This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

The highs

Samuel Roberts: Apocalypse Nowish

I'm really curious about the first-person Apocalypse Now game that went into crowdfunding this week (check out James's interview with the developers). While Conrad's Heart of Darkness has been inspired a game before in Spec Ops: The Line, Coppola's film's very specific colour palette and key moments are an interesting fit for an interactive story. Whether it'll hit the crowdfunding target or not is a mystery, though, and it doesn't help that Pillars II also launched this week on Fig. I assume a lot of people's crowdfunding money has gone there.

The idea of the game being a choice-based narrative is curious, though, and with Coppola's backing, they could certainly mimic the look of the film. Exactly how that final encounter with Kurtz will play out in first-person is a mystery—they say Kurtz could be a judge figure whose dialogue reflects your actions—but I've never encountered anything as oddly wild or unsettling as those final scenes in the movie. I hope they get a chance to make it. Even if it doesn't live up to the source material, to try would at least yield fascinating results. 

Tom Senior: Storytime

My body and soul are ready to receive a massive new RPG. I had an incredible time with The Witcher 3 last year, but was unable to face the prospect of another 100-hour epic for the rest of the year. My batteries are recharged, and suddenly I notice that there are some really promising roleplaying games arriving in the near future. Which should I choose?

Mass Effect Andromeda is the most obvious candidate. This week’s cinematic trailer showed some new crewmates and aliens. I’ll certainly play it, but it feels like a known entity compared to something like Torment: Tides of Numenera, currently available on Early Access. Numenera’s strange world and involved conversation system promises a deeper level of involvement than a shiny Bioware blockbuster, and that’s what I’m looking for. I want a deep, warm, nourishing lore-bath. I want to pore over journals and gradually unpick a new world. 

I’m encouraged by how weird the Numenera setting is too, though I’m not going to devote a huge chunk of time to a full playthrough until the kinks have been corrected and the game is out properly. Perhaps I’ll reach back into 2016 and play Tyranny instead. Or The Banner Saga 2. There is so much choice. It’s a good problem to have.

James Davenport: Ni No Woooo!-ni

Ni No Kuni 2 is coming to the PC. Holy shit. That’s a big fish for JRPG players on the PC. I probably don’t have to remind you, but former Studio Ghibli talent is back on board with the sequel, spitting out lovely animation, characters, and art like it’s no big deal. Phew. I’m overwhelmed just looking at the screenshots, and really excited to get a chance to play a JRPG as whimsical and pretty as this one. 

Ni No Kuni 2 also seems pretty self-aware, sticking to a classic overworld-dungeon formula that I don’t mind rolling with so long as it doesn’t get bogged down with unnecessary grind-padding. Even if it does, the battle system looks more streamlined, utilizing tiny Pikmin-like creatures called Higgledies that only those ‘pure of heart’ can see. They pull off rad spells and attack enemies in droves and most importantly, they’re really damn cute. Consider me charmed.  

Wes Fenlon: Windows Game Mode looks promising

Just to echo James a bit: I keep remembering Ni No Kuni 2 is coming to PC a couple times a day and feel a little spring of excitement and bewilderment. It feels like we're on the cusp of Japanese games getting a Steam release being the default, rather than the (increasingly common) exception. That's rad. Also rad: from speaking with Microsoft, Windows Game Mode sounds like it could be a great new feature. With Game Mode, Microsoft plans to optimize how Windows is using your CPU and GPU, making sure the game gets the priority it needs to maintain a consistent framerate. I'm mostly happy that this feature won't be exclusive to UWP games, but will work with Win32 games too, aka your Steam library. We have no idea how substantial the performance improvements will be, just yet, but everything sounds good so far. We'll be testing it soon.

Andy Kelly: Cops and robbers

Irrational’s police-'em-up SWAT 4 has been difficult to find (legally) in digital form for a while. But now the game is on GOG, inspiring me to give it a shot. But unlike many of you, I have no history with the game. My PC couldn't run it back in 2005, so it slipped me by. As a result, I went into it with some trepidation. Often when playing revered games, the reality pales in comparison to the nostalgia. "Is SWAT 4 really that good?" I might have wondered out loud if I was in a film, instead of just quietly thinking it. And I'm glad to report that, yes, it really is that good. In fact, it's my game of the year so far, despite being 12 years old, which I know makes no sense. It's all I'm playing, and I've been hearing policemen shouting in my sleep.

If you don't know what SWAT 4 even is, it's a tactical FPS developed by Irrational Games, of BioShock fame. It sees you and four fellow SWAT officers storming various buildings and dealing with the hostages/suspects inside as efficiently, safely, and by-the-book as possible. Levels include a diamond company in the process of being robbed, a creepy serial killer's house, and loads more brilliantly realised settings. Irrational made BioShock just a few years later, and the origins of Rapture are everywhere in SWAT 4—particularly the level with a tenement full of cultists. You're a cop, so you can't just madly shoot everyone. You can only fire on a suspect if they resist arrest or ignore your orders to drop their weapon. You have to dutifully handcuff everyone, even hostages. And you'll fail the mission if you're too trigger-happy.

And man, what a fun game. It's one of the best systems-driven shooters on PC, and brutally punishing if you don't play it cleverly. Using the squad interface to give commands to your team is critical, as is making use of gadgets like the thing that lets you peek under doors to see who's waiting on the other side. There are no mid-level saves, so it's incredibly tense. And every time you restart the level the enemy placement changes, adding to the feeling of danger and unpredictability. I'm currently writing a Reinstall that'll explain why I love the game in much more, less rambling detail, but consider this a recommendation—even if you don't have any nostalgia for it or the series. They could transplant these systems as is into a modern engine and it would still be great. It’s about time someone brought SWAT back to PC. 

Tim Clark: I love my dead space dad, and other things

Most weeks one of us will use some logical contortion to turn their low into a secondary high, in order to fit in all the good stuff that’s been happening. Games are fun I guess! So rather than do that, because it’s probably annoying, instead here’s a list of all the things I’ve liked week:

  • Relief that Resident Evil 7 is really good. I’ve played just about every Resi to completion—we ranked the games here—so the sorry state that 6 was in made me fear for the series’ future. But as Andy Kelly’s review lays out, 7 is a stern return to form that makes the decision to switch to the first-person perspective seem obvious. Plus it’s really nasty, more of which in my low.
  • The Hearthstone meta is a shitshow, but that’s okay. If you want to play ladder competitively, it’s basically some flavour of Pirates, Reno, or bust. Nonetheless, I’ve been grinding out daily quests using whatever deck fitted, and have cruised up to rank 5. I think there’s a strong case for saying Team 5 needs to react more quickly to imbalance—this is the third expansion in which Shaman has been oppressive—and yet I still find myself looking forward to the new quest popping up every day. Stockholm Syndrome, maybe.
  • Stupid sexy outer space. If I were to make a logical contortion, it would be that my low this week is that I was not the one to coin the phrase “Mass Effect: Bangdromeda” on Reddit, in response to the game’s crew reveal trailer. Instead, I shall take some solace in Tyler Wilde’s excellent conspiracy theory piece about how Bioware is almost certainly going to kill our dad.