We recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with a pre-release PC build of Etherborn, the gravity-defying puzzle platformer being developed by Altered Matter. After spending around an hour with the game’s first three levels, it seems clear that this upstart studio of four are destined for big things.
You’ll always return to a nearby checkpoint, mind, encouraging experimentation within the unconventional physics playgrounds that are Etherborn’s self-contained stages. More conventional is the gated progression, whereby you’ll need to place key items on pedestals in order to transform the shifting environments and accommodate pressing onwards; you will at least need to double back and re-utilise them in different places on occasion, which is an added wrinkle to consider.
While no real cause for concern, considering we’re judging based on the introductory stages alone, so far Etherborn relies solely on reiterating this structure in increasingly complex ways. It does so very well, coaxing you deeper into what feels like a warmer take on the works of M.C. Escher, but nonetheless we do hope that new mechanics are introduced over time.
We’re equally intrigued to see how things are set to progress from a narrative standpoint, as it’s all quite vague and introspect at the moment, whilst feeling as though it’s probably building towards a deeper meaning.
Your avatar is a completely blank slate, a voiceless humanoid appearing as though a sentient x-ray and lacking any clear motivation. The direct address of a disembodied narrator presumably begins to fill that in, but what’s most enticing is the gentle swirl of this dulcet female voice. Experienced in a dark room with a decent pair of headphones, the sound swishes around your head and the minimalist visuals soothe in an almost meditative fashion, which is a state perfectly conducive to switching off the logical parts of your brain to better comprehend the game’s unbound, geographic puzzles.
Consider the sweeping soundtrack - comprised of twinkling chimes and mellow organ bellows, cut through by dreamy vocalisation, percussion and strings - and you have a package which, true to its name, is healthy with an almost ethereal glow.
Etherborn stylishly ebbs and flows it’s way through the early stages, so do keep an eye out for its arrival on Steam, PS4, Xbox One and Switch this spring.
With the release of great titles like The Surge and Vampyr, increasingly prolific publisher Focus Home Interactive have been distancing themselves from the somewhat derogatory ‘Eurojank’ label often applied to their catalogue in previous years – so called due to a comparative lack of polish when held up to American and Japanese contemporaries. Now, in collaboration with relatively unknown French developer Asobo Studio, new IP A Plague Tale: Innocence looks set to be the final nail in the coffin for that particular adjective.
Whilst A Plague Tale is firmly rooted in reality, this particular mystery feels like it could play out in a number of... interesting ways, though it’s important to note that’s only based on speculation at this stage.
That being said, there’s definitely an element of whimsy to the visuals which is cause for our thoughts to drift towards the fantastical. In Asobo’s rendition of medieval France, the sun shines that bit brighter on lush forests of vibrant green, whilst dark areas are deeply black and weak light sources serve to highlight the grotesque. Everything is idealistically implemented, which could feel jarring or false, but transitions between extremes are gradual and really help in envisioning things from the naive perspective of an inexperienced leading duo.
Simple moments of visual splendour can spur you on during what seem like hopeless times, but little Hugo is the real driving force on that front. He’s charmingly innocent and polite, at least as far as you could reasonably expect, but those features won’t do him much good now. Factor in his sickness and you’ll quickly grow attached to the boy, which is fortunate, as the early stages of A Plague Tale might otherwise feel like an escort mission.
You’ll need to instruct Hugo to wait and follow as your situation dictates, keeping him hidden from armed guards whom he’s otherwise helpless to resist. Leave him unattended for too long though and he’ll become scared, potentially attracting unwanted attention, so you’ll need to plan and execute stealth maneuvers efficiently.
Once again small touches make all the difference here, as Amicia physically reaches out upon recalling Hugo, taking him by the hand in an effort to both calm and guide him. Frequent contact between the two makes it abundantly clear that Amicia, and by extension you, don’t just bark orders but help him through genuine concern for his well being.
Hugo can be independent though, solving many an impasse by crawling through tight spaces or travelling alternate routes off-limits to Amicia, ultimately manufacturing her safe passage. These situations are generally spelled out through the game’s heavily accented dialogue, authentically delivered by an appropriately-aged cast, which helps to keep the pacing snappy during what is, thus far, a linear adventure with a stark focus on narrative. In this day and age that’s quite refreshing, though it doesn’t mean there aren’t light puzzles to solve and optional areas to explore, which often house an array of collectibles and crafting materials.
Those materials can be used to upgrade equipment at workbenches, most notably to allow your sling - powered by rocks found within the environment - to deliver lethal headshots to exposed domes. The sling takes a brief-but-satisfying moment to reach full speed as you spin it up and align a shot, but can’t be too heavily relied upon as it’s noisy enough to give away your position. In these situations, you may want to throw your makeshift ammunition by hand to create a distant distraction.
During certain set-piece moments this choice of approach is taken out of your hands, as you run from crowds of enemies – be they human or rodent – in tense chase scenes and face a scripted boss encounter, requiring you to utilise Amicia’s dodge and backstep moves in a close-quarters skirmish.
Rats can’t be so easily avoided, infesting the screen thousands at a time as they frantically scuttle over one another in a desperate effort to devour anything flesh, glowing red eyes illuminating the dark all the while. They’re reminiscent of the Locust from Gear of War, telegraphing their arrival as the ground rumbles before they burst through to the surface, only there’s no simple means of dispatching them here.
All you can hope to do is avoid the swarm, keeping them at bay with light sources which are often quick to burn out, or, failing that, distracting them with meat - be it living or dead. They’re a plague in every sense of the word, made all the more vile during a fleeting trip below ground through one of their gnarled, oozing nests.
These finer environmental details are easy to appreciate, as A Plague Tale looks outstanding across the board; lighting and textures are a particular highlight though, even at lower graphics presets. Sound is similarly fine-tuned, with audio reverb switching as you transition in and outdoors during conversation, plus an evolving orchestral soundtrack.
The lasting impression of our time with A Plague Tale: Innocence is just how much of themselves Asobo Studio have poured into the game. It’s clearly a passion project from a developer that’s very reliably, but perhaps uninspiringly, been entrusted with handling a variety of ports before now.
Mechanics and relationships begin to develop in meaningful ways during the opening chapters, leaving us eager to see how they’ll continue to blossom in what should be the game’s remaining ten-or-so hours. The complete journey seems set to be a harrowing one, poised to deepen the siblings’ already developing scars, so we can’t help but anticipate trying to assist them in emerging unscathed come A Plague Tale’s release this May.
A Plague Tale: Innocence launches 14 May on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Thanks to a stress test for Xbox Insiders last weekend, we've had a quick look at Crackdown 3 and can confirm that it is, in fact, a real game. Here's our first impressions on the long-awaited Microsoft release.
Crackdown as a series is built upon two key pillars: hyper-mobility and destruction. Your character's traversal across the map is a mixture of double (triple?) jumps, dashes and ground pounds, many of which satisfyingly send cloud-powered scenery splintering as you crash through.
This gives way to deliberately floaty controls, which, in turn, see you fighting with the camera on occasion. Fortunately, keeping an enemy in your sights isn't too hard thanks to a persistent lock-on ability which tracks them through terrain and adjusts your viewpoint as you each leap about on what amounts to a sci-fi bouncy castle, courtesy of jump pads littered across the map.
The game type on offer during the test set two teams of five against each other in a supercharged re-imagining of Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty, which has you dashing to the site of your victim's downfall to pick up kill tokens and build your team's score.
Unfortunately, both in this technical test and at launch, Crackdown 3 won't support lobbying with friends. That’s both bizarre for such a fun-loving game and an early warning sign, given how genuinely useless the teams we played against were (any time I end up at the top of the table it’s cause for concern). It could prove to be a fumble as lamented as the lack of matchmaking in Xbox stablemate Halo 4’s iteration of Firefight.
It's only a couple of days until the game is due to (finally) launch now, and the performance wasn't buttery smooth either. The raw power of Microsoft's Azure cloud computing platform should be on full display in multiplayer (the campaign being cruelly left out), but the results frankly weren’t of note even compared to earlier titles like Red Faction Guerilla.
In the end, Wrecking Zone is built upon a simple premise and, given the lengthy development time, that premise should be executed very well, but instead, it feels like the result of too many creative and technical compromises. Honestly, it has us questioning our April 2015 pre-order...
We went hands-on with Tom Clancy's The Division 2 during this past weekend's private beta; following safe extraction, here are our thoughts.
It's telling that we’ve taken this long to talk about much besides the game's setting, as relatively little is new over the original in terms of gameplay. Fortunately this is thanks to the mechanics from part one still holding up.
A simple new map screen replaces the style-over-substance futuristic projection at your feet, helping to locate a dizzying array of item pick-ups, ranging from gun holsters to knee pads, which reveal that health and armour are handled a bit differently this time around.
Separate health and armour meters (the latter of which is generously buffed for challenging Dark Zone excursions) deplete independently as you take damage, leaving you a sitting duck once your armour is kaput. While the pair do (eventually) regenerate, it’s wise to dart between cover in order to maintain the tactical advantage.
You'll need it too, with enemies shouting and running at you from all sides at times. They get noticeably chunkier in terms of both physical bulk and health pools, scaling alongside your Division agent as you progress, to an extent depending on the difficulty of any given area.
Enemies make a lot more use of gadgets this time around, too - we’ve already fended off what amounts to a convoy of RC cars!
Despite its familiarity, The Division 2 has launched a decent opening salvo, but it’ll need to build upon that in order to differentiate between being just a fun outing and a “live service” with real staying power. Perhaps most crucially though, you can still casually close car doors as you sneak by them in cover...
Have you played The Division 2 yet? What are you looking forward to based on what you've seen so far? Let us know in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for our review next month.
Can you hear the Anthem? Whether or not the thought of a new online shooter from BioWare has you salivating, read on to discover what we learned from the recent VIP demo.
Humanity has settled on a new planet, but some people are being influenced by an ever-transmitting anthem (geddit?) which seems to have a negative effect on those who succumb to it. This leads you, along with up to three other players, to investigate what’s happening as you carefully explore the game’s (fairly) open environments from inside mech suits known as Javelins.
You’re a Freelancer, a gun for hire who travels the world presumably in support of the science-based human contingent who are trying to learn about the planet. Further story details are still somewhat sketchy at this point.
From our time with the demo, first impressions weren’t overwhelmingly positive, but once the game hit its stride there was a lot of potential to chew on (and we intend to). Naturally, demos come with the expectation of a technical quirk here and there, but the problems began for Anthem even before seeing any gameplay - loading into the hub area, just reaching the main title screen even, often took several attempts.
When we did get in, we found that Xbox One X suffered from performance issues when faced with multiple on-screen explosions, in the midst of already visually busy firefights.
You’ll be exchanging shots with (presumably native) nasties, who unfortunately don’t stand out much more than being varying levels of bullet-spongy, when undertaking missions and donning your Javelin in order to venture out onto the planet’s surface. There are four varieties of mech to play around with: the all-round Ranger, elemental attack-wielding Storm, up-close-and-superfast Interceptor, and the hulking Colossus.
Each have access to a variety of weapons - some of which are class specific - their own super ability, grenades and standard abilities, which recharge over time and have (largely) either offensive or defensive capabilities in combat.
There wasn’t enough time to fully get to grips with each Javelin, but, from first impressions, the Storm suit seems to be the most fun, boasting some exciting, flashy powers even by default and having strong mobility with seemingly little sacrifice in shields or health compared to the middle-of-the-road Ranger. The Colossus seems to be at the other end of the spectrum, with not enough durability or damage-dealing to justify its lesser maneuverability.
The Storm suit seems to be the most fun, boasting some exciting, flashy powers even by default.
Balancing could correct some of these observations before launch, or perhaps it's just that some classes are more of a slow burn. Regardless, each Javelin can perform Iron Man-style flight for a limited time, which rarely fails to satisfy.
When choosing fight over flight, you have at your disposal a melee attack and an array of basic weapons, categorised by classes and six tiers of rarity, from Common to Legendary. You can craft your own weapons from blueprints using components you pick up in the game world, or gain by breaking down unwanted loot.
About now seems like the right time to talk about how the game feels, which means drawing some comparisons. The answer to “Is Anthem for me?” largely comes down to whether you enjoy the way it plays, after all.
The Destiny vibes are strong here. Daily and weekly quests haven’t yet been revealed, but they’re sure to feature as Anthem vies for your time against other service-based games. Mass Effect is another close relative, as you might expect, with the third game’s effective, but ultimately disposable, multiplayer a clear influence on combat. Storm Javelins basically fulfil the squad role previously inhabited by Adept, Vanguard or Sentinel classes in Mass Effect 3.
Seeing this DNA filter through is interesting, but so far there’s been relatively little of the developer’s trump card - that being more compelling narrative and characters than those of its service-based peers - with Anthem instead following the crowd and placing the main focus on character customisation (which is fairly aesthetically dense) and combat.
Similarities to Borderlands, another comparison thrown out there, mostly stem from numbers flashing up on screen to represent the damage you deal, as well as the game’s fairly extensive loot rewards. Crafting and unlocking weaponry and armour items is achieved by handing over materials and Coin respectively, which you’ll need to do consistently in order to get the shiniest toys for your character. How much of a weapon variety there is remains to be seen, but, during the demo, sniper fans found themselves with only a handful of bullets to make their point - not enough to clear the field for even the most accurate lone marksman.
Speaking of which, this game really isn’t a solo experience, so those looking to pick up from the highs of earlier, more RPG-based efforts from BioWare will be out of luck. You can play by yourself, technically, as a single squad member in a private group, but even harsh enemy scaling wouldn’t be enough to make the experience achievable and certainly fun, as the most satisfying and impressive displays come as you combine different attacks with teammates.
Even playing in a group has its drawbacks currently though, as restricted respawn areas leave your character helplessly kneeled on the battlefield, their armour locked up until you’re revived, despite the screen reassuring you you’re respawning. This can lead to extended periods feeling like a spare part, as you can’t even crawl helplessly back to your squadmates or alert them and highlight your location unless you happen to be chatting with them already, and even then it’s not always easy to see a felled ally amid the fray.
In the end, the Anthem demo mostly raised more questions instead of giving us a strong sense of what the final game will deliver. EA might have a hit on their hands here, but considering The Division 2 comes out around the same time with a more grounded shoot and loot feel, which players are already comfortable with, it’s also easy to see it going the way of Titanfall - that being an extremely polished title which ultimately doesn’t capture the wider audience’s imagination.
Did you play Anthem last weekend? Will you be checking it out this weekend when the demo goes public? Let us know what you thought and what you’re looking forward to, or concerned about, in the comments below.
Metro Exodus publisher Deep Silver invited us to have some hands-on time with their latest release ahead of its 15 February launch. The code was near-final and our playthrough was on Xbox One X hardware. Here’s how James got on...
While there’s a variety of DNA on display here, the strongest influences are probably Half-Life in terms of narrative-driven game design and Fallout in terms of the aesthetic and manual feel of the world. While Fallout 76 dialled back many of the more distinctive aspects of its namesake, Exodus relishes in the little quirks that make it stand out, like having to manually pump pneumatic weapons or clean and maintain items to keep them in good working order.
While these sorts of mindless tasks could easily become a mess of busy work, the team at 4A Games have managed to balance the elements so that they enhance the game experience rather than being a chore.
Many of the subterranean areas you do explore are radioactive, have air filled with toxins, or a deadly combination of both. Keeping an ear out for the familiar crackle of your geiger counter will handle the former, but for the latter you’re forced to cycle between gas masks which introduce a timed element to exploration, as most filters have only a few minutes of use before they expire (and, of course, you’ll need to manually swap filters once one runs down). This succeeds in pushing that pressure point and heightening levels of anxiety to induce an excited nervousness, which quickly gives way to panic as you near the final few seconds and are (as I was) frantically unable to find the lever to open the escape door.
Elsewhere, the lush green and breathable air of the autumn section affords you the opportunity to take your time and make use of stealth to get by, encouraged with the discovery of a handy crossbow nearby. Conversely, the harsh architecture of our introduction to the game (set back in spring) bangs the drum for the oppressive feel of historical Soviet archetypes.
While narrative was scarce in our preview time - a deliberate step from the dev team to avoid spoiling too much - the cast of Metro Exodus are genuinely compelling and interesting. Even with returning protagonist Artyom a near mute, you constantly feel involved in the story as narrative beats play out around you in real time.
Calling the game open-world would be generous, but there’s definitely scope to wander off the beaten path in search of crafting materials, which may lead to NPCs questioning you on what’s taking so long.
Crafting itself is fairly straightforward, in that you can strip down modified weapons you come across and attach a custom barrel or stock to another at a handily placed weapons bench. While many modifications are slight, the effects stack when put together to significantly boost damage and accuracy.
Gunplay in general feels well-balanced and satisfying, especially as you keep tinkering away and working towards perfecting your loadout. There’s a few gadgets to play about with as well, in particular a silent-but-deadly throwing knife which can be vital for thinning out larger herds of enemies.
While we’re still a month out from launch, the game is looking extremely polished, performing brilliantly in native 4K on Xbox One X (and the surrounding PC demo stations from what I saw), which goes a long way in bringing the world to life. Only a few wonky facial animations slightly let the otherwise stellar immersion down.
In all, from just a few short hours of play, Metro Exodus has shot up my list of anticipated games and could surpass anything to come out on its packed 15 February launch day. Considering that’s the date for my beloved Crackdown 3 (not to mention Far Cry: New Dawn and Jump Force), that’s saying quite something. Here’s hoping the final release delivers.
Bypassing the troublesome Shadwell Overground stairs via the elevator once again proved a dream, especially the smell, but the lack of fish in the ornamental canal was of great concern to me. Where had they gone? Why? And could they ever truly exist in those two-inch deep waters? So many great questions, but only one certainty: I was back at Tobacco Dock for EGX Rezzed 2018.
This year’s show had so many playable games that even two days worth of attendance was insufficient to see them all.
First up was Lake Ridden, a first-person puzzle-adventure set inside the guts of a gloomy lake, largely devoid of water. The puzzles are cryptic enough, the setting has a creepy edge, and the story is intriguing. Let’s see how it develops.
I followed-on with a selection of games from cracking London-based publisher Chucklefish. I’ve mentioned Wargroove a few times on the site - most notably as one of my most anticipated games of 2018 - and I have no qualms in reiterating that this is going to be essential gaming. They also had “Stealthvania” game The Siege and the Sandfox on show, as well as Pathway, another fabulous strategy game. All three titles are a great showcase of Chucklefish’s brilliant expanding roster.
Curve Digital - another splendid publisher - had a few games on show ‘ere too. I thoroughly enjoyed the arcade-stylings and twin-stick fun of Rogue Aces, cartoony aircraft-sim Bomber Crew, and strategic RPG For The King. The former is available now on Switch and PlayStation platforms (that’s PS4 and Vita), whilst the middler and latter are currently available on Steam.
My time in the Indie Room (above-ground branch) came to a close with two biggies: Disco Elysium and Phoenix Point.
Disco Elysium sees thee cast as a detective with problems-a-plenty; be they booze, smoking, drugs, memory and/or mental health related. Tasked with solving a murder, this unique isometric police RPG gives the player a staggering amount of choices, featuring multiple skill sets (these affect your character’s perception of the world, and how he interacts with people), a gorgeously gritty hand-painted art style, and ever so much replayability. I can’t help but be excited!
Phoenix Point is the latest strategy game from master of the genre Julian Gollop. In time-honoured fashion, you take control of a team of grunts armed with big guns, rippling muscles and cheesey dialogue as you tackle objectives and blast alien scum. Fans of all things XCOM can PARTY now.
What goes up must surely come down, so, like morning toothpaste finding its way to trouser leg, I stumbled downstairs to the Indie Room (basement branch). Just like its above-ground brethren, the basement room was chock fulla great games.
Disco Elysium sees thee cast as a detective with problems-a-plenty, and I can’t help but be excited about this unique isometric police RPG!
PQube’s selections caught my eyes and ears first, which lead me to enjoy time with sinister text adventure Stay, 8-bit side-scrolling slasher Aggelos, and produce-focused karter All-Star Fruit Racing. They also had the wonderful Cat Quest on the go - if you haven’t already, go and check it out!
It was great to see Aperion Cyberstorm being enjoyed by many in its Switch incarnation, Hipster Cafe Simulator providing many laughs, and beautifully animated (and darkly funny) adventure game Unforeseen Incidents, all running side-by-side.
The highlight of the room was local multiplayer communicate-‘em-up Catastronauts. You and your associates are placed in charge of a spacecraft, tasked with blastin’ away other crews. Much like the genre-defining Overcooked, Catastronauts uses the rising panic of putting out fires, removing bombs and firing lasers to create real laughs. Look out for this one when it drops later in the year.
By now the bells were tolling, so off I toddled to the land of the well established: that’s right, it were time for PlayStation, Sega, Xbox and Nintendo.
PlayStation had a paltry amount of titles on show this year, but as if to paint quality over quantity, what was there was truly fabbo. Guacamelee 2 provides more hectic, Mexican rasslin’-infused fun, there was silliness aplenty in The Adventure Pals, and irresistibly cute graphics in The Swords of Ditto.
Gorgeous adventure Heaven’s Vault is what really stood out, though. Featured in my seven to look out for at Rezzed piece, HV surpassed my already high expectations of what the open-world point-and-click adventure would be. Taking control of archeologist Aliya, I interacted with helpful/humourless robot chum Six, investigated the ruins of a beautiful lost world, and attempted to translate lots of hieroglyphics. The alluring blend of 2D character art and 3D environments is a triumphant success, as was the slow-burn quality of the gameplay. One of my games of the show, for sure.
Microsoft’s ID@Xbox room was lacking in space (at least for corpulent Milky Bar men like myself), but did exhibit some superb games. Our esteemed Editor, Monsieur James Michael Parry, joined me for a blast at Metal Slug-like Huntdown - which is really good old-school fun - Terratech’s Minecraftian vehicular combat, and the joys of reigning over the proletariat in Kingdom: Two Crowns. The highlight here, however, was Strange Brigade, which is a send up of the British Empire and English buffoonery under the guise of third-person cooperative shooting. It was great fun, and even better when played in a group, as Jim lad will testify to.
The ID@Xbox highlight was Strange Brigade, which is a send up of the British Empire and English buffoonery under the guise of third-person co-op shooting. It was great fun, especially when played in a group.
Nintendo and Sega offered slim pickings this year, as they both showed games already available on other platforms. Mega Drive Classics will definitely be a day one pick up for myself, but I don’t see why they needed to bring it; the just-announced Shenmue re-releases would’ve made more sense. Nintendo’s appeal rested solely on Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes. We’re pleased to announce that it’s shaping up to be another Suda 51 classic, the auteur's crazy combat, retina-destroying colours and self-aware dialogue all being intact.
Are you still with me, comrades? If so, let’s travel into the dark heart of the Unreal Engine Showcase to sample Another Sight, Metamorphosis, Space Cows, some fishing, and the brilliant Lost Ember.
Another Sight puts you in the dual-role of blind gal and nimble cat, as you explore Victorian-era underground London - sewers, trains, et al. Space Cows carries the same charm as clumsy controllers Octodad and Manuel Samuel, as you traverse a colourful world in search of milk and cows. It was hilarious.
Metamorphosis casts thee as a man trapped in the body of a spider: Why are you here? What are those men doing to your friend? How will you return to human form? The game's sneaking and scuttling was good fun, as was currently-available-on-Xbox-Game-Pass carp-botherer, Dovetail Fishing - maybe this is where the ornamental canal’s dorsal-equipped water breathers had vanished to?
Lost Ember was the real winner here though, with its attractive visuals and possessing gameplay mechanic. You play a wolf, who, with the help of a spirit mate, can possess other animals to help traverse a natural world free of humans. I got tinges of Journey and Abzu playing the game, but there’s definitely plenty of originality lurking in Lost Ember’s characters and story. Once polished, this has serious potential.
Coatsink and Wired Productions had some quality stuff up their sleeves this year too, with games that really honed in on fun.
Wired had gravity-defying speedster Grip on show, as well as the glorious return of Shaq-Fu. Shaq was a personal favourite, featuring Saber Interactive’s pleasing NBA Playgrounds art style and side-scrolling, button-mashing bouts straight outta the 90s. Add to that rich colour comic book cutscenes with hilarious writing and voice over, and I cannae wait for this one.
The hockey/football/Micro Machines mash-up that is Coatsink’s ClusterPuck 99 thoroughly entertained myself and herr-Editor, as we managed to win both of our games against fellow attendees. Coatsink’s highlight, however, was the fabulous Phogs, a bonkers ‘physics dog adventure’ so beautifully realised that we have to name it as one of our games of the show.
Jam and I played in co-op mode, using the same controller to immensely increase the hilarity of the experience. You each control one end of a double-ended dog, aiming to progress through some exquisite locales via the medium of hungry giant worms. The game had a real Nintendo-at-its-most-joyous feel to it, and trust us when we say, this is going to be the game to play at parties.
The fabulous Phogs is a bonkers ‘physics dog adventure’ so beautifully realised that we have to name it as one of our games of the show.
My voyage around Rezzed finished at the glorious Leftfield Collection this year, a place that truly encapsulates the spirit of the show, in one’s humble opinion. The feeling of community was present as soon as I entered, gazing upon hand-drawn posters above each title, friendly faces from all over the world, and some superb games.
Leftfield was a true exhibition of the arts; from design, to visual presentation, to music, it all came together as my personal combined star of the show. A cop-out maybe, but there’s no doubting the reality: Leftfield displayed the true nature of gaming, and maybe even life (if you’ll forgive my pretension) - personal, meaningful, fun. It’s for that reason you can expect to see an article focused squarely on the great Leftfield games on show, which really deserve the spotlight.
With that, I downed my last coffee of the weekend, checked one last time for fish, and disappeared into the night. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, farvel - see ya next year, Rezzed!
For plenty more EGX Rezzed 2018 coverage, stay tuned to Pass the Controller.
Music rhythm games are pretty old hat these days, having been run into the ground at the height of their popularity, around ten years ago now, through a greedy and endless stream of cookie-cutter releases. By throwing shoot-‘em-up elements into the mix, alongside an apocalyptic story and a cast of corny characters, Double Kick Heroes seeks to draw disillusioned fans of the genre back into the fold when it hits Steam Early Access on 11 April.
By throwing shoot-‘em-up elements into the mix, alongside an apocalyptic story and a cast of corny characters, Double Kick Heroes seeks to draw disillusioned fans of the music rhythm genre back into the fold.
Whilst carving a bloody path through the USA - across 15 stages set to the game’s original soundtrack, which spans light rock through heavy metal - you’ll get to know the head-banging fivesome comprising the Double Kick Heroes. Text-based interactions during interludes make reference to all aspects of pop culture, but they’re so ham-fistedly frequent and obvious that it can feel like there’s a sleeve-tugging child shoving their collection of “cool” toys under your nose. The aim here was never to produce an artsy, postmodern pastiche though, with the foul-mouthed stereotypes quickly establishing the desired sense of character.
Story mode currently runs around three hours, but that’s set to double as DKH continues its development and the band embark on a European tour. There’s also the mysterious Hellgate mode to be added, but in the meantime polishing your skills in Arcade mode and creating/downloading custom stages via the in-depth-but-straightforward Level Editor should be plenty to keep you busy.
Most user-generated levels are based on established songs, for example Metallica’s Master of Puppets, which means you’ll need the relevant MP3 file for the game to sync up and have you play along with. It’s a clever little way around hefty licensing fees and should serve to keep devoted metalheads indefinitely busy.
Provided you held on to them, you can also use your old Guitar Hero or Rock Band peripherals to play; you’ll have no issue plug and playing with a USB drum set, but old wireless guitars require forking out for a signal receiver, which is unfortunate when they’re precisely what most people will have to hand.
That’s not an insignificant blunder, but it’s ultimately outside of developer Headbang Club’s control. The team have otherwise done a great job on the technical front, maintaining a solid 60 frames per second during gameplay to ensure there’s no chance of dropping notes through no fault of your own.
Even at this pre-Early Access stage then, in spite of some largely par-for-the-course flaws, Double Kick Heroes is a very playable evolution of the music rhythm genre. It’s a game with a specific audience that does everything it can to cater to its niche, so, if you fit the bill, add DKH to your watchlist as it can only get better from here.
2017 was a pretty great year for games, wasn’t it? Games like Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7 and Wolfenstein 2 were just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.
Nintendo fans are eagerly anticipating new Fire Emblem, Kirby and Yoshi titles for the Switch, not to mention a potential new Pokémon game, as well as the remastered versions of Bayonetta 1 and 2 that are just around the corner. With a fresh suite of reveals from the recent Mini Direct topping things off, Ninty look set for another strong year.
With yet more exclusives and, of course, an endless supply of multi-platform releases on the horizon, allow me to present my picks of the bunch to help focus those wandering eyes.
The Last of Us Part 2
A bit of a cheat pick straight out of the gate, I know, as it isn’t confirmed to be releasing this year, but a girl can dream, no?
I was unfashionably late to the PlayStation 3 party, finally getting one after watching a trailer for what I deemed at the time to be a Western Resident Evil, without the awful voice acting and story that has often gone hand-in-hand with the (in)famous Japanese series.
The game turned out to be a great deal more than that, combining stealth gameplay and brutal combat with fully-formed characters and a story that far surpassed the usual zombie apocalypse garbage. The multiplayer was pretty damn good, too.
The two trailers released thus far by developer Naughty Dog have shown a glimpse of returning characters Joel and Ellie, alongside some newbies and one helluva lot of violence. Fingers crossed we get to continue this story by the end of the year!
Sea of Thieves
I grew up on Rare’s marvellous Nintendo 64 years - GoldenEye, Banjo-Kazooie, et al - but have to be honest when I say, I haven’t enjoyed a great deal of their Microsoft output in the ensuing years. This all looks set to change with the colourful pirate plundering of Sea of Thieves.
Band together with a shoal of chums, hitting the high-seas in a quest for treasure, adventure, cannon and cutlass-based skirmishes, and a good few tankards of grog!
Personally, this is exactly the kind of fun-filled experience I was looking for when I climbed aboard the good ship Xbox back in 2016, so I can’t stress how much I’m looking forward to getting lost in Sea of Thieves’ world with the PTC mob.
The granddaddy of open-world RPGs finally returns, after way too many years in the wilderness.
Regular visitors to PTC may recall my plea for remastered versions of the original two games after part three was first announced, and although things have been quiet on that front, 2018 seems to be the year that we’ll finish Ryo Hazuki’s slow-burn quest to avenge his Father’s death.
A truly groundbreaking game on release in 1999, Shenmue set the precedent for open world adventure/RPG titles. The main quest was fleshed out beautifully with a brilliant Virtua Fighter-influenced combat system, side quests and mini-games to play, along with some of the most unintentionally amusing script writing and delivery of all time.
For me, these extras are as vital as the story and combat, so here’s praying Yu Suzuki and his team get it right and we finally get to duff-up that bastard Lan-Di, with or without sailors.
Charming art, beautiful music, a rich colour palette and an isometric viewpoint; I could easily be talking about any of the top-down Zelda games, but it’s a different adventure I’m most looking forward to in indie-land this year.
You’ll be exploring a massive world as a little fox, encountering baddies to battle, secrets to search for and puzzles to ponder. What’s really impressive here is that the bulk of the work has been done by one man: Andrew Shouldice. Check out the first of his developer updates and try not to be impressed by what you see. I can’t wait to delve deeper into Tunic later in the year.
Intelligent Systems, a Nintendo second-party studio, are famous for their output in the world of strategy RPGs, most namely with the fantastic Fire Emblem and Advance Wars series’. Both of these great franchises are a clear influence on Chucklefish Games’ Wargroove, a pixel art strategy title releasing across the major platforms.
The game promises an impressive twelve different campaigns, in which you’ll select a commander to follow from one of the four warring factions. Combine this with full co-op and competitive online and local multiplayer, as well as a map creation suite, and it really does seem like a generous package.
Having sampled the game at last year’s Rezzed, I can tell you first-hand how ruddy good it is. I got thoroughly lost in its world, art and gameplay, even going as far as to go back and replay it. Being an indie game, it’s very likely that Wargroove will launch at an attractive price point, providing yet another reason to take a look when it launches early this year.
Keep your eyes open for more from us on all of the games mentioned above, but, most importantly, have a happy new gaming year, folks!
From the painstaking recreation of 15th Century life in the Kingdom of Bohemia and its notable inhabitants, to the need to eat, drink and sleep in order to continue your day-to-day existence, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an RPG that shies away from the fantasy side of things in favour of a more authentic medieval experience. As the game’s tag line puts it, this is ‘dungeons and no dragons’.
The opening chunk of gameplay I was given access to was set not long after Henry, the game’s young protagonist, woke up in the town of Rattay after being nursed back to health following a raid on his village that destroyed his home and family, and left him gravely wounded. One of the first things that struck me as I began to explore was the way the landscape, and even most buildings, looked almost photorealistic at times; it’s clear a lot of research and effort has been put into making the world feel as authentic as possible, though an inconsistent frame rate did spoil the immersion a bit.
I soon bumped into Peshek, the miller whose daughter had kept Henry alive. He wasn’t blessed with quite the same generous streak as his offspring, however, and wanted payment for his hospitality; namely the illegal moving of a buried body, an act that was considered sacrilegious at the time (and is, probably, still frowned upon today).
This was an early example of the many choices players will face throughout the game, with most decisions you make having a knock-on effect in some way. For example, by turning down Peshek, I was informed that he would send men who would harass Henry throughout the rest of the game unless he was payed off or they were killed.
One of the first things that struck me as I began to explore was the way the landscape, and even most buildings, looked almost photorealistic at times.
It’s a rule that can be applied to a large chunk of your interactions within the game world; while doing the rounds as a newly employed member of the Rattay night watch (the culmination of my time in the opening chapter) I came across a heated dispute between the local blacksmith and a beggar, which ended in my ordering the ‘smith to be a good chap and give the poor girl some alms, in this case a couple of coins.
This was a decision that could have a negative influence on a player’s reputation within the town, specifically with the traders, who, as a result, may give Henry bad deals or even refuse to trade altogether. Thankfully, Tobias (the Warhorse rep) did assure me that it's possible to reverse a poor reputation, whether through completing missions for the townsfolk or by tipping traders some extra cash while haggling.
Given my limited playtime, it’s hard to tell how far reaching some of the consequences of my actions could be. I can’t be sure that the animosity between Henry and the irritatingly smug Lord Hanush – one of many Game of Thrones-esque characters lurking amongst the walls of Rattay – would have been so great had I not bested him in an archery contest and won his expensive hunting bow in a wager.
Perhaps I could have rebooted the chapter and deliberately lost, but after spending two hours exploring the town, talking to the locals, giving drunk guards a good rollicking and even finding time for a nap in a tavern, I’d had my fill of peaceful medieval life. My sword arm was growing restless, and to channel a certain Robert Baratheon - I needed to hit someone.
Luckily, hitting people is what the second act was all about, as I was to take part in a siege on a bandit camp hidden in some woods. The three-staged attack consisted of taking a lightly guarded bridge and then razing the main camp, before a showdown with the imposing bandit leader.
For a game that encourages you to favour diplomacy over violence, battles in KCD are pretty darn fun, although, as I quickly found out, Henry is no super soldier. On more than one occasion my eagerness to rush ahead of my allies led to a quick (and bloody) death, as I either ended up surrounded by enemies and cut down, or picked off by archers as I tried to limp away.
Once I got used to the fact that I wasn’t a medieval Master Chief and learned to advance with others, battles became a much more tactical affair as I carefully picked my moments, taking on weaker, unaware or injured enemies in quick, hit and run attacks, whilst keeping an eye open for archers, who I would take out with my own bow.
While this section of the game was deliberately chosen to showcase the combat system in action, there were still hints of the freedoms KCD gives players to tackle situations in different ways, from the recce information Henry presents Lord Radzig regarding the best way to storm the fort, to more subtle and stealthier ways.
“Before this fighting quest, you could have snuck into this camp and poisoned the food, then most of the people would be a one hit kill,” said Tobias. “You can also burn the arrows of the archers, but this is super tricky because you need to sneak in and try to not get caught, though you can try to kill one of the bad guys and dress as him and they will not attack you.”
Although my afternoon with Kingdom Come: Deliverance was cut short, it encompassed far more than I could fully recollect here, and left me wanting more.
Combat in KCD uses a similar method to the one seen in For Honor, in that players can adopt a number of stances – high, low, left, right, etc. - while wielding a melee weapon to counter or attack an enemy. Dealing out damage felt accurate and weighty; I was able to target weak points in enemy armour and exposed areas, such as a bandit leader's completely unprotected head, which lead to him dropping very quickly. As for defence, I found it easier to just dodge an enemy attack rather than try to stop it with a correctly-timed block.
After my glorious victory came the third and final chapter, which tasked players with sneaking their way into a monastery to find a murderer who was posing as a monk, but by now reality was calling (also known as the last EasyJet flight back home to Amsterdam) and it was time to say farewell to medieval Bohemia.
Although my afternoon with Kingdom Come: Deliverance was cut short, it encompassed far more than I could fully recollect here, and left me wanting more. Medieval Bohemia feels ripe for exploring, and there looks to be a progression and choice system in place that allows players the freedom to approach the game however they wish.
Kingdom Come: Deliverance is just around the corner, releasing 13 February on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.