Gears of War 4 Review


Credit where it’s due, developer The Coalition built up as much good faith as they could before this, their first original game in the Gears of War series, and one that continues a story that unambiguously ended (to quote Simon Miller of VideogamerUK “We’ve won. But Marcus is sad.”). Their current gen remaster of the original game was excellent, and both that and Gears 4 come bundled with digital copies of every other game in the series. Despite having a new main cast and what was advertised as a more horror focused direction they brought back series mainstays and seemed to retain the core game mechanics; put simply The Coalition really want you to like this game. I picked it up on the cheap recently, and to put things into perspective: I’m a fan of the series but I don’t think they’re amazing, I beat all three again recently and I went into this expecting at least decent things.

They cocked it up. Well, at least they do to begin with. Like the previous three games it’s split into acts, but unlike those games the first two of five acts are all about fighting robots. Waves upon waves of robots all clad in Warhammer 40K Space Marine blue, armed with nerf guns fighting a Scooby gang of new characters in colourful environments ripped from some horrific Kinect remake of Knack. You are JD Fenix, son of Marcus from the first game, who now lives in what appears to be this universe’s equivalent of a Native American reservation. Robots run the main human settlements, an irritable woman in glasses with no discernible personality besides irritation is in charge of all the robots, and ever since the end of the Locust war in Gears 3 everything’s alright, if you like robots. The first two acts are terrible, to the point that if I hadn’t seen any trailers for the game I would have stopped playing it. Thankfully once you’ve got past this point you never have to fight them again, and from that point the game does pick up speed, despite still having problems. The important part of the story is that the Locust aren’t dead; they’re starting to mutate after hibernating and they’re all coming back with vaguely defined new strength. You find this out by slogging through an abandoned town full of monsters and covered in goo and then break into a Locust mass grave in a mine- this part of the game is considerably better. Unfortunately the new characters remain poor throughout. Marcus is enjoyably gruff and irritable but your token Black mate and Native American (I think) girlfriend (again, I think) are bland, with attempts at snappy, light-hearted dialogue that leans heavily on jokes and rapidly becomes annoying. Chief annoyance is JD himself, who for all intents and purpose is buff Nathan Drake but without the climbing and fondness for the phrase “oh crap”. To top it all off the game just abruptly ends on an “it’s only just begun” note, and the now older Augustus Cole and Damon Baird didn’t settle down and get married after the war like they obviously should have done.

Gameplay wise things have been tweaked, but the core mechanics are the same as they’ve always been. The aforementioned robots don’t clearly show if they’re taking damage or not, and all seem to take masses of bullets to kill, especially these bloody shielded drones that pop up now and then. Gears as a series is about over the top blood and gore, it’s the game that put a chainsaw on the end of a gun as a one-hit kill melee weapon. In previous games one of the one-liners triggered by this event is “Nothin’ but bits…” So WHY AM I FIGHTING ROBOTS? Seriously this may not sound like a big thing but it’s forty percent of the game, so it really spoils it. However on the fleshy, organic side of things it’s a good time, though it feels a bit easier and less hectic than previous games. For one thing enemies won’t finish you off and your hip, young mates will save you practically without fail, combined with less pressure from enemies and the new cover attack system where you can vault over walls/pull enemies over them to stun them and execute them with a button press. Of the three new enemies for this installment one is just the brute from Dead Space but with its weak spot in its armoured chest rather than its back and the other two are irritating, armoured quadrupeds, one of them likes to pounce on you like a dog that’s pleased to see you and the other one sucks you up into its gut like in Men in Black. All three are pretty much exclusively used as sub bosses, but they all work fine. There are a fair few new weapons but while some are good for a laugh first time you use them none of them are as good as the existing guns

Overall Gears 4 is shaky, but it’s headed in the right direction. The new characters are irritating and fighting robots can absolutely piss off but the time spent fighting organic enemies are solid and the story they’ve started to tell here has promise, as long as they push on with it in Gears 5 and stop spending all their time on set-up. The sequel will probably be great, just like Gears 2 was, but this one is a somewhat rough start.

By James Lambert18


Watch Dogs 2 Review


Remember Watch Dogs? It was that game people called “The first true next gen game” (of the current generation) before its release, but then it turned out to be a mediocre at best sandbox game with a generic, angsty white guy in the lead role, a crap story that took itself way too seriously and terrible forced stealth sections. Also it marked the start of Ubisoft’s bizarre misuse of the word “iconic”. It was rubbish, all told, and certainly not what Ubisoft were after. But they’re not ones to let that sort of thing get them down so obviously a sequel was due at some point, probably one about Ballcap J Deadniece’s continued efforts against the mob, right? Well actually it’s about a charismatic young black man and his likeable, diverse friends rising up to wreak havoc against a shady organisation whose practices are both uncomfortably plausible and unambiguously evil. Not quite what I was expecting, but that premise alone made me buy the game.

You are Marcus, massive nerd and all round top bloke who joins hacker group Dedsec, now a pro-active team of vigilante types who spotlight dodgy companies and organisations, who send Marcus in to prove what’s happening and potentially stop at least part of it then publicly circulate the evidence they collect. People knowingly let Dedsec use their phones’ processing power, and discounting the number of security guards I murdered (though you don’t have to, and personally they deserve it given for whom they work) they are unequivocally the good guys here. It’s a smart move, switching from a psychopath in a tenchcoat acting from the shadows to a group that publicly works out in the open- you can even do the whole game dressed in Dedsec branded clothing. The story is almost entirely there to string together the various hacks; an operating system called ctOS runs all of San Fransisco and uses a frankly horrifying amount of personal information to affect services, products and the like and how people do and don’t receive them. Marcus was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit because the system considered him a likely suspect, ctOS creators Blume are evil, go mess with them and the various pies they have fingers in. It’s oddly reminiscent of Tony Hawk’s Underground but on a larger scale and with a lot more murder. What keeps the story going is its characters- Marcus is great and feels like a real step-up from Scowly Mctrenchcoat from the first game, and the rest of Dedsec are all likeable even when some of the dialogue doesn’t quite land. They’re not particularly outstanding but they’re all solid and they keep things moving along nicely.

Gameplay wise, things don’t work out so well. While the forced stealth sections where the game wrestles control from you if you’re spotted are gone, this time around being spotted by one enemy means every guard on the map knows where you are. This actually caused me to quit the game during the last mission- I had to sneak around an office hacking things, but if I was spotted I was immediately attacked by guards in full armour who despite not wearing any kind of mask could take several shotgun blasts to the face from close range and not even flinch, then gun me down in seconds. Poor alert states, mediocre stealth and enemies who don’t die when you shoot them in the face, not a good start. I thought we were past this shit, why do people keep making stealth games where one enemy spotting you makes everyone alerted? It’s not a fair challenge. The game generally plays the same as the first one; you go somewhere, shoot a whole load of people, hack something and leave. The game has rare moments where you do something more novel like a bit where you remote control this universe’s version of Kitt from Knight Rider but they’re few and far between, and most of the time it’s weak stealth followed by gunfights, which get increasingly harder as the game goes on because enemies start wearing armour and Marcus has no such option. Hacking is slightly more involved but not by much. The two new hacking features I noticed most often were junction boxes that can be used to knock people out have four hacking options when you only need two- lure in and knock out and  that cars can be remote controlled or just made to drive forward as a distraction with one button press. Almost everything else just requires a single button press like the first game- laptops, cameras, traffic lights etc. New additions this time around are a hovering drone and that little camera car from Rainbow Six Siege that you use to either hack into junction boxes or hack digital keys from people or laptops to open doors. I cannot stress how wearisome this gets after the first several times you do it- you arrive at a location, all the doors are locked so you send in the Siegemobile to hunt for a key, it happens in practically every mission. The shooting itself is fine, nothing special, thought it also gets repetitive.

Overall Watch Dogs is two steps forward, one back. The new characters, presentation and story are a big step-up from the last game, and it should be commended for having a cast with pivotal roles for women, trans people and people of colour- more games need to get that shit sorted out and it’s nice to see a big triple-A developer do it when they’d normally consider black people and women a risk for some weird reason that will never be understandable. Unfortunately the mediocre, repetitive gameplay does hold it back, to the point where the cutscenes are actually more enjoyable the missions they bookend. It’s definitely an improvement though, and people should support the game anyway because we live in a world where if this game doesn’t sell well Ubisoft will consider black main characters a failure.

By James Lambert


Silent Hill 2 is Fifteen Years Old


Also it’s my favourite videogame of all time. I know, I know, Silent Hill 2 is everyone on the internet’s favourite game, but it’s been mine since I first played it back when I was way too young for it, but still knew there was something about it that was special. Well I’m older now, and conveniently the game turns fifteen years old this very day in my country of origin so I’m going to talk about why I love it so much, why it’s so good and why it stands head and shoulders above every other horror game ever released. Firstly though if you’re one of the handful of people who hasn’t played the game, a brief primer before I get into massive spoiler territory: you are James Sunderland, your dead wife sends you a letter telling you to go meet her in your shared “special place” in Silent Hill. The town turns out to be all foggy and full of monsters, everyone you meet is very off in various ways and your wife is nowhere to be found, instead you encounter a stripper who looks the same as your wife but with a different name and personality. Spooky. Anyway, buckle up because we’re driving right into the heart of Spoilertown.

The game’s horror is entirely character focused, and as such is based on relatable issues that actual people can and do face. While on the surface it’s a game about a town full of monsters, the monsters bear no real importance on the story at large, with the exception of one whom I’ll address shortly. Silent Hill is a sentient location that dwells on the pain and guilt of those who visit and conjure a personalised nightmare, and whereas other games in the series have monsters and situations based on warped understanding and reaction largely due to it being based on the memories of children, the source material here is a lot more adult and grounded. James Sunderland is guilt-ridden and sexually repressed due to his wife being bed-ridden and requiring care and patience from him due to horrible mood-swings and a terminal illness. Eddie killed a man for mocking him; bullying and psychological torment drove him to actions he can barely justify and he will and does attack anyone who disrupts that justification. Angela was sexually and psychologically abused by her parents, and suffers from a bleak self-persecution complex. Maria is a fragile individual created for the sole purpose of tormenting James, whilst also feeling genuine attraction to him- she has an at best fractured sense of identity and self-confidence. The only character in the game unaffected by the town is Laura- a child; she bares a grudge against James, and is sad at Mary’s passing, as they were friends, but maintains composure for the whole story.

Each character in the game suffers from relatable problems, mental states and other afflictions that form the crux of the story and drama- there is nothing supernatural about their individual plights. The one exception to this is the now incredibly over-exposed Pyramid Head, a being born from James’ desire for punishment- both boss fights with him end when he says so, and there is literally no way to kill him. It’s a horror story anyone who’s ever had any kind of personal or psychological problem can relate to; even if you discount each individual character’s issues the game still touches heavily on the subjects of loneliness, depression, guilt, and failure.

Silent Hills 1, 3 and Homecoming centre around an evil cult that practice human sacrifice. Silent Hill 4 centres on a serial killer returning from the dead to continue his spree, and Downpour focused on…rain. Ahem. 3 and 4 also relied heavily on imagery that was in turns unnerving and really freaky depending on the situation. Silent Hill 2 revolves around a personal story and its characters. It’s also genuinely subtle; no jump scares, no gore, even the dark “alternate world” just makes the world seem poorly maintained and run-down as opposed to a separate, supernatural locale. What’s most unique is the driving point of the story, the main character’s behaviour and the context provided by the ending. See, James killed his wife Mary. Depending on the ending you got he either did it because he couldn’t bear to see her suffer or because he was sick of looking after her, but regardless of your actions in the game James killed her and that will never change, a lot like actually killing someone in real life. James went to Silent Hill to kill himself, but repressed that fact as soon as he arrived. The letter from and picture of Mary in your inventory vanish over time, and James exhibits troubling behaviour best explained by the situation he’s in. To begin with he pushes on through the town because he wants to be reunited with his wife. As it goes on and he goes to further and further lengths and through increasingly unreasonable environments and tasks it’s all down to a simple fact: James has literally nothing to live for. He came here to die, he may as well be dead already, in fact if he were it would make literally no difference to his story. This all ties into the game’s psychological horror- compare say, that dog corridor from the original Resident Evil and the corridor that leads to the final boss in SH2. What’s more likely to stick with you; running down a hallway and a dog jumps through the window, or walking down a hallway while a woman shouts at James (a name many people have, myself included) to leave her alone because she’s ugly and doesn’t deserve flowers, then breaks down crying and begs him to come back and tell her she isn’t going to die? When it’s not leaning into its more emotionally manipulative traits it relies on the “nothing is scarier” trope and a fantastic Akira Yamaoka soundtrack- you wander through a threatening location surrounded by horrible sounds that may or may not be in your mind, with the thought that something is clearly very wrong but the character you control doesn’t notice or doesn’t care because he has nothing to live for. It’s bleak, but not in an obvious way.

There’s really nothing like Silent Hill 2. It stands out as true psychological horror game with a focus on subtlety and horror real people face, wrapped up in a hauntingly beautiful game that also has decent  puzzles, and very rarely takes control away from the player, so you have to make all these uncomfortable discoveries yourself with no one else to blame. A game with this subject matter would most likely be a “walking simulator” or otherwise low-interactive experience now, but Team Silent made a survival horror game with tank controls (a popular mould at the time) that focused on the idea of loneliness, self-loathing, depression and loss. Sadly the series never reached this high point again, instead enjoying two more great games before plummeting, rising slightly then having its best hope in years cancelled. Silent Hill 2 also suffered the indignity of a mangled “HD remaster” based on unfinished code with new voice actors, no fog and a string of glitches. But nothing Konami does can take this game away- as special then as it is now, my favourite ever game and a truly outstanding experience. Happy Birthday, Silent Hill 2.

Also there’s an ending where it turns out a dog was behind it all, and it barks along to a jaunty ending credits theme. Just because, I guess.

By James Lambert


DLC review: Dark Souls 3 Ashes of Ariandel


Dark Souls 3 is the only good game in the series, and Bloodborne’s solitary piece of DLC was excellent, so I was actually looking forward to this. Unfortunately it’s a disappointment; it’s one uniformly snowy though admittedly quite large area, the enemies are boring apart from angry emaciated chicks (as in baby chickens), one boss is a man with three wolves then a big wolf and the other boss is an absolute piss-take. Fight her once, then her mate jumps in, then you fight her again afterwards. Three health bars, three forms, you have the one health bar. I haven’t beaten it yet and at this point I frankly don’t care. This DLC is poor, don’t buy it. Instead I’m going to be talking about the PS4 port of Resident Evil 4, which I recently finished instead of playing this dreck.

If you’ve never played Resi 4 it’s one of the greatest games ever made, arguably joint best with Red Dead Redemption. It pioneered the whole action horror over-the-shoulder-camera shooting and its combat was tense and overwhelming whilst making you feel like you’re capable of being in control of the situation if you can handle it. Enemies are just aggressive enough while generally having inferior weapons but numbers on their side, the escort quest that takes up much of the game is actually really well handled and the game mixes camp theatrics and genuine horror in a way that shouldn’t work but really does. Anyway the PS4 version’s biggest selling point is sharper graphics and what appears to be constant sixty frames. It’s certainly a smooth frame rate anyway, it looks bloody lush. I’m not sure which version they used as a base but they’ve sharpened everything up nicely. Besides that it’s the PS3/360 version- all the extra content of the PS2 version, all of it unlocked by playing the game like how games used to work before DLC. This is the definitive version of the game, and I say that as someone who has owned and completed the GameCube, PS2 and PS3 versions of the game. If you’ve played the game before and you’re wondering whether or not to buy this one then yes, you should. Resi  4 is better than the vast majority of games out there and you absolutely should own it on PS4 if you have one, and I assume the Xbone version is too, but I haven’t played that one. Unless they’ve done something terrible to it it’ll be worth it.

If you’ve never experienced Resi 4, possibly because you’re one of these new-fangled young people, buy it now. It works as a horror game, it works as an action game, it has no filler, no weak moments and it kicks the shit out of the vast majority of other games you can buy for current gen. It’s certainly a lot better than Dark Souls 3 and its DLC, and it’s a high point that the series hasn’t even come close to matching. It’s so good they released Resi 5 and 6 on current gen first so they could save the best for last.

Ahem. In conclusion Ashes of Ariandel is bad, Resident Evil 4 is good and Libya is a land of contrast, thank you.

By James Lambert


James’ Game of the Year 2015 list

Christ, it’s November already. Been putting this off for ages but I thought I better get it done before I have to do my list for 2016. Normally I do a straight list of five (sometimes more, but mostly five) games I enjoyed most during the year in no real order. This year instead of picking five games I’ve decided to try something different and narrow it to three: three games that I thought were truly special, stand-out experiences that defined 2015 for me.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain 

Yes it’s unfinished, yes part two has loads of missions repeated from part one and yes the ending comes after a repeat of the hour-long hospital prologue. But you know what? It’s the best stealth game I’ve played in ages, it’s Big Boss in 80s, Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, I love that the villain is a zombie cowboy and dammit I love Quiet. The game’s free-form stealth focused on upgrades and building new and better equipment coupled with a “he who fights monsters” story subtly tied to the player’s actions were a nice change from the series’ usual more rigid, linear stealth. It’s a shame that parts were cut but what’s still here is excellent, and if it really is the last Kojima MGS game then it does tie things together and taken on its own merits it’s a solid experience. It’s dark, brutal and combined with Ground Zeroes it’s like a really horrible part of the MGS timeline that no one talks about because it was so mired with death and tragedy. Great soundtrack, too.

Oh also, Venom Snake is basically Guts from Berserk; metal prosthetic left arm that fires an explosive, missing right eye, unfairly placed on a path of vengeance by a higher power after losing nearly all his friends and the life he built for himself, I don’t know if it’s intentional but all the same well played, Koj.


If I had to pick one game of the year, it’d be this absolute beast (no pun intended). I’m not a fan of Dark Souls (the third one is decent but one and two are awful), but Bloodborne despite being a spiritual cousin to that series is almost the exact opposite. Aggressive combat with emphasis placed squarely on offence instead of armour and shield turtling, a story that uses Resident Evil 4 with werewolves as a cover for a Lovecraftian cosmic horror story about forbidden knowledge and sweet trench coats instead of high fantasy shite and twisted gothic architecture instead of castles and peasant villages. It does have problems- cheap deaths and some rather weak boss design are a definite niggle but the game gets everything else so right it doesn’t matter. Its combat, level design and foreboding, nightmarish atmosphere make it one of the most memorable games in years, an experience unlike anything else I can name. It takes influence from other IPs but crafts them into something unique that is easily the best PS4 exclusive and the best game released in 2015.

Life is Strange

Life is Strange is beautiful. It’s a harrowing, upsetting, lovely story about friendship, death and identity that also happens to involve time powers and a murder mystery. It’s like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure but with gay teenage girls instead of ridiculously buff men doing fabulous poses. In a year when Telltale games started to falter Life is Strange put a fresh spin on episodic games based around choice and consequence: choices weren’t based on snap decisions but instead you could rewind time to change your mind, meaning you had to be certain you could live with your choice. Little decisions were peppered throughout the episode to find if you were so inclined, and main character Max’s time powers were cleverly connected to both time and space, meaning that she and objects on her person stayed where they were when time reminded. It’s a smart game with a fractured, troubled heart, one that resonates with anyone who’s had/is having a less than exemplary youth.

Honorary mention: Rainbow Six Siege

Is this cheating? Possibly. I reviewed Siege this year after getting into it in a big way, and though I’m currently taking a break from it I’ve sunk hours into it and I fully intend to do so again in future. It got me into multiplayer games, its tactical gameplay makes it stand out and overall it’s bloody good.

So that’s it, three games released last year I recommend playing above all others (and one honorary mention)- free-form stealth, nightmarish, atmospheric hack n slash and a moving, story-focused, puzzle-based adventure game. All three are fantastic, all three are absolutely worth playing. Until next month, when I’ll do my list for this year, which may or may not follow this format. I’ll see

By James Lambert


Battlefield 1 Review


I have to admit I was a tad skeptical about this at first. Temporarily forgetting the oddly zany shenanigans of Valiant Hearts it seemed odd to me to make what appeared from the trailer to be a high-octane, over the top first person shooter set in World War 1. For those unfamiliar with The Great War (which according to EA is enough people to affect sales) it was a colossal mess where no one was the good guy and everyone had such a good time dying painful, lonely deaths that the world decided to never do it again until Hitler turned up, and even then they gave him a while. It seemed like an odd choice, but it certainly piqued my interest. The beta didn’t do much for me and I generally don’t go in for multiplayer, but the full game seemed interesting enough to check out.

Instead of a full campaign the single player offering is six “War Stories”- short vignettes set in different places with different styles of gameplay and branches of the military. Besides the first story’s grim look at all-Black unit and real-life massive badasses The Harlem Hellfighters having a last stand in European trenches the game wisely spotlights the more varied, gonzo theatres of war that rarely get a look in- tank units, Italians in full suits of armour and the Bedouin rebels loyal to Laurence of Arabia all get a look-in. The whole thing feels like a pulpy “Look at these people in horrible situations who are borderline superheroes” yarn that both works and seems at odds with the tone. See the Harlem Hellfighters prologue sets up a “Everyone in this war is a human being and war is terrible” theme to events, but then everyone you play as is a one-person army gunning down hordes of enemy soldiers and carrying the day, tally-ho what? It’s almost like they wanted to make a gritty war is hell drama but then realised that doesn’t work as a first person shooter and so switched it out for bombastic heroics. Overall it works though, the stories are all varied and interesting apart from one, the shooting is tight and responsive, they’re all varied in terms of gameplay and they’re actually surprisingly educational. They taught me about the Hellfighters, the Arditi (I didn’t even know that “The Kingdom of Italy” as it was back then fought in World War 1), the Bedouins and Gallipoli.

The multiplayer focuses on scale. Rather than small, intense maps with lots of foot traffic the maps are huge, with capture points, vehicles and loads of soldiers all spread out and sprinting towards different spots on the map. Everyone’s likely to get at least a few kills and die a few times, but that doesn’t matter in the long run because of everything that’s going on. I’m not particularly knowledgable of Battlefield’s multiplayer gameplay or multiplayer games in general but I really enjoy Battlefield 1- what works about the single player stories carries over well, though now it has more of a “one of many” feel that suits the conflict it depicts, and it helps that you can play as the Germans and Austro-Hungarian Empire. The scale makes it feel less competitive but makes it very much a team game, and leads to small pockets of action where I, as a medic, can be of great use. Throw in vehicles like tanks, planes and the like and it’s multiplayer that feels a bit of fun rather than a competitive nightmare involving teabagging and/or sweary children.

Battlefield 1’s a good time. It can be a tad inconsistent tonally but the shooting is good, the multiplayer is fun and it actually taught me some interesting things about The Great War. Give it a look.

By James Lambert


Dishonored 2 Review


The original Dishonored was the first game ever reviewed on this site, dear reader. If you didn’t play it, it claimed to be a game all about choice and consequence and other buzzwords but in actuality it was a stealth game with wonky combat that felt like you were playing it wrong if you mucked up the stealth. Fortunately the stealth was rather good, and coupled with an interesting, well-realised world and a cool “work your way through a group of targets one by one” revenge story it was a good game, all told. Now years later a sequel has arrived with enough potential seen in trailers and gameplay footage to make it one of my most anticipated games this year. Does it build on the solid foundation built by the original or is it a superfluous step too far?

So in order to get the most out of this game you need to have played the previous game’s “The Brigmore Witches” DLC (which you should have anyway because it’s good): while the two player characters were introduced in the main game this installment’s main villain, her backstory and motivations were all confined to the DLC. You play as either Empress Emily Kaldwin or her father; Royal Protector and player character from the original game Corvo Attano. Whichever one you pick is ousted from the throne and the other is turned to stone when a witch named Delilah and her accomplice Duke Vincent D’Onofrio turn up, say that she is Emily’s aunt and therefore the true Empress and no one stops or even questions them. The story feels painfully rushed and underdeveloped. Whereas in the first game a loyalist conspiracy broke Corvo out of prison and set him on the path of revenge, here it seems like Emily/Corvo goes after members of Delilah’s coup just because it’s the done thing, said targets are all bland and underdeveloped, and I’m not at all convinced that Delilah herself is an actual villain. Emily herself says that she’s realised a ruler should earn their power rather than be born into it, but she’s only empress because she’s the daughter of the previous empress, and the game never confirms or denies if Delilah is Emily’s aunt. Plus by Emily’s own admission she spent most of her rule sitting around bored out of her mind. Emily herself has very little in the way of a personality, mainly an inflated sense of self and belief that what she’s doing is right even when it gets really iffy. New location Serkonos just feels like previous location Dunwall but less rainy and more brown than grey, far less exotic and unique than the trailers suggested, with an apparent civil war that appears only in one chapter and can be completely ignored. The first game’s story wasn’t particularly deep. But the meagre offering here just feels like a mess of wasted opportunity and repeats of elements from the previous game.

Gameplay wise barely anything has changed. There’s a new quicksave system which is greatly appreciated and Emily has different powers, but it’s still a stealth game with crap combat where really the only power you need is the one you get first, which in Emily’s case only works around 85% of the time and 15% of the time either doesn’t aim high enough (it can, it just doesn’t) or randomly catapults you way up and over what you aimed at instead of pulling you onto it. You still get boated into town, make your way to the area you need to infiltrate then break in and either murder your target or subject them to a fate worse than death, though they’re a lot less horrible and a lot more half-hearted this time around. Same with the level design: much has been made of the “Clockwork Mansion”, a house with switches that, when pulled, cause elements of the environment to shift and turn in and around the map, but there is literally only one time this is important in the whole level, the rest can be traversed normally, and dealing with the target in that level feels like a complete afterthought- you’re there on a rescue mission, after that’s done then you have to go back and deal with the house’s owner. Elsewhere is an observatory that I managed to stumble upon by accident and spent about ten minutes in before finding a switch that non-lethally dealt with the target and knocked out every enemy in the building. The stealth is still as good as it was last time around but the aforementioned 15% cock up rate with Emily’s travel power mean that things can and do become irritating, and the bland targets and lacklustre methods of dealing with them mean it’s not particularly worth it anyway.

I also need to point out the biggest problem with my playthrough: after spending the whole game carefully dealing with everyone non-lethally the game broke on the penultimate level and insisted that I had failed the non-lethal objective when I had actually spent ages successfully completing it, and due to lack of saves before the glitch I could only progress by killing the target. Fortunately by that point I was sick of the game and decided I didn’t really care all that much, but it was still irritating and needs to be addressed. Speaking of non-lethal options you can only do them if you explicitly find out about them, often by reading documents. On the civil war mission I mentioned earlier I hid above a target (a disappointing waste of Pedro Pascal) watching and listening to what he was up to, followed him into the basement only to discover a tied up member of a rival gang. “Brilliant” I thought. “Through the powers of stealth, patience and ingenuity I have discovered a non-lethal way to solve the problem I’m faced with.” “No” said the game, “that has nothing to do with the non-lethal option I came up with, but I won’t tell you what that is. Go find it, wherever it is.”

Overall Dishonored 2 is a big disappointment. At its best it feels like a poor retread of the first game, at its worst it’s bland, boring and uninspired; a tepid attempt to recapture the magic of the previous game without wanting to rock the boat too much. There is nothing in this sequel that comes anywhere near the level of “High Overseer Campbell”, “The Golden Cat” or “Lady Boyle’s Last Party”, nothing that stands out at all, really. It’s a classic example of an unnecessary sequel that tries and fails to live up to the high standards that its predecessor set back when it was an original IP with great stealth, and interesting world and novel, horrible ways to deal with targets. Avid fans of the original might be able to squeeze something out of this, but for them it’s not worth full price, and for everyone else they’re better off sticking with the original.

By James Lambert


HITMAN Season 1 Review


If you’ve been following my work you’ll know that there’s a special place in the cavity where my heart should be for Hitman. The series has had its ups and downs but Blood Money is a masterpiece that holds up to this day, and even when it’s not on point it’s still a good mix of murderous puzzle solving and bizarre, dark comedy. Absolution was a misstep that threatened to derail the whole series but as I wrote in my piece on HITMAN’s (caps will be used to differentiate this instalment, which is the only one to lack a subtitle) prequel it seemed that this newest, episodic game was taking things back to the heights of Blood Money, despite its nigh-game breaking technical issues. The last episode dropped late last month, wrapping up what was confirmed to be the game’s first season and signalling that it’s time for me to tell you if it’s any good.

I played the game as it was released; one level released monthly, the discussion of which may well be redundant at this point, but I will briefly say that playing it that way worked in the game’s favour. Hitman is a series designed to be played through repeatedly, and this one is no exception. Beside the frankly superfluous score system (more on that later) the game locks new equipment, starting locations and disguises behind completing challenges, so having time on your hands is a plus. But I digress: onto the game as a whole.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series you are Agent 47, a six foot bald man with a gaze so sharp it could cut steel and a barcode tattooed on his head, yet who is inexplicably able to infiltrate any installation on the planet with any number of disguises unimpeded by its original owner’s race, face or hair. There are six missions in six different locations, each with multiple targets placed in a sandbox with a variety of ways to get to them, kill them and get back out again. What sets it apart from previous installments are opportunities and challenges. Challenges are optional tasks split into ones unique to missions and ones that are universal, and usually revolve around different murder, infil and exfil methods. Killing targets by drowning/poisoning/garrotting them, for example, or killing them in certain disguises or with weapons and accidents unique to that location. Completing them unlocks new weapons, gear and starting locations, including starting already inside the location in disguise. Opportunities are HITMAN’s USP: overhear some pertinent information and the game will give you a step-by-step guide on a way to get close to a target and kill them. They can be set to three levels of help: literally pointing out the next step in the HUD, telling you what to find but not where to find it, or leaving it all up to you. The game also has a new mini-map that can be turned off, and HUD elements telling you if and when you’re trespassing, carrying something considered to be a weapon you shouldn’t be carrying and if performing an action will be considered suspicious and get you in trouble with anyone watching. These, like the mini-map, can be turned off. The opportunities are the best example of HITMAN’s mission statement: fun and variety. Gone is the darker, more serious tone of Contracts and the Grindhouse bullshit of Absolution in favour of absurdism and things that are really horrible if you stop and actually think about them, but it doesn’t matter because they’re so over the top that they end up being funny. In one level, for example, you can lure your target in by preparing a birthday cake ordered by his father, with whom he has a strained relationship at best, wait until he’s alone and stewing with rage over what the very act of the cake being ordered could mean and how it’s a psychological attack, then murder him by slamming him face-first into said birthday cake and holding him there until he stops breathing. Emphasis is placed squarely on killing your targets in fun, interesting ways, and arguably less on the actual challenge involved. It’s a game very much about spectacle, which leads to my biggest complaint; outside of unlocking new gear the game has no consequences. Unlike the notoriety system and newspaper articles from Blood Money, the only rating here is a scoring system. There aren’t even titles anymore; the game’s murderous badge of honour “Silent Assassin” rank is gone in favour of a rating out of five (though it does appear as a challenge). The scoring system isn’t nearly as fickle and irritating as the one in Absolution but it has the same problem of boiling complex, nuanced actions down to numbers, which personally I don’t care about. I only cared about the challenges.

Gameplay wise it’s the best it’s ever been. Taking the more active, fluid control scheme as a base it strips away that game’s terrible disguise system, checkpoints and that feature that was basically the mark and execute move from Splinter Cell Conviction. The disguise system now works as it would in real life: certain people (marked with a white dot, which admittedly isn’t like real life) who know their staff will see through your disguise, other people won’t. Head of security will know the men on his team, the cleaning staff will see a security guard. A simple change, but one that makes a big difference after the shambles in the last game. Alert stages have also changed; attempting to enter a restricted area and you’ll be turned away, stay there and guards will try and arrest you. Killing or knocking out anyone who knows what’s happening will cancel the alert- no longer will every enemy on the map inexplicably know who you are and try to shoot you to death. It strikes a balance between challenge and fairness that plays into the puzzle aspect of the series, with guards as obstacles to traverse, in a manner reminiscent of iPhone spin off Hitman Go. HITMAN also returns to Blood Money’s approach to story telling of cramming it into cutscenes and having the levels largely unconnected until the end. The story itself is fine, nothing special but as a narrative in a Hitman game wisely confined to cutscenes it’s quite decent, and sets things up nicely for Season 2.

Any other problems? Well the level of quality is inconsistent; second location Italy is a fantastic stand-out that the game sadly never gets close to repeating. Every other level is at least good and has its moments but the low point is infiltrating a milita base in Colorado to kill four targets, where everyone is armed and you can’t freely walk around anywhere without a disguise. The shooting is weak but shooting people is cheating anyway, the A.I patterns can be inconsistent which sometimes throws off opportunities and other plans, and the whole thing can feel a little forced at times, like you have to kill your targets in a ludicrous manner or you’re not doing it right. The thrill of the hunt and the careful planning of the execution are replaced by a more puzzle-based hunt and an over-the-top execution. It’s not as good as Blood Money, basically, but the few games are, and HITMAN is still a great achievement both for the series and games in general.

Overall HITMAN is fantastic. Personally I’m not a fan of the lighter score-attack approach to proceedings but at its core it does what Hitman does best; dropping you in a sandbox full of people and saying “there are two people you need to kill in there, go kill them and have fun doing it.” It’s a great return to form, and I look forward to season 2. It’s nice to have a proper Hitman game again. Only took ten years.

By James Lambert