Hades Review

Developed and Published by: Supergiant Games
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PC
Release Date: Out Now


They’ve done it again; and got me, too, coming back again and again. In Hades, Supergiant Games have crafted a masterful take on the roguelike that blends the brutal yet rewarding appeal of said genre with the immaculate, characterful art and music direction the developer is known for. I have never played a roguelike that encourages you on in such a way; not only are you seeking to better yourself on skill, but you’re motivated to find out more on the richly developed characters as well. If I was making a list of my top ten developers, Supergiant would probably be in there, and Hades is another example of why (again, a great idea for a list article there… I should start doing those)!


Going Rogue

The story premise, whilst deeply layered within the Greek Mythology it employs, is quite straightforward in the goal set out to you. You play as Zagreus, son of Hades – the God of the Dead – and having grown tired of your constrained life within the Underworld, you set about trying to escape to discover more about your family. This means fighting through multiple areas, including Tartarus and Asphodel, in order to reach the surface and the secrets that await you there. It’s set out in familiar roguelike format; you battle through consecutive, randomised chambers of enemies and traps, with boss fights capping each of the sections; as well as this, there are surprise interludes; this includes fountains to restore health, and a shop run by Charon, Ferryman of the Underworld. If you die, you are kicked back to your starting point of The House of Hades, where you regroup (more on that below) before setting off again, undeterred.

Controls are deceptively simple; you play from a dynamic isometric perspective – it is reminiscent of previous Supergiant games, in particular Transistor – and this means that whilst Zagreus maneuvers around a open area with a sense of depth, it is in a 2D style (see the screenshots in this review). There is more surrounding space compared to roguelikes such as Rogue Legacy or Dead Cells, which are strictly from-the-side 2D and often claustrophobic – arguably to a fault. In contrast, Hades has a bit more freedom that is delightful to operate within; the game goes a long way to balancing out this extra space by throwing a barrage of enemies at you. Still, this approach does supply slight breathing room for the player, and I found it much less daunting – and, overall, easier (though not easy) – than other roguelikes, especially once you settle into the rhythm.

The start of another quest for the surface!

You have an attack and a special that are determined by your choice of Infernal Arms – there are 6 strains of weapon, from your starting sword to a spear, bow, and more. They each handle very differently and cater to different playstyles. Finding your preferred weapon (shock, I mainly go for archery) provides a sense of personal customisation to your repeated escape campaigns, especially as you unlock different Aspects to further fine-tune your loadout. Furthermore, you have a ranged cast attack, and in terms of movement, your dash is crucial to keep up momentum and avoid the smorgasbord of threats coming your way; the frenetic pace of the action means that mastering this is very important to being successful in Hades. There is then an extra ultimate-style move named a Call that you can only get as an offering from one of the Olympian Gods.

Which is a great way to segway into the Boons themselves. Another way that Hades brings distinct personality to the familiar roguelike set-up is with the way it portrays the Greek Mythology, especially the characters within it. You see, as you progress through an escape attempt, the Olympian Gods attempt to help you out; you will come across offerings from them – Lady Artemis (my favourite character in Hades), Lord Zeus, and Lady Athena, to name three – granting you Boons that affect the nature of your abilities. This may be a refinement of one of your attacks or your dash, or perhaps a passive improvement such as increased move speed. Two examples: Lady Artemis grants perks that focus on critical hits and pinpoint damage, whilst Lord Poseidon applies wave splash damage that pushes enemies aside and away from their trajectory. Utilisation and combination of these specific effects is the source of much possibility within Hades; experimenting to see the sets that work best for you is the source of long-lasting fun.

Be wary on all sides…

That fresh feeling on each attempt is supported by other elements too. Completing each chamber gives a reward: this could be a Boon, but also could be an increase to your Max Health that run, a modifier for your current choice of weapon, or another besides. You often get a choice of path at the end of each chamber, where you can see the next rewards on offer, again putting the initiative in your hands. Enemies along the way challenge you in different ways; at one moment you’re avoiding the close-range swipes of a skeleton, the next you’re dashing your way around incoming butterflies (no, really). It ensures that whichever set-up of skills you’re going with, you feel thoroughly tested. A subsequent pace to proceedings prevents encounters from getting stale – skipping from weapon to weapon, trialing different Boons, seeing how they work together in complimentary combos… It’s so, so enjoyable.


Home Comforts

Importantly, this variety and sense of character is present whenever you go back to The House of Hades. Effectively a hub area that you visit before your next try, it is packed full of customisation, character interaction, and overriding charm. After appearing from the Styx, you’ll happen upon Hypnos and his sleepy demeanour as you approach the seat of Hades, who finds time away from judging the souls in front of him to berate you for one act or another – it’s not always the most healthy father-son relationship. Beside Hades is Cerberus, complete with petting option, and on the other is the House Contractor. The latter is the source of much longevity, as the resources you gather through your skirmishes can be exchanged here for a multitude of unlockables – some cosmetic, some very much gameplay-oriented.

Communication is important for a healthy relationship…

From here you can explore more of the House; the Wretched Broker offers further options for currency exchange, fish you catch can be swapped with the chef, and Dusa – a Gorgon Head taking care of the House – is adorable. The more you progress in your escapes, the more facilities and conversations are available here, and this creates an air of anticipation for the content awaiting you here even when your fights don’t go as planned – there is a constant sense of progression that hooks you in for that one-more-go feeling. When the character interactions are so intrinsic to the feeling of reward, it means that the game needs to pack a lot in, as that approach could quickly fall apart if you started encountering repeat dialogue and repetitive systems. This, though, is where Supergiant has shined before, and that has translated to Hades in spectacular fashion.

Seriously, it is so impressive how much content is in this game. Even where I am now – post-credits and very much in the endgame – I still get surprises pop up in conversation and gameplay, and could perhaps count on one hand the amount of times I have run into repeated dialogue in well over 50 hours. Staggering detail is within Hades and goes towards maintaining the motivation to keep trying new escapes. The Darkness you gather can additionally be put towards new permanent perks, courtesy of Nyx, that affect every run – not just the one you are on at that moment. Therefore, your proficiency constantly rises and helps you to make more progress. Beyond this, from gifting Nectar to characters, you get Keepsakes in exchange that have traits of their own. You may be able to tell by this point that there are many ways to alter your experience and tactics in Hades, and well, you’d be right!

This floating battlefield gets intense

Ultimately, the narrative and the gameplay interweave beautifully to produce a story that feels as though it is always pushing on, just as you are always pushing gradually further in your escapes. At the heart of Hades is a touching story on family, and there are even multiple side quests where Zagreus is a driving force for improving the existence of others around him. If somehow that isn’t enough, the Fates’ Prophecies act as tracking for your advancement in different departments, whether that be acquiring every Boon from each God or getting two characters to reunite. There are sections later on I’m not going into due to spoilers, too! With engrossing combat and an expansive suite of progression, Hades has plenty to hold your attention.


Super Style

Supergiant have really found their trademark style that makes their games distinctively theirs even as they hop across genres. It’s not a surprise at this point – Hades has artistic flair that takes all that which I have mentioned and presents it in a strikingly inviting manner. Stunning character artwork exudes eminent personality, even when static; and the models in motion are fluid and, as aforementioned, wonderful to control. The use of colour and stroke to make the world so vibrant allows the player to fall in with ease and start soaking the lore in. That clarity of art direction lends itself to the fast-paced roguelike genre too, as even when lots is happening on screen, it doesn’t descend into an undecipherable cacophony.

That art though

As much as visuals are a strength of Supergiant, so is audio design, and wowzas, the soundtrack is superb. Compared to the more dulcet tones of Transistor and Pyre, Hades is a slight departure in the more rock-oriented vibe. It’s as though the awesome Thrash Pack tune from Pyre has been expanded into a full soundtrack! Continuing on another Supergiant theme is the inclusion of heartfelt lyrical, voiced tracks, – this is another vinyl purchase to add to the collection… Similarly, the voice work throughout is another piece of the puzzle that gives Hades cohesive character, with the specific traits of everyone coming through as much in the speech as in the text itself, from the booming and often condescending tones of Hades to the endearingly sarcastic and witty Lady Artemis.

The energy of the audio suits the relentless nature of the game, and itself escalates to a peak as you get to the final fights. One endgame track is perhaps the pinnacle of this… Speaking of boss fights, they’re integral to the pace I have been talking about. They punctuate the different areas of the Underworld nicely, and include characters that impact the non-combat side of the game too; that is to say, referential and dynamic dialogue carries into these too. As instances where narrative and gameplay cross over, they’re exceptional examples of the strengths of Hades. Oh, and they’re very tough, so prepare yourself for that!

Tartarus, the first step on your way to the surface

As I near the end of this review, a word on the way this game evolves with playtime. The roguelike nature is one the game stays committed to, but the way that your goal changes is part of how Hades regularly shakes itself up. Just be aware that the roguelike framework won’t disappear, even if your in-game position alters. Hades does a fantastic job of keeping this going, though to make another ever-so-slight criticism, the level at which it succeeds on that does fluctuate – never to the point of dissuading me from playing, but there was one section around mid-way where the main task felt slightly more repetitive than at other times.


Final Thoughts

The idea of a new Supergiant Games release is one that excites me, and I eagerly followed the route of Hades from Early Access to the recent 1.0 launch on Switch and PC. It’s remarkable that, even still, they surprise me as they glide seemingly seamlessly from genre to genre, maintaining their high quality and distinctive style as they go. With Hades, they have dived into the roguelike genre and put a new and unique spin on it to phenomenal success, not only nailing the gameplay cycle but giving it a personable and character-fueled element; it is currently the main contender to Resident Evil 3 as my Game of the Year. Is it my favourite Supergiant game? For me personally, no – the grace and precision of Transistor just edges it. A wonderful aspect of Supergiant is that it feels as though their releases form a lineage of evidence for how the studio has developed over time. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give Hades is that it fits into that emphatic aplomb.

9.5/10

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Film in 500: Mary and the Witch’s Flower Review

Certificate: U
Directors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Giles New
Production: Studio Ponoc
Distributor: Altitude Film Entertainment
Platform: Viewed on TV with English Dub, and on Blu-ray with Japanese Audio
Release Date: Out Now


Such a delight of a film. Whilst straightforward in terms of plot, Mary and the Witch’s Flower shines by telling that story of magic and adventure with distinct personality and endearing characters. Adapted from the novel The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, it follows Mary Smith (Hana Sugisaki/Ruby Barnhill), a young, energetic, and clumsy girl living in the English countryside with her Great-Aunt Charlotte (Shinobu Ôtake/Lynda Baron) and Miss Banks (Eri Watanabe/Morwenna Banks). Mary clearly yearns for excitement, searching for ways she can contribute to activities of adults around her – with an adorable range of success.

Mary finds that excitement when she follows two cats, Tib (Ikue Ôtani) and Gib (Lynn) into the woods, discovering a glowing, mysterious plant – the Witch’s Flower itself! In picking a bunch, she sets off a chain of events; the flower grants temporary magical power, allowing Mary to reinvigorate a broomstick that, ahem, sweeps her skywards to Endor College. This magical school combines the captivating appeal of Harry Potter with the otherworldly essence of Spirited Away – Mary, caught up in the rhythm, makes questionable choices and initially doesn’t realise the underhand goings-on. Consequences drive Mary to amend the situation and help those compromised by it, such as similarly-aged Peter (Ryûnosuke Kamiki/Louis Ashborne Serkis).

Two extravagant major figures at Endor College are Madam Mumblechook (Yûki Amami/Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Fumiya Kohinata/Jim Broadbent) – each is a charismatic and formidable presence. As aforementioned, the narrative is quite linear in terms of obstacles encountered and solved. Though, I found this worked well. As there aren’t many side characters, screen time is centred on those we’re most invested in; it felt as though Mary was in almost every frame! It builds a strong connection, where I was rooting for her, her family, and her friends to make it. A plot doesn’t always have to be extremely layered for a film to be compelling.

Furthermore, art and music direction is stunning. The founder of Studio Ponoc is the former Studio Ghibli lead film producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, and carry-over is keenly felt, with a different edge of contrasting clarity. Use of painterly backgrounds with more clearly defined animation on top creates effective immersion – a duality emphasising emphasises the merging of Japanese style and English setting.

In a similar vein, the music has welcoming charm, subtle yet striking – there is the air of referencing tradition and also striving for the new. Whilst mentioning audio, I must bring up the fantastic, expressive Japanese and English voice casts. I shall reiterate that Mary is the star here, with a fiery, determined approach to tackling hardships and accepting change.


Final Thoughts

So much charm is in Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The plot may not be the most complex you will ever watch, yet the spellbinding setting and likeable characters produce an adventurous spirit, compounded by joyful creativity of sight and sound. A certain marvel is in a wondrous story well told; it’s hard to ask for more when you’re having this much fun.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Resident Evil 3 Review

Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Out Now


Jill Valentine (Nicole Tompkins) is improvising. After the monstrous Nemesis (David Cockman) spontaneously smashes into her Raccoon City apartment amid the beginnings of the T-Virus outbreak, she has seconds, if that, to make choices that keep her alive. Instinctive dodges, reflexive decisions to block the path behind her, and a fiery determination to avoid the clutches of the closing tentacles leads her outside, where she discovers the extent to which the situation has escalated. Infected residents are all over the streets, amid survivors running desperately for safety. Fellow Special Tactics And Rescue Service member Brad Vickers (Darren O’hare) appears and informs her about the creature she just narrowly avoided; it is set upon hunting down those in the S.T.A.R.S. group with relentless tenacity. In the following sequence, Jill makes her way through more infected, meeting Nemesis again in a brutal face-off with another narrow escape before the first moment where you can catch your breath.


Know Your Enemy

This is the brilliant, heart-racing opening to Resident Evil 3, the remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis that was initially released in 1999 on the first PlayStation. It’s been revamped with the same RE Engine introduced for the recent remake of Resident Evil 2, switching the fixed perspectives up for a contemporary third-person over-the-shoulder viewpoint of 3D environments. Just before the sequence described above (and after a delightfully stylised opening roll), you spend a few first-person moments as Jill in her Raccoon City apartment that immediately makes clear not only the production value, but the intricacy of the visual upgrade. The character-informing posters, the detailed notes of her investigation into Umbrella Corporation, the food left on the table; it’s all-encompassing. From there, you go to the bathroom window, switch to third-person, and away you go, soon into that first meeting with Nemesis.

If I was making a list of the top ten video game openings, Resident Evil 3 would be in there (that’s actually a fun idea, may do that!). It grips you with immediate effect and does not let go, even after the credits roll! On my journey through the Resident Evil series this year, this has undoubtedly been the high point, combining the tense survival horror and incredible, dramatic action of the series into one cinematic package. Pacing is exceptional, never lingering too long in a tone or setting; the balance makes the game very malleable to differing play styles and speeds. My first run took around 4-5 hours, similar when on thorough collectible searches, but you can also feasibly finish the game in under two hours if you know how to operate. Put it this way: I have played through this game 5 times so far, and am enthusiastic to go again!

Yeah, stay away from Nemesis

The majority of Resident Evil 3 is spent playing as Jill Valentine; the game is set post the Mansion Incident she was caught up in from the original Resident Evil, which is part of why she is now investigating Umbrella. In the Resident Evil series, Jill Valentine is my favourite character, and she is awesome in the protagonist role here, self-confident and evidently skilled but also clearly fighting internal issues. This very human strength and solidarity drew so much empathy from me – I would say that further insight into those images troubling her could have added even more of an emotional edge to Resident Evil 3. We follow her attempts to save and escape from Raccoon City whilst being hounded by Nemesis; the events happen concurrently to those of the Resident Evil 2 remake, with clever crossovers here and there, but 3 is structured quite differently. Whilst 2 had two campaigns, one each for Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy, 3 is focused on Jill, though there are admittedly sporadic sequences playing as Carlos Oliveira (Jeff Schine) that hint at inspiration from the previous remake.

Hold on, I hear you say, who is Carlos Oliveira? Jill meets him after one of the encounters with Nemesis, and discovers Carlos is part of U.B.C.S. (Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service), trying to get survivors onto a train and out of the city. Despite friction due to their Umbrella origin, Jill agrees to help them out, as there are innocent lives at stake. Other members of U.B.C.S. we meet around his point are the directing voice of Mikhail Victor (William Hope), the efficient and supportive Tyrell Patrick (Sterling Suliman), and the suspicious Nicholai Ginovaef (Neil Newbon). These scenes of the characters conversing are another example of the remarkable visuals of Resident Evil 3; the character models are detailed and expressive, moving with wonderful fluidity, and the voice acting is on-point as well, suitably serious, charismatic, and just that slight bit melodramatic!

From left: Jill, Mikhail, Carlos, early on in the game

Inevitably, going back to the surface of Raccoon City escalates into many tense instances – I mean, this is Resident Evil, after all! A variety of threats arise to hamper progress as Jill tries to get the train back up and running, from the expected – y’know, zombies – to the not-so-much of a particularly gruesome nest of spider creatures. Though the game is much more linear than the Resident Evil 2 remake, there is satisfying depth to each locale; alternate routes are there to discover, and as you acquire equipment such as the Lock Pick, you can access hidden items previously out of reach. The RE Engine makes inventory management streamlined, snappy, and smooth, letting you put your focus on surviving and getting to know area layouts. This is especially important in 3 as Nemesis can suddenly land in front of you and throw your carefully-considered plan out of the window!

Nemesis completely changes the situation. In addition to the imposing build, hard-hitting close combat attacks, and tentacles to grab Jill, it also has frightening speed when running, meaning for much of the game – and especially on harder difficulties – dodging is your main form of defence. A tap of the mapped trigger causes Jill to take a cautionary step or roll which, if you time it just right, causes a slowdown effect with more opportunity for retaliation. It’s so gratifying, requiring exquisite timing to successfully perform. Otherwise, intense damage can lead to Nemesis temporarily pausing the chase, but do note the word temporary – when in pursuit, Nemesis is tough to shake off. Furthermore, the presence of Nemesis adds complications to other infected – there is not the same leeway to line up a headshot when you can hear thundering footsteps close behind. The instinct of fight or flight vividly kicks in as your priority becomes the next point of relative safety. Not that save rooms necessarily stop Nemesis…

Well, this seems safe

I’ve really got to emphasise the feat of achieving this gameplay feeling. It isn’t common; there are plenty of hard games, plenty of scary games, but to strike the balance of the thrill of the chase, the suspense of the intermissions, and the energy of knowing you have a way to retaliate – it’s incredible, leaving you scrambling to react from moment to moment, without any sense of unfairness. After the Resident Evil 2 remake, the return to Raccoon City could have been samey, but that is not the case; as the game continues you move to intriguing and occasionally vibrant new settings, whether that be a waterside confrontation, a creepy hospital, or a clinical but blood-tainted facility. This contributes to maintaining the air of surprise – the opposition also responds to the change of location.


On the Same Side?

With so many threats all around, making use of the firepower available to Jill is crucial; as well as her iconic Samurai Edge, Jill gets access to a shotgun, grenade launcher, and more. When playing as Carlos, this differs. He has more of a military vibe, with the rifle and how he lunges forward instead of dodging. It is refreshing in that it encourages a slightly different approach, less reflexive and more about raw damage. There are other subtle differences – for example, Carlos does not have the option of using a Lock Pick, so in one location later on, only when you go through as Jill are certain locks made available to open. It’s a fun form of Metroidvania puzzle design mixed in as Jill and Carlos make their way through the story and continue to have their paths meet.

Carlos quickly shows his endearing side

In just a few scenes, a respect is built that Jill and Carlos have for each other based on their individual qualities, not the affiliations they have, which I really appreciated. They help each other out in the game, but it’s a friendly and proactive sense of camaraderie that drives it more than an antiquated romance story. Tyrell Patrick is a great foil to the two as well, bouncing off each well and stopping it being just the Jill and Carlos show. There are enough moments of downtime interspersed in Resident Evil 3 to allow the characters to have those important quieter moments – and for you to catch your breath! – but also not so many that Nemesis, and other threats, lose impetus. Agh, just writing this makes me excited to jump back in yet again! OK, William, finish the review first…

At first impression, Resident Evil 3 being around 2-5 hours could be an issue, but I really disagree. In my eyes, a game is not valued on the factual hours of the length of the narrative; it is the potential in that for enjoyment, for affecting moments, and for longevity and replayability, and in that regard Resident Evil 3 is exceptional. No one scenario is lingered on to the point of getting too comfortable, and even the types of infected you meet aren’t repeated much, and when they are, they’re in a new scenario where a new approach may be needed on the player side. It keeps you on your toes, as you’re never quite sure on that awaiting you around the next corner, Nemesis or otherwise.

There’s opportunity to find your own distinct approach

I’d say that in the Resident Evil series, the entry that Resident Evil 3 is closest to is – despite the shared engine – not the Resident Evil 2 remake, but actually Resident Evil 4. The more linear path and fusion of horror with action are similarities, though Resident Evil 3 also has the intense Nemesis chases. To go back to the game length again; I found myself really connecting to Resident Evil 3. The idea of a story that knows where it is headed with a laser-focus on the narrative and gameplay is one I am very much here for. It may not be to the taste of everyone, but for me it clicked into place as the pinnacle of interactive storytelling within the Resident Evil series.


All Over Again

The question is, then, quite why have I played through Resident Evil 3 so many times? For starters, it is because I garner such joy from the experience. As well as this, there are plenty of rewards to further push you in this direction. First I did my initial playthrough, then on the second occasion I paid especially close attention to trying to find as many collectibles as I could. Next, I started the harder difficulties, and woah-oah. Wow. The easy option would have been just to up the damage you take and lower your health; but no, depending on which difficulty you play on, Resident Evil 3 becomes a very different type of game.

Cinematics are so well-produced!

Enemy placements change. Different enemies spawn in different areas. Items are moved around. Traits of enemies themselves markedly deviate. It’s as though the puzzle has been shaken up, and all your knowledge is put to the test as the early encounters immediately become incredibly challenging. Infected react much more violently and appear in places you might not have even considered before, cutting you off in Nemesis meetings and literally falling from the air over your head. Again, though, it never feels unfair, it’s just as though you’re being asked to demonstrate your proficiency at the game.

The final fight in particular turns into an utter test of gaming skill as you dance around the attacks flying in, using every trick you have learned from playing Resident Evil 3 to that point. Seriously, that sequence on the hardest difficulty is so tough, so brutal, but oh-so-satisfying. Helping out is the Shop which – wait, hold on! – is to my delight completely transaction-free! You earn points from completing challenges in the Records menu, such as defeating a set amount of enemies, finding collectibles, and completing the game in certain ways. Several of these, such as completing the game using one or less of the healing items, are also requirements for the Trophy list.

Yes, Nemesis does at one point wield a flamethrower. Yep.

With these points, you can purchase item that have in-game effects. Increasing stats, having access to a new weapon, crafting more ammo at once; the shop is very helpful to ever-so-slightly soften the harder difficulties. The means of getting those points to spend also bring with them extra unlockables, in the form of Concept Art and Models that are fascinating to view. There is a coherent sense of longevity in Resident Evil 3.


From All Sides

Now, I am going to put aside space to mention more on the audio. As aforementioned, the voice acting is superb at capturing the essence of the characters and the tone of the game, with Nicole Tompkins as Jill Valentine the standout, but no weak points in the cast either. David Cockman is the supplier of the intimidating roars and growls of Nemesis; the sound design for the roster of enemies is, as is often the case for Resident Evil, effectively ambient, often signalling their arrival before you see them!

Jill Valentine is awesome.

The audio design is so key to the suspenseful exhilaration sustained in Resident Evil 3. With the way that this game carries itself and constantly pushes you, the sounds resonate through you and contribute to that energetic flow that fluctuates depending on the situation. The reloading of a gun, the groans of zombies, the sounds of Jill short on breath when injured – it all goes together, signposting you through sound of where your attention should be going next. It is masterful, and matched with the beautifully extravagant camerawork and polished visuals, makes for a breathtaking presentation.

Before I get to my Final Thoughts for Resident Evil 3, a note on Resident Evil Resistance, which is only playable through purchase of Resident Evil 3 but is intentionally split from it as a separate game. It was worked on by a different developer, namely NeoBards Entertainment, and centres on a group of new characters taken by Umbrella who try to escape in 4-against-1 multiplayer gameplay; the RE Engine is again in action, and since launch there has been the addition of Jill Valentine as a playable character. Going by how the two games have been released, I have decided to keep my reviews apart. Yet, as the acquisition of Resident Evil Resistance is so tied to Resident Evil 3, I have put a link to that review below:



Resident Evil Resistance Review

To make it clear, Resident Evil Resistance is not being included in the consideration of my verdict for Resident Evil 3. You can sense that the development teams of the two games were not the same, as Resident Evil 3 is considerably more cohesive and successful than Resistance. There is fun within Resistance though, so if you’re intrigued by that game, my review is there for more detail.


Final Thoughts

Resident Evil 3 is a showcase of how it isn’t the extent of a game, but the content within, that counts. Jill Valentine leads an engaging cast of characters caught up in a compelling scenario; this is a game that is keenly aware of the style of story it is telling, and leans into it with phenomenal effect. It never gets complacent, constantly challenging you with new enemies and situations that are all heightened by the Nemesis factor. In addition, the impressive longevity of difficulty modes and unlockables opens up such enthusiasm for repeat playthroughs. For me, Resident Evil 3 is my Game of the Year so far, a seamless, stunning combination of narrative and gameplay, classic and contemporary, horror and action. Right, time to start that 6th playthrough…

9.5/10

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Resident Evil Resistance Review

Developed by: NeoBards Entertainment
Published by: Capcom
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Out Now


Via purchase of the phenomenal Resident Evil 3, you additionally gain access to Resident Evil Resistance, a 4-against-1 multiplayer game. In this, a group of Survivors attempt to escape from an Umbrella Corporation experiment – meanwhile, a villainous Mastermind sets up all manner of monstrosities and traps to run down the clock and stop them. I debated whether or not to integrate my thoughts on Resistance solely within my review for Resident Evil 3, but as Capcom saw fit to split them into two games, it does define them as separate entities that should be discussed likewise with separate verdicts. However, because Resistance is simultaneously intrinsically tied to Resident Evil 3, with the same engine and how you need that game to even play it, I am publishing my two reviews at the same time and linking to this one with a fancy new WordPress block in my review for Resident Evil 3. How exciting! New features! Be impressed?!


Do I Know You?

Whilst developed by a different team – NeoBards Entertainment – to that of Resident Evil 3, Resistance uses the same RE Engine, which originated for the remake of Resident Evil 2 and was then utilised for Resident Evil 3. So, it does have a similar feel, especially when playing as a Survivor; the refined inventory and third-person over-the-shoulder movement are present here and remain a delight to control. Motion is fluid, direction change is responsive, and aiming is precise. Resistance has new ideas too, and introduces characters with their own traits and gameplay quirks to shake the situation up, which I shall get onto more in a moment.

Where Resistance really deviates is in the role of the 5th player, the Mastermind. In this position, you control many aspects of the map, starting with the initial set-up of where enemies and items are placed; from there, using cameras around the map as your viewpoints, you can select which infected and traps to add in, and where they are positioned. If you have ever played the multiplayer of ZombiU – or another dual perspective tower defense game – it is very reminiscent of that.

Mr. X makes a return from Resident Evil 2

There is a story of sorts, though don’t expect much narrative progression past the initial set-up. A group of six characters – Valerie Harmon (Alex Ryan), January Van Sant (Melanie Minichino), Tyrone Henry (John Eric Bentley), Samuel Jordan (Clayton Froning), Martin Sandwich (Nicolas Roye), and Becca Woollett (Tara Sands) – have all in one way or another been taken away from their lives by Umbrella, and are now being subjected to horrors in order to gain data on the infection the villainous Corporation is manufacturing. Jill Valentine (Nicole Tompkins) has also become available as a playable character since launch, a welcome addition bringing gravitas of a well-known Resident Evil series regular to the roster.

Now, the new characters are very much the classic horror movie tropes; Natalie is the more studied and reserved girl, January is the rebellious spirit, Tyrone is the respectable friendly type, Samuel is the sporty guy, Martin is the less confident yet smart one, and Becca is the country girl who knows her around a gun after all those days at the ranch! After initially being worried about how hollow the group might be – and don’t get me wrong, they’re not masterworks of character development – they’re actually a really fun set of personas who each have their own personalities, evident through expressive voice lines as they embody that B-movie charm. Side note: if you are after a subversion on this, go watch Cabin in the Woods!

Don’t mess with a country girl!

The stereotypical nature of this group extends to their unique Personal and Passive Skills; the former is a mapped action you can choose when to use, and the latter is always active in the background. You also have a Fever Skill that is powerful but takes a while to recharge, similar to the Ultimate move in games such as Overwatch. To focus on one character as an example: January has Passive Skills to use Disruptor Rounds that are especially damaging to cameras and to hack the prices of Armory items; a Personal Skill to put specific cameras out of action; and then a Fever Skill to impair all cameras and interfere opposition Skills. Fret not, Mastermind players, you get customisation as well; the five playable characters even have their own specific Bioweapon. This ranges from Resident Evil 3 villain Nicholai Ginovaef (Neil Newbon/Mark Hill) bringing in Nemesis (David Cockman), to nostalgic returns such as Alex Wesker (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) and the botanical Yateveo she can set upon the Survivors.


One Way Out

Similar variety cannot be praised upon the selection of game modes. After the initial tutorial, you are left with either Practice or jumping into online. As the former doesn’t grant progression, there is little reason to play, outside of getting a hint of the potential a PvE version of Resistance has. Seriously, with these vibrant characters and the way the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 have improved the gameplay mechanics to impressive degrees, a version of, say, the Raid Mode from the Revelations games could have been very successful. Alas, we’re left with only an online PvP. After choosing to play with randoms in Quick Match or with friends in Custom, you select to either be a Survivor, the Mastermind, or alternatively let the game figure that out for you. As far as modes go, that’s it. It is really disappointing that the game feels so empty – even if this was a multiplayer mode within Resident Evil 3, you’d hope for more spins on the base formula, so as a standalone game, it’s even more pressing an issue.

Maps are new designs, not exact replicas from Resident Evil 3

In my time with Resistance, I personally gravitated towards the Survivor portion, and is where I found most of my enjoyment. From this viewpoint, you start out in the safety of the Armory area where you can purchase supplies with Umbrella Points, before entering the first Mastermind-controlled space. To get past this, you must successfully retrieve three puzzle parts placed and defended around the map before gathering at the gateway to the second portion; the more players that are there when progressing, the more time added on to the impending timer. Then there is another Armory for you to kit yourself out, before searching for a Security Guard zombie holding a key to access three terminals that open up the way to the third and final part. After another opportunity to make purchases, you then try to destroy three bio-cores and make your final dash for the finish line.

You may find that an unusually specific description; there is a reason. It’s because that is essentially always the set-up. There is no mix-up of even the puzzle task going at the end and vice-versa – there are subtle differences depending on how the Mastermind operates and organises placements, but mostly the structure stays static. As with the lack of modes, it makes the game feel very restrictive, and frankly, that it needed more development time. It’s almost as though it is a fleshed-out tech demo instead of a full, finished product. After a few games, this can create a stale impression as you resign yourself to how each instance might play out.

A familiar Mastermind character for players of Resident Evil 2 is an optional choice

Even so, there is fun to find here, though it is very case-specific. Each character has a separate Rank that is increased through gameplay, and this has a key effect on how the subsequent game shall play out – especially for the Mastermind. See, the Skills unlocked on the Mastermind side have noticeably more impact on how tough a scenario they can provide. When in a group with 3 other Survivors, those with more experience can help those with less, but as the Mastermind is alone, the options available to them completely tilt how proficient they may be. For example, if there are a team of Survivors against a Mastermind who is playing for the first time, it is very likely that it is going to be hard for the Mastermind to significantly halt progress with the initial spawns and abilities available to them.

It works (or rather doesn’t) the other way too; if the Survivors are all quite new to the game and are set against a Mastermind of – to throw a number out there – Rank 100+, it might be almost impossible for them to make it far. There is the whole “get good” opinion, but it doesn’t cut it – it shouldn’t take multiple 5-15ish minute games to arrive at a point where you have more of a reliable expectation of enjoying the game. It’s especially daunting when in your first games as the Mastermind; in the Ready Up screen, your Rank 1 against higher levels of the Survivors can immediately set out a sense of how easy escape may or may not be.

Healing items apply to fellow Survivors too

This isn’t to say there isn’t a sweet spot though, and when the experience of the 5 players coincides, Resistance can find a momentum where it captures some of the thrilling tension that makes Resident Evil 3 such a masterpiece. Playing as the Survivors, fighting through enemies as the timer ticks down, reviving teammates, avoiding sudden spawns of zombies… it can work to enthralling effect; and there can be an excitement to keeping them pushed back just enough as the Mastermind, too. Resistance has the ingredients required to strike that tension, but it just does not happen at a frequent enough rate to sustain a one-more-go appeal.


Escaping in Style

That inconsistency opens up opportunity for the surrounding framework of Resistance to be rewarding enough to encourage bearing with it – but again, it is lacking here and only exacerbates the issue. Every time you Rank up you get additional Result Points added on to those you earn in-game; I found myself getting roughly 1000-10000 on each go. Compare that to the expensive pricing of the Shop, where Equipment Chests start at 3000, but Cosmetic Chests are 50000! Let’s be serious, the Cosmetic Chests and the awesome outfits that you can get from them are the main appeal. Not only that, but you only get one item from a Cosmetic Chest, which could be an outfit, sure, but also could be a much less impressive weapon skin or dialogue line. When it can take around an hour to organically earn a Chest, the satisfaction isn’t where it could be.

You’ll find yourself in tight spots

Therefore, I found that the imbalance that is so prevalent in gameplay was reflected in the Shop! It’s actually counter-productive, as being more generous with in-game rewards would provide driving motivation to keep playing through the matches that aren’t clicking as much. Instead, Resistance just makes the idea of earning enough to purchase a Cosmetic Chest seem overly time-consuming. Further to this, it causes cynical thoughts too, when the option to purchase RP Boosters – which increase how many Reward Points you get – with real money is there. For me personally, I am not going to go that route, so the end result is that I am turned off from playing Resistance at all. There are Daily and Weekly Missions that earn you Reward Points and Cosmetic Chests, but they’re not enough to fix the problem. It’s such a contrast to the store in Resident Evil 3, where you earn currency solely through gameplay to unlock items that are specifically listed, not hidden in Chests.


Final Thoughts

By being so intentionally separate from Resident Evil 3, Resistance invites more expectation upon itself. As an idea, the central dual perspective is one with potential, a potential that every now and then is sparked into fulfillment; all too often, though, a lack of balance in multiple areas prevents this from happening. The presentation is there – the RE Engine is again impressive, and the new characters surprised me with how endearing they were, but the core of the game just is not there to back it all up. Taken as a bonus multiplayer mode to Resident Evil 3, it’s a fun experiment that can pass the time, but as a game itself, it needed more work. Can I go back to Resident Evil 3 now?

6/10

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Film in 500: Tenet Review

Certificate: 12A
Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Production: Warner Bros., Syncopy
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Platform: Reviewing after watching at the cinema
Release Date: Out Now


“Don’t try to understand it,” says Barbara (Clémence Poésy), “Feel it,” she tells The Protagonist (John David Washington) – yes, that’s his name – early in Tenet, and it’s as though she’s speaking to us too. It’s a description of the time-altering properties core to the film, granting the possibility of moving backwards in time. Not quite time-travel, more reversing your temporal movement. Confused yet?

Tenet is the latest from the acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, known for subverting dimensions; particularly time, for example in Interstellar and Dunkirk. It feels as though Tenet is an evolution of that, running with the central idea to smart, layered, and occasionally over-complicated effect.

Set in nondescript modern times, Tenet opens with the rigorous infiltration of a musical performance, vividly reminding me of the opening to The Dark Knight. It kicks the film off with grounded yet heightened energy; after this excursion, The Protagonist is told of “inverted” objects making their way back from the future, and their potentially world-ending implications. What follows is James Bond-esque, world-trotting to discover and infiltrate new locations and individuals.

In the lead role, John David Washington is superb, portraying efficient proficiency – viscerally put across with an early kitchen fight – and a knowing inexperience of the luxurious, questionable lives he encounters. The Protagonist is earnestly likeable, an important quality given how character insights take a back seat to plot-focused dialogue. Take teammate-becomes-friend Ives (Robert Pattinson); I would’ve welcomed more development of their dynamic.

On the other hand, standout throughout is Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), wife of unsettling main antagonist Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). She’s an in for The Protagonist, however the blackmail-fueled control Sator has over her calls priorities of multiple characters into question. In among talk of apocalypse, this emotional edge adds humanity to Tenet.

Meanwhile, the presence of inverted time signifies escalating stakes. It’s an unorthodox cinematic device – imagine certain aspects in reverse: unknown marks in a room could be from actions yet to happen; or a bullet seemingly levitating into a hand may actually be dropped the other way. Whilst Tenet infrequently overshadows itself with intricacies, it also rewards focusing on details.

Action scenes are staggering, mostly practical effects with post-production inversion. Clashing temporal directions bring new meaning to the physics of corridor fights, car chases; Tenet doesn’t hold back – the set pieces consecutively raise the bar of implementing inversion, put on-screen in polished style.

Brilliantly emphasising the experience is the score, a delicately intense mix of staggered notes playing into the time motif. It’s very reminiscent of the gradual audio build-up of Dunkirk, with added contemporary vibes comparable to Inception, to name one.


Final Thoughts

Tenet is a rough diamond; the central conceit is basis for spectacular flashpoints, yet by over-explaining itself the film loses opportunity to inform character development. The innovative filmmaking is an impressive showcase for how to surprise within a medium and genre. When Tenet focuses on the intricate and strikingly-structured story it has to offer, it’s a thriller quite different to any other.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Spellbreak Review

Developed and Published by: Proletariat
Platforms: Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Out Now


Am I accidentally getting into Battle Royale games? If I am, it’s partly due to my friends. After their suggestions, I have recently played Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and now Spellbreak, a new take on the genre that brings fresh ideas to the table. Whilst it undeniably relies on certain traits of previous Battle Royale games, there is a physics-based, magical spin that does serve to set it apart. So, how does Spellbreak stack up against PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Apex Legends, and so on? Well, read on…


I Call It Magic

Upon first entering the game, an aspect that struck me was the art style and accompanying slightly melodramatic, grand notes of the audio. This may be a random connection, but it stirred memories of the rousing Spider-Man 2 theme but with a fantasy, medieval edge. Spellbreak is set in Primdal, a world of mages and mystery, and visually has a vibrant sheen not far removed from Fortnite but with a bit more detail and intrigue to it. The aesthetic is reminiscent of Western animation – proportions are quite realistic, but they maintain clear segments of colour interspersed with signs and symbols to add that extra sense of lore.

To me, the style resides somewhere in that space from Fortnite to Apex Legends. Furthermore, the different types of magic flying around in-game creates a palette of colour spattering the surroundings, complimented by reverberating sounds of impact to keep the tension raised. As clarification before going any further; I played the Switch and PlayStation 4 versions of the game. The PS4 version is unsurprisingly more technically proficient; there are crisper lines and the game runs smoother, compared to the Switch edition which is a bit more blurry and can suffer slowdown when there is a lot happening on screen at once. It isn’t awful though, just a tad behind the PS4. It certainly isn’t enough to, ahem, break the spell.

The mix-ups of elemental attacks create some energetic scenes

Let’s get into that, then. Spellbreak starts, wisely, with a tutorial to get you accustomed to the basics of the controls. You play as a mage, and choose one of six different specialisms: Frostborn (Ice), Stoneshaper (Stone), Toxicologist (Acid), Tempest (Wind), Pyromancer (Fire), and Conduit (Lightning). The option you settle on decides your primary Gauntlet on the right side of your HUD; this, logically, takes up one of your arms, leaving space for a secondary Gauntlet on your other arm if/when you find one within the world map in-game. As you play, you start to get more accustomed to how each one works, and find combos that work for you as a player.

Each Gauntlet has two attacks, with varying effects and cooldown rates which at launch are impressively well-balanced, with no one Gauntlet being overpowered. Combined with your Rune, another pick-up item that can give you varying effects such as invisibility, dashes, and the ability to see enemies through walls, it creates a menu of actions at the bottom of your screen that reminded of the real-time combat in JRPGs such as Xenoblade Chronicles (see below). As far as I know, this is a new mash-up within the Battle Royale space, and is perhaps the defining element of Spellbreak.

Using the Ice Gauntlet, which can be held to zoom in for a sniper shot

The tutorial is actually really well put together, explaining all of this plus various other gameplay mechanics. To sum up other elements of the HUD: you find Scrolls in the world that improve one of your three custom Talents that have subtle effects on your character; Potions and Armour to bolster your ability to take hits; Belts to increase your capacity to carry Armour; Boots to up your Run Speed; and Amulets to increase your Mana supply. When you do enter the scary world of the Battle Royale proper with up to 49 others, finding these items and sufficiently preparing yourself for encounters with opposing players is – as with other Battle Royales – crucial. However, I will say that because of the added depth of the range of HUD options here, it does result in a more complex set of mechanics – particularly because of the mix of elemental Gauntlets.


Mix ‘n’ Match

This is because the game, and those Gauntlets, have a very clever, interweaving physics system based on their differing properties – a system that isn’t just about combat, but traversal too. Each of them are singularly fun; to take the Ice Gauntlet as an example, the trails of Ice it creates can be skated on for increased speed and mobility (Frozone in The Incredibles anyone?), and the Wind Gauntlet can spring you into the air for an improvised vantage point. The initial phase of Spellbreak where you are experimenting with these different Gauntlets is brilliant, as you discover how they all work and affect the space around you.

Whilst your character runs and crouches as you may expect, the jump has a hover function that allows you to float, further tying into the Mage idea and supplying a vertical dimension to the gameplay; skating on ice and then transitioning into a speedy hover over a gap is joyous, almost making you forget you need to keep an eye out for other players! There’s a decent skating game hidden in here, you know. Where Spellbreak really excels, though, is in the detail of how the Gauntlets interact with each other, whether it be with other members of your up-to-3-person Squad or the Mages you fight.

So, say your opponent puts up a wall of fire with the Fire Gauntlet, but you have the Ice Gauntlet; a shot from the Ice Gauntlet can cut through the fire with the Ice dousing a safe path. In the other direction, though, the fire melts your ice path quicker, limiting your skating. Moreso, if a player with the Thunder Gauntlet strikes that water, they can create a new barrier of electrified water! Another case: The Toxic Gauntlet can cause a cloud of poisonous gas, but then the Ice Gauntlet can freeze that, and another element – perhaps the Stone Gauntlet – can smash that gas away to clear the space.

Ice and fire meet again

These are just a few of the examples of this wonderful physics system that delivers surprise moments. It reminded me a lot of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the way physics played such a part in that game, especially as the art styles aren’t that far apart – and also the hood and cape you can wear reminded me of the one Link can wear in Breath of the Wild, aha! Developer/Publisher Proletariat could have had the Gauntlets work individually and left it at that, but instead they have gone beyond and thought about the way they act in contact with one another, emphatically adding to the enjoyment of playing.


Safely Inside

On the other hand, not all of Spellbreak is so praiseworthy. The gameplay systems may have a new twist, but the world they are encased in has an admittedly generic Battle Royale infrastructure. It’s all-too-familiar for players who have experienced Fortnite, Apex Legends, et al: you land in a set map (this time without even the illusion of any vehicle dropping you in) with up to 2 others on your team. From there, you collect the aforementioned resources to kit yourself out, whilst being wary of other players around you. Then the “Storm” closes in, shrinking the circle of play smaller and smaller and closing the remaining players up until eventually only one Squad or player is left victorious. Put that way, it sounds very unoriginal, and well, it is, but as I say, those gameplay quirks are where the appeal lies.

Side note: I find it kind of amusing how each game has to find their own terms for their games: so, in this case, you don’t go down, you are “disrupted”, and you you don’t bleed out, you are “exiled”. One day we are going to run out of words! The first and currently only map, the Hollow Lands, is your typical fantasy world, with a dystopian tone again making me compare it to Breath of the Wild. It’s lots of green and brown punctuated by crumbling castles, but there are some welcome contrasts, whether they be an intricate maze or a misty, swampy section. We aren’t savvy to a lot of the lore of Primdal or the Hollow Lands yet, but the destroyed sites you encounter – including one that seems to have been a Colosseum or auditorium – do pique my intrigue. Narrative content is on the way for the future – the “Chapters” menu is currently grayed out – and I may do a further article at a later date to see how these affect the game.

Going back to the set-up of the game, I will note that as the game progresses and the circle – sorry, the “Storm” – gets smaller, the more the distinctive magical actions make their mark, as you’re naturally forced into deploying them once hiding becomes less of an option. Not that I’m hiding… Erm… next point! Early on, when you’re on the Battle Royale collecting merry-go-round, it’s a very similar cycle to other games of this type, but when you encounter others, that’s when the game really comes alive. Desperately maneuvering around as spells fly past your face, with ice, fire, acid, and more suddenly appearing around you, is a frantic and utterly fun form of chaos that legitimately gets the heart pumping, especially when you get down to the final few players. Staying on the move is so important in this game to make yourself harder to hit and to remain aware of those around you.

In-air fights are a regular occurrence

I tried playing Spellbreak with friends and without, and had engaging experiences with each approach. With friends you can discuss strategy on the go, but in a way it is also easier to get distracted and give away your position, aha; I am very appreciative of Proletariat incorporating cross-play, making the process of putting together a group of friends more efficient. When playing by myself in Solo it brought out that lone wolf determination, and then when in Squads with unknown people, there ended up being in-game camaraderie despite no voice chat! The inclusion of the pinging system that was so well done in Apex Legends – so, again, this isn’t a new idea – is helpful for co-operating without dialogue, too, letting you point out where you are headed, items you have found, and opponents you spot.


Running the Gauntlet

Free-to-play games such as Spellbreak can be made or broken by their progression systems and the way that the dreaded real-money payments are integrated. If we start with just the in-game side: each Gauntlet has a separate Class Rank, which as it improves unlocks new ways to optimise it – take the Ice Gauntlet, which is the one I have used the most. As that has gone up in Rank, I have acquired the possibility of it being able to temporarily highlight players I target, making them easier to keep track of. Being able to commit to one Gauntlet and feel as though you are mastering it is very satisfying! Similarly, there are separate “Mastery” stat tracking menus for each class, allowing you to see your record with each playstyle. As well as this, you have an overall Mage Rank that you get progression on whichever Gauntlet you are using, and the increase of this is the main in-game way to earn Gold for the Shop.

Okay, so the monetisation. It’s not great… The frequency at which you earn the Gold isn’t necessarily the problem, but the amount you earn, 50 each time? When items range from around 400-1200 in the shop? By Level 10 I had around 450, which gave me the option to purchase one item, but if I did that then I would be back to around 0 and even further away from those more expensive items. When you”re in the scenario of only being able to afford a “bored” emote, you know the system has gone awry!

It just seems as though for items in the Shop, realistically, they’re set up for you to pay real money for them. Spellbreak is free-to-play, so not as egregious as, say, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, but it still isn’t an ideal situation for the player. To counteract this, the item unlocks in-game are decent, with fun designs for your Badge, Card, and more, solely from your level going up. Therefore, if you ignore the Shop, you’ll still get a decent variety to customise yourself from. I also have hopes that as they add new features, they open up new ways to earn Gold to make the Shop more viable for those not spending real money.

There are multiple ways to stylise your character

In terms of those prospects for the future, there is that aforementioned story-based content on the way which sounds promising, and there have already been updates, such as the addition of a Solo mode that I touched on earlier for those who would prefer to go it alone. It’s awesome to see how aware the game is of the community – take the very active Discord server as an example, where players are constantly teaming up. I’m very confident that this game has legs, and in my mind there are opportunities for ideas such as new elements being introduced to shake up the meta. A dedicated Water Gauntlet, perhaps? For now, though- as with Fall Guys – I can only review the game they have presented to us at launch, so my score is based on that, not what might happen.


Final Thoughts

For a game I tried out with friends as a potential way for us to spend some fun time together, I was pleasantly surprised with Spellbreak. Within the generic trappings of Battle Royale conventions it employs, it manages to create an identity for itself through inviting presentation and, most of all, the smart Gauntlet system and clashing of elements. This is a fantastic base from which Proletariat can work from, and I am especially excited to see how the story side of the game evolves into the future. Spellbreak may not do much to redefine the Battle Royale, but it does have enough new ideas to carve out a place in that genre in which to shine.

7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Film in 500: Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms Review

Certificate: 15
Director: Mari Okada
Production: P.A Works
Distributor: All the Anime
Platform: Reviewing the Blu-ray Version
Release Date: Out Now


Around the time I saw A Silent Voice, I also watched Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, another fantastic anime film which impresses with style and substance. So, as I did my first 500 word review on the former, I’m following up with one for Maquia!

The film opens with smart, snappily-paced world-building; in this fantastical reality, Iolph is home to the Iorph, a long-living species that maintain youthful appearances over their centuries of existence. They’re skilled weavers of Hibiol, a precious material with an abstract quality of documenting time. Sadly, there are those after these traits for their own means; invaders from Mezarte break into this wondrous locale and forcefully take Leilia (Ai Kayano). In the chaos, the young Iorph Maquia (Manaka Iwami) is unwittingly separated from the others as she evades capture.

In an unfamiliar locale, Maquia discovers a child stranded in the arms of his deceased mother. With determined spirit, she takes it upon herself to be a maternal figure for this child, named Ariel (Miyu Irino – who voices Shôya in A Silent Voice, how’s that for a coincidence?!). The following years are relatively peaceful; they’re taken in by a farmer family, providing Maquia with further human support. It’s an endearing section of the film, where we gain empathy for these characters before emotional friction arises as Maquia grows up at a visibly different pace to those around her.

The Iorph warn themselves not to get invested in human relationships, due to how the difference in lifespan shall likely cause heartbreak. For Maquia, the most evident visual change is her hair turning sunset orange/brown (see image above), but for Ariel, he is growing into a young man and dealing with conflicting thoughts about Maquia as a mother and a female; it’s handled delicately, with no scenes being unnecessarily provocative.

Elsewhere, we see how other scattered Iorph are handling themselves, as an ambitious and dramatic plan brews to save Leilia from her imprisonment. The insight into different situations and perspectives adds depth to the family themes, but I’ll that none of these dynamics are as well-developed as that of Maquia and Ariel, and the film suffers for it at points.

Visually, Maquia is very proficient, but I’d say it lacks that final edge of refinement that, say, Your Name has. It just appears a smidgen dated, but still, it’s often beautiful, especially when using the visual motif of weaving. The music is traditionally elegant, with a soft, melodic feel carried throughout.


Final Thoughts

If it isn’t clear yet, the idea of family is central to Maquia, in particular the many alternate forms it can take from generation to generation. Not all the relationships are given as much attention as that of Maquia and Ariel, which slightly limits the impact of certain plot events and their subsequent payoff later on. However, the overriding commentary on relatable relationships is interwoven with a world of magical possibility, one which sweeps you up for a journey speaking to how family goes beyond any one person.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Film in 500: A Silent Voice Review

Certificate: 12
Director: Naoko Yamada
Production: Kyoto Animation/Pony Canyon/ABC Animation/Quaras/Shochiku/Kodansha
Distributor: All the Anime
Platform: Reviewing the Blu-ray Version
Release Date: Out Now


OK, I am trying a new format here; I have less experience reviewing films than I do games or TV shows, so to try and create some structure for myself to produce more articles on films, I am testing out my new idea for a running feature: “Film in 500”, where I review films I have seen within the extent of 500 words. It may help me getting more film reviews done, as for some reason I have previously found them a bit daunting, being unsure of how specific to be when going into the story details; with this word count, I shall be tasked with being concise!

I mean, blimey, that one paragraph was around 100 words (this isn’t counting for the review)! This could be genius, or could go wrong… ah well, let’s try it, beginning with a review for A Silent Voice: The Movie! Oh, and do let me know your opinion on this set-up for film reviews. Would be very helpful to know if this works well! 🙂

What have I gotten myself into…

In the quest through my Blu-rays, I recently viewed A Silent Voice: The Movie, a poignantly told story about events that unfold after a case of school bullying. Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami) joins a new grade school in Japan, promptly informing the class of her limited hearing. Many of the students aren’t very understanding, and Shôya Ishida (Miyu Irino) particularly bullies her – verbally and physically. He’s shockingly inconsiderate and mean-spirited. Shoko keeps putting on a smile and trying to befriend classmates, but eventually moves away to another school.

From here, we see how years pass and characters grow up. Shôya harbours guilt about his actions, and is himself now isolated and lost in high school. He seeks out Shoko to try and find resolution – not necessarily forgiveness, as that isn’t his decision, and I appreciated A Silent Voice having that level of emotional awareness. The awkward, well-intentioned reunion blossoms, despite inevitable roadblocks that occur as a consequence of the past; there’s an endearing message here about how we can change, but at the same time must be responsible for our behaviour.

It’s delicately handled storytelling that is carried through to the side characters. Other students have varying life paths and individual opinions on their involvement with the bullying; there’s an explosive scene later on, where true feelings are outed, and it’s testament to the film that it feels earned. To reiterate, however, the most powerful scenes are reserved for that dynamic of Shoko and Shôya. A Silent Voice goes to very emotional and mature places, so be prepared for tears to flow!

The animation style is slightly different to any other I have seen. It’s superbly drawn; there’s a natural, handmade appearance, with fine lines and painterly colours hitting that balance of being beautiful, but not overly extravagant. For a subtle, character-focused story, it fits very well. On the audio side are similar qualities, a focus on ambient sound allowing the excellent voice acting to be at the fore. Given the trouble Shoko has hearing, sign language is prominent, and the patiently portrayed narrative gives this expressive form of communication space to shine – it’s really engaging in such a visual medium as anime!

If I had any complaint about A Silent Voice, it’s that I felt it ended ever-so-slightly too soon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a satisfying conclusion, but it was a bit sudden, as if there could have been another scene or two to further pay off the range of character arcs. Really, though, there is no critical flaw, and I can only imagine people being put off if the premise just isn’t to their tastes.


Final Thoughts

A Silent Voice tells a touching story about how we make mistakes, and should be aware of them, but there is always room for us to improve as people and seek forgiveness. In doing so, we can help each other in unexpected ways. With fantastic character development and inherent quiet charm, A Silent Voice is an important story I highly recommend.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout Review

Developed by: Mediatonic
Published by: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: Out Now


Since the reveal trailer in the 2019 Devolver Direct, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout has been a game I have had my eye on, and the decision to make it a PS Plus game this August has served to put it even more in the spotlight. Built around a simple premise, being the sole survivor of 60 players in a random selection of obstacle courses and team games, it’s ingenious fun that especially comes alive when playing with others in a group. There are elements of the game that could be improved, with some obvious gaps in the offering, but the overriding chaotic fun of trying to bundle your way to victory and the Crown does a lot to cover up for them.


One Way Through

Fall Guys has one mode, and one mode only, that throws you into the action with 59 other players in a new take on the battle royale structure. This time, the genre has been given a Total Wipeout-esque twist (sadly without Richard Hammond) with your primary goal being survival as you progress from course to course with only the actions of jumping, diving, holding onto other players, and your custom theatrics (essentially an emote). Each stage you play through whittles down the group until a final round where the sole remaining player earns themselves the lucrative and sought-after Crown. From my experience, there tends to be around 4 to 6 levels in each run of play, usually beginning with an obstacle course such as the battering Hit Parade and ending with one of the tense final levels designed to leave one player standing. In those mid-point courses, though, there is a varied selection, so you’re never entirely sure what is next, whether it be an egg-gathering contest or a memory match puzzle.

Of those currently in the game, there is a hierarchy in my mind of which levels I prefer to play; in general, the obstacle courses such as The Whirlygig – with plentiful spinning blockades – are much more satisfying to me, as they reward individual skill, in comparison to the team games, where you are much more at mercy to the overall ability of those you are put in with. For example, if in the Rocket League-style Fall Ball the rest of your team doesn’t play well, then you’re at a serious disadvantage. I’m not against the idea of having a range of stages to combat repetition and create that sense of chaos, but perhaps it would be wise to make alternate playlists for those who prefer playing certain types of course; these could have differing rewards so as not to detract from the value of the Crown. More modes would encourage me to play more, as the idea of playing certain levels puts me off the idea of going through the whole sequence again.

Patience can be an important skill in this game

The courses themselves are very well-designed overall, with clever tricks and side passages; I got the impression that even with the randomness, as you play more, you do get better. I’m very conscious that your personal favourites can vary from person to person, and the ones you perform better at can easily become the ones you prefer. Many of the levels aren’t actually that complicated in layout, but the real challenge comes from trying to navigate them with up to 59 others also stumbling through them, forming logjam and tripping hazards. Springy sound design and the unintelligible noises of determination from the characters provide quirky appeal; the physics of your character are purposefully awkward, easily falling and rolling around, losing you control – gaining and maintaining momentum are crucial for success here. Seeing everyone trying to get through pathways to not be eliminated is a delightful sight – they’re all attempting to make it, but not all can…


Fall Fashion

Even before I got into my first game, the energetic, vibrant, and colourful presentation of Fall Guys stood out to me as I waited in the lobby. That main theme music is audaciously funky and entertains me by itself in the brief waiting periods from game to game, pairing wonderfully well with the bubblegum-bright art direction. Pastel pinks, oranges, and similar are all over, combining with the soft, almost rubbery environments to create a very welcoming atmosphere that draws you in to the world created, leaving you to get stuck in the cycle of one-more-go as you chase victory. The endearingly clumsy avatars have a bunch of customisation options, from outfits to the theatrics emote. These are great for turning the group of 60 into a crowd of distinct personalities.

Leave see-saws how you find them, everyone

Upon release this has the illusion of being a free-to-play game, but really it isn’t, considering that you pay for PS Plus, and after this month it returns to solely being a £15.99 game. Hence, we must be careful about how we discuss the monetisation. Through gameplay, you earn Kudos, which is one of two currencies, with the other being Crowns, which you can only get by winning or by reaching certain level-up milestones. In the shop, you can use these to pay for various outfits and theatrics to add to your personal repertoire; these alternate each day, which adds some pace of variation, but this also feels a bit of a trick to me, when they could make all previous additions permanently there on the shop. It’s a trend emerging across these sorts of games that only limits choice.

Only the Kudos currency can be purchased with real transactions, with costume packs also available in that way. It’s not over-egregious, as you get a decent amount to spend just from playing, but these systems aren’t ones that leave a positive impression, especially when the game does cost money to initially buy – don’t let the PS Plus situation hide that. The game is in Season 1 right now, with Season 2 soon arriving (and new stages with it); as you play and level-up in-season, you gain new items. There is a decent pace of progression, so you are getting those moments of achievement to fuel you on, though the desire to amend past failures already brings a lot of motivation! Even so, having those real-money payments there is a temptation for those involved to make you spend that does not sit well with me.


Group Descent

All the emotions encouraging you to do better on that next go, that quickly turns into another go, and another, are only emphasised when playing with others in your party, which I have had the joy of doing; in-game, the only difference is that those players are marked out for you, and will automatically be in your team in applicable games. However, the change in urgency and hilarity is keenly felt, as your trials and tribulations are shared. A key difference to me is how when I was on my own, a slight fatigue did set in to the way the game only has one set routine of gameplay. When with others, though, every game has the added intrigue of where my friends are and whether they’re gonna make it; and even if I don’t myself progress on, I have an investment to see how they do. Those aforementioned team games I had complaints about work better too, as I know more about the team I am on. For one gem of an example of this dynamic, see the video below of two friends of mine (one of which recorded this, thank you!) and I, as one of said friends has an encounter with another player…

Another slight and general criticism I have of Fall Guys is how it feels unpolished. It’s the little details, such as when you are grouped up with friends, and the spectator camera doesn’t prioritise them, meaning you need to cycle through everyone to find those perspectives – additionally, it doesn’t stay with them from one round to the next. Further to that, and my comments about the lack of modes, why not allow us to make custom playlists of stages for just us and our friends, or maybe add sliders to adjust aspects just in those private games? Fall Guys has a really fantastic base concept that could be added to in so many creative ways. Yes, this is a game that may well get those additions, but if this is how you launch, then this is where the game is judged. As well as this, the visuals, though charming, aren’t always very refined, and the choice of typography for most of the text is quite a generic option. They’re all small aspects, but when all improved together, it elevates the entire package.


Final Thoughts

On occasions, a simple premise, with the right delivery, can form a brilliant party game to strike just the right note and resonate with an audience. The decision to make Fall Guys a PS Plus game has opened up the game to an audience that may otherwise not have paid the £15.99, and has created a multiplayer phenomenon that I am confident shall thrive and be added to over time. As I just talked about, there are many areas here and there that I was slightly disappointed by whilst playing, as my mind wandered to imagine how great this game could be. It’s a game that shall evolve over time, but without guarantees, they’re omissions that affect my enjoyment. A game that provides joyous entertainment and many passionate reactions, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is a game I imagine I shall be playing for a while, and hopefully it fulfills the potential as that happens.

7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Review

Developed and Published by: Capcom
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: Out Now


After the successes of Revelations, a sequel is a welcome addition to the Resident Evil series, informing us further about the events that transpire in the gaps between the numbered entries. Whilst the initial Revelations game focused on Jill Valentine (in particular) and Chris Redfield in the gap from Resident Evil 4 to 5, Revelations 2 has a story set during the days from 5 to 6. It is built around returning characters Claire Redfield (Yûko Kaida/James Baker) and Barry Burton (Yûsaku Yara/Geoffrey Chalmers), giving them new backstory and development that is really intriguing to experience. Other than some familiar locations and names, there isn’t that much direct connection to that first Revelations game, but the episodic format, effort at introducing new gameplay ideas, and atmospheric vibe are carried across, even if it isn’t quite as neatly packaged. I am reviewing the 2017 Switch release here, with the original roll-out on other consoles in 2015.


Been Here Before

The game kicks off with a cinematic depicting a Terra Save work event where Claire Redfield and Moira Burton (Ayumi Fujimura/Marcella Mazde) are ambushed and taken away by a mysterious group. Next they know, they find themselves in a gruesome and enclosed facility where they have to work together to find their way out past the monstrosities known as the Afflicted – only to discover that they are on an unknown island and very much not out of trouble yet. Immediately, the environment design is of a different tone to that of the Queen Zenobia cruise ship of Revelations; whilst the cramped feel is present, Revelations 2 is much more grimy and evidently unclean, with spiked traps, prison cells of enemies, and dirty, blood-splattered floors to unsettle you. This goes some way to masking the rough edges in the visuals as they blend into that look, but is unrefined in places with quite frequent flat textures and blurriness. It reminded me a lot of Saw and that style of horror, and that continues on with the way the plot plays out.

Each episode of the story has both a section playing as Claire/Moira and also one as Barry with a new character, a child named Natalia Korda (Aoi Yûki/Gabrielle Pastore). They sync up to a degree, being in slightly different times but connecting as each duo makes their journey through Sejm Island. Barry Burton is going there in search of Moira – his missing daughter – and when he gets there discovers the lost Natalia, who seems to have some link to events that she herself is not yet aware of. It’s very much an even split of game time, in contrast to how the Jill sections were clearly most prominent in Revelations; there is a nice balance struck of making both sides of the narrative feel sufficiently developed. Whilst the environments can leave improvement to be desired visually, the characters models are proficient; furthermore, the cutscenes are fantastic, brimming with a self-aware, slightly over-the-top drama similar to Resident Evil 5.

Natalia and Barry on Sejm Island

Switching from one pair to the other also changes the way you approach scenarios; each has one character that is more orientated towards direct damage, and another who can help with that but is more focused on exploration. Claire and Barry are the ones best at dishing out the firepower through the solid and satisfying gunplay of shotguns, machine guns, and more, whilst Moira and Natalia are able to spot hidden items in the environment. This method of finding items essentially replaces the Genesis scanner device in the prior game – personally I found the Genesis more satisfying, as in that case I didn’t have to switch characters in solo in order to find items; yes, you have the choice to either play the campaign solo or with a friend! It must be noted that this is only for local multiplayer, as online play is not supported. That is a slightly disappointing drawback, but considering Revelations had no campaign multiplayer at all, it’s tough to complain, and I’m glad this was added in.

Keeping inventories stocked is crucial, so it isn’t an area of the game to ignore – whether they’re ranged weapons, or the medical items for healing, stopping bleeding, or wiping off gunk. These latter two both decrease your vision on-screen, with visual effects that up the tension dramatically; the other character is able to help you out with those items, encouraging that teamwork. This is the case when playing either solo or co-op, as you can manage both inventories when solo. I spent most of my playtime as Claire/Barry, but the different skillsets led to each duo feeling as though they were a team, instead of one being dragged around by the other.

It’s fine, Claire has this covered

Additionally, Moira has a crowbar to attack and open new routes, and Natalia can throw bricks to compromise enemies. Natalia has the ability to see enemies that others cannot whilst crouching; she can locate enemies through walls, and there are even some that Barry just cannot see, but Natalia can point out for him. This in particular is a thought-provoking inclusion, as it stops you running in and makes you be more considered in your approach if you don’t want to accidentally run into a fatal encounter. On the other hand, there are a bunch of other concepts that aren’t that original or even used much – for example, finding drills to take down the occasional blocked path, or as aforementioned, needing Moira to open certain doors. There are quite a lot of new ideas here, and it may have served the game better to cut some of them and better flesh out others.


Family Matters

As the story progresses, Claire and Moira meet up with a bunch of other survivors who have been fitted with bracelets similar to theirs, that change colour depending on the level of fear they are experiencing and allow the enigmatic Overseer to contact them. This is what is producing the Afflicted; people are being overtaken by the fear experiments. At this point it’s got that slasher movie vibe, especially as some characters are picked off one by one – the game didn’t do much to invest me in most of this new group, though, which limits the impact felt. After this sequence, the game quite quickly reverts back to a more expected Resident Evil approach of corridors and monsters – this is fine, but after the initial set-up it seemed to be going for a very different approach akin to torturous horror. For my nerves it may be helpful that it didn’t go that way, but it is also disappointing that they didn’t follow through.

Please don’t touch me

Despite this, as you’d expect from a game with the Revelations name, there are many dramatic moments interspersed through the episodes to hold your attention. The father/daughter dynamic between Barry and Moira sets this game apart in the series too, and is a developing bond that – whilst not a masterpiece of storytelling – certainly got me invested in hoping they would not only survive but also be able to resolve their differences. At first it seemed that Natalia may be the child you have to look after and slow down for, but actually she has a fascinating plot of her own and contributes to their survival. Natalia helps Barry realise aspects about the way he has handled being a father – again, this isn’t superbly layered stuff, but it is there.

The island setting has a decent amount of variety too, which prevents encounters from becoming too samey. People definitively used to live here, and the mix of rural and urban areas shows this, as well as some documents you find along the way that explain more about the downhill path that led to this. An eye-catching tower in the centre of the island signifies an action-packed ending, too! Without spoiling it, there are links to other Resident Evil games here that are welcome moments of continuity referencing. The game gathers momentum as it progresses and motivated me to see how it would play out in the ultimately cinematic finale. As with the first Revelations, the episodes are presented in a TV-style way, with recaps of previous events at the start of each and teases of the next episode at the end. This is such a great structure that lends itself to the way this series, and the Revelations games especially, use gameplay to build up to story beats.


Around Every Corner

That build-up inevitably means making your way past many infected opposition, and it’s praiseworthy that the new vein of enemy design is quite distinctive to this game. The underground style incorporates unsettling combinations of metal and organic elements; you will also go up against monsters made up of multiple parts of bodies that move in creepy, alternate ways. Having a variety prevents the fights from becoming samey – from insect creatures to infected that fire off ranged bomb attacks (seriously), you’re kept on your toes. Emphasising this is the previously mentioned way different characters tackle different situations. Furthermore, the boss fights are frenetic fun; even when not on the hardest difficulty, they’re a challenge, and supply that desperate sense of survival as you work out how to take them down.

Moira and Claire form a great partnership

It’s a shame that the puzzle design isn’t quite as inspired. It’s okay, but straightforward in comparison to some of the new combat ideas. I’d describe it as serviceable; not bad, but it felt as if I was just working through those areas in order to get to the thrills elsewhere. When the puzzles were combined with that aesthetic of being in a labyrinthine set of traps, there was at least that suspenseful setting to make them stand out more. Further hurting them, though, was that occasionally the solutions were not always clear, which breaks the flow of the game. It isn’t fun to fail and not really know why or how you were supposed to act in the situation. In a way, the best puzzles are in that combat – finding the enemies, deciding whether to sneak past or take them out, discovering their weak points.

Contributing to the quieter stealth approach is being able to hear Afflicted wandering around, and there are plenty of groans and shuffles to prick up your ears. The Revelations games are great at ambient sound, informing you through audio at which type of area you are in through the way surrounding noises are reverberating. They’re often combined with neat visual effects, such as the way that the screen and sound distorts when you go near an enemy you cannot see, letting you know to get out of there and find another way to judge the way forward. If this game had just had a bit more polish, particularly in the environment design, it could’ve reached another level of presentation and made the whole experience feel more cohesive.


Avid Collectors

One area of presentation where Revelations 2 does excel, though, is in the amount of extras on offer. The Switch release includes the two DLC episodes that focus on Moira and Natalia respectively, and they’re a mixed experience. Firstly, The Struggle has an intriguing premise where there is permadeath depending on the items you collect, and provides more details on a character from the campaign. However, it relies a lot on areas from said campaign and has an uninspired feeling as a result. After this, the Little Miss episode gives more backstory to Natalia and delves into her psyche; it’s short and isn’t the most refined example of stealth, but I much preferred this DLC as the gameplay better matches the story being told, and the soft mist applied to the spaces separates them from other parts of Revelations 2.

Two Natalias? What could be happening here…

Beyond this, there is a vast quantity of game modifiers, figurines, pieces of concept art, costumes, and more to unlock that provide incentive to continue on after finishing the campaign. The points you earn from playing the game can go towards either these, or to new skills and then improving those skills. Additionally, there is a selection of collectibles in the campaign that go towards the unlock progression. Resident Evil games are great at giving this plethora of challenges, and this is a substantial example of that!

The most substantial of all may be the Raid Mode, a returning feature from the first Revelations. If you are not aware, this is where you compete in specific stages to complete the objective (often defeating all the enemies) in as efficient a way as possible. You can customise your character, choosing from a roster including returning faces not seen in the campaign, and then kit yourself out from a selection of skills, weapons, and more. This mode has the option of co-op, but differing from the campaign, it can be either local or online! With a really generous selection of stages that can be played in multiple difficulty modes, as well as Daily Missions, there is a fun experience to have here.

Oh hi there

Intriguingly, quite a few of the levels I played through in Raid Mode had settings from Resident Evil 6 (which I am currently playing through!), reflecting how 6 chronologically is after Revelations 2 in the continuity. After Revelations used areas from the campaign in that Raid Mode, this is actually a refreshing change, providing a markedly different set of places to fight through. I find myself returning to these two games to play their Raid Modes as they’re such robust offerings with great characters to play as!


Final Thoughts

If I had to pick my preferred Revelations game, I would go for the first as it has a slightly more focused feel, and, well, I’m a Jill Valentine fan! Yet, Revelations 2 continues the interstitial series’ penchant for satisfying gameplay and thoroughly enjoyable storytelling. The ambition to incorporate different characters and several new gameplay ideas is to be praised, flaws and all; however, it may have been better to practice restraint on certain game mechanics and side characters. Backing it up is the fantastic Raid Mode and superb longevity, an emerging trait of the Revelations games. I really hope there are more Revelations games in the future, as it is awesome to discover more about where these characters go when we aren’t with them in the numbered series entries.

7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.