Fortnite is an early access title at present - despite already being purchasable in a four different ways(!) - and so we bring you this look at the game in its current state, in place of a more concrete verdict.
Traps are the one exception to this, as even though they follow the same rules, you often want to grab fresh traps on the fly as the action-packed defence phase kicks off. In the state of heightened adrenaline it’s easy to wish there was a button combination that took you straight to your favourites for added ease of access as hordes of Husks approach.
These enemies are perhaps the roughest edge on the game’s otherwise quite slick execution. The enemy types and variations aren’t necessarily bad, but they do feel quite generic and lacking in character, even compared to the relatively limited enemy pool of something like Left 4 Dead. Groupings of Husks behave quite randomly, rather than having them subscribe to a hivemind mentality, while different enemies each have different movements and attacks, but there’s no personality to any of the animations, which can make combat feel like a chore rather than the climactic reward after gathering resources and building your fort in preparation.
Without a cohesive team dynamic, meeting even basic build objectives - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult.
Sunset Overdrive’s occasional area defense battles make for a fair comparison both visually and thematically, with that game’s charismatic and over-the-top presentation offering up unique sound effect and vibrant visual cues that keep you engaged, whereas Fortnite is way toned-down by comparison and worse for it.
Having to take time out of the world-ending scenario to slip into build mode and make repairs or changes to your fort during active combat doesn't do much to complement the gunplay, either.
Teaming up with other players online is the real strength behind the idea, or at least it is in theory. In practice, without a cohesive team dynamic to rely upon, meeting even basic build objectives set by the game - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult, since the default for many players is to do whatever they feel like and start the attack when they’re ready, rather than waiting until everyone else has all of their traps lined up…
So far then, Fortnite is an interesting idea, executed well - for the most part - that just feels unfinished. Perhaps that’s alright at this stage, given the point in development we’re being exposed to, but the trouble is that it certainly feels like it’s being presented as more of a finished product than other early access titles. Whether or not you’re at peace with the deep microtransactions culture baked into the game may cause frustration too, but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most.
If you have a few even remotely reliable friends to jump into this with, then it’s an experience worth trying out, but waiting for the full, free-to-play release may make you feel like you’re getting the best of what Fortnite has to offer and for no upfront investment; rather than a paid game with real future potential, which is how it currently feels.
Expect more on Fortnite as the game develops in the run up to its free-to-play release, and a full co-op review in 2018.
The debut game from Boss Key Productions, a studio headed by Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski, aims to bridge the gap between old school and modern competitive first-person shooters. Placing one foot firmly in arena shooter territory and the other in the hero shooter’s neck of the woods, LawBreakers confidently puts forward a compelling alternative to both that any FPS fan should appreciate.
Variations on these balletic exchanges are constantly occurring in all directions, infusing the high-octane chaos with a choreographed beauty.
It might take a little while to reach that level of play, as you’ll need to execute several button presses and numerous stick adjustments in a tight timeframe, but it’s worth toughing the learning process out, as you’ll feel like a true professional when you master the satisfying traversal and gunplay first individually; then as one cohesive package.
This high skill cap excuses LawBreakers’ apparent lack of hero variety when compared to it peers, with the nine classes each offering more nuance than any single character in Blizzard’s Overwatch. Their tighter ranks still offer plenty of diversity, accommodating most play styles with damage-dealing tanks, nimble but fragile assassins, supports, and hybrid roles in between.
Each class has a fixed loadout consisting of an ultimate and two secondary abilities, generally also wielding a primary weapon with secondary fire function and a sidearm. Ability usage is limited either by a cooldown period or fuel consumption, which calls for different management tactics between combatants favouring either method or a mixture of both, helping to keep players on their toes both as they meet different foes and freely switch between heroes mid-match.
You’re never limited as to which class you can choose to play as, which can be a blessing and a curse. While you won’t be locked out of playing your main, there’s a definite tendency for most players to pick between the faster classes in Assassin, Gunslinger and Wraith, leaving other roles unfilled. A balanced team isn’t as integral to victory here as it is in other hero shooters - individual skill is much more important on that front - but somebody else going healer every now and then would still be nice.
The self-serving player mindset can impact your win/loss ratio when it extends to playing the objective, however. A portion of players approach the five rotating game modes - these including variations on King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and even American football - as if they were Team Deathmatch. We'd typically pin this entirely on people being people, but we feel Boss Key shoulder some of the blame in this instance. Foregoing Deathmatch modes in a game so openly inspired by the likes of Unreal Tournament and Quake doesn’t cater to a sizeable portion of the audience they've attracted.
You’ll earn experience points towards levelling whether your teammates cooperate or not, and with levels come Stash Drops, LawBreakers’ take on the loot box. They function exactly as you’d expect, upon being opened spitting out four random aesthetic customisation items ranging from throwaway to must-have. Duplicates are converted into currency which can be used to bypass the random element and directly purchase skins you’ve had your eye on, while you can also use real-world money to purchase more Drops.
All in all, LawBreakers has its foibles, but they’re fixable foibles with a patch or two; for every slight misstep, it nails a handful of the fundamentals. The core combat and traversal loop is outstanding, it looks crisp and controls smoothly at 4K/60FPS on PS4 Pro (after a patch fixing the launch day issues you may have heard about), matchmaking is snappy and well-populated, the pulsing soundtrack keeps you hyped-up and ready to compete. This amalgamates in a game that’s seriously engaging and frequently has us declaring “just one more more match” for several matches consecutively.
Painting can be so therapeutic. That said, it’s not really when it comes to Splatoon 2, Nintendo’s frantic-yet-accessible third-person shooter in which you take on squid/kid creatures in battles to paint the town a pinkish red, orange, purple, or… you get the picture.
Ranked Battle brings additional match types befond Turf War, namely Splat Zones, Tower Defence and Rainmaker. The first is a King of the Hill-style mode with one defined area for both teams to frantically fight over to score, the second concentrates the mayhem even further by making the point a moving tower, which must move through a set track and stop at certain checkpoints, giving the other team a chance to knock players off and take the tower back. Rainmaker is more of an out-and-out assault where players fight for control of the Rainmaker superweapon.
Then there’s League Battle, recommended only for real fanatics, which is a two-hour test of skill players can take on without risking their carefully nurtured rank. Finally we have Salmon Run, a cooperative Horde-type mode that’s only available at set real-world times. You’ll take on waves of fish-based enemies, including eight kinds of mini-boss, in teams of two to four players in search of shiny golden eggs.
There’s a decent amount of variety on offer in multiplayer alone, and on top of that there’s a single player campaign which plays out as a series of increasingly difficult challenges topped off with fiendish boss battles. Think along the lines of Super Monkey Ball.
This campaign of sorts is larger-than-life in the best way possible - to give you an idea, the first boss is an angry oven complete with loaves of bread sporting googly eyes - and the entire experience clocks in at around six hours and gives you plenty of practice for the often unforgiving multiplayer encounters that follow.
There’s plenty to do in Splatoon 2, with a consistent level of quality upheld throughout, each mode handling extremely well, looking pretty, and feeling fairly well-balanced. Add to that sleek dual-purpose mechanics like turning into a squid and submerging in ink to reload, whilst also traveling faster and less conspicuously, and you have a design powerhouse.
Unfortunately, when it comes to networking, the game doesn’t offer as great an experience. The Nintendo Switch online app is every bit as awkward to use as you may have heard. There are some nice stats and little elements tucked in there, but the fact that it takes so many button presses to get where you need to be - and even then the audio struggles to work consistently - is extremely poor. We ended up using third-party app Discord to wax lyrical about the game, and the fact that it’s a much better experience is a real shame.
The ordeal doesn’t end there either, as joining in with friends is frustratingly specific, rather than being the quick and easy solution it could and should be. Heading to the friends screen will reveal who’s online but not allow you to join them unless they’re sat in a lobby about to start a game, meaning you have a window of mere seconds before the lobby fills up and you’ll then need to wait until the next game for another chance. On top of that, there’s no queue option or spectator mode while you wait, meaning coordinating more than one other person at a time is a struggle outside of Salmon Run, which is easier thanks to its PvE setup.
Having so many hurdles to online play, many of which aren’t explained, significantly impacts the overall experience. For some, this won’t be a problem at all, but those looking to gather a group of four and take on the world will be out of luck, as it’s not even assured that you’re on the same team when you do finally end up in a game together. The one saving grace is that you aren’t separated again once a match ends, providing all players choose to continue.
Despite the online barriers, which, while somewhat understandable (Nintendo are thinking of the children), are enough to raise your blood pressure, it’s still hard not to recommend Splatoon 2. It’s a fantastically fun shooter in itself, though it also meets the need to prove that the Switch has more than just the odd Mario or Zelda title to accompany a sea of Neo Geo ports.
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SUPERHOT, a first-person shooter built around the uniquely satisfying concept that time moves only when you do, was an instant classic in our eyes. The feats of sheer badassery this central mechanic allows a player to achieve injects them with such an intoxicating power trip that they’re almost forbidden from putting the controller down. By being so moreish, SUPERHOT marries its narrative - which, without saying too much, features themes of virtual addiction - to its gameplay and presents one concise, cohesive whole. If you’ve played the original you’ll know that bringing the SUPERHOT experience to VR was really a no-brainer, but is it worth double-dipping?
The feats of sheer badassery this central mechanic allows a player to achieve injects them with such an intoxicating power trip that they’re almost forbidden from putting the controller down.
Despite the fact you’re all but fixed to the spot in SUPERHOT VR - rather than being able to run around freely, as in the original - the wider spectrum of movement available to you actually makes the change feel liberating. You can still employ the same tactics you would in vanilla SUPERHOT, but also incorporate those exclusively afforded by the introduction of motion control, like extending your arm out from cover to blindfire, or using your hands to physically snatch bullets out of the air. To counterbalance the extra tools at your disposal and keep things engaging, you’ll now need to complete sets of levels before reaching a checkpoint, rather than being awarded one each and every level.
While the switch to motion control brings with it both foibles and boons, the transition from 2D to 3D is entirely a positive one. The clean, simple aesthetic works wonders in disguising VR’s fuzzy edges, while the added depth perception helps to more accurately gauge distances and accordingly lead your shots. You’ll instinctively wince when an enemy pulls the trigger as you stare down the barrel of their gun, but, most importantly, playing in virtual reality is exciting because of the technology’s relevance to the SUPERHOT universe. For existing fans, being sucked directly into the experience they had previously taken in second hand is a real treat.
The one area in which we criticised SUPERHOT was its endgame content; after completing the somewhat short story you unlock a range of challenges that are each interesting in themselves, but ultimately amount to replaying the same levels over and over with slightly modified rule sets. The exact complaint stands when it comes to SUPERHOT VR, but the challenges are a less enticing prospect this time around. That isn’t due to any design shortfall - they’re good fun - but the fact that encountering the aforementioned tracking issues at the wrong time can cost you dearly.
Playing in VR is all the more exciting because of the technology’s relevance to the SUPERHOT universe. For existing fans, being sucked directly into the experience they had previously taken in second hand is a real treat.
SUPERHOT is a power fantasy, and the implementation of virtual reality and motion control helps to realise that fantasy in more vivid fashion, making SUPERHOT VR the best way to play this inspired shooter. For a while, that is, as the original has it beat when it comes to post-campaign challenges - it’s just a good job they’re different enough from one another to both thoroughly warrant purchases.
Lagging six months behind its Oculus Rift and HTC Vive counterparts, Arizona Sunshine has finally made its way to Sony’s PlayStation VR platform. Has the transition to weaker hardware sullied the acclaimed first-person shooter? Or has the extra development time made all the difference?
Vertigo Games have utilised everything at their disposal to comfortably accommodate the experience on console.
Outside of the DualShock 4's issues, aiming is pretty spot on with both the Move and Aim controllers; you’ll utilise point-and-shoot motions in an entirely natural way, satisfyingly lining up shots as if you were in a real 3D environment. Closing one eye and looking down the ironsights allows you to execute strings of carefully-crafted headshots against the intentionally docile and dozy enemy AI, but, in the event a horde springs to life and swarms, you’ll be forced into a spray-and-pray panic, which gets the job done, but at the cost of a chunk of your ammunition.
Ammo should be a limited resource, but if you explore environments thoroughly enough you can scavenge quite the stockpile. Opening up cars, drawers, cupboards and more via occasionally finicky, telekinetic interactions uncovers all sorts of strange hiding places, with certain ammo types being rarer finds than others. You’ll keep track of what you’ve accrued through the innovative, HUD-busting inventory system that sees you look down to inspect the bullets, grenades and firearms holstered on your belt before physically grabbing them to use them. While immersive, the main drawback of this is that, when playing seated, it’s all too easy to accidentally grab items when your arms are held close to your core, so you’ll need to keep them awkwardly outstretched.
You can carry up to four weapons at once, though you’ll find an abundance of them, so it makes sense to choose as diverse a range as possible - namely a shotgun, submachine gun, pistol/magnum and grenade launcher - to tactically meet differing situations head-on. You’ll also sporadically encounter stationary sniper rifle and machine gun emplacements, which offer up an empowering and gleeful temporary twist on combat, helped along by the protagonist’s excited exclamations that will no doubt mirror your own (if you're anything like the psychopaths we are…).
Though they are comparatively empowering, standard zombie encounters aren’t exactly emasculating. This is largely due to the aforementioned healthy levels of ammo, however the (mostly) bright and breezy setting and lead character sap any real sense of horror from the experience. That’s fine, especially with so many VR horror games already on the market, but in doing so it readily passes up on leveraging the genre that is perhaps virtual reality’s greatest asset.
Despite that, it’s still very frightening on the odd occasion you turn around and find a member of the undead ranks invading your personal space, with the resulting unnerved excitement only making us wish it happened more often. Upping the difficulty can draw you closer towards true horror by nixing ammo pickups and buffing zombies, should you desire that, while harsh checkpointing means you’ll actually be invested in staying alive and fear death that little bit more (or possibly just curse the devs).
Aiming is pretty spot on with both the Move and Aim controllers; you’ll utilise point-and-shoot motions in an entirely natural way.
Regardless of your skills, death is something that always comes in Arizona Sunshine’s Horde mode. This is exactly what it says on the tin, or the cassette, in this case, challenging you with surviving increasingly difficult waves of enemies that attack from all sides as you’re confined to a small central area. Playable alone or with up to three partners online, co-op is definitely the way to go, and not just to have someone watching your back. Thanks to the game’s motion control, interacting with players is often cause for hilarity - you might wave to greet one another, dance and fist-pump to celebrate a wave well defended, or even get weird and spend some time stroking each other's faces, locked in prolonged eye contact… Whichever way you play, there’s a relevant leaderboard to track your performance and give you something to strive towards.
While the level of interactivity in Vertigo Games' post-apocalyptic take on the sunny state of Arizona can leave a little to be desired (you can pick up axes, shovels and pans, but can't use them as melee weapons, for example), its nonetheless rich and immersive environments are a pleasure to explore. When combined with seriously satisfying shooting mechanics and entertaining co-op, both thanks to great motion control implementation when using the Aim and Move controllers, Arizona Sunshine takes mantle as one of the first full fat FPS experiences to reach PlayStation VR.
Nex Machina is a top-down twin-stick shooter from Resogun developer Housemarque. Its arcade-style design harkens back to retro classics like Robotron and Smash TV, which is no surprise considering the famed designer of those projects, Eugene Jarvis, was aboard the development team.
Nex Machina demands speed and precision to the point we find ourselves playing perched on the edge of our seats, leaning into the screen with a laser-focused gaze.
That’s a lot to tackle, especially with no tutorials or hints of any kind, but by bravely leaving you to uncover its many nuances through observation and trial and error, Nex Machina ensures its self-learnt intricacies are cemented in your mind. The gameplay communicates information fluently, steadily introducing an evolving range of baddies to illustrate what attacks you can and can’t dash through, what you do and don’t have to kill to progress, or who’s the biggest overall threat and resulting primary target of a given wave. Knowing how to correctly manage enemy types to stop them controlling portions of a stage is integral to your survival, while identifying those that target helpless AI humans and dealing with them quickly will work wonders for both your score and your conscience.
That said, choosing whether or not to save humans is a constant risk vs. reward minefield; you’ll need to put yourself in harm’s way to grab them and gain the associated points to climb the online leaderboards, but, if you die in doing so, you’ll end up worse off than if you'd left them to their doom and saved your own skin.
Any single blow is fatal in Nex Machina, and death carries some significant repercussions. Not only do you lose a life and a chunk of the score multiplier you’ve worked to build - along with your all-important, trance-like flow - but you’ll also drop one of the upgrades (increased range, bullet spread, etc.) or secondary weapons (these range from a sword to a rocket launcher, with use limited by a brief cooldown period) you've collected. This often leads to multiple consecutive deaths as you foolheartedly rush to pick it back up from the spot you died, or just struggle on in its absence if it was something you were relying on. All too often we’ve been on a perfect run only to lose multiple lives and upgrades successively to the mechanic, leaving us caught in a rut and faced with besting that same difficult section now at a marked disadvantage.
You can keep retrying while you maintain a stock of continues, but when they run dry it's a legitimate game over and you have to start back at square one. Whilst that’s somewhat jarring by today’s standards - especially when you consider the fact you also can’t save, so you’re in it for the long haul when playing Arcade mode, the game's main attraction - forcing you to replay sections helps to develop your skills, which will see you glean more from the game in the long run. It might seem irritating if you don’t remember a time when this was the industry standard, but the extra practice really does make perfect.
You’ll never actually be at too significant a loss, mind, as the game only takes around two hours to play from start to finish. Despite what you might be thinking, that isn’t any real cause for concern when it comes to Nex Machina’s value proposition, as it’s massively replayable. Memorising enemy spawn patterns and the location of secrets unearthed by destroying environments is endlessly rewarding, allowing you to implement that knowledge into future runs to achieve lofty new high scores.
Arcade and Single World modes (the latter allowing you to practice Worlds out of sequence) can be played in co-op if you have a nostalgia-hungry pal to hand, which we mean literally, as it’s fittingly (though still disappointingly) local only. The suite of modes is rounded out by Arena, which tasks you with meeting gold, silver and bronze score thresholds whilst wrestling with modifiers like limited timeframes and increased tempo. They take place in the same familiar Worlds, but are just about different enough to provide an engaging break from the main thrust now and then, which is perhaps how they’re best consumed, with only eleven challenges on offer.
Housemarque proved themselves capable of keeping arcade-style games relevant in the modern marketplace with the release of Resogun, but in partnering with Eugene Jarvis on Nex Machina they’ve surpassed themselves. Filled to the brim with pulse-pounding, nail-biting and addictive action on a gorgeously impressive scale, never skipping a beat, constantly complemented by the standout, retro-infused soundtrack, the game is a modern shoot-’em-up masterpiece that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the 80s classics that inspired it.
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.
Are you missing the Dreamcast-era glory days of bullet hell shoot ‘em ups? If, like me, you’re firmly in the ‘yes’ column then look no further: Ghost Blade HD brings the staples of intense techno, big bosses, vivid colours and classic art design together to concoct a smashing shmup that manages to stay the right side of entertaining, despite its lack of originality.
If you’re a big shmup fan then we’d recommend adding this one to your collection, but for the non-believers, there’s nothing groundbreaking here to warrant your attention.
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.
Verdun may only be in its infancy on Xbox One (and indeed consoles in general since making the jump from PC to PS4 last August) but we can’t help feeling that M2H and Blackmill Games’ online shooter could do with some era-appropriate propaganda - preferably featuring the impressively moustachioed Lord Kitchener - in order to boost its already flagging player count.
Running through no-man’s-land is almost a guaranteed death sentence, as the lack of any significant cover and masses of barbed wire mean players caught in the open are easy pickings for snipers and machine gunners. Instead, it’s much better to utilise what little cover there is to get close to enemy positions, whilst saving dashes across open ground for the frantic, over the top charges that see slow and considered ranged combat give way to tense, often exhilarating, close-quarters action.
It’s clear the developers put a lot of effort into replicating realistic wartime action, packing the game with uniforms, weapons and historically accurate battalions that have been meticulously researched.
While we’ve (thankfully) never been involved in any situation even remotely comparable to the First World War, crawling through mud, shell craters and barbed wire only to be cut down agonisingly close to your objective by artillery, or poking your head above the lip of a trench only for it to be picked off by an unseen sniper certainly felt like an authentic representation of grim wartime combat.
The pursuit of authenticity means that most of the game’s maps are large seas of mud with the aforementioned shell craters and trenches their only significant features, but there are a couple based on the early days of the war whose shallow ditches, green fields and sparse woodlands offer some respite from the doom and gloom.
It’s clear the developers put a lot of effort into replicating realistic wartime action, packing the game with uniforms, weapons and historically accurate battalions that have been meticulously researched.
Verdun has four online modes: Rifle Deathmatch (a free-for-all contested with bolt-action rifles), Attrition (team deathmatch with all weapon types enabled), Squad Defence (more on that in a moment) and Frontlines, which is the most reliably populated. Frontlines tasks players with battling it out for control points in a game of tug-of-war based on some of the most infamous battles from the period, while Squad Defence is a horde-like mode than can be played offline, but AI of questionable intelligence make it easy to pass up.
For a competitive versus match in Frontlines, you ideally want both teams to consist of sixteen players separated into four squads of four, but that isn’t always attainable. While frustrating, the lack of competition did make trying all the different classes (which are often jealously guarded by other players) a lot easier.
Classes within each squad are limited to one per player, with the types of weapons available varying depending on which nationality and type of squad you’re currently representing, but most offer some variant of sniper, heavy/specialist gunner, grenadier and squad leader. Each class has three tiers of equipment usually featuring a mix of close-quarters, ranged and specialist weapons. These are unlocked with career points, which are earned as you level up, but they’re handed out so generously that they become redundant almost immediately.
There’s also a levelling system that rewards players with passive upgrades and cosmetic bonuses if they continue to perform well with a squad, such as reduced reload times and updated uniforms. It’s a nice idea, with no perk seeming so overpowered that it upsets the game’s balancing, but with each squad’s progress tracked separately, it can be a little hard to keep on top of.
It’s hard to shake the feeling of what could have been when playing Verdun, especially when you find a full match and the game’s potential is almost realised. With more players matches begin to flow as teams attack objectives from multiple directions, and utilising the communications wheel to issue orders and warnings becomes a necessity instead of just a novelty. Sadly, these moments are few and far between.
If M2H and Blackmill could fix some of the more serious issues holding the game back then it would be an easy sell, but with Battlefield 1 recently adding Back to Basics - a mode which does away with scopes, tanks and automatic weapons for iron sights and bolt-action rifles – those who were looking for a more authentic WW1 experience may have already found it in DICE’s shooter. It’s unfortunate, because Verdun needs all the support it can get to be at its best.