Category Archives: Game Reviews

Review – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Despite being intended as merely a downloadable expansion for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, since being promoted to a half-price, standalone release, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy has established itself as the rubric for a brighter future of the franchise that is free of Nathan Drake, his brooding backstory and personal dramas, and the relentless padding of his overlong, overrated games.

That isn’t a controversial opinion. The Uncharted games are good, and have periodically flirted with excellence, but they have never been the masterpieces that critical acclaim and corporate pride suggested they were. The Lost Legacy returns the series to its insouciant, knowingly pulpy roots with an experience that is half as long and twice as focused; a low-stakes adventure that retains its parent game’s engine and remarkable production value, and developer Naughty Dog’s extremely high standard of character writing and set-piece design. This is the best complete Uncharted experience, and the first to finally realise that the least interesting aspect of Nathan Drake’s tropical excursions has always been Nathan Drake himself.

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Review – Cuphead

If you’ve heard anything about Cuphead, you’ve probably heard that it’s hard. And this is very much true. It’s a couple of hours of content that took me ten hours to beat – and that was without obsessing over the end-of-level rankings, which slap an exam-style grade on your performance. (Mine were mostly B+, which I guess would constitute a pass.) There are two difficulty settings available from the start: “Simple” and “Regular”. The former doesn’t make the game any easier; it just removes bits from it. The latter is the intended experience, and seems designed to break people’s spirits and controllers. There’s certainly nothing regular about it, and you should keep that in mind. Cuphead might not be for you. In fact, it probably won’t be.

All of this is intentional. Cuphead is a fusion of archaic animation and archaic game design. It blends the grainy, rhythmic animation of the 1930s and the simple but exacting demands of 2D side-scrolling shooters. It’s supposed to be hard; as a game comprised almost entirely of boss fights, it wouldn’t be worth playing if it wasn’t. But – and this is crucial – it’s almost always fair. Aside from a couple of late-game encounters that are crippled by an unreasonable amount of randomness, this is an experience that promotes learning by ensuring that success is always just there, a little out of reach, but only one more attempt away. Rarely is that true, of course, but the belief is all you need to keep playing.

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Review – Sonic Mania

There is no sound more terrifying, more nightmarish, than the countdown that signifies the final five seconds before Sonic the Hedgehog drowns. It has haunted gamers since 1991, when they first found themselves in the depths of the Labyrinth Zone; an underwater maze cleaved into the decaying ruins of an ancient civilisation, where glittering crystal stalactites hung from the ceiling and spears leapt from the stairs. Players loathed this level, still do to this day, which makes one wonder why Sega included such a level in every subsequent 2D Sonic game. The one in Sonic Mania is Hydrocity Zone, from Sonic 3, a better level set in a stone reservoir with an underground waterpark beneath it. But “better” is a relative term. That countdown hasn’t changed.

Since Sonic has become such a laughing stock, it can be difficult to believe that the blue hedgehog once rivalled Mario as the definitive video game mascot. This was in a gentler time, when video games were basically all 2D side-scrolling platformers, and the home console war was between Nintendo and Sega, and both companies only made games. But it was a time I grew up in. It was a time I adored. My childhood was 16-bit; Sonic’s games, as far as I was concerned, were masterpieces. Sonic Mania, then, is a game aimed directly at me, and at people like me, for whom the word “SEGA”, bellowed at a game’s start screen, had roughly the same impact as the words “I finished” might have to a twenty-something. Satisfaction. Pride. Bliss.

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Review – Batman: The Enemy Within (Episode 1 & 2)

In Telltale’s Gotham City, before he was gunned down in Crime Alley, Thomas Wayne was a master criminal. Gotham Gazette reporter Vicki Vale led a terrorist group, The Children of Arkham, which had risen from his nefarious activities. In Arkham Asylum, a man known only as John Doe hoped to rehabilitate; he was friendly, helpful, intelligent, but he also had green hair, pale skin, and a wide, chilling grin.

In Telltale’s Gotham City, choices have consequences.

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Review – What Remains of Edith Finch

The Finch family home – a bizarre, sprawling estate that has housed several generations of the family which the media once declared America’s “most unfortunate” – is like a lot of video game spaces, in that it’s an interesting place to visit, but you’d never want to live there. The building is a warren of memorials; all its bedrooms, studies, basements and secret passages sealed to preserve the memory of their previous occupants. Its architect, Edie Finch, was playful, and possibly mad. The house loops around and back into itself, builds atop itself, and spirals down within itself. All its odd protrusions and extensions jut from the main building like spidery limbs; a teetering Jenga tower of memories and lives, abandoned and forgotten.

The Finches came to the Pacific Northwest from Norway in 1937, and since then almost all of them have died, most either in or close to the house. So plagued are they by unexpected bereavement that people – including their own kin – believe the family to be cursed. In 2016, Edith, a 17-year-old girl who has recently inherited the property, returns to it six years after its abandonment. Back then, Edith’s mother had believed the curse to be localised, confined to the house itself. She swept up her children and left. Whatever she left behind – the locks, the secrets, the family’s sad past – has been held in stasis ever since, waiting for an intrepid visitor to unravel the tragic mysteries of the Finch family and their clan’s surrealist homestead.

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Review – The Town of Light

The town is Volterra, a sun-dappled rustic swatch of Tuscany. The blue sky is streaked with cottony clouds, and the rolling hills, here the green of a snooker table’s felt, there the amber of a traffic light, they extend to the edge of sight, lost eventually in the shade of gnarled trees that reach and clench from the ground like arthritic hands. At the top of such a hill is Ospedale Psichiatrico di Volterra, a real-life, once understaffed and overcrowded asylum that has fallen into disuse and disrepair. Now it lies abandoned and unoccupied, rusted over and scrawled with graffiti. But it’s once again about to open its doors to a patient.

Her name is Renee. As a young girl she was committed to the asylum shortly before World War II; as an adult she has returned to revisit the now-empty rooms, hung heavy with misery and rot. Many games have been set in asylums, and we’ve been taught what to expect from them. But The Town of Light is not really that sort of game, and so we get something different from it. The beds are still fitted with thick leather straps, and the mangled wheelchairs and gurneys still screech in the quiet, but the ghosts here don’t float along the corridors – they’re suffused into every brick, and the memories of every patient who was committed to a system that, at best, profoundly misunderstood their problems.

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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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