Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game which is best discussed after completion; its most interesting ideas, those that set it apart from the mixture of old and new FPS it is, are ones that are best experienced and then discussed. As a result this article will take the form of a short review and then a lengthier discussion of what the game does, and whether or not this is effective. As a game it plays very much like an early-era PC FPS; the player collects weapons, can carry many of them, dual-wield them and collects health items to heal. At the same time it has been updated to take into account the ways in which the genre has developed; the health items are supplemented by limited health regeneration to prevent situations becoming completely unwinnable, weapons and abilities are upgraded by completing challenges and mazelike secret areas hidden behind walls are replaced by small side areas containing optional collectibles.
It plays well; the player movement feels weighty and responsive like Killzone, the weapons feel powerful and the action is a good mixture of Call of Duty style visual setpieces and intense combat against large numbers of enemies. There are a decent number of missions, the writing is snappy and effective and the only real complaint in gameplay terms is that there are not quite enough action climaxes. It is, arguably, formulaic – but at the same time it is an update of a series that near enough invented the first-person shooter, and so adherence to a successful formula seems entirely understandable. Thus as a game it is easy to recommend Wolfenstein: The New Order to anyone who has enjoyed previous entries (such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein, or the classic Wolf 3D)
– This section contains significant discussion of the entire plot and themes of the game -
Strider, the 2014 update of the established series of the same name, is a largely unremarkable and unpolished exploration platformer in the vein of Super Metroid. It has several strong features, but at the same time they feel underdeveloped and are rarely used in ways which innovate the genre. Its short length in terms of initial exploration means that the open-world exploration comes surprisingly quickly, but by the same token it comes before the player has really had much opportunity to use or master any of their newly-acquired abilities. This is in part due to the reliance on long chases and linear level design; the progression of the story drives the player through numerous areas without much opportunity to explore. Rather than acquiring an item and then returning through the area to use it, often the game will throw the player into a new area they may only visit a small part of with their current suite of upgrades immediately after making a first trip through one.
Transistor, Supergiant Games’ follow-up to the hugely acclaimed Bastion, can be seen as a refinement of its predecessor; it is a similar isometric action-RPG, with similar mechanics, challenge rooms, modular upgrades and difficulty mods. It even has a similar aesthetic/narrative design, with an omnipresent narrator making up for a mute protagonist. Yet calling it a simple science-fiction themed refinement of Bastion’s theme is underselling it significantly; it is a more ambitious, more tactical and much more challenging title.
Grid Autosport is a racing game which largely eschews the hype and bombast of motor-racing as a sport; it downplays the celebrity and the ostentation and focuses entirely, through a sparseness of design, on the racing itself. Thus arguably it is much more purely simulationist than most games; it has minimal narrative (complete races to challenge more capable opponents), a simple and functional user interface and most importantly minimal downtime between events. Getting from race to race is almost seamless, and this – in an era of complex user interfaces that can be difficult to navigate owing to too many decorative elements – is a virtue of the game.
Playing Strike Suit Zero is an education in the physics and motion of giant robot combat; it teaches the player that, unlike something like Zone of the Enders where the humanoid machines can coast around like aircraft, in space the virtue of transforming from fighter to mech is being able to stop and line up shots methodically. If anything, this shows the main limitation of humanoid robots – they are slow, less capable of rapid evasion while remaining accurate than a fighter and have a huge target profile that leaves them easily attacked by capital ships. Yet even so, Strike Suit Zero makes its mech combat a viable strategy, and indeed a very enjoyable one – setting it quite apart from its natural points of comparison in Project Sylpheed or Freespace 2.
The most recent entry in the Thief series was met with significant criticism prior to its launch for the changes made to what was perceived as a good existing formula. As someone who had not played the previous games, I entered this title with no preconceptions or high or low expectations. The result was a game significantly flawed – sometimes entertaining, with good ideas to be had, but mired by an uninspiring story, uneven design and frequent glitches that ruined the atmosphere and aesthetic.
Gigantic Army is marketed as a return to the side-scrolling mech game popularised by Assault Suits Valken and Front Mission Gun Hazard on the SNES; functionally a 2D platformer, the emphasis is far more strongly on combat (evoking something like Contra or Metal Slug) but with a more ponderous, weighty physics engine. This sense of nostalgia shines through in advertising – which uses a mockup SNES game box and logo – and in the game’s use of achievements (names of which are a series of puns on other mech-game classics) and even the pared-back cutscenes of moving stills and scrolling text. Whereas a game like La-Mulana takes the mechanics and design ethos of retro games and builds on them into something new and ambitious, Gigantic Army is slavish in its use of past game design. Entire level concepts are lifted from the games which inspire it – given an original spin aesthetically, and designed around its core mechanical changes from the formula, but nevertheless there is a significant familiarity to it that is both a virtue and a reason for criticism.
The best way to experience Dark Souls 2 is to play it from scratch, completely blind to what is coming in terms of level design and challenges; for this reason, this preview will comprise two clearly defined sections. The first will focus on those details which do not relate to exact game events, instead highlighting those mechanical changes that set it apart from its predecessor. The second will be a series of reflections on the gameplay experienced during the three-hour preview session I was a part of, going into more detail about the exact progression of levels and aesthetic.
Evolve feels, at first, like an arena-based mixture of Left 4 Dead and Borderlands with aspects of older multiplayer shooters; asymmetrical multiplayer, with light, low-gravity physics thanks to jetpack movement and an emphasis on characterful classes with names and unique aesthetics. It even shares, apparently, some of the knowingness of Borderlands; the characters are exaggerated in looks and have the same junkyard, redneck look of industry-meets-war, albeit made more serious – the end result evocative of Unreal Tournament more than anything. Yet the overall aesthetic is a little bland; the map provided in the preview build was a quite generic industrial complex in a jungle of strange creatures. “Neat”, smooth-panelled, run-down and abandoned equipment placed Avatar style in a hostile environment is a very standard aesthetic for shooters; Unreal Tournament 2004 made extensive use of it, for example, while similar complexes populate Warframe, Dust 514 and so on.
“Real robot” mecha animé is a sub-genre usually considered the effective opposite of “super-robot” stories. The usual definition is based around a distinction in tone and theme – stories based on superhero traditions and those based more on military fiction – and can provide a guideline for recommending series similar to each other, but beyond that is a limited definition. Nevertheless, when considered as a way of differentiating series by specific aspects – not as an absolute binary scale with the possibility for a series to be entirely one or the other but instead as a more granular thing which shows the variety possible within the wider genre (for mecha is ultimately a subgenre of science-fiction, and although some series may contain robots or powered armour, the focus is on some other aspect of the setting), it has some value.