Way of the Househusband Review

The Way of the Househusband' Returning for Part 2 at Netflix - What's on  Netflix

Kousuke Oono’s Way of the Househusband is a lovely comedy manga about The Immortal Dragon, Tatsu: a feared, legendary Yakuza who left the life to become a fulltime househuband to a designer named Miku. Tatsu goes about his new life with the same passion, ferocity and general thought process as he did as a Yakuza; the comedy arising from the juxtaposition of mundane and cute things being done by an intimidating mobster who acts like he’s still in the family. Pleasingly, the joke is never that he is a househusband; it’s treated as the entirely normal thing that it is, he’s good friends with the head of the neighbourhood association and several local women, he’s never embarrassed to be doing chores and housework or the like, and what’s more he’s really, really good at being a househusband. Enjoys it, too. Takes it super seriously. There are a few times when Miku hits Tatsu and it’s played for comedy, which I’m absolutely not into, but apart from that it’s a charming, fun read that makes the most of its premise. Netflix announced an anime adapation, which seemed like a no-brainer to me, and I’m a big fan of some of Netflix’s other anime work; Castlevania, Baki, Kakegurui, Aggrestuko for example, so I was looking forward to it.

It’s pretty good, but has one major problem. The animation style moves between full, flowing anime and a motion comic; jumping between single panels from the manga with voiceover, maybe some shaking or sound effects. It feels awkward, like they’ve tried to closely replicate the way one reads a manga in animated form. It also follows the manga pretty much shot for shot, so when the manga jumps from moment to moment with a handful of still images, the anime does the same rather than fill in the gaps with any connective tissue. Granted not every adaptation has to make changes, but what works in a manga doesn’t always translate so well to anime.

That issue aside, it’s still a fun watch. Kenjiro Tsuda (Genichiro Ashira from Sekiro) does a wonderful job as Tatsu; voice acting is the one area the anime can really set itself apart from the manga and they make the most out of it. There’s a scene in the manga where Tatsu prepares a birthday celebration for Miku and walks in carrying a cake with a creepy smile on is face and singing happy birthday. It’s elevated here, where you can actually hear Tatsu sing and it’s so wonderfully dead pan and unintentionally sinister. Seeing everything in bright, vivid colour is nice and the soundtrack does a good job complimenting Tatsu’s intimidating presence and mad energy when things get hectic. It’s not a bad anime at all, it’s just that the frequent switch to a motion comic style feels odd, and I would have been interested in seeing a version that doesn’t stick to the source material so very rigidly. Having said that, it is nice to see it play out visually with voice acting and music, the source material is great and this is just another way to experience it. If they keep making it, I’ll keep watching it, and if it draws people in who can then support the source material, all the better.

By James Lambert

Stranger in a strange land – Thoughts on the Resident Evil Village Demos

In a fashion similar to the Resi 2 remake’s “One Shot” demo, Capcom recently announced a co-ordinated series of three weekly demos for Resident Evil village: Playstation players get half an hour in the village, half an hour in the castle, then all platforms get the two combined into one run. I’ll be giving my impressions of the demos as they’re released.

Part 1: As the midnight moon rises on black wings

The Village demo is predominantly focused on story, with only one instance of combat. I’ll start with that though: the shooting feels like it did in Resi 7, though Ethan seems to move faster. There’s a new mechanic where you can attack bags of flour to create temporary cover, which will probably be useful in the full game but it did nothing to help me here. The two enemies you fight appear to be werewolves in the Wolfman style; humanoid, bipedal and human sized. They’re quick, can and will dodge and will pounce if they get close enough, but a few shots can make their heads explode, Resi 4-style. Ethan still hasn’t figured out what iron sights are, but that’s just an observation, not an issue. Ethan’s in Romania on the trail of his daughter Rose, whom Chris Redfield kidnapped after apparently killing Mia. I hope it isn’t that simple and she’s still alive; stuffing Mia in the fridge is a waste of a married couple who both have combat prowess, something new to this series. It’s also just generally a bad trope that needs to die out. Anyway, Ethan runs into an old crone who says Rose is linked to the darkness engulfing the town, which Ethan interprets as the monsters currently rampaging through it. He falls in with a young woman called Elena whose Father has been slashed by a Lycan in traditional zombie movie style, and apparently no one puts two and two together because he ends up turning and murdering everyone holed up in a nearby house where they seek shelter. Interestingly, the people in said house pray to both “Great Ones” and Mother Miranda, whom the trailers imply to be the head of the village that Lady Dimitrescu answers to, and the monsters tearing through the town are something they’ve not encountered before. Clearly Mother Miranda is bad news, and someone implied to be her lifts a man in the air with one arm and snaps his neck near the end of the demo. I say that, the man cries out her name before he dies which made me think it was her, but it could have just been him exclaiming the name of the women he worships/venerates.

Ethan is a lot more emotive this time around; he talks a lot, asks questions, tries to calm Elena down when her Father turns and convince her that he’s a different person now, and is angry and frustrated by the rapid, tragic ending to events. Where Resi 7 Ethan was surprisingly calm, Resi 8 Ethan keeps a straight face until he just can’t anymore, when it all gets too much. I also like a part where Ethan tries to use a pick up truck to try and bust through the wall of the now burning house, which takes three painful tries and doesn’t even work out in the end. I like that rather than taking a quick Hollywood approach where he smashes through first time he winds up, drives and just smacks into the wall and knocks the wind out of himself. It’s a nice touch.

So that’s the Village demo, and what I picked up on in my first run. I’d go through again but I can’t: it has a thirty minute time limit like the Resi 2 demo, but I will be playing it again when both demos are released simultaneously in two weeks.

Part 2: Nothing but blood and death

This one is about half the length of the first, but it’s almost all gameplay so it evens out. Ethan regains consciousness in Castle Dimitrescu, encounters hugely obese weapons dealer the Duke and is pursued through the Maiden demo in reverse by one of Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters. The one with blood around her mouth that can turn into a swarm of insects. Her actress Jeanette Maus died earlier this year, actually. Anyway, treasure is a thing again; you can sell things like fancy wine glasses and crystal skulls torn from dead monsters to the Duke in exchange for weapons, items and weapon upgrades. Upgrades take the form of Resi 4-style stat boosts, but interestingly the Duke also sells weapon parts like the ones found in the Resi 2 and 3 remakes. I didn’t get any because I spent all my money on what turned out to be a very limited amount of ammo but I’m looking forward to getting them in the full game. The monsters down in the Maiden Demo torture basement are thin, humanoid creatures with hoods covering their eyes, carrying sickles. They’re easy enough to fight; they don’t dodge like the wolfmen in the village, but they seem to take more bullets to put down. Although you’re supposed to run away, you can engage the daughter in combat, and it didn’t feel like I was even inconveniencing her. Nemesis and Mr X at least drop to one knee if you shoot them enough, I emptied a shotgun into her and her bugs and it didn’t seem to have any real effect at all. Presumably there’ll be a proper boss fight where I can hurt her, but not being able to scratch her is a unique experience for bosses in this series. She taunts you too, switching between aroused expressions of a desire to “Drown in your blood” and contradicting her Mother’s description of your blood as “Stale”, and mocking your attempts to fight back with a “…really?” You also get a brief glimpse of the Tall Vampire Lady herself too, but disappointingly there’s no interaction. Presumably the game is going to follow the Village-Castle-Other route from Resi 4, and given the presence of the family Dimitrescu I feel like this is going to be the best section. There isn’t much more to say about the demo at this point; the daughter is cool, the castle is a nice mix of opulence and grimy torture rooms and I’m looking forward to the weapon upgrades and customisation. I’ll be back next week to go through both demos again and give some final thoughts before the review.

Part 3: Final thoughts

I had a quick jaunt through both demos again, this time buying a shotgun mod, killing all the monsters in the basement (and finding the necklace from the Maiden Demo) and looking around a bit more for treasure in both. In the Village demo I found a shotgun, a mine and learned about the new barricading mechanic, where Ethan can drag shelves in front of doorways. I also tried to shoot Elena’s dad and save the people he wolfmans to death but sadly the game was having none of it. Also, this might seem like an odd thing to take notice of but I blocked at one point and Ethan’s hands look fantastic. They’re so well-modelled, I dig it.

Nothing else to say about the demos really, but I’m very much looking forward to the full game. As soon as I saw that first trailer I was immediately hype; I love the setting in particular, this snowy village in Romania filled with werewolves and overseen by a family of cool vampire women. Everything I’ve seen about the game, I’ve liked. I’m fully expecting it to be a game of the year contender.

By James Lambert

Disco Elysium The Final Cut Review

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut Adds Quests, Voice Acting, & Console Ports

I didn’t know much about Disco Elysium going into it: it’s a roleplaying game, you’re a detective, the game facilitates dice roll critical failures and other ways to potentially make your character a colossal fuck up, and it’s apparently really, really good. I didn’t look any further because I knew it was eventually being ported to PS4 and I wanted to go in blind. So here we are: the “Final Cut” of Disco Elysium; now fully voice acted and on a console I actually have access to.

You are indeed a detective, one who wakes up after a night of drinking so intense his entire memory has been obliterated. Who he is, what he is, where he is, what he’s supposed to be doing: all gone. Fortunately you have two indispensable allies: the first is your partner; the cool, calm and collected Kim Kitsuragi, who’s patient with and supportive of your condition and eccentricities respectively. The second is a collection of voices in your head, representing different aspects of your mind: your love of drugs and booze, your logic, your empathy, your volition, your ability to scare and intimidate people, that sort of thing. They’re all voiced and offer insight on various situations and conversations, the strength of that insight often being based on automatic dice rolls. Turns out you’re here to investigate a lynching that happened a week ago: you’ve got a horribly bloated body, awful children, a strike, a conflict threatening to boil over into violence and a town full of racists to deal with. The story takes place over days, but apart from certain tasks that can only be started from a certain day onwards or after a certain time, you can do things at your own pace. It’s not like, say, Dead Rising or Pathologic 2 where you’re rigidly timed, the day/night system is more of a framing device for your activity than a gameplay mechanic. The quest to solve the murder is, naturally, more complicated than it first seems, and each revelation and found clue is immensely satisfying, particularly when you pull off a tricky dice roll. The world you’re in; the city of Revachol and more specifically the town of Martinaise is a strange mix of modern and historic: there was a recent, violent revolution in which a communist and anarchist uprising was put down by the powers that be. Most the weapons in the world are muzzle loading, the cars look like they’re from Dishonored and computers are huge, but somewhere along the way Disco happened, and people wear modern clothing. People have a variety of political opinions and perspectives, all of which are well written- the writing in this game is top notch throughout- and many can be adopted yourself. You have a lot of input in the detective’s personality; ranging from a complete wreck stuffed full of red wine and speed, spouting poorly-argued racist bullshit, licking rum stains off tables and constantly making a fool of yourself to a sober, sharp-witted, unflappable professional and everything in between. Having your skills tied into different aspects of your mind, and having them constantly chime in as a character in their own right is a masterstroke. You can ignore the advice they give, too, and there’s one particularly stand-out scene where one of them informs you that a certain individual has bypassed and compromised all the others and that you absolutely shouldn’t listen to them.

Gameplay wise it’s an RPG but without a dedicated combat system. You walk around, you inspect things and talk to people, and use dice rolls to attempt certain dialogue options and physical actions. You have a health meter and morale meter, but they rise or fall based on certain outcomes to actions rather than getting fights and the like. Your skills are all based on the aforementioned aspects of your mind, and you can also lock in thoughts; basically certain dialogue choices or actions will you cause the detective to ponder certain things, and thinking about them enough locks them in and gives you a buff or debuff. For example; my detective was a communist, a hobocop and a dedicated enemy of all inanimate objects, among other things. The only problem with these is that you won’t know what they do until you’ve locked them in, and once that happens it takes an experience point to remove them. Fortunately, the amount of XP required to level up remains the same from start to finish, something I’ve never seen before. The dice rolls are affected by your skills, as well as by hidden modifiers that are only revealed once you’ve activated them. For example, at one point I needed something from a local bookshop owner, and the roll was stacked against me because I ripped open a set of curtains she insisted stay closed, and criticised her for making her daughter stand out in the snow, advertising the shop for no pay. It makes the characters feel more like people; rather than just being affected by stats, you can make yourself look more appealing, or intimidating, or sympathetic to their viewpoint. You can upset them or make yourself look like a right twat. You can do your job and uncover clues and information then spring them on whomever you’re talking to and have the advantage. I asked several people straight up if they’d give me some money, and told several people that I’d lost my gun, something Kim had to play off as a thought exercise.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good. The game has several glitches; music loops on loading screens, sometimes the wrong voice clip plays, if one plays at all. Interacting with people and objects almost always takes multiple clicks, and interacting with in-game menus (in a shop, say) causes you to use healing items unless you’re at full health. Worst of all, I had a few instances of the conversation system breaking and being stuck, forcing a reset, and one sidequest just couldn’t be completed because I couldn’t interact with a certain object. Fortunately these are all things that can be patched and aren’t issues with the game itself, but they do impact the experience.

Disco Elysium is amazing. It’s a dark, grim, melancholic story about an absolute mess of a human being. It’s also hilarious and genuinely touching at times, and has one of the most beautiful moments in a videogame I’ve encountered in some time (without spoiling anything; it involves a swing set and a car). It’s wonderfully written, the role your brain plays in proceedings is genius, the dice rolls, interactions and conversations are all fantastic, and I loved my time with it from start to finish. Superb.

By James Lambert

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace Review

Arkham Horror: Mother's Embrace | Nintendo Switch download software | Games  | Nintendo

So I’m patiently waiting for the proposed PS4 port of World of Horror; the 1bit cosmic horror game that’s like if Junji Ito wrote and drew an adaptation of the board game Arkham Horror. In the meantime however, I awoke one day to discover that an actual adaptation of Arkham Horror had popped up on the PSN store, with what seemed to be mechanics faithful to its source material, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Whereas the board game lets you choose an Eldritch God to deal with, their influence affecting your attempts to find clues, shut portals and fight off cultists, this version takes a different approach. You choose from a number of playable characters and a story plays out: your character has been summoned to the mansion of Wilhelmina Tillinghast; Professor of Astronomy at Miskatonic University. You arrive to find she’s been murdered, and team up with an FBI agent who arrives on the scene to investigate; meeting additional teammates as you go on, and uncovering potential ties to a cult called the Herd of Algedi. The story is pretty good, all told, and pleasingly deals with one of Lovecraft’s deities that doesn’t get a lot of play. I won’t spoil who it is, but what I will say is the game’s subtitle clicked for me partway in. It starts in Arkham, MA, naturally, but also spends a lot of time in Lousiana, which is always nice to see in games. The Herd of Algedi are neat antagonists; a cult of Eldritch God worshippers with a penchant for physical transformation, masquerading as an astronomy club, which actively ties into the aforementioned worship. It’s nice to see a Lovecraft game that doesn’t involve the EOD and Deep Ones. He came up with a whole bunch of cool, spooky bullshit; it doesn’t have to be Cthulhu every time.

The gameplay is a mixture of investigation and combat. Your team of investigators walks around environments looking for clues and items, with interactions potentially triggering sanity checks and the Mythos Clock. The former is simple enough: your characters all have a sanity meter, and looking at certain things and encountering enemies makes them roll invisible dice to decide whether or not that meter takes a hit. If it gets to zero they suffer from a trauma that gives them a debuff, ranging from things like a decreased critical hit chance to more severe ones like hurting themselves every ten steps, or using healing items on themselves without your input. Interestingly, using a meat cleaver as a weapon also requires a sanity check per attack, which is a neat idea but it’s the only weapon it applies to, which feels like a wasted opportunity. The Mythos Clock advances every turn in combat, and if you take the wrong option while interacting with the environment: any characters with the relevant skill can suggest the correct choice, or you can just guess. When the Mythos Clock fills entirely it causes some negative effect: an immediate sanity check or two, increased chance to fail a sanity check, debuffs in combat or buffs for your enemies, that sort of thing. Combat is turn based, with characters having different strengths that tie into how many action points they need to use certain weapons or perform certain actions. With the right set up of magic, melee and firearm users you can bulldoze anyone who gets in your way, especially later in the game when the FBI agent is rolling in guns and the weapon degradation system is balanced by the fact that you’re falling over new weapons every few steps. This is further helped by how many healing and revival items there are dotted around: I finished the game with seven revives in my inventory. It’s easy, but I had fun with it. It’s easily the best combat in a Lovecraft game I’ve played, though that’s admittedly not a high bar.

The game’s quite rough around the edges; I encountered a glitch during a boss fight that completely halted all progress, as well as the game pretending I hadn’t finished an optional objective when I had. Fortunately after a few tries the former stopped being an issue. I also found multiple item descriptions that weren’t there; in their place were file names for the missing text. It’s not a big deal but it is surprising; I don’t think I’ve personally seen that in a game before.

Arkham Horror: Mother’s Embrace is a solid Lovecraft game. Decent story with good antagonists and an underutilised deity, easy but fun combat and well-utilised sanity mechanics and investigation that implement aspects of the board game. I enjoyed it, and recommend having a look if you enjoy Lovecraft’s work, or cosmic horror in general.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Doom Eternal- The Ancient Gods Part 2

After twenty seven years of ripping and tearing, it all comes down to this: Doomguy, the Doom Marine, The Doom Slayer, call him what you want, his war against Hell ends here. The Ancient Gods Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 ended; with our hero returning the Dark Lord of Hell to physical form and the reveal that said Dark Lord is an alternate universe version of the Slayer himself. The Doom Slayer tries to end it right then and there with the Super Shotgun, but is unable to; no blood can be spilled in the holy place in which they currently reside, but the Dark Lord promises to face the Slayer in ritual combat in Immora: Hell’s capital city. To get there the Slayer needs to take an energy crystal from the World Spear; a huge spike stuck through Argent D’Nur from pole to pole, invite along anyone on the planet who’s still kicking around and eager to give Hell what for, then use a portal to warp to Immora and put the Dark Lord down for good.

That’s the set up, and there isn’t much more to go on, story wise. This is the endgame; the story has been told, characters have been established, dealt with, and now all that’s left is the final battle between Earth’s greatest champion and his Hellish counterpart. Unfortunately that means the game’s use of story telling through harsh stares and physical actions is largely absent because there isn’t much story left to tell, but I understand that at this point in the plot is rushing towards a dramatic conclusion. Spoilers for the ending from here on, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid them. It ends rather suddenly; the Slayer kills the Dark Lord (after taking his helmet off, and speaking for the first time since that flashback in the main game) and his death causes every demon outside of hell to vanish. It also makes the Slayer collapse, and the Maykrs seal him away in a stone sarcophagus, similar to the one he awoke in at the start of DOOM, and a final title card expresses the hope that the Slayer is never needed again. It’s a fitting end to this iteration of Doomguy; the Maykrs see him as a tool to be used for their designs and expect him to be thankful for the privilege. He’s not a person, he’s a weapon they put on ice until they need him again. He’s finally succeeded in his struggle against Hell, he can finally rest, but there will always be people who seek to control him. People who, it’s revealed, overthrew and sealed away the Dark Lord, who was the first being and creator of all life until he was betrayed. It’s bittersweet, and I like it.

In contrast to Part 1’s rather conservative approach, Part 2 adds a whole load of new enemies. Imps and shield troops that can only be killed in specific ways, zombies that buff every enemy around them upon death, a prowler that can curse and debuff you, and best of all: a Baron of Hell in full armour that can be completely removed with a well timed shot. Aiding you against these new threats is a laser hammer that stuns enemies and increases the amount of armour, health and ammo enemies drop; it feels more like a tactical move complimenting your existing options than a free “Kill enemy” button like the Crucible was. This particular DLC also adds in a new platforming mechanic where you use the Super Shotgun’s Meathook grapple to get around corners and up to high places. It doesn’t really add anything to proceedings but it slots in nicely. There are three locations, as in Part 1: Argent D’Nur, a neat Earth level set in Last of Us-style ruins reclaimed by nature, with spray painted messages showing support for the Slayer, and Immora, which just looks like the other Hell levels, really. It’s surprisingly short actually; it lacks that marathon feel the levels in Part 1 had. None of the levels stand out like the UAC Atlantica Facility or the Blood Swamp, but the greenery-covered Earth city feels fresh, and Immora has a cool backdrop of an Avengers Endgame-style fight between the amassed denizens of Argent D’Nur and the legions of Hell, as the Slayer fights through to the final battle ground.

Ancient Gods Part 2’s levels and ongoing story are less impactful than Part 1, but it’s still that same Doom Eternal level of quality, the final boss fight with The Dark Lord is great and it’s a fitting, bittersweet conclusion to the Doom Slayer’s journey. This revival of Doomguy and his war on hell has been nothing short of extraordinary. May the blood on his sword never dry, and may we never need him again.

Persona 5 Strikers Review

Persona® 5 Strikers for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details

Persona 5 Strikers is, in contrary to my initial assumption, a direct sequel to P5 rather than a spin off. I went in pretty much blind as soon as it was announced; obviously I was going to buy and review it, and all I knew going in was that it was a P5 sequel with different gameplay. So let’s get into it. Please note that while I don’t spoil any big reveals or twists, I will be talking about the plot in a way that could be considered spoilery.

Set during the summer break a few months after the end of Persona 5, Joker reunites with the Phantom Thieves for a country-wide road trip, something hampered by the sudden appearance of “Jails”; Metaverse constructs similar to Palaces with two main differences: their rulers, “Monarchs”, all experienced trauma in the past and are presented as sympathetic, and they extract Desires from people which changes their hearts and brainwashes them in the real world, to the Monarch’s benefit. People are physically taken into Jails through a Siri-style app called EMMA, which serves as the new Metaverse Navigator. Fortunately, Jails are popping up around the country, so the road trip is back on. Aiding our heroes in their journey is an A.I called Sophia, designed in her words as “Humanity’s companion”, and a weary but well-meaning Public Security Detective called Zenkichi, who makes a deal with TPT where they help him uncover the perpetrator of a recent spate a changed hearts and he’ll stop them being arrested. With that, you’re off; driving an RV around Japan in gameplay split between limited social sections where you buy healing items and cooking ingredients for Joker to make meals with different benefits, and the obligatory dungeon crawling (more on that shortly). The story is decent, but it suffers from two problems for me; firstly the whole thing feels similar to its predecessor to the point where it’s more of a Persona 5.5 rather than a Persona 5-2. Jails and Monarchs have those aforementioned differences but you’re still going through a linear sequence of Metaverse constructs in which you scout a route to an incorporeal object, force it to become corporeal by sending a calling card and then clobbering a boss. The similarities are handwaved late in the game with a brief mention of Cognitive Pscience, a field of study so strong it can give anyone the power of Yaldabaoth apparently. Secondly, the final boss and their plans are rather similar to Dr Maruki from P5 Royal but much less benevolent and sympathetic; its his same “What if everyone was happy?” plan but rather than erecting a beautiful cardboard world around humanity it’s stealing everyone’s desires and brainwashing them into a mental state where they never have to worry about anything ever again. All of this is made worse by this story’s proximity to Persona 5; if this were say, a year or two later and featured antagonists working on the plans of Shido, Maruki and Yaldabaoth it would feel more natural. As it stands the antagonists make no reference to those people at all, it’s a story that illicits the reaction “Christ, again? Months later? What are the odds?”. While I’m criticising, I have a problem with two scenes in particular that left a bad taste in my mouth: an optional hangout with all the female members of the phantom thieves in which they demand to know which one of them Joker would take on a date, and P5’s take on the series’ running gag of the male and female members of the core cast accidentally being in the same onsen, something I thought it’d managed to escape. Here the boys are immediately caught and despite it being a legitimate mistake and them all attempting to explain that, Makoto beats the shit out of them anyway. It’s not funny, it seems out of character considering how close-knit and considerate of each other’s feelings the Phantom Thieves are, and as I say; it left a bad taste in my mouth.

That’s not to say the story is bad however. The Phantom Thieves remain delightful, and the time spent on them having fun on summer holiday, visiting different cities and stuffing themselves full of local cuisine is great. Sophia’s character arc is focused on her learning about the complexities of different human emotions based on the Monarchs you deal with and Joker and Morgana helping her understand. Zenkichi and the Phantom Thieves start off at odds due to him being a cop but over the course of the game his desire for justice, frustration at and action against police corruption and relationship with his Phangirl daughter Akane make him an enjoyable, sympathetic character. The similarities to P5 and P5R don’t make the game less engaging, either, they just make it feel like less of a leap forward than it could have been.

Strikers eschews the series’ turn based gameplay for free movement, third person combat against large groups of enemies. You can freely switch between your party of four at any time, and combat consists of melee attacks, dodging and shooting augmented by your personas. Considering the shift in the core gameplay, it does a surprisingly good job of implementing series mechanics and personas themselves: holding R1 stops time and brings out your persona; attacks have an area of effect visible by a highlighted space, with Ma-attacks having a bigger area and buffs and heals letting you either pick one ally or getting them all at once, depending on the nature of the skill. Enemies all have armour that’s broken by attacking their weaknesses, with minibosses and Monarchs having several shields to get through. Breaking one allows a “One More” follow up attack and breaking them all lets you do an All Out Attack. There’s also a new mechanic called “Showtime” where, after filling a bar, you can do a super move where you cause an explosion of whatever your persona’s element is, damaging enemies regardless of their current armour. You can also pause the game at any time to use healing items, which you’re unlikely to run out of if you do a shopping run and cook some meals whenever you leave a Jail, which you can do from any checkpoint without penalty. I’ve seen the game compared to a Musou, but I feel like the persona mechanics set it apart from that genre, and the way the game is laid out is basically the same as P5 was, the only difference being once you’ve initiated combat.

Despite the problems I have with it, P5 Strikers is strong. While it doesn’t take the leap forward a sequel to Persona 5 could have, and it does have a couple of scenes that rubbed me the wrong way, it’s still more Phantom Thieves goodness with likable new characters, a successful gameplay shift and fun framing device of a summer holiday road trip. It’s not as good as its predecessor but then so few things are, and that doesn’t stop it from being a good time that I recommend checking out. Can I please have Persona 5 Arena next?

By James Lambert

HITMAN 3 Review

Announcing HITMAN 3 - IO Interactive

HITMAN 3 acts as a conclusion to the trilogy started by 2016’s HITMAN: after HITMAN 2 brought the story about shadowy super-agency Providence and 47’s childhood friend Lucas Grey to the forefront, this final instalment acts as a grim, dark conclusion where 47 is on the back foot and striking from the shadows at forces actively seeking to harm him. One mission, my personal favourite in the game, reminds me of the other Hitman 3: Contracts, itself the dark and grim chapter in an otherwise macabrely amusing series. Please note that I’ll be spoiling parts of the story in this review, so if you don’t want to know what happens, I’d leave now. If you want to know whether I recommend it: Have you finished the first two? Yes, get it. Have you not? Do them first, then get it.

The story picks up where 2 ended: 47 and Lucas Grey make a move on the three Providence partners, leaving Diana to watch over the captured Constant; unaware that he has information on 47 assassinating her parents when she was a child. Once the partners are dead, all hell breaks loose: The Constant escapes, Grey is dead and Diana goes off the grid, leaving 47 and Grey’s sidekick Olivia to try and take down both Providence and the ICA, who are actively hunting 47 for going rogue and choosing his own targets. The focus on story does give some levels a narrower focus, but for the most part it maintains the freeform gameplay style of the previous two games, and the targets feel important; not like in Absolution where the game’s focus was on getting you from point A to B, and designated a couple of random nobodies to kill when it remembered it was supposed to be a Hitman game. The only level that really suffers is the final one, set entirely on a moving train filled with guards. It tries to keep things interesting with a limited load out and one-use items to pick locks and break open crates, but it’s easily the worst level of this trilogy. Elsewhere it keeps the trilogy’s high standards: an enormous luxury tower in Dubai, a country manor in England where you can disguise yourself as a P.I and recreate Knives Out, a gorgeous, rain-soaked Cyberpunk jaunt in China where one target is embedded in a high tech ICA facility and the other is doing shady experiments on homeless people in a nearby apartment building. The two best are a vineyard where Diana is undercover as a potential new Constant and can get involved in 47’s work up close and personal, and my aforementioned favourite: a grimy nightclub in a Berlin forest with a biker gang holed up in an attached garage. Your targets in this mission are all disguised ICA agents; you pick five and kill them however you like. It’s like IO sat down and said “Okay, so what if the ICA sent agents after 47 but they were just people in disguise blending into a nightclub instead of PVC stripper nuns who blow up the hotel he’s staying in with the one rocket launcher they all share?” Christ I hate Absolution. It also has a great set piece where you can disguise yourself as the club’s owner, call his “Head of security”, actually the lead ICA agent in disguise who knows you’re 47 and reveals as such straight away when he leads in four agents as back up, and you wait for the right moment to kick over the desk, grab the shotgun taped to it and blow them all away, then slink off before anyone knows what happened. There aren’t any Opportunities in that mission either; you have to find that on your own. As a story about 47 being on the run, it’s on par with Blood Money but lets that story play an active role in the missions without losing what makes Hitman so good, in particular this trilogy’s focus on wide open environments with a multitude of clever ways to kill your targets. As a conclusion to the trilogy it wraps everything up nicely but leaves the door open for more games, depending on what IO’s post-James Bond plans are.

Gameplay wise, it’s HITMAN 2 again, but that’s by no means a complaint. It does have some new features though, most interestingly shortcuts that can be unlocked, namely doors and ladders, and stay open/lowered forever. Electronic devices sometimes require a fuse cell to use now, an item that’s scattered around the place, but I rarely found a need for them. My only problem is there are fewer Opportunities available in each mission; three apart from the two levels that have none, and the Vineyard level has a fourth, hidden one that activated when I finished one of the other ones. Looking at it now, the game still says there are three on that mission, so I’m not sure what’s going on. There are fewer anyway, which is a shame. Other than that it’s more of the same; excellent disguise-based, hiding in plain sight stealth. It’s still rewarding to get Silent Assassin, it’s still fun just exploring the maps and interacting with things and apart from that final train ride, the levels are as strong as ever.

HITMAN 3 has some really strong moments and its story is a far better example of how to portray a vulnerable 47 and have that play a role in gameplay than Absolution. While I personally still prefer Blood Money, this trilogy is incredible, I’ve had an enormous amount of fun with it these past five years and I expect that to continue for a long time to come. As for this one specifically, it’s a good finale, a good sequel and a great Hitman game.

By James Lambert

Game of the Year 2020

So 2020 was shit, we all know that and I won’t spend time dwelling on it. Some really good games though, so let’s talk about those instead. Same layout I’ve been using for the last few years: two honourable mentions, then the five games themselves.

Honourable Mention 1: John Wick Hex
A grid-based John Wick strategy game based around the amount of time actions like moving, crouching, aiming and shooting take is a terrific idea. In execution it was fun, engaging and made me feel like the man himself. Unfortunately, its strong story concept of a man powerful enough to make a move against the high table is squandered when John just throws him over a balcony at the end to no fanfare, after a boss fight I won by repeatedly smacking him in the face and then shooting him when he waddled off to try and regain his stamina. A good idea for a John Wick game well realised, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing.

Honourable Mention 2: Carrion
Carrion is a really cool idea for a game: a secret laboratory underground with a monster breaking free from confinement and tearing around the place, and you’re the monster. Its design is great; a huge, gooey, red mass of flesh covered in mouths and tentacles, eerily skittering around the place. Unfortunately as cool as the monster is and as fun as it is to snatch up screaming scientists and rip them apart with eldritch teeth, it has problems. The visuals suit the tone, but the murky art style can make finding interactable objects difficult at times. The metroidvania elements can be hard to navigate for this reason, as well as the lack of map. The checkpoints are crap and as the monster gets bigger it becomes unwieldy, especially when you’re trying to squeeze through tight gaps. All that aside, it’s a good idea, I did have fun with it and its originality and creativity are to be applauded.

Now, my five games of the year, in reverse order:

5. Streets of Rage 4

Streets of Rage 4 was a game I picked up on a whim because I’m partial to sidescrolling beat ’em ups. When I reviewed it I’d finished it once and that was it. Since then I’ve put so much time into it I unlocked the cast from each of the first three games. This inspired me to go back and check out the first three games, which gave me a further appreciation of Streets of Rage 4 and how good it is: it’s a big ouroboros of sidescrolling, punk-clobbering goodness. Gorgeous art, great soundtrack and satisfying, weighty combat; it’s one of those games that keeps it simple but goes all in on the premise and does everything really well.

4. Nioh 2

NIOH 2 - Lady Osakabe Boss Fight (Solo) - YouTube

The first Nioh was good, the second Nioh is amazing. It takes everything that made the original so good; its character-action-meets-Dark-Souls combat, its enemy and boss design taken from Japanese mythology and folklore and large but well structured and designed levels ripe for exploring, and adds a create-a-character and Yokai abilities. In terms of the mini-genre of games that emulate Dark Souls and Bloodborne, not including Sekiro because of the singular focus present in its combat, Nioh 2 is my favourite. It’s the one I had the most fun with from start to finish, and the new benchmark for games like this. Also, one of the final bosses is a Yokai that’s possessed a building, as pictured above. It’s so cool.

3. DOOM Eternal

Doom Eternal (Game) | GamerClick.it

I had a bad start with Doom Eternal, because sometimes I’m foolish. Fortunately I came around and fully grasped what I had in my hands; one of the best first person shooters I’ve ever played. The way the game gives you different tiers of enemies to fight and rewards learning the best ways to deal with them is superb. Getting into the game’s groove; darting around arenas dealing with each threat as you come across it, switching weapons on the fly and using the new blood punch and Predator-style shoulder canon is a wonderful, structured chaos that is an absolute joy to experience. This is how first person shooters should play: layers of mechanics all fitting together to make the core gameplay even better. It has a surprisingly good story, too: having established the Doom Slayer entirely through his actions in first person in the previous game; his contempt for the UAC, his rage at the Demons and the odd tender moment, Eternal builds on that with shots like the one pictured above: his steely eyes, silently taking everything in, burning a hole in all they fall on. Not that it skimps on the first person stuff though; there’s plenty of that, and the Doom Slayer can do more with a stare and a few hand movements than some characters can do with an entire monologue. Doom Eternal is an absolute masterpiece of high-octane violence, married to subtly powerful characterisation. What more is there to say about it? It’s fantastic.

2. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Ryu Ga Gotoku 7 / Yakuza 7 OST - Yosuke Tendo theme - YouTube

You know, I seriously considered giving this first place. It absolutely deserves it, but unfortunately I have to be honest with myself, and there is one game I enjoyed more. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Like a Dragon is the best Yakuza game I’ve played, and I’ve played most of them. Its new turn based combat feels like a natural change that works really well. Its story is interesting and well told, with interesting characters and hefty emotional gut punches, its minigames are fun and it’s all tied together by absolute sweetheart Ichiban Kasuga; a wonderful new protagonist. As the final chapter in the saga of the Tojo Clan and the beginning of a new one starring best boy sweetheart Dragon of Rock Bottom Ichiban, it’s excellent. In a series filled with fantastic games with great characters, stories and gameplay, this is the best, and I hope it’s indicative future instalments. Were it not for a certain other game, it would easily be number one.

1. Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 Royal Makes Its New Content Feel Like It Was Always There

It was inevitable really. Persona 5 absolutely destroyed the rest of 2017’s list, and P5R is that game but a load of new content that makes it better. Everything it adds improves upon a game that was already a masterpiece: quality of life improvements in combat and exploration, new character portraits and altered dialogue, new minigames, the ability to hang out with Caroline, Justine and Lavenza, the new characters and the new palace that ties directly into them. The new antagonist, who does the whole “You can see the villain’s point” thing but with purely benevolent motives and actions I could imagine people thinking are justified by the outcome; it’s a philosophical debate based on free will. No one is killed or even hurt, it’s just a personal decision based on what that person wants in life. It feels almost anticlimactic really, for this to be number 1, but as I said: I have to be honest with myself, and my honest opinion is that Persona 5 Royal is the best game I played in 2020, it’s a masterpiece and probably my favourite game, definitely joint best with Silent Hill 2. I do feel bad for Ichiban though, so here’s a picture of him:

Yakuza: Like A Dragon è disponibile da oggi • Eurogamer.it

What a man. So that was 2020: good year for games, bad year for other things. My first 2021 review will be HITMAN 3 in a few weeks, so I’ll see you then.

By James Lambert

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Thoughts on Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War’s single player campaign

Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Cover Art Revealed - IGN

I’m a big Call of Duty fan. Not the multiplayer, mind you, just the single player campaigns, which I’ve unironically enjoyed since COD4 back in the day. They do vary in quality; the MW trilogy, the first two Black Ops games and Infinite Warfare are all really good, Advance Warfare was good and Ghosts was complete piss, but they’re something I look forward to each time. Last year’s Modern Warfare reboot/prequel dealy was decent but nothing special, and I was surprised to see this wasn’t the same thing, but instead an interquel set between Black Ops and the flashback, 80s levels in Black Ops 2. Frank Woods and Alex Mason are present, but they’re side characters, with most of the work being done by a create-a-character codenamed “Bell”. You never see Bell’s face and they aren’t voiced (but do say written dialogue, Fallout-style) but you can pick their real name, two traits that offer buffs or debuffs, and as the internet has had a lot of fun with; their gender and pronouns, including Non-Binary and They/Them. So you’re cutting about committing war crimes on behalf of the famously awful Ronald Reagan, but at least characters respect the pronouns you chose. Which is more than Cyberpunk 2077 can manage. I’ve never minded all the awful things you do in the Black Ops games, because it’s always been clear to me that as a CIA agent active during the cold war you are absolutely, unquestionably the bad guy, and that’s fun to roleplay. Anyway in this one, Bell joins a multicultural team of spies lead by not-Robert Redford to take down Perseus; a Soviet spy master planning something involving a stolen American Nuke. The story has a neat twist which I won’t spoil, but I will say the mission that reveals that twist is wonderfully crafted, and ties into something the game does well: choices.

Building on the choices and multiple endings and paths through the game from Black Ops 2, Cold War takes things further. Certain Perseus-related targets can be killed or captured, the ending you get depends on whether or not you to lie or tell the truth to someone in a situation you’re likely to have conflicting views on, and there’s one particular section that plays like a Hitman level. You play a Soviet double agent in KGB headquarters, you need to acquire a key to an underground vault, and you have a series of options: you can try bribing a guard or coding a new card yourself. You can frame the one man still permitted to have a vault key, or take the permanent route and poison him. There’s also an optional objective to kill a CIA asset turned double agent, who may or may not even be alive depending on a choice Bell made in a previous mission. There are two side missions in the game in which Mason and Woods assassinate key cogs in Perseus’ plan, and in order to get the best outcome and complete the mission without activating a sort of failsafe, you need to find evidence in other missions and do a bit of spy work. One mission requires correctly identifying the target’s three spies, and the other requires decoding two ciphers in order to decrypt a floppy disk. All of this is great, but unfortunately the campaign is short even by COD standards, so all these neat ideas are used fleetingly. I was expecting more side missions along the same lines, and I think that KGB HQ mission had a format that could easily have been used again given that you play a team of spies operating partly in East Berlin. From a gameplay perspective this is the most interesting Call of Duty game I’ve played, but it’s let down by its length.

Having said all that, I was pleasantly surprised at just how good the single player campaign is. If you buy COD games for the multiplayer then this is definitely worth checking out. If like me you only buy them for the campaign then this is harder to recommend. I got it for Christmas so didn’t have to deal with the high base price and glacial price decrease that plague games in this series and full price is a lot for the amount of content on offer. When it’s cheaper though, I recommend playing it. This marks real progress for the series and I’m looking forward to where it goes next.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Nioh 2 – The First Samurai

Nioh 2 - The First Samurai | DLC Trailer - YouTube

After two good pieces of DLC, this is it: the end of Nioh 2. Whereas Tengu’s Disciple and Darkness in the Capital focused on Hide hanging out with historical wielders of her Spirit Stone blade, this one wraps things up by focusing on the main game’s final boss Otakemaru; starting with the origin story relayed at the beginning of the story.

If you don’t remember what went down: Otakemaru lived in harmony with humans, then one day they all had a barney and he slotted them all. Hide arrives post-moiduh and teams up with Otakemaru’s sister Suzuka, an alliance that’s short lived due to her being physically weakened. Even by the standards set by the previous DLC, this is short and light on story. Hide arrives, fights Otakemaru until Suzuka intervenes, fights a seemingly unrelated second boss then tracks down Otakemaru and puts him down for good. How she does that when she has to fight him at a later time isn’t explained. Presumably because she’s gone back in time to kill him she no longer ever had that final boss fight with him? I don’t know, the game doesn’t raise these questions. Thing is, I don’t care about Otakemaru any more; the game wrapped up everything with him, and to have him be the final objective again feels like a wasted opportunity to me. I barely cared about him to begin with; his design is mediocre, especially when compared to some of the other Yokai in the game, and his role in the story wasn’t as impactful as Tokichiro (I know he was possessing him but even so). Fortunately the two main story missions are both good in terms of design and aesthetics: the first starts in the battered village Otakemaru tore through, then transitions into bright, colorful foliage and water framed by huge trees and greenery. The second is a daunting landscape partly made of giant rib cages, with a red sky and a final descent to where Otakemaru awaits for the final showdown. His final form is literally named “Nightmare Bringer”, one the Yokai directory describes as “One of the most horrifying demons to have ever existed on this plane”. Unforunately he isn’t nearly cool enough to warrant the name or description, not even close. You beat him and that’s it; Hide vanquishes him forever and Suzuka says that she is the titular First Samurai, or at least the first Samurai ideal that subsequent generations will strive to live up to. All in all it feels anticlimatic to me.

After beating the main story the DLC falls back on boss gauntlets and duels to fill out the sidequests, something I personally don’t enjoy nearly as much as exploring new areas or redesigned existing ones, which the previous DLC did well. There are a couple of exploration based missions and they’re both good, so it’s not all bad. There are a few new enemy types, two of which have cool designs but one, a sort of nightmarish monster bird thing is a right pain in the arse to fight, and the other; a load of flesh blobs meshed together with needles, unfortunately got lost in the shuffle to the point that I didn’t even realise I’d killed one the first time, its soul core being the only evidence I’d encountered it.

First Samurai isn’t a failure or anything, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the other two pieces of this trilogy. Its story is the weakest of the three and I’m not one for duels (for the most part) and boss gauntlets, so what good there is here is unfortunately outweighed by the rest. Not enough to spoil the fantastic game it provides a conclusion to, but as a conclusion it leaves something to be desired.

By James Lambert