Every year seems to boast more and more huge game releases, to the extent that it’s been difficult to keep up with everything for a good long while now. The usual suite of heavy hitters monopolise a lot of people’s time, but, as 2018 comes to a close and the release schedule settles for all of a few weeks, we thought it’d be nice to shine a light on a few of the year’s less-loved games. Who knows, maybe we’ll find them homes for the holidays.
Chris | ONRUSH
Despite largely favourable reviews (including our own), ONRUSH has failed to take the world by storm. In fact, if not for its inclusion in the Xbox Game Pass catalogue, I wouldn't have even considered giving it a try.
The game mimics the best parts of Burnout, that being the smashing and crashing, without the pretence of racing. Each non-race has objectives and yes, they involve going as fast as possible, but the real reason we're here is to twist steel. Being smack bang in the middle of a furious fracas is not only the most fun aspect, but it's also the most prominent, as dropping too far behind the pack will see you teleported right back into the action and if you happen to be flying ahead solo it won't be long before others materialise around you.
There are minor differences in how each vehicle performs but the arcade handling means every bike or truck is as viable as any other. Whilst this trait may be seen as a negative in any traditional racer, ONRUSH is neither traditional nor a racer, and it serves to enhance the experience by ensuring a playing field that's as level as it can be.
Liam | Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China
Cast your mind back to the very beginning of the year and you probably won’t recall Flying Tigers: Shadows Over China sneaking its way onto Xbox One as a console exclusive. Arriving with little fanfare during a period when most people are feeling the financial brunt of the recent festivities, FTSOC didn’t really get the recognition it deserved.
Its delivery is a bit cheesy and the gameplay a touch too arcade-like for simulator fans, but I very much enjoyed playing through a theatre of WW2 that’s never really been explored in gaming.
Hopping into a Buffalo fighter to “sally” incoming bombers is oodles of fun, and, as I mentioned in our quickie, reminiscent of classics like Blazing Angels and Rogue Squadron. There’s even a cool Dogfight mode that lets you pit all manner of iconic fighters against one another in fantasy showdowns.
Flying games are a bit of a rarity these days, and I say kudos to Ace Maddox for playing their part in keeping the genre going with this engaging effort.
Rob | Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn
Folks, I’ve been a very bad boy this year. I’ve failed to sample so many intriguing and colossal games (Celeste, Dead Cells, Moonlighter, Spider-Man, RDR2) that I feel like a right fanny-pack. We’ve all been there: work, relationships, children, house moving, life, etc. getting in the way of what’s really important - vidya gamez!
Now, with this in mind, my underappreciated title of 2018 goes to the gaming equivalent of an oft-mocked reality reboot, or a nasty 80s soap being resurrected for one last foxtrot. What am I waffling on about? Well, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn, of course.
The 90s original regularly features on worst-of lists, but the sheer dumb, button-bashing fun and moronic sense of humour present in this revival really helped to take my mind of some “real” stuff during the month of September.
It’s colourful, the soundtrack is great, the combat is simple and satisfying in that 90s side-scrolling brawler kinda way, and the story (Shaq is a Chinese orphan saving the world from demonic celebrities that have scary resemblances to Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber, et al) is little boy’s humour of the most glorious order. Did I mention there’s an add-on where you play as Barack Obama in The Adventures of Dirty Barry? Escapism here thy come!
Which games didn't get a fair shake this year in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below.
Geoff Keighley’s fifth annual awards show is streaming live tomorrow night, or technically Friday morning at 1:30 AM GMT, and promises to be a celebration of what’s been a fantastic year in gaming. With the ceremony right around the corner, Team PTC share their very serious and totally informed predictions on which games should win some of the biggest categories.
As ever, loads of awards will be handed out on the night, so we’ve whittled them down a bit to cover the following five categories:
Best Narrative | God of War
Kratos’ character development and evolving relationship with his son, Atreus, is one of the most touchingly human narratives I’ve ever seen unfold in a game. Impressive, considering neither character is human.
Best Art Direction | Octopath Traveler
Most of the nominees are more intricately detailed, though realism only gets you so far. Octopath Traveler has the lowest display resolution, but more than makes up for that by being completely distinct for all the right reasons.
Best Audio Design | God of War
God of War has a powerful, guttural sound that makes combat feel absolutely brutal. The other nominees undoubtedly do a great job at anchoring players in their respective simulations, but Sony Santa Monica take things a step further and truly bolster their gameplay in the process.
Also, the voice of the World Serpent! With the right audio setup, it punches you right in the soul!
Best Independent Game | Celeste
A bit of a tactical vote since it’s the only indie nominated for top honours, but from what I’ve seen of Celeste (unfortunately I haven’t played it) the range of accessibility options offer up catered platforming that anyone can enjoy. That’s a winner in my book.
Game of the Year | Red Dead Redemption II
Rockstar’s latest is on another level when compared to basically any other game. That’s what you can expect when all arms of a world-class developer are devoted to a project for several years, and also why you shouldn’t expect experiences of its calibur on the regular.
God of War
Disclaimer: Having played only a little more than none of the nominated games, I've made my picks blindly, based on gut feeling and what I can find out from a series of (very) brief image searches.
Best Narrative | Detroit: Become Human
No doubt there's some stiff competition in this category, especially with Sony's other big exclusives thrown into the mix, but if your main focus is an engaging narrative, then it should be the best. In theory. Maybe.
Best Art Direction | Assassin's Creed Odyssey
If AC Origins II: Greece is anything like its predecessor, it’ll be jam-packed with stunning visuals wherever you look. The Acropolis of Athens and Olympia are just two of the three historical Greek sites that I've heard of and would expect to be included.
It might also be worth noting that, visually, fellow nominee Obra Dinn fails to impress when viewed briefly on a smartphone.
Best Audio Design | Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 is the only title on the list I've played and I can confidently say that the cars' engines sound just like I imagined they would. Maybe they’re based on their real counterparts, I dunno, I found not a shred of evidence for it in my image search.
Best Independent Game | Celeste
I've heard good things about Celeste, which trumps the no things I've heard about the other games in the category.
Game of the Year | Red Dead Redemption II
A fleeting search makes it look like an incredibly detailed horse riding simulator, but I can't ignore what I already know: Rockstar's open world behemoths always live up to the hype.
Best Narrative | Detroit: Become Human
I haven’t actually played any of the nominees, so I’m going for the one that sounds coolest. Sentient robot servant police? Yes please!
Best Art Direction | Octopath Traveler
Octopath Traveler is an easy pick for the top spot, seamlessly blending old-timey sprites with beautiful, diorama-like backdrops for a truly unique art style. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s take on Ancient Greece was also rather splendid, but par for the course by today’s high standards.
Best Audio Design | Forza Horizon 4
I’m not into cars, but I do enjoy the way they sound flying off mountains or crashing into road signs, fences, the occasional rock wall, small trees, other cars, big trees, festivals…
Best Independent Game | Dead Cells
I enjoyed Dead Cells’ combat, but the novelty of starting from nothing every time you died soon wore off. Still, having played none of the other nominees on the list, it wins by default.
Game of the Year | Red Dead Redemption II
In a shameless act of bandwagoning, I’m declaring Rockstar’s epic Western winner of the biggest award, despite not yet owning it. I’ll get it at some point but, come on, even at a glance you can tell it’s as good as it’s made out to be.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey
I should state for the jury: not only do I loathe awards shows (back-patting garbage where you have to put up with insufferable celebrity hosts all evening), but I’ve actually missed out on a fair few of the nominated titles - whoops.
Best Narrative | Detroit: Become Human
There’s no denying the fact that people play David Cage games for the story, so I’m going for Detroit: Become Human. I haven’t played a Cage game in years (does anyone remember the David Bowie-featuring Nomad Soul?), but this one looks intriguing.
Best Art Direction | God of War
Rockstar’s latest is pretty good looking, and I do love the 16-bit aesthetic of Octopath, but I’m going to plump for God of War here. Lighting, colours, varying weather effects - it all looks bloody marvellous and brings that Norse world to life.
Best Audio Design | Forza Horizon 4
I could easily go for God of War again, but the environment-polluting-arcade-athon, Forza Horizon 4, packs some serious audio punch that’ll give those speakers a ruddy good shakedown.
Best Independent Game | Celeste
I’ve missed all of these this year, and feel awful about it as someone who champions indies, but Celeste has been at the top of my wishlist for a while, as I do love a good platformer.
Game of the Year | God of War
I either haven’t played or haven’t been particularly impressed by most of these, so I suppose it’ll have to be God of War, in spite of finding it a bit bloated around the midpoint.
What are your predicted winners? Let us know in the comments below.
Last week, Team PTC discussed their opinions on the Xbox brand and its future potential.
It’s no secret that the Xbox One has struggled to keep up with its main competitor, the PlayStation 4, this console generation. Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox at Microsoft, and fans alike are keenly aware that, both in terms of sales and overall perception, team green are lagging behind.
Sea of Thieves was somewhat of a disappointment.
With Sony's planned absence from E3, the Xbox team really have a chance to shine next year. The jaded cynic in me realises they've always had the opportunity and never fully seized it, but I am feeling positive about the brand as a whole.
Exclusives have always been a sticking point, but more so recently as the likes of God of War and Spider-Man have gone unanswered by PlayStation's biggest rival. Microsoft acquiring new first-party studios should mean fresh exclusives are on the way, making it clear that Xbox are building towards a better future.
Game Pass is constantly being made more enticing, to the extent that I'm now fully behind the idea. Perpetually delayed exclusive Crackdown 3 sits firmly at the top of my most wanted list and is finally visible through the fog; what’s more, it can be played on launch day at no additional cost for Game Passers! I also discovered Forza Horizon 4, which is a lot more fun than a simple driving game has any business being, and State of Decay 2 is potentially the best zombie survival title that my abject cowardice has prevented me from exploring.
If it was more concrete, I’d mention Fable 4 here, but it isn't, so I won't.
Game Pass represents a great value proposition for Xbox fans.
Xbox is boring. That's not necessarily a bad thing, in that reliability often equates to being considered boring, but it's clear that the excitement felt when Microsoft entered the market just over 17 years ago, introducing their hulking, green monster, has long since dissipated.
Being the underdog has its advantages though, and the brand has cunningly been getting its ducks in a row by buying up fistfuls of studios, including the minds behind Forza Horizon, State of Decay and more recently Obsidian, who brought us Fallout: New Vegas way back when.
Potential is the biggest factor here, in that many of the studios have done good work in the past but, arguably, not consistently delivered (possibly with the exception of Playground Games). It’ll be interesting to see whether they can bring new ideas or if they'll be pigeonholed into developing more of what they’re known for, which could ultimately seal their fate in Microsoft's developer dungeon alongside Rare.
Hardware could make a splash at E3, but we can only hope Microsoft have learned from the cold reception to the Xbox One's introduction, infamously handled by former Head Don Mattrick, and bring us something exciting and memorable (for the right reasons) instead.
Crackdown 3 is the next big Xbox exclusive, set to launch 15 February 2019.
Ever since Xbox One’s botched E3 reveal and the whole ‘always online’ saga, it was obvious Microsoft would be playing second fiddle to Sony this generation.
Though disappointing for fans, the silver lining in lagging behind is that the Xbox team has had to be more creative in order to win people over.
Would we have seen all first-party releases, in addition to the occasional third-party title, as day one additions to Xbox Game Pass, or even a Game Pass at all, if Xbox had been the market leader? The sorely-lacking-by-comparison PlayStation Now service suggests not.
It’d obviously be great to see Xbox knocking out impressive games in the same vein as God of War and Spider-Man, but with the amount of studios Microsoft have been amassing I’m sure their equivalent, or at least something of a similar ilk, will be coming to Xbox soon enough.
More than optimistic, I’m excited about the potential of the next batch of Xbox consoles and the games that’ll grace them. As someone who often has to fight for control of the TV, the rumours suggesting we’ll be able to play games on our laptops or phones via streaming is something I’m especially keen to see more of.
Xbox One X has been offering players upgraded performance and visuals for over a year now.
I’m a relative newcomer to all things Xbox, my first Microsoft console being a delicious Xbox One bundle I picked up back in 2016. I’d had no real prior interest, being an avid PlayStation and Nintendo boy, but the online play and a chance to sample new franchises led me slowly to the green side.
With that in mind, do I see a bright future for Pippy Spencer and his band of silicone sailors? Yes, I really do.
There are so many positives to take from the last year or so: the incredible Game Pass service; the acquisition of fantastic new studios; backwards.funking.compatibility; frequently updated, superior UI and iterations on an already industry-leading controller.
Much like Sam, I enjoy the PS4 for its big budget exclusives, but it’s the more accommodating Xbox interface that has me turning that machine on every day for both games and entertainment. I should add that I buy all multi-platform releases on the base Xbox One, in spite of its lacklustre power, such is my preference.
That said, there’s no denying that Microsoft need to work on first-party games. I do, however, fully expect Ninja Theory to help close that gap, as I already believe Hellblade rivals God of War.
Forza Horizon 4 is the latest stellar entry in Microsoft's flagship racing franchise.
How are you feeling about Xbox going forward? Justified in your purchase? Perhaps looking to pick a console up for the first time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Don’t adjust your calendars, it definitely is 2018. Spyro’s currently setting the world ablaze, Crash reached all major platforms just a few short months ago, and Sir Daniel Fortesque recently reanimated for a spanking new MediEvil trailer. All that ‘90s nostalgia has us thinking on what old timers we’d like to see make a comeback next.
Chris | Hogs of War
Hogs of War was essentially Worms 3D before Worms 3D was Worms 3D. Two or more teams of belligerent boars face off in a deathmatch with all manner of weapons and equipment, until only one team remains. But, like, in 3D.
If it was re-released now, Hogs of War wouldn't win any awards, much like it didn't when it launched almost two decades ago. The graphics were nothing to shout about, the controls were often clunky and the very idea was a completely unoriginal take on something that had been done before. Hogs of War was at the top of the bell curve in almost every way. I don't state this simply to rip it to shreds, rather to emphasise that, in spite of its shortcomings, it had something.
That something was, for me at least, the campaign. Expertly narrated by the late, great Rik Mayall, the story (filled with as many pork-based puns as the developers could pack in) was firmly tongue-in-cheek with a generous helping of silliness.
The only downside to a remake would be that Mayall couldn’t reprise his role.
Liam | MechWarrior 3050
After much deliberation, my pick goes to SNES action title MechWarrior 3050, a game that came into my possession one glorious Christmas morning way back when.
I can’t remember why exactly you were tasked with stomping around bases and shooting up the place, but I do remember being very impressed with the giant mech on the box and the game’s customisable loadouts. I wasn’t so impressed, however, with how hard it became after the opening level.
It was a problem that couldn’t even be solved with the help of a sibling, thanks to the game’s challenging and bizarre co-op system that saw control of a single mech split between two players, placing someone in charge of aiming and firing while the other person managed navigation.
I don’t know if I was just too young to handle the difficulty curve or whether it was a genuinely unforgiving game, but there’s a massive portion of MechWarrior 3050 that I never got to experience. That’s something I’d gladly remedy should an updated version ever be announced, provided it isn’t equally as hard and I find myself replaying the (admittedly awesome) first level over and over all over again.
Rob | International Superstar Soccer
Another week, another tough decision to make, folks. Many of the great series that I loved as a kid have either already been resurrected (Crash) or aren’t far off making their way back (Shenmue 3, Streets of Rage 4). One series I played more than any, mind, was Konami’s pre-PES arcade festival of football, International Superstar Soccer.
Eyeball destroying colours; fast, fun gameplay; players not belonging to the era; commentary so disjointed it was exquisitely bad - ISS was a most delicious arcade casserole. Whether you played the deep league and scenario modes solo, or enjoyed the gymnastic goalkeepers and banana shots against a friend, ISS provided what Arsene Wenger would describe as "top, top, top-top quality" to the video gaming fussball fanatic.
Unfortunately, though, the lean towards simulation by Konami meant an untimely end to the series not long after the new millennium began. In spite of how much I might enjoy the perfect passing and pace of Pro Evo, or the licensing and attention to detail of FIFA, my heart yearns for a return to the simpler, and ultimately more fun, days of ISS.
What game would you most like to see make a comeback? Got a preference between our picks? Let us know in the comments below.
Today marks the release of Fallout 76, the first game in Bethesda’s acclaimed RPG series (which is typically catered to lone wanderers) featuring online multiplayer. In itself that wouldn’t be particularly controversial, but the fact it’s compulsory has rubbed some Fallout fans the wrong way, despite it being promised that the game can still be enjoyed solo within its online environment.
Without online-only extras, I wouldn't have played Grand Theft Auto V on and off most weeks since it originally launched - Grand Theft Auto Online simply makes the game for me. Sure, there was multiplayer a-plenty in GTA IV, but, as any true fan would tell you, GTA Online is what’s made the game into the most valuable media property of all time.
At launch there wasn't really much to shout about, just a few race and deathmatch options, but over time it gradually grew and expanded, letting you start a biker gang, run your own club and even fit out your money laundering business with a mobile command centre.
Then there were heists. Almost a whole game mode on their own, these multi-part missions kept players entertained by taking them all across the map and even weaving in characters and storylines from singleplayer, which, of course, I was utterly oblivious to.
While there might have been more memorable moments to be found in singleplayer, it's the unique experiences of online which make me say I love playing GTA, and I'm sure Red Dead Online will have something interesting for us to knock our spurs against as well.
As you can probably already tell, I’ve no problem bypassing singleplayer modes in favour of heading straight online, so I say bring on Fallout 76 and more of its kind.
Grand Theft Auto Online
Some games would appear to lend themselves well to an online-only format, but there's always going to be something lost in the shift from singleplayer to multiplayer. Fallout 4-but-with-co-op (or insert game of your choice) sounds like a great idea as long as the story doesn't suffer. That's not to say the story in any multiplayer outing will inherently be subpar, it's just that the way you absorb it can be radically different when you're in a party.
Online titles are, by definition, meant to be a shared experience. While most don't require a group, or any measure of human interaction, a lot of players will want to socialise in the digital world and it's this specific demographic whose desires are being accommodated.
I've found the issue that will often arise, is that everyone has a different schedule and some are further in the story than others, so attempting to untangle a complex narrative whilst tackling missions in no particular order is akin to trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle using only the shapes of the pieces as a guide.
This is my sole gripe with the idea. As long as the gameplay is solid enough and the story is inessential, yet passable, I'm all for it.
The Elder Scrolls Online
How do you feel about franchises shifting their focus from singleplayer to multiplayer? Let us know below.
In last week's feature, Team PTC shared the games they'd like to have see on Sony's upcoming PlayStation Classic.
Sony recently revealed the full list of 20 games that’ll be included with the PlayStation Classic when it hits store shelves later this year. The likes of Tekken 3, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII are undoubtedly deserving of their places, but a few more questionable inclusions leave something to be desired.
Chris | Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
I was in love with Soul Reaver from the very start. The opening cutscene sees our hero, if the vampiric Raziel could be called such a thing, suffer an excruciating death at the hands of Kain, all for the crime of daring to grow wings before his master. Resurrected by an Elder God, Raziel is assigned the urgent mission of taking up arms against his former brethren and putting an end to his liege.
It was a gripping introduction and one that I must have watched at least a dozen times all in all. Kain, once the protagonist of the previous title, Blood Omen, is immediately thrust into the role of antagonist; there's no moral gray area here, he's a straight-up bad guy and Raziel becomes a much more likeable character because of it.
Not only was the narrative engaging, but the graphics were superb and the combat was smooth. Puzzles could be a little tricky at times, especially those which required you to switch between the material and spectral planes, but it was always rewarding to finally figure out how to beat a certain section and move on with the story (even if it was occasionally down to dumb luck).
Whilst I'm sure the years haven’t been kind to Soul Reaver, I’d be eager to deliver Kain his comeuppance all over again.
James | Command and Conquer: Red Alert
Now, I know what you're thinking: a real-time strategy game without the flexibility of a mouse and keyboard simply shouldn't work, so this pick should be buried before I even finish this sentence - but hear me out.
In the carefree days of the late ‘90s, multiplayer was in its infancy. The Multitap was scarce and even additional controllers were uncommon, so it fell to the humble link cable to bring players together. Red Alert (as the cool kids called it at the time) was a game perfectly placed to make the most of this technology, putting two warring bases and their associated armies at one another's throats in the pursuit of total annihilation.
The bread and butter of Red Alert is Skirmish, a mode where you pick a map, the number of teams (that's right, AI opponents!) and then it becomes a race to see who can be the first to build up their base and take control of the map.
It may well have been a somewhat paired down experience from the graphically superior PC version, but the end result was a hugely varied gameplay experience, based on an extremely simple mode. It brought weekend after weekend of enjoyment, provided you had a rich friend with multiple TVs and a big enough lounge to house an extended play session (understanding parents also helped).
Liam | Alien Trilogy
I never actually owned a PlayStation when I was younger, being the Nintendo fanboy that I was, but that’s not to say I had no experience with Sony’s first foray into the console market.
Whenever my uncle used to go away on trips, I became the proud (albeit temporary) owner of a PS One, along with a healthy selection of games. Most of what I played back then has now faded from memory, but what’s stuck is gold.
I was - and still am, despite my aversion to horror - a huge fan of the Alien films, so finding a game based on them amongst copies of Tunnel B1 and Firestorm: Thunderhawk 2 blew my prepubescent mind.
It may look tame by today’s standards, but walking the darkened corridors and listening out for bleeps on your motion tracker, Pulse Rifle in hand, was incredibly atmospheric. If things ever got too tough (or creepy) you could always whack in the old ‘1gotp1nk8cidbootson’ cheat and go to town on the Xenomorph bastards without worrying about ammo, health or even chronology.
If Alien Trilogy came bundled with the PlayStation Classic, then I’d definitely consider picking one up this winter. As it is, I think I’ll stick to the SNES Mini for my slice of gaming nostalgia.
Rob | Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Back in the day I really wasn’t much of a PlayStation player (I did borrow an old unit from a friend towards the end of the system’s life cycle, but it only worked if you turned it upside down…), so the announcement of the PlayStation Classic hasn’t particularly moved me.
That being said, I did play some fabulous sports titles on the system - most notably Pro Evolution Soccer, Brian Lara Cricket 99 and Jonah Lomu Rugby - but one title stands deck and trucks above anything else I quaffed.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was a fine example of sequeldom, boasting improved visuals, refined gameplay and an arguably better soundtrack (Chuck D, Bad Religion and Rage? Yes, please!) over the first edition. It also featured the master of freeform skateboarding, Rodney Mullen, this time around.
Supplementing the glorious arcade skating of Pro Skater mark one, version two added in the excellent manual system (where you ride your board on just two wheels), increasing the scope for ridiculous combos and high scores. Drop varied, beautifully designed levels into the pot and you have a casserole that’s just as delicious today as it was back then.
If you do pick that newish square grey box up this Christmas, I send my commiserations to thee. To leave out a game so very zeitgeist is a real bloody shame.
Which PlayStation classic would you like to have seen grace the PlayStation Classic? Let us know in the comments.
If you were too busy playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to concern yourself with Halloween last week, check out our discussion on favourite horror games for a few belated recommendations.
It’s Halloween night, making the only relevant topic to tackle our absolute favourite ghoulish games! Whether outright horrors or titles with just a tingle of terror, here are the experiences that Team PTC love to scare themselves silly with.
Chris | Resident Evil
When it comes to horror games, one sticks in my mind like no other. I'm of the opinion that the Resident Evil franchise fell off with some of the later entries - not counting the latest, RE7, which I’m too scared to even consider playing - as the focus switched from survival horror to action. That being said, it's still a phenomenal series if one pretends that RE4 (sorry Sam) through 6 don't exist, in much the same way that actual humans pretend pineapples don't exist when ordering pizza (again, sorry Sam).
Resident Evil had a delicate balance of suspense and action, but I most fondly remember the atmosphere. The old Spencer Mansion was creepy enough in itself, though numerous diary entries and notes added to that by telling their own short, self-contained stories. I may have mentioned before that ten-year-old me found the Keeper's Diary, which journals one man's slow transformation into a zombie, to be particularly chilling.
The first time I heard the hauntingly beautiful Moonlight Sonata was thanks to Jill Valentine playing the piano. It not only kicked off my lifelong love affair with music, but fit the game so perfectly that every time I hear the opening I'm brought back to that very scene, which stands out even in a game full of iconic moments.
Liam | Call of Duty: World at War
Of all the genres, horror is my least favourite. No matter the medium - books, film, TV, games - the idea of purposefully putting myself through an experience designed to terrify and traumatise is one that’s never appealed.
Still, while the pool of scary games I can draw upon for this Halloween-themed Team Talk may be small, there was a time when I threw caution (and sleepless nights) to the wind by braving the horrifying delights of Zombies in Call of Duty: World at War; specifically the Der Riese map, which I played with my big bro. You know, for protection.
For me, Der Riese is the pinnacle of Zombies mode, striking a perfect balance between survival, exploration and tactical play, with just enough lore and humour added in to keep things interesting.
Some of my best gaming memories were forged on that map, from frantically hacking through hordes to reach a much-needed Max Ammo power-up, teasing the last legless zombie whilst my brother and I took turns on the Pack-a-Punch Machine, or grabbing the bowie knife for a desperate final stand when the end was nigh.
Eventually we became so familiar with our routine that no communication was needed, which is a handy trick when your router’s NAT prevents voice chat. Come to think of it, strict NAT may be the real horror story here...
James | BioShock
While not what you might traditionally think of as a 'horror' title, BioShock holds a special, twisted place in my heart as the record-holder for the game it's taken me the longest time to complete from start to finish.
Though I suffered a similar problem with the likes of Resident Evil (which, due to all them spooks, I resorted to watching playthroughs of on YouTube instead of finishing for myself), BioShock was unique in that I’d give it a try, make some progress, then get too scared to carry on.
The result was a cyclical playthrough that literally lasted years - far past any reasonable time frame for a linear first-person action title.
If you know anything about BioShock, you'll know the ending is somewhat of an oddity; not only is there an unexpected twist, but the game itself almost has two finales. Despite my trepidation, I gathered all the upgrades I could get my Plasmid-infused hands on and finally powered through both in one sitting.
The elation was palpable and I could finally see why people always went on about this game, which - until that point - had been very good but not as life-changing as rhetoric would have me believe.
There are no doubt scarier games, but this one remains my favourite because of how hard it made me work for it, without ever becoming laborious.
Rob | Shadow Man
Much like last week’s sequel dilemma, yours truly had so many ghastly games to pick from for this Halloween edition of Team Talk, it hurt.
I could easily have picked the original Doom, or any of the Resident Evil titles, but I’ve decided instead to revisit a world full of infamous serial killers, voodoo, souls and a well-humoured Irish snake named Jaunty…
Acclaim released Shadow Man in 1999, complete with industry-leading audiovisuals and a map of incredible scale for the time. Based on the Shadowman comic book series, the game places you in the shoes of Mike LeRoi, a man with the ability to walk between the realms of ‘Liveside’ (the world as we know it) and ‘Deadside’ (a world full of murderous creatures and fiends).
Shadow Man had so many great moments, it’s impossible to list them all here! From the opening scenes featuring Jack the Ripper and big-bad-boss Legion (you’ll hear the sound bite: “For we are many!” a lot); to watching Mike’s brother die because of his poor choices; to your first view of the Asylum. Throughout the entire quest to find all 120 Dark Souls (hey, that’s a game), Shadow Man remains suitably grim.
Throw into the mix an excellent blend of Zelda, Metroid and Tomb Raider-style gameplay mechanics and you have a game that’s just as playable today as it was back in ‘99.
What's your favourite horror game? Have you made time to revisit it this Halloween? Let us know in the comments below.
Last week we discussed which unannounced sequels we'd kill for.
Everybody has at least one dream sequel, be it to a childhood favourite game or a title that didn’t quite meet its grand potential. This got us pondering which potential prospects we’d be willing to kill for, but not really, as getting banged and being unable to play them would be a terribly cruel irony…
Chris | Fable 4
It's been a long time since we've had a proper Fable game (not counting the ill-fated Fable Legends) and the abrupt closure of franchise developer Lionhead Studios could mean that isn’t set to change anytime soon. Rare are probably the company best suited to take the reins if Microsoft decide to resuscitate the quintessentially British RPG (if it was up to me they’d have already started), though rumours suggest that Forza Horizon dev Playground Games may have received the honour instead.
The series has always had its darker moments, though you could rely on a more jovial side quest or NPC encounter to provide some comic relief thereafter. This juxtaposition of humour and despair has always resulted in an unrivalled fun factor as you progress through engaging stories not without a sense of urgency. Whoever might develop Fable 4, maintaining this structure is a must.
Myriad events could have unfolded throughout the history of Albion, from the inception of the Heroes' Guild right through to the start of the industrial revolution, which presents opportunity to breathe exciting new forms of life into the region for the next sequel and beyond.
James | Mass Effect Zero
While Andromeda left plenty to be desired when it was unlovingly thrown up for our delectation last year, there'll always be a place in my heart for the Mass Effect series.
It’s a franchise that, unfortunately, no longer holds special status for many, due to the controversy started with Mass Effect 3’s lacklustre ending and perpetuated by the entirety of Andromeda. That’s why all of that should be left where it is, keenly sidestepping any need for narrative continuity by heading back to the era of the Genophage and humans' first contact.
We may have had glimpses of the old world through DLC here and a flashback there, but the ME universe is begging for further exploration (as long as we don't have to scan any planets this time).
I’d even be welcoming of new genres, as lore is held above gameplay when it comes to Mass Effect. Perhaps something more focused and less fixated on, say, the fate of an entire galaxy, making a strong statement and creating even more compelling characters that we can genuinely care about.
There’s a universe of interesting directions for the series to venture out in - at the very least a whole spin-off for Dr. Mordin Solus' stunning singing career. We. Were. Robbed.
Liam | Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 4
If there’s one series I’d like to see revived it has to be Rogue Squadron, probably the greatest set of Star Wars games out there (sorry, KOTOR fans).
Sure, there were some odd moments, such as the first game’s Death Star trench run that bizarrely featured corners (we had to wait for Rogue Leader to get a proper homage) and the clunky ground combat found in Rebel Strike was pretty naff, but, for the most part, these games were the best way to relive the films’ most iconic dogfights.
They were also great at filling in the gaps between these famous battles with some excellent original missions, such as defending Rebel transports on their way to set up a new base on Hoth, or stealing the Imperial shuttle that Luke, Han and Leia used to sneak onto Endor.
Developer Factor 5 even dabbled in some very cool “What if?” scenarios, allowing you to thwart the Rebel’s attack on the Death Star and then turn the tables by crushing their base on Yavin 4.
Basically, these games were a helluva lot of fun, and the series’ continued absence from the world of gaming is a travesty.
Rob | ChuChu Rocket! 2
When Sam first sent over the sequel-you’d-love-to-see memo, I felt upwards of mildly flabbergasted. How could I possibly pick just one game? Especially since I’ve been playing video games for 25-odd years now!
I’d absolutely love to see sequels to Shadow of Memories, Black, Sega Bass Fishing, International Superstar Soccer and many, many others. Push them to one side, though, folks, ‘cause there’s a certain puzzle game that I’d love to see get the Frankenstein treatment.
ChuChu Rocket! was the Sega Dreamcast’s online pioneer, throwing down the gauntlet for anyone with dial-up internet at the turn of the Willenium. Containing a simple premise, ChuChu tasked you with using directional tiles to navigate mice into a rocket, before giant cats could eat them. Yep, you read that right.
The single player side of things was great - set boards that went heavy on puzzle solving, where experimentation and logic were required to send those mice home - but it was the multiplayer that really stole the show. I never got to experience the online stuff, as I didn’t own a Dreamcast until years after its demise, but I did fall truly-madly-deeply in lust with ChuChu’s local counterpart. Placing your directional tiles at the right mark could either lead mice into your rocket, or cats into your associates, thus harnessing the most heartwarming of local multiplayer attributes: stitching up your friends.
Creating a robust sequel would barely task Sega at all in the modern world and, as such, could probably make a metric brie-bounty in dollars back. Hear thy cries Dame Sega: resurrect fair ChuChu!
What unannounced sequel do you need in your life? Let us know in the comments below.
If you're curious what we think about Warner Bros.' rumoured Harry Potter RPG, check out last week's edition of Team Talk.
Footage of a supposed “3rd person open-world action RPG” set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter recently surfaced on Reddit, after a user claimed to have been part of an audience survey relating to the unannounced game. Promising the ability to create your own Hogwarts student and embark on an original adventure taking place before anything yet seen, it prompted equal measures of excitement and doubt from fans.
Order of the Phoenix was a good film tie-in.
I'm aware of the franchise's existence but know little of the subject matter. Having always been an avid reader and a fan of all things fantasy, Harry Potter should be right up my street, though I have no desire to watch the films and would sooner opt to read a pizza menu than any of the books. Of course, when it was first released there were only two wizards in my mind - Rincewind and Gandalf - and we didn't (and still don't) need any more.
That being said, I love open world RPGs and Rowling's tales seem like a perfect fit for the genre. I assume that there's a hefty amount of lore and plenty of stories to tell in that universe, especially given the alleged time frame it takes place in. The ability to create your own character is certainly a plus point and a much more attractive prospect than being stuck playing as the series' milquetoast protagonist.
This would be a great opportunity to win over a new audience with a more adult-oriented take, if they can achieve that without losing the child-friendly appeal.
Half Blood Prince wasn't bad, either.
I loved the Harry Potter books when I was younger, but towards the end of the series, as I hit my late teens, I had grown more cynical about all things magical. I still read every book to completion, but I couldn’t help but wonder why Witches and Wizards were so dismissive of Muggle technology – I’d like to see Voldemort stop a drone strike as easily as he counters a disarming spell. You’re welcome, Mr. Fudge.
It’s something that, however unlikely, I would like to see explored more in an RPG set in the Harry Potter extended universe. Along with Quidditch and Aurors, the secretive balancing act between the magical world and our more mundane one was one of my favourite concepts, more so than lessons in potion brewing and herbology.
If proceedings stay purely fantastical, however, then I’d like to see the developers double down on original stories (maybe even some starring Hogwarts’ ancient founders?) rather than revisiting well-trodden ground. Even though it’d pull an audience in, the world and his Hungarian Horntail already knows the tale of Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, et al.
I’m not instantly excited by the idea, but a proper game – not some movie tie-in cash grab – does have potential.
Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2 were dire.
As a child who had the pleasure of translating Harry Potter from Latin into English at school, it's fair to say I'm well acquainted with the universe now known as the Wizarding World. While the prospect of more films initially induced a slight eye-roll, in gaming the series as a whole has been criminally underused and under-represented.
The prospect of finally becoming a fledgling wizard and attending Hogwarts is an exciting one then, with childish excitement bubbling up like a fresh batch of Polyjuice Potion.
Whether the reality will do the potential justice is another matter however, with so much lore protected by frenzied fans, whatever era you fancy jumping into. On top of that, how much will you have to specialise to reach the coolest spells? As any casual Dungeons & Dragons player will tell you, it can take a fair few adventures to get to the really tasty stuff.
Hopefully though, this will at least be more accessible than DnD (despite its resurgence in the past few years) and provide a fun entry point. Plus, we'll get to make friends with an owl!
Harry Potter for Kinect was the worst, naturally.
Would you be up for playing a Wizarding World RPG? Let us know in the comments below.
For more Team Talk, check out last week's feature on Telltale Games' best told tales.
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.