Review

Review: Saturday Morning RPG

Sometimes you come across a game that just misses the point. Either in its execution of systems, attempt to ape a bigger game, or the purpose of a given story type. Saturday Morning RPG is such a game, and while it has some entertaining stuff and a distinct sense of humor, those points it misses are too glaring to ignore.

The setup is simple, you play a guy who likes 80’s Saturday morning cartoons. If you’re of a certain age, think things like G.I.Joe, Transformers etc. You play as Marty, who is given a magic notebook that grants him the ability to fight using various objects as weapons, as well as his fists. This being an RPG, fighting is the primary mechanic of the game, the problem is, it sucks.

Most RPG’s, especially turn based ones, gradually ramp up your abilities and weapons as the game progresses, giving you the capability to take on ever more difficult foes while also selecting buffs and power ups from a menu. Those power ups might be a higher form of armour to increase your health, a fire imbued sword or a potion that grants a temporary bonus.

Here, those bonuses are granted via scratch stickers, obtained as you play. When you engage in a combat encounter, the first screen you are shown is the one containing all the stickers you currently have equipped, and you have a set time to scratch them before the games moves you into battle. When I say scratch, I mean it - you have to rub the Switches touch screen as fast as you can or move the left stick just as quick. You will never scratch all the ones equipped, and you will never find an upgrade that grants longer time on this screen.

This is compounded by the fact that each one comes with a scratch rating, so the better the sticker the longer it will take to scratch. It means that adding a decent modifier to your health might take up most of your time on the that screen, not allowing you to use any others, but then you can’t pick which ones you can scratch first, you place all the stickers you have, the screen pops up and it will just decide which one is the first one you can use, so any strategy that might come from careful use is thrown out of the window.

Once you get past the stickers, you are in proper combat, which is turn based. There is a series of icons at the top of the screen that shows you who goes next, and you have various options open to you. Marty has the ability to ‘charge up’, giving him a multiplier to his attacks. There are a few problems with this, most notably it screws you over.

The idea behind powering up at the start of a fight is sound, but it takes turns to do that and you only get so much of the stamina meter needed for it. To get a full x9.9 multiplier can take three of your turns, by which point enemies are already attacking you and in the late stages buffing and debuffing you. Sure you get to unleash that first attack at an elevated power, but with half your health gone, accuracy lowered, attack lowered with burn applied and the enemies with increased HP, increased accuracy and increased attack you might take out one of them max, even with a multi hit attack.

This doesn’t get better over the course of the game either, that same loop exists at the start as it does at the end, and can mean you have to restart basic encounters multiple times. If you had the ability to heal on a regular basis it would have worked better, but you don’t. There are items that grant healing, but it is a max of three uses and the only one I found as a 25% heal. It helped, but wasn’t the full heal that would have helped in the tougher encounters.

Things you pick up in the environment count as weapons, so there are some obvious ones that do not obvious attacks, like the sword that calls down a lightning strike, and some not so obvious ones. The pencil compass, care bear and straight up Optimus Prime are examples of the some of the crazier weapons, all the while ramming home that 80’s pop culture reverence that is the games bread and butter.

You can block attacks with a well timed button press, which also gains you back some meter to power up, but that isn’t telegraphed as much as needed and the amount gained back is minimal for most attempts as all but the most well timed blocks will grant any kind of decent restoration. Even then though, the block mitigates most damage not all, and if the turn order works out that the enemies have a bunch of turns stacked up (it's rarely 1v1) it can still cause you problems.

Missed points are most evident in the combat. You can find slightly more powerful weapons in the environment, but not without exploring every inch, gaining nothing but XP from winning fights. This is a creative choice and I get that, but RPG’s should provide a continual sense of getting better. Traditionally, this is due to a fairly steady rate of new weapons and gear, though recent years have seen it become getting to grips with controls and frame priority. Either way, you get better over time.

I never felt more powerful in Saturday Morning RPG. Even after several hours with the game, Marty was about as powerful as he was when I first started, and the weapons never became that “Ama gonna mess you up!” spectacle that the best the genre has to offer provides. It made the combat worse than boring - it was a slog.

Having said all that, there is a sense of humour to everything that makes it a light and airey affair, it's all dumb, with the types of baddies you found in fact find in cartoons back in the 80’s. From the Cobra Commander styled Commander Hood to the takes on various Transformers, it really does nail the 80’s nostalgia kick. I am just sad that the game wasn’t a better RPG, developers Mighty Rabbit Studios concentrated just a little too much on the style and nostalgia rather than nailing a quality, if short, RPG.

If the 80’s tinge tickles your fancy, there are certainly worse ways to spend your time, just don’t expect a game that delivers on power fantasy, that game could exist, but isn’t this. Instead you get a few hours of time wasting, but nothing that will stick with you.


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: 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: 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.