Twelve Minutes

This is a strange game in that on the one hand it is really rather good, and yet on the other it collapses under the weight of a concept it struggles to deliver. The central premise being a who done it played out in a three room apartment using a Groundhog Day time loop to collect information required to solve the mystery. Thankfully given the narrow scope the game game is mercifully short clocking in between 5 and 10 hours.

Twelve Minutes plays out like an Amiga/16-bit era graphical adventure like those developed by Lucas Arts with you essentially moving a mouse pointer to manipulate items in the environment, your inventory and dialog menu options. Over the course of the titular 12 minutes you need to solve various puzzles by interacting with your environment and talking to other characters to gain information needed to advance the story. Fail and the loop restarts for you to attempt again hopefully using information gathered from the last playthrough to push you forward.

This works up to the point the story naturally concludes. The story centres around a man coming home from work to a surprise meal by his wife who has special news for him. Their meal is interrupted when a copy breaks down the front door and the wife’s past quickly catches up on her. As some point this (minor spoiler incoming) base story arc concludes with a satisfying reason for cops interest in the wife’s past.

This is where the game breaks down by continuing past the point. The constant repetition, the slight obtuseness of the final pieces, and the inexplicably weird left turn the story takes from this point all bring it down. I actually didn’t physically complete the this playthrough after the natural conclusion occurred. A couple of attempts to push the action along and I ended up watching the last 15 minutes of gameplay at the end of a YouTube playthrough. Alas the nature of the gameplay and story means nothing is lost in the experience by taking this approach.

4/5

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

After the one set in ancient Egypt (Origins) I’d kind of reached the end of my passion for UbiSoft’s premier openworld series. While I enjoyed the game the direction had moved far from it’s peeks with Brotherhood and Syndicate. The developers had chosen a move away from the stealth mission assassination gameplay and focused more in to the sprawling openworld RPG arena not a million miles away from games like The Witcher 3 or Horizon: Zero Dawn.

Much like Watchdogs: Legion it was easily the setting that drew me back. But also much like Wachdogs, as a life long resident of the areas depicted, the setting was also a bit of let down. There’s a certain amount that can be forgiven taking into account known geographical changes since the time the game is set, such as the Norfolk Broads being built in the 1800’s and drastically reshaping the landscape. But then you get things like no real feel for being in the Peak District and the Pennines. And Essex felt much hillier than I recall from living there and Maldon finding its way closer to modern day Southend.

Still there were plenty of nice touches that made it very easy to overlook and forgive and topological anomalies found. Things like jump off a synchronisation point in Essex and bumping into a local Braintree based band with a pretty funny reference to one of their more well known songs. Or seeing some possible ancient beginnings to a certain festival just south of Stonehenge.

Valhalla is a huge, huge game. Easily the longest game I’ve played to date. Most modern ‘AAA’ games tend to take me around a month to play. Just over two months later and I get to what appears to be the end of the main story missions. It all happens in such a damp squib way that if there is more then I was just happy to leave here because the game had long outstayed its welcome.

Not that the main gameplay isn’t fun. The game is very similar to Red Dead Redemption 2 and Ghost Of Tsushima in it’s moment to moment action but Ubisoft really have mastered the art of giving these games a deep breadth of activity and making encounters seem fresh and different which Tsushima in particular struggled with.

Ultimately though it’s the focus on RPG progression and the endless side objectives that brings the game to its knees. Most of the time to properly progress your characters skill level needs to be within the vicinity of the recommended level for the area or task you are heading in to. This puts a big focus on constantly levelling up and that means busy work. By the end of the game my characters level was around 260 and the game was asking for a level of 340.

Thankfully the story missions rarely needed close matches so completing that part of the game was easy but I certainly never completed all the members of The Order or got close to “The Father”. But I suppose that just gives me somewhere to start up from again when I next come round to playing this one.

3/5

Watchdogs: Legion

A flawed game full of interesting ideas and missed opportunities. Legions is the third game in Ubisoft’s modern day Assassin’s Creed spin-off franchise – Watchdogs. The first game was set in Chicago, the second in San Francisco, and this entry leaves the US for the first time and arrives in post-Brexit London. The games centre around an hacker/activist group called Ded-Sec and a capitalist shadowery tech company called Blume modelled after the likes of Facebook, Google and Capita.

The first game was sold on the ability to use your (virtual) mobile phone to hack everybody and everything. Raise barriers, disable cars, steal money from passers buy, etc. The story centred around a masked vigilanty, Aidan Pierce, going after those responsible for the death of his niece. I found the game lived up to it’s promise and was very enjoyable, but most critics thought Pierce’s character was a little flat and criticised the disconnect between Pierces character in the story and many of the antics a player would engage with in any GTA-like openworld.

Game two tried to answer the criticisms by going for a more youthful protagonist and shunning the guns. Introducing a snooker-ball laidened sock as the main weapon of choice and drones. For me this game fell flat as it seemed to quickly devolve into driving a lifeless city between two mission locations and then doing the exact same drone actions before driving off to the next. Of particular annoyance was the loss of being able to CCTV camera surf your way to a solution. You’d get so far and reach a dead end as the game required the drone to proceed.

For the third game the big gimmick is being able to build your own Mission Impossible-like Ded Sec team from absolutely any NPC you encounter within the game. And, once recruited, they all become playable characters that you can easily switch between at will. It works surprisingly well but unfortunately is the root of pretty much all the games ills.

The lack of central character to bring the story together around (other than the disembodied AI voice of Bagley) is the first hole you’d notice after you’ve picked up two or three new Ded Sec operatives. And this then extends to each and every character being very cut and paste generic. It really, for the most part, doesn’t matter which character you use. The ability differences are fairly minor and if you really need something you can get it as any character. Everyone’s an A-grade hacker.

This then brings us to recruitment and the first thing you’d notice is the casual racism and stereotypes. Black characters must have a Caribbean accent, Asians are bad impressionists idea of Indian, and then there’s the army of Polish and Irish accents for white characters. I know London is multicultural and multi-ethnical but this games procedure based character generation system somehow completely misses the mark on this and descends into something rather embarrassing.

And, just like the second game, all the recruitment missions where very cut and paste. I’m sure I did the exact same missions three of four times while building my team. And again camera surfing was only good for a quick look around. Everything set up specifically for the spiderbot, or getting in up close to push buttons. Indeed this criticism did follow for the wider game. Many a time I found myself at a carbon copy location, exact same are layout, with another mix of stealth takedowns and spiderbot to hack some central computer.

London itself is very superficial. All the major buildings are there in roughly the right locations and essentially correct major street plan. But the surrounding buildings and side street filler is all rather generic and doesn’t really feel of the London I know. It’s as if they wanted to invoke the essence of London without capturing the spirit. Like the last game it quickly descended into fast travel between carbon copy mission objectives. One issue even more noticeable than previously, highlighted by NPC actions, contributes to this feeling and that’s the lack of buildings you can randomly enter. NPC’s come out of buildings but unless its required and one of the very few carbon copy environments it’s incredibly rare to see the insides. No shops, tube stations, etc.

A lot of this can be put down to the fact this is very much a last generation, PS4 era game, and given how much they are trying to achieve the limits of those systems do ultimately come in to play. This is in stark contrast to the beginning of the that era when Assassin’s Creed Black Flag felt like you were getting a new experience over what the previous PS3 version could offer. There’s just nothing on offer here that doesn’t feel possible on the PS4Pro, and indeed games like Red Dead Redemption 2 have done better.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a fun enough game to play. It is worthy of the experience, if only once. It just lacks any real soul.

3/5