Whether you find yourself craving the sublime action of Die Hard or the heart-warming fun of Elf, everyone has at least one Christmas film they love to watch time and time again. Unusually however, the popularity of the genre seems to exclusively extend to the mediums of film and music, and those wanting to experience a festive themed game are left with very few options to choose from.
Despite this, we’ve compiled this little list to bring a few often overlooked games you could try this Christmas season.
3: Dead Rising 4
Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE, PS4
Although the inexplicable departure from many of Dead Rising‘s conventions, including the removal of the series’ time-limit mechanic, may have caused an uproar among series fans, Dead Rising 4 is nevertheless a worthy entry in Capcom’s zombie-fighting franchise.
The large open world of the fictional Willamette Colorado, complete with a colossal shopping mall, is decked out in decor festive in the extreme. With numerous weapons, items of clothing, vehicles and even boss fights entirely Christmas themed, accompanied by a soundtrack wholly composed of popular yuletide songs, Dead Rising 4 makes the absolute most of its November setting.
Although its simple mechanics and lenient difficulty make an experience far too casual for series veterans, for most Dead Rising 4 is actually a shockingly relaxing experience. The almost therapeutic ease with which you can mow down thousands of zombies in a sleigh to an orchestral cover of Jingle Bells makes a game that excellently accompanies a Boxing Day sofa-sprawl and a large tub of Quality Street.
2: Batman Arkham Origins
Platform(s): PC, XBOX 360, PS3, WII U
Developer: WB Games
Recently given away on the Epic Games Store as a freebie, it’s quite likely you already own this one. Set on Christmas Eve, Batman faces off against eight of the most iconic DC comic book villains, including Bane and The Joker.
A third-person beat-em-up, Batman Arkham Origins shares the excellent combat of the WB Games Batman franchise in a much larger, and extremely festive, open world. With a plethora of interesting side-quests to choose from and an exciting main story, Arkham Origins offers a surprisingly rich experience.
Although often, and sometimes unfairly, cited as the weakest entry in its franchise; if you’re willing to sacrifice a small degree of polish found in the other Batman titles for a Christmas setting Batman Arkham Origins is definitely worth a look.
1: Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage
It’s official. Christmas is cancelled.
After a lengthy dispute with the toy-elf workers’ union, Santa finally snapped. This standalone expansion for Viscera Cleanup Detail tasks you with cleaning up the aftermath of Santa’s bloody rampage. Armed with only a mop, a bucket and a pair of rubber gloves it’s time to get to work.
Featuring an enjoyable co-op mode and hours of floor-scrubbing action cleaning has never been so fun. As the cheapest game on this list, Santa’s Rampage is the best option for someone who wants something festive to play, but doesn’t want to shell out a fortune on a game that is only really worth playing for just one or two months of the year.
*Prices are Steam store prices (excluding discounts or sales) as of November 2019.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Killer Chambers was provided free of charge by Village Bench
Killer Chambers is in many ways a wholly unique kind of bullet hell plat-former. Ditching the traditional sprawling arenas that have come to define the genre for minuscule micro-chambers, the levels force you to manoeuvre a highly claustrophobic environment, dodging a plethora of deadly traps as a timer excruciatingly ticks down to your release.
From a game-play perspective, Killer Chambers is relatively simple. You have the arrow keys that control your movements in the cardinal directions, including crouching, and a jump button. These help you evade everything from shooting projectiles to laser beams which are fired at regular intervals in patterns and combinations in each room. With practically unlimited lives (and extremely quick deaths!) the fun of Killer Chambers comes from learning the almost musical rhythm behind each set of traps.
Each stage offers three levels of difficulty which range from somewhat infuriating to downright impossible, and are sure to offer even the most hardened bullet-hell fanatic a tough time. There are five worlds to conquer, each with an incredibly difficult boss fight and a unique visual style.
The inclusion of shops in which you can spend your hard earned in-game gold is a nice addition, allowing you to purchase hats that drastically alter game-play to keep your experience fresh and often providing a slightly easier path to completing rooms.
Despite such items, you will still die. A lot. This is by design and the game deliberately punishes you for failure with a meter that increases each time you die. When full, you’re transported to a dark alternate realm with its own set of unique rooms to beat. Although this may sound particularly annoying, I often found this forced change of level very refreshing and kept repeating the same room over and over again from seeming quite so monotonous.
Further breaking up the experience is the story which is presented through delightful little dialogue boxes in-between levels. Entertaining writing with a cast of surprisingly developed characters and a lot of genuine laugh out loud moments make the short segments of story one of Killer Chambers’ best attributes. Seriously, the writing punches well above its weight and often the wish to see the next cut-scene gave me the motivation to keep going through the most difficult parts of the game.
The comic-tone of the dialogue and characters is complimented by the cheerful chip-tune soundtrack, which although somewhat repetitive at times is certainly satisfactory. It is nevertheless impressive that any music at all managed to be crammed into the game’s absolutely microscopic 85MB download size which, combined with its meagre running requirements, is sure to keep it a mainstay on all of your PCs.
With a great deal of replay value, a huge variety of levels and some of the best writing we’ve seen in an indie title, Killer Chambers is a game that despite its gruelling difficulty manages to be accessible, highly rewarding and extremely memorable.
Did we mention that Killer Chambers has a price of admission lower than your average sandwich? At only £3.99 on Steam, Killer Chambers is an essential purchase for anyone who wants a great value title which is sure to keep them coming back for years to come.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Pathologic 2 was provided free of charge by tinyBuild
Gather ye here around the marble nest”
These haunting words catapult you into the unforgiving world of Pathologic 2. Lashing rain and hooded figures beat at the old windowpanes as you stumble around a decrepit house swamped in death and decay. Your adventure begins here.
A re-imagining of the cult classic thriller Pathologic,Pathologic 2 preserving the excellent atmosphere of it’s predecessor through its unapologetic brutality. In equal parts difficult and rewarding, Pathologic 2 made no compromises for the modern gaming audience. Its open world operated on a strict time limit. Playing through 12 days of finite events created an unbelievably intense sense of panic and dread.
You must constantly choose which events to prioritise and which ones to miss, often times having to balance your need to evade the ever-present threats of starvation and sleep deprivation against the pressing knowledge that if you are absent for a story crucial event, life goes on without you and it is gone forever.
Inspired by Russian folklore, the world of the Steppe is as beautiful as it is bleak. A seamless blend of both Western and Eastern culture presented in a deliberately ambiguous time period, each line of cryptic dialogue and archaic custom has you feeling like a complete outsider. A cultural stranger who is at often times tolerated rather than welcome.
A malevolent plague ravages the town. Every character can and, without your intervention will, die.
With a stand-alone story designed to compliment the plot of the main campaign, The Marble Nest is a welcome return to gaming’s most Gothic world.
You play as the noble scientist Dr. Daniil Dankovsky. Presented with a grisly premonition of imminent doom and destruction. Whether you will fulfil this vision by sitting idly by as world around you to succumbs to the all-consuming plague or struggle against time itself to try and change your fate is entirely up to you. Whatever your choice may be, the game constantly reminds you that there will be “no happy endings”.
Graphically, The Marble Nest is as stunning as the base game. Utilising the same map and sharing many assets means Pathologic 2‘s trademark visual style and its world’s distinctive architecture is completely preserved. The unique visual style is accompanied by a fantastically atmospheric score, filled with tracks of folk chanting and the gonging of funeral bells.
Unusually, The Marble Nest seems geared toward series newcomers and with a greatly decreased difficulty in addition to a much shorter running time, this DLC does seem like the ideal place to start. Its stand-alone plot only loosely ties into the events of the main game and can certainly be wholly appreciated on its own merit. That is not to say it doesn’t hold value to returning players, in fact a more relaxed reintroduction to the Pathologic universe is an excellent way to prompt an additional play-through of the main game.
The Marble Nest is the epitome of short and sweet. An excellent experience despite its condensed length, The Marble Nest presents ample obstacles to overcome, fights to struggle through and dark secrets to uncover to successfully deliver an impactful narrative with enough punch in its poignant ending to stick with you for years to come.
If you’re interesting in picking up Pathologic 2: The Marble Nest in time for Halloween, it is available on Steam later today. You can view it by clicking here.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Gibbous – A Ctuhulhu Adventure was provided free of charge by Stuck in Attic
Summer is practically over and as everyone knows, it’s now time for humanity to celebrate it’s customary spooky season by scaring the hell out of each other with spine-chilling stories, frightening films and ghostly games. If however the current state of the environment/politics/imminent global conflict etc. has you terrified enough already it might be wise to stick to things more funny than fearsome. That’s exactly where Stuck in Attic‘s point-and-click Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure comes in.
The plot of Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure centres around a weary student trying to revert his newly enchanted cynical talking cat to a state of silence by undermining the work of a charmingly inept cult, rescuing a kidnapped detective all while saving the world from certain doom while he’s at it. If this sounds a little bit mental – it really is.
This story is told through the perspective of three interesting protagonists; the kidnapped detective Don – armed with his delightfully cliche gravelly tones and spouting constantly lamenting dialogue, the half-Romanian student Buzz and the imaginatively named cat Kitteh. You are given a good amount of time to get to know each character, and when the game eventually end you’ll find yourself quite sad to see them go.
As the name would suggest, Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure is heavily inspired by the works of horror legend H.P Lovecraft and the dialogue delights in making references to the source material – even lovingly cracking a few jokes at its expense. Despite its clear influences Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure feels very stand-alone, and thankfully avoids the over-reliance on its source material – an easy to fall into pitfall that has ruined many parodies. This is thanks to the great deal of work that has clearly gone into crafting a solid plot and presenting a unique and engaging world.
Rather than taking the easy route and lazily rehashing a Lovecraft setting, Gibbous draws from the overriding themes present in the locales of his work and transfers them to the new setting of the developers’ homeland; Transylvania. From the ancient tightly-nit houses of Kingsport to the isolation and decaying wooden walkways and huts of Innsmouth your favourite Lovecraft motifs are still here, but presented with the reinvigorating dash of a new cultural influence.
Artistically, the whole gameis a marvel. With beautifully hand-drawn background stills showcasing moody Gothic interiors bathed in softly glowing candlelight leading out onto mazes of arched houses under a rich dusk sky. Cut-scenes are too hand-drawn and extremely reminiscent of Disney animations in all the best of ways.
The voice acting is also, for the most part, superb; with the few times where it wavers actually helping to add to the point-and-click charm.
One unfortunate area where the game’s overall visual excellence falters would certainly be character’s mouth animations which seem to bare very little correlation to what is actually being said. Although a minor gripe, seeing characters’ mouths flap open and closed wildly like an excitable goldfish for a couple of seconds before a line has started and after it has ended is a little distracting.
Gibbous triumphs as a successful comic work. Although the art of laughter is certainly subjective, there are many moments throughout that I feel could bring even the most hardhearted individual into a guffaw. The fast-paced delivery and the fact that almost every line of dialogue is jam-packed with jokes and pop-culture references one after another keeps things from becoming too awkward when the lines occasionally fall a little flat.
In typical point-and-click fashion, the game is structured with occasional puzzle solving throughout. With a small item pool in your inventory and (very unusually for a point-and-click game) developers that actually understand how trains of human logic run, these puzzles can be solved with no real hassle. I’d say they were even a little too easy – even for a person as embarrassingly bad at puzzles as I am. I was actually a little shocked that by the credits of the game I hadn’t needed to look at a tutorial even once. This certainly isn’t a game for those yearning to self-inflict pain trying to solve incomprehensible dilemmas Monkey Island style.
Despite it’s lacklustre puzzles and slightly bumpy edges, Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure successfully tackles an ambitious blend of H.P Lovecraft’s hair-raising cosmic horror and the campy comedy characteristic of the ongoing rival of the point-and-click genre with an admirable level of finesse. For Lovecraft fanatics playing this is a necessity and, thanks to its accessibility in the fields of both comedy and puzzle design, it’s a title I would recommend to casual players looking for a game to play this Halloween – one that’s a little more sweet than scary.
Definitely give Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure a look on the Steam Store by clicking here!
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Morphies Law: Remorphed was provided free of charge by Cosmoscope GmbH
To say Cosmoscope‘s Morphies Law fell victim to Murphy’s law would have been a fairly ironic turn of events – and it was very much almost the case. In spite of a lacklustre Nintendo Switch launch, Cosmoscope admirably kept hard at work acting readily upon player feedback and nurtruing the game’s strong core fanbase. Almost one year later and Morphies Law has finally relaunched (or Remorphed) and accompanying it’s new PC release is a whole host of fantastic new features.
It’s not hard to say the concept behind Morphies Law is a very unique one. You shoot your enemies, or even your allies, to absorb their mass and grow and you lose your hard earned mass when hit. It sounds extremely simple, but the gameplay houses a surprisingly great deal of depth.
For one thing, matches are inherently self-balancing. The best players of either team will naturally become the biggest having absorbed the most enemies. A bigger body makes them bigger targets and a bigger target is one that can be hit more easily by a less skilled and less accurate player. Every match of Morphies Law plays quite a lot like the Call of Duty series’ Juggernaut gamemode, and it’s an awful lot of fun.
The goal of a match isn’t always just to gain the most mass either. Your aims vary drastically between game modes; from the most basic “Morph Match”, a weight based take on a common deathmatch, to the manic “Head Hunt”, a pandemonic bid to capture your team’s misplaced giant head.
Mass also affects the capabilities of your “Butt rocket”, a rectal take on a jetpack, which, on the contrary to my basic understanding of physics, seems to become far more effective the heavier you are. Your size can also change the routes available to you while you navigate your environment. Huge morphies can jump to high vantage points and even trample over powerful fans which would send less fortunate lighter players flying to their deaths. Being small also has some perks, allowing you to dash in between the legs of enemies and find hidden tunnels through which you can scurry like a pesky neon-painted mouse.
The extremely fun gameplay is accompanied by a set of fantastically designed and delightfully varied maps. Although in the original release a few of the maps were veering a little towards the annoying side – seriously, as cool as fighting on an oil-flooded tanker sounds, the sliding around did get pretty infuriating – the Remorphed update has addressed this, and even added a few new sites to explore.
The refined version of the original maps and the all new ones added in Remorphed each bring their own unique set of hazards and a distinct theme. One match you could be exploring an ancient Aztec temple whilst the next takes you to a western town that is constantly sinking into quicksand.
Although very different, each map still adheres to the game’s great overall art style; a colourful day of the dead pastiche with plenty of cacti and neon lighting. The game’s soundtrack is a fittingly over-the-top mix of Mexican melodies, which can be pretty catchy at times. If your character’s stock aesthetic of full skeletal body paint is a little too subtle for you, can dive into the game’s host of extensive customisation actions.
One can change the body and face paint with presets, or even use the more in-depth editor to mix and match to create your own whacky design. Even animations can be customised by choosing new emotes or match introductions. Most impressive of all is the weapon customisation system, which has you combining two parts (a primary fire and a secondary fire) to create a gun that is utterly unique to you. Additionally, the new weapons added in Remorphed all make solid additions to your arsenal and are certainly appreciated.
Levelling up grants new weapons and piñatas, which are the game’s crate system. By hitting open piñatas you can obtain cosmetics. You’ll be pleased, no doubt, to hear that there are absolutely no microtransactions in sight as the crates and currency, metal nuts, can be gained solely by levelling up completing quests.
On a technical level, optimisation is good with the game running well on the Nintendo Switch whilst looking decent and running extremely smoothly on PC whilst looking a little nicer. The menus look good and are easy to navigate and UI is clean and can be understood readily at a glance. One thing I would change is the game’s current hit sound. The current one is a tad underwhelming – being a little twinkling noise – and something with a little more “oomph” wouldn’t go a miss.
The game supports cross-play between the PC and Switch which is good at bolstering player numbers. For when you want a little alone time; you can always have a blast with the game in configurable offline modes with bots.
Overall, although the original Morphies Law was a good idea hampered by a lack of refinement; Morphies Law: Remorphed is a good idea perfected. With very strong and unique gameplay, that has only improved through the frequent developer updates, Morphies Law: Remorphed is a constantly evolving shooter that you won’t want to put down and gains a strong recommendation from me.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of BIGFOOT was provided free of charge by CyberLight Game Studio
“Bigfoot” is a name that will certainly strike fear into the hearts of hikers, park rangers and anyone who has ever accidentally flicked on to the Discovery channel after midnight. The ancient ape has been the star of numerous media exposés over the years, most famously with the TV masterpiece Finding Bigfoot which, even after 12 seasons, is yet to live up to its name. It’s only natural I suppose. Bigfoot is, of course, far too elusive to be caught, as evidenced by his successful evasion of the hordes of armed rednecks, I mean, highly qualified Bigfoot researchers that have been relentlessly pursuing him for decades.
I am only jesting of course; Bigfoot is undeniably fictitious – a fact of which I am certain that, deep down, even the most ambiguously qualified Discovery channel “Bigfoot specialist” is aware. In spite of this fact, it’s still undeniable that to wonder about the existence of the impossible is fun and to search for it is even more so. Perhaps it’s simply down to mankind’s primal desire to hunt something truly dangerous, or maybe just an act of escapism to try and free ourselves from the cushy constraints of suburbia with which we are bound throughout our lives.
Whether performing daring bank heists or fighting aliens in invincible power armour videogames have always been an excellent medium with which one can experience the impossible. It seems a miracle that until Cyberlight Studio‘s 2019 title BIGFOOT, no videogames have capitalised on Sasquatch hysteria and presented audiences with a way to truly accomplish the impossible; a way to capture Bigfoot.
In BIGFOOT, intrepid investigators are tasked with locating four missing persons and foiling Bigfoot’s hijinks in one of two fictional National Parks: the densely forested Ross Lake in Arizona or Alaska’s snow-drenched Glacier Bay. Players can venture out on their quest alone or join up to four friends in an online match.
Taking out Bigfoot is not an easy task but, luckily, if players choose the Ross Lake map they are accompanied by a groovy and appropriately Scooby-Doo-esque camper van which is decked out with the very latest anti-Sasquatch gear. Hunting rifles, tacking bullets, flare guns, traps, tents and night-vision goggles are all there as you would expect although far more interestingly you are also provided with a set of eight motion-detecting remote cameras, a pilotable drone and a tablet with which to control them.
These high-tech gadgets form the crux of BIGFOOT‘s gameplay, which has you exploring a huge map in order to locate the missing, who have been unsurprisingly brutally murdered, whilst also hunting local fauna to make bait and setting up cameras and traps. It’s important to not get too carried away on your scout’s adventure however, losing track of the time and getting lost after nightfall is definitely not something you want to be doing.
Once back at your campervan you get to huddle up in your corner of choice and sit watching the cameras through your tablets on tenterhooks to see if your day’s preparation will pay off. Things actually get quite scary, as the sheer quietness of the surroundings, with only the crunch of leaves and the creaking of trees, begins to slowly but surely put you on edge. The camera’s beeps, which sound upon any detected motion, will send you scrambling in a panic to your tablet to desperately try and flick through the feeds in order to find the source – usually just a stray squirrel.
Things are even scarier still at Glacier Bay, which has players begin with almost no starting gear and, worse still, no comforting camper van. Instead, players have to venture into the forest completely unable to defend themselves in a mad rush to find as much equipment as they possibly can in the various desert log cabins strewn about the map.
Once you’ve finally trapped Bigfoot a couple of times, and unloaded about two hundred rounds of rifle ammunition into his posterior, his huge health pool reaches zero and it’s time to tie him up and triumphantly drag him back to your spawn area where you’ll be able to cage him and ship him off to tour zoos around the planet and be gawked at in disbelief by generations of tourists to come.
One of BIGFOOT‘s best gameplay qualities is that it does a great job of letting you know that you’re never really safe. As a player you’re always open to attack and your precious camper van or cosy little tent can’t do very much in the way of protecting you against an eight-foot tall beast. Your fear of the creature is further heightened by the solid map design, with dense forests that are very good at shielding him from view – often leaving you with only a brief glimpse of your furry attacker.
The blood-soaked human remains that can be found in buildings around the map are also an excellent way to provide a minor scare and help build a high level of suspense which, by your first encounter with Bigfoot, has reached almost tangible levels.
On the graphical front, BIGFOOT looks good. You are surrounded by lush and rich green flora, accompanied by some excellent sun effects and a set of sharp textures all powered by Unreal Engine 4. The game’s optimisation has also constantly improved throughout the title’s course of early access and the game runs very well without experiencing any sudden crashes even in multiplayer matches.
Slightly less good are the game’s animations which, although satisfactorily conveying the actions that they aim to convey, seem a little stiff at times and could use a little more work. In a similar way, the text in the game is also a little bit off, whilst there are no egregious errors and it conveys everything it needs too, the UI and loading screen text is sometimes phrased a little weirdly. Do bear in mind that the game is still in Early Access and due to the developer’s track record of frequent and very substantial updates, I am certain that these minor issues will be resolved by the time of a full release.
With an excellent premise, demonstrably great gameplay and positive developer input that helps moves the game forward every few months, BIGFOOT is an excellent title to pick up even in early-access. With friends or solo the gameplay experience is the pinnacle of gripping, delightfully tense and overall an awful lot of fun.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends was provided free of charge by Hendrik Felix Pohl
Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends places players at the foot of an insurmountable mountain and has you both struggling to climb innumerable obstacles and battling a challenging set of deliberately obtuse controls all in an attempt to drive you to new physical heights and new emotional lows.
Pogostuck isn’t the first title of the rejuvenated mountain-climbing genre, taking clear inspiration from 2017’s surprise mountaineering hit Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. For those who choose to abstain from being battered repeatedly by the latest online fads, or are otherwise just somehow unaware of its rise to fame, Getting Over Itcentred around a man stuck in a pot attempting to climb a mountain with the world’s slipperiest hammer, accompanied by an equally slippery control scheme. The game could potentially last forever, provided you could never master it enough to finish, and with no way to save your progress, it cruelly required completion in a single sitting.
Inevitably, the game was a huge hit with internet content creators with avid fans flocking to see their favourite YouTube-rs or Twitch streamers torture themselves with the impossible task. The game was after-all at its most fun when played with someone else; seeing the highs and lows of the journey but without requiring the commitment to sit down and finish it in one go. Not to mention that, despite the occasional bit of in-game narration, playing Getting Over It solo was a pretty lonely experience: just you and your pot for company.
Whilst it would be easy at surface glance to dismiss Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends as a meer rip-off, swapping out the pot and hammer combo of Getting OverIt for a small man and pogo-stick, that would be giving Pogostuck a grave disservice. Pogostuck is actually more the natural evolution of Getting Over It‘s gameplay.
Pogostuck takes the original concept behind Getting Over It, first seen in an old gamemaker game entitled “Sexy Hiking”, and presents it with a new unique spin. Whilst you are still indeed scaling a mountain, you are doing so on a pleasingly springy pogo-stick which, when you get the hang of it, turn out to be far more fun to manoeuvre than the hammer ever was.
The game is easier than Getting Over It and Sexy Hiking although that’s not to say its “easy” per-se, and you’ll still be faced with a steep challenge (pun intended), but it certainly feels fairer and much more balanced. Although the difficulty curve is still practically as steep as the mountain, being permitted the ability to quit the game after a particularly annoying missed-jump and then relaunch it to continue seamlessly after your anger has deflated days later certainly makes the experience more relaxing. This sense of relaxation is further boosted by the cute, colourful art-style and soft cartoon-like sound effects. Although the ingame UI is at first pretty obtrusive, taking up most of the screen, it can thankfully be configured and disabled in the options menu.
The main draw to the game is of course the multiplayer. Pogostuck is inherently far less lonely than its counterparts. Even if you don’t have a friend with the game to connect to directly and try and race to the top, the game is always online – and you’ll constantly be running into other players who are too trying to make their way up the impossible hill. Whilst there is no way to directly interact with other players, it is always fun to run into someone, exchange a few courteous greeting jumps before starting a mad dash for the next disembodied ledge.
This multiplayer element also feeds into the excellent progression system, which grants XP for every inch of mountain you climb. This XP accumulates and unlocks various cosmetics. With plenty of sticks, trail effects, clothing and headgear to choose from, there are plenty of combinations which will both flaunt your progress and help you stick out from the crowd.
Although it’s certainly not as hardcore in its presentation or gameplay as other games in its genre, Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends, is still a good challenge. A challenge that is elevated by a solid progression system and the glittering potential for endless enjoyment in online gameplay creating an experience which is deeply rewarding. If you were a fan of Getting Over It or Sexy Hiking, or want a lighter introduction to the world of relentlessly hard games, Pogostuck: Rage With Your Friends is an essential purchase.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Executive Assault 2 was provided free of charge by Hesketh Studios Ltd
The first Executive Assault is certainly one of my all time favourite indie titles. An ambitious blend of both the first-person shooter and real-time strategy genres, having you building and maintaining a sprawling base on a planet you’re trying to conquer. This is aided by your ability to design and deploy robotic troops. Victory is quite skill-based, like any good RTS and requires a careful management of resources, supply and demand and production lines.
Battles occur on a very grand scale, often with hundreds of combatants as well as some really massive mechs. Unlike most real-time strategy games however, you’re not constrained to just watching your battles from above, like a wistful child pressed up against a window of a toyshop, but are rather given the option to jump into direct control. This shifts the perspective to that of an FPS, allowing you to participate in battle.
Whilst your contributions to the huge unfolding battle were certainly insignificant, and the shooting mechanics a little bit janky, the sheer novelty of being able to observe your battle unfold in person really adds a great level of reward to the hours of, although still perfectly enjoyable, simply less exciting management that had led up to that climax.
Despite suffering a little in the visual department, although personally thought the clanky models just added to the charm, Executive Assault was a top-notch title and a fantastic experiment that I would certainly recommend any fans of the RTS or FPS genres check out.
Thanks to my love of the first game, I was delighted to see a sequel was in the works. Considering the already perfected concept showcased in the first title, Executive Assault 2 is certainly standing on all the required foundations for a great follow up.
Much like its predecessor, Executive Assault 2 has you stepping into the shoes of the CEO of your own customisable company. The customisation options have also pleasingly been streamlined and expanded upon from the first game, allowing you to pick the gender of your CEO, name your company, choose the nature of the goods you produce and even select a custom logo from your PC’s files to be displayed on flags and screens throughout the base.
Whilst the customisation options still aren’t particularly extensive, and a character creator would certainly be a nice addition, they are perfectly sufficient and succeed in adding a pleasing extra layer of gameplay – even if it is admittedly quite a thin one.
In terms of gameplay, Executive Assault 2 is still the excellent blend of FPS and RTS that was presented in the first title but with some key additions and improvements. Visually, the game looks much better; with shiny surfaces and a sleek new UI design – it’s certainly not cutting edge graphics by any means, and the admirably low running requirements can be attributed to that, but at least now the series doesn’t look very noticeably outdated.
These new visuals are accompanied by improved gunplay and a much improved set of weapon models and animations. The overall scale of everything has also been greatly increased. Whilst in the first game you were fighting for the control of a somewhat small portion of a singular planet, now you’re aiming to dominate an entire galaxy.
From your modular floating space base, which you can fully upgrade and customise by adding a plethora of rooms including factories, security centres and ship docking stations, you construct and manage a hugely customisable fleet of ships. This ships are used to scout out and collect new resources as well as keeping a close eye on your enemies.
Despite the new addition of spacecraft, which now take up the brunt of the player to player combat, the iconic robots from the first game do return, although after a good visual overhaul and in quite a different role. The robots function as your ground teams, being able to board the enemy base and helping to defend the stretching corridors of your own.
Another thing to note is that Executive Assault 2 is currently in early access and frequently receiving content updates and patches. Everything runs smoothly and in my time with the game I encountered a notable lack of any major bugs. The only time you really notice that the title is early access is in mission select screen which lacks a campaign and contains only one scenario. This scenario can either be played single-player against rival AI CEOs or multiplayer facing off against either a friend or randoms in an online lobby.
Although more levels have been promised, and will certainly be a nice addition, they aren’t entirely necessary. This singular scenario is perfectly sufficient and has a whole host of configuration options, even an included and easy to use map editor. For an early access title, especially one in its infancy, there is more than enough content provided to satisfy. In an age where the term “early-access” has become synonymous with low effort cash-grabs and unfinished garbage, it’s very refreshing to see a game that could very easily, with a little extra polish, be a full release title.
Overall, Executive Assault 2 receives a wholehearted recommendation. The extremely unique core gameplay of its predecessor is accompanied by an ever increasing array of customisation options that createa fantastically engaging experience; one that provides the perfect fix for both FPS and RTS gamers alike.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of The Painscreek Killings was provided free of charge by EQ Studios
A cold case investigation takes you, the journalist Janet Kelly, to Painscreek where four years prior, in the summer of 1995, the mayor’s wife Vivian Roberts was brutally murdered. With all leads dead, the police investigation over and the town laying abandoned it is your job to solve the mystery once and for all before the truth is lost forever.
The Painscreek Killings makes a bold claim when launched: a promise of “neither helpful quest markers, nor any form of handholding throughout the game”, which is certainly a delight to any frequenters of the visual storytelling genre.
Surely I can’t be the only person who faces nightly flashbacks to that glow-y ball thing in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, the thing that would lead you down long country lanes with the promise of plot revelations only to suddenly and arbitrarily decide that “whoops! No plot could be found here and now you have to walk all the way back”.
Regardless of how many sleepless PTSD-ridden nights you have been granted by that petulant guiding glow it’s refreshing to see a narrative experience that taps into the genre’s inherent tranquillity and lets you explore the world at your own pace.
Past a very brief and excellently well integrated tutorial sequence which runs you through the basics (it’s not too complex, basically you just walk around and look at things) there is a distinct lack of handholding. Some clues you find do naturally hint a locations you should probably visit next, but you’re never under any obligation to follow up on them. In fact you get the option to leave at any point.
As funny as the idea of a reporter driving hundreds of miles out to a town only to turn right back around and go home is, it would be fundamentally missing the game’s real juiciest meat.
That meat comes in the form of the variety of locations you are able to explore throughout your investigation. From wandering the eerily empty town streets, rummaging around the mayor’s colossal mansion or avoiding the terrifying hospital at all costs. The hospital I should probably mention, for the sake of saving you a potential heart attack, houses the game’s only (sort of) jump-scare.
In these locations you collect notes, characters’ personal journals and snap quick photos. Whilst doing all that, it’s well worth making a personal journal of your own. The game recommends that you take frequent notes, and record the details of what you uncover and for good reason as this notetaking is pretty much essential to the experience.
Whilst the game does do its best to record anything you do pick up, some passwords or post-its you find simply aren’t saved. Although it would be nice to have the option to record things in an in game notepad, you can never beat pen and paper. The extra level of effort exerted by the physical recording of you evidence does however work in the game’s favour, helping significantly with your deductions rather than simply becoming an extra annoyance.
There is certainly a lot of satisfaction to be felt in the deductive reasoning of The Painscreek Killings. It feel just right; I never felt stuck or completely stumped, and while some of the deductions you do have to make do seem like a bit of a stretch, I never found myself frantically Googling solutions as I would with other frankly less well made titles.
The level of immersion felt while playingis sublime, and easily on par with the likes of Gone Home and Return of the ObraDinn, the very best of the visual novel and investigative genre respectively.
This immersion is assisted by the game’s voice acting which is, for the most part, excellent and the overall level of visual flair with which the game is presented. Not being a fan of bloom and motion blur, I was happy to see the option to turn them both off. Once they have been disabled, and the world no longer appears viewed through melting wax, things look absolutely lovely.
The town, when you disregard its emptiness, looks cosy and warm, surrounded by a lush forest and shimmering spectral river. I almost regret the fact the player is given the ability to sprint, for it can stop you soaking in the brilliant atmosphere as you really should. Then again, Everybody’s Gone to theRapture (which can’t seem to catch a break today) showed us how, rather ironically, a “walking-simulator” that confines you to walking alone quickly becomes an absolutely traumatic experience.
A small thing to note here is that The Painscreek Killings is excellently optimised. It offers you three visual settings: “good”, “beautiful” and “fantastic”. Most shouldn’t have any issues running it on its lowest visual settings. Whilst normally I would be against such a pretentious naming scheme I do have to concede that the different configurations do indeed look very “good”, extremely “beautiful” and completely “fantastic” as described.
One thing that looks less “good”, “beautiful” and “fantastic” than the rest is the game’s main menu. The background video that accompanies the plethora options you see upon starting the game would set the mood perfectly, however it is simply just too choppy and is compressed to the point where it looks like porridge.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned much detail surrounding the plot, and that’s a very conscious choice. The plot is central to the experience of the game and I’m a little wary of spoiling anything. What I will say is that things aren’t as simple as they seem. The mystery goes much deeper than a single murder, and is supported by a cast of characters that, although you never see them face to face, are excellently written and feel fully-realised.
The main mystery is joined by a couple smaller optional side-mysteries. These are usually more obtuse and don’t serve much purpose in the wider narrative but are a nice little bonus for anyone who wants to grasp the complete picture of life in Painscreek. They also give you a bit more time to appreciate the game’s soundtrack.
The music comes in the form of a few light piano melodies that are wholly pleasant if not slightly forgettable. The audio mixing does seem a little bit off however and on the default settings has the sound effects for certain actions, like opening doors, set far too loud. Thankfully this can be adjusted without much hassle.
Despite a few extremely minor niggles, The Painscreek Killings is a fantastic experience and one I would certainly recommend jumping in to. It has a compelling story that is elevated by the authentic glimpses into the lives of entirely engaging characters through which it is told. Not to mention the fact it’s coupled with a set of stunning visuals and a good soundtrack. It is unapologetically a superb example of games as a viable medium with which you can convey a complex and immersive narrative.
If you liked the sound of anything I’ve said, or just feel like playing detective yourself, you can check the game out on Steam by clicking here, where it is on a generous 60% off sale until the 9th of July.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Rise of Liberty was provided free of charge by Sandstorm Studio Inc.
It’s often quite hard to find indie titles that stand out in the current oversaturated gaming market. A market where game releases and are so frequent that even just the sheer volume alone of titles available on Steam is now overwhelming, if not quite frankly a little bit terrifying.
The indie Steam title Rise of Liberty stands out defiantly for two reasons. Firstly, its delightfully minimalist, yet still vibrantly coloured, sleek art-style that helps make the game visually pop, and secondly the fact that it manages to successfully tackle one of the most criminally under-represented historical settings in the media today.
As the title would allude, Rise of Liberty is one of the few available games that takes players back to the 1770s in the U.S. of A. during the height of the Revolutionary War as a large-scale first-person tactics-oriented shooter.
Being primarily a battle simulator, à la Mount and Blade: Napoleonic Wars,Rise of Liberty allows players to either re-create a handful of real-world historical battles or choose their favourite map and jump into a quick battle. With the choice of siding either with the revolutionaries or the British, picking from a plethora of maps that each bring their own unique feel and challenges and even the ability to configure the intricacies of individual spawn-waves, these quick battles are deeply-customisable and infinitely varied.
The battles themselves can last for any duration of time that you would like, and be either grand-scale operations with lines upon lines of hundreds of troops on either side or just a swift twenty on twenty skirmish. You are even given the option to take a break from the action and relax as an omniscient spectator; flying around gaily and watching the carnage unfold. It’s quite amusing and very enjoyable to be able to pit 500 revolutionary soldiers against a rival side of 10 and just be able to sit back and watch the massacre unfold.
If you don’t feel like stepping into the shoes of a sadistic god however, you will also find that participating in said battles is just as fun. You are given two customisable weapon slots and 12 unlockable items with which to fill them. Whilst most of these items do admittedly feel somewhat samey, there are afew standouts, like the devastating Hand Mortar or the whacky Axe Pistol, which serve to make these unlocks fairly desirable and present a good goal in what would otherwise be a somewhat aimless game.
The shooting mechanics are very heavily based upon the physics engine, with all gunpowder weapons firing some form of different-sized projectile shot. Whilst the guns themselves feel a little floaty, and the melee combat even more so, seeing your hit collide with a now ragdolling enemy and catching a glimpse of the flashing hitmarker gives the combat a surprisingly level of depth.
One thing to note is that whilst the UI elements, particularly those found at the top of the screen, are a little bit of an eyesore; they can be very easily disabled with a quick tap of the “o” key. Another important button is the “t” key, which activates the enthralling slow-motion which slows flying pellets and cannonballs down to a snail’s crawl and lets you truly appreciate some of the sheer chaotic beauty of the events unfolding before you.
Rise of Liberty is certainly a game at its best in spectacle. Although it may be janky in places, having only recently been released from early access, and still harbouring a fair number of bugs and odd gameplay quirks, its jaw-dropping scale and visual flair is second to none and elevates the experience to great heights.
Another small thing to note is that all this “jaw-dropping scale and visual flair” is very commendably optimised. In an age where it seems even browser level games require the latest I7 processor and a 4GB GPU, it’s definitely nice to see a game that doesn’t throw lower spec gamers under the bus. Not to mention the fact that the title’s very low price point, at only just over £5, even further defines its wide accessibility.
Whether you’re a fan of the time period in which it is set, someone struggling to find a modern game to run on their out-of-date hardware or just a fan of the more hands-on side of the strategy genre, and maybe even all three, then Rise of Liberty is an absolute must-have.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of MiniGolf Maker was provided free of charge by Road Turtle Games
MiniGolf Maker by Road Turtle Games is almost exactly what the title would suggest – a tool that allows you to create, and play, MiniGolf courses.
In these kinds of sandbox level creation games, the creative tools at your disposal should be put at the very forefront of the user experience – and for very good reason. These tools are what will constitute the majority of gameplay. Luckily, with MiniGolfMaker, a set of very solid and robust in-depth tools are at your disposal. With the ability to create multiple holes, import multiple items of scenery, customise your turf with by selected textures or colours from a vast wheel and much more.
There are several preset themes available; for example, a befittingly tacky pirate theme, a psychedelic dream style theme or my favourite, the buttery smooth and delightful minimalistic low-poly theme. Although there definitely aren’t hundreds of items of decorations to choose from, the sheer variety of the themes and the ability to mix and match items from different themes and styles as well as adjust the objects’ size means you certainly won’t be running out of combinations any time soon.
If a completely flat expanse of sheer unending void is not your favourite locale for your mini-golfing action, you are also offered a terrain customisation tool which can terraform vast valleys, deep canyons or colossal sky-piercing mountain ranges. You are even presented with the ability to customise skyboxes with a variety of times and styles, which adds another deep layer of personalisation and the real ability to help your courses stand out.
Making your courses stand out is quite important, especially considering another highly commendable aspect of the game: the superb workshop integration. The workshop integration is quite frankly second to none. Everything is managed in the game tab, with the ability to create an in-engine banner for your course (mine is pictured below), add a title and description. You are even able to modify and update your already uploaded courses, complete with filling in the Steam workshop changelogs.
This excellent and easy workshop upload process has certainly paid dividends, with a very clean looking, consistently styled and vibrant Steam Workshop page. Already, there are some particularly high quality levels which truly demonstrate the power of the tools at your disposal. I can’t wait to see what other excellent creations the community can make over the coming months in the wake of new content and updates.
If you don’t feel like creating your own courses, never fear for there are 5 in-built courses. Although they are short, they are each very fun to play and excellently showcase the games’ different available themes.
The actual mini-golfing in MiniGolf Maker is good. Easy to learn, but hard to master. Ball physics are how you would expect and interactions with it are very satisfying. If you’ve played practically any other good mini-golf game, you know what to expect. MiniGolf Maker also features a multiplayer course mode with each player playing rounds in turns to try and accumulated the highest score. Whilst it is certainly an awful lot of fun to tee off with friends, and the multiplayer experience is very competent, it is definitely not the chiefest aspect of the game.
The game does suffer from some fairly typical early-access issues, with the occasional bug; most annoyingly the inability to properly deploy barriers around your turf. I do have faith however that these teething problems with be swiftly fixed in a future update. The course creator itself is quite tricky to use and, although I was provided a handy tutorial by email, it would be nice to be able to see a quick guide or even just the tutorial embedded in the game itself in a help tab.
Overall, MiniGolf Maker is an extremely promising game. I would heartily recommend it to fans of mini-golf, whether real or virtual, and more broadly to those who are, like me, fascinated by games that provide you with fantastic tools for venting your creative energy. As a final note, and as a nice cherry on top, MiniGolf Maker is priced at just over £5 Steam which, considering the potential quantity and the absolute quality of what you are getting, is an absolute steal.
Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Road to Guangdong was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games
Jalopy, the recently free-to-grab DRM free via Humblebundle, is a game very close to my heart. A delightful little road-trip-them-up which took you through the gloomy vistas of East Berlin to Turkey behind the wheel of your mysterious uncle’s beaten up Laika brand car, aka. the crapmobile.
Despite holding an extremely engaging and unique premise, and letting you explore a setting rarely seen outside first-person shooters, Jalopy always felt like something was missing. It certainly wasn’t heart, which the game held in heaps with its endearing minimalist art-style, its charming little soundtrack and just the sheer nostalgia factor that arises from tapping into a well deep long-forgotten memories of family road trips. What Jalopy lacked was one of the elements from which most of its appeal arises: a sense of family.
Sure, you did have the option of bringing your uncle along for the ride but he never really adds much beyond some canned dialogue, a little guidance and, quite frankly, a lot of dead weight. The spiritual successor Road to Guangdong aims to rectify that void and, by the end of early access, perhaps offer come to one of the most heartfelt familial journeys in gaming today.
As previously mentioned, Jalopy took you from the dull dregs of a grey post-war Berlin to the sunny splendour of Turkey. Road to Guangdong on the other hand, as the title suggests, takes you across the bright and scenic Guangdong, China.
This new setting is presented with a delightful and extremely colourful art-style; which is very reminiscent of modern evolutions of Chinese woodblock painting techniques, in a manner that is altogether simply breathtaking. Almost any screenshot taken in game wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of trendy coffee shop.
Ironically, the visual presentation of the characters themselves can ironically only be described “blocky” – and not in a good way. They seem stiff, jumping around the screen much like the terrifying department store mannequins from Condemned: Criminal Origins and whilst in that game it added to the atmosphere, in Road to Guangdong it does nothing but detract from it.
I attributed this to a result of a general lack of animations; with the game only being released into early access this week it makes sense for the characters to have only a handful of stock shared loops. I expect that this and the apparent jarring lack of scene transitions will be rectified in a future update and preferably as soon as possible.
The reason these stiff animation issues are such a problem is that they really interfere with the narrative that they are trying to convey. As mentioned previously, Road to Guangdong is really about family. The plot itself revolves around your attempt to save a failing family business and you’re presented with a tonne of dialogue-driven interactions which have you repairing damaged relationships on top of your damaged car.
In the gameplay department, Road to Guangdong is predominantly a visual novel and quite a good one at that, focused on your relationship with your eccentric aunt. Slices of the visual novel are delivered in between arcade-like driving sections. The driving mechanics are fairly surface level, although the car itself certainly feels very satisfying to drive with its loud engine and definite weight, you’re only really allowed to drive in a straight line in a manner only comparable to Desert Bus. The simplicity of the driving mechanics do allow you to focus more heavily on the dialogue however, which is probably how it was intended to be, but just a little bit more interaction with your vehicle would be nice and provide some much needed entertainment when the dialogue begins to slow.
Judging from an update released just today however, it seems that this wish is being very promptly granted, adding more detail to the dashboard and making some of the previously redundant dials and meters actually mean something. The game also offers some repair mechanics, but they’re very surface-level. You buy parts and repair you vehicle so it can keep going until you need to buy more parts and repeat the whole process again.
For now, that’s basically all there is to comment on – the game is certainly still in its infancy. Despite its flaws however, I would certainly recommend keeping a close eye on Road to Guangdong. It’s a brilliant story that has the potential to be a beautiful experience, despite being at the moment hampered by some characteristic early-access teething problems.
If you are completely sold on the premise alone, and don’t mind a fair bit of early-access jank, by all means buy the game at once. For those sitting on the fence, it may just be worth waiting until the story can be told at its best in 2-3 months’ time when it is fully released and luckily for you; you can expect a follow-up to this review reflecting on the finished product when it’s finally out.
Coming from legendary Japanese game designer SWERY, who most notably wrote and directed the supremely bizarre Twin-Peaks inspired cult classic Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die has quite the boots to fill.
Although certainly not identical to Deadly Premonition, D4 does bare many of the same hallmarks as its predecessor. The protagonist is yet another quirky investigator who also comes across a host of weird and wonderful characters in the hunt for a mysterious killer. Both games involve a red narcotic and even share some characters.
The times where D4 distinguishes itself to its predecessor however are where the game is at its strongest. Whilst D4 is still notably weird, it’s not quite as weird as Deadly Premonition and this does the overall experience a huge service. Whilst it was extremely difficult to relate to the uncanny citizens of Deadly Premonition‘s Greenvale each with their jarring stock-sounding motifs spouting head-scratching borderline-nonsensical dialogue, the characters presented in D4 felt considerably more real. As a result, I found myself genuinely invested in the struggles of D4‘s protagonist David Young far more than I was ever engaged in the actions of Francis York Morgan and his imaginary friend Zak in Deadly Premonition.
Don’t get me wrong, the characters of D4 are still for the most part a bunch of complete weirdos but their quirks and personalities seemed far more believable. They felt like real people, odd real people but real nonetheless. Perhaps this was due in part to the far sleeker presentation of D4. Whilst Deadly Premonition housed awkward looking characters who shambled around a plain environment repeating simple dialogue while perpetually looping stock animations, D4 is smooth and stylish. With a pleasing cel-shaded filter and a delightfully over-the-top anime inspired set of fluid animations, which I only caught blatantly looping on one or two occasions, D4 is an absolute joy to look at.
Gameplay wise, D4 is a point and click adventure broken up by simple mini-games or David Cage style quick time event action sequences. On PC the game is controlled by solely the mouse, but the XBOX ONE variant offers both controller and Kinect support – Kinect support that is unprecedentedly good. To my amazement, the Kinect ended up the best way by far to experience D4, the polar opposite of my expectation. The controls on the Kinect mode are engaging, responsive and shockingly accurate. You also have the option to swap between Kinect and controller modes fairly quickly, so for Kinect owners I’d recommend certainly using the Kinect for the action sequences and then maybe switching back to controller for the slower investigation portions. Gameplay wise the experience without the Kinect is very similar to the experience with the Kinect, although certainly with less flailing around, as what would have been the position of you left or right hand is simply mapped to a cursor instead.
I don’t want to spoil any details so I’ll be fairly vague here, but story-wise D4‘s prologue and first episode are deeply interesting and very engaging, offering an intriguing mystery with fun and rewarding twists and as a stand-alone experience one of the best mystery games I’ve ever played. The issues with D4’s story begin in the second (and final) episode. Whilst the first episode certainly created a lot of unanswered questions, it was fairly standalone. Had the game ended after episode one, I would have been not only supremely satisfied but clamouring for more just to tidy up a few threads, the big overarching questions that were set up in the prologue may not have been answered but the ones relating to that specific case had and the ones that didn’t have conclusive answers were certainly hinted at.
Episode Two did nothing to enhance the story and felt like a couple of hours of total filler. It was a linear slog through a dull environment before taking a colossal narrative nose-dive with a sudden twist ending which makes very little sense and sets the stage for a follow-up episode to clear everything up. The problem is, there is no follow up episode. D4 ends two episodes in and over four years later has no plans for continuation. While for many this may seem a total deal-breaker, for me I don’t feel continuation would have really benefited the game. It definitely peaked at its first episode (and it’s a very high peak) and with the direction the plot was taking in Episode two, I don’t feel future episodes would have ever been able to live up to the standard the first one set.
Despite not being technically a “finished game” per se, I would wholeheartedly recommend D4 but with a big caveat. For PC make sure you buy it on sale, the £15 regular price is a little too steep for three hours of entertainment, and for XBOX ONE make sure you own a Kinect – it’s not worth buying a Kinect over but if you’re an existing owner it would give you a good reason to get some use out of the damn thing.
It’s safe to say that DLC is one of the most divisive topics in the gaming world today. Some people love it, some people hate it. It’s also safe to say that no matter on which side of the fence you sit we can all agree that some DLCs are definitely better than others. In light of this, why don’t we take some time to set aside our differences and discuss some of the times that DLC was so good it would definitely make you regret not buying the season pass.
5: The Crew: Calling All Units
Base game: The Crew
Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE, PS4
The biggest problem for me with the base game of The Crew was that it was quite frankly incredibly boring. A generic racing game with an admittedly enjoyable online open world that suffered from a severe lack of anything real to do. Luckily, The Crew: Calling All Units is a surprisingly expansive DLC that remedies that issue.
Calling All Units feels much more like what The Crew originally should have been, taking a leaf or two from games like Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Picking a side; either as a police officer or a criminal, transforms the vast open world of The Crew from a boring inconvenience you have to navigate between missions into a dynamic arena jam-packed with activities. As a policeman, you can patrol around urban the map participating in engaging police pursuits with any wrongdoers you happen to encounter and as a criminal you can cause as much vehicular chaos to your heart’s content while avoiding the watchful eye of the law.
Coming bundled with the previous expansion, The Crew: Wild Run, that £20.99 price tag feels like very good value for money – especially considering the base game is frequently free on Ubisoft’s store Uplay. As well as the online play to player content, the pack unlocks a set of very nice police and off-road vehicles, a host awesome customisation options and a even two whole new story campaigns to follow for people who aren’t too keen on the online aspects of the game.
4: Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
Base game: Borderlands 2
Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE (HD Ed.), XBOX 360, PS4 (HD Ed.), PS3
Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep may be only one of the numerous DLC available for Borderlands 2 but it is certainly the strongest of the bunch. Offering an interesting twist on the Borderlands formula, Assault on Dragon Keep takes you to the world of an endearingly over-the-top parody of tabletop role-playing games.
With a distinctive artistic flair accompanied some of the funniest dialogue in the franchise, Assault on Dragon Keep stands out from the crowd. Although admittedly quite short, it’s length is certainly appropriate for the under £10 price tag and the co-op modes combined with the game’s inherent strong level of replayability means you’re certainly getting a lot of bang for your buck.
Whether for a fan of the franchise as a whole, a fan of the titular narrator Tiny Tina, around whom the whole DLC is centred, or just someone who wants to squeeze a couple more hours out of Borderlands 2, Assault on Dragon Keep is an absolute necessity.
3: XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
Base game: XCOM 2
Platform(s): PC, XBOX ONE, PS4
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen is the most expensive DLC on this list and for very good reason. Originally conceived as a fully fledged sequel to the superb XCOM 2, War of the Chosen packs a jaw-dropping amount of content.
War of the Chosen adds a renewed level of threat to the Advent regime; with a huge number of new enemies paired with never before seen mission locations and deadly new hazards but most importantly the inclusion of several new mini-bosses; the titular “chosen” who can appear randomly throughout the campaign and transform an already brutally difficult game into a nightmarishly tense desperation fuelled bid to save not just your squad, but the whole of humanity.
On top of all this, a new faction system adds a host of potential allies in the form of other human resistance factions. These potential allies however can also be potential enemies, and an in-depth level of micromanagement allows you to carefully control and monitor your relationships with each group.
Although its immense difficulty restricts this DLC exclusively to XCOM 2 veterans (seriously if your first playthrough is with this DLC you have zero chance of success) it is the rejuvenating boost the game needs to keep its experience fresh, even many years after its release.
2: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Rise from the Ashes
Base game: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Platform(s): PC (HD Ed.), XBOX ONE (HD Ed.), PS4 (HD Ed.), NINTENDO SWITCH (HD Ed.), NINTENDO 3DS (HD Ed.), NINTENDO DS
Price*: £29.99 (Trilogy pack)
Whilst technically not a DLC in the modern sense, Rise from the Ashes – a special bonus episode added to the DS port of the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – was certainly too significant to overlook.
Rise from the Ashes fills all the check-boxes for a perfect DLC, with a length rivalling that of almost a third of the base game, a stand-alone story which introduces some of the series’ best characters, new and excellent additions to the base OST and most importantly a set of new forensic themed game-play additions which despite being all new to the series managed to fit in seamlessly with pre-existing game-play elements.
Despite being a bonus case, Rise from the Ashes is by far the strongest, most tightly written and deeply engaging of not just the first game – but arguably the whole original Ace Attorney trilogy.
If you missed this case first time or simply overlooked it, it is most certainly worth picking up a more modern variant of the game – I’d recommend the HD remasters with which it is included as standard – and see what all the fuss is about.
1: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Base game: Far Cry 3
Platform(s): PC, XBOX 360, PS3
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is unique on this list as the only truly stand-alone DLC. With a seperate launcher, menus and even steam store page; Blood Dragon is very good at presenting itself as a very different take on the Far Cry formula.
Whilst Far Cry 3 was an exploration of vulnerability, putting you in the shoes of a fragile protagonist and watching their struggle to overcome insurmountable odds and cope with the emotional impact of the sacrifices you had to make along the way, Blood Dragon is a power fantasy, playing as an almost indestructible cyborg power-commando in a mission to slay legions of robot troopers and occasionally the titular Blood Dragons.
Where Blood Dragon truly stands out however is not its gameplay, which is effectively just late-game base Far Cry 3, but rather in its presentation as an over the top parody of 80s action. With plenty of references, a brilliant synthwave soundtrack and many little details from the CRT overlay, the VHS tracking loading screens and ridiculously cheesy over-the-top dialogue which demonstrate that Blood Dragon is far more than just a basic Far Cry 3 reskin but rather an extremely well crafted love letter to all things 80s action.
*Prices are Steam store prices (excluding discounts or sales) as of April 2019.
2008’s Far Cry 2 was a benchmark game in open world design. Boldly defying the linear mission based structure of its predecessor, Far Cry 2 offers one of Ubisoft’s most bold and realistic open world experiences – even today almost 11 years later.
Far Cry 2 takes the player to an unnamed fictitious nation in the heart of Africa being gripped by a brutal civil war. As a mercenary employed by the CIA, it is your job to track down The Jackal, an arms dealer supplying weapons to both sides of the conflict. After landing at the airport however, the mission immediately goes south. You contract malaria and pass out, awaking in your hotel room face to face with The Jackal. After a brief monologue, you are now free to wander out into the sprawling open world of Far Cry 2.
One of the most first things you will immediately notice in this open world is its striking colour palette. Filled with dark browns, luscious botanical greens and deep blue skies. The plains of the African savanna are visually stunning in Far Cry 2, with a perfected blend of gritty realism and beautiful artistic style. This colour palette is also constantly adapting and changing, due to the game’s real time day-night cycle.
This day-night cycle also affects gameplay in very practical and tangible ways. At night patrols are much tighter, more linear with few guards willing to stray from their posts – if you mind your business, they’ll mind theirs. In the daytime however, patrols are plentiful and more dynamic with guards reacting much quicker and far more aggressively to visual and auditory disturbances. During the day, there are also many more vehicles with convoys of guards moving from outpost to outpost making the roads much more of a threat than their nighttime counterparts.
This day-night mechanic lends itself to a certain formula: nighttime is for attacking bases and completing missions and daytime is for laying low and performing lighter tasks, like searching for collectables in the dense jungle or purchasing new weapons from arms dealer shops. The inclusion of a sleeping mechanic, which can be triggered by using beds in any of the numerous safehouses throughout the map, allowing you to manually input the time you want to wake up further indicates that this was indeed the strategy the developers intended for you to take.
There is unfortunately one colossal problem with this. The game’s stealth system. Stealth in Far Cry 2 is fundamentally unfinished and incredibly broken. Unlike later entries to the series, Far Cry 2 lacks the series’ characteristic awareness indicators (the little circular things that surround your crosshair telling you who can and can’t see you) meaning that you never really know if someone can and can’t see you. Being seen yourself is also incredibly easy, with guards dirty brown camouflage blending in perfectly with the landscapes. Their hearing too is completely unmatched, if any guard makes even the most stifled of yells every single nearby heavily armed murderer and their dog will be able to instantaneously triangulate your position and set off en masse to hunt you down.
The game even teases you with tantalising black painted silenced armaments. However, even with the quietest of weapons at the dead of night one missed shot, one seen body or even just accidentally tapping sprint will summon the inevitable collective exodus of guards from their posts to your exact location.
If you can move beyond their unprecedented psychic abilities you will come to find that the AI in Far Cry 2 is surprisingly advanced. In combat they behave realistically, keeping low and darting for the strongest cover around them or dashing for a powerful turret. When shot, they clutch at their affected limb and begin to crawl away, or are picked up and dragged into cover by their friends and comrades. Even when all else has failed, they lie in the dirt or mud, clutching their bleeding wounds and fruitlessly taking potshots with their weak pistols until you finish them off. It is safe to say that the AI in Far Cry 2 is the most advanced in the series and presents some of the most authentic reactions to injury found in the whole of gaming.
Authenticity is one of the key aspects of Far Cry 2 that serves to make it so incredibly engaging. The experience of Far Cry 2 is one of the most immersive gaming experiences ever created. Everything, from the handheld map and GPS navigator to the practically non-existent UI creates a game where you never feel pulled out of the action. The developers went to extraordinary lengths to keep everything ingame, keeping menus and clutter to an absolute minimum. Missions are accepted in person, with documents and payment handed to you in a file after listening to a briefing from a character, objectives are marked on your map and GPS – both of which exist physically as items in your hands throughout the game rather than relying on a cheap traditional map screen. Even the usually immersion destroying menus in shops are worked around, with your transactions taking place over a clunky computer terminal, accompanied by whirring and your character’s clicking of the keys.
Even the weaponry in the game reflects this commitment to realism. Whilst later games in the series favours modern military weaponry (even at times where it makes literally zero sense, like the pirates in Far Cry 3 having access to top grade brand new military hardware) that wouldn’t feel out of place in games like Call of Duty, the weapons in Far Cry 2 are cold-war-era rusted up pieces of junk. The weapons in Far Cry 2 feel clunky, but in the most satisfying of ways. They jam constantly in combat (prompting beautifully animated animation) requiring the frantic clicking of R to unjam and occasionally just break entirely. This jamming isn’t entirely random however, and the general dirtiness and level of rust of a weapon helps indicate how much time it has left. Even the brand new weaponry from arms dealers degrades over time, becoming more prone to stoppages and reducing in accuracy. This creates a lovely feeling of completely desperation in combat. As annoying as it is when your brand new assault rifle snaps in half in the middle of a huge firefight, it makes it so incredibly satisfying if you manage to hastily grab an enemy’s gun and somehow pull through.
It is however the times where you don’t pull through that creates some horribly frustrating moments. In its commitment to realism, Far Cry 2 ditches traditional saving mechanics. You can only save at medical boxes found on the walls at towns or in beds at safehouses. Dying after having all my good guns break randomly only to then be smacked in the face by the reality that I lost 2 hours of progress prompted me to alt f4 in fuming anger at least a dozen times. Even without the unfair save system, the game as a whole is brutally difficult with the bullet penetration systems leading to a complete lack of any viable cover, intelligent AI and the overwhelming numbers of enemy AI contributing to this.
Luckily, this brutal difficulty is not a challenge you have to face alone thanks to the game’s buddy system. Travelling to bars in towns allows you to befriend other mercenaries. Once your friend a buddy acts as almost an extra life: appearing miraculously when you’re about to die to drag your unconscious body to safety, restock your ammo and provide covering fire while you heal up. Buddies also lessen the brutality of the malaria mechanic which, although not mentioned until now, is a fundamental gameplay mechanic.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Far Cry 2 knows about malaria. It is frequently joked about by the community, and even the developers themselves with Far Cry 3‘s most difficult difficulty setting advertised proudly as “Harder than malaria” (I played it and believe me, its not). For those in the dark, you have incurable malaria throughout the course of Far Cry 2. It basically serves as a constantly rolling number generator. If the trigger number comes up, well then you basically receive the gaming equivalent of a curbstomping. Your screen shakes, becoming green and muddy and motion blur is cranked up to max. If you’re in combat at this point, you’re screwed. Next, your screen becomes black and you fall unconscious – making you an all-you-can-murder buffet for local enemy soldiers. If you’re lucky enough to have recruited a buddy, they help protect you until you wake up again.
The only way to circumvent the threat of malaria is to procure antimalarial drugs, which serve as your motivation to complete many of the games side-quests. With a bottle of pills safely in hand you’re pretty much impervious to the disease’s effects – so long as you remember to take them.
Although being the butt of far too many Far Cry jokes, I would consider the contributions of malaria to the overall game to be very positive. It contributes to the game’s central theme of human vulnerability. With no array of weaponry, no mass of body armour and no volume of bloodshed ever being able to protect you from your own humanity.
This overall feeling of vulnerability is also added to by the complete lack of friendly NPCs (besides buddies that is). Every single NPC encountered outside cease-fire zones are aggressive – even if you are on their side of the war. They’re not just aggressive to you however with the two sides being seen fighting each other quite frequently and very dynamically. The world of Far Cry 2 is decidedly hostile and you are constantly trapped in the crossfire.
Although Far Cry 2 definitely has its flaws, it manages to reach a level of realism and true immersion that hasn’t been accomplished ever since. Far Cry 2 is certainly a landmark game and as the forefather of open world design its contributions to the gaming industry are absolutely huge. If you can grimace your way through its most brutally unforgiving elements, it is certainly a deeply rewarding and extremely enjoyable experience that I would recommend to anyone.
Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge was certainly groundbreaking at the time of its release back in 2008; offering an extremely unique three-dimensional platforming experience which pioneered first-person parkour game-play, impacting games for years to come. However, although Mirror’s Edge may have been a breath of fresh air when it released almost 11 years ago into a market with zero first-person parkour games, does it still hold up when compared to the likes of modern parkour experiences like Titanfall and Dying Light?
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that it was not game-play alone that made Mirror’s Edge so groundbreaking. Mirror’s Edge boasts an impressively unique art direction, especially for its time. For many the 2000’s is a time remembered by its countless brown and muddy looking FPSs. Mirror’s Edge however, defies this trend. Aesthetically, Mirror’s Edge is the antithesis of muddy, offering a crisp and clean pristine white cityscape dotted with the occasional vibrant primary colour. While at the time of its release its running requirements were quite taxing, it is no challenge for even the most modest of modern PCs. Setting graphics settings to the highest possible settings and selecting the very best anti-aliasing mode is definitely recommended. With everything set to max, Mirror’s Edge is nothing short of stunning and its iconic visual flair absolutely still stands out from the crowd today.
This visual style is not only beautiful but also extremely practical. The white aesthetic of the city allows for greater focus when running, yet not being so minimalist as to not allow for the occasional beautiful vista when you stop to breathe. The colour red is also extremely significant as it is rarely found natively in the world. Instead, it is used for “runner vision”, a kind of inherent intuition which colours ledges or surfaces bright red to help funnel you in the directions you need to go.
This is extremely useful, and definitely helps to reduce the number of times you will stop dead in your tracks trying to desperately work out where to go. This still happens however, and a little more often than it probably should. This is a particularly prevalent problem in the later interior missions, which involve a lot of verticality, often requiring you to make blind leaps of faith to ledges you can’t quite see. There is also the option to hold left alt to forcefully point your cone of vision in the direction of the level’s end point this however, is not as useful as it would appear. Knowing the location of the exit of a level is completely pointless when you still can’t find the ledge which will facilitate you getting there. Having your control taken away so violently also breaks immersion, I would only recommend resorting to this option if you really are massively stuck (although looking up a walk-through would be just as immersion breaking, and certainly more useful).
Mirror’s Edge is divided into levels, separated generally by cut-scenes, and levels often take place on rooftops in vastly different areas of the city. The game still manages however, to have a profound sense of geography. The city in Mirror’s Edge is cleaved in two by a river. Two extremely tall and distinctive buildings are cleverly situated at either side of this river (these can be seen in the last picture). This allows you to always gage vaguely your location in the city, and helps you piece together the journey between the previous location and your current one – which is not often shown in cut-scenes. By the end of Mirror’s Edge, you’ll probably be able to navigate the white city better than your hometown.
Mirror’s Edge also boasts a unique and very fitting score, which makes a great companion to rooftop running and helps bring the cut-scenes to life. Visually however, the cut-scenes are divisive. They have a very cartoonised hand-drawn style, and are quite contrary to the extremely clean look of the actual game-play. Personally, I am a big fan of the cut-scenes and believe that the hand-drawn look is certainly better than anything that could have been 3D animated with the technology limitations at the time.
Unfortunately, the story told by these cut-scenes is extremely lacklustre. With plain characters following a basic conspiracy type plot-line with all the predictable story beats and the obvious eventual twist.
Mirror’s Edge also feature rather pathetic combat sections. Combat in Mirror’s Edge is simply completely un-enjoyable. Whether guards manage to land a hit on you or not seems utterly random. Luckily all combat is avoidable, although due to the random nature of hit-detection your guaranteed to die at least a few times as you attempt to escape. Admittedly it was novel at first to disarm a few lightly-armed officers on a rooftop, later portions of the game which force you into tight indoor environments jam-packed with trigger happy machine-gun toting guards were anything but.
Stealth could also be considered an option, although it is so inconsistent as to be downright annoying. Guards have no cones of vision, you get too close and they become aggressive and open fire – triggering the arrival of more guards from around the level. You can allegedly disarm unsuspecting guards form behind, although I never managed this as they were always four clips into a barrage of fire by the time I got anywhere close.
The first five or so hours of Mirror’s Edge are incredible; a freedom-filled rooftop race around a stunning city. The game just becomes too bogged-down in its boring story, eventually devolving into awful combat sections and restrictive building interiors. Despite all this, for me, Mirror’s Edge definitely still holds up today. Whilst no other parkour game has managed to better it, they have managed to make its few flaws just a little bit more apparent.
Hitman: Sniper Challenge is an unusual entry in the Hitman series, and one that many people don’t even know exists. Despite being given away as part of the many pre-order bonuses for the incredibly divisive fifth entry to the series Hitman: Absolution, I’ll save my opinions on that game for another time, Sniper Challenge is a surprisingly robust experience and certainly worth a play.
Hitman: Sniper Challenge came entirely stand alone from Hitman: Absolution. If digitally bought on Steam, it has its own little tab in your game library page (similarly it had its own icon with download purchases on consoles) and when purchased physically, came as a special disk with its own box complete with specific cover art. This not only facilitated the clean menu aesthetic found in both Hitman: Absolution and Hitman: Sniper Challenge, but also makes the whole experience feel more like its own thing instead of just feeling like a mode for Hitman: Absolution (which I suspect it would have done if merely placed on the menu of that game).
Gameplay wise, Sniper Challenge is very different from the previous entries in the series; and even very different from the game it accompanied, Hitman: Absolution. Instead of surreptitiously sneaking into secured sectors whilst donning disguises at the drop of a hat (or more accurately, the drop of a guard NPC’s body), Sniper Challenge is (as the name would suggest) focused on sniping. This gives the game a more relaxed feel, fitting of a pre-order bonus – it is, after all, just the entrée for the full game of Hitman: Absolution.
The physics, which is the predominant feature of all sniping games, is very solid. Bullets have drop over distance and a fair bit of travel time. Although, not entirely realistic (this is certainly not the sniping experience of found in an ultra-realistic game like ARMA III) the arcade type feel is fun and gives shooting just enough skill to feel satisfying but not overly frustrating.
One of the key features of a Hitman game is its locations: extravagant parties, lavish buildings and bustling highly public events. In this regard, Sniper Challenge is certainly lacking. It is completely excusable, as a pre-order bonus, for the game to have one map there is, however, no reason for said map to be so boring. An annual company party in Chicago hardly compares to an international fashion show at a French Palace, an Italian vineyard turned drug factory or even the shady underbelly of Hong Kong. Still, despite its small scale, the essence of a good Hitman map is there.
The mission takes place over a rigid 15 minute timescale (counted in the bottom left of the screen) with events set to happen at certain times, such as the deployment of guards or the target taking a phone call. This allows a true Hitman fan to approach the level similarly to how they would a level in a previous game – with meticulous planning. The inclusion of a timer on the UI is also handy, in Hitman: Blood Money I’d often find myself having to jot down the times things happened on a map by pen and paper with a stop-clock.
Speaking of the mission, Hitman: Sniper Challenge has what is probably the best pre-mission briefing in the series so far. Beautifully rendered, voice acted and timed to a very fitting score; the pre-mission cut-scene gets my blood pumping every time. If you are at all a Hitman fan, and missed your opportunity to play this game on release (and don’t intend on tracking down a key on shady sites) I would completely recommend watching the cut-scene on YouTube. It perfectly encapsulates all things Hitman and is like a little love-letter to the series. Ironically, I’m sure if Hitman: Absolution had been approached in the same kind of way as Sniper Challenge it would have been far better received by series fans.
What Sniper Challenge really lacks is replayability. Yes, there are numerous easter-eggs which can be unlocked for a score modifier and a fair few number of sniper upgrades up for grabs there is little else in the way of incentive to come back for more. Despite this lack of replayability however, it’s a very nice addition to your library (certainly a must-have for any self-purporting Hitman fan) and I do still find myself occasionally booting it up for just a couple of minutes more of sniper fun.
Knight Terrors currently sits proudly as the cheapest game on the Nintendo Switch’s estore; but is it worth picking up?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is yeeeeees.
With interesting visuals, fun gameplay and a very low price point, what is there to lose in buying this game? At £2.69 Knight Terrors costs less than an everyday cup of coffee, and will certainly last you a lot longer.
Knight Terrors is an endless runner in its simplest form. Much like the infamous Flappy Bird, from which Knight Terrors obviously drew some inspiration, it’s this apparent simplicity which gives this game a strangely addictive quality.
The game alsobenefits just from being on the Switch. The crisp buttons of the Nintendo Joy-cons make Knight Terrors‘ two button gameplay a treat. Knight Terrors is also a game that is easy and fun to pick up and play, making it a perfect way to kill some time in handheld mode whilst on the move.
There are four distinct game modes to unlock, loads of unique power-ups and plenty of monsters to discover and slay. The pixelated graphics are complimented well by the music, a simplistic yet pleasant collection of various chip-tunes.
Whether you want a game to occupy you for afew hours on journey, want to get rid of some leftover quid in your Nintendo Wallet, or just want an enjoyable endless runner; Knight Terrors is the game for you.
This is a continuation of a four part review. To read part three, click here. To read part two click here. To read part one click here.
Dawn of the final day, a blog post appears on the TF2 site revealing the grand information that…
Jungle Inferno has been delayed and will be coming out tomorrow. Previous Team Fortress updates have shipped in pretty poor states, so it’s nice to see valve actually trying ensure the most anticipated in update in TF history doesn’t ship broken although telling us at the height of anticipation that it will be delayed was a bit of a let down.
Crushing disappointment aside, day four has yielded one thing, a list of in-depth patch notes (probably intended to ship with the actual update).
Each balance change seems cleverly thought out and aims to increase the viability of the least used weapons and decrease the viability of the most overused items. Not many of the changes are truly groundbreaking but most will have at least a small impact on gameplay.
Steam controller support has, at long last, been properly implemented and some broken animations have been fixed. Overall, day four is just maintenance. Admittedly, much needed, maintenance that will certainly improve Team Fortress 2‘s overall experience.
Is day four of Jungle Inferno the amazing climactic peak at the end of this roller-coaster ride of an update that we wanted? No. But it is an additional little length track that will keep the Team Fortress ride running for a while longer.
And hey, we’ve still got Halloween and Christmas events to come!
This is a continuation of a four part review. To read part two click here. To read part one click here.
Three quarters of the way through the Jungle Inferno update and each day has gone from good to great to greater and its still looking up. Day three heralds the highly anticipated arrival of the pyro class overhaul and after the huge wait; Valve, in a generous apology gesture that would put many other AAA developers to shame, gives the community a whopping five new weapons (four pyro and one heavy), numerous overhauls and fixes, even second contract campaign all for free.
The new “pyroland” (free) campaign is a small 5 mission taster of the new “contracker” system (for more info on that, see my day 2 coverage). Each mission unlocks one of the new weapons. This is in stark contrast to previous updates, which had players buying crates, desperately hoping for random drops or paying hugely over the odds on the Steam marketplace all for a chance to try out new weapons.
The new weapons added are each fairly unique, a fireball launcher, a slap and even a jet pack put a new spin on combat. For a full list of changes and some more in-depth info on the new weapons, you can visit the Team Fortress blog, right here.
After a long period of stagnation, Team Fortress 2 was in serious need of some seriously cool (or should I say, hot) new weapons and day three of the Jungle Inferno update is a huge game changer, no pun intended. We now eagerly await the fourth day, the final in this epic update saga. Stay tuned folks.