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This week's highs and lows in PC gaming

THE HIGHS

Tom Senior: 20-fighteen

I love a good beat-’em-up and I’ve started 2019 with a couple already. Tekken 7 is a known quantity with an over-egged story mode. The egg in question is the furious head of the Mishima Zaibatsu Heihachi, a man who likes to electrify his dome to better headbut his enemies. The story mode skips lightly between characters, but insists on putting me back in control of Heihachi at various stages during his long headbutting career. There’s a recurring stage where you just headbut dozens of robots called Jack until they pile up around Heihachi’s feet, then you can do an electric stamp and watch the bodies jiggle awkwardly like brawny jelly. I give it 7/10.

Dragon Ball FighterZ is better. It does a remarkable job of capturing the look and feel of a Dragon Ball fight, and the singleplayer campaign has you travelling around little maps collecting friends. You arrange them into teams of three and try to sync up their super attacks to cover the screen in explosions. The team setup means you don’t have to play with one character repeatedly, and it’s fun to give underdogs like Gohan and Krillin a shot at Goku’s toughest foes.

DBFZ is also extremely aggressive. I seem to spend a lot of time in Tekken literally kicking people while they’re down to try and poke off a few more points of damage. In Dragon Ball FighterZ you rocket after your opponents, often in mid-air, to batter them with a quick combo and finish them off with a huge laser beam. Also after playing a lot of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 over Christmas I get unnerved when characters aren’t screaming out their attacks as they perform them. If someone is willing to insert VO for Heihachi shouting ‘ELECTRIC HEADBUT’ during fights then I will consider raising Tekken up to a score of 7.5.

Tyler Wilde: Aw, Ratz

Earlier this week I whined that it was hard to find a Ratz Instagib match these days, and I don't think it had much of an effect. But even so, and maybe it's just the season, I have been able to find nearly-full matches over the past couple days, which has been lovely. Play Ratz!

Wes Fenlon: Ash Souls

I don't need to play Dark Souls again, but damn, is the idea of a comprehensive mod for that game appealing. It's obviously had plenty of mods before, many funny (Thanks Obama) and many aimed at making a hard game even harder. But Daughters of Ash sounds terrific, designed to be a more natural extension of what's already in Dark Souls. New bosses use the assets of cut content, enemies reworked to change how areas feel, and complexity added to how you progress through the NPC characters' storylines. While the mod is currently only compatible with Prepare to Die edition, it should work with Remastered later this year. Thanks to the latter's easier online play, I may wait for that before giving it a try. But I'm already excited.

Fraser Brown: Auld Lang Sith

The plan was to go out and kill any memory I still had of 2018 with as much lovely, boozy poison as my shambles of a body could handle, but then I remembered I was 33 and pretty tired, so I just played board games instead. We started Star Wars: Rebellion in the last evening of 2018 and ended just before 2019’s first dawn. Part of the original plan, I confess, remained, and it takes a long time to find the Rebel base when you’ve overindulged. Board games were the right choice, however, and I’m more convinced than ever that I need to fill most of my spare time with them in 2019.

Over the last couple of years I’ve really dived back into tabletop gaming, even selling my soul to Games Workshop. Often, they’re the same kinds of games I love on PC, usually massive strategy romps, but with an opponent right across the table and armies I can sweep away with my hand—yeah, I’m a bad winner. When I don’t fancy playing alone, there’s nothing better. 

I often find myself spending a lot of my spare time playing PC games just to keep up to speed on what’s new, turning even the times when gaming is meant to be a hobby into work, so I’d really like to cut back a bit on that and fill it was games I actually want to play, particularly with friends. Kicking off the new year by destroying the Rebel Alliance probably hasn’t done much for my karma, but it was a good start to my year of tabletop gaming. 

Chris Livingston: Batter up

Well, it's January, which means it's almost February, which means it's nearly practically roughly time for the baseball pre-season, almost-ish. Which means I'll be playing Super Mega Baseball 2 again soon. Is there anything stopping me from playing Super Mega Baseball 2 now? Nope, not a thing, other than it feels weird somehow to play a baseball game in winter. Silly, I know, but some things are ingrained in us and simply cannot be altered. I can't play a baseball video game until spring. That's just how it is.

Last year I played a 54-game season with my custom team, The Computers, with players based (vaguely) on the PC Gamer staff and our freelance writers. (I also made teams based on video game heroes and villains, which was fun.) The Computers went 32-22 in the regular season, made it through the first round of post-season play, then got knocked out of the semi-finals after my star pitcher (Tyler) got injured by a line drive to the ribs. It threw off my entire pitching rotation, who were already exhausted, and we folded in three straight games. This year, The Computers are going to take the trophy. If not, I'm firing everyone.

Andy Kelly: Happy new fear

It's the first week of the new year and absolutely nothing of note has happened. So I decided to replay a game from 2015: Frictional's brilliant, criminally overlooked SOMA, a psychological horror game set in a seriously broken science facility located deep in the Atlantic Ocean. But this time I wanted to play in Safe Mode, which removes the threat of death from the game. As much as I love SOMA—and I count it among my all-time favourite games—the hide-and-seek stuff can be quite tedious, and often gets in the way of that magnificent story.

If you want to know more about Safe Mode, I interviewed Frictional co-founder and SOMA director Thomas Grip about it in 2017. But it basically means that you can play the game without having to sneak around and hide from monsters all the time. And, honestly, I prefer it to the original experience. The story in SOMA is, for my money, one of the best a videogame has ever told. And you can fully immerse yourself in its dark sci-fi world when you're free to explore without being devoured by one of those twisted biomechanical creatures.

Even though nothing could harm me, the oppressive atmosphere, sinister lighting, and remarkable ambient sound design still made me feel surprisingly on edge. It's a game that creeps under your skin, and a perfect way to while away a couple of gloomy winter evenings. So yeah, play SOMA. You can get it for about $25 on GOG and Steam. It's a masterclass in understated world-building and that ending will stick with you for weeks. Is there a better way to start a new year than with some harrowing, existential horror? I don’t think so.