It's a good time to be a fan of single-player RPGs, as remastered versions of Baldur's Gate and Dragon Quest are looking dapper (having been cleaned up for modern systems), a sequel to The Surge saw release on Tuesday (expect a review very soon) and a new IP from Bandai Namco, the Souls-like Code Vein, will be with us in time for the weekend. With so many differently styled RPGs out there, both old and new, it's hard to choose a favourite, but we've done just that.
In a situation like this, survival is often the best one can hope for.
Sam | Dark Souls
It’ll likely come as no surprise to anybody that FromSoftware’s unforgiving Dark Souls is my choice this week. Not only my favourite RPG but quite possibly my favourite game of all time, it’s such an entirely cherishable experience in every which way.
That even includes every crushing defeat, because without the comparative lows the game would never reach its intoxicating highs. The in-depth systems, lore, setting and combat are all outstanding on an unparalleled level in my mind; frankly, it’s just a damn special experience.
That being said, and I’ll make this transition in part because I’ve gushed over Dark Souls here several times before, BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins gives it a good run for its money. Launching back before EA got their mitts on the RPG-specialist studio, there were none of the compromises synonymous with BioWare today.
Origins’ tactical combat, lore, systems and setting were also great in their own right, but where the game far exceeds Dark Souls is in its cast of characters. Allies comprising protagonist The Warden’s party were particularly memorable, with my personal favourites being Alistair and Morrigan for all their endearing squabbling. They were honestly more like real-world friends than fictional characters in a game and I can only hope we’re reunited in the upcoming Dragon Age 4.
Dark Souls' cast may pale in comparison but it doesn't take away from the series.
Liam | The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
All Zelda games are an easy sell, but there’s something extra special about The Wind Waker. Even the ridiculously catchy opening bars of the title music are enough to let you know you’re in for a treat.
Stepping out into Hyrule Field for the first time in Ocarina of Time might be regarded by many as a defining moment in the series but, for me, The Wind Waker’s sprawling seas offered a much greater sense of adventure.
I loved heading into uncharted waters, watching shadows on the horizon grow steadily larger until they transformed into a new island, ripe for exploring. Rare encounters with spectral ships and kraken-like sea monsters just added to the sense of wonder.
This was the first Zelda game I finished on my own, without help from older siblings, friends, or guides. The only assistance I needed was Link himself, who would use his gargantuan cartoon eyes to give hints as to what to do next, almost as if he were pondering the situation as much as I was.
The Wind Waker sets a personal standard by which other RPGs are judged. It’s got everything; adventure, action, great storytelling and characters, plus a superb soundtrack. It even has a magic pear that lets you control seagulls. What more do you need?
Now that's a catchy opener.
James | Mass Effect
Mass Effect is not only a series I enjoyed thoroughly, but one I actually finished (and regular readers will know how much of a rare occurrence that is) and was possibly the first time I lost myself in the story of an RPG. Shepard's quest to save the Milky Way started off (and, some would say, ended) clunky and awkward but found its feet thanks to BioWare's mastery in creating compelling characters and an interesting, Star Trek-esque future society where humanity wasn't the leader of the Federation, but a race that was constantly trying to prove itself.
The gameplay is solid, and gets even better as the series progresses. You've got a lot of variety to play with in your character too, equipping your version of Shepard with Force-inspired superpowers or technical skills to use in combat. The real game-changer is the branching dialogue trees and Paragon and Renegade system, which sees your Shep change as you play, even opening up dastardly or pious actions depending on which side of the line you tread.
Who can forget moments with well-rounded characters like Mordin Solus singing Gilbert and Sullivan, the impossible choice about the fate of the Krogans on Virmire and the epic final dash through the Omega 3 mass effect relay as you tightly clutch every beloved character you can get your hands on. I'm not Commander Shepard, but this is my favourite RPG on the Citadel.
Bioware get top marks for storytelling, right until the very end.
Let us know which RPG you would recommend above any other.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently released a report on "immersive and addictive technologies" which came with the recommendation that the UK Government regulate loot boxes under the Gambling Act and prohibit the sale of them to children. Loot boxes are not uncommon in most AAA titles, particularly those with a multiplayer component, but are they welcome, or do they subtract more than they add?
They certainly know how to make them alluring.
The only time I have any contact with loot boxes (or whatever industry executives are calling them these days) is when they’re handed out as in-game rewards. I’ve never paid money for one, and I’ve never felt the urge to. But that’s not to say I’m entirely immune to their charms. I’d eagerly rush to open a new box between rounds of Overwatch hoping to find a rare skin, and I’d always save my REQ points (Halo 5’s in-game currency) so I could go for the more expensive gold REQ packs and enjoy the fanfare that came with earning higher tier loot.
I can see the problem with having such mechanics, especially paid ones, in games that are readily available to a younger audience. In my teenage years I stood for hours in bookies watching friends lose money they didn’t have on digital roulette machines in pursuit of a win, and I know how painfully addictive the chase is.
Slapping an 18 rating or a gambling warning on FIFA is unlikely to stop waves of oblivious parents from buying the game for their child, and while I doubt we’ll ever be rid of them in titles like that in some form or other, more stringent regulation coupled with consumer outrage might at least convince a few publishers to ditch the trend.
Ultra rare drops are sometimes even less common than the name suggests.
Coverage of the scrutiny loot boxes are under has had very few rallying to the defence of the big publishers who make their existence a reality, besides the publishers themselves, as most gamers, it's safe to say, aren't huge fans.
The notion that you need to spend more money, after paying upwards of £50 on a game, to get the best experience doesn't sit well at the best of times, but to do so and not be sure what you're even paying for is far worse.
The targeting of young and vulnerable people in particular is bad (though it isn't the only industry to do so), and the report specifically suggests putting barriers up to protect youngsters and their parents' credit cards.
The regulation of some of these mechanics (which are certainly anything but a surprise) should be an opportunity to help the industry to be taken seriously, when compared to a passion for film or TV, and put an end to the latest story your parents hear about gaming being how a 6 year old spent £1,000 in FIFA Ultimate Team.
A world-class digital team could require a lot of physical funds.
Provided they don’t affect game balance, I’m not entirely opposed to traditional microtransactions. This most often means they take the form of cosmetic items that hold little to no value for me personally, but having a reasonably priced option for those of a different disposition is generally harmless enough.
Not entirely harmless, mind, with one example being kids getting bullied for playing as the default character in Fortnite. That obviously isn’t okay, but you can at least grab exactly what’s needed to address the “problem” if need be. Games that tie everything into randomised loot boxes don’t allow for that (and it’s telling that this is the stage we’re at) “luxury”.
Instead you might be lucky enough to get a 0.5% chance at unlocking the desired item, which can not only lead to children emptying their unknowing parents’ bank accounts, but also prey on adults that are susceptible to the intentionally insidious hooks of problem gambling. Regardless of any ancient definition that might legally rule out loot boxes as a form of gambling on a technicality, the blighters are precisely that.
Free-to-play games that need so-called “whales” (a dehumanising term which, one could argue, helps with handling the question of morality) to support them are one thing, but when full price games like FIFA are built around the same model it’s just a display of unchecked greed. Especially when, in this instance, the offending Ultimate Team mode does affect gameplay balance.
The free-to-play model works a lot better in free-to-play titles.
Let us know how you feel about loot boxes.
Borderlands 3 has released today and, just like with Pokemon and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, we've got some pretty strong opinions on who you should start your career with. Join us for a light-hearted, friendly, debate about the best character, and the others, in Borderlands 3.
Sam | FL4K
I have to be honest and say that I really don’t like the Borderlands series, although Telltale Games’ narrative-based adventure Tales from the Borderlands does stand as a notable exception.
Gearbox Software’s looter shooters have historically bored the pants off me and so I’ll be opting out of Borderlands 3, likely much to the chagrin of the salivating general gaming populous. If I were to be a glutton for punishment and give the latest cel-shaded shooter a try, however, I’d probably opt for FL4K the Beastmaster.
This gender-neutral, robotic Vault Hunter doesn’t do anything to appeal to me in themselves, but coming bundled with what are essentially three pet doggy companions makes for an easy win. Unfortunately you can only summon one at a time, but it’s pretty cool that they all have different abilities designed to complement your chosen playstyle as you upgrade their master’s attributes.
As for FL4K’s competition? Zane’s a total snooze fest, Amara’s stuck in the shadow of fellow multi-muscly-arm-owner Machamp, and Moze is pretty much just a Titanfall reject...
Liam | Moze
Sam’s Team Talk choices have come a long way since the dark days of Sobble, but once again we find ourselves at loggerheads following a fleeting alliance against Chris, James, and their moody magicians, although I will allow that Zane is by far the most boring character on offer here, closely followed by Amara and her magic fists.
I mean, if you’re going to survive on a hostile planet, it’s best to do so in the company of a giant death machine that also cooks dinner and doubles up as an alarm clock, rather than with a mutant ‘dog’ in ski goggles. Titanfall reject indeed!
But there’s also an element of pragmatism to my choice. I know you’re supposed to play these sorts of games with people you like, or, failing that, your friends and family, but nine times out of ten I’ll end up going stag, so having an autonomous mech in tow will at least give enemies something else to shoot at. As Moze herself points out: “When your BFF’s a BFG, you don’t need anyone else watching your back.”
James | Zane
Having played as Zero on a recent replay of Borderlands 2, it's been an assassin-tastic time on Pandora, and I'm looking forward to continuing the adventure in a similar vein.
Zane is a different kind of character though. While Zero is quiet and robotic, Zane is described as a suave, James Bond-esque character who is "wealthy and has a lot of gadgets at his disposal."
There's an advantage immediately to choosing the gentleman's assassin, in that he can equip two action skills rather than one, which lends itself to a wider variety of movesets across his Doubled Agent, Hitman and Under Cover skill trees.
You have the tried and tested decoy (now known as a "Digi-Clone") as well as a SNTNL drone and a shield barrier to play with as we explore not just Pandora, but a few other planets for a change.
In skills, I'm amused to see we have one called "Nanites or Some Shite" which causes your barrier to give you and your allies health regeneration, faster reload speed and quicker shield recharge when cowering near it.
The character itself is related to bandit leaders Captain and Baron Flynt and is a "semi-retired" hitman, suggesting he might have seen a few things in his time. Though with Borderlands as a series it's rare your character is particularly important to the plot, more along for the ride.
Let us know who you've chosen and if we managed to change your mind.
The Sims 4: Island Living is the seventh major expansion for Maxis’ popular life-simulator, taking players (and their Sims) to the tropical paradise of Sulani for a slice of laid-back island living. Following a successful launch earlier in the summer, we chatted with Jill Johnson, Associate Producer on the The Sims 4, about escaping the rat race, island upkeep and the danger of mermaids.
The amount of colour offered by a change of scenery is one of the first things you notice, and players have a responsibility for looking after the island to keep it that way. How easy was is to balance the aesthetic elements with making the experience compelling for players?
From a visual standpoint, we had a few discussions early on concerning the starting stage for Island Conservation. We universally knew we didn’t want the starting point to look like a bleak wasteland, but we also needed to have that wow moment in contrast for the final stage of conservation.
Especially in the earliest phase, boosting up your Island’s conservation takes a bit of commitment. We did this intentionally so that when you’ve finally picked up that magic last piece of trash or spread the word to enough people, you get a very satisfying sense of investment when you get a vibrant notification telling you that your island is thriving.
Our Art and Design teams got pretty creative by pulling a handful of different levers to keep a noticeably visual progression without roughing up the starting point too much. The palm trees and the coral gets a little bit brighter. Instead of nets and piles of litter, eventually you start to see more fish and turtles and butterflies. Bright and colorful flowers start to show up. And my personal favorite is the striking bioluminescence you can spot glowing at night.
There seems to be a disaster movie element here, with your active volcano in particular stopping Island Living from being a total paradise. What sort of unexpected events will players be dealing with this time?
Oh yes, the volcano. It’s true, one of the pillars of Island Living is a peaceful, relaxing lifestyle. But this is still The Sims! And we definitely have some people on the team who love to grief their Sims. Other than possibly getting pummelled by lava bombs and catching on fire - if the Volcanic Activity Lot Trait is on your lot, of course - your Sims can find themselves in some other compromising situations around Sulani.
My personal favorite danger is the shark. If you swim out into the deeper, darker parts of the ocean there is a very real threat that you may encounter a shark. Pro tip: If you don’t get your Sim out of the water right away, you might just get pulled under and die.
If you displease the Island Spirits from the Island Spirits Lot Trait or the Island Elementals that are tied to the Child of the Island Personality Trait, they will make your luck turn sometimes disastrously bad.
And last but not least: not all Mermaids are sweet and friendly. Mermaids can use Summon Ocean Threat or use their Siren’s call on other unsuspecting swimmers that leaves them in a very bad state.
Dolphins also inhabit Sulani's waters, though encounters with them are markedly less threatening to your health
With The Sims being loosely based on our own exciting lives, how do you make things like dealing with insurance claims and the more serious business of child protection fun and interesting? Is it difficult to find the right balance between real life and Sim life?
We try to keep most things in The Sims generally light-hearted & entertaining, even when dealing with the less glamorous parts of life. We also don’t want our Sims universe to be this pristine perfect utopia, because what’s the fun in that? Sims can fart, Sims can die, and sometimes Sims can milk a Cowplant.
Many of our players love being able to play a realistic life, homework and all. Like any of our features, when dealing with something mundane or dark, we play the feature and feel it out. Our development team has gotten a very fine sense of what feels appropriate and what might need a little more silly.
If something’s feeling too boring, maybe we’ll adjust the tuning to make it less of a grind or add some extra funny chance to fail. If something’s feeling too serious we might liven it up a bit with some goofy animations. We try to keep a balance.
For those who might have been away from the series for a while, or players who haven't tried The Sims before at all, do you feel like this is a good point to jump into the delightful world of Simlish and unprompted kitchen fires?
Of course! It’s never too late to jump in and pick up The Sims. One of the coolest things I think The Sims has to offer is that, similar to most of the game pieces, even the packs you chose to play help make your experience modular. So if Island Living is the only expansion pack you own, you won’t be worse for the wear. Your Sims just might be a little more chill than others. Tee hee.
A number of previously released titles have been finding a home on Nintendo Switch recently, from PlayStation-era masterpieces like Final Fantasy VIII and Spyro the Dragon, to the more modern titles that were announced during the latest Nintendo Direct. There's a world of potential adventures awaiting Switch owners but none we'd like to see more than these.
Games have grown slightly more complex over the years...
Sam | Super Mario 3D World
Picking a Nintendo game might seem like a bit of a cop out, but honestly, what games better fit Nintendo platforms than the company’s very own?
Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS is one of my absolute favourite platformers - it’s seriously sublime! When I found out that the sequel would be a Wii U exclusive my heart sank. I wasn’t clambering into the dumpster fire that was the Wii U, but for a time those flames were mighty tempting...
The Switch has enjoyed a variety of Wii U ports during its time so far, including various other Mario titles, but for some reason 3D World hasn’t yet been shown any love. Its level-based structure and portable roots would make it a perfect fit for Nintendo Switch gaming on the go, while if it’s anywhere close to as compelling as the original it’d be a great candidate to get stuck into for longer periods on the TV at home.
It’s a bit baffling to me that the inferior 2D games got bundled together for a re-release, but 3D World and the likes of Pikmin 3 remain forgotten Wii U relics.
We'll forgive Sam for cheating a little, as this is clearly an oversight by Nintendo.
Liam | GTA: Chinatown Wars
Like most games from my past (and if I’m being honest, more than a few from the present), I never managed to reach Chinatown Wars’ end credits, so it would be great to have another stab at Rockstar’s excellent slice of old-school GTA action without having to dig out my Nintendo DS or sit through a sub par phone version.
Yes, the Switch might be lacking a second screen, but the one it does have is more than ample enough to hold both displays found on the DS version side by side. Also, thanks to its touchscreen capabilities, we wouldn’t necessarily have to miss out on any extra interactivity found in the original game such as inventory management and grenade tossing.
Of course, keeping such a feature would mean the game could only be enjoyed in handheld mode, but I don’t think that would be a problem for most people. There are already a couple of handheld only titles out there, like Severed, and the game’s simplistic visuals might not look so great stretched across big screen TVs of today.
Plus, with Nintendo’s next dedicated handheld system, the Switch Lite, right around the corner, now could be the perfect time to introduce a whole new generation of portable gamers to Rockstar’s forgotten gem.
What better way to deal with a stressful commute?
James | XCOM 2
Turn-based strategy is far from the most popular genre in gaming these days, but with the success of Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle on the Switch, I’d say the genre is ripe for a decent port. Enter XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, the re-tooled and more character driven expansion to the original game, ready to challenge you to take over the world, again.
Though the game looks amazing on PC and its fellow consoles, the visuals could easily be paired back a tiny bit and still give a rich, cinematic experience. Plus the turn-based nature of the game stops too much from happening at once, putting less stress on the already stretched GPU and CPU.
There’s an overworld game of course, which lends itself to those shorter play sessions, hopping in and out and leaving the game on pause for a bit until you’re ready to continue the fight against our alien overseers.
There’s plenty of fun to be had docked as well of course, as many have already enjoyed the game, but on the move is where this port would really show its colours. If you want something a bit more forward-looking, then think of this as a proof of concept for a port of the upcoming Phoenix Point, from series creator, and generally nice chap, Julian Gollop.
Rob | The House of the Dead 2
Those of you who are regulars to PTC will be fully aware of my personal trials and tribulations with Nintendo in recent years. But with Link's Awakening and the Lite on the cards, yours truly looks likely to come home. With that in mind, I want some Sega ports, please.
Oh yes, dear chums, once bitter enemies, the years have softened the feud between the two great games makers. Clearly, the whole Dreamcast catalogue on Switch would be grand (please, please make ChuChu 2) but I've plumped for something multiplayer and unholy.
House of the Dead 2 was always a guaranteed party game classic back in t'day, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be again! Grab a friend, take a joy-con each and blast away at the undead - all the while enjoying the gloriously shite voice acting. Perfect.
Truly, party gaming at its finest.
What game do you think would make a worthy Switch port?
The weekend was looking decidedly spooky with The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, an interactive filmic horror-drama, and Blair Witch, a game loosely based on the cult classic, releasing on 30 August. Friday the 13th, Alien Isolation and the newly announced Predator: Hunting Grounds have shown that horror movie tie-ins can be adapted to fit a range of sub-genres, so which spine-tingling stories would Team PTC like to experience through the medium of gaming?
Jack Nicholson's terrifying face can also be used to great effect.
Liam | Tremors
Tremors spawned four sequels (and one prequel) but no game tie-in, not unless you count this effort (shown below) which was made in just 24 hours to celebrate Bacon day. Honouring actors who share a name with sweet, sweet pig meat is all well and good, but it’s about time we had a proper gaming experience based on the 1990 cult classic.
A Tremors game was said to be in development during the early 2000s but was cancelled before ever seeing the light of day. A shame, I think, because the movie’s chief antagonists, known as Graboids, would make a worthy opponent.
These giant, flesh-eating worms that lurk beneath the ground would make traversal one of the most interesting aspects of the game due to their ability to detect movement on the surface. Players would need to find alternative ways to get about a sandbox environment (quite literally if we’re using the film’s Nevada setting) as they search for supplies, weapons and fellow survivors.
Basically, it’s the same ‘the floor is lava’ concept you played as a kid, except touching the ground means being horribly devoured instead of a loose bit of Lego in your heel, although both are, arguably, just as painful.
Is it even possible to improve upon such a gem?
Sam | The Mist
The Mist is by no means an amazing film, but the bones of an amazing game are already there. It’s set in a supermarket, which are always fun to explore due to their inherent variety of items, almost akin to a miniature Willamette Mall from Dead Rising, which in itself was channelling zombie horror flick Dawn of the Dead.
You can also throw a little bit of The Walking Dead into the mix, with characters facing an internal threat from fanatical fellow survivors in addition to the more conventionally monstrous external threat of winged beasties. The existential question of whether or not humanity is the real monster would be at the game’s core, and you could make choices throughout which ultimately helped to shape what, hopefully, wouldn’t be quite as depressing an ending as the twist from the film.
Of course, you’d need to head out of the supermarket in order to complete tasks on occasion, and this is where the true horror gameplay would come into effect. The eponymous mist would obscure player vision, just like in horror classic Silent Hill, leaving little to no opportunity to prepare for what’s around each corner. This would help to make the introduction of each and every enemy - used sparingly to avoid coming off as cheap jump scares, of course - a harrowing encounter.
Whatever choices you make, it can't really go much worse for the Draytons.
James | Cabin in the Woods
I'm not a huge fan of horror films. More often than not they take the easy way out and descend into tired tropes and predictable conclusions played out by wafer-thin characters.
Cabin in the Woods, however, played a bit more smartly with the genre and brought unexpected twists and turns to an otherwise common premise by having the would be slain slowly discover an elaborate, Westworld-esque manufactured reality that is the cause of their suffering. The same sort of thing could be done for the spin-off game.
Imagine an asymmetrical adventure where one player can trigger visual and audio glitches in someone else's computer to throw them off and distract them if they get too close to finding the edges of the game's (and film's) facade. It seems like a natural step forward from the likes of Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis (whom we talked about last week) messing with real world elements of the console gaming experience like forcing you to switch your controller to another slot to continue.
Perhaps being mean to people would be too popular? It would take concentration to become the master of puppets but the marionettes themselves would be having fun trying to feel for the edges, while turning around to find doors are no longer there.
Let the mind games begin.
Which horror films do you think deserves a game tie-in?