Tag Archives: PC

Opinions on… Dirt Rally

It was after only five minutes of gameplay that I knew I should have heeded the warnings.

It was as I watched my car lying smoking at the bottom of a ravine that I realised the discussion surrounding Dirt Rally spoke the truth. Put bluntly; this game is hard. Almost ridiculously so. You’re not going to be casually flinging yourself around corners with the greatest of ease within your first hour, picking up one victory after another. You’re much more likely to underestimate what you are getting yourself into, as did I, only to see your hopes of easy glory be chewed up and spat right back out. This is serious business, and in response it’s going to take a serious effort to even hope to come out the other end unscathed.

In some ways, I can’t help but feel this is a downside to the game. At times it feels extremely vindictive; where a single mistake doesn’t just lose a few seconds, but holds the potential to cost you the whole tournament you’ve been desperately trying to win for the past few hours. It doesn’t matter how perfect you’ve been racing or how skilled you are – screw up for the briefest of moments, and only plentiful use of the restart button will save you from unrelenting despair. It’s a strange experience, and one that can at times both be incredibly disheartening and extremely frustrating.


Now don’t get me wrong – I get it. I know this is what Dirt Rally wants to be, and that there are no second chances in the real world of rallying. I therefore can’t begrudge it for what is clearly an active design choice. Yet it still remains something that I feel really has to play on your mind before deciding on your purchase. Put simply; if you’re not up for a great degree of brutality being flung your way, you seriously shouldn’t be here.

Yet such pain does not come without reward.  Because, slowly but surely, you learn what it takes to succeed. You discover how truly essential it is to pay attention to your co-drivers instructions. You come to understand that crests and dips in the road are as important as its twists and turns. You learn when to go aggressive, when to shy away from speed, and how to save yourself from near disaster. Put it all together and – Bam! – You’re suddenly thinking like a rally driver. You’re absorbed in the moment, doing everything by nigh-on instinct, and at moments it’s possible to forget you’re actually playing a game at all. As an attempt to capture the experience of being a rally driver goes, Dirt Rally can certainly be called a success.

With the sense of this experience, of course, come the feelings that go with it. There’s an actual sense of dread to situations where you plunge through deep forests or skitter on the edge of cliffs. Equally, there’s a real thrill to truly nailing a corner correctly, hitting its line perfectly and zooming away with a burst of speed. It’s the middle ground between the fear and the fury which I love, though – the knowledge that everything is within a moment of falling apart, yet you’re managing to maintain control by the very edge of your fingertips. If you manage to win an event (which is honestly no mean feat), the sense of pride that you’ll take in doing so is very real. It’s not a hollow, easy victory. It’s something you’re worked hard towards and achieved, and the fact the game can invoke so much happiness from such a thing is to be commended.


So before the menacing demeanour, there’s certainly some satisfying gameplay to be found. It’s therefore just a very nice bonus that such gameplay is also presented in an extremely good-looking way. At points things really do visually shine; dust clouds plume up behind you, and your car amasses dirt and grime as time rolls on, making you truly look well weathered. Crowds are people in general are disappointingly plain, true, but overall this is a pretty good looking game at times. The audio, if anything, is even better. Not only does every car’s engine road and growl roar in an incredibly pleasing manner, but there are loads of little touches to be heard as well. Bits of rock ping and rattle off your car, brakes squeal and squeak when put under pressure, and the roar of the crowd passes away in moments as you surge forward. It really adds to the overall immersion of the experience, in a way that a generic soundtrack blaring away every single race could never hope to do.

Overall, then, Dirt Rally may have a menacing appearance, but give it time and effort, and there’s something that really shines bright and true underneath. This certainly isn’t for everyone, and it pays to be acutely aware of that. But it equally doesn’t stop what’s there from being incredibly thrilling, mildly frightening, and just a whole heap of fun.


Opinions on… Dead Cells

With so many different titles on offer nowadays, it takes great effort for any single game to truly capture your imagination. There are plenty out there that provide their fair share of fun, but that’s the easy part. The difficult part is finding one that truly sticks in your mind – something that captures your thoughts long after you turn it off, and makes you crave for the time that you’ll be able to turn it back on again. Dead Cells, therefore, is a rare breed – a game that achieves not only that feeling, but does so with almost breathtaking ease.

To explain why, it’s first necessary to explain what Dead Cells actually is… Yet that’s actually a little bit difficult to do. It’s perhaps the developer’s own coined term of it being a “Roguevania” that best describes what’s going on here. Take the gameplay of Metroid and Castlevania, throw in the elements of a good Roguelite such as randomly generated levels and items, and then blend thoroughly. The result sees you exploring 2D dungeons filled with hordes of enemies to smash and bash your way through, all in your quest to find skill-improving scrolls and ever more powerful weapons as you desperately fight your way towards the end.

What that gameplay description really fails to capture, however, is how lightning fast, silky smooth and just damn satisfying this game is to play.  There’s a constant visceral pleasure in basic combat, such as rolling deftly past an enemy attack and them smashing them into a pile of giblets and gold. Combine this with the skills you can collect, though, and things get really interesting. How about using a magnet grenade to drag your foes into a set of spinning saw blades on the ground? Or using a bear trap to snare an enemy and then setting the whole floor on fire around them? Soon your first tepid steps towards each new enemy encounter fade away with time and practice, to be replaced with you slicing and dicing through the hordes like an absurdly terrifying ninja. That feeling of power and pure skill never gets old, and even when a single misstep has the potential to cruelly end your rampage, the desire to keep hold of that feeling makes it so you’ll be immediately eager to dust yourself off and try again.


What truly makes Dead Cells so compulsive and fun to play, however, comes in the shape of the very cells that grace the game’s name. In simple terms; cells drop from killed enemies. Pick them up, get to the end of the stage, and you can use them to unlock more weapons and abilities or – crucially – permanently strengthen your character in some way. This can include getting a health potion that carries extra doses, upgrading the equipment you start off each run with, and a whole bunch of other stuff besides that.

It’s a simple enough idea, but it’s an idea that completely changes how Dead Cells plays. To give an example, it encourages you to actually explore every level and get into as many fights as possible, because the more you do that, the more cells you obtain. Secondly, it makes every run feel like it has purpose, even the ones that are dramatically cut short or feel doomed from the start. You could limp to the end of the first stage and immediately die on the second, but the few calls you collected in the process means you still walk away with a sense of forward progress – no matter how small.

Think that’s all? Nope. Cells also provide a nice little bit of a risk/reward factor; get to certain doors in time or fight particularly powerful foes and you’ll be richly rewarded, but in turn greatly increase your risk of an untimely death. Keep hold of all the ones you collect without spending them, and you can also reach a point where the ability to permanently upgrade items is presented to you – a tantalising prospect, but a reward you’ll have to stay alive long enough to reach. It gives you something else to think about on top of everything else – play it safe, or risk it all? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this simple mechanic is what really fuels that pure “one more go” factor – there’s always new items to work towards, something fresh and exciting to splash your hard earned winnings on. Overall, it’s an excellent system, which adds so much depth and fun to what was already a highly enjoyable base experience.

Dead Cells isn’t without fault, however. If the game suffers a main issue right now, it’s in balance. There’s a fair few items and skills that just feel like they’re objectively better than what else is on offer. Perhaps the prime offender of this comes in the form of anything that carries the ice effect, allowing you to freeze your foes in place while also slowing them down once they thaw. This immediately removes most of the threat anything carries – it’s hard to be afraid of something that’s moving at a snail’s pace, after all. When you’re beating bosses with ease due to the fact they’re basically permanently stationary due to the sheer amount of ice skills you’re spamming at them, that’s when you truly start to get the sense that things are getting a little bit ridiculous.


Many other items also have the opposite problem of feeling that they have very little practical use. The whole subcategory of shields falls foul of this – even with the bonuses they confer, it’s vastly easier just to roll past attacks instead of trying to perfectly time your blocks to achieve said bonuses. Overall, the whole balance issue is not one that is game breaking, but it does stint the variety of your runs somewhat. You might start with good intentions and take a shield, but once things start going south you’ll likely fall back on your old crutches – and that’s a shame.

Honestly though, that’s my only real gripe with the game, and indeed the only thing that truly gives away the fact that it’s in early access. The only other problems I’ve ever encountered are a grand total of a single crash, and one run where the map generated in a way that made it impossible to progress. Both of these things shouldn’t happen, I don’t deny it – but compared to the woes and misery given to gamers via other early access titles, these faults feel like a very minimal dent to the overall experience. Overall, everything here just feels so polished and fun to play that even at this stage I’d have no issue with purchasing this as a fully fledged title. Put simply, don’t let the feeling you might be buying a half finished or broken product put you off Dead Cells, because the reality is that’s far from the case.

If you’re looking for one final argument as to whether you should buy this or not, put it this way – I bought this title in late December. In the brief time before 2017 ended, this title still had such an impact on me that I’d consider it one of the best games I played all year. It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s just downright fun – your purchase of Dead Cells should be a Dead Certainty.

Opinions on… Resident Evil 4

Hmm. This is a bit of a complicated one. It’s not a complication that stems from trying to explain what Resident Evil 4 is, because that’s fairly easy to do – it’s a survival horror and action hybrid, seeing you taking on hordes of violent villagers and sinister cultists in a mission to rescue the president’s daughter from a dark and terrible plot. Nor does the problem come from gauging the general public opinion surrounding it, which essentially sees it lauded as being absolutely brilliant and arguably one of the best games ever made. The fact of the matter is that the complication lies in the simple fact that despite this nigh-on critical acclaim, and against my best efforts, I… Uh… Don’t really like it very much.

It took me a little while to work out why. At first I thought it was the story; after all, the voice acting is laughably awful, and there are not so much plot holes here as much as there are plot ravines. Yet after the initial wave of cheesy lines were spoken in a manner that made me facepalm so hard my hand nearly came bursting out the back of my head, the sheer audaciousness of how bad the plot is becomes somewhat charming. This is a schlocky, over the top B-movie experience and the game knows it, with so many quotable lines being flung your way that any initial scepticism soon fades away into unbridled joy for the whole camp spectacle.  Nor was my problem the sound design, which is non-ironically excellent – with chanting, foreboding music and much more working together to create quite a menacing atmosphere throughout the whole journey.

My problem, it turns out to be, purely stems from the gameplay and level design choices that are on display here. There are just so many little issues and bugbears consistently appearing throughout, that they mar the core enjoyment that comes from merely shooting the bad guys in the face. To provide examples; some areas require you to stand and fight while others require you to flee, and often it takes far too long to differentiate between the two. In cases of fleeing, there’s no point even trying to put up any sort of combat effort, because enemies will just continue to infinitely spawn without warning. And, despite the escort sections being reasonably thought out, there were still too many moments which felt like I failed purely due to the AI behaviour being a little too unpredictable.


On the issue list grows, with even core concepts of the game floundering – I don’t mind the idea of not being able to move when firing, but the reality is it doesn’t actually translate into gameplay that’s particularly riveting. It’s more of a case of fire at the enemies, run away a bit when they get close, then repeat the cycle. This comes to a head with the boss fights, whereupon in most situations you can dodge these eldritch abominations and their devastating attacks by simply slowly jogging past them.

There’s also so many rooms and areas that feel as if they only exist to burn away your time in some fashion – most of the roadblocks to your journey simply require you to get the funny shaped key for the funny shaped door, and that never proves to be a simple point A to point B endeavour. At one point I even came across a hedge maze and was struck with an overwhelming desire to simply turn the game off, such was my certainty in knowing I’d have to wander around for far too long shooting enemies that were practically destined to appear.  Anyone familiar with this game should also know exactly what I mean when I say “water room”, and I’m not having you argue that as the pinnacle of excellent level design.

I’ll concur none of gameplay faults listed above are truly horrific, and perhaps some of you out there would even find them endearing – defining traits of the series as a whole. Yet to me they just lower Resident Evil 4 down to a level that for the most part I would describe as “distinctly average” – a far cry from the flawless masterpiece that I was perhaps expecting to encounter.


There’s a reason why I think this doesn’t feel like a stellar experience nowadays, however. Oddly enough, I think it stems from the fact that back at the time of its initial release, it was the definitive stellar experience. This was the game that invented the idea of the over-the-shoulder perspective in third person games. This was the game that also created the precision aiming system that went hand-in-hand with such a perspective. Heck, it could even be argued that it was this game which made quick time events into something that you can’t escape from in most action titles even to this day. If Resident Evil 4 didn’t exist, you most likely wouldn’t have titles such as Gears of War. Or Uncharted. You certainly wouldn’t have had a series such as Dead Space, and I could keep going with this list if you had several hours to spare.

Put simply, it was the title that set the benchmarks. Yet by doing so, it also devised the means by which it inadvertently shot itself in the foot. You see, so many games have since taken those benchmarks, and refined and honed them via a great deal of time and effort into something that approaches perfection. To therefore go from playing the polished titles of today to the system that’s in place here… Well, it can’t help but feel like a step backwards, a regression into something that can no longer hope to provide the same sense of satisfaction. In many ways, I feel like Resident Evil 4 should be considered a museum piece; something that should be respected, remembered, and admired. It’s just perhaps not something that should be taken out of its case all that often.

In summary, if you were to turn to me and ask me to recommend a good action title or survival horror, I’m not going to turn back round to you and say that you should be giving Resident Evil 4 a whirl. I simply ended up confused and frustrated too often for me to say I had fun with it, despite what it manages to do right. That, however, doesn’t mean I don’t respect the game for what it is and what it managed to do to the industry. If you’re looking for a piece of history or a trip down memory lane, you’ve come to the right place. Otherwise, I’d think twice before taking the plunge.

Opinions on Spec Ops: The Line

For all the games I’ve played throughout my lifetime, Spec Ops: The Line has to be up there when it comes to being one of the weirdest that I’ve encountered. I don’t mean that it’s weird in the traditional sense, either – what I mean is that’s there’s so much going on, and so much the game tries to achieve and stir within you, that it’s honestly hard to know where to start talking about it.

Since that’s the case, let’s start with the basics; the gameplay and graphics, actual solid and concrete features that are easily observable. Unfortunately, as becomes rapidly apparent as you start playing, these are features the game is deeply lacking an abundance of in the quality department. This is very much a generic cover based shooter that you’ve probably played a thousand times before, and it’s not even a good example of that genre. It doesn’t feel engaging or enjoyable to play, and in fact pretty lacks anything that make it special in any way. Indeed, the only lasting memory of the gameplay I have is how the fiddly controls (especially regarding cover) are what killed me more than anything else.


This is a problem that is then only exasperated more by the dismal visuals on display. While I accept this came out five years ago, the actual graphics are merely tolerable when compared to other titles from the same time period. I’m also aware that considering the game’s tone, the dull looking nature of every landscape you encounter is clearly a deliberate design choice. The real problem is just that everything’s so… Forgettable. You’ll pass through area after area completely passively, retaining no information as to what they may have ever looked like. There’s simply nothing engaging to grasp on to; no dramatic vistas or battlefields, and no compelling gameplay to try and counter this defect. It’s the purest definition of bland.

Yet – and here’s where things start getting weird – it’s clear Spec Ops: The Line never really cared for these matters in the first place. What it really wants to focus on, and the whole purpose for it existing in the first place, is how it’s a brutal deconstruction of the military shooter genre as a whole. This is a title that rips apart so many ideas and beliefs common to all the other similar titles around it that it’s honestly difficult to keep up. The idea that America is always there to save the day, the glorification of the army and war in general, even the idea that you could put violence into the form of a video game and call it entertainment… All these topics and more are picked up, scrutinised, and then torn to shreds.

It’s startling to see, and effective for the most part, but it’s not perfect. There’s a deep problem ingrained in the message that’s trying to be conveyed here, and to demonstrate this, you only have to take a look at the pivotal moment that occurs around the halfway point. Its dark, presented to you without compromise, and will make you feel incredibly miserable for a good while afterwards. It’s also the stepping stone by which the second half of the game really ramps the story and its moral message into high gear, with practically everything setting you down a emotionally dark path – loading screens and all.

The problem is this, however – you’re forced to do it. There’s no alternative way out, much as you might like to find one; the only way forward is to commit the atrocities set out in front of you. Yet since you’re so railroaded into doing this, the game telling you you’re an awful person afterwards feels a big hypocritical; you were never given a say in the matter, after all. To commit to a terrible analogy, it’s like me making you a delicious sandwich, placing it in front of you, and then criticising you when you actually decide to eat it – considering the way everything has been presented before the outcome, the outcome itself simply doesn’t make sense.


The developers have argued in interviews that there is another option to take; simply turn it off. Yet that feels completely at odds to the way every other video game in existence works –  you’ve paid money and invested your time into this product, so you’re naturally going to wish to proceed and not just give up halfway. Besides, if the developers are stating that the best course of action is to stop playing – why create anything after this point? Why develop it at all? The fact this experience takes the form of a video game is both its greatest asset and its greatest curse – it needs to force you to do things to proceed forwards, but by doing so it fundamentally weakens their impact.

There are other smaller moments throughout which provide some form of actual choice, and it’s actually these that fare a great deal better. One in particular saw an intense situation physically panic me, pushing me into making a terrible decision. It was only after the event that I realised there was a better solution I could have taken, the realisation of which made me feel terrible in a distinctly more organic way.  This isn’t really a critique of the other emotional moments the game places in front of you – far from it – it’s just a shame that these moments of true choice aren’t a little more prevalent.

Spec Ops: The Line, therefore, is a lot to take in. As a piece of entertainment, something to actually have fun with, it’s a complete and utter failure. Whether it’s actually a good game is hard to answer as well, because I’m not sure how you define “good” in the context of something that’s as dark as this.  As a think piece, however – something to look at, examine and discuss – it’s a sterling success. It’s made me question things long after I put the controller down, and you only have to glance at the internet to see how much discussion this has created. That’s why it’s so weird and so much in a class of its own – and something that is, despite its many faults, well worth your time.

Opinions on… Superhot

Time moves only when you move. It’s a simple idea, all things considered, but oddly enough its taken until the arrival of Superhot before it has truly come to see the light of day. The basic premise here couldn’t be simpler; use this power to the fullest, kill everything that is trying to kill you, and don’t die in the process. Sounds like a relatively easy affair, right?

Not quite. You see, it doesn’t take long with the game to realise that this isn’t an FPS in the traditional sense; one where you can immediately blast everything in sight without ever breaking a sweat. Instead, it takes on the shape or something closely resembling a puzzle… One that requires time and concentration, as well as dying a fair few times, before you can finally wrench victory from amidst the hail of bullets heading your direction. Yet this isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. There’s great satisfaction in slowly breaking down a level piece by piece, then finally succeeding in putting it all into action, that honestly makes you feel something that resembles being the ultimate architect of death.

Superhot knows its strength lies in this careful plotting and preparation, and in a sense its basic art style feels like a response to this. There are very few colours in play here, each serving their own purpose – black things are items you can use, red denotes enemies, and practically everything else is white or grey. With the rules clearly defined, it becomes a simple and pure battle of skill – you against the game, with nothing left to distract you or get in your way. When later levels see almost absurd amounts of enemies being thrown at you, it honestly feels like you’re fighting against the odds, with only your skills and time freezing abilities ever giving you a chance. Naturally, this makes succeeding in a situation where your back is against the wall all the sweeter – an actual accomplishment, instead of something you could have stormed through in under two minutes. It’s a good feeling.


It’s also a benefit in Superhot’s favour that everything that you’re getting up to just feels really damn cool. For example, some basic strategy here might see you toss your gun at an enemy, swipe the gun he drops as it flies through the air, and then spin around in an instant to slay the dude sneaking up behind you… And heck, I think it sounds cool when I write that, never mind when you actually do it. You that’s not the limit of what you can pull off here, and the more you play, the more daring you will become. In the end, it becomes a challenge of squeezing out the best from every passing second and tiny movement, just to try and achieve something that essentially adds up to a few extra cool points. As the icing on the cake, once a level is complete you also get to see your antics at a normal speed, and that just ends up making everything you did look even more impressive. Thank goodness there’s the ability to save clips and upload them for all to see here, because some of the things you’re destined to pull off will be stuff you’ll be desperate to show off to the world.

Completing the story also grants you additional endless and challenge modes, which not only adds a thoroughly healthy chunk of gameplay to a title that would otherwise end up feeling slightly too brief, but also cranks the craziness up to the next level. Endless mode in particular is a treat, with wave upon wave of bad dudes pushing your abilities to the limit, as you desperately look for any solution or escape route as your margin for error gets smaller and smaller. It’s exciting stuff.

Enjoy feeling like the king of cool while you can, though, because Superhot’s got another goal in mind for you; it wants to mess with your head. Big time.

This is something that the game makes readily apparent it wants to do to you from approximately five minutes after you’ve started the game. This is because as a player of taking the first steps into the world of Superhot, you play the role of someone… Taking their first steps into the world of Superhot. Yeah, wrap your head around that. It creates a situation where every twist and turn may technically be aimed at the character you control, but instead feels like it’s directly aimed at messing with you, and it does so perfectly.


There’s a lot going on that’s setting out to confuse and disorientate you, you see. Giant messages suddenly flicker and flash in front of your eyes (Photosensitive players beware, because this kind of started to give me a headache after a while), and the retro computer screens that form up the navigation and background to the game flicker and distort to ever greater extents as you descend further into madness. I won’t spoil anything in particular, but there’s a genius moment in particular where you’re compelled into doing something that you’d never expect, but becomes memorable simply because of the fact you weren’t expecting it. It’s clever stuff.

A special shout out also has to go out for the sound design. There’s literally no music in the game besides one track that only ever appears in the credits. Instead it’s down to a series of hums and beeps, constant buzzing static, and much more besides to create an incredible sense of unease. All things considered, I feel it honestly what’s on display here unsettled me more than any soundtrack sound ever have hoped to do. Heck, even the word “Superhot” gets in the action, getting repeated endlessly at the end of each level; it becomes almost a sort of madness mantra, one that I guarantee you is almost impossible to resist repeating yourself. It’s all so pleasingly disturbing.

Overall, then, I can find very little to actually fault with Superhot. There perhaps should be a little more to the story, all things considered, and especially considering the game’s relatively high price point. Additionally, there were perhaps a few scattered moments where the gameplay and difficulty slipped slightly too far into the infuriating category, but hey, maybe I’m just rubbish. In the end there’s nothing I can truly pick apart when it comes to what’s on offer here. When all is said and done… It’s the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years.

Opinions on… Abzu

Upon first impressions, everything about Abzu is curious. From its peculiar sounding name to the endless screenshots and videos showing vast ocean vistas and teeming hordes of marine wildlife,there’s very little that actually gives away what to expect when you plunge into the depths. As it turns out, there’s a lot going on beneath the waves; and most of it does a fine job at making somewhat of a splash.

Probably the first thing that truly strikes you about Abzu is how peaceful everything is. While it has some slight moments of peril, this is very much a game that’s about slow and steady exploration, and taking the time to absorb all the sights and sounds around you. It desperately wants you to take everything in; the schools of fish lazily swimming around the reef, the giant predators floating ominously around, and all the creatures and coral in between. If you’re not already bought to a stop by the sheer level of detail on offer, the many statues dotted around for your player character to sit and ‘meditate’ on only provide further incentive, with the camera whooshing around the different species at your command. In a sense, it’s the world’s most intricate fish tank, willing you to while away the hours with your face pressed against the glass. In many ways, it succeeds in doing just that.


This overall sense of serenity is not alone in this world, however, as it couples pleasingly together with a bunch of satisfying little moments and interactions that you can look forward to. Whether it is zooming through a jet stream, breaching the surface of the water on the back of a dolphin, or something else besides, there’s a lot to make you gaze with wonder and bring a smile to your face. Toss in a few bigger set pieces, none of which I’ll spoil but some of which made me exclaim softly to myself, and you’ve got a great mix of gameplay brewing up.

A sweeping orchestral soundtrack, matching the nature and events of the game perfectly, then add another layer to the whole experience. Everything gels so well together, becoming much more of a sum of its parts; only a few control issues, mainly involving trying to get your diver to actually point in the right direction, ever seems to really put a dent in the display that’s on show here. With all things considered, Abzu should have shaped up to be an instant classic.

Note I say “should”, however, because there’s a problem here that’s both massive and rather odd; for all the means by which Abzu is expertly designed and crafted, the end result it one that still fails to make any real lasting impression. You see, even with this detailed world, there’s not enough explanation or care given here to make anything actually feel important; events just seem to happen, and you’re given very little reason to care how or why. There’s also very little you can take away from the experience on show… You can speculate a little on the world on display, sure, but beyond that there’s nothing to really keep your mind occupied after turning the game off. It’s a damn shame.


This issue is only made ten times worse when you consider the length of the game; I completed it in an hour and a half, and I considered myself to be going at a fairly leisurely pace at that. Heck, I’ve spent longer writing this review than I did actually playing through the game. Even slowing progress to a crawl and hunting out every collectable on offer would only likely drag the play time out by another hour or so.

Similar ‘artistic’ games that I’ve played have had short play times of their own, I concede – but with those I felt that I was left with a lot of things to ponder long after the game’s actual conclusion. The Stanley Parable, for instance, incited thoughts about the idea of free will and the nature of the player themselves. Another example in the shape of Firewatch only lasted an hour or so longer than what’s on offer here, but spent enough time to make me really care about its characters and what happened to them. Some of the developers for Abzu also had a hand in games like Journey and Flower, which I personally haven’t played (Much to my own shame), but had a deep impact on those that played them – as even the most casual of internet searches will attest to. Abzu, in comparison, has none of this – For all it takes place in the deep ocean, this is a game that’s remarkably shallow.

Taking into account the fairly lofty price point therefore makes it disappointingly difficult to outright recommend this game. It’s technically sound and does a lot of things right, but when the emotions it stirs up are so vapid and fleeting in comparison to similar titles, it all ends up meaning so much less. I still think it’s worth playing, but waiting for a sale is the best option here by a considerable margin; with that, you won’t end up feeling too disappointed. Anything else, and you’ll just be left with waves of disappointment.

Opinions on… Psychonauts

Ugh. Let us be clear here; I want it noted on the record that I desperately tried to like Psychonauts. I’d seen the praise critics and gamers heap upon it, seen the funding campaign for the sequel that many passionately gave their money to, and came back again and again to the game trying to pick apart what makes it entertaining. Despite all this, however, I only ever came to the singular conclusion which may cause people to label me as mad as the characters in the game itself; it’s just really not very fun.

What makes this an especially bitter pill to swallow is the fact that, hidden deep down underneath its faults, there is the heart of something truly excellent slowly beating away, desperately trying to break free. For one, the Psychonauts universe is excellently realised; one where a great deal of love and effort has been put into it. Even with all the oddball ideas on show here, each of them is nicely fleshed out, everything linking in nicely with everything else with a remarkable consistency. Not only does this create a believable world, but this also allows the story to shine though; an oddball tale of a summer camp for children to be bred into psychic warriors under attack by mysterious forces.

It’s oddly compelling and excellently done, but the game’s real strength comes with the sense of humour that is so excellently fed into both the story and the world beyond. Both carefully crafted jokes and throwaway one-liners by passing characters honestly made me laugh on multiple occasions, and even the most stoic of people will struggle to not crack a smile at what’s on offer here.


It’s lucky these laughs are present, however; because it’s with them that I found any sense of joy I had with the game ended – there’s just too much here that isn’t that fun for the positive side of things to truly shine through. A lot of this boils down to the gameplay that’s on offer. Whatever it is you’re doing, being it platforming or something else entirely, there always seems to be a part of it that’s incredibly irritating or disappointing… Some sections outstay their welcome for far longer they were actually interesting, others are confusing or fiddly to complete, and then there’s some frustrating occasions where you’re thrown into situations where the idea is amazing – yet fall flat on their face when put into practice

To take an example of this last point in action -– one level sees you the size of Godzilla, tasked with stomping around a city and smashing everything in your path. Yet the actual smashing isn’t that satisfying, and your progress throughout is slow and cumbersome. Oh, and do you need to climb a building for something? Have fun crawling up at a snail’s pace, only for a single enemy shot to send you crashing down to earth the second you reach the top. There’s many a moment like that, and each is as disheartening as the last.

Additionally, and somewhat ironically for a game that’s based around the mind, it feels like the gameplay of Psychonauts is incredibly schizophrenic. It’s trying out as many ideas as it can possibly cram in, but -as with the case above – many of them really don’t feel that well implemented. For instance, there’s a level where you’re suddenly thrown in a weird race section with absolutely no prior warning; where if you make a single mistake you’re likely to get trapped behind an obstacle and have to start the whole thing all over again. Another level takes the form of a puzzle, tasking you with collecting the right items in order to proceed; which starts off well enough and has some of the funniest moments I found. But even that soon descends into endless wandering and confusion, as you’re provided with no hints, and the solution to getting some of the items or simply making progress feels unnecessarily convoluted. And so on it goes, Psychonauts trying to be a jack of all trades, but not coming even remotely close to being a master of any of them.


Another thing that doesn’t help the situation are the visuals themselves. Not with the graphics, because even I’m not stupid enough to start critiquing how good they are in a game that’s ten years old, but just in the way that everything’s just so bland looking. So many of the areas you’ll explore are a turgid mess of browns and blacks – or, if you’re lucky, some other combination of uninspiring colours. It’s something that starts in the very first level, a dreary and dull looking warzone where it’s often difficult to tell where the heck you’re meant to be going, and then just continues on from there. To add insult to injury, and at the risk of sounding incredibly contrarian, the single colourful level I played actually ended up being too much of an assault on the senses, again leading to a situation where it was hard to know where to do. It’s a shame really, because even with the possibility to create worlds limited only by the imagination, we’re left with something that’s remarkably dull and uninspired.

Throw in a few other small issues, like struggling with the controls and a few tiny porting issues, and Psychonauts became to me what I can only describe as an exercise in frustration – one where I’m honestly struggling to see how it’s loved and admired by so many. Play it yourself and you may find something that I’m missing, but in my personal opinion, the whole thing is just enough to drive you crazy.