So much for ‘Most Played’ being a monthly feature – this is our first round-up of the year. With so many new releases to cover and review, 2022 has been exceedingly busy thus far. We think we can be excused for our tardiness.
During the muggy month of June, James has been busy playing an obscure GameCube game, Matt explored the great outdoors in Sniper Elite 5, and Jake cooled down at the Gran Turismo cafe.
Matt – Sniper Elite 5 (Xbox Series X)
I’ve long been an advocate of the Sniper Elite series, ergo its Zombie Army spin-off. Whereas the Call of Duty and Battlefield have become bloated over the years, albeit glitzier thanks to sizeable budgets, the Sniper Elite series has remained humble. It presents a handful of game mechanics, varying from stealth to sniping, all of which are deeply refined and satisfying in their own ways.
It’s the environments that see the biggest improvements in this latest installment. The maps are so large that you’re likely going to overlook a few farmhouses and barns while focusing on mission objectives – that’s to say, there’s a lot to explore. Taking the replay value into account, new starting points can be unlocked, so that when you do choose to return you can approach situations differently and tackle objectives in any order.
So large are the maps that it almost feels like you’ve been on a mini journey, with most missions taking around an hour to complete. I particularly enjoyed the mission set in Guernsey, arriving on the beaches, crawling through fields, storming cliffside fortresses, and eventually making it to the enemy dugouts. Shame there was no one left alive at the local café to serve poor old Karl a drink.
James – Odama (GameCube)
I wish I checked this one out sooner. As the penultimate game Nintendo released for the then-flagging GameCube, and one which required the much-ridiculed GameCube Mic accessory, it was hardly the most marketable games and received a very quiet release in the spring of 2006 to little fanfare.
Picking it up 15 years later led me unsure of what to expect. But I loved Aeroporter on 3DS, and to my surprise, Odama holds the same frantic multitasking torch as that newer game.
In Odama you simultaneously commandeer an army of troops alongside a secret weapon – a giant ball of ruin known as the Odama. There are two gotchas, though: Your army only responds to your voice, and the Odama must be ricocheted around the battlefield using a pair of pinball flippers.
It’s as mad as it sounds and it is perhaps the most innovative game digital pinball genre has been graced with in over fifteen years. It’s also very good.
This is a game that commands your utmost concentration. Approaching Odama as a pinball game first and foremost is a recipe for disaster since most stages tend to have all manner of interactive traps and switches which shouldn’t be carelessly activated. Furthermore, steamrolling your own army with the Odama is always one careless flipper hit away.
As such, this is one of those games that really got me into the zone while playing. There’s something really quite absorbing about watching your troops respond to your (almost) every command while you’re desperately trying to affect the outcome of combat by ricocheting a giant metal ball around.
I had a blast playing Odama. Even if it wasn’t as good as it turned out to be I would still consider my time with this weird and wonderful creation well spent. Check it out if you’re after something genuinely different and don’t have an aversion to using that GameCube Mic…
Jake – Gran Turismo 7 (PlayStation 5)
Gran Turismo has always been idiosyncratic, but GT7 really commits to it. And to its credit, before long it seems entirely natural that the whole single-player game is structured as a series of ‘menu books’ doled out by the charming Luca at the Gran Turismo Cafe for really no convincing reason whatsoever.
I wouldn’t have it any other way though, and actually it works nicely to soften what could otherwise be rather po-faced. Most of the menu books involve racing to win cars to complete a themed collection, or function as mini tutorials – like putting a wing on a car for again really no convincing reason whatsoever.
But it got me thinking about the distinction between racing and driving. For most menu books you’ll already have a car which fits the entry requirements, and will be broadly competitive. Choose that, and you’ll be racing – some of your competitors will be in more powerful cars, so even a top three finish might need some decent race craft and/or scrapping.
On the other hand, you can upgrade that car to be, relatively speaking, an absolute missile. Then it becomes driving – your competitors are irrelevant, and it’s just about getting that car around that track as fast as possible, and the only thing you’re battling is the back end if you’ve gone a bit far with the tuning.
I’m really enjoying that choice, and even more so since making it more actively. And I’m perfectly happy that cost-effectively upgrading your car to wipe the floor with the competition is totally valid as a strategy for a Gran Turismo game. I’ve had no complaints from Luca at the Cafe, anyway.