GAME REVIEW: GOD OF WAR PC: “It’s good, boy.”

A new year and another PS4 console game has made the jump to PC, with Santa Monica Studio’s God of War now available to PC gamers – and what a beauty it is.

When the game came out on console in 2018 it quickly became the poster child for how a talented development team could make games on Sony’s console sing and on PC the graphical fidelity has been turned all the way up to 11 – and it looks bloody fantastic.

I’ve completed God of War – or Dad of Boy as some like to call it – twice on the PlayStation 4 I liked it so much. The PC version will be my third play through. To this day, it is still one of my most beloved games of the last console generation. I just loved the intricately detailed narrative and the development of a character that has been a PlayStation staple since the days of the PlayStation 2.

Inspired by Norse mythology, the 2018 tale chronicles the journey of gruff Kratos and his son Atreus as they honour the wishes of Kratos’ second wife Faye to scatter her ashes from the highest peak of the nine realms. It’s a journey of discovery as Kratos learns to be a father to his son and Atreus learns more about himself and of his father’s “interesting” history.

God of War is the third high-profile PlayStation game to come to PC, with Day’s Gone and Horizon Zero Dawn already having been launched on the PC previously. There has been internet chatter that porting Sony titles to PC isn’t a good thing but it is: It means more plays get to experience great console games. Microsoft has done it for years without an uproar.

Sony says the PC version offers unlocked framerates, “enhanced” graphics (higher resolution shadows, improved screen space reflections, GTAO and SSDO, and “much more”), Nvidia DLSS and Nvidia Reflex, built-in support for DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers and ultrawide 21:9 support.

While Santa Monica Studio, the makers of God of War, oversaw the PC version, it was ported by Jetpack Interactive, a relatively unknown developer to me, but have no fear: Jetpack has done an outstanding job in porting this game to PC. It’s a straight copy: It doesn’t have new cutscenes or new missions. This is the same great game that appeared on the PlayStation 4 in 2018.

Where the PC version shines is the ability to customise things, especially graphical options, to suit the rig you have. God of War comes with four graphic presets: Low, Original (around the equivalent of settings on the PS4 version), High and Ultra. You can, of course, also run a mix of settings using the Custom option.

I started playing the game prior to Christmas and there were two updates in that time: One prior to launch and one post-launch, which seemed to have dramatically stablised the frame rates.

I played the game on an Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop (Intel i7 CPU, 16Gb memory, RTX3080 laptop GPU) – a highly capable laptop – and on my desktop PC (i5 10600K @4.1 Ghz, 16Gb memory, 8Gb AMD RX580 GPU).

I spend a fair few hours wandering the game world of Midgard, battling Dragr, large trolls, undead people & floating tentacled things and loved the hell out of it. I also found that the optimised settings from Digital Foundry’s Alex Battaglia (timestamped in the linked video at around 16 minutes, 08 seconds) are worth their weight in gold, giving more consistent results especially with the RX580 given how highly detailed the world and characters are.

Alex Battaglia’s optimised settings (captured from my desktop PC).

I was surprised at the performance of the M15 R6’s laptop RTX3080, to be honest, as I was getting noticeable stutter from time to time but I do understand the 3080 I had is running a lower TDP (how much power it consumes under load) for the 3080 at 125W so this would have likely had something to do with that. That said, frame rates sitting in the mid to high 60s much of the time running the high preset.

Given the current state of modern GPUs in terms of pricing and availability, I really wanted to see how God of War fared on an ageing but perhaps more commonplace GPU, which is why I wanted to see how it ran on the old but trusty RX580 with its 8Gb of VRAM, a highly capable card but lacking modern finery like ray tracing & DLSS.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the game played on my RX580 paired with my PC’s i5 10600K (running at 4.10Ghz). I didn’t notice any noticeable stutter or slowdown during game play nor cut scenes.

It seems a good CPU is the key to good performance here, and using Alex’s optimised settings – with ultra textures – I was averaging around high 40sFPS, dipping to mid 40s during heavy combat.

At times, I was getting over 60 frames per second during exploration and outside of combat encounters but it’s clear the RX580 is the handicap here. I’d achieve far higher frame rates and visual fidelity with a more modern GPU, something I hope to upgrade this year, stock and prices dependent.

Dropping textures to high, garnered a more consistent frame rate for my setup, sitting above 50FPS pretty much most of the time, even during combat heavy sequences. I could have played the game on the low graphics preset, of course, which would have given more frames but, frankly, I wasn’t going to do that, given the degradation in visual quality.

The game also has a stunning photo mode and all the images in this review were captured using the mode. The high level of detail, especially in character models, is really apparent in the photo mode.

Also – and I’m not sure whether my eyes were playing tricks on me – but I swear in some places while playing the PC version, I noticed details I didn’t remember seeing across my PlayStation play through. I’m sure it’s my eyes playing tricks but the PC version is a looker, make no mistake.

Simply put, God of War PC is a spectacular port of one of the PlayStation’s most celebrated franchises and being able to play it on PC is a win-win for all gamers.

I mean, Microsoft has made many of its best games available on both PC and Xbox series consoles day one (Halo Infinite and Forza Horizons 5, for example) so Sony making God of War available to PC gamers means more gamers get to experience fantastic gaming experiences and that has got to be good for gaming in general, right?

A huge thanks to PlayStation NZ PR for the early copy of the game.

HARDWARE REVIEW: PNY XLR8 2TB NVME M.2 drive & SSD cover with integrated heat sink

This will be the last post for Gamejunkie for 2021. What a year it’s been, eh? I want to thank all of you who took the time to visit and comment. I really do appreciate your support. Here’s to 2022!

Those of us that own a PlayStation 5 are going to face, at some point, the prospect of the paltry available storage space on the console running out. It’s an undeniable reality.

There’s only something like 667Gb of storage available on the PS5’s 1TB drive once the operating system and associated system files are taken into account, so if you plan on expanding your PS5 game library then you’re going to eventually have to buy more storage space.

PlayStation has updated the PS5’s software to let you install third-party SSD drives that will expand the available storage and today, I’m looking at Taiwanese tech company PNY’s XLR8 gaming series 2TB M.2 SSD drive and its PS5 cover with integrated heat sink. The SSD, which can also be used to upgrade the storage in your PC, is an excellent option to boost your PS5 storage capacity, providing ample storage for games.

PNY claims the M.2 2280 form factor PCIe Gen 4 x4 NVMe drive can provide a sequential read of up to 7500MB/second and a sequential write speed of up to 6550MB/second. The drive comes in capacities of up to 4TB of storage and according to PNY exceeds PlayStation’s speed requirements of 5500MB/second for an SSD drive. It comes with a 5 year warranty.

PNY’s SSD cover and integrated heat sink doesn’t come with the SSD drive – you’ll need to buy it separately – which I suggest you do for use in your PS5 as it’ll help dissipate the heat that is generated inside the console. PlayStation recommends a heat sink for any SSD upgrade to your PS5.

The aluminum heat sink attaches to the SSD via a thick adhesive thermal pad and has a rather fetching finish with the XLR8 logo etched into the left hand side. Another nice feature is that the heat sink is big enough that you won’t need to use the PS5’s stock (and rather flimsy) heat sink cover (that’s it in the photo below).

Removing the PS5’s heat sink cover that reveals the SSD bay.

Installation of the SSD and heat sink themselves was super simple and probably the toughest job was actually removing the PS5’s cover to access the SSD drive bay (you have to lift from one corner and slide from another to pop it off).

Once the PS5 cover is off, you use a screw driver to remove the SSD cover and the M.2 holding screw and spacer. You insert the SSD drive carefully into the mounting bracket (it’s a little fiddly), screw it down using the M.2 screw and spacer, press on the SSD heat sink then secure that using the supplied screw from PNY. You then replace the PS5’s side cover.

The PNY XLR8 CS3140 SSD installed in the expansion bay of the PS5.
The XLR8 PS5 SSD cover & integrated heat sink fitted to the SSD drive.

Powering on my PS5, it immediately recognised the new SSD and advised me that it needed to be formatted. Once formatted, I was told there was 2TB of usable storage space available. The PS5 did a speed test, returning a read speed of 6346MB/second, exceeding PlayStation’s minimum required minimum read speed.

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I copied four games from the PS5’s internal storage to the XLR8 SSD: Ratchet & Clank Rift Apart, Kena Bridge of Spirits, Death Stranding Director’s Cut and Ghost of Tsushima. In total, 181GB of data was transferred from the internal SSD to the PNY drive, taking 2 minutes 30 seconds.

Overall, I am really impressed with the load times and speeds that PNY’s XLR8 CS3140 SSD offers. While I haven’t checked internal temperatures, the drive is doing what it should and at times load times on the XLR8 drive actually seem faster than that of the PS5’s own internal drive, which is definitely a win-win in my book (the XLR8 actually offers a faster read time than the internal PS5 drive, too).

Prices weren’t available at time of posting so I will update the post when they become available. I’ll also keep you updated on the reliability of the drive over the coming months.

A big thanks to PNY’s Australian PR for supplying the review units

Halo Infinite campaign: Thoughts and impressions

I thought I’d do something different with this review for Halo Infinite. I thought I’d write what someone else thought of the game as they played it as well. My 22-year-old son Mitchell, who I think has helped with reviews on this site over the past few years, has played all the Halo games so has a good idea on what to expect and what they deliver. Together, we give our thoughts on the latest Halo game from Xbox.

Thanks to Xbox PR in Australia for the game code for Halo Infinite. The game was played on an Xbox Series X console and an Alienware M15 R6 gaming laptop.


Somewhere between Halo Reach and Halo Infinite, I feel the Halo series lost its way.

While I’ve played all the Halo games, personally, I’ve always found myself gravitating towards the Gears of War series, to be honest. That said, Halo ODST and Reach (both games not featuring the Master Chief, interestingly) are my standout Halo titles.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t finished Halo Infinite yet and I’m struggling to complete it. It’s competent enough, and I feel that developer 343 Industries have looked back at what made the original Halo Combat Evolved good, but it just feels to samey so far. It seems a lot closer aligned to Bungie’s Halo games, though, which is a good thing.

The game opens with Master Chief battling Atriox, the leader of an army of Covenant forces called the Banished that has broken away from the Covenant. The Banished both fear and despise the Master Chief. Following the fight, the Master Chief is assumed dead but is rescued by a friendly UNSC pilot and must gather the splintered UNSC forces, collect a new AI known as the “Weapon”, and stop the Banished activating the Zeta Halo. The game takes place around 18 months after the ending of Halo 5.

It’s during the very first mission – an infiltration onto a Banished frigate – that you’re introduced to the new grappling hook mechanic and it’s a great addition to the Master Chief’s arsenal. The hook can not only be used to propel Master Chief towards to high vantage points but can be cleverly used to pull him towards an enemy, delivering a bone-crushing melee punch on landing.

Or he can use the grapple to grab a just-out-of-reach explosive cannister (which are Halo Infinite’s equivalent of the explosive barrel trope found in video games since almost the dawn of time) that can then be thrown towards enemies, exploding on contact. It can even be used to pick up weapons left scattered around.

Importantly, the grappling hook brings a level of verticality to the Halo games that hasn’t really been a thing previously. It proved invaluable on numerous occasions when I’d miss timed a jump and I would have surely plummeted to my death had I not been able to use the grapple to attach to a wall at the very last moment, pulling the Chief to safety.

The opening two levels are full of tight corridors, corners and plenty of cover and the weapons pack a punch, and Chief will face off against familiar but different enemies in the Banished: Brutes, grunts, jackals, elites.

It’s once you reach the surface that the open world element reveals itself, with the Master Chief able to go off the beaten path if he wants to explore and capture Banished bases, before tackling the main mission again. Think freedom to go exploring for a little bit but not the dearth of content you’ll find in series like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed.

The narrative is handled well but I felt Infinite falters with the open-world aspect: It lets you tackle a variety of side missions if you want but ultimately they don’t fundamentally add anything to the main story.

I liberated the odd Banished controlled base, provided UNSC marines to support me and supplies, but ultimately, I just felt there was no real necessity to deviate from the main story arc as for the most part the diversions are bases with the same objectives to complete.

The battlefield banter from grunts is amusing – stop every now and then and just listen to the banter – and enemy AI it a challenge at times, especially from the higher skilled Elite Covenant. With Infinite, I think 343 Industries has really found its stride with Halo but the game just lags in the middle section with a lack of variety of mission types. Bosses – at least those I’ve faced anyway – all take place in tight boxy environments, which just aren’t fun.

With some video games, I think about missions and how I could tackle them when I’m not playing the game. I’m not getting this with Halo Infinite: I’m not strategising on how I can defeat an enemy or tackle a problem. I don’t want to play it continuously to completion like like Guardians of The Galaxy did. Halo Infinite just isn’t wowing me.

My son Mitchell, who’s a far better Halo player than I will ever be, reckons game play is up there with Reach and ODST – his two favourite Halo titles – but he, too, agrees that the open-world aspect doesn’t add much to the game. He thinks it falls flat a bit and felt there there was no real incentive to deviate from the main mission.

He felt the that the opening missions were far too easy in terms of a challenge then later some missions were the opposite, with the game at times throwing almost endless waves of enemies onto the battlefield, making things hectic. He also would have liked to have seen more variety in the missions.

Look, Halo Infinite is a solid Halo game with a nice narrative, which is what fans will want, but for me, it just hasn’t “wowed” me like other games I’ve played this year have and won’t remain with me for long.

“The Weapon” from Halo Infinite’s story campaign.

One man, a tractor and Farming Simulator 22!

New Zealander Dylan Beck, more commonly known by his online personna @Rudeism, has made a name for himself by creating crazy and wacky game controllers using a variety of objects – then playing games with them on his streams. However, he meet his biggest challenge yet when Five Star Games in Australia asked him to make a controller for its simulator game Farming Simulator 22 (spoiler alert: He made it out of a real tractor!) I spoke to Dylan about what was involved in his latest build project.

Dylan Beck, aka @Rudeism on Twitter, with the Case IH Magnum 310 tractor he would turn into a game controller for Farming Simulator 22.

Firstly, thanks for your time, Dylan. What was your reaction when Five Star Games approached you about building a controller for Farming Simulator 22? Did you come up with the idea for using a tractor as a controller yourself? How did the collaboration work?

Five Star originally came to me right out of the gate with the tractor idea, but it’s also something I’ve thought about myself for a long time. I’ve always wanted to do it, I just never had the means to source a tractor in the past! They got in contact with Case IH, the farming equipment manufacturer, and they reached out to local farmers in the area that would be willing to let me come to their farm & borrow their tractor over the weekend.

Luckily we found a guy out west of Christchurch (New Zealand’s second largest city) who was willing to help! I already had a rough idea in my head of how I’d do it, on account of having thought about it so much in the past, so luckily I already had a really good starting point to work from.

How do you approach a project like this? What’s the first thing that goes through your mind? Talk me through your creative process.

I don’t tend to do a whole lot of pre-planning when it comes to controller building – my usual process is very trial-and-error based. I tend to go with the first idea that comes to mind, and if I find a problem, I’ll go with the first solution I can think of to get around it. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of building and realise that I could be using a completely different & more effective methodology – nine times out of 10, I’ll scrap the whole thing & start over if that happens. I tend to find that technical ideas come best when I just get stuck in!

Of all the controllers you’ve built, has this been the most ambitious? It’s certainly the biggest, I’m thinking …

Absolutely the biggest! I think the only thing that comes close is the car I used to play Forza Horizon years ago, and that’s probably only a quarter of the size of this tractor. It’s not the most complex in terms of the controls themselves, but in regards of the cost & size of the object I’m using, it’s going to be a LONG time before I can top this! The only two things I can think of that might top it right now are super cars and planes!

Talk me through some of the challenges that you faced over building a controller from a fully working tractor? Did you ever think at any stage you may have bitten off more than you could chew?

It definitely felt daunting at first! I think the main issue was building a control panel that took all the controls of the game & boiled them down to a small set of buttons. There’s a *lot* of different things you can do in the game – different levers to pull, different tools to use, etc. It took a good number of iterations to figure out a layout that worked, but once we had it, it became really easy to use from the get-go.

You have a history of making controllers from a variety of things: a baguette, jellybeans, a Lego Star Wars helmet, a Honda, and you’ve got a Samoyed called Atlas: Have you ever contemplated creating a controller powered by your dog? Would something like that actually be remotely possible? I guess if anyone could make it work it would be you, right?

It’s something I’ve thought about a lot! I think the thing that makes it hard is that I’d need it to be voluntary on Atlas’ part, so he can run off if he wants – I don’t want to force him to play games! He’s in his rebellious teenage phase right now, so maybe in a while, once he’s calmed down. Might make a good Youtube video! I think you could make it work by training him to press certain buttons – the hard part would be figuring out the right cues to encourage him. If you could use cues in the actual video game to make it happen, that’d be perfect!

How important was working with the farmer whose tractor it was? How did his input help with your building of the Tractroller?

The tractor is owned by a guy named Matthew, who lives on his farm west of Christchurch. If it wasn’t for him, the whole project would be dead in the water! He was super helpful – he took time out of his day to show me around the farm as well as the tractor & how it all works. When it comes to a build like this, where the controller is going to be an object that you can use in-game, I do my best to make that functionality line up as closely as possible, so Matthew’s insight was super helpful!

What was the most memorable part of the stream with Farming Simulator 22 using the Tractroller? Are you pleased with how fans reacted to it?

I think it was the moment I first managed to put the throttle to the tractor and having it move forward in-game. It’s a really small thing, but seeing it work for the first time is always super exhilarating. I have a tendency not to test my controllers in-game before I stream, so I can experience it purely on-stream for the first time. (I made sure the right signals were being sent from the controller beforehand though, of course!)

Lastly, were you happy with the final product and was it everything you expected it to be? 

It turned out better than I could’ve hoped! I’ve had a tendency in the past to try and build controllers that are a bit more ambitious or complex than my skills will allow, but considering this is the biggest controller I’ve ever worked on, and it went off without a hitch, I’m feeling a lot more confident in my skills now. I reckon I’d be keen to try more stuff on this scale!

Farming Simulator 22 is out now on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. You can watch Dylan’s Twitch stream from a week ago here

Death’s Door: Reaping spirits on the move

Every once in a while a game comes along that completely engages you with its game play and atmosphere: Death’s Door is one of those games.

Played from a slightly top down perspective, Death’s Door has you control a black crown who collects the souls from vanquished foes for a living (he’s a reaper at the Reaper Commission), but when an unknown creature steals a much needed soul you are assigned to collect, he must hunt down the assailant through a world untouched by death and inhabited by weird and bizarre creatures.

I first played Death’s Door on PC earlier this year and I was just struck with its beautiful art style, the soundtrack and the whimsical charm of the lead character.The world of Death’s Door is full of secrets and hidden passageways, too, and Our hero can uses melee weapons, arrows and magic to dispatch foes as he explores deeper into this strange land.

Bosses are brutal until you learn the attack patterns and if you’re anything like me you will fail at the first attempt, not generally because the foe was too tough (although as you progress they get progressively harder and harder) but for the simple reason that you missed a crucial telltale before it delivered a fatal blow. In Death’s Door, timing your attacks and memorising enemy attack patterns are the difference between life and death.

Death’s Door is challenging, make no mistake, and you will get punished hard for your mistakes, but it’s not as frustrating as, say, Demons Souls or Sekiro and it’s now available on the Nintendo Switch – and it’s bloody good.

If I had any complaints with the Nintendo Switch version of Death’s Door it’s that the text is too small – something I increasingly find annoying on Switch games – and, like the PC version, there is no in-game map to help in your exploration. I’d like to see an in-game map, please.

There’s not much more to say about Death’s Door: It’s was a delight to play on PC and it’s a delight to play on Nintendo Switch (despite the hard-to-read text) – and that’s testament to the skills of developer Acid Nerve.

If you want a game bursting with charm and weird characters and a lead hero who’s a soul-collecting crow, Death’s Door is the game for you. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Devolver Digital for the Nintendo Switch code

PriceSpy’s tips for Black Friday

So Black Friday is upon us (well, Black Friday week, it appears), and PriceSpy, the fully impartial price and product comparison site, has some tips for getting the best deals – and what it thinks will be the top game selling on one of the biggest sales days around.

Before gamers rush to the malls to snap up the deals being offered by retailers, the pricing watchdog is encouraging shoppers to carry out pricing research ahead of people buying and to look out for products that increase in price across the big sale days.

First off, here’s the top games PriceSpy things will be most popular in the Black Friday sales:

According to new pricing insights released within PriceSpy’s new Black Friday Report, almost a fifth (18 per cent) of all products listed on PriceSpy reduced in price by at least 10 per cent or more on Black Friday last year. But, 12 per cent of products also received a price hike on the sales day (Black Friday vs to 1 November 2020).

And if you’re tempted to shop early this year, especially with shipping delays affecting product
availability and customer demand skyrocketing for items like graphic cards, consumers should be wary that not everything is necessarily cheaper.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says: “Our pricing data found almost one in 10 (eight per cent) of products listed on our website increased in price before Black Week last year, to then get discounted on Black Friday, making the sale appear better than what it was.”

So, how can shoppers seek out the best deals around? Here’s PriceSpy’s top sale shopping tips:

Check out the competition
First things first – take time to check if an offer really is as good as it sounds by sussing out the
competition. Is the same game, console or controller available at an even better price elsewhere? Using the PriceSpy app will help you do this, as it provides access to thousands of prices and products instantly.

Don’t get confused by the big discounts
Even if the product you are looking to buy is being advertised with a price drop, don’t take the
retailers word for it. Use a price comparison site or app, like PriceSpy to check out the product’s price history. If the deal isn’t as good as what it should be, we encourage people to be prepared to walk away.

Preparation is key
The best chance of finding a good bargain comes from preparation. If shoppers know in advance what they are interested in and have a rough idea of the price, they’re less likely to get carried away and buy the wrong thing during the sales event. Matinvesi-Bassett says: “When it comes to making the most of Black Friday, preparation is key. Whether shopping in-store, or bargain hunting online, shoppers should research items they want to buy well in advance rather than splashing out on a whim.

“The PriceSpy app and website is designed to help consumers conduct research quickly and easily. They can even check out delivery costs, delivery times, whether products are in stock and for online shopping, whether click and collect is available. It couldn’t be easier.”

Guardians of the Galaxy review: A surprise that came out of Knowhere

I didn’t expect to enjoy SquareEnix’s Guardians of the Galaxy game as much as I did.

Hell, I didn’t just enjoy it, I loved it – and that surprised me for a game that, quite frankly, I hadn’t really paid that much attention to until it was released and I saw other people playing it: Then I became interested.

You play as Peter Quill, or Star Lord as he likes to be called, the leader of the self-proclaimed Guardians of the Galaxy. Based on the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series and not the Marvel Universe movies,l I have to admit it took a few moments for me to get used to the characters not looking like their movie counterparts – and you know what? I actually think I now actually prefer the game’s versions of Star Lord and Gamora!

The video game opens – which is single player only: There’s no multiplayer – with the Guardians visiting the Quarantine Zone and Quill and Rocket inadvertently freeing an evil entity that kicks off a chain of events which leads to it wanting to consume the galaxy, working through a religious cult known as the the Universal Church of Truth and its leader Grand Unifier Raker. It’s up to the Guardians to, well, save the galaxy.

Visually, the game looks excllent [I played it on Xbox Series X], with planets bursting with colour and detailed locations like the Quarantine Zone, Knowhere, Seknarf 9. The soundtrack deserves special mention, too, and is frankly kick-arse with some truly outstanding 80s hits, including Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up, Turn Me Loose by Loverboy, Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and, personal favourite, I Ran by Flock of Seagulls. It’s Peter Quill’s ultimate mixtape!

Guardians of the Galaxy (the game) also has great writing and a narrative that is both engaging and humourous, with some truly laugh-out loud moments, much of that thanks to the outstanding voice work that really brings life to the characters. [It also has some of the cutest video game labrador puppies I have ever seen.]

As you’d expect with a game featuring heroes, there’s plenty of combat, with Star Lord and fellow Guardians Gamora, Rocket, Groot and Drax the Destroyer (and Kimmy the Llama) each possessing special abilities and talents. During combat, Quill can order his team mates to perform specific moves or abilities mid-combat, which can often prove incredibly helpful in turning the tide in frantic battles, especially against larger foes [all the abilities have a cooldown timers, so keep that in mind].

Your team mates can also help during navigation of the game world: Groot, for example, can use his branches to create a path across chasms; Drax can lift heavy objects and smash through walls; Gamora can slice through obstacles and boost Quill to hard-to-reach places; and Rocket can hack control panels and crawl into confined spaces.

An interesting mechanic during battles is the team huddle, where Quill can potentially grant each team member temporary invincibility if he is successful in delivering a rousing speech to spur the team on. At key points during the game, decision that Quill makes, can impact on the narrative further down the line and determine how the team will feel about him at certain points.

I really enjoyed played Guardians of the Galaxy and if I had any gripes it would be that the combat becomes a chore near the end of the game, especially during the lead up to the finale.

The lead-up to the game’s final boss fight was drawn out a little too long for my liking, with a constant stream of enemies to fight and one boss who was a veritable bullet sponge.

I also wasn’t a fan of the space combat sections: I found controlling the Milano incredibly frustrating but thankfully those segments are short and far and few between.

Guardians of the Galaxy came out of – excuse the pun – Knowhere for me and I’m truly glad I played it: It has a narrative that has some truly heart-felt moments, despite getting repetitive near the end. Definitely one of the best games I’ve played all year.

All I need now is for the team behind the game – Eidos Montreal – to get started on the Deus Ex game featuring Adam Jensen that we’re all waiting for.

C’mon, you know you want to.

Thanks to BandaiNamco’s New Zealand/Australia PR team for the game code [Xbox Series X, finished the main campaign, collected lots of stuff, contemplating New Game +].

Riders Republic: Extreme open-world mayhem

Riders Republic scratches the itch left from extreme sports games of yore like Ubisoft’s Steep and EA’s SSX.

In fact, Riders Republic comes from developer Ubisoft Annecy, the same studio behind Steep so they share a lot of commonalities but whereas Steep focused on winter sports with snowboarding and extreme skiing, Riders Republic adds a variety of extreme sports to the mix, such as mountain biking and rocket backpacks, creating a world full of unbridled craziness and it’s the perfect pick-up-and-play for a little bit game.

Set in a sprawling American landscape full of snowy mountains, woodland trails and clear blue skies, Riders Republic drops you in an extreme sports paradise with a central hub area that acts as a base. The tutorial is close to an hour but stick with it as the game opens up once that is out of the way and you get much more freedom.

Like all open world games, you complete events to unlock more events and progress through the ranks and performing tricks and stunts earn more experience points which helps unlock more equipment and gear.

As a cycling fan, I tended to take part in a lot of biking events – both downhill mountain biking and road – and there are a lot of nice well-known brand mountain bikes to unlock (the vast majority from brands I’ll never afford) and the events are a lot of fun, although quite unforgiving at first as you get to grips with the trails and the control scheme, which proves a little unwieldy at times.

Probably the biggest draw card for Riders Republic, though, is once you’ve gained access to several sports and get to the real meat of the game, you can switch disciples on the fly.

It works like this: You’re bombing it down down a mountain trail on your mountain bike. You back flip off a cliff face – then mid-free fall bring up the sports menu, select the rocket pack then bammo, roar off through a nearby canyon.

That’s where the real fun in Riders Republic lies and it’s seamless (the game also has a rewind function that will let you correct mistakes as you an see from the video below after I initially crashed into the ground while trying to transition from jet pack to mountain bike).

Being able to change disciplines instantly brings a new dimension to the game and it means you can mix up the game play, keeping things fresh. You can also race around a track riding an ice cream bike as well, if you like!

There are also things called mass events where the online avatars of other players all take part in one event and I can’t say I am a fan. I’d describe them as chaotic and messy. It’s you and the avatars of 63 other competitors (think ghosts rather than real-life people) battling it out for position as you compete a variety of disciplines.

I got frustrated most times I took part in a mass event as my rider was jostled and bumped from the middle of the pack to the end because there were just so many participants in such a tight space. I really didn’t have a lot of fun with them so generally stuck to the solo play

Look, Riders Republic isn’t perfect but it’s sure to scratch that itch for those extreme sports fans looking for something to fill the void left by Steep and SSX.

Gamejunkie chats … Far Cry 6

It’s time for another Gamejunkie chats, a fairly regular series where I chat about a game I’ve been playing with a fellow gamer colleague and see what each of us thinks of it.

My co-reviewer this time is writer and reviewer Dylan Burns, who is no stranger to the site having written reviews for me before.

Our game of discussion this time was Far Cry 6, Ubisoft’s latest in the long-running open-world series. Read on to find out what we thought of it.

Gerard: I have to say I haven’t played a Far Cry game for some time, perhaps since Far Cry 3. I kind of bounced off the series’ “Do all the things” game play where it just seemed to overload you with things to do. I’ve found that with previous Ubisoft games, too, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect this time around.

This one, from what I’ve played at time of writing, seems to have all the hallmarks that a Far Cry game should: complete missions, collect items, clear out security posts/camps to earn rewards and gain resources, upgrade weapons via workbenches, climb towers to … survey locations for an assault. So far, so Far Cry, really. 

Something different is that you do have a pet alligator called Gaupo, though, that you can order to specific points and harass people. That was quite neat. There also seem to be random events where rebels will be taking on republican troops and I really wasn’t sure what to do with those: Was I supposed to help the rebels or do I just carry on? I wasn’t sure whether there was any material reward for getting involved. What were your initial thoughts, Dylan?

Dylan: I couldn’t help but laugh at the over-the-top, crazy shit that happens as I just try to walk across the world. The player is constantly the moving eye of a storm around which rabid animals attack, factions battle metres away and all other manner of busy, distracting events. In a way, this is a signature, but it’s a rough one that is clearly modelled on the Rockstar open world.

However, Rockstar worlds have one fundamental difference in that they exist for the player to engage with, whereas Far Cry 6’s world engages with the player, whether they want it or not. It becomes a question of whether you are okay with engaging with action for action’s sake or if, like me, you realise that there is little meaning to all the mayhem. Without any discernible benefit to engaging with these fights, I simply ignored them. Loot comes in boxes and there’s no XP or skill tree, therefore there is no point beyond action itself.

I was initially confused by the new ammo system. Basically, enemies are vulnerable to certain types of ammo – soft rounds, armour-piercing rounds and so on – and you kill enemies faster if you shoot them with those rounds. This requires you to mod your guns so that you ideally have one of each type equipped. You also need to scan enemies in order to discern their weakness. What I found annoying about this is that I would often forget which gun had which type of ammo, although this does get easier the more you play. I still haven’t quite gelled with the system, though. It becomes almost not worth switching to a more powerful gun unless you have enough resources to create the mods at a workbench. The system should allow you to keep all mods and apply them to any weapon you want equipped.

What I did enjoy are the treasure hunts. They were my favourite part of 5 and they highlight how well Ubisoft can create lengthy environmental puzzles. I’d like just a whole game of these, to be honest. It doesn’t seem like there are too many of them in Far Cry 6, though, which is a shame, because otherwise everything feels almost exactly the same, mechanically, to what we have been playing for quite a few iterations now.

Gerard: I thought the new ammo system confused things a little, to be honest. I started equipping specific weapons with the specific ammo required but eventually just used whatever weapon I had available. It was almost putting a realistic bent on a game that is clearly reveling in its over-the-top, comic book action and not meant to be taken seriously. I mean, you can strap a weapon to your back called the Supremo that fires rockets & is great for clearing out large encampments (and burning drug fields). Far Cry 6 has those moments that make you think “Yeah, this is full of crazy!” 

I agree with you on the feeling of the game: It felt like a Far Cry game, to be honest: Nothing less, nothing more. That will please fans who want more of the same but for those gamers who have perhaps left the series and are hoping for something new or innovative to draw them back in, I don’t think they’ll get it with this.

Dylan: It just feels to me like something without any direction. For instance, the game pushes you to try and scout places that you need to enter – look for alarms etc. Stealth is clearly meant to be an option. Then your pet or companion will just charge in, completely stuffing any plans up. That said, I probably had more fun just shooting the crap out of everything than trying for stealth, but the fact remains that the systems in place definitely feel like they’ve been collated from prior games and whacked into a Cuban-esque setting.

Were you confused when the game plonked you into some kind of base camp, in third person? I couldn’t work out which missions were main ones – I kept working through seemingly endless side missions that rewarded me with points to upgrade a camp I had no desire to invest in.

Gerard: I get it that stealth is supposed to be an option – I think that is why they get you to scope out enemy camps beforehand – but as you said, it was often just easier to go in guns blazing than try and Sam Fisher it. I actually found during one mission – and I’m not sure whether it glitched out or what – but I was picking off enemies from a high vantage point (including some particularly tough medics) and as approached the camp’s entrance I suddenly got a black screen – thinking I’d triggered a failed state – only to be greeted with a “Captured” on the screen, telling me I’d succeed. I wonder whether my pet companion had just gone in and dealt with the remaining two enemies? It was strange.   

The third person seems to be used for wandering around larger camps and then when you use the Supremo but, yeah, it did kind of feel jarring, especially when the Supremo one kicks in and you suddenly see a crouched Dani as the rockets fly from the weapon. I would have preferred the third person view while on horseback, to be honest, as I got motion sickness riding a horse in first person – plus it seemed really hard to accurately steer the beast. 

Dylan: Funnily enough, I preferred horses to vehicles as you can use them to go through tracks and trails, thus avoiding the checkpoint-riddled roads. It got to the point for me where it felt like I was mired moving to way points. I did not want to engage, I wanted to travel and enjoy the scenery and not be drawn into pointless conflict.

Overall, I just felt a bit overwhelmed by the size of the map and the knowledge that progression would repeat for each region. Far Cry 6 did not feel like a game for me, but one for someone with enough time to chew all of this content up without desiring depth. The story was okay and Giancarlo Esposito’s bad guy (Anton Castillo) is appropriately villainous. It was just not . . . my cup of tea. Maybe something for when I’ve got a couple weeks’ leave and just want to mess around without consequence …

Far Cry 6 is absolutely a decent modern Far Cry game that leans into its own pedigree. The map is massive, the action relentless, the loot ubiquitous. If you want more Far Cry, this delivers. But it is also very much the same as previous games, just with a Caribbean overlay. It will appeal to many, I just found it personally uninteresting. Given it’s tens of hours of content, however, I am certain that at some point I will crave some popcorn gaming and this is the kind of thing I will turn to.

Gerard: I think you hit the nail on the head, Dylan, when you said “If you want more Far Cry, this delivers” as it’s following the same foundations set out with the previous modern Far Crys. As someone who hasn’t played a Far Cry game in a long, long time, this edition didn’t do anything to convince me that I’m missing out on anything if I don’t embrace the series again.

A conversation about: Kena Bridge of Spirits

Kena Bridge of Spirits is a new PlayStation IP that has players control the titular character, Kena, a young spirit guide, as as she works to rid an evil corruption from a once-beautiful land & restore balance back to the world.

The game comes from first-time game developer Ember Lab, a creative studio more well-known for its animation and digital content work than video game making.

Thanks to Ember Lab, I got to play Kena Bridge of Spirits and I thought it was a good opportunity to have a chat about it with my gaming colleague Guy (Twitter: @nzBrowncoat), who also had a crack at it.

Here are our thoughts.

Guy: So, Kena Bridge of Spirits. First impressions in a nut shell?

Gerard: I like it. Right of the bat I just want to mention how damn gorgeous it is. It’s got a real Pixar-like visual style about it – and it’s not surprising, really, given that the developer Ember Lab have a background in animation. They’ve managed to really imbide emotion and feeling into her face, which is impressive. Game play wise, look, it’s not reinventing the wheel as it’s uses a lot of the tried-and-true platformer mechanics but a nice twist is the Rot, little spirit creatures that can Kena finds as she explores the world. They help Kena during combat and help solve puzzles around the world. What are your thoughts?

Guy: I am pleased I stuck with it. As after my first 30 minutess I was worried. It seemed very safe. Pretty…but safe but after I ticked over the hour mark I was totally sold. The combat is simple yet fun, the environments a stunning and the “Rots” scream plushy toy cute. Totally agree on Ember Labs, too. If this is their first ever game, man, what will they do next!

Gerard: Oh, yeah, they do. I love that cheeky grin when Kena discovers another Rot. I think safe is a good word there. It’s not trying anything too dramatic but it does things really competently and the game just has a feel good feeling about it. I liked how the backstory of the tormented spirits that Kena has to free is done through cinematic moments. They’re incredibly well done and I could quite happy watch a full length movie of Ember Labs’ animation work.

Guy: I think it takes too long to get to a complexity in both puzzles and combat, so that every encounter/environment is fun. For an eight hour game, I would say the first two hours could have been compacted down but I get that this game is catering for all ages, so younger gamers need a bit more of a slow burn into mechanics. What are your thoughts on the boss fight difficulty spikes?

Gerard: I agree that the combat is definitely a slow burn in that it introduces the enemy types gradually so that it doesn’t overwhelm the player too quickly but it might frustrate seasoned gamers. That said, some of those tougher enemies can really pack a wallop and I was floored a few times by some of the more aggressive ones. The boss fights up the ante, too, so you’ll definitely be challenged the further you progress. What did you think about the puzzle elements? I think it’s just the right mix of not “mind-numbingly easy but not pull-your-hair out hard”. I did like the mechanic where Kena could manipulate glowing rocks using exploding orbs, allowing her to create paths to higher points on the map.

Guy: I liked the puzzles. Chaining the energy to open doors, using the “Rots” to move items to pressure pads felt very Pikman. Sort of anyway LOL.

Gerard: Yeah, it is very Pikman-like. Nicely put.

Guy: I so enjoyed the aesthetic. Friendly, fun, inviting and just nice to be around. Its the same feeling I got playing Sack-Boys Big Adventure. So many games especially in this high-production space, are so dark and brutally violent. It was nice to play something that even for me (a 40yr old gamer) to exclaim aloud, “Ooooooh, man, that it cute right there.” LOL.

Gerard: Yeah, it totally is, right? It’s just got a fantastic feel good vibe about it and Kena is so wholesome and the Rot are amazingly cute. I smiled every time I found another one and it made that cheesy grin. Plus you can buy hats for them. Hats that look like mushrooms. Hats with horns on them. They look super cute. I can’t want to see what Ember Lab come up with next.

Guy: Haha, the hats!! I have two teenage kids who dragged themselves away from Reddit due to the beautiful graphics and ended up very vocal helping me choose and buy the hats for my “Rots”.

Gerard: Any gripes? I sometimes thought the jumping was a little floaty, and perhaps it’s because I’ve got used to having it in other games, but some kind of aim lock when Kena is using the bow and arrow – especially if you’re target shooting – would have been really helpful. I gave up on a few of the target shooting mini-games because it just proved too hard to line up the shots.

Guy: The aiming thing on the bow… the camera sensitivity is wrong. I almost doubled it from ‘default’ and it was waaaaay better. Then when I unlocked slow-mo the mini games were a breeze. Gripes? I would say the combat is not tuned enough for the punishment it dolls out. That window for ‘parry’ felt a tad inconsistent, so risking a missed parry was, too, well risky. So I tended to roll in bash-bash, and roll away. That would be my only gripe. What are your thoughts on the characters and voice work?

Gerard: Oh, yeah, the slow-mo. That works really nice in combat when you have a few foes or you want to got for a sensitive point on one of the larger enemies. In terms of voice work and characters, I thought it was well done but I would have loved to have learned more about her backstory. Overall I thought it was an amazing first effort from Ember Lab.

Guy: Overall very hard to find fault. Awesome price for the production level and level of polish on offer. Very “done-before” in terms of actual Nuts and Bolts game play mechanics and skill trees…like I said “safe”. But I loved it. It was a joy to play, the “Rots” are cute as hell and it was a perfect length for a weekend game. Nicely done Ember Labs.

Gerard: Looks like we both had a blast and highly recommend this to anyone after a nice chill-out PlayStation game (it’s on PS4 and PS5).

Kena Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.