Liverpool vs Manchester United. Borg vs McEnroe. USA vs Europe. Whatever the sport, a decent rivalry can add so much more to a simple competition, eliciting passion, anger and excitement from spectators and participants alike. It’s an extra layer of intrigue that veteran motorsport developers, Codemasters, have successfully recreated in GRID thanks to their nemesis system, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
GRID’s AI provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining.
Before each race, you’re given the chance to take part in hot lap qualifiers, which, while entirely optional, are a great way to learn each track’s nuances ahead of the main event and also give you a chance to improve your starting position. Leading the line going into a race is, naturally, a big advantage, especially when competing on GRID’s city tracks, where tight corners and narrow streets make it harder to break out from the back of the pack.
Starting in the rear means you’re also more likely to collide with other drivers, and, intentionally or not, pick up a few nemeses in the process. It usually takes several collisions to spark a rivalry, though occasionally just a single bump is all that’s required to annoy the AI. Teammates aren’t immune to a bout of in-house rivalry either, and will actively ignore orders and requests if you hit them too many times.
City tracks are particularly impressive at night
Rival drivers are marked out by an angry red indicator above their car, and will attempt to hinder your progress should they get the opportunity to do so, sometimes even to the detriment of their own race, whether its aggressively blocking an overtake or performing a surprise pit maneuver just as you’re taking a tricky corner. It’s a brilliant system that adds so much more to races, creating short-lived rivalries and added drama without ever feeling unfair or overpowered.
In fact, GRID’s AI in general provide excellent opposition, keeping races both consistently competitive and entertaining; we’ve seen computer-controlled drivers smash into walls, flip cars and take risks that, at times, mirror human behaviour, adding to the overall sense of authenticity. You can, of course, get a similar experience by delving into the game’s online offering, but without the option to pick and choose tracks, car types or weather settings (unless you’re hosting a private game), you might find yourself battling the conditions more than other drivers.
Visually, GRID is a good-looking game, if not spectacular. Some levels stand out more than others; racing through one of Zhejiang’s city circuits at night, with neon lights reflected in the rain-soaked road, for example, looks amazing, but traditional circuits like Silverstone and Brands Hatch, with their wide tracks and open surroundings, are relatively bland in comparison. One of the more bizarre visual hiccups are the cars’ mirrors, which display reflected images in retro-like low-res graphics and reduced frame rates. If, like us, you prefer a cockpit view, it can be a little jarring, but it’s a minor issue that certainly doesn’t detract from an otherwise decent game.
Objects in the rear view mirror are actually a lot prettier than they appear
GRID also caters to both petrol heads and newcomers alike thanks to a generous suite of difficulty options; while we preferred a more arcade-like experience, with automatic gears, race lines, cosmetic damage only and face-saving flashback abilities enabled, it’s possible to turn all assists off, increase AI difficulty and transform the game into a proper simulator. It’s this flexibility, along with the game’s solid racing gameplay, generous solo offering and excellent nemesis system that make it an easy recommend.
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.
Gears 5 continues the story thread that was started in Gears of War 4, dropping Kait into the role of main protagonist supported by Del and an upgraded Jack bot – the latter being playable for the first time in Gears' history – in both the co-op campaign (for up to three players locally or online) and returning Horde mode.
Jumping into Versus mode, the game’s multiplayer offering, for the first time can be daunting. Arcade is casual, class-based fun with loadouts unique to each character, which in no way prepares you for the competitive scene. At the other end of the scale, there's the Ranked playlist. Even with cross-play disabled, and those pesky mouse and keyboarders kept at bay, you'll occasionally run into God-like players who are capable of carrying their (and hopefully your) team single-handedly, especially in King of the Hill and Escalation. The non-ranked versus is more accessible and co-op against AI is a good way of learning map layouts and weapon spawns, while providing a safe environment in which to practice with the Gnasher, though the difficulty can be ramped up to suit all skill levels.
Horde and Escape, though very different, complement each other. The former, a mainstay of the franchise, tasks five players with surviving 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, whilst the latter offers a more bite-sized co-op experience. Your three-person team, having infiltrated a Swarm hive and planted a Venom bomb to destroy it from within, must escape before the deadly gas kills you, too. Beginning only with a sidearm and limited rounds, you'll want to be conservative with ammo until your party has tooled up.
In both modes, duplicate characters are forbidden, which can cause problems when matchmaking. Levelling up and completing matches will award Skill Cards to further raise your damage dealing and survivability. These Skill Cards will allow you to hold your own on higher difficulties but if someone has already bagsied your main, you're left with the choice of using an under-levelled character or re-queuing. Regardless, there's no barrier of entry and all of our encounters through matchmaking have been positive, though not always successful.
Despite a few minor issues, the new Gears recipe is the best yet. The story has enough presence without overstaying its welcome, open world areas are a nice addition and there's adequate co-op activities outside of the campaign to complete the package for anyone averse to PvP.
Looting and shooting may be all the rage, but with the latest iteration of Borderlands boasting billions of guns, the series that popularised the genre is back. Does it have anything new to say?
The plot sees you try to nab vault key parts before the Children of the Vault (or COV) do. Sister of the intergender twins, Tyreen Calypso, keeps gaining power as a siren - a class made famous by Lillith, Maya and newcomer Amara - and you'll be picking up plenty of familiar faces on your journey to help you take them down. In particular, Tales from the Borderlands' Rhys is back (though no longer voiced by the prolific Troy Baker) and brings the same endearing quirks with him, though unfortunately many of the other NPCs aren't as compelling without having had a game to set them up.
It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy.
Which leads us to an important fact – Handsome Jack is missed. He was always the pinnacle of the brand of amusement the series peddles in, none of the enemies, or the on-the-nose streamer pastiches the Calypsos themselves, have the same endearing quality. Even CL4PTR4P (or Claptrap) feels like the soul of the character has been lost from the change in voice actor, though not as noticeably as we'd feared from the trailers.
A final, and unfortunate, point to make is the technical issues we came up against. Though there is local split-screen co-op, which is notable for its rarity alone these days, the performance suffers pretty consistently, especially jumping in and out of menus - which happens a lot with the loot management element. Elsewhere we ran into a bug which forced our Xbox to turn off at a certain point in a cutscene multiple times, insisting it was going to overheat, as well as other crashes and freezing.
While it's definitely more Borderlands, the game is a sequel which more than earns its right to exist, but generally plays it safe and falls back on its established rules and systems. It's definitely the game to scratch that looter-shooter itch you might've been looking to satisfy, especially for fans of the series, but, despite being a good entry point, ultimately falls short of its potential.
Ever since 2014’s Lords of the Fallen, which was a Souls-like game of questionable quality, German development studio Deck13 has been honing its craft within the genre. Pioneered by FromSoftware’s trademark flair for dark fantasy, unlike Lords, The Surge did very well to distance itself from a similar setting by looking to the future instead of the past. As such, it became a surprise hit and secured itself a sequel, which more than two years later is now in players' hands.
The simple act of exploration in The Surge 2 is immensely rewarding...
Equipped for battle, players can target individual limbs on an enemy’s person and then utilise a mix of horizontal and vertical attacks as required in order to land blows. Targeting unarmoured parts (highlighted in blue) will result in an easier kill, whereas armoured sections (highlighted in orange) will take longer to whittle down though ultimately pay out bigger rewards. Through connecting with attacks you’ll build the power meter and charge your Exo-Rig’s batteries, one of which can then be traded for a limb-severing finisher that’ll grant you the weapon or a schematic to craft the armour that’s relevant to the limb in question.
Subsequent chops of those limbs on the same enemies will instead grant crafting and upgrade materials, as was the case in the original. When we reviewed that game we likened the upgrade and gear acquisition system to “a morbid shopping spree” and the same definitely applies here. It’s no less unique and engaging, serving as a perfect complement to the hefty, stamina-based combat mechanics that are already a joy in themselves.
If you’ve played a Souls-like before then you know what to expect from the moment-to-moment gameplay during combat, though some unique melee weapons help to mix things up and so too does the companion drone with its variety of ranged attacks. Equipping different injectables can have a similar effect, be they passive or active (the latter at the cost of a battery) in their inference of benefits like healing, increased defence, or even temporarily slowing enemies down. You’re limited in how many can be equipped, however, so choose wisely.
Without designated classes you’re free to experiment to your heart's content, though by trading in Tech Scrap - the game’s combined form of currency and experience points, earned through defeating enemies - you can opt to favour the health, stamina, or power attributes. For a small fee you can respec your points allocation, though most builds can be made to work in multiple ways regardless or counter-weighted one way or another over time, provided you don’t make a habit of losing scrap.
In signature fashion, when you die in The Surge 2 you'll drop all of your earnings and need to retrieve them from the position of your death. Dying again whilst en route or failing to do so in good time means that they’re gone for good, but you can securely bank scrap at Medbay safe havens to avoid this. The practice isn’t entirely encouraged, mind, as carrying large scrap quantities applies a multiplier that means the rich get richer at great personal risk.
New for the sequel, dropped scrap can also be used tactically as a sort of gradual healing totem when stood in close proximity and also to offer a full heal when picked up. This further plays into the exciting risk vs. reward mechanics already surrounding scrap and can be the cause of nail-biting moments during the game’s more challenging boss encounters, resulting from holding off on retrieval until the last possible moment.
A lot of the big bads are fought over multi-stage battles that don’t feel quite as gruelling as those seen in the likes of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, mostly thanks to the ability to generate healing items on the fly through being aggressive in order to accrue battery charges. That said, don’t think that this translates to bosses not being a threat.
With plenty of long-haul skirmishes on the cards, opting for the game's performance mode on PS4 Pro or Xbox One X comes recommended. The jump to a smooth 60 FPS provides a tangible advantage over the choppier 30 FPS found in quality mode, which otherwise puts the focus on improving the game’s weak graphics and bumps the resolution up from 1080p to 4K. Here it definitely isn’t worth the trade-off, even for those that generally favour looks, as the overall experience definitely suffers.
Gathering upgrades is unique and engaging, serving as a perfect complement to the hefty, stamina-based combat mechanics that are already a joy in themselves.
Playing pre-launch we quite frequently encountered crashes and some lesser technical issues like texture pop-in and missing NPC dialogue, but with the day one patch installed they appear to be less common if not completely absent. With launch also came the opportunity to better interact with the asynchronous online elements, which include sharing graffiti tags to help or hinder players, hiding player banners in hard-to-reach places in the hopes that nobody will find them, and getting revenge for fallen players (like we did for YouTuber and outspoken game critic Jim Sterling) by killing enemies that bested them in their versions of the game. It’s all harmless stuff that helps to garner a sense of community between those sharing in the struggle of getting through what can be a difficult game, but without contributing anything more tangible than that.
The Surge 2 can feel a little bit “budget” in places, especially for those that played the first game and, as a result, will likely notice the recycled weapons, armour, animations and enemies. Despite these cut corners being coupled with a weak story and uninteresting quests, there’s no getting around the fact that even then Deck13’s exquisite world and combat design are enough reason to forgive it. With an expanded NG+ mode and a second ending to see (regardless of how disinterested we might be in its actual narrative contents), those gameplay elements are proving strong enough to tempt us back for round two even as we enter the busy release season.
Pinball machines are few and far between these days. You might find a dusty old one in your local pub, but it’s very unlikely you’ll stumble across the crème de la crème like a Star Wars-themed table.
The level of detail and visual polish the game has to offer is only really shown off on a big screen however, if only because so much of the detail is otherwise packed into a small space. Even with a range of camera options (which annoyingly don't seem to remember your preference between stages), you can't get the full effect in handheld move.
One particularly neat feature is that you can encourage the screen to turn 90-degrees in either direction, meaning in tabletop mode (presumably with some makeshift stand option) or handheld portrait with an adapter, you can enjoy a more comfortable oblong, bird's eye view of proceedings.
The highlight of the experience, and where Zen Studios really flex their creative muscles, is the scene mode, which has six scenes or characters showcased in micro-fights or challenges spread across the board, where your actions might cause blaster fire to be deflected or a door to be unlocked. The fun of reliving those iconic moments is a genuine thrill, even for a fan with more rewatches of the original trilogy than they might like to admit…
There's longevity here (unless you really, really aren't a fan of pinball), and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore within every table. You'll even stumble across the odd minigame, where you'll navigate an asteroid field or go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel, and playing around with familiar characters (albeit with less familiar voice acting) is a delight.
Pinball is here, and the Force is with it.
Remedy Entertainment has a particular brand of storytelling in its games. Since Alan Wake, and even Max Payne (whose voice actor James McCaffrey returns here in a supporting role), they have done things a bit differently, holding live-action scenes in high regard and treating the experience more like a film rather than a game with some story bits thrown in.
There are downsides to the more bombastic action sequences, however. The initial visual impression of former office workers floating lifelessly in the air, repeating the odd phrase to themselves, is extremely effective at building a creeping sense of dread, but the moment combat begins you're quickly pulled back into the fact this is a game, which lessens the impact of the otherwise excellent and foreboding atmosphere at times.
Exploration in Control is non-linear, with new areas of The Oldest House opening up to players in a Metroidvania-style fashion as they progress through the story and gain new abilities. Disappointingly, the structural changes repeatedly referred to in the lore dumps strewn throughout the building aren’t as extreme or as frequent as hinted, with the player only really getting to read about them rather than experience them.
Besides the usual gating off of sections using doors of ever increasing clearance levels, there are environmental puzzles which call on you to put your telekinetic abilities to the test to activate switches or navigate certain areas. One particular brain-teaser called The Astray Maze requires some out-of-the-box thinking, while frequent trips to the Oceanview Motel allow you to pass through the astral plane and access otherwise out-of-reach areas.
The game’s setting is deliberately bland, its harsh, brutalist architecture contrasted by the bizarre happenings taking place within its walls. As the story reveals itself, some of the initial opening intrigue dulls a little, and the vague perspective of the internal monologue from Jesse begins to grate as she's consistently nonplussed by the weirdness of the situation unfolding around her, while a few of the more interesting elements of the game seem to suffer from happening off-screen rather in front of the player.
From a technical perspective Control often struggles, even when running on Xbox One X, with substantial slowdown any time you hop in and out of menus - a frequent occurrence given the lore heavy nature of the game and the number of upgrades available to the player - and even more so when battles get hectic. While performance may suffer, Control is still a very visually impressive game, especially on PC thanks to newfangled ray tracing support.
In all, even with the performance issues, the journey is ultimately very satisfying, and a definite step up from Quantum Break, but if you weren't sold on Remedy's style beforehand then Control is unlikely to do much change your mind. Still, in these days of games as a service and battle royale bandwagoning, a strong, narrative-driven single-player experience is a rare thing, particularly if you’re a fan of Xbox, and it's one which is unlike anything else out there right now.
Let me start with a confession, chums: yours truly finds Formula One rather dull. Long gone are the days of charismatic icons like Arton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell (yes, yes, that last one is definitely a joke... honest). It’s because of this that I’ve failed to play a video game concerning the sport since good old F1 World Grand-Prix 2 on the mighty N64, so, can F1 2019 change my opinion? Or will the song remain the same? Ladies and gentlemen: start your engines!
“Now, now, our Bob,” I hear thee say “graphics don’t mean a thing if the gameplay don’t swing.” Wise words, comrades, wise words. We’re pleased to announce that the game plays an absolute dream. Every car feels different, and heck, even laps feel different as the tires degrade and corners have to be taken more cautiously (car assist options like racing lines and breaking assistance helped out a lot in our early stages). There's a true meditative pleasure in getting into the groove of a track, following its preferred racing line, breaking and accelerating at the perfect times. It’s sheer ozone-destroying bliss (and this is using a pad, so just imagine the fun of a wheel and pedals).
F1 2019 also boasts options so hearty you’ll be dining out for many a moon. There’s a wealth of single-player options: Career, Championship, Grand Prix, Time Trial and plenty of online malarkey too (more on that later). Firstly, Grand Prix is the exhibition match equivalent: pick a track and a car and off you go for a one-off race. Time Trial is also shockingly self explanatory, but no less addictive for it - the last time we enjoyed them this much was about 1998, trying to take advantage of that ruddy Koopa Troopa Beach shortcut…
Championship, on the other hand, possesses a little more intrigue than its straightforward name suggests. There are the obligatory run-throughs of the F1 and F2 championships, sure, but Championship mode also contains a “Legends” challenge mode that sees you take control of Prost or Senna, over the course of some sumptuous short-burst scenarios. We opted for Senna, thoroughly enjoying smashing Prost in vintage motorcades on the classic Monaco circuit. More sports games need to feature these kinds of hark backs to the past - just imagine if EA could get a Matt Le Tissier goal scenario mode in FIFA 20.
Trust us when we say that career mode will give you your money’s worth on its own.
But alas, we digress. Those wanting to truly get sucked into F1 2019 should head straight to Career mode, the fleshiest part of the game. Here you’ll progress through the ranks from F2 champ to F1 beast and everything in between - and what a ride it is.
The F2 season sees you tussle with rivals Devon Butler and Lukas Weber, interactive cutscenes and all, although they do tail off once you make the step up to F1 and select a team to join, which is where the real game begins. You’ll have chats with your agent, interviews with journalists, qualifying and racing to do. We just grazed over the depth on offer here - there’s so much to tweak and trial car wise for simulation fans - as it all seemed a bit much for our arcade-y tendencies, but trust us when we say that career mode will give you your money’s worth on its own.
If all that isn’t enough for you then we recommend you venture online. Those familiar with Codemasters’ racing games will feel at home here; there are weekly events, leagues, and more. There’s also a focus on the esports side of F1, with videos from global events and competitions to enter, too.
So, to the chequered flag we head, one hand off the wheel in triumph. F1 2019 is an undeniably high quality racing game, full of thrill-n-spills. Sure, the acting and storylines of career mode are corny rubbish of the highest order, and the potential for hardcore simulation mostly left us cold, but the overall racing and package is so fully formed that we can’t help but leave impressed. Add to that the recently announced update including the latest season of F2 and you've got a lot of longevity. If you’re a fan of the sport you should already have this, but if you’re not, you should probably still consider taking it for a spin.
While some of us at PTC Towers were only wee lads back in the 1990s, the decade's pedigree can't be denied its role in propelling console gaming to the heights it has reached today, spawning influential games left and right.
There’s a two-player co-op mode on offer, but only accessible locally, and you can also begin to feel like a bit of a spare part if you're a newbie and your co-pilot is a veteran. You can opt for a harder difficulty if you do find yourselves sailing through, which opens up two new characters to try out, but bizarrely only in solo play...
In typical arcade fashion, you're offered only one life and therefore a single try to get through the game without being taken down. If you decide to continue after dying you'll get going again from a fairly recent screen, but the game stops counting your time, and with no in-game scoring system to speak of there's now just pride to play for.
If a nostalgia hit is what you're looking for, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors could scratch an itch. It’s a well-made if slightly one-note adventure that won't kill a huge amount of time.
The trouble with space is that it's mostly empty. Venturing into the unknown in a tiny spaceship in Subdivision Infinity DX, you feel that sense of scale immediately, as enemy ships, gun turrets and collectables flicker as pixels in the distance - particularly in handheld mode.
Subdivision Infinity DX as a whole doesn’t offer a huge amount of variety, and with limited progression and customisation on offer, at least early on, momentum can start to drain fairly quickly. If you absolutely need a space shooter to play on the go, though, Subdivinity offers a taste of the sort of experience you might expect from something like Everspace at a fraction of the cost. What you’ll miss out on is the depth, variety and graphical polish - though it’s a step up from something like Event Horizon or Vostok Inc. - and experience the odd bit of slowdown when things get busy. It all depends what you’re looking for in a space adventure.