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‘God of War’ Review – Red Dad Redemption

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The main difference between the Greek and Norse mythologies is that the gods of Greece were more in line with what we traditionally think of as gods, while the Scandinavian gods are more akin to the cast of a superhero movie. The Greek gods would sit on Mount Olympus, only occasionally meddling in the affairs of the human subjects under their rule. They were all powerful and practically untouchable. The Norse gods, so the stories go, not only spent time living and interacting with humans, but even enlisted their help when they needed to. They’re extraordinary, and they’re superhuman, but they’re fallible, they hurt, they tire, they hunger, and they die.

This distinction is a good way to look at how the God of War series and protagonist Kratos have changed in the jump from PS3 to PS4, as this iteration of the long-running franchise attempts to be more relatable and less godly, more Norse and less Greek; it’s less about improbably chiseled, colossal beings battling atop the ruins of a once populated city, and more about dirty, bloody fistfights in the forest and uncomfortable family dramas. That it goes some way to rehabilitating Kratos as a character is nothing short of a miracle given his sordid past, and while it isn’t entirely successful (how could it be?!), it’s a welcome change of pace for the franchise.

God of War delivers resolutely on all fronts, a feat made all the more incredible when one considers that less than five years ago studio Sony Santa Monica cancelled a then in-development game and had to convince a lukewarm Sony that revisiting this franchise was a good idea at all. Sony was won over by the pitch, and even if you’re skeptical about the worth of going on another adventure with Kratos in 2018, you’ll likely be won over too if you’re willing to take the plunge.

“Everything is different. Try not to dwell on it.”

The adventure begins with a heavily bearded, older, weary-looking Kratos chopping down a tree with his axe to build a pyre for his recently deceased wife. His young son Atreus is in tow, and together they transport the felled tree by boat back to their lonely house deep in the wilds of Midgard, one of the nine realms of Norse mythology. The twice-widowed father and his son set alight the body of their beloved wife and mother, and according to her final wishes, commit to carrying her ashes to the highest mountain peak in all of the realms to scatter them. Why, is not made clear. All that matters is that Kratos and Atreus are willing to undertake this dangerous journey to honor her memory.

It’s noticeable immediately upon starting God of War that this is a very different beast than the games in the series that came before. Just as the original God of War trilogy was a product of its time – hyper-violent and littered with gratuitous sex, seemingly designed for the singular purpose of appealing to teenage boys – and PlayStation 3’s maligned God of War Ascension followed the trend of needlessly tacked on multiplayer modes prevalent in that era, 2018’s God of War is very much a modern third-person action game.

Just the axe, ma’am.

Gone are the combo multipliers, replaced by a minimal HUD, while the camera hugs Kratos, keeping him slightly to the left rather than the pulled-back view of the previous games. The entire story is posited as a game-long escort mission à la The Last of Us, and the semi-open world is teeming with optional activities, items to collect, and challenges to complete in the vein of the rebooted Tomb Raider games. Combat is less arcadey and button mashy than previous iterations, and akin to a more approachable Dark Souls in some ways, while the storytelling is focused on telling a more human and emotional tale as opposed to the nu-metal rage of the previous God of War games. This isn’t to say that God of War is generic or is a shameless rip-off of other games on the market; far from it, in fact. It’s just to point out that this latest God of War game has taken inspiration from the advances made in the industry since Ascension; rather than stubbornly clinging to the past, Sony Santa Monica has opted to embrace change to wondrous effect.

One of the first things that Kratos tells his son in the game is, “Everything is different. Try not to dwell on it.” This is advice for his son in desperate need of a worthy role model, a role that the Kratos we know is wholly unsuitable for, but also guidance for the player; if you loved the way that God of War played in the PS2 and PS3 incarnations of the franchise then this is going to take some getting used to, but you should take the game for what it is rather than how it’s different to what came before. Yes, God of War has changed. But change doesn’t have to be scary, and even the staunchest God of War evangelists will surely be won over by what series director Cory Barlog and his team at Sony Santa Monica have achieved here. It’s different, it’s better, and it’s better than most us could have ever hoped it would be.

“One of gaming’s truly great weapons.”

Combat in God of War is ludicrously entertaining. It’s thrilling and tense in equal measure, with Kratos feeling vulnerable and incredibly powerful at the same time. A good player can decimate foes in all kinds of creative ways, but even the rank and file enemies you come up against can pose a threat if not taken seriously. It’s a delicate balance, and God of War nails it. You’ll never feel like Kratos is too overpowered, but he has a vast array of deadly attacks to employ, his shield for staving off enemy attacks, dodges and rolls to get you out of sticky situations, and his Spartan Rage for when things get really hairy. While most third-person action games give you plenty of options when it comes to weaponry, and some have simply way too much choice, God of War hands you the Leviathan Axe and lets it do the talking.

Despite God of War only being on the market for a week, it doesn’t feel premature to declare that the Leviathan Axe will almost certainly go down in history as one of gaming’s truly great weapons. Kratos can perform light or heavy attacks with a tap of R1 or R2, mix and match them into combos, and later unlock more elaborate skills for fight or flight as required. You can also choose to throw the axe as a projectile by holding L2 to aim and then tapping R2 to throw. Tossing the axe can be used to inflict heavy damage against a foe, target a specific area on a larger enemy, and outside of combat, solve puzzles. Once Kratos has thrown his axe at someone or something, he’s armed only with his mitts but still remains a force to be reckoned with. If you want the axe back, it’s a simple matter of tapping triangle, and no matter where it is it’ll instinctively fly back to Kratos’ hand at furious pace, and if anyone just happens to be stood in its path then they’re going to get cleaved.

Kratos, despite his efforts to change, is still fond of sorting his problems out by punching them until they’re dead.

Lining up the trajectory of your returning axe to travel through three or four enemies in a row never stops being a satisfying method of dispatch, and the THWACK! that occurs when it slaps back into Kratos’ hand still sounds perfect no matter how many times you hear it. It’s a blast using the Leviathan Axe, and levelling up the weapon via a Dwarven blacksmith allows you to pour experience points into a fairly robust skill tree to give you even more options in battle. Knowing when to use these attacks and how to chain them together is the key to victory, and once you’ve got a handle on all of your offensive and defensive options, watching Kratos in a fight is like watching a glorious, incredibly violent ballet. It’s rare to see combat in a video game look this good, and so it’s a credit to the team at Sony Santa Monica that each battle in the game genuinely impresses. Charged attacks can maim enemies in all kinds of gruesome ways, and stunning monsters allows Kratos to use an instant kill move that typically involves an incredible amount of violence.

Atreus isn’t a helpless partner to be protected in battle, nor is he entirely controlled by A.I. You have a measure of control over Kratos’ son in a scrap, deciding when he should fire arrows from his bow, and who he should be firing them at. Levelling up Atreus makes him increasingly useful in combat, and there are even some enemies that would be next to impossible to fell without the youngster’s help. By the end of the game, Kratos and son make a powerful duo capable of teaming up to annihilate foes in tandem, or with Atreus acting as a diversion allowing his father to blindside foes for extra damage.

Kratos’ Spartan Rage mode – activated by tapping L3 and R3 at the same time once the appropriate meter has filled up – has our hero ditch the weapons and let blind fury take over, pummeling enemies with a series of punches, kicks, and other attacks. While in Spartan Rage, each successful hit refills Kratos’ health bar slightly, and every punch and kick comes with an appropriately satisfying thud that you can practically feel. Using Spartan Rage at the right time can often mean the difference between victory and defeat in battle, and it feels especially satisfying to come back from the brink of death and trounce your foes into dust.

“A gob-smacking technical achievement.”

Much has been said prior to the release of God of War about how the game is presented as one long take, and now that we’ve played the whole thing, it’s fair to say that this isn’t a gimmick or technical trickery without merit. The camerawork feels almost claustrophobic at times, staying close to Kratos as much as possible, and creating a palpable feeling of tension at all the appropriate moments. This up close and personal view of the action also lends itself to providing us a better view of the carnage, and helps to give the combat in the game a legitimate weight whereby every blow can be felt, every swing of the axe given genuine heft.

It’s a gob-smacking technical achievement, and one that is worthy of all of the praise it receives; a good enough player could, conceivably, make it through the entire game without ever seeing a loading screen, since these are only present upon death. Everything else – every battle, every conversation, every slaying of a towering creature, and every touching moment between father and son – is captured in one continuous, seamless take, that makes us feel like we’re a part of the action.

There’s all manner of vicious creatures for Kratos and son to take on.

God of War is one of, if not the best looking console game of all time. Kratos’ character model is insanely detailed, and the various locales that you’ll visit on your journey throughout the Norse realms are beautifully realized. Creature design is similarly impressive, with the varying grotesqueries you’ll come up against in battle being mostly distinct and appropriately grim. Reanimated corpses shamble unsettlingly, trolls and ogres bear the scars of thousand previous battles, and when dragons roar you can practically see how many cavities they’ve got that require filling. The level of detail here is, at times, staggering. One small bone of contention, however, is that some of the enemies are mere palette swaps of other, earlier creatures you’ve battled, and while this is by no means an uncommon practice in gaming, it’s always slightly disappointing to happen upon a new boss fight only to discover it’s a different coloured version of one you took down hours ago.

The stunning production values of God of War are rarely more apparent than when transitioning between cut-scenes and gameplay. Sometimes when you’re walking the game will take over control and you might not even notice for a second or two, until the camera pans around to give us a better view of the conversation, or to show us something significant in the background. Similarly, once these dramatic scenes are over and control is handed back to you, you’ll likely find yourself questioning if you’re supposed to be doing something. It’s not uncommon for games to deliver their cut-scenes using the in game engine rather than with pre-rendered sequences, but rarely have we seen the transitions between gameplay and story handled so expertly. There are moments in the game that switch between gameplay and set-piece quickly, repeatedly, and they feel legitimately intense as a result.

While God of War is undoubtedly a visual spectacle, it’s not just a delight for the eyes, but the ears, too. Voice acting is unusually strong throughout, with the drama playing out sincerely and earnestly despite the often ludicrous subject matter. And the orchestral score that swells and ebbs at all of the right times is worthy of particular note, being one of the most memorable and impressive of its kind that we can remember. There’s scarcely a dramatic moment during the course of the story that isn’t enhanced by the sound design, drifting effortlessly from background music, to furious, tension-building strings, to full on choiral bombast when required.

“Trying to make amends for a lifetime devoted to self-serving rage.”

Perhaps what’s most surprising about God of War is how deftly the storytelling is handled, and how Sony Santa Monica has approached their anti-hero, Kratos, this time around. The series always had entertaining gameplay – although, as far as we’re concerned, this game stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to combat – but it’s always struggled to tell a truly compelling story, or to give protagonist Kratos much depth beyond shouting and eviscerating people. That God of War manages to make Kratos not only likeable, but a character we can almost believe is on the path to redemption by the end of the game is maybe the most astonishing achievement of all. There was a somewhat cack-handed redemptive arc for Kratos in God of War III, but this time around it works a lot better.

This is the tale of an old man, desperately trying to make sure that his son doesn’t walk the same path of violence and vengeance that he did, but without knowing how to truly connect with his kin on a human level. Kratos struggles to communicate with Atreus aside from barking “Boy!” at him at regular intervals, and at the beginning of the game it looks like their journey might be over before it has truly begun as the father decides that his son is simply not ready.

Kratos has an actual, serious conversation with a woman in this game.

But, as they often wont to do in these types of stories, forces conspire and events unfold that determines that father and son must leave their home and venture forth into Midgard to complete their quest regardless of Kratos’ lack of faith in young Atreus. In the beginning, Kratos and Atreus struggle to connect, as the young son spent most of his time with his mother while his father was out hunting and whatnot. Now thrust into an uncomfortable role as a parent and guardian, Kratos grows throughout the game, and finally becomes a character capable of being more than a personified angry scream. Sure, Kratos still solves an awful lot of his problems via the medium of extreme violence, but at least he looks a bit sad doing it.

It’s not a complete redemption for the character, because those of us who played the previous God of War games remember just how deplorable some of Kratos’ actions were, but they’re from a different time and place, when “mature storytelling” meant blood, swearing, and boobs. Nearly fifteen years later, the creators of the franchise have grown up and so have the fans, so it seems only fitting that the characters should, too. It’s almost like the previous God of War games are mythical stories told in ancient taverns by gore hungry booze-hounds, unconcerned with nuance or humanity, and just skipping to the next murder, or gratuitous sex scene. Here, it’s like we meet the man behind those legends, and in the process, Kratos is elevated from a thoroughly unlikable but iconic anti-hero, to a semi-sympathetic lead trying to make amends for a lifetime devoted to self-serving rage.

The relationship between the son who desperately wants his father’s approval, and the father who wants his son to not want the approval of a person like him, is what makes up the emotional crux of much of the game, as Kratos struggles in a role that all common sense says he has absolutely no business playing. Atreus, for his part, is a largely likable and upbeat foil to contrast Kratos’ strong and silent type. The pair go through many ups and downs on their journey, and their tale hits all of the right notes emotionally by the time the credits roll.

The supporting cast is equally impressive and entertaining. The assortment of friends that Kratos will meet on his journey are colourful, unique, and frequently amusing. The enemies he’ll come up against are similarly well defined, and the battles against them range from enclosed and intense, to utterly bombastic showstoppers that wouldn’t look out of place in an Avengers movie. We’re being intentionally vague about which characters from Norse mythology show up in the story, and exactly what their motives are, because discovery is one of the joys of playing God of War, and each story development and character interaction is so beautifully rendered that they should be experienced first hand, without prior warning.

“Discovery is at the heart of God of War.

And that goes for the rest of the game, too. Discovery is at the heart of God of War. Yes, there’s a main questline to complete here, and it’s an epic journey well worth the price of admission, chock full of narrative twists and turns that manage to shock and delight, as well as cataclysmic battles with super-powered enemies of all shapes and sizes. But the main storyline is only half of the game, and there are a plethora of side activities to take on. You don’t need to do any of these to get a complete and satisfying story, but they’re all handled with as much care and attention as the campaign, and they’re mostly worthwhile endeavors. There are optional super-bosses to take down, items to collect, legendary armor to craft, side stories to experience, and realms to explore that just following the main objective markers would never take you to.

Sailing from place to place, listening to stories about the Norse gods, is a highlight of the game.

This semi-open world is traversable on foot and also by boat, and no matter where you go the landscape is overflowing with beautiful sights to behold and engrossing short stories to experience. The boat is an excellent opportunity for a little chat, and some of the conversations that Kratos and son have while sailing do an excellent job of showing the growth and the development of the characters as the story progresses. Early in the game, you’ll meet another character who will spend some time in the boat with you, and he’s a little more loquacious than the stoic Kratos, making each journey more memorable by telling tales from Norse history about the lands you’re travelling, or the characters or artifacts that you’re chasing. These stories help to build up a genuine sense of history for Midgard and the heroes and villains that live there, and this world building will undoubtedly serve the series well when the inevitable God of War 2 arrives a few years down the line.

And there will be sequels, of that there is no doubt. Sony might have taken some convincing that God of War was a series worth resurrecting for PlayStation 4, but given what a triumph this game is it would be inconceivable to not take the story further. Sony Santa Monica are wisely restrained here in service of that, building up the legacy of many characters from Norse mythology that are never, or only sparingly used in the game. This is a complete story, and one that is utterly fulfilling by the time it’s all said and done, but there’s just the right amount of unanswered questions left lingering, and enough characters with scores to settle still breathing by the finale, that a follow-up story is a tantalizing prospect.

Pros

  • Incredible combat
  • Gorgeous graphics
  • Beautiful orchestral score
  • Jaw-dropping set pieces
  • Enthralling story

Cons

  • Some palette-swapped enemies
  • Slightly cumbersome fast travel system

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he's drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Mike Worby

    April 26, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Did you scoop the plat yet?

    • John Cal McCormick

      April 27, 2018 at 3:16 am

      BOY!

      I’m on it. It looks like there’s no difficulty ones so you can do the lot without playing it a second time on super hard or whatever. I’ve still got quite a lot of the side stuff to do so I guess it’ll be a while.

      • Mike Worby

        April 27, 2018 at 7:43 pm

        Nice, I hoped as much. I’ll be going for it as well.

        • John Cal McCormick

          April 30, 2018 at 9:50 am

          I got it 🙂

          • Mike Worby

            May 4, 2018 at 12:50 pm

            Do you know how to check how long you’ve been playing? If so, how many hours did it take?

          • John Cal McCormick

            May 8, 2018 at 5:18 am

            Honestly, I don’t know, but it didn’t feel like that long. I would guess at maybe forty hours for the platinum but that includes using a guide to find the collectables. If you were doing it without a guide it would presumably be tough because there’s like a billion things to collect.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.

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It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club have also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for a built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produce hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode like I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery

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Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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