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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.

 

Northgard – The Verdict

Northgard – The Verdict

The first time I played Northgard was on the PC in December 2018. For reasons still lost to me, I didn’t try to start off in the story mode, but instead jumped straight into a singleplayer game against three AI opponents without any idea of what was going on. I didn’t last long, but the aesthetic and setting of the game still appealed.

When I heard that Shiro Games were bringing their Norse strategy survival game to the Switch, I was extremely keen on taking another look. I didn’t make the same mistake as last year this time around; this time stepping into the story mode to try and get myself a foothold in the game.

Your clan at the start of the game. So happy and friendly.

Filled with Norse mythology, the story sets you in the shoes of Rig, Viking son of the High King who must search for a new home for his clan in the new continent of Northgard. The first couple of story missions are a gentle introduction to the mechanics of Northgard, that is until the third level where the brutality of this new land starts to be revealed.

Fortunately, the console version of Northgard is more welcoming than the classic PC version. As you start a new level, you don’t have to fear about being lost as to what to build to get your clan going. An array in the centre of your screen gives you a contextual view of the buildings that might be suitable for construction.

There dynamic control wheel opens up a wider range of options, open it when on a clear part of a zone and you see the full build menu, while opening it on a building gives you the requisite choices for upgrading a building or setting production targets. At the press of another button you can choose to see details of what your clan members are up to or refresh yourself with your victory conditions.

Working away hard at the forge.

It’s easy to control and got me involved quicker to a much greater extent than on the PC. There is still great depth to the seemingly easy job of looking after your friendly clan. As the year progresses towards winter, you want to ensure you have adequate supplies of food and wood to keep your horde happy and healthy.

Balancing your resources in the early game against the need to expand your reach around the map is a key challenge. With each zone on the map only supporting a limited number of buildings, you need to expand to build the houses you need to increase your population limit, but each additional zone you want to bring into your domain requires more food to acquire.

Even when you think you’ve got a grip of things, the world of Northgard itself throws challenges at you. You’ve got a good thing going with a farm and some sheep being tended to? Rats will appear requiring silos to keep your food safe and healers to prevent the spread of disease among the clan. A severe winter will eat into your resource supplies quicker than ever, while Draugr can rise from demonic portals and wreak havoc where you were previously safe.

You can’t afford to let your guard drop at any point in Northgard with the tables able to be turned on you at any moment. It’s almost crying out for an Easy mode so I can explore a map and work my way up the Lore tree and build more breweries to keep my people happy.

While it is disappointing that the latest free content updates that have appeared on the PC version haven’t yet made their way over to Switch, it’s clear that Shiro Games have already spent a lot of time and effort ensuring their console adaptation is as good as it should be, they’ve done a great job with this console version.

The Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Platform Reviewed – Switch

For more on our scoring policy, please read this post. Review based on code supplied by PR.

 

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.

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.

Winner!

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.

Baffling!

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.

For The King – The Verdict

For The King – The Verdict

Trouble has struck the lands of Farhul, the King has been slain and the minions of Chaos are roaming the lands, spreading their evil across what was once a friendly, happy land. This is For the King where your trio of characters aren’t adventuring and questing for fame or fortune, but to avenge their King!

Well, that is the case if you are playing the vanilla For the King experience. I’m playing the recent Switch release which includes all the free updates IronOak have released since the original PC release last year, updates offering endless dungeon crawling or all new adventures around Farhul. I briefly dallied with the PC version during EGX last year, and initially had some concerns about how the game would transfer over to consoles, let alone the portable mode on the Switch.

I needn’t have been concerned. This is a mighty fine port, while I’ve seen some slight performance drops in combat, you get the full experience here. Things are made smoother thanks to the hex-based map that is used within For the King, plotting your path around the map is smooth, and most actions are easily accessible on the joy-cons. The one strange decision is to put the End Turn button on the minus button, but I quickly settled into my rhythm.

Fiiiiight!

When starting your adventure, you have freedom to create your three characters from a welcome variety of clothing options, with everyday professions like Blacksmith, Hunter and Scholar open to choose at the start of any adventure. Fitting archetypes to fit in my character names of Gendry, Arya and Sam (see where my influence is coming from?), with each profession bestowing special abilities upon your characters.

While the professions I chose from map across to heavy weapons, ranged and light weapons and magic seamlessly, the Minstrel profession offers an insight into the fun nature of For the King. A Minstrel will start with a high rating in the Talent stat, which allows them to bring a Lute or other musical instrument into battle.

Lute bearing Minstrels aren’t the only touch of fun that IronOak have included in For the King. Ghosts are named after their former living selves, while Jellies are just that, giant blobs of jelly. It should come as no surprise that you can unlock more entertaining items from the Lore Store. Lore is earned through completing quests for the Queen, side-quests picked up from the towns of Farhul or by complete the numerous dungeons that you find on your way.

My Game of Thrones inspired squad

Upon entering a dungeon, the overworld hex map disappears and your focus is on the combat. It is sensible to approach a dungeon with a well-stocked party, even if it means spending all your hard-earned gold at the nearest town. Unless you find a chest holding some much needed supplied, smaller dungeons won’t give you any chance to re-stock which can make a series of three or four battles, along with potential traps, a bit of a challenge.

It isn’t the end of the world if one of your characters die along the way, providing you have enough hearts remaining in your Life Pool. As part of your adventure, you can bring a character back to life, for the right price. If your Life Pool depletes completely and your trio gets wiped, then sadly it will be game over.

Fortunately, various special locations offer you a chance to add to your Life Pool, or decrease the Chaos that plagues Farhul. With Chaos rising, special Chaos Hexes will start spawning which you will want to avoid, while enemy health with start ratcheting up as Chaos rises.

I beat Coal Heart. Got his hat. Love it.

Putting everything together, and you have a very fine RPG from IronOak, once that offers a nice level of replayability thanks to the procedurally generated maps, numerous character choices and various game modes.

While I fear For the King might have got lost in the shuffle on its original PC release, this console release has brought new life to what is a gem of an RPG. If you spy this one, I would suggest you check it out.

The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Platform Reviwed – Switch
Reviewed based on review code. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.

SteamWorld Quest – The Verdict

SteamWorld Quest – The Verdict

Image & Form Games have done great things with their SteamWorld games, with the two main Dig games being wonderful adventures, especially Dig 2 which I took a look at last year. So, when I saw their new release was going to a card based RPG, I was quietly confident that it would be another hit, even with my so-so history with card games.

Fight!

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech, to give it its full title, takes place in a time before the Dig entries. Robots roam the lands, but this is a world of heroes, villains and a dusting of magic. You take your band of merry wannabe heroes on a quest to find out why your village has been overrun with nasty folk who have kidnapped the not so heroic Guild who had one job – protect the village.

As you start adventuring across a beautiful hand-drawn world, more heroes will join your quest through dungeons, magical forests and other well-crafted tropes of fantasy games. While some of the broader plot points might be more cliched than the fresh adventures of the Dig games, everything is delivered with the same wit and charm as we have come to expect from Image & Form.

Wit and charm are one thing, but some action and drama is needed to balance out the hijinks. This is where the cards come into play, every battle is fought with cards that you collect from treasure chests, earn from adventuring or craft at the magical shop that appears where needed.

What a wonderful dragon you have there!

Your characters fall into broad archetypes of warrior, healer, spellcaster and suchlike, with the abilities conferred by their cards complementing them accordingly. As you progress through the game, your understanding of how to use them develops accordingly. No longer will you just be throwing out card after card trying to inflict damage or heal your fellow heroes, you will see the intricacies of status effects and card combos coming to light.

Even if you are used to card battling games, I would suggest you start playing Quest on Easy mode, to start with at least. While working out your strategies, some of the early battles on Normal difficulty can be quite frustrating. Knocking the difficulty down a touch to get to grips with the mechanics and to develop your understanding the types of cards you want in your hand are sensible approaches to take.

There are some fun dynamics going on outside of the combat. Every now and again, as you explore the various Chapters and Acts, you will find a nice statue. Activate this, and your party will be restored to full health, a welcome reward after some hard battling. However, in the vein of Dark Souls, using this healing statue will lead to enemies in nearby areas re-spawning.

You’ll come acros a number of enigmatic heroes on your journey.

It isn’t all doom and gloom when it comes navigating your surroundings. When you see an enemy, you can land a pre-fight blow to inflict some damage, or if you are smart enough with your movement, you can even avoid some of the battles against inconsequential enemies. That won’t always be the best plan though, as when you come across the bosses, you will wish you had defeated the lesser foes to help you level up.

My one frustration is that some battles can drag on for quite a while. It isn’t too bad when fighting bosses as you always have to keep on your toes, but against the lesser enemies, it can turn into a bit of a grind.

That shouldn’t take away from what Image & Form have done here though. They’ve taken the beloved SteamWorld Dig games, and managed to both expand the universe, and introduce a new genre to their growing series.

If you own a Switch, then you really should own this.

The Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available/Reviewed – Switch

Review based on review code. Please read this page for more on our scoring policy.

The EGX 2018 Report – Strategy, Horror and Eternal Trips to Hell

The EGX 2018 Report – Strategy, Horror and Eternal Trips to Hell

I talked about the absence of Microsoft and EA at EGX in my opening show report, but that isn’t to say there weren’t any games to see at the show. There were plenty to see and play, and while my focus was, as ever, on the Rezzed section, I did make time for some other titles that were on show. Read on for my takes on Total War: Three Kingdoms, Man of Medan and Diablo on the Switch.

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