What we’re playing: ‘Wipeout’, ‘Dead Cells’ and ‘Danger Zone’
Welcome back to Gaming IRL, a monthly segment where several editors talk about what they’ve been playing in their downtime. This month, we’ve obsessed over roguelikes, remasters and resource gathering; we’ve sent adventurers into dungeons, only to see them go insane; and one of us searched for the Burnout mode they’ve pined for, only to realize that making a 13-year-old minigame feel relevant is easier said than done.
Timothy J. Seppala
When Danger Zone was first announced, I was overjoyed: Someone had finally made a standalone version of Burnout‘s Crash Mode. I hadn’t played the multi-car-pileup-simulator minigame since Burnout 3: Takedown on the original Xbox, so my anticipation was high. Careening through intersections, trying to engineer the most expensive pileup possible, was a catharsis not even the GTA games provided more than a decade ago. But now, having played Danger Zone, I’ve found that my lust for automotive mayhem has barely been sated.
The good news is that the game absolutely succeeds in nailing Crash Mode’s fundamentals. How it does that isn’t surprising: Developer Three Fields Entertainment is composed of veterans Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry, from Burnout‘s original developer, Criterion Games — they know what makes Burnout, well, Burnout.
Online leaderboards and Unreal Engine 4–powered graphics definitely make it feel like a modern game, but for better and for worse, Danger Zone‘s nuts and bolts are trapped in the past. I was initially caught off guard by the complete lack of music. There isn’t even a placeholder song playing at the main menu or a looped butt-rock guitar riff during gameplay, just generic car crash sound effects. To be fair, Takedown is silent as well, and its pop-punk soundtrack is available only in menus and campaign races. But that game came out over a dozen years ago.
Another bummer is that, regardless of whether I was flying off a ramp and onto a busy highway or cruising through a simple four-way intersection, each successive challenge felt the same, because everything in Danger Zone takes place within a simulation. This means you can finally crash into a school bus in a driving game, but the downside is a sense of monotony because everything looks the same: dark, dingy and gray. I realize that the game is a $13 downloadable from a small team, but a little visual variety would’ve gone a long way toward keeping things fresh. Local multiplayer is absent too, which feels like an egregious omission.
I’m having fun with Danger Zone in half-hour bursts, sure, but more than anything, it made me glad I still have my OG Xbox and copy of Takedown.
Every time I open Steam, I’m confronted by a rundown of the hours I’ve spent playing each game, and reminded that I probably shouldn’t buy any more roguelikes. I lose myself in these games, and have over a dozen in my library that I’ve sunk more than 24 hours into. The two worst playtime totals are for FTL and Nuclear Throne, which I have somehow played for 271 hours combined. More than 11 days of my life, lost forever. Despite this self-awareness, I just can’t help but find more and more games to dive into. My latest obsession is Dead Cells, a roguelike that was released on Early Access back in May.
I first played Dead Cells way back at Eurogamer’s EGX event last fall, and I was immediately taken with its premise. It essentially blends classic 2D “Metroidvania” gameplay with roguelike traits. It’s probably better described as a “roguelite” — yes, when you die, you start back at the very beginning, but there is some light progression through the many, many unsuccessful runs, with new weapons and items to unlock and upgrade and a couple of skills that will help you gain access to new areas. You start each run with randomized items, and “unlocking” a weapon adds it to the list of items that can be dropped by enemies or found in chests.
It shares some common DNA with another favorite of mine, Rogue Legacy, but what stands out is its fluid combat. Dead Cells really nails the fundamentals, with gorgeous art and sound design, dozens of weapons that all handle differently, and an ever-expanding array of enemy types that combine to kill you in new and imaginative ways. Keeping everything fresh is some light procedural generation: Each playthrough has set levels linked by the same divergent paths, but layouts and enemy placements change with each playthrough.
It’s been only two months, but I’ve already racked up 50 hours in this game. I just can’t recommend it enough. The content and level of polish present in Dead Cells at launch was more than worth the $17 price tag, and with each and every update it’s become a bigger, better game. Once it’s finally complete, here’s hoping for a Switch release so I can be unproductive on the bus as well as at my desk.
Last Day on Earth: Zombie Survival
There’s something about a survival game that just pulls me in. Whether it’s Don’t Starve or even Minecraft, I’m a sucker for a good resource-gathering, craft-making, monster-killing game, no matter what the platform. Mobile game Last Day on Earth: Zombie Survival, by Andrey Pryakhin, is the latest title to get under my skin. The basics are simple: Gather wood, stone, metal and plant materials to build a defensible home, then craft even more complex items (including metal forges, sewing tables and gun workbenches) and upgrade everything as you defend against hordes of zombies or other players. The multiplayer aspect is a fine one, as you only ever seem to run across other survivors when you’re off gathering materials in neighboring woods.
What really has me intrigued is the energy system — you have only 100 energy points to use at any given time (they replenish at the rate of one point every five minutes). Energy allows you to run to nearby spots, including humanitarian drops, a dealer in an RV or even a plane crash. You can walk there for free, but it takes real time. The meta here sees you managing your energy for very focused play sessions: I plan out my travel based on what resources I need and how far each area is, then end up walking back to my home base while my phone is in my pocket. The game has various difficulties built right in, with more tricky zombies to fight off in areas with better loot. Your equipment breaks down over time, including your clothing, so you have to make sure you’ve got enough to survive the many zombie and survivor encounters as you try and fill up your limited storage. Don’t let the free-to-play moniker fool you: This is a game with a ton of depth and would feel right at home on a console or PC.
If my last few recommendations have looked like a clearinghouse for recent indie titles, blame summer sales. But I’m glad I approached Darkest Dungeon during the season of sun, because this game is bleak.
Released in full last year after a long spell in Steam Early Access, Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based team RPG for folks brave enough to send adventuring parties into caverns of doom and probable death. The achingly pretty, Gothic Mignola-style art matches the game’s stressful mechanics: Your heroes are flawed creatures, bearing negative tics and suffering not just physically but mentally. When one character’s had too much horror, they either rise to the occasion … or, more often, break, and break hard, babbling incoherently and tumbling the rest of your party into a stressed-out downward spiral of oft-uncontrollable panic or selfishness. Misfortune might wipe out entire parties, and when your adventurers are dead, they’re dead for good, leaving you to train up new recruits, and maybe care about them a lot less next time.
Darkest Dungeon is exhausting, but it throws a realistic humane wrench into the usual fearless-adventurer equation. Maybe these faulty wretches are who we’d really be if we were passed the torch to delve into the horrors below our known world.
Wipeout Omega Collection
Associate Editor, Engadget UK
Wipeout is a series that rewards precision. Every barrier on the track is a hazard that, if struck, will wipe precious seconds off your lap time. Periodic boost pads can be hard to reach, but they represent a vital opportunity to overtake your opponent. Jump ramps are a rare chance to flick the analog stick (or mash the D-Pad, if you prefer) left, right and left again, forcing your ship to barrel-roll and boost upon landing. Even a normal hairpin bend can spell disaster if you fail to tap the air brake early enough. Success depends on lightning-fast reactions and dextrous fingers.
I’m in love with the Omega Collection. Before this new remaster trilogy — which combines Playstation 3 title Wipeout HD, its 2009 expansion pack Fury and the PlayStation Vita game Wipeout 2048 — I had never encountered the franchise before. Maybe that’s for the best; on the PlayStation 4 and especially the PlayStation 4 Pro, all three games are ridiculously sharp and smooth. I’m sure the presentation was equally impressive upon each game’s respective release, but here they’re simply breathtaking. The vibrant neon colors, the heart-thumping dance tunes — it’s sensory overload in the best way possible.
What I love most of all, however, is the handling. So many “sim” racers make the fastest cars near impossible to drive. I know it’s realistic, and that’s the appeal, but steering a vehicle that feels like it’s constantly on black ice can be infuriating. I’ve missed arcade-y racers like Blur and Burnout that let you hold down the accelerator and revel in every drift, shortcut and near miss. Wipeout is one of those games. When you master a course and fall into a Zenlike state, taking each corner on muscle memory alone — there’s really no better feeling.
“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.