Pinball machines are few and far between these days. You might find a dusty old one in your local pub, but it’s very unlikely you’ll stumble across the crème de la crème like a Star Wars-themed table.
The level of detail and visual polish the game has to offer is only really shown off on a big screen however, if only because so much of the detail is otherwise packed into a small space. Even with a range of camera options (which annoyingly don't seem to remember your preference between stages), you can't get the full effect in handheld move.
One particularly neat feature is that you can encourage the screen to turn 90-degrees in either direction, meaning in tabletop mode (presumably with some makeshift stand option) or handheld portrait with an adapter, you can enjoy a more comfortable oblong, bird's eye view of proceedings.
The highlight of the experience, and where Zen Studios really flex their creative muscles, is the scene mode, which has six scenes or characters showcased in micro-fights or challenges spread across the board, where your actions might cause blaster fire to be deflected or a door to be unlocked. The fun of reliving those iconic moments is a genuine thrill, even for a fan with more rewatches of the original trilogy than they might like to admit…
There's longevity here (unless you really, really aren't a fan of pinball), and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore within every table. You'll even stumble across the odd minigame, where you'll navigate an asteroid field or go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel, and playing around with familiar characters (albeit with less familiar voice acting) is a delight.
Pinball is here, and the Force is with it.
Remedy Entertainment has a particular brand of storytelling in its games. Since Alan Wake, and even Max Payne (whose voice actor James McCaffrey returns here in a supporting role), they have done things a bit differently, holding live-action scenes in high regard and treating the experience more like a film rather than a game with some story bits thrown in.
There are downsides to the more bombastic action sequences, however. The initial visual impression of former office workers floating lifelessly in the air, repeating the odd phrase to themselves, is extremely effective at building a creeping sense of dread, but the moment combat begins you're quickly pulled back into the fact this is a game, which lessens the impact of the otherwise excellent and foreboding atmosphere at times.
Exploration in Control is non-linear, with new areas of The Oldest House opening up to players in a Metroidvania-style fashion as they progress through the story and gain new abilities. Disappointingly, the structural changes repeatedly referred to in the lore dumps strewn throughout the building aren’t as extreme or as frequent as hinted, with the player only really getting to read about them rather than experience them.
Besides the usual gating off of sections using doors of ever increasing clearance levels, there are environmental puzzles which call on you to put your telekinetic abilities to the test to activate switches or navigate certain areas. One particular brain-teaser called The Astray Maze requires some out-of-the-box thinking, while frequent trips to the Oceanview Motel allow you to pass through the astral plane and access otherwise out-of-reach areas.
The game’s setting is deliberately bland, its harsh, brutalist architecture contrasted by the bizarre happenings taking place within its walls. As the story reveals itself, some of the initial opening intrigue dulls a little, and the vague perspective of the internal monologue from Jesse begins to grate as she's consistently nonplussed by the weirdness of the situation unfolding around her, while a few of the more interesting elements of the game seem to suffer from happening off-screen rather in front of the player.
From a technical perspective Control often struggles, even when running on Xbox One X, with substantial slowdown any time you hop in and out of menus - a frequent occurrence given the lore heavy nature of the game and the number of upgrades available to the player - and even more so when battles get hectic. While performance may suffer, Control is still a very visually impressive game, especially on PC thanks to newfangled ray tracing support.
In all, even with the performance issues, the journey is ultimately very satisfying, and a definite step up from Quantum Break, but if you weren't sold on Remedy's style beforehand then Control is unlikely to do much change your mind. Still, in these days of games as a service and battle royale bandwagoning, a strong, narrative-driven single-player experience is a rare thing, particularly if you’re a fan of Xbox, and it's one which is unlike anything else out there right now.
Let me start with a confession, chums: yours truly finds Formula One rather dull. Long gone are the days of charismatic icons like Arton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell (yes, yes, that last one is definitely a joke... honest). It’s because of this that I’ve failed to play a video game concerning the sport since good old F1 World Grand-Prix 2 on the mighty N64, so, can F1 2019 change my opinion? Or will the song remain the same? Ladies and gentlemen: start your engines!
“Now, now, our Bob,” I hear thee say “graphics don’t mean a thing if the gameplay don’t swing.” Wise words, comrades, wise words. We’re pleased to announce that the game plays an absolute dream. Every car feels different, and heck, even laps feel different as the tires degrade and corners have to be taken more cautiously (car assist options like racing lines and breaking assistance helped out a lot in our early stages). There's a true meditative pleasure in getting into the groove of a track, following its preferred racing line, breaking and accelerating at the perfect times. It’s sheer ozone-destroying bliss (and this is using a pad, so just imagine the fun of a wheel and pedals).
F1 2019 also boasts options so hearty you’ll be dining out for many a moon. There’s a wealth of single-player options: Career, Championship, Grand Prix, Time Trial and plenty of online malarkey too (more on that later). Firstly, Grand Prix is the exhibition match equivalent: pick a track and a car and off you go for a one-off race. Time Trial is also shockingly self explanatory, but no less addictive for it - the last time we enjoyed them this much was about 1998, trying to take advantage of that ruddy Koopa Troopa Beach shortcut…
Championship, on the other hand, possesses a little more intrigue than its straightforward name suggests. There are the obligatory run-throughs of the F1 and F2 championships, sure, but Championship mode also contains a “Legends” challenge mode that sees you take control of Prost or Senna, over the course of some sumptuous short-burst scenarios. We opted for Senna, thoroughly enjoying smashing Prost in vintage motorcades on the classic Monaco circuit. More sports games need to feature these kinds of hark backs to the past - just imagine if EA could get a Matt Le Tissier goal scenario mode in FIFA 20.
Trust us when we say that career mode will give you your money’s worth on its own.
But alas, we digress. Those wanting to truly get sucked into F1 2019 should head straight to Career mode, the fleshiest part of the game. Here you’ll progress through the ranks from F2 champ to F1 beast and everything in between - and what a ride it is.
The F2 season sees you tussle with rivals Devon Butler and Lukas Weber, interactive cutscenes and all, although they do tail off once you make the step up to F1 and select a team to join, which is where the real game begins. You’ll have chats with your agent, interviews with journalists, qualifying and racing to do. We just grazed over the depth on offer here - there’s so much to tweak and trial car wise for simulation fans - as it all seemed a bit much for our arcade-y tendencies, but trust us when we say that career mode will give you your money’s worth on its own.
If all that isn’t enough for you then we recommend you venture online. Those familiar with Codemasters’ racing games will feel at home here; there are weekly events, leagues, and more. There’s also a focus on the esports side of F1, with videos from global events and competitions to enter, too.
So, to the chequered flag we head, one hand off the wheel in triumph. F1 2019 is an undeniably high quality racing game, full of thrill-n-spills. Sure, the acting and storylines of career mode are corny rubbish of the highest order, and the potential for hardcore simulation mostly left us cold, but the overall racing and package is so fully formed that we can’t help but leave impressed. Add to that the recently announced update including the latest season of F2 and you've got a lot of longevity. If you’re a fan of the sport you should already have this, but if you’re not, you should probably still consider taking it for a spin.
While some of us at PTC Towers were only wee lads back in the 1990s, the decade's pedigree can't be denied its role in propelling console gaming to the heights it has reached today, spawning influential games left and right.
There’s a two-player co-op mode on offer, but only accessible locally, and you can also begin to feel like a bit of a spare part if you're a newbie and your co-pilot is a veteran. You can opt for a harder difficulty if you do find yourselves sailing through, which opens up two new characters to try out, but bizarrely only in solo play...
In typical arcade fashion, you're offered only one life and therefore a single try to get through the game without being taken down. If you decide to continue after dying you'll get going again from a fairly recent screen, but the game stops counting your time, and with no in-game scoring system to speak of there's now just pride to play for.
If a nostalgia hit is what you're looking for, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors could scratch an itch. It’s a well-made if slightly one-note adventure that won't kill a huge amount of time.
The trouble with space is that it's mostly empty. Venturing into the unknown in a tiny spaceship in Subdivision Infinity DX, you feel that sense of scale immediately, as enemy ships, gun turrets and collectables flicker as pixels in the distance - particularly in handheld mode.
Subdivision Infinity DX as a whole doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety, and with limited progression and customisation on offer, at least early on, momentum can start to drain fairly quickly. If you absolutely need a space shooter to play on the go, though, Subdivinity offers a taste of the sort of experience you might expect from something like Everspace at a fraction of the cost. What you’ll miss out on is the depth, variety and graphical polish - though it’s a step up from something like Event Horizon or Vostok Inc. - and experience the odd bit of slowdown when things get busy. It all depends what you’re looking for in a space adventure.
It's a well-known fact that there simply aren't enough hamsters in games these days. Fortunately for the sake of humanity, Hamsterdam is here to put the world to rights. Self-styled as an arcade brawler in which you'll become a "Hamster-fu master" patrolling a charming iteration of (you guessed it) Amsterdam, the game seeks to overpower you with cuteness from the word go.
Mini-bosses and bosses shake up the gameplay with a more side-scrolling approach to action, featuring a few QTEs for good measure. This succeeds in effectively mixing things up, but robs you of some of the satisfaction of taking down the game's beefiest villains. As a result, the difficulty curve also feels a little spikey, since these sections require completely different timing and skills, but after a few determined attempts it’s possible to power through.
Fortunately, the experience remains on the entertaining side of challenging even at those sticky moments, and it's impossible not to fall in love with Pimm and her adorable, increasingly impractical outfit choices. At the price point (less than £10, whatever your platform of choice), Hamsterdam poses great value for money and is an absolute joy.
When Wolfenstein: The New Order came out in 2014, conventional wisdom said multiplayer was king. The hottest games were Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny, yet Wolfenstein came back and blew the doors off with a gripping singleplayer narrative.
Enemies respawn as well, bringing more of a Borderlands vibe, minus the loot, to exploration and quickly making you lament rather than fear running into varying sizes of Nazi. There's a sprinkle of variety in suicide dogs and endoskeletons straight out of The Terminator, but the Panzerhunde and other imposing enemies lack that flash of panic we felt the last time we came toe-to-toe with them.
There is something different about this particular release which doesn't often change where AAA titles are concerned, and that’s the price. Unlike the last Wolfenstein, you can pick up Youngblood for a mere £25, or £30 for the Deluxe Edition.
With the latter, you'll get a Buddy Pass which lets you invite a friend - as many as you want, but only one at a time. Your friend's progress is saved and will carry over to the main game if they decide to pick it up, at which point they’ll also be credited with achievements, though we struggled to get it to work smoothly during our playtime.
Arguably the main draw of Youngblood is as a Wolfenstein game with co-op, and on that front (when working without issue) it largely delivers. There's a few key things missing, like easy-to-use level maps, waypoints or pings beyond one enemy at a time, and a more significant reason to take on foes cooperatively.
Otherwise, there seems to be less here even than a lower price point would lead you to expect. The story and weight of earlier games is mostly absent, the level design feels increasingly generic the more side missions you complete, and even new features, like the RPG-lite elements, leave us wanting more.
Perhaps there are some elements, like the Buddy Pass itself, which will go on to be greater than the showing they had here, but for now there's not much more to say than Youngblood is quite good; we just wanted more.
There's something quite satisfying about pulverising someone with a large axe. While Redeemer (the prettier Enhanced Edition, in this case) isn't the first game to offer that combat experience, it is an experience which defines it, or at least the broad strokes of its main character Vasily, who utilises elaborate melee strikes and environmental executions to deal devastating killing blows.
Melee weapons quickly degrade too, leading to a map littered with half-broken hatchets and electric batons which are largely interchangeable, but crucial to dismantling some of the larger enemies. There are guns on offer as well, but they’re often difficult to use at range due to the aforementioned camera perspective.
Overall, while Redeemer: Enhanced Edition might be a fun way to pass the time on your commute (should you opt for the Switch version), it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend you devote your time to it at home.
The world of strategy has been simmering away under the surface of the mainstream for a few years now. Long since the heyday of Westwood Studios, which ruled the real-time strategy genre with its Command & Conquer and Red Alert series, it’s been turn-based games which have been all the rage, thanks to the rise of Firaxis’ excellent XCOM revivals.
Soon, such is your efficiency at producing and preserving units, either by merging wounded squads or healing them at a player-owned city or facility, you’ll quickly find the map overrun and units begin to block each other from moving around effectively, leading to a major risk of bottlenecks if you aren’t too careful.
While the game works well in docked mode, this title has more of a handheld feel, and the turn-based nature lends itself to pulling it out for a few stops on the bus or morning train commute. Matches themselves, even early in the campaign, can easily last over half an hour a piece as games run across 15 or 20 in-game days (or turns) before one team’s HQ is ultimately vanquished.
Tinymetal’s music is fairly unmemorable and doesn’t get across the sort of drama and excitement you might hope for, especially compared to some of those iconic Red Alert or XCOM tunes. It should be noted that we haven’t unlocked the additional tracks with in-game currency, however. Visually, it’s fairly straightforward, but certainly more stylised, exciting and accessible than the somewhat similar Tiny Troopers Joint Ops XL.
Those looking to scratch a strategy itch won’t be disappointed here, with fun and games to be had for a budget-friendly asking price, but the repetition of the experience will start to grate for some before too long.
On top of the main campaign there’s Skirmish, where you battle AI using custom maps and settings, and also an online multiplayer component - but seemingly one too sparsely populated to find a game, even during peak hours.
In the end, Tinymetal: Full Metal Rumble on Switch is a fun little way to spend some portable gaming time, but doesn’t do too much to be exciting or bring a new twist to the genre or platform. There’s little to master, other than the patience for slow-moving and resource-limited units, but there’s still something endearing and easy to enjoy about the game.
Three months ago we previewed Etherborn and opined that the indie debut from Altered Matter - helped to fruition by FoxNext and investors on crowdfunding platform Fig - looked set to impress when the full game landed. Now it’s here; an excellent puzzle-platformer which ignores the laws of gravity, requiring you to throw out conventional logic in order to wrap your head (and featureless in-game avatar) around its brain-teasing levels.
Etherborn isn’t a game where puzzles are a brief aside that mostly serve to control pacing, rather it is in itself one large-scale problem to solve.
Based on our early look at Etherborn, which we now know featured quite a large portion of the game, we wondered aloud how it might evolve in terms of its structure. There are only two additional stages in the final product, both built around the same concept of using light orbs tucked away within them to transform the landscape and allow for your passage. Much the same then, but not disparagingly so, since aesthetic diversity partners with a greater focus on platforming elements and more sprawling real estate to keep things engaging right to the end.
So engaging as to warrant an immediate second playthrough, in fact. Game + mode takes place across the same suite of levels, but the light orbs within them are now deviously concealed from view. This is the first time you’ll really need to manipulate the camera, which closely tracks your movements on an initial playthrough in order to help guide you, whereas in Game + those viewpoints are utilised to mask solutions instead. Again, it’s hard to protest it being unfair that something is hidden off-screen when at the same time you’re serenaded by Etherborn’s gorgeous, equilibrium-maintaining soundtrack.
Our preview also left us with an impression of the game’s story we deemed “vague and introspect”, based essentially on its first half. Having now seen it through, the narrative is largely open to interpretation, but does a good job of getting its abstract concepts across. Our take? A sombre and gleeful exploration of the eternal struggles of the human mind. Fitting, as the game being an effective form of meditation means it also doubles as mental medication.
Etherborn is poignant and not precisely like any other game, perhaps feeling closest to Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s focused body of work (Rez, Child of Eden, Tetris Effect) in the flow state it so easily elicits. It’s a thoroughly lovely, meditative experience that’ll have you sink deep into your seat and slow your breathing while exploring the 3D environments in all of their dimensions. It’s outstandingly clever and effortlessly spellbinding, despite the work it no doubt took the talented team at Altered Matter to get there.
For more on Etherborn, check out our interview with the game's Creative Director, Samuel Cohen.