Category Archives: Game Reviews

Review – Gears of War 4

What’s this?

I don’t want to alarm you, but despite quite clearly having the numeral “4” on the end of the title, Gears of War 4 is actually the fifth game in the respectable Gears of War franchise. And when I say “respectable” I’m not even being my usual, sarcastic, devilishly-handsome self. The first game was critically beloved, a commercial success by every possible metric, exceedingly well-designed, and became a rubric for cover-based third-person shooting to such an extent that the industry’s continued – and continuing – milking of the series’ saggy teats has led most people to retroactively taint the Gears games themselves. A shame, really, because they’re all pretty great. Except this one, as it happens. This one is merely fine, just in quite a tired, predictable, faintly desperate way.

Oh, no. We’re not doing the Halo thing, are we?

Not quite, although the business parallels are undeniably similar. Epic Games didn’t want to make Gears of War games anymore, much like how Bungie didn’t want to make Halo games anymore, and so in both instances Microsoft invented a developer with the specific mandate of making more games in those respective franchises. In Halo’s case, the property was handed over to 343 Industries, a phenomenally inept pack of corporate stooges who bastardized Halo’s core gameplay, plot and characters, and slapped them back together in a Call of Duty clone wearing Master Chief’s helmet.

Gears of War 4 has, admittedly, fared slightly better. Its developers, The Coalition, at least had the good sense to leave the fundamentals of a Gears experience largely unchanged. The problem is that they left them so unchanged that the whole thing feels like a knockoff, second-hand Gears experience without any of the creative verve that gave the original trilogy its unique appeal.

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Review – Prey

What’s this?

Weirdly enough, it’s absolutely nothing to do with 2006’s Prey, a topsy-turvy sci-fi shooter that, if memory serves, had an arsenal of weaponry comprised of living extraterrestrial organisms that would belch gelatinous projectiles at the player’s foes. It also had a wrench, which means that, as a matter of fact, 2006’s Prey does indeed have something in common with 2017’s Prey, and it’s newer, shinier wrench, as well as 2007’s Bioshock, with its underwater, objectivist wrench, and even 1999’s System Shock 2, which had a blocky, pixelated wrench, and is a game to which all of those listed above owe a rather significant mechanical and thematic debt.

It’s another first-person sci-fi quasi-horror wrench-swinging RPG, is what I’m saying.

Could have just said that.

I could, yes, but – let’s be frank – these creatively-bankrupt titling practices are really starting to get on my fucking nerves. The old Prey isn’t even that old. And it hardly cemented itself as an iconic brand; it doesn’t seem to me that there’s much sense in slapping the name across what is, for all intents and purposes, a perfectly serviceable new IP. That’s Bethesda for you though, isn’t it? Never a thought spared for the lowly consumers like me who write themselves in knots trying to review the thing. It’s not even enough to specify that it’s another – all together now – “spiritual successor” to System Shock 2, because so is Doom 3 and Dead Space and, if we’re being honest, every sci-fi horror game released in this millennium. You also have to clarify that’s its set on a spaceship and it’s about an alien invasion and there’s a wrench in it.

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DLC Review – Resident Evil VII: Banned Footage Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

First, a disclaimer: The following might contain minor spoilers for Resident Evil VII, and will definitely contain some major ones for how I feel about the video game industry’s lecherous DLC practices. Mere weeks after the main game’s release, Capcom are already groping in your pockets for more cash, whispering sweet nothings in your ear about how much cheaper it would be to simply buy the season pass and have done with it. They’re probably right, but savvy gamers know that shelling out for such things ahead of time is a bit like bobbing for apples in a pool full of shark fins – you might come up with something tasty, but you’re more likely to get your face bitten off.

Still, here we are. Banned Footage, after a period of purgatorial PS4-exclusivity, is now broadly available as either two individually-priced three-part volumes, or, if you’re a daredevil, for free as part of the season pass. If you were hoping for a purchase recommendation, no such luck. Both are hit-and-miss enough that they’re equally worthwhile or worthless depending on both your disposable income, and which parts of the uneven vanilla game you found most appealing. Sorry about that.

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DLC Review – Assassin’s Creed Unity: Dead Kings

[This review contains a big spoiler for the main story of Assassin’s Creed Unity. You’ve been warned.]

In my rambling analysis of Assassin’s Creed UnityI didn’t mention anything about the game’s myriad performance problems. I didn’t talk about Arno getting stuck in the middle of a hay cart or hovering in mid-air. I didn’t complain about having to restart checkpoints or reset my console. That’s because I played a post-patch version of the game which had had most of those bugs and issues teased out. So I didn’t see any of that stuff. Aside from some rather glaring dips in framerate, and the occasional texture pop-in, Unity ran pretty smooth for me. No crashes, no lost progress – not much fun, admittedly, but for wholly different reasons.

Still, as compensation for shipping a game that was (allegedly, I suppose) thoroughly broken at launch, Ubisoft made a smart decision. They cancelled the game’s Season Pass and made the first planned piece of downloadable content, Dead Kings, free for everyone. I hadn’t even realized it had been released before my Xbox One had downloaded it, installed it, and thrown a little notification onto my screen with that all-too-familiar blip: “Assassin’s Creed Unity: Dead Kings is ready to play”.

Well, if you insist.

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Review – Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition

Even though I said a large portion of what I have to say about Secret of Monkey Island, video game humour generally, and the benefit of re-releasing classic games in my review of the previous Special Edition, here’s some more of that stuff anyway. Because why not?

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition (hereafter just Monkey Island 2, thanks very much) is a better remake of a better game. If you enjoyed the first one – in either its original or shiny, high-definition form – you’ll enjoy this even more. If you’d rather boil your own head than play a 90s-style point-and-click adventure… this probably won’t sway you. Yes, the game is better, but it’s better because the jokes are funnier and the puzzles make slightly more sense. The underlying format remains unchanged.

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Review – The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition

Secret of Monkey Island was first released in October of 1990, a time when “adventure games” were still a real thing; the genre monopolised by the two warring monoliths of LucasArts and Sierra. I was a month old.

By the time adventure games had faded into relative obscurity during the latter half of that same decade, I, like most people, was so enamoured with the high-resolution art, CD-quality audio and three-dimensional game worlds of the home console scene that I considered everything which came before entirely obsolete. It took me half a decade to start considering that viewpoint potentially incorrect, and another half again to realize exactly how incorrect it truly was. That was when, twenty years after the game’s initial release, I sat down to play Secret of Monkey Island.

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Review – Sunset Overdrive

As my suffering readership is no doubt well-aware, I love a video game which prompts an interesting discussion. And say whatever you like about Sunset Overdrive, the new open-world sandbox adventure from Insomniac Gamesbut it certainly does that. So let’s discuss the thing that’s been on my mind constantly since the first five minutes of it: How can a game so fun to play, a game with such simple, elegant mechanics, a game based around a single near-genius concept… how can that game make me want me murder every single member of its development team?

Well, let’s find out.

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