Oxenfree – Teenage beach party goes wrong…

First things first, I’m going to avoid story spoilers as far as possible due to this being such a narrative-driven game.  So fear not!  It does mean that this will be an odd write up as I’m going to tell you as little as possible about the story.  Anyway, on with the words!

The term “walking simulator” gets thrown around a lot at the moment, mostly in a derisive way to mock games that people feel lack actual gameplay.  But whether or not you feel they are truly games (lack of challenge often being cited), walking simulators can be very enjoyable narrative experiences.  More often than not they will have an atmospheric environment and engaging story.  You just have to look at the success of Gone Home and Firewatch to see that plenty of people, gamers or otherwise, enjoy this type of experience.  Oxenfree is almost a walking simulator, but with a few more gameplay elements.  It paints itself as a light adventure game with conversation elements that effect various outcomes.  In that regard it’s somewhat like the Telltale games (Walking Dead, Tales from the Borderlands, Life Is Strange etc.) but with a very different style.

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You and your friends arrive on an abandoned island for a high school beach party.

This is an almost 2D side scrolling adventure with a horror/mystery theme in which you move around areas (sometimes into the area’s background, hence it being almost 2D) with one or more partners, finding objects and solving simple puzzles.  Along the way, you’ll converse (or not if you feel like it!) with your companions with certain choices changing the outcome of the game.  It’s these elements that I feel move the game away from walking simulator and more into the realm of the Telltale style of game.  Unlike those games, though, this one is much shorter (about 4 hours) making it much easier to go back and experiment with different routes through the game.

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You end up with a group of 5 characters, all are interesting and well voiced.

The story begins with you, as Alex, and your high school friends arriving on an island for a beach party.  Surprisingly, your group are the only people there and so you decide to explore the island.  Before long you come across a cave with some unusual markings and discover that your radio can receive strange signals which set of a chain of events that brings into question what the real history of the island actually is.  You’re told that a WW2 submarine sunk just off the coast of the island, but over the course of the game you find out that not everything is as it seems.  The game is as about your relationships with your friends as it is the mysteries of the island.  Your choices will dictate how they react to you and how their lives will develop at the end of the story.

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Your interactions tend to revolve around 3 dialogue choices, although the option to say nothing can be just as important.

The game looks good, with an art style that suits the tone of the game.  The muted colours of the island makes the characters stand out and brings your attention to elements of the world that are important.  The voice acting is excellent and I found each character interesting and likeable in their own way.  They all have their own history and baggage that you can uncover if you spend enough time with each of them, so multiple play throughs to interact with each character is something I would encourage.  Whilst the writing is mostly very good, some of the dialogue comes across as quite odd considering some of the things the characters experience on the island (not spoiling too much here).  Alex in particular came across as a little too calm from time to time which broke the immersion for me a little.

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The island isn’t terribly big, meaning it’s fairly quick to find your way around.

The puzzles aren’t difficult, and most are solved simply by activating the correct object in the environment.  There are collectables to find though, with some (ever so) slightly more challenging puzzles that will require more exploration.  I found locating these to be quite enjoyable as they add a lot of history to the island and give you a better understanding of just what is going on.  You aren’t likely to be challenged in this game, but if you like a good story you should find yourself very much engaged.  And once you reach the end (which is either a total cop-out or utter genius, I can’t quite decide!)  and figure out just what was happening, you’ll almost certainly want to have another play through to find even more answers.

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Most of the puzzles will involve using your radio to find or interact with the world in a number of ways.

Oxenfree was developed and published by Night School Studio.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend you play it if you are looking for a good story.  If you enjoyed any of Telltale’s games, I would say you should look into this.  There’s a lot here that improves on them and it isn’t overly long, making another try at the game to find alternative routes and endings a very real possibility.  You really should give this a try.

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DOOM – All the demons say I’m pretty fly (for a Doom guy)!

They are rage, brutal, without mercy.  But you.  You will be worse.  Rip and tear, until it is done.

The opening line of DOOM could not sum the game up any more perfectly.  You will face powerful, grotesque adversaries, but you will tear through them all at a breakneck pace.  Did you play Doom all those years ago?  If so, you’ll probably remember it being a fast paced shooter in which you would mow down hoards of demons with big guns, taking time out to find secret areas and completely ignoring what little story is there.  DOOM 2016 is that.  It’s as though id genuinely looked back at why people loved the original campaign and modernised it without losing its soul in the process.  The guys did good.

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It’s been a while…

The fast pace is the biggest thing they’ve brought back to DOOM.  Doom 3 was slow and creepy, which is fine, but that isn’t really what the series was always known for.  Within 15 seconds of starting the campaign, you’ll have crushed a demon’s head, broken out of your chains, grabbed a pistol and gunned down another pair of demons.  No exposition, no cutscene, no trying to ape the classic Half-Life slow world-building introduction, just straight into the action.  You’ll grab your classic armour (the Praetor Suit as they call it) and you’re away.  Before long you’ll have a shot gun, an assault rifle and the chainsaw.  More weapons are introduced at regular intervals to keep the variety up.  The weapon models are all interesting to look at with plenty of detail, and have a variety of different uses depending on if you can find secret weapon mods that can turn your shotgun into a grenade launcher or allow your assault rifle to fire rockets.  If I had to criticise something here, it’s that some of the gun models are a little too big, taking up more of the screen than I’d like which obscures your vision.  A minor gripe but certainly one I noticed.

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Massive guns can take up a lot of space on the screen.  I love the background detail here though.

Enemies are introduced in a similar way, lots of variety and plenty of call back to the classic games.  You’ll often find yourself locked in a chamber with a large mix of soldiers, imps, hell knights and other enemies.  Fighting them mostly involves moving quickly, taking enemies out as you rush by them.  The speed of the action is unbelievable, with you rushing past enemies, dodging attacks and firing at your targets as quickly as possible.  Clearing out a room is as much planning a route as it is being accurate, and deaths rarely feel cheap.  Occasionally you can get yourself caught up on the scenery when you expected to be able to climb up it, but this is very rare.  Overall, the minute to minute gameplay is tremendous fun, with you mowing down one enemy before “glory killing” (the game’s animated finishers) another, dashing along a hallway to use your chainsaw on the next and seeing them explode into…ammunition pick-ups(!) is quite satisfying.  They can become a little stale after a while as you see the same animation many times.  Luckily they’re all quick enough to not break the pacing.

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In about 2 seconds I will be rushed by these enemies.  Around 3 seconds later they will all be pulp!

There is a story and it isn’t half bad if you’re willing to dig into it, but it can be completely ignored if you wish.  Simply put, the UAC opened a portal to hell and decided to use the energy they find there as a form of renewable energy, which is about a sane as it sounds.  Hell are not happy and set about invading Mars.  As I said earlier, there is very little exposition, and scenes in which the story is fed to you take a total of about 10 minutes of the entire game’s playtime (about 10-12 hours depending on if you go searching for secrets).  This is rather nice as breaks from the action and exploration are kept to a minimum.  There is a lot of lore available if you’re willing to look for it though.  The codex entries from finding hidden logs fill in a lot about the universe and your history, as well as the demons and how they view you.

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Some of the exposition is provided by these ghostly images…which can be completely ignored!

The game also comes with the obligatory multiplayer mode.  It’s perfectly fine if I’m honest, with a fast pace and a variety of game modes.  Warpath is one I actually quite like, which is basically king of the hill but with a control point moving along a set path.  It’s really nothing special though, using the usual modern setup of loadouts and “hacks” (think limited time perks from Call of Duty).  It’s fine but nothing special.  Then there’s Snapmap, which is a level creation utility that allows you to piece together a map for your own levels or game modes.  Triggers can be included to allow events to happen at certain times.  It seems quite powerful with some interesting levels already created, although most of them seem to be remakes of classic maps from Doom and other games.  It’s nice to have these features but you’ll have by far the most fun in the campaign.

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Yes, this is a shot from the credits, but the game very much feels like this all the way through.

DOOM was developed by id Software and published by Bethesda.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, shooter, that’s more interested in being fun than being dark and gritty.  Take a look FPS developers.  This is what fun looks like!

Inside – Don’t play outside, play Inside!

Before I start, there will be no spoilers here.  I’ll mention very little about the plot and the screenshots are from very early in the game, so fear not!

I’ll cut to the chase with this one.  Inside is as near to perfect as you could hope a game to be.  This is the next game from Playdead, the team that made the wonderful Limbo, and this takes everything from that game and improves on it.  Most importantly of all (for me anyway) is just how atmospheric it is.  Every moment, every scene, drips with personality and little details that create a world worth exploring.  After finishing it, I went back through some of my favourite areas again just to see if there was anything I missed (there was).  You might be able to tell early on that this is going to be a very positive write up.

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You play a young boy, seemingly trying to break into a mysterious complex.

Inside is a puzzle platformer at heart, which is normally something that would put me off.  I’m not a fan of timing based leaps of faith, or awkward multi-level puzzles.  Maybe I’m not smart enough or too impatient to figure them out, but I’m just not a fan.  Here though, the puzzles are pitched just right for me.  They’re not overly complex, but there’s just enough depth to them to give you that satisfying ‘Aha!’ moment when you work out what to do.  They mostly involve moving platforms around, throwing objects, or using other characters in certain ways (I’ll say no more!).  They never get to the point where they block your progress for long, allowing you to move the story forward.  The game is very well paced in that regard.  The controls are sharp and will rarely cause you to slip up.  Any mistakes you make will likely be your own.

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The world the game builds is quite mysterious and deliberately explains very little.

Much like Limbo, there is a story here but it’s not 100% clear what it is.  Nothing is explained to you.  There is no dialog, no text, just visual cues that hint at what this world is all about.  Every scene has a disturbing, bleak atmosphere that demands to be explored in the hopes you can glean a little more information about just what is happening and why is this boy involved.  I’m not going to say much for fear of spoiling anything, but the characters and locations you come across suggest a very dark world, and the may well leave you with a lot of questions about the game, and yourself.

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Most of the game appears in a very muted colour scheme.

The world is mostly very dark as you travel through the various environments, but the occasional shaft of sunlight will highlight stark colours and give a brief moment of respite from the oppressive atmosphere.  The characters themselves have a simplistic look to them, but it’s the animations where the game excels.  Every movement is stunningly lifelike, little animations such as your character looking at something odd in the background, or crouching and placing his hands on a wall when someone is searching for him.  Deaths also receive a lot of detailed animation and are somewhat unpleasant when you consider your character is a child.  Whilst graphics are absolutely not everything in a game, but when they are done well, in such a unique way, they do nothing but improve the experience.

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A rare splash of colour will give you a moment of hope in this dire world.

Inside was developed and published by Playdead.  I played the game on XBox One and would recommend this to anyone.  This is an experience that you will remember for a long time and is absolutely worth your time and money.  A must buy to my mind!

Superhot: SUPER! HOT! SUPER! HOT!

Superhot is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.  I was told to say that.  It’s in the rules of the game.  Even if it wasn’t though, I’d probably still say something similar.  I won’t spoil too much of the story, but you start off receiving a message about playing a new game: superhot.exe.  As you play through the various stages, a seemingly complex plot develops, blurring the lines between the game and reality.  If you’ve played anything like Pony Island or The Stanley Parable, it’s that kind of subversive plot.

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Superhot has a really stark art style with few colours that highlight everything that is of interest.

As soon as you begin the first stage, the game presents you with its unique feature.  TIME MOVES WHEN YOU MOVE! it exclaims on the screen, and it really does mean it.  Everything is frozen until you begin moving.  Slower movements mean the world gradually starts moving whilst moving at full speed makes the world follow suit.  It gives you a lot more situational awareness than you may be used to.  Having played rather a lot of first person shooters, this forced me to  change my play style quickly.  It plays more like a puzzle game as you are faced with multiple enemies at once and need to plan how to disable each one without leaving yourself exposed.  The way time works allows you to dodge bullets as you ‘rush’ down an opponent and take their weapon before turning it on them.  Watching back the full speed replays makes you look like some sort of ninja in The Matrix.  It really is very satisfying.

I wouldn’t normally put a video in, but I just can’t help myself with this game.  It makes you look awesome in every replay.

Now, the story took me about 2 hours to finish.  In a game that costs £20, that seems really rather short and I wouldn’t blame anyone for saying it’s not good value for money.  The meat of the game comes after the main campaign though, as challenges and survival runs open up, as well as the obligatory collectables.  The challenges range from simple speed runs, to playing through using only melee weapons.  Some of these are really rather tough and take a while to master.  The collectables are very well hidden in the stages and are tough to find whilst avoiding enemy fire, even with your time bending powers.  If you’re only after a story then this is not good value, but if you’re interested in a challenge or you’re a completionist, there’s a hell of a lot of content here.  It’s great to dip into for a 10 minute blast.  Just don’t be surprised if it turns into a much longer session as ‘just-one-more-go’ kicks in.

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The game’s style allows it to get away with what would be really rather graphic violence if it aimed for realistic graphics.

Superhot was developed and published by Superhot Team.  I played the game on XBox One (in fact I’d suggest playing this with a controller thanks to the analogue sticks allowing you to control your movement more gently!) and I’d recommend this to pretty much anyone.  If you like first person shooters but find them a bit samey these days, this is a hell of a breath of fresh air.

Dark Souls III

I did it!  I finally finished it!  30 hours of punishing gameplay later and I finally…saved the world?  I think I did.  My guy sat down by a bonfire after beating the final boss at any rate.  The Souls games (and Bloodborne for that matter) are notorious for having obscure stories that you have to find by reading through various item descriptions before piecing it all together.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I read up on what the hell was going on after I finished the game.  But enough about the bonkers story.  How about the rest of the game?

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HOLY GOD WHATTHEBLOODYHELLISTHAT?!  My reaction to most of the enemies in the game.

Dark Souls and co. are also notorious for their difficulty, and Souls 3 is no exception in terms of enemies.  The main enemies and bosses are as challenging and ever, and in many cases are much faster and more aggressive than those in the past (probably as a result of Bloodborne from the same development team).  But as is ever the case in this series, perseverance and jolly co-operation will win the day!  Whilst hard, none of the bosses are unfair and every time you fall you know exactly what you did wrong.  You didn’t manage your stamina, you mistimed that dodge, you got greedy and attacked to heavily.  After every loss you’ll feel a greater determination to go back and try again.  It rarely frustrates and frequently pushes you to try again, almost saying “You know you can do this don’t you”.

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It’s not just the bosses that are tough.  Chompy McTongueFace here killed me on more than a few occasions.

In some ways though, the game feels easier than before.  It may be due to having played the previous games, I’m well versed in how this game works before going in.  It is a lot more linear than the previous games though.  For the most part you’ll just be following a path, fighting as you go.  Chances for finding hidden areas or ending up in the wrong area for your level are rare at best.  Some people may enjoy the straighter path, I would have preferred and experience more like the first game though where pretty much everywhere was open to you right from the off.

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I have nothing special to say about this one, I just think it looks brilliant.

The game certainly looks gorgeous, with lots of varied enemies (there’s some Bloodborne influence here too) and environments.  I think they may have tried to push the console versions a bit too hard though as the framerate suffers in places.  Fighting a large enemy that had an impressive frozen mist effect around it slowed the game to a crawl and made dodging near impossible.  This is a rare occasion in which enemies can be frustrating.  It’s a real shame that they decided to make it look prettier rather than optimising the game to run at a consistent framerate.  If you can cope with that nonsense though, there’s one hell of an experience

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I’m sure there’s some sort of crabs joke I could put in here.  But I’m far too grown up for that, honest.

Dark Souls III was developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it if you like an esoteric, challenging action RPG.  Just be prepared for the occasional slowdown as the hardware struggles to keep up with the game.  Maybe the PC version runs better!

Quantum Break

Alan Wake is one of my all time favourite games in spite of its flaws.  A horror themed, atmospheric third person shooter with an utterly bananas story.  Quantum Break is a science fiction themed atmospheric third person shooter with an utterly bananas story…ABOUT TIME TRAVEL!  By all rights I should love this game.  And up to a certain point I do.  But more about that later.

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Look!  Alan Wake exists in this game!  It made me very happy when I saw this little nod.

You take on the role of Jack Joyce, looking for revenge for the murder of his brother due to his involvement in time travel experiments.  You’ll travel from place to place fighting off members of Monarch Solutions who are looking to create a bunker for the best and brightest to save them from the end of time itself.  Obviously this makes them the bad guys because TIME TRAVEL!  The third person shooting itself is fairly ordinary, but the special abilities you get really add to the experience.  Special abilities?  Did I not mention those?  You can use time powers (because TIME TRAVEL!) to teleport around, freeze enemies and generate a protective shield.  This really elevates the combat scenes as flanking enemies, freezing them in a time bubble, filling it with bullets before it unfreezes and unloads all the ammunition at once is incredibly satisfying.

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From time to time the game world freezes for puzzle solving resulting in some gorgeous looking scenes.

It’s a good thing to combat is fun as that’s what you’ll be doing for 90% of the game.  There’s a little exploration allowing you to find items that explain other things going on within the game world.  Reading these can really give the universe some depth, and certain items you find and choices you make will change what you can find and what they tell you.  For example, choosing to have the villains take a hardline approach to people who get in their way results in protests later in the game that make things somewhat easier for you.  It’s a nice feature that encourages replaying the game.  There’s also an entire live action TV show in the game that focuses on certain minor characters that expand the universe further still.  Whilst cheesy, I did enjoy these segments.  Regardless of what you think of the game, the developers worked really hard to create an expansive and atmospheric world.

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Looks like there’s some more enemies arriving.

The world, the combat and the visuals are really rather good for the majority of the game, even if the story is a bit all over the place at times.  Then you reach the final chapter and good god does it take a turn for the worse.  Now I should point out that I was playing on Hard mode (humblebrag!) and the game had been a reasonable challenge throughout, but the final boss was a cheap, overly long difficulty spike.  The final boss should be a challenge, but this was just silly.  You will regularly be killed without any idea of what killed you, the boss can one-shot you and it’s not clear what you’re even meant to be doing.  Worst of all, the boss signposts his attacks with a red glow, but when you are damaged your screen turns red making it impossible to see this telegraph.  It really brought me down after enjoying the rest of the game so much.  Thankfully the rest of the game had been fun up until that point, but it did leave a sour taste in my mouth.

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A train randomly turns up and crashes through a building. Because TIME TRAVEL!

Quantum Break was developed by Remedy and published by Microsoft.  I played the game on XBox One and would recommend it if you enjoy story driven games.  Just don’t play it on hard!