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Author: Rick Lane

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Transport Fever 2 review – simple pleasures offer copious fuel for fun

PC; Urban Games/Good Shepard EntertainmentThere’s much joy to be had building freight networks and watching cities grow … but what about the real-world pitfalls?As Britain returns to a daily commute beset with fare hikes and failing rail companies, the…

Gears 5 review – thrills, kills and belly laughs in a refreshing reboot

PC; Xbox OneA female protagonist, comedy one-liners and increased tactical options bring subtlety without sacrificing adrenalinThe Gears of War series has made me laugh many times over the years, but Gears 5 may be the first time it’s done so on purpos…

Mortal Kombat 11 review – the best, goriest, fighting game in years

Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch; NetherRealm Studios/Warner Bros Interactive
The extreme violence will deter some, but this over-the-top fighter has brains as well as shock value

I never expected Mortal Kombat to show this much heart – at least, not in the metaphorical sense. In the 90s, Mortal Kombat made its name with its infamously grisly fighting, particularly its absurdly violent “Fatality” finishers, where just about every vital organ could be punched, ripped, cleaved or shot out of a character’s body as if it were a meaty piñata.

In Mortal Kombat 11, these gory finishing moves are more creative and more depraved than ever, to the point where shooting an opponent into a helicopter’s whirling rotors seems tame. Yet amid all that spilled viscera, Mortal Kombat 11 also displays a cunning fighting brain and a surprising amount of soul.

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Anthem review – a tedious and conservative dirge

PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4; BioWare, EA
BioWare’s shooter jets promisingly into battle on a stunning alien world, but what unfolds is patchy

Anthem seeks to infuse co-operative shooting with the nuanced storytelling that has made its developer, BioWare, one of the world’s most respected – and in doing so, it takes copious notes from Bungie’s colourful sci-fi shooter Destiny. It’s an intriguing gamble, but sadly, Anthem proves to be depressingly hollow.

Initially all seems well, as Anthem sensibly front-loads its strongest features. The game takes place on an alien planet subject to perpetual cataclysms, and players assume the role of heroic mercenaries, using their powerful Javelin mech suits to fight the dangerous creatures that appear in their wake. This world is visually stunning, beyond almost anything we’ve seen in the current generation of video games. The planet’s surface appears to have been shattered and then hastily cobbled back together, as if some divine baker has tried to rescue an enormous dropped meringue. It’s a place where lush rainforests cling to vertiginous rock formations and perch on towering white mesas, while sparkling waterfalls pour down cliff-faces hundreds of feet high.

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Metro Exodus review – embers of hope burn in postapocalyptic Russia

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC; 4A Games/Deep Silver
The latest in the survivalist shooter game series takes you out of Moscow on a touching, tragic and engaging journey

Based on the novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky, Metro games have strived to define themselves by offering a more believable nuclear apocalypse, where you’re as likely to be killed by a crack in your gas mask or a pocket of radiation as you are by a gun-toting bandit or a terrifying mutant. Up to this point, that attention to detail has been mostly confined to the dark tunnels of the Moscow subway system, only fleetingly braving the irradiated and highly dangerous surface above.

With Metro Exodus, 4A Games expands the scope significantly, taking the player out of Moscow on a grand and perilous journey east. The result is a breathtaking and personal tale about the interplay between faith and survival.

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Game over, or not: what became of Steam’s first Early Access games?

In 2013, Steam players were first offered the option to pay for unfinished games. We uncover the fate of that first wave of titles – some of which were never released

On 6 December 2018, game developer Chris Hunt’s magnum opus was finally complete. Hunt had been working on Kenshi, in which players navigate a tribe of people through a strange, low-tech alien world, for more than 10 years. You might think finishing it would be a huge milestone in Hunt’s career. But if anything, the opposite is true.

“No one was really bothered by the official release, because nothing will change,” says Hunt, who speaks in a laid-back, laconic fashion that makes him seem affable and yet strangely distant. “People kept saying, ‘Ah, don’t release it too soon.’ I think they were worried that I was going to leave it buggy or incomplete.”

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Hitman 2 review – virtual violence takes a stealthy turn

PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC; IO Interactive/Warner Bros
Assassination missions that reward subterfuge – such as wearing a giant flamingo suit or loosening a racing driver’s wheel – make this a surprisingly creative sequel

Despite boldly proclaiming its murderous intentions, Hitman 2 is as much about the avoidance of killing as the pursuit of it. Assassination is merely the full stop in a much longer, player-driven story that rewards careful planning and punishes thoughtlessness ruthlessly. The game encourages you to think big and act small – the best weapon is usually not a weapon at all.

Hitman 2 offers half a dozen assassination puzzles for players to unpick. This may sound slight compared with 100-hour epics such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption 2, but each is a clockwork diorama that can be exploited and manipulated in dozens, possibly hundreds of ways. One is a sprawling chunk of Miami’s marina, thronged with people attending a glitzy supercar race. Later missions include a bustling Mumbai market and an idyllic slice of American suburbia, where golden maple trees and neatly tended lawns conceal darker secrets in basements and attics.

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Marvel’s Spider-Man review – a perfect superhero in an imperfect world

PS4; Insomniac Games/Sony
Spidey swings through the canyons of Manhattan in eye-popping style, but the set-piece supervillain showdowns are confused and messy

Marvel may have dominated superhero cinema since the first Avengers movie, but in the land of video games, DC remains king. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) still represents the high-water mark for superhero gaming. Its near-perfect balance of sneaking around behind goons’ backs, puzzle solving, and pugilistic combat outclasses even its larger, more ambitious sequels.

Now, though, the caped crusader has a worthy rival from the Marvel camp in the form of Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man. Many years and millions of dollars have been invested in Insomniac’s tribute to the web-slinger from Queens, and the result is undoubtedly the finest portrayal of a virtual superhero to date. Yet while Spider-Man shines, the world around him struggles to give him exciting ways to exercise his powers.

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