It's been a busy winter release schedule and things aren’t about to let up any time soon, yet that's not the reason you're only just getting our thoughts on Crackdown 3. That first reveal, way back at E3 2014, showed off an exciting level of destruction in what would surely be a triumphant return for a mistreated franchise. Surely. Right?
That skyline is peppered with large green orbs, which can be sought out in order to improve your character. Ah yes, the orbs. Probably the most compulsively addicting aspect of the series, these guys are super satisfying to jump around and collect, all the while increasing your agility level to allow for access to even more.
Other forms of experience are awarded when you perform their relevant actions. Fancy some fisticuffs? Smaller red orbs will spill from enemies and boost your melee damage, as well as periodically unlocking new abilities like a ground pound. If blowing things up is more your speed, then you'll begin to gobble up yellow orbs, and so on. The additional skills in each upgrade path are fairly elementary at first, but do start to add a little depth later on, so it’s worth adopting a varied play style despite nothing being supremely memorable.
Gunning down goons comes courtesy of a satisfyingly snappy lock-on function, which makes it easy to bound about as you wreak havoc and zip away from hostile fire.
Core gameplay basically just involves clearing out enemies from specific locations, veiled in a number of different ways. When the locales are all pretty similar and their objectives rarely differ, the overall mission structure quickly gets repetitive.
Gunning down goons along the way comes courtesy of a satisfyingly snappy lock-on function, which makes it easy to bound about as you wreak havoc and zip away from incoming hostile fire. At the same time it does also remove an element of skill, which, coupled with foes that are pretty standard fare, makes the level of challenge on standard difficulty fairly low.
Crackdown 3’s most fun aspect is probably traversing the world, scaling buildings at will, though even that isn’t without issue. Jumping will feel too floaty for many, plus there’s the odd and inconsistent inclusion of fall damage, which seems to either not occur at all or cut you down in a heartbeat. It can also be a grind to get to the point where you feel truly agile and/or powerful, in spite of there being an element of instant gratification here.
Multiplayer comes in the form of the standalone Wrecking Zone package, which shares the campaign’s flaws, only while presenting more intense firefights fought across compact maps with a focus towards verticality. The lauded cloud-powered destruction is frankly nothing to write home about and the pair of available modes won’t do much to keep you around for long.
As a somewhat throwback gesture you can also play the campaign cooperatively, but only with one fellow Agent, instead of three as was initially promised.
In the end, the Crackdown experience is much the same now as it ever was, even after countesses games raised the bar considerably in its absence. If you're picking this up as an existing Xbox Game Pass subscriber, there’s fun to be had without an associated fee, but it's certainly not worth buying the game itself or even subscribing to the Game Pass service specifically for.
Crackdown 3 is a disappointing end to a years-long saga fraught with anticipation and disappointment, and one which will hopefully be the final of Microsoft’s misfires this generation to hit the Xbox One.
Anthem isn't a bad game. While the press coverage leading up to launch (including our somewhat lukewarm preview) might not have got you hyped for the latest offering from EA and BioWare, the game itself deserves a chance, so let's get into it.
There's also a social space known as the Launch Bay, home to elements like the Forge, where you can customise your Javelin. This hub is one of the areas where the comparisons with a little game called Destiny most prominently rear their head. At this very moment, though, there are no dance contests, impromptu football matches or equivalent to speak of, making for a comparative dearth of sociability.
While the game being “like Destiny” isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's clear that this is a first attempt at something similar. The reality is that this style of game (a live service, if you will) remains fairly new territory for both EA and BioWare compared to publishers like Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft, who’ve seen multiple games and franchises trying their best to tread water in an increasingly busy marketplace filled with microtransactions and loot boxes.
There's none of the latter here, though the cosmetic upgrades on offer (which only subtly customise the look of your Javelin) are fairly pricey - in the realm of 60,000 in-game Coin for an armour set, to be exact. You can skip the 6-8 hour grind required to amass that for 850 premium Shards, which will set you back in the region of £8, since you can only buy them in excess.
Annoyingly, you can then only apply your wears to any one of the four specific classes of Javelin. On that note, you'll start out as the well-balanced Ranger, the all-rounder’s choice, akin to a nerfed War Machine from Iron Man. The Storm suit, our personal favourite, makes for your archetypal mage, boasting elemental attacks which look particularly impressive and often prove more effective than firearms.
Storm is a particularly good choice for taking advantage of Anthem’s combo system, open to all classes, which deals bonus damage when you combine different types of attacks. It's never explained in any real depth, you’re just left to experiment with it, which works well enough in the end.
If diving straight into the fray is more your thing, you'll probably want to try the nimble Interceptor, which sports twin blades to look extra cool when engaging in melee bouts. If that sounds a faff and you'd rather sit back and pummel foes into submission with a barrage of bullets, then the lumbering Colossus should do the trick.
Whichever you opt for, all of the Javelins sport identical flight modes which made us pine to see them implemented in a licenced Iron Man game. Your jets are prone to overheating, remedied by nose diving or taking a refreshing dip, but the limited air time is sufficient to survey Anthem's beautifully idyllic and highly vertical locales with ease. Don't try to go too high though, or you'll hit some turbulence concealing the invisible glass ceiling…
Traversal during missions can be further limited at times, as the action centres around the player closest to the next objective marker, meaning that if you leave the main path to explore a little - or even when you remain shockingly close to them on occasion - you'll be told you've strayed from the mission marker before being respawned back with the group after only 25 seconds.
If this made for a brief disruption it’d just about be a bearable irritation, but, unfortunately, it’ll require you to sit through another of the many incredibly lengthy load screens that clutter the entire game. Improvements have been made over the demo build, but there are still far too many lengthy periods of downtime between performing even basic tasks, such as customising your character, making loading a constant pain and disruption to the otherwise largely smooth flow of gameplay.
It's particularly telling that Destiny manages to call up your loadout in a few seconds just by pressing start, whereas Anthem forces you to go to a specific area, though you can at least fasttrack straight there at the end of missions.
BioWare’s post launch plans for Anthem seem promising, and, as corny as it sounds, it feels like the game is destined to blossom into an acceptably meaty product after a year or so. The problem therein is that they’re asking full price for it right now, while offering an experience which provides only fleeting moments of satisfaction.
There’s simple joy in the act of soaring around a thoroughly beautiful (if quite empty) setting, especially when venturing online to recruit teammates and devastate the hostile natives with visually impressive combos. However, these pleasures are at risk of being lost amongst the forgettable story, repetitive mission structure and uninspiring weaponry, which drops far too sparsely considering we’re dealing with a ‘looter shooter’.
Those in the market for this brand of service game are already well catered to by continual support for Destiny 2, Warframe and Ubisoft’s upcoming Division 2, which looks set to refine an acceptable first iteration. As such, many players may want to hold off on exploring the colourful world of Anthem for now; but, if you really must fulfil your wild Tony Stark fantasies, there is fleeting fun to be had today.
Desolation. While winter in the UK has its moments, it pales in comparison to Russia at the best of times. In the bleak future of the Metro series, after the Last War reduced the world to rubble, this oppressive landscape begets a bleak outlook, but, just beneath the surface, there is hope.
Tense and claustrophobic underground sections keep your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
The game definitely feels like an epic, despite hanging onto a mostly linear structure. Even larger open areas, which have vignettes of things to explore tucked away here and there - like a makeshift enemy stronghold or an abandoned cabin - flow from one event to the next before transporting you on to another area, which will have its own feel and weather as the in-game seasons pass.
Shootouts are a mixture of musical stings and often frantic ducking for cover, as you toe the line between risk and reward by going loud. More often than not the throwing knife is your best friend in human encounters, far more effective at taking down enemies instantly and not disturbing others nearby.
Out in the open there are more monstrous creatures to tackle, transformed by the surface radiation, who you'll want to have a loaded shotgun ready for. Fortunately, there's a fairly in-depth attachments system in place to let you piece a weapon set together that suits your play style. Don't become too reliant on your equipment though, as things can break and require the odd spot of maintenance, be that pumping up a pneumatic weapon or charging your torch.
Previously, you could only tinker with your loadout at a select few vendor locations, but now these storefronts are a thing of the past. This makes way for on-the-fly resource crafting, via scavenged components, whilst also nixing the intriguing dilemma of choosing whether to utilise bullets for currency or self-preservation seen in the past games. That might seem like a loss, but it quite quickly became arbitrary as you almost inevitably amassed more ammunition than you knew what to do with.
Whether the game holds onto enough of the haunting, thriller gameplay which made the tunnels of Metro 2033 and Last Light so compelling for some is up for debate. Coming in fresh, the balance and variety of gameplay feels on point here, with tense and claustrophobic tunnel sections keeping your hair standing on end, while bright open-air encounters allow for flexing your action muscles.
Visual details go a long way in bringing everything together, particularly as weather effects play with the lighting to make you feel as isolated or on edge as Artyom does. In native 4K on Xbox One X, some of the details are stunning.
Taken as a whole, the experience is a testament to the minute care and attention lavished on every element of Metro Exodus, leaving few drawbacks to speak of. Some characters feel a bit cartoonist at times, but the core interactions between Artyom and his wife alone will be enough to get you caring about the fate of this character and his community.
After making its way to Steam and North American Switch owners last summer, Sleep Tight has finally reached our shores this month, bringing its Pixar-inspired take on the classic horde formula to Europe.
During our early playthroughs we attempted to construct a square fort in the middle of the room, using barricades and the four upgrade stations as indestructible cornerstones. While visually pleasing, this left us open to attacks from all sides and required a much more hands-on approach to defence. Later runs brought about a change of strategy, namely hiding in a corner behind a wall of turrets, which allowed us to sit back and watch the automated fire do much of the dirty work for us. There was even a rather daring run which saw us eschew all defences in favour of ammo and shield power-ups, a strategy that proved surprisingly effective.
Every night survived sees you rewarded with suns and, along with stars dropped by downed enemies, these serve as a currency used for purchasing products at the aforementioned stations. You’ll need those to combat the evolving suite of enemies, which could easily pass for Monsters, Inc. movie extras, with small and speedy creatures being complemented by the introduction of bigger, stronger types capable of dealing serious damage to your base as rounds progress.
With only a few suns handed out each morning, you’ll need to spend wisely in order to stay alive for as long as possible, especially considering they don’t carry over to the next day. Do you repair a turret on its last legs, or stock up on shields and ammo in case things go south? It’s decisions like these that can make or break a playthrough, and while watching the inevitable downfall unfold on a particularly good run brings with it a tinge of sadness, last stands are always good, frantic fun. The game’s relatively speedy pace also means it’s never too long before you’re back in the thick of things, which helps.
From a technical standpoint, Sleep Tight appears to run well on Switch, both when docked and handheld. The only drawback was some screen glare when playing in handheld mode during daylight hours, as the game’s entirely set at night and obviously quite dark as a result. You can exit and save progress between rounds, but we often found that simply putting the Switch in sleep mode then returning some time later was a decent way to keep a playthrough going when interrupted.
Overall, Sleep Tight is another solid addition to the Switch’s growing roster of indies. Whilst it would be great to be able to team up with friends for a monster mash, the quick pace of rounds, satisfying gameplay and battery-friendly nature of the game make it a great candidate for solo commuters.
After a brief period of exclusivity with Discord, At Sundown: Shots in the Dark has been released onto multiple platforms, bringing with it an atypical twist on the multiplayer shooter.
As you continue to play and progress, unlocks are awarded with each level gained and come in the form of new weapons, maps and game modes. Whilst the unlockable maps and modes offer some variety (King of the Hill works particularly well), building the unconventional armoury is At Sundown’s real prize.
The level cap can be reached very quickly, ensuring things aren't locked behind progression for too long, but that does mean you’ll pretty much have seen everything the game has to offer within a couple of hours.
Typically for a multiplayer-focused game, longevity comes from honing your craft. You can do so locally, with up to four players supported, while AI bots can fill in any available spaces. AI capability ranges from laughably easy to cheating bastard, which can depend more on the weapons in play than the difficulty setting.
Unfortunately, padding matches with bots isn't an option if you venture online. We weren’t able to find an online bout during our playtime, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as we were playing pre-release, but we were able to try out some 1v1 battles and, as suitably tense as they were (thanks in no small part to the ominous soundtrack), the experience felt proportionally watered down. Technically it was spot on, it just lacked the measured carnage of a four-way firefight.
Still, Mild Beast Games have taken the slow, methodical strategy of Battleships, infused it with the twitchy thrill of a modern shooter and presented it in a way which invites an inaccurate, but not unfair, comparison to Bomberman. If you and yours are any sort of frantic multiplayer fans, then At Sundown might just be worth a look.
The game industry’s love affair with World War 2 goes back years, with countless titles following in the footsteps of film in exploring some of the most iconic moments in conflict. Battlefield itself is no stranger to WW2 either, with some of the game’s first installments set in the 1940s, but does Battlefield V feel like a respectful return to the well-trodden era or a tired relic?
Core gameplay has been updated, in line with the usual tweaks between releases, most notably making the spotting mechanic noticeably less powerful this time around. What this means in practice is that you really need to look a tank square on in order to tell your squadmates it’s there, which can be a bit of a pain when you get a face full of explosive shell for your trouble.
Squads continue to be crucial to success in the objective-focused multiplayer, now boasting flimsy fortification building, helping Battlefield V to retain a point of difference from the killstreak-loving Call of Duty. The number of packs of ammo and health being thrown around at any given moment can get a bit out of hand at times, though it’s well worth sticking close to a particularly friendly ammo-bearer to avoid running out of munitions in the field, since they can now be fairly limited.
Battlefield V still features some of the fairest, most accessible and well-balanced combat in the genre.
Community member Jordan "Metalrodent" Thomas tried to make the best of a minor crash situation.
The remixing of the iconic Rush and Conquest game modes continues, particularly with Grand Operations, though we’d argue the spectacle of the zeppelins in Battlefield 1 better captured the day-by-day, progressing battle approach to multiplayer skirmishes. Fortunately there are handy intro videos for each mode, so you can easily get to grips with the difference between Domination and Breakthrough, but the overall feel is similar throughout, with only different slants on scale and the use of vehicles.
From the hand-holding introduction accompanied by some stoic voice work from Mark Strong, the tone of the game is set early on - this is an entry in the franchise that’s taking itself a bit more seriously. The ongoing live service known as Tides of War, expected to bring to life the “unplayed battlefields” of WW2 with a foot planted firmly in historical reality, offers reason to keep engaging with the game, while an upcoming battle royale mode gives us something to look forward to from a development team very familiar with creating quality post-launch content.
The visual bugs are particularly abundant, such as this lovely floating bell.
Single-player War Stories make a return, bringing more intimate, even character-driven perspectives on the war, but the format remains too blunt an instrument to create the pathos achieved by something like the recent 11-11: Memories Retold, and distills down to a training grounds for the multiplayer main course.
In the end, it seems Battlefield V has achieved what it set out to do: bring tried-and-tested shooter combat - frankly, still some of the fairest, most accessible and well-balanced in the genre - and re-introduce it to a war which may have seen it all before, but still offers exhilarating experiences, enhanced by the solid foundation of the squad-based approach to combat.
It might not push the boundaries into completely new areas, but delivering an experience which both feels right to existing fans and isn’t too daunting for newcomers is a hard balance to strike. If only it had the character and humour of Bad Company 2 or sheer impact of Battlefield 4’s step forward in DICE’s self-styled “levolution” system, it might jump up from worthwhile to essential. As it is, in a crowded marketplace, Battlefield is finding it harder and harder to make its mark.
Does Fallout need NPCs to work? That’s the question we’ve been pondering almost the entire time we’ve been thinking about this review. The short answer is, as always, the cop-out answer, which is - erm, probably not?
This Fallout adventure is designed with friends in mind, up to 23 others at a time in fact, as you share your instance of West Virginia with fellow survivors getting busy living. Teaming up works as you’d expect, though finding other players isn’t necessarily an easy task with so much real estate to roam, and even the invites only gingerly pop up in the corner instead of really pushing the co-op experience.
For those wanting to be more traditional lone wolves this is somewhat of a godsend, but it gives an indication as to Bethesda's odd approach to playing together. Teaming up with friends to build a ridiculous base is plenty of fun by itself, but even more so is picking a point on the map and just going there, collecting the materials required to build and bringing the gameplay loop full circle along the way.
There’s PvP as well, unlocked at level 5 along with the hassle-free pacifist mode, but so far most players have largely been behaving themselves (perhaps everyone’s focused on levelling?) and there's little to actively encourage player encounters this early in the game's life.
76’s story relies heavily on your patience (which will certainly be tested in a multiplayer environment) for discovering and engaging with holotapes and written logs, as there aren’t any human AI characters to bump into and have deliver exposition through conversations. At first you feel a glimmer of hope that one or two of the quests might end up with you, somehow, coming to the rescue of a relieved NPC, but alas, everything seems to end in death. Death, it seems, never changes…
Building and crafting makes a return in a big way, as opposed to the somewhat take-it-or-leave-it approach of Fallout 4, in that you now have a mobile workbench known as the C.A.M.P. With it, you can construct all manner of things, once you’ve discovered the relevant plans, of course, which have been absent-mindedly left strewn across the vast, open wasteland.
No longer limited to specific settlements, you can lug your C.A.M.P. across the map (which is now four times larger) and place it anywhere not too close to a named location. Honestly though, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway, as you’d forever be pestered by respawning enemies.
While there isn’t the same throughline narrative returning players might expect, there are still main quests which take you on a gradual tour of the sizeable map, as well as side quests which pop up as you might expect, but new to Fallout are more MMO-style daily and event missions, the latter of which generally involve clearing out or protecting specific locations, and can trigger very easily if you wander even close to the marker.
Fortunately, there’s fast travel to help you get around with relative ease, however, this brings us to one of the most significant and potentially deal-breaking areas of the game - bugs.
V.A.T.S. is a little different too... With no slow-motion at all there's a tendency for percentages to fluctuate widely and that led us, ultimately, to dispense with it altogether.
There’s no getting around it: Bethesda games have a reputation for… not performing to the best technical standard. Of course, huge open world games are particularly susceptible to bugs, and when you add multiplayer and base building into the mix, Bethesda certainly haven’t made it easy on themselves.
That being said, Fallout 76 has consistently thrown up more bugs than any other release we’ve experienced in 2018. One particularly nasty error repeatedly caused the console (an Xbox One X) to shut itself down entirely to protect it from overheating. Firstly, the console wasn’t at risk of overheating - ventilation was fine and the device wasn’t hot to the touch as you’d expect if that was a serious risk. Secondly, there’s almost no way to avoid the frightening issue creeping up on you, but particularly if you try to fast travel there’s a high chance of having to suffer through a hard restart.
Needless to say there are fixes coming, and the other, more visible reported bugs - like enemies getting stuck in place and walking at 45-degree angles, or event quests inexplicably failing - will likely be dealt with, but as a customer paying a substantial number of bottle caps to pick the game up, the reality is severely below standard.
Perhaps Bethesda didn’t realise the B.E.T.A. (boy, do they love their acronyms) would throw up as many issues as it did, but, for a game of its standing, the stability should really be a lot better.
To address the big question then, does Fallout really need NPCs? It definitely depends on the game you’re looking for. If you imagine this game as a Conan Exiles or Minecraft survival experience then it might exceed expectations, but if you go in looking for Bethesda-does-Destiny then it could go the other way.
While NPCs aren’t essential to make it feel like a Fallout game (76 does still feel very Fallout), there’s really no specific reason - putting Bethesda’s stance on it emphasising player interaction aside - that there shouldn’t be anyone around, particularly when compared to previous games. To implement a blanket ban seemingly on principle makes the world feel a little more empty and locations a little less exciting; just the odd bit of characterisation here and there (besides identical robots) would have made all the difference.
It may get better in time, but right now it’s hard to fully recommend Fallout 76 for anyone other than die-hard series fans that are hungry for more.
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.