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Get Even review

Get Even is a strange thing, a rough and ready mix of styles and influences, grim and unique; does it all come together to form a cohesive whole?

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Get Even review

Get Even is a strange thing, a rough and ready mix of styles and influences, grim and unique; does it all come together to form a cohesive whole?

Editor’s note: Get Even was originally slated for release on May 26, 2017, but following the horrific terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester (and given some of the game’s themes, which sees a teenage girl attached to an explosive device) its release was postponed.

The Farm 51 has set out to make something you haven’t played before, and with publisher Bandai Namco putting the wind in its sails, it’s done just that. As such, Get Even doesn’t fit into any one category without its share of scuff marks. Walking simulator, puzzle game, first-person shooter, sometimes horror: it makes its home in the overlap, taking cues from Hollywood, and play styles from a jumble of sources. And it isn’t any one of these styles first.

You’ll poke around searching for clues, sleuthing past or picking off your enemies. In a move reminiscent of Condemned, you’ll use a variety of forensic tools to sift through the detritus of crime scenes: a UV torch, an evidence scanner, GPS replete with enemy vision cones – all rolled into a phone. You have the upper hand in combat – doing what it says on the tin, the corner gun turns every bend into a barrel of fish, and slows down the shooter stretches into sedate pot shot galleries.

It’s a bit of a chimera, then, but far from that being an omen of disaster, it pulls most of this off rather well. Iain Sharkey and Stephen Long (the writing partnership behind Derren Brown’s TV shows) were brought in to work on the game’s script – a tightly wound, well-told yarn, hot-footing its way from the likes of Source Code to Memento by way of Korean masterpiece Oldboy.

It sees Cole Black (yeah, I know) using the Pandora device (yeah, I know) to explore fragmented memories to figure out what on earth is going on. An amnesiac hero isn’t uncommon in video games or films, but here it double-helixes very nicely with the unfolding story and the way it plays. You won’t really have a clear picture of what’s going on in step with Cole – his realisations are yours. The emotional through-line is potent and the narrative is kitchen sink, its characters impeccably voiced with snarling English vim and moments of heart-rending warmth and pain.

Moreover, it’s nice to see what happens when good writing is married to ideas. Quite how a device as brimming with potential as The Animus has been fumbled for so long in Assassin’s Creed I’ll never know. In Get Even, you have something very similar explored in clever ways, and characters that dissect and develop along with the re-configuring narrative of memory and regret.

There are some cheeky references baked in as well: a newspaper article written by “Richard Bachman”, a flyer for a club night called Recall Night at the Lacuna Club, and a poster with the words “I am a psychopath” by Patricia Bateman. These are chuckle-inducing little nods that betray a geeky appreciation for source material well outside the usual gaming crop.

It isn’t often in games, or films for that matter, that you could reasonably say the score almost carries the day. Olivier Deriviere’s orchestral composition and sound design all around are phenomenal. Everything from establishing room tone, to fusing sound with play lifts Get Even a few notches higher, and it speaks to how vital a part of the experience of playing sound can be. At one point Cole’s frantic breathing speeds up to the beat of a pulsing piece of techno; at another, dizzying strings rise to a skin-crawling crescendo as you steal through the guts of an abandoned asylum.

It’s when you get down to the nitty-gritty of play that you snag yourself on some rough edges. It’s not an enticing place to be, for one. Get Even’s colour palette is the brown-grey murk of a painter’s water pot at the end of the day – all the colours running like dirty rainwater into the gutter. There is light in some levels, the sort of steely white-grey you tend to get in a November sky, or the harsh synthetic lighting of office interiors. It all rolls into one indistinct shell after another.

Every now and again you’ll catch sight of something sublime: the autumn sun, a cooling star, casting pale light on a gazebo slathered in graffiti. It’s a reminder that bleak can be beautiful, and doesn’t have to mean dull; sadly, it’s more often than not the latter here.

As for where you find yourself, Get Even makes its bed in all those desolate places you see slip by on motorways. Warehouses, power stations, breeze-block grey buildings rotting at the seams, wind whistling through windows like broken teeth. These are the kind of places we remember from Manhunt; only here, they’re brought to life with the assiduous magic of photogrammetry.

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This technique – the conjuring power of which has been shown off in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – allows smaller studios to bring achingly real environments to life that would be beyond them with traditional rendering. A laborious process, thousands of photos are taken from different angles to painstakingly scan environments into the game. The results are, at first glance, stunning.

Unfortunately, it’s performance that scuppers the payoff. It’s a real heart-breaker to be shuttered with a limp framerate. It breaks immersion when you feel as if you’re breaching and diving like a dolphin around the 30 frames per second line. It never judders to a halt – there’s never enough going on for that – but it’s blighted with perfusive slow-down. Getting up close to surfaces brings you face-to-face with some gruesome textures as well.

If you’re spotted, Get Even is quick to remind you that it isn’t a shooter. The distortion of gunfire and static crackle clutter the screen and clamour in the ears. It feels muffled, as if you’re wearing a motorbike helmet, your breath fogging the visor as you scramble for relief. It’s like the ragged handy cam movement in a Paul Greengrass film: emotionally effective, absolutely, but visually obstructive and – here at least – frustrating.

Likewise, some environments are pitch black, meaning you rely heavily on your UV light. This would be fine but its puny area of illumination means navigation can chafe. The GPS is good… maybe too good. I spent a lot of time abandoning the real world and just focusing on my phone. Perhaps that’s an incisive, satirical point, of art imitating life. Perhaps not.

This assortment of styles serves the story well: sleuthing makes sense in piecing together a damaged mind, and surges of snapping synaptic violence inject fear and danger into what you’re doing. But it seems as though they weren’t brought together in service of being fun to play. It’s remarkable how often and how far that can fall from priority lists.

Get Even
3

Summary

But you know, I’m not sure that there isn’t a charm to these failings, in an odd way. There’s a rough-cut, lo-fi patina to Get Even that adorns its good ideas like graffiti. With its edges scuffed and its heart in the right place, it feels like that now endangered species: the AA release. Long live dirty, flawed experimentation. This one’s different.

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Josh is a freelance writer. You’ll find him banging on about the vertices between games and film and music and poetry and books, but don’t let that put you off. He likes games. He likes writing. He also gets the biscuits in.

Reviews

The Outer Worlds – Nintendo Switch Review

The Outer Worlds touches down on Nintendo Switch, and while the game is easy to recommend, the Switch port really isn’t.

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The Outer Worlds - Nintendo Switch review
Obsidian Entertainment / Thumbsticks

The Outer Worlds touches down on Nintendo Switch, and while the game is easy to recommend, the Switch port really isn’t.

It’s nice to get the things you want. Sometimes.

Following the direction taken by the Fallout franchise, fans of the series were vocal in their desire for a more focussed, single-player experience. They wanted a game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or Fallout New Vegas. Or, ideally, a combination of the two. Obsidian Entertainment heard that call, and that’s what the studio delivered – to considerable acclaim – with The Outer Worlds.

Another thing people want is for every game to be on the Nintendo Switch. Hence, a slew of ports from the last two Xbox and PlayStation generations. Some of these, like Alien: Isolation and the Assassin’s Creed: The Rebel Collection, are excellent. Others, like Doom and The Witcher 3, are impressive despite their flaws. And others are just plain bad. Hello, Ark: Survival Evolved and Mortal Kombat 11.

Virtuos – the studio behind the solid ports of L.A. Noire and Bioshocksay their processes mean that virtually any game from the PS4 and Xbox One generation can be ported to Switch. The Outer Worlds gives Virtuos a chance to prove the point.

The Outer Worlds - Nintendo Switch screenshot

The Outer Worlds comes to Nintendo Switch content complete, with future story expansions also confirmed. Every mission, character, and weapon is here, compressed and squeezed into a 13.7GB file.

In delivering what people want, Obsidian has created a game that feels immediately familiar. The Outer Worlds presents a wild and imaginative new universe in which to tell stories, but the format and structure are true to the studio’s heritage. If you’ve played New Vegas or KOTOR2, the first hour of The Outer Worlds feels like slipping on a comfortable pair of old space boots. It feels good to be back.

The influence of the Fallout series and Bioshock casts a long shadow, of course, most obviously in the game’s retro-futuristic aesthetic. You’ll find it in everything from the architecture to the cheeky in-game advertisements that promise a better life for the inhabitants of the Halcyon system. To the game’s credit, it uses this hoary conceit to reflect the story’s themes of corporate servitude and rebellion with more grit and humour than is usual. Its satirical approach and political stance are far more in-tune with each other than in another recent Switch port, the otherwise wonderful Void Bastards.

The Outer Worlds - Nintendo Switch screenshot

The overall structure is also familiar. It’s a big game, but one we’d hesitate to term open world. A dubiously procured (but brilliantly named) spaceship, The Unreliable, acts as a hub of sorts, transporting you around a six-planet system to accumulate an impressively long list of missions and side-quests. Most destinations are large but self-contained areas populated by an assortment of aggressive wildlife, ne’er-do-wells, and quest-givers. We’ve been here before in spirit, if not location.

It makes for a focussed role-playing experience that is content to find breadth and depth in its characters. The game may be set in the expanse of space, but there’s a tightness of design here, a subtle but welcome guiding hand.

The Outer Worlds is also well written and acted. NPCs have seemingly limitless responses that reflect and respond to your actions throughout the game. The way characters refer to your exploits, however minor, generates a sense of connection and consequence to what you do. It feels like a minor but significant evolution in character interaction, even if the Elder Scrolls-style “straight to camera” conversation delivery isn’t especially modern.

It’s pleasing that The Outer Worlds places as much emphasis on words as it does weaponry. During my initial character build, I bumped my Charm stats right up and was delighted to find it made a tangible difference from the start. My persuasive patter helped me to avoid some sticky situations, but my cocksure attitude occasionally provoked trouble. Both felt consistent.

A feeling of choice and consequence is something that games continually strive to achieve, and although you’ll make some big decisions on your journey through The Outer Worlds, it’s the small moments that stand out.

Further examples can be found with your six companions, of which two can join your party at a time. They’re an engaging bunch, each with in-depth storylines to explore. It’s not Mass Effect 2, but there’s a nice “getting the gang together” vibe to proceedings, and their interactions are frequently amusing. The way companion stats boost your own character’s abilities is also neat, helping you bolster skills you may have neglected.

Indeed, once I had four companions in place, I was able to step back from the minutiae of character development and play with a more freewheeling style. Combat – which is a remix of Fallout’s V.A.T.S – is a satisfying and punchy replacement for chinwagging when called upon.

The Outer Worlds - Nintendo Switch screenshot

The Outer Worlds may be structured like a game from 2010, but there’s enough going on under the hood to distinguish it from other RPGs of its ilk. If only the visuals looked as good as something from 2010! Despite the confidence of Virtuos, the Switch version of The Outer Worlds is, technically, a bit of a mess.

We’re told the game runs at 720p in handheld mode and 1080p docked. The frame rate is also solid, bubbling around at 30FPS. However, in terms of overall image and texture quality, the game is a real disappointment. As you might reasonably expect, environmental detail is stripped back. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes stripped back to N64-quality assets. Plantlife in the overworld is an obvious and ugly example, but everything feels like the wrong size of compromise.

Picture quality is often blurry to the point of distraction, as if the image has been taken from a third-generation VHS copy. At a distance, buildings and objects look as though they have been rendered from clay, and pop-in is rife. Traversing at speed across the overworld can also trigger a loading icon that briefly interrupts play. Hopefully, future patches will improved things across the board.

The Outer Worlds - Nintendo Switch screenshot

These concerns are not solely due to the game being dragged kicking and screaming onto the Switch. It’s a garish game generally, with a rough-edged clumsiness to its design. Buildings, objects, and NPCs feel placed on the landscape at random, and the only locations that exist tend to be those that the story requires you to visit. And although I appreciate the smaller physical scope of the game, it’s inadvertently amusing to hear a companion exclaim they “haven’t been this far before” when you reach a destination after a 30-second jog.

It’s common for games to imply a larger world, something hidden just out of sight, but The Outer Worlds doesn’t manage to stick the landing. Thankfully, it paints its prettiest and most engaging pictures with its characters and dialogue.

The Outer Worlds - Nintendo Switch screenshot

The Outer Worlds on Nintendo Switch is a hard game to judge. The underlying quality of the narrative experience is there to be enjoyed in every glorious detail, but the technical shortcomings are hard to ignore. In a recent interview, production director Eric DeMil said that Obsidian is “very happy” with the game’s performance. I wish I could say the same.

I wanted a concise RPG in the Fallout style, and I’m glad Obsidian made one. I certainly hope the studio has the opportunity to tell more stories in this universe on Xbox Series X.

I also wanted this game on Switch, but in retrospect, I’m not sure it was a wise move. Sometimes, getting what you want is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The Outer Worlds review
3

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment/Virtuos
Publisher: Private Division
Release Date: June 5, 2020


The Outer Worlds remains a memorable experience on Switch, but, at the same time, it’s all a bit of a blur.

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Maneater review

Is it safe to go back in the water? We’re not sure, so we sent Callum to review Maneater. [WARNING: Contains terrible shark puns.]

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Maneater review
Tripwire

Is it safe to go back in the water? We’re not sure, so we sent Callum to review Maneater. [WARNING: Contains terrible shark puns.]

First up: the shark puns. I’m sure this is what you all came for. I assume my editor also wants a section of this article dedicated to terrible oceanic references, so let’s just get this out the way quickly. Will Maneater, the new hyper-violent shark simulator from Tripwire, sink or swim? Has its Jaws-dropping concept got any bite? Will it be a fin-tastic ride? Or is it destined to sleep with the fishes? [This was a very elaborate way of handing in your resignation, Callum – Ed.]

All out of our system? Are we done? Wonderful. Then let’s crack on.

With that out the way, many of you have likely seen the over-the-top trailers for Maneater that dropped following its announcement last year. After all, it’s hard to miss a game where players take control of a raging, hyper-aggressive bull shark with a love for human meat ripped straight from the hull of a fishing boat. Yet, now it’s here, it’s easy to recognise both the satisfying highs and debilitating lows of making a self-proclaimed “shaRkPG.”

Undeniably, the trailers’ promise that players will step into the fins of an unstoppable oceanic predator that can chomp through reinforced steel and make paddling beachgoers into mincemeat is far from unmet. This is perhaps the closest players will ever come to fulfilling the (oddly specific) fantasy of making some elderly, one-armed shark hunter bitterly recall a cliché movie monologue about their antics and for that, Maneater deserves props. However, making a 10-hour game where the one goal is to tear through an ocean’s worth of potential-prey comes with its downsides, especially in the varied gameplay department.

To add some context, Maneater sees players assume the role of a young bull-shark pup who was torn from her mother at birth and severely disfigured by a ruthless hunter named Scaly Pete. Thrown back into the vicious waters of the Gulf Coast, your mission quickly becomes to grow into a fully-fledged shark and track down the man who killed your mother, tearing your way through whatever comes in your path.

Maneater seaweed

As expected from a game about a giant, eternally ticked off oceanic predator, Maneater isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy storytelling. However, it does have a few tricks up its sleeve to make up for its thankfully silent protagonist. For one, the game is set out like a trashy American reality show, putting Chris Parnell of SNL and Rick and Morty fame as an ever-present – and frequently funny – narrator. Not only does strong writing make his “nature documentary” commentary land perfectly, but small additions like cutscenes filmed from a handheld perspective make for a pretty endearing central style.

Parnell’s commentary serves as entertaining underlining for Maneater’s gameplay, which is definitely more fleshed out than the title’s trailers may have you believe. I, for one, saw this game inaccurately labelled “GTA with sharks.” In reality, Maneater is much more at home when compared to a game like Crackdown. Beginning as a very small fish in a monumentally big pond, the core focus of the experience is battling your way through increasingly tough oceanic wildlife and human enemies as you grow bigger, gain new abilities and acquire brand new – very cool – body parts.

One of Maneater’s biggest surprises is how well balanced and fun this sense of progression is from start to finish, with my journey seeing me originally struggle against giant alligators and colossal sperm whales before actively engaging them by the end of the campaign. Maneater takes you from a weak bottom feeder to a literal apex predator, picking fights with whatever you please and watching your prey flee from you in fear.

To achieve this sense of oceanic dominance, you first have to master combat and exploration. The latter is easily the less-prevalent of the two. Scattered around the world are several major collectables and landmarks, each coming with their own set of fun easter eggs and shark-movie references. Combat, on the other hand, comprises much more of Maneater’s experience, which, unfortunately, isn’t for the best.

That’s not to say combat is bad. Once you get the hang of it, Maneater mostly relies on a fairly simple and easy to pick up control scheme, seeing players utilise a bite, tail whip, dodge, charge, and a powerful special ability. While it can rely too heavily on button-mashing – especially as tapping bite repeatedly is the key to defeating most foes – there is something morbidly satisfying about leaping from the water, grabbing a helpless human from a boat and dragging them to the sea for a gory kill.

Fights below water are slightly less entertaining, mostly because enemies become something of a pushover towards the latter half of the campaign. They can still grow intense when you come face to face with the game’s other apex predators, though: much bigger and more dangerous variations of the base game’s enemies.

Maneater alligator

However, Maneater’s structure is where it really begins to let itself down. While the core loop has its moments, it becomes evident fairly early on that most missions recycle the same “go here, kill this,” objective without any nuance or deviation. There’s simply not enough variety to warrant Maneater’s relatively padded campaign, making it something of a one-trick pony. Granted, it’s not a bad trick, but after 10 hours of the same repeated activities, the fun nature of Tripwire’s shark sim does fade.

After swimming through the game’s early areas, you’ll realise the heart of Maneater simply doesn’t have the complexity to work for more than a few hours. You’ll run through several monotonous objectives, fight an apex predator, watch a mandatory cutscene, complete some side missions, then advance on to the next level of the game where you’ll rinse and repeat. Sure, there are some fun optional objectives – such as hunting unique, named shark hunters who pose slightly more of a challenge than their weaker minions – but even these activities are so overused that they become tedious overall.

If you’re jumping into Maneater to live out your life-long fantasy of starring as a fully-grown, 500-pound bull-shark that cares more about sinking freighters than honouring the food chain, there’s no denying this is the game for you. There is a strong progression system, some hilarious gags, and some really satisfying combat that makes stalking your inferior prey all the more satisfying. Yet, it’s worth remembering that Maneater is, at its heart, a gimmick, and like all gimmicky media, it does eventually wear out its welcome.

Fin.

Maneater review
3

Summary


Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
Release Date: May 22, 2020


Maneater really does do what it says on the tin. It’s a hyper-violent, super fun and wonderfully tongue in cheek shark simulator that lets players live out their fantasy of becoming the ocean’s most notorious predator. Yet, it’s beyond that where Maneater struggles, as its repetitive missions and frequent padding prevent it from sustaining its 10-hour runtime.

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Lonely Mountains: Downhill Nintendo Switch review

Lonely Mountains: Downhill rides onto the Nintendo Switch. It’s time to pump up those tyres and hit the wilderness once more.

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Lonely Mountains Downhill Nintendo Switch review
Megagon / Thunderful

Lonely Mountains: Downhill rides onto the Nintendo Switch. It’s time to pump up those tyres and hit the wilderness once more.

It’s not something we often talk about, but there’s a crispness and clarity to Lonely Mountains: Downhill. That’s not to say those words aren’t in the collective video game vocabulary, but they’re rarely used in good faith.

When people talk about crispness, or clarity, they’re almost always referring to visual fidelity. They’re talking about resolution and frame rates and antialiasing. Remember those boring old uncles at parties, who would talk incessantly about cars, or their favourite sports team, or hi-fi separates? Those drips, those human joy sponges, are the sorts of people who think a game is better because it runs a higher frame rate.

It’s time to reclaim those terms. Forget technical jargon and tedious Top Trumps; let’s use them instead to talk about something more meaningful, like crispness of vision or clarity of intent. Let’s use them to talk about something wonderful, like Lonely Mountains: Downhill.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill finds you at the top of a mountain, as all good mountain bike adventures should, with knobbly tyres beneath and a crash helmet above. There are thin margins between you and failure, as in real life. And fail you will. A lot. At times you’ll rattle down the mountainside like a ball in a Pachinko machine, hitting every tree and rock and stump, careening off every edge and into every pond.

Lonely Mountains Downhill Nintendo Switch review depth of field

You might even struggle with the controls. The game, by default, starts up with an eight-directional scheme that, try as I might, I could not fathom. Others have told me they don’t understand why, but it just intuitively works. However, the tattered gears and linkages in my primate brain could not make the correct decision at any point. Then I switched to classic Micro Machines controls – where the cyclist pivots clockwise or counter-clockwise based on the direction the nose of the bike is pointing – and it all clicked into place.

The important thing is that Lonely Mountains: Downhill isn’t unnecessarily punitive – instant reloads are critical in a game with fine margins and knife-edge failure – and, as with the controls, there are always options.

The titular mountains, lonely as they are, are split into numerous downhill trails. First, you’ll be given a free ride down, with no time pressures and no objectives. Then, once you’ve crossed all the checkpoints and reached the bottom – and you’ve had a good look at the trail – it’s time to start the challenges. Time-attacks are standard, obviously, with targets growing tighter as you improve. You can best the novice targets by sticking to the established trails, but in order to achieve the best times? You’ll need to venture off the beaten path.

Sometimes that means just clipping a corner, kissing the apex, or cutting it off altogether. That will shave off a few milliseconds from your split times. But if you chart your own route, barrelling down sheer gravel chutes or hopping down rock faces or leaping across chasms, then you can cut out huge swathes of the course. Your times will tumble as a result, which will access new challenges, bikes, and customisation options. But greater reward brings greater risk, and as your times tumble, your rider will, too.

But you’re not always in the mood for breakneck recklessness and hundreds of retries. Sometimes you want to explore without the time pressure. That’s catered for, too, with as much enjoyment to be found just in bumbling about the mountain as racing for time. The game even features hidden rest spots, beautiful dioramas where you can park your bike, park yourself, and just drink in the game’s sumptuous atmosphere.

Lonely Mountains Downhill Nintendo Switch review rest spot

There’s no music in Lonely Mountains: Downhill, either. The only sounds are the chirrups of birdsong and the crunch of knobbly tyres on dirt, gravel, and rock. And that’s as it should be. You can enjoy the silence, or you can pop in some earbuds and listen to your own soundtrack. It harkens back to my youth, skipping through the forest with grunge and punk rock on mixtape cassettes, as the new kid on the block, the Sony Discman, was too prone to skipping to be taken on such an adventure.

There’s a zenlike aspect to Lonely Mountains: Downhill that, once you’ve found it, amongst the wilderness, it grabs you. It’s remarkable clarity of design for what appears, on the face of it, as a knockabout arcade racer.

With that in mind, Lonely Mountains: Downhill also features challenges based on arriving at the bottom (relatively) safely. New trails and mountains are gated behind getting to the bottom with less than a specified number of crashes. There’s even a permadeath-like mode with no checkpoints and no restarts, and if you beat that? You can unlock the option to take on the trails at night.

And here’s the thing: there are no lighting sources, other than the pathetic white bulb on your bike’s handlebars. Nobody’s lined the trail with Tiki torches or strings of fairy lights or strategically-placed floodlights. There’s no dubious ambient glow or convenient skybox gradient. It is dark, it is stark, and it is a brilliant piece of design.

Lonely Mountains Downhill Nintendo Switch review night mode

If you’re going to succeed on Lonely Mountains: Downhill – and even more so, the night stages – you’ll need to learn the trails, their personalities and their pitfalls. In the age of procedural generation, it’s a beautiful slice of praxis to have to learn intricately-designed courses once more, to experiment, to improve, to better your own abilities and by extension, improve your times.

But exploring these handcrafted mountain dioramas is its own joy because they are just so sumptuous. It might seem simplistic at a glance, but the low poly visuals are teeming with life and are anything but low fidelity. Each stage, each scene, is carefully assembled and layered, dripping in sun shafts and particle effects and depth of field, all built with optimal viewpoints in mind.

Rather than an over-the-shoulder or orbital camera that we’re so familiar with in extreme sports games, the viewpoint on Lonely Mountains: Downhill tracks down the trail on a pre-defined path. This means you’ll be treated to the sort of perfect cinematography that you’ll never achieve with either procedural generation or user-controlled cameras. Sure, you might stumble on something beautiful every now and then if you’re in charge, but there’s a reason why open-world games wrestle control of the camera away from the player if they want to show off their most beautiful vista or their sparkliest sunset. It wants you to see the game at its most vibrant, to make sure all that time and energy setting up those moments wasn’t wasted.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill is crammed full of those moments of elegant crispness, to the exclusion of most anything else. It’s almost exhausting how postcard-pretty the game is, but don’t worry: you’ll crash into a tree or a rock before too long, and come back down to earth with an unceremonious thump.

That’s the joy of downhill mountain biking, captured in capsule form, and it’s even better now you can take it out on the trail on Nintendo Switch.

(Well, when lockdown lifts and you’re allowed outside once more. Until then, Lonely Mountains: Downhill brings a welcome slice of the outside inside.)

Lonely Mountains: Downhill
4

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One, Linux, Mac
Developer: Megagon Industries
Publisher: Thunderful Group
Release Date: May 7, 2020


Lonely Mountains: Downhill excels as both an adrenaline-fueled racer and a zenlike exploration. It’s a signal of the game’s clarity of vision and tightness of scope that it can, somehow, succeed at both. A triumph of beautiful cinematography and spinning tyres alike.

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Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.


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Void Bastards – Nintendo Switch review

Suicide Squad meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as Blue Manchu bring Void Bastards to the Nintendo Switch.

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Void Bastards - Nintendo Switch review
Blue Manchu

Suicide Squad meets The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as roguelike FPS Void Bastards comes to the Nintendo Switch.

Blue Manchu’s Void Bastards has a simple premise. Revive a rag-tag bunch of freeze-dried prisoners stored aboard a transport vessel called the Void Ark, and send them into action on a series of derelict but dangerous spaceships. The mission is simple. Salvage the materials required to power the Void Ark for its final Faster Than Light jump home.

Each ship – which is procedurally generated from a set of common parts – is populated with a cornucopia of beasties, mutated citizens, and security systems. Limited health and a slowly depleting oxygen supply provide the impetus to make your raid as swift as possible. But, a tantalising assortment of loot on each ship tempts you to stay longer than is necessary.

If – or rather, when – you die, another prisoner is “rehydrated” and deployed. Each one can reuse any weapons and gadget upgrades you’ve obtained, and continue the objective of retrieving the required FTL parts. It’s a roguelike. You get the idea.

Void Bastards - Combat

I’m always excited for science fiction games. I’m from the generation that grew up with the original Star Wars, Ridley Scott’s Alien, Logan’s Run, and the homespun charm of the BBC’s Blake’s 7. Any game that evokes that style – and the feel of British sci-fi comics – immediately has my attention.

The flip side is that I’m not a particular fan of games that use procedural generation to create environments and levels. I like to see the artist’s hand at work, whether it’s in the design of a space to provoke a specific action, or in a beautiful vista composed to generate an emotion. It’s the main reason why No Man’s Sky never quite took off for me. Those magical, mathematically created worlds are always impressive, but part of me is also always wondering if the next planet will be even more impressive, or the next, or the next.

Void Bastards manages to avoid this problem with its procedurally generated spaceship layouts. In part, it’s a virtue of the universal truth that sci-fi corridors are sci-fi corridors are sci-fi corridors.

Void Bastards - Spaceship

Crucially, Void Bastards has just enough variety. Some ships have specific purposes. Medical ships, for example, echo the design of Sevastopol Station in Alien: Isolation. Lux Cruise vessels are decorated with plush furnishings, chandeliers, and ionic columns, with flavour added by the occasional robot maître d.

Bold changes in colour and lighting also make each ship feel different. It fittingly recalls how 1970’s Doctor Who would reuse and reconfigure small sets to create a larger sense of space. Not that there’s ever time to stand still and admire the surroundings. The moment-to-moment tension of exploration, combat, and looting never lets up.

Void Bastards’ balance of risk and reward is perfectly judged. On almost every occasion, death is the result of pushing yourself a little too far, of being a little too greedy, or a little too curious.

Even when death comes, the game has mastered the art of making the player want “one more go.” Developer Blue Manchu has cited the influence of Bioshock and System Shock, and it’s in this satisfying and repetitive gameplay loop that it’s most evident. It never gets boring.

Each run is also kept fresh by a range of prisoner attributes, buffs, and de-buffs. For example, one prisoner might have a slow walking speed or a General Grevious-like cough that attracts enemy attention. That might be offset, however, by a high percentage chance of finding ammo clips, or the ability to always find a biscuit in a ship’s break room. (Which is more helpful than you might think.)

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The thrill of reaching the evacuation point with loot intact, a horde of enemies on your tail, and a single point of health remaining is consistently rewarding. And if you make it to the end of the game – which is no easy feat on normal difficulty – you are treated to a joyously bleak payoff.

An extensive arsenal of weapons – which can be modded and enhanced – also helps to keep the game varied. Identifying the best loadout for each type of ship and enemy type is an enjoyable exercise of testing and refinement. And noodling around on the workbench or galaxy map – which is also procedurally generated – to plan the most effective route is its own strategic pleasure.

The only aspect of Void Bastards that doesn’t always click is its humour. The game has a particularly British tone, or rather, tones. At one extreme you have the delightfully droll witticisms the Void Ark’s computer. Kevan Brighting’s sparkling performance evokes the work of Peter Jones as The Book in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There are also numerous references to corporate bureaucracy, finance, and employment law. They range from P45 Prisoner requisition forms to the Void Ark’s computer being a BACS Unit. A gag for fans of payroll systems, we assume.

At the other extreme is alien dialogue that frequently resorts to terms like “dick-wad” and “twat-face”. It’s a touch of vulgarity that strikes one of the game’s few bum notes. The incessant screeching of the enemy Juve – voiced by The Stanley Parable’s William Pugh – is another. Sorry, William.

Void Bastards - Screenshot

Thankfully, none of the game’s visual splendour appears to have been lost in the move to Switch. The comic book visuals look bold and crisp – in both TV and handheld modes – and the frame rate is 99% rock solid. Font size can be an issue in some menus, but it’s a beautiful game that plays to the strengths of the Switch.

Field notes

  • We have a feeling that someone at Blue Manchu must have played the classic ZX Spectrum game, Rescue.
  • Ryan Roth’s soundtrack is superb. A sublime fusion of ambience and guitar twinged electronica.
  • Those menu fonts really are small.
  • Completing the game unlocks a fun challenge mode.
  • The game’s enemy design is wonderfully bonkers, from the Trilby wearing Spooks and Glowtrotters, to the mop-topped Outpatients. Top marks.
  • And every game should have Kittybots.
Void Bastards - Nintendo Switch Review
4

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One,
Developer: Blue Manchu
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Release Date: May 7, 2020


Aside from being called Spunky Mc-Fuckface on regular occasions, this is an excellent game. Void Bastards delivers a finely-tuned mix of action, planning, and strategy, and its bite-sized structure makes it perfect for short bursts of Switch gaming.

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Reviews

Resident Evil 3 review

Hot on the heels of the Resident Evil 2 remake, the Resident Evil 3 remake is here. Does Capcom stick the landing on the second attempt?

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Resident Evil 3 remake
Capcom / Thumbsticks

Hot on the heels of the Resident Evil 2 remake, the Resident Evil 3 remake is here. Does Capcom stick the landing on the second attempt?

I’ve never even played the original PlayStation release, but it’s clear to me that the strengths and weaknesses of Resident Evil 3 are ironically very similar to those levied against its 1999 counterpart. Much like the original, it follows the incredibly popular Resident Evil 2 just a year later, a game that few would disagree was one of the best 1998 (and the brilliant remake in 2019) had to offer.

It was a horror masterclass that catapulted the Resident Evil franchise back toward stardom, with incredible pacing, nail-biting scares, and a haunting atmosphere. So, in an effort to strike while the iron’s hot, Capcom have rushed with all their might to turn around a sequel, the remake of Resident Evil 3.

“Look,” says Capcom. “You guys loved Mr X, so here’s an even more punishing version of that mechanic”.

“Here you go”, they say. “You guys can have a more action-focused version of the Resident Evil formula that doesn’t chastise you for going in gung-ho”.

Much like the original 1999 version of the game, the experience that comes out the other side – while brimming with exceptional ideas and moments – feels rushed to lay down more track for the Resident Evil hype train. This is a short game, with my playthrough barely scratching the five-hour mark, and while there’s nothing wrong with a title that makes its point and leaves before it can wear out its welcome, its short runtime comes at the cost of pacing and new mechanics.

Every level, encounter, cutscene and story arc feels unexplored in Resident Evil 3 because the game spends so little time on each. You’ll visit a new area, meet a new character or encounter a new enemy type (just to be rid of it in half an hour), jumping between brilliant concepts without ever being allowed the time to see them stick. While Resident Evil 2 gradually unlocked one comprehensive hub that you could slowly and satisfyingly plunder through, Resident Evil 3 feels like a speeding train that puts you in interesting scenarios before instantly whisking you away to the next set-piece.

That’s not to say what’s contained in this small package is entirely lacklustre. In truth, what makes Resident Evil 3’s breakneck pace all the more frustrating is just how much the game has to offer.

As most fans of the franchise will already know, Resident Evil 3 puts players back in the boots of Jill Valentine, one of the two protagonists from the first Resident Evil. Traumatised by the events she witnessed surviving the zombie-infested corridors of the Spencer Mansion, Jill is currently living out her days in her apartment in Racoon City before, lo and behold, a zombie infestation breaks out and the heroine is launched back into action.

While Resident Evil 2 was a much more exploration-focused affair, one of the first things you’ll notice about Resident Evil 3 is that it’s much more linear. Despite my criticisms of the pacing, that’s not always a bad thing. Traversing levels constantly offers something new, and while some might lament the distinct dearth of traditional Resident Evil puzzles, there’s much less time spent trekking back through areas as the game keeps pushing you forward. It also leaves a lot more time for Jill to shine as a character through frequent set-pieces and gorgeous cutscenes, with her sarcastic personality and tough attitude making her a much more likeable protagonist than the relatively dry offerings of Leon and Claire.

Alongside that, combat feels more refined and streamlined, with the addition of an unbreakable knife, weightier guns, and ways to dispatch enemies using the environment around you. Perhaps the best of all is a nifty dodge roll that allows players, if timed right, to avoid enemies and open a brief window of slow-motion to land some attacks. The roll itself can be unreliable, especially because you can often get hit mid-roll, but it’s a significant addition all the same. In turn, the game feels far more combat-focused than the last, which makes for a welcome change of pace in comparison to Resident Evil 2’s more puzzle-focused gameplay.

To cement this position, the Resident Evil 3 remake also provides some brand new playable sections surrounding former side-character Carlos, who’s two core missions go hard on the action. Ammo in these segments is plentiful and enemies are dealt in bigger numbers. Sure, Carlos is a much less investable protagonist than Jill – and his gameplay is much less tense and gratifying than hers – but it’s still interesting to see parts of the games that lean closer tonally towards the later entries in the Resident Evil series.

Yet – and you’ve no doubt be waiting for this all along – the real star here is Nemesis. Yes, he’s terrifying. Yes, he’s intimidating. And, yes, he will absolutely batter you silly until you learn how best to outrun him. From the moment he enters, there’s a sense that your time playing Resident Evil 2 was preparing you for this, as the grotesque monster stalks you through the streets, cutting you off as you try to lose him, pulling you back If you stray too far, spawning beefy enemies to help drain your ammo, and walking through any damage you throw his way.

From the game’s incredible opening prologue to around the three-hour mark, all you do is fear the big hulking behemoth, as you listen out for his faint footsteps or his horrifying monotone chanting of the word “STARS”. Much like Mr X, he’s an absolute masterclass in horror design, especially with the addition of him eerily waiting for you outside locations and jumping down from unpredictable vantage points.

Then, as fast as he appeared, Nemesis is gone, quickly relegated to typical boss fights and uninspired QTE encounters. What was initially the crowning achievement of the game is gone far too early with almost no warning, once again reigniting that feeling that, while there’s a great game here, it’s reduced to something of a highlight reel rather than a fully fleshed-out experience.

While the emergent encounters you have with early Nemesis stand as some of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had playing Resident Evil, there’s always that small part of you that knows it could’ve been so much more.

Sadly, that sentiment holds true for almost all of Resident Evil 3. There’s a great game here, don’t get me wrong, and for fans of the franchise, it’s a healthy second helping of Resident Evil 2’s gameplay. However, there’s always a frustrating desire for Resident Evil to stop for a minute and take its time. Mirroring the 1999 original perhaps a little too closely, it often feels like an inconsequential next step for a franchise that had just managed to get back to its feet.

Resident Evil 3 review
3.5

Summary


Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: April 3, 2020


There’s a lot about Resident Evil 3 to love. Its combat is meatier, its linearity makes for an interesting change of pace, and Nemesis is pure nightmare fuel in all the right ways. Yet, the game’s pace is simply too hasty for its brief runtime. In the end, it’s an enjoyable – but noticeably rushed – remake, that never quite matches the heights of its outstanding predecessor.

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