Subnautica

Not recommended for those with thalassophobia.

Alma’s unsettling appearances in the first F.E.A.R. game. My decision to quit and never come back thanks to the constant aura of smothering terror in the P.T. Demo. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem trying to convince me that my TV was on the blink. All of these are examples of video games getting under my skin, giving me that sense of tingling anticipation that something truly horrible is about to happen. The three games mentioned above are pillars of horror in video games. Subnautica is not even classed as a horror game. It’s an open-world, survival-crafting experience with bright, cartoony graphics, but that first play-through was spent in an almost perpetual state of near-unbearable dread.

It might just be me, but it’s the open ocean that does it. Those endless, unknown depths. Those distant, unidentifiable sounds. That grasping, limitless, suffocating void filled with leviathans horrific beyond imagining just waiting to suck you into their inescapable, cavernous maws. Subnautica has its light-hearted moments, and is enjoyed by players of all ages, but if the idea of dangling alone in a pitch-black, watery abyss is as unappealing to you as it is to me, then this game will absolutely terrify you.

Enough about my weakness to water, though, let’s talk about the game. Subnautica is set on an uncharted planet known as 4546B, whose surface is almost entirely composed of a vast, deep ocean. When the spaceship you’re on crash-lands on this watery world, you find yourself stranded and alone with only the cold, computerised voice of your PDA assistant for company. The game will offer up a few hints and markers early on, but you’re pretty much on your own. It’s nice and safe in the floating escape pod that brought you to the planet, but those hunger and thirst meters are ticking down already, and hanging around there isn’t going to get you back home. It’s time to explore.

Once you get your bearings you’ll start to understand what you need to do to survive. Important tasks include hunting for edible fish, creating potable water, and scavenging for equipment to help you explore. You’re probably going to drown. A lot. It’s all too easy to get distracted while searching for resources, and end up misjudging how long it will take you to get back to that distant, glistening surface before your air supply runs out. However, search enough wreckage and harvest enough materials from the local flora and fauna, and you’ll soon be able to upgrade your equipment and leave the comfortable shallows, heading deeper and wider. Persevere, and you’ll discover that there are quite a few surprises out there.

Meet the Ghost Leviathan, one of the scary leviathan-class creatures. A few are harmless, but most just want to swallow you whole. The last aggressive leviathan you’ll meet is a little disappointing, though. A goofy-looking gator-squid. Shame.

Survival/crafting games don’t tend to put too much emphasis on the story, but Subnautica is very different in that regard. Through audio recordings and interesting discoveries, you’ll start to piece together a very interesting tale about the planet’s history and ecosystem, and will become embroiled in a surprisingly deep and involved mystery. As the plot threads unravel, new plans and blueprints will become available too – from more advanced air-tanks to a mighty submarine called the Cyclops, all of these gadgets help to let you go deeper and deeper into the abyss, where you’ll finally get to the bottom of the compelling mystery.

Another thing that you can do to help keep yourself alive is build an underwater base (or a series of bases), where you can craft, plan, or just take a breather in relative safety. As long as you keep your base powered, you won’t run out of oxygen, and you can build such helpful devices as battery chargers, storage containers and water purifiers. These bases have a nice, clean, futuristic aesthetic, to which you can add decorative items such as beds, plant-pots, and even aquariums, and if this building aspect really appeals to you, there is a “creative mode” in which you can work on huge, underwater complexes with no restrictions.

Its cool and everything, and constructing a vast, aquatic utopia is an interesting aspiration, but Subnautica is really about the moments. That moment when you swim out into the open ocean and the sea floor drops off into an abyssal trench, and you hear a shrieking, haunting cry out in the murky blue. That moment when you go to a new biome for the first time and the PDA voice informs you that you’re in the migratory path of leviathan-class lifeforms. That moment when you’re exploring in your compact submersible and a dreaded Reaper Leviathan appears from nowhere, grabs your craft and shakes it around like a dog with a chew toy. That moment when you realise that maybe you weren’t the first sentient being to splash down on this planet after all…

Subnautica is absolutely packed to the gills with memorable and awe-inspiring experiences. Most of them invoke negative feelings like loneliness, isolation and dread, but there is wonder too, and a real sense of adventure and discovery. When I finally finished the game and was given the opportunity to leave the planet behind, despite feeling unease and anxiety for practically my entire adventure, I suddenly didn’t want to go. When it was finally time to escape the terrifying deep, I found that I didn’t want to leave this beautifully dangerous world behind. I think they call it Stockholm syndrome.

Played on PS4

Dragon Quest Builders 2

Dragons, quests, and builders, too!

You’d be forgiven for taking one look at the blocky visuals of Dragon Quest Builders and rolling your eyes at the thought of a Square Enix helmed cash-in on Minecraft’s success. However, while clearly taking cues from the cuboid phenomenon, this is much more than just an Akira Toriyama-themed skin pack. Personally, I came into Dragon Quest Builders 2 with relatively little experience in the Dragon Quest series. I nearly finished Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, and finished Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, and haven’t played any other games in the series’ extensive back catalogue. Despite their wordy titles, though, I enjoyed both games immensely. As for Minecraft, my experience there is almost non-existent. I’ve tried it once or twice, but always found myself unable to get motivated to build for the sake of building in the open-ended, low-res world. I found myself getting much more involved with the 2D building of Terraria, thanks to its progression, bosses and neat graphical style.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 obviously borrows visually and stylistically from Minecraft, but does even more than Terraria did when it comes to adding focus to the sandbox. It features a lengthy quest that sets it apart from more open-ended survival/builders and a story line that, while fairly basic thanks to a silent protagonist, throws up its fair share of twists and turns. The ongoing relationship between the player-created character and his or her amnesiac companion Malroth is often interesting and occasionally moving, and the vibe can shift from upbeat and irreverent to surprisingly foreboding or hauntingly melancholy at a moments’ notice. Observant, old-school Dragon Quest fans may also recognise the name Malroth from Dragon Quest II, and will already have an inkling that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. The story chugs along nicely and, despite some slow sections, concludes in satisfying fashion, too.

The quest is split into numerous distinct parts, set on different islands in a vast, unknown sea. While undertaking the story missions on these islands, you won’t be able to leave them. Upon completing that part of the quest, however, you’re free to go back and forth between your home base (known as the Isle of Awakening) and almost any island you’ve already completed. Once you go to a new area and get stuck into the next story mission, you’re locked in again. The split nature of the world allows you to keep different projects handily separated, but can result in frustration later on when you find yourself spending far too much time propositioning the quirky Captain Brownbeard to take you from island to island, and experiencing the loading screens that are part of the deal.

There are also island types known as “Explorers’ Shores”. These randomly generated holms, cays and skerries offer up enjoyable orienteering activities in which players can unlock infinite reserves of certain resource types. You can also find optional boss fights, pick up various villagers and helpful NPCs to take back to the Isle of Awakening, and gather handy resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Don’t bother building anything, though, as the place will be swallowed by the ocean mists when you leave, never to be seen again.

Farming forms a very large part of the early game. See that hat-wearing worm in the background, there? He’s indispensable for growing crops. He was also raised in the deepest wilds of rural Dorset, if his dialogue is anything to go by.

Each main island will teach you different aspects of the building, survival and management elements of the game. The first island introduces you to farming and meeting your villagers’ basic needs, the second area demonstrates mining and entertainment, and so on. Complete the main quest and you’ll be armed with the knowledge to build the fantasy metropolis of your dreams back at the Isle of Awakening once the post-game opens up.

Nearly. The game keeps a lot from you, and completionists looking for all the items, cooking recipes and room types on offer will have a gigantes-sized task on their hands. The story quests will only tell you so much, the rest needs to be uncovered by following NPC hints or through a bit of good old trial and error. This is welcome, as it gives the game a wealth of content for enthusiastic builders to uncover long after the end credits have rolled. However, the game’s obliqueness can occasionally go too far, and frustrating occurrences are a little too common. Room-types not registering with no clear indication as to why, villagers ignoring your newly built facilities with no visible explanation, and a lack of clarity when determining how far out into the map you can expand your settlement are all examples of problems I encountered. All of these are understandable limits, but it would have been nice if the game attempted to explain them a bit.

Combat is basic. Swing your sword until the enemy dies, occasionally pausing to dodge obviously telegraphed power attacks. Level up and craft better swords to hit harder. That’s pretty much it. Combat isn’t the focus here, despite there being plenty of it, but variety is injected through the use of companions. Throughout most of the game you’ll be accompanied by Malroth, and you can rely on him in a lot of the battles. There will also be occasions when your party grows to four or more, and later on whole armies can be thrown into battle at your behest, though I never used this feature outside of the story mission that introduced it. While visiting the aforementioned Explorers’ Shores, you can choose up to three companions to take with you, and this adventuring party can eventually include tamed monsters. These monsters add another wrinkle to the resource-gathering, combat and exploration aspects of the game, as many of them can be ridden and used in various helpful roles.

I’ve not played the first Dragon Quest Builders game, but from a little bit of research it seems that the sequel added such a wealth of gameplay tweaks and quality of life changes that I’ll probably leave it unexplored. Having said that, I did read somewhere that Dragon Quest Builders has a double jump. Dragon Quest Builders 2 could really do with a double jump…

We can forgive it, though, because Dragon Quest Builders 2 is a thoroughly charming, content-rich and surprisingly deep game. Bright, fascinating and bizarrely pun-obsessed, the building gameplay mixes perfectly with the questing, and for the most part the balance between hand-holding and letting you do your own thing is weighed perfectly. Despite enjoying previous Dragon Quest titles, I partially dismissed Dragon Quest Builders 2 as a cash-in on the popularity of Minecraft that was squarely aimed at kids. An opportunity came to play it (it was a gift for my daughter) and I was quickly enlightened to the fact that, while both of those things are true, this is still an excellent game that will keep you coming back again and again. I want more of it, despite it having a 50+ hour campaign and near endless post-game content, and that’s a sign that something is definitely working. As far as Dragon Quest spin-offs go, this one’s built for success.

Played on Nintendo Switch

Triangle Strategy

Actually Full of Squares

The grid-based, strategy role-playing game has always been a favoured genre of mine. My first experience was with Shining Force III for the Sega Saturn. I bought it off the back of playing and enjoying dungeon-crawling RPG Shining the Holy Ark, and honestly wasn’t expecting such a significant shift in gameplay. I loved it, though. The bright graphical style, the multitude of cool characters to recruit, the depiction of epic, fantasy battles in grid-based form. I’ve since played the earlier games in the Shining Force series, as well as the likes of Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Luminous Arc and more, but to me, Shining Force III is still the pinnacle. Let’s see if the genre’s newest addition, Square Enix’s Triangle Strategy, can knock it off the top spot.

First off, as mentioned in my recent look at the demo, the game is visually exquisite. The retro-styled locales and battlefields portray a lush and enticing fantasy world of the kind that escapists long for. Fires glow warmly in hearths, foliage appears thick and verdant, and water glistens captivatingly in the background. The sprites are pleasing and echo the personality of each character’s portrait. As the game progresses, the protagonist’s allies can be promoted to a more powerful class, and the character sprites change in kind, subtly increasing in grandeur to reflect the character’s growth.

The music compliments the world well. A few of the tracks are epic and memorable, and the rest are in-fitting with the setting and exemplify the atmosphere. However, while the dialogue is fine, the voice acting comes across as very pedestrian. Strangely, main protagonist Serenoa was saddled with the most uninspiring voice performance, but the ponderous drone of advisor Benedict comes a close second, his slow delivery of lines begging to be skipped. The voice acting in general lacks life, and comes across as generic and lacking in character. It might be best to turn the speech volume to zero and read the dialogue yourself. You’ll act it out better in your head.

The battlefields are almost as intricately detailed as the lore.

The story is complex and multi-layered, and designed to present the player with difficult decisions at pivotal points. It’s serious and political, concerning high-profile members of a medieval fantasy society making important decisions that affect the trajectory of a coming war. When it’s time to make a decision, protagonist Serenoa puts the question to his most loyal followers, and a vote is undertaken. Interestingly, Serenoa, and by extension the player, does not get to vote at all, but has the ability to speak to all of his companions before a decision is made, hoping to swing them to his way of thinking. How well this goes can often depend on how much the player explored and how many NPCs were interacted with in the build up to the pivotal moment, as such interactions can unlock crucial conversation options that can change the opinion of an ally. Fail to gather enough information, and risk leaving the story’s direction to chance.

These grand decisions are Triangle Strategy’s most obvious innovation, but there are also interesting intricacies in the gameplay that set it further apart from its competitors. As with all games in the genre, positioning of allies is incredibly important to your chances of victory, but there are various abilities and environmental effects that take this even further. Back-stabbing critical hits, consecutive attacks on surrounded enemies, and spells and abilities that can move opponents make for interesting tactical options. As do flammable, freezable and electricity-conducting terrain types. In an arena with high drops onto spike traps, wind magic becomes invaluable for knocking your enemies to their dooms below. If it’s raining and there are puddles forming, then lightning magic becomes devastating. That is, unless someone used ice magic to freeze the puddles. Still, you can always use a fire spell to turn the ice back into water again. There’s a depth to the game mechanics on offer that lends itself to experimentation and replayability.

The large roster of combatants available to find and recruit also helps in this regard. While there is a core group of plot-significant characters that you’ll want to make sure are appropriately powered-up at all times, there are plenty of secondary characters also willing to fight for the cause, and each one of them brings something different to the table. There’s a wandering shaman who is able to change the weather, heightening the affects of certain spells, and a clever merchant who can turn enemies to your cause with the offer of riches. There are even characters that excel in item use, meaning that pretty much any play-style is covered. Although there are a multitude of replayable training battles, you’ll need subsequent play-throughs to really get to grips with everyone. Good thing there’s that massively branching storyline, then.

The story was clearly important to the developers, and is taken very seriously. Numerous optional scenes are available throughout the campaign, dropping in on characters in distant lands as they discuss their plans for conquest. There are long periods of story-building and scene-setting between battles. If you’re into it, it’s great. If you’re less invested, but still feel like you need to understand what’s going on and refuse to skip any dialogue, you’re in for a bit of a slog. For me, personally, it was a mixed bag. Certain characters felt deserving of the time spent on illustrating their involvement in the story, while others seemed superfluous or predictable, and occasionally my attention drifted.

There are no monsters, either. That’s right, not a single goblin, no ghosts or zombies, not even a wolf. Even Game of Thrones (which is almost certainly an influence on the fantasy/political tone of the game) had dragons. Your enemies consist of the various opposing heroes and generals you’ll encounter, and a few different types of soldier or magic-user, reskinned in the colours of their national affiliation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t help if you’re finding the game’s tone a little too sober. I would’ve liked a wyvern cave or two to explore. The battlefields and story scenes are accessed from a map of the continent. This is fine, and gives off the impression of moving pieces around a military map, but also takes away from any sense of journey or discovery. It becomes apparent early on that there are no mysterious new frontiers to explore, you’re just going to be hopping back and forth between the three established nations throughout the campaign.

As such, what we’re left with is a mechanically and visually fantastic strategy RPG that just lacks the flair, personality or variety that the likes of Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics can offer. If you come in knowing that, and you become invested in the story, you’re going to have a fantastic time, and likely won’t put your Switch down for hours on end. If, like me, you find yourself harbouring that nagging thought that the story twists and character beats are not quite as effective as the serious tone requires, you might find yourself thinking that the game, like it’s title, needed a touch more panache.

Gravity Rush 2

Falling Blissfully Upwards

All great games have high points. Those peaks in the action, the memorable bits that give a title its identity. Sometimes those moments are in the gameplay; when pulling off a killer move or surviving a dangerous encounter. In other games, it might be a story beat, a great plot thread building to a cinematic crescendo, or maybe it’s in that moment of down-time, in which you really get to soak up the atmosphere of the world the developers have created. In Gravity Rush 2, it’s in the simple act of getting from A to B.

It has all those other moments too, but the sheer joy of upending gravity and shooting protagonist Kat from one end of the majestic, floating city of Jirga Para Lhao to the other is utterly unique. That initial sensation of weightlessness followed by a shift in gravity and an exhilarating burst of speed, coupled with the stunning visuals and atmosphere of the world, make basic movement in Gravity Rush 2 more fun than many games can muster in their entirety. Does this seem like an outlandish claim? Not to me. At it’s best, Gravity Rush 2 is a kinetic masterpiece, but let’s see what else it has to offer.

The player takes on the role of Kat, a mysterious girl in a strange world. Kat is a refreshingly upbeat character. She sees the best in everyone and refuses to be brought down, and harbours a burning desire to help people and make the world a better place. Despite these nauseatingly saccharine personality traits, she never drifts into annoying or cluelessly naïve, managing to stay adorable throughout.

As you may have guessed, she has powers over gravity as well. These powers are provided to her by her cute and mysterious cat companion named Dusty, who seems to be formed of negative space, and floats along for the ride. Kat can fall through the air in any direction as she adjusts the pull of gravity around her, and there are endless opportunities for exhilarating exploration as you run up the sides of buildings, float about the underside of docks and archways, and launch Kat off into thin air just to see what’s on the other side of that cloud. The world is bright and beautifully designed, a fascinating mix of cultural influences from around the world suspended on floating islands in a dazzling sky.

Kat’s appearance changes when she starts manipulating gravity, switching from “cute girl with cat” to “godlike supernatural being” in the blink of an eye.

Changing up a gear from the PlayStation Vita original, Gravity Rush 2 also gives Kat two additional gravity styles, which affect her levels of weightlessness and how hard she can smash into things. The light and airy lunar style increases Kat’s speed and jumping ability, while the weighty Jupiter style enables her to deal more damage as a trade-off for manoeuvrability. The combat predominantly consists of airborne battles with sinister, formless entities called Nevi. However, hapless, ground-based soldiers and the occasional boss fight offer some variety. The combat is fine, and at its best can feel spectacular and impactful, but if the camera doesn’t feel like cooperating that day, it can start to become a little too infuriating for comfort.

The struggling camera is Gravity Rush 2’s only real downfall. You can approach any location from any angle at any time and change direction in a heartbeat, and this can result in occasions where Kat and the camera just don’t get along. It’s not unusual to find yourself exposed in combat as you desperately try and search for the nearest enemy, or completely baffled as to which way is up or down following a camera angle flip because you got too close to a corner. It feels like the developers did the absolute best they could with the camera, but given the nature of the game and the sheer freedom of movement, there were always going to be times when it just couldn’t keep up with the action.

That aside, Gravity Rush 2 is an endlessly charming, often breathtaking and beautifully presented game. The story is fun and unusual and occasionally emotional, and provides some nice surprises for those who are invested in Kat’s murky origins. The game world of Jirga Para Lhao initially seems to be similar in size to Hekseville from the Vita original, but when Hekseville shows up in full part-way through as a completely explorable (and beautifully visually-updated) new area, that preconception gets blown out of the water. Massive, endearing, surprising, and full of unique gameplay, Kat’s gravity-defying journey is a joy to experience. If you put Gravity Rush 2 into your PlayStation and float away into it’s artistic and mysterious world, you won’t want to come back down.

Metroid Dread

The Grim Brightness of the Far Future

I’ve been orbiting the Metroid series for a while now, but it wasn’t until this most recent offering that I finally hit the boosters and made planetfall. Metroid Dread is an immaculately polished space adventure in a classic, retro style. Nintendo’s artistry is abundantly evident in the way they’ve brought the side-scrolling action to life with detailed, 3D graphics, flawless animation, and a great sense of consistency, atmosphere and depth to the environments. The story is told through environmental changes and subtle, background elements as much as it is through cut-scenes, and, from what I’ve read, there are countless fascinating links to the larger Metroid universe for the eagle-eyed fan to find. All this makes for an excellent, expertly presented sci-fi narrative experience.

The gameplay is refined and precise. Silent bounty hunter Samus Aran controls with pinpoint smoothness, and dashing through caverns and corridors, latching on to ledges and blasting the local fauna is immensely satisfying. The immersion increases as progress is made and new skills and weapons are unlocked. These skills and weapons also provide the main means of travelling to new areas. Double jumps, weapon upgrades and the ability to roll up into a ball and squeeze through gaps all open up new places to explore and new dangers to face.

The game can be difficult, but this difficulty is mostly limited to the E.M.M.I. encounters, certain boss fights, and the uncovering of secret areas. Even when things do get tricky, it’s never down to fiddly controls or unfair level design. Metroid Dread gives you the tools you need to succeed, you just have to figure out how to use them. Bosses that seem insurmountable at first will be felled eventually once weaknesses and patterns reveal themselves. The learning curve is natural and satisfying, if you’re willing to stick with it.

The most controversial sticking points are the encounters with the E.M.M.I. machines. Samus’ standard weapons are useless against these contorting arrangements of metallic sinew. They stalk through quiet, eerie areas sealed off from the rest of the level, and can form and reform in order to pursue Samus across any surface and through any gap. Their inquisitive bleeps and bloops haunt the areas they patrol, and once one catches sight of its prey, a quick exit is the only way to avoid a nasty demise. These relentless automatons are almost at odds with the rest of the game in terms of visual design. While most of the other enemies are indigenous life-forms or fleshy abominations, these E.M.M.I. creatures look like they were dreamed up by a focus group in an Apple laboratory.

The submerged areas are some of my favourites to traverse. Metroid Dread does a stunning job of creating an immersive atmosphere with its deep and detailed backgrounds.

Speaking of laboratories, Samus will be exploring a few of them, many with life-forms on display in an apparent state of mid-autopsy. One especially effecting area has a huge creature suspended by probe-like machinery, its hideous visage gaping open in the background as its muscles spasm and jolt. There’s a definite sci-fi horror vibe, sprinkled with a seasoning of gross body-horror for flavour. These dark themes juxtapose strangely with that trademark Nintendo brightness, like a coat of bright paint over rusted metal. Or like Aliens if it was directed by Michael Bay. No, scratch that, that’s a horrible thought…

Metroid Dread is an expertly crafted, exquisitely balanced game. Samus is a joy to control and the world is a fascinating one to explore. The E.M.M.I. enemies have divided opinion, and there is certainly a line beyond which being one-shotted by the same invincible horror over and over again goes beyond tense and terrifying and becomes annoying, Alien: Isolation style. In my view, however, the E.M.M.I. encounters just about stay on the right side of the line throughout, and add to a great experience. All of this put together means that Metroid Dread is modern, old-school gaming at its best. Also, Samus is a girl. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.

 

Triangle Strategy Preview

A Shining Example

At the time of writing, Triangle Strategy is about two weeks away from release. Coming to the Nintendo Switch, this turn-based tactical RPG is drawing a lot of comparisons to Final Fantasy Tactics, and rightly so, it’s developed by Square Enix. However, as a certified Sega Maniac, I’m hoping that this strategic adventure will be the second coming of a different masterpiece from the late 90’s. Shining Force III for the Sega Saturn delivered deep, grid-based tactical action and multi-layered political fantasy only a few months after the initial release of Square Enix’s PS1 effort. A well-received strategy epic, Shining Force III was one of the Saturn’s top titles, and a paragon of the genre.

The Triangle Strategy demo is out there for those who are interested. The game is gorgeous. Expressive, pixel art characters and detailed, atmospheric backgrounds combine with beautiful depth of field effects to make for a visually bountiful experience. The glistening water effects especially are a visual treat. The game is immersive and comfortable, perfect for a cosy gaming session on a cold, winter’s evening. The voice acting is … a mixed bag, to put it kindly, but that’s all part of the charm, right?

Like Shining Force III, the game plays out on battlefields that are divided into neat grids. The player has access to a number of different party members, and commands them during battle by moving them around the grid and performing actions such as attacking enemies or casting spells. As the story progresses the player will recruit more characters to the cause. Each one of these characters has a story, a background and a role to play, though some are more integral than others. The basic tactics are fairly standard. Keep your melee guys in the front, and your more delicate ranged and support guys in the back. Out-position the enemy, don’t get surrounded, go for the objective.

This character is using a healing ability. In the background, the glittering water combined with the blur effect makes for an almost dream-like atmosphere.

Triangle Strategy also has plenty of elements that set it apart. Branching storylines, interesting skills that use the map in inventive ways, optional story events and the ability to explore many of the battlefields before combat ensues all represent evolution in the genre. There’s also an interesting and unique mechanic in which certain narrative-shifting decisions are voted upon by NPC party members. If a player wants the vote to swing a specific way, they’ll have to explore the local area and talk to the locals, hoping to find information that will help sway the opinions of the voters. This fascinating mechanic, along with a branching story of politics, heroism and conflict in a fantastic world, the stunning, retro visuals and the classic strategy gameplay all sound like ingredients to a perfect tactical RPG recipe.

Shining Force III was the first part of a trilogy. The second and thirds acts never made it to the West thanks to the dwindling fortunes of the Saturn. If Triangle Strategy ends on a cliffhanger, I may get a little nervous. But that’s a concern for the future. In the meantime, Triangle Strategy looks like it’s going to be a must for strategy fans. It will be released for the Nintendo Switch on 4th March 2022.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising

It’s All Greek to Me

I went into Immortals: Fenyx Rising knowing the Ubisoft open-world games only by their reputation. The likes of Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs and Far Cry all represent gaps in my otherwise extensive gaming knowledge, and this dive into a bright and breezy imagining of ancient Greece is my first contact with Ubisoft’s house-style. It’s an outlier; a title that risked a visual style that doesn’t tick all the triple-A action game boxes. You could almost call it unique, but Nintendo would have something to say about that – there’s a certain breath of the wild about it that cannot be denied.

Before we get into all that, though, the first thing to note about Immortals: Fenyx Rising is how pretty it is. The art style is bright and abundant, with attractive, expressive characters, spectacular sky-boxes and lush vegetation. The content is similarly bright and breezy for the most part. Far from a stuffy retelling of the classics, Immortals treats Greek mythology like a Saturday morning cartoon, albeit a surprisingly accurate one. It’s far more rooted in the actual subject matter than Disney’s Hercules, for example, and even uses the less-popular Greek spellings of familiar names like Hephiastos and Herakles.

Many of the jokes rely on the player having a decent knowledge of the subject matter. If, like me, your knowledge of Greek mythology is somewhat limited, you may find that some of the quips go over your head. I remember enough to know that things can get messed up, though. Immortals leans into this in a humorous way, slyly referencing the murder, cannibalism and incest while keeping things family friendly, on the surface at least. Almost every scene is treated with a tongue-in-cheek approach, and the pantheon rarely receives the dignity it deserves. War god Ares, for example, is initially found in the body of a chicken, with all of his gusto and confidence drained away. He also has a bit of a thing for Aphrodite, but then, don’t we all.

The world of Immortals is beautiful, but artificial. Landmasses poke out of the sea at odd heights, suspended on sheer cliffs whose only purpose is to hinder exploration until the player earns stamina upgrades. Plateaus jut haphazardly, inhabited by token packs of boars or bears, vast temple complexes are built across areas where no regular human could easily reach them. Villages and ruins are situated and laid out in a way that serves the purpose of the nearby puzzle, but gives no indication of a living, breathing world. Immortals eschews any concept of world-building and immersion in favour of a game map that serves the gameplay only.

Use Icarus’ wings to soar around the map. Don’t stray too close to Helios, though.

Said gameplay consists of exploration, combat and puzzle-solving. The exploration is satisfying, but would be more rewarding if the world was more alive. The combat is swift but fairly standard. Elite enemies can give players a hard time early on, but things get easier as more moves and abilities are earned. The puzzle-solving comes in a few different flavours, ranging from sliding fresco puzzles to lighting torches in the correct order to open a door. The world is dotted with Gates of Tartaros, portals to ruined structures suspended in an interstellar void. These areas contain some of the game’s most devious puzzles, and it’s most valuable treasures.

The Gates of Tartaros bear a striking resemblance to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s shrines. Spread out across the map, containing challenges or arena battles, and walls that our hero can’t climb. They’re not the only similarity to Link’s most expansive adventure, either. Immortals’ player character Fenyx (customised by the player with a limited character creator), has many of the same skills and equipment as Link, or at least close equivalents. Expect to glide around the map once a certain item is acquired, shoot arrows, and lift heavy blocks using an ability not dissimilar to telekinesis. Luckily, though, Fenyx’s weapons don’t break.

It’s derivative of Breath of the Wild (and probably Ubisoft’s other games, I really wouldn’t know), the Gates of Tartaros challenges can slide into the frustratingly fiddly, and the world doesn’t quite feel authentic, but this is a fun and exceptionally nice-looking game. The act of traversing the world is satisfying, the voice acting is on point, and the dialogue should raise a few smirks (though not every gag is a home run). Immortals: Fenyx Rising’s myth probably won’t live on through the ages, and it’s no titan of the industry, but it’ll definitely keep you entertained for a week or so. I’d call that heroic, at the very least.

Played on PS4

Introduction

Welcome To My Fictional World

I’m Simon, a writer from Somerset in England. I’m currently writing for two extremely dignified and successful enterprises; TripleJump and Sega Mania Magazine. Apparently, it’s not enough for me, so I’ve breathed life into this blog to keep my words ticking over in those short periods of downtime. I’ll use this place to write thoughts and reviews on games I’m playing, and will definitely touch on other interests, too.

I’m always looking for opportunities and projects, so if you need something written, or need a product reviewed, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. In the meantime, I hope you drop into SimFiction once in a while! Many exciting things are sure to emerge in the future.

Links:

https://www.sega-mania.com/

https://www.youtube.com/c/TeamTripleJump

https://twitter.com/Sim198k