Mouldy Toof Studios have attempted to make The Escapists 2 bigger, better and more escape-y than the original. Whilst 2015's crossover with The Walking Dead was, essentially, more of the same, the developers have tweaked just about every aspect of this instalment, making it truly befitting the moniker of sequel.
A brief tutorial walks you through the basics, and while it isn’t exactly comprehensive, it feels like a deliberate decision meant to encourage creativity. Just like the previous titles, players must rely on trial and error.
Finding your way around once you’ve bested the tutorial is made much less of a hassle thanks to the mini-map, which will guide you towards your goal in typical fashion. Your cell’s also marked in case you need to rush back and hide any contraband, while guards are clearly displayed so that you can avoid them on the way. This helping hand is extra welcome as there’s been an increase in prison population, with the areas themselves growing to accommodate this.
Level variety coupled with a steady progression in difficulty helps to keep The Escapists 2 engaging throughout.
Starting out in Center Perks 2.0’s low-security compound - should you select the first item in the list, there are three levels available from the start - players will get to grips with the core mechanics while exploring and browsing the expanded library of craftables. Cougar Creek Railroad - also available from the get go - is the first of a new type of challenge, however. Set aboard a moving transport train, you have a limited time to make your getaway before the train reaches its destination. Without other prisoners around to sell you valuable gear, all you get is what you can find and create. This level variety coupled with a steady progression in difficulty helps to keep The Escapists 2 engaging throughout.
A new means of progression also keeps you ticking, as escaping incarceration in unique ways now awards a key, and, subsequently, unlocks more prisons from which to escape. This means that if you run into difficulty there's always the option to replay an easier level and grab one of the four keys you didn't acquire previously, rewarding multiple playthroughs of each institution and making the game more accessible to newbies.
There's enough variation in the key objectives to keep things feeling fresh on repeat runs, each one forcing you to pursue one avenue of approach at a time, rather than preparing for a handful of possible extractions, necessitating a more thoughtful and cautious approach. That said, I’m reminded by my co-op partner that I’m neither thoughtful nor cautious, and maybe that's why I've spent a vast amount of time in solitary confinement peeling potatoes...
… Playing in co-op opens up further escape options that are otherwise impossible in single player, whilst closing off others. Gathering and storing resources is easier with an extra pair of hands (or three), but the tradeoff is that any one member of your team could get caught and lose a valuable item or cause a secret hideaway to be discovered, putting everyone back at square one.
Versus mode plays like a stripped down version of the rest of the game, only with fewer restrictions, the goal simply being to be the first to break out. There is, as always, an element of luck when it comes to finding the right items, which can make a loss feel undeserved.
The Escapists 2 is definitely a step in the right direction for the series, making marked improvements on all fronts as a great sequel should. While it doesn’t offer a huge amount of longevity - despite the added replay value from the key system - the £19.99 price point means you won’t be left feeling short changed.
Severed’s arrival on the Switch is a bit of a strange one. For starters, this being a game that requires a touch-screen to play means it’s one of the few titles in the Switch’s library that has to be played in handheld mode. It will display on a TV if you dock the console, but Sasha, that game’s one-armed heroine, remains completely immobile, no matter how much you manipulate the Joy-Cons.
Slicing off limbs isn’t just for sadistic kicks though, as collecting fallen body parts is key to levelling up Sasha’s abilities. With enough currency collected - be it arms, eyeballs, wings or jaw bones - you get to pick an upgrade from a simple skill tree. It may not be as dense or branching as other, more complicated RPGs out there, but the upgrades on offer in Severed’s skill tree are clear in what they do and what’s needed to unlock them, with everything feeling useful.
If you’re looking for something you can pick up and play on a commute to work or school, then Severed feels perfectly suited for such a job.
Triumphing over the bosses that wait at the end of areas also grants new abilities, such as being able to temporarily blind enemies during a fight or snatch away their buffs like speed or attack boosts. All these extra powers are displayed on your character as living armour, which is a nice way of showing the progress you’ve made. Some of them grant special access to previously inaccessible areas, but having the willpower to go back and unlock them depends on how tolerant you are of the game’s walking animation, which sees you sort of ‘transported’ between a map’s segments that are linked together to create larger, sprawling areas. This can get slightly disorientating if you move too quickly, and using the mini map in the top right of the screen actually felt like an easier, and more efficient way to get around.
During the early stages of the game, you’ll only be tackling one or two monsters at a time, but things quickly escalate and it’s not long before you’re facing three, sometimes four at once. Taking on this many is surprisingly difficult, especially if they’re packing the aforementioned buffs, as even the weaker ones with familiar attack patterns become a real challenge when backed up by their mates. Identifying the most serious threats and taking them out first is key to your success, otherwise it’s easy to end up overwhelmed and frustrated as you frantically try to fend off a barrage of attacks.
An indicator on the bottom of the screen tells you when an enemy is going to attack via a yellow bar, which, once full, means there’s one incoming. Some monsters take time to build their attacks, and can be kept out of a fight altogether if you keep jabbing away to interrupt them, while others deliver ones that can’t be stopped and must instead be blocked.
Battles are triggered by walking into white flames that are dotted periodically throughout the game’s maps, mostly in the dungeon areas. Once activated, you’re locked in until you either emerge victorious or are defeated, in which case you just respawn at the last autosave (usually only a few moments before) with full health, meaning there’s no real punishment for failure other than delaying progress. Dungeons also feature some light puzzles, but they mostly feel like an obligatory inclusion (because dungeons) and all involve simple, familiar mechanics.
Still, if you’re looking for something you can pick up and play on a commute to work or school, then Severed’s simple gameplay, coupled with some light RPG elements and a relatively low-price, means the game feels perfectly suited for such a job. Just be sure to pick up a screen protector.
Fortnite is an early access title at present - despite already being purchasable in a four different ways(!) - and so we bring you this look at the game in its current state, in place of a more concrete verdict.
Traps are the one exception to this, as even though they follow the same rules, you often want to grab fresh traps on the fly as the action-packed defence phase kicks off. In the state of heightened adrenaline it’s easy to wish there was a button combination that took you straight to your favourites for added ease of access as hordes of Husks approach.
These enemies are perhaps the roughest edge on the game’s otherwise quite slick execution. The enemy types and variations aren’t necessarily bad, but they do feel quite generic and lacking in character, even compared to the relatively limited enemy pool of something like Left 4 Dead. Groupings of Husks behave quite randomly, rather than having them subscribe to a hivemind mentality, while different enemies each have different movements and attacks, but there’s no personality to any of the animations, which can make combat feel like a chore rather than the climactic reward after gathering resources and building your fort in preparation.
Without a cohesive team dynamic, meeting even basic build objectives - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult.
Sunset Overdrive’s occasional area defense battles make for a fair comparison both visually and thematically, with that game’s charismatic and over-the-top presentation offering up unique sound effect and vibrant visual cues that keep you engaged, whereas Fortnite is way toned-down by comparison and worse for it.
Having to take time out of the world-ending scenario to slip into build mode and make repairs or changes to your fort during active combat doesn't do much to complement the gunplay, either.
Teaming up with other players online is the real strength behind the idea, or at least it is in theory. In practice, without a cohesive team dynamic to rely upon, meeting even basic build objectives set by the game - such as “don’t overbuild” - is difficult, since the default for many players is to do whatever they feel like and start the attack when they’re ready, rather than waiting until everyone else has all of their traps lined up…
So far then, Fortnite is an interesting idea, executed well - for the most part - that just feels unfinished. Perhaps that’s alright at this stage, given the point in development we’re being exposed to, but the trouble is that it certainly feels like it’s being presented as more of a finished product than other early access titles. Whether or not you’re at peace with the deep microtransactions culture baked into the game may cause frustration too, but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most.
If you have a few even remotely reliable friends to jump into this with, then it’s an experience worth trying out, but waiting for the full, free-to-play release may make you feel like you’re getting the best of what Fortnite has to offer and for no upfront investment; rather than a paid game with real future potential, which is how it currently feels.
Expect more on Fortnite as the game develops in the run up to its free-to-play release, and a full co-op review in 2018.
The debut game from Boss Key Productions, a studio headed by Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinski, aims to bridge the gap between old school and modern competitive first-person shooters. Placing one foot firmly in arena shooter territory and the other in the hero shooter’s neck of the woods, LawBreakers confidently puts forward a compelling alternative to both that any FPS fan should appreciate.
Variations on these balletic exchanges are constantly occurring in all directions, infusing the high-octane chaos with a choreographed beauty.
It might take a little while to reach that level of play, as you’ll need to execute several button presses and numerous stick adjustments in a tight timeframe, but it’s worth toughing the learning process out, as you’ll feel like a true professional when you master the satisfying traversal and gunplay first individually; then as one cohesive package.
This high skill cap excuses LawBreakers’ apparent lack of hero variety when compared to it peers, with the nine classes each offering more nuance than any single character in Blizzard’s Overwatch. Their tighter ranks still offer plenty of diversity, accommodating most play styles with damage-dealing tanks, nimble but fragile assassins, supports, and hybrid roles in between.
Each class has a fixed loadout consisting of an ultimate and two secondary abilities, generally also wielding a primary weapon with secondary fire function and a sidearm. Ability usage is limited either by a cooldown period or fuel consumption, which calls for different management tactics between combatants favouring either method or a mixture of both, helping to keep players on their toes both as they meet different foes and freely switch between heroes mid-match.
You’re never limited as to which class you can choose to play as, which can be a blessing and a curse. While you won’t be locked out of playing your main, there’s a definite tendency for most players to pick between the faster classes in Assassin, Gunslinger and Wraith, leaving other roles unfilled. A balanced team isn’t as integral to victory here as it is in other hero shooters - individual skill is much more important on that front - but somebody else going healer every now and then would still be nice.
The self-serving player mindset can impact your win/loss ratio when it extends to playing the objective, however. A portion of players approach the five rotating game modes - these including variations on King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, and even American football - as if they were Team Deathmatch. We'd typically pin this entirely on people being people, but we feel Boss Key shoulder some of the blame in this instance. Foregoing Deathmatch modes in a game so openly inspired by the likes of Unreal Tournament and Quake doesn’t cater to a sizeable portion of the audience they've attracted.
You’ll earn experience points towards levelling whether your teammates cooperate or not, and with levels come Stash Drops, LawBreakers’ take on the loot box. They function exactly as you’d expect, upon being opened spitting out four random aesthetic customisation items ranging from throwaway to must-have. Duplicates are converted into currency which can be used to bypass the random element and directly purchase skins you’ve had your eye on, while you can also use real-world money to purchase more Drops.
All in all, LawBreakers has its foibles, but they’re fixable foibles with a patch or two; for every slight misstep, it nails a handful of the fundamentals. The core combat and traversal loop is outstanding, it looks crisp and controls smoothly at 4K/60FPS on PS4 Pro (after a patch fixing the launch day issues you may have heard about), matchmaking is snappy and well-populated, the pulsing soundtrack keeps you hyped-up and ready to compete. This amalgamates in a game that’s seriously engaging and frequently has us declaring “just one more more match” for several matches consecutively.
It’s taken a while, but Nintendo have finally found their ideal 3DS family. We’ve lost a few members along the way, but after six iterations of the console in almost as many years, there’s now a settled feel about the range of handhelds on offer thanks to the latest arrival, the 2DS XL.
The first thing you’ll notice about the 2DS XL is its sleek design. Available in either black/turquoise or white/orange, it really is quite a looker, easily one of the best of this generation. The colour picked out on the face buttons and the border around the edge of the console, combined with the ridged, textured pattern on the top and the subtle Nintendo logo in the corner help give the 2DS XL a surprisingly premium feel, despite its £129.99 price tag.
By ditching the face-tracking 3D cameras and relocating the remaining ones onto the main body (one forward facing on the hinge, a pair on the back between the shoulder buttons) Nintendo have managed to shave off a few millimetres from the console’s body while still retaining the larger screens. The 2DS XL is light and easy to hold, and shedding a few grams means it sits easily in a pocket, no more noticeable than some of the larger smartphones on the market.
Funnily enough, a smartphone is exactly what the stripped-back design of the top screen resembles, complete with a shiny black bezel that picks up dust and fingerprints, and, more annoyingly, the imprints from the face buttons when closed. The reflective nature of the screen’s bezel also means playing outside or in any well-lit area can sometimes be tricky due to the glare.
Other slight grievances we came across were the d-pad, which feels and looks cheap compared to the rest of the console, and the new cover that hides the game cartridge and SD card slots. The cover does a good job of helping maintain the minimalist aesthetic and alleviates the chance of accidental cartridge ejections (plus, you also no longer need a screwdriver to access the external memory slot) but the material used feels very flimsy, and can be difficult to open without feeling like it’s going to snap off under the pressure.
The location of the speakers (which now sit on the bottom corners of the console) was also a worry at first due to their proximity to your palms, but this didn’t turn out to be a problem and they performed well in their new position, even when outdoors. The only time it’ll cause any issues is if you’re resting the 2DS XL on top of something, but it’s nothing too major.
The 2DS XL’s lack of 3D gaming isn’t really a problem either; plenty of games now neglect to implement the feature, while many players - myself included - never bothered with it in the first place. If you’re of a similar mindset and don’t already own either of the ‘New’ range of 3DS handhelds with all their added capabilities, then the 2DS XL is easy to recommend, especially given its affordability.
For your money, you’re getting a console that not only looks and feels great, but one that can handle the select games in the 3DS library that require the extra power found exclusively in the ‘New’ models. If you’ve yet to pick up a 3DS, or have been looking to upgrade from the original model or the original XL, then we’d highly recommend considering the 2DS XL. Plus, Nintendo have actually included a charger this time!
There’s no doubt that Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a thoroughly lovely game, but does the lack of threat, resulting from its mild demeanour, prevent the adventure from being a truly compelling one?
You’ll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself and potter about for hours on end, which is a good thing, as these trips generally yield valuable resources, mined, chopped and gathered with your conventional array of tools. Not only that, but there are points of interest absolutely everywhere, meaning you’ll forever be finding intriguing secrets, references and Easter eggs that, along with the whimsical score, compel you to forage on.
You’ll welcome the opportunity to lose yourself and potter about for hours on end.
Once you’ve uncovered the whole map, which it's worth noting will be deep into the game, the cycle unfortunately sours somewhat. Backtracking through locations becomes laborious, which isn’t helped by the flawed implementation of fast travel. You have to discover and complete a quest to unlock each of the eight designated fast travel points, walk to the closest one before you can make use of the system (making it not-quite-so-fast travel), then, in the absence of clear labelling, guess as to which exit might lead to your desired location.
If you don’t mind some extra legwork you can also choose to adopt a number of vocations, joining guilds to expand your library of crafting recipes and building farmland to harvest produce used in those recipes. Building structures on a farm allows you to house wild animals after coaxing them onto your plot, as well as to plant trees and crops, which you can then hire a farmhand to tend. There’s no great need to engage with this stuff, you’ll get by just fine without farming or joining the guilds, but there’s fun to be had regardless.
Yonder has a number of clear inspirations - many of which come from Nintendo’s camp, so fingers crossed the game eventually sees a Switch release - but carves out its own corner by providing a unique mix of their elements. While some of the ingredients leave plenty to be desired, its positive themes and relaxed atmosphere provide a welcome break from the onslaught of bombastic video games that everyone can enjoy for a while.