It’s been almost a decade since we last set foot on the Normandy, Captain Shepard’s iconic spaceship, and it feels good to be back. While Mass Effect: Andromeda was a perfectly passable Mass Effect experience, arguably with some of the most refined action in the series, somehow it didn’t have that special something. We just didn’t warm to the protagonist in the same way we did with Shepard - in fact, we’d struggle even to remember their name...
There are tons of weapons, though they all conform to the familiar shotgun, pistol, assault and sniper rifle archetypes. In the first game these work on a cooldown rather than needing to reload, which can make for more strategic combat encounters. Any excess weapons can be assigned to teammates, sold and/or broken down into omni-gel used to skip hacking mini games and repair Shepard’s land vehicle.
In the second and third games, these more unique elements are nowhere to be found. Weapons need loading with thermal clips (presumably to speed up combat), for example.
There’s so much to cover here that it feels like we can only scratch the surface in terms of what players might discover.
Getting back to the first instalment, which has undoubtedly seen the most change, Mass Effect now has smoother combat mechanics in general. Improved cover mechanics, squad orders and a dedicated melee button are cribbed from its sequel to give players more control. That said, utilising biotic and tech powers (essentially magic and tech-based skills, respectively) can still feel quite clunky. Faster enemies are especially hard to take out, as they overwhelm the relatively immobile Commander Shepard easily.
BioWare have taken the time to smooth out the visuals and performance, too. While there’s still the odd janky animation here and there, players will notice the lighting improvements in the first game in particular, which would often require squinting to make out characters’ faces when they had helmets on.
The game runs from a fairly pedestrian, but reliable, 1080p at 30fps, all the way up to 4K UHD at an eye-watering 240fps on PC – provided the graphics card can handle it. What users get ultimately depends on whether they go for the “favour quality” or “favour framerate” graphics mode. For example, the Xbox Series X outputs up to 60fps at 4K UHD on the former setting and up to 120fps at 1440p on the latter.
Characters and companions have always been the Mass Effect series’ crown jewel, however. While there are too many noteworthy examples to shout out individually (though we have discussed some of our favourites), it’s fair to say the depth of interaction varies quite significantly both between games and between squadmates and general NPCs.
The first title doesn’t go into too much detail straight away, but, in time, players learn about how companions differ and their individual values. Relationships with some characters can develop into romantic entanglements, all depending on how users behave.
Where this system - and the accompanying dialogue - can start to creak is when users do things the game doesn’t really expect. In ME1, for example, an Asari consort is having problems with a client. Since the mission structure is fairly open, especially in the bustling Citadel, players might follow this quest line through to completion before another NPC suggests they check on the (already solved) situation.
These kinds of inconsistencies follow through to romantic connections as well. Characters that are romanceable in one game aren’t always in the next, and being reunited with them can feel jarring instead of a natural continuation as would likely be the case in a single, longer game.
Dialogue options directly link to a meter which awards users points for paragon (noble) and renegade (ruthless) behaviour, too. There are benefits to hitting either end of the spectrum, which can lead to the system feeling like it encourages suboptimal decisions in certain situations.
There’s so much to cover here that it feels like we can only scratch the surface in terms of what players might discover. For those who’ve done it all before, the nuanced characters might feel more primitive than you remember, and the gameplay transition between each game can take some getting used to.
For those who are new, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is a real treat. It’s filled with thoughtful touches and memorable moments that are up there with some of the most dramatic set pieces in gaming history. It might not feel quite as polished as a modern game, but BioWare and EA have done the work to smooth out some of the rougher gameplay and visual edges. It’s now easier and more enjoyable than ever to follow the journey of Commander Shepard from beginning to end, allowing players to fully appreciate the epic space opera in comfort.
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire reached its crowd-funding goal within one day of the campaign's opening. Two years after a successful PC release, Pillars of Eternity II - Ultimate Edition has now landed on consoles, including three significant DLC expansions and a host of smaller additions.
PoE II’s story can unfold in numerous ways depending on your decisions, with characters divulging more information if you pursue the right line of questioning or pass skill checks. Scripted Interactions (small text-based segments) play out similarly, awarding loot or opening up shortcuts to those who possess a high enough level in one or more relevant skills.
A new combat scheme was introduced to PC post-launch and is present on consoles from day one, offering players the option to either engage in standard real-time-with-pause encounters or alternate turn-based battles. The latter is much slower in pace, making gameplay more akin to something like Mutant Year Zero or Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.
Pathing is an issue in smaller maps, however, which can make turn-based mode a chore. When faced with a choke point, characters may decide to take the long way around, attempting to circumnavigate the globe and attack enemies from behind, in the process wasting multiple turns and leaving the party exposed. This persistent niggle, along with the excruciatingly slow pace, caused us to abandon our first playthrough after around 20 hours and start again using real-time-with-pause. No, you can’t switch mid-playthrough.
This actually proved to be a blessing in disguise; literally, as each achievement earned will award a specific number of Blessings to be used for a head start in subsequent playthroughs. By leveraging windfalls like cash and increased stats, we managed to catch back up fairly quickly and the combat experience was a lot smoother.
You'll gain access to a ship fairly early on, which not only provides the means to travel throughout the eponymous Deadfire Archipelago, but also allows for ship-to-ship combat. Multiple vessels are available to purchase, each with differing stats, and can be upgraded to provide you with extra firepower, stronger sails and a more durable hull. Every victory on the high seas awards experience to you and your crew, increasing your captain level and your crew's abilities. It's a fun little addition that’s easy to get to grips with, though it can be bypassed entirely by boarding enemy ships and engaging in traditional combat instead.
Not everything is quite so plain sailing, though. Every now and then an exit would bug out, forcing us to reload a previous save. In addition to this, ability names aren't shown outside of the skill trees and you'll spend the majority of your time in a party of five. That accounts for a lot of available abilities at any one time and, as such, necessitates a particularly good memory unless you want to fall back on guesswork.
Issues aside, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire has a rich story with branching narratives, an incredibly in-depth party AI system and endless replayability thanks to its Blessings and multi-class mechanics. It’s a game that any self-respecting RPG fan will enjoy, regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with the original.
Force fever is running high once again with the triple threat of a new Star Wars film - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker - Disney+ series The Mandalorian and video game Jedi: Fallen Order all occupying the zeitgeist at the same time.
Your lightsaber can be a brutal weapon, particularly when it comes to performing finishing manoeuvres, which you'd expect from the samurai sword the concept was originally based on. It feels surprisingly personal too, by the simple notion of letting you heavily customise your saber with collectibles found strewn about the game's various worlds, alongside the existing cosmetic microtransactions and pre-order bonuses. Before long, the offering will almost certainly be expanded to include tantalising new DLC linked to The Rise of Skywalker.
Exploring multiple worlds is the name of the game - and seemingly the flavour of the autumn after The Outer Worlds - thanks to friendly transport ship the Mantis, which you can also customise to an extent. Traversing around is a mix of platforming and climbing which borrows from titles like Tomb Raider and Breath of the Wild, but it's the collective library of FromSoftware that Fallen Order pulls its strongest influences from.
Falling in battle sees you respawn at a designated checkpoint that’s never too far away, with these meditation spots being equivalent to bonfires. You can upgrade skills there, while also replenishing your health and healing items at the cost of reviving lesser enemies. Should one of them kill you, you'll need to return to the perpetrator and land a single hit to retrieve the experience gained since earning your last skillpoint.
You'll know danger is around the corner when grumbling strings start to creep in, helping to build a sense of tension whenever enemies attack – often from blindspots as you move through doorways.
After the initial tutorial level, which is fairly cinematic and exposition heavy in its attempt to introduce a lot of mechanics, you'll find the game opens up and lets you explore. It’s possible to wander into locations where the difficulty spikes or you don’t have the necessary equipment to explore, which is an indication to turn tail and come back later. It can feel odd to do so, since we’ve been conditioned to see gaming Jedi as unstoppable, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with shifting expectations.
Having only been a youngster when the order fell, Cal isn't a master; not to mention it's been a while since he flurried a lightsaber around on a daily basis. You can knock the difficulty down at any time, however, dialling back enemy aggression and damage while giving you a wider window to parry attacks.
Fallen Order challenges you to discover the Force, just as Cal is rediscovering it, and on that front it definitely succeeds. Combat is satisfying and has the bite of challenge a lot of fans will have been looking for, and the setting is a delicious meal of sci-fi Star Wars goodness. Where it hits a few stumbling blocks are mostly technical issues and things which remind you that this is, after all, a game. Texture and enemy pop-in is fairly common, performance can occasionally slow down, and minute-long load times can really kill your momentum after being defeated in battle.
Still, for those who’ve been waiting for EA to do something really special with the Star Wars licence, Jedi: Fallen Order is exactly that.
The road to the Galar region has been a rocky one for Nintendo and Pokémon fans alike, but when it comes to deciding how this pair of new Nintendo Switch games fare, we'll be focusing on what is here more so than what isn't.
A cross between Teletubbyland and Breath of the Wild's rolling plains, the Wild Area itself could use a bit more intricacy. Biomes and various weather effects seem to shift from hail to sun and back again largely without rhyme or reason, but you'll lose plenty of time pottering about nonetheless. For the collectors amongst you, it's also a great opportunity to fill your Pokédex and diversify your party early on.
The story is by the numbers as usual, so those hoping for a deep, meaningful conversation with an NPC hanging out in a Pokémon Center will continue to be disappointed. A cheerful tune greets you whenever you do visit, though in this region there doesn't seem to be any Poké-helper for the nurse.
Elsewhere, the soundtrack is an awkward mix of sound effects we've been hearing for years (decades even), an increasingly archaic lack of spoken dialogue, and some charming new themes composed for the Wild Area and various cities. So fun are these latter spins on British culture, visually as well as musically, that you might find yourself spending longer than you should lingering in any one location.
While some rockstar Pokémon like Pikachu and Eevee get full sound effects - the creatures often saying their own names with a springy sense of joy - most don't have as much aural character, instead relying on adorable animations to help you bond with them as you play together in camps.
Animations overall are a strange mix, though. Even brand new additions like the three available starters (Scorbunny, Sobble and Grookey) have either well-choreographed displays for their unique moves, or completely generic ones which don't seem to match the move at all. You can go from the delight of a bespoke Wooloo "Tackle" to Scorbunny merely jumping on the spot to covey a "Double Kick" – even when it kicks merrily for some other moves.
Shortcomings don't end there, as the game also struggles to make the most of its new platform. Some locations and scenery really shine in terms of their design, but generally you'd be forgiven for assuming that Sword and Shield were 3DS ports.
That might still be enough for many players; after all, it’s almost impossible to escape the joy of setting out on an adventure to go from Pokémon zero to hero. Getting properly invested in a team and playing with their movesets to feel like you have all the bases covered is constantly rewarding, in spite of the eye-watering number of type combinations that are now available.
Hopefully the development compromises and sacrifices felt across Pokémon Sword and Shield will allow Game Freak to reassess and build on their successes to push the envelope in the future. In the meantime, there's a solid and enjoyable experience here, just not a new one.
Arnold Schwarzenegger recently returned to the big screen in Terminator: Dark Fate, showing audiences a softer side to the relentless Cyberdyne Systems Model 101. That nostalgic entry is perhaps the best film in the long-standing action franchise since T2: Judgement Day, and similarly, Terminator: Resistance puts the series’ video game output on sturdier ground than most previous efforts. That being said, getting pegged as the best pick of a bad bunch isn’t necessarily worth much.
Resistance is a first-person shooter in which shooting is a weak link.
Unfortunately, a lot of good will towards the level design evaporates when you begin to notice frequently recycled assets and even complete area retreads. In these instances you can switch vision modes in order to see through walls and very easily sneak past enemies, though in the process you’ll be sacrificing experience and the associated skill points required to upgrade abilities from three basic skill trees.
Visually, it’s about passable – outside of the distracting lip sync and facial animations that further detract from wooden conversations. Aurally the game fares even worse, with an odd bootleg of the iconic main theme being the best element for its inherent novelty value.
If you’re a Terminator fan that can embrace mediocrity with open arms - you’ve had plenty of practice, after all - spending a tenner when the price drops and around six hours of your time completing Resistance isn’t the worst idea. For everyone else, occasional flashes of a good game are likely to cause frustration as you wade through its variety of just passable game mechanics.
If you've heard anything about The Outer Worlds it was likely in the same breath as some other properties, such as The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and even titles without a colon in their name like Mass Effect or Bioshock. Those games appear to have influenced the developers (Obsidian themselves having worked on some of them) but it would be disingenuous to claim there's nothing to set this new IP apart from the precursors that were instrumental in its construction.
As is the fashion, quests can be completed in a number of ways. If you aren't built for stealth or wish to avoid stealing, a silver tongue may grant access to restricted areas or there's the standard RPG trope of a quid pro quo arrangement. Failing that, most folks won't argue with a flamethrower. At least, not for very long.
Many of the faces you'll meet are exaggerated caricatures, some endlessly parroting the company slogan through fear of punishment, others holding a genuine belief in the propaganda. Whilst this could wear thin, it's well-written satire that’s wonderfully performed by the voice actors, and serves to illuminate the "real" characters that have a more prominent role. Parvati, a companion you'll encounter early on (and one of our favourites), is a pleasure to travel with, not only for her combat and passive abilities, but her wholesome, innocent charm.
Your party will often run into trouble, even if it's a conscious decision made only to test out the whacky Science Weapons hidden around Halcyon. Fights are fast and frantic with smooth gunplay, which will feel familiar to anyone who's played a recent Fallout or Borderlands, but they're over a little too quickly on the easier difficulties. On hard mode and, presumably, Supernova (where food, water and sleep become necessary) a bit of forethought is required.
Tactical Time Dilation is a more skill-based V.A.T.S which slows the action to a crawl, allowing you a few free shots to damage and debuff the biggest threats, while each companion has a special ability to both damage and stun foes. Utilising these abilities will give you an edge, though it's important to regularly update your loadout and use the correct damage types. Consumables can be mixed in with your standard health packs, giving short-lived bonuses to stats. So ubiquitous are these items, that we found ourselves using them before, during and after engagements, yet still our pockets were overflowing.
An, albeit minor, sticking point is the game’s Flaws mechanic. After taking enough of a certain type of damage, say, from a specific enemy or too much head trauma, you'll be prompted to accept or decline a Flaw, a permanent condition that negatively impacts your stats in exchange for an extra Perk. Up to four Flaws can be accrued on Normal Mode, while higher difficulties feature more. It's a great idea for those fully committed to the role-playing aspect, whereby too many encounters with a certain type of foe could trigger ‘anxiety’ (read: debuffs) when near that enemy, but the hit to your stats rarely seems like a fair trade as the Perks, whilst providing concrete benefits, are largely unimaginative.
With that said, there's nothing that really detracts from the experience as a whole and our biggest gripe is having to wait years for the inevitable sequel. The Outer Worlds is a better Fallout than Fallout 4 and the shorter runtime (around 20 - 30 hours) is offset by having more replayability than its contemporaries. The fact that it's also free for Xbox Game Pass subscribers is just icing on the cake.
Looting and shooting may be all the rage, but with the latest iteration of Borderlands boasting billions of guns, the series that popularised the genre is back. Does it have anything new to say?
The plot sees you try to nab vault key parts before the Children of the Vault (or COV) do. Sister of the intergender twins, Tyreen Calypso, keeps gaining power as a siren - a class made famous by Lillith, Maya and newcomer Amara - and you'll be picking up plenty of familiar faces on your journey to help you take them down. In particular, Tales from the Borderlands' Rhys is back (though no longer voiced by the prolific Troy Baker) and brings the same endearing quirks with him, though unfortunately many of the other NPCs aren't as compelling without having had a game to set them up.
It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy.
Which leads us to an important fact – Handsome Jack is missed. He was always the pinnacle of the brand of amusement the series peddles in, none of the enemies, or the on-the-nose streamer pastiches the Calypsos themselves, have the same endearing quality. Even CL4PTR4P (or Claptrap) feels like the soul of the character has been lost from the change in voice actor, though not as noticeably as we'd feared from the trailers.
A final, and unfortunate, point to make is the technical issues we came up against. Though there is local split-screen co-op, which is notable for its rarity alone these days, the performance suffers pretty consistently, especially jumping in and out of menus - which happens a lot with the loot management element. Elsewhere we ran into a bug which forced our Xbox to turn off at a certain point in a cutscene multiple times, insisting it was going to overheat, as well as other crashes and freezing.
While it's definitely more Borderlands, the game is a sequel which more than earns its right to exist, but generally plays it safe and falls back on its established rules and systems. It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy, especially for fans of the series, but, despite being a good entry point, ultimately falls short of its potential.
Ever since 2014’s Lords of the Fallen, which was a Souls-like game of questionable quality, German development studio Deck13 has been honing its craft within the genre. Pioneered by FromSoftware’s trademark flair for dark fantasy, unlike Lords, The Surge did very well to distance itself from a similar setting by looking to the future instead of the past. As such, it became a surprise hit and secured itself a sequel, which more than two years later is now in players' hands.
The simple act of exploration in The Surge 2 is immensely rewarding...
Equipped for battle, players can target individual limbs on an enemy’s person and then utilise a mix of horizontal and vertical attacks as required in order to land blows. Targeting unarmoured parts (highlighted in blue) will result in an easier kill, whereas armoured sections (highlighted in orange) will take longer to whittle down though ultimately pay out bigger rewards. Through connecting with attacks you’ll build the power meter and charge your Exo-Rig’s batteries, one of which can then be traded for a limb-severing finisher that’ll grant you the weapon or a schematic to craft the armour that’s relevant to the limb in question.
Subsequent chops of those limbs on the same enemies will instead grant crafting and upgrade materials, as was the case in the original. When we reviewed that game we likened the upgrade and gear acquisition system to “a morbid shopping spree” and the same definitely applies here. It’s no less unique and engaging, serving as a perfect complement to the hefty, stamina-based combat mechanics that are already a joy in themselves.
If you’ve played a Souls-like before then you know what to expect from the moment-to-moment gameplay during combat, though some unique melee weapons help to mix things up and so too does the companion drone with its variety of ranged attacks. Equipping different injectables can have a similar effect, be they passive or active (the latter at the cost of a battery) in their inference of benefits like healing, increased defence, or even temporarily slowing enemies down. You’re limited in how many can be equipped, however, so choose wisely.
Without designated classes you’re free to experiment to your heart's content, though by trading in Tech Scrap - the game’s combined form of currency and experience points, earned through defeating enemies - you can opt to favour the health, stamina, or power attributes. For a small fee you can respec your points allocation, though most builds can be made to work in multiple ways regardless or counter-weighted one way or another over time, provided you don’t make a habit of losing scrap.
In signature fashion, when you die in The Surge 2 you'll drop all of your earnings and need to retrieve them from the position of your death. Dying again whilst en route or failing to do so in good time means that they’re gone for good, but you can securely bank scrap at Medbay safe havens to avoid this. The practice isn’t entirely encouraged, mind, as carrying large scrap quantities applies a multiplier that means the rich get richer at great personal risk.
New for the sequel, dropped scrap can also be used tactically as a sort of gradual healing totem when stood in close proximity and also to offer a full heal when picked up. This further plays into the exciting risk vs. reward mechanics already surrounding scrap and can be the cause of nail-biting moments during the game’s more challenging boss encounters, resulting from holding off on retrieval until the last possible moment.
A lot of the big bads are fought over multi-stage battles that don’t feel quite as gruelling as those seen in the likes of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, mostly thanks to the ability to generate healing items on the fly through being aggressive in order to accrue battery charges. That said, don’t think that this translates to bosses not being a threat.
With plenty of long-haul skirmishes on the cards, opting for the game's performance mode on PS4 Pro or Xbox One X comes recommended. The jump to a smooth 60 FPS provides a tangible advantage over the choppier 30 FPS found in quality mode, which otherwise puts the focus on improving the game’s weak graphics and bumps the resolution up from 1080p to 4K. Here it definitely isn’t worth the trade-off, even for those that generally favour looks, as the overall experience definitely suffers.
Gathering upgrades is unique and engaging, serving as a perfect complement to the hefty, stamina-based combat mechanics that are already a joy in themselves.
Playing pre-launch we quite frequently encountered crashes and some lesser technical issues like texture pop-in and missing NPC dialogue, but with the day one patch installed they appear to be less common if not completely absent. With launch also came the opportunity to better interact with the asynchronous online elements, which include sharing graffiti tags to help or hinder players, hiding player banners in hard-to-reach places in the hopes that nobody will find them, and getting revenge for fallen players (like we did for YouTuber and outspoken game critic Jim Sterling) by killing enemies that bested them in their versions of the game. It’s all harmless stuff that helps to garner a sense of community between those sharing in the struggle of getting through what can be a difficult game, but without contributing anything more tangible than that.
The Surge 2 can feel a little bit “budget” in places, especially for those that played the first game and, as a result, will likely notice the recycled weapons, armour, animations and enemies. Despite these cut corners being coupled with a weak story and uninteresting quests, there’s no getting around the fact that even then Deck13’s exquisite world and combat design are enough reason to forgive it. With an expanded NG+ mode and a second ending to see (regardless of how disinterested we might be in its actual narrative contents), those gameplay elements are proving strong enough to tempt us back for round two even as we enter the busy release season.
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?