The trap was set. Disguised as a barber, Agent 47 waits patiently for his prey. The barber himself was simple enough to subue, as was his wife (who he’d been arguing with only moments before) once she objected to her apparent husband’s sudden change in appearance.
Star power gives us something to look forward to, but the game as it is on release day is something of a mixed bag. While the mission stories (previously known as opportunities) reveal themselves fairly naturally as you explore the world, normally when overhearing a conversation about one of the targets being in need of something from a certain person, who you can then impersonate to get close to them, the scenarios come off as somewhat contrived.
For example, dispatching one cartel boss in the jungles of Columbia, inside his compound no less, can be achieved by impersonating a renown tattoo artist (presumably whose face is known for him to be internationally recognised) and finding an excuse to get everyone else out of the room before doing the deed.
Afterwards, you might hear the guards you pass by noting how quick the tattoo process was, but otherwise you can be clear of the compound before his body is ever discovered. It all feels a bit convenient… but of course, this wasn’t on the hardest difficulty, which even limits you to one save per level, similar to the restriction found on earlier titles in the series.
To take it too seriously though, would be a mistake, and largely that’s a tone which developer IO Interactive manages to strike effectively. Miami is probably the level in which you see the most madness going on all at once, with an F1-style race happening in the background and you somehow being able to blend in by dressing as a ridiculous mascot character, but there’s no denying it’s extremely satisfying to explore these dense sandboxes.
Where the tone does take an odd left turn is in the game’s story, which presents itself very seriously in cutscenes, but doesn’t hold up to too much thought. Fortunately you can skip and forget the cinematics, jumping straight back into another adventure, but it’s a shame that IO didn’t find a way to effectively marry the two.
Miami is probably the level in which you see the most madness going on all at once, with you somehow being able to blend in by dressing as a ridiculous mascot character.
Largely speaking, the game is a perfectly serviceable entry in the franchise and certainly has some memorable locations to boast about, but perhaps for those steeped in the series things might not feel so fresh.
The biggest additions this time around are new multiplayer modes like Ghost, which has players competing to stealthily assassinate the most targets in parallel versions of a level, while doing what they can to sabotage one another, and the Sniper Assassin mode, which sees you working cooperatively, or alone, to take out multiple targets using, you guessed it, sniper rifles.
Overall, Hitman 2 isn’t a step too far from the 2016 iteration of the game, so those that had fun with that release will find plenty more to get stuck into here. The levels are effectively designed with replayability in mind, and there are certainly great moments hidden in various nooks and crannies for an exacting specialist to discover - or, if you’re so inclined, you can simply grab the biggest gun to hand and shoot the place up (at the cost of a decent mission score) while having almost as much fun.
Upstart developer 3rd Eye Studios have an incredible pedigree, its staff owning credits on a long list of classic films and games, so it should come as no surprise that Downward Spiral: Horus Station effectively channels sci-fi cinema - specifically the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris - whilst also crafting a mechanically engaging interactive thriller.
Downward Spiral: Horus Station effectively channels sci-fi cinema, whilst also crafting a mechanically engaging interactive thriller.
The entire game takes place in zero gravity, which, to allay your immediate fears, isn’t the least bit nauseating in VR. It does take a bit of getting used to, but you always retain the same upright orientation and, as such, you’re never subject to that hopeless feeling of not knowing where’s up and what’s down. Once you’ve gotten to grips with pushing off of scenery to float around, you’ll acquire a grappling hook - which has a smooth, gradual reel to keep things comfortable - and a gun that’ll boost you onwards by expelling a charged shot of hot air.
Now that you’ve properly wrapped your brain around the revised laws of physics, it shouldn’t be long before you learn to string these initially disparate tools together into one seamless combo. There’s almost a balletic element of performance to it, which, had Marvel’s Spider-Man not just launched, we’d have said made it the best movement system we’ve seen for a while.
In similar fashion, the gunplay (toolplay?) takes a little while to really flourish, but as a steady stream of new toys come to comprise a complete arsenal, you’re actively encouraged to swap them in and out to counter the introduction of bigger and badder enemy types. We’d definitely recommend leaving the combat feature turned on, especially considering you don’t lose progress when you die.
Having a few battle scars won’t go amiss if you’re looking to play multiplayer, either. The campaign can be played in co-op, but if you want to venture into the PvP Deathmatch and/or PvE Horde modes, you’ll have to give up your pacifist ways. You’ll also very likely have to bring friends, as finding success with the barren matchmaking is unlikely.
Bar a few jarring frame drops, which are admittedly a cardinal sin in VR, playing Downward Spiral with a headset and a pair of Move controllers is a pretty great experience. That’s a big caveat for those without the proper equipment, however, as it’s also playable on a television and with the DualShock 4. Should you be required to play the game in one of those ways, it‘s an immediate no go.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of having explored Horus Station both ways, but, by comparison to VR, it’s incredibly drab to play on a flat screen. While that’s inherent to a degree, having lost a dimension in the transition, also losing the intuitive and tactile motion controls is a final nail in the coffin. Downward Spiral is a game quite literally designed around reaching out and pulling yourself into its world, which makes a stand-in button press both cumbersome and unsatisfying. It also negates the scope for creating memorable little asides, like instinctively grabbing a dart and launching it at a nearby board, only to find it hanging at the exact point you let it go - duh!
It’s swell having options and all, though when they harm the experience for anybody playing in the optimal fashion, it’s questionable as to whether they’re justified. The game doesn’t auto-detect when it should boot in VR mode, which means you’ll need to use a DualShock to activate it from the main menu, as Move inputs aren’t tracked in TV mode; we can easily live with that minor inconvenience, but a not-insignificant annoyance stems directly from it. If that standard controller is then disconnected, the game will pause and throw an error up, even when you’re actively using the Move controllers instead, meaning you’ll need to remove yourself from the atmosphere Downward Spiral so painstakingly works to preserve in order to reconnect a pad you aren’t even using at regular intervals.
Hopefully that’s something that can be hotfixed, as, when equipped with the right kit, we otherwise thoroughly enjoyed floating around the dark and mysterious halls of Horus Station. Unique movement, satisfying tools and an enthralling location sadly aren’t enough to salvage the experience for anyone without the PlayStation Move controllers and VR headset that are compulsory to a good time.
Themed as a classic, old-timey adventure serial - complete with spiffingly British narrator and an affinity for alliteration (which can be toned down if the gusto gets your guts, though I’d advise averting your eyes if that’s the case) - Strange Brigade’s arcade action compiles and injects existing industry ideas with a persistent panache, shaking feelings of familiarity and raising a rip-roaring ride through 1930s Egypt.
Strange Brigade’s arcade action compiles and injects existing industry ideas with a persistent panache, shaking feelings of familiarity and raising a rip-roaring ride.
Though rifles are still very much present, here a more likely choice of primary weapon would be a shotgun or submachine gun, which can then be complemented by your choice of secondary firearm and thrown explosive. As you amass armfuls of gold throughout the course of any given level, you’ll also be able to roll the dice on a powerful prototype weapon - like an explosive crossbow or punch-packing blunderbuss - anonymously nestled within identifiable crates. These beefcakes have a limited ammo supply to counteract their immense strength, but perhaps more devastating are ultimate character abilities.
Unleashed after charging a magical amulet with the souls of defeated dastards, each brigadier has three additional bespoke abilities to unlock by collecting sets of relics generally hidden away within puzzle-gated nooks. These hidey-holes can also contain gems which slot into weapons to imbue them with passive buffs, allowing for easier crowd control and with that more efficient use of the booby traps that litter each uncharted environment.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the ins and outs of all the singular systems governing combat in Strange Brigade, there’s a real art to stringing everything together into one maintained and satisfying stream of destruction.
When you aren’t busy wreaking havoc, you’ll be exploring a range of lush, forgotten locales that are gorgeously vivid on Xbox One X. They’re surprisingly sprawling, often featuring multiple routes to your destination, all while the sounds of moving mechanisms and twinkling treasures beckon you to double back and scour every surface in search of secrets. The classic environmental enigmas you’ll uncover offer up tangible rewards and ensure that there’s reason to revisit the nine lengthy campaign missions in order to deeper delve their depths.
That said, before diving back into the campaign you’ll probably want to try your hand at the pair of accompanying modes in Score Attack and Horde. The former sees you undertake solo excursions on linear, re-purposed campaign sections whilst aiming to combo kills and satisfy a list of secondary challenges like beating par times and not taking damage. Think Mercenaries mode from more recent instalments of Resident Evil, but with greater consistency between runs to allow for really nailing the perfect strategy down.
Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the the singular systems governing combat, there’s a real art to stringing them together into one maintained stream of destruction.
Horde is almost what it says on the tin, only sharing more in common with Call of Duty’s fan favourite Zombies mode than Epic’s eponymous Gears of War 2 trendsetter. You’ll weather an insane undead onslaught across four exclusive maps that expand as waves progress, and also by your own hand, should you choose to spend gold on accessing new areas and their guaranteed goodies. Doing so isn’t exactly the no-brainer it sounds, as you’ll also need to piecemeal purchase a loadout having started with just a solemn sidearm.
This makes Horde a great place to experiment with new loadouts, which, coupled with a moving base of operations to prevent you from getting too comfortable in any one location, stops things growing stale as you’d otherwise be relying on the same old strategies across a whopping 75 total waves. That’s no small undertaking, so you can thankfully step away at any point and then pick back up from right around where you left off.
Weighing in at a reduced asking price, Strange Brigade feels anything but budget and features enough content that you might call it a steal. That’s certainly a relief, as outwardly it was easy to speculate that the Season Pass and its promise of new levels, characters and more might be required in compiling a complete package.
Strange Brigade bears its inspirations for all to see, but while many of the influential games and modes we’ve mentioned are overdone nowadays, Rebellion commit to their goofy theme with such enthusiasm that they’ve captured a formative time in cinema not previously brought to the medium with such verve. This unique sense of fun will make you nostalgic for a period you probably didn’t see, and by a long shot, while the copious conundrums make it an action co-op caper not quite like any other.
Having had the distinct pleasure of exclusively revealing the first glimpse of Warhammer: Vermintide 2 gameplay last October, the long wait for the first-person-shooter-come-brawler to arrive on console has been especially gruelling. Now that we’ve gotten our hands on it: was it worth the wait?
You’ll need to juggle priority targets and manage choke points as tidal waves of fetid flesh rage your way.
The level of customisation on offer gets altogether extensive when you also account for Vermintide 2’s loot and crafting systems. Taal’s Horn Keep serves as a sizeable hub area from which to launch your choice of the thirteen main missions, throughout which you can work towards satisfying daily challenges and career quests; completing these tasks awards the game’s strictly non-premium loot boxes, which rain a random array of weapons and gear that can be equipped to improve applicable characters, or, if you unbox a stinker, salvaged into materials used to craft new items and upgrades.
Refreshing a loadout can significantly impact how any given character plays, overhauling attributes and movesets, perhaps not always to your exact liking, but never compromising the viscerally satisfying core combat mechanics. Melee skirmishes can feel either hefty or agile, depending on your chosen armament, though always brutal as you gorily pop heads and lop limbs with each light or (particularly satisfying) charged heavy swing.
While mixing it up at close range you’ll need to be mindful to dodge and block incoming attacks from big bads, though opting for a character with more of a ranged combat style should keep you relatively out of harm's way to begin with. While letting loose with arrows, fireballs, bolts and bullets is good fun in itself, it’s almost a shame to snub one of the best first-person brawling systems around in favour of comparatively bog-standard blasting.
Still, variety is the spice of life, so mixing up your choice of hero whilst tackling repeat playthroughs of Vermintide 2’s semi-open levels - which accommodate multiple paths towards their culminating set-piece encounters, also randomising enemy and item spawns along the way - ensures things remain engaging. Throw in the lure of greater rewards when progressing to higher difficulty levels, as well as unobtrusive storytelling that allows players to easily consume their desired dose of action, and you have a package that’ll keep you busy for a good length of time.
Vermintide 2 is more in-depth than its peers in many ways, but retains the central simplicity that makes this brand of onslaught adventure so frantic and exciting. Doing so at native 4K resolution on Xbox One X, while mostly maintaining a solid frame rate, at no additional cost to Game Pass subscribers, makes for an experience that you (and preferably some friends) shouldn’t hesitate to get stuck into.
Yes, Earthfall does look a lot like Left 4 Dead. In fact, the comparison is welcomed by developers Holospark and something that they strived for as their key inspiration and focus. “We loved Left 4 Dead” said CEO Rusty Williams, when we spoke to him at EGX Rezzed earlier this year, “but we wanted more.” So, after a few years of development, including time in early access on PC, Earthfall is the end result.
While the presentation gets a solid “good” - Unreal Engine 4 would struggle to make a game look bad - it’d be nice to see a bit more fidelity in those textures (perhaps an Xbox One X update looms in the future?) and the game isn’t without some technical issues. We’ve seen a couple of crashes when things get especially hectic, plus the friendly AI more than once has stood in place, staring frantically into space as the rest of their team gets mauled around the corner.
In terms of level design, something so tightly managed in Valve and Turtle Rocks’ original, there are oversights too, with invisible walls being used to channel the player into a linear flow through areas which look as though they should be ripe to explore. Furthermore, giving players an objective marker to head for often makes the campaign feel like a pedestrian trudge between two points, rather than four survivors scraping together what they can in a desperate effort to survive.
It’s here we really must broach the subject of AI. Players can either run through levels with allied bots or open up proceedings to being joined by human players online, as in L4D, but the AI in question doesn’t have the same concern for your wellbeing as it did in that game, frequently leaving you to bleed out whilst prioritising reviving fellow bots and often snatching up helpful items and weapons from under your nose.
If they were able to trigger objectives or be commanded in any way they might be more useful, but they aren’t even fans of deploying barriers or using mounted guns, which can be an issue at some of the game’s choke points, referred to in-game as ‘holdouts’. You can punch up the AI ‘skill’ to limited results, only really boosting accuracy and the eagerness to shoot first and ask questions later. But hey, at least there’s no risk of incurring significant friendly fire damage from them.
Earthfall is difficult in general, with even two players experienced in working and communicating with one another, bolstered by a couple of filler bots, seeing the ‘Normal’ difficulty setting pose a serious threat. While the higher difficulties are a stretch, the ‘Easy’ level can at times be too much its namesake, making you long for a shuffle to give a happy medium.
With only two campaigns of five twenty-or-so-minute chapters a piece, you might find Earthfall a tad pricey at £24.99, since it’s inspiration gave us double the number of iconic campaigns and an additional competitive mode, which is conspicuously absent here at present. That said, the team at Holospark are already hard at work on further campaign content which will be released free to all players (cosmetic customisation items are premium), so there’s some added value to look forward to in the future.
One particularly fun element, which pushes the suspension of disbelief in a very different direction than accepting aliens are a thing, is the fact that many levels are peppered with 3D printers to requisition guns and health stations reminiscent of Half-Life. A great idea, which could have been taken further to include attachments and further customisations, as the risk/reward mechanic whenever you encounter them (turning the power on to use them will attract a mob) is always compelling.
Though it might not be Left 4 Dead 3, Earthfall does enough to scratch the itch for players pining for a similar experience. With games developing far more post-launch than ever before it seems likely this one will continue to mutate to the needs of its player base, which doesn’t undo the fact it could have used slightly longer in the oven before final release, but what’s on offer so far is ruddy good fun, if a tad disposable.
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.
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.
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.
Based upon Games Workshop’s popular tabletop franchise, Space Hulk: Deathwing attempts to do for 40K what Vermintide did for old school Warhammer. While Deathwing is a unique and often exciting FPS onslaught in the vein of Left 4 Dead, it doesn’t quite meet the high standards set by its inspirators.
Deathwing is a unique and often exciting FPS onslaught in the vein of Left 4 Dead.
That tactic comes in particularly handy, as the game’s touch-and-go encounters can otherwise be overwhelming. Space Hulk: Deathwing bombards you with hostiles while requiring you to juggle priority targets between them, often as you’re confined to dark and claustrophobic spaces only sporadically lit by muzzle flashes. These moments invest you in the fight by making your squad of hulking marines - with infinite ammo to boot - feel small and vulnerable, but they could easily have been elevated further.
The game very sparingly utilises an ambient soundtrack, placing a focus instead on its (mostly) strong and encompassing diegetic sound. This isn’t inherently bad, but an adaptive soundtrack that ramped up alongside enemy spawns would’ve made for absolute magic in these situations.
Space Hulk: Deathwing also struggles when it comes to graphical presentation, largely looking fine in busy motion, but falling apart should you stop to smell the roses. Flat textures, strawberry jam blood effects, ropey animations and more stick out like sore thumbs as you traverse the darkly Gothic halls of the game’s labyrinthine spaceships.
On that note, environments are sprawling to their detriment at times, requiring you to frequent the map screen so as to not get lost in backtracking purgatory. Whilst a spattering of explosive barrels and flame-spewing pipes make areas lightly interactive, their similar aesthetics and objectives don’t offer up enough variety to maintain interest between missions or temp you off the beaten path in search of collectibles.
Unfortunately, this sews the seeds of tedium as you work through the campaign’s nine lengthy chapters, making the notion of revisiting areas to complete randomised special missions in a secondary mode an unattractive one, even if there are alternate routes to take.
Environments are sprawling to their detriment at times, requiring you to frequent the map screen so as to not get lost in backtracking purgatory.
Lacking replay value is easily Space Hulk: Deathwing’s biggest stumbling block, considering that’s generally the foundation for this breed of shooter and was no doubt intended to be here. Throw in technical issues like dropped frames and crashes and the experience definitely doesn’t feel “enhanced”, as the title suggests, though it’s worth noting that we were playing a pre-release version.
Overall, Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition is a game at odds with itself, boasting some brilliantly implemented ideas alongside weak alternatives. Its gameplay foundation is (mostly) structurally sound, yet the surrounding accoutrement hold it back. Despite the issues, as ever, gameplay is king, so we’d say it’s still worth a look if you’re in the market for a co-op shooter to dip in and out of with friends, especially if you’re fans of the source material.
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.