The next couple of weeks are going to be hectic as fuck – the house is almost completed and we’ll be moving within the next fortnight – so I guess now’s as good a time as any to cover the missing bits. So let’s do this!
(I understand if you don’t want to, frankly.)
I’ll begin with the game I’ve most recently completed: Dying Light.
The game is pretty much a variation of the Dead Island theme. Zombies, caused by a plague outbreak, have overrun the country-not-specified city of Harran. As a Tough Dude meant to Carry Out Nefarious Shit In A Shadowy Manner, you’re dropped in after a quarantine zone has been established, only to discover that on the way down you’ve grown some morals and are quite interested in helping people, rather than a payday.
Gameplay-wise, it’s all Dead Island with two exceptions: there’s now a nighttime, and you’re a parkour champ.
(Well, not entirely. There’s skill trees you have to explore in order to be able to do a lot of the more spectacular stuff without cratering, but still.)
These changes mix up the Dead Island experience enough to make this game worth the investment. There’s a lot to be said for the ability to scramble on top of an ambulance to escape shambling horrors, and the ability to scale a bridge and look down on the howling beasts of the night – PM is when the real tough monsters come out – from safety. Otherwise, it’s more of the same: craft horrific implements of dismemberment, and start choppin’.
The story itself it a bit hokey, but it gripped me until the end: I felt the need to get through most of the optional missions, and the high points of the narrative are enough to get over difficulty unevenness or wonky platforming. When the mechanics work together – free-running across rooftops, drop-kicking the undead to their doom and making it to a destination without a scratch – it’s a delightful thing. And to be fair, I’m not averse to exploring a crafting engine that allows me to create a flaming axe from an old street sign.
It was really only natural that I’d play Dying Light: The Following next. As far as DLC goes, it was mightily impressive: an add-on that seemed to take as long to get through as the base game. The difference here was that where Dying Light was completely city-bound – you’re stuck in an urban environment, mostly – The Following takes place in a larger, often rural area. There’s enormous dams, broken bridges, and lots of farms.
Of course, with all this extra space, a way to get around is necessary. So the player’s given a buggy with which they can run over zombies. And let me tell you, you spend a lot of time doing that.
There’s a little more effort put into the story with this one, and you’ll find plenty in the way of secret societies, mystery cures and horrible mutation to keep you occupied. There’s more skill trees to conquer – driving, mainly, but there’s a fancy reputation system which offers an XP boon if you’re not too much of a dickhead to your fellow humans – and the narrative pushes to an either/or conclusion, which offers a bit more satisfaction (albeit with a lot more gloom) than the semi-open final act of the base game.
Was the game drawn-out a bit? Yeah, a little: there’s a certain amount of grinding to level up that means I spent a bunch of time running over hapless zombies to make the imaginary number counter reach another arbitrary goal. But I enjoyed it, and it certainly served as a pretty good stress reliever. It grew on me a lot more than I had expected it to, that’s certain.
(I hear there’s a sequel on its way: perhaps this’ll be a compelling reason to upgrade to a PS5? Ha, like I need a reason.)
Heading back a couple of months, I chunked through Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. You might remember that I was a big fan of the game’s Egyptian predecessor, and indeed of the series as a whole. So I was a bit suspicious – could this one possibly live up to the hype?
The answer, it turned out, was holy fuck yes. The proof? Oh, the 200+ hours I sunk into this and the two DLC add-ons. This is easily my favourite of the series, though I suspect some of that could be that I’m a bit of a classics/mythology enthusiast.
(To my enduring shame I don’t read Latin, and I’ve not read as widely as I would have liked, but the mythology and Greco-Roman history I’ve studied as part of my degree have stuck with me, so this game is like catnip.)
Anyway. Set a century before the events of Origins, the game casts you as a descendent of Leonidas of Sparta, an all-round take-no-shit guy who inspired a hero cult as a result of that whole Battle of Thermopylae thing. The modern story is tied into this: Layla Hassan discovers Leonidas’ spear, and from it is able to decode DNA/memories of two of the warrior’s children: Alexios and Kassandra. This choice, at the game’s beginning, determines who you spend the game as.
I chose to play Kassandra, a bad-arse misthios living of the island of Kefalonia until the Peloponnesian War kicks off. At that point, she’s drawn into a web of conspiracy and everyday mercenary life. The fearsome Cult of Kosmos has its tendrils across the Greek world, and it’s up to Kassandra to cut ’em off through a series of investigations and – naturally – unholy murder. Oh, and romancing! Plenty of romancing, of whatever orientation you’d like, because the game is key to allow you – for the most part – to bed pretty much whoever you like, should the opportunity arise.
The world of the game is enormous and beautiful, and populated by People From History That You Should Know. I mean, it’s not often you’d play a game where you’d hang out at parties with Sokrates, or where you’d listen to Herodotos bitch about being splashed with water, or be flirted with by randy rhetoricians, all in the shadow of perfect reconstructions of ancient monuments.
(Yes, the game does allow you to climb all over giant statue-dicks, too.)
This instalment leaned into the RPG aspects made more obvious in the previous game: unlockable abilities and skill trees feature strongly. It doesn’t cost much to reroll the upgrades you’ve unlocked, so experimentation of play style is very much encouraged, and certainly helped me get past a couple of roadblocks to progression. There’s also a reputation mechanic at play: if you kill people in the open, mercenaries will come after you – a horror when you’re underpowered, but a terrible fucking irritant when you’ve levelled up a bit. Still, it reinforces the stealth roots of the series, as in order to avoid such pestering, you’ve got to play it a bit cooler than you otherwise might.
Naval battles return in this instalment, too. There’s a lot of sailing required to unfog the game’s map, as an absolute load of Greek islands are included in the explorable area. Sure, you’ll have your arse handed to you plenty of times, but the feeling of joy when you board and subdue an enemy vessel is tremendous. The battling (and general sailing) is more polished than in previous iterations, though I was a little bummed that there were only a couple of sea shanties available.
(Extra points for being able to equip a ship full of tough women, though: hearing them sing instead of dudes was delightful.)
The story can seem secondary in a world that’s so big, which I suppose is a criticism few games have the luxury of having levelled at them. I don’t want to recount the tale here – it’s worth playing on your own – but I did find it to be worthwhile, and a lot more conclusive than other games in the series. While the Legacy of the First Blade DLC seemed a little short and perfunctory, the Fate of Atlantis DLC was gold pretty much all the way through, given that it’s almost exclusively mythology-focused, following Kassandra’s attempts to unlock the staff of Hermes Trismegistus. The best way of doing this? By visiting a whole bunch of the gods in the Fields of Elysium, the Underworld and Atlantis.
It’s as wild as you’d expect from something featuring a Hades that looks a bit like Conrad Veidt. It brings the whole epic – and at this length, yes, this is an epic – to a satisfying end, with a modern tale looped into the antiquity. Despite the hours spent tooling around ancient Greece, I was never bored with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: I really loved it.
As an aside, all the pictures in this part of the post have been taken from my game. Yeah, mine. Not dolled-up Ubisoft snaps made to make things look better than they are: these are all taken with the in-game camera. It’s ridiculous how good looking this game is, and you can see all of them here. It’s the first time I’ve used such a feature very much, and honestly, it’s good fun. It’s the sort of world you could easily become lost in, and I shudder to think how much of my playtime was just dicking around, trying to see what I could see.
Another feature I’ve not given much of a look is the mission editing aspect of the game. Using a tool in the game (or on Ubisoft’s website) players can construct missions for others – anyone, in fact – to play. It’s a pretty interesting idea, but by the time I reached the end of the whole saga, I felt like I needed a bit of a break before giving them a whirl.
(Ditto the New Game Plus mode, which lets you keep your progression but starts the story back at the beginning. Though I’ve got to admit, I’d be interested to see how the game plays, and whether the enemies scale if I started again as a Level 89 badarse.)
I’m uncertain where this series will go now. Odyssey threw everything at the player, and it will be particularly difficult to top. I’m keen to see if the team could do something meaningful with games set in Japan or India, but it seems a Nordic instalment might be next.
Traipsing through one open world obviously wasn’t enough for me, because I went straight on to Far Cry 5. I’d really enjoyed the Himalayan predecessor to this game, so I had some pretty big expectations, especially given that it was set in the US, under the gaze of a fundamentalist preacher.
The tenor of the game is a bit different than the others in the series, largely due to the setting, I think: it’s too close to home to be as stupidly outlandish. There’s still lots of stupid humour to be found throughout – howdy, Hurk! – but it’s a bit more sombre than usual. It also helps that you’re an unnamed law enforcement official: a newbie, but someone on the ostensible side of good. Your newness allows you to view the over-the-top reactions of more gung-ho lawmakers with the horror they deserve: shit goes bad extremely fast because of someone’s inability to read a room, which seems a completely familiar story in today’s environment.
The villain of the piece, a cult leader named Joseph Seed, is indeed a monster, but he’s generally portrayed as a character with whom you could probably sympathise. Or, at least, in a way which renders you as susceptible to the effects of charm and conviction as other converts. Sure, other members of his family – biological or otherwise – are completely fucking crazy, but he seems driven by an understandable logic. It’s kind of terrifying, and certainly plays into my interest in creep-ass cult leaders.
(I was surprised, though, at how much in-game fishing I managed. Shit’s cool.)
Naturally, your job is to liaise with those who would resist the religious conquerors of the region and fight back against the crimes being carried out in the name of prophecy. Let’s just say that a) that’ll be a big ask and b) it probably won’t go as well as you’d like.
One thing I appreciated about the presentation of the player character in this game was the fact that they were addressed in a way which meant it didn’t matter if you’d chosen a male- or female-presenting figure at the selection screen. It doesn’t take much – a little bit more thought in writing dialogue – to be a bit more inclusive, and if a game that’s as dicks-out-shoottastic as this one can make the effort, then there’s not much excuse for anyone else.
The core mechanics of the game – drive around, shoot things – remain relatively unchanged, though there is an added reliance on melee weapons rather than guns. I seemed to do a lot more sneaking around than I previously would’ve, too.
There’s changes to the way the game progresses. You’re unable unfog the map simply by climbing towers: you can only see more of the place by physically travelling there, and through the process of stronghold liberation. To reach the compound where Joseph resides, you’ll have to defeat his other siblings, each of whom provide unique difficulties to overcome. There’s a bigger sense of having to know where you are as opposed to just following an indicator on the screen. Certainly, I felt as if I knew more about the environment of this game than I do any other in the series, purely because I had to learn how to get around.
(Pro tip: get a helicopter.)
A great addition to the game is the ability to have someone fighting on your behalf, be they a crotchety sniper or an enormous bear named Hamburger. It’s a bit rough, sometimes, this AI co-op, but it is particularly welcome in the more difficult areas of the game, seeing that I despise actually having to play with real people online.
By the end of the story, the main characters have been to some dark places. There’s some Manchurian Candidate nods, a whole lot of Cold War paranoia, and a bunch of places where religion and gun-nuttery rub together in uncomfortable ways. I found myself questioning my actions more in this game than I had in previous Far Cry titles, so that’s a Good Thing, I guess. I don’t want to spoil the storyline, but it’s suitably apocalyptic, and engrossing enough that I’m likely to give this one another spin sooner or later.
I followed FC5 up with Far Cry New Dawn because despite its standalone-game appearance, it plays pretty much like DLC. It’s a continuation of the story of Hope County, with a bit of a gap in time.
I have to admit I was irritated with Ubisoft’s release strategy for New Dawn: it came out not long after the main game, and conveniently spoils the ending of that game. I knew – mostly – what would happen in FC5 because of the pre-release push around its dayglo sequel, which was a distinct bummer. Of course, were I to be someone who plays games immediately on release, I could’ve avoided this, but… nah, that’s not me.
That said, I don’t particularly want to discuss this one too much, as it’d give away too much of what goes on. And while the game feels like more of FC5 with a different paint scheme, I can see the logic in giving it its own release rather than making it an add-on: it’s fairly large, and does stand up on its own, though I doubt you’d make much sense of large chunks of the story if you hadn’t completed the preceding game first.
Mechanically, New Dawn is much the same as FC5. The setting is the same, mostly, though there’s a couple of different factions jockeying for power. It’s perfectly serviceable, and I liked it a lot more than this write-up would indicate: it’s just that it’s hard to dive too deeply into things without blabbing stuff that would act as a spoiler.
Certainly, though, I’d find it hard not to consider New Dawn in tandem with FC5, let alone play them separately. They’re two parts of the same story, and the conclusion brings a whole lot of stuff to a close. Is it messy and occasionally janky? Sure. But is the narrative ride worth it? You betcha.
I decided I wanted something a little different from the whole open-world thing after getting through those games, so for the third (or fourth?) time, I played Doom 3.
This time, it was in its most recent upscaled, gussied-up version, which means I must have bought these three games a couple of times now each, at least. But I’m not complaining: the game remains as excellent and frustrating as ever.
I never was a particularly good twitch shooter guy, but something about the solidity of Doom 3 remains deeply enjoyable through the revisitations, and it pushes me through the parts of the game that suffer from bad path indication or seemingly unfair design. Yes, bad guys still spawn just behind you and yes, the game is pretty much monsters-jump-out-of-cupboards-on-Mars but there’s something incredibly satisfying about shotgunning those fuckers.
I found I was much better at this than the last time I played – I didn’t get stuck very often – but I found I’d forgotten how delightful it can be to play a game where you’re very much funnelled the way the game wants you to go. It’s a nice change to be forced to do things a particular way, rather than be faced with an endless open world.
Mind you, when you’re trying to eliminate floating demon spheres, I guess choice limitation is a good thing.
I didn’t complete the DLC on this play-through: I hit a difficulty spike after completing the main game and didn’t really have the wherewithal to keep on keeping on, so I decided to give it a pass. I’ll get back to it one of these days: maybe after I get through the reboot version, or after Doom Eternal. But it was really nice to revisit this title after so long: to play something I could almost play blindfolded is reassuringly enjoyable.
(I wish they’d give Quake this kind of rerelease push, though.)
That’s about it, I guess. I’ve been dabbling in some other stuff, of course – Untitled Goose Game, a revisiting of Fahrenheit and a terribly addictive space-business simulator – but nothing else has really had a look in. Kind of unsurprising given the length of the games I’ve just covered. As ever, my to-play pile remains as enormous as ever, but I’m certainly glad to have spent time with the titles listed here.
More gaming stuff after I’ve, y’know, MOVED HOUSE.