RESIDENT EVIL 7 biohazard / BIOHAZARD 7 resident evil

Following its Banned Footage Volumes 1 and 2, Resident Evil 7's next DLC offering will be free-of-charge. Due December 12, Capcom has now teased footage from the Chris Redfield-starring Not a Hero in a new trailer. Towards its end, we also learn more about End of Zoe.    

Let's watch that first:

It's been several months since I finished Resi 7, and I'd clearly forgotten how irritating Lucas Baker is. As if sorting him out wasn't enough incentive to return to the monster-run Louisiana plantation, here's how the developer bills the Not a Hero expansion: 

The free Not a Hero DLC sees the return of Resident Evil fan favourite and veteran BSAA soldier Chris Redfield. Taking place after the horrific events that befell Ethan Winters in Resident Evil 7 biohazard, Not a Hero brings a brand new experience playing as Chris to face new threats not met in the main game. As a member of New Umbrella, Chris and team quickly set up a strategy to counter this latest threat. Will Chris once again solve the mystery of this latest outbreak and make it out of the plantation’s dungeons alive?

Information about End of Zoe is thin on the ground for now, and I wonder who that chap is towards the trailer's end (pictured above). "We're going to fix this," he says in a Southern accent. "We're family."

Resident Evil 7 Biohazard's Not a Hero and End of Zoe DLC are due December 12, 2017. The first of those is free for owners of "any version" of the game. Until then, check out Andy's review of the base game. 

Team Fortress 2

Valve has just announced a new 'Jungle Inferno' update for Team Fortress 2, with the highlight being a brand new map. Dubbed 'Mercenary Park', it's a "new jungle-themed disease-ridden three-control point map" created by Valve. 

The video below doesn't really show much of the map, it being a new animated short providing some narrative colour to the proceedings. But the map isn't all there is: there are a handful of community-created maps as well, all jungle-themed, and for modes including Attack / Defend and King of the Hill.

There's a bunch of new taunts as well: the Yeti punch is what the name implies, and there are a tonne others too, all listed neatly over on this update page

This is all just the "Day 1" content – expect more stuff to roll out or be announced over the coming days.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition

Creation Club recently arrived for Skyrim Special Edition, and as with Fallout 4 it provides a small selection of weapons and armor available to buy for Skyrim SE. There are also two modes—one that brings mobs of zombies at night, and another that introduces an official survival mode.

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking Bethesda selling a survival mode for Skyrim SE is a bit dubious. There are loads of free survival mods and have been for years, for both the original Skyrim and the Special Edition—most notably Chesko's outstanding Campfire and Frostfall mods—and surely these mods are the inspiration for Skyrim SE's new paid content. Plus, when Bethesda's survival mode for Fallout 4 was released it was (and still is) free. While survival mode for Skyrim SE was free for its first week, it's now for sale, and I don't have to take the internet's temperature to know that plenty of people are a bit hot about it.

At the same time, I'm curious about the mode itself. Having already bought some items from Creation Club for Fallout 4, I decided to buy and try out the new survival system. SSE's survival mode costs 500 credits in the Club store, which is about $5, though naturally you can't buy $5 worth of credits: the minimum amount is 750 credits for $7.99. Even with the 100 free credits Bethesda gives you, you still need to spend $8 if you didn't grab the survival mode while it was free (I forgot to). I've said it before, and might as well say it again: it really sucks when you have to buy a preset amount of funbux for something you want, instead of just paying whatever the actual price is.

Faced with the prospect of starting a new game and beginning with that long wagon-ride into Helgen, the arrival of Angry Shouty Dragon, the familiar tutorial escape, and the uneventful trot into Riverwood, I decide to download the always wonderful (and free) Alternate Start mod (here's the link for standard Skyrim), which lets you begin your game as someone other than the Dragonborn on your way to execution in Helgen. 

One of the several options is to start is as a traveler who awakens on a sinking ship in freezing water off the coast of Solitude. You have to escape the capsized ship, gathering what few items you can along the way, and swim to safety through frigid waters. Seems like a great way to start a survival game.

Can confirm: cold water is cold. Really cold. As I splash around in the bowels of the flooded ship, the freezing water eats away my health quickly, and I can only spend a few seconds paddling around before I'm near death. In SSE's survival mode, being cold limits you from filling your health meter completely (it also makes lockpicking and picking pockets more difficult, presumably due to shaking fingers). You don't automatically regain health over time in this mode, either, though that's not such a big deal in Skyrim since every character is born with a healing spell. As long as you can find a few moments of privacy and a have a few centimeters of magicka, you'll be able to stay alive and heal.

As I escape the ship and climb out onto the iceberg it hit, the hunger system kicks in frequently—a bit too frequently for my tastes, though that's certainly not exclusive to Skyrim SE's survival mode (I've griped about the common problems with hunger systems before). I do enjoy the hunger notification itself: it's a rather convincing sound effect of a hungry stomach gurgling. I just wish it wouldn't occur so often: I've scarfed down several apples and five entire cabbages already but I'm still almost always hungry.

There's no thirst system in Skyrim SE survival, which feels like an odd omission. Granted, the world is mostly covered in snow so it seems unlikely you'd ever become dehydrated (if this hypothetical thirst system let you consume a fistful of snow, that is), but it does feel strange that nothing regarding thirst has been included.

Standing on the ice floes, I try repeatedly to swim to the relative safety of land. For a while, it seems like I simply won't be able to make it: I keep freezing to death the instant I make it to the next floe. Below, enjoy a small supercut of my repeated deaths just as I reach safety.

After about five tries I finally make it, after taking a sprinting jump off the first floe and using my healing spell the moment I've got my boots on the next one. Rather than run toward Solitude, I aim for Dawnstar. Fast-travel isn't an option in this mode, though at least you can save your game whenever you want.

Along the way, I try to stay warm. There's something enjoyable about warming yourself by the fire in a game, and you can do that in SSE's survival mode. In terms of keeping warm with clothing and armor, though, it feels a bit like they just slapped a warmth rating on items, and too often it's the same rating. I examine each wearable item I find, expecting to have to make difficult choices, sacrificing armor rating for warmth, but it's never really the case. Iron armor has a warmth rating of 27. Fur armor has a warmth rating of 27. Standard clothing has a warmth rating of 27. I do find some items with ratings as high as 54, but I never really feel like I'm making a tough choice in terms of what to wear, or that spending time comparing the pros and cons of outfits is worth it. This may also be because there's simply so much clothing and armor easily found in the game, and even with the mode's reduced carry weight I've got several types of armor and clothing in my inventory.

Unable to cook in the first few fires I come across (and unable to build my own fire and use it for cooking wherever and whenever I want) I scarf down some raw fish meat to answer my growling stomach and am immediately stricken with food poisoning. This reduces my stamina and magicka recovery, and prevents food from healing me, but the main effect is that the NPCs in Dawnstar constantly tell me I look sick. It feels a bit impolite of them, so I steal as much food and clothing from their homes as I can.

I'm pretty tired of being cold all the time so I decide to head south, though I immediately encounter a blizzard, which forces me to return to Dawnstar for a bit, and later I have a harrowing few minutes of trying to warm myself by a troll's fire while mammoths attempt to stomp me into paste. I'm currently fighting my way through a cave full of bandits, mainly because I'm simply hoping one of them will have a potion that will cure my food poisoning, some warmer booties, or maybe just a damn cooking pot so I can fry this fish meat before eating it.

After a few hours of play, I'm generally feeling like the Creation Club survival mode is okay: it's a good way to introduce players to the concept of survival if they've never used a survival mod (or never played a survival game before). It does add an extra layer of thought, slows the pace of game down, and gives you a series of little decisions and makes those decisions feel more weighty. For someone who doesn't want to go through the rigamarole of installing free mods and utilities, and doesn't mind spending $5 (technically, $8), it's not a bad option to get your feet wet.

There are, however, better, more robust, more flexible, and more enjoyable options if you want to bring interesting and challenging survival elements into Skyrim, and they're free. Again, start with Chesko's Campfire and Frostfall. (Special Edition versions here and here). They take a bit more work to get up and running, but they're absolutely worth the extra time, and you don't have to buy anything.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of War™

Let me begin by warning that for the rest of the piece I will be relaxing our usual rules regarding bad language. I am doing so to tell you that Mozû the Blight is a motherfucker. I first meet this orc captain, and absolute scumbag, as part of the Arena quest in Minas Ithril. Mozû is the final opponent, and from his dialogue I think he's actually an undefeated nemesis enemy imported from my Shadow of Mordor save file, which would at least explain his insane smorgasboard of resistances and abilities. These are what makes Mozû such an asshole to fight. 

He's immune to arrows, fire, ice, quickly adapts to being vaulted over, and regularly emits disorientating howls—but that's definitely not the full list. Consequently, landing any sort of blow on the bastard is a nightmare. He also has a metric ton of health, which I swear at one point was regenerating. The only thing that reliably hurts him is poison, which is how I eventually beat him (after multiple failures) thanks to figuring out I have a lower level weapon that randomly inflicts poison on crits.

Making a monster

A few hours later, Mozû is back. This isn't unusual for Shadow of War's captains, as those with the 'Death Defying' perk will keep coming at you, much like talkative boomerangs. Due to his previous poisoning, Mozû's face now looks like the aftermath of a fire in a chemistry lab, but otherwise he's in good spirits. I naively forget about his annoying combination of abilities and enter the fight on autopilot, treating him like the other captains I've been dispatching. Big mistake. More than a dozen orc grunts swarm around us, I can't get his health low enough, and eventually I lose.

Only you don't just lose to Mozû. Instead of getting a quick-time prompt for a saving parry when you're weak, instead you get 'Humiliated', which is another of his infuriating abilities. The upshot of being humiliated is that you get to keep your life, but you don't get the health boost from a successfully blocked death strike. Instead you're thrown back into the fray with a sliver of health, which in my case usually leads to another loss. 

Did I mention Moz has also acquired a ranged hook attack?

Okay, fine. Next time I'll go in better prepared, use the surroundings to my advantage, maybe blow some stuff up... But if anything it goes even worse next time. Mozû chalks up another win, and I have to listen to him bang on about how great he is and how much I suck, all while his cronies chant "Mo-Zu! Mo-Zu!" Also bear in mind that each time we battle Mozû runs his smug mouth during the intro, whenever he humiliates me, and at the end of the fight. So with all that goading, it doesn't take long before I am, in Hearthstone terms, completely on tilt.

I keep queuing up the nemesis mission to challenge Mozû, keep playing more recklessly, and keep losing. After each fight he levels up and I don't, further decreasing my odds of beating him. It doesn't help that Mozû starts reacting with disbelief that I'm still coming back for more. And, I am ashamed to type it now, but the truth is I probably lose half-a-dozen times in a row before taking a break.

Tilting intensifies

At that point I decide to take the mature approach, leaving Mozû alone for the time being so I can come back once I'm overleveled. In a rare act of patience, I actually complete an entire other region, after which I feel like a confident, independent ranger. It turns out these feelings are misplaced. I return to Minas Ithril only to find that Mozû has leveled up in lockstep with me. No matter. I've learned so much on my travels, and unlocked crucial new skills, which should make for a fairer fight. 

Nope.

Mozû has also learned new tricks. In a bitter irony, despite the fact his sole fear is being poisoned, Mozû has seemingly taken a crash course in poison bomb making at Mordor University and these almost one-shot me. I try a few more times, face flushed with increasing fury, at the end of which Mozû has reached level 31, is laughing harder than ever, and I'm still marooned at level 24. I feel actual shame as I depart for another region.

Don't bother fighting from range. The asshat is arrowproof.

Once there, it's probably only five minutes before the prick turns up. "Ranger! Didn't think you could escape, did you? I've followed you for miles…" Holy shit, this guy. Let me enjoy my videogame! I go to bed livid, wondering if Mozû is out there online terrorizing anyone else as part of the game's vendetta missions. Perhaps we could form a support society. 

Two things will happen in the next 48 hours. Either 1) I work out a way to finally overcome Mozû. I refuse to recruit him into my army, because of the embarrassment of having him help me, and I certainly won't send a follower to assassinate him, not that I have any powerful enough ones. Or 2) I delete Shadow of War and go back to complaining about card games. Note that this article will be updated accordingly. Meanwhile, feel free to suggest advice in the comments below (on the assumption that I already know I need to git gud). More practical advice is desperately needed. Mozû must die.

Tallion beats another tactical withdrawal.
Overgrowth

It's obligatory for every article on Overgrowth to start with a bit on how long it has been in development, so here's mine: When Wolfire Games first started work on the rabbit beat 'em up, George W. Bush and Gordon Brown were still in office, the first Android phone had not yet launched, and there was only one Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. The Humble Bundle was a spin-off project from Overgrowth—that is how much the industry has changed while this game's development trundled on.

So, after nine years of continuous, open development, you probably want to know what Overgrowth is, and the answer is this: Overgrowth is fast. Overgrowth is very, very fast. The protagonist, Turner, is a giant rabbit man, which means he has the proportional strength and speed of a rabbit (probably, don't check the science on this). He runs with astonishing speed, he can leap a hundred feet through the air and his kicks are devastatingly brutal.

And he kicks a lot. The majority of your time in Overgrowth will be taken up with kicking other rabbits to death (plus cats, dogs, rats, and a handful of wolves). The combat system is incredibly simple, requiring only two buttons: attack and defend. Reading that, you might be imagining an Arkham-style system with with carefully timed rhythmic button presses, but it's not like that at all.

Instead, holding down the left mouse button (you can use a pad, but unusually I felt more comfortable with a mouse) leads you to constantly auto-attack, while holding down the right automatically blocks and dodges. Direction keys influence both, with a direction hit just before a dodge leading to a throw, and jumping and crouching while attacking resulting in sweeps and sweet dive kicks.

Unfortunately combat is only half the Overgrowth experience.

What this all means is that that fights in Overgrowth are fast, incredibly fast, far faster than it could be if you had to click for every attack (so fast, in fact that there's a setting in the options menu to slow everything down a bit). Fights rarely last longer than a few seconds, and even the toughest enemies can go down in a couple of sword swipes, but when your careful plan goes wrong you’ll instead be locked into a desperate struggle of dodging and kicking.

It's an impressive system that's as fun when it all goes perfectly as it is when everything descends into farce. The battles are so frantic that it wasn’t until the second playthrough on a higher difficulty that I felt I 'got' the system properly, and wasn't just desperately reacting.

There's impressive variety too, with enough enemy and weapon types that they can be easily remixed into new challenges. Rats, for example, are even faster and more fragile than Turner, and are best dealt with head on, sending them flying back with brutal kicks. But the moment one of those rats has a knife they instantly become more dangerous, hiding within the swarm then suddenly stabbing with blinding speed.

I love the speed and brutality of the fights.

This is also different from a boss fight with a single wolf, a hard target with unblockable attacks, requiring hit-and-run tactics. Each fight is different enough that even the second playthrough didn't feel repetitive, and that’s before I began to delve into the flourishing Steam Workshop which is full of new and interesting scenarios.

Unfortunately, combat is only half the Overgrowth experience. The rest of the game is taken up with far weaker platforming sections, where Turner’s prodigious jump and wall running abilities are used to scale linear obstacle courses. When the game started I was convinced I was going to love this aspect. There's a joy to sailing through the air as Turner, and the wall running brought back pleasant memories of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.   

In reality, I spent a good proportion of my time watching Turner grab the wrong thing, ignoring the ledge I was aiming for and instead mounting a jutting out piece of rock and doing chin-ups on the edge of forever. There's an instant restart and generous checkpointing, so you're rarely inconvenienced by a missed leap, but it has a feeling of punishment and repetition that the exhilarating combat largely avoids.

I'm torn on Overgrowth. I love the speed and brutality of the fights, but at the same time they are so fast, and so brief, that it almost feels insubstantial, a problem not helped by a paper-thin antihero plot. It's tempting to say it's a game aimed at hardcore fighting game fans, but I wouldn't usually consider myself one of those and I still enjoyed my time with it. It's such a strange-feeling game, it seems impossible to tell who will like it.

In the end Overgrowth remains what it appeared to be through all those years of development: a curio. It's is a weird, unique creation, a window into a world with an alternate approach to beat 'em ups. A strange and beautiful place to visit, it just doesn't feel substantial enough to make a home in. It's a game to blast through in a weekend, enjoy, and then never really think about again.

PC Gamer

The Evil Within 2 revels in its grotesqueness. Inside its opening five minutes, you're forced to watch a young girl burn to death. Later, you repeatedly observe a man's head explode by gunshot. Then you witness a scene so horrifically graphic I worry recounting it will cause me to bring up my lunch (it involves an incapacitated man being force-fed his own lunch to the point where it's clogging his throat). The next 15-20 hours are punctuated by similarly stomach-churning moments—the sum of which highlights a psychological horror game determined to terrify beyond jump scares.

For the most part, it works. And while cheap frights are served by the game's zombie natives on occasion, its tortured antagonists, manifestations of guilt-driven grief and open world elements present a far more ambitious game than the 2014 original. Like its forerunner, it struggles at times with the B-movie trappings, jarring narratives, and ham-fisted voice acting synonymous with the genre, yet The Evil Within 2 rarely feels disposable. 

The Evil Within 2 drops protagonist Sebastian Castellanos into the simulated world of Union—a corrupted, monster-ridden town that's thought to contain your (presumed dead) daughter, Lily. It's here that the game first experiments with an open world structure, as you make your way back and forth across a handful of well-sized maps, each of which is filled with accessible buildings and collectible items. Early on, you pick up a communications device that allows you to track Lily's whereabouts, as well as a host of optional side ventures, such as the locations of weapon parts and caches, and bits of additional storytelling.

This presents a more thoughtful approach to progression. During the game's earlier chapters, I regularly found myself abandoning the main story arc, instead trekking to the furthest corners of the urban sprawl in search of loot and ammo. The loot was often well guarded, which forced me to engage with the game's new cover system: two modes that allow Castellanos to hug surfaces when crouched, and portray him as a greyed-out silhouette when hiding in long grass. 

While this marks a departure from pure survival horror, it benefits the game's stealth systems since you're no longer required to distract foes with smashable bottles—despite this still being a feasible if tedious approach. Open areas are less densely populated, although enemies are more aggressive and have the means to pursue you for longer. With this in mind, the first game's optional enemy visibility indicator is switched on by default, which I'd suggest sticking with given how easy it is for enemies to get the drop on you in open environments.

Variety in your means of attack is important, as your environment can often be manipulated to suit your circumstances. One failed attack saw me hightailing it from a horde of The Haunted. I unscrewed a nearby fire hydrant, waited till the group was ankle-high in water, and blasted the pool with a Shock Bolt, taking down six enemies at once. Another botched onslaught had me setting a crowd alight in a petrol station oil spill. These tactics are hardly new in games, but they do add a nice twist to mob conflict all the same.I tend to think third-person, over-the-shoulder combat horror games benefit from controller input, but switching to mouse and keyboard in the above examples allowed me to better navigate my surroundings whenever I found myself fenced in by my enemies. If you'd rather run for cover, those familiar with the first game will be pleased to know Castellanos can now sprint for far longer.  

Moreover, a new crafting system lets you turn your plundered treasure into bullets, crossbow bolts and health items, among other things—a process that can be done on the fly, or at crafting benches within safe houses. The former will cost you more in the way of resources, but Union boasts a generous amount of hidden spoils should you need to cobble together firepower in a hurry. Castellanos' office can only be accessed via safe house mirrors, though, which again lets you trade Green Gel for ability points across several specific disciplines.

When not dazzling, you'll settle into The Evil Within 2's narrative. This tells a similar tale of anguish, where beleaguered hero Sebastian Castellanos has again been duped by the faceless Mobius corporation. We learn that his daughter Lily is the core of the crumbling STEM neural network—within which Union is housed—and her extraction is being blocked by two very distinguished and charismatic villains, and the evil minions they command. These unpredictable foes are mentally unhinged art lover Stefano Valentini and power-mad cultist Father Theodore Wallace, and both will keep you on your toes, both in the story and in battle.

In pursuit of this double act, you'll traverse a familiar set of narrowly interlinked corridors that spawn mysterious doors and unsettling clandestine messages, before facing off against a number of shit-scary foes—not least The Guardian, a shrieking she devil composed of writhing corpses and saw blades. The Evil Within 2 always looks great, but these set pieces look extraordinary and sound genuinely terrifying.   

With Resident Evil mastermind Shinji Mikami deferring directorship to Tango Gameworks colleague John Johanas, The Evil Within 2 angles itself between PS2-era throwback and inventive sequel. Almost everything has been improved, here, yet it still feels like a classic survival horror game, one infused with enough psychological horror to keep it feeling fresh.

Sid Meier’s Civilization® VI

The 12th century Cambodian king Jayavarman VII "is generally considered by historians the most powerful Khmer monarch of all time," according to the unimpeachable sources at Wikipedia. So with the Khmer people on their way to Civilization 6, as 2K Games announced today, it only makes sense that he'd be the one to lead them. 

"Rising to power during a period of crisis for the Khmer, Jayavarman was a military leader. By 1181, Jayavarman VII had repelled Cham invaders to the north and when hostilities died down, he crowned himself king. But instead of turning outward and seeking to aggressively expand, he focused on his people," 2K wrote. "King Jayavarman VII saw himself as a warrior for his subjects. As a result, his rule was marked by its tolerance and his drive to create a place of safety and paradise for his subjects." 

Which isn't to say that the Khmer don't kick ass, and in fact their unique unit, the Domrey, might be the coolest of them all: It's a war elephant with a ballista mounted on its back, making it basically the 12th century equivalent of self-propelled artillery. On the more homefront-focused side of things, the Khmer unique improvement is the Prasat, a replacement for the temple, which gives the Martyr promotion to missionaries it produces and provides a Relic Great Works slot.   

Jayavarman himself brings the "Monasteries of the King" unique ability to the game, enabling the Khmer to grab adjacent territories when their Holy Sites are completed, while aqueducts will increase food production in adjacent farms and provide a bonus to Faith and an Amenity through the "Grand Barays" unique ability. 

Owners of the Civilization 6 Digital Deluxe Edition will receive the Khmer civ, and the rest of the DLC it comes with, automatically when it goes live. A launch date hasn't been announced, but I would expect it to show up at around the same time as the big Fall Update

Think of the Children

Think of the Children is a multiplayer comedy game about terrible parents. You and up to three friends play as parents who have quite reasonably been charged with child endangerment and neglect. To prove your competence and innocence, you have to make it through parenting trials with your kids intact, which is to say not on fire, poisoned, ravaged by seagulls, bludgeoned by kangaroos, electrocuted, run over or otherwise maimed. 

It's a bit like a game of tag where all the parents are 'it' and chasing the kids around. Only instead of making it to base, the kids are hellbent on playing in traffic, kicking over top-heavy shelves, sampling laundry detergent, and quite possibly playing 'the floor is lava' with actual lava. Which serves to illustrate the sheer number of scenarios in Think of the Children.

"The local park, the beach, the supermarket, the zoo," writes developer Jammed Up Studios. "Great places for a day out with the kids. That is, aside from the poisonous berries, ravenous seagulls, towering grocery shelves and electrified pens."

Each area comes with unique tasks for the parents and dangers for the kids. So while you're applying sunscreen at the beach, you can bet some runt is going to be poking jellyfish. When you're out shopping at the local supermarket, make sure nobody winds up crushed under a mountain of cans. And from what I know of the Australian outback, everything there will try to kill everyone. 

Learning the hazards of each map and coordinating with friends sounds like the meat of Think of the Children, but there's also a good deal of customization. You can play as whatever combination of parents you want and deck them out with unlockable skins, costumes and voices. The clean voxel aesthetic makes for some amusing characters, and customizing your avatar should make help make multiplayer more legible. 

Think of the Children will launch on Steam this Thursday, October 19 for $9.99. 

ECHO

I thought I was going to enjoy Echo, but in the end I bounced off it hard. I wish that was just a bad pun about sound waves, but no, that's what happened. Echo starts off well with shiny graphics and a lot of attitude—even the main menu is slick and suitably sci-fi, with a giant eye that follows your cursor. The intro cinematic is captivating, complete with great voice acting and dialogue that feels natural, never overblown.

But after being enraptured by the first five minutes, I spent the next hour of Echo walking across snowy catwalks while the backstory was hashed out in dialogue. That wouldn't have been a problem if I wasn’t keenly aware that it involved none of the mechanics I was here for. That first hour, it turned out, set the tone for the rest of the game. Echo is beautiful but frequently refuses to get out of its own way.

It's got a great hook. In Echo, enemies choose behavior patterns that mimic the behavior of the player. Levels are divided into discrete 'cycles', which I won't explain in detail to avoid spoiling the story elements that warrant them. Put simply, enemies can mimic any action taken by the player during the previous cycle but are incapable of performing any actions the player avoided in that cycle. It sounds complex and alluring—and it could have been—but in my experience just became a weird game of tug-of-war with the AI. 

I could kill an enemy by shooting it, by sneaking up and putting it in a choke-hold, and sometimes by smashing it in the face with a glass ball. If I got into a tight spot, pursued without any sort of obstacle between us, the only option was to take a shot with my gun. As you’d expect the gun is loud, which attracts more enemies, which forced me to shoot more of them.

When I managed to make it out of that situation without dying and into the next cycle, my pursuers learned to shoot back, rather than their typical MO of running straight ahead and face-grabbing me to death. Getting shot is difficult to avoid, but I'd cornered myself. They'd figured out how to shoot, for now, and Echo didn't let me wait out the situation for an entire cycle to rob the attackers of their newfound skill. 

Instead of a fluid give-and-take where enemies being able to shoot meant I was encouraged to use a different method of sneaking, I was stuck continuing to duck behind the same walls, no matter how ineffective a method that was for preventing a bullet in my face. It just encouraged me to never use the gun, because doing so could halt my progress in the next cycle. (It's also worth mentioning that Echo has no manual saving, forcing you to complete each section in one go to reach the next checkpoint.)

Echo's level design leans heavily on quantity of enemies over quality—sheer numbers rather than thoughtful placement. The other issue is an imbalance between fight and flight actions. As you'd expect from a game with stealth, you have multiple ways to move around the level, multiple ways to distract enemies, and several different options for movement. What it lacks is multiple ways to hide.

The only way to be unseen in Echo is to be behind something. (There are plenty of somethings in Echo: half-walls, doors, pedestals, and staircases, but every level is built from those same pieces.) It could benefit from a way of hiding that isn't just a big piece of level furniture that blocks line of sight. I even wished for a box to climb in, a haystack to leap into, or some other hidey-hole no matter how trite or borrowed. But there are no dedicated hiding spots, no ability to cloak or disguise yourself, no flashbang grenades, nothing but ducking behind the same marble walls. 

I had numerous ways to move about and kill enemies, which those enemies then echoed by mimicking me in the following cycle, but I had no way to adapt to the changing situation with changing stealth. I just kept ducking behind banisters.

Echo feels like it's missing what makes stealth enjoyable. In their finest moments, stealth games are puzzles that demand solving. They teach you how to use and combine a character's skills until you can demonstrate your mastery. They torment you until you have that moment of epiphany, realizing how the game wants you to proceed. 

Echo attempts to lead players through the steps of that dance but I found it stomping on my toes with the grace of a pre-teen. It's often best to ignore everything it places in front of you and just run past to the next checkpoint.

It feels unfair to gloss over Echo's admirable atmosphere: beautiful environments, fantastic voice acting and sound design, and a genuinely impressive and integrated HUD. But that's all layered on a half-baked system. Echo's cycles could have made a fantastic stealth game, but it forgets the most important trick: making sneaking fun.

The Witcher® 3: Wild Hunt

In many ways, CD Projekt Red, the development branch of Polish game company CD Projekt, sounds like a fantastic place to work: Successful and financially stable, but still very "indie" and pleasingly renegade. Not everyone thinks so, though. Head over to Glassdoor.co.uk, a website where people rate and review the companies they work for, and you'll see some rather harsh comments about the state of the place, including accusations that it's directionless, chaotic, and in one blunt summation, "bad." 

Not everyone who leaves a company is going to do so under happy circumstances, and disgruntled former employees are far more inclined to make noise about things than those who depart happy. Negative feedback is natural and inevitable, in other words, and generally passes without comment from the company in question. But this time, and "especially in light of the fact that we haven't communicated anything about Cyberpunk 2077 for a long time and saw some gamers getting worried about the project," CD Projekt elected to respond publicly. 

"In 2015, when we released The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we were over 200 developers strong and that was the core crew of the studio. Since then, we've almost doubled the headcount and we're still hiring," co-founder Marcin Iwinski and studio head Adam Badowski wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. "Do people leave? Sure they do. We always wish them all the best and respect both their decision and the feedback they give us as the reason for their departure." 

Iwinski and Badowski acknowledged that the studio had bitten off more than it rightly should have been able to chew throughout the making of The Witcher series. "When we start down the road to creating something, we know the destination and we're sure of one thing: Even if something feels impossible, it doesn't mean it is," they wrote. "And, as it turns out, most often things are perfectly possible, they just require a lot of faith, commitment, and spirit." 

And also, you can reasonably infer from the statement, a lot of long hours and hard work. "This approach to making games is not for everyone. It often requires a conscious effort to 'reinvent the wheel'—even if you personally think it already works like a charm," they continued. "But you know what? We believe reinventing the wheel every friggin' time is what makes a better game. It's what creates innovation and makes it possible for us to say we've worked really hard on something, and we think it's worth your hard-earned cash." 

And also this:

As true as it is that unhappy employees are inevitable, it's also true that this can easily be seen in the same light as Alex St. John's crunch apologia from 2016: Simplistically, that if you really love games then you'll happily bleed to make them. Ultimately, I suspect that the reality of the situation lies somewhere between anonymous Glassdoor venting and the studio's "all is well" missive, and that despite its wild rebel trappings, CD Projekt Red is a lot like most other big studios out there. 

As for Cyberpunk 2077—the thing we really want to know about—it's "progressing as planned, but we are taking our time," Iwinski and Badowski wrote. "In this case, silence is the cost of making a great game." I have no idea what that's supposed to mean. 

CD Projekt Red's full statement is below. 

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