Game Review: Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy (PS4)

By Adam Ouakli (@AdamOuakli)

Being a 90’s kid, if I were to list the top 3 things that I wanted in life to satisfy my need for nostalgia from a bygone era, it would look a little something like this:

1) Pokemon being real

2) Oasis reforming

3) Crash Bandicoot re-mastered

With number 1 probably being a more realistic expectation that number 2, it’s safe to rule them both out. That leaves us with number 3 on my list: Crash Bandicoot practically raised me. Since I got my first PlayStation at the age of 5, I’ve been playing the orange marsupial’s games – hell, I even used to have dreams that I was scaling the Native Fortress as a kid. It’s a game that, for me, has stood the test of time, a classic that will go down in history as one of the best trilogies every produced.

So it’s safe to say that the recent remastering of these three games, aptly titled the N.Sane Trilogy, was a very much anticipated event in the gaming sphere. They’ve had a total HD makeover and it truly shows: starting from the beginning, washing up on N. Sanity Beach again after all these years was special. I didn’t move forward in the level, I just sat for a few minutes taking it all in. It was beautiful. It is how I always dreamed a re-master of the game would look like – full of vibrant colours, amazing visuals, animations and detail like a modern cartoon and it blew me away.

Advancing in the level I noticed that even though the music has a fresher, clearer sound, it is still the basic original sound we know and love. The animations look and feel just like they should and Aku Aku, well, his “Wooga booga” had me emotional. The sound of breaking boxes, of collecting Wumpa Fruit, of jumping on a tortoise – everything is pretty much perfect. Naughty Dog who originally developed the Crash Bandicoot games in the 90s were not involved in making the re-masters, leaving the task to Vicarious Visions to bring Crash Bandicoot back into our lives, and they’ve done the originals and Naughty Dog proud.

All three games play very much like they used to as it’s a re-master not a re-haul. Personally I think this is how it should be; if too much was changed it wouldn’t feel like a proper Crash game. So far I’ve played through an awful lot of all three games and I’m absolutely loving it. I have seen countless people on social media complaining about how hard the game is, which confuses me a little. Yes, the game is tricky at times (Don’t get me started on levels like ‘Road to Nowhere’ and ‘The High Road’) but the majority of games out there will have tricky parts in them. If a game isn’t challenging it gets pretty boring pretty fast. I even read one review where the critic wrote that “the 3D throws off your depth perception” and that “the colourful designs on levels like ‘Hang ‘em High’ trick you into thinking there’s space to land on trampolines when there isn’t.” These are pretty petty complaints: the only substantial one that holds any real weight is the change in physics for Crash 1 which makes certain levels a bit more difficult than they should be.

Nine times out of ten, though, the game requires some precision and timing – when you don’t succeed at landing jumps, that’s not the game’s fault. Having completed these games before I was 10 years old, in addition to the fact that not much of the gameplay has changed from its original release, it’s odd for people to compare this to Dark Souls in terms of difficulty. Some people are either just bad at the game or have forgotten that there are several tricky levels and have lost a lot of patience now that they’re older. There have been some comments calling the game ‘monotonous’ and ‘only good for nostalgia’: well pal, if you think the game is boring then why did you buy a re-mastered version of the very same game? The games are extremely refreshing even two decades after their initial release which says a lot.

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Despite the fact that a lot has remained very similar to originals, there are a few changes that are mostly welcomed. As well as a refined saving system, something that the original Crash game was sorely missing, and online leader-boards, players are now given the chance to play as our titular hero’s laptop wielding sister Coco. While she plays exactly like her big brother, it’s a nice addition which helps the trilogy to feel like you’re playing a more improved version of the game you played years and years ago.

One thing that must be said about this trilogy is that if you’re buying it solely for that nostalgia factor, you’ll be more than stuffed. However, newcomers may feel like these feelings for a bygone genre will wear off quickly, leaving them £35 lighter and with no real urge to fully complete the games. They’re arguably limited in content though with the time trials and gems, some of which are attached with some challenges, but others may feel like the campaigns are too short: altogether I’d say it only took a few days to complete all three titles. As I’ve mentioned though, this is only an issue for those who don’t intend on getting all they can out of this game: for those that do and want to get 100% (or more *hint* *hint*) then there’s more than enough to get your money’s worth.

Overall, this trilogy has next to no shortcomings, at least ones that didn’t also come along back with the games during their original release. Criticisms regarding clipping and such are overblown considering how rare an occurrence of this could be with the only real negative these games bring being the controls being not quite as fine tuned or polished as the beautiful visuals and sound design. Every minute of these three games I’ve enjoyed thoroughly and while they aren’t perfect, enough has been done to recreate these games as perfectly as possible.

The only other criticism I have: I’m now left with the urge for a remastering of Crash Team Racing. Please Vicarious Visions, do this and I can die a happy, happy man.

8/10


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Game Review: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

By Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs )

Traversing across a field, making my way to the next zone with 40 people remaining, I knew something was going down. The circle was coming in by the second and I could hear bullets in every direction. With our group receiving an abundance of casualties, it was only myself and another teammate left to fend for ourselves. The bullets were coming closer and closer. Out of nowhere I was hit, but I had no clue where it came from. I frantically spun my camera in every direction possible and there it was, a muzzle flash from the roof of a nearby building: they were onto us.

Stuck in the open with only a corn field and a couple of trees for cover, panicking, I prone to increase health with bandages. My mate was languishing in a tree somewhere behind me barking out the directions of the bullets and laying down some suppression fire. My hands were sweating at this point, just waiting for my head to be blown off via a Kar98 sniper. It didn’t happen, but the waiting was terrifying to say the least.

This is exactly what you’ll get from the minute you land on the island of Player Unknowns Battlegrounds. Incredibly, the game is still in early access, which means it’s effectively incomplete, and is developed by the man that brought the battle royal mod for ARMA 3, Brendan Greene.

For those of you that aren’t aware, Battlegrounds is battle royale style shooter where players parachute onto a massive island with one objective: survive. Once players land, they must scavenge buildings on the island for a variety of different weapons that range from SMGs to Assault Rifles, Snipers, or even a cooking pan to swing in someone’s face!  

You also need to get a hold of bags to carry bandages, first aid, and weapon parts. The key to success is most definitely loot and, most importantly, gun attachments such as scopes and extended mags. This will make your life a whole lot easier and gives you a much needed upper hand on opponents – this set up will no doubt be familiar to those who are fans of games such as H1Z1 or PC blockbuster ARMA 3.

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Not only do you need to contend with 99 other players in solos, but also a circle which shrinks the play zone every few minutes, and being caught outside of the ‘circle’ results in receiving health damage – think Battle Royale (or its copycat Hunger Games) and you’ll get the picture. The game itself has 3 game modes: solo, duo and squads which consists of up to 4 players per team.

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty: is the game actually any good? Well to put it bluntly, it’s great! The way it makes every second as nail biting as the last is superb. No matter where you are on the map, there’s a part of you that knows an enemy could be around the corner. This is especially the case for high loot zones as a number of players will be frantically looking for loot at the beginning of every game. If you’re too late, you’ll more than likely die a miserable death after a mere few minutes after landing. The plane itself travels in a random direction in every game, which makes most landings different most games. This helps to give each game a different feel from the last. The fact that you can choose when to parachute out of plane adds to this too.

From the off you need a plan. Jumping early to a high loot zone right below the plane will see you fighting it out with plenty of other players, but the loot is more than worth the risk if you survive. You could always jump late and travel a good distance to a quieter part of the island where you’re almost guaranteed to be on your own, however the loot won’t be great and you risk being a distance from the circle when it spawns. Weapons are distributed randomly, but a decent weapon can get you so far.

Even after nearly 90 hours of gameplay, I’ve found myself in the last 10 without even firing a single bullet. Hiding from enemy players and quietly going about your business is a valid tactic for sure. Even when your steadily progressing, you always have a choice: you can stay around the edge of the force-field and wait for its next destination or you can risk it and go straight into battle. You may also find yourself stuck in a room from time to time, anxiously waiting it out, listening to every single sound around you and, dare I say it, on the floor below you! All of these various factors keeps you entertained without the feeling of repetition.

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Weapons are fun to use too, very well balanced , and you can feel a weight behind them. Also each weapon vary in rate of fire, and damage, and no 2 guns are the same.  You could go for short range guns such as the micro UZI, UMP and Shotguns to Assault rifles such as the AK or SCAR-L. Oh and don’t forgot long range guns like the Kar98 or AWM. And as said earlier each vary in damage. Damage also depends on the level of helmet equipped by the enemy. Level 1 being the weakest and level 3 being the best.

With the win percentage being so low, the hunt for victory leaves you addicted and hungry to go back. Winning a game gives you a huge satisfaction, something that is missing from so many games over the past 10 years.

The game isn’t perfect by any means: loot sometimes refuses to be picked up, annoying latency problems, and occasionally mushy textures can cause problems and prevent you from playing when in the plane or after launching out of it. Two issues which seem to have remained constant is the game not loading in time and game freezes for a small number of players. Thankfully, updates are coming out regularly which makes the £26 price tag seem worth it, especially considering most AAA publishers don’t even put this amount of effort into fixing their games’ issues. 

It’s no wonder that Battlegrounds has sold a ridiculous 4 million copies since its  release on Steam 3 months ago – breathing new life into the battle royale shooter genre, Player Unknown has provided a game that is equal parts exciting and anxiety provoking. It may not be a technically perfect game, glitches are common here, but the game does enough to alleviate any issues these might bring about. Overall, Battlegrounds can stand up proudly as an example of early access done right – a rare and valuable achievement. 

8/10


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Game Review: Friday The 13th (2017)

By Liam Menzies (@blnkclyr)

A heavy sense of dread filled every inch of my body. As I stood still in the room, haunting and chilling sounds echoed around, the sheer darkness engulfing the screen making everything far more fearful than I had anticipated. With one foul swoop, my misery was brought to an end after minutes of excruciating waiting, Jason’s face adorned on the screen.

Sadly, this wasn’t genuine gameplay from IllFonic’s Friday The 13th Game, rather the main menu that anyone unfortunate enough to play a game at launch was forced to endure for hours on end. The Kickstarter-funded project is one that has been eagerly anticipated by many with the infamous horror icon Jason Voorhees being part of gaming since the old NES days. Now, with updated graphics and such, a passionate team could finally make a solid Crystal Lake simulator that would be fun for both the masked killer and the teens unlucky enough to come across him. 

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Unfortunately, the end product feels more like a half-baked game than one worth the £30 it’s asking for. The first thing players will notice, that is if they can still get past the server issues that plague the game more than a week after launch, is just how off the game looks. Obviously, no one is expecting a beautiful game considering the game’s budget, £1 million is nothing compared to most AAA games that cost 100 times that, but it’s no excuse for how awful some of the characters look.

A notable one has to be Chad Kensington, one of the few characters that you’ll remember due to how laughably bad his animation is during the intro, his jaw wide open like he’s just discovered the slam tent at T In The Park. When a game is trying its very best to be a scary experience, it seems detrimental for the plastic models to take you out of the moment.

Graphics don’t make a game, though, so it’s worth inspecting the gameplay of Friday The 13th, one area where both the game’s best and worst elements lie. As you may expect, you get to jump into the sludgy, swamp water filled boots of Jason and take on the role to kill all the counsellors in a set amount of time.

The asymmetrical nature is one that should offer a fair amount of challenge while also making things fair though this isn’t usually the result. More often than not, counsellors will find themselves glitching onto trees or other objects (God knows why they didn’t include a jump button to help with traversal) while running away from Jason who, without a moment’s notice, can zoom right next to you and choke you to death or some other visceral way. While these moves are just as cheesy as they are gruesome, finding yourself cheated by the game makes it more enraging than it does entertaining.

Speaking of Jason though, IllFonic have done a good job in making a simulator of sorts. Your abilities don’t feel slapped on for the game’s sake, rather tieing in well with the subject matter, much like the aforementioned zoom mechanic which explains why the horror villain so often pops up everywhere both in game and film.

The most fun moments occur when Jason and the counsellors meet, usually with the latter stuck in a cabin while Jason waits eagerly outside. With headphones on, the chilling music and wonderful sound design applied to Jason’s movement and actions do evoke a great sense of dread that leave you wishing the game would do this regularly.

 

Sadly, you’ll find yourself rummaging through drawers more than you will running for your life which becomes rather monetonous. On top of this is just how downright buggy the game is: doors sometimes don’t close, windows often dissapear and perks nine times out of ten don’t work, making all those CP (the game’s currency) you spent pretty much worthless. One glitch occured during a game between friends where one player, after exiting a tent, ended up floating in the air and onto the huge house beside before twerking on top of it, leaving the Jason in the game frustrated. While it was hilarious, being on the receiving end isn’t and with the price being rather steep, it’s no wonder many are angry that they’re getting a game that isn’t complete.

On top of that, many have complained of Jason being overpowered and with games lasting up to 20 minutes, having to watch other players hide for 10 minutes in a cupboard never gets any less dull, something that could be negated with games being shorter, forcing players to hurry up with their escape plan while encouraging Jason to do his job more efficiently.

It wouldn’t be fair to say there’s been no effort put into Friday The 13th, rather the team have tried various things with mixed results rather than focusing on a few and getting them bang on. While it’s more out of necessity than choice, a private game with you and seven of your friends is undeniably fun if you make sure to focus on having a laugh than genuine horror but that would only really pass if the game were free. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and as it stands, Friday The 13th is a confused mess that’s few glimmers of real, scary fun can’t help to iron out its flaws.

4/10


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GAME REVIEW: Ratchet + Clank (2016)

14 years after their debut, Playstation’s shiniest and furriest duo return in one of the greatest remakes ever.

“Fan favourites Ratchet and Clank are back. Can they repeat the same magic we saw during our last competition?” says an overly enthusiastic commentator during your hoverboard race on Rilgar, unintentionally harking back to the great platformer boom of the early 2000’s. Crocodiles, lizards and bandicoots(?) lead the genre with Insomniac having two horses in the 3D race with their former entry being beloved purple dragon Spyro. The latter was Ratchet & Clank, an unlikely duo who have put on a suphero performance, managing to do what most Playstation icons can’t by traversing not one, not two but three console generations.

In a strange turn of events, predicted by the original game nonetheless, Ratchet + Clank have reached the status where they can have their name adorned on a feature length film. The results have been…less than stellar…but it feels like the ultimate pay off as the game (based on the movie, based on the game) is not only full to the brim with nostalgia: it’s a damn solid game overall.

Right from the get go, you know that you’re in for something special with Ratchet and Clank. This is the first game I’ve played where I’ve totally avoided the objective on hand to admire the look of the environment as, having played the PS2 original, there are a lot of memories attached to these levels. From the rich, piranha infested waters of Pokitaru to the snow and war afflicted land of Batalia, Ratchet and Clank is full of levels that have a Pixar level of shine to them. They aren’t just areas for you to test out your lucrative arsenal of weapons, more on that later, they’re characters in their own right and are accompanied by some equally impressive music as well.

How Blue-tiful: Pokitaru is one of 14 spectacular looking planets.

Now about those weapons. Ratchet and Clanks prides itself on not only its sense of humour and interesting world but its gameplay and that’s where these aforementioned weapons come into play. Ranging from the aptly named Groovitron, which causes all enemies in the vicinity to start dancing, to the Pixelizer which turns enemies into 8-bit versions of themselves with a shotgun blast, Ratchet + Clank is the pinnacle of imagination when it comes to how creative these weapons are and whilst they may lose their laughs fairly quickly, they never get any less cool to use, especially with the leveling up system in place.

Whilst it may be seen as a sin to profess it, the PS2 original was not perfect and having played it recently, I can say that implementing the evolve-as-you-use method with the weapons adds an extra layer of replay value as well as immersion. All too often games ground themselves in realism and, to their credit, immerse you in their gritty, depressing narratives so it’s refreshing to have a game where you can turns enemies into sheep and rocket jump over their fleecy coats.

Snaggle-what?!: Many bosses will greet you on your journey to save the galaxy.

Speaking of narratives, Ratchet + Clank’s story is where the only issues with the game lies. Delivered to us via Captain Qwark, think Zap Brannigan from Futurama with a love for the colour green, the story suffers from being affiliated with the movie as it moves at such an alarmingly fast pace that we never get a chance for the characters to develop. The eponymously titled protagonists friendship seems rather tacked on despite having been established near flawlessly in the original series. Given the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure Insomniac would have managed to avert this issue and it’s something that, helped out by a sequel, could easily be fixed.

Despite that nitpicking, the story is pretty solid though predictable. It’s your classic tale of intergalactic peril with Ratchet and Clank stopping the evil tycoon Chairman Drek from destroying every planet in the galaxy. It’s fairly bread and butter as things go but it’s all that it needs to be: a template for the developers to display their wacky ideas and humour without feeling too jarring.

Pesky Slimeballs: Enemies look as vile as ever with the refined graphics

Launching with a £30 price tag, the game packs a lot of replay value with a challenge mode, Ratchet + Clank’s New Game Plus of sorts, providing the bulk of your playtime and will have you doing multiple playthroughs to fully upgrade your weapons and collect everyone of those holocards. It’s not quite Gwent but it’ll do.

TL:DR
When all is said and done, you’ll be forgiven for forgetting that this game is simply a byproduct of it’s big blockbuster brother. Ratchet + Clank manages not only to outdo its own film but the entire series that it’s rebooting with it’s newly refined graphics and gameplay giving a breath of fresh air to both the series and gaming itself. All nitpicks aside, you’d be crazy not to go out of your way to play this game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some boxes to smash.

9/10

– Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

GAME REVIEW: Hotline Miami (PS4)

While I don’t often review games here on my blog, it’s safe to say that anytime that I’m not listening to an album or eating my bodyweight in cheese, I’m playing a videogame. As a student though, a poor one at that, games aren’t as easy to come by for me as splashing out £30+ on something that may or may not be good tends to be too risky.

That’s what first drove me to picking up Hotline Miami from the Playstation Network: at £7.99 I’d be an idiot to turn down this bargain, especially for a game that has been praised by multiple gaming outlets since its release. Thankfully, the hype was worth it as Hotline Miami is one of the most enjoyable yet frustrating games I’ve ever played.

Like any good article that is trying to convince you to purchase something, I’ll start off with the strongest point and weirdly enough, it’s one that I’ll have an easy enough time talking about. Yes, the music stealing the show in a video-game may trigger some alarm bells as after all, that tends to be an argument that is used when justifying the existence of Sonic 06.

Just like the game itself, Hotline Miami has a soundtrack very much inspired by 1980’s culture, techno beats and heavy synthesisers a plenty. Some songs feel like they were taken right out of the neo-noir crime film Drive with one track being the spitting image of said film’s best known track Real Hero, melody intact.

While you might say that the music is a complete rip-off, you couldn’t be more wrong as the music perfectly complements the simple to learn but hard to master gameplay. Story-driven this game is not and I’ll avoid mentioning it as 1) spoilers and 2) it’s best to be experienced rather than told. Anyway, back to the gameplay and here we find ourselves with a top down shooter, not in the vain of some of the high octane bullet hell games that appear from Japan.

No, Hotline Miami can be tackled in the same kind of way as last year’s MGS V: you can strategically plan every detail of your plan to eliminate all enemies or you can go in guns blazing, mask firmly on. The aforementioned music is your source of adrenaline here, heavy beats accompanying the satisfying crunch of your fist hitting an enemy’s face.

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It may sound simple but Hotline Miami gets far more frustrating as the game progresses with a one hit kill system working for both you and the enemies which levels the playing field. However, you’ll find yourself throwing your controller on the ground in anger when a lone soldier decides to foil your plan mere seconds before a perfect execution.

Things like conveniently placed machetes and such will give you a bit of an advantage as well as the masks which give certain abilities like the horse one which upgrades your door kicking ability from “sleepy time” to “coma time”. You’ll find yourself playing levels repeatedly not only to beat your previous score but to unlock more masks and weapons to spice up your killing.

While not perfect by any means (average bosses and an out of the blue difficulty spike sour the game), Hotline Miami really is the full package for me: a story that is as enthralling as you want it to be, replay value, addictive gameplay and a vibrant, catchy soundtrack. Don’t be like me and stumble upon this game years after everyone. Get it now.

9/10

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Batman: Arkham Knight review

“Remove yourself from the piece.” This is a piece of advice, well not so much a piece of advice rather than a rule, that I got repeatedly told during my first year of journalism. While it’s easy enough to stick to this rule while writing about the news or something miscellaneous, it proves to be far more difficult when it comes to something you’ve got a great interest in. I’m sure anyone who’s read any of my pieces about Biffy Clyro can see what I mean though I never was subtle about my love for the band.

When I got Arkham Knight, the final chapter in the Batman videogame trilogy by Rocksteady, I knew I’d face this same issue again. However this wasn’t due to the fact that I’ve been a fan of the Caped Crusader since I was a child. Although I’ve followed the superhero through the majority of my life, watching the Christopher Nolan film trilogy countless times and religiously viewing the 90’s animated series, there’s something about the Arkham games that’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

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I can confidently say that this pure disbelief at how immersive a game can be is not only still part of this explosive finale but it’s been somehow improved beyond my expectations. The first thing you’ll notice as soon as you start up the game and create a new save file is the absolute scale of Gotham, standing on a radio tower and seeing how much area you have to traverse. As cliche as it sounds, Gotham is a character in itself, gothic architecture perfectly matching the dark atmosphere that shrouds every inch of the city. From the grand buildings of Founders Island to the conveniently named Bleake Island’s broken down homes and abandoned buildings, there’s a real sense of variety that helps each part of Gotham stand out.

This variety is well needed though seeing as you’ll be spending countless hours gliding over and driving through the gritty streets fighting some of the batman’s most notorious villains. The main story will take up a large chunk of your time and will have you tackling the Scarecrow’s nefarious plans to pollute Gotham full of his fear toxin which, if you didn’t already guess, transforms its victims into violent individuals tortured by their worst fears.Despite the fact there’s not any scenes as creative as the nightmare levels from Arkham Asylum, the story is still interesting and once you’re inevitably inflicted with the toxin yourself, the plot becomes even more interesting.

The main campaign is far from terrible but a few things hold it back from being truly exceptional. Arkham Asylum was called so because of the Asylum it was set in, Arkham City was called so because of the city it was set in and unsurprisingly enough Arkham Knight is called so because of the name of the main villain. After the amount of hype the character received in previews, it disappointed me how Rocksteady treated him. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge in Batman will know who he is and even if you don’t, you’ll be able to guess who it is if you remember the most important rule in entertainment: if you don’t see them die then they’re not dead.

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One of the game’s major selling points also suffers some flaws. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved the Batmobile in this game. The driving was perfect, making light work of any trees, fragile structures and bins that got in your way and I’ll even back up battle mode which has been criticised by a lot of reviewers. It was consistently challenging and as long as you go into the settings so that you can toggle the mode, the controls are near enough flawless. However this battle mode brings with it something that I just can’t let slide by and that is stealth sections in a tank. Yeah I said it. Stealth sections. In a tank. Now I know that this might have seemed like a fun wee idea by some developer at the time but so did communism and look what that lead to it.

Fortunately the plot does hold your interest and you really do feel like this is the endgame. In past games you felt like, yes, you were at risk but Rocksteady never really took any punches at your feels until the end of Arkham City. Now every character you come across, regardless if they’re a villain or ally, is just as vulnerable as you are. You might have your batmobile and your belt full of gadgets but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I was outnumbered and on the brink of failing. It’s not an easy game either with some sections even at normal difficulty forcing you to prove your worth. It might be the weakest story in the series but it’s like saying Return of the Jedi has the weakest story in the Star Wars trilogy.

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Despite these problems I had with the game, I had an amazing time with Arkham Knight. The combat is as flawless as past iterations and has had some tweaks such as environmental takedowns and better animations, you can even get the batmobile involved and fight alongside Nightwing, Catwoman and Robin. The side missions are also a blast to play through, providing some of the game’s best moments including an appearance from one of batman’s lesser known antagonists. Of course there’s the riddler challenges as well which are just as difficult before and will be a challenge to get through but will be essential for you getting that 100% completion rating and the real ending to the game

Overall Arkham Knight is one of the most entertaining games I’ve played in years and is the first game I’ve played on PS4 that’s felt like a truly next gen title, utilising the console’s specifications to deliver an immersive experience that makes you feel like the Batman, finally allowing you to relive those childhood dreams.