Games I completed in 2020
2019 was a weird year, almost more about hardware than software thanks to a bunch of VR hitting all at once. Let's see what happens in an actual hardware year!
2019 was a weird year, almost more about hardware than software thanks to a bunch of VR hitting all at once. Let's see what happens in an actual hardware year!
iOS - 4/5 - Lostbelt 5 part 1
Bit of a sag in the middle but a great climax. Good battle balance, fantastic character moments and I can't wait for the second half!
PS4 - 5/5
I'm still recovering from the end but I think that this might be my favourite in the series. Just full of passion on the part of everyone who made it, from the new game system through the ridiculous amount of fan service in side quests, story and assistants, all the way to the emotion of Kazuhiro Nakaya's performance as Kasuga.
Yokohama's a huge map with multiple sections and I didn't even reach the top edge of it once til I was about 30 hours in. It's wonderfully rendered, full of life but not too foreboding to cross because of the new fast travel system. That's the only thing I think can definitely be changed for the next one though as it takes a few too many button presses, both to activate taxi ranks and to get to the taxi app on your phone.
The battle system's been controversially received but for a first effort it's incredibly well put together, and full of RGG flavour. Characters grab and kick items to do more damage and the pace is actually pretty good. At first it seems a bit slow but when you realise you can set up your favourite moves to the dpad it speeds up a lot. By the end you're just constantly firing off brutal Heat moves and cleaning up late game mobs which would take a fair while in earlier games in seconds. Boss battles do miss the special QTE animations but the actual fights end up becoming a solid challenge, and you do have to prepare properly for fights by the end of the game.
Finally, the story and characters are as good as any of the previous games. It helps that Kasuga is a much more outgoing personality than Kiryu, and his weird self-delusion that he's the hero of a classic JRPG (which is remarked upon early on!) makes for some amazing speeches as you go through the game. His merry band of straight men (and women) are all great too, and all have their moments. The story builds up to as great climax and the ending's really terrific.
In the end, this is kind of what Persona would have been if all the characters were 20 years older. It swaps between reality and hyper-reality multiple times a minute while still being grounded in the story of a group of people just trying to do what they can in a bad situation. I definitely want some more of this, but first I'm ready for the return of Judge Eyes!
PC (via Oculus Link) - 3/5 (first loop)
Hmm. Looks great, but I had a lot of framerate trouble on an RTX 2080. The movement is excellent - gliding along the clouds between islands never got old, flinging yourself up mountains is enormous fun (and incredibly intuitive) and coupled with being able to borderline fly means the movement is probably my favourite in any VR game yet. I just never really got into the combat; the shield you get is super unreliable unless you're playing standing and the weapon handling just doesn't feel great. The game's also based around a weekly (in real time) loop rather than being a full 'campaign' as well, which was a bit of a drag when I realised that's what they were doing.
PS4 - 2/5 (RPG mode)
Fun game, loads of character. The RPG mode has some good systems and as a player of the mobile game it really feels authentic. The problem is that it’s a bit of a technical disaster at the moment: it crashed 5 times in what was about an 8 hour mode, including the first time I beat the final boss, and the loading is awful. If you are playing versus it should be OK but I can’t recommend it for solo play at the moment.
Actually, fuck it, it’s a 2. It’d be a 4 without the problems but ultimately it’s just got 11 characters which just isn’t enough. I just went to my character list on the mobile game and I have 348 - admittedly including repeats and collab characters but I think that it still says a lot.
PC - 4/5
This is a Good Atelier! The new battle system, the way the alchemy works and just the overall way the game was put together feels like there's been a lot of effort put in. Ryza's a likeable character and there's actual character development there, of a fashion.
The vocal songs were rubbish though, especially the unintelligible ending track. We're a long way from Kanako Ito songs as boss themes like in Dusk now.
PC - 4/5 (Xen section)
This ened up being really good. They definitely got that Half-Life feel down for the most part with a lot of reasonably organic feeling paths through levels. It does have you rely on basically one gun for a large chunk of it though, and it is maybe a bit long, but overall I'm really impressed. Good use of music and there's one great boss in there!
PC - 5/5
Best VR game yet, and a real step forward in combining physics and motion controls as something cohesive. Less freedom than Boneworks but much less glitchiness too!
As a shooter I would say it's my favourite campaign since Titanfall 2; basically ten hours or so of setpieces and plenty of memorable moments that'll stay with me for a long time. It's also the best looking game I've seen in VR, with surprisingly good performance.
Switch - 4/5
Great atmosphere, good cast, amazing soundtrack. Still miss the little musical interludes with the vocal tracks, the one at the end was really good. I liked the way they did the crafting and the idea of the largely unstructured scenario is a good one. The old Atelier standard of becoming outrageously powerful at the end is still present, and still great.
..but there remain a few too many rough edges. Yes, I am bitter that I missed one ending because I killed an enemy too early, and missed the true ending because I didn't have a certain character in my party. More generally, the Switch version runs pretty badly; this is because it's the last of the Atelier games on PhyreEngine, with the sequel moving to KTGL which has settled nicely on the Switch (indeed, I played an hour of E&L and it runs great).
PS4 - 3/5
Really dropped off at the end, I thought. I've got a lot of thoughts on this but by and large they can be boiled down to: when it's following the original or building on it, it's lots of fun, exciting and enjoyable, but when it branches out or (god forbid) tries to be clever, the whole thing just kind of falls apart.
The exception is the music, which is the opposite: when it's just the original tracks but with orchestral synths it's boring and annoying (especially when it gets stuff wrong on purpose to try and make you anticipate it getting it right) but when it goes off in its own direction it fits a lot better.
Special mention goes to the battle system - what a mess. Basically the only way it can make enemy actions matter is to make them ignore your characters and interrupt them. Biggest culprit are the worthless dodge roll and awful counter moves you have. In addition, the fact that hitting elemental weaknesses is so strong massively limited my materia choice: since you can't change in battle, you have to be ready for anything.
Suspect that this is one of those games that I'll feel less keen on the more time passes. I'm already feeling like I'm forgetting the positives in favour of the negatives.
PC - 3/5
One step forward, two steps back. About twice as long as the previous game and at time it dragged; I went back to some of the earlier levels to get the remaining items and I was struck at how far it could get between fights. The story stuff doesn't help the game at all, with bizarre repetition (there's a line in the second to last level which was verbatim repeated three times!) and a tone which veers between overly self-serious and borderline meme level.
My main gripe with the actual game part is what I guess I can boil down to the designer being a bit too dogmatic in terms of wanting you to constantly change guns and cycle between glory kills, flame attacks and chainsaw usage. Once the pressure on ammo lets up then it's easy to see what they were going for and swapping between weapons for different enemies becomes fun. Before that though, as you're stumbling around trying to find something to chainsaw while getting caught on bits of the scenery, it's infuriating. On that note, this game has the absolute worst auto weapon switch system I've ever seen because it's seemingly random - when you run out of ammo for one weapon if swaps to another but it's never the right one. At the end it even swapped to the shitbox Unmaykr when that shouldn't have been possible. Burn through BFG ammo, realise, escape, restart from checkpoint.
That's not to say absolutely everything they introduced to this is bad - the super shotgun now comes with a grappling hook that lets you fling yourself towards enemies which is excellent. The music and graphics are also really great. The engine basically held 120fps for the entire game. Special mention to the music in the final level too, the riff in that was almost parody in how heavy it was. Helped that the last couple of levels were probably the most entertaining, too. The second to last boss was genuinely fun.
Trim several hours, have fewer corners to get stuck on, and a decent amount of ammo for your guns from the start and we'd have been talking about a classic. As it is, it's something which infuriated for five hours and too often annoyed and disappointed for the rest.
When talking about FF7, I said that I suspect that my opinion on it would probably lessen over time. With this, I suspect that once I forget the worst bits then the stuff that really shone will remain with me.
PC - 4/5
Good one, this. Sure, the story mode structure's a little weird, and I'm not a fan of the music or art style (just the style - the graphics are technically really good with loads of little effects which mean that it's a high resolution 2D game where the foreground and background work together super well) but the actual game is bang on and feels great. Play it with a Mega Drive-style controller, it definitely feels better with the "real" button layout! I liked the unlockable characters a lot, the SOR1 characters in particular are super beefy and powerful. using Axel and just smashing everyone around with SOR2 weapon impact sound effects is great.
After playing the previous game (see below) I really noticed some of the little touches like enemies not hiding off screen - very considerate.
PC - 4/5
Super fun old-style shooter. Goes for a slightly different target in that it's more like Heretic or Hexen than Quake or Doom and this makes for a suitably different game since you're firing magic that takes a little while to get to its target and the different forms that takes are nicely differentiated. It also lets you fire the BFG equivalent a lot - you hear that, Doom Eternal?
Doesn't quite hit the highs of something like Dusk but by about Episode 4 of 7 you could see the makers really hit their stride and the lasst few levels were easily the best. I'm looking forward to seeing what the team behind this come up with next.
Mega Drive - 3/5
Actually, Bare Knuckle 3 - I played the Japanese version. Originally I was just going to play for a little bit to test out the Retro-Bit Saturn controller I got for my Mister (verdict: seems good, dpad's a little spongey but suspect it'll break in, buttons feel great, cable's about a metre too long) and before I knew it I was done. Nice cooldown from another session on Nioh 2!
Since this is the Japanese version I knew it'd be easier but didn't realise how much so; the game's got practically no challenge at all up until maybe the stage 5 boss. It starts to turn the screws a little bit by stage 7 but that's the end of the game! Still didn't manage to beat the final boss in time fo the best ending but it still counts. Coming from SOR4 I was surprised to find how much it ends up expecting you to actually use your dodge up and down; in 4 just walking at normal speed up or down dodges a significant amount of even tracking enemy moves. The star moves are kind of game breaking too and having a 6 button controller lets you fire them off at will (albeit with a fiddly, Primal Rage-esque pad combo). It basically gives you control over most of the screen for most enemies.
Overall it does feel a bit half-baked; the game feels like it lacks consistency at times, and sound effects are noticeably worse and there are only 7 stages, one of which basically being three corridors with a few single-screen rooms branching off.
One note on the soundtrack - I think time's been kind to a lot of it and it definitely grows on you with some neat, complex tracks but there are still some dreadful tracks on there. The one for the ending in particular reminded me of the infamous Resident Evil Basement track, just random notes without the more progressive sounds other tracks have. Some really long tracks in there for a game like this too - there are multiple ones where it has one more bridge section or even more before looping. Cool to listen to when it's working.
Oculus Quest - 3/5
A short and easy puzzler, but pretty good. Looks amazing on the Quest - a good example of what you can do with a bit of clever planning and some trickery - I particularly liked the effect on your laser beam and some of the background effects like the privacy glass on some of the doors. Excellent atmosphere, and I really liked the way the investigation board in the pause menu updated based on the information you find in the word. Gets a bit too clever for its own good though, and doesn't quite stick the ending. The whole thing's undermined a bit by some terrible voice acting though to its credit I was second guessing whether it was meant to be rubbish.
PS4 - 5/5
Yeah, it's similar to the last one but there's a lot new and the whole thing just moves along at a really high speed. The extra moves you get in your demon form as well as the demon core system make staying on the attack even easier and I'd say the whole thing moves about 15-20% faster than the original.
The story's a fun romp through most of the Warring States period as you follow Hideyoshi Toyotomi around. Lots of names from Japanese history and folklore, including some unexpected ones (and a great pun near the end which won't mean anything to non-Japanese speakers). Mostly great voice cast too but mixed results with the 'names' they got in for the main two roles; Naoto Takenaka does a decent job but the model they for for Mumyo was terrible - she's no Emi Takei.
I did find it occasionally frustrating but in the end I was always able to tip the balance in my favour. Compared to the predecessor it's a lot less keen on throwing multiple difficult enemies at you, rather preferring to just make sure that what it does throw at you still need to be properly controlled. Particularly in the back half it has NPCs tagging along with you as well, making for a quite different experience compared to the original. You can also summon CPU controlled player characters but I find that while often useful in levels at splitting enemy aggro, especially towards the end they were much less useful on bosses as they tended to die very quickly to magic attacks in particular. By then, though, I has become accustomed enough to the game mechanics that I didn't end up stuck in any of these encounters for very long so it was a surprisingly smooth experience. That doesn't mean I still didn't die a lot though - for a good chunk of the game I was in a position where anything more than a light tap from an enemy would take at least half my health.
Still plenty to do in the game - but I think I'll be waiting for the inevitable complete edition for my PC. I could definitely go through this again and I have a friend who would probably be up for rushing through the first loop at least in coop.
Ultimately it's one of those games that I've been chipping away at for a few weeks and it'll probably be staying with me for a while yet. Don't get too many of those.
PC - 4/5
Solid exploration game, in the end. Not too sure about the game balance though - in the beginning it felt fiddly and a little frustrating but I could practically fly by the end. The combat still felt imprecise and lacking impact throughout, but it was at least better than the predecessor. Not enough buttons to assign to abilities, either. Really nice graphics, especially once they fixed up the performance, and good sound. Looking forward to what comes next from Moon.
PC - 1/5
Genuinely disappointing. A step back in pretty much every area compared to the excellent third game. The new limited scenery destruction is good but only seemingly in a limited number of levels. I only ended up enjoying using one character, and others like Jinbei and Nami who I enjoyed in 3 felt extremely weak in comparison. It feels like these licensed Musou games are working the opposite way to how I expected; usually the sequels improve things after a shaky first game. This was a massive regression, and yet Persona 5 Scramble is excellent (albeit extremely long!)
I'm also going to take out my frustration on the embarrassingly poor translation here - the reason why I've knocked this down to a 1. It's absolutely full of errors and was seemingly translated by a disparate group of first-year students, judging by the basic grammar errors and mistranslated dialogue. I was spotting a translation error pretty much once every few minutes in the back half, ranging from getting the subject and the object of a sentence mixed up, botched idioms, just plain not understanding the meaning of words, reversing the meaning of words and even leaving a Japanese in-universe term untranslated right in the ending cutscene. It genuinely reminds me of the dreadful crap I used to turn in when I was doing my first classes in translation - and then I had the excuse that prose is usually written in longer form. The producer responsible for this should be ashamed. The original writing isn't exactly amazing in the first place, with the plot culminating in a literal fan fiction episode at the end, but if it's for something which people will pay money for then you should take some pride in what you do.
I bought this on PC and didn't have access to the original Japanese text because they didn't feel like putting it in (likely because it cost half as much as the PS4 version on PSN) but I genuinely feel that the shoddy translation detracted enough from the experience that I should have put in the extra money and dealt with the inevitable PS4 technical issues. Next time I'll just buy it on console - second hand of course.
PS4 - 3/5
Tough one to rate as I still really like it - and the story is really good - but man, it's a rough game to actually play. Stiff ingame animation, clunky interface and a combat system that's not quite there yet are made up for by an interesting story and some really good character moments. As much as it was cutting edge for Japanese games in 2008 it really feels its age but I still think it's worth playing, for the story if nothing else.
PC - 5/5
Wow! This really knocked me for a loop. Above I talked about Red Matter having great atmosphere; this does everything so much better. Top drawer voice acting, high quality art and a zero-gravity setting which would only work in VR. Floating around, pulling yourself about using your surroundings and adjusting yourself using your boosters becomes second nature by the end and I found I was navigating around really smoothly and precisely. That didn't stop me from actually panicking at the end to the point where I lost all hand-eye co-ordination though; it takes a lot to get me to that point.
After the climax I looked it up and saw there's a sequel coming. Can't wait. A 'premium' experience and one that hasn't come down in price but one that's worth it if you're in PC VR. The multiplayer's supposed to be very good as well.
PSP - 4/5
I really wish I'd gotten to this sooner - it's basically a real time DRPG, complete with all the fun gimmicks like warps, spinner tiles and falling between floors.
Even in remake form it still feels a little rough - the battle balance is a little weird, the speed could do with a bit of tweaking and it could do with some more shortcut features - but the main part of the game's solid and it kept me going til the end with varied, interesting dungeon layouts. The music's decent too, but I really wish there was more of it: you end up going through ten floors with each short-ish loop which isn't great.
PC - 2/5
Meh. It's very slight, the balance doesn't seem to be quite there (you're either indestructible or made of glass) and the customisation is 100% on the gear, which means there's not much you can do without picking up anything. I also got stuck in the scenery at one point which one would argue is something I shouldn't complain about in a game with "Minecraft" in the title. Clearly made for co-op play.
Loses another mark for not pausing in the separate offline mode. When you've got lots of stuff roaming about it's not great.
PC - 4/5
Really liked the story in this! The main story was stronger than Aftermath, basically becoming a crazed time-hopping dream match situation. Aftermath was definitely lifted by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's outrageous performance, seemingly channelling Ian McShane for some reason. Decent length, too, without outstaying its welcome. Could have done with a bit less repetition in Aftermath, and more of the gimmick matches like the ones with partners and the endurance ones in the original story.
The fighting itself is as good as it's ever been. There's a lot less of the stiff, stubby-feeling moves in previous games which really helps the flow. I didn't really get stuck anywhere leaping around the characters as it's always fairly easy to work out how to do some amount of damage.
PC port is a bit patchy; it supports 21:9, to an extend, while cutting the top and bottom off the picture. The transitions look a bit weird at times as the framerates try to match up.
Sega Saturn - 5/5
Over 20 years since I last went through it and I'm a lot more impressed with it this time around. It really made me think about how far Sega could have pushed the Saturn if it had another year or two as technically it's super accomplished and things like the dragon morphing are still very cool today. The chip based soundtrack is excellent and the fully voiced dialogue is played by pretty much a who's-who of Japanese voice actors. It has three Otsukas in it!
In terms of the game, while short it perfectly translates the feeling of the rail shooter games, in that you're flying over smooth landscapes at a pretty much unbroken 30fps, interacting with objects using a unique but intuitive cursor. In battle you smoothly change positions around enemies and have a large array of attacks, which makes up for the lack of a traditional JRPG party.
The game is relatively short, but the variety in landscapes could have let them eke out double the length. The final dungeon in particular is an example; if you play it properly there's almost no combat in there at all. A very different approach and one which rewards smart play with smooth progress.
I picked this up for 15 quid in '98; I won't say that it deserves the price tags it commands for English versions but I do genuinely think that it still works extremely well as a game without changes in spite of its age and is worth bringing back, even in emulated form. In a genre which has simultaneously stretched out game length for the sake of 'value' and added complexity for false depth, Team Andromeda's effort provides everything I want from this kind of game in terms of exploration, interaction and combat with much almost no fat on it at all.
PS4 - 4/5
This is about as good as you could have expected this to be. The story is all-new and actually a follow-up to the events of P5, the action on PS4 Pro in frame rate mode is a faultless 60fps and the whole game is an exceptional conversion of what would otherwise be a straight JRPG format to an action game. An action game which took me 65 hours to clear - there's a lot of content here, with huge levels, a massive script and a story which stretches from Japan's north to its south.
Looking at it as an RPG, it's more than good enogh to stand on its own, even if you move through encounters in the easier modes; oexisting characters continue their paths generally without being too exagerrated (Ryuji being an exception, but also excellent comic relief), but the new characters really shine. This is Zenkichi Hasegawa's story in many ways, and the team did well to rest the role on Shin'ichiro Miki's shoulders. His story resonated as well as anyone's in the main game, and although I wasn't as impressed with the way the story concluded (mostly due, I suspect, to the game having to be a Persona 5 sequel), I was extremely happy to see his story properly completed.
Sophia's progress through the game is also a standout, while being a bit more formulaic. Again, though, if you come in just expecting a side story with some button bashing, as I did, then your expectations will be massively exceeded.
The button bashing itself is good fun, with speedy combat and if you surprise the enemy a group of 10 enemies can be dispatched as quickly as any simple encounter in P5 thanks to the weakness system and opportunity attacks.
In the end then it's just a few things which stop this being a whole-hearted recommendation. Things which seem minor but are genuinely annoying; you can't change character during battles, for example. The menu for healing items quickly becomes overcrowded and infuriating. The fact I apparently missed a trophy for doing the tema's requests even though I am sure I did them all. My PS4 Pro seemingly trying to commit suicide every time the game loads by spinning its fans at max speed in an apparent attempt to make it shatter, thus piercing all its key components (and yes, I did open the damn thing up and there wasn't any dust in it even before I gave it a once-over with brushes and compressed air!).
Overall a success. I ended up liking it more than the original P5, so if you liked P5 I'd recommend it - even if you usually aren't a Musou kind of person. They put in the effort, and it shows. If you didn't like P5 but are huge on the different licensed Musou games, I'd recommend it too; it might feel a bit like you're expected to know more than you do at times, but the varied battles and smooth gameplay should still satisfy. Either way, this is a highly recommended title, and the 4 is very close to a 5.
PS4 - 5/5
Outstanding. A great, sprawling sci-fi yarn presented in a way you can only really do in a game, and with a solid, if slightly easy at the standard difficulty, tower defence game attached. Wonderful soundtrack, too. It's a love letter to idea-based science fiction, so dense with references and character that it becomes its own thing.
This one will be staying with me for a long time. It isn't often a game takes my full attention for 40+ hours but I ended up powering through it as I couldn't stop playing; the structure means that the storyline feeds you new information constantly and doesn't become boring as there's always a new perspective.
Switch - 3/5
There's plenty to like, such as the fun characters and the Masashi Hamauzu soundtrack, but the battles (while fun) are a little too unbalanced for me. There were to main areas where I had to grind, once for the entire cast and once for just a single party, and the difference between being steamrollered and winning easily is just a little too fine.
Xbox One - 4/5
It feels like it's been a long time since we have had an all-new DRPG from Experience and it's been worth the wait. The setting is interesting (early 80s Tokyo, basically playing a miner brought in as all the 'best' people were already bought up by the big company in the area), though the story does kind of run out of steam by the end. In fact I'd argue the whole thing kind of settles into an old groove after about 15 hours; that said, it's a groove that I was looking to settle into anyway, and the whole game system has been made that bit nicer for the player.
The biggest concession is an extremely regular autosave which triggers every time you beat an enemy, go to a new area or even open and close the field menu. As a result, combined with the infinite use dungeon escape item you get after a little while, battles end up being relatively low stakes. This feels like Experience's final answer to the question raised by them still sticking fundamentally to the classic Wizardry game system, including instant kill critical attacks. There's no raising of characters in the field so it's still inconvenient to have someone struck down but the stakes aren't ever more than a few minutes of gameplay.
Overall, while I was a little disappointed that they didn't go further with the new setting and the battle system changes (though 0 MP abilities have been removed, you soon get the ability to take a turn without using any MP; this is actually a great balancing measure as it does limit the ability of a tank to just block everything for you while still making it possible for casters to attack regularly and combined with the other special abilities you get it becomes a new choice that I enjoyed having to make) it's the easiest Experience game to play without actually removing any of the systems that tie it back to that original Wizardry game in 1983. Well, there's one they removed but I'm not sure people will be that sorry to see it go.
In the end, I don't think it quite fascinated me like Stranger of Sword City did, but it came quite close. Well worth the time and money for any dungeon RPG fan who wants to map out some levels and hack some slashes.
Looking forward to what they put out next. Next time, I want to see curved corridors in the maps. I put on Shining the Holy Ark a little while ago and the maps in that are insane compared to this - and that game came out in 1996!
PC - 3/5
Perfectly decent little Metroidvania game. Doesn't outstay its welcome, maybe a little too easy. Doesn't really follow through on its time control idea (for that play the exceptional Touhou Luna Nights). Worth the time and effort on Game Pass and it's still up for a few more days - if you have a bit of time between now and the 15th then definitely check it out.
Quest - 3/5 (campaign clear)
The more I play this the more I feel like this was something that the developers just managed to stumble on as being really fun rather than being produced from the ground up this way. The music included is pretty bad and as time has gone on the new tracks have gotten worse and worse in terms of gameplay, with an ever-extending difficulty chasm between the easiest and hardest songs in each difficulty level while putting in more and more longer tracks which just seem built for frustration. It still misses out absolute basic music game features like being able to see how you are doing against your existing score or being able to review your timing (while it isn't as important as in other games you can still mistime things so it would be nice to know).
The campaign, though it mostly keeps to songs around two minutes in length, also often fails at being fun because in the scramble for objectives they lean on you having to play several songs "sufficiently badly" in order to succeed, going against the entire point of a game like this.
And yet, the game can still be a lot of fun. Some of the better charts can make up for weak music by sucking you into a rhythm and the act of swinging around a virtual Beam Sword (tm) is inherently fun. Good for exercise, too, a solid calorie burner.
PC - 5/5
Really interesting one this. I suspect that if I had played it on PS4 launch I wouldn't have loved it half as much as I did; the way they promoted the game basically presented it as A Hideo Kojima Game in the sense that it is full of his famous friends, facile cod-philosophy and an obsession with nominative determinism. The thing that it didn't really cover was the fact that it's also A Hideo Kojima Game in that it strongly adheres to systems and simulations mapped out to a greater degree than most, rewarding both experimentation and exploration in ways that drew me in and kept me in.
Technically it's a decent port. The PC version suffers from some stuttering, but DLSS support on RTX is a great use of a very interesting technique. After some control issues, solved by moving to the Steam beta and removing another controller I had plugged in, it played responsively; swapping to keyboard and mouse for segments where I had to do some shooting felt extremely good. The game runs almost entirely in realtime which made the prerendered videos stick out more than usual, especially since they weren't filtered when they were scaled to my monitor, leaving ugly artifacts all over.
Overall it's something where you have to know at least kind of what it is before jumping in otherwise there's a solid chance you'll bounce off it. I could see towards the end where reviewers would have been angry at it, or even early on where people might feel like they were provided something they didn't ask for and wasn't really advertised. I've seen comparisons made to Truck Simulator or Elite and I'd agree with them. It's primarily story at the beginning and the end, but in the middle you participate in a kind of trucking/delivery game where both you and other players make the way over some often harsh terrain easier by building roads, bridges and the like. The game then takes that effort and ties it back in with the story in a positive way, and I couldn't help but be taken in by it, for all the obviousness and camera-staring lack of subtlety.
PC - 4/5
Played through the base game. Been a while since I have. There's a bit of a dip in the second episode in particular which has the worst excesses of the 90s FPS key-to-door gameplay, with multiple instances of collecting a key to open access to another key and nothing else, but it's mostly fine. The Fresh Supply edition has a really neat feature in its custom difficulty; this means that you can deaden the worst part of the game, its incredibly aggressive hitscan enemies, while still keeping other enemies as-is and maintaining the enemy count for maximum carnage. It also reduces the danger of doors and other Build-related clunkiness, which is nice.
I definitely have a lot of fond memories of this game, mostly of the first episode. I think they still hold up - there's so much energy and gusto in the ridiculous kills and stupid references (Caleb quotes Army of Darkness once he kills the final boss because of course he does) that it can't hide the fact that this was actually a 3D Realms game sold off to Monolith for completion. If you haven't played it through before, definitely give at least the first episode a play through.
PC - 3/5
Actually JNG 2 - the sequel isn't on the database and after the rigmarole of Magic Potion Destroyer I don't have the energy to make a page for this one.
I played through a couple of loops of this; there are ten difficulty levels so you are expected to go through the twelve or so levels a fair few times. It's maybe an hour and a half to crack through a whole loop? A lot of the fun is replaying levels to get better scores andupgrading weapons but by loop 3 I found I'd maxed out everything I could buy and was just covering the entire screen in fire so I'm satisfied. Machinae Supremacy are back for the soundtrack, too, which helps.
It's a high 3 but it definitely suffers from the usual Euroshmup issues of overly bullet spongey enemies (at least at the beginning) and a generally unclear display, particularly once you power up your weapons. You're constantly taking hits because of a combination of your huge ship, the inertia on the controls and the fact you can't see enemy bullets sometimes; once you accept that it's fun but certainly after the first run I found the vast majority of times I died to stuff I didn't know was killing me.
Still, though, for a quick blast to set the entire screen on fire, very satisfying. The unique soundtrack helps, too, though the way it compresses the audio levels is irritating.
PC - 4/5
A nice pair of games, which should definitely be played together. They really do reach the limits of the 'bump combat' system by the end of these so it's a good job they move on. Individually they're a little short but together they're a solid adventure.
Great music too - three versions of the soundtrack and they're all excellent. Well worth a go, though the combat does turn a lot of people off.
PC - 3/5
Decent, a good first effort, but short. The Room is a really great, tactile feeling puzzle series on iPads etc so it's a bit of a step back and there's just too much stuff which doesn't react to you. The Index support is also pretty poor. Probably good enough on the Quest given the simplistic nature of the game. It isn't exactly a looker either, though there's some good playing with scale and occasionally a nice bit of atmosphere.
The only trouble I ever had with the game was finding which bits I can interact with, especially pulleys tucked away at the sides of things. Looking forward to a more involved sequel.
PC - 3/5
Fine. Good, even. But a relatively weak entry in the series. It's possibly the fiddliest of the group combat games, exacerbated by a control system that was originally designed for a machine with a touch screen. Towards the end it felt like I was swapping out a team member or equipment once every few minutes - seldom enough that it didn't feel like a properly realised mechanic, and often enough that it seriously affected the flow of the game and restricted character choice even further. The story is also a weak point considering how much of it there is. In the early games it's relatively sparse but to the point, and in something like VIII there's lots but it builds to a huge climax complete with victory lap at the end. In this, it kind of builds and then you beat the rubbish final boss and it just kind of stops.
The thing that sealed the 3 rather than the 4 for what is still a mostly fun game, though, was the map system. You get bonuses for completing the game map, all the way to a very nice item for 100% completion. Problem is, you're expected to map out the black space around the map and it's very hard to tell where exactly you've missed out because there's no way to track that. I ended up having to skirt around the edges of every area multiple times over a couple of hours to mop up the last couple of percent. I also missed the completion on chests and collection points by one each. These are all listed out in VIII so getting 100% in that was a nice cherry on top rather than an irritating grind.
PC - 2/5
Ehh. It's an early VR shooter campaign, and it really really shows. There was no free movement originally and again it shows with constant glitching, getting caught on stuff and even shadows flickering in and out in the second-to-last level. The shooting isn't bad as it's shooting in VR and you have to try really hard to get that wrong, but there's too little of it and too much of the dickhead of a main character smarming at himself.
I think if I'd played this in 2016 I would have been a lot mroe impressed; after all, it's a lot closer to a traditional game than much of what else came out early in VR's life. Post-Alyx and Boneworks though, every single aspect is shown up to an embarrassing degree, to the point where it becomes a worse game.
PC - 4/5
I really ended up liking this. Short of a bit of a lull around the middle and a couple of classic (!) Remedy bullshit boss encounters, this was great fun. The climax of the game really turned everything up and by the end you're pretty much just flying around and flinging bullets and enemies around. Loved the amount of background in the game as well, from the live action video segments to the descriptions of the objects of power.
Special mention for the RTX enhancements too: the Pepper's Ghost reflections were something I noticed throughout and they really completed the look of the game. If anything it's a further sign of the game's commitment to its setting. Fantastic visuals all around and more than playable on a 2080, even when cranked up.
PS4 - 4/5
It's Sen no Kiseki 5, for all that means both good and bad. I really liked the battle system as they just completely gave up on attempting to balance it; the ingame gacha showers you with extremely powerful spells and abilities, it's easy to keep the massive cast of characters level appropriate and you're just steaming through bosses by the end. Great fun and with the extra bonus characters in the 'hub' dungeon it's just fan service central.
I can't really go into any more as at that point we'd be in spoiler territory but I'm looking forward to a new start with the next series. The issues I had with Sen 4 are still very much here, and a reset of the scope is exactly what the writing team need. It didn't actively annoy me as much as the last couple of games but they also kind of forgot to write in a proper enemy. Weird stuff.
PC - 3/5
Perfectly fine. Runs great, really nice and efficient engine. Played with a fun Boys' Own kind of flourish. Definitely would be better in multiplayer but well balanced solo.
PS1 - 4/5
Holds up surprisingly well. The grid based dungeon system is what benefits most from the PS1's power, with everything coming together nice and solid. One thing I appreciated was how balanced it was for most of it; it would tend to make you do something for a while and then provide you with tools to bypass it or just not do it again. It has spinners but only in one area, they provide you with a teleport spell after a particularly long session of going through one area and then having to walk back out, that sort of thing. Atmosphere is really well done, with the story starting out in normal everyday Tokyo (though with more combat knife shops I think) and then going through two cataclysms.
There were just a few things that stuck out as a bit undercooked. First was the interface, which was very 1990s. It also takes a moment to come up on PS1, which is slightly irritating. The whole thing is maybe a beat or two slow on everything; I used an emulator to fast forward through battles and what I found was that a battle on auto in fast forward took about as long to conclude as one just running in auto on SMT4! The final dungeon was a bit of a slog as well going through the neutral route where you basically have to double up on everything and that brings me to the other problem - the challenge kind of vanishes once you hit a certain point as you get too powerful and the game can't surprise you with instant kills or anything. All it can really do at the end is throw enemies which reflect normal attacks so you have to stop the auto and put in moves manually like a schmuck. Overall, though, a solid gridder with a streak of classic visual and world design running through it.
Oh yeah, I know SNES games have limited cartridge space but could they have put a bit more music in there? There's about 10 tracks tops, all of which have about 15-30 seconds of melody before looping. Infuriating. This isn't Hydlide, by 1992 we'd mastered longer music tracks in games.
Death Wish (mod) - PC - 5/5
This is great! It's a mod, but it's basically everything that's really great about Blood concentrated and magnified. There's much less running about overly-sprawling levels in the service of getting keys; instead it's been crafted and honed into a series of encounters designed to make the most of Blood's combat system. It even does a good job of hacking together a kind of story using the Build engine which I didn't expect; it uses existing voice lines to guide, taunt and sometimes shock. The themed levels take the referential nature of Build shooters to the next level - to say more would spoil things. The final boss level was a bit tame but given the fact they're working with the base game there wasn't a huge amount that could be done. Still satisfying though.
I played this through on Blood Fresh Supply and other than a couple of places where I got a bit stuck it ran just great. Since it's free, if you have Blood I highly recommend giving it a shot. Games like Ion Fury are good and all but this manages to do everything in a form which will run on the original game, which really amazed me.
PS4 - 4/5
Not the best one but not the worst either. A strong start with Akiyama and some great story stuff leading up to the end kind of takes the edge off a game that's probably a little over-stuffed and some final boss encounters that are just bad.
PC - 2/5
Not great. The open world type structure sucks all the energy out of the game with the repetition and backtracking, and the game just kind of stops at the end after a pointless 'emotional choice' which given the charmless nature of most of the new characters just seemed like a cheap way to try and get the player invested. There's a bit at the end where it turns into Gears again but it's not enough.
Further mark deducted for letting me start the game, going through the three minutes of unskippable intro/connection shit and only then deciding that I need the new 14gb multiplayer update to finish the single player game. Glad to have the drive space back.
PS5 - 5/5
A great demonstration of the new console's capabilities and the controller; highly recommended as a kind of interactive user's guide as much as anything else.
PC - 4/5 (2089 campaign)
A short and sweet campaign added to a mechanically super solid rhythm based shooting game. It's only a few levels but the difficulty levels provide genuine replay value and the levels themselves take the mechanics in new directions. This is how a rhythm game's campaign should be done: it has that same clear movie inspiration of the levels (Robocop and Terminator are heavy influences this time around) while providing new twists on the game instead of new restrictions.
The best part - the campaign came as a free addition. The main game has now expanded enough that I can fully recommend it - at first it was a little light on content, but now there's plenty there to get your teeth into.
PS5 - 4/5
Good sequel to a good game. Better soundtrack than last time around, and it was just begging to be broken by the end - lots of fun when I came up with some items that just nuked miniboss encounters in one go!
Story's a bit more trad Atelier for the most part; less about saving the world as much as being with the characters. Only one ending but everyone's stories conclude within the game, and I liked the main ending.
PS5 native client's a mixed bag. Good resolution, basically instant loading, but the framerate is pretty shaky.
PS5 - 4/5
Great remake. Runs great, plays great and most of all it plays differently when running a magic build than any other Souls game I've touched.
Loses a mark for stage 5-2 though.
PS5 - 4/5
Very good open world game, with mostly good combat. A bit of that open world bloat but I could blow past that in the end.
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