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  • A group shot of the main characters from Desperados 3 sitting at an old outpost

    Whenever I have a chunk of holiday sitting in front of me, the possibilities seem endless. Maybe I'll finally play Cyberpunk 2077 now it's been properly patched, I think. But maybe I should also finally finish Nier: Automata in preparation for when Replicant comes out at the end of the month. There are also those dozen odd indie games I've got piled up, too. Narita Boy, the final bit of Record Of Lodoss War: Deelit In Wonder Labyrinth, Signs Of The Sojourner and goodness knows what else. "I could probably do a bit of each!" I say optimistically. In the end, though, my grand plans for playing loads of games never really materialises. I might be able to manage it if I literally play games every second I'm awake from morning til night, but that's not very relaxing now, is it?

    In the end, after an impromptu viewing of the 90s western film Tombstone, I decided to opt for the very manageable mission chunks of Desperados 3 as my big Easter holiday project, which is the latest rootin' tootin' real-time tactics game from the Shadow Tactics devs, Mimimi Productions. I'd played the opening few missions back when it came out last summer, but its long, sprawling maps gradually demanded more time and dedication than I was able to give them. I like to do entire missions in one go, you see, and do them stealthily, which often takes even longer because I'm pretty bad at being sneaky - as my five hours doing a complete ghost run of Dishonored 2's Clockwork Mansion level will attest. Now, though, I had entire afternoons to luxuriate in its detailed, densely packed playgrounds of trigger happy cowboys, and goodness, what an astonishingly satisfying and generous game it is.

  • Nioh 2 character showing half their normal form and half of their yokai spirit

    I played brutal action-RPG Nioh 2 religiously for weeks. If I had a controller in my hand, more often than not, I'd be fighting a horrid demon for the umpteenth time. Then I just stopped for no real reason - other than maybe because other games came out and I wanted a break? I don't know.

    But what I do know is that I'm genuinely scared to boot Nioh 2 up again. My mouse has glanced over it numerous times, but I've bailed at the last second. I get this overwhelming feeling of, "I am totally disconnected from this world", and I think I've finally identified what it's called.

  • cozy-grove-1.jpg

    I think we can generally agree that one of the main functions of video games is wish fulfillment. They let you believe you might not only be a powerful and competent person, but also the most powerful and competent person in the universe (and if that is not the case, why do Bethesda games even exist?). And, that being the case, survival games occupy a strange twilight world for me. I really wish I was good at them, because I really like the idea of most survival games.

    I can barely survive my actual life when that includes sitting in a nice warm flat eating roasted, salted cashews from a bag that was sealed by a huge and complex robot the size of a warehouse, that was created specifically for the bagging and sealing of roasted, salted cashews. So pretending that I would, if I got stranded on an island or survived an apocalypse, be at all capable of doing anything other than lie down and wait for death to come to me is pure power fantasy. Except, I am very bad at most survival games.

  • The Lich from video game Loop Hero levitating in the air

    I went into Loop Hero with only two expectations: I'm probably going to like this given the rave reviews it received, and if there's a hint of idle game here I'm all for it. I'd hoped it would be the sort of game I could leave to its own devices, you know, set some foundations, press play, and collect my rewards a few hours later.

    Nope, this wasn't Loop Hero at all. I had to place things, and make difficult decisions, and keep tabs on stuff. Too demanding for me - just way too much. Not idle enough.

  • Narita Boy stands before The Mediator, a huge digital man

    Take one look at Studio Koba's retro platformer Narita Boy and you could easily mistake it for a new kind of Tron game. It's awash with neon blues and rainbow-coloured light refractions, and the edges of the screen even flicker and bend like you're playing it on a CRT television. But this is no mere nostalgic landgrab for those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s. Narita Boy's retro roots run deep. It's a game that's as much about old tech as it is indebted to it, and anyone who's ever tinkered about with their PC and still reminisces about the 2D action side-scrollers of their youth will find a lot to love here.

  • Image for Spacebase Startopia does this one weird trick that all base building games should copy

    Alright, so it's not that weird, when you sit down and listen to me explain it to you. But it's also something that I've never seen before. Maybe I'm a fool of the highest order, and loads of games have been doing it for years. If so, please cite those games in the comments.

    In Spacebase Startopia (a spirtual sequel to 2001's Startopia) you become the administrator of a big donut-shaped space station. A large part of your job (in fact, the largest part) is building rooms that provide different services, and thus fill the different needs of your alien vistors. There's a berth for sleeping and eating, and a disco for dancing and possibly dropping space Es - although this is not represented in the game, I just assume nobody could dance like those aliens do without chemical help of some kind.

  • Sora, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse joining swords as the three musketeers

    Supporters only: Kingdom Hearts should have been my GOAT

    Listen, I was really into Squall as a teenager, okay...

    I was 14-years-old when Kingdom Hearts first came out in the UK. I was big into Disney and I'd just come off a pretty intense Final Fantasy streak where I'd played VIII, a bit of VII, IX and then the rest of VII again in fairly quick succession. I almost couldn't believe my luck. Far from being some kind of crazed fever dream I'd imagined while doodling in my notebook at school, this game was 100% real. It combined two of my most favourite things in the whole wide world, in what was rapidly becoming my new favourite genre of games. It should have been a match made in heaven. Then disaster struck, and its name was Phil.

  • Screenshot of a rural town scene in Dorfromantik

    On finishing work for the day, I normally power down my PC and retreat to our living room downstairs, either settling in for some TV with our cats, or reading a bit of my current book with our cats. Our cat Midna (named for the similar-ish markings she shares with The Legend Of Zelda character) is particularly friendly when we're in the living room, wedging herself between my shins if I've got a blanket over them, or scooching into the tiny gap between me and the arm of the sofa. It's nice. Cosy. Chill. Peaceful.

    I'm telling you this because nearly every night this week I have foregone a big chunk of our usual evening cat cuddling routine in order to carry on playing Dorfromantik, a very relaxing hexagonal city-builder from tiny German team Toukana Interactive. And yes, I don't know what's got into me, either.

  • Mechanical Keyboard.jpg

    I'm typing this right now on a mechanical keyboard. I bought it years ago, when these clacky rectangles first started sporting rainbow lights. It has these Cherry MX Red switches, which feel okay, I guess. But since I've been working from home a lot, I want something that makes my fingers come alive. The hunt for a suitable rectangle has both proven fruitful, and fruitless. I have learned about different switch colours and keyboard sizes, which is great! Unfortunately, I am also trapped in an abyssal plane of clicking noises from which I'm unsure I'll ever escape.

  • A mech battle in Supreme Commander

    Supporters only: My love-hate relationship with office multiplayer games

    Holding the line in Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance was the absolute business

    Matthew and I have been rewatching old episodes of the US Office recently (it is such great comfort TV, lemme tell ya), and the other week we got to the episode in season three where Jim is introduced to the wonderful world of Call Of Duty lunchtimes with his new colleagues in Stamford. Having clearly never played a video game in his life, Jim is very much out of his depth when the lights go down and everyone dons their favourite headset, and he's repeatedly berated by his exasperated co-workers about letting the side down.

    I empathise a lot with Jim during these episodes, because I have definitely been 'that person' on the office lunch squad who just isn't as good at Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (and Bad Company 2 Vietnam) as everyone else. Our games never got quite as heated and competitive as the ones in The Office, but their average lifespan would always follow a similar pattern. We'd all get into it and play it for a few weeks, one person would go away and research the meta game in their spare time to dominate the rest of us, and then no one would want to play against that person and we'd move on to something else. We had some good times as well, though, and to this day one of my fondest video game memories is finally winning a game of what we affectionately referred to as 'HOLD THE LINE' in Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance.

  • A screenshot from Final Fantasy XV which shows Noctis and Ignis stood next to eachother, posing for the camera. Noctic has his arms crossed, while Ignis is turned to the side.

    I've been bouncing between many games of late, mainly co-op adventures with friends so we can stay in touch through *gestures wildly, frantically* this. But if no-one's around, I'll hop into Final Fantasy XV to spend some chill time with my virtual buds.

    And there's one member of this merry band who I've grown to really appreciate, perhaps more than any other AI-controlled companion I've encountered before: Prompto, the one who documents our road trip through his camera shutter. I want him in every game I play from here on out.

  • Image for I have met the litRPG genre of books, and I do not understand it

    Supporters only: I have met the litRPG genre of books, and I do not understand it

    Fail on turning the page; you die from an arterial papercut

    Listeners of the Electronic Wireless Show podcast will know that I like books, which is why my recommendations at the end of episodes are wot I read recently. Readers of this website will know I love RPGs. It was with some interest, then, that I discovered the existence of a genre called litRPG. It is apparently hugely popular, but I was totally unaware of it. I spent this week getting to grips with an upcoming Audible Original called Rise To Glory, by Alex Knight

  • Artwork showing the lead character from Mistwalker's Fantastian

    Supporters only: Will JRPGs ever let go of grinding?

    Or are fast forward buttons and sending monsters to alternate dimensions the way forward?

    Earlier this week, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi unveiled his next RPG, Fantasian. Described as a "diorama adventure", as it uses real, handcrafted dioramas for its various locations, Fantasian looks pretty neat. There's still a lot we don't know about it at the moment, but one thing that really stood out during its initial reveal was its cool-looking battle system, in which you can send any monsters you encounter to an alternate dimension and biff them altogether at a later date so they don't interrupt the flow of exploration. Sakaguchi calls it the "Dimengeon Battle" system, and it sounds absolutely genius.

    Alas, the game is only coming to Apple Arcade at the moment, so it may never appear on PC, but the way Sakaguchi describes Fantasian's battle system has been stuck in my head all week. He talks about it specifically as being a "quality of life improvement to the classic JRPG genre," and it got me thinking. When did "quality of life" become such an important part of modern JRPGs, and will it change our relationship with our favourite JRPGs of yore?

  • Sam and BB doing a thumbs up and peace sign in Death Stranding

    As you may have seen earlier this week, I spent much of my downtime this month reading the official novelisation of Hideo Kojima's courier hiking sim Death Stranding. It was quite a strange experience, if only because so much of what I loved about the game wasn't present in the novels at all. The landscape you spend so much time analysing and assessing in Death Stranding is barely mentioned over the course of the books, and even the deadly BTs get surprisingly little air time for how often they seem to get in your way. But the strangest thing of all was how it depicted Sam's relationship with his jar baby BB, and it made me realise that all the weird, extraneous mess in its overall design is actually pretty darn important when it comes to establishing some of its later story reveals. I love a good game story as much as the next person, but when it's not supported by gameplay, something definitely comes a cropper.

  • WoWclassicstormwind.jpg

    Every year when a new update for World Of Warcraft gets announced, or Final Fantasy XIV reveals some mad collaboration with NieR: Automata, I can't help but be sucked in again. Almost. I hover my mouse over purchase, but I can never bring myself to click.

    Deep down, I know I don't like MMORPGs anymore. But for some reason I still believe that maybe, just maybe, I actually do. That this particular expansion where orcs fight in a shadow realm, or I can strut about in a new cross-promotional costume, will be like coming home after many years lost in the wilderness.

  • voyage screenshot c.jpg

    It is Monday. It is damp and grey. This morning I thought the men were finally taking down the scaffolding outside our flat, and we would finally see the light of day again for the first time in about 6 months. But no, it is not to be. Thus, I have engaged in what is called 'self care', by spending my lunch break eating a giant cookie stuffed with Nutella and playing Voyage.

    Graham posted about Voyage the other day, and told me I would probably like it. Guess what? He was right! I don't admit that to him often, so this is a real banner moment. The pitch from me to you is: a Studio Ghibli version of Journey, made in Europe.

  • A group of hooded villagers rush through a snowy wilderness carrying a chest of sleeping husky pups in Carto

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that ice levels in games are the absolute worst. The only good one there's ever been was in The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and that's because most of the time you got to chill out in a cosy mountain chalet with cute yetis who fed you big hot bowls of soup. The rest need to be fired into the sun, if only so they can un-chill the heck out. Because let's face it, we all know the drill. Oooooooh, look, it's all slippy-slidey over here, and ooohh watch out, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of bottomless cliffs in this area, so you better not fall to your doom, oooooooooh. Give me a break.

  • Image for A trip in Final Fantasy XV reminded me of Albania

    It had to happen at some point, didn't it? I, the JRPG-liker, installed Final Fantasy XV. My main reasoning behind the purchase was simple: it promised a roadtrip with the lads, all of whom have great hair. Both these things are currently out of reach for most of us in lockdown.

    So yes, I was aware that a large portion of my time in FFXV would be spent reclined in a car. What I didn't expect was to be reminded of a trip I took to Albania within the first hour of playing.

  • Mono from Little Nightmares II, a small boy with a brown paper bag on his head, runs down a corridor holding a torch. Tens of wooden dummy hands are reaching for him from behind locked metal doors

    So, the last couple of things I reviewed were both horror games: Little Nightmares 2 and The Medium. They're also both a slightly different kind of horror game. Most games that style themselves as psychological horror, I have found, are actually mostly jump scares, with the psychological aspect provided by either some tentacles or cornices that look a bit genital, or the scattered pages of a diary detailed a woman's descent into madness because of something her husband and/or children did.

    Little Nightmares 2 and The Medium are both actually genuinely trying to mine psychological themes for their horror - indeed, in the latter you actually go and have a root around in a person's subconscious at some points - but as I observed in my review of The Medium, it didn't really scare me at all. Little Nightmares 2 did.

  • Artwork of Squall Leonhart holding his gunblade from Final Fantasy VIII

    Final Fantasy VIII (aka: the best Final Fantasy game) turned 22 years old yesterday, and just before a small part of my soul crumbled to dust at the thought of it being two whole decades since I first played it, I said to myself, "Cor, Final Fantasy VIII still has the best soundtrack, doesn't it?" From the chill vibes of Fisherman's Horizon to the heartfelt sorrow of The Oath, Final Fantasy VIII's music remains one of Nobuo Uematsu's finest scores in my humble opinion, so what better way to celebrate this momentous anniversary than with a countdown of its very best tracks?

  • Image for This Kindle e-reader feature is like Dark Souls. No, really

    I recently picked up an Amazon Kindle e-reader, in the hope that it would help me read more and, I don't know, save me from lugging a tome around when travelling? (Not like we're doing much of that anyway! Ha ha ha kill me).

    Having now done some reading on this dark slate of mystery, I am a firm believer that it's home to a feature that is more Dark Souls than any other feature described in article proclaiming that something is like From Software's sublime action-RPG.

  • World Of Warcraft Elwynn Forest.jpg

    There's this reality TV show in the UK called "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!". The premise is simple: a bunch of 'celebrities' are flown to a camp in the Australian outback (last year it took place in a castle in Wales because covid, innit), they're subjected to trials which involve necking mealworms, and the public votes for their favourites.

    Honestly, it's a banger. And on one of my daily walks, I came to the realisation that one particular moment from last year's show lined up nicely with my thoughts on Elwynn Forest in World Of Warcraft. Let me explain…

  • Artwork of Eivor, Evie Frye and Kassandra from the Assassin's Creed series

    Every game and their dog seems to be getting a TV show these days. Just this week Crystal Dynamics announced a new Tomb Raider anime that will continue the reboot trilogy, but last year brought us news that Fallout's getting one too, as is Disco Elysium - and The Witcher, of course, already has one (which we've dissected in great detail). Assassin's Creed is in Netflix's sights as well, but having spent a good 100-odd hours in Assassin's Creed Valhalla recently, there is only one possible form an Assassin's Creed TV show should take: a time-travelling adventure show that stars Eivor, Kassandra and Evie Frye, because let's face it, they're the best protagonists the series has and together I know they'd sort the Templars right out. Let me explain.

  • Image for Go home, Assassin's Creed Valhalla progress emails, you're drunk

    I finally finished Assassin's Creed Valhalla last night. 100 hours I've poured into that game. It was good! I enjoyed it a lot. Naturally, there are still a couple of things to mop up here and there. There are two more targets on my Order of Ancients assassination list to send packing and one more big county to conquer, plus a myriad of other side bits to wipe from the map, but in terms of Eivor and Sigurd's mad old storyline, I'm pretty much done. I kid you not, though. When I opened my inbox this morning, I had an email from Ubisoft telling me how I could 'spread my influence' now that I've 'forged alliance with two key allies in England. Two!? How about 12? Go home, Valhalla progress emails. You're drunk.

  • Image for These Nioh 2 character creations are something else

    I think it's no secret at this point that Nioh 2 is a difficult video game. This is an action RPG that preemptively dusts off your gravestone as you boot it up, then pops to the corner shop to buy more microfibre cloths, as all your other gravestones need sprucing up too.

    To take the sting out of Nioh 2, I think it's important to create a character that exudes strength. Today I found out that other players feel the same way, and I've collected some of the most 'interesting' warriors out there.

  • Image for Books vs. games: where did I learn empathy from?

    Ignore that the ideal and probable answer to the title question is "lots of places, including my parents and stuff, idk." 2021 is shaping up to be the year in which I read loads of books again, because what the hell else am I going to do? I've been indoors for 12 months and it already feels like I have watched every film or TV show that man ever committed to celluloid. Sometimes more than once. I got some vouchers over Christmas and forgot I spent them on an actual dozen books, which arrived today. I do not have room for them anywhere in the flat. I have been revaluating my relationship with stories, including games.

    I joined a Facebook group about books and it is a confusing tangle, punctuated by people posting about things that are not books and adults reading almost exclusively YA fiction (I have nothing against YA fiction in general, but I am 30 and as a Full A demand more from books than what I perceive as mostly descriptions of boys who have long eyelashes from the point of view of a girl who is always called Scarlett, spiritually if not literally). The other day, a parent raised that their child had discovered games, and to counter this was making the child "earn" time on digital devices via "number of pages read."

  • Image for My favourite Assassin's Creed game is one I haven't even played yet

    I am almost 80 hours into Assassin's Creed Valhalla at the moment, and I've been having a good time. I'm enjoying it a lot more than Odyssey (sorry, Kassandra), and the time I've spent conquering England has been full of strange and wonderful delights. And yet, as much as I'm entranced by Eivor's come hither looks and her enormous buff muscles (again, sorry Kassandra), it is a different Assassin's Creed game I often find myself thinking about on a day-to-day basis. One that gets my heart pumping, my blood racing and my mind excited every time I hear its soundtrack - and it's a game I haven't even played.

  • Image for I wish Ian Hitman could skip

    Supporters only: I wish Ian Hitman could skip

    Maybe one to note down for the next update

    I've been all over the world this year, despite everything that's going on. And by "all over the world this year", I mean I've virtually creased the tips of my Oxfords as Ian "Agent 47" Hitman. I committed a murder in a Hokkaido hospital and another murder in Mumbai - the one in Mumbai being a particularly good murder, I feel.

    One thing I've been hankering for on my travels is the ability to skip. Not like, skip cutscenes, but swing my arms to and fro as I clippety clop towards my next target.