Grip Digital and Teotl Studios’ first-person, single-player survival game released on PC and Xbox One to a middling critical reception last year. The addition of virtual reality support helps to elevate the PlayStation 4 release in many ways, though some issues still hamper the otherwise engaging and atmospheric adventure.
A thick air of mystery ebbs and flows as you explore environments and begin to peel it back, often only to uncover more secrets.
With that said, the absence of a formal tutorial means it’ll take a little while to get used to the button-heavy control scheme; once you wrap your head around it however, you’ll be walking, turning and teleporting comfortably without need for an analogue stick. Other VR issues include lengthy, awkward 2D loading screens that somewhat break immersion, and the galling oversight that you can clip your hand through many locked gates and use the teleporter (an item separate to the standard teleportation for travel) to bypass the game’s simple puzzles.
You can’t get up to similar tricks playing on a TV, which might be a good or a bad thing depending on how you’re inclined, but there are also definite boons to playing in our humble, real-world reality. There’s a closer connection to the protagonist as you hear more of their musings and see scenes cut for comfort from the VR experience, plus there’s a sharper presentation in terms of both resolution and a clearer UI, which can serve practical purpose in helping to find obscure collectibles that boost resistances and fill in the wider narrative.
Anything other than a temperature resistance buff is frankly a waste, as that’s the only one of the game’s survival elements that ever really comes into play. Food and water are plentiful, and getting enough sleep is easy done, but staying warm when outdoors at night is near impossible. While the straightforward crafting system can be used to start temporary fires that offer slight respite, the only real solution is to ride out the night somewhere safe. With no means to tell the exact time, you’re only ever acting on a best guess while judging an alien day/night and dynamic weather cycle, so, should you misjudge or spend too long exploring, you might be doomed to get hopelessly caught out from the moment you set off. Due to the game’s manual save points and infrequent auto-saves, it’s possible to lose a lot of progress to this - even totally bugger your save file - leaving you feeling decidedly cheated in the process.
Thankfully, the survival elements are fine tunable, so you can tone them down, turn them off completely, or, if you’re some sort of sadist, make them stricter. This goes a long way to remedying the issue, but being tempted to turn a survival game’s survival aspect off so that you can fully enjoy it is far from ideal.
While The Solus Project isn’t a great survival game, its focus on setting, atmosphere and storytelling make it more immediately engaging than its crafting-obsessed peers. Overall, the game succeeds in spite of failing within its genre - especially when played in VR, with the mode providing a fully-featured and lengthy campaign for headset owners to absorb in affecting fashion.
Sundered is a great example of an independent studio building on an earlier success - that being the fantastic Jotun in this case - to create an underground, Metroidvania, corker. The game boasts beautiful art, a soundtrack that perfectly fits the creepy underworld-meets-science-fiction setting and glorious button-bashing combat, but, in the grand scheme of things, is that enough to make it a first place competitor, or just an also-ran?
Sundered’s map is set partly in stone; boss and mini-boss rooms, key corridors, ability rooms and the incinerator are in a constant position. The rest of the map, though, is procedurally generated, changing everytime you die - something that will happen regularly, especially in the earlier stages and during boss fights. Unfortunately, this does mean that many of the areas appear identikit and hollow, which is a real shame considering the quality of everything else on offer.
First and foremost among those elements is the gameplay, which offers a wonderful blend of genres. The irresistible sense of adventure that goes hand-in-hand with the best Metroidvanias, frenetic and thoroughly enjoyable combat, Rogue-like and RPG elements all bind together beautifully. Exploring Sundered’s labyrinthine world of ruins, treasure, foes and platforming puzzles is an endless pleasure, in spite of the repetitive, randomly generated sections.
The combat is a cracking mix of swashbuckling swordplay, gymnastic rolls and leaps, and cannon mastery. What initially feels like a senseless, button-bashing game of luck quickly turns into something all the more meaty, as timing your rolls and jumps helps to not only deflect foes’ fists, but to keep Eshe in constant violent motion.
Believe us when we say, it’s worth playing Sundered just for the sheer awe you’ll feel when the camera pulls back to reveal the full scale of each boss - it really is stunning.
Perfecting these skills comes in very handy, as you’ll find yourself set upon by vast hordes of beasts during your adventure; these hordes can feel unfair as endless waves of the buggers attack - almost always when you’re lacking in health elixirs - so honing both your bashing and weaving to overcome these swarms is essential.
The final rung on the gameplay ladder is of course the RPG and Rogue-like elements. Plundering procedurally generated corridors ticks the latter, but it’s in the former where additional depth lies.
Everytime you die you’re sent back to the Sanctuary (which can get frustrating when you have to constantly backtrack to the same area or boss fight), where the Trapezohedron will turn your shards into enhanced abilities from the skill tree. Want to improve the length of time your deflecting shield lasts? No problem. Want to enhance your health or luck? Likewise. This adds the final touch to Sundered’s quality mix, which will likely keep you coming back for more.
So, the gameplay is great, but we have to give a special mention to the audiovisual presentation, as it just takes Sundered to another level. The gorgeous, hand-drawn art manages to evoke memories of classic Disney - think the underworld palette in Hercules, or the lair of the nasty Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid - the ‘90s games of developer Treasure and mythological tales. Believe us when we say, it’s worth playing Sundered just for the sheer awe you’ll feel when the camera pulls back to reveal the full scale of each boss - it really is stunning.
The aural tones further aid the gloriously dark atmosphere, as foes’ screams blend with the flicker of candles, swipes of sword, moody keyboards and the patter of Eshe’s feet. We also have to shout out Olivier Barrette, the man behind the Trapezohedron’s voice, as his performance perfectly encapsulates the darkness at work in the underground tunnels and rooms.
In summary, the facts are simple: Sundered is a triumphant blend of genres focused in a beautiful, Metroid-style world that just falls short of reaching all-time classic status at the hands of a few niggling niggles. Put the issues (did we mention the loading times are rather painful?) to one side and you have a memorable adventure well worth the £15.99 price tag. The atmosphere alone will have you coming back for more, even if the multiple endings don’t. To buy or not to buy? Don’t let the decision split you in two: go and get Sundered.
As you can probably tell just by looking at it, Tricky Towers takes a hefty chunk of inspiration from a certain classic title; anyone who’s ever played Tetris will be immediately familiar with the challenge of rotating, moving and stacking different shaped block pieces together as they drop from the top of the screen.
If you can gather enough people in the same room, then we can see Tricky Towers being an excellent party game.
WeirdBeard have made sure to cater to those who do prefer a more methodical approach however, by way of the game’s Survival and Puzzle modes. Survival takes away one of three lives whenever you drop a block, and Puzzle mode tasks players with using clever designs in order to keep their tower under a certain height limit. Needless to say, we didn’t fare quite so well in these modes.
When battling it out with other players, you’ll occasionally be awarded spells that can be used to aid your own progress or impede your rival’s. Helpful spells include locking in a block to make your tower more stable, or zapping away one that’s badly placed, while the harmful ones can be used to attach balloons to other player’s blocks or enlarge them, making them harder to handle. On occasion spells don’t have the desired effect - like when we dropped a piano on an opponent’s tower and it only served to make it more structurally sound, rather than toppling it over, as was our intention - so you’ll need to use them wisely.
Despite the prevalence of underhand tactics, this is most definitely a game that’s best enjoyed with others, especially in couch co-op. Tricky Towers does feature online multiplayer, but the servers seemed to be permanently deserted (at least whenever we tried to find a match), really leaving local as the only viable option.
There’s also a single player element involving the game’s three main modes, plus a surprising number of trial-type challenges, but, unless you’re really into climbing leaderboards, they’re no substitute for multiplayer.
If you can gather enough people in the same room, then we can see Tricky Towers being an excellent party game thanks to its colourful, cheery visuals, catchy soundtrack and simple, yet challenging gameplay. It would have been nice to see more cosmetic options (you only get four character skins and three block colours in the base game), but if you’re just looking for something fun to pick up and play with a good group of friends, then Tricky Towers fits the bill.
You only need to read the premise of Finish Line Games’ first-person adventure game, Maize, to be compelled to discover more. It’s a story about a misinterpreted memo leading to the creation of sentient corn, also carrying the promise that things only get more ridiculous from there. That isn’t inaccurate.
Maize is intelligently written and has a charming, endearing, memorable cast with delivery to meet the script’s standard.
We thoroughly explored areas to best absorb their infantile squabbles, but, if you’re not that way inclined, it’s possible to see the game through with a more relaxed approach, thanks to Maize’s gated progression and highlighting of key items. Classic adventure game fans might find the simplistic approach disappointing, but in a time where Telltale Games dominate the genre it’s a natural evolution.
Puzzles involve, in typical fashion, combining and using the random collection of gathered items from your inventory in their relevant places. Reading an item’s description offers an optional (and pretty obvious) hint as to its use, which pretty much rules out getting stuck and the associated frustration.
It took a little over four hours for us to reach Maize’s amazingly dumb (in a good way) ending, which left us grinning throughout the brilliant credits sequence. That parting smile is the same one we’ll look back on the game with, in spite of its unwelcome technical issues.
The story of Conan Exiles is one of two halves. On launch day (for Xbox One), we tried to give it a go straight out the gate and found it to be an extremely lag-ridden, buggy mess. In multiplayer players would drop out as soon as others joined and in single player things weren’t much better, with the game allowing you about five minutes of play before the sheer weight of everything which had to be loaded in around you caused a few seconds of lag for every second of normal gameplay. In short, it wasn’t something we were feeling too confident about as far as first impressions go.
One element which is yet to be explored in depth is the idea of religion, as you choose one of a handful of deities for your character to follow when creating them and each have their own altars with their own abilities. For example, if you character follows Yog, their shrine (the aforementioned fire pit) will let you cook human meat, which doesn’t spoil.
The combat is straightforward enough to be able to jump into easily, though the timing can be tricky as your character generally flinches when hit, and mashing attack at the wrong time can find you stuck in a loop of being pummelled to death. Fortunately your allies will generally (if they can be trusted) come to your aid, and the game is certainly enjoyed best as a co-op experience.
While everyone levels and learns recipes separately, crafting items for others isn’t an issue, meaning we were able to craft plenty of extra clothes and weapons in preparation for our game (before the team promptly threw themselves in a fire and wasted all that hard work...just watch the video).
As far as the endgame or wider story of the game goes, that remains to be seen. The in-game map feels quite vast and filled with different climates to explore once your party is ready to venture away from the comforts of home. Make sure you’re well prepared however, as hyenas and even dragons await you and will make short work of lone survivors.
Despite a shaky start, there’s a solid game to be enjoyed here - providing you’re happy to take the initiative and work a few things out for yourself. The soaring soundtrack feels like a cross between Jurassic Park and Mars from Holst’s The Planets Suite, adding to the sense of scale and grand adventure of proceedings. There’s still plenty of work to do before the full release in 2018, but in the meantime there’s no harm getting to grips with it, providing you think it’s worth £30, but all told it’s a yes from us.
This game is silly. Don’t get us wrong, we don’t mean that in a bad way, but you have to admit no one was calling for Nintendo’s iconic Mario franchise to collide with Ubisoft’s collective of crazed, rabbit-like creatures. What we’ve ended up with as a result of this unholy alliance however, is truly something special.
For many the setup isn’t that important, but the time and care put into it by Ubisoft really puts across what it meant to them to be able to work awithin the Mario universe.
Battles are where the action is of course, and while Beep-O is fine at the odd puzzle, it’s Mario and co. who you’ll be relying on to tackle the rabbids that went extra wacky during the transition. There are a few ever-so-slightly more sane rabbids on your own team, including Rabbid Peach, who constantly snaps selfies and admires herself to really inject her with personality.
Each character has access to different weapons and skills, but variety feels somewhat lacking, with the same skills having different names depending on the hero in an attempt to disguise what’s essentially a copy and paste exercise. What makes things more frustrating is that you might not unlock the character you really want until near enough the end of the game, though at least you can reset your skills at any time to tailor your team to the challenge at hand.
Speaking of which, challenge maps become available once you’ve completed each mode, these taking an existing level and throwing in different conditions like a one turn limit or added enemy variety. Some of these can be taken on in co-op as well, in a perhaps slightly underdeveloped mode which nonetheless manages to be a great time for players in the same room (there’s no online option).
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed), but, on the whole, it really feels quite different thanks to its more basic approach. For example, Mario and chums can dash through enemies during movement to deal serious damage and then attack with weapons, compounding the damage dealt in a way which also fits in with Mario's head-stomping pedigree. Things can even be further simplified by toggling ‘Easy Mode’ at the beginning of any skirmish, helping to make Kingdom Battle more accessible to all.
Combat begs comparisons with fellow tactical, turn-based strategy game XCOM, and disappointingly misses the opportunity to poke fun (as far as we noticed).
Enemies gain skills and health as you do, making the learning curve quite gradual, but there’s a fair amount more re-skinning going on as you progress. Despite that, when the different classes start to interact you suddenly find yourself being tested in ways you didn’t expect, making it all the more rewarding when you finally take all the units down for a victory.
In the end, there’s not much to complain about with Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. It could use more variety in a number of areas - namely abilities, weaponry and the cast of characters on both sides of the titular battle (there’s no shortage to draw from on that front, looking at the recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) - but, generally, this is an essential purchase for Nintendo Switch owners. An original game that’s of great quality both at home on the big screen and on the go. In fact, it’s so engrossing that at one point we may have missed our stop on the train… and couldn’t be happier about it.
Blood, guts, stealth, disco, flares and Cillit Bang; if this combo-platter sounds superb to you, strap yourself in for the latest game from master indie publisher Curve Digital: Serial Cleaner.
100%ing everything is a big challenge, but well worth it for the bonus movie-themed levels and comedy costumes - John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever outfit, anyone?
Before long you migrate from small maps with plenty of cover and a few sluggish cops, into tight corridors where you’ll have to use sound decoys (boom boxes and PA systems) and larger areas with heavy patrols, in which shortcuts and moveable objects (vehicles and sliding doors) come in very handy in avoiding the rozzers.
As you advance through the game you’ll find the police become much more unpredictable in their patrol patterns, with the size of their vision cones and their movement speed also swelling to propel the difficulty skywards. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the sanctity of hidey holes like shrubbery, Metal Gear-parodying cardboard boxes and oil drums to avoid them.
Getting caught resets the current level you’re on, which in turn leads to a new randomly-generated objective layout for the map, with bodies, evidence and the like now in different places to keep you on your toes. This adds a lot of replayability - 100%ing everything is a big challenge, but well worth it for the bonus movie-themed levels and comedy costumes (John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever outfit, anyone?) you’ll unlock - whilst also aiding in improving your strategy, which is a big help when it comes to the tenacious later levels.
Developer ifun4all have not only spoilt us with sublimely simplistic story and gameplay, but also a gorgeous graphic novel visual style. Framed from a top-down perspective, you’ll be treated to what we can only describe as a retro-futuristic style; almost as if the characters from Dexter’s Laboratory had been passed through a meat grinder. Each level has its own harmonious colour scheme too, adding to the overall diversity. Serial Cleaner really does deserve a comic book series, if anybody in the know happens to be listening...
And then we have the music, oh, how we love the music! The 70s setting provides a sumptuous musical period to plunder, and Serial Cleaner takes no prisoners in dropping cop show-style themes, disco, funky brass-riddled numbers, screechy heavy metal solos and cock rock. Every piece of music is a gem; believe us when we say, the game is worth getting for the soundtrack alone.
So, as we hide Henry the Hoover back in the cupboard, and peel off the Marigolds, we’re left with nothing but praise for Serial Cleaner. For a first time console developer to carry out such a simple premise with such character and panache is a truly admirable feat. We’d have loved a multiplayer cops vs cleaner mode, but we really can’t complain: £11.99 is an absolute steal for what is, personally speaking, the only game that’s come close to Breath of the Wild this year.
With the indie scene arguably stronger than ever, certainly in terms of the sheer number of games released every month, standing out from the crowd has never been more difficult. First impressions for Masquerada: Songs and Shadows then, are extremely important.
The investigation generally involves going to an area and exhausting the button prompts, rather than any elementary deduction or substantial puzzles, but the commentary between characters as you journey around locales is what keeps you engaged.
These interactions aren’t mere splashes of text plastered on the screen (though NPCs do get that treatment), rather the main cast are gifted full, and convincing, voiceover alongside cheerful animations that bring the characters to life. The narrative is put across in a stylised way, conversations continuing over loading screens without the transition feeling jarring, and key frames punctuating action scenes to reveal more about our heroes.
The story hits familiar notes in family and redemption, but manages to tackle them in a way which grips you more and more as you delve deeper and get to know the cast more, rather than feeling cliché.
The narrative is put across in a stylised way, conversations continuing over loading screens without the transition feeling jarring.
Progression is a little less elegant. Though your opening gambit with Cyrus is straightforward, as soon as you’re thrown into battle as Cicero for the first time it’s entirely possible you’ll have forgotten everything due to the gap in action (hopefully you have a good memory).
Regardless, you’ll soon pick up the titular Masquerada, an ornately decorated mask - think Phantom of the Opera and you’re part way there - which bestows its user with elemental powers of either wind, fire, water or earth, but mysteriously disintegrates when its user dies, providing some further intrigue as you slowly discover more about the mysterious facade.
It seems slightly unfair to tar indie titles with the same generic, low-fi expectations when it comes to presentation, but the quality of craftsmanship on display here far outstrips the game’s humble origins to provide quality on par with Torment: Tides of Numenera, only without the density which could be a headache for some.
The one complaint we have on that front is that the game’s linear design teases us with rich locales to explore and interact with as we pass through to serve the story, but doesn’t give us the freedom to properly roam or get deep into the culture of the society we’re investigating, throwing up invisible walls to keep us on track.
Enemies have some interesting designs, but knowing the best ways to combat them can be more of a tale of trial and error than a natural learning curve. On the other hand, those at home in the genre should take to it easily and may even beg for more AI and character customisation options to allow for further engagement.
In the end, Masquerada is simply very good, and a game with a different feel to a lot of releases that are currently vying for your attention. That lack of bright light and attention-grabbing sound only serves to undersell what a high-quality experience the folks at Witching Hour Studios have produced, but don’t let that put you off.
I must confess before I start this review that I fell out of love with Formula One games some years ago. I tired of the high-speed, tactical gameplay and decided I wholeheartedly preferred the crash bang wallop of BTC and Rallying. The last F1 game I played was F1 2004 - back when Jordan and Orange were still teams - which, to its credit, I did play a lot. It's time to return to the professional's choice of motorsport however, to test my mettle against the best of the best.
Following three practice sessions (which are skippable), a simple, single-lap qualifier precedes the race. The race proper begins after you select your car and pit strategy, and is more engaging than the practice sessions from the get go, thanks to the freedom to take sharper corners and the fact there are racers at the back of the pack for players like myself to contend with, instead of having everyone speed right past.
You’ll also need to contend with weather and fuel, both of which make a significant difference to how the game handles. The weather is dynamic, if not very impressive on the aesthetic front (there's no spray from standing water, as an example), and using the right tyre at the right time can make or break your race. Fuel is linked to driving style, with braking and gear changes taken into consideration, and can be eaten through surprisingly quick if you don’t manage consumption well. The suite of assist and difficulty options can help you tweak things to your liking, which should make driving feel pretty solid whatever the conditions.
There’s good physical feedback from the controller in the corners and when braking, though it’s slightly disappointing that there are just four rigid directional views when manipulating the camera in place of free movement. With the tap of a button you cycle through information screens pertaining to your standing, though this can be difficult to absorb while driving. You can ask the engineer for specific info to make your life easier, and even do so literally with convenient Kinect voice command integration.
Like most modern racers, F1 2017 features a rewind function and executes it well; you see the last ten-or-so seconds of play and can choose when to jump back in, though attempting to fast forward the video does horrible things to the framerate and it’s easy to miss the desired point. Generally you’ll want to rewind following a collision, and, on that note, there’s thankfully a damage model that sees wings and tyres fly off vehicles.
People who like their racing with a bit more depth and strategy - and, of course, fans of Formula One specifically - will find a lot to like in F1 2017.
My eyes suffered similar damage (alright, maybe not that bad) at the hands of the game’s abundant tiny text. The visuals in general aren’t quite so harsh, generally looking pretty good besides the awful track textures (not that you'll see much of them).
There's multiplayer on offer, but it’s limited to pure Grand Prix setups with no bizarre, Forza-style extra modes - probably due to the license. Instant and quick race selections have some variety as there are a few classic cars to choose from - such as the famed blue and yellow Renault or the white Shell cars of the 90s, screaming engines intact - however there's only a couple from each era, making classic races a touch monotonous. Leaderboard races round out the offering and do what they say on the tin, with your willingness to asynchronously compete with friends and strangers dictating their worth.
Clearly this is a not a game for casual players, however people who like their racing with a bit more depth and strategy - and, of course, fans of Formula One specifically - will find a lot to like in this year’s entry into Codemasters’ long-running franchise.