Resident Evil 7 – It’s Res Jim, but not as we know it!

Zombies and stuff.

No spoilers here!  Read with confidence!

But it’s not Resident Evil!  It’s in first person!  It’s not about zombies!  Where’s Umbrella?  etc.  I know, I’m a couple of months late to the party, but I’m glad I finally turned up because this is the most Resident Evil Resident Evil since Resident Evil.  Yes, that was a real sentence that I wrote.  This is the latest game in the venerated series, and whilst its perspective may be different when compared to most of the games in the series, this is without a doubt a Resident Evil game.  The atmosphere, environment and puzzles call back to the classic and tries to shake off the bad taste left by the more recent entries (I’m looking at you 6!)  You’re running around a mansion and it’s grounds, fighting monsters whilst conserving ammo and searching for keys to bizarre locks.  That’s pretty Resident Evil if you ask me.

Resident Evil 7
The initial walk to the home is similar in style to the opening of a lot of first person horror games. Very pretty to look at but with an edge of foreboding.

You are Ethan, a man who’s wife, Mia, disappeared 3 years ago.  Ethan receives a video message from Mia hinting at her whereabouts and he sets off to find her in a mysterious old manor house on a plantation in the middle of nowhere.  If you’ve played the demos released during the (well put together) marketing campaign, you’ll recognise some of the early locations you travel through before you gain access to the house proper.  Before long you find yourself stalked by the seemingly psychotic members of the family that live there and the “molded” – black slime monsters that grow from the walls and ceiling and seek to pull your limbs off.

Resident Evil 7
At times like these it’s always good to see a friendly face.

You means of defence are severely limited at first, with a knife and handgun being pretty much all you have for a while, along with some healing items that have some interesting properties.  Other weapons can be collected along the way, expanding your defensive options and giving the occasional nod to previous games in the series (particularly the first entry).  Most of the combat is against the molded and tends to be rather slow paced and methodical as you try to keep them a safe distance whilst you chip away, minimising you use of ammunition (or maybe running away from them altogether).  In this regard, the game is very much like the first Resident Evil, with resource conservation and avoiding conflict being essential early on.  The family also stalk the corridors, ready to pursue and attack you if spotted.  They can be fended off for a time, but only if you’re willing to spend your resources to do so; better to avoid them or make a heart-pounding escape through the corridors in most cases.

Resident Evil 7
The now iconic dinner scene that has been all over the promotional material. I would expect VR to be especially effective here.

Boss encounters are great exclamation marks to the growing tension in each area with each one becoming more grotesque.  Compared to being swarmed by regular enemies though, they tend not to be all that challenging.  The only exception was the first proper boss (the second one you confront), and that’s more due to the control scheme not being all that suited to the combat style you end up forced into.  Most bosses requite plenty of ammo and a good few healing items (at least they did for me) and good inventory organisation helps in ensuring you have what you need at any point in time.  Whilst not entirely challenging, they are entertaining and varied with the exception of the final battle which was big in scale but small on interaction.  It was a little disappointing when compared to some of the other encounters.

Resident Evil 7
The shotgun is a bit of a pain to get early in the game, but it a god send if you do.

The only other thing I found really irritating was something that also annoyed me about The Evil Within: traps.  Whilst only in the game occasionally and not as obnoxious, I find tripwire based traps and exploding item boxes an annoyance rather than an increase in challenge.  They make sense being there in the context of the character who places them, but that doesn’t make them any more fun to trip over.  I understand that this is meant to be a slow game (the controls make that obvious fairly early on), but the exploding item boxes are especially aggravating.

Resident Evil 7
I spent about 80% of the game with blood smears on the screen as I never wanted to use my healing items.

I have not sampled the VR mode of this (hey, I’m not made of money) so I can’t really comment on its implementation.  It’s fairly clear when playing where the VR is meant to have its greatest impact though.  There are a number of times involving characters and items being right in front of your character and I imagine it would be quite effective when wearing a headset.  Playing on a TV is fine though, and those moments don’t stand out unless you’re looking for them.  The visuals on the whole are excellent throughout and I noticed very little that wasn’t extremely well polished.

Resident Evil 7
More VR fodder.

Most importantly though, Resident Evil 7 is fun to play.  It’s not terrifying by any stretch, but the atmosphere works very well and creates an unsettling feeling throughout.  It doesn’t rely on jump-scares but gives a feeling of unease through vulnerability and a lack of preparedness for what may come walking around the next corner.  I loved that sense of threat , and found the level of challenge spot on when playing on normal.  I’m not going near any higher difficulty though.

Resident Evil 7
There’s DEFINITELY nothing bad behind that door.

Resident Evil 7 was developed and published by Capcom (using an excellent in house engine I should add).  I played the games on Xbox One and would recommend it to anyone who likes the classic games in the series or someone looking for a solid, well made horror game.  Now here’s hoping Capcom can capitalise and rescue the series long term!

Get Even – Because odd numbers just won’t do.

If Inception were a horror movie, it would probably be like this.

Did you know that one of my all time favourite games is Deadly Premonition?  An utterly insane story of murder and supernatural obsession wrapped up in a buggy, ugly, sloppily made game.  But in spite of all that I loved it.  The story was brilliant, the characters were simultaneously tragic and hilarious, and the world had so much to find.  It was as though Swery65 watched Twin Peaks, then played GTA and decided to glue them together without understanding how GTA‘s gameplay worked.  But still it was a wonderful experience and one that I remember to this day.  It’s also, to my mind, evidence that sometimes a well crafted story, told in an interesting way by well written characters can overcome a game’s mechanical shortcomings.  And here we have Get Even.

Get Even
I looks pretty enough to start with, but it doesn’t stay that way.

Get Even feels as though someone watched Inception, then played Call of Duty and decided to glue them together without understanding how Call of Duty‘s gameplay worked.  And whilst I don’t think it’s something that will stay with me as long as Deadly Premonition has, it’s another game in which its story manages to overcome those mechanical failings.  It plays part FPS, part Walking Simulator with influences in Condemned and tells the story of Cole Black (good choice of name their, guys) as he awakens in a seemingly abandoned mental asylum.

Get Even Pandora Device
This is what ends up being attached to your face. It looks like something Jigsaw would play around with.

I’m going to keep it light on story elements, but the game opens with Cole attempting to rescue a kidnapped girl with a bomb strapped to her.  We are introduced to Cole’s use of his phone for a map, UV light and evidence scanner (hence the Condemned comparison) as well as use of a gun and stealth takedowns.  Cole finds the girl, and then wakes up in the aforementioned asylum, with the Pandora device strapped to his head that allows him to access and re-experience memories through photographs.  He is guided by a man calling himself Red via video screens to proceed through the asylum gathering evidence of the events surrounding the kidnapping to get to the bottom of just what happened.

Get Even
Just one of the inmates you come across. Seems friendly enough, did I make a good decision earlier on that lead to this?

There are other characters in the asylum, all with their own Pandora device.  Some are hostile, some less so, and how you interact with them will lead to different events later in the game.  Do you release this inmate or leave him in his cell?  Maybe he’ll return to attack you later or perhaps he will kill other inmates.  You will be reminded often that your actions (not always choices) have consequences, and your behaviour both in and out of your memories will impact events later in the game.

Get Even
A nice little Twin Peaks reference there.

The asylum has a wonderfully creepy and threatening atmosphere with the occasional puzzle to solve, but the bulk of the game takes place in Cole’s memories and this is where the gameplay lets itself down somewhat.  You are encouraged to be stealthy, using silent takedowns and your map (which shows enemy visions cones) to avoid conflict.  I found the stealth somewhat cumbersome and tended to get spotted by enemies way outside of the map’s range.  The combat is passable, with standard pistols, assault rifles and shotguns making up the bulk of your tools.  You also have the Cornergun, which uses Cole’s phone’s thermal imagine to aim around corners to take out enemies.  I found the framerate dropped quite a bit when using this which was rather irritating, but it was a neat inclusion that aided stealth.  If you do get spotted, everyone in the area will instantly know where you are and make a beeline for you resulting in death more often than not.  What was pretty neat was that the game explains why these enemies exist in the story’s context.  Whilst I won’t say more, it’s elements like this that allowed me to overlook the weak combat and concentrate more on the story.  Around two-thirds of the way through the game, the plot shifts considerably and gives you new abilities to play with.  But again, I’ll say no more.

Get Even
Scanning certain items gives you little flashbacks like this to advance the story, as well as progress your current memory.

It’s very hard for me to explain why I enjoyed this game so much in spite of the slightly off combat without spoiling the story.  But it genuinely is well worth playing.  A wonderful atmosphere with fantastic music and a story full of twists and turns in which you can’t be sure who or what to believe.  It plays with your perception in ways I rarely see (Layers of Fear came to my mind on more than one occasion) and uses the unreliability of memory in an interesting fashion to progress the plot and alter the game world (think Call of Juarez: Gunslinger).  This is one of those games that I feel too many people will overlook due to its generic name and outdated visuals, but if you’re interested in stories in gaming and can look past some slightly off combat then you’ll be in for a great experience.  I realise that I’ve not given you much to go on, but I implore you to check it out and give it a chance.

Get Even
What’s my fault?!

Get Even was developed by The Farm 51 and published by Bandai Namco.  I played the game on Xbox One and encourage you to check it out for its story.  I’ll give Bandai Namco a lot of credit for taking a risk on this one, it very much paid off in my mind.  Let me know what you think if you give it a go!

Party Hard – Andrew WK not included

Neighbours’ party keeping you awake at night? Better go murder them I guess.

Picture the scene.  It’s 3AM, you have work in the morning and you’re shattered from staying up all night playing video games (this is essentially every day for me).  You can’t sleep though because of those damn neighbours having a raging party next door!  So what do you do?  Well I’m sure you’d do what every well adjusted adult would do: grab a hockey mask and a knife and go murder them all.  Then decide that everyone that ever has a party needs to be murdered.  And that, dear reader, is how serial killers are born.

Party Hard
Enjoy your meal. Yeeees, enjoy it. Especially the poison.

Party Hard is a puzzle game in which you need to murder everyone at a party without getting arrested or killed.  This seems like an odd theme for a game (because it is) that would surely annoy the Jack Thompsons of the world.  Each stage takes up a single screen and is filled with revelers who need to die in whatever way you see fit.  You could knife them, throw them on a fire, run them over or chuck them off a tower block.  Y’know, normal every day stuff.  The murdering isn’t the draw here though.  Killing the other characters is really the puzzle solving mechanic.  You need to carry out that mechanic without getting caught by the cops or killed yourself.

Party Hard
Finishing the game unlocks remixed levels like this one that looks more than a little Blade Runner.

If anyone spots you doing something you shouldn’t, they’ll call the police to arrest you, so remaining hidden and luring party goers away is often a good move.  You can do this in a variety of ways, such as setting off a steam vent or dancing so badly everyone leaves the room.  Once you have a victim alone, you see them off however you see fit and hide the body if possible.  If a body is spotted, the police will once again get called, but they may not suspect you meaning you could get away with it if you’re lucky.  Some people are a little braver and may attack you (or sometimes just because they don’t like you – more on that in a bit) leaving you unconscious for a few moments and vulnerable to being chased down.

Party Hard Zombie
Having a (party) hard time? Why not invite a zombie horde to take out some of the crowd.

It is possible to escape the police thankfully, either by keeping away from them for long enough or setting off a trap and killing them.  Killing the police can cause the FBI to arrive who remain for a long time trying to find out who you are and catching up to you immediately.  Generally it’s smart to avoid having the police turn up at all by making use of environmental kills and keeping bodies out of site by hiding them in sewers or (seemingly infinitely large) bins.  This core gameplay loop is fairly simple (most stages take between 5 and 15 minutes) but in practice can be more difficult and occasionally frustrating.

Party Hard
You can unlock different characters, like this chainsaw nutter.

The thing is, the game doesn’t work quite as well as it needs to from time to time.  Sometimes someone will accuse you of being a murderer without having seen you doing anything, resulting in your arrest and a level restart (no checkpoints here, folks).  Occasionally a bouncer will decide that they don’t like the look of you and will beat you up which, unlike a normal assailant, will force a restart.  Another murderer might show up and kill you, or a zombie horde will arrive, or a limo full of additional party animals will turn up to add to your required number of kills.  All these random elements keep the stages fresh, but they can be incredibly frustrating if you end up having to restart over and over.  And that’s if the game doesn’t decide to throw a bug in the mix that causes a character to not die or you to become stuck in the scenery.

Party Hard
For some reason no one seems concerned when I start throwing sleeping party-goers off the roof.

But in spite of this, I found myself having fun.  Going in, I didn’t expect to enjoy this much (I’m not big on puzzle games) but I found it strangely compelling despite the flaws.  The combination of Hotline Miami‘s control and presentation with Hitman‘s murder and social stealth worked surprisingly well to my mind whilst the short level length made me willing to restart after failure.  Whilst you do need patience at times to get people on their own, once you have an idea of how a level works you can piece it all together and come out on top.

Party Hard
Not even the party bus is safe!

There is a story (how I started this write up is pretty much how the game starts) that develops through between level cutscenes and has quite a satisfying conclusion that sets up (I assume) for the sequel which is on the way.  The music is also pretty good, which makes sense considering the theme of the game, although it can get a little tiresome on your 8th attempt at a stage.  Graphically, it has that retro pixel look that so many games in the past few years have gone for.  It looks fine and can have a lot of characters on screen at once, but your character model can get a little lost in the crowd sometimes, especially if you use a shortcut.  This can be an irritation if you’re trying to get away from the police.

Party Hard
Can you spot where I am? It can be difficult at times when there are large crowds running around.

Party Hard was developed by Pinokl Games and published by tinyBuild games.  I played the game on XBox One and would recommend you give it a look as there isn’t really anything else quite like it out there.  It’s a genuinely unique puzzle game that, although flawed, has a lot going for it.  If you’re able to overlook those flaws and have the patience for it, you’ll probably have a good time.  Just make sure you keep the volume down on your TV.  You probably don’t want to wake the neighbours…

The Surge – You got robots in my Dark Souls!

Robo-Souls? Dark-Bots?

Have I mentioned that I like Dark Souls?  I’m pretty sure I’ve said I like Dark Souls on at least 804 separate occasions on this blog.  Which is impressive considering I haven’t posted that many times.  That’s one of the reasons why I eagerly picked up Deck 13’s Lords of the Fallen when it was released in late 2014.  And whilst it certainly had a lot of similarities (read: had no identity of its own), it was unpolished and bland.  Since then they’ve…well they’ve not done much.  Anyone heard of TransOcean 2: Rivals?  But they have attempted to return to the Souls-like sub-genre with The Surge, and I’ll be damned if they haven’t made a pretty damn good go of it this time.

The Surge really is sci-fi Souls with a couple of little twists.  The combat system is similar with a couple of additions, scrap is used for leveling up and is handled in a similar way to souls, and equipment is improved by gathering the necessary resources and enhancing it at your bonfire equivalent.  Whilst it may not be terribly original in mechanics, it does just enough to differentiate itself from its source material.

The Surge
Unlike Dark Souls, you can find audiologs (because you gotta have those collectibles) that fill in some of the lore.

You play as Warren, arriving at his first day of his new job at Creo, a (totally not evil) company with plans to save the Earth’s atmosphere, where he will be fitted with a powered exo-skeleton (think power loaders from Aliens if you like).  The intro played with my character expectations nicely, although Warren’s apparent reason for wanting an exo-suit isn’t referenced again until the end of the game.  Anyway, Warren gets fitted for his suit (in a somewhat harrowing scene) but his neural interface that connects him to Creo fails and he is cast out on the (literal) scrap heap to fend for himself.  It seems that the neural interface has screwed up a lot of people in their exo-suits, sending them utterly insane and causing them to attack anyone who isn’t connected.  And so Warren is sent to find his way to the centre of Creo to find out what’s going on and to try to stop it.

The Surge
Most of the enemies shamble towards you before striking, but some will charge you down with surprising speed.

Even the plot plays out in a Dark Souls fashion, with snippets of information passed on by NPCs (many of whom have little side quests) that don’t give too much away.  The movement and combat mechanics are also very similar, with dodges, blocking attacks and running consuming stamina that regenerates over a short time.  Combat is very slow and deliberate, with committing to an attack at the right moment being crucial lest you suffer an enormous amount of damage from a single strike.  Weapons come in an array of shapes and sizes to suit your taste, from quick two handed weapons to slow, powerful hammers.  My personal favourite ended up being the staves (bit thanks to Drakulus for suggesting them to me!) for their ability to stagger enemies and knock them off their feet.  Armour also comes in lighter and heavier varieties that will alter your damage and stamina consumption in various ways.

The Surge
Whatever’s behind this door is bound to be friendly.

So far, so Souls.  But the selling point here is how you acquire new weapons and armour.  During combat you can target specific limbs of the enemy, and each hit fills an energy bar.  Once a certain amount of damage is done and you have enough energy, you can perform a finisher that will sever the selected limb and unlock the armour attached to it for your own use.  This is also how you gain resources to upgrade those armour pieces.  It’s an interesting approach that forces you to not hit too hard lest you kill the enemy and lose the equipment you wanted.  The energy bar also allows you to use certain buffs as well as your drone to attack opponents from range.  It’s an additional meter to manage, but its addition is an interesting one, as it drains very quickly when you aren’t attacking thus promoting an aggressive style of play more akin to Bloodborne.  A thumbs up from me on this addition.

The Surge
The finishing moves that sever limbs look impressive and are pretty quick so tend not to get old quickly.

Scrap, your souls equivalent, is collected by killing enemies and lost upon your death.  Like in Souls, you can reclaim them by finding your body, only this time you have a time limit to reach it.  Killing enemies on the way extends this time limit, but I rarely found myself running out of time.  These are used to create and upgrade equipment as well as level up your power core.  Rather than level up specific stats, this allows you to plug in more powerful augments to define your character.  The augments you can install are limited by your total level/power, meaning you can’t just jam in all the most powerful ones.  You may only be able to afford a few low level ones or one high level one and this creates an interesting balancing act.  You probably want some healing items to take with you, but that means you may not have enough power to install an upgrade for your stamina.  Each augment will increase in effectiveness (up to a limit) based on your over all core power so you can still get a decent buff from weaker options.  I really like this feature.  Not only does it force you to make some difficult choices, but it also allows you to completely respec whenever you return to the Medbay (your bonfire equivalent) as you can slot augments in and out as you see fit.

The Surge
These ones killed me so many times. I found the standard enemies more challenging than the bosses at times.

The environments suit the game well, but after the opening area (a gorgeous, open scrapyard area) it becomes little more than industrial areas with a slightly different colour scheme.  There are a couple of nice changes towards the end, but on the whole the game was rather stuck with what it could offer.  It does allow for some rather tense moments journeying through tight, dimly-lit corridors in which an enemy with a flame thrower could ruin your day at any moment.  These corridors often act as shortcuts that lead back to the Medbay when needed most which is a good thing considering how large some of the areas are.

The Surge
Get used to these sort of environments. Sci-Fi games can suffer from this, as there are only so many ways to do “industrial” locations.

Enemies aren’t hugely varied, with many of them being people in suits of lighter or heavier armour, wielding one weapon or another.  The occasional ranged drone or annoying pouncing walker will show up, but for the most part you’ll be fighting the same few enemies until the final area.  The showpieces are the bosses of course, of which there are 4 (5 if you count an upgraded form of one of the ordinary enemies).  Whilst these certainly look interesting, they aren’t all that challenging.  In fact, I managed to defeat 3 of the 5 (including the final boss) on my first attempt which was a little disappointing.  I get the feeling that The Surge wanted the journey to the boss to be the big challenge, as I died during my exploration of areas far more.  Sometimes these deaths felt a little cheap as I would dodge back and end up passing through barriers and falling to my death.  These little moments indicate that this is a little less than polished in places which is a pity.

The Surge
Some of the bosses have impressive scale, but they really aren’t all that challenging compared to the series it tried to imitate.

However!  I enjoyed The Surge rather a lot.  It may be a little bland in places and lacks the polish of its source material, but it really did scratch that Dark Souls itch for me.  The change from light and heavy attacks to horizontal and vertical strikes forces you to learn the best move to use to damage each body parts and the overall combat feels weighty.  Whilst this isn’t one I’m going to be rushing back to straight away, it certainly is an adventure I enjoyed for its 20 or so hours.

The Surge was developed by Deck13 and published by Focus Home Interactive.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it lovers of Dark Souls and their ilk.  Whilst unpolished, it provides good, tense fun throughout its campaign.  Well played Deck13!

Injustice 2 – Stop Batman’s Murder Spree!

Batman seriously needs to cut out all that murder.

Look, even if we pretend Batman vs. Superman didn’t exist (and a lot of people would like to), Batman has been killing for a long, long time.  I’m sure he justifies it to himself:  “The fall killed him, not me.”  “He died of electrocution!  I didn’t make the electricity!”  “The Batmobile was on autopilot.  Not my fault!”  Can someone do something about it?  Does he need a therapist to deal with his serious denial issues?  Probably.  But that’s not what we’re here for.

Injustice 2
I found Harley Quinn to be my character of choice. Here she is shooting a gorilla.

Injustice 2 is the follow up to 2013’s rather good fighter: Injustice.  On an alternate Earth Superman was tricked by The Joker into killing Lois Lane and setting off a bomb, killing millions in Metropolis.  Superman kills The Joker in his rage, and decides that he will rule Earth with a regime of his creation, filled with other superheroes.  Batman, amongst others, manage to take him down and lock him away, thus saving the world.  Enter Injustice 2, in which Brainiac has come to wipe out the last Kryptonians as well as Earth.  Batman and co. try to stop him, but it quickly becomes apparent that the only one who may be able to best Brainiac may be the imprisoned Superman.

Injustice 2
Superman activating his character power to gain extra damage. Don’t worry though, I’m sure Batman will just murder him.

Normally story in fighting games isn’t really important, but NetherRealm have continued their tradition of crafting a well put together story, with excellent cutscenes and a chance to play as a large variety of characters.  Occasionally you can select between two characters and it even includes multiple (well, two) endings.  A single playthrough takes around 5-6 hours, and feels like a good length for the story it tells.  I enjoyed the campaign a great deal and got a good feel for which characters would work well for me (I settled for Harley Quinn).

Injustice 3
The cutscenes look great in most situations.

Beyond the campaign, there are the usual training and single fight options for the solo player.  There’s also the excellent Multiverse mode that provides different challenges every few hours meaning there’s always something new to try.  Perhaps there’ll be bombs falling from the sky, or the level will undulate, or maybe the whole stage will be upside down.  Not all of them are hits, but they’re all different and keep things fresh.  On the multiplayer front, there’s local and online as you’d expect.  There’s also an AI battle mode in which you select a team to take on another player’s AI team.  It’s a nice distraction that helps you unlock items, but it doesn’t really add much.

Injustice 2
Batman shooting people with machine guns. Did Zack Snyder direct this?

Items!  As you play, you’ll gain boxes that contain gear and colour schemes for your heroes.  Many of these have benefits to your character, from increased health and attack, to specific effects such as increased ranged damage.  This was a nice addition in the Multiverse mode, but in online matches (Player matches anyway, I didn’t notice it in Ranked) it becomes a little irritating.  Whilst this option can be turned off, most online players use this gear, meaning you can easily end up against someone with a more powerful character than you.  Also irritating is the fact that the boxes are seemingly random, meaning there’s not guarantee that you’ll get any items for a character you like.  Whilst it does encourage you to look into other characters, it can be frustrating to open 5 boxes and find not a single useful item for your level 18 character.

Injustice 2
The background often contains weapons, such as this crocodile…

The controls are as you’d expect for a fighter, with light, medium and heavy attacks, as well as a character specific ability.  I like the character abilities, as they play into each personality.  Green Lantern powers up his ring, Supergirl fires lasers from her eyes, whilst Aquaman can form a water shield to slip out of combos.  Special moves can be powered up by spending meter earned from fighting.  Meter can also be used in a Clash, which is one way of breaking out of a combo.  Players will bet chunks of their meter, with the one spending the most gaining an advantage.  Super moves can be carried out by hitting both triggers when you have a full meter which involve a brief cutscene of the attack that look excellent but can become tiresome after you’ve seen them a few times.  Also, Batman’s involves the Batwing firing missiles at his opponent.  How is he not murdering people with this?!  Robin doesn’t even have super powers!

Injustice 2
Superman getting his own back after being bullied by Batman for so long.

Speaking of how things look, this game looks beautiful.  The characters are fantastically well animated with lots of incidental detail, even when they aren’t the focus of attention.  The animation quality carries through into battle as you might expect, with moves looking fluid whether in the air or on the ground.  Apparently some of the animations are recycled from Mortal Kombat X (well done to Drakulus, Cheap Boss Attack, and Counter Attack on the CA Podcast for spotting that) which is a little disappointing.  It makes sense as they are basically the same fighting system, but it would have been nice if it had been all new.

Injustice 2
The Joker looks surprisingly spry considering he’s supposed to have died. Mind you, this is comic books were talking about.

The sound is also excellent, with great voice acting throughout.  The battles open with the two competitors threatening each other, and these change based on who is involved.  This also happens with Clashes, and it comes across as excellent attention to detail when Batman says something different when he’s fighting The Joker or Cyborg.  It certainly helps make the battles more dramatic and helps maintain that comic book style.  The music is…present.  I didn’t really notice it a great deal, so read into that what you will.

Injustice 2
Superman looks angry. Probably annoyed about Batman keeping all the murdering to himself.

Overall, this is one hell of a package, with tons of content for solo or competitive players.  It looks and sounds great and above all it’s fun!  And when it comes to games, whether it’s fun is kind of important.  More than that though, the fights are satisfying, with weighty feeling attacks that can smash opponents through walls or damage the scenery.  It’s just a shame that the gear system felt a little weak at times.

Injustice 2 was developed by NetherRealm and published by Warner Bros.  I played the game on Xbox One and you recommend it to anyone that has an interest in fighting games.  It’s accessible enough to allow beginners to have fun (you should have seen us the first time we tried it!) but has enough depth to challenge veterans.  Give it a go.  Just don’t get on Batman’s bad side.

Halo Wars 2 – A full priced game with BS micro-transactions?! Sign me up!

I was a bit torn over whether to include this in the “Games I like” or “Games I didn’t like” category.  On the one hand, the campaign is pretty good and the core multiplayer isn’t too bad either.  On the other hand, Blitz mode is just flat out BS with poor matchmaking in which you can buy power and steamroll your opposition.  And that’s not just because I suck at it.  But more on that later!  Oh, and just so you know, I put it in both categories.

Halo Wars 2
Spartans are suitably tough and can pretty much hold their own against most enemies.

I didn’t play Halo Wars.  It just didn’t interest me at the time and I couldn’t see how an real time strategy (RTS) could work with a controller.  But here I am, many years later fancying an RTS that I can pick up and play quickly.  I’ve not really played much in the genre for a long time, so a light strategy game was right up my street, plus I quite like the Halo universe.  We play…someone who is ordering UNSC troops to fight the Banished, a offshoot of the Covenant, because they are bad and live on a space station.  I didn’t follow the story at all (maybe because I didn’t play the previous installment?) but the cutscenes were nice.  I’m not playing my RTS games for plot though!  I just want to order tanks to blow stuff up!

Halo Wars 2
It can get a little busy at times, but for the most part the controls help you keep it together.

The game controls surprisingly well with a controller, with button holds and presses selecting groups of local or global units and button shortcuts allowing you to move around the map quickly.  Pressing X will send your soldiers to an area (there is no attack-move here, characters auto attack en route) or to attack a target, whilst Y will activate the most suitable ability for your current group (take over a tank, throw grenades at infantry etc.) Selecting a building on your base opens a radial menu to build troops and buy abilities.  This was the weaker part for me as I struggled to tell the buildings apart at times, meaning building an anti-air vehicle in the heat of battle resulted in me moving around the different buildings until I found the garage.  That aside, it controls better than I expected.

Halo Wars 2 cut scene
The cutscenes are as cool as most of the ones you’d see in the previous Halo games.

The campaign is good fun, with 12 missions (don’t expect the campaign to last much longer than 8 hours) ranging from traditional building a base and attacking the enemy, to guiding a rag tag group of survivors through enemy territory.  The units are based in the Halo universe as you’d expect, with Scorpion tanks, Hunters, and Warthogs aplenty.  Combat works on a loose rock/paper/scissors system with vehicles beating infantry, infantry beating aircraft and aircraft beating vehicles.  There are variants on this, with some vehicles being anti air and so forth, so picking the right set of units for the job is essential.  Making sure your giving the right orders to the right set of units in the heat of battle can be tricky, so getting comfortable with button shortcuts and who-beats-what is important on higher difficulties.

Halo Wars 2
Hijacking a Scarab to level an enemy base is something of a highlight…

The core multiplayer is fairly good too, pitting players or teams of players against each other in a race to build their base and eliminate their opponents quickly, or a more slow paced objective driven mode such as Domination.  These modes were fine, and facing higher level opponents didn’t guarantee they were any tougher than you, often leading to a fair(ish) fight.  Blitz mode is a different matter though.

Halo Wars 2
…but fending them off can be pretty tough.

I should love Blitz mode.  An RTS with card game and deck building elements?  Yes please!  You play cards (using energy as a limited resource) to summon units or special abilities to capture and hold control points which earn you points to win.  In theory a good deck and smart resource management should lead to victory!  But here’s the thing, you can buy card packs (with real money of course) to get new cards.  In itself this isn’t such a problem, but duplicate cards will be leveled up making them more powerful (somewhat like Clash Royale, you know, that FREE to play game?) meaning that people who spend money will have more powerful cards.  Not only that, but as your account levels up, you are given free packs meaning that a higher level player will have a distinct advantage over a lower level one.

Halo Wars 2
Getting in close to the action means you can quickly recognise the characters from the series. I remember Hunters being far tougher though.

I’ve complained about micro-transactions in full priced games before.  I can understand it in free to play games, and I get selling cosmetics in full priced releases.  But as far as I’m concerned, you do not sell power in full priced multiplayer games.  It will harm your online community and drive away new players.  I played several Blitz matches and was regularly put up against players at least 20 levels higher than me, meaning they had objectively better cards.  No matter how you spin it, a level 4 tank will always beat a level 2 one.  The poor matchmaking and power selling card packs drove me away from this mode and very much soured me on my experience of this game.  It’s a pity, because the other aspects of the game are actually pretty good, but free to play business models have no place in full price titles.

Halo Wars 2
There’s a lot happening here! And this was just on Normal mode…

Halo Wars 2 was developed by 343i and Creative Assembly and published by Microsoft.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend some aspects of the game.  There’s a decent enough campaign and some fun to be had in the multiplayer.  But Blitz mode is a shambles because of how the card economy works.  If you do give it a try, consider yourself warned!

Yooka-Laylee – It’s not terrible!

Quick note, I backed this on Kickstarter.  Ok, that’s out of the way.  On with the proper words!

Colourful characters!  Pretty animations!  Jokes clearly aimed at grown-ups (such as a snake called Trowzer.  Trouser Snake. PENIS JOKE!)  No, it’s not the latest movie from Pixar, it’s Yooka-Laylee, the well publicised collect-a-thon revival from (most of) the people who made the genre what it is (was?), funded through Kickstarter.  The team is mostly comprised of people from Rare, those clever sods behind Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country and Conker’s Bad Fur Day.  Those games have something in common, and it’s not just that they’re very successful collect-a-thons.  They’re also from around 20 years ago…

Yooka Laylee
The first world you enter is bright and vibrant. Each environment is completely different to the last.
I’ll get this out of the way: Yooka-Laylee is far from perfect.  But it is fun in spite of the flaws it contains.  Most of those flaws are hangovers from the games that it is so clearly trying to imitate.  It’s great to play a game with the same gameplay style and sense of humour as those classics, but it’s not so great to be struggling with some of the same issues that those games suffered with.  It’s nostalgia without taking into account how gaming has evolved since the glory days of the genre.

Yooka Laylee
The characters look great, but the incredibly annoying sounds instead of voices means there is no lip syncing. It’s a shame as I think the animation here could have been excellent.
Anyway, we play as Yooka and Laylee, a heroic duo like so many others before them.  Their peaceful days beside their shipwreck they call home is spoiled when the local business start sucking up all the books in the area, including their special golden book they found in the shipwreck.  Of course, this book is the true target of the corporations scheme, as the One Book’s pages allow the owner to rewrite the universe!  During its theft however, the pages escape and are scattered throughout the business’ tower.  Cue our heroes leaping into action to find the pages and save the day from the dastardly Capital B!

Yooka Laylee
I don’t know why, but this boss’ utter hatred of double-glazing salesmen really gave me a good chuckle.
The story is all fluff really, although the characters in it are mostly fun to read the dialogue of.  The “voice acting” though is as it was in Banjo-Kazooie et al. with silly noises rather than actual words.  It made sense 20 years ago, but these days it made me want to skip all the dialogue (you can’t) just to avoid horrible sounds.  The characters are all unique in design and often poke fun at one thing or another.  Kartos the God of Ore (a mine kart), Shovel Knight (of Shovel Knight fame) and Trev the Tenteyecle (amongst others) all stand out as being quite different to each other and offer unique challenges in each world.

Yooka Laylee Glitterglaze Glacier
Obligatory ice level!
The worlds are contained in books hidden in the tower’s hub area (which is horrible to navigate due to poor signposting) and each one is quite different to the last.  From the bright forests of Tribalstack Tropics to the grimy swamp of Moodymaze Marsh, everything looks very distinct and fits within its environment.  The Marsh contains broken old shopping trolleys as characters whilst the casino has anthropomorphic slot machines.  These characters will give you tasks to earn more pages that will allow you to access and expand further worlds.  Ranging from simply completing a race against the clock to complex platforming puzzles and the occasional boss, there are plenty of different challenges to undertake, and its easy enough to find one to do in any given level.  Some are a bit irritating though, such as navigating slides using you roll skill (tough and a bit annoying) or using physics to guide a ball into a hole (unbelievably frustrating).  If you’re going for 100% completion, which is something a lot of people like to in collect-a-thons, be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.

Yooka Laylee Shovel Knight
Totally want this guy’s autograph.
Special mention must be made to the absolute ARSE of a final boss.  I’ve already mentioned that relying on old fashioned gaming tropes is pretty hit and miss here, but this was certainly a miss.  A multi-stage boss battle that lasts nearly 15 minutes, with easy early stages and very difficult final phases and NO CHECKPOINTS!  I cannot stress how annoying this was.  Unless you’re Dark Souls, put checkpoints in your multi-phase boss fights developers.  Don’t make me waste another 10 minutes redoing the early parts to get to where I screwed up last attempt.  Don’t waste my time!

Yooka Laylee
I’ll be honest, if I’d spent long in this area I’d probably have developed a headache.
The thing is, in spite of the silly design decisions, the often cheap humour, the final boss debacle and all the other nostalgia driven features that have been ironed out through years of progress in the industry, I still found myself having fun.  Perhaps it was a return to that childlike enjoyment of a brightly coloured environment, or each mini open world having mini challenges in them to find all the items.  Maybe I’m a closet kleptomaniac.  whatever it is, for me this game was fun in spite of the missteps.  I’d read the negative early reviews and expected utter toss, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable experience.

Yooka Laylee
This was a rather cute find: Laylee’s (the bat) TV and arm chair on the ceiling.
Yooka-Laylee was developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it if you’re feeling nostalgic and don’t mind some of those old irritations still being present.  It’s far from perfect, but it’s nice to have an updated Banjo-Kazooie to play through, dodgy camera and all.