Category Archive : Gaming

Concord trailer screenshot
Concord – what did you think of it? (YouTube)

The Wednesday letters page suggests making a Tomb Raider survival horror game, as one reader looks forward to the summer’s indie line-up.

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Almost recommended
I just wanted to give my verdict on Concord, after having played it at the weekend and into Monday. I’d say I broadly agreed with GC’s review, although not necessarily in terms of which characters were my favourite. I hated all the alien ones, so I’m glad there’s not more, and actually found Haymar to be a lot of fun.

Clearly the game is not original, or even trying to be, but I think it’s a bit pointless to concentrate on that, given the state of most other games and sequels. I guess it’s extra disappointing when a brand new franchise just straight-up copies something but even then this is still more imaginative, within its limits, than Valorant or XDefiant.

For me, the question is how good is good enough? The game is enjoyable and well-made but at the same time it’s not a world beater. If it was free that wouldn’t be a problem but it’s not, so then you’ve got to decide if it’s worth playing and worth both the money and time investment. Even as someone that enjoyed it at the weekend I’m not sure.

The beta may actually have been too generous, as now I’ve played all the characters I’m not sure what I’m looking forward to from the main game. The story? Not so much. I think Sony has still got a big job ahead of them, trying to sell it.

Friends of Rockstar
I see there’s some rumours about GTA+ coming to Switch but what do people think this could actually mean? With these sorts of things it’s always the boring answer, so it’s probably just because Red Dead Redemption is on Switch, but what if this was Rockstar getting ready for the Switch 2?

I can’t see any scenario where GTA 6 could possibly work on the new console but what if Rockstar were making something new for Nintendo, like they did with Chinatown Wars? Or maybe they’ve got a version of GTA 5 working on it? It’s still basically an Xbox 360 game, so it’s not as if it should be a problem.

Rockstar get on better with Nintendo than I think some people realise, so I’d be keen to see them try and team-up again.

Full horror
I see Lara Croft is now in Dead By Daylight, which seems a bit odd to me, as none of her games have been survival horrors. There was a bit of it in the first reboot, and I guess there was tense elements in even the early games, but it does seem odd to me that she’s constantly associated with horror stuff but none of her games really go for it.

I know the original version of the reboot was much more explicitly a horror game, that got diluted down to what we got, but if people are so keen on the idea, then maybe it is time to go for a full fat survival horror? It would certainly make more sense to turn Tomb Raider into that than the ultra violent stealth/shooter game that the last trilogy became.

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Surprise hit
There might not be any big name games out at the moment but it’s a pretty good time for indies at the moment, to judge by GC’s reviews of Gestalt: Steam & Cinder and SCHiM – both of which look interesting to me. I’m also optimistic for Dungeons Of Hinterberg, Arranger: A Role-Puzzling Adventure, and Thrasher. I’m guessing GC will review these as well.

Hopefully there’s a lot of others I don’t know about yet, as I find one of the pleasures of indie games is that they suddenly come out of nowhere and they’re amazing and weird. I certainly never would’ve imagined that Balatro would become of my favourite games of the year and yet I was obsessed with it for months. Here’s hoping 2024 has more independent surprises in store.

GC: We should be reviewing those, yes.

Internet detective
To add to the rumour mill, and I know you’re gonna love this absurd addition to my theory regarding ‘Who is Emio?’

Referring once again to the trailer, it’s blatantly obvious the reason our paper bag-wearing enigma is hiding one hand behind their back is to conceal the game’s unique selling point.

Nintendo’s Vitality Sensor, which will play the important part of cracking the case in this whodunnit murder mystery.

You can lie, but you can’t hide.
Bad Edit

GC: To be serious for a moment, the latest rumours suggest it may be part of the Famicom Detective Club series and not necessarily anything to do with Bloober Team.

Unsteady studios
I’ve seen some rumours, that were probably made-up, that Rocksteady is planning to reuse some of the stuff from Suicide Squad to make a new game where this time you’re playing as the Justice League trying to make it up to people. It’s good that the first step isn’t just to shut down the studio, but I just can’t see it working.

I didn’t like anything about Suicide Squad: not the gameplay, not the visuals, and not the story or the way they did the characters. I don’t know if Rocksteady have just lost interest in the DC universe now or if too many of the original crew have left now but this was almost unrecognisable from the Batman games they used to make.

In my opinion, the sensible decision would be to let them make their own new and original game but the problem with budgets and everything today is that even if Warner wanted them too its such a massive risk. Now Rocksteady is trapped making lame comic book games, that they don’t seem into anymore, until they eventually get shut down. It’s a real shame.
Onion Knight

This time it’s war
Aliens: Dark Descent on the PlayStation 5 is on sale at the moment.

I re-read your review from last year, in which you said it had a lot of bugs, but the PlayStation 5 version may be better.

Would you score it higher now? I’m assuming a lot of the bugs have been ironed out now, but I doubt they have had added more dialogue and music to the game.

GC: We haven’t played it since launch, but we understand from others that the bugs have been fixed. Even if they hadn’t it’s worth it in a sale, especially if you’re an Aliens fan.

Serious choices
I’m not sure how serious people were being when they said that they hoped there’d be a new Marvel Vs. Capcom but with the new compilation and Marvel movies ramping up again I don’t think there’s been a better chance in years, assuming we hand wave away any legal complications from Sony, until we know better.

So, what are people’s serious hopes and expectations of new characters? Multiple Fantastic Four characters are a given, with that film coming up, but I don’t know how many new X-Men they’d have, beyond the legacy ones, because it’s going to be a couple of years before Marvel gets into that (I think there’s a reveal expected at Comic-Con for their film slate?).

I think we’d probably also get Doctor Strange, Miles Morales, Loki, maybe Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Moon Knight, and Scarlet Witch. But who knows, because Capcom loves to pick some really obscure characters. I have no idea where Shuma-Gorath came from in the original – he’s an interdimensional god not a little green octopus guy!

As for the Capcom side of things, I think Lady Dimitrescu is a shoe-in, as well as one or two new characters from Street Fighter 6, which sadly probably includes Luke. There’d probably be a Monster Hunter avatar (can’t believe there wasn’t one in Infinite) and then I’d like to see Gene from God Hand and Falco from Power Stone (guess we better have Squirrel Girl from Marvel as well, for GC, even though I don’t know who she is).

I’d like to see some other obscure Capcom picks too, like old school Bionic Commando and Regina from Dino Crisis. Then get really obscure like someone from Knights Of The Round or Forbidden Worlds. I always loved these games and the more obscure the characters the better.

GC: A monster hunter was added as DLC after launch.

Inbox also-rans
The Sims is one of those franchise I wish another company owned. I used to love that game but EA has been so terrible controlling it, I’m not surprised to learn that The Sims 5 is having problems.

John Bercow in Fallout London? Suddenly, I really, really wish I had a gaming PC. Like the other reader said, what are Bethesda going to do if this ends up being better than the official games? It’s not like Fallout 4 was great to begin with.

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The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length and content.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time via email or our Submit Stuff page, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

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SCHiM screenshot
SCHiM – a shadow needs light (Extra Nice)

Take control of a lost shadow in a monochrome Dutch city, in this inventive and agreeably mellow new indie adventure.

Even if they’ve only really taken off in the last 30 years, video games have been around since the 1950s. In that time, it’s tempting to believe that, with hundreds of new games released every year, literally every conceivable idea has been brought to a screen somewhere, whether arcade, TV or mobile. But, thankfully, SCHiM proves that’s not the case.

Presented in line drawn style, like an animated architect’s drawing and viewed from a rotatable isometric perspective, you play as a man’s shadow, your two beady eyes peeping out from its black depths.

As the man walks around town, you soon discover it’s possible to detach yourself from him, leaving him momentarily shadowless, and allowing you to carve your own temporary path. Naturally, there’s no way for a shadow to survive in direct sunlight, so you have no choice but to hop between pools of shade, whether they’re created by street furniture, cars, people or animals.

Just as you’re getting used to your newfound semi-freedom, the man wanders off into the city, leaving you alone. Your sole task is to catch up with him to reconnect. His shadow-free life comes with its own pitfalls and problems, making your mission all the more urgent – not that he makes it easy for you. Just as you’re about to catch up he’ll turn down a side street or hop on a bike, leaving you with a gulf of brightly lit road, pavement or park to navigate your way across.

In practice, you’re not actually in a hurry, your target only wandering into the next scene when you’re just about to catch up. It works quite nicely as a relaxed way of introducing you to the mechanics of being a shadow, letting you pick your way across sunlit areas at your own pace.

You can double-jump and, provided you land in darkness at the end of your second hop, you’re fine. If you’re still in sunlight, you’ll be dragged back to the last secure shadow you occupied, and if you’ve been scudding along in the shadow cast by a bike or a car, that can be a long way.

SCHiM screenshot
SCHiM – what an interestingly odd idea (Extra Nice)

There are some more stressful sections, like negotiating the fast moving shadows of aerial conveyer belts, their cargo flowing in opposing directions. That feels like being in an inverse game of Frogger, your job to hop between the safety of swiftly moving shadows, while avoiding the deadly sun-drenched ground in-between.

You’ll also find areas where shadows are transient, cast by the lights of passing cars. That teaches you that although brightness is deadly, you need light to create the shadows in which you survive – mere darkness is not enough. These levels mean waiting for cars to trundle by, before frantically hopping below their swinging headlight beams, or jumping into the shadow of the car itself as it goes under a street lamp.

For much of the time though things are calm and the challenge gentle. It’s at these moments you’re at liberty to enjoy the playful touches triggered by the game’s interaction button. Sometimes it’s an essential part of the level design – using a flexible sign to catapult yourself over a fence or across a wide, brightly lit road – but often it’s just for fun. You can ring bike bells, honk car horns, and vent all the litter from a bin, for no reason other than your own amusement (if that all sounds rather poltergeist-y, schim is Dutch for ‘ghost’).

Speaking of bikes, this is a game that’s Dutch to its very core. From the ubiquitous bicycling to the canals and occasional step-gable buildings, it may stop short of throwing bar furniture at English football fans, but its sense of place is very clear.

Although there’s a cadence to its moments, of peace and frenzy, it’s fair to say that most of SCHiM feels fairly meandering. But this gives you time to enjoy the experience of hopping aboard a mother duck’s shadow, as she guides her ducklings towards water, or testing the horns of different vehicles.

At those moments it’s the video game equivalent of a Wim Wenders movie, the journey being at least as important as the destination, with nobody in a particular rush to get anywhere. The negative of that is that it can leave things feeling formless, especially compared with more focused, traditional games.

The same’s true of the story, if you can call it that. There are no words, so any sense of narrative is wholly inferred, but the man whose shadow you control certainly seems to struggle without it, even if some of those bouts of bad luck, and the time-shifting scenes prior to them, remain rather opaque.

Whether you’ll enjoy SCHiM is a matter of personal taste. It’s well made, doesn’t have any bugs, and for much of its play time remains oddly tranquil, even if it lacks the impetus, competitive spirit, and clearly defined scope of most games. We thoroughly enjoyed it and it’s hard to imagine anyone throwing shade at such an imaginative and purposefully odd experience.

SCHiM review summary

In Short: A mellow and deeply unusual adventure where you play a man’s shadow adrift in a Dutch city, in a game that defies convention and is all the better for it.

Pros: Excellent line drawn art style that’s as unusual as its subject matter. Unexpectedly meditative gameplay and one of few games to place you firmly in the Netherlands.

Cons: You’re never completely sure what’s going on. The game’s deliberate disregard for games’ usual mores can make it feel shapeless. Not very challenging.

Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC
Price: £20.99
Publisher: Extra Nice
Developer: Ewoud van der Werf and Nils Slijkerman
Release Date: 18th July 2024
Age Rating: 3

SCHiM screenshot
SCHiM – the world’s first shadow simulator (Extra Nice)

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Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 still
Early access isn’t too far away (Activision Blizzard)

The dates for Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6’s open beta have been announced and everyone can play it next month.

As a result of Microsoft’s £59.3 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard last year, Call Of Duty is coming to Game Pass on day one. But not without making the subscription service more expensive first, to try and make back some of that money.

Starting in September, there will be two Xbox Game Pass subscriptions for consoles (plus the PC-only service), but the cheapest won’t include access to Call Of Duty.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 is coming out on October 25 and Activision has now revealed the multiplayer early access and open beta dates, and who can play them early.

How to join the Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 beta weekend and early access

The first chance to play Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 early is during early access, which starts on August 30, at 6pm UK time, and ends on September 4, also at 6pm.

The early access period is available on all formats to anyone who has pre-ordered the game or holds a subscription to Game Pass Ultimate, Game Pass PC, or Game Pass Console (or Standard as it will be renamed).

If you aren’t pre-ordering Black Ops 6 or are a Game Pass subscriber, then you can still try it early during the open beta weekend – as long as you have an internet connection – between September 6, at 6pm UK time, and September 9, at 6pm.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 early access and open beta periods
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 early access and open beta periods (Activision Blizzard)

‘Experience the game-changing Omnimovement and other gameplay innovations for yourself across a variety of brand-new maps built by Treyarch,’ says Activision.

‘As well as building your own loadouts, accessing a variety of weapons, equipment and Perks, and dropping in with your squad across a number of modes.’

Fans who pre-order the more expensive Vault Edition will be able to play as any of the four operators in the Hunters vs. Hunted operator pack, as well as try five new weapons.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 will be available on  Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC.

Call Of Duty 2024 teaser
Call Of Duty: Black Ops 6 has a heavy conspiratorial theme this year (Activision)

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The Sims 4 key art
What is going on with The Sims 5? (EA)

Fans are concerned that a number of developers working on the console version of The Sims 5 seem to have been moved back to work on The Sims 4.

If there’s one company you’d expect to follow a straightforward progression, from one sequel to the next, it’s EA but they have always been very strange in the way they’ve handled The Sims franchise, with their continued reticence in announcing The Sims 5.

The Sims 4 will be 10 years old this September and while EA has often spoken about the mysterious Project Rene, which has been described as the ‘next instalment’ of The Sims, they’ve always avoided calling it The Sims 5.

Project Rene was first announced in 2022 and while there have been updates and rumours since then there’s never been any official confirmation of what it actually is, and now fans are concerned that some developers that were working on ‘The Sims 5’ are indicating that it’s been cancelled.

There’s a great deal of uncertainty as to what’s going on here, as a series of updates on LinkedIn refer to The Sims 5 as being cancelled but none mention Project Rene.

It’s not clear, but they may only be referring to the console version of The Sims 5. Although many versions of The Sims have been released on consoles before, the series has never been anywhere near as popular as on PC and it wouldn’t be a surprise if The Sims 5 launched as a PC-only title.

Even if this version of The Sims 5 has been cancelled there will undoubtedly be a new numbered sequel at some point, but whether that’s Project Rene or not is less clear than ever. In fact, some fans suspect Project Rene may end up as a spin-off, after EA said that support for The Sims 4 would continue in parallel.

The only thing that’s been shown in detail for Project Rene is the build mode, for creating and customising houses, which while an important part of The Sims experience is not most people’s favourite part.

Actual sims have never been shown as part of Project Rene, although the developers in these new LinkedIn ads do talk about working on character customisation tools.

One other possibility is that EA may just stick with The Sims 4, treating it as a true live service title that is intended to last forever and will be constantly updated.

Unfortunately, the reason these posts were made seems to be because of ongoing layoffs at EA, which makes it even harder to guess what’s really going on behind the scenes.

There are multiple different ways to explain these job updates but until EA themselves confirms what their plan is fans are going to be left uncertain about the future direction of the franchise.

Project Rene screenshot
Screenshots like this are all that’s been shown of Project Rene (EA)

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John Bercow as Speaker of the House
‘Ordeeeeeer!’ (YouTube)

Former speaker of the House Of Commons, John Bercow, has joined the Fallout: London cast, as fans who own Fallout 4 via Epic Games Store are told they can’t play the mod.

Despite being delayed because of Bethesda’s next gen update, fan project Fallout: London is nearing launch once again. Although there is no official release date yet, it’s expected to arrive in the next couple of weeks.

Even so, there’s been more bad news, with those that bought parent game Fallout 4 from the Epic Games Store being told they won’t be able to play the mod, for technical reasons.

In terms of good, or at least unexpected, news if you’re a fan of the former Speaker Of The House, John Bercow, it’s been announced that he will play a robot parody of himself in the mod, that constantly shouts ‘Order!’

Fallout: London project lead Dean Carter confirmed on Discord that Bercow will join the vast cast of voice actors on Discord, where he said:

‘Little amusing update. Imagine being Fallout: London and feeling so lucky having all the talented voice actors on the team. But then boosting it further with the fact that we have two Doctor Who actors as VAs [voice actors]… then Neil Newbon messages us and also wants a role.

‘But the cherry on the top? Who better to represent our mods version of the Speaker of the House, than a robot version. Voice by John Bercow himself.’

The post also comes with an audio file, where we can hear Bercow say ‘order’ in a number of different ways, just like you would hear him when he tried to control discussions in the House Of Commons.

Bercow became known for his loud roars for order and wearing colourful ties, which sparked many memes on the internet.

John Bercow meme from Reddit
One of many John Bercow memes (Reddit)

The former speaker joins a cast of over 100 voice actors in Fallout: London, including Neil Newbon, who played Astarion in Baldur’s Gate 3; as well as the sixth and seventh doctors from Doctor Who, namely Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker.

Fallout London won’t be playable on Epic Games store copies

Not everyone can play Fallout London at launch, however, as GOG, the PC distributor of the mod, has said that those who have bought Fallout 4 via the Epic Games store won’t be able to run the mod, according to VG247.

The reason for this is because the aforementioned next gen update from Bethesda needs to be downgraded from Fallout 4 before being able to play the London mod.

The Epic Games storefront doesn’t support update rollbacks, but fans who own the game through Steam, will be able to play Fallout: London. However, there’s currently no expectation that the mod will be playable on consoles.

GOG also confirmed that Fallout: London is still being tested by them, before it can be released to the public.

Dean Carter says John Bercow joins Fallout London mod
Dean Carter confirms that John Bercow joins Fallout London (Discord)

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Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth key art
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth – the best game of the year is more than a third off (Square Enix)

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It’s Amazon Prime Day 2024 and while there are no cheap consoles there are some pretty good deal on cheap games, including Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Suicide Squad.

It’s Amazon Prime Day again, the summer equivalent of Black Friday that has so many deals that it actually lasts two days. Or at least that’s the theory, from Amazon’s point of view. Although this year there are a fair amount of genuinely tempting video game deals.

Amazon Prime Day is live now and will last until midnight on Wednesday. Deals can change over the two days though, and stock often runs out, so if you see a deal that catches your eye it’s usually best to act fast.

Unusually, there are no console deals at the moment – for PlayStation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch – but there are more discounts on recent games than usual, which is good. The PlayStation 5 has the lion’s share of the bargains, but you should find something for everything in the list below.

There’s also a number of good peripheral deals, for things like controllers, headsets, and mice but as usual it’s best to stick with official joypads when it comes to consoles – although the Xbox ones are on sale, if that’s what you’re after.

If you notice something good that we haven’t mentioned, or that anything below has gone out of stock, do let us know via the usual email address:

PS5 Amazon Prime Day 2024 video games deals

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth – £49.99 (29% off)

Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance – £34.99 (36% off)

Tekken 8 – £35.90 (35% off)

Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League – £22.09 (31% off)

Sand Land – £34.50 (42% off)

Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora Limited Edition – £34.99 (36% off)

Assassin’s Creed Mirage Launch Edition – £24.99 (44% off)

The Crew Motorfest Limited Edition – £27.99 (35% off)

Lords Of The Fallen – £18.99 (68% off)

Lies Of P – £33.10 (34% off)

Aliens: Dark Descent – £24.99 (29% off)

Farming Simulator 22 Premium Edition – £24.99 (44% off)

Grand Theft Auto 5 – £15.14 (39% off)

Xbox Series X/S Amazon Prime Day 2024 video games deals

Tekken 8: Launch Edition – £35.90 (49% off)

Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League Deluxe Edition – £26.69 (20% off)

Cyberpunk 2077: Ultimate Edition – £29.99 (40% off)

RoboCop: Rogue City – £25.64 (49% off)

Mortal Kombat 1 – £20.89 (68% off)

Grand Theft Auto 5 – £14.20 (43% off)

Nintendo Switch Amazon Prime Day 2024 video games deals

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown – £22.99 (49% off)

Mario + Rabbids Sparks Of Hope – £14.09 (22% off)

Persona 5 Tactica – £21.80 (60% off)

Among Us: Crewmate Edition – £13.99 (50% off)

Bluey: The Videogame – £24.99 (29% off)

Sonic Superstars – £23.74 (53% off)

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Classic Character Edition – £24.59 (30% off)

Five Nights At Freddy’s: Core Collection – £17.99 (40% off)

Video game accessories Amazon Prime Day 2024 deals

Logitech G29 Driving Force Racing Wheel and Floor Pedals – £195.99 (24% off)

Logitech G G502 HERO High Performance Wired Gaming Mouse – £29.39 (63% off)
Logitech G502 LIGHTSPEED Wireless Gaming Mouse – £69.99 (50% off)

Xbox Wireless Controller (various colours) – £41.99 (30% off)

Backbone One Mobile Gaming Controller for Android and iPhone – £69.99 (30% off)

Logitech G435 LIGHTSPEED & Bluetooth Wireless Gaming Headset – £31.99 (57% off)

SteelSeries Arctis 7P+ Wireless PS5 Gaming Headset – £99.99 (43% off)

Roblox gift card
Just because it’s £50 doesn’t mean it’s £50 (Roblox)

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Pokimane screenshot (YouTube)
The Pokimane auction is getting out of control (YouTube)

A charity auction to play video games with YouTube star Pokimane is getting out of control, as two bids reach $500,000 for the chance to game with their favourite influencer.

Auctions have become an increasingly popular form of content on Twitch in the last few years, where a single streamer, or several, put up bizarre prizes to draw in a big audience and lots of money for charity.

Last year, Twitch streamers QTCinderella and Maya hosted an event that raised £192,000 from auctions, including sweaty shorts and the chance to win a date with Stranger Things actor Grace Van Dien.

Now Welsh streamer CDawgVA is hosting his annual influencer auction, which includes a gaming session with Pokimane, which has gone out of control as two fans have offered $500,000 (£385,000) for the privilege – although it’s not clear if they’re real bids or not.

The auction is called CDawgVA Charity Auction 2024, and is raising money for the Immune Deficiency Foundation.

CDawgVA is adding new auctions most days leading up to the main event on July 19, and the most popular prize by far is a gaming session with YouTube star Pokimane.

‘Enjoy a gaming session with Pokimane, one of the top streamers in the industry. Play your favourite games and share an unforgettable experience,’ the auction says, without stating how long the session will last for.

The auction went live less than 24 hours ago and already 156 fans have bid on it.

The auction started with a modest $1 (77p) offer, which was immediately topped by a $15 (£11.50) bid, and now two fans have been one-upping each other and reached a staggering £385,000.

CDawgVA himself is in disbelief, even questioning the bid’s legitimacy, but if it is real then the Pokimane auction will raise five times the goal of the entire event.

The event has has made $8,000 (£6,100) so far, with lots of auctions still live, including the Pokimane gaming session.

Other live auctions include a hangout/game session with CDawgVA and VTuber of the Year IronMouse, which currently has a top bid of $20,500 (£15,800). There’s also a Hidetaka Miyazaki signed Elden Ring poster at $15,000 (£11,500) and YouTuber JaidenAnimations’ 10 million subscriber achievement button at $13,100 (£10,000).

CDawgVA’s event raised $328,000 (£252,000) for the Immune Deficiency Foundation last year, and if fans are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to play with their favourite influencer then it stands a great chance to outdo itself and then some this year.

Pokimane auction bids (Tiltify)
Some fans really want to game with Pokimane (Tiltify)

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Gestalt: Steam & Cinder screenshot
Gestalt: Steam & Cinder – steampunk retro (Fireshine Games)

It may seem like just another indie Metroidvania, but few games have the quality of graphics and level of polish as this stunning new action adventure.

As entertaining as so many of them are, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get excited about the announcement of a new Metroidvania, even if Gestalt: Steam & Cinder made an immediately positive impression when it was featured in the recent Triple-i showcase. Its pixelated graphics are a homage to the 16-bit era of the SNES and Mega Drive, while at the same time being enhanced by modern technology, and it turns out its gameplay is a similarly successful mix of old and new.

On the Metroidvania sliding scale, Gestalt leans much closer to Castlevania than Metroid, with its gothic visuals and role-playing stats. It casts you as Aletheia, a mysterious fighter who lives in the steampunk world of Canaan where, generations previously, a mystical rift opened up, breeding a generation of technologically enhanced super-fighters who plunged the land into civil war.

A fragile peace now exists but Aletheia embarks on a quest to uncover Canaan’s dark secret, while shooting and stabbing as many robots and monsters as possible. Although its influences are obvious, the world of Gestalt: Steam & Cinder has more narrative depth than you might expect from a Metroidvania, with lots of plot twists and character betrayals.

In classic Metroidvania fashion, Aletheia acquires useful abilities as the game progresses, and she levels up. Gestalt has a huge abilities tree, bringing the expected upgrades to health, gun, and melee damage, along with a variety of increasingly powerful blade attacks and the ability for her energy-powered gun to fire more shots than the single one it starts with. In addition, she earns crucial new abilities through overcoming bosses, including a double jump, air dash, and a heavy attack.

As you’d expect, the new abilities open up previously inaccessible parts of the map, while Aletheia is able to pick up documents that populate the map with treasure locations, which in turn bring the likes of the gunsmith and the armourer into play, back in her hometown of Irkalla.

At first, even basic (mostly robotic) enemies prove challenging, thanks to Aletheia’s limited health, but she soon develops into a powerful fighter, with a larger amount of health-restoring draughts. This is just as well, since her enemies become even more difficult after that. Every time you leave and re-enter a room on the map, its enemies respawn, which feels somewhat unfair at first but becomes useful later on, since you can use them as a means of grinding to level up more quickly.

Occasionally you will have to grind, since the bosses – again, in classic Metroidvania fashion – are pretty hard. They are also impressively diverse, but they all have one thing in common: you need patience to defeat them. Much like Elden Ring et al., working out when to go on the offensive and when to evade their instant-kill attacks is vital, as you learn their patterns and vulnerabilities.

The further you get into Gestalt, the more inventive its levels become: you eventually encounter some sequences which are very reminiscent of the Metroid games, in that as well as taking on enemies, you must solve satisfyingly complex mechanical puzzles. There’s also a speed level in which you have to execute a near flawless sequence of platforming while under attack from a rogues’ gallery of enemies and a rapidly rising lava flow.

For an indie game, Metroidvania or not, Gestalt: Steam & Cinder feels extremely polished and finely fettled. It contains 15 to 20 hours of gameplay, adorned with great music (suitably baroque, atmospheric, and memorable), and fantastic pixel art graphics. There’s some fantastic animation and enjoyably imaginative designs, in what is an exemplar of how far you can push hand-drawn 16-bit-style graphics using modern technology.

In gameplay terms Gestalt: Steam & Cinder may not do anything particularly original but when it comes to presentation and slickness this is up there with the very finest Metroidvanias, indie or otherwise. It still doesn’t point towards any future evolution of the genre, whose design has remained largely static for decades now, but when a game looks and plays this well that barely seems to matter.

Gestalt: Steam & Cinder review summary

In Short: A fantastically polished Metroidvania, with some of the best 16-bit style graphics ever seen and impressively deep combat and role-playing elements.

Pros: Superb hand-drawn graphics and music. Great level design and varied combat, punctuated by clever puzzles. Complex character progression and surprisingly good storytelling.

Cons: Could do with a bit more checkpointing at times and level grinding is always controversial. No genuinely original ideas of its own.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PC (reviewed) and Nintendo Switch
Price: £15.99
Publisher: Fireshine Games
Developer: Metamorphosis Games
Release Date: 16th July 2024 (Switch TBC)
Age Rating: 7

Gestalt: Steam & Cinder screenshot
Gestalt: Steam & Cinder – pixel perfect Metroidvania(Fireshine Games)

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Red Dead Redemption 2 fishing mini-game
Red Dead Redemption 2 – a nice spot of fishing (Rockstar Games)

The Tuesday letters page thinks BioShock 4 would be better with less action, as one reader hopes for Aliens: Dark Descent 2.

To join in with the discussions yourself email

Something fishy
With the video games word at a crossroads, with the whole concept of consoles and big budget games up in the air, I want to talk to you about the most important issue of our times: which game has the best fishing mini-game?

I was compelled to write in after finding, to my surprise, that even Stellar Blade has one. It’s quite good even, although it’s a bit too simple to make my top 10. My top three contenders, in no particular order, are Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, Red Dead Redemption 2, and World Of Warcraft. I will also give a shout out to Sega Bass Fishing on the Dreamcast, but since that’s a dedicated game I don’t think you can count it as a mini-game.

I think probably Red Dead Redemption 2 is my favourite, since it makes sense in context, is reasonably difficult, and the graphics are great, but I’ve loved so many fishing mini-games over the years. I wonder what it is that makes developers think to put it in, even when it’s completely irrelevant – like in Stellar Blade.

Are all game developers secretly fishing fanatics in real? It can’t be because it’s easy to do because all of these could quite easily go without the mini-game and nobody would mind, so really it’d be easier to leave it out. I approve though and am always excited to find a new one. Perhaps the better question would be which is the most unexpected game to have a fishing mini-game?

A game of two halves
BioShock is a strange series of games because I feel the story and the action really do not work well together, despite both being very good in their own right. The original BioShock is really unappreciated at how good of a first person shooter is, but everyone remembers the unusual setting and story. I feels like if you took the action out as a separate game, or the story, they’d probably both be better than BioShock as a whole.

BioShock 2 was kind of all-action but they never tried to do a more story orientated game and I think that’s a shame. BioShock Infinite felt especially odd at times because you were meant to be in this big city and you hardly ever saw anyone, except the people you were fighting. It would’ve been a lot more interesting if you were talking to people and doing dialogue choices and the like.

I hope that when the fourth game does turn up it addresses this to some degree.

Unhappy anniversary
Just wanted to point it out, because I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere, but Half-Life 2 is 20 years old this year. Apart from making me feel old it is still incredible to me there’s never been a proper sequel. Yes, there was Half-Life: Alyx but it was only on PC VR (why was it never on PlayStation VR2?) and I don’t think it moved the story forward much anyway, from what I understand. It just retcons the end of Episode Two.

The entire idea of Half-Life 3 has been a joke for years and now it’s obvious that the reason there isn’t one is that most people involved with the series have left Valve and those that are left just aren’t interested. It seems such a crying shame. With all that infinite Steam money, I wish they’d just pay someone else to do it or give it to the fans or something.

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Xbox Lite
I’ve seen a lot of people mention that with Game Pass being built into TVs and being on Fire stick means that a console isn’t needed. To me though that’s a bit like saying the Xbox Series X isn’t needed as the Xbox Series S plays the same games. Or any product that is sold in tiers, be it a Dyson or electric toothbrush.

Game Pass streaming is a good entry level product, but it only does 1080p and is limited to games in Game Pass. Call it Xbox Lite if you will.

An Xbox Series S gives you all the games and better graphics, and an Xbox Series X gives you Xbox’s best graphics.

I can’t see streaming replacing a device any time soon, but I don’t see why it can’t be a great little low cost service. If you’ve got a PlayStation, buying an Xbox for a couple of exclusives is probably a waste, but why not sign up for a month or two to play one that might interest you?

According to requirements
With the letters and recent Reader’s Feature, one idea I had a while back is Nintendo should release a Dock Pro. Some computational power to upgrade graphics to 4K, bit of storage for upgraded textures.

Don’t think the Inbox magic will work, as Switch is on the trajectory to being succeeded.

On another point, I do like how Nintendo only brings out a new console when it feels like it needs to.

Sony and Microsoft just release a new console to compete with each other, when (as many have recently said) doesn’t seem needed.

Cost effective
As tempting as it is to imagine what Nintendo would do if working on a much more powerful machine, I think we have to accept that not only is it never happening but that it would fundamentally break how Nintendo work as a company. They took six years to make Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom and that was on a low power machine that borrowed the same basic map from an existing game. How much longer would it have taken on a more powerful console, especially if it was a completely new game?

The short answer is they just wouldn’t make anything of that size or complexity and that obviously would be a great loss. A lot of Nintendo games seem to be quite low budget, especially compared to their competitors, and if they couldn’t be, because they need to create all the complicated assets needed for a high-end console, then a lot of them simply wouldn’t exist.

Remember that things like Animal Crossing and Smash Bros. started off as low budget, experimental side projects, and now look at them. More companies should look to work like Nintendo and I’m very interested to see Capcom’s new Path Of The Goddess game, which seems to be doing weird and interesting things on a modest budget.

We need much more of that and far less of low concept copycat junk like Concord. I don’t care how good the graphics are, I want something that’s actually new.

Solo gaming
I’m surprised to find out that Link will be playable in Zelda: Echoes Of Wisdom, as that’s not the impression given by the trailer. I hope it’s only a small amount, perhaps a bait and switch at the beginning, as I do feel Zelda deserves her own proper game to herself.

I’m really looking forward to that game and am once again amazed that Nintendo has such an unexpectedly good line-up this year. If Mario & Luigi is good as well then I’ll probably get that too.

To be this good takes ages
I don’t know if the rumours about 343 Industries being downsized, over their handling of Halo, is true or not but if it isn’t it, it really should be. Microsoft should’ve taken them out to pasture years ago, once it was obvious they weren’t up to the job. Even when they did something right, like with the multiplayer of Halo Infinite, they managed to mess that up, with inadequate support that just let the game die an unnecessary death.

The sad fact is that there’s just no saving Halo at the moment. It’s got to go away for at least a decade, until people miss it enough to want it to return. Release one in a year or two and it’d still be tainted by the last several games (and I don’t see who they’d get to make it, that would be any good).

It’s just total mismanagement on the part of Microsoft and 343. Halo was the mascot of Xbox and it says everything about the console and brand that Halo is in the state it’s in at the moment. Imagine if Nintendo was as bad at maintaining Mario or Zelda, or Sony with The Last Of Us or God Of War.

I feel that one of Microsoft’s main problems is that it still doesn’t know how to nurture first party developers and that because it’s constantly in a rush for a killer app it never gives one time enough to mature. It took Sony three generations to get consistent about its first party games. There’s no way Microsoft has the patience for that.

Inbox also-rans
I read today Xbox stopping people stacking their Game Pass subscription from up to three years to 13 months. This is from September but does not affect anyone who has already stacked their Game Pass.

As much as I like the film, Aliens: Fireteam Elite wasn’t very good. I’d much rather get a sequel to Aliens: Dark Descent. That was a really good game, regardless of the licence, but sadly I don’t think it did very well.

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The small print
New Inbox updates appear every weekday morning, with special Hot Topic Inboxes at the weekend. Readers’ letters are used on merit and may be edited for length and content.

You can also submit your own 500 to 600-word Reader’s Feature at any time via email or our Submit Stuff page, which if used will be shown in the next available weekend slot.

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EA Sports FC 25
All the stars are out for EA Sports FC 25 (Electronic Arts)

Electronic Arts has released the cover for EA Sports FC 25 Ultimate Edition, with a full trailer set to drop later this week.

While England may have failed against Spain in the Euros 2024 final, one of the team’s star players is taking a prime spot on both covers of EA Sports FC 25.

As previously outed by leaks, England and Real Madrid player Jude Bellingham will adorn the standard cover of the next EA football title – the second to not have the FIFA licence after EA ended its 30-year partnership with the football association.

It was also rumoured he and others would be on the Ultimate Edition cover, which EA has just officially revealed. On it, you can see the rumours were right, with Bellingham joined by other football stars past and present – namely David Beckham, Gianluigi Buffon, Aitana Bonmati, and Zinedine Zidane.

They are surrounded by various championship trophies, but the Euros 2024 trophy is weirdly absent, even though EA does have a deal to feature it and the championship (the only one they miss out on, because they don’t have the FIFA licence, is the World Cup).

At the same time, EA has announced that the first trailer for EA Sports FC 25 is set to be revealed on Wednesday, July 17 at 4.57pm BST in the UK, which is… weirdly specific.

Manchester City player Erling Haaland was the cover star of last year’s game, EA Sports FC 24, which despite the name change still managed to prove a sales juggernaut.

According to prior leaks, EA Sports FC 25 will be released on September 27. If you buy the more expensive Ultimate Edition, however, you’ll be able to play the game seven days early, from September 20.

EA Play subscribers will also apparently get early access to the game via a 10-hour trial, which has become the norm for the service.

As for the future of FIFA in video games, the football association is rumoured to have signed a deal with Take-Two, to make a new series of games, but this is still yet to be confirmed.

EA Sports FC 24
EA Sports FC 24 marked a new era (Electronic Arts)

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