Last week we booed and jeered the games that disappointed us the most during the year, souring an otherwise pleasant 12 months. Now, feeling more positive after our cathartic outbursts, we praise and cheer the very best that 2019 has to offer.
There are no good options for this unfortunate Raider.
Sam | Resident Evil 2
If you’ve kept up with our output over the course of 2019, my choice most likely won’t surprise you. The Resident Evil 2 remake was my most anticipated game and one I highly praised alongside Sekiro and Devil May Cry 5 (my respective second and third-place finishers) early in the year.
The game’s impeccable visuals and locations set a photorealistic scene that enhances both the gross out and creeping terrors which are implemented so thoughtfully. It’s a rare example of graphics actually serving gameplay, but looks obviously still aren’t everything.
I’m a sucker for survival horror, but particularly survival horror with strict inventory limits that demand forethought and planning. Add to that standard enemies that can take a full pistol clip directly between the eyes and still get back up, and you have a recipe for edge-of-your-seat gaming right there. Especially when starting out on the highest difficulty setting.
A true masochist at heart, I immediately cranked the difficulty right up and, with that, limited the number of saves. Imparting a genuine fear for loss of time and effort, if nothing else, this razor blade gaming cocktail often had my heart racing faster than an equivalent session of Switch workout title Ring Fit Adventure.
For some, this image alone is enough to impart genuine fear.
Liam | Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
Another year, another round of top titles I’ve yet to play. I still haven’t got to some of last year’s best, let alone 2019’s greatest hits, but I did manage to recently get my hands on the excellent Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.
Released way back at the start of the year, AC 7 feels like a bit of a throwback to my Rogue Squadron days, except with a lot more missiles and fewer blasters. The narrative is absolute nonsense, so much so that I stopped paying attention to pre-mission briefings and cutscenes very early on, but the rest of it more than makes up for the story’s shortfalls.
Controls are tight, the planes Top Gun levels of cool, and the combat moreish, especially when coupled with the game’s orchestral/electric guitar soundtrack. It’s also quite the looker, with some lovely vistas serving as a backdrop to the meaty action.
The only downside (apart from the naff story) is the heavy reliance on missiles over guns (which also sound a bit limp) but because I’m too much of a coward to try the Resi 2 remake, and have yet to finish Pokémon Moon let alone start Sword or Shield, it still gets my pick of the year.
Ace combat 7 takes the Michael Bay approach to storytelling.
James | Control
Messing about with time, perception and the supernatural was an intriguing prospect even as we were first introduced to Control back at last year's E3.
We'd known Remedy, creators of not only Max Payne but the ambitious, though flawed, Xbox exclusive Quantum Break, were working on something new for a while, and despite going multiplatform, the developer hasn't had to compromise its weirdness to get a quality product on shelves.
Something of a throwback, the game is a singleplayer, largely narrative, fairly open world experience. The live-action elements, something Remedy is known for, are smartly kept to on-screen diary entries and recordings this time around, and the overall effect of not only the brutalist architecture but approach to its story create a world you are excited to explore, as I noted in my review.
While undoubtedly feeling like "a game", the journey is not only memorable, but thought-provoking – particularly if you commit to reading into the world. Most importantly, I powered through the game like a man possessed, which is a rarity, and enjoyed it all the way through. I may even revisit it next year when the PS4 timed-exclusive DLC expansions finally make their way to Xbox.
Time-bending narratives and telekinetic abilities will always grab our attention.
Share your personal Game of the Year picks with us.
A stellar year for gaming is coming to a close. We've seen the creation of instant classics and some high profile releases have really hit the mark, doing everything we expected and more. It wasn't all roses though, as these potential stocking killers could have been so much better...
It may look impressive but air time hurts your run.
Liam | Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Band of Bastards
I first want to point out that I thoroughly enjoyed Band of Bastards and I’m only including it in this list because, as I mentioned in my review, it could have been so much better.
Combat in Kingdom Come: Deliverance might feel a bit awkward at first, but once you get used to it it’s actually a fairly elegant system, although if you do find the swordplay a bit of a struggle (like I do) bashing people over the head with a mace also works well.
Whatever your preferred strategy, fights in KCD are quite fun, but you’d often have to go looking for them in the main game, which is why I couldn’t wait for the arrival of the Band of Bastards expansion and it’s combat centric nature.
The small skirmishes you take part in early doors are excellent, accompanied as you are by the memorable crew of mercenaries, but it’s all done and dusted too quickly, and the final big battle is a somewhat limp affair that’s let down by wonky AI.
What’s there is enough to satisfy any wannabe warriors battle cravings, but it could have been great, rather than simply good, which is the biggest disappointment.
Much like real life, maces solve the problems that words can't.
Sam | Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes
This week’s topic stumped me for a while. Most deemed MediEvil to be disappointing, but I quite enjoyed it; Pokemon Sword and Shield are far from outstanding, but I didn’t expect them to be; Terminator: Resistance is pretty mediocre, but that’s par for the course. What had I played that fell below rather than meeting or surpassing my expectations?
After scouring my list of played 2019 games, it was all the way back in January that I unearthed a release I’d mostly stricken from memory. No More Heroes and it’s sequel are cult classic Wii games in which you play as a trashy American assassin called Travis Touchdown. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is the hotly anticipated follow-up that failed to meet its mark.
The new top-down perspective already had eyebrows raised, but marrying that with a collection of unengaging central mini-games made for some questionable gameplay. It wasn’t really what people wanted and the developer knew it, attempting to placate disgruntled fans by stating that supporting Travis Strikes Again might help to fund a full-fledged sequel.
Apparently it did, No More Heroes III now having been announced for Nintendo Switch, but Travis Strikes Again felt disingenuous in addition to underwhelming as a result.
Here's hoping Travis can get the sequel he deserves.
James | Crackdown 3
I made no secret that I was looking forward to the return of the Crackdown series. Despite not being hit by the initial shockwave from the game way back when, the bits and pieces I had played were great fun, so the prospect of bringing that experience up-to-date with a few new bells and whistles was exciting.
Of course, what we eventually got in Crackdown 3, the second most high-profile release for Microsoft this year after Gears 5, was a disappointment in every sense of the word. I got a pre-order in early... in August 2015, but, especially for fans who had been around since the beginning, there was little of the series' magic, reducing the game's open-world mania to little more than ever-increasing tedious distractions wrapped around floaty controls.
The multiplayer was worse still, offering the lowest possible amount of variety and restricting the destruction to an abstract, computer wireframe simulation rather than the spectacle of New Providence (though there wasn't much of that to be found either).
Reducing down a game to its most basic elements is one thing, and often can be helpful when rebooting something for a fresh audience to get rid of any franchise bloat, but here it cut the jugular, and there's no resuscitation in sight.
We still love you, Terry.
Share your 2019 disappointments with us below.
A game's setting can be just as important as the story, characters or even gameplay. For example, swapping the UK-inspired Galar region of Pokémon Sword and Shield with the desolate hellscape of Terminator: Resistance may seem like a novel idea, but roaming T-1000s won't improve your Pokémon experience. With that in mind, here are our top digital destination recommendations.
Liam | UK - Combat Flight Simulator
With Microsoft working on a new Flight Simulator, it seems appropriate to use this week’s topic as a platform to call for a return of a classic spin-off from the series: Combat Flight Simulator.
The first game, released in 1998 on PC, let you take to the skies of Europe during WW2 as a pilot of the British, U.S or German air forces. Whilst hopping into the cockpit of iconic fighter planes such as the Supermarine Spitfire or P51 Mustang was very cool, one of the best features from the original CFS were the real-life locations.
Most games I’d played up until that point all came with fictional settings, whether it was a fantasy kingdom or a far-flung system in deep space, so to be able to fly around a familiar one (namely South East England) and see towns I knew and often frequented – such as Biggin Hill – crop up in mission descriptions was a completely new and novel experience.
It was the first and only time (as far as I can remember) that a game’s setting has ever felt so grounded, which is pretty ironic considering the amount of time you spent up in the air.
If you look very closely, you can see Liam's house. We think.
Sam | Rapture - BioShock
I’m a big believer that setting(s) can absolutely make or break a game. Should that setting also be leveraged as an environmental storytelling tool, then generally players are in for a treat. Lots of rich in-game locations hold fonder memories for me than genuine holiday hotspots, largely because they’re intertwined with stories both manufactured and emergent.
Places like the Spencer Mansion (Resident Evil) and the kingdom of Lordran in Dark Souls are vast, yet simultaneously claustrophobic owing to how they gradually unfurl themselves. The best location to utilise this strategy for my money, however, is Rapture from BioShock.
Channelling spiritual predecessor System Shock - an early “immersive simulator” alongside the likes of Deus Ex and Thief, which together introduced more in-depth 3D settings to the gaming masses - BioShock perfectly marries its setting and narrative.
Buried at the bottom of the ocean to shield its resident creatives from government intervention, the opulent facade soon crumbles in conjunction with the “better” society calling it home. Not only is it metaphorically relevant, but the placement of assets and scrawlings on walls tell a supplementary tale to an already enthralling main narrative thrust.
Mirroring the concept in BioShock Infinite was novel, though the floating city of Columbia ultimately fell short by comparison. Much of the magic was gone, dispersing into the open air after being tightly contained in an underwater capsule.
Claustrophobic, yet oddly serene.
James | The Citadel - Mass Effect
Something about space has always captured my imagination. From endless weekends with the original Star Wars trilogy to learning the history of humanity's own exploration of the big black dark thing with shiny bits, it was a world filled with possibilities.
No game I've enjoyed has brought that to life so fully as the Mass Effect series, and a central location for Commander Shepard's journey is the Citadel. A huge, distinctly sci-fi superstructure, built by a long dead (or so you think) organisation, the space station spans hundreds of buildings and is home to thousands of beings.
It was the first time I got a sense of scale and other-worldly possibility, and the way different species all live together and interact, mostly peacefully, is a testament to a more compassionate future we can only aspire to.
While there were criminally inefficient lifts – designed to hide loading times on the Xbox 360's aging hardware – as you explored each level you could often see the station spanning miles off into the distance, and the great beyond past its huge petal-like array of spokes.
Better still, you can get anything you need right there, and wherever you pop into, you'll know it's Commander Shepard's favourite shop on the Citadel.
And this is Shepherd's favourite spot on the Citadel.
Share your favourite gaming location with us.
London was host to X019 last week and those lucky enough to attend the Xbox event got a chance to go hands-on with (and see footage of) some of the newest and unreleased titles coming to the platform over the next year. An extended Inside Xbox stream provided a healthy dose of reveals, announcements and updates for the rest of us. Here are our highlights.
See anything you like?
X019 came as rather a nice surprise last week, almost serving the UK up its own little slice of E3. Microsoft went big for what was essentially an episode of their Inside Xbox series, revealing the first batch of new Xbox Game Studios titles and showcasing more of some we already knew to be in development.
They all looked fine, with Tell Me Why from Life is Strange developer Dontnod Entertainment being what stood out to me the most. One title I’m even more curious about is an independent effort, though.
Last Stop is set in present day London and tells a supernatural tale revolving around three different co-protagonists. It’s developed by Variable State, the team behind the excellent Virginia, which channeled The X-Files to tell an engaging narrative without a single subtitle or spoken word of dialogue. Last Stop seems even more ambitious, which immediately put it on my radar.
Elsewhere, I was pleased to hear that Project xCloud will be made available to Game Pass subscribers at no additional cost. I’m still not sold on streaming games, but I’ll give it a go for the grand old price of nothing.
I should also mention that seeing the Yakuza and Kingdom Hearts series find new homes on Xbox brought a smile to my face. Not on my own behalf, but because long-standing community member Plasma Wing has been begging for that to happen.
If Virginia is anything to go by, Last Stop should be an interesting thriller.
Like Chris, much of what got me excited about X019 was the news that more great titles were heading to Game Pass.
Whilst I never got around to completing the original Rage, the fact I can pick up both it - and the newly added sequel - through the subscription service serves as motivation to go back and give the franchise the attention it deserves. I’m also looking forward to trying Grounded and its hugely promising Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-style setting, which looks like it could be a lot of fun.
But the standout title from the show had to be West of Dead, a twin stick shooter set in a western-themed purgatory from Upstream Arcade and Raw Fury. I’m not a huge fan of procedurally generated levels, but I do love me some cel-shaded graphics, and the concept of a dead sheriff (voiced by Ron Perlman, no less) dealing out justice with a six-shooter sounds awesome.
Having got a taste of the tight gunplay and unique setting via the game’s open beta (which you can try until the 25 November) I am now very much looking forward to this game’s full release.
There's still a chance to try out the promising beta.
Having missed out on X019 altogether, and needing to catch up with our very comprehensive and exciting round-up, I'm pleasantly surprised to not see a slew of announcements which are just franchise X with another number slapped on the end – bar FFX-2's incorporation into the Game Pass library of course.
A new IP from Obsidian, hot off the success of The Outer Worlds is equally welcome, and though the people-ambling-about-in-a-coop-open-world genre is hardly under-served, it's been long enough since the cinematic gold that was Ants for the concept to feel like a breath of fresh air.
The rumblings around Project xCloud, which seems to have dispensed with the need for actual grown up product names at this stage, continue to sound good but have fairly little to show for it.
It seems clear that Microsoft is playing the long game on this one, especially compared to Google with Stadia, and while largely pulling out of EGX to focus on this event gave the company a chance to have the audience all to itself, they will need to deliver more exclusives - or just good all round game experiences – to get everyone excited enough for Project Scarlett to actually buy one.
We're going to assume that the name Project Xstream was already taken.
Let us know your highlights from X019.
With The Outer Worlds' memorable cast still fresh in our minds, we turn our attention to the loyal companions that have followed us into danger without a thought for their own lives. A trustworthy escort or two can enhance gameplay, through either their personalities or simply the bonuses they offer. Whether they are friends, hired guns or merely folks whose interests align with our own, these are the people we'd choose to watch our backs.
This is how The Outer Worlds should be played.
James | Garrus Vakarian - Mass Effect
There's few game characters who have the charisma and likeability of Garrus Vakarian. Initially cold to your character, Commander Shepard, in the original Mass Effect, he quickly stands out from the rest of your companions and only goes on to be near indispensable as both a gun hand in combat and ready with a charming quip or two in conversation.
The joy of the series is often the relationships you build with your crew, and Garrus' interactions with the other characters is endearing as much as his chit chatting with quest givers and adversaries alike. His experience and knowledge has a genuine impact on your decisions too, making you think again about the right course of action, something which is far from clear cut.
On the battlefield, in the fight against the Reapers and various factions they're in cahoots with, Garrus' gunplay is sublime, and you'll combine that with his tech powers to create a diverse supporting character you can always rely on.
There were times in the series that Shepard's journey got difficult, and every single time Garrus would be there in my party to keep pushing me forwards, have my back in combat or be a confidant with advice and support with some of the trickier moral decisions in the game.
On top of all that, it never fails to raise a smile seeing just how much he loves his calculations.
If his sharpshooting skills don't scare the enemy, that melted Halloween mask of a face just might.
Sam | Morrigan - Dragon Age: Origins
Dark Souls notwithstanding, Dragon Age: Origins is my favourite RPG of all time. A major deciding factor in that is the strength of its supporting cast of companions, my favourite among which is Morrigan.
Daughter to a haggered shapeshifter, Morrigan - also known as a Witch of the Wilds - answers the protagonist’s call to aid them in stopping the apocalyptic “Blight” from consuming Ferelden. Though the cause is noble, Morrigan is anything but a willing heroine.
She’s incredibly blunt and dry witted, perfectly brought to life by the excellent Claudia Black (Chloe Frazer in the Uncharted series). When paired with morally upstanding companions like Leliana and Alistair, constant squabbles ensue as Morrigan plays the antagonistic part of devil’s advocate. Often she’ll suggest the less moral (but more practical) solution to a problem, much to the chagrin of other party members regardless of whether or not it needed to be heard.
As a result, Morrigan can come across as uncivilised and abrasive, but the unfiltered truth of her perspective can help any hero to make the hardest decisions with all bases covered. Over time it’s possible to dull her hard edges somewhat and even to romance her, though ultimately, she’s still just serving her own desires.
Unconventional to the end and damn handy in combat, Morrigan lives up to her title by being one helluva wild witch to come to appreciate.
If a tough decision needs to be made, you can count on Morrigan to give it to you straight.
Liam | The Ghosts - Ghost Recon Wildlands
There have been so many notable companions and partners in games over the years that I struggled to pick just one. There’s Skyrim’s Lydia, a Nord sworn to carry our burdens (read: dwarven tat and pillaged foodstuffs) who also loves a spot of spelunking, or Ashley Williams (the steadfast crew member from Mass Effect, not the Bristol City centre back) for whom I sacrificed Kaiden to save during the ill-fated mission on Virmire.
Both would be worthy winners, but, in the end, I’ve gone for the AI squad from Ghost Recon Wildlands. As Sam quite rightly pointed out when we were discussing our choices in one of PTC Towers’ many luxurious spas, these guys aren’t exactly known for their winning personalities, despite their penchant for military humour (and "military" language, shown below).
I couldn’t even tell you their names (I think one was called Midas, though couldn’t say which for sure) but their ridiculously overpowered sync shot easily trumps any personality vacuum. This ability let you pick out three enemy targets which your squad would then take out on your command no matter what was in the way, be it buildings, solid steel walls or even small hills. I’ll take that over a sunny disposition any day.
By military humour, we mean it's not for young ears.
Let us know who your favourite travelling companions are.
Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot has been released into the wild and, though the welcome return of a fully fledged campaign mode is the main attraction for some, one could argue that the fast-paced multiplayer is the biggest draw. Any multiplayer title worth its salt has a few game types to complement the standard team deathmatch and free-for-all offerings but do objective-based modes tickle our fancy as much?
Teamwork never looks quite as polished during actual gameplay.
When a copy of Modern Warfare unexpectedly dropped into my inbox over the weekend, I dove straight into the campaign and finished it over a couple of sessions. Due to obligation more than anything else, I then hopped into the competitive multiplayer suite.
Generally I avoid Call of Duty multiplayer for a couple of reasons: the somewhat mindless run-and-gun mechanics and a devoted player base that I can’t compete with. After trying and enjoying the improved Ground War mode, which is more akin to Battlefield’s iconic Conquest game type than anything else, my opinion on this particular topic was reaffirmed.
By introducing a bigger map with multiple objective points that it’s inherently harder for devotees to memorise every inch of, the playing field is immediately levelled somewhat for newcomers. Even more so with the ability to contribute by spotting enemies, capturing objectives, resupplying allies, chauffeuring them in vehicles, and even serving as a mobile spawn point for squadmates.
No longer do you need to have perfect twitch reactions and extensive knowledge of each map and their ideal loadouts in order to perform decently. This greater accessibility is what makes objective-based multiplayer far more appealing to me, along with the more diverse range of play styles it accommodates to ultimately help with long-term engagement.
The popular Ground War is better than ever.
Anyone can be "just" a trigger man (or woman) when it comes to video games. Tactics, patience, teamwork – all of these are more important in an objective match, and the rewards more satisfying.
Rainbow Six Siege for example, released to lukewarm reception, but became more successful after introducing new operators and maps which forced players to play the tactical game, using special abilities which were more nuanced than just a bigger gun (though admittedly they did add some bigger guns too...).
One of the best in class for this is still Halo 3, which provided endless fun from just a handful of objective-based modes like Capture the Flag and Rocket Race back in the day, and still holds up in The Master Chief Collection.
Contrast that to even the best example of deathmatch, arguably Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, where the experience is ultimately forgettable.
Having an objective can also elevate perception of a game. Overwatch, for me at least, probably wouldn't have caught my attention as it did if it was a straight up deathmatch. Accompanying a payload through a level in stages is particularly satisfying, and the narrative elements in the more horde-like event modes like Halloween Terror make me pay closer attention.
In the end, it really comes down to the sort of game I am actually half decent at playing, and that's objective every time.
Truly the pinnacle of online multiplayer.
Team deathmatch has always been my go-to mode in online shooters, but I also have a soft spot for objective-based matches so long as I have a few good friends in tow, such as in late 2007 to early 2008 when myself and a few Xbox Live cohorts regularly got together for a few hours of the original Modern Warfare's Search and Destroy.
We could normally gather enough people to fill all six player slots, and without having to worry about randoms ruining strategy or failing to call out enemy positions we quickly became a well-drilled unit that, more often than not, emerged from rounds victorious.
My favourite modes, however, are those that blend the carnage and pace of TDM with some lite objective-based gameplay. Prime examples would be Call of Duty's Headquarters or Battlefront's Drop Pod - two very similar modes in which you capture then hold random locations.
These modes encourage players to work together by drawing everyone to the same spot that's currently up for grabs or under siege, even if it's a team of individuals. Also, most of the time your final K/D ratio has little impact on the outcome of matches, which is perfect for fodder such as myself.
This what happens when you abandon your team.
Let us know your preferred choice of multiplayer modes below.
We've seen alliances forged and broken since Team Talk's inception one year ago, but today we look back on that first year with fondness, as we think about all the... err... wonderful things we've learned about one another.
Liam and I are very similar in a lot of ways. We both have an aversion to horror games but can fight through the fear if it's compelling enough (or we have a little back up). It's thanks to Liam that I've finally got around to the underrated Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and his choice of starter Pokémon is second to none.
I wouldn't say our professional relationship has evolved to the point where I'd consider moving to a different country just to be physically closer to him, but I can respect anyone's decision to do such a thing.
He's almost adorable.
Having been Team Talk’s baby daddy throughout most of its first year, before recently handing the reins over to the very capable combo of Chris and James, I’ve almost definitely spent longer pawing over past entries than anyone else.
More than anything I’d say that compiling five (or thereabouts) different opinions on one topic each week has taught me how diverse gaming is and, similarly, how diverse Team PTC are as a group. Many a time I’ve choked at the sight of someone’s unbelievable pick - or, in the case of an appalling lack of support for Sobble, everybody’s - but after resisting the urge to make liberal edits I’m generally abated by logical justifications made in 200 words or less.
As Chris pointed out we rarely all agree, which is fine - in fact, no: it’s great! At times games (especially of the AAA variety) can feel homogenised, but in reality, to each individual perspective the landscape is very different.
Most recently, however, I learned that our new host is more perceptive than I give him credit for. I am always on the money and, as predicted, Crackdown 3 is total shit. Thanks Chris!
So much potential...
Having recently moved back to Blighty, I’ve saved Chris the trouble of having to up sticks and join me in the wonderful land of Nether, however, looking back at my contributions – which includes admissions of liking EA’s maligned Battlefront reboot and finding Roof-Crouching Simulator 2012, aka, Dishonored, rather rubbish – the gaming masses would surely feel his loyalty has been misplaced.
I feel slightly less bad about starting and never finishing a game knowing that James, our leader, is a serial offender too. He also favours an aggressive, no nonsense line-up when it comes to assembling a crack team of gaming characters, something I can relate to, considering my suggestion for stopping Voldemort involved massive military strikes.
Like me, Rob grew up in the beautiful south (the location, not the 80’s pop group), but there must be something in the sea air down on the coast that’s addled his mind. This is, after all, a man who thinks of slaughtering legions of undead as a party, and, by his own admission, actually bought a Wii U. That being said, there's no-one I'd trust more when it comes to the classics.
That’s not as disturbing as Sam’s own revelations, which include never having played Ocarina of Time(!), championing an invisible frog, and using Little Sisters as cannon fodder – though he does display exceptional taste when it comes to Mario Kart and superhero games.
Despite all our differences (which, again, is a good thing) it was nice to see this here crew at PTC come together when it really mattered, namely sticking the boot into Google Stadia and loot boxes. You’re welcome, Earth.
Though we could be singing a different tune once it's out in the wild.
Getting a team together is all the rage these days, thanks to them Avengers taking the box office crown this year and also plotting a game release next year. Team Talk has shown off our range of skills quite effectively, establishing the team as our own bunch of colourful superheroes.
Sam is our Tony Stark, working tirelessly pushing the envelope with not only Team Talk itself (his Vision, if you will) but our weekly giveaways and a huge number of well thought-through, entertaining and engaging reviews. Fortunately he shuns Tony's less desirable penchant for self-destruction, but is pushing himself to bring you all more gaming stuff from his brain than ever before with new gigs, writing on other sites.
Chris is Captain America (or Captain Britain), the anchor who holds the team together by keeping the news agenda going, bringing you hot takes and breaking news from all over the place, from the announcements for new games and consoles to supporting our E3 watch parties (and the subsequent lengthy write ups, in case you missed them).
Liam is our Black Widow. Chris' co-pilot in the news stakes and often throwing in a review or two of his own. Also he's a globetrotter, jet-setting from Denmark, to the UK, to Australia and back again in the dead of night. Undoubtedly looking the part in a leather catsuit, Liam's skills keep the team flexible and, until recently at least, let us hit our international quota.
Rob is the Hulk. Not only a smarty pants, but prone to lengthy periods of absence to take on all manner of creative pursuits, including music. He's our resident Nintendo guru and will soon be bringing you his take on Ninty's latest hardware – the Switch Lite.
Everyone has something interesting to say and Team Talk is the best place to hear from all these clever people.
Which would make James our Nick Fury, because Thor is a fictional character.
Will we be all smiles and sunshine after another 12 months of working together? Find out next year.
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.