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Wednesday, 20 January 2016 11:52

SOMA Review [PC]

Introduction to SOMA Video Game

SOMA by Frictional Games can be described as a combination adventure puzzle search and find role playing video game. In my opinion SOMA is a video game that has to grow on you. In other words, when you start playing SOMA, you may think there is nothing unique or different about it. These were my initial thoughts; however, I decided to give SOMA the benefit of the doubt. As I got further into the video game play, I got the impression Frictional Games was attempting to provide a different type video game playing experience from the usual type video games I’ve played before. By the way, I played SOMA on my Alienware PC.

As a summary of SOMA, the main protagonist, Simon Jarrett, experiences adventures not of his own choosing as a result of a brain scan that seemed to have gone haywire -- to the point where he is transported to all types of environments while facing various dangerous situations.

Positives of SOMA Video Game

SOMA, in my opinion, has excellent voice acting including that of the main video game protagonist in the game, Simon Jarrett. As you venture through the SOMA video game environment, additional, expert voice actors are added to the cast for video game characters such as Amy, Carl and others.

I think SOMA has good sound effects. When you hear the stomping steps of the robot villain as it approaches near, you get the feeling that it is right there with you, wherever you are playing the video game. As the robot villain gets closer, the stomps become increasingly louder. As it moves away, the sounds become fainter which gives you the impression that it is safe to either start or keep moving around the SOMA environment.

I liked the puzzles within the video game play with problems you had to solve. For example, in this game you are faced with having to log into a computer; however, the challenge is you do not have the i.d. number to access the system. You have to not only figure out how and where to get the i.d. number, but you must also try to stay away from the robot villain as well. To add to the challenge, you must remember how to get back to the location of the computer, once you have found the i.d. number.

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SOMA gives you lots of missions to complete which are necessary to advance through the video game. Sometimes you get your missions directly from a computer within the video game itself. For example, during the initial part of the game, you must locate the communication center which is a room with a domed ceiling. This, of course is easier said than done, because in trying to do so, you must not only remember where the communication center is once you get this mission -- but you must also try to locate it in what seems to be a gigantic, partially dilapidated mechanical plant that is not the safest place to be.

Some of the puzzles involve opening locked doors, which may sound simple, until you find out you have to roam around the massive plant to locate a special type tool to do so. Once found, the tool is added to your inventory. I liked that you can retrieve your tool as well as other items added to your inventory as needed by just the simple push of the tab key -- if you are playing SOMA using your PC. Bonuses are also added to your inventory during gameplay as well. For instance, during the early part of SOMA video game play, I earned a special trading car as my bonus.

I think SOMA has detailed, realistic-like graphics that complement the sound effects. In the scene where I was trying to get away from the robot villain, the mechanical plant was so realistically illustrated, I got the feeling I was actually fleeing down the winding metal stairs, rushing to get safely away from it.

If you like exploring environments and real worlds in video games, SOMA may be your type of video game. You can spend quite a lot of time roaming the areas within the context of either escaping villains, locating items, going to and from different locations or other travels depending on the missions or challenges.

Additionally SOMA video game play provides a level of suspense of not knowing exactly what is going to happen next. In a way, SOMA plays like a mystery novel where as you turn the pages, you can delve more into the various actions taking place. The difference, of course is as the video game player, you are the one who must guide the character in order to solve the mystery. From the SOMA video game play, the mystery appears to involve some type of devious underhanded actions going on that are revealed the longer you play SOMA. You, as well as the main protagonist, Simon Jarrett, are learning more about what is happening to him as you advance through the video game.

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Some of the puzzles in SOMA, in my opinion, were creative. For example, once you located a computer, there is a section of the video game, where instead of inputting an i.d. number to log in, you had to realign vertical and horizontal lines within the computer screen so an emblem on the screen defragmented just right for a connection to take place.

Another positive of SOMA was the checkpoints. I liked that if for some reason you were destroyed during the video game play, the checkpoint started at a logical place -- so time was not wasted repeating video game play that had already been completed.


Negatives of SOMA Video Game

I mentioned previously that exploring the SOMA environment was one of the positive attributes; however, there is a not so fun side of this exploration. Even though there was a map of the mechanical plant on a computer within the video game -- SOMA did not provide a map to help you navigate through different environments. Many times, instead of following a map on the screen, you had to try to remember locations based on either the layout of the building or signs posted in the plant.

Since there is not a SOMA map, you will probably end up retracing your steps or going in circles until you determine the correct way to go. This happened to me quite a lot during the SOMA video game play, with me sometimes opting to check out either the hints or a youtube video of SOMA game play to find out where the character should go next and to avoid circling the environment over and over again.

A hint given during the underwater scene was to follow the lights, which was not helpful since there were a myriad of lights in the hazy darkness of the environment. To me it was a waste of time for the character to follow lights that sometimes took him back where his travels began in the first place.

Regarding the robot villain in the early part of the game -- you are not able to fight or defend yourself against it. If you do not get a chance to hide before it spots you -- it will destroy you. Your defenses are to hide until it’s out of sight or to run away from it and hide somewhere else. The plus side is the robot villain moves very slowly which gives you a chance to get away.

SOMA gives you the option of moving items within the environment around, similar to other similar type video games. However, in my opinion, there was no need to be able to move some items that did not serve to advance the story along or help solve puzzles. For example, I was able to move boxes and some other items around for no other reason except that I could do so. Initially when I played this video game, I was under the impression I was moving around items for a specific reason -- but this was not the case.

I know video games do not depict real-life situations because after all -- they are video games. However, I think the developers may have been stretching this a little too far when after Simon Jarrett experienced lots of perils, he reaches a computer and Amy, the person he is talking to on the computer, asks him what is going on. I agreed with Simon Jarrett when he indicated he had no idea and thought that she (Amy) knew. My thought was unless Amy had Simon under surveillance during his earlier adventures, how would she have known what had been happening to him which could have led her to ask such a question.

Even though I did not mind playing this video game as the male character Simon Jarrett, I think it would have been a plus if I was given the option to play as either a male or a female. Additionally, I understand SOMA is rated M for Mature, but personally, I did not like the video game dialogue that was sometimes laced with profanity.

The above being said, overall, I think SOMA has an interesting storyline and challenges. The major minus for me was the lack of on screen map or hints or options in the video game. In my opinion, some of the long stretches of travel during the game where you are simply moving the character along from place to place, would have been ok, if there was a simple diagram to show where you should go next. Even if a map was not used, visual hints could have been displayed to help move Simon Jarrett to his next missions quicker-- which would have eliminated wasted time moving the character around needlessly, sometimes in the wrong directions while playing this video game.

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Rating of SOMA Video Game

Initially I was going to rate this video game lower because of the tendency for repetitive game play due to non-defense capability of the main protagonist as well as the lack of maps or helpful hints. However, I reconsidered my rating taking into account the attention to detail of the video game graphics, the creative storyline as well as the good sound effects and voice acting.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest score and 10 being the highest, I give SOMA a rating of 7.

Availability of SOMA Video Game

SOMA is rated M for Mature and is available for purchase on Steam, the PlayStation 4 store, GOG.com and the Humble Store.

Published in PC
Thursday, 17 April 2014 00:00

Forza Motorsport 5 Review (Xbox One)

Forza-Motorsport-5 review

 

A long time ago in Art Class, I had a specialty. Whenever we were given a project, I’d draw, paint or sketch pretty much the same thing every time. It was an image of a house with a tree in front with a mountain in the background with the sun peeking through. I got pretty good at creating this vista. Each iteration was slightly different from the one before. Sometimes there would be smoke pouring out of the chimney. Or the sun would illuminate the tree and cast a shadow in a different direction. When we studied Monet I even did a pointillist version of the image using nothing but dots. That house/tree/mountain was my touchstone.

Turn 10 Studios have become masters at delivering a solid racing experience. For years they've sculpted Forza Motorsport into showcase of beautiful cars and race courses. Forza 5 looks great and drives even better. Turn 10 Studios have become masters a delivering a solid racing experienceTwo hundred gorgeously rendered vehicles and a driving model that has been top notch for years is all that's needed to make it one of the best games on the Xbox One. Each car has a stunning interior view and even the guys from the famous TV show Top Gear lend their voices and test track to the game.

Near the end of the school year, the Art Class final exam included the assignment of creating whatever image you wanted using the techniques we had learned. So of course I dug into the well worn well of the house/tree/mountain. While I was going through the motions of creating the house, I glanced around the room to see what my fellow students were up to. The guy to the left of me was trying to sketch a barely decipherable animal, either a cat or a horse. The girl in front of me was working with seemingly random blotches of paint that might as well have been finger painting. I was clearly at the head of the class, secure in the knowledge that I was leaving with an easy ‘A’.

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For the first time, multiplayer in Forza allows 16 players to race against each other at once. When racing against the AI, you are actually going up against ‘drivatars’ that have been built using traits from other online drivers and people from your friends list. Turn 10 has even added a multitude of gaming modes for drivers to compete against one another. Standard events like drag racing, and circuit racing are joined with less common affairs like cat and mouse and tag virus. The Rivals section has returned from Forza 4 that matches you up against a single person’s drivatar to compete against.

The next week, I returned to the classroom to receive my test score. I was stunned when I opened my portfolio. ‘C’. A big post-it note with a ‘C’ was stuck on my painting. It had to be a mistake. I quickly surveyed everyone around me. ‘Do you see anything wrong with mine? Be honest, is this painting just average?’ Each person agreed with me that I had been grossly wronged and that my house/tree/mountain was definitely worthy of an ‘A’. As soon as the class was over, I went to the teacher’s desk to rectify the situation.

The balding old man with black rimmed glasses was buried deep in his gradebook. I stood there for a while waiting to be acknowledged. He glanced up slightly and I saw that as my cue.
‘Yeah, Professor, I got a ‘C’ on this, and come on, it’s not a ‘C’ painting.’
Before he could respond I started pleading my case.
‘I mean, compared to that cat thing that Ronald did, it’s way better. And the splotches of paint that Marie turned in, she even said she had no idea what she was doing and she got a B. You can’t tell me that this is a C. I have shadows, l added smoke. Check it out.’ I laid the painting in front of him, cementing my point.

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He stared at me for a beat before fixing his gaze on the painting I had placed on his desk and speaking.
‘I’m not grading you compared to the work of others. I’m grading you compared to you. You’ve been doing that scene all year long. And yes, you use light well, and yes the composition is fairly balanced. And so was the one before that, and the one before that. It’s a good scene. I was hoping that you would challenge yourself this time. Take a hard look at the work you've done and ask yourself, is it the best you can do?’

That question hit like a brick. He had called me out on something that I didn’t even realize I was doing. I was coasting. I knew what was needed to be considered a success and thats what I did. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured the work was good enough to get by and so why do more? Thats why I got the grade I did. Not because the work wasn’t good. Not even because it wasn’t good enough. But was it the best I could do? No, it wasnt.


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Forza 5 knows what it needs to do to get a passing grade, and thats exactly what it does. And that's all it does. The 200 cars included look and sound fantastic. Even though for a series that has spanned 3 consoles, the low car count raises some eyebrows. As dozens of DLC cars were quickly released over the past few months, you realize that the low car count was a thinly disguised money grab, nearly doubling the price of the game if you want to get close to the levels of previous iterations. It’s even more telling when you hear the detailed descriptions that once accompanied each car have more often than not, devolved into a lukewarm overview of the car manufacturer instead of a history of each individual vehicle.

The race courses included with Forza 5 look incredible, although it seems odd that it’s always the same time of day and weather is non-existent. Especially considering some of the tracks included are well known for their night races. Lemans, Sebring, and Yas Marina all go hand in hand with night racing. With this being the fifth version of Forza running on one of the most powerful consoles available, the omission of night racing or any type of weather is very noticeable.


With so much emphasis placed on the multiplayer side of Forza 5, it falls short on closer inspection. You aren’t allowed to create a public room or even search for a specific race type. If you want to find a race with a certain number of laps on a specific track to join, it simply isnt possible. Instead you’re restricted to pre-created hoppers or private matches which you have to fill yourself. And since the ‘Car Club’ feature from previous Forzas isn’t included, finding and staying in touch with a group of like minded racers is difficult at best. 

Somewhere along the way the franchise has started coastingForza has been doing what it does extremely well for years. But somewhere along the way the franchise has started coasting and has done just enough to get by. It’s good. It’s even good enough to be the best racing game on the XBox One. But it's lost many of the features that made it exceptional. The game has relied on higher resolutions and framerates instead of expanding on the features and capabilities that would make it great. It's almost like the game got to a certain point and just stopped evolving.  Forza Motorsport 5 needs to take a step back, look at what it’s done and ask the question, “Is this the best you can do?”

forza5 boxScore 7/10

 

Published in Xbox One
Friday, 02 May 2014 00:00

Moebius: Empire Rising (PC)

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interest. She is the writer behind many classic Sierra Online games and the creator of the Gabriel Knight adventure games. Recently she has taken to Kickstarter to back two games. The first of those two games has been released, Moebius: Empire Rising.

If you are a gamer of a certain age then the name Jane Jensen will catch your interestMoebius: Empire Rising is a point and click adventure that tells the tale of Malachi Rector, an antiques and art appraiser. He is very intelligent and sharp eyed in his chosen profession. He is also something of an aloof snob and an ass. He is hired by semi-secretive organization (F.I.T.A.), run by a man named Amble Dexter, to go to Venice to investigate a murdered woman and determine what historical figure her life most resembles. While there he is attacked by ninjas who then scan all of the information he has on the murdered woman. He reports back to Dexter that, while her life closely resembled Livia Drusilla, she did not match completely.

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Working for himself again Malachi is next in Cairo to appraise ancient artifacts from a mummy's tomb. While there he saves ex-special forces American, David Walker, from the same ninjas who attacked him in Venice. He decides to hire David as a bodyguard. In many ways David is a typical American, blonde haired, blue eyed, jock, who likes to tell bad jokes. (How many Special Forces soldiers does it take to change a light bulb? Sorry that's classified information.) When the ninjas attack a third time Malachi and David are able to stand their ground and fight them off. He finishes his business in Cairo and returns to New York.

Malachi believes the ninjas are part of something bigger and asks to meet with Amble Dexter. He is surprised when Dexter insists that Malachi bring David to the meeting. At the meeting Dexter reveals that F.I.T.A. believes in Roman philosopher, Paramedes’, theory that everyone is an "echo" of someone in the past. From there the story takes some strange twistsNot like reincarnation where a person was someone else but now living a new life, but that same person living the same life event for event in a new generation. Their overall goal is to make Senator Markam, whom they believe is the echo of Augustus Caesar and will bring hundreds of years of prosperity to America, the next United States President. Malachi agrees to help in their endeavor.

From there the story takes some strange twists from a detective adventure towards one of a more supernatural vein.

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The mechanics of Moebius: Empire Rising is pretty standard and sound for a point and click adventure. No major problems arose when I used the controls. It does have a quirky playing feature. In most point and click adventures you can pick up and carry almost anything. In Moebius: Empire Rising, you can’t just pick up whatever you want and carry it around. Certain items needed for a puzzle can’t be picked up until you hit the right “trigger point” that will allow you to pick up that item. This causes a lot of backtracking during game play. The oddest of which is when you try to get into a VIP tent to meet Senator Markam. You practically go from one end of Manhattan to the other, working back and forth gathering the items you need. By some strange coincidence the Senator's rally lasts just long enough for you to do all this and then ends the moment you walk into the VIP tent. It's a slight stretch of your suspension of disbelief, but it’s not a game breaker.

The graphics are where the breaks start happening. Moebius: Empire Rising has anexaggerated comic book look that turns into the late 2000's video game style. All the characters have long thin limbs, except David who looks in normal proportion. The style is fine. It's clipping and other effects that fail. Feet go through floors, legs sometimes twist in unnatural ways, and at one point Malachi moves a chair, but he doesn't actually grab the chair as it magically moves, his hand floats on top of it and the whole thing shifts. Little things like this took me out of the game. The worst offender was the water reflections. Now in the background things like trees and buildings that didn't have as much definition are reflected fine. It was when characters stood next to the water with their backs to it. The reflection was not their backside reflected, nope. It was a complete recreation of their front. So unless everyone has their face on the front and back of their head, something's not right here. The first time I saw it I thought the game was going into a dream sequence of some sort.

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I do have to give great praise to Moebius: Empire Rising's voice actors. They turn in some fine performances. I think the real audio gem though is Jane Jensen's husband, composer Robert Holmes. Robert provides a great soundtrack that wouldn't sound out of place in a Hollywood spy thriller.


Moebius: Empire Rising's story starts a bit slow, but by the third and fourth chapters things start getting interesting enough that I want to see how it will end. Malachi is a really hard hero to cheer on. His aloof attitude never really endears himself to the player. The only thing that makes him seem to have a heart is subtle underlying relationship between him and David. At one point David tells Malachi that he is meeting Malachi's assistant, Gretchen, at a nightclub. Malachi asks that David not get involved with his only other employee, to which David replies, "She's not my type." At the nightclub David hints around that he's not interested in Gretchen. Towards the end of the conversation Gretchen tells David point blank to not get too close to Malachi, that, "he will break your heart." The possible gay romance never really moves up from a subtle possibility. It gets to a point where you wish it they would either just come out with it or drop it.

Jane Jensen can tell an interesting tale in a video game still, but there seem to be some stray parts to Moebius: Empire Rising that just doesn't pull me in. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good gameA main character I have a hard time caring for and a subtle romance that doesn't go anywhere are things that push me away from a game. Throw in graphical elements that completely take me out of the game and we are starting to have real problems. I have to say the puzzles hold things together fairly well, but an adventure game needs more than just puzzles to engage a player. Moebius: Empire Rising has flashes of a good game and you can see where Jane Jensen wants to take it, but as a whole it falls to the middle of the road. If you're a fan of Jane Jensen or point and click style games it might be worth it, but it's a pass otherwise.

Published in PC
Sunday, 07 December 2014 00:00

Never Alone - Review [PS4]

In this day and age with people shouting from every mountain top and soapbox available, it should come as no surprise that a game like Never Alone exists,a game based on and around another culture and its mythology where you play as a young girl on top of everything else. It’s something that we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of and I'm all for it. I just hope those other games don't skimp out on the "game" part of it all.

Never Alone is based on the lore of the Alaskan Iñupiat. In it you play as a young girl named Nuna and a magical arctic fox. After saving her from a polar bear, the fox starts following the girl around through a giant blizzard. The entire game is narrated by a person speaking what I presume to be the Iñupiat native tongue, and it gives the feeling of listening to your grandpa tell you a story around a campfire, which is fitting. In between all the in-engine bits we have cutscenes drawn to look like old paintings you would find in caves and on native art and whatnot. All of this really helps sell the idea that this is another culture's story being told to us by another culture, and not filtered through white people.

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When we aren't in the native art style, the game looks kind of weird. The fox and the polar bear look like they don't have enough fur on them, with their coats fading out as it gets further from the body. It gives them this balding effect and I can almost make out the naked model underneath it all. The girl looks fine, but I have a hard time figuring out if the trim on her coat is supposed to be frozen hair, animal bones, or it just glitched out. There are these huge triangles all over the coat and they look like something wasn't coded properly.

The environments don't look that much better. Sure, when you get to the caves and wooden areas, everything looks fine. But when things are covered in snow, it gets bad. The snow never looks or acts like snow. It looks like white dirt that the character models just clip through. And that's a real shame, because it looks like some effort was put into the game in regards to the snow. When you walk on ground level snow there's a slight bit of dust up, and when the snow gets deeper Nuna does a small hop with every step, which is how a small child walks in snow. Believe me, I'm Canadian, I would know. The snow never feels like anything more than a big texture, and it really bugged me.

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But snow aside, where the game really falls apart is in the gameplay. You control two separate characters, Nuna and the fox. I think this game was meant to be played in co-op mode, with one person controlling Nuna and one controlling the fox. But I don't have any friends to play games with, so I had to play it solo. You can switch between the two of them at any time, and when you do the other character becomes AI controlled. Unfortunately, the AI is kind of stupid. So many times throughout this game my AI character would die or screw up puzzles because I had no way that I knew of to tell them to stay put or come or not be stupid. There was a level where I was controlling Nuna and had to jump between blocks of ice that were smashing into the ceiling (because video games). So I jumped and ran across the ice block to the safe area. The AI then did one of three things. He either ran into the safe spot with me, caught up to me then ran back into the crushing maw of death behind me, or overshot the safe spot and fell into the gap between the platforms and drowned. This happened so many times I almost gave up and stopped playing the game. But I eventually made it through there and made the jump to the final platform, completing the level. Or, I would have, if the fox hadn't missed the jump and drowned. Pushing us back to part where one of the previous three things would happen.

Speaking of jumping, it doesn’t feel great in this game. Like a lot of polygonal platformers nowadays, turning around takes off a lot points right off the bat. So many times I tried to make jumps but my character wasn't facing the right way, so I went a foot forward (or backwards) into a bottomless pit. When you do get the jumps right, you have to make it a decent way on to the platform or you will fall back on to the ledge and have to sit through the climbing animations. And then you have the wind to deal with, which is always fun. When it's first introduced, you're given the ability to brace yourself so you don't get thrown back. But almost every time you encounter wind after that first time, you're supposed to use the wind to propel yourself forward to make jumps. It's never really clear on when you're supposed to brace or use the wind, and since the place I'm supposed to be jumping to is blocked by the camera which I have no control over, I'm just sitting there cowering from the winds trying to figure out where the hell I'm supposed to go next.

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Also there's the bola. Oh boy, is there the bola. You get this from a magical owl man who may or may not be your grandfather and it's absolutely terrible to use. What you do is, pull the right stick back to charge it up, then flick it forward in the direction you want it to go. There is no precision aiming with this thing. You just fling it and hope it's going in the right direction. And it's dependent on which direction you're facing, too.

The fox can scurry up some walls and wall jump, and it works fine enough. He can also somewhat control spirits. This is entirely dependent on his position on top of the spirit, which basically serves as a platform. When you get to a specific on the spirit, it will move. But, since you probably had to control Nuna to get her up on the platform, you will have to switch back to the fox to move him the quarter of an inch forward to get the platform to activate right. It never feels right doing this stuff and it really pulls you out of any kind of experience when you have to move that damn fox into the proper position.

I believe games being developed by and about people of other cultures is a good thing. I don't really go out of my way to learn about this stuff, but a game could get me interested and teach me something I didn't know before. Hell, this game even has a documentary series in it about the Iñupiat. But the game around all the learning stuff needs to be good. And I don’t think Never Alone is particularly good. The graphics and platforming aren't great, and the computer controlling the other part of your twosome is terrible. Maybe I would have had a different experience with the game if I had played this with a friend or, failing that, the fox that hangs out outside my house howling at me all night. But I didn't. I was alone in this, and I did not enjoy it.

Published in Playstation 4
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 00:00

Injustice: Gods Among Us (PS3)

Injustice: Gods Among Us PS3When I was a kid, I wanted to be a superhero. I wanted a cape and a secret hideout. I wanted to beat up all the bad people in the world and I wanted to fly. I didn’t want to be Batman, because even as a kid, I knew that he wasn’t a real superhero. He didn’t have any powers. He was just a rich guy who was friends with the police commissioner. Living in the projects, I knew that those traits were more out of reach for me than getting the ability to fly. Plus, I had already tried jumping off of the top of a dumpster while holding an umbrella over my head, and the results were nowhere close to the smooth gliding descent that I had seen on Batman's TV show.

In their latest fighting game, Injustice, Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios is giving gamers the chance to become their favorite superheros (and villians). Using the well sculptured fighting engine from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, players can battle each other as some of DC’s most iconic characters. And for the first time, it doesn’t feel watered down. Superman punches people into space, Batman runs opponents down with the Batmobile, Aquaman feeds bad guys to sharks. It’s the epitome of comic book wish fulfillment. The list of characters is a good mix of well known standards and fan favorites. Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Flash are joined by lesser known heroes like Green Arrow, Hawkgirl and Cyborg. Infamous bad guys, Joker, Bane, and Lex Luthor stand beside second stringers Solomon Grundy, Killer Frost, and Black Adam. In all, there are 24 characters in the game with more being added via DLC. Each character has the trademark powers we all know them for. It’s a true feat how the developers managed to balance the gameplay between the esoteric powers of someone like Green Lantern with the more grounded attacks of Deathstroke.

I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero. He could fly wherever he wanted. Bullets couldn’t hurt him. And he was strong enough to stop anyone from even trying. Superman was my guy. And when my mom dropped me off at the YMCA Boys Club for the first time, I was proudly wearing a freshly washed Superman shirt. In the summer, when there’s no school, some kids would get shipped off to summer camp to give their parents some rest. I've always wanted to be Superman. He was a real superhero.Others spent those off months playing outside in the neighborhood. But when camp is too expensive and your neighborhood is not a good place for a kid to be walking around, you get dropped off at the YMCA Boys Club. Think of it as a daycare center littered with makeshift weapons, filled with boys from 9 to 17 years old and with barely enough adult supervision to satisfy any government regulations. Each morning parents would drop off kids on the way to work, and each evening they’d come pick them up. Hopefully more or less intact. As soon as my mom drove away I was faced with a scene that was a mix between the Lord of the Flies and the Hunger Games. But I wasn’t worried. I was wearing my Superman shirt.

I had managed to map out a schedule to surviving each day. In the morning, before the big kids showed up, I passed the time in the game room, playing pool and foursquare. Once the older kids arrived, it was time to abandon the inside of the building and head for the playground. And once it got too hot to stay outside, I would head for the makeshift library, to spend the rest of the day playing board games and reading in the corner. In the end, the library became my fortress of solitude. But for a while, the playground was my favorite part of the day. Because that’s where I got to practice being a superhero.

Superman Batman BatcaveInjustice: Gods Among Us has all of the prerequisites for a fighting game, alternate costumes, distinct locations, flashy super moves, etc. Then it takes them a step further. Levels are multi-tiered, with the ability to knock your foe into an entirely new environment. Supermoves go a step further and deliver a cinematic punch worthy of their comic book origins. The single player offerings include the usual versus modes, but there’s also an inventive Star Labs section where the heroes are given different tasks to complete, not always involving fighting. Dodging debris, saving civilians, and breaking barriers are some of the skills you’ll master in Star Labs. Of course, there are still a good deal of ‘Beat up this guy to win’ type of missions, but the occasional change of pace is welcome after years of single player fighting game modes that are simply dumbed down versions of the multiplayer experience.

Swingsets are boring. Sure they’re fun for a few minutes, but day after day, week after week, even a goofy kid like me figured out that I was just going back and forth. That is, until I discovered how to ‘fly’. Here’s how it worked, first, you stand up on the seat. Then by bending your knees, and pushing forward, you get much higher, much faster that you can by sitting down and pumping your legs back and forth. Now, most of the other kids would sit down at some point and then ‘jump’ by sliding off of the front of the swing. That was fun. But it wasn’t flying. Flying was jumping off while you were still standing. Soaring through the air and landing further than anyone thought possible. Thats what I was doing. A lot. I was 12 years old and still invincible. And when some of the other kids began to copy my swingset superheroics, I had to find a way to take it up a notch. It’s not a superpower if everyone is doing it. So I decided to add a level of difficulty.

I stood on the cracked black rubber that passed as the seat of the swing and bent my legs. I pushed my feet forward while pulling back on the chains as hard as I could. For this to work I would need to go higher than I ever had before. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass.</>Soon I was speeding back and forth, the wind whooshing in my ears and the world blurring. The moment of truth was almost here. I couldn’t go any higher and some faint twinge of self preservation told me not to try. But it was just a twinge, and so it failed to stop me from completing the next part of my kryptonian destiny. I jumped. Just like I had dozens of times before. I figured I must have been twenty feet off the ground, no, more like fifty. And this is where I would set myself apart from all the pretenders. In mid-air, I twisted my body to spin around 360 degrees. Best case scenario, I would land twirling in the grass, armed crossed, looking like a bad ass. Worst case scenario...well, kids don’t really consider worst case scenarios. Plus, I saw Superman do it in a movies, so I knew it was possible.

Harley Nightwing MetropolisInjustice:Gods Among Us manages to mix casual and hardcore gaming together, so that even if you’re not veteran of fighting games, you still feel like anything is possible. You can hit a guy through a brick wall without memorizing a complete sequence of button presses and thumbstick movements. On screen indicators let you know when you can pick up that helicopter and slam it down on Bane’s head. But at the same time, it never feels crippled by it’s simplicity. It’s just as happy to have you dole out punishment via 20+ hit combos worthy of the best players at EVO or single button supermoves that send your opponent through a subway train.

My own supermove was a near complete success. When I made the leap from the top of the swing’s arc, I heard everyone gasp. When I spun, I heard the appropriate amounts of ‘WHOA!’ . And when I landed I heard the kid who was up next yell ‘Oh my God!’. I also heard someone snap their fingers for some reason. The landing wasn’t perfect. I must have over-rotated because instead of the cool superman pose I had planned on, I was sprawled on the grass with dandelions in my teeth and ears. Not a big problem. I’d do better next time. I didn’t realize that there’d be no next time.

I got up to soak in the adulation of the other kids, but they had already moved on. I decided to sit on the edge of the nearby see-saw in case anyone wanted to come and ask how I managed to fly like that. For some reason, getting from the ground to my would be throne was a lot harder than it should have been. My right foot wasn’t cooperating. In fact, it was screaming for me to stop moving. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain. I hobbled over and sat down as tears welled up in my eyes from the pain.I sat there for an hour. Partly trying to figure out why I couldn’t walk but mostly working out how to spin better the next time I jumped off the swing. Some kids yelled that a game of ‘Bombardment’ was about to start in the gym. Bombardment is basically dodgeball on steroids. We all loved it. And if enough of us got there fast enough, we’d be able to avoid the influx of older kids that always signaled the end of ‘fun’. I got up to run to the gym, and was immediately reminded that my foot was still off duty. It should have fixed itself by now. I wasn’t worried though. Superman never stayed hurt for too long, so I was positive that my malfunctioning foot would be better soon. I hopped on one leg to the gym. and each time my right foot even glazed the ground, a bolt of pain shot up my leg. By the time I made it to the gym, any thoughts of dodging rubber projectiles had fled my mind. Instead, I crawled to the top of the bleachers, and pretended to watch while fighting back the urge to cry for help.

Injustice: Gods Among Us succeeds where other superhero games have failed. No one wants to play a game as a superhero only to find out that your character’s powers are diminished for the sake of ‘balance’. It’s not fun to don a costume only to find out that you can be taken down by an average street thug. And it also avoids the traps that other fighting games fall into. It’s easy enough to learn, but not so convoluted that you need a guide book and months of practice to enjoy yourself. NetherRealm has done a fantastic job of allowing anyone the chance to feel how fun it would be to have superpowers, even if it’s only in a game.

By the time my mom was due to pick me up at 5:30pm, I had been in the bleachers for nearly 6 hours. It wouldn’t be until the next day that I would learn the snap I heard on landing was actually my ankle fracturing. I had no idea that I was destined to spend the next 6 weeks in a cast and crutches. I hopped to the car, dragging my useless foot behind me, each step an explosion of spikes slamming into my leg. I got in the car, shaking from the pain, and the first thing I said was ‘Ma, Today I was Superman!’

Score 9/10

Published in Playstation 3
Saturday, 16 October 2010 00:00

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review (PS3)

 

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The best part about video game conventions aren’t the games on the show floor, it’s the parties afterward where a bunch of geeks can hang out and be themselves. Its not like going to the neighborhood bar where the smell of cigarettes and alcohol is outmatched by the cheap cologne of men talking to women with cheaper perfume.

An industry party is different. Mostly you’re just standing around with a drink in your hand talking to someone about how the big name actors like Patrick Stewart are showing up more and more in games. There’s not a lot of cheesy lines or male bravado because to be honest, there’s not a lot of reason for it. The women at a gamer party don’t have a lot to fear from guys who spend a good chunk of time retracing levels to find that one last health gem.

This party was no different. I had come with my friend who just happened to  fit the role of a stunningly attractive woman. She may not have officially been my date, but that didn’t stop me from feeling just a little bit good about the approving nod I got from the bouncer at the door. As the night progressed we slowly drifted to opposite sides of the room. Every so often I’d see her out of the cornier of my eye hanging out by a Mrs Pacman machine. Even though I’m deep into a discussion about whether the migration from 2D to 3D in classic remakes is a natural evolution or a just money grab, I can still pick out her laugh across the room amongst the background noise. I looked past the blogger blocking my view and see  that she’s talking to a guy we had interviewed  earlier that day on the show floor .I also notice that he had ditched the lanyard and controller based accessories he was sporting at the show and swapped them  for a shiny dress shirt and jacket topped by a gold chain that would be more at home on an MTV reality show than a bar filled with podcasters. I knew the look on his face from experience. He was on the prowl.

Published in Playstation 3
Thursday, 22 January 2015 00:00

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review [Xbox One]

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The naked body is one of the most beautiful objects in the world. There’s a reason why the Greeks used it as an analog for the gods in their sculpture and why art students around the world study each muscle and intonation of nude models. It’s because the simple lines and curves that shape the human body conspire together to create the perfect melding of form and function.

Here’s an exercise. Imagine the most attractive person you can. It doesnt matter if it’s a man or woman, take your pick. Imagine that person standing there, void of clothes, makeup, or tattoos. Visualize only their body, proud and confident. Beautiful isn’t it? Hell, it’s downright stunning. Now, keep imagining that person, but add the usual adornments people require. Shoes, a simple shirt or dress, etc. Maybe that person looks slightly better to you now, or maybe a little less. Now, continue adding the accessories that we’re used to seeing draped on the human form. Imagine them with a complicated, in vogue hairstyle, pile on the makeup and gold jewelry. Keep going. Picture them wearing a hat, gloves, designer sunglasses. And just like that, the beautiful work of art that was once there no longer has the simple perfection that they were born into the world with. Instead, this new creation is a gaudy substitute. Hidden somewhere under all of those unneeded additions is the true beauty. Somewhere.
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That’s the path that a lot of modern games have taken. At the core of Call of Duty’s dozens of weapons and myriad of controls may be a solid first person shooter. Deep down beneath The Crew’s needless storyline and layers of special effects could be a decent racer. But like many games today, you’ll be hard pressed to find the beauty of the game underneath all of the extraneous makeup and jewelry that are masquerading as ‘innovations’.

Geometry Wars 3 takes a different route. The simple, straightforward gameplay that dates back to one of the first twin stick shooters, Robotron 2084, is stripped of any pretense. You aren’t inundated with a story that was shoehorned in. The graphics are made up of basic geometric shapes that somehow seem at home even on a powerhouse like the Xbox One. It’s the opposite of the runway model who can barely stand under the weight of the latest in fashion.

The idea of the naked form has become transformed by society. It’s been co-opted by everything from advertising to porn. Sure, there’s a juvenile part of us that wants to laugh and point, mock and ridicule, or reduce it to a base sexual stimulant. But once you look past that, what you’ll see is beauty. Pure, simple beauty without the need to cover it up and over adorn it with needless trinkets and toys.

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The developers at Lucid recognize this. The gameplay modes of Geometry Wars 3 are basic, yet still satisfying. They range from the straightforward ‘Deadline’ where you shoot everything that moves in a set time limit, all the way to Pacifism, where the object is just to survive as long as possible without firing a shot.The adventure mode is a simple progression of level and game types, getting progressively more difficult as your ship equally gains in power via A.I.drones. These power ups are the only really unnecessary piece of bling on the title. Most of them equate to either increasing your firepower, or helping to protect your ship. But with the hectic gameplay, they could have easily been left out without much impact on the experience. Lucid has managed to hone the controls to near perfection, with movement becoming almost instinctive. Your eyes and hands work together in harmony with no middleman to slow them down. 


Some people say that it’s our insecurities that cause us to hide behind layers of makeup or strut around with expensive watches and designer clothes. The theory is that there’s some inherent flaw underneath, real or perceived, that can be covered up. Like an over compensating student at prom wearing too much cologne. Game developers have a tendency to fall into the same trap. It’s as if they know that if you were to strip away the fancy graphics and dense controls from most AAA titles, you’d be left with uninspired, tiresome gameplay thats been repeated for years. Geometry Wars 3 stands defiant and proud, unashamed of the absence of baubles and trinkets. It has grown since it was born as minigame in an Xbox racer. It’s a bit bolder, a bit wilder. The primitives based visuals have matured into a melding of shapes, color and sound that complement the gameplay instead of overpowering it. It doesn’t need nor want to be hidden under a thick blanket of excess. Geometry Wars 3 revels in it’s nakedness. And that’s a beautiful sight to behold.

Score. 9 out of 10

Published in Xbox One
Friday, 14 February 2014 00:00

The String Arcade [Music Review]

The String Arcade Artwork

For those of us 30+ gamers video game music is embedded deep inside us. Having played the same levels over and over and over … and over again has left a mark on our memory that will likely last longer than our memory of our own offspring. The music is tied to our failures, our victories and new discoveries. When I first saw the track list for The String Arcade I immediately looked for game names that I recognized; Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Galaga and The Legend of Zelda. What I was surprised to discover is several modern games including some mobile games. I would be lying if I didn’t scoff and get a bit snobby about it, “Why would they pick those games? Who wants to listen to Plants Vs Zombie?!” I put my prejudice aside, put on my headphones, ignored my children and listened intently to The String Arcade.

Produced by composer Dren McDonald, The String Arcade is arranged and performed by a string quartet. The String Arcade goes far beyond simply recreating video game music, the arrangements are lush with complexity and depth. While each track is unique, the  album is arranged as a cohesive unit. Thematically it sounds like a soundtrack complete with a beginning, middle, ending, and epilogue. Grasswalk kicks it off with a playful pace mixed with grade-school-Halloween spookiness complete with zombie moans. Engii evokes the sounds of a space opera complete with epic solitude. Echoes of Ecco, Sonic 2 Scherzo and Altered Beast Title Theme all have beautifully rich cello work that gives them a lot of edge that was indicative of those games back in the day. Also there are parts of Echoes of Ecco where it actually feels like you’re underwater complete with dolphin calls. Ferdinand Wanders Out for a Late Night Haircut and Medicated Cow Walks the Cobbled Streets with Disgruntled Goat were both big surprises to me because they were inspired by mobile games but are brilliantly done. Dance of the Space Bugs and The Legend of Zelda Title Theme both rely on the original songs’ melodies but are both more vibrant than any other recreations I’ve heard. Especially The Legend of Zelda Title Theme closes the album out that truly feels like the end of an epic adventure. 

Having now listened to the album several dozen times: every time I hear something new. It begs to be listened to from beginning to end over and over. I actually feel a little uncomfortable if I have to stop listening to the album before I get to the end. I feel guilty having had reservations intially from reading the track list. Track numbers may break up The String Arcade but it should be listened to as a whole. It is a true joy to listen too and I plan to keep it in my rotation for a long time. 

All proceeds of The String Arcade go to the Alameda Music Project, an afterschool music program for kids in grades K-5.

You can purchase the CD from:

Loudr.fm - http://www.loudr.fm/release/the-string-arcade/wvbUB

iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-string-arcade/id805763356

Bandcamp - https://thestringarcade.bandcamp.com/

Published in PC
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 00:00

Dungeons & Dragons Neverwinter (PC)

Most epic fantasy has a lot of thanks to give not only to Tolkien, but to his inspirations: mythos and lore. In this same way, much of modern fantasy that occupies tabletops and gaming consoles can tip a hat to Forgotten Realms for the depth of their universes. It's hard to escape the influence in most games set in medieval or high fantasy. Expecting Perfect World and Cryptic to bring something new to the table when presenting their free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, is a bit much considering this framework defined the genre. Yet they still brought innovation to the table, just with focus on MMORPG functionality.

This isn't to say Perfect World changed how they monetize FTPMMOs. They have a solid structure that has worked with their many other titles, and they know better than to mess with that. For those new to the program, however, things can be a little daunting. I get that the urge to rush into the gameplay is strong, and you probably feel you have a pretty good grasp on MMOs in general, (at least I did), but it's important to pay attention in the beginning of the game. Not everything you need to know is spelled out for you, but the game offers access in game to wikis and provides tips in load screens. You can also do a quick search and find plenty of fanmade wikis to aid you, as well. Learning as much as you can as early as you can will benefit you, because there are a lot of things going on here.

First, there is normal gameplay. The controls here are decent once you get used to a targeting system that is a little unorthodox for third-person RPGs. (I did, however, much prefer the controls here to the ones found in D&D Online, but maybe I just didn't give those enough time.) My biggest gripe with a targeting system where you aim instead of click on targets is how often line of sight is easily broken. (This is especially a headache if you try to heal an individual in a full on battle.) When targeting enemies, however, there is a bit of an auto-aim that adjusts your character's focus while you are in attack mode. The controls are fluid and responsive. I have always been a double-click the mouse runner, but learning to use WASD full time was not difficult, especially since it's pretty standard. The rest of the key-mapping is intuitive and easy to remember, and also entirely customizable.

Speaking of customization, the character selection screen is pretty darn good. Players can choose between some of the most prominent races in Forgotten Realms, such as halflings, half-orcs, dwarfs, and even the drow eventually, with more races to come. Tieflings are also an option, creating some of the most impressive looking wizards you'll see running around in game. Individual tweaking of character appearance is detailed (though not quite as much as in PWI or other Cryptic titles) and impacts both facial structure and body structure. A wide range of tones are available for skin, hair, and other features. There are also three body types available, including a “heavy” preset, which can be altered using individual sliders for each body area.

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Class is not limited to race, though different races have abilities consistent with specific class types. There are also more classes that will be added to the game over time.  Attributes are chosen by rolling, which is a nice touch. One of the best parts of creating a character is choosing their background and deity alignment. You can also add a character history while creating a character, or at any point during gameplay. Just be sure to save this text in another application, because I encountered a glitch that repeatedly erased the character history I wrote for all of my characters. Only two character slots are available per account, with additional slots available for purchase. Some gamers choose to create multiple accounts to get past paying, but keep in mind that purchases made on one account with real money will not transfer to other accounts.

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Speaking of the many forms of currency, how do they work? Well, the Zen currency is used in all of Perfect World's game incarnations. It allows you access to exclusive items, but there is also a variety of game currencies that can be achieved through different means as you progress in the game. Each currency relates to a specific market, granting access to things such as augmentations, profession items, and potions. Astral diamonds are the in game currency that can be acquired and traded for Zen to be spent on exclusive items. The amount of astral diamonds needed for these items is very high, and it takes a lot of work, but there are ways to avoid spending real money to get some of the real money items.

 

Astral diamonds/Zen also help to unlock Nightmare Lockboxes that are found in the game. While most of the drops in the game at lower to mid level are good, they all lack a certain legendary quality. The character will have many chances to collect these dropped lockboxes. They contain very rare items at random, but require a large about of astral diamonds or the purchase of Zen to open. At this point, there are aspects of the game that resemble a pay-to-win structure. I personally prefer when games stick to purely aesthetic purchases for real currency. On the other hand, you are required to pay nothing for a game that will likely provide you weeks upon weeks of enjoyment.

I had no real issue with the currency system because I've always been more of a PvE player, but there is a PvP arena that allows party vs party combat. It can be really invigorating provided you're in a solid team. If you prefer solo or small group play, the game is set up for that, too. I found the rogue and cleric to be very fun in solo play. You can also unlock the ability to use a computer controlled companion that you train and summon to help you. Keeping up with the timing of their training, on top of timed profession building, means your character has a lot to focus on while they strive for the current level cap of 60. Professions work like time-based quests found in social gaming apps, so they can be performed in the background at all times. There are dungeons and skirmishes available, each performed with a full party of five players. Queue up for these events while you work on other parts of the game.

All of the things I'm describing are achieved at level ten and higher, but you can only realize how fun these things are if you make it past the beginning of the game. Granted leveling is quick, and the beginning is relatively short, but the story here is drab, dry, and a sorry follow-up to the awe-inspiring opening cinematic. The story and fighting abilities vastly improve as the player levels, and my personal favorite feature of the entire game is introduced at level 15- The Foundry. The Foundry allows players to create their own quests and campaigns within the game. Some of the stories you can play, created by individuals from all over the world, are varied, creative, and an excellent way to level outside of the main quests. You can create your own campaigns, but this varies from the tabletop version. Even with a vastly adaptable tool kit and a cornucopia of base content to configure, there are limits simply by using the visual representation required in game. That's not to say the limits prevent any worth- the Foundry is an amazing addition to this gameplay format, and does a fantastic job at resembling the creative nature of tabletop itself.

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The truth is, as a lifelong fan of the Forgotten Realms and nearly every game released from this universe, I had high expectations. In some ways, I was disappointed. I maybe expected too much from the story given my nostalgia for other games set within Neverwinter or Baldur's Gate. Neverwinter is a game that takes a little time to ease into, but it's worth the investment. I'd even say that in-game purchases with real money are warranted, provided you like the game enough to keep playing as it grows better and better. Beware of glitches that can cause things like character histories to be erased, or even prevent you from using an ability or potion here or there during battle. (I encountered the latter infrequently, and I'm sure the game is constantly patching and fixing these things.) One of the most compelling features of Neverwinter is the constant attention to improving the game and adding more features, including endgame PvE and PvP opportunities. This, along with character created Foundry campaigns and a seeming desire to incorporate the essence of tabletop magic, lead me to highly recommend at the very least trying this game if you are a fan of Forgotten Realms and MMOs.

Published in PC
Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Abyss Odyssey Review (PC)

I have no idea what to think of this game. It's really weird, but not in any quantifiable way. Or at least not one that I can easily verbalize. It is so janky with everything it is trying to do that it is infuriating to play, but at the same time I can't just dismiss it as some crap game that no one should play. I'm so confused right now.

Abyss Odyssey is about a wizard. This wizard is so powerful that he fell asleep and created the eponymous Abyss, this huge network of connected rooms filled with monsters, treasures, and weird black and white levels that come right the fuck out of nowhere. He also created Katrien, as well as the Ghost Monk and the Pincoya, who you will play as. You must journey through the Abyss to wake up the wizard and put an end to his nightmare. Along the way you'll find pages from the wizard's journal which will tell more of the story and maybe explain some of things that happen because of the wizard's dream.

This game is very stingy with information on how to play it. One of the biggest aspects of the game is its fighting system. If you've ever played a fighting game then you know that a good training mode can really help you enjoy the game more. At least for me it can. In this game we get a single page with the buttons you use for attacks that you have to navigate to inside of a menu that's in another menu. You're never told that holding the stick forward, up, down, or not at all will change the type of basic attack you do. In a way, this can be very good. Having tutorials out the ass on a game can be really irritating, especially if it's a style of game that you basically know the controls for, and it's something new then it's rewarding to be able to figure out the controls on your own. But this is a fighting game style system, where knowing what the buttons do is crucial to being able to play it.

Even when it does tell you information it can sometimes be misleading. When you die in the game, you're given a chance to come back. You immediately respawn as a soldier, which is a different soldier depending on who you're playing as, and if you can make it back to an altar you will be revived at full health and can continue on. The text box that told me this appeared when I approached what I thought was the first altar. It had a floating stone mask that broke when I got near it, I could set a check point there, and configure my skills. Going through this area I died. I came back as a soldier and made a mad dash for the altar. When I got there, nothing happened. I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to get it to come back but I couldn't. So I moved on. Turns out there's a second kind of altar, and it's this one that lets you respawn. Why the hell would the note about respawning at altars appear at an altar you can't respawn at? With this other altar I also found a merchant who sold me weapons and potions and the like. He also had camp tokens. Camp tokens are what you use to set checkpoints at altars so when you die for realsies you start from there and not the starting town. I had no idea how to get my hands on one of these things and I didn't come across the merchant until my fourth or fifth attempt because I didn't know there even were merchants in this game. It didn't help that he blended into the background, though.

This is a problem that does carry to later in the game. As you go deeper into the Abyss the levels start to change. You start out in standard dark caves, but then you get ice levels and lava levels and plant levels. In the plant levels, stationary enemies that shoot poisonous barbs at you or launch vines out blend in with the environment. I cannot tell you how many times I'd be running down a path to all of a sudden realize one of these things was in front of me. And the poison barb plant thing keeps shooting at you so you could easily get to point where he gets to juggle you a bit by having you getting damaged by the poison, making you unable to dodge the next barb he shoots, which poisons you again.

Speaking of juggling, the combat system in this game is not great. It feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point where it almost feels unplayable. I mentioned earlier that the direction you're holding the stick affects what kind of attack you do. With Katrien, holding the stick forward makes you do a two hit combo, while not holding the stick in any direction is a three hit combo. But you have to come to a complete stop before it registers that you've let go of the stick. I would be running along and stumble into a random encounter with a group of enemies, which normally I hate because fuck random encounters but here I don't mind it because it doesn't interupt the flow of gameplay, and I would let go of the stick to do the three hit but if my character was still finishing the stop running animation she would do the two hit.

But even when you get the hang of that part of the combat it still feels weird. Any time I've gotten a combo higher than three was total luck and I could never recreate it. Cancelling, which is kind of a core part of fighting games in this day and age, is a special skill that you can deplete and have to wait for it to recharge. And you start out only being able to cancel once, so if you end using your cancel to dodge out of the way of an attack and you get hit anyway because the dodging in this game only works sometimes, you have wasted that cancel and now have to wait for it to recharge before you can cancel out of an attack again. It all feels so clunky and awkward, but at the same time weirdly engaging. Around my ninth tenth attempt I started to get into a rhythm and was actually doing pretty well. It was so bizarre, but I felt like I was starting to understand it. That eventually fell through and it went right back to being bad, but that feeling kept coming back.

I only ever felt that with Katrien, though. The Ghost Monk and the Pincoya I never understood. The characters, while the control the same, have different weapons and attack styles. Katrien uses one-handed swords and is quick than the others (I think). The Ghost Monk uses two-handed swords and is slower but stronger than the others. The Pincoya uses staff weapons which gives her more range than the others. I never felt like I was finally getting the Monk or the Pincoya. I would've needed to play hours and hours of them and I just didn't have the time or the interest.

All the characters also have a magic attack. It's the exact same for each of them and does the exact same thing. Once the mana meter is full they send out a ball of light that deals a lot of damage to anyone caught in it, and when they die their soul falls out. You can then collect one of these souls and turn into that enemy. Aside from bringing you back up to full health when you turn into them, I have no idea why you would want to do this. It's just another new move set you have to figure out.

This game was also sold on the platforming, and it feels as bad as the fighting without the benefit of the clarity I sometimes got. The turning is what really kills it for me. When you change the direction your character is moving or facing, it takes a bizarrely long time. Not that long, but long enough that you can notice it and really feel it. And you can only change direction while you're on foot. Once you're in the air, you have a decent amount of air control but you're always facing the same direction. So if you try to jump up a wall that's behind you, you have to wait for your character to turn around and then jump it. It's a small thing, but it's also a very important part of platforming to have a fluidity of movement. This doesn't feel fluid. It feels like a rusty system of gears.

Finally there are RPG elements. You earn XP to level up your character which unlocks new special attacks and skill points to unlock more cancels and level up your special attacks. It's pretty basic and doesn't add much for me. But with the RPG elements comes random weapon drops or finds, which don't make a whole lot of sense in game. Each of the three characters can only use one type of weapon, and they can't pick up other types. So it doesn't make a lot of sense when I'm playing as Katrien and every weapon I find is a two-handed weapon. If you were able to pick up these weapons and sell them to the merchant for gold that'd be one thing, but since I can't pick them up at all, let alone sell anything to the merchant, it makes no sense as to why they would be there.

Even with all of that bitching I just did, I find the game oddly okay. Yes, the fighting and platforming are very awkward, it's an awkward that you eventually accept. Yes, the game doesn't explain shit to you, but if you keep bashing your head into it over and over you'll figure out what most of it means. Add to that a premise I think is interesting and graphics that look fine, this is a game that I can't say is good but I just barely enjoyed it, too. Take that for what you will.

Published in PC
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