Summer holidays or not, it’s time to head back to school at the illustrious Two Point Campus for a university spin on the Two Point Hospital formula.
Students adhere to a list of archetypes, including swot, clown and goth, and each have their own wants and needs in terms of the environment and how they learn.
For example, there are various items which are relationship-building between students, such as a heart-shaped love seat, and some students will call for different new items which match their archetype, such as a spooky Goth chair or a rose garden, which one pair of students will not stop bothering me about every month.
Herein lies the most frustrating part of the game so far. Some of us will have put hundreds of hours into Two Point Hospital, unlocking a wide range of items and decorations, and the process for unlocking new things is the same – kudosh.
Unfortunately, the amount you get is tied to in-game challenges and rewards is quite low, so you find yourself being asked to unlock three or four items at a time, and are frustratingly limited.
Another lack of flexibility, which is particularly apparent in the early stages, and no doubt by design in the vein of simplicity, is the inflexibility of teaching options. Any changes you want to make won't come into effect until the following year, and moving teachers around can be fiddly, leaving you being asked to recruit extra staff and having nothing for them to do.
Sometimes you want to be able to dig into the detail right away, and the game holds you back, which can lead to you feeling impatient.
The fun and games come from the ingenuity and fun which stems from the equipment needed to deliver the various classes, from Knight School to Wizardry to Gastronomy...
Humour has been a big part of these sorts of games, and the tannoy quips, and resident DJ, are back this time to keep you chuckling here and there.
The world map offers a range of campuses you slowly take over, and you can either max them out up to three stars, or push on to the next adventure.
There is something a little repetitive about starting from scratch each time as well, not to mention you feel like missing out on the vast wealth or even pro teachers from your previous, a little unfair, but at least the items you've unlocked are unlocked everywhere.
The fun and games come from the ingenuity and fun which stems from the equipment needed to deliver the various classes, from Knight School to Wizardry to Gastronomy.
There's a joy in seeing a little character animation, or a cheeky pun or reference which you know the game is jam packed full of. You almost feel like they've been hidden in there just for you.
The built-in downtime of the summer break can mean you're less tempted to constantly stop time to make changes during the year, which certainly has been an issue for us for our hospitals in the past, but the chaos seems to ebb and flow rather than gradually building to a nightmarish panic of queue lines everywhere.
The madness itself can be endearing, but at the same time in some areas there's not enough depth. In others there seems to be too much, but once you get your head around it all there's a really good time to be had here. No doubt there's nooks and crannies, such as student clubs, we didn't explore as much as we wanted to either.
Overall, the gamble of remixing the formula and throwing in a dash of new ideas largely works, giving us that hit of fun and frantic management we have been craving but still managing to surprise us.
Go! No “3,2,1”, no “On your marks, get set”, Forza Horizon 5 (and the series in general) wastes no time in getting you right into the action. In fact your first act in the game is to leap out of a plane in a series of cars and dive straight onto the beautiful open roads of Mexico.
One area which has a tremendous level of depth is the cars themselves. Adjusting tyre pressure and swapping out parts to tune your cars for whatever event you're about to take on is encouraged, and is something you can rely on the collective knowledge of die-hard fans if you’re unsure, thanks to a search option which lets you check out setups which have been shared.
If you’re feeling like online is a recurring theme, you’re not wrong. The narrative conceit for the game in the first place is a festival (or fiesta) in celebration of cars which wouldn’t be too out of place in an early Fast and Furious film. Horizon Festival is all about bringing people together, and the team has made sure they carry this spirit into every aspect of how the game is put together.
Not only will you see other players mooching around the map as you explore, but you’ll be pitted against other players’ Drivatars, digital echoes of their racing style, in races and events. While not a new idea, in fact the series has brought them in from the main Forza Motorsport series since its second outing, the compiling of player driving data makes for far more unpredictable and interesting AI opponents.
Hooking up with players in real-time is where things get even more fun though, as there are four main modes – Open Racing, Open Drifting, Playground Games, and The Eliminator – with tons of different types of events between them.
Open Racing is as straightforward as things get, challenging you to road, dirt, cross country and street races. Open drifting, as the name would suggest, is all about the drift, so you’ll be sticking to roads and trying to nail those corners, while Playground games include flag rush, king and survival. The Eliminator returns from FH4 as the Forza Horizon take on Battle Royale, pitting up to 72 players against each other into head-to-head races within a gradually shrinking area of the map.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience.
On top of that there’s Horizon Arcade, which is more of a collection of minigames which you take on together as a group. Perhaps you’ll need to maintain a certain speed within an area of the map to score, or drift for as long as possible around a certain bend. These challenges, admittedly, do tend to be “drive around a specific area”, but to dismiss them as only that is reductive, as you can easily find some fun and memorable moments as a group.
Individually, your in-game persona will be the one interacting with the NPCs as you drive around. You can customise your character with different looks and physical appearance to an extent, including a wide variety of prosthetic limbs, but the general build and vibe of the different characters still feels a little flat. The game does call you by your real name, if you have it shared in your Xbox or PSN profile, as it has in previous games.
As you drive around, discover roads, smash billboards and complete other challenges, you’ll unlock accolades which let you progress through the game and unlock more events. You’ll also be given wheelspins, a free lootbox mechanic earned by completing in-game challenges, to unlock more cars, clothing for your in-game avatar and all sorts of other goodies.
While races are all well and good, you might find the expeditions a welcome change of pace. These involve exploring a specific area, which might, for example, have a tropical storm going on, and take pictures or find jumps to establish it as a new area for the Horizon Festival and unlock new events in that part of the map.
Since we were playing ahead of release, there were a few bugs here and there, but far less than we’ve seen in other pre-release titles. One technical issue we hope is sorted out is how the game handles the Series S’s Quick Resume feature. With online games this can often be very hit-and-miss in general, so perhaps it’s to be expected, but we didn’t manage to jump back into the game easily, whether we played on or offline.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience. The cars themselves are as realistic as any buttoned up racing sim you could mention and the vast vistas and rolling hills are a joy to tear along, sending cacti, road signs and other debris flying.
Handling varies considerably between vehicles, meaning it can take a while to find a vehicle, or handful, depending on the road surface, which works for you. Once you’ve found the groove though, it’s totally up to you how you explore the expansive, marker-filled map. The towns, landscapes and even historical ruins you’ll find are all recreated with the care and attention of a team that has taken the time to make a game that feels like exactly what they wanted to make, with no compromise.
Game Pass, and a very comprehensive set of accessibility options, lowers the barrier of entry for this Forza Horizon more than ever, so, whether you’re new to the series, or just eager for another adventure, Playground Games has given you a sandbox with everything you need.
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.
Liverpool vs Manchester United. Borg vs McEnroe. USA vs Europe. Whatever the sport, a decent rivalry can add so much more to a simple competition, eliciting passion, anger and excitement from spectators and participants alike. It’s an extra layer of intrigue that veteran motorsport developers, Codemasters, have successfully recreated in GRID thanks to their nemesis system, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
GRID’s AI provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining.
Before each race, you’re given the chance to take part in hot lap qualifiers, which, while entirely optional, are a great way to learn each track’s nuances ahead of the main event and also give you a chance to improve your starting position. Leading the line going into a race is, naturally, a big advantage, especially when competing on GRID’s city tracks, where tight corners and narrow streets make it harder to break out from the back of the pack.
Starting in the rear means you’re also more likely to collide with other drivers, and, intentionally or not, pick up a few nemeses in the process. It usually takes several collisions to spark a rivalry, though occasionally just a single bump is all that’s required to annoy the AI. Teammates aren’t immune to a bout of in-house rivalry either, and will actively ignore orders and requests if you hit them too many times.
City tracks are particularly impressive at night
Rival drivers are marked out by an angry red indicator above their car, and will attempt to hinder your progress should they get the opportunity to do so, sometimes even to the detriment of their own race, whether its aggressively blocking an overtake or performing a surprise pit maneuver just as you’re taking a tricky corner. It’s a brilliant system that adds so much more to races, creating short-lived rivalries and added drama without ever feeling unfair or overpowered.
In fact, GRID’s AI in general provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining; we’ve seen computer-controlled drivers smash into walls, flip cars and take risks that, at times, mirror human behaviour, adding to the overall sense of authenticity. You can, of course, get a similar experience by delving into the game’s online offering, but without the option to pick and choose tracks, car types or weather settings (unless you’re hosting a private game), you might find yourself battling the conditions more than other drivers.
Visually, GRID is a good-looking game, if not spectacular. Some levels stand out more than others; racing through one of Zhejiang’s city circuits at night, with neon lights reflected in the rain-soaked road, for example, looks amazing, but traditional circuits like Silverstone and Brands Hatch, with their wide tracks and open surroundings, are relatively bland in comparison. One of the more bizarre visual hiccups are the cars’ mirrors, which display reflected images in retro-like low-res graphics and reduced frame rates. If, like us, you prefer a cockpit view, it can be a little jarring, but it’s a minor issue that certainly doesn’t detract from an otherwise decent game.
Objects in the rear view mirror are actually a lot prettier than they appear
GRID also caters to both petrol heads and newcomers alike thanks to a generous suite of difficulty options; while we preferred a more arcade-like experience, with automatic gears, race lines, cosmetic damage only and face-saving flashback abilities enabled, it’s possible to turn all assists off, increase AI difficulty and transform the game into a proper simulator. It’s this flexibility, along with the game’s solid racing gameplay, generous solo offering and excellent nemesis system that make it an easy recommend.
Pinball machines are few and far between these days. You might find a dusty old one in your local pub, but it’s very unlikely you’ll stumble across the crème de la crème like a Star Wars-themed table.
The level of detail and visual polish the game has to offer is only really shown off on a big screen however, if only because so much of the detail is otherwise packed into a small space. Even with a range of camera options (which annoyingly don't seem to remember your preference between stages), you can't get the full effect in handheld move.
One particularly neat feature is that you can encourage the screen to turn 90-degrees in either direction, meaning in tabletop mode (presumably with some makeshift stand option) or handheld portrait with an adapter, you can enjoy a more comfortable oblong, bird's eye view of proceedings.
The highlight of the experience, and where Zen Studios really flex their creative muscles, is the scene mode, which has six scenes or characters showcased in micro-fights or challenges spread across the board, where your actions might cause blaster fire to be deflected or a door to be unlocked. The fun of reliving those iconic moments is a genuine thrill, even for a fan with more rewatches of the original trilogy than they might like to admit…
There's longevity here (unless you really, really aren't a fan of pinball), and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore within every table. You'll even stumble across the odd minigame, where you'll navigate an asteroid field or go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel, and playing around with familiar characters (albeit with less familiar voice acting) is a delight.
Pinball is here, and the Force is with it.
Band of Bastards is the third major expansion for Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios’ medieval simulation RPG, which is holding up well a year after release - bringing with it a cluster of combat-oriented missions for battle-hardened players to get stuck into.
So, once you’ve polished off Dangler and been accepted into the nefarious crew, what adventures await? With around five hours of new content, Band of Bastards is comprised of six quests - five main and one side - plus the opportunity to explore your new camp and get to know the mercenaries within it.
Each of these characters feel unique and well-rounded, sharing entertaining backstories about how they became members. Particular highlights are the tale of how Dangler acquired his moniker (that’s sure to have set your mind racing) and how Sir Kuno’s family fell from grace.
The DLC’s solitary side quest, where head bastard Kuno asks you to retrieve a ring that grants its holder unlimited booze in taverns, unfortunately proves to be little more than a series of fetch quests taking place entirely within the borders of the small camp area.
Main mission wise, four of the five on offer feature combat situations for players to get involved in, with some decent armour components up for grabs to those willing to pay the iron price. The action’s tied together by some impressive cutscenes, and, while the story may be relatively straightforward, it does explore the questionable morals and irresolute loyalty of a sellsword company.
Unfortunately, it’s over all too soon. Just as you’re growing emotionally invested in a character, the conversation options dry up, and the same goes for Band of Bastards’ narrative as a whole. More disappointingly, the big finale ends on rather a limp note; the game’s framerate tanks and enemies display bizarre behaviour, doggedly chasing you around the battlefield whilst ignoring the rest of your party hacking them to bits. Granted, it’s possible to avoid a brawl altogether and settle things in single combat, but doing so means you miss out on a lot of extra loot, including a significant amount of coin.
None of that’s to say we didn’t enjoy the new content, though. The opportunity to venture out with your own crew and battle loads of baddies is exactly what Kingdom Come: Deliverance needed - the problem is, it needs even more of it! Band of Bastards is good, but it could have been great. All the components are here - the memorable characters, backstories and adventures - they just needed a bigger stage to flourish upon.
There’s a fine art to taking a beloved franchise and using it as a base to produce something new that can stand alone. Whether it’s The Last Jedi dividing a fanatical Star Wars audience or the latest superhero flick not being true to its source material, the process is fraught with danger and potential fan backlash. How reassuring to our faith in humanity then that Two Point Hospital is every bit the worthy standard bearer for a welcome return to the 90s’ management sim boom.
Two Point Hospital is every bit the worthy standard bearer for a welcome return to the 90s’ management sim boom.
A major plus this time around is that you have multiple locations to manage, so you can always revisit an earlier level and beef it up with more advanced equipment and items to boost your overall organisation's revenue. This metagame is a welcome addition, but, so far, hasn't seen different locations interact or crossover.
Repetition and busywork are the quickest way to kill the fun in a simulation game, but fortunately, thanks to the slow introduction of mechanics and a startling amount of depth when you start to dig into the more detailed menus on the information tab, Two Point manages not to be afflicted with this disease.
Given there are humans responsible for Theme Hospital involved with the project, it's no surprise that this and probably every other review mentions the game's connection to what was a mainstay of 90s PC gaming. Despite that, Two Point proudly stands on its own, with more than enough fresh ideas to make it feel like an entirely new game.
There are a few foibles to throw amongst the superlatives, however: AI behaviour of characters can be questionable at times, and in some aspects there's a lot of manual clicking of items to make sure they’re dealt with - particularly for the janitors, even though you can manually enable and disable specific tasks.
Other elements seem very much up to chance as well, such as the panic-inducing emergency requests, which see six or eight patients with the same condition come in for treatment at the same time. In these instances, it often doesn't seem to matter how slick an operation you’re running - there are always casualties. You might have a plus-sized ward with enough empty beds and a more than capable senior nurse, boasting the relevant treatment specialist skills, but still find patients dropping dead on you. A less than encouraging outcome.
Still, these moments are few and far between, and the potential to add in new elements post-launch is now far more likely than in the CD-ROM era.
If you're looking for a surprising diagnosis for this game, then you'll need a second opinion, as we're here to confirm - despite a few minor flaws - that the Two Point fever sweeping Steam right now is every bit as intoxicatingly contagious as it's cracked up to be. If they'd got the original tannoy voice back, it might somehow be even better.