Picking up where the first game left off, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is an all-new original adventure that sees obscure super villain, Kang the Conqueror, hatch a typically outlandish plot for world domination. Thusly, it falls to you and Marvel Comics’ best and brightest heroes to set things straight.
As worlds collide, so too do super heroes and villains from different eras and realities, accommodating a bonkers narrative that’s packed with nods and direct references.
You'll use their abilities in conjunction with one another to solve simple environmental puzzles and progress through Marvel Super Heroes 2’s self-contained levels. While it’s disappointing to see a return to the more fragmented structure of a central hub with the main missions offshooting from it, after it was ditched in favour of a more fluent throughline in The LEGO NINJAGO Movie Video Game, it’s not a death knell when both elements of the game are entertaining in their own right.
While the areas that comprise Chronopolis aren’t nearly as detailed as some of their videogame counterparts - coming directly from Assassin’s Creed Origins’ take, Ancient Egypt fell more than a little flat - the variety is engaging and there are fun optional activities on just about every corner. Easily the highlight amongst these are the substantial Gwenpool (an amalgamation of Gwen Stacy and Deadpool) side quests that burst with energy.
Along the way you’ll engage enemies in combo-building combat, which is a step above the more typical LEGO game fare without matching NINJAGO’s considered freneticism. Even with additional methods of offence at your disposal though, it’s easy just to mash the standard attack button until you inevitably win. This obviously caters to the game’s younger audience, but, when you basically face no repercussions for dying (as usual in this series), adding a little more nuance wouldn’t do any harm. Set-piece battles against some gargantuan bosses are at least a genuinely cool spectacle.
While the areas comprising Chronopolis aren’t nearly as detailed as some of their videogame counterparts, the variety is engaging and there are fun optional activities on just about every corner.
You can bring a local buddy along for the ride in drop-in/drop-out co-op, or sample the game’s competitive modes if you’d rather battle against than alongside each other. With no restrictions on the characters up for selection the latter mode can be unbalanced, but that’s all part of the fun. You can also play against the AI, should you be on your lonesome.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 very much follows the established template, warts and all, with issues like an obstructive camera, clumsy control mapping, and performance blips remaining present and accounted for. None of the issues are invasive enough to undo the game’s consistent charm and fun factor, however; if you’re a Marvel fan, of any age or gaming skill level, there’s a lot here you’ll like.
It’s no secret that Microsoft began this hardware generation on the backfoot. An unpopular and confusing online-only plan and awkward game sharing policy proved to be a crippling initial salvo against the Xbox One, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 took full advantage. By now, the pressure on the company to inject some va va voom into the console race - much of it self-inflicted - is high, so does the new Xbox One X rise to meet that challenge?
From the sleek design of the hardware itself to the power of the silicon within, the X is both a treat to behold and an undeniable powerhouse.
Its CPU, the thing that moves all that information around and does the heavy lifting, has been bumped up too, though not nearly by as much, so it can still prove to be a limiting factor when it comes to maintaining an entirely steady technical performance in games that get extra frantic.
Games are the current stumbling point for Microsoft’s new console; 'Xbox One X Enhanced’ is the go-to phrase in describing titles which have been tweaked by their developer to see some sort of improvement on the X. The first thing to note is that even games which aren’t optimised for the hardware can see improvements, from loading more quickly thanks to a faster internal hard drive, to displaying at higher resolutions and holding steadier frame rates, but the games which make the enhanced list (in theory) offer more than just that.
At the time of writing there's 170 games on that list, including the recently announced Destiny 2, which will also get support on the PS4 Pro. That number sounds good, but as you start to do a bit of digging the disappointing reality becomes clear.
Firstly, only 76 titles are available right now (again, at time of writing) and while that does include excellent new releases like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins and The Evil Within 2, it's also peppered with the random likes of Danger Zone and Transcripted - which may well be great games, but hardly tentpole releases.
Add to that numbers made up by games now a bit long in the tooth, such as Halo 3 and Fallout 3 - both with successors in the 'Coming Soon’ or 'In Development’ categories - and you’re likely to be disappointed on some level. Even first-party exclusives like ReCore, which you'd think would be a no-brainer for launch day, are unfortunately absent at present.
There's plenty more to come, of course, but the fact that the console doesn't really have launch titles to speak of following Crackdown 3’s unfortunate delay - an exception being family-friendly platformer Super Lucky's Tale, which we’re working on reviewing - means that opportunities to see and share the pinnacle of what the Xbox One X can achieve are thin on the ground during the launch window.
One nice showpiece, which probably should have been pre-loaded on the console (though it’s understandable why not, as 4K assets are quick to fill the 1TB of included storage), is an interactive video from The Mill, famed for CGI work on Doctor Who and even the new John Lewis Christmas ad. Called Insects, the video loops some computer-generated footage and lets you tweak the settings on the fly, turning 4K and HDR on and off and changing the time of day and colour scheme to see the effects in action.
Opportunities to see and share the pinnacle of what the Xbox One X can achieve are thin on the ground during the launch window.
In my personal experience, sadly, the video wouldn’t register the HDR capabilities of my TV, so we only managed to play with the 4K aspect, but it certainly puts into perspective just what sort of difference it makes. An important thing to remember is that even on a 1080p screen the console gives you the best graphical fidelity you can expect, often rendering at a higher resolution and then downscaling the image, so the differences between HD and 4K aren’t as night and day as they were in the SD to HD transition.
HDR is in fact the effect that most people will notice, infusing a comparatively dull SDR picture with more vibrant and accurate colour, but it just so happens to also be offered by the now budget price Xbox One S (a console that can also upscale images to 4K, though that doesn’t compare to the X’s native resolutions).
Enhancements vary across the slate; higher resolution, HDR support and faster frame rates and/or improved textures are typically on offer, but only 32 games so far have the full hat-trick of features. This means your experience across specific games will very much vary in terms of how ‘enhanced’ they actually feel.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the whole thing is far from black and white, and at times is very technical and complex to get your head around. Outlets like Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry in particular go a long way to making the terminology accessible, but to the casual consumer it’s difficult to say how ‘wowed’ they’ll be without putting the original state of the game alongside the enhanced version.
This isn’t something which the Xbox One X does however, and it’s missed a trick by not clearly illustrating the difference you get for your money. There’s no denying the theoretical power, and even the distinct differences in practice, but the reality is most people likely won’t appreciate just how much effort has gone into this little (but very heavy) black box to push the envelope.
The experience as a whole is made even more clumsy by not taking you through an extensive setup to make sure you get the best from your display - particularly if it’s 4K - when the machine is first turned on. We found ourselves tweaking options on both the X and the TV itself for at least a couple of days before we got to what feels like the right place, but even then it’s difficult to be sure when different games have different interpretations of light and dark.
It might sound like we’re really down on the X, but there's actually no disappointment directed towards the console itself, just the missed opportunities which appear to be perfectly within reach. The Xbox games library arguably isn’t as strong as PlayStation’s blow-for-blow or title-by-title, but now we’re starting to see original Xbox games introduced there’s certainly the scope and potential to have something for everyone across all generations of Xbox, so why at launch are we left wanting?
It might sound like we’re really down on the X, but there's no disappointment directed towards the console itself, just the missed opportunities which appear to be within reach.
The strongest examples that the Xbox One X currently has to offer are, really, from third-party games like Wolfenstein, Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins, and the former doesn’t even score the enhancement hat-trick. The first-party offering is frankly poor, with just Super Lucky’s Tale on the new release front and even older titles’ updates still MIA. Halo 5, Forza 7 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are the only saving graces, delivering on spectacle and performance across the board, but it doesn’t feel like Microsoft are doing enough when they’re asking £450 to get involved.
Xbox One X as a machine ticks all the boxes, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. It might be the right time to release a console, but Microsoft have far from given it the strongest start out of the gate. That said, it is an incredible machine, and a lot of what you can currently play is impressive in all the right ways, so, providing the price tag isn’t something that bothers you and you can accept that the enhancement process is very much ongoing, it’s a piece of kit we can still recommend.
A direct sequel to 2013’s The Stick of Truth, South Park: The Fractured but Whole sees players reprise their role as the titular mountain town’s New Kid, only this time, swords and sorcery give way to capes and ridiculous superpowers.
It’s classic South Park stuff - intentionally basic visuals and all - packed with the sort of crude humour, plot twists and biting satire that fans of the show know and love.
Battles in Fractured still follow the turn-based structure found in The Stick of Truth, but now offer players (and enemies) greater tactical freedom by allowing them to move around the battlefield on a grid. Rather than simply queuing up and kicking lumps out of each other, it’s now possible - with enough careful planning and the right mix of heroes - to surround and outmanoeuvre enemies, or even dodge their ranged attacks.
This new freedom is put to particularly good use in boss battles, creating some memorable fights. Highlights include outrunning an obese stripper and her one-hit-kill crush attack, simultaneously clearing a path through her minions, and a showdown with a sober Towlie, who’s immune to your attacks and instead must be pacified by igniting cannabis stores placed around the arena.
A range of QTEs crop up both when dealing out and defending against damage to boost outgoing or mitigate incoming punishment, as well as helping to build a meter that, once full, unleashes an over-the-top special attack that’s equally entertaining and devastating.
Before a fight, players can tactically select up to three other members of Coon and Friends to battle alongside them, providing you’ve already unlocked them as a buddy and aren’t on a mission that requires a specific set of characters. Finding the right team may take a bit of trial and error, as there are quite a few options to choose from, but most people should be able to assemble a preferred combination that compliments their play style nicely.
Some of your allies also have powers that can be used outside of combat to reach secret areas hidden around South Park. As an example, you can activate the Human Kite’s flying ability wherever you see a pinwheel, allowing you to reach previously inaccessible areas and rewards, such as new hero costumes and Artefacts (the latter enhancing passive powers and boosting your Might, which makes missions easier). It’s something that helps stop mundanity creeping in as you track your way back and forth across the limited reaches of the town, but, luckily, Jimmy returns to offer another fast travel option that makes things easier on that front.
The Fractured but Whole was always going to be packed with comedy gold, but buried underneath all the fart jokes and political incorrectness is an engrossing and hugely enjoyable strategy RPG.
Although you’re cast as the Amazing Butthole, whose legendary flatulence can be used to interrupt enemy attacks and even bend time, players are able to customise their avatar both visually and on a deeper level, specifically across hero classes and a range of abilities spread between brawler, speed and support archetypes. As you make progress more and more classes begin to open up, and you’re free to combine multiple, though you still only ever have four ability slots no matter how many you’re rocking, not counting your special attack.
It’s worth noting that you’re never locked into a choice, as you’re able to visit Cartman in Coon and Friends’ headquarters to switch out classes should you have a change of heart or just want to experiment with everything that’s on offer.
The Fractured but Whole was always going to be a faithful title packed with comedy gold, which is, to be fair, probably the main appeal for many, but it was surprising (maybe because I didn’t play The Stick of Truth) to find that buried underneath all the fart jokes and political incorrectness is an engrossing and hugely enjoyable strategy RPG.
Terrorism isn't something you usually associate with World War 2. There's some rose-tinted impression that war was 'proper’ back then, that there were rules and black and white interpretations of good and evil. Now I'm not about to suggest the Nazis weren't evil - however you interpret history that seems quite clear - but it's easy to forget many of those fighting for Germany weren't part of that regime.
New Colossus’ feel might be familiar, but everything about the game's presentation is more polished, with lighting effects being particularly striking, as dynamic light rays fall on you through a slowly turning fan in an air vent.
Brutality is no stranger either, as you merrily hack both legs from Nazis with a hatchet in some of the most gruesome and unsubtle stealth kills you're likely to have come across. Of course, this isn't a game from which you'd necessarily expect subtlety, but when you’re trying to get away with a stealthy approach there is a touch of finesse, à la Dishonored.
Sneaking up on enemies in general can be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes they can be overly sensitive to a bit of lurking about, catching sight of you from hundreds of yards away, but other times you can manage to creep right up to an alarm-wielding Commander and go unnoticed in messily dispatching them mere metres from two conversing soldiers.
Once you’re discovered, the music will amp up and you have little choice than to pull out the satisfyingly punchy big guns (a fact expertly pondered by RockPaperShotgun). Fortunately, the autosave system, and the ability to manually save at any time, makes most encounters fairly forgiving, though of the game's seven difficulty levels (six of which are accessible from the word go) even the second or third will prove challenging for most players.
Wolfenstein proudly flies the flag for the singleplayer game and really shines in its storytelling, not only deliberately limiting the player character, but presenting its story with a gripping, cinematic presentation that anchors you in Blazkowicz's shoes.
Wolfenstein proudly flies the flag for the singleplayer game and really shines in its storytelling.
Whether this is a game for you largely depends on your approach to first-person shooters. With no multiplayer to break up your play sessions, journeying through the campaign could feel overwhelming, but thankfully the levels are broken up in such a way that you can take a breather fairly frequently, providing you can unhook yourself from the adrenaline-filled saga.
While the trailers may present a balls-to-the-wall, showy action thriller, the reality is far more expertly balanced. Juxtaposing stressful, intense situations in the present with disturbing imagery from the past packs more of a punch than an over-the-top explosion ever could, and it's here we see the best that the game has to offer.
Unfortunately, and somewhat in character for Bethesda, we did experience some technical issues like the odd missing texture, getting stuck in a wall, or being unable to mantle over a fence with no real reason.
There's not a lot of weapon variety either, aside from the fun and definitely OTT heavy weapons, but this is more a symptom of the time than a real criticism.
As a whole, The New Colossus delves deeper into its conflict than the series has prior, but perhaps not by much, as it’s also a definite continuation of what's come before. While not a huge departure, you should at least feel that it isn’t just more of the same.
In truth though, in a time when games are drowning in complexity, loot boxes and systems upon systems (Shadow of War), it's refreshing to be able to enjoy a game as pure and unapologetic as this. MachineGames and Bethesda know what they’re doing by now and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a refinement, if not perfection, of its already outstanding predecessors that anyone who can stomach its world should definitely afford some time.
After breaking away from the annual release cycle last year to put a mediocre film out instead, Assassin’s Creed Origins sees the series triumphantly return with a sequel-come-prequel that cures the rot which had begun to take hold.
From bustling cities, to barren deserts and the Great Pyramid of Giza, environments are intricately detailed and authentic.
Though you’re free to tackle quests in the order of your choosing, if you’re under the recommended character level it’s a good idea to leave them well alone. Their inflated difficulty serves as a gating mechanic to control when you can viably go where, ensuring players aren’t immediately overwhelmed, but also providing motivation to keep gathering experience points and expanding your horizon.
A variety of weapons - each with their own rarity, statistics and status effects - are steadily pumped into your inventory as rewards and need to be swapped out or upgraded regularly. Upgrading weapons simply requires you to pay a blacksmith, though to improve the rest of your gear you’ll need to go hunting or intercept shipments and use the gathered resources to craft their betters.
You’ll put everything to use in the new and improved combat system, which is more satisfying than ever. No longer do enemies take it in turns to attack, letting you counter kill them one by one, but they flank and/or fire arrows as you’re actively engaged in combat. Encounters don’t look nearly as fluently choreographed as a result, but they’re far more compelling.
If you’re familiar with the Souls series or Breath of the Wild you’ll feel right at home with the new mechanics, which, in very similar fashion, see you lock on and avoid incoming attacks in anticipation of a window to launch a light or heavy counter attack. Though it’s more weighty and deliberate, especially when considering the pros and cons of different weapon classes, you can get away with button bashing for the most part.
Certain types of bows can be seamlessly integrated into melee bouts, while others are better served for stealth, but all of them shed the slight feeling of ineptitude ranged weapons have carried in Assassin’s Creed previously. It’s always been far preferable to take enemies on at close range, but Origins changes that, with a headshot being just as quick and deadly as your hidden blade.
Speaking of, stealth has seen a few small tweaks as well. Similar to Metal Gear Solid V you get a brief window of slow motion in which to eliminate an enemy after being spotted, plus you’ll now scout areas from a bird’s eye perspective as Senu, your eagle. Replacing Eagle Vision with a literal eagle’s vision is a better contextual fit and eliminates any ugly screen filters, all while offering up an animal companion to bond with. If Senu strays too far, however, you’ll often need to sit through a loading screen when you warp back to Bayek, which can be off-putting.
Covert infiltrations can also be made easier by utilising the dynamic day/night cycle to your advantage, as many guards retire to bed at night, generally making patrols lighter. An ability can be purchased from the skill tree that lets you change the time of day at will, while you can also unlock a range of familiar tools like poison darts and smoke bombs to further bolster your arsenal.
Combat encounters don’t look nearly as fluently choreographed as before, but they’re far more compelling.
All of the items and abilities available through the skill tree are tempting in their own right, pulling you in every direction and prompting careful consideration for how to invest your attribute points, as the best role-playing games do. Getting all of the abilities you have your eye on will take a while, which is good for longevity, though can feel ever so slightly like you’re being pointed towards Origins’ microtransactions when the game gently reminds you about its storefront.
That said, the implementation is nowhere near as egregious as some recent examples, and you’re given 200 of the premium currency for free. There are loot boxes, but they’re bought with in-game money, plus choosing to complete a daily online quest essentially awards one for free.
While Origins is the best Assassin’s Creed since Black Flag - also maintaining that game’s excellent naval combat - we’d have liked to see more polish from a title that spent twice as long in development. Glitchy animations, clipping, pathing issues and freezes are a few examples of problem we shouldn’t be seeing. While those are here to stay without a patch from Ubisoft, the impending release of the Xbox One X should at least help cut the lengthy loading times down whilst polishing the already shiny visuals.
In spite of the issues it preserves, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a successful soft reboot that comes just in time for the series’ 10th anniversary, modernising the Brotherhood’s adventures by taking inspiration from recent greats like The Witcher 3 and Destiny. It’s very easy to lose hours at a time to Origins’ improved combat and stealth systems, not to mention the wonderful setting, motivated by the developed RPG mechanics and a soundtrack with a touch of whimsy. Here’s hoping Ubisoft keep building on this foundation instead of running the new look Assassin’s Creed into the ground.
There's undoubtedly something special about a series which can recycle the same exact main plot thread over and over again while remaining charming, fresh and popular. Perhaps it's some sort of hypnotic magic cooked up by Nintendo, but every time you start a Mario title and Peach is whisked away you merely roll your eyes and think “Oh Peach, here we go again…”
However difficult the Power Moon you’re currently targeting might prove to be, the game barely penalises you for making mistakes, each death only costing you a measly ten coins and popping you back to a recent checkpoint. Mario has three pie segments of life that can be topped up with hearts, or doubled ahead of most boss fights, with these encounters being a fun and rewarding part of the game.
A relaxed approach to failure is an important design choice, making it feel like you’re always progressing and having fun. It also makes this iteration one of the most accessible Mario titles to date, possibly excluding his recent team up with the Rabbids.
The Odyssey itself - the hat-shaped ship you may have spotted in the trailers - is a charming, yet functional, device which marks your progress through the game satisfyingly.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could want from a Mario title, and will no doubt go down in history as one of the best in a superlative series.
Previously, in Sunshine for example, you might have needed to load up one of six or seven iterations of a level to gain access to all of its treasures, but here levels gradually unfurl as you collect their Multi-Moons (which are what they sound like) and/or significant Moons with cutscenes pointing you towards them. This makes progression feel natural, and rarely did we come up against a Moon we couldn't get to yet, which is a relief for completionists.
Levels themselves are intricately designed, offering variety emphasised by whatever local lifeforms are pottering about for you to possess. Not only do levels play brilliantly, but they also look stunning and run without a hitch in either of the Switch’s configurations.
Neat touches and charming moments are everywhere here, whether it's the sight of a huge, cartoonish slab of meat twitching as you try to get a hungry bird’s attention, or the 2D sections which have Mario return to his pixelated roots after heading through a warp pipe.
The trip to New Donk City, the New York-themed location most flaunted in Nintendo’s marketing of the game, is charming and doesn't outstay it's welcome despite us having already seen so much of it. A particular highlight is the snowy world, which is inhabited by cuddly polar bears shaped like Pokémon's Spheal - they even have their own Mario Kart-esque mini game.
Odyssey’s soundtrack is suitably upbeat, with a jazzy feel that fits the aesthetic perfectly, though an original song towards the end does stick out a little, while still raising a smile.
In terms of negatives, there are but an insignificant few. Stacking goombas is a treat when it works properly, but it's inconsistent as to when you've successfully jumped on one of your pals or not quite done enough and end up taking damage. The biggest irritation is that Mario's stylish costumes, featuring everything from a snowsuit to a samurai outfit, generally require a level-specific second currency to purchase.
While it might not sound like a big deal, this means that by the time you've naturally come across enough you’re generally ready to move on to the next level. As a result, there’s little to no time to enjoy playing an explorer in the jungle level, for example, instead you end up with an odd mixture of chef's hat and snow gear as you reach a cutscene that’s robbed of any drama as a result.
Of course, it's all in aid of fun and entertainment. This game is silly (it's about hat ghosts, after all) and absolutely more wonderful for it. Rarely is it convenient to play a game relentlessly with the many inconveniences of life getting in the way, but the Switch’s unique form factor combined with Odyssey’s moreishness make playing when and wherever effortless.
Super Mario Odyssey is everything you could want from a Mario title, and will no doubt go down in history as one of the best in a superlative series. If you own a Switch then this is an essential purchase; one packed with hours of enjoyment, even after Bowser (spoiler alert if you’ve been living under a rock your whole life...) is eventually defeated.
The tough-old-bugger’s game of Rugger Union has never really received the video game it deserves. With that in mind, Bigben Interactive (Rugby 15, Rugby World Cup 15) step forward for their latest attempt at righting that wrong, with the outrageously titled Rugby 18.
Scrums droop from a complete lack of antagonistic weight, too. The bind, set, engage motions are performed with the sticks or triggers, and then it’s up to you to line up a reticule with a side-to-side shifting semi-circle to drive your players forward. In principle this system could work, but it sorely lacks the guts required of the sport’s true test of strength.
Mauls can feel great when you push towards the line and touchdown for a try, but just like the scrummages, you never truly get the impression that you’re in a battle. The lack of feedback in the controller across all of the aforementioned is a truly odd omission too, especially when you consider how combative a sport rugby is.
Tackling is perhaps the worst offender of them all though, with players often launching themselves in the opposite direction of the action, resulting in you losing ground, or conceding a try easily. The game also seems to decide on a whim when to activate a high tackle or mistake; it never really felt like our bad timing or placement was the reason behind it. A button especially mapped to serve as the “aggression” tackle could have helped to balance these injustices, and probably would’ve pushed the fun meter up, too.
Special mention must go to the wonderfully jumbled, constantly-behind-the-action commentary from Nick Mullins and Ben Kay.
It won’t come as any surprise to hear that the visuals and audio on offer grade from average down to abysmal, either. Menus are serviceably basic, but the in-game player models and pitch look absolutely ancient when stacked alongside the recently released Rugby League Live 4, not to mention the Madden’s and FIFA’s of this world. The visuals take an especially large dip in the jumpy, jittery, cauliflower-ear-ugly replays, too.
Special mention must go to the wonderfully jumbled, constantly-behind-the-action commentary from Nick Mullins and Ben Kay. It’s one thing for every other sentence to be fused with differing amounts of expression and enthusiasm, but Rugby 18 manages to take aural-description to new levels, with each word sounding as if it was recorded in different parts of the world, with swiftly swaying adjustments to phrasing. It is unabashedly heinous, but by jove is it hilarious to drink in.
Modes are on the stingy side as well, sadly. There’s quick match in local and online flavours, league mode - potentially fun once you put the gameplay atrocities to one side - career and my squad. The latter two are Rugby 18’s attempt to do an EA Sports; you’re tasked with building a team from scratch, with the former providing some depth as you climb the divisions, and the latter providing none as you are limited to just quick matches, with no divisional structure or merriment.
So, as the hooter sounds for the end of the match, we can’t help but feel dejected. There are some reasonable crumbs hiding amongst the rubbish, with many licensed club and international teams, a weekly challenge mode, an excellent quiz mini-game in the loading screens, and reasonably girthy league and career modes, but the frequently dross gameplay takes hold early on, snuffing out enjoyment any time you catch a faint whiff of it. With that in mind, folks, take our word for it: punt Rugby 18 into touch.
When the original Destiny was announced, expectations were high. Activision was keen to lay out the legacy of their and Bungie’s project for the next decade, before anyone had even decrypted a single engram. Now, four years in, the franchise has established itself and Destiny 2 launches not only on console, but also on PC. Is the sequel a fresh new chapter in this saga, or just more of the same?
Bungie’s mastery over gunplay remains on point.
You still do your slaying as one of three character classes, but the choice doesn’t slam shut as many doors as you might expect in terms of playstyle and items. There are subclasses too, meaning you can work your way towards a character who has perks to match how you enjoy playing the game. As there are only 20 levels to progress through before it all becomes about your Light level - boosted by acquiring better equipment, as in the first game - the skill tree is deliberately basic, which serves to keep things straightforward and accessible for new players.
Jumping into the world of Destiny at this stage could be intimidating - all that lore and story to catch up on, right? In fact, other than a nice touch which sees your Guardian’s past exploits recounted over a series of splash screens at the beginning of the game, complete with dates and who you completed missions with, the original feels like a non-essential prologue.
Playing alone is all well and good, though you’re still very much encouraged to venture online with friends. When it comes to Raids, however, that’s absolutely required. These major set pieces see you team up in order to tackle the most devious puzzles and gargantuan enemies Destiny 2 has to offer; they’re the pinnacle of the Destiny experience, though barriers to entry mean you won’t get to enjoy them until you’ve been playing for a while.
It’s at least a testament to the game’s flexibility that it can feel like you’ve had a substantial gameplay experience from the campaign alone, leaving it up to the player whether or not they engage with the endgame content. There’s a lot of depth to explore if you do choose to stick around, not least in gathering the coveted Exotic items and upgrades, which are outstanding weapons and armour pieces that can only be equipped sparingly. You’ll likely want to kit yourself out with these before getting competitive in the enjoyable PvP modes.
It can feel like you’ve had a substantial gameplay experience from the campaign alone, leaving it up to the player whether or not they engage with the endgame content.
Now that the initial hype for the game has slightly died down (and on that note, sorry for the delay), Destiny 2 is free to impress you on its own merits, holding your outstretched hand considerately, but firmly, to pull you into a world which asks as much as you’re willing to give.
If this is a game you’ll play for the odd hour, then there’s an excellent campaign to enjoy in its own right, but if you’ll be sinking hours at a time for the foreseeable future, that will work just as well. One side effect of this is that it’s difficult to feel that you’ve experienced everything the game has to offer, whichever camp you’re in, but more content is good content when it comes to the Destiny framework.
In the end, if you have any attachment to RPGs, MMOs, or, most specifically, FPS games, you’ll definitely find something to latch onto and enjoy in Destiny 2. Beyond that base level of pure enjoyment, the rest is up to you; if you give the game the chance, there’s far more substance here than you might first assume, presented more beautifully than ever before.
A remaster of Rogue Trooper, Rebellion’s 2006 shooter based on the 2000 AD comic of the same name, Redux brings the visuals right up to date, but how has the passing of eleven years and two console generations come to impact the gameplay?
The in-game encyclopaedia reveals that so much more could have been done narratively, with a lineage of engaging comic book lore to draw from.
Linear levels offer a decent amount of elbow room, which, combined with your range of weapons and abilities, allows for some freedom of approach. A fairly robust stealth system can see you equip a silencer and snipe distant targets, then make use of cover to sneak in and mop the stragglers up with melee kills; whereas running in guns blazing from the hip, lobbing explosives every which way, is just as valid an option, thanks to a forgiving level of difficulty and AI that obviously graduated from stormtrooper academy. As ever, perhaps the most entertaining approach is a hybrid of the two, for example, deploying your rifle as a stationary turret before using a holographic decoy to lure enemies into the trap, then slipping away courtesy of your manufactured distraction. However you might choose to play, being able to craft generous amounts of resources with gathered salvage ensures you can keep stock of your favourite ammo types and continue to enjoy the game as you see fit.
Back in its day this was pretty innovative design, which has helped Rogue Trooper preemptively ensure its gameplay is still satisfying today, meeting modern standards and even being reminiscent of a more rudimentary Sniper Elite 4.
Some sharp visual upgrades and a solid technical performance, outside of a rare few hitches, help to modernise the areas that haven’t aged as well. That said, mod cons like a weapon wheel, sprint function, and the ability to shoulder swap would have been very welcome additions. A toggleable cover option would have helped in countering the sometimes overzealous automatic system, whilst we’d have also liked to disable assisted aiming, regardless of its significance to the character. Implementing these simple quality of life tweaks could have elevated the experience on the whole.
Innovative design helped Rogue Trooper preemptively ensure its gameplay is still satisfying today.
The campaign likely won’t see you past the six hour mark, cutting off before the samey string of levels start to take their toll, meaning it falls to the multiplayer suite to hold your attention in the long term. Unfortunately, it most likely won’t. There’s no competitive play on offer, just co-op, and only two modes with a sparse few maps between them. Progressive tasks players with completing an objective before the team’s shared pool of lives runs dry, while Stronghold is a horde mode in which you’ll need to survive for the allotted timespan. There are three instances of the former and two of the latter, which are also playable solo, but getting through everything either on your lonesome or with friends won’t take long at all. When you also factor in the barren matchmaking and an ill-considered achievement for killing a teammate, leading to shots in the back, the online offering becomes somewhat throwaway.
Rogue Trooper Redux’s budget price point helps to offset the relative content drought, though what’s here is good ol’ fashioned fun that, for the most part, feels current, rather than dated. Having laid the groundwork for a sequel eleven long years ago, Redux feels like Rebellion testing the waters to see if there’s justification to finally make good on a second trip to Nu-Earth, which in itself is reason to support this remaster, as that could be something special.
Developer Ninja Theory promised that Hellblade would bring about the resurrection of the independently made AAA game, and after fighting through the darkness, demons and sheer audiovisual trickery on offer in Senua’s Sacrifice, we can’t help but praise their achievement.
Perhaps the best example of this comes early on, in the excellent Valravyn’s Keep section. To reach the winged bossman himself you’ll have to gaze upon his landscape through special gates. Look and walk through it one way to visit previously hidden areas, complete the vital tasks therein and head back through the same gate to see the landscape in its initial form. This is one of the many fabulous visual tricks on show in the game, that really help to further place you in Senua’s mindset, making you question your own sanity.
The combat is, as you might expect from a developer with a rich pedigree in the area, crunchy, satisfying, and, in this instance, wonderfully rhythmic. The controls are easy and intuitive too: one button each for a light, speedy attack, a heavy, sluggish attack, a guard and an evade move.
Timing really plays a part here, in a way that reminded us of the Guardian battles in Breath of the Wild, or the more obscure 3DS game Hana Samurai. Block at the right moment and the game slows down, leaving you time to counterattack. Good timing also allows you to use your focus (right trigger), which not only slows down enemies, but also unmasks those blighters hiding in the shadows. It would be an understatement to say we enjoyed the fighting in Hellblade, especially once we gained the ultra-powerful, aqua-glowing Gamr sword.
Undoubtedly though, the stars of the show here are the visuals, binaural sound design, and wonderful motion captured performances from the cast. We found it impossible to rush through the game, as every so often there’s a massive change in location or style that prompts pause to take it in. The lighting really is a dream, swaying both the player’s and Senua’s mood on a whim. It’s hard not to be in awe when darkness and depravity swiftly melt into glorious sunshine, vibrant fauna, soaring mountains or crashing oceans. Personally, I’d go as far as to say that this is the most effective use of lighting I’ve seen in a video game.
You can’t underestimate how effective it is when Senua’s inner voices blend and swish around the headphones, helping you to understand what it must be like for someone suffering from psychosis.
Cast performances have been gloriously rendered, really showcasing the gravitas of the story. Melina Juergens shines in her acting debut, her gutteral screams, whispers of confusion and range of facial expressions perfectly portraying Senua’s fragile state of mind. Elsewhere, a special mention must go to Nicholas Boulton, the man behind Druth, Senua’s rather vocal friend. Druth gives Senua advice along the way, and also regales the player with tales of Sigurd, Ragnarok and the Norse Gods every time you find one of the rune stones scattered across the gameworld. His voice is Scottish wonder, and we miss hearing his tuneful expression now we’ve completed the game.
Binaural (3D stereo) sound employed during the course of the game is yet another watermark in quality. You can’t underestimate how effective it is when Senua’s inner voices blend and swish around the headphones, going some way in helping you to understand what it must be like for someone suffering from psychosis. For us, that really makes the difference, placing Hellblade as the formative game to tackle mental health.
Hellblade’s brooding, intense music also gets a nod from us. The way the intensity rises and plummets, and combines with the visual trickery, is just pure magic. Unfortunately, the mood is spoiled at the end of the game with an absolutely mediocre, out-of-place stinker from band HNV Nation, though.
As fantastic as the game is, there are still a few issues that prevent it reaching heavenly greatness. We found certain objectives - such as the repeating perspective-based rune puzzles - became a tad repetitive as we reached the conclusion of the story. This is a real shame, as the concept itself is fantastic - another puzzle type in the mix would’ve prevented this fatigue.
Battles towards the end can also feel rather unbalanced, especially the fight against the hell beast Fenrir, and the bridge scrap against the Northmen. The former takes the lighting trickery one step too far, plunging you into a darkness so black that only the rumble from your controller can provide clues to his whereabouts. In principle this is genius, but it just doesn’t quite work out. The latter drops you on a bridge far too gaunt for the amount of sword-wielding bastards on it, resulting in many unfair deaths. It’s a real shame then that these two slobberknockers rely on cheap tricks to ramp up the difficulty.
So, as we reflect on our journey through Hellheim and Senua’s mind, we can’t help but be hugely impressed with what Ninja Theory have achieved. The stunning performances, visuals, binaural sound design and all ‘round trickery carry a brave story about mental illness and mythology unlike any other game before it. It may be on the short side, and lacking in replayability, but it’s an independent AAA production at a budget price, and an experience so effective and involving that we implore you to go and check it out for yourself.