Giant robots. Stick those two words in front of one another, in that order, and something deep in the human brain lights up. Make them fight one another (what else are they good for, after all?), and you might even get an involuntary squeak of delight. This game is about nothing but enormous mechs punching, kicking, and shooting one another; but something’s not quite right. And I’m not talking about the wrestler fish with nipples the size of transit vans.

To understand what Override 2 is, it helps to understand what it isn’t. It’s a beat ‘em up and, sure, that immediately tells you a lot about the experience. Given the clear influence certain Japanese movies and TV shows have had (this sequel wears its heart on its huge metal sleeve with Ultraman DLC), you’d be forgiven for expecting something akin to an anime beat ‘em up. The speed is a far cry from the lightning pace of such games, however; and while 20 mechs to choose from is a decent selection, it’s not a patch on the encyclopedic cast of, say, a Naruto title.

It’s no Street Fighter, either. Generally speaking, each mech is limited to four to six special moves and an ultimate, no one of which can be chained smoothly into another. Some basic punch and kick combos are possible, but nothing particularly lengthy or flashy. With each arm and leg assigned to a separate button, it’s closer to Tekken than anything else, although the system here lacks the depth and flexibility of Bandai Namco’s legendary series.

The game you’d expect Override 2 to resemble most closely is, well… Override 1. Which it does. Sort of. The first game didn’t exactly set the fighting game scene alight, but it was full of great ideas ripe for further development. A story mode about repelling kaiju, balancing quick but weak strikes with charged, more powerful blows, a co-op mode where up to four people controlled the same mech, a heat meter that prevents constant button bashing—none of which is present here.

Bots and pieces

Override 2 moves along on the unpredictable trolley wheels of bizarre design decisions, the most noticeable of which is the one to drop almost everything that made the first game interesting and unique. With a little tweaking, the combination of giant monsters and co-op mech piloting could have given us the quality Pacific Rim tribute that the first game had in its sights. Sadly, that was not to be. 

Instead of a story mode, there is Leagues, an awkward and underwhelming hybrid of online and offline gameplay. There’s chatter from your ‘agent’ between matches—the idea is that the mechs are fighting in a kind of future sport—but it’s thoroughly uninteresting, and fails to tell any kind of coherent story. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if Leagues was… you know…. better.

Each game mode is presented as its own league. The idea, basically, is that you repeatedly play matches in each to work your way up from F to S. You also earn in-game cash as you go, with bonuses won for meeting optional objectives such as blocking a set number of hits. This currency is used for unlocking more mechs for use in Leagues, as well as customisation bits and bobs. I never feel the need to do much customising, though. I’m simply not invested enough to care what picture is used for my avatar, and the majority of mech decoration is limited to different coloured arms, legs, etc.

After each match, a random selection of game modes are made available to play, rather than all of them. Why? I have no idea. It’s yet another inexplicable decision. It certainly doesn’t help in the game’s greatest challenge; finding somebody to play against. Each time you trigger a match in Leagues, Override 2 tries to find online opponents for you, with the option to skip the search and battle bots instead. Despite playing across several different days, I only once found a human opponent.

Circuit breaker

The painfully small number of people playing at any one time perhaps can’t be helped in a niche game, but the fragmentation and distribution of modes could’ve been. There’s a Quick Play option at the main menu to jump into any available game, but I’m not sure if this includes Leagues matches. Either way, it didn’t help.

The struggles are a shame because, once you dig past the baffling design decisions and inexplicable omissions from the first game, there’s a decent fighter in Override 2. The mechs (most of which return from the first game, largely unchanged) are all pleasingly unique and all play very differently. You wouldn’t expect a robot with a huge CRT monitor for a head to fight in the same way as a metal Roman centurion, after all. Well I wouldn’t, anyway.

Override 2 is a faster-paced fighter than the first game, and as a result, loses much of the sense of enormous, weighty mechs clashing. Initially, it feels a bit like a mindless button-basher. Combine the extremely limited combo opportunities with special moves activated by simply hitting two buttons at once, and there doesn’t seem to be much room for skill. Stick with it, though, and you’ll realise that’s not quite true.

There’s a split-second delay before the activation of each special move. As the attacker, you need to make sure that you don’t leave yourself vulnerable. As the defender, you can use that briefest of pauses to block or, better yet, reposition yourself to counterattack. Even the basic element of throwing your opponent can work to your advantage in ways you won’t find in other beat ‘em ups. Arenas contain environmental hazards and, in modes with more than two players, fallen mechs explode after a short time. Time a thrown metallic corpse correctly for a satisfying advantage.

My favourite map is Cakeland. Wonderfully silly name? Check. Strawberries big enough to crush a large family? Check. Sections of the ground that move up and down? Also check. Moving platforms such as this add another layer of strategy, and it’s a shame that they’re not used in more of the game. They limit when and where certain moves can be used effectively. 

Needs rust

One thing that’s survived from the first game is the scattering of limited-use weapons across the maps. This doesn’t add as much as you might hope, and in fact, the game is at its best when you ignore them. Guns feel unfair thanks to generous auto-targeting, and melee weapons tend to be too slow, or afford you an unfairly long reach.

Returning to Leagues, most of the modes can be classified as simple 1v1, 2v2, or 1v1v1v1 fights. The two most interesting deviations are Control—a mode for four players, where the mech which stays inside a shrinking, moving circle for the longest wins (so long as they survive)—and Xenoswarm. The latter is the most challenging mode as the game currently stands. With multiple alien mechs after you (none of which, sadly, are playable), it’s a fight for survival that asks more of you than usual.

In fact, Xenoswarm’s challenge serves to highlight the damage that a lack of players is doing to Override 2. This mode’s difficulty comes solely from the fact that there are more opponents than usual to defeat before the match ends. In any other mode, it’s painfully clear that the AI isn’t quite up to scratch. Whack it up to maximum, and opponents are more aggressive—and pay more attention to the randomly placed glowing circle that slowly charges Ultimate meters—but still doesn’t require mastery of the systems to overcome. There is a good fighter in there somewhere, but it’s difficult to see when you’re stuck with bots that are only putting in a half-hearted effort. 

It really is a shame, because I have a genuine fondness for many of the mechs. One of my favourites is the returning Metageckon, who is basically Mechagodzilla but red. I mean, come on. A robot dinosaur? If you don’t think that’s cool, you’re dead to me.

Other mechs include a giant robot unicorn (that stands on two legs), a breakdancing frog, a mech that could have fallen straight out of Power Rangers, and that wrestling fish with star-shaped metal nipples that I really can’t get over. It may fall short in several other areas, but Override 2 gives its mechs character in spades.

There’s a solid fighting foundation here and, sometimes, you can see it in moments of victory (or even rare instances of defeat) when you find a perfect counter to an attack, or fail due to sloppiness. In fact, this would be good for bouts of family fun; and that’s no snide, backhanded compliment. The overarching simplicity opens the experience up to people of varying skill levels and familiarity with videogame controls (for brief sessions, if not enthusiastically lengthy ones). Beyond that, it’s difficult to recommend for now. It’s far from a terrible game—but it mechs no moves towards being a particularly good one, either.


I have built a lot of cities over the years, and I’ve given my citizens plenty of reasons to flee them. In Cities: Skylines, I flooded their homes in liquid poo; In Surviving Mars, I left them to suffocate; In Anno 1800—and this is the one that’s left me most ashamed—I failed to provide them with enough sausages. Airborne Kingdom, however, is the first city builder where I’ve lost people because the city was leaning too much. 

Before this became a review, my plan was to play an hour of Airborne Kingdom to get some gifs, but instead it ended up stealing most of a day, with me finally leaving my floating metropolis at midnight. And then I kept coming back. I’m an easy mark for a city builder and rarely manage to escape their grasp quickly, but Airborne Kingdom lodges itself in its own niche thanks to some unusual experiments and its spectacular style. 

The basics are familiar and conventional: you build simple production chains and infrastructure to fulfil the needs of the city and its denizens, with the demands of both getting more complicated as you expand. Power, food, factories, morale-boosting diversions—there’s loads to build, but you’ll recognise all the categories. All this is happening in the sky, though, and that’s a pretty substantial wrinkle.

Airborne Kingdom doesn’t feature any combat or even a whiff of conflict, at least not with other people. The war against gravity, though, never ends. Physics is a constant obstacle, and more than anything else it’s that force of nature that determines your city’s layout. You start out with just a little town centre, gently bobbing away in the sky, perfectly balanced. But once you start placing houses, hangars for your planes and towering minarets, it’s going to start sinking, so you’ll need to generate more lift. And you’re going to need to make sure it’s all even.  

Too much tilt and your citizens will peace out. And who can blame them? Nobody wants to live in a place where they have to nail down their furniture, or where they’re greeted by a view of the ground, miles below them, every time they look out the window. They can stomach a little bit of tilt, but I can’t. It just looks like a disaster waiting to happen. And it only takes one little building to push it over the edge. 

Since you have to find and directly recruit your citizens, their loss can sting, and you might end up left with too few people to work or explore, necessitating some unwelcome downsizing as you destroy buildings and try to plan your comeback. They’re a precious resource, but it’s coal that keeps your city aloft. All your most important components burn through the stuff, and unlike other resources it can only be stored in one location, limiting how much you can stockpile. Without that resource, the city’s done for—sadly it’s a bit too heavy to gently float to the ground. https://gfycat.com/ifr/gorgeousanotherhog

Physics ends up being an excellent replacement for terrain. Geography is a defining feature of a city, and thus city builders, but it loses its impact when you can soar above it all. You’ve got infinite space, but thanks to physics you can just keep expanding in whatever direction you want. You have to build methodically, and then make lots of little adjustments. If the city is lying a bit low, maybe chuck in a new fan or some wings. If all the new buildings are creating too much drag, some more propellers could give you a bit more propulsion. All of these things require resources, workers and space, of course, which might inspire yet more adjustments. 

These limitations have forced me to spend a lot more time considering how my city should grow, and it means no section is ever really complete—I’m always redesigning them. The result is something dynamic and organic, constantly shifting to meet new needs. I had a plan for how I wanted my city to look, and it now looks nothing like my vision. Instead it’s something built out of my reactions to imminent disasters, my experiments, my experiments to fix the problems created by my previous experiments, and a few cosmetic flourishes. It’s a bit of a mess, but I love it.  

The world below still plays an important role. It’s where all your resources are found. Absolutely everything you need to build with, continue flying and keep your people alive is found on the ground, and you can explore the entirety of the map at your leisure. To keep your city fuelled and fed, you’ll have to constantly stay on the move, sending down workers in planes to gather up what you need. While Airborne Kingdom doesn’t lean into its survival elements as much as, say, Surviving Mars, the relationship between the world and the survival mechanics is as strong as it is with a pure survival game.

Instead of giving you more places to build, the world exists to be explored. There are small settlements and cities waiting to be discovered and traded with, plenty of hidden bounties, and a few secrets that can be used to unlock wonders that will make your already very impressive city even more enviable. The map is presented as a literal map, with little embellishments like curling, torn edges, and provides just as much eye candy as the city. 

Despite dabbling in survival management, Airborne Kingdom maintains a relaxing pace. There are complications, crises and plenty of ways to cock everything up, but the first biome has all the resources you need in abundance, letting you build up a nice stockpile, and while scarcity can become an issue, you can return to a less challenging area pretty quickly and recuperate. For the most part, it’s light and breezy. Those aren’t typically adjectives I seek out in management games, but it’s really kept me too focused on scouring the map and working on my own projects to notice that the challenges are infrequent and tension rare. 

Importantly, this pleasant pace gives you plenty of room to flex your creative muscles. You’re not just building a city—you’re creating a weird architectural marvel. While there are plenty of concerns that will shape your city, you’re also free to follow your aesthetic tastes. This goes beyond building placement, too, since you’ll uncover lots of paint schemes that you can apply to buildings individually, by type, or all at once. Much like Oskar Stålberg’s enchanting Townscaper, you can approach city design as an artist as well as a planner. 

Sometimes I like to just slow things down to a crawl and stare at my magnificent creation. It’s constantly buzzing with life, from the narrow streets, to the skies around the city. Even the buildings can’t sit still, and they have a tendency to flap and spin and generally make the city look like a madcap contraption built by an out of control toymaker. It’s hypnotic, though I suspect actually living there would be a lot like living in a carnival that never ends, perpetually surrounded by weird noises and arcane machines, which sounds quite stressful. 

The only place the breeziness becomes a problem is when you’re dealing with other cities. See, your ultimate goal is to create your airborne kingdom by forging alliances with all the cities on the ground, unifying the world. It seems ambitious, when in fact it’s a doddle. You fly up to a city, find out what it needs, get directed to the exact spot you’ll find that thing, and then—after depositing some resources—you’re best buds. The process never changes or spurts out any surprises. Every quest feels like an afterthought.  

Nobody seems to have any concerns about this flying city appearing out of nowhere and making everyone join its empire, either. Once you’ve added a city to your list of allies, you never really need to think about it again. Your allies are always content. Airborne Kingdom never really explores its premise or lets you question your objectives. You don’t need to make hard calls or worry about becoming a tyrant, because you’re always presented as a benevolent force that everyone wants to be mates with.  

The ground-based cities also serve as trade hubs, offering up a long list of resources you can barter for. It’s handy in a pinch, but I never found myself needing to go on spending sprees and only went shopping once or twice. The whole system really just seems to exist for emergencies, and there’s no economy to interact with. You won’t be creating trading routes or trying to turn a profit. The cities value different things, so you do need to think about where you’re shopping, but it doesn’t get much more involved than that. 

I can understand, however, why The Wandering Band might have been hesitant to bog the game down with more complications. It’s already got countless buildings, resources, an elaborate tech tree and plenty of novelties demanding your attention, and all of that has impressively been squeezed inside a game that you can wrap up in ten hours. Surprisingly little has been sacrificed to make it something you can devour over a weekend. And you can spend a lot longer with it if you fancy. 

Before I made my final ally, I spent ages just repainting my city. I kept changing my mind. Sometimes I wanted uniformity, but then I’d get the notion to just throw random colours out there to see how it looked. There was a lot of clashing. A pink roof, red walls and green floors? Fine by me. I guess I’m a bad king, but in very mundane ways that don’t lead to an execution—especially since nobody has invented a guillotine yet. I made every building bright blue once, but I’ve never let my people starve. Well, not for long. 


When Dead By Daylight released in 2016, it was received as an outrageously silly Halloween romp, a game to enjoy with friends who wanted to indulge in a brief, terrifying blood orgy before migrating to other, more refined multiplayer experiences. The premise is simple: Four players take the roles of survivors stuck in a ghastly, Saw-like bloodsport, repairing generators to power an exit gate before hightailing it to safety. The fifth player is a killer, either adopted wholecloth from a prominent horror franchise or heavily inspiredby one. The killer’s job is to prevent the survivors from escaping, impaling them on ghastly meathooks and leaving them for a mysterious eldritch force known only as The Entity. It’s pure camp—a cinematic murder simulator—that delivers gauche slasher glee. What I don’t think anyone saw coming was for Dead By Daylight to mature into one of the best cooperative and competitive multiplayer experiences around.

In the five years since Behaviour Interactive released Dead by Daylight on Steam, the game has developed razor-sharp mechanical intrigue, an ultra-complex web of versatile builds and strategies, and a diverse suite of characters, each equipped with relative strengths and weaknesses. What was a comedy-horror romp mutated into something much closer to League of Legends and Dota 2 in terms of depth. It may be bewildering to consider that hardcore players can spend months scrutinizing the relative power-level and optimization path for Ghostface from Screambut that’s where Dead By Daylight finds itself at the beginning of 2021: an esports-worthy venture hosted by Freddy Kreuger, Bubba Sawyer, and Michael Myers.

This is the jostling, hedging, and pre-match sizing up of an uber-competitive MOBA or FPS.

Dead By Daylight launched with three distinct killers and a quartet of survivors. Their unique abilities oozed with character—The Hillbilly, for instance, can rev up his chainsaw into a murderous sprint—but the inflexibility of the roster ensured that the gauntlet played out in predictable ways. Nobody likes a villain who never alters their devious plan, right? But as of this writing, Dead by Daylight includes 22 killers and 24 survivors, each of whom offer radically different toolkits. 

Load up a match against The Huntress, a killer in a bloodstained bunny mask, and expect to dodge the twirling hatchets that she can chuck across wide swathes of the battlefield. Or perhaps you will face off against the famous Pyramid Head—yes, that one, from Silent Hill—who can banish his prey to Cages of Atonement, which are particularly annoying to escape. 

Players outfit their selected characters with complex perks and inventory add-ons—reducing cooldowns, boosting the effectiveness of certain abilities, guaranteeing that there will always be one last trick up your sleeve—which form a phalanx of calculated meta decisions in the game’s most ardent community. It is not uncommon to see a player recognizing a tough matchup in their team comp against the ordained killer, and utilizing a reagent to juice the odds of the game selecting a certain map that they deem to be unfavorable for the opponent. This is the jostling, hedging, and pre-match sizing up of an uber-competitive MOBA or FPS, somehow filtered into a beer-and-pretzels horror game.WHY REVIEW IT NOW?

Waiting nearly five years to review a game is a little unusual, but Dead by Daylight has only become more relevant since it launched in 2016, evolving into one of the best multiplayer games you can play today. The only thing stopping us from examining that evolution in a (very late) scored review was convention, and DBD’s enduring popularity made bypassing convention an easy decision.

This isn’t the first time we’ve revisited an older game with a new review. Back in 2018, we re-reviewed a selection of games that had likewise evolved over time, including Hearthstone and EVE Online.

If you’ve never played Dead By Daylightthis might feel like overkill to you. It’s easy to be exhausted by what we’ll call “progression creep” in modern gaming. Every time we boot up something new on Steam, we’re thrown into a morass of reedy systems—multiple in-game currencies piling up in the top-right corner of the screen, daily log-in bonuses exploding in the menu, flash sales glistening in the store—that can make the days before the MMOification of everything seem especially sweet. To be sure, Dead By Daylight is weighed down by some managerial heft—there are multiple experience tracks, unlocks, and talent trees to attend to—but I also believe that it earns the weight. The game has developed the ability to reward its minmaxing fussiness; that League of Legends-ish obsession to mess around with the Runes for hours before delving into Runeterra. 

The importance of all of those subtle choices becomes abundantly clear once you start playing against people who actually know what they’re doing. Dead by Daylight in its lowest tiers is charmingly rougish: a bunch of survivors running around like chicken with their heads cut off, and bumbling killers who can’t land a hit with their machete to save their lives. But then, after climbing the MMR, the true intricacies in Behaviour’s design reveal themselves.

The Killers, dastardly and ruthless as they are, play from the first-person and are saddled with limited fields of vision. Clever survivors, who are all equipped with third-person cameras, know that the best way to evade them is to find what the community calls a “loop”—a structure or clutter on the map that allows the players to hop through windows and dart back around through open doors over and over again without ever running into a dead end. The killer chases them through that loop in vain, realizing that for all their might, they will always be just out of reach. Eventually, killers attain the mechanical deftness to use those loops to their advantage. “She thinks for sure I’m going to chase her through the door again. What if I instead feint like I’m headed that way, but instead turn around and grab her when she jumps through the window?” 

Dead By Daylight is full of little mindgames like that—akin to Street Fighter and Tekken, where victory is claimed by an innate understanding of what your opponent thinks you’re going to do. It’s at its most invigorating after a long series of counterpunches, stacking up to the ceiling, until one player bungles their movement or lands a decisive blow. There’s scarcely a more satisfying sensation on PCs right now.

If you were pulling the same cheese in a tabletop RPG, you’d earn a sharp reprimanding from your dungeon master for ruining all of the fun.

It’s funny: Dead By Daylight remains a horror game, and there is still a paranoid thrill to skulking around the marshlands and repairing generators, but the more you learn its systems, the less scary it gets. High level players have simply gotten too good, and aren’t playing it like it was played back in 2016. 

I’ll give you an example. In every round, survivors will find certain corridors equipped with a wooden palette. They can throw that palette down in the middle of the killer’s pursuit, impeding their progress and even stunning them in their tracks if the timing is right. It’s a smart quirk, and it fits Dead By Daylight’s inspiration perfectly. But oftentimes, I see survivors camped out in front of palettes, staring directly at their stalker, waiting for them to cross the invisible line so they can drop it on their head. Boom. They teabag a few times before disappearing off into the darkness. It’s a smart strategy, mechanically speaking, but it possesses none of the fear that Dead By Daylight initially invoked. 

Similarly, killers can specifically target one survivor over and over again in order to eliminate them from the game, reducing the numbers disadvantage as early as possible. Again, a sound approach, but not one that feels reverent of the source material. If you were pulling the same cheese in a tabletop RPG, you’d earn a sharp reprimanding from your dungeon master for ruining all of the fun.

What you get depends on who you’re playing with, and that’s part of the beauty of Dead By Daylight and its knotty legacy. For as much praise as I’ve heaped on the competitive scene’s exhilarating cat-and-mouse dynamism, the game is equally enjoyable among a bunch of idiot friends—people who might be playing for the first time—who only want to run away from Leatherface on a Saturday night. In that case, the loftiness of Dead By Daylight’s game-theory intrigue becomes a distant afterthought, and the only thing that matters is the hushed tones between you and your brother as you slip by a murderer undetected. 

I can’t think of many other games that possess both sides of that dichotomy. League and Overwatch are far too steeped in stately precision to ever be charitable to bad play, and it’s impossible to bring a newcomer into Dota 2 without first forcing them to watch an hour-long tutorial video. Dead By Daylight, on the other hand, brilliantly has it both ways, never abandoning its gory slasher flick joys while still laying claim to a rich competitive environment. It’s both Halloween pastiche and Hereditary psychodrama. That, my friends, is a blockbuster.


With Twin Mirror, Dontnod has left time travel, telekinesis and mind-reading behind, stepping away from the supernatural themes of its previous games and switching it up for grounded psychological drama. A story of mystery and conspiracy is well within the Dontnod’s wheelhouse, but the studio’s first self-published game is unfortunately a little underwhelming. It starts out as a great detective mystery, but its unwillingness to explore difficult topics with any depth is a big issue.  

Twin Mirror follows former investigative journalist Sam Higgs as he returns to his hometown, Basswood, in West Virginia. After being MIA for two years, Sam’s visit is far from a celebratory event. He’s been informed that his best friend and fellow reporter Nick Waldron has passed away, so he drops by to pay his respects at the funeral. As Sam begins to explore his childhood home, he gets caught up in a bigger conspiracy involving his friend’s death and the mining town’s community and decides to follow the case until the end. The town isn’t Sam’s biggest fan. Before he bailed, he wrote an article exposing the lack of safety measures in the local mine, which led to it being shut down, leaving many people jobless and angry.

From Twin Mirror’s opening hour, it’s pretty clear that Dontnod has perfected the technique of laying out the foundations of a mystery. Before you attend the wake, Nick’s daughter, and Sam’s goddaughter, confides in him that she thinks something about her father’s death feels off. Shortly after, you’re introduced to the Basswood townsfolk, and with the idea of a conspiracy already worming its way into your brain, your investigation cap is firmly on as you begin to chat with the locals. It’s a great set-up, the stage is set and you’ve met all the players, so it immediately starts your mind racing about who could be involved and why.

For the first hour or two, I was genuinely excited to solve this small-town mystery. I love the aesthetic of Basswood too, the mining town has an unglamorous West Virginian charm that makes everywhere a joy to explore. Its dingy dive bars, mountain viewpoints, and cheap hotel rooms are packed with information about Basswood’s residents and the tough times they’ve been through. It paints the perfect portrait of a struggling town where community matters.

Detective work plays out similarly to exploration in Dontnod’s previous games. You’re dropped into a new area and need to walk around examining objects and finding clues. This mechanic works particularly well when you’re getting to know the town, examining posters and looking at photos hung on the walls of bars, but when gathering evidence for your investigation it’s far from streamlined. You always have to find evidence in a certain order, meaning that you’ll be doing multiple laps of the same scene until you discover things at the right time.

After gathering up enough evidence, Sam will enter his mind palace (which involves closing his eyes and thinking really hard) and these sequences are a highlight of the game. The mind palace is where is a place where Sam can put his analytical brain to the test and can use the evidence gathered to reconstruct several possible sequences of events. Examining the different timelines that Sam has visualised, you need to decide which one is the truth and pick the one that plays out exactly how events went down. This can be anything from how a bar fight developed over the course of a ten-minute spat or the reason why a car inexplicably swerved off the road. Versions of this mechanic have been used in plenty of detective games before, but Twin Mirror’s take on it, where you build scenes from shattered glass, stands out.

Head scratcher

Even though the evidence gathering is flakey, I went into the rest of the game excited to uncover the secrets of the sleepy town of Basswood. Unfortunately, the investigation never really cranks up—it barely gets going at all. There’s no sense of crescendo or eureka moment where you crack the case—the investigation just fizzles out. There are plenty of story threads flying around, but none of them land. Sam never really addresses his guilt for destroying the town’s main livelihood, for instance. Even after he’s confronted several times by angry townsfolk who are suffering because of his decision, he never really engages with it head-on. Was it right to publish the truth at the cost of people losing their jobs? It’s a tough question that the game sidesteps.

Never exploring these themes beyond the surface pretty much sums up Twin Mirror. There are moments inside Sam’s mind palace where he shows guilt and compassion for the characters he’s hurt, but they’re in the form of vapid minigames, like running through empty doorways that say ‘breathe’ on them or trying to find your twin in a crowd of people.  

Speaking of our mystery man, Sam’s twin accompanies him throughout the game, but he exists solely in Sam’s mind, piping up to provide another perspective on a situation. He’s different from Sam in that he’s more socially conscious, trying to keep his fleshy counterpart out of trouble and helping him navigate tricky conversations. He appears in key moments, where the player’s decision is meant to impact the rest of the game. After trying different paths, however, I didn’t notice much difference.  

Many of the fears that I voiced in my Twin Mirror preview were about the representation of this character. Although the double is, thankfully, not part of a Jekyll and Hyde situation, Dontnod is deliberately coy when addressing what exactly Sam’s double is. Throughout the game, Sam walks the line between trying to be his authentic self, and acting in a way that is ‘socially acceptable.’ His other half tries to stop Sam acting how he likes, voicing his disapproval when his bluntness rubs people up the wrong way.

It’s not only Sam’s bluntness that is at odds with his double; he also has problems reading people, occasionally places the truth ahead of characters’ feelings, and struggles with the invisible social etiquette of conversations. Together with his analytical mind, this makes it seem like Twin Mirror is suggesting that Sam’s on the autistic spectrum, and his struggles with staying true to who he is and social conformity run throughout the game. Although Dontnod’s portrayal of Sam avoids the condescending and grossly misinformed tropes found in a lot of media, there are certain story decisions that make Sam feel like a ghost of that representation. Dontnod doesn’t commit to this idea, only alluding to these topics instead of exploring them with insight and understanding.   

There are some interesting ideas in Twin Mirror, but the game doesn’t spend any time digging into its challenging topics. There’s a foundation of a story about how we relate to others and the conflict of being authentic over being accepted, but ultimately it’s all hollow.

Twin Mirror feels like a string of scenes sewn together with thin narrative threads, and is ultimately a game that says nothing, lacking any sort of commitment to subjects that it coyly alludes to. For a studio whose voice is celebrated for being loud and clear about improving representation in games, Twin Mirror a misstep for Dontnod.  


Here on Earth, they tell me we have too much carbon in the atmosphere. So, as I work to terraform Mars in Per Aspera, I figure that keeping CO2 levels up shouldn’t be big concern. I’ve got a lot of it, and I need it to be oxygen, so I just start seeding the surface with genetically engineered lichen. The lichen turns carbon dioxide to oxygen, everybody wins. I assume it’ll keep itself in check well enough. 

It was about when the atmospheric oxygen percentage hit 50—dwarfing our 20 percent here on Earth—that I realized that I was very, very wrong. Spontaneous fires started to break out in every factory and mine across the planet because even the slightest spark could ignite the air. 

Perhaps the science of terraforming Mars is more complex than I’d thought. 

That’s the premise of Per Aspera, a novel combination of planetary science simulator, hardcore management game, and dynamic narrative experience. You play as a newly awakened artificial consciousness, AMI, whose job is to establish an autonomous colony on Mars in order to prepare it for a permanent human presence, and ultimately terraform the planet into one suitable for “Earthian” life. AMI’s story plays out in audio transmissions voiced by a star-studded cast (Troy Baker, Phil LaMarr, Laila Berzins, Yong Yea, Lynsey Murrell, and Nneka Okoye). It’s a series of branching moral choices—some simple, some complex, all rife with uncertainty—that runs alongside what would otherwise be a very pretty, if standard, city-building management game. Those choices lead through a variety of small stories, a larger central mystery, and several different game endings.

Do as AI do

Most of Per Aspera is about panning around a beautifully rendered topographical globe of Mars and listening to a pretty nice chill ambient and upbeat techno soundtrack. Your view is AMI’s, a stylized vector interface with lots of soft edges and sans-serif fonts. It worked great for me, but those with low vision might need to disable the depth-of-field effects and shadows.

You survey for minerals and establish mines to retrieve resources like aluminum, carbon, silicon, or buried water. You also build factories to transform these resources into finished materials like electronic components or mechanical parts, and then into further buildings and equipment like worker or repair drones. Sometimes you zoom way out and assign resources to a big project in space, like reflective mirrors or asteroid capture. Resources are finite, though, so you constantly need to expand and explore Mars’ surface to renew your supply. Build in the wrong order? That might well be game over. Scarcity is concern number one in Per Aspera.https://gfycat.com/ifr/lamesorebrant

You might realize that you’ve only got a few dozen tons of aluminum, and a mere 700 still in the ground. To get more you need to expand your base. That means adding new electrical grid elements, new maintenance hubs, and worker control stations reaching towards and encompassing a deposit. It’s a sometimes-tedious process. The terrain might get in your way, but AMI automatically maps out optimal road paths with a slick animation.

Per Aspera is a ‘blink and it’s 3 am’ game.

It’s one of the most demanding strategy management games I’ve played in a long time, not just in its complexity but for the moment-to-moment action. Playing, my fingers constantly slid between WASD to pan the camera, the numbers for game speed, and the function keys to activate overlays for power, maintenance, drone traffic, and survey results. Per Aspera is a ‘blink and it’s 3 am’ game. (Worth noting: You can’t remap keys at launch. The developers have promised that in an update.)

You’re constantly planning what’s next, managing your stockpiles of goods, looking at your reserved resources, setting up expansions, and trying to futureproof your choices. You’re also catering to your colonists—who are very fickle, choosy, and frustratingly unpredictable. All it takes is a day of missed supply deliveries and a few thousand of them will pack up and head back to Earth, presumably waving at their replacements on the way through the spaceport. 

Did I mention there’s combat, too? It’s a bit of light real-time strategy combat where you build and employ drone swarms against defensive towers as the enemy does the same. It’s alright, but there’s not much challenge or complexity to it, and it’s not demanding at all on the normal difficulty. It really just serves as a story element—and one more layer of management to keep up with.

AI caramba!

Careful pruning of unneeded buildings is a constant task, as is planning for new endeavors. It can be hard at first, with the potential for resource-scarcity death spirals that require you to either abandon large swathes of progress or restart. For example, I abandoned a game due to a lack of electronics production: Not enough electronics to build repair drones quickly, no repair drones to keep the electronics factories running, no electronics factories to fuel expansion. It adds a bit of tension to the early parts, but once you’ve got a sprawling network of multiple bases, those supply bottlenecks just slow down an already pretty slow endgame.

All of that city-building occurs on top of the terraforming layer, which has you balance elements in Mars’ atmosphere and terrain in order to get specific effects. Don’t add too much oxygen or you’ll get frequent fires, as I found out to my dismay. Don’t raise temperatures too quickly or you’ll bring on the liquid water, flooding deposits of valuable resources and/or your base underneath new oceans. I drowned a base when I underestimated just how far the sea level would rise after I crashed an asteroid of pure ice into the surface.

Terraforming is fun, if dangerous—like with resource management, you can easily get yourself into untenable situations. There’s a potpourri of ways to go about it, with all manner of weird proposals from sci-fi and real-world scientists. Having already finished the campaign, and despite the late-game dragging on a bit, I’m actually excited to try more ways in the non-combat, non-narrative sandbox mode. And that’s after spending 30 hours playing it already.

Between the resource management’s automated pathfinding and the simulation of a planet’s changing atmosphere there’s a lot going on under the hood, technically speaking. There are definitely some odd bugs with pathfinding, colonist movement, and order priority. Per Aspera never strained my hardware, but once I had a thousand buildings on Mars there was a real performance hit—most noticeable when switching game speeds, panning quickly, or zooming out to orbit. It’s a genre staple, but expect some dropped frames and a bit of chug as you push the limits of what one PC can simulate.

Extraplanetary experiments

Per Aspera isn’t only a detailed strategic simulation, but also a sweeping sci-fi tale. It isn’t entirely successful as a narrative, but the best parts of the story elevate the management game beneath it. I won’t spoil it, so suffice it to say that it’s got technothriller intrigue, but it also takes big idea sci-fi seriously, grappling with concepts like the nature of artificial consciousness and the ethics of terraforming a new world.

The story is made by the voice talent, who wring a lot of pathos out of a pretty simple script. Laila Berzins absolutely nails AMI’s journey from infantile and newborn confusion into complex brilliance. Troy Baker crushes his performance as AMI’s creator Dr. Foster, displaying an emotional range in a way rarely seen outside of the best audio drama. I could go on: Phil LaMarr as a focused military officer, Yong Yea as a devious businessman, Lynsey Murell—a name you’re going to be hearing more of if this performance is anything to go by—as the Martian colony leader.

It’s similar to the pace that made Hades so beloved this year, though with its own twists and not nearly so lengthy.

The shock and delight of seeing a dynamic narrative in a strategy game can’t be overstated. It’s an imperfect story, the writing is at times campy or obtuse, but it’s a genuine experiment. Bits of the narrative are nonlinear too—they can happen in different orders or not at all in each player’s game—but that comes at the cost of some feeling misplaced or disjointed. I had two events that were back-to-back, but the second was definitely supposed to happen before the first. Still, the base of what’s here is good enough that even if the bugs I saw never get fixed I’d still recommend it.

In between the bite-size chunks of story and moral decision-making you’re thrust back into city-building. Back into the intensity of choices and strategy action until someone bothers to call up the orbiting, ultra-intelligent AI consciousness for a consult again. It’s similar to the pace that made Hades so beloved this year, though with its own twists and not nearly so lengthy. 

Per Aspera’s novel adaptation of nonlinear narrative to fit a strategy game goes over surprisingly well. Combined with a novel terraforming mechanic, slick aesthetics, hard science chops, and classic genre gameplay, this one is definitely worth the time.


I’m on an aimless walking tour of Night City. Somehow I’ve ended up in the Japantown neighborhood’s Arasaka-financed streets, where animated billboards for “Sweet Clean Speed” and pornographic braindances climb the flanks of utilitarian skyscrapers, blotting out the stars with a rainbow of neon. I pass a ramen shop, a hot dog stand, and a man selling spice, piles of garbage tucked beneath the offramp behind him. 

A mob of Christians gather at a nearby intersection, waving signs and screaming “Blasphemers!” at the cops. A voice makes booming proclamations in Japanese from loudspeakers overhead, flying cars crisscrossing the invisible roads between buildings. The sky glows with light pollution, but the moon is full and clear. It’s a beautiful night. 

I just left Judy Alvarez’s place. My friend’s been through a lot lately. Someone close to her has been victim to a string of horrors including sexual assault, physical trauma, and suicidal tendencies. We had a big heart-to-heart about it, undermined by the presence of elaborate arm-knife crosshairs fixed on her forehead even though I put my arm-knives away earlier (I’m polite like that). There was also the notification from that fancy sniper rifle I picked up 20 minutes ago, still notifying me that I picked up a sniper rifle. Duly noted, notification.CLOSECyberpunk 2077 | PC Gamer ReviewVolume 0%PLAY SOUND

But hey, Judy’s not perfect either. I’ve seen her clip through chairs and float across the room while confessing something deeply personal. And yet, I am duty bound to stick through the bugs for my friend. I genuinely care about her. 

She’s on my mind while I continue my walk through Night City. Ahead, a streetlamp floats in the air, its base failing to load. A busker plays an invisible guitar. The facade of a skyscraper flickers briefly. Something ain’t right, so I call my car and it arrives in classic Roach style, driving through a concrete barrier, screeching to a halt. As I approach, a van spawns in the same space and the two vehicles fight to exist before my taxi spurts out and knocks me to the ground. Should I call Judy, see if she’s hanging in there?

It’s just another day in Cyberpunk 2077, a pretty good RPG in an amazing setting absolutely sick with bugs. 

Life in the city

There won’t be another open world like this for a long, long time. 

I love wandering the mountains of trash on the outskirts of town, cutting pretty silhouettes from a distance. Up close, well, it’s trash. And sometimes the smog gets so thick around the old Arasaka memorial downtown you can’t see the tops of buildings, everything washed in dirty orange light. I watched traffic here for a while, employees of the corporate world hurrying to and fro all around me. 


What is it? An open world action RPG set in the near future.
Expect to pay: $60/£50
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Reviewed on: i9-9900k, RTX 2080, 16GB RAM, installed on SSD
Multiplayer? No, planned in far flung future
Link: www.cyberpunk.net 
Release date: Here’s when Cyberpunk 2077 unlocks by timezone

Then there’s the Biotechnica farm: A city of tents stretching into the horizon, swarms of transport vehicles buzzing to and fro tending to their synthetic protein flowers. From here, Night City looks as small as a city in a snow globe. And you can just walk there. The scale and density is mind boggling, every area clearly touched by countless artists and neatly embedded into the history and logistics of Night City. 

Take a microscope to it and you’ll see the seams instantly. NPCs are aimless automatons or carefully posed puppets. I’ve seen the same guy, at least his shape, splayed out on a couch playing guitar all over the city. I made the mistake of stopping to inspect a roadside rave in the Badlands, only to realize there were three sets of triplets in attendance. Sometimes far off textures load in a touch too late, or the five o’clock rush hour snaps into existence in front of your eyes. Night City is a stage, not a simulation. 

But if you stay moving and keep your eyes trained ahead, every frame is a striking, lively scene. Night City is nearly unparalleled at middle to long distances, joining the best of PC gaming’s open worlds, which include Red Dead Redemption 2’s American west and Grand Theft Auto 5’s Los Santos. Rockstar’s been matched. I’d pay full price just to walk around and take photos forever, my senses perpetually drunk. 

It’s an incredible work that the stories within never quite measure up to. 

John Prick


The variety of citizens in Night City is remarkable, with outrageous future fashions, wild hairstyles, and elaborate cyber implants. You’ll see rodeo cowboys with mechanical legs, tattooed yakuza, faces crisscrossed with cyberware, ’80s metalheads sporting wraparound neon visors, and people so heavily augmented you’ll wonder if there’s any human left. There’s a real sense of this being a teeming, vibrant metropolis with layers of history and culture. And everyone just looks cool as hell.

Cyberpunk’s main quest storyline is full of interesting ideas, but marred by inconsistent characterization and focus. Johnny Sliverhand, played by a grumpy Keanu Reeves, and you, a merc for hire and fully-voiced character named V, are centerstage. As V, you’re an accidental witness to a top level corporate assassination and forced to work with Johnny, not only to expose the truth, but to save V’s life. Early on, due to a series of unfortunate events, a backup of Johnny Silverhand’s consciousness ends up in V’s head and begins to slowly take over his mind, effectively overwriting V. 

The effect Johnny has on V, and the equal and potentially opposite or compounding effect V has on Johnny is the heart of the RPG decision-making here. Johnny is a repulsive, crude, misogynist. And you can change that, assuming he doesn’t swing you his way first, nevermind all the fixers, friends, and corporations pulling you every other direction. 

I had no clue whether to take my special pills to suppress the maniac in my head or to try and change him, the ambiguous and agonizing choice I want in an RPG. The blinders are on the whole time and nearly every decision is a leap of faith that hangs on your ideals, or at least the ideas of the character you’re roleplaying. 

I just wish Johnny’s characterization were more consistent. While I’d make major progressions in our relationship in the main quest, he’d regularly revert to the same old dickhead Johnny in a sidequest or the odd commentary impressively scattered throughout the entirety of Night City. 

I became friends with a sentient, autonomous taxicab operation—like, a whole-ass business.

Too often what he has to say in these optional interactions is one note: Rockerboy trash talk, ego and narcissistic idealism personified, like an anarchy tag on an interstate Starbucks come to life. Keanu’s mad, monotone performance doesn’t help highlight the nuance either. While I loved where our relationship eventually ended up, I felt like Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t really show me the work it took to get there. 

As a basic, adaptable foil for V, Johnny is a nice engine for introspection. Capitalism is bad, for sure, but Cyberpunk isn’t interested in solving that problem. Cyberpunk instead asks why we choose to live within such a monstrous system, and I deeply appreciate the spotlight on V, the people in his life, and how they persist (or don’t) in the muck. 

Yeah, the story is wrapped up in espionage, sabotage, and conspiracy at the highest order with a heaping side of corporate satire. But it’s driven by V’s basic human motivations. He doesn’t want to die (I played as a man), he doesn’t want to lose his consciousness to Johnny, and he wants to make something of himself. Those are the stakes V begins with, and depending on who you meet, what you learn about Johnny’s past as a rockstar terrorist, and who you want to roleplay, the stakes change in major ways. 

Me? I fell in love with a nomad and took on the personal mission to become a reformed Corpo dorko, dreams of getting out of the city and living a simpler life. Permaculture is easy when your arms are knives. And, to my surprise, Cyberpunk supported an eerily appropriate arc for me, not one-to-one, but a testament to the sprawling narrative choices laid out under the skin. 

I know there are at least three endings (I chose mine after 10 minutes of staring at the screen, frozen), and that there are definitely more depending on who you befriend and/or romance. These aren’t poorly compressed slideshow epilogues either, but hour-long endeavors, the kind of resplendent, explosive, dramatic stuff most big studios struggle to make one of. 

And I wouldn’t have seen any of it if I’d skipped out on the side missions, a few of which are still left unfinished at the end of my 50-hour playthrough. While entirely optional, seeing through every side character’s story to the end can fundamentally change how the larger story wraps. I spent a long time with Panam, a perky, stubborn nomad vying for respect among her peers. She deserved a chance. I also spent days deeply investigating Johnny’s tragic past. I befriended a beat cop trying to stick to his morals in a clearly fixed game, hunting down a serial killer using surreal, invasive means in what might be my favorite quest of them all. Through a delightful series of misadventures I became friends with a sentient, autonomous taxicab operation—like, a whole-ass business. 

The deeper sidequests are infrequent, too difficult to separate from the endless warehouse infiltration Gigs, but they’re all good to great, and some are up there with CD Projekt’s best, even if there’s no clear Bloody Baron standout. 

Glitch in the matrix

Too bad almost every serious dramatic beat was undercut by some kind of bug, ranging from a UI crowded by notifications and crosshairs failing to disappear, to full-on scripting errors halting otherwise rad action scenes. What should’ve been my favorite main quest venture, a thrilling infiltration mission set in a crowded public event, was ruined by two broken elevators. I had to reload a few times to get them working.

The most absurd bug might’ve been when some children spawned in front of a timed shooting contest I entered with a friendly nomad. I couldn’t shoot anywhere near the children because my weapon automatically raised, so I just sat there and let the timer run out as my buddy talked shit.

More often the bugs are audiovisual tics, like the sound of a car loudly peeling out wailing on during a long drive as passenger with an NPC, a character passing through solid elevator doors, or a copy of Johnny’s cigarette hanging in the air in front of me while he smokes another and goes on about what a coward I am. They’re the kind of thing I can squint through here and there, but there wasn’t a single quest in which something wacky didn’t happen. 

Even the final scene in the closing moments of my ending featured cars spawning in the direct path of an NPC-driven vehicle. A nice, poignant drive and conversation seasoned with a head-on collision visible only to me. Even after installing the Day 0 patch, Night City still feels like it’s barely holding together at times. The good news is that all this stuff can be fixed, but it also means the ideal Cyberpunk 2077 is delayed again, in spirit. 

Fallout: New Vegas was a mess at launch too, and smoothed out over time. Red Dead Redemption 2 was plagued by unforeseen issues with certain GPU and CPU combinations at the start. All good now. Bugs are a guarantee in games this big, but after 8 years in development and multiple delays, I hoped Cyberpunk 2077 would go down much smoother than this. 

Decked out

With so many clothes to choose from, fashion (and buying cars) basically becomes the Cyberpunk endgame. Just be prepared to give up some armor and stat bonuses to wear what you like. 

The action holds together well enough, an FPS charcuterie board featuring some familiar Deus Ex stealth and hacking systems alongside the snappy ADS gunplay Call of Duty made standard. Weapons and armor have unique stats, though it’s all pretty easily reduced to how much damage you can do and withstand versus the level of the enemies you’re facing—the rest, including fashion, is left to preference. It’s exciting stuff in the early hours, all those stats and weapons laid out before you, but the bottom drops out pretty quickly. 

Night City is stuffed with warehouses, armories, and secret labs to sneak into, most often via jobs a neighborhood fixer sets you up with. Infiltrate and kill a guy, rescue a prisoner, steal some data—the objectives bleed together quickly because the means tend to repeat too, at least if you’re locked into a playstyle. I wanted to be a cyber ninja at first, using quickhacks to turn off cameras, destroy turrets, and blind my enemies before moving in with my katana and hacking them to bits. 

Things went well for a while, but pouring all my experience and perk points into blades made me nearly unkillable and my enemies as soft as Vienna sausage within a few hours. I like that my armor increases when I sprint, and that perfectly timed dodges initiate a short bout of slow-motion. I just don’t think that beheading 10 men a minute should ever feel so simple and carefree. 

Even if I take it slow, and I did for around 10 hours, enemy AI is disappointingly rote. Stealth is a game of vision cones and patrol routes, with nearly no meaningful distinctions between gangs and corporations. I got so bored of sneaking around that I specced into more aggressive quickhacks, including one that set off a poisonous chain reaction between nearby goons, and rolled some pistols into my regimine. Now I slide into the room in slow motion, activating my favorite pistol ability, and headshot a few grunts before I even come to a stop. I clean up those that haven’t choked on gas with my arm knives, snipping limbs off like paper dolls. It’s rad as hell, but I’m just showing off for the sake of it, not because Cyberpunk is encouraging me to use every tool in the box.

Combat and infiltration sadly depend too much on player showmanship, never pressing you to make tactical decisions in the thick of it, and worse, never prodding you to make meaningful decisions about where to pour your points. There’s a ton of variety with potential for creative hybrid builds, from a barefisted gorilla hacker V to a loud gun-toting pacifist that walks and talks like Rambo but installs non-lethal mods on every weapon. 

I’m taken by how relentlessly hopeful Cyberpunk is.

The gunplay feels great too: each gun treated with extravagant viewmodels, and adorned slick firing, idle, and reload animations. Heads pop and limbs dissolve, shotguns knock enemies on their cyberbutts—CD Projekt knows what bullets do, and it shows. For the quieter players looking for some Deus Ex, there’s always a cleverly hidden sewer grate or balcony door to discover. But without any meaningful variations on enemy or level design after the first few hours, Cyberpunk is missing the incentive to experiment with it all. 

Luckily, most of my time in Cyberpunk has been at a languid pace, spent chatting with friends and criminals, outlaws and AIs, or going on impromptu walking tours around a neighborhood I somehow missed 40 hours in. It’s so, so nice to look at, and besides the bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 runs pretty well, though I worry about how much I’m leaning on Nvidia’s DLSS feature to keep my framerates high. 

With an RTX 2080, i9-9900K, and installed on a SATA SSD, with DLSS enabled on Quality mode on the High graphics preset (no ray-tracing), I maintain a variable 60-80 fps at 2560×1440, dipping lowest when driving through particularly reflection-heavy parts of town. With DLSS off, the frame window drops to 40-50 fps. Ray-tracing options are particularly resource intensive, so I just kept them off. The framerate hit wasn’t worth the fancy lighting, nice as it looks on a rainy day or in a neon-lit club especially. Someday. Either way, a newer card will go a long way in Cyberpunk 2077, though players still hanging in at 1080p should do fine with older hardware. 

It’s the kind of game I’d upgrade for though, because Cyberpunk is a technical stunner and seeing your friends in high definition is worth the ask. Sure, The Witcher 3 was funnier, more clever and subversive, with better dialogue on the whole, but I’m taken by how relentlessly hopeful Cyberpunk is. Its exploration of a technocapitalist future relies heavily on genre tropes, with everyone from punks to dirty cops playing the part established way back in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. But Cyberpunk 2077 remains a loving, faithful treatment of the genre, and one that constantly urged me to look for the silver lining in every shit-soaked gutter.

Even if you can nosedive V into a life of crime and greed, the repercussions highlight what’s possible in the relief of what you reject in favor of power and money. Cyberpunk 2077 is a game about close relationships, or if you’re roleplaying a more coldhearted type, seeing what life is like at the top without them. 

I found it moving and life-affirming in the final moments, even in the face of near certain death and a relentless onslaught of bugs. I suppose it’s an appropriate thematic throughline though: Cyberpunk 2077 is a game about V coming apart at the seams, in a city coming apart at the seams, in a game coming apart at the seams. Play it in a few months.