GAMES: Free-flowing football action

FIFA 14

FIFA 14

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This week, FIFA 14 scores on Xbox 360, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness shines on PS3 and Armored Core reaches Verdict Day on 360. Infinity Blade III is a cut above the rest on iOS, and Strata stretches the grey matter on iPhone.

FIFA 14 | Xbox 360 | Football | £39.99

The FIFA series is constantly looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible in sports simulation, and the last couple of seasons have seen incremental improvements, rather than revolutionary re-works. It’s a similar story in FIFA 14, but the subtle tweaks here and there actually amount to a much enhanced gameplay experience, delivering more verve, pace and precision to your attacks, and a more free-flowing rhythm to each match. Two other gameplay additions, Pure Shot and Real Ball Physics, ensure you get as close as possible to understanding what it feels like to strike the perfect shot, and a host of polished animations keep every players’ physical movements uber-fluid. If we’re going to get niggly, the passing still feels like it could be taken to another level, but with a mind-boggling array of match options, game modes, individual challenges and online interactions available, there’s no doubt that FIFA 14 will be sat near the top of the gaming league come Christmas.

92%

Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness | PS3 | Strategy / RPG | £34.99

Strategic RPGs generally attract a specialist, rather than mainstream gaming audience, and Disgaea’s built up a loyal following thanks to its cast of colourful characters and kaleidoscopic game worlds. A Brighter Darkness struggles in the main to match the dizzy heights that this other-worldly environment has previously achieved, largely because of the absence of many characters that fans have come to know and love. That said, the higher level of customisation applicable to this set of weird and wonderful protagonists presented before you almost makes up for it, supplemented by some brilliant battle systems and tight game design throughout. You could easily lose days of your life in the Netherworld, emerging as a contented, well-travelled, virtual world wanderer. But whether you decide to start the journey in the first place will rely largely on already having a penchant for SRPGs.

80%

Armored Core: Verdict Day | Xbox 360 | Action | £34.99

The Armored Core series has succeeded in carving a niche in the delivery of mind-blowing mechanical action, with a particular bent on the online experience. Verdict Day further enhances its reputation with an unashamedly bold, brash, big-boom of explosion-fest, as you command a squadron of fully customised Armored Core Units in a dystopian future, ravaged by war and stripped of its natural resources. Enlisting into one of the various in-game factions will soon encourage you to adapt your weapon systems to wrestle control of territories away from other players or computer opponents. Here, Verdict Day falls down a little with its slightly cumbersome customisation menus. But, if you can slog your way through the many layers of statistical detail for your weaponry options, a trigger-happy playground awaits, where sharp graphics and OTT battles await. Single player activity appears to play second fiddle to the multiplayer mash-up, so this may be one for the more community-inclined gamers. But even so, it’s big weapons and cracking combat for those looking for a robotic, futuristic fracas.

79%

Infinity Blade III | iPad/iPhone | Action/Strategy | £4.99

Infinity Blade III plays on the classic premise of David and Goliath, pitting your poor character - at times desperately in need of a level-up or 20 - against some of the biggest, baddest boss battles your phone or tablets will have had to squeeze into its screen. As with earlier titles, these beautifully conceived, colossal combat challenges are what make, and break, the third outing. Progression through a newly-introduced story mode can be painful at times, as your poorly equipped playable character struggles to keep pace with the more powerful enemies in front of you. This can force multiple replays of levels, and test the patience of even the most hardened smartphone sword slashers, not to mention how long you’ll leave it before dipping into your real-world pocket to purchase that crucial bit of armour or weaponry that will send opponents spinning to defeat. It’s expertly executed, as always, but maybe one where hardcore fans are the only ones left standing.

78%

Strata | iPad/iPhone | Puzzle | £0.69

Bold, simple design lies at the heart of Strata’s puzzling success. Not content to lavish players with countless power-ups and special abilities, it lays down a stripped-back logic challenge, folds its arms and waits for you to have a moment of inspiration. If anyone had told me five years ago, that criss-crossing coloured ribbons in a game grid by swiping my fingers across my phone would have been keeping me entertained, I’d have looked at them quizzically. Now it’s my device on the receiving end of my furrowed brow, but that belies the pleasure to be had from Strata, which is truly unlike any other game you’ve downloaded from the App Store. When the size and difficulty of the grids become too hot to handle, you can always shell out on some additional hints and tips. But where’s the fun in that? This impressive puzzler was made to twist your brain!

82%