Long time readers will know that horror and I don’t really get along. As a genre I don’t find it particularly engaging although there have been several examples which have managed to break through my disdain. Still even those few examples haven’t been enough to change my base dislike of nearly everything that bears the horror tag. Indeed that’s the reason why I deliberately avoided Until Dawn for as long as I did and it was only after thumbing through numerous reviews of it did I change my mind. Whilst Until Dawn might not be the title that finally gets me to see the merits of the horror genre it is an exquisitely built game in its own right, one deserving of all the attention it has received.
It was just like any other winter getaway when eight close friends went to one of their parent’s mountain lodges for a weekend of partying. They were to spend the week revelling like all teenagers do, indulging in things that their parents would likely disapprove of. However their night quickly turns sinister as they are reminded of the tragic past that brought them here that seems to haunt them at every corner. Your decisions will guide them through this night and determine who makes it to the end and who meets their untimely demise at the horrors of the mountain.
Until Dawn makes good use of the grunt of the PlayStation4, bringing graphics that are far beyond anything that the previous generation of consoles was capable of. Whilst most of the time the graphics are hidden behind the dark horror movie aesthetic There are still numerous moments that allow you to appreciate the level of work that’s gone into crafting the visual aspects of the game. There are a few rough edges though with performance taking a dive regularly, especially in outdoor scenes or action heavy sequences. The game isn’t unplayable because of it however you can definitely tell that the priority was aesthetic over optimization, meaning a constant 30fps experience isn’t guaranteed. Considering this is Supermassive Game’s first PlayStation4 title I’m willing to give them a little leeway however I’d expect future titles to not make the same mistake.
In terms of game play Until Dawn is in the same league as other interactive fiction titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. For the most part you’ll be wandering around the mostly linear environment, looking at various objects and interacting with other characters to further the story. Until Dawn’s flagship feature is the “Butterfly Effect” system which chronicles most of your decisions which will have an impact on the story down the line. There’s also collectibles called Totems which when found show you a glimpse of a possible future event, allowing you to get some insight into how they might unfold. Finally for all the action parts of Until Dawn you’ll be using a pretty standard quick time events system. All in all at a mechanical level Until Dawn is pretty much what you’d expect when it comes to an interactive fiction game.
The walking around and looking at things part is mostly well done (with some issues I’ll discuss later) with interactive objects that are in your character’s field of view being highlighted by a small white glowing orb. This typically means that as long as you do a full 360 of a room you’re likely to find everything in it which is good as I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to try and figure out sometimes in games like this. Until Dawn does reward exploration, meaning that if you think you’re going down a non-obvious section chances are you’ll find something juicy at the end of it. Thankfully the walking speed can be sped up some as well, meaning you’re not going to double your play time just because you wanted to explore a little bit.
Whenever you perform an action or make a certain dialogue choice the screen will explode in a cascade of butterflies, indicating that your choice will impact on future events. This is a more extravagant version Telltale’s “X will remember that” feature with the added benefit that you can go back and review your choices at any point. Unlike most other games though, where decisions that will have major impacts on the story will usually be showcased as such, Until Dawn rarely makes such a distinction. If I’m honest I found that to be a little frustrating as it was hard to tell when what seemed like a minor decision actually had major consequences. In reality though that’s much closer to a real world experience so I can definitely appreciate it for that reason.
The quick time event system works as you’d expect it to, giving you a limited amount of time to respond by pressing the right button or moving the control stick in the right way. It’s broken up every so often by having you make decisions, like taking a safe route vs a quicker one or hiding vs running, which can have similar butterfly effect impacts as dialogue choices do. The one interesting differentiator that Until Dawn has is the “DON’T MOVE” sections which can actually be something of a challenge when your heart is racing and your hands are shaking the controls. So nothing revolutionary here, not that you’d really be expecting that from games in this genre.
Whilst Until Dawn does show an incredible amount of polish in most regards there’s still some rough edges in a few key areas. The collision detection is a bit iffy, being a little too wide at the character’s feet which makes you get stuck on objects that you’d think you could just walk past. This also extends to things your character holds like a burning torch which seem to lack collision detection, allowing you to put your character’s hand through walls. There’s also the performance issues which I noted previously which, whilst not degrading the game into a slideshow, are definitely noticeable. Still for a first crack at a game of this calibre it’s commendable that Supermassive Games was able to put out something with this level of polish, especially on a new platform for them.
Now being someone who’s avoided the horror genre it almost all its incarnations I don’t feel entirely qualified to give an objective view on how good the story is. Certainly it seems to share many of the tropes that you’d associate with a teen horror movie but whether they’re well executed or not is something I’ll have to leave up to the reader. To me it was a predictable narrative, one that attempted to use jump scares and triggered music to try and build tension. Whilst it didn’t bore me to sleep like so many horror movies have done I still wouldn’t recommend it on story alone.
Until Dawn is a great debut title for Supermassive Games on the PlayStation4 showing that Quantic Games isn’t the only developer who can create great interactive fiction. The graphics are what I’ve come to expect from current generation titles, making full use of the grunt available on the platform. Mechanically it plays as you’d expect with only a few rough edges in need of additional polish. The writer’s aversion to horror though means that the story didn’t strike much of a chord although it’s likely to delight horror fans the world over. In summation Until Dawn is a superbly executed game one that both horror fans and interactive fiction junkies can enjoy.
Until Dawn is available on PlayStation4 right now for $78. Total play time was approximately 7 hours.
Destiny was the first game to break my staunch opposition to playing first person shooters on consoles. Being a long time member of the PC master race meant that it took me quite a while to get used to the way consoles do things and had it not been for Destiny’s MMORPG stylings I might not have stuck it through. However I’m glad I did as the numerous hours I’ve spent in Destiny since then were ones I very much enjoyed. The time between me capping out at level 32 and the release of the House of Wolves expansion though was long enough for me to fall back to DOTA 2 and I missed much of that release. The Taken King however promised to completely upend the way Destiny did things and proved to be the perfect time for me to reignite my addiction to Bungie’s flagship IP.
Six of you went down into that pit, looking to end the dark grip that Crota held on our Moon. His death rung out across the galaxy, sending ripples through the darkness. His father, Oryx, felt his son slip from this plane and immediately swore vengeance upon you and the light. Oryx has appeared in our system aboard a mighty dreadnought, capable of decimating entire armies with a single attack. Slayer of Crota it is now up to you to face Oryx as he and his Taken are swarming over the entire solar system and threaten to snuff out the light once and for all. Are you strong enough to face this challenge guardian?
Graphically Destiny hasn’t change much, retaining the same level of impressive graphics that aptly demonstrate the capabilities of current generation console hardware. There has been a significant overhaul to the UI elements however with the vast majority of them looking sharper and feeling a lot more responsive. It might sound like a minor detail but it’s a big leap up in some regards, especially with the new quest/mission and bounty interface. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in expansions like this and I doubt we’ll see any major graphical changes until Destiny 2.0.
The core game is mostly unchanged, consisting of the same cover based shooter game play with the RPG elements sprinkled on top. Every class has been granted a new subclass meaning that each of them now has one that covers each of the elements (fire, void and arc). The levelling and progression system has been significantly overhauled, providing a much smoother experience to levelling your character up both in level and gear terms. Many of the ancillary activities, like the Nightfall and Exotic Bounties, have also been reworked to favour continuous progression rather than constant praying to RNGJesus. Additionally there’s been many quality of life improvements which have made doing lots of things in Destiny a lot easier, much to the relief of long term players like myself. This is all in concert with a campaign that’s about half as long again as the original, making The Taken King well worth its current asking price.
The new subclasses might sound like a small addition but they’ve given new life to a lot of aspects of Destiny. Each new class essentially filled a hole that was lacking in the other two, allowing each class to be far more versatile than they were previously. The only issue I have with them so far is that the new subclasses feel a lot better at more things than their predecessors do which means pretty much everyone is solely using those classes now. Sure the Defender Titan’s bubble is still the ultimate defensive super however it pales in comparison to the toolset that the Sunbreaker has at their disposal. This might just be my impression given my current playstyle (mostly solo) and may change when I finally attempt the raid this week.
The revamp of the levelling system is probably the most welcome change. Unlike before where your level was determined by the light your gear had the new maximum level is now 40, achievable through grinding XP like any other RPG. Then once you hit the maximum level you have your Light Level which is an average of your gear’s damage output and defensive capabilities. As it stands right now that’s pretty much the only thing that matters when you’re attempting an encounter and so the higher your light level the easier it will be. Whilst it’s not a huge change from the previous system it does mean that there’s quite a lot more variety in terms of what gear you’ll end up using. This also means that a lot more pieces of gear, even those lowly blues which we used to disassemble immediately, are now quite viable.
This comes hand in hand with a revamp of how you can obtain gear in the game. Whilst there are still guaranteed ways of obtaining gear through marks (now Legendary Marks which are slightly hard to come by) you’ll mostly be looking for engrams. The engram rate has been significantly increased and when you get them decrypted they’ll roll a random light level in a +/- range of your current light level. This means that, in order to progress, it’s best to equip your highest light level gear and decode engrams. Doing this I was able to get myself to light level 295 in a relatively short period of time, more than enough to attempt the raid. This, coupled with the new avenues to better gear, mean that progression is far smoother than it was before.
The revamped quest and bounties system has everything in it that guardians have been asking for from day one. There’s now a separate tab that has everything in it, allowing you to track objectives so you can quickly see your status without having to pop out into the menu. This has allowed Bungie to include multiple questlines that all run simultaneously, something which was just not possible before. Many of these quests will help you get solid boosts in your light level and, if you follow some of the longer ones, unlock some of the best gear in the game. By far the stand out piece, in my mind, is the heavy sword which (when fully levelled) makes PVE encounters a breeze and the crucible a punchbro’s dream.
The Taken King expansion also gets massive kudos for fleshing out the lore of Destiny significantly. Part of this comes from the extended campaign missions that take you deep into the world of the Hive and the Taken but there’s also dozens of new bits of information scattered throughout the world (accessible through ghost scans). The Books of Sorrow provide a lot of background detail to all the races and their involvement with the Darkness as well as providing some insight into the events that led up to the Traveller’s current state. I’m still picking through it myself but it’s honestly great to see Bungie fleshing out this world as there’s so much potential here and I’d hate for it to go to waste. Additionally Nolan North replacing Peter Dinklage as the voice of your ghost is a welcome change, as is the addition of many more hours of voice acting from all the central characters.
Destiny: The Taken King is the expansion that all guardians had hoped for, bringing with it all the improvements that were sorely needed. It’s a testament to Bungie’s dedication to this IP as the amount of extra content they’ve released for Destiny in just one year is, honestly, staggering. The changes they made with this latest expansion have improved the experience dramatically, both for casual players and the hardcore alike. If you’d been staving off playing Destiny then now would definitely be a great time to give it a whirl as this is the game many are saying it should have been at launch. For long time guardians like myself it’s what was needed to bring me back to the fold and keep me playing for a long time to come.
Destiny: The Taken King is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, XboxOne and Xbox360 for $79, $79, $79 and $79 respectively. Game was played on the PlayStation4 with approximately 20 hours of play time, reaching light level 295.
All gamers have an idea of a game they want to make. It could be anything from a novel mechanic through to a fully fleshed out story, but it’s there hanging around in the back of our minds. However for those of us who’ve attempted to bring that idea into reality we often come crashing into the cold hard truth of the games industry: making games is hard. For the precious few that make it through the process (and fewer still who see success from it) the scars of game development are forever burned into their psyche. The Magic Circle is a game that chronicles this journey, with all the dark humour and self-loathing that permeates much of the game industry.
To its fans The Magic Circle was a brilliant example of interactive fiction, a game deserving of the title of cult classic. The sequel however has been one of the most beleaguered projects in the history of gaming, having been in development for some 20 years with little to show for it. The creator’s perfectionism has kept the sequel in a perpetual state of unfinishedness, never being satisfied enough to ship anything. You are one of the games’ long time fans who’s been hired as a playtester for the current iteration of the game. Whilst your experience confirms that yes, there is a game, it’s no where near complete. However when you finish the small section you’re contacted by an AI from a previous generation of the game who shows you how to take control of this unfinished world.
The Magic Circle looks and feels like an unfinished game, although under the hood it’s anything but. The choice of a bleak black and white aesthetic for one world (and a low-res, 8-bit colour palette for the other) reinforces that unfinished feeling. Interestingly though the whole world is properly textured as evidenced by the fact that your character brings colour wherever it steps. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in a pre-alpha or similarly beta indie game although there’s an obvious layer of polish that would otherwise be missing from such early stage games. Suffice to say Question Games have done a good job of creating a “finished-unfinished” world.
Like most early stage games The Magic Circle is a mishmash of different ideas that are all cobbled together. The initial game starts out as something of a walking simulator with you just viewing the scenery. However it quickly transforms into a kind of puzzle game where you can modify the behaviour of enemies and objects within the world. This can be something as simple as making something your ally instead of your enemy or completely changing the way an object moves or interacts. This is how you start breaking the game, changing things around so you can access more areas that you shouldn’t be able to. Finally at the end you’re put in charge of actually developing a game level and you’ll get reviewed on how fun it is. This is all the while you’re privy to commentary from the game’s developers, giving you an insight into the creator’s vision and why it’s never quite managed to be released.
The initial game modification section of The Magic Circle is quite fun as there are numerous different ways to approach many of the puzzles when you first start out. These start to thin out a bit as you get towards the later puzzles as most of them really only have one solution. Still the rudimentary control you have over the NPCs does present some rather fun opportunities like sending wave after wave of rats at the Hive Queen in an attempt to defeat her. Of course there’s only so much mucking about you can do before you’ve found all the secrets and want to move on. Thankfully that’s not hard at all and it’s at that point the game takes on a very meta twist.
It’s at this point you’re thrust into a demo game for E4 and given the choice of whether or not to muck with it. This then leads onto you watching them playing the demo live on stage whilst all chaos breaks loose. Then after that you’re given the task of creating the sequel with a rudimentary level editor. It’s actually pretty interesting to try and figure out how to maximise the review score at the end and the commentary given to you by Old Pro is quite entertaining. You’re then thrown back to your desktop where you’re able to replay the game, redo your level or simply click around to find out some more details about the game.
It’s interesting to see a satirized version of events that are familiar to many gamers, namely sequels that seem to be forever in development due to its creator’s perfectionism. Indeed it feels like a game more for developers, industry insiders and observers more than anything. If anything the story is more like a 3 hour long treatise on the pitfalls of developing a game and the potential boons for those who manage to stick it through. Whilst I enjoyed it, even Ishmael’s long rant about how it’s all about the player and their destructive wishes, I know that kind of story isn’t for everyone.
The Magic Circle demonstrates in a beautifully satirical way the agony that is game development. The world is expertly crafted to resemble a pre-alpha game that’s a mash of too many ideas, all coexisting in the same code base which end up mashing together in unintended ways. This is reflected in the game play which is based around messing with things and changing up behaviours so you can access things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The story is one that definitely has a specific target audience in mind and, whilst it might not be for everyone, definitely plays to its strengths as a piece of commentary on the industry. It might not meet my criteria for a must-play game for everyone but if, like me, you feel like a part of the greater games industry, then there’s definitely a lot to like in The Magic Circle.
The Magic Circle is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 3 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Movie tie-in games are some of the most derided games ever to grace our presence and with good reason. Often they’re given a woefully insufficient amount of time to come up with a playable product and quality is the first thing that hits the chopping block, leaving them bug ridden messes of half finished dreck. The last few years have seen a few titles rise above the filth however and whilst none of them have been game of the year material they have been pleasurable surprises. Mad Max is one such gem, taking the essence of the movie and distilling it down into a very playable experience.
The world lies barren, scorched by an intense nuclear war. Those that survived the collapse struggle to survive, scavenging what they could from the remnants of society that lie scattered about. This world now belongs to the ruthless and violent with gangs and war bands patrolling the sandy dunes looking for people and places to pillage. You are Max, a survivor who has lost everything since the collapse and wants nothing to do with this world any more. So he has resigned himself to cross the Plains of Silence in his Black on Black, an Interceptor capable of making the long journey. However his plans are foiled by Scabrous Scrotus, son of the warlord Immortan Joe who steals everything from him. You are not so easily beaten however and you turn your eyes to recovering your Black on Black and making Scrotus pay for what he did.
The wasteland setting for Mad Max is quite beautiful with the plains stretching out to the horizon in every direction. It’s the definition of an open world game with nearly every bit of scenery that you can see being accessible and part of the game. There’s definitely been a lot of effort put into crafting certain aspects of the scenery, like the dust you kick up when going offroad and the slight changes in the howls that each engine emits. It’s also got enough visual variety that you don’t feel like you’re driving through the same place all the time as each area has its own distinct theme. Thankfully this all comes to you fully optimized, something which games with lots of open space like this often get wrong.
On first blush Mad Max is your typical open worlder, with all the standard trimmings of campaign missions, side missions and a lack of direction of which one you should do when. If I was to compare it to recent open world titles it’d be somewhere in the middle between Far Cry 4 and Batman: Arkham Knight. You’ve got your typical progression in the form of skills and equipment, both for your vehicle (the Magnum Opus) and Max himself, some of which are locked behind story missions whilst others through open world objectives. There’s camps for you to capture, places for you to explore and hordes of enemies bounding around for you to take out or avoid. Combat comes in two flavours: the stylized beat ’em up hand to hand combat while on foot as Max as well as some in-car combat which is a little more rudimentary. Suffice to say I was surprised at just how much was crammed into this game given its origins as a movie tie-in.
If you’re a fan of the Arkham series of combat then Mad Max is right up your alley with the controls and style being instantly familiar. There’s not as much variety in moves and finishers however it’s still quite a challenge to rack up long combo streaks without getting interrupted. There’s a few rough edges on the combat though which really start to show in the later stages of the game. Essentially you can get yourself into a situation where there’s no way for you to block or counter an incoming move, ruining your chain (and potentially losing you an upgrade point). Usually this happens when you’re doing a finisher which triggers a mini-cutscene which, when interrupted, feels unfair. There’s also a heavy reliance on consumables which aren’t readily available or farmable in the world for a lot of the big finisher moves so they often go unused. Overall it’s a good emulation of Rocksteady’s combat style, just in need of a little more tuning.
The car combat is pretty simplistic by comparison, usually involving you ramming the other car into submission. As you progress through the story missions there are weapon upgrades that allow you to more effectively dispatch your enemies, like a harpoon that can rip wheels off, but the heavy investment requirement means you’ll have to forgo quite a few other upgrades to get them. Additionally for the most part you don’t really need all the bells and whistles, just having the fastest car (both in terms of top speed and acceleration) is all that’s needed for most encounters. The final boss battle is the only exception to this as you’ll struggle to finish it in a timely manner if you don’t have at least a Level 4 harpoon and another similarly upgraded weapon. It’d probably be made a lot better if the driving controls were a little more refined as the slightly janky steering, even on cars with the top handling, makes things more difficult than they should be.
As you’d expect from an open world game there’s numerous activities for you to do most of which will provide you some form of benefit. Clearing out camps for instance will net you a periodic amount of scrap, the currency that underpins the economy of Mad Max. Doing “projects” in strongholds will unlock certain benefits like giving you a full water canteen or opening up new types of missions for you to complete. Winning races will unlock a permanent location where you can fuel up your car whenever you want. For people who like to meander through games, picking and choosing whichever mission takes their fancy, this kind of thing is probably what they’re after. For me though these little side distractions just didn’t feel rewarding enough for me to bother with them for long. In the end I’d only go on scrap hunting missions if I needed it to unlock the next campaign mission which I only had to do a couple times.
It’s not a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagination as the above screenshot will attest to. You see there’s no jumping in Mad Max but there are multiple heights and in some instances you’ll find yourself trapped in a place you can’t get out of. Some of them aren’t even as obvious as the one pictured above. In one particular mission I managed to roll over some pipes which I couldn’t roll back out of. It’s clear what’s missing here, the movement system isn’t coded to deal with situations where the difference in terrain height is above a certain threshold. Whilst not every game needs to have the parkour stylings of Assassin’s Creed a more robust move system would be key in alleviating the unfortunately frequent problems that arise from the current simplistic implementation.
The story, if it were standing on its own, is fairly rudimentary although since it serves as a kind of prequel to the world of the movie it’s a little more interesting. Strictly speaking it’s a separate story in terms of canon and indeed Max’s character is quite different to the one portrayed in the cinema. However it does give you a little bit more insight into the reasons why Max ends up the way he is in the movie. Still it’s not much more than your typical action script, albeit it bereft of some of the more common components in favour of more talk of cars as a religion and all the craziness that the movie demonstrated.
Mad Max is an example of what tie-in games can achieve if they have more than a token effort put into them. The barren wasteland world is beautifully realised with the landscapes reaching out from horizon to horizon. The core game mechanics are mostly well realised, often getting close to their more mature brethren from which they draw inspiration. For fans of the open world genre there’s more than enough activities to keep you going for numerous hours on end. For people like me though who aren’t so interested in the distractions the game is still readily playable if you do pretty much campaign missions only, you’ll just have to use your skill rather than your scrap to win fights. Suffice to say I was surprised by just how playable Mad Max was, especially given its tie in origins. If you’re one of the many raving fans of Fury Road then Mad Max is probably worth a look in.
Mad Max is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 13 hours of total playtime and 29% of the achievements unlocked.
The hivemind of the gaming community collectively looks towards indie developers as the innovators. We praise them and put them up on pedestals because they dare to buck trends, trying out new concepts, mechanics and stories that big AAA developers would never touch. Sometimes this works out well, spawning new genres or revamping old ones, other times however the concept fails so hard to achieve its goals that the idea is burnt forever more. Indeed the risk is even higher when the developers attempt something that’s extremely high concept, much like what The Flock attempted to be. Unfortunately this time around the risk won’t be rewarded as The Flock is set to be a ghost town that will never achieve its vision.
The world is a shadow of its former self, great cities lie in disrepair and what remains elsewhere has been long abandoned. All that remains now is the Flock, a race of subhuman creatures who skitter through the darkness searching for one thing: the Artefact. It is that sacred thing that can transform a member of the Flock into a Carrier, able to wield the power of the light and bring about the next phase of this world’s existence. However creature of the Flock wants the Artefact and will do anything to obtain it, even kill their own. There is limited time left for members of the Flock as their population is dwindling, every murdered carrier putting their entire species one step closer to extinction.
The Flock might not be the most pretty game in the world, thanks mostly to its drab aesthetic, but it does manage to punch above average in the graphics department. For the most part things look great from afar, especially when you’re on top of a building in the city overlooking everything, but up close it’s clear that detail is scant. The various bright and shiny things help break up the visual monotony a bit, as well as provide visual cues for some of the game’s core mechanics. Apart from that there’s really not much else write home about as the game’s focus isn’t purely on graphics.
The premise of The Flock is an interesting one: you’re a member of The Flock’s race and you want to get The Artefact. Once you have it you’re transformed into The Carrier who can wield The Artefact’s power which is essentially a high powered torch. If another member of The Flock kills you they’ll then become The Carrier however if you shine the light on them, and they’re foolish enough to move even an inch while you have it on them, they’ll be burnt to cinders. It’s not as simple as standing still once you’ve got The Artefact however as you need to move to power it. There’s also objectives for you to complete, charging up blue glowing things with the light of The Artefact, which tempt you to come after them. Underpinning all this is the limited population that The Flock has and, once that’s exhausted, the game itself will no longer be on sale and only those who had purchased the game will be able to participate in the next stage.
In raw game terms The Flock is quite playable, that is if you can manage to scrounge together a game with more than just one other player. Each of the maps has numerous routes and places for The Flock to hide in, something which can make your life as The Carrier quite hard. The Artefact needing movement to be powered means that you’ll always be on the move, further increasing other Flock member’s chances of hunting you down. Indeed I can imagine that in a full game of 6 people it’d be quite the chaotic affair as even with just 3 it was hard to hold onto the artefact for any long stretch of time, especially if you went after objectives.
However the number of people playing The Flock is so abysmally poor that you’ll be lucky to ever see another person playing it. I spent probably half my time in game simply waiting for someone else to join me only to be disappointed nearly every time. Checking the population every 5 minutes or so revealed that yes, I was the only one playing since there were no other deaths happening anywhere else in the world. In the time I’ve been playing it the population has dropped by a paltry 1200 meaning, on average, there’s been one death every 30 seconds. At this rate the population will reach 0 sometime in the next 200 years, not exactly what the developers had in mind I’m sure.
This severe drop off in interest can probably be traced to The Flock’s lack of replayability. Those three maps in the screenshot below? Those are the only three maps you’ll have to play, meaning that after 3 games you’ve likely seen everything there is to see in The Flock. This would be fine if the game play was interesting enough however since all the objectives are the same and there are no different modes the longevity of The Flock is severely limited. Thus after the initial fervour there’s only going to be a handful of people playing at any moment. That’s not going to improve any time soon. especially with the developers being tight lipped about the whole thing.
The Flock will never achieve its ambition, the lack of variety in the game play not enough to sustain it until the huge population reaches 0. At a technical and mechanical level the game is sound, playable even at high pings that often happened due to the lack of players. However this game had grander visions, of enticing players in with the notion that they could be part of something exclusive. something that no game had attempted before. Unfortunately that vision will never be realised, the population set too high and the interest in the game too low. I would say I’m disappointed but, honestly, the developers grossly overestimated how popular their game would be and have been subsequently punished for their hubris.
The Flock is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was 1 hour.
It’s been almost 2 years since the release of the current generation of consoles yet, strangely, it doesn’t really feel like it has. Usually this long after a new console generation the previous one has become a ghost town, long abandoned by developers in favour of the latest and greatest hardware. However here we are 2 years later and games are still be released for the PlayStation3 and Xbox360. This isn’t just isolated to a few small titles either, pretty much every AAA title that has a cross platform release will end up support no less than 5 distinct platforms, 2 of them almost a decade old at this point. I honestly couldn’t fathom why this would be the case, that was until I followed the money.
If you head over to VGChartz’s global weekly chart and have a trawl through previous week’s sales figures you’ll begin to see what I’m talking about. Whilst we don’t have the very latest figures (you’ll have to pay them a rather large fee to get that) it’s clear that the previous generation consoles are still generating massive revenues in terms of game sales. Indeed until the end of March this year the platforms with the most game sales were previous generation consoles. It was only after then that the PS4 managed to stay at the top but it’s always been closely hounded by both the PS3 and Xbox360 for the top position ever since.
Some of the blame for this lies at the feet of the XboxOne which has unfortunately failed to pull as many people across into the current generation as its competitor has. The XboxOne sales have been about half that of PlayStation4 for some time now, a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. This also feeds into the trend of the Xbox360 routinely outselling it’s current generation counterpart, only changing when a new release comes out. Considering how close the previous generations were in sales this disparity will continue until the majority of current Xbox360 users make the switch. How long until that happens I couldn’t tell you, but it still seems like a fair way off at this point.
Primarily though it’s due to the unprecedented longevity of the previous generation. Prior to the PS3 and the Xbox360 you could expect a new console generation every 5 years or so, with developers having fully transitioned to the new platform within a year or two afterwards. The previous generation of consoles is well past that point and that means there’s going to be a lot more more inertia in switching away from them. It’s just like what happened with Windows XP and the transition to Vista and beyond, consumers and third parties alike got comfortable with the platform and held onto it for far longer than was healthy. Thankfully the turn around rate doesn’t seem that bad when you compare it to Windows XP vs 7, but it’s still slow enough to mean that the previous generation is here to stay for some time.
The tide is turning however. Every new release sees a new wave of people upgrading their consoles in order to enjoy the latest game. Exclusives too are still proving to be a powerful motivating force for consumers, even critical flops like The Order 1886 being able to boost console sales by 10% or more. It’s going to be a far slower transition than we’re used to, I’d hazard a guess for at least another year of cross platform releases targeting previous generation, but the trends are clear. Hopefully the transition will mean more resources dedicated to actual games rather than cross platform code but I’m not holding my breath in that regard.
There are few games that manage to grab me with just a concept. Put simply it’s because I’ve seen it all, the vast swath of games I’ve played over the years covering the far reaches of the gaming spectrum. To put it in perspective over the 4 years or so that I’ve been doing this I’ve played some 200 different games and it’s easy to see the patterns emerging when you play that many games. However there are still exceptions, games that bring new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas. Such games are of instant intrigue to me and Beyond Eyes, whilst not being the greatest experience overall, certainly sold itself to me just on its concept alone.
You are Rae, a young girl who wants nothing more than kids of her age do. However, one day, she’s unfortunately struck blind, her world now one of total darkness. As she comes to grips with her new reality she meets a new friend; Nani the neighbourhood cat. Rae and Nani become the best of friends, the ring of Nani’s bell the ever present reminder that her friend is there with her. One day though Nani stops coming to visit Rae and so she sets out into the world to find her lost companion.
Beyond Eyes is one of the few Unity games that manages to avoid the same aesthetic that many games built on the platform have. Beyond Eyes has a kind of watercolour style to it, almost as if it was ripped straight out of the children’s books of my formative years. The watercolour aesthetic is taken one step further by the reveal mechanic which feels like water creeping across paper. Probably the most interesting thing about the look of Beyond Eyes though is just how deceptive the mostly white environment is, making you feel like you’re in a much larger world than you actually are. This is most certainly intentional and is something I’ll dive into deeper shortly. Suffice to say I feel Beyond Eyes is one of the most unique looking Unity games I’ve seen in a long time.
Beyond Eyes is essentially a walking simulator at heart as all you do is trundle through the various environments, making your way around blockages until you move onto the next section. You can’t see everything that’s around you however, only the things that you’ve been near or, in the case of later levels, only the things that are right next to you. This is a powerful way to evoke the same feelings that a blind person would have as you really have no idea of what’s in front of you or if the sounds you’re hearing are coming from what you think they are. It’s an incredibly well executed concept in my mind as it does a great job of putting you in the mindset of someone who’d recently lost their sight.
There are some puzzles to speak of but they’re mostly just a function of finding the right thing to unblock your next path. Most of these can be as simple as taking an alternate path whilst others will require you to find an item in order to progress. They’re really not hard by any stretch of the imagination with most of them putting the solution right in front of you if you explore far enough. In all honesty though there’s not a whole lot of point in exploring too much as the rewards for doing so are minimal and don’t progress the story much beyond the little snippets of text you get every so often. I think even the most hardened achievement hunters would struggle to find much reason to go after them, honestly.
The various mechanics employed to emulate the world that the blind “see” is by far the strongest aspect of the game. The world being revealed to you, styled in a childlike fantasy, as you walk by everything is truly inspired. The replacement of objects, like a fountain turning into a drain pipe, gives you an idea of the struggles that people without sight go through. Even small things like barking dogs making Rae upset take on a new perspective when you realise that she would have no way of knowing if that dog was being aggressive or simply chasing a toy. It was this initial concept that sold me on Beyond Eyes and I’m glad to say it delivers aptly in that respect.
However whilst the mechanics are great the story is just too basic to take the whole experience to the next level. Games in this genre live and die by their story and the emotional engagement they can evoke with its players and, even though this might be based around a true story, is too short to have any meaningful impact. The ending was also just a poor attempt at tugging at the heart strings when, in reality, the character had absolutely no reason to come to the conclusion they did. The epilogue then feels like a ham fisted attempt at a bitter-sweet ending but, due to the lack of character development, just feels hollow. It’s a real shame honestly as I completely appreciate the goals they set out to achieve here, and in terms of replicating what it’d be like to be blind I feel they’ve achieved that, however the story they’ve used to demonstrate that experience is just not up to scratch.
Beyond Eyes set out with the ambitious goal of giving the sighted a portal into the world of the blind and, at a mechanical level, they have achieved that. The dreamy, watercolour aesthetic is a beautiful backdrop for the small pieces of the world that are revealed to you. How that world is revealed to you, through all the sights, sounds and smells of the world, is fantastically implemented, able to evoke what I feel are the feelings that the blind would have venturing out into the world. However the story simply fails to deliver, leaving this game to simply be a mechanical masterpiece rather than the emotional journey it strives to be. For any other genre this would still make it a game I’d recommend to a wide audience however, for Beyond Eyes, it’s really only a game for fans of the genre.
Beyond Eyes is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 1.5 hours with 30% of the achievements unlocked.
The Trine series has captured many people’s attention over the years, mostly thanks to the incredibly inventive physics based game play. It’s been a long time between drinks for the series what with the previous installment, Trine 2, being released almost 4 years ago. This can be partly attributed to Frozenbyte focusing some of its efforts on their iOS platform Splot, however most of the long development time has been spent on Trine 3 itself. Indeed when you hear that Trine 3 incorporates 3D into the mix, after the last 2 being 2D platformers, you can get a feel for why it stayed in development for so long. However Frozenbyte’s ambition may have been its undoing as it’s clear that Trine 3 fell short of its ultimate goal.
Once again our heroes: Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya, are trying to live their lives as they were before the Trine started interfering with them. Amadeus was finally spending time with his family, taking them to see the giant turtle migration. Pontius continued to be a hero of the people, ensuring that no thief or neerdowell went unpunished. Zoya continued her quest for treasure, tracking down a giant emerald. However, just like always, the Trine showed up at the most inopportune time to whisk them away on an adventure. Little did they know that this one would take them to the heart of the Trine itself and the darkness which lied within.
Trine 3 makes use of Frozenbyte’s own custom engine and, whilst I’d warn most indie developers about doing that, what they’ve managed to create is, put simply, absolutely stunning. Trine 2 managed to have some great vistas however, due to the 2D nature, they were always somewhere off in the background. With the inclusion of 3D in Trine 3, and the addition of the vastly improved artwork, Trine 3 is yet again another step up from its predecessor. The art style and direction is retained, with vibrant colours and effects everywhere, along with the great soundtrack and voice acting. Indeed Trine 3 feels like a AAA title in almost all respects as there are few indies who can produce such quality work.
The core of Trine remains largely the same with the platforming, puzzle solving and emergent, physics based game play all making an appearance. The abilities of the three heroes are largely the same as well although the game has been radically simplified when compared to its predecessors. Amadeus can summon just one box, Pontious’ abilities have been reduced to a charge and slam and Zoya’s arrows are merely garden variety now, although she can now attach things together through the use of her grappling hook. The talent system is completely gone and progression now comes in the form of collecting shiny triangles which you’ll use to unlock further story and side missions. All in all Trine 3 feels like a far more streamlined game, one that would be far more welcoming to newcomers to the series.
The introduction of 3D changes the core platforming and puzzle mechanics significantly as now you have a whole extra dimension to contend to when attempting to solve the puzzles. It’s not true full 3D in all aspects however as it seems, for simplicity’s sake, that there are some constraints on your movement. If you jump off a wall in one direction you’ll essentially be locked to moving in that direction. For things parts of the environment that spin or move this can lead to some unpredictable behaviour as mistiming your jump means you move in a completely different direction to the one you intended. The same rules seem to apply to using the grappling hook as well, locking you into one direction to swing across (I.E. you can’t say, swing around in a loop). I’m sure I’m not explaining this well enough but once you play Trine 3 you’ll see what I’m getting at.
Combat feels largely the same, being one of the few times that you’ll use Pontius for something. You’ll be able to complete most combat sections by just mashing buttons and jumping around randomly however some of the later fights do require a bit more finesse. The only really challenging combat encounters are the boss fights (of which there are 2 from memory) and the various side quests which lock you into a single character requiring you to figure out how to best use them in combat. For long time fans of the series this will feel largely in step with previous games in the series as combat was always something of an also-ran, a curious distraction to break up the platforming and puzzle solving.
The emergent gameplay is as rampant as ever with most puzzles having numerous unintended solutions. Most of these are born out of their basis on physics, allowing you to exploit various things in order to make the puzzle think it’s solved. One of the most egregious things you can exploit is, yet again, the wizard’s ability to move boxes and other objects around. Whilst you can’t box surf like you once could you can, say, jump off a box and then lift it up with blazing speed, launching you far above whatever obstacle was in front of you. It’s certainly not as crazy as previous Trine games were but you can still pull off some rather crazy feats if you put your mind to it.
Emergent gameplay does have a dark side however, coming in the form of glitches and unintended behaviour. You’ll more than likely come across your fair share of glitchy enemies, puzzles that don’t work for whatever reason or deaths that don’t feel like they’re entirely your fault. There’s nothing in there that I’d consider game breaking, indeed most of the time you can work your way around whatever glitch you’re stuck on, however it does mean that some of the puzzles are far more frustrating than they need to be. Some of the glitches are hilarious too, like when enemies clip through the floor and then rocket back out. I guess when you think in terms of the overall Trine series Trine 3 is the least glitchy of the lot, which is saying something.
The story is where Trine 3 falls down, not for the content mostly, that at the very least retains it’s mostly passable qualities, the real issue comes with its length. You see Trine 3 was Frozenbyte’s most ambitious game getting triple the budget of its predecessor. Whilst this is most certainly reflected in the quality of the game it still wasn’t enough for them to finish the game in the way they wanted to. Thus the game ends at what feels like the first third of the story, leaving you on a cliffhanger that feels like it should’ve been somewhere in the middle of the game rather than at the end of it. This is what has led to much frustration from the wider gamer community, something which Frozenbyte has acknowledged and provided some insight on. In my mind the quality of the game they’ve created isn’t in question however it’s obvious that Trine 3 has fallen far short of their vision.
Trine 3 is an absolutely stunning game, one that keeps true to the Trine roots but unfortunately fell prey to the sin of ambition. The artwork, soundtrack and cinematography are still top notch, showcasing production values that I’ve come to expect from the series. The core mechanics and gameplay are still there, just streamlined a bit in order to reduce friction. However the game is clearly only a third of the creator’s original vision, with numerous levels and story left undeveloped, never to be explored by us gamers. It’s really quite unfortunate as parts of Trine 3 we’ve got are just incredible but that quality has obviously come at a cost. Hopefully this isn’t the death of the series as it would be a real shame to see it go just as Frozenbyte was reaching its peak.
Trine 3 is available on PC right now for $21.99. Total playtime was 4 hours with 64% of the achievements unlocked.
In the 3 or so years since I reviewed Dear Esther, a game which in my opinion was an incoherent mess, I’ve come to appreciate the walking simulator genre. They’re definitely not for everyone, what with the achingly slow pace and reliance a strong story to really make them, however they can shine beautifully when done right. If I’m honest though had I known that Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was done by The Chinese Room (the guys behind Dear Esther) I probably wouldn’t have played it. Thankfully though I didn’t find that fact out until I was a fair way in as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture deserves to be judged on its own merits and not its heritage.
It’s a beautiful day in the quiet small town of Yaughton in Britain. It’s one of those places where you feel like you could hear a pin drop a mile away, the only sounds being the rustling of the leaves with the occasional bird chirp or quiet rumbling of a car off in the distance. That stillness belies something far more sinister however as you quickly discover that this town is bereft of people and the only thing that remains is an eerie ball of light that dances through the streets. As you walk through the town it begins to reveal its story to you and that of the people of Yaughton.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture utilizes the Crytek 3 engine and definitely makes good use of the capabilities that it provides. Whilst it’s not the pinnacle of graphical mastery that the engine’s flagship game was it’s still a decidedly pretty game. Indeed the sweeping views of an idyllic English countryside backdropped by columns of light are some of most enjoyable and serene set pieces I’ve seen in a long time. However what really sets Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture apart from all others in its genre is the absolutely stunning soundtrack, one that wouldn’t be out of place as a movie score. It definitely pleased me to find out that Jessica Curry, the composer, has received a BAFTA for her efforts as her current work shows just how capable she is.
As the genre would suggest Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is essentially a sightseeing tour, one that will walk you through the town of Yaughton and gradually reveal the story to you. Unlike most walking sims though there’s a guide to show you the way, a small ball of light that will dance and flit around from point to point, urging you to follow it. Then, when you reach certain trigger points, you’ll see events of the past rendered in a shower of light, the voices clear but the people seeming like ghosts playing out their past lives. The only real game mechanic to speak of is tilting your controller one way or the other to sync up with the light but beyond that it’s a lot of holding the left stick forward.
Walking sims generally encourage you to explore the environment, usually with the promise of revealing more of the story to you or opening up a shortcut. The addition of a guide, in this case the ball of light that races around from place to place, would seem to be contrary to that but it’s something that I actually came to enjoy later on. You see, whilst it’s easy enough to figure out what general direction you should be heading in, there’s a lot of places you can get yourself into which don’t lead anywhere. Following the ball, and straying from the path where it seems obvious to do so, seems to be the best way to play Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
One mistake that was unfortunately repeated by The Chinese Room was providing avenues of exploration, ones that seemed wholly intentional, that lead to absolutely nothing. The best example of this was the church early on in the game which, when you first go to it, you can’t access the second half of. However if you look around it’s clear there’s another path available to you but you’ll have to go all the way around to get to it. Naturally I did that only to be greeted by sweet fuck all when I arrived there. In any other game this would be a minor annoyance but in a walking simulator it was a 15 minute ordeal, even with the sprint button pegged down. This was the same issue I found so much frustration with in Dear Esther and it pains me to see them making the same mistake.
Thankfully the one mistake they didn’t repeat was delivering the story to you in randomized, disjointed sections. Whilst the story is still far from linear, delivered in vignettes as you stumble across key locations, it at least has a sense of flow and timing to it. Each section follows a particular individual’s story over the course of the events that preceded your arrival, revealing more and more details about their particular part they played. There’s also optional bits of dialogue that you can trigger by picking up phones or turning on radios which are key to understanding the central character’s motivations.
For me the way the story was delivered was the key difference between Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. In Dear Esther I struggled to have any empathy for any of the characters as it was hard to tell where I was in the story and how that section fit into it. With Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture on the other hand whilst the vignettes might be told in any order they’re at least internally consistent and often reference a point in time in the larger story. This means that there’s a flow to the larger story that its predecessor lacked, giving you a much better sense for how the events that led up to your arrival unfolded.
The story itself does meander a bit but it’s interleaved with enough background and character development that you feel drawn into their lives and the minutia of this small town. It grips you early on, especially with one scene (pictured in the second screenshot) where a desperate mother struggles to understand what’s going while being comforted by the local priest. The slightly disjointed nature means you know the ending long before it happens however the final few reveals were still an emotional journey. It may not have left me an emotional wreck like other similar games have done but it was definitely one of the more memorable stories in recent memory.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture aptly demonstrates the talent that The Chinese Room team has. Everything about this game, from the graphics to the story to the soundtrack, are well above par in all regards. They may make the same mistake of opening up paths of exploration without reward however there’s many more issues that plagued Dear Esther that are simply not present in their latest title. Indeed Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is one of the few games in this genre that I feel would have appeal beyond that of genre fans as it truly is a great experience.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is available on PlayStation4 right now for $29.99. Total play time was approximately 5 hours.
In my review of Cradle (which I meant to get out last week, apologies!) I noted that I’ve found two distinct types of exploration games. Some are guided, wanting to gently push you towards some goal, others are more free form, wanting you to roam and discover your own story. With Cradle more in the guided camp it was serendipitous that Submerged came right after I finished it as it takes the opposite approach, plonking you in a wide open area and letting you have at it. Whilst my preference for these types of games still tends towards the guided Submerged is a decent little exploration game, even if it errs on the simplistic side.
You are Miku, a determined young girl who’s come to this sunken city in the hopes of finding help for you brother, Taku. He is gravely injured, suffering from a might slash across his chest that threatens to take his life. You must explore this city, clambering through ruined buildings and scaling crumbling towers, looking for supplies to restore Taku to health. You can’t help but feel you’re being watched however as this wild city seems to have eyes on every corner. Still you push forward, your love for your brother driving you forward.
Submerged runs on the Unreal 4 engine and, whilst it’s not going to bring your PC to its knees with the graphics, it does have a great style and aesthetic. It’s one of those games where it’s best visual moments are the ones when you’re in a wide open space, the sprawling ruined city laid out before you. Up close it starts to lose its magic as there’s a lot of repeated asset use without a lot of variety. Still there were numerous times when my wife would peek over my shoulder and exclaim “Pretty!” at my screen so that has to count for something.
The core game play of Submerged is one of exploration as you’re set free in a ruined city to look for supplies, secrets and upgrades for your boat. You could say that there was a platforming aspect to Submerged as well, since you have to scale buildings and ferret your way through their innards, however it’s quite limited in nature. Thankfully you don’t have to stumble blindly through every building to find what you need as your telescope can highlight things on your map for you. Other than that there’s really not much else to speak of in Submerged as it really is quite a simple game.
Whilst you’ll be scaling great heights there’s no threat to falling off and having to start over as the platfroming is strictly controlled. You can’t accidentally let go form a platform, leap to your death or walk off the edge to fall down onto another platform. This does mean that there’s really no tension in any of the climbing sections however, unlike nearly every other platform game I’ve played. At the same time it is kind of nice to switch off and just meander through these sections and it does give you something of an incentive to explore a little more. Still if you were looking for a platforming challenge Submerged isn’t the game you’re looking for.
Submerged behaves pretty much as expected however there are a few little quirks that I feel bear mentioning. There’s obviously something a little off about the day/night cycles as, whilst they seem to work fine, the sun and moon don’t move in a smooth motion. Instead they seem to move in fast increments, something which is readily apparent when there’s long shadows cast on a building. Additionally some of the visual clues for climbing, like the vines and whatnot, aren’t exactly clear on what you can and can’t climb on first blush. A wall covered in small vines? Climbable. A wall covered in large vines? Not climbable however you can climb pipes which are roughly the same size. Of course once you figure these quirks out it’s easy to spot them but it does make for some frustrating moments.
In terms of story Submerged opts to tell it primarily through the use of hieroglyphics that are revealed to you when you complete an objective. Whilst it’s a novel approach I can’t help but feel that it was done mostly in the aid of easing the localization of Submerged more than anything, kind of like why The Sims speak gibberish rather than an actual language. Thus the story, whilst a little touching at some points, lacks any real depth or development that would draw you in. The history of the city is somewhat interesting however the fact that you only have a few pictures to go on means that there’s really not a whole lot to explore, in story terms.
Submerged is a decent experience with a wide open world to explore through stress free platforming. The above average visuals and soundtrack, combined with the relatively low challenge, do make Submerged one of the more relaxing experiences I’ve played in recent memory. However that simplicity and lack of challenge means there’s not much to really draw you in as the story, whilst serviceable, does little to draw you in. Overall whilst I’d recommend giving Submerged a go if you’re into exploration type games there’s just not a lot in there for the general gaming populace.
Submerged is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $19.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours of total playtime and 30% of the achievements unlocked.