REVIEW: Hue

  • Released: 2016
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC< PS4, PSVita
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 6 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Early on in Hue you get the impression that melding its interesting take on puzzlers and platformers with a simple but intriguing story can take it up to the heights of the recent history of indie games. Ultimately, however, it’s imaginative gameplay – like so many good ideas – can’t quite carry it’s ambition. In the last couple hours the story ends in a lacklustre way and the puzzle solving becomes a little stale. That said, it is an enjoyable distraction and definitely worth a look if its main gameplay mechanic interests you.25-11-2017_08-15-19

All the colours
That mechanic is the ability to change the colour of the background of the game. When the background colour and the colour of certain in game objects are the same, they disappear. For example, can’t get past that yellow wall? Make the background yellow and the wall fades into the background, allowing you to continue on your way. It’s a great idea and it’s implemented well. The left stick moves the eponymous character and the right stick changes the colour. The vast amount of the time this mechanic is just used for puzzle solving – traversing an area by getting rid of obstacles or moving a box of a certain colour onto a switch etc. Where it really comes into it’s own though, is when there is a time demand on the colour change. For example, you have to start a jump in one colour and land it in another – this extra tension is when the colour changing dynamic works best.25-11-2017_08-12-15

Story good…
There is also a small and simple story to back up the gameplay. As always on this blog, I will studiously avoid spoilers here but it’s told in an interesting way, slowly unfolding as you collect letters written to you. Early on the developing intrigue keeps you interested – always looking to complete the section so you can hear the next letter. Unfortunately this is one part of what eventually lets Hue down.25-11-2017_08-11-37

… story bad.
In the end you come to realise that the story was only ever a facade to place on top of the game – it carries no weight of it’s own and I found that rather disappointing. It’s not that I expect these short puzzlers to have great stories but if anything it does itself a disservice by pulling you in early on. There’s nothing to back up that early promise. Even when the tone changes slightly towards the end and I thought it was about to kick up a gear… it fades away.25-11-2017_08-11-20

Are you still here?
The other let down in Hue is that we have about 4 hours of gameplay in a 6 hour game. By the end I really was just going through the motions to get the game done. As above, this is a real shame after the early promise. I would have been happier with Hue had it simply been shorter. By the end everything that slowed me down – whether just another repetitive puzzle, or my own mistakes trying to solve them – got very frustrating. But if we ignore those last hours when the game has run out of new ideas the gameplay is absolutely loads of fun.25-11-2017_08-11-55

Verdict
In the end, Hue is a good game, but no more. Despite how it overstays it’s welcome it would be harsh to say it was average as it’s main idea – the colour mechanic – is full of imagination and fun. Equally, it doesn’t have anything else going for it in the end. The decision of whether you should play it really comes down to how intrigued you are by that gameplay device – whether that imaginative idea has captured your imagination. If so, then you’ll be able to look past the rest – if not, don’t get sucked in.Review3

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Reflections on Ashes Cricket

The England Cricket Team are currently ‘down under’ – in Australia – for a test series that is nicknamed ‘The Ashes’. They are rubbish and are getting absolutely hammered by an Australian team that isn’t all that good. They don’t need to be – they just need to be better than their opposition. To coincide with this, we have the video game ‘Ashes Cricket‘. Can playing this game make up for the real life failings of the England team? No. There aren’t any other new cricket games at the moment, so this one has no opposition to beat – and yet I still can’t recommend it.Ashes Cricket_20171122230647

List of things that are good about the England cricket team:

List of things that are good about Ashes Cricket:

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Seriously, this game is terrible. It looks awful – it’s so completely bland and uninspiring and the players and umpires look totally unnatural. The gameplay is not intuitive at all, even for someone who has played cricket games in the past. In fact, the only thing I can say struck me as working well was the fielding – but of course you have to have already done some bowling before you get to do that!Ashes Cricket_20171122231507

Batting, which is inevitably the most important part of a cricket game, is the part that should work well. You use the stick to aim and press different buttons for different kinds of shots with the right timing. Yet somehow even this doesn’t come together. At one point I decided I would try and hit a six – I did, but more by luck than judgement. The game doesn’t give you any good feedback about your shot making, either on screen or via gamepad rumble.Ashes Cricket_20171123225133

In short, I really can’t be bothered to try and find more to write about this game. Just don’t waste your time with it. Instead – you can watch the real Ashes! Or maybe not that either.

REVIEW: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

This game originally began life intended to be DLC for Uncharted 4 but eventually grew into a game worthy of it’s own full release. As such, there was the risk that The Lost Legacy would feel like a lesser Uncharted game, whether by taking shortcuts in gameplay, being less ambitious in scope or not having such engaging characters and narrative. Well, fear not – Naughty Dog has once again knocked it out of the park in every way and crafted an adventure completely worthy of the Uncharted name.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171023203721

Gameplay
The Lost Legacy doesn’t bring very much new to the party compared to it’s predecessors in terms of core gameplay. That said, the gameplay in Uncharted 4 was so close to perfect, why change it? Movement is smooth and natural whether you are just jogging through the landscape or climbing along dangerous cliff edges. Combat, both hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay, feels like second nature almost instantly. There really isn’t anything to criticise. You make more use of a jeep, during an early section of the game, than any time previously in the series and this works nicely too. One other small addition is the ability to shove a climbing knife into rough rock to give a handhold to reach higher areas – although this is ripped straight out of the recent Tomb Raider games, so it’s hard to call it an innovation. I’ve played through each Uncharted game and felt the core gameplay get better and better – if you jump straight into the series at this stage, it must be remarkable how well built it all is. A good example is how smoothly it moves in and out of cutscenes – to the point that ‘cutscene’ doesn’t really describe it – there are no cuts. Lots of games try and achieve that these days, but The Lost Legacy is the best demonstration of it yet.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171026234644

Scope
As with any Uncharted game The Lost Legacy is full of amazing landscapes and crazy set pieces. It is slightly smaller in scope than previous entries as you don’t bounce around the globe in the same way – after the opening section the rest of the game takes place in one (massive, it must be said) location. If anything though, I felt that it was a more focused, fast paced adventure as a result so I don’t see that as a good or bad thing. The location itself – set in India in this case – has all the wow-factor you could want. From staring up at huge and ancient structures to marvelling at nature, the world both looks and feels remarkable – just as it has in every Uncharted. Something I particularly like is that Chloe has her phone with her and you have regular opportunities to take quick snaps of the amazing scenes. It’s great how your own amazement is matched by that of the characters you are playing as and with!Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171027093246

Narrative
Which brings us nicely onto the characterisation and story. Naughty Dog make a good game but what they really do better than everyone else in gaming, in my opinion at least, is tell a story. And then marry that story up with the great gameplay – they compliment each other perfectly. The Lost Legacy is no different. I wouldn’t quite be able to say that I didn’t miss Nate and Elena as I did miss the romance between those two. But otherwise the cast of characters here is just as engaging and entertaining as ever. Whether it’s in the throw away comments they make as the game goes along, the wonderfully detailed but natural interactions in cutscenes or even just the little graphical additions that round out their personality, these characters are as alive as any I’ve ever found in a video game. Check out this short clip to notice Chloe reaching out for a wall and adjusting her hair whilst she waits:videotogif_2017.10.27_16.09.39.gif

It’s utterly brilliant and plays in great combination with the story itself. No spoilers here but it is epic, as Chloe and Nadine‘s treasure hunt gets more and more entwined with needing to defeat the bad guy Asav. Relationships between different characters build, are broken or repaired and different motives get clarified as they all fight for what they want and sometimes, what they believe is right. This is just as much fun and just as engaging as any adventure film you could see – and you get to play the main role.Uncharted™_ The Lost Legacy_20171026171322

Verdict
Rest assured that even if The Lost Legacy is kind of pitched as Uncharted 4.5, it is a thoroughly worthy successor. It’s another stunning and wonderful slice of adventure for fans and an accessible entry point for any Playstation 4 owners who have somehow missed the series so far. It’s not even priced as high as a full game so just get on with purchasing it now! Impossible not to have a blast with.

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Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

Gaming Subscriptions 2 – Xbox Game Pass, EA Access

After looking at the generic gaming subscriptions on consoles last week – Xbox Live, Playstation Plus and the forthcoming service from Nintendo – I also wanted to take a look at a couple of other things I am currently subscribing to. They are both on Xbox One, but there are similar services on other platforms like PS4 and PC. I have recently signed up to Xbox Game Pass and I am a long-time subscriber to EA Access.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.21.05

Xbox Game Pass
This service is kind of like Netflix or Amazon Prime, but for games. You pay a fee each month and then a whole host of games is available to you to download and play within that. As would be expected, these aren’t recent games in most cases and the selection is fairly random. As such, this won’t be any good for anyone looking for new games, or who has played most of these games back when they were new. However, I think it works for two kinds of gamers. The first are those people who are fairly new to Xbox One. The chance to play through the old Gears of War games, Halo 5, the Bioshock series, Sunset Overdrive – there is a ton of great gaming here that will keep newcomers entertained for months to come. The second is people, like me, who have missed out on a few of the more indie titles available. A couple of them I have already played like Braid or Hexic 2, but I’m currently taking the chance to play through Hue. It’s easy to miss these gems amongst all the latest big releases so I am pleased to have the chance to play them.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.14

That said, I do think that Xbox Game Pass is ultimately not worth the money for a consistent subscription. At £7.99 a month it would be a bargain if it consistently had new(ish) games that were worth playing but the reality is that once you are done with the few that you missed there aren’t enough, good enough, games added to the service on the monthly basis. Once I’ve completed the games I mentioned above, I will be cancelling.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.55

EA Access
What I won’t be cancelling is my EA Access subscription. Whilst this comes with a clear caveat – it only gives you games from the publisher Electronic Arts (EA) – the service itself is great, and a bargain to boot. You get two different aspects here. Firstly, much like Xbox Game Pass, there is the EA Access ‘Vault’ where plenty of EA’s slightly older games reside for subscribers to play. It always includes their older sports games – currently Madden NFL 17, FIFA 17 etc and quite a few others. For example, I am currently catching up with Mass Effect: Andromeda via my subscription. The second aspect is a combination of early access and discounts on new games. When EA is publishing a new games those with an EA Access subscription get to play a 10 hour trial of the game a week ahead of release. A recent example here is when tried out Need for Speed Payback via this service. Finally, you can get a 10% discount on those games if you have liked them at the end of your trial.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.20.17

This second part is the real key to setting this apart from the other gaming subscriptions. All of the others that offer free games offer almost entirely old ones. So there’s a good chance you’ve already played the best ones anyway. With EA Access you get to play new games, in fact you get to play them early. And at only £20 for a whole year it’s a bargain – you could easily make that back just on the 10% savings if you buy a few new games from EA over a year. Unless you never play EA games, this subscription is great.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.20.44

Conclusions
The concept of these subscriptions is great – pay a small fee and you have loads and loads of games available to play. However, without a consistent stream of new games this can get stale once you’ve played all the ones you want to. To return to the Netflix/Amazon comparison above – they are now making their own TV shows and have new release movies on a regular basis. Until Xbox Game Pass can match that kind of quality new content in gaming, it will not be something I subscribe to. EA Access is a well done model for how gaming subscriptions could work, but of course is only one publisher. If Xbox Game Pass was ever able to match that model across multiple publishers – well, then it would be a no brainer!

Click here to purchase an monthly subscription to Xbox Game Pass from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase an annual subscription to EA Access from Amazon.co.uk:

REVIEW: Gran Turismo Sport

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: Playstation 4
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 20 Minutes
  • Time to complete: Probably about 10 hours for the Campaign
  • Multiplayer: Yes

Gran Turismo Sport may be the most frustrating game I’ve played all year. The actual driving itself is superb, stunning even. The handling feels so authentic that even an uncooperative car is a pleasure to drive around. But Polyphony has completely forgotten to give you any good reasons to do so. The game is so bereft of fun things to do that I regularly put the controller down in frustration and/or boredom, only to pick it up again moments later for the pure pleasure of nailing an apex.gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171027213614.png

The Drive Of Your Life
Let’s look at the good first. Gran Turismo has always described itself as ‘The Real Driving Simulator‘ but it has never dialed it in as perfectly as it has here in Sport. Of course, car handling has been well refined in these games for years. Project Cars, Forza Motorsport, F1 games – these have all done a great job recently. But the detail, and the balance between accessibility and realism, is perfected here. You can really feel the weight and movement of the cars underneath you. There’s a really lovely uncertainty as you swing through the apex of a corner – the car a little unbalanced as you simultaneously accelerate, brake, turn and change gear. Then it falls into place as you blast onto the next straight. It just feels totally right and driving around a great track like Suzuka in Japan, right on the edge of adhesion, is a real joy.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171103232210

Off The Line
Unfortunately, you are simply not given enough good reasons to drive. This is primarily an online game, so there is very very little content for you to get stuck into by yourself. And this isn’t a case of cutting away the fat – too much of what you are left with isn’t that great anyway. Where usually we would have some kind of career mode we instead have ‘Campaign‘ mode and GTs usual ‘Arcade‘ mode is here too. (It’s telling that I am even talking about Arcade mode – in previous GT games it has been close to irrelevant but here it gets a mention as there is so little else.) In Campaign mode you face challenges and then are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze for how well you do. It is in three sections; Driving SchoolMission Challenge and Circuit Experience.

Driving School is much the same as earning licences in previous GT games – you are given short sections of tracks and tips of how to complete them quickly. Before, however, they were a means to an end – getting into the career mode. Here they are an end in themselves and are rather dull as a result.

Mission Challenge is where the only real gaming offline takes place. Here the requirements can range from overtaking challenges, to one-make races, to ‘endurance’ races (side note – since when did Gran Turismo count a 15 lap race as ‘endurance’?). Some of this is good as it gets out of the way and let’s the driving shine. Those slightly longer races in particular are good to break up the stream of 30-second challenges. But even here there are huge problems. The worst is when a particular challenge requires you to make no contact with the other cars. Ridiculously, you also lose these challenges if they hit you, so don’t think about trying to out-brake them into corners. I ended up creeping around the track in these races concentrating more on staying out of the way of the AI rather than enjoying the driving. Horrible.

Circuit Experience does what is says on the tin – holds your hand around each of the (very few) tracks in the game, giving you time trials of all the difficult sections until you are deemed ready for the whole circuit. I thought maybe I could learn the tracks whilst I was racing around them, but in Gran Turismo, apparently not. Also very dull.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171031214605

On The Line
All of this indicates that Polyphony have firmly put all of their eggs into the online basket – the eponymous ‘Sport‘ mode. As such, it had better be great, to recover this game from the threat of mediocrity.

It isn’t.

You have the standard ‘Lobby‘ area where you can arrange to play with friends or jump into stranger’s games. This does work pretty well – the flexibility in setup of these rooms allows everyone to race the way they want. But every single racing game on the market has this functionality – it’s not enough to carry this game alone. Perhaps the idea is that they will build on Sport mode over time but for now it is very minimal and very restrictive. You get 3 daily races that take place repeatedly through the day and two championships that run a few times in the evening. It all works in a very slow and cumbersome way; from the long loading times (like, really long) to the inconvenient organisation of race scheduling (usually when you finish one of the daily races the next one you can enter is… the same one you just finished) to the format (you spend up to 15 minutes qualifying for a 5 or 6 minute race, with a completely pointless ‘warm up’ in between).gran-turismoe284a2sport_20171104091332.png

Not only does it feel like a drag but it’s not saved by the races either. Polyphony are obsessed with trying to make sure everyone is nice to each other so they have instigated something called your ‘Sportsmanship Rating‘. You are forced to sit through a long, pious and badly-translated (I’m going to assume that’s the reason – otherwise it’s just really badly written) talk about how important it is to be nice on the track before you can even get into Sport mode and then in the races your every move is tracked. You gain ‘SR‘ by going through sectors without hitting anyone (in other words, when you are at the back not making any progress) and you lose ‘SR‘ for making contact. Of course, much like in single player mentioned above, you also lose rating points if others bump into you. Finally, they seem to have tried to ensure this doesn’t get out of hand by ghosting anyone’s car who isn’t on the racing line. This works well if someone has forgotten to break in time for an upcoming corner – they just fade out and miss everyone – but it is still not right; in one race I was passed by a ghosted car that went right through me and then solidified again once in front. Perhaps some people have learnt to game the system.

It would have been better to simply let people race and then match those who repeatedly don’t race well away from the rest of us – but once again, Gran Turismo feels the need to hold our hands, and it falls down as a result. When I think about how quickly and smoothly online games like Rocket League work, or how well the additional online content is built in a game like Dirt 4 (on top of a proper single player game, no less) everything about Sport mode is a disappointment.Gran Turismo™SPORT_20171026214043

Verdict
Gran Turismo Sport gets an extra star by virtue of the great handling model that Polyphony has created. The actual game that they have put together around it is completely average. If you have a few friends that enjoy racing online together – and have no desire to play any other parts of the game – then by all means make this your new destination. I can’t think of any other reason that you’d choose Gran Turismo Sport over other racing games.

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Click here to purchase Gran Turismo Sport on disc from Amazon.co.uk:

Gaming Subscriptions 1 – Xbox Live, PS Plus

I’ve been thinking about the various gaming subscriptions that can be taken up on consoles recently. One way or another all of these things are ways to get ‘free’ games, although some come with other benefits too. I’m going to look at a couple of services that I currently subscribe to on the Xbox One – namely EA Access and Xbox Game Pass – in another post in a week or so but the obvious place to start is with the different console’s generic subscription services – Xbox Live and Playstation Plus.20171104090820.png

Online gaming
I have had an Xbox Live subscription since the fairly early days in 2003. Back then I mostly played MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology 2 online and I’ve maintained it for at least most of the time ever since. It’s always been a requirement for online gaming on Xboxes and over the years the service has got better and better with more and more features. Playstation Plus wasn’t birthed so soon or so smoothly. Sony first began with ‘Playstation Network‘ features instead – which basically meant that each game had it’s own online services and there were no centralised features (or cost, to be fair). Eventually though, they saw how successful Xbox Live had been as a cohesive idea and PS Plus was born in 2010. I’ve only had PS Plus on and off – mostly because there haven’t been many games that I’ve wanted to play online since the subscription was necessary for that. In 2017, it has to be said, the two services are basically as good as each other: you get online play, additional discounts on new games, a few others bits like online game saving and monthly free games.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.17.06

‘Free’ games
Of course you are already paying for the service so that games you are given aren’t free, but just ‘built into the price of the room’, if you will. But this feature is obviously the main draw for these subscriptions for anyone who either doesn’t do much or any online play or who only wants online play on one console. My experience over the years has been that the games that come with Xbox Live Games with Gold are far better than the Playstation Plus Monthly Games. Perhaps it all comes down to taste but for me, I always look at the PS Plus games with a big shrug, but I regularly play through the games that I’ve got from Xbox Live. A recent example would be Gone Home and I have also played plenty of them with The BoyTrials Fusion and Hydro Thunder being recent examples of that. Of course, none of these games are particularly brand new – Microsoft and Sony don’t want to risk sales on those games. But if you are looking to supplement your current games with some interesting bits that you may have missed then these might be perfect for your needs.20171104091128

Nintendo
As of now, playing online on the Switch doesn’t require a subscription but that is going to change sometime in 2018 when they get their act together. This subscription will be similar in some ways – online play, game discounts – but doesn’t have the same features like free games or online saves. There will be some retro games playable, which is a nice touch and the service will be around half the price of the other two, so fair play really. Time will tell how well Nintendo execute their plans but certainly I’ve had no issues playing online on my Switch up to now, either docked or undocked.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 13.16.19

Conclusions
Whether you want to get one or both of these subscriptions may well be a no brainer – if you want to play online they are required. If it’s more an open choice to you then really this pivots on the free games they give away. I’d advise looking at the games that have been available the past few months and decide if it’s worth it to you. If it’s a choice between the two services – I would recommend Xbox Live.

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This was the original Xbox Live logo – good memories!

Click here to purchase an annual subscription to Xbox Live from Amazon.co.uk:
Click here to purchase an annual subscription to PS Plus from Amazon.co.uk:

REVIEW: Gears of War 4

In Gears of War 4 you play as JD, the son of Marcus Fenix. After the opening act you seek out your father for advice and end up fighting alongside him for the rest of the game. He’s still the same Marcus, if looking a little older – grumpy and angry but determined and resourceful. JD, on the other hand, is more happy-go-lucky, less beaten down – he’s in this to help friends, not to follow orders. This difference is a great analogy for how this 4th instalment differs from the first 3 Gears – a bit brighter, a bit more fun – but every bit as good.14-10-2017_07-44-41

Always look on the bright side of life
When I say it’s a bit brighter, I mean that in tone but also literally. Gone are the drab grey corridors (at least for the most part) and in their place are bright scenes outdoors for huge chunks of the game. And it looks great! Whether it is picking your way through a settlement or outrunning a storm, the graphics have not just taken a jump from Xbox 360 to Xbox One but so has the ambition to open up the colour palette and create a vibrant world. The tone matches this. Without the oppressive weight of a war in the background of events, the first half of Gears of War 4 feels more like an adventure game than the series has so far. You have no idea what’s going on and are just following up leads trying to figure it out. Nonetheless, the latter half brings a lot more of some of the things we expect from Gears – gore and violence, namely! But even in the face of increasingly difficult circumstances and more and more difficult enemies your team of young characters (Marcus aside) remains essentially upbeat – cracking jokes and enjoying blowing stuff up. Ah, the folly of youth!14-10-2017_07-43-10.png

Girls just wanna have fun
This all plays into the other thing I think is significant as Gears 4 moves the series forward – it just feels like it’s more fun! The more free-spirited cast of friends that make up your team face their battles with a sense of adventure that the older band of brothers from the first set of games could not, due to the war they’d all been fighting for too long. The makeup of the team is also key for one other reason: Kait. The inter-team relationships in Gears 1, 2 and 3 are all very macho and chest-thumping. With a woman in the team that would never work and as a result those relationships are more complex and emotional. There’s a developing connection between Kait and JD, Del is allowed to doubt himself and the team’s capabilities and Marcus even is brought out of his shell by her presence – we see more of his inner feelings here than in three entire games in the original trilogy. Where this makes the game more fun is that for the most part it is actually Kait who pushes the story along – it’s her goal that is the team’s main ultimate goal throughout most of the game. She’s determined, violent and reckless. It’s a huge amount of fun being along for her ride – and trying to keep up, frankly.14-10-2017_07-41-07

Coming around again
I’ve highlighted the differences between previous Gears‘ games and this 4th one so far but it is worth noting that it remains very similar in many ways. This is ultimately a flaw that, despite everything I’ve already mentioned, prevents this entry from quite surpassing its forbears. What always made the Gears of War series great was the gameplay – the cover system, the active reload and the sheer violence of the combat were off-imitated but never bettered by other video games. So much of Gears of War 4 has been injected with this spark of newness but the gameplay has remained more or less identical. Or course, that means that it is great! But I couldn’t help but feel that there should have been at least some small but significant changes to the core gameplay. There are a couple of sections and set plays that employ different techniques, in fairness – I enjoyed the way a small-scale form of the Horde mode, where you must survive against waves of enemies, has been massaged nicely into the single player campaign. Ultimately, the gameplay is still brilliant – but in a game where the stale has been replaced with the fresh, it feels slightly like a throwback.14-10-2017_07-45-46.png

Verdict
When a game’s only significant flaw is that it’s similar to it’s very illustrious predecessors you can expect it to be good! Gears of War 4 doesn’t change the overall script of the series but injects a youthfulness to an arguably ageing beast. The results are just as good as ever and frankly, just a little bit more fun. Recommended to anyone, whether you’ve played the original trilogy or not.14-10-2017_07-43-54

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Click here to purchase the game from Amazon.co.uk: