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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.

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Yakuza 0

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I’m walking down the steamy, seedy streets of Tokyo on a hot summer’s night in the 1980s. My goal? Panties. I’m tracking down the head of a used underpants (or “burusera”) operation, who happens to be a teenage girl. To find her I must approach random adolescent schoolgirls and ask them about their smalls. Even in a virtual environment, it’s… awkward. It’s at this point I raise an eyebrow and say, “Yakuza 0, you’re not like other games, are you?”

Indeed not. Yakuza 0 is the latest in the increasingly convoluted cult Yakuza series but takes place before the later entries, acting as a prequel. The story revolves around the entwined fates of Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza on the outs with his crew and Goro Majima, the exiled owner of a cabaret club. The pair find themselves involved with a bloody mystery that concerns an area known as the “vacant lot” which seems to be attracting an undue amount of trouble, including murder.

In practical terms Yakuza 0 is an open(ish) world brawler in which you travel around various fictionalised versions of locales in Japan, brawling with punks and ne’er-do-wells and taking on side quests, main quests, and fun diversions. These diversions should not be underestimated as you’ll literally be able to play pixel-perfect recreations of era-appropriate arcade games (Outrun anyone?), sing your little lungs out in karaoke sessions and dance up a storm in clubs.

The slavish devotion to recreating a specific place and era is commendable, however, one can’t help but wish more attention was paid to the gameplay in general, specifically the combat. Yakuza 0 is a couple of years old, which is an eternity in video game time. The combat would have felt clunky in 2015’s original Japanese release but in 2017 it seems practically ancient. That’s not to say it’s a total loss, switching combat modes on the fly and cracking opponent’s skulls on the ground is a hoot – but it lacks the fine polish of recent games like Nioh or the Batman Arkham titles.

The storytelling also feels a little dated, with lengthy, often unskippable cutscenes with subtitles (because there is no English voice track) and occasionally baffling acting choices. But here’s the thing: Yakuza 0 isn’t like other games and it quite honestly doesn’t give a shit if you don’t like that. Feeling like a mishmash of Takashi Miike-style ultra violence, mixed with absurdist comedy and over-the-top characters, Yakuza 0 is here to tell its story the way it damn well wishes to. It doesn’t care about your delicate sensibilities and really would be entirely okay if you buggered off.

The thing is, beneath the slightly impenetrable, slow first hour there is a really compelling, weird and engaging story to be enjoyed. If you’re a fan of crime yarns, and you’re willing to deal with inconsistent game mechanics and occasionally wonky graphics, Yakuza 0 might just hit the spot. Much like buying used underwear – it’s a niche proposition. It’s not for everyone, but for those who appreciate it – it’s a weird delight.

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HITMAN: The Complete First Season

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The road to Hitman: The Complete First Season has been a tortuous one. After numerous delays and a missed 2015 release date, the game saw its first content drop on March of 2016, but there was a wrinkle: Hitman was going to be released episodically.

Reaction to this news was mixed, to put it charitably.

However credit where it’s due, the first batch of content – featuring a number of tutorial missions and an assassination at a Paris fashion show – was quality and hearkened back to Hitman’s best entry, Blood Money, as opposed to the more recent, critically derided Hitman: Absolution.

The problem was the monthly(ish) release schedule didn’t exactly engender a sense of momentum or a strong desire to revisit the game. Once you’d eliminated the target or targets and played a few escalation missions the whole exercise felt a little half-baked.

It didn’t help that Hitman featured a baffling ‘always online’ mechanic that in the wifi dead zone of Australia caused progress-shattering drop outs with frustrating regularity.

Many players and reviewers (including this one) decided to wait until the game was released in its entirety. So that day is now and the result is… pretty good, actually, with a few caveats.Hitman: The Complete First Season features the iconic, bald, barcoded bonce of Agent 47 who travels the world, steals other people’s clothes and ganks fools in creative, often hilarious, ways. The puckish sense of humour that’s always driven the series is present and some of the methods of dispatch are genuinely clever. Impaling a charismatic, right wing dictator on a church steeple was particularly satisfying and ending an enemy assassin during an early morning yoga session was extremely memorable. Namaste, motherfucker!

On the downside the story has been stripped back to a bare bones sketch of a thing that honestly barely registers and inexplicably ends on a cliffhanger. Presentation wise there are flaws present too, with the character models looking similar and moving stiffly. Plus it seems like only half dozen voice actors were used over and over, which is particularly jarring when the same noisy American brays in Paris, Bangkok and Hokkaido.

That said, there is a genuine sense of satisfaction when you pull off an unlikely assassination and manage to get away, and revisiting the same six maps to wipe out tougher, smarter foes in escalation missions – and the excellent, PS4-exclusive Sarajevo Six content – gives the game legs it might not otherwise have had.

Ultimately Hitman: The Complete First Season is an experiment that works. It’s rougher around the edges than stealth stablemates Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Dishonored 2, but it has a unique appeal and dark sense of humour for those with a flexible moral centre and a love of sociopathic experimentation.

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Resident Evil VII: Biohazard

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Sometime over the last two decades Capcom seemed to forget what made the Resident Evil video game franchise awesome. It wasn’t the gunplay or action movie-style cutscenes, it wasn’t the increasingly convoluted narrative or baffling plot twists and it certainly wasn’t whatever the hell Umbrella Corps was supposed to be. No, what made Resident Evil awesome was its “survival horror” core, a foundation of suspenseful, creeping fear and clammy-palmed desperation.

As the credits rolled on my first playthrough of Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, I sat back on the couch and let out a deep, shuddering breath. Over my 10 hour journey I’d been clobbered by a seemingly invincible madman, stalked by a cackling lady who controlled insects and eviscerated by my own psycho ex wielding a chainsaw. I’d fought shambling, ink-black creatures in dank sub basements and solved devious puzzles in elaborate death traps and throughout it all I was tense, on edge and often genuinely scared.

RE VII wastes little time immersing you in its grimy, horrific atmosphere. After an incredibly brief cutscene you’re thrust into the first person view of likable everyman, Ethan Winters, who has received a weird message from his missing wife, Mia. Ethan has traveled out of the city to the sprawling, unkempt rural property of the Baker family, which has clearly taken design tips from The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Initially unarmed and increasingly agitated, you’ll explore the filth-encrusted stink palace, descending into the cellar and that’s when the horror really begins.

res1A big point of contention for RE VII has been the shift from third person to first person POV. While initially jarring for longterm fans of the series, this proves to be an excellent move and increases the immersion to a huge extent. The early hours of RE VII, when you’ll find yourself with nothing but a pocket knife, handgun and very few bullets, is the literal stuff of nightmares. Every corner you turn around or door you push open can lead to a messy death, especially when the members of the Baker family are following you. As the game progresses you’ll get better weapons, including the shotgun – your new best friend – but you never feel particularly overpowered as your foes will find inventive new ways to end your existence.

Ironically for an entry that seems to be such a massive change in terms of perspective, the gameplay in RE VII most closely resembles the original 1996 classic, Resident Evil. You’ll find yourself in a focused environment, with puzzle solving opening up new regions and objectives, and you’ll constantly need to manage your inventory and backtrack through areas that were previously inaccessible. It’s classic Resident Evil through a grimy, first person perspective filter and it works to a revelatory degree.

The boss fights in particular are showcases of gleefully creative grindhouse gore and you’ll need to keep your wits about you to defeat them. This will be a recurring theme, in fact, as puzzle solving under duress is what Resident Evil does best. Are you able to craft some burner fuel for your flamethrower? Yeah? Well how about we send a hideous, clawing, insect/human hybrid creature after you at the same time? Let’s see how you fare now, professor!

res2That’s not to suggest everything in RE VII is stellar. The 10-12 hour playthrough time is a little on the short side, and while it’s nice to have an experience not artificially expanded with tedious filler I would have liked another 3-4 hours of content. Another sticking point is more subjective: there are no zombies in RE VII. They are instead replaced with a group of creatures known as Molded; filthy, slurpy, black things that gurgle and gibber and slide from ceilings and out of walls. They’re undoubtedly cool looking but RE purists may be disappointed that you’ll never fight off traditional shambling undead in first person.

Possibly the biggest bummer is the game’s third act. It isn’t bad per se but compared to the rest of the game it’s a little unimaginative. Like a lot of previous Resident Evil titles it mostly eschews horror for action and in a game that gets the horror so right for so long that’s a little disappointing.

That said, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is easily the best RE title since part four. Capcom seem to have course corrected this sinking ship of a franchise and delivered an intense, nerve-shredding experience that delivers scares, gore and a satisfying story (almost) completely free of franchise baggage.

So grab your green herb and your shotgun, gird your loins and get ready to crawl into the murky depths of the Baker residence and beyond. Resident Evil is back and this time it’s up close and personal.

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REVIEW: The Last Guardian

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“Fuck you, you stupid fucking feathered fuckwit!” That’s me screaming at the telly and punching my couch while playing The Last Guardian. I’m not proud of myself.

“Oh how enchanting and lyrical. It’s lovely.” That’s me again, still playing The Last Guardian, mesmerised by the visual poetry unfolding.

“JUMP! Jump, you fucker, JUMP! I’m pressing JUMP! WHY WON’T YOU JUMP, YOU BAFFLE-WITTED PRICK? JUMP!” That’s also me, a few minutes later, hating The Last Guardian with every hairy fibre of my being.

Welcome to The Last Guardian review. Truly it was the extremely brief best of times and the frequent, enraging worst of times.

The Last Guardian is a game with baggage. Team Ico – the renowned developers responsible for Ico (2001) and absolute masterpiece, Shadow of the Colossus (2005) – began work on the title way back in 2007.

The game was delayed so frequently it became a running joke, like Half-Life 3 and Final Fantasy XV. Well, FFXV arrived and so has The Last Guardian and although this sounds strange to say about a game that has appeared almost a decade after its inception: it really needed further development.

The Last Guardian’s story, like all Team Ico efforts, is basic and told through visuals and actions, rather than extended cutscenes. You play as a young boy who wakes up in a gloomy pit, covered with strange tattoos and no memory of how he got there. You’ll soon find a huge winged bird/dog/cat hybrid, Trico, next to you chained up and injured. After pulling spears from the great beast’s hide, and giving him some glowing barrels to eat, you and Trico begin to form an unlikely alliance and try to understand the situation you’re both in.

The concept of a boy and his monster on an epic adventure is a good one, and Trico is an impressive creation. Beautifully animated and featuring an AI that makes him seem like a living creature, one can’t help but be impressed by the work of director, Fumito Ueda and his dedicated team.

That sense of respect dwindles, however, when you actually start playing the game in earnest. Put simply The Last Guardian’s controls are absolutely woeful. The little boy wanders around and staggers over objects just like a real little boy, but his imprecise movements, while visually impressive, soon become annoying when exacting jumps and fiddly climbing are required. Worse than the boy’s controls, however, is Trico. A few hours into the game you’ll be able to give Trico commands, to jump, stop, follow and so on. Trico actually heeding those commands, however, seems to be up to the mysterious whims of chance.

Now it’s true in real life one wouldn’t expect a wild beast to behave obediently but a game needs to have a sense of consistency. I lost count of the number of times I knew how to solve a puzzle but Trico simply wouldn’t obey and I was unable to progress. I’d punch the couch a few times, hurl obscenities and rage quit. Later on, I’d load up the game and Trico would do it on the first go. Needing to reset the entire game to get past a puzzle isn’t good game design, it’s a bug and a fiercely annoying one at that.

That’s not to say The Last Guardian is without its charms. When everything’s working properly there is a deep and abiding sense of satisfaction to be gained from solving a tough puzzle, or getting Trico out of a sticky situation. The problem is the game is so inconsistent it’s hard to tell whether you’re stuck because you haven’t found the solution or the game’s AI has just popped out the back for a smoke, and will return when it’s good and bloody ready.

It’s hard to be swept away by visual poetry when you’re rage grinding your teeth into a fine powder.

Ultimately The Last Guardian is an acquired taste. If you can handle inconsistent, buggy AI and awkward, cumbersome controls you may find something to love here – other people certainly have.

However, for me, The Last Guardian was mostly an exercise in enraging, furniture-abusing frustration only occasionally leavened by moments of magical whimsy.

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REVIEW: Final Fantasy XV

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Final Fantasy XV is one of the weirdest AAA game releases in years. Like, wearing-a-traffic-cone-on-your-head and yelling-at-guide-dogs-about-the-impending-invasion-of-lizard-people nutso. It’s also endearingly charming and hard to dislike, at least in the first two thirds of the experience.

FFXV tells the tale of Prince Noctis and his mates Gladiolus, Ignis and Prompto who are off on an epic road trip, the end of which will see Noct marry the beautiful and ethereal Lunafreya. Not to mince words but the lead foursome look like a boy band circa 1990. Their fashion choices are somewhere between camp, baffling and clown shoes, so it’s initially a little jarring when you realise you’re actually meant to take the escapades of these gaudily-clad adventurers seriously.

When we first control the gang they’re pushing their broken-down supercar to a 1950s style petrol station and diner, where a half-naked blonde lady who inexplicably talks in a yeee-hah southern American accent tells you she’ll fix your ride if you go and kill some monsters for her.

At this point you’ll either need to go along for the ride or eject the disc immediately. If you can get past the mishmash of tones and genres, you’ll soon find the game’s charms are many. For one thing it’s absolutely gorgeous: the four leads move, chat, hang out and cook in organic-looking, vivid ways in stunning, massive environments. The revamped combat system is also visually splendid and a lot deeper than it first appears, although players seeking classic turn based combat will be disappointed.

What really sells the game, if you let it, are the four lead characters. As the story kicks into high gear and takes the foursome to dark and dangerous places, the initially ludicrous-looking band become a more substantive and emotionally rich group. Yes, it’s bizarre to see a game that has you fighting giant water demons while texting on your mobile phone, but it’s so gloriously silly that you can’t help but grin.

Less smile-worthy, however, is the final third of the game where the open world structure is more or less abandoned and it all becomes a bit of a linear slog. You’ll probably want to push through to see the ending, which is surprisingly emotional, but it’s a pity the more open structure couldn’t go the distance.

Final Fantasy XV plays like the idle fever dream of a horny Japanese teenager passed out and listening to their iPod on shuffle. It’s weird, silly, occasionally baffling and quite a lot of fun – if you can leave your sense of logic and reason at the door and embrace the high camp lunacy.


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Dishonored 2

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It’s my first playthrough as deposed empress, Emily Kaldwin and I’m sneaking through the dingy depths of a sub-basement in an abandoned asylum. Guards patrol the main floors so I sneak through the back rooms where bloated corpses and nests of parasitic blood flies ooze with filth and disease. Suddenly I turn a corner too quickly and a guard spots me. Before he can say a word I sprint over and knock him unconscious. I hide his sleeping body behind a torn up couch and keep on creeping.

It’s my second playthrough as protector of the crown, Corvo Attano. I swagger through the so-called Dust Distract and slow time with ancient magic. I send explosive crossbow bolts at four guards who are standing close to one another. The bolts hang in the air like a promise. I unfreeze time and make good on that promise: the bolts blasting into them and sending burning bodies and scorched limbs everywhere. More guards are alerted but that’s fine. I have plenty of magic, explosives and steel for everyone.

Dishonored 2 is the sequel to Arkane Studio’s 2012 sleeper hit, Dishonored. The action is set fifteen years after the events of the first game with Emily Kaldwin now ruling as empress. However, before you can say “how do we justify the name of this sequel?” she is deposed by alleged “rightful heir to the throne” Delilah, who orchestrates a bloody coup and, depending on the player’s choice, leaves it up to either Emily or Corvo to make things right. This early choice is important because you’ll be playing that one character throughout your entire first run. Personally I chose Emily because of her ability to turn into a stealthy shadow beast that can suck the air out of a foe’s lungs, but it’s ultimately up to you. Both choices are good and incredibly varied in terms of unlockable magical powers and weapon usage.

Do a low chaos (minimal kills, stealthy) and a high chaos (burn it all down) run and you’ll really see how strong the gameplay mechanics in Dishonored 2 are. My first run was low chaos as Emily and I found myself sweating every encounter, as I was powerful but weak. A couple of sword blows and I’d go down, and it’s actually harder not to kill your targets. This resulted in a 15 hour plus initial run that was tense, exciting and ultimately very fulfilling. My second run, as Corvo was high chaos and I played the game like Jason Voorhees: all would fall to my malevolently creative murder traps.

Dishonored 2 works precisely because it gives you so many options for play and the level design has never been better. The Addermire Institute, The Clockwork Mansion and The Royal Conservatory are three of the best levels in Dishonored’s history and brimming with replayability. You’ll love spending time searching the various back alleys and hidden rooms for runes to upgrade your powers and become a magical assassin. The downside to this is by the end of the game you’re such a bad ass that the challenge factor goes down. Experienced players would do well to play on one of the two harder difficulties otherwise the last third of the game tends to feel a little breezy.

Ultimately Dishonored 2 is a little let down by a predictable story and a slightly underwhelming ending, but the emergent storytelling, side quests and details within the levels more than make up for this shortfall. There’s such a vivid sense of rich history and detail to the proceedings that you’ll want to explore every nook and cranny and discover different ways to off your foes. Dishonored 2 is one of the best games of 2016 and absolutely unmissable for fans of stealth titles but even players who’d rather kill creatively and noisily are served well by the incredibly rewarding gameplay on offer here.

Check out Anthony’s stabby/slashy Dishonored 2 highlight reel, put together by the mighty Grizwords.

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Battlefield 1

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Over 100 years ago, humanity entered into one of the most ill-advised engagements in history, a global massacre that became known as World War 1 and, horribly ironically, “the war to end all wars.” As history buffs, or indeed anyone with a working internet connection, will tell you: war did not end, and WWI got a series of increasingly unlikely sequels that sadly continue to this very day.

Battlefield 1 has the unenviable task of taking WWI and making it (1) a compelling environment for a videogame, and (2) not cry-in-a-dark-room depressing. See, games have long used WW2 as a backdrop for action combat because although the death and horror was just as hideous, it seemed like the good guys/bad guys divide was a lot more clearly defined. WWI was a far stranger affair, not to mention lacking the improved technology utilised in future wars.

It’s quite a surprise, then, that Battlefield 1 works as well as it does. Extraordinarily well sometimes, especially in its single player campaign. The Battlefield games have often been notorious in their half-arsed campaigns, with 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront eschewing it completely, so it’s nice to see developer EA DICE improve on their spotty record.


The single player campaign is cleverly divided into six War Stories. Each story functions as a standalone adventure set in various locations around the world. The quality and length of these stories varies, but Through Mud And Blood (set in a tank in 1918 during The Battle Of Cambrai) and Friends In High Places (about a manipulative gambler and liar who takes to the skies in a stolen plane) are highlights. There’s even an Australian story, The Runner, set during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, which is oddly moving even though the gameplay is a tad simplistic.

When you’re done with the single player campaign (it’s better to tackle at least one or two War Stories first) you can join the various multiplayer options that feature huge battles in enormous locations. Here the game becomes much more like Battlefield business as usual, although it has to be said that beginners will have a tough time here. There’s a savage brutality to Battlefield 1, where you’ll often spawn and die within seconds, coughing and choking in mud-filled trenches or burning deserts. It’s vivid and nightmarish and occasionally not very much fun. Battlefield 1’s multiplayer is much better enjoyed if you have a squad of up to four friends so you can try to coordinate your efforts, because by yourself, well, war is hell.

Battlefield 1 was a risky move, going backwards in history instead of forwards, and yet it has paid off. It features a robust and memorable single player campaign and a huge, often daunting, multiplayer component. It’s not always fun, but it’s vivid and affecting, and will stay with you a lot longer than most war games.

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Mafia 3

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Mafia 3 makes a great first impression. When you boot it up, the game opens with a disclaimer, stating that this fictionalised depiction of the American South in 1968 will feature racism which, while deplorable, is accurate to the time period. Then we meet the game’s African-American protagonist – Vietnam veteran, Lincoln Clay. The game introduces us to Lincoln in a documentary style format with older versions of the surviving characters talking about their regrets and trauma from the events that you’re about to play.

It’s a stunning and original way to open a video game, and the first two to three hours of gameplay are a joy. Lincoln struggles to adjust to life post-war, and finds that his old neighbourhood has changed…and not for the better. As a poor young black man with few skills other than violence, he soon becomes involved with organised crime. This culminates with a bank heist and a betrayal by mob boss, Sal Marcano. The double cross leaves most of Lincoln’s friends and family dead, and Lincoln with a bullet in his head. Against the odds, Lincoln survives. Once fully recovered, he sets out on a path of bloody revenge, dismantling the mob in New Bordeaux, the game’s fictitious version of New Orleans.

If only Mafia 3 had managed to fully execute its stylish, violent revenge story, because there’s so much about the game, setting, and soundtrack to love. But once the open world becomes open worldy, Mafia 3’s many flaws become glaringly obvious. For a start, 90% of the vehicles handle like a dog on wet lino. They’re mostly heavy, unresponsive, ungainly dinosaurs that are a chore to maneuver. This would be less of a problem if the game featured some kind of alternative mode of transport, such as trains, buses, or perhaps fast travel, but there’s none. At all. So you’ll often find yourself driving from one end of the massive map to the other just to trigger a cut-scene and then head back somewhere else.

The map is worth mentioning too, because although it’s enormous, it’s also pretty much empty. There’s none of that sense of discovery or rewarded exploration that you get in the open worlds of Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim. Another problem is the mission structure. At first, you’ll be able to access story missions as you go along, and these are usually worth doing. But as you open up more territory and recruit underbosses to expand your empire, you’ll find yourself repeating the same handful of activities over and over again until the next story mission unlocks.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the activities were ball-tearingly awesome, but due to a combination of clunky controls and shocking enemy AI, you’ll find little joy in the twentieth seemingly identical assassination mission. Whistle for an enemy, stab them when they come to investigate, repeat a dozen times, and then kill the boss. It’s a format that you should get used to. You’ll be doing it. A lot.

On top of all that, the game features a number of bugs and glitches of varying degrees of seriousness, not to mention murky textures and inconsistent lighting, that hamper immersion and hamstring enjoyment. That being said, Mafia 3 does have some joy in it. The aforementioned story missions are usually solid and cinematic, with exciting shoot outs in memorable locations like a Ku Klux Klan rally or a sinking steamboat. The characters are mostly well drawn, and the direction and story are top notch. It’s just a pity that the game requires you to do so much dull busywork to get to subsequent chapters.

Mafia 3 has great moments where story and gameplay meet effectively, but it’s simply too artificially protracted and mechanically unexciting to be anything more than above average. Unfortunately, Mafia 3 makes you an offer you could probably refuse.