Big Pharma

The Game

Big Pharma by Twice Circled is a simulation game available on virtually every platform (except mobile). The game is a conveyer belt manufacturing simulator in which you combine various ingredients to create new and wonderful medicines to help people with their illnesses. Overall the concept is fairly simple, however the initial learning curve can be quite steep. There are quite a few tutorial missions and they can be quite daunting, but once you get to grips with the mechanics you’ll also realise that the game does quite a good job of telling you exactly what to do with each ingredient to achieve the desired effect. Note that I played the PS4 version, so some comments may be specific to that, the obvious benefit (as usual) of having a PC version is mods – although these aren’t available through the Steam Workshop as with other games, so may be a bit of a hassle.

The game features research trees and various exploration missions that you need to undertake in order to discover new ingredients and improve your machinery. At it’s most basic level the game is based around increasing or decreasing the concentration of various ingredients in order to achieve desired effects (these can be seen in the info panel of each ingredient). When at a certain concentration some ingredients can be combined with others or run through a specific machine in order to change or upgrade their effect completely. This is where the game gets interesting and a lot more complex. Combining various ingredients and increasing/decreasing their concentration until you achieve the perfect cure can be quite a complex process and if you don’t do it efficiently enough, you won’t be making much of a profit.

Worth it?

Generally speaking the game will set you back between £20-30. Honestly I find that a bit on the expensive side, so look out for any offers. It does offer a lot of scenarios to play through and a lot of depth and there’s a free build mode too. On PS4 the controls can be a bit of a challenge to get used to and don’t always feel very intuitive to use, it sort of goes without saying that it’s a game made for a PC.

Overall other than some control issues and the slightly elevated price, the game is quite addictive and can be really satisfying once you get that supply chain up and running properly, it has some really satisfying sound effects and will keep you coming back for more. There’s plenty of scenarios to keep you playing for a while and if you’re playing on PC you can even have a go with modding the game.

Tips

  • Keep an eye on each ingredient’s info card – it will tell you what concentration you have to get it to and what device you then need to use to get the desired effect
  • The info card will also tell you the total manufacturing cost and medicine value – don’t overextend for really good drugs early on as you won’t have the machinery to make the production line efficient enough and you’ll end up losing money
  • Hire researchers as soon as you can afford to so that you can begin researching better machinery – focus on the agglomerator and ioniser
  • If you can’t get rid of a negative side-effect, turn that medicine into a cream – it will reduce the negative score from the bad side-effect by 50%

Useful Links

The Outer Worlds

The Game

The Outer Worlds developed by Obsidian and published by Private Division is a game that may look quite familiar to the more observant amongst you. You would be right to point out the many similarities to Fallout but it’s also worth mentioning that this is the team behind Fallout: New Vegas (but not the newer ones). In a nutshell, The Outer Worlds is what the newer Fallout games should have been.

While it may have a similar retro-futuristic atmosphere to Fallout this game is actually based in the 24th century when humanity has left Earth on its mission to colonise the stars. Similarly to Borderlands you’ll find that corporations and companies are in charge of life on these planets and in a typical hyper-capitalist fashion they are focused on exploiting people until they die – all in the name of maximising their profits. Quite early on you will learn that The Board is in charge of the colony of Halcyon where you now find yourself after being woken up from a hibernation pod, where you’ve spent the last 70 years. However, the colony is in a dire state and it’s up to you to sort it (or not).

The game is heavily decision based, has brilliant dialogue options and gives you an unimaginable amount of freedom. You don’t like this quest giver because they looked at your strange – that’s fine, you can kill them and keep playing. Of course all such decisions will influence the world around you and you’ll quickly learn that every action has consequences and not everything is black and white. There are virtually infinite ways to play through the game, in fact after I finished my first play through I couldn’t just put the game down and instead started a new playthrough immediately, now trying to do the opposite of what I did on the first play through – easier said than done. Virtually every quest will give you at least one decision to make at some point, this will affect the outcome, your relationship with factions and in some cases even the ultimate fate of the colony.

The combat is essentially the established and familiar mechanics seen in the Fallout series. You can choose from a variety of weapon types, be it melee or range, different damage types and weapon mods. This will allow you to customise your weapons so that you can have the perfect gun (or hammer) for any occasion. During combat you can use the TTD (Tactical Time Dilation), which slows down time and allows you to hit enemies in their most vulnerable places.

Worth it?

While the game doesn’t necessarily do that much “new” stuff it cements its place in gaming history with some of the great titles of this genre like Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas. The Outer Worlds takes an established and successful formula and turns it into an epic masterpiece. The visuals are stunning, the dialogue is extremely well written, the story is compelling, the characters and their backstories and off the cuff comments are brilliant. There are many side quests and regions to explore, each with its own unique challenges. An average play-through of the game will take about 20-25 hours (my first playthrough was 27hrs and I did a lot of side-quests), depending on how many side-quests and dialogue options you engage in, but as mentioned above that’s only going to be one version of the story. You can easily replay the game taking a different approach and be introduced to other stories and characters. The replay value and potential of this game is actually brilliant – while some key story points may remain, getting to them and their outcomes can differ immensely.

If I had to fault it (which is really difficult) I would say occasionally it sounds a bit empty – maybe some sort of radio or a bit more on the music front and there’s the occasional visual bug, but that’s being picky. At full price the game will set you back £49.99 – honestly I do think that’s a bit on the expensive side as its now a couple years old as well, but you can frequently find it on sale for a much more affordable £19.99 – check out the links below for some good deals on CD keys. If on sale, I highly recommend you give it a go (especially if you’re a Fallout fan, who’s been left wanting after recent games). Overall it’s a brilliant game, great visuals, aesthetics, dialogue, story and gameplay. An absolute must play.

Tips

  • If you are doing ok and not being particularly challenged, don’t spend your skill points as you may reach a point where you need a few extra points in a dialogue option or lockpicking and those spare skill points will come in handy.
  • You can actually make your character dumb at the start of the game, which will unlock some [Dumb] dialogue options (and even a dumb ending) – definitely doing a playthrough like that.
  • Persuade/Intimidate/Lie are useful skills to avoid doing leg-work. Being able to talk yourself out of a situation can save you time.
  • There’s always multiple ways to handle a situation. Sometimes you may see a door that’s locked and think it’s the only way through, but if you look around you’ll often find alternative options – maybe a key somewhere, some dialogue or a PC you can hack that will get you through.
  • Generally speaking there’s two main paths to take – you either help The Board or you help Phineas the scientist who saved you. Each option has a variety of main quests you’ll need to complete to progress with many important and impactful decisions along the way.
  • Adding things into your medicine slots means that you will ingest that when you restore your health.

Useful Links

Just Cause 4

The Game

Just Cause 4 developed by Avalanche Studios Group and published by Square Enix is the 4th iteration in a series of games that you can’t have missed. Often branded as the ultimate open world game, Just Cause 4 allows you wreak havoc on the world using your un-ending arsenal of crazy weapons and vehicles. If you’ve never played a Just Cause game, don’t worry about playing older ones first – the story will throw you straight in. The story doesn’t really have all that much substance to it, it’s just a series of increasingly crazier missions and stunts tied together through some cheesy dialogue and a familiar revenge arc.

In terms of mechanics the game continues to do what Just Cause has always done so well and that is to cause as much destruction using every tool in your arsenal. If you’ve never played any of the games, there really isn’t much to it. Destroy red/white/silver (aka chaos objects) objects for points, use your grapple and grapple mods to play around with game physics and parachute and wingsuit across the island. In addition to the main story missions there are also regions that need to be liberated by completing a mission in the main base – this is quite reminiscent of a Far Cry type of gameplay where you go around the map liberating outposts to improve your control of the region.

The main story will keep you occupied for around 15-20 hours, but there are hundreds of tasks and challenges to complete around the map. Personally, as with most games, I found it difficult to find the motivation to come back and complete challenges after completing the main story line, but if you’re ever after a good time waster you can always come back to attempt the challenges. Apart from the challenges, most side-quests feel a bit repetitive and apart from unlocking further mod upgrades they don’t give you all that much in return.

It’s worth mentioning the grapple hook and grapple mods – if you haven’t played a Just Cause game before this will be a bit of a weird one for you. Essentially Rico (the main character) has a grapple that he uses to get around the world, however that grapple can also be used to attach 2 objects together, or balloons and boosters to various objects. Through this the game becomes something almost like Gary’s World where you can mess with game physics, build crazy contraptions held together by your grapple and blow stuff up. Ultimately as the name of the game suggests Just Cause things in the world (mainly explosions).

Worth it?

You can easily find the main game for around £6-10 and the Complete Edition for around £12-15. Both of those prices feel pretty fair for what the game has to offer. It will definitely keep you busy for a while, but also provides a fun sandbox in which you can mess around and explode things – and let’s face it that sounds pretty fun. The Complete Edition includes the game expansions which will keep you busy beyond the main story mission. It’s probably worth going for the Complete Edition as it will give you more than just the main game.

Overall Just Cause 4 continues the series’ established track record. It’s a great open-world physics sandbox in which you can fly, fight and explode things to your hearts content. A great game to let off some steam and just cause (no pun intended) some chaos. While the story may be quite basic, the actual game map is absolutely immense, easily one of the biggest open world games out there and while certain patches of it can feel a bit dead there are also plenty of regions, cities and challenges dotted around the map to keep you going for a while.

Tips

  • Switch between different grappler mod loadouts, also the grapple is your BFF – master it
  • Don’t grow too attached to weapons – maybe a specific type, but you’ll find yourself changing weapons quite often
  • When on a mission, don’t kill all enemies unless instructed to, focus on completing the objectives instead as that’s what’s actually required to progress the mission
  • Use airdrops before invading a base so that you can properly equip yourself and prep
  • Switch between parachute and wingsuit and combine that with your grapple for the best way to get around the map
  • Hijack helicopters by grappling onto them
  • When falling, grapple onto the ground to avoid taking fall damage

Useful Links

Vampyr

The Game

Vampyr by Focus Home Interactive is a decision based action RPG, heavily focused on dialogue and decisions that will affect the world around you. The game is available on virtually every console and will see you take on 1918 London in the midst of the Spanish Flu epidemic – it’s actually quite amazing to observe the parallels with our 2020 pandemic. As the title suggests however, influenza isn’t the only thing going around London. You wake up as a newly born vampire on a mission to find out how and why you were turned. Being a vampire you can only go out at night, meaning the game is quite dark and grey but that works well to create a good atmosphere and really plunge you into the chaos of disease ridden 1918 London. Some of the public health posters and messaging in game are especially close to home in 2020.

The game’s core mechanic is your ability to prey on the civilians that still inhabit London. These are NPCs with side quests and stories that you can delve into through the plentiful dialogue options. The more you know about someone, the more XP they will give you if you feast on their blood. However, if you prey on too many civilians you will plunge the neighbourhood into chaos, killing all other civilians and causing it to be overrun by enemies. This in itself is an amazing take on a decisions matter type game. The importance of each character, the respective XP and their own personal story will all factor into your decision on whether to spare their life or take it – it makes for some really gripping story telling and some very critical decisions that will affect everything around you.

The combat is predominantly melee options between various weapon types, there are also ranged weapons but I found I only needed them in the more challenging boss fights. The combat starts out feeling a bit clunky, but as you level up and improve your skills it becomes more fast paced and exciting, but you still need to have your wits about you and make sure you dodge out the way in time. You’ll find yourself fighting all sorts of vampiric creatures as well as vampire hunters while you explore the various London boroughs.

Worth it?

Generally speaking the game will set you back £34.99, however it’s frequently on sale – you can get it for under a tenner. It was also free in October’s PS Plus games, so if you haven’t downloaded it yet – I would definitely recommend you do. The game offers a good deal of game play especially if you fully engage with dialogue options and characters, there are times when all you will be doing is talking to people (for a considerable amount of time). To a degree the basic dialogue options are similar, but the more you find out about other citizens the more dialogue options you get. Depending on what fate you choose for people in London the game also offers a good deal of replay value. Each major boss will offer you a choice and there are actually 4 different endings to the story depending on the choices you make. These choices will also affect dialogue with NPCs and even your ability to complete quests or purchase items. In that regard the game does an amazing job of really making every decision impactful. However, I would note that most of the key plot points will remain the same, but dialogue, district status and ending scene will be affected.

Overall I would recommend getting the game on sale when possible, being a couple years old I am not sure I can justify the full price. Personally I am not really one for replaying something so story driven, but for a completionist there is some replay value. At times the game does feel like a conversation simulator, but the dialogue is well written and well acted, it can just get a bit tedious trying to find out as much as you can about everyone. One weird design decision is that there’s no fast travel, which most of the time is ok, but there are times when it would have been a great feature, especially considering you have “safe houses” around the city that act as bases. The music and atmosphere of the game are great and give it a great cinematic feel and the aesthetics are great despite the fact that the colour palette consists of mainly greys and red. The game will definitely keep you busy for a few days and maybe even give you a bit of insight into how bad things were in one of the worst pandemics man kind has experienced.

Tips

  • Buy handle parts whenever you can, especially the rarer ones
  • Curing people of their illnesses will help stabilise your district – it’s always worth carrying a few spare medicines around
  • Certain dialogue options will mean you fail to discover a clue about someone, so be careful what you say
  • If you plunge a district into chaos all remaining civilians will be killed, so if things aren’t looking too good – make sure to harvest their XP before resting
  • A good tactic for big XP gains is to complete everyone’s side quests in a district and learn as much as you can about them before feeding on them, probably best to do this once your Mesmerise Level is high enough to get most civilians in the area

Useful Links

Stardew Valley

The Game

Stardew Valley is a modern gaming masterpiece made by a single person – Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone. The game is one of the ultimate open world, farm, spelunking, life simulator RPG. Yes that is a lot of things and this game does them all. You start out having inherited a plot of land from you grandad – a farmer. Upon your arrival the farm is in quite a state, your long term goal is to turn it into a cash cow (you can have cows) and don’t forget the cash crops as well. From the very start the game allows you to do your thing and introduce yourself to the inhabitants of Stardew Valley, the first few days have a bit of guidance but from then on it’s mostly up to you to figure things out by exploring the world around you.

The primary game loop focuses around farming and spelunking in the caves where each level increases in difficulty. Some days there’s so much farm work to do that you won’t have much time to do anything else. In the winter you might find yourself spending a lot more time there. There are occasional quests on the town board with a time limit and there’s a series of main quests that develop over time and depend on your actions, decisions and interactions with the other townsfolk. The main quest alone will keep you playing for around 50 hours or upwards of 2 in game years – and that’s just the surface of the game.

This game is packed with mysteries and achievements to collect and discover. Your relationships with other townsfolk can get deep; you can even get hitched and have kids, if that’s your thing. You could also just string along all the singles in town until they all find out… If you’re not all about that you can just spend your days fishing and forget about the hustle and bustle.

Worth it?

Ranging from £7.99 on mobile to £34.99 on Switch the game is available on virtually all platforms and put simply it’s worth it. The game is frequently on sale and while the upper end of that price range is a bit too much, anything less than £15 is a steal. The mobile versions are extremely good and a touch cheaper, albeit a bigger phone is useful

The game will keep you in for hours and even after you play through the main story you can always start another farm on one of the other farm layouts. My first playthrough is over 70 hours long. The game is packed with secrets and unique interactions and scenarios. You will want to keep upgrading and improving your farm – it just keeps you coming back thinking “just one more day”.

Overall if you’re after a farm/life/dungeon RPG game this is it. The game is still regularly updated with new content and fixes. Put simply, this game is a must.

Tips

  • There’s so much to this game that I would simply recommend checking for specifics in the Wiki linked below.

Useful Links