King of Seas Review: PlayStation 4

Yo ho, yo ho, is this pirate game for you?
Or, is it scraping the bottom of the pirate game barrel?

King of Seas is a pirate RPG game developed by the team at 3D Clouds and published by Team 17 now available across all platforms (PC, PS4, Xbox and Switch).  Billed as a procedurally generated pirate action role playing game, we are promised a quest-based swashbuckling adventure on the high seas with the ability to partake in ship-based cannon blasting combat.  

I like RPGs and I like pirates, so do I recommend this game?

Plot

The plot here is relatively basic, particularly as far as an RPG goes. At the beginning of the game we are offered the choice of taking on the persona of either Princess Marylou or Prince Luky, heirs to the ‘King of Seas‘ and his kingdom. We are thrown straight into action as the king sends us out on a basic trading mission to learn the ways of the seven seas.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
This guy doesn’t look dodgy at all

Shockingly, or rather – as you were probably expecting under the circumstances – the king is murdered while we are away and furthermore the blame is laid on us…even though we couldn’t possibly have even been there to do the deed. Despite our pleas of innocence, we are sentenced to death by the Royal Navy. They track us down and our ship is destroyed – we are left for dead in the open water. Fortunately, we are found and taken to the hidden refuge of the pirates. We have no choice but to turn our back on our previous royal life and turn to the daring and intrepid way of life as a pirate. YARRR.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Gameplay

Gameplay is the make or break element of any game. So how does King of Seas fare?

Well, unfortunately not so great.

The game follows a mission-based structure, with your main story events and side missions easily trackable through the menu. Don’t get too excited though, as there are only three types of missions on offer here:

  1. Combat missions (go and sink that ship)
  2. Delivery missions (take this object over there)
  3. Escort missions (follow this ship over there and make sure nobody sinks it)

To start with there is little variation here in the side missions and to make matters worse the game quickly recycles the same named missions.  Because it is ‘procedurally generated’ the same mission will not always be exactly the same – you might even get asked to deliver the package to a different place this time! But that is of little benefit when the sailing itself is just lifeless and boring.

The majority of your time playing this game will be spent sailing on the ocean. Sailing very…very…VERY slowly.

To get from one side of the map to the other, even with the wind blowing your sails in the right direction, will take you at least 5 minutes. I was hoping beyond hope that a ‘fast travel’ option would become available at some stage in the game, but it was not to be. Anyone who has played The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker will know what I am talking about here. The sailing in King of Seas is just not a pleasurable experience. Even with various interludes you will come across in your travels: floating treasure, red ‘X’s hiding on the beach, trader ships you can raid and destroy… it just isn’t fun. It feels like a chore after less than an hour of gameplay and you have a long way to go after that if you want to reach the end of the game.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Are we there yet???

But wait. It gets worse.

As this is a game based around sailing from point A to point B you will be referring to your map very regularly. But guess what? There is NO MINIMAP. Any time you need to work out where you are or where you are going you need to open up the full map. Which pauses the game. Which makes your travel take EVEN LONGER than it was taking already. It is just a bad development decision and I can’t think of any reason why they would not include a mini-map, or at the very least a general direction marker to help you locate your next port of call.

The combat is not much better. Initial thoughts from the first few battles was that the basic idea here is good. In this ARPG you control your ship as the ‘character’ in battle. You can shoot cannons to the left or right with three types of ammunition, and equip up to 4 different ‘skills’ at the same time. Skills can be either offensive such as blasting fire directly in front of you or RELEASING THE KRAKEN to damage opposing ships, or defensive such as lowering your pirate flag as a stealth/escape manoeuvre. The skills provide a good variety and allow for some different strategies, but the main cannon attacks which are fired perpendicular to your direction of travel are just yet another frustration in this game. Obviously you need to be moving parallel to your enemies to attack them, and they need to be doing the same. It leads to most battles becoming the same type of endless circular dance.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Fire away…literally

There are multiple different types of ship that you can buy to use with different focuses (trade, speed, attack power), and each ship can be buffed with ‘equipment’ that amounts to the different parts of the ship – figurehead, deck type, cannonball and more. The loot-based equipment, similar to Diablo, does provide a great motivation to keep on playing the game and for me this was one of the better executed game design elements. Glorious pirate booty abounds in King of Seas, you can find it upon sinking enemy ships, simply floating around the sea in lost crates or buried under the classic red ‘X’ on the beach in a hidden cove. Additionally you can receive gifts of loot upon completing any side quest in the game along with gold and experience points. This equipment appears to provide a reasonable level of choice in how you build your ship and plan your combat against the Royal Navy…or innocent passenger ships.

The RPG ‘talent’ progression element of the game, whilst somewhat simple in nature, does give you good control over the style of gameplay you wish to use. Prefer to be a pacifist trader? You can improve your diplomacy and trading skills to take advantage of this. Want to use voodoo skills and magic to trick the Royal Navy on the open seas? Go for it. Don’t have time to muck around and want to just put all of your power into your offensive cannons? Yes please. Each basic talent has multiple stages that you can progress through up to five times with skill points for maximum boost. There are also ‘big’ skills that provide a more significant stat boost but can only be activated once. Nothing ground-breaking here, but the system works well and is easy to understand.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat

Presentation

Presentation is another let-down in the King of Seas experience. The introduction to the game is fully voiced, but after that there is no further voice-over work. The initial voice-over has its own problems as well, with what to me felt like a very forced (bad) impression of a pirate accent. The character design looks unique and promising, until you have played for more than 20 minutes and see that other than the main two characters all of the models are highly reused. Graphical assets are decent and some of the islands and structures look very interesting, but again as a procedurally generated game after a while you will start seeing repetition – and a lot of it. There is very little variation in the soundtrack with a couple of good passages that get you excited for the game, until again you have heard these little flourishes too many times. Sound effects are fine with a satisfying ‘bang’ as you fire your cannons, but nothing to write home about. Everything here just feels a bit dry and outdated.

King of Seas PS4 PlayStation 4 Visuals Combat
Ooh, these islands have bridges… like those other ones we just saw.

I can say that one big positive for King of Seas is that there were no bugs that I came across throughout my review gameplay. The game ran smoothly, and there were no issues with any quests, visuals/sound or other gameplay performance.

Conclusion

There is a long history of both good and bad pirate games across a variety of different consoles and genre styles. From the recent Microsoft hit Sea of Thieves going all the way back to 1987 and the original ‘Sid Meyer’s Pirates!’ on Commodore 64, you have probably played a pirate game before and honestly you’ve likely played a better pirate game than this one too.

The game promises an ‘epic adventure’ on the high seas full of treachery and treasure. What it actually gives you is a mish-mash of ideas held back from reaching their full potential with bland presentation, uninspired gameplay choices and frustrating design. King of Seas tries a lot of things that you have probably seen done before in other games, but it executes them poorly and isn’t really trying to do anything new of its own.

Playing King of Seas is a bit like sailing a leaky ship with tattered sails built from the corpses of other games. You need to deal with a bumpy ride over rough seas and spend far too much time digging at that red ‘X’…only to find that what you were hoping would be a treasure chest with the sparkling jewels of a great game is actually an old barrel containing an empty bottle of rum, a rotting peg leg and a stuffed parrot.

King of Seas does have the (skull and cross-) bones of a good game. If you are willing to look past the problems here this isn’t the worst way to spend some time, but it is not the best by a long stretch. The procedurally-generated world, two protagonists and five difficulty levels (two locked until you have beaten the game once) do offer some amount of replayability. But I don’t think anyone other than a masochist would want to play through the game more than once.

My recommendation is to make this one walk the plank, unfortunately that is what it deserves.

So, why should you play it?

  • You have a lot of time to spare and like watching a ship sailing slowly across the ocean.
  • Your Roger is Jolly and your timbers are shivered by anything pirate related.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Repetitive gameplay gets on your nerves.
  • Fast-paced action/combat with a lot of action is more up your alley.

A review code on PlayStation 4 was provided for the purpose of this review. Review gameplay was completed on PS5 console.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch

You’re really gonna dig this game.

Strictly Limited Games brings an awesome and addictive platformer from the 80s – from legendary developer TOZAI – to PS4 and Nintendo Switch! Retro fans need to prepare themselves for a real challenge. Spelunker HD Deluxe will be available as Limited and Collector’s Edition for pre-order from Sunday, June 6th midnight (CEST) at the Strictly Limited Games Shop! The digital version for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 will follow in Q3 2021 by ININ Games. 

Dedicated retro game fans might remember the original game, which was first released for Atari 8bit computers back in 1983. Or also the PS award-winning “Spelunker HD” that was released for PS3. And now Strictly Limited Games proudly presents Spelunker HD Deluxe coming with awesome fresh graphics and a new game mode!

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

A variety of game modes and many different stages will provide players with a lot of challenges on their way to seek out the mystery that lies in the depths. All of the modes can be played as single player, but they are also supporting online multiplayer with up to six people and offline multiplayer with up to four people allowing the players to explore the caves together!

  • Adventure:
    Players can explore 100 stages by fighting and jumping their way through enemies and obstacles
  • Competition:
    The best cave explorer wins! In this mode, players can compete with their friends
  • Championship:
    The name says it all… This mode includes another 100 super-difficult, challenging stages that seek for real cave exploring experts
  • Endless Cave NEO:
    In this mode, players can compete and see how far they get in endless, randomly generated caves

Whilst exploring dark caves and avoiding getting beaten by the dangers that lurk in the depths, players can enjoy a fresh visual appeal with new 3D assets and a realistic cave atmosphere, accompanied by a catchy, memorable soundtrack. But those who prefer to keep it classic, will also get their money’s worth – the well-received “Classic Mode” that was also included in the PS3 version will still be available in Spelunker HD Deluxe. So retro fans can enjoy beautiful nostalgic pixel graphics and 8-bit sound for the original Spelunker experience like back in the early 80s.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

Players that are ready for a real challenge can get themselves an awesome limited Edition at the Strictly Limited Games Shop.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Limited Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Booklet
  • Individually Numbered

The Limited Edition is available for €29.99 and limited to 2700 copies for Nintendo Switch and 1500 copies for PlayStation 4.

Spelunker HD Deluxe Nintendo Switch PlayStation 4 Strictly Limited

The Collector’s Edition Features:

  • Game for Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4
  • Collector’s Edition Box
  • Spelunker Figure
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Sticker
  • Flyer
  • Large Reversible Poster
  • Soundtrack
  • Level Guide
  • Booklet
  • Individually numbered

The Collector’s Edition is available for €59.99 and limited to 1300 copies for Nintendo Switch and 700 copies for PlayStation 4. If you’re wanting to secure a copy, before sure to keep an eye on this link for when the pre-orders go live, as they won’t last long: https://store.strictlylimitedgames.com/collections/spelunker

Judgement Review: PlayStation 5

In the Japanese criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The detectives who investigate crime, and the lawyers who prosecute the offenders.

Actually, in this case it is just one man.

This is his story _DUN DUN_

The Yakuza series is a mainstay of the PlayStation library. The first title was released in Japan way back in 2005 for the PlayStation 2. Since that time a total of 8 main-line games and 3 spin-off titles made by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have been released outside of Japan with even more spin-off games available in Japan only. Initially the series could only be found on the PlayStation console family but now all of the titles can be found on Xbox/Windows as well.

There is a lot of convoluted history and backstory in the main Yakuza series, and with even the ‘shortest’ game in the series typically taking 20+ hours for a first playthrough. It can be a bit daunting for new players to just jump in to a Yakuza game. However, the spin-offs and Judgement in particular, are the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the setting, gameplay and storytelling that the made the Yakuza games so popular. 

Yakuza Series PS4 PS5
The main Yakuza series is a story that spans across multiple games.

Judgement does not have any characters returning from the main series and I believe this helps the game come across as fresh and allows it to maintain an individual identity despite the setting itself being very familiar. It also allows newcomers to fully enjoy the game without needing to play through 200+ hours of previous Yakuza games. So, what is Judgement actually about?

PLOT

Judgement is set in the Yakuza series’ staple fictional district of Kamurocho in Tokyo, Japan. Kamurocho doesn’t actually exist, but is based on the real-world red-light district of Kabukicho. Here we take the role of lawyer-come-private-detective Takayuki Yagami, using his full skillset from both occupations to solve a serial murder case involving the warring Yakuza clans that reside in Kamurocho. Early on in Judgement we are presented with Yagami’s tragic backstory that explains his decision to leave the uptight legal profession and become a cool, leather jacket-wearing private detective.

After the prologue we get started with Yagami taking on the investigation of a death in the ranks of Kamurocho’s Yakuza. This is the third Yakuza death with a heinous modus operandi involving removal of the eyes with an ice pick. Initially, Yagami is hired by the Tojo Clan to find evidence to exonerate a clan Captain of the latest murder. Through his investigations, Yagami discovers something much more sinister at play. The plot is well written and involves some twists and turns that do surprise, but without ever feeling forced or ‘unrealistic’ – as was sometimes the case in the mainline Yakuza series. It is difficult to go into much detail without spoiling the story (which I won’t do here), but at times it does feel like you are playing through an episode of Law and Order. Except in Japan…with an ex-yakuza sidekick…and parkour street fights.

Yagami Kaito Judgement PS5
Main character Yagami (left) and ex-Yakuza lieutenant, Kaito (right).

Yagami is assisted by a varied cast of unique characters including his ex-Yakuza sidekick Kaito, a crooked cop and the team from his former Legal firm. All of the main cast are extremely well-written and fleshed out with backstories that are drip fed to the player throughout the game. Yagami and Kaito in particular are very likable characters who have some great quality banter. Despite being a serious game with a serious plot there is plenty of humour here as well.

GAMEPLAY

The Yakuza series is known for its hard-hitting beat ’em up battle systems, and Judgement is no different. Combat is most definitely a strength of this game with Yagami having mastered two different fighting styles – the Crane style that is focussed on crowd control, and the Tiger style which is best suited for combat mano-e-mano. As usual there is no end to the number of environmental objects that can be used to your advantage, from traffic cones and trash cans to shop signs and bicycles – anything you can pick up can be smashed into your opponent’s face. Yagami is much more agile and athletic than Kiryu (the protagonist of the 6 main Yakuza games) and this allows for a fighting move-set that utilises parkour-style actions such as wall running before flinging yourself towards an opponent with a back flipping axe kick. Also returning are the ‘EX‘ finishing moves that cause devastating damage and look absolutely brutal.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation5 Combat

Personally, I played through the game on ‘Normal’ mode and did find throughout the game that the majority of fights were a little on the easy side. With the various support items available and the ability to pause the game and use them anytime it is difficult to get a ‘game over’, and even if you do the game is very generous in allowing you to retry the fight immediately. Still, the combat looks great, feels great, and doesn’t get boring as you keep unlocking new moves and actions as you gain experience.

Judgement continues the trend of what Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has become known for with the Yakuza series: content, side quests, mini games and LOTS of them. Alongside the usual mini-game culprits in the SEGA arcade games, baseball batting cage, darts, casino games, shogi and Mahjong; Judgement provides some a couple of new flavours in 3D Drone Racing and a virtual board game. You can spend many hours getting distracted from Yagami’s quest (just like I got distracted from completing my play-through for this review) because there is so much to do here and it is all well made and fun to play.

The SEGA arcade options this time include the full arcade ports of: Fighting Vipers, Viruta Fighter 5 – Final Showdown, Puyo Puyo, Fantasy Zone, Space Harrier, Motor Raid, and ‘Kamuro of the Dead’ which is a shooting game similar to House of the Dead.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Arcade

Judgement definitely has that feeling of ‘just one more side-quest’, ‘I need to go out on one more date with Sana-Chan’, or ‘damn it I’m not turning this off until I win that last item out of the crane game’.

There are some elements to Judgement’s gameplay that are new to the series, though to me these are some of the weaker parts of the game. The majority of these are introduced early, but do not really evolve as you play through the game. First up is a ‘search mode’ where you are presented with either a crime scene or a still photo and need to find clues to progress your investigation by zooming in and highlighting the clue – not particularly exciting or engaging. There is an extension of this mode where you need to sneakily photo a suspect in a compromising position but still not really a section of the game you can look forward to.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Search Mode

Secondly there is a ‘tailing mode’ where Yagami must follow a suspect or person of interest through the streets of Kamurocho without being identified. This fares a little better than the search mode, but often just feels like the game is being slowed down or padded out. That being said, it can get your heart racing if you lose your mark and need to quickly locate them again.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Tailing Mode

Finally there is the ‘chase mode’ where Yagami must chase a person (or object) though the streets of Kamurocho. This is much more frantic than the other new modes, but really it is only a glorified quick-time-event button-press-a-thon.

Overall, the new modes do strengthen the feel of Yagami being a private detective, but there is no real challenge or even an ability to fail these sections. I do appreciate that the developers tried something a bit different, and there is certainly scope here to build on these for future games.

VISUALS

Anyone familiar with the recent Yakuza games will know what they are in for here. The ‘Dragon’ engine previously used for Yakuza 6 returns here and brings the bustling streets of Kamurocho to life. Kamurocho is designed in gorgeous detail and you can see the effort that has been put in to every aspect of the buildings, streets and neon signs of this red-light district. From the bright lights of the SEGA arcade to the gritty alley-way behind a dodgy bar, Kamurocho looks as good here as it ever has before. It really feels like you are walking the streets of busy Tokyo.

Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5 Kabukicho Kamurocho

The people you meet on your quest are also drawn with extremely life-like qualities. For me, other than Naughty Dog I think the team at Ryu Ga Gotoku had some of the best facial animations that could be found on the PS4, and these have been further enhanced to beautiful 4K60FPS visuals on the PS5.

Combat also puts the PS5 to the test with various objects and particle effects flying around. Despite this I never encountered any observable issues with frame rate dips. Throughout my time with Judgement there were never any obvious issues with the visuals that dragged me out of the experience. My only minor quip was the colour choices for some of the mini-map tracking that I found difficult to see clearly (I am partially colour blind) but it definitely wasn’t a game-breaking issue.

Being an upgraded PS4 game this isn’t going to be the best looking game available for next-gen, but it is certainly no slouch.

AUDIO

One of my favourite parts of Judgement is the original Japanese voice acting. It is stellar. Yes, you can play the game with English voice acting if you wish, and it is serviceable, but it just doesn’t bring the same gravitas. If you are playing a Yakuza game with English voice acting, just like with anime, you are doing it wrong. Personally for me the Japanese is the best option from the perspective of audio-visual engagement – because the character animations are synced up with the Japanese audio and it can look very weird with the English turned on.

Elsewhere, the ambient sounds of Kamurocho help bring the town to life. Traffic, the murmur of people as you walk past and the cacophony of noise emerging from Pachinko parlours really make you feel like you are in Tokyo.  The sound effects in combat work to pass on the severe impact when you strike your opponents (and when you are struck yourself).

The soundtrack and background music are never in your face, but help to build the tension of Yagami’s investigation and the developing story. At other times the subtle melancholic and noir-esque jazz tracks can help you relax and enjoy the city when you are not rushing to complete story based tasks.

CONCLUSION

Judgement is yet another killer entry into the Yakuza series, but it can be enjoyed alone without any prior experience required. The cast of characters are well-written and more importantly the Japanese voice acting is top-notch. The story draws you in with intrigue and never feels predictable or cliché.

Playing only the main story quests will still give you a good 20+ hour experience, but with everything you can do here there is well over 80 hours of gameplay. The amount of side content and mini-games mean there is really about five different games’ worth of entertainment here. I must have spent at least 3 hours alone playing Fantasy Zone in the SEGA arcade. If you are looking for ‘value for money’, this is a game for you.

What started in the west as a very niche Action/Adventure/Beat-em-up PS2 title has grown into a triple A series that is now moving into different genres (the RPG insanity of Like A Dragon). Judgement is not only a great place to start for new people wanting to dip a toe into the franchise, but it is an excellent standalone game that has been upgraded to take advantage of the power of the PS5. It is still worth a play on the PS4 if you aren’t one of the 5 people that own a PS5, and if you are eventually lucky enough to find one you can take advantage of the PS5 upgrade for free.

In the 24 hours before completion of this review, the news broke that the sequel to Judgement is coming VERY soon. ‘Lost Judgement‘ will release internationally on 24 September 2021. I can’t wait.

Lost Judgement PS5 PlayStation 5

So, why should you play it?

  • You are already a fan of the Yakuza series and want to experience more of the dark underworld of Kamurocho.
  • You love anything Japan.
  • As a lawyer/detective you have always wanted to knee a Yakuza in the face.
  • You enjoy procrastinating from the task at hand with darts, Drone racing or classic Sega Arcade games.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Gratuitous violence isn’t really your thing.
  • You prefer a more linear streamlined experience with no distractions.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Resident Evil Village Review: PlayStation 5

There’s no Professor Layton here to help you in this curious village.

It’s no stretch to say that Resident Evil is videogaming’s most iconic and influential horror series. What started with humble beginnings on the PlayStation 1 in 1996 (“Jill sandwich”, anyone?) has evolved and morphed like many of the series’ grotesque enemies into a beast that has become a momentous cultural phenomenon. Boasting an extensive library of 27 separate videogames, eight main titles, numerous films (both live-action and animated), and now an upcoming Netflix TV series, Resident Evil is Capcom’s best-selling franchise and has been hugely influential in popular culture.

Resident Evil Series Compilation PlayStation
A picture I took earlier this year showcases RE games across multiple console generations.

The original game, set in the eerie Spencer Mansion, introduced the enigmatic characters, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, and almost single-handedly created the genre for which the series is now so well-known: “Survival Horror”. Having been over 25 years since the launch of the inaugural title, it’s no surprise that the gameplay has needed to change and adapt significantly. Fixed camera angles soon became outdated, and as of Resident Evil 4 the player was given complete control over the camera and would play through an over-the-shoulder third person view. This style of gameplay became a series staple for many years.

Resident Evil 4 Gamecube Chainsaw
Resident Evil’s over-the-shoulder camera was used for many of the series’ entries.

Fans were polarised upon the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which saw another dramatic shift in gameplay to a more immersive first-person perspective. This was the first main Resident Evil title to be experienced entirely from the view of the main character, Ethan Winters, which allowed the player to become completely absorbed, especially when playing in virtual reality.

Four years since the launch of RE7, we once again step back into the shoes of our ever unfortunate protagonist, as the franchise slowly shuffles away from its zombified roots and instead takes a bounding leap into the realm of vampires, lycans, and dark, grim fantasy in its newest entry: Resident Evil Village.

Plot

Set three years after the terrifying events of the Baker Mansion in Resident Evil 7, the incredibly-unlucky Ethan Winters is happily settling down to live out a quiet life in his gorgeous house nestled in the mountains of Europe. Having rescued the love of his life, Mia Winters, years prior from the clutches of a deadly mutagen, Ethan can finally enjoy a moment of peace with his infant daughter, Rosemary.

…or so he thought.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mia winters Ethan Winters Home
You’re given a brief glimpse into Ethan’s peaceful life before that dream is shattered.

During a dramatic turn of events, Ethan’s life is ruined in mere moments and he finds himself abandoned on the outskirts of a mysterious village. Much to his dismay, there’s no Professor Layton to help him in this curious village. Despite the occasional puzzle, it is mostly “filled with blood and death” as one of the NPCs so appropriately describes it. In a state of disarray and dilapidation, this once humble hamlet is now overrun by hordes of lycans and horrific creatures thanks to a most mysterious figurehead whose name is whispered by each of the residents: Mother Miranda.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mother Miranda
Ethan’s new family welcome him to the Village.

Ethan’s only hope in recovering that which he lost is to delve deep into the village, confront the terrors within, and unravel the macabre mysteries behind the mysterious Mother Miranda and her subordinates.

Gameplay

Fans of any previous Resident Evil game are likely to be thrilled with the gameplay offered in Village, as it draws inspiration from some of the series’ most popular titles. As a direct continuation, the base gameplay is most similar to that of Resident Evil 7. Through the eyes of Ethan Winters, you’ll once again be thrust into horrific locales and fend for your life in tense situations that will often require you to think on your feet.

The pacing of the game changes dramatically with each hour of gameplay – initial areas are slow-paced and allow exploration, while others will halt you and require you to stop and solve a puzzle in order to advance. In complete juxtaposition there are certain segments that quickly become frantic, involving swarms of enemies, where a split second could be the difference between Ethan’s life and death. Combat in these situations is often quite fast-paced, and the game provides an array of weapons at Ethan’s disposal to defend against the vast horrors he encounters. While the standard enemies are easily dispatched, boss fights become bullet sponges that will require you to use all weapons at your disposal.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Blood Pool Puzzle
Simple puzzles can be a nice break from running for your life.

Those who have played Resident Evil 4 (my personal favourite of the series), will be able to make some clear connections to Leon S. Kennedy’s romp through another unwelcoming village. Exploration has a feeling much like RE4, with detailed maps, sprawling village areas, secret passageways, and shortcuts scattered throughout. You’ll also need to obtain and combine key items in order to progress, many of which give off a distinct RE4 vibe and are stored in an inventory not dissimilar to the Attache Case. Enemies regularly drop items which can be collected and sold to The Duke, who is essentially Village’s version of the mysterious Merchant. By visiting The Duke’s establishment, you’ll be able to exchange currency for weapon attachments, ammunition or items that can be used during combat. The game also includes a weapon upgrade system almost identical to that of RE4.

There is plenty to be “enjoyed” with respect to the gameplay of Resident Evil Village, and I found myself most immersed when exploring the game’s narrow hallways, cramped caves, or derelict ruins. Though it does not manage to achieve the same degree of terror as Resident Evil 7 (which was truly frightening, especially when played in VR), these situations create an incredible atmosphere that will not necessarily frighten, but instead immerse the player in the game’s gripping setting.

Visuals

If the devils in the detail, as the old adage goes, then Village is truly demonic. Graphical finesse in Village far surpasses any previous game in the series and is one of the most breath-taking games available for the current console generation. When played on a large 4K screen in a dark setting, your eyes will sometimes deceive you with environmental graphics that appear close to photorealism.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Environment Graphics
Simple environments devoid of colour are completely packed with detail.

Gorgeous, intricate, gothic architecture like that of Castle Dimitrescu is a sight to behold, and offers stunning sights that will have most players pausing to appreciate the extensive detail. At times I had to remind myself I was actually playing a Resident Evil game and not something along the lines of Bloodborne, as you’d easily be mistaken from some of the screenshots below.

While you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the detailed environments, it’s in the games most fast-paced, intense moments that you gain brief glimpses into the horrific, grotesque enemies who reside within the village. In a series that once had such a focus on zombies, enemy designs now instead seem to draw heavily upon fantasy, as if inspired by some sort of R-rated Brothers Grimm adaptation. You’ll encounter unfathomable abominations, swift and relentless lycans, and of course, Vampiresses whose thirst for Ethan’s delicious man-blood is unquenchable.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Lady Dimitrescu Claws
Not many characters have received quite as much internet attention as Lady Dimitrescu.

Audio

With sound design as detailed as its graphics, Resident Evil Village manages to replicate realistic 3D audio and attention-to-detail that will truly engross when experienced with a quality headset. At times I found myself having to guess whether a sound had occurred in the game or in real life. Eerie ambience will have you on the edge of your seat, minute audio details like creaking floorboards or a curtain flapping in the distance will alert you to threats that would be otherwise missed by your vision. This helps significantly when trying to avoid combat, as not only will the audio help the player determine the direction of an enemy, but subtle changes to sound will also help gauge distance.

A vital element of the game’s audio is in the form of voice acting, particularly from Todd Soley, who plays the voice of Ethan. Cries of agony and anguish are almost 100% believable and at times had me wincing and needing to avert my eyes during particularly confronting scenes. Ethan’s pleading for mercy or panicked screams are a brilliant and disturbing voice acting performance that undoubtedly deepens the level of horror. This is unfortunately contrasted with some of the game’s villains who have exaggerated or whacky voices, which become more comedic than horrific.

Extras

Now it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without some added bonuses, right?
Shooting galleries? Easter eggs? Boulder-punching competitions?

Thankfully Village provides multiple incentives to keep playing both before and after the credits roll. Throughout the game you’ll be tasked with additional optional challenges to complete, some of which will aid Ethan’s plight significantly. Much like past RE games, there are hidden breakable objects scattered throughout the village in the form of wooden “Goats of Warding” (much like the Mr Everywhere bobbleheads or Mr Raccoon toys). Additionally you’ll be able to take advantage of the game’s photo mode, which can be used at any time to pause and take in your surroundings (even if at times you’d rather not).

The strangest addition comes in the form of four “Labyrinths” to complete throughout the game – these are intricate scale-model structures created by an artist that play out like a combination of Monkey Ball and Captain Toad. You’re first tasked with finding a steel ball hidden somewhere in the village, then upon returning to the Labyrinth you can drop the ball in and guide it through the level. In completing each Labyrinth you’re rewarded with highly valuable items which can be exchanged for some serious coin. Though I can’t help but feel this was a very odd inclusion.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Labyrinth Steel Ball
Take a moment to forget about your looming death to play Super Monkey Ball.

These extras, however, pale in comparison to the most alluring additional content in Village: Mercenaries Mode, which is unlocked after completion of the main game. Initially introduced in Resident Evil 3, Mercenaries plays out like an action/time-attack in which you’re tasked with fending off a set number of enemies within a limited amount of time. Levels reuse familiar locales from the main story scattered with various enemy types, and you’ll be able to accumulate money in order to upgrade your weapons as well as gain perks that will assist in future levels. It’s fun, frantic, arcade-style gameplay that will appeal to series veterans and newcomers alike.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mercenaries Mode
Even in minigames, poor Ethan still has such a hard time.

Conclusion

Though less terrifying when compared to its predecessor, and by no means a game that will require a change of pants, Village still offers one of the most gripping, immersive and thrilling experiences in the entire franchise. Intricate level design and captivating audio combined with smooth gameplay and gunplay create an unforgettable survival horror experience. As a direct sequel, fans of RE7 will get the most out of the game’s characters and narrative, though newcomers will easily be able to dive into the horror without feeling too lost.

With approximately 10 – 15 hours required for completion of the story, difficulty levels to suit all players, and enough detail and extra content to keep you engrossed, Resident Evil Village is an impressive foray into the newest generation of consoles and should not be dismissed by series fans or those seeking a thrill.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve enjoyed the gameplay any of the previous Resident Evil games, particularly 4 and 7.
  • Looking for a horror game to play on the newest generation of consoles? Village is the perfect place to start.
  • You appreciate high levels of detail and realistic graphics in games.
  • Resource management and smooth first-person gunplay appeals to you.
  • Fans of dark fantasy will be thrilled by the game’s enemies and bosses.
  • Big mommy vampire.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Don’t do well with jump scares? Definitely avoid this one.
  • Seeking a game to truly traumatise and terrify? Try RE7 in VR instead.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Altdeus: Beyond Chronos Review – PSVR

The most visual of visual novels.

Have you ever read a book? You know, those compilations of physical pages that you have to manually read and turn in order to experience a linear plot? I’m going to assume you probably have.

Now, have you ever read a choose-your-own-adventure book? A book that gives you the option to make choices that dramatically affect the course of the plot. Usually it will require you to flip to a particular page where your choice causes the story to branch off in a different direction. Goosebumps books were some of the most popular. It was exhilarating to know the choices I made could make such an impact (even if it mostly resulting in my character dying).

A visual novel (VN) is the evolution of this concept – a digital version of a choose-your-own-adventure book. The visual novel is a staple of modern gaming in Japan and often features intricate plot, strong character development, and branching narratives. The genre emerged in the early ’90s thanks to the advances in computer graphics and continued to increase in popularity well into the early 2000s. Some notable titles in the genre include the tear-jerking Clannad, time-travelling banana scientist in Steins;Gate, and internet favourite dating simulator, Katawa Shojo. As a well-established genre, there are even some visual novels about dating pigeons, or ones I’ve played that I probably shouldn’t mention in public.

Above: Clannad, Steins;Gate, Katawa Shoujo.

Thanks to VR game developer studio MyDearest, who have created VR novels and manga, the visual novel has now moved one step closer to reality. In 2019 their first game Tokyo Chronos became one of the first VNs to enter VR, and was successful enough to justify a sequel. Released initially for the Oculus Quest in 2020, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos garnered multiple awards and received critical acclaim. Now available for the PSVR, how does this version hold up? And is it good enough that it’ll make you want to throw out all your physical novels?

Plot

The year is 2280. The world has been ravaged by interdimensional aliens called Meteroa, which obliterate all life on the surface with weaponised sound waves. Humanity has been forced to withdraw underground into their last bastion, establishing a digital Tokyo with all of its citizens connected to a server. In attempts to retaliate, a group known as Prometheus recruits pilots for its Evangelion-sized mecha. You play as Chloe, an artificial human designed for the sole purpose of operating the Makhia and defending the remnants of Tokyo from complete annihilation.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Makhia
Remember folks, if you ever need to pilot a giant robot, be sure to bring an idol with you.

Alongside Chloe at all times is the artificial-intelligence companion, AARC Noa, a part-time pilot, part-time idol, full-time sass machine, modelled off the consciousness of her recently deceased best friend: Coco Coconoe. Though Coco has been gone for 2 years after being devoured by a Meteroa, Chloe has frequent flashbacks of their time spent together, having learned the intricacies of human emotion from their many interactions. At times it feels as if Chloe can still feel her deep connection to Coco, hearing her voice whispering from beyond. Then, only hours into your journey, a fateful encounter with a mysterious Meteroa changes everything that Chloe has been led to believe…

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR  Coco
The deep bond formed between Chloe (player) and Coco (pictured) becomes highly emotive.

Arguably the most important aspect of any visual novel is its plot, and ALTDEUS delivers one that is gripping, emotional, and has heavy themes of human connection despite the game’s many artificial characters. Featuring eight separate endings, choices made during character interaction and battle sequences bear significant weight and will drastically change your outcome.

Gameplay

If you’re playing a VN for its gameplay, you’re probably doing it wrong. As I discussed at the beginning of this article, this genre is akin to an interactive story where choices influence the plot. As such, gameplay in ALTDEUS is minimal and consists mostly of dialogue, character interaction, occasional use of the Move Controllers and the odd battle sequence. It’s fairly basic gameplay and completely approachable even to complete newcomers to VR – as most of the game is static, you’re very unlikely to experience any motion-sickness at all.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Choices
Your choices influence the story. Just like real life!

Scattered throughout the game are sequences in which you pilot the Makhia: a giant robot controlled by a “Neural Link” (your VR headset) and “Mikani Links” (your Move controllers). In connecting with the Makhia, you work alongside idol/AI Noa performing various actions to form shields, analyse the opponent, or charge and launch your rail cannon. Though each of these actions is incredibly simple to perform, your choice and timing will decide how the battle plays out. Initially I was blown away by these sequences, which feel as if you really are in the cockpit of a giant robot, but by the end of the game I had seen the same thing so many times that the novelty had worn off almost completely.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR VR
Get in the robot, S̶h̶i̶n̶j̶i̶ Chloe.

Visuals

A virtual reality game set in a virtual Tokyo should look like a virtual Tokyo, right? Right. During the game you’ll get to stand in the centre of Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya Scramble Crossing which is quite surreal; I found myself pausing momentarily to admire my surroundings in 360 degrees despite the low-resolution textures. Most other environments appear quite bland with little detail, though the clean character models with their distinct anime design will draw your attention away from this.

Sadly the game’s visuals are somewhat hindered and result in low-detail, blurry textures due to the limitations of the PSVR, as can be seen below:

Left: PSVR, Right: PC.

There are however a couple of redeeming features to the game’s visuals. Sequences inside of the giant Makhia robots are impressive and look just as anime has led you to imagine: surrounded by with HUDs, screens and warning symbols. I was also blown away by the 360 degree concerts performed by Noa throughout the game, which transport you to a virtual concert space where you are truly immersed in the visuals during her performance as she sings and dances around you. It’s hard to fully describe and must be experienced first-hand.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR 360 Idol Concert
The 360 degree idol concerts are a visual spectacle.

Audio/Soundtrack

If you’re going to read through text for 15 – 20 hours, you may as well do so accompanied by some brilliant music. ALTDEUS’ soundtrack is a collaboration between multiple musicians:
– In-house composer Yosuke Kori.
– J-pop/electro musician kz(livetune) who has composed many anime openings.
– Kunuyuki Takahashi (MONACA), who arranged tracks for NieR and NieR:Automata.
– R!N who is well-known for her powerful voice in Attack on Titan’s vocal tracks.

Many of the background tracks convey a calm, wistful, and sometimes melancholic feeling, which is often reflected in the music that plays during the game’s frequent flashbacks. I’d relate this to the music in other emotional visual novels, think Clannad. This is juxtaposed by the high-tempo, upbeat idol-style songs that are scattered throughout the game’s virtual idol performances. I was most-impressed by the incredibly immersive, 360 degree anime opening that plays in the first hour of the game, which I imagine would be similar to attending a vocaloid concert.

It’s worth noting that the vocal tracks are some of the best I’ve heard in a game and are of such quality that they deserve their own standalone album. Below are a couple of my favourite tracks from the game:

An intense battle theme during the first Meteroa fight:

One of the catchy, upbeat idol tracks that Noa sings:

While I sing the soundtrack’s praises, it’s important that the voice acting too is up to scratch, as for the vast majority of the game you’ll be listening to character dialogue. You’re given the choice between an English and Japanese dub, and me being the weeb I am, I chose the latter. Not once did I tire of hearing any of the voice-acting, which has clear delivery, believable acting and even some serious emotional weight behind it during some of the more touching moments in the game. At times it felt just as if I was watching a quality anime production thanks to the voice acting of the game.

Conclusion

Having never previously played a virtual visual novel, ALTDEUS: Beyond Chronos is a PSVR game unlike any other I’ve encountered, and one I would highly recommend for those looking for a unique VR experience. Fans of anime too are also likely to get a kick out of ALTDEUS, as it clearly draws inspiration from series like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Macross.

Altdeus Beyond Chronos PS4 PS5 PSVR Makhia
Yeah, I’d definitely skip a meeting to go see a giant robot too.

With 8 separate endings, a branching narrative, and a gripping plot, it will take you approximately 20 hours to reach the true ending which is well-worth it for those willing to commit. Admittedly some choices can be obscure and frustrating, requiring trial and error likely to put off many players. Though it could have simply been made as a normal 2D visual novel, being completely surrounded by the game enhances immersion dramatically, especially during the game’s battles and emotional interactions.

While this may be my first VR VN, having enjoyed ALTDEUS as much as I did, I highly doubt this will be my last. And it could be your first too!

So, should you play it?

  • You’re looking for a game with a gripping, emotional plot.
  • Piloting a mecha has always been your dream.
  • Are you an anime fan with a PSVR gathering dust? Time to dust it off.
  • A necessary game for fans of J-pop and idol music.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Not a big fan of long dialogue sequences or cutscenes? Stay away from VNs as a whole.
  • Playing through the same sequences may frustrate those with little patience.

A PSVR review code (played on PlayStation 5) was provided for the purpose of this review.

Rez Infinite Review – PS4/PS5

Take a trip through the infinite to experience true synaesthesia.

As most PlayStation 4 and 5 owners will (hopefully) be aware – Sony are encouraging people to do the right thing during the COVID-19 global pandemic by giving out a stack of 11 free games to motivate people around the world to stay safe by staying at home. The best part of this deal is that you don’t even need to be a PlayStation Plus subscriber to take advantage of this generous offer. Amazingly, as long as you add the games to your library while the offer is up, the games will be remain available for you permanently to download and play at any time in the future.

By the time you are reading this you have likely missed out on the first available game, Ratchet and Clank 2016, as this was only available to 31 March 2021. But this is your warning to get off your arse and go add the current batch of 9 games to your library RIGHT NOW…so you can sit back down on your arse to get in some quality gaming. Even if you don’t currently have access to a PSVR headset, there is literally no reason to not add the VR only games including the first appearance of the lovable PS5 mascot Astro Bot in Astro Bot Rescue Mission (a great game in its own right).

In addition to the aforementioned Ratchet and Clank 2016 there are some absolute winners here in Sony’s offering that deserve your attention. The survival indie classic Subnautica, atmospheric mystery/puzzler The Witness and bullet-hell rouge-like dungeon-crawler Enter the Gungeon are all high-quality games that have scored well with both critics and player communities alike. Even more crazily, from 19 April 2021 the game-of-the-generation contender Horizon Zero Dawn will also be FREE to download – and that is the ‘Complete Edition’ with additional DLC included!

But what I’m here today to tell you is that there is a better game on the free list. A game that in my mind is an outright classic across the entire history of video games. Yes, a game that is better than Ratchet and Clank, better than Subnautica and BETTER THAN HORIZON ZERO DAWN (I said it)- and that game is Rez Infinite.

Play at Home 2021 update: 10 free games to download this Spring
It is the first game on the list. Sony knows what’s up.

I should clarify that Rez Infinite is not the type of game that everyone will enjoy. The ‘on-rails shooter’ genre died out a long time ago as technology passed it by. But Rez it is a truly unique gaming experience that makes the most of the human senses of sight, hearing and touch to invite the player to enter the trance-like state known as ‘flow’ more than anything else this lifelong gamer has had the pleasure of playing.

Rez was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast and PS2 in Japan in November 2001, with western releases following on those consoles through early 2002. The original game saw an HD remaster release in January 2008 that was only available on the Xbox 360.

The version now available as part of the Play at Home package is the fully updated PlayStation 4 release ‘Rez Infinite’, which includes full PlayStation VR compatibility and a whole new game area created specifically for the Rez Infinite version that provides a whole new way of playing the game while also making the most of current technology of Unreal Engine 4. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to PSVR (or Oculus, where Rez Infinite is also playable) so I can’t provide comment on that mode of play. But I can say that when I do eventually enter the VR world, Rez Infinite will be the first thing I play.

PLOT

The plot of Rez is as bare bones as you can get. Set in the near future, an online network known as “K Project” is created to manage the massive amounts of data through the power of an AI called Eden. As you might guess, the AI is unable to understand the evil and corruption of the human race and begins to doubt its purpose and existence. Rather than going all Skynet, Eden escapes to the depths of cyberspace and shuts down. You play as a hacker attempting to ‘rescue’ Eden from digital infection (viruses) and wake her to fulfil her role in helping humanity.

…Lets be honest, you aren’t playing Rez for the Plot.

What does it want? To stop you moving forward. Why? I dunno…

GAMEPLAY

The simple controls of Rez have not been changed over the past 20 years. The left stick moves the small targeting reticule around the screen, when over your target you press X to shoot a single shot, or hold X to charge up to 8 shots across up to 8 separate targets. All shots ‘home’ in on your enemies or powerups, but don’t think that makes the game easy. This system comes with an inbuilt risk/reward play style. If you always try and charge to the maximum 8 shots then you might not have time to get another shot out to hit that newly spawned projectile coming your way. However, the process of charging is much faster than mashing out 8 individual shots, especially for the enemies that take multiple hits – some more than 8.

Locked on and charging up.

Through each level you may be lucky enough to pick up ‘Overdrive’ charges. Overdrive charges are your typical ‘bomb’ attack that will take out everything on the screen for about 5 seconds. You can hold up to 4 Overdrive charges at once, and there are some sections of the game where you will absolutely need these if you want to avoid taking a hit.

Old-school controls come with old school difficulty. There are no gameplay difficulty settings available here to make things easier for you. Starting from Area 1 your avatar will be level 1, meaning you can take a maximum of two hits. As you play through the game and shoot down your enemies, they will occasionally drop ‘progress nodes’. Collecting 8 progress nodes will allow your avatar to level up to a maximum of level 5, with each level allowing you to take another hit before dying.

Sometimes the enemy itself is the least of your problems.

There are 5 Areas in the base game each with its own unique boss. Each boss battle actually comes in three difficulty levels (Mega, Giga and Tera) which are based on your performance though the Area – the game adjusts somewhat to your skill level in terms of boss difficulty, though the easier ‘Mega’ bosses can still pack a punch. The Bosses are definitely a highlight of the game and challenge you while never feeling unfair.

Area 1 boss battle. Form of: psychedelic disco octopus.

On completion of the base game and reaching specific score ratings, you will unlock additional game modes such as boss rush and score attack. It will take new players, particularly those new to this sub-genre of games, multiple attempts to even finish the areas beyond Area 1, and even longer to get ‘100%’ completion ratings. At its core, like any shooter, Rez is an exercise in pattern recognition, memory, and visual awareness. The more you play the better you get, and the more of this magnificent title you get to experience.

The addition of ‘Area X’ to the PlayStation 4 version provides a new way to play Rez. Not only are the visuals and audio massively upgraded (even beyond the HD update), but you are no longer confined to the one-directional ‘on-rails’ control scheme, and can now rotate in full 360 degrees. There was clearly a lot of love put into the latest update to the team, and Area X almost feels like a sequel in terms of quality.

VISUALS/DESIGN/SOUND

THIS is where Rez truly shines. For this title it is impossible to separate visuals, design and sound due to the way they are so intricately intertwined. Furthermore, every element of the gameplay builds upon the core focus the game – to immerse you in the sights and sounds of Rez.

At the start of each Area the soundtrack, sound effects and visuals are minimal. As you progress each button you press, each shot that you fire and each enemy that you destroy builds upon the soundscape and atmosphere. Each Area contains 10 sections known as ‘Layers’. Cracking each progressive layer of security will further enhance the sound and visual experience of the Area, always for the better.

Unlocking the next layer, unlocking the beats.

What starts as the occasional snare drum hit and synth chord evolves as you play into a full-blown tune. And I mean TUNE. New instruments can be added to the soundtrack, the additional sounds you trigger when shooting enemies will change and the wire-frame visuals will twist and morph from simple lines into pulsating pyramids, forests and temples. All of the tracks are electronic music and that might not be your jam. But if you like a lick of EDM, a dash of Drum and Bass, or a sliver of psy-trance – this game is for you.

I find myself uncontrollably becoming a member of the Night at the Roxbury crew so often when playing Rez that I fear I will wake up the next day needing a solid physiotherapy session.

See the source image


Each of the core game’s 5 Areas and Area X contain a discrete audio-visual experience. Effectively giving you the feeling that you are inside a computer. Think along the lines of Tron…has anybody seen the movie Tron?

The pure sense of synaesthesia is most apparent the in the original Rez’s breathtaking final Area. It is one of my favourite levels in all of video games and it deserves to be preserved in an art gallery for future generations.

CONCLUSION

Rez Infinite is not a new game. It is a remastered version of a game from 20 years ago that was pretty much the swansong of its genre.

It is a niche retro experience that in all honesty is not for everyone. It can, at times, be brutally difficult. But if you enjoy a great shooter, if you are an audio-visual buff, or if anything said above piques your interest in the slightest, I urge you to give Rez Infinite a try.

Rez Infinite is simply the pinnacle of the rail shooter genre.

So, why should you play it?

  • Electronic music is your thing
  • You want to experience unmatched audio-visual synaesthesia
  • Um, its FREE

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  •  …uh, maybe if you don’t own (or have access to) a PS4 or PS5

People, its FREE.

The current Play at Home selection of 9 games, including Rez Infinite, will be free right through to 22 April 2021, so what the hell are you waiting for?!

Note: I own this game on PS2 and I also paid for the Rez Infinite version loooong before the Play at Home games were announced.

Oddworld: Soulstorm Collector’s Odditions Available for Pre-Order

Microids and Oddworld Inhabitants have unveiled the retail editions of Oddworld: Soulstorm.

The PlayStation®5 and PlayStation®4 physical editions of Oddworld: Soulstorm will be available at retailers on July 6. Pre-orders for the Day One Oddition and Collector’s Oddition are now open at participating retailers.

A selection of retailers will offer a set of exclusive digital content, available through download codes for every preorder.

Here is the list of preorder bonuses:

  • Oddworld: Soulstorm’s Original Soundtrack: listen to Oddworld: Soulstorm’s epic & atmospheric soundtrack.
  • Digital Oddworld Artbook: discover the dark world of Oddworld and its unique art style!
Odwworld Soulstorm PS4 PS5 Pre-Order Bonuses
Pre-order bonuses include a digital soundtrack and artbook.

Discover the Day One and Collector Oddition’s content, both available on July 6 on PS5 and PS4!

Odwworld Soulstorm Collector's Edition Oddition Day One Steelbook PS4 PS5 Pre-Order Bonuses
Includes a snazzy steelbook. Everyone loves a steelbook.

The Day One Oddition will feature the game in a collectible metal case.

Odwworld Soulstorm Collector's Edition Oddition Day One Steelbook Abe Figure Artbook PS4 PS5 Pre-Order Bonuses
Wouldn’t you just love having a little Abe creeping around your house?

The Collector’s Oddition consists of:

  • A Unique Collector’s Box
  • Oddworld: Soulstorm’s standard edition for PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5
  • A collectible metal case
  • An exclusive 22cm figurine of Abe, Mudokon hero
  • A premium 160-page artbook by Pix’n Love Publishing
  • An exclusive Mining Company keychain
  • Three art prints
  • Ancient Mudokon Tribal stickers
  • Abe’s hand tattoo

About Oddworld: Soulstorm

Oddworld: Soulstorm is the bigger, badder, bolder action-adventure platforming sequel to the renowned video game series, and the explosive second installment in the quintology. You play as Abe, the reluctant Mudokon hero whose actions sparked an uprising and now must lead his fellow Mudokons in their fight for freedom against the Magog Cartel and the planet’s ruling power.

Abe will struggle for survival against the planet’s ruling and well-funded power. They are armed with all means of oppression, from propaganda to biological to ruthless deadly force.

Explore massive cinematic scale and 2.9D environments filled with breathtaking visuals. Scavenge for supplies, craft weapons, arm your followers, solve puzzles, and attempt to safely deliver all of Abe’s 1,000+ followers to freedom.

Once pre-orders are live I’ll be updating this post with the links.
PS4 Collector’s Edition at EB: https://www.ebgames.com.au/product/ps4/266680-oddworld-soulstorm-collectors-edition
PS5 Collector’s Edition at EB: https://www.ebgames.com.au/product/ps5/267010-oddworld-soulstorm-collectors-edition
PS4 Day One Edition at EB: https://www.ebgames.com.au/product/ps4/266679-oddworld-soulstorm-day-one-edition
PS5 Day One Edition at EB: https://www.ebgames.com.au/product/ps5/267009-oddworld-soulstorm-day-one-edition
PS5 Collector’s Edition at JB: https://www.jbhifi.com.au/products/playstation-5-oddworld-soulstorm-collectors-oddition?queryID=611ce842543192454aca888e5c6f3a63&objectID=517347
PS4 Collector’s Edition at JB: https://www.jbhifi.com.au/products/playstation-4-oddworld-soulstorm-collectors-oddition?queryID=611ce842543192454aca888e5c6f3a63&objectID=517348
PS4 Day One Edition at JB: https://www.jbhifi.com.au/products/playstation-4-oddworld-soulstorm-day-one-oddition?queryID=611ce842543192454aca888e5c6f3a63&objectID=517350
PS5 Day One Edition at JB: https://www.jbhifi.com.au/products/playstation-5-oddworld-soulstorm-day-one-oddition?queryID=611ce842543192454aca888e5c6f3a63&objectID=517349

Persona 5 Strikers Review – PS4/PS5

They might be Strikers, but this time the Phantom Thieves have hit another home run.

Warriors spin-off games are everywhere. No series is safe.

What originally started as a fighting game similar to the Soulcalibur series, soon evolved into a genre of its own with the PS2 launch title: Dynasty Warriors 2. This game coined the term “crowd-combat“, placing the player on an open battlefield fighting 1 vs 100 against swarms of enemies at once interspersed with stronger bosses in what is often referred to as a musou game (literally translates to Warriors in Japanese). Originally these games were focused on the Three Kingdoms period in China and featured historical settings and characters locked in feudal war. However, it was not long before the influence of these games began to spread to other series:

The Legend of Zelda became Hyrule Warriors (and Age of Calamity).
Fire Emblem became Fire Emblem Warriors.
One Piece became One Piece: Pirate Warriors.
Gundam became Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.
…the list goes on!

And now Persona is the latest series to fall victim with Persona 5 Strikers.
But the catch? It barely feels like a Warriors game at all. Read on to find out why!

PLOT

Set only months after the events of Persona 5 (the base game, not Royal, so no Kasumi), protagonist and leader of the infamous Phantom Thieves, Joker, decides to get the gang back together again for a reunion. Upon gathering the crew, the group discover a popular new phone app known as EMMA taking the world by storm. After attending a public meet and greet with pop star, Alice Hiiragi, the Phantom Thieves are given a calling card and discover they can use the app to enter the Metaverse allowing them to explore new “Jails” to confront the shadow versions of people behaving abnormally in real life. It’s a premise much the same as those of Persona 5.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Jail
Yeah, I don’t think real life jails usually look like this…

Several new characters are introduced and are key to the plot of the game. Early on you come across an artificial intelligence affectionately named Sophia, who becomes a playable character in the metaverse and essentially lives inside Joker’s phone. In the place of Sae Nijima (the prosecutor from the original game), the team now begin working alongside police inspector, Zenkichi Hasegawa, and must determine whether he is friend or foe.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Characters Zenkichi
“How do you do, fellow Phantom Thieves?”

Shortly after the initial events set in Tokyo/Shibuya, the Phantom Thieves set off on a road trip. Literally. In an oversized camper van that becomes their mobile base, you explore new settings around Japan and discover new jails to uncover those responsible. It feels almost like a coming-of-age story, but makes for an amusing setting and a creative way to explore new regions.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Futaba Holiday Road Trip
Even the Phantom Thieves need to take time off occasionally.

GAMEPLAY

Many Persona staples make a return in Strikers, making the game feel far much more like a follow-up than a Warriors spin-off. I had to regularly remind myself I wasn’t playing a true sequel to Persona 5, as it’s quite easy to forget. And that’s a good thing!

Elements like Persona collection and fusion return, and will see you making regular trips to the Velvet Room in-between missions. Managing your team and their equipment is still an important aspect – the only difference is you no longer visit physical stores (so no more Airsoft Shop or Takemi Clinic), instead all of your items are ordered online and delivered directly to the Hideout. There is also still plenty of character interaction and amusing dialogue, though “social links” now have been completely replaced with a simplified “bond level” that allows you to unlock and upgrade various abilities.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Lavenza Velvet Room
It’s real velvet.

Overall the gameplay is quite simple and easily approachable: as you progress through the story you’ll trigger scripted events in which you explore new Jails (which are essentially large dungeons). These dungeons involve solving puzzles, clever areas of platforming, and of course plenty of combat which is certainly the highlight of the game. You’ll fight swarms of enemies and bosses to progress further through the Jail, and eventually confront the Monarch at the end in order to change their corrupted heart.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Gameplay Jail
The first Jail, which has an Alice in Wonderland theme.

COMBAT

It really wouldn’t be a Warriors game without button-mashing combat and swarms of enemies, but Strikers does incredibly well in allowing this combat to feel as much like the original game as possible. Although it is no longer turn-based and instead gives the player full control over their character’s movement, it incorporates many of the aspects of Persona’s combat:

  • Personas: during combat you can call upon your Persona. If you’re playing as Joker you can pause time, swap Personas mid-combat, and cast spells and abilities on the fly.
  • Your party: you can play as any combination of 4 of the Phantom Thieves (and some guests!) during combat and swap between them using the D-pad. Though characters other than Joker are limited to using only their own Persona.
  • Strengths, weaknesses, and all-out attacks: choosing your abilities is crucial in combat, and by exploiting enemy weakness you’ll be able to knock them down. Once enemies are down then in true Persona fashion a stylish and devastating all-out attack can be performed.
  • Ambushes: enemies can be attacked from behind or above and be swiftly and stealthily dealt with.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch All Out Attack Take Your Heart
The all-out attacks are still as satisfying as they were in the original game.

There are also new additions to the combat not previously found in Persona 5, most of which work in favour to make the action-based combat much more engaging:

  • Environmental attacks: each area has unique aspects that you can use during combat (for example, a party-themed area may have party poppers that can be activated to stun an enemy).
  • Ranged weapons: each character has their own ranged weapon with a limited amount of ammo.
  • Showtime attacks: defeating enemies will charge your Showtime Gauge which, when full, allows you to unleash a devastating and visually-impressive attack to clear the battlefield.
Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Showtime Attack
The showtime attacks definitely are the star of the show.

Considering it’s such a massive part of the game and will probably take up the majority of your time, it’s satisfying to know that the combat not only takes many elements from Persona 5, but somehow manages to improve upon them all while maintaining the game’s distinct visual style…

VISUALS AND STYLE

Of course one of the most impressive features of Persona 5 is its stylish visual aesthetic. Every character movement and action is done with flare and an effortless coolness. And it’s not just the animated cutscenes, environments or combat that are impressive; even the game’s loading screens, menus and inventories are an absolute pleasure. Well thankfully Strikers does the series justice and manages to maintain the distinct elegant graphics in its environments, animations, UI, and animated cutscenes (which swap between pre-rendered CGI and stylised anime).

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Stylish Menu
I could seriously watch these menus for hours.

In keeping the distinct visual style, Strikers manages to feel like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 rather than a simple spinoff. However, visuals are only part of P5’s style, as it’s the smooth acid jazz soundtrack that really tops it off.

SOUNDTRACK

Originally composed by series sound director, Shoji Meguro, the music to Persona 5 ranges from smooth jazz and lounge music all the way to big band, electronic and intense upbeat tracks like Rivers in the Desert. Though he was not involved directly in the music for Strikers, many of the tracks from the original game have been incorporated, rearranged or remixed, and are also available if you have a Persona 5 or Royal save file.

The brand new compositions in Strikers feel right at home among the original tracks, and have a much more upbeat tempo fitting of a Warriors game. In particular, many of the battle themes really stand out in this soundtrack and will hype you up while facing off against a challenging enemy.

CONCLUSION

So what’s most impressive about Persona 5 Strikers? It’s the fact that it feels more like a legitimate follow-up to Persona 5 than it does a Warriors spin-off. In retaining the best aspects of Persona 5, Strikers manages to blend its action-based gameplay perfectly into the world of the Phantom Thieves, and unlike other Warriors games does not at all feel forced, repetitive, or unnecessarily padded.

If you’re a die-hard Persona fan and love the series for its characters and story, then Strikers is a rewarding return to the world of the Phantom Thieves. You won’t be turned off by the combat either, as it manages to incorporate aspects of turn-based combat to create an almost hybrid style of battle. My only gripe is the lack of Social Links/Major Arcana, instead being replaced by a dumbed-down “bonds” system that does not feel anywhere near as engaging or rewarding.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker PS4 PS5 Nintendo Switch Ann

So why should you play it?

  • You crave more Persona goodness and enjoy the series.
  • Stylish anime visuals, combat and cutscenes appeal to you.
  • Turn-based combat tends to get a bit boring.
  • The satisfaction of destroying swarms of enemies and over-the-top attacks is unparalleled.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • As a JRPG fanatic you’d only ever play games with turn-based combat.
  • Social Links were the most enjoyable part of Persona for you.

Persona 5 Strikers is available on both Playstation 4, PC and Nintendo Switch. A review code (PS4) was provided for the purpose of this review, though the game was played on a Playstation 5 and performance may vary.

Natsuki Chronicles Review – PS4/PS5

The shoot ’em up is still alive and well and flying guns-blazing out of bullet hell.

It’s time to go back in time to an era where sweaty teenagers were jammed into dimly-lit arcades. To a simpler time of basic controls, where a joystick and a couple of buttons was really all you needed. When depleting credits either meant you scrounged for more coins, gave up, or faced the odds through an onslaught of bullets.

This was the age of the shoot ’em up (affectionally termed the shmup). A truly iconic genre and a classic staple of The Golden Age of Video Games. Games that feature the player facing off against waves of enemies, screens littered with bullets, an array of ship upgrades, weapon enhancements, and massive boss battles.

Shoot Em Up Gradius 1942 Ikaruga
Left to right: Gradius III, 1942, Ikaruga.

You’ll probably be familiar with games like the classic Gradius or 1942, or more recent titles like Geometry Wars and the critically-acclaimed Ikaruga. It’s a genre that spans decades, with the highly-influential Space Invaders being considered one of the earliest titles in the genre.

Though shmups aren’t quite as popular as they once were, there are still games that are keeping the genre alive, and today I’m writing about one that completely took me by surprise: Natsuki Chronicles. The developers, Qute Corporation (what a cute name), are quite experienced in creating games of this genre, and this game occurs in parallel to their previous title, Ginga Force.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight
Yep, you’re supposed to dodge those. Good luck!

PLOT

You play as budding pilot young Natsuki Sugiura aboard a ship by the name of Dominator and is a new member of the planet’s Rapid Defence Force (RDF). The game follows a story linked to its predecessor and is scattered with character dialogue and short cutscenes at the beginning of each mission. Although the story feels somewhat tacked on and certainly is one of the weaker parts of the game, that’s perfectly fine, because nobody plays a shmup for the story. It’s all about the gameplay. Thankfully this is where Natsuki Chronicles goes above and beyond.

GAMEPLAY

The game has two modes: story and arcade mode. Both take you through 10 main levels, each in a distinct environment with set patterns of enemies, plenty of hazards, and a challenging boss fight at the end. During the story mode you start each stage only being allowed to take 3 hits (which slowly recharge), but as you progress further through the stage this contributes towards stage XP, overall XP, and credit points which you can spend on weapons and upgrades.

With each failure your stage XP increases and unlocks additional shields to use during the level. Every additional shield will allow you to progress slightly further through the level until you reach the perfect point where you have just enough to take down the boss. Some bosses are brutal and will require a full set of shields, but never felt unfair or overly difficult. It’s a perfect way to adapt the difficulty based on the player’s proficiency.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight
You’re gonna need every shield you can get.

Over the course of the game you’ll begin to level up and unlock an array of armaments. You can choose to change your main weapon, sub weapon and special weapon with an almost limitless number of combinations. Whether you have a play-style that best suits a hard-hitting focused beam, bullets that spread out and cover the entire screen, or a homing attack so you can focus on dodging instead. There’s something for everyone! Certain weapons are also suited for particular stages: a level with lots of walls requires a weapon that can fire through them, or a level with lots of enemies approaching from behind requires weapons that can fire backwards.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Ship Customisation Equipment
The equipment screen, which allows you to change your weapons prior to the level.

VISUALS

Playing on PS5, the game runs at 4K and maintains a consistently smooth framerate, and as such is highly responsive and looks detailed and clean. Though the game is far from a visual marvel, the environments of each level are a pleasure to look at and the enemies have a distinct cartoonish appearance allowing them to stand against the background. The same goes for your ship: the Dominator; even when the screen is jam-packed with bullets you’ll rarely lose track of yourself. The game also aides you with warning lines to mark the trajectory of incoming bullets, which comes in handy during particularly difficult sections of the game.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight Visuals
At least this boss is an easy target!

EXTRAS

During the story mode there are also extra “training missions” and certain levels that allow you to pilot a much larger ship that launches a literal wall of bullets. Each level in the game can also be played on one of four difficulties; I played through the entire game on Normal and felt this was a reasonable challenge. If you’re a bullet hell maniac then by all means play on Hard and above, but I would not recommend this for the regular player.

Natsuki Chronicles PS4 PS5 Boss Fight Extras Arcade Mode
Try throwing dollar coins at the screen during arcade mode for an authentic experience.

Arcade mode also offers a more challenging version of the game, as you collect power-ups while progressing through each level. Getting hit forces you to lose a power-up instead of a shield, meaning that dodging bullets is even more important. Once you aim for the hi-score you’ll be able to upload it onto the global leaderboard in order to gloat to your friends. I got #100 globally after a few tries which was satisfying, so fans of arcade gameplay are likely to get decent replay value out of this mode.

The soundtrack by composer Yousuke Yasui is also one of the game’s best features. Its fast-paced beats, retro style and funky bass lines feel straight out of the ’80s and are incredibly fitting alongside the frantic gameplay. He’s no stranger to shmups, as the composer has created music for a massive list of games including the previous Qute games, multiple Touhou series games, Under Defeat HD, and outside of the genre even 3D Dot Game Heroes! It’s well worth a listen even after having finished the game.

CONCLUSION

Overall the campaign took about 8 hours to complete (with many deaths along the way), and during this I ended up unlocking a majority of the weapons and trophies along the way. It’s quite a lengthy campaign for a shmup game and felt like good value for the time that I committed. The vast options for weaponry along with a clever level-up system and adaptable difficulty make it one of the best modern shmups I’ve encountered. If you’re a fan of the genre you’d be a fool to go past Natsuki Chronicles.

So why should I play it?

  • You enjoy the shoot ’em up genre.
  • Lengthy games are too time-consuming – something quick and engaging is more suitable.
  • Space ships, guns and bullets (lots of them) are your thing.
  • Arcade gaming is a fond memory for you.

But why shouldn’t I play it?

  • You dislike repetition and would rather not play through the same levels repeatedly.
  • Hundreds of bullets on screen at once would give you a heart attack.

Thanks to Rising Star Games and Plan of Attack for providing a PS4 review code for the purpose of this review. The game was played on a PS5 console.

Diablo II Returns!

After months of speculation and rumours, Blizzard have finally officially announced the release of Diablo II: Resurrected for PC, PS4/PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Series S|X. The gameplay looks like it stays true to the original, while offering updated graphics and widescreen gameplay. It will have an RRP of $69.90 aud on launch, or $80 bundled with a copy of Diablo III.

Will you be playing through Diablo II again? It’s easily one of my favourite games of all-time, and I only just did another playthrough last year, but I’m still pretty keen to get my hands on this! Pre-registration is open now:
https://diablo2.blizzard.com/