Deus Ex Mankind Divided Review
Mankind Divided is the sequel to Human Revolution, a prequel to the game PC gamers love to harp on about and absolutely refuse to believe could ever age; “Deus Ex”, an RPG focusing on human augmentation and conspiracy theories come true. Human Revolution was a solid if clunky action/stealth game with decent RPG elements and an interesting aesthetic based on Renaissance art and fashion, with an emphasis based on gold triangles. Makind Divided uses all that (besides the gold triangles, which have been dropped) as a base to tweak and refine its own formula into a really good stealth game with decent action and RPG elements.

Set two years after augmented humans were made to go berserk and attack people, all augmented people are now subject to Jim Crow-esc segregation laws and routine harassment from police. A big deal was made of this before release and I’ll get to it later in the review, but for now I’m focusing on the story. You are Adam Jensen, a Swiss Army Knife of a man who despite being more augmentation than human isn’t subject to any of the segregation laws (besides having to give an I.D at checkpoints) because he works for Interpol. The plot is pretty weak really, I beat the game yesterday and I’m struggling to remember what Adam was trying to do besides “find and stop villains who want augmented people to have it even worse”. It has stand-out characters and set-pieces but to me at least, it just feels like something that adds context to the action. The most interesting elements of the story are the sidequests, two characters you’re sent to confront and Adam’s response to various situations, which largely depend on player action. My Human Revolution Jensen was a boot-licking corporate psychopath quick to kill regardless of whether it was necessary, a choice I made based on the fact that as head of security for an incredibly rich and influential company he had very little reason to be anything other than a total bastard as long as his boss was happy. In contrast I played Jensen this time as a more compassionate man less likely to use lethal force, though still willing to if needed. The game accommodates different playstyles nicely, though it seems to favour stealth; the non-lethal weapons are silent, easily available and very effective, and you get more points for a non-lethal takedown. Like Splinter Cell Blacklist the game doesn’t carve out paths for each approach, and instead feels like a world that just exists regardless of you and your actions, and its challenges can be approached however you like, as long as you can pull it off. Stealth felt best to me but every now and then I’d shoot my way through. Sometimes talking is the best way to solve a problem, but the game is pleasingly open to you just twatting someone in the chops if the more softly-softly approach grows wearisome. The game feels less clunky and rigid than HR; Jensen moves more fluidly, alert stages are fair, and the game is forgiving whilst also providing a challenge. There are new augmentations that can only be unlocked by turning another off for balance (though this can be remedied through a sidequest), the only two I used were a taser built into Adam’s knuckles (which turned out to be superfluous) and remote hacking- a “stop the bar in the right spot” minigame that lets you turn off turrets, cameras and the like that opens up new opportunities, and combined with the cloak and the aforementioned stun gun make the game have the most enjoyable stealth I’ve seen for a while. I have no real complaints about the gameplay; the stealth is great, the combat is a viable option, weapons no longer take fifty body shots to kill a single un-armoured target, the whole thing feels smooth and responsive and it maintains the precedent set by the original for letting you play it your way and making you feel like you actually came up with a solution to a problem yourself.

The big issue I have to address is the issue of oppression and discrimination I mentioned earlier, what the developers have termed “Augmented Apartheid”. Adam Jensen is to Anti-Aug oppression what Robocop was to the police strike and subsequent riots in Robocop 2; there’s a connection, but it has no real effect on him. Murphy got the short end of the sick, however; all he had was a burst-fire handgun. Jensen has blades (both for melee and as projectiles), explosively propelled ball bearings, a taser and a Guts-style arm cannon (the hand folds down the same way and everything). That’s just in his arms, which are strong enough to punch through concrete. He can turn invisible, see people through walls and with the right upgrade it’s literally impossible for him to take fall damage because his robo-body won’t let him. My point is he’s as far removed from the oppressed, segregated augmented folk as the anti-Aug people, in a way. The question of course is “does this hurt the game?” and my answer, from a purely subjective stand point is no, it doesn’t. Jensen is a prism through which to view the world, he has augmentations because they make him more fun to play as, not to make him suit the story. He was created before the “Augmented apartheid” idea was, or at least before it was put into a game. Speaking of which I don’t feel like that and the equally controversial “Aug lives matter” slogan are inherently problematic, just clumsy. To my knowledge Eidos aren’t saying that a collection of polygons in a video game being oppressed by another collection of polygons has the same weight as an actual black person being murdered by a police officer. At least I hope they aren’t. To be fair given the amount of bleating on the internet about how everyone should “KEEP POLITICS OUT OF GAMES” an openly and heavily political game was always going to cause a fuss- people on the other side of the argument get angry if you even suggest that this game has any kind of political leaning. The “Augmented Apartheid” is just set-dressing really, and with the exception of one excellent section set in a massive ghetto for augs and the odd sidequest where you get directly involved in the fates of augmented people, it’s just sort of there.

Overall, Mankind Divided is a good time. Its story is just there to give context to the action and dictate where Jensen will go next, but there are characters, locations and set pieces that really stand-out. The gameplay is what shines here- good stealth, decent combat, lots of choices that feel like you’re thinking for yourself. Definitely worth a look.

By James Lambert

Telltale’s Batman Episode 1: Realm of Shadows review


Oh Telltale. Just when I think I’m out after their last efforts, they swoop back in with something really good to change my mind. While I’ll be reviewing the first episode of their new Batman game I won’t be writing about any other episodes- when the whole season is out Reuben and I will do a video review of it. For now though, let’s get into the first episode: Realm of Shadows.

Batman is a license you’d be forgiven for thinking Telltale couldn’t do much with. Detective work and beating the shit out of people? Wolf Among Us did that already. Batman has an unbreakable no-kill policy and always comes out on top, not to mention Rocksteady already made two great and one decent games dedicated to putting you in the cowl, so how can Telltale make something that’s both different and interesting? Two words: Bruce Wayne.

It’s early in Batman’s career; Jim Gordon is a lieutenant, Harvey Dent has an intact face and is running for Mayor, and Batman himself is dealing with the Italian mob led by Don Carmine Falcone. Batman takes a backseat though- you spend far more time playing as Bruce Wayne, which is a genuine master stroke; this is where Telltale’s conversation system and choices come into play. The bulk of the story in the episode deals with a scandal involving Bruce’s parents, his part in Harvey’s campaign and his relationship with Falcone, Gordon and Vicki Vale; constantly walking a tightrope and trying to say the right thing. The politics of Gotham and keeping Bruce’s head above water is so brilliantly pulled off that the Batman scenes seem bland and underwhelming by comparison, which is the episode’s biggest flaw. Bruce’s caped alter-ego gets one reasonable crime scene investigation, two solid choices and two weak fight scenes done in the familiar QTE-heavy Telltale style. His sections feel like they’re only there to give Batman something to do, which really needs to change for future episodes.

The other big problem is a re-working of The Penguin into a skinny, greatcoat wearing, military trained, possibly handsome (depending on what you’re into) cockney gangster who knew Bruce when they were both children and is now suddenly going to be really important to both his life and the story. It just seems like an odd change and his connection to Bruce seems forced and convenient, like they need someone who can mess with his head and also Batman can punch him, but without using The Joker. He may well get better in later episodes but he’s made a bad first impression. Also his accent is bad and I don’t know why they felt the need to make him cockney.

Overall Telltale’s Batman game is off to a strong start, mostly. The Batman sections are mediocre but it does some fantastic things with Bruce Wayne- the story, choices and situations they generate around and involving him are where the game shines. Going forward I hope they continue to make him the focus while improving the Batman sections; focusing on detective work and choices. Look out for video review later in the year when all the episodes are out.

By James Lambert


Dark Souls 3 Review


I don’t like Dark Souls. I love Bloodborne, but I’ve never got on with its spiritual predecessor. See unlike so many of its fans that like to go on about fair and balanced the combat is and how any and all deaths are your fault, I find the whole thing really cheap, and unlike Bloodborne’s gothic cosmic horror DS’ fantasy setting isn’t worth wading through all the bullshit. For me at least. However, I gave the series one last chance with its most recent and apparently last entry, hoping that Fromsoft might have carried over a few tricks from Bloodborne. So this is quite a late review, but I think it’s still worth talking about, and I have some things I want to say.

So the gist of the story is that the world is ending (it was also ending in the other two games, but apparently it was ending very slowly because they were set ages before this one) and the only way to stop it is for certain brave/crazy people to set themselves on fire, but using a certain specific fire otherwise it doesn’t work. You tried to do that but it didn’t work, but now you’ve got one last chance to save the world (or not, up to you) by tracking down people who “linked” the fire before and KILLING THEM IN COLD BLOOD, THAT’LL LEARN ‘EM. I’m not sure why you have to kill them but the story in these games is always kept in the background and is largely there to string together boss fights in loosely connected areas. For what it’s worth the lore is actually quite good when it isn’t being bogged down under fantasy stuff, and the game’s post-Bloodborne linearity works better than the first game’s scattershot areas with a handful of different themes, designs and times of day (a garden in the dead of night being seconds away from a trap-filled castle in broad daylight and a poison bog underground). The levels are largely well designed, enemies fit their designated areas well, and it all flows well. Like I said though the game is a lot more linear than previous instalments; there are a few times where the path branches, but for the most part you’re moving in a straight line from encounter to encounter. The story isn’t the game’s strong point by any means, but there’s enough to make it interesting at least; certain bosses and areas have decent backstories, but it often stumbles when mixed with more common fantasy tropes. For every weird, unique item, monster or character Miyazaki came up with there’s a castle, king, mage and the like to bring it down. That’s just a personal preference though, and Miyazaki’s take on fantasy is a lot more engrossing than most.

The gameplay is where the real meat (or your dietary equivalent) lies. For those who aren’t familiar with these games it’s an RPG with the focus placed squarely on combat; largely melee fights that are praised for their realism because swinging your weapon takes a second or two and it bounces off walls and such. That doesn’t apply to enemies though really, they don’t play by the same rules as you. There are large areas to explore, groups of enemies to blunder into and get murderd or carefully approach with patience beyond that of a normal human being, and bosses that provide a focal point both in terms of gameplay and design. The bosses are where the game shines- when they aren’t being incredibly cheap (which thankfully isn’t too often) they can provide tense, well-crafted battles that require skill and good timing to win. Whereas previous games placed great importance on shields for defence, this one makes dodging more of a viable option, which again, is akin to Bloodborne, your character feels more robust in general and overall the game feels a lot more fair and welcoming than previous instalments. Whereas the original game felt like a cruel, uncaring experience that almost dared you to keep playing it, this one feels more like it actually wants you to play and enjoy it, and understands that treating players like shit doesn’t lead to an enjoyable or fun experience. This is something Bloodborne did very well, which leads me to following statement: taking cues from Bloodborne was the best thing Dark Souls ever did. Obviously this is all just personal opinion and experience, but I gave up on the original Dark Souls (guess where I got to- you’ll probably be right), but no matter what Dark Souls 3 threw at me I never gave up on it; I always found a work-around, and with the exception of one boss it never felt properly unfair. Now that they’ve finally got that part right it means the player can get more out of the world Fromsoft has created- the game throws me a bone, I’m more inclined to soak up its atmosphere and lore. The original game repeatedly hit me over the head with a brick, I decided that I don’t give a shit about the story it was trying to tell.

Overall, Dark Souls 3 is a success. Bloodborne did wonders for Fromsoft’s approach to this series- they took parts of it that would translate well and used them to make what I consider to be the only good Dark Souls game, one that provides solid challenge in an interesting world with good character and enemy design, doing all of these things without going overboard. If you’re new to Dark Souls and want a place to start, just buy this one. If you enjoyed Bloodborne but didn’t get on with the other a Dark Souls games, this is one to try. It took them three attempts but they finally pulled it off.

By James Lambert


Inside review


I heard a whole lot of hype for Inside in a short space of time. I remember seeing a trailer for it a few E3s ago- Playdead’s follow up to bleak and beautiful puzzle-platformer “Limbo”, but after that it seemed to disappear until last week, when I suddenly heard it was coming out. People threw praise and accolades at it like it was going out of style, calling it amazing, game of the year so far, game of the generation, that sort of thing, and all of them insisted you avoid any and all spoilers like the plague. So I bought it, avoided any and all spoilers and plowed through it over the weekend, and frankly I have no idea what seemingly every other reviewer on the planet is talking about, because I was really disappointed. I will be talking about the game in a way that could be considered spoilery, so bare that in mind.

The single biggest problem with the game is its story. Much like Limbo you are a small boy in an actively hostile, brutal world that you navigate by constantly moving to the right. You start off running through the woods escaping a search n’ murder squad, then end up moving deeper into and through a city and its sewers for some reason (there is one possible theory but I’ll get into that at a later time because it involves dissecting the ending), with an emphasis placed on humans that can be controlled remotely and a weird aquatic monster thing that at one point directly helps the boy for some reason. None of this is ever explained, there’s no dialogue, and besides one or two moments nothing in the game stands out as particularly noteworthy or interesting. The art style is nice but environments are bland, and while the changing landscape and nightmare logic worked for Limbo, Inside is apparently set in some kind of real, non-afterlife world, so it doesn’t work here at all. As I said there is a theory I read that does explain the boy’s actions, but that’s literally all it explains, and it does nothing to develop what is a very sparse, forgettable experience.

Gameplay wise it fairs better. If you’ve played Limbo, you know what to expect. If not, it’s a platforming game with puzzles and brutal deaths. The platforming is merely a means of transportation, the puzzles aren’t too taxing but usually involve good timing, and that’s about it really. I don’t have any problems on the gameplay front, just the story and world; respectively bland and unexplained and underdeveloped, experienced entirely through the prism of constant movement.

I’m an outlier I know, but I can’t pretend I had a good time with this. It just feels like Limbo taken to a degree that values art above everything else, which can work, but in this case, for me, it falls very short.  It’ll definitely appeal to some (clearly it has) but I paid sixteen pounds for it, and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t pay half that.

Sixteen quid will get you the Sapienza AND Marrakesh levels in HITMAN. Spend it on that instead.

By James Lambert


Gone Home and Superhot double review


“Gone Home” has already had enough written and said about it that what I’m about to write might seem somewhat redundant to some people, but it’s free on Playstation Plus at the minute, and now I’ve played it I feel compelled to write a little something at least. So if you had your fill of Gone Home opinions back when people were bleating about how it “isn’t a game” then skip down a bit to when I talk about how much I like Superhot. Spoilers for Gone Home follow.

Still here? Good-oh. First of all I’m not one of the “this isn’t a game” people (I only tend to say that about David Cage, and even then mainly about “Beyond”); this is clearly a piece of interactive media designed to tell a story by having the player search an area finding clues, there are no cutscenes or any other forms of removing control from the player. This is commendable, but for me it doesn’t work. The story it tells is, I’m sure, very useful and relatable to certain people; the sister of the main character fell in love with a girl, your parents were dicks about it so the sister left. The story and its delivery method lack any real impact; it’s told through collectibles and voice over by your sister; you never meet anyone else, you can miss or avoid the majority of the collectibles, and it lacks any sort of anchor or focal point, like Layers of Fear’s magnum opus, or P.Ts use of repetition. Interacting with the environment doesn’t feel at all engaging, and the items that trigger voice over seem random. There are positives though; despite being underwhelming, the story and the act of walking around the empty house are closely linked, and make each other work mechanically. Also the house is surprisingly really creepy, and I felt for certain that something bad was just around the corner. It never is though, it’s literally just exploring a house.

Odds are you already have an opinion on Gone Home at this point. Maybe if the story resonates with you you’ll enjoy it, but for me it’s just a nice idea held back by an execution with little impact that fades as soon as it’s finished.



Hot. Super… Hot. Super… Hot. Super…


Buy Superhot- it’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.



Hehe. So Superhot is one I’ve been looking forward to since its initial PC release- an FPS revolving around a unique mechanic: time only moves when you move. It has a cobbled together story about being trapped in the game and brain uploading and “OH NO I CAN’T QUIT” that at times threatens to be interesting, but for the most part is unnecessary and forgettable, so I won’t waste word count on it. What matters is the gameplay, whether it be in the game’s wonderfully crafted missions or “endless” challenge modes; environments are white, weapons are black, enemies are red. They spawn in, the game flashes an 80s one-liner on screen, you murder them. Guns have limited ammo, but can be thrown and the areas are often littered with other weapons. The way the time mechanic works is this: the faster you move, the faster everything else moves, capping at real time. Bullets and thrown items will hang in mid air, though will move very slowly when you’ve stopped; you die in one hit, but provided you watch your surroundings you can dodge bullets, and with careful planning you can survive being surrounded. Really it’s a puzzle game, your goal is to kill everyone but you’re a glass cannon, and murder is intricate enough to feel cerebral but fluid enough to reward improvisation and make you feel like a badass when you shoot someone, throw your empty gun at another enemy to stun them, snatch the first bloke’s gun out the air then headshot them both. At the end of each level the game replays your run in real time, and I’m struggling to think of anything in a game this year that’s made me feel as cool. Later on you gain the ability to jump into the bodies of enemies, killing them and giving you a new position, but breaking their weapon unless you’re fast enough to catch it, which opens up a whole extra layer.

Any problems? Really it’s the story, which ends up being an annoyance with how often it interrupts things. The gameplay itself can get frustrating at times, but there’s always a way around a problem, and it scales and escalates at a pace that feel natural, ramping things up in direct correlation to you getting to grips with how everything works.

Overall Superhot is a good time. It reminds me a bit of Hotline Miami actually- an indie game focused on killing that brings something really new and interesting to the table. With the the former it was style and presentation. With the latter it’s a simple hook that has payed of brilliantly, one that turns killing people into a puzzle without forsaking any momentum.

By James Lambert



Rainbow Six Siege Review


Haven’t done this for a while. Rainbow Six Siege came out last year but I never got around to playing it because as a rule I’m not into online multiplayer. However; there are still updates for it now, and I wanted to get something written about it before I finally do my 2015 game of the year list, because I’ve been playing a lot of Rainbow Six Siege and it turns out it’s bloody good.

The game has single player, but it’s not worth bothering with; a series of tutorials I had a quick go at while installing an update, and single player terrorist hunt, where you are woefully outnumbered and outgunned, and isn’t worth bothering with. Where you’ll get your money’s worth (which is about twenty quid at this point) is the five vs five multiplayer: rounds alternate between attacking and defending, each with its own unique set of characters (operators, as they’re called), in which defenders hold up in a room with bombs/a hostage/a biohazard container and set up various traps, barricades and wall reinforcements to stop the other team, who are all armed with various countermeasures to the aforementioned traps and such. Rounds run for five minutes and end if an entire team is wiped out, which leads to interesting situations where some people will stay with the objective while others go off to hunt down attackers, or sometimes everyone stays in one place, which the attackers may or may not know about and plan accordingly. Surprisingly this all works well without a headset; attacking  compliments either staying together or splitting up, defenders generally know to keep an eye on each other, and everyone generally tries to avoid friendly fire. Except for some cretins that team kill, but that doesn’t happen too often.

Games like this can be slightly hard to critique, by their very design and nature. Regardless of how the game’s mechanics and design are, the bulk of your enjoyment is down to other human beings playing the game online, and that can’t really be controlled. In my experience the majority of people take the game seriously enough to actually play it properly, but not so seriously as to fly off the handle if you make mistakes. I have played with people who want nothing more than to kill their own team and be a bloody nuisance, but these instances are infrequent. As for the stuff actually designed by Ubisoft; the shooting is solid, your range of movement isn’t expansive but gets the job done (no cover system, but good prone state, which is a trade-off that works), the simplicity of the game with the added depth of taps, barricades, camera-equipped drones and light weapon customisation means that the game has a rock solid base, with replayability and variety provided the fact that you’re playing against other humans. The operators play a big role, too: as I said earlier attack and defend rounds have their own sets, and they each have their own unique abilities. They’re split up by country/team, and include things like the British SAS, Spetsnaz and FBI swat, and pleasingly (for me at least) aren’t all white men. The game is balanced so that regardless of who everyone picks either team can win a round- each operator’s skills are useful, not essential. Different maps encourage switching up operator and load out, too. Operators are unlocked with in-game XP, or through micro transactions, which is a shame, because the four most recent operators are all ridiculously expensive if you want to buy them with XP. Speaking of which, the operators are largely well balanced (apart from the ones with shields, but they can only use pistols) except for the most recent attacker; Blackbeard. Blackbeard has a clear shield that attaches to the top of his assault rifle. It’s utterly bloody cheap, he’s nigh unstoppable and he’s basically a way to dominate the game through the use of real money. Suffice it to say I feel he’s an unfair addition.

Overall Rainbow Six Siege is excellent: Ubisoft have made a brilliantly simply but endlessly replayable multiplayer shooter that’s easy to get into and hard to put down. By eschewing gimmicks or anything needlessly complicated they can focus on tense, well-designed gameplay, and I’ve got more enjoyment from this than any game this year, with the exception of HITMAN, which set a very high bar. It’s going on my game of the year list, and at twenty quid it’s definitely worth picking up and sinking some time into.

By James Lambert


Thoughts on… The Resi 7 demo


I’ve not been following E3 too closely this year. I find that rather than stay up all night watching the conferences it’s much better to wait, spider-like, for the games to come to me, checking out the trailers and gameplay footage of just what I’m interested in. So imagine my surprise when one of the games that fell in my lap was Resident Evil 7, selling itself as a triumphant return to horror (and not a schlocky mess in line with RE6), and giving PS Plus members the opportunity to try a free demo, P.T style. Titled “beginning hour”, it turned out to actually be about twenty minutes. There isn’t much to discuss here, but I’ll go into what there is.

People have been comparing its atmosphere to Silent Hill, which is frankly baffling. It feels like a cross between Outlast and Condemned 2; it’s all in first person, you’re locked in a run-down, grubby farmhouse. You watch a videotape about the three-man crew of a “Most Haunted” type reality show searching the same house you’re in (which is playable, pleasingly), there’s an incredibly limp attempt at a jumpscare, then just as you leave an angry redneck welcomes you to “The Family” and twats you in the chops. The gameplay itself is bookended by Capcom’s “Kitchen” VR demo, which may well be scary in VR, but here it’s just dull. There’s no psychological horror, the imagery is bland, the scares have no impact, and the characters shown were irritating and just there to die. Credit where it’s due, walking around the house was slightly creepy, but P.T’s use of repetition and impossible space was far more effective.

Apparerntly, the demo was created specifically to be a teaser, and its content doesn’t appear in the game. I honestly hope that’s true, because there’s nothing here that felt like Resi to me. I have no interest in the series staying on the path that lead to the likes of RE6 and REvelations 2, but this feels like it’s gone too far the other way; emulating games like Outlast and Amnesia to fall in with the trend of first person horror with no method of self-defence. Resident Evil has a strong pedigree to fall back on, whether it be old-school tank controls of its Ps1 days, or the over-the-shoulder horror action started by and never done better than Resi 4.

Time will tell if Resident Evil 7 is any good, but if it’s anything like what’s shown here, it’ll be a depressing misstep taken by a stale franchise in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.

UPDATE: I played through it again, taking my time to explore the house. I found three new things, with two of them being noteworthy and one directly tying in to Resi as a series: a brief phone call with an unknown woman, and a photograph of a helicopter bearing the Umbrella logo and with “Are they watching us from that helicopter?” written on the back. Then I got twated in the chops again, because the aforementioned angry redneck spawned in behind me in cheap fashion. I enjoyed the demo more this time, the atmosphere was more effective and genuinely creeped me out. But I still don’t think this is the right direction for Resi, and I don’t understand why it has to be part of the series and couldn’t be a new I.P instead. Having said that, I’m more interested to see what the full game looks like now, and I’ll buy the game for review.

By James Lambert



Hitman Blood Money tenth anniversary


So the new Hitman game is in full swing, and it’s bloody brilliant for reasons I’ll go into in my review of the complete package. For now though, it’s time to focus on what is currently the series’ high point (and one of my top five games of all time): Hitman Blood Money, which was released in my neck of the woods ten years ago today. As good as new Hitman is, Blood Money still deserves your time, money and effort, and I’m going to give you five reasons why you should replay it, or play it for the first time if you’re new to it.


Every Hitman game has a rating system, whether it be Hitman 2’s ice cold “Do everything perfectly or you get to eat shit” or Absolution’s intrusive points system, you will be judged on your approach to the taking of life for money. Blood Money took it one step further, in two rather clever ways; notoriety and a level-specific newspaper. The former is tracked by a number from 0-100 that carries over between missions: being loud, violent and leaving loads of witnesses to intense gunfights will raise the meter, which can be lowered by different amounts at the end of a level for a price. Get it high enough and people will recognise you, making things a lot more difficult. It has a more lasting effect on the score you get in each level, making you more likely to think about your actions. On the subject of doing things for a price, leaving any customised weapons or your signature suit in a level costs money, because people have to go in and collect them. Money is spent on customisation, which only ever popped up in this game for some reason. The newspaper I mentioned earlier isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a lovely touch: at the end of each level you’re shown a newspaper front page about the murder of whatever poor twat(s) you killed, and it will report on how many people you killed, what you killed them with, whether they were civvies or guards and such, how many shots you fired (if any) and how accurate you were, among other things. It’s a more involving and much more interesting take on the rating system- placing it into a more imaginative context that makes me care beyond whether or not I got “Silent Assassin.”


Blood Money was the first game in the series to take Agent 47 to the States, and it has an interesting take on them. Unlike Absolution’s weird Grindhouse feel, Blood Money went for a mixture of light stereotypes and broad strokes familiar to most people for a base, then built a world that feels like one 47 could actually inhabit. Vegas, Mississipi, the Rocky Mountains and New Orleans are all presented with a slightly dark, European twist that makes them seem like real places but slightly off, and have a lot more civilians who are more active and friendly, unlike the previous games where people were cold and kept to themselves. The game culminates with you infiltrating the White House to kill a corrupt Vice President, and the story focuses on a corrupt ex-FBI Director hunting down 47 and wiping out all of his unseen co-assassins.

No filler:

Hitman 2 and Hitman Contracts both had several levels set in the same place with you often doing little of interest. Hitman 2 is particularly irritating for a part where you murder a fat recluse in a basement only for the game to tell you that you now have to sneak around an office after dark to plant a bug, then kill a different fat recluse wearing fewer clothes. Blood Money has thirteen levels (short for a Hitman game) and besides a step-by-step tutorial (steps you don’t have to follow, mind) and one level that’s basically a shootout, every level is a proper sandbox with multiple targets whose deaths the game leaves entirely up to you. There are locations with more than one level, but they make them entirely different. The game also has some of the best levels in the series, including A New Life, The Murder of Crows and Curtains Down.

It’s just right:

Hitman 2 is far too stiff and unforgiving, and goes out of its way to inject way too much story into proceedings. Contracts is very dark and moody without much else going for it, with a fair few of its missions being remakes of ones from the first game. Absolution puts a lot of focus on a terrible plot where 47 keeps being reckless and is captured multiple times, and often feels like targets are presented purely through obligation, as 47 is often in locations for reasons pertaining to story, not assassination. HITMAN, while excellent, does feel quite light and score-attack focused, with its challenges. Blood Money strikes the right balance; it’s darkly amusing but also serious and deals with some heavy subjects. It has a decent story but relegates it almost entirely to between-mission cutscenes; you can completely ignore it if you wish, but it’s there if you’re interested. Finally it features a vulnerable 47 but handles it in a reasonable manner that doesn’t contradict the established world and character, and offers good replay-ability directly tied into consequence.

Finally, it holds up:

Having played it again the day before writing this article, I can confidently say that it genuinely holds up. It’s a different experience to HITMAN, and while some of its systems may have aged it’s still a very enjoyable game that’s worth your time; more focused, slightly darker and showcasing a team at the top of their game. I’m not here to argue that Blood Money is the best Hitman game, but it did so many things right, a lot of games, including HITMAN can learn a thing or two from it, and it absolutely deserves another run-through, or a first run-through, if you’re new to its absolute majesty. It was amazing in 2006 and it’s amazing now; no matter how good HITMAN is when it’s finished Blood Money will always have a place in the gap where my heart should be as something truly special.

by James Lambert


Thoughts on… Hitman Intro Pack

Right then, I’m planning to review HITMAN (capitals for differentiating purposes) after all the content for it has been released (it’s following an episodic model broken up into countries), and four hundred and fifty words into this article I realised I was using up a lot of content that should be in the review. So I’ll have to keep this vague- a few words on my experiences with the three missions included in the “Intro Pack” of the new Hitman, and generally what I think of it.

The pack consists of two sections: “Prologue” and a mission set in Paris. The prologue covers 47’s training and final test to become a field agent for the ICA (International Contract Agency); quite odd missions in which contracts from the seventies are replicated by actors in cardboard structures in a big missile silo. I can understand weapons firing blanks (though they feel the same to shoot in the Paris mission) and 47 not actually garroting people but it is entirely possible to drown people in toilets, so I don’t know how they get around that. The first mission’s quite small but has a fair few ways to kill your target and the second, called “The Final Test”, is slightly bigger and a fair bit more engaging. It controls largely the same as “Absolution”, right down to the weird, one-handed aiming. The Paris level is huge: it’s a massive museum hosting a fashion show run by two fashion moguls-turned Spy masters, filled with a whole load of civilians, guards, staff and bodyguards, with lots of different ways to kill them both and escape. At this point, at least (and it could all change) it does genuinely feel like a return to Blood Money-esque form; a proper sandbox map, people to kill somewhere in there and the game basically telling you “Go on then, off you go.” You can turn off all the screen furniture and assistance activated by default, so you can alter the experience to be as challenging or helpful as you feel you need.

That’s all I can really talk about at this point- I’ll save all the in-depth discussion for the review. This small chunk of HITMAN has really pulled me in; it feels like a true sequel to Blood Money, and I’m really hoping it maintains this quality for the remainder of the levels.

Only time will tell I suppose. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a challenge in the Paris mission where you push one target off a balcony onto the other target. I can’t not at least have a go.

UPDATE: Now that I’ve played the game a lot more I do have two major problems with it that really need to be sorted out for the next episode.

1) Loading times
The loading times are ridiculous. As a test just before writing this very sentence I loaded up the Paris map and it took just over ninety seconds. Loading times can and often do run into the forty five seconds to one minute mark, which is really bloody annoying in a game where you’ll often be reloading every time something bad goes wrong. Granted it’s now easier to deal with situations where things have gone south, but if you’re, say, going for a Silent Assassin, suit-only run you’ll be reloading at every mistake, and it quickly becomes tiresome.

2) Always online
The PS4 version of the game doesn’t require an internet connection to play, but it does require an internet connection to access all the challenges. Said challenges cover various different infil/exfiltration methods, disguise usage and assassination techniques; they are the reason to replay the mission over and over again while you wait for the next level to be released. This is bad enough (the challenges don’t even save when achieved offline and activate next time you connect to the server, you have to get them when online), but is hampered by the more irritating issue: the servers are currently rather patchy, so you’ll often get kicked off the server mid-mission. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ll be moving into position to take out one of the targets only to have the game suddenly stop and say “OH SHIT THE INTERNET BROKE. BACK TO THE MAIN MENU YOU GO”.

These are two problems that really need to be solved by the time the Italy level rolls out (presumably next month), but there are two bright sides on which to look; firstly these aren’t problems with the actual game’s mechanics or the like, just its delivery. Mind you, the challenges situation is a pretty glaring issue. Secondly, having done a lot of said challenges and plaid a whole lot of the Paris level I can say that it is bloody good, and I have no problems with the actual gameplay, systems or presentation.

By James Lambert

Layers of Fear and Firewatch – “Walking Simulator” double review

“Walking simulator” is largely a term of derision. At least as far as I’ve seen. While there are definitely people who’ll defend the artistic integrity of games like “Everyone’s gone to the rapture” and “Gone home”, there’s another group of people who’ll simply tell you that you’re talking bollocks (or your cultural equivalent) and that walking simulators “aren’t games”. I’ve avoided them to this point, purely because none of them really caught my attention. But no more, for two came out recently that really drew me in; horror game Layers of Fear and hiking n’ intrigue-em-up Firewatch.

First up, Layers of Feeeeaaaaar (wiggles fingers spookily)

Those of you familiar with my backlog (or who know me personally) will know that I love P.T. It’s a game that haunts me to this day and its cancellation is a still a sore spot. Fortunately for me, Layers of Fear really wants to be P.T. It has a similar concept, similar use of impossible space and even an almost identical scare (though not nearly as good) but rather than stop at just being a lot like P.T it broadens in scope to become its own game with its own identity. You play an unnamed painter desperately trying to complete his magnum opus (one layer of which is seen above), wandering around his house finding ingredients to craft it one layer at a time. There are three twists to this. Firstly, due to said painter being in the grips of some horrifying hallucination-heavy mental illness the house defies any and all logic- doors lead to completely different rooms to what you expect, turning around will often lead to you being in a completely different part of the house and the house gets increasingly dilapidated and nightmarish as the game goes on. Whereas P.T used that one hallway to great effect, wringing as much tension and horror out of it as it could, Layers instead keeps you on edge by never giving you any sense of security or safety- literally anything could be on the other side of the next door. Secondly, the house is filled with notes, letters and mementos that tell the backstory of this painter, a genuinely quite upsetting tale about how a loving relationship completely fell apart after a horrible accident lead to alcoholism and hateful indifference. The only time the game gives any story to you directly is right at the very end, everything else you have to seek out yourself and it’s worth seeking out. Thirdly, the aforementioned ingredients are, without wishing to spoil anything, not your average painting gear. On the downside, like P.T it is rather short, but unlike P.T you have to pay for it (around a tenner, but I bought the Xbone game preview version. It might be more now). It took me around two and a half to three hours to beat it; there was one puzzle, nothing to fight or anything of that ilk, you just walk around the house and things happen. Now, I understand ten pounds for three hours of game is a fair bit, and that will put people off. However, it is a very effective experience- the story and characters, glimpsed through a haze are excellent, they all tie into the horrible things assaulting your senses in this nightmarish house, and it all ends on a wonderfully grim note that really tied it all together, for me at least. Is it as good as P.T? No. It won’t replace P.T either, partly due to the context and all the furore surrounding it, but now that P.T isn’t available this fills the void well, and its a solid horror experience in its own right.

Next up, Firewatch

Interestingly, while Layers of Fear reminds me of P.T, I can’t think of anything I’ve played that I can compare Firewatch to (apart from one aspect that made me think of SOMA, but only that one aspect). A text-based choose your own adventure at the start tells you that you are Henry and you have taken a job in the woods of Wyoming to get away from the ten-tonne emotional weight of your wife having dementia way to bloody young. He’s a firewatcher- sitting up in a tower keeping an eye out for forest fires and making sure no one burns the woods down like a tit. Now that wouldn’t make for much of a videogame at all, so an encounter with two teenage girls who later go missing gets something of a mystery/thriller plot going. You spend the majority of your time hiking around the woods with a map and compass seeking different goals- you never interact with anyone up close, barely see anyone, never fight anything. Instead, your only consistent interaction is with your boss Delilah over a walkie-talkie (this is the aforementioned SOMA-esque feature), reporting your progress and choosing dialogue options during lengthier conversations. This relationship with Delilah and the aforementioned hiking are its main selling points; Henry and Delilah are convincing as individuals and as coworkers/friends/somethingmoremaybeorisitnospoilers. Choosing when to interact with her and having to actually make your way around an open world with a map and compass set it aside from games where you simply wander around and have story told to you when the game deems you worthy of it. The game is also surprisingly really unnerving at times, expertly playing on the idea of being alone in the woods with people watching you. Or are they? If they are, what are you going to do about it? It’s not a horror game, but it did creep me out on more than one occasion. Any problems? Well the hiking can get annoying sometimes, particularly if you go the wrong way, but the game looks lovely and giving you the agency to get there by yourself without a waypoint and/or intrusive HUD makes it worthwhile. Overall it works- the central relationship is good, the ending goes in an interestingly anticlimactic direction (in a good way though) and if you’re looking for something different it’s definitely worth a look.

So then, two “walking simulators” that turned out to be bloody good. They’ve actually given me incentive to check out Gone Home at some point, and to give the genre more attention in the future. Both of them work, both come recommended. If I had to pick one over the other it’d be Layers of Fear, but they’re both worth the (admittedly short) time it takes to beat them.

By James Lambert