The VR Conundrum

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FIRST LOOK: FROM OTHER SUNS [BETA]

So I haven't played FTL, but in theory this is it in VR...


^^enclicken for more screenies and thoughts^^

Things you can definitely do, and which seem good/promising, are:
  • Raid randomised ships & stations with your randomised weapons (atmosphere and gunplay seem decent)
  • Stalk around your own giant ship, repairing breaches & modules (or assigning your crew repair jobs from a map view).
  • Upgrade your ship (although ship fights are static affairs, and there's no flight within systems generally).
  • Be reborn as a surviving crew-member if you die.

Ultimately I suspect it's more streamlined than FTL, and it seems less deep than Pulsar Lost Colony on the ship management co-op. The atmosphere and core intents were solid though. If/when the price is right can definitely see myself getting it ultimately. The remaining questions are: How much mission variety is there? Will I find anyone to Co-op with?

If they added 'away missions' to cheesy 60s planets I'd be totally sold though

To space!



Bonus: Here's some fella playing a bit:

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Second Look: Echo Arena

Finally got my teeth into this, and it really is pretty damn slick. And riding a big old wave of potential. If you've ever wanted to live out Ender's Game fantasies (of cerebral Zero G sport, not annihilating alien races ), this is the place...


Discussing tactics - click for more discussion & pix

I'm only at level 6, but I'm definitely seeing some depth in the gameplay that could give this real legs. The tactics and strategies being employed by regulars are pretty neat:



IE: Boosting off team mates, giving the ball carrier a boost-tow. (Hell, forming three-person kernels that can explode off in unpredictable directions... spitting out a defender to allow a human raft to smash their way through...). Stuff like that is definitely do-able.

Well... not by me yet. And THE BIG QUESTION is: Will it ever have the sustained player base it needs? The matchmaking was really struggling to sort out noobs and high end players, of which there was a fair split. (For some reason, at level 4, I got pitched against 3 more experienced guys. Not sure what the matchmaking is actually doing )

But hey, at least I didn't feel guilty about taking photos in that one



That issue aside, on pure presentation and core mechanics alone, this is looking like a
all day long. Need to get some more time in to completely confirm (and not smash my controls during heated and disorientated moments ). And need to stop being terrible at throwing too. But I can get to the boost tubes now at the start, and cruise around tactical zones with more control... and when I do pull off an intercepting block, or provide an option for the pass, or make a last ditch save, it does feel damn good

EDIT: Worth noting the one big con of this game. You will hit bits of your house while disorientated about your real-life position. I've thumped my tabletop lamp 3x and the wall at least twice to date. No side effects to date (both the lamp and the controllers are tough), but definitely a downside.

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EDIT: Possibly not the slickest intro to the game, but here's a look at the Lobby node, and some super noob action






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GORN'S BADGERMANCER UPDATE...




This was the chunky update that convinced me to jump in. Gave the local multiplayer a go, annndddd, these are my thoughts
  • Guiding a fighter with an Xbox controller feels a bit like Gang Beasts mixed with QWOP. I could do ninja leaps fairly reliably, but my jelly fighting skills will need some work.
  • Messing with the parameters in Custom mode could be good. 4 players vs a VR giant should be fair right?
  • I'm gonna mirror to my TV, as far as possible from the flailing VR viking! (Either that or buy everyone helmets...)

**More Pix**



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Render Tokens: A blockchain currency for online rendering

I'm trying to fathom this prospective crypto-currency (and hell, blockchain finance generally ). The short story seems to be: If it makes it, you'll be able to rent out your spare GPU capacity for online render work, getting paid in these 'Render Tokens' (RNDR). And indeed, use earned tokens to pay for increased GPU processing for your gaming, art production etc potentially.

I mean in principle I could see this working. I've donated my GPU downtime previously to calculate climate models using BOINC etc. That was relatively painless.

Some links for those who are intrigued, or who can bring more light to this topic:
I'm actually genuinely tempted to buy in for a small amount, if I can figure out how the hell you do that . Or (more likely) to at least use the service when it launches. Currently my thoughts are:

CONS:
  • Blockchain ICOs are ten a penny and frequently scams or failures.
  • Going by the 'biog' the OTOY outfit is a real guru-led affair, with Urbach being the lone leading light on whom everyone is betting.
  • Some OTOY customers suggested in the AMA that they're dropping behind in the marketplace due to focusing on blueskies over their current product.

PROS:
  • OTOY does seem to be an established company, running on the same principles, which has earned its cash doing specialist high end rendering (Transformers, the intro to WestWorld, etc). Hence they've a lot of Hollywood glitterati dumping cash on him.

General Speculation: What would they do with all that rendering power?

The basic potential of ramping up and 'outsourcing' GPU power is cool, if it works, and the output claims don't seem outlandish IE higher polygons, resolution, interactivity.

Beyond that, on a more 'futuristic' front, it seems one plan is to push aspects like '6 Degree of Freedom' point cloud vids. IE proper 3D video that can be further altered using CGI techniques, deployed straight into games, baked into super high quality fixed cinematic experiences etc.



And generally Virtual Reality & Augmented Reality are seen as key recipients of that extra oomph. If that all happens, I'm on board for some of that



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Had a great session of Echo Arena last night . (Only smacked my lamp twice and kicked my cat once )

Here's a quick cruise around the Lobby, just showing how smooth the locomotion and interaction stuff is really. And then some intensely noob-ish examples of the gameplay






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HEADSET OVERVIEWS:

Great breakdown of the full range of headsets about to broaden the market here. Have pulled out the Microsoft models as they look the ones with the most potential to open up the market (slightly cheaper & more accessible, but still a decent VR experience, with head and hand tracking, not just phone-style non-positional stuff).

Samsung Odyssey – November 6th for $499

Dell Visor – October 17th for $449

Lenovo Explorer – October 17th for $399

Acer Mixed Reality – October 17th Headset for $399

HP Mixed Reality Headset – October 17th for $449

Asus Mixed Reality Headset – 2018 for TBD
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VERTIGO:



On a gaming front, the 'budget Half Life' that is Vertigo is proving properly grand . The description has been pretty apt. (Well I'm guessing, as I never played the original HL. But certainly I'm escaping a lab, there's Portal-style tongue-in-cheekness aplenty, disturbing metal clanks in the background, and plenty of invention. Will write up a review when I'm done, 6 hours in so far...)



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VERTIGO
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Quick Summary:


PROS
  • Genuinely glorious boss battles. (Not revolutionary in terms of technical challenges, but in VR they felt really fresh and involving. Being suddenly 'confronted' with a monster can do that I guess )
  • Some grand settings that would please a James Bond villain no end.
  • Lashings of tongue in cheek humour
  • Functioning physics to keep your hands busy. It's not that they're super functional, or hugely leveraged by the puzzles, but their absence would have hurt the world-building.
  • Little touches like detailed imperfections and staining on glass, or disturbing noises in the distance, make the giant cartoon locations feel more like real places.

CONS:
  • Some serious bugs (like not being able to use both hands on ladders, requiring a level reset, or being so blinded by some rogue glare that I couldn't see the puzzle at all, leaving me to prod blindly at space...) break up the flow, and occasionally left lingering doubts as to whether a puzzle is eccentric or actually broken.
  • Communication is a mixed bag. (PSA: Your teleportation device can also slow down time. This is helpful for some puzzles. Being directly told it would have been helpful too )

REQUIREMENTS:
  • Roomscale, with full rotation and tracking when hands low down.




Vertiginous Wall of Words:


My first complete VR adventure! In flat-game terms it's still not the longest at 7+ hours, nor the most innovative with its 'escape the compromised lab' setting. Where it shines is in the scale and variety of its world, the mischievous details which give it colour, and the titanic punctuations brought about by the boss clashes. The core combat and puzzles just tide you over solidly while you sweat on the next major event. The naturalistic moveset also helped the sensation of actually being there. All round it was a properly enjoyable and involving jaunt

It sits in a particular sweet spot (for me) in terms of the mix of kinetic action, progression puzzles, and playful narrative-through-location. The 'end of level bosses' were really well implemented, often catching me on the hop and using scale and location really effectively. Cowering behind an item and firing at an eye on a stalk has never felt so fun

Caveats exist though. One is that the main dev was 15 when he started this. This both explains the way its a frothy love letter to a load of gaming archetypes, and also... why it has some really glaring bugs. Like some major major bugs on the Rift. But although they detracted from the experience and the flow at points, they were brief exceptions on balance. I genuinely had so much fun that they couldn't kill the buzz, or knock the overall score down exceedingly. The ending is eccentric, hell, the whole thing is eccentric, but the overall journey was grand

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Interkosmos




I'm gonna call this an experience rather than a game, even though it has lots of neat interactive functions and a narrative running through the middle. It's really fun, and really evocative at points, just also really short. I got an hour out of it, but felt it well worth the £2.67 I spent on it.

Definitely the best 'land the landing module' scenario I've played (and there are many), elevated further by the reactive tongue-in-cheek audio story. It's a cartoony take on Cold War impasses for sure, but manages to add some extra tension to events.

I'd recommend playing it on Hard from the start. Figuring out where the hell everything is, and how it works, without visual guides (as seen in the vid above) is much more fun and immersive. (The save points are automatic and generous, and it's quick loading, so deaths aren't that punitive...)




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Decent non-spoilery review of the 'real time' detective murder mystery game-xperience The Invisible Hours:



Definitely intrigued by this one. Seems like it's essentially Clue the VR game. 5 hours or so playtime if you follow every strand it seems, and decently immersive (if a bit mannequin-y). Won't be jumping at the £30 (!) launch price, but can see it in a sale for sure.



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WISHLIST:

POSSIBLE LAUNCH BUY:

Star Shelter - Space survival build-a-thon. Waiting on a few reviews but looks pretty promising and replayable for the price point. [£10]




WORTH IT IN A SALE:

Narcosis - 4hr-ish 'walking sim' underwater semi-horror. Good atmosphere but trippy/fractured dialogue perhaps. Some say it's a slog until the second half, but end worth it. [£15]
Bomb U - Cheap, cheerful single & multi-player bomb throwing competition etc. The drop on losing is... impactful. [£5]
Infinity Fall - Lo-fi storified zero g parkour space shooter - Indie Lone Echo with guns? Vive only at mo though :/ [£11]



MOST ANTICIPATED NOVEMBER LAUNCHES:

Fallout 4 - Nov 12th - Vive only at launch [But should work in Rift with workarounds]

LA Noire - The VR Case Files - Nov 14th - Vive only at launch [But should work in Rift with workarounds]

From Other Suns - Nov 14th - AA rogue-lite - Can't quite compete with the above on potential grounds. Beta showed some promise.



OTHER INTERESTING UPCOMING:


Sprint Vector - high paced day glo parkour race? Can see some nice design elements in there that suggest this could have got high speed motion working...



Talos Principle VR - Good conversion? It's a minor frustration that The Witness is unlikely to get a conversion apparently, as some of the puzzles are easily brute-forced in VR [in the game's current build at least]. Next best thing maybe... :/

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ROOMSCALE WITH A VIEW...

So back in Feb, 75% of VR users on Steam had a playspace at least 1.5mx2m

That seems insane to me. I am so fricking jealous of other people's houses...

(My space is calculated to be 1.2mx1.2m by Steam. Although in fairness I have set it really conservatively, like a foot in from the walls...)



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First Look: Star Shelter
++

Here's me rambling around space looking at the core mechanics of the game. Hopefully gets across some of the flavour:



Very much Early Access, repelling me slightly with its inane bugs and innate rogue-like cruelty, but there's a solid core here. Feels worth the £10 entry fee for sure. The core conceit is that if you die you lose all your scrounged consumables, and any improvements to your suit, but your homebase keeps its improvements. So when you rock up as a fresh stranded astronaut you've got an an increasingly sparkly platform to sally out from...

I'll probably keep fortifying my base and hitting mission milestones until the next update wipe comes, then set it aside to flower in space for a fair while...

Early Access Rating:
++



Second Look: Run of Mydan
(+)

Kinda agree with this vid on the whole...



Pretty stunning environmentals and stonkingly large bosses elevate the slightly stilted 'control your platform' motion. The campaign was an hour of spoon-bending enjoyable oddity for the most part. The Arena looked pretty but it flattered to please with its invisible walls in front of fun formations (which would have been cool to duck and dive around) and the waves of bots didn't hold me.

Hard to rate as I got it for <£1 in a bundle. Not really sure it's worth £15 in it's current state, longevity and online wise, but for now...

Early Access Rating:
(+)



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Oculus Connect 4 - Keynote Summary:
^^subliminal Facebook colour scheme^^

*Vid of the full thing*


The Big Announcement:

The $400 price-drop is now permanent


Software Improvements:


  • The 'Dash' dashboard allows for multi-app use in Home (Minority Report style 3D desktopping). The coolest aspect is that you can open up stuff like browsers or vids as 3D items within games and other apps though. (So I could have my music player as a floating panel in Elite or whatever). [48mins+]

  • 'Multiview' can 'boost' framerate up to 30fps by reducing load on CPU. (Only confirmed for one Gear game initially, but assuming this will be rolled out more broadly. Could be good news for min spec & general performance etc). [58mins+]

Hardware:


  • The 'Santa Cruz': Wireless, with inside-out tracking. '6 degrees of freedom' gaming on the go, potentially, although not high end gaming, as it's relying on onboard CPU/GPU. 4 cameras means it should have better controller detection than the Windows models just released etc. Will start hitting dev hands in 2018.

  • The 'Go' is a '3 degrees of freedom' portable all-in-one device that's essentially a mobile phone headset with the 'phone' built in.


Game Announcements:

Kinda slim and cryptic pickings in terms of big exclusives. On the AAA front, it's good that Ubisoft are still working on their zero-G shooter, that Respawn are working on something CoD-ish for 2019 by the sound of it, and that Ready At Dawn are adding guns to the Echo Arena franchise & a sequel to Lone Echo. A campaign coming to their mainly forgotten mage-PvPer The Unspoken looks a tad hopeful though. Barely a teaser to muster all told tho...

On the more AA and Indie front:

A Blade Runner freebie drops on Thurs.
The talk is that it's both terrible (as a game) & wonderful (as a tech demo of '3D video people').



Red Matter - AA narrative puzzle/adventure game:



So no big depth charges here then.



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This is probably one of my biggest gaming punts ever, but hell, I knew I was going to do it





The GreenManGaming 15% off, plus that 10% stackable took the pre-order down to £30. In hard-nosed terms that means I sneak it in for this payday, and cover my inevitable LA Noire purchase with the next . (Plus I'm guessing there's unlikely to be comparable price drop for 6 months after launch, unless it completely bombs... )

Reasons it's a silly punt? Well hell...
  • It's a Vive exclusive. I own a Rift. (Although almost all games work on all the kits these days, just with slightly bewildering keybindings and other annoyances as a rule).
  • It's a giant open world game, and more importantly, a Beth game. It will be a jankfest at launch, and a beast to run generally. With my 970/i5 only just sneaking into the 'recommended' tier, the odds of me even running it with any degree of pretty at launch are slim.
  • Hands ons have been very very mixed. (Although there's a claim floating around that the demo is a pretty old build, but that doesn't mean the newer builds have fixed all the issues )

But ach, yeah, I was always gonna take the punt . That much content is something no bespoke game has had time to lay out for the ravening VR crowd...

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A mix of user previews to date:

A mainly positive take from a dedicated Beth modder [11:40]



Big ole laundry list of mightily mixed player previews here and here



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In Other News:

Gallery Episode 2 - Heart of the Emberstone looks like a solid must-buy-at-some-point....



They've supposedly expanded the gameplay time and the puzzle ratio, so the bang for buck should be ok at £22. But I'm pretty stacked up on the puzzle & walking sim front (Xing, Herobound, Solus Project), so will be letting this one simmer.

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Some of the Lone Echo devs had a vague idea of programming for hands because they'd hacked together their own PowerGloves back in the 90s (3m24s)

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I forgot that Fallout 4 got pushed back from early November to early December. D'oh! :/



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Snagged Breach It (£3.50) as I fancied some manual clip loading and grenades with pull-able pins. Add destructible walls a la Rainbow Siege 6, and it's pretty fun for a barebones Early Access



I spent most of my time baffling bots with my snipy pistol and lump hammer, making various bespoke holes in their chipboard home. There's a nice spread of tools available as attackers. (Can see how police shield + semtex would be a good pairing in a team...).

In the meantime, the AI are not the brightest...



The few rounds I did get with other players were fairly incompetent. (I blew myself up while trying to understand grenades ). But can definitely see some promise here, with defence all about the strategic reinforcing and positioning, and offence all about those surprise entry points...



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Wish Upon a Car (Or: How Cool Would Open Worlds with Hand Steering Be?)

Fricking cool is the answer, I reckon . This initial LA Noire tease got me really hankering for it...

Experience first person driving in VR with additional real-world vehicle interactions including steering, operating car doors, changing radio stations, shooting from vehicles and much more.
And this GTA-style mock-up...



The idea of moving easily (hopefully ) from foot movement to car, in a big Rockstar-style open world, smashing around in the semi-arcadey driving model, then smashing or rocking your way out onto the mean streets again. Could be potentially pretty seamless, and extra immersive as a result. (Then there's all the little bonuses like being able to one-hand cruise, maybe while shooting out the window, or grabbing people's hats, or opening the door to take out a dog you've been hired to dispatch...)

In the meantime it seems I could hack my way into racing games...



But I reckon it'd be the transition between a 'walking world' to driving within that world that could be really compelling here.

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On the plus side, it seems the guys making the Half Life 2 mod are planning to have hand-driven hovercrafts



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A Classic VR Conundrum: Something For The Weekend...

So I could have bought this new release: Skyworld (£23). A pretty full fat title with lashings of presentational panache. It's even got a 'launch reduction' (down from a slightly more heart-stopping £30).



An RTS-lite, sitting somewhere between Civ Revolutions and Clash of the Clans, it does look fun. But limited content fun, just with some delicious presentation. (Most reviews are already saying: 'Nail your iron mine and you're golden, maps don't change the strategy...' :/).

So instead, I bought this! Deism (£6).



An indie 'open world' twist on the God game. Sure it's not that innovative to have a VR gamer be a man in the sky, but hey, no one's nailed the formula yet, and this looks worth the price of entry... or at least feels like a lower risk if it ends up only being only a few hours of fun :/

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The take homes are probably familiar...
  • The are plenty of high end releases around, but their bang for buck is poor
  • Indie experiments feel like better returns on the entertainment front
  • A premium title with premium content & longevity really would be lovely...

(I shouldn't complain really, I've got some pretty varied titles on rotation depending on my mood. But it's probably because I don't have one big full fat game to sink my teeth into that I'm rotating EA and indie quite so much )



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Somethings from the weekend...

Echo Arena laid on some ludicrously lush Halloween toys for the lobby...



This is a tiny, remote-controlled, voiced model which I'm holding in my hand. If she'd been animated too I would have completely lost my **** . Steering her little broomstick around and watching people get transfixed and chase after her was great . (Again, really really hard to describe just how freaking convincing these things are in the high-end graphics games...)

Fun as the matches were, it felt wise to stop playing after a while though. Mainly after one guy punched his own floor. Twice. And then we all heard the distinct sound of breaking glass from someone else's mike. Game is dangerous!

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Breach It! Is pretty damn cool when it works. All the weapon physics, destructibility and eccentric human tactics come together well. Being able to punch handy holes in any wall with a mallet, and blind fire for low impact hits straight through the wooden walls are neat dynamics.

Mainly though... it doesn't work at all



Spent a large part of today's game being marched off the edge of the map to my death by unknown forces...

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Deisim is super cute. Much more of a zen sim than an outright game...



I mean yeah you do defend your evolving villages from heretics, and heal the odd disaster (and visit the odd one yourself), but these challenges are very languidly spaced out. The main passtimes include throwing looping seed shots onto new tiles (this is strangely satisfying) to spread the map in ways that encourage village growth, and then occasionally picking up a house to snag the heretic hiding under it . (Supposedly it gets a bit more grandiose once the map gets too big for you to micro-manage, with whole heretic villages forming etc).



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So I couldn't resist splashing out further this weekend. I went for the worst-named game of all time:

Hotdogs, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

Or H3 to its aficionados . And what you're getting for your £15 is primarily just: A stupidly in-depth gun simulator... The guy has absolutely gone to town on making a huge spread of working replicas...



Like with this 6-shooter you shake the bullets free, and then snap the cylinder back into place with a wrist flick having fed it with bullets. There's no safety here (but lord knows there are on other guns, and fire-rate switches, and breaches to be loaded and such...). Every cinematic clunk-click of battle prep is represented in full, and feels strangely kinetically cool to do, in most cases. (Screw the 1850s breach-loading pistols tho )

As a Brit who has no exposure to the real thing this was all strangely educational. And doing things like flip loading old-school rifles like Arnie in T2 didn't hurt either . I literally didn't leave the initial shooting range for hours, playing with everything from mini guns to matches...



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The actual game-modes are mainly a mix of destructive physics puzzles and 'clear the room' style bot-fests. It's pretty clear the dev has just been amusing himself rather than constructing a hugely coherent game . It's strangely fun for all that though: Toying with loadouts and slapping weapons onto your chest before storming a hostage situation (the hostages are rabbit statues, and you have a choice of enemies, from stationary targets to rogue robots) for example...



Scaling the tight bespoke race course that requires parkour and calm shooting; taking on the daft 'West World' style wild west zone. (Honestly this was a bit annoying, but the thought was there, and working up through the historical guns was cool). And I haven't even got to the hotdog-zombie scenario yet. (Of course that exists...)

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Even though at its heart it's a physics sandbox first and foremost, as this vid amply demonstrates...



I'm going to class it as a shooter and give it a
-- though, coz I had that much fun in my first 4 hours . (DISCLAIMER: I fricking love a good sandbox, so alongside the more delineated game-modes I'm definitely getting my bang for buck here. Others expecting a more coherent game experience, even for £15, may be more disappointed. Worth noting I'm also weighing in just how active the dev has been, and expecting him to keep adding content and game mode additions...)

EDIT: The ongoing dev is definitely a thing



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First Look: Onward

The latest update convinced me this was worth the full £20 asking price. The fact that they were adding some co-op 'get to the chopper' maps was cool, alongside the Arma-style online action it's more renowned for. But actually it was the little innovations - like checking the pulse on a revivable comrade - that convinced me it was going to keep developing in interesting ways...




'In the game' intricacies:


Continuing with my guilty gun fetish, this game totally layers on the involved clunk-and-click mechanisms. Loading the big suppression guns involves grabbing the ammo and feeding it into place before clacking many gun parts together. Stuff that might seem ludicrous, but reloading in the heat of the action, hunkered down behind some sandbags, is actually pretty cool.

Despite the game looking notably gash, the sense of place given by things like reaching to your shoulder to radio info to your squad, or actually stabbing your downed mate with your magic syringe, or running faster if you lower your gun, all really adds up. Pragmatically speaking the scrubby maps make up for their lack of looks with scale too, allowing for a ton of flanking and squad cover and the like.

Solo Missions, Co-Op Escapism and Online opiates...

I spent a happy hour or so in the offline modes just learning some of the guns and playing with some of the solo modes. (Surviving against 6 AI in the 'Hunter' mode looks like it might actually be distracting fun on its own for a bit. Had the most success sneaking around with a silenced sniper kit on an open map). But online squad play is definitely the star. Despite the cautious 'realism' approach, and some downtime during death (staring at birds flying over black and white brutalist Iraq...), the rounds are still only 5 minutes or so as a rule and I was immediately on that heroin feed of 'one... more... game...'

Provisional score:


EDIT:

Ok I finally won a Hunter round, me vs 6 'Normal' AI. I was proving a bit too impatient to pull off a full daytime sniper round. Spent my outfitting points on a silenced mid-range rifle and night vision instead... Had to do it with ironsights, but night vision vs mainly torches was kinda weighted in my favour ultimately