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Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

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Of all the many things Dishonored 2 did right, and that list is long and impressive, it didn’t quite give enough narrative time to one of its more interesting side characters, Billie Lurk (Rosario Dawson). Happily Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is here to redress that balance and run a victory lap, reminding us how damn good this series really is.

Death of the Outsider begins right after Dishonored 2’s ending. The players who opted to kill Billie Lurk at the end of that game may be slightly confused, but those people are monsters and we shall talk of them no more. Anyway, long story short: Billie has been tasked with finding the Outsider – the living God/man who controls the Void from which all supernatural power flows – and end his eternal life. To do this Billie will need to use her own powers – transporting herself vast distances, mimicking the faces of others and astral traveling into new areas to mark enemies and secrets. In other words it’s Dishonored business as usual and that’s a good thing, for the most part.

Over Death of the Outsider’s 7-10 hour runtime you’ll sneak around banks, museums and cultist’s lairs, either going full on stab-happy or silent but deadly. This time around killing folks doesn’t change the ending, which means cathartic murder goes unpunished, but the lack of a “good ending” for low chaos runs is a little disappointing. Another minor letdown is that you can’t upgrade your powers in any meaningful way. Yes, you can find bone charms that buff certain characteristics, but it’s a poor substitute for genuine stat building. One addition that really works, however, are the contracts you can take from the black market. These add multiple smaller goals (including killing a mime!) and really gives you a reason to explore every nook and cranny of these large, detailed maps.

While Death of the Outsider never quite attains the genius level of its bigger siblings, it’s a solid, undeniably satisfying adventure with some cool characters and world building and an ending that manages to stick the landing. It’s not a perfect ta ta for now to Dishonored but is sure to give fans something to chew on until Dishonored 3 creeps out of the shadows.

 
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Destiny 2

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The original Destiny was revered developer Bungie’s (Halo) ambitious attempt at an shooter/MMO hybrid. It was insanely expensive, with reports suggesting a budget of around half a billion (!) dollars and released with much fanfare; however the early days of vanilla Destiny were not happy ones. While the game performed well commercially, critics were less kind. The story was painfully thin and forgettable, the systems of looting and upgrading badly explained and the game’s campaign could be knocked over in a scant three hours. The critical drubbing was reflected by an increasing audience backlash, as players found the experience ultimately a bit repetitive and empty.

Over the following months and years vanilla Destiny was improved, slowly and falteringly, until The Taken King expansion turned the game into what it should have been the whole time. It just took over a year to get there! The fact is, Destiny – as it was initially released – didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Destiny 2, on the other hand, has no such identity crisis. This time around there’s a robust, albeit slightly generic, campaign with likable characters and playtime of 8-10 hours. There are planets to explore, public events to join, Lost Sectors (space dungeons) to delve into, Adventures (side quests) to take part in and classic endgame content like Strikes and, of course, The Raid. On the PvP front the Crucible returns, with several new modes and a more focused 4v4 paradigm at play. So, the big question, is it any good?

Yes, it’s fair to say that Destiny 2 is very good, but that statement comes with a caveat. Although the advertising claims differently, Destiny 2 is a lonely old slog by yourself. Oh sure, the voice acting is uniformly decent and the locations you visit feature gorgeous, eye-melting sci-fi vistas but the single player experience can feel a little lonely. Destiny has always been about forming a fireteam and blasting the crap out of aliens, robots and alien robots with your mates, and the sequel is no exception.

Another big factor is that post campaign these games are all about grinding for loot. Imagine Diablo in space, with guns, and you’ve got the basic idea. So while you’re certainly able to play the game by yourself, it lacks the weird mixture of camaraderie, jealously and friendly one upmanship group play allows. Happily Bungie has made joining a clan easier than ever, and also tacked on guided games – where you can meet some fellow nerds and hope they can carry you through the hard stuff.

While the shooting is as peerless as ever, and the graphics and story much improved over the original, Destiny 2 still has its flaws. The new mod system is dense and confusing, and when you finally do understand it – a bloody pain in the arse. Get ready to lose a whole bunch of glimmer (in game currency), time and sanity trying to craft that elusive final bit of gear to hit the level cap. Mission variety is another sticking point, as ‘waiting for your ghost to finish opening a door while wave after wave of enemies attack’ seems to be the order of the day yet again. Occasionally the game attempts something a little different, but those flashes of inspiration are few and far between. Also the campaign’s villain, Dominus Ghaul, becomes less as less interesting and threatening as the story proceeds and in the end just sort of… stops. Also, and this is possibly the most galling flaw, there aren’t any new alien races to shoot. If this game is truly a sequel, and not the ‘1.5’ reddit so often snarkily dubs it as, where are the new alien races, Bungie? Carn.

Balancing out those problems, however, are the Strikes (which are almost all superb) and the Raid. The Leviathan Raid is one of the series’ best, a punishing version of It’s a Knockout in space with clever use of group dynamics and an unforgettable final boss fight. In fact included with this review is the clutch play of all clutch plays as my group finally bested the gold-gilt fatty in a sloppy climax that involved just two surviving players (MightyTiger242 and skaterguy845) resorting to using supers, their last few rounds of ammo and even punching to triumph.

And that, right there, is how and when Destiny 2 works. When you’ve slogged through adversity and triumph on the other side. That weird bond your forge, through mutual goals and lack of sleep; and the seething jealously when everyone else gets better loot then you.

Ultimately Destiny 2 is a slick space shooter with satisfying gunplay, a decent story and engaging endgame content for days. As a single player shooter, it’s adequate, but as a group online experience it’s unmissable. Flawed but fun, Destiny 2 is a the best kind of engaging timewaster set to vampirise your social life and make a dark mockery of your responsibilities. Use it with care, Guardians.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Agents of Mayhem

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Your enjoyment of Agents of Mayhem really boils down to one question: are you a fan of Saturday morning cartoons? As a youngster – or, hell, a full grown person – did/do you thrill to the slightly generic, safe violence of G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Transformers? If no, then Mayhem will cause you to roll your eyes and sigh loudly, a lot. If yes, then we have much to discuss.

Agents of Mayhem is set in a futuristic Seoul, South Korea. MAYHEM is actually an acronym for Multinational Agency Hunting Evil Masterminds, and it’s up to you – playing as twelve different heroes (fourteen with pre-order) – to stop LEGION aka League of Evil Gentlemen Intent on Obliterating Nations.

If the above paragraph sounds like insane nonsense to you, congratulations – you are correct. Agents of Mayhem is a powerfully silly story, but where it shines is with the heroes themselves. You can team up said protagonists into groups of three and switch them on the fly. Personally I enjoyed a team consisting of Daisy the alcoholic derby girl with a Gatling gun, Oni the insane, serial-killing former Yakuza who fights with fear and a silenced pistol and Braddock, a tough-as-nails former military lady who brings the pain and airstrikes. However most combinations can be effective, and unlocking each of the new characters and experimenting with them is a great deal of fun. The variety of characters you can choose from is such that even if you find half a dozen of them annoying – and you will probably will – there are likely just as many you’ll kind of dig.

The first ten or so hours of AOM are fantastic, you’ll unlock characters, defeat boss enemies, investigate underground bases and slowly take Seoul back. The problem is at around the halfway point the game stops evolving in any meaningful way. It’s still fun, mind you, but the repetition becomes a little deadening after a while and Volition’s trademark humour becomes less edgy and more annoying-younger-brother-on-a-sugar-high as time goes on.

Enemy variety is also a little disappointing, as you end up fighting the same faceless, generic robo-soldiers over and over. If one were to be particularly kind one might suggest it’s a knowing homage to the cartoons that pulled similar crap in the 1980s, but even if that’s the case it still doesn’t make it any more engaging.

Those caveats aside, Agents of Mayhem is a lot of dumb fun. The run-and-gun gameplay is an absolute joy and triple jumping around the huge (albeit somewhat lifeless) map never stops being a blast. Like the disposable Saturday morning cartoons it seeks to emulate, Agents of Mayhem is a slight, goofy good time that offers colour and movement but it’s unlikely to leave a lasting impression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Diablo III: Rise of the Necromancer

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Star Trek: Bridge Crew VR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Rime

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Rime feels like a fairy tale, or some half-remembered dream. You play as a small boy who wakes up on the beach of a mysterious island. You have vague memories of a boat crashing into rocks and falling into the sullen depths of the sea but it’s all fragmented, confused.

Once you leave the beach you’ll soon come to a series of puzzles that you’ll need to solve without hints, save for the occasionally cryptic help of a magical fox companion. The puzzles get harder, and the stakes higher, and you’ll slowly solve the mystery of who you are and what secret the island holds.

Rime is an attempt to ape the dream-like quality of the excellent Journey and the clue-free puzzle solving of games like The Witness. It’s certainly a laudable goal, and when the game succeeds it’s mellow and cathartic. The problem is, stretched over a six-hour playthrough it feels a little thin.

Journey succeeds so well because you can knock it over in 90 minutes. The Witness succeeds, and frustrates, because its puzzle solutions are increasingly obtuse. Rime, on the other hand, never really ratchets up the tension. The puzzles get a little harder, sure, but it’s ultimately a series of repetitious climbing or exploring followed by samey puzzle-solving.

It is charming, mind you. The animations, the music, the art style are all top notch… but one can’t help but feel there’s something missing here. Perhaps it’s the slightly clunky controls, or the fiddly camera but ultimately, you’ll probably persevere just to see the ending.

The ending, which we won’t spoil, is sure to be divisive and it certainly makes a statement, it’s just a pity the game before it feels so familiar and executed better elsewhere. Rime is… fine, but a little rote and while it has its charms they don’t extend for the length of the entire experience.

 
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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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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.