Entering a new world when playing a game can be an intimidating experience. There are lots of things to remember - characters, places, abilities - what does it all mean? Some players thrive on delving into the depth and richness of fully embodying a character, getting inside their mind and behaving as they would behave, even imagining they were there themselves.
Something has to be said for the sheer imagination and richness of the world that’s created.
Aside from choosing your gender, aesthetic customisation is non-existent, as the emphasis here is around the character you build, rather than their appearance. That said, you will find some familiar elements if you’ve played other, more mainstream RPGs. There’s a spin on Mass Effect’s Paragon/Renegade system, albeit far more abstract, as certain dialogue choices raise ‘tides’ of certain colours to denote certain types of behaviour. Equally, fans of Dungeons and Dragons, or even Choose Your Own Adventure books, will draw parallels as their character begins to really take shape.
You won’t be alone on your quest - which isn’t to save the world, but more to understand it, and yourself - as you’re quickly joined by a pair of companions who seem completely at odds with one another. Unfortunately, all too quickly you’re asked to choose between the two as their ideologies begin to clash, sadly before you’ve had a real chance to get to know them (especially while you’re still getting to grips with fistfuls of terminology which the game, admittedly, does a good job of naturally introducing quite gradually, but still relentlessly at first).
The reassuring voiceover doesn’t stick around either, as after the initial introduction you’re left to fend for yourself aside from the odd introductory blurb when meeting new characters, or a stray line or two if you leave your party idle too long. It’s a missed opportunity as the initial presentation sets up a certain expectation, a feeling similar to the likes of Bastion or even Borderlands in the realms of reassuring narrators, but all too quickly you’re left alone to what is a fairly quiet game.
It might work for some, but more often than not the harsh clash of starting a conversation or investigating an object cuts through the quiet like a longsword. The fairly minimalist score doesn’t do much to help dispel the atmosphere either, whilst the very occasional ambient sound effect creeps in to complete a setting.
Despite this, something has to be said for the sheer imagination and richness of the world that’s created. Set a billion years in the future, your character explores the Ninth World - supposedly the ninth time the Earth has reached its cultural and technological peak - which has an almost steampunk-like quality and would be at home in an anime or sci-fi dystopian universe. Cities hovering in mid air and airships are commonplace, juxtaposed by more traditional, medieval weapons and sensibilities.
Combat in Torment throws the party into crisis mode, where turn-based battle, the careful use of abilities, flanking and more find their place, but, to be honest, these instances are few and far between - especially if you’re playing the game like it feels it’s intended to be played. Many confrontations which show all the signs of descending into a bloodbath quickly present you with an alternative, in some cases even if you fail your effort rolls (the percentage-based approaches to challenges which stem from Might, Speed and Intellect).
The drawback of this is that any loot you do pick up feels somewhat superfluous, as more often than not your quests involve walking around and talking, rather than making use of your items or skills. Of course, this is part of the intent, as the game encourages you to lose yourself in the tapestry it’s spun for you, and, generally speaking, it succeeds. There are some puzzles and more taxing challenges, which require a bit of real-world memory and lateral thinking to work through, but the generous journal entries will help you stay on track if you do get lost or derailed along the way.
The game encourages you to lose yourself in the tapestry it’s spun for you, and, generally speaking, it succeeds.
There’s a bravery in coming out with a CRPG like Torment in this in this day and age. Conventional wisdom tells us that no one has any time, nobody cares and fails to appreciate both the value and the price of everything. And yet, here’s a title asking you to switch off and step into its own brand of adventure, and at its retail price point it does so in direct competition with some of the most memorable RPGs of recent years.
If you have the time and inclination to devote yourself to Torment: Tides of Numenera, with your imagination as well as your watch, then you won’t be disappointed as there’s an incredible amount of talent and passion packed into every encounter. For many that won’t be enough, and this weird-sounding, obscure game will pass them by, but those about to play through Skyrim for the sixth time with a fancy new mod would do well to look up from the established standard and see what else is out there. They might be pleasantly surprised by what they find.
Sniper Elite 4 - the testicle-popping, World War II-set, third-person shooter - is our favourite kind of stealth game; one that focuses on player empowerment, rather than admonishment. There’s no score that diminishes when you eliminate a non-primary target as a condescending sign that you’re doing it “wrong”, instead potential reprimands present themselves within gameplay and you’re equipped with a toolset to help you overcome them. You’ll still need a patient and methodical approach on anything beyond the easiest difficulty setting, but when things almost inevitably go south you won’t be left with that miserable sinking feeling as every considered movement that got you to that point disappears down the drain.
Sniper Elite 4 is our favourite kind of stealth game; one that focuses on player empowerment, rather than admonishment.
You might not think it from the title, but it’s actually very possible to make good progress without utilising a sniper rifle. The silenced pistol is largely to thank, but it’s also easier to manipulate the AI and utilise the environment to your advantage in a more intimate setting. You might shoot an explosive barrel to distract a group of guards and slip by unnoticed, whistle to lure a straggler into a concealed area and take them out, or throw a rock to have somebody investigate the trap you laid for them. Making the most of every tool at your disposal is immensely rewarding, especially when it’s so easy to settle into a groove in most games.
While this approach places you at greater risk of being caught in the act, there is a leniency to being spotted that helps balance things out. If a Nazi catches sight of you they only become suspicious for a time, which is your opportunity to escape their line of sight, but even if you fail to do so there’s a brief window in which to eliminate the threat before they announce your presence to their comrades. If you don’t quite make the shot you’ll find yourself in open combat, which is undesirable, but not a death sentence thanks to your secondary weapon. If you’re the kind of player that likes to ghost through everything, this is where you can make use of the unlimited manual save system to avoid any frustration.
Optional secondary objectives - which we really recommend completing, they can double the length of a mission - bag you extra experience points to help in the levelling process. You gain a currency token used to purchase new loadout items with each level you gain, while every five levels you’ll also acquire valuable character skills. This character growth paired with the addition of mission-specific challenges on subsequent playthroughs adds a decent amount of replayability to the package.
Though we love the campaign’s mix of gameplay mechanics that evoke both Metal Gear Solid V and Hitman - with an added handful of unique Sniper Elite spice, of course - at some point narrative seems to have fallen by the wayside. We can give Rebellion a pass on the story, there really isn’t much call for motivation when it comes to dismantling the Nazi war machine, but their flat characters and interactions aren’t extended the same virtue. Protagonist Karl Fairburne is a gravely veteran that’s devoid of personality, while the supporting cast are entirely forgettable. Ultimately, it doesn't have much of a negative impact on the experience, but it does feel like a missed opportunity.
The peripheral multiplayer modes aren’t the strongest, either; they’re by no means bad, but they very clearly play second fiddle to the main campaign. We can’t fault the full campaign co-op, but the two dedicated asymmetrical sniper/spotter co-op missions intentionally cripple both players to leave neither role an ideal experience. The dynamic can be good fun with the right partner, but nightmarish with the wrong one.
While we love the campaign’s mix of gameplay mechanics that evoke both Metal Gear Solid V and Hitman, at some point narrative fell by the wayside.
A wave-based survival mode rounds out the cooperative offering, but while it can be intense with a full group of four, there’s such a strong sense of déjà vu that it’s hard to get too excited. It does what it says on the tin.
The competitive side of things is genuinely quite interesting, as it’s such a drastic change of pace when compared to other online shooters. Camping is encouraged, with success hinging on securing a concealed location with good sight lines across the six wide, open maps.
Whilst your bog-standard Deathmatch and Capture modes are in there, Distance King and No Cross stand out from the crowd. You win the former by having the highest combined kill distance, rather than the highest number of kills, while the latter splits teams with an impassable No Man’s Land for pure sniper battles. No Cross is particularly tense and thoughtful, which makes it all the more annoying when a small design flaw spoils things.
With teams coloured red and blue, you’d assume allies would always remain blue and enemies red, but that isn’t the case. If you find yourself on the red team, your teammates are highlighted in red on the minimap and in the game world, which makes them look uncannily evil. In our experience, team killing was prevalent as a result, which is perhaps why the servers aren’t exactly bustling.
Though it’s still very much rough around the edges, considering Rebellion weren’t working with a traditionally “AAA” budget, they’ve done themselves proud with Sniper Elite 4. It’s easily the series’ best entry yet and it’s jam-packed with stuff to do, even if some of it doesn’t quite live up to the high standards set by the campaign. Whether you’re into stealth, sniping, or just like blowing stuff up, this one’s worth a look.
Bridging the gap between 2005’s cult classic Psychonauts and its upcoming sequel Psychonauts 2, Rhombus of Ruin trades platforming for puzzles without forfeiting any of the series’ uniquely psychedelic identity in the process. In fact, thanks to the introduction of PlayStation VR, Psychonauts is more fittingly outlandish than ever.
Environments are some of the most lovingly detailed we’ve seen in VR, while characters are both brilliantly written and performed.
Perspective hopping is a mechanic that’ll likely be familiar to anyone with a few virtual reality games under their belt, but, while it can be immersion-breaking elsewhere, here it’s a perfect fit. What can feel like a design compromise for the sake of comfort is instead used to physically anchor the player in the role of Razputin, who also sits removed from the world around him throughout the duration of the game.
Having become a rescue mission that extends to the entire Psychonauts crew, the retrieval of each member adds them, along with a specific power, back to your collective consciousness. Subsequent puzzles require proper use of these powers, which sounds obvious, but this ensures you have a focused train of thought and helps prevent floundering for any significant length of time on any one puzzle. Unlike previous adventure games from the mind of Tim Schafer, solutions are never bizarre enough that you should need to look them up.
This structure and a lack of padding give Rhombus of Ruin a strong throughline that carried us to the finish in a single sitting. While it only clocked in around the three hour mark, it was all killer and no filler. There’s no immediate replay value outside of some missable Trophies, but it’s definitely one to show VR-curious friends and family.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin reminds us why the original found a place in the heart of so many gamers. Its settings and characters are gorgeously vivacious, with PlayStation VR bringing them to life in ever-more gleeful fashion. Double Fine kept things simple with their playful exploration of scale and perspective, and in the process they captured the essence of fun. Bring on Psychonauts 2!
The Resident Evil series has had almost innumerable ups and downs during its more than two decades on the market, but despite faltering on occasion, Capcom’s willingness to innovate has been nothing short of admirable. The seventh mainline entry continues that trend, taking bold strides in new directions, yet simultaneously bringing the core mantra full circle by serving up horror on an intimate scale.
The decaying mansion is inhabited by the crazed Baker family, who are only too glad to extend their twisted brand of hospitality.
Enhanced by its Beginning Hour and KITCHEN demos, which we now know served as establishing prequels, the Baker compound may well be remembered for years to come in much the same way the Spencer mansion is now. You’ll be intimately familiar with its layout by the end, to the extent that you could probably draw a map from memory.
As you investigate the lavishly detailed residence, the mysterious Zoe Baker reveals herself through a series of guiding phone calls. It’s an uneasy relationship, mostly due to her surname, but she’s never totally explicit and it’s easy to assume she’s holding something back as a result. This air of ambiguity means her tips are never coddling, which is good, because you won’t need more than the occasional hint she offers.
Puzzles, while placed under a brighter spotlight than they have been in recent instalments, are incredibly simple. There aren’t any head-scratchers, just intellect-strokers, which regardless provide necessary moments of respite between unnerving enemy encounters.
The ageing complex doesn’t host shambling hordes of the undead in addition to its leading family, but rather tar-like relatives of Resident Evil 4’s Regenerators - the Moulded. They lose limbs under maintained fire, yet continue to imposingly lumber towards you, sporadically breaking pace to lunge with intimidating intent. Though there are slight variations on the base model, they all quickly become predictable as you learn their behaviours through repeat encounters. This makes them considerably less scary in time (unless they’re introduced with a jump scare), while Normal difficulty sees them fall too easily when you consider it’s the highest challenge available on an initial playthrough.
As you accrue an arsenal ever-increasing in firepower any difficulty is gradually chipped away. While ammunition for these firearms is technically limited, in typical survival horror fashion, the return of the item box makes it incredibly easy to hoard every resource without ever passing anything up. You’ll not go without provided you take the time to journey to and fro to make frequent deposits.
While the interdimensionally-linked item boxes harken back to the innovative 1996 original, it’s in supporting an emerging technology that Resident Evil 7 really innovates. Arguably the first true, committed implementation of virtual reality into a high profile release, it’s also one of the best experiences available on the fledgling platform.
Every element of the game is significantly more impactful when experienced inside the PlayStation VR headset. It places you directly into the world, adopting a dimension intangible on a television screen to seamlessly become totally encompassing. Environments gain an immersive sense of scale and enhanced detail, head-tracked aiming is supremely accurate, and new gameplay opportunities are afforded as you peek around corners and through windows.
Every element of the game is significantly more impactful when experienced inside the PlayStation VR headset.
While it never quite matches the sheer, creeping dread of the VR-exclusive KITCHEN demo (which was to be expected, as Capcom need to cater to all players here), the headset can elevate a spooky situation into one that genuinely paralyses you in a fight-or-flight limbo. You really won’t want to set foot in dark, foreboding corridors; uncomfortably close, even invasive, encounters will require a moment’s pause thereafter to recompose yourself; leaning in with a morbid curiosity to inspect gory details might even turn your stomach.
The addition of 3D audio when connecting a pair of stereo headphones to the PS VR’s integrated processor unit also improves upon the already stellar audio design. The increased spatial acuity helps prevent enemies from sneaking up on you, but hearing tormenting knocks, rattles and bangs from multiple directions around a room is horribly, horribly disconcerting.
It’s seriously intense, and in these moments it’d be easy to call it a night if it weren’t for the incredibly consistent pacing. There’s an engrossing sense of progression that’ll see the desire to power on and discover what comes next prevail - unless you really can’t hack horror.
Motion sickness is a very real concern when it comes to VR, but we didn’t experience a moment of discomfort during twelve hours of play across four marathon sessions. This is due to a couple of things: a wealth of options mean you can customise the experience to fit your personal needs, whilst quality implementation of the technology sees distracting issues like image drifting (which frequently requires you to reposition and/or recalibrate) eradicated. If you’re somebody that opts to turn in set increments, it’s also a somewhat fitting return to the series’ tank-controlled roots, rather than an annoyance.
All that being said, the implementation of VR still isn’t perfect. There are some distracting clipping issues, missing animations, and the odd cutscene jarringly appears on a 2D screen suspended in a black abyss. Those drawbacks are minuscule in comparison to what you gain, however, and to put that into perspective, a second playthrough on a TV (even in 4K with HDR) felt decidedly flat and uneventful by comparison.
To be clear, RE7 is more than serviceable if you don’t own PS VR, but it’s definitely the best way to play. That much is clear not just from our own experience, but the way some scenes are otherwise reminiscent of watching a 3D film in 2D, whereby it’s clear to see the director’s intent while not getting the actual effect.
Whichever way you play, you’ll need to piece the full story together by compiling information from multiple sources. Documents, characters and items all gradually unfurl secrets, whilst compelling VHS tapes expand upon the Baker’s past exploits as you experience them first-hand. If you aren’t into detective work, the central narrative of Ethan’s struggle to save Mia stands alone, but either way there are intriguing implications for what’s to come. The immediate conclusion leaves as many questions as answers, admittedly, but free DLC “Not a Hero” looks set to try and remedy that later in 2017.
You’ll need to piece the full story together by compiling information from multiple sources. Documents, characters and items all gradually unfurl secrets.
If it wasn’t commendable enough that Capcom essentially made two different versions of RE7 - one for VR and one for the telly - the unlockable Madhouse difficulty significantly changes the game's dynamic, rather than just plain ramping the difficulty up. Throw collectibles, some of which can be used to purchase upgrades, as well as unlockable weapons and buffs into the mix, and there are a lot of factors that encourage repeat playthroughs.
Play it again you very likely will, because Resident Evil 7 is precisely what fans have been clamouring for over the course of a number of years. Capcom delivered a classic survival horror experience, with just a tinge of action flare, that brings the series inline with modern expectations. They bravely took risks and it has proven most lucrative, just as it did with the pivotal release of Resident Evil 4. Through its outstanding setting and cast that go hand-in-hand, in addition to providing perhaps the defining virtual reality experience, Resident Evil has reclaimed its place atop the horror genre pile.