Much like last month’s Summer Game Fest, we’re on a bit of a space hype here at Average Joe Games. Here’s what we’re playing this week.
Joe – Editor & Lead Writer
Playing on PS5 via PS Plus Extra
Finishing Elden Ring earlier this year (#humblebrag) instilled in me a newfound confidence for bloody hard games ™. Admittedly, it was the first and only Fromsoftware title I’ve played to date, but being crowned Elden Lord gave me a case of the big cojones. It’s only right, then, that I was knocked down a peg or two, merely months later, when I crash landed on the planet Atropos.
Yes, this week, I’ve beendashing my way through bullet hell in Housemarque’s timelooping, extraterrestrial roguelike shooter, Returnal. Taking control of astronaut Selen Vassos, players explore each biome, fighting off enemies with high tech weapons and seeking vital upgrades. When you inevitably die, you loop back to the beginning and do it all over again. Almost all buffs and upgrades are lost upon death, with the exception of Ether, a form of currency which allows you to unlock new items, amongst other things.
First off, Housemarque have done an excellent job at creating an unsettling, richly detailed world. Each new biome is a distinct hellscape of giant flora, crumbling alien architecture and the distant echo of unspeakable creatures. The use of DualSense features is commendable too; whether it’s the rapid heartbeat inside Selene’s suit or the comforting patter of rain, you can’t help but feel a connection with this strange world.
In terms of gameplay, each area is teeming with alien creatures that unleash a barrage of energy balls worthy of the best bullet hell games. The most effective way to defeat them is to learn their attack patterns (which means dying a few times) and making use of the dash feature in Selene’s suit, which, if timed right, will move you safely out of harms way (you’re also briefly invulnerable while dashing, too). Once you get the hang of it, each battle is an absolutely thrilling adrenaline kick, but make just one wrong move and you’ll be right back at the beginning.
Whereas other recent roguelikes, such as Hades allow you to upgrade your stats permanently between weapons, Returnal is considerably less forgiving. With the exception of a few weapon upgrades and new unlockables, it’s down to sheer skill and persistence. Which, I’m sad to say, I’ve ran out of. After making it to the penultimate biome, I just can’t get any further. Sure, I’ve hit walls in previous levels but Selene’s intriguing psychological journey kept me going. Now, after numerous hours, I’m just not invested any more. Curse this 30-year old meatbag.
Tom – Lead Writer
Playing on Nintendo Switch
Citizen Sleeper is maybe the indie game of 2022 so far and has received much critical acclaim, not least of all from our very own Joe McKie. I finally took the plunge this week and bought the game on Switch. It’s available on Game Pass but I wanted the option of handheld play; I just didn’t see myself sitting in front of my TV or monitor reading text for hours on end. Ironically, I’ve ended up playing more of the game with my Switch docked than in handheld. But I don’t even mind that I spent money unnecessarily, because Citizen Sleeper really is that good.
I don’t really have much to add to Joe’s glowing review of Citizen Sleeper. It translates the experience of playing a tabletop RPG to a video game in a brilliant way, with all the frustration and elation that actions based on dice rolls can bring. I was skeptical that I’d enjoy a game that involved so much reading; I’ve often become frustrated by text-heavy games like Phoenix Wright in the past. But I’m past the age of 30 now, and perhaps I’m becoming more patient and sage in my dotage. I have relished in Citizen Sleeper’s narrative, equally full of heartbreak and hope. The characters are remarkably well-drawn, and I found myself coming to genuinely care for many of them.
I have a few nitpicks, like buggy menus and typos in dialogue text. And about that text: it’s very small, even when set to the maximum size. For a game that involves so much reading, I would have appreciated more flexibility in font size. The performance on Switch is sluggish too, but none of this really matters. None of it changes the fact that Citizen Sleeper is a remarkable game, and you should seriously consider trying it.