At first glance, Portal Knights could be mistaken for just another Minecraft clone, but, if you keep looking, it quickly becomes apparent there’s a lot more to it than that. Having been in early access on Steam for the past year - a span of time in which developer Keen Games took constant feedback from the community - Portal Knights features the necessary depth and complexity to make it a varied and fun-filled experience in its own right.
You land at set points after using one of the aforementioned portals, which can be changed by crafting new markers once you’ve gathered a few resources and unlocked some of the more specialist crafting options by upgrading your workbench. The bench is your creative hub, and really where the Minecraft comparison is the most apt, though items are more deliberately sorted and categorised here. You’ll also need additional benches to craft specialist items, be it an anvil for Warrior gear, an archer station for Ranger gear, or an altar for souped-up Mage equipment.
The addictive nature of the game’s main thrust may prove enough to hold your attention for longer than the 30 hours it would take to power through the main questline.
On that note, at the beginning of the game you’re asked to choose one of three fairly bog standard character classes - Warrior, Ranger or Mage. There are a few implications to this choice, as Warriors wield melee weapons, Rangers use (you guessed it) ranged weapons and Mages play with magic wands, naturally. Aside from each class having unique unlockable abilities which you can choose between at roughly five-level intervals, they pretty much serve as loose suggestions, with characters growing based on which skills (Dexterity, Strength, etc.) you assign points to. This means you could make a beefy, tankish magic user if you felt like it, or a particularly nimble Warrior.
Whatever your build, you’ll fight enemies reminiscent of creatures you might come across in The Legend of Zelda, particularly those which add elemental typings to the same base enemy, as Breath of the Wild fans will be all too familiar with (curse you Wizzrobes!). Certain armour provides bonus defence against certain elements, and depending on how willing you are to grind the rarest materials or craft the most complex gear, you can find yourself with astonishingly high defence to absorb the wrath of most foes.
You can team up online with up to three other players if ever you require aid on your quest, with one player acting as host and everyone else coming to visit, but, beyond that, there are no additional modes. The addictive nature of the game’s main thrust may prove enough to hold your attention for longer than the 30 hours it would take to power through the main questline, however.
Portal Knights boasts more deliberate direction and increased complexity over Minecraft, while still managing to keep things straightforward enough to be accessible. The game’s design is endearing and makes basic RPG elements easy to get to grips with, proving to be a good bridge for youngsters in transitioning towards more ‘grown-up’ games, and to be good, laid-back fun for adults.
Following cancellation concerns and delays, RiME’s blend of puzzling and adventure finally makes its way to our screens; but does it earn a place alongside contemporaries like Journey, Ico and Zelda?
With all that style, is there any room left for substance? Well, the story itself is fairly basic; you're washed ashore, trying to find out why you’ve ended up there. At the end of each stage you run towards a giant keyhole shaped light: walk into it and you’re transported to a new island to uncover new parts of the story.
The cutscenes that play out in these stage breaks give some colour to the story, building a mystery around the recurring, distant figure who also happens to be wearing a red cape. In all honesty, you’ll see the ending coming from a mile off, but Tequila Works should be applauded for tackling the subjects of loss, death and recovery without using any form of dialogue.
Tequila Works should be applauded for tackling the subjects of loss, death and recovery without using any form of dialogue.
RiME is a puzzle-adventure, and the gameplay truly reflects that. The journey revolves heavily around vertical traversal, solving varying puzzles along the way. These puzzles range from platforming tasks to activate switches (you sing to them) or to reach new areas, pushing and pulling items, collecting orbs to open doors/awaken the sentinels and more.
It’s here that the Zelda influence really becomes more of a parody though; you’ll feel like you’ve played through these before, which, in combination with their relative ease (just follow the obvious clues and hints or the helpful fox) leaves little in the way of challenge. One of the stages is actually one huge puzzle quest, which drained the life from us as it slowly moved to a close, getting in the way of the story and wide-eyed-wonder (add the watching-paint-dry slow loading screens to this pile!).
Although the puzzle element of the game is lacking in originality, we still found ourselves enjoying RiME'sgameplay on the whole. This is largely in debt to the elegant visuals, but also down to a bold choice to create a combat-less game world, in which you'll simply jump, roll and sing. This really does help to convey the story of a child lost, trying to make sense of life and friendship and loss.
This sweet tale is underpinned by an absolutely triumphant score. There’s soaring strings, twinkling pianos and ambient noise that all sway and rise like the mighty in-game ocean. The way the music swells when you near the end of a stage is a trick that is definitely cheesy, but my God is it effective. Running up or down huge stone spiral stairs whilst violins and cellos surge is wholly engrossing, even if it does give more than a wink to Ico.
So, in summary, RiME is a difficult game to really put a number on. For every fantastic moment, there’s a technical issue like the infuriating camera shifts during platforming or a huge frame drop. The game begs to be played multiple times - to find all the collectables and positively explore every nook and cranny - but will most bother? At five to ten hours in its initial playthrough, it’s a great choice for the gamer with limited time, but is the £25-30 price point too rich a prospect? You’ll have to figure these questions out for yourselves, chums, but if you want my two penneth: get it when the price comes down.
A remaster of a DS title released back in 2008, Lock’s Quest is the latest game to rise from the ashes that were once THQ to be offered up on Xbox One, PS4 and PC for a new generation of gamers.
Lock is a complete novice, meaning he needs to gradually learn the trade of archineering (that’s Archimedes engineering, possibly…), unlocking new abilities and defences to hold off the strangely time-conscious enemy. There’s only a couple of minutes at the most to throw down defences before the next assault (which usually lasts about three minutes itself), meaning the mad dash to get to grips with how to use new items can cost you precious preparation time.
Once you reach the battle phase, Lock can hold his own in a fight, flailing wildly by tapping A, or employing a little finesse by hitting three to four buttons in sequence for a more deadly combo attack. In practice, we found mashing to be effective enough if you’re taking on one or two baddies at a time, but it’s easy to get surrounded thanks to the more-often-awkward-than-not terrain, so death is never too far away.
Most of the time, NPCs are responsible for defence up until you arrive, at which point they seemingly pop to the pub.
Mastering the combos, as well as a bit of stick waggling and spinning to execute other attacks and repairs quickly, was, for me personally, the weakest point of the experience. You find yourself (or I do, at least) starting with A automatically when most combos dart between the four main face buttons, which leads frustration to follow failure as you kick yourself knowing you could have done something about it.
The thoughtful building was more my thing, gradually learning the enemy AI’s movements and developing cunning ways to distract them and take them down - or even just delay them for a few more precious seconds.
The main weapons in your arsenal are turrets, but you also get access to traps which can cause trouble in their own right. Putting walls either side of turrets buffs their defence, meaning they can take a few more hits, and later you can assign helpers to gradually repair them over time or increase their range.
Despite there being an army, or at least guards, on hand to help with defence (most of the time, they’re responsible for defence up until you arrive, at which point they seemingly pop to the pub), you’re largely left to fend for yourself - even though this could have make for an interesting collaborative co-op experience.
The story running throughout is entertaining enough, if fairly obvious, and the musical score is well-suited to the game’s aesthetic. That said, a few weeks into the 100 in-game days on offer, you’ll begin to beg for a little more variety as the repetition sets in.
The same is largely true of the game experience as a whole. New enemies, new traps and new defences are gradually introduced, but, fundamentally, you learn everything the game has to offer in the first few battles, with few game changers to upset the board and force you to think differently once you’ve got into a pattern you’re comfortable with.
For the price (£15.99 on Xbox One), there’s some solid gameplay to be had, though if you weren’t already aware you could probably guess it was a port from a different system. Putting a series of different sized walls down would be considerably easier with the added precision of a stylus - a control method the game was originally designed around - but the input on a gamepad is simple enough to get used to in time.
Lock’s Quest might not be a game that’s on your radar, or something you were even looking for, but if you want to flex the strategic muscle on console in particular, then this might be a tempting purchase.
A fighting game based on pitting DC’s biggest and best superheroes and villains against one another was never going to be a hard sell. We’ve all pondered age-old questions like whether Batman or Superman would win in a round of fisticuffs, and 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us provided a tool with which to play out these fantasies, seeing critical and commercial success as a direct result. Selling a sequel, however, can be a much harder prospect, but one that NetherRealm and Warner Bros.’ have managed to surmount by meaningfully building on the original’s strong foundation.
Whether you’re a DC fan and a genre novice, or a fighting game aficionado with no attachment to the roster, Injustice 2 caters to your niche.
If you elect to hoard your power and fill the Super Meter entirely, you can trade it all in for one devastating Super Move. These signature sequences are an over-the-top spectacle, equivalent to Mortal Kombat’s visceral x-ray attacks that, while far less graphic in their depiction, are, undoubtedly, no less deadly.
The tutorial does a sterling job of teaching the above mechanics and more, but integrating these skills against an opponent that actually fights back is a whole new kettle of fish. You’ll need to experiment extensively to figure out what combinations of attacks work, where and when they work, and against who. Though time consuming, it’s part and parcel of the rewarding learning process.
Story Mode is a good place to start out and familiarise yourself with a range of characters, as each chapter sees you take control of someone new to get a taste of the different combat styles on offer. What’s more, the narrative is genuinely engaging and presented with abundant production value, making it the premier attraction when it comes to solo play, as compared to the throwaway nature of the mode in so many other fighters.
Continuing where Gods Among Us left off, Injustice 2 challenges expectations by turning heroes rogue and villains good, though, with Earth’s future in peril at the hands of Brainiac, the sides strike a temporary alliance. The high-stakes tale is brimming with fan service and boasts a seamless, filmic presentation that culminates in an experience that, as cliché as it might sound, is akin to being a part of the latest summer blockbuster.
The lavish presentation really can’t be understated, with gorgeous character models animating fluidly against bustling stage backgrounds that help the visuals pop - especially if you have an Xbox One S and a supporting TV to play with HDR. Injustice 2 is equally enticing for audiophiles as well, with a seasoned and recognisable voice cast complementing the rousing and bombastic soundtrack.
Progress is rewarded with Gear, which can then be equipped to influence a relevant character’s appearance and stats - strength, defence, health and ability - provided they meet the level requirement to use it. You level fighters simply by taking them into battle, earning experience points proportional to your performance at the conclusion of each bout, win or lose. The wide range of character-specific Gear and Shaders available is somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style. For purists that don’t like the sound of tinkering with the game’s balance, it can also be kept purely cosmetic (which is standard in ranked online play).
The wide range of character-specific customisation options are somewhat staggering, allowing you to extensively adapt each combatant to make them truly your own in terms of both their look and play style.
Gear fiends will definitely want to spend some time in Multiverse mode, as that’s where they’ll see the highest payouts. Multiverse, a universe-hopping staple of the DC comics, is a nice way of contextualising the transition of Mortal Kombat’s Living Towers, with new multiverses constantly cropping up for limited timeframes, each home to a string of encounters against new takes on existing heroes and villains under differing rulesets. Mother Boxes are rewarded for beating a multiverse and function in much the same way as Overwatch’s Loot Boxes, dishing out a random selection of items for a random set of characters when opened.
Mother Boxes can be bought with in-game credits, which you’ll earn a steady stream of and can sell unwanted Gear for, while items you’re fond of can be refreshed with Regen Tokens to bring them up to your current level. The rare Source Crystals, however, which serve to change an item’s appearance while maintaining its stats, are a more premium commodity, requiring you to part with some cash if you want to make frequent use of them. Thankfully, Gear is earned at a fair clip, so you should never be left wanting enough to feel pressured into it.
Joining a Guild is a direct route to more loot, with all members working towards specific objectives in order to share in the victory spoils. Guilds are also a good place to meet like-minded players with which to play online, as, unfortunately, both ranked and player bouts suffer imbalanced matchmaking and opposition that spam the same few attacks.
When you do find applicable human competition, the game takes on new life, with mind games that wouldn’t necessarily be utilised by or against the AI coming into play. Unpredictable use of cancels, delays and cross-ups keep everyone on their toes, making for some edge-of-your-seat encounters. While infrequent and only occurring at peak times, it’s just unfortunate that spotty netcode can occasionally throw a spanner in the works. As is the case with any precision-based fighter, anything other than flawless online performance renders the game near unplayable.
Despite that, Injustice 2 has dethroned the mighty Mortal Kombat X as king of our hill, in the process cementing NetherRealm’s place atop the genre. Sumptuous presentation, unrivalled storytelling, deep customisation systems, endless Multiverse possibilities, and a mostly solid online experience that can only improve with time make Injustice 2 the full package.
Channelling the ghosts of the past, NBA Playgrounds aims to play a game of charged-up arcade B-ball, but, like Dennis Rodman’s hair, it has some great moments, though falls short of reaching the play-offs.
Get some friends over, however, and you’ve got yourself a cracker of a party game. Elbowing a friend to the floor as they look certain to score a dunk is glorious, as is activating the score x2 multiplier when you're not on the receiving end. It’s a shame that the single player elements of the game don’t carry the same wonder, but not surprising considering the market that Playgrounds is pitched to. Online multiplayer is almost equally as fun, provided you can find an opponent who doesn’t rage quit, but it lacks the divisional tiers that make the likes of FIFA or NBA2K such enjoyable time sinks.
Get some friends over, however, and you’ve got yourself a cracker of a party game - elbowing a friend to the floor as they look certain to score a dunk is glorious...
Playgrounds’ visual presentation is a definite highlight, with both the players and the playgrounds themselves really shining. The chunky, cartoony character models exaggerate the features of each player, as well as gifting them comically bulging muscles to provide some real laughs. Courts add to the fun factor by playing on recognisable stereotypes, from Shanghai’s cherry blossom trees, to New York’s graffiti, to Westminster with the London Eye.
Shooting from deep, the game also scores on the audio front. A cracking hip-hop theme tune plays in between games, with a vocoder-infused voice blasting lines about being “a high flyer” against a backdrop of rhymes like “alley-oop to the hoop”. The fun doesn’t stop there though, as each venue has its own theme tune, again riffing on the stereotypes of that country - Paris has accordion in its tune, par exemple.
NBA Jam had classic commentary phrases as legendary as its gameplay, and Playgrounds aims for the same territory here. Jam’s very own Ian Eagle is present, along with co-commentator E.J. Johnson, creating a mostly hilarious pairing. Lay-ups are met with comments about finger rolls, jelly rolls and butter rolls, and they also take great pleasure in breaking the fourth wall with nuggets concerning your ability with the controller, which usually bring about a chuckle.
While initially entertaining, the verbal bashings get old rather quickly, mind; we’ve lost count of the number of times Mr Eagle has ended a game harping on about his own skills on the hardwood. Playgrounds is proof that new isn’t always better than old, with nothing coming close to the genius, childhood-defining delivery of “BOOMSHAKALAKA”.
So, as the shot clock ticks down and the game nears its close, it’s obvious that, although Playgrounds can be fun, it certainly isn’t the new NBA Jam. If you’re a huge fan of NBA Street et al then you’ll get your £15.99’s worth, but for everyone else, the ball will hit the rim and bounce back out.
Saber Interactive were good enough to provide us with a copy of the game for review.
The humble fox, where would we be without it? For starters, the Lylat system would have fallen to Andross and his evil armies decades ago, the animals of Farthing Wood would never have made it to White Deer Park, and, er, that Disney version of medieval Nottingham where all the inhabitants are woodland animals would still be toiling under Prince John’s ludicrous tax laws. Looking to further add to these (sort of) legendary tales of fox glory are Swing Swing Submarine, with their Metroidvania-like, 2D puzzle/platformer, Seasons After Fall.
Asides from notably changing the land’s aesthetics, by drastically altering the weather and lighting, each season also has its own unique effect on the platforming side of things. Autumn causes mushrooms to expand their caps, creating makeshift platforms, winter freezes lakes, making them easier to cross, summer sees trampoline-like plant pods bloom into life, while spring rains raise water levels. Often, you’ll need to combine these abilities in order to progress deeper into an area, such as raising a water level with spring rains, and then freezing it with winter’s cold, but doing so, for the most part, feels rudimentary, and you’re never really presented with any kind of obstacle that requires too much thought.
As well as the four seasons, there’s a small selection of local wildlife scattered throughout the game that players will be able to utilise from time to time, including some insect-like critters that have a smack of the metroid about them. Depending on the type, these can be used to grow mushroom platforms, sprout new trees, or break down progress-halting barriers. There’s also a Super Mario-style Piranha Plant that, depending on the season you currently have selected, will create makeshift platforms by spitting out snow, or douse well-placed tree seedlings with water to make them grow.
Watching the brush-tailed avatar trot, sprint and leap through the beautifully hand-painted landscape was one of the highlights of the game.
As a key feature, the game naturally relies heavily upon its season switching mechanic, but the small animation that comes with every change, in which the fox is lifted into the air and the surrounding landscape is transformed, isn't as rapid as it could be, which can get a little tedious when even crossing a small area can sometimes require three or four changes. Also, if you happen to be standing on a moving platform when switching seasons, which is at times necessary, then the brief moment you spend hanging in the air is usually just long enough for the platform to move out from under your feet, causing you to fall.
Little issues like this, coupled with floaty controls and some occasional input lag, cement the feeling that Seasons After Fall was never intended to appeal to hardcore platforming fans, with the game relying instead on its charm, unique presentation and novelty value to keep the player invested, much like Unravel did when it released just over a year ago.
Unlike Coldwood and EA’s title however, whose thread-based puzzles and nostalgia-inducing narrative made it easy to forgive the game its basic platforming mechanics, Seasons’ issues - despite its beautiful visuals, soundtrack and sympathetic protagonist - are harder to look past.
● Lovely, hand-painted art
● Charming soundtrack
● An endearingly cute protagonist
● Manipulating the seasons is cool…
● …but feels like it could have been implemented better, especially in puzzles
● Floaty controls
● No objective indicator makes it easy to get lost
Lords of the Fallen was the first attempt at aping From Software’s popular Souls series by developer Deck13 Interactive, but it fell significantly short of matching up. Seemingly undeterred and learning from their past transgressions, The Surge (uninspiring title and all) bucks all trends by proving, on this occasion, second time is in fact the charm.
When locked onto a foe you can focus on one of six body parts, namely the head, torso, or any arm or leg. The game's systems and your current circumstance will dictate where you choose to target; focusing unarmoured areas will lead to quick kills, perfect for when you’re near death and looking to avoid combat, but taking the inherent risk in prolonging a fight by pummelling an armoured section will offer up rewards. Successive successful strikes build your energy gauge, which, when filled to the illustrated mark, allows the player to launch into a cinematic finisher on low-health enemies to sever the battered limb and claim the weapon or armour adorning it as their own. While a weapon is immediately good to go, you’ll need to craft new armour using the piece as a base schematic, gathering the materials to do so by targeting the same relevant area on additional baddies and scrapping their gear for parts.
It’s a brilliantly novel system, essentially making combat a morbid shopping spree in which you cherry pick the bits you want and cut them off your co-workers. It fundamentally changes the way you play, and, as sadistic as it may sound, the varied and violent accompanying finisher animations never ceased to satisfy.
The limb targeting system is brilliantly novel, essentially making combat a morbid shopping spree in which you cherry pick the bits you want and cut them off your co-workers.
That said, it does have its drawbacks. The busy HUD that highlights limbs and their status can be obtrusive and make it somewhat difficult to spot the more subtle tells of an incoming attack, whilst enemies can also catch you with unavoidable damage as you come out of the uninterruptible animations (despite being immune during). While those foibles are annoying, especially when one hit can be enough to immediately kill you, we found Deck13’s solution to the inevitable question of “Why doesn’t Warren - just Warren - simply loot the dead?” more amusing than anything else; corpses spontaneously combust when they hit the floor, which, while avoiding undermining their own mechanics, ranks equally on the video game nonsense scale.
In spite of the issues, combat does a great job of conveying the mechanised and improvised nature of encounters, the tools (often literal, weaponised worker’s tools) at your disposal feeling weighty and impactful or fluid and graceful dependant on which class of weapon - each with their own proficiency level that increases with use - you opt for. While there are no ranged weapons, you do acquire a companion drone that requires energy to use, much like finishing manoeuvres, and can be upgraded to gain new abilities that increase its usefulness. While dealing no significant degree of damage, it's a tactical godsend, allowing you to draw single units from groups to engage them separately and avoid being overwhelmed, or knockdown aggressive targets to dictate the pace of a battle as a couple of examples.
With those winning strategies under your belt, you’ll be earning plenty of Tech Scrap, a resource gathered by defeating enemies and serving much the same purpose as Souls do in the series bearing their name. In a twist carried over from Lords of the Fallen, the longer you stay out in the field, the more you earn, with a growing multiplier goading you into taking risks you probably shouldn’t. In doing so, you put your entire pot on the line, as when you die (and you will die) all of the Tech Scrap on your person falls to the ground and you have but one brief chance to reclaim it - if you die again or let the 02:30 timer (which can be topped up by getting kills) deplete before retrieving it, it’s gone for good.
Better to be safe than sorry is a good mantra to adopt, frequently returning to the bonfire-like Medbays to make use of all that glorious Scrap, even at the cost of resetting your multiplier and repopulating the area. Medbays are much less prevalent than bonfires, with strictly one per area, but this is balanced out by the fact you can safely bank Tech Scrap to use at a later time and occasionally find Medstations to replenish your health and items out in the wild. You’ll use Scrap to upgrade your gear - and make sure you do so frequently, because needlessly hoarding it will be your downfall - via the game’s simplified RPG systems. Rather than allocating points to specific stats, you boost your Core Power, which allows you to equip more/better equipment by having the necessary juice to power it.
That might mean you don some fancy armour modules, or that you affix an additional implant, the latter offering one of a range of active and passive perks that range from carrying additional healing items, to earning more energy, to increasing your stamina and far more beyond that. The system allows you to respec to your heart’s content, experimenting with different loadouts to discover one that fits your play style and sees the pieces fall into place. You won’t be able to get too comfortable, however, as if you were to opt for an energy-focused, lumbering tank (for example) that wouldn’t serve you well in all walks, so you’ll need to be flexible and mix things up on those occasions.
Core Power also serves as a gating mechanic, with paths opened up by overcharging electrical systems where you meet the requirement. These often serve as satisfying shortcuts back to the warm embrace of a Medbay, with environments constantly looping back on themselves in a considered display of intelligent level design.
The customisation system allows you to respec to your heart’s content, experimenting with different loadouts to discover one that fits your play style and sees the pieces fall into place.
Areas hold all manner of secrets and loot-based rewards, compelling you to explore every corner of the world, but they aren’t seamlessly interconnected or nearly as sprawling and varied as those that inspired them. That’s not to say they aren’t good - great, even - but by openly drawing comparison to arguably the very best in the business, they begin to fall short.
With no map or objective markers, Deck13 place trust in their design and the intelligence of their players to be able to intuitively follow the game’s nonlinear progression, which sometimes requires you to backtrack to put new items and abilities to use. This makes any and all progress feel satisfyingly earnt, rather than something you just take as given. The same approach is adopted for side missions (delivered by fellow survivors in awkward conversational exchanges), whereby it’s entirely on you to peruse the end goal without any form of handholding; if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you quite simply don’t complete them.
Open spaces generally betray the location of a boss, with battles being disappointingly infrequent considering their consistent high quality. Fights are unforgiving, drawn-out affairs that will generally require a few trial and error deaths before everything clicks and you figure out their attack patterns, your optimum positioning, and your windows of opportunity. With no multiplayer to speak of, and, thus, no summoning a co-op partner for help, you have to ‘get good’ and surmount these significant obstacles independently.
Often large and imposing, transforming themselves and their stages in an intimidating display as battles progress, the mechanised bosses match up to many of the Souls series’ famed behemoths in terms of visuals and mechanics, but are less memorable thanks by and large to the accompanying soundtrack. An industrial sound that, while fitting, is totally generic unsuccessfully stands in for bombastic scores that inspire fear whilst mirroring a boss’ unique personality and movement.
Despite suffering some shortfalls, once you sink your teeth into The Surge’s innovative customisation suite and find what works for you, the game’s core pillars of combat and exploration become immensely rewarding to engage with. With the Souls series officially on hiatus, The Surge offers up a riveting equivalent with plenty of its own merit, though doesn't quite best what is, to borrow a phrase from Dark Souls’ own Oscar of Astora, a game so grossly incandescent.
A reboot of 3D Realms’ 2006 shooter, Prey finds itself fighting an uphill battle. Sharing little but its name with the original, while standing in for what looked to be a promising sequel in Prey 2, many fans of the property are approaching this 2017 reimagining with a justified degree of trepidation. Whether you fall into that camp or not, reset assured, Prey was always very safe in the hands of Arkane Studios (Dishonored).
Uncovering Talos I’s many dark secrets is an unending treat.
You’re free to prowl the detailed station at will, though certain areas are cordoned off until you acquire the relevant skills or items to proceed; as a result, the world slowly unfurls around you in a way that’s not dissimilar to a classic ‘metroidvania’ game. With high character mobility and constant branching paths to accommodate different playstyles, the lavish level design saw us obsessively scour every surface not for medkits, ammo and crafting components, but for the sheer pleasure of it.
Mind-bending microgravity sections in which you fly through claustrophobic maintenance tunnels and around the ship’s huge exterior further contribute to making Talos I a thoroughly memorable - and, dare we say, iconic - setting that ranks amongst gaming’s very best.
Of course, the encounters you face in these quintessential halls play no small part in the achievement. Prey’s enemies are the otherworldly Typhon, a pitch black alien race that look and act as though they stepped out of the static on a television screen. Harvesting human life to multiply, they come in many shapes and sizes, from the hulking Nightmare that crops up for repeat mini-boss encounters, to the invisible Poltergeists that violently throw you around via telekinesis, to the spider-like Mimics that hide in plain sight.
Mimics in particular imbue the experience with a suffocating sense of unease, posing as unassuming, inanimate objects to ensure you’re never certain of your immediate safety. Their unpredictable nature rarely affords you the opportunity to stand at ease, making Prey a game you play on edge, constantly scanning environments with a critical eye for anything that looks out of place. When a Mimic attacks, generally blindsiding and causing you to jump in the process, the ensuing panic has seen us forget about the shotgun in our hands and frantically throw mugs instead.
Paired with a lack of regenerating health and limited resources, enemies become imposing predators, relegating the player to the fitting role of prey. Despite that, there’s a relatively vast breadth of options when it comes to combatting the Typhon threat; a range of satisfying firearms and alien abilities can be used in conjunction with one another to create powerful combined attacks, set traps and get the drop on your opposition.
Enemies are imposing predators, relegating the player to the fitting role of prey.
Neuromods - the game’s eye-injected upgrade currency - are used to purchase skills from a whopping six trees, with the embarrassing wealth of abilities on show making it difficult to choose. Everything looking enticing is a great problem to have, mind, especially as diversifying can position you to take the upper hand. Scanning enemies with the Psychoscope gleans knowledge on their abilities, strengths and weaknesses, so it pays to be somewhat a jack of all trades to ensure you have the tools to take advantage of this information. That said, whatever your build, it’s generally a good idea to disable an enemy with the stun gun or innovative GLOO Cannon (which can also be used to create makeshift cover and platforms) before launching your attack.
Talos I’s security measures are configured to target Typhon DNA, so there’s a risk associated with acquiring abilities from the alien trees. Accruing enough will eventually turn the system against you, but, while investing in some hacking upgrades will remedy that by bringing them back onside, it won’t help quite so much when the Nightmare makes you a higher priority target. Rather than being drawbacks that prevent you from experiencing some of the game’s most fun and powerful abilities, these mechanics materialise as dynamic balancing tweaks that shouldn’t put you off experimenting with everything on offer.
Prey’s audio is worthy of special mention too, thanks by and large to legendary sound designer and composer, Mick Gordon. After delivering last year’s face-melting DOOM soundtrack, heavy metal gives way to a building, synthetic sound that’s menacing and intense. Atmospheric ambient sound, harrowing, distorted Typhon murmurings, punchy explosions and gunfire, along with repeating motifs that accompany specific events make for an all-round aural treat.
Whilst we’ve lavished Prey with a lot of praise, rough inevitably comes with the smooth. Distracting texture pop-in is prevalent, FPS dips crop up occasionally and load times between areas are fairly lengthy. In addition to these technical issues, a number of glitches were peppered throughout: dialogue went awry when we accidentally skipped straight to a later objective, items would randomly be absent from animations, and an objective marker became stuck directly in the centre of the screen throughout the duration of an entire area.
Though these niggles did impact Prey’s otherwise stellar sci-fi horror experience, in the grand scheme of things, they barely put a crease in Morgan Yu’s space suit. Prey is tense and unnerving, while at the same time playful and explorative. Its central mystery compels you to delve deep into the bowels of the expertly-crafted setting, Talos I, engaging in (or even avoiding) rewarding and tactical combat along the way. Arkane have a fundamental understanding of quality game design, utilising that here to produce another fantastic video game for their growing collection.
When I sampled World to the West at EGX Rezzed this year, I found it to be a pretty, Zelda-inspired adventure that was pleasant enough, but not much more. As the wisest folks always say: “Don’t judge a book by its reader” and how right they truly are, chums, for World to the West is, in actuality, a charming adventure full of wonderful characters and rewarding exploration.
As you progress, you’ll find yourself taking in rugged deserts, cool blue waters, icy mountains, evergreen forests, a lavish village that houses the hilarious “Affluent Society” (the game pokes fun at the pompousness of the higher classes splendidly) and many more small settlements and habitats. You’ll also find yourself spending a great deal of time puzzle solving and adventuring in the vast underground network of passages and rivers. These pretty much double the size of the already generous map, so you’ll be glad to hear that totem poles scattered across the world act as fast travel points.
Going back to an earlier area with a new power will make you feel immortal, as you rip through a previously unreachable destination.
“What kind of puzzle solving and combat can I expect to encounter throughout my adventure?” I hear thee ask. Well, the puzzle solving takes on various forms; some require you to switch between all four characters to unlock an area, taking it in turns to figure out which character is built for each part, whilst others offer more basic puzzles such as getting a key, breaking down a barrier, etc. that require the ability of just one of your band of merry chums. On the whole, the puzzles are great fun to solve, although some will frustrate with their long-winded nature - spending hours searching for stone tablets might irk some folks, but we actually rather enjoyed it!
Going back to an earlier area with a new power will make you feel immortal, though, as you rip through a previously unreachable destination. Add to that the “eureka” moments that accompany many of the puzzles (often leading into an equally rewarding boss fight/new area to explore), and there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Combat, however, can unfortunately be a little hit-and-miss. This is largely due to Lord Clonington providing so much joy with his bashing and smashing, that the others don’t quite carry the same fun factor. Knaus’ dynamite hitting in the second half of the game can be good fun, as can Lumina’s bolts of electric, but they both suffer dodgy aiming issues. We died many, many times trying to defeat both character’s bosses, and felt that the balance was tipped towards the AI because of these accuracy foibles.
The soundtrack is worth its own commendation, with the sublime underground exploration theme being a particular treat. An army of instruments sway from sleepy harps to acoustic guitars, whistles, flutes, drums and horns. The Lynchian 50s electric guitar that features on one number is a particular favourite here at PTC. Regardless of where you are in the game world, WTTW’s music and sound effects not only work, but excel at injecting emotion into the experience.
In summary, World to the West is an absorbing, delightful adventure that will appeal to many, not just genre enthusiasts. It’s perfect for those looking for a rich world to immerse themselves in, but not the associated time sink of 50 plus hours. A colourful, handsome visual veneer contains a fun, silly story, hilarious characters (play through Clonington’s Affluent Society trials for drink-out-the-nostrils laughter), lovely music, grand puzzles and a world of exploration that begs to be revisited. This game is a steal at £19.99 - in spite of a few minor bugs and issues (fingers crossed for a patch) - so don’t be foolish enough to let it pass you by!
If World to the West sounds like your thing, enter our giveaway to be in with a chance of winning a copy on Steam.
The rumours you’ve heard are true ㅡ Mario Kart is back. Of course, if you’re one of those brave souls (like Rob) who boarded the good ship Wii U (and continues paddling even as it begins to take on water…), Mario and friends never left. This new Deluxe version, only available on the Nintendo Switch, offers a few extra bells and whistles to try to entice the die-hards, but, putting that aside, this game threatens to be the definitive Mario Kart experience of all time.
Now, if you’ve followed us up to this point and you’re enjoying your foray into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe so far ㅡ assuming you’ve worked out how to choose the right combination of controllers, as there’s no prompt to choose which control setup you prefer, regardless of what you’re using when you turn the game on ㅡ one thing you might not have yet realised is that this game literally plays itself.
We’re talking about the auto drive and auto steer options, which are enabled by default and about more than just slamming on the breaks as you go careering into a corner, something which you might have experienced in the likes of Forza (though, admittedly, these games are worlds apart). In fact, the aids will effectively drive the entire course for you if you want them to, meaning the barrier of entry for the game has never been lower.
This does make sense, as it’s a game which should bring families together in front of the TV (or crowded ‘round the Switch) like nothing other than Doctor Who or another ill-fated World Cup match has done in years gone by, but if you’re trying to get the feel of the game it can be distracting to notice the computer wrestling some of your freedom away. The story is the same with motion controls, which are oddly disabled by default, but work effectively in any controller configuration; that said, playing in portable mode with the Joy-Cons attached to the screen can be a tad disorienting.
It might seem like things are a little bit hectic so far. Really this is one of the main emotions you feel when getting into the game for the first time, even on its slowest speed (and, therefore, lowest difficulty), as there’s an awful lot to take in. Does it get easier once you’ve got your head around it all? Yes, and it gets even better.
Depending on how confident you are, a run through each of the 12 cups will give you enough experience to feel like you’re fully in control, and the confidence to believe that you aren’t actually half bad at the game. Upping the difficulty can make all the difference, of course, particularly when combined with the game’s mirror mode, which poses a mental challenge as all the courses are ㅡ you guessed it ㅡ mirrored.
The AI unfortunately doesn’t share the same amount of personality and verve as the rest of the game, in that no matter who your rival in a given cup ends up being (it’s usually dictated by which character you choose), they all behave pretty much the same.
Multiplayer helps remedy that issue, however, as you (and a friend, if you have one hanging about) can take on savvy human players the world over in online races (providing you can connect OK). Many of them will relish the opportunity to screw you over at the worst possible moment, which is all part of the fun, but the lack of voice chat and emotes stops you feeling connected to other players, making what could have been raucous fun just an adequate experience.
There are also online tournaments, which Nintendo will hopefully use like the Global Missions in Pokémon Sun and Moon to bring players together, albeit more competitively. Players are able to tweak rules at their leisure, making AI more complicated or restricting what items are available to customise the level of challenge across the currently available roster. It’s a nice thing to have, but not the main event when you consider everything else the game has to offer.
Speaking of which, we’re yet to talk about the revamped battle mode, which is probably the biggest change from the original Wii U release of MK8, and, in many ways, where the most memorable moments will be created. Getting four people together in a room, or more if you have additional Switches handy, to pummel each other with bananas is not to be underestimated.
Getting four people together in a room to pummel each other with bananas is not to be underestimated.
There’s no finish line here, only a variety of surprisingly diverse game modes which involve you getting up close and personal with items. The familiar Balloon Battle is present and accounted for, but there’s also the endearing Renegade Roundup, which pits two teams against each other cops and robbers style, with one team trying to gobble up the other with piranha plants and the others trying desperately to free their friends. Just to reiterate: It’s an absolute blast!
The look, feel and handling of the game itself are all excellent. This is a series which has a lot of history, and Nintendo know how to do it right by now. Everyone has their favourite instalment of the franchise, and it’s nice to see a few things which had taken a break come back in this iteration, but for those coming in fresh, this really is everything Mario Kart has to offer.
While there are flaws, considering Deluxe’s price in comparison to some other Switch titles (we’re looking at you, Super Bomberman R), there’s great value for money on display here. The courses are diverse and interesting, with very few including features that annoy and many boasting interesting tweaks ㅡ The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing-themed courses in particular are a bit of fun.
In short, this is the second essential purchase on the Switch so far, closely following Breath of the Wild, and one which really re-enforces what the new system is designed to be ㅡ something which brings people together, in this instance to argue about who deserved to win after a carefully placed item and a bit of luck turn the tables metres from the finish line.
● Looks stunning & plays brilliantly
● Full of content - good value for money
● Play as Link, but this time on a motorbike
● Could do more to teach new players the ins and outs
● Limited communication options damage the online experience
● Those bloody blue shells!