Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a triumph. Crowdfunded to the tune of more than $5.5 million at the height of the Kickstarter craze, many of its peers released to lukewarm critical and commercial reception, but Koji Igarashi and company took the extra time to produce something truly special.
Igavania? More like egovania, amirite? ... Seriously though, Igarashi (above) is one of the greats!
Gameplay has always been the bread and butter of metroidvania games, and Ritual of the Night certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Largely it’s very familiar in that you travel an enormous, satisfyingly interconnected map collecting new abilities - such as the power to fire yourself through narrow gaps like a ricocheting bullet - which in turn grant access to new areas. The well-established gameplay loop is incredibly moreish when executed in exacting fashion, as it is here, almost defying you to leave any small segment of the map unexplored.
From torchlit castle halls to moonlit cathedral towers, to dank sewers and myriad exotic locales beyond, a wide range of seemingly disparate areas are convincingly tied together by a unified aesthetic and intelligent, looping shortcuts. You’ll get to know the world of Bloodstained quite intimately as you backtrack to solve puzzles you’ve since discovered the answers to, or to reach designated save and fast travel rooms, which never becomes a chore.
That’s thanks not just to the exquisite 2.5D level design, but the tight platforming and deep combat systems you’ll engage with along the way. Miriam can acquire and equip outfits and weapons throughout her journey, the former of which offer various stat boosts and aesthetic changes when items are worn on the head, while the latter can completely change how the game plays.
Depending on preference you might opt for the greater range of a whip or a spear, the close-quarters finesse of a dagger, the balance of a one-handed sword, or the brute force of a laboured greataxe swing. That’s not to mention firearms and their different ammo types. Every harebrained enemy - be it a frog, a dragon, or a scissor-handed marionette straight outta Devil May Cry - has their share of quantifiable strengths and weaknesses, so it makes sense to switch things up on the regular. If you can master enemy attack patterns and Miriam’s graceful backstep dodge, as well as the necessary timing and spacing for your favourite weapons, hostile encounters become akin to dance.
An undisputed retro classic made modern, without sacrificing an ounce of appeal or introducing current industry ailments.
Combat has incredible nuance for those who seek to discover it, be that in hidden techniques for specific weapons, attack hit boxes that extend behind and/or directly above your person dependant on the animation, or the realisation that a weapon might be doubly efficient when used while crouched. A small complaint would be that once you do grow proficient, due to normal difficulty being the only option available on an initial playthrough, bosses especially go from an engaging challenge to a complete cakewalk. That and the game's technical performance can take a big hit when your screen-filling, death-dealing prowess matches theirs.
If you’re all about preserving the challenge, limiting your selection of Shards would be a good start. These crystallised forms of demon power randomly drop from enemies and tend to either grant access to one of their abilities or allow you to summon the relevant beast to fight alongside you temporarily. You can equip quite a few at once and they’re more often than not very potent, theoretically balanced out by limiting their use with a mana resource, but, unlike health, mana automatically regenerates over time so there’s little reason not to make liberal use of them.
Familiars are ever-present AI helpers that don’t consume mana, even auto-levelling alongside the leading lady, whilst elsewhere upgrades are carried out via a vendor at a peaceful hub location. Here you can buy/sell and cook/craft using materials most often discovered in chests, dropped by defeated enemies, or gifted as rewards for completing optional side quests.
With Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding also releasing in 2019, we wonder if Konami are feeling ashamed of their words and deeds...
Somewhat uncharacteristically, we’ve been loving the grind to gather ingredients, cook and consume all of the game’s recipes in order to claim their permanent stat increases, perhaps because it’s a simple pleasure to spend time in the Bloodstained universe. Another uncharacteristic find, at least for me personally, is the appreciation of quite an anime visual style; I’m coming around to the character models, but the colourful backdrops evoking the game’s stained glass motif I universally adore! More predictable is our love of the orchestral soundtrack, looping and grandiose in its modern interpretation of catchy retro classics.
In fact, that sums Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night up pretty well - an undisputed retro classic made modern, without sacrificing an ounce of appeal or introducing current industry ailments in the process. There’s a lot of game here, and it’s so compelling in its mechanics and audiovisuals that you’ll want to drain every last drop from the experience like a vampire affixed to its succulent neck.
The original RAGE, released back in 2011, was a bit of a technical marvel; it utilised innovative ‘megatextures’ to hit 60 FPS on console and accommodated that trademark id Software freneticism on last-gen hardware. It played beautifully, but everything surrounding that was pretty monotone, resulting in an ultimately forgettable experience. RAGE 2 looks to remedy this by spray-painting the wasteland neon pink and partnering with Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios to inject some vigour.
It’s familiar and largely uninspired stuff, but, to be fair, better implemented than in its peers. Speaking personally, I’ve never been a fan of Borderlands and I tapped out on the increasingly tedious Far Cry series years ago, both of which share structural similarities to RAGE 2, yet here I am happily playing Bethesda’s latest for the gross number of consecutive hours which are required for the TV to assume I’ve fallen asleep.
So what’s different here? id Software, to put it plainly. The originators of the FPS are still doing it best, crafting on-foot combat encounters that are giddily exciting. Action is supremely fluid at 60 FPS (which does come at the cost of 4K support on enhanced consoles), allowing for the necessary precision to utilise the wide array of tools at your disposal whilst staying on the move. As in DOOM, defeated enemies drop time-limited health pick-ups, so it pays to remain in the thick of a fight in the absence of fully regenerating health.
The originators of the FPS are still doing it best, crafting on-foot combat encounters that are giddily exciting.
Whether using the exquisite shotgun or one of RAGE 2’s more unique firearms to pop heads with a satisfying squish, devastating active abilities like a ground pound and an essential force push can also be executed as often as their cooldowns dictate, fully encompassing the supersoldier power fantasy. There’s a frankly massive amount of maneuvers to unlock, to the extent you probably won’t remember to implement them all, though they’re gradually introduced in an effort to avoid that and also maintain a constant feeling of growth throughout the reasonably-lengthed campaign and much longer road to 100% completion.
While there isn’t any concrete incentive to do so, at least beyond boosting your own ego by looking damn cool, experimenting and discovering effective combinations of abilities allows for immense showboating on the level of Bulletstorm. Stringing kills of any fashion together in quick succession will increase your combo and more efficiently charge the Overdrive meter, which can then be activated to massively boost the effectiveness of all your other offensive and defensive capabilities for a short period, filling the screen with a psychedelic techno haze as you go ham.
Outside of Overdrive you can’t always afford to be so reckless, as different factions and the enemy types within them pose different levels of threat, encouraging slightly altered tactical approaches. Using the Focus ability lets you see through walls to formulate plans of attack, which can then be executed against clever AI which appear in numbers and play to their strengths in order to quickly overrun overzealous players. We particularly like the fact that throwing an uncooked grenade at an enemy can prompt them to intercept it and return to sender, then, with a well-timed melee strike, you can even volley it right back at ‘em!
RAGE 2’s first-person firefights are honestly worth sticking out any of the game’s hardships for, and to a lesser extent, so too are the third-person vehicular combat sections. These only really come into play when you encounter and engage a convoy in the open world, which visually plays out like one of the best scenes from Fury Road, but is less exciting to actually control. Ramming riders from their bikes and quickly dispatching the smaller four-wheelers at the rear is explosive fun, but the leading boss vehicles are comparatively uninteresting since you can mostly just hang back, automatically lock-on to their weak points as they’re periodically exposed, then hold down the fire button to win. Convoys were far more involved in Mad Max, where you might need to remove armour plating with a harpoon in order to expose a weak point, then use a specific ammo type to destroy it.
Swapping out vehicles would help to spice things up a bit, but we’d go as far as to say switching is actively discouraged, despite being able to hijack and even unlock a variety of transports directly to your garage. Similar to the Magnum Opus in Mad Max, only minus any of the context, the Phoenix is your starting vehicle and the only banger capable of being repaired and upgraded.
RAGE 2 ’s first-person firefights are honestly worth sticking out any of the game’s hardships for, and to a lesser extent, so too are the third-person vehicular combat sections.
One benefit of opting out of upgrades would at least be avoiding RAGE 2’s painfully sluggish menus, which hang momentarily whenever you switch between the numerous tabs. Elsewhere there’s graphical pop-in (not great considering the so-so visuals in general), invisible and unresponsive NPCs, we’ve fallen through the floor and had to reload a save, and the audio can cut out completely or persist where it shouldn’t (hearing continuous gunfire from a dead enemy, for example). In fact, the audiovisuals are disappointing on the whole, falling well short of the colourful, Andrew W.K. party atmosphere RAGE 2 was made out to feature and instead sticking closer to your archetypal post-apocalypse.
Still, if you’re looking for a substantial shooter to enjoy in all its gory single-player glory, RAGE 2 most definitely fits the bill. The game achieves its main goal in being sheer and unadulterated fun - it doesn't take itself even slightly seriously and favours gameplay above all else, to the extent that tackling what’s essentially the same side mission for the tenth time isn’t any bother, because along the way you can spartan kick a dude and then decapitate him with a boomerang as he sits up. What, pray tell, is not to like about that?
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.
Band of Bastards is the third major expansion for Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios’ medieval simulation RPG, which is holding up well a year after release - bringing with it a cluster of combat-oriented missions for battle-hardened players to get stuck into.
So, once you’ve polished off Dangler and been accepted into the nefarious crew, what adventures await? With around five hours of new content, Band of Bastards is comprised of six quests - five main and one side - plus the opportunity to explore your new camp and get to know the mercenaries within it.
Each of these characters feel unique and well-rounded, sharing entertaining backstories about how they became members. Particular highlights are the tale of how Dangler acquired his moniker (that’s sure to have set your mind racing) and how Sir Kuno’s family fell from grace.
The DLC’s solitary side quest, where head bastard Kuno asks you to retrieve a ring that grants its holder unlimited booze in taverns, unfortunately proves to be little more than a series of fetch quests taking place entirely within the borders of the small camp area.
Main mission wise, four of the five on offer feature combat situations for players to get involved in, with some decent armour components up for grabs to those willing to pay the iron price. The action’s tied together by some impressive cutscenes, and, while the story may be relatively straightforward, it does explore the questionable morals and irresolute loyalty of a sellsword company.
Unfortunately, it’s over all too soon. Just as you’re growing emotionally invested in a character, the conversation options dry up, and the same goes for Band of Bastards’ narrative as a whole. More disappointingly, the big finale ends on rather a limp note; the game’s framerate tanks and enemies display bizarre behaviour, doggedly chasing you around the battlefield whilst ignoring the rest of your party hacking them to bits. Granted, it’s possible to avoid a brawl altogether and settle things in single combat, but doing so means you miss out on a lot of extra loot, including a significant amount of coin.
None of that’s to say we didn’t enjoy the new content, though. The opportunity to venture out with your own crew and battle loads of baddies is exactly what Kingdom Come: Deliverance needed - the problem is, it needs even more of it! Band of Bastards is good, but it could have been great. All the components are here - the memorable characters, backstories and adventures - they just needed a bigger stage to flourish upon.
Spiritual successor to the classic Wonder Boy games, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a strikingly gorgeous, achingly nostalgic adventure that gets better and better the more you play.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a strikingly gorgeous, achingly nostalgic adventure that gets better and better the more you play.
Some items come with associated abilities - like boots that enable a double jump manoeuvre - often granting access to new areas, or at the very least previously inaccessible nooks within explored locales. Monster World is pretty huge, so the detailed, screen-by-screen map that’s awash with hints pointing towards as-yet-undiscovered secrets is a real boon for completionists.
Fortunately, the game’s setting is as varied as it is vast, encompassing idyllic, bustling hub towns through dark, labyrinthine sewers. Not just visually diverse, areas also require different tactics to traverse, making each feel doubly distinct and effectively staving off any potential fatigue resulting from what’s, ultimately, quite a familiar overarching structure.
In basest terms, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is another retro platformer, but, given time, it blossoms into something altogether more complex and enthralling. The fact that the folks at FDG Entertainment and The Game Atelier managed to pull that off while remaining staunchly true to their ‘80s inspiration, Wonder Boy, results in a masterfully-executed game that fans of retro platformers and modern metroidvanias alike will adore.
Does Fallout need NPCs to work? That’s the question we’ve been pondering almost the entire time we’ve been thinking about this review. The short answer is, as always, the cop-out answer, which is - erm, probably not?
This Fallout adventure is designed with friends in mind, up to 23 others at a time in fact, as you share your instance of West Virginia with fellow survivors getting busy living. Teaming up works as you’d expect, though finding other players isn’t necessarily an easy task with so much real estate to roam, and even the invites only gingerly pop up in the corner instead of really pushing the co-op experience.
For those wanting to be more traditional lone wolves this is somewhat of a godsend, but it gives an indication as to Bethesda's odd approach to playing together. Teaming up with friends to build a ridiculous base is plenty of fun by itself, but even more so is picking a point on the map and just going there, collecting the materials required to build and bringing the gameplay loop full circle along the way.
There’s PvP as well, unlocked at level 5 along with the hassle-free pacifist mode, but so far most players have largely been behaving themselves (perhaps everyone’s focused on levelling?) and there's little to actively encourage player encounters this early in the game's life.
76’s story relies heavily on your patience (which will certainly be tested in a multiplayer environment) for discovering and engaging with holotapes and written logs, as there aren’t any human AI characters to bump into and have deliver exposition through conversations. At first you feel a glimmer of hope that one or two of the quests might end up with you, somehow, coming to the rescue of a relieved NPC, but alas, everything seems to end in death. Death, it seems, never changes…
Building and crafting makes a return in a big way, as opposed to the somewhat take-it-or-leave-it approach of Fallout 4, in that you now have a mobile workbench known as the C.A.M.P. With it, you can construct all manner of things, once you’ve discovered the relevant plans, of course, which have been absent-mindedly left strewn across the vast, open wasteland.
No longer limited to specific settlements, you can lug your C.A.M.P. across the map (which is now four times larger) and place it anywhere not too close to a named location. Honestly though, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway, as you’d forever be pestered by respawning enemies.
While there isn’t the same throughline narrative returning players might expect, there are still main quests which take you on a gradual tour of the sizeable map, as well as side quests which pop up as you might expect, but new to Fallout are more MMO-style daily and event missions, the latter of which generally involve clearing out or protecting specific locations, and can trigger very easily if you wander even close to the marker.
Fortunately, there’s fast travel to help you get around with relative ease, however, this brings us to one of the most significant and potentially deal-breaking areas of the game - bugs.
V.A.T.S. is a little different too... With no slow-motion at all there's a tendency for percentages to fluctuate widely and that led us, ultimately, to dispense with it altogether.
There’s no getting around it: Bethesda games have a reputation for… not performing to the best technical standard. Of course, huge open world games are particularly susceptible to bugs, and when you add multiplayer and base building into the mix, Bethesda certainly haven’t made it easy on themselves.
That being said, Fallout 76 has consistently thrown up more bugs than any other release we’ve experienced in 2018. One particularly nasty error repeatedly caused the console (an Xbox One X) to shut itself down entirely to protect it from overheating. Firstly, the console wasn’t at risk of overheating - ventilation was fine and the device wasn’t hot to the touch as you’d expect if that was a serious risk. Secondly, there’s almost no way to avoid the frightening issue creeping up on you, but particularly if you try to fast travel there’s a high chance of having to suffer through a hard restart.
Needless to say there are fixes coming, and the other, more visible reported bugs - like enemies getting stuck in place and walking at 45-degree angles, or event quests inexplicably failing - will likely be dealt with, but as a customer paying a substantial number of bottle caps to pick the game up, the reality is severely below standard.
Perhaps Bethesda didn’t realise the B.E.T.A. (boy, do they love their acronyms) would throw up as many issues as it did, but, for a game of its standing, the stability should really be a lot better.
To address the big question then, does Fallout really need NPCs? It definitely depends on the game you’re looking for. If you imagine this game as a Conan Exiles or Minecraft survival experience then it might exceed expectations, but if you go in looking for Bethesda-does-Destiny then it could go the other way.
While NPCs aren’t essential to make it feel like a Fallout game (76 does still feel very Fallout), there’s really no specific reason - putting Bethesda’s stance on it emphasising player interaction aside - that there shouldn’t be anyone around, particularly when compared to previous games. To implement a blanket ban seemingly on principle makes the world feel a little more empty and locations a little less exciting; just the odd bit of characterisation here and there (besides identical robots) would have made all the difference.
It may get better in time, but right now it’s hard to fully recommend Fallout 76 for anyone other than die-hard series fans that are hungry for more.
A building just fell on me. Before the likes of Battlefield and its 'levolution’ system came along, this 2009 Red Faction reboot and it's Geo Mod 2.0 technology was producing some of the most impressive environmental destruction to date.
What’s really under your control is the order in which you handle different zones, now a staple of any given Ubisoft open world title, to name but one frequent culprit. Here there's no handy radio tower to reveal the map though, so you'll need to roam the map the old fashioned way to discover all the EDF buildings you need to take down, tactically or by brute force.
There's something to be said for knocking the difficulty down to casual and just playing around without worrying too much about your health, but death isn’t too big of a hurdle, so (accidentally) blowing yourself up amidst the chaos isn't as bad as you might initially think. Not to mention that the AI is still extremely zealous, particularly when you're on foot, to the extent that once you have more than two enemy vehicles in pursuit it's basically a lost cause anyway.
As you tear Mars apart one smoke-less smoke stack at a time, you'll collect scrap metal which can be used to unlock and upgrade tools and abilities. It's all fairly rudimentary, but lets you boost things like the number of explosive charges you can place at once, or the number of enemies the fork-lightning-based arc welder will jump between.
Multiplayer was always a shining light for the original, seeing you don a plethora of combat and skill-enhancing backpacks that allow you to crash through walls, hover or beef up firepower for a short time. These variables made even a straight deathmatch, appropriately known as Anarchy, into a chaotic and exciting affair. In this Re-Mars-ter (we’re still undecided on whether the person that came up with that should be sacked or given a pay rise), the online community is fledgling and the early signs relatively encouraging, but you'll be left wanting if you envision yourself drilling down specific game types and levels.
While you’ll have fun regardless, especially since maps are often far more varied and interesting than the single player landscape, gameplay does show its age a bit. Elements are missing that were common even at the time, like iron sights and combat rolls, but after not too long it's fairly easy to adjust.
With that said, elements like mechs to pilot in true Aliens fashion and Wrecking Crew mode, which is a real playground for your destructive skills, do help to modernise the package a bit.
Lighting systems and draw distances (at least on the Xbox One X) showing a marked improvement over the original.
Despite gleefully ploughing through the story the first time around and it raising a nostalgic smile again in 2018, it's difficult to say revisiting Guerilla is essential. In the end then, it’s a good-not-great experience, as only a few bundled DLC missions fill out the package besides the expected suite of technical improvements.
On that front, the game holds up quite well, with the lighting systems and draw distances (at least on Xbox One X) showing a marked improvement over the original. Whether it's enough to warrant a return trip to Mars depends on how much you enjoy blowing things up, especially with a brand new Just Cause (or even, dare we say, Crackdown 3) on the horizon.
Red Faction is a franchise with a lot of potential, in both of its incarnations, which was sadly squandered by a lacklustre sequel (Armageddon) that failed to capitalise on what made this installment so good. Perhaps if the re-release does well for itself we’ll finally get the sequel it deserves.
The latest entry in the rapidly expanding Focus Home Interactive stable, Vampyr is brought to life by sleeper development studio DONTNOD Entertainment (Life is Strange, Remember Me). An ambitious action RPG, Vampyr casts players as Dr. Jonathan Reid and unleashes them on an occult interpretation of 1918 London, framed by relevant Victorian themes in class, disease, race and religion.
Every single citizen you encounter has a personality, relationships and community standing within their borough.
Furthermore, should your moral compass be broken, you aren’t entirely off the hook. Mounting homicide cases may lead people to flee, stores to increase their prices due to the dangers of operation, or, if you’re a real glutton, even plunge a district into irreparable chaos and eradicate its population. That’ll lock you out of any content tied to the unfortunates at hand and also prevent you from rearing any more meat in the area, so it’s best to use your skills as a medical practitioner to craft cures from looted gubbins and subsequently use ‘em to keep the health of a borough at an even keel.
When Shadow of Mordor and later Shadow of War were lauded for their ‘revolutionary’ Nemesis Systems, which supposedly served to build meaningful rivalries, we wondered if we might’ve missed something. The community systems within Vampyr don’t fall similarly flat, realising the potential in attaching a player to what would otherwise be secondary NPCs by making every exchange consequential on multiple levels.
Exploring the quasi open world, rich with environmental detail and written lore as it is, can be as fruitful as conversing in the pursuit of useful information. You’re often kept to a relatively linear path by unpickable locks that gate progress, which isn’t an inherent issue, but is somewhat galling when you consider Jonathan has the ability to teleport and could feasibly get anywhere, but arbitrarily can’t outside of designated contextual prompts. Regardless, streets and interiors alike are a dark and moody treat to turn over for crafting components, used to upgrade weapons and produce injectable buffs that aid in violent confrontations with humans, vampires and additional beasties.
As an immortal, Dr. Reid eats bullets for breakfast, but the likes of fire and holy symbols will quickly turn the tides. Each enemy has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which, when coupled with a range of classes, create a varied opposition that present challenge in numbers. They’ll work in synergy to bring you down, necessitating knowledge of their respective attack patterns and target hierarchy.
The community systems within Vampyr attach players to what would otherwise be secondary NPCs, making every exchange consequential on multiple levels.
Bouts are fast paced and scrappy, very similar to Bloodborne both visually and mechanically, seeing you lock-on to a single target before launching attacks and dodges at the cost of stamina. Firearms can be equipped to the off-hand when using a one-handed weapon and unloaded without need to manually aim, or, alternatively, a secondary off-hand melee weapon can be used to inflict negative status effects, like a stun that presents feeding opportunities.
This is where the more unique aspects of combat come into play, as you’ll periodically want to clamp your jaws around someone’s neck to keep your blood gauge topped up - blood being required to perform a range of lesser and ultimate abilities that range from simply healing yourself to boiling an opponent’s blood. There’s really a lot at your disposal, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that combat here isn’t nearly as polished as its clear inspiration, lacking the same engaging challenge thanks to some simple exploits.
Animations can also come off as a little stiff, pulling you out of the moment in the midst of an otherwise satisfying combo, but even on the odd occasion that Vampyr underwhelms visually it continues to impresses aurally. Battlecries are particularly guttural, while theatrical voiceovers commit to the patchy script with convincing verve, all complemented by the bellowing chelos and screeching violins of an excellent - and also decidedly Bloodborne-esque - ambient soundtrack.
Whilst Vampyr can feel overly familiar in certain areas, it borrows from the top and at its core holds a unique and intelligent social framework that intertwines engaging themes and characters to birth an enthralling, meaningfully manipulable narrative. It mixes up the conventional RPG structure whilst maintaining a nice balance between management, conversation, combat and exploration to retain the same moreish X factor that made so many fall in love with the genre to begin with. If you can take the rough with the smooth, you’ll find a lot to love in what’s easily DONTNOD Entertainment’s best game yet.
Valentina, Beta, Alexxis, Jay… they're dead. They're all dead. While we mourn their passing, their permadeaths serve as an example of one of the greatest strengths of State of Decay 2.
As a newcomer to the series, it turns out that the complete breakdown of society can be pretty brutal.
Later, when your community swells and you gain enough influence (the game’s de facto currency), you can claim locations ranging from small, resource gathering outposts, to electricity generating power stations and even makeshift forts constructed from shipping containers. Each new locale has its own advantages and how you manage your growing empire, customising locations further with mods and upgrades, is up to you.
That said, it’s advisable that you take council from your community as morale upkeep is a constant battle in such dire circumstances, as one might expect. Sacrificing a building slot to set up a garden or fashion a lounge (in which you can install an original Xbox) can work wonders in keeping everyone cheery.
As time goes on, your survivors will improve their skills based on what actions they perform. While the game wants you to feel you're developing fleshed out characters in a manner akin to the likes of Skyrim, the reality is that skills are fairly limited, and you'll just want to make sure most of your population go for a run once in a while to boost their stamina, or they'll quickly become overwhelmed in a bout of fisticuffs.
What is unique to SoD2, and arguably the main motivator in investing you in its characters, are a collection of 100+ more mundane traits such as “Car crash survivor”, “Cat lover” and “Flatulent”, all of which have passive effects. When each survivor gains enough standing in the community their individual skill is unlocked, such as “Yoga instructor”, offering an amusing look at their pre-apocalypse lives. While these abilities sadly don't unlock a suite of oddly juxtaposed mini-games, they do offer depth at fairly low effort.
There's another side to this of course, in that not everyone gets on, so they can start fights in your absence or generally become disgruntled. If it comes to it, you might have to take the difficult decision to exile them for the greater good, though generally they do go quietly.
The same is true of the different AI factions, known as enclaves, which can get cheesed off if you repeatedly ignore their requests for help or side with other enclaves over them in disputes, potentially leading them to become hostile and spoil for a fight.
All of these elements comes together in a very compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far (much of which lacked the minor polish brought by the game's hefty 6GB day one patch) being technical.
Zombies can drop in from about 20ft in the air as you approach, using vehicles places your life in the game’s hands as they can randomly flip out or explode, and the AI often behaves unpredictably, to the extent that more than once our fellow community members have perished in relatively mild peril.
Using vehicles was something we hardly dabbled in throughout the game's opening hours, assuming them to be too much of a zombie magnet, but in reality to reap the full rewards when scavenging around the map - in particular valuable resources like food or medicine - their boot/trunk space is quite essential. Casually opening a car door to obliterate a squishy zombie as you pass them at speed also never ceases to be messily fun...
Everything comes together in a compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far being technical.
Another significant drawback is the lack of direction on hand for new players; a handful of prompts keep recurring, but seemingly there's little to lead you into new experiences as you’re drawn deeper into the game. On top of this, plenty of basic options like trading items between you and a follower out in the field are far from a simple button press away, taking us back to pre-Resident Evil 5 levels of AI buddy management.
Same applies in co-op, where up to three guests can venture into the host’s world and loot their own unique supplies to take back home with them, but should you want to swap items amongst one another it’s a cumbersome case of using menus to drop them on the ground before rifling through piles of stuff and picking up the relevant drops. There’s also a limiting tether that stops players from straying too far apart, but if you’re committed to watching each other’s backs that shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Setting a few more minor bugs aside, the overall experience is stable, no doubt aided by the graphical sacrifices that see SoD2 appear visually underwhelming even with the added oomph of the Xbox One X at its disposal.
Whether SoD2 is for you depends on how you attribute value based on look and feel versus raw gameplay. If you favour the former, it certainly doesn't have many “wow” moments to entice you, or make for a particularly good sizzle reel, but the gameplay over time is undeniably compelling.
This post-apocalyptic world effortlessly encourages you to leave the safety of your home and explore just one more area, run over just one more zombie or pick up just one more follower, without drowning you in endless map symbols. Nor does it penalise you too much if you decide to be really heartless and ignore individuals’ needs (*cough* Sam *cough*), resulting in an unparalleled sense of freedom that allows you to craft your own narrative without completely abandoning you to your own devices in the process.
In all, at its basic price point, the game is well worth picking it up, and if you nab it as part of a Game Pass subscription you'll likely find even better value for money. With different areas to settle, origin stories to experience, and enclaves and survivors to encounter, there's plenty to keep you busy until the previously outlined DLC expansions arrive, but, for the time being, if you'll excuse us, we have a wind power station to claim.
Welcome to a world without consequences. Set in a twisted version of Montana, USA, Far Cry 5’s Hope County has become overrun by religious fanatics, and your nameless deputy is either a professional freedom fighter or a destructive terrorist in a fight to restore order.
It sounds nitpicky, but the problem extends further. You’re free to shoot a quest-giver or ally in the head, leaving them writhing in pain on the floor, but as soon as you get them back up again, they act like nothing ever happened. The game asks you to fight for the cause, even though your character, a new Sheriff’s Deputy - who gets merely a handful of customisation options in the way of backstory - represents an establishment that locals don’t care much for at the best of times.
None of this would be an issue, if the game’s plot didn’t ask you to take the situation so seriously. The visual presentation - particularly stunning on Xbox One X at times - gives a sense of realism, while the practicalities of the game suggest the opposite.
As you start to complete missions, specialists will offer themselves up to join you in your quest (you’re arbitrarily limited to taking one into battle at first, then two later), and they can range from the fairly believable, if stereotypical, redneck with a penchant for explosives, to a bow-sporting Lara Croft wannabe, and, even… a trained bear called Cheeseburger.
Far Cry 5's plot asks you to take it seriously, whereas the game itself suggests the opposite.
Fighting with allies in stride makes you less of a lone wolf and more of a tactical force, as you can dispatch them into combat on a whim - they’ll even try to do it sneakily if the alarm hasn’t already been raised. Unfortunately, while in a BioWare RPG like Mass Effect or Dragon Age these allies are a true extension of your character (as well as having plentiful character of their own), here their implementation is staggeringly basic and the AI not up to the task nine times out of ten, often giving the game away or spending too long dawdling to prove useful.
Far Cry 5 is at its best as you make your way across the map, perhaps in one of many vehicles, towards an objective. Here the game’s freedom is a blessing, giving you the choice to get involved or jog on, safe in the knowledge that nothing bad will happen if you don’t prevent the evil going on all around you. Where things fail to hold together is when the narrative presents you with one of the Seed siblings, confusingly referred to as both Lieutenants and Heralds in different places in the game, and demands you pass judgement on them by destroying their regime a piece at a time.
Take Faith (above) for example, the younger sister of Joseph: she’s busy getting the locals hooked on a euphoric drug called Bliss so that they can see the light of ‘The Father’ (Joseph). As you begin to loosen her grip on her section of Hope County, she pays you a visit a few times and forces you to complete tests, such as a literal leap of faith that represents your own descent into drug addiction.
This begins to play tricks with you as you wander around the world - showing you animals you’re looking for or civilians in peril only to have them disappear or change shape when you get to them - but the climax, your final confrontation with her, is relegated to an antiquated-feeling gun show. Compare this to a more cerebral experience in, say, BioShock Infinite, and you’ll find that the places where the game as a whole could have gone that extra mile begin to wrack up.
If you’re purely looking for some solid shooter gameplay, then everything on offer is fine, though many of the better guns are locked away until you’ve made a dent in the Seeds’ regime. That or held behind prohibitively expensive store fronts which gesture naggingly towards Silver, the game’s premium currency.
FC5’s extremes are perhaps more at home in user-generated content fest Far Cry Arcade mode (and, by the names of them alone, its zany DLC packs), which offers up a range of challenges to keep an itchy trigger finger satisfied, as well as the opportunity to create your own.
All of this leaves Far Cry 5 in a strange place. The main antagonist doesn’t have the charisma or interest of someone like Vaas, who sticks in the mind from Far Cry 3’s trailers alone, which makes meandering around the world more compelling than actually getting closer to a final showdown with The Father.
Those who want a more tactical experience already have Ghost Recon Wildlands, albeit in third-person, and the awkward, mismatched tone here takes away more than it differentiates. If you fancy a distraction which is fun and varied while it lasts, but ultimately does little to leave a lasting impression (whilst failing to ask any thought-provoking questions at a time when the US’s attitudes and values are more under the spotlight than ever), then Far Cry 5 could be what you’re looking for.