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.
Read part one of our review here.
Episode Two continues the game’s trend of being placed in a huge map with an overwhelming number of options available to carry out a few tasks. The biggest tip for any HITMAN game is to spend your first playthrough messing about and exploring, seeing the patterns of the targets and the best escape routes, where disguises are left lying about, etc. Proceeding with this mindset, the mission score would have resulted in minus points if possible, thanks to around 80,000 being taken off for knocking out and killing near enough twenty 'non-targets', as the game calls them. They're all working for a chemical weapons manufacturer, they're all culpable!
“I can kill this target in so many ways, which shall I choose?”
HITMAN's episodic approach so far has been rather light, the monthly release schedule has been barely adhered to with the second episode releasing over seven weeks after the initial content. The only updates have been a few Escalation Contracts that see you doing the same hit over and over in more difficult ways. As such, Contracts mode remains the big draw, with challenges in story mode making replaying levels more palatable, a bit more inventive, and appealing to go through again and again. It's a shame that the Elusive Targets haven't arrived yet, as these would go a long way towards bringing everyone back into a game that most can get enough fun out of after a few play sessions. More regular updates are needed in an otherwise consistently brilliant return to form with Episode Two.
Now to go back and see if that woodchipper works...
Score TBD, check back when the game is content complete
République first launched back in late 2013; a runaway Kickstarter project that graced iOS devices and impressed, thanks to developer Camouflaj’s successful condensing of a console-quality experience. Now, years later, République takes its rightful mantle on console, in a re-release that reaffirms the quality of the product.
As the gameplay evolves with progression, so too does the story, becoming a tangled web of conspiracy.
République is somewhat miraculous in its ability to feel quite so unique, as it draws from a pretty vast pool of inspirations. Many of these are literary, but the most notable on the video game front are some of our all time favourites: Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Bioshock. Remnants of each are ever present in the setting, characterisation, tone, story, visuals, sound, gameplay - everything, really. The rich dystopian locale actually manages to rival the respective Spencer Mansion, Shadow Moses Island and Rapture; a character of its own and another example of deft environmental storytelling.
Hope isn’t totally helpless as you guide her through the harsh world, with lootable tasers and pepper-spray canisters helping to even the odds on the occasions your stealth-oriented directives aren’t quite tactically sound. If you’re caught without these means of defence to hand, you’ll be escorted to a nearby holding-cell and your possessions confiscated, though escape and reacquisition - through pickpocketing the arresting guard - make the process more of an inconvenience than a threat. As the episodes progress, patrols become better equipped to both resist and arrest, donning protective clothing and equipping sleep gas grenades to take you down from a distance.
If you take the time to unearth dirty laundry by reading documents, hacking email inboxes and listening to voicemails, it can be sold to a black market vendor reminiscent of Resident Evil 4’s beloved merchant. Thereafter, you’ll be able to purchase OMNI View upgrades that provide a range of benefits and further tools to help in Hope’s escape. Just be aware that employing their use will drain battery power, so, just like in real life, you’ll want to avoid certain applications if you aren’t near a charging station.
An intelligently written and well-acted game that raises many a burning question.
As the gameplay evolves with progression, so too does the story, becoming a tangled web of conspiracy. You may elect how many strands to follow, as it’s up to the player to discover half of the context independently through exploration, and the consumption of the the written and audio data uncovered. Whether you choose to do so or not, République is an intelligently written and well-acted game that raises many a burning question - though if you don't like religion, social and political issues brought into your entertainment, you may not appreciate it.
The literate, thoughtful and inventive story of technical advancement vs morality unfortunately derails somewhat in the hugely departed fourth episode, and leads into an equally predictable and nonsensical finale that leaves many loose ends left untied. You won’t be left with a clear picture of any form, and we don’t doubt that’s to encourage fine-toothed-comb replays and online conspiracy theories, but that doesn’t make the latter chapters any more satisfying. It’s a shame, as we were deeply invested before things gradually fizzled out towards the end; yet with that said, despite the destination, the journey’s definitely still worth taking.
Despite its gameplay flaws and slightly botched ending, République is a compelling and innovative journey, ever complemented by its ambient future soundtrack. Holding up outstandingly (outside of some ugly character models) for an ageing mobile game, it reminded us of some of our favourite moments in gaming, and more importantly, why we fell in love with gaming. As such, it’s easy to recommend you at least give République a chance to shine - you just might fall in love with it.
We’re not sure about anybody else, but we keep a wary eye out for people with barcodes on the back of their heads. We’re also not sure if that's some sort of ‘ism’, but the Hitman series of video games suggests they're bad news; mere products of mad scientists without thought for the risk of not giving them hair. Maybe when protagonist Agent 47 completes a hit, he returns to HQ to have the back of his head scanned through a checkout and get paid?
This time around those things still ring true, but added are the few strong elements from Absolution, making for a product that’s the best of both worlds. The hand-to-hand combat and improved gunplay are kept, along with an overhauled version of instinct mode, which is thankfully no longer a requirement for disguise. Instead there are select characters who will be suspicious of your disguise if you get too close, which is a much more simple and effective system - thanks to this being discreetly indicated to the player, it makes for a simple way to understand the routine AI of NPCs. Outside of that tweak, instinct still works to mark your target, as well as points of interest and other NPCs, in much the same fashion as Batman’s detective vision.
What makes HITMAN stand out most of all is that anybody can play it... everyone is catered for
Opening tutorials help to introduce the various ways you can carry out hits, undoubtedly a welcome feature for newcomers overwhelmed by the breadth of choice afforded to them. Despite that, they aren't exhaustive, as there's so much depth in the opportunities and equipment available that replaying the same hit will never be the same - let alone the limitless variations Contracts mode offers (more on this later).
The best way to play is obviously to explore and discover things for yourself, probably by messing up big time and finding a new opportunity in the room you escaped into. We’ve performed hits guns blazing, opportunistically pushed people from ledges, blown up chandeliers to crush those below, even killed someone with a rubber duck. Whether you like to run in and hope for the best or be patient and learn patrol patterns, everybody is accommodated.
As an episodic release you only receive the two tutorial areas and the first fully fledged area, Paris, in the Intro Pack. Whilst that may sound sparse, at less than £12 it’s more than worth it. Blood Money is generally considered the series high point and HITMAN is more of that, only with more health and safety nightmares to take advantage of in larger sandbox areas. Returning players will feel right at home, whilst the cheap price should attract newcomers.
If the price point isn’t enough to draw you in, maybe Contracts mode will be. Introduced in Absolution, Contracts is a game mode that sets players the task of creating their own hits, the only limit being your own skill, as you’ll have to complete the hit yourself in order to publish it. You can choose from thousands of player created hits and create your own by targeting any NPC and taking them out whilst in the creator. Whilst you can have targets taken care of however the player chooses, the better hits are the ones with odd prerequisites, for instance, someone might specify you need to become an axe-wielding maniac dressed as a waiter, so you’ll need to find a waiter outfit and an axe before even contemplating the hit. That's just a small example, as there are nearly limitless ways to murder, and it's this that makes the game a joy to play. If you can’t get online to partake, single player missions do have built-in challenges that offer some similar bouts of fun.
The story isn't even worth mentioning, which might somewhat alienate those brought into the fold by Absolution and its narrative focus, but gameplay has always been the series’ main focus and importantly that’s nailed here.
What makes HITMAN stand out most of all is that anybody can play it. People burned by Absolution, fans of Absolution, newcomers, stealth fans, shooter fans - everyone - is catered for. Hitman has never been so satisfying and has never offered so many hours of entertainment, despite its drip-fed episodic release format. It’s a cracking return to form, of which we’re eagerly awaiting the next content drop.
Score TBD, check back when the game is content complete
Looking for a second opinion? Check out Sam's thoughts on the PlayStation 4 version.
Frictional Games, masters of horror and the sadistic minds behind both Penumbra and Amnesia - games capable of turning even the 'ardest blokes ghostly white - bring us SOMA.
Though lacking in vitamin D, this reviewer emerged from his dark room richer for the experience of playing SOMA.
An eclectic range of puzzles impede your progress and hide the aforementioned juicy storytelling devices. If you aren’t a huge fan of conventional puzzle games, you'll be pleasantly surprised that none outstay their welcome or become frustrating. You'll likely have to sit and really think at points, but before long the solution will click and you'll feel like a genius for it.
Whilst there's a constant sense of unease brought about by the suffocatingly thick atmosphere - conjured in part by the outstanding audio - monster encounters, the meat of any self-respecting horror experience, are largely few and far between. When they do rear their ugly heads it's business as usual for Frictional devotees; enemies cannot be combatted in any way and simply looking at their form is enough to damage to the player. The system works as well as ever, combining helplessness and fear of the unknown into an unnerving cocktail.
Several different enemy types are encountered throughout the adventure and introduced to varying degrees of success. You'll first encounter a lumbering, bipedal... thing, that's incredibly easy to avoid and as such devoid of any real fear-mongery. The first real instance of terror doesn't come until hours into the game with the introduction of the second enemy type. From the jump scare introduction, through to the frantic escape from the constant pursuer, you are entirely immersed in the moment. We shook the controller in a bid to run faster, held our breath and kept still whilst hidden away, muffled cries to have them manifest as pathetic whimpers - it was terrifying. Unfortunately, enemy types to follow are just slight variations on the formula and don't carry the same impact when you've seen it before.
SOMA also suffers technically with long load times and relatively frequent minor hitches, such as slowdown and hanging. Add a freeze into the mix and it isn't the best runner, but it's a sterling effort for Frictional's first console outing regardless.
Though lacking in vitamin D, this reviewer emerged from his dark room richer for the experience of playing SOMA. It's a very clever game that takes the player on an unmissable journey through one of the richest environments and narratives in gaming - all at a budget price point. Buy this game, grab your headphones, turn the volume up, the lights out, and enjoy it.