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  • Writer's pictureStu

Adventures in space... and Mexico.

It's been a rough month or two for me on the video game playing front. I've bounced off more games in the last 8 weeks or so than I probably have in the last 2 years, with very little able to hold my interest for more than a couple of hours. I've even bounced hard off of Destiny 2 in recent weeks. The cyclical late-season crash happened earlier and hit me harder than ever before, mainly due to the realisation that the Crucible just isn't a part of the game that I can enjoy anymore. The Ascent, Marvel's Avengers, and Pyschonauts 2 are just 3 of the games that have fallen to the wayside under the weight of my pervasive boredom and frustration. Borderlands 3 entertained me for 30 minutes before I realised that I really just couldn't be bothered to play a slightly prettier and infinitely less funny version of Borderlands 2 for 40-odd hours to see the end. There are a couple in that pile that I'll probably go back to eventually - and no, Marvel's Avengers isn't one of them.

In amongst all of this though, I've found a couple of gems that are likely to see me through to the end of the year - and possibly beyond. The first of these is Metroid Dread. The Nintendo Switch practically weaponises nostalgia, doesn't it? It takes all your rose-tinted memories of those childhood Saturday mornings, sepia toned yet so crystal clear you can practically smell the Marmite on toast and hear the children's TV jingles, and makes them real again - and sells them back to you for a small fortune. I'm of the generation that played the first Metroid game - the same bunch of people that had their little minds blown when it emerged right at the end that Samus was a girl (cue sharp intake of breath and shocked surprise). In the years since Super Metroid, the series has transcended its own franchise to establish (with the aid of Castlevania) a specific genre of 2D exploration and action games - ones that require the player to learn their way around, experiment with the environment and defeat some crushingly difficult bosses.

Metroid Dread, then, is following firmly in the footsteps of the games that came before it, walking merrily along the path its predecessors helped to tread in the first place. There's been some grumbling on the internet that it doesn't do anything new, and that the forced stealth sections are annoying, and that the boss battles are too hard. Well... I'd argue that if it's a series that's still being ripped off regularly (sorry, "referenced"), then it probably doesn't need to worry too much about trying to do anything new. Sometimes, the length of time that passes between similar experiences are large enough for me to be happy to embrace the familiar - and that's something that applies in spades here.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm happy with the game - how it looks, how it sounds, and how it plays. Samus feels like the badass that she is, here - with the traditional "lose all your kit" opening to the game taking place, but the pace of gaining that kit back feeling considerably quicker than I remember it being in earlier games. I've gotten lost a couple of times, with some of the environmental puzzles being a little... daft (as in, shoot the right block in frustration or stay stuck), but overall my progression through it has been mostly steady. The boss battles, yeah, are hard. Are they too hard? So far, I'd say no. Metroid boss battles have historically always been hard - so I'm not sure what's been driving the online conversation here, unless it's been picked up by a bunch of people with no experience of the franchise - or the Metroidvania genre as a whole. All in all though, it's another essential Nintendo Switch game - one that leans perfectly into the strengths of the system, and another one that will be remembered as one of the (many!) classic games on the platform.

The other game that's pulled me out of the lull is one that's caught me a little bit by surprise - and it's Forza Horizon 5. I'm not sure why it's caught me by surprise - I think it's mostly that from the reveal and pre-release stuff that I saw, I'd decided it was 'just another racing game,' albeit a VERY pretty one - and it was therefore something that I could take or leave. I've a tendency to feel this way about racing games - something I wrote about here in the past.

It was the community hype that dragged me into this one. The game was made available early on Xbox Game Pass for people who'd pre-ordered or purchased various versions of it - and even before it launched it had gained a head of positive steam that was just so refreshing to see that I couldn't ignore it. Normally when a big online-centric game launches, all you hear is the deafening grumbling of people experiencing disconnects or crashes or glitches. All the launch of Forza Horizon 5 seemed to bring to the internet was... rapturous excitement. Even the Sony fanboys, who'd normally be lining up to shout the negatives of any game that they can't get on their Playstations have been oddly quiet. Having spent a dozen hours or so with it, I think it might be the single most impressive racing game I've ever played. It tells you what it's about from the moment you gain control of a vehicle - which happens a split second after your Mercedes AMG touches down on the road having been dropped out of the back of a cargo plane over the Mexico countryside. I think I summed up my feelings on it pretty succinctly within a couple of hours of firing it up...

A couple more days in, and if anything I've grown to like it even more as I've gotten to know it better. I saw a piece online that said something along the line of it not being so much a racing game as it is a driving game - and it's a premise I think I agree with. I enjoy the racing bits, but I almost enjoy just driving around in the gorgeous open world it offers up more. The world's distinct areas make a meaningful difference to the kind of car you'll want to use, and how they feel in contact with the terrain - while the set pieces are just mind-blowing. Racing through a tropical storm so far is a standout, while races against a pair of monster trucks and a speeding train were both among the coolest experiences I've ever had in a game that features cars. The only criticism that could really be levelled at it is that it's "just more Forza Horizon." My retort would be that if that's a problem for you, feel free to go and find a better racing game - and best of luck with it.

It's funny how it always seems to go. Just when I feel like I've run out of things to play, something comes wandering along and sweeps me away. Video games are the absolute best, aren't they? And with Halo Infinite on the horizon, not to mention my pile of shame, I'd say the future looks pretty bright.


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