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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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Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

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Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire actually released on PC back in 2018, to much acclaim and joyful nerding. It has taken its sweet arse time being ported to consoles, but happily that day has finally arrived, and the result is largely positive.

Deadfire is a direct sequel to Pillars of Eternity, and opens with the player’s stronghold Caed Nua being given a boot party by antisocial deity Eothas. What’s a player character to do, other than assemble a crew, grab a boat and chase that mongrel god and find out just what the hell his bloody problem is. Naturally, the main story’s broad blockbuster quality stands in stark contrast to the dozens and dozens of hours of side quests, tasks, random exploration and dungeon crawling the large world offers hardy adventurers. It’s your classic Obsidian jam. However, an element that offers a much-improved experience is a revamped turn-based combat mode, which for console players in particular is a blessing from the various Gods.

See, playing with mouse and keyboard makes POE’s ‘real time with pause’ style of battle intuitive and responsive. On an XBOX or PS4 controller? Not so much. The speed and dexterity required to get all your ducks in a row pretty much guarantees all but the very best and most experienced players a rough old time. With turn-based combat that’s all changed, making the game feel more in line with the excellent port of Divinity: Original Sin 2. That’s not to say Deadfire is easy, because it’s not. At all. Even in turn-based combat, if you’re not paying attention you can die swiftly at the hands (or claws) of almost any foe. Expect loads of micromanagement, party stat optimising and wiki research during your 80-100 hour playthrough of the game, which includes all the DLC to date.

So, excellent combat, deep story, cool and interesting world, all good news, yeah? Okay, so now comes the bad. It can be summarised in two words: loading times. The console versions of Deadfire both suffer from ludicrously long load times between interiors, exteriors and other areas. This is a problem in a game that puts so much emphasis on exploration. Now, it should be noted that patches are ongoing to improve performance, but it can be aggravating and immersion-breaking.

Ultimately, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is a cracking RPG yarn. If you can look past the sporadic technical issues and egregious load times, you’re in for a deep, nuanced and engrossing adventure. Just make sure to say goodbye to your free time, because Deadfire is a time vampire beyond compare.

 

 
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Darksiders Genesis

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After the somewhat lukewarm reception to Darksiders III (which was better than many of the reviews would have you believe), the Darksiders really needed a shot in the arm to reinvigorate the franchise and prove that there’s still some life left in the old girl. This comes in the form of Darksiders Genesis, which isn’t a direct sequel but rather a side project/prequel starring old favourite War and horseman-we-haven’t-played-as-yet Strife. And the result? You know what, it’s actually pretty good!

Visually, Darksiders Genesis looks a lot like Diablo III. Isometric, top down view, colourful characters, vibrant spells and attacks plus chests to unlock. Although it has the aesthetic trappings of a looter shooter, it’s much more like a regular Darksiders game, with large explorable areas, powers to attain, bosses to battle and locations that become explorable after newer skills are learned. You can switch between War and Strife on the fly, but Strife is easily the most fun of the two. With his customisable guns, snappy one-liners and slick agility, Strife makes crossing large areas fun and can reduce hordes of enemies to twitching meat with much alacrity. War, on the other hand, is a slower, beefier bloke who can use his massive sword to deliver bulk damage but isn’t quite as nimble. Switching between the pair on the fly is a joy, particularly during some of the nastier boss fights, and adds an element of strategy to the proceedings.

Darksiders Genesis looks modestly gorgeous and plays well, but it’s clearly a lower budgeted entry. Cut scenes are mainly stills or motion comics and the game itself lasts 10-15 hours (compared to the main series games reaching 30+). The thing is, it’s a fun ten hours, replete with clever mechanics, superior level design and some cool-looking monsters. It’s a good time, not a long time, and paired with a co-op partner either locally or online, Darksiders Genesis is a colourful, violent hoot.

 
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Zombie Army 4: Dead War

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One of the biggest differences between video games and movies is the way in which sequels are treated. For example, if you were about to watch a film called Zombie Army 4: Dead War, which followed on from the Zombie Army Trilogy, which itself was a spin-off from the Sniper Elite series, you’d be very wary. Likely, that work of entertainment would be of the shonky and lame variety, with minimal budget and maximum bad acting, writing and special effects. However, as Zombie Army 4 is a video game, each iteration tends to improve upon the shonkier aspects of the previous entry, meaning that Dead War – although still as silly as a beatboxing wombat – is the slickest and most engaging entry yet.

The year is 1946, and although Hitler’s been killed yet again, the dead war is far from over. See, while ol’ mate one-ball-bad-hair is out of the picture, the zombies still roam over hill and dale and it’s up to you and three mates to apply a liberal dose of bullets to the European undead.

Although there is a theoretically endless horde mode, Dead War’s jewel in the crown is the story mode, which is powerfully silly but surprisingly enjoyable and varied. Certainly, you’ll be entering a lot of areas, clearing out hordes and capturing objectives, but the enemy variety and level design are such that you’re unlikely to get bored. Weapons are fun, and upgradeable to an extent, which gives you ample reason to keep plowing through zombie bonce and ballbag.

Broadly speaking, what was wrong with the other Zombie Army game still applies here. The animation is a tad janky, the graphics occasionally stutter and there’s a general lack of polish that you’d get from a higher budgeted AAA game. However, Zombie Army 4: Dead War is fast-paced, extremely violent, occasionally quite funny and an absolute hoot with a few smart arse mates. It’s trashy fun that is aware of that fact and leans into it, delivering a gore-soaked, bullet-blasting rollercoaster of cheerful carnage.

 
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Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

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Star Wars is a dominant force at the box office, particularly since the Disney acquisition of 2012. Oh sure, there have been some disappointments where a film only made a ludicrous amount of money as opposed to an unholy chunk of change – take a bow, Solo – but ultimately the tale set in a galaxy far, far away is doing fine. So, it has to be asked, where are the video games?

Back in the day, Star Wars video games rained from the heavens. You couldn’t get away from them! And while the quality varied, there were a shitload of options to choose from. Lately, the pickings have been slim. Star Wars: Battlefront in 2015 and its sequel, Star Wars: Battlefront II have been the main entries in recent times and if you don’t like online multiplayer shooters and want, instead, to focus on a single player story-driven adventure… Tough titty, Padawan. That all changes with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a single player adventure that succeeds in a number of key areas, but could use further training in others.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order puts you in the scuffed boots of Cal Kestis, space ranga and Jedi on the run. Ever since Order 66 (where Palpatine attempted to exterminate the Jedi in Revenge of the Sith), life has been tough for the few remaining Jedi, and Cal has to live like a normal person, hiding his abilities and connection with the Force. Everything changes when the Empire finally tracks him down and he must team up with former Jedi Knight, Cere Junda and affable ship captain Greez Dritus. The trio travel from planet to planet, with Cal attempting to regain his powers, solve a larger mystery and defeat the forces aligned against him.

In practical terms, Fallen Order plays a bit like a combination of Uncharted and Dark Souls. Cal arrives at a new area, explores a bunch, gains XP, creates shortcuts and will eventually fight a boss. If he dies, he spawns back at the last meditation point (the bonfire analogue) and needs to retrieve his lost XP from his murderer. Oh, and all the enemies have respawned in the meantime.

There’s no story rationalisation for this mechanic and it feels very bolted on, as if developers Respawn Entertainment just said, ‘hey, Dark Souls is cool, let’s do that too’, and never thought about it any harder than that.

The problem with the comparison is that, FromSoftware’s games have precision, nuance and strategy baked onto the combat. Fallen Order’s combat is very janky and imprecise, often leading to cheap deaths or unearned victories. You do get used to it over time, and the lightsaber battles certainly look cool, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

Honestly, the Uncharted side of things isn’t all that much better, with the jumping and wall-running feeling a little loose and imprecise as well, which can sap some of the joy from the game’s big setpieces.

So, ultimately, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is going to require you meeting it halfway. Can you forgive the combat jank, the stiff controls and the frequent bugs (particularly on the PS4 Pro)? Can you look past the dozen minor annoyances and drink in the engaging, if unspectacular, story? Are you so starved for Star Wars video game content that ‘pretty good’ is good enough? If the answer is yes, then you’ll likely really dig Fallen Order. For the rest of us, it’s a decent Star Wars adventure that feels like it could have used another six months in development to truly be a new hope.

 
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The Outer Worlds

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Just a few years ago, the bar for story-based video games was set pretty damn high. Want a rich world to get lost in? Well, let Bethesda shepherd you through the Fallout or Elder Scrolls franchises. Dig on deep, nuanced character interaction with romantic options? Hell friend, you should drink from Bioware’s cup of Mass Effect or Dragon Age. Prefer to engage with stories featuring decisions that matter? Telltale Games has you covered with multiple options, including The Walking Dead and Batman.

In recent times, however, that seems to have changed. Bethesda appear to be going through some kind of midlife crisis, releasing half-finished live service drek like Fallout 76. Bioware are on fire as well, with recent titles including the desperately disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda and the baffling Anthem. And Telltale Games? They went bust.

The point is: it’s rough out there for folks who just want to get lost in a good story-based single player experience, without microtransactions, compulsory online connectivity or any of the other slings and arrows of outrageous monetisation. Enter The Outer Worlds, from RPG pros Obsidian Entertainment, and say goodbye to your remaining free time.

The Outer Worlds has been affectionately dubbed “Fallout in space” and while that’s a bit reductive, it’s also not entirely wrong. The game is set in a far future where humanity, being run by various megacorporations, has colonised the stars and you – the player character – are thawed out of cryogenic hibernation one day in the Halcyon Galaxy, with very little idea of what’s going on. See, you are one of the people on Hope, a lost colony ship filled with fellow icy boys, and after you’ve been woken up by the eccentric Phineas Vernon Welles, you’ll be required to go on an epic adventure to defrost your chums and maybe save the whole damn galaxy.

In practical terms, The Outer Worlds has you fang around the Halcyon galaxy on your ship The Unreliable, getting into adventures, making tough decisions, locking horns with corporations that range from benign to downright evil, and uncovering the dark secret that has killed so many. In essence, you’ll be digging into a moderate-sized adventure (20-30 hours or so) in a massively complex universe.

While the lore of The Outer Worlds is staggering in its complexity, the actual gameplay is a lot more familiar. Obsidian created the beloved Fallout: New Vegas, and if you’ve played that game you’ve essentially played this one too. There will be hubs of NPCs you need to do stuff for, and long sections of wasteland full of marauders and monsters to kill or avoid. Eventually you’ll reach a point in the story where you’ll be required to pick a side, or change the stakes somehow, and then have to live with the consequences.

It’s a classic first-person RPG formula and while it is definitely engaging, it’s beginning to show its age. Also, this is a game by a small-to-medium sized studio, not a multi-billion dollar corporation, so don’t expect the near endless replayability of something like Fallout 4 or a dizzyingly massive game world.

Still, if you’re interested in playing The Outer Words, chances are you’re here for the writing, and the good news is, the story on offer is great. Well crafted, brimming with fascinating little details, wry comedic touches and characters you’ll actually want to talk to, this is a title that feels like a good book or a beloved TV series. So, while the shooting mechanics are fine rather than spectacular, and the loot game isn’t particularly deep, the story itself is an absolute cracker, and one you’ll think about long after the credits have rolled.

If Obsidian were trying to prove that there’s life left in the single player story-based RPG, they have absolutely succeeded. The Outer Worlds is an engaging and promising introduction to a new IP and hopefully the first of many games set in a brand new, intriguing, thought-provoking universe.

 
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Destiny 2: Shadowkeep

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What a long, strange ride it’s been for Destiny 2. Launching in September of 2017, Destiny 2 got off to what appeared to be a decent start by including a sizable, albeit shallow, campaign. However, as players reached the endgame it became clear that many of the features enjoyed in the original Destiny had been simplified or removed entirely. And so, began the inevitable backlash, as players revolted and filled reddit forums with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Two short and simplistic DLCs followed, Curse of Osiris and Warmind, neither of which did anything to curb the anger. Things looked grim for Bungie’s most expensive and divisive IP and then, in 2018, Forsaken appeared, boasting a nuanced story, new areas to play, multiple game modes and solid loot variety.

Destiny 2 had finally found its feet, but now it had to keep players interested in the long term. Cut to 2019, and Destiny 2’s next hefty content drop, Shadowkeep, is here and it’s brimming with both good and not-so-good, thankfully weighted on the side of the former.

Shadowkeep brings back gloomy goth bae, Eris Morn, for an adventure on the moon. The Hive has been busy building an enormous crimson-coloured fortress, The Red Keep, which looms over everything like a nightmare and it’s up to you and your fireteam to apply a liberal coating of gunfire to sort them out.

The campaign is both shockingly short and staggeringly filled with reused assets from the original Destiny, with whole sections of the map ported over and entire enemies cut and pasted with just a cheeky reskin applied.

Taken in isolation, this is some bullshit right here, however the game itself has been given numerous upgrades and tweaks. Armour 2.0, a more-fiddly RPG-style stat game, has been added and new loot now feels meaningful. Numerous new game modes like Vex Offensive, Nightmare Hunts and additions to the Crucible (the PvP hub) have been implemented, and while they’re not all winners (Nightmare Hunts are a bit bland, sadly), it makes the player feel as if there’s always something to do, something to grind for.

It should also be noted that while Shadowkeep is a paid expansion, Destiny 2 itself has gone free-to-play after Bungie split with Activision. In practical terms that means you can play most of what Destiny 2 has to offer without spending a cent, which for a game of D2’s quality is a pretty damn sweet deal. As for Shadowkeep itself, while the campaign feels a little cheap, the rest of the additions feel like significant improvements. It’s also an ongoing concern, with new modes and content dropping weekly, so for players who want Destiny 2 to feel like a one stop shop, a hobby game, Shadowkeep is a must.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for Shadowkeep to tell an interesting and twisty tale like The Taken King from D1 or Forsaken from D2, you’re in for a disappointment. However, if you want a reason to grind for new weapons, armour and an engaging excuse to sacrifice your free time at the altar of incrementally raising stats and pew-pew’ing the crap out of antisocial aliens, Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is a worthy destination.

 
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Code Vein

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Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s iconic series, has become so ubiquitous and influential in the realm of video games it basically changed the industry. These days there’s a “[Something] Souls” for everyone. Prefer Lovecraft and monsters to knights and dragons? Well, it’s Bloodborne for you. Dig on scifi? Well, friend, The Surge series beckons. How about a samurai aesthetic? There’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice just waiting for your twitchy digits. And now we have Code Vein, which could easily be pitched as “Anime Souls” or, if you’re feeling feisty, “Dark Souls for weeaboos!”

Set in an apocalyptic, attractively cel-shaded future, Code Vein tells a story that is somehow both undercooked and bafflingly convoluted. Your player-created-character wakes to find themselves bludgeoned by leaden slabs of exposition, before being given control and instructions to find blood beads and fight monsters. Happily, once the NPCs stop banging on, the actual gameplay itself is much more comprehensible. It essentially involves you killing monsters, collecting better armour and weapons and learning new skills in the various classes you can summon at will. The amount of in-menu faffing you can get up to in this game is astonishing, and fans of deep diving RPG management will be in absolute fiddly heaven. On the downside, while the combat apes many of the best aspects of Dark Souls, it lacks that fine touch, that necessary precision, that sets the title apart. That said, Code Vein is a much easier proposition, giving you a choice of AI partners who are actually pretty useful in combat and can be tweaked to suit your play style.

Your biggest barrier to enjoying Code Vein, however, will hugely depend on your tolerance for anime nonsense. If you’re a fan of giggly vampire schoolgirls, metrosexual cheekboney blokes with perplexing hair and endless monologues that feel like beat poetry read by someone suffering from recent cranial trauma, you’re in for a treat. However, if you’re a wee bit anime agnostic… you might not get the charm. Within the opening minutes of Code Vein, a scantily clad lady – with boobs so big they jiggle when she frowns – appears, and talks at you at length, rarely getting anywhere near a coherent thought. Pay close attention to this moment, because variations of it will appear throughout your 30ish hour playthrough.

Code Vein is a strange, imaginative and frustrating proposition. It’s mostly fun, and certainly delivers an engaging world, but if a little more attention had been paid to combat precision – and a little extra work done on the story and dialogue – it could have been a legitimate classic. As it is, the mixture of baffling lore, stilted dialogue, boobtacular fanservice and item management will likely appeal to a very niche crowd who, admittedly, will embrace it like their brand new waifu.

 
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The Surge 2

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The Surge, from developers Deck13 Interactive came out in 2017, and carved a bloody, biomechanical niche as “scifi Dark Souls”. This slightly reductive description was, nonetheless, broadly accurate and the title performed well enough to justify a sequel. Well, The Surge 2 is here and while it’s not a spectacular masterpiece that addresses all the shortcomings of its predecessor, it’s still a pretty damn solid effort and shows improvement on most fronts.

The Surge 2 puts you in the boots of a survivor in Jericho City, a sprawling metropolis that is suffering in the aftermath of a bizarre surge that has rendered much of the population bugshit crazy; both human, robotic and combinations of the two. The only way to survive is to fight and the only way to fight is to upgrade. This entails ripping the limbs off your enemies and using their mech enhancements to build up your own armour and weapons, all the better for improving your chances of living just a little longer. The concept of a bonfire (in this case a Medbay) where you can reset and upgrade, but also respawn all the non-boss enemies, returns and while it remains derivative of FromSoftware’s most iconic title, it’s executed well enough to justify its existence.

The plot is a little more epic in scope this time around, although it’s mainly delivered through wooden NPC dialogue, and frankly, isn’t much chop. What does work, however, is the way levels loop back on themselves, with densely packed, smallish areas being home to all manner of secrets and shortcuts. Combat, too, feels more fluid this time around and while it’s not immune from jankiness, there’s a pleasing rhythm to the way the various weapons work and a surprising amount of potential build diversity.

Playing The Surge 2, and indeed the previous Surge title, feels a bit like watching a lower budgeted genre flick that’s rough around the edges but has a decent script and a bunch of good ideas. More specifically, 1995’s underrated cult hit Screamers, which is also about robots getting a bit too handsy with us fleshbags. The special effects/graphics are a bit shonky, the acting/voice acting is a tad stiff but the ideas shine strong and, if you’re a fan of the aesthetic, you’ll likely have a grand old, limb-tearing time on the mean streets of Jericho City.