Games

Bound By Flame Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Bound By Flame: Humanity is Overrated.

The last couple months have been a little barren in terms of releases which, whilst it gives me some time to plunder the vast depths of the numerous indie releases, does leave me hungering for a more traditional type of experience. During my usual stumble through the new releases on Steam I happened to come across Bound by Flame, an action RPG that managed to impress me on its trailers alone. However it was hard to miss the rather damning Metacritic review score on the store page that indicated that this title was probably less than stellar. Still the short bits I had seen seemed to indicate that it was worth playing and so I sat myself down to see if I was right.

Bound By Flame Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

The world is under siege, a massive army of the undead shambling its way across the land and devastating everything in its path. Each battle with this terrible army, under the command of powerful magic wielders called Ice Lords, only serves to swell their ranks even further. There is not much hope for humanity however a group of scholars called the Red Scribes believes they have a way to turn the tide of the war. You are Vulcan, member of the Free Born Blades, a mercenary group who has been hired by the Red Scribes to protect them while they attempt to complete the ritual. However not everything goes as planned and suddenly you find yourself being far more involved in this conflict than you’d first anticipated.

Visually Bound by Flame has the look that many similar previous gen RPGs did with an extremely muted colour palette and somewhat simplistic looking graphics. The screenshots are a little misleading as on their own they look quite good but once you see everything in motion it becomes apparent what the limitations are. Indeed the whole thing feels like a fantasy version of Mars: War Logs, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it’s from the same developer, but this means that all the issues that plagued that game are present in Bound by Flame as well. Considering their close release dates I’m assuming that they didn’t have much time to take the lessons learned from their previous title and apply it to this one, which is rather unfortunate considering they seem like a studio who wants to make a decent game.

Bound By Flame Screenshot Wallpaper First Boss

Bound by Flame is an action RPG at heart, taking the majority of the traditional mechanics and wrapping them up in a real time combat system in order to keep the pace up. All the usual elements you’d expect are there: levels, a skill tree system that you use to get new skills and improve old ones, various perks that can be unlocked, loot galore and a crafting system to augment items you’ll find. There’s a main story quest that will be your main way of progressing forward but there’s also a handful of side quests to do should you feel the need. You’ll also have a variety of party members to choose from, each with their own set of skills and story lines which you can pursue at your leisure.

The combat is reminiscent of Mars: War Logs as you’re just whacking on an enemy until they try to attack, at which point you’ve got to block or somehow get out of the way. Bound by Flame differs through the use of “stances” which are essentially different ways of doing combat. The warrior stance lets you use your 2 handed sword but stops you from being able to quickly dodge attacks. The ranger stance on the other hand is focused on quick attacks but the ability to parry incoming attacks is greatly reduced. Just like any RPG you’d better focus on one or the other as trying to mix the two will likely lead to a sub-par experience. There’s also the pyromancer abilities which are essentially augments to the other two as the game doesn’t seem to have the itemization to support someone being a full time mage.

Bound By Flame Screenshot Wallpaper Skill Tree

Unfortunately the wild flails in difficulty that plagued Mars: War Logs remains in Bound by Flame meaning that you’ll likely struggle at the start of a section until you find an upgrade or two at which point the game becomes a breeze again. The bosses are also on a completely different difficulty scale to the rest of the encounters you’ll have meaning you’ll likely blow through most of your stash just to get past them. I understand the need for challenging the player, hell I’ve criticised games for not being able to do this, but the disjoint in difficulty isn’t a challenge to overcome, it’s poor game design. This is made all the more obvious by the final boss fight which is, in all honesty, an absolute travesty as unless you’ve built your character specifically for that fight you’ll likely be unable to do it without sinking an disproportional amount of time into it.

The crafting system seems well thought out on the surface however it only serves to highlight just how little differentiation there is between most items in Bound by Flame. In the beginning you’ll have to carefully choose your upgrades in order to get the maximum benefit however about half way through you’ll be drowning in materials, allowing you to get the best upgrade for each of your items. The game seems to hint at the idea that you should change your gear constantly to fit the situation but even if you do that you’ll still find yourself with more materials than you know what to do with. Honestly if they had a crafting system that let you make weapons and armour I think the amount of materials that drop would be justified. Maybe then I could craft myself a pair of boots (seriously, I had to buy an upgraded pair of boots in the second to last chapter because I never found any).

Bound By Flame Screenshot Wallpaper A Tender Moment

Bound by Flame is also riddled with bugs and strange quirks that mar the whole experience. I had several occasions where, if I dragged a NPC out of their normal roaming area, the enemies would flit between being invisible and invulnerable to being visible but disinterested in me. Other NPCs would sometimes inexplicably face the walls or get stuck on things which would incapacitate them. This is not to mention your party members AI which is beyond useless most of the time, even when you use the order commands to try and modify their behaviour. Reading over my Mars: War Logs review reveals that many of these issues were present in that game as well, something that Spiders needs to fix lest they be forever labelled as a B grade RPG developer.

I could forgive pretty much all of this if the story was passable however it’s not. The core idea is solid, you’ve got to choose between your humanity and power, but the execution is sorely lacking in character depth, motivation and just general coherency. Hell even the developers themselves can’t get it completely straight as I note several differences between the story on their main site and the one in the game. Worst still are the romances, if you can call them that, as many of them come down to just choosing one right dialog option at one point, rather than actually cultivating any kind of meaningful depth between the characters.

Bound By Flame Screenshot Wallpaper This Isn't Even My Final Form

Bound by Flame continues Spiders’ unfortunate history of producing B grade RPGs, seemingly being unable to learn their past mistakes to make their future releases better. It has all the makings of a good RPG, the combat system works most of the time (despite it’s wild changes in difficulty), the levels are meaningful and the crafting system is halfway to being worthwhile. Still the story is well below mediocre and Bound by Flame has numerous glitches and behaviours that do nothing but ruin the experience. I’d love to say I’m looking forward to what they’re doing next but it seems that they have no interest in learning from their mistakes.

Go on Spiders, prove me wrong.

Rating: 4.75/10

Bound by Flame is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Xbox360 right now for $39.99, $79.95, $89.95 and $79.95 respectively. Total play time was 10 hours with 54% of the achievements unlocked.

DOTA 2 The International 4 2014

The Power of Community: The International’s Prize Pool Exceeds $6 Million.

I never really had a taste for competitive gaming mostly because my less than stellar Internet connection usually put me at a disadvantage for any game that I played. Even after I remedied that I still found shied away from them, fearing that I’d simply end up losing game after game, never to make any progress. Starcraft II changed that however and I found myself deeply engrossed in ladder play, feverishly battling my way through opponents in the hopes I could make it to the top. That faded over time as my interest turned towards DOTA2 and much to my surprise I’m still horribly addicted to it. This has then evolved into a love for all things about the game including the competitive scene, something which I’d never thought I’d find myself interested in. Of all the tournaments and events that happen over the year none compare to the spectacle that is The International, a DOTA2 tournament hosted by Valve themselves.

DOTA 2 The International 4 2014

I was only tangentially aware of the first 2 Internationals having been a keen DOTA AllStars fan back in the day and one of the many wanting an invite to the beta but was yet to be in possession of one. They made headlines for their gigantic prize pools for a game that was still relatively unknown, a cool $1 million for the first place winner. For pro gamers that’s an incredible amount of money, more than many other tournaments in more established eSports scenes, and is enough to sustain an entire team for a long time. On the surface it appeared to be just another marketing tactic by Valve to get people interested in the game but since its introduction 3 years ago The International has taken on a life of its own, becoming the standard for eSports events across the world.

Last year however Valve did something curious, the released a compendium (an in game item) for $10, $2.50 of which would go directly into the prize pool that would be awarded to the players. The result was incredible, players and supporters of teams alike contributed over $1.2 million to the prize pool which saw The International retake its crown as the largest prize pool eSports tournament. Valve, looking to replicate the success of last year’s tournament, released another compendium for this year’s The International as well with the same price point and contribution levels.

The results speak for themselves: yesterday the prize pool exceeded $6 million and it’s not stopping there.

For fans and players a like this is a great thing as it means that teams that even place in 7th or 8th will likely have enough funds behind them to sustain them throughout the year. Being a pro gamer isn’t as flashy as it sounds and there are some costs that simply can’t be avoided (like flights, not to mention the basics of living). For fans this means a bigger, much more well produced event which judging by last year’s standards will make it nothing short of incredible.

I’m incredibly excited as what this year’s The International will bring as we get to see the top tier talent of DOTA2 duke it out for the biggest prize pool in eSports history. Every year Valve has stepped up their game and this year looks to be no exception with the live floor moving to a much larger arena and the production crew swelling their ranks considerably. As someone who never really understood sports growing up I now know what it feels like for sports fans when grand finals time approaches and I simply can’t wait for it.

Twitch TV Logo

Bringing The Kappa to YouTube.

Twitch.tv started out as the bastard child of Justin.tv, a streaming website that wanted to make it easy for anyone to stream content to a wider audience. Indeed for a long time Twitch felt like something of an after thought as divesting part of an already niche site into another niche didn’t seem like a sound business maneuver. However since then Twitch has vastly outgrown its parent company becoming the default platform for content streamers around the world. The sponsorship model it has used for user’s channels has proven to be successful enough that thousands of people now make their living streaming games, giving Twitch a sustainable revenue stream. This hasn’t gone unnoticed of course and rumours are starting to circulate that Google will be looking to purchase them.

Twitch TV Logo

The agreement is reported to be $1 billion all cash deal, an amazing deal for the founders and employees of Twitch. The acquisition makes sense for Google as they’ve been struggling to get into the streaming market for a long time now with many of their attempts drawing only mild success. For the Twitch community though there doesn’t appear to be any direct benefits to speak of, especially considering that Google isn’t a company to let their acquisitions just do their own thing. Indeed if this rumour has any truth to it the way in which Google integrates Twitch into its larger platform will be the determining factor in how the brand grows or ultimately fails.

At the top of the list of concerns for Twitch streamers is the potential integration between YouTube’s ContentID system and the Twitch streams. Whilst most of the games that are popular on Twitch are readily endorsed by their creators (like League of Legends, DOTA2, World of Warcraft, etc.) most of them aren’t, something which has seen content producers and game developers butt heads multiple times over on YouTube. With the Twitch platform integrated into YouTube there’s potential for game creators to flag content they don’t want streamed something which is at odds with the current Twitch community ethos. If not handled correctly it could see much of Twitch’s value evaporate after they transition across to YouTube as arguably most of it comes from its wide community, not the technology or infrastructure powering it.

On the flip side though Twitch has been known to suffer from growing pains every time a popular event happens to grace its platform, something which Google could go a long way to fixing. Indeed that would likely be the only thing that Twitch has to gain from this: a global presence without the need to invest in costly additional infrastructure. If Google maintains Twitch as a separate, wholly owned brand then this could be of benefit to both of them as a more stable and available platform is likely to drive user numbers much quicker than Twitch has been able to do previously.

We’ll have to see if this rumour turns out to be true as whilst I wouldn’t begrudge Twitch taking the cash the question of what Google will do with them is what will determine their future. Whilst the combination of Twitch chat and YouTube comments sounds like the most unholy creation on the Internet since /b/ there is potential for both Twitch and Google to gain something from this. Whether that’s to the benefit of the community though remains to be seen.

Child of Light Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Child of Light: A World Flooded With Water, and the Story of a Daughter.

Reviewing a game every week has been a great way to discover my internal set of negative biases towards certain types of games. Indeed I wouldn’t have known that survival horror games just aren’t my thing had I not attempted to slog through several of them, something which is contrary to the fact that I played through many of the original Resident Evil series. Turn based combat is another mechanic that I’ve found myself avoiding but recent examples of how it can be done well, like for South Park: The Stick of Truth, have started to break down that barrier. It was the main reason I didn’t jump on Child of Light right away and whilst I might still not be a convert to the turn based combat system I can at least begin to see its merits when applied properly.

Child of Light Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You play as Aurora, daughter of the king and heiress to the kingdom of Austria. One night though you are struck down with a terrible illness that, strangely, sends you into a mystical world quite unlike your own. This new land you find yourself in has had its moon and sun taken from it by the evil queen Umbra, plunging the world into darkness and enslaving its population. You soon find out that there’s only one way home: you must restore the moon and the sun back to its people so that the way between your worlds can be opened once again. Time is of the essence too as the visions of your world that leak through show that it is in danger, and needs your help just as much as this strange new one you find yourself in.

Child of Light has a delightfully well done art scheme, with everything for the characters to the environments having that whimsical feeling about them. The art style is done as if everything was painted with watercolours with the wide and varied palette bleeding and fading into each other. It’s also done in a 2.5D style with the backgrounds being largely static and the characters being cel shaded 3D models. This allows Child of Light to have some pretty impressive effects as well as some nice little touches (like Aurora’s hair) that really help to build up the whimsical feeling. Ubisoft Montreal has definitely taken a page from the Blizzard book here the visuals are rarely boring, especially with the large amount of variety in the environments.

Child of Light Review Screenshot Wallpaper Sea Monsters

From a core game perspective Child of Light is a best described as a side-scrolling RPG with turn based combat that uses a system similar to the Final Fantasy time active combat system. All the classic RPG elements that you’d expect to find are there including an experience system, talent trees with multiple arms and specializations, item progression and, of course, numerous party members to manage. Whilst the systems that have been implemented are probably more on the simplistic side (at least from a veteran RPGer’s perspective) there’s still enough depth in all of them that 2 playthroughs are unlikely to unfold in the same way. Finally there’s a crafting system for augmenting your character in certain ways, something you’ll need if you don’t want to spend hours fighting battles.

The combat system works well as it encourages you to think strategically about what actions to take when and whether or not you’ll be able to complete them. Once you’re in the “cast” section of the bar you get to choose a skill to use which all have a varying amount of time associated with them. Should someone attack you during the cast you’ll be interrupted and sent back to halfway through the “wait” bar. There are ways to speed yourself up and slow your enemies down but you can also judge how long their abilities are going to take to cast and react accordingly. The AI, for the most part, is predictable enough (it will most likely attack whichever of your party can attack the next) but working around the various abilities that they have is what provides most of the challenge.

Child of Light Review Screenshot Wallpaper A Tangled Crystal Heart

Like most games that use elemental damage types every enemy has strengths and weaknesses meaning that it’s nigh on impossible to build Aurora, or any of your characters, as a jack of all trades. This is made even more complicated by the fact that some enemies are weak to magic and not physical attacks (or vice versa) something which isn’t readily apparent from just looking at the enemies. Indeed whilst you can kind of work out what they’re likely to be weak to given their appearance (things on fire probably don’t like water) there’s no way to inspect the enemies and have that information presented to you. Worse still there’s no health bars for you to look at and the only indication that you’re close to finishing an enemy off is when they slump down. Considering you can be having an encounter every minute or two small things like these start to wear a bit as you’re never quite sure of just how powerful you are (or aren’t).

The levelling system feels like it needed a little more attention as whilst it’s always nice to have a sense of progression Child of Light is light a desperate friend trying to impress their new date, constantly begging for your attention. At least one of your characters will level up after each fight, normally multiple ones of them, necessitating that you switch over to the character screen in order to allocate their talent points. Sometimes this leads to a meaningful upgrade, like a new version of a spell, however most of the time it’s just more stat building. Honestly it would’ve been far better to have fewer levels with those stat upgrades built into the levels themselves. That way I wouldn’t have spent a good 20% of the game simply managing my party, making sure I’d spent all their points.

Child of Light Review Screenshot Wallpaper Hail Hydra

The Oculi crafting system is a pretty neat idea as it allows an alternative means of progression which is totally under your control. Whilst there seems to be some obvious choices for certain slots (the extra XP from the diamonds seems like a no brainer) some of the more advanced gems, weapon slots seem to be a lot harder. Whilst you can chop and change as many times as you like it can be somewhat annoying to have say a fire gem equipped and then end up facing water enemies. Essentially this means that you’ll often find yourself pushed into sub-par fights which, whilst not impossible, are usually quite tedious. Being able to change Oculi as an action during combat would be a happy medium and would go a long way to removing a lot of the repetition present in Child of Light.

If I’m honest the rhyming couplets style of dialog really annoyed me as whilst some of it was done to great effect much of it just made comprehending them that little bit harder. I feel that the story would stand on its own quite well however the method of its delivery ultimately detracted from it. It’s a shame really as the rest of the things that go into building that story (like the music, foley and art style) are really top notch. Perhaps this is the more cynical side of me coming out as I’m typically not a fan of whimsically styled things, such as the Studio Ghibli animation which this is apparently inspired by, but honestly try sitting through 8+ hours of people rhyming incessantly and let me know if you feel any different.

Child of Light Review Screenshot Wallpaper The Final Battle With The Darkness

Child of Light is a beautiful game that, despite its simplistic approach mechanically, provides a very satisfying experience. The art style is unique and gorgeous, bringing to life the whimsical world that lives in many a child’s minds. It’s not without fault however as the simplistic nature has been taken too far in some respects making some parts of the game laborious, confusing and repetitive. These are not things without fixes however and I’m sure Ubisoft Montreal will be able to rectify this in subsequent titles released in this genre. There’s a lot to like in Child of Light, something that I’m sure will delight RPG fans out there, and I definitely count it as time well spent.

Rating: 8.0/10

Child of Light is available on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3, PlayStaion4 and the WiiU right now for an average price of $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 9 hours of total play time.

Hearthstone Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft: It’s Like MTG Lite.

My introduction into the world of trading card games began almost 2 decades ago when a friend of mine gave me my very first deck of Magic: The Gathering cards. I didn’t wholly understand the mechanics at the time but I can remember it being a great way to pass the time whilst waiting for the bus to pick me up from school which was an hour away from anywhere. The interest faded in high school, that solitary deck sitting on my shelves for a number of years before it was opened up again. Today I’m more of a filthy MTG casual, attending a draft every so often and playing when my friends and I get together. In that regard then Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft would seem to be right up my alley as it’s almost entirely centered around casual play.

Hearthstone Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Hearthstone is a free to play card game that uses the vast wealth of lore within Warcraft as inspiration for the cards, abilities and character classes that make up the core game. Long time Blizzard fans will notice familiar names popping up, from the big names of Warcraft lore to the lowly mobs that you might only encounter once when levelling a character in World of Warcraft. The mechanics are simple to understand, especially considering that they’re rigorously enforced by the game rather than you having to remember every rule yourself. Of course the initial simplicity belies the complexity inherent in the various mechanics and wider metagame, making it quite a challenge to master.

Blizzard’s signature low poly work makes its appearance yet again in Hearthstone as whilst it would appear to be a 2D game on the surface it’s actually more akin to the 2.5D adventure games of old. The table you play on is littered with little 3D elements like a zeppelin drifting listlessly around its tether point. Unlike many other digital trading card games though Hearthstone employs a variety of visual effects for creature abilities, spells and almost everything else making it quite an interesting experience visually. It’s not so heavy that you won’t be able to run it as I’ve heard the iPad version works well even on the generation 2 devices, albeit with a little stutter here and there.

Hearthstone Review Screenshot Wallpaper Vs Screen

 

Mechanically Hearthstone will familiar enough to most trading card game fans that it can be picked up very quickly although there are some notable differences that change the way a typical game plays out. For starters you don’t have mana/land cards in your hand, instead every turn you’re granted a number of mana crystals that you can use to cast your cards. This means that the pace of the game is rigorously controlled and that no game can really be decided until turn 4 or 5. Additionally you’ll play as one of many character classes, all of which have access to an unique ability as well as a set of cards that other classes do not. So whilst on the surface the Warlock’s ability of being able to pay 2, sacrifice 2 life to draw a card as many times as they want seems overpowered it’s in fact not as their library of cards is designed with that in mind.

The practice matches, ones done against the AI, are a good way to get familiar with the way that the classes play and how best to counter them. The AI, as in most games, can get a little predictable at times, favouring offing your creatures before they try and target you. This often leads them to make incredibly bad trades against some of the stronger cards putting you in a much better position than you otherwise would be if you were facing off against a human. Still even after a dozen or so games (mostly to unlock the characters) I did manage to find myself losing if I made a mistake or didn’t play my strengths against their weaknesses, a common thread that will continue on through competitive play.

Hearthstone Review Screenshot Wallpaper Finding Opponents

 

Talking over Hearthstones matchmaking with some of my friends who’d just started playing it had shown that the experience was somewhat lacklustre, with many of the people they faced off with often having cards that they simply couldn’t get access to for a long time. Indeed when I first started playing I found much the same thing which was made even worse when I gave the arena a go. However I think this is predominately a function of the default decks being completely crap than anything else as once I found some basic decks online, ones that could be constructed without spending a single dollar, I found I was able to win matches much more consistently. Sure there were times I’d come up against legendary cards that I found incredibly hard to deal with but at least with a non-default deck I had tools to manage them.

The free to play nature though does mean that you’ll either spend an inordinate amount of time grinding out levels and gold to get the cards you want or you’ll have to pony up for some card packs. Now I don’t begrudge Blizzard for doing this, it’s their prerogative to make money off the games they create after all, however it meant that the time required to build up another class to the level I wanted to play it at was a little prohibitive. Some of the more advanced decks did look like a lot of fun but honestly I didn’t really like the idea of spending a good chunk of change just to give them a whirl. Of course I know this has gone the other way for many players as building your way up to that can be just as enjoyable as levelling a new character.

Hearthstone Review Screenshot Wallpaper Terrible Game Designers

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a fun trading card game, taking many elements of its various physical counterparts and wrapping it up with mechanics that are uniquely Blizzard. For those of us who’ve played trading card games before the mechanics will familiar yet different enough to provide some interest and the healthy competitive scene means there’s always bigger and better things to strive for. It’s free to play nature was what lost my interest after a while as I wasn’t particularly keen to invest my cash in getting better cards but considering the number of other players around I get the feeling I might be the odd one out here. For fans of trading card games and the Warcraft universe alike Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is definitely worth a look in.

Rating: 8/10

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is available right now on PC and iPad. Total play time was approximately 8 hours.

FRACT OSC Review Screenshot Wallpaper Completion

FRACT OSC: From Silence to Serenity.

The soft spot I’ve had for indie exploration games has developed into a fully fledged love affair as I continually find myself drawn to games that are light on game mechanics, heavy on atmosphere and use your innate sense of game play to guide you through the experience. I think I’ve come to understand just what it is that attracts me to these kinds of games, they’re essentially the most basic form of what we can call a game. Whilst there’s been examples of this genre which have rubbed me the wrong way it doesn’t take much to convince me a new entry is worth a look in and FRACT OSC from Phosfiend Systems caught my eye with a simple premise: revive a world through music.

FRACT OSC Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You are dropped into a seemingly dead world, devoid of nearly all colour and sound. In the distance you see 3 giant pillars pointing skyward, strange curiosities in this startlingly desolate place. When you approach them however it becomes clear that these pillars have a purpose, and that you have the capability to unlock that. Shortly afterwards the pillars come to life, surging with colour and sound, and you ascend from the depths of a wasteland to another place, a relic of another time. With your help this relic can be revived, bringing back colour and sound to a world that has been long devoid of them.

Like most games of this genre FRACT takes a highly minimalistic approach with much of the scenery being very boxy and jagged, a trademark of extremely low poly work. Typically this is done for a couple reasons, usually time and resource constraints, however I think it’s partially because the whole scene is also run through a sort of scan line filter. It’s not immediately apparent from the screenshots (although if you look at the larger versions and zoom in you can see it) but things like that have a tendency to be very expensive, render time wise. At the same time though the environment is highly reactive to your presence with objects changing shape or illuminating themselves based on your presence. Whilst it’s reminiscent of other simplistic titles like Kairo it does feel distinctly different from them.

FRACT OSC Review Screenshot Wallpaper Humble Beginings

Like other exploration games there’s no real tutorial or introduction to speak of (although you could say that the first 3 pillars function as that) and so FRACT relies on your inbuilt game sense to get you going. For the most part you’ll be solving puzzles that are based around a few different kinds of mechanics, all of which have their basis in music and electronic sound generation. Some of them have you moving blocks around, others funneling light through different points in a Pipe Dream style minigame. All of them end up with you constructing a small riff in order to finish them off, with each section having a final sequence that proves to be quite challenging. So whilst a little knowledge of how synthesizers work will be an advantage you’d still be able to figure out most of it by trial and error, albeit taking a lot longer to figure everything out.

For the most part the puzzles are fairly logical in the way they work and whenever you’re stuck it’s usually because you haven’t noticed a particular mechanic that you could make use of. FRACT relies heavily on sound cues for those puzzles which involve fuzzy elements which can be a bit misleading at times, confusing you into thinking a particular sound is meaningful. Still usually it’s obvious enough that you know you’re heading in the right direction although there are a few notable exceptions. Mostly this is to do with the final puzzles that present you with a track selection and 4 dials. Without any indication as to what’s meaningful and what’s not (hint: only one set of inputs is) it leads to a rather frustrating experience, especially since you don’t get any feedback until you’ve almost completed it.

FRACT OSC Review Screenshot Wallpaper Exploration

Whilst the puzzles are laid out in a logical order, one that you’ll likely notice if you’re not completely daft like myself, you can actually do them out of order if you know where to look. Now I’m not sure if this was an intended part of the game (and I’m leaning towards no since the only way I could get out after finish it was through the fast travel things) but I managed to do some of the red puzzles out of order by using some of the old “wall walking” tricks and finding a conveniently placed elevator. Indeed whilst this game might come under the exploration genre going off the beaten track isn’t likely to net you any benefit, apart from an achievement or two. It’s a little annoying as the game seems to want you to go down there but rarely does it reward you with anything.

You could say that there was a kind of narrative behind FRACT OSC as the way you interact with the game seems to indicate that you’re reviving a long dormant machine for your own purposes but unlike other exploration games I couldn’t find out how to make FRACT OSC end. Once you’ve unlocked everything, well I assume I got everything due to all the lights being on, there doesn’t seem to be anything else to do. You can go into your studio but that just seems to be a nice little add on to play around with the pads/sequencers/basslines you  unlocked. So whilst FRACT OSC is fun to play the lack of a conclusion, at least one that I could find, does mean it feels a little unsatisfying.

FRACT OSC Review Screenshot Wallpaper Completion

FRACT OSC is an intriguing game, combining a minimalist aesthetic with some challenging game mechanics to provide a solid exploration experience. The brutal minimalism does have its drawbacks however as some of the puzzles, whilst on the surface seem intuitive, don’t provide adequate response to your input. The lack of a solid ending as well also makes all the work you’ve done feel somewhat hollow, especially if you don’t have a lot of interest in creating music in the studio afterwards. Still overall it was a pleasant experience, although one I’d probably only recommend to other exploration game fans.

Rating: 7.8/10

FRACT OSC is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total game time was approximately 4 hours with 21% of the achievements unlocked.

Glorious PC Gaming Master Race

PC Gaming is Back (But Not The Same as Before).

We PC gamers have been in the minority for quite some time now, just over a decade if my memory serves me. Whilst many, including myself, get all nostalgic for the days when the PC was the gaming king, being the de-facto platform for any developer the last decade hasn’t exactly been terrible as a PC gamer. Indeed many of the AAA titles still made the effort to create a PC release, even if it would only account for single digit percentages of their player base. There’s been rumblings about a PC resurgence for some time now, mostly on the backs of the aging previous console generation, but apart from some highly speculative numbers there hasn’t been much more to support this.

That was until today.

Glorious PC Gaming Master Race

DFC Intelligence, a video game and entertainment research/reporting company, recently released a report stating that PC games had overtaken consoles in terms of revenue. Considering that PC games rarely make it into any top sales charts this does seem somewhat counterintuitive but according to DFC much of this revenue is due to an explosion of interest in the MOBA (DOTA2, League of Legends, etc.) genre. Other than that there’s still a healthy mix of your typical kinds of PC games: MMORPG, FPS, RTS, etc. but the resurgence of PC gaming  is almost entirely due to the popularity of MOBA titles. There’s also apparently more overlap between PC and console gamers with the console now being seen more as the secondary system to the PC. All of this bodes well for PC gaming but for long time veterans like myself the PC gaming of today is much different to the one of the past.

Whilst I knew that the MOBA genre had seen a massive amount of growth in recent times, mostly due to League of Legends, I had hardly thought it was enough to push PC revenues past that of consoles. This is mostly likely due to the incredible number of monthly active users that the top 2 MOBAs have with 67 million League of Legends and 6.5 million DOTA2 players respectively. Compare that to say Call of Duty which has 40 million and it’s easy to see why the PC platform would be making a resurgence, especially considering that their free to play nature usually means a reliable revenue stream. Hell I avoid most free to play games like the plague (and even I do play them rarely do I spend any money on them) but DOTA2 has managed to make me part with a decent chunk of cash over the 1600 or so hours I’ve spent with it. I know I’m not unique in this either but it does say something about what the PC platform has become.

Those of us who wished for the second coming of PC were looking for it to become the primary development platform, the one all developers targeted first. Whilst the consolization of PC games has improved significantly (and is likely to get even better now that consoles and PCs share the same underlying architecture) I still think that the trend is unlikely to change any time soon. Whilst the PC as a platform might be bringing in more revenue than consoles it’s primarily limited to a single genre, one that’s already dominated by 2 massive titles. In terms of AAA title development I get the feeling that consoles are still the prime target for developers, at least those who are playing outside of the MOBA space. I’d love to be wrong on this but it really does look like these numbers are skewed by the phenomenon that is League of Legends more than PCs in general.

Still this could be the catalyst required to vault the PC platform back to the top, especially considering how blurry the lines are now between consoles, PCs and even mobile (to some extent). Most of us PC die hards have made our peace with our console brothers but there’s always that lingering desire to want the platform you prefer to be the one on top. Realistically it doesn’t matter as long as you get to play the games you want to play but that competitive spirit that’s instilled in you from the time when you get your first gaming platform is hard to let go.

South Park The Stick of Truth Review Screenshot Wallpaper Al Gore

South Park: The Stick of Truth: Save Us, Sir Douchebag.

I’ve been aware of the many games that have bore the South Park name and nearly always they’ve looked like half-assed attempts to cash in on the brand. Couple this with the game being censored in Australia and media tie in games almost always being tragic meant I wasn’t  in a real hurry to play it. However after weeks of cajoling from my friends who said The Stick of Truth was genuinely good eventually broke me down and I secured myself an uncensored copy from good old DLCompare. I can say that rarely do I go into a game with such low expectations only to have them completely blown away as South Park: The Stick of Truth is a genuinely fun and captivating game.

South Park The Stick of Truth Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Your family has just moved to the quiet mountain town that is South Park , Colorado. The reasons as to why you’ve come there are something of a mystery that neither of parents will let on about and before long they’ve sent you out into the streets to make new friends. The second you stumble outside you cross paths with Butters Stotch who recruits you into their fantasy game of humans vs elves. What starts out as an innocent game however quickly turns into a larger battle between two factions that divides the town’s children as they all clamour to secure the most priceless relic in all the land: The Stick of Truth.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is done in the exact same art style as all the episodes using simple, flash-like graphics with a few embellishments like simple lighting effects here and there. This is in stark contrast to the snippets of the other South Park games that I’ve seen which tended to have their own take on the art style which made them feel like they were set in a universe apart from that of the show. In the Stick of Truth however it feels like you’re playing through an incredibly long episode and this is in no small part due to the religiously faithful art style. I believe this is also the first game where Trey Parker and Matt Stone were directly involved in its creation which definitely comes through in the end product.

South Park The Stick of Truth Review Screenshot Wallpaper Combat

The Stick of Truth takes its inspiration from the classic turn based RPG format including a wide variety of mechanics that will be familiar but with the South Park twist applied to them. In the beginning you’ll choose between 1 of 4 different classes which will determine the primary way in which you’ll do combat. Along the way you’ll defeat enemies, pick up loot and level up your character using 2 different talent systems that unlock different abilities and perks. You’ll also engage in the tried and true puzzle sequences that will require you to use a range of different abilities, some of which you won’t have right away. As someone who’s not usually a fan of this style of game I have to say that The Stick of Truth does an excellent job of bringing all of this together, especially with the excellent writing that South Park is known for.

Your choice of class is from one of the 3 typical archetypes (fighter, mage, thief) and the additional Jew class which appears to be a monk/ranger kind of deal. Which one you choose will greatly vary the way combat usually goes however since all items aren’t class specific it’s completely possible to build a mage as a fighter, a thief as a mage and so on. Of course playing to the class’ strengths will make your job a lot easier but the flexibility is there should you want it. If you’re a min/maxer like myself you will not be disappointed with The Stick of Truth’s progression system as you can create characters that are well broken should you have an eye for which stats stack with which.

South Park The Stick of Truth Review Screenshot Wallpaper Upgrades

Your character will progress in several different ways all of which take inspiration from traditional RPG titles. You’ll gain experience through finishing quests and defeating mobs of enemies, eventually levelling up and giving you access to new abilities and additional points to upgrade them. Making friends, which can be done in numerous ways, gives you access to permanent perks which give subtle but useful buffs to your character. Lastly there’s the loot which, whilst not being completely traditional in the RPG sense (I believe it’s pretty much all pre-determined), provides some of the biggest upgrades to your skills and damage. Your weapons and armor can also be upgraded through the use of patches which can add damage or grant you abilities that aren’t available anywhere else.

As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of turn based games I was surprised at how solid The Stick of Truth’s combat felt. Initially I started off by building my character around the use of a weapon with gross damage (makes your enemies throw up and stops them healing) and a patch that granted me PP whenever I dealt said damage. This allowed me to stunlock pretty much any enemy through the use of roshambo, something which was definitely required when I was facing off enemies that were a lot harder than I’d first anticipated. That strategy stopped working towards the end however as many enemies start becoming immune to tactics like that which is when I switched to a high damage build that allowed me to attack again after killing an enemy. In the end I could hit for 8000+ damage repeatedly, clearing out an entire encounter without the enemy being able to get a single turn.

South Park The Stick of Truth Review Screenshot Wallpaper Al Gore

The Stick of Truth does have some technical and usability issues however, although a lot fewer than I first expected. I had a couple crashes that sent me straight back to the desktop for some inexplicable reason. This wasn’t a massive drama however the checkpointing system is a little weird, seemingly transporting you back to the last save point but not completing resetting the world to that point. So essentially you can be transported back but still have all the loot, even if the enemies are still there. It’s not game breaking, you never get double ups of anything but trash items, but it does make the first 5 minutes after the crash a little confusing. Additionally the junk item screen needs to be reworked with a “Sell All” button or at least made spammable as you’ll have hundreds of dollars worth of trash to sell which will likely take you a couple minutes just to get through.

The story is done true South Park fashion with pretty much every character from the TV show making an appearance throughout the course of the story. Most of the quests are based around the relationships that were developed in the show like City Wok and the Mongolians or Al Gore and ManBearPig. Playing the uncensored version was worth it as well as whilst I struggled to explain what was happening on screen to my wife and her friend who saw me play (yeah Randy is getting violated by aliens, no I don’t think I can explain why) it did make for some funny moments that made me question what kind of human being I am. Still in the end the story is very satisfying both in terms of comedic value and story content, something which few games manage to pull off successfully.

South Park The Stick of Truth Review Screenshot Wallpaper King Douchebag

South Park: The Stick of Truth is a prime example of how games that are based around a non-game IP should be done as it accurately captures the essence of the show whilst remaining a solid experience in its own right. The RPG gameplay is fantastic, taking the tried and true styles that were made famous by the Final Fantasy series and reworking them into the South Park world. The story is witty, funny and satisfying, a true testament to the writing talents of the South Park studios. Honestly I went into this game with the lowest of expectations only to have them completely blown away, something that rarely happens these days. For anyone who’s a fan of this show and feels like an 11 hour, self directed episode would be up their alley then South Park; The Stick of Truth is for you.

Rating: 9.1/10

South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $54.95, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.

Strike Vector Review Screenshot Wallpaper Customizations

Strike Vector: It’s Missing One Thing, People.

My interest in multiplayer only games seems to have increased along with my access to stable, fast Internet. Way back when I first started out trying to play Team Fortress Classic on my 56K modem I’d find myself struggling, unable to compete with the low ping bastards who could react before I could. Sure the high ping only servers helped somewhat but it was clear that the experience was far below that when I was on LAN with friends or at a big convention. Now that I can have a similar experience from home I’ve found myself enjoying these kinds of games more and more but I’ve also got great respect for games that can make an online only game enjoyable with high latency. Strike Vector is one such game which manages to accomplish this which is admirable, especially because it feels like that was unintentional.

Strike Vector Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Strike Vector has no single-player campaign or any story to speak of, it’s simply an online only multiplayer game where you’ll play the same familiar game modes (deathmatch, capture the flag, point domination, etc.) you’ve played in many other FPSs, except this time you’re in a ship called a Vector. Your ship has 2 primary modes of operation: Jet mode where you’ll fly fast in one direction and stationary mode which transforms your Vector into a highly accurate gunning platform to take down your enemies. Both modes have their uses and you’ll need to use both if you want to succeed in any of the game modes.

Like most fast paced games Strike Vector’s visuals are a little light on, favouring simplicity for most things so that the game runs smoothly at all times. This isn’t to say it’s a dull looking game, the screenshot below is a testament to how good it can look, but you’re not going to spend a lot of time gawking at the vast scenery unless you like getting sniped repeatedly. The range of different environments you’ll play in too adds tremendously to Strike Vector’s replayability as they range from wide open spaces where attacks can come from anywhere to tight corridors that force you into head on head battles. Indeed this was probably what sold me on Strike Vector initially as the videos of the gameplay coupled with the better than average visuals piqued my interest.

Strike Vector Review Screenshot Wallpaper Flying Into The Abyss

The combat in  Strike Vector is extremely fast paced with almost instant respawn times that ensures you’re never out of action for long. The game modes are what you’d expect from any run of the mill FPS which have then been reworked for 3D space combat. There’s also elements of Quake and Unreal Tournament blended allowing you to pick up buffs that will dramatically alter combat in your favour. Couple this with a customization system that encompasses your gaming archetype (sniper, rusher, etc.) as well as the look of your Vector and you’ve got a recipe for a game with quite a bit of depth to it, one that invites you to adapt to the situation at hand by trying new things out.

Unlike similar titles however Strike Vector gives you access to all the available weapons, modifiers and special abilities from the first game you play. For a game like Strike Vector I think this is to it’s benefit as it gives you a level playing field, allowing new users to experiment with various combinations to see what works for them. It also helps that the build of whoever blows you up is shown to you on the death screen so you can duplicate it if you think it’s overpowered. Whilst I don’t believe any one particular build is completely broken there are combinations that are simply just not worth pursuing (swarm missiles and the LMG to an extent) as there are other, similar weapons which do a better job.

Strike Vector Review Screenshot Wallpaper Customizations

What’s not unlocked for you however is the ability to customize the look of your ship. It won’t take you long to unlock a bevy of additional decals, parts and all sorts of other things that you can use to change the look of your ship something which will likely drive many to play for hours on end. Chassis parts, the bits that actually make up your ship, come by less often however and it’ll likely take you a while to unlock a fully different ship model. Still mixed parts don’t look horrible together (as my ship above shows) so it’s not a big deal. It would be nice to have a progression indicator to see what I’d be unlocking next though as I wasn’t able to find any indication of what was coming when.

So the game is solid however there’s just one nagging issue that’s likely to kill the game for anyone looking to buy it: no one else is playing it. Now this could be due to me be an Australian playing at Australian times but I’ve never seen more than 20 people online at any one time. Sure that might be enough to keep a game or two going but they’re usually on the USA servers where my ping is a staggering 200+. As I alluded to earlier Strike Vector manages to handle this somewhat well due to its design (homing rockets are a godsend) but there were many times when a server depopulated leaving just me and another player duking it out. That might be fun for some but when one of you is on 50 ping and the other 200 it becomes an exercise in frustration. This is even after the recent 50% sale which you’d expect to have increase numbers significantly.

Strike Vector Review Screenshot Wallpaper TOP SCORE

Strike Vector is a great take on the traditional multiplayer FPS, combining elements from all the classics and presenting them in a new format that’s quick to pick up but incredibly difficult to master. The initial level playing field and very latency forgiving mechanics make Strike Vector fun to play even when you’re at the end of a high ping connection. However the lack of a large enough player base is likely to be its downfall as it’s nigh on impossible to find a game in your region and you’ll often find yourself being one of a handful of players on the server once the map changes. It’s a game I can see a bunch of friends having a lot of fun with but past that Strike Vector is going to need a lot more players to make it worthwhile.

Rating: 8/10

Strike Vector is available on PC right now for $12.49  (for the next 15 hours). Total play time was approximately 3 hours.

Goat Simulator Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Goat Simulator: Prepare for my Bleaty Wrath.

I can think of a few titles where bugs or glitches were not only expected they were also thought of being one of the many sources of enjoyment of the game. The Elder Scrolls series is a prime example of this as their titles are almost always riddled with numerous bugs on release and Bethesda’s stance of not fixing the fun (but not game breaking) shows that many players get an awful lot of enjoyment out of their game behaing unexpectedly. I had yet to see a game where bugs, glitches and weird physics were actually the game itself until I came across Goat Simulator,  a title from indie game developer Coffee Stain Studios. Whilst it’s definitely an unique concept there’s a limit to how much whacky physics fun you can have before you start to tire of it.

Goat Simulator Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You’re a goat (surprise surprise) and the game centers around you being a goat in a section of a small town. Strictly speaking there are no objectives, there’s no over-arching plot to drive you forward nor any motivation provided for you being where you are, and so you’re free to roam the world doing as you wish. In traditional Goat spirit this of course means destroying anything and everything in your path, headbutting anything that might get in your way. Once you tire of that though there are many hidden challenges for you to unlock, some of which provide you access to powers beyond your wildest goaty dreams.

For a game that was slapped together in the space of a couple months Goat Simulator has a level of graphical fidelity that I honestly didn’t expect. It uses the Unreal 3 engine so you wouldn’t expect graphical miracles from it but the incorporation of atmospheric effects and modern lighting has Goat Simulator punching well above its weight class in terms of graphics. It still runs perfectly fine most of the time too (until you’re intentionally trying to break it, of course) something which, again, I wasn’t expecting. In all honesty for a game that was being touted as a bug ridden, hastily slapped together prototype there’s an incredible amount of polish. Much more than I’d come to expect from other developers of similar calibre.

Goat Simulator Review Screenshot Wallpaper Time To End It All

Goat Simulator revolves around you being a goat that causes all sorts of carnage around the small suburban area that you find yourself in. In the beginning this will be pretty vanilla kind of stuff, destroying fences, headbutting people and generally running amok in the various areas available to you. This is all scored though so whilst your initial inclination will be to just ram things at random eventually you’ll try to figure out how to maximise your score. That’s when you’ll start to add a little strategy into your carnage, looking for places with a cornucopia of objects that you can goat your way through. Of course along the way you’ll run into the hastily slapped together physics that provides much of Goat Simulator’s entertainment.

I started out by just following the prompts to try out different things which serves as a solid, light touch tutorial that doesn’t get in the way if you just want to rampage through the town. This introduces you to how the scoring mechanics work which are pretty similar to what I remember Tony Hawk Pro Skating being like when I last played it almost a decade ago. So whilst you can headbutt that box 100 times in a row your score probably won’t go up by much as the game wants you to try a variety of different whacky things. This helps to add a little direction to a game that would otherwise have been thoroughly confusing without trying to impose on those who couldn’t care less about it.

Goat Simulator Review Screenshot Wallpaper Flappy Goat

After a while though there’s really only 2 things that will keep you playing: score and achievements. For the most part getting the highest score is just a matter of patience  and not breaking the game too hard (as that can lead to you needing to restart it or the game crashing). something which can only take you so far. The achievements provide some fresh perspective on the game by giving you access to “powers” which can be anything from dropping dead goats from the sky to an impossible to control jetpack. If you’re like me though once you’ve done most of these the rest of the achievements don’t really seem that appealing and all you’re left with is a haphazard physics simulator.

Which, I have to say, is an awful lot less buggy than I thought it would be. You can make the physics engine do some crazy things but they’re really nothing above what I’ve seen in other games that were supposedly coded with good physics engines. You can get people stuck in the wall and launch yourself into the stratosphere but other than that there’s really not much else to speak of. Even when I was deliberately trying to make the game crash (by spawning dozens of other goats and using the console to fiddle with engine settings) all I could accomplish was making the physics engine and game slow to crawl. So if you were expecting a game that was absolutely riddled with bugs you might be disappointed as it’s really anything but.

Goat Simulator Review Screenshot Wallpaper SPAAAAACE

Goat Simulator is a fun distraction that showcases the enjoyment that gamers can get from emergent game play. Whilst it’s far from the bug laden, glitch filled adventure that many touted it as the core game mechanics are still fun with the added benefit of a whacky physics engine just adding to the mix. It’s a short lived adventure however as whilst it’s fun to rack up a high score there’s nothing really to keep you interested once the achievements are gone and you’ve played with all the powers. If the idea piqued your interest then I definitely recommend grabbing it but otherwise you’re not really missing out on anything if you decide not to play it.

Rating: 7/10

Goat Simulator is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 62% of the achievements unlocked.