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Nier Replicant

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Nier: Automata was one of the best games of 2017. A genre-straddling, fourth wall breaking, bullgoose loony trek through a robotic dreamscape that was at turns funny, sad, thought-provoking and jaw-droppingly odd. Polished gameplay, memorable locations, quality writing and unforgettable characters combined to create something truly unique.

Except, that’s not entirely true. See, Automata’s “uniqueness” was more due to the fact that it was the next evolution of an equally nuts – although in different ways – title from the same director, Yoko Taro, called Nier (or Nier Gestalt in some territories), which dropped in 2010.

The game did not do spectacularly, but it did manage to gather a loyal cult following, which helped Automata’s release no end. So, the good people at Cavia and Square Enix have dusted off Nier, prettied it up, added some new gear and released it as Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… so, uh, we’re just going to call it Nier Replicant.

Nier Replicant is the story of a brother and sister. The sister is Yonah, the brother is the player-named main character. In the beginning, you’ll look for a cure for Yonah’s disease, go on a bunch of fetch quests, fight shadowy ghosts called Shades and get into various shenanigans. Typical video game gear.

Then the game takes a hard left turn, and it never quite stops turning. Automata did similar things, but Replicant’s wild narrative shifts are no less engaging just because they’re expected. This is genuinely surprising, subversive stuff (that we will absolutely not spoil), and for fans of narratives that explore lofty concepts, and take risks, this can be thrilling.

That said, the gameplay is a little less accomplished than Automata. Even upgraded from 2010 standards, there are clunky elements here and for newbies to the series, Automata is definitely the superior option, mechanically speaking.

However, if you were one of the people who stumbled across Automata and were blown away by its wild twists and turns, you might want to give Replicant a spin. It’s a surreal, engaging, surprisingly emotional yarn that packs a wallop, even when some of its technical shortcomings make it feel a little dated.

Not quite the equal of Automata, it’s still something of a Nier masterpiece.

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Disco Elysium: The Final Cut

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How good is the Australian Government, eh? No, seriously, what an excellent organisation, full of forward-thinking, intelligent, perceptive individuals doing a great job in a cohesive, logical fashion. So, so good.

I mean, just look at some of the decisions they enable. Like the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) and their recent “refused classification” ruling re: Disco Elysium: The Final Cut, effectively making it impossible for anyone with a console to play this popular RPG. Sure, the cynics among you will say, “isn’t it staggeringly short sighted to arbitrarily ban a game that has been available on PC since 2019, and if anything this decision just exposes the shortcomings of a blinkered, reactionary organisation that in an international online context lacks even the barest hint of relevancy?”

Further, you callous doubters might be moved to say something along the lines of, “and while we’re on the subject, what was the point of fighting so hard to finally attain an R-rating for games if the OFLC simply refuses to classify them anyway? It speaks to a system beset by inadequate planning and a fundamental misunderstanding of the various demographics who enjoy video games. Particularly in the case of Disco Elysium, which is a (mostly) non-violent game in which drug and alcohol use isn’t painted in a positive light at all, but rather used to explore a nuanced and intelligent conversation about self destruction and the nature of the self.”

And, finally, you grim misanthropes might be moved to utter: “And with Disco Elysium: The Final Cut, now fully voiced and with added quests and improved graphics and animation, this is the best version available of an already stellar game and it’s practically a crime that a cadre of unimpressive bureaucrats have been able to flex their tepid, inconsistently-applied powers and ban a deadset masterpiece.”

To which I, an ardent fan of both the Australian government and the revered OFLC, would say: “What’s your solution then? Create a fake account by using an American or UK postcode? Attach a credit card that can be used internationally (or borrow an overseas friend’s and pay them back) and then buy said game, download it and then switch to your Australian account to play it? Is that what you’re suggesting? An investment of time that would literally only take ten minutes and will ultimately have you playing one of the best RPGs ever? A tactic sweetened by the fact that you’ll be bypassing an absurd, alarmist and frankly embarrassing ruling?” Because if that’s what you’re suggesting, we of the FilmInk family could never condone such an action, no matter how quick and easy it may be.

In conclusion: thank you, OFLC, for saving us simple, easily-influenced Aussies from the tyranny of an all-time classic game with numerous paths, choices and consequences. And thank heavens it’s not actually staggeringly simple to circumvent your-definitely-not-borderline-farcical rulings. Cheers, ta!

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Outriders

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Day leads into night, night into day and yet another looter shooter launches in a messy bloody state. The latest title to do so is Outriders from developers People Can Fly (Gears of War: Judgement, Bulletstorm), and it’s a testament to the quality of the actual gameplay that despite the many, many issues, this damn thing is fun as hell.

Outriders tells the story of humanity’s exodus from Earth, which is cactus, to the brand spanking new planet of Enoch which is meant to be a paradise and a new beginning for humankind. Of course, it doesn’t quite work out that way and after an engaging if cluttered opening, the player finds themselves in a very different world, harsh and brutal. A world where human fights human, roaming creatures fight everyone and a dark secret has dire ramifications for the continued existence of the species.

On the plus side, though, you’ll find yourself with newly minted superpowers and are now functionally immortal. So, you know, swings and roundabouts.

Outriders is a fast-paced, third person POV looter shooter playable solo or with up to two mates or randos. Although looking like a cover-based shooter, the action is far more frenetic and will usually involve you getting up in your enemy’s faces to ensure you gain health back. There are four classes including Pyromancer who can flame on, Technomancer who can spawn turrets and the like, Devastator who is your classic tank class and Trickster who can manipulate time itself. Each class feels completely unique and evidently a lot of thought has gone into the implementation of powers and how they affect gameplay.

Put simply, Outriders is a bloody hoot. The shooting/powers/looting loop never gets old, even if the story – which starts promisingly enough – ends up feeling a little limp. Under ordinary circumstances, this would be a pretty hearty recommendation, but at time of writing the game is a mess with server malfunctions, errors that delete your gear and numerous other little joy-sucking gremlins lobbing about the place.

Here’s our recommendation: give it a couple of months for all the kinks to get ironed out, and then give Outriders a go. It’s the game equivalent of a B-movie that punches well above its weight and a gory, bombastic blast to boot. It’s rough around the edges, and occasionally fairly stupid, but you’ll likely be having too much fun to care.

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The Outer Worlds: Murder on Eridanos

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The Outer Worlds was released in 2019, and on the whole, it was received very favourably. Developed with more attention paid to character and story depth than recent Bethesda entries – which was apt considering developers Obsidian created the much-loved Fallout: New Vegas in 2010 – the game sold well and was a decent-sized hit.

The problem with The Outer Worlds, though, is that it makes a great first impression and then starts to feel a little samey. Enemy variety, mission design and combat are all actually quite shallow, so by the time you’ve reached the end of the game you’re pretty much done and dusted.

About a year after the main game, the first DLC was released, and it was… okay. Called Peril on Gorgon, the unambitious yarn was oddly designed, quite repetitive and didn’t add anything of note. It was received with considerably less relish than the base game.

Now the second, and final, DLC has arrived and while Murder on Eridanos is an improvement on its predecessor, it still feels a bit like cut content flogged as DLC.

Murder on Eridanos has the player character (and crew) investigate the brutal murder of actress Ruth Bellamy, who played the iconic Halcyon Helen character on the space tellies of millions. You’ll lob over to Eridanos, investigate Rizzo’s beverage distilleries, check out the Purpleberry Orchards and get involved in some weird stuff involving mind controlling slugs, exploited workers and narky insects.

The DLC features the game’s ubiquitous snappy sense of humour, and a crime scene investigation device adds light puzzle solving mechanics, but other than that, it’s basically mildly reskinned enemy encounters between sections of a mostly entertaining story in the classic whodunnit vein.

If that sounds like we’re damning it with faint praise? Well, we are. Murder on Eridanos is a perfectly adequate bit of gear, but its lack of impact on the overall game means that it’s more of a diversion than a revelation. Considering the quality of Fallout: New Vegas DLC back in the day, it feels like a missed opportunity, albeit one with a few chuckles along the way.

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Climate of the Hunter

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As horror films go, Climate of the Hunter is a sumptuously surreal offering by Mickey Reece and fellow screenwriter John Selvidge.

Tucked away in a cabin in the middle of the woods, sisters Alma and Elizabeth eagerly anticipate the arrival of their long-time friend Wesley. In his presence, the world eerily churns as the sisters feel varying degrees of attraction and revulsion toward him. What emerges is a tightly-woven and visually rich film bound to titillate those drawn to art house horror, and entice others along the way.

Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) is recently divorced and hiding out with her battered spirit and disillusionment. Her sister Elizabeth (Mary Buss) is a workaholic lawyer from Washington D.C., who is lavishly dressed for the part of high-flown spectator of Alma’s misfortune. Both broody and short-tempered, Wesley (Ben Hall) provides a much needed distraction and soon becomes an object of intense fascination and eventual suspicion. Essentially, is he a vampire?

Over a series of bizarrely prepared dinners, the contents of which are briskly announced by an external female voice, their discussion moves from the quotidian to the metaphysical. Wesley finds himself a great orator, and continually dabbles in philosophical quandaries and poetic effusions. Initially, both sisters are transfixed; yet as his stay wears on, Alma becomes suspicious of other-worldly dimensions and frets over Elizabeth’s deepening affection.

Ultimately, Climate of the Hunter is niche film, but the foray into suspenseful vampiric melodrama could promise more. Mickey Reece is known for the impenetrable; foisting together on-screen symbolic explosions and using melodramatic and turgidly philosophical dialogue. Yet the intrigue at the heart of his latest film, steeped in an absurdist Hitchcockian atmosphere, tethers the audience more closely. It marks a more approachable work, and indulges in a visual and dialectical bravado that might just win over the perplexed.

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Destiny 2: Beyond Light

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Destiny 2 is getting on a bit these days. First released in 2017, the venerable Bungie-developed shooter is one of the most long lived ‘games as a service’ titles, going through various updates, controversies and even owners in its journey to occupy the hearts and minds of shooter fans the world over. Now, in 2020, the latest content drop has been unleashed. Called Beyond Light, and featuring long-awaited story revelations, the result is a mixed bag but an entertaining one regardless.

Beyond Light finally, finally gets around to dealing with The Darkness in a meaningful way. The enemy has been alluded to since 2014’s Destiny, and featured in the previous expansion Shadowkeep, but this time around they’re front and centre. Not only have the pyramid-shipped ones lobbed up, they’ve gone and somehow flogged Io, Titan, Mercury and Mars! Not only that, a mad Fallen sheila by the name of Eramis has somehow worked out how to wield the power of Darkness, using Stasis to get her revenge on the forces of Light. Looks like it’s up to you, Variks and the Exo Stranger to go on another adventure, this time in the icy vistas of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. And yes friends, there will be shooting. A whole lot of shooting. Like, a staggering amount, hey.

As tends to be common with these larger content drops, Beyond Light’s story is a short but sweet five(ish) hours of engaging twists and turns with the usual slightly disappointing ending and climax with a villain who was a bit shit. Seriously, they’ve been pulling this nonsense almost every time, with 2018’s Forsaken being the only exception to the rule. Once the main campaign is concluded, a new end game pursuit opens in the form of Empire Hunts. These are quite entertaining, extended boss fights that incorporate grinding strikes and levelling up a lure for maximum rewards, and then going after the big bad with a vengeance. The biggest new addition, however, is your guardian’s ability to wield the powers of Darkness, using ice-based Stasis to freeze and shatter enemies and really give people the shits in PvP mode, Crucible.

Beyond Light is, as always, an entertaining ride. Europa is a gorgeous new environment, the boss fights in particular are very engaging this time around and of course the shooting is second to none. That said, Destiny 2 is absolutely starting to show its age. Beautiful skyboxes aside, it’s hard not to notice the reused assets, the samey enemies and the encounters we’ve done hundreds, possibly thousands of times before. Bungie’s decision to focus on 2-3 more years of Destiny 2 rather than creating a sequel has raised many eyebrows, and unless they make a seamless transition to next-gen consoles it’s hard to imagine everyone will go along for the ride.

That said, and it bears repeating, the shooting is like a soothing balm for the soul. Crisp, responsive and utterly addictive, it represents the best in the biz and is always a hoot with friends. Destiny 2: Beyond Light is a rather safe, but enjoyable, addition to the game. Plus, there’s plenty more to come, including further seasonal content and a brand new raid, Deep Stone Crypt. However, for longterm fans, it does feel like the cracks are starting to show and if Bungie wants to keep this cash cow going, they’re going to need to start thinking beyond the box.

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

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Somewhere during the Assassin’s Creed series’ 20-something games, your humble reviewer found himself checking out of the series. Not completely, mind you. There were still highpoints. 2013’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was a good ‘un and 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was not without its charms, however the emphasis on janky combat over stealthy assassinations, of vast but oddly repetitive environments over smaller but more detailed locations, and the increasingly level-gated content, that all but required seemingly endless grinding (looking at you AC: Origins and Odyssey) put the series firmly in the “it’s just not for me” basket. It’s a surprise then, that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, despite suffering from some of the above-listed afflictions (but we’ll get to that later) has gone down as easy as a frosty horn of mead and a cheerful after-dinner pillage.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla tells the story of Eivor, a young (female or male, player’s choice) viking in AD 873 who leaves Norway to establish new lands in Anglo-Saxon England. Eivor is joined by bestie, and would-be king, Sigurd, his wife Randvi and a host of other Nordic chums, all with their own personalities and agendas. Over the course of the 60-something hour adventure, friends will become enemies, enemies will become friends and – of course – a mysterious ancient order of “Hidden Ones” will appear, giving the meta story its contractually mandated due. The thing is, the story is a really good one. Eivor is an intriguing lead and the RPG-light style of choices with consequences you’ll come across, add a new layer of player agency to the proceedings. This means, you’ll likely find yourself genuinely invested in the story, particularly in the relationship between Eivor and Siguard, a pairing that in true Shakespearean tradition, appears doomed from the beginning thanks to an early prophetic dream. In fact, the experience of playing the game feels a bit like binging a season of a surprisingly decent historical drama, even if some of the beats are a tad predictable.

In practical terms, Valhalla’s combat feels more grounded than Odyssey, with a pleasing sense of brutality and viciousness that feels appropriate for the subject matter. As vikings, you will pillage monasteries, burn enemies’ houses and flog anything shiny that isn’t tied down, which at the very least is a little morally ambiguous. You’ll forge alliances with various factions in England, performing tasks and solving problems, and slowly upgrade your homebase as you seek more and more power. It’s engaging, exciting stuff, which is somewhat undone by the ubiquitous Ubisoft second act that just drags on a bit too long. Other less than positive wrinkles are the bugs that, while tolerable, feel a bit out of place in a full price AAA game. Nothing breaks immersion like watching your horse fly off into the distance like a rapidly deflating equine dirigible.

Still and all, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a big return to form for the series. A fascinating period of history gorgeously realised in a massive, expansive – but nuanced – environment with a solid story and intriguing characters. If you’re even vaguely interested in viking culture, and can handle a bit of grit and gore, Valhalla is a worthy longship ride into glory.

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Watch Dogs: Legion

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Tell you what, there must have been some champagne corks a-popping over at Ubisoft HQ when Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed yet again. The latest (and hopefully final) delay has shoved CD Projekt Red’s insanely anticipated title back to December 10, from a much-touted November 19 launch day. That means that November of this hell year of 2020 has just one plucky cyberpunky game on the block, and that game is Watch Dogs: Legion.

The Watch Dogs series has always been an odd duck, brimming with potential that has never entirely been realised, but with Legion – set in the near-future in an Orwellian London – they’ve definitely had a red hot go this time around and created the best title in the series so far.

Watch Dogs: Legion tells the story of the London branch of hacktivist group, DedSec. In the opening minutes of the game, the group is almost completely destroyed and blamed for a savage act of terrorism. Since that day, security group Albion has turned London into a police state and it’s up to the loosely affiliated remains of DedSec to set things right, using their hacking skills, combat abilities and Pommy accents so broad they’d make Dick Van Dyke blush.

Watch Dogs: Legion’s story, while seasoned with a pinch of future dystopia ala Black Mirror, is still very much business as usual. You’ll have enemies to vanquish, computers to hack, civilians to convert and loads of busywork to complete. The gameplay, too, while engaging on a minute by minute basis isn’t exactly revolutionary. No, what sets Legion apart from other Watch Dogs titles is that you can recruit and then control any and every NPC that wanders around in the game’s massive map. Just think about that for a second: Every. Single. NPC. You see someone you like the look of, or scan them and realise that their skills will be useful, you can chat with them, do a short mission for them and then assume control of them, swelling the DedSec ranks with skills that are useful in certain situations, or perhaps you just thought their trousers were nice.

For instance, you recruit a tradie so you never get questioned when walking around a building site. Or perhaps you recruit a tidy fighter, if you need to get all kicky-punchy with some folks. Or a gun nut. Or a lady who can summon a construction drone you can ride like a hoverboard. Or a bloke who has weaponised cyber bees (no kidding, this actually exists). It’s impossible to overstate what a seismic shift this mechanic represents, and the near-endless options it gives you in accomplishing your goals.

Of course, playing as anyone diffuses the already overly familiar story, and it also means that most characters sound the same, which is unfortunately all a bit “oo-er guvna, let’s smash the system and ‘ave some fish and chips, by crikey”. It’s also a little hard to take the frothing anti-capitalist banter seriously when the Ubisoft store has a perpetually tumescent prompt, swollen with its desire to separate the player from their hard earned dosh.

Still and all, wonky dialogue and corporate greed aside, Watch Dogs: Legion took a big risk with its recruitment mechanic and it’s certainly paid off. And while it’s not a perfect game, and one wishes Ubisoft would push the narrative envelope a little harder, it’s a memorable, engaging romp through near-future London with oodles of systems to muck about with and trouble to start against the forces of oppression. So if you want to scratch that cyberpunk itch, and enjoy a memorable game in its own right, Watch Dogs: Legion has you covered. So quicksticks ‘op on this one and take back London, innit!

 

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