After taking a break from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in order to cover Outward, I recently rejoined the eponymous one-armed wolf to conclude our business together. With another exceptional FromSoftware adventure soon under my belt, I paused to consider where Sekiro ranks amongst 2019’s other releases, before quickly positioning it alongside Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 and Devil May Cry 5 right at the very top.
Sekiro, RE2 and DMC5, on the other hand, are all thoroughly artisan. They’re painstakingly handcrafted to ensure that their rewarding, challenging and unique mechanics are ultimately replayable. They often feel nostalgic, if only because they feel classically 'videogame-y', which serves to highlight just how much things have changed in recent years.
These three titles unapologetically focus on delivering a polished and complete single-player experience, which, let’s be honest, is downright cherishable nowadays.
I’ve even been dabbling in Kingdom Hearts III, which I admittedly haven’t been enjoying nearly as much, since it falls into many of the same character and narrative pitfalls which put me off most other JRPGs, but the fact I’m engaging with it at all is quite something.
The region hasn’t been infallible, however, with Left Alive being one hell of a billowing red flag so far. I also maintain that Shenmue 3 will most likely disappoint, but hey, this is the year to prove me wrong. Should Yu Suzuki pull it off (fingers crossed), Shenmue 3 will join a long list of promising Japanese releases still set to see light of day in 2019.
Nintendo have a strong suite of exclusives including their Link’s Awakening remake, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, Pokémon Sword & Shield (we’ve already picked our starters), and, potentially, Bayonetta 3. A few of those are a little too ‘anime’ for me on the surface, but I’m willing to overlook that as I grow increasingly disillusioned with games from my own fair shores.
PlayStation have a couple of more immediately-appealing exclusives on the way though, with Judgment in essence offering my route into the intimidatingly vast Yakuza series. Not only that, but, in a first, the game features English voice over, tearing down another wall that’s contributed to my dodging its gang-focused spiritual sibling.
Then there’s Death Stranding, which, provided it does hit this year, will be a biggie for me. Unlike Rob, one of our Staff Writers, I love prolific auteur Hideo Kojima’s work and his first jaunt since escaping Konami oppression (just forget they exist for now, since they don’t fit the current narrative) has me very intrigued.
In fact, the air of mystery surrounding Death Stranding and (to a lesser extent) many Japanese releases in general is something I’d link back to the region’s seeming greater care for their art. Pre-order culture isn’t as prevalent, so reveals don’t need to be pushed out of the door to start raking the money in, but moreover I think pride prevents showing a hand too early and risking later coming across as disingenuous in any way.
Avoiding unnecessary controversy is commendable in itself, but it’s a total win-win when you understand that less is often more, which this industry tends not to. I can’t be the only person that’s been plenty sick of plenty of games before they even hit store shelves, due in no small part to massive overexposure.
If you find yourself in a similar situation - looking at the upcoming release schedule and yawning at uninspired sequel after uninspired sequel, or drab shooter after drab shooter - maybe join me in looking towards the Land of the Rising Sun for inspiration.
They say that everything’s better with friends, which probably explains why cooperative games have always been pretty popular. Whether playing online or on the couch, we’re sharing our favourite co-op sessions in this instalment of Team Talk, which, it should be noted, didn’t necessarily occur in our favourite co-op games. That’s a whole different discussion.
Many, many moons ago a friend and I sat down for some classic couch co-op with How to Survive: Storm Warning Edition. We both went in blind, knowing only that it was a zombie survival title, not yet realising it’d become a test of endurance more than anything else.
As our blood alcohol level increased, so did the challenges presented to us, in both the real and virtual worlds. Bigger and badder enemies started to appear more often, from undead behemoths which explode when killed, to friends who questioned our decision to spend a beautiful summer afternoon getting hammered and playing a videogame.
After much deliberation, we arrived at the conclusion that said friends would (probably) not explode when killed and, thus, should be dealt with in more mundane ways. Thankfully, closing the curtains not only eliminated screen glare but also kept these incredibly realistic bad guys at bay.
As with all cooperative endeavours, teamwork was key. One of us would hold down the fort while the other went on solo expeditions to gather invaluable supplies, a task which grew more perilous as day gave way to night and the smoky living room became littered with the corpses of fallen beer cans.
I'd like to say we completed How to Survive in one sitting, but my most memorable co-op experience is also the one I remember the least about…
Playing games together is a sure-fire way to enhance the experience in my book. While my first solid co-op experience was the Halo 3 campaign (still one of the most fulfilling of all time), the pinnacle of the concept is without a doubt Splinter Cell Conviction for me.
First off the co-op campaign has its own characters and story, at least to an extent. While it's only two-player co-op (who has time to find more than a single friend to play with consistently anyway?), you’ll quickly grow to love Red and Green and forget about the sad loss of the Spies vs. Mercs mode from previous Splinter Cell titles.
One memorable sequence has you completing objectives in parallel across a level before you both end up attached to the bottom of a truck, which unwittingly acts as your getaway vehicle. The satisfaction to be had here cannot be understated.
The game's signature Mark and Execute mechanic, which has you hover your reticle over enemies to visually mark them and then hit fire to take them out in quick succession (similar to Dead Eye in the Red Dead series), also really hits its stride as you mark enemies for your buddy to take down. Delicious!
I’ve enjoyed countless cooperative experiences over my 25-odd years of gaming. From recent delves into the Overcooked series, to Streets of Rage 2 with the little sister, co-op games really do make lasting memories. Which is why, dear chums, I’ve gone for World Cup 98 on the N64.
Picture this scene, if you will: four 12-year-old boys in the grip of World Cup fever, crowded around the telly playing 2-on-2 whilst recreating scenes we’d seen unfold in the real tournament, all to a soundtrack of Des Lynam, John Motson, and Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping.
Surprisingly, neither duo ever selected England, instead opting for either Brazil or France, the two teams that'd go on to contest the final. Understanding which player was controlled by whom was always entertaining, as were the celebrations both on screen and off. It also helped that the host’s Mum always made pizza and garlic bread, and that the host’s brother also procured us our first sample of beer…
Anyway, I digress. I have many fond memories of that World Cup: Carlos Valderrama’s hair, Michael Owen’s incredible goal against Argentina, France dismantling Brazil in the final - but none touch those gaming sessions. Now, repeat after me: I GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT I GET UP AGAIN...
Here's one of those memorable in-game celebrations, as performed by England, the team Rob should've been playing as.
Like Rob, I could easily have gone with World Cup 98 for my choice this week. Me and my brother would always team up in an attempt to take England to glory, grinding out vital results in the group stages before inevitably facing elimination in the knockout rounds. The graphics may have been a bit rubbish, but EA managed to nailed the pain and disappointment of watching England in the latter stages of an actual World Cup.
Instead, I’m going for a more recent pick with Overcooked 2. Not that long ago I ended up on a team that featured not one, but two professional chefs, who also happened to be avid gamers. After a brief breakdown of the controls, we set to work smashing nearly every high score I'd set up to that point.
Dishes were flying out not just on time, but in the correct order as well(!), meaning we racked up some seriously meaty scores. Most impressive was the way they both actually stuck to their assigned roles, calling out what they needed in clear, concise fashion – exactly the sort of calming, professional presence Team PTC was missing when we took to the kitchen.
One can never have too much pepperoni, apparently.
What co-op session do you most cherish? Let us know in the comments below.
£50.90. Fifty pounds and ninety pence. One more time for the folks in the cheap seats: FIFTY POUNDS and NINETY PENCE. That’s right, comrades, the glorious English rail network outdid itself once more, as yours truly hurtled towards London from beautiful Brighton town, #NoSeatsAvailableNoSeatRequired. We really do get well looked after…
Staying put in the bombast of the Indie Room, we pushed on towards the offerings of good ol’ Chucklefish. They had recent release Wargroove in tow, along with new joints like Pathway (fab desert-based strategy RPG), metroidvania-tinged puzzle platformer Timespinner, and my personal pick of the bunch, Eastward. Not to be confused with that Clint fellow, mind. Or the recent Outward...
Playing (and looking) like The Last of Us funneled through Stardew Valley, Eastward charts the tale of two folks caught up in one of those ruddy world-crumbling-apocalypse periods. Using the skills of each character to solve puzzles, traverse terrain and bash baddies was a lot of fun; I’m looking forward to playing this one again, hopefully soon!
The Indie Room was also home to the underwater charm of Beyond Blue, a game made by the folks behind Never Alone, in collaboration with the BBC’s Blue Planet team. Imagine an HD Endless Ocean, and you’re halfway there. Following the story of Mirai, a researcher attempting to communicate and explore the depths in ways never before seen, Beyond Blue was a dream to play for an ocean-obsessive like moi. Check out the trailer, it really is dreamy.
Our last port of call in the Indie Room was a little game by the name of Mable and the Wood. Taking its inspiration from many classics of the 16-bit era, this platforming adventure game puts thee in the role of a girl with a terrible shape-shifting gift. That’s right, pals: kill a big bastard spider and you steal its grotty powers of webbage (and so on and so forth). Add amusing NPC dialogue and lovely audiovisuals to the fun, challenging gameplay and you’re onto a winner.
Next up JMP and I toddled off to the illusory Unreal Engine Showcase, to delve into some local multiplayer shootin’ and-a snookerin’.
From two-man Italian developer Ludicrous Games, Guntastic is a frantic game of one-screen shooting and platforming. Full of weapons, power-ups, and switches to send trains crashing through stages (and enemies), this free-for-all arcade shooter brought smiles to all who played it.
So, as the great saying goes: “Once one has shot, one must pot.” With that, we went to visit the Snooker 19 gang for a quick frame of Jim Davidson’s favourite sport.
I’ll be honest here and admit I didn’t expect much from Snooker 19. Hands held firmly upward, I’ll also admit I was wrong - it’s bloody excellent! Photorealistic visuals; licensed venues, tournaments and players; authentic cue-on-ball tones; and simple to understand, yet hard to master controls. Lab42 even seem to have taken our suggestion for mini-games based on Australian-accented Ronnie O’Sullivan interviews and 70s-era cigarette smoking and beer drinking under consideration, so let’s hope they get patched in before the game releases next week!
After a quick pizza break - during which we had the great pleasure of listening to the sarcastic woman behind the counter take the piss out of every customer - we went and got green in the ID@Xbox arena.
There were old faves on show like Far: Lone Sails and Human: Fall Flat (fans of that one should keep an eye out for the next of our weekly giveaways), but it was new games Cat Quest 2 and Truberbrook that stood tail and suitcase above the rest.
Cat Quest 2 continues all the excellent RPG goodness of the first game, but with the added twist of a second player this time around. Travelling its colourful cartoon world, beating up baddies and completing quests, chum of choice by your side - purrrrfe... actually, nope, I won’t do it!
Stood abreast of Cat Quest 2’s kitty-caper was, of course, Truberbrook, which is my sleeper hit of the show. Another point-and-click adventure, the game puts you in the shoes of travelling American physicist Tannhauser, as he attempts to break through a mental block in the titular, sleepy German town. The graphics and dialogue provided not only humour, but a lot of intrigue too. I’ll be keeping a beady eye on this mysterious little game, eagerly awaiting its Xbox release.
Down, down, down into the bowels of Tobacco Dock did we plunder, eventually taking up residence in The Leftfield Collection, which had been 2018’s best room. Blessed with a glut of beautiful, innovative and downright quirky games, the LFC again proved to be a personal highlight.
There were beautiful, relaxing games like Becalm; the hilarious fun of Drink More Glurp, best likened to a mix of Octodad and Track & Field; sublime puzzle adventuring with OMNO; and Nth Dimensional Hiking, a far-out, no-hands-held 3D platformer with bizarre, blurry visuals.
The sheer amount of creativity on display never fails to astound me, and all of us here at Pass the Controller, in fact. Long may it continue.
Avoid pecking pigeons, evade the eclairs, and bash the battenberg...
To the homestretch, then, and my favourite part of this year’s show - Coatsink’s showing! Everything about their area was fun, colourful and silly; from the two glorious games on show, to PR man Jack - who won this year’s beard-off, yet again - to the countless laughing, smiling visitors.
New title Cake Bash takes the guts of Super Smash Bros., but replaces those famous Nintendo icons with different types of cake. Yes, cake. Avoid pecking pigeons, evade the eclairs, and bash the battenberg in your quest to cover yourself in decorations, garnish a custard tart, or just plain ice a fondant fancy. A brilliant premise that we look forward to seeing more of.
Check out our video coverage of Rezzed 2019.
We end then with Phogs, the glorious two-folks-one-controller game. James and I once again spent most of this year’s play session laughing out loud as we slid the eponymous double-ended dog around ravishing night time locales, all in search of bones and moons to feed to giant knitted snakes. If that doesn’t sound like the best thing ever, then you are officially a dull, dim-witted turd.
Exhausted, and fearing the worst for my journey home, I slipped away, ready to haunt the halls again next year. Thanks for the games you lovely devs; grazie for the pizza you benevolent gentleman James; and fuck you to ye extortionate Network Rail. See you in 2020. XOXO
After sharing fantastic franchises that we finally took the time to discover last week, this week we’re discussing the very biggest games that still remain in our piles of shame.
Chris | Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption was almost perfect (except for that one achievement), so it seems reasonable to assume that a sequel would be just as good, if not better. I’d like to think, in that case, that there are many possible reasons for why I’d have skipped over Rockstar’s latest entry.
If I were to really analyse myself, I might come to the conclusion that huge sandbox games require a significant time investment to get the most out of, and that’s pretty intimidating. We all want to feel like we've got our money's worth from whatever purchases we make - I mean, you wouldn't buy Babybel cheese and not eat the delicious wax, would you? No, because you aren't a crazy person. In the same vein, it would be wasteful to buy Red Dead Redemption 2 and not get lost in it for, say, 18 hours at a time.
Alternatively, I could’ve come to the realisation that almost every game I purchase is later given away by a digital storefront or subscription service, sometimes mere days after the cash has left my wallet.
So, is it real life getting in the way? Do I have poor time management skills? Am I a shameless cheapskate? Yes, but I did also forget it existed as soon as the advertising stopped...
Liam | The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Incredible. Sumptuous. Immense. Sequel. These are just some of the words used to describe what many people regard as the pinnacle of modern gaming: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I wouldn’t know, however, as I’ve never actually played it.
There’s really no reason for me not to rectify that, because it can be found cheap as chips these days, and despite the many distractions of modern life I still find time to play other RPGs, even if they’re not as celebrated… such as Fallout 76.
It’s not like I’m completely unfamiliar with the game’s characters and setting either. I know of Geralt, Dandelion, Yennefer and co. from the books, and I even dabbled in The Witcher 2, though I admittedly never got past the part where you fight the weird salamander-dragon-type-thing on a bridge.
Unlike Fallout 76 though, which I expected to be rubbish and was pleasantly surprised to find wasn’t, if I played The Witcher 3 now I’d be going in with how good everyone says it is on the mind. Knowing that, I’m not sure I could keep my lofty expectations in check.
That’s probably a terrible reason not to try it, but then I like Fallout 76, so what do I know?
James | The Elder Scrolls
Anyone who's been following my Team Talk entries of late might be beginning to notice a pattern. A few weeks ago, I told you about how I struggled to get into the sprawling world of Red Dead Redemption 2, and now it's time to turn our attention to a fellow gaming legend in Skyrim.
While I've dabbled in Bethesda's work with the most recent Fallout titles, The Elder Scrolls games have always eluded me because, frankly, they’re intimidating. Countless others have enjoyed them for hundreds of hours - playing out entire virtual lives encompassing marriage, real estate and the like - across not just Skyrim, but Oblivion and Morrowind as well.
It's not that fantasy doesn't appeal, as Dragon Age and The Witcher have been popular pastimes of mine over the years, but something about the sci-fi side of Bethesda Game Studios’ brand of RPG seems altogether more accessible.
Is there a way for me to begin this epic quest after all these years? It's not as if it’d be difficult to get hold of, given the number of platforms the game has been released on now… but where to even begin? With so many expansions and ways to play, surely nothing can live up to the perfect picture others have painted for me, right?
Skyrim is definitely still worth experiencing, as Sam discovered when he first played the game in VR form.
Rob | Metal Gear
Before I get into my pick, I have to say that blaming a gross case of shovel-hand for missing out on the #BestGameEVA is a bloody outrage! AN OUTRAGE, I TELLS YA! Stop playing all those JRPGs you love so much and get your anus to Hyrule, Sam!
… Now, onto my own heinous confession, which PlayStation chums should probably strap in for. I, Bobby Holt, have never played a Metal Gear game.
“But our Bob,” I hear thee protest, “Kojima is LORD!” Thanks for filling me in, I’d never heard that before...
To add a little context: I didn’t own a PS1 until after its demise, likewise with the PS2, and it was pretty much the same with PS3, except I got one of those when The Last of Us came out right at the end. But - and it’s a big one - I did purchase Ground Zeroes in a sale just before the initial announcement of Death Stranding, and this is where my problems began.
I’d loved the look of Ground Zeroes, as well as big brother Metal Gear Solid V, so with all the critical acclaim I was (as we say in SAAFAMPTUN) well up for it, mush. Then that nonsense Death Stranding trailer dropped, which, along with the daft name, tarnished my desire to sample dear Hideo’s work.
Here's the offending trailer in all its glory.
What's the biggest game you've never played? Share your shameful secrets in the comments below.
We recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with a pre-release PC build of Etherborn, the gravity-defying puzzle platformer being developed by Altered Matter. After spending around an hour with the game’s first three levels, it seems clear that this upstart studio of four are destined for big things.
You’ll always return to a nearby checkpoint, mind, encouraging experimentation within the unconventional physics playgrounds that are Etherborn’s self-contained stages. More conventional is the gated progression, whereby you’ll need to place key items on pedestals in order to transform the shifting environments and accommodate pressing onwards; you will at least need to double back and re-utilise them in different places on occasion, which is an added wrinkle to consider.
While no real cause for concern, considering we’re judging based on the introductory stages alone, so far Etherborn relies solely on reiterating this structure in increasingly complex ways. It does so very well, coaxing you deeper into what feels like a warmer take on the works of M.C. Escher, but nonetheless we do hope that new mechanics are introduced over time.
We’re equally intrigued to see how things are set to progress from a narrative standpoint, as it’s all quite vague and introspect at the moment, whilst feeling as though it’s probably building towards a deeper meaning.
Your avatar is a completely blank slate, a voiceless humanoid appearing as though a sentient x-ray and lacking any clear motivation. The direct address of a disembodied narrator presumably begins to fill that in, but what’s most enticing is the gentle swirl of this dulcet female voice. Experienced in a dark room with a decent pair of headphones, the sound swishes around your head and the minimalist visuals soothe in an almost meditative fashion, which is a state perfectly conducive to switching off the logical parts of your brain to better comprehend the game’s unbound, geographic puzzles.
Consider the sweeping soundtrack - comprised of twinkling chimes and mellow organ bellows, cut through by dreamy vocalisation, percussion and strings - and you have a package which, true to its name, is healthy with an almost ethereal glow.
Etherborn stylishly ebbs and flows it’s way through the early stages, so do keep an eye out for its arrival on Steam, PS4, Xbox One and Switch this spring.
Time is a limited commodity and videogames increasingly are not. People struggle to fit every game that’s of interest into their busy schedules, inevitably resulting in cuts to backlogs which can span entire series of games. These seemingly sensible prioritisations can turn out to be regrettable, however, like in these instances where we kicked ourselves for arriving late to the party.
DMC was originally a Resident Evil sequel; considering that's one of Sam’s favourite franchises, how did it take him this long to get involved?
Chris | The Witcher
It took a 10/10 review, pages of recommendations on our forums and a very generous sale for me to finally pick up The Witcher 3. When those stars eventually aligned, I was blown away.
For a newcomer, seeing a number following the title was a little daunting, especially considering the breadth of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fiction. Thankfully, one of the game’s companions, Dandelion, is as good with a pen as Geralt is with a sword, keeping detailed records on the friends and foes they’ve met. A habit which is sure to come in handy the next time anyone disagrees with his choice of starter Pokémon.
Favouring horseback exploration over the game's fast travel system will further pad out your journal, adding a seemingly endless array of locations, quests, map markers and characters, each one intriguing enough to warrant its inclusion amongst a staggering amount of overall content.
It's a less lonesome experience than some of its genre stablemates, owing to the diverse cast of recurring personalities who frequently offer counsel. After decades of hunting deadly creatures, Geralt understands that true power lies in the strength we draw from others. Well, that and from being able to craft a variety of explosives at a moment's notice. A habit which is sure to come in handy the next time anyone disagrees with his choice of starter Pokémon.
James | Hitman
Sneaking around as a silent and sinister saboteur has always appealed to me, but the stress of being discovered has often made me shy away from the art of stealth in gaming. Hitman 2 (2018) changed that, though.
A catalyst for my eternal struggle with stealth was Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, where more often than not being detected essentially - or, at times, literally - meant it was game over. Hitman, on the other hand, gives you a little more room to manoeuvre.
The game gives you pointers on ways to approach your targets, most recently through the addition of story strands which just happen to dynamically unfold whenever you enter specific areas. Not taking itself too seriously also helps to make mistakes come off as far more forgiving, though I'm sure purists would lament my disregard for the professionalism to which Agent 47 aspires.
Kill scenarios and weaponry have a nice amount of variety, even if you do find yourself walking past copious conspicuous glasses to spike with poison and buttons to trigger distractions within any given level, but, most importantly, that coveted feeling of satisfaction is most definitely there.
IO also ran a limited event where you got to take out Sean Bean. As a huge GoldenEye 007 fan, what more could I possibly want?
Liam | Pokémon
I was obsessed with Pokémon when it first burst onto the scene just over 20 years ago. I collected trading cards, watched the anime, and, of course, sunk countless hours into Pokémon Red and Blue. My brother and I even teamed up to help him catch ‘em all, which is still probably one of my greatest achievements in gaming (and life in general).
But, like most of my peers, I eventually outgrew Pokémon and moved on to the next fad - pulling off sweet Around the World and Walk the Dog tricks with my neon X-Brain yo-yo! The 90s were ace!
I still kept my eye on Pokémon, but as the years went by the idea of jumping back in grew more and more intimidating; counting re-releases, there’s been 25 mainline games since the first generation of titles, along with 657 new ‘mon to complement the original suite of 150.
It took a heavily discounted copy of Pokémon Moon to bring me back to the series, but I wish I’d returned sooner. Underneath completely optional new features, like Pokémon refresh and Z-moves, lurked the same moreish gameplay I remembered so fondly, and exploring some of the new concepts hasn’t been as alienating as I feared it would be.
Smart folk will choose Sobble as their Pokémon Sword or Shield starter.
Which series do you wish you'd gotten to grips with sooner? Sound off in the comments.
I’m completely hooked on Outward right now, to the point I’ve neglected to join Clementine for the final chapter of The Walking Dead and poor Sekiro’s starting to wonder whether I even care about saving his master. It’s a challenging survival RPG from a passionate team of ten at developer Nine Dots Studio, led by a CEO that clearly cares for both his staff and the integrity of the art they make. Outward is their uncompromised vision of the ideal role-playing adventure, but all the drive in the world and the backing of a big publisher like Deep Silver aren’t quite enough to bring such an ambitious game to market without a few cracks.
How you make the 150 silver you owe, if indeed you choose to at all, is entirely up to you. You could run traditional errands for payment, fish and forage for goods to trade, or delve a dungeon in search of valuable loot. Whatever you opt for, as you venture into the untamed wilds and the rousing main theme kicks in (albeit too loudly, so you’ll want to mess with the audio sliders to fix that) it’s impossible not to feel like the wind is at your back and the world is at your feet.
As the sun shines on lush green pastures and birdsong fills the air, it’s hard not to get carried away, but you always have to remain vigilant in Outward. Much like in real life, the natural world is dangerous and indifferent to your presence. Maps don’t show your current location, so if you aren’t actively charting a journey by taking mental note of landmarks and compass readings, you can very quickly find yourself lost and alone in the dead of night.
As you venture into the untamed wilds and the rousing main theme kicks in, it’s impossible not to feel like the wind is at your back and the world is at your feet.
This is where the survival mechanics come into their own, as your maximum health and stamina deplete as you spend more time awake. You can camp and rest up almost anywhere, mostly dependant on the weather, though the weather's effects can be mitigated by first changing clothes or building a campfire (which can also be a doorway to cooking and alchemy, with the proper equipment). You’ll need to delegate rest hours between sleep, repairing gear and guarding against ambushes, with the longer you take making your character proportionally more hungry and thirsty.
These interacting survival elements aren’t so present as to be constant annoyances, merely needing babysitting now and again, as resources are abundant and the percentages indicating your needs are slow to degrade. That means that when they do rear their head and inflict debuffs at inopportune moments, skin-of-your-teeth emergent tales are told and your adventures are all the more memorable for it.
That being said, bountiful resources pose another problem, as you’re very limited in what you can carry. Pocket space is prime real estate (especially when even currency weighs you down), so you’ll need to carry a backpack of some description if you’re the item hoarding sort, only the bigger the rucksack - and therefore the carrying capacity - the more it’ll impede your movement. This means you’ll probably want to set it down before engaging in combat, then be faced with the daunting reality of being separated from it and the vital contents should you find yourself on the losing end.
It’s yet another tantalising risk vs. reward mechanic in a game full of them. Combat itself isn’t generally required outside of a few quest objectives, so you can sneak or sprint your way past most encounters without too much fear of missing out. That’s down to the fact that Outward doesn’t feature any kind of experience or traditional levelling systems. You’ll still be rewarded with loot for felling a foe, which, provided you can carry it, might help to craft better equipment or fetch some silver that can be put towards training in new skills.
This tweak feels incredibly refreshing, considering how small it is in reality, while further emphasising that coin is king in Outward. It makes it viable to play a sort of pacifist merchant, especially since different enemy classes will fight amongst one another and can reliably be manipulated into doing so, letting you swoop in like a vulture to claim the spoils and finish off the weakened victor. You can also lay traps and lead hostiles into those, rub elemental rags on your weapon to inflict damage over time while you play defence, or take potshots with a bow from higher ground.
If you’re more of a scholar than a rogue, Outward also has a bespoke magic system. You can’t start out as a mage, as gaining mana requires reaching a specific location and trading off health and stamina in proportion to how large of a pool you want to draw from. It’s a big decision as there’s no going back, especially since health and stamina are already limited and both absolutely precious, though, with a little experimentation, being well-versed in the arcane can really pay off.
Spells are pitiful in themselves, but placing and standing inside magic sigils whilst you cast offers massive buffs. Combining different spells and sigils will bring different results, so experimenting to see what works best is the name of the game.
Melee combat is more of a no-frills affair. Stringing light and heavy attacks into combinations with different weapon classes yields unique results, so there’s some experimentation to do in finding what best fits you here as well, but there’s no escaping the fact that combat in Outward feels far more stiff, cumbersome and unimpactful than something like Dark Souls or even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - though it boasts the dodge rolls and careful stamina use of the former, poise and staggering of the later, and the punishing difficulty of both.
I’ve found being more aggressive to be the best course of action. In time I got used to the tempo and came to find the learning curve quite satisfying, especially as I implemented new gear and active abilities into my growing arsenal, but for a long time I dreaded each combat encounter and so avoided enemies like the plague.
In time I got used to the tempo and came to find the learning curve quite satisfying, but for a long time I dreaded each combat encounter and avoided enemies like the plague.
Fortunately, many failed early skirmishes lead to some of the game’s greatest moments. You don’t die in Outward, rather fall unconscious and get thrust into a situation dependant on how and where that happened, which you’re filled in on via loading screen text.
Whether a passing stranger took pity and helped you out, or you awake in a prison with a fairly substantial quest to find one of several ways out, you’ll often find an emergent adventure inside your existing emergent adventure and that can take the sting out of failure. Of course, if your backpack isn’t brought along for the ride, you'll need to cannily retrieve it without its contents to help you along the way.
Having set out to create a wanderlust RPG, I have to commend the team at Nine Dots for a job very well done - they’ve nailed the liberated feeling of setting out on a perilous journey over and over again. The reliance on real orienteering skills and lack of fast travel in any form makes the game’s varied regions - from lush countryside to arid deserts and poisonous swamps - thoroughly memorable through necessity.
It’s reminiscent of cult classic Dragon’s Dogma in many ways, though I adore the auto-run feature which Outward boasts over that game, allowing you to continue making forward progress whilst map reading or managing your inventory. In fact, Outward shares similarities to last generation RPGs like Fable, Kingdoms of Amalur and many more, evoking a warm nostalgia for a breed of game long thought extinct. Less positively, it does unfortunately look and load like a last generation game as well, even whilst playing the enhanced Xbox One X version.
So, I’ve waxed lyrical on why I really do love Outward for long enough, but there are some objective shortfalls - even failures - to make you aware of. The game constantly autosaves to stop players pulling any save scum shenanigans, which is fine in itself and significantly ups the stakes, but when you combine that with a knack for getting irreparably stuck in the environment it’s frankly game breaking. There’s obviously no fast travel to get you out of there, there’s also no suicide or “I’m stuck” option to reset your position, so at that point your game is over.
This happened to me ‘just’ a few hours in, so I was in a position to restart, and, touch wood, whilst being exceptionally careful during descents, there haven’t even been any close calls on my second character. I’m so invested now that I’d definitely throw in the towel if it were to happen again, which would be incredibly unfortunate.
If you’re thinking that I could’ve just waited to starve, clever clogs, then here’s another issue for you - I did, for several hours, but when the survival meters fully deplete they just break and you lose the associated debuffs. (That’s a nifty trick in itself for anyone averse to the survival mechanics, though.)
Next up: Your map can break, failing to update when you transition to a new area and instead still displaying the previous one. This is easily fixed by restarting the game, but you really want to avoid doing that, at least outside of safe areas. There’s an incredibly damaging glitch, which only ever stuck me outside of main settlements, where quitting and returning to the game will delete a large portion of the hard-earned inventory from your backpack. It’s infuriating, though the workaround is to always get back to a city before you stop playing, or to very slowly move everything from your rucksack into your non-glitched pockets, which will make you massively over encumbered while sparing the loot.
Obviously you can’t do that if a crash happens to strike, which have been reported, but I haven’t suffered once across many hours of play. I did, however, have the Xbox OS inform me that Outward had become corrupt and needed to be reinstalled when trying to launch it at one point.
I’ve waxed lyrical on why I really do love Outward for long enough, but there are some objective shortfalls - even failures - to make you aware of.
Despite all that, Outward is so gratifying and immersive that I haven’t been put off. It realises its potential, then does so much to push you away, but I’m smitten to an extent that it really doesn’t matter. I’ll keep coming back for more because this is one of those rare, encompassing games that I can’t stop thinking about playing when I’m not playing.
For a title that runs so counter to AAA culture, ironically, the main takeaway is one that applies to many modern AAA games - Outward will eventually be worth anyone’s time. With updates to fix the outlined issues, Nine Dots’ miraculous effort can be held aloft, but, until then, it’s reserved for only the most hardcore of RPG fans. I’m certain they’ll find space in their hearts for Outward too, especially if they have a like-minded friend, since it’s playable in both local(!) and online co-op.
Battlefield V's take on battle royale was worthy of anticipation; DICE have made their name on endlessly replayable multiplayer experiences, filled to the brim with exciting destruction, so why would Firestorm be any different?
Getting into the mode proper, which I was subsequently able to do, I appreciated Firestorm’s greater sense of realism as compared to its contrived peers when it comes to shrinking the circular battlefield. Isolation and terror really begin to build as you hear the fiery inferno starting to make its way towards you, then, once the fire catches up, you’ll hear the screams and shouts of your character as their inevitable demise begins to sink in.
Bugs aside, the intended format is what you might expect from a battle royale game: drop, loot, sneak about, take a few shots, probably get killed by someone you didn't see. Only here, there are vehicles to contend with too. Could this be the USP for DICE’s entry into an already crowded marketplace?
Firestorm has the ingredients for at least a solid survival shooting experience from this tried and tested franchise.
Vehicles are dotted about the map, including amphibious ones, but unlike PUBG you can airdrop them in at will using limited signal flares. You’re even able to signal a fairly devastating airstrike, which can also inadvertently knock out your team if you aren't too careful. Ultimately, the vehicles haven't been the game-changing factor in close games so far, so the jury is still out.
The armour system, which essentially lets you replenish individual armour plates on the fly as you scavenge around the map, is honestly pretty neat. Hits on enemies will register as being deflected by armour specifically, so you have an idea of how much damage you're actually doing to their vitals.
Layer in a comparatively basic battle royale weapon set - appropriate to the time period, but still far from realistic - and you've got the ingredients for at least a solid survival shooting experience from this tried and tested franchise.
Whether Firestorm can hold people's attention versus the big boys of the genre, including EA's own Apex Legends, remains to be seen, but, for the time being, it's done enough to justify its own existence and feel like more than just a tacked-on afterthought.