Games: Lure of darkness too much to resist
Dark Souls III (PS4/XOne/PC), 5 Stars, Age 16+
A little part of me hates Dark Souls. No, scratch that, a big part despises what it does to the psyche. Sadistic yet irresistible, it draws me back time after time.
The challenging gothic hack'n'slash series was ever thus and DSIII revels in this grand tradition of mercilessly whipping the player for every tiny mistake. But in equal measure the brooding land of Lordric rewards and seduces. Extraordinary architecture, fantastically repulsive enemies, labyrinthine level design - all mesh to form a game world that is at once intricate, terrifying and engrossing.
Yet Dark Souls' most compelling conceit derives from the exacting combat, which demands total attention lest an enemy wipe out your health bar with one swipe. But focusing on your health proves misguided because your stamina - which governs speed, dodging and attacking - is the stat that keeps you alive. A skilled player can survive on a tiny ribbon of health so long as he conserves enough stamina to dodge Lordric's bestial army.
DSII suffered from the absence of Dark Souls' creator Hidetaka Miyazaki but his return for the closing of the trilogy has the air of a triumphant homecoming. DSIII feels familiar yet thrilling, with a gauntlet of intimidating bosses, a collection of mazy, deceptive landscapes and a new ability to lure enemies into attacking each other.
What a shame that, technically, DSIII suffers from frame-rate drops and audio cut-out. It besmirches what is otherwise a masterful piece of entertainment, albeit one not for the faint-hearted.
(XOne/PS4) 5 Stars, Age: 7+
It began as a PC-only Early Access effort to appease hardcore rally fans. Now DiRT Rally makes the transition to consoles in its final, polished form - and still it offers few concessions to the uncommitted player.
It's not quite as teak-tough as Dark Souls but DiRT compels you to dive into the intricacies of rallying.
Without taking account of the type of road surface or listening carefully to your co-driver's pace notes, you will flounder. Impressive handling, rock-solid 60fps visuals and pounding audio recreate the crunch of metal and rubber meeting nature on punishing tracks.
Paradoxically, simply driving fast counts as a poor strategy, running the risk of wrecking your car. Instead, you must drive smart, playing the long game across the several stages of a rally, balancing the repair duration and cost against pushing for the quickest time.
Those accustomed to arcade racers may feel alienated but if you're looking for authenticity, DiRT Rally has it in spades.