Like many people, I grew up a professional wrestling fanatic. WWE’s unique blend of sports and entertainment, presented with a grand flair for theatrics, had me well and truly hooked. Early licensed games successfully captured the magic, but, as the mainline series progressed, focus was shifted to a more grounded sports simulation in a presumed effort to match UFC’s more ‘legitimate’ output. This was widely regarded as a mistake, so now, better late than never, 2K have acted on fan feedback and embraced the outlandish elements that set WWE apart, making for a much more enjoyable game on the whole.
Showcase is back and MyCareer has seen an epic overhaul that takes it from boring to brilliant!
Where previous incarnations left players to their own devices, here there’s a real narrative focus, with developed storylines and voiced cutscenes on-par with WWE’s on-screen product. Some of the wrestlers phone their lines in, plus John Cena’s voiced by a truly dreadful impersonator (his fees probably aren’t cheap now that he’s made it in Hollywood), but it’s self aware and just silly enough to get away with it without devolving into ridiculous parody.
As an aside whilst we’re on the topic: commentary is still awful. Lines are often delivered deadpan and endlessly repeated, there are constant stilted cuts, plus moves can be announced despite never having happened. The audio mix could use some work on the whole, in fact, with theme music drowning out voices and echo-y recordings - where we’d assume the dev team struggled to secure touring WWE Superstars for a professional studio visit - lowering the overall level of quality. At least the licensed soundtrack is great.
Familiar audio issues may remain, but this iteration of MyCareer is what fans have been clamouring for. At its core it remains a lengthy pro wrestling roadmap, but it’s told with heart and knowing references that fans will love.
Established fan or not, everyone can appreciate the surprisingly deep RPG systems. Experience and currencies are awarded as you progress - in greater quantities if you engage in optional branching conversations and side matches - allowing for the acquisition of skills, abilities and a range of cosmetics. Even beyond MyCareer, striving to improve your custom wrestler (formally MyPlayer) should keep you coming back for exhibition events well into the future.
That being said, getting your footing and sticking with MyCareer up until that point could prove taxing for some, as the starting attributes aren’t fit for much. Grinding to overcome that starting hump can feel as though you’re being guided towards purchasing the premium KickStart DLC, which is also included in the Season Pass, but it’s perhaps a worthy trade-off if that explains the surprisingly non-monetised Loot Packs. Again, you could probably just drop the difficulty, but that comes with its own issues.
While Showcase and MyCareer have significant legs of their own, WWE 2K19 has plenty more to offer in the returning Universe mode (where you micromanage your own endless programming schedule) and the all-new 2K/MyPlayer Towers. No doubt inspired by Mortal Kombat, Towers task players with running a gauntlet of back-to-back matches, each with their own specific modifiers and stipulations. They’re updated frequently and you should be wary of which you choose to tackle - Towers can be brutally difficult and there’s no prize for failure, however long you might have devoted to climbing them beforehand.
If you’re feeling brave, you might want to attempt the insanely difficult 15-match tower in which you play as cover star (and gaming superfan) AJ Styles. If you manage to beat it, not only will you get an achievement, but you could be on track to face AJ in a WWE 2K19 match worth $1,000,000!
Varied match types - many of which have been tweaked for the better (Cage matches in particular) - help to keep each game mode fresh, as does the ability to play co-op and competitive multiplayer either locally or online. Network bouts suffer with latency, but stability is overall much improved and the Road to Glory online league - in which wins earn rewards for your MyPlayer and points towards qualifying for global online pay-per-view events - offers more specific motivation to test your mettle against human opposition.
There’s absolutely loads to do and it’s all held together by the solid simulation-style gameplay, only with increased scope for the sort of crazy maneuvers that made those old WWE games so appealing. Generally you’ll be performing a wide range of contextualised strikes and grapples, whilst attempting to tactically target limbs, manage stamina consumption and preserve reversal stocks. Advanced players can play to the crowd and taunt opponents to receive different buffs, or those just along for the ride can roam the backstage area and hurl themselves from atop a production truck with nary a care for the unforgiving concrete below.
Payback abilities are a new addition catered towards narrowing the skill gap between those player types, accommodating comebacks and, at their best, edge-of-your-seat contests with that ‘big match’ feel. You’ll choose a Major and a Minor skill, both of which are charged by taking damage, though some are markedly better than others - escaping certain defeat is preferable to delivering a low blow and risking disqualification, for example - so you may well find yourself rigidly sticking with the same loadout instead of switching to counter the opposition.
Former UFC star "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey is a pre-order DLC character, along with luchador Rey Mysterio.
Some will no doubt still pine for the simpler days of No Mercy on the N64, but while WWE 2K19 doesn’t fully re-adopt arcade-y gameplay, it has injected plenty of madcap fun back into the series. There’s a big head mode, 8-bit and cel-shaded screen filters, a zombie Triple H character, MyPlayer abilities that essentially amount to super powers, Wyatt Compound (wrestler Bray Wyatt’s creepy backwoods home) brawls, plus an insanely extensive creation suite that now allows for Minecraft-style block body types.
The creation tools, inclusive of even a video editor, provide everything you could possibly need to create your very own wrestling promotion from the ground up. It’s seriously bonkers and a boon for even the creatively barren, as shared Community Creations can be downloaded and enjoyed free of charge. You can already grab accurate renditions of just about any wrestling or pop culture figure, which makes it a bit of a bummer that you can’t use them for MyCareer, though that would admittedly break the context of the story and wider MyPlayer progression systems.
If you don’t have the means to download Community Creations for whatever reason, the 250+ roster (the series’ biggest yet) should keep you plenty busy anyway. It encompasses a vast majority of the current crop of male and female Superstars across all brands (RAW, SmackDown, NXT and 205 Live), as well as the best of the UK division and a slate of bygone Legends. There’s a character here for everyone, whether they’re a current fan, a lapsed fan, or a casual onlooker.
Having so many playable wrestlers means that character models vary wildly in terms of quality. The game looks middling for the most part, though can veer into striking or hideous territories at the drop of a hat, which is slightly disconcerting as an enhanced game being played on Xbox One X hardware. Presumably the extra horsepower is pumped into maintaining a steady technical performance, which it does, even in frenzied 8-person matches.
WWE 2K19 is easily the best offering since 2K replaced THQ at the helm back in 2014. Using this as an extensive blueprint, if 2K update the ageing game engine and fix a few distracting issues - like clipping, dodgy rope physics, HUD elements occasionally obscuring mini-game prompts, the aforementioned audio issues - they may well re-establish the franchise as the platinum-selling titan it once was.
Sega spawned many a classic during their Dreamcast-era days, but have struggled to stay as relevant in the ensuing years. The original Valkyria Chronicles appealed because of its gorgeous looks and Dreamcastian demeanour, but we never quite got round to it, so came to this latest edition with some excitement. Let’s cast nostalgia aside though, and answer one of life’s truly great questions: is it any good?
Getting your tactics right and correctly reading the terrain will ultimately decide whether you prosper or fall.
So, the characters are amusing, but how does the dang thing actually play? To boil it down to its essence, each slobberknocker in Valk 4 sees you moving between a top-down map screen from which you issue commands (position/deploy units, request reinforcements, etc.) and the gloriously animated violence of the third-person running and gunning. We’ve played quite a few similar attempts at this mix, but none come close to the perfect blend achieved here.
The sheer variety of choices on offer is astounding, really shaping how you tackle a particular situation or foe. Do you load up on the bazooka-wielding Lancers to take out tanks? Should you employ many-a-sniper to sneak around and take out the enemy crumb by crumb? Perhaps the protective nature of Shocktroopers is more to your taste? Whichever way you decide to go, you’re bound to have fun, learn from your mistakes, and ultimately realise the potential of classes that originally seemed one dimensional (man, the engineers and grenadiers come in handy).
Vehicular combat also features prominently in Valk 4, with regular use of Claude’s tank, The Hafen, at your disposal, alongside the incredibly handy APC, which allows you to transport soldiers across the battlefield. Whether it be vehicles or infantry, getting your tactics right and correctly reading the terrain will ultimately decide whether you prosper or fall.
Much like the original Valk, version 4 boasts the same command points and action points gameplay system. Command points show you how many actions you can make per turn, whereas action points are relative to each individual unit (later on you can buddy-up groups to your sergeants for extra fun). You can only move/shoot freely until that unit’s meter runs dry, with certain units capable of moving faster/farther, adding extra tactical depth. Using your CP and AP wisely is vital to dominating the blasted Imperial Army.
Valk 4 also offers up a buffet of extras, including levelling up character classes, weapon creation, tank/APC improvements, and, best of all, squad building, which functions exactly as you’d imagine while opening up extra cutscenes and fights. All of the above add to the rich expanse of customisation available to the player, really helping to suck you into the story and gameplay on the whole.
Gawping at Valk 4 is simply sublime, too, amigos. The gorgeous watercolour style evokes a lost storybook feel, adding emotional depth to the characters and the horrors of war. It’s not just the perfectly animated and drawn characters and sets, but the tea-stained map and comic book bright text of moving foes in the command segments, all working in unison to add that extra layer of visual polish and personality.
We’re not finished with the positives yet, as you can also add the game’s audio into the mix (WHAT. A. PUN). Sweeping, swooping strings and stupendous orchestration follow Squad-E’s ups and downs perfectly, whilst the voice acting is charmingly corny.
As much as we’ve enjoyed Valk 4, we’d be fool not to point out a couple of its flaws. The many, many, MANY cutscenes can leave you feeling foie-gras’d (you bet your rectum that’s a verb), as it often feels like you’re never going to get into an actual battle. It doesn’t help that voiceovers move too slowly to keep up with the subtitles, seeing us jam the A button on the reg in order to speed through another scene of Claude feeling emo about his weakling past (Scaredy Claude is his nickname, in spite of being in charge). There’s also no getting away from the fact that a Japanese-centric third-person strategy RPG is just an insy bit niche…
Despite those minor negatives, we came away thoroughly entertained by Valkyria Chronicles 4. Its tactics and combat are fun; the characters and story sway between cliche, humourous and melancholy; and the audio-visual presentation is outstanding. We’ve been blessed with some cracking games already this year, but personally, this goes straight to number one for little-old-me. A Dreamcastian delight: thanks Sega.
Cooperation is a powerful thing; playing a game with other people can turn just about any experience into something ultimately more memorable and entertaining. As such, Catastronauts’ endearing brand of chaos is immediately gripping with even just a single fellow interstellar adventurer in tow.
The gameplay experience boils down to a series of quick, exciting bursts of panic, stress and terror in the best possible way.
Of course, a game can sound or look as good as you like (and in fact the soundtrack is suitably otherworldly too), but at the end of the day it’s still how it plays that really matters. Here the gameplay experience boils down to a series of quick, exciting bursts of panic, stress and terror in the best possible way.
Fighting game-style life bars at the top of the screen cause a creeping anxiety as they deplete in conjunction with the escalating action down below. With each level the stakes are further raised as new mechanics are introduced - giving you new ways to power up your weapons and unleash pain on your adversaries - as well as placing new obstacles in the way of keeping your spaceship in working order.
Catastronauts’ difficulty curve is steep, with an awful lot to keep on top of even in the earliest stages, to the extent that it could be a bit much for new players the first time around. The presentation is so playful and accepting though, even a total failure is met with a smile and urges to suit up again for another go.
Motivation to press on is, unfortunately, a little harder to come by when going at it alone. Solo you’re pushed for time twice as much (or more), needing to swap between two characters to be able to access all of the tools to keep the ship running. Much like Overcooked there’s no AI support here, so you can’t set a character off doing something and then swap between them to save time, which can shift the mood from excited, restless panic to something more aggravating.
If you have a group of four friends together, this is where the magic happens, bringing back nostalgic memories, for those of a more distinguished lifespan, of the golden age of couch co-op starring the likes of Mario Party and Goldeneye. Without your friends on hand though, there’s little else to turn to as there’s no online matchmaking here.
With the busy, end-of-year festive period creeping closer than we’d like to admit, Catastronauts feels like a perfect game to bring people together at a host of seasonal gatherings, nestled comfortably between some Mario Kart 8 Duluxe and Quiplash.
There’s plenty of good natured fun on offer here, and while the difficulty might prove too much for soloists, or even those in a pair, as a group of four the balance feels much more natural and lets everyone contribute.
For a fledgling indie outfit, the production quality and attention to detail Inertia have achieved here is almost staggering, with nary an illusion-breaking bug in sight, whilst everything has been thought through to give an overall rich and enjoyable experience.
Upstart developer 3rd Eye Studios have an incredible pedigree, its staff owning credits on a long list of classic films and games, so it should come as no surprise that Downward Spiral: Horus Station effectively channels sci-fi cinema - specifically the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris - whilst also crafting a mechanically engaging interactive thriller.
Downward Spiral: Horus Station effectively channels sci-fi cinema, whilst also crafting a mechanically engaging interactive thriller.
The entire game takes place in zero gravity, which, to allay your immediate fears, isn’t the least bit nauseating in VR. It does take a bit of getting used to, but you always retain the same upright orientation and, as such, you’re never subject to that hopeless feeling of not knowing where’s up and what’s down. Once you’ve gotten to grips with pushing off of scenery to float around, you’ll acquire a grappling hook - which has a smooth, gradual reel to keep things comfortable - and a gun that’ll boost you onwards by expelling a charged shot of hot air.
Now that you’ve properly wrapped your brain around the revised laws of physics, it shouldn’t be long before you learn to string these initially disparate tools together into one seamless combo. There’s almost a balletic element of performance to it, which, had Marvel’s Spider-Man not just launched, we’d have said made it the best movement system we’ve seen for a while.
In similar fashion, the gunplay (toolplay?) takes a little while to really flourish, but as a steady stream of new toys come to comprise a complete arsenal, you’re actively encouraged to swap them in and out to counter the introduction of bigger and badder enemy types. We’d definitely recommend leaving the combat feature turned on, especially considering you don’t lose progress when you die.
Having a few battle scars won’t go amiss if you’re looking to play multiplayer, either. The campaign can be played in co-op, but if you want to venture into the PvP Deathmatch and/or PvE Horde modes, you’ll have to give up your pacifist ways. You’ll also very likely have to bring friends, as finding success with the barren matchmaking is unlikely.
Bar a few jarring frame drops, which are admittedly a cardinal sin in VR, playing Downward Spiral with a headset and a pair of Move controllers is a pretty great experience. That’s a big caveat for those without the proper equipment, however, as it’s also playable on a television and with the DualShock 4. Should you be required to play the game in one of those ways, it‘s an immediate no go.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of having explored Horus Station both ways, but, by comparison to VR, it’s incredibly drab to play on a flat screen. While that’s inherent to a degree, having lost a dimension in the transition, also losing the intuitive and tactile motion controls is a final nail in the coffin. Downward Spiral is a game quite literally designed around reaching out and pulling yourself into its world, which makes a stand-in button press both cumbersome and unsatisfying. It also negates the scope for creating memorable little asides, like instinctively grabbing a dart and launching it at a nearby board, only to find it hanging at the exact point you let it go - duh!
It’s swell having options and all, though when they harm the experience for anybody playing in the optimal fashion, it’s questionable as to whether they’re justified. The game doesn’t auto-detect when it should boot in VR mode, which means you’ll need to use a DualShock to activate it from the main menu, as Move inputs aren’t tracked in TV mode; we can easily live with that minor inconvenience, but a not-insignificant annoyance stems directly from it. If that standard controller is then disconnected, the game will pause and throw an error up, even when you’re actively using the Move controllers instead, meaning you’ll need to remove yourself from the atmosphere Downward Spiral so painstakingly works to preserve in order to reconnect a pad you aren’t even using at regular intervals.
Hopefully that’s something that can be hotfixed, as, when equipped with the right kit, we otherwise thoroughly enjoyed floating around the dark and mysterious halls of Horus Station. Unique movement, satisfying tools and an enthralling location sadly aren’t enough to salvage the experience for anyone without the PlayStation Move controllers and VR headset that are compulsory to a good time.
Burning Bridges, the penultimate episode in the debut season of The Council, arrives at a tumultuous time for narrative-driven adventure games. Telltale, a company synonymous with popularising the genre and its incremental release format, are in the midst of a heartbreaking majority closure that’ll see many of the studio’s ongoing projects never reach their conclusion. This has, understandably, sewn doubt amongst the community as to whether investing in episodic games ahead of their completion is a good idea. In a case of bad timing, where developer Big Bad Wolf could have lain claim to the mantle with this latest release, it instead fuels the flames with their sloppiest technical work yet.
Each outlandish revelation injects a hit of adrenaline and the result is a faster, often more engaging pacing without as many filler moments.
A replay to see what might have been may be in order, so it’s a good job that feels justified now more than ever as The Council loosens the buttons on its ruffled collar to have a little more fun. Less po-faced politics doesn’t mean that diplomacy is out of the window, however, rather that it’s now waged on an even grander and more bizarre stage than merely influencing world events.
Previously we’ve said that the series’ micro choices prove more affecting than macro-scale decisions, but here that sentiment is flipped on its head. Many character decisions are arbitrarily black and white - good or bad - and underbaked this time around, whereas choosing how best to govern humanity, through equal moral greys that hold a mirror to modern society, is perplexing.
Throw in an elaborate new location and a couple of exciting abilities that’ll help to decipher even the most secretive guests, for a cost, and it’s commendable that Big Bad Wolf aren’t afraid to mix things up a bit at this late stage. The team of former Ubisoft developers also settle on a nice middle ground when it comes to puzzle design, having historically either spoon-fed answers or left players a little in the lurch, here uniformly making them taxing whilst allowing for a degree of circumvention through sleuthing or the smart investment of effort points/use of consumables.
With an abundance of problems both old and new, Burning Bridges is an undeniably messy experience. If you’re a purely mechanics-focused gamer, there’s absolutely naught but a veiny, enraged brow in store, but, that being said, you probably don’t fall into that camp if you’ve made it this far. Anyone that can forgive the many foibles in favour of being spun an intriguing yarn should still apply; we’re certainly eager to see how things conclude when the finale (fingers crossed) launches later this year.
From the moment we were greeted by Unforeseen Incidents’ foreboding title screen, filled with flashes of lightning and lashes of shimmering rain, we suspected we were in for a treat. Being solid fans of point-and-click gameplay since first encountering the iconic Monkey Island series, we were looking forward to having our minds playfully tickled by the brand of puzzles that have you jolting awake in the middle of the night having finally deciphered them. If that sounds like a brain-bruising nightmare to you, rest assured that, in this instance, you’ll face grounded problems that are woven into a delightfully engaging narrative.
Adventure games are all about wandering around solving puzzles, but there are rather drawn-out sections here that dwell a little too long before allowing us to rekindle our love affair with the story.
It’s a credit to how good the cutscenes, dialogue and storytelling are that we rather selfishly wanted more of them. The soundtrack evokes a soft melancholia, with piano drops and violin swells. The dialogue is self-aware and the voice acting is sharp as a tack; so often does Harper seem to perfectly narrate the player’s thoughts, sarcastically breaking the fourth wall in that cheeky Sam & Max way, or playfully scolding you for suggesting something daft in order to solve a puzzle. The amount of times we caught ourselves smirking at Harper’s reactions to hilariously misguided attempts to make progress is beyond measure.
This makes Unforeseen Incidents’ puzzles both a delight and a frustration rolled into one. It’s a strange ebb and flow, as one minute you’ll be flying high whilst lamenting the wasted years in higher education, as you were clearly born a genius, then, around two minutes later, you’re stumped and rapidly approaching rock bottom whilst being presented with amusing dialogue to keep you sweet. The main offenders here are very mechanically complex puzzles, which may well be fine if you’re practically minded and love your tinkering, but, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just have to call your dad and ask him how to repair a fan belt or whatever.
All in all, Unforeseen Incidents offers a challenging and engaging take on the point-and-click genre that fans of a good mystery - who also have the patience to persist through some of the more difficult puzzles - should definitely download. Give yourself the gift of feeling like you’ve earned a great story, and a pat on the back for being dead clever.
Is it just us, or does it feel like too much emphasis is put on looks these days? While modern PCs and consoles push resolutions in the millions of pixels, there’s a lot to be said for a game which focuses on achieving a distinct visual style, more than just pure visual firepower. In those rare cases, how a game looks can enhance or even define the experience, bringing up the quality of the product overall, rather than just being something which might be pretty to look at, but is otherwise bland.
It’s really the puzzle elements - introduced by the opposing perspectives of Kit and Hodge - and beautiful visuals that’ll draw you in here.
Comparisons to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland are certainly easy to draw, in terms of setup, but the game is very aware of this and has Kit namecheck and dismiss them fairly early on. The curiouser and curiouser part of it all is that Kit begins to bump into famous historical figures, each having an effect on the landscape that’s relevant to their most notable skill, for example an impressionist painter imposing a screen filter.
The gameplay itself is a little less robust, with most levels just having you backtrack between one contraption and another, but the fact that the two protagonists navigate so differently brings more variety to working through each level’s challenges, which get progressively more elaborate as the game goes on.
Though Another Sight is pretty to look at, technical issues do show through occasionally, with the transition from gameplay to cutscene being a particular stand-out culprit of “dead eye” syndrome. Really, the story could’ve been told without hopping between the two, which makes you wonder why developer Lunar Great Wall Studios made that creative choice.
On the topic of narrative, the story unfolds gradually as you explore a fictional subterranean London. It’s not immediately clear whether Kit is really there, or if a lot of what she’s seeing (or sensing) is actually a dream, but the unravelling of this particular question is central to the overall plot, and its various twists are enough to hold the experience together.
That said, it’s really the puzzle elements - introduced by the opposing perspectives of Kit and Hodge - and beautiful visuals that’ll draw you in here. Perhaps not enough for those in search of any truly unique gameplay experiences that might have been conjured up by this particular odd couple pairing, but, regardless, if you’re after a puzzle game with a bespoke visual twist, you can’t go much wrong.
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.
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.
The final stretch of the journey to bring Inquisitor - Martyr to consoles was fraught with pitfalls, as the Xbox One and PS4 versions suffered two consecutive last minute delays said to have seen developer NeocoreGames (The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II) enduring 90-hour work weeks in a desperate effort to claw back time. While that definitely isn’t healthy, it did make the seemingly impossible possible, as now, still within the scheduled summer release window, console players are receiving a build that’s pretty much on-par with the PC version.
As your chosen Inquisitor, you’ll serve your leader by boarding the eponymous fortress-monastery, Martyr, to purge it of Chaos corruption.
It’s fortunate that the sides are equally as satisfying as the main, because those looking to engage in co-op play will be disappointed to learn that story missions are entirely off limits. There’s even more bad news for local parties, as they’re limited to two player sessions in which the guest is required to choose a pre-made character that doesn’t retain any progress. You also can’t play the game at all if you’re offline, regardless of whether you’re engaging with any online features or not. At least the frame rate doesn’t really suffer, even when opting to bump the resolution from 1080p to 1440p, but matchmaking/inviting some online friends is preferable when up to four players can converge as their own unique character builds and gain individualised loot and progression.
On the topic of multiplayer, there’s also a fairly sparse and unremarkable PvP offering in which you can hone your skills in 1v1 or 2v2 bouts for objective control.
That said, polishing your gory combat prowess does come recommended, as the higher you climb on the five-rung difficulty ladder the greater the rewards you’ll reap for mission success. Making efficient use of cover, destructible environments, your loadout and abilities - whilst also knowing how best to counter different enemy races and the sometimes overzealous auto-aim - is key to earning more Glory and with that weekly rewards.
Additionally, through standard gameplay you’ll accrue conventional space bucks, dubbed Credits, which are used to purchase gear and services, as well as the more exotic Fate, a valuable resource which is used to fund research projects, launch those custom missions we mentioned earlier, and, reportedly, even gain access to some otherwise premium DLC in the future.
With years of storytelling already under the tabletop franchise’s belt, the lore can be intimidating for newcomers, especially when it comes to the gobbledegook lexicon.
You’ll also work towards achieving Heroic Deeds - persistent challenges that, upon completion, can open up relevant skill trees in the game’s veritable skill forest - and, should you have joined/created one, collective assignments for your online Cabal (communities of like minded players). There are evidently loads of systems to manage, but once you’ve gotten your head around everything they serve as the dangling carrot that ensures you’re never far from your next reward. This constant affirmation cycle and, more specifically, the feeling of growth and progression that goes with it, will see Inquisitor - Martyr quickly sink its claws into loot fiends, especially since it’s so easy to adopt a “one more mission” mentality thanks to their short length.
How dedicated you are to perpetually tweaking stats on a micro scale is ultimately what’ll decide whether this is a game for you. ARPG fans will find it to be classic, satisfying stuff - especially if they’re keen on the Warhammer 40K connection - but newcomers may well find it to be bloated and lacking both the satisfying story and audiovisual flair to keep them around long enough to get to grips with the in-depth systems serving as the driving force in their place.