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Lost Judgement

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The Yakuza games of which there are, it seems, several thousand, are an engaging, often unwieldy series of titles following assorted ne’er-do-wells in their various criminal enterprises. They’re chockers with quirky side quests, wandering perverts, time-wasting mini-games and more lore than you could shake a katana at. They also offer a rather high bar of entry for audiences who haven’t kept up with the series.

The Judgement series, a spin off from the Yakuza games, seemed an opportunity for developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to spread their wings a little. A new focus, this time working with rather than against the law, and (mostly) new characters is a great way to shrug off some of the series’ bloat. And with 2018’s Judgement they got off to an imperfect, but solid, start with a slightly more focused adventure that just needed a little more innovation. Well, now the sequel Lost Judgement is here and if you were hoping this series might grow into something a little more ambitious… you’re not going to be deeply satisfied, hey.

Lost Judgement puts you once again in the isn’t-he-a-bit-old-for-that-leather-jacket-and-sneakers of Takayuki Yagami, a private detective who likes justice almost as much as he likes hair product. This time around, Takayuki and his associates deal with a case involving murder, high school bullying, organised crime, and enough convoluted plot twists to make Christopher Nolan go, “oof, crikey fellas, that’s starting to feel a bit forced.”

The bulk of the action takes place in the Kamurocho and Isezaki Ijincho districts, and other than a few tweaks, the gameplay is identical to the previous Judgement game. That is: you’ll lob around, have seemingly endless conversations, get pointed towards a new location, do some shallow-as-hell investigation mini-games, and get into fights all over the shop. Basically, the same as Yakuza, except with the law (sorta) on your side.

While it’s probable that Yakuza didn’t make you feel like a real Yakuza, it seemed within cooee of the concept. Lost Judgement on the other hand often feels like a reskin. You’ll pay lip service to investigations, but ultimately, it’s a point and click affair. Plus, you’re meant to stop high school bullying… by belting the shit out of actual teenagers! Seriously, it’s such a disconnect you’ll find yourself either cackling with laughter or turning the damn thing off.

The thing is, Lost Judgement is okay. The story is solid, if unnecessarily protracted, the graphics are decent, the combat slick, if a bit messy. If you like this kind of game, you’ll probably have a good time, but it’s literally nothing new. Nothing you haven’t seen before. And for the second part of a new series with all the potential in the world? That feels like a bit of a letdown.

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Aliens: Fireteam Elite

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The world abounds with mysteries, questions for which we may never know the answers, but surely one of the biggest – one that keeps many awake at night – is: why can’t they make a decent Aliens game? Now, don’t get us wrong, there have been good games based on Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror flick Alien. 2014’s Alien: Isolation is a stone cold classic of survival horror that remains daks-browningly scary to this day.

However, Aliens – that classic 1986 action sequel directed by James Cameron – never seems to get a fair shake. We’d be here all day if we listed them all, but the most recent – and notorious – misstep based on the movie was Aliens: Colonial Marines. This 2013 disaster promised much and delivered little, ending up being an ugly, unimaginative, buggy and boring mess. The good news about Aliens: Fireteam Elite is that it’s significantly better than that universally despised flop. The bad news? It’s still pretty average.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a third person shooter that takes place in several iconic locations from the Aliens franchise, with some Prometheus mixed in for good measure. The action revolves around a three person fireteam – either player controlled or single player with bots – and it essentially plays out like a horde shooter, with wave after wave of snarling xenomorphs descending upon you like biomechanical seagulls on hot chips.

You and your fellow marines can occupy different classes and use various abilities to either make killing easier or buffing/healing your teammates and every level will end with a massive bullet sponge boss. And, uh, that’s it. That’s the game.

To be fair, Fireteam Elite doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. Developer Cold Iron certainly aren’t trying to sell this as a thrilling narrative experience, and what the game says on the tin it delivers. It’s just… isn’t this all a little unambitious? The shooting is… fine, the graphics are okay, there’s some joy to be had the first few times you mow down a horde of nasties but after a while the mind-numbing repetition kicks in. It’s kinda fun, for a while, with mates and a few adult beverages but then, most things are.

Look, at the risk of damning it with faint praise, we’ll say Aliens: Fireteam Elite has its moments and it knows what it is. However, if you’re looking for something that really captures the frenetic thrills of Aliens, that edge-of-your-seat excitement, then you’re probably going to be mostly disappointed… mostly.

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Deathloop

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Has there ever been a more appropriate moment in history for the time loop conceit to become popular? While huge sections of Earth’s population are stuck indoors, it seems fitting that the storytelling conceit du jour should reflect that. In 2019 we had Netflix’s Russian Doll, followed last year by the engaging Palm Springs. In the world of video games, Hades recently launched to near universal acclaim and this year saw the excellent (albeit punishingly difficult) Returnal. Well, now to that august pantheon we can add Arkane Studio’s Deathloop and friends we won’t mince words, it’s an absolutely bloody belter.

Deathloop puts you in the shoes of Cole, an assassin with amnesia, who wakes up on the island of Blackreef with no clue how he got there. It soon becomes clear that he, like the rest of Blackreef, is stuck in a time loop, one day repeating endlessly. If he ever hopes to leave, it seems, he needs to uncover the many secrets of Blackreef and kill the eight so-called Visionaries (mad scientists and brainy psychos) all in one day. If he misses one? The loop starts again. If he dies? The loop starts again. And if the sassy, insane Julianna – who follows his progress – has her way? He’ll be stuck in the loop forever.

As fun as the concept is, Deathloop’s real genius is in the execution. Arkane has a great formula with the Dishonored series and Prey, but they struggled with finding a reason to go back through the insanely gorgeous, detail-rich environments they created. In Deathloop, there’s a plot-based reason to backtrack at different times of the day, after various events have occurred, and the entire process feels like a fiendishly clever puzzle rich with hidden nooks, crannies and juicy lore snippets.

Each of the Visionaries feels like a fully fleshed human being (albeit an unpleasant one) and working out how to manipulate their weaknesses to off them in clever ways is a supreme joy. It’s not an easy task, but as you kill them you’ll manage to take their powers (in the form of Slabs), which give you the ability to teleport short distances, turn invisible, link enemies and deal damage to multiple targets at once or hurl them across the map with telekinesis. Working out how to maximise the effectiveness of these powers, in conjunction with the decent-sized arsenal you can wield, offers so much gleefully homicidal variety that it never gets old in the game’s 15-20 hour playtime.

There are so many wonderful, clever eureka moments along the way that we won’t spoil, but it’s a true testament to Arkane’s skill with level design and seemingly boundless creativity. Deathloop takes a familiar premise and gives it new life, incorporating gameplay elements from Hitman, Dishonored, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, BioShock and dozens of rogue-lites/roguelikes, immerses it in 1960s spy movie kitsch, and an ironically buoyant sense of style, and delivers what is easily one of the year’s best games and possibly one of Arkane’s finest works.

The only gameplay element that feels a bit unnecessary is the PvP gimmick where other players can invade your game (and you theirs) as Julianna. Random yahoos taking the piss isn’t a particularly appealing prospect when you’re mid-run or trying to enjoy the story, however you can play offline and just face the much less ominous AI. Actually, the enemy AI is one of the few cons in this sea of pros; it’s a bit simple at times, but this is a minor quibble when so much of what’s on offer works a treat.

Look, this is one of those situations where you should believe the hype. Deathloop is a wonderfully original, singular experience, boasting compelling story, compulsive gameplay and a startlingly original aesthetic and style. If you own a PS5 or PC, there’s absolutely no reason not to head to Blackreef and start solving this brilliant puzzle, one dead body at a time.

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Tribes of Midgard

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When you think about the life of a viking, what do you picture? Lots of pillaging? Certainly. A bit of the old stabby-stabby action? Yep. And possibly a rather fetching horned helmet atop your mighty bonce? You betcha. One thing you probably don’t think of, though, is building. And yet a good portion of your time spent in Tribes of Midgard – a viking themed game from developer Norsfell – will be building, crafting and gathering resources. Even more strange? It manages to make doing so, pretty bloody fun.

Tribes of Midgard is an odd fusion of survival game, isometric action title and roguelite. You and up to nine (!) other co-op partners are dropped into a randomly generated environment. You’ll need to pick up materials to craft tools, then use those tools to make weapons, then use those weapons to kill things and use the corpses to craft better weapons, armour and so on.

Hanging over the proceedings, is the fact that every night, monsters attack your village in an attempt to destroy the Seed of Yggdrasil, a magical tree whose destruction will mean it’s game over, baby. Oh, and there’s also a bunch of giants wandering the land and you’ll need to destroy them all to save your Nordic arse from Ragnarok.

It’s all… quite a lot. And your first dozen or so games are unlikely to end in anything other than swift death. However, the more you play, the more you unlock… the next game you’ll spawn with tools already made, weapons already in your pocket and different classes available.

Honestly, it’s a pretty decent time. The graphics are crisp and appealing, the animation slick, and the controls responsive. Playing with co-op partners can be a lot of fun, if at times chaotic, and there’s no doubt about the addictive nature of the gameplay. On the downside, there are a lot of gameplay elements that are explained poorly, so you might want to invest some time in Youtube University. Plus, without at least one other player, the experience can become a tad stale.

Tribes of Midgard is an engaging, well-conceived and decently priced bit of viking-themed survival fun. It’s unlikely to ragnarok your world and it’s certainly not the next AAA blockbuster, but its loki charms are likely to entertain all but the fussiest armchair viking.

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The Ryan Reynolds Show

Best known for his more sarcastic R-rated roles, Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds changes his tune in Free Guy to portray a sunny-natured bank teller.
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Shawn Levy: Free the Guy

When Ryan Reynolds texted director Shawn Levy in 2018 with Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn’s script for Free Guy, the busy Stranger Things producer/director found it hard to resist.
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Blightbound

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There’s something inherently enjoyable about delving into dungeons in video games. Forming a party, exploring hidden nooks and crannies, fighting off disgusting monsters and plundering glittering piles of loot. It’s a winning formula, repeated over and over in titles old and new, but is it enough to sustain a game by itself? If Blightbound is anything to go by, the answer is… maybe?

Blightbound is a three player co-op dungeon crawler set in a high fantasy universe with the usual trappings of magic, beasties, evil plots and extensive lore dumps that always manage to sound like the half-pissed rantings of a boozy Dungeons and Dragons DM. You can play as various characters who fall into the warrior, assassin or mage classes and you’ll lob into dungeons, fight for ages, tackle a boss and enjoy the loot. Then upgrade your gear and weapons and do it all over again in different dungeons and at higher difficulties. Fun, right? Kinda.

Blightbound’s basic premise is absolutely a winner but the execution is a bit patchy. The combat just doesn’t… click. The attractive, hand-drawn style graphics are superb in stills, but when animated they’re a little hard to read and there seems to be a delay between pressing the button and the hit registering. Similarly, the screen can get rather crowded during large scale battles and death can come quickly and seemingly arbitrarily. Add to that a small player base (at time of writing) and you’ll be forced to team up with bots whose AI is… not good. This means you’ll find yourself repeating long dungeons from the start which doesn’t exactly spark joy.

Still and all, there are small nuggets of gold to be found in the dank depths of Blightbound’s dungeons. They’re not always obvious and gleaming, but with two like-minded friends and good communication you may find a worthy, if slight, dungeon crawler that hits the spot for a while.

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Why are Game Sequels generally BAD?

Many video game developers turn a fan favourite title into a brand and having a brand means that you can make more games based on the very same concept that players already love and adore. It makes it easier for the video game developers to improve something and add onto it than coming up with a brand new idea that has the potential to make the players spend their hard earned cash.