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Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

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Historically speaking, new console generations tend to take a while to build up a head of steam. They’re often held back by the previous generation, developers coming to grips with the new tech and the various embuggerences inherent in hardware upgrades. Even taking that into account, however, the PS5 launch has been patchy. Spider-Man: Miles Morales was a brief hoot and Demon’s Souls was gorgeous but beyond that, pickings have been slim. There hasn’t really been a big, blow-the-bloody-doors-off, must-have blockbuster title with mass appeal.

Until now.

 Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, exclusive to PS5, is a game that finally justifies the existence of the new console as something more than a huge box that plays PS4 games faster. More than that, though, it’s a great new entry in the long running series.

Rift Apart puts you in the magnetic boots of the “last” Lombax, Ratchet, and quirky robot, Clank. It seems that their arch enemy, ol’ mate Doctor Nefarious is yet again acting like a porkchop and has stolen a device called the Dimensionator. With it, he manages to bugger off to a dimension where he doesn’t constantly lose and as Emperor Nefarious, makes life hell for our dynamic duo.

However, we also have a new character on the scene, an alternate dimension Ratchet counterpart, Rivet. Much more than a simple gender flip, Rivet comes from a darker dimension, where the stakes are significantly higher. Rift Apart’s action has the player shifting between the two characters, tackling various objectives, attaining and upgrading weapons and exploring the various planets.

And it’s a hoot. Slick, fast-paced gameplay, a nice mixture of combat and puzzle solving and due to its PS5 exclusivity – not to mention developer Insomniac’s hard work – it’s one of the most gorgeous video games you’re likely to play. Colourful, brimming with character, engorged with particle effects and retina-stroking animation, it’s an absolute joy to play from minute one until the credits roll.

Honestly, even if you’re only a casual fan of the Ratchet & Clank series, this game is a must-have for PS5 owners. The only downside is at 14-17 hours gameplay, it’s a tad on the short side for the hefty price tag. And while a robust NG+ (with more weapons and upgrade trees) is impressive, it’s still on the slender side.

However, can you really put a price on pure joy? Because that’s what Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart delivers, a joyous spectacle with likeable characters, genuine pathos and more weapons than you could hurl a Lombax at. It’s like a Saturday morning cartoon for your soul and dripping with visual splendour.

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Chivalry 2

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You know what would have sucked? Fighting in a medieval battle. Being rounded up by a bunch of douchey lords, taking up the family sword, charging across a muddy field to stab some other poor bastards who didn’t do anything to you and probably copping an axe to the bonce for your troubles. And hell, even if you did survive, the treatment for PTSD in medieval times was either leeches on your ballbag or being burnt at the stake.

Nowhere has this grim mixture of blood and mud been captured better than Chivalry 2, a game that takes one of the ugliest settings imaginable and weaves it into pure gold.

Chivalry 2 puts you in the dung-caked boots of a fighter in various fictitious medieval conflicts. You can play as knights, vanguard, footmen or archers and switch between the classes easily, unlocking new weapons along the way. Matches can feature up to 64 players in modes as vanilla as team deathmatch or as exciting as multi-part sieges where you’re either attacking or defending a series of objectives.

The bulk of the action is melee combat, with weapons feeling weighty and moving in a semi-realistic fashion. This means the fighting, while simple to pick up, actually contains a lot of depth and nuance. You’ll need to get good at blocking, parrying and knowing when to swing your weapon. That latter point is super important, because you can just as easily damage or kill your teammates when in the middle of a crush.

Honestly, it’s bloody exhilarating. Fights are epic, gore-spattered spectacles that somehow manage that perfect video game alchemy where you’ll have a good time even if you’re losing! It’s quite a trick that Torn Banner Studios have pulled off here and one that feels endlessly enjoyable to play.

Online only (apart from a tutorial and very limited offline practice mode) games are always a risk in this day and age, but Chivalry 2 appears to have the chops to go the distance. In its current incarnation, it’s an absurd amount of fun, replete with numerous modes and hours of gaming, and it’s hard to say “nay” to a game that allows you to pick up a foe’s severed head and fang it at his mates.

Chivalry 2 is a unique offering and delivers time and time again on its promise of the most authentic medieval combat simulation, without having to own a time machine.

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Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground

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It seems like only a couple of days ago we were having a squiz at a Warhammer game, and it was. However, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is based on the Warhammer Age of Sigmar flavour of Warhammer, which less resembles a Space Catholics vs nightmare monsters beano and more a JRR Tolkien cosplay convention with extra gore and frowning type of situation.

Storm Ground is a turn-based strategy game that puts you in charge of one of three different factions. There’s the Stormcast Eternals, who are kind of like a hair metal band’s idea of badass, all flowing cloaks and shiny armour. You’ve also got the Nighthaunt, the ethereal goths of the neighbourhood, boasting replicating powers and weaponised whinging. Oh, and finally there are the Maggotkin, a bloated bunch of pustule-covered gronks who could infect you with something nasty as soon as look at you.

The twist over other turn-based combat games is, there’s no save scumming here. Because you bloody can’t! Storm Ground plays with roguelike mechanics, meaning if you stuff up an encounter, it’s game over and you’ll start all over again. You will get to keep various upgrades and enhancements you’ve unlocked, mind you, but when you start your adventure, it can feel a little random and unfair. That said, once you’ve mastered a few of the mechanics, and worked out some of the more strategic ways to use your war band, there’s a lot of potential depth here.

Unfortunately, the potential is sapped by some truly broken enemy AI, where your foes at times feel like they’ve been necking turps pre-game. You can mitigate this somewhat by playing online PvP but conversely, that can be a lesson in bitter humility.

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Storm Ground is a technically competent, mechanically sophisticated turn-based strategy game that isn’t quite living up to its potential yet. A lack of a meaningful story combined with dodgy enemy AI and inconsistent matchmaking means there’s some work to be done, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this one to see if it gets fully Sig(mar) down the road.

 

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Necromunda: Hired Gun

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The Warhammer 40K universe is one of the most detailed, lore dense and unique settings imaginable. Originally conceived in the 1980s as a tabletop game, it has since branched out into books, comics, audio plays, animations and – most relevant for this yarn – video games.

Its irresistibly weird mix of over-the-top, operatic world building, forever wars, and social commentary seem custom designed for a great video game, yet time and time again, they don’t quite work. This latest title, Necromunda: Hired Gun is a perfect example of the problem, although that’s not to say that it’s without charm.

Necromunda: Hired Gun is set on the planet Necromunda, a dystopian nightmare hellscape that brims with industry, violence and untampered population growth. Into this mix, the player character is thrust, an aloof mercenary who just wants to make some dosh, but before long is exposed to a sprawling gang war and a larger conspiracy.

The plot is pretty standard, and not told in a particularly exciting way, but Hired Gun succeeds in one major fashion: superb, fast-paced, engaging shooting. Slick as a greasy piglet, you’ll wall run to your objective, blow the heads off nearby enemies, grapple-hook to safety and send your cybernetically enhanced mastiff down to polish off the stragglers. This is frenetic, exciting stuff, a bit like 2016’s Doom reboot but with a 40K setting to add extra levels of grime and casual nihilism. When Hired Gun works it works a treat.

The problem? It doesn’t work often enough. Graphical glitches, framerate drops, audio fuckery and even the odd hard crash beset this scrappy title, doing a lot of damage to your good will. And as a result, other ordinarily forgivable flaws like lackluster enemy AI and wonky voice acting become all the more apparent. Which is sad, because honestly, exploring these expansive, fascinating 40K locations, drinking in the atmosphere and just straight up existing in this bull goose loony universe is a treat.

So, here’s our suggestion: don’t buy Necromunda: Hired Gun quite yet. Unless you’re a 40K obsessive, you’re likely to run into problems. Wait a month or two, see if these launch issues are patched out and then revisit the concept. Because underneath the jank, Necromunda: Hired Gun is a grimdark and gory gem that just needs a bit more polishing for it to truly shine.

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Biomutant

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I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, there’s just something deeply satisfying about scavenging for scrap in the ruins of a post-apocalyptic society. The Fallout games know this, The Last of Us duology do too. Hell, any number of open world titles like Horizon Zero Dawn could tell you the same. Oh, and let us not forget Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden! Crikey, even your humble word janitor has had a crack at exploring the concept in a literary context.

Biomutant, from small indie development team Experiment 101, have added fresh wrinkles to the formula, some of which work really well, but the game as a whole has serious caveats.

Biomutant is an open world RPG adventure set in a post apocalypse where humanity has long since popped its clogs. The world now teems with adorable rodent-looking things that lob about in cute outfits and batter the shit out of one another using furry martial arts.

Your user-generated character is on a mission to save or destroy the Tree of Life, unite or exterminate multiple mammalian tribes and fight four enormous monsters.

All sounds pretty promising, right? Add to that gorgeous and unique visual design, staggering enemy variety and evocative music and it would seem the entire package is a belter.

This impression won’t last long, however. Alas, Biomutant makes a lot of dud choices. They were made, almost certainly, for budgetary reasons, which is understandable, but it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.

First up, there’s no voice acting to speak of. All the characters speak in gibberish and a plummy Pom narrator – who sounds like a mixture of bargain basement Stephen Fry by way of a slumming David Attenborough – translates for you. Aside from the fact that the intrusive narrator is a tonal mismatch for what’s happening on screen, this means you’re always kept at arm’s length. You’re being told a story rather than living through it and it’s a real immersion-killer.

Add to this insanely repetitive mission design, endlessly reused assets and floaty combat, and you’ve got an overall package that fails more than it succeeds. Despite this, however, those who enjoy post-apocalyptic RPGs will find stuff to like. The open world is enormous and frequently hauntingly quiet, offering ruins to explore, scrap to scavenge and loot to equip or break down.

Plus, the crafting system is genuinely excellent, once you get your head around it, offering a huge number of weapon and armour options. It’s a pity that this variety doesn’t carry over to missions or story beats.

As it stands right now, Biomutant is a bit of a mess. Aside from the problems listed above, the PS4/PS5 version crashes with bewildering regularity. The script is tepid, the quest design unimaginative and the sense of repetition acute. And yet for all of that, those of you who enjoy scavenging for scrap in ruined worlds may find nuggets of gold in this overly ambitious pile of debris.

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Returnal

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When I was a nipper, sometime in the mid ‘80s, it wasn’t so easy for me to play video games. Oh sure, I had a mate with a Commodore 64, and another with an Atari 2600, but those wankers didn’t like it when I lobbed over uninvited and kept wanting to play this thing called “sport’, which was downright baffling.

This was a few years before I managed to get a Nintendo Entertainment System, so if the urge to play games hit me – and it did, often – I had to go down to the local fish and chip shop to play whatever game they had. The game could be anything, Wonder Boy in Monsterland, Altered Beast, Golden Axe – whatever – it was frequently rotated and would almost certainly be a belter.

And it would always, always, be surrounded by a cadre of local teenage gronks, oozing with acne and adolescent disdain, standing at the machine, their twenty cent pieces piled high. You’d eventually get a game, sure, but you’d spend the whole time being aware of the skinny bloke with a rattail glaring at you, a pack of durries tucked into his shirt sleeve.

I mention this because the experience of playing Returnal is, in some weird ways, very similar to those formative pseudo pinny parlour experiences. Like the twenty cent-gobblers mentioned above, Returnal is a cruel mistress, causing you to start over again and again and again. And while you don’t have to deal with the bleary, piggy little eyes of Hendo and his mates, the barrier for entry is high. Perhaps, at times, too high.

Returnal is a third person shooter roguelike (or “roguelite”, depending on your definition) where you play the astronaut Selene, who has crash landed on the mysterious planet Atropos. As Selene, you’ll find you’re stuck in a time loop where you’ll dash through six biomes, fighting increasingly difficult enemies and die over and over again. And after you die? You start right back at the beginning. And even after unlocking shortcuts and new abilities, every death means a new slog to try and get back to where you were.

Hosuemarque’s slick sci-fi bullet hell is gorgeous, the graphics are superb and silky smooth, the gameplay addictive and finely honed. When you’re having a great run, everything feels so right. The haptic feedback from the PS5’s controllers adds an extra layer of immersion and clever, if minimalist writing keeps the story compelling. However, when you go for a forty minute run, get killed right before the boss and then have to start all over again, with very little of value unlocked, it just feels… cruel for the sake of it.

Repetition is clearly an important part of a time loop game, but would the overall package really have been made worse by being able to fast travel back to a new level once you’d unlocked it? Purists would say yes, but honestly, for this old time gamer, there’s a reason we stopped bowing at the altar of those cruel twenty cent hoovers, and adopted things like save points.

Returnal is a beautiful game, and those who have no fear of steep difficulty spikes and frequent restarts will no doubt engage fully with the impressive package Housemarque have delivered here. For me, though? I’ve spent enough time having ciggie smoke blown in my face by greasy monsters while I’m trying to enjoy a game session and Returnal just feels a bit too much like that. Plus, you can’t even get a chiko roll straight afterwards to soothe the sting.

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Resident Evil Village

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2017’s Resident Evil VII was a bold reinvention for Capcom’s long-lived spookshow series. Changing the action to a first person perspective, and delivering a story that felt like an even more demented riff on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other hillbilly horrors, the game was a tense, engaging triumph. Naturally, excitement for a potential sequel was high and now Resident Evil Village (VIIIage – geddit?) has arrived and despite minor flaws, it’s pretty bloody good.

Resident Evil Village puts you back in the shoes of VII’s protagonist, and man voted Most Likely to Injure His Hands Constantly, Ethan Winters. After the events of VII, Ethan has managed to make a better life with his missus, Mia, and infant daughter Rose. That is until his world is shattered, his daughter flogged, and he finds himself wandering the Transylvanian vistas of a very unpleasant European village.

What follows, in a lot of ways, feels like a bigger budgeted remake of VII. You’ve got a demented family, multiple members of which you’ll have to face in unique encounters, and a central mystery to decipher before it’s too late. The difference, other than the more gothic aesthetic, is in terms of scale. Instead of sickening Louisiana swampland, Ethan will be trekking across icy European environments, imposing castles, hideous dungeons. Instead of facing endless mouldy blokes, you’ll come across werewolves, leathery undead acolytes, bug ladies, cyborgs and, of course, an enormous sheila the internet is super thirsty for. It’s a huge array of foes, and it’s great to see such enemy variety.

Of course, having so many enemies means Village is more focused on combat than the previous entry. And, one wonderful sequence where you’re disarmed aside, this is absolutely an action-based experience. It’s Aliens, not Alien, which is great if you’re up for it, but disappointing if you were hoping Capcom would continue leaning towards more psychological horror.

Resident Evil Village is more of a carnival ghost train than a nuanced horror yarn, but it’s so effectively realised – and consistently tense throughout – that you can’t help but get swept up in the wild story, creepy atmosphere and surprisingly emotionally resonant conclusion. If you like your horror of the “balls to the wall” variety, you’d be an idiot to miss out on this Village.

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Nier Replicant

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Nier: Automata was one of the best games of 2017. A genre-straddling, fourth wall breaking, bullgoose loony trek through a robotic dreamscape that was at turns funny, sad, thought-provoking and jaw-droppingly odd. Polished gameplay, memorable locations, quality writing and unforgettable characters combined to create something truly unique.

Except, that’s not entirely true. See, Automata’s “uniqueness” was more due to the fact that it was the next evolution of an equally nuts – although in different ways – title from the same director, Yoko Taro, called Nier (or Nier Gestalt in some territories), which dropped in 2010.

The game did not do spectacularly, but it did manage to gather a loyal cult following, which helped Automata’s release no end. So, the good people at Cavia and Square Enix have dusted off Nier, prettied it up, added some new gear and released it as Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… so, uh, we’re just going to call it Nier Replicant.

Nier Replicant is the story of a brother and sister. The sister is Yonah, the brother is the player-named main character. In the beginning, you’ll look for a cure for Yonah’s disease, go on a bunch of fetch quests, fight shadowy ghosts called Shades and get into various shenanigans. Typical video game gear.

Then the game takes a hard left turn, and it never quite stops turning. Automata did similar things, but Replicant’s wild narrative shifts are no less engaging just because they’re expected. This is genuinely surprising, subversive stuff (that we will absolutely not spoil), and for fans of narratives that explore lofty concepts, and take risks, this can be thrilling.

That said, the gameplay is a little less accomplished than Automata. Even upgraded from 2010 standards, there are clunky elements here and for newbies to the series, Automata is definitely the superior option, mechanically speaking.

However, if you were one of the people who stumbled across Automata and were blown away by its wild twists and turns, you might want to give Replicant a spin. It’s a surreal, engaging, surprisingly emotional yarn that packs a wallop, even when some of its technical shortcomings make it feel a little dated.

Not quite the equal of Automata, it’s still something of a Nier masterpiece.

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Mortal Kombat

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Hollywood had its first crack at adapting gory fighting game Mortal Kombat way back in 1995. Directed by Paul WS Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil), the effort was a slick but vapid affair that featured none of the iconic battle-splatter the game was renowned for. It did, however, have a stunning soundtrack that still slaps to this day. Fear Factory, KMFDM and Orbital all on the same album? Hell yeah.

1997 saw the grim dawn of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, a bizarrely cheap-looking, strangely inert mess that missed the mark so hard the series went tits up for decades (although again, great soundtrack). Well, now we have the newest attempt, directed by Aussie Simon McQuoid and while it’s far from a perfect movie, it does feel as if the powers that be finally got a handle on this damn thing.

Mortal Kombat, broadly speaking, is about the ongoing war between Outworld and Earthrealm. The former features a cadre of evil demons and bad arse monsters, the latter overly earnest good guys and awesome martial arts fighters. The story mainly focuses on Cole Young (Lewis Tan), an MMA fighter who is dragged into the whole Kombat kaper thanks to an ancient prophecy, a dragon-shaped birthmark and enough goofy exposition to fill a Stephen King novel.

Still, once the film actually gets going and we meet Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and motherflippin’ Aussie gronk Kano (a scene-stealing Josh Lawson) the film begins to deliver modest banter, decent action and stunning gore. For fans who despaired at the lack of the red stuff in previous MK attempts, your ship has come in, because there are four or five jaw-dropping moments in this flick that will have you cackling and fist-pumping like a loon, scaring both your partner and your cats (true story).

The cast are a bit of a mixed bag, with Lawson easily the most memorable, making Kano seem like that dodgy uncle who isn’t invited over for Chrissy dinner anymore. However, Lewis Tan’s Cole is a total wet blanket (a problem of the script more than the performance) and Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano) fails to make much of an impression.

Still, this is Mortal Kombat, people, and if you’ve come to see imaginative, well-realised fight scenes that culminate in spectacular moments of splattery gore, and about a million cheeky nods to the video game fandom, then you’ve come to the right place. It’s not a flawless victory but it’s the best version of the material that doesn’t require you to have a controller in your hands.

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