ProDeus Review

ProDeus caught my eye when I saw it referred to as “The wettest FPS”. “James,” you cry, “surely that’s PowerWash Simulator?” Oh my sweet summer child, they mean wet with blood! Gallons of the stuff, give them all that they can drink and it will never be enough. Ahem, sorry, I lost myself for a second. Anyway it turned out to be on Gamepass, so I thought I’d check it out.

It’s touted as an old-school FPS that takes advantage of modern graphical technology, and it clearly has one old-school FPS in particular on its mind, but more on that in a minute. As you might imagine from a game with that description, its story is really just an excuse to shoot things. You are an unnamed person who crash lands in an alien dimension and is killed by a security system when it detects an “Organic”. Rebuilt as a cyborg killing machine called The Vessel, you decide to interrupt an on-going war between the forces of “Chaos” and “Prodeus” by jumping into the middle of it and slaughtering them all with heavy weaponry. It takes you through a variety of locales, most interestingly a huge acid processing plant, a space station and a sprint across a row of platforms on the surface of the ocean, often accompanied by pounding rain. Unfortunately this approach to plot means the game ends suddenly and anticlimactically with a text box. The Xbone version does still say it’s in Game Preview, but the game is out, and as far as I know that label no longer applies and the version I played is the full release. Still, as an excuse to travel across multiple alien dimensions shooting things into paste, it works well enough.

So I said it takes a lot of inspiration from one old-school shooter in particular, and that’s Doom. It has free aim, but has a similar impact, heft and splatter to its combat. It makes one major change in that it includes reload animations as an extra layer of challenge in that they need to be timed during combat lest you leave yourself vulnerable. The Doom influence is most clear in its enemy design, which has a lot of crossover; armed and unarmed zombies, pinkies, imps, cacodemons, pain elementals and lost souls; they’re all here. The last level even features what seemed a lot like three cyberdemons, and one of the minibosses reminded me of the Makyr from Doom Eternal. Personally I don’t have a problem with this, partly because the whole game is obviously an homage, but primarily because while they aren’t as interesting to look at, it’s clear at a glance what every enemy in the game is and, once you’ve fought them already, how to deal with them. The weapons mimic some of Doom’s, namely the shotgun, chaingun and plasma rifle, but ups the ante with alternate firing modes and a super shotgun with twice as many barrels as the iconic Doom version. The guns feel weighty and satisfying to use, particularly the shotgun (which is always important in an FPS) and the plasma rifle, which I quickly fell back on as a favourite. Also the pistol is surprisingly good; it’s capable of single shot and burst fire modes, lets you aim down the sights and does pretty decent damage, making it useful for up to medium range all the way to the end of the game. Most of the weapons are found over the course of the game, but some are kept locked up in a shop, bought with clumps of ore hidden throughout the levels. The game introduces basic metroidvania elements to that end once you buy the double jump and dash abilities, encouraging you to backtrack to old levels hunting for ore to unlock further weapons and upgrades.

There is a problem though, which is the smattering of challenge rooms tied into different weapons. Basically the intro to each one tells you that rushing to the end and shooting all the targets within a certain time limit will earn you some ore, but there’s no in-game timer, it’s unclear if “Targets” also includes the enemies placed in your way, and the ore at the end of each one seems to always be locked behind a transparent wall. I got to the end of a couple, tried again a few times trying to work out what I was missing, then just gave up. There is a rating system for each level; upon completion you choose from “Bad”, “Okay” and “Good”, but that’s the extent of it.

If you’re into first person shooters, particularly old school ones or ones where the emphasis is on the shooting above all else, definitely give this a look. It’s satisfying, well designed and fun, challenge rooms aside. Just a shame about the sudden brick wall of an ending halting what was otherwise exciting momentum.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Deathloop Review

I really wanted to play Deathloop when it came out, but couldn’t because due to their rarity, the console it was exclusive to-the PS5-might as well not exist as far as I’m concerned. I held out hope that when it was eventually ported to Xbox, it might, MIGHT be on Xbone. It isn’t, but due to what I can only assume is some sort of eldritch miracle or Faustian bargain, it can be played on an Xbone or my laptop through cloud gaming and Gamepass. Suck it, the future: I finally got to play Deathloop. Between this and the Resi 4 remake being announced for PS4 it’s a good time to not own a next gen console.

The Isle of Blackreef is locked in a time loop; as each day ends the sun rises on that very same day forever. None of the people trapped in the loop remember anything that happens; to them, it’s always the first day on which they’re setting everything up for their forthcoming eternal life. Eight people called Visionaries have been assembled as humanity’s best and brightest (ostensibly anyway), and a group of masked, painted goons are left with all the manual labour. You are Colt; an amnesiac who wakes up on the beach each morning hellbent on breaking the loop and setting everyone free. In order to do so he has to kill all eight Visionaries in one day, something made difficult by two things: firstly a protocol put in place that keeps his targets separate to avoid this very situation. Secondly, there’s the one person who actually does remember everything that happens in the loop: Julianna, the one person on Blackreef who poses a real challenge to Colt in a fight, and who loves murdering him at every opportunity. I won’t say anymore about the plot because it relies primarily on a series of reveals, but I will take the time to heap praise on Colt and Julianna. Colt is a rare example of a protagonist who constantly shit talks and cracks jokes in serious situations that’s actually really charming and smooth. He’s a combination of shrewd, tactical ruthlessness and being a big, dumb goof and I love him. Also he hates necks. Deathloop has the most thorough, brutal neckbreaks I’ve ever seen in anything. Julianna is playful, sassy and brutal; apparently Colt used to know who she is, and she’s desperately trying to make him remember or at the very least do something fresh for a change, and her chosen method is violent murder, which to her credit has apparently worked in the past. The back and forth between them is fantastic, and it spills into gameplay when she invades your game looking to take you out, but more on that later. The Visionaries don’t have a great deal going on; they’re targets first, characters second, but each one is entertaining, has a backstory and relationships with each other and Colt, not that he remembers.

After the prologue sets the scene and introduces the idea of herding your targets together to make your plan viable, it switches to an open approach. There are four areas of Blackreef and four time periods: morning, noon, afternoon and evening. The time of day affects the number and placement of enemies, traps, the presence or lack of a visionary and the general state of the environment. Obviously it gets dark in the evening, but once afternoon hits the isle becomes blanketed in thick snow, and as time goes on the locales become increasingly run down and dilapidated as the Eternalists (the faceless goons) start trashing the place knowing it’ll all be fixed by sunrise. The idea is to investigate each area looking for clues on what the Visionaries are up to and potential methods of getting them together, or otherwise kill them as quickly and efficiently as possible. It plays similarly to Arkane’s own Dishonored but with less of a focus on stealth. You can absolutely play through levels without being discovered; there’s an invisibility power, Dishonored’s Blink appears under a different name and there’s a silenced, one-handed SMG you can find really easily, but unlike its predecessor, Deathloop handles action more naturally in my opinion. Stealth feels like it’s there to give you an advantage; to pick off Eternalists, suddenly strike with extreme violence and then disappear when they turn up the heat, because Colt is surprisingly squishy and you can’t store healing items. Colt has three lives that are reset upon killing Julianna or leaving an area, which helps with the aforementioned squishiness. When the game starts you lose all your gear when the loop resets, but after the prologue you gain the ability to “Infuse” weapons, powers and upgrades with “Residuum”, a mysterious substance found in random objects scattered the maps, as well as dropped in large amounts by Visionaries and Julianna when they die. Anything you find placed in the levels will always be there, but enemies will drop randomised weapons and upgrades, or at least weapons with randomised perks. Any unused Residuum is lost upon exhausting Colt’s three lives or time looping, so you’re encouraged to repeatedly go after and kill the Visionaries to get different perks and upgrades to infuse and keep. Julianna can only invade on a map with a target present, and can be controlled either by the computer or a player; I completed the game with the former, and she barely puts up a challenge, unfortunately. After I beat it I dove back in with online mode switched on, and obviously the amount of challenge present varies but it feels more unpredictable, and like a fight between two skilled combatants rather than one skilled combatant and one slightly more dangerous regular enemy. She has access to every weapon, a range of perks and every power the Visionaries have, though she’s limited to the same loadout restrictions as Colt. Playing as her feels like the opposite side of the coin to Colt’s story; you’re encouraged to set traps and use her unique skill Masquerade, that lets her take the appearance of an enemy and have them look like her as a sort of living decoy. When I play Julianna I tend to stick around the map’s Visionary and act as a bodyguard and it’s a very different, though equally rewarding experience.

Deathloop is excellent; gameplay that feels like Dishonored but with more natural action and combat, an interesting presence well executed, two fantastic leads and online play I had a lot of fun with. Still amazed I managed to just play it on my laptop with minimal issue (though I’ve since switched to my xbone), and glad I finally got to play it at all. It was worth the wait and I’m looking forward to diving back in.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Tekken: Bloodline Review

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this on here, but I love Tekken. It’s one of the first game series I ever really got into; I started with 2, I remember renting 3 and thinking it was incredible, and Tekken Tag was my first PS2 game. I even really liked 4, and I’ve never missed an entry since I first started. Although I prefer certain other fighting game series, Tekken will always have a special place in my heart. Tekken Bloodline is a Netflix original anime that covers the events of Tekken 3, which is a good starting point for an adaptation.

Bloodline keeps things brief and swift, which works to both its credit and detriment. The set up is good: Jun Kazama has moved out to the middle of the woods so that her son Jin will experience good before getting embroiled in the evil side of his heritage. She’s killed by the mysterious being “Ogre”, but not before she directs him to his grandad Heihachi Mishima, who trains him in the more aggressive, anger-fuelled Mishima-style karate to fight and defeat Ogre. In order to draw Ogre out, because he’s apparently drawn to fighting spirit, Heihachi announces the third King of Iron Fist tournament, and Jin enters. Then the anime just breezes through an entire roster of fighters, with the majority of the fights taking place off screen, which is a weird choice for a fighting game adaptation. Jin is school friends with Ling Xiaoyu and his relationship with Hwaorang is a friendly rivalry rather than Hwaorang hating Jin and wanting to beat the shit out of him. Paul and King are given some prominence and Nina has a brief role in the plot, but the likes of Yoshimitsu, Lei Wulong and Steve Fox (who’s here too early) are given quick cameos as their fights are quickly resolved off-screen. Given a great deal of prominence, weirdly, is the also here-too-early Leroy Smith, who’s here to air a personal grievance with Heihachi and receive both a broken leg and concerned sympathy from Jin to highlight Jin’s internal struggle between his Mum telling him to not give into his anger and his Grandad telling him to do the opposite. A later episode has Julia Chang in a similar scene that shows off Heihachi being a villain to her in a personal way, so I feel like Leroy could have been replaced with someone who was actually in Tekken 3. Eddy maybe? That would have been cool. Leroy’s beef isn’t even with Heihachi specifically in the game, just the Mishima Zaibatsu, so it could have easily been someone else. I thought Miguel might have worked, just switch the object of his vengeance from Jin to Heihachi. Anyway, that’s the biggest problem with this adaptation; it’s a game about a fighting tournament and most of said tournament goes unseen. There’s a funny moment where, when asked what’s different about this new Tekken Tournament, the weirdly old looking Paul says “Well for starters, I just had to fight a karate-practicing grizzly bear, and now I’m about to fight a jaguar man!”. Ignoring the fact that the original iterations of King and Kuma appeared in previous games, as does Paul, it would have been nice to see the battle between man and karate bear. The anime thinks just making a few references is enough, but it ends up feeling empty as a result. There’s also a weird plot point where King is ominously declared to be “Not who he says” because the King from previous tournaments was killed by Ogre, and this one has superhuman durability and a glowing green eye… Turns out there’s nothing weird going on; he’s King II from the games, and he’s just really, really tough for some reason. The story is rushed and empty, but it does end on a note that I actually really enjoyed. Move on to the next paragraph if you don’t want it spoilt. So, Jin fights True Ogre and taps into the devil gene, and Heihachi channels his arcade mode ending from the game and guns his grandson down. In his mind, Jin forlornly apologises to his beloved mother and gives into his anger; becoming Devil Jin, beating his grandfather to a pulp and flying off into the night, yelling in anguish as the moon turns blood red. No post-credits scene, no cameo from Kazuya, no set up for a potential second season, just a tragic conclusion to the ongoing plot about the battle for Jin Kazama’s soul.

Animation wise, I think I might have figured out why there are so few fights. Now, when a fight does occur, it looks rather good; characters use their moves from the game and have accurate hit sparks when their hits connect or are blocked. However, whenever they aren’t fighting characters move as little as they can get away with, and when they do have to move around their walk and run cycles are janky and awkward. I don’t know, maybe the lack of fights is a budgetary issue. It’s a shame if that’s the case, because as I said before; having an adaptation of a fighting game that skips so many fights is a poor adaptation. What’s here is good, but there needs to be more of it. Also everyone has this weird angular shadow over their faces, with light above and below it. I saw people call it out when the trailer first hit but I thought it wouldn’t bother me. It doesn’t *bother* me per se, but it is strange.

So that’s Tekken Bloodline; a decent approximation of Tekken 3 with some good fights and a surprisingly good ending, but a sparse, empty feeling due to said fights being few in number. Worth a look if you’re a fan of Tekken, but otherwise there’s not a lot here to recommend.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Cult of the Lamb Review

Feels strange being on this side of a cult in a videogame. Same amount of excrement as there was in Eden’s Gate though. Right then, let’s get into it.

Cult of the Lamb is a sort of farming sim/roguelike hybrid in which you, the titular lamb, are saved from ritualistic sacrifice by an eldritch being in exchange for entering into its service. “The One Who Waits” is currently chained in place, and requires the lamb to start a cult in their name and use the ensuing power to slay four equally eldritch bishops of “The old faith” and break the chains they guard. That’s largely it for the story; it’s really just there to frame the gameplay, but the tone and presentation are rock solid. The dungeons through which you crawl are populated by mysterious, ominous beings who speak of a world once filled with gods who are no long dead. The bishops clearly have a history with your benefactor, particularly the fourth one in your path, whom the others fear to bother with this whole “killing you” business. The plot and its conclusion are dictated almost entirely by how you play the game, in a way that felt nicely organic to me.

Your time is split evenly between maintaining your cult’s premises and members, and tearing through dungeons slaughtering heretics. Upkeeping your cult is itself split into key components; firstly, keeping your followers fed and healthy by cooking food, building beds and cleaning up large amounts of shite and vomit. Secondly, harvesting their faith in you to unlock permanent upgrades for runs and new structures to let you plant crops, mine raw materials and things like that. Thirdly, giving sermons (for more permanent unlocks) and engaging in a variety of rituals, all of which are chosen from sets of two and let you broadly choose either a benevolent or iron-fisted approach to running your cult. This is where the gameplay organically dictating the flow of the plot comes in. The One Who Waits stresses that your cultists are expendable and there to be used to your advantage the way one would use any other resource. As the game went on and I built more structures, kept my flock fed and healthy, and buried them as they died of old age, I noticed I was choosing all the more benevolent rituals, and that I had grown attached to my congregation. Not massively, you understand, they’re all pretty bland and lacking in personality, but they were mine, and I looked after them. Also I named them after various AEW roster members, which helped. Maintaining your cult is surprisingly satisfying, and having you be in the service of an actual, existent eldritch god is a neat spin on games like this.

The other half of the gameplay is the roguelike, which takes cues from The Binding of Isaac in terms of everything but the combat, which is reminiscent of Hades. The layout of the map and the rooms feels like Isaac, the health system is the same, as do enemy attack patterns, but Lamb eschews ranged combat in favour of melee weapons complimented by one ranged special attack. You don’t find much in the way of modifiers for weapons and attacks; just speed and damage increases, and harvesting faith from your followers unlocks new types of the same set of melee weapons with different passive effects, like poison and critical hit chance. Each dungeon offers different routes through it; some rooms are combat gauntlets but others are filled with food, resources or new followers to rescue. Dying takes away a percentage of what you found and makes your flock’s faith in you take a hit, and these penalties can be remedied by a TOWW totem appearing in a dungeon, and unlocking the ability to cut your losses and bug out of the dungeon rather than dying. Completing a run successfully boosts your congregation’s faith, as does fulfilling their requests, building new structures and burying dead bodies, though the fastest way to do it is with the aformentioned rituals. I restarted early on because my faith kept falling faster than I could raise it, but I hit my stride early on in my second playthrough and from that point never struggled; there’s a fishing minigame you unlock near the end of the first bishop’s dungeon which combined with how cheap and easy farming is means you effectively have unlimited food. I had more cauliflower and fish than I knew what to do with, and on the rare occasion anyone got the hump and started talking shit about me, I just put them in the stocks and preached my gospel at them until they calmed down. You can also build cleaning and healing stations that mean your followers clean up their own waste and get rest when they’re sick, and you can set up farming stations to have them sow, water and harvest crops; all of this can be done while you’re away in dungeons. This adds to the charm your cult has; as it grows and you set things up it starts to feel like it’s own little community.

Cult of the Lamb is a fun mix of slaughtering non-believers in a variety of themed dungeons and starting a community in the middle of the woods with a bunch of stupid arseholes to either die or prove a very important point. The combat is simple but fun, and maintaining your cult is surprisingly engaging and satisfying. A neat premise well executed.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Beat ’em Up Double Review: TMNT Shredder’s Revenge and Midnight Fight Express

Haven’t done one of these in a while. It was going to be TMNT and Final Vendetta, but I don’t know when I’m going to get around to playing the latter, so I’ve decided to slot Midnight Fight Express into its place, which is while not a side-scroller, is a beat ’em up.

First up, a remake of an old TMNT game that’s been looking good in clips on twitter, and was a day one release on Gamepass, to my pleasant surprise. I don’t know a lot about the Ninja Turtles; I’ve seen some of the Nickleodeon cartoon, but otherwise I only really know the basics: the four turtles, Splinter, Shredder, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, and April O’Neil. I’m open to it though, and a beat ’em up is a good way to get me into something. The story, such as it is, is largely just there to frame the combat; the bad guys are trying to assemble Krang’s suit and get it to him, and the Turtles, April and Splinter chase them across New York trying to stop them. There’s a good variety of locations; a news studio, a mall, a zoo, stuff like that, and every level has a unique boss that’s fun to fight. The stand out for me though, is how the game handles the Foot clan; they have such a sense of personality just by interacting with the world around them and doing basically anything they can other than be ninjas. Running food stands, driving cars, working on computers that don’t belong to them, filming exercise and cooking tv shows; they’re up to all sorts of things while they’re waiting for you to show up and fight them. It’s delightful, and gives the game a real charm. I don’t know how well the game handles its characters due to my aforementioned lack of experience with the source material, but it felt to me like everyone was given time to shine.

Gameplay wise, it reminded me of the Scott Pilgrim game, which is nice because I’d love to replay that but can’t because I’ve sworn off Ubisoft games until they sort their awful company out. Anyway; you use a street map to pick your mission, each character has an experience level that, when increased, unlocks new moves, extra life and the like, and the general feel of the combat felt similar. It’s smooth, fluid and satisfying; there’s a dodge move, a double jump and multiple special attacks. Each character feels similar but distinct enough to warrant trying them all, and it’s easy to level up each character by replaying past missions. There are challenges to complete and collectibles to find and hand off to people, but that only gets you points and I’m not sure what they do; whether they’re XP or something separate. It feels like it’s just a way to include side characters from the cartoon really.

Shredder’s Revenge places an emphasis on having fun, with a lighthearted tone, lots of charm and satisfying combat that’s not too taxing, even in later stages as increasingly troublesome new enemy types are introduced. I don’t know what it’s like as a TMNT adaptation, but I had fun with it.

Midnight Fight Express is also on Gamepass, though unlike TMNT its arrival on the service was the first I heard of it. It eschews the traditional side-scrolling beat ’em up approach in favour of an isometric, melee/guns hybrid in the style of Hotline Miami, though not quite as punishing or puzzle-like.

You are Babyface, a man with no memory who takes delivery of a talking drone named Droney, who lays out the plot: crims, bads and ne’er-do-wells are planning a takeover of the city and Babyface, a sleeper agent mercenary, must take to the streets and kick the shit out of them all, halting said takeover. I’m into this as a set up; the talking drone that thirsts for blood and justice is reminiscent of Hotline Miami, a game that is directly homaged later on, and I’m fully on board with the genre’s “Let’s go punch crime in the face” approach to story telling. There are reveals as the story goes on that are easy to see coming (for the most part anyway) but I won’t spoil, and they add a bit of depth and intrigue that result in an overall quite entertaining journey. The crime boss who runs the city has all manner of people working for him; local hoods, the city’s two largest gangs, the majority of the police force and sewer-dwelling ratmen, among others. The game has a lot of variety, which is always a plus, though it causes two problems here. Firstly, the game has so many different ideas for enemies, locations and plot points that they don’t have any room to breath. Secondly, it plays havoc with the tone at times; this is a game where in one level a team of game developers are engaging in a pillow fight to celebrate the launch of their new game, and another level where a pirate strangles a man to death while euphemistically telling him to hurry up and die so he can steal his organs. It’s a scattergun approach, where the game throws everything at the wall to see what sticks, and it’s hit and miss at times. It does mean that particularly annoying enemies like the dancers who are able to counter your attacks with no way to tell when they’ll do so, and the particularly hardy robots near the end only show up once a piece, so swings and roundabouts I guess. One thing it never is, is boring; the game moves at a breakneck pace and throws so much at you that it always feels fresh, even if it doesn’t always hit the mark.

Gameplay wise, it’s largely solid, but has some issues. You start with one attack button, a dodge and a block; with upgrades you can unlock a variety of parries, finishers and grabs, though unfortunately the combat is often busy to the point that you’re better off sticking with basic attacks. The game will prompt you to use finishers in some instances but not others, and some finishers are really just powerful combo enders that can be interrupted by enemy attacks, but the game still classes them as finishers, the other varieties of which can’t be interrupted and act like they traditionally do. Once you unlock parries the game will, again, prompt you to do them, but some attacks still have to be blocked for some reason, rather than it being one ability that depends on timing. Dealing with all this during a particularly hectic fight feels messy, like you’re not really in control of the situation, and I kept thinking back to how Sifu let me handle the same situations with more precision. The game has an unfortunate over-reliance on guns, too, particularly in later levels, that basically make melee untenable, or at least the inferior option. The combat is fun but the game often tries to overcomplicate it, to its detriment.

Also worth mentioning is something weird I ran into; one time I closed the game, and upon returning to it, the game had unmapped every button. Even pause. That’s a point actually; the game lets you remap controls, but some buttons pull double duty and can’t be separated, like how finisher and using your regenerating, single-shot revolver are always mapped to the same button, meaning you’ll often go for a finisher and waste your bullet and you can’t make it any less likely to happen.

I think TMNT is the better game, but for its issues, MFE is a good time. It’s a bit of a mess and it has problems, but it was made with love, and there’s fun to be had with it. If you’re into the genre then they’re both worth a look, especially if you have Gamepass.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Quarry Review

The Quarry is Supermassive’s latest interactive horror movie; joining Until Dawn and the Dark Pictures Anthology as the developer’s USP. Having enjoyed Until Dawn and DPA’s House of Ashes, I was looking forward to The Quarry, and avoided any and all promotional materials for it. Does Supermassive keep their good thing going? Or have they slipped up?

The titular Quarry is a summer camp run by former WCW world champion David Arquette, that’s closing down as the season comes to an end. One of the councillors, a man named Jacob, is so desperate to have one more night with his summer fling girlfriend Emma that he sabotages their ride home and stranding them at Hackett’s Quarry, much to the former champion’s vocal dismay. They all decide to have a party to commemorate their time together and have a memorable farewell, one that’s ruined when, in a game of truth or dare, Emma chooses to make out with another councillor called Nick, incensing Jacob and Nick’s love interest Abigail simultaneously. Smooth. I’m about an hour in and I already hate three of the people I’m supposed to keep alive. Jacob isn’t dealing with his imminent break up in a manner that’s at all healthy and that isn’t Emma’s fault, don’t get me wrong, but if she doesn’t want to be with him she shouldn’t be leading him on, which she does. BUT ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT, HERE COME WEREWOLVES. The game had to tell me they’re werewolves though, because much like the wendigo in Until Dawn, they’re just generic, humanoid monster people, much to my disappointment. One of them has a pretty intense, frightening face, but other than that they’re really bland. The councillors are set upon by werewolves and a family lead by Lance Henriksen who are hunting said monsters but won’t just tell the councillors that, opting instead to stalk around like hillbilly Terminators being all sinister and off-putting. As the game goes on the story starts to add some depth with its explanation of where the werewolves come from, the identities of the ones running around the camp, and what the cold, creepy sheriff played by Ted Levine is up to, but for the most part it’s rather dull. For the record, I kept all of the councillors alive bar one I intentionally killed, and I barely had to try; Jacob spent the night running around in his underwear being neither use nor ornament, the daft twat. There are characters I like, but apart from some surface traits and interactions there’s little to sink your teeth into or get invested in, no one ever really feels like they’re in danger, and the whole thing ends on a limp anti-climax and unskippable credits with a pair of insufferable podcasters nattering over them about the collectibles you found. Compare that to House of Ashes, where I immediately took to Salim, was attached to him throughout and was on the edge of my seat during that intense final showdown during the solar eclipse, desperate to keep my boy alive so he could get home and hug his son. Supermassive are capable of so much better than this. Also, much like Until Dawn and tDPA, The Quarry has a character who talks to you between chapters, and here she’s barely worth mentioning, such was the impact she had on me. I guessed her true identity early on, and her ostensibly chilling final threat to me for the choices I made failed to resonate.

Gameplay wise it plays a lot like its predecessors, but with a few new iterations on their mechanics. Choices often don’t have a time limit now, and even when they do you can no longer choose to say nothing, you have to pick one or the other. The game will make it obvious when you can interact with something in the environment, so I spent my time just charging around ignoring everything that didn’t glow, instead of taking the time to actually inspect my surroundings. QTEs have eased up a little, appearing on screen and then counting down to when they actually need to be performed. They also forgo button presses in favour of moving the right analogue stick in a certain direction, though you will sometimes be asked to mash a face button. Holding your breath returns from Until Dawn, though instead of actually holding the controller in a certain spot you instead hold X to play dead, then release it when the coast is clear to run away. Most interesting is the addition of Mass Effect-style interrupts, where you can break up conversations or situations with a sudden action, like kicking open a door that’s in the process of being lockpicked, or suddenly grabbing at something or making a break for it. This is the only new mechanic that feels like it really adds anything to proceedings. The game makes a big deal out of finding “evidence” collectibles to prove you aren’t a mass murderer when it’s all over, but as far as I can tell it just gives the aforementioned podcasters something to talk about. Maybe at the end they say if you go to jail or not, I don’t know; I quit to the main menu.

This is a miss for Supermassive. It has some likable characters and the odd cool moment, but for the most part it’s surprisingly dull, the story and characters don’t offer much to get invested in, and it lacks any real horror or impact. It’s a shame, because they can and have made much more interesting games than this. If you like their work and haven’t played this yet, I’d just wait for The Devil in Me.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

DLC Review: Cuphead – The Delicious Last Course

Remember the Cuphead DLC? It was announced sometime during the Reagan administration I think. They showed it off at E3 and then it dropped off the face of the Earth, leaving me to periodically wonder what the hell happened to it. Well, it turns out it took so long because the devs were making sure they avoided any and all crunch, a decision I fully support because crunch can do one, and it finally came out the other day. It’s been years now; LET’S SEE IF I CAN STILL PLAY CUPHEAD.

Turns out, I can. So Ms. Chalice, that ghost from the main game whom you have to protect from other ghosts who all want to kick her head in for some reason, has found a way to return to the land of the living. Unfortunately, it only lasts for a brief time and requires eating a sort of spiritual ghost cookie. Fortunately, the man who made it, Chef Saltbaker, has a plan to create something so spectacular it’ll bring Chalice back for good, and so off our heroes go to batter a load of 30s cartoons and pry the ingredients from their cold, dead hands. Right off the bat, the biggest change is the addition of Ms Chalice as a playable character, who makes up for taking up your special item slot with her own unique playstyle; her air dash is used to parry, she can double jump, has an invincible roll, and comes with four lives. I had a go at some of the new bosses as Cuphead, and while I’m sure they’re doable with him, the DLC is clearly designed around you using Ms. Chalice; her parry being horizontal rather than vertical alters where she bounces to after a successful impact and her dodge roll renders her completely invincible for its duration; the rate and placement of enemy projectile attacks take both of these things into account. Her parry is also quicker, easier to achieve and requires less specific timing then her cup-bonced friends, which is handy given the aforementioned lack of a special item slot meaning she can’t take coffee in with her to auto-fill her super gauge. She doesn’t make the game easy, but she does feel like she has more options available to her, and her double jump and four lives give you some breathing room. You’ll need it, because every boss is a hectic onslaught of projectile attacks from all angles, with different timings and one fight that messes with perspective, and your controls. As hard as they are, none of them ever got annoying, and they’re all interesting and well designed; my stand-outs being a team of canine fighter pilots and a gang of insect and arachnid bootleggers.

The one problem I do have is with the DLC’s optional content, where the main game’s run n’ gun platforming levels have been replaced with a series of fights with opponents who can only be attacked with parries. At the time of writing I’ve only made it to the second one, and honestly it’s unlikely I’ll get any further because they just don’t interest me. It’s a nice idea, but I would have preferred a new platforming level; getting a P for pacifist on the three in the main game was a nice fun challenge I’d happily revisit. But alas, it wasn’t to be. That’s my only problem though; otherwise it’s basically just more Cuphead, but with a new character with her own moves and abilities that make her feel unique, with the DLC being tailored around her playstyle. If you enjoyed Cuphead and want more of it, this is a no brainer; though they aren’t all amazing, none of the bosses are bad, and at their best they rival anything from the main game. I feel like I’ve been waiting for The Delicious Last Course for ages but it was worth it, both for the DLC itself and to spare those who worked on it from crunch.

Oh, one last thing: they’ve changed the song on the main menu. I miss the old one.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Omori Review

I stumbled upon Omori on Gamepass knowing nothing about it, and having finished it entirely blind, I recommend doing the same. So this is your out: I won’t be doing full spoilers or anything, but I will be talking about elements of the game that are best discovered naturally. If you are planning on playing it blind though, just a little trigger warning that you can ignore if that sort of thing doesn’t apply to you. Still reading? Okay: suicide and the emotional effect it has on others is an important plot point. Look into it online if you need further context. Okay, here we go.

You are Omori, a young boy who lives alone in a white void; one he can leave to hang out with his friends. They go on adventures in a fantastical world filled with creatures and people in need of help, alongside the adorable, flower-loving Basil and Omori’s sister Mari, who’s always on hand to offer love, support and a lovely picnic. Everything is grand; you go to Basil’s house to look through his cherished photo album, he drops a photo…and suddenly, horrified, disappears at the hands of a shadowy being. It’s actually a horror game, you see, and not only that, the game then throws another curveball your way: you’re in the dreams of a boy named Sunny, who’s spent the last four years as a hikikomori for unknown reasons. The game is split between the two worlds; Omori and his friends search for Basil, getting into turn-based RPG fights, helping out those in need and exploring the world, while Sunny, who’s moving away in three days, reconnects with those same friends in real life, having been torn apart by whatever caused Sunny to shut himself away for all this time. To say any more would potentially spoil it, but both parts of the story are really good. The dreamscape is a funny, eccentric trip through some neat locations, and as the horror elements start to seep in it takes a real dark turn, with some strong Yume Nikki influence on display, which is fitting for a game about someone dreaming. Omori’s friends are all likable, which is good because they’re your only party members for the whole journey. The real world sections start off emotionally blunt and depressing, but gradually lighten up, and as they intersect with the darker side of the dream world the game ends in a way I really liked, for reasons that are spoilery, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to see them. Basically, it deals with the concept of someone doing something awful in the heat of the moment, being filled with suicidal self-loathing but coming to the conclusion that they need to accept what they did and move forward in a positive way, trusting that their loved ones will still accept them. When I finished it I felt sad, but in a cathartic way, like when you’re all worked up and then have a good cry.

Gameplay wise, it’s a turn-based RPG (which I’ve discovered I really like, actually), one that’s paired back to its benefit. It completely eschews status effects like bleed, poison or sleep, instead using four emotional states, with a hidden fifth one that pops up now and then for story reasons. There’s neutral, which is the default, then sad, angry and happy, with each one affecting your stats in different ways; increased speed, lowered hit rate, take and receive more damage, that sort of thing. They have a cyclical hierarchy that makes them all weak to another in a rock, paper, scissors kind of way, and there are skills and items that apply and remove emotional statuses. Outside of combat, every party member has unique skills that enable you to clear obstacles, and within combat their different personalities and weapons allow you to do follow up team attacks during fights that can cause heavy damage and inflict emotional states on party members. To begin with it can fall on its face; for example Kel can throw his ball to Omori and it’ll bonk him in the head, or Omori’s love interest Aubrey can look at him for approval and he won’t see it, leading to nothing happening. As you make progress Omori will catch Kel’s ball, throw it for high damage and become ecstatic, bringing all the benefits of the happy status, or he’ll finally notice Aubrey, letting her strike for high damage. There’s also a super attack caused by letting the follow up power meter fully charge, which by the last fights in the game hit for massive damage for me. As I said, it is paired back compared to other turn based RPGs, but by no means does it feel limited. The emotional states, different skills and gorgeous presentation (more on that in a moment) kept the combat fun and engaging from start to finish.

Speaking of the presentation, the game’s rough sketch art style is lovely, especially when characters who have been rendered as sprites are engaged in combat, and suddenly become gorgeous, hand drawn art works, with animation that compliments the style. This works particularly well for boss fights, where the switch to a more detailed art style shows that seemingly goofy characters actually look really serious and ready to kick your head in. It looks fantastic.

Omori drew me in immediately and didn’t let me go until the credits rolled. It’s sweet, funny and has satisfying combat, but also handles the horror elements, serious emotional moments and heavy subject matter really well. I enjoyed it throughout, and as it reached a conclusion and everything fell into place I enjoyed it even more, as I realised just how good it really is. Go play it if you haven’t.

Still here? Waiting for something to happen?

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Trek to Yomi Review

Trek to Yomi is a side scrolling action game with a Kurosawa aesthetic and a focus on Shinto folklore. I got it on gamepass and largely bounced off it, but I picked it up again and finished it; I like the setting and themes after all, and it seemed worth seeing through to the end at least.

The game starts with you as a little boy named Hiroki, who’s training to be a samurai. Bandits attack his village, his master Sanjuro leaves to fight them off and despite being a small child, Hiroki follows, determined to live up to the values Sanjuro has ingrained in him. Sanjuro is killed, but takes his killer down with him, and the story flashes forward to Hiroki and Sanjuro’s daughter Aiko grown up, together, and important people within the village. A nearby village is besieged by bandits, and Hiroki leaves to fight them, partly to help out said village but also to stop the bandits from reaching his home. Turns out it was a ruse to draw him away, and he ends up with a burnt village, a dead Aiko, and subsequently dies himself at the hands of the same man who took out Sanjuro, having been resurrected somehow. Sorry to rush through that, but despite the important events and time jump, it’s largely set up for the game’s core plot: Hiroki traversing the Shinto afterlife of Yomi, being confronted by his failure to protect his people, and deciding whether to stay behind or leave, and if he does leave, what’s driving him to do so. The Yomi sections largely rely on imagery and atmosphere, with the occasional direct story encounter breaking things up; there’s a particularly strong one where Hiroki is set upon by his village’s other samurai who blame him for the deaths, and he has encounters with Aiko and Sanjuro that test his resolve and his decision to stay or not. Unfortunately, Yomi as depicted here isn’t particularly interesting. The first layer sets a great tone; a village on the water, dark and ominous. People struck by some terrible blight, tearing at Hiroki and yelling about Kegare (the Shinto concept of defilement and impurity), and strange eggs with two spider legs poking out that stab at anyone who gets too close. This strong tone doesn’t last, at least for me; the next layer is comprised of an ethereal village made up of rocks floating in the void. It feels sparse and empty, but in a way that’s uninteresting rather than contemplative or lonely. The final layer makes up for it with a whole lot of skulls scattered all over the place, but it never recaptures the grimy horror of that first section. Also this last layer decides it’s time to have some really easy puzzles that use time travel to fix broken paths and nothing else, which feels like a waste.

The gameplay is fine, but largely uninteresting. Exploration takes place in 3D, while combat is handled entirely in 2D. The exploration leads to increases in health, stamina and capacity for ranged weapon ammo, as well as collectibles I never bothered looking at. The ranged options aren’t especially useful, and the melee combat lacks weight for the most part. The parry timing feels off and actually landing a parry also lacks any real weight. There are combos that are far too easy for enemies to interrupt, so I relied on parrying/blocking then doing the attack that’s two quick, upward slashes. You also have to manually turn around to fight enemies coming up behind you, until after a little while the game throws you a bone and gives you an attack that lets you spin around and strike in one fluid movement. Nothing about it particularly stands out, and fighting enemies on either side can get annoying, unless they decide to just not attack you, which happens sometimes. There are new enemy types introduced in Yomi that are weirdly inconsistent in their difficulty, and there are bosses that don’t make much of an impact. I feel like the story taking place largely in the underworld isn’t used very well. You mostly just fight ghostly apparitions of samurai, which is boring.

Trek to Yomi has some neat ideas, and overall it’s not a bad time, but its potential is largely squandered, the combat lacks weight and the setting isn’t used to its full potential. It’s worth a look if you have Gamepass, but otherwise I wouldn’t bother.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Sniper Elite 5 Review

I like Sniper Elite, for the most part. I don’t like V2’s more linear approach, but I enjoyed 3 well enough, and after buying it in a sale I had a surprisingly great time with 4. Its Fascist Italy setting, wide open maps with multiple objectives and neat sniping mechanics, melee takedowns and over the top gore made it good fun. It turns out 5 was a day one release on Game Pass, so instead of waiting to get the GOTY edition in a sale like I did with 4, I decided to review this latest instalment.

You are Karl Fairburne, a man with an Abe Simpson level military career who’s singlehandedly been a key part of multiple fronts and killed Hitler four times. This time around he’s in occupied France, working to stop some mysterious Nazi plot called “Project Kraken” and assassinate the man at the top; Abelard Moller. The story is largely just an excuse to sneak into some gorgeous French locations and murder Nazis; a hectic, on-going battle in Operation Overlord, landing on a small island and working your way up through a tiny town that’s been turned into a spy academy, a trip to Guernsey of all places; it’s not what I expected from another world war 2 game set in France, in a good way. A pleasant surprise.

Every level is large, open and has multiple objectives, with at least one requiring you to explore and discover it; usually it’s something to destroy or sabotage to help the main allied force, Karl being a lone operative sent ahead. There are multiple starting locations to unlock, and alongside the collectibles are workbenches that unlock new customisation options for each category of gun. That’s the first major change, and improvement, over the previous games; every gun has a variety of magazines, stocks, scopes, muzzles and the like that affect aiming stability, rate of fire, damage and, most interestingly, the amount of noise they make. Unlike most games, supressed weapons still make plenty of noise, calculated in a ring, with a distance in meters explaining how far away enemies will be able to hear it. Supressed weapons help with stealth but usually do less damage, and loud noises can still be used to mask shots, making the new compensators a viable option too. With the right customisations, a semi-automatic pistol becomes useful enough to rival the series’ ever-present Welrod, and submachine guns are no longer only useful for when you’ve been spotted and get into a gunfight. You can also find weapons dotted around the place that can only be used for one magazine’s worth of ammo, so if you don’t have a silenced gun and suddenly decide you want one, the game may well throw you a bone. Overall, the game now plays a bit like a mix between MGSV and the recent Hitman games, but without any social stealth. Fluid (for the most part, Karl gets stuck on scenery sometimes) movement through wide open areas, quick melee takedowns in both lethal and non-lethal flavours, different ammo types and customisation options that affect every gun in various ways, and kill challenges for each assassination target, often not involving a firearm of any kind. On the one hand, this meant I didn’t do a great deal of sniping, because melee takedowns are silent and the game is very lenient about enemies seeing you if you can book it over to them quick enough and slash their throats before they make a fuss. On the other hand, the sniping is as good as it’s ever been, the game facilitates it well, and with the welcome changes, the rest of the gameplay is now as good as the series’ USP, making it a more well-rounded game. The game takes a Dishonored 2-style approach to your level performance too rather than a more rigid, punishing one; a four-point graph shows what particular balance of stealth and combat you went for, and how lethal or non-lethal you were. The new non-lethal stuff is interesting actually; they even have new wooden tipped bullets that knock people out. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will do a non-lethal run some time.

Sniper Elite 5 keeps the series’ main attraction of sniping affected by a player-decided degree of physics and environmental factors and builds a really solid stealth action game around it. As someone who loves stealth games it’s always nice when good ones come along, and I really enjoyed this. The wide open levels with multiple objectives, fluid movement and stealth takedowns, weapon customisation and great sniping make Sniper Elite 5 easily the best in the series, and definitely worth checking out, particularly if you’ve got Game Pass.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18