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Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission review

How Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission renewed my excitement for PS VR.

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Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-wing VR Mission

How Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission renewed my excitement for PS VR.

My first impression of PlayStation VR was mostly positive. The initial glut of games and experiences were intriguing, if not completely fulfilling. Some titles, such as Batman Arkham VR, Rez Infinite and Wayward Sky, were impressive enough to suggest that virtual reality was a welcome and potentially revolutionary addition to the video game landscape.

That said, the physical drain of using the headset makes me feel that – in its current form – VR will remain a supplementary gaming platform rather than become the new norm. It’s was almost always a relief to remove the headset, no matter how impressive I find any particular game and although many titles don’t make me feel nauseous, a significant number do.

The result is that I now approach new virtual reality experiences with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. That’s hardly an ideal scenario, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

So congratulations to Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission for being the most comfortable, yet exciting, VR game I have experienced by some distance.

X-Wing VR Mission arrives quite late to the space-shooter party. Each VR platform is already host to a number of games that imitate the classic Star Wars dogfight. These include EVE: Valkyrie, the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare VR mission and – to some extent – Scavenger from PS VR Worlds. In each of these games the experience of flying through space was enough to send me running – or crawling – to the bathroom. However, Criterion and Dice – the co-developers of X-Wing VR Mission – have managed to create a game that, for me at least, is smooth and pain free.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why X-Wing VR Mission is so different but Criterion have clearly used a range of techniques to reduce that sense of discomfort. The first is a subtle learning curve that slowly acclimates the player into moving in a three-dimensional space. In the game’s opening scenes the action is fairly static, there’s little to do other than fly in a straight line towards a checkpoint. However, as the game progresses the player is gradually required to stretch themselves with increasingly sophisticated manoeuvres, a trip through an asteroid field makes for the perfect training ground. By the time the shackles come off, chasing down enemy TIE Fighters is second nature. In comparison, Sony’s Scavenger throws the player into space all too quickly with a dizzying scene that is spectacular but extremely disorienting.

X-Wing VR Mission has the advantage here, of course. Its opening can afford to be slightly mundane from a game-play perspective because, well, it’s Star Wars. Although you’re just flying from point-A to point-B, it matters little when the rebel fleet exits hyperspace around you and a thousand childhood dreams come true.

Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-wing VR Mission

The ingrained memory of how Star Wars looks and feels also plays into the experience. We’ve been watching X-Wings on screen for 40 years now, so we know how a these ships move. That knowledge does some of the heavy lifting in terms making the player comfortable, as does the shape of the ship itself. The long nose of an X-Wing acts as an anchor on the field of view, an ever present horizon that helps communicate your position within the wider environment.

And however cynical you might be about the Star Wars franchise, there’s no denying that it has a certain magic, particularly if you grew up with the original trilogy. In one jaw-dropping moment an Imperial Star Destroyer enters the screen from above. The scene is always perfectly framed because the game discretely takes control to ensure that you are in the right place at the right time. In most games this kind of hand-holding would be jarring, but here – in the void of space where it’s difficult to perceive when that guidance takes over – it works beautifully and the result almost brought a tear to my eye.

That emotional resonance plays a huge part in making X-Wing VR Mission a success. Not only is it a finely crafted piece of fantasy fulfilment, it’s also a perfect example of how subtlety of control combined and an invisible, non-intrusive guiding hand can work wonders. The result is a virtual reality experience of the highest calibre that is thrilling, emotionally affecting and, most importantly, kind on the stomach. X-Wing VR Mission is proof that the problem of comfort in VR is firmly down to how well a game is developed and optimised.

Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission
4

Summary

X-Wing VR Mission is a short game, but this Rogue One tie-in gives me a new hope for virtual reality.

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Thumbsticks editor and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Hob, Pokémon Shield and Baba is You.

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.

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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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Reviews

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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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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Reviews

Control: The Foundation DLC review

Without meaning to sound disparaging, the best thing about The Foundation – the first of two new DLCs coming to Remedy Entertainment’s most recent release– is that it’s more Control.

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Control The Foundation review
Remedy Entertainment

Without meaning to sound disparaging, the best thing about The Foundation – the first of two new DLCs coming to Remedy Entertainment’s most recent release – is that it’s more Control.

For those who played the surreal, action-adventure title when it released last year, they’ll know Control leaves you constantly wanting more. More interesting world-building collectables, more slick, engaging combat, and definitely more large-scale boss fights with severely agitated refrigerators.

Enter The Foundation which – much like Remedy’s excellent line-up of additional content for Alan Wake – builds upon the existing world of Control in a way that doesn’t feel like an afterthought or spin-off. The story itself picks up pretty much exactly where the original campaign left off, with Jesse fully embracing her new-found role as the Director as she begins to tackle a new problem occurring deep within the Oldest House.

This problem takes Jesse to The Foundation: a deep cave network far beneath the corporate offices and conference rooms that the base campaign saw players explore. Yet, all is not right within this extensive and deeply mysterious set of eerie tunnels. The Astral Plain appears to be bleeding through into The Foundation itself, causing large areas of the cave to transform into the ethereal void glimpsed briefly throughout Control’s original storyline. Jesse’s goal is to find out what’s causing these bizarre universe shifts and put a stop to them before they engulf all of the Oldest House and beyond.

From here, The Foundation opens up into another 4-5 hours of exceptional – if perhaps a little safe – Control fun, bringing back more of the desirable collectables, satisfying abilities and compelling atmosphere that made the original campaign such a joy. Best of all, it feels like a meaningful expansion of the story that begins to answer some lingering questions about the game’s bigger mysteries, while also sewing the seeds for some bigger reveals down the line.

The actual structure of The Foundation does have some alterations, however, with the core composition of the DLC feeling far more open-ended than the missions seen in the main game. Here, Jesse’s goal to figure out what’s happening throughout the mysterious cave system is split into four separate objectives, with the player being able to tackle each in whatever order they choose.

It’s a strong new string to Control’s bow, allowing for a more natural foundation for exploration as well as a more liberating sense of freedom. The DLC also features three new side-quests which, much like the main game, are interwoven with a strong sense of humour and some great twists on the game’s central mechanics.

Another major addition is a pair of new powers that will be essential to navigating The Foundation’s perilous terrain. The first allows Jesse to destroy giant crystals that emerge from the ground, freeing up paths and other obstacles, while the second gives her the ability to summon them. Neither are particularly game-changing, with both mostly factoring into platforming, but they’re a fun change of pace. They also offer some handy environmental uses in combat, with Jesse even acquiring the ability to raise crystals from the ground to violently impale enemies.

As ever, the defining strength of The Foundation remains in the exceptional world-building Remedy puts at the forefront of every encounter, interaction, and area. The DLCs brand new locale is crammed full of brilliant new scraps of lore, darkly comic interactions and more intriguing details that hint at some creepy goings-on behind the scenes. If like me, discovering what made the Oldest House tick was the highlight of Control for you, then The Foundation will not disappoint.

Naturally, there’s still some frustrating combat encounters and some minor technical issues – especially for those who haven’t upgraded to the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X – but The Foundation is simply more Control, and after its exceptional debut last year, that’s far from a bad thing.

Control: The Foundation DLC review
4

Summary


Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One (June 25, 2020)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: March 26, 2020 (Xbox One June 25, 2020)


With more sensational world-building, slick combat and compelling narrative, The Foundation feels like a superb next chapter to Control’s story. It might not do much with the ideas introduced within the original campaign, but with Control being one of last year’s best games, that’s far from a disappointment.

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