There's a blithe naivety to the way that life is presented in The Sims that is either comforting or a little disturbing depending on your mood. The series is softly apolitical in the way that a Barbie house is apolitical, and by that I mean that it isn't apolitical at all. The Sims is loaded with assumptions about the way that people function and about the way that success in life is gauged, but it feels churlish to point them out because it's all just a bit of fun, isn't it. The Sims is set in a world where buying things is always awesome and everybody is twenty-five until they're sixty. Regardless of environmental aesthetic, the series has always been functionally and fundamentally Californian.
The city of Los Perdidos, a fictional riff on Los Angeles, has a serious zombie problem. Everywhere you look they’re there, shuffling, shambling, and groaning. So it’s a good thing you have over 300 objects to hit them with. Dead Rising’s thing has always been its vast array of deadly, and silly, weapons, and the third game has taken this idea to new extremes.
For years Metro 2033 was used as a benchmark test for the latest graphics cards, so it feels strange to already be seeing a remastered version hit the digital shelves. It’s easy to be cynical and assume that Metro 2033 Redux is aimed squarely at the console market, whose under-TV boxes have only just caught up with Metro 2033’s full majesty. It’s finally a way for living-room dwellers to see what the game is like with all its video options switched on. But what’s the value for PC players?
Blood conducts electricity. Of course it does. My supposedly single-target lightning spell arcs from mage to skeleton and on to the ground, where it touches the splattered byproduct of the ongoing melee. From there it reaches my rogue, my warrior, my archer. My entire party is electrocuted in a single moment's miscalculation, and I learn another hard lesson about Divinity: Original Sin's commitment to its own brand of realism.
Xenonauts began life as a reimagining of the classic turn-based strategy game X-COM: UFO Defense. But where 2012’s excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown modernized the setting and recreated the franchise’s systems in broad, easy-to-read strokes, Xenonauts threw itself headlong into the details. From individual, grid-based inventories to a line-of-sight cover system and destructible environments, every mechanic from the classic has been reimagined, rebuilt, and given an extra layer. The result is a deeply engaging, indie version of an alien invasion that stands toe-to-toe with X-COM—the classic and the reboots.
In the nine years since World of Warcraft's release, plenty of other MMORPGs have tried to capture Blizzard's magic. The problem, for many, was a fundamental misunderstanding of what that magic was. Rather than start with an earnest wish to give people expansive, varied worlds, deep systems and engaging lore, they were instead conceived with the realisation that having millions of regular subscribers would look good on an annual earnings report.
I don't know the circumstances that led to Wildstar's creation, but, having played it for more than 50 hours, what impresses me is that it feels less cynical in its approach and less insecure about its inspirations. The World of Warcraft DNA is unmistakably present—you can see it in the questing, the structure, and, more than anything, the chunky, expressive cartoon style. But from that, Carbine have built, tweaked and created something distinct. Wildstar's biggest lesson is that you don't have to fundamentally revolutionise the genre to make a great MMO. You can instead use what's come before and, through a systematic and rigorous examination of every system, make it better.
I'm racing a stolen motorcycle through a sprawling cityscape, cops wailing behind me in pursuit, when I suddenly smash into a car, shoot through the air like a missile, and slam face-first into a wall. Nothing new—I've done this many times, in many games. While I'm sailing through the air, however, my smartphone informs me the driver of the car I've struck is Martin Huntley, age 39, who works as a telemarketer, makes $24,000 a year, and is into autoerotic asphyxiation. OK. That part's new.
Wolfenstein: The New Order has been made with love. This might not be obvious to you when you are giving a Nazi both barrels as the world around you collapses in a shower of bone and blood and concrete. It might not seem like the most pertinent observation to make as you hammer the middle mouse button to stab a cyberdog to death. I would forgive you for missing all this evident care and attention to detail when you wrench your first Nazi lasergun from its fixed emplacement and use it to mulch a charging column of Third Reich roboguys.
But it is there if you go looking for it. This alt-history vision of Nazi-dominated 1960s Europe has been constructed with extraordinary style. Every environment expresses a distinct identity through its colour pallette, architecture, and use of light. The interfaces, technology, even the typography of this speculative other-Earth feel correct and cohesive. The New Order is Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds by way of Moonbase Alpha—an x-rated episode of Captain Scarlet starring the world's most heavily militarised jacket potato.
Transistor begins with a woman, a dead body, a talking sword, and a dying city. Red is a singer with no voice, trapped in a sprawling digital metropolis being erased by white robot programs called the Process. Byte by byte, block by block, Cloudbank is becoming nothingness in the shape of a city. But Red has the Transistor, the mysterious sword she pulled out of the dead body at her feet. Red is the hero, but the Transistor plays both narrator and star. Eight hours after grasping that sword, I reached the end of Red's journey in love with the Transistor's deeply nuanced combat abilities—and disappointed that the world around her felt so shallow by comparison.
Like Bastion, Supergiant's first game, Transistor is an action RPG set in a dying world, with a narrator keeping you company as you play. The narration works just as well as it did in Bastion (and comes from the same voice actor), lending emotion to a stoic silent protagonist and offering insight and context about the world. The narrator also does most of the expository heavy lifting, musing about the Camerata, the shadowy organization behind the destructive Process. As he talks, Red walks through linear environments, stopping every couple minutes for a battle that will be over in two or three minutes.
I am not going to die before I get my corpse. I can make it, despite the hordes of hollows lying in the shadows, just waiting to hoist themselves up to my eye level to snack on my face. I used my last estus flask after a fleshy dog-thing lunged at me from the shadows, mistaking my bone staff for its chew toy. But that’s okay: I can still get to the edge where I fell, while trying to cross a chasm by leaping through the air. I missed.
Battlefield 4 wants you to break it. Demolition has been, to varying degrees, its distinguishing feature since DICE made Battlefield: Bad Company 2 destructible. In BF4 it takes the form of massive, shatterable centerpieces in each multiplayer map. A concrete dam you can ruin. A dentable radar telescope. A crippled Navy destroyer that, with an encouraging explosive push, can be run aground in Paracel Storm. On Siege of Shanghai, which you may have played during the beta, it’s a glass skyscraper that’s centered on control point C. Throw enough C4, RPGs, or tank rounds at its four exterior support columns, and the tower will jenga to the ground, leaving a grave of split concrete behind.
Of the half-dozen people I started learning Dota 2 with, three still play regularly. Though there are hundreds of thousands of players of our approximate skill level populating the matchmaking queues, the four of us are more like each other than we are like anyone else playing Valve’s isometric wizard-’em-up.
Spending a year learning to shuffle a gaggle of fantasy heroes up Dota’s teetering stack of rules and game mechanics will do that to you: we’ve developed a secret language of our own, one that runs parallel to the talk of creeps and lanes and farm and rax common to everyone who plays the game. “Whack a ward on the donkletron I’m going to stick one up their jungle” is a sentence I can say out loud and be completely understood by at least those three people. For some reason, there’s also a lot of singing involved. It’s a lot like being a sailor.
When I finished BioShock Infinite – don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything – I was dumbfounded. I wanted to tell someone what I thought, but for a moment I had absolutely no idea. I’d experienced a kind of excited panic, then total delight, then momentary confusion, and then a rush of extraordinary sights, powerful scenes and sudden twists that left me struggling to keep up.
It’s a spectacular ending. It’s just a shame it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
I can see the benefits to having an identical twin. I mean, being followed around by someone that shares all your genetic traits must be like having a constant, you-shaped reminder to distinguish yourself. It’d probably make you a better person.
When The War Z revealed itself last July, jumping into DayZ’s still-fresh footsteps, the hope—mine, at least—was that the games’ doppelgangering designs would drive a mutual ambition between them. One that gamers would benefit from. Both Z’s throw you into a vast, brutal sandbox filled with players and zombies. Both scatter a mix of boring and military items within their worlds, and make food scavenging as necessary as bullets.
I don’t know what an Undying Bear is exactly, but I’ve vowed to kill it. I hope it’s just a name. This is a mission for the island’s Rakyat tribe, and Rakyat tradition dictates that I must defeat the creature with the infinite-ammo pump-action shotgun they’ve given me. A recent tradition, I would guess, but one I’m happy to honour. The truth is, I have an ulterior motive for finding and killing the legend: I’d really like a new rucksack.
A lot of what you do in Far Cry 3 raises perplexing questions: why would a rucksack made from the skin of the Undying Bear hold more than the one I made from four dead dingoes earlier? Can’t I just make one out of six dead dingoes? What is it about Undying Bear skin that facilitates a particularly capacious rucksack design? And more to the point: if it’s never died, how would anyone know?
But as I scramble away from it, panic-firing my traditional tribal pump action, what I’m actually wondering is this: when did Far Cry 3 become so good?
I think I can jump onto another light fitting from here. I’m wrong. I slip, fall, and land inches behind a gold-masked Overseer looking out of the fifth-story window. I only have a split second headstart in getting over our mutual surprise at the situation, and I use it to stab him in the neck.
A second after his body hits the ground, I hear carpet-softened footsteps coming down the hall. Panic. After mentally rejecting three even crazier ideas, I hoist the Overseer’s body over my shoulder and jump out of the window.
Dishonored is mostly a stealth game, where you play a kind of assassin, in a somewhat steampunk city. Those floundering qualifiers are part of the fun: you don’t have to hide, you don’t have to kill anyone, and while the city of Dunwall mixes matchlock pistols with crackling Tesla tech, it’s a rusty, crumbling place that feels unique.
Borderlands 2 is a first-person shooter that randomly generates the guns you find, varying damage values, clip sizes, accuracy, and even how many bullets they fire at once. It’s built like an RPG: you level up by killing things, improve your character’s abilities, and find higher-level guns to kill higher-level beasts and bandits on a rocky, backwater planet.
That was already compulsive in Borderlands 1, but here the formula’s been tweaked to ridiculously addictive effect. I think I had one or two guns I really liked in Borderlands, and the rest were necessary but uninspiring situational alternatives. In 2, I have a full loadout of weird, powerful and satisfying weapons I love, and an entire ‘alternate’ set in my backpack that I switch in and out to compare potency.
I have to start this with a warning, then a little tantrum, a few insults and a dash of paranoia. Apologies to those of you who already know what I'm going to say and are either fine with it or all raged out - you guys can skip this section.
Diablo 3 can only be played online. You can play it on your own or co-operatively, but neither mode works when Blizzard's servers are down, and neither mode is fun when Blizzard's servers are slow. In my six days of playing it, I got disconnected twice and experienced unplayable lag five times, each time when my own internet connection was working fine. At times, the servers were down for hours.
That's pathetic. There are valid reasons for forcing multiplayer characters to play online, but none for excluding an entirely offline single player mode. If you don't have a connection you can reliably play multiplayer games on, don't buy Diablo 3. Skip the rest of this review. Blizzard have chosen to exclude you completely, and I'm genuinely pissed off by the hostility and callousness of that decision.
For the rest of us, it's worth knowing that the $60/£45 price for Diablo 3 doesn't mean you'll always be able to play it. The game itself would have to be phenomenally good for all this to be worth putting up with.
Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil anything here - I'll steer clear of anything story-related beyond the premise. With another game, that would be tricky. With Skyrim, the stories that come from how the game works are often the best ones.
It's a frozen nation, just to the north of where the previous game, Oblivion, took place. A pleasantly brief introduction sets up the plot: Skyrim is in the middle of a revolt, you've been sentenced to death, and dragons have just shown up. Good luck!
At that point, you emerge from a cave into 40 square kilometres of cold and mountainous country, and that's it. Everything else is up to you.
Even after spending hundreds of hours in Morrowind and Oblivion, the sense of freedom in Skyrim is dizzying. The vast mountains in every direction make the landscape seem limitless, and even after exploring it for 55 hours, this world feels huge and unknown on a scale neither of the previous two games did.