The final Bank Holiday of the year and I’ve been fortunate to get some time in with three new releases. Not enough time with any to write a full review but here are some early impressions which might help you kick out of the summer drought and begin the gaming season with an educated choice.
Until Dawn – PS4
I was really excited about this, and rightly so. Less a game, more a cinematic experience it’s closest comparator is probably Heavy Rain. A group of friends are up in a Canadian lodge and are terrorised by a maniac who wants to kill them all.
I love the visuals on this – it’s really atmospheric and draws you in. So far I’ve encountered a fair few jump scares and a lot of tension. When the action kicks in it’s quicktime events or quick decisions to be made, some which influence the story in a major way, some with only a minor change but they’re referred to later on. I’m currently halfway through and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
You play all the characters at different points depending on the story. It looks like there’s been a lot of motion capture going on (I’ve not watched the ‘how it was done’ video which I’ve just unlocked) but the animation and facial expressions are very well done, you can tell very clearly who the actors are playing the characters. There’s also a good relationship and attribute breakdown for each person – should I joke about a missing item or be mad about it. It impacts how that character reacts and others react to them, and how brave, funny, romantic etc. they are.
I’m about halfway through and I can see already it’s designed for multiple playthroughs with different decisions. Is there a ‘right’ way to play? Not sure, I guess you play it how you want to see it acted out.
Gears of War: Ultimate Edition
I was a bit sceptical of this remaster. I remember being really excited over the first Gears of War (I remember the job I was in at the time and having a conversion with my boss about it who was REALLY excited). I remember being fairly disappointed with it but impressed more with Gears and 2 and 3. The remaster is limited to Gears 1 although playing an online match nets you Gears 1, 2 and 3 all downloadable in their original form through Xbox One’s backwards compatibility program later this year.
It certainly looks nice. Very quickly though it feels dated, holding A to run and snap to cover, then hitting again to jump over. It’s been done better since, and differently all with varying takes on the cover based shooter but Gears was perhaps the first big mainstream push of the concept (I remember playing Kill.switch before Gears and I think that’s a better game but anyway…)
Frame rate is improved over the original and it’s very smooth. I’ve not had chance to check any co-op play and I can’t remember how many it’s limited to, but the single player campaign retains all the bullet spongy-ness and dude-bro chainsaw wielding machismo you will remember.
Online has also kept true to its past – lots of rolling around and shotgun blasting at point blank range. I remember the frustration of this years ago and it’s still here. Sequels changed this up slightly and there are a few more modes in this remaster but so far the rolling shotgun reigns supreme. I’m not sure Gears 1 really needed a remaster. Perhaps more time with it is needed.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
I was surprised to see this show up on my doorstep Saturday morning given it’s not released till Tuesday but clearly street date has been broken by many retailers (if my friends list is anything to go by). Let’s cut to the chase – it’s brilliant. I’m six hours in and have only just started to scratch the surface.
Online servers aren’t up and running yet so I’m limited to the single player element only. The initial prologue section sets a rather confusing story in motion and you’ll need the best part of 90 minutes to see it through. Once you’re in the open world main game though it is a real treat. Sure, it’s all a little brown but it looks great, plays great and it’s a complete stealth sandbox.
Missions so far have ranged from retrieving something, taking someone out or rescuing a prisoner. It’s all done brilliantly, alert levels of guards react to where you leave bodies and whether you knock them out or kill them. Interrogating them can help you find material for your base, in turn improving your equipment for the field.
An interactive map helps navigate and plan your route, with binoculars to tag enemies as you recon enemy bases and outputs. Reconnaissance is really important as guns blazing can work but isn’t anywhere nearly as satisfying as a carefully planned attack. The level of which you can play varies too, guards have conversations that you can listen to and gain intel from, shifts change at certain times. Do you wait for the cover of darkness but then spotlights can pick you out easily even in some deep grass cover?
Here’s an example of why after six hours of game time I can see this being one of my top games of the year. The mission is to rescue a prisoner being help captive. I ride my horse through a few outposts, taking out the baddies on the way. I see the prisoner being roughed up the other side of a bridge but by the time I get there, he’s been moved by car to a different section of the game world (which is massive). I locate him to a wide-open area surrounded by deep walls and a cave entrance.
I’m stealthily taking down and interrogating baddies one by one. I sneak to the middle of this arena to take out a guard watchtower and my silencer wears out on my tranquilizer gun. Silenced machine gun it is although I don’t want to be leaving dead bodies around really, yet I have no choice. After lots of commotion I manage to remain hidden, lying in a ditch and picking off bad guys one at a time, moving to remain a silent threat.
Then my silencer breaks on this gun too. I use hand-to-hand combat to take out the last guy between me and a cave entrance, before calling in air support to replenish my weapons. In the cave I go, switching shoulders to try and get the best aim round corners, moving quick to keep up with the hostage being moved through the cavern. It sounds like they’re about to put him in another vehicle, I sprint to catch up and two guards see me. Slow motion kicks in as you have a few seconds to react, pop pop. Two headshots while sprinting, red mist goes everywhere. Two remaining guards with the hostage are panicked but they don’t know their last few minutes are about to be up. I throw a magazine cartridge to distract them, a double tap later and the hostage is on my shoulder and I’m running out.
Metal Gear V makes you feel like a total badass. That one mission took the best part of two hours, and it was amazing from start to finish. The game appears to be huge, so I can’t wait to see how it pans out.
All in all, not a bad start to the gaming season.