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West of Dead – The Verdict

West of Dead – The Verdict

“This is not how death is supposed to be.”

So intones the recently deceased William Mason upon finding himself in purgatory and not…where, exactly? Collectively, we’ve lots of ideas on what the afterlife – should there be one – has in store for us. But we don’t know. It’s what makes this mortal plane of ours such a terrifying thrill.

Not so with video games. We know where death leads us: back to the last checkpoint or a swift return to the previous quick save. Death is a momentary impediment to progress, which is just as well because there’s often a shitload of baddies determined to scrub us from existence.

Weep for William Mason, then, who certainly didn’t bank on the afterlife being chock full of gun-toting ghouls and monsters. But then he probably hadn’t expected to look like a stylish cross between Ghost Rider and Overwatch’s McCree, either. You could do worse. Swings and roundabouts ‘an all that.

Slipping into Mason’s dusty boots I push my way into an empty saloon, which serves as the gateway to purgatory: a waiting room within a waiting room. I’ve little idea of what’s in store for me. I came here for West of Dead’s striking cel-shaded aesthetics, which create a world that often feels like a thick layer of ash caught in a time loop – forever frittering away without losing an inch. There’s farms and mines and towns, but in the words of one of our latter day cowboys, they’re more like someone’s faded memory of farms and mines and towns.

And that’s it as far as my knowledge is concerned. I was just excited to play something new.

The saloon’s sole occupant, the barman, doesn’t give any hints. He might have said “roguelike” and provided a definition, but instead seemed merely content to muse there’s east and there’s west.

East for the good souls.

West for the bad. Of course.

I’ll be going west, then.

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The Dishonored Prison Break

The Dishonored Prison Break

Following the recent unveiling of DEATHLOOP Arkane Lyon, I felt that a return to Dishonored was on the cards. A few things struck me, but foremost was just how well the prison break that opens the game proper lays out some aspects of the playstyles on offer, and alerts you to the type of world you will encounter outside the walls of Coldridge Prison.

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The Witcher 3 – Five Years Old

The Witcher 3 – Five Years Old

A browse around any mainstream gaming website (sadly, there are rivals to The Reticule out there) over the past day or so would have revealed that we have passed the 10th anniversary of the release of Red Dead Redemption and that The Witcher 3 has turned five. And as I look through our archives, it saddens me that we have not covered this game as it deserves. Somehow we managed to deliver not one, but two Verdicts on its predecessor. Even then, I ended up writing about it myself as well. The third one though? Apart from a mass of pre-release coverage, the most we talked about The Witcher 3 was in Our Favourite Games of The Reticule Years.

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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.

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.

 

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.