Well, here we are, another instalment of Video Game of the Month! The Halloween season is behind us and the Christmas season is looming on the horizon like an unavoidable, recurring nightmare. Being a retail shelf monkey for the best part of 12 years, this is a horrible time to be working. The cheesy, awful abominations (no pun intended) of what passes as Halloween songs are put to rest. Yet the cheapest and most overplayed Christmas songs will come out to torment retail workers everywhere. My hat goes off to all retail shelf monkeys everywhere.
This may be a terrible time of year to be working, especially with the cold and dark mornings that have you internally screaming, but it is the best time of year for gaming. Q4 of the year always sees the newest titles released, and you get perfect excuses to stay at home, in PJs and game; “ah it is raining, and my shoes have a hole in them!”, “going to town? Oh sorry, I am a student now, need to save my money for Christmas presents”, “visit family? Ah yeah, I have to wait for the gas man to come and fix my gas metre…. It isn’t my fault they didn’t fix it the first three times”. What do you mean those examples are too specific to me?
Anyways, grab yourself a hot chocolate, and wrap up warm, and let us see what our team at Zatu have been playing this month!
Tension and suspense are difficult things to manage. There’s a scale that runs from mystery to horror, and tension sits neatly between these two points. Not enough suspense? Mysterious. Too much? Horror. Sounds simple but it’s far from it. So, for me to say that Metroid Dread manages that tension element excellently between the exploration and many opening paths is a big claim, but it’s one I’ll stand by!
Metroid Dread is the latest release from Nintendo in the Metroid series and is a direct sequel to Metroid Fusion. Never heard of it? Well, Fusion came out in 2002 so that can be forgiven! However, background knowledge and lore aside, Samus Aran lands on planet ZDR and inevitably loses all her powers. A staple of the series but one that is explained somewhat. Either way, it drives the gameplay. For the most part, the game is a MetroidVania – a game where paths and progress are made by acquiring abilities. The player is able to traverse different obstacles by unlocking skills and the game encourages backtracking for deeper exploration.
Where does this tension come from? The EMMI. These speedy robots are everywhere and in every area of the map. They’re confined to specific zones which are marked clearly… but these are areas you’ll be frequenting a fair bit! The EMMI are fast, relentless, and very hard to escape. If one grabs you, it’s probably game over! There is some respite in knowing you can parry them at specific moments to escape, as you can with all enemies, but don’t hold your breath! Like a terminator on four legs, it’ll hunt you down and skewer you in the blink of an eye! There are even a few areas that produce this same tension setting an excellent theme and atmosphere through choice audio and visuals. Seeing something massive twitch in the background genuinely made me shout “NOPE!” before taking a short respite away from the game.
MetroidVanias can often run the risk of getting lost in the labyrinth. That unlocked ability to open a very specific path in a very specific location can cause hours of pathfinding… which some love and some loathe. However! Dread’s map somehow leads you to where you’re going by linking paths to recent unlocks. What’s more, is that the map also highlights doors and paths you can engage with so you know where to go. It’s genuinely one of the most “makes sense” maps I’ve seen across games of similar calibres! It makes shouting “oh this opens up loads more paths!” a far more joyous experience… until you realise, you’ll be traversing an EMMI area and will undoubtedly become a bounty hunting shish-kebab! This is by far my Video Game of the Month!
It is a universally known truth gaming and ultra-violence bring people together. I realised this in 1993 when a young me went to the local Laser Tag venue - Quazar. Not to don the luminous sensor vest and run around like a milkshake fuelled menace. No - but to finally play Mortal Kombat II in their arcade “Zone”. It wasn’t anything flashy, just a long florescent corridor with about 10 arcade machines, but it was the only place to go for the latest arcade releases.
So yeah, 11-year-old me went into town on a Wednesday after school. I took a detour to WH Smiths as a gaming magazine had just come out with all of the fatalities listed. I didn’t buy the magazine as I need all of my money for the arcade, so I memorised Liu Kang’s dragon fatality (down, towards, away, away, high kick) and headed to Quazar.
It doesn’t sound like much but watching a group of young kids gasp as I pulled off the fatality is a really fond gaming memory of mine. Watching a dragon bite my opponent in half like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park does to the guy on the toilet was amazing. It was quickly followed by everyone surrounding the arcade machine to ask how to do the fatality. Someone shared how to pull off Sub-Zero’s fatality, another knew how to knock someone into the acid slime on the bridge level. None of us knew each other, but we all wanted to share our knowledge of the game and its violent delights. And this was the exact moment I fell in love with the Mortal Kombat series.
It hasn’t been the easiest of relationships, I’ve had to endure some terrible sequels and spin-offs. But Mortal Kombat X blasted onto the scene and made everything right, like a bunch of flowers and a blood-soaked apology. It also sorted out the convoluted story by using some lovely timey-whimey shenanigans.
So, when the inevitable Mortal Kombat XI was announced I hit peak hype. And it does not disappoint. NetherRealms studio absolutely nails the story mode again. They build on the nostalgia-fuelled beats of Mortal Kombat X and push the narrative forward in an exciting direction. The cutscenes are beautifully crafted and action-packed. Combat is as stylish as ever and the fatalities have never been more brutal or glorious. New characters are just as iconic as roster mainstays, each with varied and interesting move-sets. These days I play as Scorpion, but there will always be a special place in my heart for Liu Kang and his ability to morph into a dragon.
I cannot begin to tell you about the rush of nostalgic joy I felt as I first ventured out of the comparative safety of Fort Hope. With three complete strangers, we began to wade our way through waves of ridden, M4 carbines, Uzis and AKs in hand. Transported back to 2008 to Left 4 Dead – Turtle Rock’s original zombie co-op shooter – which at the time was ground-breaking, and a sink for many happy hours cutting my way through swathes of the undead.
So, if you enjoyed the originals, first thing’s first – go and buy this, it’s great. But that was 13 years ago and some of you will have missed that iteration on account of being at primary school.
Not to matter, because Back 4 Blood is a zombie shooter for this generation as much as a homage to the noughties. And it has plenty of contemporary, vogue goodies in its design. These wrap around the fantastic, core zombie shooting gameplay with its hefty and satisfying gun and melee combat. And I should stress this core is excellent: play-feel, AI, bot quality all really good and for me only the character movement feels a bit superficial (though I am comparing it to Apex which is a tough act to follow).
The main novelty is the deck-building mechanic which adds roguelike elements to the mix. Multiplayer co-op will gain you supply points These will allow the purchase of cards which give bonuses (and occasional penalties). Each level has a new card and a new effect, and as the game gets harder and harder and you die time after time (hence the roguelike) you get more and more cards to increase your survivability on the next run. Stack this alongside customisable weapons, different characters with individual traits and a solo and PVP to sit alongside the core co-op PvE and you have an excellent game no matter the decade.
I like Roguelikes/lites. I don’t know why. They are usually hard and I’m not amazing at video games. It might be that sense of progression, of unlocking a new power or ability and wanting to immediately try it out.
Everspace is a roguelike with a big difference - it’s set in space. You are the pilot of a small fighter ship and you warp from location to location trying to piece together your story. After arriving in an area an exit warp point will appear that allows you to warp to the next area. The only problem is this uses fuel and fuel isn’t unlimited. This means before warping away you will want to do a bit of exploring.
This will mean mining resources from nearby craters, taking on outlaws and enemy factions while managing expectations and relationships with G&B, a dubious corporation that is neutral to you, but often a good source of fuel and loot if you are willing to risk their wrath.
Every run you will collect loot for upgrading and crafting your current loadout, and credits to upgrade your ship permanently when you die. And die you will. A lot. Especially if you choose to attack the G&B freighters regularly.
The downside of this being set in space is that soon the backdrops start to look the same, but Everspace mixes this up in a number of ways. Firstly, you don’t want to hang around too long in any one sector. This is because the fearsome Okkar will warp in if you are too slow. Sectors provide a number of challenges including warp blocking tech that needs to be deactivated, loot hidden behind locked doors.
Each run promises awesome discoveries of new weapons and blueprints that let you start your run with new guns. The Stellar Edition includes new content that increases the number of missions and NPCs you will encounter. It’s a great space game and something a little different in the genre.
After watching the release trailer for this game during one of the previous State of Play’s from Sony, I was very much so interested in this game. However, I was also very very wary. I really hated the end product of Marvel’s Avengers, after waiting many many years for its release. I was hoping for a single-player, story-driven powerhouse of a gaming experience. And that is not what we got. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, is like the answer to every single one of the Avenger’s shortcomings.
This game is absolutely, truly, incredible. I received the pre-order a day early - the gods were smiling upon me! I played it continuously until I finished it, but a mere two days later. As soon as it appears on VGG I will be rating it a 10/10. To put that into perspective, the most recent game to be given that score from me was Asura’s Wrath. That one was released almost a whole decade ago.
Everything from the main story, the character stories, the gameplay, the way the characters interact with each other, the choice of side characters, everything about this game was just perfectly on point. And putting this out there, I am not even a huge Guardians of the Galaxy fan. The story was the perfect length, perfectly structured, and had some really fun and engaging missions. I am trying incredibly hard to restrain myself, as I am aware that the game is still fresh out of the oven so I really do not want to contain any spoilers. I am just so happy that they went a completely different route than that of the Avengers game, and have my fingers crossed already for a sequel or a spin-off.
This is THE game that will hopefully spawn the wider Marvel cinematic GAME universe.
And there we are. This last month or so has seen the release of some truly outstanding games. I hope you still take the time to pick up and try some of the older games that you may have missed out on in years past. After all, I am sure there are great games being released now that you may not have the time or pennies to spare for that may inevitably end up on one of these features in years to come.
That is if Zatu continues to allow me to do this for years to come. I guess only time will tell. And you almost escaped from the monthly trope of ‘time’ related comments. There is no escaping my terrible quips!