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The Outer Worlds: Murder on Eridanos

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The Outer Worlds was released in 2019, and on the whole, it was received very favourably. Developed with more attention paid to character and story depth than recent Bethesda entries – which was apt considering developers Obsidian created the much-loved Fallout: New Vegas in 2010 – the game sold well and was a decent-sized hit.

The problem with The Outer Worlds, though, is that it makes a great first impression and then starts to feel a little samey. Enemy variety, mission design and combat are all actually quite shallow, so by the time you’ve reached the end of the game you’re pretty much done and dusted.

About a year after the main game, the first DLC was released, and it was… okay. Called Peril on Gorgon, the unambitious yarn was oddly designed, quite repetitive and didn’t add anything of note. It was received with considerably less relish than the base game.

Now the second, and final, DLC has arrived and while Murder on Eridanos is an improvement on its predecessor, it still feels a bit like cut content flogged as DLC.

Murder on Eridanos has the player character (and crew) investigate the brutal murder of actress Ruth Bellamy, who played the iconic Halcyon Helen character on the space tellies of millions. You’ll lob over to Eridanos, investigate Rizzo’s beverage distilleries, check out the Purpleberry Orchards and get involved in some weird stuff involving mind controlling slugs, exploited workers and narky insects.

The DLC features the game’s ubiquitous snappy sense of humour, and a crime scene investigation device adds light puzzle solving mechanics, but other than that, it’s basically mildly reskinned enemy encounters between sections of a mostly entertaining story in the classic whodunnit vein.

If that sounds like we’re damning it with faint praise? Well, we are. Murder on Eridanos is a perfectly adequate bit of gear, but its lack of impact on the overall game means that it’s more of a diversion than a revelation. Considering the quality of Fallout: New Vegas DLC back in the day, it feels like a missed opportunity, albeit one with a few chuckles along the way.

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Trailer: Mortal Kombat

Aussies Jessica McNamee as Sonya Blade and Josh Lawson as Kano feature prominently in this game adaptation made in Adelaide by Perth born director Simon McQuoid, making his feature debut.
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Little Nightmares 2

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Generally speaking, childhood is an unfathomable nightmare full of dark mystery and morbid misunderstanding. See, when you’re a kid, you don’t understand how the world works, don’t fully grasp the insidious banality that infects the human condition, so you tend to view things in the shadowy, mysterious manner of a creepy fairy tale.

Game devs, Tarsier Studios, know this only too well. It’s why their previous title Little Nightmares was so effective at getting under your skin and lowkey spooking you out. They continue this proud and rather morbid tradition with Little Nightmares 2, a sequel that maintains its predecessor’s quality but perhaps doesn’t innovate as much as one might like.

Plot-wise, Little Nightmares 2 is light on detail and heavy on atmosphere. You play a masked boy named Mono who needs to wend his way through poorly-lit, scary as hell environments, solving light puzzles under duress. Sometimes you’ll come across terrifying adult characters, all of whom want to kill you, and either flee from them or kill/trap them in some fashion. Shortly after the beginning of the tale, you’ll join up with Six (the protagonist from the first game) and she will assist you along the way.

Over the four or so hours of play, Little Nightmares 2 sustains a genuinely uncomfortable, eerie vibe that becomes increasingly twisted and warped, particularly in the final third. The puzzles themselves are serviceable, although occasionally a bit repetitive, and the ending appropriately dark, but it’s the little details and genuinely imaginative monsters that remain with you after the credits roll.

One creature in fact – a squawking schoolteacher beast whose neck extends endlessly like “Sweet Henrietta” from Evil Dead 2 – is easily the most disturbing creature you will see this year, certainly a scarier proposition than most recent movie monsters. So, if your loins are sufficiently girded for discomfort, and you’re okay with the relatively short length, Little Nightmares 2 offers a grim and disturbing look back at the dark side of being a confused, lost child haunted by things beyond understanding.

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Hitman 3

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The Hitman series has been popping clogs and bursting bonces since way back in the ancient year of 2000. Naturally enough, the series has gone through many changes in the two decades since, but perhaps its most unique iteration has been the trilogy of Hitman titles from IO Interactive, which began in 2016 with the rebooted Hitman and now concludes with Hitman 3. And while this version has its problems, there’s much to love here.

Hitman 3 yet again has you occupying the role of bald, barcoded man mountain Agent 47. As with the previous IO Interactive games, you’re given six huge maps, multiple targets and oodles of ways to kill them. Nowhere is this more apparent than the second level that takes place in the sprawling Carlisle Mansion in England. While 47 is there to kill the Carlisle matriarch, you also end up with the option of assuming the identity of a famous Poirot-like detective to solve a murder in the flash abode.

And solve it you shall! You’ll interview suspects, investigate clues and at the end of it all: reveal the killer. And then you can kill your target. Or kill the entire family. Or start beating the cleaning staff to death with fish. See, Hitman 3 is a sandbox in which you’re encouraged to play, and with a bit of lateral thinking you can accomplish all sorts of blackly comedic goals. This level of freedom is thrilling, especially in levels like the massive underground rave in Berlin, or the final level that takes place in a dynamic location (that we won’t spoil).

The downside, of course, is the plot is by necessity rather vague and a bit naff. Serviceable but certainly not memorable. Actually, “serviceable” is a good way to describe the graphics and controls too. They’re fine, they get the job done, but they’ve evolved very little since 2016.

Still and all, IO Interactive’s take on Hitman is popular with its fans precisely because of adaptability and versatility, not AAA slickness. Judged by that metric, Hitman 3 is the perfect conclusion to a subversive series that always looks on the bright side of death.

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Spider-Man: Miles Morales

comic bok, Gaming, Home, Marvel, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a new console generation’s first few games are either a bit crap or shallow tech demos. You don’t even have to go back far to see the trend. The launch/near launch titles on the PS4 were Killzone Shadow Fall (pretty, shallow) and Infamous Second Son (pretty, shallow). Well, it’s all just a bit of history repeating with Spider-Man: Miles Morales providing a beautifully rendered, not terribly deep introduction to the beefy new PS5. However, just because it’s a bit simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a sequel/spin-off from Marvel’s Spider-Man, the very solid title from friendly neighbourhood Insomniac Games. This time around the player is thrust into the scuffed sneakers of Miles Morales, who revealed his superpowers at the end of the previous game. Peter Parker, the OG Spidey, has to bugger off overseas, leaving New York in Miles’ hands. Which would be fabulous, were it not for the arrival of a new big bad, The Tinkerer, who is using a kind of programmable matter to wreak havoc on the Roxxon company and, by extension, the city itself.

There’s a lot about Spider-Man: Miles Morales that works really well. Miles is an affable, engaging character and his relationships with friends and family give the entire story a lot of heart and moments of genuine pathos. The gameplay, like the previous title, is superbly kinetic, and swinging through New York has lost none of its charm, particularly when played at 60fps. The fluid, dynamic movement is an utterly engaging joy. Combat too, with Miles’ added Venom Powers, feels slick and acrobatic and the addition of new enemy types is extremely welcome.

On the downside, the game is short – 5-7 hours or so – and all the busywork, map-filling content in the world can’t hide that fact. Despite its slender length, there’s also a perturbing amount of filler. One mission in particular had Miles having to power up a bunch of generators to enter a building followed by… powering up another bunch of generators to use a McGuffin inside the building!

The plot, also, is serviceable rather than spectacular, with the villains never feeling particularly iconic and the combat scenarios skewing a little samey. Plus, there are a number of technical problems with the game, particularly on the higher visual fidelity modes, that led to dramatic crashes from time to time. Sure, this is to be expected when early adopting new tech, but it’s still a pain and should be noted.

And yet, despite all of that, Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a damn good time. Superb graphics, flawless animation, fast-paced movement and concussive combat combine for a light but compelling experience. If you own a PS5 this is basically a must-own, despite niggling issues and a hefty price tag.

 

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Why is Keanu Reeves in video game Cyberpunk 2077?

Well, apart from the obvious - he's cool in an inter-generational way unlike any other actor, and was in John Wick, Johnny Mnemonic and Matrix, etc - he's playing villain Johnny Silverhand in this futuristic open world game that is going to blow up in December. Like, blow up, as in explode, like be popular, you get the gist.
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Destiny 2: Beyond Light

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Destiny 2 is getting on a bit these days. First released in 2017, the venerable Bungie-developed shooter is one of the most long lived ‘games as a service’ titles, going through various updates, controversies and even owners in its journey to occupy the hearts and minds of shooter fans the world over. Now, in 2020, the latest content drop has been unleashed. Called Beyond Light, and featuring long-awaited story revelations, the result is a mixed bag but an entertaining one regardless.

Beyond Light finally, finally gets around to dealing with The Darkness in a meaningful way. The enemy has been alluded to since 2014’s Destiny, and featured in the previous expansion Shadowkeep, but this time around they’re front and centre. Not only have the pyramid-shipped ones lobbed up, they’ve gone and somehow flogged Io, Titan, Mercury and Mars! Not only that, a mad Fallen sheila by the name of Eramis has somehow worked out how to wield the power of Darkness, using Stasis to get her revenge on the forces of Light. Looks like it’s up to you, Variks and the Exo Stranger to go on another adventure, this time in the icy vistas of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. And yes friends, there will be shooting. A whole lot of shooting. Like, a staggering amount, hey.

As tends to be common with these larger content drops, Beyond Light’s story is a short but sweet five(ish) hours of engaging twists and turns with the usual slightly disappointing ending and climax with a villain who was a bit shit. Seriously, they’ve been pulling this nonsense almost every time, with 2018’s Forsaken being the only exception to the rule. Once the main campaign is concluded, a new end game pursuit opens in the form of Empire Hunts. These are quite entertaining, extended boss fights that incorporate grinding strikes and levelling up a lure for maximum rewards, and then going after the big bad with a vengeance. The biggest new addition, however, is your guardian’s ability to wield the powers of Darkness, using ice-based Stasis to freeze and shatter enemies and really give people the shits in PvP mode, Crucible.

Beyond Light is, as always, an entertaining ride. Europa is a gorgeous new environment, the boss fights in particular are very engaging this time around and of course the shooting is second to none. That said, Destiny 2 is absolutely starting to show its age. Beautiful skyboxes aside, it’s hard not to notice the reused assets, the samey enemies and the encounters we’ve done hundreds, possibly thousands of times before. Bungie’s decision to focus on 2-3 more years of Destiny 2 rather than creating a sequel has raised many eyebrows, and unless they make a seamless transition to next-gen consoles it’s hard to imagine everyone will go along for the ride.

That said, and it bears repeating, the shooting is like a soothing balm for the soul. Crisp, responsive and utterly addictive, it represents the best in the biz and is always a hoot with friends. Destiny 2: Beyond Light is a rather safe, but enjoyable, addition to the game. Plus, there’s plenty more to come, including further seasonal content and a brand new raid, Deep Stone Crypt. However, for longterm fans, it does feel like the cracks are starting to show and if Bungie wants to keep this cash cow going, they’re going to need to start thinking beyond the box.

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

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Somewhere during the Assassin’s Creed series’ 20-something games, your humble reviewer found himself checking out of the series. Not completely, mind you. There were still highpoints. 2013’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was a good ‘un and 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was not without its charms, however the emphasis on janky combat over stealthy assassinations, of vast but oddly repetitive environments over smaller but more detailed locations, and the increasingly level-gated content, that all but required seemingly endless grinding (looking at you AC: Origins and Odyssey) put the series firmly in the “it’s just not for me” basket. It’s a surprise then, that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, despite suffering from some of the above-listed afflictions (but we’ll get to that later) has gone down as easy as a frosty horn of mead and a cheerful after-dinner pillage.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla tells the story of Eivor, a young (female or male, player’s choice) viking in AD 873 who leaves Norway to establish new lands in Anglo-Saxon England. Eivor is joined by bestie, and would-be king, Sigurd, his wife Randvi and a host of other Nordic chums, all with their own personalities and agendas. Over the course of the 60-something hour adventure, friends will become enemies, enemies will become friends and – of course – a mysterious ancient order of “Hidden Ones” will appear, giving the meta story its contractually mandated due. The thing is, the story is a really good one. Eivor is an intriguing lead and the RPG-light style of choices with consequences you’ll come across, add a new layer of player agency to the proceedings. This means, you’ll likely find yourself genuinely invested in the story, particularly in the relationship between Eivor and Siguard, a pairing that in true Shakespearean tradition, appears doomed from the beginning thanks to an early prophetic dream. In fact, the experience of playing the game feels a bit like binging a season of a surprisingly decent historical drama, even if some of the beats are a tad predictable.

In practical terms, Valhalla’s combat feels more grounded than Odyssey, with a pleasing sense of brutality and viciousness that feels appropriate for the subject matter. As vikings, you will pillage monasteries, burn enemies’ houses and flog anything shiny that isn’t tied down, which at the very least is a little morally ambiguous. You’ll forge alliances with various factions in England, performing tasks and solving problems, and slowly upgrade your homebase as you seek more and more power. It’s engaging, exciting stuff, which is somewhat undone by the ubiquitous Ubisoft second act that just drags on a bit too long. Other less than positive wrinkles are the bugs that, while tolerable, feel a bit out of place in a full price AAA game. Nothing breaks immersion like watching your horse fly off into the distance like a rapidly deflating equine dirigible.

Still and all, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a big return to form for the series. A fascinating period of history gorgeously realised in a massive, expansive – but nuanced – environment with a solid story and intriguing characters. If you’re even vaguely interested in viking culture, and can handle a bit of grit and gore, Valhalla is a worthy longship ride into glory.

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The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope

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Creating a game that becomes a huge hit is a blessing and a curse. Just ask Supermassive Games, who are responsible for the very unexpectedly successful Until Dawn. See, Until Dawn gave players the chance to essentially direct their own slasher movie, attempting to save the likable characters, to kill the annoying ones and see what impact their decisions would have. It was a hoot of a game, particularly effective when played half drunk with your mates peppered around the loungeroom, and it was inevitable more of the type would be made. The first of these “Dark Pictures Anthology” games was Man of Medan, which had its moments but was undone by a rather pedestrian third act twist. The latest iteration is Little Hope and while it has its charms, unfortunately it’s not quite the classic it needs to be to get this series back on track.

Little Hope tells the tale of five characters who, after a bus crash, find themselves trapped in the creepy hamlet from which this game gets its name. Little Hope is a town with a dark past, involving witch trials, murder and all manner of macabre shenanigans, many of which you’ll experience as flashbacks, jump scares and dream sequences. This is prime material for a horror yarn, and the early minutes of the game are intriguing, however, as the story wears on, a lack of structure and identity creep in.

Until Dawn worked because it was mostly set in a creepy abandoned ski resort and large house. Man of Medan worked (up until the end at least) because it was mostly taking place on an abandoned boat. Little Hope has some good moments, but utilising a whole town in the context of a story like this feels too vague and formless. Similarly, the voice acting feels oddly disengaged and inconsistent, with even good actors like Will Poulter sounding wooden and listless in their delivery.

That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had in Little Hope. Remember that loungeroom with your mates scenario? That remains delightfully fun, you can even do online co-op which is dandy with a headset handy. However, a game like this shouldn’t require the addition of boozy sarcasm to be fun or scary, and sadly, it’s just not all that engaging a narrative.

Visually gorgeous, sonically okay, occasionally spooky but just too inconsistent, Little Hope is serviceable but more of a reminder of the lighting-in-a-bottle experience that was Until Dawn.

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