It’s been almost a decade since we last set foot on the Normandy, Captain Shepard’s iconic spaceship, and it feels good to be back. While Mass Effect: Andromeda was a perfectly passable Mass Effect experience, arguably with some of the most refined action in the series, somehow it didn’t have that special something. We just didn’t warm to the protagonist in the same way we did with Shepard - in fact, we’d struggle even to remember their name...
There are tons of weapons, though they all conform to the familiar shotgun, pistol, assault and sniper rifle archetypes. In the first game these work on a cooldown rather than needing to reload, which can make for more strategic combat encounters. Any excess weapons can be assigned to teammates, sold and/or broken down into omni-gel used to skip hacking mini games and repair Shepard’s land vehicle.
In the second and third games, these more unique elements are nowhere to be found. Weapons need loading with thermal clips (presumably to speed up combat), for example.
There’s so much to cover here that it feels like we can only scratch the surface in terms of what players might discover.
Getting back to the first instalment, which has undoubtedly seen the most change, Mass Effect now has smoother combat mechanics in general. Improved cover mechanics, squad orders and a dedicated melee button are cribbed from its sequel to give players more control. That said, utilising biotic and tech powers (essentially magic and tech-based skills, respectively) can still feel quite clunky. Faster enemies are especially hard to take out, as they overwhelm the relatively immobile Commander Shepard easily.
BioWare have taken the time to smooth out the visuals and performance, too. While there’s still the odd janky animation here and there, players will notice the lighting improvements in the first game in particular, which would often require squinting to make out characters’ faces when they had helmets on.
The game runs from a fairly pedestrian, but reliable, 1080p at 30fps, all the way up to 4K UHD at an eye-watering 240fps on PC – provided the graphics card can handle it. What users get ultimately depends on whether they go for the “favour quality” or “favour framerate” graphics mode. For example, the Xbox Series X outputs up to 60fps at 4K UHD on the former setting and up to 120fps at 1440p on the latter.
Characters and companions have always been the Mass Effect series’ crown jewel, however. While there are too many noteworthy examples to shout out individually (though we have discussed some of our favourites), it’s fair to say the depth of interaction varies quite significantly both between games and between squadmates and general NPCs.
The first title doesn’t go into too much detail straight away, but, in time, players learn about how companions differ and their individual values. Relationships with some characters can develop into romantic entanglements, all depending on how users behave.
Where this system - and the accompanying dialogue - can start to creak is when users do things the game doesn’t really expect. In ME1, for example, an Asari consort is having problems with a client. Since the mission structure is fairly open, especially in the bustling Citadel, players might follow this quest line through to completion before another NPC suggests they check on the (already solved) situation.
These kinds of inconsistencies follow through to romantic connections as well. Characters that are romanceable in one game aren’t always in the next, and being reunited with them can feel jarring instead of a natural continuation as would likely be the case in a single, longer game.
Dialogue options directly link to a meter which awards users points for paragon (noble) and renegade (ruthless) behaviour, too. There are benefits to hitting either end of the spectrum, which can lead to the system feeling like it encourages suboptimal decisions in certain situations.
There’s so much to cover here that it feels like we can only scratch the surface in terms of what players might discover. For those who’ve done it all before, the nuanced characters might feel more primitive than you remember, and the gameplay transition between each game can take some getting used to.
For those who are new, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a real treat. It’s filled with thoughtful touches and memorable moments that are up there with some of the most dramatic set pieces in gaming history. It might not feel quite as polished as a modern game, but BioWare and EA have done the work to smooth out some of the rougher gameplay and visual edges. It’s now easier and more enjoyable than ever to follow the journey of Commander Shepard from beginning to end, allowing players to fully appreciate the epic space opera in comfort.
There's nothing like clambering over a snow-capped mountain while exploring the hallowed lands of the Norse. Assassin's Creed Valhalla makes this experience, and many more, nothing short of breathtaking.
There's no compromise on scale, though as you travel around you'll notice the odd bit of texture pop-in. Performance is fairly solid on the whole, though we did get stuck in the environment once or twice while searching for goodies in the wilderness.
The approach to uncovering those goodies is fairly unforgiving, with only a vague spot on the in-game map to shoot for. It's a difficult balance to strike, since players tend to roll their eyes at unnecessary hand-holding, but the odd understated voice line to suggest you’re getting colder or warmer would be beneficial in some of the more complex areas.
Valhalla can suffer from a lack of direction at times, but its Nordic influence seeps into every pore, leaving plenty to get excited about.
Environments are very much divided into things you can interact with and things you can't. You can pick up health from odd pots of food that the locals seem to have absent-mindedly left simmering, but a pile of fresh apples and other fruit in a barn aren't deemed edible, for example.
Elsewhere there are more inconsistencies, with Eivor being able to climb mountains endlessly - no stamina needed, à la Breath of the Wild - yet a few consecutive dodges during combat will quickly tire the protagonist.
Fortunately, combat as a whole is reassuringly savage and satisfying. Lower level enemies are entertaining fodder, but more advanced foes require you to keep your wits about you.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla can suffer from a lack of direction at times, but its Nordic influence seeps into every pore, leaving plenty to get excited about. Strong characters, choice of approach and presentation make it a great choice for those breaking in a new next-gen console or sticking with an older platform.
The road to the Galar region has been a rocky one for Nintendo and Pokémon fans alike, but when it comes to deciding how this pair of new Nintendo Switch games fare, we'll be focusing on what is here more so than what isn't.
A cross between Teletubbyland and Breath of the Wild's rolling plains, the Wild Area itself could use a bit more intricacy. Biomes and various weather effects seem to shift from hail to sun and back again largely without rhyme or reason, but you'll lose plenty of time pottering about nonetheless. For the collectors amongst you, it's also a great opportunity to fill your Pokédex and diversify your party early on.
The story is by the numbers as usual, so those hoping for a deep, meaningful conversation with an NPC hanging out in a Pokémon Center will continue to be disappointed. A cheerful tune greets you whenever you do visit, though in this region there doesn't seem to be any Poké-helper for the nurse.
Elsewhere, the soundtrack is an awkward mix of sound effects we've been hearing for years (decades even), an increasingly archaic lack of spoken dialogue, and some charming new themes composed for the Wild Area and various cities. So fun are these latter spins on British culture, visually as well as musically, that you might find yourself spending longer than you should lingering in any one location.
While some rockstar Pokémon like Pikachu and Eevee get full sound effects - the creatures often saying their own names with a springy sense of joy - most don't have as much aural character, instead relying on adorable animations to help you bond with them as you play together in camps.
Animations overall are a strange mix, though. Even brand new additions like the three available starters (Scorbunny, Sobble and Grookey) have either well-choreographed displays for their unique moves, or completely generic ones which don't seem to match the move at all. You can go from the delight of a bespoke Wooloo "Tackle" to Scorbunny merely jumping on the spot to covey a "Double Kick" – even when it kicks merrily for some other moves.
Shortcomings don't end there, as the game also struggles to make the most of its new platform. Some locations and scenery really shine in terms of their design, but generally you'd be forgiven for assuming that Sword and Shield were 3DS ports.
That might still be enough for many players; after all, it’s almost impossible to escape the joy of setting out on an adventure to go from Pokémon zero to hero. Getting properly invested in a team and playing with their movesets to feel like you have all the bases covered is constantly rewarding, in spite of the eye-watering number of type combinations that are now available.
Hopefully the development compromises and sacrifices felt across Pokémon Sword and Shield will allow Game Freak to reassess and build on their successes to push the envelope in the future. In the meantime, there's a solid and enjoyable experience here, just not a new one.
The trouble with space is that it's mostly empty. Venturing into the unknown in a tiny spaceship in Subdivision Infinity DX, you feel that sense of scale immediately, as enemy ships, gun turrets and collectables flicker as pixels in the distance - particularly in handheld mode.
Subdivision Infinity DX as a whole doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety, and with limited progression and customisation on offer, at least early on, momentum can start to drain fairly quickly. If you absolutely need a space shooter to play on the go, though, Subdivinity offers a taste of the sort of experience you might expect from something like Everspace at a fraction of the cost. What you’ll miss out on is the depth, variety and graphical polish - though it’s a step up from something like Event Horizon or Vostok Inc. - and experience the odd bit of slowdown when things get busy. It all depends what you’re looking for in a space adventure.
As my GCSE German teacher would tell you, I’ve never been particularly blessed with languages. How is it then, that Heaven’s Vault has stuck with me from the first play - back at Rezzed in 2018 - right through until now? More importantly, has that initial promise spawned the Oscar Wilde of video games, or, much worse (but definitely funnier), Danny Dyer?
Like many games before it, Heaven’s Vault utilises an excellent conversation system that not only affects how people interact with you, but what you learn about the settings, story and lore. We’re sure many would site the Mass Effect series here, but since the Brighton branch of PTC (that’s me) has never played any of them, it feels rather more like the ghost of Shenmue. How will you behave around a particularly aggressive slave master, for example? Will you try and sympathise, or downright scold them for their line of work, thus potentially closing off a line of questioning and information? These choices even change the course of your relationship with robot sidekick Six, who bloody loves a good natter.
Discovery and decoding of an ancient language is one of the main parts of the game that we found so compelling back at Rezzed 2018, so it’s wonderful to see it fully realised in the final product. This is where a thirst for adventure really helps, too: interact with everything you can, as often Aliya will remark about inscriptions or glyphs on certain items, and it’s here where the fun begins. If an inscription is split into four parts, let’s say, you’ll be given a potential selection of words to fill in each of the blanks, based on what you’ve previously tried or discovered. This charming element of trial and error further strengthened our desire to explore.
What was all that lark about sky sailing, then? Imagine a blend of Panzer Dragoon and The Wind Waker and you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect, as you pilot the good ship Nightingale along vast rivers in the clouds, to destinations new and old, all the while having one eye out for ruins and wreckages to plunder. The tranquil mood, pastel hues and sublime strings and pianos stave off any potential frustration at the amount of time it can take to get between places in the game, but those of you without patience will be happy to hear that a fast travel option is currently being patched in.
Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do.
We’re not sure why you’d want to skip over absorbing more of such a resplendent and alluring game, though. From the dark outlines and subtle colours of the exquisite hand-drawn 2D characters, to the fully 3D, lush environments of the Nebula, Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do (here’s looking at you, Breath of the Wild). It’s largely these lavish, luxuriant locales that spur you on to visit as much of the world as possible.
There’s just so much to love about the game, honestly. Sure, it isn’t completely flawless (the lack of music in many of the cutscenes seems odd, especially considering how good the soundtrack is), but the blend of adventuring, sky sailing, story and language are pretty close to perfect. The wealth of choices mean it’s ripe for multiple replays, too, so you’re really getting your money’s worth.
Whether it’s the small touches such as story recaps every time you start a play session, or the big ones listed above, Heaven’s Vault manages to tap into that truly wondrous, almost childlike sense of discovery brought on by experiencing something for the first time. If it sounds like your speed, make sure you don’t miss out on this glorious, glorious experience.
Hot on the heels of their Crash Bandicoot reboot, Toys For Bob and Activision are back with another slice of 90’s nostalgia in the form of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, an upgraded collection of the first three titles to star the diminutive purple dragon, lovingly restored for a new generation.
There are still gems galore to hoover up across the hub worlds and their many colourful offshoots, and old hands and newcomers alike will be glad to hear that the relatively rudimentary gameplay still holds up, even if enemies - particularly bosses - do seem absurdly easy by today’s standards.
All three games feature a healthy mix of biomes, from sandy deserts and treetop villages to the obligatory water levels, but it’s the sequels, Ripto’s Rage! and Year of the Dragon, that outshine the first thanks to the addition of non-dragon NPCs which imbue worlds with extra character. Year of the Dragon even sees you take control of Sypro’s sidekicks now and then, including a jetpacking penguin with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, which is just about as fun as it sounds.
Along with bonus levels – including our personal favourites that see you flying through obstacles and taking out enemies within a time limit – these moments help to stop monotony from creeping in as you progress through the collection. There’s also the added challenge of collecting skill points, which are acquired through completing specific tasks on certain levels, be it taking out enemies with particular attacks, reaching a hidden area or taking no damage during a boss fight.
Reuniting with Spyro provided a welcome and nostalgic distraction from modern life.
They add another layer of depth, especially for the completionists out there, but the concept art offered as a reward for their completion is a bit underwhelming. We’d have been much more motivated to hunt down all of the numerous challenges if there was a sweeter bonus up for grabs, like maybe a means to switch between the original and remastered visuals. As it is, the only throwback to the original games’ design is the option to play with the old-school soundtrack (composed by The Police drummer Stewart Copeland) enabled, which doesn’t actually sound all that different from the updated one.
Although the Reignited Trilogy may appear basic compared to many of today’s offerings - you won’t find any branching skill trees or a particularly engaging storyline here - the colourful, cheery nature of the games kept pulling us back in for more. On the whole, reuniting with Spyro provided a welcome and nostalgic distraction from modern life, reminding us of a simpler time when penny sweets and six o'clock double headers of The Simpsons were the norm.
Everyone has their own feelings about war. Whether it’s something that feels close to home or distant, it’s undoubtedly an emotional and evocative subject. Coinciding with the centenary of the end of World War 1, 11-11: Memories Retold brings a different perspective to a conflict which changed the world forever.
Gameplay is light here, with only the occasional puzzle or slightly wonky stealth section to vary the pacing, but to suddenly thrust you into some sort of shooting gallery would take away the power of what 11-11 is trying to do.
At times you also take charge of a pigeon or cat, which Harry and Kurt have picked up along their journeys respectively. This can offer a few additional gameplay twists and opportunities for unique storytelling moments, but largely they feel fairly token and don’t reach their full potential.
When you venture out into No Man’s Land as either animal, which you’ll do frequently, there’s a far lesser sense of danger considering both sides deem them to be harmless. Neither army is portrayed as right or wrong, and there’s no glorifying the situation; in fact, the soldiers themselves are more alike than any rhetoric or propaganda from the time would have you believe.
Undoubtedly the first things that’ll strike you when loading up the game is the astonishing visual style, which makes use of a technique known as ‘painterly’ to have scenes appear as if they’re being redrawn by thousands of brush strokes as you move. There’s a feeling of walking through beautiful impressionist landscapes as you explore, offering up breathtaking scenes amid the undeniable horrors of the war itself.
In less skilled hands this could have come off as a cheap Photoshop effect, but this collaboration between Aardman Digital (who, contrary to popular belief, work with more than just clay) and DigixArt creates a sublime combination of technical prowess and artistic flair. They’ve crafted a truly unique style which impressively manages to adapt to a variety of locations and climates throughout the game’s course.
While the effect does attract attention, it may prove to be an acquired taste as the industry races towards photorealism. The visual fidelity of the assets themselves, when you look past the effect, is fairly low, which can give a somewhat dated feel at times, particularly to characters in cutscenes.
It’s not too big of an issue, however, when the elements surrounding that mostly nail remaining historically accurate and respectful of true events, whilst balancing that with the sort of nonsense which makes a game a game, like successfully navigating a homemade hot air balloon over No Man’s Land at night, for example.
11-11’s soundtrack also succeeds in feeling appropriate without sounding generic, as composer Olivier Deriviere, responsible for music on titles like Alone in the Dark, Remember Me and Vampyr, uses a choir’s chorus to echo across the battlefield, creating a chilling and sombre mood.
The execution is exceptional and the end product is, quite unironically, a very memorable experience.
The strongest feeling which shines through as you play though, is pride, as every element of the game is carefully pieced together to create a tribute to those who valiantly fought and sadly lost their lives.
It’s unfortunate that the odd technical mishap occasionally creeps in to spoil the immersion, but compared to a narrative journey from, say, the Telltale stable, 11-11 more than competes with the best in the adventure genre.
If you’re looking for a history lesson, you won’t find it here. While Memories Retold uses the war as its setting, it’s more about the relationship between Harry and Kurt and how it develops over those last two years of conflict. Fortunately, the execution is exceptional and the end product is, quite unironically, a very memorable experience.
Burning Bridges, the penultimate episode in the debut season of The Council, arrives at a tumultuous time for narrative-driven adventure games. Telltale, a company synonymous with popularising the genre and its incremental release format, are in the midst of a heartbreaking majority closure that’ll see many of the studio’s ongoing projects never reach their conclusion. This has, understandably, sewn doubt amongst the community as to whether investing in episodic games ahead of their completion is a good idea. In a case of bad timing, where developer Big Bad Wolf could have lain claim to the mantle with this latest release, it instead fuels the flames with their sloppiest technical work yet.
Each outlandish revelation injects a hit of adrenaline and the result is a faster, often more engaging pacing without as many filler moments.
A replay to see what might have been may be in order, so it’s a good job that feels justified now more than ever as The Council loosens the buttons on its ruffled collar to have a little more fun. Less po-faced politics doesn’t mean that diplomacy is out of the window, however, rather that it’s now waged on an even grander and more bizarre stage than merely influencing world events.
Previously we’ve said that the series’ micro choices prove more affecting than macro-scale decisions, but here that sentiment is flipped on its head. Many character decisions are arbitrarily black and white - good or bad - and underbaked this time around, whereas choosing how best to govern humanity, through equal moral greys that hold a mirror to modern society, is perplexing.
Throw in an elaborate new location and a couple of exciting abilities that’ll help to decipher even the most secretive guests, for a cost, and it’s commendable that Big Bad Wolf aren’t afraid to mix things up a bit at this late stage. The team of former Ubisoft developers also settle on a nice middle ground when it comes to puzzle design, having historically either spoon-fed answers or left players a little in the lurch, here uniformly making them taxing whilst allowing for a degree of circumvention through sleuthing or the smart investment of effort points/use of consumables.
With an abundance of problems both old and new, Burning Bridges is an undeniably messy experience. If you’re a purely mechanics-focused gamer, there’s absolutely naught but a veiny, enraged brow in store, but, that being said, you probably don’t fall into that camp if you’ve made it this far. Anyone that can forgive the many foibles in favour of being spun an intriguing yarn should still apply; we’re certainly eager to see how things conclude when the finale (fingers crossed) launches later this year.
From the moment we were greeted by Unforeseen Incidents’ foreboding title screen, filled with flashes of lightning and lashes of shimmering rain, we suspected we were in for a treat. Being solid fans of point-and-click gameplay since first encountering the iconic Monkey Island series, we were looking forward to having our minds playfully tickled by the brand of puzzles that have you jolting awake in the middle of the night having finally deciphered them. If that sounds like a brain-bruising nightmare to you, rest assured that, in this instance, you’ll face grounded problems that are woven into a delightfully engaging narrative.
Adventure games are all about wandering around solving puzzles, but there are rather drawn-out sections here that dwell a little too long before allowing us to rekindle our love affair with the story.
It’s a credit to how good the cutscenes, dialogue and storytelling are that we rather selfishly wanted more of them. The soundtrack evokes a soft melancholia, with piano drops and violin swells. The dialogue is self-aware and the voice acting is sharp as a tack; so often does Harper seem to perfectly narrate the player’s thoughts, sarcastically breaking the fourth wall in that cheeky Sam & Max way, or playfully scolding you for suggesting something daft in order to solve a puzzle. The amount of times we caught ourselves smirking at Harper’s reactions to hilariously misguided attempts to make progress is beyond measure.
This makes Unforeseen Incidents’ puzzles both a delight and a frustration rolled into one. It’s a strange ebb and flow, as one minute you’ll be flying high whilst lamenting the wasted years in higher education, as you were clearly born a genius, then, around two minutes later, you’re stumped and rapidly approaching rock bottom whilst being presented with amusing dialogue to keep you sweet. The main offenders here are very mechanically complex puzzles, which may well be fine if you’re practically minded and love your tinkering, but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just have to call your dad and ask him how to repair a fan belt or whatever.
All in all, Unforeseen Incidents offers a challenging and engaging take on the point-and-click genre that fans of a good mystery - who also have the patience to persist through some of the more difficult puzzles - should definitely download. Give yourself the gift of feeling like you’ve earned a great story, and a pat on the back for being dead clever.
Is it just us, or does it feel like too much emphasis is put on looks these days? While modern PCs and consoles push resolutions in the millions of pixels, there’s a lot to be said for a game which focuses on achieving a distinct visual style, more than just pure visual firepower. In those rare cases, how a game looks can enhance or even define the experience, bringing up the quality of the product overall, rather than just being something which might be pretty to look at, but is otherwise bland.
It’s really the puzzle elements - introduced by the opposing perspectives of Kit and Hodge - and beautiful visuals that’ll draw you in here.
Comparisons to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland are certainly easy to draw, in terms of setup, but the game is very aware of this and has Kit namecheck and dismiss them fairly early on. The curiouser and curiouser part of it all is that Kit begins to bump into famous historical figures, each having an effect on the landscape that’s relevant to their most notable skill, for example an impressionist painter imposing a screen filter.
The gameplay itself is a little less robust, with most levels just having you backtrack between one contraption and another, but the fact that the two protagonists navigate so differently brings more variety to working through each level’s challenges, which get progressively more elaborate as the game goes on.
Though Another Sight is pretty to look at, technical issues do show through occasionally, with the transition from gameplay to cutscene being a particular stand-out culprit of “dead eye” syndrome. Really, the story could’ve been told without hopping between the two, which makes you wonder why developer Lunar Great Wall Studios made that creative choice.
On the topic of narrative, the story unfolds gradually as you explore a fictional subterranean London. It’s not immediately clear whether Kit is really there, or if a lot of what she’s seeing (or sensing) is actually a dream, but the unravelling of this particular question is central to the overall plot, and its various twists are enough to hold the experience together.
That said, it’s really the puzzle elements - introduced by the opposing perspectives of Kit and Hodge - and beautiful visuals that’ll draw you in here. Perhaps not enough for those in search of any truly unique gameplay experiences that might have been conjured up by this particular odd couple pairing, but, regardless, if you’re after a puzzle game with a bespoke visual twist, you can’t go much wrong.