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Hardspace: Shipbreaker – The Verdict

Hardspace: Shipbreaker – The Verdict

Hardspace Shipbreaker is certainly not the first game to concern itself with reducing spaceships to their component parts, but it is certainly one of the most methodical in its approach. The usual method generally consists of flying around high intensity combat situations, dodging missiles and lasers and to be honest, sometimes it can feel like a bit much.

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Filament – The Verdict

Filament – The Verdict

Here I was alone on my spaceship. Minding my own business. Basking in the bliss of eternal solitude, when all of a sudden I noticed a distress signal coming from a nearby ship ‘The Alabaster’. I took one look down at my control panel and decided “not today my friend”. I turned off incoming transmissions and slowly continued on, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. Free from responsibility and game mechanics…

…of course the game had other ideas.

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GRID The Verdict

GRID The Verdict

When I first played Codemaster’s newly rebooted GRID I had just come back from a weekend at the Wales Rally GB. A weekend of serious motorsport, off-road motorsport at that put me in the wrong mindset to play GRID for the first time. This isn’t a sim like Codies recent DiRT Rally 2.0 or their F1 series of racers. Nay, GRID is an arcade racer, and one with plenty of depth.

In my first few races in the Touring car class, I was trying to drive like this was a combination of DiRT and F1, a style which really didn’t suit the new GRID, and especially not on a racetrack. After a couple of races, I soon realised that leaning into GRID’s arcade elements was the best way to enjoy the action on course.

Everything is set about getting up close and personal with the other cars on track, while there isn’t any obvious rubber banding going on, the setup of the classes and events means that you will often end up in some bumper-to-bumper action, especially when diving into the first corner on any track. This action is encouraged as it plays into the Nemesis system which is highlighted as the great new feature of the game.

To be honest, I haven’t really noticed anything special with the Nemesis system. The theory is that if you get too involved with an AI competitor, they will become a Nemesis and potentially pose a danger to your winning chances. Sadly, despite being able to gain a Nemesis pretty easily after a few bumps, I haven’t observed any driving especially focused on knocking me out of contention. The handful of times I’ve been sent into a spin on purpose have been from random opponents I’ve overtaken rather than my Nemesis.

There is also a disappointing lack of longevity with this system. Within each class of racing there are thirteen events, culminating in a big blow-out Showdown event. As each AI driver is stated to have their own unique driving style and attitude, I was expecting to be able to build up a rivalry during the course of events within a class. Sadly not, with the Nemesis seemingly limited to a race-by-race basis.

It’s a missed opportunity, and one that turns what could have made for a meaningful series of races within each class into a block of standalone multi-race events. With something like F1 there is the narrative of the championship season, along with the ever-expanding routine of choosing development paths for your car. DiRT 2.0 has the challenge of the simulation, team management and championships to hunt for. Compared to its stablemates, GRID feels lacking.

Where it lacks in the niceties that have propagated through the genre, it makes up with variety. You have a number of main classes – Tuner for the fancy Japanese imports, Stock where you work your way up to a NASCAR truck, Touring which is a hat-tip to GRID’s roots in the TOCA games, while GT is my favourite featuring some of the highlights of the GT class in the World Endurance Championship. Aston Martin’s can steal my heart.

With different tiers of cars within those classes, there is a constant desire to complete events and earn much needed money to allow you to buy the next car up. Fortunately, to get to the Showdown events at the culmination of each class you only need to complete ten events. It’s a wise move in allowing you to get to a Showdown without being forced to grind through, or even get a podium, on ever event.

Beyond the main classes is a Fernando Alonso branded block of events. Clearly Fernando is bored in his time away from F1, but his name provides an easy way to shoehorn some single seater action into proceedings. However, like most games which aren’t the F1 series the single seaters here are fiddly and annoying to drive.

The invitational series though is the place to go if you want to get your hands on the best machinery. You don’t need to buy the cars here, saving you a pretty penny but still allowing you to get behind the wheel of legendary machines like the Ferrari 330 or the Porsche 917. Once you dig beneath the entry level cars in the regular classes, gems like these shine the game in a whole new light.

Even better, you don’t need to work through the invitational events in sequential order. A number of them will be unlocked once you have completed required events in the main classes. Just by completing five GT events, not even having to win them all, and I was able to take the Ferrari 330 out to Silverstone. Wonderful.

Despite the missed opportunities around the Nemesis system, the races are exciting. There’s a welcome mix of real and Codemaster’s crafted tracks, some of which you might remember from earlier entries in the series. It’s a thrill to see the AI racing each other hard, there aren’t any follow the leader races that you see elsewhere. I’ve seen opponents slide off wide at Silverstone, or get launched into the air around Havana while their tendency to flash you during night races is pleasingly reminiscent of real-world endurance racing.

There are options to perform a hot lap to try and qualify hire up the grid, but after a few of these I tended to avoid them. Starting from the default starting position of 14th is more than good enough to get stuck into the action and knowing that you can progress through events just by completing them takes the pressure off having to win.

Even playing on a standard PlayStation 4, the game looks stunning. The moody clouds of Silverstone contrast nicely with a sun kissed San Francisco, while a drenched city circuit around Havana pushes the tension up a notch or two. I’d love to see this in 4K on Pro, it’s sure to be a gorgeous sight.

The new GRID isn’t perfect, beyond the limited implementation of the Nemesis system you are liable to incur frustrating time penalties for corner cutting, great for a sim but feeling decidedly out of place in an arcade leaning racer like this. There are also some funky camera effects in chase mode where the camera zooms in closer to you when an opponent is close behind you. It’s disorienting and something I would have been happy to do without.

When I look at this new GRID, at first glance it seems a bit lightweight, especially when compared to its stablemates. But once you get stuck into the great racing and enjoy the variety of classes on offer, you’ll realise this is a welcome diversion from the sim heavy racing world we currently live in.

The Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PlayStation 4
Review based on review code supplied by PR. Please see this post for more on our scoring policy.

Dry Drowning – The Verdict

Dry Drowning – The Verdict

When I previewed Dry Drowning back in July, I argued that although it was described as a visual novel on its Steam page, there were “gamey” elements to ensure it would meet some arbitrary definition of what a game is from some quarters of the internet.

Having worked my way through the game since its release at the beginning of August, I’d argue that regardless of how you define Dry Drowning, you should take the time to check it out. There’s even a demo where your save files are fully compatible with the full version of the game, so there really isn’t any reason not to pay this at the least a passing glance.

Living Nightmare mode…nice, but without many real consequences.

Coming from Italian developers Studio V, Dry Drowning is a murder-mystery that touches on some deeper themes. Politics is intertwined with racism and immigration, the surveillance state and AI. During your investigation, it will make you pause and ask yourself how far you must go to “do the right thing”, and what that right thing might actually be.

It’s also a game where I found myself banging my head against the table at the attitude of the protagonist, the private detective Mordred Foley. There are numerous decision points in the game, which will ultimately lead to three completely different endings. Despite making decisions to put Mordred on the path to becoming a better person, I felt a disconnect between my choices, his comments during some conversations and his inner-thoughts revealed during cut-scenes.

At times this left me feeling like he was a dark tormented soul that would have no hope of redemption, but the ending I achieved was positive enough to lighten the mood of the story from the perpetual darkness it could have become. I have no doubt that some players will lean into Mordred’s worst tendencies which will lead the city of Nova Polemos into a more hate filled place to live.

Lots of lovely text to read and find clues in.

While Mordred is a difficult character to love, the supporting cast of characters offer some hope. His partner, Hera has been through hell in a previous case, one that you will experience through well-crafted flashbacks, but hasn’t let her experiences send her down the same path as Mordred. She is the good angel sat on your shoulder and provides some much-needed perspective as you journey through the story. Detective Freya has a testy relationship with Mordred and has a story that I would love to have learned more of. If there is a follow on to Dry Drowning, I would hope that Freya takes the lead role.

There are many decision points during the story, some of which through my playthrough felt like they were left dangling without any clear resolution, while others had a massive impact on different characters, and even the Nova Polemos as a whole. Aside from these decisions, Dry Drowning follows an easy rhythm to follow.

You investigate the murder scenes, ask suspects questions until you trap them in a lie when a grotesque mask hides their face. Once they have begun to lie, you use the evidence you have gathered and piece together the events to break their mask and reveal the truth. Dry Drowning makes a big thing at first about only having three lives during these sequences, and if you provide the wrong evidence three times the game will be over.

Morded, smoking. So very noir.

Rather than being over and a unique ending playing, you simply get to repeat the interrogation. It’s fine but can become a chore to repeat a lot of the dialogue to get to the interrogation again. It shows that paying attention to the story and character motivations is key, but I wonder whether sometimes the translation from Italian to English is lacking in some refinement which can obscure some key parts of a case. Then again, it might be that I’m not the best detective out there!

Aside from these interrogation scenes, there are several small puzzles that you must complete to progress the case. None are too challenging, but a few more would have been welcomed to add a bit more variety to the constant dialogue.

It’s not perfect, and some people won’t give Dry Drowning the time of day, purely because it has “visual novel” in the product description. I think this is a game well worth taking a look at, and I would definitely be interested in seeing what Studio V can do to refine and improve on the formula they have come up with here if they were to expand on the world of Nova Polemos.

The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available/ Reviewed – PC
Review based on review code supplied by PR. For more on our scoring policy, please read this post.

FIA European Truck Racing Championship – The Verdict

FIA European Truck Racing Championship – The Verdict

We all know that truck driving games are some of the best things out there, while some prefer the American stylings, I still hold candle up to European Truck Simulator 2, which is now a scary seven year old! It is probably my fascination with ETS2 that led to YouTube pushing a video for FIA European Truck Racing Championship my way.

In these summer months where AAA releases are few and far between, now is the time for smaller more obscure titles to try and make their mark. It’s something which ETRC might have had a chance of achieving, even with the slim pickings when it comes to what you get in the box if the pricing was different. It’s a shame that the price point of £35 (on Steam at least), or £45+ on the consoles, is so high.

It might be the cost of the official FIA licence for the European Truck Racing Championship, along with associated real-world trucks, drivers and tracks, that has pushed the price so high, but it’s something that should give you serious pause before throwing down your hard earned money on this.

That’s not to say this is a bad game, far from it, but it doesn’t do enough to stand out from the crowd. What you do get is a perfunctory racer which despite its simulation stylings is vanilla when out on the road. You don’t need a wheel here to succeed in races, while the weight of trucks doesn’t necessarily come across as much as the game suggests during the lengthy process of acquiring a licence, a requirement to stepping into career mode.

It looks quite nice in the wet!

There are numerous truck racing features to the racing that are quirky. Bollards are can be found in strategic places around the edge of the racing line, knocking these off can lead to potential time penalties and you have to be careful in wheel-to-wheel racing to avoid being punted into a spin, or taking a time penalty for unsportsmanlike driving. More detailed features come into play with the 160 km/h speed limit the trucks must adhere to. While you set this to be automatically controlled, you’ll need to watch yourself if it isn’t.

It isn’t just getting the trucks up to speed that you need to pay attention to, stopping them is a challenge in and of itself. Your brakes have an ideal operating range between 200°C and 500°C, if you let them get too hot for too long, they’re going to wear away and you’ll be driving straight into the back of another truck. Fortunately, you can manually control the application of water to cool the brakes during a race, adding a nice strategic layer to proceedings as you want to ensure your water lasts the race distance.

Race weekends can become something of a chore. While their setup is comparable to the real world, after the first couple of races at an event you’re waiting to move on. The events take place over two days, each with a practice session along with a qualifying session. If you qualify in the top eight, you’re through to the super pole qualifying session. There are two races on each day, the first set by the qualifying positions, with the top eight of the second race lining up in reverse finish order.


The realism is welcome, but sadly also ensures things can drag on quite a bit, even when you set the races to 25% of full distance. The interruptions from your engineer “Cool your breaks”, “Keep on pushing” become grating after one race, let alone the full race weekend.

The career mode seems to have some depth to it, with teams offering you short or long-term contracts depending on the reputation you have built up, and once you’re on a season long deal you get to manage your finances alongside upgrading and repairing your truck. It’s just a shame that the career mode is locked until you complete the licence, a series of tasks highlighted by the drive-through penalty scenario where you have to drive into the pits, allow the computer to navigate the pit-lane for you before taking the first corner of the track.


Let’s race!

What you do get with ETRC which is appealing is a nice variety of the lesser known circuits around Europe. The new Slovakia Ring appears, alongside Zolder in Belgium and the Le Mans GP circuit. There are a number of tracks from across the globe to get stuck into, with Beunos Aries and Laguna Seca some famous names. The trucks themselves come in two flavours, the European trucks and the American style trucks fashioned for the in-game World Series. The trucks feel different between categories, but within their category, there isn’t much to differentiate them from each other apart from appearances.

Some people will have a lot of time for ETRC, and there is a decent racer here. More could be done to create a hardcore simulation handling model, but what you get is fine. For me, the price point is what puts me off giving this anything more than an “On Target” Verdict. If you want trucks, then take a look at SCS Software’s titles, while if you want a racer, then F1 2019 will be your best bet for track action.

The Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Platform Revewied – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.