As the numbered entries in any series start hitting double digits, it can be difficult to still feel inspired by a new release – for both developers and fans. That’s not been the case for Mortal Kombat and the team at NetherRealm (Injustice 2), however, as 2015’s MKX was the biggest success for the fatal fighting franchise yet. Having to follow that means the pressure is on - so, does MK11 deliver?
Krushing Blows are a new feature which differ between characters, barring some more widespread triggers. These devastating variations on existing moves might be prompted by, for example, hitting the same maneuver twice consecutively or from a certain distance - everyone has access to multiple, which can individually be used just once per match in order to prevent spamming.
The final major change to MK11’s core gameplay is a split meter, now comprised of two chunks for defence and two for offence, all of which recharge automatically over time. The former can be used for things like breaking out of juggle combos, rolling out of range when floored, or utilising the environmental interactions available in most of the 20+ stages. The latter can be turned to modifying special moves and performing getup attacks (which also draw on defence), the idea being to enforce a more balanced play style by disallowing the use of meter in any exclusive fashion. It works.
All of the many, many interacting systems and their governing data are broken down and then layered on in a clear and digestible fashion.
Of course, the series' iconic Brutalities and Fatalities return untouched, allowing fights to reach excitingly over-the-top climaxes. They’re a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh alongside some gnarly audio that’ll squeeze equal amounts of wincing and disbelieving laughter from players.
Despite being a defining feature, these murderous moves can’t be busted out during the campaign for the sake of continuity. It’s easily forgiven, however, since story modes in NetherRealm fighters traditionally stand several severed heads and shoulders above the competition. The pulpy narrative follows directly on from MKX and revolves around the introduction of Kronica, a character with command (kommand?) over time and a distaste for the present, which conveniently slot together to form a time-bending celebration of Mortal Kombat’s past and present.
It’s unadulterated fanservice from a franchise that’s earned the distinction during more years in existence than the person writing this, but, having clambered abound at too early an age, things still got plenty nostalgic. Even if you don’t have any direct connection to old-school MK, everyone should at least recognise the classic costumes and character models which have long since been absorbed into the zeitgeist.
Throughout the story you’ll switch between multiple character perspectives, making it a great place to learn who you do and don’t click with. Outside of kombat, lavish cutscenes tell a fittingly outrageous eight-or-so hour tale which any lover of goofy, big-budget action flicks would jump at the opportunity to see on the silver screen. It’s easy to care about what’s happening, in spite of the unbelievable events and characters, plus a distractingly hammy performance from WWE and UFC star Ronda Rousey as Sonya Blade.
As with Fatalities and Brutalities, your custom character builds can’t be carried over to the campaign. MKX let players pick between preset character variations, massively diversifying its roster simply by fiddling with what was already there, and MK11 takes that ingenuity to the next logical step. Fighters still have a couple of presets each, but you can now build your own by equipping special moves across three slots (some of the more powerful abilities taking up two of them), whilst also switching out a slew of detailed cosmetics and, once you’ve won enough bouts with those cosmetics equipped to level them up, imbuing them with elemental augmentations. This essentially means that two players’ renditions of Scorpion, for example, can look and play very differently.
That being said, amassing the gear to fully deck out a specific character can be tough. Ignoring premium Time Krystals, along with the three premium consumables you can then buy with them, there are three in-game currencies which are paid out sparingly. Hearts are particularly bad, with most fights rewarding only one or two depending on whether you finished with a Fatality or a Brutality respectively. Most related purchases require 250...
What’s more, those purchases take the form of random loot chests, so it’s entirely possible that the ‘reward’ at the end of a long grind will be something useless to you. Delving the expanded and more involving Krypt to locate those chests at least proves engaging, since the gamified storefront is a mini metroidvania with puzzles and item gates all of its own.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh.
There’s no doubting the fact that an unreasonable time and/or money investment would be required of anyone looking to unlock everything, but we actually quite like the fact that we could dip in and out of MK11 in the years leading up to its inevitable sequel and have something new to show for each and every visit.
The ever-changing Towers of Time seek to ensure that you do keep coming back, presenting consecutive fights with devious gameplay modifiers to stack the odds against you. You can retry as many times as you like whilst incurring small incremental penalties to your score, plus equip ‘konsumables’ found in the Krypt to counter the disadvantages at hand, before eventually reaping the greatest rewards for time invested if you can overcome the challenge. Some seemingly insurmountable combinations are nothing short of infuriating though, ushering you towards buying premium Skip Fight Tokens since the alternative is to quit and lose your progress. Like the wider economy, this is being looked at.
There are plenty more ways to occupy yourself within MK11 in the meantime, like exhibition bouts in local co-op or against AI, which can be set to five difficulty levels. There are also Klassic Towers, minus any shenanigans, culminating in a boss encounter with Kronica followed by a trademark ending animatic tailored to your chosen character.
Online modes round out the offering, the most bizarre of which are asynchronous CPU-controlled battles, where you’ll choose three attacking combatants to face those assigned to defence by another user. You can enjoy the spectacle or fast forward, but we really have to wonder why it’s here at all, besides maybe offering a way to passively alleviate some of MK11’s grind. Characters can’t get injured or anything, so there’s no need to manage your roster, and, as far as tactics go, you could look to create custom variants to counter the most common character picks, at least on paper, but acquiring and levelling the gear to do so wouldn’t be worth the effort
Competitive modes encompass ranked first-to-three contests (no custom variations allowed) through ‘kasual’ single and King of the Hill matchups. Early netcode has been great, which is absolutely vital to any fighting game worth its salt, while the community is variable as ever, though there are tools in place to find players of a similar mindset and/or skill level. When you manage to do so, the deeper mechanics really start to shine and matches unfold like thoughtful games of chess, despite looking like mindless violence to onlookers.
There’s a hell of a lot to Mortal Kombat 11 then, as you can see, most of which is absolutely fantastic if you can overlook the current gouging. If you can’t, then maybe wait it out and see how things settle, but you shouldn’t allow peripheries such as currencies, cosmetics and just one of many modes stop you experiencing the immensely fun story and gratifyingly balanced kombat systems at the core of the game.
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.
Bust out the hi-tops, gold chains, fluorescent trousers and square hair, gang, for it’s time to revisit the beloved 90s world of ToeJam & Earl. That’s right, the titular twosome are Back in the Groove.
Let’s not forget the baddies, though: the cast of irritants and nasties feature earthlings of all flavours, encompassing autograph-hunting fans, FBI agents, and even sharks. That’s neglecting to mention the likes of ghostly cows, that corpulent, bald casanova, Cupid, and tornadoes that’ll knock you off the edge of a level, back down to the previous one. These foes are rarely threatening, mind, as there’s always a Sunflower forest to hide away in, playing a sublime little jingle whenever you walk into one.
Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Now, you could be forgiven for reading all of the above and wondering what the point of the whole shebang is. A fair assessment, perhaps, but that’d be to miss the essence of BITG completely. Waltzing around as a bodacious alien, dressed as Vanilla Ice, bopping to a superbly funky soundtrack, is quite the treat in itself.
Yes, the core gameplay of searchin’ ‘n’ findin’ might not lend itself to the most thrilling of loops, but throw into the mix procedurally generated levels, different difficulties, the kind of laughs that only local co-op play can provide, and mini-games that break up the monotony - on that note, the dancing game is great, but the auto-runner isn’t so much - and there’s scope for even the non-nostalgic to enjoy themselves.
Visually, ToeJam and Earl have thankfully been dragged punching and hollering into the can-only-meet-people-via-an-app age. Gawping at the cartoony wonder of trees, water, snow, desert and caricature-style NPCs is a dream, so it’s a real shame that performance can suffer on occasion, when, in all honesty, the game really isn’t pushing the limits of modern hardware. The mid-level elevator scenes are a prime example of this: fantastic Fresh Prince-inspired backdrops that chug and wheeze as the next level loads.
The undeniable presentational standout here, though, is the absolute funkathon of a score. Squelchy, popped ‘n’ slapped bass smashes through the speakers, throwing some serious aural shapes alongside subdued, crunchy beats. Kickstarter backers had the opportunity to get a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl, and of that fact we’re considerably jealous.
Where does all this leave us though, folks? In reality, ToeJam & Earl is as anti-mainstream as ever, and we appreciate that. If you like local multiplayer games, adore funkadelic basslines, or just have a hankering to revisit 1991, you’ll certainly have fun with Back in the Groove. Comrades with short attention spans, or who find early 90s pop culture and/or the basic trappings of dungeon crawlers abhorrent, though, should breakdance right outta here. PEACE.
It's been a busy winter release schedule and things aren’t about to let up any time soon, yet that's not the reason you're only just getting our thoughts on Crackdown 3. That first reveal, way back at E3 2014, showed off an exciting level of destruction in what would surely be a triumphant return for a mistreated franchise. Surely. Right?
That skyline is peppered with large green orbs, which can be sought out in order to improve your character. Ah yes, the orbs. Probably the most compulsively addicting aspect of the series, these guys are super satisfying to jump around and collect, all the while increasing your agility level to allow for access to even more.
Other forms of experience are awarded when you perform their relevant actions. Fancy some fisticuffs? Smaller red orbs will spill from enemies and boost your melee damage, as well as periodically unlocking new abilities like a ground pound. If blowing things up is more your speed, then you'll begin to gobble up yellow orbs, and so on. The additional skills in each upgrade path are fairly elementary at first, but do start to add a little depth later on, so it’s worth adopting a varied play style despite nothing being supremely memorable.
Gunning down goons comes courtesy of a satisfyingly snappy lock-on function, which makes it easy to bound about as you wreak havoc and zip away from hostile fire.
Core gameplay basically just involves clearing out enemies from specific locations, veiled in a number of different ways. When the locales are all pretty similar and their objectives rarely differ, the overall mission structure quickly gets repetitive.
Gunning down goons along the way comes courtesy of a satisfyingly snappy lock-on function, which makes it easy to bound about as you wreak havoc and zip away from incoming hostile fire. At the same time it does also remove an element of skill, which, coupled with foes that are pretty standard fare, makes the level of challenge on standard difficulty fairly low.
Crackdown 3’s most fun aspect is probably traversing the world, scaling buildings at will, though even that isn’t without issue. Jumping will feel too floaty for many, plus there’s the odd and inconsistent inclusion of fall damage, which seems to either not occur at all or cut you down in a heartbeat. It can also be a grind to get to the point where you feel truly agile and/or powerful, in spite of there being an element of instant gratification here.
Multiplayer comes in the form of the standalone Wrecking Zone package, which shares the campaign’s flaws, only while presenting more intense firefights fought across compact maps with a focus towards verticality. The lauded cloud-powered destruction is frankly nothing to write home about and the pair of available modes won’t do much to keep you around for long.
As a somewhat throwback gesture you can also play the campaign cooperatively, but only with one fellow Agent, instead of three as was initially promised.
In the end, the Crackdown experience is much the same now as it ever was, even after countesses games raised the bar considerably in its absence. If you're picking this up as an existing Xbox Game Pass subscriber, there’s fun to be had without an associated fee, but it's certainly not worth buying the game itself or even subscribing to the Game Pass service specifically for.
Crackdown 3 is a disappointing end to a years-long saga fraught with anticipation and disappointment, and one which will hopefully be the final of Microsoft’s misfires this generation to hit the Xbox One.
After a brief period of exclusivity with Discord, At Sundown: Shots in the Dark has been released onto multiple platforms, bringing with it an atypical twist on the multiplayer shooter.
As you continue to play and progress, unlocks are awarded with each level gained and come in the form of new weapons, maps and game modes. Whilst the unlockable maps and modes offer some variety (King of the Hill works particularly well), building the unconventional armoury is At Sundown’s real prize.
The level cap can be reached very quickly, ensuring things aren't locked behind progression for too long, but that does mean you’ll pretty much have seen everything the game has to offer within a couple of hours.
Typically for a multiplayer-focused game, longevity comes from honing your craft. You can do so locally, with up to four players supported, while AI bots can fill in any available spaces. AI capability ranges from laughably easy to cheating bastard, which can depend more on the weapons in play than the difficulty setting.
Unfortunately, padding matches with bots isn't an option if you venture online. We weren’t able to find an online bout during our playtime, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as we were playing pre-release, but we were able to try out some 1v1 battles and, as suitably tense as they were (thanks in no small part to the ominous soundtrack), the experience felt proportionally watered down. Technically it was spot on, it just lacked the measured carnage of a four-way firefight.
Still, Mild Beast Games have taken the slow, methodical strategy of Battleships, infused it with the twitchy thrill of a modern shooter and presented it in a way which invites an inaccurate, but not unfair, comparison to Bomberman. If you and yours are any sort of frantic multiplayer fans, then At Sundown might just be worth a look.
Cooperation is a powerful thing; playing a game with other people can turn just about any experience into something ultimately more memorable and entertaining. As such, Catastronauts’ endearing brand of chaos is immediately gripping with even just a single fellow interstellar adventurer in tow.
The gameplay experience boils down to a series of quick, exciting bursts of panic, stress and terror in the best possible way.
Of course, a game can sound or look as good as you like (and in fact the soundtrack is suitably otherworldly too), but at the end of the day it’s still how it plays that really matters. Here the gameplay experience boils down to a series of quick, exciting bursts of panic, stress and terror in the best possible way.
Fighting game-style life bars at the top of the screen cause a creeping anxiety as they deplete in conjunction with the escalating action down below. With each level the stakes are further raised as new mechanics are introduced - giving you new ways to power up your weapons and unleash pain on your adversaries - as well as placing new obstacles in the way of keeping your spaceship in working order.
Catastronauts’ difficulty curve is steep, with an awful lot to keep on top of even in the earliest stages, to the extent that it could be a bit much for new players the first time around. The presentation is so playful and accepting though, even a total failure is met with a smile and urges to suit up again for another go.
Motivation to press on is, unfortunately, a little harder to come by when going at it alone. Solo you’re pushed for time twice as much (or more), needing to swap between two characters to be able to access all of the tools to keep the ship running. Much like Overcooked there’s no AI support here, so you can’t set a character off doing something and then swap between them to save time, which can shift the mood from excited, restless panic to something more aggravating.
If you have a group of four friends together, this is where the magic happens, bringing back nostalgic memories, for those of a more distinguished lifespan, of the golden age of couch co-op starring the likes of Mario Party and Goldeneye. Without your friends on hand though, there’s little else to turn to as there’s no online matchmaking here.
With the busy, end-of-year festive period creeping closer than we’d like to admit, Catastronauts feels like a perfect game to bring people together at a host of seasonal gatherings, nestled comfortably between some Mario Kart 8 Duluxe and Quiplash.
There’s plenty of good natured fun on offer here, and while the difficulty might prove too much for soloists, or even those in a pair, as a group of four the balance feels much more natural and lets everyone contribute.
For a fledgling indie outfit, the production quality and attention to detail Inertia have achieved here is almost staggering, with nary an illusion-breaking bug in sight, whilst everything has been thought through to give an overall rich and enjoyable experience.
Themed as a classic, old-timey adventure serial - complete with spiffingly British narrator and an affinity for alliteration (which can be toned down if the gusto gets your guts, though I’d advise averting your eyes if that’s the case) - Strange Brigade’s arcade action compiles and injects existing industry ideas with a persistent panache, shaking feelings of familiarity and raising a rip-roaring ride through 1930s Egypt.
Strange Brigade’s arcade action compiles and injects existing industry ideas with a persistent panache, shaking feelings of familiarity and raising a rip-roaring ride.
Though rifles are still very much present, here a more likely choice of primary weapon would be a shotgun or submachine gun, which can then be complemented by your choice of secondary firearm and thrown explosive. As you amass armfuls of gold throughout the course of any given level, you’ll also be able to roll the dice on a powerful prototype weapon - like an explosive crossbow or punch-packing blunderbuss - anonymously nestled within identifiable crates. These beefcakes have a limited ammo supply to counteract their immense strength, but perhaps more devastating are ultimate character abilities.
Unleashed after charging a magical amulet with the souls of defeated dastards, each brigadier has three additional bespoke abilities to unlock by collecting sets of relics generally hidden away within puzzle-gated nooks. These hidey-holes can also contain gems which slot into weapons to imbue them with passive buffs, allowing for easier crowd control and with that more efficient use of the booby traps that litter each uncharted environment.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the ins and outs of all the singular systems governing combat in Strange Brigade, there’s a real art to stringing everything together into one maintained and satisfying stream of destruction.
When you aren’t busy wreaking havoc, you’ll be exploring a range of lush, forgotten locales that are gorgeously vivid on Xbox One X. They’re surprisingly sprawling, often featuring multiple routes to your destination, all while the sounds of moving mechanisms and twinkling treasures beckon you to double back and scour every surface in search of secrets. The classic environmental enigmas you’ll uncover offer up tangible rewards and ensure that there’s reason to revisit the nine lengthy campaign missions in order to deeper delve their depths.
That said, before diving back into the campaign you’ll probably want to try your hand at the pair of accompanying modes in Score Attack and Horde. The former sees you undertake solo excursions on linear, re-purposed campaign sections whilst aiming to combo kills and satisfy a list of secondary challenges like beating par times and not taking damage. Think Mercenaries mode from more recent instalments of Resident Evil, but with greater consistency between runs to allow for really nailing the perfect strategy down.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the the singular systems governing combat, there’s a real art to stringing them together into one maintained stream of destruction.
Horde is almost what it says on the tin, only sharing more in common with Call of Duty’s fan favourite Zombies mode than Epic’s eponymous Gears of War 2 trendsetter. You’ll weather an insane undead onslaught across four exclusive maps that expand as waves progress, and also by your own hand, should you choose to spend gold on accessing new areas and their guaranteed goodies. Doing so isn’t exactly the no-brainer it sounds, as you’ll also need to piecemeal purchase a loadout having started with just a solemn sidearm.
This makes Horde a great place to experiment with new loadouts, which, coupled with a moving base of operations to prevent you from getting too comfortable in any one location, stops things growing stale as you’d otherwise be relying on the same old strategies across a whopping 75 total waves. That’s no small undertaking, so you can thankfully step away at any point and then pick back up from right around where you left off.
Weighing in at a reduced asking price, Strange Brigade feels anything but budget and features enough content that you might call it a steal. That’s certainly a relief, as outwardly it was easy to speculate that the Season Pass and its promise of new levels, characters and more might be required in compiling a complete package.
Strange Brigade bears its inspirations for all to see, but while many of the influential games and modes we’ve mentioned are overdone nowadays, Rebellion commit to their goofy theme with such enthusiasm that they’ve captured a formative time in cinema not previously brought to the medium with such verve. This unique sense of fun will make you nostalgic for a period you probably didn’t see, and by a long shot, while the copious conundrums make it an action co-op caper not quite like any other.
Ghost Town Games are back with a second helping of culinary chaos in Overcooked! 2, the highly anticipated sequel that builds upon the fibrous foundation of the original’s excellent multiplayer-focused action.
Shifting work surfaces, environmental hazards and the constant danger of fire mean assembling basic dishes becomes a considerable – and often hilarious – challenge.
Something that often caused ire amongst fans of the first title was the lack of online matchmaking, and, while it was commendable to encourage people to get together for some classic couch co-op, it’s something that, for many, is not always feasible. This had the potential to reduce Overcooked! to little more than a party game that ended up being shelved once everyone had gone home.
The inclusion of matchmaking in Overcooked! 2 is a most welcome addition then, but there is still a drawback. If you’ve got a couple of mates who own the game, then you’re all set – particularly if you’re playing the campaign, which allows a mix of local and online friends – but the seemingly small player base becomes a problem when trying to dip in and out of arcade or competitive modes for online sessions with strangers.
That said, while far from ideal, ending up on a lopsided team did lead to some spontaneous (and entertaining) acts of kindness, as ingredients were graciously chucked our way by a sympathetic opposition. Away from the generosity of strangers, there's always the extra avatar you’re given when you happen to be down a teammate, or just playing solo in general, allowing you to juggle tasks and somewhat (but not really) maintain the freneticism of co-op in your single-handed quest to maximise productivity.
The aforementioned campaign’s story is just as ludicrous as before, as players are once again tasked with saving the world through their cooking prowess, this time by satiating the hunger of the unbread – that’s zombie-like baked goods, in case you were wondering. The charming world map is back, and just as fun to career about in your miniature food truck - more so, in fact, thanks to some cool new vehicle animations - and hidden amongst the regular levels are bonus ones, earned through completing special challenges.
Things start off simple as players are eased into basic recipes, such as sushi, before being introduced to harder, more complicated dishes and kitchens that require serious skill to master. There are even a few set-pieces, bringing two levels (and their respective recipes) together at one point in a dramatic balloon crash.
Score requirements for stars have been increased, but, thanks to the new combo feature, built by sending out food in the correct order, reaching them isn’t as impossible a task as it may first seem. Even if you haven’t collected enough stars to unlock the next level, going back and mastering previous missions is all part of the fun.
Essentially, Overcooked! 2 is a more refined version of an already enjoyable product. Snappier menus, improved visuals and an all-round sleeker design help to give the game a premium feel that was absent from the original, and the much requested addition of online matchmaking will help breathe new life and longevity into the series for many people.
Having had the distinct pleasure of exclusively revealing the first glimpse of Warhammer: Vermintide 2 gameplay last October, the long wait for the first-person-shooter-come-brawler to arrive on console has been especially gruelling. Now that we’ve gotten our hands on it: was it worth the wait?
You’ll need to juggle priority targets and manage choke points as tidal waves of fetid flesh rage your way.
The level of customisation on offer gets altogether extensive when you also account for Vermintide 2’s loot and crafting systems. Taal’s Horn Keep serves as a sizeable hub area from which to launch your choice of the thirteen main missions, throughout which you can work towards satisfying daily challenges and career quests; completing these tasks awards the game’s strictly non-premium loot boxes, which rain a random array of weapons and gear that can be equipped to improve applicable characters, or, if you unbox a stinker, salvaged into materials used to craft new items and upgrades.
Refreshing a loadout can significantly impact how any given character plays, overhauling attributes and movesets, perhaps not always to your exact liking, but never compromising the viscerally satisfying core combat mechanics. Melee skirmishes can feel either hefty or agile, depending on your chosen armament, though always brutal as you gorily pop heads and lop limbs with each light or (particularly satisfying) charged heavy swing.
While mixing it up at close range you’ll need to be mindful to dodge and block incoming attacks from big bads, though opting for a character with more of a ranged combat style should keep you relatively out of harm's way to begin with. While letting loose with arrows, fireballs, bolts and bullets is good fun in itself, it’s almost a shame to snub one of the best first-person brawling systems around in favour of comparatively bog-standard blasting.
Still, variety is the spice of life, so mixing up your choice of hero whilst tackling repeat playthroughs of Vermintide 2’s semi-open levels - which accommodate multiple paths towards their culminating set-piece encounters, also randomising enemy and item spawns along the way - ensures things remain engaging. Throw in the lure of greater rewards when progressing to higher difficulty levels, as well as unobtrusive storytelling that allows players to easily consume their desired dose of action, and you have a package that’ll keep you busy for a good length of time.
Vermintide 2 is more in-depth than its peers in many ways, but retains the central simplicity that makes this brand of onslaught adventure so frantic and exciting. Doing so at native 4K resolution on Xbox One X, while mostly maintaining a solid frame rate, at no additional cost to Game Pass subscribers, makes for an experience that you (and preferably some friends) shouldn’t hesitate to get stuck into.
Yes, Earthfall does look a lot like Left 4 Dead. In fact, the comparison is welcomed by developers Holospark and something that they strived for as their key inspiration and focus. “We loved Left 4 Dead” said CEO Rusty Williams, when we spoke to him at EGX Rezzed earlier this year, “but we wanted more.” So, after a few years of development, including time in early access on PC, Earthfall is the end result.
While the presentation gets a solid “good” - Unreal Engine 4 would struggle to make a game look bad - it’d be nice to see a bit more fidelity in those textures (perhaps an Xbox One X update looms in the future?) and the game isn’t without some technical issues. We’ve seen a couple of crashes when things get especially hectic, plus the friendly AI more than once has stood in place, staring frantically into space as the rest of their team gets mauled around the corner.
In terms of level design, something so tightly managed in Valve and Turtle Rocks’ original, there are oversights too, with invisible walls being used to channel the player into a linear flow through areas which look as though they should be ripe to explore. Furthermore, giving players an objective marker to head for often makes the campaign feel like a pedestrian trudge between two points, rather than four survivors scraping together what they can in a desperate effort to survive.
It’s here we really must broach the subject of AI. Players can either run through levels with allied bots or open up proceedings to being joined by human players online, as in L4D, but the AI in question doesn’t have the same concern for your wellbeing as it did in that game, frequently leaving you to bleed out whilst prioritising reviving fellow bots and often snatching up helpful items and weapons from under your nose.
If they were able to trigger objectives or be commanded in any way they might be more useful, but they aren’t even fans of deploying barriers or using mounted guns, which can be an issue at some of the game’s choke points, referred to in-game as ‘holdouts’. You can punch up the AI ‘skill’ to limited results, only really boosting accuracy and the eagerness to shoot first and ask questions later. But hey, at least there’s no risk of incurring significant friendly fire damage from them.
Earthfall is difficult in general, with even two players experienced in working and communicating with one another, bolstered by a couple of filler bots, seeing the ‘Normal’ difficulty setting pose a serious threat. While the higher difficulties are a stretch, the ‘Easy’ level can at times be too much its namesake, making you long for a shuffle to give a happy medium.
With only two campaigns of five twenty-or-so-minute chapters a piece, you might find Earthfall a tad pricey at £24.99, since it’s inspiration gave us double the number of iconic campaigns and an additional competitive mode, which is conspicuously absent here at present. That said, the team at Holospark are already hard at work on further campaign content which will be released free to all players (cosmetic customisation items are premium), so there’s some added value to look forward to in the future.
One particularly fun element, which pushes the suspension of disbelief in a very different direction than accepting aliens are a thing, is the fact that many levels are peppered with 3D printers to requisition guns and health stations reminiscent of Half-Life. A great idea, which could have been taken further to include attachments and further customisations, as the risk/reward mechanic whenever you encounter them (turning the power on to use them will attract a mob) is always compelling.
Though it might not be Left 4 Dead 3, Earthfall does enough to scratch the itch for players pining for a similar experience. With games developing far more post-launch than ever before it seems likely this one will continue to mutate to the needs of its player base, which doesn’t undo the fact it could have used slightly longer in the oven before final release, but what’s on offer so far is ruddy good fun, if a tad disposable.