The story of Conan Exiles is one of two halves. On launch day (for Xbox One), we tried to give it a go straight out the gate and found it to be an extremely lag-ridden, buggy mess. In multiplayer players would drop out as soon as others joined and in single player things weren’t much better, with the game allowing you about five minutes of play before the sheer weight of everything which had to be loaded in around you caused a few seconds of lag for every second of normal gameplay. In short, it wasn’t something we were feeling too confident about as far as first impressions go.
One element which is yet to be explored in depth is the idea of religion, as you choose one of a handful of deities for your character to follow when creating them and each have their own altars with their own abilities. For example, if you character follows Yog, their shrine (the aforementioned fire pit) will let you cook human meat, which doesn’t spoil.
The combat is straightforward enough to be able to jump into easily, though the timing can be tricky as your character generally flinches when hit, and mashing attack at the wrong time can find you stuck in a loop of being pummelled to death. Fortunately your allies will generally (if they can be trusted) come to your aid, and the game is certainly enjoyed best as a co-op experience.
While everyone levels and learns recipes separately, crafting items for others isn’t an issue, meaning we were able to craft plenty of extra clothes and weapons in preparation for our game (before the team promptly threw themselves in a fire and wasted all that hard work...just watch the video).
As far as the endgame or wider story of the game goes, that remains to be seen. The in-game map feels quite vast and filled with different climates to explore once your party is ready to venture away from the comforts of home. Make sure you’re well prepared however, as hyenas and even dragons await you and will make short work of lone survivors.
Despite a shaky start, there’s a solid game to be enjoyed here - providing you’re happy to take the initiative and work a few things out for yourself. The soaring soundtrack feels like a cross between Jurassic Park and Mars from Holst’s The Planets Suite, adding to the sense of scale and grand adventure of proceedings. There’s still plenty of work to do before the full release in 2018, but in the meantime there’s no harm getting to grips with it, providing you think it’s worth £30, but all told it’s a yes from us.
There’s no doubt that Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a thoroughly lovely game, but does the lack of threat, resulting from its mild demeanour, prevent the adventure from being a truly compelling one?
You’ll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself and potter about for hours on end, which is a good thing, as these trips generally yield valuable resources, mined, chopped and gathered with your conventional array of tools. Not only that, but there are points of interest absolutely everywhere, meaning you’ll forever be finding intriguing secrets, references and Easter eggs that, along with the whimsical score, compel you to forage on.
You’ll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself and potter about for hours on end.
Once you’ve uncovered the whole map, which it's worth noting will be deep into the game, the cycle unfortunately sours somewhat. Backtracking through locations becomes laborious, which isn’t helped by the flawed implementation of fast travel. You have to discover and complete a quest to unlock each of the eight designated fast travel points, walk to the closest one before you can make use of the system (making it not-quite-so-fast travel), then, in the absence of clear labelling, guess as to which exit might lead to your desired location.
If you don’t mind some extra legwork you can also choose to adopt a number of vocations, joining guilds to expand your library of crafting recipes and building farmland to harvest produce used in those recipes. Building structures on a farm allows you to house wild animals after coaxing them onto your plot, as well as to plant trees and crops, which you can then hire a farmhand to tend. There’s no great need to engage with this stuff, you’ll get by just fine without farming or joining the guilds, but there’s fun to be had regardless.
Yonder has a number of clear inspirations - many of which come from Nintendo’s camp, so fingers crossed the game eventually sees a Switch release - but carves out its own corner by providing a unique mix of their elements. While some of the ingredients leave plenty to be desired, its positive themes and relaxed atmosphere provide a welcome break from the onslaught of bombastic video games that everyone can enjoy for a while.
Lords of the Fallen was the first attempt at aping From Software’s popular Souls series by developer Deck13 Interactive, but it fell significantly short of matching up. Seemingly undeterred and learning from their past transgressions, The Surge (uninspiring title and all) bucks all trends by proving, on this occasion, second time is in fact the charm.
When locked onto a foe you can focus on one of six body parts, namely the head, torso, or any arm or leg. The game's systems and your current circumstance will dictate where you choose to target; focusing unarmoured areas will lead to quick kills, perfect for when you’re near death and looking to avoid combat, but taking the inherent risk in prolonging a fight by pummelling an armoured section will offer up rewards. Successive successful strikes build your energy gauge, which, when filled to the illustrated mark, allows the player to launch into a cinematic finisher on low-health enemies to sever the battered limb and claim the weapon or armour adorning it as their own. While a weapon is immediately good to go, you’ll need to craft new armour using the piece as a base schematic, gathering the materials to do so by targeting the same relevant area on additional baddies and scrapping their gear for parts.
It’s a brilliantly novel system, essentially making combat a morbid shopping spree in which you cherry pick the bits you want and cut them off your co-workers. It fundamentally changes the way you play, and, as sadistic as it may sound, the varied and violent accompanying finisher animations never ceased to satisfy.
The limb targeting system is brilliantly novel, essentially making combat a morbid shopping spree in which you cherry pick the bits you want and cut them off your co-workers.
That said, it does have its drawbacks. The busy HUD that highlights limbs and their status can be obtrusive and make it somewhat difficult to spot the more subtle tells of an incoming attack, whilst enemies can also catch you with unavoidable damage as you come out of the uninterruptible animations (despite being immune during). While those foibles are annoying, especially when one hit can be enough to immediately kill you, we found Deck13’s solution to the inevitable question of “Why doesn’t Warren - just Warren - simply loot the dead?” more amusing than anything else; corpses spontaneously combust when they hit the floor, which, while avoiding undermining their own mechanics, ranks equally on the video game nonsense scale.
In spite of the issues, combat does a great job of conveying the mechanised and improvised nature of encounters, the tools (often literal, weaponised worker’s tools) at your disposal feeling weighty and impactful or fluid and graceful dependant on which class of weapon - each with their own proficiency level that increases with use - you opt for. While there are no ranged weapons, you do acquire a companion drone that requires energy to use, much like finishing manoeuvres, and can be upgraded to gain new abilities that increase its usefulness. While dealing no significant degree of damage, it's a tactical godsend, allowing you to draw single units from groups to engage them separately and avoid being overwhelmed, or knockdown aggressive targets to dictate the pace of a battle as a couple of examples.
With those winning strategies under your belt, you’ll be earning plenty of Tech Scrap, a resource gathered by defeating enemies and serving much the same purpose as Souls do in the series bearing their name. In a twist carried over from Lords of the Fallen, the longer you stay out in the field, the more you earn, with a growing multiplier goading you into taking risks you probably shouldn’t. In doing so, you put your entire pot on the line, as when you die (and you will die) all of the Tech Scrap on your person falls to the ground and you have but one brief chance to reclaim it - if you die again or let the 02:30 timer (which can be topped up by getting kills) deplete before retrieving it, it’s gone for good.
Better to be safe than sorry is a good mantra to adopt, frequently returning to the bonfire-like Medbays to make use of all that glorious Scrap, even at the cost of resetting your multiplier and repopulating the area. Medbays are much less prevalent than bonfires, with strictly one per area, but this is balanced out by the fact you can safely bank Tech Scrap to use at a later time and occasionally find Medstations to replenish your health and items out in the wild. You’ll use Scrap to upgrade your gear - and make sure you do so frequently, because needlessly hoarding it will be your downfall - via the game’s simplified RPG systems. Rather than allocating points to specific stats, you boost your Core Power, which allows you to equip more/better equipment by having the necessary juice to power it.
That might mean you don some fancy armour modules, or that you affix an additional implant, the latter offering one of a range of active and passive perks that range from carrying additional healing items, to earning more energy, to increasing your stamina and far more beyond that. The system allows you to respec to your heart’s content, experimenting with different loadouts to discover one that fits your play style and sees the pieces fall into place. You won’t be able to get too comfortable, however, as if you were to opt for an energy-focused, lumbering tank (for example) that wouldn’t serve you well in all walks, so you’ll need to be flexible and mix things up on those occasions.
The customisation system allows you to respec to your heart’s content, experimenting with different loadouts to discover one that fits your play style and sees the pieces fall into place.
Core Power also serves as a gating mechanic, with paths opened up by overcharging electrical systems where you meet the requirement. These often serve as satisfying shortcuts back to the warm embrace of a Medbay, with environments constantly looping back on themselves in a considered display of intelligent level design.
Areas hold all manner of secrets and loot-based rewards, compelling you to explore every corner of the world, but they aren’t seamlessly interconnected or nearly as sprawling and varied as those that inspired them. That’s not to say they aren’t good - great, even - but by openly drawing comparison to arguably the very best in the business, they begin to fall short.
With no map or objective markers, Deck13 place trust in their design and the intelligence of their players to be able to intuitively follow the game’s nonlinear progression, which sometimes requires you to backtrack to put new items and abilities to use. This makes any and all progress feel satisfyingly earnt, rather than something you just take as given. The same approach is adopted for side missions (delivered by fellow survivors in awkward conversational exchanges), whereby it’s entirely on you to peruse the end goal without any form of handholding; if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you quite simply don’t complete them.
Open spaces generally betray the location of a boss, with battles being disappointingly infrequent considering their consistent high quality. Fights are unforgiving, drawn-out affairs that will generally require a few trial and error deaths before everything clicks and you figure out their attack patterns, your optimum positioning, and your windows of opportunity. With no multiplayer to speak of, and, thus, no summoning a co-op partner for help, you have to ‘get good’ and surmount these significant obstacles independently.
Often large and imposing, transforming themselves and their stages in an intimidating display as battles progress, the mechanised bosses match up to many of the Souls series’ famed behemoths in terms of visuals and mechanics, but are less memorable thanks by and large to the accompanying soundtrack. An industrial sound that, while fitting, is totally generic unsuccessfully stands in for bombastic scores that inspire fear whilst mirroring a boss’ unique personality and movement.
Despite suffering some shortfalls, once you sink your teeth into The Surge’s innovative customisation suite and find what works for you, the game’s core pillars of combat and exploration become immensely rewarding to engage with. With the Souls series officially on hiatus, The Surge offers up a riveting equivalent with plenty of its own merit, though doesn't quite best what is, to borrow a phrase from Dark Souls’ own Oscar of Astora, a game so grossly incandescent.
A reboot of 3D Realms’ 2006 shooter, Prey finds itself fighting an uphill battle. Sharing little but its name with the original, while standing in for what looked to be a promising sequel in Prey 2, many fans of the property are approaching this 2017 reimagining with a justified degree of trepidation. Whether you fall into that camp or not, reset assured, Prey was always very safe in the hands of Arkane Studios (Dishonored).
Uncovering Talos I’s many dark secrets is an unending treat.
You’re free to prowl the detailed station at will, though certain areas are cordoned off until you acquire the relevant skills or items to proceed; as a result, the world slowly unfurls around you in a way that’s not dissimilar to a classic ‘metroidvania’ game. With high character mobility and constant branching paths to accommodate different playstyles, the lavish level design saw us obsessively scour every surface not for medkits, ammo and crafting components, but for the sheer pleasure of it.
Mind-bending microgravity sections in which you fly through claustrophobic maintenance tunnels and around the ship’s huge exterior further contribute to making Talos I a thoroughly memorable - and, dare we say, iconic - setting that ranks amongst gaming’s very best.
Of course, the encounters you face in these quintessential halls play no small part in the achievement. Prey’s enemies are the otherworldly Typhon, a pitch black alien race that look and act as though they stepped out of the static on a television screen. Harvesting human life to multiply, they come in many shapes and sizes, from the hulking Nightmare that crops up for repeat mini-boss encounters, to the invisible Poltergeists that violently throw you around via telekinesis, to the spider-like Mimics that hide in plain sight.
Mimics in particular imbue the experience with a suffocating sense of unease, posing as unassuming, inanimate objects to ensure you’re never certain of your immediate safety. Their unpredictable nature rarely affords you the opportunity to stand at ease, making Prey a game you play on edge, constantly scanning environments with a critical eye for anything that looks out of place. When a Mimic attacks, generally blindsiding and causing you to jump in the process, the ensuing panic has seen us forget about the shotgun in our hands and frantically throw mugs instead.
Paired with a lack of regenerating health and limited resources, enemies become imposing predators, relegating the player to the fitting role of prey. Despite that, there’s a relatively vast breadth of options when it comes to combatting the Typhon threat; a range of satisfying firearms and alien abilities can be used in conjunction with one another to create powerful combined attacks, set traps and get the drop on your opposition.
Enemies are imposing predators, relegating the player to the fitting role of prey.
Neuromods - the game’s eye-injected upgrade currency - are used to purchase skills from a whopping six trees, with the embarrassing wealth of abilities on show making it difficult to choose. Everything looking enticing is a great problem to have, mind, especially as diversifying can position you to take the upper hand. Scanning enemies with the Psychoscope gleans knowledge on their abilities, strengths and weaknesses, so it pays to be somewhat a jack of all trades to ensure you have the tools to take advantage of this information. That said, whatever your build, it’s generally a good idea to disable an enemy with the stun gun or innovative GLOO Cannon (which can also be used to create makeshift cover and platforms) before launching your attack.
Talos I’s security measures are configured to target Typhon DNA, so there’s a risk associated with acquiring abilities from the alien trees. Accruing enough will eventually turn the system against you, but, while investing in some hacking upgrades will remedy that by bringing them back onside, it won’t help quite so much when the Nightmare makes you a higher priority target. Rather than being drawbacks that prevent you from experiencing some of the game’s most fun and powerful abilities, these mechanics materialise as dynamic balancing tweaks that shouldn’t put you off experimenting with everything on offer.
Prey’s audio is worthy of special mention too, thanks by and large to legendary sound designer and composer, Mick Gordon. After delivering last year’s face-melting DOOM soundtrack, heavy metal gives way to a building, synthetic sound that’s menacing and intense. Atmospheric ambient sound, harrowing, distorted Typhon murmurings, punchy explosions and gunfire, along with repeating motifs that accompany specific events make for an all-round aural treat.
Whilst we’ve lavished Prey with a lot of praise, rough inevitably comes with the smooth. Distracting texture pop-in is prevalent, FPS dips crop up occasionally and load times between areas are fairly lengthy. In addition to these technical issues, a number of glitches were peppered throughout: dialogue went awry when we accidentally skipped straight to a later objective, items would randomly be absent from animations, and an objective marker became stuck directly in the centre of the screen throughout the duration of an entire area.
Though these niggles did impact Prey’s otherwise stellar sci-fi horror experience, in the grand scheme of things, they barely put a crease in Morgan Yu’s space suit. Prey is tense and unnerving, while at the same time playful and explorative. Its central mystery compels you to delve deep into the bowels of the expertly-crafted setting, Talos I, engaging in (or even avoiding) rewarding and tactical combat along the way. Arkane have a fundamental understanding of quality game design, utilising that here to produce another fantastic video game for their growing collection.
If you think LEGO Worlds seems out of the blue, rest assured, you wouldn’t be alone in that thought. The open-universe game (stay with us here) sees you jumping from world to world in your ship to collect gold bricks and unlock even more worlds. The worlds themselves are square blocks of terrain consisting of one or two different biomes on the surface and a few cave systems thrown in underground, feeling somewhat reminiscent of Terry Pratchett's Discworld - albeit without the giant turtle.
The downside to this freedom, and very much the other side of the double-edged sword, is that with the ability to literally delete the entire map, so too do you have the power to spoil your own fun by seriously messing up the way the various worlds are put together. This can lead to NPCs, who may live in pre-established towns or settlements or just wander, getting a bit confused as well.
With a game structured as loosely as this though, is that important? To an extent it is, in that it can make acquiring gold bricks more difficult, 10 of which you’ll need to unlock random worlds, along with 100 to create a world of your own from scratch. If you’re itching to get creating on a blank canvas sooner rather than later, then you’re confined by a more restrictive structure as a result. You could, however, simply bulldoze the tutorial level and start from scratch there (once you have the appropriate tools), which is a somewhat reasonable compromise.
LEGO Worlds is well worth a look - especially at its budget asking price - and could be a great catalyst for creativity
The game has been in early access on PC for the past couple of years, which has seen it go through countless changes alongside the development of the console versions. When you look at it from that perspective, you appreciate a little more the scale of what has been worked on here.
LEGO games come out frequently, with developer Traveller's Tales now masters of crafting enjoyable game experiences based on well-known franchises like Jurassic World and Star Wars, but Worlds is the answer to the question of what you would get if you take the big franchise names out and are left with a game based only on the building system itself.
The result is a game filled with potential and, at its core, an incredibly simple premise which is based on what, fundamentally, has made LEGO as popular and successful as it is in the first place. Whether that is a game to suit your taste really depends on your willingness to experiment: Would you like to build a skyscraper? Should you trap an NPC in a snake pit of your own design, for your own amusement? Do you have the precision and patience to put something together brick by brick?
As a starting point, the potential alone is enough to justify the game’s existence, and with the future possibility of sharing creations (models for now, but potentially entire worlds) online with other players could give rise to tons of different aspects which couldn’t come about in any other way. For the time being, LEGO Worlds is well worth a look - especially at its budget asking price - and could be a great catalyst for creativity, particularly in (but not limited to) youngsters.
Releasing in the same week as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch itself is a bold move. You could argue that there’s not necessarily a lot of crossover between the audience for BOTW and Wildlands, but there’s no doubt the game would have received a greater share of gamers’ attention had it released at a different time (this review would certainly have reached you sooner at least).
The drone is the real star of all the gear in your backpack, capable of scouting areas and quite easily marking everyone in sight. Once you’ve thrown a few update points into it to increase its range and implement a night vision camera, you’ll quickly find it comfortably encourages a more measured approach.
It’ll get a lot of use, as areas generally boil down to kill everyone and pick up some intel (either human or otherwise), before moving on to the next location to do it again. There’s a liberal spread of helicopters, which help you get between them quickly, though if you’ve made too much commotion the well-equipped UNIDAD (Bolivian special forces on the cartel’s payroll) will make your life difficult.
Areas generally boil down to kill everyone and pick up some intel, before moving on to the next location to do it again.
The map itself is vast, with 21 regions to explore across the largely mountainous countryside. As a result of being based on a real place, the variety of terrain is less varied and more realistic (read: a tad samey), with roads winding countless times to enable you to ascend some of its highest peaks.
This can prove tiresome if you’re tied to a car or truck, since the vehicle handling is far from refined here, so the sensible option is always to get hold of a chopper. Thankfully, as we mentioned earlier, they aren’t hard to get your hands on, especially once you unlock the perk which spawns one immediately nearby - you do need to be a bit careful to not spawn it inside a mountainside, however...
You’re slowly introduced to an arsenal of new weaponry on your travels, the order in which you unlock equipment depending on where you decide to visit first. The selection is deep but without a lot of character, as even customised weapons feel quite generic, and access to heavy weapons is available only where mounted gun placements are installed in enemy strongholds. If you’re looking for a fire-and-forget rocket launcher to take down that pesky enemy helicopter, then you’re going to be out of luck.
The sheer number of enemies you can come up against is quite staggering, sometimes 30 or 40 in a single compound, which continues to lead you down the road of being methodical rather than rash. To help you out with that, there’s a sync shot mechanic which lets you paint targets and then take them out simultaneously as a team, in what’s essentially a slightly more manual iteration of Splinter Cell’s mark and execute system. The result can be extremely satisfying, though enemies breaking line of sight or taking cover can throw a spanner in the works and shatter the power fantasy.
Throughout the course of the game your character isn’t fully fleshed out in their own right, but, while customisable, nor are they an avatar for yourself; this puts them in an awkward limbo between the two, as you listen to the team’s forgettable, but sadly not ignorable, banter between missions. To expect character development equivalent to that of an RPG might be unfair, but there is a freedom in how your character behaves and inhabits the world, so it’s disappointing to seem little consequence come of your choices in the long run - other than a couple of different endings, depending on your diligence.
Whether this is a game you’ll continue to enjoy weeks and months down the line largely depends on your enjoyment of crossing symbols off a map, as there are quite a few different collectables to gather. That doesn’t help Wildlands break the Ubisoft mould, but then there aren’t any particularly big risks on show here: there’s nothing equivalent to a charismatic villain in Far Cry, or compelling PvP option like The Division’s Dark Zone - though the latter is said to be coming as post-launch DLC.
All of this makes Wildlands feel a little archaic. It looks decent, and plays pretty well, but there’s nothing which truly inspires or feels like it moves the genre, series or Ubisoft’s catalogue forward. It feels like this game could just as easily have come out five years ago with slightly worse graphics and still not have made tremendous waves.
Developers are being pushed harder and further for depth, scale and storytelling every year, and we seem to have reached a stage where a game which is just fundamentally sound doesn’t really cut it any more. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’ll be pleased with a purchase of Wildlands, and for fans who’ve been following its development their expectations should be met, but with Horizon: Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed and even Just Cause in a similar ballpark - all of which offer more character - by comparison the game feels a little lifeless. Sticking closer to Ghost Recon's roots may well have served the series better.
What did you think of the game? Let us know in the comments.
I finally feel at home in the land of Hyrule. My Zelda history goes back a fair way (as I alluded to in my Nintendo Switch review), as far back as Ocarina of Time and I’ve always gone in wanting to enjoy it but for some reason it's never been my game. Whether it’s losing momentum once I became adult link in OOT, or failing to find the sail in Wind Waker, I never appreciated the magic. It was only Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy that I ever got through to the end (with help), so I went into Breath of the Wild with some trepidation.
While it isn’t heavy-handed, there are story missions to drive you through the game if that’s what you’d like to do, which introduce you to a colourful cast of characters, most of which seem to have gone a bit mad while just living their lives for the past 100 years while you snoozed. Let’s just say they have character.
As time goes on, you follow Link’s journey in rediscovering what happened in his past by tracking down specific memories, often tied to specific points on the map which you need to uncover with a combination of exploration and chatting to NPCs. This is just one example of a fairly natural way the game introduces depth to its story and world, which you can either invest yourself in and really find out more about or not, depending on your favoured playstyle.
What really shines in all of this is the gameplay. It doesn’t break the mold, in fact in many ways it stays close to what players are familiar with from previous Zelda titles (rupees, fairies, sound effects), while at the same time embracing the modern era of gaming, most notably with its stamina meter, which feels like a delightfully Zelda way to approach something familiar.
There’s a definite glee in finding a boomerang for the first time, but, tragically, it’s too slow and underpowered to prove very useful in most encounters - though getting the knack of catching it is extremely satisfying. Otherwise, there’s a fair selection of standard weapons available, though it takes some time to find any which you start to get really attached to. Of course, you can’t get too invested as each has a finite amount of slashes, prods or twangs (that’s a bow and arrow FYI) before it shatters, which adds a certain anxiety to encounters and makes you hesitant to really make the most of the fancy weapons.
Another weapon in your arsenal is bombs, which now exist in infinite form thanks to the handy, magical tablet device known as the Shiekah Slate. This iPad wannabe has a myriad of functions, a few of which are unlocked as you progress through the story. The most important function is your map, which you unlock in sections by reaching the summit of Shiekah Towers - each of which has one of a few challenges to it - and you can customise by putting stamps in noteable areas.
As you explore, you’ll come across shrines. There’s 120 of these, each of which are puzzle or battle rooms which hark back to a more traditional Zelda dungeon experience, giving a bite-sized challenge which rewards Spirit Orbs, four of which you’ll need to boost your health or stamina meter.
Stepping out of the starting shrine, where your adventure begins, you can’t help but be blown away by the visuals. In true Nintendo fashion, the art style suits the game perfectly and, though there are some quite noticeable framerate issues when the Switch is docked, particularly during weather, it just about gets away with it.
There’s a lot of variety to the terrain in a way which feels natural, despite the game’s fantasy setting, and the weather alone can quickly transform a familiar area into a treacherous one as night falls or a storm swells up, bringing deadly lightning with it. In rain Link struggles to keep hold while climbing, making escape attempts more perilous, though luckily there’s always the handy fast travel option to get you out of a tough spot.
It will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great Zelda titles, and, possibly, the greatest Nintendo title ever made.
If you do want to stand and fight, you might find a boost in strength in the form of Elixirs, potions cooked up from ingredients including horns and bones of felled enemies, which boost Link’s abilities for a limited time. Perhaps you need to get through an area unnoticed? A sneaky elixir is your friend. Or you need more attack power as an enemy you’re facing is just a bit too powerful for the weapons you currently have at your disposal? Then it’s a strength elixir. A combination of these things can really turn the tide and make your life considerably easier.
The other, more common element of combining ingredients which you’ll need to master is cooking, which boosts the amount of hearts you can recover from eating foods and can add elixir abilities as well. The catch is that, generally, it isn’t immediately obvious what ingredients combine to create actual dishes, though with a bit of experimentation and liberal reading of NPC diaries you can find some. Fortunately even a bad combination of ingredients will create ‘dubious food’, which will only recover a few hearts.
Items will be essential as you start to take on the game’s tougher enemies, which tend to be larger (and scarier) and you’ll find yourself dying more often than you might expect, even when you aren’t caught unawares. As a result, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart. Its graphical style might somewhat give the impression of being a game for children, but some areas (and puzzles) can be very challenging - thankfully stopping well short of controller-throwing rage.
Breath of the Wild is a moment in time. At the launch of the Nintendo Switch it is, undeniably, the must-have launch title, and on the WiiU (which I’m sure Rob will fill you in on) it’s the console’s swansong. As a result it’s a very special game, and will be an entry point to the series for many new players as they start their adventure in Hyrule for the very first time.
Of course, there are some niggles. The framerate issues aren’t something you’d expect, especially after paying a AAA price (although having seen them even with the recently released Pokemon Sun and Moon, they weren’t too unfamiliar an experience), the camera can be very unhelpful at times and the fact that there’s only a handful of stables dotted around the map make horses far less useful than they should be.
Considering all that, Nintendo have still made an extremely memorable game. The fact that two people can start and play for five hours and have vastly different experiences with the same ingredients at their disposal is impressive, and not something many games can pull off. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great Zelda titles, and, possibly, the greatest Nintendo title ever made. Is it one of the best games ever made, though? That is much trickier to give a straight answer. At the very least, it’s one which deserves your undivided attention - even if you don’t think it’s your cup of tea - and that is the mark of a masterful game, which this definitely is.
Horizon Zero Dawn’s fresh face immediately brought intrigue to a genre that's seen fans become increasingly jaded over the years. The vast open-world setting, peppered with explorative opportunities, possessed just enough charm to keep most of us curious throughout the development process.
The PlayStation exclusive lives up to its promise.
The D-pad allows you to flick through Alloy’s inventory items - various potions and traps - on the fly, but feels awkward during intense situations. You'll often come to a standstill as you fumble around for the correct item, which is equivalent to serving yourself up to enemies.
The world, known as the ‘Embrace’, is a huge accomplishment on Guerrilla's part, constantly flirting with the technical limits of the PlayStation 4, and, arguably, this generation of consoles in general. Horizon’s visuals play a spectacular part in bringing the world to life, frequently causing you to pause and utilise the built-in picture mode to capture the sights as you overlook wintry mountains or traipse through blazing red deserts. Climbing onto a Tallneck - dinosaur-inspired machine hybrids - uncovers parts of the map to allow for deeper exploration; the desire to do which is hard to resist.
Cauldrons - Horizon’s equivalent to archaeological gold mines - provide light challenges that are best conquered through stealth. These cavernous pits reap rewards in the form of overrides, allowing Aloy to hack a plethora of machines to turn them against each other. This feature compliments stealth greatly, particularly if you're one to generally avoid confrontation.
Whilst Cauldrons and other side quests offer a moderate experience boost, many are simple and unengaging fetch quests. This paired with awkward NPC encounters can drain some of Horizon’s infectious energy.
Its world is a warm and open invitation that encourages you to explore its every corner.
Aloy works with a number of tribes, who resort to blind faith and religious tendencies in the uncertain times, throughout the course of her adventure. A dialogue wheel injects an element of player choice as you interact with these settlements, but the decisions you make are far from imperative; put simply, it serves only to bring you closer to Aloy.
The shared struggle of humanity makes for an intelligently woven story that touches on many of today's relevant political and societal themes, evoking a sense of genuine curiosity to discover more about Horizon and its world. How Aloy’s role fits into this puzzle is constantly challenged, and the result in its conclusion is riveting.
Horizon is an exciting addition to the PlayStation catalogue and a testament to the prospect of what an open-world game can be. Although Horizon’s cohesion is often disrupted by the occasional bit of goofy dialogue or clunky inventory management, its world is a warm and open invitation that encourages you to explore its every corner. With a surprisingly charming storyline that will feed your curiosity, Guerrilla have produced what will likely be the next big PlayStation franchise.
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.
After a catastrophic series of events, Vietnam vet-turned-criminal Lincoln Clay is viciously thrust into an unfortunate and tragic predicament he didn't see coming. He is now out for blood, and a whole lot of it.
Mafia 3 strikes all the right notes aesthetically with a fantastic ensemble of characters, but at its core, suffers from a bad case of un-inspiring, repetitive and aimless mission structure.
In combat, although there is no room for error, cover-to-cover movement feels fluid in tricky, hostile situations, and the ability to whistle is a handy feature when wanting to increase your body count in certain covert operations. Weapon choice is limited at the beginning, but after time spent collating money and acquiring certain perks from your underbosses, upgrades become more easy to acquire. This is all combined with a straightforward and organised inventory system that’s simple to navigate through, which is great when you find yourself needing ammunition and upgrades pronto.
The game isn't afraid to explore sensitive issues of its time either, tackling subjects such as racial segregation, politics and corruption. Hangar 13 are unapologetic in their execution of these themes - going as far as putting a disclaimer at the beginning of the game - and, as a result of this, it feels like an educational experience as well.
Character encounters are some of the most engaging we have come across in a video game for a long time. This compelling characterisation from its cast is a significant strength, and the game would, undoubtedly, lose a huge amount of its charm without it. It’s captivating to witness the protagonists’ ambitions and integrity challenged, and to digest their outlook on the society they live in.
It’s a shame then, in a city with so much colourful character, that you aren’t able to interact with New Bordeaux with the same level of intimacy as in previous titles. Bars, pawn shops and cocktail bars are in abundance here, but are just for show. Mafia 3 lacks subtle interactions like grabbing a beer or something to eat at the diner, or spending some time in your apartment.
There’s also a lack of incentive. Mission completion has no fulfilling reward system for your efforts, so missions quickly begin feeling like a chore, rather than something to anticipate. The emphasis on stealth is more prominent than it has been in the past, and, in fact, the game relies very heavily upon it, quickly making things feel repetitive. Along with this, the ability to fast travel is non-existent. New Bordeaux is a small enough city to navigate by transit, but you’ll often find yourself spending more time driving than anything else.
Clocking in at just under 30 hours of game time, what Mafia 3 has managed to achieve in this time frame is commendable, and whilst we have many more hours to explore, we’re still taking great pleasure in sabotaging shipments and dropping bodies into crocodile infested waters. Mafia 3 strikes all the right notes aesthetically, and boasts a fantastic ensemble of characters, but at its core, suffers from a bad case of uninspiring, repetitive and aimless mission structure.