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Some of the best films of all time are those whose different strengths all work in concert to create a unified, engrossing whole. The Shining, The Social Network, and Jaws are all excellent examples of films made up of strong individual parts complementing each other to form a fantastic work of art. That is absolutely true of God of War – its musical score elevates story moments, which flow seamlessly into fantastic action gameplay, which facilitates exploration and puzzles that reward you with a deeper understanding of its characters and its expansive and beautiful world.
God of War is a masterful composition of exceptional interlocking parts, deliberate in its design and its foreshadowing, which pays off in unexpected ways in both the gameplay and story.Set in a new, Norse mythology-inspired world and starring a familiar but thoughtfully reimagined character.
God of War works from minute one thanks to the simplicity of its plot. Kratos and Atreus – who start as, at best, acquaintances – begin their journey having just gone through the loss of Kratos’ wife, whom Atreus bonded with much more than his father. The two set out to the tallest point in all the realms to carry out her final wishes.
The Art of War
And there are battles aplenty. Though Kratos only kills for survival now, he still does so with a flair for brutality. The stun-kill animations can be especially gory and literally bone-crunching affairs. (Though, because there’s only one per enemy type, they become somewhat repetitive to watch.) While God of War is altogether more emotionally complex and layered, its excellent combat undoubtedly carries forward the blood-soaked traditions of the series.
Finding the right combination of slicing, throwing, assistance from Atreus, and parrying with Kratos’ retractable shield turns each battle into a bloody ballet of timing – and that’s before you begin unlocking special attacks, like a beam of ice shooting out from the axe or a Patronus-esque wolf Atreus can summon for battle.
Though I quickly found my favorites, certain scenarios required me to vary up my abilities by mixing in enemies with immunities and weaknesses
I skipped out on some options in the early game, because options are limited by what you can afford to unlock with XP, but by the latter half I had more than enough to unlock pretty much everything I wanted in time for the most brutal battles. I felt encouraged to experiment.
A big variable in combat is Kratos and Atreus’ armor. Chest, wrist, and waist pieces, as well as some tweaks to the axe, can alter a number of Kratos’ stats, from strength and defense to runic magic and attack cooldown rates, and those can have a significant effect on the way you fight. I stayed with my tried-and-true animal hide chest guards rather than full breastplates, sacrificing defense over strength, but would take on new equipment – or outfit them with my amassed slottable runes – to imbue my gear with defenses against certain enemies or to accentuate abilities like my axe’s frost power. I also may have made a few clothing choices based on look because, even though Kratos is no fashion icon, with such intricate character detail I wanted him to stay true to my vision of this embattled man. (And, largely, my Kratos would never wear bulky chest plates.)
A Whole New World
God of War’s initially linear world opens up a bit after the first few hours, and it encourages exploration through its many rewards and collectibles for completing optional puzzles and fights. But you can occasionally stumble into the path of a much more difficult opponent, clearly denoted by the purple color of their health bar, and they can often take you down in one or two hits. Running into these situations occasionally felt like intruding on someone or something else’s territory, and I needed to be prepared. If I felt hungry for a challenge, God of War never let me down.
There’s plenty of freedom, although the map never becomes truly “open world” in the way that games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn are; instead, it’s an interconnected series of diverse locations, many of which are gated behind certain story moments and collectible milestones until the very end. God of War’s contained nature shepherds you through certain locations with its quest chain, which occasionally leans on the cliche of a solution Kratos thought would work turning out to be missing one key component you then need to then go scour the land for.
The Beauty’s in the Details
I have audibly said “wow” and sighed at the beauty of God of War. The texture of grassy hills in the distance feel real, light dances dazzlingly off of shinier surfaces, and every gnarled monster I have fought conveys such a sense of decay as to instill terror in me. Even the sky looks nearly photo-realistic. And while the beautiful landscapes captivated me, the small details on Kratos and Atreus stunned me. The fur and leather of their outfits move so naturally, and are so finely detailed that they look nearly genuine. I would find myself trying on new pieces of armor just to admire how Kratos’ outfits behaved.
All of this beauty comes at a cost, however, and that means God of War runs at or around 30 frames per second instead of the 60 frames that makes action games feel so much smoother. That said, the world and its inhabitants largely ran well for me, outside of the occasional framerate dip when swinging the camera over complex scenery or around in the midst of a cramped battle, or while in the “Favor Resolution” Pro mode, which maintains the higher resolution at the expense of dropping some frames here and there. The “Favor Performance” mode visibly ups the framerate, but not to 60 fps in my time with it. But the occasional issues in my playthrough never hindered my progress or noticeably took me out of the experience on either the regular PS4 or the PS4 Pro.
For role-playing game fans it’s only once in a blue moon a title comes along that’s so engrossing you’ll willingly surrender not just a little bit of time to play it, but days and weeks of your life. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a prime example; a captivating game that, for our money, is the best RPG since Skyrim.
But, if anything, it’s a little bit more grown-up than that 2011 Bethesda epic. There’s a lot more f-ing and blinding for starters, the occasional c-bomb included. And much more blood. Oh, and let’s not forget the smattering of nudity. Yep, Witcher 3’s adult themes are quickly established from the moment the camera lingers on a bare derrière mere minutes into the game. Yet – and despite that reading like an apparent Hollywood “sex, blood, swearing, – buy, buy, buy!” kind of campaign – it’s not gratuitous, rather more representative of a believable world. Y’know, one where mages and magic are a normality.
But whether you’re an existing fan, a newcomer, or someone who’s looking to replay the game on Nintendo Switch (that’s why we’re updating this review), the swordplay, magic, monsters and fire gods certainly make for damn good entertainment. So, attention grabbed, nipples acknowledged, we’ve spent dozens of hours delving into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s world, exploring its decision-based storyline, side missions and sprawling landscapes. Here’s why, whether you’re a fantasy fan or not, it’s still a stone cold classic of RPGs.
One giant beast
When it arrived back in 2015 there was no game of the same epic scale as The Witcher 3. Even now, five years later, it’s still a huge world to explore. The open landscape throws you into a world of magic and combat, led by enticing characters and great acting that will keep you hooked. Ok, so Geralt, the witcher you play, might’ve been listening to Christian Bale’s Batman a little too much, but his husky voice becomes part of the game’s charm.
After the main cutscene kicks-off proceedings – in hand-drawn graphic novel style with story narrator, a theme that continues with each loading and progress scene, but that feels distant from the style otherwise used within the game – the story begins with you seeking Ciri, your adopted daughter, who, for reasons unknown at the time, the evil Wild Hunt seek.
It’s from here the basics of combat are learned, in a flashback to Ciri’s childhood. But there’s a whole lot to master, which takes time to then apply effectively in the game. The Witcher 3 is no plodding turn-based role-player: you’ll need to attack in fast-paced, real-time scenarios. It’s not all slash, slash, slash button bashing either; parry, dodge and use of stronger sword attacks in combination deal with different foes. Other sword-bearing folk tend to be easily dispatched, but groups of wraiths, ghouls and the like will demand well-timed rolls and dodges to get around.
To add to the mixing pot there are a variety of magical spells that are essential for tactical attack and defence – particularly when ensconced by a group of enemies
All this has the makings of a deep role-player, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg really. You’ll later learn crafting and alchemy, trading, and how to apply experience points to specific character enhancement trees (earned from quests, resulting in your levelling-up), all of which are essential to the game. Whether you chose the path of warrior, alchemist or magician is down to the choices you make when applying upgrades. Enhancements can also be multiplied with mutagens, sourced from specific enemy kills.
In the first instance the game’s controls feel a little too heavy – something we still think to this day, especially when it comes to horseback riding – but it’s something you’ll get used to. Well, after trying to climb up rather than run around a damn ladder for the fifth time. Controlling Geralt doesn’t feel as smooth as playing, say, Grand Theft Auto 5, nor is there the deftness of Assassin’s Creed when it comes to jumping gaps or climbing. But those are entirely different games, ones we’ve played enough of and enjoyed for what they are.
Once you’ve got stuck into the main storyline – and no spoilers here – you’ll quickly encounter multiple quests that show-off the game’s breadth. You can spend excessive time playing cards – “gwent”, a complex card game that we still aren’t hugely interested in, but which since spawned its own separate dedicated game for mobile – or search out that rare herb needed for a potion. Sound too boring? Go explore a waterside and cut the heads and limbs off some drowners and ghouls instead. Or craft some armour.
If the lead missions are getting too tough then you’ll need to hold back your progress, explore some more to gain additional experience points and level-up your abilities. Enemies show a power bar alongside a number, the latter which represents their level. If you’ve achieved, say, level 10 and your foe are at a similar level then you’re in good shape to take them down.
Other similar games
Things change pace even more when boss characters are encountered. You’ll work your way up to each of them, but some will take a couple of goes to take down. If you get stuck then the bestiary – a glossary of beasts and their weaknesses, found in your inventory – can be helpful, assuming you’ve acquired the relevant foe’s details from a previous quest.
For armour and weapons, however, you’ll need to find the relevant armourer or blacksmith of the right skill to craft. There are portable repair kits, found infrequently, that you’ll want to use only at the essential moments. Swords damage quickly too, so it’s a good job your standard duo – silver for monsters, steel for humans – can be supplemented with as many additions, axes, maces, and so forth, as you want (subject to maximum weight). Looking after weapons can cost you a pretty penny; the primary use of extra ones is to dismantle them and acquire the resulting goods for crafting better items.
The most important moments in any horror game are in between the screams — the quiet stillness when a monster isn’t chasing you yet, but you know they will be soon. It’s in those small moments that Little Nightmares 2 is at its best and scariest.
Little Nightmares 2 is a horror puzzle-platformer developed by Tarsier Studios, the same studio behind the original Little Nightmares. Players control Mono, a small, mouse-sized child exploring a regular-sized world full of monsters and dark secrets. Most of the game is set inside a dark and twisting city, where it seems to always be raining and always be nighttime. The city’s population is controlled by a mysterious television broadcast that makes everyone almost entirely passive, but it’s the grotesque monsters that also inhabit the city that offer the biggest threat to Mono as he attempts to escape.
The haunted buildings within the city make up most of Little Nightmares 2’s levels. One of the levels is a school filled with deadly marionette students that will chase you on sight and a deranged teacher with an extendable, rubbery neck. Another section of the game is set in an abandoned hospital where mannequin patients are strewn throughout the building on gurneys, in wheelchairs, or sometimes just thrown limblessly in the hallways.
Still images of these environments would be chilling enough on their own, but when they come alive with Little Nightmares 2’s excellent and off-putting animations, they’re much scarier. Enemies limp toward you with jagged, uneven motions and at varying speeds that make them feel inhuman, and each of the game’s big monsters has unique animations that help make them even grosser and creepier than their regular-enemy counterparts.
Another layer to the game’s atmosphere is its outstanding sound design. Every moment of Little Nightmares 2 is packed with the creaking and groaning of old pipesKind reviewer
I could never tell if these were caused by some far-off enemy, or if they were triggered because I stepped on just the right floorboard, but their timing helped add an extra layer of subtle discomfort to actions as small as walking through an empty room.
The primary way that you interact with all the ominous environments of Little Nightmares 2 is through various types of puzzles, which you solve to progress from one section to the next. Most of these are fairly simple, but they get a little more challenging as the game goes on.
Her playing could mask the sounds of me dragging the stool, but I had to be careful to listen to the music, because when I heard the melody ending it meant I needed to freeze in place or be caught instantly. These puzzles aren’t exactly ground breaking, but they fit Little Nightmares 2’s world well and create consistently novel ways to interact with the game’s creepy world.
The one time I died in this section, I got treated to one of the game’s many blood-curdling death animations — which often made failing feel worthwhile to experience at least once, just to see what horrifically creative death Tarsier Studios had come up with.
Little Nightmares 2 also asks you to perform some basic platforming, with mixed success. The game’s jumping feels imprecise and a little awkward. When I was controlling Mono, I often felt like I had only a vague command over where he was going to leap next, which occasionally led to me missing jumps that I felt like I should have made. These sections also occasionally suffered from a lack of indication as to where to go next, which could result in some frustrated wandering.
Little Nightmares 2 has a secret weapon for setting its tone and creeping you out. Instead of the total loneliness of the first game, Tarsier Studios has added a companion in the sequel named Six — the protagonist of the original game. Throughout most of the game’s levels, Six wanders around with you, assisting in platforming sections to help you reach faraway ledges, leading you in the right direction if you seem stuck, or even just holding your hand as you run through a particularly dark and spooky building. Yes, there really is a “hand-holding” button — and it is adorable.
In some of the game’s most stressful, scary, and climactic moments, Six gets separated from Mono, leaving you more alone than you could ever have felt in the original game. Even when I was only separated because she had boosted me up to a ledge we couldn’t both reach, levels felt far lonelier and the game’s enemies got even creepier.
In one particularly effective section, Six gets kidnapped by one level’s villainous force. Suddenly, I was worried that I might not be able to save my companion and instead would have to continue through the world alone, which introduced an entirely new kind of fear that was far more effective than just finding another way to watch my character die. It felt permanent in a way that nothing else in the game could.
NO FIGHTING CHANCE
Sometimes, Little Nightmares 2 abandons its smart puzzle-platformer style in favor of sections that are more action-oriented. Most of these scenes involve the game’s monsters discovering Mono and chasing him down, or a small bit of combat between enemies that are Mono’s size. These sections lean into all of the things that Little Nightmares 2 is worst at.
These action scenes, which play out like a section from an Uncharted game, are bland and punishing. While I was sprinting down a random hallway I’d often get stuck on awkward geometry, or fall victim to the game’s less-than-ideal camera angles before getting devoured by the unforgiving boss that was chasing me. Or, during the combat, I’d swing at an enemy, only to find out that, thanks to a trick of the camera, my aim was off by a bit and I’d be forced to start the section again.
All of these control and camera shortcomings are easy to look past in the game’s slower moments. The stealth sections are forgiving enough that an uncoordinated, controller-related misstep generally won’t doom you, and the platforming sections lack the fall damage that would make failure overly frustrating. But when Little Nightmares 2 morphs into an action game, these missteps become punishing, and the death animations that are so unsettling and exciting to watch the first time around get stale by the third or fourth experience of trial and error.
But in Little Nightmares 2, that release isn’t actually necessary. Because failure is an option in any of the game’s stealth sections, there’s a built-in moment of tension relief with every death. When you’re carefully sneaking around an enemy’s eyeline you’re already tightly wound, and when you’re spotted, the game’s fantastic score flips to a string crescendo that still surprises me, even after the tenth time I’d heard it. Each of those little scares was infinitely more effective than the game’s prolonged chase sequences, and they were better designed around the game’s control and camera-related limitations.
When Little Nightmares 2 sticks to the things it does best, it’s a great horror game that feels entirely unique in its scares. Almost everything, from Mono’s perspective as a tiny, almost-powerless character in a giant world, to the grotesque monster designs, to the mysterious city that’s been taken over by its televisions, combines to create a wonderfully upsetting world that I didn’t want to stop exploring, even after the game ended.