Burning Bridges, the penultimate episode in the debut season of The Council, arrives at a tumultuous time for narrative-driven adventure games. Telltale, a company synonymous with popularising the genre and its incremental release format, are in the midst of a heartbreaking majority closure that’ll see many of the studio’s ongoing projects never reach their conclusion. This has, understandably, sewn doubt amongst the community as to whether investing in episodic games ahead of their completion is a good idea. In a case of bad timing, where developer Big Bad Wolf could have lain claim to the mantle with this latest release, it instead fuels the flames with their sloppiest technical work yet.
Each outlandish revelation injects a hit of adrenaline and the result is a faster, often more engaging pacing without as many filler moments.
A replay to see what might have been may be in order, so it’s a good job that feels justified now more than ever as The Council loosens the buttons on its ruffled collar to have a little more fun. Less po-faced politics doesn’t mean that diplomacy is out of the window, however, rather that it’s now waged on an even grander and more bizarre stage than merely influencing world events.
Previously we’ve said that the series’ micro choices prove more affecting than macro-scale decisions, but here that sentiment is flipped on its head. Many character decisions are arbitrarily black and white - good or bad - and underbaked this time around, whereas choosing how best to govern humanity, through equal moral greys that hold a mirror to modern society, is perplexing.
Throw in an elaborate new location and a couple of exciting abilities that’ll help to decipher even the most secretive guests, for a cost, and it’s commendable that Big Bad Wolf aren’t afraid to mix things up a bit at this late stage. The team of former Ubisoft developers also settle on a nice middle ground when it comes to puzzle design, having historically either spoon-fed answers or left players a little in the lurch, here uniformly making them taxing whilst allowing for a degree of circumvention through sleuthing or the smart investment of effort points/use of consumables.
With an abundance of problems both old and new, Burning Bridges is an undeniably messy experience. If you’re a purely mechanics-focused gamer, there’s absolutely naught but a veiny, enraged brow in store, but, that being said, you probably don’t fall into that camp if you’ve made it this far. Anyone that can forgive the many foibles in favour of being spun an intriguing yarn should still apply; we’re certainly eager to see how things conclude when the finale (fingers crossed) launches later this year.
From the moment we were greeted by Unforeseen Incidents’ foreboding title screen, filled with flashes of lightning and lashes of shimmering rain, we suspected we were in for a treat. Being solid fans of point-and-click gameplay since first encountering the iconic Monkey Island series, we were looking forward to having our minds playfully tickled by the brand of puzzles that have you jolting awake in the middle of the night having finally deciphered them. If that sounds like a brain-bruising nightmare to you, rest assured that, in this instance, you’ll face grounded problems that are woven into a delightfully engaging narrative.
Adventure games are all about wandering around solving puzzles, but there are rather drawn-out sections here that dwell a little too long before allowing us to rekindle our love affair with the story.
It’s a credit to how good the cutscenes, dialogue and storytelling are that we rather selfishly wanted more of them. The soundtrack evokes a soft melancholia, with piano drops and violin swells. The dialogue is self-aware and the voice acting is sharp as a tack; so often does Harper seem to perfectly narrate the player’s thoughts, sarcastically breaking the fourth wall in that cheeky Sam & Max way, or playfully scolding you for suggesting something daft in order to solve a puzzle. The amount of times we caught ourselves smirking at Harper’s reactions to hilariously misguided attempts to make progress is beyond measure.
This makes Unforeseen Incidents’ puzzles both a delight and a frustration rolled into one. It’s a strange ebb and flow, as one minute you’ll be flying high whilst lamenting the wasted years in higher education, as you were clearly born a genius, then, around two minutes later, you’re stumped and rapidly approaching rock bottom whilst being presented with amusing dialogue to keep you sweet. The main offenders here are very mechanically complex puzzles, which may well be fine if you’re practically minded and love your tinkering, but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just have to call your dad and ask him how to repair a fan belt or whatever.
All in all, Unforeseen Incidents offers a challenging and engaging take on the point-and-click genre that fans of a good mystery - who also have the patience to persist through some of the more difficult puzzles - should definitely download. Give yourself the gift of feeling like you’ve earned a great story, and a pat on the back for being dead clever.
Is it just us, or does it feel like too much emphasis is put on looks these days? While modern PCs and consoles push resolutions in the millions of pixels, there’s a lot to be said for a game which focuses on achieving a distinct visual style, more than just pure visual firepower. In those rare cases, how a game looks can enhance or even define the experience, bringing up the quality of the product overall, rather than just being something which might be pretty to look at, but is otherwise bland.
It’s really the puzzle elements - introduced by the opposing perspectives of Kit and Hodge - and beautiful visuals that’ll draw you in here.
Comparisons to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland are certainly easy to draw, in terms of setup, but the game is very aware of this and has Kit namecheck and dismiss them fairly early on. The curiouser and curiouser part of it all is that Kit begins to bump into famous historical figures, each having an effect on the landscape that’s relevant to their most notable skill, for example an impressionist painter imposing a screen filter.
The gameplay itself is a little less robust, with most levels just having you backtrack between one contraption and another, but the fact that the two protagonists navigate so differently brings more variety to working through each level’s challenges, which get progressively more elaborate as the game goes on.
Though Another Sight is pretty to look at, technical issues do show through occasionally, with the transition from gameplay to cutscene being a particular stand-out culprit of “dead eye” syndrome. Really, the story could’ve been told without hopping between the two, which makes you wonder why developer Lunar Great Wall Studios made that creative choice.
On the topic of narrative, the story unfolds gradually as you explore a fictional subterranean London. It’s not immediately clear whether Kit is really there, or if a lot of what she’s seeing (or sensing) is actually a dream, but the unravelling of this particular question is central to the overall plot, and its various twists are enough to hold the experience together.
That said, it’s really the puzzle elements - introduced by the opposing perspectives of Kit and Hodge - and beautiful visuals that’ll draw you in here. Perhaps not enough for those in search of any truly unique gameplay experiences that might have been conjured up by this particular odd couple pairing, but, regardless, if you’re after a puzzle game with a bespoke visual twist, you can’t go much wrong.
There’s a fine art to taking a beloved franchise and using it as a base to produce something new that can stand alone. Whether it’s The Last Jedi dividing a fanatical Star Wars audience or the latest superhero flick not being true to its source material, the process is fraught with danger and potential fan backlash. How reassuring to our faith in humanity then that Two Point Hospital is every bit the worthy standard bearer for a welcome return to the 90s’ management sim boom.
Two Point Hospital is every bit the worthy standard bearer for a welcome return to the 90s’ management sim boom.
A major plus this time around is that you have multiple locations to manage, so you can always revisit an earlier level and beef it up with more advanced equipment and items to boost your overall organisation's revenue. This metagame is a welcome addition, but, so far, hasn't seen different locations interact or crossover.
Repetition and busywork are the quickest way to kill the fun in a simulation game, but fortunately, thanks to the slow introduction of mechanics and a startling amount of depth when you start to dig into the more detailed menus on the information tab, Two Point manages not to be afflicted with this disease.
Given there are humans responsible for Theme Hospital involved with the project, it's no surprise that this and probably every other review mentions the game's connection to what was a mainstay of 90s PC gaming. Despite that, Two Point proudly stands on its own, with more than enough fresh ideas to make it feel like an entirely new game.
There are a few foibles to throw amongst the superlatives, however: AI behaviour of characters can be questionable at times, and in some aspects there's a lot of manual clicking of items to make sure they’re dealt with - particularly for the janitors, even though you can manually enable and disable specific tasks.
Other elements seem very much up to chance as well, such as the panic-inducing emergency requests, which see six or eight patients with the same condition come in for treatment at the same time. In these instances, it often doesn't seem to matter how slick an operation you’re running - there are always casualties. You might have a plus-sized ward with enough empty beds and a more than capable senior nurse, boasting the relevant treatment specialist skills, but still find patients dropping dead on you. A less than encouraging outcome.
Still, these moments are few and far between, and the potential to add in new elements post-launch is now far more likely than in the CD-ROM era.
If you're looking for a surprising diagnosis for this game, then you'll need a second opinion, as we're here to confirm - despite a few minor flaws - that the Two Point fever sweeping Steam right now is every bit as intoxicatingly contagious as it's cracked up to be. If they'd got the original tannoy voice back, it might somehow be even better.
Themed as a classic, old-timey adventure serial - complete with spiffingly British narrator and an affinity for alliteration (which can be toned down if the gusto gets your guts, though I’d advise averting your eyes if that’s the case) - Strange Brigade’s arcade action compiles and injects existing industry ideas with a persistent panache, shaking feelings of familiarity and raising a rip-roaring ride through 1930s Egypt.
Strange Brigade’s arcade action compiles and injects existing industry ideas with a persistent panache, shaking feelings of familiarity and raising a rip-roaring ride.
Though rifles are still very much present, here a more likely choice of primary weapon would be a shotgun or submachine gun, which can then be complemented by your choice of secondary firearm and thrown explosive. As you amass armfuls of gold throughout the course of any given level, you’ll also be able to roll the dice on a powerful prototype weapon - like an explosive crossbow or punch-packing blunderbuss - anonymously nestled within identifiable crates. These beefcakes have a limited ammo supply to counteract their immense strength, but perhaps more devastating are ultimate character abilities.
Unleashed after charging a magical amulet with the souls of defeated dastards, each brigadier has three additional bespoke abilities to unlock by collecting sets of relics generally hidden away within puzzle-gated nooks. These hidey-holes can also contain gems which slot into weapons to imbue them with passive buffs, allowing for easier crowd control and with that more efficient use of the booby traps that litter each uncharted environment.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the ins and outs of all the singular systems governing combat in Strange Brigade, there’s a real art to stringing everything together into one maintained and satisfying stream of destruction.
When you aren’t busy wreaking havoc, you’ll be exploring a range of lush, forgotten locales that are gorgeously vivid on Xbox One X. They’re surprisingly sprawling, often featuring multiple routes to your destination, all while the sounds of moving mechanisms and twinkling treasures beckon you to double back and scour every surface in search of secrets. The classic environmental enigmas you’ll uncover offer up tangible rewards and ensure that there’s reason to revisit the nine lengthy campaign missions in order to deeper delve their depths.
That said, before diving back into the campaign you’ll probably want to try your hand at the pair of accompanying modes in Score Attack and Horde. The former sees you undertake solo excursions on linear, re-purposed campaign sections whilst aiming to combo kills and satisfy a list of secondary challenges like beating par times and not taking damage. Think Mercenaries mode from more recent instalments of Resident Evil, but with greater consistency between runs to allow for really nailing the perfect strategy down.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the the singular systems governing combat, there’s a real art to stringing them together into one maintained stream of destruction.
Horde is almost what it says on the tin, only sharing more in common with Call of Duty’s fan favourite Zombies mode than Epic’s eponymous Gears of War 2 trendsetter. You’ll weather an insane undead onslaught across four exclusive maps that expand as waves progress, and also by your own hand, should you choose to spend gold on accessing new areas and their guaranteed goodies. Doing so isn’t exactly the no-brainer it sounds, as you’ll also need to piecemeal purchase a loadout having started with just a solemn sidearm.
This makes Horde a great place to experiment with new loadouts, which, coupled with a moving base of operations to prevent you from getting too comfortable in any one location, stops things growing stale as you’d otherwise be relying on the same old strategies across a whopping 75 total waves. That’s no small undertaking, so you can thankfully step away at any point and then pick back up from right around where you left off.
Weighing in at a reduced asking price, Strange Brigade feels anything but budget and features enough content that you might call it a steal. That’s certainly a relief, as outwardly it was easy to speculate that the Season Pass and its promise of new levels, characters and more might be required in compiling a complete package.
Strange Brigade bears its inspirations for all to see, but while many of the influential games and modes we’ve mentioned are overdone nowadays, Rebellion commit to their goofy theme with such enthusiasm that they’ve captured a formative time in cinema not previously brought to the medium with such verve. This unique sense of fun will make you nostalgic for a period you probably didn’t see, and by a long shot, while the copious conundrums make it an action co-op caper not quite like any other.
The final stretch of the journey to bring Inquisitor - Martyr to consoles was fraught with pitfalls, as the Xbox One and PS4 versions suffered two consecutive last minute delays said to have seen developer NeocoreGames (The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II) enduring 90-hour work weeks in a desperate effort to claw back time. While that definitely isn’t healthy, it did make the seemingly impossible possible, as now, still within the scheduled summer release window, console players are receiving a build that’s pretty much on-par with the PC version.
As your chosen Inquisitor, you’ll serve your leader by boarding the eponymous fortress-monastery, Martyr, to purge it of Chaos corruption.
It’s fortunate that the sides are equally as satisfying as the main, because those looking to engage in co-op play will be disappointed to learn that story missions are entirely off limits. There’s even more bad news for local parties, as they’re limited to two player sessions in which the guest is required to choose a pre-made character that doesn’t retain any progress. You also can’t play the game at all if you’re offline, regardless of whether you’re engaging with any online features or not. At least the frame rate doesn’t really suffer, even when opting to bump the resolution from 1080p to 1440p, but matchmaking/inviting some online friends is preferable when up to four players can converge as their own unique character builds and gain individualised loot and progression.
On the topic of multiplayer, there’s also a fairly sparse and unremarkable PvP offering in which you can hone your skills in 1v1 or 2v2 bouts for objective control.
That said, polishing your gory combat prowess does come recommended, as the higher you climb on the five-rung difficulty ladder the greater the rewards you’ll reap for mission success. Making efficient use of cover, destructible environments, your loadout and abilities - whilst also knowing how best to counter different enemy races and the sometimes overzealous auto-aim - is key to earning more Glory and with that weekly rewards.
Additionally, through standard gameplay you’ll accrue conventional space bucks, dubbed Credits, which are used to purchase gear and services, as well as the more exotic Fate, a valuable resource which is used to fund research projects, launch those custom missions we mentioned earlier, and, reportedly, even gain access to some otherwise premium DLC in the future.
With years of storytelling already under the tabletop franchise’s belt, the lore can be intimidating for newcomers, especially when it comes to the gobbledegook lexicon.
You’ll also work towards achieving Heroic Deeds - persistent challenges that, upon completion, can open up relevant skill trees in the game’s veritable skill forest - and, should you have joined/created one, collective assignments for your online Cabal (communities of like minded players). There are evidently loads of systems to manage, but once you’ve gotten your head around everything they serve as the dangling carrot that ensures you’re never far from your next reward. This constant affirmation cycle and, more specifically, the feeling of growth and progression that goes with it, will see Inquisitor - Martyr quickly sink its claws into loot fiends, especially since it’s so easy to adopt a “one more mission” mentality thanks to their short length.
How dedicated you are to perpetually tweaking stats on a micro scale is ultimately what’ll decide whether this is a game for you. ARPG fans will find it to be classic, satisfying stuff - especially if they’re keen on the Warhammer 40K connection - but newcomers may well find it to be bloated and lacking both the satisfying story and audiovisual flair to keep them around long enough to get to grips with the in-depth systems serving as the driving force in their place.
Ghost Town Games are back with a second helping of culinary chaos in Overcooked! 2, the highly anticipated sequel that builds upon the fibrous foundation of the original’s excellent multiplayer-focused action.
Shifting work surfaces, environmental hazards and the constant danger of fire mean assembling basic dishes becomes a considerable – and often hilarious – challenge.
Something that often caused ire amongst fans of the first title was the lack of online matchmaking, and, while it was commendable to encourage people to get together for some classic couch co-op, it’s something that, for many, is not always feasible. This had the potential to reduce Overcooked! to little more than a party game that ended up being shelved once everyone had gone home.
The inclusion of matchmaking in Overcooked! 2 is a most welcome addition then, but there is still a drawback. If you’ve got a couple of mates who own the game, then you’re all set – particularly if you’re playing the campaign, which allows a mix of local and online friends – but the seemingly small player base becomes a problem when trying to dip in and out of arcade or competitive modes for online sessions with strangers.
That said, while far from ideal, ending up on a lopsided team did lead to some spontaneous (and entertaining) acts of kindness, as ingredients were graciously chucked our way by a sympathetic opposition. Away from the generosity of strangers, there's always the extra avatar you’re given when you happen to be down a teammate, or just playing solo in general, allowing you to juggle tasks and somewhat (but not really) maintain the freneticism of co-op in your single-handed quest to maximise productivity.
The aforementioned campaign’s story is just as ludicrous as before, as players are once again tasked with saving the world through their cooking prowess, this time by satiating the hunger of the unbread – that’s zombie-like baked goods, in case you were wondering. The charming world map is back, and just as fun to career about in your miniature food truck - more so, in fact, thanks to some cool new vehicle animations - and hidden amongst the regular levels are bonus ones, earned through completing special challenges.
Things start off simple as players are eased into basic recipes, such as sushi, before being introduced to harder, more complicated dishes and kitchens that require serious skill to master. There are even a few set-pieces, bringing two levels (and their respective recipes) together at one point in a dramatic balloon crash.
Score requirements for stars have been increased, but, thanks to the new combo feature, built by sending out food in the correct order, reaching them isn’t as impossible a task as it may first seem. Even if you haven’t collected enough stars to unlock the next level, going back and mastering previous missions is all part of the fun.
Essentially, Overcooked! 2 is a more refined version of an already enjoyable product. Snappier menus, improved visuals and an all-round sleeker design help to give the game a premium feel that was absent from the original, and the much requested addition of online matchmaking will help breathe new life and longevity into the series for many people.
If the name Narcosis sounds familiar, it’s probably because the game originally launched over a year ago, but, with the debut of a spanking new PS4 port, comes an opportunity for the existing versions to claw back a little spotlight for themselves. Initially taking to digital storefronts like a stone to water, the ripples have now reached our shores, but is Narcosis a horror that should’ve stayed dormant in the deep?
You probably aren’t crazy about water levels in gaming, but, In this instance, heading to the bottom of ol’ big blue serves to establish an almost alien atmosphere conducive to terror.
Developer Honor Code clearly took great care in crafting Narcosis’ world and narrative, though the same can’t quite be said when it comes to the limited gameplay. Labelled a survival horror walking simulator - we’ll let you decide whether affectionately or not - slightly tank-y controls harken back to early examples of the genre whilst conveying the immense weight of the bulky diving suit you occupy. The slow pace and initially unintuitive controls take a little getting used to, as does independently looking down to view the suit’s integrated HUD, but limited-use thrusters do accommodate sparing speed boosts.
They also allow for a spot of light platforming, which is fine, if unremarkable, whilst sides of simple puzzle solving and rudimentary combat are also thrown in to tick the necessary boxes. Fights are rare, thankfully, as you have but one cumbersome slash manoeuvre to execute with a short knife. More often than not, you’ll instead utilise an abundance of flares to distract enemies and allow you to slip by, but not always unseen. You’re predisposed to run when spotted by a deadly predator, though, in Narcosis’ case, your heavy diving suit disallows that response, contributing further tension.
Your helmet also obscures peripheral vision, adding another unnerving wrinkle, but the apparatus is far too efficient in the one area that could’ve made things outright harrowing. As we mentioned earlier, oxygen levels are limited, so you’ll continually need to accrue the element, while also doing your best to avoid any situations that’ll cause panic, resultantly accelerating your breathing and elevating your intake. It’s a novel conceit, but the game doesn’t fully commit, seemingly scared of imposing too great a challenge, resulting in the mechanic never becoming a major factor.
As such, it only really serves to keep you moving, but even that’s largely unnecessary when Narcosis is so linear. A couple of chapters make for notable exceptions, though most areas only open up into brief offshoots housing text-based collectibles serving to flesh out crew members’ characters.
While Narcosis doesn’t boast a great gameplay experience, rather just palatable, it works as a vehicle for interacting with Honor Code’s atmospheric locations and concise story. At around three hours long, it isn’t too much to ask that you stick out the relative lows in order to enjoy the twisting, psychological highs.
Following a lacklustre second outing, The Council reaches its midpoint faced with the unenviable task of recovering lost ground. Episode 3: Ripples shifts gears to have you focus on tackling conversational encounters with tactical turns of phrase, largely ditching the uninspired puzzle solving that shackled its predecessor, until a stifling blunder sees the experience nosedive just as it should be reaching a fevered pitch.
Whilst it’s possible to spark war between nations, the intimate consequences tend to prove more affecting.
With the old guard fond of early adjournments to retire to their rooms on exhausted whims, spritely Louis is left with spare time on his hands for pursuits outside of politics. Having reunited with his mother, all is not well, as she shares a thoroughly outlandish revelation alongside circumstantial evidence that almost makes it believable. Everything is called into question, making it crushingly unfortunate that, rather than being taken advantage of, any momentum grinds to a halt as you’re sent tottering off on a disconnected fetch quest.
Already the bane of gamers, this plodding section isn’t helped by inconsistencies like subtitles and verbalised dialogue conveying mismatched digits in a sequence, or conflicting quantities of objects to gather, whilst a written note incorrectly asserts that one of the items has already been found.
When you eventually return, gubbins gathered, they’re utilised in a puzzle which bravely requires absolute commitment. That closing conundrum helps to salvage things in the final moments, leaving us eager to see the consequences to follow, but far less so than we would have been if the fetch quest fat had been trimmed. While we did note that the second episode was less substantial than the first, blatant filler is most unwelcome.
Still, those familiar with The Council already know that you have to take the rough with the smooth, owing to its technical issues. Audio abruptly cuts out on the regular, the pitch of Louis’ voice drastically changes, some sections aren’t lip synced, extravagant period costumes clip through any and everything. Though we can’t deny it’s all a bit distracting, it’s just as often amusing, without muddying the game’s refined ambience all too much.
Ripples takes a step in the right direction, though not without catching the toe of its fancy buckled shoe and stumbling on the way. Despite the imperfections, we’re intrigued to see what curious events our remaining stays at the Mortimer estate hold in store, fingers firmly crossed that they’ll fully lean into the occult facade while refining the balance between serving a meaty helping that’s more killer than filler.
Having had the distinct pleasure of exclusively revealing the first glimpse of Warhammer: Vermintide 2 gameplay last October, the long wait for the first-person-shooter-come-brawler to arrive on console has been especially gruelling. Now that we’ve gotten our hands on it: was it worth the wait?
You’ll need to juggle priority targets and manage choke points as tidal waves of fetid flesh rage your way.
The level of customisation on offer gets altogether extensive when you also account for Vermintide 2’s loot and crafting systems. Taal’s Horn Keep serves as a sizeable hub area from which to launch your choice of the thirteen main missions, throughout which you can work towards satisfying daily challenges and career quests; completing these tasks awards the game’s strictly non-premium loot boxes, which rain a random array of weapons and gear that can be equipped to improve applicable characters, or, if you unbox a stinker, salvaged into materials used to craft new items and upgrades.
Refreshing a loadout can significantly impact how any given character plays, overhauling attributes and movesets, perhaps not always to your exact liking, but never compromising the viscerally satisfying core combat mechanics. Melee skirmishes can feel either hefty or agile, depending on your chosen armament, though always brutal as you gorily pop heads and lop limbs with each light or (particularly satisfying) charged heavy swing.
While mixing it up at close range you’ll need to be mindful to dodge and block incoming attacks from big bads, though opting for a character with more of a ranged combat style should keep you relatively out of harm's way to begin with. While letting loose with arrows, fireballs, bolts and bullets is good fun in itself, it’s almost a shame to snub one of the best first-person brawling systems around in favour of comparatively bog-standard blasting.
Still, variety is the spice of life, so mixing up your choice of hero whilst tackling repeat playthroughs of Vermintide 2’s semi-open levels - which accommodate multiple paths towards their culminating set-piece encounters, also randomising enemy and item spawns along the way - ensures things remain engaging. Throw in the lure of greater rewards when progressing to higher difficulty levels, as well as unobtrusive storytelling that allows players to easily consume their desired dose of action, and you have a package that’ll keep you busy for a good length of time.
Vermintide 2 is more in-depth than its peers in many ways, but retains the central simplicity that makes this brand of onslaught adventure so frantic and exciting. Doing so at native 4K resolution on Xbox One X, while mostly maintaining a solid frame rate, at no additional cost to Game Pass subscribers, makes for an experience that you (and preferably some friends) shouldn’t hesitate to get stuck into.