After breaking away from the annual release cycle last year to put a mediocre film out instead, Assassin’s Creed Origins sees the series triumphantly return with a sequel-come-prequel that cures the rot which had begun to take hold.
From bustling cities, to barren deserts and the Great Pyramid of Giza, environments are intricately detailed and authentic.
Though you’re free to tackle quests in the order of your choosing, if you’re under the recommended character level it’s a good idea to leave them well alone. Their inflated difficulty serves as a gating mechanic to control when you can viably go where, ensuring players aren’t immediately overwhelmed, but also providing motivation to keep gathering experience points and expanding your horizon.
A variety of weapons - each with their own rarity, statistics and status effects - are steadily pumped into your inventory as rewards and need to be swapped out or upgraded regularly. Upgrading weapons simply requires you to pay a blacksmith, though to improve the rest of your gear you’ll need to go hunting or intercept shipments and use the gathered resources to craft their betters.
You’ll put everything to use in the new and improved combat system, which is more satisfying than ever. No longer do enemies take it in turns to attack, letting you counter kill them one by one, but they flank and/or fire arrows as you’re actively engaged in combat. Encounters don’t look nearly as fluently choreographed as a result, but they’re far more compelling.
If you’re familiar with the Souls series or Breath of the Wild you’ll feel right at home with the new mechanics, which, in very similar fashion, see you lock on and avoid incoming attacks in anticipation of a window to launch a light or heavy counter attack. Though it’s more weighty and deliberate, especially when considering the pros and cons of different weapon classes, you can get away with button bashing for the most part.
Certain types of bows can be seamlessly integrated into melee bouts, while others are better served for stealth, but all of them shed the slight feeling of ineptitude ranged weapons have carried in Assassin’s Creed previously. It’s always been far preferable to take enemies on at close range, but Origins changes that, with a headshot being just as quick and deadly as your hidden blade.
Speaking of, stealth has seen a few small tweaks as well. Similar to Metal Gear Solid V you get a brief window of slow motion in which to eliminate an enemy after being spotted, plus you’ll now scout areas from a bird’s eye perspective as Senu, your eagle. Replacing Eagle Vision with a literal eagle’s vision is a better contextual fit and eliminates any ugly screen filters, all while offering up an animal companion to bond with. If Senu strays too far, however, you’ll often need to sit through a loading screen when you warp back to Bayek, which can be off-putting.
Covert infiltrations can also be made easier by utilising the dynamic day/night cycle to your advantage, as many guards retire to bed at night, generally making patrols lighter. An ability can be purchased from the skill tree that lets you change the time of day at will, while you can also unlock a range of familiar tools like poison darts and smoke bombs to further bolster your arsenal.
Combat encounters don’t look nearly as fluently choreographed as before, but they’re far more compelling.
All of the items and abilities available through the skill tree are tempting in their own right, pulling you in every direction and prompting careful consideration for how to invest your attribute points, as the best role-playing games do. Getting all of the abilities you have your eye on will take a while, which is good for longevity, though can feel ever so slightly like you’re being pointed towards Origins’ microtransactions when the game gently reminds you about its storefront.
That said, the implementation is nowhere near as egregious as some recent examples, and you’re given 200 of the premium currency for free. There are loot boxes, but they’re bought with in-game money, plus choosing to complete a daily online quest essentially awards one for free.
While Origins is the best Assassin’s Creed since Black Flag - also maintaining that game’s excellent naval combat - we’d have liked to see more polish from a title that spent twice as long in development. Glitchy animations, clipping, pathing issues and freezes are a few examples of problem we shouldn’t be seeing. While those are here to stay without a patch from Ubisoft, the impending release of the Xbox One X should at least help cut the lengthy loading times down whilst polishing the already shiny visuals.
In spite of the issues it preserves, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a successful soft reboot that comes just in time for the series’ 10th anniversary, modernising the Brotherhood’s adventures by taking inspiration from recent greats like The Witcher 3 and Destiny. It’s very easy to lose hours at a time to Origins’ improved combat and stealth systems, not to mention the wonderful setting, motivated by the developed RPG mechanics and a soundtrack with a touch of whimsy. Here’s hoping Ubisoft keep building on this foundation instead of running the new look Assassin’s Creed into the ground.
A remaster of Rogue Trooper, Rebellion’s 2006 shooter based on the 2000 AD comic of the same name, Redux brings the visuals right up to date, but how has the passing of eleven years and two console generations come to impact the gameplay?
The in-game encyclopaedia reveals that so much more could have been done narratively, with a lineage of engaging comic book lore to draw from.
Linear levels offer a decent amount of elbow room, which, combined with your range of weapons and abilities, allows for some freedom of approach. A fairly robust stealth system can see you equip a silencer and snipe distant targets, then make use of cover to sneak in and mop the stragglers up with melee kills; whereas running in guns blazing from the hip, lobbing explosives every which way, is just as valid an option, thanks to a forgiving level of difficulty and AI that obviously graduated from stormtrooper academy. As ever, perhaps the most entertaining approach is a hybrid of the two, for example, deploying your rifle as a stationary turret before using a holographic decoy to lure enemies into the trap, then slipping away courtesy of your manufactured distraction. However you might choose to play, being able to craft generous amounts of resources with gathered salvage ensures you can keep stock of your favourite ammo types and continue to enjoy the game as you see fit.
Back in its day this was pretty innovative design, which has helped Rogue Trooper preemptively ensure its gameplay is still satisfying today, meeting modern standards and even being reminiscent of a more rudimentary Sniper Elite 4.
Some sharp visual upgrades and a solid technical performance, outside of a rare few hitches, help to modernise the areas that haven’t aged as well. That said, mod cons like a weapon wheel, sprint function, and the ability to shoulder swap would have been very welcome additions. A toggleable cover option would have helped in countering the sometimes overzealous automatic system, whilst we’d have also liked to disable assisted aiming, regardless of its significance to the character. Implementing these simple quality of life tweaks could have elevated the experience on the whole.
Innovative design helped Rogue Trooper preemptively ensure its gameplay is still satisfying today.
The campaign likely won’t see you past the six hour mark, cutting off before the samey string of levels start to take their toll, meaning it falls to the multiplayer suite to hold your attention in the long term. Unfortunately, it most likely won’t. There’s no competitive play on offer, just co-op, and only two modes with a sparse few maps between them. Progressive tasks players with completing an objective before the team’s shared pool of lives runs dry, while Stronghold is a horde mode in which you’ll need to survive for the allotted timespan. There are three instances of the former and two of the latter, which are also playable solo, but getting through everything either on your lonesome or with friends won’t take long at all. When you also factor in the barren matchmaking and an ill-considered achievement for killing a teammate, leading to shots in the back, the online offering becomes somewhat throwaway.
Rogue Trooper Redux’s budget price point helps to offset the relative content drought, though what’s here is good ol’ fashioned fun that, for the most part, feels current, rather than dated. Having laid the groundwork for a sequel eleven long years ago, Redux feels like Rebellion testing the waters to see if there’s justification to finally make good on a second trip to Nu-Earth, which in itself is reason to support this remaster, as that could be something special.
2014’s The Evil Within was renowned game director Shinji Mikami’s spiritual successor to the classic Resident Evil titles of his creation, so, with the seventh instalment of Capcom’s horror series successfully returning to its roots earlier this year, The Evil Within 2 needed to evolve to garner attention. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened: TEW 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
The Evil Within 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
While perhaps a little difficult to wrap your head around initially, STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals, bolstered by HDR compatibility, all of which are so considered in their grotesquery that they achieve a morbid beauty. Just as you wouldn’t generally link beauty and brutality, The Evil Within 2 revels in making further juxtapositions feel natural next to one another, be that in reality-based and abstract settings, affluence and dilapidation, or low and high technologies.
This serves to complement another of the game’s villains, the artist Stefano, a character that has more than a little in common with BioShock’s fantastic Sander Cohen, complete with his very own Fort Frolic. Using human flesh as his canvas, you’ll bear witness to many of his works, and, somewhat disturbingly, very likely stop to calmly admire them with the fitting accompaniment of an original (and excellent) classical music track.
Having gone quasi-open world, the game’s two truly sandbox areas (one of which is cheekily recycled as a faux third) are, thankfully, packed with exciting and significant optional activities. Compliments for open world design are thin on the ground these days - we, along with many others, have grown tired of the map-filling, tedious brand of busywork many games have come to rely upon. The Evil Within 2’s unique boss encounters, side missions, collectibles and secrets put that issue to rest however, maintaining consistently high quality whilst also serving to fill in the wider narrative and bridge the three-year gap between instalments. This makes scouring the crumbling streets of Union a thoroughly enriching experience, akin to exploring Batman: Arkham City for the first time.
STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let the The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals.
What’s more, especially if you up the difficulty to Nightmare, this nonlinearity sees the survival element begin to shine. You might clamber onto a rooftop and use your sniper scope to scout a location in the distance, spotting a tempting loot pile surrounded by enemies before weighing whether or not it's worth pursuing; perhaps you then make some supplies via the simple new crafting system, these convincing you to head in with stealthy intent. You’re spotted. An unnerving chase begins, more and more enemies emerging from all directions, drawn by the ruckus, as you narrowly avoid an incoming swipe and hurriedly slip into the nearest safehouse, breathing a heavy sigh of relief as you stand, shaken, behind the boundary door. That’s just one example of the many possible, and quite memorable, self-contained stories The Evil Within 2’s emergent gameplay can facilitate, in much the same vein as State of Decay.
Frequently breaking away from the open areas for more linear main story segments, as well as trips through a series of tunnels called The Marrow, had us longing to return at times. This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that these sections occasionally force either open combat or stealth on the player, rather than leaving them to choose their own method of approach. Both play styles are at least engaging, with a highly customisable loadout of loud, punchy firearms and a versatile tactical crossbow making up the bulk of your offence, while conventional-but-satisfying hidden melee kills and a slightly dodgy cover system mostly comprise the sneaky side of things.
Having a sizeable arsenal at your disposal unfortunately relieves many of the malformed cast of enemies of their scare factor; provided you’re actively scavenging for resources, you’ll never be in any desperate need for either ammunition or medical supplies, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Throughout a playthrough, which should last around twenty hours, ways to manipulate the dopey AI and reliably spot enemies lying in ambush also become apparent, further tipping the odds in your favour.
Other than some great late game boss encounters, The Evil Within 2 gradually leaks horror until there’s little left to be scared of; this might be either welcome or disappointing, depending on how much you like sitting in your own leakage. Maintaining the first game’s body burning mechanic - which saw enemies have the potential to spring back to life if their corpse wasn’t ousted using a limited supply of matches, à la the Resident Evil remake - would likely have helped the game remain more engaging on that front, however.
All in all, despite a weaker second act by comparison to the superb first, The Evil Within 2 is a mechanically gripping game. It’s a sophisticated mix of old and new, along with Western and Japanese influences, thanks to its diverse development staff. A considered audiovisual feast that, in a year where Resident Evil 7 convinced us first-person perspectives and VR were the unchallenged future of survival horror, compellingly challenged that notion.
There's a reason Monolith’s Shadow of games don’t have The Lord of the Rings in their titles. You might assume that the brand recognition of Middle-earth alone (playfully aped in The Lego Movie as Middle Zealand, after all) is enough to sell a franchise – even one building on a successful debut with Shadow of Mordor back in 2014. In fact, the thing to take from Middle-earth: Shadow of War’s title is that it’s about Tolkien’s world more than his established characters.
Shadow of War takes cues from the likes of The Witcher 3, Assassin's Creed and the Batman: Arkham series.
This shared goal, coupled with the events of the first game (which aren’t thoroughly recounted), have seen the pair form a bond and now forge a new Ring of Power; one unknown to and uncorrupted by Sauron’s influence and filled with the power of Celebrimbor’s wraith form.
It's here we meet the first diversion from established Tolkien lore, which predictably invited controversy during the game’s development. The Great Spider Shelob (encountered by Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King) is depicted as a more ethereal being which generally takes the form of an attractive woman, rather than a hairy arachnid.
While it makes it easier to relate to the character, the depiction does seem unnecessarily sexualised and doesn't do much to make her compelling as a somewhat bystander in the story. Nonetheless, she’s called on to drive the plot forward with Galadriel-esque visions.
It must be said that the main characters in general are fairly uninspiring, despite the extremely cinematic and often epic presentation of the action unfolding around them. While Troy Baker's voice work as Talion fits perfectly, the warring sides of one being (himself and Celebrimbor sharing a body) can be akin to a married couple bickering, rather than two strong personalities arguing over fundamental disagreements. Their conflict isn't nearly as engaging as the world they occupy.
A big part in making this take on Middle-earth compelling is the Nemesis System, which returns to bring enemy captains to the forefront. The process often starts with interrogating a 'worm’ (a lowly orc) to gain intel on a captain's weaknesses, which will help you to defeat the boss-type characters in more convincing fashion. Later you can send death threats to achieve the opposite effect, boosting their level to heighten the challenge and thusly reap greater rewards.
A big part in making this take on Middle-earth compelling is the Nemesis System, which returns to bring enemy captains to the forefront.
What isn't clear is just how unique these characters are to each player. Will one maggot-infested captain who came back to life multiple times to taunt us appear in other games? Or is there a complex system of procedural generation at work, weaving in these memorable encounters on a somewhat user-by-user basis?
Either way, you can bump into the edges on occasion when you come across the same voice actors depicting multiple foes, but adding a personal touch does make these duels more exciting. Especially when three or four gang up on you at once and present an almost overwhelming challenge, the brutes then being promoted while taunting you on their victory should you fall.
The general orc populous are fairly obedient in only attacking one or two at a time, plus they’re either unwilling or unable to interrupt most cinematic actions like execution kills or draining the life out of grunts to regain health. Challenge comes in facing sheer numbers - which are now more common with the introduction of large-scale fort battles - though they can often be whittled down before entering open combat by engaging with the forgiving stealth system, which incorporates instant melee kills and a silent ranged bow (along with plenty of flashier abilities acquired through an upgrade tree).
Shadow of War’s world is separated into different regions, all with their own crop of captains to work through, missions to tackle and collectables to pick up. Looking at the world map brings back the Assassin's Creed comparisons - comparisons to Ubisoft games in general, really - as you're often unable to clear the map of its many, many symbols. Enemies also respawn fairly constantly, meaning there's only limited satisfaction in cleansing an area of filthy orcses.
In the end, Shadow of War is a great game let down by drawbacks which range from nagging to difficult to ignore. The sheer number of systems and sub-systems alone mean you're still being introduced to new mechanics and working out how the game works long into the second act.
If you relish the thought of jumping back into Tolkien’s world, Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a no-brainer; there's hours of exciting entertainment to be had. Ultimately though, there's an inevitability to where the story is heading, making it difficult to feel that you're the catalyst for any great change in a world on the brink - but perhaps that's the point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Subtlety isn’t always something which comes naturally in gaming. So many experiences are explosion-filled, non-stop action thrill rides that you come to expect grand spectacle and over-the-top set pieces whenever you turn on your console.
Each brutal killer - or ghostlike infiltrator, depending on your playstyle - has their own set of supernatural abilities which work in a similar way to BioShock’s plasmids, only with a more otherworldly presentation. The end result, once you’ve unlocked a number of these powers, is an increasing number of options on how to tackle certain problems and puzzles, which can feel incredibly rewarding when you find a combination that works for you.
The story is, as per usual, one of betrayal and false accusations, which either Emily or Corvo must work towards setting right in order to restore equilibrium. The missions themselves each have their own personality, injected through both level design and specific mechanics, making the game feel much more varied than you might expect.
One such level, which was shown off frequently prior to release, is The Clockwork Mansion, in which the entire building layout transforms around you at the pull of a lever - like some sort of twisted M.C. Escher painting come to life - and it’s extremely impressive.
Dishonored 2 stands up as one of the most compelling single-player outings of the year, balancing gameplay, story and spectacle in a way not often seen these days.
Developer Arkane seems to be acutely aware of the sort of spectacle they’ve created in this and other levels, as they offer occasional periods of respite in which you’re granted the freedom to explore and soak in the richness of this world. It isn’t quite as endearing as pre-event Columbia in BioShock Infinite, but it does have some genuine character to it, while still feeling like a natural battleground to skulk about in.
Gameplay is generally extremely well-balanced; slick and deliberate movements underline the fact you’re a trained killer, whether you decide to use that part of your skillset or not, whilst fluid combat elements flow naturally.
The original Dishonored was considered a challenging jaunt, which is an attribute its sequel holds on to. There are four difficulty settings from the off, with more to be added, along with a New Game Plus option via a free update in due course, but even the standard difficulty is a serious test of skill - particularly if you’re aiming to get through the game with no kills and not being discovered at all. There’s even a mode in which you forgo powers, reserved for actual masochists, though a forgiving save system might help you cheese your way through.
The AI can be overzealous at times, with the slightest glimpse of the player through cover, at a distance, even in shadow, arousing their suspicion, no matter how careful you might be to move slowly and carefully. In the same breath the enemies also suffer from cone of vision syndrome, where if you pull shenanigans behind them, even just a few metres away, they’re completely oblivious. This sort of inconsistency is few and far between, but certainly present enough to be noticeable and impact the way you play.
Some supporting characters have excellent voice talent on show, with turns from Rosario Dawson (Daredevil and Luke Cage), Robin Lord Taylor (Gotham’s Penguin) and Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths and Iron Man 2). Investing in these names pays off as the cast bring their characters to life, which is essential in what can otherwise feel like quite a deliberately solitary experience.
In the end, Dishonored 2 stands up as one of the most compelling single-player outings of the year, balancing gameplay, story and spectacle in a way not often seen these days. While there are a few things which don’t quite work, the game is greater than the sum of its parts, delivering a thoroughly engaging experience that will push veteran Corvo players while also offering a new gameplay style to master with Emily and her more nuanced set of powers.
At this time of year it might - in the spirit of the game itself - be one which is at risk of slipping by unnoticed, but there are lots of reasons it’s more than worthy of your time.
Did you enjoy Dishonored 2? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check out our video review as well.
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.