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Wolfenstein: Youngblood

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2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was as perfect a reinvention of a dusty old franchise that exists in modern gaming. Developer MachineGames took a fun-but-shallow shooter and imbued it with pathos, whimsy and a shockingly good story, all while retaining the splattery Nazi-killing fun times one expects from the Wolfenstein name. Then, in 2017, a sequel Wolfenstein: The New Colossus launched to even more acclaim, and continued the rebooted franchise’s bloody path of victory. It seemed that MachineGames, and by extension Bethesda, could do no wrong… and then Wolfenstein: Youngblood arrived.

Look, first things first: the concept of a co-op Wolfenstein is actually a brilliant idea. The shooting is so kinetic, violent and gleefully gory that it’s perfect to share with a like-minded friend; and setting the action in the (alternate) 1980s of the game’s lore, with BJ Blazkowicz’s daughters – Zofia and Jessica – as the main characters is a fantastic conceit.

The problem is the execution is so far from what it could, and should, be that it’s at times hard to understand what they’re even going for. Some good remains, the shooting is still slick and punchy, the levels look pretty and there are occasional moments of shock or surprise that liven the proceedings. Unfortunately, there’s also a U-boat worth of bad, with dull level design, repetitive missions’ structure and a move towards Diablo III or Destiny-style mission structures and level gating – with the attendant grinding and bullet sponge enemies – which stands at odds with the breakneck pace of previous Wolfensteins.

Worse still, the major aspect MachineGames got so right before – the characters, the story, the wonderful dialogue – has been supplanted with often genuinely irritating sibling banter that makes one wonder if the Blazkowicz sisters aren’t suffering from recent and extreme head trauma. “Fuck yeah, dude!” one mostly interchangeable sister will bray to the other, as you sigh and run through the same small map area once again to trigger the next objective. It’s just not all that much fun, which is a hell of a shame.

Ultimately, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a victim of its own prior successes. The New Order and The New Colossus were so good that they raised the bar to daunting levels, so that Youngblood’s sidequel experiment needed to be a lot better implemented to truly make it stand out. What we have, instead, is a repetitive, grindy, often very frustrating co-op experience that lacks the charm, polish and excitement we’ve come to expect from MachineGames. There are charms here, particularly if you’ve got a patient co-op partner, but ultimately Youngblood just doesn’t have the Reich stuff.

 
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The Sinking City

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The legacy of Howard Phillips Lovecraft looms large over incalculably huge swaths of popular culture. Books, movies, comics, video games, inexplicably cute toys for kids – HP has had a clammy-palmed influence on it all – which is impressive for a bloke who died in 1937. The latest video game to attempt to capture the uneasy horror and sense of dread from Lovecraft’s writing is The Sinking City from developer Frogwares, and while it’s a valiant effort, it also has some serious problems.

The Sinking City takes place in the isolated fishing town of Oakmont, Massachusetts, in the 1920s and is one of the more evocative video game locations in recent memory. You play as Charles Reed, a war veteran turned private investigator who is attempting to find the source of the vivid nightmares that assail him with terrifying regularity. As generic as the player character is, the town skews much more interesting. There are old families, racial tensions with the Innsmouthers, mysteries abound, unexplained murders and madness creeping into everyday life. It’s some classic Lovecraft gear and while the more prolific dialogue is let down by sporadically shonky voice acting, HP enthusiasts will be delighted by the various deep dives (literal and figurative) into the old master’s lore.

All good so far. Unfortunately, where The Sinking City runs into trouble (over and over again) is with the technical aspects of the game. Walking around the city in third person is adequate but combat is an unresponsive mess. The graphics look decent when nothing’s going on, but move that camera even an inch and get ready to see a bonanza of screen tearing, which is to say nothing of the clipping, pop in and slow down that will occur often and enthusiastically. No one of these elements is enough to completely ruin the atmosphere, but when they all start happening together the spell is broken.

It’s a pity too, because there are so solid ideas with the investigation aspects of the game, a Hannibal-esque “mind palace” is a great way to explore the various clues you’ve picked up, but it’s not enough to get past all the irritations that show their ugly little faces all too often.

Ultimately, The Sinking City is a conceptually strong title that suffers far too much at the hands of execution. All the bugs in the world won’t ruin the experience for the truly obsessive Lovecraft fan, but for the rest of us this eldritch horror needed a little more time being developed by The Old Ones.

 
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Warhammer: Chaosbane

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In the world of ARPGs (Action Role Playing Games), the king of the hill is, arguably, Diablo III. Blizzard’s staggeringly popular demon-hunting jamboree has managed to conquer PCs and consoles since 2012-2013 respectively; although there have been plenty of contenders to the throne. The latest example is Warhammer: Chaosbane, and while it lacks Blizzard’s honed slickness, it’s not without its charms.

Warhammer: Chaosbane is set in the dizzyingly massive Warhammer universe – the fantasy branch, not the sci-fi ‘big men in armour go shooty-shooty’ one – and tells the tale of a group of adventurers and their quest to battle a great evil and save the world of men. Players can take on this daunting task as an Imperial Soldier, High-Elf Mage, Slayer or Wood-Elf Scout. Three of these classes are a lot of fun, with the Mage in particular pulling some funky moves, but the Imperial Soldier is a bit dull, to be honest. So either by yourself, or teamed up with friends or online randoms, you’ll battle through towns, dungeons, castles and swamps on a lengthy quest for victory and a new hat with better stats.

Chaosbane doesn’t exactly break new ground in the ARPG mode, in fact if you squint really hard it can look and feel like you’re playing Diablo III, but in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay it can be a lot of fun. The controls are snappy and responsive, the combat colourful and splattery and with a group of mates it can be a blast. Problems do occur when it comes to longer term involvement, however, as the enemy types and environments do a lot of recycling. You’ll lose count of the number of times you run through the same cobbled courtyard, the same dungeon hallway, and at the time of writing there’s not a huge end-game to keep you coming back for more.

The story, also, is a whiff, with occasionally hilariously bad voice acting and an overall journey that will have you shrugging with either boredom or bewilderment. Still, it’s early days for Chaosbane – and apparently big plans are afoot for further content – so these negatives may be irrelevant in future months.

Ultimately, Warhammer: Chaosbane is an above average ARPG with oodles of future potential. If some of the rough edges, and lack of variety, can be polished over time it could be truly grand, however right now it’s stuck firmly in the kingdom of “Pretty Good”.

 
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Team Sonic Racing

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Dear reader, there was a time in our video game history, in that halcyon decade known as the ‘90s, when nary a console gaming system was connected to the internet. Mainly because the internet, at least how we understand it today, didn’t exist. Therefore, if you wanted to enjoy a multiplayer experience in your own loungeroom you’d have to physically bring people into your home and play the damn thing in person, with split screen. Twas a simpler time. The undisputed king of the loungeroom was Mario Kart 64, a game where you could play as various Nintendo characters and hoon around bright, cartoony tracks and hit each other with shells. Over the years that followed, kart games have come and gone, and video game experiences have skewed ever more online, but even without the warm haze of nostalgia, it has to be said that the loungeroom kart experience has been missed.

Enter Team Sonic Racing, the newest kart kid on the block, who would really prefer you ignore the various iterations of Mario’s vroom vroom fun times and focus on the bright blue fella. Team Sonic Racing, as the name suggests, takes characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog IP and throws you and your mates into an array of colourful tracks where you kart about, picking up power ups and questing to best your opponents, human and AI alike. In terms of new gameplay mechanics, it offers some intriguing team-based additions, like faster speeds when you follow your teammates closely and supers that are more powerful if you launch them simultaneously. These are actually smart additions, making the gameplay less mindless than your usual kart gear, and it’s an undisputedly fun time.

On the negative side, and this is a little subjective, but Sonic and friends have always been a bit… dull as characters. Honestly, the most impact that Sonic has ever made was with his nightmarish (and soon to be amended) movie trailer appearance. With the dead eyes and the teeth… those weird, human-like teeth. Point is, without much in the way of personality, it’s hard for the Sonic agnostic among us to get particularly worked up over the hero character’s antics.

Ultimately, however, the entire reason for Team Sonic Racing’s existence can be boiled down to a single question: do you want a kart game you can play with your mates? Because Team Sonic Racing is available on PS4, XBOX, Nintendo Switch and PC, unlike the (admittedly superior) Mario Kart 8 which is Switch only. So, if you have a group of likeminded chums who seek to return to those barely remembered days on the couch – or if you’re so young you’d like to have that experience for the first time – Team Sonic Racing offers an engaging, if unspectacular, reason for a group hoon with some sparkly animal friends. Freaky teeth not included.

 
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Rage 2

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The original RAGE, released in 2010, was an engaging enough shooter that suffered from a poorly told story, unremarkable characters and ultimately not enough content to justify the purchase. Additionally, it also couldn’t help but seem the poorer offering when compared to the similarly-themed Borderlands which had come out the year before. Despite some entertaining moments, and slick shooting courtesy of developers id Software, the title was considered a disappointment.

Cut to 2019 and Rage 2 is here, and while it may be a sequel no one was particularly asking for, it certainly improves on aspects of the original, although misses the mark in others.

Rage 2 tells the tale of Walker, a male or female avatar (dealer’s choice) who needs to battle through an apocalyptic wasteland to defeat a race of evil cyborgs who are intent on ending what’s left of humanity. The broader idea of the premise, while a bit hacky, has potential but unfortunately the writing once again saps the story of any sense of urgency. That said, the shooting here is diabolically good. Like, it’s insane, some of the best gunplay currently around. Every weapon feels unique, every upgrade has meaning and when you launch into Overdrive – a state where damage and health are buffed ludicrously – it’s a glorious explosion of bloodsoaked mayhem that will likely have your jaw plummeting to the floor.

The problem is that Rage 2 feels like a fantastic linear shooter that has been transplanted onto the body of a not particularly exciting open world game. The moment to moment gameplay is fine, but then you’ll be forced to hop into your not very good vehicle and pissfart about on the huge map looking for the next bit of fun. It’s a good idea to have peaks and flows in action, but in Rage 2 it just feels like the best parts are too few and far between. And although the game exceeds its predecessor in almost every way, it suffers from the same problems of pacing, writing, characters and repetition.

So, ultimately, Rage 2 feels like a fantastic shooter with too much open world busywork. It’s certainly better than the much-maligned original but one can’t help but feel that this could have been so much more. Still, it’s a noisy, bloody, silly and sporadically fun time that offers the video game equivalent of above average, cheesy pizza and sometimes that’s just what you’re in the mood for.

 
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Mortal Kombat 11

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I can still remember when Mortal Kombat hit the pinny parlours in early ’90s Australia. Rat-faced teenagers with bad skin and violent minds flocked en masse to attempt to beat the crap out of their mates, finishing the battles with gory fatalities and screeching happily at the carnage. Mortal Kombat seemed hardcore, dangerous even, at a time when video games were generally pretty safe, family friendly affairs.

Smash cut to 2019 and video games are all over the shop in terms of content. Just this year we’ve had the staggeringly violent Resident Evil 2 remake, which puts the earlier Kombats to shame. So where does a game like Mortal Kombat 11 fit and how do developers make it stand out? The answer, bafflingly, seems to be by turning the damn thing into a Saturday morning cartoon. Even more baffling? It bloody well works!

Mortal Kombat 11’s story campaign is a ten or so hour long romp through the multiverse, featuring time travel, alternate realities and elder gods. It’s gleefully stupid nonsense, that feels like something 13-year-olds would adore, and comes equipped with the series’ notorious – although defo not dangerous – graphic violence. Heads explode, guts are ripped out, spines shattered and whole bodies cleft in twain. It’s mayhem, although these days it feels more like splattery slapstick than anything that could conceivably offend any but the most pearl-clutchy of folks.

The game comes equipped with multiple modes, the best of which are the versus matches (both online and off) and the various Towers you can play through to grind for better loot and character customisation options. Honestly, the grind won’t be for everyone, but the obsessives out there will find a lot of value for their dollar in this title.

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat 11 is the best pure fighting destination you’re likely to come across this year. A wonderfully stupid story, multiple off and online modes and all of it dripping with handfuls of graphic gore. If that sounds like your jam, get ready to unleash your inner rat faced teenager and yorp with glee as the bodies hit the floor.

 
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Days Gone

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When talking about Days Gone, it’s probably wise to address what the PS4 exclusive title isn’t, as much as discussing what it is. Days Gone isn’t another masterpiece from Sony, following in the staggeringly good run of Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. This is a title with numerous problems and shortcomings, both technical and conceptual, and is destined to be treated like the red-headed stepchild of the PS4. All that being said, Days Gone is still pretty damn fine, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into its somewhat rough charms.

Days Gone takes place in an open world largely destroyed by a fast zombie (or “freaker”) apocalypse that began a couple of years earlier. In that bitey beano, outlaw biker Deacon St. John lost his missus and now does odd jobs for various communities in Oregon. Deacon and his bestie, Boozer, keep talking about heading “up north” and Deek keeps trying to find out more about his wife’s demise, all the while fighting freakers and crazy humans. It’s an elegant premise, and a pretty convincing world, that you inhabit. After an initial bit of business Deek’s bike is trashed and he’s forced to use a gas-guzzling hunk of junk that you’ll do your best to improve as you engage in missions, main and side, plus other generic open world activities.

What Days Gone does best is its main story. The characters are well realised, if not always terribly original, and the freakers are legitimately scary, particularly when they form enormous, 200+ strong hordes. Moving from camp to camp, chatting with the leaders of each one, and finding out the philosophies that exist in a post-collapse America is engaging and interesting, and once you get used to the clunky controls, there’s fun to be had just tootling around getting into trouble. Less successful is the more time-wasting side content like bounties, which often aren’t worth the fuel you’ll waste – because, damn, you’ll be spending a lot of time refilling your crappy bike.

On the very downside, Days Gone is still – after a bunch of patches – beset by bugs of the visual, audio and frame rate variety. It never attains Fallout 76 levels of wretchedness, but it’s strange to see in a big budget AAA game, and for some folks that will be a hard pass.

However, if you rather like exploring the bones of a dying civilisation, and if you’re still engaged by zombies and apocalyptic cultists, then Days Gone is at least worth a squiz. It’s no masterpiece, and could have used some judicious editing, but Days Gone is, at many times, a diamond in the (very) rough.

 
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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

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FromSoftware releases are more than simply games, these days they are practically cultural events. Masters of minimal, atmospheric storytelling and punishing, but satisfying gameplay, each of their titles comes with much fan anticipation, online speculation and endless, earnest think pieces about why “this one should have an easy mode”. In short, FromSoft games are a big deal and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is no exception.

Speculation about the new From game has been rampant since the Dark Souls trilogy closed out with its third entry in 2016. What would be next, we wondered. Bloodborne 2? A reboot of Demon’s Souls? A new IP of some kind? When we finally saw footage of Sekiro, it immediately became dubbed “Samurai Souls”, which was an exciting premise but not particularly accurate. You see, while Sekiro shares many similarities with the so-called Soulsborne games, it’s actually not part of that family. Sekiro is its own thing, for good and for ill.

Sekiro tells the story of Wolf, a wandering shinobi, who is on a mission to save the Divine Heir Kuro from the Ashina clan. The mission gets off to a bad start as during the opening minutes of the game, Wolf gets his left arm lopped off. In typical From-style, you the player need to rebuild the gruff hero’s strength, learn to use a fancy prosthetic and save Kuro from certain death. If this all sounds unusually straight forward for a From game, you’re absolutely correct. Sekiro’sstory is, by the standards of this developer, almost shockingly vanilla. Oh sure, there are some weirder aspects towards the middle and end sections, but nothing like the mind-bending cosmic horror of Bloodborne or the nihilistic fantasy of Dark Souls.

The other big change from standard operating procedure is the gameplay. Whereas Souls and Bloodborne let you choose from a variety of weapons and a variety of play styles, Sekiro gives you a single weapon. Certainly, Wolf can swap out various prosthetic gadgets and other nifty tricks, but it’s sword all the way, baby. Plus, get ready to block and parry. A lot. Like, pretty much the whole game. Sekiro is on a mission to retrain the player, so forget the slower back and forth dance of Dark Souls or the dash-and-slash of Bloodborne, because this is all block, deflect and break that posture for the deathblow. It’s a clever, nuanced system with a steep learning curve but once mastered it makes combat quite satisfying, however it’s hard not to miss the weapon variety from other From games. The inclusion of a spear, hammer and other era-appropriate gear would have gone far in making the proceedings feel a little less samey. Other aspects of Sekiro have been streamlined too, with PvP elements and the ability to summon online players to assist you both missing, and frankly, missed.

Look, dear reader, I’m going to be frank with you here as I slip briefly into the first person. I adore the Soulsborne games, with all my heart. Bloodborne in particular is in my top two all time games – with the other entry being a second copy of Bloodborne – however as much as I respect the craft and artistry of Sekiro, I don’t love it. The story feels a wee bit generic, the characters a little flat, and while the technical aspects of blocking, parrying and breaking posture are well-designed and executed with aplomb… they’re not all that much fun. Obviously this is subjective, and you may feel completely differently, but that’s how this one landed for me.

There’s a lot that’s great about Sekiro, mind you. The world is vital and a joy to explore. The new grapple mechanic adds a degree of verticality to the levels that is a real eye-opener. And the stealth elements, while not always perfectly implemented, are often a great deal of fun. The boss fights, as always, are memorable and frequently wrenchingly frustrating too, and I suspect it will be a while before I forget facing Madame Butterfly, Genichiro Ashina or the freaking Guardian Ape for the first time. However, as happy as I was besting them, I didn’t experience the same endorphin surge delivered by previous From games, instead feeling a kind of grumpy relief. Like I’d just finished cleaning a feral bathroom or a much-delayed trip to the gym.

Ultimately Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is going to be for a very specific type of player. The kind of gamer who liked the other From games, but wanted a more grounded story. Who enjoyed the likes of Bloodborne, but felt it needed more ear-jangling parrying sections and was, perhaps, a little mystified by all those weapon options. Sekiro is a very good game, conceptually, artistically and mechanically, but it’s also a streamlined, pared back experience that feels like it’s lacking some essential element, an indefinable component, that made the other From games masterpieces.

 
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Tom Clancy’s The Division 2

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When The Division launched in 2016 it was an engaging looter shooter beset by intermittent bugs and a lack of meaningful endgame, but it did contain the core of a great idea. Teaming up with your mates, or randos, to take on wandering gangs in a post apocalyptic New York during a snowy winter was a fabulous concept, and even at the game’s low points one couldn’t fault the atmosphere and sense of place. Now The Division 2 has arrived with the goal of addressing its predecessor’s flaws and, by and large, succeeds in this lofty goal.

The Division 2 changes location and season, this time taking place in Washington DC in the height of a sweltering summer. Various criminal factions vie for control of the former seat of America’s government, and it’s up to you – playing solo or in a team – to discourage their homicidal shenanigans with the ultimate attitude adjuster: a metric shit-tonne of guns. If this plot sounds familiar, or slight, that’s because it is. Much like the previous game in the series, The Division 2 is a premise with delusions of grandeur rather than a cohesive story. This is a deliberate choice by developers Massive Entertainment, because they want the player to be able to experience the game in their own way, either by charging through the story or taking the slow approach. While this is a laudable goal, it would have been nice to experience some kind of deeper narrative engagement because at the climax of the story, one shouldn’t be struggling to remember who the main characters actually are.

That said, The Division 2 succeeds spectacularly well when it comes to the world you inhabit. From the first mission where you take back the White House, to the endgame content featuring the dreaded Black Tusk faction, every single location feels lived in, thought out and constructed in a way that best suits a game of this type. Gameplay has also been significantly tweaked, adding elements of strategy to the somewhat tired cover-based shooting mechanics, to the point where players can potentially be overwhelmed by even low level enemies if they don’t choose their position wisely. Enemy AI, the bane of most looter shooters, has been jacked up to give your foes a real sense of agency. None of these cats will be joining Mensa anytime soon, however they will flank, take cover and rush you at times that feel logical. This is a far cry from Destiny’s often braindead foes and gives the action a sense of vitality and excitement.

Best of all, however, The Division 2 showers the player with loot. Whether you’re doing main missions, side missions, bounties, control points, Dark Zone exploration or just pissfarting about in the open world, you will continue to accrue better and better gear. You’ll need it too, because the game contains a surplus of content. The main campaign is a beefy one and after you hit the level cap of 30, an entirely new faction invades the game and reboots the main story missions. It’s a clever way of making old locations feel new again, and certainly addresses the original’s pitiful endgame woes.

The Division 2 won’t convince anyone who despises looter shooters, or games-as-a-service, of its considerable charms. However, for fans of the genre, this is quite possibly the best example currently available. Yes, there are still a few bugs and the shooting never quite attains the god-tier status achieved by Bungie, but it’s a sprawling, rewarding ballistic adventure that’s well worth a look for those keen to get in some post-apocalyptic combat practice before society really collapses. In about eighteen months or so, we reckon. Give or take.

 
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Devil May Cry 5

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Video games, as a medium, have evolved so far beyond their earliest forms. What once existed as a brief diversion, an amusing gimmick, has now attained levels of sophistication impossible to have imagined even a couple of decades ago. Titles like God of War (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/god-of-war-2/) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/red-dead-redemption-2/) have raised the storytelling bar so high, legitimising video games as an art form capable of nuance, pathos and depth. All that being said… sometimes it’s fun to just beat the shit out of a bunch of demons, hey. Sometimes it feels good to unleash colourful carnage on deserving foes and look good while doing so. Devil May Cry 5 scratches that particular itch like an itch-scratching pro.

Devil May Cry 5 is the latest installment in the strange but stylish series from the good people at Capcom. Although the series was rebooted with DmC: Devil May Cry in 2013, this is a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 which dropped in 2008. Confused? Of course you are, but to be honest, familiarity with the series is an optional extra at this stage. Because what Devil May Cry is about, and has always been about, is spectacular action, and oh good (Dark) Lord does this game deliver.

Practically, you’ll be playing as one of three rotating characters. There’s Nero, the arrogant youngster with interchangeable arm attachments; Dante, the classic demon slayer with sword and guns; and V – the lanky, tattooed emo newbie – who can’t actually fight himself but commands a demonic bird, big cat and enormous golem. He also reads poetry to amp up his dark powers and no, we’re not even joking. These three characters have vastly different play styles, unlockable skills and alternate weapons. Even completionists are going to have a hard time experiencing every single trick of the trade during a single playthrough, which is where Devil May Cry 5’s “Son of Sparda” mode comes in handy, basically the title’s version of NG+.

This trio of unlikely friends travel through a pretty ordinary story, that time jumps a little too much for its own good, but essentially the narrative is a delivery system for action scenes. And the action is buttery, fast-paced, exciting, visually spectacular and original. The sheer feeling of unbridled glee as you tear a motorbike in half and smack fools as Dante, or ride your own rocket arm as Nero or leap atop your golem and curb stomp some evil, is genuinely wonderful. After a slew of excellent, but deliberately-paced story-based games, it’s a rare joy to just shut up and fight.

Devil May Cry 5 is, quite simply, a fantastic action game. The story is threadbare, the dialogue frequently appalling, and geez it would have been nice to have a playable female character along with all the NPC eye candy, hey Capcom? But all those concerns will evaporate like a demon’s freshly-slaughtered corpse when the aggressive metal cranks up and the next pulse-pounding blue begins. Slick, gorgeous and utterly addictive, Devil May Cry 5 is a terrific ball-tearing action extravaganza of ultraviolence and chaos and one not to be missed.