Souls Do Not Harvest Themselves : Thoughts on the Far Cry 5 Reveal

After teasing the new Far Cry game with brief vignettes and the above image promising a heavily-armed religious cult in the rural United States, Ubisoft dropped an official reveal trailer earlier today. More than one, actually: each of the three supporting characters got one too (more on them in a a minute), but I’ll be focusing on the main trailer, and what I think of the game at this early stage (it’s out early next year). I’m generally a fan of the series, though the only installment I enjoyed without serious complaints was 4. Far Cry games nail a big open world that’s enjoyable to traverse and managed to make a hunting minigame genuinely worth doing, but they seriously stumble when it comes to story and character. Make a great, charismatic lead villain, slap him on the box and don’t tell anyone that he’s only in the game for fifteen minutes, that’s been the running theme since 3.

The villain this time around is Joseph, running the aforementioned cult in Hope County Montana; the trailer shows that he expects the whole county to accept his “loving” embrace, and those who don’t are threatened, kidnapped and roughed up. “We want you, accept you, and we will take you, willingly or not”, Joseph states. They seem to have the run of the place, driving around in jeeps with mounted guns, patrolling the streets with assault weapons and doing so unopposed by the looks of it. Not seen in the trailer is the player character, who is reportedly A) a deputy sent to arrest Joseph and B) created by the player, which I generally consider a plus, I’m a fan of create-a-characters. Now why they send one person (and not even a sheriff) to arrest the head of what is essentially a private army is beyond me, but they do have help. The three characters given their own trailers are commercial pilot Nick, bar owner Mary and priest Jerome, all sick of the cult and its grip on their home, and all packing heat. Jerome actually kills two cultists in the trailer off-screen, and Mary runs into trouble at her bar. Also of note is a shirtless man with what appear to be the names of the seven deadly sins carved into his flesh, presumably a higher-up in the cult. The trailer emphasises that the freedom, fun and bombast that define the series’ gameplay is here in full; quad bikes, dolled-up big rigs and Nick’s plane, explosions, angry bears and enough guns to arm an uprising make it look like taking down Joseph’s cult will be a good time. The name of this article: “Souls do not harvest themselves” is written on a board outside Joseph’s church message-of-the-day style, so the game clearly has a sense of humour. On the strength of the trailer, I’m really looking forward to Far Cry 5. The setting, villains, the characters they’ve shown and the story of one lone cop banding together with decent locals to take on a bloodthirsty religious cult sounds fantastic. If they handle it right, I can see it being on my game of the year list next year. It’s right up my street. On a more cynical note, however, I can’t overlook the fact that this is a Far Cry game and could well suffer from the problems of its predecessors, namely the important, named villains getting little screen time and the player character being annoying. That said, I am hopeful that it’ll dodge those potential pitfalls, and what they’ve shown off so far makes me confident it’ll be enjoyable if nothing else. I’ll write about new trailers and gameplay footage as it’s released, and fingers crossed it continues to look this good.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

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Nioh Review

I was wrong about Nioh, I’ll fully admit it. Playing the various alpha and beta tests released to the public for a limited time, it struck me as all the difficulty of Dark Souls with none of the creative design. Something to maybe pick up cheap later in the year, and certainly not something on par with the series it’s so clearly inspired by. Having finally finished it (main story and most of the side missions, but not the epilogue. At the time of writing I’ve just got to the epilogue’s boss), I feel like it’s something worth talking about, as not only a good Souls-clone (which as I’ll elaborate on is reductive in this case) but one of the best games I’ve played this year, and indeed for some time.

Very loosely based on historical events, Nioh tells the story of William, a real life English sailor who travelled to Japan and eventually became the first White, Western Samurai. In this game he’s an Irish Pirate who travels to Japan to rescue his “Guardian Spirit” (seen in the picture above) and ends up on one side of a real life Civil War going on in 1600, with an evil English sorcerer on the opposite side. At first the change in nationality irked me, given our limited representation in videogames, but given how skewed Nioh’s approach to history is it quickly stopped being a problem. The game is split into levels, with often brief cutscenes at the beginning and end in which William and one of his two new Japanese mates will meet with someone, with it really just acting as an excuse to navigate feudal Japanese locations hacking up Yokai (an umbrella term for the supernatural; in this case a variety of demons and monsters) before fighting a tough boss. The story itself is largely forgettable but as I said, it’s primarily there to frame the gameplay. The characters themselves are the stand-outs; particularly Hattori Hanzo, an expert Ninja who carries a cat around in his coat to use as a clock and endearingly speaks English to William with a thick Japanese accent, and Okatsu; a young female ninja who is ostensibly William’s love interest but acts more as her own agent with goals and feelings separate to him. Elsewhere Oda Nobunaga turns up because of course he does, and then there’s my personal favourite: Yaskue, “The Obsidian Samurai”- a real life African man freed from slavery by Nobunaga who then became the first Black Samurai. He only turns up for a boss fight, but he made the biggest impact on me.

On the gameplay side of things, it’s hard to avoid talking about the Dark Souls influence. Even lowly enemies can deal heavy damage, groups can be punishing and level-up currency must be retrieved from the spot you fell upon death. Shrines take the place of bonfires, clothing and armour all have weight that must be balanced efficiently and combat is easy to learn, difficult to master, especially given the precise timing involved. It is not, however, merely a Dark Souls clone. For my money Nioh plays like a mixture of Bloodborne and a character action game; developer Team Ninja previously worked on Ninja Gaiden and it shows. William is swift on his feet even in heavy armour (unless you go over the weight limit), blocking and dodging are mostly equally reliable, and each weapon can be used in three stances: low (fast, nimble, low damage), medium (good defence, moderate speed and damage) and high (slower, high damage but leaves you open). New skills can be learned, ranged weapons are an important part of your arsenal and you generally feel more capable and lethal, particualrly as the game goes on. Imagine a character from a character action game, like Devil May Cry or God of War filtered through a Dark Souls template and that’s basically what Nioh is: you’re an absolute badass, but getting clobbered with a Katana and/or a big demon’s fist hurts like hell. Enemy variety is somewhat lacking, but it builds up a sense of familiarity as you learn the best way to dispatch threats over the course of the game rather than constantly having to learn how to fight a whole new set of foes who blind side you and drain your health in two hits. The game largely avoids cheap deaths, too, which was a genuine and pleasant surprise. This is exemplified in the game’s stamina system; here called “Ki”, which depletes when hit by enemies (it’s technically your fighting spirit, not your actual stamina, so it does make sense). That might sound unfair, but enemies are affected in the exact same way, and a completely depleted Ki meter on you or your assailant allows for a high-damage finishing move type deal. Adding an extra layer to this is the “Ki pulse”, and I’ll just call it what it is: it’s a stamina Active Reload. Tapping R1 at the right moment not only speeds up Ki recovery but also purges the “Yokai Realm”- pocket dimensions created by enemies that boost their Ki and stop yours recovering. Add in the aforementioned Guardian Spirits that offer various stat bonuses “living weapon” modes in which you invincibly wail on an enemy for a limited time and you’re more than capable of tackling everything the game throws at you.

The game has its problems though. The most egregious is the occasional padding with recycled enemies; the final story level (not counting the epilogue) has seven bosses, and four of them are bosses already fought in previous levels. This isn’t so bad in side missions, but this was a mandatory fight required to finish the game. One of the bosses original to that level returns in the epilogue in the room before the final boss; this time there are three of them. In one room. They can kill you in two hits. While not as much of a problem the game doesn’t have the variety or detail in its environments and enemies that Dark Souls and Bloodborne do. It does have enough variety to get by but you better get used to feudal Japanese villages and caves. Despite largely averting cheap deaths it does have the occasional blindside, overpowered attack and dodgy hitbox, though these are often amplified by their infrequency.

Overal Nioh is a pleasant surprise. Initially I expected a Dark Souls clone set in Feudal Japan. What I got was a game that used Dark Souls as a framework and built on it with excellent results. The combat is engaging and satisfying, it feels like a fair challenge and arguably understands the importance of a player having fun more than Fromsoft’s games do. If you’re a fan of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, this is a good one to move on to. If you’re new to all this, I’d say this is a good place to start: the difficulty and measured approach of Dark Souls with the speed, violence and elaborate fighting of a character action game.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

 

 

Outlast 2 Review

Outlast 2 pretty much had an open goal. The sequel to the best of the first person run-and-hide brand of horror games, with a new setting of a Jonestown-style religious cult out in the desert; I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. Unfortunately they somehow managed to blast it over the bar because Outlast 2 is a mess of decent ideas mired by crass one-upping and half-baked characters. It’s not a total write-off, but it’s certainly got problems. Though I’ll be avoiding specific spoilers for the most part, I will be discussing plot points in a way that could be considered spoilery, so bear that in mind from this point on.

You are Blake Langermann; documentarian and cameraman who, along with his wife Lynn is investigating the death of a young woman tied to the Temple Gate cult, based out in the Arizona desert. It starts well; the cult follows the violent, deranged teachings of founder Sullivan Knoth, whose primary doctrine is murdering literally every child he sires (which is a lot) just in case they’re the Antichrist. He encourages his followers to do the same. No condoms in the desert, apparently. Now obviously this is a pretty heavy premise for a videogame, but just as it establishes this grim plot it spoils it by having everyone involved be really aroused by the whole thing. This is where the aforementioned one-upping begins. “What’s scarier than a religious cult murdering all its children?” “What if they’re all really bloody horny while they do it?” (They high-five). The whole plot involving the cult is one-upped by repeated and entirely tedious flashback hallucinations to (BIG SPOILER) Blake’s childhood friend being murdered by a pedophile priest (END OF SPOILER), something that in practical terms has no relevance or bearing on the plot – it’s just there for flavour but takes up far too much of the run time and doesn’t have any kind of satisfying ending. Despite being the most potentially interesting part of the game Knoth and his flock are barely in it. The game moves through several sub-groups of the Temple Gate cult and doesn’t bother developing any of them. It strikes oil with a group of poor sods riddled with some body-rotting disease and forced to live out in the woods, but spoils it by having them be led by Master Blaster of all bloody people (for those of you unaware of who Master Blaster is, it’s a big, mentally challenged man with a tiny man riding on his shoulders). Elsewhere a character who’s essentially Tilda Swinton playing rapist David Bowie has a promising introduction only to chase you around a pitch-black mine where you do nothing of interest until the game decides you’ve been down there enough. The flashbacks I mentioned earlier are all set in a catholic school- the same environment in which you run around waiting for the game to drip-feed you plot and send you back to what the story is ostensibly about: the cult. The game has good ideas: Jonestown cult, culling children, sick cult members forced to live in the woods, but it fumbles them so badly with poor execution, not bothering with character development and spending so much time in the school flashbacks.

Gameplay wise it’s very similar to the original game, but decidedly worse. You run from enemies who can’t be killed, hide from them in a variety of spots and use a night vision camera to both spy on enemies stealthily and navigate dark environments. The big change here is the enemy A.I, which is now bordering on broken, with one odd exception. This game’s equivalent of Chris Trager is Marta; a tall, lightning fast woman with that beastly looking pick-axe pictured above. As I eventually worked out the way to deal with her is run away as far as you and then hide. Wait for her to approach and move past, then leg it to a different hiding spot and repeat until you reach your goal. If you don’t do that, she will home in on your exact location: seeing you through walls, in the dark from a mile away. Does’t matter where you are, if you don’t trigger her then run away she will find you without fail even when she absolutely should not be able to. It’s ridiculous. Other enemies share this eerie, ESP-esque ability to find you to a lesser extent, though for the most part you’ll be running past them rather than hiding while trying to, say, find a switch or something. Notes are now videos recorded by Blake with him commenting over them, or photos taken of written notes you find. Batteries are kept in your pockets (which you check to see how many you have left), as are the newly added bandages because there’s a healing system now, which is completely unnecessary and looks odd when, like Joel in The Last of Us, Blake heals every wound by wrapping one bandage around his left forearm. None of the encounters in this one are particualrly memorable, none of them stand out in the way that Doctor Trager and Eddie Gluskin did. It’s just a slog through the desert that’s often annoying and occasionally interrupted by people who threaten to be interesting.

I’ve ragged on Outlast 2 a lot there, but it’s not completely awful. There are good ideas here, it’s just a shame they’re poorly developed and the game lacks hooks that really draw you in. If you enjoyed the previous game and its DLC then you’ll get something out of this at least, and I am planning to play through it a second time, but the original is by far the better game, and my experience with this has been disappointing at best.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18