Doki Doki Literature Club Review

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Please note that the best way to experience this game is completely blind, and the following review will contain massive spoilers

Okay, so, here we go (deep breath)

By now you’ve probably heard of Doki Doki Literature Club, in particular that its appearance of a cutesy dating sim visual novel is a facade for something far darker. The game opens with content warnings about children and those who are “easily disturbed”, as well as a one-off, specific one about people suffering from depression and anxiety. Despite being one of those people I paid it little heed, though I did consider it weirdly specific. It’s there for a damn good reason, as it turns out, because Doki Doki Literature Club is a frankly brutal psychological horror game with an uncomfortably intimate view of depression, obsessive behaviour, self-harm, anxiety and suicide. I know, a game with *that* visual style and a name like Doki Doki Literature Club doesn’t sound like the most harrowing game I’ve played in some time, but it is. As someone with the mental illnesses depicted in the game, as well as a tendency to get attached to videogame characters, this one wasn’t a fun time for me, but it served its purpose admirably and I can’t deny it’s an effective experience. I realise as I write this that this is sounding less like a review and more like me just venting, but it is mental health awareness week, and I need to talk about this game.

The framing device is you, a player-named, male high school student joining the titular Literature Club, made up of four other members: your childhood friend and neighbour Sayori, a feisty younger girl called Natsuki, a more reserved, eloquent girl called Yuri, and Monika, the club’s president. There’s a lot of conversing, the occasional choice and, once per in-game day, you write a poem; selecting twenty words you think will most appeal to either Sayori, Natsuki or Yuri. It actually starts fairly innocuously, only taking a turn when Sayori reveals her severe depression to the player, he clearly has no idea how to properly deal with it and after either becoming a couple or staying close friends, she hangs herself, something I still haven’t fully gotten over hours later. Fun aside: that was the second time I thought to myself “Don’t be dead, don’t be dead, don’t be dead” during the game. First time the game showed mercy. Second time it punched me in the gut. Anyway it’s at that point that the game violently shifts, and reveals its true nature as a sort of Undertale-esque, fourth wall breaking nightmare, in which a self-aware Monika puts the other girls through the wringer, dialling up their issues in order to make them seem less desirable and thus open the way for her to romance the player, something the game won’t allow in its normal state. It’s grim, horrible psychological horror, with a lot of fake-glitching interface screw and generally running amok with expectation and how the player actually interacts with the game: the section dedicated to poor Yuri is a particular stand-out. The only problem really is that unlike the other girls Natsuki has only fleeting moments in the spotlight, and while the game makes the most of those small bursts, I would have liked to see her get more of a look-in. Instead she’s more of a supporting character, key to everything else that’s going on but never at the forefront. Although, given what happened to the other girls it’s probably for the best. Two out of three is bad enough.

Look I’m not going to lie, this was a rough one. This wasn’t much of a review, but I had to write something about it, just to get it out of my system. As a horror game it’s fantastic, harrowing and genuinely horrible, its meta fourth wall breaking is used effectively and doesn’t get out of hand, and its approach to mental illness is good, even going so far as to offer actual advice about how to interact with depressed friends. It’s brutal, smart, original, upsetting and I’m glad I played it. I’m just not sure if I ever want to play it again.

By James Lambert


God of War Review

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Let me just start by saying how much I love that this isn’t a reboot. As soon as I saw that E3 footage back in 2016 my main takeaway was “That looks pretty cool, I hope it’s the same Kratos, moving on to a different mythology having destroyed the Greek one”, and that is the case here. Despite the naming convention this is the same Kratos, older but immortal and still ripped living in Midgard with his new family, having spent the previous God of War games slaughtering a who’s who of Greek Mythology. After his wife Faye dies Kratos must honour her last wish: to cremate her and carry her ashes to the highest peak in the nine realms, a journey embarked upon with his son Atreus, with whom Kratos’ relationship is distant and lacking affection. It’s that central relationship that keeps God of War going, and is its greatest asset: Kratos is gruff and stern, but never cruel, mean or even particularly rude to Atreus. Jokes abound on the internet about Kratos mostly referring to his Son as “Boy”, and he’s not exactly chatty or openly affectionate, but he clearly loves Atreus, and the writing, as well as the performances by Christoper Judge and Sunny Suljic sell the crap out of it. Atreus is sassy and clearly grieving his lost Mother, but is friendly, inquisitive and, crucially for a child, never annoying. Kratos is very different to his previous incarnations, but smartly the game uses those instalments to inform much of his hang-ups and mental state here. Put simply, Kratos realises what a complete monstrous arsehole he was in previous games and he hates it. He is now a weary, tired man; slower to use violence and willing to put up with a whole lot more sass, his younger self brutally murdered people for less. He’s desperate to keep his Son from going down the same path, but unsure of how to do so in any way other than just never telling Atreus anything about what he did. The story has some genuinely touching, moving scenes between the two, with them both growing, shifting and learning from each other as it goes along. Not that it’s all serious though, Kratos gets to be funny now and then in a very deadpan way, and combining him with cheerier, more talkative characters Atreus and Mimir (the revived severed head dangling from Kratos’ belt in the trailers) is a great dynamic.

Whereas previous games in the series followed a largely linear structure with occasional scripted backtracking, this new instalment is full-open world, though it’s a measured, contained open world, and it’s to enable a whole lot of Metroidvania shenanigans. Midgard, realm of humans and such, provides the hub area, specifically the Lake of Nine, peppered with shores full of hidden areas, chests and enemy encounters, access to which often requiring items and techniques unlocked throughout the main story. Taking this a step further is access to some of the other Norse realms, and the obligatory side missions and optional bosses. Items found in the world can be taken to Dwarven blacksmith brothers Brok and Sindri to make armour and upgrade Kratos’ new weapon: the “Leviathan” axe. Pretty much everything Kratos and Atreus use can be upgraded, both generally for increased damage, or in line with more specific stats. Unlike previous games the camera is now permanently over Kratos’ shoulder, making combat a hectic, intimate affair, but he has a lot of options. Leviathan, a collapse-able shield on his arm, surprisingly effective hand-to-hand combat and of course Atreus, who is a far greater asset in combat than one would expect. His moves are absurdly cheap and worth investing in, as he can be the difference between life and death, particularly when dealing with certain enemies. Puzzles make a comeback, this time forgoing block pushing in favour of manipulating environment items and freezing things in place by throwing Leviathan, as well as having Atreus read runes and complete riddles. Throwing Leviathan is an attack, too, and it’s immensely satisfying. Even more so is the ability to recall it at any time, from any distance, potentially hitting enemies on the way back. Enemy design is weirdly sparse, for better and worse. Worse is the recurring sub-boss of a large troll armed with a club it rests on one shoulder. You fight one early on, then they keeping popping up in different colours and with unique names, one of them is even the gatekeeper on the way into Helheim. They almost seem to be thrown in just to give you something big to fight sometimes, and once you know how to deal with them they become little more than a speed bump. For the better is the game’s recurring boss fight and main antagonist Baldur, here re-imagined as a sort of super-strong, perma-shirtless meth head who literally can’t feel anything, to the point where it’s driven him all but insane. He’s been sent by Odin who, in this universe is a complete monster, as is Thor: the two of them doing everything they can to make life miserable for everyone who isn’t them. Odin thinks you might be a threat, at some point in the distant future, maybe? You get got. Be anywhere near Thor, or exist in the same general area as him? You get got. This a crapsack world even by God of War’s standards: these gods have been awful for a long time, and the game sets the stage for them to all come looking for a piece in the sequel.

God of War had run out of steam: with the initial trilogy wrapped up and the prequel games failing to capture the same magic the series needed a drastic shake-up, if it continued at all. Now this wasn’t what I expected but it’s one of those “I never knew I wanted this but I do” situations: gambling on a game where the human equivalent of a spinning saw blade on legs who refuses to take responsibility for his actions does just that, undergoes a complete personality shift and is now a stern but loving Father, undergoing an epic journey with his Son to scatter his wife’s ashes, peppered with pained introspection and reflection on his past actions has, against the odds, payed off in a huge way. I love this Kratos, I love Atreus, and I love this new God of War. I don’t believe it’s the generation defining masterpiece others have called it, but it’s an excellent game I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new path leads.

By James Lambert


David Cage presents Hobocop – Thoughts on Detroit Become Human

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David Cage is a hack. He sells himself as some incredible visionary dragging videogames into a world of true art, but the reality is far different. His stories often start well and have moments of brilliance, or at least goodness now and then, but his handling of women, sensitive or heavy subjects like race, rape, child abuse, torture, homelessness is poor, often undermined by said stories collapsing under the weight of an ever-growing cache of supernatural bullshit. Anyway I could rant about the man and his games all day but that’s not at all productive, so instead I’ll narrow my focus to the upcoming Detroit: Become Human and its recently released demo.

The demo depicts a scene in which an android police hostage negotiator, Connor, arrives in a high rise apartment to talk down a “deviant” android named David, who’s taken a little girl named Emma hostage and killed her Father. Right off the bat the dialogue is really on the nose, as it was in the reveal trailer; Emma’s mother begs Connor to save her daughter until she realises what she is, at which point she yells, and I quote: “Why aren’t you sending a real person?” “Okay”, I thought, “That was awful, but it gets the point across, robots are treated as disposable, inhuman objects, it’s a slavery metaphor and-” “DON’T LET THAT THING NEAR MY DAUGHTER!” “Okay, that’s just getting annoying now-” “NO YOU DON’T GET IT, I DON’T LIKE ROBOTS PLEASE DON’T LET THAT INHUMAN TOOL NEAR MY DAUGHTER”. The other cops treat him with contempt and the best ending I got was talking David down only for police snipers to violently murder him after he had let Emma go and she was well clear of him. I get what they’re going for but it’s handled with all the grace of David Cage cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer. One could point out that a subject like this doesn’t need subtlety, but I would counter by saying that it at least deserves good writing, and this isn’t it. Fortunately the actual gameplay fares much better. Before you venture out onto the terrace to actually face David you’re encouraged to explore the apartment and examine what went down before you got here. Some of the information, like the fact that the weapon David has belonged to Emma’s Father, or that said Father was shot to death with it is largely inconsequential. On the other hand, you can find more useful things like a dead cop’s gun or a tablet on which the Father was ordering a replacement android, which unlocks a new dialogue option. Things like this instantly elevate it above, say, Beyond: Two Souls, which was peak low-interactivity “Cinematic” Cage bullshit. It’s nice to actually have some agency and effect on the environment, an effect repayed by new ways of playing the game. I managed three very different outcomes to the hostage situation without too much variation in my actions, and there were a whole lot more things to find and different choices I could have made, as evidenced by the flowchart shown at the end of the demo. Unfortunately however, it’s clear on repeat playthroughs that the actual confrontation is very stiff and segmented, so regardless of how well your negotiating goes, once you reach the last section if you haven’t found a certain piece of evidence the game suddenly gives you the option to rush forward and sacrifice your life for Emma’s, seemingly out of nowhere given everything that lead up to it. Still the variety in actions and outcomes did make me play through it three times in a row, which is something.

I must say I am, to a certain degree, pleasantly surprised. After Beyond and, to a lesser extent Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit, I was fully expecting this to be another railroad through poorly written nonsense with little influence over the outcome. The gameplay aspect has changed for the better; all it needs is to maintain this level of influence and response to the player’s actions for the whole game and not just limit it to certain set pieces dotted throughout the game. The other aspect, and the one that still worries me, is the subject matter. Cage hasn’t done anything to make me think he’s gotten any better at handling serious subjects, and now he’s doing a whole game about race, identity and throwing off shackles to “become human”, I could see this all going horribly wrong. But only time will tell, and I’ll be reviewing it anyway.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins Curse of the Pharaohs

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DLC time again, and we’re once again delving back into Assassin’s Creed Origins. Following on from the decent but underwhelming “Hidden Ones”, we have “Curse of the Pharaohs”; a huge, sprawling DLC in which Bayek trawls several different versions of the afterlife in order to put the kabosh on a curse involving revived Pharaohs. The trailer promised a supernatural bent involving giant scorpions and zombie/monster type enemies, but the final product is slightly different. While they do appear, the region the DLC takes place in is just a normal area really, apart from the odd monster attack. The real meat of the content lies in the aforementioned afterlife: several small pocket dimensions accessed through portals with their own visual style, design and enemies. One is a land of permanent sunshine, white structures dotted around in a large body of water and Anubis-headed guards everywhere. One is the field of reeds, bathed in dusk, with huge ships passing through them and vast stretches of open ground. One is a barren wasteland littered with corpses from a Pharaoh’s victory and the last a land of permanent twilight and huge, luminescent flowers. Visually the afterlives are lovely, and as the crux of the DLC they work well. Bayek’s mission to end the curse takes him on a rather lengthy journey in and out of all four, with each one’s corresponding Pharaoh as a boss, and a new mission structure, in which overarching missions are often put on hold until several smaller ones are completed. It doesn’t make much difference in the long run though, and it’s that same AC Origins gameplay I love so well. The only real issue is that of the bosses, particularly the final one: (SPOILERS) Tutankhamun (END SPOILERS). As you’re probably aware the game has a level system, in which enemies more than two levels higher than you do increased damage and take far less. The bosses, particularly the final boss completely ignore this; he was level 52, I was level 55, but suddenly he was a Dark Souls boss- dodgy hitboxes, insta-kill hits and cutting my health to ribbons despite me being several levels higher than him. It drove me up the bloody wall, made worse by the game unfortunately becoming really glitchy. I don’t know whether it’s my copy or Xbone, it did crash back to dashboard several times, but in-game the sound kept cutting out and characters would get stuck in mini-animation loops that would completely through off the cutscenes. At one point I spawned in an infinite void and fell for several seconds until I died. Regardless it did spoil several cutscenes and meant I had to have the sound turned off for quite a bit of it, which combined with the bosses left something of a bad taste in my mouth.

Despite that, there is a lot to commend about Curse of the Pharaohs. It’s more Assassin’s Creed Origins, the new locations are all great, there are loads of new weapons unique to the expansion, and for your money you get a whole lot of DLC, particularly compared to the rather short Hidden Ones. It also has a lot more plot relevance than I expected: it’s generally a bit of fun and throwing cool stuff in, but a lot of sidequests are tied into Bayek’s story and how he’s feeling now his life’s gone through such massive changes. For the most part I enjoyed the DLC, most of it was good fun and if you’re a fan of the game it’s definitely worth getting, it’s just also really frustrating at times.

By James Lambert


In For the Long Haul: Westworld Season 2

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Duhh duh duhh duh du-du-du duh duhhhhhhh… duhh duh duhhh du-du-du duh duhhhhhh

Westworld, baby. Season 1 was a strong mix of grim, cruel, visually splendid sci-fi and slow-burn character drama. The sci-fi was there for people who wanted it, and I appreciate the underlying narrative of robot sex slaves slowly realising what they, how rough a deal they have and deciding to murder everyone responsible, what made it for me was that strong focus on characters. The Man in Black in particular was a sinister, ice-cold villain cutting about doing whatever the hell he wanted. Bernard grappling with his indetity, Dr Ford as a calm, controlling puppet master of both robot and human alike, and Dolores as the centrepiece: the host leading the charge towards self-awareness and the ensuing host uprising. Their intertwined personal journeys were the blood pumping through those sci-fi veins, what held my attention the most as I binge watched the whole thing. Now season 2 is upon us.

Episode 1: Journey Into Night

New opening credit sequence: bison and a mother and child replace horses and robots having sex, among a few other changes. Same atmosphere, still pulls you in. Anyway right off the bat they’re doing the dual timelines thing again, although this time they’re not trying to hide it: Bernard wakes up on a beach, surrounded by some mercenary-looking search and rescue team, as well as Stubbs, who was kidnapped by hosts last season. This acts as the framing device for the season, or at least the episode: a hazy, bleary-eyed Bernard is led around by the mercs and their leader trying to figure out what happened two weeks ago, when the robo-rebellion started. In flashbacks, as things are kicking off, Bernard and Delos head Charlotte Hale manage to slip away and get to a hidden bunker occupied by two “Drone Hosts”, both the spitting image of The Walrider from “Outlast”. Hale intends to send information outside the park via the brain of Peter Abernathy; Dolores’ Father who was decommissioned after he broke his programming loop and started on the path to self awareness. In order to transmit the info and in return be safely extracted by Delos they’ll need his brain, but he’s in a completely different part of the park and, unbeknown to Hale, Bernard’s own robot brain is breaking down, something he has to fix with an injection of brain juice from a dead host. Meanwhile, The Man in Black/William has survived the dire straights he found himself in at the close of season 1: it isn’t shown what happened but given that he starts the episode hidden under a pile of dead gala guests, it probably wasn’t pretty. After killing two attacking hosts he retrieves his gear and horse, filled with glee at the prospect of “real stakes”. The robot version of little boy Robert Ford appears, a discussion is had about how William has finally got what he wanted and that this game is made for him, before William shoots robo-Ford dead. It’s at this point I just want to briefly talk about the guns in this universe. In season 1 the guns used in the park are lethal to hosts but not humans, but in this episode Bernard says the weapons must have been tampered with to remove that non-lethal element. Why on earth would the guns have that ability built in but locked off? I know Ford has been secretly planning this whole revolution thing for a while but did no one else spot it? Anyway Maeve runs into that whiny dickhead story writer and coerces him into joining her daughter-finding road trip, featuring Hector, who survived being shot repeatedly in the chest. No sign of Snake lady though, I hope she’s okay. Maeve’s scenes didn’t really offer anything new to the situation at hand, but as a set up for her season arc it was fine. The real stand-out in all this though, is Dolores, who’s essentially become a Far Cry villain. When she’s not chasing people down with a rifle on horseback she’s monologueing about the nature of her situation, mental state and humans’ role in her and her kind’s lives before having them all hanged. Wyatt is definitely here and flexing her muscles. She also references something called “The Valley Beyond”, in an almost religious way; something to be obtained or at least sought. It’s unclear whether it’s an actual place or something in the hosts’ A.I, but it’s interesting all the same. Finally Bernard claims he killed a load of hosts who are now floating in a large body of water that shouldn’t be there, and no one knows the origin.

Overall, good episode and good start to the season. I love the set-up of Dolores/Wyatt as a brutal, violent saviour on a collision course with the nihilistic, equally violent William: I eagerly await their next meeting. Maeve’s set-up was fine, hopefully her story will get more interesting as it goes along. Bernard’s story has real potential, particularly the past stuff, but while I like the ending revelation involving the mass of corpses I’m not sold on the framing device/flashback set up as of yet. Still, looking forward to the next episode.


UPDATE: Just an FYI, I’m going to turn this into a review of the full season once it’s finished. I’ll be deleting this article soon.

By James Lambert

Yakuza 6 The Song of Life Review

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What a time to be a Yakuza fan. Zero and Kiwami last year, Song of Life and Kiwami 2 this year, Online and Hokuto no Ken in the near future and Shin Ryu Ga Gotoku on the horizon, it’s fantastic. Anyway enough gushing. Yakuza 6 is the latest and last entry in the story of Kazuma Kiryu, the strongest and most noble hot Dad in Japan, a man who’s spent twenty eight years beating the shit out of every member of multiple mafia groups from around East Asia while taking the time out to do literally anything else, all with the same level of commitment and sincerity. After the events of Yakuza 5, Kiryu is serving a three year prison sentence, so as to clear his conscience and slate for good before returning to “Morning Glory” orphanage, which he runs. Haruka, his adopted daughter, has become a tabloid obsession after she revealed her relationship to Kiryu, known only to the public as an infamous ex-Yakuza, and flees said orphanage so as not to mess up the orphans’ chances in life. Kiryu gets out, discovers she’s in a coma after being hit by a car, and not only does she now have a baby named Haruto, but no one knows who the father is and she recently spent time in Onomichi, Hiroshima; home of a Yakuza clan so fearsome and secretive that no one’s ever even tried to fight them, and no one knows if their chairman is even still alive. As a swansong for The Dragon of Dojima, it’s bittersweet and fitting. Rather than go for an MGS4-style “The gang’s all here” story that ties up all the loose ends and brings back everyone who’s ever been relevant to the story in any capacity, Song of Life is just another story for Kiryu, in which he forms close bonds to the small-time Hirose family, solves some mysteries and bows out gracefully, letting the story of the Tojo Clan and Kamurocho go on. There’s a strong theme of parenthood, in particular the relationship between fathers and sons, and the sacrifices big and small that parents make. Interestingly despite his popularity and upcoming new campaign in Kiwami 2 Majima is barely in it, but the game reintroduces the Korean Jingweon just in time for players to deal with them in the same game, and the Snake Flower triad is back from Kiwami 1, all but destroyed and replaced by the new Saio Triad. The new characters are universally good; the scrappy Hirose family and their adorably placid patriarch played by legendary actor and director “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, Jingweon boss and a sort of SNK cross between Vergil and Liquid Snake: Joon-Gi Han, and some truly detestable villains whose identities I won’t spoil. It’s a strong story of human relationships, the strain put on them by a life of organised crime and people’s own personal ideas of identity and how relationships work, as well as how damaging a lust for power can be and the consequences it can have.

If you’ve never played a Yakuza game, it’s basically an RPG with free, open melee combat and a load of minigames and side quests. The combat is as satisfying as ever, but has been streamlined to its slight detriment. Heat actions- strong, special attacks using the environment or weapons, and governed by a bar under Kiryu’s health, are reduced in number. There is no longer any way of finishing off a downed enemy with a loafer stomp or punch in the mush, and the three fighting styles from 0 and Kiwami have been melted down into one, as it used to be. Kiryu’s style is  reasonably quick, powerful brawling, with a new “Extreme Heat” mode activated by the player, which enables the automatic weapon pick-up element of the “Beast” style, as well as new heat moves and added armour to attacks. Completing missions, even the “defend yourself” objective you’re given whenever you’re in a street fight, earns points in five different sections that can be used to buy new techniques or upgrade Kiryu’s health, damage, defence, evasion and heat gauge, all scored on a letter grade system. Bosses have only one health bar now, but activate their own permanent heat mode about halfway through the fight for armour at the expense of blocking. They too have been streamlined, though for the better: for the most part they lack the irritating trend with some bosses in the series of attacks that render Kiryu stunned and leave only small, awkward openings to counter. The characteristic minigames are present and correct, and alongside the sidequests they drew me in more than any other game in the series. Karaoke, darts, mashing face buttons to have Kiryu get way to enthusiastic talking to live-action cam girls, finding and befriending stray cats for a cafe, going to the product placement gym, it’s all gold. The biggest new change is to the open world itself; Kiryu can walk in and out of shops freely, fights can spill into businesses, and doing so gets you barred for a short time. Cars drive through the streets and have to be negotiated. Onomichi is a sleepy seaside town, in contrast to the bustle of Kamurocho, which having stayed largely the same since the original game is pleasingly familiar; a comforting base on which to layer on the new changes. Kamurocho itself is one of the best aspects of this series and to have it grow whilst being comfortingly familiar is a triumph of design.

Yakuza 6 maintains the high standards set by a series that is now twelve years old; if you know the series then you know what to expect, and whether you’re a fan or not this is worth playing. Kazuma Kiryu’s final chapter is a moving, emotional story with great new characters, wrapped in a thick layer of satisfying combat and engrossing minigames. It’s the best of the three recent Yakuza games, and quite possibly the best Yakuza I’ve played. Kiryu will be missed, but what a way to bow out.

By James Lambert


Life is Strange Before the Storm Review

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Life is Str-Anarchy-nge Before the Storm, as it apparently insists on being called, is a prequel to 2015’s surprisingly excellent Life is Strange, a sort of JoJo-esque “teenager with superpower and their friends investigate a serial killer” plot done in the Telltale style. It was emotionally affecting, had strong characters and its approach to choices was inspired; eschewing sudden choices with no time to think, and instead forcing the player to be completely sure of their decision before going forward. At its core, however, was the ability to rewind time; protagonist Max could control time and space, making it useful for inventory puzzles and needing to know information ahead of time alike. It was bloody good, all told, and the announcement of a sequel focusing on supporting character Chloe immediately caught my interest. The main series is a tight three episodes, and buying the deluxe version grants access to a bonus episode I’ll briefly touch on at the end.

Set three years before the original game, BtS focuses on Chloe’s relationship with Rachel Amber, her “Angel”, who was missing by the time Max came back to town. Their relationship was a key part of Chloe’s backstory, alongside the death of her Father and subsequent clashes with her Mum’s new husband. It takes a scene or two to get used to her (maybe it’s just been a while), but once you have, Chloe is far more interesting protagonist than Max. Unlike her (at this point Ex) best friend’s goody two-shoes routine and slightly overwritten hipster dialogue, Chloe is acerbic, confrontational and rogueish, but also smart, caring, capable and, depending on the player choice, willing to open up to new people. She has no time powers to save her, instead relying on outwitting or just generally out-sassing people. To that end is the new “Backtalk” system, a sort of back and forth, timed debate in which picking the right answers gets what would generally be considered the best result in a conversation. That is if Chloe succeeds; her opponent can get the better of her if you make the wrong choices. It’s not the masterstroke the time and space manipulation were, but it suits her character and adds a bit of spice to conversations. The story for the most part avoids any over the top plot points like the original game’s serial killer, instead focusing on its characters, their relationships and issues, with harrowing results. Now you’re inside Chloe’s head, controlling her directly at the lowest point in her life you get a clear picture of what she went through, and it’s grim. Anger, love, regret, mental illness, a crushing weariness and the feeling of being trapped are feelings all given room to breathe, woven into the story with Chloe’s developing romantic relationship with Rachel, fighting with her Mum and future Step Father and recurring hallucinations of her Father, including a real stand-out one I won’t spoil here. It’s a slow emotional burn, with a leitmotif of reverb-laden guitar that conjures up the image of sitting alone with a maelstrom of feelings in your head that are all blending together until you feel numb, and all you can do is stare off into the distance and wonder, perhaps aloud, “What now?”

Gameplay wise it’s largely the same as the original, which is original Walking Dead-era Telltale: a point and click adventure game with inventory puzzles, dialogue options and choices to be made at key points. Like the original there are a whole lot of optional situations, conversations and little choices that can be sought out, and Chloe can optionally graffiti various spots with a marker pen, seemingly just ’cause (it has no gameplay benefits). The main difference is the aforementioned backtalk, which works well for the most part, but can occasionally be annoying when whomever you’re talking to wins if you mess up just once. The gameplay is really just there to serve the story though, and the story is wonderful. Little touches like showing where Chloe got her truck from and tying it into mechanic skills she refuses to use anywhere else, her interactions with Rachel and seeing how she handles herself when things get tasty are all brilliant. The story does get more outlandish towards the end, but in practice it just means Chloe gets to show off what a badass she is. Her characterisation, as well as certain plot points in general made me much prefer this to the original series; this Chloe is one I’d love to play as again. As a story-focused character piece it’s beautiful, as a game it’s great overall, it’s better than the original and I fully recommend it.

Now then, a brief word on “Farewell”. Contains spoilers:

It didn’t do anything for me, in all honesty. I found Max more irritating than anything; every line of dialogue she speaks HAS to be quirky, nothing she says is naturalistic, nor can it just sound like something an actual person would say, particularly a child. She talks the way she did when she was eighteen, and she’s thirteen here. The whole thing is a big send-off for Chloe and Max; they’re clearing out Chloe’s room, then they decide to be pirates for a while, then a plot twist I saw coming from a mile away happens: today is the day that William, Chloe’s Father died. That’s fine as plot points go: compound the sadness of Max leaving with her doing it on the worst possible day, Chloe did say that Max left her when she was needed most. It’s the execution that fails, because it made me laugh, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention. Basically they have a funeral for William, and as soon as he’s in the ground Max’s parents bung her in a car full of all their worldly possessions, which they parked in the graveyard apparently, and drive away with Max staring out the window, hands on the glass, at Chloe and Joyce at the grave. Could they not have postponed it for a day? Hell, an hour, even a minute? These girls are best friends, they’re all each other has and their parents know this, show why would they be such cartoonish dicks about it? For drama? Didn’t sit right with me. Anyway like I say it didn’t really do anything for me. After the emotional raking over hot coals (including a last shot so completely and thoroughly horrible in its declaration it made me briefly feel physically ill) that was the three main episodes, this even scratch the surface.

By James Lambert

Metal Gear Survive Review

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Now, strap yourself to a chair and pull your tongue back far away from your teeth, because I’m going to say something that may shock you to your very core. Are you ready? Here goes:

Metal Gear Survive doesn’t suck. It’s actually decent, bordering on quite good.

I know, right? I was as ready to tear this game a new arsehole as everyone else, and the impression left by the recent open beta didn’t help matters. Konami’s Theresa May-esque insistence on barrelling forward with terrible decisions despite people insisting they aren’t on board has birthed a zombie survival game with crafting and tower defence that’s had the Metal Gear name crudely slapped on it. Much like the pelt of a beloved pet draped over a pile of broken glass and physical manifestations of ennui. Or so I thought, before I, with a sense of wearying inevitability bought and played the bloody thing. Making things worse were reports of staggeringly gross microtransactions, so I was all ready to play it for a few hours and bin it. Imagine my surprise.

Set just as Snake and Miller fly away from Mother Base as it’s attacked by XOF at the climax of Ground Zeroes, you are a create-a-character MSF soldier known as “The Captain”, sucked into a wormhole and dumped back out in “Dite”, a desolate wasteland filled with zombie-type creatures called Wanderers. That’s pretty much it for the plot besides some shady background stuff and a half-hearted plot twist, both of which are only important near the end of the game. The point is, you’re in the desert, you need to build a device to get back home, there are people to save and zombies to kill. Weapons are crafted from blueprints found throughout the world, fast travel points are unlocked by defending them from enemies to a time limit, and large parts of the map are covered in pockets of thick mist called “The Dust” that require a gas mask to traverse. The survival elements are one of the worst parts of the game; ever-present hunger, thirst and oxygen meters plague the Captain’s every step- undertaking one mission in the span of a few in-game hours will render her on the verge of starvation, and animals are hard to come by outside of designated areas, often on the other side of Dust pockets. Almost every time I finished a mission I then had to go hunting; not only does the hunger meter drop rapidly, it also governs the Captain’s max health. With rare exceptions there are no mid-mission checkpoints; die, which is likely for the first few hours of the game, and you’re right back to home base as if you never started the mission. The game doesn’t have much in the way of a supporting cast, and those who do turn up are all poorly written. One supporting character, an XOF soldier, actually stops everything to have an awkward rant about child soldiers, and how “Some kids have it really easy but these ones don’t, you guys, this is actually quite serious, you guys. It makes you think, doesn’t it?” It’s a far cry from, say, how child soldiers were handled in MGSV, which gave me pause in a way games rarely do. Story-wise it’s rather weak, and nothing on par with Kojima’s work. But then I suspect you knew that already.

So then, that was resoundingly negative, but I started the review with the bombshell revelation that the game actually isn’t that bad, so what gives? Well, once you start to get the hang of the game, how it works, the hunting, the lack of checkpoints et cetera, the game begins to show off the trick up its sleeve; it’s actually an effective horror game. Key to all this is The Dust; it’s dark, eerie and looking at the sky shows the texture of water’s surface, like you’re trapped in an abyss. Stamina depletes far more quickly in The Dust, there are enemies everywhere and the oxygen and stealth’s consumption of stamina means you’ll have to be quick, which results in a lot of desperate chases. The core gameplay loop of venturing out to find supplies, killing wanderers with the wide variety of weapons available and holding them off while you activate fast travel points is satisfying, due to the game using the engine and combat from MGSV. Lurking in The Dust is a huge, nebulous monster known as “The Lord of Dust”; it’s like something from The Mist, and it often just pops up when you’re moving around The Dust, usually on edge, low on oxygen and ammo having just delved into a cramped bunker full of zombies. It’s no P.T, but as a horror game it works quite well, and combined with that MGSV combat it’s a fun, if flawed experience.  It’s basically the tat collecting from Fallout 4 married to a surprisingly solid horror game with MGSV’s controls, and given how bad it could have been, I’d say it turned out quite well.

So there you go; if you ignore key gameplay mechanics and the story, it’s a fun little game that’s worth sinking some time into whilst listening to a podcast or something. It doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, and indeed I wouldn’t tell anyone to rush out and buy it, but I had a decent time, and that’s enough.

By James Lambert

Far Cry 5 Review

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Far Cry is a series that, running counter to the usual M.O of both Ubisoft and “Triple A” developers as a whole, takes risks. Their stories place emphasis on the interaction between antagonist and protagonist, mixing things up and making things murky, with no easy way out and having to face some harsh truths. Far Cry 5 is no different, and if you intend to go into the game blind, which I recommend, stop reading now. I won’t be spoiling any of the frankly brilliant story, but I will go into some detail.

You are The Deputy, a customisable character of player determined gender and no voice who, along with four other people helicopters into the compound of Joseph Seed; “The Father”, leader of the “Project at Eden’s Gate” cult who, in an effort to save the residents of Hope County, Montana from an apparently incoming apocalypse have resorted to kidnapping. This goes about as well as you’d expect, with the nightmarish, incredible opening scenes setting the tone and showing a) how many people are in the cult and b) how rabidly, feverishly devoted they are to The Father. Most of the county are in the cult, either by choice or having been forced in through various methods; in order to free Hope from the clutches of Eden’s Gate and save your colleagues you’ll have to aid the small, but definitely present resistance. Hope is split into three sections, each with one of Joseph’s siblings in charge. First up, at least for me (though they can be tackled in any order) is John Seed, a sort of televangelist figure. He’s introduced in a hokey video, his mantra is variations on “Just say yes” and encourages people to own and endure their sins in order to overcome them, without any form of mind altering in a physical sense. Beneath that facade, however, is a thinly veiled, petty rage; he’s quick to anger, hates being defied, and what people are saying “yes” to is having one of the seven deadly sins tattooed to their chest, then having the skin sliced off. Jacob Seed, an ex-soldier, is engaged in conflict with a militia up in the mountains, implementing a hardcore, full-throttle, “might makes right” flavour of social Darwinism. You’re either useful, or you’re meat, and the way he makes people useful is music-based classical conditioning; ingraining into the subconscious a state of murderous rage that can be triggered at will by Jacob. Faith Seed, an ostracised young woman taken in as an adopted sister by Joseph, rules her region through an all-powerful drug called “Bliss”; exposure causes vivid, euphoric hallucinations tailored by Faith to endear The Father to those who resist his teachings. Too much exposure turns people into mindless beasts that attack you on sight. Top of the tree though, and best of all is Joseph himself, easily the best antagonist Far Cry has ever had. In defiance of the running trend of “crazy” characters with bold personalities and a flair for the dramatic, Joseph is calm, collected and genuinely captivating. He appears throughout the game to address you directly, either in person or in an isolated monologue; he speaks reasonably and shares what he sees to be the truth. He’s one of those “truly believes they’re right” villains, but done in a way that’s enthralling and enticing in a way I’ve never seen. Every time he appeared he drew me in. Every time he appeared I listened to what he had to say. The story of the Seed family is an excellent one, but I can’t go into any further detail without spoiling it (I’ll save that for another article), going in a vastly different direction for the series that pays off immensely.

Gameplay wise there have been a quite a few changes, unfortunately not all of them good. Enemies no longer drop saleable loot; only ammo, loose change and components for crafting thrown explosives . The only way to reliably earn money is through hunting and fishing, which is a pain in the arse if you need some quick cash for ammo and don’t have the time or patience to stomp around the woods looking for bears and wolves to kill with a bow. Hunting now only provides items for sale; any and all holsters, ammo pouches and the like are tied into the upgrade system, alongside new skills. Upgrades are now tied into challenges rather than XP, sort of like the new Wolfenstein games, meaning you have to go out of your way to unlock them. These two changes are the game’s biggest problems; having to go out of your way to get money, and having to decide between new abilities or even just increasing your max health, and being able to carry more ammo. It’s not all bad though: planes and full-size helicopters are usable now, the wingsuit and parachute are easily acquired, and driving is as enjoyable as it was in Far Cry 4. The biggest new addition is that of specialists; Guns and Fangs for Hire, letting you have two A.I controlled buddies with different skills help you out. They range from a sniper, an archer and a dog who snatches weapons from enemies’ hands to more exotic choices like a tame Grizzly Bear and Cougar. Among these specialists is series mainstay Hurk, who ties into the other problem I have with the game: its inconsistent tone. Now, for the most part Far Cry 5 is a pretty consistent game, but it sometimes it goes to extremes. Hurk, his GTA character Father and things like the “Testy Festy” mission represent the game’s silly, crass side. The story and its characters represent its dark side, and it gets rather dark at times. I don’t begrudge the game lightening things up, but the dark, haunting parts are more to my taste and, in my opinion better executed, and any time anything silly happened I kept thinking about that opening section and how the two didn’t mesh. Fortunately for the most part the tone is balanced well, and even when the game takes a lighter, more humorous approach it’s nothing the darker elements can’t handle. It’s just those few moments where it goes too far in that direction. Overall the gameplay is as good as it’s ever been, it’s just that some of the changes feel like a step backward despite trying to make things more streamlined.

Far Cry 5 is superb. Slight issues aside it’s that satisfying Far Cry gameplay (with no more radio tower climbing, I just remembered) with a fantastic story and characters, an enthralling, brilliant antagonist and what may well be the best ending to a video game I’ve ever encountered, certainly one of the best alongside MGS3. It has its problems, but everything else is so good they melt away and I just think back to how fantastic Joseph Seed is. An absolute home run for Ubisoft; this and Assassin’s Creed Origins showcase a developer at the absolute top of their game.

By James Lambert

Batman The Enemy Within Review

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Say what you like about Telltale, they don’t rest on their laurels. Despite having an output that even Netflix might consider “a bit much” they do manage a certain consistent level of quality, at least in most cases. Their foray into the world of the Dark Knight marked something of a shift, away from taking original characters within properties (Borderlands, Minecraft), or IPs considered somewhat niche (Fables, the Walking Dead comic, which also had original characters in it). Batman is one of the most well-known, popular, well covered characters in fiction, something Telltale had fun with, playing with the non-canon nature of the story to have drastic choices and changes, which combined with a focus on Bruce Wayne made the whole thing an excellent Batman story, and one of Telltale’s better games. This second season, the aptly named Enemy Within, goes even further, starting with its premise: Bruce Wayne, undercover with a gang of Batman’s rogues gallery.

John Doe, the man who would be The Joker, is out of Arkham and looks up his newest, best and most likely only friend Bruce, whose time and concentration are spread thin by the death of a dear friend, the sudden re-appearance of The Riddler, who in this universe is an old school villain from before Batman’s time, and the subsequent arrival of Amanda Waller and her shadowy “Agency”, cutting Jim Gordon out and insisting on working with Bats directly. From there Waller forces Bruce to go undercover with “The Pact”, John Doe’s gang of mates consisting of Bane, Mr Freeze and their leader, Harley Quinn, an act that relies heavily on Bruce and John’s friendship. This runs parallel to Batman’s relationship with Gordon, and the increasing pressure from Waller. Continuing on from the first game’s pretty tasty shake up of established canon and characters, this one goes completely off the rails, especially given the amount of player choice. There can be no sitting on the fence here: Waller or Gordon, with John Doe or against him, commit to opening Bruce’s circle of trust to John, Selina Kyle and the like, or close Bruce off and continue down this road alone. The new addition to the game is the opinion system, in which choices and dialogue options change what people think of you, culminating in a mini emotional profile for key characters at the end of each episode. It’s not particularly detailed, but it’s nice to have a tangible grasp on what effect your behaviour has on those you interact with. Telltale’s flair for dramatic character beats and well-written interactions is on full display any time a principle character is on screen; the Waller-Gordon dynamic is tense and genuinely rewarding if you stick up for Jim, Selina and Bruce have some nice touching moments, and this is the best Bane I’ve ever seen; all the strength and brutality, readily available venom, and with the keen intelligence of his comic counterpart. There’s a fight with him early on that shows off A) how he treats his henchmen with care and respect and B) just how strong he actually is; it’s brutal. The stand-outs, however, are Harley and John Doe. Harley, far from her canon role of tragic, abused sidekick is the brains and steely edge of The Pact; shrewd, clever and putting her training as a Psychiatrist to good use. But it’s John who steals the show; a man desperately searching for his true self, an identity he can call his own, taking inspiration from multiple sources including, if the player so wishes, Batman. His story is certainly one of, if not the most interesting interpretation of The Joker I have ever seen, on par with Alan Moore’s iconic “one bad day” incarnation in The Killing Joke. When dealing with him and his personality one way leads to what must seem like, for those making that set of choices, an inevitable conclusion. The other leads to a tragedy that will haunt this Bruce for the rest of his life. It’s powerful stuff, and brilliant work on Telltale’s part; to conjure surprise and new ideas from a character that’s been around for nearly sixty eight years. It’s a dark Batman story, but one with a solid core of hope, if the player allows it, and as a result feels well-rounded and fleshed out.

Gameplay wise, it’s not really changed at all; standard Telltale conversations and QTE fights. The only real gameplay change here is that fights have more QTEs and more choices, often giving you two different ways to knock the absolute shite out of whatever poor sod decided to pick a fight with the world’s punchiest billionaire. The choices are as strong as they’ve ever been, and have that particular Telltale feel whereby whatever you pick always comes back to bite you in the arse, usually at the most awkward time imaginable. The game does have slight issues though, and they involve spoilers, so if you want to go in blind (which I recommend), skip down to the last paragraph. Still here? Right, The Riddler, a potentially interesting version of The Riddler who’s long in the tooth and thirsty for blood, lasts all of one episode before being iced. His death acts as a catalyst of sorts, forcing Bruce to go undercover with The Pact, but it still seems like a waste. Also the Bruce Wayne stuff, while placed into an interesting new context and having excellent moments involving Selina, as well as John Doe, who is adorable by the way, it lacks the schmoozing and being a total weapon at parties aspect of the character. I still enjoyed the Bruce Wayne stuff, because of the aforementioned strong character interactions, and it being where what Telltale does best gets to shine, but it feels less like being Bruce Wayne than those sections in the first season.

As a Telltale game, it’s up there with their best, particularly when combined with the excellent ground work in season 1, and particularly because of this version of The Joker, easily one of the most interesting and unique incarnations of the character ever. As a Batman game it takes risks that pay off and thanks to Telltale’s style is engaging in a way most other forays into the character can’t manage.

By James Lambert