Category Archives: PC

The Wonders of Werewolves Within on PSVR

Werewolves within is an adaptation of a board-game where you sit around a campfire with seven other people and lie to them. It’s also the best game currently in VR.

 

Taking the general structure from games like ‘One Night Ultimate Werewolf’, Town of Salem, and Mafia (the card game, not the open world video game), Werewolves Within has a devastatingly simple premise. Eight of you are all given roles in secret, each with their own (individually useless) power, and you have a few minutes to work out who is lying and actually a werewolf.

There’s no visual signs to look for, no way of knowing for sure who you can trust, just a random selection of weak powers and your own powers of deduction, and a lot of name-calling and the occasional spot of begging.

Balance is key in any multiplayer game and although there’s a random element that can stack the odds for or against team werewolf, there’s very rarely a game where you can be absolutely sure you’ve made the right choices. The Saint, for example, does get to know exactly who one of the werewolves is, but if the werewolves all vote for him, the werewolves win regardless of whether they die or not. This leads to a precarious game where you try and push the rest of the group in the right direction, while keep your true identity a secret. It forces you to lie, which makes you suspicious, which might make the village inadvertently turn on their only saviour. Houndsmen are powerful as they can whisper with the players either side of them and discover their true roles, but the werewolves have the exact same power, so you can never be sure if a houndsman is really who they say they are.

Every game starts with the group going round in a circle announcing their roles and inevitably some people will claim the same role. What do you do if someone claims your role? They could be a werewolf, so you should get everyone to vote for them. They could be a Turncloak, who is working with the werewolves but wins if they die instead of the werewolves. They could be a deviant, who wins if they get killed. They could be the saint! It’s an incredibly complex psychological game that runs lightning fast thanks to the simple rules and fantastic community.

Players quickly learned to adopt certain unenforced rules, like everyone praying at the start to hide who the real saint is (they have to pray to find out who the werewolf is). While the community is small (you’ll often run into the same players night after night), that leads to friendships and vendettas. I play nearly every night and I know who’s a good liar, who’s a lot of fun, and who to avoid.

Thankfully the number of players you want to avoid is incredibly low, as players can be kicked at any time. People who are racist, homophobic, or just can’t play by the rules get kicked mercilessly, leaving lobbies full of like-minded people to play with.

In terms of the actual VR, it’s used in a subtle but effective way creating an effect you couldn’t really get any other way. Only your head is tracked, and whenever you talk your mouth moves and your character gestures. It’s surprisingly convincing so it’s easy to tell who is speaking and who people are looking at. You can also use a set of emotes if you’d like to emphasise a point or hint at someone. All of the games take place in various different environments around a small town, and while they become quite repetitive, they’re appropriately atmospheric and well designed.

If you’ve got a PSVR, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive, you owe it to yourself to try this game. It’s entirely a seated experience, the VR will never make you the slightest bit nauseous, and the gameplay is almost entirely unique to videogames (Town of Salem is a little similar). Check out the video at the top of the page if you’d like to see a game, then come and join us to hunt some Werewolves!

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Battlefield 1 Review (PC)

Battlefield has managed to come a long way over time without really changing. If Dice decided to re-release Battlefield 1942, the game that started it all, it would be instantly recognisable to the millions of younger fans who have only played the newest entries in the series. Conquest is the main game mode, you fight across war-ravaged towns and meadows using a wide variety of weapons, tanks and aircraft to try and defend or assault positions. The actual fun of the game is still the same chaotic sandbox-style multiplayer violence. This isn’t meant as a criticism by the way, Dice have somehow managed to keep this pure and incredibly fun core while constantly updating the rest of the package that surrounds it, to the point where Battlefield 1 is easily one of the most impressive first-person shooters currently played. The graphics are cutting-edge, the multiplayer infrastructure is finally strong enough to cope with the huge numbers of player (most of the time) and a new time period manages to make a familiar game feel fresh again. On top of that Dice have managed to create a compelling (if brief) single player campaign that would be worth paying for alone. That’s not something I expected to write about a Battlefield game that doesn’t have ‘Bad Company’ somewhere in the title.

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When Battlefield 1 was announced as being set in World War One, many gamers were appropriately concerned. Most people’s view of World War One was that it was a dull yet horrifically torturous affair that managed to suck the joy out of an entire continent. It had none of the heroism or daring raids of World War Two, none of the might of technology on display that has characterised wars since Vietnam, and none of the honour and chivalry that we romanticise into wars pre-1900. Instead it mostly seemed to involve mud, a lack of movement, and a horrific death toll for very little or no gains. Not exactly the perfect setting for a multiplayer game.

Dice clearly realised this and have instead decided to create a vaguely believable ‘based-on’ version of World War One. All of the weapons, the vehicles, the places and even many of the characters from the campaign are at least based on real things from the war. Perhaps they were hardly used, or only ever tested, perhaps they’ve been slightly exaggerated or modified to make things more exciting, but nothing is completely out of place. This means that rather than a historically accurate battle simulator, we get a game where you can stand on top of a giant zeppelin, throwing grenades hundreds of feet down on to a giant tank that’s charging across trenches bellowing fire from both sides chasing down a heavily armoured man carrying a giant machine gun. No-one’s saying it definitely did happen like that, but technically it could have. Kind of.

Regardless of the accuracy, what we have is an incredibly fun game. The campaign is split up into five hour and a half sections that demonstrate specific mechanics within the game. Each one tells a surprisingly touching story about one person’s experience of the war and the narrative touches are difficult to fault. These are over-the-top stories of bravery, deception, and luck. They don’t truly delve into the horrors of war, but there’s definitely an element of that, and each fo the characters are interesting in their own way, rather than being the two-dimensional ‘soldier’ stereotypes we’re used to in previous campaigns.

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The first sees you as a young soldier joining a tank crew Fury-style as they head towards a particularly brutal battle. You fight over tanks, assault a town and even lead the tank through ambushes in a foggy wood and get to do some sniping before that story comes to a close. Another has you essentially stealing a plane and getting involved in some of the most ludicrous air battles I’ve ever seen in a game. The third has you donning heavy armour to plough through the Italian Alps trying to protect your brother. One involves storming a beach as an elite Australian soldier, trying to protect a younger newbie. The final mission involves Lawrence of Arabia and an assault on the intimidating armoured train. You can play through these missions in any order you’d like and the quality is consistent across all of them. They manage to keep you entertained while teaching you every single major mechanic of the game, and none outstay their welcome. In fact we’re rather hoping to see some more stories from the Eastern Front from the upcoming (but still far off) DLC.

The multiplayer is clearly where it’s really at for Battlefield fans, and Battlefield 1 does not disappoint. In squads of up to five you’ll fight through forests, castles, mansions, cities, deserts and more in all of the game modes you’ve come to love from the series. Conquest and Rush are much as they ever have been, but the inclusion of trenches and a distinct lack of helicopters refreshes the series and means new strategies are needed. Poisonous gas forces you to put on a mask and fight without being able to look down the sights, smoke is entirely blinding and forces you into brutal close-quarters combat, heavy bombers can wreak havoc on objectives but are so flimsy they can be brought down by small arms-fire from the ground.

Graphically, the game is absolutely breathtaking. The environments themselves are impressive and completing convincing for the places they are supposed to be, from the whitwashed walls in the desert on the Sinai map to the dense forest of Argonne, but it’s really the weather system that takes your breath away. Within a match you might have fog roll in, reducing visibility to ten feet or so, then you might have a heavy storm, blowing things around and making it difficult to fly, then brilliant sunshine might emerge, revealing the beauty of the maps and the lighting system. The changes are subtle and natural, if a little fast, and it’s amazing how differently you need to play to adapt to the conditions.

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Overall, Battlefield 1 is an absolute triumph. There are still bugs and the odd server issues, the menu system still don’t work properly (you can’t edit your loadouts unless you’re in a game and often you can’t leave a game when it’s over) but these are easy to ignore when the actual gameplay is so much fun. This is easily worth your money, even at full price. We’d say wait on the season pass until we know what you get, but the base game is more than worth the money. We just need to find the time to play more of it alongside Titanfall!

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Syndrome Review (PC)

Note: This is the first of our reviews where we will not be giving a score. We are following the trend of many sites where we think a score is simply no longer meaningful. We’d prefer for you to read the reviews and see what we think rather than assign some arbitrary number for you to compare against other arbitrary numbers. 

Last week we attended the Fright Night at Thorpe Park. I hadn’t been through a scare maze for many years so was unbelievably jittery while we were queuing to be taken through a series of rooms and scared silly. When we finally got in it turned out all these people can really do to an adult is make you jump. I knew the actors were just actors, I knew the weapons were fake, I knew the blood was just make-up, so while they could easily make us jump by leaping at us out of the dark, this was no more frightening than the childhood bully trying to make you flinch. Once you realise that the whole premise becomes hollow as your fear leaves you and you start to see how cheap the props are and how bad the acting is. All of this reminds me very much of Syndrome, a horror game that is entirely capable of making you jump, but nothing more than that.

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Starting off with some story exposition about waking up on ‘totally-not-the-Nostromo’, which just so happens to be a large ship that looks like the Nostromo, Syndrome drops you right into a clichéd space horror. You awake from cryosleep and everyone’s dead, except for a few groups who you’re not sure if you can trust. Syndrome is content to leave it there though, quickly introducing you to your objectives which attempt to outdo each other in how much of a cliché can they become. Find keycards? Check. Find a door code in a diary? Check. Crawl through a vent to get around a malfunctioning door? Check. That’s all within the first few minutes.

Unfortunately Syndrome doesn’t really progress from there. Of course there’s some monsters in the way of weird zombie things but they all look the same and will react to your trusty wrench smacking them, but not getting shot until they die completely. Later on you face some slightly more intimidating enemies but beyond being faster and tougher, they act the exact same way and somehow manage to sound less frightening.

All of this would be forgiven if it built up a frightening atmosphere like Amnesia or Outlast, but it simply doesn’t. The ship you’re exploring looks like it was created in the Half Life engine and just smattered with some dynamic lights. Most of the decorations don’t make sense, like awkwardly placed boxes everywhere, there’s no moments of intense fear or calm, it’s just constant grey corridors and rooms with occasional enemies to murder or run away from. The fact it’s a indie game could answer for some of this, but then the developer is charging £18.99 for what feels like a horror mod and for that kind of money you could easily buy much better games in the same genre.

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Overall it’s impossible to recommend Syndrome. If you’ve played Alien: Isolation, the Dead Space Trilogy, or System Shock, it’s going to feel like a massive letdown and far too familiar. If you haven’t played them, buy those instead, they’re all much better.

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No Man’s Sky Review (PS4)

So we’ve been to the centre of the galaxy, we’ve got the platinum trophy and we’ve streamed over fifty hours of No Man’s Sky over the last four days. But what do you do in the game?

No Man’s Sky is the much anticipated space explorathon that Hello Games unveiled three years ago. Coming out as a PS4 console exclusive with the Sony Marketing machine taking care of the advertising, this is very much still an indie game. You’d be forgiven for thinking a space simulator with 18 quintillion planets, a score by 65DaysofStatic and such polish was an AAA game, but it’s important to remember that this was made by a small team and not in particularly long time for its ambitious scope.

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In the game you start off with very little on a randomised world. Everyone starts on a different world, but everyone is in the same galaxy. If you zoom out on the galactic map it’s hard to get over the breathtaking awe over the numbers involved. Yours is one of so, so, many stars. You will almost certainly be the first person to ever see this planet, you’ll be the first to see the creatures that inhabit it, the particular type of landscape, the plants, and the first to experience the thrill of exploring it. Explore you must because your ship is broken you and you need minerals to fix it. Mining minerals is as simple as finding them and shooting them with your multi-tool, but finding them is the real challenge. Not a challenge because it’s mechanically difficult, but because on your way to find some big blue-black pillars of heridium you’ll discover ancient ruins, outposts, trading hubs, monoliths, crashed spaceships, amazing creatures, incredible vistas and so much more. This is at the heart of No Man’s Sky. We’ve played a huge amount of time and still constantly find things that distract and enchant us – it really is a procedural dream.

It’s not just the planets that are procedural either, the music mostly is courtesy of 65DaysofStatic and it deserves special mention because it’s just incredible. It ramps up at just the right moments, dials back when something relaxing is happening and constantly sounds fresh and innovative. There hasn’t been a single time when we’ve thought we’ve heard the same track twice in all our time of playing. It could easily be the soundtrack of the year, if not the decade.

Once your spaceship is fixed up you can head into space and explore new solar systems, black holes, huge space stations and much more, finding new things and upgrading everything as you go. Everything can be upgraded or replaced and getting a new ship really is as simple as asking people if you can have theirs – they’re always willing to sell even if it’s for an incredibly high price. New spaceships bring new capacities and capabilities and even these are procedural so you can spend ages trying to find one that looks just right. In space you really can do whatever you want, there’s a vague path where the game leads you from place to place for the first couple of hours to get some important upgrades outlined a little in our top five starting tips but you can completely ignore this if you want to. The goal appears to be to get to the centre of the galaxy, but that’s entirely up to you. Much like how Minecraft has a boss now that plenty of people will never see, getting to the center isn’t that important. It’s the journey that matters.

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Visually, No Man’s Sky is like nothing else. The developers wanted to capture that feel of the 80s sci fi book covers and they succeeded gloriously. Although plenty of planets are ugly, none of them look completely out of place. We’ve found plenty of beautiful oceans, canyons, meadows, forest, deserts, and everything else you can imagine and it feels like every single planet we’ve landed on (which must be in the hundreds) has had something interesting about it, even if what was interesting was just how barren and inhospitable it was. Every multi-tool has a unique appearance, every ship, every animal, every planet, every planet. It’s amazing how this kind of variety really helps to keep you interested and unlike lots of attempts to make things procedurally, No Man’s Sky manages to make it look like it was designed.

Of course not everything about the game is perfect. While the launch day patch went a long way to fix the problems people had early on with the game, there’s still plenty of strange glitches, the game crashes a lot, and occasionally things don’t work the way you should. This is to be expected from a game with such a grand scope and it’s certainly more stable than anything by Bethesda, but it’s still a frustration when the game crashes in the middle of something important or when you can’t do something for the arbitrary reason that the game engine says no. We also believe that much of the game is smoke and mirrors, with multiplayer being the obvious controversial example. There is no multiplayer in this game. We’re confident that there are no player models, no animations and no ways to meet up with each other in-game. You all explore the same galaxy so as streamers have shown yesterday, you can get to the same place at the same time, but you are not connected in any meaningful way. What you can do is share your named creations and others will see this. There’s a chance we’re wrong on that and I’d be happy to retract all of it, but the evidence isn’t looking good and you definitely shouldn’t pick this up for multiplayer.

NPCs are similarly designed to give the impression of intelligent life in the galaxy, but after a while you realise that all the aliens stand perfectly still, say the same thing over and over, and are generally devoid of life. This is a real shame as your interactions with them, while funny, are very limited and after ten or so hours of exploration you’re likely to encounter the same immersion-breaking events again and again.

There’s also the issue of terrain deformation. When you shoot the ground with a grenade, you make a hole. But this isn’t you mining in to the world like in Minecraft, instead you are simply creating a space with a shell around it. We discovered this when we made a hole then accidentally slipped through the edge of it and entered the inside of the empty planet. Sadly this means no adventures to the core of a planet because there’s simply nothing there. This issue won’t affect the majority of players but we felt it’s worth mentioning so you don’t spend too long getting your dig on.

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Overall, No Man’s Sky is easily a contender for Game of the Year. There’s so much to do, so much to explore and it’s an experience unlike anything else. People are constantly moaning about the lack of new IPs so I hope that people support one of the most exciting new original games to appear in a long time. It’s a beautiful and enchanting game and we can’t wait to buy it again for the PC release.

BRB – off to explore the universe.

Verdict 9

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Batman: A Telltale Games Series Episode 1 Review

Check out our full playthrough of this episode here

This is a new take on Batman. It’s not the camp man in tights from the Adam West Days, it’s not the brutal and tormented Ben Affleck Batman, it’s not even plastic nipples Batman. If anything Telltale’s take on Batman is probably closest to the ‘constantly in a moral dilemma’ Christian Bale Batman of the Nolan films. As you can tell, we’re much more fans of the movie Batman universes than the comic books or even the animated series, but it’s refreshing to see that Telltale haven’t tried too hard to imitate just one source, but instead they’ve come out with their own, and we love it.

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This is a Telltale game through and through, but as with the Lego games, each new game seems to have refined the formula and improved upon it, even if the basic elements are instantly recognisable. You still get to wander around a little bit looking at things, you have to make snap dialogue decisions that have an effect on what happens later, there’s some action sequences (more on these later) and there’s the occasional super serious binary decision that’s going to define a lot of what happens in future episodes. All of this is similar to what Telltale started with their Walking Dead series, but there’s much less of the annoying filler material (walking around huge areas with nothing to do until you find the right trigger) and the good bits, like the agonising decisions, have survived intact.

The action is worthy of note with this entry. It wouldn’t be Batman without at least a little combat and this episode definitely delivers. We would like a little more choice in how brutal you choose to be (that’s a big part of some of the best decision making in this episode) as Batman often tends towards his ‘this would definitely kill a person but it’s Batman so we’ll pretend it didn’t’ style of combat favoured in the Arkham games. Goons get smashed against stone walls and get heavy things hurled at their head, but then later it’s a serious decision about whether to break someone’s arm or not. We like different takes on Batman and we enjoy both the ‘attempts at being a pacifist’ Batman you sometimes see in the comics, and the ‘basically a psycho’ Batman from the recent Ben Affleck adaptation, but it feels like Telltale are trying to get the best of both worlds and that’s one of our biggest gripes with the game, even though in the end it’s really quite a minor one.

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The quicktime events are much harder than they have been previously, but they’re also quite forgiving in that you can mess up loads without having to start over. If you get a series of them correct in a row then you get to do a fancy finishing move at the end of the sequence. We haven’t seen what happens if you mess them up yet, but we’re guessing Batman just doesn’t quite come across as the badass he should be. Thankfully a lot of the more irritating quick time events like having to rapidly push a button have been done away with completely. Another slight improvement is how the prompts are sometimes slightly incorporated into the scene, so buttons are attached to something. We’re big fans of having in-game HUDs, like in Dead Space or Splinter Cell Blacklist, it’s something we wish more games would take note of.

The story in this first episode is definitely gripping and introduces some familiar faces in interesting new ways, but the ridiculous amount of exposition does begin to grate if you can’t laugh along with it. The death of the Waynes is talked about literally every ten minutes, to the point where you wonder why anyone hangs out with Bruce at all, literally every conversation he has ends up with him talking about his dead parents. With the slight comic book stylings and suspension of disbelief you always need to enjoy anything related to Batman, you can look past this as an entertaining quirk, but once the story really gets going it’s annoying to get bogged down with the game telling you things you already know over and over again. It’s a little like how the young versions of villains are introduced in the current Gotham TV series. “Look this girl likes plants. Her name is Ivy, she’s a bit scary, but she likes plants. Look at all her plants. Get it? GET IT?” Anyone at all familiar with the Batman universe (and who’s not at this point) will feel a little patronised by some of the dialogue, but it’s fine and the good conversations and choices that Telltale excels at more than make up for it.

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Overall we’re really excited that Telltale have managed to create an interesting and unique story within the Batman universe and we can’t wait to play more. The engine is improved, the good bits are just as good as they ever were, and a lot of the pacing problems that plagued the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones games seems to have been fixed. Here’s to more Batman!

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Layers of Fear Inheritance Review (PC)

Inheritance is the expansion for the popular Layers of Fear horror game. In Layers of Fear you took the role of a painter who had gone insane and seemed to be trapped in his house alongside his paintings. You committed horrible acts but as you played through the game there was some explanation as to why you were doing the things you did. In Inheritance, you’re playing as his daughter who was taken away by social services at some point. It’s an interesting perspective as the madness isn’t quite there anymore, instead you perceive the same spooky and twisted goings on through memories, where plenty of the same weird things are happening, but you know it’s just a memory, in between these fragments you are just wandering the house as before, trying to make sense of what your father was doing.

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As a horror game, Inheritance is very similar to Layers of Fear. There’s definitely a sense of brooding horror pervading throughout the whole expansion (which runs to a bit under an hour, we finished in 48 minutes, but a lot of that was getting lost at a certain point) but it relies heavily on jump scares. The game is quite adept at ratcheting up the tension through sound and twisted visuals, setting you up for something sudden to happen, but holding off long enough to keep it frightening. That being said, I would say this expansion is more aimed at people who are interested in the Layers of Fear story. There doesn’t seem to be as many scares and instead you get a lot more exposition and a story told is a slightly clearer way. It’ll be interesting to see if they run another expansion from the perspective of the mother.

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Overall, whether this expansion is worth your time depends entirely on how absorbed you were in Layers of Fear. It’s only $4.99 and only takes an hour, so if you enjoyed the main game, this is a little more of the same with a much greater emphasis on a coherent narrative. If you were put off by the ‘walking simulator’ aspects of the main game, there’s very little to change things up here beyond a couple of simple puzzle-type sections. We think this is worth a try and an interesting addendum to what is a very accomplished horror game.

If you don’t mind spoilers, we have an entire playthrough of the game here on Youtube

Verdict 7

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Zombie Night Terror Review (PC)

Ever wonder what happened to Lemmings? It was one of the most popular and widely-known games on the Amiga and yet despite some attempts to keep it going through ill-conceived 3d sequels in the early PC days, not only the series but the whole genre seemed to completely die out by the end of the 90s. Zombie Night Terror seems to come from an alternate dimension where Lemmings never went away and progressed like any other genre, until someone decided to add zombies to it. This isn’t a Lemmings clone, and it doesn’t feel like a rip-off in any way, instead it’s an intelligent puzzler with a zombie facade and a heft dose of inspiration from the challenges of Lemmings given an modern kind of challenge. This is much faster and much more entertaining, but still has that kind of cerebral challenge that we loved all those years ago.

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In Zombie Night Terror you are tasked with leading the undead to try and take over the world through a series of objectives along a comic-book style story. There’s mad scientists, dangerous gangs, and plenty of environmental hazards to deal with, and your only tools are a bunch of zombies (or sometimes just an individual) that shamble around and are generally quite delicate when it comes to things like getting shot in the head or falling from great heights. Thankfully you’re given tools to enhance their abilities. These are gradually unlocked over the course of the game, but at first you are able to infect anyone on the map (albeit a very small number of people), choosing where to strike for maximum effect. Do you pick people in the most crowded rooms, do you pick people near exits, do you pick people with weapons? As the game goes on you generally don’t have that ability any more (it would make some maps way too easy) but you can put in blockers who stop zombies from passing, you can make them jump, you can speed them up, or you can even turn them into more dangerous mutants who can climb on walls or even explode. One of the most interesting innovations is how these skills can be combined. The blockers can be made to send all your zombies running, or throw them great distances, zombies that have been made to jump into the air can then be turned to bombs. Often these combinations aren’t explained in the tutorials, but they are essential to complete many of the ‘extra’ objectives as you move through the game. Every ability requires a certain amount of DNA which can be gained either from barrel pickups, killing people, or by sacrificing your own zombies. The resource management is very strict on many levels so it’s all the more satisfying when you get one where resources aren’t really an issue and you can create a huge horde of overpowered flesh-eaters.

For each mission there’s a standard win-state, and then an extra much harder challenge to go after if you want. These could be to complete it in a certain time, to kill everyone on the map, or to avoid losing any zombies, and all of the challenges are quite difficult, testing your multitasking abilities as well as how good you are at planning ahead. Watch some of the videos of how to do these challenges on youtube and you’ll see some truly remarkable plans being put into action.

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While Zombie Night Terror is difficult, it unfortunately often strays into the vaguely unfair territory. Where failing in Lemmings was always your fault, there’s just enough randomness to ZNT that sometimes failure can feel like just bad luck. This is mostly because the NPCs will wander around and won’t always be in the same place. If you get an NPC with a weapon in just the wrong place, you can lose far too many zombies to continue, where next time you start it they’ll be next to a door and easy pickings. This lets down what would otherwise be a fantastic puzzle game, as it often leads to frustration and a temptation to just quit rather than to persevere. It also doesn’t help that many of the levels are preceded by a short prologue level that must be repeated if you leave the game and come back to it. No-one likes repeating levels for no reason.

If you like puzzle games, Zombie Night Terror is absolutely fantastic. It looks gorgeous, sounds great, and provides more than enough challenge for anybody. That being said, it’s a shame that some pitfalls can make it more frustrating than it needs to be and we definitely began to lose interest after the first section of the game.

Verdict 7

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Necropolis Review (PC)

Necropolis is a roguelike co-op dungeon crawler. Unfortunately that’s about where the interesting information in this review ends. Yes Necropolis gets some things right, notably it’s minimalist but very recognisable aesthetic (although the lack of feet is a little off-putting) and slightly quirky item descriptions, but overall you’re left with a feeling that this is quite by the book.

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When you start each time you have a very basic sword and shield and you’re in what appears to be an abandoned temple (think every fantasy rpg ever). There is a sort of narrator that speaks to you regularly, and there’s plenty of snippets of lore to be found or bought with a token currency, but in an effort to be whimsical it’s completely uncompelling. Just some generic grimdark vaguely Lovecraftian mystery with the odd joke thrown in. You (and up to three friends) take an elevator down and then try to fight through ten levels until you escape the Necropolis. There’s gems to be found (you need a value of at least 200 to escape a floor, but then you can spend them on other things like items and recipes), there’s crafting to be done, there’s plenty of fighting, and that’s about it.

The fighting is slow and unwieldy. There’s plenty of weapons ranging from simple quick axes to lumbering magical greatswords, but unfortunately none of them are precise enough to make the combat exciting. There’s a lock-on system and dodging, but it feels like there’s plenty of delay and you often need to let animations finish before you do anything else. This means more often than not your death will come because you’re finishing a lengthy attack animation and a newly spawned enemy (oh they spawn all over the place, from nowhere, for no reason) has crept behind the camera and lands a combo on you that kills you. That’s two hours of progress wiped out because of something you couldn’t reasonably have prevented, unless you never use slow weapons and you constantly spin the camera. That’s the biggest problem with Necropolis, as much fun as it can be with friends, it feels far too easy, and then you die. Not because you lack skill or because the game throws a new interesting enemy at you, but because you got stun locked, or an animation took far too long, or enemies spawned from nowhere. It feels like the difficulty ramps up out of nowhere just to stop you completing it too often.

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There’s plenty of extra little things to keep you coming back if you do manage to finish it. There’s lore to unlock, coloured outfits, randomised level layouts, but every playthrough essentially comes down to slogging your way through ten levels of hundreds of the same enemies. There are a few interesting types but the key word really is ‘few’ and you fight them all pretty much the same way. You dodge until they finish their ridiculously long attack animation, then you hit them with yours.

If you’re looking for a new co-op game to rush through and you can get it cheap, there’s definitely some fun to be had for an hour or two. But for £22.99 we’d say you’d be better off looking somewhere else.

Verdict 5

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Super Mutant Alien Assault Review

Super Mutant Alien Assault is a clear throwback to the 90s console era (one of the few places where the word ‘super’ is appropriate) in almost every way. There’s some fantastic pixel art spaceships and alien designs and the structure is quite simple, you take on three sets of rooms, each with a fairly simple objective, then you fight bosses and you win. Or you die horribly. Each time you go around you unlock a bunch of stuff like new enemies, new weapons, and new powerups. Thankfully the developers have also learnt a lot from the last two decades of gaming and while functionally it might seem like a purely retro shooter, the weapon and alien designs are quite inventive and the controls are so perfect and fast that it really rewards skill rather than luck.

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In Super Mutant Alien Assault you jump around in a single room on each level trying to complete objectives and kill enemies. Scattered around each randomised level are stations like new gun stations, health stations, grenade stations, then a few other ones designed to mess with you. Once irradiates nearby enemies periodically, making them stronger. One deposits balls that must be carried to a receptacle, but when you are carrying them you can’t shoot, and if the ball gets hit it explodes. One overheats constantly and must be manually vented until the level is over. All of these are designed to stop your from camping and keeps the tempo up throughout. Additionally each weapon you get has an extremely limited pool of ammo, so you’re constantly having to pick up new (random) guns. One is a grenade launcher that bounces around the tiny levels so much you’re almost more likely to kill yourself, one is a powerful sniper rifle that rewards some awesome trickshots. One is a pogo stick. No, really, you just kind of jump on their heads and kill them.

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The game is addictive in very short bursts and with three difficulty levels plus an endless mode there’s definitely a fair amount of replayability. We would have like to have a score and some friends’ leaderboards to compete against, but for a little timekiller while you’re waiting for something, it definitely has a place. A more significant problem is the influence of RNG. Of course in plenty of games, particularly roguelikes, this is a factor, but it can feel cruel when you’re on a good run but then you don’t find a health station at all, or you just get given the worse guns over and over. Sometimes things will go your way and the game is almost too easy. On our first success at normal mode it was probably more down to the fact we got loads of pogo sticks and C4 rather than any real skill on our part.

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Still this is a budget game and for what it is, it’s really fun. Sadly there’s no online co-op which would have made this hugely better, but for a single player experience it’s more than fun enough, especially if you have any nostalgia for this kind of art and shooting.

Verdict 7

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Rimworld Review (PC)

Rimworld is a survival strategy game in a vaguely similar vein to Settlers or Dwarf Fortress. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as complex as DF – but it is much more complex than Settlers and is designed more around the idea of ‘how will your colony fail and die horribly this time’, rather than ‘how quickly can you win’.

There are plenty of different game setups, with a different origin point, a different dungeon-master style character who throws problems at you, and a wealth of different starting zones and colonists. You can even get more through Steam Workshop alongside plenty of quality of life mods, but we’ve just been playing with the basic vanilla game for now. The most basic setup is where you have three colonists who have crash landed on a planet. You can choose where they land and roughly what their skills are, then you’ve got to try and keep them alive on the planet’s surface until they can build a ship capable of taking them home.

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Of course that sounds much easier than it really is. When you start out you need to provide your colonists with shelter, food, weapons, clothes, entertainment, warmth, cooling, protection from raiders and wild animals, alongside caring for all their other needs. Much like Dwarf Fortress, the colonists’ mental states are very important. So while it might seem like a good idea during a famine to kill the colony’s pet Jack Russell to make an extra meal, whoever had bonded with that dog are likely to fall into a bit of a depression. That might make them a bit mopey or they might go on a killing spree and end everything. Juggling all of these needs is a constantly demanding tasks and the game is good at throwing curveballs at you like a toxic storm that means you can’t go outside, or a potato famine killing your crops, or a solar storm shutting down all your electricity.

Thankfully (and importantly for us in a game like this) a lot of what you’re doing just makes sense. Enclose a generator with a wooden wall and no space and it might catch fire. If it rains, the fire will go out. Colonists can survive some pretty grievous injuries such as having an arm torn off, but then they won’t be as good at doing things that require two arms. Old age can lead to dementia, alcohol can lead to diminished responsibility, beavers can eat all of the trees. Planning ahead is difficult, but unfortunately there does seem to be a ‘correct’ way to build that lets you deal with nearly everything. The fun comes from experimenting with different methods, but once you’ve worked out the right way, the game loses a lot of its appeal. Perhaps it could do with some more specialised scenarios like Rollercoaster Tycoon, or perhaps getting new colonists should be easier so risky strategies are more worthwhile. Whatever the answer, the fun in Rimworld does taper off quite quickly when you know what you’re doing.

Of course there are plenty of ways to make the game much more difficult for yourself, to the point where you can start with no technology in a freezing desert with three people whose only ability is to water plants, but the developers haven’t worked to make sure situations like that are even possible to succeed in. They’re more there so you can see how long you can last.

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There are plenty of annoyance in the way RImworld works. Often colonists won’t prioritise jobs that make sense, so when you desperately need some research completed, they’ll go and eat a raw potato, or they’ll start cleaning the floor outside. Combat is difficult to control, with keeping ranged soldiers out of the firing line of each other almost impossible. The biggest issue is simply how long everything takes as you move towards the late game. Unlike Dwarf Fortress where you seem to end up with an exponential number of dwarves, so big tasks become much easier, in Rimworld you tend to keep to quite a low number, the most we’ve had is six. By the late-game you’re fending off fairly huge disasters and raiding parties, so trying to keep on top of that while researching and gathering resource sto build a ship isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s just incredibly time-consuming. You can speed up the game clock (and you pretty much have to) but not by anywhere near enough when you’re spending half an hour watching a potato harvest.

We’ve had a great time with Rimworld. It’s smart, it’s addictive and it’s definitely one of the better examples of the genre. It’s a shame the later game turns into more a grind than an interesting puzzle, but if you’re happy to experiment and don’t mind laughing when it all goes wrong, you’ll find a lot to like in the earlier parts of this game.

Verdict 7

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