But, as is always the case with Assassin’s Creed, the setting really makes it stand out. A built-in codex features a treasure trove of historical research, all of which has fed into this version’s immaculate creation and, while its various systemic changes will annoy some, there’s no denying that its representation of historical Baghdad is a joy to explore.
Elsewhere, a revamped tutorial is a genuine attempt to boost the skills of amateur players, making this otherwise neglected mode well worth checking out. While the enormous popularity of FUT continues to dominate the playlist, all other modes tag along as expected. Volta Football has had a little TLC but career modes continue to languish at the bottom of the table. Perhaps one day they’ll get the love they need.
Motorfest is a real looker, at least when cruising between races when it’s possible to safely look at the surroundings. While it lacks some of Forza Horizon’s presentational flair, it at least reins in some of that game’s irritating excesses, such as showering you with cars and prizes at the end of every encounter as if you’ve won the lottery. The game’s ‘playlists’ neatly change up the environment, such as a series of Japanese events featuring night-time races bathed in a delicious blue neon glow. Its negatives are also the sins of Forza Horizon: excruciating banter from AI opponents, a vexatious AI sat-nav, and a pervading sense of automotive fetishisation that will test all but the most ardent petrolhead. But right now, these issues are baked into this relatively nascent genre, and The Crew Motorfest is a strong contender for the lead.
It’s a shame there isn’t an interactive tutorial. Instead the game asks you to sit through a surfeit of text-heavy videos. But then nothing beats actually playing the game to learn its intersecting systems. It really looks the part: the family members all resemble their on-screen counterparts (including the hitchhiker and the cook) and the locations and discordant soundtrack are highly evocative of the source material. These particular games rely on solid post-launch support so time will tell if it will survive and what will be left of it.
Thankfully, its sequel is a calmer affair. Set aboard an ocean liner, it relies on a more subtle creepiness and is much less reliant on clichéd tropes such as thunderstorms, dolls and toy clowns. Away from the constraints of the first game’s mansion, it presents a more imaginative mise en scène and the path forward is mercifully clearer. Overall, this is a good package with plenty of scares, although at times it can feel a bit much, like being bludgeoned by a haunted fairground ride.
Player customisation (historically a really big deal in this series) is laughably limited, the menus are buggy, there’s terrible lag when taking shots, and there’s no proper tutorial to explain how all the complex systems work. And yet it is the best-looking golf simulation around thanks to the heft of EA’s vast resources. Knowing the importance (and price) of the PGA licence, it’s hard to imagine the various issues won’t be fixed. But it was obviously released way too soon and currently sits in the rough.
The game’s AI director rations health and ammo in such a way that players never feel like they have enough resources for the fight ahead. The resultant state of dread rarely lets up over the game’s 15-hour campaign but its meticulous balance mitigates frustration. As well as a serious graphical overhaul, some of the plot has been tightened up and the cheesy dialogue has been rewritten and is performed by new actors. Resident Evil 4 has never looked or sounded so good, and for new and returning players alike, this is now the definitive way to play.
The standard multiplayer generally retains the series’ three-lane structure, although some new maps (including one set at the aforementioned border and filled with explosive cars) smartly mix things up. With the huge success of Call Of Duty’s battle royale, Warzone, and its enormous player counts and vast maps, it almost seems like a novelty to indulge in short multiplayer battles with regular bursts of spawn/kill/die action. The Special Ops co-op mode also makes a return, although it’s less distinct than previous entries and it hews irritatingly close to Warzone’s expanse. It’s strange to see Call Of Duty so circumspect but overall this is an impressive package.
It wouldn’t work at all if the player hadn’t put in hours of preparation, although some might find their patience is stretched before the penny drops. Charlotta Mohlin (Agents Of SHIELD) deserves praise for her extraordinary work in these scenes, alternating between malevolent entity and misunderstood victim. Underpinning it all is a breakout performance from Manon Gage. If she wasn’t utterly convincing as the story’s doomed ingénue then the whole narrative would fall apart. Immortality is a remarkable moment in gaming and it’s hard to imagine how Sam Barlow could ever top it.
And so to the finale. If you're new to the trilogy then just ignore the naysayers and enjoy the ride. Long since Mass Effect 3 sent fans into a rage they've had Game of Thrones and The Rise of Skywalker to focus their ire, but this game's ending deserves no such hostility. The failure of 2017's Mass Effect: Andromeda thwarted Bioware's plans to expand the universe (exploring a different galaxy) but a sequel to the original trilogy was announced in December. In the meantime, this is audacious, epic storytelling filled with wonderful characters and spectacular locations, the likes of which we've not seen since and we're unlikely to see for some time.
Although the plot can't quite live up to its predecessor's superb twist, it's compelling enough to drive the story over 10 hours to a satisfying conclusion. While Resident Evil Village doesn't add anything transformative to the genre, it liberally pays homage to some of the very best bits from a series that's – incredibly – endured for more than a quarter of a century. If only it had better capitalised on its most striking character. Still, she's a vampire, so maybe next time?
The co-op PvE shooter has entered something of a renaissance recently, particularly thanks to the success of Back 4 Blood, although whether or not Extraction has the staying power to sustain an active community remains to be seen. Exploiting the popularity of the Siege universe is a canny move, but for every Left 4 Dead (still going strong) there's an Evolve (now long defunct). Extraction's high difficulty, even on the easiest setting, walks a fine line between alienating casual players and giving hardcore survival fans something to chew on. But the enduring familiarity of its specialists gives it a fighting chance.
Where God Of War comes into its own is through its extraordinary combat mechanics, with Kratos' Leviathan Axe one of the most satisfying gaming weapons ever. Presented as a single camera shot, the game is technically audacious with awe-inspiring backdrops, gigantic foes and detailed animation which brings real pathos to these characters. Among all the Sturm und Drang, it's ultimately an intimate tale of familial bonding, and a story that will stay with you long after it ends.
Battlefield's USP has always been its large-scale battles, and 2042 delivers these bigger than ever before. After some serious teething problems it's now in a much better place. The (slightly) futuristic arsenal is punchy, there are many more gadgets than we're used to, and its vehicles will always be a great test of teamwork and patience. It does feel a little sparse at present but much more is promised, and based on the support given to previous entries in the series, its future is in safe hands.
Call Of Duty: Vanguard is less enticing than its recent forebears and that's a real problem when it's facing its own competition with free-to-play battle royale CoD: Warzone riding high (not to mention rival Battlefield 2042 out later this month). But with a solid multiplayer mode on offer, there's enough here to keep fans occupied over Christmas at least.
House Of Ashes is the grandest yet of the Dark Pictures Anthology. It's technically audacious, with big storytelling and compelling character design. And while it's a relatively short game, there's plenty of fun to be had by trying to engineer different outcomes.
While Left 4 Dead is a clear influence, Fireteam Elite really hasn't grasped the notion that players need some room to breathe and collect their thoughts. Nowhere is safe, and the constant onslaught quickly becomes tiring. While missions only last about 20 minutes, they're unwaveringly stressful, and there's so much to take in that the motion tracker – annoyingly located on the far right of the screen – is practically redundant. If it's just you and the Working Joes on a squad then Aliens: Fireteam Elite can feel like hard work; it's very much at its best when played with friends, basking in the nostalgia of this resilient series.
There's no real need to play the previous two games beforehand as most levels are stand-alone adventures and the overarching storyline isn't that interesting, although if you do already own them then it's possible to integrate them into Hitman 3 from the same game system. It's a tremendously replayable series, with challenges, 'mission stories' and leaderboards all teasing brand new ways to approach each level. IO Interactive recently announced their next project: a brand new James Bond game, a licence (to kill) for which they're clearly a brilliant match. For now, their legacy is a trilogy of perfect stealth action-adventures. It seems inevitable that one day Hitman will return.
Cold War is a brilliant – if short – campaign, and it boldly ushers Call of Duty into the new age of consoles with typically gorgeous presentation and a fun, twisty tale that joyfully exploits the entrenched paranoia of its novel setting.