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What's Wrong With Bioshock?

Blast from the Past FBT is back in Rapture. Did he choose or does he obey? The Past I’m a slave when it comes to Bioshock. A total Adam-addicted, Spliced up Ryan slave. Bioshock is my favourite game. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember idly reading PCZone's profile back in 2007 and thinking it seemed daft. Bees flying from your hands?! I didn’t bother with it for years. In fact, I picked it up for a fiver in a second hand store because I had no other games to play - well, no other games I wanted to play right then. But when Ryan said “I chose the impossible. I chose... Rapture” and we saw it emerge from the depths, I was sold. It was a perfect game – it was a good shooter but the setting, backstory, characters and moral choices meant I never wanted to leave. It was original, surprising, moving - amazing for a shooter. It changed how I viewed games, what my expectations were. Bioshock became the one I compare every other game to. How do I review my all-time fave game? Bang on about why I love it? Boring. The web is teaming with retrospective reviews going on about it's brilliance. But, reflecting on how I got into Rapture, what if my original assumption was correct? Surely it can’t be all that? Again, bees?! What if I replayed to find out what’s wrong with it? Can I find anything wrong with it? Still a Blast? Before I get into it; the remastered version is an abomination. Pretty much the only change is starfish stuck to the windows and it crashing every ten minutes. Not a reason to hate Bioshock, just a reason to hate 2K. And the Game+ mode doesn’t up-scale the enemies, so you’re so ridiculously overpowered they might as well have called it Walking Sim mode. If you’re looking to keep your brand alive, don’t do a remaster. Least not like this. So anyway, For those who don't know (tut), Andrew Ryan, industrialist, billionaire and poster-child for Objectivism decides he’s had enough of Governments and the hanger-ons – or as he calls them, Parasites. He builds Rapture beneath the waves where ‘the great are not constrained by the small’. The city thrives on its own industry and innovations, until a sea slug is discovered that allows the ‘splicing’ of DNA. It creates a gold-rush in ‘Plasmids’ which genetically alter and improve people, eventually to the point of having superpowers. Alongside this, a class-struggle emerges, and the ‘small’ - menial workers, those who failed - start to rebel. Society breaks down, to the point they all just accept men stuck in deep sea diving suits are brainwashed to protect little girls with slugs implanted in them, who go around with huge needles harvesting dead bodies for their precious Adam, while people become addicted and degenerate into ghoulish monsters. The place has problems. Rapture falls into war, with Ryan versus Atlas, man of the people. And into this stalemate, via a plane crash, our lead Jack is dunked. One thing that did always bug me – it’s revealed that our silent hero is in fact Ryan’s son. A young dancer Ryan was dancing with fell pregnant, and she sold the child to Fontaine, who, alongside the doctors behind the Big Daddy conditioning, accelerated his growth and gave Jack a trigger phrase, ‘Would You Kindly’ – which unconsciously forces him to do their bidding. It’s one of gaming’s greatest twists, realising we had been doing Atlas’ bidding, that he was Fontaine all along and he wants Rapture for himself, that we’ve not been in control. But here’s the thing – well, things wrong with that; One, Jack is priceless. His DNA is the only way Atlas can get past Ryan’s security. So what does he do with his ace in the hole? Sends him topside then orders him to get on a plane and crash it into the sea over Rapture. Bit of a risk? Surely if they could implant memories, they could have just implanted the plane crash and shoved him out the lighthouse door? Second, why go through any of that conditioning? If Jack can be controlled by ‘WYK’ just wake the kid up and say “go kill Ryan would you kindly”. None of the Atlas nonsense, the family, the rigmarole and façade Atlas puts us through matters. Why care what Jack thinks or even if he’s aware? He’s as powerless as a Big Daddy? Third, Would You Kindly is a fantastic reveal, it’s shocking when you realise you’ve been had. But it happens at the same time as we face Ryan, recognise Atlas’ betrayal, escape Fontaine, hear Tenenbaum's backstory and new plan as well as realise we just murdered our dad - Bioshock, you’re throwing a lot at me emotionally. It’s like the game shoots all it’s shots in one go, and then says ‘Oh, we’re only half way through’ and you’re sent off to go kill Fontaine - the whole second half is like a DLC add-on and it's like any other shooter, tramping toward the big bad. Just forget I’m a brainwashed bastard-child lab-experiment who clubbed his dad to death? The game never recovers from that reveal. Other moments are ruined because exposition is delivered via recordings while you’re busy shooting or half-listening to Ryan’s threats or Fontaine’s goading. We actually find our mom’s body earlier on before realising who she was. I searched and nicked money off her! The explanation about how you came into being is delivered by Tenenbaum from behind a frosted glass window. Bioshock is one of those games that only comes together on a replay and not because you replay to join the dots; there's no clues to tip you off about what's coming, just stuff that has no relevance. And why does Ryan allow us to beat him to death? Because he refuses to submit? It's not over for him, he’s just gotten control of his son – Fontaine just delivered a super-powered, obedient son to his door, his own personal Darth Vader, and he says “here, take this golf club and hit me with it, would you kindly son” instead of "would you kindly go kill Atlas”. Fontaine is a terrible villain, with his awful Bugsy Malone accent. I like his one-dimensional style in comparison to Ryan’s more complex approach, but he reveals himself like a pantomime character, then like all bad villains, leaves us to die in an overly elaborate trap and doesn’t stick around to watch. Fontaine is the Dr Evil of the waves. And it is hugely disappointing that we’re actually up against a street thug. There was a building sense of threat and wonder to Rapture, with Ryan’s contemplative threats. You could admire him, but Fontaine is boo-hiss and a terrible cliché boss fight. Fontaine’s plan is wildly complicated actually. You couldn’t re-work a Big Daddy to walk outside and drill through his office window? In fact, why not just have Jack converted to a Big Daddy from the outset. That way he’d actually have a chance wading through all the Splicers. Of course, that does happen in the final quarter, in a desperate attempt to change things up as it all runs out of steam. And becoming a Big Daddy means nothing; we don’t get more threatening or stronger. All we get is slower, our vision impeded by the helmet and clumping feet fx. We’re told it's irreversible becoming a Big Daddy, but in the final shot we’re back to normal. And, during the process we get our throat cut out? Why, just stay quiet, not like the Little Sisters can see you still have a tongue. Mind you, assuming you play Jack as a saviour, he adopted five daughters; doubt he had much of a chance to talk anyway. And then there’s the plasmids? I get the splicing concept, that Tonics improve health or strength, and I’ll even buy traits like Camouflage, but firebolts and electricity? Telekinesis?! They’re just magic spells, they make zero sense. And often they're little more than melee-stunners not killers. And the bees. I just fired live insects from my hands? And Splicers can transport themselves? They’ve not unlocked the genome, they’ve unlocked the God Particle. And while Bioshock 2 added dual-weld, here you have to switch and isn’t that a faff. You’re constantly switching then rolling through options. Too many options, so many weapons; how many times did I get assaulted, swap and take a picture instead of shoot? Why is camera on my weapon wheel!? And the weapons are far too Doom era, it’s the one time I’d argue for a 2-weapon max option. And less magic spells. Rapture may be fantastical, but it feels like a studio set. The outside looks like one of those obviously fake backdrops in a sitcom. It’s a flat painting of buildings with a water-ripple effect which doesn’t even make sense. It looks like those terrible photoshop fails IG Models post. It ruins the feel, the depth, conflicts with how Rapture seems functional and believable. According to Metacritic, no critics gave Bioshock a negative review. None! They all witter on about how thought-provoking, compelling, twisting, shocking, intelligent it is. How did they fall for this? Scripted window-dressing, samey shooting, magic, manipulative moral choices (a little girl? Come on) and a mid-game rug pull; Atlas for the people, Ryan for the self becomes generic go kill bad guy? It’s just a regular shoot’em up pretending to be an Intellectual. And it nicked all it’s originality from System Shock 2. So, what's right with Bioshock? Who the hell am I kidding, this was just an excuse to play Bioshock again. Ryan said “we all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us”. And my choice is I’m a Bioshock fan. None of those niggles matter because it all makes sense when you're beneath the waves. It's perfect. Come at me, you'll get the old one-two punch. Bioshock is one of those rare games that pushed its genre forward while still having everything needed to keep a gamer happy. It encouraged games to sneak in some intelligence, to be more than just FPS. Arguably, it’s the first shooter with a soul.

Total Annihilation

Blast from the Past review TheMorty travels back to 1997 to see if it still annihilates The Past The late 90s was the peak of 2D strategy gaming. Command and Conquer understandably stole most of the thunder, its Soviet theme proving extremely popular at a time when a post-cold war Hollywood was overflowing with Russian Antagonists. The cross-platform launch of ‘Red Alert’ on the very first iteration of Sony’s PlayStation also helped it dominate sales as the opened genre to a whole new audience and shared with console users a style of game normally reserved for PC purists. Following behind that strategy flagship, was a whole fleet of battle sims each with their own unique brand that allowed you to wage war in space, during the iron age – or even as a robotic commander with an army of Mechs at your disposal. At the heart of the latter of those brands, is a game that gets very little recognition, but really is the benchmark of top-down gaming as we know it. Total Annihilation from the unheard of Cavedog Entertainment didn’t have the gravitas or the reputation at launch of the EA backed ‘Theme’ Series. Nor that of Sid Meier’s MicroPose which boasted Civilisation and UFO in their portfolio. No, Cavedog were a short-lived and very niche developer that almost exclusively produced a single cult classic. You start as a Commander. A Mech. Your role? Build the strongest army you can and (you guessed it) totally annihilate your opponents army. It sounded simple, right? Well they didn’t make it too easy… time to go back and see if TA still annihilates the competition. Still a Blast? The game has two modes: Campaign and Skirmish. In the former, you’re pitted in scenarios each rising in difficulty against your rival faction. Starting with quickly achievable goals to win small battles before reaching the culmination of an all-out war to end your enemy’s faction for good. The missions can be ensuring the survival of a lone unit or wiping out a small colony, but it doesn’t feel samey, as you move from world to world the maps become more intricate and force you to use a different strategy each time. The narrative is driven by short, text-based write-ups that bookend each mission, giving an update on how you’re fairing in the grand scheme against your nemesis. Each level eventually descends into a straight up, kill-or-be-killed account, but you’re forced to read the text as there’s no ‘Objectives’ on the HUD. So skip the blurb and you’ll end up losing the battle for sure. Legend has it (and by “legend” I mean the opening cutscene) that humanity and the all-synthetic CORE were once staunch allies in an intergalactic union until the CORE made it mandatory for humans to transfer their consciousness into an artificial Matrix. When some humans refused, CORE decreed that all those refusing would be slaughtered. The remaining humans fled to a far-off planet to create a base, form ARM and mounting a resistance… and here we are. If you’re worried humans vs Battle Mechs sounds a bit one-sided – fear not. ARM found a way to clone themselves and operate mechanical units – so it’s not just a fair fight but cements the view that the narrative could easily be straight from a Direct to TV, Sci-Fi B-movie… it certainly gives it more flavour than the boring ‘the Babylonians are invading, don’t die’ storylines you have in Age of Empires that don’t add any sugar to a flavourless campaign mode. In either mode you can choose your faction as both ARM and CORE have their own unique campaign story with their own special units. ARM are naturally positioned as the good guys, but the writers do a good job of rationalising genocide in the CORE playthrough to the point where you start to believe you’re doing the right thing trying to save humanity from dying out… by killing them?!? They do have much cooler units though so that justifies mass-murder, right? Since we’re on far off planets with robotic units, you don’t have to worry about chopping wood or hunting deer for food like some of the 90s more tedious strategy games and there’s no finite stores to deplete. You can mine metal, you can generate energy and as soon as your stations are built, they’ll provide you a per-second rate of receival. After that, it’s standard bank balance stuff - ensure your outgoing is less than your incoming. It’s a nice touch because it adds an additional layer of unit management. You can turn stations on or off to lower the outgoing rate in order to prioritise creating structures, units or ammo – whatever is most important to the current stage of your battle tactics. There’s also an added difficulty for metal refinery in that there are a limited number of metal mining squares on most maps, so it restricts how much you can collect in the early stages of the game. This makes it harder for players who just want to squirrel away as much metal as they can to then mass produce units at ease. You aren’t fully restricted as can convert energy to metal, it just takes upgrades and a lot longer to do so. The Campaign mode is a lot more linear in the computer controlled commander’s approach to your battles, with many scenarios having pre-built bases you have to destroy, but in Skirmish mode the AI isn’t brilliant. It doesn’t have the nuance of in-built tactics and game adaptation, so often the strategy is erratic. Playing at the time of release gamers might have been frustrated or had higher expectations but replaying 20+ years later this is exactly what makes skirmishes so thrilling. Each game differs dramatically from the last, a rival commander is just as likely to start building metal extractors as he is to instantly walk over to you and start a one-on-one, winner takes all deathmatch. Then the next game, your nemesis could focus all their energy on creating near unstoppable nuclear missiles. It’s so random that it makes trying to plan a winning strategy challenging and it means you often must switch up your tactics outside your comfort zone to get the win. Skirmish mode also allows up to 4 players on a map and you can ally-up. This can make your life either much easier – or a hell of a lot harder depending on the skill level (or level of erraticism) of your ally. The units themselves are quite advanced for a 90s release. They are split into classic land, sea and air categories (with hybrid hovercrafts being introduced in the first expansion). You have Infantry, Vehicles, Ships and Aircraft plants and the basic of these have more agile, lower-armoured units that are quick to build as an early defence. However, they would be cannon fodder against an upgraded opponent so you must produce advanced construction units which can build more advanced plants - unlocking some seriously lethal upgrades and game changing tech. Of the two factions, ARM units tend to be quicker to build but less powerful against their CORE counterparts. CORE are stronger and more armoured but they’re less agile and they take an absolute age to build. There’s two things that make CORE the best faction to choose; first, they have a little annoying Kbot unit called ‘Morty’ who takes long range snipes at his opponents (quite apt). If that isn’t enough for you, wait until you hear about the Krogoth. Their top-tier unit upgrade makes ARM look like choirbots. The Krogoth facility produces a Megazord level Mech which is a near unstoppable. It’s deadly against air and land units and if you’re up against more than one it could spell game over. For the steadfast humanitarian players that couldn’t bear to play as the anti-human CORE, then fear not… The Commander is equipped with two unique abilities. Cloaking which, at the cost of a huge amount of energy, makes it invisible to both radar and your enemies line of sight and it also has the trait to convert units from rival factions. One very brave strategy to level the playing field would be to go behind enemy lines and convert a rival construction bot and bring him back to your base, so you can boast the best of both production lines. Beware, unless you turn it off, the default setting in both game modes is a big ‘game over’ once your commander has been killed so use this tactic if you’re either Solid Snake or if Danger is your middle name. Total Annihilation was a blast decades ago and I was worried replaying would damage the nostalgia, but I was delighted to see it hold up so well today. Its simplicity is timeless. Build, destroy, defend, conquer - it’s a format that’s been over-complicated in almost every game since. The Settlers and Age of Empires didn’t get the Strategy/War balance right. You’d often be picking berries or chopping wood early in a game and come under attack. You had limited time to prepare for an onslaught which meant 9/10 playthroughs you’d be pinned to prioritising your army ahead of your settlement. You’d have to mine gold and stone and build houses and huts. Hunt live animals that could easily kill you. Grab artefacts and bring them to your base for ‘prestige’. All good elements to those games but in those quirks, you’d often spent hours preparing for a battle that could be over in minutes. Total Annihilation was the opposite and it allowed you to get out what you put in - the longer you prepared the more intense the war. The game is available to buy online for less than £4 and that’s for the ‘Commander Edition’ – which grants you both original expansion packs; Core Contingency and Battle Tactics. Both come with additional campaign missions, more skirmish maps and upgraded units, including the Big Bertha and Vulcan Cannons - which can fire almost the length of the map. However, even after you’ve exhausted those - the fun doesn’t stop there. Total Annihilation is a cult classic so of course over the years there’s been fan-made mods. Fan sites like TAUniverse have been mass producing new units, maps and missions for decades, so the freshness of the game is almost never ending. You won’t find a better value for money real-time strategy game that has aged as well as this. For less than the price of a pint, this review should absolutely twist your ARM.

The Mafia Trilogy - The Definitive Edition

FBT gets made. And made. And made again in the remastered mafia trilogy As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. Yet somehow I missed the Mafia Trilogy. Now it’s been remastered, time to see if I’m funny how? How am I funny? Mafia Taxi-driving Tommy Angelo is forced to drive mobsters Paulie and Sam to safety after a botched hit. Enticed by their money and lifestyle in the midst of the Depression, Tommy joins the Salieri family as they battle the Morello Mob for control of the city. Rebuilt pixel by pixel, this is both a remake and an extension of the original. I’ve not played the original, so I can judge this purely on its own merits, and what really strikes me about Mafia is we’re really just a bunch of thugs. We don’t get ‘Made’, don’t make our way up the ranks, don’t enjoy the spoils of war and there’s no glamour, it’s just a constant tit-for-tat battle to keep our corner of the city from Morello. When Tommy boasts to a cop he’s ratting to, you know he’s just trying to convince himself it was all worth it; all the talk about honour, loyalty and family is just crap they tell themselves. There’s little romanticism of life in the Mafia, and it’s more satisfying and realistic than some gangster wish-fulfilment. What makes this so intense is it’s essentially linear. There’s Freeroam, but we’re focused on Tommy’s mobster life. If this had been made now, we’d have local gangs to take out, strongholds to raid, mini-bosses and side-mission filler, but this has made me miss linear gaming, where we get lost in the story not the city. And what a beautiful city it is. I can’t compare it to the original, but compared to recent games, this goes to the mattresses. And you’ll end up on a mattress often. In the original the cops were unforgiving, and while that’s been softened here (‘Classic’ is the nightmare setting), both the gangsters and cops are incredible shots, perfect drivers, and bullet-proof. But it’s not a balancing issue, they react to what you’re doing and what’s going on, making the shoot-outs desperate and realistic. It’s brutally good, one of those games where you go ‘fair play’ after getting put down. Get into cover and spray everywhere with a Tommy Gun, that’s the Chicago way. You can lose hours just marvelling at what they’ve achieved here – this is a living, breathing city from the 1930s. The NPCs are a masterclass in realism – they react believably to gunfire (and to if they get hit, one gave me the finger), to the environment, to each other (some have their own narratives) – meanwhile Tommy has tons of subtle animations and his cohorts react to your behaviour making the whole city feel real rather than scripted. The cars (and now bikes), while a little loose in the back end (who knew drifting was a thing in the 30s), feel like they’re from the period without being impossible to control, making car chases just the right side of exciting. There’s an obvious mission-incoming moment when you help a Salieri-sponsored race car driver prepare; of course, he gets injured, so taxi-Tommy is in the driving seat. I expected that to be an unnecessary annoyance, but it’s one of the best races I’ve ever played. Scrappy and hectic with brilliant race commentary, I was actually gutted when I won, I would have done that again. Not sure how I won though. Although it’s supposed to be expanded, some bits do feel underdeveloped, and occasionally its age does shine though. One mission has Tommy committing an assassination on a steamer then leaping overboard into a waiting speedboat. But will he just jump overboard? Nope, got to fight through the entire boat to reach the one point he’ll leap from. Some of the sneak missions seem unnecessary, and often you reach a particular point and realise the marker’s there to make your escape more difficult. Nowadays games give you options and let you prepare, but here you can see the problems coming before the cut-scene has ended. If there is an annoyance, it’s the brawling. It’s just a timed block, timed hit and if you muck it up, Tommy has a glass jaw. But aside from that, this is a near perfect game. The characters are all recognisable without being cliché, and although Tommy becomes close to Sam and Paulie, you never quite trust them, or Salieri – you know you’re one mistake away from sleeping with the fishes. I really regret not playing the original back in the day. I would have appreciated even more what’s been achieved here. But even as a new game, it’s fantastic. Its so good it should have a black and white noir mode like LA Noire did. Mafia is a brilliantly observed mob story and a near-perfect game; this is in my top ten all-time greats. Those are some big concrete overshoes Mafia II has to fit into. Mafia II Vito Scaletta returns from WWII and falls in with Mob Associate buddy Joe to find money to pay off his widowed mother and sister’s debts. As he and Joe make their way up the ranks and become Made, they realise it’s not the high-life fantasy they expected. Main problem I have with Mafia II is Vito is the worst mobster in history. He has no ideas himself, just follows Joe, the second stupidest mobster of all time, no matter how moronic his idea is; every plan, scheme, heist, and hit is a failure. Somehow they get Made, and so immediately vouch for a police informer, get into debt with a loan shark, kill a Made Man and spark a war with the Triads after getting involved in the forbidden drug trade… they screw up everything; Vito even goes along with Joe’s plan to blow up an entire floor of a hotel - and they still miss the target. This is like Abbot and Costello meet The Irishman. Mafia II tries to deep dive into the classic Goodfellas trope instead of carving its own story within those expectations like the original did – fast cars, fast women, fast success, and then it all spirals, but we never get to enjoy the exhilaration of it, we either see montages of Vito doing it without us, or we’re doing jobs that go wrong. We should be seduced by it, get angry it’s all falling apart, but instead you kinda think the pair of clowns deserved it. Still, it’s a beautiful world to mob about in. The first third is set in the harsh winter of a post-war 40s which makes cars slide and NPCs slip over in the snow. After a brief stint in prison, Vito returns to an optimistic 1950s with Hot Rod cars and rock n roll, ripe for Mafia exploitation – which they don’t. Vito can visit clothing stores, garages, turn over stolen cars, frequent/hold up stores and stripclubs, and collect a nice array of vehicles which you can personalise and upgrade - but there’s not much to Freeroam really, and way too much pointless driving within missions, which is fraught because cops are unforgiving and NPC’s suicidal. It’s almost impossible to get between missions without getting into suicide by cop situation. I don’t think I ever arrived at a mission marker in the same car I left in. And there’s signs of “that’ll do” within the game. You get booted out of a cut-scene into a gunfight where everyone’s already shooting at you, or a car-chase where you’re parked the wrong way, and Joe often gets stuck or disappears. The brawling is worse than Mafia because it becomes a story element. In jail, Vito’s picked as the Italian boxer, although he’s no Stallion. It’s even more basic block/punch than the first one, but this time we just go through prize fight after prize fight, for about an hour. And then we’re out of prison and carry on. Why couldn’t it have montaged that and let us muck about with the strippers? The gunfights by comparison are insanely good, if heavily in the bad guy’s favour – Vito can manage two maybe three shots before he’s dead, while they can take two or three hits to the face before they’re staggered. But they’re all set in classic gangster shootout spots – bars, Chinese restaurants, sewers and meat factories, car parks and construction sites and are awesome, even if we’re there because of whatever daft situation Vito got embroiled in. Ultimately Mafia II is trying to be a crowd pleaser, a bombastic, cinematic mafia experience as opposed to the original’s grimy feel. There are a few escapes and chases that work really well, and the missions are often exciting, if ridiculous. The final scenes - and ending - are affecting, it does bring home that those are just double-crossing, self-serving criminals who hide behind ceremony, but it’s just generic and nowhere near as impactful as Tommy’s story. While I enjoyed the more familiar Mafia experience, it’s a pretty shallow follow up. If Mafia I was The Godfather, Mafia II is Godfather Part III. So where does that leave Mafia III? Surely it can’t be Godfather Part II? Mafia III In the Mafia, breaking omertà is the worst thing you can do. Fellow PW.com writer TheMorty hated Mafia III so much he rage quit it – twice. I respect his opinions, so even playing MIII feels like a betrayal; and liking it makes me out to be a rat… Returning from Vietnam in ‘68, ‘Black Mob’ enforcer Lincoln Clay discovers the gang is now under the cosh of the mafia. Pressured into leading a bank heist for them, Clay is betrayed and left for dead while the rest of his gang is murdered. Surviving, Clay teams up with an old ‘Nam CIA buddy to dismantle the Mob, taking over their rackets and building his own empire. Mafia III should be commended for including institutionalised racism in a way I’ve not experienced so viscerally in gaming; At first I’m disgusted and take huge pleasure in melee’ing to death any character who calls Clay an N-word but after a while, I just kinda get used to it, which is even more unpleasant. It slips out of the passing NPCs mouths too, creating this oppressive world - where I take pleasure in melee’ing NPCs too. Some bits, like taking out the Dixie Mafia or a KKK meeting are obvious and a bit Tarantino, but other, more subtle moments really bring home the casual, socially acceptable, everyday racism - like when you commit a crime in a black area, the police dispatcher all but tells the cops not to bother. But if you do it in an affluent White area, she’s demanding the entire cop shop descend on you. Walking the streets, a female NPC said hi to a white NPC then veered off as I passed by, clutching her purse. But, while I’m up for a game exploring racism, I’m here for a Mafia game, and Mafia III isn’t one. This is GTA meets Far Cry, all we do is take out strongholds and outposts, then take over a mini-boss’ hood – I mean, their ‘racket’. It’s the ‘break this, steal that, find a…, stop the…’ routine, then kill the underboss as we make our way to the Don who caused all this. It’s incredibly generic and infuriatingly repetitive – there’s 10 districts, 18-odd racket-bosses, 8 underbosses plus the Don, and all of them are all the same. There are fantastic, action-filled set-pieces, usually around the underboss takedowns, but to reach them it’s a mind-numbing slog of the same missions over and over. And why am I, the boss, doing all this? Clay establishes three capos – Haitian Cassandra who runs the Bayou, Irish (aka perma-Drunk) mobster Burke, and Vito Scaletta, who was sent here as punishment for what happened in Mafia II. And where do we find him? Locked in a freezer by his own men. We can assign rackets to each capo, and once the underboss is down, give them their territory. Why can’t one of their crews go around smashing up slot machines? Assigning rackets and territory unlocks benefits but soon they get antsy about how much power the others are getting. That’s a nice touch, but what’s frustrating is they take away the perks if you give away territory; it becomes a perk management mini-game – but rather than them vying for power, suggesting plans you align with, you just pick Vito because he provides better health, throw Cassandra a racket because she gives more ammo, keep Burke drunk so you get car deliveries. You can unlock more background to those capos via stupefyingly boring, dated side-missions (kill or fetch) but there’s no true relationship building or investment in them, and doing their chores doesn’t help keep them in line as you divvy up the city. They don’t contribute to the story, just your playstyle. Mafia III’s saving grace is the city its set in. It oozes New Orleans and the sixties; I hate the freeroam but love the freedom to take it all in; it’s a beautiful place to drive through, passing by the French Quarter, the misty bayou with its ‘gators, driving highways at sunset or day break, through rain storms, and there’s a staggering amount of detail and subtle references to it. Its also more than a little buggy, even in this version. While I didn’t meet any of the game-quitting bugs that TheMorty did, I regularly had to quit game to trigger missions or reset NPCs, faced random graphic glitches, and lost items. One time my car ended up on its roof after I drove over a dropped umbrella. Enemy NPCs have that ‘what was that… nothing’ intelligence that makes sneaking all too easy, and street NPCs panic at your speeding and leap off the sidewalk - into the road in front of you. One cut scene triggered mid firefight and when it ended, cop bodies and cars crashed down around me. And, it's not a bug but what TF is with Clay getting taxed half his cash after dying? Who's he paying? Having to call in a fence and bank your money before a shootout is just an unnecessary chore. Like the rest of the game. This is everything I was glad Mafia wasn’t. Mafia III is a terrible Mafia game. It’s been flipped, a standard revenge game against the Mob instead of us experiencing what Mob life is like. The open world dilutes the experience; instead of taking in its themes, we’re distracted by collectables and doing rackets so I can get more grenades. The pure focus is what made Mafia work – that, and that we were in the Mafia. The sixties was a period of change for the Mafia – they’d been fully exposed in the late fifties, were being squeezed out of Las Vegas, RFK had created the Organized Crime Strike Force, the RICO Act was in-coming and several Mob Bosses had turned rat. Exploring that period of change for the Mob, to see them manage the swinging sixties against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and Civil Unrest would have been much more interesting as a Mafia game. Not to say Clay’s story isn’t compelling but it should have existed in its own right. It should have been linear for starters, but it’s a disservice to reduce his story to a Mafia sequel. It should be at spin-off if not a standalone, anything but just Mafia III. Its own ending is bad enough, but Mafia III even undermines the only pathos Mafia II had by revealing what happened after that game ended. Mafia III’s ending is depressingly a good/moderate/bad choice like everything Clay experienced can be reduced to me making a moral choice. Even worse, there’s a mid-credits set-up for Mafia IV which implies a continuation of this playstyle – it’s as if Mafia III is this series’ Assassin’s Creed III, a subtle reboot of the series’ from tight open world to RPG Freeroam. So that’s my journey from Hoodlum to Godfather. As Mafia games, I’d say they go in order – Mafia I is the Definitive Mafia game… and that’s about it. If I were to make you an offer you can’t refuse, I’d say buy Mafia I without hesitation, and pick up Mafia III in the sales and skip the opening credits, pretend it’s called something else. And avoid Mafia II unless you really want to play a Mafia character that’s less Dean Martin and more Jerry Lewis. Read TheMorty's take on Mafia III here ...

Stories Untold

FBT was expecting a fun romp through his 80s childhood. Stories Untold is worth telling, but to describe the plot is to ruin it – and undersell it. And make a mess of it. The topline is it’s a simple narrative puzzler with adventure and horror elements. The bottomline is it’s like piecing together a dream that is actually a nightmare. Split into four seemingly unrelated episodic parts, we’re unseen characters sitting at a computer. That’s it. We’re sitting down playing a game playing a game while sitting down. That’s about as clear as I can be... Stories Untold oozes 80s horror but that’s just a decoy - once you realise what you’re really in for, you’re intrigued, compelled to figure it out. It left me moved, and angry. It’s an incredible piece of work; I was glued to my desk – both in game and in the real world. In the first episode, The House Abandon, we’re seated at what looks like an Amstrad Spectrum 128k +2 with the built-in cassette player. I am home. Well, my childhood home. As is the character. A text-based adventure game loads up, and the in-game-in-game character is also returning home. At first it’s great, then I wonder if it’s great just because I’ve fallen for the retro-feel; I’ve tried to replay those actual games on a Spectrum emulator and always immediately give up. About a minute of ‘you’re at a crossroads’/‘turn left’/'you can’t do that’/’look left’/’I don’t understand’/'go left’/'there’s no left turning’ and I give up. But eventually I slip into my old 80s mindset of learning the verbs and adjectives the game will anticipate and soon I’m exploring the house. But why? Is this it, did I just buy a text adventure? Is this one indie hipster game too far? But there is something foreboding – the text describes the house in an almost fairytale-like way, a forced happiness; I start to notice odd little things, references and comments that don’t add up. Then the character in the game finds the same computer my character is using, and the same game we’re playing... Oh. Oh… ohho… When you type ‘play game’ within the game within the game (still with me?) it’s not the happy childhood home, it’s describing a rundown house filled with horror and I find myself hesitating to type ‘look around’, I start to hear noises; wait, they're corresponding to what I’m doing onscreen. I type ‘go upstairs’ and hear footsteps coming up the stairs. Whoa. A text adventure is freaking me out... That was not just some text adventure. It was frustrating at times but fathoming the text actions, where and what to look for was part of the experience, and once it went Twilight Zone on me, it became something else. And that's about all I can say without spoiling episode 1. Episode 2 though... As I start episode 2, ‘Lab Conduct’, I’m nervous. I’m seated opposite an old computer and some experimentation equipment. I miss my Amstrad Spectrum 128k +2 with the built-in cassette player. That was comforting. Ep2 seems unconnected but I’m now wary it’s going to go sideways at some point. We’re some kind of lab assistant, aiding an unseen voice experimenting on ‘Artifact 23’, sealed inside a test chamber. I turn dials, press buttons using the manual to figure out what the voice wants, wondering what’s happening inside the box. Then I start to overhear the voice discussing me, as if we’re actually the one being observed, like some Milgram Experiment. It’s unnerving but not as compelling as House Abandon – that is until … well, I can't really say. Not because I'm being spoiler-free but I just don't know what happened, other than its cool and intense and scary AF. Ep2 isn’t really a puzzler, the manual explains each experiment so you’re just pressing buttons, but we’re here to experience the event, not solve it. It’s largely the same for ‘Station Process’, the third episode. It has The Thing vibes; we’re in a radio monitoring station in a snowed in area, and it’s our job to relay signals by decoding messages which the radio voice intimates is part of some increasingly serious world event. While something outside tries to get inside. I’ve decided this is all aliens experimenting or invading or I’m on their spaceship or … I have no idea. All I know is, this is like trying to recall a dream, or a drunken night where you have an awareness you did something stupid and you’re not sure you want to be reminded. Ep3 is perhaps the least exciting one from a gameplay perspective, going to a microfiche to figure out a code then relay it, but the building threat and Cold War vibes trigger weird memories of Where The Wind Blows, and naturally we have to go outside – the first time we’ve stood up – and it’s actually terrifying. What’s out there, how does this all connect? Episode four has some explaining to do. Episode Four, The Last Session really messes you up. We’re in a hospital, told we’ve been in a coma, that we’re mixing up dreams and reality, that none of this is happening. I’ve seen enough 80s sci-fi to know that’s not truth. My money’s still on aliens. Episode 4 is like a flashback where everything slots into place and the truth is revealed, but rather than some quick montage we have to relive every moment as all four episodes interlock and reveal their purpose; you can't trust anything - even the menu. Back at that Spectrum – who would have thought a text adventure would be so gripping - it becomes unbearable, hard to read, difficult to type as it all starts to make sense. Untold Stories requires you to do little more than unlock what is untold, yet there’s something incredibly compelling about it. It is pretty much just a disjointed narrative but the way it’s told, through comforting 80s refs and settings, hints and connections, it keeps you completely off-balanced, nervous, even scared; especially when you start to figure it all out. It’s incredibly effective, and that’s before you get to the reveal which leaves you haunted. Never thought I’d find a sitting sim exciting. I bought Stories Untold based on the Stranger Things-inspired cover (it’s designed by the same guy). I was left shaken and shocked by what it explored. The way it delves into certain themes is extraordinary. I’m so glad it wasn’t aliens. Or was it … sit and find out for yourself. #adventure #narrative #fbt

City Car Driving

FBT obeys the law of the highway. The highway to hell, obviously. I am an excellent driver. I’ve only crashed twice. Once when I thought the car ahead was going to make the light so I put my foot down only for the coward to break and get my beloved yellow Mini clubman 1100 with a racing manifold, wide exhaust and GB alloys up his backside. And I put a foot-wide dent in the side when attempting a reverse handbrake turn in a carpark to impress a girl. She wasn’t impressed. Oh and shattered the windowscreen doing donuts on a gravel road. There might be others, but blameless incidents back when I was a boyracer aside, I’m a good driver. And to prove it, I took the official online theory test. Shit. Okay, I’m going to use City Car Driving to relearn how to drive and then retake the test. I’ve played walking sims and train sims, but I’ve never played a road vehicle sim. I get the idea, trucking across Europe or keeping a bus to time – but I just don’t trust myself to take the challenge seriously. The GTA in me would force me to drive a bus like Dennis Hopper was involved. So, can I obey the highway code? And what’s a Puffin Crossing? CCD is pretty basic; it was released in 2008 but even then, detail was a thing. It’s the gold standard for car sims, but the plain look makes it feel a bit flat and not very immersive. There’s the usual environmental choices and different regions; US, Russia, Australia, ‘EU Region’ and Germany(?), but no UK – not that you’d notice. I’ve not been to Russia but I’m fairly sure it doesn’t look just like EU country. The only difference is if they drive on the wrong side. There’s a training course, so of course I start with freeroam. Yeah, even in freeroam this game is a hard task master. Forgot seatbelt, didn’t indicate, going too fast, changing lanes, running someone over. Some of it is undoubtedly me, but a lot of it is the game. It doesn’t give you any hints about the region’s traffic quirks; who knew you can’t cross lanes in Australia when the line is solid? Oh, that’s a UK rule too? Well, I’m learning. It also doesn’t give you a headsup so learning is difficult; you go a pixel off point and you’re penalised. On top of which, there’s so many buttons; low beam lights, appropriate window wiper speed, gear changes, indicators – apparently it’s all good manners, but you’re only told after the fact. I don’t remember this many buttons on my Mini’s polished walnut-finish dashboard that fell off when you turned sharp left. It might be marginally easier with a controller, wheel or even in VR, but to be honest I doubt it. Biggest issue (besides my heavy foot) is the physics. The floaty cars in GTAIV are more responsive than this and that came out the same year. Okay, that had a bigger budget, but a car sim should really spend time getting car simulation right. You don’t get that feel for the car as in real life, I’d be better off with a tonka toy on those street mats kids have. I’m never going to pass my theory test. It’s also not helping that English is not this game’s first language. Some of the naggy pop-ups made no sense, and I picked an automatic car after struggling with key-gear changes. Still couldn’t change gear. The manual explained; “when you called the menu of settings being in the location and changed this setting, then after returning to the location you will not see this change”. I don’t recall that in the theory test. You can alter the traffic settings and I tune them all up to riot-level but really, not a lot happens; I even tuned up tyre blowout to 'often' and it never happened. There's a drunk-driving option too, but that just adds a blurring effect. One thing I do discover, I’m a better driver when I’m breaking the law than when I’m behaving. Freeroam is the freest roaming I’ve ever seen. I ran over a granny (entirely by accident) and simply got warned I’d had an accident. It happened in front of a cop car, which didn’t even stop. I even hit cop cars and just got scolded for having an accident. I wasn’t expecting a dash to the nearest Pay n Spray but I’m not sure what this is actually simulating. Collision detection is a little off, you can’t knock things over, boundaries are random and cars sometimes seem to float when there's wet road reflections which really isn't helping my concentration. In one freeroam I drove off the map. I tried Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre but didn't seem to help. The game just told me off for leaving the highway. To be totally fair to CCD, I should have started with the tutorial. Here, the game patiently talks me through key-combos, road events, dangers and techniques, the whole shebang. Well, it’s teaches but I don’t learn. Too many keys! It should just be one appropriate action key, that would feel natural. The only one I aced was the slalom. Clearly, I’m just a natural joyrider. Eventually I reach my test. Here we go. The test is insanely fussy and unfair even if you honestly try. Plus, one mistake and it’s back to the start no matter how far you made it. I give up, but find back in freeroam there’s missions; ‘Ruber’ is taxi mode and CarGo (best car pun ever) is for transporting goods. But the question is, has this experience taught me to be a safer driver? CCD has made me a worse driver. Thing is, I just tried to turn it into GTA, when it really does work as a tutorial. Well, if I learnt to drive using CCD I’d be dead now, but it’s heart is in the right place and it does bring home just how complicated driving is. I'm not sure it's a driving sim, the locations are too generic and it's more of an obey the rules sim, but it’s also made me realise that while games like GTA and Saint’s Row reward instead of punish for being a roadhog, they’re also accurate driving experiences – mad drivers, insane NPCs, irritated cops, destructible cars; going for a spin in GTA is a lot more real than this, but CCD has a charm to it; it genuinely made me want to ace the test and I found real fun in trying to obey the Highway code. CCD still has an active modding community and genuine love in the gaming world; in the real world, maybe I should just car pool.

Crackdown 3

FBT gets the feeling he’s been down this crack before. Crackdown 3 should be subtitled “déjà vu” - in looking up how to spell that, I discovered the literal translation is ‘already seen’ so maybe, according to Google Translate, it should be “Crackdown 3 Déjà Joué” meaning already played. Set sometime after the previous Crackdowns, a terrorist group is causing power outages around the world. The only place spared is New Providence, where the super-rich live, and the refugees now live in shanty towns; and are mysteriously disappearing. TerraNova, the corporation that runs New Prov is the likely suspect in all the goings on, so to investigate, ‘The Agency’ is reactivated and flown in – only to be shot down. As the only surviving agent, it’s on to you to disrupt TerraNova’s nefarious plans. As with most free-roamers, we get to choose our character. But for once, the choice is obvious – Terry Crews is one of the agents. Crews as a choice? That’s no choice at all. Unfortunately, being Terry Crews is as exciting as it gets. It’s got Just Cause 3’s ridiculous explosions, a heavy lean into Saint’s Row 4 and its spin-off Agents of Mayhem, we have Borderlands’ cell-drawing look, Red Faction’s destructible environments… if you’ve played it, it’s here. Take over regions, attack bases, collect vehicles, do challenges, find collectables … Obviously this is the bread and butter of free-roamers, and if it were missing I’d be moaning, but its main mission is other games’ side missions and there’s not a spit of innovation or risk to it. I love every Far Cry, feel comfortable in each game’s familiar refresh, but this has no edge, no energy, no actual point; it’s like we’ve not reached the main mission trigger yet and still dealing with the tutorial mission giver. Crackdown 3 had a troubled production and it does show. It was set for release in 2016 then delayed yearly until limping out in 2019. And it feels like we’re playing something from 2013. Its core selling point was total destruction – unlike most games where carefully considered elements could be destroyed, Crackdown could see you levelling the entire city if you wanted. Eventually that was shifted into a multiplayer called Wrecking Zone, so what we’re left with is an unimaginative free-roamer where random elements seem to be made of bone china – just walking close to a bench causes it to shatter into a million pieces. And that’s it. Another indicator that this struggled is the opening has an awesome, high-end mo-cap cut-scene that gets you very excited – even Terry is hyped to be here - but then the rest of the story is told in MS Paint and voice over. I’ve never played such a bare-bones basic game. It just feels plasticly and cheap – it’s obviously cartoony, and that’s fine, but there’s so little weight or detail to it you don’t get remotely invested – all you do is blow crap up, and it’s not even very good crap. Each area has a mini-boss, and you have to reduce their influence by taking out their strongholds. And that's the plot. The whole thing just feels like you’ve done this already, on top of how repetitive it all feels. Once, I thought a location I’d secured had repopulated. Nope, they were just samey. The fights are quite intense, least while you’re under-levelled, but it just hammers home how repetitive tramping through a world looking for a fight can be if it’s not done right. At least this has given me a new appreciation for the work in other free-roamers. Rather than a skill-tree, here we have the GTA-style playstyle rewards, where the more you do a thing or use a thing, the better you get with the thing. You can also spend time tagging collectables that increase your speed, leaping and so on, and once you get enough, it gets upgraded. You can drive around the city, but even the muscle cars feel like e-cars and the physics are all over the place. You can pilot cars over ramps through hoops to get more xp if you want to, but I had more fun chasing after those trucks with the car carriers lowered on the back trying to jump them. I loved doing that in GTA San Andreas. Shooting isn’t quite as free as it should be, if you aim you lock on, causing you to constantly unlock and reacquire once they go behind something annoyingly indestructible. It’s good that the guns understand object permanence, but not really helpful when they’re behind cover and I want to quickly switch to the guy who’s not. There’s a fair amount of platforming too, leaping and jetpacking about but while it’s fun within the shootouts, the game’s tendency to put power-ups and needed objects high up feels forced. As you build Terry, he gains the strength to start throwing things about, like huge boulders and cars, but its often too fussy to actually be fun, and its inconsistent in what’s throwable or the damage it does. There’s two mission-givers, one the leader of the rebellion who saved you and sends you off to do stuff, and the Director of the Agency who chimes in with aggravating commentary and ‘jokes’. He’s only got one joke per event, so you will hear the joke a lot. Yes, it was a fiery death. All the deaths while I’m using a heat-ray will be fiery, boss. This just feels like one of those games that missed its window, and then got tangled up trying to emulate every game trend – I’m surprised it doesn’t have a Minecraft mode. It feels like a Fortnite clone in Early Access and I imagine the single-player campaign was really built as a tutorial for the Multiplayer mode where they pictured millions of super-charged players spending billions on microtransactions; but Crackdown 3’s Multiplayer is dead too. And that’s not surprising. How are you going to tempt players away from GTAV Online, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Overwatch etc., when your core game is so copy-paste vanilla? I do have fun at times, but I've had the same fun elsewhere. This just takes what other games did but without the wit. I don’t think I’ve been this disappointed in a free-roam shooter since Agents of Mayhem, or Just Cause 4. But this really is worse than those – JC4 was well-intentioned but badly put together, while any game with Johnny Gat in it is worth a throw-down, but literally all Crackdown 3 has going for it is how good Terry looks in spandex.

Why We Game - NPCs

In this edition, FBT tries to blend in with the locals It’s the turn of my favourite Non-Playable Characters; mysterious bystanders, interferers and layabouts. NPC’s inhabit the world, give it depth and vibrancy; those digital extras make it seem real. Or, surreal. Repeat the same actions, give nonsensical responses, do random things, walk into the water or off buildings, over-react to nothing and act indifferent to the most insane events. Just like real people. This is for all those who didn’t get to be in a cutscene. At least, weren’t supposed to be in a cutscene. If there’s one word to describe Saints Row 3 it would be absurd. The whole thing is mad, but having half of the NPCs as mascots in fancy dress suggests anything goes. Which is exactly the tone SR3 is going for. Kicking someone off a moped is one thing, but when they’re wearing a beer bottle outfit it doesn’t seem so bad. Same goes for assaulting them in the streets. There’s nothing better than performing a wrestling move on a man dressed as a Hot Dog. Spotting them in twos riding together or just hanging about, they don’t have much to do or say, but it’s like an open-world circus - again, exactly the mood SR3 is going for; it encourages you to behave like a loon - and dress like one. The key thing is everyone takes themselves completely seriously; fighting a Mexican wrestler or passing someone dressed in a tiger onesie is just a day in the life of Steelport. Half-Life’s hundreds of four scientists and the Barneys are always a welcome sight as you struggle through the ruins of Black Mesa. Refusing to go any further, offering suggestions on what happened, letting out that shriek when a headcrab appears, they’re the only company Gordon has during his escape, and you do get a little pang of guilt when you’re forced to leave them behind. Somehow they provoke a protective sense in you, remind you of what you’re fighting for. Even if it’s unlikely any actually survive … You know, you look like you need a monkey. No One Lives Forever is a master-class in NPCs. Easily half the time I spend in NOLF is taken up by listening to the NPCs chatter. There’s the infamous monkey salesman, the people in the club or the space station nightclub, it’s the only game where I steer towards NPCs instead of around them. They just give the game this sense that you’re actually playing an episode of The Avengers. While technically enemies, the nameless henchmen are also worthy of NPC status. From the fez-wearing baddies in Morocco who are upset at getting shot at to the guys discussing mother in-laws or alcoholism, every time you spot henchmen you go into Stealth mode - not to sneak past, but to catch some choice bit of nattering. In fact, I nearly died during the rocket launch sequence because instead of looking for a way out, I stopped and listened to the scientists bickering. While almost all of the NPCs in Bioshock also qualify as enemies, it’s a testament that they’re characters as much as bullet-catchers; when they’re not attacking you for adam, Splicers are lost in reverie, remembering the good old times - or think they’re still in them. Their haunting monologues about past lives paints a picture of pre-war Rapture, and it sounded beautiful. The Splicers are one of the few enemies that I can feel pity for - while I’m setting swarms of bees on them of course. “I was in the war!” Some NPCs you can interact with, others you shoot. Carmageddon’s you run over. You know it’s wrong but rather than being sick or twisted, Carma is demented and the NPC’s behaviour just makes it fun … their arm-waving, flapping and panicking, the old man with the sick trying to get out the way, the splat and spinning body-parts when you do connect … and it’s not just humans it’s cows too (‘Moo-hugggh’). The best thing is your driver, Max D or Die Anna are in the corner of the screen giggling along with you. Carma is a prime example of a game that’s made by the NCP’s; it’s a Demolition Derby without them bouncing off your bonnet; I salute their sacrifice. It shouldn’t be this much fun running people over. FC3 had its fair share of NCPs - the Rakyat warriors told you ‘this was a beautiful place once, and will be again’ almost as often as a Skyrim adventurer took an arrow to the knee, but the real FC standouts are the nerd scientists in Far Cry Blood Dragon. They spend all their time in gunfights screaming and complaining (‘I’m too smart to die!’) and when things are peaceful they mull about, contemplating science and taking the piss out of Far Cry 3 – “I really thought there’d be hot island women here, the kind with tribal tattoos and a White Saviour complex”. It’s not what you expect from grunt NPCs but then the entire game is like that – it’s game play is FC3 but its characters make it special. Shooters in the Doom era had little in the way of peaceful NPCs - we had Duke’s strippers of course, but that was about it. Blake Stone, the long-forgotten pre-Doom shooter actually had pre-Half-Life scientists who would help Blake out; if they weren’t actually bad guys, and that was advanced for the time. They always stayed with me – partly because of the hero worship (“You’re Blake Stone!”) but mostly because they added a tiny element of realism to the era. “Stop! You’ve violated the law!” Damnit. Oblivion's people of Cyrodiil might be my favourite NPCs of all time. They’re all corrupt for starters, no one’s above a bribe, and they change moods in an instant, going from “you saved my life” to “get out before I call the guards!”. But they’re great fun to be around. Stopping to talk to each other; ‘have you heard?!’ / ’Goodbye’, the way they all sleep together, yell “someone’s been murdered!’ then walk all over the body, they’re just that little bit odd and off-centre. It’s largely down to the fairly basic AI but it somehow created an eccentric, fun group of folks to live with. Compared to the dour, boring lot that inhabit Skyrim, the NPCs of Oblivion make it a joy to walk around and bring the world to life. The NPCs of GTA Vice City didn’t really do a great deal. Except look great; the roller-skaters, the midriff tops and ‘Relax’ tee-shirts let you know what decade you were in, they set the tone and brought Vice City alive just as much as the music and neon. But GTA San Andreas really nailed it, and I’m not just talking about the hookers (still have a spot-spot for the blonde in thigh-highs though ...) – the folks wandering around San Andreas brought the place to life. Dangerous drivers (and fliers), drug peddlers, gang-members and regular members of society, they behaved semi-convincingly, chilling on doorsteps, talking a walk, gathering around events or running screaming, it felt all the more real for them being there. Okay so the paramedics killed more people than they saved and the cops were a little trigger happy, but it still felt like a real world. I love NPCs. Except when they get in the way, block doors or report you to the guards. They make a game world seem real, no matter how robotic or neurotic their behaviours. They can be random, ridiculous or rage-inducing but the world would be an empty place without them. I can’t list my favourite NPCs without one special mention – Morrowind’s Tarhiel. All you hear is ‘ahgggggggggg - thump’ then find his body, discovering he’d invented a spell that launched him into the sky – but he forgot to invent a landing spell. It happens early on, and although it’s just a random (hilarious) moment, it sets the tone for the entire game - judging by this, anything might happen here - and that’s the essence of an NPC.

The Outer Worlds

FBT is in the Outer Worlds and over Borderlands in the latest sci-fi shoot n loot RPG. Isn’t ‘Outer Worlds’ just a different way of saying Borderlands? Comic sci-fi open-world shooter-looter-RPG set in rotting wastelands ruled by soulless corporations, cartoon colour-schemes, raiders who run directly at your gun barrel, Pandora-like creatures, weapons with elemental damage, vending machines, comically indifferent characters… Well, can’t be any worse than Borderlands 3 can it? No wait, this isn’t Borderlands, it’s Fallout. We’ve got followers, slo-mo deaths, an inventory that needs management and tinkering, terminals, endless food items that grant brief perks, reputation, multiple-choice answers, cannibals… we can even be over-encumbered. Plus, this is from Obsidian, who did Fallout New Vegas. No hang on, it’s Mass Effect. We’ve got a ship with a quirky AI, companions with loyalty missions, moral decisions to make, and … who’d have thought sci-fi RPG could become so generic? So what is Mass Fallouterlands about? As if I hadn’t guessed. As usual in the future, mega-corps own the universe. Two ships, the Hope and the Groundbreaker set off for the Halcyon system, with the crew cryosleep. While the Groundbreaker arrives, the Hope is lost. Until, years later, crackpot scientist Welles discovers it. Only able to defrost one of the crew, who has developed better reactions (bullet-time) and better intelligence (skill-tree) while on ice, Welles sends us to Halcyon for help. Unsurprisingly, Halcyon has become corrupt under the mega-corps (now a hyper-conglomerate called The Board) and society has broken down with bandits, war lords and crime lords making life difficult for the settlers who eke out a living in the mining towns, factories and harsh conditions in Halcyon. It’s up to us to either bring it all down or make it right as we search for a way to defrost the Hope’s popsicle population. For the first hour I just sigh my way through this; it is like my Steam Library corrupted and merged every RPG I’ve played, it’s like someone modded Fallout with Borderlands skins. This is like gaming’s equivalent of a cover band. And then, suddenly, I’m wrong. I’m having way too much fun to dismiss this as a reheat. This is exactly what I want from a sci-fi RPG. This is the game Borderlands 3 should have been, the game Fallout 4 should have been, the game Mass Effect Andromeda should have been, the game Rage 2 thinks it is – RPGs have become self-important and bloated; Outer Worlds isn’t original, but it strips it all back to what made RPG-shooters original. Our ship, the ‘Unreliable’ is the antithesis of the Normandy; a battered scow of a freighter that acts as a base as you bounce around the planets within Halcyon picking up waifs and strays who become followers; but they are more self-serving and dysfunctional than I am. The first, and best, is Parvati, a nervy mechanic who tags along because she’s told to. At first she seems like the typical NPC who just explains things, but her adorable, jumpy attitude grows on you, and we can help her gain the confidence to date another engineer which is so good. She’s accompanied by ‘Vicar Max’ who is anything but a man of the cloth, wiseacre and sawbones Ellie, scruffy Felix and drunk gunslinger Nyoka, and a bot, ‘SAM’ – who’s not exactly Legion; its actually the ship’s janitor - we swap out his detergent with acid and let him think he’s literally ‘cleaning up’ by dissolving baddies; and he can be found dusting when on downtime. They’re the best of the worst, a pure motley crew and it’s a painful process picking who comes along, they’re all so good – I always pick Parvati though; when you’re faced with a moral choice, she’ll pop up to prick at your conscience… While there is a familiarity to the worlds, mostly a mashup between the future-western and retro-future styles, it just has a really nice vibrance and energy to it. As we make our way through the system, it appears The Board are not entirely evil, just realistically inept, and that Welles might be just an anarchist with an axe to grind. But who cares about all that? The fun is in running about the planets and cities, meddling. There’s not one dud mission or quest and it’s perfectly balanced, an old-school RPG; it’s on you to decide what kind of person you are, but it’s not overwrought like so many RPGs nowadays, it just sets up what we’re here for and then gets out the way, letting us have the fun. You can even turn flaws into a positive – certain playstyles you adopt are flagged and can be permanently hobbled in return for perks. The key thing though is this is a fairly short romp, a far cry from the 50-hour-plus overstuffed Ubisoft RPGs nowadays. But it doesn’t feel bare, it’s timed just right to feel like you’re accomplishing something, getting somewhere. We’re out of our depth, but never drowning. I actually understood what was happening in the main mission, instead of watching a dramatic cut-scene thinking ‘who are they again?’ 2019 also saw the release of Crackdown 3, and that is terrible for the same reasons I pre-judged Outer Worlds – it aped the Just Cause/Saint’s Row style so closely it felt lazy and tired; but Outer Worlds isn't aping a style, its gone back to the basics we loved. It is true that Outer Worlds adds nothing to the genre but RPG has been as plundered as a cave in Oblivion – there’s nothing left to explore, it just comes down to how you do it and Outer Worlds knows exactly how - it aces the RPG experience, instead of over-engineering or over-stuffing it, Outer Worlds makes you feel you’re here for a good time not a long time.

Close to the Sun

FBT in Close to the Copyright Infringement. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Howard Hughes-style billionaire, who feels hindered by governments and society, builds the Helios, a gigantic ship he sails into international waters where the greatest minds of industry and science can innovate without constraint. Then the ship goes silent, until Rose Archer boards it after receiving a strange message from her scientist sister. With nothing but dead bodies and abominations for company, Rose must navigate the collapsing ship and uncover her part in all of this. Yep, it’s Bioshock. Besides the plotting, it’s set in a steampunk art deco environment, Nickola Tesla stands in for Ryan, harassing us over the radio believing we’re a spy for Edison/Atlas, we see ‘ghosts’ of the previous occupants and we even have flashbacks to the passengers in masks. The only thing that’s missing is Plasmids and Big Daddies. But, once you’re over the Deja-vu, CttS works hard to separate itself from Ryan’s Rapture. It’s not a shooter, it’s a narrative like Soma; there are serious threats, but you’re evading not confronting them. Rose doesn’t even have a wrench. Mostly through, Rose is just navigating through the ship, solving puzzles that block her way and learning that her sister, Ada, discovered the One Electron theory is not a theory. That breakthrough led to other experiments including using time as an energy source; that went as well as you'd expect. In a panic, Tesla locked the ship down, leaving everyone trapped with their lethal experiments or to die at the hands of each other. The Helios is beautifully detailed and lavish even under the rot. It is … titanic in size, to the point that Rapture seems more plausible than accepting this thing actually floats (It’s still more believable than a city that flies thanks to Quantum whatever). Rose makes contact with her super-smart sis who has no memory of summoning her to the ship, so naturally assumes she did it in the future, and needs Rose to track down her time-travel notes to use … in the future? We also pick up a second disembodied stray, Aubrey, a scientist who has been trapped but can control doors and other handy plot-drivers, who strikes a deal - he’ll help us get to Ada if we also get him out. He’s been locked up with the body of his best mate for a while and is a little addled. His amusingly peppy egghead take on things helps keep it light. Most of the puzzles we come up against are simple enough, but when we do meet a threat it’s a case of learning by dying. It’s always the same thing – either a demented passenger or ‘time antibodies’, a manifestation of time trying to correct itself, or something. It’s a completely hooky excuse to have Rose chased by a monster that has kills reminiscent of Alien Isolation – we even get the hand through the stomach death. And those scenes quickly lose all threat. You see one, run, die, sit through a five second death scene, reload and run, taking a different route and repeat until you reach safety. It’s more of an annoying diversion than some terrifying or exciting ever-present threat. We never sneak past or manage them, it’s just run and reload and their attacks are clearly signposted. Rose is nicely inept at surviving this world and gives the two boffins short thrift when they get too techy, and as the plot gets darker and more threatening, Rose realises scientists really need those limitations to stop them destroying the universe. Rose is a great character you want to see escape all this demented mayhem. She has a full-on breakdown the first time she sees a dead body, and while she gets over it and takes to walking over them straight after – there are a lot of maimed bodies lying about - it’s a nice touch and she makes a lot of great comments that just tip her into real – she even makes a Die Hard joke while navigating a vent... She’s the antithesis of the typical game character who just accepts their situation. She is not happy to be here. Sadly, CttS really loses it in the final act, where a twist feels tacked on to keep it going, and too many chases show it’s run out of steam. Most frustratingly, practically every question, clue and hint you picked up is left unresolved – it ends with a huge cliffhanger that completely undercuts the tension and wonder about where it was going. It’s disappointing given how invested you get; it’s like a shooter missing its final boss. And I’m not holding my breath for a sequel. Which is a shame; steampunk alternative reality is a fairly standard game world but this has enough style and solid characters to keep you pushing through. I almost didn’t push at all though – originally a console release, this is a masterclass in bad ports. It doesn’t even have a menu describing what keys do what, let alone allow you to reassign. If it wasn’t for a Steam post detailing the assignments and an AutoHotKey script, I’d have rage quit this at the menu. I preferred A Plague Tale for a helpless but indomitable heroine lead stuck in a scary, rotting world, but I did like CttS - partly because I can pretend it’s Bioshock 3. You could almost see it as a Telltale Games adaption of Bioshock following someone escaping Rapture during the New Year’s Eve war (which is what Infinite should have been), but the BioShock comparisons are unfair by the end. CttS has its own voice, and aside from the unresolved ending, I’d give Tesla’s Helios cruise a positive review on TripAdvisor.

Medal of Honor Warfighter

FBT plays the game that stripped Medal of its Honor. I was always more of a MoH soldier than a CoD one, Allied Assault is perfect and I even have a soft spot for Airborne. The MoH reboot was good in places, but it still felt like MoH was aping CoD's modern segue; the leader had become the follower. Still, it was a strong start to MoH’s modern era … but then came Warfighter; it was no Modern Warfare 2. It was so terrible the series was cancelled. I’ve resisted playing this for years, I didn’t want to see the mighty fall so I just avoided it. But I’ve waited long enough. Even the name is stupid. We begin as Preacher, one of the Operators we fought alongside in MoH. A shipping port is controlled by someone terroristy so we set off a bomb but it triggers a huge explosion, causing cargo crates to crash down on us as we try to escape. It’s very CoD but also … daft. Why is our exit spot right where we just set off a bomb? We secretly planted a bomb on a truck so it delivered our explosion and kept us from infiltrating the place, so why are we exiting through the secure area we just exploded? Now, a tutorial. What?! I just navigated on-fire terrorists and cargo containers falling from the sky, now I’m learning how to crouch? And I’m doing so as a terrorist. But what kind of terrorist? Am I a legit one, or have I infiltrated the group? Am I No Russian? Who knows, it never comes up again. What was that? Does that mean I shot myself later when I take down this group? What did I miss, what’s going on?! Who knows. A lot of the levels open with ‘two weeks earlier’ or some other date, but I don’t really know what I’m flashbacking from. All this time-shifting is like Chris Nolan does The Hurt Locker. Preacher is a committed American Hero who is married to war as much as his doe-eyed wife and weird-looking daughter and action is intercut with marital strive scenes of his wife holding back tears as he sits in a hotel room like he’s Apocalypse Now’s Willard and tries to tell his wife he’s done with war. Is he? I’m close to being done with Warfighter. Turns out those cargo crates were loaded with some super explosive that Preacher’s ‘Mako’ unit are ordered to track down; or the inventor, or the guy who’s gonna use it, who knows. We keep getting sent off to various places to do stuff and it’s impossible to keep track because we suddenly seem to be doing something else. One minute we’re in Mogadishu because Black Hawk Down is another easy rip-off, then we’re saving hostages which doesn’t seem to be directly related to the explosives but might be, and then out of nowhere we’re re-enacting the end scene of Captain Phillips – I just saved Tom Hanks? And then Preacher is discharged for disobeying orders – like we ever understood the orders - and we’ve caught up with the flashback in the hotel room. Eh? Now he’s waiting for wifey at a train station, and he recognises a terrorist who suicide bombs the train. Was that a coincidence? Revenge? Is that me, the Tutorial guy? Did I recognise myself? Preacher’s okay and wifey and child are fine too, they missed the train. So what was the point of that?! Oh, so the missus can now see the light and give her blessing to go back to war. Like she'd stopped him previously. She can overrule him being discharged too? And that’s how you win an argument with the wife, get blown up? Actually, that sounds about right. Preacher joins some other Spec Ops team (I think) to go hunt the man with the explosives, while Mako team (which I thought was doing that already) is outfitted with new guys, including ‘Stump’ who I now play as. I’m Stumpy? The MoH reboot had three narratives, Navy Seal ‘Rabbit’, Delta Force sniper Deuce and Ranger Adams, but their missions were starkly different, and they intersected. Here, Preacher and Stump are interchangeable, I could be playing either at any time – I could be Tom Hanks for all I know. Warfighter is like an unintentional comedy, ‘The Room’ of shooters. Once I realise that, this becomes the best game ever, a wonderful absurdist comedy. Our handler is Dusty, our Delta Force spotter in MoH. But all his scenes have his face hidden - why?! When its revealed in the final mission it’s him, it’s hardly a shocker; they call him by name! He’s also now missing a leg for some reason. Oh, Hai Dusty. The hilarity continues. The insurgents are clearly fans of whack-a-mole, I once got killed because I was giggling at all the heads that keep popping up and down on the battlefield. During a mission on a boat several terrorists floated up through the deck and one passed through a closed door. Is this a ghost ship? Some ignore me even after I shot at them, and others fire without any conceivable way of knowing I was there - and fire through walls. Occasionally they’ll rocket towards you like the game just lagged. It’s like that bit in Holy Grail where the attacking knight is miles away and getting nowhere then suddenly he’s jumping over the battlements. This is getting like a Kafka dream. Of course, this shouldn’t be funny - it’s terrible AI, coding and scripting; sometimes you just can’t kill someone until something else happens or they’re scripted to die at another point so you’re just wasting ammo; one near rage-quit moment has me sniping RPG’ers on a tower to stop them downing a helicopter. Fine, except the chopper is literally ten feet away and firing on them. It’s actually in the way of my shot, and it’s timed; I got ‘you failed to protect the helicopter’ even though I could see through my scope the RPG guy had missed it. My squad isn’t much better. They’ll ignore someone melee’ing them or just fire endlessly at whatever cover the terrorist is chilling out behind. If you happen to be where they want to be, they’ll push you out into enemy fire or they’ll suddenly crouch in front of you then complain about friendly fire. Nothing friendly about it, get out the way idiot. There’s a door breach mechanic where headshots unlock alternative breaching options. But they don’t actually seem to alter how you enter the room, it’s just a different way to watch your buddy break down a door. Let’s go with … crowbar this time lads. Oddly your sidearm has infinite ammo but the main weapon has to be replenished by asking for it from the squad members, who have infinite refills, adding more surrealism to it all and if you pick up an enemy weapon switching to another causes him to drop it. By the time I’ve reached the final few missions I’ve given up all pretence of knowing what’s going on and fully embraced the sheer lunacy of it all. As they get all serious about finally catching the explosives mastermind and spouting lines like ‘Let’s do it for Mother’ I’m to busy being in hysterics to care about how atrocious and derivative it all is. I’m having a great time, and despite it all, there are some sequences I really enjoyed. A fight through smoke bombs is thrilling, as is a flooded town, and some scripted moments work really well. There’s two sequences where we drive a car - the later one where we kidnap an informant and try to escape his security forces on the highways of Dubai is genuinely ace fun. Maybe not for the pedestrian chickens though. That's followed by us in the suburbs playing hide and seek with security, trying to find wifi hotspots to send a message while Dusty gives us completely inaccurate info about enemy locations. That the best missions are in a car not a battlefield says it all about Warfighter. The level is called ‘Hello and Dubai’ – and you’re telling me this isn’t a comedy? That’s so bad it’s good, and that’s exactly what Warfighter is. Warfighter deserves its reputation, but I had a cracking time. It’s completely mad, and if you take it as a straight-faced comedy it’s the gaming equivalent of Tropic Thunder. Every war-game cliché is here. It’s a parody of CoD not a clone. After this, EA dropped MoH and focused on Battlefield as their CoD-killer, and the way that’s going it might not be long before MoH gets another reboot. I’d love to see a return to Allied Assault, but I’m secretly hoping it’s another comedy. This has to be played. ‘For Mother!’ #medalofhonor #shooter #military #fbt #previousweaponreview

Her Story

He said, she said, FBT said. They say there’s three sides to every story; yours, theirs and the truth. But in Her Story, the truth is dependent on what you discover. Set sometime after 1994, our character is seated at a computer and given access to recordings related to the death of a Simon Smith. All the recordings appear to be police interviews of Hannah Smith, Simon’s concerned wife. It’s up to you, by searching the video database via keywords and phrases, to piece together who murdered Simon. The 90s setting is so well done for saying we’re only ever seeing Hannah in interview rooms. Her hair, make-up and clothes are pure nineties, as is the interface and Windows 95-like PC screen, down to a minesweeper-style game and those text-based viral emails we all used to send on for luck. This is great fun. I mean, this is serious, there’s been a murdah! It took me forever to get around to playing Her Story. I wasn’t really up for watching videos of someone talking. It seems too experimental, too much like arty hipster anti-gaming for me. And at first, it seemed I was right. It’s like watching rehearsals for The Bill. But as I half-listened, I suddenly caught an inconsistency in her story. I typed it in and got more clips, where I picked up other asides and comments. Before I knew it, I was actually making real notes on a real notepad like a real cop. Snippets, remarks, references became gold I was mining for, anything that just didn’t quite chime and I was on it, building my case. Out of nowhere I’ve become Inspect Frost as I dig into Hannah’s background. You can search any word, but only five videos can be displayed so if you get more results, you need to refine – much like the days of Alta Vista and AOL, you need to know what you’re after. There’s no auto-complete, no ‘did you mean’. I make a connection, type them and see what I get. Sometimes it’s relevant to my line of enquiry, other times it throws up something new. I’m typing in ‘Simon’ and ‘Barmaid’ and getting into the nitty gritty. Hannah totally did it. Or did Hannah do it? Just as I think I’m about to close the case, I pick up on something – and my whole theory is blown apart. I find refs to a Ouija board and a clip where Hannah taps on the desk like she’s sending a message, then seems to respond to it. Oh… This is a surprisingly gripping game. It did seem daunting at first, I just couldn’t be arsed with typing in murder, murderer, murdah, but I become obsessed, dwelling over her every word and body language, feverishly typing, going back and trying combinations, desperate to tease out a lead. The only issue I have with Her Story is me; or rather, my spelling. I couldn’t find any clips related to the Ouija board until I realised I was spelling it with a Q. Didn’t Win-95 have a spellcheck? It becomes tense when she mentions something you were hoping for, backing up your theory. I have new-found respect for investigators trying to keep to a narrative while storing away seemingly insignificant mentions. I need to resolve what happened in Glasgow! She said she stayed in a layby, but then mentioned a B&B. She knew all the landmarks but not the road name? That’s it, don’t lose this thread … what happens when I search ‘sex’? It’s a pure detective experience; even games like LA Noire with their interrogation sequences can’t hold a candle to the raw simplicity of this. It’s the lack of crime-scene investigation that gives it the edge. It’s just you, breaking down her interviews; this all happened in the past, you just have those clips to go on - is she truthful, lying, manipulating? Does she want Simon’s murder solved, is she trying to discover what the police know? No hints, no partner to guide you; you generate the clues, the hunches, direct your investigation. Eventually, enough clues will lead you to the resolution. The how and the why though ... Although Simon’s fate is a little hokey, getting there was brilliant. And at that point you can close the case. But by then I didn’t want to. A tracker shows how many files you’ve reviewed, and I stayed for hours trying to access them all, feeling I’d not gotten to the real story. They say cops shouldn’t become attached to their suspects but I’d started filling in the blanks, projecting onto Hannah, deciding what happened rather than confirming it. And, given the nature of the game and the fact that we only have those video clips, even the resolution is open to interpretation. You can be sure what happened to Simon (I think) but not sure what Hannah’s really telling you. Much like a real investigation, you just need to satisfy the case, but it’s the questions that don’t have answers that make you stick around. Her Story is available on iOS and Android, which is the perfect place to play it. We’re all used to watching short content on our phones, flicking through YT or FB videos that are vaguely connected by history or tags. But here you’re the one making the connections, trying to maintain a narrative and figure out what the real story is. Her Story is an absolute must-have game; I’m just watching a single camera focused on a lone woman and I’m on the edge of my seat, excited when a shot-in-the-dark search yields new footage – this is it, I’ve got it! But it also gets emotional as Hannah’s story unfolds – or unravels, depending on what you uncover. You’re invested. If nothing else, it’s worth playing just to discover how easy it is to draw your own conclusions and invent a truth. And realise how bad at spelling you are. “Atic – no files found” really? Sure she said to look in the attic. #sim #adventure #fbt

Wolfenstein The New Order

FBT tries to be disorderly in the new order. This is what Hollywood calls a Soft Reboot, continuing story elements but resetting the world. Whatever it is, it’s a shame it’s called Wolfenstein. Had it just been ‘The New Order’, I might have liked it more. The villainous Deathshead returns from ... whichever Wolf sequel he was in, as does Caroline and her rebellion, and while there’s some sci-fi and Wolf-like elements, including a final boss in a mech-suit like the original’s denouement this feels more similar to modern shooters instead of the throwback we need. After an opening that sees BJ leaping between crashing planes, getting chased by huge mecha-dogs and taking down Nazis in intense trench fights, our hero takes shrapnel to the head and gets stuck in a locked-in state at a care home while around him, the Nazis win the war and take over the world. Eventually, BJ regains his considerable strength, links up with Anya, the hottie nurse who’s been sponge-bathing him and joins a rebellion. W:TNO does look amazing, even now. It’s crisp and sharp, but also oppressive and bleak; classic buildings with harsh monolithic additions, razor wire, huge Swastika flags, imposing vehicles and troops make the whole place a study in Brutalism; it's a compelling and believable Nazi world; functional, soulless, utilitarian, yet there’s also a lot of elegance and richness to areas inhabited by the Nazis, enjoying the spoils of war. It’s all very real and unnerving, more so that other games that delve into oppression - its scarily believable. The one thing I can’t believe is BJ’s internal monologue. It’s like listening to Max Payne’s Podcast. BJ never shuts up whispering to himself, contemplating the world, his place in it, what it all means. Obviously the original BJ was silent, but this one could do with less retrospection and more shooting. I figured BJ for the classic alpha male type, not this socially awkward gentle giant, an aww-shucks All-American farm boy kinda hero, gee-whizzing his way through a romance with Anya - except for a couple of surprisingly strong sex scenes where BJ goes at it with the kind of gusto he usually reserves for killing Nazis. I just imagined BJ to be more like Duke, the two of them swapping stories over a bud while watching the game. You could make a great sitcom with 90s era Duke, BJ, Doomguy, Lo-wang and Caleb sharing a house. And Lara is the hot girl next door that none of them can pull. Like a good Big Bang Theory. I just think they missed a trick with BJ; he should be Austin Powers or Demolition Man, a hero out of time but with a unique approach that this new world needs; having BJ on ice for a decade meant W:TNO had an opportunity to explore the differences between the original bad boys of FPS and the sensitive moral-choice leads of today. It could have been a great commentary on how shooters have evolved, but this is serious. Unsettlingly serious. Some scenes feel like we’re playing Schindler’s List the video game. Infiltrating a concentration camp just feels off for a game that originally ended with us fighting Hitler in a mecha suit. People in infested bunks, emaciated and crying for food while we visit an experiment lab filled with bodies – we’ve seen this kind of thing loads of times in games, but not in the context of a legit concentration camp; a scene in a cattle-train with screaming people bound for the camp where an uber-bitch Nazi called Engel, known as Angel of Death - a less than subtle reference to Mengele - is glimpsed holding a baby by its ankles and brandishing a whip is a grave moment. Early on our hero takes a chainsaw to a tight-lipped Nazi and that’s fine, but when BJ falls asleep and dreams an original level I’m reminded of why I’m supposed to be here – fun. Yet it’s not all realistic. There’s a weird Assassin's Creed style Precursor Isu subplot - or is that the Black Sun stuff from Wolfenstein? - where it’s revealed the Nazis discovered the “Da'at Yichud”, an ancient race that created many of the advancements they use to control the world. It’s barely explored, and just allows the game to throw in some futuristic laser weapons and a Crysis style Nanosuit - it feels at odds with the concentration camp scenes. Still, the shootouts are absolutely top work, BJ's incessant droning aside. Shut up BJ, its great fun killing Nazis; they move and fight well, the weapons have a heft to them and they make a great noise and even more mess. But this isn’t Wolf remade, we’re not on a persistent charge through Nazis - we have a plot, characterization, impact, and we’re on exploration missions. We even have a moral choice early on which seems so out of place for Wolfenstein, and it creates a gameplay impact that isn’t remotely impactful - the choice unlocks a skill but it’s redundant because if you come up against an obstacle that requires the skill you didn't take, there will be an option nearby for the skill you did chose. You also have no investment in who dies - we just met them - and the survivor doesn’t really bring anything to the party other than make BJ feel guilty and give him more reasons to mutter to himself. It seems as if BJ has to choose between a father figure and a surrogate son but it has little impact on you or how you play, and it’s not something that would convince you to replay and see how saving the other one plays out. There’s a completely weird middle section where we use a submarine to get one of the Yichud caches and uncover a ‘Spindly Torque’ bomb that lets us attack a train to get the ID of a scientist so we can visit a moon base and get nuclear codes. Not exactly corridor-room-corridor of Wolfenstein Castle. It is real top-notch shooter stuff though, especially the Torque bomb, which is an awesome moment that then sees us fighting through a collapsing bridge. And that’s The New Order - a really solid, good game filled with interesting ideas and a stunning look, but it ain’t Wolf. It’s an action adventure game, not pure FPS, a genre Wolfenstein created. #wolfenstein #shooter #doomera

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