Blood-Soaked Memories: My Five Favourite Bosses in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice


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Having just finished Sekiro for the second time and taken the other fork in the road, I thought I’d talk about one of the game’s best aspects: boss fights. Note that to get the best spread possible I’m including both full-fat bosses and mini bosses in this, because in terms of my personal enjoyment there’s no real difference between the two groups. So without further ado, let’s get into it. Obviously there are major spoilers from here on out.

5. Armored Warrior 

At last, Fromsoft does a puzzle fight well. It’s a simple puzzle, but one that ties into the game’s mechanics and provides a tweaked challenge: an opponent head to toe in thick, metal armour that protects his vitality from any and all damage. The puzzle is you cannot kill him with conventional means, and must instead fill up his posture bar and use a deathblow to kick him off the side of the bridge you’re on, something that can only be achieved when you’re close enough, at the right angle and if the Warrior has smashed a hole in the wall. He hits hard and erratically, and it becomes a close battle of positioning, dodging and combos. It’s a really fun fight, and its short length makes it a nice, snacky interlude midway through Senpou Temple to show off a neat idea FromSoft had.

4. Genichiro Ashina 

After cutting off Wolf’s arm and kidnapping his master Kuro, Wolf is understandably out for Genichiro’s blood. Waiting for you at the top of Ashina Castle, the Samurai acts as the first greatest test of skill and your grasp of the game. Telegraphed combos that provide a great opportunity to raise his posture, all three kinds of unblockable but punishable attacks and practice with a dangerous long-range foe. While Lady Butterfly is a good fight, Genichiro is far better as a human on human duel, with the game’s best example of the give and take, push and pull nature of the combat up to that point. I’ve seen people say that Genichiro is where the game really clicked for them and it’s easy to see why, as it expects you to have learned the combat and rewards you for it with a challenging, satisfying fight. When you finally beat him he switches to his “Way of Tomoe” form, in which he strips to the waist and gains the power of lightning strikes. This is where the game introduces Lightning Reversal; a trick where you leap into the air to sever a connection between the lightning and ground and send it back into Genichiro for heavy damage. A great boss, and his low position on the list speaks volumes to the quality of the fights in this game.

3. Great Shinobi Owl

At the three-quarter point Wolf must make a choice: side with his adoptive Father and turn against his master Kuro, or decide to follow his own code and stay loyal to the young master. Choose the latter and Wolf must put down his old man, who fights with a Katana longer than Wolf is tall and every dirty trick in the book. Owl fights Wolf with his own tactics and some of his own Shinobi moves thrown in: shuriken, firecrackers, bathing the arena in smoke, bombs that stop you healing, all on top of that massive sword. Unlike Genichiro before him, the tactics for defeating Owl are more focused on nailing the step-dodge timing to avoid the Shinobi weapons, move in close and punish. Owl is higher on the list because of the story implications of the fight, as if you’re taking the “good” path through the game this marks the point where Wolf makes an extremely difficult decision in benefit of his master, showing just how much he cares about the boy. I love Kuro and Wolf’s relationship and often took the time to have them talk, so it feels like a natural progression to maintain loyalty to him and reluctantly fight a father who’s cloaking malevolent, selfish desires in disappointment that you’ve broken the iron code. I like how if you die, while he’s waiting for you to revive he barks out tenants of the code; filled with unrighteous indignation at a son who’s thinking for himself and has chosen a better path. A cool fight between two master Shinobi and a key moment in Wolf’s character development.

2. Guardian Ape

Sekiro has a strong grasp of horror that is used sparingly, peppered into the fights with humans and the odd gun-wielding monkey. Mibu village, the two long-arm centipedes, the headless; they’re all cool, but they lack the visceral punch of the Guardian Ape, a unique boss with two vastly different stages, a great design and interesting lore implications. First you fight a giant, white ape with a huge sword through its neck who alternates between ferocious hyper-aggression and scrabbling to flee like a frightened animal when you gain the upper hand. He throws boulders of poisonous shite at you, he farts poison clouds, he clobbers you with his giant ape arms and he has two different, brutal grab attacks. It is, as the name suggests, a fight with a giant ape. He only has one deathblow marker, and once you activate it Wolf uses the giant sword to sever the ape’s head. “Shinobi Execution” appears on screen, job’s a good’un. But then he gets back up. Round 2, a giant, parasitic centipede controlling the ape’s body picks up the severed head in one hand, the sword in the other and engages in clumsy, eerie swordplay. The ape in this form has a completely different moveset, and can hold his severed head above his neck stump and let out a harrowing, piercing scream that rapidly causes vitality damage and fills the insta-kill terror meter. It’s a fight unlike any other in the game, obviously discounting the subsequent rematch with him and his backup. Shout out to the start of that fight where he’s standing facing the wall of a cave deep in Ashina and creepily turns towards you when you enter. Anyway it’s a fight unlike any other; two entirely different fights with the same boss sequentially, in a beautiful arena, and if you go there before Senpou Temple it’s the first glimpse at exactly what this universe’s other form of immortality looks like. The game is at it’s best when you’re fighting other humans, but the Guardian Ape is so unique and such a cool, creepy fight that it stands shoulder to shoulder with them.

1. Emma, The Gentle Blade and Isshin Ashina

Side with Owl and forsake the young master and you’re treated to the best boss fight(s) in the game, among the best Fromsoft has ever done. Unlike the alternate route in which you fight Genichiro again and then fight a resurrected, full-power, three deathblow marker Isshin, here the still-living old man takes up his sword alongside Emma, one of Wolf’s closest allies. They both engage with the Shinobi sensing that he’s on the verge of becoming a bloodthirsty monster who kills on a whim; desperate times call for desperate measures. First comes Emma, who has a strong offence but only one marker and a fairly easy to break posture. Once she falls it’s Isshin’s turn, who has two markers and similar posture, but a trickier moveset, and in his second phase he uses the flaming arena to augment his attacks.

Mechanically, Isshin is Fromsoft’s best boss. Punishing, challenging and a keen test of everything you’ve learned so far; the better you’ve adjusted to Sekiro’s combat style, the better you’ll do. Rather than overpowering you with superhuman brutality like his Keisen counterpart, this older, wiser Isshin is craftier and more nimble, dodging and luring you in, adding fire to his moves for extra oomph to his attacks. Rather than just chucking Genichiro at you again you have to deal with Emma, who fits with Isshin beautifully and though short the duel with her is excellent. Trained by Isshin and using many of his tactics, Emma is an elegant fighter who, like her master, works as a test of what you’ve learnt throughout the game: if you know what you’re doing you’ll handle her fine, if you haven’t, you’ll have a bad time. But because the combat mechanics in Sekiro are so specific and the game pushes you to learn them more so than Dark Souls and Bloodborne, it feels like more of a fair fight. At least to me anyway. Also the location is so much better than the Sword Saint fight: you’d think that white field would stand out but it ends up feeling more generic and drab than the top of Ashina Castle, framed against snowy mountains, its towering presence fuelling the drama of the desperate struggle to put down Wolf before he becomes a Shura. In a game of excellent boss fights, Emma and Isshin are the best, hands down.

By James Lambert

Who Said We’d Never Leave Raccoon Alive? – Thoughts on Resident Evil 2’s Ghost Survivors DLC

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Resident Evil 2’s first substantial piece of DLC is a free update called “The Ghost Survivors”, four what if? scenarios in which characters who died or were at least presumed dead in the main game escape the city. There’s gun shop owner Robert Kendo; last seen euthanising his zombified daughter, Elizabeth Warren; daughter of the mayor and human taxidermy project for Chief Irons, Ghost; a member of Hunk’s team and Sheriff Cortini, who was killed in the petrol station at the start of the game. Each scenario can be played in Training Mode, which is less difficult, has fewer enemies and gives you more ammo and health, but you don’t get a recorded time for completing it. This is to get you prepared to do them in their intended state, which is, in no uncertain terms, rather difficult. They’re all short, so they’re hard, and although they offset it slightly by letting the player get items from zombies in backpacks and one-use gashapon machines, careful resource management is still important. Each of the initial three has their own unique enemy; poison zombies for Kendo, a creature reminiscent of the Fumers from Resi 7’s “Not a Hero” that have to be sufficiently damaged quickly to stop them regenerating, and zombies in bulletproof armour covering different parts of their bodies for Ghost. Cortini, poor bugger, has to deal with all three as well as normal zombies in his story, which rather than a point A to B rush is a horde mode in the first room of the game; the shop part of the petrol station. I’ll be honest, I’ve not finished any of the scenarios on their proper difficulty. Fortunately you can unlock Cortini on Training mode, so it’s not a big deal. It’s not that the difficulty puts me off, I enjoy a challenge; I’ve already beaten the main game on Hardcore (only A though, still working on B), it’s just that in order for me to rise to a challenge I have to find it engaging and interesting, and that’s not the case here. Simply being hard isn’t enough to make me dig my heels in and do everything I can to overcome it. I’m content to just play them on training mode, where they provide a neat little aside where you get to play as new characters fighting new enemies.

While I’m here, I’d also like to briefly talk about the game’s two existing extra modes, as well as the recently released free costume DLC and the soundtrack swap DLC.

Firstly, the 4th Survivor, and the Tofu Survivor:
Hunk’s story kicked my arse the first half dozen or so times. Basically he’s he only surviving member of the team sent to acquire the G-Virus from old Bill Birkin, and has to go from the ramp in the sewers that Leon slides down to the front gate of R.P.D, dealing with blocked exits, a complete lack of weapon, ammo and health pick ups to offset his fully stocked inventory, and every enemy type in the game crammed into the environments. Zambambos, dogs, lickers, G-Adults, plant folk, even Mr X shows up near the end. Given Hunk’s finite amount of supplies it’s a careful balance of running past enemies and deciding when and where you should shoot, throw a grenade, or can afford to be grabbed. It’s a rush to get through it; Hunk’s theme is ace, a mix of low, catchy beats and a rousing orchestral refrain, and completing it does feel like a real achievement. Plus it just goes to show how badass Hunk is and why people love him so much. Tofu survivor is more of a fun distraction really, given that a sentient block of Tofu armed with sixteen knives and angrily complaining in Japanese when he’s attacked isn’t canon. Apparently there are multiple Tofus with different equipment but much like the Ghost Survivors I don’t enjoy it enough to make myself complete it and unlock them. I felt like I needed to do 4th Survivor to close off the story and I did get around to doing it, Tofu Survivor is neat but little more than that. I do want to commend the damage physics though, specifically how Tofu has big bites taken out of him the more damage he takes. Also he really does look like a big block of tofu.

Secondly, the classic music and costumes:
The costumes are model swaps with the original 1998 ones, and they look great. The models are well done and they interact really well with the remade assets. As odd as they look they don’t look that weird or out of place. Unfortunately they don’t have alternate versions like the remastered ones do; Leon doesn’t get his bandage and Claire doesn’t take her vest off, and long guns don’t appear slung over their backs, but they still look really good. The soundtrack genuinely elevates the game. Resi 2’s soundtrack is one of the best in videogames, and hearing it again here just goes to show that A) it holds up really well and B) how many distinct, unique tracks the soundtrack has. While I praised the remake’s score for being subtle and taking away the sense of comfort that came with the original’s dramatic soundtrack, having said soundtrack present adds a whole new layer of character to proceedings; it almost feels like playing a different game in a way. It’s charming, and genuinely quite unnerving at times, again a testament to how well it holds up. The main menu has the music of the original game’s little opening cinematic, and brings back the series’ tradition of having a spooky, ominous voice say the title: “RESIDENT EVIL… TWO.” Also it includes the original sound effects, though disappointingly it only covers the inventory, main menu and item box. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong; that inventory sound really takes me back, but I was hoping for the old zombie moans, and the upgraded shotgun sounding like dropping several sauce pans and their lids on the floor.

That was a look at Resi 2 Remake’s extra modes and some of its DLC, see you next time for a Capcom property a little more… stylish.

Update: I had another go at the Katherine Warren scenario, Runaway, and died right near the end, and I am starting to feel that itch. In fact after I wrote this I had another go at Ghost’s scenario and finished it, turns out I was forgetting to look for gashapon machines and was trying to get through with no gear. So I’m getting them done. Might take a while, might dip in and out, but I’ll do them eventually. What I said about rising to challenge and having to be interested and invested is still very much the case, I’m just becoming increasingly invested in the stories, and the game as a whole is one that’s been very hard to put down, so I’m still in the Resi 2 headspace.

Update 2: I’ve finished the main three: No Time to Mourn, Runaway and Forgotten Soldier. Oddly enough despite having the highest difficulty of the three I found Forgotten Soldier the easiest, and No Time to Mourn a complete pain in the arse. Might get around to doing No Way Out sometime but that’ll take longer given the whole waiting for the game to progress aspect of a horde mode.

By James Lambert

A School on The Hill: Thoughts on Detention

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I don’t play as many horror games as I’d like to. I’m a fan of the genre: Silent Hill 2 is my favourite game of all time, REmake is in my top five, I like Outlast and Amnesia, and I’m a fan of unconventional horror games, or horror-themed parts of games, like the opening of Far Cry 5, or the entirety of Spec Ops: The Line when viewed in hindsight, as well as the Souls games, Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon. I’m fond of horror, basically, and I’ve started down a path to fix my deficit of pure horror titles over the Christmas period with two games: White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, which I haven’t finished yet, and one I want to briefly talk about here called Detention, released in 2017. For readers in England the two games are currently heavily reduced in the January PSN sale: Detention is currently £3.29 if I remember right, certainly £3-something, which it’s definitely worth. Anyway, let’s get into it. Please note that while I won’t be going into deep spoiler territory I will be giving away certain details that you won’t be aware of if you go in blind, so bare that in mind.

Detention is set in 60’s Taiwan under the Historical “White Terror” Martial Law in which anyone having even the slightest perceived, real-or-imagined whiff of communism about them is hauled away and executed. You briefly play as Wei, a student who wakes up to find his school abandoned in the wake of a typhoon warning, and after finding that the bridge leading out is broken and the river has turned red, elects to hold up in the school with another student named Ray. Turns out Ray is the real protagonist, the school has taken on an Eldritch, impossible space form and is now full of ghosts, and Ray did something bad that she refuses to remember. What struck me only once I was actually playing the game and not watching it be played is how reminiscent of Silent Hill it is. The grimy, dilapidated environments, the soundtrack consisting of industrial noises and ambient music, the surreal, disconcerting horror; it’s all very Silent Hill and it drew me in immediately. The ghosts themselves make utterly horrible noises and the puzzles have that same SH style where there’s a touch of the mundane combined with the surreal: rolling three dice that then turn into teeth, using a bowl of blood to reveal scratches on a desk, a harrowing blink-and-you’ll miss it silent jump scare when retrieving that blood; it’s all unsettling, surreal horror that has too much logic to be a dream and not enough “normal” logic to be the real world. The aforementioned jump scares are used sparingly, and rely on the build up dread and tension you could cut with a knife. “The Hill” of this article’s title refers to Silent Hill, and how every game since Origins, with their budgets, teams and name recognition couldn’t scare me, couldn’t instil a sense of dread and unease like a three hour, monochromatic 2-d game made by first time developers. Without wishing to spoil, even its later stages with focus placed on Ray’s traumatic past, what the bad thing she did was and the circumstances in which she ended up in this situation are reminiscent of Silent Hill, and are also handled far better than all the Western ones. Admittedly these sections aren’t as scary as the first half of the game but it earns that more story-driven pace after ramping up the horror and tension so effectively, plot fragments drip fed as you navigate the school. It’s grim, it’s unsettling and it’s genuinely scary, and games like this take some of the sting out of losing P.T. If we can’t have more Silent Hill games, I’ll settle for more games being built on that hill. Now go play Detention while it’s still the cost of a pint. You won’t regret it. It’s scary, its plot is interesting and unique, and the way it’s presented mixes seamlessly with the horror and is told in a manner that’s slightly abstract without being annoying. It’s the best horror game I’ve played since Resident Evil 7, and far scarier. Give it a go, so I can have more games like this.

By James Lambert

Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned – Extended thoughts on Far Cry 5

Back when I was planning out this article I thought my choice of picture was a bit risky, but since then Ubisoft have blown the whole thing wide open by announcing a canon sequel set in a post apocalypse where Joseph Seed is still alive. Rather than write anything about the announcement of Far Cry New Dawn I’ll just say that I’m opposed to it, I think the ending of FC5 stands alone beautifully and any kind of follow up cheapens it. I will be reviewing it though, and I will try to have an open mind about it, but I really think a sequel is completely unnecessary. Anyway on with the show.

I love Far Cry 5, it’s had a deeply ingrained, lasting effect on me since I finished it and I want to talk about just why I love it so much and why it’s so good. I think it should be obvious at this point but if not: spoilers abound from this point on. I’ll be ripping the thing open and rummaging around quite thoroughly.

Part I: Apocalypse Now or: “The world is on fire and it’s your fault”

So The Father was right, the cult was right; the world has come undone in nuclear fire. The great collapse is upon us, but that’s okay, because the Seed family can enact their plan to heard the populace of Hope County into their missile silos and- oh, right, you killed the Seed family and blew up their missile silos. So now the only people confirmed to survive the apocalypse are you and the man you were sent here to stop. Just you and Joseph Seed at the end of the world, Father and Child, prophet and disciple, whether you like it or not. Quick side note: can you see why a Mad Max-style sequel undermines this? I stand by my statement that this is the best video game ending ever. It’s a bold claim, but I just love how it flips everything on its head in a way that’s so simple, but so effective. You may well have seen it coming, but to take that formula of “Charismatic cult leader foretells the apocalypse” and after tearing down their entire support structure have them be right, that’s a gutsy move, and it ties up the events of the game superbly. I’m glad it’s canon too; I’d seen theories floating around that it’s a hallucination and that the Deputy manages to escape and find out that the world hasn’t been destroyed, but nope: Hope County lies in ruins. That alternative main menu? That’s legit. The world is on fire and it’s your fault, and for what? To be the hero, Spec Ops The Line style? Out of a genuine sense of justice and the desire to help people? As John Seed puts it; you’re trying to save people, but they’re already safe. It’s a question of whether the ends justify the means: the cult use extreme, cruel methods to ensure their numbers, supplies and physical capability, and that’s what the Deputy (whose name appears to be Rook, as it turns out) is trying to stop, but with the revelation that those methods were to prepare for an actual apocalypse and that Rook’s actions have ensured that the number of survivors will be small at best, things take a turn. Is The Father the villain of the story? He’s certainly the antagonist, but is he the villain per se, or is he what TV Tropes refers to as a “Well-Intentioned Extremist”? Of course the question arises: did Joseph actually know the apocalypse was coming? Did God really speak to him as he claims he did? The general explanation for the doom saying is that the world they live in is basically ours, and given the current geopolitical climate nuclear conflict seems inevitable. That’s something I can get behind, but how did Joseph know it was coming, if indeed he did? More importantly, given that the world does end, is that question rendered moot? The world being bathed in Nuclear fire is foreshadowed by Faith, both in dialogue and in Bliss hallucinations. As she puts it: If you don’t listen to him, he’ll be right. The game has these moments of foreshadowing throughout but unlike say the aforementioned Spec Ops The Line, which was very much a subversion of tropes and genre throughout, Far Cry 5 pretends to be a more traditional version of this story until the very end. It even has a big, dumb boss fight with Joseph. You beat him, you free your friends after he quickly kidnapped them all off screen, you’ve finally got him in handcuffs and bam, this isn’t how things are supposed to go. It’s not like the wishy washy “is this really happening” cop out from Outlast 2 (which did the cult thing in far inferior fashion) either: the world really ends, and now you’re stuck with a man who quite rightly hates you. How’s that for subversion?

Part II: Drugs, Gospel Choir and The Platters

I listen to video game soundtracks a lot. As musical accompaniments to visuals they’re required to convey emotion and feeling, or at least augment whatever meaning the visuals and gameplay are going for. Far Cry 5 has multiple soundtracks that all do a brilliant job of that: quick shout out to the “Reinterpretations”of Oh the Bliss and Help Me Faith. The former is an ethereal, dreamlike piece that signifies a trip to Faith’s little pocket dimension, and frames the scene in the game’s amazing opening in which Burke and Rook careen into the lake. The latter is used for Faith’s boss fight and, hauntingly, the vocals evoke the sound of someone struggling to breathe, which is fitting given Faith’s use of bliss gas. Anyway the one I want to talk about is the diagetic album “When the World Falls”; an album of songs performed by the “Hope County Choir” about how great Joseph, Jacob, John and Faith are, how the cult is the way forward and everyone who doesn’t join deserves to burn up in holy fire. It’s a beautiful album but what makes it important is that it plays in-game on radios, bits of it are sung and hummed by goons, and it non-diagetically plays now and then to hammer home certain action beats, like the van crashing during the baptism mission in Holland Valley. See, this part of the article is about how the cult indoctrinates people, and memorable, enjoyable music playing constantly on radios is ingenious. It’s a gentle way to get people on side, introduces them to the cult and the Seed family and even gives them each a bit of context. John’s song is about how he’s a noble, brave soul who’s picking everyone up out of the dirt and marching them to salvation. Jacob’s is about how he’s ruthlessly practical and sometimes you just can’t get through to people with teachings and prayer. Faith’s is about her backstory of woe and despair, and how she longs for the Father’s guidance. Joseph’s offers a pretty complete portrait of a man who’s spent his life thanklessly working for The Man, taking his licks without ever giving into the Devil and how he’s stronger for it, here to lead his flock and save us all. Compare that with Jacob’s use of music: classically conditioning people to fly into a violent rage whenever they hear “Only You” by the platters. Kidnapping Rook, starving them in a cage for days and making them run a gauntlet repeatedly until they instinctively do so inside the base of the cult-opposed Whitetail Militia and kill their leader, Eli. Jacob’s extreme “You’re useful or you’re meat” Social Darwinism  and Faith drugging everyone into a highly suggestible stupor with the risk of making them completely brain dead are the more extreme end of the spectrum as far as Eden’s Gate’s activities go, but can still be justified in context. Kidnapping people? If they won’t save themselves from the coming nukes I’ll do it for them. Stealing all their food and supplies? We’ll need to eat and drink when we’re all down in the bunkers. Grinding people down to their primal instincts so they can be shaped into ruthless killing machines? It’ll be a post-apocalypse, who knows what we’ll be up against? The drugging ties into the idea that the cult, perhaps begrudgingly, want to save as many people as they can, even those who oppose them, because Joseph insists upon it. Even by the end of the game after you’ve murdered his family and torn apart his survival plan he still gives you a chance to walk away, and John’s entrance into Eden is conditional entirely upon him getting you to confess your sins and be reborn, so clearly numbers are important to Eden’s Gate. People won’t come willingly? Get them completely off their tits until they understand. I don’t know, maybe I’m just a sucker for a charismatic villain, and it does help that he’s proven right, but I root for Joseph more than I do the resistance. Of course kidnapping people, starving them, torturing them, drugging them silly and stealing all their food and water are heinous acts and I’m not here to defend them in and of themselves, but I will put forward the notion that the ends may well justify the means, or at least they do as far as the Seeds are concerned, and their methods are interesting.

Part III: The Stars Align for Ubisoft’s Open World Formula

Ubisoft’s assembly line approach to open world games turned stale long ago, but somehow they managed to nail it with Far Cry 5 (and Assassin’s Creed Origins but that’s irrelevant to this topic), for a number of reasons. Firstly, the villains. I’ve spoken a lot about them already but I love the different approaches the Seeds have to the situation, each one’s group of missions in their own areas feels like its own little story and they come together to form a whole nicely. I love Joseph, I think he’s easily the best Far Cry villain: his look, his calm manner of speaking that hides a steely, threatening resolve, the fact that his warnings of a coming apocalypse are actually pretty easy to get behind, at least for me. As cult leaders go he’s both accessible and closed off. Relatable and admirable; you can see why people love and revere him in equal measure. Pagan Min was fun, Vaas and Hoyt were key to Jason’s character arc as a reflection and dark milestone respectively, The Jackal was also in a Far Cry game… but Joseph beats them all. I think the game strikes a tonal balance between the more outlandish, wackier elements and the deadly serious ones surprisingly well. You’d think Testy Festy, Hurk, alien artefacts and burning brain dead cultists to “Disco Inferno” would work alongside the opening scene, Joseph talking about euthanising his baby daughter, or everything that happens with Jacob, but it really does.

I actually really like just driving around in Far Cry 5. Don’t get me wrong, I do my fair share of wingsuit/parachute travel but the vast expanses of forest, farmland, lakes and rivers are satisfying to drive through, because a lot of scenery in the United States is bloody lovely, and Montana fits that bill. I like the character creator even though you can’t actually see Rook outside of it, I like cutting around with best girl Jess Black and Cheeseburger, and most of all I like punching key NPCS in the face, reviving them and then punching them again. In particular the racist old woman who owns Peaches the cougar, Hurk’s Dad and the chef in Fall’s End who looks like Steven Seagal. I won’t go into the more general aspects of the game anymore given that I’ve already written a review of the game and gone on for long enough at this point, so I’ll conclude.

Far Cry 5 is, basically, a Ubisoft open world game where the trappings are all good, and in terms of Ubisoft open world games, and Far Cry as a series, it works as well as it can. What makes it special are the story beats woven into that framework, in particular Joseph Seed, his family, the fantastic opening scene straight out of a horror game and the ending, all of which will stay with me. Anyway that’s enough Far Cry for now, we’ll pick it up again seventeen years from now in the surprisingly colourful world that’s risen from Hope County’s ashes.

By James Lambert


In For the Long Haul: Preacher Season 3

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Based on the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon (R.I.P) comic of the same name, Preacher is a series about a man whose voice must be obeyed by those who hear it, his assassin girlfriend and their vampire mate trawling the southern United States in search of God. The literal Christian God, who likes dressing up as a dog for sexual purposes. Anyway I read the comic back in my formative years, I loved the first two seasons and thought they were a more enjoyable take on the source material than the material itself, and now season 3 is here. Let’s get into it.

Episode 1: Angelville

First off, the way that Jesse’s grandma finds out about the existence of him and his doomed Father is different. Instead of Jody and T.C falling foul of Vietnam vet John Custer, stopping their assault short at the complicating shout of “Dad!”, here they hold down Christina L’Angelle while her mother cuts her open to retrieve a photo of the two Custers. Back in the present, Jesse and Cass arrive at Angelville seeking a resurrection for the deceased Tulip, with tensions still high after Jesse refused to let Cass turn her into a vampire. They’re going all in with the love triangle angle here, with Cassidy seeing no reason why he shouldn’t be with Tulip, and the two fighting over the revelation that he and Tulip had sex back in season 1. Jody and T.C are here, albeit somewhat different to their comic counterparts. T.C is now more of a well-meaning handyman type instead of a man who will seemingly have sex with anything and everything he comes across, should the mood take him. He knocks out Cass with the butt of a shotgun, only for Jesse to down him in one punch, and upon waking up he meekly apologies to Cass and offers to help despite the vampire being rude and irritable. Jody, on the other hand, is largely the same: a brutal hand-to-hand combatant who murdered Jesse’s father and whom Jesse has never beaten, the difference here being that rather than a lean, muscular man who wins fights through a mixture of skill and a cruel knack for causing pain, here he’s burly and seemingly supernaturally strong: easily lifting the back end of his truck off the ground with one hand. He’s also more superficially friendly, at least for now. A large part of the episode is devoted to Tulip stuck in purgatory; reliving the events that led to the death of her Father and her being moved to an orphanage, framed as a play. It’s well done, and a nice little taste for the dead of what’s to come should they go to Hell, although it seems strange that should a bad memory would play out in purgatory. Perhaps Tulip has a far worse memory than that, but for now this is all we get. I do like the absurd comedic angle of how her Father bites it: an argument about dish soap that leads to murder and an armed stand off with police, and how calmly he explains what happened to child Tulip. Overall a good episode, and a solid start to the season. It sets up the animosity between Jesse and Cass moving forward, with Jesse’s Grandmother apparently taking Cass’ side, and only reviving Tulip in exchange for some unknown act or object from Jesse. What that is I couldn’t say: in the comic she wanted him to become a preacher, but here he does that of his own accord, so clearly it’s something else and most likely nefarious. Looking forward to the next episode, and I’m really glad Preacher’s back.

Episode 2: Sonsabitches

Turns out little Jesse was something of a wheeler dealer, acting as a go-between for those wishing to use Madame L’Angelle’s services. Come up short on a payment and she steals your goddamn soul, which is how she’s still alive after all these years, and why she looks like a regular human being as opposed to the husk seen in the comics. Herr Starr is back, bringing with him the series’ penchant for violence juxtaposed with cheery music; this time it’s a rather one-sided gunfight between Grail agents and armed Hare Krishnas set to The Youngbloods’ “Get Together”. I do so enjoy when the show indulges in these scenes. Starr’s been sent to ensure Humperdoo, the inbred modern descendant of Christ is accepted by major religious groups as their one true saviour, which doesn’t appear to be going too well. Back at Angelville, by some amazing coincidence Featherstone and Hoover are spying on Tulip just as she’s talking about how much she wants to smash the former’s face in, and they nearly get ground up in a mulcher only to be saved by Jesse, who needs Starr present and content in order to regain his soul and with it, Genesis. New for this adaptation are The Boyds, the gang Jody decimated last episode, with whom Jesse picks a fight as cover for his meeting with Starr. But naturally things go wrong, Jesse and friends are stuck in Angelville for the time being, and while he’s being less openly belligerent Cass’ feelings for Tulip remain strong, and seem like they’re going to boil over sooner or later. Another good episode: I think it’s interesting that rather than draw out a potential escape in the form of Starr and Jesse’s soul they’ve opted to have them appear early on and then leave, so that no help is coming, which leads me to believe the only way out is for Jesse to finally win against Jody and burn the place down, like in the comic. Pip Torrens is a delight as he has been since his first moments on screen, the interactions between characters still ensure the down time is just as engaging as when things kick off, and I’m eager to see where the adaptation takes things. Finally, it’s worth mentioning, despite the scene’s brevity, that rather than bringing Tulip back to life in exchange for the gang dropping their pursuit, this version of God catches Tulip on her way back to life and commands her to “Get those sons of bitches”. She interprets that as gunning down Grail agents, but only time will tell exactly what Almighty Dog intends.

Episode 3: Gonna Hurt

The Almighty Dog is a loving God but don’t push it. He’s got a pass/fail test for humanity coming up, and he counted on Tulip messing up her attack on the Grail, with the result being that Genesis will no longer pose a threat. Anyway since the aforementioned Grail cock up left Jesse, Tulip and Cass stuck in Angelville with no hope of escape, all three are going about their own little schemes in an attempt to cope and/or find a way out. Tulip is desperately seeking a work around for the blood pact Jesse made, which can only be undone when Madame L’Angelle says so. Cass’ vampirism is discovered because while off his tits on a gas concoction he reminisces to T.C about how he’s been mortally wounded multiple times, despite now having no scars to speak of (and drinks the blood of a chicken when Jesse confiscates his blood packs). Jesse, meanwhile, is driven by Jody to different support groups seeking potential marks in need of L’Angelle’s help, though no one’s interested while “The Tombs” stay closed, something Jesse insists upon. As it turns out The Tombs are basically an underground fight pit, with the loser implied to lose their soul. How this helps cure glue addiction I don’t know, but people are into it. Cass ends up fighting that paedophile teacher from episode 2, thrown in their on Jesse’s suggestion after Jody and T.C plan to string him up and wait for the Sun to rise. Speaking of Cassidy, he’s taken L’Angelle up on her offer of a love potion for Tulip, hinting at the horrible shit he got up to in the comics. Finally Tulip ends up meeting with Madame Boyd, L’Angelle’s main competition, seeking her help to free Jesse from the blood pact. Good episode overall, things are moving faster than I expected. I figured once the action of last episode and the removal of any Grail or Genesis-based assistance a slow burn would set in, but clearly no one has any intention of just riding this thing out. That makes sense; this arc in the comic was pacey and to the point, and given that one episode later in the season references shitty vampire group “Les Enfants Du Sang” I reckon Angelville will be vacated before too long. Regardless, Preacher remains great, and I look forward to next week.

Episode 4: The Tombs

First of all, they kept the “FUCK COMMUNISM” lighter. I was pleased. Anyway Jesse’s dark and troubled past extends to hosting Tombs fights as a teenager; it’s clarified that those who have had their souls taken already are pitted against each other, and the winner takes on Jody for a chance to have their soul back. He’s obviously shaken by having to be involved in such an event, but manages to do so while pulling the “break their heart to save them” trope on a young Sabina Boyd, though it backfires when her brother comes down looking for payback and Jesse kills him in self defence. According to the present Madame Boyd the solution to the curse placed on Jesse is simple: Tulip has to kill Madame L’Angelle. So we’ve got a way out, there’s just a few loose ends to tie up, as well as the promise of future hi-jinx. Firstly, Cass has to get the hell out of Angelville, whether he likes it or not. Jesse’s attempt to smuggle him out involves cutting him into pieces and literally posting him back to New Orleans in a box. Of course Cass doesn’t understand that this is in his best interest and is still planning to use his rapey love potion on Tulip, so he comes back for a barney with Jesse. He finally makes it out when Jesse pretends to stake him to death, Cass sneaks out wearing the science teacher’s skin, and Tulip puts him on a bus after shooting down his love declaration. A bus that has Featherstone on it, but that’ll be dealt with another time. Finally, The Saint of Killers has to atone for everything that happened in season 2 by being whipped down to the bone, but once that’s finished he makes a literal deal with the Devil: find and return two people (presumably Arseface and Hitler), and in return get his weapons back to murder Jesse. Good episode overall, some nice black comedy with the whole posting Cass in a box scene in an otherwise dark and serious entry. It continues to move along at a good pace, I’m glad Tulip continues to be a level-headed, competent presence who gets shit done, good to have the Saint Back and I maintain Angelville will be wrapping up soon. Not much else to say really: Preacher’s still great. It was surprising back in season 1 but it’s been so consistently excellent both on is own merits and as an adaptation of a comic I really like that now I expect to have a good time every week.

Episode 5: The Coffin

This is a big episode, as a fan of the comic. Not only does a comic-accurate Allfather D’Aronique make an appearance in all his glory, they even kept The Duke; Jesse’s hallucination of John Wayne who gives him emotional support in times of trouble. Initially I thought that shot of a lawman when the opening credits shows Dominic Cooper’s name was a hint at the part late in the comic where Jesse briefly becomes a sheriff, but it’s actually a dream Jesse has about him and The Duke re-enacting “High Noon”. After Jody and T.C. discover Cassidy has escaped with help from his friends, Tulip ends up handcuffed to a radiator while Jesse ends up back in the titular coffin, a childhood torture in which he’s trapped in a coffin and left at the bottom of a swamp with an air tube. Adult Jesse’s sick of this shit though, so he McGyver’s his way out with a pack of cigarettes- flooding the coffin and sticking filters in his ears to protect against an explosion caused by sticking a lit fag in the air hole, wrapped in his dog collar. It’s quite impressive actually, I’m considering keeping a pack on me from now on just in case. Elsewhere Betty Buckley continues to be excellent as Madame L’Angelle, here re-enacting a weird forbidden love sex scene from a confederate romance story, and revealing that her life is linked to Tulip, after the latter chokes out the former and dies alongside her. Finally, after going on a date with a woman pretending to be a vampire and revealing that he’s the real deal, a Cass completely off his tits on whiskey and elephant tranqs is kidnapped first by the Grail, like in the comic, and then by “Les Enfants Du Sang”. In the comic they were basically a shitty group of goth kids led by an actual vampire Cass murdered in a flashback scene, seeking revenge on him during the events of the comic. That flashback scene was important because it detailed, through dialogue between Cass and his new “friend”, the extent of vampire’s strengths and fatal weaknesses in this universe which are, basically: super strength, healing and immortality, and literally nothing except the sun. I’m intrigued to see where this goes. Anyway, great episode.

Episode 6: Les Enfants Du Sang

Okay, so they’ve gone a different way with it. In the comic, Cass shows Eccarius that his life of embracing Anne Rice tropes is far less enjoyable than a life of drinking, drugs and debauchery, and explains that vampires are and explains their powers. Like I said: super strength, healing, immortality and the Sun kills them. Here, Eccarius shows a jaded Cass his powers of glamour (the ability to command humans with his voice), the ability to turn into an animal, flight and superhuman reflexes, all things Cass had no idea existed. He also turns his “children” into vampires, spelling further issues down the line, rather than the ineffectual humans the trio dealt with in the comics (Jesse beats a load of them up with such ease that he completely forgets he can use The Word on them). Here also, Cass turns his back on his best friends in favour of Les Enfants, stating that due to his immortality he’s had thousands of Jesses and Tulips, and he’ll have thousands more. More in-line with the comic are Allfather D’Aronique, who remains a dangerous, cold-hearted killer, true believer in the Grail’s mission, and bulimic despite being the size of a small rhino. Herr Starr’s hats are covering up his comic-accurate huge scar that makes his head look like a penis, though this version was caused by Tulip shooting at him back in episode 2, rather than by Jesse during their duel as ordered by the Allfather. Speaking of Jesse, he and Tulip rob a bank in order to steal Madame Boyd’s store of souls, while T.C. distracts the police by, ahem, disturbing a petting zoo, and Jody guns down the head Boyds to kidnap Sabina. Sabina’s soul is taken, Jesse retires her from this new canon, and proclaims that in order to repay his Grandma’s debt, it’s time to call The Grail. Things are moving forward, but I think Angelville needs to move towards a conclusion. It’s been grand, but I don’t know what else they can do- they’ve tried to take Tulip’s soul twice now, Jesse clearly has no intention of re-opening The Tombs, so something drastic needs to happen. Given that D’Aronique seems to have unearthed Herr Starr’s “Make Jesse the Messiah” plan and Jesse intends to seek his help, I think we’re moving towards the events at The Grail compound from the comic, which I’m looking forward to. The stuff with Cass is interesting, taking things a different way is one thing I really enjoy about this adaptation, and I’m eager to see where it goes.

Episode 7: Hilter

They finally paid off that shot in the opening credits of Hitler working at a sandwhich place, and it lasts…until the opening credits. They named the episode after him, but all he gets is a cold open, in which he starts planning a new Reich, only to be chained up and escorted off by The Saint. He was in the previous episode actually, and I completely forgot to mention it. He snapped up Eugene from an orphanage and that was pretty much it; so far his task of capturing the two runaways is going really well. Anyway the meat of the episode is split between Cass’ adventures in N’awlins and Jesse working with The Grail. To that end: Tulip and Featherstone, as escorted by Jody, are off to Osaka to break into a soul warehouse, while Starr and Jesse are off to reclaim the latter’s soul, with the last minute revelation that D’Aronique is on to Starr, and Starr’s coup has been brought forward by necessity. So the big comic Starr-Custer showdown as ordered by the Allfather seems likely next week. Pip Torrens’ Herr Starr is consistently one of the best things in the whole show: his dry, exasperated delivery while taking all of the more outlandish events in stride is a beautiful thing to behold, he’s wonderful in the role. Meanwhile, in Cassidy’s side of the story, he’s romantically involved with Eccarius after saving him from Hoover’s buff priest and nun squad (they never stood a chance, he utterly decimates them), and it seemed like this new approach to Eccarius was paying off. He turns members of Les Enfants then sends them off to open safe haven vampire embassies, he’s teaching Cass how to use his newfound extra powers, and seems like a pretty good dude. But then the show throws in a last minute swerve, reminiscent of how Dragon Ball Super handled Frost: Eccarius isn’t a good dude at all, and in fact he hates vampires despite being one, and murders all the ones he turns. For some reason. I’m sure this will be explored in the coming episodes, but at this point I’m not into the way this has gone, it seems like a twist to help facilitate Cass’ return to the company of Jesse and Tulip further down the line, and make Les Enfants an enemy as they were in the comic. I dunno, maybe it’ll all work out, but it’s gone from an interesting turn and potential source of conflict to an easy get out. Finally, it’s revealed, during a scene implying that Madame L’Angelle knows what Genesis is, that T.C stands for Theodore Charles, which I don’t remember being mentioned in the comic. So that’s a nice little tidbit. Good episode for the most part, really looking forward to Jesse and Starr dealing with The Allfather next week.

Episode 8: The Tom/Brady

Note: Turns out the previous episode is actually called HILTER, not HITLER, and despite the fact his name tag has been staring me in the face for eight episodes worth of opening credit sequences I didn’t twig until someone says his name out loud in this episode. I’m not dyslexic or anything like that as far as I know, but I do often jumble letters when reading words or just read an entirely different word to the one that’s there, often based on what I expect it to say rather than what it actually says. Anyway I’ve corrected it now.

Holy shit Hoover’s a bloody vampire now, like. Didn’t see that coming. He’s turned after trying and miserably failing to kill Cass and Eccarius by himself, because it’s implied that Eccarius kills and drains the vampires he turns in order to access his super powers. Cass finds out about it sooner than I expected, actually, so things are looking to heat up in the Enfants part of the story. They got through this all quite quickly really- two major events that move this part of the story forward, potentially drastic consequences, job’s a good ‘un. Elsewhere it’s all go: Madame L’Angelle gets her soul eating powers as part of a seemingly romantic relationship with Satan, and offers him Jesse as part of some new deal. He sends Sidney the Angel of Death to kidnap Tulip, only for her to trick Sidney into taking Featherstone instead, after they successfully pull of the Soul heist. Jesse ignores Starr’s plan and immediately murders about ten Grail agents in a lift, and after a long and arduous process of trying to transfer Genesis from Jesse into a seemingly endless parade of cloned Humperdoos (who all explode seconds after said transfer), success is marked by the Allfather instructing his head scientist to “Bring out the Messiah”, who at this point is unseen. This was a strong episode, deviating from the comic even further in surprising, interesting ways as it has been from the very beginning, cutting loose after the steady build up of the previous episodes. Jody and Tulip’s bad acting during a sexual harassment seminar they act in to maintain their cover is great, Hoover and Featherstone respectively becoming a vampire and being escorted to Hell opens up a potentially drastic shift in the Grail’s storyline, and things aren’t going at all the way I expected for Herr Starr and D’Aronique, with the promise of a true, non-Humperdoo messiah providing a nice cliffhanger for the ending. Good episode, things are moving towards a dramatic conclusion in two week’s time, I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Episode 9: Schwanzkopf

Oh so Humperdoo IS the messiah, and while he may be the original, there’s still a load of clones milling around in a backroom, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. Anyway Jesse finally manages to escape and kill D’Aronique by transferring Genesis over to him to make him explode. His soul is literally pushed out of the Allfather’s arsehole, which is hanging suspended from the ceiling by a long string of meat, and he reclaims it after a slapstick gore fight with Starr, resulting in Jesse finally having control of Genesis again. This is a pretty drastic change from the comic, where after being forced by D’Aronique to fight Jesse and running off, Starr pushes his chunky boss out of a helicopter ONTO Humperdoo, killing both and succeeding in his coup. This better suits the style and pace of the show though I feel; rather than set up an elaborate fight between the two and include the revelation that Genesis’ Father is being held by The Grail, include The Saint, all that stuff, the more immediate, punchy conclusion of Jesse gaining the upper hand and doing in the Allfather himself fits well. I also appreciate that Jesse regaining Genesis signals a sort of “Fuck it”, devil may care attitude in him, as instead of killing Humperdoo to kneecap the Grail’s plan to nuke everyone who doesn’t accept their Messiah, he simply lets them all run free, and forces a fire engine crew to give him a lift back to Angelville. As a final little revenge (for the moment) he commands Starr to completely forgo hats, meaning a switch to comedy wigs is in order; something he dabbled with in the comic before settling on wearing one type of hat, rather than constantly switching between them as he does here. Elsewhere, Tulip very nearly escapes Sidney and The Saint with the briefcase full of souls, but is busted by Eugene enthusiastically greeting her. Her various attempts to escape the apparently mundane bus ride to the Christian afterlife are ultimately rendered moot by the arrival of Hitler’s new friends, who contrary to the comedic set up as just some guys he knows from work disable the bus with a FUCKING TANK, emblazoned with a swastika. Maybe this is an opportunity for The Saint to show how well his guns work on tanks, as he did in the comics, and I’d like to see Sidney murder some Neo Nazis. She’s been used sparingly so far but her presence is welcome, and I look forward to her being a recurring character. Finally Cass’ story is entering endgame: surprisingly Eccarius is determined to keep Cass on his side and live as dedicated Murder Husbands, but Cass isn’t having any of it, and after a brief fight Eccarius resigns himself to the situation and has Les Enfants nail him to a pool table to burn up in the Sun. Something that, as Cass points out as embarrassing, will take a while given the tiny basement window and position of the Sun. His final gambit is to ask the Mother who owns the house, who is just as determined as Les Enfants to see Cass die, to call Lisa in Poland, with the hope of her finding out that she died, and unravel Eccarius’ history of murdering his “Children”. The episode ends with Jesse arriving at Angelville for a showdown, as Gran’ma reveals to T.C that she knows her Grandson is here to kill her, setting up this season’s finale.

Great episode overall, moving things along well and setting up a potentially drastic finale. Good examples of the series’ black comedy too: Jesse revealing Starr’s coup and the Allfather immediately responding “Then he will know my buttocks as few men have”. The ensuing slapstick gore fight and Starr insisting that not everyone needs to be killed, just “Certain undesirables: Hipsters, Presbyterians, trade unionists… the Danes.”
As for the story moving along: given that they’ve adapted the New Orleans arc complete with Les Enfants Du Sang while simultaneously introducing and killing off Allfather D’Aronique I have no idea where a potential Season 4 would go, but I’m very much along for the ride and happy to be here.

Episode 10 (Season Finale): The Light Above

Hoo boy, this was a big one. Lots to get through, things were thoroughly shaken up, and a whole lot of people died. After a flashback shows Jesse trying and failing to go through with killing Madame L’Angelle, he leaves for Texas, passing his older self on the way out, who’s hear to finish things. Like in the comics he fights Jody hand to hand without using The Word, and after some comic-accurate lines: “Hope for you yet, boy”, “That was different” (When Jesse slams a piece of nailed wood into Jody’s face) and “Proud of you boy”, Jody finally dies after Jesse pounds his face into a wall and some dodgy CGI blood effects happen. They also popped up in the Saint and Sidney vs Nazis scene, but more on that in a minute. T.C chooses to burn along with Jody’s body, and after immediately having his and Tulip’s curses reversed Jesse learns about L’Angelle’s new deal with Satan: if Jesse kills her, his soul is bound to Hell. Initially he makes her destroy the briefcase full of souls so she’ll live as a husk, but after he and his younger self agree that it doesn’t feel like they’ve won, he goes right back, kills her with her soul extractor and burns Angelville to the ground. Meanwhile Cass’ plan to have Mrs Rosen call up Eccarius’ victims pays off, and results in him being eaten alive by Les Enfants. However, Hoover arrives, kills off almost the entire group and kidnaps Cass. Tulip, the Saint and Sidney make short work of the assembled Neo-Nazis, and the aforementioned CGI blood pops up during a really cheap, jarring scene of the Saint and Sidney advancing on a line of shadowy, blurred figures obscured by smoke. Not sure why they couldn’t just show the actors playing the Nazis, who were all there a minute beforehand. They make mincemeat of the facists because of course they do, and Tulip’s part in it is more interesting; a windscreen wiper on collapse-able baton fight in the upturned bus. God arrives to offer a deal reminiscent of when his comic counterpart resurrected her at Angelville: the O’Hare name will henceforth be blessed, and Tulip will be forgiven for everything she’s ever done wrong, if she convinces Jesse to stop looking for God. No deal. Finally after mocking the Saint about crows pecking out his daughters eyes and letting the Tank run him over, the Saint rips Sidney’s eyes out. Back in Hell, The Saint’s weapons are returned, and after learning that it was apparently God’s idea to have crows peck out his daughter’s eyes, he shoots Satan in the head (like in the comic), and sets off with Eugene, as Hitler takes Hell’s reigns, because of course he does. The episode ends with Herr Starr killing Hoover, and setting up in a massive Grail base in the Israeli desert, where he is holding not only Cassidy, but what seems to be Genesis’ Angel Father I talked about last episode. So now that they’ve jumped ahead to Les Enfants Du Sang and the group’s time in New Orleans, they’re taking things back to the previous arc in which the Grail kidnaps Cass and takes him to their base to be tortured by a man who keeps shooting bits off him and waiting for them to grow back. This is where Allfather D’Aronique died, but now Starr’s in charge and he wants Jesse tortured and killed for humiliating him.

Episode wise, it wasted no time and had no fat, cramming in as much as it could before the credits rolled. It’s almost like, as a finale, they thought they’d spent too long developing things and needed to pay it all off in rapid succession for the final episode, but it worked well, and that nine-episode development was all really good, so I don’t mind. Jesse’s final fight with Jody was surprisingly low-key, and apart from one brief moment isn’t as close as in the comics, where Jody gets Jesse in a chokehold from which he has to bite himself free. T.C’s final moments were surprisingly touching, and on the whole he’s been a lot less grimy and despicable than his comic counterpart. Both he and Jody have been more enjoyable to watch than their print versions, and Gran’ma’s powers and hold over Jesse have made her a more effective villain than in the comic, where she was just an extremely old woman who had access to the talents of Jody and T.C. as well as a load of other henchmen absent from the series. I’m glad Jesse went back to finish off L’Angelle, that was far more satisfying than the alternative, and I was pleased that before he did anything else he immediately used The Word to free himself and Tulip from their respective curses. The Saint and Sidney slaughtering the Nazis was surprisngly poor for a show with such a flair for well-choreographed, gory slapstick violence. Between the cheap effects and lack of on screen Nazi killing save for the ones Tulip deals with it felt like a wasted opportunity. I quite like Sidney and look forward to seeing what they do with her going forward, and having Hitler take over from the now dead Satan just makes sense. Everything about the season’s worked really well, with the Angelville and Grail segments being particularly strong, but if there’s a weak link it’s everything with Les Enfants Du Sang. While not bad, and having some good ideas and the relationship between Cass and Eccarius, their scenes were less consequential and generally less interesting, as least in my opinion. Anyway, good season overall; Preacher’s my favourite current TV show, and after covering so much in this one season I’m looking forward to a leaner, stripped-down conflict between Jesse, Tulip and The Grail. Maybe, just maybe they’ll put in one of the coolest moments in the whole comic:

“Not enough gun.”

I patiently await season 4.

By James Lambert

By James Lambert

E3 Top Five

Despite being an incredibly cynical person, I am capable of getting all hyped up for future releases and game announcements. I generally enjoy E3; so many things are announced that there’ll be at least a few things I’m interested in. Last year Wolfenstein 2 won the day for me, and I expected this year to offer a few treats to sink my speculative teeth into. What I didn’t expect was what we actually got: more good looking games than I know what to do with, genuine surprises and existing games being demoed to double down the already established interest. Narrowing that E3 down to five games has not been easy, so believe me when I say that these five are something special.

Firstly, honourable mentions:

DOOM Eternal (and Wolfenstein Newblood)

The night of the Bethesda conference I tweeted about how I hoped they’d announce a new DOOM, so imagine my joyful surprise when they did just that. Alongside a new Wolfenstein starring the next generation of the Blazkowicz family, Bethesda clearly have no intention of slowing down the twin FPS juggernauts in their possession. They’re only getting honourable mentions because they had teaser trailers with no gameplay, so there’s nothing to go on other than a brief outline of the protagonists and setting (Wolfenstein) and the fact that it exists (DOOM). Still, happy to see them both returning.

Nioh 2

Same thing here: a very brief teaser trailer culminating in a logo and the first game’s beautifully soothing main theme. I’m glad Nioh got a sequel and I’m looking forward to playing it, but I’ve not got anything to go on.

Death Stranding

This year’s trailer actually provided some more tangible footholds. Norman Reedus is a courier who traverses massive, empty landscapes on rather lonely looking deliveries of large crates. Lea Seydoux is also a courier, who appears before Reedus as a helpful NPC, who offers advice before leaving and telling Reedus that the “Timefall fast forwards everything it touches”. The invisible monsters whose handprints and sort of sludge-based drowning attack were seen in the previous trailer turn up, and can be seen as humanoid ghosts with long umbilical cords aiming towards the sky, and they can be detected and snuck past thanks to that tank-baby powered antenna thing that Reedus has. Despite all this, it only gets an honourable mention because despite other people’s willingness to be swept up in the tide of “WHAT DOES IT MEAN? NO IDEA BUT I’M DESPERATE TO PLAY IT AND FIND OUT”, to me it doesn’t make any sense devoid of context, and I know it’s been robbed of that context deliberately for trailers. I’m sure it’ll all make sense once I actually sit down and play the game, and I’m looking forward to doing so, as a big fan of Kojima’s work, but until then it’s just an interesting but nonsensical series of cryptic images. Also Norman Reedus hiking.

Now for the main event:

5: The Last of Us Part II
Image result for TLOU 2

I’m coming around to this whole Last of Us sequel idea. Back when talks of a sequel first cropped up I was adamant that the original remain untouched. It had told its story beautifully and apart from a prequel I felt any re-visitations would spoil it. While I remain a tad wary and cautious, I am generally on board now, thanks to the PS conference’s opening trailer. After a cutscene that felt like something out of Uncharted, where a now adult Ellie makes out with her girlfriend Dina at some kind of communal dance, there’s an extended gameplay sequence in which Ellie takes on what appears to be the cult seen in the previous trailer. At first I thought the literal cry of “WOLF!” when Ellie is spotted was just a creepy cult thing, but they then refer to Ellie as such to one another, so they’ve apparently encountered her before and judging by their behaviour here, it didn’t go well for them. Gameplay wise it was definitely familiar- stealth, shooting and brutal, teeth-shattering hand-to-hand violence (violence is a better word for it than “combat”), but it seemed more fluid this time around, and tied into story elements. The cultists react to Ellie’s presence, they search for her when she’s hiding under a car, during a fight in a shop one of them throws her through a glass panel; just little touches that blend the gameplay and story without having to stop anything. It looks good, I like Ellie as a grown-up using what Joel taught her (there’s a nice touch where she grabs a hostage and grunts “C’mere!” like Joel used to), I like that her sexuality as established in Left Behind is an evidenced part of her character rather than just being paid lip service (I promise you I do not intend that pun), and the cutscene direction and storytelling call to mind Uncharted 4, which itself took cues from TLOU. I eagerly await more footage and/or details.

4: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
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I adore AC Origins, I think it was exactly what the series needed and I loved it from start to finish. I had a slight sense of trepidation with the leaked reveal of this, the next game in said series, because I assumed a one year development cycle. Turns out I needn’t have worried, because they’ve clearly used the three year dev cycle to great effect; what was shown off looks like Origins but with some cool new things layered on top, with a general goal of leaning in to the RPG elements. Dialogue options are here now, as are romance options, there are two characters available to play, a man and a woman, who are Spartan mercenaries on a journey to become a hero to all of Greece in the Sparta/Athens war. What they showed off at the Ubisoft conference was a game that uses the best title in the entire series as a base to build an action RPG: same combat, same levelling system and gear, but with more to do in terms of character interactions. I’m hoping it pays off; I certainly didn’t see anything that would lead me to believe otherwise at this point.

3: Resident Evil 2 Remake
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What a difference eight hours of sleep can make. When I saw the trailer for this live, I hated it. Visually it was nothing much, and combined with the new character designs made me arrive at the conclusion that it looked worse than Darkside Chronicles’ RE2 chapters. Generally speaking I thought it looked like a rushed hack job, too much action, dodgy tone; wasn’t into it at all. Then, having slept, seen more screenshots, re-watched the trailers and seen the seventeen minute gameplay video, I’ve done a complete 180. The R.P.D. station feels familiar but definitely redesigned, because it’s a proper remake that makes changes rather than a remaster offering a graphical overhaul. Marvin Branagh’s up and about and given more natural dialogue (and a cute note for Leon about using the names of his fellow officers to unlock his desk), helping Leon out and then hanging around a triage set up in the main hall, complete with medical curtains. The wings are now locked with shutters, structural damage means the pouring rain is coating the halls, the place looks fantastic. One officer has tried to negotiate the station’s puzzles and has drawn a way out in his notebook, which Leon grabs when said officer gets ripped in half. Leon has a knife now, used to escape grapples, he aims over the shoulder like Resi 4, but he can move and use a torch in his other hand. The game’s clearly taken cues from Resi 7, in its U.I, inventory, environment interaction, and the more general sense of progression (also present in 4) of “You need to find this key item, go explore this wing of the building and you’ll end up with it”. Also there’s gunpowder now, used to craft different ammo types like in Resi 3. Really my only issue is how dark it is: it looks like it could be disorientating and not in a good way. Presumably that can be changed though, and they’re just demoing it in default brightness. The game looks fantastic, like a proper remake handled with care, taking cues from the superb Resi 7 and doing the original game justice. I was completely wrong with my first impression, I’m fully hyped and completely on board. My only worry now is if they’ll be using any of the original score, which remains excellent. Time will tell I suppose.

2: Devil May Cry 5
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A silver medal so strong it could blot out the sun and so, so close to the gold. See I heard this was coming, both in the form of a rather detailed leak a while back, and them registering the name “Devil May Cry 5” just before E3, but I didn’t expect a full gameplay trailer. So first off Nero has a robot arm that does all manner of combat-related things, and alongside the sassy Southern lady who made it work for Dante’s Devil May Cry business, in a van with a neon sign depicting the company name bolted to the side. Cool enemy designs, Nero with a robot arm but still packing Red Queen and Blue Rose, same over the top sense of style and what looks to be fluid, satisfying combat: it’s a new DMC, baby. As much as I love DmC and its grimy, punk take on the series and its characters, I’m more than happy to have another entry in the main run eleven years after the last one, and were it not for the next game on this list this would be my game of the show by a country mile. Eagle-eyed people on twitter think Vergil might be making a more than welcome return (having died in the original, only to become rather popular through prequel stories), and Dante makes an appearance at the end, looking a bit rough and ready in the new art style, as does Nero (seen above). I love Devil May Cry, I love the look of this one, just let me play it already.

Also, Nero turns his arm into a missile, rides it like a skateboard and does a pop shove it. I’ve missed this series.

1: Hitman 2
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Not actually announced at a conference, but given two trailers, as well as gameplay at E3 I haven’t watched so as not to spoil myself. It’s more of that same 2016 Hitman goodness but not episodic, from what I’ve seen. The trailers showed off the Miami level, in which 47 is tasked to kill a race driver and her brother/husband (same last name), and  can do so mid-race multiple ways; something I never knew I wanted in a Hitman game. Not much more to say really, it just looks like more Hitman but released all at once, and despite the almost unanimously strong showing across the board at E3, more Hitman is exactly what I need. It’s not flashy, I haven’t been looping the trailer like I have with DMC5, but it’s as close as E3 got to a sure bet for me, with as little room for doubt as possible, and that’s enough to make it my best of show.

So that’s it then: stupendously strong showing at E3 this year, so many games I could have put on this list, but these five stood above the rest and I can’t wait to play them all.

By James Lambert

P.S. Western release date for Like a Hokuto, or as it’s called here “Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise” and Cory Barlog announcing on twitter mid-PS conference that God of War is getting New Game Plus: icing on the E3 cake.

Five Tips For People New To Dark Souls

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Dark Souls Remastered is upon us, and while I won’t pick it up until it’s a tenner, I’m sure many of you have, or are at least thinking of doing so. Of course if you were to ask me whether or not you should buy it, I’d tell you to but 3 instead, because it’s the best one to start with. But for those of you who either own DSR already or are determined to buy it, and in either case are new to the series, I have some tips to ease things along.

1.  Shields and the usage thereof

When I first played Dark Souls, I relied on a shield/one-handed weapon combo. I did so until playing Bloodborne, which opened my eyes to how dull the turtle playstyle really is. Now a lot of people will tell you that turtleing is the best way to play Dark Souls, and it seems to be generally considered the way to play it, but that’s really not the case. Dodge rolling with a two-handed weapon is the way I play every Souls game now, and while it might not work for you it’s worth trying out. Take some time in the Undead Burg to try both styles, get used to how long dodging takes, how much stamina blocking with a shield uses, how much compared to dodging, that sort of thing. Obviously play the way that suits you best, but don’t think you have to use a shield. If you do favour rolling, keep an eye on your armour weight limit. Speaking of which…

2. Stamina and Weight Limit

The stat that increases your stamina bar when you put upgrade points into it also increases the amount, in weight, of armour you can wear. Wear too much and you run slower, take much longer to roll (or if it’s heavy enough, can’t roll at all), and use more stamina when attacking. Stamina is vital, as it governs almost every physical action you perform in the game, and being able to move freely in heavy, more protective armour is incredibly useful, especially if 1) you’re a melee character and 2) you take up the dodging style I talked about in my first point. There’s hidden armour about halfway through the game that will see you through to the end no problem, but it’s really heavy, so invest in endurance points early.

3. About that boss

Okay so this one is a bit spoilery if you want to go in blind. At the very least it outlines enemies, weapons and a boss found in the game, and so if you don’t want to know about any of that, skip down to point 4.

Still with me? Okay, so Ornstein and Smough in Anor Londo are where I originally quit the game. A two-on-one (unless you summon, which brings its own problems) fight, where one boss powers up upon the other’s demise, it’s absolute bullshit and I hate it. But that said, I do have a way to make it easier. Once you get past the archers and down to the bonfire where Solaire is hanging out, almost every enemy is a silver knight, who give a lot of souls upon death, drop powerful weapons, and are quite straightforward to beat if you get the parry timing down (if not just use whatever method you kill everything else with, if you’re in Anor Londo it’s clearly working just fine). Do a loop of the area killing silver knights until they drop a weapon; silver knight straight sword works best for me, but any of them will do. Be wary of the strength and dexterity requirements for each weapon though; if you want to use this plan then you might want to look up the weapons on the Dark Souls wiki. Anyway once you’ve got the weapon you can get to the giant blacksmith (down a big stair case on the left side of the main hall, with the O and S fog gate in front of you) who sells the materials required to upgrade silver knight weapons, which you can buy and then upgrade with all the souls dropped by the knights themselves. Go in with a fully upgraded silver knight weapon and at least one summon (I use Solaire because I play offline), and Fat Man and Little Boy pose much less of a threat. They’re the gate to the whole second half of the game, where all the interesting stuff is, so you’ll want to kill these two however you can. Speaking of which (again)…

4. Don’t be ashamed to use a guide

Fairly self explanatory, this. There’s a lot of cool stuff you can easily miss, and you need all the help you can get. It’s a famously hard game, a lot of stuff goes unsaid, don’t needlessly struggle. 

5. Git Gud

Ignore people who say this, they’ve overcome the game’s difficulty and want to make themselves feel good by putting down someone who is in the very same position they once were. It’s annoying, unhelpful and anyone who says this unironically is a twat. Anyway Dark Souls isn’t the perfect, flawless, “Every death is your fault” masterpiece people say it is. The game can be immensely cheap, unfair, and irritating on top of famously being bastard hard. That whole “Prepare to die” shtick isn’t just a marketing gimmick, it’s good advice: prepare to be frustrated, prepare for the game to not play by the rules, and prepared to spend a lot of time not getting very far. The only way to improve at Dark Souls’ core gameplay is to persevere.

Anyway those are five things I feel everyone playing the original Dark Souls for the first time should know. If you get through it all and enjoy the game, I fully recommend continuing with the series and its spiritual successor Bloodborne, all of which are vastly superior. For now, all the best and don’t you dare go hollow.

By James Lambert



Game of the Year 2017

Much like last year, 2017 was a good year for games. Once again it’s a list of five, in order from bottom to top. I played a lot of good games this year, and it was a little tricky to narrow it down to five. First though, honourable mentions:

Honourable Mention #1: The Evil Within 2
The original Evil Within had a few good ideas, but they were ruined by an avalanche of terrible gameplay mechanics, design choices, and those few good ideas being run into the ground. It was, for the most part, total shite. Imagine my surprise when its sequel turned out to be a solidly made horror action game that ironed out most of its predecessor’s flaws. Its story was engaging, its characters actually had something for a player to work with, and its gameplay was no longer a frustrating, punishing mess. This is the game the original should have been, and while not as good as a certain game in the top five, it is an enjoyable horror game, and one of the biggest surprises of 2017 for me.

Honourable Mention #2: Berserk and the Band of the Hawk
Yeah, I know. I know it’s that standard musou gameplay of cutting down literally hundreds of enemies, to the point where they offer no real threat, in large, sparse environments. But you know what? I got a real kick out of it; I wanted a game where I got to play as Guts, cutting down soldiers and demons, and now and then fight a villain from the manga, and that’s exactly what I got. It’s really quite good actually; it follows the plot of the manga surprisingly closely and makes the most of the musou trappings to do so, playing as Guts feels good, and some of the boss fights are genuinely great, particularly the fight with Zodd on the Hill of Swords. There were better games released this year, but I personally had a really good time with this, so I had to at least give it a mention. Title’s still stupid though.

5: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

In a year when saying how shit Nazis are somehow became just one side of a debate instead of the accepted truth, a new Wolfenstein was more than welcome. As I said in my review it felt like a combination of two games: an epilogue to The New Order, and its sequel, The New Colossus. The former is a dark, sombre tale of a man racing towards death, falling apart at the seams and doing as much damage to the Reich as he can with the time he has. The latter is a pulpy, over the top tale of slaughter and revolution, and the two halves combine to form a game that alongside DOOM represents the current gold standard for first person shooters. It takes risks, it gives the player room to explore and get to know the characters and their plights, and it layers it all on a bedrock of slaughtering Nazis. The only things holding it back from a higher spot are its short length and the slightly jarring shift in tone between the two halves, but neither of those aspects stop it from being one of the best games I played this year.

4: Yakuza Kiwami

Two words: Majima Everywhere. Sure, it’s a remake, and Yakuza 0 did wonderful work for everyone’s favourite snake skin-clad mad cyclops, these points I cannot deny. But Kiryu’s story in 0 is generally weak and largely superfluous; existing primarily to bring two important characters together. It also causes some issues for the original game, and as a prequel to Kiryu’s story it doesn’t really add anything. Had it just been Majima, it’d be on this list with no questions asked, but as it stands I prefer Kiwami. Its story is tight, focused and the central conflict between Kiryu and ex-best friend Niskiyama is solid. In particular how the game treats Nishiki as a foreboding presence, looming in the background with power and influence of an unknown extent before you finally confront him. The style system carried over from 0 is still great, as are the new finishers, and the graphical overhaul is lovely. But it’s Majima that steals the show, expending time, effort, money and the manpower of seemingly his entire family purely to restore Kiryu to his former Dragon of Dojima greatness. Goro Majima truly is a beautiful gift, and he must be cherished.

3: Mass Effect Andromeda
People give Andromeda a bad rap, in my opinion. I’ve seen people treat the game as a complete and utter failure; a disaster of epic proportions from which the series can never return, and I don’t get that at all. I genuinely loved Andromeda, for the most part; its new crew were all delightful (particularly best girl Vetra, pictured above) and its story of unified races expanding into the unknown, teaming up with the Andromeda natives to save their new home was great. The combat was pretty much the same as it always is in this series; functional but not particularly exciting, though that was helped by the new boost jetpack thing built into protagonist Ryder’s suit. But it really came down to the crew of the Tempest, who I enjoyed spending time with at the expense of everything else in the game. Much like Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, mentioned above, I got what I wanted, and that was enough for me to really enjoy the game. I wanted more Mass Effect with new characters, I got just that, and I will happily defend this game and its place on this list. It has its issues, namely that terrible sudoku minigame, but I really enjoyed Andromeda and I am hungry for a sequel.

2: Resident Evil 7 Biohazard

Ah Resident Evil. Just when I thought the series was long overdue either a reboot or being taken out back and shot, RESIDENT EVII. BIOHAZARD (Or if you’re in Japan, BIOHA7.ARD RESIDENT EVIL) as the box art insists it’s called comes along and singlehandedly saves the entire series. Simultaneously fresh and classic, Resi 7 brought back a big scary house full of puzzles, bizarre locking mechanisms and prowling monsters, but switched to a first person view and focused the events on a family of nigh-invulnerable swamp folk. The humour’s back, it’s genuinely creepy again, and it’s so nice to play a horror game that puts so much stock in good environment design, both mechanically and aesthetically. The only downside to the main story is its weak third act, in which the player is forced to run around a grounded boat while plot happens, then loses all their weapons and has to run around it again looking for a way back out. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but those first three-quarters of negotiating the Baker estate and fending off southern-fried horrors are so impeccably paced and designed that anything of even slightly inferior quality sticks out like a sore thumb. The Baker family are characters that will stick with me, and Resident Evil 7 will too, both on its own merits as a masterful survival horror and as the exact thing this series needed, coming out of nowhere to save the day in a way I never saw coming. It absolutely deserves a spot on this list, and for a long time it was number one. Were it not for what’s coming next, it would win hands down, but as it stands it gets a well deserved silver medal.

1: Persona 5

As far as I’m concerned, it could only be one game. Resi 7 had the top spot comfortably until I played through this absolute juggernaut, a game that’s a serious contender for my new favourite, and certainly one of them at least. I’ve already written a lot about this game and why I love it so much, so I’ll try to keep this brief: Persona 5 is a sublime mix of style and substance, as rewarding to play as it is beautiful to look at and listen to. 2017 had a lot of excellent videogames throughout its duration, but none of them resonated with me, engrossed me and gave me the level of sheer enjoyment as Persona 5. Whatever you’re doing, whether it be breaking into fortress-esque physical manifestations of people’s minds, maintaining the game’s “Social Links” with the protagonist’s friends or just attending school, everything is given the same care and attention, and every moment of the game is a gem. That’s why Persona 5 is my game of the year, and why it’s a game I’m really glad I took a chance on.

Well that’s 2017 all wrapped up in a NEAT LITTLE PACKAGE. As I said it was a great year for games, and narrowing down this list was hard, even factoring in honourable mentions. 2018’s looking good from where I’m sitting; Red Dead 2, Persona 3 and 5 Dancing games, Far Cry 5 and Yakuza 6 are all on the way. I’ll get to them all throughout the year, but next on my list is Assassin’s Creed Origins, which will be up soon.

By James Lambert

I Am Thou, Thou Art I : Extended Thoughts on Persona 5


So I wrote a review of Persona 5 the other day, and it was vague at best. While that was done to avoid any and all spoilers for what I consider to be a genuine masterpiece, I will admit it perhaps didn’t lead to the most interesting reading experience. So this is my solution: if you’ve not played the game, read the spoiler-free review I wrote. If you’re in a position to not worry about spoilers, feel free to have a look at this, which I’m thinking of as a sort of Spoilercast in text form. My more in-depth thoughts on one of the best games I’ve ever played, with no restraint on spoilers.

Characters, interactions and their developments:

I felt something of a personal connection to the phantom thieves, due in part to some of them being akin to people I knew when I was their age, as well as being people I would have liked to know. The combination of music and voice acting really does boost the experience; for example every trip to the Velvet Room is given an added weight by that chilling piano and lone female wail, and personally I really like the new voice actor for Igor, even though it’s only temporary, until he’s no longer possessed. I like the shift from a foreboding atmosphere filled with unease, punctuated by the angry twins and sinister Igor, to a more hopeful but still somewhat dire tone when the real Igor and Lavenza regain control of the room. As for the Phantom Thieves themselves, the quest to help Futaba deal with the outside world resonated with me personally for reasons I’d rather not go into, but I love her character; her arc from shut-in on the brink of suicide to survivor doing everything she can to take her life back with the help of her new friends and, in my playthough, boyfriend. She was the heart of the game for me, once she was introduced. I spent time with her above everyone else, and I would have put her in my party if the game’d let me. I didn’t manage to max out relationships with any other non-mandatory confidant, though on my next playthrough I’m planning to focus on Makoto once she joins the team; her mixture of fastidiousness, tactical prowess and strength mixed with a vulnerability brought on due to her living situation and relationship with her sister made her really stand out. Every character in the game has multiple layers, often defy expectations established by early moments, and their traumas are treated respectfully, as is the process of dealing with them. Ryuji is advertised as a delinquent with authority issues, but in actuality was given that label by an abusive, paedophile teacher, and is really a loyal, kind person with a strong sense of justice, who reveals himself to be a stand-up guy in his opening scenes. Outside of the core cast of thieves, I took a shine to Hifumi Togo, whose confidant I intended to max-out, but I ran out of time. I was going to have Joker enter a relationship with her actually, back when I thought Futaba couldn’t be romanced. I also really like Tae Takemi’s story of a promising young Doctor turned into a pariah after being blamed for malpractice she didn’t commit. While I’m on the subject though, I’m not a fan of Joker being able to romance adult women. You don’t have to do so, in fact in order to romance said women you have to actually go out of your way to interact with them and then make a final choice, but it’s still weird, particularly when the game implies a sexual nature to said relationships, and Joker is, after all, a child by Japanese law. Personally, factoring in the onus being on the player it’s not a huge deal, but it’s still an unfortunate niggle at the back of my mind. My biggest problem with the social side of the game was Joker’s dialogue options, though this was largely due to them often not reflecting what I personally thought he should say. Most of the time it offered suggestions I hadn’t thought of, which worked a treat. Other times, however, what I considered to be the best or at least a good option wasn’t available, often times Joker wouldn’t even get to say anything, which given how invested I was in the game didn’t exactly do wonders for me. Case in point: partway through the game, when Morgana runs off on his own, attempts to start his own two-thief team in opposition to Joker’s group, then eventually rejoins with his new apprentice. I was desperate for a dialogue option along the lines of “What you did really worried me, and I’m still angry, but you’re still an important member of the team and a good friend”. Hell, even the last part of that sentence would have done the job, but no such option exists. Joker’s lack of dialogue usually fits his strong silent type, man of action image but there were several times when I really needed him to say something and he didn’t. Most of this can be put down to him having quite an established character and personality that can only be lightly changed by player interaction, but it can definitely be frustrating at times.

The overarching plot of Masyoshi Shido rising to power on a tidal wave of mental shutdowns, murders and framing Joker for unprovoked assault is a solid backbone to all the day-to-day social activities and exploring palaces. He’s a decent villain, though as it turns out he isn’t the main threat, as a malevolent god is responsible for everything bad that happens. It’s quite a sudden reveal, but it’s given time to sink in, due to a supposed-to-lose fight and a rousing scene in the Velvet Room. I did try my best to like Goro Akechi: I shunned and sassed him every time he tried to talk to Joker before blackmailing his way onto the team, at which point I really did think maybe he wasn’t going to turn out to be a main villain, but I was mistaken. The reveal that he’s actually just as damaged as the people opposing him was good, and I liked how he went out, but any cool stuff he got to do in his not-Berserker Armour outfit was downplayed by the whole floppy-haired kid detective angle. Also worth mentioning briefly is the game’s framing device: Joker being interrogated by prosecutor, target and sister to Makoto: Sae Nijima. These scenes didn’t really do much other than signal the start of each “Chapter” (though they’re not actually split up as such) of the game and lampshade Joker making new confidants, but they added to the atmosphere, and set up a foreboding present-day situation for the game to ominously creep towards.  Anyway, this section is getting rather long now, so I’ll sum it up thusly: I love the characters in this game. As much as I enjoyed the combat and exploration I’ll be talking about shortly, for me the most rewarding part of the game was everything in between; the quiet moments where I had Joker work out with Ryuji, chat with Ann about her best friend’s recovery, teach Makoto about what kids their age find fun, and help Futaba get used to the outside world, among other things.

Soundtrack and presentation:

I touched on this a little in the review, but not to the extent it deserves. The game’s presentation is a key part of what makes it so appealing; it’s what draws you in, in a “Come for how cool it looks, stay for the depth” kind of way. The menus use a contrast of bold, single colours like white and red, contrasted against thick, dark black outlines and shading. Everything that can be made elaborate and stylish is; even things like status screen menus have Joker moving between different poses. Moving between rooms in palaces shows Joker leaping across the screen, exiting a palace shows Joker leap through a glass window, fall to the ground, recover and run off, an animation shared with the results screen for most battles. Even the cutaways to the game’s framing device are handled this way; with an outline of a battered, handcuffed Joker acting as a scene transition as events wildly leap forward in time. In the hands of a lesser development team this would just be a load of flashy images to distract from a shallow gameplay experience, but here it enhances every other aspect of the game. It ties into the whole heist flick tone, feeling like an extended anime about a group of students moonlighting as thieves, but never breaks stride when moving between interactive and non-interactive scenes. Equally important is the soundtrack; whatever the situation, the game has a piece of absolutely fitting musical accompaniment that makes what you’re doing infinitely more engaging. Besides the more obvious, active tracks like “Last Surprise”, “Rivers in the Desert” and “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There” are things like “Tokyo Daylight”/”Tokyo Emergency” when you’ve got time on your hands and you’re out and about in town, “The Days When My Mother Was Here”; the slightly odd, almost hypnotic soundtrack to Futaba’s palace, and the utterly fantastic “Beneath the Mask”, for more contemplative moments.

Palaces, thievery and throwing down

I started the game on normal, turned it down to easy about halfway through Kamoshida’s palace, then eventually had to turn it down to “safe” at the start of Qliphoth, after getting repeatedly ground to dust by the final mini-boss and wanting to see the ending of the story. This means I can’t really speak to how the balance of combat is affected by difficulty, but in my experience the weakness system for both sides of the conflict is fair, but purely in terms of fighting certain party members are vastly superior to others. Once Makoto turned up I had no real use for Yusuke or Ann, whose high HP costs and low HP respectively couldn’t compare with Makoto’s high damage and healing spells. I rotated Morgana back into the mix after the whole incident with him running away, which turned out to be the right move given his healing spells, and kept Ryuji close by for his immense damage. It’s not an issue, as my team generally steamrolled anything that dared oppose us, but it does render different skills and element moves somewhat moot. Haru was rendered completely useless once Joker learned a Psi attack, which didn’t take long. Combat itself is satisfying though, somewhat surprising given that it’s turn-based. I tended to use melee attacks primarily, using Persona skills and gunshots to attack weaknesses. Part of me wishes that running past/away from enemies was a more viable option, especially en route to the depths of Mementos, which turned into an absolute nightmare for a while, but for the most part it wasn’t an issue really. Speaking of mementos, they’re fine, and I did go down there several times, but if they didn’t have sidequest-related hearts to change, it’s unlikely I would have bothered. The palaces on the other hand, I’m well into. They manage to tweak them just enough each time to keep things interesting, mainly through different progression-dictating puzzles and the like.

Finally, a brief quick-fire round of random things I really like:

Turning into a mouse, especially the animation when you flee from a battle in that form. Also Yuskue’s excellent and terrible mouse puns, and how silently furious Futaba is with them
Morgana’s legs when he runs
Carrying Morgana everywhere in a bag, with his little face poking out the back
Sojiro wiping away tears just after Joker leaves
The reveal that the Phantom Thieves’ big plan to free Joker from Juvie was to mount an air-tight legal case
The way the calendar shows what date it is by sticking a knife into the number
“Putting some love into it” when making coffee for people, which just makes them spit it out because it’s too bitter
The awkward, quiet “MREEH” sound effect that plays whenever Morgana turns into a bus, and whenever said bus rams into enemies
How much mileage the game gets out of the same exact clip of Ryuji saying “FOR REAL?!”
The “Take your time” loading screens, and how they change depending on the situation

I’m going to end this piece here, to stop it being too long; it’s already twice the length I intended it to be when I started, and I could write at least another two or three thousand words easy. Maybe one day I will. I do hope this sheds some light on what I liked about Persona 5 though, and goes at least some way to explaining why it’s now one of my very favourite games; one I’d mention in the same sentence as Red Dead Redemption, which I consider to be the best game ever made. I spent several weeks playing it; taking in what it had to offer, loving every minute of it, and I genuinely can’t remember the last time I had such a strong connection to a game, and so quickly. When I have some free time I fully intend to play through it again and try and do as much as I can: try and max out as many confidants as I can for a start. I imagine I’ll be replaying it a whole lot throughout my life, it’s just that kind of game. Anyway, I’ve taken enough of your time. See you when Persona 5: Dancing All Night comes out, which obviously I’ll be all over.

By James Lambert


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