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.

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.

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.

Oxenfree Review

Developed and Published by: Night School Studios
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile
Release Date: Out Now


In the ever-expanding genre of the “walking simulator” (where the narrative of the game takes priority over gameplay), Oxenfree manages to carve its niche thanks to a quirky setting and aesthetic. While it can be niggly to control and leave you looking for more at times, the first game from Night School Studios is overall a narrative success that channels the same retro supernatural spirit that Stranger Things managed on TV.


Teenage Dream

The premise is pretty simple in Oxenfree. You play as Alex, joining 4 other friends on a trip to the empty Edwards Island, a regular resort for these troubled teens. There is a feeling of aftermath to proceedings as you discover the group dynamic – affected greatly by the passing of Alex’s brother Michael –  through early discussion. Environments are 2.5D, with set paths that shepherd you through the story but also allow a small feeling of freedom and choice. You can interact at a basic level with the environment by inspecting objects, but the most interesting segment of the game is controlling the flow of dialogue.

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You use directional inputs to decide on responses to the rest of the group in real-time, which adds a pace and natural feeling that is sometimes missing in walking-and-talking games (for example, the TellTale games). One of the best scenes of the entire game takes place early on, before anything supernatural kicks in, as the group gathers around a campfire to do what any teenagers do – pine over each other, bicker at each other, and generally provide gloriously entertaining teenage drama. Blue-haired Alex is a great protagonist, certainly flawed but also inherently likeable as your voice in all this. How you handle, say, the resent from the girlfriend of her late brother supplies plenty of player agency throughout. If you so choose, you can let the others talk without you, and just listen – it’s really seamless, and an approach other games in the genre would do well to look at.


Spook Station

Tonally, Oxenfree is a lot like Life is Strange, with teenage issues mixing with time manipulation to form a heightened yet believable story. After Alex inadvertently opens a rift inside a cave through the tuning of her radio, a frenetic island escape begins; puzzles are rarely challenging but often interesting, as an unknown entity starts playing with the minds of our main characters. Alex’s radio becomes your main way of supernatural interaction going forward – thought as a gameplay mechanic it falls a bit flat. All you have to do at major story beats is find fluctuations as you scroll through radio frequencies. As with many games of this ilk, if you are looking for much of a challenge, Oxenfree isn’t the game for you.

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The most affecting moments of Oxenfree come when it fully embraces the time travel aspect to allow greater insight into the relationship between Alex and her brother. Seeing the contrast to a brighter segment of her life is bittersweet, and serves the characters in the present. Oxenfree ends just as it is starting to experiment with more extreme uses of time, and it left a slightly unsatisfactory aftertaste. There is a New Game Plus mode waiting after the initial 4-5 hour playthrough, but it still isn’t quite enough – Oxenfree has amazing ideas, but lacks the full confidence to commit to them at the end.


Been Here Before

On this topic, it is worth noting that parts of Oxenfree can feel like padding. Alex and company have to backtrack across the island a couple of times towards the climax of the game, and it gets a bit tiring despite the continued conversation. Using an analogue stick (I played Oxenfree on Switch) to control your movement through the narrow pathways is often quite fiddly, too, making movement quite uneven at times simply because of the limited space in which to move. On the other hand, you do at least have some charming visuals to look at on the way.

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There’s an almost handmade aesthetic in Oxenfree, with rustic textures making up the creepy, mysterious look of the island. Character models are oh-so-slightly exaggerated, giving them extra expression but maintaining a relatively realistic appearance. In this department, the game truly shines once you’ve started opening rifts and encountering teenage possession; Oxenfree uses neon glitches and harsh static effects to show time loops and other dimensional manipulation, escalating fabulously as you play. The music by Andrew Rohrmann compliments the visuals, knowing when to be tranquil and when to be eery.


Final Thoughts

Oxenfree brings some neat ideas to the walk-and-talk genre, with seamless continuous dialogue being the highlight. It also skirts around some bigger implementations of time travel, not quite realising the narrative potential that is set up. Nevertheless, for fans of story-driven experiences it is worth playing through – especially if you love some teenage drama. Come on, admit it, you do – there’s no judgment here!

7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.