When it comes to wholesome games, the Switch has a lot of heavy-hitters already vying for your attention, but if you're looking for a relaxing way to vicariously life your crazy cat person dreams, then you might be in the right place.
Each day your café will attract locals from one of these archetypes, such as punk, witch or fisherfolk, and grant you an amount of different resources to invest back into the café. You can adjust the advertising policy to control who you want, but certain customers, namely the witches, bring a currency which helps you keep your fridge stocked with ingredients for differing refreshments, so you're forced to keep bringing them back.
The cats themselves begin at one and go as high as seven in total. You have the option of sending them to a forever home and recruiting more cats, but we quickly grew attached to our Tudor king and queen-themed herd and kept them to the end.
There are skill points to invest in both cats and yourself, and later your café staff, to make tasks quicker or service better, but it's all very straightforward, and you never feel overwhelmed.
At a certain point you'll want to do lots of things at once and have to prioritise. Do you expand the space to give room for more chairs and therefore business? Do you invest in more toys for the cats? Do you get that toilet customers all seem to want?
A little patience quickly pays off though as a day flies by in only a few minutes, rewarding you with lots more goodies to spend on various things. We never felt like there was enough of a surplus to really go big and kit out your café mind, always chasing a plentiful inventory and keeping those ingredients stocked up.
It's a shame too that as things get more hectic, performance does start to take a hit. You can have up to 18 customers at once, as well as four staff and seven cats, and by that point there's so much going on that not only do things start to feel cluttered quickly, but regular stutters and even the occasional crash creep in.
To bring in new furry friends to the café you'll need to consistently pet the cats over a number of days to persuade them to stay...
Fortunately, these niggles don't bring the whole experience down, as the quest to restore the four cat shrines and revitalise the town is so compelling. You earn hearts, or Delight, by satisfying customers, and this in turn unlocks upgrade projects which give you more options, food and drink recipes and, most importantly, cats.
To bring in new furry friends to the café you'll need to leave out one of the various lures and consistently pet the cats over a number of days to persuade them to stay. At that point you can adopt them and give them a name before sharing them with your customers.
Unfortunately there isn't a huge amount of interaction between the cats and the multitude of furniture and accessories around the café. They will sit on customer's laps of course, and have a playful animation, but there's no clambering over some of the decorations, which, admittedly, might be for the best given how hectic things get already…
While you don't need to complete everything to save the town (turns out big business is bad guys, take note), you'll want to keep going to explore the rest of the upgrades you haven't been able to delve into yet, and even find new cats to play with.
Looking after cats is something you tend to do on their terms, since they usually aren't as obedient or predictable as dogs, so being able to build this tiny digital world for them is very satisfying.
Wholesome is the first word that comes to mind, but there is also a somewhat addictive challenge here, trying to balance the various resources, keeping all the plates spinning, and not being dismissively smashed by cats.
Cat Cafe Manager is an experience which kept us hooked for hours and hours at a time, with that urge to "just play one more day" pulling at you to just be able to afford that next thing, or coax that next cat into staying.
There isn't a huge variety of gameplay to be found, and once you have staff trained up to keep the café running you'll find yourself mostly fixing machines or planning your next expansion, but it is all immensely satisfying.
If you've had dreams of multiple cats then this is the best way to bring them to life.
Many of us, especially around here, have had a fairly long history with LEGO games, and an even longer history with Star Wars, so you could say expectations were high for LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
Characters each have different abilities, depending on their type, and the variety brings in the sort of range of gameplay we've seen across countless LEGO games all in one.
It can prove frustrating at times to keep straight exactly what tool is needed to deal with each different coloured glow, but once you've got the hang of it (or refreshed your memory), you settle into the experience quite easily.
The puzzles themselves aren't massively challenging, though you aren't always given a huge amount of direction, a lot of the challenge is piecing visual cues together to work out the way to go.
Combat isn't too tough either, especially if you've got one of the many lightsaber-weilding characters along for the ride, as between the sabers themselves and force powers, your characters will make quick work of most enemies.
If you do find you need a bit of extra oomph though, there is a rudimentary upgrade system, which lets you level up running speed or build time for LEGO, though most won't be necessary unless you're gunning for 100% completion.
there's always something new to discover whenever you are wandering around hub worlds, inevitably smashing everything in sight...
Speaking of, there is an awful lot of "stuff" in this game. Collectables are nothing new of course, but here the total number of Kyber Bricks alone numbers at over 1,000, on top of multiple part minikits per level, hidden costumes, characters and ships as well as cheat codes to unlock huge stud multipliers.
It's dizzying at times, though it means there's always something new to discover whenever you are wandering around hub worlds, inevitably smashing everything in sight.
The experience is always endearing and wholesome, with even the darker moments of the story poked fun at or even played for laughs.
Between gameplay sections you'll see cutscenes – so far, so normal. However with so much story to get through, these sequences can feel very rushed, with entire plot points or conversations truncating minutes into mere seconds. If this is your first introduction to the story then you'd more than likely struggle, which might be the case for some younger fans.
For most though, it's a well-known story, meaning it doesn't pose too much of a narrative stumbling block, it just means at times you can feel a bit of cutscene whiplash.
The voice acting is, for the most part, on point. Qui-Gon Jin has a bit of a Sean Connery twang, but some of the actors doing impressions of the original performers do a great job – particularly Rey. Others go in a different direction, which also works, as we've seen in the Holiday Christmas Special, from which many of the performers reprise these roles. Finally you have Anthony Daniels and a handful of other originals, so in all it feels like a really mixed bag.
John William's iconic score is included in its full majesty, and the sound design is, as usual, pulled straight out of the film universe, as are all of the location and character designs – many of which boast an impressive amount of scale, which is especially apparent when you're just bumbling about, exploring.
Space is less of a compelling setting, with many space sections already well-trodden more effectively in everything from the recent Squadrons all the way back to the original Rogue Squadron series. It all has the feeling of filler rather than having a real significant point to it.
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga feels very comprehensive, and with it being the team's umpteenth trip to a galaxy far, far away – though the first in a few years – you'd certainly hope so, but perhaps this should be the swansong for the entire franchise in a way. (Besides further Mandalorian expansions anyway.)
The experience is fun and quite therapeutic, with tons of options of things to do and explore. What's more, the game offers a rare opportunity at some very engaging and varied splitscreen play, which is a huge thumbs up.
For those already itching to jump back into the LEGO Star Wars world, this is a no-brainer, but equally, despite its drawbacks, it's a great introduction into the genre and the galaxy overall.
It's clear that WolfEye Studios' wanted to do something different with the Wild West. From the beginning, there's an element of otherworldliness that not only permeates the whole game, but drives the story forward, pulling the player along for a wild (sorry, weird) ride, full of intrigue, mystery and a whole lot o' kicking.
With so many locations to visit, it seems there's an endless supply of goodies to unearth which encourages exploration and offers the chance to experiment with the skill trees without any risk of making a mistake.
Exploration can wear thin as most (but certainly not all) areas are relatively small and some are identical. There are different environments to discover as you're unveiling the world map but the graphical style, though it works well, prevents anything from being particularly noteworthy.
The sole purpose of exploring is for personal gain. If you're working towards unlocking a particular skill, you'll find what you need sooner or later, but, aside from a few core abilities that'll influence how you approach the game, there's nothing you can't live without.
Even stealthy types will want a few combat-focused skills though, as fighting is inevitable and, sometimes, it's just a lot quicker, especially with a companion or two supporting. Thankfully, firefights tend to be short affairs, as the combat itself is simple and not terribly exciting.
Plus, there's only a small number of ranged weapons available, though this, alongside the very basic crafting/upgrading system, can be a welcome change of pace. It cuts down a lot of the menu navigation that is required in other action role-playing games.
How much the story twists and turns is partly dependent on the player, making every action feel significant.
Weird West is more marathon than sprint and it seems a greater amount of time is spent with the first character than any other. This isn't a bad thing; the narrative can slowly build as players familiarise themselves with the various mechanics. Gameplay wise, characters play the same, with only a few select skills that are exclusive to each.
The story, however, deepens with every new soul you visit and every interaction you have. For a short while, the protagonists' lives are intertwined and their fates are in your hands. Many of your decisions will have consequences and, whilst it's easy enough to guide the overarching story where you think it should go, you could cause trouble for yourself in the short-term, by killing a key character before they can share useful info, attracting the attention of bounty hunters or having NPCs you've previously wronged start a vendetta against you, guaranteeing a violent altercation with them in the future.
It's not without its technical issues. Companions will sometimes freeze in place or completely disappear, your horse will often walk around whilst you're transferring items to or from your inventory (moving and, eventually, closing the menu) and at one point we became intermittently incorporeal. These issues, as annoying as they are, can be addressed by reloading an earlier save or forcing a loading screen by travelling somewhere.
Simplicity is at the heart of Weird West. Gameplay is straightforward, dialogue isn't long-winded, cutscenes are not littered throughout and the Narrator chips in sparsely enough to never overstay his welcome. The story being the only exception. How much it twists and turns is partly dependent on the player, making every action feel significant, as the big mystery surrounding these chosen few becomes ever clearer.
With enough dedication, you could spend 30 hours in the Weird West before reaching a satisfying conclusion and none of it would be wasted.
OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, Elden Ring is tough. This will be little surprise for anyone who knows developer FromSoftware’s track history, but it was important to give it a little more time than our usual reviews to really scratch the surface of this colossal experience, so here goes…
As you gain levels, the number of runes needed to gain the next increases, so at times you’ll find yourself wanting to farm runes to gain levels before taking on a particular area or boss. One area I stumbled upon (though I since read is a well-known farming spot) is a hilltop in Stormhill near the Warmaster’s shack, which has five trolls just hanging out.
Each gives you 1,000 runes, and one in particular is more chilled out than the others, making it an easier target. Throughout my time with the game I explored this area many times (and if you try yourself beware doing so at night, as the Deathbird boss lurks nearby), and every single time the experience has gone differently.
What’s frustrating is that the method and timing might be exactly the same, but because the enemy AI is clever enough to not be entirely predictable, you never feel like you have a particular handle on the situation, and after one early attempt where I killed 3 or 4 trolls in a row I foolishly went in with a new-found sense of confidence, only to be cut down before defeating even one.
Every experience of Elden Ring will be different. There are a lot of different options and approaches you can take – some which might be considered easier...but all are valid.
This is the sort of thing which means Elden Ring “isn’t for everyone”. Not because not everyone can “git gud” or because they aren’t capable, but because different people want different things from their gaming experiences, and here the rewarding feeling is earned by a lot of time, hours and determination to keep going back after being killed by Margit, the game’s first mandatory boss, depending on which way you go.
Bosses are a huge part (often literally) of this genre of game, and Elden Ring is no exception. One of the symptoms of an open world is that many of these battles are optional, or at least feel avoidable, since they can be tackled in different orders.
The tougher bosses have NPC summoning signs which you can use to bring a bit of coop support into battle, and the arcane skills known as Ashes of War can also include allies like wolves, a sorcerer or even jellyfish.
You can also team up with other players, the mechanics of which probably could be explained better, but, at this point, what did we expect? The important thing is, the option is there for those who want it, and if you’d rather play offline without any helpful (or deceptive) player messages littering the landscape, you can do that too.
Every experience of Elden Ring will be different. With so many classes, builds, weapons and paths to choose, there’s no right way to work through the game’s map, and there are a lot of different options and approaches you can take – some which might be considered easier than others, but all are valid.
Visually, the game doesn’t give as striking an impression as the Demon’s Souls remake on PS5, though there are plenty of beautifully crafted vistas and memorable locations, just something about this game’s visual style doesn’t have the same contrast and impact.
There is a lot of colour however, with the rich greens, reds and golds of the landscape and sky feeling like a breath of fresh air compared to the greys and browns you might typically see in a FromSoftware production.
There are some technical rough edges as well, with a fair amount of noticeable pop-in textures for things like grass. While it doesn’t tend to affect gameplay, it does emphasise the amount of detail that’s packed into the world.
Exploration on the other hand is a huge strength. Since sometimes you can run into a tough enemy and feel like you need a change, or to gain a few levels before heading back, having the option of picking any other compass direction and knowing there will be a completely different experience to discover is hugely exciting.
The score and audio design gains some big points as well, with the chilling, understated music swelling to raise the drama of an encounter, and you quickly getting to know sounds that come from touching a Site of Grace or summoning your trusty spectral steed Torrent.
In all, the journey across The Lands Between has been far more enlightening than I expected, with Elden Ring proving to be more forgiving, rewarding and yet more punishing than any game I’ve ever played.
Whether it’s an experience for you or not, you might have already made up your mind, but if you’re hesitant, I would say it’s definitely worth the benefit of the doubt. FromSoft have crafted an experience that's well worth a go.
The legacy of Halo is tied into that of Xbox as both a console series and a brand, so with Microsoft celebrating Xbox’s 20th anniversary this year, now seems like the perfect time to revisit the world of Master Chief.
To keep it simple, these modes are smartly organised into a handful of playlists, so you can jump in and have a good idea of what you'll play, with some variety thrown in.
The maps on offer keep the variety going, ranging from close quarters storage facilities to classic open air team battle arenas, across 10 brand new stages. While there's no word on returning maps just yet, with the multiplayer game aiming for a free-to-play experience, it seems likely we could see some familiar locations as the seasons wear on – its first continues until May, but generally the team is aiming for three-month runs.
Already we've seen some classic Halo moments punctuated with unexpected encounters, suggesting 343 has got the balance right here in creating an experience that feels new but still honours the traditions of the series.
The campaign is in many ways more of a departure, straying from the linear path (and consistent back-tracking) and giving you open areas to explore around the Zeta Halo – a terraformed giant ring in space – and gradually rebuild the UNSC after a crushing defeat.
Halo is steeped in lore, as any series would be after two decades, but Infinite manages to keep the complexities of the story to a minimum to keep it accessible to newcomers.
Floating in space, Master Chief is picked up by an equally stranded pilot and, after checking whether you invert your controls or not, begrudgingly helps you to start reuniting the scattered remains of the UNSC to fight the Banished, a sect of series baddies, the Covenant, who not only won the battle, but are mining the Zeta Halo for secrets the Chief must uncover, with a little help from a new AI, which isn't Cortana, though she's certainly still involved here.
Infinite is filled with the sort of experiences Halo players have been waiting for.
The world itself is reassuringly familiar for returning players, with everything from the HUD and user interface, the signature musical theme, and the rest of the soundtrack, immersing you immediately. Even for veterans though, the story still has the right level of intrigue to pull you through, but you can definitely ignore it and just treat it as a series of enemy encounters if you prefer.
The open-world aspect adds base building elements, breaking up the more linear narrative missions with side quests. Disappointingly, these generally amount to killing a few Banished to claim an area of the map, but, over time, straying from the beaten path grants you special weapons and vehicles at bases across the map as you steadily accumulate Valour points.
Explore further and you can also uncover cosmetic suit options and Spartan Cores, upgrade points to beef up a selection of suit abilities, cherry-picked from the best of games past, including a threat detector, deployable shield and thruster, all of which can also be used in multiplayer as limited pick-up.
The most important power though, and the one you get from the beginning of the game, is the grappling hook, which is a big help with the Zeta Halo’s rocky terrain. You can even employ in combat too, pulling you towards enemies for a killing blow – though you'd think between a Grunt and a 7-foot Spartan, the Grunt would be the one going for a ride.
The most fun moments are grabbing a spare weapon from a rack on your way past, though it requires a fair amount of accuracy and patience, which you may not have the luxury of with a Brute charging at you or a Hunter pummeling you with plasma cannon.
In all Halo Infinite is filled with the sort of experiences Halo players have been waiting for. Where past games have stumbled over both the game's legacy and even its main character, Chief is borderline quippy at times as he interacts with this unstable world, and the Infinite thrives in challenging you to explore him just as much as you do the world.
While there's a few missing elements, what's here is greater than the sum of its parts and gives an experience which you can only find with Xbox – making it a no-brainer for the Game Pass crowd and well worth a go for anyone else.
Go! No “3,2,1”, no “On your marks, get set”, Forza Horizon 5 (and the series in general) wastes no time in getting you right into the action. In fact your first act in the game is to leap out of a plane in a series of cars and dive straight onto the beautiful open roads of Mexico.
One area which has a tremendous level of depth is the cars themselves. Adjusting tyre pressure and swapping out parts to tune your cars for whatever event you're about to take on is encouraged, and is something you can rely on the collective knowledge of die-hard fans if you’re unsure, thanks to a search option which lets you check out setups which have been shared.
If you’re feeling like online is a recurring theme, you’re not wrong. The narrative conceit for the game in the first place is a festival (or fiesta) in celebration of cars which wouldn’t be too out of place in an early Fast and Furious film. Horizon Festival is all about bringing people together, and the team has made sure they carry this spirit into every aspect of how the game is put together.
Not only will you see other players mooching around the map as you explore, but you’ll be pitted against other players’ Drivatars, digital echoes of their racing style, in races and events. While not a new idea, in fact the series has brought them in from the main Forza Motorsport series since its second outing, the compiling of player driving data makes for far more unpredictable and interesting AI opponents.
Hooking up with players in real-time is where things get even more fun though, as there are four main modes – Open Racing, Open Drifting, Playground Games, and The Eliminator – with tons of different types of events between them.
Open Racing is as straightforward as things get, challenging you to road, dirt, cross country and street races. Open drifting, as the name would suggest, is all about the drift, so you’ll be sticking to roads and trying to nail those corners, while Playground games include flag rush, king and survival. The Eliminator returns from FH4 as the Forza Horizon take on Battle Royale, pitting up to 72 players against each other into head-to-head races within a gradually shrinking area of the map.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience.
On top of that there’s Horizon Arcade, which is more of a collection of minigames which you take on together as a group. Perhaps you’ll need to maintain a certain speed within an area of the map to score, or drift for as long as possible around a certain bend. These challenges, admittedly, do tend to be “drive around a specific area”, but to dismiss them as only that is reductive, as you can easily find some fun and memorable moments as a group.
Individually, your in-game persona will be the one interacting with the NPCs as you drive around. You can customise your character with different looks and physical appearance to an extent, including a wide variety of prosthetic limbs, but the general build and vibe of the different characters still feels a little flat. The game does call you by your real name, if you have it shared in your Xbox or PSN profile, as it has in previous games.
As you drive around, discover roads, smash billboards and complete other challenges, you’ll unlock accolades which let you progress through the game and unlock more events. You’ll also be given wheelspins, a free lootbox mechanic earned by completing in-game challenges, to unlock more cars, clothing for your in-game avatar and all sorts of other goodies.
While races are all well and good, you might find the expeditions a welcome change of pace. These involve exploring a specific area, which might, for example, have a tropical storm going on, and take pictures or find jumps to establish it as a new area for the Horizon Festival and unlock new events in that part of the map.
Since we were playing ahead of release, there were a few bugs here and there, but far less than we’ve seen in other pre-release titles. One technical issue we hope is sorted out is how the game handles the Series S’s Quick Resume feature. With online games this can often be very hit-and-miss in general, so perhaps it’s to be expected, but we didn’t manage to jump back into the game easily, whether we played on or offline.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience. The cars themselves are as realistic as any buttoned up racing sim you could mention and the vast vistas and rolling hills are a joy to tear along, sending cacti, road signs and other debris flying.
Handling varies considerably between vehicles, meaning it can take a while to find a vehicle, or handful, depending on the road surface, which works for you. Once you’ve found the groove though, it’s totally up to you how you explore the expansive, marker-filled map. The towns, landscapes and even historical ruins you’ll find are all recreated with the care and attention of a team that has taken the time to make a game that feels like exactly what they wanted to make, with no compromise.
Game Pass, and a very comprehensive set of accessibility options, lowers the barrier of entry for this Forza Horizon more than ever, so, whether you’re new to the series, or just eager for another adventure, Playground Games has given you a sandbox with everything you need.
Everybody knows solitaire. Whether it's the card or the marble game, both of which have a similar vibe, solitaire is tactical and even therapeutic. The same is true of The Solitaire Conspiracy, a clever take on the concept drenched in international espionage and pushing the tactical element with a few changes to mix up gameplay in unusual ways.
Different visual filters (unlocked by completing levels) can mix things up a bit, but there’s no getting away from some repetitiveness in the gameplay. There isn’t a wild variety of setups and arrangements, just the set number of factions and therefore cards you need to sort out.
Visually, the game is very stylised, which combines well with the music to heighten narrative drama in what is, essentially, a fairly straightforward card game. While the musical score can go a bit over-the-top at times, the character artwork definitely brings the teams to life.
Outside of the campaign, there’s a couple of additional modes which offer slight tweaks on the standard gameplay. These don’t necessarily lend themselves to sitting back for a leisurely afternoon playing cards, though.
In the end, immersing yourself in and uncovering The Solitaire Conspiracy is a fun way to spend a few hours. Challenging yourself to be more efficient with moves can then keep that going for a little while longer.
You might come into this latest Marvel title from Square Enix with trepidation, given the mixed reception to Marvel’s Avengers in 2020, but, from the word go, the characters in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy grab you and don’t let go.
On top of that are dialogue-driven, call-to-arms moments where the team huddles up and, if you choose the right prompt, is revived with a damage buff. These moments are underscored by a classic 80s beat, giving the player a bit of an energy boost as well.
Finally, there are contextual, button-prompts which can pop up during combat, such as having Drax throw something, or the whole team doing a series of finishing moves.
Since you are generally dealing with a lot of enemies, crowd control is crucial, so you need to use perks and other moves constantly, but getting exactly the right move, on the right enemy, at the right time feels more difficult and frantic than it should.
The story explores both Quill’s history, as well as getting the team out of their latest spot of trouble, and takes you to a variety of exotic planets, fighting everything from your more standard man-with-gun-foes to giant cubes with spikes inside.
Getting exactly the right move, on the right enemy, at the right time feels more difficult and frantic than it should.
The attention to detail on display, particularly with the character and enemy design, is outstanding. For example, as you’re making your way around different platforming areas, you’ll see Groot growing his way up to reach ledges.
You’ll notice the care taken on the dialogue as well. If you decide to wander off looking for crafting parts or secret costumes (which are plentiful and, thankfully, not hidden behind microtransactions), one of the team, usually Rocket, will ridicule you for exploring a dead end.
Of the locations you’ll visit, the one with the most character is the Guardians’ home – their spaceship, the Milano. Whether it’s the personalisation of each crew member’s quarters, or the way the team interacts with one another without you, it all feels really natural.
Filling the locations are Easter eggs to everything from the 1980s to the comics themselves, whether it’s trinkets you’ll pick up, alternate costumes from comics runs like the Age of Apocalypse, or throwaway references in dialogue to characters like Death.
It’s not just NPCs chatting away either, as you chip in on the team’s banter, or they look to you to make the plan, which can have an impact on how encounters go down. Of course, as with all dialogue-driven gameplay, you’re never sure if you’ve picked the wrong option or it was always going the same way.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun, exciting space adventure from start to finish, and there are very few reasons you should be hesitant about jumping in on the adventure. You’ve got this, probably.
The Far Cry series is now over 15 years old, giving Far Cry 6 a lot of different expectations to live up to. With any established franchise like this, it can be a challenge to surprise players without making the established formula too different - losing what made people fall in love with it in the first place.
Initially mainlining the story is a good idea to get properly equipped, though it also allows for teaming up with a friend. There’s no narrative explanation for the delay, which might rub anyone looking to jump straight into co-op the wrong way.
Choosing to carry on solo isn’t a solitary experience, however, thanks to a selection of animal sidekicks. Amigos range from a crocodile to a sausage dog and each have different abilities, adding alternate tactical elements to encounters.
There’s a reasonable selection of weapons for Dani to equip, plus a bunch of customisation options in the form of useful attachments and cosmetic alterations. Far from the gunsmithing of Ghost Recon you only get the basics here, but some credit is due for not falling into the trap of needlessly overcomplicating things. There’s a carry limit of three primary weapons at a time, though that might include a beefy flamethrower which you somehow manage to stash about your person.
While there isn’t a huge amount about Far Cry 6 which really breaks its own mould, the gameplay is dependable.
FC6’s signature weapon, and something of an ultimate attack, is the Supremo - a rocket launcher backpack which fires a salvo of missiles into the (fairly unpredictable) distance to act as crowd control. This can be upgraded as well, but is more a fire-and-forget ability for the beginning or end of encounters.
While there isn’t a huge amount about Far Cry 6 which really breaks its own mould, the gameplay is dependable and there are enough hidden shortcuts, unique weapons and against-the-odds encounters to make exploration feel worthwhile. At the same time, buying into the world can be difficult when (for example) there’s no penalty for attacking Libertad allies in full view of their leader.
This is a minor symptom, but one of several actions that lack consequences that could add weight to players’ actions; it’s key to creating a believable experience, helping people to forget that they’re playing a game. Perhaps the DLC content, which puts you in the shoes of some of the series’ prior antagonists, might prove more engrossing.
Anyone that fancies an island getaway could do a lot worse than taking a trip to Yara. Far Cry 6 is an entertaining means to blow things up and mindlessly shoot people, though probably won’t prove to be memorable in a few years’ (or possibly even months’) time.
For a shooter that’s all about cooperation, Back 4 Blood (which we discussed earlier this year) is surprisingly good at being a solo game. Having spent a fair few hours with the latest horde shooter from Turtle Rock Studios (Left 4 Dead, Evolve), it’s hard to find too much fault with the single-player offering; at least gameplay wise, despite some negative reaction ahead of the game’s launch.
Although the onus to get things done will, quite rightly, always be on you as the player, we were pleasantly surprised by the bots’ display of competence. In some instances they’re especially useful, like instantly spotting enemies in a foggy marsh or darkened tunnel.
Back 4 Blood is a different beast with human players in tow; enemy numbers seem to scale accordingly, so there’s much more action when running a full team, and things can get quite frantic as a result. A relatively straightforward solo section can become a hectic fight for survival in multiplayer, an example being a battle in a diner where you’re forced to activate and defend a jukebox while swarms of enemies encroach.
It’s a pattern followed throughout the campaign: Players set out from the safe room having loaded up on supplies and weapons, scout through open areas occupied by wandering Ridden, then get set upon by the horde while defending/interacting with an objective. It’s a simple premise but one that’s executed relatively well, with a decent amount of teamwork and a little bit of luck required to get through some of the trickier scenarios.
Levels themselves are well designed and atmospheric, especially at night or with fog in play, often funnelling players into tight corridors suited to melee combat before giving them room to manoeuvre and utilise ranged equipment in more open areas. Campaign missions do revisit previous locations, however, which can get repetitive and become frustrating to navigate.
The Combat Knife card turns your basic melee bash into a deadly weapon, which is very useful.
Larger enemies come in a variety of forms, some examples being the Tallboy that swings a massive club-like arm, Crusher that grabs players and squeezes the life out of them, Reeker that spits horde-attracting bile, and Stinger that pins players in place. On their own, these mutations are quite easy to beat, but when the game throws combinations of them at you, particularly in enclosed spaces, they become formidable opponents, requiring teamwork and quick thinking to bring down.
You get to sample these bigger enemy types for yourself in the game’s PvP mode, Swarm, where two teams of four take it in turns to survive as long as possible against player-controlled Ridden. Round-based matches take place within shrinking arenas, ensuring things get suitably hectic the longer a round lasts, with the team of humans that holds out the longest declared the victor.
Playing as powerful Ridden is the highlight of this mode; we particularly enjoyed spewing toxic bile at players as a Reeker or charging an enemy team’s stronghold as an Exploder type. Swarm also seems to have a relatively healthy player base right now, as matchmaking times were always snappy.
There are also occasional boss fights, though probably the most terrifying creature in the Ridden’s arsenal is the Hag. This disturbing, maggot-like monster can swallow players whole before scurrying off and killing them. Hags are introduced by corruption cards, which the game selects randomly ahead of each level.
Random weapon drops sometimes come with imperfect attachments, like this sniper scope/revolver combo.
Corruption cards introduce a variety of challenges, from flocks of birds and alarmed doors that alert hordes if triggered, to armoured Ridden that are harder to kill. Players can try to counter some of these challenges with their own cards by building several custom decks.
Cards can grant basic rewards, such as increased ammo or health capacities, in addition to more substantial benefits, like recovering health for every melee kill. While they might not make or break most runs, cards are a nice bonus that can reward different specific playstyles.
Back 4 Blood invites direct comparisons to Left 4 Dead, though it does manage to stand on its own. The core gameplay, while admittedly familiar for anyone who’s played L4D before, remains solid and the new card system has the potential to be rewarding. Experimenting with cards also helps to boost the already high level of replayability.