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Diablo III: Rise of the Necromancer

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A corridor full of slavering monsters greets me as I enter the dark crypt. They’re not much for formalities and charge forward, an ungainly horde of teeth, claws and homicidal intent. I sweep my hands over the ground, raising bloody spikes from the floor to impale my foes. They die badly, screaming and baying. Another wave of enemies approaches and this time I conjure the corpses of the first wave to rise, rise and attack their living compatriots…

Rise of the Necromancer is Diablo III’s first major content drop since 2014’s Reaper of Souls expansion. Gallingly, it doesn’t add any story content, but as the name suggests it does introduce a class new to Diablo III: the Necromancer.

The good news is the Necromancer is one of the best classes in the game, hewing closest to the Witch Doctor in terms of skills, but otherwise quite unique. Turning corpse piles into vengeful spiders or spears, summoning wraiths to do your bidding and literally raising the dead from the bloodied battlefield to fight alongside you feels wonderfully morbid and shockingly powerful. Fans of Diablo’s darker, gothic aesthetic will really dig on this class, and the many combinations of powers you can equip on your way to level 70 and beyond.

The bad news is that there’s no new story content in which to launch your brand spanking new necromancer, making the $21.95 price tag feel a little steep. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a regular Diablo III crew running Greater Rifts you’ve probably already purchased this bad boy and are enjoying it mightily. If, however, you’re looking for the next sizable chunk of content to make Diablo III feel brand new, you’ll likely be a little disappointed.

Ultimately Rise of the Necromancer is lots of fun, but a little slight. Still, this is a game released in 2012 that still manages to feel engaging and addictive, so maybe it’s time to jump back in and desecrate a few corpses.

 
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Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy

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Sit down, youngin’, and let us tell you a tale of yesteryear. Twas a time called the 1990s. The fashion was grunge, the movies were talky and the internet was dial-up. Mascots were all the range on consoles. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Sonic and the PlayStation… well, the humble PlayStation featured the adventures of a gurning, cross-eyed bandicoot named Crash…

Yes, the wave of remasters continues, following on from Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, The BioShock Collection and WipeOut: The Omega Collection, we now have Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, which features remasters of the PS1 classic platformers.

The plot, such as it is, features Crash – a genetically engineered bandicoot in jean shorts – who has to stop the evil plans of the nefarious Dr. Cortex (a scenery-chewing mad scientist) with the help of sentient tribal mask, Aku Aku and sister, Coco. How does Crash accomplish this? By making his way through various themed levels of platforming of increasingly difficulty, of course! This was a game made in the ’90s and that’s how we solved things back then.

Nostalgic reboots like this can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Certainly Vicarious Visions have done a spectacular job of making that which is old look superbly slick and new again, but the gameplay of the Crash trilogy – particularly the first entry – has not aged terribly well. The controls are a tad clunky and lack a fine precision, making a number of sections more than a little frustrating. That said the second and third entries – Cortex Strikes Back and Warped, respectively – are impossibly charming in parts, with the goofy music, colourful graphics and silly animations causing grins and indulgent chuckles in equal measure.

If you can remember playing Crash back in the day, and those memories are fond, you’ll likely have a good time with the N. Sane Trilogy. It’s slight, simple and silly but that’s kind of why we liked it in the first place. Newcomers to the character, however, may be slightly baffled as to the appeal and then go and “dab” or go to a “planking party” off their heads on “the Molly”. Get off my damn lawn, you whippersnappers!

 
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Farpoint VR

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My breath is hitching in and out, my palms sweaty, but I dare not loosen the grip on my gun. It’s kept me alive… so far. I’ve fought through waves of tiny spider-like creatures, goop-spitting monsters and large, armoured crustaceans using a combination of machine gun, shotgun, guided rockets and grenades. I approach a massive cave entrance and hear a hideous, screeching from within. Then something starts making its way out of the darkness. It’s so huge the ground around me trembles. I aim my gun upwards and wait for the beast to approach…

This is Farpoint, the new PSVR game that seeks to fulfill the role of killer app, and mostly succeeds. The premise is a simple one: during a routine transport in space you and some scientists you’re meant to be helping get sucked into a massive space anomaly. You land on an uncharted planet and have to save the scientists and yourself.

This is all a rather generic sci-fi premise, and were Farpoint a typical First Person Shooter, it’d barely register. However Farpoint is VR, with the snazzy Aim Controller, so it’s a whole new world of immersive shooting. When the spiders start crawling down the walls, or alien snipers shoot at you from afar – you’ll be living every second of it, the entirety of your peripheral vision taken up with sandy vistas, luminescent caverns or ruined spaceship hulks. The graphics are crisp and steady, the audio intense and all encompassing and the feel of the gunplay is tight and responsive. It’s not quite at Destiny-levels of firearm satisfaction, but in terms of VR it’s utterly unmatched.

The Aim ControllerFarpoint is intense. So intense, in fact, you’ll probably only play for an hour or two at a time, considerably lengthening its 5-7 hour playtime. There are also challenge modes and a decent number of co-op missions to add value. There are so many well-executed set pieces in the game, you’ll feel like you’re living a Blu-Ray box set’s worth of trashy, but engaging, sci-fi movies. The story falters in places, however, and the difficulty level is surprisingly high, which may turn off some VR casuals. That said, the boss fights in particular are extremely satisfying to complete and give a genuine sense of accomplishment. That big cave-dweller in the opening paragraph? Epic victory earned the hard way.

On a personal note I did frequently sweat during my playtime, but never felt the lurching nausea that unfortunately accompanied Resident Evil VII’s VR mode. The Aim Controller is lightweight, responsive and feels good in your hands. Here’s hoping developers will contribute more games to support the hardware.

Ultimately Farpoint is perfect for early adopters of PSVR but is it a system seller? Honestly, when combined with Star Trek: Bridge Crew VRit’s certainly making the fancy peripheral a hell of a lot more appealing. If a VR sci-fi shooter sounds like your kind of thing, then Farpoint is a bullseye.

 
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Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR

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The Klingon Warbird decloaks before me and the heroic crew of USS Aegis. They don’t look friendly. I give the order to scan.

“They’re arming torpedoes!” Helmsman Jase yells.

“Should I raise shields, Captain?” Asks Tactician Adam.

“Give ‘em both barrels, boys! Fair up the clack!” I growl, all manly and tough-sounding.

The torpedoes shoot from the ship, streaking towards the Warbird. Direct hit! But the Warbird’s still moving, and two more have decloaked either side of us.

“Well… shit.” I mutter as enemy torpedoes blast towards us.

”Raise shields, chuck a doughie and get us the fark out of here!” I shout, hoping against hope we’ll be able to warp to safety in time.

Today may indeed be a good day to die… because, after all, we can just try the mission again.

Welcome to Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR – the new Ubisoft VR game that may be the killer app the PSVR needs. The premise is simple: you’re part of the bridge crew of either the USS Aegis or The Original Series’ version of the Enterprise. With three other friends you can occupy the engineering, helm, tactical or the captain’s chair.

Your enjoyment of Bridge Crew is dependent on two major factors. The first: mates. You’re going to need them, preferably three (to fill all four seats), although you can manage with a three-person crew. The second: Star Trek. How do you feel about it? While you by no means need to be a superfan (I’m certainly not), having some familiarity with the show will definitely add to the enjoyment of the game.

The five main story missions are of a decent size, and offer a mounting challenge, with mission 4 in particular being a white-knuckle ride. There’s also a mode that randomises events so you can keep playing long after the story is done. You can also access a set-accurate version of ToS’ bridge but it’s an absolute confusing nightmare, and for hardcore trekkies only.

The graphics are solid, if occasionally a tad clunky, the sound design is excellent and the mechanics of the game are smart and strategic in ways that give the proceedings a lot of depth. But ultimately, it’s the social interaction with you and your mates that gives Star Trek: Bridge Crew its feeling of joyous escapism. You’re taking fire from some enemies, so do your raise shields or run? You’re hidden in an anomaly, do you leave it to rescue the federation vessel or continue hiding to stay safe? You’re beaming survivors aboard but an attack begins – do you stop beaming to save yourself or take the damage heroically? All of these hard questions and more will be answered – often very swearily – in real time by you and your crewmates.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR is a hoot with friends, although not much fun by yourself. The clever interaction of crew roles is such a fresh take on familiar material and offers hours of genuinely exciting, thoughtful exploration and tense battles. The one negative here is: what about The Next Generation-era Trek or even Voyager? Battling Borg with your buds would be a hoot and we can only hope for future DLC.

In the meantime, however, if you have sci-fi savvy mates and either PC or PSVR – you need Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR in your life. Make it so.

 
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Injustice 2

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You’ve heard the argument at school, in comic book shops and on internet forums. Which hero would win in a fight? Batman vs Superman, Catwoman vs Wonder Woman, Green Lantern vs a terrible movie adaptation – who will be triumphant? Thanks to Injustice 2, the latest fighting game from NetherRealm Studios, you can answer the question in real time, in your lounge room; pants optional.

Injustice 2 is the sequel to 2013’s Injustice: God’s Among Us, and continues the tale of divided superheroes and villains, and the arenas in which they beat the shit out of one another. The original game was a good time, but if you’d rather gargle a tankard full of razor blades and ground glass than subject yourself to the shrieky, nightmarish experience of combat games online, it had a limited shelf life.

Happily, Injustice 2 offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of content. To begin with there’s the 4-6 hour story campaign, in which you control a rotating roster of heroes and villains, ultimately siding with team Bats or Supes. The story is a bit of a goof to be honest, with some wince-inducing dialogue and outrageously contrived premises for fights. That said it is gorgeously cinematic and features fantastic voice actors like A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund aka Freddy Krueger as Scarecrow and Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs aka Doctor Herbert West (!) as Brainiac.

Once you’ve completed the campaign there’s still plenty left to do. If you’re a glutton for punishment – or just spectacularly good at fighting games – you can head online to punch on with your fellow gamers. If you’re less proactive, but still want some sweet, sweet loot, you can enter AI battles with other players where the game plays out the matches for you – and you reap the lazy benefits.

However the jewel in the crown of Injustice 2 is Multiverse mode. This is a mode that features a number of temporary alternate realities, where you’ll fight various foes, at different levels of difficulty, with modifiers changing the way you play. The modifiers might feature flaming assistance from John Constantine, or perhaps the map will tilt back and forth like a seesaw, or poison bombs fall from the sky. The more you fight the more you’ll level up (towards the cap of 20) and grind for loot, which drops in Mother Boxes of various flavours. Naturally you’ll want to upgrade your preferred characters as you can then take them into tougher Multiverses and get even more fancy defence-boosting-trousers or strength-enhancing tiaras. You can also customise the numerous clothing options of your characters, so get ready to spend a lot of time cosplaying on screen.

Quite honestly this could, and in fact should, feel like a grind but when the combat mechanics are so tight and well-honed it’s hard to complain. The spectre of micro-transactions does enter into the proceedings somewhat, but can be ignored with no detriment to your enjoyment.

Ultimately Injustice 2 is one of the most consistently engaging, enjoyable and surprising fighting games in years. It takes everything that was great about Injustice: Gods Among Us and makes it faster, prettier and deeper. If you’re even vaguely interested in fighting games, DC superheroes or grinding for gear, Injustice 2 will give your free time a highly-addictive kicking and leave you begging for more.

 
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The Surge

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The “Dark Souls-like” sub genre has been booming of late. Indie charmer Salt and Sanctuary (2D Souls) was followed by the excellent Nioh (Feudal Japan Souls) and now we have The Surge, which could be broadly described as exoskeleton Souls… in the future!

The story opens with a cleverly executed sequence, where the protagonist, Warren, is revealed to be in a wheelchair, quietly maneuvering himself to an augmentation station to have an exoskeleton installed. Naturally the installation doesn’t go smoothly, taking place at the same time as some initially unspecified catastrophe, and the hero of the hour wakes up in a very different world. Certainly you’re now ambulatory, thanks to the exo, but now it seems the machines have risen and are ready to kill their meat puppet masters.

In classic Souls style, The Surge has more of a premise than a story; with details of the world sketched out via environmental cues and audio logs you can find along the way. The game’s opening hours are very evocative as you test the limits of your combat against smaller robots and other exo-suited foes. Horizontal and vertical attacks can be used to defeat enemies and combine for some appealingly chunky combos. You can focus your attacks on limbs, heads or bodies – either going for the weak spot for an easy kill, or ripping off a well-armoured arm or leg to gain a weapon or upgrade. It’s a cool, albeit grisly, way to advance your character’s progress but sadly it’s the only truly fresh idea on offer here.

The rest of The Surge is classic Souls. You’ll explore an area, fight foes, collect Tech scrap to level up or upgrade armour/weapons and, of course, if you die you’ll lose everything and need to pick up your dropped gear up within a short time limit. Problems arise when you start facing bosses, the heart of any good Souls clone. They’re simply not very interesting when compared to the glowering beasties from Dark Souls, Bloodborne or even Nioh. Plus the mission areas, particularly in the first half of the game, suffer from a sameness that makes exploration less exciting. When combined with the game’s seeming delight in making you grind for your supper, The Surge occasionally feels like a slog.

That said, there are joys to be found in The Surge’s dystopian future. When the aesthetic works it feels very compelling, in a strange sci-fi/horror hybrid kind of way. The combat is mostly satisfying, with some spectacularly bloody finishing moves, and the overall experience is engaging, although nowhere near the level of quality of the games it shamelessly apes.

If you want a tough-as-guts Souls-like experience but find dragons and monsters overplayed, and feudal Japan does not appeal, then perhaps The Surge will exo-suit you.

 
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Prey

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I’m smashing coffee cups with my spanner. I’ve been doing this for almost ten minutes, the floor’s covered in shards of white porcelain. But I know, I just know, one of these bastard mugs isn’t what it appears to be. I’m in the kitchen of a massive space station, Talos-1, and I’ll not be leaving until the mimic reveals itself. Suddenly there is an ear-splitting screech and the next mug on my kill-list transforms into a spidery black monster that lunges at my face. I jump back and start swinging my tool like a madman, knocking over chairs and smashing glass. The mimic hits me; I start taking damage so I switch to my shotgun. I don’t have many shells left but I’ll be putting one inside this little bastard. I fire, the mimic dies and I collect its guts. I’ll be using them later to craft more ammo.

Welcome to the paranoid space madness of Prey, the latest game from Arkane Studios who recently gave us the wonderful Dishonored 2. Prey tells the tale of Morgan Yu (male or female optional), a protagonist who finds themselves part of a strange scientific experiment on a massive damaged space station, Talos-1. Why are you on the space station? Who is experimenting on you? What happened to your memory and while we’re on the subject, what the bloody hell are all those inky black monsters about? All these questions will be answered over your 15-25 hour playthrough.

Gameplay-wise Prey is a bit of a mimic itself, aping notable classics such as System Shock, BioShock, Deus Ex and Dead Space. You’ll explore the space station in a first person POV, fight mimics and other Typhon, discover secrets via computer terminals, audio logs and the occasional survivor. As the game progresses you can unlock powers possessed by the Typhon aliens. These powers include the ability to mimic objects – so you can finally live that dream of transforming into a coffee cup, hitting enemies with a massive blast of psychic energy and even necromancing corpses to get off the ground and assist you. Using these alien powers will occasionally cause a huge beast called The Nightmare to come and try to kill you, but it’s totally worth it. Although the game does include the option of staying totally human, if you’re a boring monkey.

Prey gameplay

As you slowly piece together your past, and what happened to Talos-1, you’ll have choices to make. People to save or ignore, sections of the ship to repair or destroy and numerous side quests to complete for needy Talos residents. Without getting too spoilery, these choices will greatly impact your game’s ultimate ending, although perhaps not in the way you might have assumed.

Ultimately, Prey’s best asset is the space station itself and the fascinating world-building that Arkane have achieved. The game is actually set in an alternate universe where JFK was never assassinated and the space race shifted into overdrive. I lost hours of time reading alternate history books, emails between colleagues and strange, sad little stories told dynamically through notes and environmental cues.

The more you explore the more materials you’ll find, which can be used in 3D printers to craft ammo, weapons, medkits and so on. The gameplay loop of exploring, killing a bunch of Typhon, breaking down your inventory items and crafting more useful gear becomes incredibly addictive. Combined with the slowly ratcheting tension of the story, the majority of the game is utterly compelling.

Prey does stumble a little in its final third, however, ramping the difficulty level to occasionally teeth-gritting extremes. Sporadic technical hitches also marred the experience, including one instance where a saved game file became corrupted and I was forced to redo a section that took a couple of hours. None of this is game-breaking, mind you, and Arkane have been patching away as I write this, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.

That said, lovers of cerebral sci-fi and outer space horror will find a lot to enjoy in Prey. The confused tension of the early hours, the more impressive monsters and story revelations of the middle section and even aspects of the game’s head-fucking ending will thrill and delight. Just make sure you keep an eye on those two coffee mugs over there. I swear there was only one a minute ago…

 
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Persona 5

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For most people over the age of 30 high school is a dim, distant, half-remembered nightmare. The pressures of schoolwork, fitting in, avoiding punch-happy bullies and trying to develop as a human being during the trial-by-fire that is adolescence creates a strangely surreal time of your life that is mercifully never repeated.

Persona 5 is a Japanese RPG that asks the question: “What if your high school life also had some anime-style magical nonsense in it?” and, surprisingly, answers the query with a decent game.

The broad strokes story of Persona 5 is that you, a silent high school student with a bad reputation, stumble onto the ability to enter the tainted psyches of various demented adults. In this metaverse realm you can affect the person’s real world personality, turning a touchy feely abusive teacher into a guilt-ridden confessor of their crimes for example. Over the course of the game you form bonds with your school friends, and the occasional not-terrible adult, and navigate the best course of action in both worlds.

Among your friends is an obnoxious ex-jock, a simpering love interest, and a talking cat that can turn into a bus – although many more appear along your 60+ hour journey. As ‘The Phantom Thieves’ you’ll engage in turn-based combat against manifestations of negative emotions and during the day you’ll engage in faffing about, working part time jobs and making sure you return your DVDs on time.

The juxtaposition between the real world and the metaverse doesn’t always work, and Persona 5 seems to delight in withholding the game’s charms. I wasn’t even sure I liked the damn thing until about ten hours in and when it finally let me enter the randomised dungeons, so if you have a low tolerance for JRPGs – and time management sims – this may not be the game for you.

That said there’s a lot to like in Persona 5. The music, visuals and voice acting are all excellent, lending a style to the game that feels fresh and unique. The dungeon crawling is enjoyable in an old school way and fusing Personas together to create stronger, weirder combinations is oddly addictive. Ultimately, though, it’s the game’s quirky story that will keep you coming back. For all its odd pacing issues Persona 5 spins a genuinely intriguing yarn about that strangest of times: life in high school.

Persona 5 won’t be for everyone’s tastes – and frankly I grew tired of that bloody cat telling me to sleep – but when it works it’s absolutely charming, engaging and quite unlike anything else available.