Review: Into The Breach

I never really got into FTL, the previous game from developers Subset Games. It just never quite clicked for me, despite the cool look and sci-fi setting which should have been my exact wheelhouse. The procedural generation never quite gelled and I found myself wanting a similar but, somehow different, experience. Subset Games seemed to  know that, and responded in kind.

Into The Breach has some elements of the procedural generation present in FTL, but switches it to a isometric, turn based, combat game with Mechs. I like giant robots so this is, most definitely, my shit. The game takes place on an 8x8 grid that is procedurally generated every time you pick a battle, giving you different things to contend with using your squad of three mechs.

Set in a world where humans have pretty much destroyed the planet, you are tasked with defending four islands from invasion by the Vek, a race of giant insects that have come to wipe out humanity. Each island has a specific theme, taken from fairly standard gaming tropes: the lava island, the ice island etc. However, each island is under the control of a mega corporation that requires your squad to drop in from space and defend it, with each broken up into areas that will have another set of things to contend with.

This might be mountains that get the way of attacks, large conveyor belts that can move allies and enemies away or towards advantageous positions, or an incoming tidal wave that slowly destroys part of the map each turn. You have just four turns to survive the battle, dealing as much damage to the Vek as possible, with the added wrinkle of side of objectives and the buildings on each map that you must try and defend.

Those buildings must be defended because they each represent a bar of the ‘power grid’ and if that reaches zero, it is game over and the Vek have won. At least, in this timeline. The pilots of your mech squad have the ability to open up a breach in time, teleporting out when defeated to continue the fight in another timeline, it's seriously cool sci-fi stuff, and I love the world Into The Breach creates.

It's a world where mega corporations rule and the planet is decimated. The thin line of three pilots is all that stands between the invasion from beneath and the extinction of humanity, and it gives each battle a surprising weight, a weight that is heightened by small text boxes that appear at the start of a battle. Your mech’s have dropped in, and the civilian’s sheltering in the buildings cry out things likes “We are saved! And “Thank you for Helping us!”.

Instantly you know there are people in those buildings and you must defend them at all costs. The end of each battle gives you a count of the number of civilians you saved, a brilliant way to rate your performance. Sometimes though, you can’t help but lose people, collateral damage in a larger conflict.

The Mech’s you command each have their own advantages and disadvantages, but each individual makes a squad with a specific purpose. The default squad is all about dealing damage, but as you complete certain achievements you earn medals to unlock more, and each will change how you play the game. My favourite is the Rusting Hulks, a squad of two spider-walkers and a jet. This team denies certain squares on the map to the enemy by covering them in smoke, electrified smoke that deals damage at the end of each turn and cancels attacks.

By planning your moves and knowing how each squad members abilities can compliment the others, taking down Vek, saving all the civilians and completing secondary goals can be achieved in the same battle, and boy, does it feel great when that happens. A ‘perfect run’ in a given fight makes you feel like a badass commander, with a small fleet of giant weapons at your disposal and saving humanity one district at a time.

If things do go badly wrong, and they will, a lot, then you have the option to abandon the timeline and breach out. This allows you to carry one pilot into the next timeline, but resets everything else. Mechanically this starts a new run of the game from the very beginning, though if you have unlocked any additional islands you can then choose them in any order.

Morally...you just left billions to die in a timeline and that is something you have to live with. It is just a game but the world built here means that is something that does play on your mind, or at least it did on mine, and it makes the game just that little bit better.

Once you do reach the end of the game, and finally beat the last mission, the satisfaction at a well placed set of plans coming to fruition is immense, matched by a small dialog telling you the pilots went down in history as having beaten the Vek and the number of lives saved by those three heroes.

Of course, that isn’t it. There are always more timelines, mechs to unlock and plans to come together. I only unlocked around half of the available squads by the time I beat it for the first time, and I knew there was plenty more to do if I wanted to keep playing...and I wanted to keep playing. It's a sure sign of a great game.

The setting is more critical to the games success than you would first think, because at first blush it is a cursory way to give a little context. As you dig deeper into the games lore, you then realise that no, the stakes are real, humanity is on its last legs and your team are all that stands between it and total destruction.

Into The Breach is a game for mech fans, sci-fi fans, and just good game fans. It’s mechanics coalesce into a game that provides you with everything you need to win, except your own skill. But slowly, with each abandoned timeline, you get better, until the defeat of the Vek is finally at hand, at least, in this timeline.

REVIEW:Celeste

It has been my experience that platformers fall into two main camps: the light-hearted, Mario-esk and relatively easy to play type, and the ultra hardcore, pay-attention-or-you-die type of games such as Super Meat Boy.

Celeste, the new game from mattmakesgames (now more than just Matt Thorson who originally started it), falls into this second camp. It is designed to challenge you, in a similar vein to something like Dark Souls: Celeste demands your attention, requiring timing and finger dexterity to get through its levels. If that proves too much, it has an innovative ‘assist mode’ that can help, and it is genuinely refreshing to not feel like your getting a gimped experience because you just don’t have the skill to play as is.

The setup of the game is thus: Madeline wants to climb Celeste mountain. She is completely unprepared for this, as the mountain has a power she has never encountered before, but attempts it anyway. It sounds like a fairly mundane thing, pulled straight out of eighties NES games, but actually the story has a nuance few games attempt.

It deals with mental health in a way few games even attempt, let alone actually pull off, though to the conclusion to that does feel like the optimistic and ‘perfect’ - for want of a better word - solution. That doesn’t mean that the game is anything less than great, I just found it to stumble at the end a little bit.

The minute to minute gameplay is your fairly standard affair of run and jump, avoiding obstacles, though you can also cling to surfaces and climb them. This is governed by a stamina meter that drains, but if you jump off and land on a flat surface it is refilled instantly, as is the air dash you are given at the start of the game.There isn’t really any enemies to take out, instead just about everything that isn’t a flat surface will kill you. It’s not even a case of it will take some health off, you hit the wrong thing and boom, you’re dead, and death comes swiftly and often.

So often, in fact, that after around twelve hours with the game I had died 3089 times. I never said I was good at this type of game, and as I sat staring at that number after the credits rolled, I realized that not one of those was the games fault. Each level is perfectly designed, with the solution and everything you need to achieve it staring you in the face, it is just a matter of whether or not you actually see it.

This is compounded by Strawberries. Each level has a set of collectible Strawberries to get, but when presented with a screen with one of those in it, it can quickly become a case of just saying “Hell no!” and moving on. This isn’t because these screens are badly designed, on the contrary, they are some of the most diabolical sections in the game, but it is a case of whether or not you can be bothered throwing yourself at the problem until you figure it out, dying over and over until you collect that tasty fruit.

Thing is, those collectibles make no difference to the game, they really are just bragging rights for completing tough sections, so if like me you get to a point where you just want to get through it, don’t feel bad for skipping them, it makes no difference to the story or anything. The collectible that does change things are the B-Side cassette tapes in each chapter. These will re-mix the level for a harder challenge, but to be honest, by the time I got to to the end I had gotten everything I wanted out of the game.

I mentioned at the start the games assist mode, and it really is great. The games designers wanted a set experience, and think it should be played without assist mode turned on, which is fair. However, not everyone is of the same skill level, so with assist mode on you are granted the ability to make things easier in a number of ways.

This might be increasing the number of air dashes you are allowed from one to infinite, making Madeline invincible, increasing how quickly the stamina meter runs down and a number of other things. It affects nothing in the story or game, it is purely a way for people to experience the game regardless of skill level. The developers were smart to put this in, it opens the game to a larger audience and gives them a chance to actually complete it.

I actually ended up turning assist mode on, I just found the game that touch too hard. All I did was increase the number of dashes by one, so I could do it twice before having to land to refill it. As I said, I still died over three thousand times and I gave up on trying to get all the strawberries, but I got through the game and it made it just a little bit easier. I didn’t find that it compromised the designers intent, Celeste is still a brilliant platformer that proves challenging even with a little help. It might not be what the experience they intended me to have, but I still enjoyed the game.

In fact the only issue I really found with the game was the last bit of the story, which for me was just a little bit too optimistic when dealing with mental health. That’s not to say such things don’t happen in real life, but the struggle is much harder than what is presented here, despite the mystical underpinnings of the story. As I said though, few games even attempt this and Celeste does a brilliant job, it just doesn’t stick the landing for me.

Everything else is brilliant. The art style is very 16 bit, but has bells and whistles that could only be dreamt of in that era, the music is awesome and the gameplay is as close to perfect as a platformer can get. I played it on the Switch, and it really is the perfect game for that system, as I played for longer than I should have lying in bed at midnight, or just sat on the sofa getting lost in a challenging section.


If you want a great platformer with a story that is more than ‘stomp on these things’, Celeste is the game for you. It plays brilliantly, looks and sounds great and has plenty of meat to sink your teeth into.

Review: Golf Story

I do not do sports. A slightly sad statement, but most traditional sporting activities do not fall under my purview, and I especially don’t get the extreme fandom some people go to with it. Being British, this is especially true of Football, which, while fun to actually play on occasion, constantly baffles me.

An aspect of this bafflement has been sports video games, I mean if you want to play Ice Hockey or Football, just go actually play the sport. There is, however, a caveat to this: Golf. It is the one real world sport that seems to translate to the screen perfectly, with easy to understand mechanics and just a single player to contend with. I haven’t played a golf game in many years, but I remember always having a good time with them.

When Sidebar Games released Golf Story onto Switch, I picked it up as it seemed a  great take on the golf game. An RPG but you are a golfer? Sounds cool to me, and it is for the most part. The game has some issues, and a back quarter that is a serious slog, but the writing, graphics and depth of its version of the sport do makeup for a lot.

You start the game with your character leaving his wife. It sounds depressing, but she is pretty unsupportive and he needs to go and become a pro golfer to to fulfil a legacy to his now deceased father. It is a pretty simple setup, but it works, and from that point you travel to various locations and taken on challenges to get better and improve.

In many ways, it is a lot like what you might think of when the term RPG is used. The differences being that battles are now golfing challenges, which might be hit balls in a specific set of holes, or use only one type of shot to sink a ball, or get a ball into a certain area. Each golf course has its own challenges, both in terms of those and aspects of the terrain unique to that area.

For example, Lurker Valley, the second course, has tar pits and fossils that can affect your shots. It also has cavemen as other players and course officials. To say Golf Story doesn’t take itself too serious is an understatement, it is goofy and fun in all the right places, and this gives a unique twist to each new course.

The representation of the sport actually does have a lot of depth, as there are various shot types and clubs to choose from, and have to take into account things like ball bounce, wind speed and direction and green slope. It makes for a lot to take on board and learn, but the game does a bad job of telling you about these things, and I kept forgetting I could curve balls and all sorts of other things that would help with the most difficult holes.

There is an overworld you navigate with the odd secret as you travel to each course, each course has its own visual style and characters, and with each successful challenge you earn XP to upgrade your stats and become a better golfer.

Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to break down. It at no point explains what the stats really do, and how they affect your game. Most RPG’s stats are relatively obvious, with things like ‘Damage’ meaning you hit harder, and ‘stamina’ meaning you can do things for longer. Golf Story’s stats are: Power, Purity, Strike, Ability and Spin. A couple of those, like Power and Spin, are fairly self explanatory: add more points to Power to hit harder, but the rest are confusing, to say the least.

This is compounded because you can take points out of the power stat at any time and place them into the any of the other four, meaning you have a less powerful drive but be better at something else. The problem is that you can’t do the reverse, once those points are spent on the other stats, they remain there. Since it isn’t obvious what they do, it is very easy to slip into a mindset that doesn’t help you play the game, and can cause you problems as you get towards the end game.

I ended up having to look at a FAQ to figure out what the stats did and how best to arrange them, but I had already put twenty hours into the game before that became something I had to do to try and figure out why it was getting so hard, and even then I was still at a loss as what most of them did.

This might speak to the universal language of games, and the players that understand it. I can look at a game like Final Fantasy and understand the upgrades and stats almost immediately, because they relate to a standard gaming activity: Combat. Attempting to translate those same mechanics to something more real world is more a challenge than one might think, because the fantasy bit of fighting monsters is easy to understand, but how do you represent the skill of a human playing golf?

Golf Story unfortunately does fail to find the balance with this, and the leveling system becomes something you have to do, but not something you want to do. You never want to discover just how strong and powerful your character can get, or I guess how good in this case, because you just don’t get how it works.

Another issue is one that is given away in the title: Golf. Now yes, if you don’t like the sport or don’t want to play a game about it then maybe it was obvious this was an issue, but for those who want to play for the opposite, then the issue is simply the amount.

Apart from playing ‘disc golf’ which is basically frisbee, everything you do uses the golf mechanics. While this means that you naturally get good at playing through sheer repetition, it also means there is a lot of golf, and combined with a last course that is almost unfairly hard, burning out is a real problem. I slogged through for review purposes, but honestly the game could have done with one less course and a much lower difficulty spike on the final one.

That last course is basically ‘the final battle’, but honestly is so ridiculously hard that it requires an almost perfect run to get through, and I threw myself at it for most of the last five hours of the thirty five I spent with the game. The perfection required grew frustrating, and I almost put the game down forever before I finally got the run I needed.

It adds to the feeling that the whole thing is just a little too long, and there is just lack of variety of things to do. To be fair, the game does make up for this by throwing scenarios at you that require light puzzle solving and talking to various characters, and those are well written and funny in spots, but it just isn’t enough.

Golf Story is a good game that misses out on being great due to a lack of task variety and an end game difficulty curve that is just way too steep. It’s just a slavish dedication to the idea of golf that ultimately lets it down, just a few different challenges and a slightly shorter overall play time would have led it to be something so much better.

Review: Pyre

Supergiant Games have, with just three games under their belt, become one of my favorite developers. The consistently deliver well written, gorgeously animated and brilliantly voiced games that are matched by great gameplay. The companies latest, Pyre, does all this and more, and is arguably the best game they have created. If I am honest though, the first game, Bastion, will always have a special place in my heart.

Pyre is set in the downside, a harsh hellish landscape where people convicted of crimes in a higher society, the commonwealth, are sent. Banished for all time, they must struggle to survive not only the environment but the other inhabitants. There is, however, a way back in the form of the rites.

You play as a ‘reader’ which is exactly as the name says. Literacy is banned in the commonwealth, and the few who can read are deemed worthy of banishment. This also means that in the downside, you can read the book of rites, which actually opens up most of the gameplay. As soon your character arrives you are taken in by a band of exiles called the Nightwings, and embark on a quest to return to your home.

You can be forgiven for thinking that Pyre is a visual novel, because for a lot of its play time, that is exactly what it is. You look at gorgeous artwork of the various characters and settings and read a lot of dialogue exchanges, but that isn't all that Pyre has to offer. The game is also both a sports game and an RPG, and it all combines to make something fantastic.

The Nightwings are a triumvirate, which is basically a 3 man team, who compete in the rites to win their way back to the commonwealth. They do this by playing what is essentially mystical basketball. When you embark on a rite, you must take on a competing A.I. team to grab a glowing orb and get it into the opposing teams pyre. Once one teams pyre hits zero, the match is over and the game continues. As the player, this means that win or lose, it isn’t game over.

That last point might not sound like much, but it actually really adds to the feeling that this is an established universe. The setting of Pyre existed before you booted up the game, and will exist long after you close it down for the final time. The other teams react to whether they beat you or not realistically, talking smack or telling you it won’t happen again, and it can really build up a sense of team rivalry even a lot of real world sports games fail to match.

Brilliantly, this sport isn’t just some throw away addition that the developers through in to help break up the gameplay, no, this is as deep as you can want. Each character who can take part in the rite has unique abilities that must be mastered to be truly competitive, these range from one being faster than the others or another being slow but big and powerful.

These abilities might be something relatively passive, or something more aggressive. Each character has an ‘aura’, a blue circle on the ground. If the enemy hits that, the character is banished and out of the match for several seconds, which applies for your team hitting theirs too. You can fire this aura out to try and get members of the opposing team out of the match and make your life easier.

It allows you to set up various plays, and as the roster of the Nightwings increases over the game more tactics become available to you. Finding the right balance against the team you face is crucial, and planning ahead key. It is not perfect, but it provides heart pounding moments every few seconds and the feeling of accomplishment as the last ball is thrown into the enemy pyre is second to none.

The RPG element comes in after a match, as each character that takes part earns xp and can gain new abilities which  can change not only the size of the aura people produce or how fast they run, but make that blast bounce off obstacles or ignore them completely. It might be that if one character catches the orb mid air, they are granted infinite stamina for a few seconds. Picking wisely here will allow you to tailor your play style, but if you mess up, the in game shop can help.

This shop is a merchant called Falcon Ron. He rides on his dad’s shoulders, and he is awesome. He provides Talisman’s that can grant various bonuses as RPG’s are want to do, but also an item to re-select chosen abilities. I never found a need for these, but it some people might like to switch things up more than I did.

Developers often have their own style, and Supergiant certainly have theirs, personified in Pyre. I mentioned at the start that the company always delivers well written and acted games, and this is no different here except that while Transistor and Bastion had a lot of voice acting, it takes a back seat here to let the true star - the writing - shine. It’s what brings everything together, and fleshes it out into a coherent universe.

This includes little things, like one character, Rukey, asking if you if he should keep his mustache or not. If you say no, he returns a second later without it, or just small incidental moments where you simply have a chat with a character because something is weighing on their mind.

Animation and art are other areas this developer shines, and Pyre is probably the most gorgeous game they have done to date. The way that the wagon moves on your travels around the downside, the particle effects and flashes when playing a rite, even the way just clicking on an item in the main hub area is expertly crafted and looks stunning.

That's not to mention the hand drawn art style of the character’s and maps, it is so good you could almost print and frame a screenshot for your hallway. It is the most striking style you will see in some time, and gives the whole game a very distinct look that makes it stand out.

It’s not all amazing, as sometimes the A.I. can feel overpowered for no reason at all, just taking you out before you have time just to switch your brain on. This is especially true if you turn on the extra modifiers that make things harder for great rewards.

It can also be hard to determine which characters to send home, which you have to decide periodically. While this might not seem like an issue, there are characters with abilities that will make your life easier, send the wrong one home and you have to readjust. This extends, without getting too spoiler heavy, to a story based element.

One character states that he has calculated something to do with each of the others, but at no point does the game surface that information to help you decide who to send home. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, but given the quality of the rest of the game, it is jarring to have this one bit of dialogue in there for what appears to be no reason at all.

Honestly though, they are the only bad things I can come up with. The rites are deep enough to really get your teeth into, and there is an online mode just to play against others. The art is stunning and the writing excellent, the lore created presents an interesting universe that is fully fleshed out, and gives insight into more than just the games focus.

If you want an awesome looking game that plays great and is a bit on the sporty side, give Pyre a go, to date it is the developers greatest work, and you will not be disappointed.

Review: Destiny 2

Let me say this straight away: If you didn’t like the original Destiny, stop reading and go play something you do. Destiny 2 differs in some good ways, but the core mechanic of shooting various factions of bad guys in the face remains almost completely unchanged, so if you didn’t like it then you ain’t gonna like now.

The follow up to Bungie’s loot fest is...well a loot fest, but one with a way better story, some logical and needed changes to how said loot works and some new areas and planets. That doesn’t mean to say you won’t be playing through those same places over and over again to grind out better guns and armour, but let’s be honest here, that is, and always will be, Destiny.

In the first five minutes of the campaign, Destiny 2 tells more story in a better way than the whole of vanilla Destiny combined, excluding maybe The Taken King expansion. This time around it is the faction known as the Cabal who are the big bad, with a particularly evil leader taking the fight to the guardians.

The tower, the main social hub of the first game is destroyed as is the last city for the most part, and of course the mysterious giant sphere hovering above, The Traveller is under attack. This means that your side actually starts on the back foot, as the light The Traveller provides no longer protects you, which means you are mortal again, i.e. you get killed you are dead.

Except that's not quite right because of course you get those powers back. Honestly the major beats of the story are sci-fi action movie hokum, but Dominus Ghaul, leader of the Red Legion is actually an interesting antagonist, with an agenda beyond “Lets just kill everything!”. It adds much needed backstory to the Cabal, and enriches the Destiny universe overall. Even better, you don’t have to go to a website and look up a bunch of cards to get it, it's all done in game.

On the Guardian side of the story, the main three leaders from the first game return: Cayde-6, Zavala, and Ikora Rey. They entrust saving the good guys to you for the main part, but also get their hands dirty when required, again providing good backstory to the universe. Cayde in particular is witty and great, Nathan Fallion continuing a quality voice acting streak coupled with some good and funny writing.

Once the main campaign is complete, after a few hours, the main meat of the game opens up and then it becomes, well it becomes Destiny. You return to areas, grinding out more powerful loot, you do strikes - more difficult version of missions, you run patrols, do the raid if you have friends and time and complete quests. If all this sounds familiar then you would be right, but the thing about this franchise is, at its core, it's really good.

All of the main changes to the format are quality of life improvements over the first game for the most part and improve the overall experience, but that core shooting is still just as awesome as it ever was. If you didn’t like it first time, you won’t like it second, simple as. If you did, you will find an improved experience, one that streamlines some aspects of the original.

For example, you now don’t have to return to Orbit to travel to another planet. Simply pulling up the director will allow you to go to any of the planets available, which are, apart from Earth, all new. It might sound simple, but it really was a pain in the ass in the first game and is probably the best improvement in my eyes.

Another change is that your weapon classifications have changed to Kinetic, energy and power. Again it might not sound like much, but the secondary Energy weapons allow you to take down the shields on certain enemies quickly, and deal more damage when you do. The power weapons are your sniper rifles, rocket launchers and the new grenade launcher. That last one is a bummer because I have yet to find a good one, and it seems massively unpredictable when using it.

That's the thing about Destiny though, you will always find a loadout that works for your playstyle, and the loot comes thick and fast, so one rubbish weapon type is no big deal. That is coupled with another new addition: weapon mods. These are almost exactly like what you have used in other games, slotting one in will change the guns elemental affinity or increase its strength, a useful way to change things up. You can also feed more powerful weapons of the same type to a weaker one, improving it if you really do find one you like.

The final main combat change is for each subclass, those awesome abilities that let you shooting lightning from your hands or use a giant fire sword. They each now come with specializations, which allow you to customize your character with say, more focus on your super or helping your team keep a killstreak for longer.

It is cool but honestly it is something for the more hardcore players out there, casual types such as myself will notice little difference. That’s not to say it isn’t a good addition, but it will apply more to the raid and strikes than anything else. To be fair, that was the same in the first game with some aspects, the more you play the more nuance you will get out of the combat.

One annoying aspect is the fact that shaders now apply to just one piece of equipment, rather than your overall look, and are one use only. Again this might not seem like much, but when you can only change a couple of bits to the same colour, it can be vexing. Though to be fair, it can make for some very unique looking characters.

Those who played the first game will be wondering just how much content is in this game, as the last one was...sparse to say the least. The good news is that there is so much more to do, and exploring the maps feels so much better this time around because there are small things to find, such as regional chests with loot to grab and lost sectors, which are small PvE encounters that are a bit more of a challenge than just roaming around fighting enemies on the surface.

It doesn’t include the standard strikes, public events, random firefights, patrols and et all that dot each planet, so there is so much more to do in Destiny 2 and it really does feel like an evolution of the formula. That said, you will, inevitably, get to the end of all that, and then what?

Well, frankly, that is Destiny. You play until you can’t, put it down, and wait for the next DLC. If you have friends you can run the strikes with them, play the raid (which still doesn’t have matchmaking) and fight in the multiplayer focused Crucible. Eventually you will grow tired, and again wait for that next DLC, and if that isn’t what you want out of your gaming experience, maybe this isn’t for you. Those who get it though, who loved the first one and want more of that, well, Destiny 2 is the perfect sequel.

It won’t make you change your mind if you didn’t like the first one on a fundamental level, but if you did it's a great follow up, improving just about everything you wanted from it’s predecessor. The core shooting is still amazing, the game is as gorgeous to look at as ever, and the quality of life improvements streamline the experience in much needed ways. Destiny 2 is worthy of the time you will put into it, until the inevitable day you close it and await the next pack of content.

Review: Tacoma

The walking simulator is a relatively modern genre for video games, one where story takes precedence over shooting stuff in the face, and with a great story these games can be powerful, showcasing just what the medium can do and lending credence to the growing art form of games.

My first experience with this was The Fullbright Company’s first game, Gone Home. It topped my game of the year list upon release and it’s themes have stuck with me ever since. When the developer announced its next game I was excited to say the least, and while Tacoma won’t stay with me the way Gone Home did, it is a great game in its own right.

Set aboard Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, the game places you in the shoes of Amy, the person sent to investigate what happened on board and where exactly the crew have disappeared to. On paper, this makes it sound like a horror game, where some unknown alien menace has infested the station, but that is far from the truth. Tacoma connects you to the on board A.I via an augmented reality interface and from there the meat of the gameplay plays out.

‘Plays out’ is the right term here, as walking into certain rooms will net you a A.R. scene, recorded at some point before your character boarded the station. This could be as simple as one of the crew sat on their bunk playing guitar or as complex as a party where everyone is present. Watching these scenes delivers the story as to what happened to these people, but it also presents something games can struggle with: real lives.

The crew of the Tacoma are real people, they each have families, friends and pasts. They are struggling with something unique to them, which could be something to do with their family or their quest to do better in the gym. It’s brilliant because it makes you feel like the whole situation could be something that actually happens in real life, I got to the end and thought about the news reports that would show each crew member, and the people speculating on what is going on up there.

Unfortunately, while all this makes for a compelling and well paced game, it simply didn’t grab me in the way Gone Home did. That game's tale of a girl returning to her family home to find things aren’t as peachy as they might appear spoke to me on a fundamental level, and even four years on from it’s release I recommend it to people. I am fairly certain I won’t be doing the same with Tacoma.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a great game, and I suspect if this is your first attempt at a walking simulator then you might have a similar reaction to what I had with the developer's previous effort, I just wasn’t pulled into the world in the same way, though I will admit I was very happy and satisfied with the game's conclusion.

The good news is that the main set of characters are so diverse you are bound to find someone who speaks to you. For me it was the medic, Serah, a compelling character with a great back story, who is also dealing with a medical issue a little too familiar. Each character, each little vignette, pushes, compels you to seek out the next, not to complete the game but to find out what happened to these characters.

I just wish I got into it more, and as strange as this might sound stupid from someone whose top ten movie list has eight sci-fi films on, but the sci-fi setting actually harms Tacoma. It puts it just a step out of reach, where other games in the genre I have played were all set in the modern day, it makes for the relatively mundane but compelling story to shine through.

The space station setting here means I spend more time looking out of windows and marveling at the artistic style that getting in touch with the story, and more time wanting to learn about the universe it resides in rather than getting to know all the characters.

Tacoma is a great game, it is well paced, has a great story and a great cast of characters. My issues with it stem from the setting, which doesn’t gel with the tale being told, however cleverly it might play out. If you are looking to try a game of this style, there are far worse options out there, and as previously stated it might well give you the same reaction I had with its predecessor.

It is a worthy follow up to a stunning game, only takes a couple of hours to complete, the perfect way to spend an evening.

Review: Super Mario Odyssey

There is an old saying in gaming circles: “Never count Nintendo out”. It’s simple, to the point, and if any year in its history proves it, it’s this one. Not only did they release a fantastic console in the Switch, they dramatically overhauled The Legend of Zelda to make it probably one of the best games ever made, and now they have unleashed Super Mario Odyssey, a game shows they are still the masters of the platformer.

Talk before release was that Odyssey is a spiritual successor to the Super Mario Galaxy games, and to be honest I can see why that comparison was made. Each level has different themes and secrets to explore, and trust me there are plenty of secrets. More than that though, is the feeling you get when playing: it just feels right.

It might sound stupid, but from the first push of the thumb stick it’s like you just know everything is right, after a few minutes of play you are lost in Odyssey’s world, all your woes falling away as you explore each level. Even when you decide to move to the next, the feeling you haven’t quite found everything sticks with you, until that is you get lost again.

I played the game on a trip home from London recently. The train took just over two hours. I started playing when we set off, and put it down what I though was half an hour later. Turns out I was just twenty minutes from home and I had lost an hour and half just exploring the game, and if that doesn’t mark it out as great I don’t know what will.

Story has never been a Mario games strong point, and if I am being honest the same is true here. Shockingly Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser again, this time with the intention of forcing marriage upon the said strumpet, but he also nabs Tiara, a Bonneter who becomes the princess’ err...tiara.

Mario of course runs to the rescue, but this time is joined by Cappy, Tiara’s brother, who wants to help fight Bowser and his minions and save his sister. This is where the new game shows it’s distinctiveness. Cappy is actually a very useful little guy, Mario can throw him up, down and all around to fight enemies and collect coins, maybe even solve the odd puzzle. The most unique thing Cappy does, however, is allow Mario to ‘capture’ various creatures around each level.

The capture of a creature turns it ‘mario’, which basically means it gets the plumbers distinct moustache and cap, and let me tell you there is something quite magical about seeing a T-Rex in that state. It then grants you that creature's special ability, so for example capturing a Goomba allows you to stack more and and more on top of each other to reach high ledges or treasures. It’s a great mechanic, and allows the designers to hide things in some brilliant places.

Power Moons are the treasures I speak of, and are used to power the Odyssey, a airship the two friends use to chase down Bowser. They are placed anywhere from ‘in plain sight’ to ‘take two hours to figure out’ and each level contains more than you first think. This where you can see a similar design philosophy to Breath of the Wild. In that game something new was discovered every few minutes and the same is true here.

Turn a corner and you might find a new puzzle to solve or a hidden area containing a moon. It could lead to a boss fight or some of the purple coins littering each level, or it might even just be the top of a ridge looking out over the sea, a cool little vista for intrepid explorers to find. This is what drives you in Super Mario Odyssey, you are never quite sure what is waiting for you next.

Once the credits have rolled the game drops you back in, letting you go find all the other moons you might have missed, and I am almost certain you would have missed some if not a vast majority, there is just that many to find. It is unfortunate that revisting kingdoms means you can purchase a bunch of moons from the in game store on each without having to explore, but honestly its not that big of a deal.

There is unfortunately one major downside to the game: motion controls. Now I will always be a fan of the Wii, it was a great system that introduced gaming to the masses, but for the most part motion controls should have died with that system. Here it only works if the joy-con’s are undocked and frankly, no one plays the switch like that. Those devices are either connected to play in handheld mode or attached to the bundled controller dock that comes with the system.

I am not saying it is impossible to use the motion controls in any other state, but it’s certainly easier when the joy-con’s aren’t plugged into anything. Moving the full system around when playing in handheld mode is just a nightmare and it is jarring when playing with the controller attachment. If they had put those moves onto a face button it would have worked so much better and allowed for more creative use of the various powers by players.

To be honest though, that is the only complaint I have about the whole game. Playing is like sitting down for a chat with an old friend, after a few minutes its like you were never apart and that is what the Mario games personify, the feeling of an old friend come to see you and enjoying each others company.

Super Mario Odyssey shows Nintendo’s willingness to try new things with its core franchise, and somehow they manage to keep the same great feel the best of the previous games had. It updates everything for a new generation and I am certain this will become some of the younger gamers out there game of the generation, one of those that is looked back on in years to come with misty eyes and a slightly inflated, but no less justified sense of nostalgia. In short, it is a masterpiece.

Review: Splatoon 2

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When the original Splatoon was announced, everyone was, frankly, confused. Nintendo? Doing a shooter? A collective WTF went up from fans and games press a like. However, as people started to play, get a feel for it, it became apparently that the house that Mario built was actually onto something.

The genius of that original game is that while yes, it is a shooter and an online one at that, it didn’t attempt to follow the path of the giants such as Call of Duty or Battlefield. While you can kill members of the original team, that is not the point. Instead, covering as much of the map as possible is the way to victory, at least in the regular battle mode.

Matches lasted just three minutes, lending the game a snappy feel. It was the shooter people who don’t like shooters should play and became an instant hit upon its release, this was due to pitch perfect gameplay and the fact it was an original IP from Nintendo.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the portable/console hybrid known as The Switch needs games. So what do we get? New IP? Of course not, we get the sequel to Nintendo’s first ever shooter and it is just the game the system needs.

Splatoon 2 is, and this especially applies if you didn’t play the first game, a must buy. The same core mechanics and pitch perfect gameplay see you running and swimming around various maps trying to cover everything in your team’s colour or compete in the more objective based modes once you unlock ranked battles.

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To be honest, this is all the game needs. The gameplay is so good that while, yes very little has actually changed in terms of what you do, frankly it doesn’t need to, it is always fun playing matches and it's an online game where by default voice chat is disabled which means that the b.s you might have dealt with before goes away almost instantly.

The game's biggest problem is that those that still have a Wii U hooked up and a copy of the original might find it difficult to justify buying a new console to play a sequel with so little new things to do, and those that already own a Switch but played the original might find it tough to pay another chunk of money for what is essentially the same game.

The changes that are there, such as new weapons, clothing, the ability to change hairstyles are cool but don’t fix fundamental problems with the design. You still have to back all the way of of the lobby and return to the main hub to change weapons and gear for example, but I never found it so bad that it was a huge deal, and in that particular instance you tend to find the best weapon for you and stick with it no matter anyway.

The new Salmon run mode, this game's version of a horde mode, is only open at certain times for some insane reason that no one can quite figure out and frankly, is something you have played a thousand times before. The single player is good and has some great looking boss battles, helped by the bump to 1080p and 60fps, but is the same format as the first game.

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The changes made to how certain weapons work and how that would affect the deeper strategy of a match will only be really relevant to the hardcore players who spent hours with the first game, learning all the secrets and wanting to translate to the sequel. The casual crowd might be disappointed with a graphics bump and a couple of new weapons and maps.

So far, this is the only way that you can still view anything resembling the old Miiverse from the Wii U, one of the more intresting aspects of the platform. It is relegated to thought bubbles above peoples heads in the lobby, but is a fun throw back none the less. 


Ultimately, Splatoon 2 is a better looking rehash of the first game. The could have called it Splatoon HD  and added in the extra’s in as a bonus to get people to invest and it probably would have worked well for them, but that isn’t to say it isn’t a great game anyway. The gameplay that made the first so good is still intact and sees it through, but I can easily see why people might be reluctant to invest in this. I think it’s great, it just has some strange quirks that are annoying but not unassailable.

Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn

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There is an old adage in entertainment media that products with female leads will simply not sell well enough to be worth the effort to develop them. This seems to go double for games, were only a select few have done anything close to ‘ok’ in terms of sales, and fewer still have gone on to spawn an entire franchise, with Tomb Raider and Metroid being the only real contenders and Metroid being a stretch as for almost all the games you are barely identifiable encased in Samus’ powered armour.

Looking up the list of female characters in games, distressingly few of them are women and even fewer not portrayed as either sidekicks or over sexualized. While I will freely admit that those characters who are a bit scantily clad tickle my hetero white male sensibilities (yes I am part of the problem), I also find the ability to play as a women enticing, especially if the character is written well.

Enter Aloy, star of Guerrilla Games Horizon: Zero Dawn. She is a arrow shooting, spear wielding bad ass who can tear through packs of robotic animals with ease, genuinely develops over the course of the game's story, and is never once portrayed as a damsel in distress. Aloy is, frankly, a next generation hero, someone who is already gaining popularity as cosplay and a game character Guerilla should be proud of.

Aloy’s world is a strange one. Set hundreds of years in the future, nature has reclaimed much of the planet and only ruins of our once great civilization remain. Humanity leaves in various tribes, but are united in a common enemy: the machines.

These robotic beasts have been shown in all of Horizon’s promo material and range from relatively small, to towering monsters bristling with advanced weaponry. They represent things like horses, rhino’s, birds of prey and crocodiles and each one is deadly in its own way. Aloy is dropped into this world with a...bow, not exactly the most advanced weapon ever made, but it is amazingly effective. Her mission is to figure out where she comes from, and what is going on with these machines.

The story is actually pretty great, it twists in some interesting ways and features some memorable characters, but all of them pale in comparison to Aloy herself. The voice acting is top notch throughout with each character a believable person in the context of the world, everyone tinged with mistakes or character flaws and some outright assholes.

After a start as a small, rebellious child, outcast from her tribe to live with her adoptive father, Aloy is eventually allowed to travel the wider world.The open world is huge, with draw distances to match, a play space that is truly stunning and a place that just existing in, not even completing missions or side quests, is worth doing. Climbing up to the top of a ridge or mountain and staring out over the landscape is something made for the photo sharing features of the PS4, and made my jaw drop on several occasions, even without the grunt of the PS4 Pro and a 4K TV.

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There is plenty to do and see, but, and this is crucial to an open world game, nothing ever gets overwhelming. The map does contain hundreds of icons once you discover enough or earn the shards to buy the maps to reveal things, but most of those are simply the locations of various types of machines. The collectibles aren’t into the hundreds and I was able to collect them all pretty easily. The last game I did that on was Assassin's Creed II, so Horizon is in good company.

Improving Aloy’s skills and weapons rarely feels like a chore, with most of the materials required gained through the excellent battles against machines. The combat system is expertly crafted, and never gets old even when fighting human enemies, though admittedly these battles are never as interesting as battling even the smallest robots.

Each fight can be approached in different ways, but I found sneaking around and picking my shots the most effective. For example, I came upon a pack of Striders (robot horses essentially), so I snuck up through long grass to conceal my movements. These machines have ‘blaze’ canisters on their backs, so I shot one with a fire arrow. This caused the canister to ignite, resulting in an explosion that killed the target and severely damaged nearby Striders allowing me to pick them off one by one.

That tactic is so satisfying to pull off, though it comes with a downside. Because I destroyed the canister, I couldn’t loot that corpse for it, and this risk/reward mechanic comes into play often. With many machines I can do a similar thing, but I get less back than if I attacked them in a more conventional way. This extends to making ammo for the various weapons, as this takes resources such as those blaze canisters and wood, but also metal shards.

Shards are also the game's currency, so until you get to a point where you have the weapons and armour you are comfortable with, making ammo depletes your ability to purchase items. Killing enemies and machines will net you more and selling things to ample merchants dotted around solves this, but it is an interesting way to get people to think about the combat.

Each weapon also comes with tutorial missions, such as ‘trip three medium sized enemies’ for the trip caster, a weapon that fires wires that might explode or be charged with electricity. These are great experience earners but more than that get you to experiment with other weapons, even if it is just to complete them for the experience. Personally I found a good load out that allowed me to take on even the biggest machines with relative ease, but I also played on default difficulty.

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Everything about playing the game is absolutely spot on, combat, missions, side quests. The biggest problem, and Horizon’s only major weakness is animation. I am not talking about animation out the world either, every human, every machine or animal moves perfectly even during combat. I am talking about during cut scenes, and it is absolutely atrocious at times.

Aloy just won’t stay still during scenes, her head is always moving, whether she is talking or not. This goes for the character she is talking to too, but she is the worst culprit. It would be better if this movement was in anyway smooth or natural but it’s not, it is a twitchy bouncy mess, giving Aloy a look of perpetual confusion and the disposition of someone suffering from Parkinson's disease than the naive outcast girl they paint her as in the writing.

It’s frustrating because every other part of the game is of such high quality that this one problem brings the package down, and does so unfairly. Playing the game is so much fun it never gets old, but these broken animations wear out very quickly and pull you out of the experience almost instantly after a while. It can be overlooked, but that then means losing out on an interesting story if you were to skip them or look at your phone.

After 50+ hours with it, I can tell you that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a fantastic game, well worth your time. The problems around the animation are not so bad that they spoil the act of playing, and you can certainly have plenty of fun running about the world without even doing the missions or side quests. The combat is stellar and the designs of the machines are awesome in some cases, providing genuinely intimidating foes to conquer.

The missions are generally great, providing a cool story with some twists and turns and take Aloy on a journey to discover her place in the world. It’s just those damn cut scenes, the game deserves better and while it is a small thing, it ultimately brings the whole thing down from ‘classic’ to ‘great’.Still, shooting robotic dinosaurs in the eyes with arrows is so much fun you would be silly not to give it a go.

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

How do you update a 30 year franchise? One whose tropes have been copied innumerable times across a million games. One where various entries frequently appear on “Best game of all time” lists and whose structure helped form a large part of the language of video games.

The answer seems to be ‘make it bigger and throw that structure out’. Breath of the Wild (BotW) forgoes the formulaic nature of previous games and sets you on a path, but crucially, how to get to the end of that path is up to you. One of the first quests you receive is “Defeat Ganon”, and from that point on your are pretty much on your own.

The designers have taken what works from other open world games and cut away everything but the very core, crafting something that has all the familiar elements but doesn’t fall into various open world traps. There is almost no ‘jank’, where the systems interact in unexpected ways the game isn’t prepared to really handle.

It does however contain towers which allow you to expand the map, but rather than filling it with these towers so they become a grind, there are only a few, one per very large area. Once you activate one, the area unlocked isn’t suddenly filled with icons to check off either, which is actually a brilliant decision.

The trap here is that such things can become a check list very quickly, making exploring the world a slog and dumbing down the excitement of thinking you will find something new and unknown around every corner. BotW does this excellently, at no point did I feeling like it was a grind to play, and I knew that there was always something waiting to be discovered.  

Those discoveries came in various forms, from enemy encampments to small villages, stables or one of BotW’s greatest achievements, a Shrine. The shrines provide bitesize pieces of gameplay outside of travelling around the main world, each with a various hooks that may or may not utilize one or more of the new powers given to link at the start of the game.

Link is the proud owner of the Sheikah Slate, basically a modern day tablet that allows him to access the shrines and towers, but also grants him a few powers such as magnesis, stasis, cryosis and remote bombs. The shrines might have you using magnesis to lift up and carry metal boxes around to make paths or activate switches, or they might have you use stasis to stop an object, smash it with your weapons to have it build up a charge, then launch it into a hole, or any number of combinations.

Each one is only a few minutes long and can net you weapons, armour and shields, along with the main prize: an orb that allows you to purchase heart and stamina metre upgrades, and with a hundred and twenty to find and beat, you build up stamina and health quite quick. Some of the shrines are straight up combat arena’s, tasking you with defeating a fairly powerful enemy, but these are rarely very tough and give you access to some of the most potent weapons in the game.

Those weapons range from boomerangs to single handed swords to massive bone clubs, each with its own damage rating and durability. Yes, they will break on you, which for some will be a massive point of contention. However, weapons are not hard to come by, every enemy drops at least one and it isn’t a challenge to find a fight, so this doesn’t actually prove much of a detriment, though it can be frustrating to burn through weapons in a shrine trying to get a ball into a hole to activate a switch.

The combat itself is fast and satisfying, never getting old no matter how many times you beat the snot out of a bunch of Bokoblins. It can be annoying to have your weapons break halfway through a fight, but you rarely, if ever, get to the point where you have no weapons at all, so making your way around the world and fighting everything is always a pleasure and never a chore.

The point of traversing this open world is to, as previously stated, defeat Ganon, or in this case, Calamity Ganon, an entity that has taken over Hyrule Castle 100 years previously. The story is an interesting take on the Zelda format, but it boils down to the same thing every single entry in the series has: rescue the princess, defeat the bad guy and save the world.

The story portions weren’t super interesting, but it is probably the most interesting version of the tale to date. The voice acting (yes that's a thing) is actually pretty good, and the writing is decent, but after a couple of hours with the game, it's not something I cared about, I just wanted to go tool around the world.

You can actually complete the game without doing this, that quest to defeat Ganon is completable almost from the second you get it, with speed runs of the game already coming in at around forty minutes. My play time is currently over seventy hours and I haven’t by any stretch of the imagination done everything.

That is the beauty of it, it allows you to finish quick or take your time, and both are perfectly valid, though it's my opinion finishing it in forty minutes does the game a massive disservice. Every inch of it is perfectly designed, but probably the most ingenious thing BotW does is climbing.

It might sound stupid, but you can climb pretty everything at anytime. No upgrades or new kit required, Link can just climb stuff until his stamina runs out. The stamina metre, depending on what you’re doing and if climbing how steep the wall is, doesn’t run out after 2 seconds so getting up mountains isn’t too much of a challenge after a couple of upgrades, but it seems that getting stamina upgrades rather than health is more important in the early stages.

More games need to do this, it adds to the feeling that the game actively wants you to explore its world and discover its secrets, from the random Dragon’s floating around the skies to hidden villages and shrines, you can literally go anywhere you want, it just might take some preparation to remain there for a period of time.

This preparation comes in the form of cooking. Around the world are various herbs, plants, fruit, spices and meat, as well as critters and monster parts that allow you to cook up various dishes. You can eat them without cooking (except for the monster parts and critters), but by throwing on the old apron and chucking a few things a cook pot you can get meals that increase your maximum hearts, let you move silently, temporarily increase stamina, refill your stamina meter or allow you survive longer in the games harsher climates, such as mountain tops.

This is a very cool mechanic and you can carry plenty of meals at once, the only problem with it is that cooking pots are only located in villages or stables, so you might have to head to one of those then back up to where you were if you run out. It's not a huge thing (like all the problems with this game) but it can be vexing.

The critters and monster parts create elixirs rather than meals, but do pretty much the same thing, it's just less likely you will receive hearts back from these, and you can’t brew attack boosting or damage reducing elixirs, but they prove useful nonetheless.

Ultimately, Breath of the Wild is the open world game to play if you don’t like open world games. While it is not absolutely perfect, it is so close it's scary. The frustrating elements of other similar games have been carefully analyzed and discarded or refined to near perfection, the concept of ‘Open world Jank’ is completely absent and all the systems at play work together to create the emergent gameplay that is a stable of the genre but with that feeling that the game just broke for no reason at all.

Nintendo have redefined what an open world game is, while simultaneously giving the best Zelda in years, one that revitalizes the series in a way no one expected. Playing on the Switch (it's also available on Wii U) makes this even better, as you can literally take it with you and play anywhere, and since the game has so much to see and do, it is the perfect launch game. To be honest though, it's a damn near perfect game, if you want or own a Switch or Wii U, this should be on your must have games list without question.

 

 

Review: Titanfall 2

When the original Titanfall was released, it was, to be fair, a stripped down game. With no single player and a smaller budget than the team at Respawn Entertainment were used to, having come from Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward, they never the less created arguably 2014’s best multiplayer shooter.

Fast forward two years and Respawn return with Titanfall 2. The budget been increased, single player is in and the multiplayer has been refined to near perfection. In short, they did it again, and even more surprisingly the single player is awesome.

That mode focuses on rifleman Jack Cooper, who after a disastrous drop onto a planet is paired with Titan BT-7274, a vanguard class titan. The tutorial before this show’s BT’s former pilot taking Jack through training exercises so he can take his pilot's exam, showing you how to jump, wall run and shoot, it setting up the story in a way that invokes the opening of the original Halo. Once BT becomes Jack’s titan, the story really takes off.

 

BT is probably one of the best new characters in recent memory. The AI that makes up his personality gives advice to Cooper, along with world building exposition and the odd funny comment, born of a machine's inherent inability to understand sarcasm. It makes him believable, a character you can root for. The team of Cooper and BT take you through the story with a relationship that just feels right.

This adds to the universe Respawn started in the original game, which had very little world building. In contrast, even the levels in the sequel flesh things out, let alone all the actual exposition that is done with cutscenes etc. The only problem with the story is the fact that the bad guys are painted as ‘the bad guys’.

What I mean by this is that no time is devoted to why the IMC are actually battling the Militia forces in a galaxy spanning conflict, you are just given a gun, a titan and pointed in their general direction. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but the rest of the campaign sets up such an interesting universe that it does it a disservice to have to go to a wiki to figure out quite what is going on in the greater war.

This extends to the ‘bosses’ of the campaign, a series of mercenaries known as the Apex Predator’s. There is no reason given for their employment, and are actually a bit of an overused trope as they say things like “I haven’t been paid to kill you”, pretty standard dialog when combined with all the comments that most other games use for their mercs.

On the plus side, a couple of these bosses are pretty cool. I especially like Viper, who pilots a airborne titan and spouts almost IP infringing dialog ripped straight out of Top Gun, and I appreciate the goofiness it brings to an already slightly goofy tale. This does feel a little random and out of place, but the boss fights don’t overstay their welcome, so it's a small niggle.

Every so often, BT gains a new loadout, taken from the Titan presets in the multiplayer mode. It is a great addition because it stops the sections where you stay in the cockpit becoming boring, giving you new toys to play with. Not all of them are perfect, but that is very much a player preference thing, and with that said, there was something about each that was kinda cool, such as the Ronin loadouts electrified sword that can be used to deflect bullets.

There are some great levels in the campaign, with Effect and Cause being one of the most cleverly designed shooter levels in recent memory. It is cohesive and fun, and doesn’t take the gimmick of it too far. I am trying not to spoil things, as it really is part of what makes the campaign so good. One of the final missions is a blast as well, again not overstaying its welcome with its gimmick.

Overall the campaign is a brilliant, a real surprise to an already great package, assuming that they didn’t mess with the gameplay in the first one. They in fact did, but the changes made streamline aspects of the core feel, and this makes Titanfall 2 one of the best multiplayer shooters in years.

All the usual unlocks, merits and modes are there, but changing your character gives you a primary ‘Tactical’ ability. So if you want to use the STIM pack, that is a different character model than the one with the grapple hook, with every weapon available for all models.

As you unlock more, secondary abilities can be swapped, giving you personal cloaks among other things. The original game suffered from what felt like a very small amount of unlockables, but Titanfall 2 strikes a good balance. Is it as many as in say Call of Duty? No, but it doesn’t need to be, there is enough to unlock without feeling like you got everything super quick.

The nebulous ‘feel’ of the game is pitch perfect, I have rarely played matches where no matter how bad I did, it felt great to play. I wasn’t killed almost upon spawn, battles escalate nicely, I never felt hopelessly outclassed and felt like with some deft exploitation of the environments I could get the drop on opponents. I managed to get a three skill streak in more than a few matches with this and it felt great.


Titanfall 2 is a great package. It has a surprisingly great single player campaign, with some memorable characters, outstanding levels and badass moments. The multiplayer is the perfect way to battle real players, escalating to pitched battles with Titan vs Titan and pilot vs pilot action. If you want a lasting shooter experience, you can do no better.

REVIEW: Gears of War 4

 

I remember watching a documentary on the making of the original Gears of War. One scene in particular has always stuck with me. Members of the development team, including the outspoken Cliffy B,  are having lunch with Microsoft producers. Cliffy B turns to them, shifting in his seat excitedly and asking “Did you see the chainsaw gun? Did you?”.

This excitement was well founded, the Lancer as it later became known is now one of the most iconic weapons in all of gaming. The brutal machine gun, comically over sized to fit its comically over sized owners, dealt death from afar and blood spraying, satisfying vivisection when the distance becomes point blank. It summed up Gears of War in one single image, and made that first game truly cool.

Fast forward a decade and a few sequels, with a few years off and a new developer, Gears returns in Gears of War 4 and I can most definitely confirm that the Lancer is still cool as all hell. This time though, it is wielded by a new generation of gears, including original protagonist Marcus Fenix’s son, JD.

We are introduced back to the world Sera some twenty five years after the events of Gears of War 3. The planet is scarred by the explosion at the end of the third game and the younger gears, JD, Del and Kate have grown up in a world where the series main bad guys, the Locust, no longer exist, the COG (the government) have started to rebuild the world and women are told they should be mothers to rebuild the population.

At the start of the game, this isn’t your dad’s gears in terms of story. The writing is much improved, the setting genuinely feels like a world trying to rebuild and the main protagonists feel like they no longer believe in the government, and so have become ‘Outsiders’ - people who live away from the main cities, the COG and more over, the law. Meaning they have to perform raids for supplies.

This is the first mission, a raid on a construction site for some supplies. The enemies supplied are robots, called DB’s, and are fresh foe to help regenerate the series. They take cover and flank where appropriate, with bigger and badder robots being introduced the further into the game you get. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last. A few levels in and the ‘real’ enemy appears, and they look awfully familiar. This is actually deeply disappointing.

 

Falling back on long standing antagonists to remind everyone they are playing a Gears of War game is totally unnecessary. The opening missions set the stage for an intriguing tale of government vs outsider, where superior technology takes on human grit and pure muscle, but The Coalition, the new overseers of the franchise, chose to quickly forget that and move into the same thing players were doing a decade ago.

Therein lies the rub, with ten minutes of play reminding you that yes, this is indeed a Gears game, through and through. The active reload, familiar weapons, weight of just about everything and copious amounts of blood provide comforting knowledge that the core gameplay hasn’t been messed with and the developers know how to make this game and do it well. It just needs better story arc’s, something that moves the universe forward, not back.

That said, the writing is vastly improved over previous entries. One sequence in particular, where the team move from a partially built hospital, scattered with posters and pamphlets about how every women on the planet should become a mother, sticks out. At the end of this, JD asks Kate if she doesn’t like the thought of being a mom, to which she responds that she likes it fine, she just doesn’t like being told she has to.

It once again reinforces that anti-government story that would have been so cool to see played out, while also marking out what a great addition to the series cast Kate is. JD and Del on the other hand, fit more into archetypes seen in previous games, with Del being a wisecracking sidekick, despite being the one that asked Del to leave the COG, for reasons never fully explained. JD on the other hand isn’t as gruff and hard boiled as his father, presenting a youthful exuberance, but feels like he is a character transplanted from a previous game in the series.

 

Its unfortunate that more isn’t made of these characters, but, this being 2016, the game lets you know there is time. The ending, while not spoiling anything, achieves almost Halo 2 levels of ‘Oh F*** off!’ when it just stops and the credits roll. While this is a good few hours in, it just feels like a cynical way to remind people that this is the start of a new trilogy.

Taking all other elements away, and focusing on just the gameplay, this is probably the best gears game released so far. The new elements, some light tower defense sections and battling through spectacular ‘Wind flares’ during a few levels give some welcome changes of pace and push the Xbox One’s powers, and that core gameplay loop that always Gears so a great game remains fully intact.

The multiplayer returns, and if you loved the previous versions, then you will be very happy with what is on offer here. I didn’t play a huge amount of it back during the series heyday, but I did play enough to know that everything you loved about then is still present and correct today.

If Gears of War was never a series you were into, that this new entry will do nothing to change your mind, but for those who loved the hyper violent, gritty sci-fi and slight ridiculousness of the originals, Gears 4 will be a most welcome return to form. It’s just such a shame that it was felt necessary to cover old ground so completely, Gears of War fans deserve more respect than that, indeed, Gears of War itself deserves better.  

 

 

Review: Doom (2016)

Ah DOOM. It is the game that changed so much. ID software’s seminal shooter, while not the first FPS on the market, was responsible for many’s first foray into modding, online multiplayer, hyper violence and the first person viewpoint. I remember playing it as a kid, and it remains one of my favourite games of all time, and the series has earned its place in gaming’s hall of fame.

 

The first two games are classics in the truest sense, games that at the time were revolutionary, gaining a following that endures to this day. The third game, DOOM 3, which came out ten years after the original, doesn’t hold quite as much reverence, with many citing it as the end times for the series.

So when ID announced a new game in the venerable series, at the time called Doom 4, then later retitled to just DOOM, people were a little worried. Added to this was the fact that a multiplayer beta received much criticism and no review copies were sent out to reviewers before hand, generally a dark sign for the quality of a game.

Those worries, thankfully, were completely unfounded. The rebooted DOOM is the classic games through and through, but with updated mechanics, graphics and design that does everything required to bring what you remember about the original hurtling into the 21st century. In short, DOOM 2016 has no right to be this good.

 

The game's campaign opens with you awakening inside an ancient crypt, brutally killing a demon and escaping to find the ‘Praetor Suit’, the armour that will provide you protection from the forces of hell. Brilliantly, ID software have continued the tradition of not really naming the protagonist, instead the logs etc that you find simply refer to you as ‘The Doom Marine’.

From there, it's all about the killing. Like the first games, this new take focuses on brutal, bloody death with unabashed glee. It is everything that made you smile when you were younger, except now you can actually legally play it (being over 18 that is). As you travel about Mars and then Hell itself, you are given the tools to take down whatever is thrown at you.

These tools range from classic DOOM weapons like the super shotgun, plasma rifle and chain gun, to new brutal melee kills that aren’t there just for show, but one of the best ways to regain health. As you shoot enemies, they eventually stagger and glow blue. Get closer and that glow turns orange and you can hit a button to perform a ‘glory kill’ which rewards you with important health and after some upgrades, Armour.

This brutality extends to another classic weapon, the chainsaw. The iconic device makes a triumphant return, and it is just as satisfying as ever to rip through demons. However, changes have been made. It now requires fuel, which is in short supply. On the plus side, taking down enemies with it rewards you with a spray of ammo pick ups for your other weapons.

The result is a glorious ballet of shooting, melee and ammo replenishment via the chainsaw, with everything covered in so much blood that you could refloat the Titanic twice over. It is a game that will offend anyone still concerned with the violence in the medium, but to those who remember, those who know, this is what DOOM has and always will be.

 

Levels are massive, with lots of area’s to explore, and explore you should. Dotted around the environment are various upgrades and secrets and help with all the destruction, and the game doesn’t make finding these a chore. The DOOM marine can mantle up to surfaces, jump and eventually double jump, and even gain an upgrade that shows all the collectible locations on the map.

It makes it a pleasure to go through the levels, though some of these upgrades are a bit pointless and it can be difficult, even with the upgrades, to truly find everything. Some power ups though, are awesome. Take for example, the machine guns micro missile upgrade. This allows you to alt fire using small explosive missiles, couple that with an late game upgrade that allows you to have infinite ammo while your Armour is above 100, and you can’t help to laugh maniacally as you rain explosions on a room full of bad guys.

The story is there mainly to give some context to your actions, and as can probably be seen from how late it is in this review, isn’t the reason to play the campaign. Gameplay rules supreme here, and while the universe is fleshed out with cut scenes and the logs found strewn throughout the levels, ultimately I just wanted to get back to the killing of hell-spawn.

By the end of the game, which will take a good chunk of time, the destructive itch will have been scratched several times over. The ripping apart of classic DOOM enemies - Imps, Cacodemons, Revenants, Pinky demons and Hell Knights to name but a few - never gets old, and combat remains fun throughout.

ID Software have included a multiplayer component, and level design section ala Halo’s Forge mode, and these are fine inclusions for the most part, but once I was finished with the campaign, I had more than my share of DOOM.

I feel like the campaign of DOOM 2016 is something I could go back to time and again. The combination of updated mechanics and classic feel make it something special, and as I said before, it never gets old.

This new take on the classic franchise is everything anyone wanted out of the latest in the series and then some, as I said at the start of this review, it has no right to be this good, and it is more than worth your time.

Review: Dark Souls III

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

What’s the first thing you do after being away for a few days? If I was to take a guess, you’re like me and crawl into the warm comfort of your very own bed, pull the covers up and drift off into a nice slumber – safe in the knowledge that this is the bed that had been calling to you all weekend.

Dark Souls III is much like that bed after a few days away. It provides the safe, warm comfort of pitch-perfect gameplay and challenge the series is known for. This time round there are a few changes thrown into the mix, as well as it being a breathtaking visual feast.

Set in the kingdom of Lothric, Dark Souls III represents a somewhat faster pace than previous entries, especially in terms of moving and fighting. This was no doubt informed by From Software’s previous game, Bloodborne. I missed that game, but did play Dark Souls II on PS4, and some of the changes from that are… strange.

For example, the mechanic where enemies stop showing up after a few deaths is completely gone. No matter how many times you run through an area after dying (and yes, you will do that a lot – this is a Souls game), enemies never stop respawning.

Whilst I can see both sides of the argument here, I have to follow my gut: this is a bad thing. While yes, more things to fight in a game with such pitch-perfect combat is not a bad idea, it does mean you can get stuck into sections, just running round doing the same thing over and over again.

The nature of the combat means that this is fun every time, but it does not provide any incentive to move on. It also means that at least one large section per area is ripe for farming souls. I got stuck in an early area for well over five hours just fighting the same enemies, not moving on to see new bosses.

Dark Souls III does provide the freedom to go about your business in that way and really learn an area before you do in fact force yourself to move on, but you’re the one that has do it. The Souls games have never been about hand-holding; you are given a set of nebulous rules and told to work everything else out. Nevertheless, this feels like a wasted opportunity to tempt exploration and get the player to discover more secrets first time through.

Besides the pace and lack of reasons to persist, not much else has changed. The only difference from Dark Souls II is how the hollowing mechanic has been implemented. In that game, being hollowed slowly lowered your maximum health each time you met your end, down to a maximum of half. This gave some real consequence to each death, making things that little bit harder each time.

While hollowing is still a mechanic in Dark Souls III, it has very little effect on gameplay, save for opening/closing certain quest lines. Some might welcome the change and others hate it, but for me it was just one more thing to keep track of and try to find a solution to in the previous game – one that was pretty easily solved too. Its absence here just makes everything that little bit more focused.

So aside from the setting, pacing and not having your health lowered upon death, what has changed? Not much, to be honest. If you loved the previous games, then Dark Souls III is that all over again, and this is no bad thing. What’s more, if you haven’t partaken before then now is the perfect time to jump in.

It is a master-work of gameplay that forces you to, quite simply, pay attention. There is no such thing as cannon fodder enemies here. Each and every one, no matter how small they might look, is actively trying to kill you – and will, given half a chance.

Dark Souls III always provides you with the ability to prevent this, though; you just have to figure out how to do it. A well-timed dodge or roll and quick counter will dispatch many quickly, with harder enemies requiring the use of other weapons/magic in your arsenal to take down.

Various merchants will appear to help you with acquiring new weapons and powers, while those massive, powerful bosses provide large souls that will net you even better gear if your character is built to use it. These look seriously cool and vary each time with some real stand-outs (which I won’t spoil here) in terms of visual design.

I played as a pyromancer and had an absolute blast (pun intended) throwing fireballs and playing around with the other magic at my disposal, while shredding dudes with – for a surprising amount of time – my starting axe. Of course, I found a new weapon, but I kinda loved the fact that I could compete so well for so long with that humble thing.

It took me all of about five minutes to get back into the Souls mindset, even after not playing Dark Souls II for several months. It just felt right, and I knew where to be cautious and how to figure out my opponent’s attacks. I ran through those starting areas for hours and every time I felt like I had it down, I made one silly mistake and lost thousands of souls (the currency, for the uninitiated), because I was still underestimating basic enemies.

Dark Souls III looks and sounds brilliant, with every noise potentially signalling a death-dealing foe or trap around the next corner. Spectacular views as you emerge from seemingly mundane doorways show the visual bump the series has had even since its current-generation debut last year. The animation is just as smooth as in previous games too, helping you to determine when is best to hit the attack button and when to dodge incoming attacks.

DYING NEVER FELT SO GOOD

All of the elements of a true Dark Souls game are here: ambient storytelling, powerful enemies, cool bosses, a real sense of world-building and of course, fantastic gameplay.

My only issues are niggles at best that do nothing to distract from playing a brilliant game. As always with Souls games it’s not too hard, just demanding and fair, providing hours of enjoyment even without moving to a new area.

It’s a great starting point for series newcomers as the story is pretty self-contained in each entry, and the lessons learned over four previous games have been refined to a T here. If you don’t like the Dark Souls games then it likely won’t change your mind, but everyone else will be in their element.

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

What’s the antithesis to the idea that modern games are devoid of colour? Put simply, CyberConnect2’s latest Naruto game, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4. This is a game that will bathe you in bright lights and pretty colours for as long as you chose to spend playing it.

If you like Anime, love Naruto, or just want a surprisingly solid fighting game, then this is the game you want to play. It’s not without flaws, but I was genuinely surprised by the way it drew me in, even if I had my fill without extensive play of the other modes.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 4’s story is, to be frank, nuts. I have no idea what really went on, there was something about ninja clans, tailed beasts, a world-ending bad guy, and a moral about friendship and working together to beat anything.

I was actually surprised by how this completely insane story drew me in, and it made me want to see the lengthy mode through, even though I actually spent only maybe an hour or two playing the actual game. This being anime, we are talking about Metal Gear Solid levels of putting the controller down to watch cut-scenes.

I haven’t watched much of the Naruto show, but I have seen a few minutes here and there, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 does a very good job of looking the same, with the out of engine cut-scenes seemingly taken straight from the cartoon. Aside from the problems with lip-sync, everything sounds great, and the battle effects took me back to my youth watching anime for the first time.

Not all these scenes are that well animated, some are in-engine and some aren’t, with the ones that aren’t featuring characters that have either poor lip-sync or a mask to cover the problem. The in-engine ones have characters talking, but the lip-sync is even worse there, with mouths moving before any dialogue even comes out.

It is enough to pull you out of the experience, but the story kicks in and pulls you back with the craziness that comes with a full-on anime experience. I didn’t play the first few games in this series, but if they are anything like this one it would be worthy trip back in time.

The actual gameplay is pure fighting game and it’s solid, with a surprisingly deep combat system that I didn’t even come close to scratching the surface of. I played on PS4, so hitting circle will do basic combat, but adding in other buttons creates some real spectacle.

By hitting triangle, your character will load ‘chakra’, which basically means they’ll power up for a few seconds. If you time it right, tapping circle will unleash a ninjutsu attack which, depending on the character, can do a few different things. For the most part, it involves launching massive energy balls at opponents causing large explosions. Like I said, anime.

The ultimate version of this is the secret technique, and when I say this looks cool you best believe me. Hitting with one of those will blast enemies with attacks so powerful that the camera heads to a birds eye view to catch the full size of the explosion, and there is nothingmore satisfying. You can even do a team-up version, which is even more spectacular, as some fights grant you allies that you can call on by tapping L1 or R1.

I was never able to fully utilize these allies though. At the start of each battle in the story, you are given a task-list to complete. They might range from performing a twenty-five hit combo, to hitting with a ninjutsu attack three times, to knocking an opponent off a wall. When you have allies, these include ‘connect with X persons support attack’, the problem is that I could never figure out how this worked.

I would get into position, hit L1, my ally appears and hits the opponent, but I never met the condition. I couldn’t work out if because I wasn’t actually hitting, or the angle of the camera was wrong, or something else; it proved very frustrating to try and figure out but fail each time.

To be fair, this is likely me playing badly, but the Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 simply doesn’t do a good job of explaining when best to use this and what counts as a hit with it. Its a problem with a lot of fighting games, the tutorials simply aren’t there, and in order to get good you have to spend hundreds of hours learning everything.

There is plenty to learn too. Cancels, counters, guards, throws, it’s all here, but those large combos I could never pull off; I just couldn’t figure out how to keep the combo going to the point of hitting that many times. I could get into double digits, but never further than fifteen or so, even with the aforementioned super-charged attacks.

In certain instances you can trigger a series of quick-time button presses, which give all the most impressive scenes some agency, though you do miss out on what is happening by focusing on the action you need to perform. Still, by the end of the scene, someone is definitely screwed up, and your brain, if it is anything like mine, will struggle to process what just happened.

I was able to figure out enough to get through the story, and I found that once I had, I pretty much had my limit. I checked out the other modes, but really I had all I wanted out of the batshit crazy story. These modes consist of an adventure mode set after the events of the story, where Naruto takes quests and battles random enemies. Free battle and online battle, where it becomes more of a straight up fighter, and collection mode, allowing you to view stuff you have unlocked.

Adventure seemed like you could spend a good few hours playing, but it just didn’t have the balls-out action and insanity of story, and felt boring by comparison. The battle modes render it down to just the fighting to let you perfect and battle your friends, possibly meaning you can go back through the story and get that perfect S rank, but I’d had enough at that point.

 

I almost wish Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 was just the story, with maybe the battle modes thrown in as an extra. It has everything I personally want out of this type of game, but has a combat system that has enough depth to carry those inclined to play online.

The biggest downside to the battle system is the fact that the camera can prove unwieldy. Numerous times I ended up with the camera behind my opponent, causing instant confusion when I was tapping buttons but doing something else. A few seconds later I figured it out, but it is a dumb thing to happen in a fighting game.

Yes, I have manual control of the camera, but that’s not the point. Concentrating on fighting means that camera control is a secondary concern, and Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 should do a better job of keeping it focused on the player’s avatar. It’s not the first game to do this, and probably won’t be the last, but it is a problem that should be ironed out as soon as possible.

“Go Ninja Go”, or just “Go, ninja”?

I would still give this a shot. The fighting system is deep enough to scratch that itch, the story provides a level of insanity few others can match, and there is plenty to do once you complete it, if you find that the story isn’t enough.

It’s not the most stunning fighting game ever made, but I dug what Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 was doing. It looks cool, and blasts light and colour into your eyeballs with unabashed glee. It revels in fun and might just be worth your time.

Review: Firewatch

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

What is Firewatch? That question became a bit of a joke since its announcement, but now Firewatch is with us and I can categorically inform you it is indeed a game; a game about two people, and no destruction, no shooting and no aliens.

Set in the Wyoming wilderness, Firewatch presents an intriguing tale set against gorgeous scenery. Not everything fully works in its gameplay, but if you are in the mood for a sedate and well written story, this could well be for you.

You play as Henry, the newest inhabitant of a watchtower in a forest prone to fires during summer. It would be a lonely summer save for a handheld radio that connects him to the next tower over from his and the lone woman that lives there, Delilah.

I don’t want to spoil too much, suffice to say that a mystery starts to unfold that Henry and Delilah have to solve. Obviously, this is mainly Henry doing the figuring out, since you play as him. I will say this of the story: At no point does it turn to the fantastical to weave its tale. The story happens to Henry and Delilah, and is a good, old fashioned mystery.

Firewatch is more thriller than anything else, though it rarely builds up any real tension, but then again, that’s not really its point. Intersecting the main story is the developing relationship between the slightly broken Henry and the just as broken Delilah. They never actually meet during the entire experience, but the writing is so good that it feels like more than just a friendship develops between the two.

The meat of the story is that relationship, and how it builds up and is shaken by the mystery that unfolds around them. Henry is trying to escape his life, but you can feel the guilt in him, and I honestly felt for the guy. I sat there wondering if I wouldn’t do the same thing as him in his situation, which is a testament to the great writing permeating throughout the entirety of Firewatch.

Then there’s the feel of Firewatch. It took Henry a two day hike to get to his watch tower, and you can really feel that walk as you move around the game world. Its actually amazing what the developers have managed to do with the visuals. Yes, there are certain barriers to just wandering through the entire forest, but none are invisible walls or feel out of place, and some even come with a bit of banter between Henry and Delilah, which is a fun way to relay info to the player.

The developers at Camp Santo have done so much with so little, and at all times I felt like I was hiking through the woods looking out for any trouble makers. The view is just gorgeous from the top of the tower, and you can see some beautiful sites as you move around the wilderness. Is it on bar with actually being in the Wyoming wilderness? Even without ever being there I can say no, because there is a slightly cartoony vibe to everything.

However, this doesn’t detract from the visuals in anyway, and if anything, it adds to them. Yes, the uncanny valley this isn’t, but the world you play in is alive and real. The sound design has just enough of the ambient noises you would hear in the woods, and makes the world - and this might sound weird – feel ‘just right’.

The voice acting is absolutely fantastic, and the two actors really do make the main characters come alive. There is a ‘choose your answer’ angle to the dialogue, which doesn’t seem to affect anything other than your personal arc with the characters, and that is kinda cool. Firewatch is one of those games that you play, and what happens therein is your version of that game. It probably won’t be the same as mine or anyone else’s, and what you take away from the story is yours too.

My only issues are that it can be easy to miss dialogue trees and, secondly, the map.

The dialogue trees pop-up while talking to Delilah, and generally have a few responses to what she is saying. The system works well, but if you are moving about the world and start to interact with something, that action takes precedence over the progress in conversation, leading to a few occasions where I couldn’t respond because I was stuck in an animation and the timer ran out.

It’s a small thing, but such was the quality of the writing that I wanted to hear everything that was said, so this was massively disappointing. The other issue, the map, just isn’t stunning from a gameplay perspective. It is functional, and offers the feel of Henry hiking his way through the woods and having to orientate himself, but it got kinda of annoying to get lost because I hadn’t checked the map in the last thirty seconds. Getting lost is a joy, but objectively, the map isn’t quite fit for purpose.

 SO… WHAT IS FIREWATCH?

Firewatch is a great game. The story that unfolds is brilliantly told and set against the stunning background of a lush forest. There is no shooting, no aliens, nothing supernatural, just a great story told well. If you want the latter, this is not your game.

For everyone else, however, Firewatch is part of a new generation of games that break the mould and do something that little bit different. With such craft and beauty it really isn’t hard to call it art.

Review: Oxenfree

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

You know how it is: Your best friend lets you know about an all night drinking sesh on a remote island, you agree, bring along some friends and a new step-brother, and of course think it will be a barrel of laughs. Then you get to the island and realize not all is what it seems, and those spooky caves feel spooky for a reason…

This is the basic setup of Oxenfree, the first game from developer Night School. It’s a heavily scripted side-scrolling adventure, with some decision-making thrown in and a good dose of artistic expression and atmosphere. It doesn’t always get it right, but as a first game for Night School, Oxenfree is a great start.

You play as Alex, a teenage girl led to Edward’s Island by her best friend Ren. Along for the ride are Jonas, Nona and Clarissa. They are all young and just want to party the night away. Unfortunately, heading into some caves creates a supernatural problem the kids have to solve.

I am trying to be vague here because discovering exactly what is going on is the entire point of the game, and I want to let you make that discovery on your own. Needless to say, things get very strange for the group very quickly, and keep getting stranger.

The interactions of Alex with the rest of group form much of the narrative, and unfortunately it’s here that Oxenfree breaks down. The writing is good enough that you know each person had a life before the events depicted in the game, each had events happen that form the person they are at the start of the game and it feels like each one has always existed, you have just happened to stumble upon their story

Where Oxenfree fails is that it gives you dialog choices for Alex based on what the other characters are saying, but each gives a slightly different tone to her voice and ultimately gives her a somewhat disjointed personality. Sure, you can get around this problem by always picking the same option (three pop at a time, left, middle, right), but that might not feel right for the question, and you are thrown out of the roleplay that Oxenfree is trying to setup.

This is compounded by the fact that characters remember certain choices you make, Telltale’s The Walking Dead style. You might be nice one time and horrible the next, but the characters don’t seem to react particularly naturally, apart from Ren in one case, but you only see the results of that at the end of the game.

It’s a strange combination of good writing and poor editing. It doesn’t completely cripple the game, as Oxenfree is still good, but I can’t help but feel keeping Alex’s story straight and removing these choices would have made for a better narrative. Still, the voice acting is so top notch that you can be drawn into the world regardless.

Oxenfree isn’t super long, I beat it in just over five hours, and this is both good and bad. It’s good because it doesn’t overstay its welcome and pad itself with irritating missions or a ton of collectibles/map markers, but bad because the pacing feels slightly off; all of a sudden you’re at the end with what feels like no real solution to the supernatural problem at hand. The last hour just feels super rushed, but I couldn’t work out if a little bit more storytelling was required or slightly better editing.

I do know that I didn’t feel totally satisfied by the ending, and though there are multiple ones, I felt like the designers were torn between wanting to offer something more and having players simply go through multiple times.

Had a new game+ option been available, I would have been more inclined to start over and play longer, but as it stands, it likely won’t be launched again.

I had only two other issues. The controls and the walk speed. The controls are set so that the cursor keys move Alex, Space is the contextual action button, Ctrl brings up the map and Shift brings up a radio tuner. This is a perfectly fine, but in order to select a dialog option when theyappear, you have to move your hand to the mouse to select one and click. When you are climbing down a hill or doing something else this can be annoying. It’s a little thing, and your feelings on it might be different, but I found it vexing.

As for the walk speed, even when running (only when the game deems that it’s okay), Alex moves extremely slow. I feel like this was a deliberate move to add tension, but it only makes the act of playing laborious. It’s not so slow that doing anything becomes a chore, but in the situation presented, it would seem like teenagers would be moving with a touch more haste.

To be fair, Oxenfree doesn’t feel scary at all, and is more a thriller than a horror. There are a couple of moments where I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, but no jump scares or any atmosphere of dread is created, so you just end up wanting to see what happens.

Visually the game does a lot with little, and again presents a island that has been there for years and will continue to be there for years after. It is simply present, and while some textures get reused a little too often, it’s not so bad that each area feels exactly the same, and with some tricks to infuse that supernatural element, Oxenfree can be a visual treat.

BUT STILL NOT SCARY?

It’s not scary at all. I would be hard pushed to find anyone who would think it’s scary, even pre-teen kids would have seen scarier stuff on TV.

It is however, a good game. The writing is really great and the voice acting enhances it to present you with a group of people who lead natural lives but are thrust into a supernatural situation. The branching story stuff might fall flat, but if you have a few hours to kill then Oxenfree is certainly worth your time.

Review: Samurai Warriors 4

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

It’s not often one series pretty much corners the market, so much so that the game becomes the genre it created. The Warriors games did this many years ago and, due to various spin offs, if you want to play a game in this genre, it comes from the developer Omega Force.

The latest of these spin off games is Samurai Warriors 4, and represents the genre’s first real leap to the next-gen systems. Unfortunately, that leap doesn’t extend to improved gameplay, graphical prowess or storytelling, and leaves it showing only a small spark of promise that is instantly snuffed once you realise how repetitive it all is.

I haven’t played any of the previous games before it, so I went into this with little to no expectations on what the moment-to-moment gameplay really was. I had an idea, but I was happy to expand my horizons with a series I had never played before, and at first I was pleasantly surprised with a starting character’s ability to mow down hundreds of guys easily.

Soon after, though, I realised that that is literally all you do. Sure, you pick up items to help you out in the next battle, but you really only wander a boring battlefield attacking anything with a health bar until they disappear to indicate you have killed them. This is accomplished with a simplistic combat system that could almost be deep if it wasn’t so pointless.

That system is essentially two buttons to control different attack types, but by stringing them together, you can unleash a whole heap of different attacks. The problem is that it is all window dressing; just one heavy attack and one light attack would do, especially when combined with the musou attacks and rage meter, which grant screen filling spectacles that clear out an area – and any more powerful enemies – very quickly.

Trying to hit buttons in the right way to unleash the different moves in the list feels like button mashing because that is exactly what it is. The move list itself doesn’t do what it says, compromising of a bunch of pictures of the square and triangle buttons next to each other, with no context as what hitting them in that order actually does. It does make the player character do different things, but I just didn’t care.

The story mode makes this worse and consists of a series of battles segmented by what appear to be various historic Japanese clans, fighting it out during what’s known as ‘The Sengoku Period’, though it never really tells you what that means. So a series of five battles will be fought for one clan, then the credits roll with an incredibly boring and drama-free end to that storyline, and you move on to the next.

These segments offer different characters to control, each with their own weapon, but once again, none of it really matters. Each character has pretty much the same move list in terms of controls; it’s just what happens on screen that may vary, but not so much that it makes any real difference. They just aren’t distinct enough.

Story wise, Samurai Warriors 4 is both terrible and inconsistent. If this is supposed to be set during a real historical period in Japan, why does one of the segments feature what appears to be a demon who can disappear at will? Why would you be fighting a set of enemies in one segment, only to have them be your allies in the next? Why do some characters have magical abilities if this is a real battle during that period? It makes absolutely no sense at all.

The voice acting and lip syncing are both terrible

It isn’t helped by the fact that the voice acting and lip syncing are both terrible, and there is no option for an English voice-over. To be fair on that last point it is a game set in Japan in a period where no-one spoke English, so in one sense it is understandable, but it might have given what little plot there is more meaning to a western audience.

On the plus side, there is the odd small spark of inspiration during the campaign. If the developers had focused on fewer characters and woven the story between a few different sides of the same conflict, showing why exactly those people are fighting and the political machinations that lead to each battle, it would have proved much more interesting. Sadly, that spark is put out by poor writing, terrible voice work and a complete lack of sense.

The other modes included are a Free mode where you can play any level with any unlocked character, and Chronicle mode, which is actually the one good thing about the whole package – that is until you realise you still have to fight the battles.

Chronicle mode lets you create a character and then sets them free to wander Japan and build up a book about the people from the Story mode. You do this by either increasing your friendship with them by changing your ‘life’s ambition’ or by fighting alongside them, depending on the character.

 

Defeating them in battle somehow translates to them becoming your friend and saying they will join you on your journey, and to be fair, it can be interesting to see how these characters progress. On the other hand, it is all stuff you can find out about the real people on the internet and it brings little to the table other than trophy/achievement chasing.

At least the game runs smoothly, as I didn’t notice any frame rate issues or graphical bugs, but it also isn’t the prettiest thing to look at. Some cut-scenes look okay, with the majority just as good as anything on the previous generation, but they wouldn’t have been anything special then and they certainly aren’t now.

I suppose I should have realised just how bad things really were when every single menu option always defaults to ‘No’, and that includes the one that asks me if I want to load my save game. If you are actively asking your player base to not load the save for your game, something has gone very wrong.

ITS ABOUT HISTORY, SO IT’S WORTH IT RIGHT?

Wrong. Samurai Warriors 4 is not a good game by any standards. On Easy and Normal it is so mind-numbingly repetitive that you wish for something, anything to break up the flow, but increasing the difficulty just leads to frustration as it tasks you with moving around the battlefield at a pace characters are not set up for.

The few small areas that see Samurai Warriors blossom into a truly great game are crushed by this frustrating gameplay loop, dropping the whole thing into an endless abyss it never recovers from. There are far better ways to spend your money on the new consoles, so don’t waste it on this.