Some things in life are bloody hard. Think ironing on those travel-sized boards, resisting that packet of Ginger Nuts hidden within the cupboardy prison, understanding anything written by a lawyer, or the cleverly titled DiRT Rally 2.0. We might jest, chums, but seriously: this is the *snicker* Dark Souls of racing games...
From the title screen you’ll find two main methods of play: My Team and Freeplay. My Team focuses on online-centric challenges, AI challenges, and both rally and rallycross career modes. The career modes are an excellent timesink, but we’ve really found ourselves getting stuck into the daily and weekly challenges, which counter-balance the longevity of career with short, sharp tear-ups.
Freeplay features a quad collection of historic rallying (absolutely fantastical), officially licensed FIA world rallycross championship, time trial, and, most intriguing of all, custom mode. Here in the custom world one can create and share their very own championships and stages, all created via an easy-to-use system. Players decide on terrain, type of race, number of stages, weather for these stages, track conditions, etc. Much like DiRT 4’s Your Stage, Custom guarantees staying power.
Raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling.
2.0 is a real looker, too. Bash your way around cliffs as the sun sets and you’ll see what we mean, as gorgeous lighting creates lens flare and has distant waters shimmering away beautifully. Stagnant puddles glisten with filth, raindrops hit the screen with a thud, and muck splatters the back of whatever diesel-burner you happen to be controlling. Some of the backgrounds might be lacking a bit in detail, but honestly, when the driving is this intense, and the foreground this pretty, you probably won’t care.
Sound-wise, 2.0 gives us the same aural problems that DiRT 4 did, unfortunately. The raucous wailing of engine noise possesses the ability to grate on both oneself and the neighbours, and, on a personal note, the monotone of the co-driver is so reminiscent of my Year 10 ICT teacher that I began to nod off. Menu music and background vibes are fine, if a little understated.
We do have a few more niggles that we’d like to mention on top of that charismatic co-driver, though, folks. Whilst we personally loved the total lack of hand-holding tutorials, many with the desire to get involved with DiRT for the first time will be left feeling woefully unprepared for the mountainous learning curve and ridiculously narrow tracks that lie ahead. A practice/training mode, as seen in DiRT 4, would certainly have allayed this issue.
We’ve also experienced some problems with low-light and night races (the many miserable, rainy Polish rallies come to mind), where even Dr. Personality’s instructions can’t save you from smashing into trees, or even missing whole corners, because you couldn’t bloomin’ well see ‘em! Playing these at nighttime with the lights off and the brightness dialled up will help, but that’s realism gone too far.
These minor negatives aside, DiRT Rally 2.0 is exactly the kind of game that people don’t really make anymore. It’s mercilessly tough, never holds your hand, and takes a while to really get under your bonnet. If you don’t have the leather interior and hub-caps for that, then we suggest you stick with DiRT 4, but for anyone up to the challenge, we can’t recommend this enough.
Anthem isn't a bad game. While the press coverage leading up to launch (including our somewhat lukewarm preview) might not have got you hyped for the latest offering from EA and BioWare, the game itself deserves a chance, so let's get into it.
There's also a social space known as the Launch Bay, home to elements like the Forge, where you can customise your Javelin. This hub is one of the areas where the comparisons with a little game called Destiny most prominently rear their head. At this very moment, though, there are no dance contests, impromptu football matches or equivalent to speak of, making for a comparative dearth of sociability.
While the game being “like Destiny” isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's clear that this is a first attempt at something similar. The reality is that this style of game (a live service, if you will) remains fairly new territory for both EA and BioWare compared to publishers like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, who’ve seen multiple games and franchises trying their best to tread water in an increasingly busy marketplace filled with microtransactions and loot boxes.
There's none of the latter here, though the cosmetic upgrades on offer (which only subtly customise the look of your Javelin) are fairly pricey - in the realm of 60,000 in-game Coin for an armour set, to be exact. You can skip the 6-8 hour grind required to amass that for 850 premium Shards, which will set you back in the region of £8, since you can only buy them in excess.
Annoyingly, you can then only apply your wears to any one of the four specific classes of Javelin. On that note, you'll start out as the well-balanced Ranger, the all-rounder’s choice, akin to a nerfed War Machine from Iron Man. The Storm suit, our personal favourite, makes for your archetypal mage, boasting elemental attacks which look particularly impressive and often prove more effective than firearms.
Storm is a particularly good choice for taking advantage of Anthem’s combo system, open to all classes, which deals bonus damage when you combine different types of attacks. It's never explained in any real depth, you’re just left to experiment with it, which works well enough in the end.
If diving straight into the fray is more your thing, you'll probably want to try the nimble Interceptor, which sports twin blades to look extra cool when engaging in melee bouts. If that sounds a faff and you'd rather sit back and pummel foes into submission with a barrage of bullets, then the lumbering Colossus should do the trick.
Whichever you opt for, all of the Javelins sport identical flight modes which made us pine to see them implemented in a licenced Iron Man game. Your jets are prone to overheating, remedied by nose diving or taking a refreshing dip, but the limited air time is sufficient to survey Anthem's beautifully idyllic and highly vertical locales with ease. Don't try to go too high though, or you'll hit some turbulence concealing the invisible glass ceiling…
Traversal during missions can be further limited at times, as the action centres around the player closest to the next objective marker, meaning that if you leave the main path to explore a little - or even when you remain shockingly close to them on occasion - you'll be told you've strayed from the mission marker before being respawned back with the group after only 25 seconds.
If this made for a brief disruption it’d just about be a bearable irritation, but, unfortunately, it’ll require you to sit through another of the many incredibly lengthy load screens that clutter the entire game. Improvements have been made over the demo build, but there are still far too many lengthy periods of downtime between performing even basic tasks, such as customising your character, making loading a constant pain and disruption to the otherwise largely smooth flow of gameplay.
It's particularly telling that Destiny manages to call up your loadout in a few seconds just by pressing start, whereas Anthem forces you to go to a specific area, though you can at least fasttrack straight there at the end of missions.
BioWare’s post launch plans for Anthem seem promising, and, as corny as it sounds, it feels like the game is destined to blossom into an acceptably meaty product after a year or so. The problem therein is that they’re asking full price for it right now, while offering an experience which provides only fleeting moments of satisfaction.
There’s simple joy in the act of soaring around a thoroughly beautiful (if quite empty) setting, especially when venturing online to recruit teammates and devastate the hostile natives with visually impressive combos. However, these pleasures are at risk of being lost amongst the forgettable story, repetitive mission structure and uninspiring weaponry, which drops far too sparsely considering we’re dealing with a ‘looter shooter’.
Those in the market for this brand of service game are already well catered to by continual support for Destiny 2, Warframe and Ubisoft’s upcoming Division 2, which looks set to refine an acceptable first iteration. As such, many players may want to hold off on exploring the colourful world of Anthem for now; but, if you really must fulfil your wild Tony Stark fantasies, there is fleeting fun to be had today.
Desolation. While winter in the UK has its moments, it pales in comparison to Russia at the best of times. In the bleak future of the Metro series, after the Last War reduced the world to rubble, this oppressive landscape begets a bleak outlook, but, just beneath the surface, there is hope.
Tense and claustrophobic underground sections keep your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
The game definitely feels like an epic, despite hanging onto a mostly linear structure. Even larger open areas, which have vignettes of things to explore tucked away here and there - like a makeshift enemy stronghold or an abandoned cabin - flow from one event to the next before transporting you on to another area, which will have its own feel and weather as the in-game seasons pass.
Shootouts are a mixture of musical stings and often frantic ducking for cover, as you toe the line between risk and reward by going loud. More often than not the throwing knife is your best friend in human encounters, far more effective at taking down enemies instantly and not disturbing others nearby.
Out in the open there are more monstrous creatures to tackle, transformed by the surface radiation, who you'll want to have a loaded shotgun ready for. Fortunately, there's a fairly in-depth attachments system in place to let you piece a weapon set together that suits your play style. Don't become too reliant on your equipment though, as things can break and require the odd spot of maintenance, be that pumping up a pneumatic weapon or charging your torch.
Previously, you could only tinker with your loadout at a select few vendor locations, but now these storefronts are a thing of the past. This makes way for on-the-fly resource crafting, via scavenged components, whilst also nixing the intriguing dilemma of choosing whether to utilise bullets for currency or self-preservation seen in the past games. That might seem like a loss, but it quite quickly became arbitrary as you almost inevitably amassed more ammunition than you knew what to do with.
Whether the game holds onto enough of the haunting, thriller gameplay which made the tunnels of Metro 2033 and Last Light so compelling for some is up for debate. Coming in fresh, the balance and variety of gameplay feels on point here, with tense and claustrophobic tunnel sections keeping your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
Visual details go a long way in bringing everything together, particularly as weather effects play with the lighting to make you feel as isolated or on edge as Artyom does. In native 4K on Xbox One X, some of the details are stunning.
Taken as a whole, the experience is a testament to the minute care and attention lavished on every element of Metro Exodus, leaving few drawbacks to speak of. Some characters feel a bit cartoonist at times, but the core interactions between Artyom and his wife alone will be enough to get you caring about the fate of this character and his community.