Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Review

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

Control Review

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

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

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

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

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

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Steven Universe The Movie Review

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I realise I’m late to the party on this one, but I still want to talk about it. I was late to Steven Universe the series too, but its mix of humour, emotional gut punches and commitment to being extremely queer wrapped up in excellent musical numbers and an overarching theme of acceptance, forgiveness and friendship made me catch up with it rapidly. The movie came out in September, I caught up on the last episode of the series to get ready for it, the one that wrapped everything up with White Diamond, and so here we are. Better late than never.

Two years after “Change your mind”, a now sixteen year old Steven lives a happy and content life in what he explicitly dubs, in song no less, a happily ever after. New Homeworld is nearing completion as a home for displaced gems, the Diamond authority is stepping down even if they are a tad too clingy for Steven’s liking, insisting he come and live with them, and there are no more people to fight. Until one shows up: a mysterious, stretchy limbed gem who knows the Crystal Gems by name and swiftly poofs them with an energy scythe, declaring that Steven’s human side is “No match for [her] Injector” and striking him several times before he finally poofs her. When the Crystal Gems come back, they’ve mysteriously reset: Pearl is back to being part servant, part status symbol now sworn to serve Greg Universe, Garnet is back to being a Sapphire and her Ruby guard, and Amethyst is a blank slate. Steven has all his memories but his Gem doesn’t work, so he has no physical powers to speak of, and the mysterious attacker reverts to her original form: Spinel, a 20’s cartoon character and perpetual clown who’s glued to Steven’s side as his new best friend. From there it’s an attempt both through action and musical numbers to help Pearl, Amethyst, Spinel and both halves of Garnet remember who they are and stop whatever Spinel’s Injector is doing to Beach City. Unfortunately most of the runtime is dedicated to characters we’ve known for several long seasons of television going back to being who we already know them to be, and while seeing them relive their transformation into who they are now is nice and the cast do a great job with it, it doesn’t add anything to the story as a whole. The film starts with a brief recap of the story thus far, but doesn’t explain nearly enough to act as a jumping on point for newcomers, so the whole recapping each Crystal Gem’s turn from who they were to who they are thing feels like filler, as much as the initial concept of them being reset is a strong one, which it is.

Fortunately, newcomer Spinel is solid gold throughout. Her clown form provides further insight into how the gem hierarchy, in particular the Diamonds, operates, and the subtle hints and foreshadowing about who she is and what made her who she is culminate in a heartbreaking reveal of her backstory. Her villainous side is unique among her peers in that she’s fuelled entirely by emotion; she’s a mess of grief, rage and despair who simultaneously wants to be reasoned with and believes that peace was never an option. At one point I wondered if she would be, in this show filled with anime references and homages, Steven’s Legato Bluesummers, and I while I won’t spoil whether I was right, I will say that I felt satisfied with my answer. She’s relateable, she’s threatening, she’s unique for the show and I love her.

The songs are uniformly good, as is to be expected. The film is a musical, which at times can slow down the pacing a little, but it’s not a big problem. The film looks great, again as to be expected, there’s not much to say on that front really: it looks like the show, it sounds like the show, it sings like the show, just at feature length.

Overall, Steven Universe The Movie is a good time. Personally I think the time spent getting Pearl, Amethyst and Garnet back to who they are isn’t the best use of a film, but the set up that resets them is good, and the transition itself is handled well. It is, however, all worth Spinel, who steals the film and every scene she’s in. Its mix of recaps/redos and just presuming you know what’s happened before is frustrating, but it’s a good time, it hits hard and, again, Spinel is a wonderful addition to the canon.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

MediEvil Remake Review

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Back when I was a wee bairn MediEvil was one of my favourite games. A tone and level design that combined a light fantasy touch with a darker edge, Metroidvania elements and an exquisite soundtrack have all made it stick with me for years now. It was, however, bastard fiddly at times and I never finished it, instead using cheats to see the end, which is the 90s equivalent of “Time Saver” DLC, in a way. Anyway they’ve only gone and bloody remade it, haven’t they? Crash N Sane Trilogy style. I didn’t review that because it didn’t feel as good as the originals in a way that made me feel depressed and old and I wanted to just move past the whole thing. I am reviewing this, however. Join me, won’t you?

You are Sir Daniel Fortesque, renowned as the King’s Champion and hero of Gallowmere, who having lead a charge against evil sorcerer Zarok immediately died via arrow to the eye. Now revived as a jawless, one-eyed skeleton by Zarok’s general “Raise the undead and brainwash living people” spell, Dan’s got a shot at redemption by traversing Gallowmere and putting Zarok down. The story stays that simple throughout but is peppered with bits of lore now and then about sealed monsters, great heroes residing in a sort of Valhalla-type gaff and what remains of the battlefield Dan “fought” on. Dan doesn’t really have much of a personality to speak of outside of being worried or getting annoyed when people sass him, and the only recurring characters within the levels themselves are exposition goblins. Every now and then another character will pop up for a quick chat but they’re all brief: for the most part you’re on your own. The story itself is far less important than the journey, and fortunately that part is well done, and holds up. Every level has a gothic charm to it, the Kingdom being made up of ornate graveyards, moody farmland, eerie marshes and forests, as well as more unusual levels like a crystal cave and a flying pirate ship manned by a literal skeleton crew that comes out of nowhere near the end. The art design was one of the original game’s strongest suits, and it holds up well here apart from one slight personal issue I have with it.┬áIn the original, the lack of draw distance meant everything was surrounded by an endless black void. Here the entirely re-done PS4 graphics mean every outdoor level has a light night sky, which removes that slightly sinister atmosphere of isolation. The game looks lovely though; everything looks like it used to and the original, varied art style survives intact.

Gameplay wise is where things perhaps should have been changed a bit. The combat is light and floaty: there’s no real transition between moving and fighting. There’s a button that locks the camera behind Dan but it only works in certain areas, and another that locks Dan on rails so he’s always facing forward, but it’s on the same side as the shield button so it’s awkward at best. Mostly it’s just running around loosely, swinging wildly at any enemies with little sense of impact. There are a variety of weapons both melee and ranged, all of which are unlocked from the aforementioned Valhalla-style “Hall of Heroes”. Kill enough enemies in a level and you can collect its chalice, which lets Dan converse with a statue of a legendary hero who taunt or encourage him in a variety of accents and bestow upon him their signature weapon. Or cash. Or health, it varies. Each hero’s first time is always a weapon though. The game’s biggest issue, though improved since the original, is platforming, which being based on PS1 technology is often frustrating. As I said it is improved from the original but it can easily go wrong. As I said at the top of the review there’s a touch of Metroidvania to proceedings: the map used to select levels has branching paths, important story items are placed among them for reasons that make sense in the story but don’t really complicate proceedings. Admittedly I remembered where things were and I don’t know how someone going in blind would do, but it’s a fairly simple, well signposted game, with the Metroidvania elements just adding some spice really.

Oddly the game has a mixture of original and new voice acting, to equally mixed results. Some characters just straight up use the original recordings, albeit possibly remastered, which don’t match some of the new, more fluid animations. The one new piece of voice acting I’m not a big fan of is Dan, in particular a certain damage noise he used to make that’s now absent, but that’s a personal thing, and there’s nothing wrong with his new voice.

So then, as a big fan of MediEvil, I had a good time with the remake. For me its best points were always the art design and music, so the mediocre combat doesn’t really bother me, though it’s worth mentioning considering how far third person action has come in the intervening years. A pleasant trip down memory lane that didn’t make me realise I’ve been an idiot for liking such shite, but I’m not sure there’s enough here for a newcomer. Having said that, do please buy it so they’ll remake MediEvil 2.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

The Outer Worlds Review

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“It always comes down to the Hunters’ helper to clean up after these sorts of messes.” After Bethesda didn’t so much drop the Fallout ball as slam it into the Earth’s core, it falls to Obsidian to make us all feel better with a spiritual successor of sorts. Having said that the game is not, as I had heard, basically Fallout in space. It does, however, have enough New Vegas about it to be noteworthy, and while it’s unfair to judge it entirely on those standards, it’s too explicit to not make comparisons.

You are a future colonist frozen in suspended animation, aboard a ship called “Hope” filled with Earth’s brightest and best en route to Halcyon, a human colony in space. Unfortunately you’re being thawed out seventy years too late by a mad scientist who needs you to deal with the absolute shitshow Halcyon has been turned into by its rulers “The Board” and their various corporate entities. Far from a blank slate on which to write the next chapter of humanity, Halcyon is a nightmare of scrutinised, micromanaged corporate bullshit in which people are required to start conversations with advertising slogans, debts to The Board can legally be covered by forced organ donation, and the whole system is on the verge of collapse because it’s being run by people for whom profit is the bottom line, everything else be damned. Subtle it isn’t, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Commandeering the name of recently deceased smuggler captain Alex Hawthorne (though you can still tell people your real name) and his ship The Unreliable, you and a gradually built crew travel around the Halcyon system getting into scrapes, helping people out and taking any opportunity to kick The Man (the proverbial Man, not Becky Lynch) in the bollocks. The overarching plot of the Captain helping their new ally Dr Welles thaw out everyone else on the Hope so they can turn things around for Halcyon is largely just a frame on which to hang the more personal stories and sidequests found in the system. Towns with problems that need solving, leadership disputes, sides to take or peace to broker, local criminal elements to get involved with, that sort of thing. As well as the obvious Fallout comparison the game often feels like a less militaristic Mass Effect; you select your crew the same way when you leave the Unreliable, they all have loyalty missions you can do, and the moving between space ports and planets filled with either hostile wildlife or people in need of a competent space adventurer feels a lot like Bioware’s series. The writing is universally good, the quests are universally solid even if they’re not all stand-outs, and the crew are all great; particularly adorable, asexual, queer, mechanic Parvati and drunk, soulful, savvy hunter Nyoka.

The New Vegas comparison is most evident in the gameplay, in particular the skills, flaws and dialogue options. Flaws are negative effects that pop up naturally in response to events; things like being scared of robots, addicted to drugs, scared of heights, that kind of thing. They all offer a perk point in exchange for a debuff, and can be taken or left as you see fit. There’s a wide range of skills pertaining to combat, as well as hacking, lockpicking, mechanics, stealth and medicine. They all have effects on gameplay and dialogue to open up alternate routes to your objective, both physically and by talking your way into, out of and around things. Taking this a step further is New Vegas’ “Speech” option being split into three separate categories: Lie, Persuade and Intimidate. In practice this is largely superfluous and entirely down to personal preference, but it adds depth to the role playing. Despite the focus on first person shooting, in a way that felt to me like a plasmid-free Bioshock what with all the shooting and rooting through cupboards and the like, this is an RPG, and besides the fights with marauders and alien creatures you can talk your way out of anything, particularly when combined with the game’s disguise mechanic. As long as you have the correct ID you’ll automatically equip a disguise upon entering a restricted area. It runs on a time limit, but once one of the four bars empties and nearby guards take notice of you, you can talk your way into having them leave you alone again. Perks are mostly just useful augments to existing skills; carry more, do more damage, that sort of thing. A little boring and safe compared to New Vegas, but they’re useful. Speaking of New Vegas, Outer Worlds’ V.A.T.S equivalent is the ability to slow down time, which becomes especially useful once you’ve upgraded your ranged weapons skill, at which point slowing down time and aiming at an enemy lets you cause various status effects depending on where you shoot them, from obvious ones like crippling a leg or maiming an arm, to more interesting ones like temporarily blinding them or, my personal favourite, knocking them out briefly to be bombarded with further attacks. The way skills work encourages you to branch out rather than stick to a narrow focus: they come in groups of three, and you put points into each group until a skill hits fifty, at which point you have to top them up individually.

So that’s all good, but are there any problems? A few, but they’re mostly subjective. It’s quite a short game for its type, and surprisingly easy; gunfights are easily won with the right equipment (which isn’t hard to obtain) and two companions, and putting points into the three speech skills will get you past the majority of things that don’t come pre-aggro’d. That said there is a super hard difficulty with factors similar to New Vegas’ Hardcore Mode, so maybe that evens things out. Less subjective are the frequent, not inconsiderable load times that break up travelling. They’re more irritating than anything else, but still worth mentioning.

Overall The Outer Worlds is great. Obsidian clearly know what they’re doing and have filled the void left by Fallouts 4 and 76 with a consistently enjoyable action RPG with great writing, characters, a wonderful anti-corporation viewpoint and a dedication to alternate methods of problem solving. Top notch.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

 

 

 

Death Stranding Review

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Death Stranding is the long-awaited first game from the new-look Kojima Productions, having parted ways with Konami in favour of Sony. It’s been hyped for years both due to the context surrounding Kojima and its collection of weird trailers ripe for analysis. Having seen a few of those trailers I decided to eschew any further preview materials to go into the game somewhat blind, and as a result wasn’t sure what to expect besides a few key points. It finally came out recently, and I’ve beaten it, so here we go.

So the titular Death Stranding is a catastrophic event that caused the land of the living and the land of the dead to become connected. Now when people die their souls leave their bodies and travel on a journey, Ancient Egyptian style, to a place called their “Beach” on the way to the afterlife. America is a lonesome wasteland and most of its surviving occupants live in shelters to avoid the two primary threats in this new world: Timefall and BTs. The former is some bizarre effect that makes rain and snow cause whatever they hit to fast forward in time; turning people old and ruining any inanimate object not reinforced against it. The latter are ghost-like entities caught between the two worlds, who if they come into contact with living people cause a massive explosion called a Void Out. Terminally ill U.S President Bridget Strand has a plan to salvage the country by connecting what’s left via a “Chiral Network” that allows the exchange of information and access to incredible 3-D printing, and seeks to enact this plan with the help of Bridges, her organisation. You are Sam, a man raised by Bridget and a legendary courier who takes on the Chiral Network job to rescue Bridget’s daughter Amelie, with whom he’s very close, who set out on an expedition but was kidnapped by a terrorist group. That central plot of stringing the network through what’s left of America acts as a constant base on which to hang the more immediate, interesting parts of the story. Each chapter is dedicated to a character and their research into the situation and attempts to help speed the process along. These sections are where the meat of the story lies, and where Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa get to flex their writing and design muscles respectively. To name a few: Lea Seydoux as Fragile; head of a private delivery company, with a dark past and thought to be in league with the very terrorists who kidnapped Amelie, and with the best look I’ve seen in a game since V in DMC5. Guillermo Del Toro’s likeness with Jesse Corti’s voice as Deadman, a slightly goofy but reliable and friendly support character who has Sam’s back from the off, and Mads Mikkelsen as Cliff, who it’s hard to talk about without spoiling things but provides some of the coolest, most visually striking moments in the whole game. He steals any scene he’s in. Kojima’s always excelled with supporting casts, an art he honed with the Metal Gear Solid series, and Death Stranding’s is its strongest asset. The story itself goes to some interesting places and is set up and paid off well, its only issue is the various explanations tied into the lore can weigh everything down, particularly whenever it becomes apparent that Kojima did a lot of research on a subject and really wants to make sure it all makes it into the scene. Fortunately that never detracts from the strong character work, and is mostly kept in optional reading material. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, so I’ll leave it there.

The gameplay is where people might be put off, but hear me out. The majority of the game is being a courier; strapping cargo and useful items like climbing ropes and collapse-able ladders to Sam and trekking through fields, over mountains and across streams to get people what they need and convince them to join the network. Weight limits play a factor, you need to ensure the cargo isn’t damaged in transit, Sam’s balance needs to be maintained and items like different leg frames that increase your carry limit or let you move at normal speed over rocks and through thick snow help. Now I don’t know how that sounds to other people, but I took to it instantly and genuinely enjoyed it throughout the game. There’s a steady supply of items a la MGSV, the extra details like balance and weight limit add a layer of depth, and it just clicked with my brain in a way that’s hard to put into words. The rest of the game is more traditional third person combat and stealth. The aforementioned BTs are invisible but can be detected with something called a “Bridge Baby”: an infant with an equal link to both worlds and attached to Sam’s suit. If they find you and catch you, you’re dragged into a newly formed lake of tar filled with scattered buildings emerging from the earth to fight some giant beast, and it is genuinely harrowing. There’s not a whole lot of horror, not as much as I was hoping for after the whole Silent Hills incident, but it’s here. More accurately, it’s lurking out there in the world waiting for you to slip up. BTs are exclusively encountered in Timefall, their outlines hanging eerily in the air as BB nervously whines and points them out as best they can. It’s all very atmospheric. There are also human enemies in the form of “MULEs”, who’ll try and steal any cargo you’re carrying, and the previously mentioned terrorists, who’ll just straight up try and kill you. There’s melee combat with a surprisingly useful parry and smashing people over the head with cargo containers, which is never not satisfying. There are also guns, which control a lot like they did in MGSV and can be loaded with bullets laced with Sam’s blood, which is harmful to BTs. There are boss fights, most of which are rather good and then there’s the game’s USP; persistent, online, hands-off co-operation. Social aspects in games are nothing new of course, but how it works here is that things like ladders and ropes, as well as constructed objects like bridges and Timefall shelters exist in your world when built or left behind by other players. Lost cargo found in the world can be delivered to its intended destination, or entrusted to other players. Co-operation and just generally doing something kind for someone who might come through the same area after you is encouraged and easy to do, and the amount of player-created objects dotted throughout the map is helpful without feeling intrusive, and ties into the game’s overarching theme of people coming together to help each other.

I really enjoyed Death Stranding. It’s not for everyone, but its mix of engaging, satisfying package delivery, combat, strong character work, intersting, varied lore and horror came together in a way that really worked for me. I recommend trying it if anything I’ve said here has piqued your interest, and I thoroughly look forward to whatever Kojima Productions does next. Preferably a full-on horror game to realise the promise of P.T, but whatever it is I’m on board.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18

Kill la Kill IF Review

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Having released a superb Dragon Ball game last year in Dragon Ball FighterZ, Arc System Works has set its sights on a more challenging follow up: Kill la Kill, Trigger’s skin-baring, clobber-clobbering, mental anime about a girl in a sentient sailor uniform that turns into an extremely risque battle suit. The game gives away a reveal from well into the series and I’ll be spoiling things from it and IF’s story, so bear that in mind as we go forward.

The story is split into two paths: protagonist Ryuko and antagonist Satsuki, except she’s never really viewed as the antagonist because the game immediately reveals that she’s been secretly planning to overthrow her evil mother Ragyo. There’s very little context as to who these characters are and what they’re after: the story starts at the Naturals Election where Ryuko defeats the Elite Four in thirty seconds during a cutscene so Satsuki can destroy her in a tutorial fight. From there Harime Nui pretends to be an ally to Ryuko for some reason, before the game jumps straight to the Sports and Culture festival, where she reveals herself to have killed Ryuko’s Father. We never see her Father in this version, he’s never named, nor is it revealed that Ryuko and Satsuki are sisters. Nudist Beach are given one off-hand mention but are never seen, COVERS don’t destroy anything and are quickly dealt with, and the whole thing ends on a poorly explained “We’re all in Satsuki’s dream” twist that I have two problems with. Firstly, why is she able to see Anime-quality stills of things that happened in the series? Senketsu mentions time being warped but that doesn’t really explain anything. Secondly, why, if the whole story is a dream, is the best Arc Sys could come up with a heavily truncated version of some parts of the anime, devoid of context, excitement or humour and just slightly altered in a way that illicits the response “…that’s a bit different to the anime”? Senketsu is sliced to pieces and repaired almost immediately, the tri-school raid is relegated to a paragraph of exposition, Harime Nui listens to Satsuki’s order despite the latter being knee-deep in a coup against Ragyo. It’s rushed, it takes place in four locations where they cram in as many story beats as they can, and the aforementioned dream reveal makes the whole thing feel even more unimaginative. Worse still, the story mode often pads things out by having you fight groups of COVERS until you’ve killed a certain amount, which is utterly tedious. Multiple timelines bleeding through into a dream, with Satsuki as the core who can see those timelines and possibly interact with them; that’s a good idea. What they came up with is completely forgettable at best and frustratingly bad at worst.

So the story mode is a bust, which is a shame because the gameplay is pretty good. It’s a one-on-one fighter but with free movement around an arena and a camera that moves around to try and give the most useful angle. Like DB FighterZ and JoJo All Star Battle, repeatedly mashing the attack button results in combos, but like the former you are encouraged to mix things up. Every character has close and long range attacks, launchers, sweeps, a block, a dash, a guard break and a homing dash, which supplement the barrage of attacks with variation as and when it’s needed. There are three special attacks each: close, long and break, in keeping with the attack methods, and despite the uniform control method the characters do play differently: Satsuki and Ryuko are nimble and focus on melee, Nonon uses ranged attacks, Gamagoori and Sanageyama are slow but strong, and the former’s masochism based attacks come into play, stuff like that. It’s the kind of thing Arc Sys have done well before in Persona 4 Arena and DB FighterZ; easy enough to get to grips with and fun, but with an extra layer of depth for those who are looking for it. The one thing I don’t get is the weird rock paper scissors mini game, similar to clashes from Injustice that the game made no effort to explain to me and at the time of writing still hasn’t. You pick one of three face buttons in the hope to gain things like increased damage and a health refill, alongside gaining a “Valor” level that brings different benefits, but I’ve no idea what to do and I’ve only ever won by accident.

The fighting in this Kill la Kill fighting game is enjoyable and well designed, but the roster isn’t huge and the selection of arenas is measly. The story in this Kill la Kill fighting game is utter shite. So that’s the breakdown, and unfortunately the lack of content makes it hard to recommend it in the way I could with DB FigherZ or JoJo Eyes of Heaven, which supplemented their weak story modes with excellent gameplay and extremely detailed fan service respectively (DB FighterZ has good fan service too, but it’s not on the same level). If you like Kill la Kill and want to be able to stage fights between some of the characters from the anime in a way that decently recreates the style of said anime, this is worth picking up in a sale, definitely not full price. If you have a passing interest or are new to Kill la Kill, there’s nothing here for you. I am disappointed, but I did have fun. Make of that what you will.

By James Lambert
@jameslambert18