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Previews

XCOM: Chimera Squad – First Impressions

XCOM: Chimera Squad – First Impressions

Here at Reticule towers I’ve been reviewing Firaxis’ new XCOM game; Chimera Squad. Luckily for you lot I’m a huge XCOM fan so I grabbed the title as soon as it came out to bring you the only definitive review….

However it’s not going to be as simple as I thought. I’ve put 9 hours into it already and feel I need to spend more time on it before I can give you a fair evaluation of the title. As such i’m going to do a ‘first impressions’ piece with.. erm… my first impressions (and perhaps some context as to why I want to spend more time on it), and then I’ll follow it up with the final review late this week/early next. 

So jump to the cut for my initial thoughts.

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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.

art of rally – a rally fans dream

art of rally – a rally fans dream

You might have figured out by now that I’m a huge rally fan. I’ve written about my journey to find a worthy rally game, I’ve been out in the forests of North Wales a couple of times to see the cars fly past, an experience which nearly undermined my initial enjoyment of GRID. It turned out that EGX this year came only a couple of weeks after the Welsh round of the World Rally Championship, and when I arrived at the ExCeL in London town, I was still in full rally fandom.

It all meant that while wandering the indie section, I was immediately seized by a need to check out art of rally. There was a lengthy queue at the stall, which I later found out from creator Dune Casu was likely thanks to his work on Absolute Drift which I remember hearing positive things about some time ago.

art of rally is described on the official site as a “stylized rally experience”, something which seemed quite apt once I got a chance between the crowds to play it. My first experience of this isometric racer was on a fast tarmac stage in Sardinia which ended up with my car against the trees more often than not. As Dune told me:

It’s not the easiest type of game, but for those who play racing and rally games they are pretty into it and seem to be getting along with it.

That’s very much true as my next attempt was on a lovely gravel stage in Finland, and with a car not quite over lethal as the Group B Audi Quattro alike that I drove on Sardinia. A more sedate 60s styled Lancia was my choice, and it proved to be much more welcoming. I still dumped the car off the track a couple of times, but was able to get around in one piece.

Dune explained that while career mode covers the “classical age of rally, so 60s through to 90s…the goal isn’t to win everything but to go through tracks and enjoy them.” I’m so happy to see indies getting into the rallying scene, and the concept of enjoying the action rather than feeling you have to win is music to my ears.

Those who are more competitive will be pleased to know that there will be daily and weekly challenges, compete with online leaderboards, but I’m going to be more than content to tootle casually around the various locales and soak up the atmosphere.

You can find out more on art of rally on the official site or follow Dune on Twitter. Did I mention that music is fantastic? No, well it is. art of rally will be out next year and can’t come soon enough.

Noita Early Access – First Impressions

Noita Early Access – First Impressions

Noita (the Finnish word for witch) is an early access rogue-lite with an emphasis on every pixel being simulated. That’s right, every single pixel in the game has physical properties and can be affected by the player in one way or another. Explosions gouge chunks out of caves and yourself, fire burns down anything organic including any wood you’re standing on and yourself, water fills up all the little crevices and drowns you if you’re not careful and many enemies have the same abilities. Indeed traversing your way through Noita can be as precarious and treacherous as fighting the enemies that dwell in it’s caves.

Combat and exploration come with a magical flavour, as you move around the underground landscape with what is essentially the power of a recharging jet pack. The game also adopts the no hands held approach which works well in generating a sense of exploration and a reasonable learning curve although I admit I did take a peek at the wiki a few times.

Weapons come in the form of wands and throwable flasks, each with their own properties and statistics. In the case of wands, the statistics of any given wand are permanent but they also come with spell slots and interchangeable spells attatched to them. Wands are plentiful at the start of Noita and this makes for some interesting experimentation as you try different combinations and find out a combat style that suits you. Flasks are equally as interesting and can teleport, polymorph, increase damage, burn, slow and many more things.

As you progress through Noita you find yourself passing through many different biomes, at the end of these biomes you are offered the chance to rest as you pass through a gateway chamber of sorts. You are able to replenish all spells, heal and are offered a choice of three upgrades of which you can only choose one. There are over fifty different types of upgrades currently in Noita and combining this with the different types of biomes and enemies gives the game a nice amount of replayability.

Noita may currently be in Early Access but even taking a quick look at the wiki shows the amount of content it has already is impressive. Developers Nolla Games reckon that Noita will be in development for a year before it’s full release. I’m looking forward to see how the game evolves during this time.

SUPERHOT On Oculus Quest – My First Experience With VR

SUPERHOT On Oculus Quest – My First Experience With VR

It was great fun. That’s it, no introduction needed. I’m going straight for the jugular on this one! Despite previously being somewhat of a skeptic on anything VR related, I also believe in a lot of cases it’s hard to have a stong opinion on something without first having an experience with that something. And so I had my first experience of virtual reality with my Oculus headset awkwardly strapped to my face and my touch controllers waving around clumsily as I entered the VR world of SUPERHOT.

I loved the original SUPERHOT on PC and soon became accustomed to the feel of my two motion controllers and headset within the game itself. I did almost lose my balance a couple of times early on but familiarized myself with the movements the game demanded of me with my previous experience with the PC version. With a game like SUPERHOT VR there certainly is a lot of movement involved. Every level is essentially a combination of dodging bullets, disarming enemies, shooting at unusual angles, picking up throwables from the ground, shelves and desks, punching enemies, dodging their attacks and so on. It definitely qualifies as light exercice and while I loved my time in the with the game, this is not the experience I look for in every day gaming.

The way I like to think of my enjoyment of this particular VR game is that it reminds me of going to the arcades as a kid. The enjoyment of having lots of small experiences that are super fun for short bursts before you move onto the next thing. And so I found myself after twenty or so minutes of SUPERHOT VR wanting to move onto something else. I ended up playing four or five different games in total but returned to SUPERHOT once more before I ended my session because I enjoyed it the most.

The immersion factor was much higher as is expected for the VR version of the game. It gave me a new appreciation of just how to take out each enemy and in what order, although aiming felt very different. Those moments you get in SUPERHOT PC where you pull of a really cool move felt even better in VR and things like flicking bullets out the air with your weapon, catching enemy knives and guns and swordplay were the highlight of my playtime. I would definitely be up for experiencing more SUPERHOT VR and VR in general in the future but I am yet to be convinced that this would ever replace my normal gaming set up.

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – EGX Hands On

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels – EGX Hands On

I’m a big fan of the indie games that Curve Digital publish, and their area is normally one of my regular haunts at EGX. This year the layout of the Rezzed area was so expansive that Curve’s games were spread out, not in one nice grouping like I’ve come to expect. It all meant that I missed the opportunity to take a look at Autonauts and Table Manners, but I was able to get some time with Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. Yes, this is a fully licenced take on the hit Netflix show which charts the fight between the DEA and Pablo Escobar’s cartel. And you know what? It’s damn good.

The full game, due out later this year across PC and all the consoles, will see two distinct campaigns taking you through the eyes of the DEA and protagonist Steve Murphy, or as the Narcos working to expand El Patrón’s brutal empire. The demo at EGX was played through the eyes of the DEA, probably for the best with the number of kids wandering the halls, with the in-game action cleverly interspersed with clips from the first season of the show and mission briefings from Ambassador Noonan. While Narcos won’t have the base building elements of the recent XCOM titles, the glimpses of “office” work I saw were solid enough to provide you with a sense of meaning to your work, and steeped in clichés like a massive pin-board plotting links between cartel members.

Aside from that you also get to manage your roster of DEA agents, Colombian cops, special forces and other leaders. The leaders, characters from the show like Murphy and Javier Peña have special abilities, but crucially only one leader can be taken into a mission as part of your squad at any one time. Looking after your leaders looks set to be important. While they may have special abilities, I tended to keep Murphy safely tucked away during the demo to avoid losing everything by foolishly getting him shot up.

The action itself takes place in artful surroundings in Colombian towns, cities and the jungle. The basic premise is different enough from XCOM or the turn-based elements of Age of Wonder: Planetfall to provoke interest in fans of the genre, let alone fans of the show. Rather than having control over all your units during a turn, in Narcos only one unit can take any action, but that action can be extensive. For example, I was able to take my demolition expert from the ground up a drainpipe towards a spot where I could fire my grenade launcher to take down a cartel member. Even after taking my shot, I was left with choices of reloading my grenade launcher or hunkering down and healing.

The flipside is that by moving my demolition expert, I’d left a fresh-faced Colombian cop in the open and ready to come under fire. Fortunately, he’d built up his counteract points. Replacing the classic overwatch ability of XCOM, counteract points are earned through limiting the actions you perform with a squad member. Once the ability kicks in when a bad guy approaches, you are thrust into a third-person mode where you can control the aim and timing of the shot, all while the enemy is moving in slow-mo towards you. It’s an innovative feature, although one that I didn’t fully get to grips with during the demo. I kind of glossed over that part during the tutorial level, too busy planning how to get Murphy out of a spot of bother I’d left him in.

There’s more to Narcos than the licence, although it is that name recognition that drew me to the stand in the first place. It does mean that I will need to finish watching season one of the show, so as not to get spoilt by the game. It’s a great marketing tie-in really, and one must expect that another game, or perhaps some DLC, will be released further down the line to cover the events of season two.

I came away from the stand pleased that I’d found a Curve title, especially one as potentially addictive as this.

Doom Eternal – Hands On

Doom Eternal – Hands On

There haven’t been many AAA games at EGX this year that I came into the show keen to check out, but Doom Eternal was one of them, so when I got the chance to get stuck into a twenty-minute demo of action taken from the middle of the game, I was excited.

Before the shooting started, there was a demo specific tutorial to refresh everyone with the basics of this generation of Doom games. It was a welcome refresher, and something that more companies could take note of when showing off big singleplayer games at shows like EGX. When trying to get your game into the hands of a wider audience, you don’t want them feeling put off by not knowing how to make the most of the game. A round of applause to Bethesda and id Software for that. The tutorial made a point of ensuring you knew how to wall climb, jump between walls and traverse the environment. Eternal looks set to be a much more vertical game than 2016’s Doom.

Upon getting into the action, it’s clear from the off that the id Tech 7 engine that is powering Eternal has taken things to another level from the id Tech 6 generation of games. It helps that the demo is being run on a more than capable PC, but the sheer scalability of the id engines should mean that Panic Button make another stunning port of Eternal to the Switch when it lands there later next year.

The levels I played through saw the Doom Slayer working to get back to Mars, fighting through a UAC station orbiting Phobos, a base falling apart under the weight of the demonic onslaught. Being a demo from the mid-part of the full game, you are already loaded with a bevy of weapons along with their respective mods. An early highlight was picking up a Super Shotgun. A classic of the Doom arsenal, this new version comes equipped with the Meat Hook mod which allows you to slingshot yourself towards an enemy. Extremely useful for crossing the many broken parts of the station, and for maintaining the fast-paced action established with the previous game.

Tying in with elements like the Meat Hook are the returning glory kills rewarding you with health, and a mega glory kill which can wipe out a group of demons in a stunning burst of melee inflicted gore. The chainsaw, provided you have fuel, will drop ammo while a new flamethrower will light up enemies who will drop armour once you finish them off. The new ways of keeping the Slayer topped up with his essentials might take a few moments of getting used to, but soon enough I was deep in the rhythm and blasting demons back to hell.

If you find a demon too far away to get an easy melee kill on, a dash move will get you up close and personal to finish the job. Dashing is another crucial element to keeping the action flowing, but fear not as there is always time to explore. Bringing up the automap will highlight objectives and the all-important pickups and secrets that are dotted around the levels. Rushing through head long will get you from A to B, but exploration and finding secrets has always been a key element of the Doom series and I was pleased to find a secret along with a few 1-ups.

These are new for Eternal and are another mechanism designed to keep you fighting, rather than restarting checkpoints when you inevitably die. It’s a great addition that keeps you in the moment.

New for Eternal is an element of destructible parts to the demons. The Aracnotron makes a re-appearance from the Doom 2 days, and you’ll find that a few carefully aimed rockets with destroy the cannon located at the top of the brain. Other bigger demons feature the same destructible elements, some might think they’re gimmicky, but I felt they added another layer to the action.

My one pause for thought came with an extravagant platforming section that reminded me of the worst moments of Xen in Half-Life. Obviously, movement is a thousand times improved upon Valve’s classic, but the sequence of hopping and boosting between floating pillars was a bit tedious. Where these platforms made you think about the game vertically, rather than what’s directly in your line of sight was welcome, but maybe I’m just too clumsy around the keyboard to traverse these sections as seamlessly as would be hoped.

It wasn’t too much of a blemish on what was an otherwise brilliant demo. If 2016’s Doom wasn’t up your street, then I don’t think Eternal will be. If it was though, then Eternal looks to be more of that goodness, just dialled up to 13. I’m on board, and have no issue with the delay until 2020, for a singleplayer focused game, I’d rather id take the time for a bit more spit and polish to tidy it all up.

My slaying was more than enjoyable with the twenty minutes going too fast.

Yes Your Grace – EGX Hands On

Yes Your Grace – EGX Hands On

One of the first games I checked out at EGX this year was Yes Your Grace, the upcoming kingdom sim come father sim from Brave Night with No More Robots handling publishing duties. I wasn’t expecting to see Yes Your Grace having missed the initial announcement a few weeks ago. Rather I was playing Not Tonight: Take Back Control Edition (on which I’ll have more soon) and saw Yes Your Grace elsewhere on the No More Robots stand.

It immediately caught my eye as something that I had to check out, and as soon as a spot opened up I was all over it. The demo started at some point in the future, a point where your kingdom is about to face an onslaught the likes of which you have never seen.

After speaking to some advisors, you take your king to the battlements where you are posed with some choices; you can give your troops a rousing speech, instruct them to open fire…or raise the white flag and surrender.

I of course chose to give an inspirational speech, while the person playing next to me decided to surrender, a decision which promptly ended their game.

My words to the troops didn’t help much, leading to a scripted defeat and flashback a few months to a time before the kingdom found itself at war.

It’s from this point that the game opens up and you get to do kingly and fatherly things. You sit at your throne and receive visits from your friendly tax collector who fills your coffers, peasants who want you to spend money and provisions to keep them safe and happy. Agents, such as a general who featured in the demo, can do some dirty work for you by venturing out into the world via your strategic map.

Perhaps the most important interaction comes with your family. You quickly learn of a threat to the kingdom if you don’t wed your daughter to a rogueish figure, while the squabbles between children also require your attention.

As the weeks progressed, I decided that wedding my eldest to a friendly king’s son could secure a military alliance. A wedding was planned while I arranged for supplies to be stocked up in case of attack.

The demo ended with the wedding, and me ever so keen to see more. Flavours of Game of Thrones and Reigns: Her Majesty ring through, which paired with an enchanting art style make for a very exciting proposition.

There is a rough release date targeted for early 2020, and things are feeling pretty polished already. Definitely one to keep an eye on, and an early contender for my game of the show.