Top Ten Video Games of 2018

If there’s one St. Patrick’s weekend tradition that I truly love and respect; it’s finally bothering to sit down and make a list of my favourite games from the previous year. That’s right, it’s March 2019, so here’s my favourite games of 2018.

Usually it takes me four months to write a list like this because I’ve committed to finishing everything in the running. This year I’ve been so scatter-brained that I didn’t even do that. Instead I’ve compiled a list of games that I’ve enjoyed, some of which I finished, some of which I’ll take at face value and assume they don’t ruin themselves at the final hurdle.

Failing to make the cut is Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that’s ambition and technical achievements are to be respected, but is desperately betrayed by, well, the part where you actually play it. I don’t want to make a ‘most disappointing game’ post, nor do I want to dump on this game too heavily given all it does right; but it would feel wrong to not at all acknowledge why it isn’t listed here.

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Top Ten Video Games of 2017

Is it really over-done to talk about how great games were in 2017? Yes.

But they were.

There were several games that came out last year that you could argue were legitimate all-time greats, and countless others that were really, really, really fantastic.

In particular, I felt this was a year that video game writing came into its own. I know the myth of ‘games can’t tell good stories!’ has been dead for some time, but 2017 felt like a year where they tackled an impressive range of topics, sometimes with nuance, sometimes with bombast.

A few notable omissions; I never got around to Cuphead, much to my shame. I’ve been anticipating it for years but not owning an Xbox meant I missed out. Me and my room-mate were planning a co-op run on his XB1, but it never materialised. Likewise, not owning a gaming PC means I missed out on the phenomenon of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – even though it looked like the logical advancement of the waning-survival genre that I’ve been waiting for.

Hounorable Mentions

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017, PS4)

Whether it’s high budget action, or twee indie melodrama – games can and have done it all. But I still feel there’s too few games that tell stories that need to be told. I want more stories that feel important – stories that you insist your friends make time for; because they say something worth listening to.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is one such game.

Playing as Senua, a skilled but troubled warrior, the goal of the game is to venture into Helheim, the Norse mythology’s underworld, to rescue the soul of her deceased lover Dillion. To read such a summary of the plot, you’d think it’s all very God of War. Venture into Evil Land, snarl, mash the square button, execute enemies in over the top fashion, snarl some more, grunt about how tortured a soul you are, fight a boss, end. In execution, Hellblade is a much slower, less bombastic yarn. The intro sets the tone perfectly for the ensuing ten-ish hours. Travelling on her own, Senua slowly sails through a misty, ominous swamp. The credits slowly roll by. Prominent among them, top billing in fact, are the game’s historical and mental health advisors. The folks at Ninja Theory want to make things clear from the jump; we’re doing this, and we’re taking it seriously.

As the credits drift past, Senua is bombarded by a number of voices that are never introduced to the player, but it quickly becomes evident they are representative of some kind of psychosis in the titular heroine. They aren’t overly-acted caricatures, at least not at first. They’re disembodied voices, peppering your ears with short, monosyllabic taunts or ridicule. If you’re using headphones as the game recommends, the audio design is immediately impressive and harsh.

Hellblade is a story about mental illness. Emphasis on about. Senua’s struggles with the “darkness” represent an interesting wrinkle on her more literal adventure to Hel, but this is unreservedly a nuanced, sincere, unrelenting story about a person struggling with psychosis and the social alienation that comes with it. From the previously mentioned internalised voices, which often can get muddied up with the narration of the story, causing a deliberately overwhelming feeling, to the game’s liberal use of the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope, Hellblade is enigmatic in a way that made me feel very closely tied to its protagonist. It’s gruelling, confusing, upsetting and tiring; but in such a way that I was totally engrossed.

The revelations surrounding Senua’s past are largely reserved for the game’s second half, and I won’t spoil them here, but I was constantly impressed with how Ninja Theory utilised her story to make broader points about mental health, and our reaction to it as a society. It isn’t a quirky character trait, nor is a straightforward objective to be beaten. Hellblade wants players to understand the difficulties people in these situations face, and not simply think of them as problems to solve.

With so much to say about the story and how it’s told, and I really could go on and on, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of adventure or ‘walking simulator’ game. In reality, it has the heart and soul of one, but it’s wrapped in the body of a quasi-character action game. As she ventures towards Hel, Senua will fight enemies, battle bosses, solve puzzles, and tackle some unique set pieces that, again, I won’t spoil here. The combat can best be described as functional. You have a heavy attack, light attack, a block, and a dodge. The movement is weightier and less flashy than, say, Devil May Cry, and feels more grounded and visceral. The enemy designs are repetitive and it quickly begins to feel like most of the fights are used as padding or a scenery change from the exploring and story chatter. I’d describe it as ‘not bad’ but stretching ‘not bad’ out to ten-ish hours simply doesn’t work.

Likewise, the puzzle solving is functional and, at times, satisfying in its mix of cleverness and simplicity – but it has a template that is repeated far too often. The majority of puzzles see you trying to find a spot in the environment that will cause elements of the world to line up, creating an image that matches one that is painted on a locked door. Some twists on the formula, including an early section with portals that experiment with ‘impossible space’ and illusionary walls, are fun. But like the combat, it outstays its welcome.

The second half of the game offers some very imaginative set pieces and boss battles, which finally offer a highlight for the game that isn’t tied to watching a cutscene, but it feels like too little too late. Around the six or seven hour mark, I was getting frustrated. The story had amped up but the combat and puzzle solving felt stagnant, blips of creativity aside. I wouldn’t go as far as to say these mechanics should have been fully discarded, but the balance is certainly more than a little off. When Hellblade finally starts to show its hand, the last thing you want is a laborious square-mashing brawl between you and the next revelation.

These grievances didn’t detract from my desire to keep going though, and when I reached Hellblade’s conclusion, it was more than worth the bumps along the way. The ending of Hellblade is one of the most poignant, powerful and bittersweet things I’ve seen in a video game. It’s stuck with me for over a week, and I’ve watched it back a dozen times. The writing and performance capture, which impress throughout the game, really stick the landing. Likewise, the game’s unlikely but very cool use of FMV (yes, full motion video with real actors) is used to perfection here.

Hellblade’s minor failings can’t tarnish this absolutely staggering achievement for Ninja Theory. The game’s handling of mental health isn’t just good; it manages to not feel tokenistic or self-congratulatory. It has a harsh, uncompromising story, and doesn’t offer simple solutions – yet still feels uplifting when it’s all said and done. It won’t win any awards as a character action game, but Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will undoubtedly be remembered as a classic for year to come.

Ruiner (2017, PS4)

I beat Ruiner, and Ruiner beat me.

I can’t remember the last time I had to turn down a game’s difficulty, just to finish it.

Ruiner’s thumb destroying mix of dual-stick shooting and beat-em-up mechanics was punishing me even in the tutorial. The first sub-boss I fought took me around ten attempts to defeat. The game doesn’t mess around.

Talking about difficulty in games is one of the toughest aspects of writing about them for me.

I’m not sure what made Ruiner’s challenge feel less fun than, say, Hotline Miami. The latter is one of my all-time favourite games, even though it had me wanting to throw my controller at a wall on occasion. But with Ruiner, I actually felt more inclined to walk away than to power through. If not for its compelling style and world, I may have given up.

It’s not something I’d go so far as to call broken or badly designed, but it did feel like certain sections of the game could have had a mere two or three less enemies spawn during a particular wave of an encounter and maintained a good level of challenge without being as frustrating.

Combat in Ruiner is hectic. You can shoot and attack with melee, as can your enemies. It is neither a simple action game, nor a bullet hell shooter. You and your enemies can both dash and use shields. Often there are large mech-like enemies, basically gun placements, that need to take priority. Then there are sub-bosses and bosses. Keeping on top of everything is almost more to do with mental arithmetic than thumb gymnastics. So many enemy types and patterns meant I often felt like I was getting side swiped by a weak minion while focused on a hulking boss, which can be a frustrating way to go out. To that end, the second half of the game debuts drones that crash-land in combat arenas; they don’t attack you, but their mere existence in the level drains you of health and energy. It means death doesn’t necessarily feel like something you learn from all the time, but rather a result of being buried under a mountain of foes.

Adding to the confusion is one of Ruiner’s most intriguing gameplay mechanics; its skill tree. Moreso than any game I’ve played this year, Ruiner really means it when it says ‘play however you want.’ You have a bevy of awesome special powers at your disposal; EMP grenades, supply drops, different types of shield, special melee attacks, increased ammo capacity, mind control of enemies, bullet time and more. When you level up, you can use experience points to unlock a new ability or upgrade an existing one. At any point in the game, you can unassign those experience points and reassign them elsewhere, disabling one special ability and unlocking another. This isn’t a limited time offer, or a feature tied to rare consumable items. You can do this at any time.

This approach to leveling up enourages experimentation, which is great, but can increase your death-rate as you try and find the right mix of talents for your playstyle. Early on, I realized the personal shield wasn’t for me, although later in the story, an allied character said I should deploy it to survive a laser attack from a boss. It’s rare, but it was disappointing for such a freeform system to require you to adopt certain tact to progress.

Other than that, it’s a fun system to toy with, and it’s extemely satisfying to find the right combination of tech for you. And, really, it’s the only standout aspect of the gameplay.

Ruiner does two things; drop you in an arena to kill wave after wave of enemies, and drop you in a story HUB to soak up some ambience and collect side quests. There’s no frills here. Even those side quests are things you can do as you work through the main levels that advance the plot. The melee combat is fast and fairly satisfying, as you dodge around foes and pummel or slice them with your weapon of choice. Gunplay feels a little less precise, with enemies moving far too fast to really be worthwile unless you’re using special abilities that stun or slow them down. The game has a useless auto-targeting feature turned on by default, that I recommend turning off. The variety of guns will draw you in however, with electric shock rifles, sawblade cannons and more traditional machine guns, all of which at least look and sound devestating and feel fun to play around with. Mixing the sci-fi weaponary with the aforementioned special abilities, and a collection of bats and blades means the combat never feels dull, despite it’s simplicity. When you’re not dying on a loop, you will occassionally marvel at just how cool your character looks and feels while zipping around the map, slicing enemies in two.

The real draw of Ruiner is the world. Wearing its anime and cyber punk influences on its sleeve, Ruiner is absolutely stunning from first loading screen to closing credits. The distopian metropolis for a setting isn’t unique, but it’s gorgeously realized. The city streets are filthy, but glowing with neon signs. The industrial levels are lit with an almost overbearing amount of red light. The game’s incredibly cynical vision of the future sees husks of humans, with tubes and wires bursting from their skulls, mind’s melted by overdosing on virtual reality escapism, attacking you in the later levels. It’s all very grim and nihilstic, with dark themes, dark visuals and beautiful, brooding, understated music

The only letdown is the story, which almost feel like it betrays the rest of the world building with how rote and predictable it is. While your protagonist at least looks as badass as his surroundings, his story will just be something for you to skip through. Furthering the disappointment is the inexplicable lack of voice acting. Not every game needs VO, but Ruiner feels straight up jarring at times, as characters deliver their nihilistic, cyber punk-y monologues, drenched in red neon, looking as cool as possible — and then their character model just gestures to suggest speech, as the subtitles appear. It’s very flat.

Overall, Ruiner is a worthwhile experience. The combat is fun if unremarkable, with tonnes of weapon variety and special abilities to tinker with. The difficulty may push some away, but I don’t doubt some will relish it. The world is remarkable, and begging for a more compelling story to take place in it, but even without that it’s worth the five or six hours you’ll spend ripping through it.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (2017, PS4)

Naughty Dog is at an interesting cross-roads in 2017.

They’ve cemented their legacy as one of the absolute best developers in the world at what they do. As narrative-focused shooters go, they lead the pack. But as the years tick by, their formula, particularly in the Uncharted games, has been well and truly sussed. The Lost Legacy is another gorgeous, charming adventure with solid gameplay and an easy-to-binge run-time, but it’s hard to not feel burned out on the series at this point.

Prior to release, many would have argued last year’s Uncharted 4 was a rickety bridge too far, but the game ultimately recieved adoration for telling the franchise’s most mature story to date.

With Lost Legacy, a $40USD standalone, the series regresses somewhat, feeling a little more Uncharted-by-numbers than last year’s ‘game of the year’ contender.

You play as Chloe Frazer, a fan favourite from Uncharted 2 and 3, who is teaming with Nadine Ross, a cool but underutilized anti-hero from Uncharted 4, to track down the elusive ‘Tusk of Ganesh.’ While the dynamic between the two heroines gradually evolves from frosty to friendly, and will charm you along the way, there isn’t much to sink your teeth into as far as character development goes. Despite inventing a previously unheard of brother out of thin air, four games deep, the last entry’s dynamic between Sam and Nathan Drake was compelling and fleshed out, as was Nate’s parallels to antagonist Rafe. Lost Legacy feels like a step in the wrong direction as the heroes’ odd couple routine is very aged at this point, and worse still, they’re teaming up to fight the most one-dimensional villain of the series so far. Naturally the minute to minute banter is great – Naughty Dog knows how to write likeable characters and genuinely funny gags. But if you were expecting something deeper, such as what ND offered in the previous Uncharted, or the seminal The Last of Us, you will be disappointed.

In the gameplay department, things are similarly showing their age. The cover-based shooting feels like it hasn’t advanced since the earliest days of the PS3/360 generation. While Nadine and Chloe boast some tremendous tag-team animations when engaged in melee combat, the encounters mostly feel like busy work you’re just getting through so you can see the next cutscene. Despite the open combat arenas seemingly encouraging you to grapple, sneak and larp around to your heart’s content, getting creative kills as you go, the bullet sponge enemies go against that. Playing in anything other than a hunkered-down, military, cover shooter style has always resulted in frequent deaths for me.

One sizeable section in the middle of the game gives you a faux open world space to drive around in, with core objectives and side quests you can tackle in any order you’d like. It doesn’t massively change how you’ll play the game, and feels more like a bit of technilogical muscle flexing. But hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Naughty Dog games were always maligned as gorgeous but linear, to a fault; with Lost Legacy they’re encouraging people to engage in some virtual tourism. The space they provide is jaw-dropping. It’s huge, without compromising the series’ trademark detail and weather effects. Coupled with the always fun Photo Mode, you can spend a few hours just looking at the various nooks and cranies of the world, marvelling at how good ND are at making the most of the hardware at their disposal. The objectives scattered across the map are still very typical of the series, and simply letting you tackle them in any order isn’t the Hail Mary that will keep it interesting, but it’s a fun novelty on this occassion.

Puzzle solving is another key ingredient in the Uncharted formula, and in this case it’s one that is still holding up pretty well. There are a decent amount of puzzles squeezed into the eight-ish hours of Lost Legacy, and they’re mostly a perfect balance of challenge and accessiblity. Some sections mix things up by having larger scale puzzles that you’ll need to solve with quick reactions and platforming, so it’s not always a simple ‘line up these pieces of an amulet’ job. 

Fans of the Uncharted series will definitely enjoy this shorter adventure. While much of what makes the games great is getting tired, it’s still produced with a level of polish and charm that makes it compelling. The mix of crazy set pieces, including an all-time great in the franchise, puzzles, combat and exploration – appropriately mixed up and trimmed to fit in a less than ten hour experience is hard to argue with. As well worn as the tropes may be, it’s hard not to crack a smile in the company of Naughty Dog’s characters.

Danger Zone (2017, PS4)

In an era of remakes, remasters, sequels and spiritual successors, there’s never been a better time to peruse your gaming catalogue and wonder which ageing franchise deserves a return. After playing Danger Zone, I am confident that we need a new Burnout game in the coming years. Unfortunately, I am also confident that Danger Zone simply will not scratch that itch.

Danger Zone serves as a standalone version of the ‘Crash Mode’ feature in the later Burnout games. You drive into traffic and try to cause as much damage as possible. As the pile-up grows higher, so does your score. Eventually you can detonate an explosion and use in-air controls to steer the wreckage into yet more cars.

In theory, DZ has all the necessary parts to make this work. Some former Burnout devs are on board. There are cars. There are busy intersections. There are explosions. There are no drivers, thank god, so you can enjoy all this unadulterated violence without feeling awkward.

But to say these are the only parts you need to recreate the magic of Burnout is to sell the franchise very short indeed. In hindsight, Crash Mode was a fun diversion from what Burnout was really about; racing. It was a clever way to give players a new objective other than racing from A to B, and it also let them maximise the explosions-per-second ratio. It was a wonderful compliment to the whole experience, which was ultimately still about driving fast and ramming other racers off the road – not Average Joe commuting to work.

When the controller is in your hand, Danger Zone feels like Burnout. Purely in terms of second-to-second gameplay, it’s a reasonable approximation. But unlike any Burnout game I ever played, I found my attention waning after 30 minutes. Very quickly, a routine is established in how you get an ideal score on each map; you need to bounce from one ‘smashbreaker’ collectible to another, each offering an additional explosion and bounce. The extra bounce lets you hit more cars and grab more cash bonuses – and the smashbreakers are usually positioned in such way that there is a perfect line through each level. This is similar to the classic Burnout levels, which were often structured in such a way that you had to try and navigate your twisted wreck into as many new lanes of traffic as possible, to ensure the highest level of collateral.

But, again, these were fresh objectives sprinkled in between more traditional races, and thus the formula wasn’t exposed as quickly.

It isn’t just the variety of Burnout that is stripped away, however. DZ has a bafflingly dry presentation, utterly soul-less and quiet. It feels like a proof of concept whipped together to impress investors and secure funding for an actual game. Literally every level takes place in a sterile warehouse environment, with no music, and no vehicle selection options. You drive a white sedan into traffic, to silence, and if you fall off the track, you’re told the ‘simulation’ is terminated – I guess suggesting this is some kind of fake warehouse – a somehow less exciting venue than a regular warehouse.

While the mid-2000s pop-rock of the PS2 games isn’t exactly hip any more, DZ opting to not include music of any variety is simply confusing. The title has a humble price tag, so maybe major-label music rights were a no-go, but anything would have been better than this.

The same can be said for location variety and some unlockable car models. At a budget price, this didn’t need to be Grand Theft Auto proportions — but it needed to be more than this. The graphics are dated, with completely unremarkable destruction modeling and physics, so at a certain point you have to ask what exactly did they spend money on?

The price is an interesting sting in the tale for this game. As you can tell; I didn’t really like it. But it does play ok. There are fleeting moments of Burnout nostalgia. Some levels, especially in the third tier, are actually kind of creative. They use the ‘simulation’ narrative to do away with real life constraints and have some fun with the level design. At just over a tenner (EU), with about 80 minutes of gameplay, there are worse investments. If you are absolutely starved for Burnout-esque content and looking for something cheap – it’s a tentative recommendation. Just don’t expect to be satiated for long. In some ways, Danger Zone has only worsened my pining for the legendary racing series to rise from the ashes (and glass, and rubber, and steel).

Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4, 2017)

As the story of Horizon began to show its hand, about 40 or so hours into my time with it, I was excited to see it through to its conclusion. The bizarre dystopian world was starting to unravel, and I was very close to learning how it all came to be. With that in mind, I started to focus entirely on the game’s main quest – foregoing side activities and miscellaneous sight-seeing.

When I did this though, it didn’t​ sit right with me. In my own head, I wasn’t playing the game properly. In the dozens of hours that had come before this, I enjoyed Horizon as a real ‘stop and smell the (robot) flowers’ game. A game of exploration as much as a game of action. A game where I relished talking to villagers who were selling their wares at the local market, just as much as I did the large-scale dinosaur battles.

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Horizon is so much more than the sum of its parts. On paper, it’s an open world action game with crafting, RPG elements, and a post-apocalyptic setting – you know, every triple-A video game ever. But with its wonderfully well-developed protagonist, jaw-dropping visuals, and a very unique twist on the ‘after society has fallen’ setting, it manages to elevate itself above other games with those very over-done descriptors.

If the world of Horizon was confusing to you when it was first revealed (a Native American-inspired society of tribes, juxtaposed with robot dinosaurs? And it’s set on Earth just a few hundred years in the future? What?) then, like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the story of the main campaign. The world of Horizon is more than just a backdrop for our protagonist’s arc – how it came to be is a major plot point. You’ll spend as much time learning about what happened to society as you will about what drives the tale’s heroine; Aloy. It serves as great motivation​ – a legitimate sense of discovery driving you forward.

The gameplay is similarly compelling; offering solid stealth and combat mechanics that develop over time. The second half of the game introduces foes five times the size of the first half, and gives you more tools to experiment with when taking them down. Tripwires, ropecasters, proximity mines, freezebombs, electric arrows – the list goes on. The arsenal is robust enough to allow you to play as you please, but there are strategic bonuses to using certain items in certain fights. Aloy’s ‘focus,’ a plot-device MacGuffin that gives her ‘video game protagonist analysis vision,’ highlights the various parts of each dinobot, with suggestions on how best tackle them. In some instances, mounted weaponry from the machines can be blasted off and used against their former owner; it’s wonderfully satisfying. Some gear is locked behind side quests meaning the aforementioned deviations from the main campaign are often worth it. You’ll meet a colourful cast of warriors, get some new toys, and accrue XP to unlock new abilities in the game’s simple skill tree.

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The nuance and variety in the robot battles is juxtaposed by the idiocy of fighting human enemies. Foes of the homosapien variety have uninspired AI patterns, and even fail to live up to them on occasion. Whether they’re snipers, brutes or beefy sub-bosses, most rival tribesman just charge at Aloy mindlessly, often getting hung up on level geometry or immediately losing interest the second you disappear around a corner. It feels antiquated and lacking in polish – which are not terms I’d use to describe the other 90% of Horizon. Goons fumbling their way through scenery aside; Horizon wows at almost every turn. The game is an almost never-ending series of vistas, with ‘god-rays’ poking through the clouds every morning and a giant pale moon at night. Almost every location is sprinkled with airborne snowflakes, flower petals or ash, which along with the swaying brush and trees makes the environment feel alive. The elegant orchestral score, along with Aloy’s charming monologues about the scenery or weather, mean the game is beautiful to listen to; a ‘podcast game’ this is not. With a robust ‘photo mode’ at your disposal, it feels like developers Guerilla were well aware this was a world worth poking around endlessly.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn is a beautiful and satisfying game. It establishes a fascinating premise and actually sticks the landing in the final act; a rarity in video games. The gameplay is open-ended and varied, with the silly human enemies and repetitive side quests not tarnishing the thrill of the game’s core missions. While Horizon works magnificently as a stand-alone title, this is certainly a world I’d happily revisit in years to come.

Injustice: Gods Among Us ‘Ultimate Edition’ (PS4, 2013)

With the release of Injustice 2 looming, I thought now would be as good a time as any to finally play the first game’s single-player story mode.

I’ve had a soft spot for Injustice ever since it first came out. I like NetherRealm‘s current output, with the engine they debuted with 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot being easy for fighting game novices like me to get to grips with, and Injustice throwing some silly gimmicks into the mix to boot. Industry pros weren’t fans of the interactive environments, but I thought they were a nice addition, befitting the game’s superhero theme – and the core fighting system was still satisfying and deep.

Me and my pals have sunk countless hours into the game’s multiplayer, but I had never made time for the story mode until now.

The five-ish hour yarn is a fun, dimension hopping superhero romp that didn’t quite hit as hard as the studio’s Mortal Kombat stories, but was still leaps and bounds ahead of most of its genre contemporaries. It does have an evil Superman as the antagonist however, so at least that’s something fresh as far as recent blockbuster movie/TV offerings go.

The mode sees you switching to a new character every four or five fights, meaning you’ll have the basic tactics for half the roster down by the time you finish. The frequent swaps mean the story is rarely dull and no one outstays their welcome. There aren’t many twists and turns outside of the opening cinematic, but it’s a decently put together story considering the number of characters involved.

It’s worth noting that I played the ULTIMATE EDITION(!) which is a PS4 remaster of the PS3/X360 original. It is unfortunately far from perfect, as cutscenes are rife with slow down and video artefacting, and in general the game looks very blurry and rough around the edges. Thankfully, the in-game action runs beautifully, with responsive controls, detailed, destructible environments, and characters that come with a bevy of additional costumes.

Despite its many gimmicks, Injustice: Gods Among Us is still a rock solid fighting game with tonnes of single player game options and huge amounts of multiplayer value. Playing it as a primer for the sequel has me excited for what next week holds.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (PS4, 2017)

The closing hours of Resident Evil 7 make for one of the most disheartening final acts in any game I’ve played recently. It meant that my lasting impression before I sat down to write this review was pretty negative. But, looking back on the experience as a whole, this was still a satisfying reboot of the Resident Evil series – one that showed it still has potential to tell a mostly compelling story. Moreover; the gameplay was arguably the best it’s ever been, delivering a tight survival horror experience that melded old and new genre philosophies.

Venturing into the realm of first person horror, which has massively come into vogue since Resident Evil 6, RE7 takes a number of cues from its genre peers. The gorgeously rendered, meticulously detailed household hallways feel akin to P.T. The emphasis on running and hiding in some sections is reminiscent of Outlast and Amnesia.

However, most importantly, this game’s biggest influence is its own history. Gameplay involves intensive inventory management, lots of scares as you duck and weave through tight corridors, picking your battles wisely due to tough ammo restrictions, and simple yet rewarding puzzles. It’s the classic Resident Evil formula, with the insane plot reigned back and all the modern bells, whistles and quality of life improvements you’d expect from a big release in 2017.

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Me and the lads played through Resident Evil 7 in full. Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLftMG3gVCguWXY5bMdi5s3VtfHnESp_Te

The plot is set in the same universe as all previous RE games, but largely unrelated bar some late game teases and nods. Wandering around a creepy mansion (see? Classic Resident Evil!), protagonist Ethan must find his girlfriend, rescue her from the monstrous Baker family, and escape in one piece. It’s refreshingly small-scale and focused – especially early on. No grander conspiracy, no world-endagering evil – it’s a claustrophobic horror with elements of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, The Blair Witch Project and other horror staples.

Where it goes off the rails is the aforementioned final act. Things get, well, a little too Resident Evil-y for me. While certain elements of RE’s past are welcomed back, some aren’t. The creepy, small-scale plot is sacrificed for goofy boss battles and set pieces that feel like the exact type of thing the first half of the game was successfully getting away from. The plot peaks far too soon, limping across the finish line with a needless final hour and boss battles that wouldn’t be out of place in a forgotten PS2 era spinoff in this long running series.

Setbacks aside, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is still a reassuring return to form for the series. The locations are beautifully realized in their disgusting details, the gameplay is tight and satisfying, and the plot at least has signs of getting away from the series’ bloated past, even if it lazily falls back on tired tropes on the home stretch. Resident Evil 7 is a must own for survival horror fans, and one of the most enjoyable games of 2017 so far.

Mafia 3 (PS4, 2016)

Here’s a video review I produced last year.

It was a format I was toying around with a lot in 2016, and hope to revisit in the future. I enjoy editing but it is a tiring process, especially on a budget — you might be able to tell this isn’t made with elite level tech or software.

Regardless, I like how it came out and hope to get back to video reviews soon.