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.
Stolen Couch Games’ Animal Crossing-inspired life-simulator, Castaway Paradise, hits Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this week, so grab the factor 50 and join us on a trip to warmer climes for our latest quickie.
Fishing, a classic life-sim pastime, is also a little more intuitive in Castaway Paradise, with players able to aim while casting out and use special bait to attract bigger and rarer fish in their quest to top global leaderboards.
Castaway Paradise is an homage to Nintendo’s incredibly popular life-sim series.
Would you recommend it?
Whilst Castaway Paradise doesn’t quite have the level of charm or polish to compete with its original inspiration, the game’s light-hearted nature and sense of progression should be enough to satisfy those looking for an Animal Crossing fix on non-Nintendo platforms.
Wait, no Switch version?
Sadly not, no. Stolen Couch haven’t entirely ruled out a Switch port, but, despite it being a perfect fit for Nintendo’s hybrid console, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting one any time soon.
A roguelike Arabian Nights adventure from the former BioShock developers at Uppercut Games, City of Brass finds itself on the receiving end of our latest Quickie.
That sounds great, but what about the systems surrounding combat?
Exploring involves some light platforming and plenty of pilfering, as you grab artefacts used to purchase upgrades and services that’ll (hopefully) help you eke closer to making it out of the titular city alive. Initially there’s something slightly cumbersome about the controls on console, especially in comparison to the far more fluid PC version (which also looks noticeably sharper than even the Xbox One X build), but some options menu tinkering and time to adjust should set you straight.
Is it something you’d recommend, then?
Provided you’re willing to spend a little time grappling with those initial control gripes on console, absolutely. City of Brass has an opulent aesthetic and satisfying mechanics that’ll keep you coming back, always met with an engaging new challenge to surmount.
We wrestle with Iron Galaxy’s Extinction in our recurring quick look series.
And that's all there is to it?
Unfortunately, yes. The controls are basic, a bit clunky too, and each level just pits you against one or multiple Ravenii. There’s some NPC blathering on top, but really there isn’t an awful lot of depth here. The experience barely changes as you progress (one of the alternate modes is the classic endless waves of enemies affair) and, as such, the game quickly begins to feel like a bit of a slog. Disappointingly, Extinction is difficult to recommend if you're already enjoying Attack on Titan or something similar to satisfy your giant-slaying needs.
Spiritual successor to PC cult classic The Ship, Murderous Pursuits is the latest sneaky multiplayer murderthon from developer Blazing Griffin, and the latest game to receive our quick look treatment.
How’s the presentation? Do I need a monster PC to run it?
Nope, it runs at a solid 60 FPS with full graphics settings on a GTX 1060 and looks great. The eight playable characters - caricatures, really - are diverse and immediately likeable, while minimalistic menus complement more detailed and bustling in-game environments.
It’s all tied together by narration from Mr. X and a tiptoeing soundtrack that’s charmingly true to the period and genre.
So, would you recommend a stint as Mr. X’s personal hitman?
If Murderous Pursuits sounds intriguing to you, then definitely. Its laser-focused design delivers moreish and tactical fun, but only for as long as the central conceit remains exciting to you. Multiple hours in, win or lose, each match still ends with a smile.
Hades Betrayal, the penultimate premium campaign in Raiders of the Broken Planet’s debut season, was accompanied by a stellar free update that overhauled the game’s systems and pretty much fixed all of the wider issues we’ve raised in our past coverage. Whilst the patch is an overwhelming success, Hades Betrayal is a strong outing that wraps up with a bit of a whimper.
New recruit Ayana is a characteristically bizarre prospect within the Raiders universe - a tribal future pirate with an accent that flits between Jamaican, Indian, German & Welsh.
Having inadvertently recruited the red-headed teen, he’ll soon be added to the roster as a universally purchasable playable character, whereas Ayana is a free exclusive to Hades Betrayal owners.
Breaking from established convention, a boss battle rounds out mission number three. Taking place in a gorgeous interior, you’ll aim to draw a big ol’ chainsaw-wielding mech towards explosive plant life, utilising the bulging buds to damage its armour and expose the vulnerable pilot within. It’s a hugely chaotic encounter, true to Raiders form, but one we ultimately could’ve done without.
Hades Betrayal’s culminating confrontation proceeds to shoulder the blame for this; what’s typically a spot reserved for grossly malformed behemoth bosses that beg for you to put them out of their misery, is instead occupied by another mech requiring similar tactics to take down. Once again, there’s nothing technically wrong with the fight, but it would’ve been so much more effective to see Hades Division’s Gundam-style tincan descend without it ringing incredibly familiar. While the shoe fits - General Krausher is exactly the kind of character that’d send a series of giant robots to do his bidding - it just isn’t worthwhile to end on such a comparative creative low.
Samey bosses set aside, Hades Betrayal does boast good mission variety and a heightened sense of scale to build towards Council Apocalypse, which is set to close out the current season of content at some point soon. As ever - in fact, especially so following the update - what’s here is highly revisitable thanks to digestible mission lengths, a sustained level of challenge, the ability to replay as an Antagonist, and now, to earn greater rewards than ever before.
Couple that with access to the brilliant Ayana Kwena and plenty of kooky, character-driven cutscenes to build upon the burgeoning lore, and Hades Betrayal is another standalone campaign that Raiders of the Broken Planet fans won’t want to miss.
If you fancy trying Hades Betrayal for yourself, free of charge, why not enter our giveaway for a chance to win one of two PS4 keys? Click the banner below for details on how to enter.
Bypassing the troublesome Shadwell Overground stairs via the elevator once again proved a dream, especially the smell, but the lack of fish in the ornamental canal was of great concern to me. Where had they gone? Why? And could they ever truly exist in those two-inch deep waters? So many great questions, but only one certainty: I was back at Tobacco Dock for EGX Rezzed 2018.
This year’s show had so many playable games that even two days worth of attendance was insufficient to see them all.
First up was Lake Ridden, a first-person puzzle-adventure set inside the guts of a gloomy lake, largely devoid of water. The puzzles are cryptic enough, the setting has a creepy edge, and the story is intriguing. Let’s see how it develops.
I followed-on with a selection of games from cracking London-based publisher Chucklefish. I’ve mentioned Wargroove a few times on the site - most notably as one of my most anticipated games of 2018 - and I have no qualms in reiterating that this is going to be essential gaming. They also had “Stealthvania” game The Siege and the Sandfox on show, as well as Pathway, another fabulous strategy game. All three titles are a great showcase of Chucklefish’s brilliant expanding roster.
Curve Digital - another splendid publisher - had a few games on show ‘ere too. I thoroughly enjoyed the arcade-stylings and twin-stick fun of Rogue Aces, cartoony aircraft-sim Bomber Crew, and strategic RPG For The King. The former is available now on Switch and PlayStation platforms (that’s PS4 and Vita), whilst the middler and latter are currently available on Steam.
My time in the Indie Room (above-ground branch) came to a close with two biggies: Disco Elysium and Phoenix Point.
Disco Elysium sees thee cast as a detective with problems-a-plenty; be they booze, smoking, drugs, memory and/or mental health related. Tasked with solving a murder, this unique isometric police RPG gives the player a staggering amount of choices, featuring multiple skill sets (these affect your character’s perception of the world, and how he interacts with people), a gorgeously gritty hand-painted art style, and ever so much replayability. I can’t help but be excited!
Phoenix Point is the latest strategy game from master of the genre Julian Gollop. In time-honoured fashion, you take control of a team of grunts armed with big guns, rippling muscles and cheesey dialogue as you tackle objectives and blast alien scum. Fans of all things XCOM can PARTY now.
What goes up must surely come down, so, like morning toothpaste finding its way to trouser leg, I stumbled downstairs to the Indie Room (basement branch). Just like its above-ground brethren, the basement room was chock fulla great games.
Disco Elysium sees thee cast as a detective with problems-a-plenty, and I can’t help but be excited about this unique isometric police RPG!
PQube’s selections caught my eyes and ears first, which lead me to enjoy time with sinister text adventure Stay, 8-bit side-scrolling slasher Aggelos, and produce-focused karter All-Star Fruit Racing. They also had the wonderful Cat Quest on the go - if you haven’t already, go and check it out!
It was great to see Aperion Cyberstorm being enjoyed by many in its Switch incarnation, Hipster Cafe Simulator providing many laughs, and beautifully animated (and darkly funny) adventure game Unforeseen Incidents, all running side-by-side.
The highlight of the room was local multiplayer communicate-‘em-up Catastronauts. You and your associates are placed in charge of a spacecraft, tasked with blastin’ away other crews. Much like the genre-defining Overcooked, Catastronauts uses the rising panic of putting out fires, removing bombs and firing lasers to create real laughs. Look out for this one when it drops later in the year.
By now the bells were tolling, so off I toddled to the land of the well established: that’s right, it were time for PlayStation, Sega, Xbox and Nintendo.
PlayStation had a paltry amount of titles on show this year, but as if to paint quality over quantity, what was there was truly fabbo. Guacamelee 2 provides more hectic, Mexican rasslin’-infused fun, there was silliness aplenty in The Adventure Pals, and irresistibly cute graphics in The Swords of Ditto.
Gorgeous adventure Heaven’s Vault is what really stood out, though. Featured in my seven to look out for at Rezzed piece, HV surpassed my already high expectations of what the open-world point-and-click adventure would be. Taking control of archeologist Aliya, I interacted with helpful/humourless robot chum Six, investigated the ruins of a beautiful lost world, and attempted to translate lots of hieroglyphics. The alluring blend of 2D character art and 3D environments is a triumphant success, as was the slow-burn quality of the gameplay. One of my games of the show, for sure.
Microsoft’s ID@Xbox room was lacking in space (at least for corpulent Milky Bar men like myself), but did exhibit some superb games. Our esteemed Editor, Monsieur James Michael Parry, joined me for a blast at Metal Slug-like Huntdown - which is really good old-school fun - Terratech’s Minecraftian vehicular combat, and the joys of reigning over the proletariat in Kingdom: Two Crowns. The highlight here, however, was Strange Brigade, which is a send up of the British Empire and English buffoonery under the guise of third-person cooperative shooting. It was great fun, and even better when played in a group, as Jim lad will testify to.
The ID@Xbox highlight was Strange Brigade, which is a send up of the British Empire and English buffoonery under the guise of third-person co-op shooting. It was great fun, especially when played in a group.
Nintendo and Sega offered slim pickings this year, as they both showed games already available on other platforms. Mega Drive Classics will definitely be a day one pick up for myself, but I don’t see why they needed to bring it; the just-announced Shenmue re-releases would’ve made more sense. Nintendo’s appeal rested solely on Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. We’re pleased to announce that it’s shaping up to be another Suda 51 classic, the auteur's crazy combat, retina-destroying colours and self-aware dialogue all being intact.
Are you still with me, comrades? If so, let’s travel into the dark heart of the Unreal Engine Showcase to sample Another Sight, Metamorphosis, Space Cows, some fishing, and the brilliant Lost Ember.
Another Sight puts you in the dual-role of blind gal and nimble cat, as you explore Victorian-era underground London - sewers, trains, et al. Space Cows carries the same charm as clumsy controllers Octodad and Manuel Samuel, as you traverse a colourful world in search of milk and cows. It was hilarious.
Metamorphosis casts thee as a man trapped in the body of a spider: Why are you here? What are those men doing to your friend? How will you return to human form? The game's sneaking and scuttling was good fun, as was currently-available-on-Xbox-Game-Pass carp-botherer, Dovetail Fishing - maybe this is where the ornamental canal’s dorsal-equipped water breathers had vanished to?
Lost Ember was the real winner here though, with its attractive visuals and possessing gameplay mechanic. You play a wolf, who, with the help of a spirit mate, can possess other animals to help traverse a natural world free of humans. I got tinges of Journey and Abzu playing the game, but there’s definitely plenty of originality lurking in Lost Ember’s characters and story. Once polished, this has serious potential.
Coatsink and Wired Productions had some quality stuff up their sleeves this year too, with games that really honed in on fun.
Wired had gravity-defying speedster Grip on show, as well as the glorious return of Shaq-Fu. Shaq was a personal favourite, featuring Saber Interactive’s pleasing NBA Playgrounds art style and side-scrolling, button-mashing bouts straight outta the 90s. Add to that rich colour comic book cutscenes with hilarious writing and voice over, and I cannae wait for this one.
The hockey/football/Micro Machines mash-up that is Coatsink’s ClusterPuck 99 thoroughly entertained myself and herr-Editor, as we managed to win both of our games against fellow attendees. Coatsink’s highlight, however, was the fabulous Phogs, a bonkers ‘physics dog adventure’ so beautifully realised that we have to name it as one of our games of the show.
Jam and I played in co-op mode, using the same controller to immensely increase the hilarity of the experience. You each control one end of a double-ended dog, aiming to progress through some exquisite locales via the medium of hungry giant worms. The game had a real Nintendo-at-its-most-joyous feel to it, and trust us when we say, this is going to be the game to play at parties.
The fabulous Phogs is a bonkers ‘physics dog adventure’ so beautifully realised that we have to name it as one of our games of the show.
My voyage around Rezzed finished at the glorious Leftfield Collection this year, a place that truly encapsulates the spirit of the show, in one’s humble opinion. The feeling of community was present as soon as I entered, gazing upon hand-drawn posters above each title, friendly faces from all over the world, and some superb games.
Leftfield was a true exhibition of the arts; from design, to visual presentation, to music, it all came together as my personal combined star of the show. A cop-out maybe, but there’s no doubting the reality: Leftfield displayed the true nature of gaming, and maybe even life (if you’ll forgive my pretension) - personal, meaningful, fun. It’s for that reason you can expect to see an article focused squarely on the great Leftfield games on show, which really deserve the spotlight.
With that, I downed my last coffee of the weekend, checked one last time for fish, and disappeared into the night. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, farvel - see ya next year, Rezzed!
For plenty more EGX Rezzed 2018 coverage, stay tuned to Pass the Controller.
Infinite State Games’ light-hearted take on aerial warfare, Rogue Aces, landed on PS4, Vita and Switch this week and is the latest to be given a quick one.
If you’re specifically looking for some mindless plane-based carnage, and nothing more, then Rogue Aces just about fits the bill.
Despite the drawbacks, would you recommend it?
If you’re specifically looking for some mindless plane-based carnage, and nothing more, then Rogue Aces just about fits the bill. If you’re willing to spend a touch more than Rogue Aces’ £9.99/€12.99/$12.99 asking price and have access to an Xbox One or PC, however, we’d have to say Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China offers far superior aerial arcade action.
Music rhythm games are pretty old hat these days, having been run into the ground at the height of their popularity, around ten years ago now, through a greedy and endless stream of cookie-cutter releases. By throwing shoot-‘em-up elements into the mix, alongside an apocalyptic story and a cast of corny characters, Double Kick Heroes seeks to draw disillusioned fans of the genre back into the fold when it hits Steam Early Access on 11 April.
By throwing shoot-‘em-up elements into the mix, alongside an apocalyptic story and a cast of corny characters, Double Kick Heroes seeks to draw disillusioned fans of the music rhythm genre back into the fold.
Whilst carving a bloody path through the USA - across 15 stages set to the game’s original soundtrack, which spans light rock through heavy metal - you’ll get to know the head-banging fivesome comprising the Double Kick Heroes. Text-based interactions during interludes make reference to all aspects of pop culture, but they’re so ham-fistedly frequent and obvious that it can feel like there’s a sleeve-tugging child shoving their collection of “cool” toys under your nose. The aim here was never to produce an artsy, postmodern pastiche though, with the foul-mouthed stereotypes quickly establishing the desired sense of character.
Story mode currently runs around three hours, but that’s set to double as DKH continues its development and the band embark on a European tour. There’s also the mysterious Hellgate mode to be added, but in the meantime polishing your skills in Arcade mode and creating/downloading custom stages via the in-depth-but-straightforward Level Editor should be plenty to keep you busy.
Most user-generated levels are based on established songs, for example Metallica’s Master of Puppets, which means you’ll need the relevant MP3 file for the game to sync up and have you play along with. It’s a clever little way around hefty licensing fees and should serve to keep devoted metalheads indefinitely busy.
Provided you held on to them, you can also use your old Guitar Hero or Rock Band peripherals to play; you’ll have no issue plug and playing with a USB drum set, but old wireless guitars require forking out for a signal receiver, which is unfortunate when they’re precisely what most people will have to hand.
That’s not an insignificant blunder, but it’s ultimately outside of developer Headbang Club’s control. The team have otherwise done a great job on the technical front, maintaining a solid 60 frames per second during gameplay to ensure there’s no chance of dropping notes through no fault of your own.
Even at this pre-Early Access stage then, in spite of some largely par-for-the-course flaws, Double Kick Heroes is a very playable evolution of the music rhythm genre. It’s a game with a specific audience that does everything it can to cater to its niche, so, if you fit the bill, add DKH to your watchlist as it can only get better from here.