MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries is the latest entry in a popular franchise based on the BattleTech sci-fi strategy board game. Initially released in 2019 on PC - as the first proper MechWarrior title since 2002 - it’s now made the jump to Xbox.
Gameplay-wise, while objectives do vary, missions generally require players to drop into an area on a search and destroy run; pilots must fight their way through enemies until reaching the enemy base. Initially the game limits users to small, albeit faster, mechs with weaker weapons. That said, they're more than enough to blast and/or crush the puny armoured cars and tanks that attack during the early stages.
Targeting critical systems under an incoming onslaught is an often nerve-racking experience.
Real combat starts when the other mechs come into play. These are often tactical mudslinging matches, constantly staying on the move while dealing damage and trying to avoid each other's fire. Targeting critical systems - legs can be destroyed to severely impede movement, while arms can be shot off to entirely remove a weapon – under an incoming onslaught is an often nerve-racking experience.
There are multiple weapons on each mech, which can be swapped out depending on type. The main weapon is a basic laser with infinite ammo, but there are also gauss-cannons, long-range missiles and more to choose from. Watching the ammo count is a must, along with the mech’s heat level, otherwise they can shut themselves down during longer firefights.
There's also some fun to be had with terrain destruction; explosions will crater the ground and set it ablaze, walls crumble away under fire (or when ploughed through), while trees burst into flames as lasers sweep across them.
Unfortunately, the graphics in general aren’t quite so impressive. Mech models look decent, if not that detailed. Environmental textures are functional but poor quality when seen up close, although this is somewhat offset by the effective lighting and weather effects. Character models are very basic, looking like they could be from an Xbox 360 game.
Technical performance can be poor as well, due to the frame-rate frequently dropping during combat and heavy weather phenomenon. MechWarrior 5 also sends the Xbox One X fans into overdrive, causing a couple of crashes due to overheating. These issues might not exist on high-end PCs, though the frame-rate still isn’t perfect on Xbox Series X|S.
MW 5: Mercenaries supports cross-platform cooperative play for up to four users. This can be done at any time, but sadly, there are no PvP modes. In addition to the campaign, which seems long enough, there’s an instant action mode accommodating customisable scenarios to jump straight into. The Heroes of the Inner Sphere DLC launched alongside the game, and let’s players choose a house before conquering territory to unlock new mechs.
Ultimately, MechWarrior 5 is a good game with some clunky execution. Narratively and visually it's not too notable, but the destructive mech stomping action delivers well.
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.
While we're not quite living in the dystopian future that Watch Dogs: Legion predicts, Ubisoft Toronto couldn't possibly have imagined the world it was releasing its latest game into.
Firearms are sparse, as you'd expect in England, which favours the tech-orientated culture this series is known for. Drones of all shapes and sizes are everywhere and vehicles, as in previous titles, can be diverted with a quick hack. Environments are so interactive, in fact, that it's often difficult to focus on the small keypad in front of you as opposed to items in the surrounding area.
An option which helps to set Legion apart from the swathe of similar Ubisoft games is permadeath; if operatives die with this setting enabled, they're gone for good. Problem is, recruitable characters lack personality, so rather than hitting on a personal level it’s just annoying to lose whichever special skills or items they had access to.
Connections between characters raise questions like "Why is that construction worker being targeted by a hitman?"
One nice feature, which admittedly has the potential to get out of hand, is a HUD element that displays connections between existing recruits and recruitable characters. It raises questions like "Why is that construction worker being targeted by a hitman?" and encourages you to start to build out a wider team, members of which are connected by emergent stories. When you get into recruitment itself, however, the variety of missions is fairly limited.
Characters in general have a few shortcomings. Animation transitions are abrupt and occasionally wonky, while speech seems very skewed towards British stereotypes. That isn't necessarily a surprise, but, since you're hearing the same voice line or two whenever you get into a conversation, it gets old quickly.
While cosmetic customisation is possible via numerous shops, some of the initial character designs clash with their intended roles. It isn’t a major issue, but it is another thing that highlights the shortcomings of procedural generation in Watch Dogs: Legion. It’s much harder to care about these characters than it would be a lovingly hand-crafted cast.
Watch Dogs: Legion’s core gameplay is good fun for the most part, but its procedural cast of soulless characters don’t lend themselves to helping players be absorbed by alternate London. Still, the sights and sounds of Blighty’s capital are exciting to explore - especially in lieu of being able to amble around the city in person at present!
In Death: Unchained brings the VR Rogue-lite to Oculus Quest for an untethered, wireless experience after its debut on PSVR and PC. Clever subtitle aside, the procedurally generated shooter has been expanded with all-new content to ramp-up the difficulty and keep players busy for longer. Packed with religious iconography, is this trip to the afterlife destined for heaven or hell?
Since unlocks aren’t a complete crutch, developing your physical skill is key. Aiming takes genuine finesse without crosshairs or any form of aim assist, and getting a feel for the gradual drop of an arrow or bolt also takes some time. At first you’ll be whiffing shots at close range, before eventually hitting headshots over long distances like it’s nothing.
Solid motion tracking on the Oculus Touch controllers makes things painless, which is handy, as combat requires juggling way more than just archery. There’s a defensive shield (which can also be turned to offence with a close-range shield bash), though it often pays to physically dodge incoming projectiles and melee strikes so as to not obscure your vision. The Quest’s lack of wires can really help out here.
It’s possible to briefly trigger slow motion by bringing up the real-time arrow switching menu, which helps if you’re in a small play area and need to be careful with regards to how you move. If space is at a real premium, you can even opt to play stationary and seated. Firing teleportation arrows is probably the best movement option to match, though there is also a free locomotion setting available at launch.
Regardless of your preferred settings, a short-range teleportation shard also occupies your arsenal for clutch dodges and quickly popping around corners or through doorways. You can best use it to your advantage in attracting enemies’ attention and then retreating slightly to draw them into choke points. The AI is pretty exploitable if you pull enemies gradually, though things get hairy when you mess up and they bombard you all at once.
Special arrows can save your afterlife in these situations, doing things like freezing enemies in place and sticking them with explosives, channelling the iconic Gears of War Torque Bow. They’re an absolute must during boss encounters as well; bosses annoyingly spawn in waves of minions, so your best bet is to end the fight before it has a chance to really begin using your heaviest artillery.
Emerging victorious will grant you access to the next level, though being able to start a run from that level (i.e. opting to begin from two at the menu instead of clearing one to get back there) requires hitting an arbitrary overall completion percentage first. Gating is probably intended for players’ own good, but when we’d nearly finished the final level and died it was annoying to learn that we’d need to backtrack and earn 7% more in order to spawn there for an immediate second crack of the whip.
Still, returning to the previous level, Paradise Lost, wasn’t all bad. Cathedral architecture is elaborately laid out amongst the clouds and we found that being mobile and aggressive worked best on the armies of flying cherubs and grounded witches. It can be easy to get lost in the lavish labyrinth and cherubs in particular have a nasty habit of appearing right behind you for cheap hits, but it's still a lot of fun to play the role of ordained executioner.
In Death: Unchained features an engaging sense of progression that helps to take the edge off permadeath.
A major strength of virtual reality gaming is the use of 3D audio, but the implementation here is underwhelming. Enemy sound effects never really cut through the bog standard atmospheric background score, which makes it hard to instinctively pinpoint their locations and can lead to missing enemies standing right by you.
In Death: Unchained is immensely replayable and, impressively, a grander prospect than its higher powered PC and PlayStation 4 counterparts. It’s challenging and moreish, while also being a great fit for the Oculus Quest platform specifically. Permadeath and towering reliquaries – shrines that serve as in-game shops and save points – make the game easy to play in short bursts, lending itself well to the headset’s portable nature and limited battery life.
Intense. That's the first word that springs to mind when you get to grips with Doom Eternal. The pace has ramped up even further from the lauded 2016 reboot and hits you right in the face so hard that, if you happened to be an in-game demon, you'd be inclined to evaporate into a pool of blood.
The game-changer here is the flame belch, which coats your enemies in fire and causes them to drop protective armour upon death. Armor is vital to your survival, even on lower difficulty settings. Those looking for a challenge have plenty of headroom to push themselves in Doom Eternal, while slayer gates (somewhat secret combat challenges) will push those with a real glutton for punishment even further.
Getting around as the Slayer has never felt so rapid, and traversal has taken a more vertical approach in the sequel. A dash ability combines with the familiar double jump to let you traverse huge open spaces, plus there's even wall climbing thrown into the mix, although, regrettably, it contributes frustration and variety in equal measure.
Often you can see where you need to go but getting there requires a level of dexterity that takes some time to grasp. Unhelpfully, at one point, a floating platform didn’t respawn following a failed attempt and stranded us in an area before a quick restart restored it. Fortunately, technical performance elsewhere is as impressive as the game's visual presentation.
Another weaker point was the many facets of the upgrade system, however. There are runes, which modify the game experience, weapon mods, which unlock those alternate fire modes, and suit stat points, which can be spent on another range of skills. It's a lot to absorb, and even if you have an idea of your play style it can be difficult to know which elements you will and won’t use.
You can respec skills in your ship, which hovers in orbit as a hub between levels. It starts off fairly locked down, but collecting sentinel batteries as you mow your way through levels gradually lets you access more sections of the ship. One useful area you can get to straight away is the training room, which does pretty much what it says on the tin.
Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't also mention Mick Gordon’s pounding soundtrack. The world of Doom has never been so metal, and neither has its music, complete here with a growling intergender choir. Its predecessor’s OST was exemplary, yet somehow, Eternal hits the mark even harder by slowly building to indicate trouble before exploding into frantic confrontations.
There's competitive multiplayer to dive into as well, if you fancy a distraction from the campaign. Battlemode takes an asymmetric approach as two demons tackle one fully-equipped Slayer; there’s definitely some fleeting fun to be had, but the main focus of the game is clearly its campaign.
While there are a lot of similarities to the 2016 reboot, this latest Doom outing offers more bang for your buck. Some of the shots that id Software have taken don't hit the mark, but the effort and care put into the game shines no matter where you look. It’s immensely satisfying, if relentless to the point of being dizzying at times, but Doom Eternal knows what it is and wholeheartedly embraces it to great effect.
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.
Breakpoint is the moment at which the tables are turned or the tides change in a conflict, forcing defenders to become attackers. For Ghost Recon, this could be the series’ last stand.
Adding in these elements has had another unfortunate consequence: an overabundance of systems. Whether it’s gun upgrades, customising clothing or crafting, every area of the game has its own system, some of which build on one another clumsily. It’s quite easy to get lost in the mission selection screen alone, which separates different types of mission by colour, as they show as little circles on the map, but you can pin several missions at once, making your mini-map a flurry of markers most of the time.
Individual weapons and gun upgrades are particularly at fault here, with the gunsmith view - heralded as a flashy innovation back in 2012’s Future Soldier - now an uninspiring slew of upgrades which make negligible difference to gameplay, and even locking higher tiered crafting a number of skill points deep into a specific shooting skill tree. The skills as a whole give you a class ability, either medic, assault, panther or sharpshooter, but it is understated and nothing like the sort of flamboyance you’d get in more deliberately class or character-based experiences.
Otherwise, the gunplay itself is one of the areas which feels sharp, and more immediate than its older sibling. AI enemies don’t pose much of a challenge however, even as they wander around the map fairly aimlessly in groups of three or four. Others will be clustered around a lone vehicle, waiting to be picked off by a well-placed sniper shot (or a not-so-well placed shot, as a round in the arm seems to do the trick).
It’s the drones and autonomous vehicles where the ante is well and truly upped, since they are ruthless in their pursuits and pack a heavier punch than mere mortals. The new prone camouflage can occasionally be used to evade these foes, but in most areas, aesthetically the effect is pretty pathetic, just a few blobs of dirt strewn across your characters arms as they lie motionless.
The rest of the visuals have their flashes of brilliance, with the sunrise breaking through the trees as the day/night cycle transforms the landscape, but otherwise it’s largely as expected for the current generation at this stage, and doesn’t leap forward in any particular area from Wildlands.
Ultimately, Ghost Recon is suffering an identity crisis. Last stand or not, the team doesn't seem exactly sure where they want the series to go, or what story they are trying to tell. A linear narrative might have been more effective in holding our attention on the journey of this character, and we get a few glimpses into what that narrative might have been through cutscenes (albeit with decidedly dated and distracting lip-sync), as it’s those images that stick in our minds more than trekking across endless kilometres of fairly samey terrain to reach another bad guy to fight or side mission to be distracted by.
Instead, the open world seems unfocused, and far from the concentrated, dense, and varied landscape we’d hoped for in a (slightly) smaller map compared to Wildlands. We find ourselves longing for that game’s open spaces so at least we can drive vehicles without bouncing them off rocks every few minutes. Guns are disposable and so upgrading them seems futile, even more so given rarity seems to make little difference to their effectiveness in combat. There’s a few nice elements on show here, but not enough to keep our attention from half a dozen other games which do all of them better, not only with more originality, but with more character of their own, and that’s what Ghost Recon sadly lacks.
Gears 5 continues the story thread that was started in Gears of War 4, dropping Kait into the role of main protagonist supported by Del and an upgraded Jack bot – the latter being playable for the first time in Gears' history – in both the co-op campaign (for up to three players locally or online) and returning Horde mode.
Jumping into Versus mode, the game’s multiplayer offering, for the first time can be daunting. Arcade is casual, class-based fun with loadouts unique to each character, which in no way prepares you for the competitive scene. At the other end of the scale, there's the Ranked playlist. Even with cross-play disabled, and those pesky mouse and keyboarders kept at bay, you'll occasionally run into God-like players who are capable of carrying their (and hopefully your) team single-handedly, especially in King of the Hill and Escalation. The non-ranked versus is more accessible and co-op against AI is a good way of learning map layouts and weapon spawns, while providing a safe environment in which to practice with the Gnasher, though the difficulty can be ramped up to suit all skill levels.
Horde and Escape, though very different, complement each other. The former, a mainstay of the franchise, tasks five players with surviving 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, whilst the latter offers a more bite-sized co-op experience. Your three-person team, having infiltrated a Swarm hive and planted a Venom bomb to destroy it from within, must escape before the deadly gas kills you, too. Beginning only with a sidearm and limited rounds, you'll want to be conservative with ammo until your party has tooled up.
In both modes, duplicate characters are forbidden, which can cause problems when matchmaking. Levelling up and completing matches will award Skill Cards to further raise your damage dealing and survivability. These Skill Cards will allow you to hold your own on higher difficulties but if someone has already bagsied your main, you're left with the choice of using an under-levelled character or re-queuing. Regardless, there's no barrier of entry and all of our encounters through matchmaking have been positive, though not always successful.
Despite a few minor issues, the new Gears recipe is the best yet. The story has enough presence without overstaying its welcome, open world areas are a nice addition and there's adequate co-op activities outside of the campaign to complete the package for anyone averse to PvP.
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.
Remedy Entertainment has a particular brand of storytelling in its games. Since Alan Wake, and even Max Payne (whose voice actor James McCaffrey returns here in a supporting role), they have done things a bit differently, holding live-action scenes in high regard and treating the experience more like a film rather than a game with some story bits thrown in.
There are downsides to the more bombastic action sequences, however. The initial visual impression of former office workers floating lifelessly in the air, repeating the odd phrase to themselves, is extremely effective at building a creeping sense of dread, but the moment combat begins you're quickly pulled back into the fact this is a game, which lessens the impact of the otherwise excellent and foreboding atmosphere at times.
Exploration in Control is non-linear, with new areas of The Oldest House opening up to players in a Metroidvania-style fashion as they progress through the story and gain new abilities. Disappointingly, the structural changes repeatedly referred to in the lore dumps strewn throughout the building aren’t as extreme or as frequent as hinted, with the player only really getting to read about them rather than experience them.
Besides the usual gating off of sections using doors of ever increasing clearance levels, there are environmental puzzles which call on you to put your telekinetic abilities to the test to activate switches or navigate certain areas. One particular brain-teaser called The Astray Maze requires some out-of-the-box thinking, while frequent trips to the Oceanview Motel allow you to pass through the astral plane and access otherwise out-of-reach areas.
The game’s setting is deliberately bland, its harsh, brutalist architecture contrasted by the bizarre happenings taking place within its walls. As the story reveals itself, some of the initial opening intrigue dulls a little, and the vague perspective of the internal monologue from Jesse begins to grate as she's consistently nonplussed by the weirdness of the situation unfolding around her, while a few of the more interesting elements of the game seem to suffer from happening off-screen rather in front of the player.
From a technical perspective Control often struggles, even when running on Xbox One X, with substantial slowdown any time you hop in and out of menus - a frequent occurrence given the lore heavy nature of the game and the number of upgrades available to the player - and even more so when battles get hectic. While performance may suffer, Control is still a very visually impressive game, especially on PC thanks to newfangled ray tracing support.
In all, even with the performance issues, the journey is ultimately very satisfying, and a definite step up from Quantum Break, but if you weren't sold on Remedy's style beforehand then Control is unlikely to do much change your mind. Still, in these days of games as a service and battle royale bandwagoning, a strong, narrative-driven single-player experience is a rare thing, particularly if you’re a fan of Xbox, and it's one which is unlike anything else out there right now.