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.

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.

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.

Resident Evil: Revelations Review

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


There have been gaming series that have been a noticeable hole in my gaming knowledge over the years. Resident Evil had long been one such gap, and so, especially with COVID-19 leading to more time spent at home, this has been a series I have dedicated a lot of time to playing through in 2020. Just, y’know, without trying to see too many parallels with recent events… I am going to write up reviews for multiple games I have played in the series, starting with the one I began with: Resident Evil: Revelations!


All Aboard

This may seem an odd place for me to start the series, considering it is set after Resident Evil 4 and before Resident Evil 5. Hear me out, though! The digital versions of Revelations and the sequel Revelations 2 are often discounted on the Nintendo eShop, and they were very appealing impulse purchases for me; purchases that led to me playing many other games in the series too, as Revelations got me hook, line, and sinker (yes, ship puns are very much going to be present in this review). This is a game that was originally released on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2012. I still have clear memories of Official Nintendo Magazine having the exclusive reveal… as if this game was EIGHT years ago?! Time flies. There were then HD versions released in 2013, and next-gen versions in 2017; the 2017 Switch release is the one I am reviewing here.

Revelations is mostly set on board the Queen Zenobia, a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea. BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) agents Chris Redfield (Hiroki Touchi/Roger Craig Smith) and Jessica Sherawat (Nana Mizuki/Ali Hillis) have gone quiet after going there on a lead about bioterrorist organisation Veltro, so Jill Valentine (Atsuko Yuya/Michelle Ruff) – who you play as for most of the game – and Parker Luciani (Mitsuru Miyamoto/Kirk Thornton) are sent after them. Veltro are attempting to infect 1/5th of the water of the planet by contaminating it with the T-Abyss virus, which, well, isn’t ideal. The Queen Zenobia is a brilliant location for the survival horror qualities of Resident Evil, having plenty of cramped spaces and narrow corridors to keep you in a constant feeling of suspense. It’s an ingenious setting; the idea of being stuck on an enclosed ship full of monstrosities in the middle of an ocean works so well at escalating the stakes of every encounter. The creepy, mostly empty spaces of a luxurious cruise ship supply that classic horror vibe that the series went away from – for better or worse – in Resident Evil 5.

Jill Valentine and Parker Luciani, the pairing at the beginning of the game

A focus on series regulars Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield really anchors the story and provides a solid base from which to then learn about the new characters that accompany them. There are plenty of Resident Evil-style twists and reveals in the game that keep the story cruising along nicely. This game has a really cool narrative approach, splitting the story into 12 parts that are presented as TV-style episodes, with a recap of previous events at the start of each. Not only does this add a neat cinematic edge to proceedings and an opportunity for exciting cliffhangers, but it really suits the handheld nature of the original game and, subsequently, the Switch version. Being able to play an episode or two at a time – perhaps even in bed with the lights off – in the way you might view a TV show has a satisfying pace to it.


Ship-shape

Speaking of which, the visual upgrades this game has had since the 3DS original are impressive, to the point where it would be hard to tell it was a 3DS game without knowing. On that console there was understandable constraints on the visuals that could be achieved, but the updates bring the game to a comparable level with the latest version of Resident Evil 5, the game next in the timeline of the series – though, note that the 3D visuals of the original are lost. The character models are impressively detailed and have engaging voice acting, a key element in the genuinely dramatic moments in the game. On the point of audio, there is a noticeable effort at spooking you out with ambient sounds as the stranded ship creaks and shudders whilst you explore it. Then there are the noises made by the enemies infected by the T-Abyss virus…

Revelations isn’t all on the Queen Zenobia; for example here with Jessica Sherawat and Chris Redfield

Said enemies have a different appearance in Revelations. Instead of the more traditional zombies of earlier Resident Evil games or the much more human opposition of Resident Evil 4 and 5, here you are facing pale, shambling creatures that appear as though they are melting away after being infected. You face off against several different types of these gloopy attackers – some are dangerous at close range, some can fire at you from afar… oh, and of course, one has developed a chainsaw-like aspect, because, of course. It is a nice touch to be able to hear enemies before you see them – the sound of that chainsaw one still sorta haunts me.

When analysing the presentation, though, the game isn’t without rough edges, and some parts of the cruise ship can get samey in terms of the murky, damp colour palette; even if arguably that also contributes to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the game. To be fair, there are sections of the game where we cut away from the cruise ship and get some different environments, such as a flashback to Jessica and Parker in Terragrigia when Veltro attacked it, or when fellow BSAA agents Quint Cetcham (Naoki Bando) and Keith Lumley (Daisuke Ono) follow in the footsteps of Jessica and Chris to a snowy, mountainous area. That latter environment in particular is a nice contrast to the cruise ship, a much more open space that gives you a short moment to breathe before being plunged back into the tension of the Queen Zenobia. In terms of the story I found the sections playing as Jill the most engaging, but those cutaways help add a bit of variety to Revelations.


Swimming? In Resident Evil?

In terms of actually surviving these locations and the horrors they throw at you, the gameplay is in the vein of Resident Evil 4 and 5 – which makes sense – with a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective. Maneuvering around in the tight spaces can be – intentionally, it seems – quite clunky, and contributes to the threat of enemies around you. Conversely, though, you can move and shoot at the same time (not always the case in this series!) and there are some other neat tricks available to you, too. You can quick-turn on the spot, run, and use melee attacks when enemies are compromised by your gunfire (Jill has a particularly awesome spin-kick). You can even swim! For a series that often restricts your options, it is pleasing that Revelations removes some of those barriers whilst maintaining an air of threat.

You can play as a variety of different characters in the Raid Mode

A vast range of weapons are available, from pistols and submachine guns to a selection of grenade types, and this gives a fun amount of options to try. Furthermore, you can modify the traits of weapons to suit your own playstyle. There is also a scanner, named the Genesis, which allows you to seek out hidden items in the environment. This is actually really helpful, as Revelations severely limits the amount of ammo and health you have at any one point. Giving you more movement options but limiting the amount of supplies is balanced well; it makes me feel as though you can really make a difference through player skill and utilising those supplies efficiently.

Your repertoire can also be put to the test in the separate Raid Mode, where you can play sections of the game in different ways and go for high scores. This is also a way to get access to different weapons and unlock new outfits for the characters. It’s a comprehensive offering, and the progression system encourages you to keep playing – it adds a lot of longevity to the game beyond the main story, and also provides the option of playing with a friend over local or online co-op. There is a distinct sense of attention to detail, with a lot of customisation choices for the player – other examples of that are the retro-style game that can be played when loading up the game, and the functionality that allows you to scan amiibo to get more BP to spend in the Raid mode. So… Jill Valentine amiibo? Jill Valentine in Smash? Okay, William, I am sensing it is time to wrap up now…


Final Thoughts

Resident Evil: Revelations has been my entry point into the franchise, and my thorough enjoyment of the game paved my way to playing others in the series. The way the game has been adapted to newer consoles is impressive, and the episodic story holds up well with a welcome emphasis on survival horror. Some of the scenes away from playing as Jill Valentine lack a bit of identity, especially when with only new characters, but these aren’t the focus and there is admittedly merit to be found in how they help break up the game. With intense gameplay and a rich, atmospheric vibe, Resident Evil: Revelations, is, well, a revelation.

8.5/10

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review

Developed by: Naughty Dog
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Out Now


While we may have expected Naughty Dog to release DLC for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I’m not sure how many of us thought that instead they would release a full game! Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is set not long after the events of Uncharted 4, and stars Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black) and Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey); you play as Chloe throughout the game, but both characters, and their relationship, are very much the focus. So, how does this departure from the Nathan Drake-led games of before turn out? The short answer is very, very well.


It Takes Two

Set in the vibrant country of India; The Lost Legacy starts with Chloe undercover and browsing local markets whilst tracking insurgent leader Asav (Usman Ally). Both are after the legendary tusk of Ganesh – Chloe for personal reasons, as her father died in his hunt for said tusk, and Asav in order to subsequently spark a civil war in India. On the way, we meet up with post-Uncharted 4 Nadine on a rooftop, and it is clear that whilst these two have a professional arrangement, neither is particularly friendly towards the other – their personalities are very much conflicting, with Nadine an efficient planner and Chloe more of the improvisation type. After a tense meeting with Asav in his office where sides are chosen, the pair make an escape in a daring chase sequence. Stealing a map and crucial artifact on the way, they set course for the Western Ghats to continue their search for the tusk.

After her absence in Uncharted 4, it is great to see Chloe again!

That opening sequence does a decent job at re-introducing the gameplay of Uncharted, including some of the newer stealth options brought in by Uncharted 4. However, Chloe is immediately dissimilar in subtle ways from Nathan Drake, in terms of her own unique silky swagger of movement and more of a tendency to use those undercover tactics – take her proficiency at picking locks as evidence of that. Even early on, there are some fun subversion moments thrown in, such as when the obligatory push-this-so-you-can-climb-it Naughty Dog puzzle instead turns into inadvertently and unintentionally taking out the floor! Especially for those who got used to the gameplay cycles of Uncharted 4, this adds a freshness that reminds you this game has ideas all of its own.

Once we get to the Western Ghats, the game really kicks off in earnest. Very soon you find yourself in a mini-open-world, with a vehicle to help get you around; imagine the Madagascar section of Uncharted 4, but larger and with more detail to it (and plenty more secrets to find!). It also reminds me a lot of the modern Tomb Raider games and their connected open areas; I find it fascinating how these two series seem to inspire and learn from each other game by game as comparable action franchises. Exploring this space of The Lost Legacy is a delight – there is a main plot thread, but you can spend as long as you like finding every nook, cranny, and collectible. As well as the Treasures that are a staple of the Uncharted franchise, there are also conversation points and photo opportunities at certain locations to keep you busy.


Capture the Moment

It’s not difficult to see why Chloe would keep photographic evidence of the trip, either. The Lost Legacy is gorgeous, and this initial area is a fantastic example. The lush grass and foliage, the sun-beaten rocks, the structures of Hindu religion… the game is constantly encouraging you to explore it, and it really drew me into the grand Indian adventure. Naughty Dog have become so proficient at creating lively game worlds, and a reason for that is their attention to detail. The way mud trails rupture behind you as you wrestle your jeep up slopes, or the restless way waterfalls cascade down a path, and plenty more authentic touches all work towards engrossing you in the world.

That’s a lot of waterfalls

With competition for obtaining the tusk, though, it isn’t all admiring the view. There are many combat scenarios with the insurgents for Chloe and Nadine to weather, and a range of enemies means you have to switch up your approaches (I mean, come on, when are we gonna be the ones with helicopter support?). The gunplay is – unsurprisingly – very similar to that of Uncharted 4, but there are a few new mechanics and opportunities; many combat areas have crates that, once Chloe picks the lock, give access to grenades, rare weapons, and more. I appreciate the distinct effort to provide options to be stealthy, with lots of tall grass (where is Link when you need him?) and the introduction of silenced weapons. On the other hand, and this could partly just be me, it seemed that the positions of enemies and the routes they take aren’t well-designed to facilitate a quieter approach. I often found it difficult to get through more than one or two people at a time without being spotted and then having to resort to either running away and hiding, or fully engaging in the gunfire.

The actual feel of the combat is rewarding in its smoothness, with transitions between weapons responsive and various cover options. As is my complaint for all the Uncharted games, my main problem with the combat is just how much of it there is, especially when the game is trying to tell me an emotional story about characters and who they are. If the game was designed more around the stealth options this would be slightly less of an issue. The narrative dissonance is very noticeable in the Uncharted series… With the exploration areas being so wonderful to play, I would say that there could be combat scenarios taken out without harming – and possibly instead improving – the overall game.


Frazer & Ross

Which is a nice segway into discussing the narrative of The Lost Legacy and how it develops the main duo of Chloe and Nadine. They may not start out on the best of terms, but from there the game oh-so-gradually has their relationship naturally develop as they spend time together in their pursuit of the tusk. Driving around at the start of the game provides many insightful exchanges of words that give them, and us, more info about them as people and how they got to this point. Chloe is much more knowledgeable about the Hindu Gods and Nadine noticeably learns from her. Conversely, there are also moments of friction; in particular, one revelation threatens to derail it all at around the mid-point of the story (for spoilers, I won’t go into detail on this).

Chloe and Nadine are a formidable combination

Yet, as with many relationships, their bond is stronger for lessons learned. As you play further into the game, they both start to understand and relate to each other and their motivations more; their evolving dynamic results in many different types of moments, some dramatic, some funny, some action-packed, some heartwarming (all I shall say is: elephants). The light-hearted conversations produced from their contrasting personalities are so well-done, with the clash of the quippy, bold Chloe and the matter-of-fact, confident Nadine. These are two awesome, fiercely independent women realising that opening up to each other doesn’t take any of that strength away, and may, on the contrary, empower them more.

None of this would work as well as it does without the superb performances from Claudia Black and Laura Bailey, who seem to effortlessly put this range of emotions on screen. The dynamic they share never seems forced, and the extra time with these characters has endeared them so much to me. The performance capture of Naughty Dog is cutting-edge, but it isn’t just this alone that creates the cinematic feel. Not often mentioned is the use of camerawork and direction in Naughty Dog games – in The Lost Legacy, cutscenes are really well-framed to give the interactions the focus, even during more chaotic scenarios. I already enjoyed the scenes with Chloe in previous games, but I felt Uncharted 4 under-served Nadine. Here, she is given much more of an opportunity to show who she is as a person – including insight into ramifications of the events of Uncharted 4 – and by the end of the story, my perspective on her had changed in a very positive way. Personally, I reckon more games featuring this lead duo would be an awesome idea!


Lend Me a Hand

Towards the later stages, (and again, I won’t go into much detail because of spoilers) there are new obstacles and characters introduced, but the brilliant dynamic of Chloe and Nadine remains the focus, and these new factors only give them more to bounce off of. Asav hasn’t got that many scenes, but he poses a threat and has a sort of upbeat villainous air to him that held my attention when he did appear. There isn’t much depth given to him and his reasons for doing what he is doing, but as a reason for Chloe and Nadine to work together it works well enough.

After that open area at the beginning, The Lost Legacy reverts to the linear level design of much of the Uncharted series, but I wouldn’t say that it is an outright negative change; having some of each type of environment design actually keeps you on your toes as a player. Now, these are very different games overall, but it reminds me of the combination of traditional, linear Routes and the new, open Wild Areas in Pokémon Sword and Shield and how that satisfies both angles of gameplay. With these more direct paths, the puzzle solving becomes more of a focus, and there are some amazing set pieces.

The puzzles get quite intricate (and, y’know, deadly)

I’d go as far as to say this game takes the Crown of Uncharted set pieces from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. It isn’t just for one set piece, either; whilst the closing sequence of the game may seem the prime candidate, the puzzle-focused discoveries as you go through the capital of Belur are, in a way, one long set piece that I found genuinely fascinating. The way Chloe and Nadine act as expert and student to the Hindu religion creates such a conversational vibe that links up the cutscenes into a cohesive narrative journey. Also, I am really into these ancient discovery adventure games… maybe I should become an archaeologist?!

Of course, it wouldn’t be Uncharted without lots of climbing during this exploration. There isn’t much new to report here… You climb, you leap, you have (un)expected moments when your handhold gives way – it’s Uncharted, all right!. Solid stuff, if not surprising. The rope, introduced in Uncharted 4, is used again here to swing around and adds some variety of movement, but again we have seen it before; another new method or two of getting around would have been nice for a series where traversal is so core to the gameplay. With this being a separate game and not DLC, it’s harder to justify the areas where there is less innovation.


I’ve Been Here Before

In addition to the replay value of the story through different difficulties and the many collectibles, The Lost Legacy also comes packaged with the full multiplayer from Uncharted 4. There is some new content specifically centred around The Lost Legacy, but as a mode from another game you may previously have, it is hard to give too much credit for it reappearing here. Naughty Dog have continuously added to the multiplayer over time, so there is plenty of content there if it is an area you get invested in. The main appeal of the Uncharted games is the story, however, and the relative lack of that in multiplayer makes it feel slightly hollow as a result. If the idea of playing as various characters from the series in a competitive environment is to your tastes, though, then you may find enjoyment here.

This isn’t an example of stealth

Another return is that of Henry Jackman to once again compose a score for an Uncharted game. It is a credit to the acclaimed musician that it is no surprise the audio side of The Lost Legacy is so accomplished. The soundtrack has a crucial role in the exciting, adventurous tone of Uncharted, but it is equally important that this does not override the quieter scenes. Henry Jackman is successful on both fronts, contributing to the thrilling ride to the credits – where a licensed song is incorporated to energetically conclude the game!


Final Thoughts

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy just edges out Uncharted 3 as my favourite entry in the franchise (for reference, I haven’t played Uncharted: Golden Abyss). Much of the reason for this is the pairing of Chloe and Nadine and how their interactions develop over the course of the 10-ish hour narrative. The core Uncharted gameplay, flaws and all, is present, as well as the now-customary Naughty Dog high level of production quality. An emphasis on exploration and historical revelations really appealed to me, and it is also noteworthy that whilst The Lost Legacy is a full game release, it is sold at a lower price, possibly to reflect the aspects informed by Uncharted 4. It is currently unclear where the Uncharted series is going to go in the future, but if the games are of a similar quality to this, then I am very much along for the ride.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Old Man’s Journey Review

Developed by: Broken Rules
Published by: Broken Rules
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile
Release Date: Out Now


This is a game I had my eye on for a long time whilst browsing the Nintendo eShop, and when it was discounted from £8.99 to under £2… well, it’s such a great deal that it’s hard to resist! Having now played through Old Man’s Journey, I discovered a touching story, even if similar subject matter has been tackled by many other games before. As an interactive experience you can feasibly finish in one or two sessions, there is both a lot to appreciate and a lot that could have been developed more.


The Wanderer

Old Man’s Journey is about an elderly man who, with you controlling, traverses through many different 2D landscapes with his rucksack and walking stick as he reminisces about his life. You start off at his house on the cliffside, and are not told his name throughout the game – there is no text dialogue at all, actually. Instead, you are intuitively led from point to point; the end of each area often has you taking a rest, taking off your rucksack, and zooming in as you see a memory of his life. These images are stunningly drawn, with the emotion of the situations evidently emerging from the screen. As you see past moments of his wife, child, and more, a picture of how he got to where he is now starts to form.

The screenshot functionality of my Switch was in use!

To get to these moments, you have to make your way through the environments first. To move, you either touch the screen or move the cursor to where you would like to go, placing a marker to signify the destination. You can also occasionally affect other parts of the world; open or shut a window, turn on a lamp, to mention two examples. The touch control is much more suitable, as it allows you to make quick decisions and movements, whilst the analogue stick takes time to position the cursor where you would like to put it – there are also some situations where you need quite immediate responses, and touch control works much better for these. This isn’t really a criticism, more a recommendation of which way to play given the two options.


Rise and Fall

As an extension of this, you then have to use the same type of control to alter the areas around you into a position that the man can get through. Each natural layer of the world – imagine the foreground, background, and more of a landscape – can be adjusted up and down, revealing undulations that – when arranged correctly – can be situated in a way that connect and form a path to traverse. It is a clever idea, and suits the slow, quiet narrative being told, but in terms of gameplay it is never used to the maximum potential. Especially towards the end of the game, I was waiting for that moment where the mechanic had a really intelligent new twist or extra element (the way a 3D Mario game takes a concept and makes many different scenarios out of it), but it never really happened.

Here, you adjust the different sections of ground to get towards the person in the background

There are, however, some sections where you are in a vehicle and that alters the dynamic, but often the core of the gameplay is the same – just with a different movement style. They aren’t really adding much different to the central idea, even if the different visual aspects are welcome. Instead, there is a repetition of the same concept, which becomes noticeable and takes you out of the moment. Also, there was one section where the way I moved the world left me stuck and unable to continue, and I ended up starting the section again, which didn’t seem an intentional option for the player. This seemed an oversight.

In a similar way, the story of this man and the people he cares about – although undeniably powerful (I won’t say too much about it) – is shown in a very direct way for the player. I am a person who really values it when part of the story is left to your imagination, but I feel as though a bit more on the characters would have helped me to have my imagination run with it. Not necessarily how they got to this point, but who they are as people. In addition, the game took me around 2-3 hours to play through, and is perhaps a bit on the short side for the £8.99 price.


Picturesque

Now a word on the art direction. I have talked about the amazing artwork for the memories; furthermore, the 2D world is vibrant and has a slight paper-crafted aesthetic, which accentuates the way you interact with the separate layers of it. The clearly defined shapes that make up the character models and topography also give the game a certain quirky charm, as if you are viewing an arthouse animation short. It really matches up well with the types of surroundings you encounter, from quaint houses to scenic hillsides. Complimenting this is the tranquil soundtrack, the delicate tunes subtly encouraging you along.

The game has a lot of charm

The characters dotted around each have their own distinct visual vibes, too. As aforementioned, there is no spoken dialogue, but the sounds characters do make have an endearing quality that perhaps tells you a little more about their personalities; this only happens now and then, though.


Final Thoughts

Old Man’s Journey is a narrative-driven game that has a smart central gameplay mechanic it very much sticks to without pushing to the full potential. It left me wondering if puzzles could have been made more complex, and yet it also has a forgiving feeling that makes it a great game for relaxing with one evening on your Nintendo Switch – especially as the game is not very long. The story is affecting and the presentation is welcoming; just, perhaps, some of those ideas could have been built upon more.

6.5/10

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

Let’s Chat: The Last of Us Part II Spoiler Talk!

It’s the return of Ashley Harrison and I for our discussion articles, newly renamed “Let’s Chat”! The release of The Last of Us Part II means a LOT to discuss, especially knowing how invested we both are in the first game. So, what are we waiting for?


William Robinson: Hi Ash! It’s been about two years since our last of these discussion articles, and we’re starting again with our full spoilers talk of The Last of Us Part II! It is fitting in a way, as our very first was back when the game was first unveiled at PSX 2016. To me, that seems both so long ago and yet also not long ago at all; before we really get into it, Ash, perhaps you could briefly describe your opinion of the prior game and how you went into Part II?

Ashley Harrison: Yo, how’s it’s going? Really has been a while, huh? It’s crazy to think our first of these articles was 3 and a half years ago now, after that reveal. The world really has gone crazy since then. Briefly describe my opinion of The Last of Us? Man, that’s hard, you know how much that game means to me. It’s no secret that The Last of Us is my favourite game of all time, and as a result means a lot to me. So much so I have Troy Baker signed copies of the game and its vinyl soundtrack. As a result, I was probably more on the hype train that probably most people were for Part II.

The reveal of The Last of Us Part II at PSX 2016

WR: Wow, that long, huh? Also shows just how much time went into the making of this game – that’s only the time since the reveal! For me, The Last of Us is a masterpiece of interactive storytelling, using the medium to create a game and story that questions you as you play it. As it is such an amazing game, I was both anxious and excited at the idea of them making another game in that world. Let’s get right into it then; having played through the game, your initial reaction now?

AH: Man.. I really wish I could give the answer I want to here. If we’re looking at it from a purely gameplay perspective, it’s absolutely incredible. It’s the culmination of over a decade of work from Naughty Dog with the style of game, starting with the release of the first Uncharted. It’s so fluid and smooth, taking the base of the original game and the addition of, in my opinion, much-needed mechanics such as being able to crawl and squeeze through gaps to breathe new life into the stealth part of the game, opening up the floor to way more ways of taking down enemies. However, from a purely story perspective, the game really just leaves me wanting more, and not in a good way. I’ll explain more as suitable, but the climax to the story especially really threw me off, as well as some serious scenes really not feeling anywhere near as important as they should.

WR: We’ll really go into the story, talking about each part, in a moment; firstly, I really do want to mention more on that gameplay. Similar to how you say, it really builds upon the prior game. Going prone additionally opens up more opportunities in exploration to find hidden are as and solve puzzles, and there are new items to craft that I found altered my approach to situations – the smoke bomb, for example. There is a real variety of situations you find yourself in, which encourages trying different approaches throughout the game. Speaking of which, the environment design in this game is utterly spectacular. The scope of the areas you play through is jaw-dropping, with such attention to detail and a sense this world was really lived-in. Was this impressive to you as you went through the game, or is your opinion on this slightly different?

This open area in Seattle is a great example of the environment design in the game

AH: Nah, I’m completely there with you man, the environmental design is incredible. The attention to detail for each “level” of the game is insane, and it really does help you to truly believe you’re traversing a real world. It keeps kicking up in quality somehow too, culminating in the sequence escaping from the Seraphite island. Seeing the island burning around you after seeing what it was, all as a result of human nature and their inability to keep a truce, is incredible. My only criticism of it, however, is that the environment, specifically the fungus growing into walls, does give away the kinds of enemies you’re going to come across at points, for example in the Hotel.

WR: That’s an intriguing point; there isn’t really ever a moment where they don’t signal that the next opposition is either Infected or not, is there? More experimentation with that would have been fascinating; for me, some of the most interesting combat segments were where you could play the Infected against the non-Infected tracking you down.

AH: The places where you can pit Infected against enemies tracking you down are so much fun to play, especially because it gives you a variety of options to play those specific sections. You can either go in all guns blazing, and try to take on both sets of enemies at the same time. Or, you can throw a brick or another item into the human enemies, and let the Infected take them out, then take out the Infected, which was my favourite way of playing. Finally, there’s also the option to pit the Infected and human enemies against each other, whilst you sneak by unnoticed. It’s clever design points like that that make me love the combat in the game, and it’s a massive improvement upon the first game’s combat which most of the time is gunplay-focused. I just really wish there were more points in the game where you could do it, because to me they feel too sparse.

You can disrupt the people hunting you down by drawing Infected into the fight

WR: We’ve mentioned about the gameplay, but now I reckon it is time to really tackle the story of this game in full spoiler mode. To be thorough, let’s go through the game section by section, as this is a game that at times feels split into distinct parts. We open with Joel telling Tommy about the way the first game ended, in a sorta cinematic recap; I thought this was a bit of an over-explanation, but I understand that it is for players who are playing this without having played the prior game (though, I mean, if you are, what?). Then, we have an extended prologue of sorts in and around the settlement at Jackson, where we play as both Ellie and new character Abby as a routine day goes very badly wrong. We start to be introduced to new characters, particularly ones that Ellie knows, and I also found that this opening segment re-introduced how to play in a smart fashion. The playing-from-different-viewpoints idea is one that is carried through the game, and from the start I appreciated it as a change of structure from the relatively linear first game.

AH: The game opening with Joel’s recount of the first game felt off to me also; who’s really going into this without having played the first game? Honestly, at the beginning of the game, I really wasn’t a fan of the idea of the split viewpoints, especially as Neil Druckmann had said this game was about revenge and had only spoken of Ellie being playable in any way. Though, saying that, he said the same thing about playing as Joel in the first game. I just wanted to play as Ellie and see how things are going for her, and why she was going on a journey of revenge. However, I really did come to enjoy playing as Abby throughout the second half of the game.

This game pivots around that moment, as it is the motivation, or perhaps even some kind of twisted justification, for the many acts of violence Ellie commits

William Robinson

WR: That is an element of the game I am confident we will be discussing a lot shortly; you play as Ellie for the majority of the, I’d say, roughly first half of the game? This opening is quite cryptic in terms of Joel and Tommy – and the game is quite enigmatic about Joel in particular throughout – but it seemed, at least to me, that there was signposts of Abby having a purpose at Jackson to do with Joel. Yet, it was still shocking when Abby – after Joel and Tommy help Abby out of a tight situation against Infected, no less – takes out Joel’s leg with a shotgun and proceeds to violently beat him. Then, when Ellie gets there, and Abby kills Joel with the golf club… it’s brutal. This game pivots around that moment, as it is the motivation, or even some type of twisted justification, for the many acts of violence Ellie commits as she subsequently goes after Abby. The scene is certainly intense and impactful, but does it fuel the game in that way for you? I found that there was more of a disconnect between the gameplay and story than there was in the prior game.

AH: The game definitely peaks intensity wise if you ask me at that moment, nothing else in the game really ever reaches the same point of emotion. It’s such a dark scene and happens so early into the game, which given the story makes sense I guess, that I would’ve been surprised if they’d have managed to keep up that level of intensity. I wouldn’t say there’s a disconnect at all between story and gameplay though personally, especially during Ellie’s segments.

Ellie and Tommy early in the game, not long after that brutal scene

WR: Perhaps that disconnect is more to do with how they end the game as well, when the moment of forgiveness happens relative to other events. Is that a negative for you then, if the rest of the game was never at that point of emotion? It was believable to me that Ellie would go after the person who killed Joel, same for Tommy; and Dina going with Ellie made sense for different reasons, as their relationship gradually evolved. Throughout, I found Dina really well-developed, and her dynamic with Ellie to be told in an intelligent way, all the way through to her leaving Ellie at the end.

AH: I wouldn’t say it’s a negative for me that it never reached that level of emotion again really, as it already had the build behind the whole first game to go with it that got you invested in Joel, and for it to happen so early into the game and be so brutal really added to the emotion. Am I slightly upset that the most emotive part of the game was an hour in when the whole game is 25 hours long? Yeah, I guess a bit that I am. Was I expecting that moment to be the most emotional during the game though? Absolutely. It’s absolutely believable Ellie would go after Abby for killing Joel for me, however I’m not quite sure about Tommy. Whilst obviously 5 years have passed since the events of the first game and anything could’ve happened in that time, we learned that Joel and Tommy had a very rocky relationship, with Joel in the first game saying to Ellie “I believe his [Tommy’s] last words to me were “I don’t ever wanna see your god damned face again.”” I’m speculating here obviously, but we don’t ever really learn much more than that about Joel and Tommy’s relationship through either game. As for Dina, you’re probably going to hate me for this, but I really couldn’t have cared less for her if I had tried. Personally it seemed to be that she’s only there so that Ellie could have a companion to travel with and carry on the feeling of the first game with Joel and Ellie. The game never really made me care for her, especially when her defining moment is revealing to Ellie she’s pregnant, which in itself is just such an overused trope.

WR: See, to me, Tommy is fascinating in this game. We know he is also after Abby, and probably slightly ahead of Ellie through much of the game. Yet we only briefly see him, in the confrontation at the theatre, when he visits the Farm, and in a really smart reveal as the sniper in a sequence late in the game when you are playing as Abby. He is, in a way, the most tragic character in the story, as he loses health and his marriage to his hunt for Abby after she murders his brother. I really disagree about Dina; she is a distinct character, one who won’t – and doesn’t – wait for Ellie if she won’t stop going after Abby.

Ellie and Dina in one of the several flashbacks

AH: I wouldn’t say Tommy is the most tragic story in the game, although he does definitely rank up there alongside Ellie. Both start the game with everything they want in life, however by the end they’ve both lost it all. If they’re going to release a side-story DLC ala Left Behind for Part II, I would love for it to focus on Tommy so that we can learn more about him.

WR: The stories of Ellie and Tommy in this game have many similarities; yes, either as DLC, or if they do a third game, playing as Tommy is an idea that could make for a powerful story. He has a certain charisma to him, yet has so many flaws. Interspersed through the 3 days in Seattle as Ellie are flashbacks – these sections, playing as Ellie with Joel accompanying you, have some delightful moments that light up the game. The museum one is brilliant; it has so many wonderful back-and-forths that take me back to their dynamic in the first game, as well as a very creepy and ominous conclusion. Thoughts on these?

The chemistry between Ellie and Joel is definitely the defining characteristic of the first game, so it was great to have them back together.

Ashley Harrison

AH: Man, those flashbacks. They got me so emotional watching them as I played. The chemistry between Ellie and Joel is definitely the defining characteristic of the first game, so it was great to have them back together. Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker have produced insane performances once again to really make you remember why you loved those two characters. I think the reason the museum flashback especially hits so hard is it’s the first time you see Joel after his brutal death, and he’s taking Ellie to see something she’s always wanted to in the Dinosaurs exhibit. It really brings home the fact that at the end of the day, Ellie is just a kid, and you’re seeing that childhood innocence come through after seeing everything she had to go through after losing Riley to the Infected.

WR: Relative to the first game, there isn’t actually much of Troy Baker in this game; he is fantastic in his performance, but he hasn’t got that many scenes compared to Ashley Johnson. For me, there was never a moment in this game when other characters had a dynamic on the level of Ellie and Joel, not that I necessarily expected there to be. You can tell how much Joel cares for Ellie in that museum scene, and it is wonderful just to hear them talk. Oh, and, erm… ELLIE SWIMS!

There are traces of the events of the first game

AH: Can we swear? Because if so, halle-fucking-luljah! When the Instagram advert popped up on my feed a couple of days before release, and the opening part of the video showed off Ellie swimming, I genuinely can’t describe just how happy that made me feel. The definite low point of the first game was having to fetch pallets for Ellie to cross bodies of water, so that fact I never had to even touch a single pallet for that reason in this game? So much of an improvement.

WR: It’s a very different moment in tone, but in that same flashback, when you see the “I killed for them” message on the wall… for me, possibly the creepiest moment of the game because of how out of place it is there at the museum. These indirect moments of referencing the cost of the actions of Joel at the end of the first game I found much more smart than when they showed Ellie confronting Joel about it in other flashbacks. I would have preferred it being kept more subtle, with the hints at the divide between Ellie and Joel and other consequences.

AH: See, we’ve already spoken quickly about this exact scene and I’m on the complete opposite side to this. It was the single biggest secret building up to this game, and because of that it basically had to come out at some point, rather than it just being alluded to in Ellie and Joel’s interactions with one another. Saying that though, I was so disappointed in that scene itself. I really felt like it should’ve a huge, pivotal moment for the game and Ellie and Joel’s relationship, as it is basically Joel dooming the whole of humanity because of his own selfish actions, but it just falls so flat in my opinion. It’s missing the emotion I feel like should be there, and instead it just feels like a throwaway conversation between the two. What really annoys me as well is the scene at the end of the game where Ellie tells Joel that she can never forgive him for taking away the opportunity for her life to have purpose is exactly the kind of moment I was wanting, but because it’s at the very end of the game it’s hard to care as much.

Joel sharing the full truth with Ellie of his actions at the Firefly hospital

WR: Isn’t that sort of the problem, though? After the first game, it was always going to be hard for that scene to live up to how you imagine it. The genius of that ending is in the way that it leaves it to your imagination, and so showing it in this game goes against that. That final flashback is beautifully told, and the idea of Ellie maybe starting to forgive Joel is heartbreaking knowing the events that come after that conversation. In a different way to the first game, it leaves it up to the imagination, but this time we know that that time was taken from them.

AH: See, for me, the ambiguity of the ending of the first game was always going to be ruined as soon as this one was announced, there was no way of getting around it in my opinion. If it had stayed as a single game, then yeah, I could imagine what happened afterwards. But again, it was too big of a secret to ignore in a sequel.

WR: I reckon there was other ways around it where you don’t have to directly show those scenes. However, I have to mention that Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker are amazing in this game. Though, and this may be a controversial opinion, Laura Bailey potentially steals the show as Abby. After Ellie has killed some of her friends, she confronts Ellie at the theatre and we are again put back in time; though this time, we are playing through events from the perspective of Abby, starting around the end of the first game. We play as Abby for a long time from this point, which is a bold move, but this dual perspective really gives a different viewpoint on the actions of Ellie and Joel.

Abby is a complex character who raises moral questions for the player

AH: Now, I know this is the point where a lot of people say the game starts going downhill, and honestly, I don’t understand it. To me, the game actually improves in quality when you’re having to play as Abby, as you’re running into Infected more and it starts to feel more like the first game from a gameplay standpoint. However, I guess I’m also biased because I love when games and films turn the perspective and make you see the story from the “villain’s” point of view, especially with this where there isn’t any character that’s either good or evil, they’re all shades of grey and have done some really shitty things to survive in the times they’re living in. Honestly, to me, Abby is the most morally grounded character in the whole game. We find out that Abby is the daughter of the surgeon Joel murdered in the hospital at the end of the first game (he’s also the only person you do have to kill in that moment, which I thought was a great touch) so she’s gone out for her revenge as I’d assume most people would in that situation. Once she’d got that, she was quite happy to just walk away from the situation until Ellie came back and started killing her friends one by one. The viewpoint switch really does go to show that Ellie really isn’t the innocent, perfect character people see her as.

WR: In my opinion, that flip of perspective is where a lot of the new ideas this game has come from. Revisiting areas that were previously hostile but, as Abby, are areas populated by people surviving, challenges how you consider the world this game presents to you. The game seems to make a point to make you play as Abby through these events after playing through them as Ellie, really hitting you with the inevitable consequences of the people you have affected. The relationship between Abby and Owen stood out to me; it has so many layers to it that make you invested, and yet the whole time you know that Ellie kills Owen. Abby also has different attributes and items which can affect how you play, which is a nice touch. The items she can craft are more directly damaging, for example.

AH: Again, when we had our quick conversation before properly doing this, I said that the whole time with Abby and Owen, there was obvious sexual tension, to the point where I was just like “can you two just hurry up and have sex already?”, not realising that’s actually where it ended up. Given that you only see their relationship and how it develops after you’ve already killed Owen as Ellie, I’m honestly so surprised at how invested in that love affair (in both senses of the phrase) I was. Abby’s exclusive items are so good, big shoutouts to the pipebomb and flamethrower weapons, definitely saved my ass on multiple occasions against the Shamblers, Clickers, and that absolute monstrosity in the Hospital Basement which I’m sure we’re going to talk about.

Infected remain a key threat throughout

WR: Okay, so, yeah. For me, they went overboard with the Infected design there; I get that there are references to the Infected underneath the Hospital being there since the Outbreak, and the design of that area is very eery. However, when we get to the boss-style Infected… it gets too arcade horror for me, with this Infected of multiple bodies. The way it quickly charges around that area just doesn’t click (no pun intended) with me, tonally feeling way off from other Infected encounters. I more envisage a slower, more imposing Infected being the result of such a long gestation period. However, I will say that the flamethrower was very useful there!

AH: I will agree it definitely seems odd that it’s so fast, as we know that as the infection progresses, the movement of the Infected slows down, with Shamblers and Bloaters being super strong but extremely slow moving as the last stages of infection. I’d disagree it gets too arcade horror though, I always saw it as a natural progression. We know that Infected can start to merge into the walls with the fungus growing, as we come across this multiple times during the game, so I don’t think it’s that hard to believe the idea of “There’s been Infected in a confined, untouched area for the last 25 years, could they possibly have merged together in some way?”

WR: It isn’t really the merging together, as that makes sense, it is more the overall presentation of that fight gameplay-wise and the design of the Rat King. At that point in the game, it felt as though I was supposed to be terrified, but it more just seemed a bit ridiculous. The Shamblers are better designs; an Infected that evolves to disperse spores in such a violent way fits the theme of it being natural and evolving over time. Overall, through the game did you prefer the Infected or non-Infected encounters?

At times, fights are viciously violent

AH: If we’re just looking at it from a straight up gameplay perspective, personally for me, the Infected fights are more enjoyable than those of the human enemies. However, the story behind the human enemy fights are a lot more engrossing than those of the Infected. I think here is where it loses the connection slightly to the first game, as the story for that was always about the fights against the Infected, and the fights versus the human enemies seems like a sub-plot. Contrastingly, for this game, the roles for that have been reversed and honestly? I’m not too sure I’m a fan.

WR: Is a possible reason for much of that is because of the war going on between two factions, the WLF and the Seraphites, throughout the game? I am not sure enough was done to make me invested in this battle; more time with characters such as Isaac (Jeffrey Wright) may have helped here to really show the motivations of the leadership on either side. Instead, it seemed more of a crossfire you are navigating through.

AH: I’m so surprised that we don’t ever really see the leaders of either side all that much within the game so that they can explain their motivations. Given it takes up over half of the story, I think I can count on one hand the number of interactions you have with Isaac, none of which are particularly that long, and I don’t think you ever run into the leader of the Seraphites, do you? I honestly can’t remember, and if you do, it shows just how little the game makes you care.

More time spent with Isaac in the game may have helped develop his character

WR: It even seemed to me that Isaac was being set up as a character who would be crucial to the story later on, but then he is killed quite abruptly; it is even as though they only had limited time with Jeffrey Wright? This war is really prominent in the life Abby leads, and yet for me a lot of the time playing as her I was more anticipating her interactions with Owen and Ellie.

AH: Oh for sure, especially wanting more of her interactions with Ellie, although I guess that that’s because you’re obviously emotionally connected to Ellie, and want to see more of her, as well as knowing how the story ends up so you’re left wanting to see how Abby and Ellie interact with one another once Ellie’s killing spree of Abby’s friends has gone down. You just knew that something big was going to happen between the two of them.

That section playing as Abby is extensive, and there is a risk of a lot of it being overshadowed by the knowledge that there is a confrontation with Ellie on the way

William Robinson

WR: It makes me wonder why they ordered the sections of the game the way they did; that section playing as Abby is extensive, and there is a risk of a lot of it being overshadowed by the knowledge that there is a confrontation with Ellie on the way. Perhaps it was almost meant to be exhaustive, to really force you to find more out about the life Abby leads to that point. I reckon maybe another flashback or two, similar to the aquarium one with Owen, may have helped the pacing here, as the combat is frequent.

AH: You see, I personally don’t actually mind that the extensive amounts of combat during the Abby sections you play, without much downtime. It really hammers home the fact that this is what they have to go through in order to just survive in this world. Abby and the WLF aren’t only stuck in a war with the Infected in their day-to-day lives, they’re stuck in another against the Seraphites as a result of a broken peace treaty. As well as the fact that it helps break up the monotony of the combat by not just having you face one type of enemy constantly, it actually makes me sort of feel sorry for Abby because she never really wanted to live this life, she was quite happy as a Firefly until Joel ended all of that in the first game.

As Abby, you meet Yara (Victoria Grace), a Seraphite caught in the middle of the war

WR: The aspect that really stands out is that after they murder Joel, they make a point to not kill others, and they show that again later on in the game. Ellie, though, goes through several of the people close to Abby, and that moral difference makes you question Ellie a lot. When you play through the sequence where Abby discovers first Alice, then Mel and Owen all murdered, it hit me in the core; it’s a powerful way to show the cycle of violence these people are in.

AH: Yeah, Abby is quite content on getting revenge on Joel alone for murdering her Dad, whereas Ellie is determined to take out every person that was at the scene when Joel was killed, despite the fact that it’s Abby alone who shoots him with the shotgun and then finishes the job with the golf club. The fact that Ellie is willing to go to whatever lengths it takes to avenge Joel’s killing (we finally know who the “I’m gonna find, and I’m gonna kill, every last one of them” line from the original trailer is about!) is the main thing that makes me say that Ellie isn’t at all a good person in this game. Abby spares her life on two separate occasions, whilst Ellie only does the same at the end of the game.

WR: Is it just me who finds that Ellie becomes more and more similar to Joel as this game goes on? That determination to hunt them down, and even the way she acts during combat, reminds me of Joel in the first game. So, when you reached the theatre, and you play as Abby against Ellie, were you on the side of Abby at that point of the game? It’s fascinating that Ellie becomes the opposition in the gameplay, yet which of the two were you backing throughout that?

Ellie confronting Nora, a friend of Abby

AH: She definitely does become more and more like Joel as the game progresses, that’s a very good observation. She definitely gets more and more selfish as time progresses, to the point where it causes her to lose everything, and everyone, around her. It’s her determination to hunt Abby down that causes her to lose Dina, probably the most important person to her besides Joel. With the theatre section, I can’t actually say that I was rooting for Abby, despite having just spent the last chunk of the game playing as her and seeing her side of the story. I think that’s the game’s intention though, to make you uncomfortable whilst fighting Ellie, because she’s obviously the person you’ve spent a game and a half getting to know and empathising with. The hatred still lingers for Abby for what she did to Joel from my point of view, what about you?

WR: Even though I question so many of her actions, there is such an emotional attachment to Ellie that she is still the one I side with. That fight is tough too, with Ellie being a formidable opponent – as you would expect. It is Abby who emerges with the advantage, and again leaves Ellie alive; at this point, I find it tragic that these two people are in this cycle of violence that is damaging their lives. If Ellie and Abby talked more, I reckon they may even discover similarities between them.

AH: I don’t think they could ever get along with each other for that exact reason personally, they’re far too alike to one another. Even their stories in this game match up perfectly – they both have lost the person that means the most to them, and all they care about is avenging that fact, no matter what lengths it is that they have to go to in order to achieve that.

Ellie in the theatre; this becomes the setting for a fight between her and Abby

WR: Is there any other points about the game to this point you would have us mention at this juncture? Otherwise, we shall go on to the first appearance of the Farm; at first I wondered if this was the end of the game, with Ellie and Dina settled outside Jackson after Dina has given birth to J.J.; there are some great quiet moments here, and seeing Ellie as a mother figure after all the events you have played through is emotional. Then, herding sheep, suddenly her trauma from the murder of Joel strikes her.

AH: If the game had have ended there, I think I would’ve been even more annoyed at the ending than I already am to be honest with you. It just seemed like such a dumb place to end it, however, like you said, it felt like that was going to be the end for whatever reason. You know what absolutely broke me in that section specifically? When you’re holding J.J. (I’m gonna assume it stands for Jesse Joel or something myself) and go outside and sit on the tractor, Ellie says to him that “she’s going to teach him how to play guitar.” To me, that was a perfect way to bring a whole full circle to that, and carries on Joel’s legacy. Joel taught Ellie how to play guitar, having promised her at the end of their journey, and now Ellie is promising at the end of her journey to teach J.J. how to do the same thing when he’s old enough.

To me, that was a perfect way to bring a whole full circle to that, and carries on Joel’s legacy.

Ashley Harrison

WR: That’s a great point; I also found being able to engrave initials on the tree a touching moment, especially when you revisit the Farm and see them again. The trauma Ellie feels about Joel is done well; it suddenly hitting her as she goes about her life is an apt representation of how an experience can impact you. When Tommy arrives with a lead on Abby, and Dina is trying to make Ellie stay, which side are you on?

AH: I’m automatically on Tommy’s side trying to get Ellie to go with him after Abby, purely because I feel like that’s the ending that the game justified; Ellie has gone this far, she can’t quit now. Had the game instead ended with Ellie staying at home with Dina, I would’ve been even more disappointed in the ending than I already am with the actual ending.

The hunt for Abby and a life with Dina become conflicting options for Ellie

WR: Okay, we’re nearly at the ending; Santa Barbara is the setting for much of the final stages of the game, first playing as Abby, then as Ellie. Abby searching for a newly regrouping Firefly movement is a positive, forward-facing act, yet we never see these Fireflies. Instead, Abby is ambushed and captured, and suddenly Ellie hunting for Abby started to have the feeling of a rescue mission to me. Can I just say; this section of the game is STUNNING. That beach area when Ellie arrives? Wow.

AH: I think this is definitely the best looking section of the game by a mile, so I’m with you, it’s absolutely stunning. You know what though? I don’t actually think Abby ever got in contact with Fireflies; it was all just a set-up. My own (purely speculative, of course) theory is that that “Firefly Base” had long been taken over by the new enemies introduced for this final portion of the game, and the radio frequencies left on the table were hoaxes left by the enemies, except the one where she gets a reply, which is a direct link to them rather than Fireflies as Abby thought. Whilst we know from the Ellie section that the enemy base isn’t all that far from the safehouse, it’d explain how the enemies got there so quick to capture Abby; they were monitoring that base.

WR: That makes a lot of sense now you say it! Especially as they ambush them straight after, immediately as they leave the house. Fighting Infected in a more sunny, bright area was quite refreshing too. Those battles were dynamic, having a really different feel to other encounters in the past. I thought the non-Infected you face weren’t developed much though; for example, the two that are killed after Ellie is captured. Her using her immunity to her advantage there is a new idea too; though, that injury against the tree seemed really severe, and she stitches herself up without us seeing. I actually, despite the game being quite long, reckon more detail around this sequence would have helped.

Workbenches allow you to upgrade your weapons, shown with detailed animations

AH: Yeah, I would’ve loved more development for them. Do we even know what they’re called, and what their motivation for hanging people on stakes is? I genuinely can’t remember that ever being mentioned in that final section. My favourite part about that level of the game though, I have to say, is the fact that you can release the Infected from their chains and temporarily have them join your side of the battle, taking out the non-Infected enemies. It’s a neat little battle mechanic that obviously we’ve mentioned you can see glimpses of earlier in the game, but this is the first time you can manually pit the Infected against non-Infected enemies.

WR: It’s slightly different to those earlier encounters – it makes me sorta wonder why there wasn’t more of it, as there is so much combat in the game. Wouldn’t the WLF and the Seraphites use Infected in their war? It seemed there is a whole operation going on in Santa Barbara that we find not much out about. Especially, again, compared to how much of the game is spent on the WLF and the Seraphites. This final part was quite tough, but to me wasn’t as suspense-building compared to the Firefly hospital in the first game, where you could really sense that you were at the finale. Here, you save the captured people, and – to me – the game quickly shifts into finale mode, with Ellie starting to struggle more.

AH: You honestly found it tough? To me, it was too easy, there was just too much stuff to hide behind so you could get a decent angle to either shoot the enemies, or sneak up on them to stealth kill them. Definitely wasn’t as suspense building as the Firefly Hospital in the first game either, I’ll agree with you there. At that point you know that the endgame was there, and it was a race against time to save Ellie before the operation started. The search to find Abby at the end of Part II doesn’t have anywhere near the sense of urgency in my opinion.

Going prone opens up new avenues in combat

WR: I played on Hard, how about you? Not to compete, just wondering, haha! Yeah, agreed, though with the setting and new opposition, I reckon it could have been; it was paced in a way that didn’t seem smooth to me. Okay, so here we are – the discovery of Abby tied up. Ellie cuts her down, and they move over to where the boats are. I know you have a strong opinion on the next part…

AH: I did just play on Normal difficulty using all the default sliders, though I really do wish I’d turned up the frequency of ammo drops because I think I found myself without ammo more times than I ever did in the first game. Man, oh man… This fucking ‘climax’ to the story. Genuinely this has brought down my score alone that I’d give the game. For anyone wondering, the climax of the game sees you fight Abby and attempt to drown her in the sea, and just as Abby is about to die Ellie suddenly sees Joel and decides to let Abby go free. I get why the game ends this way, Ellie is breaking the cycle of revenge that she knows would only lead to Lev coming to find Ellie and exact revenge on her. However, am I really supposed to believe that after everything Ellie has been through to get revenge on Abby, after travelling from Wyoming to Seattle (a journey Google says takes 16 hours in a car, a luxury obviously not enjoyed in the game), after murdering each of Abby’s friends one by one, that she would really let Abby leave alive at the last second, purely because she saw a vision of Joel that hasn’t bothered her in the journey up to this point? She’s killed numerous innocent people on the journey to find Abby, and yet she can’t finish the job. The game is too long and too much happens to Ellie during it that it makes it impossible to believe that Ellie would show mercy at this point, she’s too far gone mentally that letting Abby go just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

WR: There is two sides to it for me; the idea of that conversation with Joel inspiring Ellie to break the cycle is beautiful, especially with the connection to the finale of the first game. Yet, as you say, for it to happen in that way, after all the events of the game… it doesn’t quite work. Also, the 1-on-1 combat is clunky; there is a melee fight at the end of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End as well, so it seems to be a way the developer is going, and I am not much of a fan. That shot of Ellie isolated in the water, though, connects back to your point about her; she has lost so many people.

Abby taking away the time for Ellie to forgive Joel is heartbreaking

AH: And that point is rammed home even further upon returning to what was Ellie & Dina’s home after letting Abby go, only to find Dina and J.J. have left Ellie. This is, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the game and the fact it comes after the lowest point of the game for me is such a juxtaposition between the two moments. You realise in this moment just how much Ellie has lost. She’s lost her parents. She’s lost Riley. She’s lost Marlene. She’s lost Joel. And now she’s lost Dina. The ending of the journey has left her with less than she started with. If you think back to the first game, there’s a moment with Sam after the sniper point and Sam gets bitten, where Ellie and Sam are having a conversation, with the latter asking Ellie “How is it that you’re never scared? […] What are you scared of?” Ellie’s answer to that is “Being by myself. I’m scared of ending up alone.” And with everybody that she’s lost along the course of both games, that’s exactly what’s happened to her at this point. She had everything she wanted, and because she couldn’t let Joel go she’s ended up alone. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of storytelling that reminds you that when The Last of Us is good, it’s absolutely incredible. It upsets me so much that people aren’t making the connection between that scene with Sam, and this moment at the end of Part II, because it’s such a vital piece of lore behind this ending. I’ve had to explain to so many people online the significance of Ellie ending up alone.

WR: I also got a vibe that she was heading back to Jackson, though, and perhaps she has seen how much she has lost and is going to try and build relationships again, with Dina, with Tommy, with others. That is really complex and intelligent character development. That final sequence at the Farm, with the flashback, is so emotional. Finding out right at the end of the game that Ellie was really going to try and forgive Joel, despite every event, and that opportunity was lost… that really hit me. It isn’t at the end of a game that builds to the moment as well as the first game built to an ending, that’s a key difference. For me, forgiveness is perhaps the key theme of this game, and the ability to allow yourself to be open to it.

It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of storytelling that reminds you that when The Last of Us is good, it’s absolutely incredible.

Ashley Harrison

AH: Revenge and forgiveness are undoubtedly the key themes of the game, but the most significant piece of forgiveness just happens too late for it to be believable, as I’ve already said. That final cutscene with Joel that you mentioned where you find out Ellie was willing to try to forgive Joel for taking away her purpose in life, it’s absolutely beautiful. I mentioned earlier how I felt like the big scenes lacked the emotion that I felt they deserved, especially the scene of Ellie finding out Joel lied to her, but this one doesn’t suffer from that in the slightest – this is the exact kind of scene I was hoping for more of. It genuinely broke me that despite the fact Joel took away what could have been her purpose in life, and she’s obviously angry at him for it and rightly so, she’s willing to try and forgive Joel because of everything they’ve been through together and the fact that at this point, she really doesn’t know any other life.

WR: It’s the type of scene I am after; it is a consequence of the first game, but builds on it with ideas that are dependent on that game instead of repeating to the audience the events that have happened. The problem is that it takes until the ending to get a scene at this level. The first game excels at weaving gameplay and cutscenes together into an absorbing narrative, whilst this game felt a bit more as though I was playing towards story points. In your opinion, where is Ellie heading towards? Back to Jackson? Off on her own? Perhaps another way? Also, would you prefer they leave the story as is now (with the possible exception of DLC), or keep going – potentially to form a trilogy?

The game opens in Jackson; perhaps Ellie is going back there?

AH: I’m fairly sure she’ll probably head back to Jackson and reunite with Tommy, rather than set out on her own. She knows she’s safe there and time can heal most wounds, so I don’t think Ellie would risk her own life to go off on her own. As for the story, I’d love to see a Left Behind style DLC that focuses on Tommy and develops his story more. It’d be a good way to bring Joel back, and could help fill in the 5 year gap between the ending of the first game and the beginning of this one. As far as whether to make it into a trilogy or not? I’m firmly in the ‘no’ camp for this one myself. The climax to this story has turned me so far off the idea of another game, it’s such a letdown.

WR: Yeah, as aforementioned, more on Tommy please! I would be concerned that they would have an even greater scope on another game, and it would have even more of a problem with under-developed ideas than this game does. If it was a really focused story on Ellie returning to Jackson and finding Tommy, as well as maybe seeing where Abby and Lev go (to try and find Fireflies? Unless they reckon that was part of the ambush), then perhaps. A lot of my anxiousness about this game losing restraint was founded, though – I would prefer if they had not made a second game.

AH: After playing it now, knowing everything I know, I’d have preferred it without a second game honestly too. The first was perfect with the story and how it leaves such an open ending for you to imagine yourself what happens after the game. As an aside, have we mentioned just how good the sound design is? Despite the fact Gustavo Santaolalla can’t read or write music in the traditional sense, he’s composed 3 incredible soundtracks for the series. My favourite moment sound wise from the whole game is in the hospital basement. As you start exploring, it starts with a simple, slow drum beat. As you progress though and get closer to the Rat King, more and more instruments are added and the tempo increases, really adding to the drama of that moment. It’s genuinely incredible, and had my heart racing even just walking around in the basement.

Environments are stunningly detailed

WR: It seems harsh to say it, perhaps, with all the work that went into this game – and as a piece of art it is undoubtedly technically phenomenal; the performances, the visual graphics, the gameplay systems. The soundtrack to this game is amazing, as is the sound design. The unique way Santaolalla creates music is astounding to me, and creates such a sense of atmosphere that is distinct to this game. Yet, story-wise, it feels unnecessary to me, and that is at the forefront of The Last of Us as a series.

AH: Absolutely. For such a story-focused pair of games, The Last of Us Part II gets everything else so right except the story.

WR: After finishing the game, how were your emotions? In addition, how compelled are you to play through the game multiple ways in comparison to the first? I felt I was thorough, yet I have many collectibles to find!

AH: The game is such a rollercoaster of emotions, when it’s good it’s great, but when it’s bad it’s awful, and that’s personally how I felt. There are definite low-points, but absolutely more high points. However, between the combination of game length and the fact that Ellie lets Abby go free at the end of the game, I’m really not likely to do anything more than a collectible runthrough to obtain the Platinum trophy as like you, I thought I was pretty thorough but apparently I missed so many! In comparison, I’ve genuinely done nearly 20 runs of the first game.

There are plenty of secrets to find in the world

WR: I am not sure whether I shall go for the Platinum; I often go for the Platinum on games I connect with on an exceptional level, and I don’t reckon this game is on the level of the first. Right, unless there are other elements you reckon we should mention, we’re gonna go onto our scores! We have discussed a lot about the game, but at the same time there is so much more we could talk about!

AH: I think we’ve covered everything now that I’d want to talk about! Any further discussion would just be repeating points, and I’m sure we’ve already done as such haha! How are we doing this? A score out of 10 I assume? If we’re going for that, then I think a fair review score would be a 7/10. Like I said there are such incredible moments in the game, but there are severe problems that I have that I don’t think I could justify anything more than a 7.

WR: See, this game is so tricky to score! It is stunning in many ways – as a production it is really impressive. Those key story flaws, and a lack of restraint in multiple areas, really affect the game for me, and led to moments where I was not on board with the direction the game was taking. It’s impressive, ambitious, so flawed – a 9 from me.

The game is ambitious in the emotions being portrayed

AH: A 9? Honestly that’s higher than I was expecting. With such critical flaws, I could never imagine giving the game that high of a score.

WR: It’s the level of detail in the world, and the improvements to parts of the gameplay, as well as how ambitious they have been with the story they have told. There is so much smart about the game, even with all the flaws. Would I have preferred no second game? Yes. However, if I am scoring this game, I have to consider just how impressive so much of it is.

It is a game I can imagine inspiring a lot of creators in years to come to try alternative methods with their video game narratives.

William Robinson

AH: See, I can’t give it extra points for ambitiousness in the story when it falls completely flat on its face at its most vital point for me. I appreciate what they’ve tried to do, but yeah… It’s definitely impressive in its scale and scope, and I fully commend everyone at Naughty Dog for what they’ve achieved, but for me the most important part of The Last of Us is its story, and Part II just doesn’t do it for me.

WR: There are those shining moments, at points in the flashbacks; at the end; in the structure of the game, that show me that those ideas are there. The flipped perspective with Abby is really clever and shows a nuance a lot of games do not have. It is a game I can imagine inspiring a lot of creators in years to come to try alternative methods with their video game narratives.

Is there going to be DLC, or a third game?

AH: I definitely hope that more creators take up the idea of a dual perspective; showing multiple viewpoints definitely helped my enjoyment of the game. It also helps provide more depth to the supposed villain if you get to see things from their side of the story. In this case, it definitely helped to humanise Abby, and see her as more than just a random person who murdered Joel.

WR: Yeah, so many games have underdeveloped opposing characters; perhaps now more people shall see that there are many ways to provide another perspective on the events of a game. Keep an eye on narrative styles in the years to come, and see if there are more experiments with alternative viewpoints on the events within games. It’s been a delight doing this again. Let me know when you get that Platinum, haha! Until next time!

AH: Until next time!


I hope you enjoyed the return of this series of article! These are going to be recurring from now on; let us know if there are any particular changes you suggest. Also, leave a comment about your thoughts on The Last of Us Part II; we could discuss more!

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Review

Developed by: Guerrilla Games
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Out Now


Horizon Zero Dawn‘s major DLC expansion delivers more of what made the action adventure so compelling to begin with – beautiful environments, visceral action, and an engaging story about woman and machine (you can read my review here). The Frozen Wilds also makes subtle but noticeable improvements on weaker areas of the base game, which bodes well for the inevitable sequel.


A Cut Above

The Frozen Wilds is set in The Cut, a brand new addition to the north of the map. As we know from popular culture, heading north often means cold, harsh conditions, and it is no different here. Horizon is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where sentient machines caused widespread devastation and led to the human race essentially hitting the reset button; The Frozen Wilds introduces a new handful of these imposing robot dinosaurs, and the linear path up to The Cut forces an encounter with one straight off the bat.

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This is the Scorcher, to be precise – a machine that is ferocious at close range and can produce devastating bursts of fire. Even the players who are experts with the the way combat works in Horizon will find a big challenge here, especially when multiple machines are attacking at once later on. Whilst the recommended level for entry was 35 (the previous cap was 50, which is raised to 60 in this DLC), even my lv50 Aloy struggled at times. Another introduction is a machine based on a polar bear, which can unleash consecutive melee attacks that leave Aloy reeling. The added challenge is welcome for those who had perhaps gotten too comfortable with the cycle of strategic combat.

A big draw of Horizon was not only the gameplay but the intriguing story that was interwoven in; the Banuk were a tribe that were involved at times, mainly though the enigmatic Sylens, who assists Aloy at crucial points. They remained mysterious, though – however, The Cut is the residence of the Banuk, and reveals a lot about them. The overarching plot does little to deviate massively from what Guerrilla presented in the main story, with dangerous machines populating the freezing mountain known as Thunder’s Drum due to a hostile AI.

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It’s what The Frozen Wilds gives you within that structure that supplements what came before. Aratak, the Banuk Chieftain, and Ourea, who discovers a friendlier AI, are the most developed side characters and provide the main emotional payoff, but the Banuk tribe is full of other perspectives and troubles that Aloy can help with. It’s like learning a different culture – one quest requires finding missing hunters that didn’t return from a survival ritual, and dealing with the morality of saving them when they think their failure makes their lives void. Other quests teach you about new materials and techniques, adding slight variety to gameplay whether it is spear modifications or a new flamethrower weapon. Horizon was already good at giving you side quests that weren’t just busywork, but felt unique and worthwhile, and The Frozen Wilds continues this.


Ice, Ice, Aloy

The mini-open-world addition that is The Cut is full of notable things to do. Some are changed-up versions of what came before, such as a Tallneck machine which needs putting back together. Others are new additions, like the Control Towers that repair nearby machines. The latter is one of the better introductions, as it makes you think about new approaches; if you sneak in and disable the tower first, the ensuing battle will be much easier. The Frozen Wilds is at its best at times like these, where it is ever-so-slightly changing up the the gameplay while sticking true to what made Horizon one of the gaming highlights of 2017.

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It’s the little things that you notice, as well. In my original review of Horizon, I noted the animation as sometimes looking a bit stiff in conversations. The Frozen Wilds features exchanges where characters look more natural – swaying, using hand motions, and pacing as they express emotion. It makes everything a little more believable, and is a good sign that Guerrilla know what to improve for the sequel that they are surely working hard on.

It’s just a shame that not everything can be magically fixed in DLC. The timing of Horizon Zero Dawn‘s release – so close to the groundbreaking Zelda: Breath of the Wild – emphasised the clunkiness of traversal when ascending more awkward, mountainous environments. The Frozen Wild‘s snowy world is full of these areas, awkwardly limiting where you can and can’t go. At one point, I got lost in The Hunting Grounds of The Cut just because a small wall was blocked for me; one issue with being given another chunk of the same game is that you have more time to examine the intricacies of how it works – flaws and all.

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Then again, it is saved to a degree by the stupendous beauty all around you. Even by Horizon‘s already-high standards, The Cut provides another level of technical achievement. You’re either journeying through tranquil, crisp white sheets of snow, or you’re being battered by relentless blizzards that block out everything further than a few feet in front of Aloy. In the spirit of Horizon, this is mixed in with the remnants of the old world, like the massive, frozen dam in the centre of The Cut; in both art direction and raw technical prowess, Horizon remains at the pinnacle of games as an art form.


Final Thoughts

The 8-ish hours it took me to get through the majority of The Frozen Wilds gave me a strong sense of closure. There is enough DNA from the base game to keep it feeling familiar, but also enough new ideas – and considerable challenge – to make playing through the entirety of the DLC both justifiable and enjoyable. Learning new bits and pieces of info about the events of Horizon act as a neat epilogue, but also set up what might come in the future; just like being reminded of some weak points raise the excitement for what an improved Horizon sequel could achieve.

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.