Last week, Epic Games revealed Unreal Engine 5, treating us to a demo running on PS5 hardware. Lumen in the Land of Nanite showcases two new core technologies, which will offer unprecedented levels of detail when the engine (compatible with current and next-gen platforms, including Android and iOS) releases next year.
Lots and lots of triangles.
After the underwhelming third-party Xbox Series X gameplay reveal, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 footage was just what we needed. While the character model still isn’t quite there, the environments and assets on display are incredible.
That said, the showcase doesn’t actually relate to a real game and should be taken with a pinch of salt. Countless times before tech demos either haven’t quite panned out or it’s taken years of hands-on experience with an engine and/or piece of hardware to fully realise something comparable.
Even if we do get visuals of that standard right off the bat, UE5 isn’t scheduled to release until late 2021. By then the PS5 and XSX will be around a year old, so the demo isn’t a great measuring stick to judge the quality of what we’ll be looking at on day one.
While journo Geoff Keighley claims gamers won’t be disappointed when they clap eyes on next-gen visuals, if there’s truth to that, in the absence of E3 this year, it’s time to show and not tell. Although I’m excited to see what both next-gen machines are truly capable of, it does appear we could be looking at diminishing returns and not the kind of drastic leap alluded to by Head of Xbox Phil Spencer.
Cautious optimism may negate any future disappointment.
While tech talk is always lost on me, I can appreciate lovely visuals, and the Unreal 5 demo certainly had them in spades. The most impressive part, however, was not the magic bats or reactive light but the way the character interacted with her environment.
Little touches, like how she placed her hand on a door frame when passing through it, are far more immersive than ultra-realistic shadows and dust physics, especially if unscripted. In-game worlds have been getting prettier for years, but far too often playable characters seem oblivious to them.
Like Link’s cartoon eyes that pointed out clues in The Wind Waker, more natural animations could be put to good use in next-gen games (at least the ones made with Unreal 5) to subtly do the same. How cool would it be to see your character spontaneously react to unknown sounds by flinching away from them, indicating a potential enemy nearby, or hint at hidden areas with a suggestive glance?
It’s these kinds of innovations and improvements, rather than simply bigger and better-looking worlds, that I’m most looking forward to seeing more of once the next-gen really gets going.
A more subtle but immersive approach gets Liam's motor running.
Graphics might not be the be all and end all, but most of the gaming persuasion would agree that loading screens are not fun. How nice then that this loaded-to-the-brim tech showcase was a fluid, seamless experience from start to finish.
Of course, questions in the days following led to discussion about whether a loading screen was hidden in a "squeezing through a crack" section – a tactic often employed by the likes of Uncharted and recent Tomb Raider instalments to give time to render environments.
This was quickly waved away as an intentional move to show close-up detail, but it's important to remember (as Sam says) that this isn't a final product, merely a glimpse of what might be possible.
On consoles it's potentially even more removed from reality, with the demo undoubtedly running on a high-end PC, though next gen will invite more teraflops to the party than ever before.
Similar to the potential in Assassin's Creed last week, it's the ability to make environmental detail ever more effortless for developers which is most exciting as they can then focus their time in pushing gameplay forward with new ideas and experiences. Bring it on.
It may take time for such intricately detailed worlds to emerge.
Let us know your thoughts on the first PS5 gameplay footage.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was officially announced last week, confirming the previous rumours that we'll be playing as a Viking this time around. Details are scant at the moment, outside of the setting and basic premise, but the recent trailers have given us a lot to speculate on.
Don't get too excited about this gameplay trailer.
After taking back Victorian London in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, I felt my dreams of role-playing as a silent killer were thoroughly satisfied, leading me to let both Odyssey and Origins pass me by. With a more wintery trip to Blighty planned, as the more shouty, but suitably stabby, Vikings, the trailer has me intrigued.
There's not a lot of stealth on show, but King Alfred of Wessex (as confirmed by Ubisoft on Den of Geek) looks thoroughly miserable and that's enough to warrant an untimely spiking in my book. Plus, while the Vikings eventually conquered the entire country, their raids began in more rural, coastal towns - if I remember correctly from my year 9 history - a far cry from the bustling, close-knit rooftops of London. This could lead to some interesting assassination scenarios, and ones which build on lessons learned in the more sunshine-drenched experiences of the past two games.
Having not played PlayStation's God of War, I haven't dabbled much in Norsemen combat for some time, so it will be interesting to see how the style of fighting differs from a more traditional, strictly in the shadows approach. Presumably there will be a bit more aggression to the kills here, which could be juicy.
Finally, we did see some traditional Viking longships (cue an expert tell me they aren't actually longships), which could see the return of a sprinkling of ship combat, a feature I haven't tried out in the likes of Black Flag. With Skull and Bones seemingly endlessly delayed, this could be a good opportunity for some to scratch their sailing itch at the same time, as they make their way up the British coast, gradually planting the flag for the scandinavians.
Is more naval combat on the cards?
First of all, I’m hoping Ubisoft adopt a ‘less is more’ approach with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, as Odyssey was just far too much game, and I can’t be the only one who burned out on the seemingly endless supply of side-quests and loot gathering after only a couple of dozen hours.
Secondly, it would be good to see something more than just a mindless hack-a-thon with some cinematics (albeit very good-looking ones) thrown on top, as the setting could be an interesting one story-wise.
Vikings aren’t exactly known as a history’s good guys, and while I’m sure Ubisoft will try to portray Eivor as a decent person – the trailer even hints this will be the case – raiding locals in order to upgrade our new settlements doesn’t exactly sound like the most paragon behaviour.
Hopefully there will be more subtle ways to expand our influence, such as forming alliances with some of the many kingdoms that made up England at the time, as opposed to just butchering our way to power. Proper choices and a more engrossing story would certainly keep me hooked a lot longer than Odyssey managed to do.
These chaps don't seem keen on the idea of an alliance but the resulting fracas could persuade the next lot.
I have a tumultuous history with the AC series. I love Assassin’s Creed II, Black Flag and Origins, but every other entry I’ve either skipped over or found underwhelming. I guess that’s the nature of a franchise that jumps between characters and time periods so often - some will land, while others won’t.
I’m hearing a lot - not seeing, based on the disappointing “gameplay” reveal trailer - that gives me hope Valhalla will help to even out my list of Assassin’s Creed hits and misses. The biggest positive for me is actually a point of contention for many others, that being that the upcoming Viking Age AC game isn’t going to be the series’ biggest entry yet.
Malek Teffaha of Ubisoft Middle East acknowledged that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will be shorter than the other recent instalments. While some people want more bang for their buck, I’m a firm believer that less is more and have long held that Ubisoft could do with implementing that philosophy into its game design.
Not only that, but the Norse slant is of more interest than most other settings for me. Following 2018’s outstanding God of War there’s a lot to live up to, though combat is said to have been reworked in “brutal” fashion for Valhalla. I know there’s scope for ransacking forts and that’s pretty encouraging; you can’t beat a good bit of siege warfare, after all.
Hopefully this beautiful world won't be as lifeless as previous entries.
Let us know what you're expecting from Assassin's Creed Valhalla.
It's a great time for fans of strategy games, as XCOM: Chimera Squad is out now on PC, bringing in some new changes to shake up the dynamic, whilst Gears Tactics is dipping its toes into the strategy world for the first time. Will either of these titles reach the heady highs of the best the genre has to offer?
That relaxing vibe slowly ebbs away as the action increases.
Sam | Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
I’m not a big fan of traditional RTS games, and turn-based combat more often than not leaves me pretty cold. There are certain strategy games that’ve really grabbed me, though, enough even to become exceptions to the above.
The likes of Mount & Blade, The Banner Saga and Dungeon of the Endless crossed my mind, but The Bearded Ladies’ Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden has to take this mantle. MYZ marries narrative, exploration, RPG mechanics, stealth and direct character control with turn-based tactical battles in the style of XCOM.
It might sound like an impossible hodgepodge of genres and mechanics on the surface, but everything ties seamlessly together in-game. It’s quite similar to Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle in many ways - which was definitely another contender for my pick - though with far more depth, likely owing to the older target demographic.
We eventually got more Road to Eden with the release of its Seed of Evil expansion, which picked up right where the main game’s cliffhanger ending left off. It speaks volumes that the shambolic technical performance at launch didn’t stop me from devouring and enjoying the entire expansion over just a couple of play sessions.
Having a pre-existing world to draw from helped Mutant Year Zero pull in fans.
Liam | Kingdom: Two Crowns
Are my walls strong enough to withstand tonight’s attack? Have I hired enough archers? Should I have upgraded my towers? These are the sort of questions that run through your mind every sunset in Kingdom as your underlings hunker down behind your defences in preparation for another onslaught.
On the surface, the Kingdom series might seem like a relatively simple affair compared to other strategic games; you’ve no real direct input, save for ordering the building of structures or recruiting subjects to fill your ranks, and the 2D layout limits exploration to just two directions, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in depth.
Having to carefully cultivate gold resources and strike a balance between daring explorer and cautious defender is great fun and can lead to some incredibly tense showdowns with the troll-like Greed that rock up to your walls every night.
The gameplay might be a little rudimentary, but it keeps things accessible, particularly for casuals and non-gamers. I’ve spent dozens of hours building kingdoms in the series’ two-player iteration, Two Crowns, with a playing partner whose interest in games is almost non-existent. Not only did they quickly grasp Kingdom’s core concept, but revelled in it, proving that a strategy game doesn’t need to be overly complicated to be engrossing.
Sometimes, simpler is better.
James | Red Alert 2
At the end of the 90s, strategy games were on a high. Command and Conquer was finally seeing competition from the likes of Age of Empires, Total Annihilation and Starcraft, which meant industry legends Westwood Studios had to hit back. Their answer? Red Alert 2.
While the first instalment was ground-breaking, the sequel re-defined the series graphically, with a more refined, isometric perspective, and the live action cutscenes having significantly more polish - but just the right amount of cheese.
Whether it was the campaign, which led you on a time-hopping, reality-twisting adventure to further the cause of your chosen side, or the multiplayer, which was my and many others’ first experience of online strategy - which tried hard to get away from the traditional rock/paper/scissors of balancing land, sea and air units, and succeeded.
You could even pick a game type called “Unholy Alliance” which saw you get access to units from both sides. The infantry units in particular packed more of a punch, with capturing a building quickly creating a killbox, even if you fortified your regular GIs in the field to give them access to heavier weaponry.
If you haven’t checked the game out before (or its equally impressive expansion, Yuri’s Revenge) there’s a remastered collection just waiting to be explored.
Is it time for another game-changing Red Alert title?
Share your favourite strategy games with us.
Some of you will have already sunk your teeth into Capcom’s Resident Evil 3 remake and blitzed through it in time for Final Fantasy VII which (officially) launched on Friday. Whilst these classics rightfully deserve a makeover, there are a few other games from that era which are crying out for a fresh lick of paint.
A touch of humour and a ton of gore.
Sam | Dino Crisis
My love of Ape Escape and desire for a reboot or remake is already well known to Team Talk regulars, so, since that pick pretty much goes without saying, I’ve opted instead for Dino Crisis.
Dinosaurs are thoroughly under-utilised in horror; the towering, toothy reptiles actually existed way back when and that fact arguably makes them far more terrifying than any dreamt up monstrosity. Imagine the sheer terror of finding yourself face-to-face with a Tyrannosaurus if they’d never gone extinct or you’d lived back in prehistoric times.
They’ve been dumbed down and made more child friendly over the years, but set that aside and, in reality, carnivorous dinos are downright scary. Dino Crisis knew this and leveraged it, leaning on survival horror mainstay Resident Evil as its gameplay template.
With much of the same talent at Capcom being responsible for both series, it’s a real shame that Dino Crisis ultimately fell by the wayside as Resident Evil prospered. With survival horror currently enjoying a resurgence, plus Capcom said to be open to making more remakes, the odds are actually looking decent when it comes to Dino Crisis’ return. In lieu of any confirmation, however, we can only hope that dinosaurs soon get back the bad name they deserve.
Resident Evil meets Jurassic Park was never going to be a hard sell.
Liam | Firestorm Thunderhawk 2
Firestorm Thunderhawk 2 was one of the many PS1 games I’d get to play whenever I would babysit my uncle’s console while he was away on trips, and I remember being hugely impressed by it, even back then.
Up until that point, the only flying game I’d really spent any significant amount of time with was Starwing on the SNES, which was rather limited compared to what FT2 was offering. Being able to explore in any direction and seek out enemies/objectives was, at the time, mind blowing, and hopping from first to third person views was also pretty amazing.
A spruced up, expanded and much better-looking modern version would be a great thing, in my opinion, as there aren’t enough flying games knocking around these days, let alone ones starring attack choppers. Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (my personal GOTY for 2019) showed that there’s still a market for action-oriented flying games, especially those with a meaty single player campaign.
It seems unlikely we’ll ever get a new Firestorm game (the series seems to have disappeared after a follow up for the PlayStation 2) but I would happily snap up a remastered Thunderhawk 2, should a publisher/developer be willing to take a crack at it.
We need fewer zombies and more attack choppers.
James | Cool Boarders
While Ubisoft attempted to take the snow-covered world of extreme sports back with Steep (a title so forgettable I just had to look it up), there’s a lot to be said for going back to basics to bring some energy and entertainment to the digital world of snowboarding.
In a similar way to how the acclaimed Skate did in response to the over-saturation of Tony Hawk’s games, Cool Boarders could sweep in and pick up the torch after its former self wiped out on the soft powder back at the turn of the millennium.
Steep didn’t catch on as it tried to do too many things, whereas the updated graphics alone would give Cool Boarders the chance to really showcase the power of the PS5 with some sick snow effects.
Of course you’d need to retain the sense of humour that the series had in its day (or am I just projecting that?) to get young’uns interested, since there isn’t a huge amount of brand recall for this particular gem.
Still, more has been done in the past with more obscure franchises and they’ve come out shining, so why not give the borders another chance to stack it for our amusement?
Cool Boarders was getting us pumped before SSX even had its boots on.
Which iconic PlayStation titles do you think are deserving of a remake?
VR prequel Half-Life: Alyx released last week and though it may not be the sequel we were all wanting, it gives us a faint glimmer of hope that Valve could finally bring the series to a satisfying conclusion one day. Will that ever be the case for these sought-after sequels that seem unlikely to see the light of day, though?
Though, a Far Cry-like skill tree is almost certain to feature.
Liam | Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 4
Rogue Squadron is my favourite Star Wars gaming series, and, as unlikely as it seems, it would be great to see it revived in some way on modern hardware.
According to the video below, which I only recently saw for the first time, it appears there were numerous attempts to reboot the franchise following the series’ successes on the N64 and Nintendo GameCube, including remasters and all-new entries for the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii era.
None of those projects ever came to fruition, sadly, and it doesn’t look like that will be rectified anytime soon, since original developer Factor 5 ended up closing down for good more than a decade ago following financial trouble.
A shame, because the Dark Squadron spin-off that was said to have been in production at some point, in which you played as Darth Vader as he took the fight to the Rebels, sounded like an interesting new direction for the series to go in, what with Luke and Co. having been firmly in the spotlight previously.
While it’s very unlikely we’ll ever get Rogue Squadron 4, I’m still hopeful there’s an old fan somewhere at EA that’s championing this fantastic series. Perhaps a Xbox Series X/PlayStation 5 remaster is in order, just to test the waters?
With multiple new entries in the Star Wars canon, Rogue Squadron 4 could us on an interesting journey.
Sam | Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem
2002’s Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was well ahead of its time. Released exclusively for the GameCube, it’s a psychological thriller featuring several different playable protagonists that occupy different historical periods.
In itself that was ambitious for the time - and still would be today, to an extent - though by also breaking the fourth wall in creative ways things were taken that bit further. Eternal Darkness definitely took cues from the iconic Psycho Mantis boss encounter in Metal Gear Solid, and is perhaps just as fondly remembered on the whole.
After scoring an impressive 92/100 on Metacritic, its sequel seemed like an inevitable matter of when and not if. Until no confirmation came for over a decade and then developer Silicon Knights went out of business, that is…
We’d learn that Eternal Darkness 2 had been in active development, and that the team’s demise brought an unfortunate end to the project. Despite that, key figures reconverged as Precursor Games and sought to crowdsource a follow-up titled Shadow of the Eternals.
Unfortunately, the game failed to meet its funding goal… twice over. Precursor disbanded and Eternal Darkness has remained dormant ever since, much to the disappointment of survival horror fanatics.
Though it may look like a simple Resident Evil clone, Eternal Darkness had a unique take on psychological horror.
James | Left 4 Dead 3
While it’s a running joke that Valve can’t count to three, the real joke is this teasing they are doing in raising our hopes for the return of Half-Life at all.
As far as other sequels we might never be graced with though, I was torn between Portal 3 and L4D3 for this topic and in the end it feels as though the Left 4 Dead world has more to offer, despite how played-out zombies as a concept may seem.
The joy of a game of Scavenge in Left 4 Dead 2 may be one of the most rewarding and exciting new game modes for cooperative multiplayer in the last 20 years (or, if you’re being picky, simply a clever twist on the capture the flag).
It’s been tried of course, with original game creators Turtle Rock spinning up Evolve and more recently Earthfall trying to tread a similar path, but perhaps - just like Half-Life: Alyx - Valve’s urge to innovate and change the game could be the missing ingredient.
Imagine the vindictive AI director - a key factor in giving the game its replayability - beefed up with the power of cloud computing, and a few procedurally-generated elements thrown in for good measure, keeping the experience fresh, exciting and an unexpected challenge every time.
Rather than relying on the tropes of zombie games to carry it through, Left 4 Dead built its foundation on solid gameplay and well-executed, simple ideas. Then, on top of that, it sprinkled its lore naturally throughout, with suggestions scrawled on walls by survivors and campaigns which only hint at the extent of the event which ravaged its world. It’s time to lock and load, and don’t forget the pills.
Will Valve ever release a properly numbered second sequel?
Let us know which unlikely sequels you'd like to see.
DOOM Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are out this week, both being anticipated sequels years in the making. Only time will tell if they live up to expectations, but hopefully they can channel these iconic sequels that shook franchises up for the better.
And the iconic duo have both cameoed in Injustice. Who's next?
Sam | Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III best represents the colossal jump from 2D to 3D gaming, in my opinion. A lot of people point toward Super Mario 64 as the standard bearer, but Rockstar’s effort was way more impressive.
The PS2 classic inspired numerous game design philosophies that are still prevalent today, proving just how influential it was. While the graphics and gunplay no longer impress, its narrative, writing and voice overs still hold up better than most of today’s homogenised videogame storytelling.
Back in 2001 a vast majority of games were level-based and linear, so the liberating sandbox design of GTA III was a genuine revolution. Deviating from the main path wasn’t only possible, but it was actively encouraged. Misbehaving didn’t result in instant failure, but would rather invite police intervention. You could enter and exit vehicles at will, instead of scripted sections dictating how you’d travel.
It did a lot of things I’d dreamt about but assumed weren’t possible in games when they never materialised over time. They probably hadn’t been possible before the introduction of the PlayStation 2, when my older brother’s copy of Grand Theft Auto III rocked my seven-year-old world.
Rockstar set the bar for open world games.
Liam | The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
While The Wind Waker’s core gameplay didn’t stray too far from the series tried and tested formula - namely, beating a series of themed dungeons and their bosses, solving puzzles, unlocking new weapons and abilities etc. - visually, the game was a huge departure from its predecessors.
I remember Toon Link and the accompanying cartoony visuals getting quite a bit of stick when they were first revealed, and while it was admittedly a bit weird seeing the Hero of Time portrayed in such a way after the cool, adult Link seen in Ocarina of Time, I quickly got used to, then fell in love with, the art style.
Gone were the blurry browns and dark greens of old Hyrule, and in their place a crisp, wonderful, literal sea of colour that uplifted the whole experience. Yes, there was the usual peril for players to deal with, but somehow it all felt new and vibrant when seen through a cel-shaded lens.
Other Zelda games have dabbled in similar visual styles since, but none have made quite the same dramatic impact (at least for me) as The Wind Waker did back in 2003.
Hyrule looks great at this time of year.
James | Max Payne 3
While the genre-defining bullet time – a gameplay effect which made time go all Matrix-y – was present in the very first outing for Max, it’s hard to argue that the series didn’t reach the height of its potential with Max Payne 3.
Rockstar Games took over production from creators Remedy (who went on to make the similarly time-bending Quantum Break and Control), and brought a more compelling narrative and grizzled characterisation for Max.
On top of that the controls were familiar enough for those who had dabbled in the earlier iterations but far more familiar to those who had played other Rockstar outings like Grand Theft Auto.
The icing on the cake though was the multiplayer component, which brought the game to life like never before and consistently provided memorable and stunning experiences – though it might have had less players than Rockstar would have liked.
Its use of bullet time in multiplayer in particular is something which few games had done before, and was pulled off with both technical precision and in a way which enhanced the gameplay without it feeling like a cheap gimmick.
Plus Payne Killer is such a great name for a mode.
No-one does bullet time quite like Max.
Let us know which sequels you think changed everything.
We're pitting the week's biggest hitters against each other as Ori and the Will of the Wisps released on Xbox One yesterday and Nioh 2 is coming to PlayStation on Friday. Both sequels have been eagerly awaited but which one are we most excited for?
This alone looks like a tough fight.
Sam | Nioh 2
With 2020 having been pretty quiet in terms of new releases so far, I’ve spent a good chunk of time catching up on my (now ever-so-slightly-smaller) backlog. Two of the games I scratched off the list are Ori and the Blind Forest and Nioh, which means I’m coming into this particular skirmish of sequels funky fresh on their forebears.
Honestly, I found the original Ori to be slightly disappointing. It was fundamentally solid, don’t get me wrong, but for years it’d been built up to be something truly standout. It isn’t, to be blunt, but I still had a good time nonetheless.
Nioh had been built up in a similar fashion over the years I elected not to play it in favour of, well, erm, just about every other Souls-like out there. Team Ninja’s effort didn’t disappoint, however. It’s probably the best example of the emerging sub-genre not to be developed by the founding FromSoftware.
Having already played a little Nioh 2, I’m also equipped to say that it’s even better than the original. The uniquely level-based structure is back, which means the second instalment will continue to be more readily accessible than most other Souls-likes. That’s not to say Nioh 2 is basic by any means, though; the toolset available to players this time around is expanded through the introduction of several all-new weapon types and abilities.
A more readily accessible Souls-like is just what the doctor ordered.
James | Ori and the Will of the Wisps
The likes of Ori in particular may have a good reputation, but who has the time? With so many games to get through, even this most recent drought of releases (DOOM (2016) sits on the digital shelf, mocking me) didn't give me the opportunity to get to the acclaimed Metroidvania.
Now that there's a new one around the corner though, the easy availability of the game (as well as the original) on Game Pass will probably be the deciding factor if I do get time to explore one of these two titles.
Seeing as I don't have a PlayStation, this probably won't come as a surprise, but the platforming nature of Ori does bring it closer to my wheelhouse in the form of Rayman Legends and historically a number of 2D platformers, all the way back to Sonic 2.
More than likely the game will go the way of Unravel and Unravel 2 – decent games which perform reasonably well but fail to work their way onto my radar.
Oh, and if you're wondering what I'll be choosing between DOOM Eternal and Animal Crossing next week, here's a clue: I'm terrible at shooters, but also a masochist when it comes to gaming, so I'm at an impasse. If you fancy it, you can help me decide on Twitter.
Will James' admission of being terrible at shooters influence the votes?
Liam | Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Like Chris and James, my abode is still decidedly lacking in the PS4 department, so while Nioh 2 may be going down very well with both the public and gaming media, I’ll not be playing it anytime soon.
That being said, even if I did happen to own the corresponding tech to play it on, there’s not much about Nioh 2 that really appeals to me. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly looks pretty impressive, and I’m sure if you’re into the whole Souls-like thing then it’ll seem marvellous, but those type of games are just not my bag.
To be honest, this whole head-to-head is decidedly underwhelming for me, as I found the original Ori to be nothing special when it made its way to Game Pass. Twice I tried to get past the opening thirty-or-so minutes of the game, but both times it failed to click.
As I’ve still got an active subscription to Game Pass Ultimate, I’ll no doubt give Ori and the Will of Wisps an obligatory try in the future, but I’ll not be going in with elevated expectations like last time. Hopefully it sticks this time, as I would like a reason to give the first game another try.
Here's hoping Liam's third attempt at getting into Ori will be successful.
Let us know which of the week's releases you're most looking forward to.
The Division 2's Warlords of New York expansion is sure to please fans of the series, as it takes players back to the place it all started – The Big Apple. DLC can fundamentally change the game or simply add more of the good stuff, and these downloadable content drops are essential.
Joker's suggested moniker, Prothy the Prothean, did not go down well.
Sam | Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
After being somewhat enamoured by the concept of DLC following its mass adoption - more from your favourite games is, after all, an exciting prospect - it didn’t take too long for me to fall out of love. It’s been largely bastardised and devalued to the point that I now just ignore 99% of DLC.
I had to look back to the Xbox 360 days to compose a shortlist that largely consisted of the usual suspects. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den, The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles; all are well-recognised for their contributions, but Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening narrowly takes the crown for me.
I’ve sung the praises of Dragon Age: Origins before, and for all the same reasons I love Awakening. What sets it apart, though, is that it’s essentially a sort of quasi-sequel made in the same engine.
Awakening features an all-new cast and narrative underpinned by the same excellent gameplay found in the main game. It can be hard at first to leave your old companions behind, though the (former) masters at BioWare excelled at making you grow attached to the fresh band of virtual vagabonds in no time.
The perfect mix of old and new.
Liam | Call of Duty: World at War - Der Riese
The most fun I’ve probably had with a DLC would have to be Call of Duty: World at War’s Map Pack 3, specifically it's Zombies map, Der Riese. Me and my older brother would regularly link up for a game of “zombs,” so much so that I still remember our preferred strategy more than a decade later.
We’d save ammo and currency during the early rounds by taking out the weaker zombies with a few melee hits, then once they started to speed up, we’d move to the right of the main room where we’d each pick up an MP40 and wait out the next few waves in a long corridor.
We’d stay there until we hit the dogs that appeared every few rounds, replenishing our supplies with the Max Ammo power-up they always dropped. When things became too crowded, we’d make our way towards the back of the factory in the hopes of nabbing a Browning 0.50 cal or MG42 from the mystery box before holing up on a raised platform in the adjacent room.
It was a perfect spot to defend; enemies could only attack us from the front, and we could snipe at them from afar with a pack-a-punched “Wunderwaffe DG-2” if we were lucky enough to have one.
Running and hiding are not options.
James | XCOM 2: War of the Chosen
There isn't a lot of DLC that will draw me back to a game that I've moved on from (though when we get more Control you know it will be beckoning me back in), but XCOM 2's War of the Chosen had me replaying the whole game from start to finish.
Some DLC updates, even substantial ones, can feel tacked-on or disconnected from the rest of the experience. Perhaps your character wakes up one morning and an island is suddenly accessible where it wasn't before, or a new character suddenly appears to give you an intricate series of missions which take you to an area you've been before, but now...it's at night.
War of the Chosen brings us back to the turn-based alien invasion of Earth and adds features like bonds between your squad-mates and negative traits which happen following trauma for your units.
Most importantly, there are charismatic villains in the eponymous Chosen, who bring a sense of dread and panic when they turn up uninvited in the middle of a battle, and ultimately make the climax far more satisfying.
For the record, if you haven't tried the game by now, you can probably pick it up cheaply these days, and the console controls are excellent.
Share your favourite piece of downloadable content with us below.
We seem to be in the midst of a mini hack and slash revival as Bayonetta found its way to Xbox One and PS4 last week and Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition landed on Switch. Here's our favourite games in the, often overlooked, genre.
It looks rather dated now, much as it did upon release.
Liam | Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Turtles in Time
It turns out hack and slash is an overlooked genre (in my house, at least) as I drew an absolute blank when it came to picking one for this week’s topic.
The only title I could think of was Darksiders II, which I bought on a whim after reading Sam’s review of the Deathinitive Edition back in 2016, but gave up on it less than halfway through after finding the in-game camera more of a challenge than the Corruption-ridden creatures roaming the Forge Lands.
The game I did want to pick, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: Turtles in Time, is, according to the internet, a side scrolling beat ‘em up, but it’s got sharp weapons in it that players use to hack and slash at enemies, so I’m counting it.
It also had a great campaign in which Leonardo and the gang fought their way through all the choice eras of time– the wild west, pirate, prehistoric, neon future – on their quest to beat u… I mean, hack and slash, the Statue of Liberty stealing Shredder into submission.
But wait! It turns out there is a Turtles hack and slash game; the much-maligned Mutants in Manhattan, made by none other than genre specialists, PlatinumGames. Probably one they hope remains overlooked.
Mutants in Manhattan was not their best work.
Sam | Devil May Cry V
There are just a couple of viable options when it comes to crowning the greatest hack and slash game for me. I wouldn’t generally count myself as a fan of the genre, rather someone that very occasionally dabbles, but on two specific occasions I’ve been forced to sit up and take notice.
Playing the original God of War back in the day was something special; I’d never found any game to be more brutal or empowering. From there on out I tried several other games that fit the somewhat loose parameters of the hack and slash genre, only to find that a majority of it was mere mindless dreck.
I ignored pretty much any and everything that didn’t have God of War in the title thereafter - until I decided to give Devil May Cry V a shot last year, that is. It blew me away. The three protagonists all play distinctly and in terms of their mechanics could easily have carried individual games. In fact, Dante alone has so much going on that his massive skill set could’ve been introduced piecemeal over several different titles comprising a new series.
Throughout the entire DMCV campaign you never stop learning and developing as a player. It’s one of the few examples of true mechanical skill progression in gaming, feeling more akin to gaining proficiency at Guitar Hero than just memorising combos like in most other hack and slash games.
This is hack and slash done properly.
James | No More Heroes
If I hadn't brought it up before I might talk about DmC: Devil May Cry (which is excellent, for the record), but instead I'll go back further to the Wii era with No More Heroes.
While not dark and visceral like a Devil May Cry or a Dark Souls, this arcadey, cel-shaded take on doing people in with a beam katana – not a lightsaber, technically – brought me hours of fun in between fraught attempts to complete Resident Evil 4, so it served as quite the palette cleanser.
Series protagonist Travis Touchdown had an irreverent nature and plenty of Deadpool-esque, fourth wall-breaking commentary which lifted the fairly straightforward hack and slash element with the presentation and tone of the entire world.
Combat being a simple series of button presses, rather than the sort of complexity bordering on a fighting game, was definitely the right call for No More Heroes at the time, though it might have been nice to see a bit more variety. When you look as good as Travis did in his red leather jacket though, spawning a raft of dressing up in the process, it's hard to be too critical.
Throw in some… interesting… use of motion controls, which saw you vigorously shake the wiimote back and forth to keep your katana charged, and you've got yourself a unique experience which hasn't been touched since, even in its misguided sequel. Hopefully when he returns (again), Travis will bring us something new and keep this more "casual" take on the genre alive.
Be sure to let us know your favourite hack and slash game.
THQ's ARPG, Darksiders Genesis, launches on consoles this week, ditching the classic hack and slash gameplay for the first time in the series. This got us thinking about other franchises we'd like to get a genre-swapping spin-off.
A match made in heaven.
Sam | Cuphead
Cuphead is absolutely superb, don’t get me wrong, but its three comprising elements are all too disparate.
Side-scrolling levels are underbaked, having been shoehorned in based on player feedback instead of being planned from the start. Boss battles are incredible, but could be even more so with a preceding level to set the scene both thematically and mechanically. The world map connecting these stages is packed with interesting characters and hidden secrets, whereas in most other games it’d just be an elaborate menu.
Imagine instead that this hodgepodge was married into a more cohesive metroidvania. No longer a mixed bag of elements, Cuphead’s gameplay would flow just as beautifully as its hand-drawn animations. Ori and the Blind Forest, alongside upcoming sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps, would be given a run for their money as champions of the artisan 2D metroidvania.
The true beauty of it is that not much would need to change, in theory. All of the structural building blocks are there, as too are the suite of acquirable weapons and abilities. In addition to serving their existing combat benefits, they’d now simply need to be utilised in solving puzzles and opening up new areas as well.
Has Sam correctly predicted a change of pace for Cuphead 2?
Liam | Halo: Reach
Halo: Reach is pretty much a perfect game, but I can’t help but think that Bungie’s best would also work ridiculously well as side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up.
The Covenant, made up of Grunts, Jackals, Elites and Brutes, are perfect cannon fodder for the genre, and you’ve got a great selection of ready-made characters in the form of Noble team, with enough numbers and skill-sets (Emile for close quarters, Kat as engineer, Jorge as a heavy, Jun ranged etc.) to cater for six-player co-op sessions.
Most of the campaign’s levels would also translate rather well to the 2.5D setting, whether it’s battling through space in a Longsword interceptor, hopping between skyscrapers with a jetpack and some AI ODST’s for company, or tearing through the desert on a Mongoose.
You could even throw in some decent boss battles in the form of Covenant cruisers (for the space parts) Hunter pairs, or maybe even some of those weird giant troll things that briefly make an appearance in the mission Nightfall.
Basically, it’s perfect, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been made before. Halo: Spartan Assault comes close, but it doesn’t really count because it’s a twin-stick at heart and all the action takes place in a slightly different perspective.
There's precedent for an all-together different Halo.
James | Pokémon
While Pokémon is one of the best known entertainment franchises around the world, it's clear a change is needed. While many, myself included, enjoy the lighter-touch approach Pokémon Go presents, there's a lot more that could be done with the franchise.
There have been various spin-offs already, but what I don't think we've had so far is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, something similar to the likes of Streets of Rage or even something more 3D like Sonic Adventure, but with more battling and less platforming.
We've come close before with the fisticuffs of Pokkén Tournament and Super Smash Bros. or the roaming antics of the free-to-play Pokémon Quest, but with a world so ripe for exploration, there's a lot of potential here.
Imagine a few RPG elements to levelling up your character to provide a more active take on the EV character attributes system, letting you double-down on speed and see the benefit in combat.
Tag-teaming a couple of characters would be good, or perhaps something more like Dragon Age Inquisition's party-based combat system, switching up skills and types for the best match-ups for enemies.
Getting the balance right would be tricky, not to mention narrowing down which 'mon to make playable, but inspiration from the anime alone is enough to give some sense of the spectacle and excitement to going more hands (or paws) on.
Take note, Nintendo.
Which franchises would you change for the better?