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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

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It’s hard to explain to the younger generations just how much the Tony Hawk games dominated loungerooms in the late ’90s/early 2000s. Afternoons, evenings, post-club kick ons and even cheeky sick days were spent mastering the bird man’s trickier moves, usually shrouded in a haze of bong smoke and concentration sweat. That sense of baked camaraderie, combined with the “just one more go” addiction spiral, made these games indelible parts of the video game landscape. Of course, the party couldn’t go on forever, and while it’s debatable which Hawk game finally sunk the franchise, things had well and truly died in the arse by the time the execrable Pro Skater 5 plopped out in 2015. It seemed that those halcyon days were well and truly over and then Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 dropped in and it’s like the ’90s have returned, except this time we’re old.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is much more than your typical remaster. It is, in fact, a ground up remake of the first two Pro Skater titles with gorgeous graphics, slick animation, familiar but tweaked gameplay and the original game’s steep learning curve very much present. In fact, due to the animation being so slick, and the frame rate so high, the game’s actually significantly faster than you might remember, which may well give your entropy-dulled reflexes a work out. All the great locations from the first two games are present, with some reimagined and tweaked elements (The Mall now looks like a post apocalyptic, deserted hellscape) and the tricks from later games – manuals, reverts, wall plants etc. – have been added. There’s also a robust Create-A-Skater mode, the character then able to be used across both games and online, and the Create-A-Park mode, which is a hoot for the very patient.

About the only misstep in this entire game involves its multiplayer modes. See, while you can link up with a mate and run through online challenges (like trick attack) with a bunch of randoms, you can’t just bum around a location that’s exclusive to the pair of you. No private matches, no co-op play through freshly unlocked levels and not even any bloody HORSE! It’s probably a tad churlish to complain about a feature missing that sure as hell wasn’t in the original, but in 2020 to not have that level of online interactivity seems a disappointing omission and something that would be wise to correct in this or future entries.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 probably won’t blow away newbies, and honestly, Skate was a better pure skating game (remaster or sequel, please, EA) but if you loved these games back in the day there’s a better-than-average chance you’ll love them anew here. Disappointing online selection aside, this is a near-perfect remaster and a delicious slice of rose-tinted nostalgia done right.

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Wasteland 3

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It’s while I’m attacking the Gippers that I’m reminded of that Mitchell and Webb sketch about the self-aware Nazis. You know, the one where they ask, “are we the baddies?”, after realising that they’re very much on the wrong side of history. The reason it springs to mind, as I cover the floor with zealot blood and guts, is because what started out with the best of intentions has become a massacre. And while the Gippers are as mad as a sackful of rats – worshipping the memory of pre-apocalypse president Ronald Reagan and calling everyone “commies” – I’m not sure that they deserve this fate. When I exit the front doors of the Western White House, now spattered red, the Godfishers are waiting for me. I made a deal with them, you see. Told the lunatics I’d let them kill the Gippers in exchange for access to their territory, a promise I have very clearly broken. So, as my six strong squad of rangers readies itself for another battle, I can’t help but wonder: are we the baddies?

Welcome to Wasteland 3, the long-awaited post-apocalyptic RPG from inXile Entertainment, that puts the emphasis on tough choices, decisions that have genuine consequences and moral ambiguity that will haunt your non-playing hours.

Wasteland 3 puts you in the boots of two rangers, pre-made or user generated, the only survivors of an ill-advised journey to the frozen hell of Colorado. Once you’ve checked in with local leader The Patriarch, you’ll need to add to your team, take on missions, upgrade your HQ and – most importantly – decide where you stand, morally-speaking. Will you side with the Patriarch’s authoritarian rule or do you think that there are worthier leaders waiting in the wings? Will you bring peace and prosperity to Colorado or would you just rather shoot and loot your way through the various communities. Do you want a better world, or would you prefer to just watch it burn? All of these disparate concepts are viable options and the range of choices you can make is genuinely dizzying. Most RPGs, even the very good ones, deliver nothing more than the illusion of choice, but Wasteland 3 raises the bar, making the game one of the best pure RPG experiences currently available.

Played from an isometric point of view, Wasteland 3 certainly isn’t the prettiest game around. The backgrounds are often drab, the character models a little stiff and while the many turn-based battles that you’ll take part in look perfectly fine, this won’t be a game that knocks your socks off in terms of presentation. The voice acting, however, is very decent, with most of the dialogue voiced and the writing is stellar, with none of the bloat you usually find in this type of game. Performance-wise, it has to be said, the game does have a few bugs at launch. Animation glitches, some audio dropouts and even a few hard crashes to desktop (playing on a PS4 Pro), however, they’re likely to be patched soon. Pleasingly, load times are quite tolerable, particularly compared to the likes of Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin 2.

Ultimately, however, Wasteland 3 is all about the choices you make and the paths you take. Before you know it, you’ll be part of a civil war, unearthing conspiracies or, you know, accidentally wiping out two entire communities of religious fanatics because you prioritised mission success over human lives. Despite the game’s often lunatic sense of humour (with toey robot prostitutes and suicide bomber pigs), these decisions will weigh on you, have you thinking about them and probably inform a second or third playthrough. It’s rough around the edges, and needs a little patience at the beginning, but Wasteland 3 is one of the best RPGs in years and an absolute must-play title during these bizarre, dystopian times.

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Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition

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Pathfinder: Kingmaker is the latest PC RPG to make the leap to consoles, transplanting keyboard and mouse gameplay into the realm of the casual couch and comfy trackie-daks. This has been going on for a while, with the likes of Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin forging the way to much success, particularly in the case of the latter. That’s not to say Pathfinder is more of the same, mind you, because while there are many superficial similarities with others, this epic title from Russian developer Owlcat Games offers unique twists on a now familiar formula.

Pathfinder is set in the Stolen Lands, and casts you in the boots of a character – either self generated or preset – who will need to gather a party, grow in strength, take on increasingly tough missions and eventually defeat a tough boss. Sounds familiar, right? And it is, with a lot of generic high fantasy tropes executed in a solid but unexceptional fashion. However, once you beat the baddie, a particularly nasty wanker called the Stag Lord, you’re handed a barony and new responsibilities that involve managing funds, building the right structures and keeping the populace happy and safe.

They’ve gone and put a bloody town management game in your RPG! You’ll still be required to go on epic quests, mind you, but now you’ll need to manage your increasing lands as well. It’s… kind of a lot, to be honest, and those who’d rather just dungeon crawl without reading the instructions should possibly look elsewhere.

That said, if you’re up for the challenge (and able to watch a few Youtube videos before you even begin), Pathfinder is an absolute game changer. One of the best aspects is the combat. Is it turn-based or real time with pause? It’s both. And unlike Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, you can switch between the two on the fly. Mid-dungeon fighting weak arse trash mobs of low level spiders or skeletons? Put it on RTWP and let the AI do the work. Come up against a tough boss that requires a little more strategy and finesse? Notch it back to turn-based and conquer.

It’s a brilliant addition to the genre and one that would be great to see embraced by other developers. Add to that a dizzying array of difficulty customisation options – wherein you can change the level of AI, the fail states and even switch the kingdom management to “automatic” if that sort of fiddly nonsense isn’t your bag – and you’ve got a game that feels like it can be honed to your specific style of play.

The graphics are crisp and colourful, the sound and music solid and even the load times, the inexplicable bane of this genre’s console ports, are better than most. On the downside, the story and script never really rise much above the level of perfectly adequate. You’ll have fun, you’ll be engaged but you’re unlikely to be shocked by something creative and unexpected like Divinity: Original Sin 2. Difficulty spikes can be an issue too, although there’s usually a lateral, albeit nerdy, solution to most problems. The Stag Lord, for instance. Rather than face him head on, you can turn half his lieutenants against him, kill those who won’t be convinced and even rope in his pet bear to join the boot party.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition comes packaged with all the DLCs, offering literally hundreds of hours of gameplay. While it doesn’t deliver the easiest experience for old school style RPG noobs, careful and patient investigation and experimentation will have your party feeling powerful and ripping through dungeons in no time. Once you get your head around the multifarious systems, Pathfinder: Kingmaker reveals itself to be one of the most nuanced and satisfying RPGs of 2020 and a delightful surprise for those with the patience and time to really hook in.

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Ghost of Tsushima

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The samurai genre is rivalled only by the western for the dubious honour of earning the ‘least utilised’ guernsey in the modern gaming era. Certainly, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Desperados III paid memorable homage to the latter, but the former has been woefully neglected. Oh sure, we’ve had borderline entries like the Niohs 1 and 2 or FromSoftware’s punishing Sekiro, but those titles utilised fantasy elements to spice up the narrative. No, in terms of pure Kurosawa-esque samurai gear, it’s down to developers Sucker Punch Productions to finally bring the goods with Ghost of Tsushima, a beautiful game that plays it a little safe.

Ghost of Tsushima tells the tale of Jin Sakai, a young samurai who joins his uncle, Lord Shimura, in defending the Japanese island of Tsushima against the Mongol invasion of 1274. The spectacular opening battle goes poorly, leaving Shimura captured and Sakai left for dead. It’s then up to you, the player, to find allies for Jin, improve his combat skills, weapons and armour, and mount a campaign to save his uncle and then rid Tsushima of the Mongol threat.

The first thing you’re likely to notice about Ghost is that it’s simply beautiful. The poetic Japanese scenery, the appealing character models, the warm sun glinting off sword blades and even the blood-drenched outdoor abattoir of a post-battle landscape all combine for a rich, immersive environment that never fails to captivate. Add to this an intuitive, robust photo mode and you’re likely to spend a surprising amount of time just taking in the sumptuous visuals this game has to offer. Movement too is smooth and slick, with Jin slowly but surely learning new combat stances, gracefully spinning and attacking around the battlefield, leaving many dead foes in his wake.

So far so good, right? Well… mostly. See, while Ghost of Tsushima is practically flawless in terms of presentation, the actual gameplay is at times a tad pedestrian. The combat is great mind you, particularly if you avoid the rather wonky stealth and go for straight up front-on battles, but the gameplay between these encounters is desperately familiar. If you’ve played Horizon: Zero Dawn, Days Gone, recent Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed entries or, hell, it seems like most AAA games these days, you’ve played Ghost. Areas to unlock, resources to farm for crafting purposes, main missions, side missions and collectibles. It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just very generic and overly familiar. There was an opportunity to innovate here and instead Ghost plays it very safe.

The main story and Jin’s character in general are also… fine. Intriguing enough to keep your interest for the duration, but not exactly mind-blowing or profoundly emotionally resonant. You’re unlikely to shed a tear here, unlike Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Last of Us. Interestingly, however, Ghost also comes equipped with some of the best side quests – which deepen your knowledge and relationship of existing characters – and Mythic Quests – that explore some borderline supernatural element and always end with you acquiring a fancy piece of gear or weapon. These clever, often beautifully written vignettes showcase Ghost’s best moments and almost make up for the lack of ambition in other quarters.

Ultimately, Ghost of Tsushima is a gorgeous game, an epic love letter to Akira Kurosawa and the cinematic samurai genre he arguably perfected, and the best Assassin’s Creed title in years… despite not actually being an Assassin’s Creed title. Slick combat combines with predictable exploration but with enough twists and turns to keep your armchair samurai adventure a worthy and honourable one.

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Carrion

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Even the most casual gamer will have spent hours of their in-game lives hunting and destroying monsters. Whether the setting is a pristine laboratory, an abandoned warehouse or sinister factory, it’s likely you’ll have splattered an irate organism or cranky xenomorph across it many times over. But what if you weren’t the heroic human in the story? What if, in fact, you were the slime-slicked creature crawling through the vents? That is the premise of Carrion, a game that really shows how much difference a change of perspective can make.

Carrion puts you in the pulsating biomass of a nameless beastie being experimented on in a laboratory. At the beginning of the game you manage to escape from a canister as a small but swift critter, and then it’s time to evolve, increase in size and power, and find your freedom. Oh, and you’ll massacre and absorb a metric tonne of quivering, screaming, terror-scented human flesh along the way.

Of all the many things Carrion does right, its best element by far is the way the monster feels to play. The rapid, slithering, tentacular movement remains exhilarating from minute one to the conclusion four or five hours later. Sweeping out of vents to grab scientists and rip them in half, punching through obstructions like a tumescent wrecking ball and letting out a roar before you engulf multiple victims like a wave of malignant meat is just… wonderful. If you’re of a slightly demented mindset like your humble reviewer, you’ll likely spend much of the game cackling like a cartoon banshee, much to the chagrin of flatmates and cats.

The graphics too, in a crisp engaging pixel art style, tickle all the right retro gaming receptors and are a joy to behold. Slightly less successful is some of the exploration, with a few of the environments reading too similarly to deliver legible landmarks, which can lead to some frustrating and confusing navigation loops, compounded by the lack of a map. Also, players expecting a strong narrative or enticing backstory will likely be left a little cold, because it’s pretty threadbare.

Still and all, the story is not what Carrion is about. This is the type of clever indie game that saw the incredible third act of Playdead’s Inside and went “yeah, let’s do a whole game of that!” and it’s as giddy and satisfying as that sounds. Certainly, the short length and repetitive gameplay will give some pause, but for those who always felt like The Thing from John Carpenter’s The Thing got a raw deal, Carrion will provide splattery catharsis. And in the end, it turns out ol’ mate Friedrich Nietzsche was right: when fighting monsters you yourself do become a monster… and it’s a fucken hoot!

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Stellaris: Console Edition

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Console gaming is great. Oh sure, your root-dodging “PC Master Race” ballbags will call you a “casual” (like that’s a bad thing!), but you’ll be chilling on your couch, playing games on your enormous telly, like some kind of hedonistic Roman emperor. It would, however, be disingenuous to claim that consoles can deliver a perfect experience with all video game genres. Third person action/adventure? Hell yeah. Online shooter with your mates? Step right on in. Real time strategy games? Ehhhh not so much. Something about that more strategic, fiddly style of gameplay is traditionally ill-suited to lounging on the couch in your trackie-daks with a controller in one hand and a hot Milo in the other. Every so often a developer decides to give it a bash, however, and the latest to do so comes in the form of Stellaris: Console Edition.

Stellaris has actually been available on PC since 2016, and has remained a favourite for fans who like their strategy with a sci-fi edge. The basic premise has you controlling a race – be it human or other – that has just invented FTL (faster than light) technology and is ready to take its place amongst the “species of the stars”.

It’s a lofty, heady concept brimming with imagination and potential, but in practical terms involves a lot of forward planning, micromanaging and sensible distribution of resources. This sort of gameplay is practically custom-designed for PCs, with keyboards offering numerous options and commands, and the transition to console isn’t exactly smooth. Certainly, the D-pad can be used to switch things around, but it’s hardly the most elegant of solutions.

Further to the controller limitations, the game is bloody complex! Even after taking part in the game’s many welcome (although not exactly eloquent) tutorials, beginners will almost certainly feel the need to take to Youtube and watch one of the dozens of ‘how to’ videos that are available. It is, at times, a bit of a pain in the arse. However, if you do persevere, a fascinating game awaits. Will you lead your civilisation into a golden age of peace, or start a series of intergalactic wars? Will you be religious zealot, resource-hoarding arseholes or altruistic, benevolent peacekeepers?

Stellaris: Console Edition is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have an intelligent, sprawling and thought-provoking (and time consuming!) game at your disposal. On the other, playing on console really does feel like a clumsier, lesser option. Still, madly keen strategy nerds who don’t own a decent PC will delight at finally being able to get their hands on this bad boy, and will drink in the chance to get lost in their own universe. The rest of us filthy casuals, however, will be scratching our heads and spending a whole lot of time on Youtube.

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Desperados III

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After the commercial and critical success of Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2, it was inevitable, and welcome, that more titles would adopt a western setting. Desperados III is the latest to do so, and evokes that cowboy era with style and finesse. However, before you strap on your spurs and dust off that hat, understand that while Desperados III shares a setting with the likes of RDR2, as a game it could not be more different; and she’s as harsh as the desert sun at noon, pilgrim.

Desperados III is actually a prequel to the earlier entries and is very much of the real time tactics genre. You will play as five characters throughout the campaign, switching in and out on the fly, and stealthy shenanigans are the order of the day. In terms of gameplay, get ready for a whole heapin’ helpin’ of trial and error, as you attempt to sneak past enemies, alert them, get shot to pieces and reload the last save point to try it all again. It can be frustrating, downright maddening at times, but the sense of satisfaction you get from pulling off a perfect series of moves is deeply gratifying.

Graphically, the isometric POV is appealing, with large sprawling environments. Character models and voice acting are both superb, although sometimes the camera can be a little fiddly. In fact, “a little fiddly” is a good description for the game as a whole, as the tiniest of wrong moves can be the difference between life and (enraging) death, and newcomers to the series or real time tactics in general, are likely in for a baptism by fire.

Having said that, if you can key into the game’s subtle, and rather unique, rhythms there’s a helluva game here, replete with clever, ever-evolving gameplay, an excellent roster of characters with complimentary abilities and genuinely head-scratching puzzles to solve. Desperados III is niche, and at times too fussy for its own good, but it’s also original and engaging and deeply compelling. Just know you’ll be using your quick save and load buttons more than your trigger fingers, and you’ll have fun breaking in this wild horse.

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Disco Elysium

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Disco Elysium isn’t like other games. Oh sure, superficially, the role-playing game from developer ZA/UM resembles titles you’ve seen before. The isometric third person point of view, the ability to level up various character traits and branching conversation trees are all typical of the RPG genre. However, it’s in the details, the nuance, that Disco sets itself apart and offers one of the most unique and fascinating games in recent memory.

Disco Elysium puts you in the well-trodden shoes of a grizzled cop who has such severe amnesia that he can’t remember a damn thing. Not his name, age, location, purpose or what the bloody hell he did the night before. Full of self-loathing and nameless remorse – not to mention some very chatty aspects of your fractured psyche – you leave the skanky, trashed hotel room you woke up in and begin to explore the city of Revachol. There’s been a murder, you see, and it’s up to you and your straight-laced partner Kim Kitsuragi to solve the mystery before tension in the town boils over into violent chaos. Or, you know, not. Because in Disco Elysium you can pretty much do as you please. Prefer to piss fart about getting trashed on booze and goey? Have at it. Want to become a rabid communist, or a dead-eyed fascist, and blurt political dogma at all and sundry? Knock yourself out. Hell, in a particularly dark turn you can even become a murderer yourself, although it’s heavily discouraged.

Still, freedom is nothing new in RPGs. Where the difference comes with Disco Elysium is the fact that there’s no combat. None. At all. No random encounters, no boss fights, no trash mobs, no secret hidden enemies. While violence does exist, it’s rare and not a game mechanic. No, in this game it’s all about talking, thinking, reaching conclusions, sharing arguments, debating and banging on like you’re being paid by the word. Most conversations will include skill checks to unlock further information, or goals, and your performance in these moments is dependent on which traits you’ve upgraded on your character screen. Shockingly, pleasingly, it works a treat, giving Disco Elysium the feel of reading an engaging, smart and dense (in a good way) novel that lets you bumble through the narrative, trying to get the best result.

The uniformly excellent writing is buoyed further by the gorgeous aesthetics and design sensibility of the game, which drip with grime and despair, offering locations so vivid you can practically smell them. Smart, incisive dialogue pairs with the otherworldly score and the brilliantly realised characters will keep you guessing about the game’s numerous mysteries and conspiracies right up until the end.

Disco Elysium is smart, surprising and utterly engrossing. Get ready to spend 20-30 hours in a gorgeous, painterly world in a twisted tale that brims with both menace and wit, a dreamlike stroll through a world unlike any other and a stunningly satisfying video game that will stay with you long after you’ve woken from its surreal embrace.

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Resident Evil 3

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It’s funny how history repeats itself over and over. Case in point, Capcom’s one-two punch of Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3: Nemesis in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Resident Evil 2 was an undisputed masterpiece, an evolution of the survival horror formula and a game that remains a beloved classic to this day. Resident Evil 3, on the other hand, was a fun but slight affair that was shorter, simpler and just not quite as involving as its predecessor. Cut to 2020 and we have the Resident Evil 3 remake hitting stores this week and the result? Well, it’s all just a bit of history repeating…

Resident Evil 3 puts the player in the shapely shoes of Jill Valentine, who has the misfortune of being in Racoon City around the same time as the events of Resident Evil 2 are taking place. It soon becomes clear, however, that Jill’s problems are a little different, as a S.T.A.R.S-hunting beastie named Nemesis is about and wants nothing more than to kill Jill. The opening hours of RE3 are superb. Scary, atmospheric and genuinely thrilling. The devastated streets of Racoon City are an engaging backdrop, and you feel like you’re genuinely inhabiting the early hours of a zombie apocalypse. Nemesis too is initially a thrilling foe, seemingly invincible and utterly devoted to ripping your guts out.

The problem is, as the game wears on, the thrills begin to dwindle. What commences in wide open areas, eventually becomes samey corridors, and while the slightly more action-focused combat is gripping while it’s occurring, the game around it just doesn’t have the same level of care as last year’s excellent Resident Evil 2 remake. Nemesis too, becomes just a repeated boss, not stalking you like the Tyrant aka Mr. X did in the previous entry and the five hour playtime, with no second character playthrough, really doesn’t do much to dispel the sense that this is a lesser product. RE3 comes bundled with Resident Evil: Resistance, which is an engaging-for-a-while 4v1 multiplayer proposition, but can’t disguise the fact that the campaign, which is the title’s selling point, isn’t quite up to snuff.

Ultimately, Resident Evil 3 repeats the slight letdown that it proved in 1999. However, this time around, it’s a little less forgivable, particularly after the stunning Resident Evil 2 remake. Die hard horror fans will certainly find something to love in this slight but splattery offering, and the first third is brilliant, but sadly the game’s real nemesis is a lack of innovation.

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Doom Eternal

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Doom (2016) was a near-perfect reboot of the revered id Software property that dates back to ye olden times of 1993. It was fast-paced, furious, dripping with gore and just a little bit on the simplistic side in terms of gameplay and narrative. It was also an enormous hit, and paved the way for Doom Eternal, the follow-up that is bigger, more complicated and nuanced in almost every way. However, does bigger equal better in this case? Happily, the answer is a guttural grunt to the affirmative, followed by the sound of a shotgun cocking and a tasty guitar lick.

Doom Eternal once again puts the player in the oversized kicking boots of The Doom Slayer, a silent protagonist who communicates via the medium of carnage. Earth has been taken over by the forces of Hell, and 60% of the population has died horribly. It’s up to you to rip and tear your way through the fetid flesh of your foes and save what’s left of this tiny blue and green orb. You’ll also kick the guts out of a plot that involves angelic creatures, death cults, multi-dimensional travel and clever references to the franchise’s ‘90s origins. If the previous game suffered from too much simplicity, Eternal almost goes too far in the other direction. To truly get a handle on the plot you’ll have to read the various lore entries scattered around the place, which feels at odds with the fast-paced, frenetic, push-forward-and-kill gameplay loop.

The gameplay itself has also been iterated upon, and this is a change for the better. Doom was loads of fun, but it ultimately ended up being battles in arenas with samey looking backgrounds. Doom Eternal adds exploration, platforming, light puzzle solving and some truly novel tweaks to the formula that we won’t spoil. Naturally, the bulk of the action is, once more, fanging around arena-style areas killing everything in sight, but it’s presented in a much more interesting fashion. Another unexpected improvement is the multiplayer battle mode, which features two player controlled demons vs a player controlled Doom Slayer, which is surprisingly fun and nuanced, giving you something to hook into after the 15-20 hour single player campaign.

Doom Eternal is a bigger, messier and worthy follow-up to the beloved 2016 title. Its slickly animated, fast-paced action remains utterly addictive, with added elements of strategy that stop it from becoming numbing or brainless, and the gloriously gruesome aesthetic makes the player feel like they’re fighting their way through a Slayer album cover. Feel the need to shower in the entrails of your enemies and cackle maniacally while you cleave their evil skulls in twain? Doom Eternal scratches that itch with a black, thorny claw wrapped in barbed wire.

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