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Tech Monthly: Playtime: The gaming grid: THE PICK OF THIS MONTH'S GAMES
[January 12, 2014]

Tech Monthly: Playtime: The gaming grid: THE PICK OF THIS MONTH'S GAMES

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) GAME Gran Turismo 6 PS3, SONY CERT: 3 **** WHAT'S THE STORY? After the five years it took for Gran Turismo 5 to go from announcement to release, the quick arrival of its sequel came as a surprise. Given that the PS4 had recently been revealed, further surprise lay in its exclusivity to the PS3, though it's likely Sony didn't want this simulation driving on the toes of forthcoming new racer Driveclub.

GAMEPLAY With no real goal other than to win races, accrue credits and collect expensive cars, the game is essentially a collection of different situations in which the player can experience the physics engine that is its core focus. For some, single player is only a training ground for the online multiplayer, which features seasonal events to keep players busy.

HIGHS AND LOWS That physics engine may be the centre of attention, to the detriment of things like believable sounds and damage effects, but this time around from the start players are given suggestions and rewarded with stars that then unlock further challenges.

THE VERDICT With that friendlier feel - as well as the opportunity to drive on the moon - Gran Turismo 6 is more agreeable than its predecessor. At its heart, it's still made for those who want to try out an elaborate range of vehicles, just for the feel of the drive.

JW WII FIT U NINTENDO CERT: 3 *** The original Wii Fit kicked off the fitness game genre, and was so appealing to people who might not have considered themselves "gamers" that many bought the Wii just so they could play it. Wii Fit U takes the formula and updates it for the Wii U.

The point is to encourage exercise: the balance board measures your weight and movement, and the game encourages you to improve your skill at yoga, aerobics, muscle exercises, balance and dancing. The Fit Meter pedometer lets you measure other activity and upload it to the game.

Aside from the few GamePad activities, pedometer tracking, and dancing games, little else is new in Wii Fit U. Like Wii Fit, it is still simple in its aims, but if you're prepared to set your own goals then the varied activities could be useful. Then again, if you were that willing you probably wouldn't need a fitness game in the first place.

The games in the Wii Fit series are not as focused as the more specific fitness games - like Your Shape: Fitness Evolved or Zumba Fitness - that have come since. But although the breadth of activities means Wii Fit U lacks depth, it is a good first step for those reluctant to try any of the less fun ways to stay in shape.

JW Tiny Brains PS4, 505 GAMES CERT: 7 *** The PS4 may lack an extensive catalogue of big-budget games this soon after the launch of the console, but Sony has taken steps to ensure that a few indie games are trickling in to fill the gap. This debut game from indie studio Spearhead Games is an action puzzler designed to work best in co-operative play.

You play one of four lab animals (and can swap between them in single-player) trying to escape a stereotypically Russian evil scientist. Progress is a chain of rooms that you can only escape through combining the individual superpowers of the animals - to create blocks, push things, pull things, or teleport - to solve simple physics puzzles.

Unfortunately, the game doesn't feel like next-gen: it's buggy, fiddly and short. The non-puzzle sections - protecting a chick, rolling a ball - feel unnecessary and frustrating, but most of the puzzles are satisfying to solve. Though some characters seem more useful than others, you feel powerful when your particular ability is needed.

Despite its problems, the game doesn't feel unplayable, and is enjoyable enough when played with friends to keep you interested throughout its short campaign. If you happen to have four PS4 controllers, this is a great way to put them to use. Let's hope that Spearhead Games will refine the formula for a sequel. JW Redshirt PC/MAC, POSITECH GAMES CERT: TEEN **** Humanity has branched out into the great beyond - only to find that the rest of the universe's intelligent life is as vapid and self-absorbed as we are. On the space station Megalodon 9, social network Spacebook rules all, and leveraging its power and influence to advance through command ranks may be the only way to escape impending disaster.

A futuristic satire of our obsessions with social media, Redshirt is played through the lo-fi interface of Spacebook. Attending an event or responding to wall posts offers stat boosts, while dangerous away missions put you in the position of sacrificing friends - or enemies.

Satire and comedy are two of the hardest genres to pull off in video games, but the writing on Redshirt manages both. The narrative, revealed through the web of Spacebook, brilliantly spoofs sci-fi icons. However, that same web can be confusing, with key features hard to find.

Although virtualising Facebook seems a bizarre concept, interacting with the diverse and unusual characters becomes as compelling as e-stalking your real-life friends. It's emotionally investing too. Flat visuals may be offputting to some, but there's more depth in Redshirt than many bigbudget games. MK Bravely Default 3DS, SQUARE ENIX CERT: 12 ***** Despite loading itself up on typical Japanese role-playing game tropes (JRPGs) - four young heroes set out to save a steampunk-esque fantasy world by re-igniting elemental crystals - Bravely Default impresses by dealing with far deeper themes. Faith, obligation, the conflict between tradition and progress, even grief; all are explored with tenderness.

Bravely Default is defined by its battle system. It offers a refreshing risk/reward factor. To "Brave" takes an early extra turn but leaves you defenceless next round, while "Default" banks a turn, letting you unleash hell down the line. Outside of battle, rebuilding a ruined village adds an unexpectedly compulsive background game.

Like many JRPGs, progress can be grind-heavy - meaning spending time levelling up characters before the team is powerful enough to tackle the next dungeon. The frequency of random battles can be controlled by the player, eliminating the frustration of game-ending encounters right before save points.

In Bravely Default, developer Square Enix has recaptured what made its earlier Final Fantasy games so absorbing, while addressing many of the flaws. It's quite the technical masterpiece, packing in fully voiced cutscenes in English and Japanese. Practically perfect. MK Peggle 2 XBOX ONE, ELECTRONIC ARTS CERT: 3 **** There is no story. There is only your life before Peggle, and then the gnawing addiction that takes its place after even the most cursory exposure to its colourful puzzle play. Don't be fooled by the cute characters and jaunty music - Peggle is that compulsion to have "one more go" - and there is no escape.

Glorified Pachinko, Peggle sees you firing balls around blue and orange peg-filled screens. The goal of clearing all orange pegs is simple in principle, but with obstacles, moving pegs, and the bouncing of the ball itself, it can become fiendishly difficult. Each cluster of 10 rounds is shepherded by a "Peggle Master", whose unique powerups offer routes to success.

Once in the zone, playing Peggle 2 becomes more about style and score, and pulling off skilful shots brings a strange but fulfilling rush. Online multiplayer may be a humbling experience, with frighteningly talented players in the community already. Of course, that's just incentive to play more - which would be great, if the game didn't crash so often.

Despite its frustrating tendency to drop you back to the Xbox One's home screen, you'll be booting the game back up straight away. Overall, Peggle 2 is essentially more of the same, remixed, but it remains so relentlessly engrossing that returning players will scarcely care. Newcomers should bid their free time farewell.

MK (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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