Respawn Entertainment’s free-to-play battle royale game, Apex Legends, took the world by storm when it unexpectedly launched last week. Reaching 10,000,000 players in just 72 hours, the shooter has even surpassed the mighty Fortnite in Twitch viewership, but does it really live up to the hype?
I'm a huge fan of Titanfall. From the series’ multiplayer-only debut to the follow up and its outstanding solo campaign, which was far more compelling than it seemingly had any right to be, I’ve been flying the flag for a long time.
To hear that its creators were poised to bring us something new set my mind racing. Where could they go next?!
As it turns out, Apex Legends has only a few elements in common with Titanfall, but the capability of Respawn shows through 100%. Dropping the titular, mech-like Titans and more advanced traversal aspects including wall running (either of which could, theoretically, be added back in as special abilities for future Legends) initially sounds like a drawback, but in fact focuses the gameplay on what this game is trying to do in its own right.
There's character here that we didn't see shining through as much in Titanfall 2, and the experience is fiercely centred on squad play, from the team deployment mechanic to the communicative ping system.
All of that has come together into something which should feel like just another battle royale title tossed onto the growing pile, but somehow manages to feel fresh, engaging and like just the beginning of something we didn't even know we wanted a mere two weeks ago.
I've only played a handful of matches, but I can already appreciate why Apex Legends - with its slick visuals, solid gunplay and completely optional cosmetic microtransactions - has captivated the battle royale crowd.
The introduction of some neat twists on BR tropes also helps to set it apart from the competition, especially the ping system, which feels like an evolution of Battlefield V's revamped markers.
For people like myself, who never bother with a mic when playing solo, being able to highlight enemies and equipment so easily is great. Despite its ease of use however, the odd uncooperative squadmate can still refuse to play ball and undo Respawn’s hard work.
I've already come across players unwilling to share loot, greedily gobbling up every item for themselves whether it’ll be of use to them or not, and others who’ve failed to warn me of their departure, leaving me as easy pickings for enemy teams. Keeping an eye on your “pals” via the mini-map is definitely recommended.
Still, partnered with a decent pair of actual friends I can see Apex Legends being a lot of fun, and it'll no doubt continue to go from strength to strength over the coming months, especially as the wider playerbase learns the importance of pings.
When it comes to Apex Legends, my love of free stuff overrode my general dislike of media that follows trends, which is fortunate, as I discovered Respawn have crafted the most appealing battle royale title yet.
I was only really expecting a first-person Fortnite, yet I found satisfying fluidity of movement that’s pure Titanfall, sans jetpacks and wall-running of course. The different classes, cooperative focus and potential to be respawned by teammates are all big positives in my book, adding a few layers that make Apex feel like one of few BR games which isn't just a cheap cash-in.
That being said, I can't imagine it'll manage to hold my attention, at least outside of a few quick matches here and there with friends. As fun as it is, there's always going to be something else I'd rather be playing, especially with the downtime between what, for me, can be very short bouts of action.
Still, whether or not you're a fan of the sub-genre, FPS appreciators will almost certainly get a lot out of it. For now though, I'm mostly happy to sit this one out and let the bandwagon pass me by.
Is it a bird? A plane? Dean Cain? No, no, it’s another feckin’ battle royale game!
... Based on that opening you probably think I’m erring on the cynical side of life (that’d be out of character, eh?) so let me be the first to assure you: I pretty much am, yeah.
Let’s check the list: cast of Overwatch-y characters? Check. The exact same overarching design as PUBG and/or Fortnite? Check. Classic sitting around in a building, waiting for shit to happen? Check. If you’ve played a battle royale game before, you already know what to expect.
That’s not to say it lacks in redeeming features, mind. The traversal and shooting are vintage Respawn Entertainment: easy to get to grips with, fast, fluid, and oh so satisfying!
If I’m being honest, due to a random personal note, I’ve most enjoyed the tutorial so far. The old South African dude sounds exactly like a teacher of mine, Mr. Frisbee, who’d always quip “It is much BEDDOR, if you ask to take off your SWEADOR.”
Anyway, do I see myself getting lost in the Apex Legends craze? Nah.
Are you a member of Apex Legends' enormous overnight fanbase? Too burnt out on battle royale games to care? Let us know in the comments below.
Thanks to a stress test for Xbox Insiders last weekend, we've had a quick look at Crackdown 3 and can confirm that it is, in fact, a real game. Here's our first impressions on the long-awaited Microsoft release.
Crackdown as a series is built upon two key pillars: hyper-mobility and destruction. Your character's traversal across the map is a mixture of double (triple?) jumps, dashes and ground pounds, many of which satisfyingly send cloud-powered scenery splintering as you crash through.
This gives way to deliberately floaty controls, which, in turn, see you fighting with the camera on occasion. Fortunately, keeping an enemy in your sights isn't too hard thanks to a persistent lock-on ability which tracks them through terrain and adjusts your viewpoint as you each leap about on what amounts to a sci-fi bouncy castle, courtesy of jump pads littered across the map.
The game type on offer during the test set two teams of five against each other in a supercharged re-imagining of Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty, which has you dashing to the site of your victim's downfall to pick up kill tokens and build your team's score.
Unfortunately, both in this technical test and at launch, Crackdown 3 won't support lobbying with friends. That’s both bizarre for such a fun-loving game and an early warning sign, given how genuinely useless the teams we played against were (any time I end up at the top of the table it’s cause for concern). It could prove to be a fumble as lamented as the lack of matchmaking in Xbox stablemate Halo 4’s iteration of Firefight.
It's only a couple of days until the game is due to (finally) launch now, and the performance wasn't buttery smooth either. The raw power of Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform should be on full display in multiplayer (the campaign being cruelly left out), but the results frankly weren’t of note even compared to earlier titles like Red Faction Guerilla.
In the end, Wrecking Zone is built upon a simple premise and, given the lengthy development time, that premise should be executed very well, but instead, it feels like the result of too many creative and technical compromises. Honestly, it has us questioning our April 2015 pre-order...
We went hands-on with Tom Clancy's The Division 2 during this past weekend's private beta; following safe extraction, here are our thoughts.
It's telling that we’ve taken this long to talk about much besides the game's setting, as relatively little is new over the original in terms of gameplay. Fortunately this is thanks to the mechanics from part one still holding up.
A simple new map screen replaces the style-over-substance futuristic projection at your feet, helping to locate a dizzying array of item pick-ups, ranging from gun holsters to knee pads, which reveal that health and armour are handled a bit differently this time around.
Separate health and armour meters (the latter of which is generously buffed for challenging Dark Zone excursions) deplete independently as you take damage, leaving you a sitting duck once your armour is kaput. While the pair do (eventually) regenerate, it’s wise to dart between cover in order to maintain the tactical advantage.
You'll need it too, with enemies shouting and running at you from all sides at times. They get noticeably chunkier in terms of both physical bulk and health pools, scaling alongside your Division agent as you progress, to an extent depending on the difficulty of any given area.
Enemies make a lot more use of gadgets this time around, too - we’ve already fended off what amounts to a convoy of RC cars!
Despite its familiarity, The Division 2 has launched a decent opening salvo, but it’ll need to build upon that in order to differentiate between being just a fun outing and a “live service” with real staying power. Perhaps most crucially though, you can still casually close car doors as you sneak by them in cover...
Have you played The Division 2 yet? What are you looking forward to based on what you've seen so far? Let us know in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for our review next month.
Welcome down to the paradise city, where we’re pumping At the Gates in our latest quickie.
Alright. How does the blighter play?
Exactly as you might expect, especially if you’re familiar with Civ. You’ll be constructing your clan, learning new professions and skills, expanding your horizons, meeting and fighting other factions, plus loads more.
The game is still in its early-ish stages, mind, so watch out for bugs and crashes (we’ve already had a few of those).
How’s the presentation?
Really lovely, to be honest. The map’s rendered in a beautiful, hand-drawn art style and has neat touches like concealing undiscovered areas under tea-stained map paper. You can add to the pile fabulous character drawings, some solid sound effects, and musical interludes that all round out the charming audiovisual package nicely.
Is it accessible, or do diehards only need apply?
Colonel Indecisive says it’s a little bit of both. Yes, it’s dense, and the opening hours might feel impenetrable to a complete layman, but persevere and you’ll find a decent game full of things to explore and get lost in. At £25, this definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a punt if you’ve a taste for the turn-based.
Bring on the crash fixes, too, Jon-boy!
Can you hear the Anthem? Whether or not the thought of a new online shooter from BioWare has you salivating, read on to discover what we learned from the recent VIP demo.
Humanity has settled on a new planet, but some people are being influenced by an ever-transmitting anthem (geddit?) which seems to have a negative effect on those who succumb to it. This leads you, along with up to three other players, to investigate what’s happening as you carefully explore the game’s (fairly) open environments from inside mech suits known as Javelins.
You’re a Freelancer, a gun for hire who travels the world presumably in support of the science-based human contingent who are trying to learn about the planet. Further story details are still somewhat sketchy at this point.
From our time with the demo, first impressions weren’t overwhelmingly positive, but once the game hit its stride there was a lot of potential to chew on (and we intend to). Naturally, demos come with the expectation of a technical quirk here and there, but the problems began for Anthem even before seeing any gameplay - loading into the hub area, just reaching the main title screen even, often took several attempts.
When we did get in, we found that Xbox One X suffered from performance issues when faced with multiple on-screen explosions, in the midst of already visually busy firefights.
You’ll be exchanging shots with (presumably native) nasties, who unfortunately don’t stand out much more than being varying levels of bullet-spongy, when undertaking missions and donning your Javelin in order to venture out onto the planet’s surface. There are four varieties of mech to play around with: the all-round Ranger, elemental attack-wielding Storm, up-close-and-superfast Interceptor, and the hulking Colossus.
Each have access to a variety of weapons - some of which are class specific - their own super ability, grenades and standard abilities, which recharge over time and have (largely) either offensive or defensive capabilities in combat.
There wasn’t enough time to fully get to grips with each Javelin, but, from first impressions, the Storm suit seems to be the most fun, boasting some exciting, flashy powers even by default and having strong mobility with seemingly little sacrifice in shields or health compared to the middle-of-the-road Ranger. The Colossus seems to be at the other end of the spectrum, with not enough durability or damage-dealing to justify its lesser maneuverability.
The Storm suit seems to be the most fun, boasting some exciting, flashy powers even by default.
Balancing could correct some of these observations before launch, or perhaps it's just that some classes are more of a slow burn. Regardless, each Javelin can perform Iron Man-style flight for a limited time, which rarely fails to satisfy.
When choosing fight over flight, you have at your disposal a melee attack and an array of basic weapons, categorised by classes and six tiers of rarity, from Common to Legendary. You can craft your own weapons from blueprints using components you pick up in the game world, or gain by breaking down unwanted loot.
About now seems like the right time to talk about how the game feels, which means drawing some comparisons. The answer to “Is Anthem for me?” largely comes down to whether you enjoy the way it plays, after all.
The Destiny vibes are strong here. Daily and weekly quests haven’t yet been revealed, but they’re sure to feature as Anthem vies for your time against other service-based games. Mass Effect is another close relative, as you might expect, with the third game’s effective, but ultimately disposable, multiplayer a clear influence on combat. Storm Javelins basically fulfil the squad role previously inhabited by Adept, Vanguard or Sentinel classes in Mass Effect 3.
Seeing this DNA filter through is interesting, but so far there’s been relatively little of the developer’s trump card - that being more compelling narrative and characters than those of its service-based peers - with Anthem instead following the crowd and placing the main focus on character customisation (which is fairly aesthetically dense) and combat.
Similarities to Borderlands, another comparison thrown out there, mostly stem from numbers flashing up on screen to represent the damage you deal, as well as the game’s fairly extensive loot rewards. Crafting and unlocking weaponry and armour items is achieved by handing over materials and Coin respectively, which you’ll need to do consistently in order to get the shiniest toys for your character. How much of a weapon variety there is remains to be seen, but, during the demo, sniper fans found themselves with only a handful of bullets to make their point - not enough to clear the field for even the most accurate lone marksman.
Speaking of which, this game really isn’t a solo experience, so those looking to pick up from the highs of earlier, more RPG-based efforts from BioWare will be out of luck. You can play by yourself, technically, as a single squad member in a private group, but even harsh enemy scaling wouldn’t be enough to make the experience achievable and certainly fun, as the most satisfying and impressive displays come as you combine different attacks with teammates.
Even playing in a group has its drawbacks currently though, as restricted respawn areas leave your character helplessly kneeled on the battlefield, their armour locked up until you’re revived, despite the screen reassuring you you’re respawning. This can lead to extended periods feeling like a spare part, as you can’t even crawl helplessly back to your squadmates or alert them and highlight your location unless you happen to be chatting with them already, and even then it’s not always easy to see a felled ally amid the fray.
In the end, the Anthem demo mostly raised more questions instead of giving us a strong sense of what the final game will deliver. EA might have a hit on their hands here, but considering The Division 2 comes out around the same time with a more grounded shoot and loot feel, which players are already comfortable with, it’s also easy to see it going the way of Titanfall - that being an extremely polished title which ultimately doesn’t capture the wider audience’s imagination.
Did you play Anthem last weekend? Will you be checking it out this weekend when the demo goes public? Let us know what you thought and what you’re looking forward to, or concerned about, in the comments below.
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!
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!
We’re back for another quick one as we get to grips with Overcooked! 2’s new Surf ‘n’ Turf DLC. Are its levels fun in the sun, or all washed up? Join us on a culinary adventure to tropical climes.
Don’t be fooled by the setting - Surf ‘n’ Turf is no vacation.
Challenging? I thought this was supposed to be a holiday resort!
Don’t be fooled by the setting - Surf ‘n’ Turf is no vacation. Aside from the water hazards and infuriating, obstructive conga lines, score limits on levels seem absurdly high.
Even with a fellow Overcooked veteran in tow, we struggled to gather the stars needed to unlock subsequent levels, with plenty of replays required to refine our technique and get near those higher scores.
While mastering levels is, arguably, part of the fun, more casual gamers such as partners and kids may struggle with the opening few levels’ difficulty spike.
Is it a recommended dish?
If you can gather together the two or three capable bodies needed to overcome the higher scores, then yes, it is. It’s cheap, the new setting is a lot of fun, and, if you’re good enough, there’s plenty of content to tuck into.
Today is PlayStation VR’s second birthday - hooray! The peripheral is now well into its stride, recently giving home to a couple of stellar exclusives in tactical shooter Firewall: Zero Hour and 3D platformer Astro Bot Rescue Mission. Critical darlings were fewer and farther between back at launch, though not unheard of, thanks to the likes of Until Dawn: Rush of Blood and Thumper, so we turned back the clock and dove into a pile of premier titles to see if we missed any gems amongst the opening deluge.
Here’s to PS VR and it strong introduction to more immersive gaming on consoles; after looking backwards, we can’t wait to see what lies ahead!
RIGS: Mechanized Combat League
Intended to be a flagship heavy hitter, RIGS instead floundered as a mid-tier game. Its ambition in marrying broadcast spots and FPS into an all-new virtual reality spectacle is certainly admirable, but also misguided, given that this introductory experience is capable of nauseating even a grizzled VR vet.
Sharp visuals, precise controls and a range of tweakable comfort settings just aren’t enough to save our stomachs on this occasion. You need to tear around arenas at speed, turning and changing elevation on a dime in order to stand any chance of beating even the AI.
There’s really a lot of depth on offer, so it’s a damn shame that keeping RIGS at arm’s length seems to be standard practice; it spent months as a PS+ freebie, yet there’s absolutely nobody competing in the integrated online league.
Tumble VR is proof that simple ideas are often the best executed. The basic premise of playing with building blocks should be familiar to anyone with a childhood to their name, though things do get a little more advanced than chewing the corners and clacking them together.
While Tumble arguably doesn’t make the most exciting use of VR, its 3D environments offer increased spatial awareness and depth perception that no doubt serve as a performance booster when, for example, delicately stacking towers. With the complement of precise motion control and accurate physics, tackling the game’s varied suite of challenges is a simple pleasure.
This touching ‘look and click’ adventure from Uber Entertainment, creators of the underrated Monday Night Combat games, casts you as a young girl on course to save her father after their biplane crash lands on a floating fortress.
It does a great job of utilising perspective, seamlessly switching between multiple camera angles to help convey a very charming and genuine story with sparing use of dialogue.
That being said, it’s really the regular introduction of fun new gameplay mechanics that’ll keep you coming back until you’ve seen the impromptu trip through.
A horror game for all the wrong reasons, Weeping Doll is at least amusingly bad. Its abysmal writing, acting and visual effects inspire laughs at the game’s expense, yet fortunately it ends before the issues stop being funny and start to become overly tedious.
You’ll spend an hour or so awkwardly teleporting around an ugly family home, managing a cumbersome inventory and breezing through puzzles whilst unravelling a by-the-numbers story through weak environmental storytelling.
If you’re a fan of Resident Evil 7, it’s almost worth checking Weeping Doll out to witness the bargain bin implementation of its themes. Almost...
Another from Weeping Doll (and Pixel Gear) developer Oasis Games, Ace Banana doesn’t even begin to flirt with the same ‘so bad it's good’ territory.
You play a bow-wielding banana tasked with defending bunches of baby bananas against waves of monkeys with bad intentions. There’s just one map and one game mode, though enemy and power-up spawns are somewhat shuffled between sessions in a failed attempt to keep things fresh.
Confusion underpins Ace Banana’s poor general execution as well-aimed shots inexplicably miss their mark, certain power-ups have no discernible effect, a lack of audiovisual feedback often makes it unclear as to whether or not you’re actually dealing damage, and, perhaps best of all, the in-game encyclopaedia - which should help to set some of these issues straight - is so poorly translated that discerning useful information is almost impossible.
The game’s insane second boss is an even bigger impasse, making quick work of ourselves and seemingly most others, with only 0.4% of players having beaten the encounter at the time of writing. Tackling it with the help of a friend might help, if only the promised multiplayer update had actually ever materialised…
Here They Lie
Far preferable a spookfest to Weeping Doll, Here They Lie boasts a noir-style presentation and some very adult content that’ll leave you feeling in need of a good scrub.
A raw, sexual focus provides basis for an animalistic horror that can feel both grounded and abstract, with the helpless inability to combat aggressors forcing you to linger on the occult, ritualistic and thoroughly bizarre.
There are multiple paths to the same conclusion, offering a little more freedom than VR games of the time tended to, though, thanks to a post-launch patch, Here They Lie is now also playable on a television. You’ll certainly miss much of the atmosphere in TV mode, and probably all of the “Nope!” moments, but the game’s subtle philosophy should still translate.
Harmonix Music VR
This one’s still a great way to unwind, be that to settle your racing heart after tangling with Here They Lie or following a stressful work day. It’s not really a game, by Harmonix’ own admission, rather an encompassing music visualiser with interactive elements.
Four varied game modes see you relax on a beach that pulses in time to music, effortlessly create neon works of art on a blank 3D canvas (so effortlessly that we were never tempted to fall back on the trusty ol’ penis portrait), hilariously manipulate party-goers to create looping scenes and dance routines, and take a kaleidoscopic trip through a psychedelic representation of a song.
17 included tracks all fit thematically, but more than likely won’t match your taste, so you’ll want to stick some MP3 files onto a USB flash drive in order to import them into the game. This essentially makes Music VR endless, while, even more importantly, providing powerful new ways to interact with pieces of music that are meaningful to you.
Not too shabby, we’re sure you’ll agree. Big names like Rush of Blood and Arkham VR lived up to the hype, whilst plentiful hidden gems - Tumble VR, Wayward Sky, Harmonix Music VR, Here They Lie and Tethered - make it easy to imagine that revisiting the launch lineup for basically any other peripheral wouldn’t be anywhere near as positive an experience.
So, here’s to PS VR and it strong introduction to more immersive gaming on consoles; after looking backwards, we can’t wait to see what lies ahead!
If you’re interested in reading about more launch games, check out our reviews for PlayStation VR Worlds and Super Stardust Ultra VR. For an overview of all our PlayStation VR reviews, head over to our vrgamecritic profile.
Welcome, welcome, one and all to a dark and dangerous evening filled with cards, strange characters, initially dense gameplay ideas and bags of longevity. Was ist das? Well, Alexis Kennedy’s new game, Cultist Simulator, of course.
What about the presentation?
We had the game running at highest settings (though can’t imagine there’s a huge difference between presets in this instance), and although there’s not a great deal going on, it’s quite lovely. Both the table and cards have muted, pastel-y colours that really complement the cracking sound effects and music.
It’s nearly £15 quid on Steam; is that too much?
No, not at all. We’ve played our fair share (and more) of overpriced, average indie games, but this really isn’t one of them. The branching narrative paths are a delight and the deep gameplay systems beg for repeat play - if you’ve got a PC, we implore you to have a crack at this mysterious gem.