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Pillars of Eternity review

When the review code came through for Pillars of Eternity, it’s fair to say I was more than a little excited.

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Pillars of Eternity

When the review code came through for Pillars of Eternity, it’s fair to say I was more than a little excited.

While some sites will go out of their way to review everything that lands on their doorstep (in an admirable attempt to catalogue everything under the sun) at Thumbsticks we take a somewhat different, more feature-like approach. You won’t find any percentages or marks out of ten here – we dropped review scores before it was cool – but you might find a qualitative assessment of the title’s place in the world, why it’s important, and if you’re really lucky we might even tell you if (in our humble opinion) it’s worth playing.

That also means we do get plenty of review codes through that we unfortunately don’t get around to playing, or if we do, we don’t get around to featuring on the site because we simply don’t have enough to say on the matter without resorting to quantitative assessments of graphics and sound and lifespan and…

Pillars of Eternity

Pillars of Eternity is very different. Where ordinarily Daniel and I will offer review codes up to the rest of the team first, by way of a small reward for writing for Thumbsticks, on this occasion you couldn’t have prised the Pillars of Eternity code from me if you were pointing a crossbow to my head. Ordinarily a professional sort, I was snarling ferociously and swinging a flail around my head (metaphorically speaking) and the team knew very well to step back, because this one was visibly important to me – I’ve been waiting a long time for a spiritual successor to the remarkable Infinity Engine role-playing games from the turn of the century – and now here it is.

Not your average review

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet finished Pillars of Eternity. Ordinarily that would be a capital offence, admitting that you were reviewing a game without finishing it, but we’re not indexing every game under the sun and this isn’t your average review. Do keep up.

Right about now, I can see from Twitter that other journos have been scrambling furiously to complete Pillars of Eternity before the review embargo is lifted at 13:00 GMT today (the day of release). I see triumphant messages that some of them have done so, cramming sixty plus hours of a monster title into less than a week, which is no mean feat and I heartily commend them for their efforts. Unfortunately I don’t have the time available to dedicate to such an almighty undertaking, with other projects and responsibilities to juggle – especially when the review code only lands a week before release – but I’ve done my best to get through as much as I physically could, so I’ve at least got plenty to talk about.

Pillars of Eternity

Interestingly, there are also nearly a hundred user ratings on Metacritic and the game doesn’t unlock for another four hours at the time of writing. I’m not exactly sure what that tells us about the gaming public and the incessant need to score and rank everything, but I certainly find it strange to say the least.

So in summary:

  1. If you do want a traditional review of Pillars of Eternity then head over to somewhere like PC Gamer or Rock Paper Shotgun – I know I will do when their reviews drop – but there’s always room for a little bit of extra analysis.
  2. You can’t always believe what you read on Metacritic.

The foundations of Pillars of Eternity

Baldur’s Gate was something of a big deal in my life, and in the computer role-playing game world on the whole. There had been great role-playing games for PC before, and there had been Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games too, but Baldur’s Gate was the first legitimately massive smash hit in the centre of that venn diagram. Role-playing games were always my jam, and I would seek out any variant I could lay my hands on – J-RPG, Action, Tactical – it didn’t matter; but as a table-top gamer in my youth I was always partial to a spot of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and Baldur’s Gate was the first time I felt it had really been done right.

And I played it a lot. I played it to absolute death, in fact, and I still loved every second of it. Sure, I knew when the bandit attacks and the double-crosses were coming, and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised by the developments of the frankly excellent plot after the first playthrough, but that’s the beauty of a game where your character is a blank canvas – if you get tired of where you’re up to, or you just fancy trying it again from a different angle, with an alternate skillset or siding with a different faction – then just hit ‘new game’ and roll right through it.

Pillars of Eternity

Sometimes you needed to do that. One of the biggest issues with Dungeons & Dragons as a whole, and therefore role-playing games with rulesets derived from it, is that it’s incredibly easy to back yourself into a corner from whence you can’t escape. You might have chosen to play through the title as a warrior, for example, and have a party built around you with other skillsets – healing, archery, offensive magic, lockpicking – but the party member resource is a finite thing and permadeath in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is a very real threat. If there are only three rogues in the entire world who can join your party and you’ve lost them all to permadeath just before you really need one to be able to unlock something/pickpocket someone/sneak past a near-unbeatable monster, then you could be a bit stuffed. You may well have other options – perhaps you can teach your mage a spell to overcome the issue, or you can grind to absurdly level your character against their own skill tree and traits to achieve the thing you need – but more often than not, you’ll throw your hands in the air and start again as a rogue yourself.

Sometimes you don’t mind, if you really love a game and are happy to play through every moment again, but sometimes it’s just a painful nuisance and can lead to games remaining unfinished in backlogs. Obsidian, the developers behind Pillars of Eternity, told Polygon how they’d rewritten the ruleset to prevent this from happening, which is remarkably bold for a development ambition. Pillars of Eternity is unequivocally not a Dungeons & Dragons title, then. It might look like one, and feel like one, and most of the rules and mechanics and background lore may be derived from it, but Obsidian have been very careful to rewrite the machinations of the entire universe from the ground up based on decades of experience.

A question of timeliness

The time is 13:00 GMT. Everyone else’s reviews of Pillars of Eternity are about to drop, and not only did I not finish the game before writing about it, I also haven’t finished my article before the embargo lifted. Oh well.

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I’m currently trying very hard to resist the temptation to read the reviews that are springing up around me, as I don’t want to interfere with my own judgement by reading the opinions of people of whom I greatly admire and respect the judgment. Luckily I rolled higher than a nineteen on two D12s, which was a saving roll against my concentration statistic, and the article continues unfettered.

Let’s get back to what’s changed, and perhaps more importantly, what hasn’t.

Casting a resurrection spell on a genre

When Pillars of Eternity was crowdfunded on Kickstarter – where over seventy thousand backers pledged just shy of four million US dollars – the message from the backing public was apparently very clear: we very much love this style of role-playing game (that has inexplicably been somewhat out of fashion for almost fifteen years) and we’d like to see the genre come back, please. Obsidian understandably heard that as ‘we would like Baldur’s Gate 3, please’ and they kindly obliged.

Pillars of Eternity

There’s a lot of conflict in my mind when I think of Kickstarter as a medium for funding the development and (hopefully) eventual release of games. Quite aside of the risk of paying upfront for vapourware (or even sliding deadlines and partial completion as we saw with Broken Age) there is a reliance on a mutual understanding between developer and backer. Developers will of course produce videos and promotional material to support their case, engender themselves to the potential backing public, and ultimately try to raise as much cash as possible for their cause. The backing public have to make their assessment of whether to back a project or not based on this information. Sometimes, this doesn’t always play out as it should.

More disclosure: I didn’t actually back Pillars of Eternity on Kickstarter, either. As much as I love the genre and wanted to see it revived, and have adored the work of the team behind Pillars of Eternity in the past, for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to get behind the project. That doesn’t mean I was any less excited that it did smash its funding targets and the game was being made, but when the stretch goals started to appear for ‘bottomless dungeons’ and ‘bigger cities’ I had some niggling doubts creep in about what the title would turn into. Judging by my excitement when the review code came through, I had successfully buried these concerns deep down in the anticipation, but they are now resurfacing as I play through the game (slower than everyone else, it seems).

So how does it play?

One thing that was always going to be assured, with the team behind Pillars of Eternity, is that it would be an amazing story. It starts off in traditional Infinity Engine style, with a ‘hot’ start – an unsuspecting young person is minding their own business, on a journey somewhere, then all hell breaks loose and you’re thrown into a dangerous situation with a few helpers as a bit of a tutorial – before you know it you’re caught up in a twisty plot with multiple factions and a weird prophecy you seem to be at the centre of. No complaints there – the writing is sublime.

At the risk of straying into ‘actual review’ territory here, the game also looks and sounds fantastic, and the team have essentially brought the original Infinity Engine – with all its hand drawn storybook charm and atmospheric audio qualities – into a more modern era. It’s as simple as that. Resolutions are better than they ever were, the locales look fantastic and the textures are superb. Imagine following Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring from about a hundred yards overhead by a drone for the duration of the movie, and you’ll get an idea of the effect.

Pillars of Eternity

Combat looks amazing too and the bigger monsters, frenetic crowd-control moments and higher-level spells really take your breath away, but It’s not perfect. I have witnessed a few strange artefacts and animations during combat for example, where one of my characters is attacking a monster at range, but the blood and gore effects from the monster are appearing directly in front of the character, as if they were fighting toe-to-toe. Another example would be when one of my characters can’t quite decide what final direction it wants to face, so flits about like its suffering some sort of seizure, until I move it an extra step or two and it settles down.

These are minor irritations, and while graphical imperfections aren’t specifically what I was worried about when I didn’t back the Kickstarter, they did get the gears in my mind working back to those niggles. I fear some of them may have come to pass, in some form or another.

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The risk of the spiritual successor

When you think back about the effort the team were going to, to rewrite the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset to make it the very best mechanism it can be for a computer role-playing game in addition to actually developing the game itself, you can see where the time and effort has gone. Building a role-playing game is a mammoth undertaking at the best of times, even if you are working atop a pre-existing framework and prescribed lore, but to do the whole thing from scratch? The mind boggles as to how they did it. That’s why it was an unprecedented financial ask for a video game project on Kickstarter (at the time) and the team were acutely aware of that that fact – they even highlighted it themselves during their original pitch:

“We need to raise $1.1 million to fund an experienced team to do this right. We are asking for more than a lot of the other Kickstarter projects and that’s because we are not only making a game, we are creating a whole new world. That means a new RPG system, entirely new art, new characters and animation and whole lot of lore and dialogue.”

So what we have – as a result of the Kickstarter – is a backing public who want a role-playing game the way mamma used to make, and a development team who want to move heaven and earth to do that in the cleverest way possible. I cannot argue with the logic, and I can in no way dispute that what Obsidian have delivered with Pillars of Eternity meets this fundamental pitch with style and aplomb. They have delivered a truly great game, to the specifications outlined above, and if we’re measuring it as a successor to Baldur’s Gate based on that criteria alone then it’s a massive win.

Pillars of Eternity

But that’s not what I wanted from a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate – I didn’t back it, precisely because of these concerns – and I’m sure there must be other people out there who feel the same way; that nagging sense of disappointment that while it is great, it could have been so much more.

Take, for example, how Fallout became the spiritual successor to Wasteland. Wasteland was a wonderful game (and you could reasonably argue it was superior to Fallout in many ways) but it was very much of its time, and in 1997 Interplay made every effort to not only produce a great game in their own right, but to move the genre forward in a productive and forward-thinking manner for the greater good of the genre. Look at where the Fallout series has travelled, and what it has become as a result of being brave.

System Shock is another great example. You won’t find me advocating that BioShock is in any way superior to the original System Shock, as they are very different games that simply share a common spirit – and Beta Grove still gives me far more nightmares than Rapture ever could – but as a spiritual successor and an evolution in the storytelling medium BioShock was a revelation, and totally worthy of carrying System Shock’s legacy forward.

Pillars of Eternity
3

Summary

Secretly, then, I was hoping that Pillars of Eternity was going to be more than it is. I was hoping for a complete revolution of the genre, not just an incredibly clever evolution of the mechanics. It’s a remarkable game and absolutely the finest example of what it is, but after waiting nearly fifteen years, I wanted it to be so much more.

It’s still really, really great. Buy it. Play it. You’ll love it.

But if – like me – you’ve been waiting all this time for it, you might just find your heart filled with an almost intangible twang of disappointment, as you silently lament what Pillars of Eternity could have been.

Enjoyed this article?

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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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

Reviews

The Eternal Castle [Remastered] – Nintendo Switch review

The Eternal Castle [Remastered] comes to the Nintendo Switch 23 years after its original release. Or does it? 

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The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] - Nintendo Switch

The Eternal Castle [Remastered] comes to the Nintendo Switch 23 years after its original release. Or does it? 

When I was young, the world of digital entertainment only had eight colours: black, blue, red, magenta, green, cyan, yellow, and white. Of these, it was cyan and magenta that always brought games to life. Against the darkness of a CRT monitor, they were blades of light, a throb of neon. They were the colours of the future.

Cyan and magenta look fantastic on a screen, basically. It’s the reason they are used in a billion logos, website designs, and video games. And whereas these two colours once signified the future, they are now a visual short-hand for the ongoing, interminable nostalgia for all things 1980s. In video games you can see it in everything from Hotline: Miami and 198X, to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and Cyberpunk 2077.

The Eternal Castle [Remastered] is a game constructed from cyan and magenta. It’s a 2-bit homage to a late-80s MS-DOS adventure that never was. One that lives in the imagined memories of developers Leonard Menchiari, Daniele Vicinanzo, and Giulio Perrone.

This curious ‘remaster’ of a non-existent game was first released on Mac and PC last year. Now, after a few launch troubles, it’s available on Nintendo Switch.

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] - Nintendo Switch

Modern games that consciously echo the past are nothing new. Shovel Knight invites us to replay a forgotten NES classic, Horizon Chase Turbo is an arcade racer from a timeline without OutRun, and Sonic Mania is a fusion of old and new that atones for the franchise’s frequent missteps.

These games offer experiences that could never have been achieved given the technical and hardware limitations of the past. Instead, they attempt to evoke the feel of the period and combine it with modern design sensibilities to create something new. The Eternal Castle is no different in its ambition, but it treads a slightly different path.

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] - Nintendo Switch

The visuals look the part in static screenshots, but it’s in motion that The Eternal Castle comes to life and earns its cheeky “remastered” subtitle. The animation is fluid, there are subtle shifts of perspective, distant vistas are softened by heat haze, and the 2-bit equivalent of dynamic lighting illuminates the game’s environments to stunning effect.

Magenta and cyan are not the only colours used, but the two-colour aesthetic and stripped-back sprite work are constants.

It has the retro look, then, but it’s not always a pleasure to experience. There’s a sense of aggravation to The Eternal Castle, a scratchy, undefinable grubbiness that makes the game hard to embrace. There’s a sense of remove, but one thankfully not created with the use of a in-game CRT filter. (Unlike in the Switch release trailer.)

The sound design also unnerves. There’s a synth-heavy score, naturally, but it’s also backed by a soundscape of raw, discordant tones and the heavy crumple of bullets on brick. The effect is not one of warm nostalgia. It’s cold, bleak, grim.

Moment to moment the game owes obvious debts to Another World, Limbo, as well as the Ravenholm and Highway sequences of Half-Life 2. As you pick your way across The Eternal Castle’s dilapidated world, you’ll encounter environmental puzzles and movie-inspired action set pieces. You’ll also glean fragments of an obtuse story that is just about interesting enough to hold your attention.

The Eternal Castle [REMASTERED] - Nintendo Switch

The striking aesthetic occasionally appears to actively work against the game, making it difficult to decipher a solution or execute the manoeuvres required to avoid danger. Identifying the specific cluster of pixels you need among similar clusters of similar pixels feels like another deliberate exercise in aggravation.

Combat is fussy and fuzzy, boss battles are tough, and one recurring tea-drinking foe can be an absolute nightmare. The resulting difficulty spikes feel strangely appropriate, though, given the heritage The Eternal Castle is determined to honour.

Performance issues can also hamper progress, but I genuinely can’t tell they are bugs or another well-placed dig in the ribs from the game’s developers. The frequent checkpoints, however, are a much appreciated modern concession.

Despite its name, The Eternal Castle doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a brief and sometimes testing assault on the senses that is in equal parts beautiful and disquieting.

There’s a sense that the game is mission accomplished for its development team, regardless of whether players enjoy the experience. Eventually, I did, and I look forward to another run through its cold, cyan and magenta future.

The Eternal Castle [Remastered] Review
3

Summary


Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC, Mac
Developers: Leonard Menchiari, Daniele Vicinanzo, Giulio Perrone
Publisher: TFL Studios
Release Date: June 26, 2020


The Eternal Castle [Remastered] is nostalgia trip that’s mysterious, brutal, and sometimes even enjoyable. It’s a hard game to love, but an easy one to admire. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it certainly stands out in a morass of bland Nintendo eShop releases.

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Reviews

Star Wars Episode I: Racer – Nintendo Switch review

Star Wars Episode I: Racer comes to Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. Yippee! But can a 21-year-old racing game save the Star Wars franchise?

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Star Wars Episode I: Racer – Nintendo Switch review
Aspyr Media

Star Wars Episode I: Racer comes to Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. Yippee! But can a 21-year-old N64 game save the Star Wars franchise?

January 1999

I saw the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace on a date, right before Shakespeare in Love.

21 years on, it remains a masterclass of mood and scene-setting. A new Star Wars film didn’t need hype, but the trailer only increased my anticipation for the MOVIE EVENT OF THE MILLENNIUM.

March 1999

I saw the film’s second trailer at work. At the time, most of our company tabbed through databases on green-screened IBM AS/400 terminals, updating call logs, and flirting with each other via a SNDBRKMSG. As a member of the marketing team, I was one of only two people – the other, my friend Andy – to have a Windows PC connected to the internet. Netscape was the browser of choice. Altavista the search engine we relied on.

When the second trailer for The Phantom Menace was released on the Star Wars website, a gaggle of excited co-workers gathered around my desk as it s-l-o-w-l-y buffered into low-resolution glory. On that small CRT monitor, we watched as majestic transporters rolled over the hills of Naboo. We saw armies of battle droids prepare for battle. Darth Maul gazed chillingly into our souls. And a glimpse of pod racing promised a chariot race for the 21st century.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was going to be the best film we’d ever seen.

May 1999

Andy and I saw the film on the first weekend of release. We liked it. A lot. Didn’t we? I mean, that kid was a little annoying. And it didn’t make much sense. And Darth Maul was underused. Something about tax. But it was still amazing, right?

I wasn’t sure. So I went to see it again with two other friends. I left the cinema no clearer about my opinion. One of my chums – who had never seen a Star Wars film before – said: “What the &%$* was that #*&#?” He might have been on to something.

We didn’t want to admit that maybe, just maybe, Episode I was a bit of a stinker. Let’s be clear: we didn’t think that George Lucas had murdered our childhoods, but there was a feeling of gradual deflation. It was a lesson learned in avoiding the machinations of the hype machine.

June 1999

Around this time, Andy and I would spend our evenings drinking beer and playing Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007 on my Nintendo 64. Andy wanted his own console, so we took a trip to the Oxford Street branch Electronics Boutique. And there we saw it. A new bundle. The pack-in game was Star Wars Episode I: Racer.

Star Wars Episode 1 Racer Nintendo 64 bundle

That’s the thing about Star Wars. It can disappoint you. It can let you down. But your love for it never quite goes. We didn’t think the film was great, but we adored the pod race. So Andy bought his first games console. It had a picture of Jake Lloyd on the box.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer quickly became part of our gaming rotation. Sure, the film’s Boonta track only features twice and the others were set on planets we’d never heard of, but it scratched the itch. However, over time, we began to enjoy racing on these new strange worlds. Caressing the curves of Scrapper’s Run on Ord Ibanna was an exercise in pure concentration, and taking on Sebulba’s Legacy on Malastrae was a controller-clenching thrill. For a time, the game saved Star Wars.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer – Nintendo Switch review

21 years later

We lie in the wake of another Star Wars film that has left audiences baffled, bemused, and frustrated. And here is Star Wars Episode I: Racer to save us one again.

Like the studio’s previous work with Star Wars: Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast, Aspyr Media’s new console port of Star Wars Episode I: Racer is not a full-fledged remake. Instead, it’s up-rezzed remaster of the original. The textures are still blurry – although the overall image is crisp – and the audio is still tinny, while the video cutscenes show their compressed age.

Retooled rumble and motion controls are welcome additions, but, most importantly, it’s the rock-solid 60fps frame rate that transforms the experience. The game shows its age but it now plays like a dream. Each race is exciting and nerve-racking, the best of them precarious balancing acts in which small, instinctive decisions are the difference between gliding into the perfect racing line or careening into a rock.

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There’s a wealth of characters to unlock, and the upgrade system – although basic by modern standards – is fun to tinker with. It makes a tangible difference in how each racer performs and handles.

The game also brims with humorous details, from the Pit Droids larking around in the garage to Dud Bolt’s over-enthusiastic mid-race grunts. Greg Proops and Scott Capurro resume the role of Fode and Beed with gusto, and Andy Secombe’s Watto is employed to hum the Cantina theme at the end of each race. What more could you want?

Star Wars Episode I: Racer – Nintendo Switch review

In many respects, Star Wars Episode I: Racer doesn’t feel like part of the current Star Wars universe. With its locations and characters all but ignored by recent entries into the franchise, the game is a race into a fictional dead end, and it’s all the better for it.

Racer can’t make up for the disappointment of Episode IX – after all, it’s based on a film with a fair few problems of its own – but it’s successful in taking players back to a more innocent and optimistic time. To a time when Star Wars was the fever dream of a mad, misguided genius, rather than the daily grind of a weary lore committee.

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer is probably only for the franchise’s most ardent fans, but for gamers of a certain vintage, the Midi-chlorians are still strong with this one.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer review
4

Summary

Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4
Developer: LucasArts / Aspyr Media
Publisher: Aspyr Media
Release Date: June 23, 2020


A much-improved frame rate and an HD sheen give Star Wars Episode I: Racer a new lease of life. This thoughtful update ensures the game is much more than a trip down memory lane. Despite its age, it remains one of the best sci-fi racers you can play on Nintendo Switch or PS4.

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Reviews

Night Call Nintendo Switch review

Get in the taxi. We need to talk about Night Call on Nintendo Switch.

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Night Call Review
Monkey Moon

Get in the taxi. We need to talk about Night Call on Nintendo Switch.

As someone who likes his noir like he likes his eggs, Night Call is sadly too soft boiled for my liking. It has its moments; instances when it just clicks and being a taxi driver roaming the shadowy Parisian nightscape feels incredibly lucid, but these are unfortunately muddled by the writing and repetitive structure.

Developed by Monkey Moon, Night Call is a narrative Crazy Taxi with light resource management, with the focus shifted to passenger conversations rather than driving. It’s a visually bold game with an almost Limbo-esque feel. A stark greyscale art captures the murky whimsy of a world that exists beyond a sensible bedtime. Undoubtedly ambitious, Night Call has around 90 passengers for you to pick up and converse with, all complete with great character art that captures their personalities.

Night Call Review

Night Call begins when you wake up in hospital after being attacked by a serial killer. You’re then recruited by a police officer to gather information once you’ve recovered and are back on the streets. A great premise, but the execution falters. The justification for being blackmailed into gathering information just didn’t work for me and felt rather contrived, which is something that plagues the rest of the game too.

A lot of the conversations come off as inorganic and the heavy-handed prose doesn’t help. Characters can’t wait to open up to you and spill their life stories as quickly as possible. It could be a far better experience (and more true to life) if the developers went for the opposite; passengers less willing to talk and the player/taxi driver attempting to open them up in the limited lifespan of a single taxi ride. Doing this would make the dialogue options have more purpose; as it stands, they don’t particularly change much.

Another flaw was that characters sometimes feel too whacky. In one playthrough I came across Santa Claus, an alien and a ghost who feels out of place considering Night Call is a gritty noir story about a serial killer. Kudos must be given to the developers for bringing up themes of politics and racism – and the inclusion of an Arabic protagonist – but ultimately the game feels wildly uneven in tone. Having a conversation about racial abuse because of Brexit one moment and then talking to a cartoonishly quirky poet the next felt jarring.

Night Call Review

Night Call is split into three cases with a different serial killer in each and, after finishing the first, it was a shame to see that all the cases are basically the same. They start exactly the same way: the protagonist wakes up in hospital and is recruited by the same police officer to find a different killer. You then have seven nights to gather information on the serial killer and solve the case. This repetition greatly impacted my enjoyment as it cheapened the narrative. It made me question whether it was worth doing another case if they are all essentially the same.

One standout aspect of Night Call, however, is the fantastic soundtrack by Corentin Brassart. It’s a dreamy soundtrack that lulls you into a meditative state; the type of soundtrack where you can put the controller down for a bit and have an introspective daze. It actively heightens the late-night taxi driver experience, painting the gloomy canvas with shades of solitude.

In the end, this egg needed more time to boil. But I applaud what Monkey Moon achieved with Night Call and I’m genuinely curious to see what they make next.

Night Call Nintendo Switch review
2.5

Summary

Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Monkey Moon
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release Date: June 24, 2020


Night Call has its moments, but clumsy writing and repetitive structure keep it from reaching its potential. Time to call it a night, perhaps.

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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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Reviews

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.

Enjoyed this article?

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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