit repetitive. It follows a format of cause enough damage, take out the under-boss and assign to a companion. It’s the same format for all nine Districts. There are side-missions too but these are very repetitive. It essentially boils down to go to a location, steal a vehicle, drop it off at a racket. Combat is a decent. The stealth gameplay is fantastic and is really satisfying when you clear out a base through sneaking alone. Gunplay is a bit hit and miss (literally). At first I enjoyed it but as the game went on, it became a little frustrating as enemies rushed you. Driving comes in two styles, Normal and Simulation. I stuck with Normal and had a blast drifting around corners. The music is phenomenal (mainly because I like most of the songs) but you won’t get the same level of radio as, say, Grand Theft Auto. My biggest complaint, though, as to be the bugs. On the odd occasion the vehicle sounds would just stop. Lighting, especially in poorly lit areas, would flicker. While not massive issues for me, they did take away from the game. The biggest issue was the crashes. I’m playing on a base Xbox One so your experience may be different. The game booted me back to the Xbox Dashboard nine times across my playthrough and attempted to reinstall the game three times. This meant I was never sure if I could make it through a mission (on one occasion it crashed as I was taking on a racket’s under-boss). Overall the game had potential, with moments of absolute brilliance, but by the end I was just frustrated with the mission design and glitches.
Xbox 360 – 2010
Released in 2010 by 2K Games, Mafia II follows the story of Vito Scaletta as he becomes entangled in the mob. Unlike it’s predecessor, Mafia II focuses more on the protagonists rise within the organisation before things go sour. The story is set in 1945 and 1951. Broken into two parts, the city sees some changes between the two different years, most notably in the cars available and the music you can listen to. The city looks beautiful, as it changes from the winter of ’45 to the summer of ’51. While the game is still broken into Chapters, you can now roam the streets of Empire Bay at your will. While having the new found freedom is nice, there is very little to do in the city so you’ll probably just stick with the main objectives. This becomes a bit of a problem later on when you have to raise cash and there are very few ways to do it. In terms of gameplay, it can be hit or miss at times (literally). The game’s missions come in a variety of stealth, driving and shooting. The stealth sections are done well, with certain areas having alternative ways to complete a mission. Car control varies from car to car, with some handling smoothly while others lumber around corners. Shooting is where I had some issues. I always felt it was a bit sensitive and without a lock-on or some aim assist feature, I often found my aim further from my target than I hoped. You also can’t shoot without aiming, which was frustrating in missions where enemies can quickly overrun you. Overall, the story carries it well but the lack of side-missions and the aiming are a bit of a let down.
Mafia: Definitive Edition
Xbox One – 2020
Hanger 13’s remake of the 2002 cult classic follows the rise of the Salieri family across the 1930s. You star as Tommy Angelo, a Lost Heaven taxi driver who gets involved with the mob. The game is split into two modes, Story and Free Ride. Free Ride does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to explore the city and its surroundings at your leisure. Free Ride does include some side-missions to undertake as well as collectibles to find. The meat of the game is in Story mode, where you’ll recap Tommy’s journey from 1933 to 1938. Here, the missions follow one after the other allowing you no time to explore. The game comes with four difficulty settings to choose from, including a Classic difficulty, reminiscent of the 2002 original. The story itself is a slow burner at the start, jumping across the years, until the final few chapters where it explodes into action. The graphics look stunning, with Lost Heaven being wonderfully brought to life through its many different districts. I did notice some cars popping in every now and again but these weren’t a common occurrence. The cars handle like trucks, which is what I’d expect vehicles from the 1930s to feel like. There is a speed limiter to help you obey the traffic laws to avoid unwanted attention. The game has a healthy mix of stealth, action and driving to keep you amused. Not a long game by any means but one that is definitely worth trying.
Shadow Hearts: From the New World
PlayStation 2 – 2005
The final entry in the Shadow Hearts series takes us to the Americas. Here, a young detective is sent out to find a missing person and gets dragged into a world of demons and malice. Shadow Hearts: From the New World takes a lot of what worked in the second entry in the series and attempts to freshen it up but doesn’t always succeed. The combat is more refined, with a new “Combo” and “Double” attack system that on the face of it should be an improvement but at times feels like a downgrade. Instead of being close to someone to pull off a combo, you now must build up your “stock”. While this might seem like a good idea, I found myself rarely using it as most enemies (especially bosses) can either deplete your stock or prevent you from building it up. Enemies can also accrue “Stock” and often you’ll waste the first few turns in a boss battle just depleting it. Another new introduction is the Stellar Charts. You can slot in new Stellars and even power up these charts. Again, it feels like it’s trying to over complicate something that was simple in Covenant, and that pretty much sums up a lot of the issues with this game. The game also introduces more collectibles, from Snap Shots to Cat Coins but these feel like filler. Another issue I found was the grinding. Whereas the first two games allowed you to accrue experience and “souls” for leveling up fusions rather quickly, this one just felt slower. The graphics are improved, with the characters looking great for the system. The locales are somewhat more light-hearted than the other games, with sunny beaches in the Caribbean and idyllic Moana Village being a prime example of this. The characters are also a lot less series this time around. In Covenant, Joachim was the comedic relief but From the New World splits it out between Frank, Hilda and even Mao. The music ranges from wonderfully atmospheric to downright grating, sadly you’ll encounter more of the latter than the former. Overall, a decent JRPG but it fails to live up to the previous entries.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant
PlayStation 2 – 2004
The second entry in the Shadow Hearts series once again follows the exploits of Yuri as he attempts to stop demons and destruction. The game takes a lot of what worked in the original Shadow Hearts game and improved upon it. The Judgement Ring is back but this time it can be customized to your liking. You can adjust the amount of attacks, size of the hit areas and even equip items that can inflict status effects once you unlock them. You can also change the ring type to suit your play style, for example you can set up it to Practice Ring if you are struggling with the timings. The party has also been expanded, with four characters in your battle team and these can be changed at any time. This is a big difference as in the original you had to find someone in order to change your party. Characters not in your active party still get exp, just at a reduced rate. You can even set up to three different parties for quick access. I would often have a party for a dungeon and another for a boss. The game introduces Crests, meaning you can equip different types of magic. Each character also has their own unique abilities that you can use. The graphics are much improved on the original and there is a lot more voice acting. The music can be repetitive in places though. This entry marks a dramatic shift in tone compared to its predecessors. It embraces its goofy side and is littered with fourth wall breaking moments (looking at you, Joachim). While the first Shadow Hearts had a horror element to it, this one is more like what you’d expect from a JRPG. There is one dungeon that is a throwback, if you ever find it. Overall, a much improved sequel, even if I was a little disappointed they’ve forgone the horror.