As a fan of open-world games, Elden Ring has the best design I’ve played. It might not be the biggest world ever created, but each inch of it is densely packed with things for you to explore. Couple that with a complete lack of any map markers (or even a quest log) and every cave or shack you stumble upon is your own personal discovery. I’ll never forget the first time I took an unassuming elevator and a few minutes later, ended up in a subterranean city.
The 80+ hours I spent in the Lands Between was a real rollercoaster of emotions. The dated UI doesn’t help new players get to grips with the stats and weapons scaling system, so there’s a bit of a steep learning curve. That being said, this often prompted me to read-up about something I didn’t understand, which inevitably connected me to the various Subreddits and discussions about Elden Ring. This, in turn, made me feel connected to a community in a way that I’d never had with a game before.
Yes, it’s hard. There were several points when I almost returned the game back to Amazon out of sheer frustration. But I had a moment, probably after defeating the first main boss, where everything started to click in place. If I can do it, anyone can.
Tom – Lead Writer
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Playing on Xbox Series S via backwards compatibility
Nothing salves the ache of age like the balm of consumerism, which is why I recently treated myself to an Xbox Series S for my 30th birthday. Catching up on exclusives I’ve been missing out on like Halo and Forza has been great, and I’m very happy with the console. In my opinion, though, the Xbox platform’s secret weapon is backwards compatibility. Many games from the original Xbox onwards are playable on the Series X|S, often with enhanced resolution and frame rates. Xbox has showed a real commitment to game preservation that is heartening to see; Sony and Nintendo’s efforts in this area have been limp at best.
I’ve been itching to play a stealthy spy game lately, so I snapped up the first Splinter Cell for £2 on sale. I was more of a Metal Gear kid growing up, so I was excited to experience its more ‘realistic’ competitor. Stealth in Metal Gear games tends to be based around staying out of enemies’ line of sight; you can see their literal cones of vision on your map, and as long as you stay out of it, you’re in the clear.
Splinter Cell, on the other hand, bases its stealth mechanics in light and shadow. NSA operative Sam Fisher is often forced into close proximity to his enemies, meaning you have to hide in shady corners to remain unseen. Patrolling goons will often walk right past you but as long as you’ve turned the lights off (or shot them out), they won’t know you’re there. They can walk within inches of you and never know how close they came to being bumped off. It’s a thrilling approach to stealth, and I’m excited to see how it develops in later Splinter Cell games.
Like any project bearing Tom Clancy’s name, there’s a ‘ripped from the headlines’ approach to storytelling. The game’s plot, involving conflicts between Eastern European nations and nuclear warfare, is particularly resonant against the backdrop of Russia’s continued illegal invasion of Ukraine. Splinter Cell is also very much a cultural product of the immediate post-9/11 era; it was probably easier to get behind a US operative carrying out assassinations on foreign soil in 2002 than it is now. Still, leaving my bleeding heart aside, I’m having a very enjoyable time with this 20 year old (yikes!) game.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Playing on Xbox Series S
Xbox’s not so secret weapon, of course, is Game Pass, and a big title was added to the service this week. Guardians of the Galaxy was released to high praise in October, but news of disappointing sales meant I wasn’t surprised to see it arrive on Game Pass so soon. Hopefully it’ll get some more attention now, because it absolutely deserves it.
Guardians is an action game first and foremost, focusing on combat with enemies that swarm you from all directions. You play only as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, but you can command your teammates to carry out a wide variety of attacks. Groot is great for crowd control, wrapping enemies up in his branches, while Drax can deliver devastating blows. I’m not very far into the game but I am appreciating the blend of combat and exploration, with linear levels that nonetheless offer many nooks and crannies in which to find secrets.
Like most people, I’m far more familiar with the Guardians movies than I am with the comics. The game’s story attempts to straddle the two, telling an original story while retaining familiar elements from the films. These are new takes on the characters but they’re just similar enough to actors like Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper that they feel familiar and recognisable. Banter between the team is sharp and witty without becoming glib, and there is of course a killer 80s soundtrack underscoring the whole affair.
It feels like I say some variation on this every week, but it’s true: if you’re subscribed to Game Pass, Guardians of the Galaxy is well worth a look.
Ollie – Social Media Manager
Playing on iPad Air
Hey look at these guys up there with their consoles. Ooh Series S this and PS5 that. What’s wrong with a humble mobile game? Above it are you? Well I’m very much not. I’ve been playing Ninja Kiwi’s Bloons TD6+, available through Apple Arcade this week. And I bloody love it.
I must admit, I never intended to really use Apple Arcade all that much, it came as a perk with my phone, but when I saw that Bloons TD6+ was available, I had to get it. I was a huge fan of the Bloons franchise many moons ago, in fact it’s probably responsible for a fair few dropped marks on some of my university work.
For the uninitiated, Bloons started life as a casual online game, on Miniclip. You’d play the role of a monkey with a dart tasked with popping increasingly intricate patterns of balloons – the balloons were evil, in some way. From that, the Tower Defence spin off was born. Now you have multiple types of monkey, all with different abilities – the Monkey Buccaneer sits on a wee ship and fires grapes, the Wizard Monkey creates magic that can summon popped balloons from the dead and make them fight on your side. Pretty standard stuff, really.
I’ve always been a fan of Tower Defence games in general, I like the strategic approach you need to take, but they often lack the complexity and pretence that can be off putting in a bigger game. But a TD game set in the delightfully daft world of Monkeys vs Bloons is just a match made in casual gaming heaven for me.
I can’t get enough, I squeeze a game in wherever I can. It’s got to the point now where my partner will walk in, see me with the iPad in hand, and instantly say “You’re playing monkeys”. Yes hun, I am. I am playing monkeys. And I love it.