Posts Tagged‘playstation 4’

Degrees of Separation: Worlds That Can Never Meet.

Thinking about my journey as a gamer it’s interesting to note how I’ve ebbed and flowed between being focused on single player experience and those enjoyed with others. To be sure part of this was due to the way I came to games in the first place, sharing the family PC with my brother and later moving onto the first generation NES console which we’d waste endless hours on. Later on, when I was blessed with my own personal PC, that I started to find an interest in gaming by myself. That was upended when I got into the LAN scene and continued in strength as the world of online gaming was unlocked when I was graced with the wonderful gift of broadband. The last decade has been a good mix of the two although I’ll admit that most of my gaming time is more on the single player side than otherwise.

Suffice to say I don’t often go looking for co-operative experiences these days, especially if they don’t come with a single player option. However Degrees of Separation caught my eye early last year and it had long been in my review queue to play with my wife when we got the time. Well, once again thanks to the bushfires that continue to rage on, we managed to sit down and make our way through it. Whilst it’s core mechanic is somewhat novel it is a rather run of the mill puzzle platformer. That being said it can be a good bit of fun when you’re playing with another, especially if they aren’t exactly experienced with this kind of game.

Ember and Rime are from two different sides of the same world: hers a warm one of endless sunshine blessed with boundless heat and his, a world of frozen beauty. They are separated by an enigmatic force, unable to reach each other nor visit each other’s world. It’s clear however that their world has suffered some great tragedy at the hands of despotic ruler and they set out together to uncover the mystery of their shared world. Working together is the only way that they’ll be able to uncover the mystery of what happened and why they both are separated from one another.

Degrees of Separation is crafted in the style of Flash games of yesteryear with its flat 2D environments, simplistic animations and limited use of modern effects. There’s an unfortunate amount of asset reuse which makes a lot of the areas feel very samey, even though they’re supposed to be completely different environments. That being said it’s not like it’s an ugly game, more that it’s just very simplistic in its implementation. I can hazard a guess that’s likely due to the developers needing to create 2 of everything: one for Ember’s world and one for Rime’s. Combine that with the various interactions that needed to be coded in and I can see why they wanted to keep things simple from a visuals perspective.

The game’s claim to fame is the two worlds of the main characters: one world is hot and the other is cold. Initially that’s all there is to it and solving most puzzles is just figuring out the order in which things need to be done with the various worlds so you can progress forward. The later worlds start to play on the divide a lot more, bringing in mechanics that make use of it in some way. However all of these new mechanics are contained within the level that they’re granted in, so this isn’t some kind of metroidvania style game where you’ll be unlocking different parts of past levels with new skills. The only metroidvania style thing in here is the main overworld which is non-linear, but realistically you’re going to have to complete a number of levels in order due to the number of unlocks required to open them.

The puzzles are almost all self-contained and we only came across one that required us to bring something in from another puzzle in order to solve it. I personally prefer it this way for a co-op setting as otherwise you end up second guessing each other’s ideas endlessly, spending countless hours trying to drag things from other puzzles around in order to try and solve them. It also means that you’ll need to be aware of the developer’s logic as you progress through the levels as if you lose sight of that then there’s going to be puzzles that you won’t be able to solve. Thankfully those seem to be few and far between as I can only remember skipping maybe 3 or so in our full playthrough.

The puzzles are also predominantly physics based with a good chunk of them requiring precise platforming and/or timing in order to complete them. Given the game’s less than stellar control implementation this can make some puzzles a little more frustrating than they need to be as objects might not react the way you expect them to or you’ll find yourself having to repeat sections over and over again because you mistimed a jump. Even I, the seasoned puzzle platform gamer that I am, struggled at times much to the delight of my wife. This could also partly be due to us playing it on console as, I’ll admit, I don’t usually do most of my platforming with a controller.

All this being said the puzzles are, for the most part, pretty straightforward and most of them should be doable for even novice gamers. Thankfully not every puzzle must be solved as you’ll only need a certain amount of scarves (the game’s collectible) to progress to another level. The only improvements I’d seek to make would be the inclusion of a map and a reworked checkpoint system as it’s something of a pain to get back to where you were after you’ve put the game down for the night.

The story is told via a voiceover that’s triggered on every new puzzle screen, which is nice, but the story itself is pretty forgettable. I think this is partly because it’s told in the third person and the characters themselves rarely interact on the screen so it’s hard to really empathise with them at all. To be sure I prefer having the story told to me as I’m playing it rather than being presented with walls of text every so often, but having the entire thing told in the third person just seemed to take a lot of the emotional investment out of it.

Degrees of Separation is a solid co-op platformer with a novel take on the genre’s mechanics. Whilst its visual style and story err on the side of simplistic the puzzle/platform mechanics are on point, requiring some real lateral thinking and cooperation to solve. Its casual nature will make it attractive to those who are looking for something to play together but can only do so in short bursts. Other than that there’s not a terrible amount to say amount Degrees of Separation and hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you know if it’s for you.

Rating: 7.5/10

Degrees of Separation is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $28.95. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with a total of approximately 4 hours playtime and 38% of the achievements unlocked.

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan: The Horrors Adrift at Sea.

My wife was absolutely enamored with Until Dawn. After I completed my initial playthrough I did another with her as she’s a massive fan of the horror genre, especially the cheesier, B-grade ones that Until Dawn emulated. After that playthrough she was hooked and spent a good long time replaying the game multiple times over, trying to see every variation that she could. So when I saw that Supermassive games was releasing a series of shorter titles called The Dark Pictures Anthology I was intrigued and, given that we were housebound due to the bushfires blanketing Canberra with smoke, I thought it’d be a good time for us to play through the first instalment: Man of Medan. Unfortunately this particular title doesn’t feel up to the same level as Until Dawn, feeling decidedly middle of the road.

There were rumours of a downed WWII airplane that hadn’t yet been catalogued out in the South Pacific Ocean. Keen to explore a wreck that hadn’t yet been seen by other humans a group of 4 young explorers, along with the captain of the rented vessel, set out to find it based on some information from one of their friends. However whilst they’re out at sea they catch the ire of some local ne’er do wells and quickly find themselves at their mercy. Soon after that happens they get hit by a storm and find themselves butting up against a ghost ship which, for some inexplicable reason, the pirates decide to take shelter in. So begins their journey into this lost vessel and the horrors that lie within.

Man of Medan retains much of the cinematic level quality that Until Dawn had although now, compared to 3 years ago, the graphics aren’t as cutting edge as they once were. This game’s aesthetic is much, much darker than its predecessor as well so a good lot of the detail is hidden from view most of the time. Thankfully though the performance issues have been addressed so even chumps like me using an original PS4 won’t be left suffering with low frame rates. Given that this game is on Unreal unlike the previous one (which was on Decima) there’s definitely room for improvement here and who knows, maybe the whole thing looks amazing on PC.

This is still very much an interactive fiction game with it’s mostly linear levels, countless items strewn around for you to interact with and the action scenes peppered with quick time events. At the basic level not much has changed with Man of Medan as most of the mechanics have been renamed rather than reworked. The biggest change comes in the form of the Curator, a fourth-wall breaking character who speaks to you about the story that’s unfolding and the choices that you’re making within it. He will also offer you clues from time to time, although whether or not they help or hinder you is something that’s up for debate. He’ll be a recurring character in the series as he’s apparently some sort of collector of these kinds of stories, wanting to observe those who experience them. Given the shorter intended length of these stories most of the mechanics I’ve described above have been streamlined somewhat so there’s a lot less depth to them than what I remember being in Until Dawn.

As with all interactive fiction exploration is the name of the game here although, if I’m honest, Man of Medan doesn’t provide a particularly rewarding experience in this respect. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff for you to find, but most of the time it’s just flavour text for the story of the ship. That’d be great if it wasn’t for the fact that you have most of the story for it already, thanks to the opening tutorial taking place in the past. So the rest of the stuff you read is really just fluff for the most part. Worse still it doesn’t seem like exploration, especially in places that are meant to be hard to find, rewards you in any way at all. In these kinds of games that kind of exploration, I feel, should be rewarded with things that help you in some way when it comes to the game’s critical moments. None of the items I found exploring the ship with my wife helped in any way and indeed, I think most of them actually made things worse. Sure, I can see that could have been intentional, but getting punished for doing the hard thing in a game feels like a swift kick in the pants.

Probably the worst part of Man of Medan though is the lack of connection between your actions and their outcomes. Now our playthrough probably wasn’t the greatest, we managed to kill 3 out of the 5 characters, but one of them didn’t feel connected to previous events at all and the last two were single QTE fails, neither of which gave any indication that that was our last chance to get the character out alive. The premonitions were also total trash as well, the options that they showed you seemingly having zero influence on the situation at hand. Worse still, with losing a character around halfway through the game, it was obvious that there were holes in the story that that character was meant to fill and from then on many interactions felt half baked as the scenes didn’t seem to be rewritten enough to cope for said loss. Honestly I never felt this way in Until Dawn, even when I watched my wife’s playthrough where she killed nearly every character.

Of course I’d probably be able to ignore most of these issues if the story wasn’t so uninspired and predictable. It was pretty clear from the onset what was going to happen and the unfolding of events really didn’t add much to the overall narrative. Combine that with the use of tired jump scares and run of the mill horror tropes and you had a recipe for a story that was forgettable, boring and lacking the drive to push the game forward. Even my wife, who loves this kind of horror, wasn’t really enjoying the story for the most part.

Putting this all together you’ve got a decidedly disappointing experience in Man of Medan, one that really isn’t up the standard that Supermassive set with Until Dawn. I do like the concept though, a mysterious man who takes you through stories of the past and catalogues your decisions, but the first instalment in this anthology doesn’t give me high hopes for future ones. Perhaps with a more engaging story I can look past some of the more egregious missteps as it was that, combined with the distinct lack of agency my wife and I felt whilst playing, that really tore the experience down for us. Maybe the next story, Little Hope, will prove to be a little better.

Rating: 6/10

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $49.95. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with approximately 4 hours total play time and 11% of the achievements unlocked.

Trine 4: Our Beautiful Nightmare.

My history with the Trine series is long, stretching all the way back to 2011. However it could have never happened at all as I missed the game when it first came out, it not really registering as a blip on my radar back then. It was on the recommendation of a friend, one who had noticed the uptick in my gaming consumption, who recommended that I give it a shout. What’s bloomed from that is a love of the quirky series that I’ve seen go through ups and downs over the decade of its existence; from it’s awkward beginnings as a quirky physics based platformer all the way through to its latest incarnation which, I’m happy to say, is the best one in the series to date.

This time our intrepid trio of heroes isn’t summoned to adventure by the Trine, instead the request comes from the Astral Academy. Prince Sellius, one of their “students”, suffers from intense nightmares. This would be one thing but he’s also gifted with potent magic abilities and those nightmares are starting to invade the waking world. So the call goes out once again to the Wizard, the Thief and the Warrior to help save the kingdom from this threat and, hopefully, save the prince in the process.

Trine has always had amazing visuals and the latest instalment is no different. The trademark dreamlike quality is retained, coming to us through the liberal use of bloom and bright lighting effects. The 3D backgrounds and set pieces have become even more elaborate, becoming bigger and more detailed than they ever have before. The game still runs on the in-house proprietary engine and it appears that Frozenbyte has done a great job in improving its capabilities and optimising the implementation as the whole game runs very smoothly, even on old hardware. Suffice to say that Trine continues to be one of the most visually impressive platformers in the market and I’m glad the developers keep pushing themselves to improve upon what they’ve delivered before.

As anyone who played Trine 3 could predict the game has returned to its 2D platformer roots, removing the 3rd dimension and going back to what they know. For fans of the series this is a great thing as whilst the 3D version of Trine was indeed a step up the fact that they could only deliver a third of the game they wanted to with 3 times the budget of Trine 2 says a lot about the effort required to make it work. So in that respect Trine 4 is much more of an evolution of what Trine 2 was rather than a rework of 3 and the mechanics are all back to their roots. There have been some changes to make all characters more equally a part of the overall experience however, notably with the Wizard now having substantial combat capability and the Warrior being a key piece of numerous puzzle mechanics. Progression is now split into 2 tiers: one from combat and one from finding experience jars. The former is effectively the unlock for new puzzle mechanics whilst the latter unlocks augments to those abilities, effectively being quality of life improvements. Frozenbyte describes this as the “most complete Trine” experience they’ve ever created and, I’m glad to say, I wholeheartedly agree with them on that.

Combat is, as it always was, something of an also ran in the Trine experience. To be sure, there’s a more comprehensive combat experience to be had there than there ever has been, but pretty much all the engagements play out in the same way. The addition of more combat abilities to the Wizard, in the form of abilities that allow you to slam objects and levitate enemies, does make for a more varied experience but in all honesty most of them will get done with a lot of hack and slashing. The resurrection mechanic is also very, very forgiving ensuring that you’re unlikely to actually die and need to go back to a checkpoint at any time. To be fair this kind of combat fits into the whole overall zeitgeist of what Trine aims to be: a casual puzzle platformer that could be enjoyed by anyone. In that respect I don’t ever envision the combat aspects getting much more complicated than they already are.

The puzzles have gone back to their roots with physics based problems being the name of the game. The wizard still has the ability to conjure boxes and platforms, the thief grappling hook things and now the warrior’s shield forms a core part of the experience with its reflecting ability. There are numerous augmentations to all of these abilities which bring with them a wide variety of challenges for you to solve. For the most part though the majority of puzzles are going to be heavily focused on the last mechanic you unlocked with only a couple other abilities required to solve them, at least for the main puzzles. The secret ones do ramp up the challenge somewhat although they, like pretty much every puzzle that’s ever been created in Trine, is subject to the whims and whiles of the emergent gameplay that the series is well known for.

Initially you’re pretty limited in the shenanigans that you can get up to as your abilities are significantly limited. However once you’re able to summon 2 items things start to get pretty interesting and only start to rocket up from there. Indeed the combination of multiple boxes plus the fairy rope means you’re able to make platforms of arbitrary height that you can grapple onto, meaning that no matter what the height of something is you’ll be able to get to it. Combine that with the fact that the developers have still not solved the likely unsolvable issue of the Wizard levitating things he’s standing on in some capacity (this time you can grapple 2 boxes together and then levitate one of them, which can fling you basically anywhere) and you’ve got a recipe for some rather whacky solutions to the puzzles at hand. Additionally, and I don’t remember noticing this in Trine 2, but the co-op aspects have obviously played a bit into the level design as there are some puzzles that have multiple solutions, most only requiring one character. So for those it’s usually very easy to get past them with all 3 abilities at your disposal.

Despite all of that though the game is very well polished, not really suffering from any major game breaking issues or glitches. I mean sure, there were times where something happened that I wasn’t exactly expecting but I was deliberately trying to find ways to break the game’s physics engine in order to solve a puzzle in an easier way than intended. Perhaps my most enjoyable moments was when I was trying to grappling hook 2 boxes together, one of which was directly on top of the other. Doing that is fine however the second you start to levitate them things go wildly out of control as they start to clip and bounce off each other. I’m sure there’s easy fixes for edge cases like that but honestly, I think the game is better off with them in.

The story is perhaps the most well fleshed out of the Trine series but it’s not like that was a high bar to get over. The focus of Trine has always been on the visual and puzzle experience, notsomuch the characters or the world that they reside in. To be sure this does expand the world of Trine a little but it’s a pretty standard affair with a rather predictable outcome. Thankfully the story doesn’t get in the way of the game at all, mostly playing as background to what’s happening on screen.

Trine 4 is a return to form for the series, taking the essence of what made it great originally and building that up significantly. The more varied and deeper puzzle mechanics make for some truly interesting game play, especially with the trademark exploitable physics engine that allows you to do all sorts of things that the developers never intended you to do. The visuals are once again of AAA quality, retaining the same stylings that have become a trademark of the game. The usual not-so-great features are still present in this instalment with the middling combat experience and a run-of-the-mill story that you’re likely to forget shortly after playing. Still what makes a Trine game great is here in spades and for fans of the series this is a definite must-play.

Rating: 8.5/10

Trine 4 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $42.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 9 hours playtime and 53% of the achievements unlocked.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: Life After Order 66.

Going into games with little to no expectations makes for some…surprising moments. Most of the time I know what kind of experience I’m in for but there are times when I haven’t looked into the game beyond a cinematic trailer or two before I consider myself sold on playing it. Such is the case with Jedi: Fallen Order as I’m something of a Star Wars and Respawn Entertainment fan so I figured it was a done deal that I’d enjoy whatever happened when the two were combined. Imagine my surprise when I find myself in the middle of a Star Wars soulslike experience, far from the traditional RPG or third person shooter style games that this IP has been known for. Coming into this game somewhat late in the piece means I missed most of the extreme jank that plagued early reviews but still, as an overall experience, I think Fallen Order could do with some more work in a few key areas.

Five years after the execution of Order 66 and the beginning of the Great Jedi Purge, former Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis is in hiding from the newly risen Galactic Empire. On the planet Bracca, where he works as a scrapper salvaging ships from the Clone Wars. After he uses the force to save one of his friends from certain doom he becomes a target for the Inquisitors, an elite squadron of force users trained by Darth Vader himself. Luckily Cal is able to escape with the help of a former Jedi Knight named Cere Junda and her partner pilot Greez Dritus. Cere then tells you of her plan to rebuild the Jedi order using a holocron that contains the names of numerous force sensitive children scattered throughout the universe.

Fallen Order’s visuals excel in the wide open spaces that it puts you in, the wide vistas in the background providing some great screenshot bait. Up close however it’s clear that the visuals have been tuned a little bit more towards the performance end, wanting to ensure that the framerate remains more consistent during heavy action sequences. Part of that could also be due to my older rig not being capable of rendering more detail as I know that the PlayStation 4 version has a “performance” graphics setting which is recommended for non-pro users which looks quite similar to the results I’m seeing here. Even with all of that taken into consideration Fallen Order is still a fine looking game.

Fallen Order doesn’t make too many changes to the souslike core game loop, staying pretty true to the original formula. You have bonfires (meditation points), estus flask (stims), maps that twist and turn on themselves to reveal shortcuts that will make repeated trips through them quicker and a progression system that punishes death in the usual way. Fallen Order is a little more generous with its various mechanics however, making it one of the more tame soulslike experiences I’ve played to date. The only real changes to the formula are the much more contained levels with each world being its own distinct area to explore and the combat tending towards Bloodborne a little more than a traditional souls game. If you’ve been shying away from this genre for a while now I’d say that Fallen Order would be a good place to start, especially if you’re a fan of the IP it comes from.

Following the Bloodborne style for combat means that the game’s pace is a lot faster than your traditional souls game, being a little more hack ‘n’ slash rather than a strategic stamina management battle. Parrying is very much the name of the game here as you’ll have a much easier time if you’re able to hit the required timings rather than trying to dodge your way through everything. That’s partly due to the parry timing being somewhat generous and the dodging feeling a little buggy as it rarely works as you’d expect it to. Indeed the whole integration of the physics engine with the combat mechanics doesn’t feel 100%, even after the patches that took out the most egregious errors that plagued the game’s release.

That, coupled with the game’s rather basic approach to increasing the challenge for you (mostly by just throwing more enemies at you and/or the time between save points) makes for a combat experience that’s a little below par. To be sure there’s some great fights in there and I quite enjoyed a lot of the boss battles as they really did capture that same feeling I got when facing down bosses in other souls games. However much of the later challenge was really just frustration, forcing me to replay through sections over and over again just because I encountered something that I couldn’t have planned for. There was a lot of scope for Respawn to make every world have its own unique set of challenges with different enemies and mechanics but, in the end, they opted for most of them to be basically the same with only slight variations in the trash mobs. That could have been done a lot better.

Progression comes pretty steadily as you gain XP by defeating enemies, finding collectibles and unlocking secrets. Early on you’re likely going to unlock all of the skills available before you get the next tier unlocked and, even towards the end of the game, you’re likely going to be wondering what you really want to spend your points on. For the most part though the skills and upgrades are minor improvements and there’s no one build that’s going to be a lot better than others. To be sure there’s a few skills which will likely make some encounters a little easier than others but you won’t be able to say, build around a particular boss in order to cheese them.

Exploration feels somewhat rewarding however looking for all the crates isn’t something you’re going to need to do. Pretty much all the items contained in them are just cosmetics with no impact to your character’s stats at all. There are upgrades to your health and force scattered around the place but they barely feel worth seeking out as the talent tree does a good enough job of bolstering those up for you.

Whilst I never had any issues with the game freezing or crashing there was still a good helping of physics and hitbox related issues during my playthrough. I couldn’t tell you how many times I jumped at a rope, tried to wall run or jump onto a small rail only to have Cal fall to his death. That only got more frustrating during the more challenging platforming sections as I’d often fail at the last point, requiring me to replay the whole section again. This physics and hitbox jankiness pervades throughout all of the game’s various elements making for a rather annoying and inconsistent experience at times. It’s certainly no where near as bad now as some of the early videos show but there’s still a lot of room for improvement here.

Fallen Order’s story goes through peaks and troughs; sometimes reeling you in with some heartfelt moments whilst at others falling utterly flat. Usually this comes down to bad pacing however Fallen Order does manage to get that right, delivering story items at a consistent rate to keep you engaged enough. I think it partly comes down to a lot of false crescendos as the story appears to be leading to a pivotal point only to shoot off in a completely arbitrary direction, making you feel like you really haven’t gotten as far as you think. The one thing I will credit them for is not relying heavily on main Star Wars characters to drive everything, a sin many Star Wars games commit all too frequently.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is a competent soulslike experience that suffers from some fundamental technical issues that make it a good, but not great experience. There are glimmers of excellence all over the place, from the expansive visual set pieces to the steady pace of progression and some key story moments that really hit home. But those are buried under the janky physics and hitbox issues that pervade the rest of the experience making things like combat, exploration and solving puzzles a frustrating experience. This is something that will, hopefully, get better over time but as it stands today, even after a couple patches, Jedi: Fallen Order is a game that’s probably best picked up when it’s on sale a few months from now.

Rating: 7.5/10

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 17 hours play time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.

Death Stranding: Once, There was an Explosion.

Death Stranding’s genesis is perhaps one of the most well known controversies in recent memory. Hideo Kojima, ousted from his position at Konami, reformed his company Kojima Productions with the assistance of Sony. Their first order of business was to begin working on a new franchise and, some 3 years ago now, he unveiled the first trailer of Death Stranding. For someone who’d never really gotten into the Metal Gear series of games I knew little of Kojima’s work directly, but I knew of the large following his games had developed thanks to their heavy story focus and inventive mechanics. However the trailer alone was enough to sell me on the idea of the game, giving us precious little details about what the title would actually be but teasing a few concepts that had me intrigued. Suffice to say I don’t think anyone back then expected the game we have today but, after spending the last 3 weeks playing my way through it, I can say that it’s likely 2019’s best game in almost all respects. Truly this is a product of an industry veteran who knows how develop unique, inventive concepts but also have the drive to see them through to reality.

The game’s namesake is an event that occurred some time ago, ravaging the world and blurring the line that separates the world of the dead from the living. Now Beached Things (invisible creatures originating from the “Beach”, a land said to be the link to the world of the dead) roam the earth seeking to drag anyone they come across to the underworld. You are Sam Porter, a member of the Bridges corporation, who’s ultimate goal is to reunite the now shattered United States into a new order called the United Cities of America. It’s your job to deliver goods from one place to another, navigating the ravaged world and avoiding all the horrors that now lie within it. However it’s clear that there’s some history between you and the new leader of the free world and you soon find yourself reluctantly agreeing to work with Bridges to unite all of the fractured cities together.

Death Stranding comes to us via the Decima Engine which has brought us other such gorgeous titles like Horizon Zero Dawn. As you’d expect from a late-in-the-generation game Death Stranding makes full use of the PlayStation 4 hardware, delivering amazing visuals in all respects. The environments are not immutable either, with dynamic weather systems, interactions from other players in the shared world and even your own actions. All of this is wrapped up in amazing game direction with many aspects of the game expertly crafted to have maximum impact on you as a player. Finally the game’s soundtrack and foley work is second to none, rounding out the experience completely. This high level of craftsmanship makes for an extremely immersive experience, beyond that of any title in recent memory. I guess I should’ve expected no less from someone who’s been a leader in this industry for over 2 decades.

Mechanically Death Stranding is a mix of various different standard game tropes with a core game loop that’s really unlike anything else out there. At a basic level you’re a delivery guy, tasked with taking cargo from point A to point B whereupon you’ll be rated by various metrics like how damaged the cargo is, how long it took you to get there and whether or not you helped out others along the way. In all honesty I wouldn’t blame you if your eyes were rolling back into your head at this point but past a certain point, once a few of the more interesting mechanics have been unlocked, the game loop really starts coming together. That’s when the challenge starts to ramp up as well and some other core mechanics, like the third person shooter part, come into play. You’re also part of a shared world with other players, enabling you to utilise structures and items that have either been placed or even lost by other players. I could go on for some time about the various different mechanics that the game throws at you as it never really feels like you’ve unlocked everything, even when you’re right at the game’s conclusion. Suffice to say Death Stranding is an experience that evolves significantly over its play time, giving you a good reason to keep plugging onwards.

One piece advice I read about early on was to get to Chapter 3 as quickly as you possibly can and that advice is sound. The early game is a slow, plodding experience as you don’t have access to some of the core tools which make the game a lot less frustrating to play. Additionally areas after the initial one have far more structures thanks to many players in the community contributing resources to things like roads or strategically placing all manner of buildings to make your life easier. Indeed if you’re playing this game after reading this review there’s a good chance your world will likely have highways that stretch to most of the game’s most important points, charging stations at various points to ensure you never run out of juice for your vehicles and signposts everywhere that do many things from warning you of upcoming danger to even giving your vehicles a boost. Honestly I felt a little spoiled in the mid-game because of this but I see that this is actually a part of the overall experience and it encourages you to pay it forward.

It was for that reason I spent quite a bit of time farming materials to complete 2 sections of road and built numerous structures along routes I took when I noticed that say, the charge on my vehicle was running low or there was 2 zip lines that, for some reason, didn’t have an interconnecting middle section, rendering both of them useless. Of course part of this is motivated by likes, which are basically just an in-game metric of how much you’ve contributed to other’s experience of the game, as there’s nothing quite like see a roll of names go by indicating that you’ve actually done something that’s impacted another player’s game. I’ve had inclinations to go back now that I’ve finished the game and help out with getting the roads fully completed but, after some 35 hours in game, I figured it was time to let the experience breathe for a little bit.

Stealth is a not-so-small part of Death Stranding’s experience although it comes in two flavours: avoiding BTs and sneaking up on the human enemies (MULEs and Terrorists). Initially the BT avoiding sections are a bit of a pain in the ass as it’s not made entirely clear how they actually track you. For the most part it doesn’t seem to matter how much noise you make (although I didn’t test firing a gun next to them…hmmmm) and it seems to be mostly related to how close you are and whether or not you’re holding your breath. I found the most successful way to navigate your way through a BT field was to get close enough so that the Odradek is spinning and still blue and then walk in such a way that you’re gradually putting distance between you and them. Then, if you accidentally get a bit too close, hold your breath and leg it past them and then take a breath once you’re back in spinny blue territory. That likely makes zero sense if you haven’t actually played Death Stranding but if you’re going to play it keep that in the back of your mind.

Stealthing around human enemies works in mostly the same way although, if I’m honest, you really don’t need to bother. Sure it’s kinda fun to hog tie up an entire encampment but it takes so long to do it’s just not worth it. Instead you’re probably best served by sneaking up on the first few and then whipping out your weapon of choice and going to town. Indeed I can’t even think of a part of the game that required you to go full stealth as even some of the final encounters, which were ostensibly built around that, can be cheesed somewhat by leveraging other mechanics. If I’m honest though I quite like that as it means you’re always able to use the playstyle that suits you the best.

The third person shooter parts are probably the weakest part of the Death Stranding experience as the aiming feels a little wonky. Granted this may be because it’s been some time since I’ve played a shooter on the console and there’s usually long breaks between shooter encounters, limiting the amount of practice you can get in. Still, there’s a variety of weapons at your disposal and if you put enough effort in the right places you can get some upgraded versions that are much, much better than their lower tier counterparts. I have no doubts that a few sections were made a lot easier for me since I had the Level 3 Non-Lethal Assault rifle almost immediately after getting the Level 2 version, meaning I could carry a single one and still have enough stopping power to get me through nearly all of the game’s encounters. I still kept a bola gun most of the time as that, if used correctly, is effectively a one shot kill for human enemies and with a 14 round magazine I could sometimes take out an entire MULE camp with it.

The core game mechanic of delivering cargo starts off being extremely tedious as you have to walk everywhere and you don’t have any kit to help you move faster or carry more cargo. As you unlock more things like vehicles, powered skeletons and higher tier boots though things start to get a lot easier, at least for the run of the mill deliveries. Of course with more tools the game is able to present you with greater challenges and you’ll quickly start coming across delivery missions that require some planning in order to get them done. For most of the mid game you’ll likely be well served by the standard reverse trike as that can go pretty much anywhere Sam can, even through dense fields of BTs if you manage to play your cards right. Once you’re in the mountains though vehicle use starts to become quite tricky, only really getting you about 20% of the way before it becomes more trouble than it’s worth. If I’m honest the mountain section of the game was probably my least favourite time as it was both challenging and bereft of solid story progress, making it a bit of a chore. Hopefully there’s more zip lines available when you’re playing through this section!

Progression comes at a pretty steady pace although, if I’m honest, it does give the game a kind of perpetual tutorial feel as you can never be quite sure you’re seeing everything the game has to offer. The various ratings shown after each delivery will increase the various stats you have although, if I’m honest, I saw much bigger differences from the various upgrades than I ever saw from the various rank ups I got. Thankfully the game doesn’t punish you for not doing lots of side missions either and, if you’re a player like me, you can basically go through the whole game without doing a single side mission if you want. You’ll likely end up doing a few though just because there’s no reason not to and contributing to the shared world does feel rewarding.

There are a few small issues in Death Standing, some of which can go either way depending on your situation and others that would just be quality of life improvements. The physics engine is a little…generous with its interpretation of how things should work and this can mean you can get yourself into places that really shouldn’t be accessible. At the same time should you do something that the physics engine doesn’t quite understand your likely to find yourself (and your cargo) thrown unceremoniously in a random direction. Now I didn’t get this too often, but there were times when I’d say, try to exit a car only for the game to instantly think I was falling down a steep slope which then ended up with me smashing into the side of the car. Some of the other issues I was going to mention (like not being able to see the Odradek sometimes) are going to be fixed in an upcoming patch, so it’s very likely that your experience will be much smoother from that perspective. Other than that the game runs perfectly well.

What really got me hooked though was the story and the consistent pace at which it was delivered. Completing every main mission was usually accompanied by a cutscene that delivered additional detail which helped immensely with keeping me engaged through the game’s long play time. All of the characters are well thought out, given ample time for their backstories to develop and, perhaps most importantly, are expertly delivered by their respective actors. It speaks volumes when not one, but two of the actors were nominated for Best Performance at The Game Awards for their roles in Death Stranding and one of them (Mads Mikkelsen) took home the award. There’s a few issues with the story that I won’t go into detail about, lest I ruin what it for some, but suffice to say the fact that I’m still thinking about it and processing it some time after finishing it means it’s had quite the impact on me.

Death Stranding is a masterpiece, showing what can happen when high concept thinking meets the dedication to deliver. All aspects of the game are expertly crafted: from the visuals which come from a highly revved up Decima engine, to the game’s audio experience and, perhaps most importantly, the actors that bring the game’s characters to life. To be sure it’s not a game for everyone as the core game loop and the first 8 hours or so are likely to turn quite a few people off it. However sticking through that initial part opens up a world that’s ever changing, growing in response to the collective effort that all players invest in it. I’m glad to have played my part in helping build out that world and for the experience that Death Stranding has given me. It is truly a game for those who seek a deeply immersive experience, one that resonate with you for years to come.

Rating: 9.5/10

Death Stranding is available on PlayStation 4 right now (coming to PC in late 2020) for $89.95. Total play time was 35 hours with 57% of the achievements unlocked.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare: All That is Old is New Again.

Despite its initial shortcomings I did end up spending quite a bit of time in Black Ops 4, the gun play being good enough to keep me interested for far longer than I had originally anticipated. I was even playing over the christmas break, reveling in the time when all the new players came on board and I could have my fill of lobbies overflowing with people who weren’t running builds as highly optimised as mine. Of course over time it got reduced back to the stable player base, the one that is typically far more skilled and, as a consequence, much more challenging to play against. Honestly though that’s COD and I’m fine with it as by the time that happens there’s usually another title coming along I want to dig into.

I never actually played the original Modern Warfare, only coming into the series when the sequel came out. I figured if it followed the formulas of the latter, mixed in with a little bit of the nostalgia for the characters and the story, then we’d likely have the makings of a solid COD entry. Whilst that’s mostly true for the campaign I can’t say that there’s any aspect of the multi-player that’s really grabbed me and I really don’t have much motivation to find out if I ever will.

In 2019, during a covert operation to recover shipments of dangerous chemical gas headed for Urzikstan, CIA SAC officer “Alex” is intercepted by unknown hostiles who kill the Marine Raiders accompanying him, and escape with the gas. Alex’s handler, Station Chief Kate Laswell , requests the assistance of SAS Captain John Price in recovering the chemicals and de-escalating the situation with Russia. Twenty-four hours later, a group of suicide bombers, affiliated with the terrorist organization Al-Qatala, attack Piccadilly Circus in London. SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick is dispatched to contain the situation with the assistance of Price and local police forces.Afterwards, Alex is sent to Urzikstan to meet up with rebel leader Farah Karim, who agrees to join forces in tracking down the chemicals, in exchange for his aid in overthrowing Russian forces led by General Roman Barkov.

COD is always this rather odd mix of cinema level visuals in their cut-scenes which is then strongly contrasted by the not-quite-cutting-edge visuals of the game itself. This is a design decision of course, done in order to keep the game running smoothly so that your fast-paced action adventure doesn’t ever turn into a slide show. It’s also interesting to note that this Modern Warfare also brings with it a new engine as the previous one had been powering COD games since 2005. Apart from it being the engine for COD going forwards there’s scant details about what it actually improves, apart from 4K support.

Some of the levels are quite well done, although most of them are unfortunately shown at night so you don’t get a real chance to appreciate them. The game still suffers from the usual visual confusion that goes on with these kinds of games with enemies blurring into the scenery and background objects. Over time you do get used to it somewhat but after getting hit for the thousandth time from something you can’t see it does start to get a little old. Other than that there’s not much to say about Modern Warfare’s visuals, they’re just fine.

Modern Warfare follows the standard corridor shooter tropes pretty closely with only a few little different bits here or there to show off a new mechanic the game has or to have you play through what’s effectively an interactive cutscene. The single player campaign is straightforward, offering you no influence over how the story progresses and continuing at a rapid pace throughout. There’s been a ton of work in the multiplayer with the revamped Ground Warfare mode (which used to be just larger teams for the standard game modes) feeling an awful lot like Battlefield’s conquest mode. Really there’s not much more to it than that and so if you were a fan of the original then it’s a pretty good assumption to make that you’ll like this one too.

Combat is the same as it always was, fast paced with a hail of bullets always coming your way. There are times when the combat just flows and you’ll find yourself stomping your way through a level without much being able to stop you. Then there are the times when you’ll get nailed time after time by something until you figure out the exact sequence of events you need to do in order to get through. It can be a little jarring at times when it feels like the game is pushing you to rush but doing so quickly ends up with you dying. Of course the game is running completely at your pace and does a lot to baby you through sections. Indeed it got so bad that at one point I started seeing just how far the limits were on certain things like walking into trip mines when they ask you to defuse them (protip: that doesn’t work). Still I don’t play COD games to be respected and challenged as a player, I play them so I can shooty shooty hurr durr gooooooooood.

When it comes to COD games I’m a rusher. A dumb, low skill build rusher. I play that way because COD is one of the few multiplayer shooters that enables people like me to play in this way with the tiny maps, near instant respawns and certain guns that just shred people up close. This time around though it seems like they wanted to expand the map sizes a bit more and downplay the rushing angle considerably, making my kind of playstyle not particularly viable. That’s also due to the current meta which is focused on 2 guns, the M4A1 and the 725 shotgun, both of which shut down rushers pretty damn hard. I tried my hand at Ground Warfare and I honestly just found it too frustrating to play, the large maps with numerous sniper nest spots making it a game mode that just held zero interest for me. Now given I never really got into COD multiplayer much back in the day this might be a return to form for the series, I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that this isn’t the kind of COD I like to play.

The story is fine, yet another grab bag of various war stereotypes thrown in together to give you a bit of motivation for killing the bad guy of the day. I won’t comment on the politics of the story as that’s already been done to death by multiple different authors who are far more qualified than I to comment on it. Really it’s par for the course for COD games: pretty predictable with some memorable characters and it sets up for a sequel in the most obvious fashion it could. Suffice to say I’ll be interested in comparing and contrasting COD: MW2 to its decade old predecessor.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is exactly what you’d expect from the series today. Everything follows the pattern that’s been well trodden before with the changes coming in the multiplayer, most of which are for the worse in my opinion. However I might not be the kind of COD player that this instalment was catering to as I’m very much a fanboy for Treyarch more than I am for Infinity Ward. So really there’s nothing particular wrong with this instalment in the franchise, it’s just that the changes they’ve made to formula aren’t to my taste this time around. Who knows, maybe next time they will be, and it’s not like I’ll have to wait long to find out.

Rating: 7.5/10

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC right now for $99.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours play time.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep: The Nightmare of the Grind.

Destiny 2 has remained unplayed since I finished my review of the Black Armory DLC, the mini-content drops not being anywhere near enough to tempt me back to the fold. When I started hearing rumours of Shadowkeep though I was hopeful for another injection of content like Forsaken; something to shake up the formula a bit and provide enough incentive for me to invest some solid hours back into Destiny again. The reality isn’t quite like that even though, given that I haven’t played for almost a year at this point, the number of changes to Destiny 2 in the interim are on par with those that Forsaken none of them are really focused on a player like me. Couple that with Shadowkeep being a new breed of expansion that’s not dependent on previous releases, set on a previous location from Destiny 1, you’re left with this weird mix of new and old. To be sure it’s far better than the mini-DLC drops that come with the various season passes but it’s lacking that same X-factor that really sucked me deep in with Forsaken.

Eris Morn has ventured deep into the caverns of the moon, seeking out a strange energy signal that’s been scratching away at the edge of her mind for some time. The Hive have also reawakened on the moon, having been dormant ever since the guardians slew Crota which brought the wrath of Oryx to our solar system. It’s down here that you discover the Pyramid, a relic of the time when the darkness was encroaching on our world, only to be pushed back at the last moment by the Traveler when it forged the guardians. Now horrendous nightmares of all sorts roam freely across the solar system, tormenting everyone with visions of close ones who’ve passed and bringing back shadows of fallen enemies. It is time once again Guardian to venture into the unknown and face the purest form of the darkness you’ve yet encountered.

Shadowkeep doesn’t bring with it any visual upgrades per se, however it does take the old Moon world and revamp it significantly. The same areas that I spent countless hours farming Helium Coils in are now far better rendered than I ever remembered them being before. That’s likely due in no small part to me playing it through a not-so-great capture card from my PS4 but still, the difference is night and day. The game still runs incredibly well, even with the newer encounters that throw insane numbers of enemies at you. After coming off The Surge 2 I had the terrible thought that my rig wasn’t really up to graphics like this anymore but thankfully I was mistaken.

If you’re like me and only just coming back to Destiny after some time then there’s going to be a slew of changes thrown at you, a lot of which are utterly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. The numerous events that have happened between then and now are still around such as Gambit Prime, the Vex Invasions, the Forges and a bunch of other things that I’m probably forgetting. The UI changes are definitely for the better, even if my muscle memory of where things used to be is now useless making some interactions an exercise in frustration. The light cap is now theoretically unlimited due to the introduction of an “artefact” item which everyone gets, adding to your power level as you gain XP. However the main caps are 950 for most gear and then 960 for “pinnacle” level loot which is essentially supposed to be a grind for those players who really need something to do. However given the fact I’ve seen numerous 960+ characters already shows that it’s not really that bad if you’re committed to it but the grind for us single character, not a lot of time to spare guys is going to be a lot tougher unfortunately.

There’s no changes to the underlying combat, that’s as great as it has ever been, but the stat and mod system has been reworked substantially. Now we’re very much into RPG territory as there’s a bunch of stats to min/max, mods to use in varying combinations and encounters that will demand you run certain builds in order to progress. This is something that the hardcore Destiny community has been requesting for sometime and so I don’t really begrudge Bungie for putting it in. For us plebs (and according to Wasted on Destiny at least half of you have played less than me) it does mean that part of the game is locked away from you behind a, thankfully somewhat easier, grind. Now I haven’t been playing since release, I think I’m into about week 3 or so, but I’m only up to light level 920ish with 20 hours in. My gut feel is it’s couple more weeks before I can get capped so I can raid. Whilst that’s not completely out of line with Forsaken what’s missing is that hook to keep me coming back. Forsaken had the ever evolving Dreaming City which was the perfect way to keep on motivating you to come back. Shadowkeep though? There’s really not much there, despite the massive reveal of the Pyramid.

To be sure there’s no end of stuff to do in there, hell I can easily lose a couple hours chasing down a couple powerful pieces of loot, but I’m not the kind of player where Destiny is my only game. If I had my way I’d definitely favour the older style system where getting raid ready didn’t take too long, a couple weeks of dedicate play for a single character solo player like myself, and then the optimisation for the raid would begin as you slowly amassed gear from it and honed your skills on the encounters. I know I’m likely in the minority of wanting something like that but if the grind isn’t going to provide me some level of satisfaction, either through meaningful progress or tidbits of lore and story, then I don’t have much else to drive me through it.

I’d probably be a little less pissy about it if the Pyramid wasn’t such a giant lore cock tease. For the uninitiated there’s been concept art of The Darkness floating around ever since the original Destiny and, you guessed it, it’s all about pyramids. To be sure there’s definitely something bigger brewing that’ll likely be revealed in this season’s DLC but I feel like this was a missed opportunity to use a massive reveal like that to create another Dreaming City like experience. Gargh, maybe I’m overthinking this.

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is a kind of middle of the road expansion/DLC, not being a small content drop like Black Armory but still being nowhere near as big as Forsaken was. For those players who’ve been with Destiny 2 throughout the last year it’s likely the content injection they’ve been craving, a new set of goals for them to throw themselves against. For player like me though it’s probably too much and not enough all at the same time; the numerous little events that have occurred in the past year thrown at you all at once whilst the new shiny thing sort of blurs into the mix. Personally I’m a little disappointed in myself for setting my expectations so high but also at Destiny for not doing enough to meet them, even halfway. To be sure I’d prefer this kind of expansion over mini-DLCs any day of the week but I’d also rather spend a good chunk of change on a Forsaken like experience every year, if I was able.

Rating: 8.25/10

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 right now for $54.95. Total play time in Shadowkeep was 20 hours putting the total time in Destiny 2 at approximately 191 hours.

The Surge 2: This Isn’t The Utopia I was Expecting.

Sekiro rattled me a little bit, making me wonder if I was no longer “gud” enough to play these soulslike games anymore. Part of it is definitely time, I have a lot less of that to dedicate to challenging titles ever since I became a dad, but there’s always that lingering thing in the back of my head that’s telling me father time is catching up to me. So when I saw The Surge 2 appear on Steam I was conflicted, knowing that if I didn’t smash this one then it could be the beginning of the end for me with this genre. I’m happy to report that my fears were just that and I quickly found myself thoroughly enjoying the soulslike experience that Deck13 has built with this franchise. It’s still got some very rough edges however but if you can get past them what lies beneath is a pretty great game, one that’s definitely found a comfortable niche for itself.

Taking place right after the events of the original game The Surge 2 puts you on a plane that was enroute to Jericho city at the time of the rocket launch. Unfortunately your plane is struck by the rocket after it launched, sending it careening down on the outskirts of the city. You somehow manage to survive and are evacuated to a nearby medical facility. Months later you awaken to visions of a young girl speaking to you, calling her your warrior. You quickly find out that you’ve been put in a prison medical facility and it’s been thrown into disarray as a nanite infused beast tears through it, killing anyone in its path. With little more than a hospital gown and the remnants of your restraints for weapons you set out to find out why you’ve been imprisoned and what the hell has happened to Jericho city.

Deck13 has mentioned that there has been a lot of improvements made to the FLEDGE engine in order to support the larger, more open world of The Surge 2. For many that’s meant a marked decrease in performance, myself included. Indeed to start off with the game was aggressively down-resing, so much so that it was rendering in what I can only assume was 640 x 480. Fixing that made the game a lot more legible but it quickly became apparent that my rig wasn’t really up to the task. The first performance patch and a driver update addressed it somewhat, but it’s still clear that whatever is going on under the hood is either poorly optimised or requires a ton more grunt than my near 5 year old rig can provide. It’s somewhat of a shame given that The Surge 2 doesn’t look much better than its predecessor and that ran perfectly fine. Perhaps the improvements Deck13 made become more apparent at higher resolutions, something that only a really modern PC is going to be able to provide.

The Surge 2 is an evolution of its predecessor, streamlining the experience considerably whilst leaving the core game loop mostly intact. The same soulslike combat experience is back again, requiring you to learn the movesets of your enemies so you can pummel them down and lop off their limbs. Tech scrap is still the currency and main source of progression, levelling up your core power that will enable you to use better armour and mods. The drone is now more of a standalone mechanic in its own right, no longer using energy and instead having its own ammo and differing mods that provide a whole range of different combat options. What’s really changed however is the inclusion of the online social interactions that the Dark Souls series has become famous for, allowing for a limited set of interaction with other players by leaving messages and playing an interesting version of hide and seek. The world is also much more open than it used to be with a lot more options for exploration and a truckload more sidequests for you to tackle if you want. The improvements are very much welcome, even if the game still has a little ways to go if it’s ever going to be considered to be in the same league as the games that inspired it.

Combat retains the same structure as the original with you focusing on a particular body part to wail on (either for damage or to cut off to get their armour or crafting mats). It didn’t take long for me to get back into the swing of things although there was a good 5+ hours there where things were definitely a bit of a struggle. Part of this is due to the lack of options you have at that early stage of the game, limiting your ability to craft a build specifically designed to counter the challenges you’re facing. However this is a game where certain weapons, armour and mods are simply straight up better than others and as you progress through the game it becomes possible to construct a build that renders you untouchable within certain limits.

The sharp difficulty jumps are still here, although they were a non-issue for about 60% of the game after I settled on a build that seemed to be able to deal with pretty much anything that came my way. My weapon of choice was the double-duty style, specifically the spark disciple one that did added electric damage. It was possible to blow all my stamina on attacks before they had a chance to fight back and, most of the time, would net me a stun so I could then take a beat and begin it all again. To be sure there are some enemies where this was a sub-optimal strategy, especially those that couldn’t be staggered for whatever reason, but with the amount of energy that my build would generate I never had an issue out healing them before I could get a stun off and then finish them. Later on the only mods I made to the build was to swap out the electric weapon for a nano one when enemies were immune to electric damage.

Bosses were, of course, a different beast entirely as most of them would require their own unique build in order to get past them. Mostly that was to make up for whatever weakness I had in my playstyle that the boss was able to exploit, like my penchant for dodging over blocking or the lack of a particular resistance. There were a couple where I could just go ham on them with my default build and, shockingly, was able to one shot a couple of them without too much difficulty. The harder bosses though often challenged me to change up my playstyle a bit in order to be able to get through them, like the Delver which is an absolute nightmare to get past if you don’t know how to counter block correctly. I didn’t try any of the drone focused builds although I can’t say I wasn’t tempted for a few of them as being able to rain down hell ala Remnant: From the Ashes style was quite appealing.

The progression system feeds you a steady stream of upgrades to keep you going and is thankfully well designed enough so you don’t feel completely locked into the one build you’ve optimised everything for. Scrap is easy enough to come by, especially if you’ve got a solid route to run that allows you to execute a number of enemies along the way (which increases your multiplier for tech scrap generation). At the start you’ll most likely want to be dumping your scrap into your core over upgrading your gear as later sets of gear have a large core power requirement that you won’t be able to meet. Later on it’s all about upgrading your preferred set to the maximum whilst keeping an alternate set of gear at a similar level should you find the need to switch. That being said though crafting and upgrading is pretty cheap so if you find yourself needing or wanting another gear set it’s usually not going to take you that long to get it.

The new social system is good although it does seem to take out a massive part of the game’s challenge when everyone and his dog is putting up graffiti that points towards all the secrets that the devs have tried to hide. Sure you could still try to troll with them but given there’s a rating system for them it seems like all the troll ones have long since disappeared and the only ones left are the beneficial ones. I did quite enjoy the hide and seek mini game though as it was always fun to try and find places that players wouldn’t be able to figure out or those that others simply wouldn’t be able to get to. The tech scrap you get from that early on is a real lifesaver to, often netting you a free level.

Most of the issues of the past have been dealt with although a trove of new ones have sailed in to take their place. Alongside the graphics performance issues I also got some strange glitching that would often occur at game start and, every so often, in the game itself. It was obvious the game was running in the background but the game itself didn’t render correctly at all. The UI still worked and changing the resolution seemed to fix it. The game also crashed numerous times, sometimes for no reason and others for specific encounters with certain enemies. Some of the in-game interactive elements can take a few tries to work properly, making you wonder if you’re actually meant to interact with them at all. Pathing is still an issue, something that’s made all the worse by the more complicated environments. Most of the time it’s just funny but there’s certain times where my character inexplicably pathed off something or enemies got stuck on geometry and couldn’t figure out how to get themselves out of it. Suffice to say I think, given the fact that the series has now firmly established itself as an ongoing concern, Deck13 could spend a little extra time on polishing these various elements so that future instalments in the franchise aren’t so janky.

The Surge 2’s story is pretty straightforward, if a little forgettable and simplistic. Characters from the previous game (including the player’s character) make a return and knowing the previous story does help explain some of the more esoteric elements. However if this is your first foray into the world of The Surge then you’re not going to struggle to understand what’s going on as it’s a largely standalone narrative. The story also wraps everything up pretty nicely with some potential avenues for a sequel that were left there subtly rather than being shouted loudly at the end of the main narrative. The Surge 2 definitely isn’t a game you’d play for the story but it’s at least not a massive detractor from the game.

The Surge 2 is a solid step forward for the franchise, keeping quite a lot the same and refining the rest. The game has now carved out its own little niche in the soulslike genre, extending on the formula and defining its own little tropes. One of those is an unfortunate penchant for a lack of overall polish, resulting in some fundamental issues that Deck13 should have addressed before release. Beyond those issues however lies a game with solid mechanics that will challenge your skills as a player and reward them handsomely. I have no doubt that we’ll soon be seeing another instalment in this franchise and if they can make a similar level of improvements in that as they did here I can see them continuing on for a good long time to come.

Rating: 8.75/10

The Surge 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $69.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 22 hours play time and 59% of the achievements unlocked.

Borderlands 3: What’s Up Superfans?!?!

The first 3 instalments in the Borderlands series came (relatively) thick and fast with there only being 3 and 2 years between the respective entries. Here we are now 5 years later and I, like many others I’m sure, have forgotten much about the Borderlands universe. So it was somewhat comforting that after the first hour or so I felt like I was right back where I was when I left the game last, the core game loop gets established early and you quickly figure out how to min/max your character. Considering that this core game play is what attracts and retains Borderlands fans I’m not surprised that Gearbox didn’t want to mess with it, but it does mean that for those looking for something new in the franchise are likely to be left wanting.

It’s 7 years after the events in Borderlands 2 (mirroring exactly the time that’s ticked over in real life since then) and the death of Handsome Jack has left a massive power vacuum on Pandora. In that time the Calypso Twins Troy and Tyreen have risen to power by unifying the various bandit factions under one banner: the Children of the Vault. They’ve done this by creating a massive personality cult, broadcasting their exploits across Pandora to their ravenous fans and inciting them to do their bidding. You play as a budding vault hunter who’s answered a recruiting call from the Crimson Raiders, led by the siren Lilith (one of the previously playable vault hunters). So begins your journey into the world of Pandora and beyond as you fight the Children of the Vault wherever they dare to tread.

There’s a substantial uplift in the graphics of Borderlands 3 compared to its most recent predecessor. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the previous one was still using the Unreal 3 engine and still retained support for previous generation consoles, severely limiting what Gearbox was able to achieve from a graphics perspective. 5 years and a new engine later show massive improvements across all areas although none more apparent than the lighting effects. This comes hand in hand with a completely revamped UI which is leaps and bounds better, both in terms of usability but also in its design. Indeed one of the first things I noticed was the subtle 3D effect applied to the minimap, something that makes a huge difference in navigating Borderlands 3’s large, complex levels. So whilst 5 years might have been a pretty long time between drinks for the series I’m glad to say, at least from a graphics perspective, it seems to have been well spent.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks in terms of how Borderlands 3 plays out you’re not going to see much change here. The same core game loop remains: head out on a quest or to a boss fight, kill everything you can, loot and hope that RNGesus blesses you on this day. There are 4 new character classes which, from what I can recall, are quite different to the previous offerings we got in other Borderlands titles. Probably the biggest difference now is that there’s quite a few different worlds for you to fight on, all of which have their own distinctive visual style. The real changes come in Borderlands’ end game as there’s been a few new mechanics introduced for those who want to up the challenge significantly in the hopes for some better loot.

Combat feels the same, maintaining the same fast paced action that the series has become famous for. It’s all highly dependent on the gun you’re using, of course, as some will absolutely trivialise everything whilst others will make your life a living nightmare to use. There’s still the old problem of the pacing being off slightly, starting off with you being woefully under levelled and needing a good helping of side quests to bring you up to speed. Past a certain point though you’re reliant on getting those guns that have some ludicrous combination of attributes that make them wrecking machines or just work well with your current build. You will get one in short order, no question about that, but then your play style gets centered around it and switching away from it is always a painful affair. It gets a lot easier when you can carry more weapons though as dropping one at least means you still have 3 that should hopefully still be useable.

I chose Moze, the gunner class, and for the first 5 hours or so it felt pretty…well dull. The action skill converts you into a mech which basically just gives you another life to throw away and possibly give you a chance to get some more ammo for your favourite gun. As the upgrades start to pile on though it becomes a much more powerful weapon, culminating in probably one of the most fun parts of the game when you get the nuke as one of its weapons. Whilst it wasn’t exactly great for boss fights it was stupidly good at clearing out rooms full of enemies, especially those that would hide behind cover or other equally annoying places. Other utility skills like having the robot go on autopilot for 15 seconds after you eject or the turret on the back (for co-op) just make it even more useful, ensuring that it’s not just a simple one and done ability. I’m sure the other character classes have a similar experience as the giant skill trees don’t exactly lend themselves to amazing gameplay right off the hop.

Indeed this is true for pretty much every aspect of the game as it’s clear that everything has been built up with a focus on the end game experience. Early game you’ll be struggling for everything: good guns, ammunition, backpack space, you name it. As you’re levelling up your quality of life will start ticking upwards and the game becomes immensely easier to play. Of course this all changes once you complete the campaign and you get the option to play through again on True Vault Hunter mode or go into Mayhem Mode which brings with it some Diablo 3-esque Rift action with randomised enemy and player benefits/challenges. If I’m honest though I’ve never really been into the end game of the Borderlands franchise and this one is no exception.

You see whilst I will admit that it’s always fun when you get an absurdly broken gun what I absolutely detest is the grind for them. You have to spend quite a bit of time grinding a boss and/or a specific area to get the loot you’re looking for and then it’s still at the behest of RNGesus if it comes with a good roll or not. I don’t mind this if there’s mechanics available to turn shitty loot into better loot or some way to fix a bad roll on a good gun. Borderlands 3, as far as I can tell, has none of this available so whatever drops is what you’re stuck with. That may make those god rolls more exhilarating for those who are chasing them but for this old gamer I’d rather not and so once the campaign was done I was pretty much out.

The story is good, leaning heavily on the large backlog of canon that the series has developed over the last decade that the series has been in production. Old characters make an appearance and whilst some are changed in appearance none of them have really changed in style. The light hearted, every line is a joke style writing continues in this instalment too and whilst there are times when you’ll groan at what the characters are saying there are numerous, genuinely funny moments scattered throughout. The writers also did a good job of building in several well developed sub plots that all tie off nicely. Of course they had to set up for yet another sequel, as if the mechanics for that hadn’t been established already, so I’ll have to take a point or two off for that. Still, an overall well constructed story that strikes that balance between the comedic and serious elements.

Borderlands 3 has been made with a specific demographic in mind: long time fans who relish the grind for the best guns. That means there really hasn’t been much innovation from a mechanics perspective but everything surrounding that has been given a solid amount of polish to make the experience just that little bit more enjoyable. Could they have done a little bit more to shake up the formula? Perhaps but I know several die hard Borderlands fans and they’re just fine with the game how it is and they’ll be grinding weapons until there isn’t a single pearlescent left that they don’t own. For those gamers it’s a perfect game. For me though it was a great blast through the campaign that I’m more than happy to put down now.

Rating: 8.75/10

Borderlands 3 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 22 hours play time.

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise: The Essence of Inventory Puzzlers.

There’s nothing quite like an inventory puzzler to strike terror into the hearts of long time gamers. The original versions of these, like the classic LucasArts titles, often had you carrying around dozens of different items which you’d end up trying on everything just to see if you could make some progress. Worse still were the ones that allowed you to combine items, opening up a whole other world of problems for you to solve. However modern versions of these games tend to be a little more forgiving in their implementation, most now proclaiming that there are “no dead ends”, hopefully ensuring a smoother game experience. Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise certainly does a lot of things right in this regard although there’s a few times that the developer and I’s logic diverged on some key game points.

You are Agent A: spy extraordinaire who’s been tasked with hunting down Ruby La Rouge, a dastardly villain who’s been terrorizing the world. Just as you track her down however you see that she’s on the same boat as your chief only to leap from it moments later as the whole ship erupts in a massive explosion. You’re able to track her back to her hideout where you’ll begin your long and puzzle filled journey to capture her and put an end to her villainy.

Agent A has a simple, cartoony art style that blends both 2D and 3D elements together. There’s minimal texturing and no real distinction between elements that you can interact with and those you can not which does add to the game’s challenge. Most of the lighting also appears to be baked into the environments as well with harsh, strong bordered shadows being the norm. There’s also very little animation to speak of, the transitions between rooms usually being a simple zoom in and most rooms not having anything moving in them. All these elements combined together do make for a rather visually pleasing game, even if it’s on the same bandwagon that half of the indie scene seems to be on these days.

The puzzles of Agent A are your standard adventure game affair including the usual tropes such as: finding a bunch of the same item everywhere to unlock something, deciphering a code using a decoder you found somewhere else and a good dose of combining items in your inventory to get something you need. Agent A does demand that you pay more attention to the environment than you might otherwise need to in similar games as there’s often clues as to how to solve a particular puzzle littered around. The only way to navigate between sections those is to go forwards or backwards through a pre-set path, something that becomes quite a chore later in the game when you have to back your way through a dozen or so screens to get where you need to go.

Most of the puzzles aren’t too difficult, lending themselves to what I’d consider to be logical solutions that you’d be able to figure out given a minute or two. There are, of course, a few curly ones that necessitate you being either hyper-observant, lucky or in most cases reading from a walkthrough to figure out. Now none of them are on the level of the rubber ducky puzzle from The Longest Journey but there was at least 3 of them that I didn’t really have a clue how to get past and nowhere in the game indicated towards the eventual solution. I’ve certainly had worse puzzler experiences but it does still annoy me when you get stuck with an empty inventory and no perceivable way forward.

The story is a light-hearted affair, full of silly puns and terrible jokes. It’s really no surprise how the story develops or ends as most of it is foreshadowed in such an obvious way that only children and the incredibly daft won’t notice it. The game does make the cardinal sin of screaming out that a sequel will come right at the end which is something I will never forgive a game for doing. However since this game is obviously meant to be played by anyone, whether it be jaded old game reviewers like myself or your 5 year old cousin who just likes pretty colours I guess I can give it a pass this time around.

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise is a simple puzzle game in all senses of the word. The graphics are basic but visually interesting, the puzzles aren’t particularly challenge save for a precious few that require some real outside the box thinking and the overall interaction with it isn’t particularly complicated. Could the developers have done more with it? Sure, but too often we’ve seen developers get in their own way by trying to cram too much in and end up not getting in enough of the core things to make the game coherent enough to play. So for Agent A the basics are all it needs and should you be needing a short distraction from the upcoming tide of AAA releases then it might just be worth a look in.

Rating: 8.0/10

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise is available right now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch for $14.50. Game was played on the PC with a total of 3 hours play time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.