Port roundup: Crusader Kings III, Slipstream & Before We Leave

People often overlook how many games get their start on the PC platform before emerging elsewhere. Today’s ports all originated on Steam, but have recently been brought to consoles – here are looks at Crusader Kings III, Slipstream and Before We Leave.

Crusader Kings III review (PS5)

With games like Crusader King III coming out on PlayStation, it’s not really a matter of it being a good game or not. Having played the PC version, we already knew it’s a stellar grand strategy game. The big question was whether or not the experience translates well to a console platform – in our case, the PlayStation 5.

As with previous games in the series, Crusader Kings III is all about growing and ruling your empire, with much of the gameplay taking place on a giant Risk-like map of the world and inside menus. The map’s borders are constantly in flux here, as medieval nations constantly strive for control, claiming territory and resources and enforcing their laws and religions upon others. As the power dynamics ebb and flow over several centuries of in-game time, the scope of what this game represents in terms of gameplay mechanics becomes clear.

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Crusader Kings III does a good job of interweaving these mechanics with narrative building blocks as well – many of which are selected and carved by your own doing, as you forge alliances, break treaties and do away with those who oppose you – sometimes by appeasing them through an arranged marriage and sometimes by having them silenced in another way. And although these may sound like clinical decisions, there is some excellent writing to back up the gameplay as well, adding character to the many nations and rulers you come into contact with. The number of things that are going on during a playthrough can be overwhelming, but for a grand strategy game this one has an excellent tutorial and offers lots of insight into what’s happening at any given time.

The downside of that? A lot of those insights are tucked away inside those aforementioned menus, and many of the game’s menus have submenus as well – and even those have options to go deeper. That’s something that not always translates well to consoles, but this port done by Lab42 manages quite well. Even though Crusader Kings III is extremely text-heavy for a console title, the text is always easy to read and menus, though plentiful, don’t feel cluttered. It’s still a very different experience from what console owners are typically used to and it’s one where you need to invest serious time in order to get enjoyment out of it, but it’s a wonderfully deep game and this is a solid port. It’s a shame they weren’t able to get it to PlayStation 4 as well though, as the PS5-exclusive nature of the release means that the audience for the game is limited.

Slipstream review (PS4)

A few years ago, the retro racing genre suddenly boomed, more or less as a counter-movement against the high profile productions under the Need for Speed and Forza banners. Horizon Chase Turbo is a great example, but players also flocked to re-releases of games like Virtua Racing even though that game is three decades old at this point. Developer ansdor released Slipstream on Steam back in 2018 as part of that wave of retro racers, and the game has finally come to consoles now thanks to the efforts of indie publisher BlitWorks.

slipstream

At this point in time, the retro racer genre is becoming a bit saturated, but Slipstream manages to offer a somewhat unique aesthetic with elements of early 3D drift racers like Ridge Racer, 1980s arcade games and home computer racers of the 1990s like the Lotus series. Gameplay-wise, it takes inspiration from console releases that introduced various cups to compete in while also offering the point-to-point races of arcade classics like Outrun, offering forks at the end of each stage just like Sega’s classic did.

There are 15 different stages in the game and you can mix and match them to create longer courses too, so Slipstream comes with various ways to play that will enhance the game’s replay value. Gameplay-wise, it mixes classic arcade/home computer racing with today’s popular kart racing mechanic of powersliding around corners by briefly hitting the brakes as you enter a corner and then speeding up as you slide past the roadside obstacles (if you time it right). It’s fun and satisfying if it works, but certain parts of stages seem to rely on track memorization just as much as skill, which is initially frustrating even though the game has a rewind option not too unlike the one in Codemasters’ Grid.

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Slipstream liberally borrows from the games that we’ve mentioned, but it’s a mixture that works, and one of the highlights is the fact that they’ve included a local split screen option for multiplayer fun as well. It’s a solid package for fans of retro racers even though it’s far from original, but at its price point it ticks a lot of the boxes you’ll be looking for. Just don’t expect it to surprise you with something you haven’t seen before – this one’s high on nostalgia.

Before We Leave review (PS5)

As with Crusader Kings III, Before We Leave represents a genre that usually flourishes on PC and is relatively underrepresented on consoles. In this case, it’s the city builder genre, though this one also has 4X influences. And while that perhaps sounds like this would be a rather complex game, it’s actually a nice casual take on the genre that fits well with console controls.

Developer Balancing Monkey Games launched Before We Leave on Steam about a year ago through Team17, and Xbox owners got a taste at the end of 2021, but it’s now available for PlayStation owners as well. And unlike other games in the genre, it’s a relatively stress-free experience – no furious clicking through stats to see where things are going wrong as you micromanage things, and no heavy combat scenarios that plunge your society into disarray.

before we leave

In a way, that’s surprising, because Before We Leave has a post-apocalyptic theme to it. Our civilization as we know it today was pushed near extinction, with survivors hiding out underground for centuries. When they finally dare go above ground again, it’s time to rebuild – but where most post-apocalyptic games emphasize how scarce resources are, they’re abundant in this game. With them, and some fragments of our now-lost civilization, you gradually develop islands as you venture to new ones and eventually take to the stars again.

The island-based structure keeps things from becoming overwhelming, as they narrow the scope of things. They’ve also divided up into tiles, which helps guide you in terms of where to put roads and buildings – developing your tech tree as you go along and find more ways to explore and rebuild an entire civilization. Ultimately, this also comes with echoes of where we went wrong earlier, tying this age to the one we live in today. It’s a clever way of giving the game an impressively large scope, while remaining entirely manageable.

The generally calmer style of gameplay here is accompanied by soothing music and ditto visuals, which at times feel like a mix of a storybook-like art style and a board game-like layout. We’ve rarely played a more pleasant game in the city builder/4X genre, and although that also means that you don’t also feel that inner rush to keep pushing on it also means that it’s a game where it’s easy to sink a whole lot of hours into it that’ll just fly by. And with simplified controls, it’s a great fit for consoles.

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