Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Review

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Having stirred up a shitstorm so diabolical that governments got involved with Star Wars Battlefront 2, EA wisely decided to go in the opposite direction and get Respawn (creators of Titanfall and, more importantly, Titanfall 2) to make a single player only, microtransaction-free Star Wars game.

Set between Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, you play Cal Kestis; a young Jedi hiding out on a planet that’s one big eldritch monster covered in mouths, scrapping space ships and avoiding the Empire having lost his master to Order 66. Using the Force to save his friend from the aforementioned eldritch monster brings Cal face to helmet with the Second Sister; a brutal Jedi hunter and leader of a squad of black clad “Inquisitors” who do the same. Cal barely escapes with the help of pilot Greez and ex-Jedi Cere, who want Cal’s help retrieving a list of Force-sensitive children in order to train the next generation of Jedi. From there it’s a planet-hopping adventure following the trail of Cere’s master Eno Cordova, to the tombs of an ancient race of Force users called the Zeffo. The story is pretty solid all round, largely because the actual list of children is just a Mcguffin and the focus of the piece is on the characters. Cere has a troubled past is far more comfortable with the Dark Side than she would like, Cal has a deep well of guilt over his master’s death, and Order 66 happened when he was still a child so he’s had to basically raise himself into adulthood and this whole “Save the Jedi Order” thing is a pretty massive undertaking. Other characters you meet are struggling to fight back the encroaching Empire, who are still fresh but already doing their best to make everyone miserable. Spearheading this is the Second Sister, who has the use of both the Force and a double-bladed lightsaber, whose backstory I won’t spoil but both in terms of that and her design, she’s a strong villain. Personally I would have liked her to feature more, but you do get to clash with her on multiple occasions. She has a great reveal where she takes off her helmet, then hacks into Cal’s comms and taunts him for a while, but then Cal shuts her out and she’s placed firmly on the back burner until a lot later. The opportunities to encounter and fight cool, humanoid villains are definitely present but few, and unfortunately the game tends to fall back on fighting alien animals and monsters, which isn’t nearly as fun. However, the inquisition’s purge troopers act as minibosses dotted around the levels; strong, swift enemies with a variety of weapons that all pack a punch and different fighting styles. The story itself ends on a strong, satisfying note and that type of sequel hook that can be taken up or left, and fortunately doesn’t try to awkwardly cram itself into canon, apart from two cameos that in my opinion at least fit in fine.

I’ve heard two main comparisons in regards to Jedi Fallen Order: Uncharted and Sekiro. Now while I can sort of see where the former comes from, for me the game feels a lot more like the most recent God of War. Same Metroidvania gameplay, similar environment and art designs in a lot of areas, similar puzzles, that sort of thing. The Sekiro comparison is slightly more founded. Cal and enemies have block meters, once you’ve drained an enemy’s you can either kill them in one hit if they’re weak enough or get a clean hit in if they’re strong. That’s the only real similarity, because as we all know, blocking and parrying in melee combat have existed for years now, and the mere presence of them doesn’t suggest a Dark Souls inspiration. The combat has a definite weight to it but Cal is very quick and agile, has the ability to pull, push and slow down enemies with the Force and, crucially, the game has difficulty levels. They balance parry timing, enemy damage and enemy aggression, with the lowest having them all in your favour, the highest having them weighed heavily against you, and two inbetweeny ones. I started the game on the highest on recommendation, but restarted and then played the whole thing on one difficulty lower, which provides the best balance of the three criteria. The game can be tricky, and that block meter is definitely Sekiro-esque but for the most part it feels like a third person melee action game rather than a Soulslike. The Metroidvania elements are front and centre also; opening up new paths through the planets you visit, finding shortcuts, items and upgrades to traverse previously inaccessible paths. Oh it bares mentioning at this point, because I forgot to earlier and they’re responsible for a lot of the new path opening; Cal has a robot friend called BD-1: a tiny, two-legged droid with dog mannerisms that rides on his back, and they’re adorable. I love them. Baby Yoda can do one. The art design of the planets is nicely varied, ranging from things like ice, swamps and greenery to what’s basically a Mortal Kombat planet. It was surprising just how much Dathomir, birth place of Darth Maul, feels like Mortal Kombat. In a good way though.

Overall, Jedi Fallen Order is great. Enjoyable lightsaber combat, rewarding Metroidvania exploration and a strong Star Wars story with a focus on characters all make it worth playing. I had fun with it, and it kept me engaged from start to finish despite not being a particularly big Star Wars fan.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Control Review

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Control comes to us from Remedy, beloved developer of the first two Max Payne games and Alan Wake. They also made Quantum Break; that TV show/videogame hybrid where Shawn Ashmore had time powers, but I never got around to watching/playing it so I can’t speak to its quality. Control is a foray into a mixture of horror and sci-fi in the “Government agency that keeps tabs on weird stuff” sub-genre, which sounds like something Remedy could have a good time with.

You are Jesse; a young woman who tracks down the titular Federal Bureau of Control in order to find her younger brother Dylan, who was taken by the Bureau after the two of them stumbled upon some spooky sci-fi doings when they were children. Arriving at the Bureau’s HQ “The Oldest House”, Jesse becomes the FBC’s new Director after finding the previous one dead, picking up the seemingly living murder weapon and becoming linked to it at the behest of a talkative, inverted, black pyramid called “The Board”. She’s earned that promotion at an awkward time however, because The Oldest House is currently under lockdown due to the presence of an invading force Jesse dubs “The Hiss” that possesses humans and turns them homicidal, but fortunately Jesse has a guardian entity backing her up, on top of being extremely competent in a fight. The main plotline of Jesse trying to clear the building of the Hiss, what happened to Dylan and why the Hiss are there to begin with is hard to talk about without spoiling things, and much more interesting is everything else to do with the FBC and The Oldest House. The House itself is a living thing; it hates attention and cannot be found unless it’s being actively sought out, it’s huge, varied in layout and design, and parts of it physically shift and teleport around. Jesse’s gun, the “Service Weapon” spins and fidgets to itself like it’s waiting to be used, and seems to have a will, taking part in the selection process for the Bureau’s new director. This is the sort of thing the FBC deals with; regular, everyday objects with tremendous, often deadly powers that needs to be kept behind reinforced glass and studied. They have more on their plate that’s best left to be discovered naturally, but their bread and butter is SCP-style capturing, cataloguing and containment of supernatural items found in the hands and homes of unlucky sods out in the world. The Oldest House itself has a recurring motif of 60’s designs and technologies, in keeping with the decade the FBC was founded, which adds to that Twilight Zone/Roswell/XCOM Declassified vibe. It’s very Remedy and their love of genre tropes and trappings; just as Max Payne showed its love of Noir Detective stories and Alan Wake its love of idyllic, small town horror, Control clearly loves bureaucratic science fiction. It’s unfortunate then that the vast majority of enemies in the game are security guards and other staff members who’ve been turned homicidal and in some cases granted psychic powers. There are some more interesting encounters but they’re almost all optional and kept out the way in an attempt to inject a bit of Metroidvania into proceedings that largely doesn’t need to be there given what’s actually there to find. More on that shortly.

So gameplay wise it’s a third person shooter with the aforementioned Service Weapon and Jesse’s suite of psychic powers. Telekinesis, levitation, mind control, ripping chunks of floor up to use as a floating shield; useful powers that are there to compliment that core shooting element. The shooting itself is tight and responsive and the Service Weapon can be upgraded to take different forms, two of which can be equipped at once. It starts off as a semi-automatic pistol but can be switched up to act like a shotgun, grenade launcher and machine pistol, amongst other options. Both equipped forms drain the same ammo pool, which refills automatically after a brief delay, and that’s where the powers, especially telekinesis, come in; you’ve got to effectively balance and move between shooting, melee, hurling things at people, shield up, shield down, floating to gain a better angle of attack; Jesse spends much of the early game being rather squishy and healing items exclusively drop from killed enemies, so learning how to balance your skills is a must. It’s also worth mentioning briefly that the game loves environmental damage, and the world around you flies apart in a flurry of debris and particle effects like Ric Flair used to blade, as in it takes literally every opportunity to do so. To return to my point about the superfluous Metroidvania aspects: there are upgrade points but they’re linked to quest completion, so the only things you need to look out for in the environment are crafting items, mods and flavour text. That last one is great, no problems there, the crafting items are used for new Service Weapon forms and mods are split into two types: SW and Jesse. SW ones add damage, rate of fire, that sort of thing. Ones for Jesse give her more health, decrease the amount of energy different powers require, that sort of thing. Really these aren’t necessary, and the main story has you backtrack and go off the beaten path anyway, so there’s a good chance once you’ve got the key to continue the game will make you use it. The only thing of true worth the game hides is optional boss fights and nice bits of lore and backstory, but these are almost all linked to sidequests and don’t need to be hidden behind numbered, access level-based key cards, which are the game’s main stab at Metroidvania. The only thing that really dictates the game’s difficulty is how much you upgrade Jesse’s health, so anything behind a locked door just feels like the game isn’t ready for you to see it yet, not that you yourself aren’t ready for that particular challenge.

My only other real problems with the game are its technical issues; namely textures not loading and popping in, and pausing and unpausing the game absolutely slaughtering the framerate for a few seconds, which is a hindrance in a fight. They’re not game breaking by any means, but they’re noticeable and annoying.

Control is very much a Remedy game: third person shooting, live action mixed with in-engine graphics, James McCaffrey saying cool things, Poets of the Fall, tropes and trappings of genre fiction; it’s all here. They know what they like, they know what they do well and they stick with it, and once again it’s payed off. The Metroidvania elements don’t really need to be here and the enemy design doesn’t reflect the scope provided by the nature of the FBC’s work, but it’s a neat idea well executed, the flavour text and background info on what the Bureau do on a daily basis is excellent, Jesse is a likeable protagonist who’s fun to play as and the game kept my attention from start to finish.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18