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The 3rd Street Saints have come a long way. Originally the hoodlum stars of a GTA knock-off, they’re now the heroes of a successful franchise with its own personality and masses of popular appeal. Each new chapter seems to see the Saints move even further away from their street crime roots, and the shift is always for the better. It’s no coincidence that the best game in the series, Saints Row 4, was the one that made the Saints the super-powered last bastion of humanity in a battle against alien enslavement. The only problem? After you’ve gone that far, where on Earth do you go next? Once your hero has conquered not just America but the known universe, where is there left to go? Well, to hell appears to be the answer, with a stand-alone expansion that takes the Saints’ brand of mayhem to the fiery furnaces below.
Saints Row IV began as a stand-alone expansion to Saint’s Row: The Third, reskinning and reworking Stillwater to make it a playground for alien-battling superheroics, and Gat Out of Hell repeats much the same trick. Urban decay gives way to the textures of the inferno, pedestrians become the shambling husks of the damned, while your old Zin overlords have been replaced with a cast of generic hellspawn. Superpowers, meanwhile, become a range of demonic abilities, as our protagonists sweep through the air on lucifer’s wings, speed along the ground at 90mph and lay the smackdown with the aid of new powers. Titanic stomps, vicious imp minions, ice-cold flames and turn-to-stone projectiles can all turn a battle in your favour, and while the action is all much the same beneath a thin veneer, it’s just different enough to keep your interest.
Of course, you’re no longer playing the boss, but one of his/her lieutenants – either everyone’s favourite trigger-happy psycho, Johnny Gat, or the series big geek heroine, Kinzie Kensington. Satan has kidnapped the Boss with plans to marry him off to his daughter, Jezebel. Johnny and Kinzie have broken into hell with the intention of getting him back. The plot is certainly sketchy and possibly non-existent, but saving the boss means getting Satan’s full attention, which involves scoring points with Satan’s disgruntled minions, and causing enough carnage on the streets of Hell that the lord of darkness has no choice but to enter the fray.
Gat Out of Hell is not a campaign of great storytelling or imaginative missions. Instead, it’s one big grab-bag of activities through which you can impress your allies and make Satan’s life awkward. The vast majority echo activities you’ll remember from Saints Row to Saint’s Row IV, and if you’ve had your fill of checkpoint races, mayhem challenges and insurance fraud, then you might find parts a little too familiar. Flight gives some activities a little extra zing, with the checkpoint races now tests of turning, gaining air and gliding, while one of the rare, brand new activities involves saving souls as they fall to the ground or rise into the sky. Overall, though, you’re effectively completing a handful of activities, several times over, with only your mission-giver and the scenery really changing.
That scenery is not amongst Gat Out of Hell’s strong points. It would be unfair to describe this campaign as ugly, but beyond the cartoon character design the underworld is an unsightly mess. It’s hard to remember a vision of hell as pedestrian, badly-textured and unimaginatively conceived as this one, with flat lighting, dull, boxy architecture and some appalling-looking denizens. Even running on the mighty PS4, Gat Out of Hell can look like an early PS3 game. Given how good the likes of GTA 5 and Watch Dogs look on next-gen hardware, that’s extremely disappointing.
If the graphics are looking rusty, then the same goes for many of the key game mechanics. Third-person combat is mostly a question of dashing around, blasting mindlessly and hovering up health boosts as they drop. The powers and their upgrades add some interest, but it’s surprising how quickly you settle on a few old faithfuls and leave the rest to gather dust. Where a better game would have you matching powers to the vulnerabilities of monsters, this game’s efforts in that direction just don’t pay off.
Other elements show a lack of party spirit. Hell has some great weapons on offer, with frog-spewing grenade launchers and minigun armchairs, but there’s very little you can do to make your heroes more exciting or distinctive. Where are the costumes and the customisation options we know and love? The cumulative effect of all this stuff is to render Gat Out of Hell a little scratchy and generic. You might like it while you’re playing it, but nothing really sticks in the mind.
What just about saves Gat Out of Hell is personality. It’s neither as funny and charming as Saint’s Row IV nor half as amusing as it thinks it is, but the main characters are likable, there are some good jokes scattered through the game and its few cut scenes win it some much needed points. And while the game’s tropes are getting tired and the slapstick violence is wearing thin, the action still works more often than not. You might spend the first hour thinking ‘Blimey, this is a mess’, but there’s still something infectious about all this nonsense; something that can’t help but suck you in.
Buy Gat Out of Hell, then, if you loved Saints Row IV and you’re happy with more of the same. If you’re new to the series, don’t bother; Saints Row IV is by far the better place to start. PS4 and Xbox One owners get both at the same time, of course, with the new Saints Row IV: Re-Elected/Gat Out of Hell set, but given that what visual enhancements there are in the next-gen versions are – how could we put this diplomatically? – subtle, we wouldn’t recommend anyone buy it who’s played it already.
That just leaves those looking for a new Saints Row experience. Well, they can safely leave Gat and co. to rot down below. This expansion is a fun diversion for a handful of hours, but too slight and unambitious to be anything more.
Where Saints Row IV earned a promotion from expansion to sequel through an explosion of fun and interesting ideas, Gat Out of Hell feels more like leftovers than a brand new experience. The action can be entertaining and the fun infectious, but there’s a lot of familiar content here, and Hell itself is a drab place to explore. If you love Saints Row and want more of the same, this expansion delivers, but most gamers will find more than enough Saints Row goodness in Saints Row IV.
“It overcomes the limits of existing options by dramatically boosting mobility, performance, responsiveness and capacity.”
Wow. Veteran storage dude and professional cynic that I am, I supposed Samsung’s claims for their new T1 external USB 3.0 SSD were hyperbole. Well dye my hair red and call me Harpo—they’re not. I want one. Your reaction when unveiling the T1 might well be “Is that all?” Apply the best possible connotation. The T1 is less than three inches long, a little over two inches wide, and a mere third of an inch thick—71 x 53.2 x 9.2 millimeters, to be metrically precise. Horizontally, that’s smaller than a credit card. Even better—the T1 weighs practically nothing. Indeed, the 512GB model’s 26 grams of heft is so inconsequential, it’s easy to forget you have it in your pocket.
It’s only slightly heavier than the five-inch USB 3.0 cable that ships with it! If you’ve been contemplating a large-capacity USB stick, you might want to check out the T1.
If tiny and feather-light don’t sell you, how about fast? Crystal Disk Mark rated the drive at around 300MBps to 450MBps reading depending on the system I tested it on, with commensurately fast IOP ratings. In my real-world transfer tests using my own Core i7 system with an OCZ Revo drive, the T1’s writing averaged 113MBps with 10GB’s worth of average-sized files and folders, and 135MBps with a single large 10GB file. The big news is that first figure. I’ve seen external SSDs that manage the same write pace with the large file, but many go in the dumper with the 10GB file and folder mix.
As for reading, perhaps CrystalDiskMark wasn’t overly optimistic after all. How does 192MBps with the file and folder mix and 263MBps with the single 10GB file sound to you? For an external USB 3.0 drive, that’s excellent real-world performance. The T1 uses the same MGX controller introduced with the 850 EVO and a SATA to USB bridge.
Aside from blazing speed, you’ll likely get better-than-average longevity. The T1 uses the same 3D or stacked NAND as the company’s 850-series SSDs.
You can read up on the niceties of 3D NAND in those reviews, but to make a long story short it should provide far longer life than current single-layer MLC. The T1 carries a three-year warranty, which is good for an external drive that’s likely to be subjected to a lot of physical abuse. But it doesn’t back up my notions about longevity. Samsung hasn’t given the drive a TBW (TeraBytes Written, i.e. the amount of data that can be written before drive failure.) rating yet, but best guess is that it should be similar to the 850EVO 75TBW for the 250GB and 150TBW for the larger models.
Now for the somewhat bad news. The T1, though average-priced in SSD terms, is still 60 cents a gigabyte. The 250GB version is $179.99, the 500GB is $299.99, and the 1TB model is $599.99. That’s far more than a portable hard drive. If you’re looking for capacity on the cheap, the venerable spinning platters are still your best bet.
One other complaint. Samsung likes to play games with software such as the RAPID disk caching that can be used with their internal SSDs. When you first run the T1, you must run a utility that sets up the drive and enables & disables the onboard encryption. No problem. However, I wound up with something called the Samsung Portable SSD Daemon running in the background on my computer. It was located in a subfolder in the Program Data folder area not where executables are supposed to run from.
Worse, there was no uninstall option. I’m a great believer in less is more when it comes to background applications and this did not make me happy. Stopping the process and deleting it manually solved the issue, but not every user will know how, or feel comfortable doing this. Samsung had no answer about the software at the time this article published.
Rogue software or not, I’d trade any external flash drive I have for a T1. Scratch that. I’d trade all of them and most of my hard drives for a T1. Tiny, light, very fast for USB 3.0…having to carry a cable around with you is a small price to pay for such performance. Small indeed.
Have you ever wished you could watch the US version of Netflix outside North America? What about catching up on the latest episode of Dr Who when far from Blighty’s shores? Want to use Spotify in Canada? UnoTelly is a service that lets you do all of that.
It’s legal, but perhaps a moral grey area – we’ll get into why later.
Essentially a DNS (Domain Name System) and VPN (Virtual Private Network) service, UnoTelly enables you to break free from the bonds of location and take advantage of all the great streaming services around the globe.
It covers the vast majority of devices, from iPhones to Windows XP machines and PS3 to hundreds of routers.
All this freedom comes at a price, of course. The Premium Plan, which covers DNS, costs $4.95 per month while the Gold Plan, which also provides VPN services, costs $7.95 per month.
VPNs let you secure your Internet connection and prevent snooping, but having a VPN isn’t necessary to access streaming content from other countries. It’s just useful if you have privacy and online security concerns.
There are a number of free services, such as the Hola Unblocker browser plugin, or free DNS servers you can use. Unfortunately, while free, these don’t provide the slick experience you might hope for.
Hola Unblocker regularly conks out and can slow your general browsing and – most annoyingly for binge-watchers – fails to play the next episode in a Netflix series. Free DNS servers tend to work intermittently – there one day, gone the next. So there’s definitely a space for a service like UnoTelly.
How does UnoTelly work?
While many rights owners might not like it, it’s not actually illegal to watch US Netflix in the UK. UnoTelly routes all requests through its own DNS servers and tricks services such as Netflix into thinking you’re in the US, or the UK or any one of the other countries that Netflix operates in.
UnoDNS does this by creating a network tunnel from your device or router to UnoTelly’s servers. The good thing is that it’s only the supported streaming services that get rerouted; your normal browsing isn’t affected, so Google searches are still relevant to your location.
UnoVPN is a little different. It masks your IP address to appear as if you’re connecting to the Internet from the US or UK. This means that you can access sites that are blocked from your current location.
Using a VPN also means data you send over insecure connections, like free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, remains private. It even secures you from your ISP’s prying eyes. VPN services can see what you do, as everything gets routed through their servers, but UnoTelly claims to only keep minimum logs. These include: login time, logout time and the amount of bandwidth used.
While we don’t condone the practice, you can use UnoVPN to access torrent sites, but not using any of the US VPNs. Do that and UnoTelly will terminate your service toot sweet.
Why don’t rights owners and managers like bypassing location settings? Well, the owners of a movie or TV series tend to sell the rights on a location basis. So while you get to watch the likes of Family Guy on US Netflix, you can’t on the UK version. So the deal might not have been signed yet, the programme maker may have an exclusive contract with another service in that region, or Netflix has chosen not to stump up the cash to show it in that locality. Services like UnoTelly bypass these region lockdowns.
So whether the service providers like it or not, using a DNS to watch content is currently legal and the benefits for your viewing experience can be very large indeed.
What does UnoTelly let you do?
We’ve already mentioned that you can watch US Netflix in the UK, but there’s a lot more than that. There are currently 330 unlocked channels you can watch, with the likes of 4oD, iPlayer and Demand 5 all on the list.
iPlayer in particular is a good example of a service that should be available in other countries if you pay your UK TV license fee.
Currently iPlayer blocks you if you attempt to access it while you’re away on holiday. There’s no way to catch up on your favourite soaps or sitcoms abroad, even though you’re still forking out your license fee. With UnoTelly you can watch iPlayer while you’re abroad. Nice.
Not only can you set up region-specific settings for the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, you can also change settings on the fly.
Access UnoTelly’s Dynamo Settings page on its website and you can select which country to stream from. You can even choose whether you want subtitles blocked from Netflix. Up to three countries can be set up at once, so you don’t have to keep flipping when you want to watch from the UK, the US or somewhere else.
UnoVPN, on the other hand, lets you install apps that need a UK or US IP address. So if you want iPlayer on your Xbox One in the US, you can use a UnoVPN UK server to install it. It also keeps your data and browsing private, far more than using Incognito mode on Chrome.
One of the best features of UnoTelly is that there are no bandwidth caps at all. Some similar services have caps, but UnoTelly lets you stream to your heart’s content. We’ve been heavily using Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video in Full HD and have experienced no throttling issues whatsoever.
Take note, though: there are a few websites that block access via VPN. In fact, some network providers do it, too. We’re not aware of any UK ISPs that practise this, but there are rumours that some US ones may block access to certain servers.
You’ll need to get your hands a tiny bit dirty to get UnoTelly working, but don’t let that scare you off. You have to access your device’s DNS settings (and/or VPN if you opt for that feature). Each device has a different method of accessing, changing and saving this information.
Thankfully UnoTelly is a doddle to set up on pretty much any device, thanks to an impressively comprehensive list of how-to guides. We tested it on an iPad Air 2, an Android phone running 4.4 KitKat, a Windows 7 PC, a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and a PS4. Some of the more popular guides even have step-by-step videos to make it even easier.
Step-by-step instructions are available for hundreds of devices. Some even include video tutorials
In the week or so we’ve been testing UnoTelly it’s performed flawlessly, letting us watch US Netflix and US Amazon Prime Instant from the UK. Crucially we haven’t experienced any slow-down of our general browsing, an issue we’ve found with some of the free DNS services available.
The only time you’ll struggle to set UnoTelly up is if you don’t have certain access rights to your device. If you have a work phone or laptop, for example, you may not have access to the settings that allow you to change the DNS.
Yes, the area may be a little grey, but using a DNS or VPN to access streaming content available in another country is not, currently, illegal. It’s not the same as downloading films and TV programs from shady torrent sites.
UnoTelly is one of the easiest ways we’ve found of exploiting this loophole, and the benefits are tidy. Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video have much richer and more varied libraries in the US compared to the UK.
The question is whether your needs warrant the monthly fee. UnoTelly is one of the cheapest services of its type we’ve seen and comes with unlimited bandwidth. We’ve found it very useful, but then we watch a lot of Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, and like to have access to iPlayer or other video streaming channels abroad. If that’s the case for you then UnoTelly is well worth the investment.
If there’s one word that has popped up more in game reviews than any other over the last couple of decades, it’s surely the word ‘zombie’.
The leagues of undead are a well established staple in videogames and, though they’re more commonplace a foe on console or PC, they’ve also started to make their presence known on mobile in recent years.
In some cases, this is most definitely a good thing. Few people would criticise The Walking Dead for placing bloodthirsty brutes front and centre, though the way in which they’re deployed – acting as barriers to the narrative, pushing the plot along rather than being mere cannon fodder – undoubtedly makes play feel fresh and fierce rather than tired or trite.
Even Zombies, Run!, which takes the threat of a zombie attack and turned it into a location-based running app, manages to put a different spin on a familiar formula. If only such compliments could be paid to A Few Days Left – an apocalyptic ‘thriller’ that falls back on such entrenched clichés that it barely sees the need to devote all too much time to explaining the plot.
Despite its big billing – an opening cut scene depicting the mauling of a helpless woman lost and alone on the streets – there’s very little weight behind A Few Days Left when it comes to actual gameplay. You focus on the role of a suited up enforcer, patrolling level after level in order to take out anything that moves. A top down twin stick shooter, you move with the left stick and shoot with the right, with the addition of a melee button for close combat and various other special moves (hidden away in a somewhat cumbersome mini-menu) designed to keep things interesting.
Ahead are scores and scores of mutants – standard zombies charging at you from all directions, giant spiders that emerge from the ground and surround you, and – early on – hideously amorphic beings that explode on contact in much the same manner as The Flood in the original Halo.
In terms of the way said enemies are deployed – and, indeed, the manner in which you’re expected to take them on – A Few Days Left is unashamedly traditional; there’s nothing unscripted here, with enemies attacking in triggered groups. The difficulty level naturally ramps up the further you play, but everything contained within is entirely intentional, with new enemies introduced in a drip feed manner. Your mechanised man will fire straight ahead unless directed, and success becomes a case of attempting to keep your distance as your enemies roll over the top and head in your direction like the men of the Somme.
However, so dry is A Few Days Left’s gunplay that it becomes much more fun to let enemies approach and then swipe them down with a melee attack, limbs flying out left, right and centre. It’s an riskier way to play, but if longevity is your aim, then it’s an entirely necessary one, because A Few Days Left does very little to shake up what is an uninspiring formula.
Whether playing in one of the game’s in door stages or out in the open, the routine is a predictable one; move into walled off area, kill everything in sight, move through to next walled off area, kill everything in sight, repeat until you beat the boss. The one element of play A Few Days Left throws into the pot in an attempt to spice up its palette is the odd puzzle, where working out how to make your way through a section of a stage by hitting triggers in the right order to open up the path ahead is the order of the day.
Though the action does ramp up when the levels get physical – giant Sonic the Hedgehog like blades and a huge ice ball that feels more than a little inspired by Indiana Jones – you’re nevertheless hit with the feeling that it’s a matter of time rather a question of skill: sooner of later you’ll figure out where you need to go and in what order, more by a process of illumination than any sense of initiative.
And this is the sense A Few Days Left leaves you with. Without offering any kind of original take on a zombie apocalypse, the game quickly turns into a competent but utterly by-the-numbers shooter built around existing blueprints. Worth a purchase if you fancy a trip down memory lane, then, but one to skip if you’re looking for some rather fresher meat to chew on.
The very definition of ‘average’, A Few Days Left attempts to use established zombie cliches to build a solid twin-stick shooter around, but instead Perfect World has served up a game that makes little attempt to make a name for itself. It’s be unfair to describe A Few Days Left as anything worse than adequate, but at the same time, there’s little here to write home about.
All too often smartphone games are sullied by being way too complex. As the power behind the devices ramps up, so the increased graphical fidelity encourages ambitious developers to ape console releases, mimicking triple-A titles of the recent past because, simply put, they’re technically now possible.
What many of these games overlook, of course, is the fact that those playing more than likely won’t have a comfy control pad in their hands when they take it on. They’ll be taking on the big blockbuster by tapping a touchscreen.
It’s the very fact that Felllice shirks this new wave that makes it feel especially old school – like the kind of game that could have come out in the early days of the App Store and been applauded for fully embracing the strengths of its chosen platform. But, while you could easily argue a Modern Warfare style FPS is never truly going to feel at home on a smartphone, so games like Felllice – where a focus on simplicity appears to have taken precedence over fun – also now has a case to argue.
Felllice is essentially a game about order and timing. You control a cell floating around a barren 2D world populated by other cells of varying sizes. In the game’s main mode, the idea is to merge with other cells of a similar or smaller size in order to become the big fish of the pond. This means guiding your cell by tapping anywhere on the screen to send it shooting in that direction. Likewise, a simple tap of a cell you’d like to merge with will result in the two bonding, forming a bigger, bobblier mass.
The peril comes from the fact that coming in contact with a cell bigger than your own results in your spore breaking up into its component pieces, with cells shooting out left, right and centre. Such a mistake is a setback rather than a genuine failure, with said pieces being easily scooped back up in the same manner in which you originally acquired them.
What makes things slightly more interesting is the fact that, as you progress around the pool, many of the cells begin to fluctuate between different sizes, pulsing from big to small and back again. This means that assimilating with them is a question of timing, scooping them up when they’re you’re junior before they expand back to their full size again.
This is as complex as play gets and, with no other goals, barriers or time limits to contend with, you’re free to float around each stage at your own pace, growing to become the dominant cell if and when you choose. It’s relaxing. It’s placid. It’s…frankly dull.
Things get a little more interesting in Arena mode when you’re faced with one other boss-like cell, although your actions here are arguably even less defined: against many of your foe you simply have to skirt around their extremities, deftly coaxing the smaller cells off their surface to join with your own. It’s a taxing, tight affair, but arguably not all that much fun – and a sense of merriment in any shape or form is the one element that’s missing from Felllice’s offering.
With no real peril to contend with, Fellllice skirts dangerous close to screensaver or tech demo territory. The stripped back visuals (you can choose to switch between the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ side at any time), friendly tutorial and slick presentation are a testament to developer BulkyPix’s experience in the smartphone arena, but minimalist visuals can only get you so far.
What Felllice needs to build on its undeniable promise is a challenging gameplay mode that takes the ease of control that is the foundation of its play and turns it into a genuine art. As things stand, there’s not enough here to warrant opening up Felllice once or times to simply admire its aesthetic, with the game proving to be nothing more than the sum of its very pretty parts.
Felllice’s stripped back visuals may mean it stands out on an App Store increasingly populated with big blockbusters, but developer BulkyPix appears to have focused on keeping gameplay similarly minimalist, delivering the kind of puzzler that’s so laid back it’s positively comatose. Fun for a quick play around for its take on physics, but Felllice is a long way off being the kind of engaging puzzler it deserves to be.
Here’s a ridiculous question for you: How do you fancy being trapped in an arena surrounded by the living dead? No? What about if we blinded you so all you had to go on to secure your safety was your hearing? Sound any more appealing?
That’s the proposition behind Audio Defence: Zombie Arena and, if turning you into a panic-stricken jumpy mess, swivelling around on the spot is it’s aim, it makes a good thrash and getting you there.
But leaving you sodden and sweaty doesn’t necessarily a good game make, and Audio Defence: Zombie Arena is something of a one trick pony.
The basic concept is a simple one. With headphones implanted in your ears, you have to take down an approaching mass of zombies and ghouls eager to munch on your flesh. With no visuals at all to go on, the iPhone’s screen becomes little more than a rather flash remote control, serving up four buttons for you to mash on; one that fires your weapon, one that reloads the ammunition, one that switches it for another gun and one that acts as a melee attack.
Success is a matter of hitting these buttons when required, all prompted by the sounds you hear around you. It’s a case of waiting for the approaching ensemble to get close enough, lining yourself up so you’re facing the way the noise is coming from and attacking as quickly as you can. By default you’ll use your iPhone’s accelerometer to do this, turning until the sound is central in your ears, though swipe or tilt-based controls are also on offer.
All of this is orchestrated by Audio Defence’s somewhat trying master of ceremonies, Doctor Bastard. His tones – taking the form of an almost constant commentary, where he looks to belittle your attempts to survive with the kind of put downs that would be better placed on the school playground – are designed to guide you through the game, arena by arena. However, they soon become an annoyance that adds a somewhat misplaced attempt at humour to what otherwise is a serious attempt to play with your senses.
It’s logical to think, therefore, that Doctor Bastard exists merely to flesh out what is a fairly superficial attempt at sensory-based action. When Audio Defence plays all its tricks – enemies coming from all angles, moaning and salivating as they head your way – the action feels quite intense, thanks in part to the game’s built-in heartbeat, which thumps ever quicker the closer they get.
In reality, however, said tricks have only limited appeal. Extra features like slot machines that fire off random weapons that clear the room are undoubtedly designed to spice up proceedings, but essentially your job remains identical whether you’re firing at a slot machine or a flesh-eating zombie: find where the noise is coming from and fire.
One of the game’s main problems, however, is unavoidable. Audio Defence teaches you to line yourself up so the sound you’re after is coming from dead centre. However, while you can physically turn 360 degrees, the sound pulsing out of your headphones is somewhat less 3D, coming out of either the left or right headphone, or both. As such, while you might think you’ve got the sound dead on, the enemy is actually directly behind you. The only way you can tell is that said noise is slightly louder when you’re directly facing it.
Of course, you’ve got no point of reference to tell which way round offers the loudest sound until you’ve faced both directions – by which time it can be too late.
Nevertheless, more problematic than this is the fact that, though the difficulty level ramps up arena after arena – and there’s a play-until-you-die endless mode to contend with – there’s not enough variety here to keep play interesting, and the curiosity that first draws you into Audio Defence: Zombie Arena initially soon dissipates to leave you with…well, not very much, really.
In truth, Audio Defence’s issue isn’t that sound-only play isn’t strong enough to hold your attention, but rather that – even if it had visuals – simply mowing down zombies one after the other white rooted to the spot isn’t very entertaining. Intriguing as the game is in its early stages, developer Somethin’ Else has rather unwisely focused its attention almost entirely on the sound of Audio Defence: Zombie Arena, rather than on the gameplay it should be built around.
Audio Defence: Zombie Arena’s audio-based action makes it a curious enough piece of entertainment to begin with, but its fixation with firing at approaching foe – all delivered via noises beaming into your headphones – is somewhat one dimensional, leaving you with a game far too fixated with a gimmick than with the gameplay behind it.
There are certain themes that, year after year, decade after decade, developers return to time and again.
In 1976, Atari released the block-busting Breakout, where players were charged with breaking down walls with nothing more than a ball and a paddle at the bottom of the screen to pat it with. It’s a set up that has been tapped up as many times as Tetris or, if you’re looking for a more recent example, even Flappy Bird.
Yet, as is sadly not often the case with many clones, everyone who takes on Breakout tends to bring something new to the table. A technical advantage afforded to them by the era the game is released in.
In the case of Grey Cubes – which has to have one of the most uninspiring names on the App Store – its unique selling point is a refined take on physics. Whereas most Breakout style games take a 2D-based top-to-bottom view, Grey Cubes plays as if viewed from above, with the cubes that adorn its name being knocked over like boxes in a storeroom.
It’s a take on physics that allows Grey Cubes to be somewhat fluid, almost playful with the way its levels are set out. The game’s intentionally stripped back, Portal-like styling facilitates block-based levels that move, interact and generally play havoc with proceedings. It’s here that developer BulkyPix has attempted to bring a 30 year old classic slap bang into 2014.
The basic concept behind the game, however, is largely unchanged. Your one point of contact is the paddle at the bottom of each stage, which you move by simply sliding your finger accordingly. A swipe up flings the first ball into play, and then it’s simply a case of clearing the board of all blocks while keeping the ball in the arena for as long as you can.
There are two main elements that help keep things interesting during Grey Cubes’ 60 stages. Firstly, the addition of power-ups – and ‘power downs’, if you like – into play. These fall from smashed up blocks supposedly randomly, offering up everything from multiple balls to a safety net below your paddle should you catch them. Said power downs, of course, are somewhat less inviting, making your paddle smaller and, essentially, making it harder to keep control of the action.
The other element is the levels themselves which, as you progress, start to make their presence known, pushing more blocks into play, acting as barriers and generally making a nuisance of themselves. It’s here, however, where BulkyPix has brought its creativity into play; while other Breakout clones spend their time simply mixing the patterns of the blocks up, Grey Cubes is far more focused on making the environment they sit in is pulling the strings.
And it’s this that pulls you through. The beauty of any Breakout style game is that it can be pulled out and played in short bursts, and the variety of levels on offer in Grey Cubes – each one touching base with its predecessor, but still moving play forwards – ensures that it can serve as your go to game for your five minute on-the-way-to-work fix.
But, at the same time, while Grey Cubes makes every effort to merge a familiar concept with fresh forms of gameplay, it can’t quite escape the fact that, when all is said and done, it’s still Breakout. That’s not to say developer BulkyPix should be criticised for not reinventing the wheel: ultimately, if you pull a game like Grey Cubes too far away from its origins it loses all structure and, in practice, what the studio has delivered here is a modern take on an undoubted classic.
Nevertheless, Grey Cubes is ultimately a game that’ll serve as a better companion for those new to the block breaking genre rather than any Breakout stalwarts. It’s delivery is impressive and its variety is to be admired, but – by choice or by accident – its structure will likely rekindle any retro players’ affection for the original rather than spark an entirely new romance. For newcomers, however, Grey Cubes could well become a mobile classic in its own right.
An inventive spin on Breakout and its clones that brings physics into play to a greater degree than ever, Grey Cubes is the perfect first stop for those new to the block-breaking genre and will revive old passions for the game that inspired it for longterm players. Just don’t expect it to reinvent the wheel.
See also: Best games 2014
The Now TV app is free to download and is currently available on Android and iOS but not Windows Phone. As the name suggests, the app utilises the Now TV streaming service, provided by Sky, to bring you a selection of movies, TV shows or sports channels.
To use the app you will have to purchase one of Now TVs passes which are separated into three different packages. The Movie Pass costs £9.99 per month and promises access to the latest movies on offer as well as plenty of older flicks.
Buying the Entertainment Pass will set you back £6.99 per month and gives you a selection of TV shows currently airing across a multitude of channels, including Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, FOX and HBO.
The Sports Pass is a little more pricey at £6.99 per day or £10.99 for a week. For this you will get access to all of the Sky Sports channels as they are aired. By purchasing one of the packages you can view it via the Now TV app on up to four devices.
Now TV seems to offer quite a lot but when you look at the current pricing you can quickly see it has the potential to make your viewing habits become quite expensive. Compare it to the likes of Netflix, who give you movies and TV shows for just £6.99 a month, it does seem a little pricey.
However, because Now TV is powered by Sky, you do get a few of the latest movies before you can on other services and TV shows tend to appear fairly soon after they’ve aired in the US.
The app itself is very easy to use with a clean and attractive interface, but right from the start you hit a rather annoying hurdle. You can’t sign up from within the app, and you can’t even have a look around without an account. In fact, you can’t manage anything account related from within the app.
You can see a few basic account details, your current subscription and expiration date, but you can’t change or add any personal details or even renew your current subscription package. Desiring to do any of the above, including signing up to the service, will result in you having to visit the Now TV website. Some of you might find the lack of account access useful if you let your kids use your tablet or phone a lot, but we’re sure most people would prefer to use the streaming service and manage their accounts all under one roof.
Once you’ve got the activation out of the way and you’re finally signed into the app you get a visually pleasing selection of the media currently on offer. You can switch between movies, TV and sport from a simple drop down menu at the very top of the app, while a set of preset menus live underneath giving you the option to filter the recommended movies and shows. Tapping the menu icon will reveal further filtering options, this time by genre.
Unfortunately, there is no A to Z directory within the app so there’s no way of browsing Now TV’s entire catalogue. If you know what you’re looking for then the search function is your best option.
Watching a film or TV episode is child’s play. Find what you want, tap the play button and away you go. If you decide you need to do something else and close the app it will keep track of where you left off the next time you load the same film or episode.
Anything you do watch gets saved to the My TV menu so you can keep track of the episodes and movies you’ve watched. While this is handy, it’s only available from the main screen and can quickly get disorganised if you watch lots of different TV shows. It would be far easier to have an icon next to watched content so you can quickly see where you’re up to in a box set. We would also like to see the addition of an editable favourites list so we can quickly jump into shows we love.
For those of you who like to use your device as a remote and fling the content on to a bigger screen, you’ll be pleased to know the app supports, and works very well, with Google’s Chromecast. It doesn’t, however, support AirPlay to the Apple TV. This is probably because the app is available natively on the Apple TV so while the lack of AirPlay is no big deal, it would’ve been nice to have the option baked into the iOS app. A native version of the app is also available through other devices like the Roku, the PS3 and PS4, both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 as well as YouView and the LG Smart TV. In addition, the service is available to watch via your computer’s Internet browser, should you feel the urge.
Now TV App – Performance
Picture quality on a broadband connection was good but, even if you have a super-fast fibre optic connection, Android and iOS users will only receive standard definition. If you use the service via a Now TV Box, Playstation, xBox, Roku, LG TV, Chromecast or AppleTV you can view the content in all its 720p glory, providing your connection speed is up to it. 1080p isn’t available over the streaming service at all – this is reserved for Sky’s more premium services.
In reality, watching TV on an iPad in SD over a 10mb connection wasn’t bad at all and content never stuttered or took a break to buffer once it had started to play. On occasion the content did take a short while to start and the first few seconds of play were extremely pixelated, but this could be down to any number of factors and it would be unfair to shove the blame towards Now TV. We’ll save the finger pointing for the lack of HD streaming.
While we mostly tested The Now TV app on the 10mb broadband connection we were also pleased to see the same quick interface load times using a 3G connection. Obviously, the actual video content took ages to load on a 3G connection and wasn’t great quality, but we can’t imagine too many people will be using Now TV in this way as it will eat up your data very fast.
Now TV App – Content
The one really big attraction to Now TV is the offer to access new shows and movies before the other competing streaming services. However, the availability of content on Now TV is constantly changing, hinging on certain licensing deals between the studio networks and Now TV.
Finding a series you really want to watch only to find it’s missing the first episode or two isn’t that uncommon. This is because you have 29 days to watch a show from the time it is made available. If you join Now TV part way through a new season of your favourite show you will likely discover the first few episodes are missing. It is probably more prudent to wait until Now TV decide to put the entire season back online as a complete box set but by doing so you will have a longer wait.
Armed with this knowledge, it isn’t too surprising to discover entire shows, such as Game of Thrones, are currently missing. The HBO hit is broadcast on Sky Atlantic, a channel that is offered through Now TV, yet the Westoros dwellers are nowhere to be seen. It’s likely when season five is underway next year you’ll get the standard 29 days to watch each episode but if you want to watch the entire box set starting from season one… well, right now this isn’t possible. Our own advise is to research what shows and movies are available before deciding whether to buy a months pass.
Whilst browsing the TV section within the app, we were very happy to see new episodes of The Walking Dead appearing just days after they were aired in the US, but this quick availability doesn’t seem to apply to every show. The Blacklist season two, for example, is currently six episodes in yet Now TV only offers the first three episodes at the time of writing. This can be very frustrating for fans of the show eagerly awaiting their next viewing fix. There are plenty of shows available to watch, though, including The Knick, Da Vinci’s Demons, NCIS: Los Angeles, Justified, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Flash, Greys Anatomy, Arrow and Penny Dreadful, to name but a selection.
Checking out the Sky Sports package revealed a much more straight forward approach to viewing content. For your money you basically get all of the Sky Sports channels (Sky Sports 1 through 5, Sky News HQ and Sky Sports F1) as they are broadcast. There isn’t a catchup service available so if you want to watch that big game, you better make sure you know what time it’s on before paying £6.99 and committing to a single days access.
On the movie side of things there are lots of titles to watch, old and new. None of them are hot off the cinema screen but the variety is good and there is plenty to keep the kids entertained. Popular titles include Gravity, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, all the Toy Story films, World War Z, American Hustle, Iron Man, Anchor Man 2, Cars and Despicable Me, but remember the availability of titles is constantly changing.
Thanks to the lack of an A to Z directory there is only one way, that we could find, to see what is currently available on Now TV before committing to a monthly pass, and that was via the Now TV forum. Thankfully, the site provides a list of all the Now TV Boxsets and you can see what movies are currently showing from the Top 100 UK box office, from the last 18 months in the list of the Now TV movies.
The Now TV app has the potential to be really great. The interface is easy to use, it loads nice and prompt and offers a great selection of current movies, TV and live sports. The back catalogues aren’t too bad but certainly lack the variety of competitor services, like Netflix or Amazon’s LoveFilm. Some fairly major TV titles are currently missing and, rather annoyingly, some of the available box sets are missing single episodes.
Where the service really gains ground is with the availability of brand new TV episodes shortly after they’ve aired and new(ish) movie titles are available before most other avenues thanks to Sky’s Box Office service.
If you don’t have any TV subscription services on the go, Now TV is a good option to consider as you can opt in for a month with no contract and watch a box set or several movies. But bear in mind you can also do this with other services like Netflix, who are cheaper and offer content for longer periods of time.
With a few interface tweaks the app could flourish but first, Now TV really needs to iron out its licensing agreements in order to offer a much wider variety of content for longer durations.
It may not surprise you to know that physics-based games – of which Day of the Viking is one – are nothing new on the App Store. Even before Rovio had rolled the world over with Angry Birds, games where physics are either your tool or your enemy were fairly commonplace on iOS.
It’s not hard to understand why, either. Developers quickly realised that, when it came to devices devoid of buttons but with the addition of touchscreens and accelerometers, the physics genre was one of the few that didn’t involve any compromises. In fact, as anyone who has suffered Angry Birds on console will attest, they positively play better on smartphones than they do any other platform.
Odd, then, that when it comes one of the most crucial elements of any physics-based game – the ability to aim – Day of the Viking stumbles a little.
As with all Adult Swim releases, one thing Day of the Viking isn’t short of is character. You’re charged with protecting a princess in residence in her castle from attack, using the guards mounting the walls of the fortress to fight off the approaching hoards of vikings. Initially, doing so is a case of making use of the two tools at your disposal – a collection of archers and a rather large slingshot, capable of pelting huge rocks.
The idea is simple. Firing from the right hand side of the screen towards the approaching enemy on the left, you have to kill each and every single viking before they hammer to door to the castle down by splitting them in half with arrows or straight up flattening them with boulders. As you might expect, the longer you play, the more difficult each round becomes, with the vikings themselves mixing up their game – rogue heavyweights, bands that approach at pace, veritable behemoths all causing you to change your approach.
Of course, Day of the Viking plays fair: the better you perform in each stage (according to targets set out before the level begins), the more stars you’re awarded – stars which you can then use either to upgrade your defences or unlock temporary bonuses that can, and often do, save the day when the enemies begin to amass. As you’d expect, however, Day of the Viking never lets you get all too comfortable – just as you begin to bolster your men, so the enemy starts to get clever, hiding behind wooden shelters that are (initially at least) immune to your attacks.
This makes success a question of timing just as much as aim, choosing to attack when your foe is dashing between cover and exposed, though, as aforementioned, it’s the aim that lets Day of the Viking down somewhat.
While firing arrows is easy enough (simply tapping your target on the end causes them to be taken out), firing the boulders involves pulling back the slingshot in Angry Birds style and letting go. The game only gives a very slight indication of where the boulder will head, however, and the sheer weight of it means that you either shoot it like a bowling ball – taking your enemies’ legs from underneath them – or high, high up on the air, so it falls back to earth like a meteor. Neither, however, is an especially accurate art, and all too often it feels like failure is simply a case of the game not playing fair rather than a lack of skill.
Also, whether intended or not, flipping between the two different control methods – tapping and pulling back on the slingshot – is quite an ordeal, making it all too tempting to simply focus on one or the other, usually failing to protect the princess in the process. It may well be that Adult Swim would claim this is simply the difficulty of Day of the Viking in action, but crucially, it fundamentally undermines the feeling of sweet satisfaction that should accompany every strike against the enemy – often a direct hit feels more like luck that skill.
Still, there’s no denying that, in the moments where everything comes together, Day of the Viking is hectic hilarity defined. Adult Swim has definitely hit on something here: Day of the Viking doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but its simplicity in delivery is what ensures the few lumps and bumps the developer would be well advised to iron out don’t sour what is, on the whole, a physics fiesta.
Some slightly dodgy aiming aside, Day of the Viking is an entertaining revisit to a physics genre still dominated by the unassailable Angry Birds. With a gradual learning curve on offer and trinkets aplenty to collect, its two batches of levels – with more to follow – should keep anyone looking for a quick fix of physics fun entertained for the foreseeable.