In Death: Unchained brings the VR Rogue-lite to Oculus Quest for an untethered, wireless experience after its debut on PSVR and PC. Clever subtitle aside, the procedurally generated shooter has been expanded with all-new content to ramp-up the difficulty and keep players busy for longer. Packed with religious iconography, is this trip to the afterlife destined for heaven or hell?
Since unlocks aren’t a complete crutch, developing your physical skill is key. Aiming takes genuine finesse without crosshairs or any form of aim assist, and getting a feel for the gradual drop of an arrow or bolt also takes some time. At first you’ll be whiffing shots at close range, before eventually hitting headshots over long distances like it’s nothing.
Solid motion tracking on the Oculus Touch controllers makes things painless, which is handy, as combat requires juggling way more than just archery. There’s a defensive shield (which can also be turned to offence with a close-range shield bash), though it often pays to physically dodge incoming projectiles and melee strikes so as to not obscure your vision. The Quest’s lack of wires can really help out here.
It’s possible to briefly trigger slow motion by bringing up the real-time arrow switching menu, which helps if you’re in a small play area and need to be careful with regards to how you move. If space is at a real premium, you can even opt to play stationary and seated. Firing teleportation arrows is probably the best movement option to match, though there is also a free locomotion setting available at launch.
Regardless of your preferred settings, a short-range teleportation shard also occupies your arsenal for clutch dodges and quickly popping around corners or through doorways. You can best use it to your advantage in attracting enemies’ attention and then retreating slightly to draw them into choke points. The AI is pretty exploitable if you pull enemies gradually, though things get hairy when you mess up and they bombard you all at once.
Special arrows can save your afterlife in these situations, doing things like freezing enemies in place and sticking them with explosives, channelling the iconic Gears of War Torque Bow. They’re an absolute must during boss encounters as well; bosses annoyingly spawn in waves of minions, so your best bet is to end the fight before it has a chance to really begin using your heaviest artillery.
Emerging victorious will grant you access to the next level, though being able to start a run from that level (i.e. opting to begin from two at the menu instead of clearing one to get back there) requires hitting an arbitrary overall completion percentage first. Gating is probably intended for players’ own good, but when we’d nearly finished the final level and died it was annoying to learn that we’d need to backtrack and earn 7% more in order to spawn there for an immediate second crack of the whip.
Still, returning to the previous level, Paradise Lost, wasn’t all bad. Cathedral architecture is elaborately laid out amongst the clouds and we found that being mobile and aggressive worked best on the armies of flying cherubs and grounded witches. It can be easy to get lost in the lavish labyrinth and cherubs in particular have a nasty habit of appearing right behind you for cheap hits, but it's still a lot of fun to play the role of ordained executioner.
In Death: Unchained features an engaging sense of progression that helps to take the edge off permadeath.
A major strength of virtual reality gaming is the use of 3D audio, but the implementation here is underwhelming. Enemy sound effects never really cut through the bog standard atmospheric background score, which makes it hard to instinctively pinpoint their locations and can lead to missing enemies standing right by you.
In Death: Unchained is immensely replayable and, impressively, a grander prospect than its higher powered PC and PlayStation 4 counterparts. It’s challenging and moreish, while also being a great fit for the Oculus Quest platform specifically. Permadeath and towering reliquaries – shrines that serve as in-game shops and save points – make the game easy to play in short bursts, lending itself well to the headset’s portable nature and limited battery life.
Created by Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse developer WayForward, Vitamin Connection is a new and exclusive IP for the Nintendo Switch. It tasks players with saving the fictional Sable family (and by extension, the world) from an all-consuming pathogenic outbreak. Far from a sombre reflection of the present-day Coronavirus situation, Vitamin Connection and its cheery, colourful gameplay could very well prove to be the antidote for those seeking shelter.
Vitamin Connection definitely feels like it’s best experienced in co-op, and while it’s possible to see and experience all that the game has to offer solo, it’s certainly more enjoyable with a partner along for the ride. It’s a shame, then, that progression between solo and cooperative campaigns isn’t shared and there’s no drop in/drop out support for spontaneous sessions.
Rather than simply throwing in another Capsule Ship for a second person, Vitamin Connection’s asymmetrical co-op mode sees players splitting the duties of a single craft. With the left Joy-Con, one player controls ship movement and activation of the Vitamin Beam, while the other, using the right, deals with rotation and aiming.
The added layer of teamwork helps lift the relatively straightforward gameplay and adds a whole new level of humour to proceedings as players endeavour to coordinate attacks and evasions. Sub-games also benefit from the addition of a second player, with WayForward making good use of some of the Joy-Cons’ lesser utilised features, such as motion controls, and even the IR sensor for reflex-based challenges.
Dance Festival has players pulling off moves in time to a musical beat, and is great fun with a partner in tow.
It’s innovative touches like these, along with a ridiculously catchy J-Pop soundtrack and a bright, cartoony aesthetic, that help Vitamin Connection, at times, feel like it could have come directly from Nintendo themselves. Unfortunately, however, the game also has more than a few frustrating quirks that spoil the fun and stop it from being something really special.
Levels often feel samey, despite belonging to different hosts, and sub-games are repeated throughout the campaign with only slight variations to colour and design serving to set them apart. It’s also far too easy for your ship to get stuck in narrower sections of levels and end up being left behind, doomed to a slow death, as the screen, cut scenes and action all continue to move on without you.
Levels are littered with these ribbons, which are incredibly satisfying to break with the corresponding colour.
Away from the actual gameplay, a number of technical issues also dog Vitamin Connection. Controls can become unresponsive after switching from handheld to TV mode, or vice-versa, and the Joy-Cons too easily lose calibration during co-op sessions. The latter is particularly frustrating during the Dance Festival sub-games where precision is key; since you’re unable to recalibrate until the challenge is over, the only choice is to either continue using wonky inputs or reboot the game and start over.
Medicine Ball and Wire Coaster were two of the standout sub-games.
Still, when everything’s going well, Vitamin Connection is a fun party game that’s both challenging enough to keep regular gamers hooked and intuitive enough for casuals to keep pace. With around 5 – 10 hours of content as standard and the challenging post-game Pro Campaign to boot, there’s plenty on offer for the £15 price tag.
While it might not be an entirely sweet remedy, Vitamin Connection is certainly no bitter pill to swallow.
Force fever is running high once again with the triple threat of a new Star Wars film - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker - Disney+ series The Mandalorian and video game Jedi: Fallen Order all occupying the zeitgeist at the same time.
Your lightsaber can be a brutal weapon, particularly when it comes to performing finishing manoeuvres, which you'd expect from the samurai sword the concept was originally based on. It feels surprisingly personal too, by the simple notion of letting you heavily customise your saber with collectibles found strewn about the game's various worlds, alongside the existing cosmetic microtransactions and pre-order bonuses. Before long, the offering will almost certainly be expanded to include tantalising new DLC linked to The Rise of Skywalker.
Exploring multiple worlds is the name of the game - and seemingly the flavour of the autumn after The Outer Worlds - thanks to friendly transport ship the Mantis, which you can also customise to an extent. Traversing around is a mix of platforming and climbing which borrows from titles like Tomb Raider and Breath of the Wild, but it's the collective library of FromSoftware that Fallen Order pulls its strongest influences from.
Falling in battle sees you respawn at a designated checkpoint that’s never too far away, with these meditation spots being equivalent to bonfires. You can upgrade skills there, while also replenishing your health and healing items at the cost of reviving lesser enemies. Should one of them kill you, you'll need to return to the perpetrator and land a single hit to retrieve the experience gained since earning your last skillpoint.
You'll know danger is around the corner when grumbling strings start to creep in, helping to build a sense of tension whenever enemies attack – often from blindspots as you move through doorways.
After the initial tutorial level, which is fairly cinematic and exposition heavy in its attempt to introduce a lot of mechanics, you'll find the game opens up and lets you explore. It’s possible to wander into locations where the difficulty spikes or you don’t have the necessary equipment to explore, which is an indication to turn tail and come back later. It can feel odd to do so, since we’ve been conditioned to see gaming Jedi as unstoppable, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with shifting expectations.
Having only been a youngster when the order fell, Cal isn't a master; not to mention it's been a while since he flurried a lightsaber around on a daily basis. You can knock the difficulty down at any time, however, dialling back enemy aggression and damage while giving you a wider window to parry attacks.
Fallen Order challenges you to discover the Force, just as Cal is rediscovering it, and on that front it definitely succeeds. Combat is satisfying and has the bite of challenge a lot of fans will have been looking for, and the setting is a delicious meal of sci-fi Star Wars goodness. Where it hits a few stumbling blocks are mostly technical issues and things which remind you that this is, after all, a game. Texture and enemy pop-in is fairly common, performance can occasionally slow down, and minute-long load times can really kill your momentum after being defeated in battle.
Still, for those who’ve been waiting for EA to do something really special with the Star Wars licence, Jedi: Fallen Order is exactly that.
Gears 5 continues the story thread that was started in Gears of War 4, dropping Kait into the role of main protagonist supported by Del and an upgraded Jack bot – the latter being playable for the first time in Gears' history – in both the co-op campaign (for up to three players locally or online) and returning Horde mode.
Jumping into Versus mode, the game’s multiplayer offering, for the first time can be daunting. Arcade is casual, class-based fun with loadouts unique to each character, which in no way prepares you for the competitive scene. At the other end of the scale, there's the Ranked playlist. Even with cross-play disabled, and those pesky mouse and keyboarders kept at bay, you'll occasionally run into God-like players who are capable of carrying their (and hopefully your) team single-handedly, especially in King of the Hill and Escalation. The non-ranked versus is more accessible and co-op against AI is a good way of learning map layouts and weapon spawns, while providing a safe environment in which to practice with the Gnasher, though the difficulty can be ramped up to suit all skill levels.
Horde and Escape, though very different, complement each other. The former, a mainstay of the franchise, tasks five players with surviving 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, whilst the latter offers a more bite-sized co-op experience. Your three-person team, having infiltrated a Swarm hive and planted a Venom bomb to destroy it from within, must escape before the deadly gas kills you, too. Beginning only with a sidearm and limited rounds, you'll want to be conservative with ammo until your party has tooled up.
In both modes, duplicate characters are forbidden, which can cause problems when matchmaking. Levelling up and completing matches will award Skill Cards to further raise your damage dealing and survivability. These Skill Cards will allow you to hold your own on higher difficulties but if someone has already bagsied your main, you're left with the choice of using an under-levelled character or re-queuing. Regardless, there's no barrier of entry and all of our encounters through matchmaking have been positive, though not always successful.
Despite a few minor issues, the new Gears recipe is the best yet. The story has enough presence without overstaying its welcome, open world areas are a nice addition and there's adequate co-op activities outside of the campaign to complete the package for anyone averse to PvP.
Looting and shooting may be all the rage, but with the latest iteration of Borderlands boasting billions of guns, the series that popularised the genre is back. Does it have anything new to say?
The plot sees you try to nab vault key parts before the Children of the Vault (or COV) do. Sister of the intergender twins, Tyreen Calypso, keeps gaining power as a siren - a class made famous by Lillith, Maya and newcomer Amara - and you'll be picking up plenty of familiar faces on your journey to help you take them down. In particular, Tales from the Borderlands' Rhys is back (though no longer voiced by the prolific Troy Baker) and brings the same endearing quirks with him, though unfortunately many of the other NPCs aren't as compelling without having had a game to set them up.
It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy.
Which leads us to an important fact – Handsome Jack is missed. He was always the pinnacle of the brand of amusement the series peddles in, none of the enemies, or the on-the-nose streamer pastiches the Calypsos themselves, have the same endearing quality. Even CL4PTR4P (or Claptrap) feels like the soul of the character has been lost from the change in voice actor, though not as noticeably as we'd feared from the trailers.
A final, and unfortunate, point to make is the technical issues we came up against. Though there is local split-screen co-op, which is notable for its rarity alone these days, the performance suffers pretty consistently, especially jumping in and out of menus - which happens a lot with the loot management element. Elsewhere we ran into a bug which forced our Xbox to turn off at a certain point in a cutscene multiple times, insisting it was going to overheat, as well as other crashes and freezing.
While it's definitely more Borderlands, the game is a sequel which more than earns its right to exist, but generally plays it safe and falls back on its established rules and systems. It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy, especially for fans of the series, but, despite being a good entry point, ultimately falls short of its potential.
Ever since 2014’s Lords of the Fallen, which was a Souls-like game of questionable quality, German development studio Deck13 has been honing its craft within the genre. Pioneered by FromSoftware’s trademark flair for dark fantasy, unlike Lords, The Surge did very well to distance itself from a similar setting by looking to the future instead of the past. As such, it became a surprise hit and secured itself a sequel, which more than two years later is now in players' hands.
The simple act of exploration in The Surge 2 is immensely rewarding...
Equipped for battle, players can target individual limbs on an enemy’s person and then utilise a mix of horizontal and vertical attacks as required in order to land blows. Targeting unarmoured parts (highlighted in blue) will result in an easier kill, whereas armoured sections (highlighted in orange) will take longer to whittle down though ultimately pay out bigger rewards. Through connecting with attacks you’ll build the power meter and charge your Exo-Rig’s batteries, one of which can then be traded for a limb-severing finisher that’ll grant you the weapon or a schematic to craft the armour that’s relevant to the limb in question.
Subsequent chops of those limbs on the same enemies will instead grant crafting and upgrade materials, as was the case in the original. When we reviewed that game we likened the upgrade and gear acquisition system to “a morbid shopping spree” and the same definitely applies here. It’s no less unique and engaging, serving as a perfect complement to the hefty, stamina-based combat mechanics that are already a joy in themselves.
If you’ve played a Souls-like before then you know what to expect from the moment-to-moment gameplay during combat, though some unique melee weapons help to mix things up and so too does the companion drone with its variety of ranged attacks. Equipping different injectables can have a similar effect, be they passive or active (the latter at the cost of a battery) in their inference of benefits like healing, increased defence, or even temporarily slowing enemies down. You’re limited in how many can be equipped, however, so choose wisely.
Without designated classes you’re free to experiment to your heart's content, though by trading in Tech Scrap - the game’s combined form of currency and experience points, earned through defeating enemies - you can opt to favour the health, stamina, or power attributes. For a small fee you can respec your points allocation, though most builds can be made to work in multiple ways regardless or counter-weighted one way or another over time, provided you don’t make a habit of losing scrap.
In signature fashion, when you die in The Surge 2 you'll drop all of your earnings and need to retrieve them from the position of your death. Dying again whilst en route or failing to do so in good time means that they’re gone for good, but you can securely bank scrap at Medbay safe havens to avoid this. The practice isn’t entirely encouraged, mind, as carrying large scrap quantities applies a multiplier that means the rich get richer at great personal risk.
New for the sequel, dropped scrap can also be used tactically as a sort of gradual healing totem when stood in close proximity and also to offer a full heal when picked up. This further plays into the exciting risk vs. reward mechanics already surrounding scrap and can be the cause of nail-biting moments during the game’s more challenging boss encounters, resulting from holding off on retrieval until the last possible moment.
A lot of the big bads are fought over multi-stage battles that don’t feel quite as gruelling as those seen in the likes of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, mostly thanks to the ability to generate healing items on the fly through being aggressive in order to accrue battery charges. That said, don’t think that this translates to bosses not being a threat.
With plenty of long-haul skirmishes on the cards, opting for the game's performance mode on PS4 Pro or Xbox One X comes recommended. The jump to a smooth 60 FPS provides a tangible advantage over the choppier 30 FPS found in quality mode, which otherwise puts the focus on improving the game’s weak graphics and bumps the resolution up from 1080p to 4K. Here it definitely isn’t worth the trade-off, even for those that generally favour looks, as the overall experience definitely suffers.
Gathering upgrades is unique and engaging, serving as a perfect complement to the hefty, stamina-based combat mechanics that are already a joy in themselves.
Playing pre-launch we quite frequently encountered crashes and some lesser technical issues like texture pop-in and missing NPC dialogue, but with the day one patch installed they appear to be less common if not completely absent. With launch also came the opportunity to better interact with the asynchronous online elements, which include sharing graffiti tags to help or hinder players, hiding player banners in hard-to-reach places in the hopes that nobody will find them, and getting revenge for fallen players (like we did for YouTuber and outspoken game critic Jim Sterling) by killing enemies that bested them in their versions of the game. It’s all harmless stuff that helps to garner a sense of community between those sharing in the struggle of getting through what can be a difficult game, but without contributing anything more tangible than that.
The Surge 2 can feel a little bit “budget” in places, especially for those that played the first game and, as a result, will likely notice the recycled weapons, armour, animations and enemies. Despite these cut corners being coupled with a weak story and uninteresting quests, there’s no getting around the fact that even then Deck13’s exquisite world and combat design are enough reason to forgive it. With an expanded NG+ mode and a second ending to see (regardless of how disinterested we might be in its actual narrative contents), those gameplay elements are proving strong enough to tempt us back for round two even as we enter the busy release season.
Remedy Entertainment has a particular brand of storytelling in its games. Since Alan Wake, and even Max Payne (whose voice actor James McCaffrey returns here in a supporting role), they have done things a bit differently, holding live-action scenes in high regard and treating the experience more like a film rather than a game with some story bits thrown in.
There are downsides to the more bombastic action sequences, however. The initial visual impression of former office workers floating lifelessly in the air, repeating the odd phrase to themselves, is extremely effective at building a creeping sense of dread, but the moment combat begins you're quickly pulled back into the fact this is a game, which lessens the impact of the otherwise excellent and foreboding atmosphere at times.
Exploration in Control is non-linear, with new areas of The Oldest House opening up to players in a Metroidvania-style fashion as they progress through the story and gain new abilities. Disappointingly, the structural changes repeatedly referred to in the lore dumps strewn throughout the building aren’t as extreme or as frequent as hinted, with the player only really getting to read about them rather than experience them.
Besides the usual gating off of sections using doors of ever increasing clearance levels, there are environmental puzzles which call on you to put your telekinetic abilities to the test to activate switches or navigate certain areas. One particular brain-teaser called The Astray Maze requires some out-of-the-box thinking, while frequent trips to the Oceanview Motel allow you to pass through the astral plane and access otherwise out-of-reach areas.
The game’s setting is deliberately bland, its harsh, brutalist architecture contrasted by the bizarre happenings taking place within its walls. As the story reveals itself, some of the initial opening intrigue dulls a little, and the vague perspective of the internal monologue from Jesse begins to grate as she's consistently nonplussed by the weirdness of the situation unfolding around her, while a few of the more interesting elements of the game seem to suffer from happening off-screen rather in front of the player.
From a technical perspective Control often struggles, even when running on Xbox One X, with substantial slowdown any time you hop in and out of menus - a frequent occurrence given the lore heavy nature of the game and the number of upgrades available to the player - and even more so when battles get hectic. While performance may suffer, Control is still a very visually impressive game, especially on PC thanks to newfangled ray tracing support.
In all, even with the performance issues, the journey is ultimately very satisfying, and a definite step up from Quantum Break, but if you weren't sold on Remedy's style beforehand then Control is unlikely to do much change your mind. Still, in these days of games as a service and battle royale bandwagoning, a strong, narrative-driven single-player experience is a rare thing, particularly if you’re a fan of Xbox, and it's one which is unlike anything else out there right now.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a triumph. Crowdfunded to the tune of more than $5.5 million at the height of the Kickstarter craze, many of its peers released to lukewarm critical and commercial reception, but Koji Igarashi and company took the extra time to produce something truly special.
Igavania? More like egovania, amirite? ... Seriously though, Igarashi (above) is one of the greats!
Gameplay has always been the bread and butter of metroidvania games, and Ritual of the Night certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Largely it’s very familiar in that you travel an enormous, satisfyingly interconnected map collecting new abilities - such as the power to fire yourself through narrow gaps like a ricocheting bullet - which in turn grant access to new areas. The well-established gameplay loop is incredibly moreish when executed in exacting fashion, as it is here, almost defying you to leave any small segment of the map unexplored.
From torchlit castle halls to moonlit cathedral towers, to dank sewers and myriad exotic locales beyond, a wide range of seemingly disparate areas are convincingly tied together by a unified aesthetic and intelligent, looping shortcuts. You’ll get to know the world of Bloodstained quite intimately as you backtrack to solve puzzles you’ve since discovered the answers to, or to reach designated save and fast travel rooms, which never becomes a chore.
That’s thanks not just to the exquisite 2.5D level design, but the tight platforming and deep combat systems you’ll engage with along the way. Miriam can acquire and equip outfits and weapons throughout her journey, the former of which offer various stat boosts and aesthetic changes when items are worn on the head, while the latter can completely change how the game plays.
Depending on preference you might opt for the greater range of a whip or a spear, the close-quarters finesse of a dagger, the balance of a one-handed sword, or the brute force of a laboured greataxe swing. That’s not to mention firearms and their different ammo types. Every harebrained enemy - be it a frog, a dragon, or a scissor-handed marionette straight outta Devil May Cry - has their share of quantifiable strengths and weaknesses, so it makes sense to switch things up on the regular. If you can master enemy attack patterns and Miriam’s graceful backstep dodge, as well as the necessary timing and spacing for your favourite weapons, hostile encounters become akin to dance.
An undisputed retro classic made modern, without sacrificing an ounce of appeal or introducing current industry ailments.
Combat has incredible nuance for those who seek to discover it, be that in hidden techniques for specific weapons, attack hit boxes that extend behind and/or directly above your person dependant on the animation, or the realisation that a weapon might be doubly efficient when used while crouched. A small complaint would be that once you do grow proficient, due to normal difficulty being the only option available on an initial playthrough, bosses especially go from an engaging challenge to a complete cakewalk. That and the game's technical performance can take a big hit when your screen-filling, death-dealing prowess matches theirs.
If you’re all about preserving the challenge, limiting your selection of Shards would be a good start. These crystallised forms of demon power randomly drop from enemies and tend to either grant access to one of their abilities or allow you to summon the relevant beast to fight alongside you temporarily. You can equip quite a few at once and they’re more often than not very potent, theoretically balanced out by limiting their use with a mana resource, but, unlike health, mana automatically regenerates over time so there’s little reason not to make liberal use of them.
Familiars are ever-present AI helpers that don’t consume mana, even auto-levelling alongside the leading lady, whilst elsewhere upgrades are carried out via a vendor at a peaceful hub location. Here you can buy/sell and cook/craft using materials most often discovered in chests, dropped by defeated enemies, or gifted as rewards for completing optional side quests.
With Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding also releasing in 2019, we wonder if Konami are feeling ashamed of their words and deeds...
Somewhat uncharacteristically, we’ve been loving the grind to gather ingredients, cook and consume all of the game’s recipes in order to claim their permanent stat increases, perhaps because it’s a simple pleasure to spend time in the Bloodstained universe. Another uncharacteristic find, at least for me personally, is the appreciation of quite an anime visual style; I’m coming around to the character models, but the colourful backdrops evoking the game’s stained glass motif I universally adore! More predictable is our love of the orchestral soundtrack, looping and grandiose in its modern interpretation of catchy retro classics.
In fact, that sums Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night up pretty well - an undisputed retro classic made modern, without sacrificing an ounce of appeal or introducing current industry ailments in the process. There’s a lot of game here, and it’s so compelling in its mechanics and audiovisuals that you’ll want to drain every last drop from the experience like a vampire affixed to its succulent neck.
Ever since previewing the game on PC back in March, we’ve been itching to rejoin Amicia and Hugo De Rune, the noble siblings orphaned and destitute in A Plague Tale’s opening chapters. After replaying those harrowing first hours on Xbox One X, we picked up where we left off on the journey to cure five-year-old Hugo’s undiagnosed illness.
A complete and uncompromised story, which gradually builds and builds towards an almighty crescendo.
You’re at least afforded a degree of control in telling your ‘main’ companion at any given time to wait, preventing them from getting in the way or meeting any misfortune during combat; unless you leave poor Hugo for too long, that is, in which case he’ll panic and unwittingly attract Inquisition guards.
Rats are too numerous to fight head-on, so when we say combat it pertains to humans, who take no issue with running Amicia through with a sword and snatching up her younger brother. You can dodge incoming attacks to open up a counter window, though most often it won’t come to that since encounters are incredibly easy with a few early upgrades under your belt. There aren’t multiple difficulty settings, either, which makes toggling the incredibly generous aim-assist and HUD off the only ways to inject some challenge.
Ms. De Rune’s weapon of choice - the humble sling - at least unleashes projectiles with a satisfying thwip. As well as slinging rocks, you’ll routinely need to craft and chuck alchemical concoctions to turn the tides in your favour, for example corroding an armoured helmet in order to expose the wearer’s dome for a lethal headshot. Alternatively, you could take a more indirect approach, maybe breaking a lantern as means to ring the delicious dinner bell on an all-you-can-eat rat buffet.
Should you need to conserve resources (which we always had in abundance), it’s also possible to opt out of the murder game for the most part. More likely to have you playing pacifist are the instances where your actions are questioned by the impressionable young cast, which, in the absence of a concrete morality system, serve to make you think.
Following a guilt trip, it’s time to engage with the familiar stealth systems. Checkpoints are pretty frequent, so you’ll most often just need to memorise set enemy patrol patterns in digestible chunks, maybe throwing a few odds and ends to manufacture helpful distractions along the way. Getting spotted can result in an instant fail state, necessitating some trial and error to discern the best routes, probably to the frustration of some. There’s no real cause for concern though, since you can get away with basically sitting in an enemy's back pocket while crouched.
There’s no sneaking past rats, on the other hand, who’s beady red eyes can number in the on-screen thousands. These black-furred vermin tirelessly scuttle over one another in their endeavour to escape light, so you’ll often need to utilise makeshift torches to cut a path through them and between more substantial stationary light sources. In the later stages you’ll need to use advanced alchemy and your sling to set and extinguish specific fires from afar, herding and trapping them to facilitate your safe passage.
These lite light puzzles feel rewarding, despite the fact that you'll never really need to pause for thought, rather tackle them instinctively. As the rodents grow to become more aggressive, however, some set piece moments require you to switch off your brain and run for it; here the evocative original soundtrack is perhaps at its best, accelerating from sombre to breakneck as the orchestral string section frantically work up a sweat, inducing absolute panic in the player.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting, reveling in displaying the gnawed and gnarled reality of widespread death through a liberal littering of ravaged corpses. You’ll wade through human and porcine viscera, as well as slimy rat nests that almost reek right through the screen. It’s unpleasant, but outstandingly so, with exquisite lighting and textures telling a story which justifies the lengthy load times.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting.
Thankfully, the same is true at the other end of the spectrum, where A Plague Tale’s changing locations and weather effects can segue tone at a moment’s notice. These effective shifts don’t just mirror the current mood, but reiterate the wider theme of perseverance, and emphasise the extreme ways in which the sheltered De Rune children experience the world outside their estate for the first time. Rarely is a game’s presentation this meticulously considered, making it a real shame when character models and animations don’t meet the high bar now and then.
Their first original project following a history of ports, A Plague Tale: Innocence has put developer Asobo Studio on the map and almost certainly secured their creative future. Aided by Focus Home Interactive, Asobo have crafted a memorably melancholic adventure with a life-affirming side of joy.
If you fancy playing A Plague Tale: Innocence, be sure to enter our giveaway before 23:59 on Friday 17 May 2019 for a chance to win an Xbox One copy.
Based on the 2013 film of the same name, which was loosely based on Max Brooks’ original novel, World War Z the game doesn’t share a great deal in common with either. This survivalist shooter will be much more familiar to fans of Left 4 Dead, the zombie-slaying series which spawned and has defined a sub-genre for over a decade now.
There’s very little in the way of narrative motivation, rather the cathartic pleasure of mindlessly deanimating the reanimate is what’ll spur you on.
Zombies become a sort of hive mind once alerted to your presence, unflinchingly running towards their demise with no regard for anything other than killing their quarry. This is largely familiar stuff, but it takes on new life during regular scripted moments where they frantically clamber into fleshy pyramid structures to reach higher ground (launching explosives at the base to topple these is delectable) or fling themselves from above as makeshift projectiles.
You’re given enough firepower that these imposing setpieces are never outright frightening, which could be good or bad depending on your perspective. Fixed defence units including barbed wire, electrified floor panels and turrets can be placed in designated positions, while devastating heavy weaponry can be carried on your person to eradicate entire swarms single handed.
Special infected types are where you’ll need to employ a greater degree of finesse, although L4D players will already be acquainted with the sparse selection. Lurkers are Hunters that do a great job of waiting around corners before taking you by surprise with the ol’ pounce-and-pin manoeuvre. Gasbags are a marriage of Boomer and Spitter. Bulls are Chargers. Most telling of all, the Screamer is equivalent to... the Screamer.
You can mark these nasties on your teammates’ HUD, though in-game dialogue will most often vocalise their presence anyway, which is one of the few ways allied AI proves to be dependable. They can’t interact with mission objectives, don’t level up alongside you to meet the difficulty curve, and can’t be switched from the default Gunslinger class in order to compose a balanced team. You don’t even gain the ability to pause when playing offline, but hey, they’ll never incur friendly fire (which is always enabled) if you really must go solo.
Should sticking with the normal difficulty setting be your speed – meaning you don’t anticipate toughing it out being a problem – just be aware that an initial playthrough should only take around five or six hours. Longevity thereafter is gleaned by upping the stakes to earn better weapons and perks, which you’ll then use to repeat the cycle, only one notch higher on the five-step difficulty rung. Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things a little more fresh along the way.
Even with randomisation it can become repetitive if you don’t dip in and out, which makes the unique PvPvE multiplayer a smart addition. Featuring separate classes and progression to that of the campaign, the mode has five classic game types in which two teams of four fight against one another and, at the same time, CPU-controlled zombies.
Its largely no-frills approach harkens back to a period during the last console generation where almost every game had competitive multiplayer, though in an oddly nostalgic way. That feeling is certainly helped by the fact it’s competent and fun enough on a base level not to feel just tacked-on.
Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things fresh.
There’s an established early playerbase sticking around for the interesting dynamic of undead swarms which can cut off parts of a map entirely, but how long they’ll put up with the current balance issues is up for question. You can’t switch class mid-match, so if you made a choice that doesn’t synergise well with your team or effectively counter the opposition, you’re left no choice but to ride it out or quit. Certain weapons and strategies are overpowered, namely sprinting around with a double-barrelled shotgun and unloading both slugs or popping around a corner with the (thankfully quite limited) rocket launcher, yet the funk doesn’t end when you die. Spawns are incredibly inconsistent, as sometimes you’ll pop up right in front of an enemy with no temporary invulnerability to save your bacon, or, more to your advantage, right next to an unguarded objective.
Whether online or off, in our experience, the PS4 Pro and WWZ servers at least do a good job of handling all the hectic on-screen action. Visually the game is just decent, with some jumpy animations being the biggest sore thumb, but that’s always a worthy trade-off in favour of securing a solid technical performance.
At a budget price point, World War Z offers completionists a lot of game for the money, but anybody with a more one-and-done approach might end up feeling shortchanged by the brief campaign. For either camp, in spite of the strong sense of déjà vu overpowering a few original ideas, WWZ is a good candidate to kick back and relieve a hard day's stress with whenever the time is right.