Most Played: February 2021

Our occasionally regular round-up of some of the games we’ve been playing.

Horace – Jake

Horace passed me by last year, but having featured on so many end of year lists, I picked it up on sale for, on reflection, an insultingly low price. I genuinely feel conflicted about having paid only £1.09 for this much game.

I’m about five hours in, and enjoying dipping in and out of it. I think blasting though it would be a bit much: though there are quite extensive cut-scenes, the game itself is pretty dense and demanding.

It’s very clearly one person’s vision – a curious mix of platformer, mini-games, engagingly mature (but not like that) narrative, and nostalgic British humour. It’s obvious that every detail has been pored over and lovingly crafted – to the point that even frustratingly difficult sections aren’t really frustrating. The game doesn’t want you to fail, or to give up, just to be challenged – and it’s good at helping you at the right moment, with extra lives for example. It helps to build a level of trust that with a bit of perseverance you’ll get through it.

Checkpoints are another example of that, and the speed of restarting after death. It recalls Rayman Origins in terms of how perfectly it deals with difficulty and death – and that’s a very high bar. In fact Horace positively revels in death, keeping a handy count of exactly how many times you’ve been ‘revived’. It’s oddly reassuring, making it clear that you’re expected to die a lot. It’s fine. Don’t worry. Carry on.

The other elements of the game – mini-games to earn money, arcade games you can spend money on – are equally considered and fully formed. Yep, definitely too much game for £1.09.

GI Joe: Operation Blackout – Matt

When it came to designing a new line of GI Joe figures, Hasbro often looked at the preliminary sketches before picking and swapping accessories and features to find a good mix. One soldier may eventually end up someone else’s rocket launcher, for instance. Shoulder straps, gun holsters, helmets and other ordinance were duly switched out until they had a range of figures that stood out.

GI Joe: Operation Blackout takes a similar approach, mixing and matching ideas from past shooters. It features Halo’s classic pairing of a rechargeable shield and a two-weapon set-up, along with Gears of War’s active reload and Overwatch’s slowly charging ultimate ability. The result is a game that’s mechanically sound but somewhat lacking when it comes to its own ideas.

The fact there’s an almost constant barrage of enemies is both a blessing and a curse – it makes for a frantic experience that rarely falters, but this onslaught also occasionally fatigues. This isn’t helped by the peculiar AI. It’s clear that the developers wanted the enemy AI to challenge players, but by tinkering with convention the routines are inadvertently annoying. The enemies that dash forward before rapidly backing away while zigzagging are the most annoying of all.

There are some obvious signs that we’re in licensed game territory here too, including a stunted enemy roster and recycled levels, albeit with different starting points and some surprisingly well-implemented online-shooter influenced objectives. That’s to say, GI Joe: Operation Blackout isn’t without merit – I’ve certainly played poorer licensed games over the years.

I enjoyed blitzing through the 5-hour campaign while playing as different characters – both good and bad – while observing nods to the cartoon it spawned from. The line “Get these snakes off this plane” even managed to raise a grin. For a weekend of colourful, harmless entertainment, GI Joe: Operation Blackout sufficed.

Sackboy: A Big Adventure – Adam

The combination of government mandated school closures and my son nearing the big five integer, resulted in an uptick in kid-friendly gaming and specifically trying to hunt down good co-op games. Fortunately the PlayStation 5 launch line-up provided a solid contender, in the form of the multiplayer antics of Sackboy.

I’d pre-ordered Sackboy: A Big Adventure with the PS5 but left it collecting dust for a couple of months, somewhat weary that it might just be a generic 3D platformer with the LittleBigPlanet badge attached. It turns out, not only is it a very enjoyable platform romp set in Sackboys’s beautiful crafted world, it’s also brilliantly suited to play together with a little one (helped somewhat by an infinite lives option).

Thinking back, very rarely did I ever actually create a level in LittleBigPlanet, so the idea of an adventure-focused Sackboy game without the creation element actually makes a lot of sense. The focus instead is on the brilliant game world and level design, with less reliance on set pieces but a greater emphasis on co-operation. A particular highlight is musical level that plays in time to Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk, with characters bopping to the beat and sequences perfectly timed with changes in the song. It’s all incredibly smile inducing.

On the subject of audio, the whole game is really a feast for the ears – nothing really new for a LittleBigPlanet game. Not just the soundtrack, but the pops as you collect bubbles are all satisfyingly plippy and ploppy, and quite liable to be stuck in your head for hours afterwards.

With decent couch co-op games being somewhat of a rarity on the PS4 & PS5, if you’re in market for one this is absolutely one of the better ones. With Sackboy and Astrobot both available for the PS5 at launch, the system is already somewhat spoilt for charmingly cute gems.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Rich

I loved the Scott Pilgrim movie tie-in when it first came out. I collected the comics for years and saw the film at the cinema several times. With its indie music, game references and early 20s listlessness it really spoke to me.

I also remember sitting on the couch and playing the game with my flatmate, levelling up and eating terrible, terrible, takeaway food.

Does it hold up ten years later? Yes and no. It’s still a fun, casual beat ‘em up, and the levelling up mechanics recapture some memories. But playing it on your lonesome with the knowledge that you have a mortgage isn’t quite the same. One day I’ll meet up with some old friends and we’ll have a proper four player session. (If they can all find babysitters, that is.)