Creating a game is an exercise in compromise. On the one hand you have your vision for what you want the game to be, whether it be a sweeping epic or a simple puzzle game, on the other you have the amount of resources at your disposal. These are often at odds with each other and the resultant product will likely not be the full embodiment of the original vision. This is fine, however, as the white whale of perfection has killed so many titles, many before they saw the light of day. Toren, the first game from the nascent Swortales, is a game that has remnants of a greater vision scattered through it which the spectre of compromise laid off to one side.
You are the moonchild, born of the night and destined to climb the Toren in search of your purpose. The sun never sets in this world, basking it in an endless sunshine. This is the will of the dragon who, for reasons unknown to you, refuses to allow the sun to set. As you climb the Toren your guide, a mysterious figure who appears to be long dead, reveals to you the secrets of this world and why you are doomed to repeat this cycle again and again until your true purpose is discovered. It is then up to you to discover the real history of this world and your part to play in its future.
Toren isn’t exactly cutting edge when it comes to graphics with the vast majority of the assets feeling like they’re a generation behind current trends. Part of this is due to the Unity engine, which has a definite stylization characteristic to it if you don’t wrangle the engine appropriately, but other things like the stiff (most likely hand cranked) animations lead more towards this coming from the studio’s inexperience. On a tablet or other portable device such graphics aren’t out of the ordinary however Toren is currently only available on PC and PlayStation 4, platforms both capable of much more than what Toren offers. On the flip side the soundtrack that backs Toren is absolutely amazing which makes me think that they paid far more attention to that than anything else. Such is the battle of compromise.
In broad strokes Toren would be called a 3D puzzle platformer as it has characteristics of both, although there are some hints of greater aspirations for this game hidden throughout half finished mechanics. To start off with you’ll be exploring and stumbling across different puzzle elements which is mostly just setting the scene for the later reveals. Later on the platforming element is introduced which starts off simply and does introduce some rather interesting elements. Finally there’s some semblance of a combat system although it’s extremely simplistic, basically only serving as another aspect to the other puzzle mechanics. All in all it’s got the makings of a much larger game that hit with the cold hard reality of deadlines and deliverables but still manages to cobble together a fairly decent game experience out of it.
The puzzles are incredibly simple, mostly just requiring you to find something and put it somewhere else. The platforming is very similar as your objective is, most of the time, clearly visible with an easy path to reach it. Toren makes the mistake of having a fixed camera for everything which means the platforming sections are an exercise in frustration most of the time as you try to figure out how your controls should be reacting given the current camera angle. This also flows onto some of the puzzles which require you to cover an emblem on the ground in salt, something that’s rather difficult to pull off when your character doesn’t react in the way you’d expect them to. Suffice to say I think it’s a passable experience although there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement in terms of mechanics and their execution.
The experience is heavily marred by its numerous technical issues, not least of which stem from the horrendous control scheme. I did the right thing at the start and plugged my controller in, as I was told to however that, for some reason, resulted in the camera always pointing upwards so I couldn’t actually see my character. Switching to keyboard and mouse made that issue go away but the default keyboard layout is nonsensical and it’s obvious that the controller was programmed first and the keyboard controls shoe horned in afterwards. Couple this with the extremely basic hit detection (which powers nearly every interaction in the game) and Toren feels like it’s lacking a certain amount of polish required to take the experience to the next level.
Whilst I’m speculating heavily here I’m quite sure that the majority of these issues stem from Toren having much greater aspirations than its final incarnation has. For example there’s a kind of inventory system in there and you’ll pick up a few items along the way. However it’s not like you have to go out of your way to find these items and they’re given to you know what to do with them. The “chainmail” for example protects you from small monsters but you get it before you even see your first monster, let alone know they can do damage to you. It feels like Toren was meant to be more of a RPG than an exploration game however it was never able to reach this goal due to the constraints they faced in implementing it. This is somewhat reflected in Toren’s short length as well, although that’s not a negative in my book.
The story is, to be blunt, frustratingly vague at the beginning although it does manage to redeem itself over the course of its 2 hour play time. It might not be original, nor very emotionally engaging, however it does manage to set everything up well enough that the final pay off is somewhat satisfying. Developing the story further however would likely require a much longer playtime, which would require even more work to accomplish, so given the bounds Toren works within it does manage to achieve an impressive amount. If you’re a story first gamer though you might not get that much out of Toren as you would say a more story focused title.
Toren is a game that’s scarred by its ambition, attempting to reach for much greater heights than it finally ended up achieving. Whilst the final product is most certainly playable, and for small sections quite enjoyable, its below par graphics, simplistic mechanics and frankly horrendous control scheme mar the better aspects of it significantly. The soundtrack is by far the stand out component of Toren although I can’t help but feel that the game would be that much stronger if some of the effort dedicated to crafting that was directed at the game play and story development. For a studio that’s never released a game before it’s a good first attempt however I hope they take the lessons learned from Toren and apply them to their future titles as there’s every opportunity for them to make a great experience if they do.
Toren is available on PC and PlayStation 4 right now for $9.99 and $14.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours of total playtime and 75% of the achievements unlocked.
I used to be spoken for when it came to short time waster puzzlers as none to could topple the venerable 2048. You see it’s not so much that the game itself is that challenging or intriguing (although I will admit it too me far too long to get my first 2048 block) more that I had seen others get really high numbers and I wanted to do that to. So, whenever I found myself with 5 minutes to burn there I’d be, combining blocks together, trying to get my score higher. Since changing phones however I’ve lost my score and this has opened up the opportunity for another contender to take its place. Unium, with it’s deceptively simple concept, is one I’ve lost a decent amount of time to over the past couple weeks and could very well be a contender for my time waster of choice.
The objective is simple: you have to fill in all the black blocks on the screen and can only do so by drawing a line. If the line crosses itself it’ll turn black and you can only cross another line perpendicularly, meaning any corner square is essentially fixed as you left it. There are well over a hundred different grids for you to try your hand at with a limitless supply of new puzzles now being delivered through the Steam Workshop, created via the in game editor. As a concept it’s very easy to grasp however the puzzles, even when they look simple, are anything but requiring either a lot of trial and error or a laterally thinking mind to complete.
Graphically Unium is very simple with the colour palette limited to just the gradient between black and white. For games like this simplicity in the presentation is something I’ve come to appreciate as it means that details aren’t lost in seas of colour or other visually confusing elements. Apart from that there’s really not a lot to say about it how it looks as once you’ve seen the first puzzle you’ve seen all the game has to give you visually. The minimal soundtrack in the background is a nice touch however, even if the menu sounds seem like they were sampled at bitrate far below what they should have been.
The puzzles start off pretty simple, showing you the basics of how to fill in all the blocks and throwing you a few curve balls every now and then to get you thinking differently. Once you’re past the initial set of easy puzzles however things start to get really interesting as you’ll often not be able to just figure it out as you go along. Indeed it’s past that point when Unium starts to show its chops as a real puzzler as the puzzles no longer accommodate a range of solutions, instead only allowing a few ways for the puzzle to be solved. I have to admit that there were a few puzzles that stopped me dead cold for quite a while although now I figure I’ve cracked the secret for puzzles like this (for the most part).
The two most important aspects I found for solving any of the harder puzzles was the start and end of the line and the direction in which you were solving the puzzle (which could be roughly described as clockwise or anticlockwise). There are some puzzles that, unless you pick the right start and finish positions, are simply unsolvable as those two blocks have unique properties that the rest of them don’t. The direction has less of an impact as any puzzle should be solvable in forward or reverse, however I often found that if I was tackling a problem in one direction switching it to the other side would usually trigger an insight into how the puzzle was meant to be solved. That might just be how my brain works however but it’s definitely something I’d recommend trying if you’re struggling.
Unium is a great little puzzler, presenting an extremely simple concept that’s easy to grasp yet incredibly challenging to master. It might not be the most visually interesting game around however it’s minimal aesthetic means you’ll be keenly focused on the problem at hand rather than ogling all the pretty colours. The now limitless stream of puzzles is sure to give Unium staying power far beyond its original station and I’m sure there are going to be some incredibly frustrating puzzles coming out of the community. If, like me, you were looking for a replacement time waster then you won’t be disappointed with Unium.
Unium is available on PC, iOS and Android right now for $1.99, $2.49 and $2.49 receptively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2.4 hours total playtime.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a good story first pixelart game come my way. It seems the indie scene has begun to move away from them as they seek out more profitable ground in zombies and survival simulators. That has left something of a void behind, leaving only those with a real passion for this particular style of games behind. So whilst I may not be spoilt for choice like I once was I can’t deny that the quality has definitely gone up a notch or two, especially from my favourite publisher in this genre. The latest title from Wadjet Eye Games, Technobabylon created by the developers at Technocrat Games, is no exception to this providing the kind of deep story and fanciful pixelart that has become a signature of all their published games.
In the distant future of 2087 the world has changed dramatically with the wonders of science working their ways into our everyday lives. Genetic engineering is commonplace with children and adults shaped by gengineers, allowing them to sculpt their perfect human form. The story takes place in the City of Newton, the ultimate expression of a science based society that is controlled by a benevolent AI called Central who handles the daily machinations of the city. Many now choose to spend their days in the Trance, a fully simulated reality where ideas flow freely, consciousnesses meld and drift apart and, of course, anything goes. It seems like a picture perfect future but there are many actors that would upset the balance or turn it in their favour.
Technobabylon brings the standard pixelart affair making no use of modern graphics tricks to jazz up the visuals. It was interesting to see so many different rendering options available through the setup program however none of them seemed to make much of a difference to the graphics on screen. I’ll admit I only played with a few of them, mostly to see if I could get it out of the 4:3 aspect ratio it runs in (you can’t) so there’s potentially a setting in there that makes everything look amazing. Still Technobabylon has its moments where I was thoroughly impressed with what they managed to accomplish (the final 3D-ish scenes are a good example of this) with the pixelart medium, something I’ve come to expect from the games Wadjet Eye publishes.
Technobabylon is your typical pixelart adventure game, taking it’s cues from the multitude of titles of yesteryear and those from the renaissance period that pixelart games have recently enjoyed. At it’s core Technobabylon is a puzzler, challenging you to find the right thing to combine with the other thing, which dialogue options to choose to get someone to say the right thing and figuring out what you need to click on to make something happen. Like most modern incarnations of this genre Technobabylon has an improved and simplified inventory system making it a lot less of a bother to try item combinations than it once was. Unlike some previous titles though there’s no combat to speak of and any situation that may result in your untimely demise will simply respawn you right where you left off. So overall no real surprises here in terms of mechanics as is pretty standard for many games in this genre.
The puzzles are pretty well done for the most part, ensuring that you soak up every skerrick of a clue to make sure you can progress to the next stage. Some of them require you to have a little bit of knowledge of how some kinds of systems would work (say for instance what security mechanisms a hand print scanner would employ) but for the most part you should be able to figure them out based on clues in the current room/level. I will admit that I got stuck about a half a dozen times, reaching for the walk through guide (which I honestly wish all review copies would come with) to get me past a section I just couldn’t seem to figure out. The puzzles I figured out on my own though were quite satisfying, especially when I felt I figured something out that the developer obviously thought would stump me for a while.
I can’t remember what the engine was that Technobabylon mentioned it used at the end however it suffers from probably one of the most annoying bugs I have ever come across. Should you use SHIFT + TAB to open up the Steam chat window whilst playing the game all the dialogue boxes from then on flit past, as if you’re holding down the space bar or left mouse button. This issue will persist for as long as you remain in the game and can only be fixed by exiting out and coming back in again. I first noticed this with A Golden Wake (although it was triggered by ALT + TAB) which, I’m guessing, uses the same engine. It’s not so much a critique of the game per se, the developers fixed numerous issues that I saw during my playthrough before release date, more something that budding indie devs might want to be wary of.
As is trademark for nearly all Wadjet Eye games Technobabylon carries with it a fantastic story, one that’s steeped in futurism and radical ideas about what technology can bring us. All the main characters are given plenty of time to develop their back story which are expertly intertwined with each other. Most characters have oodles of non-critical dialogue options which serve to build out the story. Even better still is the fact that the vast majority of content within Technobabylon is voice acted so you’re not going to be stuck reading walls of text for hours on end. The only fault with Technobabylon’s story is that it lacks a really deep emotional hook to draw you in, something like the opening minutes of Ori and the Blind Forest, which would really seal the deal on this otherwise great story.
Technobabylon is a great example of the modern pixelart adventure game, bringing along with it a great story that’s just oozing futuristic tones. It might not be the most revolutionary games, playing it safe by keeping the mechanics simple and the puzzles accessible, however the experience it provides is above many of its competitors. If, like me, you had been left wanting for a good adventure game for some time then you really can’t go past Technobabylon as it’s sure to provide you with many hours of enjoyment.
Technobabylon is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total game time was approximately 7 hours. A copy of Technobabylon was provided to The Refined Geek for the purposes of review.
The days of the expansion pack have long since left us, replaced by it’s bite sized cousin downloadable content. For many this is a better way of doing it as it allows players to revisit games on a semi-regular basis to enjoy the additional couple hours of game play. This gamer however pines for the good old days when expansion packs were usually good enough to be classed as new games on their own, providing a whole new experience in the same world. From time to time though some games still follow this old format and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is one such title, detailing the story of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz before he set out on the events detailed in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The war against the Nazis is being lost with the allied forces being pushed back on nearly every front. Their rapid technological progress being driven by one of their top scientists, General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, is most likely the cause of this however his location has proven to be elusive. It is up to you then, playing as Blazkowicz, to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold and find a folder belonging to Helga Von Schabbs which has his location. However your infiltration quickly goes awry and you find yourself in the belly of the beast, armed with nothing more than a pipe and your sharp wit. Whether that will be enough for you to complete your objective, however, is up to you.
As you’d expect of a game that has come out barely a year after its predecessor The Old Blood retains the same level of graphical excellence which was only magnified by immense power that my new rig was able to throw at it. Strangely enough some of the performance issues I had experienced previously, like the significant drop in performance in the more open sections, were still present which leads me to think that the id Tech 5 engine potentially has some issues with larger scenes. Still it was eminently playable, especially in the indoor sections where split section reaction times and seat-of-the-pants gameplay were a common occurrence. The colour palette and scenery may give it the same feeling as many previous generation games but it’s anything but, especially when you take a few moments to look around.
The core of what The New Order great remains in The Old Blood although the experience has been streamlined due to the game’s reduced length. At its heart The Old Blood is still a corridor shooter, one that incorporates the old traditions of hiding secret areas whilst blending in a few RPG elements to give you an edge over your enemies. The wide and varied arsenal makes a return, allowing you to select from a whole host of silly weapons to mow down any enemy that’s put in front of you. The modifications to these guns however is greatly reduced, usually amounting to one setting you can change rather than the The New Order’s rather bountiful mod system. The levelling system has also been slimmed down considerably with only a handful of options available to you although the completion mechanic remains. The stealth is back and, thankfully, feels a lot more fair than its predecessor’s did even if it still gets taken away from you every so often. Overall The Old Blood feels like a more streamlined version of the The New Order with all the benefits and pitfalls that come with it.
The combat retains the highly polished, fast paced nature that we’ve all come to expect from AAA corridor shooters like this. For those seeking a challenge though you’re likely to be disappointed as even on the second hardest difficulty most enemies are pretty easy to take on, with some of them even missing point blank shots. The increased difficulty seems to come from them doing a whole bunch more damage when they do eventually land a shot or get a melee hit off on you, something which can be rather irritating when later enemies get the ability to one hit kill you. These are all things that can be overcome with a little strategy (and of course levelling the various perks) however for a game that wants to emulate its FPS ancestors putting the training wheels on the difficulty seems somewhat counter-intuitive, even if it would make for a better game for the less experienced players out there.
The stealth system feels largely the same with you being able to take the majority of enemies silently if you time everything correctly. There have definitely been some improvements in this regard as it’s quite possible to skip massive areas if you pull the stealth off correctly. Unfortunately the poorly implemented detection mechanism is still there meaning that if you trigger one guard you’ll trigger the lot of them, including the captains if any of them happen to be around. This can often lead to a panicked sprint to find the commanders before they can bring in wave after wave of additional enemies for you take out. Still the times when this happens are more than made up for with the sections that let you skip huge areas of combat if you’re patient and attentive which I feel is the key to making stealth sections rewarding.
The cut down talent system works well since there’s really not enough game time in The Old Blood to justify a talent system as deep as the one that was in The New Order. Some of the challenges either require you to die a few times over to complete (like the silent commander kill one) or you’ll need perfect execution to unlock them if you manage to do everything on a single life, which is quite doable in my opinion. However the majority of them are readily achievable with a little bit of planning and careful execution. The benefits you gain from them are mild at best and you could likely blast through the entire game without unlocking one and not feel like you’re struggling. I guess that’s somewhat the point, putting more of an emphasis on player skill, however I like upgrades to be impactful, turning a meek player into a god to be feared. That’s just this writer’s opinion, though.
The year of patches and fixes for The New Order have trickled their way down to The Old Blood meaning that issues like texture pop-in are pretty much gone although the performance hit in outdoor areas is still noticeable. One thing I did notice is that in some indoor scenes, particularly during cutscenes, the game would actually remove objects that were deemed “out of sight” of the player, even if say a corner or edge was still mostly visible. This leads to a rather jarring pop-in of objects (not textures) in some scenes as characters move about the scene. It can highlight areas of interest although I believe that aspect of it is wholly unintended. Overall it seems that the id Tech 5 engine is starting to mature nicely after 4 years of use by id and hopefully many of these improvements find their way into the upcoming id Tech 6 engine.
The Old Blood retains similar stylings to its predecessor with the inner monologue of Blazkowicz driving much of it with the rest hidden in notes scattered everywhere. You won’t be seeing many familiar faces in this game so it’s not like this game is seeking to flesh out the back story of anyone but the main protagonist. Still most of the characters are given enough screen time to flesh their characters out to a basic level although rarely to they expand more upon that. I think this primarily stems from the fact that pretty much every character in The Old Blood doesn’t make an appearance in the The New Order and, given the game’s length, there’s really not much time to flesh out anyone in earnest. Still it’s above average when it comes to the corridor shooter genre, even if that really isn’t saying much.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a worthy successor to The New Order, taking the essence of what made that game great and streamlining it into a shorter experience. Whilst many will be pining for a much longer and deeper experience, this writer included, it’s hard to deny that the experience (while it lasts) is of the same calibre as its predecessor. This does mean a few of the less desirable quirks remain but this is counterbalanced by the ones that were fixed. Suffice to say if you were hungering for more of the new style of Wolfenstein games then you won’t go wrong with The Old Blood, even if you may be left wanting for more when the final credit screen rolls around.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 right now for $39.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time and 35% of the achievements unlocked.
You might not guess it from the usual content that I put up on this blog but I’m something of a gearhead, owing to my rural roots where I was set free with all sorts of cars and motorbikes to terrorize my ample backyard. This also meant that any damage or broken parts were my responsibility so I developed something of an affinity and appreciation for the world’s most popular form of transport. Whilst this didn’t translate into a love for racing games (although I did lose a lot of time to the original Grand Turismo when it came out) I do fondly remember playing Street Rod, a game that allowed you to do up cars and race for pink slips. Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 looked to capture some of the essence of what made that game great and whilst it’s not the exact same thing it does live up to its namesake.
You’re a budding car mechanic who’s just set up shop, having all the tools you’d come to expect from a modern car servicing center. People call you up with their car troubles and then leave their vehicles in your care. It’s then up to you to diagnose the issue, find the faulty parts and then repair them to the customer’s satisfaction. The money and experience you get from each job helps you to improve your workshop and, in turn, allow you to start working on your own cars. If you’d ever wondered what working on car would be like Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 is a pretty good simulacrum for it, minus all the downsides of getting covered in oil or cutting yourself on old car parts.
Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 does a pretty good job of prettying up the Unity engine, giving the usual 100 coats of wax to the car models that is typical of most modern car-related games. The main area you’ll be working in is a bright workshop that’s honestly far too clean to have been used as a garage for any length of time but it emulates that kind of sims-esque feeling that many of these simulator games seem to strive for. There’s a surprising amount of detail put into what’s under the hood as well with most of the cars having almost fully fleshed out engines, exhausts and suspension systems, many of them being unique to that particular car. It might not be Crysis levels of graphics but it’s more than enough to get the job done, so to speak.
In terms of core gameplay Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 plays pretty much how you’d expect it to: you get jobs to fix cars and then you do said jobs and get paid upon completion. Taking a car apart can require you to do several different things like putting it up on the lifts to get to the underside of the car or removing certain parts before you can get to others. Everything works on a condition system whereby parts deteriorate as their condition worsens which is how you’re able to pick them out. Later on you’ll have to diagnose which parts need repairing by using various tools in your shop or by driving the car around a test track. Doing jobs earns you experience as well which gives you an upgrade point every 1000 XP to spend on things in your workshop. After a while you’ll unlock new modes so you can work on your own cars and even sell them at auction.
As a simulator for car repair Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 does pretty much what it says on the box, giving you the experience of what it’s like to repair cars day in and day out. Whilst I’d say it’s somewhat welcoming to beginners, given the fact it does things like highlight parts you need to remove and provides full part lists for the early jobs, you’ll definitely benefit from having a modicum of understanding of what various parts of the car do and where they’re typically located. This can lead you astray sometimes as I spent a rather long time looking for the fuel filter in the fuel tank (it’s in the front for most cars in this game) however I don’t even someone trying to figure out where the crankshaft is if they’ve never worked on an engine before.
Probably the biggest flaw with Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 is the levelling system which, to be frank, takes far too to get anywhere. You see no matter how big or small the job is you’ll always get the same amount of XP, requiring you to do about 10 jobs per level. Sure you also get 1 XP for every part removed and mounted but that accounts for maybe 10% of your total XP meaning you’ll still need to do about 10 jobs per level. Considering that the thing that really attracted me to this game unlocks at 9000 XP this means I’d need to play for about 9 hours before I got to the point where I wanted to be and, honestly, with the lack of variety in jobs early on I just couldn’t stomach that much grind to get to the point I wanted to get to. It’s a shame since reading through the forums there does seem to be a lot of variety there it just takes far too long, in my opinion, for that variety to be available to you.
I probably went into this thinking it’d be a lot more like Street Rod than it actually would be as whilst you can drive your cars around a test track it’s extremely limited, both in terms of where you can go and how the different cars feel in relation to each other. Indeed when I’ve said this to friends the general reaction is “what did you expect” as the name is pretty much spot on for the experience you’ll be getting. For some this will be enough however for me I felt like the payoff was just too far away and I just couldn’t sustain my interest long enough through the grind.
Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 does exactly what it says on the box, giving you the experience of being a car mechanic. As a simulator it’s exceptionally well done, capturing many of the aspects of car repair whilst not being as unforgiving as its real world counterpart is. However some of the more interesting parts of the game are hidden behind the levelling system which is too basic and takes far too long to get anywhere meaningful making it very easy to put the game down and forget about it. I enjoyed my time with Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 however if you don’t have an interest in cars or simulator type games then you probably wouldn’t find much more to love in it.
Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 2 hours.
The Souls series never really appealed to me as it seems its target audience was a certain subsection of gamers who craved games that gave their player nothing and took from them everything. I didn’t really fit into that mould and despite the raving reviews from my friends I couldn’t bring myself to invest the time to see if there really was something to them. For some reason though Bloodborne held a mild level of intrigue for me, probably because I didn’t know it was made by the same developer. After many weeks of being told I needed to play this game I eventually relented and began my journey into the world of a genre that I’d held at arms length for many years. Now here I am, some 35 hours of game time later, and I’m wondering why I held out for so long.
It is the night of the hunt, a time when beasts and monsters roam the streets of Yharnam and terrorized the populace to no end. You are a hunter, well at least you’re told you are, sworn ally of the healing church whose duty it is to rid the streets of these foul creatures and bring about the morning. However the plague that has befallen Yharnam is not all that it first seems and it citizens ruthlessly attack you on site, saying that you’re cursed. Oh dear hunter, the challenges that lie ahead are sure to break you but do not fear; death is just another part of life here, one you will become intimately familiar with.
I’m not sure if it’s the drab colour pallette or gothic aesthetic but Bloodborne doesn’t really look like a current generation game on first pass. The combination of muted colours and strategic use of specularity certainly feel like a lot of previous generation games that came before it although there are the moments where Bloodborne does provide a visual experience I have come to expect. I think partly this is for performance reasons as Bloodborne is the first PS4 game I’ve played that’s visibly chugged during several very intense action scenes. Overall it doesn’t look bad, maybe just a little on the dated side, something which could almost be wholly attributed to its visual style which is reminiscent of previous generation games.
Bloodborne is being called an action RPG, which would put it in the same category as games like Dragon Age, but it feels like these kinds of games need their own sub-genre to more accurately define the game experience. The base elements of an action RPG are there: real time combat, levelling system and item progression, but the way the game actually plays is so far removed from other titles in the genre means the experience is vastly different. The combat relies on precise timings, reactions and understanding your enemy at a much deeper level than traditional RPGs would ask you to. Player skill plays just as much of a role as items and levels do as you can have all the gear and in the world yet still find yourself pinned to a wall by a couple choice enemies. It’s a genre that, to be frank, is actively hostile towards the player which is what makes it so rewarding when you finally get to say fuck you and beat it.
At first the combat seems relatively straightforward: enemies telegraph their moves widely and it’s up to you to figure out if you can interrupt them with your own or if you need to get out of the way before they hit you. The challenge then comes from knowing what moves an enemy can do, what the timings of those are and, should there be more than one of them, which one you should deal with first before trying to move onto another. This means that every new area you come into is a minefield of new movesets, abilities and strengths/weaknesses which have to be learnt, understood and exploited in order for you to be able to progress. It’s not so much of a learning curve as it is a learning brick wall, one the game is specifically designed around to make your life hell for the first couple hours.
Indeed the very first section of the game, the one where you need to complete a loop to unlock your first shortcut and start making meaningful progress in the game, took me a grand total of 3 hours to complete. That section. played properly, can be done in approximately 10 minutes and so I spent much of my time dying in numerous stupid and, what seemed at the time, unpredictable ways. Of course the more I died the more I began to understand the mechanics I was playing with, what I could get away with and how I should approach everything to make sure I had the best chances of surviving. Eventually, after butting my head against what felt like an impenetrable wall for far too long, I finally made it through to my first shortcut and that’s when the game started getting interesting.
You see Bloodborne, and all games that preceded it, revel in the idea of not holding your hand at all with the only tutorial coming in the form of a few notes scattered across the ground in your overworld area. How levels work, what the currencies are and what they mean, how you upgrade your weapons and how you can unlock other ways to improve your character are all things you have to discover incidentally or, like I did, Google furiously. It might surprise you to learn that I don’t count this as a negative of Bloodborne as many games I’ve played take a similar approach and the flip side to it seems to be that great communities are born out of sharing details like this. Once I had gotten to my first “safe” point I started to become intrigued about where I should go next and all roads pointed towards the first boss: The Cleric beast.
The boss battles are the ultimate goal for any hunter in Bloodborne both for their challenge and progression that they will provide you. They are, put simply, a terrifying thing to behold as they’re often several times your size and have attack patterns unlikely anything else you’ve seen before. For the most part you’ll be able to figure out what approach best suits you after a couple runs however there are some fights which will either require you to up your skill significantly or, and this can be heartbreaking, leave the fight and go and level up some more before you face them. Indeed after throwing my body at Martyr Logarius for hours on end I was forced to leave the battle to replenish my stocks of blood vials, something that made me feel so defeated that I considered just giving up then and there. I didn’t come back to that fight for a very long time but when I did the satisfaction I got from handing his ass to him is something few games have been able to give me.
The level system, whilst retaining the obtuse nature of the rest of the game, is one that requires you to balance all your requirements against each other. Being a jack of all trades will make the game incredibly difficult and will ultimately net you no benefits so you have to choose a few stats you want to excel in and then seek out the items that best suits that. Reading through some guides will help you make the right decisions early on to support the kind of playstyle you want to pursue, especially when it comes to points of diminishing returns, soft caps and hard caps on benefits that each point gives you. My Strength/Skill build seemed to work out quite well for the way I wanted to play the game and after I finished my initial playthrough I was able to start looking at dumping points into other stats to unlock certain choice weapons that I wanted to experiment with.
Bloodborne is mechanically sound for the most part however the hit detection they use does have its limits and sometimes its behaviour can be completely out of line with what you expect. I had numerous times when my sword went right through an enemy and failed to connect (no blood, sound nor enemy taking damage) and other times when enemies appeared to be able to hit me when their models were no where near me. Whilst death is an integral part of the game when they’re not the result of you getting greedy or stupid it does little to endear the game to you and indeed I stopped playing when these sorts of things happened too often. There was also the few performance slow downs I mentioned previously which were thankfully rare however in a game where timing and precision are key these sorts of things can be devastating if they happen at the wrong moment.
Bloodborne’s story is interesting although the way it’s presented, through various small bits of dialogue and vague allusions to things, makes it hard to discern whether or not it’s actually a good story. Sure you have enough to understand the motivations of certain characters but much of the lore behind the beasts, bosses and other NPCs are mostly built up out of conjecture. Sure this provides a healthy amount of discussion among the community however after reading the 100th fan theory about why the Great Ones can’t have kids you start to want a little bit more than just what everyone thinks it might be. Unfortunately it seems like closure isn’t something the developers of Bloodborne are interested in giving us so I’ll just have to say that the story is serviceable but far too vague to be much more than that.
Bloodborne is a game I honestly didn’t want to like when I started out playing it and indeed I was willing to give up very early on in the piece just so I could be done with it. However once Bloodborne got its hooks into me I couldn’t help but be intrigued as the game taunted me with ever greater challenges and the prospect of even better loot. I can remember clearly the point at which I transitioned from the terrified hunter, one who would walk around every corner, to the slayer of the night, one who feared no beast and laid waste to anyone who dared cross him. There are few games that can take you on a journey like that and make your progress feel meaningful but Bloodborne does it beautifully, all the while gnawing away in the back of your head that it could all come to a crashing end if you let your hubris get the better of you. If you’ve been putting off playing this style of game because it seems too harsh then I’d encourage you to give Bloodborne a few hours of your time as that frustration could soon turn into obsession, one that will be rewarded handsomely.
Bloodborne is available on PlayStation4 right now for $99.95. Total play time was approximately 35 hours reaching NG+.
I’ll be honest here: my faith in OUYA has long since faded away.
Wind back 3 years and you’d get a completely different story; the idea of a console freed from publishers and big money marketers appealed to the guy who wanted to see the indie renaissance turn into a full blown revolution. I wasn’t alone in thinking this and many of the backers saw the OUYA as the key to unlocking a console market for indie devs that, back then, wasn’t really available. The late release to backers and dated hardware meant that it wasn’t much of a platform indie devs wanted to find themselves on which meant that users really couldn’t find much to love about the console either. Couple that with the fact that the major consoles are now extremely friendly to indie devs and the OUYA has lost the mission it was the champion of. The result of this is that OUYA has been struggling and now it’s looking for someone to rescue it.
Over its life OUYA has taken in some $23 million in both Kickstarter funds as well as venture capital making it quite a well funded startup comparatively. A quick search around will reveal a lot of vanity metrics, like the fact they’ve got over 1000 games and 40,000 developers signed up but no where will you find number of units shipped nor any solid figures on how many titles developers are able to move on the system. Indeed even those metrics they tout paint a pretty grim picture of the OUYA as only 1 in 40 developers signed up to the program have actually released a title on it, a mere 2.5%. Mix in the conversion rate of users actually on the console and it’s really no wonder that they’re looking for a buyer as the revenue on their sales, both hardware and software, can’t be good.
Thinking back on it though there’s really no one defining problem that I can point to that really soured OUYA, more it was death by a myriad of little problems that just compounded the impending irrelevance it was facing. Not getting the console into the hands of the enthusiasts, I.E. the backers who were genuinely excited to see the product come to life, long before anyone could get their hands on it meant that when it did finally release there was no Kickstarter fuelled fanfare to go with it. Taking as long as it did to release meant the hardware was long since surpassed and whilst it was sufficient at the time it quickly started to show its age. The quality of the console, whilst decent for the price point, wasn’t great and only helped to compound the idea that it was a gimmick and not much more. All of this, and more, has meant that the OUYA has just faded from the greater gaming community’s conscious and I don’t think it’s likely to return.
I won’t pretend to have a solution for their woes as I don’t. As far as I’m concerned the ship has long since sailed on the OUYA idea and now, with the major console players coming onboard with better support for indie developers, there really isn’t any room for them to play in. Today most people would much rather just play Android games on their Android phone and, should they want it, pairing it up with the controller of their choice. If OUYA manages to find a willing buyer I’d be very surprised as I can’t really see a future for OUYA that ends with them becoming a successful niche console.
For some games mods are the lifeblood that keep them going for many years after their initial release. These mods add in things that the developers either didn’t think to create or simply wouldn’t, elevating the game well past its intended station. Some of these mods even take on a life all of their own with many of the most successful titles of all time being born out of mods, some of them even creating entire new genres as they rose to stardom. These mods were often born out of the free time and relentless dedication of their creators and provided free to gamers worldwide. Last week Valve announced a paid mod program for Skyrim, a natural extension of their other paid content programs, which has not been well received and, honestly, I think the community needs to stop drinking the haterade.
The system is pretty simple: mods that are on the Steam Workshop can now set a price for their mods which users can pay for if they’re so inclined. It’s not a mandatory system, Steam still supports modders who want to peddle their wares through the system for free, however if you want to you can set a price you can. Looking over the mods that have decided to do that most of the prices are what you’d expect to be typical prices for apps or cosmetics in other games (and indeed the most popular items are cosmetics) with a few content mods here or there. Of course this may be due to the program still being early days and the backlash that’s resulted from the announcement but it’s largely inline with what I expected a program like this to generate.
Generally I think this program is a great idea as it gives modders an easy way to monetize their content without resorting to begging for donations or trying to do something inane like streaming them creating mods over Twitch. Indeed it works much the same way as the app ecosystem does on mobile platforms today, with people who want to release a labor of love to the wild world for free doing so using the platform. On the flip side there are those who’d really like to put in a lot of effort but couldn’t justify doing so without some kind of compensation and it’s these people that I think this system was designed to attract. Sure you’ll get the scammers, plagiarizers and other unwanted people attempting to game the system but you get that with anything that relies predominantly on user submitted content so I don’t think that’s an issue worth discussing.
One thing I do disagree with is the rather unfair revenue distribution that the system current has with a whopping 75% of the total revenue going to Valve (30%) and Bethesda (45%). This means that for every dollar that the mod makes the vast majority of that doesn’t end up in the hands of the developer with them taking home a measly 25 cents. I think much of the criticism of this system would be much less severe if the revenue that the creators received was much higher, say in the 70% region that’s typical of most app store purchases, although I’m unsure as to whether Valve and Bethesda would be keen to take such a hit. Realistically for both of them it’s free money (well, for Bethesda anyway, Valve has to provide the infrastructure) so the hit they take would be small compared the goodwill they could win from the community.
The problem I see with most of the outrage is that it assumes that a system like this will inevitably lead to a split among the mod community, one of haves and have nots which is contrary to the ethos that the modding community holds. Sure, it may attract some unscrupulous individuals, but by and large modders are aware of the communities that they’ve helped develop and the last thing they’d want to do is alienate those who’ve made them so popular. Indeed if they did then free alternatives are far more likely to rise out of their ashes, providing the same service that those mods once did without the paywall. On the flip side if a mod is really worth it then I’m sure the community would be more than happy to support a modder in the quest to deliver something of value to the community, rather than them giving up all semblance of decency and going for a cash grab.
Suffice to say I think the program is a good idea from Valve, it just needs a little more tweaking to make it more fair to the modders and more palatable for the community. I know calling for rationality on the Internet is likely to be met with a blazing wall of silence but paid mods aren’t the devils that many would make them out to be and, if they are, then people will simply not pay for them. Those kinds of modders will quickly realise that this is a community that’s not ripe for exploitation and those who’ve served that community for years, for free in most cases, will continue to reap the benefits of the relationships they’ve created. To think that the opportunity to make money on a platform would somehow ruin that relationship is honestly hurtful to those who’ve put their hearts and souls into these mods and the community should be their advocates rather than their critics.
A game’s controls being deliberately obtuse or unintuitive used to be a sign of a poorly designed game. Indeed the whole reason I avoid certain genres, survival horror being one of them, is that their controls are usually designed in a way that breaks your natural motions in order to induce extra challenge or panic. However most recently a new genre of games has popped up that thrives on this very idea, making games that use weird control schemes that are highly unintuitive and very specific to that game. These are often coupled with all sorts of weird and wonderful game play ideas, ones that really don’t fit the mould of any one genre. The latest title to fall under this banner (which I’ve tentatively termed Frustration Simulators) is I am Bread which should basically tell you everything you need to know about this weird indie experiment.
You are bread. You do not know how it came to be that you are bread but you do know your ultimate purpose: you become toast. For some reason though the person that brought you here doesn’t seem interested in supporting your goals so you must take it upon yourself to make yourself the goldeny treat you so desire to be. Indeed your quest seems to irritate your captor to no end with him putting you in all sorts of places where becoming toast is more easier said than done. But no matter, there are many ways to become toast and you shall do so until the final slice.
I am Bread feels a lot like the other simulator-esque games that have come before it like Surgeon Simulator and Goat Simulator. This is almost wholly due to its Unity and, from what I guess, are stock 3D models that they’ve used to create the worlds you’ll flopping yourself through. It’s not a bad aesthetic at all just one that’s become the default for titles like this much like all Flash games of years past shared a very similar look due to the limitations of the platform they were built on. The flip side of this is that I am Bread will likely run at anything you throw at it. This will likely be its boon when it comes to phones and tablets later this year.
The goal of I am Bread is simple: you’re bread and you want to become toast. Initially this goal is an easy one to understand, you’re on one side of a kitchen and there’s a toaster thats on the other side which you have to get to. You do this by flopping yourself around which you can do by sticking one of your four corners to a surface and swinging around on that point. Whilst that might sound relatively easy there’s an awful lot of obstacles that stand in your way and should you hit them your edibility rating will start to plummet. You also have a limited amount of grip so you can’t simply throw yourself up on the room and tarzan your way across the room and hope for the best. After the first level though making yourself toast isn’t as straightforward of a challenge as it first was and this is where you have to get creative.
I am Bread tells you upfront that it’s better played with a controller and, after struggling to play the first section with a mouse and keyboard, I couldn’t agree with them more. However that’s not going to make the game easy, far from it, more it’s just slightly more intuitive when you’re using the shoulder buttons of a controller to control each of the four corners rather than the awkward keys they selected. You’ll still have to endure the steep learning curve for controlling your unwieldy piece of bread but after a while you’ll develop strategies to help you traverse sections faster and to avoid flopping around helplessly on the ground.
It seems the game’s time in Early Access was well spent as there’s mechanics to make the game more palatable if you’re struggling to make it past a particular section. Should you become inedible twice a power up will appear next to the starting point that gives you unlimited grip and edibility. You can choose not to take this however if you just want to explore or have fun triggering all the set pieces in the environment it means you don’t have to endure the tedium that these games are renown for. Suffice to say I only ever managed to complete a level once without having to resort to that buff but, honestly, had that buff not been there I would’ve put the game down after 10 minutes.
For me though games like I am Bread have somewhat limited appeal as whilst it’s fun to play around with experimental mechanics like this, coupled with the hilarious results of a semi-working physics engine, the sheen starts to wear thin rather quickly. I’m sure many will find a lot to love in getting high scores or finding new and inventive ways to cook themselves but I simply can’t find the appeal. This is not to say I am Bread is a bad game, far from it, more that if you’re not the kind of person that likes making their own challenge within a game then you’ll likely get bored with I am Bread after the first level.
I am Bread is a truly unique game that’s hard to find comparisons for as it really is unlike anything else that’s come before it. The control scheme, whilst being frustrating at the best of times, is what distinguishes I am Bread from your garden variety 3D platformer. The main game mechanic and the way it plays is charming, hilarious and satisfying when you finally achieve your ultimate goal. However since the core game doesn’t change much the replayability is incredibly low, meaning that for people like me the game starts to lose its appeal very quickly. Still if you were a fan of other frustration titles like this then you wouldn’t go astray with I am Bread and I’m sure you’d find much more to enjoy in it than I did.
I am Bread is available on PC right now for $12.99. Total play time was approximately 2 hours.
The Battlefield series has, for the most part, stuck to its roots of giant war-based combat which has served it well over the past 13 years that it has existed. This put it in direct competition with Call of Duty although they favoured a longer development and release cycle with their games usually having a 2+ year cycle with various expansions and DLCs peppered in between. For many it served as the more refined version of Call of Duty, favouring tactics and skill rather than fast action and twitch reflexes. Battlefield Hardline marks DICE’s first departure from the Battlefield formula and whilst parts of what made the series great can be seen in here the game unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired.
Miami has gone to hell, the streets flooded with drugs and gang warfare escalating to all new heights. You are Nicholas Mendoza, newly minted detective in the Miami PD who’s looking to clean up Miami through good, honest police work. However it doesn’t take long for things to start going awry with your first bust turning into a bloodbath and questions to start arising around your methods. Indeed the more you try stop the plague that’s spreading through Miami the more you seem to be drawn into it, with your fellow cops being the ones dragging you in.
Unlike it’s predecessors that used the Frostbite 3 engine Battlefield Hardline doesn’t feel like a massive step up graphically, indeed it actually feels like it’s gone backwards in some respects. Whilst we still have the wide open environments that are a signature of the Battlefield franchise they just don’t feel as visually impressive as they used to, even with the enormous amount of grunt that my new rig can provide. Looking over my screenshots from previous reviews confirms this, showing that the engine is capable of quite a bit more than what Hardline seems to make use of. It makes even less sense when you find out that this isn’t Visceral’s first experience with the Frostbite engine either so I can only assume that the reduction in fidelity was done for optimization reasons.
Hardline plays much like Battlefield 4 did before it, retaining many of the core mechanics whilst adding in a few new tricks that tie into the police theme. You’ll still be running and gunning quite often, although in slightly smaller environments than you’d be used to, and the stealth mechanic that appeared in Battlefield 4 makes a return in Hardline. However now instead of getting points to level up your character by killing people you instead only level up by taking people down non-lethally or arresting them, something you can accomplish by telling them to “freeze” and then tackling them to the ground. There’s also bonus objectives like warrant suspects (who give quadruple score for arrests), cases for you to investigate by finding evidence and completing additional objectives. The multiplayer introduces a bunch of new modes which are mostly variants of the standard game styles we all know and love although it seems everyone is really still only interested in the big, 32 on 32 conquest maps.
The FPS combat in hardline feels a little unpolished as all the guns in their own categories feel pretty much the same as one another. Indeed once you get a few levels under your belt and unlock a couple guns there’s really no need to switch to anything else and the game rarely pits you against enemies with new and interesting guns, meaning you’ll have to level up or complete case missions in order to add in some variety. Couple this with the absolutely dumb as rocks AI and you’ve got a FPS experience that’s highly forgettable, even in the scenes which feel like they’re supposed to be action packed but just end up feeling bland.
This is only exacerbated by the repetition that’s introduced by the arrest mechanic which you’re required to use if you want to level up your character. Sure it’s pretty fun to work out the best way to approach a section so you can arrest everyone in it, but after you’ve done that a dozen times it starts to lose its luster. Thankfully you don’t have to do that for long as I was able to reach max rank somewhere around episode 7 or so but even the freedom granted by being able to run and gun everything past then didn’t add any life back into Hardline’s combat. This is what made it incredibly easy to put the game down at the end of each “episode” as playing more than one in a night was a recipe for frustration and boredom.
The story is somewhat serviceable in comparison to the rest of the game, with most of the characters being given enough screentime and background to be believable even if the situations you find them in are wholly unbelievable. I couldn’t find myself empathizing with any of the characters though, even the main protagonist, as they didn’t really feel relatable until right near the end. Even then it felt like too little too late, even if I had enough information to understand the decisions they were making. The ending might not scream sequel but it’s definitely hinting at it, raising its eyebrows suggestively and giving you a sly wink as you walk out the door.
I’ve only spent a brief few hours with the multiplayer (for issues I’ll dig into below) but the horror that is Battelog has made yet another return for Hardline and the issues surrounding it still remain. For the most part it seems like the community has little interest in the new game modes as servers that cater towards them are barren wastelands, devoid of players wanting to play them. Instead the vast majority have huddled around the safe place of Battlefield’s large scale warfare maps, something that feels quite at odds with the game’s more intimate setting and direction. Suffice to say it pretty much plays how you’d expect it to with the key difference coming from you being able to generate cash to buy new weapons and perks, rather than having to unlock them by levelling a class. It takes the edge of the levelling curve but doesn’t do much else.
The icing on this rather unappealing cake comes in the form of bugs, glitches and good old fashioned crashes that seem to be a mainstay of all Battlefield releases. I had the single player crash on me multiple times, often when I wasn’t doing anything particular of note at all. Battlelog simply refused to recognise that I had Origin installed until I reinstalled it, something I seem to have to do with every Battlefield release. Then when I did try to play some multi games the game would often just up and exit without any notification of what happened, sometimes in the middle of the game and others when I was spending the mandatory 5 minute wait while the game reloaded itself again. I honestly cannot understand why, after 2 previous releases that suffered the exact same issues, that DICE and Visceral couldn’t work out these issues before release and it’s not something I’d expect from a veteran AAA developer.
Battlefield Hardline is an unfortunate fall from grace for the series, trashing the things that made them great and failing to add in anything that could justify taking such a huge risk. The gameplay is bland and uninteresting, failing to capture the player’s attention even for the short duration of the episodes in the single player game. The changes to the multiplayer are completely out of line with what the community wants, as shown by the fact that the only playable servers are those that emulate the previous title’s play style. Topping it all off is the instability and lack of polish on the core game itself, with crashes and bugs plaguing the already beleaguered experience. I honestly can’t recommend this game even for the die hard fans of the series as it just falls so short of the standard that its predecessors set.
Battlefield Hardline is available on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 right now for $59.95, $89.95, $109.95, $89.95 and $109.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 9 hours of total play time.