‘Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’ review: the setting’s first must-play game

A polished, lively, and engaging real-time strategy that doesn’t quite offer enough for single player fans

The post ‘Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’ review: the setting’s first must-play game appeared first on NME.

NME

Warhammer‘s Age Of Sigmar universe can be tough to get into. It’s easy to look at the stoic, shining Stormcast Eternals, figure they must be entirely devoid of personality, and then extrapolate that to the entire high fantasy setting. Yet veteran Games Workshop writer Gav Thorpe’s penmanship, clever mission design, and gripping cinematics make real-time strategy (RTS) Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’s 12-hour campaign as entertaining an entry as you could want – and if it doesn’t help shift a few plastic Troggoths or pots of Nuln Oil, we’ll drink our paint water.

Generous or not, though, the campaign will only see you so far. What’s really going to justify the price tag here is whether you’re up for learning the finer points of the competitive game. ROR slots nicely into Relic’s design lineage, so Dawn of War fans will be right at home. From a single central building, you’ll send forth small groups of units to capture victory and strategic points, accrue resources, upgrade units, and build out those strategic points into map-defining landmarks, all while trying to outfight, outsmart, and outmaneuver your opponent. More victory points mean a quicker reduction of your opponent’s score, and when either side hits zero, the other wins.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin. Credit: Frontier Developments.

It all makes for an intricate tug of war. Defensively turtling is discouraged in favor of constant aggression. Every divergence from absolute stalemate is a minor victory, and even the smallest win can ripple through future skirmishes. Resources fall into three categories; Command, Realmstone, and Population. As is the mark of any good RTS, you’ll likely never have quite enough of any of them to do exactly what you want. Split-second prioritisation and short-term plans constantly jostle for brain space with micro-managing both unit position and hero abilities.

Cleverly, those hero abilities – as well as being on the usual cooldown – also eat up the very same resources you’ll want to hoard to develop your structures. It’s these tradeoffs that really elevate ROR. It can be tempting to just smash and grab the strategic points, but the longer you’re willing to park units there, the bigger your zone of control grows. This means more resources, and a harder time for anyone trying to capture it. The victory points themselves, however, can be taken or lost in moments.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin. Credit: Frontier Developments.

It’s a solid ruleset, and top-tier production values in bringing Age Of Sigmar to life. Each of the four factions – Stormcast, Orruks, Nighthaunt, and Tzeentch – boast a unit roster running from basic to showstoppers, with dragons and ogres soon joining the rank and file. Each is animated beautifully, and the sound design is no slouch either – especially the campaign’s sweeping score.

What sets ROR back somewhat is a few quality-of-life control issues – more egregious in a genre where knowing your keyboard shortcuts is a significant advantage. Grouping units follows the standard RTS control scheme, but the menu offered no solution to ungroup. There’s also a noticeable amount of stickiness once units get engaged in a melee. These are minor issues, all told, but with action this fast and fluid, they stand out.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin. Credit: Frontier Developments.

Perhaps ROR’s biggest wasted opportunity is its Conquest mode. All in all, the campaign, multiplayer, skirmish, army painter, and conquest modes present a generous package – but only if you’re likely to engage with all of them. This is – and we suppose this is the seller– the first genuinely exciting Age Of Sigmar game. It stands to reason a fair few fans will just want a stress-free way to engage with this universe.

If so, they’re likely to find what’s on offer a bit lacking: a map-based gauntlet of skirmish battles with the bare minimum of contiguous effects to string them together, plus a few admittedly interesting modifiers. It’s serviceable, just lacking the effort that’s gone into the campaign. Fostering a competitive multiplayer scene is a huge focus of the genre, but Warhammer‘s first two Dawn Of War games have remained so revered precisely because of the depth of their single-player offerings. It’s a depth ROR can’t quite muster.

We’re so far removed from the era where you were lucky to get a decent Warhammer digital game that the cliche has lost all relevance, but even as quality improves across the board, Realms Of Ruin deserves to sit alongside the best digital adaptions of a Games Workshop property. If you plan to get stuck into the whole package, this is a very easy recommendation. If not, Realms Of Ruin still offers an incredibly solid campaign, but holding out for Conquest mode to get a few more bells and whistles is probably the right call. Either way, it’s nice to have yet another fantasy universe to care about, and possibly spend entire utility bills on plastic dragons for.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin launches on November 17 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S. We played on PC.

Verdict

Great production values, lively and thoughtful RTS battles, and a clear love for the setting make Realms Of Ruin the first truly exciting Age Of Sigmar game. However, fans looking for a pure single-player experience might find its excellent campaign a little too light to justify the price of entry, while Conquest mode is a lacklustre consolation prize.

Pros

  • Brilliant and lengthy story campaign that’s enough to sell anyone on the setting
  • Four factions bring a lot of variety; strategic, visual, and thematic
  • Clever twists to the competitive RTS formula keep up the tension even into the late-game

Cons

  • Conquest mode is an underbaked consolation prize for single player
  • A few QOL control issues
  • No Seraphon, obviously

The post ‘Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’ review: the setting’s first must-play game appeared first on NME.

‘Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’ review: the setting’s first must-play game

A polished, lively, and engaging real-time strategy that doesn’t quite offer enough for single player fans

The post ‘Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’ review: the setting’s first must-play game appeared first on NME.

NME

Warhammer‘s Age Of Sigmar universe can be tough to get into. It’s easy to look at the stoic, shining Stormcast Eternals, figure they must be entirely devoid of personality, and then extrapolate that to the entire high fantasy setting. Yet veteran Games Workshop writer Gav Thorpe’s penmanship, clever mission design, and gripping cinematics make real-time strategy (RTS) Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’s 12-hour campaign as entertaining an entry as you could want – and if it doesn’t help shift a few plastic Troggoths or pots of Nuln Oil, we’ll drink our paint water.

Generous or not, though, the campaign will only see you so far. What’s really going to justify the price tag here is whether you’re up for learning the finer points of the competitive game. ROR slots nicely into Relic’s design lineage, so Dawn of War fans will be right at home. From a single central building, you’ll send forth small groups of units to capture victory and strategic points, accrue resources, upgrade units, and build out those strategic points into map-defining landmarks, all while trying to outfight, outsmart, and outmaneuver your opponent. More victory points mean a quicker reduction of your opponent’s score, and when either side hits zero, the other wins.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin. Credit: Frontier Developments.

It all makes for an intricate tug of war. Defensively turtling is discouraged in favor of constant aggression. Every divergence from absolute stalemate is a minor victory, and even the smallest win can ripple through future skirmishes. Resources fall into three categories; Command, Realmstone, and Population. As is the mark of any good RTS, you’ll likely never have quite enough of any of them to do exactly what you want. Split-second prioritisation and short-term plans constantly jostle for brain space with micro-managing both unit position and hero abilities.

Cleverly, those hero abilities – as well as being on the usual cooldown – also eat up the very same resources you’ll want to hoard to develop your structures. It’s these tradeoffs that really elevate ROR. It can be tempting to just smash and grab the strategic points, but the longer you’re willing to park units there, the bigger your zone of control grows. This means more resources, and a harder time for anyone trying to capture it. The victory points themselves, however, can be taken or lost in moments.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin. Credit: Frontier Developments.

It’s a solid ruleset, and top-tier production values in bringing Age Of Sigmar to life. Each of the four factions – Stormcast, Orruks, Nighthaunt, and Tzeentch – boast a unit roster running from basic to showstoppers, with dragons and ogres soon joining the rank and file. Each is animated beautifully, and the sound design is no slouch either – especially the campaign’s sweeping score.

What sets ROR back somewhat is a few quality-of-life control issues – more egregious in a genre where knowing your keyboard shortcuts is a significant advantage. Grouping units follows the standard RTS control scheme, but the menu offered no solution to ungroup. There’s also a noticeable amount of stickiness once units get engaged in a melee. These are minor issues, all told, but with action this fast and fluid, they stand out.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin. Credit: Frontier Developments.

Perhaps ROR’s biggest wasted opportunity is its Conquest mode. All in all, the campaign, multiplayer, skirmish, army painter, and conquest modes present a generous package – but only if you’re likely to engage with all of them. This is – and we suppose this is the seller– the first genuinely exciting Age Of Sigmar game. It stands to reason a fair few fans will just want a stress-free way to engage with this universe.

If so, they’re likely to find what’s on offer a bit lacking: a map-based gauntlet of skirmish battles with the bare minimum of contiguous effects to string them together, plus a few admittedly interesting modifiers. It’s serviceable, just lacking the effort that’s gone into the campaign. Fostering a competitive multiplayer scene is a huge focus of the genre, but Warhammer‘s first two Dawn Of War games have remained so revered precisely because of the depth of their single-player offerings. It’s a depth ROR can’t quite muster.

We’re so far removed from the era where you were lucky to get a decent Warhammer digital game that the cliche has lost all relevance, but even as quality improves across the board, Realms Of Ruin deserves to sit alongside the best digital adaptions of a Games Workshop property. If you plan to get stuck into the whole package, this is a very easy recommendation. If not, Realms Of Ruin still offers an incredibly solid campaign, but holding out for Conquest mode to get a few more bells and whistles is probably the right call. Either way, it’s nice to have yet another fantasy universe to care about, and possibly spend entire utility bills on plastic dragons for.

Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin launches on November 17 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S. We played on PC.

Verdict

Great production values, lively and thoughtful RTS battles, and a clear love for the setting make Realms Of Ruin the first truly exciting Age Of Sigmar game. However, fans looking for a pure single-player experience might find its excellent campaign a little too light to justify the price of entry, while Conquest mode is a lacklustre consolation prize.

Pros

  • Brilliant and lengthy story campaign that’s enough to sell anyone on the setting
  • Four factions bring a lot of variety; strategic, visual, and thematic
  • Clever twists to the competitive RTS formula keep up the tension even into the late-game

Cons

  • Conquest mode is an underbaked consolation prize for single player
  • A few QOL control issues
  • No Seraphon, obviously

The post ‘Warhammer Age Of Sigmar: Realms Of Ruin’ review: the setting’s first must-play game appeared first on NME.

‘Dredge’ review: not R’lyeh

Captivating eldritch fishing with frustratingly shallow limits

The post ‘Dredge’ review: not R’lyeh appeared first on NME.

NME

Say what you want about eldritch fishing sim Dredge, there’s no denying that it understands cosmic horror. Sometimes, that’s evident in the evocative eeriness squirming just below its disarmingly pristine waters. Sometimes, it’s in how powerfully the game shows why a real clock-watcher of a day shift could easily lead you to pissing around with eldritch artefacts, just to shake things up a bit. At its best, Dredge’s waters teem with promise and mystery, veering from the satisfying numbness of chill, repetitive tasks to exploring a dangerous and fascinating setting. At its worst, this cursed expedition feels far too much like work.

You play as a nameless, faceless fish fancier, out to make their fortune in a far-flung archipelago known as ‘The Marrows’. Things start out simple enough. You’ll sail about, catching fish through a perfunctory, vaguely synapse-tickling minigame. You’ll return to the nearby town, sell your catch, and buy new equipment that lets you fish different waters. You’ll speak to a few ominously folksy locals. You’ll maybe pick up a sidequest or two, rewarding you with materials to research new trawling tech. It’s the same pleasant, narcotic loop a lot of work sims attempt to lull you into – the sort of thing I’d describe as a podcast game, if the music and atmosphere of Dredge wasn’t itself absolutely worth taking in fully.

There’s just one catch (this can be a fishing pun if you want it to be): When night falls, happenings in the archipelago start to become altogether stanger. Bizzare illuminations litter the inky horizon. Apparitions haunt your periphery. You can brave the darkness, sure. Maybe upgrade your lamps. Perhaps you’ll find a rare catch – hopefully before it finds you. Your ship can be destroyed in rare circumstances, but it’s more likely any mishap will simply damage your components, forcing you to repair them next time you’re at a shipyard. Sometimes, your engine goes out, and you’re made to glacially crawl back to the nearest port. It’s an agonizing gateway to madness that sells the theme a bit too hard.

Dredge. Credit: Black Salt Games

So, you potter around the marrows for a bit. Upgrade your boat. Maybe catch some crabs. Make a little coin. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself visiting a crusty collector of curiosities, who tasks you with finding a particular item lost in a shipwreck. Return it, and you’ll be rewarded with a hint of the unsettling truths that await you beyond the small part of the map you’ve already explored. You’ll also be rewarded with ‘Haste’ – the first of what are, effectively, spooky super powers to help you explore more dangerous places. This one gives you a quick boost of speed, but will burn out your engines if overused. Later, you’ll be granted teleportation, a protective aura, and more.

That Haste ability is the first hint of one of Dredge’s problems: moving your ship around feels oddly floaty and sluggish, even with the power granted by this skill. This would be completely fine in a game just about exploration and simulation, but Dredge also wants to impart the sense of a physically dangerous world, complete with hazards, narrow tunnels in cliff faces, and the occasional pursuing monster.  It’s a double edged swordfish. On the one hand, the initial sluggishness of your boat lends Dredge the poignant sense of vulnerability of a good survival game. Upgrades become crucial to venture outside the starting area with any success, and the sense of progression in the initial hours feels meaningful and satisfying.

Dredge. Credit: Black Salt Games

On the other hand, though, Dredge just isn’t very enjoyable to control, even beyond the deliberate sense of upgrading an old clunker of a boat into something swifter and more durable. I feel there’s a theoretical version of Dredge that purely involves navigating menus, one that does away with the rubber duck bobbing in a bath-ass feeling of driving your boat, and one that adds more depth and choice to its many, often well written, story events. That’s not what Dredge is, though, and this combination of the much more successful narrative adventure game and simulation elements with dull skill based navigation makes for an experience as draining as it is fascinating.

It doesn’t help that Dredge soon reveals its spread of quests to consist almost entirely of find thing, fish thing, bring thing back, before upgrading to doing the same, but you’re being chased by something. I realise I’m griping about a fishing game making you do too much fishing, but despite a few small minigame alterations, angling in Dredge is more or less the exact same thing, whether you’re ten minutes in, or ten hours. For such a core component of the game – arguably, the core component – there’s bafflingly little complexity, strategy, skill, decision making, or, like, just good old fashioned fun to be found here.

You know what is fun? The game’s take on inventory Tetris. Since nighttime is where the bad things live, you’re always on a timer in Dredge, the daylight hours tick down unless you’re docked. This goes for fishing, too, but crucially, the timer pauses while you try to find space in your cargo hold to cram in your latest catch in a limited share of tiles. It’s a small thing, but an incredibly nice touch. As is the way the fish wiggle sloppily as you move them across the grid.

Dredge’s presentation continues to astound and delight as you play, becoming the main motivator to push on long after its well of systems have run dry. It’s both gorgeously weird and weirdly gorgeous, from its bubbling, fuggy mangrove swamps to Pompeii-esque ruins where volcanic veins sear the seabed. It’s tempting, sometimes, to ignore its deeper mysteries altogether. To live a blissfully quiet life fishing the same spots, to hide from the darkness every night. You won’t, of course. Like any Lovecraftian protagonist worth their salt, you’ll keep digging for dark secrets. Some reveal deep truths. Others, just frustratingly shallow limits.

Dredge releases on March 30 for Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Xbox X|S, Xbox One, Switch and PC. This review was conducted on Steam

Verdict

A beautifully decorated vessel that runs well for the first few hours, before revealing itself to be a bit of an old clunker, the experience of playing Dredge doesn’t line up with the promise of its enchantingly strange presentation.

Pros

  • Enchanting presentation with a wide variety of gloriously strange sealife
  • Initially satisfying progression systems
  • A genuine sense of mystery and possibility

Cons

  • Repetitive quest design
  • Fishing itself gets dull quickly
  • Traversing the world is sluggish and uninteresting before upgrades, and oddly frictionless after

The post ‘Dredge’ review: not R’lyeh appeared first on NME.

‘Dredge’ review: not R’lyeh

Captivating eldritch fishing with frustratingly shallow limits

The post ‘Dredge’ review: not R’lyeh appeared first on NME.

NME

Say what you want about eldritch fishing sim Dredge, there’s no denying that it understands cosmic horror. Sometimes, that’s evident in the evocative eeriness squirming just below its disarmingly pristine waters. Sometimes, it’s in how powerfully the game shows why a real clock-watcher of a day shift could easily lead you to pissing around with eldritch artefacts, just to shake things up a bit. At its best, Dredge’s waters teem with promise and mystery, veering from the satisfying numbness of chill, repetitive tasks to exploring a dangerous and fascinating setting. At its worst, this cursed expedition feels far too much like work.

You play as a nameless, faceless fish fancier, out to make their fortune in a far-flung archipelago known as ‘The Marrows’. Things start out simple enough. You’ll sail about, catching fish through a perfunctory, vaguely synapse-tickling minigame. You’ll return to the nearby town, sell your catch, and buy new equipment that lets you fish different waters. You’ll speak to a few ominously folksy locals. You’ll maybe pick up a sidequest or two, rewarding you with materials to research new trawling tech. It’s the same pleasant, narcotic loop a lot of work sims attempt to lull you into – the sort of thing I’d describe as a podcast game, if the music and atmosphere of Dredge wasn’t itself absolutely worth taking in fully.

There’s just one catch (this can be a fishing pun if you want it to be): When night falls, happenings in the archipelago start to become altogether stanger. Bizzare illuminations litter the inky horizon. Apparitions haunt your periphery. You can brave the darkness, sure. Maybe upgrade your lamps. Perhaps you’ll find a rare catch – hopefully before it finds you. Your ship can be destroyed in rare circumstances, but it’s more likely any mishap will simply damage your components, forcing you to repair them next time you’re at a shipyard. Sometimes, your engine goes out, and you’re made to glacially crawl back to the nearest port. It’s an agonizing gateway to madness that sells the theme a bit too hard.

Dredge. Credit: Black Salt Games

So, you potter around the marrows for a bit. Upgrade your boat. Maybe catch some crabs. Make a little coin. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself visiting a crusty collector of curiosities, who tasks you with finding a particular item lost in a shipwreck. Return it, and you’ll be rewarded with a hint of the unsettling truths that await you beyond the small part of the map you’ve already explored. You’ll also be rewarded with ‘Haste’ – the first of what are, effectively, spooky super powers to help you explore more dangerous places. This one gives you a quick boost of speed, but will burn out your engines if overused. Later, you’ll be granted teleportation, a protective aura, and more.

That Haste ability is the first hint of one of Dredge’s problems: moving your ship around feels oddly floaty and sluggish, even with the power granted by this skill. This would be completely fine in a game just about exploration and simulation, but Dredge also wants to impart the sense of a physically dangerous world, complete with hazards, narrow tunnels in cliff faces, and the occasional pursuing monster.  It’s a double edged swordfish. On the one hand, the initial sluggishness of your boat lends Dredge the poignant sense of vulnerability of a good survival game. Upgrades become crucial to venture outside the starting area with any success, and the sense of progression in the initial hours feels meaningful and satisfying.

Dredge. Credit: Black Salt Games

On the other hand, though, Dredge just isn’t very enjoyable to control, even beyond the deliberate sense of upgrading an old clunker of a boat into something swifter and more durable. I feel there’s a theoretical version of Dredge that purely involves navigating menus, one that does away with the rubber duck bobbing in a bath-ass feeling of driving your boat, and one that adds more depth and choice to its many, often well written, story events. That’s not what Dredge is, though, and this combination of the much more successful narrative adventure game and simulation elements with dull skill based navigation makes for an experience as draining as it is fascinating.

It doesn’t help that Dredge soon reveals its spread of quests to consist almost entirely of find thing, fish thing, bring thing back, before upgrading to doing the same, but you’re being chased by something. I realise I’m griping about a fishing game making you do too much fishing, but despite a few small minigame alterations, angling in Dredge is more or less the exact same thing, whether you’re ten minutes in, or ten hours. For such a core component of the game – arguably, the core component – there’s bafflingly little complexity, strategy, skill, decision making, or, like, just good old fashioned fun to be found here.

You know what is fun? The game’s take on inventory Tetris. Since nighttime is where the bad things live, you’re always on a timer in Dredge, the daylight hours tick down unless you’re docked. This goes for fishing, too, but crucially, the timer pauses while you try to find space in your cargo hold to cram in your latest catch in a limited share of tiles. It’s a small thing, but an incredibly nice touch. As is the way the fish wiggle sloppily as you move them across the grid.

Dredge’s presentation continues to astound and delight as you play, becoming the main motivator to push on long after its well of systems have run dry. It’s both gorgeously weird and weirdly gorgeous, from its bubbling, fuggy mangrove swamps to Pompeii-esque ruins where volcanic veins sear the seabed. It’s tempting, sometimes, to ignore its deeper mysteries altogether. To live a blissfully quiet life fishing the same spots, to hide from the darkness every night. You won’t, of course. Like any Lovecraftian protagonist worth their salt, you’ll keep digging for dark secrets. Some reveal deep truths. Others, just frustratingly shallow limits.

Dredge releases on March 30 for Playstation 5, Playstation 4, Xbox X|S, Xbox One, Switch and PC. This review was conducted on Steam

Verdict

A beautifully decorated vessel that runs well for the first few hours, before revealing itself to be a bit of an old clunker, the experience of playing Dredge doesn’t line up with the promise of its enchantingly strange presentation.

Pros

  • Enchanting presentation with a wide variety of gloriously strange sealife
  • Initially satisfying progression systems
  • A genuine sense of mystery and possibility

Cons

  • Repetitive quest design
  • Fishing itself gets dull quickly
  • Traversing the world is sluggish and uninteresting before upgrades, and oddly frictionless after

The post ‘Dredge’ review: not R’lyeh appeared first on NME.

‘Wanted: Dead’ review: a mesmerisingly terrible masterpiece

Rental: Also Dead, unfortunately

The post ‘Wanted: Dead’ review: a mesmerisingly terrible masterpiece appeared first on NME.

NME

“a AAA love letter to the sixth generation of consoles,” third-person hack n’/cover shooter Wanted: Dead proudly touts. And I believe it. From its linear corridor and arena-clearing combat missions, to its acting and writing, the game has the half-baked but full-arsed charm of its target era in spades. There is a huge part of me that wants to be an evangelist for This Sort of Thing, but it has left me reminiscing about how the truly great thing about the actual 6th generation of consoles is that it also had Blockbuster Video.

If said temple of temporary ownership was still breathing, in all its popcorn-pushing, Haribo-slinging, drab carpeted splendor, I would be demanding with frankly unbearable enthusiasm that everyone and their hamster nabbed this incredibly fun trashfest for the weekend. But it’s not. And Wanted: Dead is 50 quid. And that, I’m afraid, makes it a rather more complicated proposition.

Wanted: Dead. Credit: Soleil Ltd.

However, value is nebulous and subjective, so with the disclaimer that I absolutely do not recommend you purchase this game brand new, let’s pretend money isn’t an object for the rest of the review, and say that Wanted: Dead is a must-play if you have a.) any love for the camp but immaculately choreographed ultraviolence of films like Tokyo Gore Police or Meatball Machine Kodoku b.) ever lustily imagined a very short Yakuza game made by Grasshopper Manufacture where the entire dev team had the flu and were hopped up on Lemsip hot toddies for the complete production cycle. c.) a penchant for beautiful trash that rivals that of an aesthete racoon.

Here’s the set-up. Zombie Unit is an elite cop murder squad, rag in appearance and tag in moxy, each of them various shades of one day away from retirement, too old for this shit, a loose cannon, and a cop on the edge with nothing to lose. Your heroine, Hannah Stone, is a hi-top wearing war criminal with a penchant for karaoke. Also, Stepfanie Joosten plays a gunsmith who we’re informed, quite early on, smells perpetually of cat piss. When you discover the reason for her odour, you may feel ashamed of your words and deeds.

Wanted: Dead. Credit: Soleil

There’s a conspiracy of sorts, in a sort-of cyberpunk Hong Kong, and the player, as Hannah, has to hit a lot of people with swords and bullets to work it all out. That’s basically all you need to know. The plot is nonsense, fascinating in its sheer lack of momentum and mesmerising in its seemingly coin-flippant decisions between which moments to drag out to the point of farce, and which to rush through like it needs the toilet after a particularly strong Lemsip hot toddy. I loved more of it than feels noble to admit.

It’s tempting to call the voice acting and writing bad on impulse. I would not blame anyone who did. But if I enjoy spending time with these characters – which I do – then surely both these things have done their job as well as anyone could reasonably ask for? It’ll be a dull world indeed when we all start demanding prestige classical realism from every game, regardless of emotive or experiential intentions. HBO and Hollywood are modes to work in when it suits the flavour of shooty and/or slashy, not standards by which everything else should be judged. That said, it’s all a bit shit, yeah. But I still enjoyed my hangout time – singing, eating ramen, arcade games, all playable – with Zombie Squad a great deal, Hannah especially.

Wanted: Dead. Credit: Soleil Ltd.

There is, undeniably, jank in Wanted: Dead, notably in frame drops, stutters, crashes, and enemy AI. But the combat itself feels like a very deliberate blend of demandingly exact and mindlessly mashy, and when you start chaining it together with parries, counters, grenades, flying kicks, and dodge steps, it slaps. It’s sort of like playing Sekiro at half speed while submerged in a bath of beans. It took me hours to get even half competent at it and I enjoyed the process immensely.

I generally dislike canned finishers on principle, but Wanted: Dead’s are as goldilocks in both frequency and length as, say, Doom Eternal’s. Either by chopping off a limb with heavy damage, or when using a meter-draining gunkata supermove, Hannah can stun enemies, which can then be chain-finishers in a variety of creatively gory kills. It lends combat both punctuated pacing and stylish flair, and while this is neither Ninja Gaiden or something like God Hand – it doesn’t have the depth or potential for self-expression – it is a bloody good time if you’ve got the patience for it.

If I’m honest, Wanted: Dead is often suspiciously reminiscent of Tommy Wiseau pretending The Room was a comedy after the fact. Despite how much I enjoyed myself, and despite how much I’d love to think the game’s every foible is some subversive, curated throwback, it doesn’t always feel intentionally shaky and camp as it does, well, “Oh, hi Mark”. . A sheen thrown over a troubled developmental dead end to sell it as something both less and more than it was earnestly intended to be.

Oh, and I didn’t mention the third person cover shooting because I mostly ignored it, except when I was desperately low on health. Some things are best left forgotten.

Wanted: Dead is available on PlayStation, Xbox and PC. This review was played on PC.

Verdict

I want everyone to play Wanted: Dead, but I don’t want anyone to spend any more money on it than they’d be comfortable spending on, say, a guilty takeaway meal. In its best moments, it feels like an oasis in a desert, a balm for the self-serious excesses of Sony‘s first party offerings. At its worst, it’s incredible how something so seemingly confident and free in its own strangeness can make such obvious and dull choices.

Pros

  • Confident, gory combat with a peculiarly satisfying rhythm
  • Absolutely does not care whether you find its writing, acting, or storytelling the least bit interesting
  • You can sing 99 luftballons at karaoke with Stefanie Joosten

Cons

  • Obscenely overpriced for what it offers
  • Third-person cover shooting feels quite literally sellotaped on. Also, the sellotape is wet
  • I cannot fully unwrap its pass-the-parcel-esque layers of sincerity and irony, and I’m not sure I want to, because I reckon there’s a black hole at the center

The post ‘Wanted: Dead’ review: a mesmerisingly terrible masterpiece appeared first on NME.

Why ‘Dead Space’’s Ishimura feels so authentically terrifying

The USG Ishimura’s palpable misery makes it hard to resist for horror fans

The post Why ‘Dead Space’’s Ishimura feels so authentically terrifying appeared first on NME.

NME

Towards the final chapters of 2008’s sci-fi horror Dead Space, engineer Isaac Clarke is forced to trundle his way through the halls of a recently crashed military ship named the USM Valor in order to retrieve a Deluxe Mcguffin Meal called a ‘Singularity Core’ with the goal of powering an escape shuttle. It’s the latest biro scratch on a yellow post-it list of ‘if it can go wrong, it will go wrong’ objectives, each contrived with such transparent honesty – and fresh with promises of more expert scares – that the player can’t help but forgive their Bioshock-ian “fucking really?!”-ness.

Between assaults by the scythe-limbed alien horrors the game calls necromorphs, Isaac will duck into what looks like a passenger lounge for a light breather. Through a harsh regime of treat-speckled scarcity, Dead Space has by this point trained the player to rifle, rummage, scrape, scrounge, and otherwise vacuum until each new architectural victim has been shaken down for its valuables, then stomped on a few times for luck. If Isaac had not chosen engineering as his vocation, he would no doubt be a low-level mobster worth fearing.

In the corner of this particular lounge is a pile of crates. I replayed Dead Space recently for the first time since release, time and distance granting me fresh eyes. So, with all the predictable, cavern-mouthed zeal of an emaciated plastic hippo anally attached to a lever, I eagerly and thirstily flung aside those crates with Isaac’s Kinesis module, and rubbed my greasy goblin mitts together in anticipation of the goody I was sure to be rewarded for my fastidious situational awareness. You play God of War Ragnarok and Marvel’s Spider-Man back to back and, with perfect Pavlovian predictability, you start expecting every optional exertion to end in a delicious treat.

Dead Space. Credit: EA.

There is no goody behind those crates. There’s a necromorph, sealed into a vent, and only just thankful enough for its newfound freedom to screech once at you before it dives in for the kill. The reason there’s a necromorph there is because Dead Space cares enough about its fiction to consider that the terrified crew members of the USM Valor, while under attack from violent space horrors, would only bother to pile up a Kinesis-worthy mound of crates in front of something if it stood to immediately aid their survival. Well, fuck. Said I. I had done Dead Space an embarrassing disservice by treating it like a video game character, when I should have been treating it like a survivor. This is why Dead Space is so good. So much about it screams authenticity to a singular vision, to a mood, and ultimately, to an experience.

The well-loved (and well good) sci-fi horror TTRPG Mothership (which cites Dead Space as an influence) imparts a storytelling ethos based on the tension between three outcomes a party or player might want to achieve over the course of a story. “Survive, Solve, Save: Pick One.” Survive the journey. Solve the mystery. Save the day. Our hero(es) will often achieve one, rarely two, but never three. From this almost code-like elegance, great stories emerge, as if by magic. You can work out what’s killing the colonists. You might even help them evacuate. But you’ll sacrifice yourselves in the process. Or save yourselves, and let the colony die. Or blow the place to hell, escape with the civilians, but never learn what went down. This tension captures the inherent bleakness of sci-fi horror as a genre. Yesteryear brings harsh but comfortingly fair fairytale morality, shared around a campfire. The further we travel from the simplicity of wood and flame to boosters, stars, and anti-grav, the closer we get to senseless despair, spiritual mutilation, and the glistening mouths of eldritch idiot gods.

When I first played through Dead Space, Isaac Clarke died at the end, and you cannot tell me otherwise. There was no Dead Space 2. I hadn’t read or watched any supplementary material. Isaac leaves the planet, after witnessing everybody he encounters die varying degrees of horribly, and after responding to his love’s suicide with gaming’s most iconic shoulder slump. Then, after an uneasily triumphant gasp of helmet-free air, I watched him devoured by a stowaway necromorph during a hallucinogenic fit. Basic observation could have shown me I was wrong, and subsequent canon has tried to gaslight me into my own marker-like madness, but I saw what I saw, damn it. That’s how the game ended for me, and that’s the experience that stuck.

Dead Space. Credit: EA.

I bring up the Mothership system because I think it helps explain why that ending remains so marrow-scoopingly cathartic. Isaac solves the mystery of the marker, but saves no-one, and either barely survives or doesn’t, depending on your interpretation. It should leave us feeling hollow. Cheated, even. But it’s invigorating in its cruel confidence to a vision and mood. We love Dead Space because it refuses to give us what we want while still giving us everything we want to know.

A great bloody chunk of that vision sprung from co-lead, personal crunch enjoyer, and debatable crunch enforcer Glen Schofield’s viewing of the notorious New French Extremity classic Martyrs around the time of development. Martyrs is a uniquely powerful and transcendentally unpleasant work, and almost nothing it does would be the least bit enjoyable or successful if translated directly to video game form. Even the bits with a shotgun are depressing. But Schofield knew this, and so the specter of Martyrs haunts Dead Space almost subliminally, like a distorted two-frame blip in hours of scrubbed footage. Barely a jump scare. Barely a whisper: nothing will be ok. Nothing.

Dead Space. Credit: EA.

Dead Space is not a great game because it is cruel to the point of hopelessness, but because its commitment to these things squirm and wriggle through every fiber of the Ishimura like weevils through a ship’s biscuit. From its cobbled-together engineering weapons, to its collage of found sound effects, that authenticity feeds back to make its hopelessness feel so narratively inescapable – so rhythmically satisfying – that it can’t help but make bleakness feel almost victorious. By the time you’ve got your bearings, it’s weevils all the way down, and they’re chewing at the inside of your mouth. And you’re bloody smiling about it, you are. More weevils! You’re shouting, even as weevils escape your mouth because of all the shouting. Sick, you are. Weevil-sick and loving it.

I like to think that at least part of this authenticity stems from the traces of immersive sim still left in the game’s DNA, remnants from its murky past as a potential System Shock reimagining, and immersive sim style mechanics are nothing if not painstaking efforts to prop up prefab scenery until it resembles a believable space: one that lets you play inside of it, rather than just play through it. Or, to put it another way, a ghost train that lets you, at least occasionally, control the speed, even stopping to hurl fellow passengers onto the tracks. To allow the sort of often-comical freedom that comes alongside unpredictable physics systems and still maintain Dead Space’s sense of dread throughout though? Well, that’s just some damn fine engineer work.

The original Dead Space is available on PC, with a remake launching on January 27 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S

The post Why ‘Dead Space’’s Ishimura feels so authentically terrifying appeared first on NME.

‘Steelrising’ review: les fleurs du meh

Spiders’ best game yet dampens absorbing art design and combat with a host of annoyances

The post ‘Steelrising’ review: les fleurs du meh appeared first on NME.

NME

Steelrising is Spiders’ latest action RPG, taking the tried-and-tested soulslike formula and bringing it to life with the trappings of the French Revolution and killer steampunk robots. You could argue that it gets the most important thing right. Combat – that is, the act of hitting an enemy with a thing and then getting out of the way of its counterattack – feels and looks great here. It’s just everything surrounding it that’s the issue.

Even while the occasionally gorgeous but muddled environments run into each other like cheap oil paint, the focal point – Aegis and whatever twisted automatons she’s fighting – burns brightly and vividly. There’s something incredibly satisfying in the way Aegis’ design fits with the souls-like formula, venting steam to regain stamina, or slicing and dancing with clunky grace – an imperfect facsimile of human movement. The pace and aggression of souls-like combat is always dictated by its lethality and availability of healing items, and while Aegis does have the move-set to negate or avoid damage entirely, there’s enough leeway here to be a little sloppy, a little reckless, and thus a little more relentless and fluid when pressing your attack.

Just as Bloodborne pressed FromSoft’s combat rhythms as close to Devil May Cry-style whirring, stylish character action as they’d go without breaking the fundamentals, Steelrising finds its fancy footing in a looser, more permissive space between genres. There’s no health regain system to invite bloodthirsty assaults, but visible stagger metres and long combos inspire the sort of stylish heroics that would get you killed in the genre’s stricter, more measured offerings.

Steelrising. Credit: Spiders.

So, aside from style, how else does Steelrising shake up the soulslike formula? A timed stamina regen system allows Aegis to refill her entire bar with good timing – at the risk of taking a massive hit of frost, one of the four elemental statuses. So, regain stamina too sloppily, and you’ll become immobile while you shake off the ice. It’s an engaging twist that would have me praising the stamina system if it wasn’t for the constant annoyance of having it tick down outside of combat, during regular exploration. Being told that you have to stop and wait to explore, because you’re out of a resource that only has relevance while in combat, is never fun. It’s a baffling decision that forces stop-and-start navigation of large maps, while adding nothing positive.

The other main twist to combat is ‘Alchemical capsules’, which you can think of as somewhat akin to Bloodborne’s quicksilver bullets. They work as ammo for pistols and special moves baked into melee weapon’s movesets, and they also fuel other special abilities Aegis will pick up along the way. The pistols, especially, are incredibly fun and gorgeously flashy, and add real depth to combat. The way ammo is handled – much like health items, see below – is a missed opportunity, though. Alchemical capsules are an infinitely stockable consumable, either dropped from enemies or bought from save point shops, adding more bloat to a system that could have felt tighter and less bothersome if they’d just auto-replenished in a set amount at each checkpoint. As it is, it encourages you to waste time to give yourself an advantage in combat. Using the player’s own threshold for boredom as a mechanic is always a terrible choice.

Steelrising. Credit: Spiders.

On its surface, the included optional assist mode is a brilliant addition. At any time, you can pop into the menu and tweak damage, stamina regen, and related modifiers. I’m sure some will take issue with these options just existing, and to those people I say this: If, tomorrow, the world were to suddenly terraform into a natural paradise, there would still not be enough touchable grass on the planet to cure what is wrong with you. It’s a great compromise, and I hope it’ll get some people in the genre that would have otherwise avoided it. But I will say that one advantage of a single, set difficulty mode is that it puts impetus on the designers to balance each encounter in a sensible way. And since Steelrising also gives you the option to grind for effectively unlimited healing items – something I thought we’d collectively decided was a bad idea back in Demon’s Souls – I fear some of the encounter design may have ended up a bit sloppy as a result.

This comes across most jarringly in the ever-divisive shitmob ganks. I’m not sure I fully agree with the oft-repeated truism that soulslike combat only works one-on-one. Elden Ring, for example, introduced a lot of fun crowd control options. Thing is, crowd control abilities in Steelrising are few and far between, turning fights against multiple opponents into goofy dodge-fests. Perhaps this is where the game intends me to use all those grenades I’ve been stockpiling, but if you design an encounter specifically to be solved with consumables, you’re courting disaster when a certain type of player (I.E me) is hoarding those consumables, terrified to use them, in a state of constant inertia. The ganking annoyance is lessened somewhat with a few ranged options, but feel overall awkward and unsuited to Aegis’ moveset.

Steelrising. Credit: Spiders.

And yet, I don’t think I’d have a real issue with these encounters if they didn’t ultimately feel like an artificial solution for a lack of enemy variety. Now, what’s here is great. A mechanical menagerie of whirring, stomping, slicing contraptions that verge just on the edge of horror. Just as with Aegis, the way these enemies move fits both their design and the fundamentals of soulslike combat – all clunky, telegraphed violence. Their animations even solve that age old issue of immersion breaking tracking attacks, by having realistic movesets for protecting their backs and sides. There’s just not enough of them. By the time I’d hit the halfway mark, I felt like I’d seen everything the game had to offer, save a few visually interesting but underwhelming boss fights.

As Aegis progresses, she’ll soon gain two key traversal upgrades that open up Paris’ wide, interconnected levels. A mid-air dash jump, and a grappling hook. Unlike in say, a well designed metroidvania, no hint is ever given that you’ll find these items, which resulted in considerable time wasted looking for routes to get to objective markers the game didn’t bother to inform me were currently unreachable. Fool me once. Once acquired they do allow for some impressively vertical level design, stuffed with suitably Souls-ian shortcuts, but Steelrising’s environments are rarely visually distinct enough to let you mentally map these areas. What I’m saying is, I got lost a lot. And not in a fun, thematic, twisting streets way. More like, I’m five years old in the supermarket and I can’t find my mum and I want to cry because this is bollocks way.

The story remains reasonably compelling, mainly by virtue of being set during an interesting time period, and also having killer automatons. Spiders’ dialogue tree RPG roots make themselves known with a fair bit more enthusiasm than they probably should, and while it’s admirable to flesh out a winding political backstory, the action rhythms don’t compliment stopping to read the long letters scattered about the place. More successful are allusions to the romantic poetry-adjacent Frankenstein alongside the French Revolutionary setting that the romantics found so much inspiration in. As far as delivery goes, the game makes the hilarious choice to have characters speak entirely in English, sometimes with cockney accents, and then throw in the odd bit of French. It is every bit as entertainingly jarring as you’d expect when Robespierre says some shit like “‘ello love, fancy using that flamethrower attachment to cook me an Omelet Du Fromage?”, or whatever. He doesn’t say this, but he should.

Aegis’ voice performance, however, is excellent. A plus, since she constantly exposits to herself about her next objective. But the way she speaks is like some uncanny AI trained on ASMR videos – unnervingly soft spoken, always 99 per cent human. Her personal story – or what small part it plays in a mostly political narrative – is a highlight, too. It adds some much needed heart to what, otherwise, can feel like an overly artificial construct.

Steelrising launches on September 8 for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.

The Verdict

It’s hard to fault the stylish, moment-to-moment combat in this confident souls-like. Unfortunately, most of what surrounds it – from the muddied level design to a host of frustrating quality-of-life choices – dampens the experience.

Pros

  • Each automaton you fight is stylish, creepy, and visually inventive
  • Aegis’ moveset is varied, fluid, and impactful
  • The inherent halting clunkiness of the soulslike formula is utilised to great thematic and visual effect

Cons

  • Lacking enemy variety and mob fights feel uninspired and poorly balanced
  • Level design is occasionally beautiful, more often muddied and baffling – an attempt to mimic Souls interconnectedness gone wrong
  • A host of small quality of life decisions add up to something genuinely frustrating

The post ‘Steelrising’ review: les fleurs du meh appeared first on NME.

‘Victoria 3’’s staggering complexity is only matched by its excellent accessibility

Hands on with Paradox’s upcoming economic and society sim

The post ‘Victoria 3’’s staggering complexity is only matched by its excellent accessibility appeared first on NME.

NME

Victoria 3 might just have the best tutorial I’ve ever seen in a strategy game before. It’s not just down to the detailed ‘Tell Me How’ step-by-step that follows each objective. It’s not even because of the brilliant nested tooltips, each a glossary link, similar to the equally inviting Crusader Kings 3. It’s something that feels so obvious, and yet so perfect, that I’m shocked I’ve never seen it presented like this before: Just below the ‘Tell Me How’ button is another that reads ‘Tell Me Why’ – providing context, not just instructions, for your earliest steps into this vast society simulator.

Crusader Kings 3 raised the bar for accessibility, which is of course something we want to do,” says game director Martin Anward. “We want to be able to make a really deep, complicated economic simulator. But we also want people to be able to play it!”

First announced last May at PDXCON, Victoria 3 is the follow-up to Paradox’s 2010 grand strategy, also set in the hundred year period between 1836 and 1936. In the twelve years since, the studio’s famously granular and complex grand strategy games have found a new audience with more modern and accessible offerings, like the aforementioned Crusader Kings 3 and the galaxy spanning Stellaris. After spending time with an early build of Victoria 3, I’m convinced that the long-awaited sequel hasn’t sacrificed an ounce of complexity or decision making in its transition to this new era of Paradox. But gosh, it’s very nice to know what all these buttons do for a change.

Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.

So, back to those crucial three words, then. Tell Me Why. As I learn very early on, there’s little you can change as ruler of your country in Victoria 3 without significant ripple effects. Setting up a new import route might benefit your economy in the short term, but flood your domestic market with too much of a certain resource, and the resulting drop in price could end up being disastrous. Passing a law might quickly improve the favour of one political party, only for the opposing party to sow political dissent that eventually snowballs into revolution. By allowing you to fully understand the macro – the long term effects and spider web of consequences behind every decision – Victoria 3’s tutorials instil an early sense of confidence and insight into the inner workings of your nation from the offset. Whether that confidence translates into competence, however, is up to you.

Although there’s no true win condition in V3, the main menu offers a series of society building challenges – Egalitarianism, Hegemony, and Economic dominance – along with suggested countries. These are only suggestions, though, as you’ll still be able to play any country on the map, with the exception of decentralised powers. As Anward puts it, your ‘pops’ in V3 are the primary building blocks of your society, and although you won’t be able to influence them directly, their living conditions, employment, wants, needs, and political leanings all influence the cogs of your society. The more political strength a certain group (Serviceman, Labourers, Clergyman ) has, the more their opinion will influence your ability to affect change. Allowing for abstraction, the entire population of the world in 1836 – around a billion people – are part of V3’s vast simulation. “Everything in the game is designed to either operate on, or be informed by, these pops,” says game director Mikael Andersson.

When it comes to balancing sandbox possibilities with historical accuracy within that simulation, Anward gives the example of crops – specifically opium. “You can theoretically grow it anywhere in the world. So if we’re just following a model of ‘Can you grow it here?’, we’d put it everywhere. But that would be strange, because it has a cultural element to it, a taboo element to it. So we chose to put it where it had either historically been grown, or it felt plausible that someone would grow it, as opposed to just saying, ‘you know what, Sweden has potential for opium’.”

Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.

“There’s been a lot of compromises like that,” says Andersson, “between what feels historically correct vs. how could history have turned out? There’s all sorts of case by case judgements that have to be made. But I think we benefited a lot by just having a team full of history nerds. Just people who love this stuff and read about it in their spare time.”

As Anward points out, the other pillar of the game’s economic simulation, alongside pops, is buildings. As well as creating the resources that fuel your economy, these businesses also affect supply and demand, buying and selling input and output goods, respectively. As you might expect, a well-run building is more lucrative, but for the workforce, rather than directly for the player. Instead, you’ll make money through tax. Different buildings hire their workforce from different strata of the population, with the capitalists at the top enjoying a much higher living standard than the workforce. You can’t just open a building and start redistributing the wealth, but through a long-term plan of canny trade deals, technology, and changes in the legal system, you might just be able to move toward a more egalitarian society.

Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.

Despite the huge amount of options at your disposal, resource management in V3 still comes down to a few core pillars. There’s money, of course, and keeping your economy healthy – which also means not stockpiling too much gold. There are also three main capacities: Bureaucracy, produced and maintained by government buildings, is used by internal state management. Authority represents your ruler’s personal ability to affect change, such as issuing decrees or supporting political interest groups. Finally, for external affairs, there’s Influence – your diplomatic power. There are naturally wide-spanning consequences baked into all of these, but just as an example: Introducing filing cabinets to your government offices might help with organisation, but if you run into a paper shortage you’ll see your bureaucracy suffer, as you’re no longer able to effectively keep records.

That V3 manages to make the introduction of filing cabinets feel just as strategically meaningful as inventing planet mining lasers in Stellaris is a testament to how well defined the cost and benefits of each decision are. The themes might be more mundane on a surface level, but the brain-tickling, number-crunching, one-more-week pulls of Paradox’s best are all on full display here. Whether V3 is able to pull in the uninitiated in quite the same way as CK3, I’m not sure, but it’s clear that no small amount of care and attention has been taken to ease new players in. It’s nowhere near a ‘pick up and play’ experience, sure, but what could have been intimidating in lesser hands is now just fascinatingly complex.

There’s so, so much more granular detail I could get into here, but it’s safe to say that V3 doesn’t just reward micromanagement, it requires several specially appointed bureaucratic offices to sign, seal, and deliver every syllable of the word micromanagement to a secret council, where its long term effects will be painstakingly forecast for the months to come. While it lacks the character drama of Crusader Kings, or the pure sci-fi spectacle of Stellaris, the game is shaping up to be a staggeringly complex society simulator. Once again, I can’t praise those excellent tutorials enough.

Victoria 3 launches on October 25 for PC

The post ‘Victoria 3’’s staggering complexity is only matched by its excellent accessibility appeared first on NME.

‘Two Point Campus’ review: well learned

A worthy and truly iterative sequel to Two Point studio’s loving revival of Bullfrog’s legacy

The post ‘Two Point Campus’ review: well learned appeared first on NME.

NME

Management sim Two Point Campus is a triumph in measured rule breaking – a great sequel that channels the reserved iconoclastic zeal of an extremely British brand of rebellion, like putting the milk in first. Hospital felt like a pitch-perfect revival that, while cosy and satisfying, played it a little too safe to be genuinely exciting outside the nostalgia buzz of its premise. Don’t mess with the classics, right? Especially if defibrillating the cadaver of that classic is kind of the whole point.

Campus absolutely messes with the classics. It remixes, reinvents and reduxes, with all the brash confidence of a student union DJ slipping their own Fruity Loops beats into a Friday night playlist. Against all odds, they’re actually bangers.

Not that Campus is a complete reinvention, just a deceptively deep rework. The main pillars established by Bullfrog and spruced up by Two Point still hold true here. You’ll still build a business, one room at a time, using blueprint-like floorplans. You’ll still hire and train staff, from professors to coffee vendors, and try to keep them happy with opulent staff rooms and lavish salary increases. You’ll still try to keep everything beautiful as well as functional, with plants and art and regularly emptied bins. And just when you’ve got everything running smoothly, the game will still delight by throwing various spanners in the works, like a horde of rampaging knights you’ll have to see off with water-pistol wielding janitors.

Two Point Campus. Credit: Two Point Studios.

You’ll still smirk, never quite laughing out loud but enjoying it all the same, at a dad-only open mic night’s worth of puns, quips, and japes baked in from the ground up, from radio broadcasts to furniture descriptions. But beneath all this on-brand, highly enjoyable misanthropy lies a small but incredibly significant change that alters how Campus functions in comparison to Hospital. Most of your profit now comes not from gouging, but (shudders) actively improving the lives of your customers by providing a good education, which equates to big bonuses at the end of each month. The drive to run a good hospital was always there, but only so much as it related to profit margins. Now, you can run your Campus at a monthly loss and still profit, as long as you’re running good classes, encouraging stable and complimentary management, rather than quick fixes. It’s more involved, and much more satisfying.

Hospital featured a handy visual overlay for identifying weak points in your facility, letting you decide where to cheekily paint over stinking brown patches with beautifying plants, or in what areas your already dying patients were most likely to catch a second bout of hypothermia. This visualisation mode returns here, with some Campus-y tweaks. What’s new is goals – individual wants and needs, unique to each student, that boost their personal happiness, or improve their education. Goals arrive in your inbox. Holly Barnacle needs a hot dog to feel complete. Archaeology student Annabel Bobble wants an antique display in the library. Hugh Vinegar wants a party in the union, because of course he does, the feculent wastrel. Combined with the visualisation overlay and an overview screen with so much improvement that it’s now fun to pour over spreadsheets, these goals make tweaking your ramshackle campus into a well-oiled, monetised education factory simpler and clearer than ever.

Two Point Campus. Credit: Two Point Studios.

These goals also feed into one of Campus’ best improvements – how much more alive and fleshed out each tiny person is, especially the students. Personnel management follows the Hospital mould of staff and customers (students), with the management of the former affecting the experience of the latter, and the ultimate success and profitability of your campus. But while Hospital’s patients mainly functioned as fussy wallets with embarrassingly swollen legs, your students have relationship needs, aspirations, and character traits. They can even catch a variety of grin-worthy, dad-joke diseases, just in case you worried Two Point Studios had forgotten their roots. There were times when I sat back, watching my students and staff rush through their schedules – chatting, eating, pooping, playing Beloved Sega Product Crazy Taxi – and just marvelled at the sheer, colony-like complexity of the simulation.

Research and training still provide the entry point into higher level advancement, but they’re now joined by private tuition, which further expands the idea that you’re aiming to make your customers genuinely thrive, rather than just draining their wallets and kicking them out on the curb. Courses run for three years, so it’s worth making time and training investments in your students early. A new addition in this area is clubs. Pop down a stand, and either wait for students to join of their own accord, or assign an assistant to speed up the process. There’s even a definitely-not-a-cult, definitely-not-Scientology-based club that invites worship of a mysterious entity called The Orb, reducing member happiness but earning you money. Happily, most clubs are a lot more benevolent, with things like speed walking and power napping making their members much more efficient at completing their schedules.

Two Point Campus. Credit: Sega

Customisation in Hospital could feel purely functional at times. There were a fair few doodads to pepper your floor plan with, but it mostly felt in service of getting percentages above a certain value, rather than losing yourself in absinthe-fuelled binges of wildly creative sunflower plonking. Here, with the addition of outdoor decorations and custom building layouts, you’ve got a lot more wiggle room to create your own personal vision of botanical beauty. It’s nothing near the level of a Planet Coaster, sure, but let’s be honest: the main function of such overwhelmingly granular customisation is to make you feel artistically inferior to CoolCoasterTube or SliderEnjoyer or whichever other deranged genius you just watch build a working replica of a Dyson sphere inside Planet Zoo, using only pebbles.

As well as a customisable sandbox mode, Campus ships with 12 levels. Three less than Hospital’s 15, but each feels denser, with unique specialised courses and scenarios for each. So there’s your Culinary school with end-of-year cook-offs. A knight school with jousts. There’s even a play on those wizarding school novels that Hatsune Miku wrote. I should note that this – along with the whole review – is based on me aiming to get the full three starts on each level before moving on to the next. For a breezier experience, the two star objectives feel like a sweet spot. The one-star objectives don’t really require you to wrangle with the finer points of management, and a few of the three-star objectives are a pure grind, rather than introducing a new puzzle into the mix.

Two Point Campus. Image Credit: Two Point Studios

The meaning of some pop-ups are a bit obscure, too. a noticeable hiccup in a game that otherwise does a fantastic job at letting you know what needs your attention. Also, as far as I could figure out, the detailed itinerary screens are purely for show, with no option to alter staff and students automatically arranged schedules.

My most pressing complaint, though, is what a bunch of absolute soap dodgers my students are. I placed soap dispensers on every available wall, no more than five feet apart from each other. I hired an entire army of janitors to empty each bin with borderline unhinged prejudice, like a broom-wielding KGB death squad. I even went so far as to give each dorm room an adjacent shower. The sweaty reprobates refuse to get my hygiene rating above 70 per cent. Hey, Two Point. Please add a function that allows me to command my janitors forcefully hose down the little ratbags, thanks. You know that old Sims tricks where you delete the swimming pool ladder to make them drown? I want that, but with a giant vat of bleach. Merci beaucoup.

I should mention, too, how conspicuously primed for DLC everything feels. Partly Sega being Sega, and partly just a side effect of a formula that easily allows for new themed stages and items. Again, that’s not to say what’s here isn’t substantial. There’s easily 40 hours if you wanted to three star everything, and that’s without sandbox mode. Also, I’m writing this as a complete mark who will likely buy anything they put out. This is a genuinely great sequel that squashes any fears about it being a reskin with a fresh set of nouns. So much so that I frequently forgot to be disappointed that it’s not my coveted Two Point Dungeon Keeper.

Two Point Campus launches on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch on August 9.

The Verdict

A true sequel in the best sense, Two Point Campus is as moreish and satisfying as a greasy breakfast after a night on irresponsibly cheap student union pints. It’s clearly been designed as a platform for DLC, but what’s here is still substantial. Two Point Hospital was a deft revival of an old management classic. Campus feels like the beginning of a brand new one.

Pros

  • Clever changes and improvements to the formula keep things fresh and interesting
  • A great balance of increased complexity within an accessible, easily understandable framework
  • Still as goofily amusing as ever

Cons

  • Some obscure pop-ups
  • A few of the three-star objectives are a grind
  • My students refuse to shower. Please. Make them stop smelling so bad.

The post ‘Two Point Campus’ review: well learned appeared first on NME.

‘The Cycle: Frontier’ review: not exactly vicious, but close

Live just-about-serviceable

The post ‘The Cycle: Frontier’ review: not exactly vicious, but close appeared first on NME.

NME

While it’s more common to see it flung, usually ignorantly, at experimental or non-violent indies, its games like F2P Tarkov-like The Cycle: Frontier that most warrant the question: what even counts as a game, anyway? Is navigating several, byzantine, premium and non-premium currencies a game? What about deciding whether to wait for mobile wallet-drainer style timers to tick down, or whether to skip them by paying currency that’s only a few steps away from effectively being real money?

Is that a game? How about engaging in firefights with other players who, if not at a hard numerical advantage after having spaffed their dollarydoos on top-tier gear, at least have a leg-up?  The Cycle: Frontier is far from the worst offender to even come out this month, of course, and there’s clear passion and talent buried underneath all this nonsense. But hey, why go easy on the pigeon who stole your chips just because another pigeon stole your iPhone? It’s all greed at the end of the day.

The Cycle takes place on the planet of Fortuna III, which sounds, fittingly, like a casino, but is actually a lush, tempestuous world of swamps, jungles, and caverns, inhabited by chitinous bugliens. You and up to two great mates play as prospectors, aiming to drop to the surface, scrounge up valuables and samples of local flora and fauna, then catch a dropship home before getting bodied by either the local wildlife or other players. If you die, you lose any gear and loot you had, but you can spend currency before dropping in to ‘insure’ your shiny equipment, guaranteeing either a replacement or a payout. Back on the station, you progress your reputation with three different factions, giving you access to more missions and better gear. There’s also a massive crafting system utilising dozens of different resources, complete with a dopamine-prodding rainbow of rarity colour-coding, because of course there is.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself before investing in The Cycle’s 30GB download is this: Do you have at least one dedicated friend, who either likes this sort of thing or owes you a massive favour, to play with? If not, prepare to spend a lot of time running into roving pairs of loot-hungry bastards, getting killed in seconds, losing your gear, and repeating the process, or else sneaking through the undergrowth in the vain hope you might grab a couple of useful bits and evac, just to make the tiniest sliver of progress towards your next objective. You might be an FPS god, of course, in which case I’m truly happy for you, as long as you never mention it. If not, prepare for a sneaky, frustrating game of stamina management, exacerbated by a painfully slow default walking speed, no doubt tuned to entice you toward stamina-boosting trousers. Two-on-one fights aren’t impossible, just naturally stacked against you. Fine when PvP is the whole game, less so when you’re trying to find your footing by finishing a slew of multi-tiered quests without going through the rigamarole of death, followed by shopping for more gear, dropping in at a random location, and hoofing it back across the planet to where you were previously.

The Cycle: Frontier. Credit: Yager

With two players, some of The Cycle’s better qualities shine through. At its best, things can feel tense, measured, and tactical, mainly due to clever and varied environmental design. Other players’ footsteps are loud, and the sense of never quite knowing what’s waiting for you – of always having to check your corners – never quite disappears. Again, the world design does the heavy lifting here. There are currently two large maps, one to cut your teeth on, and one for high-level shenanigans. Each map consists of open spaces, dotted with named locations. These are where the action is: each is full of the gear and secrets you’ll be hunting, but also, naturally, a hotspot for both aliens and other players. Fortuna is a world of walkways and waterfalls, holes in fences, places to sneak, to snipe, to have open firefights. It’s both a living planet and a giant strategic playground stuffed with secrets, and neither of these elements diminish the other.

When firefights do kick off, they’re solid enough. Guns feel weighty, aided by thunderous, chunky sound design, and there are a few types of grenades and other combat gadgets to vary things up. Aliens fall into a few different subspecies. Tiny, angry basketballs with legs that rush you and nip your heels, but go down easily. Not-Chryssalids from XCOM that spray streams of acidic Fanta at you from a distance. Big blue shithouses that try to hug you to death. It’s rare to encounter any of these in groups of more than three, though, and low numbers are traded off for a noticeable sponginess. Player fights are bare-bones FPS fare with few mobility tricks or twists to make them stand out . This isn’t Apex: Legends, no matter how much the colour palette may try to convince you otherwise.

The Cycle: Frontier. CREDIT: YAGER

There are some other bits in The Cycle that deserve nothing but praise. As I’ve said, the guns sound great, and the actual map design is incredibly inventive. But Fortuna itself is also gorgeous, packed with alien plant life and full of environmental details that tell bitter stories of doomed attempts at industrialisation. Primordial swamps bubble as you wade through thick fog. Flocks of alien birds scatter in your presence, perhaps alerting wilder, nastier things nearby. Azure waterfalls glisten under alien suns, and the moss-slicked husks of colonial outposts and structures haunt the skyline. As seems so often the case, the sense of friction between talented, passionate art and design teams and reptilian, grasping monetisation direction oozes from The Cycle’s every clogged pore. There are two wolves inside this game, and I’d love to stare in awe at the cheesecake one just baked me, were it not for the fact the other just coiled one out on my rug.

So any immersion in this world that the lushness of Fortuna might provide grates sharply against the utter cynicism that the station blasts you with on your return, from the NPCs selling battle passes to the billboards linking you to Discord and the console advertising ‘Twitch Drops’. Nice worldbuilding you’ve got there, mate. Be a shame if someone late-stage-capitalismed all over it, never letting you forget this is a product first, game second.  The only time sci-fi should ever remind the audience that ‘Influencers’ is a term we’ve somehow all just accepted is if it’s depicting a grim dystopia, and even then, only one whose major selling point is that it’s chiefly populated by wankers. Honestly, let the bugs have the planet, and also my eyes.

There’s no need to take my word for any of this, of course. The Cycle is free to play, so you lose nothing but your time by giving it a go. I can definitely understand the high level appeal of the more casual Tarkov or Hunt: Showdown, but since the tension is still the most interesting thing about The Cycle, toning down the stakes and impact of that tension, while keeping the potential frustrations, seems like an ill-considered trade-off. That said, this game does at least let you have a taste of that sort of experience without first paying for it. I should also point out that we’re currently in the pre-season, which presumably means there’ll be some more numbered bars to fill up for cosmetics in a week or two, or whatever, but hey, things might drastically change for the better. Personally, I’d rather go hunting for scrap metal in an actual swamp while being shot at with real guns than spend any more time with it.

The Cycle: Frontier released on June 8 on PC.

The Verdict

There’s a great game somewhere inside The Cycle, and lush world design, clever environmental layout, and solid gun feel all point towards it. Unfortunately, it’s all rendered into tedious, cynical nonsense by a mobile-game style approach to progression and monetisation, and a thin, repetitive core loop.

Pros

  • Chunky, satisfying audio design makes guns feel monstrous
  • Fortuna is a masterclass in environmental design, both practically and artistically
  • It’s free…

Cons

  • … unless you want to make any serious progress in a reasonable amount of time, in which case, prepare for mobile-game tier monetisation, timers, and the like
  • Despite interesting alien design and decent gunfeel, combat is barebones
  • Tedious solo experience

The post ‘The Cycle: Frontier’ review: not exactly vicious, but close appeared first on NME.

Exit mobile version