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TMCNet:  Tech Monthly: Playtime: The gaming grid

[June 22, 2014]

Tech Monthly: Playtime: The gaming grid

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) GAME Mario Kart 8 WII U, NINTENDO CERT: 3 WHAT'S THE STORY? Mario and pals are back for another lap or 20 around the Mushroom Kingdom. Nintendo has crafted 16 brand new racetracks and brought back fan favourites from previous games, making the package feel like a masterfully curated exhibition of series high points.

Detective Ronan O'Connor is having a very bad day, mostly on account of having been shot dead. Usually, that's where a story ends but here it's just the beginning. Trapped as a ghost and unable to move on until he's resolved his final task, O'Connor uses his new spectral powers to track down the Bell Killer.

GAMEPLAY Core gameplay remains the same - up to 12 racers zoom around bizarre courses, collecting power-ups to outdo each other and steal first place. Just like F1 then, but with more dinosaurs. MK8 feels substantially more balanced than recent entries, with new items allowing greater on-track strategy.

Shhh! Don't tell anyone, but Murdered is actually a point-and-cclues.lick adventure, just really well disguised. That's no bad thing though - developer Airtight is forcing players to think more than fight. Possessing the living lets you read thoughts or subtly influence actions, but everything is aimed at uncovering HIGHS AND LOWS The only major fault is with the overhauled Battle Mode. Rather than zipping around open arenas trying to take down rivals, racers now drive on the existing tracks. The result is lengthy stretches where you may not even see competitors, let alone have a chance at defeating them.

After a while the investigations become a bit formulaic. Some clues are harder to find, but the process rarely changes. Occasional battles with demons liven things up though, and the world, its inhabitants, and their secrets are genuinely engaging.

VERDICT Broken battles aside, Mario Kart 8 is effectively the best game in the series. It takes the best elements of its predecessors and combines them into something that feels like a progression. Playing solo can be a touch confusing, with key info shunted to the Wii U's Gamepad screen, but the sheer fun of the game more than makes up for it. MK As a slice of pulp horror meets detective noir, Murdered offers a lot to enjoy. Ronan is a classic "bitter cop", but the writers make him feel a rounded, compelling character. If you're looking for atmosphere and more than "shoot everything!", there's a lot to enjoy. MK Wolfenstein: The New Order PS4, PS3, XBOX ONE, XBOX 360, PC, BETHESDA CERT: 18 In an alternate 1960s where the Nazis won the war, William "BJ" Blazkowicz is the last soldier able to make a stand. Of course, he's a grizzled American war machine, but that's part of the charm in this schlocky, profane and delightfully excessive slice of violence and high camp framed as a firstperson shooter.

Mostly, you shoot people, often in creative and elaborate ways. Rifles, gun turrets, grenades, pistols, onehanded or dual-wielding John Woostyle - the game showers you in ways to drown enemies in lead. Wolfenstein is decidedly retro in its approach, with linear progression and old-fashioned health and armour packs to be found.

Watch Dogs XBOX ONE, XBOX 360, PS4, PS3, PC, UBISOFT CERT: 18 Hardcore shooter fans may lament the lack of multiplayer, but that's not really what Wolfenstein is going for. It's about single-handedly taking down the Nazi war effort and liberating the world, while facing off against robotic death dogs and other products of Axis super-science. The knowing B-movie tone of the game is a treasure.

Wolfenstein is perfectly balanced between farce and fierce. Where many shooters try to compete with the likes of Battlefield, this doesn't even bother. It's happy doing its own thing. And really, how could we not recommend a game that features "Frau Engel and her psycho-sexual boytoy, Bubi"? Brilliant absurdity. MK Ubisoft is perhaps best known for its Assassin's Creed games, but this new intellectual property (IP) is how it chose to welcome the new generation of consoles before that generation had even been announced. It's a typical action-adventure - open world, online capabilities, gunplay, stealth - but with the addition of hacking.

Like many protagonists, hacker Aiden Pearce is motivated by revenge, and spends a lot of time on activities like driving around Chicago and killing people with a variety of weapons. What sets him apart is the hacking skill; he can interfere with computercontrolled equipment and access personal information.

Hacking security cameras and the like to analyse and prepare an area before Aiden even enters it is an interesting novelty. However, hacking often feels more like a side activity before the driving and shooting occurs.

When Ubisoft revealed its new IP, it looked innovative enough to prompt next-gen rumours before the next generation was announced. The final product, however, is much the same as previous big-budget games, not the new genre we hoped for. JW Tomodachi Life 3DS, NINTENDO CERT: 3 The sequel to Tomodachi Collection, which was only released in Japan, this 3DS game marks the UK's first experience with the popular series. A "simulation" that is more colourful and less strictly realistic than the likes of The Sims, populated by the cartoon avatars Nintendo calls Miis.

PlayStation Vita Pets VITA, SONY CERT: 3 At first glance, this new game from the developers who made EyePet and EyePet Adventures for the PSP looks like Sony's answer to the incredibly popular DS and 3DS Nintendogs series. But what on the surface is a typical pet sim also features an adventure, with the kinds of levelling-up that you'd expect to see in a role-playing game.

An island home awaits these cartoonish Miis, one designed in the player's image and the rest likely based on friends or celebrities. Each has a personality, a robotic voice that cleverly saves on voice actors, and a happiness level that is boosted by new stuff: a plate of food, a casual hat, or marriage and a newborn child.

With a cash prize every time a Mii gains a happiness level, which in turn enables further purchases, the main interactive part of the game is something of a repetitive cycle. The real enjoyment comes from creating Miis based on real people, listening to their robotic quips and watching the drama unfold.

An island filled with shops and attractions gives the impression of lots to do, but aside from a few mini games the level of interaction is low. Though dependent when it comes to food and clothing, the Miis are autonomous in most other things, and the player is more of an observer of wacky events and the novelty soon wears off. JW All the basic pet sim features are there, with a range of dogs to adopt, then feed, water, walk, play with and teach tricks to. However, a book on the shelf reveals the story of a king and his dog who have left a treasure trail to follow, with each step requiring a new level of skill - tug, for instance, or athletic - to be trained.

The entire game can be controlled through touch alone, in a way that feels natural on the Vita. Voice recognition works well too, so the dogs do things like perform tricks without frustration. An unfortunate by-product of the adventure, however, is that the dogs talk, and their repetitive chatter is bound to annoy.

The addition of the adventure, with its stages of progress and the need to level up the dog's skills, gives a welcome feeling of substance to the game, even if the plot isn't interesting enough to motivate on its own. But once the adventure is done and only the annoying chatter remains, there's little to motivate continued play. JW (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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