If the name Narcosis sounds familiar, it’s probably because the game originally launched over a year ago, but, with the debut of a spanking new PS4 port, comes an opportunity for the existing versions to claw back a little spotlight for themselves. Initially taking to digital storefronts like a stone to water, the ripples have now reached our shores, but is Narcosis a horror that should’ve stayed dormant in the deep?
You probably aren’t crazy about water levels in gaming, but, In this instance, heading to the bottom of ol’ big blue serves to establish an almost alien atmosphere conducive to terror.
Developer Honor Code clearly took great care in crafting Narcosis’ world and narrative, though the same can’t quite be said when it comes to the limited gameplay. Labelled a survival horror walking simulator - we’ll let you decide whether affectionately or not - slightly tank-y controls harken back to early examples of the genre whilst conveying the immense weight of the bulky diving suit you occupy. The slow pace and initially unintuitive controls take a little getting used to, as does independently looking down to view the suit’s integrated HUD, but limited-use thrusters do accommodate sparing speed boosts.
They also allow for a spot of light platforming, which is fine, if unremarkable, whilst sides of simple puzzle solving and rudimentary combat are also thrown in to tick the necessary boxes. Fights are rare, thankfully, as you have but one cumbersome slash manoeuvre to execute with a short knife. More often than not, you’ll instead utilise an abundance of flares to distract enemies and allow you to slip by, but not always unseen. You’re predisposed to run when spotted by a deadly predator, though, in Narcosis’ case, your heavy diving suit disallows that response, contributing further tension.
Your helmet also obscures peripheral vision, adding another unnerving wrinkle, but the apparatus is far too efficient in the one area that could’ve made things outright harrowing. As we mentioned earlier, oxygen levels are limited, so you’ll continually need to accrue the element, while also doing your best to avoid any situations that’ll cause panic, resultantly accelerating your breathing and elevating your intake. It’s a novel conceit, but the game doesn’t fully commit, seemingly scared of imposing too great a challenge, resulting in the mechanic never becoming a major factor.
As such, it only really serves to keep you moving, but even that’s largely unnecessary when Narcosis is so linear. A couple of chapters make for notable exceptions, though most areas only open up into brief offshoots housing text-based collectibles serving to flesh out crew members’ characters.
While Narcosis doesn’t boast a great gameplay experience, rather just palatable, it works as a vehicle for interacting with Honor Code’s atmospheric locations and concise story. At around three hours long, it isn’t too much to ask that you stick out the relative lows in order to enjoy the twisting, psychological highs.
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.
Coatsink’s puzzle room ponderer has been perplexing non-PlayStation players for a period, but now, thanks to a better-late-than-never port, owners of Sony’s budget-friendly headset can finally get in on the fun.
You’re encouraged to tinker with the tools at your disposal and learn from each unjudging failure, ultimately reaching logical conclusions grounded in real-world physics.
That’s no mistake, as the development team were careful not to outstay their welcome, limiting the game's length to less than the latest Marvel blockbuster. With a £6.49 price tag to compensate, Esper is an easy recommendation for fans of the genre, provided they can stomach its few faults.
Regardless of your chosen method of input - be that Move, DualShock 4 or head tracking - the game’s motion controls can lack fine precision and this occasionally leads to fumbles that are out of your hands, which can be extra frustrating in the rare event you’re forced into restarting the (admittedly short) section at hand. We also encountered a bug in the very last moments of the game that put a dampener on the otherwise intriguing finale, poised to lead into the currently-Oculus-Rift-exclusive sequel, though that’s another downer in itself for those without Facebook’s brand of 3D goggles.
Still, it’s hard to hold a grudge when Esper is such a well-executed little game. It’s thoughtful and requires a reasonably high level of execution at times, but consistent in being low intensity and incredibly laid-back, making it a great choice for novice through to journeyman VR voyagers.
Imagine being dropped into the blazing Egyptian desert with just a baseball cap, a lumberjack shirt and… a potato launcher. Well, now you can face that reality, as developer Crema’s twitchy first-person pyramid-crawler, Immortal Redneck, breathes a colourful, comical breath of life into the old school, arcade shooter genre.
Standing boldly between you and bragging rights are a dastardly array of enemies that range from lava-belching toads to floating skulls.
To combat these blighters you’ll have to rely on two things - your rapidly twerking thumbs and a suite of over 50 inventive weapons, found scattered across each of the floors you’ll navigate en route to the Apex. Our hillbilly hero begins with just a basic pistol, but can uncover anything from an electric flamethrower to a wololo staff (you can decide what that means). Each weapon will put a massive smile on the face of any arcade action fan; the shotgun blast is suitably explosive, machine guns are frantic and noisy, and Grampa’s Blunderbuss is simply a great name.
With all that awesome firepower, it’s a shame the environments themselves contribute little to the overall experience. Despite doing their job in offing up mythical monsters aplenty, plus accommodating hunts for crazy weapons and madman levels of strafing, areas come up short. They start out large and sprawling, like an Egyptian multi-storey car park, and narrow as the difficulty spikes, with the only real design variation being a few random platforms, more ramps and a few spread out pillars. Alas, that’s the inherent danger in opting for procedural generation over human craftsmanship.
It goes without saying that fans of Serious Sam, Timesplitters and DOOM will no doubt find a familiar home in Immortal Redneck, but those who crave a more narrative-driven experience may find that they get bored long before they ultimately reach the Apex. Even then, it could prove fun to dip in and out of whenever you fancy getting some sand between your toes, and, of course, kicking seven shades out of cute looking rattlesnakes with a taser sword.
A runaway crowdfunding success story, Agony and its grotesque realisation of Hell recently made it to market with the help of nearly 4,000 passionate backers. While there are plenty of grisly sights to quench the thirst of the gore hounds amongst them, anyone looking for anything more than the modern interpretation of a cheap video nasty will be sorely disappointed.
Anyone looking for anything more than the modern interpretation of a cheap video nasty will be sorely disappointed.
Sneaking slows the trudging pace to an absolute crawl, which means you’ll inevitably get bored and make a run for it, almost guaranteeing that you get spotted and face swift murder. After succumbing to a screenful of bare busters, your soul leaves the body and you’re presented a window of time in which to possess a lesser thrall and pick up where you left off. Possessions are automatic on easy difficulty, but require input on normal and send you back to the last poorly-placed checkpoint in the event of failure.
Finding and eating Forbidden Fruit - or Fanny Smith apples, as we call them for reasons you can probably extrapolate - allows you to acquire and upgrade skills that’ll at least give you a better chance at survival. That’s assuming you actually want to extend the trip, mind, as masses of alternate endings and a couple of additional modes - one offering endless procedurally generated challenges and the other the chance to replay the story as a succubus - did absolutely nothing to tempt us into holding the controller for any longer than absolutely necessary.
You might think all that seems a tad harsh, but we haven’t even touched on the crippling technical issues yet. Agony’s frame rate is choppy at best, glitches prevented us from making progress on a few occasions, and the audio is completely bust. Diegetic sounds emanate from the wrong directions, while ambient effects and voice overs constantly cut in and out and jarringly loop back on themselves; missing dialogue makes the unengaging narrative harder to follow than it should be, but, more egregiously, deprives you of relishing every syllable of the hysterically awkward scripting and delivery.
Let’s not mince words here: Agony is a sub-par, early access product masquerading as a finished release. Patches can only hope to make it stably abysmal, as opposed to plain broken, so you should absolutely avoid the unnecessary agony it’ll so ironically impose upon you.
Bundling the base Aragami experience alongside its new Nightfall expansion, Aragami: Shadow Edition brings the eponymous shadow assassin and his stealth exploits to Xbox One for the first time.
It’s visually very Okami, which is just one of many classic inspirations that Aragami proudly wears on its sleeve.
Taking a risk and stepping out into the light - or, better yet, painting temporary shadows into the environment for concealment beforehand - will often reward you with a collectable scroll used to purchase from a range of upgrades. Included amongst these are powerful new techniques, which draw from a limited pool of charges, as opposed to your Shadow Essence, allowing you to turn invisible, mark enemies, perform ranged kills and much more.
More opportunities open up as your arsenal grows, making what was already quite an easy outing a veritable cakewalk. While being clocked by a foe will generally result in your death, avoiding that fate isn’t much of a challenge, due to easily manipulable AI and the general advantages you’re afforded on top of your supernatural powers. Being spotted isn’t immediate cause for concern, and neither is lingering in the enemy gaze long enough for them to make you, as you’re afforded a slow motion reaction window by default (though it can be disabled).
Cutting straight through early levels is a hot knife through butter, but as the opposing Army of Light grow in size and diversity - integrating ranged bowmen and soldiers with portable light sources - you’ll be forced into an ever-so-slightly more considered approach towards the tail end of the game. As such, stealth aficionados will want to jump straight in at the highest difficulty setting to sharpen enemy wits and bolster their numbers.
Though we did crave more of a challenge - which a scoring system looks to provide, but there’s little motivation to get involved in the absence of leaderboards - there’s definitely satisfaction to be gleaned from playing the ultimate assassin, requiring only a small time investment to plot and execute a swift and deadly strike, erase the evidence and disappear without a trace.
Though we did crave more of a challenge, there’s definitely satisfaction to be gleaned from playing the ultimate assassin.
While improving your letter grade likely won’t draw you back for a second playthrough, achievements and skins awarded for completing polarising lethal and pacifist runs might just do the job, across both the main game and its Nightfall expansion.
A prequel story featuring two new playable characters, each equipped with a condensed set of fresh abilities, Nightfall spans four of the strongest chapters found in the Shadow Edition. Whether you choose to play as Shinobu or her sensei, Hyo, you’ll traverse complex new environments littered with debuting enemies and obstacles that, combined with the more limited array of shadow powers on offer, inject an engaging level of challenge that the main game mostly lacks.
It’s very apparent that Lince Works put a lot of time and effort into Nightfall, making it a rare example of an expansion that surpasses the game it’s attached to. Concise diary entries flesh out the narrative and offer a subtle guiding hand, while the buddy dynamic between its leading duo contextualises the game’s cross-platform online co-op, rather than just cloning the protagonist without explanation.
Clearly then the development team have learnt a great deal in the nearly two years since the original launch of Aragami, which has us eager to see what they might come up with next. When it comes to their current product, while a mixed bag, many will rightly be tempted by the prospect of playing as one of the industry’s best-realised ninjas in terms of pure, death-dealing gameplay. It’s just a shame that this power trip can come at the cost of your overall engagement, letting you breeze through the beautiful environments with a nonchalant approach to stealth and story alike.
EVERSPACE finally made its way to PlayStation 4 this week, both standalone and bundled with a few extra goodies in the Stellar Edition; whichever version might take you fancy, picking up ROCKFISH Games’ space-faring roguelike is an easy recommendation.
EVERSPACE has a more developed narrative than we’ve experienced in any other roguelike.
As such, it’s important to pick your battles by keeping a distance and utilising stealth where you can. Entering into a smart engagement - isolating enemies, prioritising targets, managing your shield and knowing when to retreat - can be the difference between life and death. It is possible to play too cautiously though, as you’ll need fuel to safely progress between areas and additional resources both to repair your ship and craft or upgrade items, all of which are dropped by defeated enemies.
Valuable resources can also be gathered from mining spots and containers, or purchased via ports and traders, though a looming threat ensures that you can’t spend too long scouring any one area for booty. Enemy fleets will spawn and hunt you down should you allow them to triangulate your position, meaning you’ll need to keep a considered pace at all times.
You’re sure to meet an early grave with so much working against you, which, as you may have already gleaned from our earlier mention of runs - you clever thing, you - will set you back to square one. Permadeath can be a scary concept, but EVERSPACE boasts extensive persistent progression that’ll help to make losing a time investment actually feel productive.
Any credits you earn during a run can be siphoned into a vast range of useful perks and upgrades, or even additional ships, though you have to spend what you’ve gathered before redeploying. Not allowing players to save towards more expensive purchases might seem unnecessarily harsh, but this simple tweak ensures you’re always heading back out into the unknown vastness of space with an added in-game advantage and a little extra motivation to hit your desired figure this time around.
Permadeath can be a scary concept, but EVERSPACE boasts extensive persistent progression that’ll help to make losing a time investment actually feel productive.
If EVERSPACE is sounding too difficult for you, then opting for the easy difficulty setting is the way to go. It’ll tip the scales in your favour while docking 25% of your earnings, slowing the upgrade process in order to maintain balance. Similarly, the elite can opt for hard mode and boost their income by 25%, whilst the dangerous can ‘enjoy’ a separate Hardcore game type that eliminates persistent forms of progression whilst throwing you the odd bone.
Whatever way you play, procedural generation will keep things varied and interesting between runs, subtly randomising area layouts and spawns. More significant are the occasional prerequisite area objectives and visually stunning weather anomalies that impact play, while the Encounters expansion (included in the Stellar Edition) makes an even greater impact by introducing numerous random character encounters that blossom into persistent quest lines.
Not only that, but Encounters adds a powerful new ship with an arcing lightning cannon and disabling EMP blast, loads more gear to kit yourself out with, new enemies to test everything out on, and even more, all while seamlessly integrating into the base game experience. It’s a no-brainer at just £7.99, which means the same can be said of the Stellar Edition, which offers a couple of premium themes and a digital soundtrack at no additional cost to buying EVERSPACE and Encounters separately.
Its sharp assets and striking juxtaposition of colours make the game really quite beautiful, especially on Pro hardware, where players can enjoy checkerboard 4K as well as the standard HDR support. Really then, EVERSPACE - Stellar Edition is the full package: challenging, tactical, highly customisable, rewarding, almost endless, and pretty darn gorgeous.
Unless you’re averse to taking to the skies, or refuse to succumb to your mortality at the hands of permadeath, you won’t regret climbing aboard the good (space)ship roguelike.
Having hit HTC VIVE and Oculus Rift late last year, Killing Floor: Incursion has finally made the transition to more budget-friendly hardware in the form of Sony’s PlayStation VR headset. Bringing the Killing Floor series’ gory brand of sci-fi horror to a new dimension, Incursion is a mix of old and new that achieves varying degrees of success.
An annoying cooldown feature disallows teleporting multiple times in quick succession, wasting no time in convincing us that free movement was the only way to go.
Fortunately, the game fares better at instilling chills in other areas. In spite of some graphical pop-in and general fuzziness, the largely dark and moody settings make for tense and grimly detailed places to explore, aided every step of the way by incredibly effective use of 3D audio. The sound works best in confined spaces, which also happen to be locations where the aforementioned cheese strategy won’t do you any favours, making for a potent mix.
While the campaign is relatively brief at around four hours, bringing along a friend for co-op and/or graduating to the higher difficulty level are motivators for at least a second playthrough. That said, most of your time with Incursion will likely be spent engaging with Holdout mode, which is more the survival onslaught you’d expect going off Killing Floor’s past form.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering it centers on the series’ bread and butter, Holdout is the highlight regardless of relying on such a prevalent trope. Playable solo or two-player, just like the campaign, the mode introduces a range of power-ups and an over-the-top announcer that grows more and more excited as you build a score multiplier by chaining headshot kills.
Here any semblance of ambiance is dumped in favour of piping in Killing Floor’s signature heavy metal soundtrack, its breakneck tempo mirroring the frantic pace at which you’ll need to physically swing melee weapons or dual-wield firearms in order to survive the intensity. Two Move motion controllers are required to play, which you can do either seated or standing, and they mostly do a sterling job of keeping up with the frantic flailing as you make use of the game’s narrow selection of murder implements.
The overwhelming nature of Holdout’s pulse-racing encounters can easily get you flustered, causing you to fumble the somewhat button-heavy controls as your brain struggles to process inputs on top of inputs, inevitably seeing you mobbed and mauled by the ugly enemy troop with no concern for personal space. It’s here a few desperate weapon whips, punches or pushes come in handy, but not nearly as much as having a co-op partner capable of a well-timed rescue.
Holdout mode dumps any semblance of ambiance in favour of piping in heavy metal, its breakneck tempo mirroring the frantic pace at which you’ll need to act in order to survive the intensity.
Combat is satisfyingly visceral as standard, though there’s something supremely pleasing about cutting the arms off an enemy that’s reaching out to grab at your teammate; it’s also hilarious when said teammate then picks those severed limbs up and wiggles them around like wet noodles… Puppeteering the sagging jaw of a decapitated head for one another was a similarly macabre hoot, though more human interactions like simply reciprocating a wave to an online stranger or swapping weapons with one another is pleasing in itself.
Unfortunately, our time online has been hampered by spotty connections, which, coupled with a sparse selection of just five small maps (one of which is a timed PS VR exclusive), calls longevity into question for all but the most ardent highscore chasers.
When a simple horror shooter in the vein of The Brookhaven Experiment would’ve fallen so easily into place with the Killing Floor property, it’s a pleasant surprise to see Incursion go the extra mile and prove an adventurous experience more akin to Arizona Sunshine. Despite the comparisons, Incursion carves out it’s own niche by translating the Killing Floor series’ dark humour, heavy metal stylings, and sparing use of slow motion to highlight its most gloriously gory moments to a new format. On the whole, it’s an enjoyable VR shooter that unfortunately finds itself in the middle of a very crowded market.
Everyone loves a bit of Norse Mythology, right? Whether you’re enjoying the new God of War or cheering on your chisel-jawed hero Thor in Avengers: Infinity War, there's something particularly epic about that pantheon of gods.
Unlike the other titan-toppler we played this week, Extinction, there's plenty of variety on offer here.
While keeping the challenge level high might goade some players on, this combined with the limited dodge range of your character (in fact the dodge itself is almost as slow as normal movement) can start to see frustration build.
Other times, the beautiful hand-drawn art style and animations can prove to be a hazard, as enemies fall and catch you in their wake when you feel as though you should be free and clear.
The final twist of the knife is the camera, which often zooms far far out, to Below-esque levels of distant appreciation, to show you the points of interest in the scene, but, again, often at the expense of your character's wellbeing.
All in all then, the intrigue of Jotun will keep pulling you through, and, being a portable game on this particular platform, finds itself well suited for quick bursts while trundling along on a train. There's little to bring you back once your quest is done, with only the extra hard Valhalla mode left to tax the most dedicated players. At journey’s end your character might not have much of an emotional arc, but there's variety here to keep you occupied without outstaying its welcome.
There’s no hiding the fact that Bombslinger is heavily inspired by Bomberman, at first glance even appearing as little more than a Western reskin of the classic series. Whilst the serviceable Battle mode doesn’t do too much to dispute that, its roguelike Adventure mode blasts Bombslinger past Konami’s most recent effort - Super Bomberman R.
Its roguelike Adventure mode propels Bombslinger past Konami’s most recent effort - Super Bomberman R.
While not as complex as the likes of The Binding of Isaac, which can be pretty obstructive to newcomers, the occasionally clumsy four-directional movement in Bombslinger will leave some a-shakin’ in their snakeskins. You’ll very frequently need to duck around a corner to avoid the blast radius of a bomb, but every so often you can be slightly off centre to the gap you’re attempting to squeeze through and end up taking damage as a direct result of the fiddly correction process. Considering that this has the potential to put an end to a run, it’s far from ideal.
It’s not such a problem in Battle mode’s lower stakes skirmishes, though that’s not to say they’re easy - the AI takes no prisoners, yeller belly! DeathMatch and Last Man Standing game types can be played across 12 maps, with the former a frantic race to the frag limit and the latter a more considered bout for survival.
In familiar fashion, you’re placed into a maze filled with a mix of destructible and non-destructible obstacles, as well as power-ups and power-downs, with a mad scramble ensuing as up to four bombers fill lanes with flames in an attempt to quell the competition. It proves tense, fast-paced and skilful despite the inherent simplicity, which makes the lack of online multiplayer support all the greater a blow.
A pick up and play nature makes Bombslinger ideal for gaming on the go, but, when it comes to local competitive matches, a big ol’ TV screen is the ideal way for everyone to keep track of what’s going on. This makes Nintendo Switch the game's ideal platform, offering up the best of both worlds and sacrificing none of the sharp retro aesthetic in the process.
The occasionally clumsy four-directional movement will leave some a-shakin’ in their snakeskins.
Bombslinger’s tentpole is its excellent roguelike Adventure mode, which boasts a characteristically addictive gameplay loop that compels you to keep developing your skill set over time. Battle mode is very much a secondary distraction, though proves to be good fun when getting some local friends involved - it’s just a shame that the fun can’t be taken online when there’s nobody to hand, and that control issues can make a game with a consistent level of challenge stray towards feeling unfair. Still, if you’re a fan of the Bomberman template, Bombslinger is a game you probably won’t want to miss.