Here’s a bit of information that’ll surprise nobody: people suck.

And here’s a bit of information that’ll somehow be even less surprising than the previous one: people who play online multiplayer games suck even more.

I mean, is it even up for debate at this point? Between the pathetic shrieking, the inability to cooperate cheerfully, the ugly personalities, the permeating, eye-rolling belief that every game is the final match in some lame eSports tournament and that those who aren’t min-maxing every piece of gear are somehow not worth your time… It’s all infuriating. Why don’t you just relax and have some fun, you jackasses? You’re the collective reason why anybody with any brains at all sticks to the calm, clean waters of single player, rather than take the risk of jumping into the diseased community pool that is online gaming.

Yes, maybe I am a little bitter. I’ve never been a man for multiplayer in any major way, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate good design and understand that playing with others can add a certain spice, especially when certain choices complement that spice. Watch_Dogs is now accepted as a pile of bland wallpaper paste and Hot Topic t-shirt scraps, but that hide and seek invasion thing worked pretty well, mainly for the ability to watch other people wet themselves when they realised someone was reading their browser history. And Dark Souls figured out pretty early on that the best way to minimise the problems of online gaming is to keep the dialogue and communication to a minimum, with clear goals and objectives for everyone involved. After all, nothing brings down the experience of playing with other people like… Well, other people.

And thus we come to Guns Of Icarus Online, which is a game I only found out existed last week, but had secretly always wanted in some form or another without quite knowing it had been done already. I can’t tell if I should be pleased or annoyed by that fact. I suspect that those who read a lot of my work will be able to guess.

The basic concept of this game is that everybody gets booted into a multiplayer server, and there’s a bunch of heavily-armed steampunk-pirate-ship-blimp things that float around like the inhabitants of Fallen London had decided to re-enact a battle from Star Wars, and the result is as lethal as you’d expect. Up to four players who are all seeing everything in first-person totter around on each ship trying not to vomit, and they’re all required to perform various roles if everybody’s going to make it out alive and bring down the enemy craft.


The landscapes and level design in Guns Of Icarus are often hauntingly beautiful and even a little chilling. This mood is frequently ruined by the static-ridden moaning supplied by your teammates.

Which immediately brings out the problem of shared responsibility, and the failing of one person quickly becoming something that everyone has to deal with. Whether it’s the captain steering you all into a cliff, or the engineer just spending the whole game cooking marshmallows by the glow of a small engine fire, the blimp getting smashed to bits is still going to mean death for everyone, whether you’re Amelia Airhart or Ted Striker.

But normally I wouldn’t worry about this sort of thing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the enemy ship that bursts into flames or if it’s ours, the gameplay is still fun and shooting at distant targets is satisfying enough to be worth the effort, win or lose. It’s not like GTA V, where one person getting killed in the online mission was a genuine pain in the neck, as you all got thrown back to the start and lost progress. Yeah, you’d forgotten how much that sucked, didn’t you? I’m going to hold that grudge until the end of time.

But back to Guns Of Icarus, and let me say that the element of teamwork is a fundamental mixed bag. In my mind I was hoping for something like those scenes in Firefly or classic Star Trek, where everybody’s coordinating tactics and having a great time doing so. And when I was lucky enough to be playing with friends that was certainly the case, especially when you realise that the game is instantly made twice as good when you put on a pirate voice.

It was all rather thrilling. From my position at the helm I’d spin the wheel and turn us hard to port with a great thunder of wood and sails, bellowing commands and watching my loyal crew scamper around, wisecracking and generally enjoying themselves. Or maybe I’d be some lowly engineer cabin boy (represented by yours truly putting on a tremulous Oliver Twist voice), dashing between various parts of the ship at the whim of my commander, trying to fight back the flames and keep everything running. It’s fun, it’s endearing, it’s nuanced, but most of all it feels good to do…

… Until you enter a public lobby by yourself, and everything goes to shit. I admit that there’s not much the developers can do about their customer base acting like piss-stained chimps, but perhaps they could stop giving them abilities to annoy other people with? One particularly galling factor is that any captains in the lobby can extend the timer before the game starts, apparently indefinitely. Why the fuck is that there? What purpose does it have other than to be abused? If people aren’t ready to play, they could always just back out of the lobby and adjust their knick-knacks there, though I doubt they need it. The developers do give them two hundred seconds of prep-time at least, I’m sure they can cope with that.


Gunfire and explosions are what makes this game fun, whether those explosions come from your cannons, your engine, or your hydrogen-filled balloon “Hindenburging.”

There’s other irritants you’ll have to endure if you want to get at the pearl of good game design. For example, I do understand why the pilot is always the de facto Captain once you start playing. He’s best positioned to survey the area, he can maneuver the ship to get the optimal angles on enemies, and in a game about teamwork it’s still probably helpful to have somebody who can buckle down and take charge when things get hairy.

That’s the theory, at least. In practice it only means that one little git with a pile of Mountain Dew bottles stacked by his chair gets a power rush to match his sugar rush, and will scream unendingly at those unfortunates who don’t do what he tells them straight away. Oh, and captains can also see what loadout you’re using and recommend different ones, which only puts more power in their hands. No, I don’t want that kind of hammer using up my limited equipment space. Yes, I know there’s no limit to how many times you can make that text box ping at me and tell me to change it, you little sod.

And see how far declining that offer gets you – either a tirade of abuse in your ear or some mouth-breather giving a disgusted groan into the microphone before he lengthily explains why your build is completely wrong and inefficient. Dude, I’m just here to blow up airships with my flamethrower turret. Why is everybody making this so goddamn difficult for me?

Because on the few occasions that the dominoes fall into place and you get a good game going, it’s actually very engaging. The maps are huge and all thick with fog, which is placed around in a manner that manages not to be overly obstructive, yet adds a layer of stealth prior to every dogfight. Hell, it manages to be creepy and tension-raising to a legitimately startling degree. There’s something skin-crawling about the silence as you float past looming mountains or damaged skyscrapers, the only sounds being the creaking of rope and timber, constantly straining your eyes to see if that’s the glint of an enemy craft inside that wall of cloud-bank.

Then, BANG! Cannon fire ‘cross the starboard bow, sir! Aagh! Get on the port turrets, you scurvy dogs! I’ll swing this tub around to greet ‘em! Mister Engineer, keep watch on those propellers, I’m pushing ‘em to all they’ve got! Direct hit, sir! Wait, what the hell’s that sound? Captain, second target approaching from the stern! They’re below us, sir! Then man your stations, and full speed ahead! Prepare to fire on my command! CHARGE!


Hmm… Might need to break out the ol’ toolkit for this one.

At least, that’s how it should be. And with the right friends, that’s what you get. Bombastic, climactic, volcanic airship action, that comfortably blends strategy with heat-of-the-moment thinking and a nicely designed backdrop. But if you go in solo and end up with a mismatched team of nose-picking goons, you can watch something that should’ve been superb get completely ruined as an experience. Hoo-bloody-rah.

So my advice to anybody considering a purchase is this: buy if you have at least one other friend who plays, and only go on it when you know he’ll be backing you up. And when you hop into matchmaking, take your own ship and pray to god that all the other crew members besides you and your bestie are just the quiet, cooperative bots, which are clearly superior to the pond life that might replace them. Those of you who don’t have any friends up for airship battles are advised to stay clear unless you have an insanely strong stomach, and not just because of air sickness.


With a better community this easily could’ve been an eight or even higher, but the fact that players are permitted to act like dicks and even actively encouraged to do so means that the biggest foe in Guns Of Icarus isn’t the enemy – it’s your own crew. Scoop this one up if you’ve got comrades who you love and trust, otherwise you may want to keep your feet on the ground.


Well. That was… Something.

In light of the controversy surrounding Haydee, it almost feels pointless to offer a critique of how it holds up on the level of gameplay. After all, everybody who’s played it or seen footage of the titular protagonist (and I choose that word very carefully) has already formed their opinion. Either you hate it for being sexist, you admire it for being subversive, or you love it disproportionately because a group you don’t like hates it. Or, contrarily, you hate it for the same reason. Or maybe you just have a fetish for women with buckets on their heads. Que sera, sera.

The point is that writing around the subject feels somewhat irrelevant, but that never stopped me before. So I’ll come right out and say it – a few gameplay ideas in Haydee are basically OK. Doesn’t matter if the main character is a sexist throwback or a powerful gender-icon when it comes to that angle, any more than Hideo Kojima’s sub-par writing skills change the fact that it’s fun to choke Russians in MGSV.

The game prides itself on insane difficulty, and that is certainly warranted. You meander around the sexbot research zone of Aperture Science Laboratories, and a number of things will contrive to kill you before you find the way out, or at least locate a loose, comfortable sweater. Evil robots, lethal drops, your own stupidity – given time, one of them will finish you off. At their best, these deaths usually feel like challenging but justifiable failures, in the manner of my lovely, lovely Dark Souls. My masochistic urge for a game that won’t put up with any nonsense is well-documented, and I was kinda hoping that Haydee would scratch that itch between sessions of Super Meat Boy.



But at their worst, the deaths feel cheap and frustrating. I’m happy to admit that when some long-limbed android rattles towards me and I put five bullets in the wall next to his head, the fact that he proceeds to kick my notably ample arse is only because I wasn’t good enough to stop him. But when his brother sidles up alongside me with no warning and caves in my head before I know he’s there, that feels cheaper than a pre-sucked penny sweet. And with save points being few and far between, getting mangled unexpectedly is almost as annoying here as it is in real life.

Which is to say nothing of the camera breathing down your neck the whole time, because god forbid you find yourself unable to examine Haydee’s body at any point in the game. I’m sure that’ll mitigate the rage of being tackled to the ground by HAL 9000’s big brother, especially when climbing up platforms is done in two stages – the first one of which ends with Haydee awkwardly bent over the surface, just so we can see right up her exhaust port and embarrass ourselves when somebody comes into the room.

But I realise I get ahead of myself, and must describe the core gameplay ‘ere I ramble off into total irrelevance. Well, it’s not easily summarised. I suppose I get flavours of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, with a tiny bit of ‘dat Dark Souls added in and some classic elements of old Metroidvania, all set in locations from Portal that were considered too boring to be included in the final product. You scrabble around a clean underground lab in third person, picking up every gun, medkit, keycard and bit of ammo you can find. You also climb and jump around from platform to platform (which as mentioned, manages to feel more uncomfortably pornographic than Debbie Does Dallas) in order to move on and explore non-essential areas for more equipment that’ll help later.

The story is far less comprehensive. Our hero, presumably named Haydee, is seen in an enormous science facility, where the only inhabitants appear to be aggressive robots and dead, mechanical blow-up dolls. There are some elements we can piece together, for Haydee herself is one of these buxom sexdroids, and the fact that her unmoving predecessors can be found up ahead, all damaged from some sort of attack or fall, implies that you are not the first to try and find your way out.


But which one of us is really in a cage? Oh, it’s the robot. Seems pretty obvious now, but it’s quite hard to see with no eyes.

Or something like that, I guess. The game honestly didn’t seem to give a rotten fig about the possibility of narrative for the time I was playing it, and the broken iHookers only seem to exist to highlight which areas are fatal to fall into. The game clearly has its own opinion on what demands more attention than story – namely white panel walls, removable ventilation grates, and jiggle physics. Lots and lots of jiggle physics.

But there are things about the game I can appreciate. The minimal HUD feels nicely unobtrusive, and clearly somebody took inspiration from Dead Space and stuck Haydee’s health bar on the back of her helmet, making it an organic part of her design. Well, not organic, strictly speaking – oh, you know what I mean.

I also appreciate the fact that the game has some genuine ambition to present real challenge. Sure, I’m not too hot about the infrequent save points and the fact you have to hunt out the items needed to unlock them, but I always love a game that actually asks that the player wake up and pay attention in order to succeed. And though some deaths feel cheap and unwarranted, most of them do feel like my error and not the game’s.

And of course, I am completely on board with an emphasis on exploration, which demands the player make note of their surroundings and return to previous areas in order to be as well-equipped as possible.  Yeah, you can charge ahead and try to smother enemies with your ridiculously-sized chest, but you aren’t likely to succeed if you haven’t been snuffling around for ammunition like a Texas-born truffle hog. There’s also something rather effectively creepy about the robotic enemies, which silently move on you with clear purpose in mind, in a manner that can only be described as “advancing.” They even generate a few organic jump scares as they lurch into view, so I can’t say the game didn’t effect me.


Day 3 in the Kardashian manufacturing facility…

That being said, the things I don’t like are more frequent, and start to get on my plums pretty quickly. The too-close, lecherous camera is one bugbear, and the unwieldy controls are another. I also don’t appreciate the fact that the plain, unremarkable environment gets old to look at very fast, and that there’s something rather unfinished and lazy about certain aspects of the game. Character animations are few and far between, the creators seem unwilling to give the player any information about what’s going on or how to play, and the lack of story feels less like a stylistic choice and more like nobody could be bothered to properly contextualise the events.

Is that everything? It is? Because I can’t think of anything else to address before we OH FINE I’LL TALK ABOUT IT.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Is this game sexist? Well, for a while I didn’t want to think so, partly because I was still kind of enjoying the gameplay and didn’t want to be seen to associate with something unseemly. After all, I have a paltry façade of a reputation to vaguely maintain. What could be more important than that?

At first I was mainly wondering if Haydee were some subtle, elaborate satire. Our protagonist is literally a set of sparsely-covered curves with no head, voice or obvious agency. Most notably, the heroine is sporting a blank plastic panel instead of a face, which in itself is so absurd as to imply self-aware, wink-wink acknowledgement. It comes across as ridiculous to consider, so defiantly backwards in tone that it makes me wonder how seriously this was all being taken. For god’s sake, the two difficulty modes are named “hardcore” and “softcore.” Could it be that all those sputtering Tumblrites were getting their piercings in a twist over nothing more than a simple satirical statement? It wouldn’t be the first time that people on the internet went insane for something that didn’t really matter either way.

But on reflection, I’m not convinced that Haydee is a satire. It’s actually not outrageous enough to come across that way, and with no story to tap into that parody potential, it feels more genuine than anything else. When I saw that the keycards all had pictures of topless women on them, I realised that this was exactly what it looked like to begin with – an unremarkable game with a few titillating elements added to draw people in. Whether that’s fine or not is up to the individual. You might call it harmless exploitation of the kind all entertainment has been engaging in since cavemen could first draw blood and nude stick figures on rocks. Or you might call it a regressive, demeaning fantasy that we should’ve gotten over around the same time. I can understand both, but it’s probably not empowering either way. But maybe it’s not trying to be. Maybe it’s happy to be stupid, sexy fun. Maybe it’s at too high an ethical price to be worth another depressing female archetype. Honestly, I’m starting to lose interest in both this subject and the game as a whole.


It’s an easy joke, but somebody had to make it.

Which can act as my closing point. Haydee is a little too rough, a little too minimal and a little two unimpressive to be anything more than a time-waster, unable to capitalise or develop the good ideas that dwell within it. I couldn’t be bothered to play beyond a certain point, so maybe it picks up later – but I don’t care. I have limited recreation time in my life, and I ‘aint putting those valuable hours into watching Cave Johnson’s secret fetish fall into pits and perform revealing gymnastics routines. Maybe pick it up if you see it on sale, or find yourself attracted to mannequins. Otherwise, I can’t really recommend.


Haydee is a somewhat solid premise that isn’t refined enough to hold up on its own terms, so it throws in the headless Playbot as the heroine and hopes the bouncing jubblies will distract you from your growing boredom. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.


I have a soft spot for indie game development, as everybody who reads my work knows. I tend to be kinder in my reviews, more encouraging in my feedback, and more willing to part with my money when it comes to that final choice of buy/deny.

And that’s because indie game development is very important to the gaming community, perhaps more so than the big AAA stuff that gets the most attention. Gaming was founded on small projects made by people working out of their homes and universities, and even now the indie stuff feels like the most creatively liberated section, willing to take risks and make artistic statements – so good on them.

And because of that, I was approaching Pony Island with a certain amount of hope and expectation. After all, the information I picked up was certainly positive, and it all seemed to gel with the sort of things that I like. Classic arcade gaming with a subtle depth beneath it? Intriguing. Subversion of traditional visuals by infusing them with a darker edge? That can certainly work. Shooting Jesus in the face with a laser made of Matrix code?

… Well, now I’ve got to try it, right?

So Pony Island is a very short game that uses fourth-wall humour and underlying metacommentary in the main story, with a deceptively cheery old-style arcade game appearance presented as a façade over the whole thing. The façade falls away as we progress through the game, and as it becomes more clear that certain forces, both good and evil, are trying to manipulate you into performing actions that will have far greater consequences than achieving a new high score.


BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAActually, this rather hurts my throat to do.

Now, I double-checked the timing on Pony Island’s release, and saw that it came out only three months after Toby Fox’s modern classic, Undertale. So I certainly won’t say that Pony Island was made out of some rushed attempt to leap onto an existing bandwagon, because most game development takes longer than three months. And like I said: it’s indie development. I want to be kind here.

But if it’s not guilty of being a copycat, it may be a victim of unfortunate timing. It certainly hits a lot of the same notes as Undertale. There’s a villain who seems exaggeratedly cute at first, there’s retro-gameplay altered in theme to meet modern sensibilities, excessive levels of games-talking-‘bout-games and even the same ending as Undertale, with one of the characters speaking directly to the audience and asking them not to player the game anymore.

An instruction I was all too happy to follow, as this is the question that was plaguing me throughout the two or three hours necessary to win: if Pony Island is a spiritual successor to Undertale, why do I love the latter whilst finding this new pretender rather insufferable?

It might be because the story feels a little bit too much like a gimmick, and doesn’t really know what to do with the good ideas it does have. To begin with, the game is way too excited about throwing away the initial illusion of cutesy “My Little Pony” visuals, which barely lasts five minutes before we get the darker stuff overriding it. We’re not even half an hour through before they’ve broken out the demonic pentagrams and creepy music. Oh look, a game about unicorns jumping over gates is actually a scam utilised by the Devil himself to gather souls. Man, that’s not something I’d expect Uncle D to be using. What? No, I’m not yawning. I’m, uh, silently gasping in terror. Yeah, let’s go with that.


Lovey the Flower! No, hold on.

Which brings me to my second point – shouldn’t the antagonist be more threatening? Shouldn’t I feel more of a motivation to win? Undertale made me scared of a smiling yellow flower, and Reigns was clever enough to make a lovable dog seem unaccountably creepy. But the devil here just feels like an annoyance, something that throws a multitude of inconvenient (but by no means concerning) obstacles in your path. It’s like trying to write an essay, and every couple of hours somebody pops up and deletes a random sentence. Pretty weak stuff, I think you’ll agree. And with no real characterisation for either the player character or the NPCs, I never get the sense of anybody actually being in danger or grief. At one point the player is allegedly sent to sleep and trapped for three centuries, but so what? We see no consequences; we don’t become bothered by anything. We just sit back down and keep playing. Why is this supposed to concern me?

And the metanarrative is just as shallow, highlighting why such ideas can either turn out as gold or mould. Maybe I should stop belabouring the point, but Undertale was wise enough to initially keep its bigger ideas in the background as underlying subtext, and then had them emerge forward as the game progressed. So it starts off by drawing us in with characters, then doubles down by connecting the more philosophical stuff to the main plot later on. It also had much more interesting ideas than this game. What would the ability to save and repeatedly reload your life do to a moral mind? How would the ideas of grinding for experience or trying to reach total completion look in a real-world context?

Pony Island doesn’t seem to have any thoughts on that level, or even any real thoughts at all. There are moments where you step away from the fictional arcade machine you’re playing, and bits where you get on the developer’s nerves by cheating or playing unfinished levels, but there’s no deeper meaning to any of it. It’s just… There. I guess it’s meant to be funny, but I didn’t find myself laughing – the ultimate nail in the coffin of the comedy game.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t parts I like. Or perhaps I should say part, singular. It’s just one scene, but it’s a very clever scene where you have to keep your eye trained on a certain entity to see how it changes, and the game tries everything it can to distract you, to make you look away. I won’t spoil what happens, but needless to say that the game really does pull out all stops and makes it near-impossible that first time you try, utilising the kind of tricks I’d never expect, yet somehow manages not to feel cheap in its tactics. There’s no deeper meaning behind it, but that doesn’t mean the basic idea in that scene isn’t clever and well-made, so due respect there.

Because it’s better than the gameplay, which was definitely getting to be a chore by the end. I suppose it’s in keeping with the joke that this is silly, shallow arcade gameplay, but let’s remember something – you’re still making me play a shallow arcade game. For lengthy periods of time. That might not have been the smartest move to perform on somebody who’s already losing patience with your creation to begin with.


Don’t let me type stuff into video games. That never ends well.

There are two forms of core gameplay: the platforming sections and the hacking sections, and they both suck. The former is briefly entertaining until the developers run out of abilities to give you (two), having you jump over obstacles and blast enemies with your mouth laser in 2D side-scrolling perspective. But once it’s gotten those bits out the way, the game has nothing more to offer action-wise, except for the occasional alteration in who you fight. But considering Code Genie, Angry Flying Skull Thing and Lord Giant Boss Demon Monster Sr. all go down with a hearty dose of tonsil beams to the face, there’s no real change that comes across as significant to the player.

But it’s better than the hacking, which is represented by that age-old pipe-water game AGAIN. The game does its best to hide it by adding a heavy computer-code aesthetic, but it’s still steering an object around a grid by swapping out directed sections of a maze. Pony Island, we talked about this just a few days ago. I know Bioshock was an incredible game, but it’s now widely accepted that hacking the vending machines was the one element that sucked more cock than a hungry leech in a chicken coop. Out of all the Bioshock aspects you could’ve taken inspiration from, why that one? It’s like deciding that the best part of National Lampoon’s Vacation is that racist scene in the city slums.

I’m torn on to whether to recommend Pony Island or not. On one hand, it is incredibly cheap at only four pounds, and some people do really seem to like it. Not to mention that if I’m going to give my money to anybody, I do want it to be small-scale artists trying to succeed with creatively interesting ideas.

But on the other hand, I don’t like this game! Four pounds isn’t much, but paying any amount of cash for an unenjoyable experience is wrong. That’s why going to visit distant relatives for Christmas is so utterly depressing, and why you usually bring heavy amounts of booze to compensate. But I didn’t have any alcohol to hand with this one, and when my flatmate asked me to help her tidy the kitchen, I was only too pleased to escape.



Though I did get to what seems like the canonical ending of Pony Island, the achievement list does suggest more gameplay and narrative hidden in there somewhere… But I don’t care. My work is officially over when the credits start rolling. If you want me to play more than that, you need to seduce me with some good material, and you can consider me as dry as a nun on this one. Maybe give it a try if you like your fourth-wall humour, or have just taken a great deal of drugs and need something entertaining in the background.


Pony Island has high ambitions, honourable intentions and even a few good ideas – but none of them ever amount to much. Generally inoffensive but nowhere near as original as it believes it is, the game becomes boring and eventually meanders into the frustrating.


Dishonored (which I will always maintain is spelt wrong, America) was one of those games which has received both too much and too little praise. This first-person stealth game was a critical darling upon release in 2012, achieving a stream of awards and much slobber from the online websites, even BEFORE most of them had been paid to like it.

And though audiences were positive and no real complaints were raised, the game faded in the minds of the public, likely due to the lack of multiplayer, the focus on a complex setting, a sense of genuine challenge and the fact that no gender controversies were made about it. These are all things that make it work in my mind, but that’s me – always bucking the trends to look cool. And people say critics don’t represent the people! To that I say: of course not, who the hell would want to? In the ancient Caddyshack war of Snobs versus Slobs, I stand firmly with Ted Knight against the invading forces of Rodney Dangerfield.

But I’m getting off-message. Dishonored was a good (if somewhat flawed) game, and with a sequel scheduled for release in November, I took it upon myself to consider how a potential follow-up might work. The answer? Well, read on, you lazy goose. I’m not going to do all the work for you.


Let’s consider things in reverse to what we did for Zelda (where we decided story should inform gameplay), because here we actually do have an excellent template for what a Dishonored sequel should be like: the Boyle Masquarade Ball in the first game. The absolute highlight of the whole affair, and a good blend of gameplay, world-building, organic side-quests, physical and social stealth with multiple solutions to a single problem: how do we work out which of the creepy women in wolf masks is our target, and how do we guarantee that she’s never seen again after this night?

And one of the things that made that mission work was that it was when the game suddenly had a lot more character. Thus, I would make our hero something very different to the silent, staring Corvo Attano in the first game. In this instalment the protagonist (we’ll call him Monty, purely because I like the name), is a charming raconteur and daring wit, the cream of high society… And also an accomplished cat burglar, going under the suitably thrilling name of “The Fox” when it comes to the popular press.

Bam. A solid set-up for a stealth game (yes, I know it’s similar to Thief, but there hasn’t been a good Thief game for ages, so I’mma take it), with bona ride reasons why our hero can sneak around at a professional level, not to mention why he’s breaking into places right from the start. When he’s seen trespassing, his mask covers his face and identity, and when he’s hiding in plain sight, he takes off that mask, and just goes around looking innocent and putting up a façade of endearing buffoonery. Basically, he’s a combination of the Scarlet Pimpernel and Batman, with all the delightful fun that implies.

Then we need some inciting incident, after a couple of tutorial missions where we just pinch large diamonds and so on. To my mind, two things would happen in tandem – Monty would steal something that’s much more valuable and important than he immediately realises, and simultaneously be visited by the ghost of Edward Cullen (aka, the Outsider), to be given a stack of magic powers to do with as he wishes.

And everything then happens at once. Monty makes a few selfish decisions regarding the mysterious item (i.e., keeping the damn thing), resulting in a friend of his being hurt/killed by somebody who’s intent on taking it back. Monty decides he’s not going to stand for that, and works to discover the true purpose of his new toy whilst looking to get revenge on the faction that seeks to take it from him, a la The Count Of Monte Cristo. Oh, did you see what I did there?

As he does so, he finds that he’s being pursued by a deadly assassin that is more reminiscent of Daud and Corvo from the previous game, a symbol of Dunwall’s grim past that needs to be overcome and left there, in favour of the lighter, more merciful approach that Monty embodies. Along this journey he’ll come to understand that his actions have consequences and that he must learn to think about others… But that doesn’t mean he can’t pinch a couple of rare baubles from blustering nobles now and then. Got to have some fun, right?


This one is tricky. Partly because Arkane Studios did such a good job of crafting the city of Dunwall the first time around, that it’s hard to think of specific areas where it can be improved. I know that the main characters in the first game seemed to lack the depth and substance of the world they lived in, but that’s one of those things that you can assume gets fixed for this one, like bringing your car in for a tire change and assuming that the tire will actually be attached to the car when you leave.

The real problem here is one of tone. Corvo’s grim saga of betrayal, revenge and revolution was a good fit for a city where everything seemed to be going wrong on an hourly basis, including an attack of zombie plague and a militant fascistic movement taking people’s liberties like one takes Twiglets from the bowl.

But the initial cheerfulness of The Fox’s life feels like we’re in a far lighter story, especially considering his own attitude. And whilst I suppose the city wouldn’t have to be Dunwall, it does feel cheap to move away from it purely for that reason.

So we’ll stick with the same city, but we’ll approach it in a time of relative prosperity. It’s not perfect – one of the likely themes considered would be the disparity of the poor versus the wealthy – but it’s doing well enough and doesn’t seem to need immediate saving from anything at the time. It’s like Gotham City between issues of Batman, whereas Dunwall previously felt like Gotham City in the third act of a major Batman arc – namely, completely buggered to hell. We navigate bustling cobblestone roads, cane tapping cheerfully as we glide between street urchins and market vendors. Then, when nobody’s looking, we duck into an alleyway, put on the mask of The Fox…


… And the challenge begins anew! First of all, I should urge that I like the idea of Monty being a legitimate inventor, crafting strange and wonderful devices to help him accomplish his burglaries. To my mind he would make a good descendant of Piero, the brilliant but uncomfortable man in the first game – maybe a grandson? Ah, doesn’t matter too much.

So we have a combination of gadgets, black magic and natural agility working to ensure that the bad guys get bonked, the jewels get jacked and the guards stay unguarded. And the next priority is to clearly categorise these abilities and their purposes.

I’m thinking that black magic and Outsider powers should relate to mobility and interaction with the environment, and be the cornerstone of “I’m stealthing around, and I’m staying that way.” We keep the teleport “blink” power and X-Ray vision because they’re awesome, but we also add powers like levitating objects, sealing certain doors closed, making unconscious bodies invisible and triggering sounds at a distance to distract people.

By the way, hiding bodies is now more important than ever. For Monty is a thief, not a killer, and he does NOT leave a bloody trail behind him. He knows how to use his reinforced cane for self-defence and he knocks people unconscious when he has to, but he doesn’t skewer them like kebabs and doesn’t summon hordes of rats to eat them alive. This might seem discordant after the potentially apocalyptic death count of the first game, but even then you were subtly praised for staying your hand and utilising non-lethal approaches. Besides, this is a new age for Dunwall, and moving past the darkness of what it once was is a key element of the story here. It’s also undeniable that Monty would seem slightly twisted if he kept a sense of humour alongside his blood-stained dagger. Uncharted proved that the lovable hero becomes a lot less lovable when he starts breaking necks like a turkey farmer approaching Thanksgiving.

So you do have to be sure that nobody’s going to find the sleeping guards, because you can’t just turn them into dust when you’ve finished hacking them pieces this time. And It’s going to be harder than ever to keep them hidden, because one very valid criticism of the first game was that the guards were incredibly easy to navigate. They’d walk across a room, pick their nose for a bit, then walk back to where they were and repeat the whole process. No chance of being surprised by somebody taking a long circuitous route, which is usually where the average stealth game is at its most interesting – having to improvise in a heartbeat.

Beyond that, the original game doesn’t need excessive revitalising. The stealth worked then, still works now, and is made more enjoyable by the scope of options given to you. Admittedly, I would like to see more of a use to the environment other than platforming. Maybe killing the lights by finding switches in the basement, or sneaking up behind goons to put sleeping powder in their hip flasks. But Dishonored did that sort of thing fine, so I won’t say that it needs fixing, only emphasising the strong points. And then there’s something that does not need emphasising at all.


Look, I know Dishonored 1 proudly tells you to play it your way, but that leads to a lack of focus and a fundamental problem: if I’m just trying to get to the end of the game without much thought to specific tactics, why wouldn’t I just load up my pistol and grenades (something most enemies drop after being murdered), and hack through everybody who comes into my sight line? Dishonored’s swashbuckling was fun, but ultimately easier to do than sneaking if you were happy to go lethal, especially when certain powers only had capacity for loud, lethal means.

Here that doesn’t fly anymore. I said The Fox was a good fighter, but there’s a reason he doesn’t charge in and turn a burglary into a robbery – the odds of survival rapidly diminish as more enemies get involved. Fighting one dude? Yeah, should be fine as long as he’s not a real expert. Two guys? Bit tricky, but not terrible. Three? Well, now things are getting problematic.

This is where the gadgets and toys come into play – they provide means to escape or to end combat quickly when somebody advances on you with a sword. Tranquilliser darts, smoke bombs, flashbangs, and the steel walking cane for when you need to parry a cutlass strike or smack somebody in the chops. Maybe add some fun toys to that roster, like rope traps that’ll drag an unsuspecting thug into the air, but on the whole your various gadgets are to be used in the event of an emergency.

The reason for this is that combat is going to be a genuine problem, something that you really might not survive, with reinforcements charging in all the time to back up their friend. Anybody would call for back-up after being attacked by a man with a large walking stick and a selection of steampunk James Bond gadgets.


And now we come to the heart of the matter. Dishonored’s original choice system doesn’t really work, for a number of reasons. The deceit of “play it your way” means either taking the easy, evil option or the difficult, more merciful path, and that in itself is a problem. It’s well recognised at this point that most “evil endings” equate to a weak-willed game over screen, feeling ultimately cheap and unrewarding after hours spent striving to accomplish something.

But for this game we’ve shifted the focus more firmly onto stealth, and removed the option to slit the throats of people who treat you with disdain. And whilst I’m happy to keep a reactive gameplay experience, it can no longer be to who you kill and who you spare.

No, the game should be altered by your methodology and approach, something the original did do right to a certain degree. Maybe you find the location of a target or rare item by conversing with the chatterboxes in a crowd, or maybe you break into a guard’s office to see where the hired goons seem to have been assigned to, and peak in through the windows to see what’s inside. The approaches you take will affect future missions, with those who decipher your tactics taking steps to prevent them, and those who are on your side trying to support you accordingly. If you kill the power to a building so that you might blend into the shadows, the next one you go for will have the fuse box under lock and key, because they heard about what you’re up to, you rogue. Of course, if you really work hard and take extra risks, you could conceal your approach after everything, and get to use it with hindrance again next time.

The social stuff also has a good template for how to converse and persuade others – the dialogue minigame in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of the best means of approaching persuasion in video game history. It would be easy to reimagine reading people as an Outsider power, and the rather terrifying Heart from the first game would actually have a use in the secrets it told you.


Like Zelda, Dishonored is a good game that doesn’t need a complete overhaul, just recognition of what work and what doesn’t. But whereas Zelda’s problem comes from a distinct reluctance to change or innovate for the better, Dishonored is too young a series to be guilty of that. What it needs is urging on for the stuff that it has already worked out how to do right, and the sense of discipline and focus to pick out what works and what doesn’t. Maybe the sequel next month will be good, maybe it won’t. But Arkane Studios, just remember that I’m happy to do some work for the next game, hmm? I’m the only freelancer who’ll take his hourly rate in Cadbury’s, you know.



So Irrational Games remastered the first two Bioshock titles as part of a big package deal, and those playing it on Steam promptly flipped their lid with regards to the actual quality of those remasterings. Which immediately goes to say something about player gratitude, considering that everybody who owned the original versions got the update for free. That’s like harassing the waitress for the quality of the free after-dinner mints, isn’t it?

But I was down for a return to Rapture either way, daddy-o. The original Bioshock was something of a critical darling upon release, for its atmospheric and interesting story set within a unique setting that managed to blend claustrophobic survival horror with… Oh, you know all this, don’t you? It’s Bioshock, it’s what it’s always been. Joe Schmoe’s plane crashes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean circa 1959, and he stumbles across a mysterious underwater city. A city which seems to be designed with the aesthetics from Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, yet based around the mentality and politics of Ayn Rand, only with a lot more monsters in diving suits than either of those ever expected. Can’t say anybody saw that coming.

Now I admit I got a bit nervous when I was waiting for it to download and saw that the Steam reviews were less cheerful than the waiting room of Dignitas, with people growling about frame rates and optimisation issues. But I seemed to avoid the worst of it, though not without a few hiccups along the way. Occasionally the game would stutter when I tried to go into the weapons menu or while hacking a vending machine, and the one crash I experienced lost me half an hour of difficult, late-game progress, but generally I found it functional and rarely noticed myself grumbling about it. So either the fanbase is completely unappeasable or I just got lucky – frankly, either seems possible.


Hmm… This may upset somebody.

But what disappointed me about the remastering was that it doesn’t look very mastered. I suppose there have been some graphical improvements, but only to the extent where it seems to have evolved from the original 2007 quality to… I don’t know, 2010 maybe? Which certainly makes the allegations of technical shoddiness a little hard to defend. Sure, I reluctantly understand when something like the new Doom makes my poor laptop slow to a rattling chug. There’s more particles there than the average desert, and so things can’t help but get a bit strained.

But Bioshock isn’t anywhere near as detailed as that. I admit it’s a more worthwhile improvement than Fable Anniversary, something that looked so horrific that I had to back away from the screen hoping that the villagers wouldn’t savage me, but I won’t say the game looks like a 2016 release. And here I was, hoping for the riper, richer Rapture we saw in Burial At Sea. Something sleek, elegant, detailed, dripping with stylistic beauty. But no – it’s just Bioshock as before, but the textures are a bit less fuzzy. Hope you weren’t anticipating it to look any better than the game that came out three years ago, because you’re right out of luck.

But putting aside the tedious matter of technicals, the remastering provided the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves how Bioshock holds up after nine long years and with two sequels, both of which built on and developed the original concept. Arguably. Sort of. Maybe. If that’s your bag. Because I remembered the original being really good, but it had been a while since I played it, long before I’d started down the long, bloody path of professional nit-picking and dream-ruining.

And right away I found myself noticing a few things that haven’t aged with particular grace. The hacking mini-game is as tedious as ever, and also deserves a second bollocking for inspiring every game since to represent the complexities of computer code as a broken sewage system and some slowly-flowing blue sludge. And with the cutthroat difficulty of a game that demands you take every advantage offered, ignoring the benefits of hacking the drones and racist ammo dispensers is like declining to use the option to turn to the left. You can probably get through the game without it, but it’s going to take a lot longer and you’ll die a lot more in the process.

So hacking is a major part of the game that’s forced onto you, never sufficiently evolving and losing its initial lustre after ten minutes. I also found myself getting annoyed at my inability to make an efficient melee attack, which Bioshock Infinite and every other AAA game released since had taught me to take for granted. When some genetically-warped goon is quickly advancing on me with a rusty sickle and I’m running low on ammo and superjuice, what I need is the option to just smack him away like a little bitch, switching to a new gun or power whilst he briefly reattaches his jaw. But all I can do here is cycle through my various firearms like somebody picking out a flavour of Frappuccino, hoping against hope that I can spin my way to the melee option before the villain finishes pulling my guts out. Alternatively, I can pause the game entirely to pick the wrench out manually from the weapon menu, a choice that doesn’t come to mind naturally in a panicked state, manages to break the flow of gameplay and also runs the risk of making the whole thing crash again, as that was what did it the first time.


And this DEFINITELY upsets somebody.

But let’s talk about that panicked state, because it was something I’d forgotten how good Bioshock was at doing – inducing absolute reactionary terror. Not in the style that one might experience in something like Alien: Isolation, but more along the lines of how it might feel to be lost in an airport car park with a scheduled flight in thirty minutes. It’s that tense, nerve-wracking feeling that every mistake is costing you, yet you’re also aware that you can’t stop to think about what you’re doing. You really don’t have the time for luxuries like rational thought.

Part of that is the fact that everything you do has some sort of notable price. Using your gun wastes ammo. Acquiring ammo uses up your cash. Using your plasmid powers drains Eve. Restoring health uses up your medkit supplies. Nothing is done for free, and all of these resources drain very quickly in a fight, meaning that any prude who’s above scrabbling in the rubbish for old bags of crisps and individual bullets will find themselves in deep trouble the next time a Big Daddy comes along. And with guns and plasmids specifically being inaccurate by design, losing your cool and spraying the wall above your target’s head with machine-gun fire is both common and deeply concerning.

Mind you, it does mean that an annoying little paradox is established within the mechanics. On the rare occasions I find myself weighed down with shotgun shells and bandages, it’s a lot easier to take the risk of exploring in order to find more loot and audio logs, meaning that in classic Rapture style, the rich start getting richer. But when I was clutching at the rags of my weakened health bar, trying to hold off the splicer hordes with half a pint of napalm and a single fistful of magic bees, it’s a lot harder to work up the courage to go marching into the unknown, and I’d usually just slink to the next mandatory objective, trying not to catch the eye of anybody in a bunny mask.

But I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to go hunting regardless. Bioshock’s library of discarded diaries does make for some compelling world-building and character development, as we scoop up every recording made by an increasingly concerned and unstable population who didn’t have the luxury of Twitter to pour out their hearts onto. Without its expert writing, Bioshock would only be remembered as a decent survival game with a pretty backdrop, because it’s the rock-solid plot and world-building that holds everything together.


I got this! I got this! I’m going to be fine! Wait, what’s that stomping sound?

So it was always a great shame when that rock-solid plot stepped out for a couple of hours to have some lunch, leaving us with the efforts of a rather surprised and unready intern. The game loses energy completely after a certain bathysphere explosion, trying to distract us with new characters and inconveniences that don’t really have anything to do with the story overall, until we finally push through to Ryan’s office and everything picks up again. Demented artist Sander Cohen is perhaps the low point of the game, missing out on either the subtle nuance and complexity of a character like Tenenbaum, but also failing to be really scary like Doctor Steinman was in the early chapters.

At their worst, the Bioshock cast just feels like third-rate Batman villains based around vague political ideologies, and everything in the shopping centre and farmer’s market certainly feels a lot shallower and less intellectual than the rest of the game. When Cohen shows up, warbling over the intercom and spinning spotlights everywhere like a drunk circus ringmaster, he always seems ten minutes from chortling “hello, I’m the living embodiment of a distorted philosophical concept pushed to its logical extreme with no thought for human compassion. How are you, darling?”

But when I said the shopping centre is the low point, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing. Every game ever made technically has a low point, and they do usually occur in the second act, so I won’t give Bioshock too much shit for that because it’s sandwiched between some gold star writing talent. The introduction was one of the most compelling introductions to a video game in history, to be outdone only by its second sequel six years later, so well done there. And when I said earlier that the game gets its mojo back when you finally confront Ryan, what I meant to say is that it gets enough mojo to make five decent games, and crams it all into one scene – now one of the most legendary moments in the medium of gaming.


That’s a classy response to your city exploding. Here’s to your impeccably stylish and demented brain, Andrew Ryan.

Admittedly the ending is oddly brief and underwritten, going from “final blow landed in the disappointingly easy boss fight” to rolling the credits just two minutes later. Perhaps the writer was being lazy and Ken Levine locked him in his room until he finished, and two days later the poor chap just really wanted to use the bathroom and decided to rush the last bit. Whatever – it’s a small complaint, like a pockmark on a supermodel’s toe.

Bioshock isn’t escaping without a hearty recommendation, but I do think it might’ve been a little over-praised when it comes to the quality of the raw gameplay. It’s certainly not infallible, and little balancing issues and problems permeate the game to the point where they can’t be ignored. But that doesn’t change the fact that once I started playing, I didn’t stop for a while. And then I came back again. And again. And again. And again, until I had powered through the whole thing and was stood atop the needle-filled body of a certain semi-Irish scoundrel who was in need of a damn good thrashing. It’s a great game that has stood the test of time, so come and join me in Rapture, won’t you? No? Would you kindly reconsider?

Good. Then let’s go swimming.



A master chooses, a slave obeys, but only an idiot turns his nose up at one of the most absorbing worlds and stories that gaming history can provide. Whilst the remastering isn’t anywhere as near as mastered as we’d hoped, it is still Bioshock in heart and soul, and consequently it’ll be one of the best things released this year.


Over the last year I’ve been playing Zelda. A LOT of Zelda, actually. Wind Waker, Ocarina Of Time, Majora’s Mask, A Link Between Worlds, Oracle Of Ages, and Metal Gear Solid 3 on the 3DS. That’s not a Zelda game, I just hate it so much I want to grumble for the rest of this paragraph about how awful it is. Ugh.

And though I have great affection for Zelda, like many Nintendo properties I think it could use an injection of fresh blood, not just remaking it periodically with alterations at the fringes, like putting a woollen jumper on a decaying sheep and hoping nobody will notice. All ideas lose their lustre and charm the more we are exposed to them, and concepts that seemed good at the time can age poorly or be supplanted by better ones.

Admittedly, it’s an exercise in futility to demand change from Nintendo (or at least the good kind of change, such as NOT reducing Mario to an infinite runner and compromising on elegant and nuanced design), but I’m going to demand that change anyway. In an age flushed with reboots, reimaginings and remakes, it’s not hard to concede that another one could make its way forward and even achieve some success. This is my hypothetical Zelda game that’ll likely never get made, despite the fact I’d want to see it.


This is the first thing you work out, because good design should complement and serve a basic narrative. And whilst it’s not usually done that way round in the industry, this is a fantasy and I’m going to indulge myself a little more before we finish.

First of all, we throw out Link being a character with no personality. Wind Waker proved that he’s more likeable when he emotes realistically, rather than trying to be a blank canvas for the player to project onto. Emotionless Link doesn’t work now and never really did, the idea was just so inoffensive that nobody cared too much. Maybe we keep Link being silent for this game, because a voice might be jarring at this point, but that doesn’t mean we don’t give him obvious drives, hopes, desires, fears and complexities. After all, the hero’s journey demands a proper hero at the centre, not a training dummy on marionette strings who has no more investment in what’s going on than the average deku nut.

Which brings the question of what exactly Link wants to achieve. Well, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – we’ll go with the classic explanation and say that Ganondorf is being evil, so Link has to hit him with a sword until he stops. But “generically evil” isn’t enough of a reason for somebody to commit atrocities, so we ask ourselves another question: why is he doing this?

Well, it occurred to me that we never really see things from Ganon’s perspective, not properly. There’s certainly not much of a personal motivation to defeat him, as he usually has only a couple of appearances in each game, once at the beginning to announce that he’s there at all, and once at the end for the boss fight where you kick his ass.

Which is where my central story concept originates from – I would structure a narrative in which Link, Zelda, Ganondorf and an extra fourth friend (no, not Tingle) grow up together as children and genuinely get along, before the Triforce then shows up and ruins everything by gifting each of the main three heroes a third of its divinity. Zelda gains great wisdom and understanding from her segment as per usual, whilst Ganon is hit with the Triforce Of Power and promptly goes megalomaniacally insane from its influence, unable to function stably now that he’s been hit with the power of a god.

See what I mean? My Ganon would be a good person corrupted by an object that was not intended for mortal usage, hence why his close friend Link has personal investment in stopping him and separating the two. It’s like the second Sam Raimi Spider-Man film, but with a gold triangle instead of a robot octopus. Ganon isn’t evil at his core, but the Triforce has warped him into a monster, making him both more frightening and more tragic all in one go, especially considering his new insanity would cause him to attack his friends for their pieces of that golden triangle.

Which brings me to the last point – Link is NOT the receiver of the Triforce Of Courage. Everybody thinks he has it, including himself, but what I’d actually do is send it to that fourth friend I mentioned and reveal the truth in the third act before the finale. Because it would make Link’s acts of heroism all the more heroic, as he’s not backed up by magic and he’s not a chosen one. He’s just a guy who stepped up to do the right thing, and that was all that was really needed. Link, the unnamed new character and Zelda work together to bring Ganon down, and rest is all details and plot points to be finalised later.

Who would that fourth friend be? Well, I was thinking of a younger kid who looks up to the rest of them, the symbolic representation of innocence and purity that lies in the balance. The game is about trying to save civilisation, but we see that struggle represented in the confused emotions of a younger friend, who embodies the battle of good, evil, power, courage, wisdom and more, deciding where his loyalties are owed. Exciting stuff.

Which leads us to the question of where to put this epic saga. The grand, sprawling majesty of Hyrule Kingdom? Well… No. Not exactly.


Here’s something else to make the diehard Zelda fans bluster a bit. I would confine my story to one city, and one city only, with maybe a bit of land around the outside as and when plot demands it. Probably Hyrule capital, as the existence of Zelda herself suggests that her castle has to be in the area, but it doesn’t have to be there if we decide to reincarnate her like they did with Tetra.

Because if there’s one thing these games have always done well, it’s oddly emotive and endearing NPCs and random townsfolk. When Ganon blows up everything in Ocarina Of Time, the only part that made me sad was seeing the bustling market square turned into a lifeless ghost town. I couldn’t really care less what happens to the fields and plains outside, because nobody lives there except Maron, her lazy father, and their entrepreneur field hand Edmund Blackadder.

So double down on the city and personality of everything within it, making the whole thing feel like one vast but diverse settlement that all connects to each other. Make various districts, regions and locations that are visually distinctive, and include a likeable melting pot of all of Hyrule’s races. Maybe the Zoras live around the river, just next to Gorontown and its Hard Rock Café, arf arf. We should be establishing from the beginning that for all its faults, the city is something good, something that needs protecting and deserves these efforts to restore it.

The point of this is that when said city is threatened, the audience gives a damn and feels invested. Ganon promises to blow up the world in a lot of these games, but considering you never stay in one place for more than ten minutes, it’s hard to care about any of it. Having the whole map feel like Link’s home – albeit a very big and messy home – means that there’s a sense of community, and ideally enough of one to make the audience shout “hell, no” when a demonic boar comes threatening destruction.


Well, right from the start it just makes sense to boost Link’s basic agility, increasing his climbing and jumping skills, as well as giving him the option to sprint. This is a city full of rooftops to be run across, alleys to hide in, crowds to duck through and drainpipes to climb, and Link is some simple urchin who would know how to scamper around an urban landscape. Enhance the ability to parkour across the town a bit and now it’s a vast, three-dimensional map that’s simply fun to traverse on its own terms. And not only that, but we can make it even more fun with the reintroduction of a couple of old toys from Zelda lore.

Those toys are the hookshot and the deku leaf. For those of you who don’t know, the latter was a Wind Waker item that functioned mainly as a parachute, slowing and controlling your fall whenever you leapt off something. So clearly it has an obvious function in any game where roof tiles are the new pavements. I don’t want to see my innards getting scooped into a barrel by some grimacing guard every time I slip on a drain gutter and take a tumble.

The hookshot is equally self-explanatory, a retractable grappling hook that historically has allowed Link to rappel up surfaces or drag enemies towards him. Here it would fit the mechanics like a glove, allowing you to swing over gaps, launch up the sides of buildings, and be used as a more central weapon in combat, but more on that later.

And none of that snapping to first person in order to aim it, OK? We can do that on bows and arrows, but here the emphasis is flow of movement and not stopping if you don’t have to. Take influence from Arkham Asylum, with the little symbol popping up on hookshot-friendly ledges when you get close enough to them.

And then there’s the puzzles, and right away I can think of something I’d do to change those: integrate them more cleanly into the world around them.

What do I mean by that? Well, one of the things I liked most about Majora’s Mask is that the time-travelling puzzles made sense within the context of the story. You find out that an old woman got burgled last night, so you hop back in time to prevent it from happening with your new knowledge. That all holds up within the established ideas of the world and doesn’t feel like the game is intruding on the story and setting.

But most puzzles in Zelda games don’t feel that natural. There is no real reason the water temple would have several buttons to change the tides, as well as moving platforms and spikes that lead to a chest holding a key that opens a door on the other side of the building. And don’t think you can get away with just calling these labyrinths “tests of courage,” either. In my Zelda game, the puzzles are either based on navigating traps set by somebody who genuinely doesn’t want you to progress, or more focused on plausible problems within the context of the world around you.

Finally, I’d make my dungeons and my open world a little less distinct from each other. Not cut out the dungeons altogether, but don’t make them an entirely separate pocket dimension. In the urban context it makes sense that most of them would be located in buildings, so why not have the option to access them through different entry points? Not as some mandatory thing that you do because you can’t complete the dungeon otherwise, but because you’ve found out from an NPC that you can deactivate certain traps and get a good sniper position if you try going through the higher window first.

I’d also make dungeons shorter and much more common, maybe a dozen brief rooms each, with most of them being optional and containing various new abilities. With time, all dungeons get frustrating, claustrophobic and run the risk of being repetitive, so we break up the monotony before it can ever sink in.

Notice how I very specifically DIDN’T say power-ups just then, I said abilities. Hacking your way defiantly through some secret labyrinth should unlock new attacks, or fresh options in combat and exploration. It should NOT just make the weapons and moves you already have become more powerful. Link is a small child going up against the hordes of darkness – it makes sense that he’d be fighting intelligently, utilising a bag of tricks scavenged from various hidey-holes around the capital.


Which I guess brings us to combat mechanics proper, and if there was anywhere in the Zelda games in need of a tune-up, this was it. First of all, Nintendo can sort out the targeting system, for god’s sake. Just make it how every other game in the universe does it, locking on and switching between enemies with the right analog stick. I’m sick of trying to engage in combat with some ravenous beastie, only for the Hero Of Hyrule to advance nervously on some dozing caterpillar far beyond it, all because the programmer doesn’t know the correct etiquette for target-lock.

And as mentioned, I’d also increase the utility and importance of the hookshot, maybe using it to replacing the shield altogether. Remember, my Link is a nimble, light-footed rapscallion that won’t block an enemy attack if he can avoid it altogether, and in my mind the shield would be a heavy, unwieldy thing that comes with suitable penalties. But by using the hookshot in tandem with the sword, I’d like to see the player drag enemies around with the chain, disarm them of weapons, throw them into other foes, trip them up, and maybe work with environmental objects in order to get that edge in combat. How cool would it be to organically swing over some goon’s head, only to pull down a damaged wall with the same item and squash him with the debris?

I’d also remove the aspect where you stun-lock most enemies easily. For a while in the 3D Zelda games it’s been pretty simple to get the edge on most bad guys by rattling their heads with the Master Sword until they die, but that won’t fly in mine. Ramp up the AI intelligence so that they know how to deflect a sword blow AND recover from one too, so it’s less about knocking down various armoured weebls than it is about looking for the opening or opportunity. A lot of enemies won’t even leave easy ways for you to attack them in the first place, making the environment essential for success.

Same principles apply to bosses, which admittedly is something Zelda has usually been pretty good about. My choice of bosses would be a rogue’s gallery of monsters, mercenaries and minions, all of which have legitimate backstories that explain their actions. Which is why upon defeating them that Link doesn’t just kill/desummon/explode the bastards, but hands them over to the city guard for a just trial. After all, this city is meant to be something good, right? It knows how to treat criminals with respect.


So there we have it. Rather more experimental than most Zelda games, but I think there’d be real potential in something like this. Originality and reinvention associated with old products is often approached with disdain by hardcore fans, but if Nintendo are going to keep making these games, I’m going to ask that they acknowledge the times we live in to some degree.

Did you think this premise sounded solid? Can you think of anything you’d add or subtract from Zelda games as a whole? What games would you also like to see tackled in this way? Stay tuned for next time, where we’ll be looking at refining a certain sneaky-stabby franchise that’s now coming back after a temporary hiatus – and no, it’s not Assassins’ Creed.


Bayonetta is one of those games that, regardless of what you think of its quality, is always interesting to talk about. To make an analogy, a holy choir of orchestral angels descending from heaven would certainly be worth discussing, and even more so if they abruptly crash-landed after being swatted out of the air by a giant ponytail.

That said, there is something very upfront and in-your-face about Platinum Game’s hacky-slashy biblical comedy action thing. After all, it’s certainly not subtle. “Yes, our heroine has all the modesty of a sex shop. Yes, the characters are anime archetypes. Yes, there’s a story that’s utterly incomprehensible. Yes, the gameplay is pinched from Devil May Cry, along with most of the themes and concepts.” Hell, the idea of a highly-sexualised protagonist born with parentage in two warring factions a la Romeo And Juliet, cutting his or her way through monsters sent out from the Christian afterlife? As impressive as it sounds, it isn’t exactly new when Dante was doing it first, but the interesting parts are found in the presentation.

Which reluctantly brings me to the core plot – or perhaps I should say plots, the part of the review I should probably wade through first. Bayonetta is a mysterious witch (here redefined as stripper/dominatrix/gunslinger/occultist/hair stylist), who was found twenty years ago in a coffin at the bottom of a lake, with no memory of her life before then.

OK, Platinum Games, I’m sticking with this so far. It’s The Long Kiss Goodnight for people who thought Geena Davis should’ve been wearing less clothes. What else you got?

Well, Bayonetta is then attacked by angels on a regular basis, who want to kill her because… Err, actually that’s never very well explained. There’s a couple of throwaway lines at the beginning to justify their repeated presence, but it doesn’t explain much and raises more questions than it answers, which feels… Strange. The angels don’t seem to have any real bearing on the plot, as all the main villains belong to other factions, so they just frequently swarm Bayonetta like wasps at a picnic and she swats them away again. You’d think the divine armies of Heaven would warrant their own game, but here they’re just annoyances, something to be dealt with alongside the huge civilian casualties and excessive shampoo bills. Though I guess in that case I can filter the angels out of the plot synopsis I’m constructing in my head – is there anything else you need to tell me, Platinum Games?


Gotta say, I’ve never seen a Comic-Con robbery before.

Well, there’s a second witch called Jeanne, who is Bayonetta’s sister, but also isn’t her sister because of reasons. And there’s a younger version of Bayonetta who’s her daughter, and also not her daughter because she’s traveled forward in time but thinks Big B is her mother. And you meet her dad (I think), who takes only five minutes to convince you that he is the most insufferable person who ever lived, but then he informs you that he wants to build a new universe. Or destroy it, or merge the existing ones, or something like that. It’s not important right now. He’s resurrecting God by putting two eyes in a statue, except they’re not eyes, they’re jewels. Or they’re people, sort of. It’s probably not important.

Wait, what?

Oh, and there’s a guy in a Doctor Who scarf who’s trying to kill Bayonetta because she killed his dad, but he’s also her love interest because we have no idea what tone we’re trying to set with this character. But Bayonetta didn’t actually kill his dad, and yet never feels the need to adequately explain this to him, leaving him in a state of mild trauma for all his life. But it’s kooky in presentation, so I guess it’s OK, right?

Erm, could I just ask-

Oh, and there’s a rival clan of sages who are based around images of the sun. And a guy from hell who makes weapons out of old music LPs. And a German city that somehow makes New York look like a petrol station. And a chubby comic relief character with a nice car. And a deity you punch into the sun. And a-

Wait, wait, wait! Who was the guy with the scarf again?

We won’t mince words anymore – Bayonetta’s story is a huge, throbbing weak point to match the ones that all the bosses seem to have. It’s utterly confusing, presented both too fast and too slow to make any real sense to those who haven’t spent the last five years drawing on their cell wall with blunt crayons. There’s whole story elements which seem to have no connection to anything else and the characters are too hooked on their own archetypes to really appeal to anybody.

Bayonetta is the perfect example of this. Aside from the sub-par voice acting, the only time she seems likable is when she drops the act of being some unflappable badass and just consents to behave like a human being. All the silly catsuits in the world can’t make me think that she’s anything other than annoying, especially when she’s utterly cold and unimpressed by the genuinely interesting people she meets in the first half of the game. There might’ve been an interesting character study in somebody who puts up a wall of exaggerated sexuality in order to hide their own weaknesses or insecurities… But director Hideki Kamiya was clearly more concerened with generating one-liners and reasons for her to flirt with Tom Baker’s Japanese nephew.

Which isn’t to say the story can’t be entertaining. It’s not well written or well-structured by any means, but there’s something so gleefully blasphemous about it that it never gets boring, to say the least. It’s especially fascinating early on, where the game is completely in love with its own ideas and pushes them to bursting point, with a fight scene in a graveyard that throws out all ideas of restraint and goes into what I can only think of as an “otaku frenzy.”


I have no words. Only a sudden remembrance of a fair few repressed memories.

But it’s hard to appreciate that commitment to entertaining the audience, because whilst Kamiya knows what he’s doing when it comes to gameplay, when it comes to film and animation the directing talent on show is nothing short of awful. Do you remember that great slow-motion scene in the reboot Devil May Cry game, where Dante gets dressed as he flies through the air in a falling caravan? That scene worked becuae we could actually understand what we were seeing, and that seems to be a minor consideration here.

It’s actively frustrating. Bayonetta and Jeanne would be acting out some demented combat sequence/dance routine that leaves Heaven’s soldiers as smears of blood and feathers, but I couldn’t register any of it among an undisciplined flurry of camera angles, close-ups and quick-cuts. So when it inevitably ended on some action pose and a musical flourish (obviously intended as the point where the audience should’ve been cheering) I could only scratch my head and make a mental note to  watch it again at half speed. This must be how my mother feels when she watches a Marvel movie.

But let me get off the hate train and step onto the praise platform. The gameplay is good, a more hyperactive version of Devil May Cry and featuring most of the same elements. Light attack, heavy attack, dodge, jump and fire pistols. Mix those options with some wobbling of the analog sticks and you got yourself a combo, my friend. No, we don’t expect you to know which one. Yes, it still feels deeply unnatural to pause in the middle of an attack to enact certain moves, but considering you can get along fine without it you probably shouldn’t worry.

I admit, I got through most of this game button-mashing like my life depended on it, and slamming dodge when anything looked at me funny. There’s a rather neat feature wherein evading an attack at the last second causes time to temporarily slow down to a crawl, allowing you to kick your attacker in the face with the power of bullet-time; and the capacity to shoot enemies with your feet is as enjoyable as it is memorable.

There’s also more powerful attacks which involve hair. No, I don’t understand it either. Apparently most occult magic is focused on the follicles, hence why all the witches’ most epic attacks involve their hair unravelling and reforming into giant fists, or shoes, or even monsters. The problem is that Bayonetta’s outfit is woven from that same hair, and oh no! The more powerful your attacks, the more her outfit visibly disappears. And I don’t mean she goes from long sleeves to short sleeves. At times it looks like she should be starring in that Dead Or Alive swimsuit spin-off series, her outfit reduced to a couple of tasteful strands of hair that cover up the most indecent parts. How inconvenient for our heroine in cold weather, but how fortunate for all the observing nerds who suddenly find themselves hotter than ever before.

Beyond that, it’s exactly what you’d expect. There’s some platforming, some basic puzzle work, a few collectables and optional challenges that involve killing people with a handicap (by which I mean certain powers are taken from you, not you kicking people in wheelchairs).


This is religion that I entirely approve of. Cake or death, motherfuckers?

It’s also worth mentioning that with or without those restrictions, you’ll probably die regardless. Because for all Bayonetta’s breezy confidence, this is a blisteringly tough game that enjoys putting the players through their paces. I usually got spat out of combat with a score equivalent to what you’d expect a coma patient to achieve in any other game, so those of you looking for an easy power fantasy might come out the other side with your tail between your legs. As a veteran Dark Souls player I find myself used to such treatment, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that most who started this game didn’t find themselves getting to the end.

Mind you, there are times where being beaten feels less fair than it should be. Forget Bayonetta’s nudity, the final boss is outrageous enough to be sporting an instant-kill attack; and the game has a nasty habit of throwing random, fatal Quick Time Events at you without warning. It’s staggering the amount of times I’d be in the middle of some extra-long cutscene, when suddenly the game would shout at me to slam a button combination and before I could react I’d be looking at a GAME OVER visual. Points lost for that, I think.

What else? I guess the visuals are nice, if a bit basic. The game does what a lot of games do now and presents the angelic forces as a combination of broken porcelain dolls, ragged feathers and inhuman shapes, like Michelangelo’s David was crossbred with the toy from Annabelle and a dead chicken. But it doesn’t look bad among the European architecture of the setting and the music is rather good, including a recurring cover of “Fly Me To The Moon” and an even catchier synth saxophone number at the end.

Which brings me to my final point, which came back to me as I was watching Bayonetta dance alluringly to said saxophone number. I’d been thinking it for a while, and I couldn’t put it out of my mind. Shouldn’t this game be… Sexier? I know that’s an odd complaint, one that I’d normally rank alongside “doesn’t disgorge free ham from the disc drive,” but it’s different here. I’m from the school of thinking that generally doesn’t care what you do, as long as you do it well and without compromise. And it’s obvious that Platinum Games and Kamiya wanted Bayonetta to be as sexy as possible.

Spoiler warning – she isn’t, not in the slightest.

It’s hard to put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s the failing of the graphics to make her look sufficiently alive, let alone like a member of the same race as us. Perhaps it’s because her body proportions seem so exaggerated to the point of unreality. Perhaps it’s because she never actually seems to have genuine sexual interest in anybody, and it all comes across as highly forced. Whatever it is, our pointy protagonist doesn’t seem sufficiently human to elicit any erotic feelings. It’s like being asked to feel attracted to a standing lamp in fetish gear. A fairly subjective whinge, yet it’s hard to ignore. Everything about this game is hard to ignore.


This is less sexy, and more awkward. Really awkward.

But at the end of the day, Bayonetta is guilty, stupid fun, often making mistakes but rarely being tedious or annoying. It’s nowhere near as smart as it could or should be – there really feels like there was opportunity for self-aware satire here – but slicing angels into holy giblets is satisfying enough that I can recommend it to those who like their action games extreme, and featuring style over substance. Give it a go, but don’t expect titillation – you’ll come away dry and disappointed.


Bayonetta is poorly written but fundamentally enjoyable, achieving a weirdly hypnotic quality with all the insanity running throughout it. Flaws in the design do detract from the experience, but still leave a basic concept that is executed with enthusiasm and glee… Even if it ends up less erotic than boiled ham.


Wind Waker is an odd creature, isn’t it? After the comparatively serious one-two console punch of Ocarina Of Time and Majora’s Mask, the Zelda franchise decided to lighten the tone somewhat, changing to a cel-shaded cartoon aesthetic and making Link a dopey young sprout of a kid who seemed much more real that his previous incarnations, even though he looked more like a drawing in the margins of a schoolbook than ever.

And though the critics liked what they saw, the western audience seemed a lot less happy. But then again this was the early 2000s, where gaming was still desperately trying to prove it was mature by adopting a thirteen year-old’s impression of the concept. No niceness, no fun, you hear me? All that stuff is for babies. Give me more WWII shooters, and another GTA game to back that up.

Thankfully it’s now generally accepted that Wind Waker was actually really good, hence the rerelease on the Wii U. And because somebody had a birthday recently (hint, it was me), I suddenly had a brand new console on which to try this HD remake. And good thing too, because Wind Waker is probably the best Zelda game I’ve played, full stop.

Part of why is that Link is much more human and characterised than any former version we’ve seen, except perhaps that god-awful TV Link with the goofy voice. This green-suited kid is still silent, but with an emotive face that portrays a variety of expressions, even in gameplay. And this time he’s not setting out to fulfil some ancient prophecy, oh no. Instead, a condor with a lot of kick-ass tattoos has stolen his little sister, and Link ain’t going to let that fly just because it’s on the endangered species list.


“Hi, big brother! Sure is a great day for not getting kidnapped!”

And so he grabs a sword and hops in the nearest boat in order to save her. Because since the last game, Hyrule has had a slight problem with damp. Actually, let’s not mince words – it’s an archipelago now; a scattered mass of small islands with the roiling ocean between them, and so much sunken treasure that it’s a wonder the economy doesn’t collapse every time somebody goes crab fishing.

And everything spirals out from that point. Little Linkette’s kidnapping turns out to be a small part of a far larger web of events, in which we see all the traditional faces come back. Ganon, Tingle, the Deku Tree, Zelda… Actually, let’s talk about the Princess for a moment, with the mandatory spoiler warning thrown up for the next couple of paragraphs.

Because for a while it seemed like nobody had invited Zelda to the party, as she’s the only one who doesn’t get a mention for almost half the game. And the narrative role of determined-female-friend/sort-of love-interest-but-not-really was more than adequately fulfilled by Tetra, a young pirate captain who seemed far more likeable than Zelda had ever been. No traditionalist to be found in me – I was welcoming the change and the disappearance of a tedious character along with it.

Except that Tetra turns out to be Zelda herself, a literal reincarnation of that original character who has her royal persona re-emerge when you all find the sunken remains of Hyrule Castle. And like that, Tetra suddenly became a lot more boring. I don’t mean that I found her inherently dull afterwards, I mean it felt like the writer didn’t care anymore. The second Tetra reappears in that familiar pink dress with the Triforce on her hand, she barely had a word of appreciable dialogue until the very end, where she throws it off and goes back to piracy. I guess we know Zelda’s true gift now – not the ability to defeat Ganon, but the power to kill every scene she’s in.


It’s the only game where the boat can sing sea-shanties for you.

Speaking of killing power, the combat has had a little bit of a tweak. Not a huge amount – few Nintendo properties are brave enough to go nuts enough to reinvent anything, even the bad ideas – but there’s a little bit more polish here. Link now has a counter-attack, where pressing A just before a goon hits you causes the Hero Of Hyrule to roll around and stab his foe in the butt. Good stuff, and the reintroduction of all the old items doesn’t hurt either. The targeting system is still a nuisance, as the game clearly has better ideas about what you should be aiming at, but on the whole it’s perfectly serviceable and usually fun.

Which is more than most people were saying about the sailing element when the game first hit stores over ten years ago. The idea is that the big open ocean of Hyrule lies before you, and you have to use the titular Wind Waker device to change the angle of the wind and use it to push the sails in your boat. But like many of Link’s toys in the past, this legendary item of the gods is unceremoniously dropped in your lap simply when the game decides it’s time for you to have it, and the same applies to most of the game’s weapons, including the all-important Light Arrows which show up in a box two rooms before the final boss fight.

But I’m getting distracted. The sailing is fundamentally a Good Idea, such a Good Idea that I felt the need to capitalise it, twice. Because the danger was always going to be that the ocean itself would be boring, and the act of travelling it would become boring by extension. Wind Waker skips that problem admirably, making this sandbox a hotspot of weird locales that makes it all too tempting to put off story quests and just head for the next island on the horizon – and there is ALWAYS another island on the horizon.

So the world feels big and ripe for exploration, and though I would’ve liked to have a few more hub towns (where all the most interesting stuff seems to happen), there is a simple joy in filling your map with every island the game has to offer. Sure, there’s a point where the actual act of steering the wind starts to become more of a chore, but when that happens Nintendo offer up a sail that changes the direction of the breezes automatically. And if you’re the kind of hollow-eyed, joyless gimboid who would rather be efficient than think about fun, then a) there’s a ton of e-sports competitions for you to enter, and b) Nintendo have provided an option for fast travelling across the map, where you don’t have to endure a single exciting adventure. Lucky you.

And of course there are puzzles, which feel intriguing in the sandbox setting but get overused in the dungeons – the usual case in Zelda games, quite frankly. But for what it’s worth, the puzzles here are generally taxing and fast-paced enough not to get dull, even when you’re having to bounce beams of light around as normal.


Sadly, there is no fire hose/bug spray combo. Pretty design, though.

Oh, and what mention of Wind Waker would be complete without due praise given to the audiovisual qualities? Shirking angular polygons in favour of this game’s cel-shaded design was a decision routed in good common sense, with more than a little artistic elegance added into the mix. Whilst Link’s face does occasionally border on the terrifyingly inhuman when he has to express rage or frustration, the characters do generally look cute and the world does feel quaintly endearing, cribbing on a combination of Japanese and Polynesian influences, at least by my estimation. And when you hit the water with the wind in your sails, a triumphant orchestral soundtrack springs into life to give that real feeling of celebratory glee. Pretentiously phrased, but no less true because of it.

Look, I said it earlier: this is the best Zelda game going, at least by my experience. Everything about it seems to be excited and filled with life (bar the curiously bittersweet finale), and the places where it experiments are the places where it tends to shine, so you’re not likely to get this experience from a different entry in the series. If you have a Wii U, this should already be on your shelf. It’s earned its right as a classic.


The Wind Waker is a game about striving for greatness, and manages to match that sense of scale and importance whilst retaining focus on the most human versions of the characters we’ve seen. Give it a go, because it’s unlikely to be topped any time soon.


Hold on, let me get all the jokes out of my system. Singing In The Reign, It’s Reigning Men, Let It Reign, Learning The Reigns, and so on and so on. Good. Now I know that if I have to, I can reign it in. AW CRAP.

I must say, the new iPhone game “Reigns” (which no longer looks like a real word to me anymore) rather took me by surprise. There’s something on the App Store that overtook Minecraft? That overtook Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, those driving test practising thingies and all the others? I guess even the most well-fortified castle can’t stop one or two unkempt peasants from climbing over the wall and disrupting the natural order of things. I give it a month at best before he’s tossed out on his ear to start digging for scraps again. Oh, wait – it’s already been booted back down the ranks.

Which basically brings us to the idea of Reigns, which would present the above scenario as: “Sire, one of the peasants has broken into the thrown room! Should we throw him out?” To which you can swipe right on your advisor’s image for yes and left for no.

Yeah, you heard me right. I saw the comparison too, as a couple of minutes in I thought to myself: “well, it seems like somebody has weaponised Tinder, or at least found a non-sexual use for it.” Whether this is a vast improvement on the formula or defeats the point entirely is kind of up to the individual’s taste, but for the record the game is aware of the comparison, parodying the dating app openly when it comes to picking your new bedtime buddy. And like Tinder, this also ended in my character developing an STD. Damn it, even my fantasy escapism seems to be following the patterns of sucky real life.


You are right, my Playmobil wife. But on the other hand, I was shooting them with arrows yesterday… Maybe give them time to cool off?

The basic premise is that you are the king of some vaguely medieval, pre-Renaissance fantasy world and you must make choices in order to preserve your own power and the state of the Kingdom. There’s four separate stats you have to manage with those choices, and picking certain options will unlock new cards that show up later, in vaguely simplified version of the gameplay that Hand Of Fate was peddling. And before you decide you want to roleplay Robert Baratheon and let the whole thing slide into ruin whilst you gorge yourself into oblivion, the game will contrive an explanation to kill you if those stats mentioned above should ever go too low or two high.

Doesn’t really matter if you do die, though. If his lordship should ever suffer a mild case of daggers to the back, or forgets the basics of economics to such a degree that he allows the Shadowrun MegaCorps to overtake everything, the game just coughs up a new king to play as afterwards, usually with most of the choices that dead ol’ dad made still intact.

Let me put down a flag here so we know where we stand – I don’t actually like Reigns and I certainly won’t be recommending it when this review is over. It’s not dreadful and it’s by no means offensive, but twenty minutes in I suddenly realised that I’d really like to be clipping my toenails, or deciding on a meal for that evening, or taking potshots at the postman with a crossbow now that he’s brave enough to approach the house again. And when a game can’t even distract me from my underlying urge to kill and cause misery (an urge shared by all critics at heart), I feel that it’s not worth the £2.29 entry fee to get in.

Honestly, I was just bored by the thing. There’s no sense of stakes to anything I do when I know that Kingly junior is waiting in the wings to take over the second my head gets lopped off, and you never get to see the Kingdom itself, only the square heads of your advisers coming to you with constant problems or useless trivia. So why should I care about the state of something I can’t even see, and don’t really believe even exists in the context of the fantasy the game is presenting?

And when it’s not being boring, it ventures into the frustrating. Listen Reigns, if you’re going to have stats changing, either tell us exactly how they’re going to change or keep it completely secret – don’t do this annoying half-measure you’ve come up with. Observing one option without picking it will show how much of an impact it’ll have on your stats, but for some reason it doesn’t tell you whether the impact will be positive or negative. Some of these are easy to guess – obviously building more monasteries will increase church influence, no shit Sherwood – but some are a lot harder to pin down or easy to guess. Does marrying somebody help the treasury when you receive a dowry, or does a royal wedding cost too much to make a profit? I could see justifications for both, which means a large part of the game is just trying to read the developer’s mind. And that, without meaning to be confrontational, can bugger right off.



But the game isn’t without its positive qualities. The visual style is amusing and it was a nice change to play an iPhone game that didn’t have micropayments, a constant need for Internet and a decent file size, as well as controls that actually feel as though they were working with the design and not against it. I also liked certain elements of the writing (like the first appearance of the Devil, partly because I love a family reunion), but it’s hard to say if the game is written well when everything is conveyed in short sentences and factoids. A lot of writing, but sadly no prose to make anything of it.

Like I said, I can’t really recommend this game. Like many, many iPhone titles it feels too insubstantial and flimsy. The idea of running a kingdom through direct orders without seeing the immediate consequences over a long time does have potential as a concept, but it’s not utilised very well here. Try something like a Telltale game if you want more in the way of impactive storytelling, rather than reading the same Munchkin cards over and over.



Reigns has an initial interest as you look to see what choices it might throw at you, but it diminishes fast and ends up becoming too dull to recommend. At least Hand Of Fate let you stab people between sessions.


Sometimes I feel like this site was born out of my many, many things to say about only three series: Dark Souls, Pokemon, and the Batman: Arkham games. An eclectic mix to be sure, but the last of those is perhaps the one I’ve gotten most passionate about, especially in regards to its final entry in the franchise. I wrote about what Arkham Knight shouldn’t do upon release, what it could’ve done in retrospect, what it ended up doing and why it ended up doing it. Spoiler alert – those last two are not filled with high praise. Man, I forgot how angry I could get back then, whereas now all I get emotional about is being able to see the bottom of the whiskey bottle.

But funnily enough, I never wrote how well Arkham Knight worked as a game. I started writing a review a while ago when I heard that some patches had been applied, like a band-aid roughly stuck over a shotgun wound, but found myself uncertain on how to precede and eventually felt myself losing interest. But with all the talk recently about how the DC movie universe is a bucket of rancid chicken, I found myself suitably forgiving of the Arkham games. So I started from scratch, played through the campaign again, sat back to consider how I thought of it and released I felt… Not much at all.

Putting aside the shocking state of the original PC port, Arkham Knight is a very average game. It has some very notable problems, it has a few moments of genuine genius, but most of the time it doesn’t have much going for it at all. It’s like watching a heart monitor. Here the line goes up, here the line goes down, here it goes flat, up again, down again… But all this adds up to is just proof of existence, and all it establishes is that there’s just some vague form of life beneath the skin.

Perhaps this is most evident in the story, and Arkham Knight manages to be fascinating on a critical level by featuring both the best and the worst that the Arkham games have to offer in terms of narrative. Having established a fairly solid premise – Scarecrow orchestrates a major Gotham evacuation for an unknown reason and has some mysterious lout in Iron Man armour backing him up with a personal grudge against Batman – the game suddenly loses steam pretty fast, determined to stretch out the story as long as it’ll go.


The Joker’s big song and dance number is one of the all-too rare high points in the story, and also makes an interesting point – that Batman’s detective brain is capable of subconsciously creating whole musical sequences on the spot. Maybe he has a career waiting for him on Broadway?

It’s impossible to ignore. The first act is so brief it might as well not exist, whereas act two takes up about ninety percent of the game and yet barely anything happens in it, with famous villains pointlessly coming and going, like scared child pageant contestants wandering aimlessly across a stage. Remember how in the first game there was a central plot with a central villain, but everybody in the Asylum had some clear connection to that plot and it all seemed very organic and natural? Yeah, forget that. Here they feel like distractions and diversions, which is probably why most of their story arcs break off into optional side quests and never get a suitably story payoff. This problem is alleviated somewhat by the reappearance of Mark Hamill as the Joker (one of the best and most underrated performances of the character I’ve ever seen), but it’s undeniable that all he’s doing is providing audio commentary over the more boring parts, and hinting at what we can expect for the third act finale.

But it’s that finale where the game suddenly jerks back to life, with everything we’d want to see in the last moments of a big game franchise. In rapid succession we have a legitimately interesting look into the psychology of Bruce Wayne, a climactic struggle between him and his arch-nemesis, the reveal of Batman’s identity on live television, and a terrifying sequence where we suddenly release just how nerve-wracking it would be to get attacked by the caped crusader when you weren’t expecting it. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

Admittedly, the proper 100% final ending is a load of cobblers that’s not worth the effort, but I do have great respect for Rocksteady for really experimenting with the formula more than most adaptations would dare to with source material. Yes, there’s stupid bits and bits that don’t work. Scarecrow is far less interesting in this game than he was in the first one, the idea that people with Joker’s blood transfused into them start to actually become the Joker is an eye-roller, and the reveal of the Arkham Knight’s identity is a major disappointment, sure – but there are solid ideas here. They’re just spread so thin that it’s easy to lose track of them.

Sadly, I can’t help but get annoyed when there’s layers and layers of pointless missions that have no narrative bearing on what’s going on. Its hard to avoid that sense of frustrating impatience when I’m having to fly somewhere without alerting any enemies, so I can sneak around a base, so I can beat up some bad guys, so I can access a computer, so I can lower a bridge, so I can get to the Batmobile, so I can scan for some tire tracks, so I can find a certain car, so I can discover where somebody was taken, so I can rescue them, so I can use their help to beat up Arkham Knight, so I can find out where Scarecrow is, so I can stick that stupid needle glove down his throat until he chokes on it. Wait, who was it I’m saving again? I’ve done eight hours of meaningless piffle to get here and I don’t care anymore.


With time, jumping into the Batmobile becomes less of an exciting prospect and more of a tedious commute. How did blowing up stuff become so boring?

Actually, it’s funny I mention the Batmobile, because that was a serious point of contention with the public when the game was released. And honestly, I don’t see why. I’ll happily confess that driving this big tank is far less fun than just punching people in the regular gameplay, but I never really understood all those complaints about people saying it was unwieldy and hard to control, especially when you could just toggle strafe mode and instantly slide into whatever direction you want, easy-peasy. And one of the things I actually quite like about it is that the vast majority of obstacles just crumble ineffectively when directly confronted by several tons of heavy armour plating and weaponry cosplaying as a flying squirrel.

But easy doesn’t mean fun, and driving the Batmobile does get old fast when the game keeps contriving excuses for you to use it. I got so sick of being thrown into the driver’s seat that I actually cheered when I saw it get destroyed in a cutscene in the final third of the game. And when Batsy revealed that he always keeps a spare in case something like this happens, and that we need it to blow up yet another tank battalion, I cursed bitterly under my breath. The car is slower than gliding to your destination, less fun than direct melee combat and actively annoying when it comes to the weird stealth driving missions. So why the hell is it here? Just keep it in the shed along with Damien’s bike and we can go about our day.

Thankfully in regular gameplay, it’s exactly what we saw before. Here’s a big city full of goons who need punching, with story-focused missions spread around and waiting for you like candles on a birthday cake. And those returning Riddler trophies? Think of them as the hundreds and thousands on the cake – because there’s tons of them, they amount to nothing and have no real flavour of their own. What lunatic kept asking for these things in every game?! They sort of worked in Arkham Asylum because there were actual riddles in play that tested your knowledge of Batman lore, but I promise I’ve had enough of throwing remote-control batarangs at hard-to-access switches to last me a lifetime.


Another villain kapowed, biffed and splonked into submission. It’s like coming back home.

And when you come to deal with goons and mercenaries directly, it’s the same system we know and love. A reaction brawler when it’s direct melee combat time, and swinging between vantage points when you need to stealthily choke out somebody with a gun. There is a bit too much gadgetry going on this time and it’s a little too easy to forget about the abilities you have, but it’s a minor quibble on a system that still works. I guess if I’m pushed for complaint that I’m disappointed Rocksteady didn’t bother to experiment with that formula, just added more powers to make it easier. All the other work went into the Batmobile and putting Scarecrow’s face in a paper shredder.

There is something that annoys me, though. Why do I feel like this entry is fighting the source material so much more than the other games? Why do I feel like it resents Batman’s no killing policy, rather than seeing it as an opportunity for fun puzzles to defeat enemies in non-lethal ways? They wanted you to be able to run over thugs in your car, but they know you can’t kill them, so they put a silly taser effect on the exterior and claimed that makes it safe. They want to have an apocalyptic event near the end with the whole town getting gassed, but don’t have the stones to admit that it would probably be knee deep in corpses even after you remove the toxic smog. They want to bring in the Riddler as a character again, but don’t care about actual tests of intellectual challenge and investigation, so there’s just race tracks instead. They want you to be able to blow up tanks, but they don’t want the drivers getting melted into the metal and ruining the illusion, so they’re all unmanned drones. Seems to me that if I were Gas Mask Skeletor and his sidekick Special K, I’d purposefully stick some guys in the tanks so Batman can’t explode them without ruining his no-kill record.

All this adds up to is a game that intrigues at the beginning, excels at the end, but takes so long to get from one to the other that it almost doesn’t seem worth the effort. The PC port is now somewhat better (though by no means perfect and likely never will be), and all the additions to gameplay feel unnecessary. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t enjoy getting back into the bone-breaking swing of things when it came to throwing muggers into brick walls, but I have the other games for that. So all this one really has to offer that’s fresh is a few narrative insights and some tedious vehicle combat in a Power Rangers car.

Let’s not mince words here – Arkham Knight is the third best game in a trilogy (or quadrilogy if you include Origins, because you’re feeling sorry for it), but being third best in this series doesn’t necessarily mean you suck. It just means that you had to do really well to compete with the brilliant Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.


Batman takes time out from smacking muggers and banging Catwoman to catch up on the latest from Downton Abbey. All of Gotham is hooked – they just can’t get enough of Hugh Bonneville, you know.

Arkham Knight fails that lofty goal, but that doesn’t mean it’s irredeemable. It’s just kind of average, which feels like more of a shame when you consider its heritage up until now. I guess I might recommend it to those who see it going cheap and love the gameplay of the others, or to those who haven’t played any of the franchise before and want to try it out, but it’s not quite the worthy successor we hoped for.

Ah, well. At least it doesn’t have Lex Zuckerberg and a kryptonite spear. That’d be really bad, right?


Arkham Knight provides an ambitious and rather impressive story, very few gameplay innovations to a solid system, a terrible attempt at pacing and the world’s most boring supercar. Thus, with the eyes of the world watching, the Arkham series winds safely – if unremarkably – to a halt.