In the world of comic books, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. The sheer amount of films on the cards over the next five years is almost enough to make you want to claw out your eyes with a batarang in disbelief, and, over the last few years in particular, the Lego games have been going a similar way.
This problem crops up again as you start to take control of other characters. Taking control of Superman in the second game was immediately paid off with a spurring flourish of John William’s iconic score. Thankfully this remains, but as well as Superman, Wonder Woman’s theme from the famed 1975 TV series, which, despite its novel sound raising a smile, becomes irritating about the third time Wonder Woman starts flying.
More modern TV series and DC properties which have made their mark pop into the game, but mostly in the story’s closing credits (and some inevitable DLC), without any explanation of context - not to mention that there’s not enough of them to fill each section, meaning you must sit through each exchange between the likes of The Arrow and original Batman Adam West several times over.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this game isn’t fun though. Gameplay is as tight as it has been for any game in the series, and the narrative is just the right balance of humour and intrigue to keep you playing, while some of the new environments discovered when you visit the various Lanterns’ coloured homeworld in particular really raise the bar for the variety shown in the series.
Unfortunately this isn’t enough to stop you feeling that the puzzles seem a little undercooked, even for newcomers to the series, and the extending of suits - previously restricted to Batman and Robin - to other characters quickly makes them seem pointless, and you’re left constantly flicking through trying to remember which one is which as they all look different on different characters. To Travellers Tales’ credit though, some of the little touches they have brought in really help to bring the characters personalities across by fancy threads alone (The Joker’s explosive jack-in-the-box and Cyborg’s washing machine being particular highlights).
...multiple hub locations not only makes it difficult to remember where things are, but also no area really feels like a home...
The hub menu for this game feels like something of a step back from Lego Batman 2 as it loses its open world in favour of a series of hubs connected by portals, including the Watchtower, the Hall of Justice and the Bat Cave. Sadly these multiple hub locations not only makes it difficult to remember where things are, but also no area really feels like home, making it less compelling to just amble about and discover side quests and secrets hidden here, there and everywhere.
Completing the game doesn’t give as much satisfaction as it should, since completing the actual story is only a small percentage of the game overall, thanks to the ever-increasing slew of collectables.
Batman might have a gadget ready for any occasion, but this game is the utility belt-equivalent of a Swiss army knife with 17 different types of spoon - useful, but there’s plenty of it you feel like you’ll never need.
Have you ever thought of your mother as being manipulative? Has she ever pointed out how much it costs to raise a child? Complained about how much she gave up in order to have you when you don’t visit enough? Used her dying wish to plunge you into a civil war in a third world dictatorship?
Kyrat itself is beautifully created, full of stunning views, amazing locations and its own fully formed religion and history. It’s also packed with things to do and, very quickly, the map will start to fill up with the wide variety of activities we’ve all come to expect from an Ubisoft game ranging from liberating enemy compounds, climbing seemingly endless towers to uncover more of the map (and more activities) or hunting various rare animals to virtual extinction. This is in addition to the main story and side quests doled out by a range of characters.
So packed is the map that you’ll often find yourself finishing a particular mission only to find yourself immediately, and accidentally, caught up in another side mission to help the locals fight against wild animals or other random activities. The main story missions are possibly the weakest part of the game but the majority of the side activities are incredibly addictive and the side quests, such as helping two backpackers with Dick Van Dyke cockney accents test their latest drug recipes, are entertaining enough that it’s very easy to quickly lose track of time and play for longer than you expect.
After his opening introduction, Pagan Min barely appears in the game, relegated to just a voice on a radio and thus becomes too distant a threat to care about...
However, it’s the sheer denseness of the activities that hides the fact that Ubisoft are manipulating you just as much as Mrs Ghale is her son. In the same way as Ajay you’ll get swept up in the constant flow of activities without ever being given time to think and, as a result, you’ll be half-way through before you realise that FarCry 4 suffers the same problem as most of Ubisoft’s games since the launch of the new generation: Ubisoft are possibly second to none when it comes to creating amazing worlds and interesting settings but seem to have lost the skill of telling a compelling story once you get there.
As annoying as FarCry 3’s extreme sports loving rich kid Jason Brody was you never doubted why he did what he did. He wanted to save his friends and as the game progressed you were left in little doubt as to the humanity he sacrificed to achieve that goal. By contrast Ajay Ghale, despite having a more sensible reason to be there in the first place, lacks motivation. After his opening introduction Pagan Min barely appears in the game, relegated to just a voice on a radio and thus becomes too distant a threat to really care about.
After early promise of a culture clash between the Americanised lead, who thinks of himself as AJ Gale rather than Ajay Ghale, and the country he came from it’s never touched on again and indeed Ajay never really seems to connect with or care much about his heritage or homeland. Both leaders of the Golden Path are in their own ways as bad as the man they are fighting and neither seems to connect with Ajay on any level where you can understand why he would risk his life one way or the other to support them.
Throughout the game he remains a cypher with no real personality or character progression and his sole motivation is apparently to liberate the north of the country in order to reach his mother’s home and scatter her ashes, an objective undercut by the fact Pagan Min is quite happy for you to scatter her ashes and even offers you a lift at the start of the game.
What made FarCry 3 so compelling was Vaas holding a mirror up to the player and demonstrating what you were becoming, but whilst Troy Baker does his usual great job voicing Pagan Min he just doesn’t have the material to work with and you never fully develop the same connection. Picking off Min’s lieutenants as you progress is similarly badly handled and much like the Templars in Assassin’s Creed Unity they are introduced too shortly before your final show down with each of them for them to ever really develop much more personality than the faceless guards you kill in order to reach them.
There aren’t too many games where you can go from helping the CIA with an assassination, to reliving the mythical origin story of a country, to running around tripping on LSD in the space of an hour’s play time; and that wide range of activities means that even if there’s something you don’t enjoy you’ve got plenty of other things to do.
FarCry 4 is a lot of fun, whether you’re tossing wild animal bait into an enemy stronghold and watching guards get eaten by tigers or riding an elephant and over turning jeeps in order to hijack a convoy, but in the end it’s a game that doesn’t have an awful lot to drive it on and as a result ultimately outstays its welcome.
It’s no secret that a lot of people have a lot of love for the Star Wars franchise (in fact I’ve riffed, optimistically, on the subject), and so from the word go, developer DICE had their work cut out for them.
The benefit of this is that there is a very level playing field whenever you jump into a game: other players may have better Star Card unlocks, or equipped buffs known as Traits - which give bonuses for consistent performance at higher levels - but largely you know what you’re letting yourself in for.
...It’s obvious the folks at DICE are big fans of the series
As soon as you jump into the world that Star Wars feeling hits you like a trusty blaster-butt to the face. The sound effects and music fit down to a T, and every level is visually stunning - particularly the lush forest areas of Endor. There’s plenty of detail in the levels as well, with references to specific moments in the films dotted about, so much so that you’ll occasionally find yourself stopping mid-battle to explore. It’s obvious the folks at DICE are big fans of the series and their dedication to the source material pays dividends.
The maps themselves span four different planets, all with a different visual style and feel to them. Some maps work more than others - such is the case in pretty much any game’s multiplayer mode - but there are definitely more hits than misses. There’s also more to come, of course, with The Battle of Jakuu DLC free to all players from December, the promise of more free DLC and an extensive season pass. Since that’s all still to come though, it unfortunately doesn’t earn the release game any points.
Gameplay is straightforward and responsive, feeling particularly easy to pick up for those familiar with the Battlefield series, for which DICE and EA are also responsible. The majority of time in most modes is spent on foot as ground infantry, fighting for either the Rebel Alliance or the Empire.
While the modes do offer variety, even the objective-based modes often descend into a chaotically messy death match at times. The stand outs are probably Heroes vs Villains - which pits two teams of six against each other with three heroes (or villains, obviously) on each team as you race to win five rounds - and Fighter Squadron - which may take place in-atmosphere rather than out in the far reaches of space, but gives a great opportunity to relive your Rogue Squadron memories in some of the franchise’s most memorable craft.
Vehicle controls take some getting used to, and finding the balance in modes like Walker Assault (which re-enacts battles like the Empire’s attack on the Rebel base on Hoth) can’t have been easy. All the modes, vehicles, heroes/villains and power-ups blend together in a most balanced fashion to create a lot of gameplay variety and replayability.
Being an online-only game, a lot of the experience relies on the abilities of your teammates, and this can be a difficult thing to rely on in any game, let alone something as universally popular as Star Wars. Thankfully the tactics needed aren’t complex enough to need complicated communication (though some non-verbal commands would go a long way), and you’ll generally be partnered with one player, highlighted on your map, who you can use both to back you up and as a mobile spawn point (think Battlefield’s Squad system).
DICE faced an impossible challenge with this game, and the end result is something which may not surpass everyone’s expectations, but at least delivers a good experience with what it ships in the box. Whether it’s justified to expect so much more money for a season pass worth of content post-release is too hard to call before we’ve seen anything from it.
There’s no denying there is fun to be had here, with locations, characters and more that will bring a smile to the face of anyone who has love for the original trilogy. While there might be less love for the newer films, it’s a shame not to see some of the war machines and locations from the prequel trilogy realised here - even if they opted to leave out some of its less endearing characters… (They had to hold that back for the sequel - Ed.)
It might not offer the depth of Battlefield or any meaningful single-player campaign, but what the game does offer is well put together and makes a strong impression, it’s just a shame there isn’t more to go around. Even if you aren’t an established series fan, the tight gameplay, gorgeous visuals and sumptuous audio make the experience strong enough to stand on its own two feet.
With Star Wars-mania arguably at an all time high, it was clearly the right time to release this game, but you can’t help but feel like if it had been delayed six months we would all had a three course meal instead of a tasty starter and a minimalist main.
The Just Dance series has never been something which should be taken too seriously. Though there are features where you can focus on increasing your fitness level (such as Sweat & Playlist), this is more of a social game to get your friends and family involved with when someone’s birthday, or Christmas come around.
These aspects are great, but there is a lack of information for the player in general when playing the game. There’s no form of tutorial, so you can actually learn the moves, nor is there any way of slowing down the song in order to make sense of what’s going on if you’re new to this type of game.
There’s plenty of modes to strut your stuff to. Dance Party is your standard mode where you pick a song and then are suggested a choice of three to follow it up with, while Showtime requires you to own a PlayStation Camera (or Kinect) and allows you to create your own music video, complete with lip‐syncing to your favourite tracks and sharing them with the masses if you like.
Dance Quest is what can generously be described as the single player mode, which pits you against AI‐controlled dancers and challenges you to beat their score over set songs ‐ sadly you don’t get to see the AI mess up though. Finally Sweat & Playlist is the fitness element, which has more intense versions of the dances and measures how many calories you burn. The Playlist part lets you make your own mix for a set time.
Playing Just Dance with the PlayStation Camera can be a bit of a nightmare when attempting to select songs and you will become frustrated with it quite quickly. On the Xbox One, Ubisoft clearly responded to how awkward navigating by motion control can be and switched it to controller only for this version. Back on PS4, the camera worked fine once we managed to get the song up and running, though the camera sync with the game wasn’t as responsive as we felt it should be.
...It’s a nice break and you will definitely get some giggles, especially with some friends.
A new feature this year is that you can install the Just Dance Controller app onto your mobile device, and control the game that way instead, working in practice like a PlayStation Move controller. This really opens the game up to a much wider audience, since the motion control hype has trickled away (especially on Xbox) and most people own a smartphone. In practice it’s quick, easy, and saves the host rummaging around the house looking for enough controllers for everyone. Up to six players can join the party in this mode as opposed to four.
If you’re taking a breather between songs, you can also check out JD TV. People from all over the world upload their dance videos there, which often entails an enthusiastic young guy flailing about while their significant other sits on the sofa in the background looking unimpressed. It’s a nice break and you will definitely get some giggles, especially with some friends.
One more thing to note is that microtransactions come in the form of a Just Dance Unlimited subscription, which adds an additional 156 songs, including favourites from last year’s version which you may have purchased as DLC (which sadly don’t carry over), and 4 Dance Quests. This is of course optional, though you can try it for free as each copy comes with a one month trial to hook you in.
Despite pointing out a few things that I did not like, if you are someone who enjoys rhythm games or likes to invite a load of friends and family over to your house, then I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of this. It’s a great party game tailored for all ages, which is fun and also gets everyone up and moving. The mobile app feature is just a genius idea.
I have to be honest, I’d never heard of the Slenderman character before playing this game - but rest assured, I’m now well and truly aware of his blank expression and horrifyingly gaunt limbs, they’re the stuff of nightmares!
You’ll also spend plenty of time just plain run away from Slenderman and his screeching, slithering side-kicks. For the most part these encounters are tense and really amp up the menacing atmosphere to leave you quaking in your boots.
The delicate sounds of birdsong swiftly give way to demented footsteps crunching on gravel...
Unfortunately though, the mine level can prove to be a real frustration, especially on the harder difficulty levels. Finding the generators (which spawn in different places every time you die) can be an annoyance when you’re being chased by not only Slendy himself, but by a bloodthirsty ghoul too. The whole concept of Slenderman as a paranormal character will also irritate some, as he can teleport and find you whenever he pleases - if this sounds like something that’ll bother you then stay well away. For everyone else though, the small pain of the mines do give way to a fabulous horror experience.
The art style homes a minimalist blend of murky, somber tones, drawing you into both the story and community of Oakside. Many missions start with the saving grace of daylight, complete with soft wind blowing through the trees, before dropping you into an environment where only flickering lights or your torch can aid your vision; this juxtaposition makes the dark seem all the darker. When Slenderman himself is near, the screen crackles and flashes green - a good sign to run away as fast as you can! It’s all very well done, often playing on your mind and making you see things that aren’t really there.
The exemplary sound and music only heighten this feeling of dread further, with the delicate sounds of birdsong in the daylight sections swiftly giving way to demented footsteps crunching on gravel. Add to this the macabre music, with its selection of synthesisers, pianos, bells, strings and sparse percussion and you have true, unadulterated terror in audio form.
Our only major gripe outside of the mine level is the game’s short play time. Slender: The Arrival can be finished in a couple of hours, and with the only additional content being a remastered version of The Eight Pages, entitled Genesis, alongside a couple of harder difficulty settings, this isn’t the most economic package. Having said that though, what you’re getting is a truly wonderful horror game, one that’ll have you questioning your own judgement and seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there - for that alone Blue Isle and the rest of the team have to be applauded.
Hotline Miami is back with more neon-drenched ultra-violence and mysterious storytelling, but can the sequel match the majesty of the original?
Instead, simply let it wash over you and enjoy the ride, because you won’t be receiving any closure. The final level is glorious, but I have no idea how it was either relevant or meant to wrap things up. Perhaps all will be made clear in the teased sequel.
Playing different characters adds variety to the mix, as they all bring respective play-styles and force you out of your comfort zone. No longer can you simply employ one sole tactic: the soldier can uniquely carry both a gun and a melee weapon, encouraging players to mix things up, while other characters can roll to dodge bullets, deal lethal punches and more. My favourite are the only pairing, Alex & Ash – you control both at once, the frontman wielding a chainsaw and the other watching his back with a pistol. Performing a chainsaw execution and simultaneously shooting approaching enemies dead is endlessly satisfying. The series has had its share of controversies, with the level of gore and violence often coming under fire, so the implementation of the writer character is a masterstroke. His motivation isn’t to kill, but gather information for the book he’s writing on the spate of recent murders. As a result his levels are entirely non-lethal – he never kills anybody and dismantles guns, proving that not violence, but mechanics make the game great.
The game also aims to provoke further questions on violence in media:
“You enjoy hurting people don’t you.”
“It’s just a movie.”
“Is that all it is?”
But it can be hard to take the message seriously when the game rewards you for beating people's heads in with pipes and slitting throats with broken glass – a game that also needlessly features a rape scene, although this can be opted out of. One quote did spring to mind, however, as I played with the volume higher than usual, nodding to the rhythm of the OST and gleefully committing mass murder – “We’re all animals, we enjoy the destruction”.
Developer Dennaton Games were perhaps a little too ambitious with the scale of Hotline Miami 2. As in the original, levels consist of floors on which you must eliminate all enemies to move to the next. Floors are often so challenging and numerous, however, that playing in short bursts – something the original was perfect for – becomes less viable. You lose all floor progress if you don’t complete the level in one sitting, and some levels take around an hour to clear first time through. The size of many floors is also an issue – they’re so big now that you’ll often find yourself getting shot by off-screen enemies, making for cheap, infuriating deaths. In this instance, less would have been more.
...Gameplay is fast and precise, with death serving as a learning experience...
It’s unfortunate, as the vast majority of deaths are well deserved and accepted with open arms. Gameplay is fast and precise, with death serving as a learning experience: you learn enemy placement, how they’re armed, and the best course of action through death. It’s a rare game where you gain rather than lose progress with each death, and respawning is so easy and instantaneous that thinking “one more try” doesn’t even enter the equation – you’re already playing again before you get chance. This does mean learning through repetition, so if you’re opposed to that, Hotline Miami 2 isn’t for you. I literally had hand cramps through repetitive strain at times, but the looping music track and feeling of small and frequent progress had me in an addictive rhythm I couldn’t bring myself to break before the job was done.
Despite a few missteps, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is an easy recommendation for fans of the original - it remains an entrancing and addictive experience, best played with the volume cranked up. I would, however, recommend that newcomers pick up the original at a fraction of the price for a slightly more polished experience.
Have you ever read Philip Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect? It concerns the scenarios and variables that lead to good people carrying out acts of unspeakable evil, something that appears to have afflicted a large portion of the Super Mario Maker community! Get ready to play some of the hardest, most sadistic platforming levels since the NES days. And probably just as likely, prepare to create some truly heinous levels designed to induce baldness in all that play them.
Mario himself looks on decked out in construction attire (try not to think of The Village People)
The course world takes you into the hub of the game, where you can view your own stats - how many times your level has been played, completion percentage, etc. - or delve into one of three options: makers, courses and 100 Mario challenge. The presentation throughout is sublime; soft yellow and blue banners, sky-at-night backdrops, men doing press-ups in the loading screens (oo-er! - Ed.) and the full range of classic music from the series.
Makers is a showcase for all the users creating levels, put into specialist categories such as highest ranked, (you have the option to comment on and “star” every user created level you play) upcoming creator and new user. It’s a really clean way of presenting you with new courses to try, and to be inspired by. Some of the classic Nintendo themed courses created by the community are fantastically nostalgic; from levels based around the Zelda universe (complete with music and Link sprite) to attempts to recreate the original Metroid. Alongside these are auto-pilot levels (don’t press a button, just sit back and watch the show), to head scratching puzzlers and levels overflowing with peril.
Courses is much the same as the above, the difference being that the levels themselves are put into the categories of highest rated, newest etc. This is a great place to start when delving into the user created community, as you can blast through many different levels, with varying play-styles, in a short space of time (providing you can complete them, of course!).
The 100 Mario challenge tasks you with completing as many levels as possible, with your 100 lives. This works in much the same way as the 10 Mario challenge, but with one major difference: the courses you play here are all user created. It’s really good fun for the most part, until you get stuck on a particularly sadistic level - something that has happened to me multiple times already! An especially nice touch here are the credits - the user’s names scroll down in place of the likes of Miyamoto-San!
Now on to the main event: creation. For years, Mario enthusiasts around the globe have prayed to the gaming Gods for a comprehensive level designer - they’ve finally answered the call. Super Mario Maker’s level creation tool is packed with classic enemies, power-ups, blocks and scenery spanning the entire lifetime of the 2D games. These items unlock over a 9 day period, along with a choice of graphical styles - Mario Bros, Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros U - and the ability to add personal touches, like custom audio.
It’s a brilliantly designed tool-kit offering hours upon hours of experimentation and ultimately, great fun.
There are a couple of minor niggles though; you can’t easily search for a friend’s course, instead having to use a rather clumsy 16-digit level code. The code system isn’t great here, as it isn’t with adding friends on Nintendo platforms, but here’s hoping our pleas are heard and any future editions of Maker will feature something all-the-more streamlined. The only other issue was the original lack of checkpoints, though Nintendo have recently addressed this with a patch.
I can’t help but be left with the feeling that if this had been ready in the first year of the Wii U’s lifespan, sales figures might read differently, and that’s a shame. To anyone with a Wii U or thinking of getting one: pick this game up - there are endless hours of fun here that shouldn’t be missed.
Are you a Mario Maker creator? Why not leave your course code in the comments section below, and be sure to check out our Pass The Controller themed level: D327-0000-00A5-DF6C
There’s something a bit depressing about the end of the world, but, on the other hand, if the world is falling around your ears, then you may as well go out with a bang (or several). The latter is very much the mentality behind Sunset Overdrive, one of the killer exclusives Microsoft has bagged for the Xbox One.
In fact the game varies its standard enemies, the OD (or Overcharge Drinkers), quite successfully, keeping things interesting and forcing you to make creative use of its colourful arsenal of weapons.
As one of the developers aptly put in an interview shortly before release, the easiest way to sum up the experience of playing Sunset Overdrive is in one word - momentum. While you could amble about and shoot things, you’d find that you’re struggling to keep on top of the enemies, which spawn randomly across the city as you traverse between missions. The better plan is to bounce, grind and otherwise speed across the map in a fashion closer to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than the complex parkour of Assassin’s Creed. Almost everything can be manipulated in some way to keep you moving, and after just a few key upgrades, which you are gifted as part of the story, you’ll find you can get from A to B without touching the ground.
Insomniac have done well to establish a new IP with a clear sense of identity
Journeying across the city in this way generates style, which is used to earn badges which can then be used to unlock overdrives. With us so far? Overdrives give permanent buffs to things like health, damage-dealing or style-generation, while Amps give your character certain abilities, which you can customise depending on your playstyle. For example, one amp gives your melee attack the chance to create lightning which strikes other enemies whenever you attack, while another creates a shower of fire behind you whenever you grind, dealing damage. Specific weapons can have amps too, to give them a chance to freeze targets for example. To keep all of this up though, you have to keep chaining kills and style together, but it’s not as complex as it seems.
Multiplayer generally comes in the form on the tower defence and Horde mode-inspired Chaos Squad, which sees you setting traps and defending a variety of locations around the city against an ever-increasing variety of OD, and the multiplayer angle adds a fun dimension without really relying on teamwork to succeed. There is also a score attack mode which only the most stylish will excel at, and, in fact, not progressing far enough in the campaign before jumping in can give you a serious disadvantage.
The story stays close to the game’s stereotypical style and is relatively obvious, but the characters you come across are entertaining enough to give a chuckle once in a while. One particularly unfortunate character ends up being trapped for an extended period of time and, instead of grumbling about it, proceeds to chew off his own limbs to keep himself alive, maintaining an unnaturally positive attitude. For an apocalypse though (or an awesome-pocalypse as the game would say), this is probably the most horrific thing which takes place, and even then its all off-screen and done in good humour.
The tone is certainly something which will divide people playing for the first time. It isn’t crude or low brow but it can come across as trying too hard, and if you don’t get the joke you can quickly find yourself judging it for being childish. In terms of gameplay though, the title stands up as one of the most unique, fun and interesting experiences on offer on the console.
Insomniac have done well to establish a new IP with a clear sense of identity, not too far from the release of the system. The fact that the game will remain a true exclusive, being published by Microsoft Studios, makes it, along with stablemate Titanfall a compelling reason to give the console a shot, but whether MS keep hold of the sequel remains to be seen.
Helldivers, Arrowhead Games and Sony’s tactical twin-stick shooter, opens with a cheesy-yet-rousing recruitment broadcast imploring you to sign up and join the Helldivers in their fight to defend “Super Earth” today. Is it worth taking them up, though? Well, yes and no, depending on your situation.
Each Helldiver takes their choice of four “stratagems” into a mission and, you guessed it, they add another strategic layer. Ranging from air strikes to airdrops containing ammo, weapons, vehicles and more, stratagems offer battlefield advantages – but require no less caution in their deployment. If you find yourself under a teammate’s strafing run, in front of your own turret or under any drop-pod, it’s not going to end well for you. Stratagems add something of a tower defence element to Helldivers, only without the luxury of a free-period in which to use them before enemies spawn, and the simplicity of instantly placing defences. Each stratagem requires a different code to be punched into your radio in order to equip it, then it needs to be placed before a further delay occurs as you wait for it to drop. In addition, the action rarely dies down enough for you to formulate considered strategies, deploying stratagems while under friendly and enemy fire. This makes for a more frantic, suspenseful and fun experience than the generic form of tower defence.
It’s a good job it’s frantic, suspenseful and fun, as the game is essentially endless. There’s barely any story, and all players simply fight recurring wars to protect Super Earth against three encroaching alien races – think co-op Planetside 2. Missions are procedurally generated to keep things fresh, although they pull from a small pool of objectives, so despite random sandbox layouts, you’ll be doing the same things within them. Although some wider context would be nice, bypassing a conventional story was ultimately a smart decision: if nobody is ahead of you, you can join any game without worry.
It’s a game that always has you thinking and frantically juggling numerous tasks without the time to complete them all
Variety is injected through tackling the aforementioned alien races. Easiest are the melee-based Bugs, while the heavily weaponised Cyborgs fall somewhere in the middle. The most interesting and difficult of the bunch are the Promethean-esque Illuminate. They’re all fairly bog-standard fare and nothing you haven’t seen before, although the Illuminate can reverse your controls, so it’s always advisable to employ extra caution when facing those. Each race has weaknesses, and the game’s highly customisable and upgradable loadouts come into their own when experimenting and establishing playstyles to best combat them.
Helldivers is a challenging, engaging ride that’ll keep you coming back for more. It’s a game that always has you thinking and frantically juggling numerous tasks without the time to complete them all. It’s best played with friends, although random players generally behave themselves – if you’d rather go solo, however, it’s not a dive you should take.
We were introduced to Dead Island, Techland’s previous first-person zombie basher, with a poignant trailer that seemed to imply focus would be placed upon the human side of the apocalypse.
Descending is a problem (though in fairness nobody has that figured out yet), so good luck getting down safely if there isn’t a pile of rubbish nearby to break your fall in the same fashion as an Assassin’s haystack. There’s no feel of being able to flawlessly and skilfully string moves together – it doesn’t flow.
Yet somewhat bemusingly, the fact I’ve had nothing positive to say so far is by design. These problems begin to dissipate as you play and unlock abilities to combat the issues, before they eventually disappear entirely. It’s not a smooth ride, however, thanks to the levelling system, which tasks you with performing the actions you want to upgrade à la Elder Scrolls. You can’t complete missions and put the experience you gain into improving your parkour skills, you have to endure hours of bad parkour to make it bearable and messily kill hundreds of zombies to become slightly combat proficient. Eventually, I unlocked a grappling hook to zip wherever I wanted to go in an instant and I killed zombies with one satisfying, head-popping blow. I was a badass and I was loving it, but why on earth did I have to endure hour upon hour of tripe to make the game fun? This is the protagonist’s line of work, after all, so there isn’t even a contextual reason for him to begin unskilled.
Conversely, one element of the game gets progressively weaker. When night falls, “volatiles” take to the streets. These faster, more deadly enemies change the entire dynamic of the game, transforming it into a tense, stealthy, survival horror experience. When you’re spotted, heart-pounding chase music kicks in and you flee to reach safety at the nearest hideout or work to shake pursuers. If they catch you, or you try to fight, you’re as good as dead – it’s a terrifying game of cat and mouse. Unfortunately, when you reach Old Town in the second half of the game the map’s verticality makes it incredibly easy to avoid foes, and the darkness no longer holds any horrors.
Dying Light is just Dead Island done slightly better
In addition to volatiles, several other nasties add variety to the enemy arsenal. The Dead Island cast return with exploders and large brutes, accompanied by the equivalent of Left 4 Dead's Spitter, and straight out of Dead Space come mutated children that attract the horde. Human enemies also feature – although you barely realise, as they’re as brain dead as their undead brethren. You’ll often need to equip a gun to counteract their added firepower, which is a shame, as the gunplay is unsatisfying and unresponsive.
The story is typically clichéd and both awfully voiced and written. There’s a possible cure, a fight against time under the threat of the city being levelled and a drug to delay turning when bitten, to name just a few genre tropes. You already know the story because you’ve heard it a million times before – and 900,000 of those are told better. The ending is particularly weak, offering no closure and a QTE final boss.
Missions don’t hold much variety and some are shamelessly ripped straight from Dead Island. Side missions and random encounters often outshine the main quest with quirky characters and interesting self-contained stories, but unfortunately these are mostly tied to typical fetch quests. Quarantine zones and challenges are fun diversions, although challenges ridiculously don’t have a reset option; if you get off to a bad start you have to wait the timer out before being able to restart. There’s such a high volume of missions on offer that the lack of both fast travel and vehicles becomes a real issue. The setting is thoroughly drab, and traipsing back and forth through it holds no joy, so you’ll likely give up long before completing them all. Unless, like me, you’re an avid achievement hunter…
Considering developer Techland parted ways with Deep Silver due to creative differences on where the Dead Island franchise should be taken, I’m not quite sure what couldn’t be agreed upon. Dying Light is just Dead Island done slightly better. It’s highly unoriginal, nicking copiously from numerous games, but if you can stick with it and switch your brain off, there’s some fun to be had here.