Game Review: Inertial Drift

Arcade racers, I’ve always had a major soft spot for this genre ever since playing Sega’s awesome OutRun when I was a kid. Throwing drifting into the mix makes the arcade racer an absolute joy to play and titles such as Ridge Racer were a riot. There hasn’t been a good arcade-drift racer for some time, Yeah sure, there have been arcade racers with some drifting in but arcade racers with dedicated drift mechanics are very thin on the ground. Developer Level 91 Entertainment and publisher PQube have a new game that tries to change that with Inertial Drift. A game that is as heavy on arcade action as it is on drifting.

The first thing to cover with Inertial Drift is its rather unique control system. Yeah, you have your standard accelerate, brake and steering. Steering is done using the left stick on the controller as tradition these days, but this game throws in a dedicated drift control with the right stick. In fact, the steering is done 90% with the right stick here, while the left stick is really used to tweak and fine-tune your drifting. At first, this control method feels very backwards when you are so used to steering with the left stick and I admit to having difficulty when I first picked up the controller, continually smashing into the barriers at the side of the tracks. However, after a few corners, relying on the right stick to control the car became second nature.

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You’ll soon find yourself using both the left and right sticks in perfect synergy to pull off some really impressive drifting. Going full lock on the right stick to throw your car into a corner and sending your car screeching sideways, while carefully moving that left stick to perfect the angle, get closer to the apex of the corners and maintain good momentum. The drifting in this soon becomes a rhythm and you’ll want to keep that rhythm up to get the most out of the races and the cars themselves.

As for the cars, they all feel very different to each other and mastering the drifting offers a fresh challenge with every car you drive. Some cars respond well to a dab or two of the break, others will really work well if you just lift off the accelerator slightly, then there are those that are built to just be thrown around. Inertial Drift really does have you learning and relearning the drift mechanics to the point where you’ll be feeling just like Kunimitsu Takahashi. Your two thumbs will have to work overtime to get the most out of your car and it tears around the tight and windy tracks you race on.

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In terms of game modes, Inertial Drift has a few offerings. Arcade mode does what every other arcade mode in a racer like this does. Pick a track, pick a car and away you go. Challenge mode gives you twelve one-off races where if/when you finish them, you’ll unlock a new car. Grand Prix mode chains together five races and gives you three attempts to beat them in one go. The main meat is the story mode. This is played over five tracks with three races each and throws you into a very The Fast and the Furious (before they got really stupid) type of plot with ‘family’ and plenty of car talk. To be honest, you can get through the story mode in a couple of hours or so… but you can play through as four different characters, each with their own story to follow. There’s a decent selection of modes and options to keep you busy and if that’s not enough, you can race online or even indulge in some two-player split-screen action. Then, you can unlock Xtra Crispy mode, this is the story mode, but with stricter targets to hit and faster opponents.

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The graphics in Inertial Drift are very neon-nineties, retro-future like. A heavy dose of cell-shading that made me feel like I was watching an eighties Saturday morning cartoon… and I loved it. The screeching tyres leave plumes of smoke flowing behind the car, the track caked in rubber, snow gathers on tyres and more I did notice that some of the roadside details were ‘lacking’ but you’ll be so fixated on the racing and getting the perfect drift that you’ll hardly notice unless you really look for it. The races themselves felt a little limited too. It’s only ever one-on-one and while there are different types of races, some of them are so similar that there’s no point in them being separate races. For instance, you can race against a ghost car to try and get the best time. But when you do race against a real car, the game features (what the devs call) a ‘Phase Shift Impact Prevention System’, so you can’t collide with any of the cars anyway… so the real car may as well just be a ghost car. Plus, the time trial races are just ghost car races… without the ghost car. So yeah, some of the races are pretty much the same as others.

There is some variety in the races though. Duel mode has you going up against an opponent, with the idea to put as much distance between you and them. You score more points the further in the lead you are with the winner being the person with the most points. Then there are the Style races. These ones are all about making the most of the drifting, scoring points for the most outrageous drifts, getting close to the walls… even scraping the walls. You get rewarded for pulling off the most impressive and risky drifts, probably the best races in the game too.

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Inertial Drift has a price tag of around £17 and for me, that’s a decent price point. The story mode can be finished in a couple of hours but you’ll get more out of it if you want to play through with all four characters, then add on the harder Xtra Crispy mode too. The other modes all offer plenty of play to keep you busy and the racing really is terrific fun. The unique and dedicated drift control system takes a while to get to grips with but when it clicks, it really works. Best of all, playing this really took me back to the nineties and screaming around the track(s) in Ridge Racer. Inertial Drift really is a fantastic arcade racer with a really unique control concept to breathe new life into drifting.

Game Preview: UnDying

I don’t usually do game previews I just tend to prefer to do a review of a game when it’s ready for release, over looking at it while it’s still being worked on. Still, when I was offered an advance look at UnDying from developer Vanimals and publisher Skystone Games Inc., I took a little peek at the trailer and synopsis for the game and thought it sounded quite interesting.

Zombies, a classic movie monster who have been around for what seems like forever. The zombie really became popular thanks to George A. Romero and his Night of the Living Dead flick. The monster gained traction through the seventies and eighties, before falling out of favour in the nineties. Then Capcom released Resident Evil and the zombie was back in favour once more. Since then, zombies have been in every genre of game (and movie) with so signs of slowing down. Speaking on a personal level, I feel that zombies have become overused for a while now, especially when it comes to the survival genre. For a new title to stand out from the crowd, it really does need to offer a level of uniqueness sadly missing from zombie-survival games these days.

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UnDying is, essentially, a survival game. I really don’t need to dwell too much on the game mechanics at play here, you already know them like the back of your hand. Scavenge for loot and resources, cook food and craft items. Watch your hunger and so on, Kill zombies and do your best to keep yourself alive. In this regard, UnDying really doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Still, the mechanics used here may be all too familiar but they are also very solid. As it stands, UnDying is a very capable and playable survival title. Yeah, I spotted a few rough edges, but this is a pre-release game that is still in development. So I’m not going to pick this apart when it’s still being worked on. But what I am going to take a look at is something that really does make the game stand out.

See, UnDying features a rather unique piece of storytelling, an interesting slice of narrative that really caught my attention. In every other zombie survival game that you have played, you are trying to avoid being bitten by the zombies so you don’t become one of the undead. In UnDying… that’s already happened. You play as Anling and she’s been bitten by a zombie, there is no cure and you will become a zombie in time. There’s a little addition too as Anling is joined by her 10-year-old son, Cody. Cody is an AI character that follows you around and watches everything you do. Playing as Anling, you must ready Cody for the inevitable, the day you become a zombie and he is left alone to fend for himself.

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Whenever you cook, craft, etc, Cody watches and learns. At the start, Cody is very naive, scared and childlike… because he is a child. Yet, the more you do anything, the more Cody learns, he starts to come out of his shell more and more, to the point where he becomes a reliable and much-needed partner. Cody will learn to gather resources with you and become a great help as you fight to survive another day. He’ll learn to cook, craft and of course, fight. Playing as Anling, pretty much any and everything you do will have an effect on Cody, good and bad. While Cody does learn to become more independent, you have to remember that he is just a 10-year-old boy. You can’t push him too far or he will break down. As his mother, you have to… well, you have to mother him. Offer reassurance, give him a hug, be his mom and spend what little quality time you have left with him.  

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There’s a levelling system where Cody can unlock new skills to help him fight the zombies for when Anling’s infection finally gets the better of her. Speaking of which, that zombie infection can and will alter just how Anling plays too. Symptoms of the zombie infection will begin to show and you’ll need to deal with them. A selection of debuffs for Anling come into play and these debuffs act as the infection taking over. But those same debuffs can work in your favour as they can be used as ‘zombie skills’ that you can and will help (or hinder) you in your day. You’ll need to keep a close eye on just how affected by the infection Anling is and ensure she lives through the day to keep teaching Cody how to survive. 

UnDying is currently available on Steam as an early access game, 10% off right now too (just under £14). Again, this is a pre-release game and I have found it a little bit rough here and there. But that is what pre-released games are like. You can offer feedback for the game too via Steam, to help iron out any creases. As someone who has spent a lot of time playing survival games… and getting a little tired of them, if I am being honest. I have to admit that UnDying really intrigues me. The basic gameplay mechanics of a typical survival game are here and they are very solid too, but the whole teaching Cody thing and Anling slowly becoming a zombie really adds a new and refreshing layer to the genre. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on this one as it develops and can’t wait to play the full and proper release.

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When UnDying is released, it’ll be available on PC and consoles sometime in the first half of 2022. I think it’s worth putting this one on your ‘to play’ list.

 

Game Review: YouTubers Life 2

When I was a young teen, I was raised on business sim games. The likes of Theme Park, SimCity and so on, taught me a few tricks that I could apply to the real world. They were games that not only entertained but could also educate along the way. Now, I’m in my mid-forties and the business sim game has evolved. Instead of running a successful theme park or being a mayor of a city, I can now become a famous YouTuber. From developer UPLAY Online and publisher Raiser Games comes YouTubers Life 2.

So the basic plot of YouTubers Life 2 has you starting your own YouTube channel and striving to become the biggest and most popular uploader around… and that’s about it really. You have a semi-open-world city to explore. Talk to folk, take photos, make videos, buy clothes from shops, upgrade equipment, etc. Slowly build yourself up from a YouTube newbie to the number 1 megastar.

The gameplay here is a very mixed bag as you do all you can to become internet famous. You start out by picking one of three regions of the city to live in. Each region has its pluses and minuses. One area of the city is known for its video gaming, one for luxury shops, the other for its beach and exclusive club. Still, it really doesn’t matter which of the three you move to as the city is pretty small and you can walk from one area to the other in seconds anyway. Plus there’s a tube station that can be used as a kind of fast travel system to get from one area to the other with ease. Anyway, you move into your small apartment and begin making YouTube content. Try to get more and more fans, make more and more money to upgrade your apartment and equipment… to help make more and more YouTube content.

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There’s a very shallow character creation mechanic where you get to create your very own YouTuber, complete with stereotypical hipster clothing and haircuts. After which, it’s away you go. With help from your not at all annoying (I’m lying) guide, Xavier, you move into your new place and get a gift. That gift is your very own drone, which you can name. This drone follows you everywhere, records your videos and takes photos for you. There are specific points around the city where you can record videos and you need to keep an eye on what is trending each day to ensure the content you create is popular. The same goes for playing video games, games trend, so make sure you are playing the games people want to see to get the most views for your content.

When it comes to actually creating that content, it’s all very uninspired and lacking. For a Vlog, for instance, a phrase will pop up and you pick from three (at first) responses. Whichever response you pick will fill up one or several of five icons that denote how good your finished content will be. You get a star rating (out of five) on the quality of your content and of it is on-trend. The idea is to be creating five star and on-trend content to get those views. You then take that video and edit it. Editing is as simple as picking a scene and just placing it. Get the start, fill in the middle and put the end on. These scenes have little tabs or ‘connections’ and the better connected your edit is, the better the video will be. It sounds a little complicated, but in all honesty, it really isn’t. This is a slightly modern version of those four or six-piece jigsaws you had when you were 3-years-old. Just make sure the little tabs of each clip of your video connect and there you go, you’ve just edited a video.

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The different content you create will have slightly different mechanics but are always massively simplified. From tired QTEs to just filling gaps in dialogue. There’s really nothing more to creating content other than very simplistic and vastly overused game mechanics. Honestly, this really feels like a cheap and nasty pay-to-win, tappy-tap mobile game. You know the kind of thing you play for 5 minutes on your phone while you drop a load in the toilet before getting utterly bored by it. Yet, here it is being sold as a ‘proper’ game on all major platforms… I seriously don’t get it. Admittedly, YouTubers Life 2 has quite a lot going on in it, yet it’s all just so incredibly shallow. I don’t think I have ever played a game that both has so much content and things to do but so little depth at the same time.

Aside from the bland, uninspired and outdated gameplay, YouTubers Life 2 really had me making all sorts of observations. I mean, YouTube itself isn’t in a game called YouTubers Life 2, a game centred around being a YouTube star. I’m guessing this is down to some kind of copyright issue. See, the word YouTuber isn’t a copyrighted trademark, but YouTube is. YouTube is a brand and one you need permission to use in games and such. I’m guessing the dev/publishing team didn’t want to pay for the licence to use the YouTube brand. However, there are several real-world YouTube stars in the game… I assume that they didn’t allow the use of their names and likenesses for free though? Anyway, in this game where you try to be a successful YouTuber and one named after the hugely popular video hosting service… there is no YouTube. Instead, you get to upload your content to the non-copyright infringing NewTube. Clever eh?

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Not really, this was another thing that bugged me through the game, the crappy ‘parody’ name changes. Instagram becomes Instalife. Twitch is Glitch. The game consoles you play on are the Honey PlayStudio, the Nicosoft ZBox, as you await the release of the long-rumoured Mantendo Zii. I love the use of a good parody, this is far from a good parody. I mean, the game feels like it was written by a 6-year-old for the most part. The crappy and lazy parody extends to the games you play too with such titles as Deity of War, Angry Burps and Geocraft… not that you do actually play any of the games though. Oh yeah sorry, I didn’t mean to get you excited there and think that this title where you play video games to create content, that you actually got to play any games. Nope, you just pick the game and console you want to play on and do this mini-game thing where you just ‘host’ your (not) YouTube channel and pick from a small selection of comments to make. The camera when making game content is focused on your character, so you don’t even get to see any of the fake games in the game either. 

Speaking of the games consoles, there are retro ones too as occasionally, retro gaming will be trending. Nice touch. However, the comments when recording footage for retro games is the same as modern games. As an example, I was playing this game’s equivalent of the Atari 2600, the Alari, and one of the comments that came up said that the server for the game had crashed. A server… for an Atari 2600 game… seriously? Also, there is no real-world social element to this game based around social media? You can’t visit real-world friends’ cities, give them gifts, etc. It just seems rather strange to me that a game centred around social media has zero social aspects to it. 

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You can’t move the camera either. This is basic stuff and pretty damn important when you are exploring the city. I’m playing a 3D game that takes place in a semi-open-world environment… and I can even rotate the camera? Often when out in the city, I get stuck behind a building and can’t see what’s going on because I can’t adjust the camera. One of the biggest faults of YouTubers Life 2 is the fact that it had been released in 2021, but it uses gameplay mechanics from and it feels like it was made in 1991. The map design for the city is really annoying too as there are so many dead ends. There’s no mini-map so you can quickly glance to see where you are heading, so you have to keep bringing up the main map every 2 minutes to check. You can’t leave waypoints and there are no mission markers to help guide you through the city either. Even though it’s not a huge map by any means, it’s still really easy to get lost and stuck in a dead-end thanks to the lack of a mini-map and the fact you can’t change the camera angle. And with this being aimed at a younger audience, you’d think it would be more user friendly for them.

You can’t even track people around the city and this is a major issue when you are doing jobs for them. Oh yeah, you can help the various residents of the city and this helps build your friendship… if you can find them that is. Now, some of the characters are easy to find as they work in the shops. As an example, there’s a girl called Blair who works in the gaming shop. So if I ever need to find Blair, I just go to the gaming shop when it is open and there she is. But when the gaming shop is closed at night or weekends, Blair could be anywhere. So let’s say you have done a job for Blair and need to return to her, if the shop is open, fine, there she is. But if it is closed, you’ll have to play a game of hide and seek to try to find her. There are characters who don’t work in shops and are next to impossible to find as they could be anywhere in any of the three regions. The residents do have their own houses, so just go to their house to find them eh? Now, while you can go to their homes, you can’t enter them nor can you call on them. The houses are just there for absolutely no reason whatsoever and are in no way interactive or serve any purpose. Seriously, I spent three in-game weeks trying to track down one character to finish a job I was given and even then, I only found them via pure dumb luck when walking around the streets.

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I’m even willing to admit that exploring the city was kind of fun… ignoring the camera issues, etc. Meeting new people, making friends and so on. There’s actually quite a lot to see and do. You can go to the gym, as an example, and work out. When you do, you increase your energy, which means you can make more content as making videos reduces your energy meter fast. Anyway, the workouts you do in the gym are let down by just bashing one button over and over. Want to lift some weights? Just bash a single button. Want to use the running machine? Just bash the same single button. Want to use the heavy bag? Guess what… just bash the very same single button again. The gym is a prime example of a wasted opportunity for some actual varied gameplay. There are multiple exercises to do in the gym, but they all play exactly the same way just bashing the same button over and over.

Why couldn’t the exercises all use different mechanics? Okay yeah, bashing a button to do the running makes sense. But why not a Simon Says type thing for the heavy bag where you have to repeat a pattern? Why not use the analogue sticks to lift weights and so on? You know differing gameplay mechanics based on each of the gym’s pieces of equipment, instead of the same bashing the same single button over and over? You can kind of go fishing too… kind of. You buy a fishing rod and a tackle box then go to a fishing spot and fish. The main problem here is that there is no mini-game or any kind of interaction to the fishing, you just press a button and watch the animation of your character fishing. Not only that, there is only one specific spot in the entire game where you can fish, despite the fact that there is a whole beach area and docks in the game. This is another example of the bland and barebones, minimalistic style of gameplay at use in YouTubers Life 2. Honestly, there was scope here for a pretty good game, but it’s just swamped in mediocrity and uninspired gameplay. 

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Another thing that annoyed me was that you can’t do a lot of the things that famous YouTubers actually do. You can’t make deeply racist and anti-Semitic comments. You can’t go to Japan, film and laugh at the corpse of someone who sadly committed suicide. You can’t groom minors and ask them to send you sexually suggestive pictures. You can’t fake your girlfriend’s death to get  sympathy and subscribers. You can’t accept advertising deals from crappy pay-to-win games, to then entice young and impressionable teenagers to gamble. You can’t encourage kids to eat laundry detergent. You can’t even make half-arsed and management-forced, meaningless ‘apology’ videos in an attempt to hold onto any sponsors because all you care about is making money, to then have your deplorable actions swept under the carpet, while the ‘fans’ just forget that you’re actually a pretty disgusting and horrible human. You can’t even take part in clearly staged ‘boxing matches’ against retired, over the hill boxers and make a mockery of the sport along the way. And really, if you can’t do any of that, is this truly a YouTubers sim? No sir, no it isn’t.

As I said at the start of this, I’m in my mid-forties. Trust me, I’m fully aware that I’m about three decades outside of the target audience for this game. However, my age doesn’t mean I can’t see how bad this game is. I have two small children and as I played YouTubers Life 2, I kept asking myself if I’d let my kids play it. Honestly, no I wouldn’t. This is an empty and vapid title with a message that is basically telling you that all that matters is being popular and making money. Games can be aimed at a younger audience and yet still be good you know. Younger gamers deserve good and quality games just as us old ‘uns do.

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I also said earlier that I spent my teenage years playing business sims that taught me things I could apply in the real world. No, my playing Theme Park when I was an older teen wouldn’t mean I could go on to become CEO of Disney Parks. Playing SimCity as a 13-year-old wouldn’t make me mayor of my home city either. But those games did teach me about profits and loss, budgets, about staff management and more. Basic skills that I could hone and actually apply in my adult life in jobs I had… and I did too. YouTubers Life 2 just teaches you how to be a shallow and selfish prick chasing fame, money and internet likes. It’s all really rather insipid, so I guess it does that bit right about being a real YouTuber at least.

Okay, I’m going to turn off the sarcasm and tone down the vitriol (slightly) for this bit of the review. This could’ve been a good or even a great game, in fact. On paper, YouTubers Life 2 really is a fantastic concept. A proper YouTube sim where you actually do manage your brand. Actual gameplay where you have to film and edit your videos. I don’t mean deep editing but if you have ever played the overlooked The Movies from 2005 then you’d get the general idea. I mean, I can pick up my phone right now, film something and then use the phone’s editing tools to edit the footage. Why not include something like that here? How about fictional video games you could play in-game for your content? Take a quick peek at the awesome looking Arcade Paradise as an example, with over thirty different fictional arcade games that you can actually play within the game. Even when taking a photo to upload to this game’s version of Instagram, it doesn’t matter how bad the picture is, as long as it has the popular hashtags in it, it’ll be getting likes. Seriously, you can take a picture of the back of your head and it’ll be liked. Here’s a quick example of what I mean:

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This is a photo I took of a few famous YouTubers (see the hashtags) in the sport shop. However, I purposely framed it so the scenery would be in the way and so that you can’t even see the YouTubers in the picture. I uploaded it and it got over 100,000 likes despite being a badly shot picture. It doesn’t matter what the picture actually looks like, you can take a picture of the floor, a tree trunk, the brickwork of a building, it really doesn’t matter. As long as it has popular hashtags, that crappy picture is getting thousands of likes. This was a perfect opportunity to show players how to take a good and properly framed photo, you know an actual gameplay mechanic that could teach some skills. Seriously, YouTubers Life 2 could’ve been pretty damn good if they put any effort into the gameplay. Instead, it’s a game that treats the player as if they’re a braindead imbecile. There’s nothing here except asinine, seen it all before, outdated mini-games and button-mashing.

And don’t give me any of that ‘film editing or taking photos is too advanced for younger gamers’ bollocks. This is aimed at young teens and I was playing games far more advanced than this when I was that age and managed just fine. I learned basic skills from more involved games that I could apply in my real life. Just imagine if YouTubers Life 2 taught youngsters the skills to… I don’t know… make YouTube content! Or at least gave them the basic tools and skills that they could then go on to improve on and refine themselves. But I don’t think the developers were at all bothered about making an engaging and interesting title, they just wanted to make a title that idiots would buy because PewDiePie is in it.

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Going around the city and meeting people, making friends, doing jobs could’ve been great. A kind of Animal Crossing set in the world of social media, if you will. This game had some serious scope and a blueprint to really be an appealing and enjoyable title… but it isn’t, it’s just so damn shallow and mundane that you will begin to question why it even exists. Even when you are doing jobs around the city for the residents, it’s really nothing more than overused fetch quests for 99% of the time. That is what is pissing me off so much about YouTubers Life 2, it really is a wasted opportunity and in all honesty, it could’ve been good. It could’ve been a brilliant little game that taught youngsters about brand management and basic editing, etc, in a simplified but still educational and fun way. Instead, it’s just a shit and lazy cash-grab with the absolute bare minimum of gameplay. As I said, this is a cheap tappy-tap mobile game being sold as an actual console game.

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I’ve played a lot of this too, a great many hours just so I could see as much of the game as I could. I played through an entire in-game year. See, a year in this game is split into four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and each season has 29 (I think) in-game days. So I played 116 in-game days of YouTubers Life 2, which is collectively a fuck ton of hours. I’ve seen pretty much everything this game has to offer in terms of gameplay… and it is very, very little. It’s also ridiculously easy. I was in the top 10 YouTubers about halfway through the autumn season and to be honest, I wasn’t really trying. My character had so much money that I had nothing much to spend it on. I had fully upgraded my house, bought and upgraded all of the content creation tools I needed, got the bronze, silver, gold and diamond awards from ‘NewTube’. I had helped pretty much every resident in the town and saw out almost all of their stories (when I could find them). Honestly, save a few minor things, I have seen everything that YouTubers Life 2 has to offer as a game and it really is very, very little.

Now for my review finale, I always look at what the game is being sold for and decide if it’s worth paying. I honestly wasn’t going to do that here as this game is not worth playing at any price. I got my review code for free and I feel ripped off. I might contact the publisher and ask for my time back. However, curiosity got the better of me and I just had to take a look…

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How much, £35? Fuck off with that! Content-wise, this game is worth about £2 at the most… £5 if you are really stupid. As a quick comparison, not in any way meaning to compare the game’s themes, just the value for money. I recently reviewed the amazing UnMetal. A game crammed full of gameplay, brilliant writing and loads of replay value. UnMetal is being sold for around £15 to £17 (depending on the platform). Here’s YouTubers Life 2 asking for more than double that for a game that has about 1% of the gameplay value? The only reason this has such a high price tag is because of the famous YouTubers in it, got to pay their license fees somehow eh? Even more worrying, this is called YouTubers Life 2, meaning there was another game before it. So these games are making money, otherwise, a sequel would never have happened. Seriously people, stop buying shit like this, the gaming world does not need a YouTubers Life 3.

Do I recommend YouTubers Life 2? Yes, I recommend you tell the world it is utter crap and to stay away from it. There are far better games out there for younger gamers and titles that don’t treat their target audience as complete braindead zombies. ‘Ohhhh, popular YouTuber in this, must buy’. No, please for the love of whatever deity you wish to believe in, do not subject your children to this utter dross. Have some respect for your offspring and get them a good game instead. 

Game Review: Xuan-Yuan Sword VII

I must admit as to losing interest in the RPG genre in recent years. I don’t really have the time to invest dozens and dozens of hours into games these days and RPGs do tend to go on a bit too long for my personal taste. Still, this game came up for review and I thought why not give it a go? Developed by Softstar Entertainment Inc. and DOMO Studio, published by Eastasiasoft Limited comes Xuan-Yuan Sword VII. A game franchise that I know absolutely nothing about. Just from a quick bit of research, it seems this series dates back to 1990, a thirty-one-year pedigree… and I’ve never heard of it until now. Even more so, despite the VII in the title, there are more than seven games released in those three decades. This is just the seventh game in the main series within the franchise, with fourteen titles in total.

The first thing to cover is that Xuan-Yuan Sword VII isn’t a full-on RPG, it’s more of an action-RPG. Yeah, it is still an RPG but there’s a big emphasis on action too that keeps the gameplay moving along. I’d even say it plays more like the Yakuza games in that regard and takes place in a semi-open world environment. You play as Taishi Zhao, a notable swordsman and mercenary who is trying to protect his little sister from warring factions, political upheaval and even plague outbreaks set in the pages of Chinese history and mythology. When Zhao’s sister is mortally wounded, you set out to save her life using magical powers. Oh, there’s quite a bit more to the story than that, I just wanted to cover the bare basics there.

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There’s a ton to unwrap when it comes to the story and Xuan-Yuan Sword VII features a lot of cutscenes and very lengthy and sprawling conversations that help to fill in backstories and more. The exposition here would make Hideo Kojima nod his head in respect. The opening few hours of the game are a very lengthy slog before you do see any real action. The combat is fairly easy to understand and use. Light, heavy and special/magic attacks, there’s a dodge and block, then you just lock onto enemies and away you go. It’s a simple but effective combat system that you’ve seen and used dozens of times by now. There’s also a little base building element as you can upgrade your home, which can then be used to improve your weapons, items and more. 

There is a lot of traversing through the map… a lot. Despite the world not being the biggest I’ve seen in a game, it’s quite awkward to navigate with the semi-open world lending way to a lot of linear paths that almost become maze-like as you go from one location to another. Thankfully, Xuan-Yuan Sword VII does offer a fast travel system that does help to make navigating the map slightly less annoying. There’s not a huge amount to say about this game, it’s an action-RPG much like every other action-RPG on the market. It may not be my cup of tea, but I can certainly see an appeal here and there is plenty to keep you busy once you get past the very slow opening 2-3 hours. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is a title that doesn’t do anything fundamentally wrong but it’s also a game that really fails to do anything to stand out either. It’s a perfectly fine game and very playable.

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In terms of looks, this is technically a last-gen game that has been given a slight bit of polish and released on the latest consoles. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII looks good and unless you really, really set about looking for issues, you’ll not really find any. the scenery is lush and everything looks authentic, as if they’ve fallen right out of the pages of a Chinese history book. Character models look great and are nicely detailed too.

Xuan-Yuan Sword VII is being sold for around the £43 mark on consoles and that feels too high a price point to me. While I’ll openly admit that the RPG genre is one I’m not all that interested in anymore, I am interested in value for money. Xuan-Yuan Sword VII can be finished in around 20 hours (even with exploring and doing side quests) or less and I don’t think charging £40+ for an RPG that is this relatively short is worth it. That’s almost a full-priced AAA title price range and this title is a smaller/indie game. What is here is enjoyable and if you’re a bigger RPG fan than me, then you’ll most probably get a lot more out of this than I did.

(Guest) Game Review: Phoenix Point

Becoming somewhat of a regular contributor now, Dave Corn is back with another guest game review. This time Dave takes a look at Phoenix Point developed and published by Snapshot Games. A spiritual successor to the awesome turn-based XCOM franchise of games, with Snapshot Games being headed up by Julian Gollop, the creator of the original XCOM titles. Personally speaking, as a big fan of X-COM, I’m looking forward to what Dave has to say about this one.

Since starting to write reviews with my friends on our Facebook group (Lockdown Gaming), the games I have written about so far have all been relatively easy to play and review. Fairly straightforward titles and certainly non-intimidating… with Phoenix Point, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. Originally released back in 2019 for PC, this year saw the game released on console. From the developer behind the XCOM series, Snapshot Games, Phoenix Point sticks to their trademark and much-loved mix of strategy, tactics and an almost Fallout style attack method in attacking individual limbs, but more on that later.

First up, the plot. The year is 2047 and Earth is in the middle of a devastating alien virus, a virus that scientists accidentally released from a long-frozen state. Called the Pandora virus, when it comes into contact with human or animal life, they mutate into murderous creatures that eventually completely overwhelm the planet. This is where the player comes in. You start the game as a member of Phoenix Project, a secretive organisation that is called upon to try and save humanity from the threat of annihilation.

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There are four different branched groups that you can play as during the course of the game. Revealing too much detail on these would verge on spoilers to the plot, so I’ll not divulge too much here. Each faction offers its own story elements as well as certain perks and abilities, which helps keeps the game from becoming too repetitive. The gameplay is very much in keeping with the developer’s previous work on XCOM and as such, is pretty complex (in fact Phoenix Point takes this to a whole new level in places). It’s also worth noting that the combat does feature an interesting real-time element, one I touched on earlier where you can select certain bodies parts of your enemies in a similar way to Fallout. This really does keep the combat fresh and interesting, instead of the previous point and click of a lot of games in this genre before it.

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Perhaps the most interesting aspect in this game, one that distinguishes it from other similar titles in the genre, is the mutation system, this is where this game really shines. Along with an impressive A.I. that noticeably learns from your decisions against it, the virus mutates its targets around it to adapt to you as a threat. This means that procedurally generated enemies are made in direct response to your play style, in between turn-based moves, the enemy adapts and comes back tougher than before, always learning for your playstyle.

What does this mean in reality? Frustration but also a shock and awe in what the game is going to throw at you next, it keeps surprising you and depending on the location of level, the mutation uses the surroundings to change itself too. For example: you are fighting a mutated African militia and winning, so the virus mutates lions with humans to makes its forces stronger.

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Usually, this really wouldn’t be my kind of game at all. Taking a lot of time and effort to sink into it to see any kind of progression. But having a fair bit of time on my hands recently, I honestly found myself really enjoying Phoenix Point, to the point that I have even ordered a copy of XCOM 2 (good choice, it’s awesome – Steve). Graphically, Phoenix Point really looks great (surprising to me as the turn-based genre always made these games basically living board games to me) and it most certainly shines on PS4.

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For fans of the developer’s previous titles, you should have no fear jumping into this. However, if you’re new to the genre, then I’d definitely suggest you try one of the cheaper XCOM titles first to see if you like the style as it is a genre that definitely won’t be for everyone. In conclusion and probably the most obvious statement ever, Phoenix Point is a great game, but only for the right audience.