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Author: Chris Evans

DiRT Rally 2.0 (GOTY) – The Verdict

DiRT Rally 2.0 (GOTY) – The Verdict

As with most other sports, the World Rally Championship is on hold, but for the first time since the days of Colin McRae and Richard Burns, we have a championship contender in Elfyn Evans. Yet in these dark times when the forests are quiet, a Game of the Year edition of DiRT Rally 2.0 appears pulling together the content from the four seasons that Codemasters have released since the game first launched in February 2019. This bundle also brings with it the Colin McRae Flat Out pack, a content collection designed to honour McRae’s title winning season 25 years ago and completes Codemasters homage to Colin McRae Rally 2.0, a title which defined my racing days on the PlayStation.

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Clearing The Backlog – Portal 2

Clearing The Backlog – Portal 2

A few things strike me as I start writing about Portal 2. For one, how has it taken me until nine years after release to write about this game again? And for two, it’s strange to look back at Ben’s review from 2011 and to think that was one of the early Verdict’s following the relaunch of the site in April of that year. So much time has past, and yet with regards to Valve’s singleplayer games, it’s only now that anything has changed. Following the recent release of Half-Life: Alyx, I felt it right to go back to the one game from the Half-Life and Portal series that I hadn’t completed, and with that impetus, I cleared Portal 2 from my backlog.

Tracing my progress through the game via Steam achievements, it appears that I made strong headway through the Aperture Science Labs in 2011 before making tiny returns in 2012 and 2016, before making more substantial progress last summer. As for why I didn’t finish the game originally, I can offer no explanation. Looking back at the archives, nothing substantial took my focus away writing wise, but as for my brief dallances since then, I can only put that down to being out of sync with the challenges posed in by Stephen Marchant’s Wheatley. Indeed, when I offered up some early impressions of the game, I talked about the need to get myself Thinking With Portals once again.

For a nine year old game, it has some breathtaking moments.

Without being in the zone for Portal’s challenges, they can take some time to figure out. I’m none too ashamed to reveal that in my last push to complete the game, I fell back onto some handy guides on the internet. Nine years after release, there’s no point in banging my head against a brick wall and getting frustrated. What the guides did tend to reveal when I called upon them was that I wasn’t entirely Thinking With Portals.

There was a certain pace and style to the original Portal, and the three gels and energy tunnels that were new for the sequel really offered a new twist on what was an extremely successful formula. The moments in my last couple of chapters where I put the puzzle together without resorting to a guide provided me with the kind of buzz the I rarely receive from solving puzzles in other games. My girlfriend, stuck in the Corona lockdown with me, gave me more than one funny look while I yelped out in excitement when the lightbulb went off in my head for a few levels.

Humour, a defining quality of Portal 2.

The two Portal titles are really quite different from the mainline Half-Life games, and showed that Valve had a fantastic grasp over characters, world building and most important, humour. The Half-Life titles are exceptional adventures in their own right, but for me Portal shows the breadth of talent in that studio. Their quest for perfection might well have held them back from releasing more singleplayer wonders to us in the years since Portal 2, but when they produced masterpieces like this, we can’t hold that against them too much.

If you’re looking at those playing Alyx right now in the delights of VR, take a look at Valve’s back catalogue and give this one another blast. The jokes are still sharp, and the performances from Ellen McLain, JK Simmonds and Merchant are something to behold.

The Reticule Guide to Isolation Gaming

The Reticule Guide to Isolation Gaming

We all know that things out there in the real world are scary right now, and many of us are entering into social distancing and isolation. But, games are here to help you get through these tough times, and we here at The Reticule have no shame in offering some thoughts on the games to play in these troubled times.

Grand Strategy Fun

My first choice here would be Hearts of Day, but you can substitute it with any number of Paradox Interactive’s other grand strategy titles, they all offer similar thrills. Hell, if you are feeling bold you could start with Imperator: Rome, hit Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis (and maybe even Victoria) before finishing up with World War Two.

The hours you can while away with these are immense, but you don’t need to do it alone. They all offer some level of multiplayer action, and I had a very enjoyable campaign some years ago with friend of The Reticule and ex-Gaming Daily editor Craig Lager in Europa Universalis.

Find yourself a Discord server with some friends, and get stuck in. The intrigue of building alliances and waiting for a stab in the back will make or break your friendships…well, hopefully make them. The pace of the games also ensure that they are a good social space allowing for plenty of time for general chit chat amongst the empire building.

If the Paradox titles lack the fighting that you desire, the Total War games are quite an attractive alternative.

Football Manager

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I talked about the wonders of a long-term game in Football Manager 2020, but you can also take it online with some friends. Draft a squad of superstars and create a mini tournament to battle for managerial supremacy.

If you have family members indoors with you, then simply add another manager and take it in turns managing your team. Take charge of two teams in the National League and see who can take them all the way to the top. It’s a perfect game for multiple ways of play.

Twitch and eSports

I’m not one for Twitch, but Jon runs regular sessions on Escape from Tarkov while a friend who regularly plays retro classic Age of Empires 2 revealed that a recent tournament had 32,000 people watching. Twitch really is a great source of social community interaction, and with Half-Life Alyx coming out this week, many more will be signing in to experience Valve’s latest.

Even Formula 1, the most steeped in tradition of sports is going online with a virtual series to replace the real world action. Surely that will appeal to both gamers and F1 fans?

Battlefield 2

I’m going classic with this one, but you can replace this with the modern games or something like Call of Duty. But for me, BF2 is the one. While it requires some third party support these days, there are still plenty of servers active, and the squad play is like nothing else out there. Find five friends, grab a Discord server and take to the battle. Playing as a squad in this game is like nothing else out there, and it runs on old enough kit to pull your PC out of the loft and still get into the action.

The Sims

All by yourself and missing your friends, family and work colleagues? Build your own little community and embrace your nice…or not so nice side!

Switch Games

The Switch has a brilliant library of games, both first party and third party. If your TV is being taken over with some Netflix bingeing, then take your Switch out of its dock and dive into a deep RPG like Skyrim or The Witcher 3, or get the family involved in a Mario Party game.

The online setup on the Switch isn’t great, but great times can be had with a combination of face time and Mario Kart.

The New Releases

Doom and Animal Crossing have just come out. Rumour is they’re both a bit good.

Stay Safe!

All told, please…stay safe.

Half-Life: Alyx – Missing Out

Half-Life: Alyx – Missing Out

Way back when, Half-Life and Valve were the biggest topics doing the rounds. The hype for the release of Half-Life 2 was unprecedented in the PC landscape, with equally unprecedented levels of debate doing the rounds about the introduction of Steam as the delivery tool for Valve’s blockbuster.

Now, with Half-Life: Alyx just days away from release, I see news stories that pre-loading of Valve’s dive into VR has begun, and I wonder when a game last had pre-loading. Maybe I’m so complacent with fast fibre connections and a lack of time to spend playing new games on the day of release that I don’t keep track of pre-loading details, but hearing about the pre-loading for Alyx sparks a memory of the good old days.

It also reminds me of how Valve fumbled the ball with the franchise. The idea of episodic game releases came and went in the blink of an eye, yet the ending of Episode 2 sticks in the mind as the mother of all cliffhangers, especially for someone who started their games writing life on a Half-Life fansite in halflife2.net.

Valve were for a time the masters of storytelling when it came to first-person action games. I’d argue Arkane took that title and ran with it with the Dishonored series, but Valve were breaking new ground with Half-Life 2. Fellow ex-writer at halflife2.net, and now one half of the writing team behind A Place in the West, Ross Joseph Gardner penned a great piece on the storytelling innovations seen in Half-Life 2 and its episodes.

I would love to allow myself to become invested in the hype for Alyx, I yearn to be taken back into the world of Gordon, Alyx and the G-Man. But…Alyx is a VR game, and one exclusive to a subset of PC headsets. It might be the game which pushes VR towards the mainstream, but the capital investment required to have the requisite hardware will push Alyx beyond many, not to mention the motion sickness worries that put people off VR will likely limit the impact Alyx will have on the broader gaming world.

I don’t doubt that many people will watch others venture through Valve’s new adventure through streamers or lengthy Let’s Play videos which will do a lot to share the experience widely.

But, will that replicate the wonder of the tram sequence from the first game, or your first interaction with a Combine soldier? I don’t know how others will feel, but I would want to experience that moment myself.

I’m going to be missing out on a series that I once held in highest regard. I wish Valve would release a non-VR port of Alyx, but there is also a large part of me which is exceedingly happy that Valve are actually returning to the Half-Life world.

For those lucky enough to be in a position where you will be able to play Alyx, please savour the experience and feel the excitement of pre-loading and waiting for the hour of release.

Card Fight! Fights in Tight Spaces

Card Fight! Fights in Tight Spaces

In these Corona filled times, sporting events and leagues across the country are being postponed. One such example is the Elite Ice Hockey League, the best place to go to watch some hard hitting brawling with a dash of ice hockey. Where might I find something than can quench my desire for some fighting? Later this year, Fights in Tight Spaces might fill the puck-shaped hole in my heart.

Coming from Ground Shatter, with publishing duties helmed by Mode 7 (Frozen Synapse, Tokyo 42)Fights is a card-based tactical fighting game that looks extremely stylish.

With over 150 cards to choose from, you’ll be able to create a fighting style that suits you down to the ground. Along the wy you will pick up injuries or enhancements, all while bringing down criminal organisations across the world.

For me, as long as I can get fighting like this, I’ll be happy.

 

Late to the Arthur Morgan story

Late to the Arthur Morgan story

Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that I received for my birthday last year, but one that I’ve only just started to get into properly. It’s a game that many seem to love, but what took me so long?

When I first tried to get a flavour of the tale that Arthur Morgan spins, my venerable PlayStation 4 (no Pro here) was hooked up to a run of the mill 32” TV. Things looked fine, but it certainly wasn’t the visual tour de force that I had read so much about.

I’m not too stuck up when it comes to visuals, but the early moments were a let-down. Was that due to the setting of the opening to the game? Stranded in the snowy north and trudging through waist high snow drifts all made for a slow and particularly monotonous start visually. Combining this with an awkward control system and a screen that failed to show the game off in its best light, my attention was soon grabbed by the stupendous Resident Evil 2.

Campfires, a moment to sit back and take it all in.

Returning to present day, a flick through my pile of shame revealed that Red Dead was still sat there, unloved for nearly a year. With a 50” 4K TV acquired in the meantime, I decided that a second attempt at walking in Arthur Morgan’s shoes was required.

Again, I found my first hour or so back with the game was tortuously slow. Apart from one fine assault on an O’Driscoll camp, there was simply so much snow to wade through. Even my introduction to hunting was a let-down, the deer wisely running away despite barely a noise being made save for the soft crunch of snow under feet.

While things started to pick up steam upon arrival at the camp near Valentine, it was another couple of hours until I felt like the training wheels were taken off and I was able to get out into the wild and really enjoy what the game had to offer.

Even when the game does start to let you of the leash, inventory management is still a pain, while I have no earthly idea what the difference is between health cores and health bars. A tonic doesn’t seem to keep me alive, but some crackers will? A bit less time spent on animating horse testicles and on general usability could have gone a long way.

Doing my best to recapture that infamous Witcher pose.

I know I’ve been quite negative, but undoubtedly there is such joy to riding around in this world and soaking up the atmosphere. I was a massive fan of Deadwood, and the aesthetic of Westworld is up there among the very best in all of entertainment which makes me wonder why I couldn’t get stuck into the original game. Did that too suffer from the same problems of a slow start and poorly communicate controls and basic survival.

Perhaps what I appreciate most about the open world of Red Dead 2 is the laid-back nature of it all, even when you are being guided step by step in the beginning, you never feel rushed.

A look at your map might reveal a couple of mission markers, but there is never an overwhelming feeling that you are being constantly harried with quests, locations that you must visit or collectibles to find. It perhaps shows the difference between open world games that are happy to take you on a narrative journey, and those open world games where any and every RPG element the developers can think of gets shoehorned in.

Rainbows, everyone loves them.

The nature of the missions is a joy. An early trip into Valentine with a camp member led to drunken frivolity, a journey north to hunt a legendary bear was a chance to soak up the wisdom of a peer….and of course some of the robberies and assaults on hangouts stand out as best in class cinematic action experiences.

I don’t think Red Dead 2 is perfect, and it’s safe to say that I won’t be bothering to explore the online aspect. Trotting my own version of Roach around the plains and forests, an occasional spot of hunting all punctuated by brilliant missions suits me fine.

Yes, I’m late to the party with Rockstar’s latest, but I’m happy that I stuck with it and can start to fully appreciate what it has to offer.

 

Football Manager 2020 – The Long Game

Football Manager 2020 – The Long Game

It’s all about playing the long game these days with Football Manager. For some players, it always has been that way, but this years edition adds so many more reasons to get stuck in for the long haul. Yes, there will always be the allure of jumping into the boots of a Klopp or Guardiola and splashing the cash to build a dream team for one season, but starting from the bottom is a more attractive proposition in Football Manager 2020 than ever before.

I have of course been playing in the Welsh leagues which, thanks to the additions of the lower tier Cymru South and Cymru North present a viable long-term career path without resorting to the dark arts of the Editor. It means my Welsh football aspirations are no longer limited to trying to take The New Saints to Champions League glory, or turning Cardiff Met Uni into serious title challengers. Now, I can take a club from the bottom and take them to the top. Albeit with only one promotion required to get there. But hey, all is fair in love and Football Manager.

I bounced between a few clubs initially as I strived to find a lower Welsh league team with a Club Vision, one of the major new features of the game. It’s worth noting that not many lower league clubs have a strong vision at the start of a new save in Football Manager, but this will start to evolve over the seasons.

The Development Centre for the big clubs is a rich source of information.

I chose Haverfordwest to start my long term career, and club starting with a vision of achieving a top half of the table finish in the Cymru South and to keep the wage budget under control. Simple and standard enough, but it gave me hope that I could make something of my career tootling around the lower reaches of the Welsh game. Being welcomed to the club with a 3D boardroom for a backdrop was a nice touch, even if it was looking a bit rough around the edges. Liverpool this isn’t.

My first season was rough, some poor decision making in the transfer market left the team fighting a relegation battle in the second half of the year. Poor monthly performance reviews were a regular occurrence. Previous editions would have a very high level monthly report of “the board are delighted with your performance”, along with an occasional news message that you have received a vote of confidence if things really aren’t going your way. This time around, your monthly reviews are tied into the club vision and take into account board and fan opinions of recent matches, transfers, tactics and even the squad itself. An A to F rating gives you a feeling for how things are going, but regularly receiving match ratings of D when scrapping a draw away to the team at the top are pretty tough to see.

While some of this feedback doesn’t feel fully joined up, your board interactions do add a new dynamic to the game. During a successful second season, I found myself fighting for the title and sole promotion spot, despite having a seasonal objective of achieving a top half finish. It was here that the board asked me if I wanted to change my expectations but edging on the side of caution I kept them low.

The club vision for Cardiff…so much going on!

It made winning the Cymru South, and promotion to the big leagues more rewarding. With promotion confirmed, an updated five year vision of becoming an established Cymru Premier club felt reasonable. I also threw in a request for the club to turn fully professional, a request which was surprisingly accepted but which opened more avenues of the playing time pathway and interlinked player development centre.

Being able to offer full-time profession contracts allows you the granular control over playing time expectations. If you have a real star in youth team as reported in the new development centre you can offer them a long-term pathway to becoming a Star Play, slowly increasing their promised playing time as the seasons go by. The development centre is a revamped approach to managing your youth teams, with user friendly overview of your young talent that are pushing for a first team spot.

Turning professional was a blessing in that I was able to secure the services of my key players, but thanks to some short-sighted management of staff responsibilities, I ended up with my entire youth squad being handed full-time contracts at £100 p/w. Small change for big clubs, but a move which immediately sent me £3k over my wage budget. A reminder that new features are all well and good, but if you don’t pay attention to who is doing what in your backroom staff, you can find yourself in a mess.

In an ideal world, the board would have reconsidered my budgets once they turned the club professional, but sadly not everything can come together as you might want. Even after a successful first season in the Cymru Premier (along European qualification), the club culture hadn’t yet evolved beyond “strive to make progress on and off the pitch”. I’d expect this to start changing as the game goes on (if my poor financial management doesn’t get me sacked) and my performances continue to improve, allowing me to really get stuck into the longer-term youth development.

You know me, I love the bars and charts of this game…here I spied on The New Saints

Not all small teams have such limited ambitions. By adding a new manager with The New Saints early in my fourth in-game season, the club culture called for nobody over the age of 30 to be signed, along with a goal for the end of the next season to have the best youth system in the country. Looking at a club like Cardiff they have a three-year plan to earn promotion to the Premier Division, and a five year plan to build on that promotion.

Combining the Club Vision with playing time pathways and the development centre adds massive amount to Football Manager. No longer are you looking for your own individual year-on-year success or setting personal long-term objectives. Having these goals baked into core of the club set such a much needed focus on the long game.

If you normally struggle to keep a career going for a long time, Football Manager 2020 might get you playing deeper and longer than ever. This isn’t the beautiful game anymore, it’s The Long Game.

 

Adventure in Aellion – An EGX Preview

Adventure in Aellion – An EGX Preview

As I look back through my drafts from last year during some time away from the day job, I realise that I haven’t written about Adventure in Aellion which I saw at EGX. As I catch myself up with the progress the devs have made in recent months, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they deep in planning for Early Access, and are also offering members of their Discord channel a chance to try out an even earlier version of the game.

But what is Adventure in Aellion? Coming from The Game Producion Company, comprising Luke O’Donoghue and Elliott Dodsworth, Aellion can best be described as a Zelda-like with drop-in drop-out multiplayer. After playing Aellion at EGX, I asked Luke about his inspiration for starting work on the game:

we were sat there thinking about why you can’t play Zelda multiplayer…we’re going for an older style Zelda mixed with Jak and Dax adventure. The main feature is the easy drop-in drop-out multiplayer, local and online.

I saw some of this drop-in and drop-out multiplayer action at EGX. I started the demo on my lonesome, quickly jumping on a horse and exploring the countryside…but in the opposite direction of the dungeon that was playable during the demo. After getting myself back on track, I was joined a companion as I neared the dungeon, from where we tried to work our way through the variety of puzzles on offer.

The puzzles were well crafted, offering a welcome mix of straightforward box manoeuvring to climb to different levels along with others which required more patience and logic to solve. Despite not communicating with my random partner, nothing was too difficult to prevent progress being made. Lone rangers should have no fears as the core experience will work for solo players as well, with Luke telling me:

the main story itself, which will cover 9 dungeons, will all be playable single player. We will have some special side-story quests and puzzles that will require multiplayer, but we wanted the story to be completed single player which was an important factor when we were designing the dungeons.

Luke revealed that the dungeon on show at EGX was taking players 30-60 minutes to work through based on their experience with similar games. Further dungeons are expected to take closer to an hour, even for experienced gamers, to complete. The final dungeon (complete with requisite boss) is expected to be a 90 minute encounter, although won’t necessarily be the most complex dungeon in the game.

You will be able to, in theory, head straight to the final dungeon from the very start of the game if you were feeling brave enough. By doing that though you will be missing out on the six distinct semi-open world areas. In the EGX demo I travelled through a handful of farms and small villages, testament to the idea that a large open world without stuff to do isn’t much fun. It means Luke and Elliott are focusing on developing a well populated world to explore and get stuck into, rather than a massive but sparsely populated lan.

Judging by the discussions in Discord, the team are making good progress already this year, with updates to their Discord community build expected to drop more regularly than before. Of course, if Discord isn’t your cup of tea, you can follow the game on Steam and wait for the Early Access release.

Battlefield V – War in the Pacific

Battlefield V – War in the Pacific

I last talked about Battlefield V back in August, and ended my piece pondering whether it would keep me involved, or whether the Destiny 2 relaunch would grab my attention. Well, Destiny did grab my attention for a while eventually, but I didn’t really stick on that for too long either. However, I have continued to dip in and out of BFV now and again, most recently to check out Chapter 5 “War in the Pacific”.

While I have been having great fun with the new maps, and certainly have relished the inclusion of American and Japanese guns, tanks and planes…I don’t think I’ll ever commit to a Battlefield game again in the same way as Battlefield 2. That came about when I had spare time galore, and found a home with the -=256=- clan. Hundreds of hours were spent in that game, and the only games I spend that kind of time with these days are Football Manager and The Witcher 3. Games like Battlefield V don’t keep me returning for lengthy periods anymore. The rewards are so regular that there is now long-term drive to unlock a new gun for the medic class, or to achieve an elusive badge or ribbon, as can be attested by my pre-clan Battlefield 2 soldier not achieving much. Aside from the reward structure not being my cup of tea, playing by yourself in a game designed for teamplay is….well a bit shit. That’s where Destiny 2 will always have the edge, in that I can play in an online shared world, but still get stuck into singleplayer events.

I digress a bit, as War in the Pacific is an update to Battlefield V that stirs memories long tucked away, and might be an update that brings some old faithful players back to the series. Why? The return of the classic Battlefield map – Wake Island. There is a great developer diary with DICE’s Lars Gustavsson talking about the re-imagining of this icon for the latest game. It’s a map which I just about managed to hack some bots onto back in the days of Battlefield 1942 and one which we shared many fond memories of in Battlefield 2.

The new version is as good as ever, and the joys of War in the Pacific is that aircraft carriers and landing craft make a big return. Naval warfare isn’t the same as it was in Battlefield 1942, there aren’t as subs or destroyers for you to get your hands on unfortunately. But it’s still a thrill to take to the skies from a carrier on Wake Island, or drive a tank off an LST to assault Iwo Jima.

Being taken away from the dirt and horrors of the Western Front that formed the backbone of the original compliment of Battlefield V maps and to the tropical horrors of the Pacific certainly adds a fresh aspect to the game. I’m still going to dip in and out of it as times goes by, and it truly is a brilliant shooter. Just squad up to make the most of it.

Doom 3, the Switch way.

Doom 3, the Switch way.

The days of 2004 are hazy in the memory, but a glance down a list of notable releases that year shows a glut of singleplayer first-person shooters. Far Cry, Halo 2, Half-Life 2 and perhaps the one with the least shine to it, Doom 3.

It was a busy time, and it’s no surprise that many people skipped over Doom 3 because of it’s move towards a slower paced, darker entry in the series. Or they ignored it because the great new hope, Half-Life 2 was only a couple of months from release.

I played Doom 3 at the time though. Having not played the original titles at that point of my life, I was keen for some Martian demon slaying. The setting intrigued me, and I bought into the lore. The PDAs scattered around the UAC complex revealed the corporate deceit that brought the darkness down upon the planet.

The darkness was oppressive, in the original version of Doom 3 you had to switch between using the flashlight to guide your way, or your weapons. It cranked up the tension, shooting blindly in the gloom hoping to kill all that stood in your way.

I loved it. The only problem? I was a damned wimp! The Imps scared me to death whenever they appeared, and the tension of switching between the flashlight and the action shredded my nerves. The only way that I was able to complete the game was with that wonderful thing known as God mode.

The way fear works in games is an odd thing. For me, Doom 3 was the big horror game of 2004, yet others who played it without any trouble were left shaken by Ravenholm in Half-Life 2. All I know is that God mode got me through it, and at that point I didn’t feel any regret about it.

Ok, it’s a bit dated compared to the new ones!

Return to present day, and Doom 3 is everywhere, and that includes the Switch. It’s not Doom 3 quite as I knew it, this time around it’s the BFG version which has supposed improved graphics (well, maybe not improved on the PC version), better audio….and a shoulder mounted flashlight.

Thanks to that flashlight and autosaves, it’s not quite as hardcore as the version which scared me fifteen years ago, but it’s still Doom 3 and I can play it on the Switch. Having cheated my way through originally, I’ve been working my way through the first couple of hours as god intended. No cheats here, just plain old Doom Guy blasting demon’s and exploring the endless corridors of Mars.

These days the game doesn’t scare me, at least not when playing it on a TV with just the Christmas tree for mood lighting. Playing it in undocked in bed with headphones and the lights out does make my blood turn cold with dread…but thanks to that shoulder mounted flashlight, I find myself able to keep playing.

Is the Doom 3 people will be getting to know these days the same one that I grew up on? No, for me not having to make a choice between seeing the horrors or blasting them takes away a good portion of the fear factor. But still, the heart of the game remains. Slay those demons, take down the UAC and save Mars.