REVIEW: Sea of Solitude (Xbox One)

  • Released: 2019
  • Played on: Xbox One
  • Also available on: PC, PS4
  • Time to get into: 2 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 4 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
Sea of Solitude is a gorgeous, wonderful, almost magical game that sees you exploring a flooded city and avoiding monsters. But it’s not really about that – this is a journey of self discovery for your character Kay and it’s her own mental and emotional struggles that are manifested in those monsters that you must overcome. Whilst the gameplay isn’t Sea of Solitude’s main focus, the way its blended into the story by Jo-Mei Games is nigh on perfect. There’s a growing number of games, to the point that they are almost becoming a genre, that combine puzzle based-gameplay with a moving and poignant story – this is one of the very best examples.

What’s good about it?

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  • Sea of Solitude looks stunning. It’s beautiful. Whether you are running across rooftops in the summer sun or bouncing over the waves in a storm, the visuals are great. Not in the sense of great graphical fidelity at all: it’s about the remarkable art style – it’s very evocative.
  • The voice acting is great – many different kinds of monsters are given very human emotions and reactions in Sea of Solitude and the voice cast is the main reason that works so well.
  • Although the gameplay is not the main focus here, it’s worth noting that it all works great. Running and jumping, navigating in a boat or simply pressing buttons to solve puzzles, it all feels just right and exactly what you’d expect.
  • The marriage of the gameplay and puzzles with the storyline struggles of Kay and the other characters is near perfect. As you solve a puzzle, so you right a wrong in a relationship. As you come to a realisation of why someone feels as they do, so you finally complete a set of tasks. This synergy between what you do and what it means is the magic in Sea of Solitude.
  • It has some amazing moments of joy, of understanding, of wonder. Within this little mini-genre of games, from Fe (another EA Originals game) to Rime to Old Man’s Journey to Gylt to The Gardens Between and more, Sea of Solitude is the best of the bunch for me.

What’s bad about it?

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  • It’s too short! Clocking in at only 4 hours (although there are collectibles that could extend that if you are so inclined) the experience is over just too soon. I’m happy the story doesn’t get bogged down by extended sections of repetitive gameplay but I don’t think Sea of Solitude would have been too bloated with a bit more content.
  • Sometimes draw distance can be a shame, particularly with the locations being so beautiful. There were definite occasions when I should have been able to see farther than I could.
  • Sea of Solitude can be slightly heavy handed with it’s message in parts. Jo-Mei clearly wants to make sure that anyone can understand the sentiments it is putting across, which is admirable, but there are times when it strays too far into tell rather than show.
  • Likewise, always being able to hit a button to be shown exactly where you should be going is great in the sense that no player will ever get lost and frustrated. However, I started to try not to use it, to allow myself to explore the world a little more. Sea of Solitude is a game that needs to be felt and making sure everything is really obvious and direct almost gets in the way of that from time to time.

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Conclusion
Sea of Solitude is a must play game for anyone who enjoys these puzzlers-with-a-heartfelt-story, or whatever you want to call the mini-genre. Immersing yourself in it’s world is rewarded with a combination of a sense of awe and a feeling of lessons well learnt. If only it didn’t end so soon!Review5

Removals: Get Packed vs Moving Out

Like London Buses, games that are similar so often seem to come out at the same time (for example tennis games, or VR music games). This time we have a pair of games based on removals services: Get Packed, a Stadia exclusive, and Moving Out, which has released on everything else. Both games are trying to capitalise on the rise of crazy co-op titles in the wake of the success of Overcooked and Overcooked 2. Can they live up to the heights of that series? Which one should you look to get? Let’s find out.

Get Packed
Get Packed is only on Stadia and is included in the Stadia Pro subscription. You can easily play multiplayer, both local and online. The basic idea is to grab as much stuff as you can from whatever house or business to which you are providing your services and for each item you get paid a certain amount. Damaging them can reduce your pay day, so you need to be a bit careful, but the fast and rather out of control way the characters handle doesn’t really encourage that – it ends up being more about quantity than quality in Get Packed! Up to 3 stars are awarded per level, depending on how much money you make. Multiplayer sadly doesn’t really force you into working together, it’s just easier to get more stuff into your van with extra people. Get Packed is chaotic and fast paced and has a story, of sorts, to carry the action along but then all too soon it comes to a sudden halt. It promises more levels ‘coming soon’ but there are far too few here. Even going back to make sure we had 3 stars on every level, The Boy and I were done with Get Packed very quickly.

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Moving Out
Moving Out is available on all the main consoles and PC. It also has multiplayer, local and online. It’s a much closer clone of the Overcooked formula, even down to the map from which you travel in your truck from level to level. Moving Out gives you a list of items that you must get from the house into your truck and gives Bronze, Silver of Gold medals depending on how quickly you complete the set. The gameplay is slow and methodical, as you need to take care packing things into the van as they won’t fit unless well organised. Co-operative play is more engaging as some items are virtually impossible to carry alone, although actually doing so with any speed is tricky to get used to. Moving Out has a large amount of levels for you to get stuck into and also has an ‘Arcade’, with some platforming challenges if you fancy a break from breaking stuff. Sadly, all of this adds up to not a lot – it’s a very well build package but the core gameplay is stale and often frustrating.

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Conclusion
Unfortunately, the ultimate conclusion is that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend either Get Packed or Moving Out. Essentially Get Packed has more exciting and more engaging gameplay but it is wrapped in a messy package and far too short. Moving Out on the other hand is well designed and more fully featured, but the core gameplay isn’t as fun. If only there was a “Get Moving” game that was the best parts from both! For now, you’d be better off with the latest ‘Sun’s Out Buns Out’ additional content for Overcooked 2. Final score for both games:Review2

REVIEW: The Last Of Us Part 2 (PS4)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: PS4
  • Also available on: –
  • Time to get into: 5 Hours
  • Time to complete: 28 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
I had a new feeling, that I had never experienced in gaming before, during the finale of The Last of Us Part 2: I really just wanted to put down the controller, let the enemy I was fighting kill me and the game just end. Part of the joy of gaming should be overcoming the obstacles put in front of you but here I just really wanted the obstacle to overcome me. Sadly, I was forced to keep fighting, pointlessly, until the game decided it had finally had enough and the experience came to an end. The Last of Us Part 2 is an astonishingly well made adventure game – functionally it’s near perfect – but it is so obsessed with telling it’s revenge story that it has forgotten both what makes gaming great and what made the first The Last of Us so good. After E3 2018, I wrote about my concerns for the direction of this game and unfortunately they have proven true.

 

What’s good about it?

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  • The gameplay is incredibly well realised and executed. No beating about the bush here: this is one of the best put together games I’ve ever played. Naughty Dog has clearly focused on refining and refining every action, every animation, every location and the result is remarkable.
  • What would be considered ‘quality of life’ stuff in other games is just part of the fabric of The Last of Us Part 2. Crouching down to open your backpack to craft an pair of arrows in the middle of a fight isn’t just possible but it works so smoothly that it seems totally natural. Or the way reloading happens. It’s all built in such an intuitive manner that it becomes second nature.
  • Likewise, sliding in and out of cut scenes is something that so many adventure games do these days, but still here it works better than ever. There’s hardly any discernible difference and yet somehow I just knew when I was back in control.
  • Attention to detail by Naughty Dog is first class in The Last of Us Part 2. Like the way your torch actually feels like a torch does in real life – illuminating the world in a very natural way. Or the way your character being afraid of heights is communicated by them breathing heavier and murmuring fretfully – these things that often feel like gimmicks in other games are superb here.
  • The world is very well designed. You feel like you are exploring and covering off every corner and yet you are always channeled in the right direction. It’s actually a very linear game but it does a wonderful job of hiding that and making you think you are carving your own path. Again, The Last of Us Part 2 is the best at this I think I’ve ever seen.
  • There are a supreme amount of accessibility options available in The Last of Us Part 2, right down to your being able to tweak different aspects of the difficulty. Although the default is very well balanced, you can tweak parts like how likely enemies are to spot you or how frequently you will find resources, if you wish to.
  • It’s brutal. With every kill, whether gunplay or melee, stealth or fighting, the graphics and audio are very visceral. You can almost feel the blood splattering around or gurgling out of an enemy’s throat.

 

What’s bad about it?

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  • Despite all of the above, The Last of Us Part 2 gets boring to play. The gameplay loop gets repetitive; it’s just a stream of creeping around, stealth killing as many enemies as you can, mopping up and then following the path to the next section.
  • Likewise, the setting is dull. The better part of the game is based in a grey and damp Seattle that has few distinguishing features. The game does build a good sense of what the city is like, it’s just that it is rarely more interesting than the puddles everywhere.
  • Cut scenes are often long. On top of that they are regularly padded out with very basic interactivity, so at times you can go literally hours without anything but walking-sim type gameplay.
  • As you can imagine therefore, the most dramatic parts of the story are told in these cut scenes, not in gameplay. Very often the actual gameplay part is just there to take you to the next time the story is advanced.
  • The Last of Us Part 2 is so concerned with telling it’s story that it seems to forget the player. The gamer has no agency here at all, you are just along for the ride. That is a perfectly fine way to make a movie – where you are literally observing the actions of others. One of the joys of gaming, however, is the fact that you are taking those actions yourself. Yes, it’s Ellie killing that Infected but it’s also me, the player. The Last of Us 2 repeatedly puts you in situations where you are doing things you don’t wish to and makes little attempt to persuade you that those actions or motivations are right, good or even sensible. This is their story, gamers just better deal with it.
  • On top of this, it simply doesn’t know when to end. Naughty Dog goes on and on, to make sure it’s point is rammed home. The Last of Us Part 2 has multiple chances to stop but it ends up far too long. Characters, locations and even gameplay mechanics are introduced, that are then thrown away before coming to anything in order to pad out the epilogue of the game.
  • The other end isn’t great either – the game seems wilfully slow to start in the first few hours – like it knows what its is about to put you through and is afraid to begin.
  • The Infected are no longer the most dangerous enemies in the world in The Last of Us Part 2. In fact I often simply felt they were an inconvenience compared to the different Seattle factions. To the point that characters muse about why there are new types of Infected this far after the outbreak, or why they move in hordes, but none of it is ever come back to. Other than a couple of well staged set-pieces and boss battles, I really think the zombies could be removed from this game, and it wouldn’t be significantly different.
  • Any heart this game might have had through relationships between characters is tossed away by both the regularly changing stream of companions and that most meaningful interaction between them is skipped or implied. This is where it most feels like a let down compared to The Last of Us. In that first game, the relationship between Joel and Ellie developed so nicely that by the end, even though the gamer might have disagreed with Joel’s actions, they were at least understandable, so that connection between character and player didn’t get broken. There is nothing like that in The Last of Us Part 2.

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Conclusion
If the basic gameplay of The Last of Us Part 2 was married to the story of the first game, it might well have been the best game ever. As it is, this would have been a great movie, but as nearly 30 hours of interactive media it is a huge let down as a sequel to The Last of Us. Naughty Dog has finally made a video game I don’t love.Review3

REVIEW: Gylt (Stadia)

  • Released: 2019
  • Played on: Stadia
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 7 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
In terms of it’s gameplay, Gylt is a cute-horror-puzzle game. You play as Sally, a small girl searching for her cousin and graphically the game is quite simple – everything is larger than life and clear. Even the horror aspects are sanitised somewhat: there’s no blood or dead bodies. To be fair, a lot of the monsters that have infested Sally’s town are genuinely creepy, and crawling around in the dark is always nerve wracking, even in Gylt’s surroundings. However, none of this is really the point – Gylt is actually about the mental effects of bullying and of not standing up for others. The innocence of it’s young protagonists is a good fit for this combination of parts but unfortunately it doesn’t add up to anything special.

What’s good about it?

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  • There are lots of monsters in Gylt, from weird eyes that just stare at you to big bosses. Some of them are genuinely creepy and frightening, particularly ones that look a bit like birds and that classic horror trope; the little girl. Although you can fight back to an extent, most of the time you’ll want to avoid them so you’ll spend a lot of time crouching around corners hoping not to be seen. This is where the horror aspect is at its best, when you know you have limited scope to survive if detected.
  • Functionally, Gylt is mostly fine. Actions work well, there’s never any collision detection or unresponsive presses. It has a nice couple of touches to, like the way Sally’s backpack moves when she runs.
  • There are a few great locations in the game. The cable car area at the start and the arcade are both very evocative and the gym, which turns into a prison, is the scene of one of the best parts of the game, combining all the puzzle, stealth and story aspects that Gylt does best.
  • Speaking of the story, it is pretty good. Particularly how it reveals itself over time, which makes you want to keep going to right the wrongs of the situation. It’s not overly heavy handed with it’s message about bullying and comes to a good conclusion. There are multiple different endings and, without spoilers, all I’ll say is that if you make sure you explore every nook and cranny in Gylt, you will be rewarded at the end!

What’s bad about it?

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  • Combat, when you can’t avoid it, is bad. Perhaps rightly so – who said a small, scared girl would have great monster-slaying skills?! But it doesn’t make for great gameplay – Gylt’s combat is clunky at best.
  • Save points can be few and far between at times, for reasons that aren’t obvious. There were one of two places where I got stuck and had to repeat platforming challenges or sneak past other rooms of enemies to get back to where I had failed.
  • Gylt can seem janky and unfinished, whether it’s the inconsistency of being spotted when you think Sally is hidden, or some plain textures on some surfaces or the countless times that, despite already dealing with the monster in a room, the music would kick off as if I was surrounded. To begin with in these situations I would look about in panic but after a while you can predict it happening.
  • So much in the narrative isn’t explained. This is fine in and of itself – it would have been easy to spoon feed the audience in a game with a child as the protagonist. However, Gylt wants it’s message to have weight but you are left having to choose which things to take on board and which to ignore.

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Conclusion
Whilst it’s a solid enough package, as one of the few Stadia exclusives at this point, Gylt is a disappointment. It deals with it’s subject matter pretty well and this is where’s it worth is. Otherwise there’s nothing to write home about. If you have a Stadia Pro subscription and a few hours to creep about and solve some puzzles then Gylt isn’t the worst way to spend it, but outside of that your time and money is better spent elsewhere.Review2

REVIEW: Marvel’s Spider-Man DLC: The City That Never Sleeps (PS4)

  • Released: 2018
  • Played on: PS4
  • Also available on: n/a
  • Time to get into: 15 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 12 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
Marvel’s Spider-Man‘s additional content, The City That Never Sleeps, is split into 3 parts. The Heist is centered around Black Cat, Turf Wars around Yuri Wanatabe and Silver Lining around Silver Sable. All the way through the main developing bad guy is a mafia boss called Hammerhead and the other characters help, and sometimes hinder, your attempts to defeat him. Whilst broadly speaking it is more of the same after the main Spider-Man game, there are enough small additions and wrinkles that the game play is still interesting. Added to another excellent story line and all the joy that playing Marvel’s Spider-Man brings, this is another outstanding adventure through Manhattan.

What’s good about it?

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  • Any extent to which The City That Never Sleeps could be described as ‘more of the same’ should be considered a good thing. You still get to swing about the city, to execute finishing moves and stealth takedowns, to enjoy Peter’s many quips and comments and everything else that makes Spider-Man a joy to play. None of it ever gets old.
  • New characters that are either introduced or have their stories expanded on are as good as they were in the main game. For example, Black Cat was never actually in Spider-Man, although there were a set of missions based on her. In The Heist, she arrives with a bang and becomes entwined in both Spider-Man and Peter Parker‘s lives. A fully featured set of characters with believable emotions, motivations and stories of their own is a huge strength of Marvel’s Spider-Man and The City That Never Sleeps.
  • Likewise, the DLC series’ main antagonist, Hammerhead, evolves over time into a formidable enemy. At the outset of the first part, I wasn’t sure how a mafia boss could stack up against Mr Negative and the rest of the bad guys from the main game but as things escalate, he’s as difficult and dangerous a character as any.
  • Related to this, the general bad guys you face get tougher and tougher through the three parts of the DLC. Hammerhead’s guys start stealing Silver Sable’s tech and guns and so it’s like facing the Sable guys from the main game but in greater numbers. It is a very nicely balanced difficulty curve right through the main game and into the additional content. The Fisk and Demon base missions from before start to seem like a breeze compared to being stuck in a room with wave after wave of Hammerhead goons.
  • Lastly, the final boss battle is great. After the main boss battles in SpiderMan were very much solo affairs, the final takedown here, in Silver Lining, is teamwork-based and that makes a really interesting difference. It’s a tough battle and having to co-ordinate the boss, some other bad guys and the teamwork aspects make it very rewarding to complete.

What’s bad about it?

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  • Still very little. I guess some people would be looking for a greater difference in new content from this but the main Spider-Man game set such a high bar that I really didn’t mind that The City That Never Sleeps didn’t try to reinvent the wheel.
  • The only missions that I have found to be annoying in the entire Spider-Man experience – the Screwball ones – are here greater numbers in all three parts of the DLC. They feel a bit forced and contrived (which they indeed are as far as the story is concerned). But they’re still a small part of the overall package and not totally without fun.

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Conclusion
I was gutted when I completed The City That Never Sleeps. Finishing the main Spider-Man game, I knew that this additional content existed and it has not let me down at all. If this was the only Spider-Man game, it would still get 5 Stars. But now there is absolutely nothing more to play. Looks like I’d better get saving for a PS5 and that Miles Morales game coming at the end of the year!Review5

REVIEW: GRID (Stadia)

  • Released: 2019
  • Played on: Stadia
  • Also available on: PC, Xbox One, PS4
  • Time to get into: 45 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, Online Only

Game Summary
GRID is the latest game in the long running TOCA series and although it has had many name changes over the years, the basic idea remains the same: it’s an arcade racer masquerading as a racing sim. Everything from the circuits to the menu systems is similar to Forza Motorsport but as soon as you get on the track it’s more akin to Forza Horizon. Unfortunately, GRID isn’t good enough to hold up against either of those games but it’s half-way nature does give it something: this is a very forgiving game. You can launch the car into corners with abandon and GRID will let you survive one way or another. As such it can be just as much fun for new racers as well as those who have played too many car games to mention – just don’t expect it to be any more than that.

What’s good about it?

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  • As I said in the summary above, Grid (I’m dropping the capitalisation from here!) is quite forgiving. If you want to be fast then it does pay to drive well – brake early, gentle on the throttle etc. But if you end up doing some panic last second braking, or slam into the other cars and/or the walls then more often than not you’ll be able to carry on. Even if not, you can rewind (here called ‘Flashbacks‘) up to 5 times per race.
  • This meant that The Boy was able to play through this with me. There is no local multiplayer but we took it in turns to race through the campaign. He has struggled with ‘proper’ racing games so far in his young life but in Grid he consistently outdid himself and improved so much, because as he was learning how to drive each car and track, Grid didn’t punish his mistakes as much as most circuit racing games.
  • Grid does a great job of rewarding success. The last few seconds of a race, as you are about to cross the line to win, are accompanied by fireworks. Plus, the post-race screens are celebratory and your progress through the campaign is made clear.
  • Added to this, the campaign mode is long but not too long. It never becomes a slog, so each race win is great – it never reaches ‘just another race’ status.
  • Grid’s big calling card over other racing games is the ‘Nemesis‘ system. Here, any other cars that you bump into a few times might get annoyed with you and try to take you out. It doesn’t make a significant difference overall but occasionally an on track battle can go too far and the AI get’s it elbows out. It’s a fun distraction.
  • Grid does look and sound great. All the cars are beautiful looking and some of the tracks, particularly the street circuits, are lush. Plus, particular cars sound great – I could drive the Dodge Viper for hours without getting bored of listening to it.
  • Speaking of which, there’s a pleasing range of cars. All the way from a MiniCooper up to an old F1 car of Fernando Alonso’s. It’s not up to Gran Turismo obsessive numbers of different cars, but it’s fully featured and they are all worth collecting.
  • Online play works great. Getting into races is straight forward and the lobby is hilarious – essentially a playground for you to spend your time crashing into others waiting for the next race! Why don’t other games have this kind of silly thing to do whilst waiting in online games?!

What’s bad about it?

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  • The arcade nature of Grid does mean that you are never quite sure if you’re any good at it. For the more experienced with racing games, it’s forgiving nature ultimately holds it back. There’s not enough difference between a well driven and controlled lap and a more, let’s say, ‘loose’ lap!
  • Related to this is that the arcade handling model can make the higher speed cars be unpredictable. Especially on the tighter, twistier circuits, there is only so much control that can be retained in Grid.
  • The array of tracks is not the biggest in the first place but there’s also a heavy leaning towards certain tracks towards the end. I’m not entirely sure why but the further into the campaign you go, the more often you see particular circuits come up over and over. I hope you enjoy Okutama!

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Conclusion
Essentially, Grid is just lot of fun. It’s not going to change the landscape of racing games, or even live long in the memory, but whilst you are playing it you’ll have a blast. Grid is like the circuit-racing equivalent of Gravel: it’s not trying to be anything more than fun, but it nails it.Review3

REVIEW: Gears Tactics (PC)

  • Released: 2020
  • Played on: PC
  • Also available on: Apparently coming to Xbox One at some point
  • Time to get into: 10 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 23 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
Gears Tactics is the first foray for the Gears of War series away from it’s third-person-shooter roots (yes, we can ignore Gears Pop). Its a turn-based strategy game where you move and take actions with up to 4 characters in each level in an effort to destroy enemies and usually to collect supplies and other parts as well. Overall Tactics is a solid effort at the genre, without bringing anything significantly new to anyone that has played anything from Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden to even Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. This game does do a good job of capturing the feel and atmosphere of Gears of War games but its storyline is a prequel to the Gears of War series and the gameplay feels a bit backwards too.

What’s good about it?

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  • This is classic Gears– it’s all big muscles, high body counts and ridiculously massive bosses. Anyone that has enjoyed the Gears of War games over the years will appreciate the references. As a pre-order bonus I got to have The Cole Train as part of my squad – he is all wise cracks and ‘Woo!’s as usual – great stuff.
  • All round the core gameplay is really solid. Movement and cover are built for a turn-based game but retain the Gears-DNA of sliding into cover. You can gain a little bit of movement distance by doing so which just feels right.
  • Likewise, cover and gunplay work nicely together. No position is perfect cover and a decent place to shoot from, so every character on the screen is always in the game.
  • The various abilities you can give your squad members, either through upgrades or different equipment, can be vital to making a turn work how you want, but none of them ever get to the point of seeming to give too much advantage. My favourites were ‘Empower‘, where certain members of your team can give another member in a better position (or maybe a worse one!) an extra action that turn and ‘Double Shot‘, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
  • All of this combines together to ensure that you have to take care to balance attack and defence to win. This means that if you manage to gun down multiple enemies on a particular turn it always feels like you have played well and this is rewarding.
  • Speaking of weapons, even though you aren’t firing them yourself in Gears Tactics, the guns all feel very powerful and the destruction they cause very satisfying. You drop into an over-the-shoulder view just before your character fires, so each shot feels personal.
  • Other attacks like executions or chainsaw/bayonet attacks are brutal, gruesome and final. Executions are different for each weapon that your character might be holding, so it’s not like the same animation just being repeated over and over. And revving up the chainsaw and slicing a bad guy in half is just as satisfying as it always was in Gears of War!

What’s bad about it?

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  • Sadly, Gears Tactics feels like a Gears game from the past – had this been released around the same time as the first 3 Gears of War games it would have made sense, it would have been a great companion piece. However, in a post Gears of War 4 and Gears 5 world, where the series has really moved on in both gameplay and it’s tone and atmosphere, Tactics feels like a piece of history.
  • The second half really starts to drag. There are no new mission types and it feels like you are just repeating the same missions over and over. This isn’t helped by how intermittently the story gets continued. You can easily go 4 or 5 missions without a significant cut scene, partly thanks to the ‘side’ missions, which are in fact mandatory.
  • Plus, assets start to be reused and so you start to recognise areas that have clearly been re-purposed from previous levels. More than once I wondered which of the handful of generic mission types I was doing last time I was ‘here’. There are less new areas that your squad is moving through in the latter part of the game, a story choice that has an impact on the gameplay.
  • There are a few, minor, issues like melee attacks hitting from a distance and I had some other frustrations like not being shown what you have just collected from crates – like the developers didn’t have time or inclination to build something to put on screen.

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Conclusion
If you love the Gears of War series, and like the idea of returning to the series’ roots from a new perspective, then Gears Tactics has a lot to enjoy. From the thorough upgrade options to the brutal executions, nothing about the game is actually a let down. But it’s hard to recommend to anyone who is looking for the next step, either in turn-based strategy games or in the Gears series. It’s Gears and Tactics by numbers – enjoyable, but not vital.Review3

Streaming games on Stadia: Impressions from two-plus months with Stadia Pro

This isn’t a review exactly, but I thought it would be worth doing a post about Google Stadia. When the world first went into lockdown Google gave away 2 free months of it’s Stadia Pro subscription service and I jumped at the chance to try it out. In fact, I have continued my subscription since my free period ran out. If you are considering it, here are my thoughts on Stadia as a service.GRID

I had wanted to try out Stadia ever since it began in late 2019 but there was a high price of entry given that I had no idea if it would even work for me. It’s one thing to fork out for a new PC or console when you know it’s going to run the games you want, another to pay the (to be fair, far lower than new hardware) starter fee for a service that I didn’t know if my internet connection would be able to run. Now, after spending many hours playing games included in the Stadia Pro subscription, I am glad I have finally had the chance. There are three aspects worth considering here: hardware, software and connection.Get Packed

Hardware
The Boy and I have been mainly playing Stadia games with Xbox One controllers connected to our PC via Bluetooth. It’s a great controller and connects easily with the computer and with Stadia via the Chrome internet browser. It’s just like PC gaming expect the fan in the back of it doesn’t go crazy! If we stick with Stadia long term we might also invest in the starter bundle mentioned above which includes a Stadia controller and a fancy Chromecast for playing on TV. You can also play on certain mobile phones and tablets, either using a connected controller or by using on-screen buttons. These on screen controls are surprisingly good, although obviously are limited – I wouldn’t advise it for more intense games or when real precision is necessary – but it’s great to be playing ‘proper’ video games on a mobile device. All in all, hardware wise you probably already have all the kit needed.Screenshot_20200616-094556_Stadia

Software
A new console always needs exclusive games to be successful but with a service like Stadia, that isn’t so much the case. If you are someone who currently doesn’t have a console or a PC good enough to play the latest games then why spend the money on one if the game or games you want are on Stadia? Say you want to play the latest Assassin’s Creed or Doom game. It’s yours for only around £50 – no initial outlay on hardware at all. This may become an even more important factor going forward as the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony are released. Anyone looking for a new 3rd party game can save the money on the console by streaming it from Stadia. That said, exclusive games would still go a long way towards a strong offering for the streaming service and here, frankly, the pickings are thin. Stadia doesn’t yet have a big game to call it’s own and the smaller, more indie-style games like Gylt or Get Packed (reviews coming soon, so minor spoiler here!) are fine but nothing especially new. At this point, for gamers who are already playing on something else, software is not a selling point for Stadia.GYLT

Connection
Here we come to the biggest question: does it actually work? Typically, the answer is both yes and no! For the most part, Stadia has worked like a dream. The Boy and I have played our way through GRID and are now working on Get Packed. By myself I’ve been giving Gylt a go and no significant problems have presented themselves. Occasionally the video quality lessens and occasionally the game slows down for a bit because of our connection. These issues can be a little frustrating but when playing offline it’s really not a problem. I recently played through Control, and that had worse problems with slow down, even though it wasn’t streaming. That said, if you are really serious about playing online, I think this would be a concern. Our only online play has been some GRID races for fun, so it didn’t really matter but if you are playing some competitively those moments could be potentially match ruining. They are rare, but not total unexpected. If you want to play really seriously online, make sure your internet connection itself is great. Otherwise it might be worth mentioning lag. With our PC and controller set up I think there is a very very slight bit of lag. It’s almost imperceptible, and didn’t affect us when playing the games mentioned above. However, I had a quick go at Thumper (which I’ve already reviewed on PSVR) just to see what it was like, and the lag was more of an issue there, where you need your inputs to be timed to perfection.Get Packed

Conclusion
As you can probably guess from the fact that I have continued my Stadia Pro subscription after the free period, overall I would recommend that other people investigate it. It’s a great option for gamers and an excellent option for people who don’t game that much, to either get into it more or just for the occasional game. Just be aware that it’s probably not going to be perfect yet, but Stadia is in a great position to go forward, as it gains better games and the gamers get better internet connections!

 

What about you? Have you taken the leap with Stadia? Considering it? Avoiding it for now? Let us know in the comments below!

REVIEW: Pyre (PS4)

  • Released: 2017
  • Played on: PS4
  • Also available on: PC
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 15 Hours
  • Multiplayer: Yes, offline only

Game Summary
Pyre is part beautiful visual novel and part fantasy sports game. The fact that Supergiant Games has managed to pull off the blend is a great achievement but neither element is quite strong enough to carry off the length of the campaign, or the brevity of the versus mode. That said, any fans of RPGs or perhaps those intrigued by the sports element will find a lot to like here and certainly won’t feel that the time has been wasted. Your goal in the campaign mode is to win enough matches to be able to set free from exile as many members of your misfit band of characters, called the Nightwings, as you can. By upgrading their skills you can eventually build a formidable team… and then have to decide which of them to lose and set free.

What’s good about it?

  • Pyre_20200530080750
  • Pyre looks lush. The art has a really distinctive style and although the areas that the sport, called ‘The Rites‘, are played in are different from the world in general, they are bright and vibrant in their own ways.
  • The Rites are really interesting from as a sports concept. From early on in the game I was hooked on playing. I had heard it compared to basketball, and I can see that, but I felt it was actually closer to ice hockey – the key is to outmanoeuvre your opponents and then pick your time to attack. When you start to get good at it and play against tougher opponents it turns into a very fast game. Not end-to-end necessarily but when points are scored it tends to be from a very quick and sudden passage of play.
  • A character can manage to worm their way into your affections from either their story and personality or through their quality as a player in The Rites. Then next thing you know you have to choose whether to let them leave or not. Of course you want to, because you want to give them their freedom, but are they too valuable for winning matches? This is a great set up and loop which is very engaging over the whole length of the campaign.
  • This aspect also plays into The Rites feeling genuinely important. Sports games can suffer from match-fatigue, where it is just another game, but each Rite is vital here.
  • If you’re a love lots of lore, you will be in heaven!
  • In general, Pyre has a really chilled out atmosphere. Outside of the pace of The Rites, the story-based part of the game is slow and thoughtful. The soundtrack is also superb, and really plays into this ambience.

What’s bad about it?

  • Pyre_20200530091503
  • For me, there is almost too much lore. We learn far too much about other uninteresting characters outside of the group in the Nightwings. You may only play some of the other teams twice or so in the entire length of the campaign and long passages discovering more about them serve no purpose.
  • Pyre really tries to push the idea that the story will continue whether you win or lose the rights but possibly takes it too far. I am not entirely sure how the game would have been any different if I had lost every single match.
  • This isn’t really a problem though, as the sport isn’t too difficult. I only lost two matches in my entire playthrough.
  • The Rites are ultimately unsatisfactory. In the entire length of the campaign I don’t feel like I mastered it and yet I was winning easily. There is a system where you can change some rules before a match to make things easier for your opponent and/or more difficult for yourself but you shouldn’t have to handicap yourself to have a challenging game.
  • It’s a very offense-heavy sport. The orb is freely available to all after each score so I spent a lot of time in possession. In fact, towards the end I had almost forgotten how to do any defending, as I usually had the orb with my team – anytime I lost it, the opponent usually scored.
  • The games are far too short for the length of the story sections. Everything build up to the next Rite, and then it is over almost straight away.
  • There is no other challenge in the game outside of The Rites. There are plenty of choices to make but other than one random section, never repeated, near the start everything else in Pyre is just occasional button pressing.

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Conclusion
Pyre is definitely worth a look simply because it’s not quite like any other game out there. Although by the end I was whipping through it in order to just get to the end I am still glad I did see it through. It’s one of those that I would say you already know if you should play it: if you are intrigued then go for it, if not then leave it. Review3

REVIEW: Control (PS4)

  • Released: 2019
  • Played on: PS4
  • Also available on: Xbox One, PC
  • Time to get into: 30 Minutes
  • Time to complete: 30 Hours
  • Multiplayer: No

Game Summary
So many aspects of Control are absolutely superb, but it has flaws just big enough to keep it back from greatness. For every intriguing story line or intense battle, there is a long and meandering side mission or a frustrating boss. You play as Jesse Faden, who is searching for her brother Dylan, when she arrives at The Federal Bureau of Control. Thus begins an adventure that will have both you and Jesse saying ‘what?’ on a regular basis. The atmosphere throughout is fantastic and the powers that Jesse picks up along the way – being able to levitate or launch objects at enemies – are a lot of fun to use. Despite its occasional frustrations, Control kept me on tenter hooks throughout.

What’s good about it?

  • Control_20200508082021
  • The eerie atmosphere throughout Control is excellent. The mystery surrounding everything and the craziness of events is matched with the coldness and starkness of the setting, called ‘The Oldest House‘. You spend almost the entire game not entirely sure what you will encounter next, and the game frequently does indeed serve up stuff you couldn’t possibly have expected.
  • The powers that Jesse learns throughout the game are great to use. Amongst others you can lift and throw objects at enemies with Launch, make enemies fight for you with Seize and float in the air with Levitate. There’s also a full upgrade path for each, so you can continue to grow your abilities as you learn about using them. Launch can be upgraded so that you can grab enemies themselves if they have low health, for example. They are all a lot of fun to use in combination to destroy groups of enemies.
  • Many locations in Control look amazing. Don’t imagine that the developer, Remedy, felt constrained by setting their game in a building. The Oldest House hides many secrets and huge open spaces to fight in, way over and above the grey corridors. I frequently stopped and took screenshots in awe of a new area I had arrived in. In addition, even the parts that are just office corridors still look great and are almost entirely distinct from each other, so you can begin to learn you way around the building to an extent as you get further into the story.
  • Speaking of which, the narrative is excellent. Whilst I felt that specific story chapters were lackluster, the overall concept and execution of the central ideas in Control are totally nailed by Remedy. Most of the time, you have no idea what’s going on but you really want to find out. And by the time you do, you’ve got many more questions. It keeps driving you onwards.
  • Jesse is a great character. You get to see her outward interactions with other characters in the game and also hear her inner thoughts, so you get a great feel for her concerns and insecurities as well as her confidence and determination.
  • Some of the set pieces are spectacular. There are a couple of jaw dropping boss battles, as well as a couple of areas filled with smaller enemies that you rush through wreaking havoc and destruction. I won’t give too many details and I’ve avoided putting them in the video above, even though I was sorely tempted, as you need to experience them for yourself. Additionally, these sequences are well balanced against the general eerie feeling throughout Control – both the quiet of creeping down a new corridor and the noise of an intense battle make each other better.
  • I enjoyed how video game graphics are again combined with live action videos, much like Quantum Break, the previous game from Remedy. Those in Control are not to the same extent as the kind of TV-show-episodes that punctuated it but I really loved Quantum Break and its nice to see that some of that DNA has remained with the developer into this project.

What’s bad about it?

  • Control_20200507074937
  • There is a lack of characterisation outside of Jesse – every other character is one dimensional and often stereotypical. This is very much Jesse’s story but the conversations and interactions with other characters are only interesting for advancing events.
  • Having all Jesse’s powers, as well as a weapon, should make you feel like a superhero. And you do sometimes, usually when mowing down under-powered opponents. However, there are too many occasions when the combination of one or more particularly fearsome enemies is combined with a large number of lower level ones. In these situations, Control doesn’t really give you enough information on screen to be able to manage the crowd as well as fight the tough guys. So many times it was actually some dude with a rubbish gun who finished me off – I should have felt like a superhero but instead felt like a chump.
  • Related to this is that so often when I completed a really tough battle, I was left with just the feeling of relief, rather than elation. It was usually phew, not yes! Control doesn’t do anything with the HUD or with cut-scenes to really reward success, its simply onto the next section.
  • Some parts of the story feel shoehorned in – like an editor has insisted on their being there for some reason. How this happened I’m not sure as the number of different elements and mission types is large, so it’s not that Control doesn’t hold together. But some parts didn’t quite fit in the whole feel of the narrative.
  • There are a large amount of side missions available and not all of them hit the mark. You could probably largely ignore them but if you want to 100% the game then you’ll be wandering around completing dull tasks a little bit.
  • Control is super janky. Anytime you continue after pausing the game or using a menu, the first couple of seconds are blurred chaos on screen. In addition, when there get to be a lot of enemies on screen, the slow down can be painful and ruin your chances. I assume it runs fine on PS4 Pro/Xbox One X but when the (digital) box says ‘PS4‘ I expect it to work on my vanilla PS4 I’ve had all along. Not really good enough.

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Conclusion
Control is really worth playing – it’s a stylish and intriguing adventure through a well realised world. It has significant flaws that stop it from reaching must-play status but if you can persevere the experience is satisfying. Much like Jesse, you may feel like you still have just as many questions as you did at the start, but somehow you’ve grown just the same.Review4