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.
Ever since previewing the game on PC back in March, we’ve been itching to rejoin Amicia and Hugo De Rune, the noble siblings orphaned and destitute in A Plague Tale’s opening chapters. After replaying those harrowing first hours on Xbox One X, we picked up where we left off on the journey to cure five-year-old Hugo’s undiagnosed illness.
A complete and uncompromised story, which gradually builds and builds towards an almighty crescendo.
You’re at least afforded a degree of control in telling your ‘main’ companion at any given time to wait, preventing them from getting in the way or meeting any misfortune during combat; unless you leave poor Hugo for too long, that is, in which case he’ll panic and unwittingly attract Inquisition guards.
Rats are too numerous to fight head-on, so when we say combat it pertains to humans, who take no issue with running Amicia through with a sword and snatching up her younger brother. You can dodge incoming attacks to open up a counter window, though most often it won’t come to that since encounters are incredibly easy with a few early upgrades under your belt. There aren’t multiple difficulty settings, either, which makes toggling the incredibly generous aim-assist and HUD off the only ways to inject some challenge.
Ms. De Rune’s weapon of choice - the humble sling - at least unleashes projectiles with a satisfying thwip. As well as slinging rocks, you’ll routinely need to craft and chuck alchemical concoctions to turn the tides in your favour, for example corroding an armoured helmet in order to expose the wearer’s dome for a lethal headshot. Alternatively, you could take a more indirect approach, maybe breaking a lantern as means to ring the delicious dinner bell on an all-you-can-eat rat buffet.
Should you need to conserve resources (which we always had in abundance), it’s also possible to opt out of the murder game for the most part. More likely to have you playing pacifist are the instances where your actions are questioned by the impressionable young cast, which, in the absence of a concrete morality system, serve to make you think.
Following a guilt trip, it’s time to engage with the familiar stealth systems. Checkpoints are pretty frequent, so you’ll most often just need to memorise set enemy patrol patterns in digestible chunks, maybe throwing a few odds and ends to manufacture helpful distractions along the way. Getting spotted can result in an instant fail state, necessitating some trial and error to discern the best routes, probably to the frustration of some. There’s no real cause for concern though, since you can get away with basically sitting in an enemy's back pocket while crouched.
There’s no sneaking past rats, on the other hand, who’s beady red eyes can number in the on-screen thousands. These black-furred vermin tirelessly scuttle over one another in their endeavour to escape light, so you’ll often need to utilise makeshift torches to cut a path through them and between more substantial stationary light sources. In the later stages you’ll need to use advanced alchemy and your sling to set and extinguish specific fires from afar, herding and trapping them to facilitate your safe passage.
These lite light puzzles feel rewarding, despite the fact that you'll never really need to pause for thought, rather tackle them instinctively. As the rodents grow to become more aggressive, however, some set piece moments require you to switch off your brain and run for it; here the evocative original soundtrack is perhaps at its best, accelerating from sombre to breakneck as the orchestral string section frantically work up a sweat, inducing absolute panic in the player.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting, reveling in displaying the gnawed and gnarled reality of widespread death through a liberal littering of ravaged corpses. You’ll wade through human and porcine viscera, as well as slimy rat nests that almost reek right through the screen. It’s unpleasant, but outstandingly so, with exquisite lighting and textures telling a story which justifies the lengthy load times.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting.
Thankfully, the same is true at the other end of the spectrum, where A Plague Tale’s changing locations and weather effects can segue tone at a moment’s notice. These effective shifts don’t just mirror the current mood, but reiterate the wider theme of perseverance, and emphasise the extreme ways in which the sheltered De Rune children experience the world outside their estate for the first time. Rarely is a game’s presentation this meticulously considered, making it a real shame when character models and animations don’t meet the high bar now and then.
Their first original project following a history of ports, A Plague Tale: Innocence has put developer Asobo Studio on the map and almost certainly secured their creative future. Aided by Focus Home Interactive, Asobo have crafted a memorably melancholic adventure with a life-affirming side of joy.
If you fancy playing A Plague Tale: Innocence, be sure to enter our giveaway before 23:59 on Friday 17 May 2019 for a chance to win an Xbox One copy.
Based on the 2013 film of the same name, which was loosely based on Max Brooks’ original novel, World War Z the game doesn’t share a great deal in common with either. This survivalist shooter will be much more familiar to fans of Left 4 Dead, the zombie-slaying series which spawned and has defined a sub-genre for over a decade now.
There’s very little in the way of narrative motivation, rather the cathartic pleasure of mindlessly deanimating the reanimate is what’ll spur you on.
Zombies become a sort of hive mind once alerted to your presence, unflinchingly running towards their demise with no regard for anything other than killing their quarry. This is largely familiar stuff, but it takes on new life during regular scripted moments where they frantically clamber into fleshy pyramid structures to reach higher ground (launching explosives at the base to topple these is delectable) or fling themselves from above as makeshift projectiles.
You’re given enough firepower that these imposing setpieces are never outright frightening, which could be good or bad depending on your perspective. Fixed defence units including barbed wire, electrified floor panels and turrets can be placed in designated positions, while devastating heavy weaponry can be carried on your person to eradicate entire swarms single handed.
Special infected types are where you’ll need to employ a greater degree of finesse, although L4D players will already be acquainted with the sparse selection. Lurkers are Hunters that do a great job of waiting around corners before taking you by surprise with the ol’ pounce-and-pin manoeuvre. Gasbags are a marriage of Boomer and Spitter. Bulls are Chargers. Most telling of all, the Screamer is equivalent to... the Screamer.
You can mark these nasties on your teammates’ HUD, though in-game dialogue will most often vocalise their presence anyway, which is one of the few ways allied AI proves to be dependable. They can’t interact with mission objectives, don’t level up alongside you to meet the difficulty curve, and can’t be switched from the default Gunslinger class in order to compose a balanced team. You don’t even gain the ability to pause when playing offline, but hey, they’ll never incur friendly fire (which is always enabled) if you really must go solo.
Should sticking with the normal difficulty setting be your speed – meaning you don’t anticipate toughing it out being a problem – just be aware that an initial playthrough should only take around five or six hours. Longevity thereafter is gleaned by upping the stakes to earn better weapons and perks, which you’ll then use to repeat the cycle, only one notch higher on the five-step difficulty rung. Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things a little more fresh along the way.
Even with randomisation it can become repetitive if you don’t dip in and out, which makes the unique PvPvE multiplayer a smart addition. Featuring separate classes and progression to that of the campaign, the mode has five classic game types in which two teams of four fight against one another and, at the same time, CPU-controlled zombies.
Its largely no-frills approach harkens back to a period during the last console generation where almost every game had competitive multiplayer, though in an oddly nostalgic way. That feeling is certainly helped by the fact it’s competent and fun enough on a base level not to feel just tacked-on.
Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things fresh.
There’s an established early playerbase sticking around for the interesting dynamic of undead swarms which can cut off parts of a map entirely, but how long they’ll put up with the current balance issues is up for question. You can’t switch class mid-match, so if you made a choice that doesn’t synergise well with your team or effectively counter the opposition, you’re left no choice but to ride it out or quit. Certain weapons and strategies are overpowered, namely sprinting around with a double-barrelled shotgun and unloading both slugs or popping around a corner with the (thankfully quite limited) rocket launcher, yet the funk doesn’t end when you die. Spawns are incredibly inconsistent, as sometimes you’ll pop up right in front of an enemy with no temporary invulnerability to save your bacon, or, more to your advantage, right next to an unguarded objective.
Whether online or off, in our experience, the PS4 Pro and WWZ servers at least do a good job of handling all the hectic on-screen action. Visually the game is just decent, with some jumpy animations being the biggest sore thumb, but that’s always a worthy trade-off in favour of securing a solid technical performance.
At a budget price point, World War Z offers completionists a lot of game for the money, but anybody with a more one-and-done approach might end up feeling shortchanged by the brief campaign. For either camp, in spite of the strong sense of déjà vu overpowering a few original ideas, WWZ is a good candidate to kick back and relieve a hard day's stress with whenever the time is right.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden takes the turn-based tactics integral to its tabletop namesake and mixes them with real-time stealth and exploration, giving life to a hybrid brand of gameplay which fittingly mirrors the title’s overarching themes.
Straying from the main path to explore offshoots in the game’s “post-human” take on Earth allows you to uncover these materials in abundance, as well as new weapons and armour, plus even the odd side quest. The latter pair with collectibles to flesh out an intriguing background for what’s a rundown-yet-lush world reclaimed by nature; environments are thick with fine visual details, noticeable even from the game’s somewhat removed, isometric perspective, which makes it a shame that the camera can’t be zoomed in to appreciate them to their fullest.
After any stint outside the one remaining safe haven, a hub area known as the Ark, you can return to tune your kit before heading back out into the Zone, which encompasses the rest of the uncharted world, except for the vague promise of Eden. It’s this illusive, titular paradise you spend the game seeking, initially just as Dux and Bormin, a squabbling and lovable duo comprised of (shockingly) a duck and a boar respectively.
More humanoid companions are acquired along the way, but despite their appearance, everyone in MYZ is mutated in some way or another in order to survive the harsh landscape. All of the party characters are decent, but they only ever share playing third fiddle to the more charismatic leading duo; everyone at least maintains the pervasive air of silliness, quite humorously misinterpreting “ancient” technologies to cut through what can otherwise be quite a bleak atmosphere.
MYZ is a strange game, but in the best way - it’s a mechanics and lore-focused gamer’s game not requiring the sort of time and energy commitment many of its ilk do.
If you can put aside the somewhat cumbersome HUD and a few performance hitches - which aren’t too invasive, due to the game’s methodical pacing - there’s an awful lot both to get to grips with and to be gripped by. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a strange game, but in the best way - it’s a mechanics and lore-focused gamer’s game that doesn’t require the sort of crazy time and energy commitment many of its ilk do. For a budget buck, or no extra cost to Xbox Game Pass subscribers, it’s one that fans of role-playing and strategy shouldn’t sleep on.
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.
A runaway crowdfunding success story, Agony and its grotesque realisation of Hell recently made it to market with the help of nearly 4,000 passionate backers. While there are plenty of grisly sights to quench the thirst of the gore hounds amongst them, anyone looking for anything more than the modern interpretation of a cheap video nasty will be sorely disappointed.
Anyone looking for anything more than the modern interpretation of a cheap video nasty will be sorely disappointed.
Sneaking slows the trudging pace to an absolute crawl, which means you’ll inevitably get bored and make a run for it, almost guaranteeing that you get spotted and face swift murder. After succumbing to a screenful of bare busters, your soul leaves the body and you’re presented a window of time in which to possess a lesser thrall and pick up where you left off. Possessions are automatic on easy difficulty, but require input on normal and send you back to the last poorly-placed checkpoint in the event of failure.
Finding and eating Forbidden Fruit - or Fanny Smith apples, as we call them for reasons you can probably extrapolate - allows you to acquire and upgrade skills that’ll at least give you a better chance at survival. That’s assuming you actually want to extend the trip, mind, as masses of alternate endings and a couple of additional modes - one offering endless procedurally generated challenges and the other the chance to replay the story as a succubus - did absolutely nothing to tempt us into holding the controller for any longer than absolutely necessary.
You might think all that seems a tad harsh, but we haven’t even touched on the crippling technical issues yet. Agony’s frame rate is choppy at best, glitches prevented us from making progress on a few occasions, and the audio is completely bust. Diegetic sounds emanate from the wrong directions, while ambient effects and voice overs constantly cut in and out and jarringly loop back on themselves; missing dialogue makes the unengaging narrative harder to follow than it should be, but, more egregiously, deprives you of relishing every syllable of the hysterically awkward scripting and delivery.
Let’s not mince words here: Agony is a sub-par, early access product masquerading as a finished release. Patches can only hope to make it stably abysmal, as opposed to plain broken, so you should absolutely avoid the unnecessary agony it’ll so ironically impose upon you.
The latest entry in the rapidly expanding Focus Home Interactive stable, Vampyr is brought to life by sleeper development studio DONTNOD Entertainment (Life is Strange, Remember Me). An ambitious action RPG, Vampyr casts players as Dr. Jonathan Reid and unleashes them on an occult interpretation of 1918 London, framed by relevant Victorian themes in class, disease, race and religion.
Every single citizen you encounter has a personality, relationships and community standing within their borough.
Furthermore, should your moral compass be broken, you aren’t entirely off the hook. Mounting homicide cases may lead people to flee, stores to increase their prices due to the dangers of operation, or, if you’re a real glutton, even plunge a district into irreparable chaos and eradicate its population. That’ll lock you out of any content tied to the unfortunates at hand and also prevent you from rearing any more meat in the area, so it’s best to use your skills as a medical practitioner to craft cures from looted gubbins and subsequently use ‘em to keep the health of a borough at an even keel.
When Shadow of Mordor and later Shadow of War were lauded for their ‘revolutionary’ Nemesis Systems, which supposedly served to build meaningful rivalries, we wondered if we might’ve missed something. The community systems within Vampyr don’t fall similarly flat, realising the potential in attaching a player to what would otherwise be secondary NPCs by making every exchange consequential on multiple levels.
Exploring the quasi open world, rich with environmental detail and written lore as it is, can be as fruitful as conversing in the pursuit of useful information. You’re often kept to a relatively linear path by unpickable locks that gate progress, which isn’t an inherent issue, but is somewhat galling when you consider Jonathan has the ability to teleport and could feasibly get anywhere, but arbitrarily can’t outside of designated contextual prompts. Regardless, streets and interiors alike are a dark and moody treat to turn over for crafting components, used to upgrade weapons and produce injectable buffs that aid in violent confrontations with humans, vampires and additional beasties.
As an immortal, Dr. Reid eats bullets for breakfast, but the likes of fire and holy symbols will quickly turn the tides. Each enemy has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which, when coupled with a range of classes, create a varied opposition that present challenge in numbers. They’ll work in synergy to bring you down, necessitating knowledge of their respective attack patterns and target hierarchy.
The community systems within Vampyr attach players to what would otherwise be secondary NPCs, making every exchange consequential on multiple levels.
Bouts are fast paced and scrappy, very similar to Bloodborne both visually and mechanically, seeing you lock-on to a single target before launching attacks and dodges at the cost of stamina. Firearms can be equipped to the off-hand when using a one-handed weapon and unloaded without need to manually aim, or, alternatively, a secondary off-hand melee weapon can be used to inflict negative status effects, like a stun that presents feeding opportunities.
This is where the more unique aspects of combat come into play, as you’ll periodically want to clamp your jaws around someone’s neck to keep your blood gauge topped up - blood being required to perform a range of lesser and ultimate abilities that range from simply healing yourself to boiling an opponent’s blood. There’s really a lot at your disposal, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that combat here isn’t nearly as polished as its clear inspiration, lacking the same engaging challenge thanks to some simple exploits.
Animations can also come off as a little stiff, pulling you out of the moment in the midst of an otherwise satisfying combo, but even on the odd occasion that Vampyr underwhelms visually it continues to impresses aurally. Battlecries are particularly guttural, while theatrical voiceovers commit to the patchy script with convincing verve, all complemented by the bellowing chelos and screeching violins of an excellent - and also decidedly Bloodborne-esque - ambient soundtrack.
Whilst Vampyr can feel overly familiar in certain areas, it borrows from the top and at its core holds a unique and intelligent social framework that intertwines engaging themes and characters to birth an enthralling, meaningfully manipulable narrative. It mixes up the conventional RPG structure whilst maintaining a nice balance between management, conversation, combat and exploration to retain the same moreish X factor that made so many fall in love with the genre to begin with. If you can take the rough with the smooth, you’ll find a lot to love in what’s easily DONTNOD Entertainment’s best game yet.
Bundling the base Aragami experience alongside its new Nightfall expansion, Aragami: Shadow Edition brings the eponymous shadow assassin and his stealth exploits to Xbox One for the first time.
It’s visually very Okami, which is just one of many classic inspirations that Aragami proudly wears on its sleeve.
Taking a risk and stepping out into the light - or, better yet, painting temporary shadows into the environment for concealment beforehand - will often reward you with a collectable scroll used to purchase from a range of upgrades. Included amongst these are powerful new techniques, which draw from a limited pool of charges, as opposed to your Shadow Essence, allowing you to turn invisible, mark enemies, perform ranged kills and much more.
More opportunities open up as your arsenal grows, making what was already quite an easy outing a veritable cakewalk. While being clocked by a foe will generally result in your death, avoiding that fate isn’t much of a challenge, due to easily manipulable AI and the general advantages you’re afforded on top of your supernatural powers. Being spotted isn’t immediate cause for concern, and neither is lingering in the enemy gaze long enough for them to make you, as you’re afforded a slow motion reaction window by default (though it can be disabled).
Cutting straight through early levels is a hot knife through butter, but as the opposing Army of Light grow in size and diversity - integrating ranged bowmen and soldiers with portable light sources - you’ll be forced into an ever-so-slightly more considered approach towards the tail end of the game. As such, stealth aficionados will want to jump straight in at the highest difficulty setting to sharpen enemy wits and bolster their numbers.
Though we did crave more of a challenge - which a scoring system looks to provide, but there’s little motivation to get involved in the absence of leaderboards - there’s definitely satisfaction to be gleaned from playing the ultimate assassin, requiring only a small time investment to plot and execute a swift and deadly strike, erase the evidence and disappear without a trace.
Though we did crave more of a challenge, there’s definitely satisfaction to be gleaned from playing the ultimate assassin.
While improving your letter grade likely won’t draw you back for a second playthrough, achievements and skins awarded for completing polarising lethal and pacifist runs might just do the job, across both the main game and its Nightfall expansion.
A prequel story featuring two new playable characters, each equipped with a condensed set of fresh abilities, Nightfall spans four of the strongest chapters found in the Shadow Edition. Whether you choose to play as Shinobu or her sensei, Hyo, you’ll traverse complex new environments littered with debuting enemies and obstacles that, combined with the more limited array of shadow powers on offer, inject an engaging level of challenge that the main game mostly lacks.
It’s very apparent that Lince Works put a lot of time and effort into Nightfall, making it a rare example of an expansion that surpasses the game it’s attached to. Concise diary entries flesh out the narrative and offer a subtle guiding hand, while the buddy dynamic between its leading duo contextualises the game’s cross-platform online co-op, rather than just cloning the protagonist without explanation.
Clearly then the development team have learnt a great deal in the nearly two years since the original launch of Aragami, which has us eager to see what they might come up with next. When it comes to their current product, while a mixed bag, many will rightly be tempted by the prospect of playing as one of the industry’s best-realised ninjas in terms of pure, death-dealing gameplay. It’s just a shame that this power trip can come at the cost of your overall engagement, letting you breeze through the beautiful environments with a nonchalant approach to stealth and story alike.
Valentina, Beta, Alexxis, Jay… they're dead. They're all dead. While we mourn their passing, their permadeaths serve as an example of one of the greatest strengths of State of Decay 2.
As a newcomer to the series, it turns out that the complete breakdown of society can be pretty brutal.
Later, when your community swells and you gain enough influence (the game’s de facto currency), you can claim locations ranging from small, resource gathering outposts, to electricity generating power stations and even makeshift forts constructed from shipping containers. Each new locale has its own advantages and how you manage your growing empire, customising locations further with mods and upgrades, is up to you.
That said, it’s advisable that you take council from your community as morale upkeep is a constant battle in such dire circumstances, as one might expect. Sacrificing a building slot to set up a garden or fashion a lounge (in which you can install an original Xbox) can work wonders in keeping everyone cheery.
As time goes on, your survivors will improve their skills based on what actions they perform. While the game wants you to feel you're developing fleshed out characters in a manner akin to the likes of Skyrim, the reality is that skills are fairly limited, and you'll just want to make sure most of your population go for a run once in a while to boost their stamina, or they'll quickly become overwhelmed in a bout of fisticuffs.
What is unique to SoD2, and arguably the main motivator in investing you in its characters, are a collection of 100+ more mundane traits such as “Car crash survivor”, “Cat lover” and “Flatulent”, all of which have passive effects. When each survivor gains enough standing in the community their individual skill is unlocked, such as “Yoga instructor”, offering an amusing look at their pre-apocalypse lives. While these abilities sadly don't unlock a suite of oddly juxtaposed mini-games, they do offer depth at fairly low effort.
There's another side to this of course, in that not everyone gets on, so they can start fights in your absence or generally become disgruntled. If it comes to it, you might have to take the difficult decision to exile them for the greater good, though generally they do go quietly.
The same is true of the different AI factions, known as enclaves, which can get cheesed off if you repeatedly ignore their requests for help or side with other enclaves over them in disputes, potentially leading them to become hostile and spoil for a fight.
All of these elements comes together in a very compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far (much of which lacked the minor polish brought by the game's hefty 6GB day one patch) being technical.
Zombies can drop in from about 20ft in the air as you approach, using vehicles places your life in the game’s hands as they can randomly flip out or explode, and the AI often behaves unpredictably, to the extent that more than once our fellow community members have perished in relatively mild peril.
Using vehicles was something we hardly dabbled in throughout the game's opening hours, assuming them to be too much of a zombie magnet, but in reality to reap the full rewards when scavenging around the map - in particular valuable resources like food or medicine - their boot/trunk space is quite essential. Casually opening a car door to obliterate a squishy zombie as you pass them at speed also never ceases to be messily fun...
Everything comes together in a compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far being technical.
Another significant drawback is the lack of direction on hand for new players; a handful of prompts keep recurring, but seemingly there's little to lead you into new experiences as you’re drawn deeper into the game. On top of this, plenty of basic options like trading items between you and a follower out in the field are far from a simple button press away, taking us back to pre-Resident Evil 5 levels of AI buddy management.
Same applies in co-op, where up to three guests can venture into the host’s world and loot their own unique supplies to take back home with them, but should you want to swap items amongst one another it’s a cumbersome case of using menus to drop them on the ground before rifling through piles of stuff and picking up the relevant drops. There’s also a limiting tether that stops players from straying too far apart, but if you’re committed to watching each other’s backs that shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Setting a few more minor bugs aside, the overall experience is stable, no doubt aided by the graphical sacrifices that see SoD2 appear visually underwhelming even with the added oomph of the Xbox One X at its disposal.
Whether SoD2 is for you depends on how you attribute value based on look and feel versus raw gameplay. If you favour the former, it certainly doesn't have many “wow” moments to entice you, or make for a particularly good sizzle reel, but the gameplay over time is undeniably compelling.
This post-apocalyptic world effortlessly encourages you to leave the safety of your home and explore just one more area, run over just one more zombie or pick up just one more follower, without drowning you in endless map symbols. Nor does it penalise you too much if you decide to be really heartless and ignore individuals’ needs (*cough* Sam *cough*), resulting in an unparalleled sense of freedom that allows you to craft your own narrative without completely abandoning you to your own devices in the process.
In all, at its basic price point, the game is well worth picking it up, and if you nab it as part of a Game Pass subscription you'll likely find even better value for money. With different areas to settle, origin stories to experience, and enclaves and survivors to encounter, there's plenty to keep you busy until the previously outlined DLC expansions arrive, but, for the time being, if you'll excuse us, we have a wind power station to claim.
The fact I’ve never played Skyrim has been a dirty little secret of mine for more than half a decade now; the role-playing game that took the world by storm, and its re-releases, have simply passed me by. While shameful, this does make me almost uniquely qualified to approach Bethesda and Escalation Studios’ Skyrim VR without Sony’s future goggles taking on a rose tint. With nostalgia out of the question, how does The Elder Scrolls’ fifth instalment hold up on PlayStation VR?
Skyrim VR is the rare kind of game that you think about all day at work or school, eager to get home in order to reprise the exciting role of your in-game character.
The technical foibles hampering its execution include a familiar, but no less irritating, image drifting issue that sees your display gradually migrate to the side now and then. If you turn to follow it it only gets worse, and holding start to realign doesn’t do the job, so a quick and easy fix is to cycle your headset’s power with the inline control. The otherwise strong motion tracking on our PlayStation Move controllers also tended to go awry as they started to run low on battery, but that’s probably more to do with the hardware’s ancient tech than the software itself.
Provided you can tough these issues out and stomach the omission of a third-person camera perspective - which isn’t a big deal in VR, but it does mean you can’t fully appreciate that swanky new armour set - the positives you’re presented far outweigh the comparatively insignificant negatives.
It’s the little things that stand out, like approaching a mammoth and bolting when the towering beast postures as though about to attack; getting a real-life shiver when clouds conceal the sun and rain starts to pour in-game; nearly dying of a heart attack when a swinging log trap abruptly falls from the ceiling and crashes directly into your face. The sense of scale and depth creates an immersion that transforms the run-of-the-mill into the extraordinary, plastering a smile on your face as you internally exclaim “Now that was cool!”
Rock solid fundamentals evoke a similar response, whether you’re playing with motion controls or a standard DualShock 4. In addition to this initial choice, you're also able to adventure either seated or standing, and can tweak a range of comfort options, meaning just about everybody can jump in regardless of their virtual reality prowess.
Menus in VR can often be much less accommodating, due to finicky motion scrolling and illegible low resolution text, so it’s a real relief that Skyrim - a menu-heavy game by any account - doesn’t fall victim to these pitfalls. Both a high level of polish and some beautiful reworking make it much less of a hassle to, for example, ditch any useless items you pick up at the game’s mercy, as its point-and-click method doesn’t quite boast the finesse necessary to pluck individual gold pieces from a bowl.
VR's sense of scale and depth creates an immersion that transforms the run-of-the-mill into the extraordinary, plastering a smile on your face as you internally exclaim “Now that was cool!"
While the menus are great and all, favourite shortcuts help you bypass them to access your arsenal toute sweet, and stay in the thick of the fight. Dual-wielding Move controllers is a perfect fit for Skyrim’s mix-and-match combat, in which you can combine a range of spells, melee weapons and shields across both hands. For the first time you’re afforded total independent control, meaning you can simultaneously attack different enemies in different directions, perhaps after anticipating a flanking manoeuvre thanks to PS VR’s 3D audio output.
Getting to grips with combat can be like spinning plates at first, juggling motion and button inputs across both hands at the same time, but once you’ve got your head around it you’ll start to feel like a truly badass death dealer. The conventional system is still passable, but very stiff by comparison; it’s simply so much more involving to physically swing a sword, raise your shield to block a loosed arrow, or shoot arcane elements from the palm of your hand.
Similarly, VR’s proclivity for creeping terror makes travelling the stealthy route just as intense. Nocking an arrow, pulling back the string, aiming and releasing is incredibly rewarding, as you’ll more often than not hit your mark without any kind of HUD element to serve as a visual aid. Just don’t get too comfortable sniping from a perch, as being caught unaware by the incoming axe swing of a virtual assassin-come-executioner isn’t the nice kind of surprise...
Skyrim does show its age in places, particularly with regard to its ugly and stilted NPC interactions, but small sacrifices to visual fidelity had to be made across the board in order to hit the necessary 90 frames per second for a non-nauseating time inside your headset. Just rest assured that, at its core, the game is perhaps more so than ever an incredibly in-depth and engrossing RPG with many meaningful choices of approach.
Whether you’re revisiting The Elder Scrolls V or venturing into its snow-capped mountains, vibrant countryside and deep, dark dungeons for the first time, Skyrim VR is an essential play for PlayStation VR owners. There’s more game for your money here than anywhere else on the platform, and, in spite of a few flaws, it’s pretty much all killer and no filler. With Bethesda bringing Fallout 4 and DOOM to virtual reality just next month, this is a very promising insight into what’s to come from one of the few major players supporting the burgeoning technology, and single player games along with it.