Metal Wolf Chaos XD Review

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert


Judgment Review

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert

Wolfenstein Youngblood Review

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert

The Sinking City Review

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert

A Plague Tale: Innocence Review

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert

Layers of Fear 2 Review

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert


Days Gone Review

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I wasn’t expecting much from Days Gone. The initial footage didn’t get me anywhere near as hyped as everyone insisted it should have, and as the release date grew closer I was anticipating competent but boring; well-made, but not enough to draw me in. Something like Horizon Zero Dawn. Turns out it’s an engaging good time, and although it doesn’t do anything new it does what it does well.

There are a lot of elements from other games here. The tone, environments, crafting, combat and stealth are highly reminiscent of The Last of Us. You rely on a vehicle that starts off bare bones and is upgraded over the course of the game after your personal, custom vehicle is scrapped, like in the Mad Max game. Certain smaller elements are similar to ones in Red Dead 2, The Walking Dead comic and Far Cry. It is, to be charitable, heavily influenced by other media, but that’s not a criticism. Anyway, you are a man the game insists is named Deacon St.John, a Nomad member of the Mongrels Motorcycle Club surviving in post-apocalyptic Oregon with his best friend and fellow Mongrel Boozer. The world is overrun with virus infected humans called “Freakers” and Deacon works as a bounty hunter, killing as many infected as he can as well as any antagonistic humans who kill or kidnap people from survivor camps. Each camp has their own politics and direction, dictated by their leader: Copeland is a libertarian truther who thinks mass shootings are a small price to pay for gun rights, Tucker runs a work camp repeatedly referred to by other characters as slave labour, and Iron Mike runs a camp with the only doctor around, and is determined to unite the remaining human groups against the Freaks. This includes the Rest-in-Peace “Ripper” cult, who get all messed up on PCP, slice themselves to ribbons and want to be just like the Freakers. They seem to have it in for Deek and Boozer, and the bikers hate them in return, which makes them at odds with Iron Mike’s attempt at a treaty with the Rippers. Deacon himself is surprisingly interesting as a character. When interacting with other people he’s fine, albeit prone to sarcasm and deflection, but when he’s out in the world by himself he’s constantly jabbering and swearing to himself about what he’s doing as part of some aggressive coping mechanism. He’s extremely capable, having seen combat in the Army and spent a long time controlling the one vehicle everyone in this new world uses, but rather than being stoic and above-it-all he’s flappable, angry and frustrated with his situation. It’s like the Resi 2 remake, but much more prevalent and more the result of having to do this for an extended period of time rather than a panicky response to being dropped into an extreme situation. There’s more going on in the story but it’s hard to talk about without spoiling things, so I’ll leave it at that.

So it plays like a cross between TLOU and Mad Max, and it turns out that’s a winning combination. You ride around on Deacon’s bike and clear out camps of marauders, find objects and missing people and burn out nests made by Freakers. The bike has a durability meter and a fuel gauge, both of which can be improved, so you’ll spend a fair amount of time rooting through abandoned towns and outposts looking for materials. Fortunately the bike can be refilled and repaired at outposts, scrap can be found under car bonnets or dotted around the place and unlimited-use fuel cans and petrol pumps aren’t particularly hard to find. It’s more a tool to add tension and a touch of realism rather than an annoyance, and having to creep around potentially dangerous areas looking for gear is effective. The combat is straight out of TLOU: the shooting, the melee weapons and attacks, the crafting medkits, molotovs and IEDs, the stealth; it’s all here, and it all works well. The core gameplay loop of driving out, having a gunfight and smacking Freakers over the head with a spiked bat is engaging, particularly once you start to get better gear and upgrade your bike. It’s made more interesting by the presence of the Freaks, especially groups of them, and TWD comic-style hordes; huge swarms of infected that until late in the game you have no chance against and must be avoided at all costs. There was one camp I cleared out with a large group of infected right below it, waiting for any sign of my presence so they could rush up and rip me apart. The horror elements are surprisingly strong given that you can just run back to your bike and bugger off, it’s a testament to the atmosphere the game creates.

I don’t normally talk about graphics, but it’s worth pointing out just how beautiful Days Gone can be, particularly when the real time weather system kicks in. This is the first game I’ve seen to have real time snow that actually settles and covers the ground, and the falling snow is absolutely gorgeous; many times it combined with nighttime runs through a hostile world bathed in moonlight to create a wonderful atmosphere the likes of which open world games never manage for me. One mission in particular will stick with me for some time for that very atmosphere, it was glorious. Augmenting this is the excellent soundtrack, which provides a real sense of dread when you’re out in the open, vulnerable while searching for fuel, scrap and crafting items.

Unfortunately despite the sizeable patch the game still has technical faults; objects not loading in, I fell through the world once and the framerate often drops, sometimes freezing altogether briefly. Despite the game’s overall quality it’s far too long, and what looked to be a move towards a finale turned out to be a lead-in for a whole extra chunk of story. Important things happen during that time, but having dealt with the game’s main villain another one has to be hastily introduced in order to give the unresolved plot threads and obvious foreshadowing time to be paid off. Twice I was all geared up for a final showdown of some kind only for the game to go “Woah, that was a close one, good thing everything’s calmed down again, eh?” There’s enough here for Days Gone and a sequel, and a split between the two would make things flow better. I can’t describe it for spoiler reasons (might put that in a follow up article) but there’s a definite place to split the story into two parts, which I personally think would have been for the best.

Overall, despite a few issues, Days Gone is a good game. It owes a whole lot to other IP, but everything it takes it does well, and presents them in a way that’s an engaging, fun time. Strong atmosphere, enjoyable gameplay and solid character and story combine to make Days Gone worth checking out.

By James Lambert