DLC Review: Wolfenstein II The New Colossus – The Freedom Chronicles

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DLC time again, this time for last year’s slightly shaky but nevertheless great Wolfenstein: The New Colossus. Split into three tales making up the titular “Freedom Chronicles”, they tell the story of Gunslinger Joe- an American Football player turned revolutionary, Agent Silent Death- a one-eyed, alcoholic assassin out for revenge and Captain Wilkins- an old soldier still taking the fight to the Nazis. They’re all short, snacky and play pretty much the same, and so I will be making generalised points about them. That’ll come at the end though, firstly I will be discussing them individually.

The Adventures of Gunslinger Joe

First up; Gunslinger Joe, a man made into a slave and potential forced organ donor because he refused to play football the way the Nazis like, as in don’t score any goals, fall over a lot and let the other, all-German team kick the shit out of you. Each of the three protagonists have one of BJ’s three skills from the latter part of the main game, and Joe’s is the ramshackle wall busting move, which makes sense. He can also throw canned goods in place of knives or hatchets, but they cause more problems than they solve. They knock an enemy down but don’t kill them, and following up with an actual stealth kill alerts other enemies, so they’re basically useless. Said stealth kills are cool though; Joe likes to take Nazis down barehanded, whether it be breaking their necks or two-handed fist punching them in the goddamn heart. Joe’s DLC was the first released and the first I played, and unfortunately sets a precedent for the entire Freedom Chronicles; decent ideas that aren’t taken nearly far enough. All three protagonists are set up fine but lack the required development in any department outside of some funny lines and a few short cutscenes between missions. Joe’s story of a football player turned Nazi-slaughtering revolutionary, chasing an American Nazi officer all the way to Venus fits in with the universe established in these new Wolfensteins, but sadly just doesn’t commit to it enough to see it through to a satisfying conclusion. It all ends with a deeply frustrating fight against a giant robot and a squad of soldiers in an enclosed space, which is bad enough, but made infinitely worse by the presence of two reinforcement-spawning commanders. The whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth, which went even further to squander the good will it had built up with its potential

The Diaries of Agent Silent Death

This was actually the third one I played, because I saved the best for last, but it was released second. Silent Death is easily the most interesting of the three DLCs; an English assassin with one eye, a cool voice and a drinking problem called back into the life to kill the three men responsible for the betrayal, torture and murder of her OSS agent husband. Said targets being located in a Gestapo office, a Hollywood studio and a base on the Moon. A focus on stealth for a change, and a return to The New Order’s penchant for knives; it has everything going for it. For the most part it pays off. Silent Death, real name Jessica Valiant repeatedly talking about her drinking in a not particularly entertaining way leads to a line in which she tells herself to shut up about it, which is a nice touch. She’s cool, but a tad one-note, though her design and Claudia Black’s delivery carry her. Her skill is that whole corset-enabled squeezing into tight spaces deal, though without the corset and subsequent damage with extended use. It’s all a part of her emphasis on stealth, which is where it runs into a problem, because the stealth is as patchy as it was in the main game. Sometimes it works fine, and she has a unique skill where time slows down when an enemy sees you, but being spotted still raises an alarm and brings down half the SS, and the game’s checkpoints don’t take alerts into account. Still, it has short levels, quite rapid checkpoints and despite having a limited armour meter Silent Death can take care of herself, and when the stealth works it’s fine.

The Deeds of Captain Wilkins

This one’s all over the place. Captain Wilkins fought in World War 2, and now, in the 60s he’s still giving the Nazis what for. That’s all I can say without spoiling anything, in particular two reveals that, along with some jokes that come out of nowhere and the characterisation of an old man who loves nothing more than killing Nazis, try to lean into the more gung-ho, funny and over the top tone the games have at times. Unfortunately much like Gunslinger Joe it doesn’t go nearly far enough, though less similarly it feels quite messy. Some of the jokes seem out of place, and Wilkins doesn’t have anything going on other than a love of killing Nazis that borders on manic and all-encompassing, though is not at all reflected in gameplay. Wilkins’ ability is the pair of stilt boots, which are here seemingly only because they had three skills and three characters. Unlike the other two the boots aren’t linked into the story at all save for one throw-away line; Wilkins just finds them, and all they really serve to do is make the exit or critical path slightly harder to find sometimes, because you forget that you’re supposed to be looking for higher ground. Of the three, Captain Wilkins probably tries the hardest but fumbles it, ending up messy and less focused than the other two.

So overall, they’re fine. Silent Death is the best, they all play pretty much the same and the protagonists are all fine, but none of them hold a candle to BJ. It’s clear playing these DLCs just how essential he is to the entire enterprise, to the detriment of everyone else whose stories they tell in this universe. A largely harmless set of extra content with flashes of goodness and frustration in equal measure, I have no strong feelings towards it either way, and Wolfenstein deserves better.

By James Lambert


Dragon Ball FighterZ Review

For the majority of you I’m sure Dragon Ball needs no introduction. Dragon Ball Z is arguably the most famous manga and anime of all time, its beloved by many and you’ve almost certainly seen at least some of it. If you’ve somehow never heard of it, it’s about a group of martial artists defending earth from increasingly powerful villains in huge fights filled with spectacle, massive energy blasts and lots of shouting. Mixed in with the fights is a strong comedic vein, and it’s all rather fun and exciting. Anyway this is the latest in a long, long line of DBZ games, one that’s garnered a lot of positive attention since its announcement. It’s a 2D fighting game from Arc System Works of Guilty Gear, Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena fame with exquisite, show-accurate visuals and fits very neatly into the “easy to learn, difficult to master” pick up and play niche that fighting games do well.

Its closest counterparts, for me at least, are Skullgirls and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle. Like Skullgirls special attacks, supers and ultras are pulled off with half circle inputs, while combos can be easily strung together with repeated presses of face buttons. Like JoJo ASB the game facilitates doing cool things with little effort; repeatedly tapping light attack will land a three hit combo, launch your opponent into the air, follow them, combo them again and then smack them back down to earth. Repeatedly tapping medium attack will launch a combo that ends with a super move, and every character can manually build super meter, much like the Hamon users in JoJo. Having said that it is its own unique beast, one with a refreshing, interesting focus on offence and manoeuvrability. You can dash, fly, double jump and air dash in either direction. There are multiple different recoveries in the air and upon hitting the ground. There’s a block and a parry, but anyone who does block is susceptible to the button dedicated to breaking their guard with a flurry of punches, which they can then counter and turn it into a knuckle on knuckle clash. The game gives you an extraordinary amount of options during a fight. Battles take place over one round with two teams of three, with teammates being available as assists, or to be tagged in. Interestingly there are no throws, just three strengths of attack and a button dedicated to Ki; it’s all hand to hand combat and energy blasts, just like the show. The lauded graphics are indeed impressive; the character models are great, the animation is superb, and combined with the iconic sound effects it recreates the feeling of the show beautifully. The roster leans heavily towards Z; Goku and Vegeta, Freiza, Cell, two Buus and Future Trunks are the obvious inclusions, but it has its share of more interesting choices. Ginyu makes an appearance with the entire Ginyu force as assists, Android 18, Nappa, Tien and Gotenks are here. Fortunately, more to my taste, FighterZ gives some love to DB Super: Beerus, Hit, SSGSS Goku and Vegeta are on hand, as is the exquisite Goku Black, backed up by Zamasu. It’s a good selection of fighters, each with similar playstyles but their own quirks and moves. The only issue is a lack of women, with only two so far in the form of 18 and new character Android 21 (more on her shortly), though a recent leak suggested at least two seasons of DLC characters, which will hopefully work on that issue.

The game’s story mode is, unfortunately, where the cracks start to show. The actual meat is rather good, it’s the brittle bones holding it all together. The framing device of a human soul that can inhabit the main cast, causing them to regain their simultaneously lost strength is purely there to facilitate the thrust of this whole shebang: villain-hero team up. The entire cast is de-powered, so have to work together. They don’t want to work together, and have to do so in small groups of your choosing. Hilarity ensues. It is quite effective actually; the writing is sharp, the characters are all as enjoyable as they are in the show, and the new character Android 21 adds some good drama to proceedings. She has a link to the established canon I won’t spoil, but her Majin design, insatiable hunger for power increasing people eating and traumatic inner conflict make her a solid addition. Where it falls flat is how the story plays out: battle after battle after battle against clones of the main cast. Move around a map, fight some clones, a cutscene plays, repeat. The actual story beats are good, the character work is good, but getting to it is just so bland. Not bad, but I would have preferred something more akin to the Mortal Kombat method. The story is split into three to offer different perspectives and more content, but it does mean you have to go through three times as much clone battering.

I’m a big fan of fighting games, but I’m no expert by any means. I’m not one of these people who spends hours in training mode learning all the systems, practising each and every character’s moveset¬†extensively until they can do it in their sleep. I’ve got nothing against those people, good for them, but for me fighting games represent visually interesting characters, good sound design and fun, pick up and play gameplay; I play them for fun. DB FighterZ caters to that mindset wonderfully, as a game about the most famous anime ever made should, but clearly has a whole other layer of depth beneath the surface. In short, it’s an excellent fighting game, a great Dragon Ball game, and I fully recommend it.

By James Lambert


A Word About the Immediate Future

Just a quick update, as we move into a very busy season for anticipated games:
Outside of this blog I’m currently working towards a Master’s degree, and it’s entering something of a busy period. For now I will be shifting focus to that, and as a result will be avoiding all of the big, story-focused releases either already out or being released soon, things like Monster Hunter World, Far Cry 5 and Dad of War. Once my work is done I’ll get through the big ones, but for now I will be reviewing a few things that take much less time and attention in order to adequately cover, detailed below. Thank you for your patience.

Games I’ll be reviewing now (no change to schedule): UPDATED

Dragon Ball FighterZ
AC Origins’ Curse of the Pharaohs DLC
Metal Gear Survive
Batman the Enemy Within
Life is Strange Before the Storm
Wolfenstein 2’s Freedom Chronicles DLC

Games I’ll be reviewing soonish (a gap of two months) :

Yakuza 6

Games I’ll be reviewing after my work is done (later in the year, a gap of at least five months):

We Happy Few
Far Cry 5
God of War
Monster Hunter World
I MIGHT do Detroit: Become Human, depending on whether I can bring myself to give David Cage more money. It’s not something I’d buy to play for fun, but it might be worth reviewing.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins The Hidden Ones

Yeah it’s quite good. It’s more AC Origins; sidequests, assasinations, treasure, stone circles, just in a microcosm. So if you’re into that, snap it up. Cheers.


The first story DLC for AC Origins is upon us, ostensibly showing the titular Hidden Ones developing into the Assassins. I say ostensibly because that part of the story is only touched upon; there isn’t much story at all really, it’s just Bayek taking out Roman lieutenants to smoke out their boss, in the Sinai region. Along the way he decides that the Assassiden Ones shouldn’t kill civilians, which they didn’t anyway, and crucially does not come up with that stupid “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” motto that’s hung around as welcome as a bin bag you forgot to put out. It’s set four years after the end of the main story, a change made seemingly just to facilitate the reappearance of the Scarab’s son, last seen as a child but now somehow a young man who looks just like his father. Aya also makes a return with a cool new outfit, but adds very little to the overall plot, and it all ends on a “Yep, good work gang, I’m away” note that makes the whole thing seem like a wasted opportunity. Bayek has an Assassin Outfit now though, so that’s cool. Not as cool as the Egyptian Hedj I wore as my own impromptu Assassin’s robes, but still.

Gameplay wise there’s nothing new; as I briefly outlined above it’s just more AC Origins, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Bayek’s still a great protagonist I enjoy playing as, the balance of stealth, ranged kills and solid combat still works a treat and exploring tombs and the like is still satisfying. The DLC also raises the level cap by five, and all the sidequests give you massive amounts of XP, and there are two new Phylakes under a different name and who are much easier to kill.

I’m at a slight impasse with The Hidden Ones. I’ve realised that I prefer Bayek as a Medjay, travelling Egypt helping people, and that the more rigid framework of the Assassin Brotherhood does not suit him nearly as well, at least in my opinion. So I enjoyed the lack of any solid, meaningful progress for said Brotherhood in this DLC, but at the same time that’s what it bills itself as, and as such is a wasted opportunity. If you’re specifically interested in the development of the Assassin Order you won’t get much from this at all, but if all you want is more AC Origins then this delivers. It’s just not a whole lot for the price, and that’s the main thing holding it back regardless of your views on the story.

By James Lambert

Stranded in Banality – Thoughts on Metal Gear Survive

I suppose this piece was inevitable really, much like the game itself. Following the departure of Kojima and Konami’s threat disguised as reassurance that it’ll keep the series going, Metal Gear Survive was announced. Konami’s big plan for keeping an iconic, long-running series going now that its creator has fled the company? Zombies. Turns out when Mother Base was destroyed at the end of Ground Zeroes Big Boss, Miller and co flying off in the Miserycopter were, as it turns out, mere seconds away from being sucked into a wormhole and thrown into an alternate reality in which everything is the same but there are zombies. Not that the undead and the supernatural are entirely new to this series; MGS3 had The Sorrow, and Phantom Pain had enemies that were for all intents and purposes zombies, but their mere presence isn’t really the issue. The issue is how safe and depressingly inevitable it all is. Like it or loath it Metal Gear Solid has been something truly special all these years, and Konami’s bold new step post-Kojima is to chuck a load of no-name MSF soldiers into a desert full of zombies and crafting (because of course there’s crafting), the go-to way to “mix things up” from 2010. I’m not even angry about it, I’m just weary about the whole thing. But at least it’s not another Pachinko machine.

I have, at the time of writing, had some hands-on time with it via the beta, and it’s done nothing to change my mind. Admittedly the game is clearly designed with co-op in mind, because playing it single player is an uphill battle on roller skates. The beta only shows off “Salvage Missions”, in which you dig for energy (the use of which I am currently unaware of) and protect the digger from waves of zombies, using weapons, blockades and turrets to keep them at bay. Unfortunately I never had the materials necessary for anything other than wooden or metal mesh fences, which can barely hold themselves together. Actually playing the game feels familiar with the old MGSV control scheme (with a few completely superfluous changes to layout) feeling as good as it ever did. The downside is that what Phantom Pain did best, stealth and infiltration, has been stripped out; in the first mission (the only one I could play without being ganked by high level zombies) there’s one enemy to stealth kill on the way there, a few to clear out then it’s right on to horde mode. MGSV’s controls are fine for a fight but it’s not what they were designed for, and to shift the focus completely to action does it no favours at all. Fortunately trailers have shown what appear to be excursions into occupied territory with the aim of rescuing people and recovering resources/equipment, and those look like they might be quite fun. The most recent trailer also shows off some rather involved attacks with outlandish melee weapons (no CQC though, which just seems strange) and a story; the scene shown involves a mass MSF funeral, and some unseen figure apparently being “key to all this”.

In all honesty I don’t think the game looks bad, just like a wasted opportunity. Had they made a game about MSF struggling to deal with the destruction of Mother Base and the disappearance of Big Boss, then coming together to form Diamond Dogs, that would have been fine. I personally don’t need to see that story, but I would have looked forward to that game more than this one; I just think throwing in zombies and alternate dimensions seems like a knee jerk reaction to a problem Konami themselves have created by choosing to make more Metal Gear games. Anyway, I’ll be getting it for review, so I’ll have more to say then. In the meantime while I’m not looking forward to it, I do think it’ll at least be harmless, and given who I’m dealing with that’s something at least.

By James Lambert

Assassin’s Creed Origins Review

Assassin’s Creed is a series I love more than it deserves, I feel. Sure, some of them are excellent, but Ubisoft pushes what love those instalments generate and stretches it thin with yearly releases hampered by little innovation or even change, and peppered with glitches. II, Black Flag and Rogue were revolutionary for the series as a whole. Everything else was a holding pattern with varied results; a pair of Frye Twins here, a cool old man Ezio there keeping me invested. Syndicate was the peak of that run of AC games; glitchy, largely uninspired gameplay, historical figures crammed with largely embarrassing results, and a futile insistence that the future part of the story line will eventually be worth paying attention to. I enjoyed it for the most part, but even I knew it was time for a change; for the series to take some time off, regroup and come back strong. So here we are with the fruit borne from exactly that: Assassin’s Creed’s Origins, the best the series has been in years.

As the name implies, this is chronologically the first game in the series, taking events all the way back to 48BCE, Egypt. Cleopatra’s brother is doing a pretty awful job of running the country, she’s in exile and looking for a chance to take the throne, and the Greeks are in charge, to the detriment of Egyptians. Caesar’s Rome is at the door, and things are in turmoil. In the middle of all this is Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay who has sworn to hunt down and murder every member of The Order of Ancients, a masked and highly malevolent group who are responsible for the death of his Son Khemu. As a Medjay Bayek is a sort of Detective trained in hand-to-hand combat, archery and freerunning. He does a lot of killing soldiers and rescuing kidnapped civilians, but there’s also a fair bit of looking for clues, fighting off rogue animals and just generally being helpful. Helping him in his endeavour is his equally lethal wife Aya, who is currently in the Cleopatra’s service, and whom the player controls a few times for weirdly out of place ship combat. The game’s plot never really gets any more complex than that setup: Bayek travels from town to town in a frankly enormous open world, then towards the end the story gets more involved and the whole “origin of the Assassin Brotherhood” thing takes the forefront. This part of the story is a lot weaker than everything that came before it; its political intrigue and reveals fall flat, and having ended on a bittersweet but touching note, the game keeps going for another half an hour or so and then ends again in inferior fashion. The plot is strongest when it follows Bayek cutting a murderous but noble path through a beautiful, well-crafted Ancient Egypt. This is the first Assassin’s Creed game to actually inspire me to do further reading and research into the era it depicts. Rather than use its time period and culture as a backdrop and excuse to dump a load of historical characters in Bayek’s path, it ingrains those things into the story. The Duat, the Field of Reeds, the Ka, Sobek, Anubis, Sekhmet and Osiris; these things are not merely paid lip service, they are key parts of Bayek’s story. They weave a different spin on the traditional revenge narrative; yes, Bayek is on a hunt for those responsible for Khemu’s death, but not merely to take an eye for an eye. His journey is motivated by a burning desire to help his Son’s soul move on to the Egyptian afterlife, something he feels cannot happen with Khemu’s killer drawing breath. Bayek is a true believer in the Egyptian Pantheon, and it factors into his role of Medjay; he is as man steeped in the culture and belief of Ancient Egypt, and willing to shed blood and risk his own life in the aid of his country and its people. It was this, alongside their general level of quality, that made it so easy to pick up and complete side missions. Role into a town to inquire about the next Target, find five or six people in trouble, offer help. Sidequests are short and snacky, and usually involve finding and killing people and/or rescuing a prisoner. Mini versions of the base infiltration and assassination stuff you get up to hunting The Order of Ancients.

Gameplay wise, this is the new benchmark for the series, although it does have issues. Freerunning and stealth haven’t really changed, which is fine; they got those both sorted in Unity, with just a few niggles that have been ironed out. Being spotted by an enemy doesn’t alert anyone else, there’s a clear threat indicator, and the freerunning is now controlled with one button press and the left stick. The biggest change is to the combat, and equipment. It’s a “Division”-style RPG now, in which the player and enemies have levels, attacking them makes numbers fly out of their heads and if an enemy is more than two levels higher than you the game recommends giving them a wide berth. Combat places no emphasis on parries (though they are present, but only offer a slight advantage), instead Bayek’s combat style is looking for/creating an opening and then battering enemies into submission. Bows play a large part in both stealth and combat, with different types available: a regular bow that can be charged, a sniper bow aimed in first person, a rapid-fire light bow and a sort of shotgun bow which fires several arrows at once. Giving Bayek the edge is his Eagle Senu, whose eyes Bayek can see through for reconnaissance purposes. Basically, she’s the way you mark enemies in traditional Ubisoft style, and finds objectives once you’re within a certain range. All of this works really well, for the most part; stealth bolstered by Bayek’s ranged options and dealing with any raised alarms with an upgradeable, scaling range of melee weapons is a good mix that deals with most situations. Issues arise primarily if you venture into missions beyond that two level range; they’re possible, but difficult. The problem is that while normally fine, the checkpoints can sometimes place you back at the start of a huge, gruelling battle you barely managed to scrape through, only to be cut down by a random goon who just so happened to be passing on horseback. Also the hidden blade can only be used on unaware enemies, and if the enemy is too high level it doesn’t kill them. Now, this makes sense if taken purely in the context of an RPG, but it is rather stupid to stab and only wound someone with a blade that will outright kill the man standing right next to him. That’s it for my issues though; for the most part it’s an enjoyable open world game with good stealth and combat.

Assassin’s Creed Origins is the best the series has been in years. Having slowly degraded into a factory assembly line open world title with a new coat of paint each year, the time off did it the world of good. Rather than just have a big city populated by people to stab and historical figures embarrassingly crammed in regardless of whether or not they fit, Origins presents a beautifully designed, excellently crafted Ancient Egypt, a very human, character based story steeped in the culture and trappings of the time and a very noble, likeable protagonist. This is what Assassin’s Creed needs to be going forward; a series where each game is given the care, attention and time it needs to just be an all-round enjoyable experience. Plus you can climb a Pyramid and slide back down the other side. It’s ace.

By James Lambert


Game of the Year 2017

Much like last year, 2017 was a good year for games. Once again it’s a list of five, in order from bottom to top. I played a lot of good games this year, and it was a little tricky to narrow it down to five. First though, honourable mentions:

Honourable Mention #1: The Evil Within 2
The original Evil Within had a few good ideas, but they were ruined by an avalanche of terrible gameplay mechanics, design choices, and those few good ideas being run into the ground. It was, for the most part, total shite. Imagine my surprise when its sequel turned out to be a solidly made horror action game that ironed out most of its predecessor’s flaws. Its story was engaging, its characters actually had something for a player to work with, and its gameplay was no longer a frustrating, punishing mess. This is the game the original should have been, and while not as good as a certain game in the top five, it is an enjoyable horror game, and one of the biggest surprises of 2017 for me.

Honourable Mention #2: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Yeah, I know. I know it’s that standard musou gameplay of cutting down literally hundreds of enemies, to the point where they offer no real threat, in large, sparse environments. But you know what? I got a real kick out of it; I wanted a game where I got to play as Guts, cutting down soldiers and demons, and now and then fight a villain from the manga, and that’s exactly what I got. It’s really quite good actually; it follows the plot of the manga surprisingly closely and makes the most of the musou trappings to do so, playing as Guts feels good, and some of the boss fights are genuinely great, particularly the fight with Zodd on the Hill of Swords. There were better games released this year, but I personally had a really good time with this, so I had to at least give it a mention. Title’s still stupid though.

5: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

In a year when saying how shit Nazis are somehow became just one side of a debate instead of the accepted truth, a new Wolfenstein was more than welcome. As I said in my review it felt like a combination of two games: an epilogue to The New Order, and its sequel, The New Colossus. The former is a dark, sombre tale of a man racing towards death, falling apart at the seams and doing as much damage to the Reich as he can with the time he has. The latter is a pulpy, over the top tale of slaughter and revolution, and the two halves combine to form a game that alongside DOOM represents the current gold standard for first person shooters. It takes risks, it gives the player room to explore and get to know the characters and their plights, and it layers it all on a bedrock of slaughtering Nazis. The only things holding it back from a higher spot are its short length and the slightly jarring shift in tone between the two halves, but neither of those aspects stop it from being one of the best games I played this year.

4: Yakuza Kiwami

Two words: Majima Everywhere. Sure, it’s a remake, and Yakuza 0 did wonderful work for everyone’s favourite snake skin-clad mad cyclops, these points I cannot deny. But Kiryu’s story in 0 is generally weak and largely superfluous; existing primarily to bring two important characters together. It also causes some issues for the original game, and as a prequel to Kiryu’s story it doesn’t really add anything. Had it just been Majima, it’d be on this list with no questions asked, but as it stands I prefer Kiwami. Its story is tight, focused and the central conflict between Kiryu and ex-best friend Niskiyama is solid. In particular how the game treats Nishiki as a foreboding presence, looming in the background with power and influence of an unknown extent before you finally confront him. The style system carried over from 0 is still great, as are the new finishers, and the graphical overhaul is lovely. But it’s Majima that steals the show, expending time, effort, money and the manpower of seemingly his entire family purely to restore Kiryu to his former Dragon of Dojima greatness. Goro Majima truly is a beautiful gift, and he must be cherished.

3: Mass Effect Andromeda
People give Andromeda a bad rap, in my opinion. I’ve seen people treat the game as a complete and utter failure; a disaster of epic proportions from which the series can never return, and I don’t get that at all. I genuinely loved Andromeda, for the most part; its new crew were all delightful (particularly best girl Vetra, pictured above) and its story of unified races expanding into the unknown, teaming up with the Andromeda natives to save their new home was great. The combat was pretty much the same as it always is in this series; functional but not particularly exciting, though that was helped by the new boost jetpack thing built into protagonist Ryder’s suit. But it really came down to the crew of the Tempest, who I enjoyed spending time with at the expense of everything else in the game. Much like Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, mentioned above, I got what I wanted, and that was enough for me to really enjoy the game. I wanted more Mass Effect with new characters, I got just that, and I will happily defend this game and its place on this list. It has its issues, namely that terrible sudoku minigame, but I really enjoyed Andromeda and I am hungry for a sequel.

2: Resident Evil 7 Biohazard

Ah Resident Evil. Just when I thought the series was long overdue either a reboot or being taken out back and shot, RESIDENT EVII. BIOHAZARD (Or if you’re in Japan, BIOHA7.ARD RESIDENT EVIL) as the box art insists it’s called comes along and singlehandedly saves the entire series. Simultaneously fresh and classic, Resi 7 brought back a big scary house full of puzzles, bizarre locking mechanisms and prowling monsters, but switched to a first person view and focused the events on a family of nigh-invulnerable swamp folk. The humour’s back, it’s genuinely creepy again, and it’s so nice to play a horror game that puts so much stock in good environment design, both mechanically and aesthetically. The only downside to the main story is its weak third act, in which the player is forced to run around a grounded boat while plot happens, then loses all their weapons and has to run around it again looking for a way back out. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but those first three-quarters of negotiating the Baker estate and fending off southern-fried horrors are so impeccably paced and designed that anything of even slightly inferior quality sticks out like a sore thumb. The Baker family are characters that will stick with me, and Resident Evil 7 will too, both on its own merits as a masterful survival horror and as the exact thing this series needed, coming out of nowhere to save the day in a way I never saw coming. It absolutely deserves a spot on this list, and for a long time it was number one. Were it not for what’s coming next, it would win hands down, but as it stands it gets a well deserved silver medal.

1: Persona 5

As far as I’m concerned, it could only be one game. Resi 7 had the top spot comfortably until I played through this absolute juggernaut, a game that’s a serious contender for my new favourite, and certainly one of them at least. I’ve already written a lot about this game and why I love it so much, so I’ll try to keep this brief: Persona 5 is a sublime mix of style and substance, as rewarding to play as it is beautiful to look at and listen to. 2017 had a lot of excellent videogames throughout its duration, but none of them resonated with me, engrossed me and gave me the level of sheer enjoyment as Persona 5. Whatever you’re doing, whether it be breaking into fortress-esque physical manifestations of people’s minds, maintaining the game’s “Social Links” with the protagonist’s friends or just attending school, everything is given the same care and attention, and every moment of the game is a gem. That’s why Persona 5 is my game of the year, and why it’s a game I’m really glad I took a chance on.

Well that’s 2017 all wrapped up in a NEAT LITTLE PACKAGE. As I said it was a great year for games, and narrowing down this list was hard, even factoring in honourable mentions. 2018’s looking good from where I’m sitting; Red Dead 2, Persona 3 and 5 Dancing games, Far Cry 5 and Yakuza 6 are all on the way. I’ll get to them all throughout the year, but next on my list is Assassin’s Creed Origins, which will be up soon.

By James Lambert

A Brief Update

A while ago I briefly wrote about Nier Automata. Specifically, how I had finished the game once but was planning to do so again twice more before writing a review. I wrote that with the best intentions, underestimating just how engrossed I’d get in other games (namely Personas 4 and 5), as well as other work outside of the blog. As such I’m putting it on the back burner for now: I’d still like to write something about it, but if I do, it’ll be a “thoughts on” piece sometime next year. As for articles in the near future: Game of the Year list is coming tomorrow, and I’ll be reviewing Assassin’s Creed Origins, which I’m playing at the minute. Might write a “thoughts on” for the Call of Duty World War 2 campaign as well, because I’ve got some thoughts on that and few of them are positive. Anyway that’s the rundown for the coming days, and that’s the end of this brief update.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Resident Evil 7 Not a Hero and End of Zoe

(Please note that due to the nature of “Not a Hero” and its main character, a certain reveal at the end of Resident Evil 7 will be spoilt in this review. You probably know about it at this point but on the off chance you don’t and still intend to play the game, bear that in mind)

Resident Evil 7 got the year off to a surprisingly excellent start back in January. After years of mediocre to terrible instalments in the long-running survival horror series, “Biohazard” as it was subtitled was both a return to form and a breath of fresh air, both for the series and the genre as a whole. As well as a sort of fun variety show in the form of two paid DLC packs, the game’s end credits promised free content to come starring the new, normally proportioned Chris Redfield. After a long delay it finally released earlier this month, free as promised and alongside paid DLC “End of Zoe”, combining to tie up the few remaining loose ends left at the end of the main game.

First up, Not a Hero, in which Chris Redfield pursues Lucas Baker through a mine in order to give him a satisfying conclusion and some more screen time. Amusingly, after a lot of speculation on the nature of the new, blue-logo’d Umbrella Corporation and Chris’ role with them, the game just flat out gives you a document that says “Okay, here’s what’s going on with Umbrella now” and proceeds to explain it. Basically the new Umbrella are attempting to make up for the company’s past forays into giant monsters and zambambos by cleaning up any bioweapon-related mess it can get its hands on. Chris is here to investigate Lucas’ work with “The Connection”, the company he was feeding information to about Eveline and her effect on his parents. The entire DLC follows Chris’ trek through the mine from the end of the main game, dealing with traps, a new form of Molded (more on them in a second) and Lucas being his usual charming self. While not quite the all-conquering action hero he was in Resis 5 and 6, Redfield is still more capable than Ethan, being better equipped and capable of punching stunned Molded to death. That’s not to say it’s suddenly turned into a first person shooter though; it’s the same mix of action and horror as in the base game, and certain parts of it are genuinely quite creepy. The aforementioned new Molded is a wailing, paunched creature with abnormally long arms, only vulnerable to a certain type of ammo, and is first encountered on a trip down to a dark, dusty crypt like part of the mine filled with toxic gas. Given the short length of the DLC the tone is rather hectic and desperate; unlike Ethan, Chris has no downtime (not literally- there is a save room), it’s a constant push forward through deathtrap after deathtrap, being taunted by Lucas until you finally confront him, which while not quite what I imagined, is still satisfying. After his story disappointingly petered out in the main game it’s nice to see one of the game’s best new characters get some room to breathe. As DLC goes, Not a Hero’s rather good, even more so because it’s free. It continues the good work started by the main game but in a microcosm, with just enough good ideas and cool stuff to last the run time, as well as more Lucas, which is undoubtedly a good thing.

This is where things get a little messy. Poor Zoe Baker, left behind by Ethan and Mia, has apparently been wandering the swamps around the Baker estate for weeks. Suddenly, for some reason, she becomes encased in a white mold and rendered unconscious. Not that white mold that signifies a character is dead and about to disappear, but a new kind of white mold that cleanly removes the infected person’s clothes and conveniently just covers their private parts. Anyway, just as she’s about to be rescued by Umbrella in comes Jack Baker’s brother Joe, a well ‘ard old man who lives in the swamp and beats Molded to death with his bare hands. Having mess up Zoe’s chances of being cured, it’s up to Joe to punch his way to an antidote, along the way getting into an almighty scrap with Swamp Thing and bringing a conclusive end to the story of Resident Evil 7. To a certain extent I’m in two minds about End of Zoe. On the one hand, it’s fun, its hand-to-hand combat is a great idea and it really changes how you play it. These two pieces of DLC represent the two sides of Resi 7: Not a Hero is the serious, effective survival horror and End of Zoe is the goofy, outlandish sense of humour. On top of that, the game gives a satisfying conclusion to the game’s story, and to (SPOILERS) Jack Baker, who gets a do-over after his weak final form and irritating boss fight. Both fights with his new Swamp Thing form are a welcome change, are far closer in both tone and form to his other two fights, and offer a showdown and death far more fitting for the character. (SPOILERS END) On the other hand, and what holds it back somewhat is its length and price. At just over an hour and a half, with no extras other than a time attack mode with the exact same areas again and at twelve pounds, it’s over priced. Presumably they were thinking people would play it as part of the season pass or newly released “Gold edition”, and under those circumstances it’s more fairly priced. Maybe they thought it was fair given that Not a Hero is free, and that does soften the blow, but taken on its own, twelve pounds is a lot for what you get. Still, it’s very enjoyable when it lasts, apart from the sections breaking up the melee combat in which you have to deal with alligators, who kill you in one hit. Fortunately they can usually be dealt with by throwing cobbled together spears at them, but there’s one section right near the end where you just have to slowly wade past them and it’s deeply frustrating. When it’s just you sneaking and boxing your way past Molded it’s great, and story-wise it’s strong enough to be worth playing. Both pieces of DLC come together to tie things up nicely, and mark a fitting end to one of the best games released this year.

By James Lambert

Netflix The Punisher Review

I’m in two minds about Netflix’s foray into the world of Frank Castle, one of my very favourite comicbook characters. The trailers had me weary right out of the gate when they spotlit a CIA conspiracy being responsible for the murder of Castle’s family, as well as an apparent reticence to have the man himself appear in costume, a costume that personally I’m not a big fan of. Still, I wasn’t going to leave my main man hanging, and besides one scene I enjoyed his appearance in Daredevil season 2, so I gave it a go.

Cruelly, the first episode teases what I would want from a Punisher TV series: Frank in costume killing off the last remnants of the criminal groups involved in his family’s deaths, a sweet sledgehammer fight and a brief appearance from the Gnucci crime family. Two Homeland Agents who appear to be analogues for Detective Soap and Lieutenant Von Richthofen show up, if I hadn’t seen the trailers I would have expected an ultra-violent, vigilante rampage cherry picking the best parts of Garth Ennis’ sizeable run on the character. Tragically that’ll have to wait, because the remaining twelve episodes are an extended origin story of sorts, in which Frank and partner Microchip enact a drawn-out plan to kill the men behind the men in relation to the deaths of the Castle family, punctuated with the odd action scene, hampered by a woeful subplot and finishing on a burst of extreme violence. The A plot, Frank and Micro enacting revenge, is strong enough; the two have an unexpected chemistry, helped along by Jon Bernthal’s rather different interpretation of the character. Whereas the comic version is a man of sheer unflappable focus, cold and steely eyed but with a surprisingly active sense of dark humour, Bernthal’s Castle is a hot-blooded, emotional and personable berserker. He can laugh and crack wise, he can be caring, he can relate to other people openly, and when called upon to handle action scenes he throws himself into them with brutal, bellowing aplomb. He’s a man clearly ruined by his tragedy and wracked with survivor’s guilt, with a skill set and unending font of unbridled rage waiting to be turned on anyone who deserves it. Two scenes in particular at the tail end of the series go far beyond anything Marvel’s done before, including both seasons of Daredevil. Elsewhere the aforementioned analogues, actually named Madani and Stein have a solid dynamic of pain in the arse go-getter and “Let’s not piss off the wrong people” sidekick, though Stein doesn’t have all that much to do. Madani is the stronger character, acting as a driven, motivated voice of reason, dedicated to the pursuit of justice for an illegally executed Afghan police officer, and a much needed ally for Castle. The characters are uniformly good, the exception being the two catalysts for the woeful subplot I mentioned earlier: a phoney vet complaining about how the government’s coming to TAKE OUR GUNS and a PTSD-riddled young man who gets dragged into his bullshit orbit with catastrophic results. This brief look at the gun debate, the treatment of veterans and the epidemic of law enforcement shooting unarmed suspects are clearly an attempt to address or at least examine real world issues, but the rushed approach, their actual effect on the plot and the general way they’re handled mean the show is way in over its head, and none of it works. This ties into another problem the series has in that at thirteen episodes it’s too long; a solid eight to ten would have been enough, as it stands it’s bloated. Cut out the entire subplot with the two vets, focus on Frank, his targets and the two Agents on his trail and this would have been a tight, lean intro to a potential season 2 more in line with the comics. That’s not to say its actual form is bad, it just could have done with some trimming.

Overall The Punisher is a success, in spite of taking a detour from the comic. For the most part the characters are well-written and likeable; Jon Bernthal’s Frank is compelling and it’s nice to see him let off the leash and Madani makes for an interesting counterpart, but surprisingly it’s Micro who acts as the heart of the piece, his connection to Frank and their developing friendship being genuinely touching, to the point where I’d gladly accept him as part of the universe going forward. As a Punisher fan I appreciate this take on the character and his world, and I do believe if you’re unfamiliar with either you’ll still get something out of this. It could do with more action, all told, but I’m hoping Netflix will bring along a second season to handle that, where they can just write a long list of bad guys from Garth Ennis’ run on the character and send Frank after them one by one.

By James Lambert