REVIEW: Dirt 5 (XSX)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: PC, PS5, XB1, PS4, Stadia
  • Time to get into: 60 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours for the campaign mode
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online and offline

Game Summary

Dirt 5 is the latest in the series of off-road racing games from Codemasters and the first to fully remove any attempt at proper rallying (which now has it’s own ‘Dirt Rally‘ series). In my review of Dirt 4 I noted that the rallying was the best part and all the arcade racing modes placed around it weren’t as good. Sadly, that remains the case here – expect the good bit is entirely absent! Dirt 5 is a lacklustre game that is a slog to get through but it’s saved by one thing on the new consoles: it looks really great. This is the first game on the new-generation hardware that I actually felt that the better graphics made a difference to my enjoyment of the game. That enjoyment was just short-lived.

What’s good about it?

  • Dirt 5 looks lush! At last, a next-gen game where the new graphics make a difference. I actually started playing Dirt 5 ages ago on Xbox One, and the difference, once I got my hands on a Series X, was amazing. The screenshots here don’t do justice to how good it looks in action.
  • So good, in fact, that I spent a fair bit of the campaign mode playing using the in-car view and no HUD. Like that, Dirt 5 is wild! It’s a fast and intense experience, particularly when racing in the dark or the pouring rain. I really can’t talk about this enough – at the end of the day what is the point in better graphics if they don’t make a difference to the experience of actually playing the game. In Dirt 5, they really do. It’s very exciting.
  • There are plenty of disciplines to race in. From short lapped layouts to point-to-point races and from great big trucks to small unique vehicles. The campaign mode does insist that you do a fair amount of each but you can pick and choose to an extent as you go through.
  • It’s worth pointing out that the campaign mode in the menus is well laid out. The progress that you are making is clear and well laid out, with all the next events and races easy to see. It’s a simple thing, but not all racing games are great at this, so it’s good to see in Dirt 5.

What’s bad about it?

  • Sadly, whilst it looks magic, the gameplay isn’t so good. With a very few exceptions, all the vehicles handle almost the same and that handling is light and floaty. The cars seem to have very little weight and are often unpredictable as a result. It’s a shame, as this specific team at Codemasters recently made one of my favourite racing games in Onrush. There are no such issues there, so it’s like they got to a certain point with Dirt 5 and went, ‘well, that’ll do’. It won’t.
  • The campaign is uninspiring. Whilst it is, as I said above, cleanly laid out, in reality it is just a stream of events. The only engagement you can have with it is leaving out the events you don’t like (assuming you are doing well enough in the others to keep your progress going). Otherwise there is essentially no clear difference between the first and the last. For a game with lots of bright colours, a raucous soundtrack and lots of speed, Dirt 5 simply doesn’t engage. It’s racing-by-numbers.
  • Outside of the campaign, the other game modes are dull. Online racing is slow to matchmake and a very flat experience when you do get into a race. It even has a track creator called ‘Playgrounds‘ where you can build and share tracks and yet the results are still tied to the uninspiring gameplay.
  • One small thing is that Dirt 5‘s menus have a super-annoying voice over. It’s like a podcast about what’s happening in the game but it drones on and on and on. It’s as close as Dirt 5 comes to having any kind of a thread to link everything together and yet all it does is make things worse.

Conclusion

Really, the only way I can recommend Dirt 5 is for a quick jaunt to see what your new Xbox Series X can do. That’s because it’s on Xbox Game Pass! Playstation owners should avoid – it’s not worth spending any money on. But if you do have Game Pass, or you just can’t resist it, you will enjoy the best looking game I’ve played to date on the new consoles. Whilst I did have a little fun as a result, that is no where near enough for Dirt 5 to be anything above average.

REVIEW: Destruction All-Stars (PS5)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: PS5
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: for the offline content; around 3 hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, online only

Game Summary

The first next-gen only game I have played on PS5 is Destruction All-Stars. This is another arena-based game where you gain points for causing damage to your opponents but the difference is that, most of the time, you are in cars and trucks – crashing into each other with great force. When it works at it’s best, a round of Destruction All-Stars can be a wild ride of smashing into others and having them smash into you but it’s only at it’s best for relatively short periods. There are plenty of options here – different characters and cars, different game modes etc – but ultimately it all boils down to one central idea. The game absolutely nails that idea – that completely obliterating another person’s vehicle with your own is an unbridled joy – but it’s execution of everything around that leaves much to be desired.

What’s good about it?

  • Destruction All-Stars is very bright, loud and bombastic. Everything is in neon colours, matches are introduced by a big booming voice and the action follows suit too: engines roar, vehicles smash into pieces and the commentator trash talks. It’s set up in the game like it’s a sport in the future, and you can imagine the lights and noise being exactly like this when we get there. It’s a sport, but really it’s a pantomime!
  • When you really nail a round there’s a wonderful flow to it – you can sit nicely in the groove. Collecting shards from around the map and causing destruction will earn you a ‘breaker‘. This is a special ability that your character can use. Continue to tear it up and you’ll get access to your character’s own personal vehicle, which in turn has it’s own special breaker to earn. Each stage enables you to cause more destruction. The way this builds up over the course of the match adds a little bit of direction to proceedings.
  • When this game was first revealed I had no idea how it would work with the characters being out of the car. ‘Won’t they just get mowed down?’ I thought. Well, whilst it’s not as much fun as being in a car or truck, being on foot works better than expected. You are quick enough to be able to dodge a lot of the time and there are certain things, like collecting the shards mentioned above or raising bollards to try and trip up your opponents that make being on foot worthwhile. Plus, in each map there are score multipliers that can only be gathered whilst out and about.
  • There are a load of different characters to choose from in Destruction All-Stars. Each has a unique style and also the different breakers that each character and their vehicle has are a wide range of options. Eventually I gravitated towards Lupita, as her breakers are based around laying fire down behind you, but the real point is that everyone can play the way you want to a large extent.
  • Let’s be honest – smashing your big truck into some tiny car and reducing it to scrap will never get old!

What’s bad about it?

  • This is another next-gen game that simply doesn’t look that amazing. I keep expecting to be wowed. For sure, Destruction All-Stars has plenty of detail and it’s certainly very vibrant. But definitely no wow.
  • The selection of modes is lacklustre. The main free-for-all mode is called Mayhem and you get points just for causing destruction. Then there’s also a team-based mode called Carnado, where you build up a few points and then must drive to a certain place on the map to bank them. However, that is it. The other multiplayer modes are really poor – including Gridfall where parts of the floor disappear over time and falling through destroys you. I had high hopes for this mode but each match ultimately becomes a stalemate as the risk of falling isn’t worth the rewards of attacking your opponents.
  • Matchmaking can take an absolute age, especially in those other modes, if you can be bothered to try them. I guess this is an issue partly due to this being a one system game – no cross play is possible. But I expect it’s mainly that few people stick around with Destruction All-Stars for long.
  • I do appreciate that there is a decent offline offering – most live service games have absolutely no single player content. However, it’s not very exciting and feels more like a distraction rather than training you up to play against others.
  • My main gripe with the gameplay itself is that it’s just not fast enough! I feel like I should be moving faster when I’m accelerating to top speed. Perhaps this is needed to balance with characters also being on foot in the game, but the entire time I played I felt like I had the handbrake slightly on.
  • Sadly, the best way to large amounts of points in Destruction All-Stars is building up lots and lots of small and medium hits on other cars. Only playing for massive destruction is possibly more fun, but not the way to win. That is a disappointing mismatch.
  • Sony has a great track record with single-player adventure games. PS4 alone had Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-Man, all of which are high on my All-Time Top Games List. Less so though, when it comes to live service games like this. Destruction All-Stars is hardly changing that. Perhaps the upcoming single-player games will be enough to sell PS5s but for anyone who isn’t into them, this game isn’t a reason to get the new console.

Conclusion

I would have to recommend that any PS5 owners take a look at Destruction All-Stars because crashing your car into other cars is just fantastic every time you get it right. But it’s certainly not a system-seller to anyone without the new Playstation already. I really enjoyed playing this game to begin with but once I had improved enough to get quite a few wins and feel like I was OK at it, I fell off it hard and haven’t gone back since.

REVIEW: The Medium (XSX)

  • Released: 2021
  • Played on: XSX
  • Also available on: PC, PS5
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 10 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

The Medium was the first next-gen-only game available for Xbox Series X|S, so it was a no brainer to play it (particularly thanks to Xbox Game Pass), and see what the new console could do. Although it has recently come out on PS5, it was a timed console exclusive for quite a few months, so the Xbox could have done with it being a big release and a system-seller. Admittedly, The Medium is no where near that quality but if you already have one of the new consoles, or a good gaming PC, it’s still definitely worth playing. This game is a combination of walking-sim and horror-survival. Fundamentally, The Medium will have you seeking out clues and solving puzzles and then suddenly running away from danger at breakneck speed. On top of that though, the game has two things really going for it. Firstly an excellent and disturbing story and secondly it’s main hook: gameplay that is split between two worlds – the real world and the spirit world.

What’s good about it?

  • Just as a walking-sim, this is one of my favourites that I have played. It must be noted that it’s hardly my favourite genre but for me the creative ways you are asked to solve puzzles, and indeed just traverse the two worlds, are a cut above the usual wander-about-until-you-accidentally-find-what-you-need gameplay in most walking-sims. The way this combines with the story is excellent as well.
  • Marianne is a good main character. She handles the disturbing events – both those she finds out about and those happening to her – with determination and a little bit of dry wit. It’s a charming combination that made me a bit frustrated with some later parts of the game when you have to play as someone else, but this remains Marianne’s story by the power of her personality.
  • The entirety of The Medium is permeated with a really unsettling atmosphere. The creepiness of the spirit world and it’s inhabitants are well realised but it’s the slowly developing way the story is told that brings such a sense of impending doom. Told through a combination of monologues by Marianne, in-game flashback conversations and cut scenes I was swept along by the story – both fascinated to find out what would be revealed next and disturbed at the possibilities of what that discovery would mean. As always, this blog is spoiler-free for story lines but it has what all great narratives do: by the end you can feel the weight and the passage of the journey.
  • The dual-world mechanic is often used to great effect. This comes up in different ways (the story explains away why it can be different, but its clearly to serve the gameplay!) so sometimes you can switch between the Marianne in the real world and the Marianne in the spirit world and sometimes the movements and actions you take are matched in both. Going into the spirit world isn’t easy for Marianne, which makes it feel all the more disturbing. Puzzles are sometimes solved by a combination of the two Mariannes and a significant chunk of the key story beats take place there, right up towards the end of the game.
  • I really liked the ending. I think it’s probably one that will divide opinion, but for me it was great!

What’s bad about it?

  • Whilst the walking-sim aspects of the game are excellent, the horror side isn’t quite so top drawer. If you are looking to The Medium strictly for the horror gameplay, it probably isn’t for you. I am slowly becoming more of a scaredy-cat with horror games as I get older but The Medium didn’t really shock or scare me at all. It’s worth mentioning that unsettling atmosphere again, but that definitely feels more related to the story in this game than the action.
  • The Medium just doesn’t look that great. There are other games I have played since on the new consoles that really do look a step up from the previous generation, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this game on the older consoles. It was said in the build up to release that the dual-world aspects wouldn’t have been possible on the older hardware, so perhaps that is taking up all the additional processing power.
  • Overall I was a bit disappointed that that dual-world aspect is underused. Although these are usually key sections, you spend no where near half the game existing in the two worlds at the same time. There are long sections when you don’t do anything in the spirit world at all. I just expected more, it’s an odd choice.
  • Quick mention here for the fixed camera. I have never been a fan of them, as I find them clunky at best and sometimes can take you out the immersion of the game. The Medium‘s is far from the worst, but it’s a shame.

Conclusion

So, safe to conclude that this isn’t a game that is worth buying a new Xbox, or more recently a new Playstation, to play. But if you have one of those consoles already, I would recommend it. It’s a horror game that you don’t need a particularly strong stomach for, but the well-told and disturbing story and the dual-world sections make it definitely worth checking out.

The Next Generation: Xbox Series X vs Playstation 5 (XSX versus PS5)

Soon after managing to get my hands on the new games consoles from Microsoft and Sony, my family and I purchased, renovated and moved into a new house. Without any time to spend on this blog, I ended up with a big backlog of reviews to write, so I haven’t had a chance to get down my thoughts on this new generation of consoles. But perhaps that is a good thing, as I have played quite a few games on each now that we are settled in our new place, and have thus had more time to reflect on the new hardware.

Hardware: consoles and controllers

The new Xbox Series X is really taking the ‘box’ part of it’s name very seriously! It’s a fairly simple design, just a basic cuboid shape, and isn’t too big – although the shape might make it not fit too well in some TV units. The Playstation 5 on the other hand is a fairly wild design, at least compared to the consoles of recent generations. The PS5 is both massive – I made no attempt to fully fit it in photo above, to demonstrate that – and complex. It’s all large swooping lines and pointy bits. I happen to think both are great in their different ways, although now the PS5 is tucked away under the TV, the novel design is wasted on me. On the controller side, you may have read my post back in the day saying that the Xbox One controller was the best. Well, the new Xbox controllers don’t try to change too much – its evolution, not revolution here. The changes they have made – grippier triggers and a share button being the most obvious – are all improvements. With the new Xbox controller, it’s a case of the best getting better. The PS5 controller, or ‘DualSense‘ however, is a bit nearer to revolution over the old Dualshock 4. The whole thing is molded a bit more and the shape is, if anything, slightly nearer to the Xbox controller. The real differences here though are the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback. Both are intended to enhance the immersion into the game you are playing and these features are remarkable when you first experience them. Time will tell if they are anything more than just a gimmick though – so far I’ve found them interesting rather than game-changing.

So, XSX or PS5? Let’s call things a tie in terms of hardware – both are excellent in their own ways, despite the different directions Microsoft and Sony have taken.

Software: operating systems

Much like the controllers, the new Xbox has taken a ‘keep it simple’ approach to the new software. In fact, the exact same operating system is present on the Xbox One. I wouldn’t say it’s totally intuitive – there are plenty of different menus – but it’s all clear so you can usually dig up what you need. The main new software feature on the Series consoles is ‘Quick Resume‘. With this you can switch almost instantly between games that have it enabled (which all the first party Xbox games do, and many more besides). For sure, it’s nice to have the option to finish playing, for example, an online shooter and jump straight back into your single player adventure at the exact place you left off. For me though, the real key with this feature is that it lasts for ages and ages: if you don’t play that adventure game for a couple days when you load it up: bang – you are ready to go almost instantly. That’s a great feature. Sony have taken the opposite route with the operating software for the PS5 and changed it significantly from the PS4. This is a general disappointment, as I thought the PS4‘s operating system was the best since the Xbox 360‘s original blades. However, what it has been replaced with isn’t great at all. Just simple things like what happens when you hit the Playstation button on the controller don’t make sense and take longer than they did before. New features like cards, that give you quick access to guides and links to things you might be interested in, have yet to prove they are anything but a nice to have to me. You can still get to your games easily but otherwise this is a real missed opportunity on the new Playstation.

So, XSX or PS5? Despite it not being fresh, or indeed perfect, the Xbox takes this hands down. Sony really need to look at this on PS5 for a future update.

Software: games

Of course, everything above doesn’t mean anything if there’s nothing to play on your new console. This is the area where we seen an even bigger difference in the approach from Microsoft and Sony. Microsoft releases all it’s big games for PC at the same time as the Xbox anyway, but even just looking at the two consoles it is lacking exclusives so far. They are coming – Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite by the end of the year – but the first game I could only play on the Series X was a timed exclusive in The Medium. But Microsoft doesn’t really mind this, as it’s real exclusive isn’t a game, it’s many games: Xbox Game Pass. For a reasonable monthly subscription you get a never-ending stream of new games to play, including all the first party games like those mentioned above that are coming imminently. The Series X may not strictly be the only place to play them but it is the best place for a console gamer. Sony’s approach with Playstation exclusives is quite the opposite. There is a steady stream of games that are 100% only playable on PS5: Destruction Allstars, Returnal, the new Ratchet & Clank. That’s great and these games are worth playing (reviews of all these coming soon!) but the price of a new game has shot up now to £70 in the UK. That’s a big whack on top of the cost of the new console just to play a single game.

So, XSX or PS5? This is much harder to call. I’d have to give it to the PS5 because it has genuine exclusives but the XSX is the best place to play a wide range of games, if you don’t want to play those specific Playstation games.

Conclusions

So which should you purchase? Funnily enough, my overall conclusion is much the same as in the last generation of XB1 vs PS4. If you mainly want to play some amazing single-player adventure games, then you should go with PS5. Sony hardly ever seems to fail with it’s big franchises and we already have the new Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart only playable on PS5. On the other hand if you enjoy a wider range of games, or discovering new ones, the pull of Xbox Game Pass is really the best thing going on in the industry right now. The XSX may not have any games that you cannot get anywhere else yet but it’s the best gaming experience out there and the best place to play all of the other games that aren’t PS5 exclusive. And it’s only going to get better with new Forza and Halo games coming before the end of the year.

REVIEW: Urban Flow (Switch)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: n/a – although apparently it’s to be released for PC, PS4 and XB1 at some point
  • Time to get into: 5 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 8 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

Game Summary

Urban Flow is, essentially, a traffic lights game. You can change the lights at a number of junctions on each of the 100 small maps the game offers with the goal of getting a certain number of cars and other vehicles through safely. To begin with things are pretty straight forward, like just letting through the rows of cars at a T-junction one-green-light-at-a-time. By the time you get to the end however, letting cars through on one side of the map can have consequences far away. It’s this, combined an increasing number of unusual vehicles like Ambulances or even Tanks that have unique aspects, that makes the game more exciting than just red-light, green-light. There’s nothing ground breaking here, but for a light (pun intended) and enjoyable puzzler at a great price, it’s hard to go wrong.

What’s good about it?

  • The best thing about Urban Flow is that it’s basic idea is really robust. Turn the light to green to let cars through, turn it to red to stop them. It’s simple and immediate, meaning the game has pick-up-and-play accessibility to all. Not that you can leave any lights on red forever but the game gives you due warning when one of them is about for force a change on you. More than just simplicity though, the red/green and change mechanics are always consistent, there’s never any doubt about your timing – get it wrong and there’s no way you can blame the game itself.
  • On top of that, the learning curve is good. Early on I rarely failed to get the full 3 stars on each level but as the game introduces new aspects, like Tanks that run over anything in their path or bridges that become impassable, Urban Flow goes with you and keeps increasing the difficulty at an even rate. In the latter third of the game I did get properly stuck on 3 or 4 levels, but never to the point that I ever felt like giving up. By the end you’ll think about how much traffic you can now manage and the first few levels will seem amusingly easy!
  • There’s plenty of content. Urban Flow has fully 100 levels for you to crack in it’s basic state and a 3-star system if you fancy aiming for more than just passing the level. I went for getting 3 stars on every one and once completed I had had hours of fun. After that there’s DLC for plenty more fun if you wish.
  • The soundtrack is great! You’ll want to have sound on (not always essential for puzzlers) to help you manage the lights and the music that comes with it is chilled – perfectly suiting the relaxed atmosphere of the gameplay.
  • I would recommend using the touchscreen on the Switch, although you can also use buttons. It’s just as responsive and thus makes the game all the more intuitive and immediate.

What’s bad about it?

  • The main flaw in Urban Flow is simply that it is limited in scope. Every one of the 100 levels is, at it’s core, much the same. This focus on one idea serves the game well in some ways, but it does mean that if the game doesn’t click with you early on, it never will. Plus, after 100 levels, I was happy to complete the game and set it down. There is the DLC if you did want more, but it had become a bit repetitive to me.
  • The only real frustration with Urban Flow was that once or twice in the later levels I found some hidden roads that can seem unfair. It’s just a tactic the game employs to make things harder but on a couple of occasions cars I had to let cars go through a light, only for cars to appear coming the other way down the same road at the last second. Just slightly bad level design – but to be clear: this is rare.
  • It’s a little thing but I really found that Urban Flow isn’t great at telling you when you are nearing completion of a level. Concentrating on the cars and lights, there’s not always a good chance to glance up at the score and see if you are nearly done. And if you do complete it, it happens suddenly, which takes something away slightly from the achievement.
  • Lastly, there’s a time-slowing mechanic. I found it totally unhelpful. Ah well.

Conclusion

I found Urban Flow to be a great game for winding down, whether that be after another more intense game or in the evening or just before bed. Sometimes games aren’t trying to be award-winning and mind-blowing – they can just be really enjoyable. Urban Flow sits beautifully in that slot and given it’s cheap price, I can recommend it to anyone.

REVIEW: Cyberpunk 2077 (Stadia)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Stadia
  • Also available on: PC (and PS4 / XB1 but performance issues are apparently significant)
  • Time to get into: 6 Hours
  • Time to complete: 38 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that has been in the news a lot in the past 12 months, often for the wrong reasons. Sadly, the main conclusion I draw at the end of nearly 40 hours of activity around Night City is that the game is simply not worth the hype or drama. This is a slightly above average RPG with a few excellent elements and many poor ones. You play as V, a character of your own design, who is a new arrival to the opportunity and threat of Night City. Gunplay is very smooth and there are a few characters that I came to actually care about but most the rest of the city and of Cyberpunk 2077 in general is dull and a bit of a drag. Intriguing at times, but rarely exciting.

What’s good about it?

  • I was pleasantly surprised by how well the gunplay works in Cyberpunk 2077. Most games that aren’t strictly shooters, but involve a lot of guns, get by fine but every once in a while one turns out unexpectedly good. The range of weapons available, the upgrading you can do to them and the actual shooting are all excellent. Firing the weapons is smooth, solid and responsive and feels both realistic and satisfying.
  • One of this game’s main calling cards is all the cyber-augmentations. These range from passive things, like quicker health restoration, to abilities that give you additional weapons, like being able to set people on fire. They all work well and I did appreciate how Cyberpunk 2077 explains away these things that are similar to the magical abilities you often get in such RPGs with it’s high-tech approach. If you don’t have magic – invent it with technology!
  • Cyberpunk 2077 has a half-and-half approach to the other characters that your V can interact with. Of those that are important to the plot the game makes a real effort with a handful of them – to give them story arcs, emotional depth and make you really care about them. Look out for Jackie and Panam in particular, they were my favourite NPCs. There are very few cut scenes in the game and having these characters at your side through missions really gives the impression of living life with these guys in Night City.
  • Worth a quick mention that, due to the reported issues with the game on older hardware, I played Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia. It worked absolutely fine for the most part. The resolution wasn’t that great, as I don’t have Stadia Pro right now, but certainly it wasn’t the bug-ridden nightmare it’s supposed to be on console. Definitely a good way to experience the game if you don’t have a top-end PC.

What’s bad about it?

  • The thing I disliked most about Cyberpunk 2077 was the thing I was most disappointed to dislike – Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand. He’s been at showcases for the game, all over the advertising and trailers and should have been incredibly cool. By the time I was halfway through the game though, I just found him intensely annoying. Always hanging around in the background with some kind of sarcastic comment or prosaic pronouncement. There are a few levels and cut scenes where you play as Johnny and these are where he’s at his best but they are rare. Silverhand is such a missed opportunity for Reeves and for Cyberpunk 2077.
  • Although the story of the main plot line is interesting, the actual missions can be really dull. They are pretty standard for the most part – go to a place, talk to someone, probably get into some kind of fire fight. There’s a decent amount of opportunity for stealth, but otherwise Cyberpunk 2077 just doesn’t have much variety in the actual tasks you have to carry out.
  • As I implied above, whilst a few of the other characters in the game are well fleshed out, many are not. Take River or Takemura as examples – no matter how long you spend with them they just never get interesting, never gain any depth. Like the writers did a great job with certain types of NPC, not so with others. Overall, most of those you meet are just as dull as the missions.
  • In a strange way, I feel like Night City is too well made. It’s great that the city feels like it is full of life all around you, but it doesn’t just feel like it exists outside of you, it feels like you are nothing in this world. Your actions, despite the plot trying to tell you different, have very few obvious consequences outside of yourself. After 40 hours, I’m not sure the game world is any different really for all my efforts.

Conclusion

Cyberpunk 2077 kept me interested through it main story and one or two sets of side missions but that is as far as things went. If the idea of playing through this game really interests you then you can probably find enough here to enjoy but for most gamers, everything good about Cyberpunk 2077 can be found, better, elsewhere.

REVIEW: FIFA 21 (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4, Switch, XSX|S, Stadia
  • Time to get into: 8 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 50 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local and online

Game Summary

FIFA 21 is the latest iteration in EA’s football franchise and whilst it doesn’t bring any significant updates or features over FIFA 20, the under-the-hood tweaks made to the gameplay make this the best FIFA in years. You still have a truly ridiculous array of game modes and options available, so every football fan and gamer should find something here that they will want to get stuck into, whether it’s Ultimate Team, many different Career modes, Volta and many more. On top of that the actual game of football is vastly improved and FIFA is once again ready to steal many many hours from your life!

What’s good about it?

  • The key that always makes and breaks each new year’s FIFA is, of course, the gameplay. For a few years it seemed that EA was determined to pursue a fast and furious version of football. FIFA 21 brings things back to reality a bit, you can now move the ball about the pitch and defend without having to fly about at a crazed speed.
  • I always look to each new FIFA to feel the balance in the different ways you can score goals. Various sports games end up one particular way of scoring that is so reliable there’s really no need to try others. Here in FIFA 21 whether you thread a through ball, cross it in from wide or go for glory from 30 yards – each of these options has a sensible likelihood of working and this makes it that much closer to the real thing. It seems a simple thing but probably one of the most difficult things for the developer to get right.
  • Of course, all the good things about FIFA every year still exist here. Career modes are vast and fully featured, online modes are plentiful and excellent. Plus there are all the other modes like Volta and Ultimate Team. As with all the EA sports games there is something for every fan of those sports – often many things.
  • This is one of a shrinking number of games with offline multiplayer that is just as good as online multiplayer. Long may sports games continue this.

What’s bad about it?

How was this offside? Even in virtual football, VAR and the offside rule continue to be frustrating!
  • Whilst FIFA 21 is a technical marvel is most aspects, it lacks a little heart. After so many years of refinements, everything just feels very clinical. It’s a very well oiled football engine but perhaps EA needs to inject a little freshness and life into it next year. Last year Volta football was introduced but that is such a unique mode that not every gamer will spend much, or any, time there.
  • EA have slightly lost the licence for some teams which is a shame after so many years of doing such a great job with holding all the realism cards. A Champions League semi final against Piemonte Calcio just isn’t quite the same as Juventus.
  • This is a nit-picky one but the lighting is getting almost too good now in one particular way. When the pitch is covered in low sunlight it can be difficult to see properly, to pick out passes to your team mates. Just like it would be in real life! This isn’t real life however and I always hated those games, particularly if they were important, like cup finals or online games.

Conclusion

It’s not easy to write a review of an individual version of any of the annual sports games. Outside of the very welcome changes to the core gameplay, everything else is basically the same as FIFA 20. But that is mostly a good thing. If you like football and playing virtual football, FIFA 21 is well worth your money.

REVIEW: Mini Metro (Android)

  • Released: 2016
  • Played on: Android
  • Also available on: iOS, PC, Switch, PS4
  • Time to get into: 2 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 7 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Mini Metro is a mobile game that has you building a transport network for a number of major cities around the world. Inspired by things like the London Underground map, the development team at Dinosaur Polo Club has successfully made a great puzzle game out something as mundane as a train network map. Based on cities around the globe from Paris to Guangzhou you are tasked with connecting stations and passengers with train lines. It’s simple in concept and easy to pick up but there’s some depth here in terms of maintaining your efficiency as more and more capacity is needed to keep your network from getting overwhelmed. Mini Metro is somewhat short lived but it’s creative and works well for both a sit-down session and a quick game on the go – maybe whilst you are commuting?!

What’s good about it?

  • Mini Metro does such a great job of making a game out of a such a common place thing as network maps. We’ve all seen things like the London Underground map, or any train service map really, and so the basic idea behind the game is already second nature to most players.
  • The touchscreen controls are great. It’s intuitive and swift to just be pressing on the lines and carriages you want to move and change. There’s always the possibility with mobile games that the need to press on the screen means that your fingers get in the way of what you’re seeing. That’s not a problem in Mini Metro; those fingers and thumbs will need to move quickly around the screen but you are never pressing in one area for long.
  • Each level has challenges outside of just building the best network you can. There’s a high score to beat, which opens up further levels, and also further challenges after that like making a high score with only using a certain number of lines or only so many bridges and the like. These are fun, although sometimes very tricky, and are great for bringing you back and forcing you to improve.
  • The development of these challenges are well paced as you open up the different cities through the game, giving Mini Metro a smooth learning curve.

What’s bad about it?

  • There’s not much to say here, but the one thing that is wrong with Mini Metro is significant: there’s not enough content to keep you playing for long. There are other modes, but none of them have the same combination of challenge and creativity as the basic gameplay. There’s a daily challenge but that is short lived. Essentially, once you’ve been through the different cities, and then again if you want to complete all the extra challenges, there’s nothing else to do. To be fair, this is a very affordable mobile game, so this is nit-picking really, but is does hold it back from top marks.

Conclusion

The main strength that Mini Metro has to offer is that is creates a desire to play again to improve your score, but without being too frustrating when you lose. As such it’s a perfect mobile game because you can quickly open it and play for a few minutes a few times throughout the day, even if you don’t have the chance to really sit down with it. I would definitely recommend playing it on mobile anyway as the touchscreen controls are so intuitive. There are few better on-the-go puzzlers than Mini Metro.

REVIEW: Ghostrunner (PC)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: PC
  • Also available on: Xbox One, PS4, Switch
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 18 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary

Ghostrunner is tale of a lone fighter in a dystopian future but whilst that world is well designed, this game is not really about that. In a triumph of function over form, Ghostrunner is all about the gameplay. Whether it’s wallrunning, slowing time to dodge gunfire or a well timed parry, the mechanics here are all smooth and satisfying. Whilst it’s a bit too reminiscent of other games and sometimes feels rather cold and lonely, those complaints aren’t enough to stop Ghostrunner from being one of the most interesting and challenging games I’ve played in recent months.

What’s good about it?

  • The world of Ghostrunner is very well realised. It’s set in Dharma Tower, a skyscraper housing the last of humanity. As you travel up and through the tower, the cyberpunk-style environments are very well designed. For example there are piles of rubbish underneath giant high-tech advertising boards – the feel of of the place serves the narrative very well.
  • Ghostrunner is all about function over form. From the platforming aspects, like wallrunning and dashing, to the combat, whether slicing through enemies or shooting projectiles, everything is extremely well honed. The developer, One More Level, has focused on giving you the tools to move through Dharma Tower as quickly and efficiently as possible. The results are pretty spectacular – when you nail a long a long section of almost impossible platforming or clear a room filled with enemies without missing a beat it’s just an absolute joy to be the Ghostrunner.
  • That said, your moves as the Ghostrunner are very stylish! Whilst the game is in first person, putting together one of those combos of moves you feel like you are zipping about as if in an action movie. The game makes you feel like a super hero, even though you don’t have many powers outside of the ability to move very fast.
  • All the different ways of getting around combine really nicely. On top of the aforementioned wallrunning and dashing you can slide and there are plenty of things in the environment to use like hooks and even handing on some robotic enemies to get you over gaps. These are introduced into the game in a well-paced manner as well, so it’s never confusing – you just have a growing arsenal of moves at your disposal.
  • The game is pretty difficult and times and some of the things you are asked to do are audacious. It reminded me a lot of a similarly difficult platformer Celeste, in that there are times when I had tried and tried to beat some incredible platforming challenge or breathless boss encounter and I wanted to give up. I didn’t have any idea how I was going to do it. But after keeping on and keeping on eventually you do and it feels amazing. In some games after just sections you jut feel relieved but in Ghostrunner you feel elated.

What’s bad about it?

  • Dharma Tower is barely populated, which seems odd as you play through the game. It’s not totally outside of what you’d expect based on the story but the only other characters you see outside of the few cutscenes are all enemies. I guess this plays into the function-over-form thing I mentioned above, but understanding why it’s like this doesn’t fully make up for it being a little dry and uninspiring. Even the other characters on your side are only ever in your head, never on screen.
  • Ghostrunner is one-shot-kill but it’s also one-shot-death, which can be frustrating at times. Mostly I like it – it plays into the need to hook together big combos of moves and strikes to survive. But every once in a while there’s a section where you have to play really well to defeat multiple big enemies and then one small dude with a tiny gun gets a lucky shot and you have to start over.
  • Even more frustrating is that there is no saving in mid-level. Some of the levels take over an hour to complete and the main result is just that it took me forever to complete the game. I had to know I had a good chunk of time to dedicate to it if I wanted to play – apologies for having a life outside of video games! It could be argued that this just adds to the challenge but checkpoints within levels are pretty generous, so I just think it’s a flaw. Maybe try on next-gen consoles that should save where you are even if you put them into standby?
  • I was interested to play Ghostrunner because I absolutely adore the first Mirror’s Edge. Unfortunately, here the parkour stuff is, somewhat counterintuitively, too easy! The Ghostrunner himself is too good, as it were, to have the same feeling of achievement from getting around as you did in that game. Speedrunning through assault courses in Mirror’s Edge was a challenge enough in itself but here the challenge comes from the threat of death from enemies.
  • I mentioned Celeste earlier but one place where Ghostrunner falls far short of that game is that the story is not enough of a reward for the hard work. Celeste is a perfect example of gameplay and story blending into an experience. In Ghostrunner, the story is bordering on pointless. It’s just a box in which to hold the gameplay.
  • That said, the one place the story really did affect the game, and for the worse, was the end. The last 3 sections of Ghostrunner are: 1, an easy final boss fight, which was disappointing after the level of challenge in previous levels. 2, the hardest platforming sections of the whole game, in which I had no less than 461 deaths before I completed it. 3, a final cut scene, vital to what story there is, where you the player have no engagement or autonomy, you just watch and the game is done. It must be said that, 461 deaths aside, the final platforming sections are amazing but overall the ending is a real let down.

Conclusion

Ghostrunner is a game that it both hard to love but also hard not to like. The gameplay is first class but it has a bit of a lack of heart that holds it back from really top-level status. That said, I would have to recommend it to gamers – those moments when you string together a long section of platforming or finally defeat a set of enemies that had seemed impregnable only minutes before are very rewarding. Just don’t start Ghostrunner unless you are expecting a decent challenge.

REVIEW: Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Switch)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: Switch
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 13 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, local only

Game Summary

Pikmin 3 is a typical Nintendo game – simple but engaging gameplay, bright colours everywhere and a story that just about holds it all together but not much more. Being such both helps and hinders the game. You play as one of three space travelers from the planet Koppai, who are on a mission to find more food for their struggling home. In order to achieve that goal, and more besides, you enlist the help of the Pikmin – cute creatures of varying colours and abilities. On the one hand the exploration and light strategy elements of the gameplay are enough to keep the 20-or-so-minute gameplay loop – building up your army of Pikmin, defeating enemies and gathering fruit – interesting right through the length of the story. On the other hand, with little gaming challenge on the standard difficulty and a narrative that, whilst just intricate enough that you have to keep an eye on it, is not intricate enough to keep you engaged to the end, Pikmin 3 ends up at a bit of a stalemate with itself.

What’s good about it?

  • There is no denying that Pikmin 3 is fun! Using a hoard of creatures to attack enemies and take loot back to base could also be a description for a much more serious strategy game but Pikmin 3 dresses all this up in cuteness and delight. Everything from the tiny faces of the different types of Pikmin to the sound of plucking them out of the ground when they have first grown is designed to put a smile on your face.
  • Personifying the Pikmin works well too – these are not just expendable drones. The combination of only allowing up to 100 to be out with you in the world at any given time and the sounds of distress that they make when they are in trouble make you want to keep them as safe as you can.
  • It’s that balance between the Pikmin being your weapons and also your friends that is the main strategy element of Pikmin 3. Other than choosing the right numbers of each colour for the tasks ahead that is about as deep as the strategy goes but it does make you stop and think. If you just charge out into the bright and colourful areas on the planet you’ll soon discover that it’s not as innocent as it seems.
  • Co-op works really well. The Boy and I had a great time playing through the game together. Parts require working together, like getting to some areas for example (although you can still get to these places in single-player). Pikmin 3 finds a great balance between those elements and letting you just get on with tasks separately.
  • The way in which each type of Pikmin is introduced over time means that the game opens up to you as you progress. For example, you will have noticed some things in areas of water that you want to investigate but until you get the blue Pikmin these things are out of reach. It’s a nice development curve that means even parts when you are retracing your steps seem new through the campaign.
  • Each in-game day lasts around 20 minutes, which is perfect for pick-up-and-play when you have a few moments free. Pikmin 3 is well suited to that kind of thing as it relatively simple gameplay means you don’t need long sessions to get into it.

What’s bad about it?

  • Pikmin 3‘s story really isn’t at all interesting. As I said at the start – there’s just enough to it that you have to pay some attention to what is going on but by and large it is very forgettable.
  • It’s just a very simple game. There is little challenge to be found – not even really any bumps in the road where you might have to repeat some activities or anything like that. There are no particularly threatening enemies, even the bosses, and no puzzles that are too difficult. The very last level is a bit larger and thus can be slightly more tricky but even then patience is all that’s really required to get through it.

Conclusion

I can see Pikmin 3 working for pretty much every gamer but as a distraction, or a side-game if you will. This is the game you play when you’re not playing your main game, or are just looking for a more relaxing break from what you usually play. With that purpose in mind, Pikmin 3 works perfectly and the great co-op play and ideal length of each in-game day just add to that. Just don’t load it up expecting anything greater – this is a typical Nintendo game.