We’re dusting off our crystal balls and practising a little mysticism this week, peering into the future in order to share our vision of what’s in store for the coming year.
Will the wait to reunite with Sora, Donald and Goofy have been worthwhile?
Liam | Switching up the Switch
We’ve already heard rumblings of an updated Switch, supposedly set to arrive sometime this year, but I’m predicting (hoping, really) we’ll see bigger and better things from Nintendo.
Rather than just a sleeker Switch, I reckon we might get something along the lines of a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X - a beefed-up, premium console that improves battery life and runs AAA titles without much compromise, all while retaining portability.
Perhaps that’s more wishful thinking than calculated prediction, but, considering Nintendo’s fondness for rehashing consoles (particularly those in the portable family), it’s not entirely outlandish.
At the very least, I’m hoping any potential new and improved Switch comes with a stand that actually works, more comfortable Joy-Con, and a reworked dock (that thing really is cheap and nasty).
Though I’m not overly unhappy with how the Switch performs and feels in its current form, a more premium design incorporating those changes and featuring performance boosts for select games would have me seriously tempted to double dip.
Oh, one final prediction – it won’t come with an AC adaptor. Because Nintendo.
Getting rid of that massive screen bezel wouldn't hurt, either.
James | 8K? No way
Can you feel it? That creeping excitement from gaming executives, the anticipation, the salivation at the fact that this console generation is beginning to come to an end.
How do we know? There's form for a console cycle of around five years before companies perceive that consumers want something new, even though that's usually when all the best games start coming out - just look at PlayStation 4's record-breaking 2018, for example.
We don’t actually have to go on past form alone though, as Sony President Kenichiro Yoshida said himself last October that it's become "necessary to have a next-generation hardware" to replace the PS4.
New things are coming and that should be exciting, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t, because nobody knows what people want next. Most gamers are doing fine with the hardware (especially if they’ve upgraded to a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X) and abundant quality software that they already have, so any new console announcements in 2019 have the capacity to be inherently disappointing.
Sure, Nintendo might shrink the Switch and Microsoft might produce a discless Xbox, but the response will only ever be "is that it?" Buzzwords like 8K might capture imaginations, but we're still a long way from games getting anywhere close to that; we're barely hitting 4K, so why should we care?
With amazing games like God of War coming out, who needs new hardware?
Rob | Indies are the innovators
Unlike my esteemed colleagues Sam and Jam (that’s always fun to say), I won’t be reverting to my cynical factory settings this week. I’m glad to report that I’ll be attending the excellent EGX Rezzed for my fourth year running, and, with that in mind, my prediction for 2019 is that independent games will continue to lead the way in innovation, storytelling and good ol’ fashioned fun.
Many of my favourites from Rezzed 2018 look set to release this year, and I think Jam will attest that the immensely colourful and entertaining local multiplayer fun of PHOGS should be on everyone’s wishlist. You can add to that the strategy masterclass of Wargroove; the unique take on point-and-clicking seen in Heaven’s Vault; Campo Santo’s Firewatch follow-up, In The Valley of the Gods; ultra-ambitious detective RPG Disco Elysium; Rain Games’ World to the West successor, Mesmer; and hopefully every wonderful game that was in the Rezzed leftfield collection.
I love independent developers for their will to try new things and breath life into old ideas. Long may it continue in 2019!
… Oh, and I also predict that Xbox Game Pass will continue to ensure I have more money to devote to playing more and more indies.
Who doesn't love a good indie game?
Chris | “The ramblings of a madman”
The day starts like any other. Amidst the hustle and bustle of commuters making their way to work, you spy an unusually large crowd gathering around a TV in a shop window. A wave of silence seems to propagate out from the steadily growing mass, broken only by the soft, gentle sobbing of a young woman.
You briefly wonder if the two of you could have a future together, before noticing she's wearing odd shoes. One appears to be a flat dress shoe and the other an expensive-looking leopard print heel. How does she walk in those things? Is she compensating for one leg being longer than the other? Who would do such a thing?!
Consumed by a mixture of rage and lust, you step forwards. Just as you open your mouth to scream, a flicker on the TV catches your eye. It's Gabe Newell. A beagle enthusiastically laps jam from his open hand as he whispers "Half-Life 3" whilst staring straight at the camera. A date scrolls across the bottom of the screen.
Odd Shoes turns away from the display, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as she loses consciousness. You were in the perfect place to catch her, and would have done, had you not already popped inside to pre-order.
Will we ever get Half-Life 3? More importantly, should the reveal involve a jam-eating beagle?
Do you think our predictions will pan out? Only will time will tell, though do be sure to check back an entire year from now when we revisit them and see whether we’re more Nostradamus or nonce.
Also, be sure to share any 2019 gaming premonitions you might have in the comments.
Metro Exodus publisher Deep Silver invited us to have some hands-on time with their latest release ahead of its 15 February launch. The code was near-final and our playthrough was on Xbox One X hardware. Here’s how James got on...
While there’s a variety of DNA on display here, the strongest influences are probably Half-Life in terms of narrative-driven game design and Fallout in terms of the aesthetic and manual feel of the world. While Fallout 76 dialled back many of the more distinctive aspects of its namesake, Exodus relishes in the little quirks that make it stand out, like having to manually pump pneumatic weapons or clean and maintain items to keep them in good working order.
While these sorts of mindless tasks could easily become a mess of busy work, the team at 4A Games have managed to balance the elements so that they enhance the game experience rather than being a chore.
Many of the subterranean areas you do explore are radioactive, have air filled with toxins, or a deadly combination of both. Keeping an ear out for the familiar crackle of your geiger counter will handle the former, but for the latter you’re forced to cycle between gas masks which introduce a timed element to exploration, as most filters have only a few minutes of use before they expire (and, of course, you’ll need to manually swap filters once one runs down). This succeeds in pushing that pressure point and heightening levels of anxiety to induce an excited nervousness, which quickly gives way to panic as you near the final few seconds and are (as I was) frantically unable to find the lever to open the escape door.
Elsewhere, the lush green and breathable air of the autumn section affords you the opportunity to take your time and make use of stealth to get by, encouraged with the discovery of a handy crossbow nearby. Conversely, the harsh architecture of our introduction to the game (set back in spring) bangs the drum for the oppressive feel of historical Soviet archetypes.
While narrative was scarce in our preview time - a deliberate step from the dev team to avoid spoiling too much - the cast of Metro Exodus are genuinely compelling and interesting. Even with returning protagonist Artyom a near mute, you constantly feel involved in the story as narrative beats play out around you in real time.
Calling the game open-world would be generous, but there’s definitely scope to wander off the beaten path in search of crafting materials, which may lead to NPCs questioning you on what’s taking so long.
Crafting itself is fairly straightforward, in that you can strip down modified weapons you come across and attach a custom barrel or stock to another at a handily placed weapons bench. While many modifications are slight, the effects stack when put together to significantly boost damage and accuracy.
Gunplay in general feels well-balanced and satisfying, especially as you keep tinkering away and working towards perfecting your loadout. There’s a few gadgets to play about with as well, in particular a silent-but-deadly throwing knife which can be vital for thinning out larger herds of enemies.
While we’re still a month out from launch, the game is looking extremely polished, performing brilliantly in native 4K on Xbox One X (and the surrounding PC demo stations from what I saw), which goes a long way in bringing the world to life. Only a few wonky facial animations slightly let the otherwise stellar immersion down.
In all, from just a few short hours of play, Metro Exodus has shot up my list of anticipated games and could surpass anything to come out on its packed 15 February launch day. Considering that’s the date for my beloved Crackdown 3 (not to mention Far Cry: New Dawn and Jump Force), that’s saying quite something. Here’s hoping the final release delivers.
Whatever form a re-release might take - be it spit-shined remaster, full-blown remake, or plain-old port - they’re absolutely everywhere and have been for a while. 2019 doesn’t look set to change that, what with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Onimusha: Warlords launching in the coming week alone. It’s all got us wondering whether the practice of repurposing old software is a cheap and cheerful way to reach new audiences, or just a lazy means of gouging money from nostalgic gamers.
I'm a strong believer that variety is not only the spice of life, but an essential. I crave new experiences, no matter how minor, and I champion creativity and imagination above all else. Which is why I'm against rehashing old content without adding something of value.
Granted, there usually is a little something extra, but its value is completely subjective. Upgraded graphics, bundled DLC, the occasional tweak to UI and mechanics; any of these should make for a better experience and offer a more attractive package than the original, especially for those who missed out the first time around.
Resident Evil 2 sits all alone, perched in a rarefied region on the re-release scale, as Capcom appear to have built a completely new game from the ground up, with little to tie it back to the original besides the characters, story and setting.
I'm not expecting many to follow in their footsteps, nor do I think that every remake needs to be handled in the same manner, but it raises the bar significantly and sends a message to any developer wanting to reinvigorate a beloved title: go hard, or go home.
I’m all for remakes, remasters and ports, so long as they’re done right. Not only do they give people the chance to relive classics and fan favourites, but they also give many who may have missed out the first time around another bite at the cherry. Plus, they're a great way to ensure gems of the past remain relevant and easily accessible years, or even decades, after their initial release.
I never owned a Wii U, which meant I had to look on as a bunch of great first-party titles passed me by, but with Nintendo seemingly intent on bringing all of the doomed console’s heavy hitters to Switch, it feels like I’ve been given a reprieve. I may have picked Pokémon for Switch as my most anticipated title of 2019, but secretly I yearn to see The Wind Waker HD grace the console this year.
Of course, I can understand why people would absolutely prefer to see studios coming up with brand-new IPs, instead of wheeling out yet another blast from the past, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives, whether it’s letting developers know there’s still an audience for a dormant franchise or giving them the chance to completely reimagine an old favourite, à la Capcom’s upcoming Resi 2 remake.
Whatever form they take, cynicism can accompany re-releases like a deadly silent fart. Personally, I’m for remasters if they’re handled properly and there’s been enough time since the original release, but all too often we’re expected to pay bloated price points.
I find the Switch to be an excellent example of this. I was one of about seven people (give or take) that owned a Wii U, so I find the endless “Deluxe” ports being sold at £40+ insulting. Despite the inclusion of minor extras and DLC, these should slot right into Nintendo’s budget “Selects” range.
There are countless examples of this across other platforms though, so, in spite of my internal beef, I suppose it really does come down to whether you’ve played the games before or not. I’d never have played greats like Uncharted, Twilight Princess and The Wind Waker without remastered, after all.
Ultimately, I’d like to see more productions like Resident Evil 2 and the Crash and Spyro collections: games a few generations old that have been brought bang up to date and made relevant again.
So what can we take from all this? 1. Companies like making money without spending money, and 2. I’m a massive hypocrite. Ciao, folks.
What's your stance on re-releases? Love 'em or hate 'em, let us know below!
Happy New Year! Whether you’re recovering from a monster hangover, hitting the gym to meet resolution goals, or just chugging along as usual, one thing we all have in common is another great year of gaming to look forward to! The first half of 2019 already looks stacked, which begs the question: which games are the cream of the current crop?
Chris | Crackdown 3
Crackdown 3 will most likely have a story that involves Terry Crews in some way; that statement alone is excellent reason for the game to grace this list, but what really sealed the deal is the fact I like to blow shit up. There’s nothing abnormal about that, by the way!
I'll certainly sink some time into the campaign, but I'm most eager to jump into an online world with a few like-minded crazies and just tear it apart.
The promise of wanton destruction has been made many times before, without any game coming close to meeting expectations (looking at you, every Battlefield title ever). Crackdown 3 could be the very first to allow us to transform the landscape so much as to make it unrecognisable. If you can't find the aesthetic beauty in the harsh brevity of a built-up city skyline, maybe you can create your own version of beauty by razing said city to the ground using explosives. Either way, you should have plenty of fun in the process.
Liam | Pokémon for Nintendo Switch
Having only recently come back to the franchise after a near 20-year hiatus, I’m not exactly what you’d call a diehard Pokémon fan, but the Switch’s as-yet-untitled Pokémon game gets my vote simply because a mainline entry on a home console is something I’ve always wanted to see.
The Let’s Go games, while impressive, are remakes, and therefore don’t count. However, their fully-fledged worlds, wandering wild fauna, vibrant towns and sleek visuals showed just how good a Pokémon game can look with a bit of power behind it, and have me seriously tempted by another sojourn in the well-trodden Kanto region.
Had it not been for my recent acquisition of Moon on 3DS, the seasonal decimation of my gaming funds and the fact that your rival is now nice (outrageous!), I’d probably be searching for Bulbasaur in Let’s Go this very moment, and, having had my console Poké-fix, Respawn’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order would be sitting atop my list.
In any case, observing Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! from afar (for the time being) has only served to whet my appetite for a proper Pokémon RPG on Switch, and I look forward to seeing more in 2019.
James | Streets of Rage 4
Very little is currently known about Streets of Rage 4. The second instalment was one of the first games I ever played and, as mentioned last week, was the first game that I ever completed.
It might come as no surprise then that the obviously-nostalgia-fuelled announcement of a fourth game would set my spine somewhat a-tingling.
While the cynical side of me wants to assume this will just be a hastily cobbled together cash grab to join the other remasters and re-treads which somewhat plague the industry at large, there's a louder voice, deep inside which screams "BAREKNUCKLE!"
The war cry of Axel Stone, one of the game's returning protagonists, has so many memories tied to it that I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
Indeed, the aforementioned trailer leans into an anime art style perfect for the game and suggests a similar 2D scrolling beat-‘em-up style as you’d hope for from the series. Coupled with an energetic soundtrack, early signs are looking very promising in my eyes.
Rob | Ori and the Will of the Wisps
My new year’s resolution is to try and play a few more games this year than I did in 2018. That shouldn’t be too hard, as I’m eagerly awaiting Resident Evil 2, Shenmue 3, The Last of Us Part II (fingers crossed we’ll have it before Xmas), Streets of Rage 4, and I might finally have to get a Switch for Fire Emblem Three Houses, too.
My most anticipated release though, comes on my beloved Xbox One, and was a large reason behind renewing the old Game Pass subscription for another year. It’s Ori and the Will of the Wisps, of course!
I adored playing through the original’s superb blend of challenging platforming, combat and exploration, all wrapped up in Metroidvania staples, so can’t wait to delve into the new and improved world.
Add to that the chance to rediscover such beautiful visuals, aurals and, hopefully, an even more emotional story, and I’m already sold. Not just that, but the time trial and multiplayer modes look to add an interesting competitive element to the game this time around.
Thank you Moon Studios, thank you Microsoft. See you on day one!
What game are you most looking forward to playing this year? Let us know in the comments below.
Merry Christmas! Yesterday was the big day and hopefully everyone managed to make some cherished memories, or, at the very least, get a solid gaming sesh in! For this festive feature, we’ll be sharing the moments in our lives where those two things combined to form our fondest gaming-related Christmas crackers
For my most cherished yuletide gaming memory, I’m going with Christmas 2006, the year I received a Nintendo Wii and the fantastic The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. By this point in my life big Christmas gifts had become a thing of the past (thanks very much, gainful employment), so unwrapping Nintendo’s odd-looking console was a bit of a surprise.
As far as last hurrahs go, it was a good one. Twilight Princess was excellent, easily one of the best Zelda games to date, though, as a proud member of team southpaw, it was disconcerting to see Link forced to wield the legendary Master Sword in his right hand, when the Wiimote was in my left.
It also marked the first time a console had successfully brought the family together for some gaming-led fun since the glory days of Buzz! on PS2. Unsurprisingly, Wii Sports was an instant hit, providing plenty of amusement as non-gaming relatives ironed out old grievances in boxing matches and bowling tournaments.
I may have ended up shelving the Wii in favour of an Xbox 360 a few years later, but I still got plenty of mileage (and some light structural damage to a few walls) out of Nintendo’s unorthodox console, and a decent set of memories to boot.
Christmas morning, 1995. A bright-eyed nine year old, I’d been waiting patiently (or as patiently as one can) for this day for quite some time. The SNES and the Mega Drive had been my go-to consoles up to that point, but I’d asked for a Mega CD for Christmas, knowing nothing at all about it aside from that it used discs, rather than cartridges. Now THAT was fancy! Welcome to the future, young Chris.
My parents looked pretty happy with themselves so I knew they'd managed to get the one thing I'd asked for. I eagerly tore into the biggest present under the tree to find... something different.
I attempted to hide my disappointment over the bland box I’d been gifted. It would’ve been completely unremarkable, save for the fact that its profound unremarkable-ness was in itself remarkable.
Being a December baby, my early Christmas and birthday memories are often rolled into one, but, as far as gaming goes, it was new consoles which really stuck in my mind.
While the original PlayStation is up there (I got one of the first DualShock versions in the UK to boot), receiving a Sega Mega Drive 2 back in the early 90s is what’s burned into my mind most brightly.
I unwrapped the huge package, kneeling on the floor at the young age of six, revealing the glistening console bundled with the sublime Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Aside from speeding through Green Hill Zone, I also experienced the delights of Disney's Aladdin, which takes you through the film in classic platforming fashion. The third and final title I got to enjoy that year was Streets of Rage 2, which took the crown of being the first game I ever completed, in the process cementing a love of gaming that persists to this day.
I believe it was Christmas of 1998 that I first ventured onto the glorious slopes of a true Nintendo classic - 1080 Snowboarding! These were the days when new games would only turn up on birthdays and Christmas (I wish that was still the case for the current generation of kids, I really do), and having received the 64 itself in April of that year, Turok Dinosaur Hunter was starting to get Jurassic.
Right from the get-go, 1080 thrilled me in ways no sports game had before: a cool cast of characters (particularly Dion Blaster for his baritone delivery of "Yo"), beautiful mountains and that trademark Nintendo playability all made for a totally gnarly experience.
I was never too great at the trick attack modes (though apparently nobody was, as I only knew one person capable of executing the titular 1080), so spent most of my time with either the competitive racing or time attack modes.
It's here where I really fell in love. Whether it was slicing through the firs of Golden Forest (man, I wish it were a real place), flying over buildings in Mountain Village, or tackling the gargantuan ice-pipe of Deadly Fall, I was hooked. Everything else was just brandy sauce on the Xmas pud.
Please Nintendo, reboot 1080, it'd make this kid's Christmas 2019!
Once again, we'd like to wish you and yours Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
If you've got a favourite gaming-related Christmas memory, we'd love for you to share it with us in the comments below. If nothing comes to mind, did you get any gaming gifts this year?
I’m exploring the south western portion of Appalachia to undergo a final initiation for a faction called the Responders, when a strange building catches my eye. Unlike most of the other former dwellings scattered throughout the wasteland, this structure looks recently lived in, with automated turrets guarding four symmetrical walls and a set of stairs leading to a door.
I’m shown each of the three floors in turn, along with their rather fine collection of power armour, and even get treated to some guitar music. A series of trades follows, my host showering me with crafting plans, recipes and high-level gear. I reciprocate with what I can - mostly spare tat, chems and a couple of bobbleheads – though it doesn’t come close to making for a fair trade. The gesture at least seems to be appreciated, though, keen not to outstay my welcome, I’m out the door to waves and thumbs up from both parties.
Fallout 76 may have more than its fair share of detractors, but I’m surprisingly hooked by Bethesda’s online take on the franchise. Due to its negative stigma, I went in with exceptionally low expectations - in fact, were it not for a Black Friday deal that saw it arrive bundled with Battlefield V, I’d probably never even have played the game - but after an initial test to see just how bad it could be, I find myself more than 12 hours deep and still coming back for more.
Am I a glutton for punishment? Do I have poor taste? Or is it a case of Fallout 76 not being the total dumpster fire it’s been made out to be? I’ll admit, this is only my second stab at the series after Fallout 4, so perhaps my limited exposure means I’m not as averse to the fundamental changes, like a lack of NPCs and dialogue. It could also be that 76 features more of what I enjoyed most in Fallout 4, namely plenty of exploration and environmental storytelling, as well as slightly wonky shooting mechanics that feel oddly suited to the ramshackle nature of the series’ post-apocalyptic technology.
After an initial test to see just how bad it could be, I find myself more than 12 hours deep and still coming back for more.
While traipsing through the shells of broken buildings may feel oppressively lonely at times (the game cries out for an AI companion like Dogmeat), it does help to invoke the feeling that you’re an isolated survivor, piecing together the tales of those who went before you with holo tapes, computer files and scrawled notes. There may be a dearth of characters in the traditional sense, but 76 isn’t exactly lacking for emotional clout when it comes to narrative, you just have to be willing to go looking for it.
And then there’s the much-maligned online element of the game, something that’s easy to forget considering the size of the map and the relatively low player count per server. It’s possible to go entire sessions without seeing another player, but the rarity of such an event does add weight to each encounter, such as the memorable one outlined above.
There’s little risk of hostility due to Bethesda’s rather limiting PvP restrictions, but it’s not something the player base appears to be interested in anyway. Most players, including myself, are more likely to help than hinder one another, sharing a sort of ‘we’re in this together’ sense of comradery. The small player count might also be considered a boon for those worried about the unpredictable, often immersion-breaking presence of human players - an issue that spoiled my opening hours with Bethesda’s other online take on a flagship franchise, The Elder Scrolls Online.
That’s not to say the positives I’ve found totally overshadow the criticism aimed at Fallout 76. Microtransactions feel unnecessary (not to mention overpriced) and the game struggles technically at times, with the frame rate occasionally tanking for no apparent reason. The lack of a manual save system and respawning enemies can make clearing out difficult areas a chore, and, at one point, I found my character assailed by invisible Liberator bots, whose bodies hadn’t yet loaded, every time I entered a world because that’s where the game consistently decided to spawn me.
According to their most recent blog post, Bethesda look intent on sticking with Fallout 76 well into 2019 (a new mode without PvP restrictions is being added at some point), so there’s a good chance the more pressing issues will eventually be ironed out. Still, in its current state, it’s hard to fully recommend 76, despite having sunk a dozen or so mostly enjoyable hours into it. Other big releases available right now are honestly more deserving of your time and money, but, if you had even a fleeting interest in 76 before, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on as things progress.
Christmastime, beige platters and booze, enough of Dad’s jokes, I’m off for a snooze… It’s that time of year again, folks: tubs o’ Twiglets, too many choccos, and wondering what to get that discerning gamer in your life. Luckily for you, we’ve got that last one covered!
4/5 figgy puddings
Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade
Well, this one was a real find. Throw the PlayStation Classic away, retire the SNES Mini, and get stuck into an arcade emulation machine with a world of expansion opportunities.
Included in the fabulously decorated box are 90 - yes, 90 - arcade and console titles from the likes of Data East, Irem and Capcom that were popular during the late 80s through to the mid 90s. Add to that two SNES-style controllers, and you have a decent package straight out of the box. The whole thing is worth it for Magical Drop and the SHMUPS alone, if you ask me…
Victory in the mini-console wars is achieved, however, with the ease that one can customise the Retro-Cade, simply by loading games onto an SD card and then banging it in the back. Brilliant!
4.5/5 mince pies
The last time I really got into a strategy game was late 1999, when Command & Conquer launched on my beloved N64. I’ve flirted with Civilisation, and given a cursory glance to Tropico, but Northgard really is up my street.
A good old RTS game set in a Norse world of Vikings, Northgard tasks you and your band of Northmen with plundering a new continent, building bases and conquering foes. You don’t need a roided-up PC to play it either, and it’s ruddy good value at £24 on Steam.
4.5/5 toy viking warships
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Imagine a combo of 80s arcade hit Paperboy and Hipster Whale’s mobile smash Crossy Road, and you’re pretty much there. A pop culture-packed arcade-athon, The Videokid will appeal to people who grew up in that glorious age of gaming, as well as youngsters with a love of all things instant.
It’s under £4 across the platforms, so perfect for stuffing that digital stocking!
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
A charming independent adventure game that provokes memories of many 16-bit, side-scrolling classics, Owlboy possesses gorgeous art, amusing dialogue and a signature mute protagonist. Our personal highlights are the excellent orchestral soundtrack, vast dungeons, big bosses and fun-fuelled flight mechanic - imagine Nights into Dreams funnelled through Nintendo-vision!
4.5/5 pixelated Santas
Will you be picking any of these suggestions up as last minute prezzies? Perhaps you're hoping to receive one yourself? Let us know in the comments below.
Regardless, have a great Christmas and we'll see you back here for more stocking stuffers in 2019!
Another prime year in gaming is drawing to a close and so, naturally, we find ourselves looking back on the releases we each played and recall most fondly.
Chris | Forza Horizon 4
As someone who’s generally not a fan of racing games (despite having also plumped for one in last week’s feature), I was pleasantly surprised by how easy Forza Horizon 4 is to pick up and play.
Microsoft's chief racing title looks stunning, as one may expect, and has a satisfying amount of depth. Cars are weighty, yet responsive, and those looking to get the most out of their ride can spend forever upgrading them and tweaking a multitude of options, from gear ratios to tire pressure. If that's not your thing and your only desire is to tear around the British countryside in a vintage Aston Martin, you can opt to do just that, using the stock tuning or even another player’s custom settings.
Earning reputation and unlocking events is done simply by playing; whatever activity you prefer to partake in, whether it's creating your own street races, searching for huge jumps or carelessly drifting through fields of wheat, you'll soon be making a name for yourself and building an expanding collection of motors, from classic sports cars to modern supercars. New vehicles are awarded consistently and, coupled with changing seasons that mix up environmental aesthetics and car handling, there’s plenty of reason to keep coming back.
Liam | Battlefield V
As much as I enjoyed DICE’s First World War expedition, the decision to give Battlefield V a WW2 backdrop was a welcome one. It’s a choice that means the game manages to retain a historical setting whilst increasing the pace and intensity of its multiplayer, thanks to the more ‘advanced’ capabilities of 1940s tech.
Despite the hyperbole surrounding the launch build-up, and the fact that I’ve yet to meaningfully sample the single-player campaign, I can safely say this is easily the most fun I’ve had with the series since I first laid hands on Battlefield 3.
Not only does it look and play great, but it sounds superb. From the snap of incoming fire and the metallic (slightly terrifying) grinding sound an approaching tank, to the ominous silence preceding the impact of a V1 flying bomb, this is a game best enjoyed with a decent set of cans.
The total number of maps available at launch may be low, but more free content is on the way, including an obligatory Battle Royale mode. If a small opening salvo is the price paid for the removal of the community-splitting Premium Pass, then so be it.
Rob | Valkyria Chronicles 4
Those of you who read last week’s underappreciated games of 2018 feature may remember that yours truly has been rather occupied this year, failing to find the time to play too many games.
With that in noggin, I could easily have chosen charming platformer Yoku’s Island Express, Far Cry 5 and its lashings of murder, or the bald heads and daddy issues of God of War, but alas, tis none of those. Valkyria Chronicles 4, you’re up…
It’s no secret that I'm a massive Sega fan, who cries a little bit every time they release a good game (it doesn’t happen nearly enough these days), especially when it’s one that harks back to their glorious Dreamcast days.
Valk 4 boasts everything this girl wants in a video game: gorgeous art, superb sound, a triumphant blend of action and strategy, hours of glorious gameplay, and some of the most ridiculous characters and hair to come out of the silicone world.
If all that isn’t enough to get your gaming fluids flowing, then I don’t know what is.
James | The Spectrum Retreat
While it isn't the flashiest or most well-known game, The Spectrum Retreat’s expert handling of story and highly-polished finish place it amongst the greats of the oft overlooked first-person puzzle genre.
While Portal is a clear influence, the narrative and motivation built around the central puzzle mechanics make for an overall more compelling game in my mind (much like fellow indie offering QUBE 2, which also wrestled for 2018’s top honour).
The contrast in setting between the stark, futuristic puzzle rooms and the Art Deco hotel is extreme, and is particularly effective as the two worlds start to bleed together as the story unfolds, using the most effective deliberate screen tearing I've come across in games.
Not something which influenced it's acclaim here, but it helps that creator Dan Smith is a passionate and friendly chap, as I found out at the beginning of the year, and his painstaking piecing together of the title over five years shows in the deliberate nature of every nook and cranny.
Plus, the divergent ending had me happily replay the entire experience again, which isn't something many games can motivate me to do.
So, what's your personal Game of the Year for 2018? Agree or disagree with any of our picks? Let us know in the comments below.
As we hurtle towards 2019, there’s time for one final quickie of the year, with puzzler The Gardens Between our lucky recipient.
With that in mind, does it come recommended?
If you’re fine with the price (or subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, where it’s available at no extra cost), then yes. The Gardens Between has a gorgeous art style and exemplary soundtrack that blend beautifully with simple, effective gameplay to create one of our favourite sleeper hits of 2018. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on what developer The Voxel Agents have planned next!
Every year seems to boast more and more huge game releases, to the extent that it’s been difficult to keep up with everything for a good long while now. The usual suite of heavy hitters monopolise a lot of people’s time, but, as 2018 comes to a close and the release schedule settles for all of a few weeks, we thought it’d be nice to shine a light on a few of the year’s less-loved games. Who knows, maybe we’ll find them homes for the holidays.
Chris | ONRUSH
Despite largely favourable reviews (including our own), ONRUSH has failed to take the world by storm. In fact, if not for its inclusion in the Xbox Game Pass catalogue, I wouldn't have even considered giving it a try.
The game mimics the best parts of Burnout, that being the smashing and crashing, without the pretence of racing. Each non-race has objectives and yes, they involve going as fast as possible, but the real reason we're here is to twist steel. Being smack bang in the middle of a furious fracas is not only the most fun aspect, but it's also the most prominent, as dropping too far behind the pack will see you teleported right back into the action and if you happen to be flying ahead solo it won't be long before others materialise around you.
There are minor differences in how each vehicle performs but the arcade handling means every bike or truck is as viable as any other. Whilst this trait may be seen as a negative in any traditional racer, ONRUSH is neither traditional nor a racer, and it serves to enhance the experience by ensuring a playing field that's as level as it can be.
Liam | Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China
Cast your mind back to the very beginning of the year and you probably won’t recall Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China sneaking its way onto Xbox One as a console exclusive. Arriving with little fanfare during a period when most people are feeling the financial brunt of the recent festivities, FTSOC didn’t really get the recognition it deserved.
Its delivery is a bit cheesy and the gameplay a touch too arcade-like for simulator fans, but I very much enjoyed playing through a theatre of WW2 that’s never really been explored in gaming.
Hopping into a Buffalo fighter to “sally” incoming bombers is oodles of fun, and, as I mentioned in our quickie, reminiscent of classics like Blazing Angels and Rogue Squadron. There’s even a cool Dogfight mode that lets you pit all manner of iconic fighters against one another in fantasy showdowns.
Flying games are a bit of a rarity these days, and I say kudos to Ace Maddox for playing their part in keeping the genre going with this engaging effort.
Rob | Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn
Folks, I’ve been a very bad boy this year. I’ve failed to sample so many intriguing and colossal games (Celeste, Dead Cells, Moonlighter, Spider-Man, RDR2) that I feel like a right fanny-pack. We’ve all been there: work, relationships, children, house moving, life, etc. getting in the way of what’s really important - vidya gamez!
Now, with this in mind, my underappreciated title of 2018 goes to the gaming equivalent of an oft-mocked reality reboot, or a nasty 80s soap being resurrected for one last foxtrot. What am I waffling on about? Well, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn, of course.
The 90s original regularly features on worst-of lists, but the sheer dumb, button-bashing fun and moronic sense of humour present in this revival really helped to take my mind of some “real” stuff during the month of September.
It’s colourful, the soundtrack is great, the combat is simple and satisfying in that 90s side-scrolling brawler kinda way, and the story (Shaq is a Chinese orphan saving the world from demonic celebrities that have scary resemblances to Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber, et al) is little boy’s humour of the most glorious order. Did I mention there’s an add-on where you play as Barack Obama in The Adventures of Dirty Barry? Escapism here thy come!
Which games didn't get a fair shake this year in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below.