Review: Crackdown 3

I remember, back in the day, playing the very first Crackdown. It had its problems, but it was so fun to power up to point where you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, blast generic bad guys in the face and have a good time. It was an original IP for the Xbox 360 and a brilliantly fun, turn off your brain time. 

Fast forward twelve years and we have Crackdown 3, released for Xbox and PC earlier this year. Unfortunately, while the same basic formula applies, and this time features loveable tough man Terry Crews, the magic hasn’t translated because games have evolved over the last few years leaving the third game feeling stuck in the past. 

That’s not to say it doesn’t do what it says on the tin: Crackdown 3 is very much a Crackdown game, but that is kind of the problem. Rather than evolving the formula in any significant way, a few half baked ideas from other games have been added, then the same method of progression has been kept in while a lock on mechanic makes the shooting a little too easy and formulaic. This results in a competent game, but one that isn’t overly exciting and can quickly devolve into boredom. 

In it’s defence, Crackdown 3 fails to fall into the trap a lot of open world games do - over filling the map. There is plenty to do, but not so much that it becomes a slog to get through and the overall game becomes nothing more than a checklist. The developers at Sumo Digital managed to get the balance just right, with enough things to do to keep you playing but not so much that its overwhelming. It’s just a shame that this is the best thing the game does. 

Shooting enemies becomes rote quickly, and despite there being the ability to target individual body parts when getting close to bad guys, you rarely need to do it, plus how this is implemented is strange. I played on PC, so to target an enemy is a click of the right mouse button, fire the left, but when I got closer I could do a quick little movement of the mouse to target the head or arms. It was a weird way to do it because it feels counter intuitive to move the mouse in such a way. More than that though, I didn’t need to do it, I could kill the guy only slightly quicker with headshots than I could just targeting them normally. 

Once I gave up on trying to do headshots, the combat got better but so easy that the only times I died were down to poor positioning on my part. The variety of weapons, I must admit, were pretty cool, nothing spectacular apart from a couple of the bigger rocket launchers, but I always had the right tool for the job. Getting better over time with them helped a lot too, but again this added to the ‘this is a crackdown ass crackdown game’ feel. 

As for the other main part of the gameplay - running around the city, that again does the job but I wouldn’t call it Mario levels of precision, far from it. The jumping is just a little too floaty for the number of platforming puzzles available to you, and while this is compensated for as you level up your agility skill by grabbing glowing agility orbs dotted around the world, the over reliance on platforming challenges in the form of towers you have to climb to get rid of the bad guys propaganda leads to frustration as its all too easy to jump over the platform. 

What is that propaganda replaced with? Terry Crews. The setup for the story is that the agency (the ‘good guys’) sent a team to the city of New Providence as the source of a global power outage had been traced there. The opening cut-scene sees the transport shot down, and thus the only agent left is you (unless playing co-op). There are several agent models to pick from, but let's be honest, play as Terry Crews, he is the biggest draw here. Unfortunately he is also massively underused. 

Cutscenes don’t feature any lines from him, apart from the opening one, and while jumping around the world and getting into fights gives you little quips it's not enough. The biggest thing is that when you complete a tower, the giant red hologram of the games big bad is replaced with a giant blue hologram of Mr Crews, spouting lines about how the bad guys are bad. Which you don’t really hear unless stood directly underneath a tower. 

It’s a shame because he is a funny guy and has a singular brand of angry, so any previous experience of his work makes his use here disappointing at best and outright terrible at worst. The marketing all surrounded him, but don’t be fooled, you can play as any other character and get just as good results, but still, play as Terry Crews cause you might as well. 

The term ‘It’s a shame’ pretty much sums up the whole experience. Keeping the essence of Crackdown is possible while still evolving the game, but that didn’t happen here. Even the more modern aspects are a let down. There is a very lite version of the Nemesis system from the Shadow of Mordor games here, but it's just not what you want from such a thing. Where in that game if you took out a nemesis they are replaced by an upcoming orc, here you are given basically the same screen but when you take one out, that's it, they are done and you move onto the next. Once they kill them all you get to take on the head of the organisation they work for. 

Speaking of that big bad, while I appreciate that I put the game on easy, that final boss battle was one of the easiest battles I have ever played. I honestly had more trouble with the lower level bosses than I did the last one. In part this was because I was at a much higher level, part because I had probably the best explosive weapon in the game, but mainly it really is just that easy and it left me feeling unsatisfied with the end game. 

I did try the Wrecking Zone multiplayer mode, which was actually kinda cool. Jumping all over the map blowing it up as you hunt down the other team was cool, but there was so little skill involved it became boring quick. The same lock on system is here, so it's not a challenge to take someone down, and the environmental destruction, while cool adds little to the experience. So few people were playing I got into three matches with the same set of people then the last one took longer than five minutes to match make so I gave up. 

Again, it’s a shame, a bit more thought and wrecking zone could have been really ace but at present it feels like a tacked on afterthought that has had half the resources thrown at it that it really needs. This is especially bad considering that when the game was first announced a huge deal was made of this mode and how it used the cloud to power its destructive environments. It might still do that, but the cloud isn’t a substitute for good game design and ultimately this is where the mode falls down. 

Overall,  Crackdown 3 is a game of missed potential, a game who's core essence could have been kept while taking on more modern elements that would have given it a fresh feel. It could have used its celebrity protagonist in so many better ways that it feels like the money spent should have been used on improving the game and had it followed through on its promise of cloud powered multiplayer become one of the best games of the year. 

Unfortunately, my reaction by the end of my time with it was a definitive ‘meh’. It is a half decent way to while away a few hours but nothing that will stick with you and a game that is easily outshined by more modern takes on open world games. It's on Xbox Game Pass, so to be fair if you have that then it is worth a play, but don’t be fooled, even then it is outclassed by other games on the same service. It’s a shame.

Review: Void Bastards

What's the first thing most people see when looking for a game these days? The rise of digital storefronts means the box art method has gone the way of the Dodo for all intents and purposes leaving the name as one of the first things people notice. So how do indie games stand out from the crowd? In the case of NoCodes latest, adding a mild swear worked well, and thus Void Bastards was born. 

The game is two things: a space based first person rogue like, and British. When I say British I mean all the voice acting is done with a British accent, the insults the enemies throw at you are very British and each one of those is done with various accents from around this fair country of mine. It adds to the charm of the game, but you will have to get through the first couple of hours first. 

Those first hours I wasn’t sure I liked Void Bastards. It was a slog of dying repeatedly and trying to stealth my way through levels. I kept with it and once I realized that stealth was actually not required, and got a handle on the mechanics I had a much better time. At the start the game does try to make out like stealth is the best way to go - its not. Most of the enemies aren’t a pain to fight and get easier as your gear improves. 

Being a Rogue Like, you will die, a lot. The first level sees your prison ship stranded, so the on board AI ‘re-hydrates’ your character to get things back on track. Once that character dies, they are gone forever and you return to the ship to be granted a new character from the stock of dehydrated prisoners. Each of these has a set of traits that might help or hinder your progress, such as the ability to take a fourth weapon into a level, or to go to the wrong destination a quarter of the time. 

Honestly though, the bad traits mean very little, and it didn’t take long for me to get repeats without even trying to test the limits of the randomization. There is one that makes no gameplay impact and merely states the character is ‘overly formal’, so they call others by their last name only. It's a bit of extra flavor, but makes no difference to anything. The good traits can dramatically help your progress, as a direct opposition to this, but also can be changed in certain levels. 

Levels themselves are actually other derelict ships, each containing its own loot, enemies and ammo. You don’t have to fight through every single one, but if you do your ability to survive increases, though conversely the opportunities to die increase as well. The ultimate point is to track down the parts needed to fix the prison ship and have it return home. Each time you do this, it doles out another problem to fix and sends you out again. 

Again though, the ships basic structure is barely randomized, if it all, and you quickly learn to make notes of places like the Helm, where you can get map information for where the loot is at as well as enemy locations, the 02 station to replenish your oxygen and the FTL room for fuel to power the S.T.E.V your mode of transport. 

This is mainly where Void Bastards falls down. The randomization is just not quite where it needs to be to make it a game you just want to explore. A few hours in and you have basically seen everything and every enemy type, the game just makes those a little bit stronger depending on how deep into the nebula you are. It makes it so that all you want to do is get the stuff you need as quickly as possible, and only stop at other ships when you really need supplies. I appreciate that the level of randomization I am talking about is probably unrealistic, but games such as FTL apply the same ideas much more competently than they are here.  

The games art style is very cool, a cell shaded clash of pastel colours and dark’s where needed. As I said before there is a ton of voice acting, and it is all done very well, though can get a bit grating when you are hearing the same lines over and over again on multiple ships. The game isn’t too long though and having not outstayed its welcome helps in this regard, had I been made to play another handful of hours to complete it, we might be having a different conversation. 

Void Bastards is  a fun romp through space with a distinct sense of humor and a charm all of its own. If you don’t like rogue likes and aren’t a fan of the British sense of humor/accent, then this will do nothing to change your mind. For the rest of us, there are worse ways to while away a few hours, and with the game being on Xbox Game Pass on both PC and Console, if you are paying for that service already and looking for something new, why not give it a try? Just give it a chance. 

Review: Tetris 99

For a certain generation, Tetris is the quintessential video game. It is a game that has contributed to not only hours upon hours of precious time lost with its ‘just one more go’ mentality, but also the resounding success of gaming hardware. It is the most successful single video game of all time and rightly so, its depth hidden behind its relative simplicity.

There have been two attempts to update this all time classic for the modern age in the last few months. Both are twists on the formula, with Tetris Effect blending music, VR and classic gameplay into one stunning whole and the other giving an altogether different experience.

Over the last two years, what has been the major trending in gaming? Yep, battle royale, and that is exactly what Tetris 99 is. No, I didn’t mistype. This is a online vs Tetris game where 100 players compete to be the last...tetromino standing? I think that's the way to put it. It’s free, it was a surprise on launch straight after a Nintendo Direct, and it is bloody good to boot.

On the surface, it is a straight game of Tetris like you have always known. Different shaped blocks drop from the top of your screen and you must place them at the bottom to complete lines which then disappear. However, surrounding your play space are 99 other, tiny play spaces. These are the other players in the match, and you must defeat them in order to win.

How do you do that? Well, play Tetris, obviously. You can use either the touch screen in portable mode or the right thumbstick in docked mode to target other players, and when on the attack, any lines that you clear from your space sends rubbish to theirs and vicea versa. Get your opponents play space to fill up and they are knocked out, simple.

Except its not, good Tetris play is key and if you aren’t playing well you will quickly be overwhelmed and out of the match. Add to this the fact that the game speeds up at certain milestones and it means that you have to be on your toes at all times, tracking more than you would in a single player version of the game.

It’s really neat. It gets the blood pumping at the higher levels and rewards good play, though problems inherent to online competitive games are present here as well. It is certainly possible to be knocked out very quickly in the early stages of the game, especially if being targeted by multiple opponents. It can be mitigated by completing lines as the rubbish that accumulates is then cleared to give you breathing room, but it is the equivalent of spawning then getting killed in Call of Duty.

Teaming seems to be a thing as well, though that might just be how the targeting system pans out when using the right stick as it doesn’t target individuals, but a set of people such as ‘attackers’ or ‘random’. It works but isn’t fully explained, which is fine as good play is the meat of the thing, so long as you do that and have the corner of your eye on the other stuff you can get quite far, if not win.

The music is fantastic, though not as integral as something like Tetris Effect. There is little to no lag when playing online, and everything's bright and colourful. It's a great playing game that brings Tetris into the online space surprisingly well and to top it all off is free with no microtransactions.

Is it a battle royale game that will keep you coming back though? To be honest, no. Its great but long term there isn’t anything to keep people engaged like a battle pass, and just seems to be a make good from Nintendo to its players. To be honest, I am fine with that, it doesn’t need to be constantly updated, it did exactly what it was supposed: make its players happy.

For the price of free, if you have a Switch then you should absolutely download and play this, even if you have never played a battle royale game before. It is the perfect introduction and a great version of the this classic game. What more could you ask for?

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: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

Do you remember when you were a kid and playing by yourself? The stories you made up, the characters you created to fill the void? I do, my Transformers had many a made up adventure, as did my G.I. Joe’s. I remember playing old flight sim games on my dad’s PC and wearing an old bike helmet with some cardboard taped over the front so I could pretend to be putting the breathing mask in from Top Gun.

That feeling of your own made up world is captured by the new Game The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Set in the Life is Strange universe and featuring a character in the 10 year old Chris, it tells the tale of a snowy Saturday morning in Chris’ life. It is a point and click adventure just like the other Life is Strange games, with a slightly cartoonish art style that served the others so well.

This a very story based game, so reviewing it without spoilers is going to be tough. It centers around Chris and his relationship with his Dad. The Captain Spirit bit is a made up superhero of Chris’ own design, and the game seeps you into this aspect of the proceedings, giving tasks such as finding the toys that make up the villains team or choosing how his costume will look.

On the fringes of this is the strained relationship between Chris and his Dad. The father is a once up and coming basketball star, turned coach's never quite defined. He is shown drinking a lot, and this is where the writing starts to shine through. Can you be fully sure that he is just a guy desperately trying to do right by his kid and failing, or is the relationship abusive?

The father is definitely the best character here for just that reason. As father myself I can see that he is trying to do the right thing in spots, encouraging Chris, giving him hope of fun things for them both to do together, stuff like that. This is overshadowed by that ever present bottle of alcohol, and Chris knows it. The boy knows that he will invariably be disappointed, but goes along with it anyway.

What’s good is that it never seems to devolve into the ‘kid takes care of parent’ type of story that it could so easily have veered in to. Chris has chores to do, but he does it to genuinely help his Dad, not because he is the only one to do so. It is a sickly sweet tale due to the question mark over the relationship, but is done well enough.

This is a Life is Strange game in all but name, and playing it confirms it. The same annoyingly slow movement speed is present, the art style, the just odd enough facial expressions and the jerky character models. If all of that annoyed you about the first series or Before the Storm, nothing will change here.

Captain Spirit is also about the same length as one episode of the previous two seasons, so around two and half hours. Don’t feel bad about wasting money on it though, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is completely free, and serves as a prelude to Life is Strange 2. It is worth that time investment, because while it isn’t the greatest point and click game ever made, it is certainly one of the better written.

It will take you back to those days of making up stories for your toys, playing out little scenarios in your head and is one of the best nostalgia trips you can go on. Chris is a loveable character in not the best situation, but it certainly isn’t so bad that it is going to make you cry and the fine line the story walks gives you enough reason to see it through. At just a two and half hour time investment, you really have nothing to lose.


Review: Subsurface Circular

Have you ever ridden a subway? It’s strange thing where no-one talks unless they know the person in question, and sometimes even then they don’t communicate. In my opinion it is one of the stranger things humans do, and it begs the question what is happening behind the scenes. Subsurface Circular, the new game from Thomas Was Alone and Volume creator Bithell Games, hones in on this idea, and develops a compelling yarn as the characters ride the titular train system.

The main difference here is that the occupants of the train cars on the subsurface circular are androids called ‘Teks’. These robots are real characters, they have back stories, thoughts and feelings not necessarily governed by just programming, but look like more classical robot designs. There isn’t any of the ‘you can’t tell they aren’t human by looking’ nonsense that permeates so much of robots with feelings media. No, these are robots, they just think and feel.

You play as the geo-locked Theta One One (it is possible to change the name but I stuck with this), which means he can’t leave the train. Theta is a detective, who starts to investigate disappearing Teks after a passenger informs him a friend of his is missing. Thus, you embark on what is essentially a very pretty text adventure to determine the cause of these disappearances, and it will throw twists and turns your way.

It’s the writing that is the draw here. The developers previous games have all managed to create atmosphere and personal stories via tremendous writing, which transcends relatively simple visuals to create believable worlds and characters and it is no different here. Theta is a detective, he detects, using conversations to uncover new ways to talk to one character or another and slowly figure out the truth of the case.

Each character interacted with is a unique individual, not just in terms of the assigned job they have, but also their characteristics. One memorable character has an emotional connection to his partner, and I mean that literally. All his emotional comes from the other character, so by talking to that Tek and getting them angry, you then get the corresponding response from the other.

It might not sound like a big thing, but in a game as short as Subsurface Circular it’s these things that make a big difference. Whenever playing I was drawn into the world, and while you could argue the actual plot isn’t the most stunning thing ever made, and to be fair it isn’t, the things around it make for a fascinating version of the future.

I don’t want to talk too much more about the story as I would quickly head into spoiler territory. The moment to moment gameplay is you as Theta One One picking which nearby character to interact with, then selecting from a list of chat options. If those types of games aren’t ones you like, then perhaps move along because Subsurface Circular won’t change your mind.

There are small improvements to help you along though. A hint system is available from the get go if you get stuck, and it is possible to change the speed with which the text is displayed on screen, which helps with the pacing. The biggest thing it does, which again might not seem like much, is that what you select to say is what you actually say. Too often games like this will give you an option to respond with a certain thing like “I don’t like that”, but when you select it, what you actually get is a paragraph of dialog that can seem out of context with the conversation.

In this game, if you select “I don’t like that”, Theta will say that exact phrase, and get the corresponding response. More games need to do it like this, simply because if you’re anything like me then you already started to think about how that phrase would be said and how the conversation might play out, not always getting it right but sometimes. It is so simple, and yet such great a thing to have.

As I said if you don’t like text adventures, dialog wheels or robots, then this isn’t for you. If you want something to play on your switch for a couple of hours that will net you an interesting world and cool if not stellar story, then pick this up, it is definitely worth it.

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. 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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.