Picture of Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

Contributor

Soporific jaundiced warbler, based in London. Likes poetry, weird fiction, Soulsborne and Overwatch.

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FeatureBethesda: Next gen consoles should be all about crossplay

And why it was important to announce Starfield and TES6 early.

At some point between nuking the Greenbrier and skinning molerats during last week's Fallout 76 hands-on I managed to steal 10 minutes with Peter Hines, Bethesda Softworks' long-serving vice-president of PR and marketing. The publisher has plenty of irons in the fire right now: VR spin-offs from Arkane and MachineGames, a co-op Wolfenstein starring BJ's daughters and the cataclysmic Doom Eternal, to say nothing of the probably-next-gen Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6. In other news, the publisher has decided to drop Steam for Fallout 76's launch in favour of its own proprietary launcher. Will other Bethesda titles follow suit, and what should we expect from the next round of console hardware? Here's Hines.

FeatureSaving punk from Cyberpunk

How marginalised developers are reclaiming the term from AAA.

"How cyberpunk is Cyberpunk 2077?" is the question many of the game's detractors have been asking, often with reference to its handling of trans representation. The one I've been asking myself over the past few weeks is: how punk is Cyberpunk 2077? For that matter, how punk is cyberpunk full stop? The two share a moment in history but come from different places: punk is a distinctively angry and egalitarian music form, spawned in the 1970s and feeding into a much broader ethos of anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian protest; cyberpunk, an outgrowth of New Wave sci-fi which explores, and revels in, what networked computing technology might bode for society and humanity. The origins of the term "cyberpunk" are hardly rock and roll: as Sam Greer recalls in a recent RPS piece on Cyberpunk 2077's trans politics, the writer Bruce Bethke coined it by stirring together words for "socially misdirected youth" with bits of tech jargon, in a "purely selfish and market-driven" act of editor-pleasing that would make a diehard punk spit blood.

I've been reading a lot lately about the different ways we imagine time, and one, rather obvious thing I've belatedly realised is that we do not actually perceive time at all, but matter in motion. Time is not a tangible entity whistling past, an arrow through the present's heart, but the shifting sum of the timeframes created by the objects around us: sunrise and fall, the tumbling of popcorn from an upturned bowl, the tickle of drums in a passerby's headphones, the bobbing of cans in a flood. An affectionate, if slightly ephemeral puzzler from Australian indie The Voxel Agents, The Gardens Between revels in this thought. It represents the past as a series of spinning island dioramas, at once unearthly and ordinary, made up of objects you must meddle with to allow time as a whole to play out.

For a British person of a certain age, playing We Happy Few is like being spoonfed your own sick. I intend this entirely as praise. To be more specific, it's like being spoonfed sick originally vommed up by King Arthur and stored in a vase for centuries at Windsor Palace, chewed over by Winston Churchill, shipped to the New World alongside the Beatles and Pythons and hereby returned to us with sprinkles on top by Canadian studio Compulsion Games. By "sick" I of course mean Great British culture, that terrible extent of table manners, bucolic landscapes, desperate irony and colonial nostalgia that has come to serve as a key export in the absence of our old manufacturing industry.

After 30-odd years of pillaging fantasy realms I'm pretty sick of video game loot, but I do love poring over the vicious trinkets I've harvested from the tissues of Dead Cells, Motion Twin's superb, handsome blend of Spelunky and Metroidvania. There they dangle in the jail where you begin each run: a galaxy of smoky coloured icons, sealed in jars that are chained to the ceiling. Bounce into them - one of my personal rituals, before I venture into the dungeon beyond - and the jars chime together ever so gently in a way that makes my skin crawl. I'm not sure the resemblance to a mad scientist's anatomy collection is deliberate, but it's compelling all the same. How better to capture the morbidity of escaping to a world of make-believe only to shake it down for swords and tat? You can almost smell the formalin.

Demented if spiritual arcade FPS Polygod will launch for Switch and Xbox One on 17th August 2018, developer Krafted Games has announced. If you're in the market for "hundreds of hours" of throwback blasting, with co-op and PvP multiplayer waiting in the wings, this may be of interest.

Years of playing hero-based multiplayer games have taught me one thing: if I am having fun with a character that is probably because s/he is overpowered, because I am too rubbish to play characters who are properly balanced. This appears to be the case with Brigitte, the Overwatch healer-tank knight errant whose prowess with a mace left me speechless (and often, concussed) when she launched on public servers in March. Blizzard says her Shield Bash ability - the essential prelude to knocking a rampaging Doomfist into a pit - is too effective for comfort, and must be nerfed. For shame, Blizzard! Let the girl bash in peace.

Some games, like Zelda, give you lots of toys that do lots of things. Some games, like the grindiest free-to-play shooters, give you lots of toys that all essentially do one thing. And a few games, such as Nitrome's finger-licking Bomb Chicken, give you one toy that does lots of things. While too obese to jump, let alone fly, the game's dumpy star has qualities most factory-farmed hens (and platform game characters) lack: her eggs explode a few seconds after they're laid, and she can lay an endless number in swift succession.

"New games in the old style" is the deceptively pat label Square Enix has adopted for smaller JRPG projects like Octopath Traveler, and one that invites an obvious question: which parts are old, and which parts are new? Far from a reprise of conventions from Final Fantasy 6 and before, Octopath is a curious medley of tradition and risk-taking. It engages with topics a JRPG of the mid-90s might shy away from: one of the playable characters is a sex worker, whose quest to avenge her father's death sees her grappling with the cruelty and chauvinism of an outwardly blissful medieval world. But this is, nonetheless, a world constructed according to a cosy old playbook, in which every town you visit has the same facilities and a lone citizen loitering for all eternity near the entrance, offering a crisp intro to all who visit. It's a game that puts a familiar emphasis on timing, built around a turn-based battle system in which the ability to strike first often trumps how hard you hit. But like its spiritual predecessors, the Bravely Default series, Octopath also lets you bend time a little, banking action points in order to perform several attacks in a single turn.

I love passing the time in Flat Earth's Objects in Space. In fact, I love passing the time in Objects rather more than I love actually achieving things in many other games. An absorbing blend of submarine and space sim distinguished by some decadently throwback interface design, it sees you hauling passengers and cargo across 2D star systems while dodging pirates or indulging in a bit of skyway robbery yourself. These journeys can take upwards of 10 minutes from system jump to system jump, and once you've given the autopilot a heading, there's essentially nothing to do save twiddle your thumbs and luxuriate in the retro ambience of your ship, with its chevron-fringed levers, neon grids and see-saw hum of cooling fans.

How do you duck a question about the politics of a game which pits a citizen militia against a corrupt government in modern-day Washington DC? Well, you could start by talking about the weather. "I loved the coldness of the first game, and to be able to go to DC and actually get to feel the humidity and hot summer of East Coast weather," The Division 2's creative director Terry Spiers remarked to Polygon at E3, when pressed about what it meant to stage an armed uprising in the capital of his own country. "That's what I'm most excited about."

Cultist Simulator is about forbidden knowledge, forgotten histories and ill-advised pacts with entities who aren't so much gods as unsettling cosmic frequencies, felt rather than understood, but it would be nothing without its monotony. Starting the game, you are confronted not with a squiggle of eldritch geometry but a wooden table covered by a worn leather mat, its scratches picked out by a strange cobalt light. An hourglass timer begins to drain away, sucking Fund cards out of your hand with every revolution; you counter by plugging Reason, Passion or Health cards into a Work timer to generate more. This mundane rhythm keeps up throughout the ensuing 20 or 30 hours, as cards and timers of all kinds slowly cover the tabletop, each accompanied by a gravid yet delicate prose snippet about the game's curious, alternate-1920s England. It's the bassline for an experience that is as much an investigation of mind-killing drudgery as it is a homage to the wayward imagination - indeed, an experience that derives much of its mystery and threat from their inseparability.

A sublime little side-scroller in the PlayDead tradition of child protagonists and looming industrial backdrops, FAR: Lone Sails is about going somewhere while staying put. It is the story of a girl, her features swallowed by a comically over-sized coat and hat, who embarks on a journey across a dried-up, abandoned continent after the loss of a loved one. The girl, however, does not do the journeying herself. She lives inside and operates a beautiful two-wheeled landship, its wooden frame peeling away when you board to reveal a dollhouse universe of cylinders and dials, swaying lanterns and pipes joined up by fat red buttons.

There are times when State of Decay 2 is so buggy that it stops being a stodgy post-apocalyptic looting game and transforms into metatextual horror theatre. At one point during a fight outside a barn, a juggernaut zombie hits me so hard that the UI vanishes, as though punched clean out of my character's skull. I try to speak to another human faction leader later, selecting unseen dialogue options at random, and accidentally trigger a civil war. The game features an extravagant array of injury types, from torn discs to punctured organs, and I half-wonder whether the developer is actually simulating the effects of a head wound through the very interface. How long will it last? Is this some unlockable hardcore option I'm not aware of?

The work of San Francisco-based studio Monothetic, Beacon is the tale of Freja Akiyama, a mercenary starpilot who crashlands on a sumptuous uncharted planet, but she isn't the person you actually play. Poor old Freja is, in fact, obliterated on impact along with most of her ship. Fortunately, the one piece of equipment left intact is your vessel's cloning pod, which promptly cooks up a brand new Freja to explore the game's procedurally generated environments, fight obscure species and scrape together the parts for a distress beacon.

Sometimes the best parts of a game aren't where its heart lies. If you want to experience For Honor in its prime, make a beeline for duels. Here, you're free to savour the meaty wonderment of the game's weapon-based combat system without distraction, away from the chaos of the team-based modes. A quick overview of the basics, for newcomers: fighters switch between left, right and top stances to launch or block attacks from those directions, as indicated by a three-segment shield icon. Each move burns stamina, and draining the bar will leave you as helpless as a kitten, so knowing when to ease off and catch your breath is key.

The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 sportscar is, according to my notes, capable of exceeding 300 kilometres per hour on asphalt, and if you think that's impressive, wait till you see how fast it travels when it's plummeting uncontrollably through the atmosphere from a few miles up. As my time with The Crew 2 draws to a close, I turn my stuntplane skyward and hit the nitro. Rain speckles the camera; clouds knit and part with a surly magnificence. I spin the view side-on, watching the bright pink plane carve a track across the horizon like a finger running up a dirty windowpane. All the while, HUD notifications drip from the fuselage as the game steadily translates various unintended feats of aeronautics - a lazy corkscrew, a second of knife-flight - into points and multipliers.

The "home depot axe", Sony Santa Monica nicknamed it during development, and for all the grandness of the title and the arcane butchery it facilitates, the new God of War's Leviathan Axe can indeed seem rather homely. It's an enchanted weapon, whirring back to your fist like a well-trained falcon after you hurl it across a clearing, just the thing when you need to shorten a giant or pin a Draugr to a wall. But with its worn leather handle and mottled blade, it also looks like something you might chop up kindling with in a quieter moment, something that might gather dust in a corner between outbreaks of deicide.

You can kick off a spectacular set piece pretty much anywhere in Far Cry 5. All you need do is stand in the road. Give it 60 seconds, and - yes, there it is, a van full of hostages, cruising around unescorted, the lowest of low-hanging fruit. You pour hot lead into the windshield until the driver flops out of his seat like a spent shell casing, then follow the vehicle into a ditch and help its dazed occupants to safety. One grateful civilian waves you over, a side quest icon materialising over his head. "Wh-" he says, and is promptly swept off his feet by a speeding pick-up truck.

So much of the magic in any magical world lies with how you get there, how the secret realm reveals itself: the spectral figures who vanish at second glance, the glisten of bells on the wind at dusk, that first, breathless step across the glowing threshold. These journeys between realities are often a question of cathartic redefinition: something about the everyday world is out of joint, and the other universe is an enchanted mirror in which the problem takes on a kinder guise, with familiar objects transported and transformed - cats into kings, sticks into wands, dolls into fairies.

Ghost of a Tale's castle feels like a prison at first but ends up feeling like home. In the course of 20 hours searching for a way out, I've slowly fallen in love with the place - its feathery falls of afternoon light over mossy stonework, its leafblown ramparts and canted mausoleums, its small, hard-bitten population of anthropomorphic rats, mice, frogs and magpies. Part of the setting's allure is that it carries the echoes of many great virtual fortresses. Indeed, this slightly muddled third-person action-RPG's greatest strength is probably how it adds to that architectural tradition, though the witty, affecting, politically resonant writing runs a close second.

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