Horror is a pretty overcrowded genre when it comes to VR, owing mostly to the platform’s greater level of immersion making it easy to provoke a reaction from players. Oculus exclusive Lies Beneath manages to differentiate itself by travelling the survival horror route while adopting a dark and pulpy comic book aesthetic. Throw in some exciting action gameplay and the team at Drifter (Robo Recall: Unplugged) could be onto a winner.
Regardless, the game does a great job of building an unnerving atmosphere through eerie environments and lighting. It’s close to pitch black at times, with only the piercing red eyes of enemies visible in the distance and the faint glow of your trusty lighter illuminating the more immediate area. PSA: If that lighter goes out and takes a few attempts to spark back up, prepare for an unpleasant jumpscare. Otherwise, the direction of its flame is a handy means of setting you on the right path and it’s light also reveals enemy weak points.
Many locations are adorned with grotesque, ornamental butchery that melds animal and human body parts; meanwhile, frantic banging emanates from the next helpless victims that are trapped inside nearby crates. The soundscape in Lies Beneath is strong on the whole and using headphones is an in-game recommendation we’d echo, but, failing that, the built-in Quest speakers do a decent job of outputting fairly immersive 3D audio.
When time comes to combat the deranged townsfolk, there are three tweakable comfort modes and three difficulty settings to ensure everyone can do so enjoyably. Whatever you opt for, Oculus Touch motion tracking works pretty much flawlessly; a great test in any VR game is to throw something, and Lies Beneath gave us no trouble lodging axes in enemy heads from meters away.
There are plenty more melee weapons to wield beyond just axes, which do different levels of damage and cover various ranges. Unfortunately, however, their collision is wildly inconsistent. Weapons collide with and lodge into certain foes and surfaces, but clip right through others, which is distracting enough to pull you out of the experience at times.
Similarly mixed is the amount of damage that specific enemy types can absorb, especially in the late stages of the game. Two identical nasties can take vastly different levels of punishment, which, in theory, could’ve served to ramp up terror through uncertainty, but is more annoying than anything else. With checkpoints being limited at that point in the game, it’s almost enough to have you pulling your hair out.
If that tempts you to drop the difficulty a notch, know that Lies Beneath significantly steps up (or down) with each setting. Easy is a cakewalk, Normal can get pretty challenging, while Hard, above and beyond to its name, is absolutely gruelling.
The difficulty level doesn’t just affect incoming and outgoing damage, but also the resources available to you in ammunition and health-replenishing foodstuffs. There’s a hard limit on what you can carry, with your back designated to a hunting rifle and a non-lethal harpoon gun, while your right and left holsters can be used to store anything from a silenced 9mm pistol to a tin of tuna.
Covering all of the bases with a melee weapon, some food and a pistol is most often your best bet to prep for enemy encounters. That’s especially true for a few set piece holdout sections reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, in which you’ll also be afforded bear traps and gasoline cans to strategically place around the battlefield. That being said, the best laid plans quickly go awry when you’re charged by tankish pigmen and forget to do something simple, like flick your wrist to reload the six shooter or cock the hunting rifle with your spare hand.
Although there are no multiplayer or secondary modes to lean on after finishing the inventive final chapter, it’s worth going back to try and find all of the collectibles for the extra lore and greater access to resources they provide through unlocks. Beating the hardest difficulty can definitely be worn as a badge of honour, while multiple endings and achievements (which a lot of Quest games don’t have) should also help to keep you coming back.
Oculus Quest is a platform that’s largely packed with shorter VR “experiences” and arcade-type games suited to brief bursts of play. That isn’t necessarily bad, considering the generally more casual audience, but it can leave some owners wanting in terms of substance. Lies Beneath brings just that, providing spine-tingling scares that can be as challenging or accessible as you’d like. While it might be frightening at times, the action and comic book leanings impart the necessary mass appeal to see it stick the landing as a flagship Oculus exclusive available on Quest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the name Narcosis sounds familiar, it’s probably because the game originally launched over a year ago, but, with the debut of a spanking new PS4 port, comes an opportunity for the existing versions to claw back a little spotlight for themselves. Initially taking to digital storefronts like a stone to water, the ripples have now reached our shores, but is Narcosis a horror that should’ve stayed dormant in the deep?
You probably aren’t crazy about water levels in gaming, but, In this instance, heading to the bottom of ol’ big blue serves to establish an almost alien atmosphere conducive to terror.
Developer Honor Code clearly took great care in crafting Narcosis’ world and narrative, though the same can’t quite be said when it comes to the limited gameplay. Labelled a survival horror walking simulator - we’ll let you decide whether affectionately or not - slightly tank-y controls harken back to early examples of the genre whilst conveying the immense weight of the bulky diving suit you occupy. The slow pace and initially unintuitive controls take a little getting used to, as does independently looking down to view the suit’s integrated HUD, but limited-use thrusters do accommodate sparing speed boosts.
They also allow for a spot of light platforming, which is fine, if unremarkable, whilst sides of simple puzzle solving and rudimentary combat are also thrown in to tick the necessary boxes. Fights are rare, thankfully, as you have but one cumbersome slash manoeuvre to execute with a short knife. More often than not, you’ll instead utilise an abundance of flares to distract enemies and allow you to slip by, but not always unseen. You’re predisposed to run when spotted by a deadly predator, though, in Narcosis’ case, your heavy diving suit disallows that response, contributing further tension.
Your helmet also obscures peripheral vision, adding another unnerving wrinkle, but the apparatus is far too efficient in the one area that could’ve made things outright harrowing. As we mentioned earlier, oxygen levels are limited, so you’ll continually need to accrue the element, while also doing your best to avoid any situations that’ll cause panic, resultantly accelerating your breathing and elevating your intake. It’s a novel conceit, but the game doesn’t fully commit, seemingly scared of imposing too great a challenge, resulting in the mechanic never becoming a major factor.
As such, it only really serves to keep you moving, but even that’s largely unnecessary when Narcosis is so linear. A couple of chapters make for notable exceptions, though most areas only open up into brief offshoots housing text-based collectibles serving to flesh out crew members’ characters.
While Narcosis doesn’t boast a great gameplay experience, rather just palatable, it works as a vehicle for interacting with Honor Code’s atmospheric locations and concise story. At around three hours long, it isn’t too much to ask that you stick out the relative lows in order to enjoy the twisting, psychological highs.
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.
Based upon Games Workshop’s popular tabletop franchise, Space Hulk: Deathwing attempts to do for 40K what Vermintide did for old school Warhammer. While Deathwing is a unique and often exciting FPS onslaught in the vein of Left 4 Dead, it doesn’t quite meet the high standards set by its inspirators.
Deathwing is a unique and often exciting FPS onslaught in the vein of Left 4 Dead.
That tactic comes in particularly handy, as the game’s touch-and-go encounters can otherwise be overwhelming. Space Hulk: Deathwing bombards you with hostiles while requiring you to juggle priority targets between them, often as you’re confined to dark and claustrophobic spaces only sporadically lit by muzzle flashes. These moments invest you in the fight by making your squad of hulking marines - with infinite ammo to boot - feel small and vulnerable, but they could easily have been elevated further.
The game very sparingly utilises an ambient soundtrack, placing a focus instead on its (mostly) strong and encompassing diegetic sound. This isn’t inherently bad, but an adaptive soundtrack that ramped up alongside enemy spawns would’ve made for absolute magic in these situations.
Space Hulk: Deathwing also struggles when it comes to graphical presentation, largely looking fine in busy motion, but falling apart should you stop to smell the roses. Flat textures, strawberry jam blood effects, ropey animations and more stick out like sore thumbs as you traverse the darkly Gothic halls of the game’s labyrinthine spaceships.
On that note, environments are sprawling to their detriment at times, requiring you to frequent the map screen so as to not get lost in backtracking purgatory. Whilst a spattering of explosive barrels and flame-spewing pipes make areas lightly interactive, their similar aesthetics and objectives don’t offer up enough variety to maintain interest between missions or temp you off the beaten path in search of collectibles.
Unfortunately, this sews the seeds of tedium as you work through the campaign’s nine lengthy chapters, making the notion of revisiting areas to complete randomised special missions in a secondary mode an unattractive one, even if there are alternate routes to take.
Environments are sprawling to their detriment at times, requiring you to frequent the map screen so as to not get lost in backtracking purgatory.
Lacking replay value is easily Space Hulk: Deathwing’s biggest stumbling block, considering that’s generally the foundation for this breed of shooter and was no doubt intended to be here. Throw in technical issues like dropped frames and crashes and the experience definitely doesn’t feel “enhanced”, as the title suggests, though it’s worth noting that we were playing a pre-release version.
Overall, Space Hulk: Deathwing - Enhanced Edition is a game at odds with itself, boasting some brilliantly implemented ideas alongside weak alternatives. Its gameplay foundation is (mostly) structurally sound, yet the surrounding accoutrement hold it back. Despite the issues, as ever, gameplay is king, so we’d say it’s still worth a look if you’re in the market for a co-op shooter to dip in and out of with friends, especially if you’re fans of the source material.
Valentina, Beta, Alexxis, Jay… they're dead. They're all dead. While we mourn their passing, their permadeaths serve as an example of one of the greatest strengths of State of Decay 2.
As a newcomer to the series, it turns out that the complete breakdown of society can be pretty brutal.
Later, when your community swells and you gain enough influence (the game’s de facto currency), you can claim locations ranging from small, resource gathering outposts, to electricity generating power stations and even makeshift forts constructed from shipping containers. Each new locale has its own advantages and how you manage your growing empire, customising locations further with mods and upgrades, is up to you.
That said, it’s advisable that you take council from your community as morale upkeep is a constant battle in such dire circumstances, as one might expect. Sacrificing a building slot to set up a garden or fashion a lounge (in which you can install an original Xbox) can work wonders in keeping everyone cheery.
As time goes on, your survivors will improve their skills based on what actions they perform. While the game wants you to feel you're developing fleshed out characters in a manner akin to the likes of Skyrim, the reality is that skills are fairly limited, and you'll just want to make sure most of your population go for a run once in a while to boost their stamina, or they'll quickly become overwhelmed in a bout of fisticuffs.
What is unique to SoD2, and arguably the main motivator in investing you in its characters, are a collection of 100+ more mundane traits such as “Car crash survivor”, “Cat lover” and “Flatulent”, all of which have passive effects. When each survivor gains enough standing in the community their individual skill is unlocked, such as “Yoga instructor”, offering an amusing look at their pre-apocalypse lives. While these abilities sadly don't unlock a suite of oddly juxtaposed mini-games, they do offer depth at fairly low effort.
There's another side to this of course, in that not everyone gets on, so they can start fights in your absence or generally become disgruntled. If it comes to it, you might have to take the difficult decision to exile them for the greater good, though generally they do go quietly.
The same is true of the different AI factions, known as enclaves, which can get cheesed off if you repeatedly ignore their requests for help or side with other enclaves over them in disputes, potentially leading them to become hostile and spoil for a fight.
All of these elements comes together in a very compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far (much of which lacked the minor polish brought by the game's hefty 6GB day one patch) being technical.
Zombies can drop in from about 20ft in the air as you approach, using vehicles places your life in the game’s hands as they can randomly flip out or explode, and the AI often behaves unpredictably, to the extent that more than once our fellow community members have perished in relatively mild peril.
Using vehicles was something we hardly dabbled in throughout the game's opening hours, assuming them to be too much of a zombie magnet, but in reality to reap the full rewards when scavenging around the map - in particular valuable resources like food or medicine - their boot/trunk space is quite essential. Casually opening a car door to obliterate a squishy zombie as you pass them at speed also never ceases to be messily fun...
Everything comes together in a compelling simulation, with the downsides to the experience so far being technical.
Another significant drawback is the lack of direction on hand for new players; a handful of prompts keep recurring, but seemingly there's little to lead you into new experiences as you’re drawn deeper into the game. On top of this, plenty of basic options like trading items between you and a follower out in the field are far from a simple button press away, taking us back to pre-Resident Evil 5 levels of AI buddy management.
Same applies in co-op, where up to three guests can venture into the host’s world and loot their own unique supplies to take back home with them, but should you want to swap items amongst one another it’s a cumbersome case of using menus to drop them on the ground before rifling through piles of stuff and picking up the relevant drops. There’s also a limiting tether that stops players from straying too far apart, but if you’re committed to watching each other’s backs that shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
Setting a few more minor bugs aside, the overall experience is stable, no doubt aided by the graphical sacrifices that see SoD2 appear visually underwhelming even with the added oomph of the Xbox One X at its disposal.
Whether SoD2 is for you depends on how you attribute value based on look and feel versus raw gameplay. If you favour the former, it certainly doesn't have many “wow” moments to entice you, or make for a particularly good sizzle reel, but the gameplay over time is undeniably compelling.
This post-apocalyptic world effortlessly encourages you to leave the safety of your home and explore just one more area, run over just one more zombie or pick up just one more follower, without drowning you in endless map symbols. Nor does it penalise you too much if you decide to be really heartless and ignore individuals’ needs (*cough* Sam *cough*), resulting in an unparalleled sense of freedom that allows you to craft your own narrative without completely abandoning you to your own devices in the process.
In all, at its basic price point, the game is well worth picking it up, and if you nab it as part of a Game Pass subscription you'll likely find even better value for money. With different areas to settle, origin stories to experience, and enclaves and survivors to encounter, there's plenty to keep you busy until the previously outlined DLC expansions arrive, but, for the time being, if you'll excuse us, we have a wind power station to claim.
2014’s The Evil Within was renowned game director Shinji Mikami’s spiritual successor to the classic Resident Evil titles of his creation, so, with the seventh instalment of Capcom’s horror series successfully returning to its roots earlier this year, The Evil Within 2 needed to evolve to garner attention. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened: TEW 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
The Evil Within 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
While perhaps a little difficult to wrap your head around initially, STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals, bolstered by HDR compatibility, all of which are so considered in their grotesquery that they achieve a morbid beauty. Just as you wouldn’t generally link beauty and brutality, The Evil Within 2 revels in making further juxtapositions feel natural next to one another, be that in reality-based and abstract settings, affluence and dilapidation, or low and high technologies.
This serves to complement another of the game’s villains, the artist Stefano, a character that has more than a little in common with BioShock’s fantastic Sander Cohen, complete with his very own Fort Frolic. Using human flesh as his canvas, you’ll bear witness to many of his works, and, somewhat disturbingly, very likely stop to calmly admire them with the fitting accompaniment of an original (and excellent) classical music track.
Having gone quasi-open world, the game’s two truly sandbox areas (one of which is cheekily recycled as a faux third) are, thankfully, packed with exciting and significant optional activities. Compliments for open world design are thin on the ground these days - we, along with many others, have grown tired of the map-filling, tedious brand of busywork many games have come to rely upon. The Evil Within 2’s unique boss encounters, side missions, collectibles and secrets put that issue to rest however, maintaining consistently high quality whilst also serving to fill in the wider narrative and bridge the three-year gap between instalments. This makes scouring the crumbling streets of Union a thoroughly enriching experience, akin to exploring Batman: Arkham City for the first time.
STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let the The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals.
What’s more, especially if you up the difficulty to Nightmare, this nonlinearity sees the survival element begin to shine. You might clamber onto a rooftop and use your sniper scope to scout a location in the distance, spotting a tempting loot pile surrounded by enemies before weighing whether or not it's worth pursuing; perhaps you then make some supplies via the simple new crafting system, these convincing you to head in with stealthy intent. You’re spotted. An unnerving chase begins, more and more enemies emerging from all directions, drawn by the ruckus, as you narrowly avoid an incoming swipe and hurriedly slip into the nearest safehouse, breathing a heavy sigh of relief as you stand, shaken, behind the boundary door. That’s just one example of the many possible, and quite memorable, self-contained stories The Evil Within 2’s emergent gameplay can facilitate, in much the same vein as State of Decay.
Frequently breaking away from the open areas for more linear main story segments, as well as trips through a series of tunnels called The Marrow, had us longing to return at times. This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that these sections occasionally force either open combat or stealth on the player, rather than leaving them to choose their own method of approach. Both play styles are at least engaging, with a highly customisable loadout of loud, punchy firearms and a versatile tactical crossbow making up the bulk of your offence, while conventional-but-satisfying hidden melee kills and a slightly dodgy cover system mostly comprise the sneaky side of things.
Having a sizeable arsenal at your disposal unfortunately relieves many of the malformed cast of enemies of their scare factor; provided you’re actively scavenging for resources, you’ll never be in any desperate need for either ammunition or medical supplies, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Throughout a playthrough, which should last around twenty hours, ways to manipulate the dopey AI and reliably spot enemies lying in ambush also become apparent, further tipping the odds in your favour.
Other than some great late game boss encounters, The Evil Within 2 gradually leaks horror until there’s little left to be scared of; this might be either welcome or disappointing, depending on how much you like sitting in your own leakage. Maintaining the first game’s body burning mechanic - which saw enemies have the potential to spring back to life if their corpse wasn’t ousted using a limited supply of matches, à la the Resident Evil remake - would likely have helped the game remain more engaging on that front, however.
All in all, despite a weaker second act by comparison to the superb first, The Evil Within 2 is a mechanically gripping game. It’s a sophisticated mix of old and new, along with Western and Japanese influences, thanks to its diverse development staff. A considered audiovisual feast that, in a year where Resident Evil 7 convinced us first-person perspectives and VR were the unchallenged future of survival horror, compellingly challenged that notion.