It’s been a bumper week for game news, with both Summer Game Fest and the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase taking place since last Wednesday. There are all manner of streams and announcements still taking place, but it’ll be a while before we get our hands on any of those games. In the meantime, here’s what we’ve been playing this week.
Joe – Editor & Lead Writer
Playing on PC
Confession: I’ve never played Diablo before. Despite spending a sizeable chunk of my teens abusing our dial-up by playing Warcraft 3 on battle.net, I never had an urge to try my hand at some dungeon crawling. That is, until the controversial Diablo Immortal was released last week.
If you’ve been living under a rock (or in a dungeon), Diablo Immortal is Blizzard’s latest entry in the series. However, unlike previous instalments, Diablo Immortal is a ‘free-to-play’ mobile game. As the moniker suggests, you can download and play it for free without parting with any cash. So far so good, right? But to get the best gear for your character, you’ll likely need to spend a few notes on the numerous in-game micro-transactions. One journalist estimates the total cost to max out your character is approximately £46,000/$55,000.
I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money, or debate the ethics of micro-transactions; that’s another article in itself. Personally I haven’t spent a single penny yet, and I don’t plan on doing so. Although, as I’ve started to reach the endgame, I’m feeling the grind of levelling up my character without paying for a little help.
But what I can say, is that I’m really enjoying the game so far. Crawling through dungeons and dispatching masses of demons to their graves is a lot of fun. Shiny treasure chests explode with gold and gleaming gear, which you pick up with a simple click. Equipping stronger items is a one-click job too; open up your inventory and a big, green arrow takes all the guess-work out of comparing stats.
It all feels like Diablo Immortal been streamlined to give you that dopamine hit each time you click. And it works. I’ve been playing a lot this week and there’s no sign of me stopping. Until I hit a paywall I guess. Ah well, better the devil you know.
Tom – Lead Writer
I Expect You to Die 2: The Spy and the Liar
Playing on Meta Quest 2
My Quest 2 headset stopped working a few months ago, and due to the demands of balancing work and a personal life, I only just got around to contacting tech support this week. As soon as I did, of course, the issue had mysteriously vanished and the headset was working just fine! It was a slightly embarrassing situation, but it has meant that I’ve been able to jump back into the world of VR.
My first port of call? I Expect You To Die 2: The Spy and the Liar. The first I Expect You To Die was one of the first games I played on my Quest 2, and I loved it. The games take the form of a series of spy-themed escape rooms; you cut wires and find hidden compartments and dodge lasers in order to escape each stage and thwart the plans of the malevolent group Zoraxis. While you never move from a set position in each level, you’re aided by telekinetic abilities that let you manipulate objects from a distance – or, in the case of grenades lobbed at you by enemies, returning to sender.
I Expect You To Die 2 doesn’t do a whole lot to differentiate itself from its predecessor, but that’s just fine by me. The new levels are imaginative enough, and the puzzles sufficiently satisfying, that the formula still completely works for me. New to this game is a recurring antagonist in the form of John Juniper, an actor-turned-supervillain played by Will Wheaton. It makes a big difference to have an actual nemesis to face off against; big bad Dr. Zor never appeared in the first game, making conflict feel slightly impersonal.
Tantalisingly, the game’s credits end with the Bond-style declaration that ‘I Expect You To Die will return’. I can’t wait; the eventual third game will be a day-one purchase on my newly-resurrected Quest 2.
Portal: Still Alive
Playing on Xbox Series S via backwards compatibility
If you weren’t following games back in 2007, it’s hard to explain just how big Portal was. The game was originally released as part of The Orange Box, an awesome collection that also brought Half-Life 2 to consoles for the first time. In a time long before memes went mainstream, Portal jokes took over many corners of the internet. There were references to cake, cover versions of the game’s closing credits song, and some of the worst web comics you’ve ever seen in your life.
All of this happened with good reason, though. Portal is still absolutely sublime, even after 15 years. I’ve been waiting a while to replay it; it’s a puzzle game, so I wanted to leave enough time to forget the solutions. This was largely successful, and the experience was somewhat like putting on a pair of jeans that you’ve gained a few pounds since wearing; they might feel familiar, but they still present something of a challenge.
Portal: Still Alive is a standalone release that includes the original game, as well as some extra challenge maps. The Orange Box has been delisted from the Xbox store, so this is currently the only way to play Portal on Xbox Series S. The challenge maps are fine, but they notably lack any interaction with GLaDOS, the sassy and sardonic AI that controls the Aperture Science test facility. GLaDOS’s razor-sharp humour still holds up all these years later, and is the main reason that a two-hour puzzle game made such an impact on the zeitgeist back in 2007.
One need only look at games like The Faraday Protocol or Superliminal to see that developers are still trying to capture the Portal magic. There’s nothing wrong with those games, but there’s nothing quite like the original, either.