There is a good setting, and indeed a good story, hiding in the back third of Horizon Zero Dawn. The first two-thirds make reaching that excellent payoff perhaps a little too frustrating, but at the same time I am not entirely sure how I would have presented it differently. The game spends hours presenting a hostile, superstitious and often annoying world which genuinely feels like the sort of tribalistic society that would emerge in a post-apocalyptic world, but at the same time it plays so heavily on how regressive the world is it becomes difficult – from perspective of the protagonist, and by extension the player – to forgive them enough to save them.
Note: This review also talks about the plot of Turn-A Gundam, as well as discussing details of the story of Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is a game I was eagerly looking forward to playing for no reason other than the flawed original’s immensely enjoyable gameplay; the first game offered something interesting and different, a first-person acrobatic platforming game which offered minimal combat. It was not perfect, and felt underdeveloped, but the sequel seemed to offer a fuller and more developed experience. I am thoroughly enjoying Catalyst as a game; its mechanics are more polished, it has a large amount of missions to complete and its aesthetics are excellent (and Solar Fields’ soundtrack, readily available to purchase online, is well worth buying for any fans of ambient music). But it is a game I am enjoying despite a lot of flaws; while there is a well-made game there, it is dressed up in a lot of superfluous and questionable design decisions.
Note: This review discusses in some detail the plot of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.
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.
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.
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.
Geometry Wars was one of the most notable of the retro-arcade revival titles of its time, a simple return to the twin-stick arcade shooter genre that made the most of the technical achievements of modern consoles and computers graphically. Resogun, one of the PS4’s launch titles and a free title on PS+, offers much the same experience; it is an appealing recreation of an arcade classic utilising the technology of a new console generation effectively. At its core, Resogun is a remake of the classic Defender, a horizontally-scrolling arcade shooter from 1980; the same core mechanics of a large screen area populated by waves of enemies and humans to rescue feature, albeit with a number of scoring and mechanical improvements reflecting how the arcade shooter has developed over time.
The announcement of Sony’s new home console to great fanfare in February 2013 is arguably the start of the “core gamers’” next generation; while the Wii U was the first true successor to a current generation console in terms of computing power it was not a significant step forward from the current top tier. The reveal, however, was not met with unequivocal support from potential buyers; notably, Sony’s lack of a physical product and instead reliance on feature lists and upcoming software seemed out of place in a world where new product announcement are generally accompanied by some physical proof of concept.