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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.

 
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Mass Effect: Andromeda

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The original Mass Effect trilogy had the feel of a trashy but engaging series of space operas. The story was compelling if derivative, the gameplay was fun albeit familiar, but it was the characters, and the player’s relationship with them, that made the series so strong. The bonds you forged, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, with the characters – human and alien – were where the true joys of the series lay.

The series ended with Mass Effect 3, featuring a conclusion that very few found satisfying. Still, despite not sticking the landing the first three Mass Effect games are generally remembered fondly. Sadly I suspect the same will not be true for Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Released five years after ME3, Mass Effect: Andromeda is an attempt at a soft reboot: new galaxy, new characters, new adventures. In theory it’s a wonderful idea. No more Shepard baggage, no need to deal with “that” ending, a clean slate. Why then did BioWare choose to play it so damn safe and dull?

This time around players control one of the Ryder siblings as they attempt to guide the various people of The Initiative in the Andromeda galaxy. The concept of you the player being the alien in a mysterious new galaxy is a fantastic one, but it’s never even vaguely explored in a meaningful fashion. Within one or two missions everyone will be calling you “Pathfinder” and the reused, bipedal aliens you’ve seen in the original trilogy (plus two new, rather dull, also bipedal races) all react in familiar, predictable ways.

Mass Effect: Andromeda Gameplay

Mass Effect: Andromeda Gameplay

Worse still is the game’s writing. It’s wildly inconsistent, veering from mildly interesting to jaw-droppingly infantile from moment to moment. It’s like the writers chucked the script in blender full of tropes, quirky one-liners and solemn-sounding bullshit and concocted a smoothie of staggering, derivative mediocrity. Every moment of wonder is swiftly undone by a clanger delivered by you or an NPC and it’s hard to engage with characters when they seems to change at the capricious whims of someone unseen, idiotic deity.

All this would be pretty disappointing even if the game functioned beautifully but, as you may be aware already, Mass Effect: Andromeda is beset by a bewildering number of bugs, glitches and outright broken elements. On my playthrough on PS4 I glitched through walls, fell through the ground, experienced mission markers that wouldn’t work until I reset the game and textures popping in and out like a demented fever dream. Although the combat is slicker and better tuned than previous ME games, it’s difficult to get swept up in the action when your enemies randomly hover above the ground staring into the middle distance like gormless mannequins.

The end result is that Mass Effect: Andromeda often feels like a slog. Occasional moments of combat and exploration-based excitement are buried beneath bad writing, poor characters and technical issues that sap the immersion and enjoyment with depressing regularity. There are elements of a good game buried in the mess that is Mass Effect: Andromeda, hidden beneath fetch quests and howlingly bad dialogue, but it too often feels like tedious grunt work to try and find them. Exploring a brand new alien galaxy should never feel this relentlessly average.

 
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Nier: Automata

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Years into Earth’s future humanity has buggered off somewhere leaving the planet to be reclaimed by nature and robots. No, you haven’t stumbled across another review of Horizon: Zero Dawn by accident, this is the premise for Nier: Automata, another action RPG set on an apocalyptic earth brimming with mechanical monsters and surprising secrets. Similar premises aside, Nier: Automata is a very different game suffused with a slick style that is gorgeous, quirky and extremely Japanese.

You initially play the role of 2B, a stern, blindfolded android lady who wields blades with much alacrity and seems to have a persistent desire to show off her g-banger via the medium of fan-servicing skirt flips. 2B is joined by similarly attired, emo schoolboy, 9S – who seems to be going through android puberty and follows 2B around like a puppy, occasionally attempting, and failing, to penetrate her imperious demeanour. If that all sounds a bit like bad fan fiction you’re not entirely wrong, Nier: Automata’s story ranges from silly to sexy to incomprehensible, but it gets across the line because of one huge factor in its favour: the gameplay.

Nier: Automata comes from developer PlantinumGames, who gave us the brief-but-fun Metal Gear: Revengeance, and those cats excel at combat. Every second you’re hacking, slashing, dodging and shooting your way through waves of enemies is fun and exciting. PlantinumGames also cleverly play with point of view, shifting into side scrolling shooter, top down blaster and a bunch of other quirky perspective shifts, including fourth wall breaking silliness. Nier: Automata is fun and odd and kind of feels like Bayonetta with its mix of sexy and slashy.

As the game progresses the shine does wear off a little, mind you. The robots are an initially fascinating antagonist and as the story drags you from one goal to another you begin to realise all is not what it seems. Then, just as things start to get really interesting, the game ends. And then it keeps going by switching you into the character of 9S. Apparently to get the complete “true ending” you’ll need to play through the game at least five times – plus there are 21 (!) other endings to unlock for the OCD completionists amongst you.

There’s nothing wrong with a heavy dose of weird, but one can’t help but feel Nier: Automata would have been better served with a more straightforward first playthrough. That said it’s hard to argue with the finger-twitching, fast-paced, utterly mesmerising combat and memorably bent characters you’ll run into along the way. If you only buy one game set on a post-apocalyptic Earth brimming with out-of-control robots this year get Horizon: Zero Dawn. However if you’ve room if your heart for two, Nier: Automata is a gleefully bizarre ‘bot-beater and well worth a look for those with a taste for the surreal.

 

 
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Horizon Zero Dawn

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In 2016 I began suffering from a condition the medical community have dubbed Open World Game Fatigue (OWGF). Whereas once I would explore every nook, cranny and other orifice in all the open world games I played, I was beginning to tire of the endless fetch quests and pointless busy work. The condition became acute during the release period of Mafia 3 – a game that forces you to piss fart about between main missions to an outrageous degree just to unlock the next bit of story! I took a long hard look at myself in the mirror and said: “Maybe you just don’t like open world games anymore, bro.” Then I sighed melodramatically and Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” played mournfully in the background. And somewhere, far off in the distance, a dog howled. It was quite a moment.

Cut to: this week and the long-awaited arrival of Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla Game’s brand spanking new IP about a red-haired cavewoman fighting hordes of robotic dinosaurs in a massive post-apocalyptic landscape. Despite having completed the main story missions and a buttload of side quests, I find myself drawn back in to hunt yet another robot T-Rex or clear a bandit camp of undesirables. The love for open world gaming has returned, but why? What is it about Horizon Zero Dawn that succeeds where so many others fail? First, let’s take a step back and introduce our star.

Horizon Zero Dawn (henceforth known as HZD) is the much-anticipated PS4 exclusive from Guerrilla Games. Guerrilla have been quiet on the release front since 2013’s adequate-but-hardly-amazing Killzone Shadow Fall, and haven’t attempted a new IP since 2004’s Killzone. Nothing in the Dutch company’s history suggests that a sprawling, open world experience would be within their purview and yet here we are.

Horizon Zero DawnHZD tells the tale of Aloy, the aforementioned redhead, who is a skilled hunter and archer living in a matriarchal tribe at some far flung point in humanity’s future. A catastrophe has wiped out the majority of the human race and nature has retaken large sections of the world, leaving the ruins of the “Old Ones” (that’d be us) for those who remain and the robots. The humans now live in tribes, some peaceful some not, and technology is primitive and basic. There is a return to religion and superstition, and science is a barely-remembered dream.

So what was the catastrophe that ended life as we know it? How are there still humans left alive if said event was extinction-level? Oh and why are there friggin’ robot dinosaurs roaming the earth in herds, acting as both hunter and prey depending on their programming? Impressively all of these questions are answered in HZD’s 30-50 hour play time and answered well.

Aloy’s journey from a shunned member of her superstitious tribe to a lone wanderer to a fledgling heroine and beyond is a deeply satisfying narrative experience. Although the premise sounds goofy, HZD has a core of hard sci-fi running through it and the explanations for the world are both clever and thought-provoking. More than that though, HZD offers a world you’ll actively want to explore – a beautiful, often daunting landscape littered with dinobots to hunt, quests to complete, and ruins to investigate.

Horizon Zero DawnAloy is a likeable, capable protagonist who has a dry sense of humour and an acerbic attitude toward those who attempt to do her wrong. You’ll occasionally meet up with people from other tribes and help them, but ultimately Aloy is a loner and the game works best when you’re stalking a particularly vicious dinosaur through the tall grass on a lonely field or infiltrating a camp of savage bandits and taking them out from the shadows. Character skills unlock as you progress and by the end of the game you’ll be able to shoot three arrows at a time, summon obedient dinosaurs to ride like robo-horsies and slow time to make that perfect arrow shot. Fighting human foes is adequate but taking on some of the tougher robotic enemies is sublime.

One side quest that stays with me is the hunt for a particularly vicious Thunderjaw (aka robotic T-Rex) called Redmaw. Sneaking through the woods, with freshly crafted ammo, I decided to set a number of traps around Redmaw’s terrain. I planted numerous fiery wire traps, explosive wire traps and a bunch of smaller traps all across the landscape. My reasoning was: if Redmaw caught a glimpse of me and charged, the toothy mongrel would soon be a burning husk and I the cackling victor. I popped my head out of the long grass and launched a volley of arrows. Redmaw turned around and blasted me with its disc launcher, killing me in one hit.

Over the next dozen or so attempts on Redmaw I began to learn from my mistakes. Now my first move was to knock the disc launcher off and destroy sections of Redmaw’s armour, giving me access to the sweet spot on its metallic hull. The traps I set hurt the beast, but if I was nearby I’d take fire damage too, so I’d have to lure the metal monstrosity into the killzone from a distance. The battle was long and hard and sweary but eventually I bested Redmaw. The satisfaction of the kill was immense and I felt like a genuinely bad arse robot hunting lady and not a hairy man letting out a yorp of primal glee from a lopsided couch.

Horizon Zero DawnThat’s not to say HZD is without flaws, mind you. Melee combat is a little clunky and some of the voice acting is hit or miss, particularly in the first few hours. Plus while the quests and side quests are almost uniformly excellent, the tasks called “errands” are about as much fun as popping down to the shops for some milk. This is the kind of fetch quest nonsense that plagues open world games and it would have been nice if Guerrilla had focused on quality rather than quantity in those moments.

That said, the errands – and indeed the side quests – are totally optional. If you were to stick purely to story missions you’d still enjoy a hefty adventure. Plus it’s hard to argue with a game that gives you such a stunning-looking world. Honestly HZD may be the best looking video game of this current generation, looking utterly superb on my somewhat ancient telly and PS4 and giddily beautiful on a 4K monitor played on a PS4 Pro. I did experience a dozen or so instances of pop-in and texture loss during my playthrough but these kind of niggles are both brief and likely patched by the time you’re reading this.

Ultimately, HZD was a huge risk for Guerrilla Games; a new IP in a game genre they’ve never previously attempted. Happily, the risk paid off and Horizon Zero Dawn is an easy early contender for Game of the Year. More than that, though, if you too are feeling the effects of Open World Game Fatigue, HZD may just be the cure for that deadly affliction. Because Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t just give you a big map with lots of stuff on it, it offers you a world worth exploring.

 
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Sniper Elite 4

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Shooting Nazis is almost as ubiquitous a trope in video games as hearts representing health pick ups or red barrels being explosive. The average 30-something gamer has probably killed over a million on screen Nazis in their life, and that’s a conservative estimate. Frankly the whole thing had started to become a bit passe in recent times but then the world went fucking nuts and suddenly Nazis are back in the zeitgeist, and positions of political power, once more.

While that’s shockingly, heart-breakingly bad news for humanity it’s a pretty sweet deal for killing Nazis in video games, which brings us to Sniper Elite 4.

Sniper Elite 4 tells the tale of Karl Fairburne, an Office of Strategic Services agent who has all the personality of unsalted tofu but boy can he shoot folks. After Karl grunts through a fairly unexciting opening cutscene you, the player, are dropped into action in a sprawling map of Italy in 1943. Immediately the game distinguishes itself from its very linear predecessors by giving you options and many of them. Naturally sniping is the main focus, but you can also lure enemies into traps, drop crates on groups or even destroy trucks or heavy ordinance while a cadre of Nazis mill around nearby, creating hilariously nasty death traps.

When you make a kill the game switches to an X-ray mode so you can see the exact impact of your bullet, or other projectile, and watch it literally tear through organs, splinter bone and smash testicles. Yes, the series’ favourite iconic testicle shot is back and it’s even more wince- and chuckle-inducing than ever before. There is an immense sense of satisfaction to be garnered from setting up and executing a perfect scrotum-smashing shot, or popping a Nazi eyeball. It’s grim and nasty but given the nature of the enemy, there’s a great deal of catharsis to be had.

On the downside Sniper Elite 4’s story is a non-event. That’s to be expected to an extent in this kind of choose-your-own-path-to-kill title, but even a touch of character or Inglourious Basterds-style gallows humour would have been appreciated and made the wholesale slaughter all the more satisfying.

That said, Sniper Elite 4 scratches an ultraviolence itch in the best kind of way. The ten generously proportioned maps offer a wealth of opportunities to kill your foes in interesting, creative ways and a surprising number of co-op and PvP modes round out the package, offering decent multiplayer options for those who want to shoot their friends and co-workers right in the ballbag.

Sniper Elite 4 knows exactly what it is, and as a way of blowing off steam, or engaging in some splattery wish-fulfillment fantasy, it’s a bloody good time.

 
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Nioh

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In 2007, back in the days when print magazines still wandered the earth proudly with little fear for their own extinction, I was tasked with writing the play guide (aka walkthrough) for a PS3 game called Ninja Gaiden: Sigma by talented developers Team Ninja. In essence, this meant I had to play through the entire game over a weekend, and write tricks, hints, and tips to defeat the various enemies and challenging bosses.

The task almost killed me. You see, Ninja Gaiden: Sigma is a malevolent beast that spurns your puny human skills and laughs at your attempts to beat it. I ended up enlisting the help of my flatmate at the time, and over a frankly unwise surplus of coffee and dearth of sleep the task was completed, but at great cost to sanity and the couch cushions, which were the recipient of many a rage-punch.

Cut to: ten years later. The memories of Ninja Gaiden: Sigma are dim, and the ‘triumph over great adversity’ narrative that accompanied the experience has been supplanted by FromSoftware’s “Soulsborne” games aka the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne. Then it was announced that Team Ninja, those responsible for that lost weekend a decade ago, were releasing their own Dark Souls-style action RPG, Nioh.

Just when I thought I was out… they drag me back in!

Nioh is an action RPG, played in a third person POV. It features large, sprawling environments that are filled with hidden shortcuts and treasures and is populated by enemies, any of whom can kill you if you’re not paying attention. As you kill foes you collect Amrita, which you can then use to upgrade various traits (strength, heart, magic etc.) but only if you make it back to one of the shrines dotted around the map. If you die before you reach a shrine your Amrita is left with your corpse. If you don’t collect it before your next death, you’ll lose it all. This is where the Soulsborne comparisons come from, and there’s no question Team Ninja has taken a leaf (hell, a whole branch) out of FromSoftware’s book.

That said, Nioh is far more than a Dark Souls/Bloodborne clone. For a start, the setting is Japan in the 1600s, with the main character based on real-life English samurai, William Adams. Naturally, the game plays extremely fast and loose with the time period, including demons, guardian spirits and magic use as plot devices, which is probably not all that historically accurate.

William will complete main missions, sub-missions and twilight missions on his way through a daft-but-fun story that takes him from England to Japan to the underworld itself. Along the way you can master skills with various weapons, ninjitsu, and magic, improving the frankly dizzying number of combat options and adjusting your stance, armour load outs and consumables on the fly.

Nioh is a game that demands your attention. It’s hard, yes, but it speaks a logical language. It rarely sacrifices established rules for an unfair kill and gives you plenty of options to upgrade and enhance your modes of attack. Find yourself getting too close to your enemies? Why not switch to spear. Blobby things from the deep giving you grief, try imbuing your weapon with fire, or chuck some fire bombs at the sloppy bastards. Bad arse, super-fast demon samurai boss wrecking you hard? Level up your magic and use the Sloth spell to temporarily slow him down. Nioh wants you to succeed, it doesn’t delight in your demise and for those who found the Soulsborne titles crushing, provides a more gradual learning curve.

The one downside to Nioh is the curious lack of variety, particularly in the game’s final third. Once you’ve mastered all the systems and mechanics, you’re essentially repeating the same ‘enter the new area, kill the baddies, maul the boss’ gameplay loop over and over. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a damn fine loop, but in your 60-80 hour playthrough, you’ll rarely be surprised by the appearance of a scary new enemy type that changes the game completely, which is something Bloodborne achieved spectacularly well.

That aside Nioh is an absolutely phenomenal title. Engaging story, gorgeous graphics, slick animation (with options to knock it up to 60fps, which is a literal lifesaver in some of the tougher battles) and a genuine sense of accomplishment when you best a tough foe or insidious dungeon. It’s a bit of a one trick pony, but damn if that trick isn’t pretty excellent. If you own a PS4 and are up for a challenge, you need to own Nioh.

Just be ready to punch the couch cushions and drink plenty of coffee.