Metal Wolf Chaos XD Review

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If you’re a fan of the Best Friends Zaibatsu (God rest their zombie bones) then you’re most likely familiar with Metal Wolf Chaos. If not, it’s a fifteen year old Fromsoftware game known for its over the top, goofy story, writing and voice acting, with a ridiculous premise and American patriotism shouted from the rooftops…but was exclusive to Japan and the original Xbox, a kiss of death over there. Fortunately you can now play it in the West without paying a small fortune thanks to Devolver Digital, who released an HD remaster recently.

There’s no real context to the story, it just sort of happens: you are U.S President Michael Wilson, operating a reasonably sized mech suit called Metal Wolf to combat a country-wide coup headed up by the evil Vice President Richard Hawk. Propaganda has cast Metal Wolf as a terrorist, particularly an ever-present news chopper carrying Peter MacDonald, who always manages to spin events to place the blame for the coup’s schemes on Michael despite him destroying everything. Said schemes include forcing rationing on citizens, unleashing poison gas on Chicago and selling Americans into oversees white slavery, alongside their usual tactic of erecting guard towers and filling the streets with tanks and troops. Aiding the President in his efforts is his secretary Jody, whose emotional state darts about the place between genuine concern and a glib, almost delusional sense of humour about the situation. Wilson gets in on this himself, throwing out non-sequitur soundbites at the touch of the D-Pad, and constantly justifying actions that require no justification by bellowing out “THE REASON IS THAT I AM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”. All of this is in House of the Dead level voice acting, especially Richard Hawk, who constantly sounds giddy and awkward. I get the feeling it’s intentional, but whether it is or not, it’s charming as hell and that over the top, mad energy is what draws you in.

Oddly, that tone doesn’t extend to the gameplay, which is rather straight forward. Underneath all the shouting, patriotism and awkward delivery is just a really solid mech game. You develop weapons between missions and take in a combination of things like Bazookas, missile launchers and giant shotguns, all stored in two pods on Metal Wolf’s side and dual wielded in any combination. Most of the missions require destroying a set number of targets, though some of them instead feature destroying certain objects, and may or may not include a boss fight. There are POWs to rescue, all of whom are a baffling combination of scientists and musicians for some reason, and the weapons and combat all feel simple but satisfying.

So that’s it, really, that’s Metal Wolf Chaos. It’s a bonkers story, with bizarre but genuinely amusing writing, voice acting and plot points married to solid, enjoyable third person shooting. It’s the kind of thing that’s worth experiencing at least once, and I’m glad Devolver gave more people a chance to play it.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

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In For the Long Haul: Preacher Season 4

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Preacher’s back for one last ride, having taken a comic I loved growing up, swapped things around, made new things and spent three seasons making an adaptation that’s better than the source material. After season 3 wrapped up everything with Angelville and Jesse’s dark past, as well as Cass’ newfound vampire mate, there’s only one thing left to do: find God once and for all. Unfortunately, Herr Starr kidnapped Cassidy at the end of season 3, so there’s that to deal with first.

Episode 1: Masada

The episode starts “A couple months” in the future, with a triple threat of comic references I can’t elaborate on for spoilers: Tulip and Cassidy hiding out in a hotel and kissing, with Cass having dyed his hair, Jesse falling out of a plane and lying still in the sand, and a shot in the new opening credits where Jesse has an eyepatch. Hoo boy, I was hoping for more comic arc adaptations and we got ’em. Cassidy is being held in the titular Masada; a Grail command centre built into the side of a mountain in the Middle East, complete with a university that hosts multiple torture classes based on skill level. The advanced class has a guest lecturer in the form of Frankie, a man from the comics who repeatedly shoots Cass with a Lee-Enfield rifle. That’s not enough for the TV version though, who dons a yarmulke and repeatedly circumcises Cass with a straight razor. Meanwhile Jesse and Tulip are putting together their plan, using the Word on a brawling group of Grail troops and having them infiltrate the base; most of them sneak Tulip in as a pretend prisoner, which goes wrong in gruesome fashion. See, The Word has an effect on one of the troops that forces her to inform her Sergeant that she can’t follow his order because she works for Tulip now. Cue the heavy front doors shutting and the soldier taking Tulip’s order to “Keep the door open” literally, resulting in her being a mashed up mass of pulp. Still alive though somehow, so that’s something I guess. Meanwhile Starr has made precautions against Custer, equipping himself and his little squad with ear protection, and having an old mute woman act as a go-between for the two. Doesn’t help with one of Tulip’s new goons being in the room, however, and everyone gets gunned down besides Starr, who used the old woman as a human shield because of course he did. Did lose an ear though, so swings and roundabouts. Jesse breaks Cass out suprisingly easily, eliminating a troupe of Grail guards (after supplying them with edged weapons) and pummelling Frankie in a way that seems like it’s being played for comedy but it comes off as a bit odd. Basically he’s drawing said beating out and every now and then grins at Cass, who just rolls his eyes. The two fight their way through Masada mostly off screen while Tulip scales the cliff to reach the door release switch, guarded by Featherstone. After the two fire at each other and their bullets collide, they have a brief fight resulting in Tulip getting the door open and Featherstone escaping with a wingsuit. Cass taunts Jesse about his love for Tulip and the two have a brief fight, which is another reference to the comic but unfortunately is again off screen. I’m hoping they come back to this though and adapt it more closely, because it’s a great moment in the comic. So that’s that then, right? They’ve got Cass out and everything’s grand. Except they don’t, because he stays behind, merely saying he’s “Got this”, but presumably because he can’t stand being with Tulip but not with her. God is working directly with Herr Starr to make Jesse suffer, and the episode ends with Jesse having a dream of a nuclear explosion and odd, penis-shaped rock. He leaves to go find God, a letter left behind.

Overall, decent start to the season. Some good, gory visual gags, the set up for Cass’ part of the story as the season goes on is intriguing and I’m glad it ends with Jesse deciding to get moving. The fight scenes weren’t as good as they have been in the past and that one joke I mentioned didn’t land, but overall it was a good premiere.

Episode 2: Last Supper

These two episodes aired as a double bill, and there’s a lot to get through in this one. First up is a scene explaining why the dinosaurs were wiped out: a Brontosaurus ate its own shite after God told it not to. Back in the present, Jesse hitches a ride with an ex-porn star driving a chicken truck but stops to help out a child crying by the side of the road, his dog having died. It’s ruse though; the dog is fine and now Jesse’s being mugged. He responds the obvious way and Words the kid to make him drop the gun…which kills the dog for real. Good work, preacher. To make up for it, he gives the kid some money, then his wallet, then his boots for some reason. It’s all good though, he hitches a ride with a man riding a camel, which goes fine until he runs into someone he hates and it descends into a fight. Jesse puts a stop to it, but for some reason it only works on one of the men, resulting in a rapid chain reaction and both men and camels dying. The Word only works if you speak English, a brief plot point from the comics that I’m glad to see make an appearance. Meanwhile, Tulip and Cassidy are both independently working on escape plans. Tulip’s involves a fake betrayal, a drawn out, off-screen, obscured by dust demolition derby and sneaking into Masada in disguise, which works, but the aforementioned car fight is lacklustre. Cass just steals a doctor’s clobber, gets right up to the front door and is about to leave when he seemingly turns back because of the sun, only to do a load of cocaine, steals a load more of it and get into a fight that ends with Frankie putting him down. Frankie later makes an interesting point about people like Cass wanting to be tortured because they believe they deserve it, but I really hope this whole “Cass very easily nearly escapes but then doesn’t” thing doesn’t become a running theme. Herr Starr is the new Allfather after the previous one was gibbed last season and has the Deputy PM of New Zealand killed because he asks when exactly the Messiah will be revealed. The hunt for Humperdoo isn’t going to well, as shown by a scene of Grail goons pursuing one in a jeep and killing him when he doesn’t dance like the true Messiah. He also gets a doctor to staple some of Cass’ foreskin to his head as a replacement, which looks hideous and off-putting and while amusing for a second or two is absolutely not something Starr would stand for, and if the next episode doesn’t include him ripping it off and killing that doctor my immersion will be completely ruined. Or, you know, I’ll be mildly annoyed. Back in Jesse’s share of the episode he reaches an airport and is told by a pilot that the penis rock is “The Lost Apostle” in Australia, and after realising he left his lighter in the chicken truck makes said pilot drive him to where it came from: Jesus De Sade Entertainment. He grabs the lighter without any trouble, but the pilot convinces him that they need to storm the place when they see a frightened child being ushered away from a window by a white haired man in a cape. The episode ends with a time skip to Jesse, now with bloody knuckles and new boots, alone on a plane with the pilot taking him to Australia, as it’s revealed that God has a model of the same plane.

I saw a brief clip from episode 3 that made me suspect Jesus De Sade would make an appearance, and here he is. It is a bit odd that he’s just crammed in like this when in the comics Jesse, Tulip and Cass went to one of his parties looking for information, but I’m hoping they make the most of it next episode. I’m also hoping for Bob Glover, Sexual Investigator, especially since they missed the opportunity to have him in an earlier season. Overall the episode was a good continuation and it works well as a double bill, but I’m having slight doubts. The show works best in more varied, interesting locales and so far the pristine Grail lab and their all-white tactical gear seem sterile and uninteresting. I’ve already raised concerns about Starr’s new ear and Tulip’s car plan, but they’re nothing too bad at all, and with the promise of Jesse beating up pedophiles next episode, I’ve quickly put it behind me. Cass needs to either shit or get off the pot, escape-wise though, lest it bog the season down like his old man vampire son did back in season 2.

Episode 3: Deviant

Okay, so they’re leaning into the notion that Cass thinks he deserves his torture this episode. Frankie is now taking him on regular trips to Bensonhurst, NY to have his foreskin repeatedly sawn off by a machine and the results being added to skin cream, in a dark reprise of Cass’ theory from season 2. The still unnamed Angel hanging in Cass’ cell is a lot more talkative this episode and gets the vampire to reveal his backstory: 1916, the Easter Uprising in Ireland. A human Proinsias Cassidy sets off with his mate Billy to repel British forces. It doesn’t end well; Billy has his leg blown off and is bayonetted by English soldiers while Cass looks on too scared to help him. Later that night he hides from two oncoming soldiers and is jumped by a female swamp vampire who bites him. Back in the present, Cassidy laments his failure and says that he felt it best that his family think he died rather than the truth. Tulip’s plan to bust him out has hit a roadblock in the form of a psychological evaluation, which proceeds even when she mullers a bunch of Grail staff. Turns out she’s got a personality disorder, a gun fetish, psychopathic traits and abandonment issues, but “There’s no cure for that” so she can go about her business just before Featherstone storms in having figured it out. Meanwhile Herr Starr has curled the excess foreskin on his new “ear” in towards his head, and asks his cold and calculating replacement for Hoover, “Hoover 2” if he’s still beautiful, to which Hoover 2 gives a flat “No”. Starr approves. In Texas, Eugene and the Saint of Killers grab lunch in a diner, with the latter being surprisingly talkative and at least considering the former’s insistence that Jesse merely apologise to them both rather than being killed. Eugene gets solicited by a man in the bathroom via a glory hole only to be almost immediately arrested by a Sex Detective…who doesn’t give his name and doesn’t belt out Bob Glover’s iconic “IT’S BUGGERIN’ TIME” in what I can only describe as a devastating missed opportunity. Finally we have Jesse’s adventures in De Sade entertainment. It’s basically just a kinky costume party, starting with a woman blowing smoke in Jesse’s face that makes him woozy, and De Sade outlining the terms of the little boy’s presence in the estate, resulting in Jesse clocking him in the nose. Jesse finds the boy and it turns out it’s the one who mugged him, and the boots Jesse’s wearing on the plane are his own ones, having been returned to him. The boy doesn’t want to leave because he’s “Making thirty five dollars an hour in a third world country”, but Jesse insists, resulting in a drawn-out fight that’s part explicit Oldboy reference, part Mother Russia Bleeds and part weird camera angle that, had the show not have demonstrated such quality up to this point would feel like a mistake. It’s fine, it’s back to being set to dissonant music and the Oldboy reference is a nice touch but all the fight scenes so far this season have been nothing special. Particularly when compared to the “Uptown Girl” and “My Sweet Lord” fights. The fight ends with some idiot blundering in with a gun that Jesse turns on everyone, and a stray bullet tags the kid. So that’s two for two on accidental murders for Jesse in the span of as many episodes. Again, good work, preacher man. He stomps De Sade’s head into paste in a rage, and as Jesse and the pilot leave (the pilot sans trousers, having taken a less aggressive stance upon entering the building) God is seen in the window. In the airport Jesse runs into Hitler, who doubts the former’s ability to even reach God, which Jesse counters by commanding Hitler, who is the ruler of Hell at this point, to get on his knees and strangle himself. The episode ends with a news report about a manhunt for Preacher Jesse Custer as the plane goes down having hit a patch of “Something”.

So far this season has been rather busy but hasn’t got a lot done. I’m glad Cassidy’s getting justification for him staying in the hands of his torturer, but he still needs to do something eventually. The shot of him clutching the Angel feather near the end of the episode might be hinting at an imminent escape for real this time. Everything in De Sade Entertainment didn’t really go anywhere and the fight was just okay, Tulip’s psych eval was just another link in the chain, and they set up Bob Glover and bunted, to my frustration. I’m still enjoying this season but so far it’s not had as good a start as previous ones.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Judgment Review

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Judgment, which took me a while to spell correctly, comes to us from Yakuza developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, having decided to use the time before new protagonist Ichiban debuts in Shin Ryu Ga Gotoku to develop a whole new game with its own cast and separate story, because RGG love us all and want us to be happy. To be simplistic for a moment, Judgment is sort of like the Bloodborne to Yakuza’s Dark Souls; same setting, same core gameplay and sensibility, but with a new flavour and details draped over the top. Not that that’s a bad thing, obviously.

Judgment tells the story of Takayuki Yamagi, once a defence attorney who left the profession in disgrace after obtaining an acquittal for a man who then murdered his girlfriend. Now a private detective in Yakuza’s Kamurocho alongside his best friend and ex-Yakuza Kaito, Yagami works to find evidence clearing Matsugane Family Captain Hamura of the murder and eye-removal of a rival Yakuza. Of course, this being a noir detective thriller, Yagami is determined to uncover the identity of the real killer, dubbed “The Mole”, who has killed and de-eyed two other Kyorei-Clan men and seems to have an uncomfortable link to Hamura and therefore the Matsugane Family, the Patriarch of which is like a Father to Yagami. From there it’s a mystery in a way that Yagami has to approach differently to a Yakuza protagonist; he’s still on the side of the law, and so has to find evidence rather than just beating his way to the truth. He still does that, but it’s not enough to merely find the next link in the chain, Yagami has to uncover what’s going on and make it stick. Without spoiling anything the reveal of who the mole is, why they’re doing what they’re doing and the greater ramifications the killings are tied into are all really well done. It’s a complex case with grey areas, though while Yagami is willing to get his hands dirty he’s a very noble man committed to the law and so is more than willing to cut through those grey areas to expose the truth. Whereas Kiryu is a legendary, untouchable figure who’s destined to solve whatever overarching problem he gets involved with, Yagami is more vulnerable and affected by his enemy’s efforts. He even gets the shit kicked out of him now and then, in the classic “The P.I’s got too close to the truth and needs a beating” trope.  Kamurocho is now so ingrained and established as a location that it doesn’t need a Yakuza game to work: the perspective has changed but it hasn’t missed a beat, it’s another story in the same universe that stands up against any of Kiryu’s.

If you’ve played a Yakuza game, you’ll know what to expect for the most part. Yagami’s fighting style is based in Kung Fu: Drunken Fist and Wing Chun in addition to his two dedicated styles of Crane and Tiger, intended for groups and one-on-one fights respectively. He won’t use knives or guns, but besides that he’s more than willing to kick the absolute, ever-loving fuck out anyone who steps to him, and the combat is as satisfying as ever. The real difference here is the inclusion of minigames pertaining to Yagami’s profession. He can take side cases in addition to the long-term main case, as well as making friends (many of whom work in the food industry) and girlfriends. Tailing is a prominent feature, and despite RGG working to make it as painless as possible it’s still crap, because tailing missions always are. Every now and then you get to do more involving things like search for evidence, take photos and, best of all, use the dialogue options. What makes them interesting is that you get an XP boost for choosing the most pertinent questions, and can end a conversation early once you’ve asked them. You can choose every option, but the game rewards you for working out what the best thing to say or ask is in the situation. You also have to present evidence sometimes, Phoenix Wright style, but it doesn’t really effect anything. If you mess it up Yagami will stumble a bit and the game will give you another go. Having played Sinking City recently, I’ve got detective elements in games on the mind and despite the banality of some of them, Judgment does do a decent job of making you feel like a P.I, especially given that its bread and butter is just having you batter people. Here they’re the dressing rather than the meat, but the tailing is over quickly and the other aspects are neat, so it enhances what’s happening rather than detracts from it.

Any problems? A couple, unfortunately. The game has a unique feature called “Mortal Wounds”, whereby certain attacks will damage Yagami’s health in a way that can only be fixed with a health kits, which vary in price from quite expensive to very expensive. Guns cause them, as well as bosses and mini-bosses once they power up at a certain level of health. Guns make sense, but why people I was just pummelling and tanking attacks from can now cause me serious damage is beyond me. This ties into the gang Yagami annoys early in the game, who at inopportune times will decide to increase their presence in Kamurocho, resulting in increased random battles with now stronger enemies and mini-boss characters arriving who can provide the aforementioned mortal wounds. As I progressed through the story it happened more and more, and it gradually became a nuisance more than anything else.

Overall, Judgment is a success. Clearly RGG Studio don’t need Yakuza to get by, they can make a compelling, engaging story with all new characters from a new perspective and make it work in the same universe. I wish I could go into the story more but its nature as a slowly unravelling mystery prevents that. Rest assured that the pay off is worth it, and Yagami’s quest to uncover the truth is worth a place alongside RGG’s previous efforts.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Wolfenstein Youngblood Review

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I was really looking forward to this, you know. I loved New Order and New Colossus, and a follow up about BJ and Anya’s twin daughters tearing up Nazi-occupied Paris in the 80s seemed like an absolute slam dunk. Turns out my expectations were set too high.

The story, such as it is, is thus: America was fully liberated off-screen, BJ killed Hitler (presumably not on Venus) and now he’s vanished. His daughters Jess and Soph, alongside Grace and Super Spesh’s daughter Abby, grab hold of two sets of power armour and join up with the Paris resistance. That’s it. There’s a bit more at the end of the game, but it’s all threadbare, and given how it ends Youngblood is presumably a prologue for a full-length, proper sequel, and I hope so because this isn’t it. Remember in New Colossus how you could go out into areas from previous missions in search of codes that would reveal the locations of assassination targets? This is basically just that. Oh the missions are different, but it’s that same unfocused approach; go out into an area, kill a bunch of Nazis and pick up an item. The main questline consists of breaking into three Nazi bases to help Abby hack computers, after which there’s a twist I saw coming a mile away, then a final Nazi base, an annoying boss fight and a weak “To be continued” conclusion. I didn’t beat the final boss, because as it went on I realised that I just didn’t care about him, what he was doing, or even about finishing the game. I have seen the ending cutscene though.

The USP here is an ever present AI/player character in the form of whatever sister you don’t choose to play as. Jess and Soph have different ways of encouraging each other that result in different buffs, like health and armour refills, temporary invincibility and increased damage. There’s a lives system, because that’s exactly what this series needed: if a sister enters the down-but-not-dead state and dies, a live is spent. Lose three and it’s back to the start of the level. Even if you play the game offline you can’t pause it; entering the pause menu won’t actually stop the game, which is utter bollocks. Finally, RPG elements have been brought to the forefront: in-game and premium currency buys weapon upgrades and cosmetics, level up points unlock skills, and enemies all have levels, which is unnecessary, but I guess they had to find a way to make you do the sidequests, and not just gun it for the main missions and finish the game in a few hours.

So I’ve gone in pretty heavy on criticism there, but is there anything good about the game? Yes, as it happens. Jess and Soph have potential as leading ladies; a mix of killing machine and childlike glee, as touched on by their obsession with a series of books about a pair of English detectives. They’re both likeable, have a close bond and are the only thing that holds the story together, alongside Abby, who’s good as their mission control, a genius looking for an outlet and just as determined to fight the Nazis, just in a different way. What little story there is here is solid, there’s just so little of it. I’d like to see the trio given a game like the two previous Wolfensteins, one that gives their characters room to breathe and grow. Also, despite the lives system, the gameplay is still good. Shooting feels weighty and responsive, there are new weapons that are fun to use and of course, murdering Nazis is always great.

Overall, Youngblood is a disappointment. If its purpose is to test the waters for a new full release, it’s frustrating but has promise. If it’s intended as a proper to sequel to New Colossus, it’s a failure, quite frankly. I like the twins, I like Abby, I want them to come back in a game as good as New Order and New Colossus. They deserve more than this.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Sinking City Review

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When The Sinking City was announced way back when, I assumed it was merely Lovecraftian but it turns out it’s a fully fledged Lovecraft game, set in the Mythos and featuring explicit references to and encounters with entities from the stories. It comes to us from Frogwares, who having spent ages making Sherlock Holmes games decided to turn their attention to something altogether stranger. If you played those games you know what to expect here: it’s a detective game about piecing together evidence, locating and travelling to points of interest, talking to people and working out a conclusion to the case, but with a few key differences.

You are Charles Reed, Navy Diver in The Great War and Bostonian Private Detective recently arrived in Oakmont, Massachusetts. Reed’s been suffering from extensive visions and nightmares, as have others in the Massachusetts area, and Oakmont seems to be the source. It was recently hit with a devastating flood that’s left many of its streets completely submerged, weird monsters comprised of stitched together human parts roam the back alleys, and everyone still living in the town of Innsmouth (of “The Shadow over…” fame) has sought asylum in the city, much to the annoyance of many racist locals. Chief among those is Robert Throgmorton, an Ape-Man in a crisp white suit who is closely linked to whatever’s happening, having sent an expedition into the depths that ended in madness-tinged disaster. The story goes to some really cool places from there, wisely keeping the more cosmic elements of the Mythos looming unseen but mentioned in the background and focusing on the ground-level struggles of the town, which is an interesting angle. Oddly for a Lovecraft protagonist Charles isn’t racist, and will calmly and thoughtfully explain why the Innsmouthers in the city are just people looking to get by, and nothing they as a people have done is worthy of scorn or worse, violence. Having the Innsmouthers be out in the open lets the story approach aspects like associated cults and cosmic beings from a fresh perspective, one where instead of a shadowy group hiding their existence, they’re just a group of people, some of whom have something to hide and a capacity for violence, but one that isn’t linked to the “Innsmouth Look”. It also lets the story dabble in other areas; supernatural elements, gangsters, political corruption, things that other Lovecraftian games avoid because they’re focusing on the macro elements of the Mythos. Parts of it are stronger than others, but for the most part it’s a good Lovecraft story with some interesting ideas, and it pulls them off well.

The lion’s share of the gameplay is detective work. At the start of the game Reed has a few points of interest marked on his map, several of which contain archives, and anywhere else has to be found throughout the various cases. It’s an open world map in which you’ll have an address, find it on the map and place a marker, then investigate that location wherein you’ll find something that will either provide the next address or a piece of information that can be used with an archive to find an address. There’s a lot of legwork, a lot of figuring out where to go next and finding it yourself, and during the main questline you have access to Reed’s “Mind Palace” in which leads are stored. Two correct leads combine to make a deduction, deductions lead to conclusions. Sometimes Reed can use a sort of supernatural vision called “Mind’s Eye” to see past events and hidden rooms, and crime scene investigations most often end with ordering a group of ghostly snapshots of events so Reed can determine what happened before he got there. I mentioned a few key differences, and the biggest ones stem from Charles Reed’s profession. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Reed has very little interaction with the police, and his morality is both entirely linked to player choice and far more flexible. Several cases end with you having to murder one person or another in cold blood, Reed can let the culprit walk and maybe even pin it on someone technically innocent but deserving of punishment for other reasons, and it’s all down to what you decide. There are moral choices, but the game doesn’t present them as such. You piece together clues in Reed’s Mind Palace, along the way you’re presented with sets of two equally plausible options that Reed must decide between in his own mind, and then that leads to one of two conclusions which aren’t set in stone until they’re acted upon. The clues are set, but it’s how you interpret them that matters. There is no right answer, only an answer you believe to be correct, which fits the character of a P.I. like a glove.

Unfortunately the game falls down a bit when it tries its hand at combat. The aforementioned monsters seem like an afterthought; they came in the Flood but no one seems to really know why or from where, and they’re all over the place. Reed is given a series of increasingly powerful guns over the course of the game, and given that you’re paid in bullets and can craft your own ammo fights quickly become trivial, especially if, like me, you set the combat difficulty to Easy. Combat and detective work have their own difficulty levels, similar to Silent Hill’s combat and puzzle options, so I could up Detective from Easy to Normal and bump the combat down to Easy after it swiftly became a pain in the arse. Sometimes you have gunfights with humans, which while also easy feel a lot more relevant to the story, and at one point you get to kill a few members of the KKK, which is always a plus. The standard-issue Lovecraft Game Sanity Meter TM is present and correct, but it really doesn’t seem to affect anything. Lowering it makes Reed hallucinate, hold his gun to his head and see shadowy monsters that aren’t really there, but it refills on its own, can be instantly refilled with an item and has no long term ramifications. Really it’s just there because it’s expected, and despite Reed’s hallucinations and visions he handles everything that’s thrown at him surprisingly well. The game is also quite rough around the edges; there’s pop-in, a lot of load times, the odd short freeze and at one point I got a glitch where several blue lights appeared and getting near them made them so bright I couldn’t see anything else. Another time I went into someone’s apartment and all the floors turned into white voids.

Sinking City doesn’t always play to its strengths, but when it does it’s a neat little detective game with a rewarding emphasis on legwork and deduction. It has a solid Lovecraftian story with interesting characters and ideas, all executed well, and it kept my attention from start to finish. It’s rough around the edges, but polish it up and it’s a gem.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

A Plague Tale: Innocence Review

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I want to like Plague Tale, but the game makes it hard sometimes. For the most part it’s a solid horror character piece about a young girl and her even younger brother on a journey through misery. Then sometimes it turns into a supernatural action thriller that throws all sense of subtlety out the window. With boss fights.

You play Amicia De Rune, a fifteen year old noblewoman in fourteenth century France whose family is targeted by the Inquisition. They’re after Hugo, Amicia’s five year old brother whose mysterious ill health has meant the two siblings have grown up apart from one another, now thrust together in dire circumstances. Exacerbating the situation are huge swarms of flesh-eating rats who can only be kept at bay with light, presenting a lethal threat any time the De Runes enter the shadows, doubly so at night. The story is interesting to begin with, as Amicia seeks out potential explanations for Hugo’s ailment, and the two gain a small group of allies, each with their own skills and backgrounds. That stuff’s good, the allies are all likable, what’s going on with Hugo and how it ties into the Inquistion is intriguing, and Amicia’s relationship with Hugo is a well handled mix of affection and frustration in certain situations. Unfortunately as the game goes on, the supernatural elements merely hinted at in earlier parts come to the forefront, and the game fully shifts gears into absurdity by the end, which dulls the impact, and threat established early on. Most of this revolves around the rats themselves, portrayed less as a zoological menace and more of a force of nature; some act of vengeance carried out by an angry god. They literally explode out of the ground and strip men in full plate armour to the bone in seconds, they frantically sprint towards any flesh they can find, and bump up against the invisible walls created by light sources as they clamber over each other, desperate to rip Amicia and Hugo to pieces. The best level in the game is navigating a misty battlefield covered in corpses, with rats all over the place that first appear by bursting out of a dead horse. A lot of the game revolves around navigating groups of rats and using them to your advantage; destroying light sources to kill guards, moving revolving lanterns into positions to form safe paths, that sort of thing. For the most part, the gameplay relies on stealth and light puzzle solving with the rat hordes. Amicia has a sling with which to launch rocks at unprotected guard heads, and her allies present her with a variety of alchemical tools that provide various effects. Knock guards out up close, ignite light sources, extinguish light sources, melt helmets, that sort of thing. These items all have to be crafted, and which one to use for which situation is a fun little element that pops up every now and then in the stealth sections, when the game isn’t pushing you towards one or another. Where the gameplay falls down is when it attempts combat, especially boss fights. Amicia’s sling requires auto-aim, which when combined with having to quickly swap between different ammo types can lead to some frustrating deaths as the soldier you’re not aiming at charges across the room to stab you or, even worse, throws a spear through your heart. One section in particular right near the end was the worst for this, in which I had archers to shoot in the head, certain types of light sources to extinguish and other types to outright break. The game’s combat system is not built to handle spinning plates like this, and it becomes painfully apparent whenever you leave stealth to do anything more than loudly kill one or two enemies. Worse still are the boss fights, especially the final boss which is both annoying and completely ridiculous. It marks the culmination of the game’s descent from “This is neat” to “Oh god what happened here?”

That said, the game does have its strengths. The way the rats are presented is excellent, as are their nests made from a black, tar-like substance that corrupts and warps whatever it’s built onto, and is laced with bits of bone and entire human skeletons. Amicia isn’t anything special but two of her companions are cool; Alchemist’s apprentice Lucas and thief Melie. That’s about it really, I’ve come away from the game feeling quite disappointed overall.

So then, for the most part Plague Tale is good: the horror elements are strong thanks to the rats, the stealth and puzzling are neat and the characters are all likeable enough and the story is intriguing enough to keep you interested, but then more and more combat sections creep in, and the game leans into absurdity and the whole thing falls down a bit. Not a bad game overall and an interesting experience, but it bites off more than it can chew.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Layers of Fear 2 Review

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Remember Layers of Fear? It was a first person horror game about an artist trying to complete his masterwork while mental illness turns the house into an impossible space of ever-changing rooms and corridors filled with lore about his backstory. It was good, eschewing Amnesia-style weaponless stealth in favour of mood and atmosphere. Now there’s a sequel, so here we are.

Continuing with the theme of tortured artists wandering around being reminded what bastards they are, this time you’re a celebrated film actor named James, exploring a luxury cruise ship where filming was taking place. In place of the Artist’s Magnum Opus is the ultimate character James was meant to play, with each psycho-journey getting him closer to fully inhabiting the role. Unfortunately James’ story is hinged entirely on a traumatic moment from his childhood, and the game is spent waiting to be told what it was even though you figured it out hours ago. The original didn’t have a central mystery as such, it used the run time to hint at what happened to result in The Artist roaming around his house using body parts to paint a portrait; filling in the gaps gradually to give you details about a situation it’s already outlined to you.  To have a grand reveal on which to have hours of references that are purposefully vague because there’s barely anything to conceal absolutely butchers the game’s minute-to-minute pacing. A game like this is about the journey, capped off by the destination, something Layers of Fear 2 fails to heed. Worse still, James being an actor doesn’t really have any relevance to the plot, besides four moral choices of a sort that are linked to taking or refusing direction, and collectable posters of films he was in. I think. They might just be of films whoever put them up liked.

Apart from a couple of changes, the game mostly takes place on the ship, which quickly gets boring. Unlike the original’s constantly changing architecture and use of colour the environments here are mostly in black and white, have nothing of note or interest in them and are populated exclusively by manikins, which are woefully unequipped for all the symbolism heavy lifting the game asks of them. The second of five acts is particularly bad for this, just being stretch after stretch of dark corridors. There are moments when the game tries to spice things up a bit, but they’re all underwhelming. There are now rudimentary enemy encounters with a faceless humanoid monstery thing with no real sense of internal consistency or logic. Sometimes you have to run away from it, sometimes you have to hide from it, sometimes you have to run towards it which then somehow turns into running away from it; it’s clearly been designed to work around how the horror and exploration work, to its detriment. The enemy in the original popped up now and then as a scare and nothing more, and that worked so much better. There’s a short part chase, part hiding sequence with it in a maze near the end of the game and it’s dreadful. Every time the thing turned up it was annoying and, crucially, never scary. That goes for the game as a whole, and it’s due in large part to everything being so bland and lifeless. The original kept you on edge, built up an atmosphere of unpredictability and dread. Nothing of the sort here, not even close. Also manikins aren’t scary apart from that one bit in Condemned. Ah Condemned. What a banger.

Oddly, there are modern film references, despite seemingly being set in the early twenty first century. Se7en gets an extended, explicit shout-out that feels completely out of place, the Shining gets one, there are probably more but by the time I realised they were there I was rushing towards the end of the game.

As I write this I’ve just finished Layers of Fear 2 and I’m already struggling to remember it. How Bloober team went from something vivid, atmospheric and interesting like the original Layers of Fear to something so dull, bland and boring, that’s such an uneventful slog to play is beyond me. It’s a shame.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18