The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

The Highs

Phil Savage: Highs of the Tomb Raider
In a week when my brain's been working overtime to solve the many arty mazes of The Witness, it's been good to have Rise of the Tomb Raider to fall back on. The important thing: it's good, and its PC port is robust and fully featured. But while I'm a little disappointed that Crystal Dynamics has stuck so rigidly to the formula set by 2013's Tomb Raider reboot, I'm more than happy with its role as a satisfying action romp.

The on-the-fly crafting system is particularly good. It fleshes out the number of options available when you encounter a group of enemies. Methodically stalk through the camp, taking them out through stealth? Break out the shotgun, and use it on their faces? Craftily construct an IED, and take out the entire pack? All options are viable, and equally gratifying. It still feels strange to be praising a Tomb Raider game for its combat, but—and this is my guilty secret—I'll take a punchy, shotgun violence over philosophical puzzle solving any day of the week.

James Davenport: Her Story 2 is a thing
Sam Barlow, developer of the surprise hit FMV mystery game, Her Story, sent out this tweet earlier this week. It’s more than an implication he’s tackling the database, clip-searching format again. Hell yeah.

I doubt it’ll have the same impact as the first game, but I’m all for episodic, not necessarily related, games that follow a similar nonlinear format. Most of my favorite games are subtle in their storytelling (Dark Souls, Half-Life 2, Metroid Prime) and rely on the player’s attention to fill in the blanks. It’s the empty space that makes these games feel so much bigger than they are and the unresolved potential that keep me up at night doling out whodunnit theories to my pillow.


Chris Livingston: Credible Witness
The Witness is both my high and low today, in either case for reasons that have much more to do with me than the game itself, really. As PC Gamer's resident grouchy old VR skeptic, I don't quite share my colleague's' enthusiasm for all the headsets that will be arriving soon. I'm not skeptical of the tech itself—it sounds really neat. I just don't typically find myself playing games and feeling like the experience would be a lot better if I had a couple pounds of hardware strapped to my face (and my back), and the idea of waving my arms around instead of resting them on a keyboard and mouse sounds more annoying than innovative.

While playing The Witness this week, however, I'm finding myself thinking that walking around it in VR would actually be perfect. It's got lovely visuals, and while I wouldn't really describe it as atmospheric it's definitely an environment I would enjoy being fully submersed in. Plus, the controls are so simple: you basically just walk, look, and point. I could definitely imagine extending a virtual index finger onto the puzzle panels and tracing the solutions. It would actually be an improvement over using the mouse, I think. So, maybe this old crank's heart is finally growing a size or two bigger when it comes to VR.

Tim Clark: The couple which starves together...
My recent foray into Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked has kind of fizzled out. After another week’s play, the poisoning mechanic which I initially didn’t have too much issue with became, well, about much fun as actually being poisoned. But Shipwrecked rekindled my overall love for the series, so I spent a couple of days mucking about with Reign of Giants, the DLC I’d glossed over when it first came out. That then became a stepping stone to Don’t Starve: Together, which I’ve been playing in Endless mode with my other half. And honestly, it’s as much fun as I’ve enjoyed any game so far this year.

I can’t believe I didn’t bother with it before. Being able to share not just resource gathering, but those mess-the-bed moments when a Deerclops comes stomping through your camp are so much more fun when played with a friend. I’m more convinced than ever that shared world co-op is the future. The only downer is that I’ve had to try to curtail my natural instinct to bark out orders... and failed. RIP relationship?


Andy Kelly: Cockney rebel
I’m so late to the party here that all the dip’s gone and everyone’s gone home, but I’ve just started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and I really like it. I know! I’ve had a difficult relationship with the series. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. I’m an occasional fan. And after Unity, which I didn’t like at all, I wasn’t expecting much from this. It looked very similar in all the screenshots and footage I saw. But I’m glad I gave it a chance, ‘cause I reckon it’s one of the best games in the series. It has a sense of fun that reminds me of the amazing Christmas I spent playing Assassin’s Creed II back in 2009, and it has an energy and soul that Unity sorely lacked.

And, man, London looks bloody amazing. The engine is a bit creaky, with some distracting pop-in and a loss of detail in the distance, but the atmosphere, lighting, and world-building are sensational. From the ornate architecture of Westminster to the way the Thames is teeming with boats, it’s a remarkable feat of virtual city-building. I mean, look at it. I’ve played it for about 10 hours, and I bet at least 30% of that time was spent just running around and exploring. And the best thing? No bloody guards patrolling the rooftops and yelling at you to “Get down!”

Samuel Roberts: Saints Row 1.5
I remember owning a PSP and thinking it was two good analogue sticks and a tiny bit more processing power away from being a great handheld (hence the PS Vita, which is that, but due to the rise of mostly rubbish mobile gaming, no-one owns one except for the people I work with). This week Volition lifted the lid on a Saints Row PSP spin-off they were making years ago, that it canned for not quite reaching the standards of the series. Everything I remember about PSP games looks like it’s here: the bland textures, jagged edges, the slightly blurry quality.

Better yet, they released it for free straight after. I like half-finished games seeing the light of day, no matter their condition—they’re a fascinating look at what could’ve been. Now, if someone has a build of the abandoned Fallout 3 by Black Isle, Van Buren, maybe they’d like to put it out there somewhere? Or Dinosaur Planet on N64.

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