Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- Review

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Tokyo Dark -Remembrance- is a point and click detective story with an anime visual style, and caught my eye due to it being that exact combination of things. It starts with one of those very serious “YOUR CHOICES MATTER” messages, though in this case backs it up by having the game constantly autosave, setting any choices made in stone. You play Detective Ayami Ito: a mysterious mask causes her to lose control of herself and shoot a hostage taker named Reina, and later her partner and boyfriend goes missing only to reappear and be killed before Ito’s eyes by Reina, seemingly back from the dead. She’s understandably shaken, medicated, and put on paid leave pending a reassignment from violent crime. Paid leave can do one though, because Ito’s going to solve this thing herself; taking the mask and fleeing the station to find out the truth behind Reina’s reappearance.

It’s quite a simple story, and while I won’t go into detail for spoiler reasons I will say that it spends a lot of time addressing the darker parts of humanity. Abuse, violence, grieving, despair and suicide are all present; Reina’s backstory and how she became tangled up in the mask and the effect it has on Ito, and how Ito goes about her investigation depending on your choices. The game has a stat system called SPIN: Sanity, Professionalism, Investigation and Neurosis. Sanity is pretty self-explanatory; seeing horrible things has a negative impact on Ito’s already damaged mental health, as well as certain actions that tie into the next stat: professionalism. Despite being on leave Ito is still tied to the police, and has to weigh up a by-the-book approach against more direct, often quicker methods: using her sidearm to shoot locks off things, accepting a drink when offered, threatening and hitting people to get information, even straight up murdering someone at one point: these are all viable options to get what you want, but doing them leaves Ayami shaken and wondering why she’d take such a drastic route. Investigation points are earned by doing just that: investigating, and the stat lowers in direct contrast to a rise in sanity when you have Ito take her medication (pleasingly this isn’t some bullshit “Going off your meds makes you more creative” thing but just because the pills make her sedated and drowsy), though I didn’t notice the stat having an effect on what you find in the environment. The game highlights everything you can interact with, and you jump from point to point rather than moving a cursor around, so it’s not like you’ll miss anything. The final stat, neurosis, is increased by doing things like repeatedly talking to people you’ve already exhausted dialogue options with, pacing back and forth, wandering aimlessly, things like that. It’s an interesting stat but didn’t come up all that often compared to the more general sanity stat. It’s unclear how much of an effect SPIN actually has on the gameplay, but the constant updates add to the impact the choices have, and the constant implementation of said choices, alongside how drastic they can be, keeps things interesting for the game’s short duration.

The choices are also what stop the game being just a visual novel, which is what makes up the rest of the gameplay. Conversations aren’t voiced and rarely have dialogue options, every character has a still portrait, with cut-ins appearing for certain actions and choices, but outside of them Ito has free movement, and every choice is made in real time, sometimes with a time limit. There are eleven endings in total, as well as dramatically different choices to make and side characters to talk to and have an effect on, which combined with the short length means I am planning to play through it again sometime.

So that’s Tokyo Dark -Remembrance-: a neat little detective story visual novel with a focus on choices. It kept me entertained throughout, and if you’re interested in a game where you can choose between playing things cool and calm and just going completely off the rails, it’s definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Game of the Year 2019

So this is a bit later than usual because I got Persona Q2 for Christmas and wanted to give it a shot at the list. I’m not making particularly good progress with it though, and so rather than delay my list to some unknown date when I finally finish it, I thought it best to just write it anyway. As per usual there will be five entrants in the list and two honourable mentions. LET’S GET INTO IT.

Honourable Mentions:

1. The Sinking City

Taking the Cthulhu Mythos in general and The Shadow Over Innsmouth in particular as a jumping off point; The Sinking City told an intimate, ground-level story about the people living in Lovecraft’s world. Refreshingly the game directly addressed the racism present in the man’s work and confronted it through the presence of a protagonist who’s got no time for that bullshit. Its solid cosmic horror story was tied to engaging detective gameplay focusing on searching areas, talking to people and forming links between evidence and conclusions, leading to moral choices the right and wrong of which are entirely up to the player’s viewpoint. The evidence is the same, but the conclusions you draw are different. It was rough around the edges, but it made me feel like a detective struggling against the big and small of Lovecraft’s world, and that’s an experience worth celebrating.

2. The Surge 2

I didn’t review this so it can’t get onto the list proper, but having picked it up half price in the PSN sale and played it over Christmas, I enjoyed it to the point where I feel it deserves a mention at least. I didn’t care about the story, but the Soulslike gameplay was top notch thanks to its two USPs: finishers and battery power. The first is how you gain new weapons and armour: by targeting, damaging and severing enemy limbs, heads and torsos. The first time you do so nets you schematics to develop armour (or a ready to use weapon), every time after you get upgrade materials. It also adds an extra layer to the combat by making you weigh up attacking unarmoured parts of enemies for a quicker, easier kill but no items vs a potentially more drawn out and dangerous one that will get you closer to better gear. The second- the battery meter- is filled by attacking enemies and can be used to regain health as well as multiple other buffs and regen items, and can be stored to use for later. If you’re low on health, there’s always some close by as long as you can avoid being killed just long enough to get some good hits in. So it’s a Soulslike, but those two elements married to the usual satisfying souls combat make every fight fun and interesting, and even though I didn’t care what was going on I was constantly compelled to keep going. Since finishing it I’ve done a New Game Plus run and I’m planning to review the recently released DLC soon.

Game of the Year List: 

5. Blasphemous

A 2-D Metroidvania absolutely soaked in blood, misery and brutality. The world of Blasphemous is one of penance in that old school, Catholic way where everyone’s a total bastard and they have to apologise to God forever for even existing, which makes for great atmosphere and art design. The story is simple: you are “The Penitent One”; a silent, masked warrior on a mission to free the country of Cvstodia from the grip of “The Grievous Miracle”; a magical entity that’s responsible for physical manifestations of guilt, grief and penance alongside a monster or two. What makes the game worth playing is a core gameplay loop highly reminiscent of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: satisfying 2-D combat, exploration and the all-important Metroidvania elements, as well as the gorgeously bleak, miserable tone and the art and soundtrack inspired by Spain and its history. I was looking forward to this one for a while and it didn’t disappoint. 

4. Resident Evil 2

Capcom had a good year in 2019, and this is the first of their triumphs: a remake of Resident Evil 2 that started the year off in grand style. Instead of taking the REmake route and changing the environment around the original’s same (albeit augmented) game mechanics, the Resi 2 remake instead opted for a complete overhaul of how the game played; making Claire and Leon far more capable in a fight with over the shoulder aiming and the ability to do so while moving, but making zombies tank bullets like, well, a tank. I really liked this approach to the undead; making them great slabs of meat driven forward by an insatiable hunger that can’t be stopped unless you burst their heads open, something that keeps the series’ balance between fighting and avoiding enemies intact. The R.P.D, now cloaked in suffocating darkness felt simultaneously familiar and new, and the game took the time to change a few small things for the better. Add in the now far more persistent Mr X pursuing you all over the station and Capcom have taken one of the best entries in the series and made it feel fresh and exciting again. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with Resi 3 in April.

3. Devil May Cry 5

I love Devil May Cry. I have done since I played the original back when I was a bairn; I even loved DmC, and although not being too into it when it came out I came to love DMC4 when I played the PS4 port. DMC5 is everything I want in a DMC game; the combat is top notch, the story is simple but focused entirely on its characters; who are all likeable, especially newcomers V and Nico (the former quickly becoming my favourite of the three playable characters) and of course the whole thing ends with two excellent fights with Vergil. This was the other half of Capcom’s great year for me: Resident Evil 2 was a mood piece; creating an atmosphere of dread and panic in a beautifully designed environment filled with real threats and a general feel of overcoming a puzzle, even when the solution was just choosing the right inventory lay out or how to put down a zombie. DMC5, in contrast, is a character piece; the atmosphere is one of triumph as the soundtrack kicks into gear, your character says a cool line and you set about stylin’ and profilin’ all over whatever hell spawn thought stepping to you was a good idea. As much as I love the Resi 2 remake, inhabiting these characters was just so much fun, though what gives DMC5 the edge is V; the poetry-reciting, sleeveless leather coat-wearing, terminally ill human side of Vergil, with his unique fighting style and determination to see things through despite being hours from just collapsing. I love V, I love DMC5, I love Capcom and I love this hot streak they’re on.

2. Death Stranding

Death Stranding is a weird one because so much of it seems antithetical to what might be considered a fun videogame experience. Sure there are harrowing fights with tar ghosts, clobbering human thieves with the cargo they’re hoarding and gun fights with Squad Leader Mads and the Skeleton Lads (pictured above), but so much of the game is loading up with packages, telescopic ladders and climbing ropes and then hiking over rough terrain to make deliveries. Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed all the hiking over rough terrain to make deliveries, so the combat was just another string to the game’s master-crafted bow for me. Deciding what to take on a run, how to pack it onto protagonist Sam’s carrying apparatus as well as a potential vehicle, working out whether that vehicle will make it all the way to the destination, what weapons to take and whether to leave room for any lost packages you might find on the way; all of these factor into an on-going puzzle that targets the same part of my brain as Resident Evil. I even like the actual hiking itself, as weird as that may sound. The story was solid, the cast were all up to Kojima’s usual standard of interesting people who all stand out and the online component of building shared structures and leaving shortcuts for people was a brilliant idea. It even had a good emotional punch and some excellent visual design, particularly whenever Mads Mikkelsen is on screen. An original idea beautifully executed and a gripping, consistently enjoyable game to boot.

1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro is my game of the year. Having moved away from Dark Souls with the faster, more aggressive Bloodborne, Sekiro is faster and more aggressive still, and marks the high point for this entire mini-genre, both inside and outside of Fromsoft. The blending of attack and defence, the push and pull, give and take nature of the combat and emphasis on clashing swords and definitive strikes makes the hacking away at enemies in similar games seem clumsy by comparison. The game eschews keeping the plot hidden in lore and instead tells a story with a named protagonist with his own personality; a simple but enjoyable tale about personal definitions of loyalty and the lengths one will go to to help those dear to them, set against the backdrop of Sengoku era Japan. I like Wolf, I like his interactions with Lord Kuro; formal but with a hint of the familial. I love the setting and the forays into horror, but most of all I love the gameplay. Nailing parries, hearing that gorgeous sword clash sound effect and getting a deathblow, especially against some of the harder bosses, is a superb feeling; far better than any other Soulslike game I’ve played, and as a complete package Sekiro is easily the best game I played in 2019.

So that was 2019. 2020 has a lot to look forward to, my most anticipated games are Persona 5 Royal, the Resident Evil 3 Remake and The Last of Us 2, all of which I’ll be reviewing. See you soon.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Review

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Having stirred up a shitstorm so diabolical that governments got involved with Star Wars Battlefront 2, EA wisely decided to go in the opposite direction and get Respawn (creators of Titanfall and, more importantly, Titanfall 2) to make a single player only, microtransaction-free Star Wars game.

Set between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, you play Cal Kestis; a young Jedi hiding out on a planet that’s one big eldritch monster covered in mouths, scrapping space ships and avoiding the Empire having lost his master to Order 66. Using the Force to save his friend from the aforementioned eldritch monster brings Cal face to helmet with the Second Sister; a brutal Jedi hunter and leader of a squad of black clad “Inquisitors” who do the same. Cal barely escapes with the help of pilot Greez and ex-Jedi Cere, who want Cal’s help retrieving a list of Force-sensitive children in order to train the next generation of Jedi. From there it’s a planet-hopping adventure following the trail of Cere’s master Eno Cordova, to the tombs of an ancient race of Force users called the Zeffo. The story is pretty solid all round, largely because the actual list of children is just a Mcguffin and the focus of the piece is on the characters. Cere has a troubled past is far more comfortable with the Dark Side than she would like, Cal has a deep well of guilt over his master’s death, and Order 66 happened when he was still a child so he’s had to basically raise himself into adulthood and this whole “Save the Jedi Order” thing is a pretty massive undertaking. Other characters you meet are struggling to fight back the encroaching Empire, who are still fresh but already doing their best to make everyone miserable. Spearheading this is the Second Sister, who has the use of both the Force and a double-bladed lightsaber, whose backstory I won’t spoil but both in terms of that and her design, she’s a strong villain. Personally I would have liked her to feature more, but you do get to clash with her on multiple occasions. She has a great reveal where she takes off her helmet, then hacks into Cal’s comms and taunts him for a while, but then Cal shuts her out and she’s placed firmly on the back burner until a lot later. The opportunities to encounter and fight cool, humanoid villains are definitely present but few, and unfortunately the game tends to fall back on fighting alien animals and monsters, which isn’t nearly as fun. However, the inquisition’s purge troopers act as minibosses dotted around the levels; strong, swift enemies with a variety of weapons that all pack a punch and different fighting styles. The story itself ends on a strong, satisfying note and that type of sequel hook that can be taken up or left, and fortunately doesn’t try to awkwardly cram itself into canon, apart from two cameos that in my opinion at least fit in fine.

I’ve heard two main comparisons in regards to Jedi Fallen Order: Uncharted and Sekiro. Now while I can sort of see where the former comes from, for me the game feels a lot more like the most recent God of War. Same Metroidvania gameplay, similar environment and art designs in a lot of areas, similar puzzles, that sort of thing. The Sekiro comparison is slightly more founded. Cal and enemies have block meters, once you’ve drained an enemy’s you can either kill them in one hit if they’re weak enough or get a clean hit in if they’re strong. That’s the only real similarity, because as we all know, blocking and parrying in melee combat have existed for years now, and the mere presence of them doesn’t suggest a Dark Souls inspiration. The combat has a definite weight to it but Cal is very quick and agile, has the ability to pull, push and slow down enemies with the Force and, crucially, the game has difficulty levels. They balance parry timing, enemy damage and enemy aggression, with the lowest having them all in your favour, the highest having them weighed heavily against you, and two inbetweeny ones. I started the game on the highest on recommendation, but restarted and then played the whole thing on one difficulty lower, which provides the best balance of the three criteria. The game can be tricky, and that block meter is definitely Sekiro-esque but for the most part it feels like a third person melee action game rather than a Soulslike. The Metroidvania elements are front and centre also; opening up new paths through the planets you visit, finding shortcuts, items and upgrades to traverse previously inaccessible paths. Oh it bares mentioning at this point, because I forgot to earlier and they’re responsible for a lot of the new path opening; Cal has a robot friend called BD-1: a tiny, two-legged droid with dog mannerisms that rides on his back, and they’re adorable. I love them. Baby Yoda can do one. The art design of the planets is nicely varied, ranging from things like ice, swamps and greenery to what’s basically a Mortal Kombat planet. It was surprising just how much Dathomir, birth place of Darth Maul, feels like Mortal Kombat. In a good way though.

Overall, Jedi Fallen Order is great. Enjoyable lightsaber combat, rewarding Metroidvania exploration and a strong Star Wars story with a focus on characters all make it worth playing. I had fun with it, and it kept me engaged from start to finish despite not being a particularly big Star Wars fan.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Control Review

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Control comes to us from Remedy, beloved developer of the first two Max Payne games and Alan Wake. They also made Quantum Break; that TV show/videogame hybrid where Shawn Ashmore had time powers, but I never got around to watching/playing it so I can’t speak to its quality. Control is a foray into a mixture of horror and sci-fi in the “Government agency that keeps tabs on weird stuff” sub-genre, which sounds like something Remedy could have a good time with.

You are Jesse; a young woman who tracks down the titular Federal Bureau of Control in order to find her younger brother Dylan, who was taken by the Bureau after the two of them stumbled upon some spooky sci-fi doings when they were children. Arriving at the Bureau’s HQ “The Oldest House”, Jesse becomes the FBC’s new Director after finding the previous one dead, picking up the seemingly living murder weapon and becoming linked to it at the behest of a talkative, inverted, black pyramid called “The Board”. She’s earned that promotion at an awkward time however, because The Oldest House is currently under lockdown due to the presence of an invading force Jesse dubs “The Hiss” that possesses humans and turns them homicidal, but fortunately Jesse has a guardian entity backing her up, on top of being extremely competent in a fight. The main plotline of Jesse trying to clear the building of the Hiss, what happened to Dylan and why the Hiss are there to begin with is hard to talk about without spoiling things, and much more interesting is everything else to do with the FBC and The Oldest House. The House itself is a living thing; it hates attention and cannot be found unless it’s being actively sought out, it’s huge, varied in layout and design, and parts of it physically shift and teleport around. Jesse’s gun, the “Service Weapon” spins and fidgets to itself like it’s waiting to be used, and seems to have a will, taking part in the selection process for the Bureau’s new director. This is the sort of thing the FBC deals with; regular, everyday objects with tremendous, often deadly powers that needs to be kept behind reinforced glass and studied. They have more on their plate that’s best left to be discovered naturally, but their bread and butter is SCP-style capturing, cataloguing and containment of supernatural items found in the hands and homes of unlucky sods out in the world. The Oldest House itself has a recurring motif of 60’s designs and technologies, in keeping with the decade the FBC was founded, which adds to that Twilight Zone/Roswell/XCOM Declassified vibe. It’s very Remedy and their love of genre tropes and trappings; just as Max Payne showed its love of Noir Detective stories and Alan Wake its love of idyllic, small town horror, Control clearly loves bureaucratic science fiction. It’s unfortunate then that the vast majority of enemies in the game are security guards and other staff members who’ve been turned homicidal and in some cases granted psychic powers. There are some more interesting encounters but they’re almost all optional and kept out the way in an attempt to inject a bit of Metroidvania into proceedings that largely doesn’t need to be there given what’s actually there to find. More on that shortly.

So gameplay wise it’s a third person shooter with the aforementioned Service Weapon and Jesse’s suite of psychic powers. Telekinesis, levitation, mind control, ripping chunks of floor up to use as a floating shield; useful powers that are there to compliment that core shooting element. The shooting itself is tight and responsive and the Service Weapon can be upgraded to take different forms, two of which can be equipped at once. It starts off as a semi-automatic pistol but can be switched up to act like a shotgun, grenade launcher and machine pistol, amongst other options. Both equipped forms drain the same ammo pool, which refills automatically after a brief delay, and that’s where the powers, especially telekinesis, come in; you’ve got to effectively balance and move between shooting, melee, hurling things at people, shield up, shield down, floating to gain a better angle of attack; Jesse spends much of the early game being rather squishy and healing items exclusively drop from killed enemies, so learning how to balance your skills is a must. It’s also worth mentioning briefly that the game loves environmental damage, and the world around you flies apart in a flurry of debris and particle effects like Ric Flair used to blade, as in it takes literally every opportunity to do so. To return to my point about the superfluous Metroidvania aspects: there are upgrade points but they’re linked to quest completion, so the only things you need to look out for in the environment are crafting items, mods and flavour text. That last one is great, no problems there, the crafting items are used for new Service Weapon forms and mods are split into two types: SW and Jesse. SW ones add damage, rate of fire, that sort of thing. Ones for Jesse give her more health, decrease the amount of energy different powers require, that sort of thing. Really these aren’t necessary, and the main story has you backtrack and go off the beaten path anyway, so there’s a good chance once you’ve got the key to continue the game will make you use it. The only thing of true worth the game hides is optional boss fights and nice bits of lore and backstory, but these are almost all linked to sidequests and don’t need to be hidden behind numbered, access level-based key cards, which are the game’s main stab at Metroidvania. The only thing that really dictates the game’s difficulty is how much you upgrade Jesse’s health, so anything behind a locked door just feels like the game isn’t ready for you to see it yet, not that you yourself aren’t ready for that particular challenge.

My only other real problems with the game are its technical issues; namely textures not loading and popping in, and pausing and unpausing the game absolutely slaughtering the framerate for a few seconds, which is a hindrance in a fight. They’re not game breaking by any means, but they’re noticeable and annoying.

Control is very much a Remedy game: third person shooting, live action mixed with in-engine graphics, James McCaffrey saying cool things, Poets of the Fall, tropes and trappings of genre fiction; it’s all here. They know what they like, they know what they do well and they stick with it, and once again it’s payed off. The Metroidvania elements don’t really need to be here and the enemy design doesn’t reflect the scope provided by the nature of the FBC’s work, but it’s a neat idea well executed, the flavour text and background info on what the Bureau do on a daily basis is excellent, Jesse is a likeable protagonist who’s fun to play as and the game kept my attention from start to finish.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Steven Universe The Movie Review

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I realise I’m late to the party on this one, but I still want to talk about it. I was late to Steven Universe the series too, but its mix of humour, emotional gut punches and commitment to being extremely queer wrapped up in excellent musical numbers and an overarching theme of acceptance, forgiveness and friendship made me catch up with it rapidly. The movie came out in September, I caught up on the last episode of the series to get ready for it, the one that wrapped everything up with White Diamond, and so here we are. Better late than never.

Two years after “Change your mind”, a now sixteen year old Steven lives a happy and content life in what he explicitly dubs, in song no less, a happily ever after. New Homeworld is nearing completion as a home for displaced gems, the Diamond authority is stepping down even if they are a tad too clingy for Steven’s liking, insisting he come and live with them, and there are no more people to fight. Until one shows up: a mysterious, stretchy limbed gem who knows the Crystal Gems by name and swiftly poofs them with an energy scythe, declaring that Steven’s human side is “No match for [her] Injector” and striking him several times before he finally poofs her. When the Crystal Gems come back, they’ve mysteriously reset: Pearl is back to being part servant, part status symbol now sworn to serve Greg Universe, Garnet is back to being a Sapphire and her Ruby guard, and Amethyst is a blank slate. Steven has all his memories but his Gem doesn’t work, so he has no physical powers to speak of, and the mysterious attacker reverts to her original form: Spinel, a 20’s cartoon character and perpetual clown who’s glued to Steven’s side as his new best friend. From there it’s an attempt both through action and musical numbers to help Pearl, Amethyst, Spinel and both halves of Garnet remember who they are and stop whatever Spinel’s Injector is doing to Beach City. Unfortunately most of the runtime is dedicated to characters we’ve known for several long seasons of television going back to being who we already know them to be, and while seeing them relive their transformation into who they are now is nice and the cast do a great job with it, it doesn’t add anything to the story as a whole. The film starts with a brief recap of the story thus far, but doesn’t explain nearly enough to act as a jumping on point for newcomers, so the whole recapping each Crystal Gem’s turn from who they were to who they are thing feels like filler, as much as the initial concept of them being reset is a strong one, which it is.

Fortunately, newcomer Spinel is solid gold throughout. Her clown form provides further insight into how the gem hierarchy, in particular the Diamonds, operates, and the subtle hints and foreshadowing about who she is and what made her who she is culminate in a heartbreaking reveal of her backstory. Her villainous side is unique among her peers in that she’s fuelled entirely by emotion; she’s a mess of grief, rage and despair who simultaneously wants to be reasoned with and believes that peace was never an option. At one point I wondered if she would be, in this show filled with anime references and homages, Steven’s Legato Bluesummers, and I while I won’t spoil whether I was right, I will say that I felt satisfied with my answer. She’s relateable, she’s threatening, she’s unique for the show and I love her.

The songs are uniformly good, as is to be expected. The film is a musical, which at times can slow down the pacing a little, but it’s not a big problem. The film looks great, again as to be expected, there’s not much to say on that front really: it looks like the show, it sounds like the show, it sings like the show, just at feature length.

Overall, Steven Universe The Movie is a good time. Personally I think the time spent getting Pearl, Amethyst and Garnet back to who they are isn’t the best use of a film, but the set up that resets them is good, and the transition itself is handled well. It is, however, all worth Spinel, who steals the film and every scene she’s in. Its mix of recaps/redos and just presuming you know what’s happened before is frustrating, but it’s a good time, it hits hard and, again, Spinel is a wonderful addition to the canon.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

MediEvil Remake Review

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Back when I was a wee bairn MediEvil was one of my favourite games. A tone and level design that combined a light fantasy touch with a darker edge, Metroidvania elements and an exquisite soundtrack have all made it stick with me for years now. It was, however, bastard fiddly at times and I never finished it, instead using cheats to see the end, which is the 90s equivalent of “Time Saver” DLC, in a way. Anyway they’ve only gone and bloody remade it, haven’t they? Crash N Sane Trilogy style. I didn’t review that because it didn’t feel as good as the originals in a way that made me feel depressed and old and I wanted to just move past the whole thing. I am reviewing this, however. Join me, won’t you?

You are Sir Daniel Fortesque, renowned as the King’s Champion and hero of Gallowmere, who having lead a charge against evil sorcerer Zarok immediately died via arrow to the eye. Now revived as a jawless, one-eyed skeleton by Zarok’s general “Raise the undead and brainwash living people” spell, Dan’s got a shot at redemption by traversing Gallowmere and putting Zarok down. The story stays that simple throughout but is peppered with bits of lore now and then about sealed monsters, great heroes residing in a sort of Valhalla-type gaff and what remains of the battlefield Dan “fought” on. Dan doesn’t really have much of a personality to speak of outside of being worried or getting annoyed when people sass him, and the only recurring characters within the levels themselves are exposition goblins. Every now and then another character will pop up for a quick chat but they’re all brief: for the most part you’re on your own. The story itself is far less important than the journey, and fortunately that part is well done, and holds up. Every level has a gothic charm to it, the Kingdom being made up of ornate graveyards, moody farmland, eerie marshes and forests, as well as more unusual levels like a crystal cave and a flying pirate ship manned by a literal skeleton crew that comes out of nowhere near the end. The art design was one of the original game’s strongest suits, and it holds up well here apart from one slight personal issue I have with it. In the original, the lack of draw distance meant everything was surrounded by an endless black void. Here the entirely re-done PS4 graphics mean every outdoor level has a light night sky, which removes that slightly sinister atmosphere of isolation. The game looks lovely though; everything looks like it used to and the original, varied art style survives intact.

Gameplay wise is where things perhaps should have been changed a bit. The combat is light and floaty: there’s no real transition between moving and fighting. There’s a button that locks the camera behind Dan but it only works in certain areas, and another that locks Dan on rails so he’s always facing forward, but it’s on the same side as the shield button so it’s awkward at best. Mostly it’s just running around loosely, swinging wildly at any enemies with little sense of impact. There are a variety of weapons both melee and ranged, all of which are unlocked from the aforementioned Valhalla-style “Hall of Heroes”. Kill enough enemies in a level and you can collect its chalice, which lets Dan converse with a statue of a legendary hero who taunt or encourage him in a variety of accents and bestow upon him their signature weapon. Or cash. Or health, it varies. Each hero’s first time is always a weapon though. The game’s biggest issue, though improved since the original, is platforming, which being based on PS1 technology is often frustrating. As I said it is improved from the original but it can easily go wrong. As I said at the top of the review there’s a touch of Metroidvania to proceedings: the map used to select levels has branching paths, important story items are placed among them for reasons that make sense in the story but don’t really complicate proceedings. Admittedly I remembered where things were and I don’t know how someone going in blind would do, but it’s a fairly simple, well signposted game, with the Metroidvania elements just adding some spice really.

Oddly the game has a mixture of original and new voice acting, to equally mixed results. Some characters just straight up use the original recordings, albeit possibly remastered, which don’t match some of the new, more fluid animations. The one new piece of voice acting I’m not a big fan of is Dan, in particular a certain damage noise he used to make that’s now absent, but that’s a personal thing, and there’s nothing wrong with his new voice.

So then, as a big fan of MediEvil, I had a good time with the remake. For me its best points were always the art design and music, so the mediocre combat doesn’t really bother me, though it’s worth mentioning considering how far third person action has come in the intervening years. A pleasant trip down memory lane that didn’t make me realise I’ve been an idiot for liking such shite, but I’m not sure there’s enough here for a newcomer. Having said that, do please buy it so they’ll remake MediEvil 2.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Outer Worlds Review

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“It always comes down to the Hunters’ helper to clean up after these sorts of messes.” After Bethesda didn’t so much drop the Fallout ball as slam it into the Earth’s core, it falls to Obsidian to make us all feel better with a spiritual successor of sorts. Having said that the game is not, as I had heard, basically Fallout in space. It does, however, have enough New Vegas about it to be noteworthy, and while it’s unfair to judge it entirely on those standards, it’s too explicit to not make comparisons.

You are a future colonist frozen in suspended animation, aboard a ship called “Hope” filled with Earth’s brightest and best en route to Halcyon, a human colony in space. Unfortunately you’re being thawed out seventy years too late by a mad scientist who needs you to deal with the absolute shitshow Halcyon has been turned into by its rulers “The Board” and their various corporate entities. Far from a blank slate on which to write the next chapter of humanity, Halcyon is a nightmare of scrutinised, micromanaged corporate bullshit in which people are required to start conversations with advertising slogans, debts to The Board can legally be covered by forced organ donation, and the whole system is on the verge of collapse because it’s being run by people for whom profit is the bottom line, everything else be damned. Subtle it isn’t, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Commandeering the name of recently deceased smuggler captain Alex Hawthorne (though you can still tell people your real name) and his ship The Unreliable, you and a gradually built crew travel around the Halcyon system getting into scrapes, helping people out and taking any opportunity to kick The Man (the proverbial Man, not Becky Lynch) in the bollocks. The overarching plot of the Captain helping their new ally Dr Welles thaw out everyone else on the Hope so they can turn things around for Halcyon is largely just a frame on which to hang the more personal stories and sidequests found in the system. Towns with problems that need solving, leadership disputes, sides to take or peace to broker, local criminal elements to get involved with, that sort of thing. As well as the obvious Fallout comparison the game often feels like a less militaristic Mass Effect; you select your crew the same way when you leave the Unreliable, they all have loyalty missions you can do, and the moving between space ports and planets filled with either hostile wildlife or people in need of a competent space adventurer feels a lot like Bioware’s series. The writing is universally good, the quests are universally solid even if they’re not all stand-outs, and the crew are all great; particularly adorable, asexual, queer, mechanic Parvati and drunk, soulful, savvy hunter Nyoka.

The New Vegas comparison is most evident in the gameplay, in particular the skills, flaws and dialogue options. Flaws are negative effects that pop up naturally in response to events; things like being scared of robots, addicted to drugs, scared of heights, that kind of thing. They all offer a perk point in exchange for a debuff, and can be taken or left as you see fit. There’s a wide range of skills pertaining to combat, as well as hacking, lockpicking, mechanics, stealth and medicine. They all have effects on gameplay and dialogue to open up alternate routes to your objective, both physically and by talking your way into, out of and around things. Taking this a step further is New Vegas’ “Speech” option being split into three separate categories: Lie, Persuade and Intimidate. In practice this is largely superfluous and entirely down to personal preference, but it adds depth to the role playing. Despite the focus on first person shooting, in a way that felt to me like a plasmid-free Bioshock what with all the shooting and rooting through cupboards and the like, this is an RPG, and besides the fights with marauders and alien creatures you can talk your way out of anything, particularly when combined with the game’s disguise mechanic. As long as you have the correct ID you’ll automatically equip a disguise upon entering a restricted area. It runs on a time limit, but once one of the four bars empties and nearby guards take notice of you, you can talk your way into having them leave you alone again. Perks are mostly just useful augments to existing skills; carry more, do more damage, that sort of thing. A little boring and safe compared to New Vegas, but they’re useful. Speaking of New Vegas, Outer Worlds’ V.A.T.S equivalent is the ability to slow down time, which becomes especially useful once you’ve upgraded your ranged weapons skill, at which point slowing down time and aiming at an enemy lets you cause various status effects depending on where you shoot them, from obvious ones like crippling a leg or maiming an arm, to more interesting ones like temporarily blinding them or, my personal favourite, knocking them out briefly to be bombarded with further attacks. The way skills work encourages you to branch out rather than stick to a narrow focus: they come in groups of three, and you put points into each group until a skill hits fifty, at which point you have to top them up individually.

So that’s all good, but are there any problems? A few, but they’re mostly subjective. It’s quite a short game for its type, and surprisingly easy; gunfights are easily won with the right equipment (which isn’t hard to obtain) and two companions, and putting points into the three speech skills will get you past the majority of things that don’t come pre-aggro’d. That said there is a super hard difficulty with factors similar to New Vegas’ Hardcore Mode, so maybe that evens things out. Less subjective are the frequent, not inconsiderable load times that break up travelling. They’re more irritating than anything else, but still worth mentioning.

Overall The Outer Worlds is great. Obsidian clearly know what they’re doing and have filled the void left by Fallouts 4 and 76 with a consistently enjoyable action RPG with great writing, characters, a wonderful anti-corporation viewpoint and a dedication to alternate methods of problem solving. Top notch.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18