Review round-up: F1 2017, The Pillars Of The Earth and more

It’s time for another review round-up, so join me once again for a look at the games I’ve been playing over the last couple of weeks, along with commentary-free video montages showing them in action. In today’s round up:

• is F1 2017 a speed demon or a big puncture?
• is The Pillars Of The Earth a 12th century masterpiece, or a 20th century pox?
• does Strikers1945 offer shooting heaven, or prove that war is hell?
• is Piczle Lines DX a Picross challenger, or a square meal of shite?
• will Gunbarich scratch your retro arcade itch, or give you a nasty rash?
• is Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition sehr gut, or völlig scheiße?

F1 2017

Codemasters / Codemasters Birmingham
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac (Xbox One version reviewed)

Codemasters has had the Formula 1 licence for nearly a decade now, and the response to its output has been mixed over the years.

After a few average entries the series finally stepped up a gear with last year’s F1 2016, and this year’s effort is careful not to rock the boat by messing with it too much.

As such, the majority of the game’s modes are carried over from F1 2016, including the brilliant practice programs which finally – FINALLY – made practice sessions fun in an F1 game for the first time ever by giving you a series of challenges to take on.

So what’s actually new this time? Well, there have been some improvements to the Career mode, designed to give it more depth and have you playing it for longer.

These are mainly based on an increase in behind-the-scenes things to tinker with. There are now 115 upgrades available over the course of your career (instead of 20-something in the previous game) and you now have a limited number of gearbox and engine parts to last you throughout the season, meaning you have to be more careful maintaining them.

Add to this the addition of some classic cars from the 80s, 90s and 2000s and a new Championships mode which gives you a sort of playlist of tracks with different rules, and there’s a lot to play through here.

The only main issue I have with the game is its performance. On the Xbox One version at least, the frame rate is all over the place on some tracks (Monaco is about as stable as a one-legged man on a bouncy castle) and I experienced plenty of screen tearing.

As long as you’re willing to put up with these technical issues, F1 2017 is the best game in the series to date… even if it does stubbornly continue to use a numbering system that’s a year behind every other sporting series.

The Pillars Of The Earth

Daedalic Entertainment
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Mac (Xbox One version reviewed)

Massive historical novels from three decades ago may not seem like the best source for gaming inspiration, but that’s what we have here with The Pillars Of The Earth.

Based on Ken Follett’s 1200-page book about 12th century English cathedral-building, Daedalic has taken on a hell of a task by taking a topic that’s drier than a deadpan comic dying of thirst in a desert and attempting to turn it into something entertaining.

And you know, they’ve only bloody gone and done it.

This is actually an episodic game split into three parts. Buying it gives you ‘Book One’, which covers the first third of the story, but don’t worry about buying the other two: they’re included as part of the price and will be added for free once they’re ready.

What you have, then, is a sort of interactive novel set in the fictional English town of Kingsbridge in the 1100s. I don’t really want to get into the plot too much since it’s pretty much all plot, but there are a bunch of different strands running through the game at the same time.

As a result, you get to play as a variety of characters as the story proceeds, which keeps things feeling fresh and stops boredom setting in too quickly.

One thing that may be an issue if you’re a seasoned point-and-click gamer is that The Pillars Of The Earth is light on puzzles. This is very much a plot-driven game and for the most part the actions asked of you don’t amount to much more than carrying out basic tasks to advance the story.

Still, it kept my attention and kept me entertained throughout, which is saying a lot for a game with a plot that normally wouldn’t interest me in the slightest. If a period piece set in the 12th century is the sort of concept that does pique your curiosity, you’re in for an engaging adventure.


Zerodiv / Psikyo

The Switch is already spoilt for choice when it comes to ‘90s arcade games, thanks to Hamster Corporation and its ACA Neo Geo range.

Determined to make sure Hamster doesn’t get all the fun, Tokyo-based studio Zerodiv has turned up with its own helping of coin-op classics. Its first offering is Strikers1945, a vertical shooter originally released by Psikyo back in 1995.

Psikyo was a studio made up of developers who worked on the brilliant Aero Fighters games. It mostly released vertical shoot ‘em ups and erotic mahjong games: thankfully, Strikers1945 is the former.

It gives you six different planes to choose from, each with their own type of shot and bomb. There’s a nice enough variation there, meaning you should be able to find a plane that suits your particular playing style.

While what’s here has been seen in plenty of arcade shooters, Strikers1945 just does everything so well that it’s hard to fault it. The action is silky smooth, power-ups come frequently and it’s hard to play the game without feeling like an almighty badass.

The option to give yourself loads of lives makes it an ideal first purchase for anyone interested in the genre but scared of the more ‘bullet hell’ side of things (this never really gets that difficult but does have some tricky boss fights that fire loads of shots at you).

Best of all, though, the game comes with the option to rotate the screen, meaning you can unplug a single JoyCon, turn your Switch round and play on a 9:16 vertical display as originally intended.

If you’re looking to get into vertical shooters, this is a fantastic slice of ‘90s arcade goodness with a wide range of difficulty settings making it a perfect option for novices and die-hards alike.

Piczle Lines DX

Rainy Frog / Score Studios
Switch, Android, iOS (Switch version reviewed)

If you’ve ever read my article on the 30 best DS games you’ll have seen that one of them is Pic Pic, an extremely hard-to-find puzzle game consisting of three different types of picture-based puzzle.

Piczle Lines DX is based on one of those puzzle types, better known as Pic-A-Pix or ‘paint by pairs’ puzzles.

You’re presented with an empty grid that’s got numbers in it. The aim is to draw lines to connect matching numbers, using that number of squares. For example, if you find an 8, you have to draw a line eight squares in length that connects it to another 8.

Much like Picross, this can be tricky at first but once you get the hang of it you learn the patterns to look out for and can eventually fire through the puzzles like a demon.

Piczle Lines DX features 320 of these puzzles: 100 in its Story mode (don’t worry about the plot, it’s forgettable) and another 220 in its Puzzle mode, which features 11 different groups of 20 themed puzzles. These range from tiny 18×18 grids to fucking enormous 128×128 beasts that’ll take you a while to complete.

In docked mode the game can be controlled with either the D-Pad for square-by-square movement, or the analogue stick for a mouse-style cursor. Neither feels particularly fun to use: the former involves a lot of repetitive pressing while the latter isn’t accurate enough if you’re playing zoomed out (which is recommended for bigger puzzles).

Play it in handheld mode, however, and you can use the touchscreen to draw the lines. This is a far, far better way to play the game and once you get the hang of things it’s really satisfying swiping your finger around like yer man Cruise in bloody Minority Report.

Considering it’s based on a free-to-play mobile game, £13.99 / $14.99 may seem a bit steep for the Switch version of Piczle Lines DX. However, it’s actually cheaper than all the mobile version’s DLC packs put together, and the developer has promised that all future DLC – including the 20-puzzle Horror pack due tomorrow – will be free.

One thing I have to point out, though: the music is fucking horrendous. You’re treated to two themes – one for each mode – that only seem to have something like two bars and constantly repeat. Turn the volume off and listen to something else (may I recommend the Tired Old Hack podcast?) or you’ll go mad.

Its docked controls may be clunky, but Piczle Lines DX’s mobile roots show it was always supposed to be controlled with a touchscreen. Play it in handheld mode (preferably listening to something else) and you’ll find an addictive game with loads of puzzles to keep you busy for hours.


Zerodiv / Psikyo

You know, as much as people my age like to reminisce about the good old days of video game arcades, not every coin-op was a winner.

Gunbarich, another offering from Psikyo – see Strikers1945 above – is sadly an example of this: although it came to arcades fairly late (in 2001), it’s pretty lacking.

At its core it’s a bat-and-ball game like Breakout or Arkanoid, in which the aim is to hit a ball to knock out every block before moving on to the next stage.

As in Arkanoid, you can get a bunch of power-ups while playing that help you out by slowing the ball down, triggering multiball, that sort of thing.

The ‘twist’ here is that your bat is also a set of pinball flippers, meaning if you time it properly you can fire the ball back at a higher speed instead of simply deflecting it.

While it’s a good idea in theory, in practice it doesn’t really add much to the gameplay other than making the ball go faster.

The addition of boss battles don’t really help make this any more than a boring bat-and-ball game that you’ll get tired of long before you use the Switch version’s infinite credits to brute force your way to the end.

Give this one a miss, and get Psikyo’s far better Strikers1945 instead.

Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition

Nintendo Switch

Last year Polish duo Lichthund released Lichtspeer, a pleasantly daft spear-throwing game based on Germanic myths. Because lord knows we don’t have enough games in that genre.

Lichtspeer: Double Speer Edition is a Switch port that adds two-player co-op to proceedings, just to make things a tiny bit sillier.

The core game remains the same: armed with the legendary Lichtspeer, you have to take out waves of approaching enemies by chucking your spear at them.

At first these enemies are straightforward enough types that can easily be offed with headshots and the like, but before too long new foes are introduced and the difficulty ramps up fairly quickly.

And when I say ‘ramps’, I mean it: after a while you end up on sloped stages, which can really affect your aim and make things much harder.

As long as you don’t mind a game that, by the end, requires a pretty high level of accuracy in order to succeed, Lichtspeer is a perfect fit for the Switch. I killed an entire 50-minute train journey playing it and it felt like no time had passed at all.

Its mad sense of humour will keep you chuckling throughout, and while in the grand scheme of things it’s quite a basic concept, it’s proof that sometimes the simplest of ideas can be pretty entertaining if executed properly. Pun always intended.

In order that I could write the above reviews, I received copies of each game from their respective PRs. The content of my reviews and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.

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