Welcome back to Engadget's Gaming IRL, a monthly segment where we run down what our editors are playing. This time around, we dove into Remedy's latest third-person shooter, Control, and the indie driving sim Wheels of Aurelia. One of our editors also made the unwise choice of reinstalling World of WarCraft Classic, and he also spent a bit of time with Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak.
We'd also love to know what you've been playing, shout out in the comments below!
So it's no surprise that Control feels like an expertly crafted action game. Every shootout with your mysterious pistol, which can shape-shift into other weapon types and automatically refill its ammo, feels thrilling. Telekinetic abilities, like throwing objects at enemies and dashing around the world in mid-air (while being able to fire your gun!), are simply awesome. And the world-building is top-notch.
You play as Jesse Faden, a young woman searching for her brother, who was taken some time ago by the Federal Bureau of Control. Ominous enough for you? It's not a huge spoiler to say you quickly end up working with the FBC to avert a potential disaster. The entire game takes place in a shape-shifting Brutalist office building, FBC's headquarters the "Oldest House," where things get trippy quickly. Control quickly won me over with just how weird it is, like a combination of The X-Files, Twin Peaks and Akira.
Control also looks fantastic on the PC (consoles, unfortunately, are another matter). It's a showpiece for NVIDIA's RTX ray-tracing technology, which lets you finally see your character's reflection in windows, mirrors and other objects. It uses light in ways I've never seen before: Shadows look sharp and realistic, objects throughout the world look more three dimensional (especially shiny marble floors) and rays of light hit everything naturally.
Of course, you'll need an expensive GPU to see the benefits of all that new technology. Even with an RTX 2080 Ti and a six-core Intel 8th gen processor, I had to lower my rendering resolution to 1,440p to get more than 60FPS with high-quality ray tracing settings. Hopefully, Remedy will be able to optimize its performance down the line. For now though, Control is the best use of ray tracing I've seen yet.
Wheels of Aurelia
Things I like: travel, history, visual novels, short games. So when I stumbled across Wheels of Aurelia in Steam's new Interactive Recommender, it seemed made for me. One catch: It's a driving game, and I hate driving games. I threw it on my wishlist but didn't make it a high priority until I got the notification it was on sale for $0.99, meaning I had to at least give it a shot.
There's a lot of interesting ideas packed in it. You're playing Lella, a young Italian woman living through the turbulent 1970s who has decided to take a road trip down the Via Aurelia, a major Italian highway, all the way to France. Who she is, or why she's doing this are all things you may or may not find out through the course of the game, as it has several branching paths. The game is a driving simulator where you steer down the highway, avoiding other vehicles, choosing your route and even picking up weird hitchhikers. However, as you drive, you're engaging in conversation with passengers, and your responses to them will determine where you go and whether they stick around for the rest of the trip.
It's a weird bit of multitasking -- at one point you're egged into a race with your car at stake, but while you're wildly steering down the highway your friend Olga just wants to talk about her unplanned pregnancy. Your limited selection of responses also means the conversations can lack nuance despite dealing with serious subjects like abortion and the absolute shitshow that was Italian politics in the 1970s.
Still, it's very charming. The character art is nice, the color palette is appealing and the music is absolutely fantastic. I do wish the scenery was a little more detailed or that you could stop at more locations and take a better look at famous landmarks (something Final Fantasy XV absolutely nailed in addition to its great selection of road trip music). I wish for a lot more of everything, really: Each play through should only take about 15 minutes, since you only visit three cities and then get shuttled into one of 16 text-based endings. It feels more like a proof of concept than a full game. Sure, the short length means I can get better at racing and try to get as many of the endings as possible. But I'd rather spend more time getting to know Lella and Olga, or just have a little more time to talk about religion and politics with the priest.
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak and WoW Classic
It's one of those prequels that shouldn't work. It grounds the series signature space battles. You still command fleets of ships, except in this case they're massive sand crawlers and skimmers instead of space-faring destroyers, cruisers and strike craft. Moving Homeworld's massive battles to land adds a host of tactical wrinkles to the experience that, to my mind, makes Deserts of Kharak one of the best in the series. You constantly have to consider how factors like terrain and elevation will affect your units as you fight to win a battle. If you've not played Deserts of Kharak and you consider yourself a Homeworld fan, you owe to yourself to check out this gem of a game.
Against my better judgment, I also resubscribed to World of Warcraft (WoW) to try WoW Classic, the re-release of the original game. It's not an exact recreation of the game you remember from 15 years ago, though. Blizzard has integrated technical enhancements to make this trip to Azeroth a smoother experience. Gone, for the most part, are the bugs, login queues and server lag that were an inescapable part of the original WoW experience. The gameplay experience, however, remains unchanged.
Like Diablo II before it, WoW Classic doesn't lose anything for not including all the quality of life improvements Blizzard introduced in subsequent expansions. Part of the fun here is the game's slower pace. Everything from traveling the world, to leveling your character to assembling a party to take on dungeon takes longer in WoW Classic. In that way, you're forced to take your time, enjoy the immersive world Blizzard created and make friends along the way.
I don't know how long I'll play WoW Classic, but as of this moment, I feel that same addictive tug I felt all those years ago.