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What we've been playing

A few of the games that have us hooked at the moment.

22nd of January, 2021

Hello! Welcome to a new regular feature where we write a little bit about some of the games we've found ourselves playing over the last few weeks. This time: A Ubisoft Battle Royale, a truly immersive sim, and fun with cards.

Hyper Scape, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox X/S, PC

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Designers: be careful with your fonts. My wife thinks Hyper Scape is called Hyper Slap. Such is the confusing retro-futurism of the title screen. She'll come into the living room: "Oh, you're playing Hyper Slap again."

I am playing Hyper Scape again. I am terrible at it, and as the audience dwindles it takes longer and longer to get a match going, which is an awful fate for a Battle Royale, which needs so many players. But when the matches do kick off, I feel like this might be an underappreciated charmer. Combat is brisk and movement is wonderfully smooth, but it's the map that has me: a sort of grey-box take on a European city, right down to a huge model of Notre Dame.

Actually, it's the upgrades. Alongside weapons and health packs, you search the streets of Hyper Scape for the game's equivalents of magical abilities - invisibility, say, or the ability to throw up a wall between you and your attacker. The very best, though, turns you into a beach ball and lets you bounce through the emptying streets for minutes at a time. Thonk, thonk, thonk. What a strange, stylish treat this game is - don't miss out.

Chris Donlan

iRacing, PC

It's race week! Well, it's race month, really - the season kicks off proper with the 24 Hours of Daytona at the tail-end of January, and before that we get its virtual counterpart run in iRacing. Prepping for one of these things is serious business, and my team's been running test sessions and fine-tuning our set-up since the festive break, and with only a handful of days to go until lights out things have started to get really serious. We're currently in the process of getting the livery down for Scuderia Chickenhouse's Dallara LMP2, and it's perhaps the most important task of the lot.

Debate's been raging across our Discord and spilling over into WhatsApp, but the chicken-emblazoned art car is finally taking shape - now it's just about finalising logos, so that our sponsors at the local Morley's might be satisfied, and so that they might sneak me a free box of hot wings when I pop out for a midnight snack during the race itself.

Silly stuff, but it's precisely why I love running team endurance events in iRacing. It's not so much about the accuracy of the simulation, how good the damage model is, or any of that jazz - though iRacing does acquit itself well in all those departments - and about how the simple action of sharing a car with six friends for a 24 hour race bleeds out into our lives in the most fascinating ways. That's the real magic of iRacing right there, as far as I'm concerned.

Martin Robinson

Simmiland, PC

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A card-based god game? What a strange idea, and yet it works wonderfully. You, as God, play cards to do things in Your tropical island world. Do You want to create a human? Play the card. Do You want to make a tree? Play the card. Do You want to make it literally rain? Play the card. Simple, until You realise You need Faith, a currency created by Your humans, to play the cards. But the two align, so if So-and-so wants thunder, make it thunder to earn Faith.

The twist comes in only having 50 randomly dealt cards to achieve Your goal: setting your civilisation on a course to self-sufficiency and, in the very end, making a rocket to take them out of that place. But have You researched enough things? Have You created and sampled and inspected all the different things You need for them to make vital tools? Is there enough food? Will they survive the winter?

It's hard. I've not gotten very far because, as with rogue-like card games, the charm comes from learning a bit more each time you try. Crucially though, I want to play again. Simmiland is bright and colourful and intriguing. It's a game from the Sokpop collective and it's £4. Give it a go!


Pirates Outlaws, PC, smartphones

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Pirates Outlaws clearly owes a very large debt to Slay the Spire, but while the latter's multitudinous moving parts and complex synergies have always been a bit much for my tiny brain to cope with, Pirates Outlaws serves up a wonderfully streamlined, breathlessly pacy game of swashbuckling combat and nautical adventure so immediately gratifying I've struggled to resist its siren's song.

The big changes are persistent armour, a conditions system built around overriding rather than stacking, melee which effectively grants free attacks providing you can shuffle your intended target to the front of the queue, and an ammo reload system that can massively extend the length of your turn if used carefully - all making for an enormously satisfying tactical toolkit with a flavour of its own.

Combine that with a fantastically well designed deck - each card as purposeful as it is gloriously thematic - alongside a wealth of different modes, characters, and maps with campaign-specific cards and enemies, and developer Fabled Game Studio has struck pirate gold.

There's a mobile version of Pirates Outlaws costing just shy of £1 if you're suitably intrigued (with an entirely worthwhile £2.99 in-game resource booster) and a rebalanced, full-price PC version that does away with the monetisation grind altogether. So now you too can make like a pirate and, uh, get hooked.

Matt Wales