Tuesday 12 November 2019

Frostpunk review: Heavy is the head that wears the crown

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 15+

Frostpunk
Frostpunk
Frostpunk
Catherine Full Body
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

It ain't easy being a Victorian dictator. Snivelling kids, disease-ridden citizens and moany miners - what they need is 24-hour shifts, food rationing… oh, and put those children to work for good measure.

In fairness, you face a herculean task to establish and sustain the last city on Earth after a big freeze wipes almost everyone else out. It calls for tough decisions constantly.

Frostpunk is not the first city-building sim but it's probably the bleakest, with echoes of the developer's previous outing, This War of Mine, about surviving the Balkan conflict. This steampunk world hinges on coal - your little colony must mine enough to power a giant generator to heat the rickety homes and workplaces.

But there's also an intense balancing act of hunting enough food and building hope with expeditions to the outside world. Except there's never enough people or time. Hence the brutal choices thrust on you.

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It gets under your skin, does Frostpunk, much as This War of Mine did, forcing you to confront the appalling morality of your actions. Did you permit prostitution to distract angry workers? Did you recycle corpses for food? Did you care for sick settlers or let them die? You may feel a bit grubby afterward but you won't forget playing Frostpunk.



Catherine: Full Body

(PS4) ★★★★Age: 18+

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Catherine Full Body

Effectively a director's cut of an eccentric but amusing 2011 release, Catherine: Full Body exists in a wacky dimension all its own. No one else has fused a dating simulator with a block puzzler - possibly with good reason. Both halves stand up in their own right, nonetheless, with only a very loose connection between the two.

The main storyline is a tangled tale of thirty-something salaryman Vincent who freaks out and commits adultery when his girlfriend hints at marriage. This remake pointlessly introduces a third woman to the ménage à trois but it's still an intriguing yarn, by turns funny, suggestive and daft.

The second ingredient is Vincent's dream world, in which climbing a connected grid of cubes is presumably supposed to represent his mental torment. It doesn't really, but proves an interesting spatial challenge which, bizarrely, has triggered an esports tournament in Japan.

Even after all these years, Catherine stands out for its mature portrayal of adult relationships and their consequences.


Ni No Kuni Remastered

(PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 7+

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Ni No Kuni Remastered.jpg

Chances are you missed out on the first coming of Ni No Kuni, a sumptuous Japanese RPG produced on PS3 in collaboration with the revered Studio Ghibli, creators of much-loved films such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke.

Here’s a chance to see what all the fuss was about back in 2013 with this gussied-up version for PS4 and PC. The storyline may be standard fare – young boy Oliver embarks on epic magical quest to undo the loss of a loved one – and the gameplay filled with relatively routine turn-based battles.

But Ghibli’s influence turns it into a visual and aural tour de force, elegantly animated and hauntingly soundtracked. Special mention too goes to Oliver’s sidekick Drippy, surely the only (and funniest) fairy to be voiced in a Welsh accent.

That is where the remastering ends, however, and as charming as it is, paying full price seems a big ask for nothing more than prettier graphics.

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