Monday 21 January 2019

Taking turns at thugs and thievery

Antihero (PC/Mac) ★★★★★ Age: 12+

Ronan Price

Ronan Price

Steal everything is the refreshingly direct instruction in Antihero, a warped version of Oliver Twist translated to a video game. But this is no lachrymose Dickensian tale of morality, instead it shoots for a droll view of gangs of thieves battling for the heart (and money) of Victorian London.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate scoured the same turf for stories in much flashier fashion. But Antihero hews closer to a boardgame than a video game, relying on turn-based strategy for its kicks.

A master thief pits his wits against the guild of robbers for control of territory, recruiting urchins, thugs and assassins to do his bidding. The single-player component teaches you the rules - which, though complex, allow for a great deal of strategy as you plot moves to out-think the opposition.

Assassination, bribery and good old-fashioned burglary prove the most effective tools of attack but defence plays a key role, too, especially when you graduate to the more interesting multiplayer mode against online opponents in real time.

Intriguingly, Antihero also features an asynchronous mode where you take your turn and then wait for notification of the opponent's move by email - just like the 'play by mail' boardgames of old that lasted for days.

Antihero is a fascinating hybrid of old world meets new tech, and at just €15, it's, ahem, a steal.

Black: The Fall

(PS4/XO/PC ★★★★ Age: 12+

Dystopian visions are like buses - you wait ages for one and then several come along at once.

Black draws on the Romanian developers' memories of life under the Soviet jackboot. But what might have seemed distinctive at its conception arrives after the superlative 2016 Inside, a similarly themed glimpse of totalitarian hell, and the grotesque vistas of 2017's Little Nightmares.

Still, Black evokes a particularly bleak world via the medium of a 2.5D puzzle-platformer, eking humour and pathos as you bid to escape from the grim and merciless totalitarian state. It even hark back to 1997's kindred spirit Oddworld in its penchant for insta-death and unforgiving timing.

It hurries past too much of its troubling background for it to be truly affecting, yet Black lodges in the memory for all the right reasons.

Cars 3: Driven to Win

(PS4/XO/Switch) ★★★ Age: 7+

Like its movie tie-in, Cars 3: Driven to Win may feel over-familiar but delivers an entertaining ride for young fans. The bulk of the experience lies in fast-paced, highly competitive races between the anthropomorphised cars. But with so many facets to the driving - boosting, ground tricks, air tricks, shortcuts, jumping, turbo, etc - some players will feel short-changed by the artificial skill of the AI.

It's best then to focus on the family-friendly option of four-player split-screen, where competing alongside each other on the couch is a hoot.

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