Tales from the Borderlands Review

Tales From the Borderlands – Full Season Review

Telltale’s become really famous the past couple of years, in part due to their fantastic emotional storylines and tough decision making gameplay. And when the company announced its partnership with Gearbox Software and 2K Games to deliver Tales from the Borderlands, I was a little surprised. But then I started thinking – and the two seem like they could be a good combination. The art is similar, the world is large, so surely this game would have to be somewhat decent, right?

There’s one problem: I’ve never properly played any Borderlands game. I played about half an hour of the second game with a friend once, but that’s all I had when I started playing Tales from the Borderlands. So I was not discovering whether this game is good from the point of view of someone who is familiar with the franchise, but a newcomer, who knows next to nothing about the world.

Game: Tales from the Borderlands
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS3, XB1, XB360, iOS, Android (mobile versions are the full game)Price: ~$25 USD for the complete season on PC. On other platforms, the first episode can be played for free, and the other episodes can be bought together in a season pass for about ~$25 USD.
A Copy of this Game was Provided for Review

For those of you unfamiliar with Telltale Games, allow me to fill you in on the genre of games they make. Telltale develops episodic adventure games. The games generally revolve around a character that the player controls, and makes decisions, dialogue choices, and also solves basic puzzles to advance the game. Telltale games are known to have tough decisions to make, such as choosing whether to keep a character alive. If that sounds a little boring, its because Telltale games are a heavy, emotional narrative that causes you to become emotionally attached to the characters, which is what makes these decisions so difficult.

Episode One, Zer0 Sum, opens with the player-controlled character Rhys, his accounting buddy Vaughn, and their helpful secretary friend Yvette. Rhys is expecting a promotion at his company, Hyperion, famed for the psychopath Handsome Jack, and Rhys has killed a lot of people to get to his position. However, he finds his rival, Vasquez, at his old boss’s desk, as Rhys’ old boss floats past the window. Vasquez demotes Rhys, and Rhys wants revenge.
To take revenge, Rhys and Vaughn head down to Pandora, the planet their space station orbits around, to take advantage of a deal Vasquez was going to make regarding a “vault key”, which can open a vault which leads to treasure. But the deal starts going wrong.

At this point, we’re introduced to a second player-controlled character, Fiona, at a camp in the future (the majority of this game is told as Rhys and Fiona were telling it to their kidnapper). Fiona promptly explains that Rhys is wrong, and starts telling her side of the story.

Fiona is sisters with Sasha, and they work with their father, Felix (who adopted Fiona and Sasha). They’re con artists, and are attempting their biggest con yet: to sell a fake vault key to a Hyperion employee (Hyperion isn’t liked much on Pandora). This is, of course, how they run into Rhys and Vaughn. A host of unlikely events ensue, and ultimately the characters must work together.

That’s all the necessary context you really need to understand the game, and since so much of this game revolves around the plot, I won’t talk about any other part of the plot in order to prevent spoilers.

Because the plot in this game is really, really, good. I thought episode one was a rather bland affair, with too much backstory, and then it just seems to drag on and on. The first episode took two and a half hours for me to complete, whereas the others only took about two. And even though its only an extra half an hour, in the first episode when you haven’t developed an emotional attachement to the characters, it just seems to drag. But episode two is a lot better. And episode three was even better. And episode four was even better. And episode five was a thrilling and fantastic conclusion to the series. Each episode seems to take everything up a notch, and it really works. In Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I thought the series dropped off a little after episode three. In Tales from the Borderlands, each episode keeps getting better and better. And I think that’s because there’s several constantly developing mysteries that expand over the course of the episodes.

The plot is also helped with the fantastic voice acting. These characters all manage to convey so much with their voices, and also have a varied cast. There’s a few robots, for example, that behave like the other characters in that you can interact with them. The superb acting in this really makes it feel like it’s real. It helps a lot with the immersion.

The graphics in the game are Telltale’s usual affair, cel-shaded graphics, and they looked pretty good. The Steam page says its not recommended for computers with Intel Integrated Graphics, which I have, and so I was surprised the game even ran. I had the graphics on low, but the game still looked nice. The art is superb, and it fits in the Borderlands universe perfectly.

Tales from the Borderlands Full Season Review

An example of the art and humour that is in Tales from the Borderlands

The gamplay was also great. Dialogue choices are displayed on four lines at the bottom of the screen, and you just choose one with your mouse to advance the plot/make a decision. All of the decisions are timed as well, and if you don’t make a decision quickly enough, you say nothing. Fortunately, there’s usually more than enough time to read your options and make a decision. The puzzle solving sequences are nothing complex, but are still enjoyable. They’re usually walking around and pressing some buttons. The action sequences are much more enjoyable, and revolve around quick time events using WASD, Q and E, and mouse clicks. They’re also simple, but some of my favourite moments of the game come from the quick time action events.

Tales from the Borderlands puzzle solving

An example of what the puzzle solving view looks like

I was also somewhat surprised at how good the humour was in this game. There’s some really good moments of genuine humour, such as Rhys and Fiona bickering with each other in the present day, Telltale poking fun at how their games work (such as substituting the infamous _______ will remember that for other things), and general moments of absurdity. I was chuckling at some moments, because this game manages to pull of humour really well.

Tales from the Borderlands humour

Telltale poking fun at themselves with a different message instead of the “remember this” message

But, this game also manages to pull off other emotions great as well. There’s some really saddening moments in this game, and at times you do have to make some tough decisions. Things that seem like small decisions can come back and surprise you later. And the game transitions from humerous moments to sadder moments great as well. No part of this game feels out of place.

However, I think this game has a few problems. The first major one I have is with episode one, I honestly think it was too long for an episode. As I played the rest of the series, I see why episode one was so necessary, but playing it was just so unenjoyable. Episode five felt like it dragged on a bit at the start as well, but it kept having new developments to keep it interesting, so it didn’t stay that way. Episode one doesn’t really have the new developments until the final half an hour, and then it just felt a little too late to get me interested again. So if you download episode one for free to try it out, and you think it drags on a little, trust me, it gets better.

I had two minor problems with the game, which aren’t that big of a deal, but would have been the icing on the cake. The first is that the quick time events would sometimes come out of nowhere, and I would miss them and die. Fortunately, the game only restarts at the start of that scene, which is a five minute wait maximum, so it’s not too bad. Some missed quick time events can be recovered from without a penalty, which is nice. The second is that I didn’t always feel like the choices I made mattered. I feel like some of the major choices of the game would have resulted in the same outcome anyway – and with some reading, I found this to be true, which is a little disappointing from a studio that prides itself on having choices matter. I didn’t have this problem with The Walking Dead, but apparently that was the same way. I had a hunch on this one though. I’m willing to overlook this flaw because the story was really good, and also because there was a section at the end that did have consequences for you depending on how you treated certain characters, and whether you said the right thing at a certain time. I was impressed by that, because I think that’s actually a fairly sizeable consequence, some of which resulted from really small decisions I’d made earlier in the season (and when I say consequence, I don’t necessarily mean something bad).

All in all, I was really impressed by this season. Even though I knew next-to-nothing about the franchise, the game fills you in on the pieces you need to know, and still delivers a fantastic storyline even if you don’t know the franchise. I was reading that sections of this game tie in with The Pre-Sequel!, which is another Borderlands game, so I think if you are a fan you will definitely have an even better time playing through this than I did. In fact, if you are a Borderlands fan than this game is definitely worth playing. If you’re not a Borderlands fan, but want a good, exciting, humourous and tragic sci-fi story, than this game is worth playing. But I think that to some people, the humourous nature and style of this game might not appeal, which is a shame because this game has really good plot twists and is probably one of my favourite games from the past few years.

I found it quite difficult to rate this game, because I probably would have been willing to look past its minor flaws, but I just couldn’t get past how much I found episode one average. I would have given episodes three, four, and five a 10/10 score, but I think overall, this season is dragged down slightly by its first episode, which is a real shame.

Positives

+ Fantastic Plot

+ Fantastic Voice Acting

+ Fantastic Humour

+ Great Graphics

+ Great Gameplay

9.5/10

Negatives

– First Episode was Average Compared to How Good the Rest of the Series Was

– Unexpected Quick Time Events

– Some Decisions Felt Like They Didn’t Matter

Film Review – Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace has been universally panned by critics, but is it really that bad when it is watched by an ordinary person for enjoyment?

Film: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Episode 1 of the Star Wars saga)
Release Year: 1999

I first saw The Phantom Menace (for the sake of convenience, the title shall be shortened to Menace for this review) when I was quite young – about 8 or 9, but I had seen the original trilogy before I saw Menace. And yet, for some reason, Menace appealed to young me more than the originals did. The originals were interesting, sure, and they sparked my imagination, but I always found Menace more relatable and enjoyable. I think it’s partly because one of the main characters of the film, a young Anakin Skywalker, is the same age as I was, but also because kids tend to enjoy the character of Jar Jar Binks far more than adults do.

The film’s plot revolves around a politically instable republic, with a corrupt government, an evil trade federation invading one of the peaceful planets, and their attempt to escape and warn the government so they can intervene. Except, not as exciting as that. Yes, that is the basic premise of the film, but the plot is nothing special. It takes a while to fully set into motion, and the result is a film that doesn’t feel all that special or memorable. However, it does introduce us to just about every important character in the Star Wars universe (except the clones and the cast of the original trilogy, as most of them haven’t been born yet), which is no small feat. We are introduced to a young, innocent Anakin Skywalker who just wants to protect his mum. An Obi-Wan Kenobi who is agile, and so on. Later on, especially in the later movies, these traits become interesting to look back on.

Visually, the film is stunning. The battle droids, while made with CGI, look sleek and appropriately Star Wars-y. The planet of Naboo is beautiful, and Coruscant just looks like an amazing location. Tatooine makes a return, which makes sense, as it will go on to become a major planet in the Star Wars saga. Everything feels real: there really is an underwater gungan city; those really are old Nabooan relics; that really is a chamber in Coruscant. The film really immerses you in its worlds, which is sadly more than you can say for the story.

The special effects are decent, and the action scenes are well thought-out. Particular mention must be given to the pod racing scene, which is both thrilling and engaging.

But the lacklustre plot, occasional poor dialogue, and other such problems make the film a tough one to enjoy. Jar Jar Binks is a prime example, his behaviour and speech is especially cringe-worthy at the start of the film, but his humour improves by the end into becoming stupid, but somewhat funny.

The Phantom Menace is really a Star Wars episode for kids to enjoy. They will find it much more engaging than an adult will, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t enjoyable at all: There are some truly great and epic scenes that deserve to be seen (the last battle is especially awesome), but overall, this film is pretty average.

6.5/10

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Now Would be the Perfect Time for a Star Trek Game

I had never seen an episode of Star Trek (fully) until after Christmas 2014. For the christmas just gone I received the two recent movies (2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness), and at once, I found a franchise I enjoyed it.

For some reason, I’ve been really enjoying older sci fi recently. In 2010, I was introduced to Doctor Who (which also needs a good game soon, but I won’t go into that today), and in 2013 I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, after reading the books. The books are now some of my favourites, and the movie was wonderfully-crafted too. When I was a kid, I loved Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, and I cannot wait until the new series this year. I enjoy Star Wars like everyone else, and I even liked the prequels (even though I haven’t seen them in a long time).

So after I watched both of the new movies (which are really good, by the way, even if the lens flare is distracting at times) I noticed that Netflix had all of the original series. So I watched the first episode. Before I realised that it was the failed pilot. I’m glad I kept watching the series after that episode (which was pretty bad).

Although I haven’t seen a lot of episodes, there’s something about Star Trek that is just so appealing. I think it’s because it plays on our ideals about exploration and then also deals with the relationships between characters on a ship in outer-space. This is why I think it’s time we had a Star Trek game.

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The Problem with Earlier Games

There’s a problem with all the previous Star Trek games, and that is that none of them capture the exploration aspect, or at least make it fun.

2013’s Star Trek game was a poor shooter that received mediocre reviews. I never played it, but it was obviously worse than the reviews suggested it was, as it is now on Wikipedia’s Worst Games List. That’s how bad it was. It was so bad that J. J. Abrams (the director of the new Star Trek films) said he was emotionally hurt by how bad the game’s reception was. That’s how bad it was.

2013 also saw the release of Star Trek Rivals for mobile devices, which is a card game.

Last year wasn’t much better, with Star Fleet 2014 being a combat simulator (which admittedly looks like a serious simulator, but it does cost a bit for a mobile game). The other Star Trek game released last year was Star Trek: Trexels, which is supposed to be a run-of-the-mill mobile game with resource collection and whatnot. It’s free (same with Rivals) so if you like the sound of it, there’s nothing to be lost trying it.

But that’s it. And thanks to Star Trek‘s (2009) negative reception, we unfortunately won’t be seeing another Star Trek game for a while. But let’s entertain the notion.

Why Now?

The future is looking so good for space simulators, with Star Citizen slated for release in 2016, and Elite: Dangerous being released just last year.

This year, we have No Man’s Sky, which looks amazing. If you look closely, you can almost imagine it’s a one-man Star Trek mission, to explore new worlds and all that.

Sometime in the near-future, Tiny Trek will be releasing too, which isn’t shy about it’s inspiration from Star Trek. The game looks like an interactive Star Trek series, where you get to sit at the helm on your ship, and explore strange new worlds. But it never ends: like No Man’s Sky, this game is procedurally generated, so you can discover new planets comstantly. It’s in early access on Steam at the moment (you can find it here, it’s $5), but the developer promises it’ll only be there for four months, which means it’s likely to be released in April, or maybe late March if we’re lucky.

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But What Style Would A Star Trek Game Be?

Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • Telltale’s Star Trek
  • A game like FTL: Faster Than Light, but with the Starship Enterprise
  • A game like No Man’s Sky, but on a larger ship with agressive alien encounters

I mean, all of those ideas sound pretty good. But the last one sounds especially good, and I wouldn’t mind seeing what Telltale could do with relationships in space. Even in the TV show Captain Kirk faced some extreme decisions, so it wouldn’t seem that crazy for Telltale to make a game version of it.

So, Star Trek fans, what would be your ideal game set in the universe? Or if your not a Star Trek fan, what TV show or movie do you think deserves a good game?

Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire Review

Pokémon games have always been a staple on portable Nintendo systems, so when it was announced that there was a remake of the third-generation games on the 3DS, using the new Pokémon X/Y engine, I was excited. I missed the originals the first time through (so far, the only generations I haven’t played are the original third-gen games and generation five) and I was very excited for the chance to play through what looked like one of the best Pokémon games.

 

Version Reviewed: Pokémon Alpha Sapphire

Alternate Version: Pokémon Omega Ruby

Remake of: Pokémon Sapphire (with Omega Ruby based on Ruby)

System: 3DS

Differences between versions: Pokémon are exclusive to either version and the main teams are different (Team Aqua in Alpha Sapphire and Team Magma in Omega Ruby)

What I’ve Played: Just over 30 hours, beaten the main storyline, caught a decent amount of Pokémon on routes (the Pokédex hasn’t been completed, however), and completed the Delta Episode

I Have Yet To: Complete the National Pokédex, and I haven’t beaten the Battle Maison yet (the replacement for the originals’ Battle Tower)

 

For those of you who haven’t played a Pokémon game before, the formula stays the same in most of them. You start out by choosing a character (male or female), then a name, and then a Pokémon, which is one of three types: fire, water, or grass. After you choose your first Pokémon, you proceed out into the world, capturing more Pokémon of different types (such as flying type or fighting type) and battling other Pokémon trainers. Once you are strong enough, you battle the gym leaders, of which there are eight, situated in different cities around the region. In between all this you’ll be defeating an enemy team who wants to steal Pokémon and/or change the world, so you’ll have to thwart them, generally by capturing or defeating a legendary Pokémon. After you have all eight gym badges, you can fight the Elite 4, the four toughest trainers, and then the toughest trainer of all, the champion.

Legendary Pokémon

Legendary Pokémon

In Omega Ruby or Alpha Sapphire (henceforth shortened to OR/AS, respectively), the region (country/continent) you travel around is Hoenn. Hoenn has a good variety to it, the right side of the region is mostly water, which you can surf across, and the left side is land with deserts, caves, and mountains (and, of course, cities).

The Hoenn Region

The Hoenn Region

The basic story in OR/AS is that the respective team in each version wants to use the legendary Pokémon (on the version’s box) to send the world back to how it was in the beginning. It’s a little silly, but it’s still an enjoyable story. The story is paced very well, and I always wanted to know what Team Aqua was up to next, and what they were going to with whatever item I just saw them steal. The game never takes too long without introducing a new development in the story, whether it be related to the new Primal Reversions of the legendary Pokémon, or defeating more Team Aqua grunts.

Unfortunately, there were a few times where I got lost, or it wasn’t clear where to go next, although you’ll usually figure it out pretty quickly. In my case, I wasn’t sure whether to follow Team Aqua or continue to the next city, but ended up following Team Aqua, which was the right decision, as we travelled to the city straight afterwards.

Where this game shines, though, is in the graphics. The game, while it doesn’t use the 3D well, is still amazing to look at. Game Freak has done a superb job updating the graphics to suit the look of X and Y. Occasionally there was an odd camera angle, but this occurred very rarely. For the most part, the game’s new camera angle, and being able to move in all directions, is superb.

I was never able to get into X, but for some reason this game captivated me in a way X couldn’t. In X, it felt like my character was on a grid, only able to move diagonally. Here, though, it feels like I have more control of my character than ever before. I also got stuck grinding in X (even with the EXP share on), but here there was no issue with levels. You do become very overpowered if you use the EXP share in this game, so, for an added challenge, turn it off.

Just Watching the Scenery

Just Watching the Scenery

Of course, this game includes a host of new features as well, in particular the PokéNav. This is a little device that sits on the touch screen and performs a variety of different functions. At first it starts off as a map of Hoenn, which is useful to see where your character is and what direction you have to go when the path twists and turns. After a while you’ll gain the original touch screen use from X, which includes Super Training (a new way to train your Pokémon), Pokémon Amie (where you can pet and play games with your Pokémon) and the Player Search System, which has all the online functionality of previous games (the Global Trade System, for instance, as well as Wonder Trade). I have to admit that Wonder Trade made the game very easy, as you can gain a whole team of competitive Pokémon which level up quicker than normal (all traded Pokémon level up quicker than ones caught in the wild). This meant that my team, in combination with the EXP share mentioned above, was often a whole 10-15 levels above the competition, which makes the game very easy (including the starter, 4 out of 6 Pokémon on my team were traded: the starter was given, one was an event, one was from the Demo Version, and one was from wonder trade). Another function is the BuzzNav, which is a silly addition, but still funny. It plays out like a news show, with guests of different segments talking about other players. For example, in the shopping segment, a worker talked about someone had bought “27 Ultra Balls”. In addition to this, it provides news about the game world, although you generally know about this already. I rarely used the BuzzNav, but it’s a funny addition. But by far the best feature of the PlayNav is the DexNav. The DexNav shows silhouettes of Pokémon you’ve seen, and colours them in with an original generation 3 sprite when you’ve caught them. When you’ve caught all the Pokémon in an area, you receive a crown (gold for all, silver for two out of three modes complete (such as surfing and grass), and bronze for one out of three (such as just fishing). When I saw this, suddenly I reverted to being a young, curious kid again. I wanted to catch them all. I enjoyed searching for them. I enjoyed catching them, more than I can say for any other Pokémon game, where it’s generally, run away! I got so into it I looked up the percentages of Pokémon appearing on Bulbapedia, although you can do it all on your own if you desire. The DexNav has another function though, which is its scan function. You can search for just one specific Pokémon with it, which is a great addition, especially as it increases the odds of said Pokémon being shiny.

The DexNav

The DexNav

Once the main game is completed, there’s still quite a lot to do. A great post-game experience is the Delta Episode, which took the rumours of the original games ten years ago and goes crazy with them. I’ll just say it involves Rayquaza and a rocket launch at Mossdeep Space Center. It’s a brilliant addition.

There’s also the Battle Maison, which makes a return from X. The Battle Maison lets you battle singles, doubles, triples, rotational, and multi battles. It’s the replacement for the original’s Battle Tower.

There’s also a heck of a lot of legendary Pokémon to capture, which will require a lot of patience.

There’s a few issues with the game though, but nothing major.
First of all, someone put a healing move on the main legendary. For those of you that don’t know, lowering a Pokémon’s HP and then inflicting it with a status condition is the easiest way to catch a Pokémon, so a Pokémon with 1 HP and sleeping is easier to catch than a Pokémon with 60 HP and awake. But Kyogre (the main legendary in AS) has a healing move that never ends. So it just becomes a losing battle. And if I sound sour because I couldn’t catch it, it’s because I am. Who puts a healing move on a Pokémon you’re supposed to catch?

Secondly, it’s a real shame that the 3D isn’t properly utilised here. There’s some in the Delta Episode, and the game looks pretty good with it on, but in the main game you can only turn it on in caves, some cutscenes, or battles (and turning the 3D on in battle will reduce the frames per second by a lot, so there’s no point turning it on).

Thirdly, many people have complained about the Battle Frontier from Emerald not being in the remakes (instead, there’s only the Battle Maison). Considering these are remakes of Ruby and Sapphire, and not Emerald, I don’t see any problem with this. I never played Emerald, but I looked up the Battle Tower and Battle Frontier on Bulbapedia and the remakes have more post-game content in the Battle Maison than the Tower. The Battle Frontier would have been nice, but that’s no reason to criticise the game. Moral of the story is don’t hype things up that aren’t confirmed to be in the game.

Pokémon Alpha Sapphire was an absolute joy to play. From the starting screen, where the player uses a GBA SP, to getting that first crown on the DexNav, to beating the Elite Four, and then the great post-game storyline that was the Delta Episode…this game was simply fantastic, and without a doubt the best main-series Pokémon game I have ever played.

Positive

  • Fantastic Graphics
  • Updated Battle Sprites
  • Good Storyline
  • DexNav
  • Brilliant Post-Game Content in the Delta Episode

9/10

Negative

  • Healing Moves on Legendary Pokémon
  • Lack of 3D

 

 

2014.fw

People’s Choice Award 2014 (Result)

We had a grand total of one voter this year, so whoever that was, thanks for voting and not making this my decision.

Gamesland’s People’s Choice Award for 2014 is awarded to…

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney!

I had a really good time with this game. Some considered it too easy, but it was a tough line to balance the fans of both franchises. Personally, I really enjoyed it and couldn’t get enough of it. The story was amazing, and both franchises were drawn together really well. It had a fantastic art style and gorgeous music, and I hope for a sequel, which seems unlikely given the fan’s feedback of “it’s too easy”.

But congratulations, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The readers of Gamesland chose you to be their game of the year in 2014.

2014 in Review

Just as I was thinking about doing this post, WordPress sent me an email with a report inside about the stats and whatnot, and I figured some of you might like to see it. The draft post they made for me is below.

* * *

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

* * *

That ends the original post, but I wanted to write some stuff in here anyway.

This year, I sadly neglected this blog. I stopped writing content for it several times during the year, and to my readers, that is unacceptable. I need to write content for this site, but I figured I owe my readers an apology.

The first time; I had no excuse. The second, it was a combination of being busy and being lazy. At that point, I was writing for a site known as Gamers Sphere. They’re a great site, but I’m not writing for them anymore. It was great while it lasted though. Because of my dedication to Gamers Sphere, however, I neglected my own blog, which was not right. I shoukd havekept you guys posted, and for that I’m sorry.

This year wasn’t great. The stats are better than I thought they were, but I’m not proud of this year. But even though I said this last year, I have some things planned for next year. Keep an eye out for a post on the 31st.

Until then, thank you for your patience throughout the year. It could have been great, but instead I made it not so. But let’s just agree to make 2015 a great year.

People’s Choice Award 2014 – Voting

The final Gamesland Award is one that the people choose.

Not everyone will agree with my Game of the Year awards, so I choose a further three games – one each for consoles/PC, portables, and mobiles – and allow you, the readers, to vote for your choice of the game.

Here are the nominees for Gamesland’s People’s Choice Award 2014:

Voting is now closed

Voting is open now, but will end on the 31st of December, so get your votes in now!