Mention the word “chippy” to someone in the UK and you’ll most likely induce mouth-watering thoughts of battered cod, mushy peas and chips drenched in salt ‘n’ vinegar. Having spent some time with Rust developer Facepunch Studios’ latest effort, however, the word now conjures up delicious memories of epic boss battles, as well as deep fried fish.
You can ‘hijack’ replays, letting you take control and practice a specific phase of a fight. It’s a fantastic idea and a feature that should be the new standard in future boss rush games.
Occasionally, bosses will throw out power-ups surrounded by a red hue. Grabbing one of these glowing orbs grants the ability within, but also surrounds your ship with an encircling wall of death that’s very tricky to avoid, introducing a further risk-versus-reward element to collecting pick-ups.
Boss fights are multi-staged encounters that have you duking it out with at least two versions of your opponent, with the difficulty, intensity and scale of enemies ramping up after every successive victory. And boy, do things get tough. Enemies eventually fill the small, square battlefield with a dizzying, hypnotic mass of projectiles in an attempt to stop you. Dying is something you’ll be doing a lot in Chippy, but respawning is instant, and each failure is more a learning opportunity than a frustrating setback.
If you do find yourself completely stuck – as we did during one particularly gruelling fight with a boss that could regrow its missing tentacles and cores – scrolling up through the leaderboards and watching the readily available replays of top players is a rather neat way of learning how to beat tougher enemies. By mirroring the fastest player’s technique, we went from utterly hopeless to 15th in the global leaderboards in less than an hour.
You can even ‘hijack’ a replay at any moment, letting you take control and practice a specific phase of a fight without having to put in the work beforehand. It’s a fantastic idea and a feature that we think should be the new standard in future boss rush games.
While most bosses share similar fundamentals – destroy or remove multiple secondary cores as quickly as possible whilst avoiding attacks to expose a larger, central core – there are occasional outliers, such as a fight that has you surviving waves of minions while automated lasers drill through their leader’s thick shields, which help to keep things fresh.
Facepunch have also done a decent job of imparting character and personality - there’s a very creepy maggot-like creature, for example - to what are essentially sentient mazes through just a few lines of text. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the arenas that house them, with the same plain black backdrop used for fights regardless of the type of environment bosses are supposed to inhabit.
Even if, like this reviewer, you’re not that into bullet-hell or boss rush games (despite having also enjoyed Furi), we’d recommend you try Chippy. While we’d love to see the game reach additional platforms, it’s inexpensive and doesn’t require a top-tier gaming PC to run. It might be tough as nails in places, to an almost daunting extent, but it’s also exhaustingly moreish and incredibly satisfying. Like any good chippy, really.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a triumph. Crowdfunded to the tune of more than $5.5 million at the height of the Kickstarter craze, many of its peers released to lukewarm critical and commercial reception, but Koji Igarashi and company took the extra time to produce something truly special.
Igavania? More like egovania, amirite? ... Seriously though, Igarashi (above) is one of the greats!
Gameplay has always been the bread and butter of metroidvania games, and Ritual of the Night certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Largely it’s very familiar in that you travel an enormous, satisfyingly interconnected map collecting new abilities - such as the power to fire yourself through narrow gaps like a ricocheting bullet - which in turn grant access to new areas. The well-established gameplay loop is incredibly moreish when executed in exacting fashion, as it is here, almost defying you to leave any small segment of the map unexplored.
From torchlit castle halls to moonlit cathedral towers, to dank sewers and myriad exotic locales beyond, a wide range of seemingly disparate areas are convincingly tied together by a unified aesthetic and intelligent, looping shortcuts. You’ll get to know the world of Bloodstained quite intimately as you backtrack to solve puzzles you’ve since discovered the answers to, or to reach designated save and fast travel rooms, which never becomes a chore.
That’s thanks not just to the exquisite 2.5D level design, but the tight platforming and deep combat systems you’ll engage with along the way. Miriam can acquire and equip outfits and weapons throughout her journey, the former of which offer various stat boosts and aesthetic changes when items are worn on the head, while the latter can completely change how the game plays.
Depending on preference you might opt for the greater range of a whip or a spear, the close-quarters finesse of a dagger, the balance of a one-handed sword, or the brute force of a laboured greataxe swing. That’s not to mention firearms and their different ammo types. Every harebrained enemy - be it a frog, a dragon, or a scissor-handed marionette straight outta Devil May Cry - has their share of quantifiable strengths and weaknesses, so it makes sense to switch things up on the regular. If you can master enemy attack patterns and Miriam’s graceful backstep dodge, as well as the necessary timing and spacing for your favourite weapons, hostile encounters become akin to dance.
An undisputed retro classic made modern, without sacrificing an ounce of appeal or introducing current industry ailments.
Combat has incredible nuance for those who seek to discover it, be that in hidden techniques for specific weapons, attack hit boxes that extend behind and/or directly above your person dependant on the animation, or the realisation that a weapon might be doubly efficient when used while crouched. A small complaint would be that once you do grow proficient, due to normal difficulty being the only option available on an initial playthrough, bosses especially go from an engaging challenge to a complete cakewalk. That and the game's technical performance can take a big hit when your screen-filling, death-dealing prowess matches theirs.
If you’re all about preserving the challenge, limiting your selection of Shards would be a good start. These crystallised forms of demon power randomly drop from enemies and tend to either grant access to one of their abilities or allow you to summon the relevant beast to fight alongside you temporarily. You can equip quite a few at once and they’re more often than not very potent, theoretically balanced out by limiting their use with a mana resource, but, unlike health, mana automatically regenerates over time so there’s little reason not to make liberal use of them.
Familiars are ever-present AI helpers that don’t consume mana, even auto-levelling alongside the leading lady, whilst elsewhere upgrades are carried out via a vendor at a peaceful hub location. Here you can buy/sell and cook/craft using materials most often discovered in chests, dropped by defeated enemies, or gifted as rewards for completing optional side quests.
With Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding also releasing in 2019, we wonder if Konami are feeling ashamed of their words and deeds...
Somewhat uncharacteristically, we’ve been loving the grind to gather ingredients, cook and consume all of the game’s recipes in order to claim their permanent stat increases, perhaps because it’s a simple pleasure to spend time in the Bloodstained universe. Another uncharacteristic find, at least for me personally, is the appreciation of quite an anime visual style; I’m coming around to the character models, but the colourful backdrops evoking the game’s stained glass motif I universally adore! More predictable is our love of the orchestral soundtrack, looping and grandiose in its modern interpretation of catchy retro classics.
In fact, that sums Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night up pretty well - an undisputed retro classic made modern, without sacrificing an ounce of appeal or introducing current industry ailments in the process. There’s a lot of game here, and it’s so compelling in its mechanics and audiovisuals that you’ll want to drain every last drop from the experience like a vampire affixed to its succulent neck.
The original RAGE, released back in 2011, was a bit of a technical marvel; it utilised innovative ‘megatextures’ to hit 60 FPS on console and accommodated that trademark id Software freneticism on last-gen hardware. It played beautifully, but everything surrounding that was pretty monotone, resulting in an ultimately forgettable experience. RAGE 2 looks to remedy this by spray-painting the wasteland neon pink and partnering with Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios to inject some vigour.
It’s familiar and largely uninspired stuff, but, to be fair, better implemented than in its peers. Speaking personally, I’ve never been a fan of Borderlands and I tapped out on the increasingly tedious Far Cry series years ago, both of which share structural similarities to RAGE 2, yet here I am happily playing Bethesda’s latest for the gross number of consecutive hours which are required for the TV to assume I’ve fallen asleep.
So what’s different here? id Software, to put it plainly. The originators of the FPS are still doing it best, crafting on-foot combat encounters that are giddily exciting. Action is supremely fluid at 60 FPS (which does come at the cost of 4K support on enhanced consoles), allowing for the necessary precision to utilise the wide array of tools at your disposal whilst staying on the move. As in DOOM, defeated enemies drop time-limited health pick-ups, so it pays to remain in the thick of a fight in the absence of fully regenerating health.
The originators of the FPS are still doing it best, crafting on-foot combat encounters that are giddily exciting.
Whether using the exquisite shotgun or one of RAGE 2’s more unique firearms to pop heads with a satisfying squish, devastating active abilities like a ground pound and an essential force push can also be executed as often as their cooldowns dictate, fully encompassing the supersoldier power fantasy. There’s a frankly massive amount of maneuvers to unlock, to the extent you probably won’t remember to implement them all, though they’re gradually introduced in an effort to avoid that and also maintain a constant feeling of growth throughout the reasonably-lengthed campaign and much longer road to 100% completion.
While there isn’t any concrete incentive to do so, at least beyond boosting your own ego by looking damn cool, experimenting and discovering effective combinations of abilities allows for immense showboating on the level of Bulletstorm. Stringing kills of any fashion together in quick succession will increase your combo and more efficiently charge the Overdrive meter, which can then be activated to massively boost the effectiveness of all your other offensive and defensive capabilities for a short period, filling the screen with a psychedelic techno haze as you go ham.
Outside of Overdrive you can’t always afford to be so reckless, as different factions and the enemy types within them pose different levels of threat, encouraging slightly altered tactical approaches. Using the Focus ability lets you see through walls to formulate plans of attack, which can then be executed against clever AI which appear in numbers and play to their strengths in order to quickly overrun overzealous players. We particularly like the fact that throwing an uncooked grenade at an enemy can prompt them to intercept it and return to sender, then, with a well-timed melee strike, you can even volley it right back at ‘em!
RAGE 2’s first-person firefights are honestly worth sticking out any of the game’s hardships for, and to a lesser extent, so too are the third-person vehicular combat sections. These only really come into play when you encounter and engage a convoy in the open world, which visually plays out like one of the best scenes from Fury Road, but is less exciting to actually control. Ramming riders from their bikes and quickly dispatching the smaller four-wheelers at the rear is explosive fun, but the leading boss vehicles are comparatively uninteresting since you can mostly just hang back, automatically lock-on to their weak points as they’re periodically exposed, then hold down the fire button to win. Convoys were far more involved in Mad Max, where you might need to remove armour plating with a harpoon in order to expose a weak point, then use a specific ammo type to destroy it.
Swapping out vehicles would help to spice things up a bit, but we’d go as far as to say switching is actively discouraged, despite being able to hijack and even unlock a variety of transports directly to your garage. Similar to the Magnum Opus in Mad Max, only minus any of the context, the Phoenix is your starting vehicle and the only banger capable of being repaired and upgraded.
RAGE 2 ’s first-person firefights are honestly worth sticking out any of the game’s hardships for, and to a lesser extent, so too are the third-person vehicular combat sections.
One benefit of opting out of upgrades would at least be avoiding RAGE 2’s painfully sluggish menus, which hang momentarily whenever you switch between the numerous tabs. Elsewhere there’s graphical pop-in (not great considering the so-so visuals in general), invisible and unresponsive NPCs, we’ve fallen through the floor and had to reload a save, and the audio can cut out completely or persist where it shouldn’t (hearing continuous gunfire from a dead enemy, for example). In fact, the audiovisuals are disappointing on the whole, falling well short of the colourful, Andrew W.K. party atmosphere RAGE 2 was made out to feature and instead sticking closer to your archetypal post-apocalypse.
Still, if you’re looking for a substantial shooter to enjoy in all its gory single-player glory, RAGE 2 most definitely fits the bill. The game achieves its main goal in being sheer and unadulterated fun - it doesn't take itself even slightly seriously and favours gameplay above all else, to the extent that tackling what’s essentially the same side mission for the tenth time isn’t any bother, because along the way you can spartan kick a dude and then decapitate him with a boomerang as he sits up. What, pray tell, is not to like about that?
Let’s be blunt here: snooker hasn’t been in the mainstream since TV’s Big Break, featuring the chauvinistic “charm” of Jim Davidson and trick-shots aplenty from John Virgo. We appreciated our first foray onto Snooker 19’s green baize at this year’s EGX Rezzed, but is the final product “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan quality snooker, or “Rancid” Rob Holt level play?
Difficulty in the single-player modes can often feel out of balance, too. We’ve played multiple games with the AI set at the low, middle and high ends of difficult and nothing much seems to change. Making one mistake will definitely lead to a loss in the mid to top tiers, though two mistakes are still enough to see you off at lower rungs. You can change your own aim assists and the like to make tricky pots easier, though we’d advise playing with this enabled to begin with so you can get your eye in.
Multiplayer options are solid, if unspectacular. While there are your standard online 1-on-1s and tournaments, it’s local multiplayer that lifts the trophy for us. Playing in the room with an enemy or good associate is absolutely grand, their fixed gaze making for tense moments which lead to simple pots being bodaciously blundered.
As previously mentioned, Snooker 19 really does look and sound the part. Balls are super shiny, John Higgins’ face is accurately morose-y, and the arenas and tables look superb...y. The thoroughly satisfying sound of cue-on-ball and ball-in-pocket are truly authentic, while the commentary from Neal Foulds and David Hendon follows the action most of the time - a regular slip up for sports games of this budget/niche. There is a lot of silence during gameplay, but that’s befitting of a concentration-based sport like snooker, so we won’t hold that against developer Lab42.
As we reach the end of the frame, we cannae help but feel a touch disappointed with Snooker 19. Yes, it’s a niche sports title at a competitive price (~£25) but the lack of customisation, modes and training really hurt it. Big snooker fans will love it, that’s for certain, but it doesn’t have enough mainstream appeal to reach a wider audience.
Ever since previewing the game on PC back in March, we’ve been itching to rejoin Amicia and Hugo De Rune, the noble siblings orphaned and destitute in A Plague Tale’s opening chapters. After replaying those harrowing first hours on Xbox One X, we picked up where we left off on the journey to cure five-year-old Hugo’s undiagnosed illness.
A complete and uncompromised story, which gradually builds and builds towards an almighty crescendo.
You’re at least afforded a degree of control in telling your ‘main’ companion at any given time to wait, preventing them from getting in the way or meeting any misfortune during combat; unless you leave poor Hugo for too long, that is, in which case he’ll panic and unwittingly attract Inquisition guards.
Rats are too numerous to fight head-on, so when we say combat it pertains to humans, who take no issue with running Amicia through with a sword and snatching up her younger brother. You can dodge incoming attacks to open up a counter window, though most often it won’t come to that since encounters are incredibly easy with a few early upgrades under your belt. There aren’t multiple difficulty settings, either, which makes toggling the incredibly generous aim-assist and HUD off the only ways to inject some challenge.
Ms. De Rune’s weapon of choice - the humble sling - at least unleashes projectiles with a satisfying thwip. As well as slinging rocks, you’ll routinely need to craft and chuck alchemical concoctions to turn the tides in your favour, for example corroding an armoured helmet in order to expose the wearer’s dome for a lethal headshot. Alternatively, you could take a more indirect approach, maybe breaking a lantern as means to ring the delicious dinner bell on an all-you-can-eat rat buffet.
Should you need to conserve resources (which we always had in abundance), it’s also possible to opt out of the murder game for the most part. More likely to have you playing pacifist are the instances where your actions are questioned by the impressionable young cast, which, in the absence of a concrete morality system, serve to make you think.
Following a guilt trip, it’s time to engage with the familiar stealth systems. Checkpoints are pretty frequent, so you’ll most often just need to memorise set enemy patrol patterns in digestible chunks, maybe throwing a few odds and ends to manufacture helpful distractions along the way. Getting spotted can result in an instant fail state, necessitating some trial and error to discern the best routes, probably to the frustration of some. There’s no real cause for concern though, since you can get away with basically sitting in an enemy's back pocket while crouched.
There’s no sneaking past rats, on the other hand, who’s beady red eyes can number in the on-screen thousands. These black-furred vermin tirelessly scuttle over one another in their endeavour to escape light, so you’ll often need to utilise makeshift torches to cut a path through them and between more substantial stationary light sources. In the later stages you’ll need to use advanced alchemy and your sling to set and extinguish specific fires from afar, herding and trapping them to facilitate your safe passage.
These lite light puzzles feel rewarding, despite the fact that you'll never really need to pause for thought, rather tackle them instinctively. As the rodents grow to become more aggressive, however, some set piece moments require you to switch off your brain and run for it; here the evocative original soundtrack is perhaps at its best, accelerating from sombre to breakneck as the orchestral string section frantically work up a sweat, inducing absolute panic in the player.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting, reveling in displaying the gnawed and gnarled reality of widespread death through a liberal littering of ravaged corpses. You’ll wade through human and porcine viscera, as well as slimy rat nests that almost reek right through the screen. It’s unpleasant, but outstandingly so, with exquisite lighting and textures telling a story which justifies the lengthy load times.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting.
Thankfully, the same is true at the other end of the spectrum, where A Plague Tale’s changing locations and weather effects can segue tone at a moment’s notice. These effective shifts don’t just mirror the current mood, but reiterate the wider theme of perseverance, and emphasise the extreme ways in which the sheltered De Rune children experience the world outside their estate for the first time. Rarely is a game’s presentation this meticulously considered, making it a real shame when character models and animations don’t meet the high bar now and then.
Their first original project following a history of ports, A Plague Tale: Innocence has put developer Asobo Studio on the map and almost certainly secured their creative future. Aided by Focus Home Interactive, Asobo have crafted a memorably melancholic adventure with a life-affirming side of joy.
If you fancy playing A Plague Tale: Innocence, be sure to enter our giveaway before 23:59 on Friday 17 May 2019 for a chance to win an Xbox One copy.
As the numbered entries in any series start hitting double digits, it can be difficult to still feel inspired by a new release – for both developers and fans. That’s not been the case for Mortal Kombat and the team at NetherRealm (Injustice 2), however, as 2015’s MKX was the biggest success for the fatal fighting franchise yet. Having to follow that means the pressure is on - so, does MK11 deliver?
Krushing Blows are a new feature which differ between characters, barring some more widespread triggers. These devastating variations on existing moves might be prompted by, for example, hitting the same maneuver twice consecutively or from a certain distance - everyone has access to multiple, which can individually be used just once per match in order to prevent spamming.
The final major change to MK11’s core gameplay is a split meter, now comprised of two chunks for defence and two for offence, all of which recharge automatically over time. The former can be used for things like breaking out of juggle combos, rolling out of range when floored, or utilising the environmental interactions available in most of the 20+ stages. The latter can be turned to modifying special moves and performing getup attacks (which also draw on defence), the idea being to enforce a more balanced play style by disallowing the use of meter in any exclusive fashion. It works.
All of the many, many interacting systems and their governing data are broken down and then layered on in a clear and digestible fashion.
Of course, the series' iconic Brutalities and Fatalities return untouched, allowing fights to reach excitingly over-the-top climaxes. They’re a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh alongside some gnarly audio that’ll squeeze equal amounts of wincing and disbelieving laughter from players.
Despite being a defining feature, these murderous moves can’t be busted out during the campaign for the sake of continuity. It’s easily forgiven, however, since story modes in NetherRealm fighters traditionally stand several severed heads and shoulders above the competition. The pulpy narrative follows directly on from MKX and revolves around the introduction of Kronica, a character with command (kommand?) over time and a distaste for the present, which conveniently slot together to form a time-bending celebration of Mortal Kombat’s past and present.
It’s unadulterated fanservice from a franchise that’s earned the distinction during more years in existence than the person writing this, but, having clambered abound at too early an age, things still got plenty nostalgic. Even if you don’t have any direct connection to old-school MK, everyone should at least recognise the classic costumes and character models which have long since been absorbed into the zeitgeist.
Throughout the story you’ll switch between multiple character perspectives, making it a great place to learn who you do and don’t click with. Outside of kombat, lavish cutscenes tell a fittingly outrageous eight-or-so hour tale which any lover of goofy, big-budget action flicks would jump at the opportunity to see on the silver screen. It’s easy to care about what’s happening, in spite of the unbelievable events and characters, plus a distractingly hammy performance from WWE and UFC star Ronda Rousey as Sonya Blade.
As with Fatalities and Brutalities, your custom character builds can’t be carried over to the campaign. MKX let players pick between preset character variations, massively diversifying its roster simply by fiddling with what was already there, and MK11 takes that ingenuity to the next logical step. Fighters still have a couple of presets each, but you can now build your own by equipping special moves across three slots (some of the more powerful abilities taking up two of them), whilst also switching out a slew of detailed cosmetics and, once you’ve won enough bouts with those cosmetics equipped to level them up, imbuing them with elemental augmentations. This essentially means that two players’ renditions of Scorpion, for example, can look and play very differently.
That being said, amassing the gear to fully deck out a specific character can be tough. Ignoring premium Time Krystals, along with the three premium consumables you can then buy with them, there are three in-game currencies which are paid out sparingly. Hearts are particularly bad, with most fights rewarding only one or two depending on whether you finished with a Fatality or a Brutality respectively. Most related purchases require 250...
What’s more, those purchases take the form of random loot chests, so it’s entirely possible that the ‘reward’ at the end of a long grind will be something useless to you. Delving the expanded and more involving Krypt to locate those chests at least proves engaging, since the gamified storefront is a mini metroidvania with puzzles and item gates all of its own.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh.
There’s no doubting the fact that an unreasonable time and/or money investment would be required of anyone looking to unlock everything, but we actually quite like the fact that we could dip in and out of MK11 in the years leading up to its inevitable sequel and have something new to show for each and every visit.
The ever-changing Towers of Time seek to ensure that you do keep coming back, presenting consecutive fights with devious gameplay modifiers to stack the odds against you. You can retry as many times as you like whilst incurring small incremental penalties to your score, plus equip ‘konsumables’ found in the Krypt to counter the disadvantages at hand, before eventually reaping the greatest rewards for time invested if you can overcome the challenge. Some seemingly insurmountable combinations are nothing short of infuriating though, ushering you towards buying premium Skip Fight Tokens since the alternative is to quit and lose your progress. Like the wider economy, this is being looked at.
There are plenty more ways to occupy yourself within MK11 in the meantime, like exhibition bouts in local co-op or against AI, which can be set to five difficulty levels. There are also Klassic Towers, minus any shenanigans, culminating in a boss encounter with Kronica followed by a trademark ending animatic tailored to your chosen character.
Online modes round out the offering, the most bizarre of which are asynchronous CPU-controlled battles, where you’ll choose three attacking combatants to face those assigned to defence by another user. You can enjoy the spectacle or fast forward, but we really have to wonder why it’s here at all, besides maybe offering a way to passively alleviate some of MK11’s grind. Characters can’t get injured or anything, so there’s no need to manage your roster, and, as far as tactics go, you could look to create custom variants to counter the most common character picks, at least on paper, but acquiring and levelling the gear to do so wouldn’t be worth the effort
Competitive modes encompass ranked first-to-three contests (no custom variations allowed) through ‘kasual’ single and King of the Hill matchups. Early netcode has been great, which is absolutely vital to any fighting game worth its salt, while the community is variable as ever, though there are tools in place to find players of a similar mindset and/or skill level. When you manage to do so, the deeper mechanics really start to shine and matches unfold like thoughtful games of chess, despite looking like mindless violence to onlookers.
There’s a hell of a lot to Mortal Kombat 11 then, as you can see, most of which is absolutely fantastic if you can overlook the current gouging. If you can’t, then maybe wait it out and see how things settle, but you shouldn’t allow peripheries such as currencies, cosmetics and just one of many modes stop you experiencing the immensely fun story and gratifyingly balanced kombat systems at the core of the game.
As my GCSE German teacher would tell you, I’ve never been particularly blessed with languages. How is it then, that Heaven’s Vault has stuck with me from the first play - back at Rezzed in 2018 - right through until now? More importantly, has that initial promise spawned the Oscar Wilde of video games, or, much worse (but definitely funnier), Danny Dyer?
Like many games before it, Heaven’s Vault utilises an excellent conversation system that not only affects how people interact with you, but what you learn about the settings, story and lore. We’re sure many would site the Mass Effect series here, but since the Brighton branch of PTC (that’s me) has never played any of them, it feels rather more like the ghost of Shenmue. How will you behave around a particularly aggressive slave master, for example? Will you try and sympathise, or downright scold them for their line of work, thus potentially closing off a line of questioning and information? These choices even change the course of your relationship with robot sidekick Six, who bloody loves a good natter.
Discovery and decoding of an ancient language is one of the main parts of the game that we found so compelling back at Rezzed 2018, so it’s wonderful to see it fully realised in the final product. This is where a thirst for adventure really helps, too: interact with everything you can, as often Aliya will remark about inscriptions or glyphs on certain items, and it’s here where the fun begins. If an inscription is split into four parts, let’s say, you’ll be given a potential selection of words to fill in each of the blanks, based on what you’ve previously tried or discovered. This charming element of trial and error further strengthened our desire to explore.
What was all that lark about sky sailing, then? Imagine a blend of Panzer Dragoon and The Wind Waker and you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect, as you pilot the good ship Nightingale along vast rivers in the clouds, to destinations new and old, all the while having one eye out for ruins and wreckages to plunder. The tranquil mood, pastel hues and sublime strings and pianos stave off any potential frustration at the amount of time it can take to get between places in the game, but those of you without patience will be happy to hear that a fast travel option is currently being patched in.
Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do.
We’re not sure why you’d want to skip over absorbing more of such a resplendent and alluring game, though. From the dark outlines and subtle colours of the exquisite hand-drawn 2D characters, to the fully 3D, lush environments of the Nebula, Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do (here’s looking at you, Breath of the Wild). It’s largely these lavish, luxuriant locales that spur you on to visit as much of the world as possible.
There’s just so much to love about the game, honestly. Sure, it isn’t completely flawless (the lack of music in many of the cutscenes seems odd, especially considering how good the soundtrack is), but the blend of adventuring, sky sailing, story and language are pretty close to perfect. The wealth of choices mean it’s ripe for multiple replays, too, so you’re really getting your money’s worth.
Whether it’s the small touches such as story recaps every time you start a play session, or the big ones listed above, Heaven’s Vault manages to tap into that truly wondrous, almost childlike sense of discovery brought on by experiencing something for the first time. If it sounds like your speed, make sure you don’t miss out on this glorious, glorious experience.
Based on the 2013 film of the same name, which was loosely based on Max Brooks’ original novel, World War Z the game doesn’t share a great deal in common with either. This survivalist shooter will be much more familiar to fans of Left 4 Dead, the zombie-slaying series which spawned and has defined a sub-genre for over a decade now.
There’s very little in the way of narrative motivation, rather the cathartic pleasure of mindlessly deanimating the reanimate is what’ll spur you on.
Zombies become a sort of hive mind once alerted to your presence, unflinchingly running towards their demise with no regard for anything other than killing their quarry. This is largely familiar stuff, but it takes on new life during regular scripted moments where they frantically clamber into fleshy pyramid structures to reach higher ground (launching explosives at the base to topple these is delectable) or fling themselves from above as makeshift projectiles.
You’re given enough firepower that these imposing setpieces are never outright frightening, which could be good or bad depending on your perspective. Fixed defence units including barbed wire, electrified floor panels and turrets can be placed in designated positions, while devastating heavy weaponry can be carried on your person to eradicate entire swarms single handed.
Special infected types are where you’ll need to employ a greater degree of finesse, although L4D players will already be acquainted with the sparse selection. Lurkers are Hunters that do a great job of waiting around corners before taking you by surprise with the ol’ pounce-and-pin manoeuvre. Gasbags are a marriage of Boomer and Spitter. Bulls are Chargers. Most telling of all, the Screamer is equivalent to... the Screamer.
You can mark these nasties on your teammates’ HUD, though in-game dialogue will most often vocalise their presence anyway, which is one of the few ways allied AI proves to be dependable. They can’t interact with mission objectives, don’t level up alongside you to meet the difficulty curve, and can’t be switched from the default Gunslinger class in order to compose a balanced team. You don’t even gain the ability to pause when playing offline, but hey, they’ll never incur friendly fire (which is always enabled) if you really must go solo.
Should sticking with the normal difficulty setting be your speed – meaning you don’t anticipate toughing it out being a problem – just be aware that an initial playthrough should only take around five or six hours. Longevity thereafter is gleaned by upping the stakes to earn better weapons and perks, which you’ll then use to repeat the cycle, only one notch higher on the five-step difficulty rung. Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things a little more fresh along the way.
Even with randomisation it can become repetitive if you don’t dip in and out, which makes the unique PvPvE multiplayer a smart addition. Featuring separate classes and progression to that of the campaign, the mode has five classic game types in which two teams of four fight against one another and, at the same time, CPU-controlled zombies.
Its largely no-frills approach harkens back to a period during the last console generation where almost every game had competitive multiplayer, though in an oddly nostalgic way. That feeling is certainly helped by the fact it’s competent and fun enough on a base level not to feel just tacked-on.
Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things fresh.
There’s an established early playerbase sticking around for the interesting dynamic of undead swarms which can cut off parts of a map entirely, but how long they’ll put up with the current balance issues is up for question. You can’t switch class mid-match, so if you made a choice that doesn’t synergise well with your team or effectively counter the opposition, you’re left no choice but to ride it out or quit. Certain weapons and strategies are overpowered, namely sprinting around with a double-barrelled shotgun and unloading both slugs or popping around a corner with the (thankfully quite limited) rocket launcher, yet the funk doesn’t end when you die. Spawns are incredibly inconsistent, as sometimes you’ll pop up right in front of an enemy with no temporary invulnerability to save your bacon, or, more to your advantage, right next to an unguarded objective.
Whether online or off, in our experience, the PS4 Pro and WWZ servers at least do a good job of handling all the hectic on-screen action. Visually the game is just decent, with some jumpy animations being the biggest sore thumb, but that’s always a worthy trade-off in favour of securing a solid technical performance.
At a budget price point, World War Z offers completionists a lot of game for the money, but anybody with a more one-and-done approach might end up feeling shortchanged by the brief campaign. For either camp, in spite of the strong sense of déjà vu overpowering a few original ideas, WWZ is a good candidate to kick back and relieve a hard day's stress with whenever the time is right.
Following its launch on PC and PS4 late last year, Ronimo Games (Awesomenauts Assemble!) have brought their side-scrolling strategy title to Nintendo Switch.
Apart from units actively mining resources, which remain at your base unless commanded to collect pick-ups, all units begin marching towards enemy positions immediately once purchased. They give no thought to their own safety or the size of the challenge facing them, therefore, players must manage resources carefully to ensure troops are sent forth in groups, rather than individually. This leads to some interesting strategization, as you’ll want to find potent combinations that best complement each other.
Missions generally feature at least one main objective along with one or two bonus objectives, which encourage you to experiment with tactics or challenge yourself by deliberately making things harder, adding variety to the straightforward level layouts. Main objectives range from simply destroying enemy bases to more memorable tasks like navigating a limited number of troops through environmental obstacles. Occasionally, you’ll also come across Bonus Battles; these one-off skirmishes give you the freedom to build your own army from all of the units you’ve unlocked thus far.
Both visually and technically, Shawarmageddon fares well on Switch. Frame rates occasionally drop during the largest of battles, but (naturally) Nintendo’s hybrid console offers the most ways to play - docked, handheld and touch - to easily counterbalance that. There’s seamless switching between the latter two, which makes targeting individual units a doddle, though, as we’ve found before, the balance, weight and shape of the Switch just doesn’t lend itself well to this one-handed style of play for long periods of time.
The versatility of the Joy-Cons also facilitates spontaneous bouts of local multiplayer, both docked and on-the-go, with portable play intelligently taking the unconventional approach of splitting matches vertically for optimum use of the Switch’s limited screen space.
Online multiplayer doesn’t hold up quite so well, unfortunately, as you’ll likely struggle to find another player even during peak hours. After just a handful of successful matches (many of which were against the same opponent), we found ourselves ranked 23rd on the global leaderboards, which suggests this mode has a very limited following.
Despite the dearth of online competition, Ronimo have catered their charismatically simple and engaging take on the strategy genre to all play styles on Switch, making it an attractive purchase.
Bust out the hi-tops, gold chains, fluorescent trousers and square hair, gang, for it’s time to revisit the beloved 90s world of ToeJam & Earl. That’s right, the titular twosome are Back in the Groove.
Let’s not forget the baddies, though: the cast of irritants and nasties feature earthlings of all flavours, encompassing autograph-hunting fans, FBI agents, and even sharks. That’s neglecting to mention the likes of ghostly cows, that corpulent, bald casanova, Cupid, and tornadoes that’ll knock you off the edge of a level, back down to the previous one. These foes are rarely threatening, mind, as there’s always a Sunflower forest to hide away in, playing a sublime little jingle whenever you walk into one.
Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Now, you could be forgiven for reading all of the above and wondering what the point of the whole shebang is. A fair assessment, perhaps, but that’d be to miss the essence of BITG completely. Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Yes, the core gameplay of searchin’ ‘n’ findin’ might not lend itself to the most thrilling of loops, but throw into the mix procedurally generated levels, different difficulties, the kind of laughs that only local co-op play can provide, and mini-games that break up the monotony - on that note, the dancing game is great, but the auto-runner isn’t so much - and there’s scope for even the non-nostalgic to enjoy themselves.
Visually, ToeJam and Earl have thankfully been dragged punching and hollering into the can-only-meet-people-via-an-app age. Gawping at the cartoony wonder of trees, water, snow, desert and caricature-style NPCs is a dream, so it’s a real shame that performance can suffer on occasion, when, in all honesty, the game really isn’t pushing the limits of modern hardware. The mid-level elevator scenes are a prime example of this: fantastic Fresh Prince-inspired backdrops that chug and wheeze as the next level loads.
The undeniable presentational standout here, though, is the absolute funkathon of a score. Squelchy, popped ‘n’ slapped bass smashes through the speakers, throwing some serious aural shapes alongside subdued, crunchy beats. Kickstarter backers had the opportunity to get a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl, and of that fact we’re considerably jealous.
Where does all this leave us though, folks? In reality, ToeJam & Earl is as anti-mainstream as ever, and we appreciate that. If you like local multiplayer games, adore funkadelic basslines, or just have a hankering to revisit 1991, you’ll certainly have fun with Back in the Groove. Comrades with short attention spans, or who find early 90s pop culture and/or the basic trappings of dungeon crawlers abhorrent, though, should breakdance right outta here. PEACE.