Entertainment Reviews

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Tanks is a harsh mistress but has little interest in your money

Reviewed: World of Tanks (X360), Wolf Among Us: Episode 2, Halo Spartan Assault

Published 28/02/2014 | 13:20

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World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition
World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke and Mirrors
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 - Smoke and Mirrors
Halo Spartan Assault
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World of Tanks

X360

RATING: 8/10

AGE: 12+

FREE-to-play has acquired a terrible reputation even as gamers willingly pump a firehose of money into its developers’ pockets. The shining lights of the genre (Dota 2, Plants vs Zombies 2) have been overshadowed by greedy cash grabs that deserve to die (we’re looking at you, Dungeon Keeper. See also Halo Spartan Assault, below).

Microsoft’s introduction of microtransactions in many Xbox One launch titles seemed to signal a depressing shift even among boxed blockbusters.

So the omens were not good for this port of the wildly popular (and free) World of Tanks PC hit (78 million users and counting) to Xbox 360. Many presumed (not least me) that WoT’s gentle economy would be aggressively tilted towards extracting as much wonga as possible.

What a relief then that this free download can be fully enjoyed without spending a bean. The optional purchases grant access to special tanks and perks, for sure, but without unbalancing the game of 15 on 15 skirmishes in heavily armoured vehicles.

That’s the really good news. Less welcome is the comparative lack of maps and modes compared to the PC version. Future patches will compensate, no doubt, much as Minecraft for X360 has gradually evolved from its initial barren state.

And barren isn’t an unfair description of the state of WoT right now. Just seven maps compares poorly to the 33 on offer on PC – and almost half of those seven are quite dull.

It lacks useful tutorials, the team system is underdeveloped and death is permanent in each match – no respawn. But it says something about WoT’s design that this harsh mistress still manages to capture the imagination.

The better maps deliver an interesting challenge and there’s plenty of depth to the strategy between the XP upgrade system and possibilities offered by hooking up with a good team.

Hopefully, WoT is just laying the foundations for a much better experience to come but in the meantime it’s free to play – and it’s one of the few good games to really mean it.

 

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 2 – Smoke and Mirrors

PC/Mac/iOS/X360/PS3

RATING: 8.5/10

AGE: 18+

EVEN though it’s from accomplished adventurers Telltale, the debut episode of Wolf Among Us came out of left-field like a sneaky punch. Weaving an intense story of murder and betrayal among a cast of oddball outcasts, Wolf cast an unforgettable spell thanks to its origins in a graphic novel about fairytale characters.

Part 2 slows the pace of its twisted plot, as unofficial sheriff Bigby Wolf digs deeper into the killings of the toons. As the episode title suggests, little is what it seems.

But what will be clear is that wallowing in the superlative script, characterisation and set design is the reward in itself - because the gameplay elements are pretty slight.

Some quicktime events and a few dialogue choices fail to disguise that the story rolls on with or without you. It’s a compromise of all Telltale’s fiction but one which you wish they could tweak the balance for more player agency.

 

Halo: Spartan Assault

XOne, X360 download

RATING: 5/10

AGE: 12+

DON’T expect an interim instalment of the famous Halo FPS franchise, Spartan Assault is a top-down twin-stick shooter that first appeared on Windows phones last year.

The zoomed-out view of the battlefield lacks the usual charisma of the Halo universe but a more pressing problem stems from the lack of challenge posed by the brainless enemy AI.

And don't get me started on the dreaded microtransactions. True, you may never need to use them (see lack of challenge, above) but the implementation is breathtakingly grasping. Real money buys you one weapon – for just one level.

It might (might!) be justifiable in a free-to-play game but in one for which you’ve already paid €15? Fuhgeddaboutit.

 

 

 

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