We Were Here Together makes its console debut this week; join us on an expedition to the Antarctic for some cooperative puzzle solving on Xbox One.
I enjoy a good brain teaser; will I find the puzzles too easy?
Puzzles start off fairly intuitive, but there’s a sudden spike in difficulty after the first hour or so that sees things get a lot tougher. We also enjoy a challenge, but too often it felt like we were relying on trial and error rather than our grey matter, with some solutions proving to be fiendishly difficult. More than a few times we had to resort to referencing outside guides after drawing a blank trying to find patterns or clues for puzzles that seemingly had none.
Would you recommend it?
Those who prefer a good amount of guidance with their games might want to steer clear, but if you’re a fan of the previous titles, or affordable puzzle games that don’t hold your hand, then at £10.74 We Were Here Together is worth a go.
We’re back with another quickie, this time for WarpTrough, a portal-grabbing platformer from indie developer Roofkat.
Campaign, you say?
Aye, but a very short one, maxing out at around an hour or two. It’s a decent enough offering (if a tad nonsensical) with monsters, demons and otherworldly beings all making an appearance. Throw in a couple of bad puns for good measure, alongside some alternate outcomes, depending on your choices, and the mode is worthwhile.
However, it’s WarpThrough’s gameplay, rather than its story, that’s the real draw. The weekly challenge mode prompts players to rack up high scores with a select character and level, and is arguably the meat of the experience.
Would you recommend it?
Yes. The £9.29 price tag might seem a little steep at first glance, but collecting shiny orb-like portals is surprisingly addictive (as anyone who’s played Crackdown can likely attest to) and there’s a good amount of replayability, particularly for those who enjoy climbing leaderboards.
The final frontier has been the setting of choice for countless titles over the years, but Surgical Scalpels are upping the ante when it comes to vacuum-based fun by putting the vast, empty void we call space front and centre in their upcoming game, Boundary.
After a brief rundown of some of the game’s basic features – customisable weapons, gun range, multiplayer modes etc. – we were handed the controls for our first match against a few members of the development crew. Despite being well experienced in the FPS genre, the lack of gravity and our newfound ability to move in six degrees of freedom initially took some getting used to.
The slower, considered movement of our avatar (a heavy Support class, but the floaty nature of space means nearly all classes move at a similar pace) coupled with the temptation to go blasting off across maps led to more than a few deaths as we were caught in the open by the opposition. Drift too far from the action, as we often did, and you’ll suddenly find yourself lit up on enemy radar. Linger even longer near the fringes and you’ll end up in the middle of a micro meteor shower that’ll quickly rip through your suit and health. Safe to say it took us a couple of matches before we eventually found our space legs.
Surgical Scalpels are aware that for many players, like us, this will be their first taste of zero-g combat in a competitive FPS. The development team have, therefore, tried to make gameplay as intuitive as possible by implementing a control scheme that’ll feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a mainstream shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Some elements are naturally going to be a little different, given the setting; there’s no jump or crouch/prone in space, after all, so those are swapped for ascend and descend abilities, while shoulder buttons traditionally saved for grenades are instead used for rotation.
Most classes – save for the Flanker, which we’ll discuss in a bit – come with a grapple that can be used to navigate close-quarter areas at a slightly faster pace than the standard thrusters allow (we used this method to pull off a particularly impressive surprise kill during one match) or quickly reach floating structures, from where players can set up ambush opportunities or catch a moment's respite to regenerate health and manually patch up any major leaks in their suit. The game also makes excellent use of the DualShock 4’s gyro sensor, which allows for easy precision aiming while on the move – a feature that was particularly handy while we were still getting to grips with zero-g traversal.
Maps themselves, like the rest of the available tech and weaponry, are in keeping with the game’s near-future aesthetic; we played one that was dominated by the scattered remains of a destroyed space station, with plenty of solar panels and pod-like compartments to hide behind. Some parts, like those huge solar panels, are destructible, with players able to shoot holes in them and peek through in a way that was very reminiscent of Rainbow Six Siege’s breakable walls.
When I asked if Surgical Scalpels had any plans to add maps set on the surface of a planet or moon where there might be a touch more gravity, I was told that it could be a possibility in the future, but that post-launch DLC would first focus on adding more classes, with three more said to be arriving at some point after the game launches. The base game will begin with five classes in total, of which we tried the Support, Recon and Flanker (there’s also a Sniper and Medic class).
The Support class is the most armoured, with a huge exoskeletal-type chassis on its back that, while bullet proof, also has the largest silhouette. Most come with two main weapons, an ability, and two secondary weapons - such as heavy cannons or missiles - that are attached to the frame of the big backpack. Recon was our favourite, thanks to a gadget that detects enemy players once it is dropped or launched. Every class’ suit will alert you with audio (and eventually visual, once they’re close enough) warnings to the presence of a nearby enemy, but having one of these beacons floating around proved to be extremely useful at helping us track down the other team’s players amongst the large map’s debris and hiding spots.
We definitely see the aforementioned Flanker class being the most popular, however, due to its “ninja-like” abilities and speedier movement. This class never shows up on enemy radar, and instead of a grapple it has a triple action quick-boost ability that easily outpaces the standard ‘sprint’ found in other classes (it also won’t reveal your position to the enemy if it overheats, unlike the latter). Even though the loadout we tried only came with a shotgun/pistol combo, the reduced range was worth the trade-off for the extra speed and stealth. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a nerf coming its way post-launch.
While our session drew to a close before we could really get to grips with what the game had to offer, what we did play was enough to convince us that Surgical Scalpels could have something special on their hands. First person shooters can often feel formulaic, but Boundary brings something refreshingly different to a crowded table. Once you’re over the initial (albeit gentle) learning curve, the controls prove to be comfortably intuitive, and the extra freedom of movement considerably liberating. Most importantly, underneath it all is a decent shooter that, a few pre-launch bugs aside, felt reassuringly solid, despite the unconventional lack of terra firma underfoot.
Following a recent game update rectifying accessibility issues on Xbox One, we were finally able to dive back into the unique stealth and XCOM-like combat of Mutant Year Zero for an all-new adventure in the Seed of Evil expansion.
So you would still recommend SoE for MYZ: RtE fans?
That’s a tough one, honestly. We loved revisiting the rich gameplay and setting, but the shambolic technical state that Seed of Evil finds itself in on Xbox One is frankly unacceptable.
It doesn’t completely wrap everything up with a neat little bow, which in a way fits the fiction, but otherwise it’s more of a great thing - when it works. If you’re looking to play on another platform, this is a good way to invest £12.99, but Xbox fans should definitely wait with crossed fingers for a significant patch.
A newbie to the DOOM scene, I went into our time with sequel DOOM Eternal, due out 22 November, with some trepidation.
New to the party this time around are mobility upgrades like a grappling hook, a double dash move and the ability to climb walls. Offensively, a shoulder-mounted flamethrower and an arm blade help to bring more of the series’ staple violence to the table. From what we've seen so far, the wall climbing and dash mechanics look to impact the game the most, allowing for a platforming section on Mars and plenty of interesting ways to hide away secrets.
Resource management seems to be a more important aspect here too, as you juggle to keep your health, shields and ammo topped up constantly. Health is straightforward enough - execute a gory glory kill by meleeing an enemy in the stunned, near-death state - while coating them with your new flamethrower tops up your armour and using the chainsaw once again forces them to spit out ammo.
Depending on your playstyle, you could find yourself constantly short of one resource or another. If you're like us that was ammo, constantly flailing our way through demon-infested areas, powering through every gun in our arsenal, rinsing ammo as we went.
The aesthetic and enemies all look familiar, and the overall style has the same sort of irreverent disregard for context, or reason to really care about Doomguy's plight. Combat seems even more frantic than before, thanks largely to the additional dash, which (as noted) also helps with traversal.
While dashing about is good fun, platforming and utilising boost jump pads can feel quite unforgiving, as can the timing for latching onto climbable walls, though they are at least marked by a distinctive texture. All of this added up to quite a lot of falling to our death in these sections, though it’s likely something players will get increasingly accustomed to, as with first-person platforming in general.
So far then? A thoroughly frenetic affair bursting with style, boasting guns that pack a punch and solid gameplay - very much in line with what you’d expect from a new DOOM. While its older brother re-established the series, Eternal looks to be putting in just enough new ideas to keep it fresh without spoiling what caused the previous one to be held in such high regard.
Doomguy returns 22 November on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, then later on Nintendo Switch.
You can watch the full DOOM Eternal Keynote Presentation from QuakeCon below.
Telefrag VR is a bold new arena shooter from developer Anshar Studios (who we recently interviewed), hoping to bring the intense competition of Unreal Tournament and Quake to virtual reality. We’ve spent some time with the finished article on PlayStation VR, minus online play due to it being pre-release, so let’s throw down the lowdown.
Those firearms are all on different cooldowns (no manual reloads), have two alternative fire modes, plus feature a unique form of weaponisable teleportation. More passively, you can also warp onto designated surfaces to bring a new dimension to fights, perhaps launching an ambush from upside down on the ceiling.
Mix these things together and the result is an experience that is, more often than not, frantic fun.
Sounds great, but just 1v1 deathmatch? Really?
It might sound sparse, but with the game being built around head-to-head play it’s one seriously action-packed tango! Telefrag is also set in an alternate future where the Roman Empire never fell and Gladiators now compete for glory in sci-fi coliseums, which helps to contextualise things.
Moreover, considering VR’s relatively small install base, only requiring one opponent for online matchmaking is much easier to accommodate - especially with cross-play between all major headsets also enabled.
Thumbs up then?
If you’re a fan of 90s FPS games, complete with gravelly announcers, Telefrag does an admirable job of distilling that familiar feel down to fit the VR landscape.
It can certainly be enjoyed solo against bots, as in our case, but online balance is a potential issue due to cross-play. PlayStation players have to choose between analogue movement and independent control of both arms, whereas Oculus and Vive users don’t, most likely placing them at an inherent advantage. If you can, opt for the PC version as a result.
We take Tate Multimedia's Steel Rats for a wreckin’ test ride in our latest Quickie.
Are the unlocks enough to encourage replaying stages?
All stages can be replayed with any unlocks you've acquired so far, excepting the characters who weren't originally available at that point. The first time around, you may want to blitz through the level, ignoring the trio of Trials-like challenges that award bonus scrap, just to get a win on the board and come back later when you're better equipped.
The reason for this is that when all of your riders are killed you have to restart the level entirely, which, even though they’re relatively short, can be enough to discourage exploration.
Sounds tough! Should I be worried?
Limited use Repair Stations provide a marginal safety net, but yeah, kinda, since restarts feel like unfair setbacks when they stem from a mistimed jump and the game then respawning you in an endless falling death loop... This was a persistent annoyance which grew ever more cruel with each occurrence.
That’s unfortunate. Still, can you recommend it at all?
Whilst driving and combat are about competent in isolation, together they pull the game in two different directions, meaning Steel Rats lacks an identity and instead wears the masks of better games that came before it. Even at a wallet-friendly £12.49, it's hard not to recommend you just play Trials.
If you fancy giving Steel Rats a go for yourself, be sure to keep an eye out for our next giveaway, in which you could win the game on Xbox One.
Having begun life on Steam and iOS devices, FDG Entertainment’s Venture Kid made its console debut earlier this month on Nintendo Switch. Join us for another quickie as we take the retro-inspired platformer for a spin.
Eek! Sounds frustrating.
Don’t worry too much, as after every victory you’re given a new toy to aid in your quest, and perks such as extra lives or additional hearts can be purchased at any point (except during boss fights) using orbs collected within levels.
Would you recommend it, then?
Yeah. It’s pretty short, taking us just over two hours to reach the final level, but hidden collectables and additional Switch-exclusive modes (Survival and Boss Rush) offer some extra staying power.
Venture Kid is also cheap as chips at £8.99, and potentially even cheaper if you already own an FDG staple in Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, Oceanhorn or Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
£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
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.