I remember when I was a doe eyed teenager thinking that it would be great to make games (I know better now, of course) if I could only afford the fees to get a good engine. You see back then commercial engines were licensed for inordinate sums of money and the technical hurdle of building your own engine was fraught with danger. Over time though that has changed with old engines being open sourced, new products entering the fray and licensing models shifting to be more palatable to those who might not be able to afford huge upfront costs. Today it seems that free is now the way to go as 3 major platforms have just announced that their engines are free for all who want them, opening up a wealth of possibilities to indies and big development houses alike.
Unity has been the mainstay of many indie games for quite a while now, enabling many to create games that would’ve otherwise been impossible. They’ve also long been sympathetic to the cause, offering free (but often cut down) versions of their engine to anyone who’d ask for them. The difference between the free and paid tier has been eroded completely with both versions containing all the same features and editor. This is a big step for Unity as there was a definite rift between the paid and free versions, something that was abundantly clear to me when I was tinkering around with it. Now the difference between the tiers comes in the form of additional services and can be had for a measly $1500 (which includes a team license) or $75/month if that’s too rich for your blood. Suffice to say that I think Unity is likely to remain the king of indie engines for a long time now as even the pro tier is well within the grasp of aspiring devs.
Not to be outdone by Unity Unreal announced on the same day that their new Unreal 4 engine, which has had some incredibly impressive demos, is now free to any and all comers.The barrier to entry wasn’t particularly high before, they only charged $19 to get access to the engine and all its source, however that’s enough to stop some people from considering it in the first place. Now you’ll be able to get it everything that program gave you for free and you won’t have to pay a dime until you’re able. The limit on revenue isn’t particularly high though, only $3000 per product per quarter, before you have to shell out 5% of gross revenue something which could be a killer for some devs. Still it’s hard to deny what the engine is capable of producing so it might be an easier sell for more established dev houses.
Lastly Valve has swaggered into the picture debuting their new Source 2 engine and announcing that it will also be free to anyone who wants it. It’s been not-so-secretly released as part of the DOTA 2 development tools for the better part of a year now and by all accounts seems like a really capable next-gen engine. Source 2 appears to be the most “free” of the free engines that have debuted in the past couple days with Valve wanting no money up front for the engine nor any backend revenue should you make it big. However there is the caveat that the resulting game be released on Steam which means all sales on there give Valve their 30% cut although you’d incur this same cost regardless of which engine you used if you sold on Steam. Source 2 is then something of a loss-leader for future sales, a clever move by Valve to bring more developers onto their platform (as if there wasn’t enough already).
With this many options available now developers are now spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting an engine for a game, something you really couldn’t say even a few years ago. Whilst I think Unreal will probably be the least likely one to be used out of the current 3 I think there’s going to be some stiff competition between Unity and Source 2 as time goes on. Unity has the head start in this regard as their tools really are top notch for both novice and advanced developers alike but Source 2 has the potential to turn into something amazing based on the community that Valve seems to develop around every one of its products. The real winner in all of this is us, the gaming public, as it means more games will get made and more concepts will be explored.
Few games have been talked about as much as The Order 1886 has been recently and fewer still with as much derision. For some this game seems to embody everything that’s wrong with AAA development, focusing on all the wrong areas and failing to deliver the game experience that they were expecting. Others saw the potential the title had and, whilst still not heaping praise on the overall experience, had high hopes for what Ready at Dawn could do with this IP. After avoiding much of this discussion before playing The Order 1886 I’ve since dived head first into all the discussion and, frankly, don’t disagree with the more nuanced arguments out there. Still this game has its merits and trashing everything about it, like many seem keen to do, doesn’t seem fair.
You are Sir Galahad, member of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table and devout servant to your country. You are sworn to fight the half-breed blight who seeks to destroy humanity and do so with the aid of the Holy Grail which heals all wounds and greatly extends your life. Thus the order has existed for numerous centuries with many of the knights living for just as long and those who fall in battle passing on their name and title to those who follow them. However not everything is as it first seems as turmoil within London sparks an unusual reaction from your leader, prompting you to investigate further.
If there’s one game out there that should serve as the current reference point for graphics on the PlayStation4 it has to be The Order 1886. The world is lavishly detailed in every aspect, from the environments to the weapons to the character models which have some of the best animations I’ve seen to date. The seamless transitions between cut scenes and game play sections is, I’ll admit, jarring at first but after a while they beautifully melt sections together. Best of all this is done without a hint of performance degradation even in the most action heavy scenes, something which most graphical envelope pushing games fail to achieve consistently. Suffice to say that The Order 1886 is PlayStation4’s Crysis and the effort that Ready at Dawn invested in their RAD 4 engine was not wasted.
The Order 1886 tiptoes between the cinematic story and 3rd person corridor shooter genres. The bulk of the game is spent either in cut-scene or wandering around an environment which is then inter-dispersed with sections of cover-based shooting. There are numerous mini-games as well like the unique lock-picking and the transformer overload puzzle. There are a few sections which require you to solve a puzzle in order to progress to the next section but not enough that I could say that The Order 1886 is much of a puzzler. Lastly the fabled quick time event makes numerous appearances throughout the game, sometimes blended into the 3rd person shooting sections and later as the main boss fight mechanic. If this is sounding like a jumble of mechanics without a coherent thread to tie them all together then you’re right, it is and this is why I don’t disagree with the bulk of the criticism levelled at The Order 1886.
Whilst I’m not a huge console FPS/3rd person shooter player I have played an unhealthy amount of Destiny and so I have a feel for when janky mechanics are blame rather than my lack of skill with a controller. With that in mind the combat of The Order 1886 feels decidedly half-baked as I would often line up clear head shots only to have them inexplicably miss. This is somewhat made up for by the inclusion of a bullet-time shooting mechanic but it doesn’t help when the ability is on cooldown and all your bullets seem to miss. The more innovative weapons, like the lightning gun and the thermite rifle, are a blast to use and feel far more effective than any of the other very generic weapons but they’re unfortunately highly limited. With the lack of variety of enemies this means that most encounters are largely the same, just in different locations. Had I not invested so many hours in Destiny I might’ve written this off as just me being derpy with the controller but, unfortunately for Ready at Dawn, I feel that most of the problems stem from the decidedly below average combat mechanics.
I did enjoy the mini-games which were thankfully used sparingly throughout the game, rather than being peppered everywhere like some games tend to do. They don’t take a lot of skill honestly and once you’ve done them once it’s pretty easy to finish them without even thinking about it. Unfortunately even the best of mini-games can’t make up for the faults that the larger game has as whilst they’re fun distractions that’s all they amount to, nothing more. Perhaps some of the time dedicated to these small parts of the game could have been better spent addressing some of the more pressing issues that the game faces like the lack of coherency around what it was trying to achieve.
It’s obvious that the primary goal of The Order 1886 was to make it a kind of cinematic experience, one where there’s a little less focus on game mechanics and a little more on the story and cinematography. The problem I see with this, at least in The Order 1886’s case, is that typically such cinematic games focus on player agency (or at least the illusion there of) something which it doesn’t lack. That means that it’s more apt to compare it to all the corridor shooters which, unfortunately, it can’t hold a candle to as the various combat mechanics are incredibly weak when compared to say Call of Duty titles. So The Order 1886 straddles the boundaries of these two genres, doing neither of them well and unfortunately falling in a screaming heap.
Which is a right shame because there’s a ton of potential in all the jumbled pieces that make up The Order 1886. Each of the individual pieces feel like they’d be right at home in an open world game and there’s numerous other aspects that would translate directly without too much effort. I understand that this is a non-trivial exercise however it’s clear where most of the effort was spent and it wasn’t in making sure the game was a cohesive experience. What The Order 1886 shows us is that you can’t just have a bunch of great elements all thrown together in a pile and expect the resulting game to be great, careful attention needs to be applied in the integration so the sum of the parts exceeds the whole.
The Order 1886’s story, whilst it has strong roots, fails to develop and is utterly predictable which means it doesn’t make up for the range of mistakes that the large game makes. The story follows the well trodden trope of a righteous soldier finding out he’s on the wrong side of the fight which isn’t bad on its own however The Order 1886’s telling of it is just so predictable. I called out nearly every single one of the twists long before it occurred, something which I’m not particularly good at usually. It got to the point where I was browsing Reddit most of the time cut scenes were happening since I didn’t feel the need to hear every bit of dialogue to understand the story. Again, like most of the game, there are elements in here that have tons of potential, like the setting and back stories, but they’re just not developed or cohesive enough to formulate into a solid game experience.
The Order 1886 is a victim of its own ambition, seeking to create a truly cinematic experience but ultimately falls short, failing to even deliver a coherent experience. Without a doubt its crowning achievement is its graphics, something that Ready at Dawn should be proud of, however everything built on top of that fails to achieve the same level of excellence. The combat is repetitive and clumsy, the story predictable and uninteresting and the various other bits and pieces just don’t seem to fit well into the game’s larger picture. It’s a right shame as the different parts wouldn’t be amiss in a more coherent title it’s just that The Order 1886 lacks that one thing to bind everything together. It’s worth at least spending some time with The Order 1886 just to see what the PlayStation 4 platform is capable of, maybe later when you can grab it on special.
The Order 1886 is available on PlayStation 4 exclusively right now for $78. Total play time was approximately 6.5 hours.
There’s a new trend among the newer game developers who found success with their earlier titles. Instead of relying on releasing sequels (although most of these kinds of developers still do that) they instead rely on applying their trademark style to different games, allowing them to experiment with new IPs whilst still retaining the majority of the brand loyalty that a sequel would. The most prevalent example of this is Telltale Games who’s titles include various IPs ranging from their signatures like The Walking Dead all the way down to TV tie-ins like their CSI games. Turtle Rock Studios made a name for themselves with the Left 4 Dead franchise which had the unique appeal of putting you in charge of the monsters that terrorized other players. Evolve extends that idea except now instead of being team on team it’s now one versus four and that difference, along with the swath of new mechanics, make it quite an interesting title.
The planet Shear is a planet deep in space, on the far reaches of humanity. We set up colonies there, hoping to plunder the vast riches of this world for ourselves. However the world rebelled against us, sending huge hulking monsters to destroy everything we built and slaughter everyone who dared to tread on its surface. That’s when William Cabot arrived, bringing with him his team of hunters who would put these monsters in the ground, allowing us to escape from the planet’s deadly grasp. You are one of those hunters and its your job to save colonists and collect a fat pay check in the process.
Evolve is the first taxing game I’ve run on my new rig and suffice to say that it looks absolutely gorgeous with everything turned up to its limit. There’s a slight Unreal engine feel to it, most likely due to the texturing more than anything else, which would usually detract from the visual experience however Evolve has so much detail that you stop noticing it very quickly. You won’t have much time to stop and gawk at the huge environments however as you’ll always be in motion, whether you’re the monster or the hunter trying to track it down. This visual pleasure does come at a cost however as DirectX 11 is a strict requirement so if you’ve let your GPU age a couple generations now would be the time to invest in an upgrade.
The mechanics in Evolve are a fresh take on the style that Turtle Rock perfected with the Left 4 Dead series, using the futuristic setting to the fullest extent to create 5 truly unique archetypes that all have their role to play. The monster is the signature character class and, depending on how you play the game, will either be your staple or class you rarely ever play. The Monster is the signature archetype of the game which is controlled by a single player for the entire duration of the match. The hunters make up the remaining 4 archetypes, each of them filling a specific role in bringing the monster down. For the hunters the game centres on team work, ensuring that everyone performs their role correctly and executing whatever battle plan you have in your head perfectly. For the monster however it’s a game of balancing evolving, battling hunters and trying to complete the map’s objective before the hunters get you. So whilst Evolve might be a little derivative from their past titles it’s most certainly a fresh and unique experience, one that is tied to how good your team and/or the monster is.
Evolve gets credit for putting everyone through a couple of mandatory tutorials before allowing them into the main game, ostensibly because playing the monster is a non-trivial exercise and you’ll need to know the basics of movement before you can play effectively as a hunter. Whilst it’s not as thorough as say, the DPS/Tank challenges in World of Warcraft, it’s enough to make sure you won’t be completely useless. Evolve does send a bevy of prompts your way through the game though so even if you haven’t played a class in a while you should be able to pick it up without too much hassle. After that it was only an hour or two before I had grasped all the key mechanics pretty well and was feeling like I was actually contributing to the fight.
There are two main ways to play Evolve: either as a team (which bars you from being the monster) or as a solo player who can choose to play whichever class they want. You won’t always get the class you want however you can set a preference for which ones you’d like to play more than others. I’ve only had a couple games where I wasn’t given my first or second preference so if you’re keen on playing a particular class you shouldn’t go long without getting it. I managed to get some time playing on both sides of the equation and, most definitely, my favourite way is to play with a group of mates. However the game play is still solid enough that playing online with a bunch of strangers is still rewarding although it is a far more variable experience.
This is mainly because in those types of games, the ones which are mostly made up of random people playing together, the advantage tends heavily towards the monster. This isn’t a fault of the game, more a product of the fact that a bunch of randoms are less likely to work as a cohesive whole than a single guy with the power of 4 other people. I definitely noticed this when I was playing as the monster and the hunter’s medic was, shall we say, unaware of the fact that their death would spell the end of their team. I managed to win 4 out of 5 matches against them (foiled at the last stage when the auto balance was at 4 bars in their favour) by waiting for them to trap me in and then going to town on their healer. I’ve also been on the flip side however when a less than stellar monster decided that evolving in front of me was a good idea, something which Parnell (who with Super Soldier activated) took advantage of. I’m not sure how the match making works yet but there definitely needs to be some kind of ranking system in the back end to make the games a little more even since, as it stands right now, most matches are pretty one sided.
Evolve was rock solid for most of the time I was playing it however there were a couple issues that I think bears mentioning. The worst one I encountered was a Cry Engine error that said DXGI_ERROR_DEVICE_HUNG which highlighted the fact that there’s no way to rejoin a match if you crash, lag or disconnect. I looked around for a solution but nothing seemed to give me a solid answer one way or the other and, thankfully, I only saw it once during my 7ish hours with Evolve. I also had the rather annoying issue of my mouse cursor appearing when it shouldn’t (so I could see it while I was playing) and not showing up when it should (like in the menus). This could usually be fixed by alt-tabbing or shift-tabbing however sometimes it would require an entire game restart to get it working. These were minor inconveniences however and didn’t detract heavily from my overall experience.
Like Left 4 Dead before it Evolve has musings of a story peppered throughout it via bits of conversation between your character and your fellow hunters with a few bits fleshed out in various cut scenes. There definitely appears to be a larger world that the world of Evolve exists in however it’s not explored in any kind of depth beyond that of the back and forth banter that your characters sometimes have. Considering this is a multiplayer-first game (there is the option to do solo stuff if you want) like Titanfall I wasn’t really expecting much and so I can’t really count this as a fault. Ultimately the stories you and your friends create in Evolve will be far more interesting than the lore behind of this world you’re playing in.
Evolve is a wonderfully fresh breath of air, taking all the best parts of the Left 4 Dead franchise and rebuilding them in a new world that allowed Turtle Rock Studios to really experiment with what their niche genre was capable of. The game oozes polish in all the right places with only a hint of some issues still present a couple weeks after release. Playing with friends is a great experience, one that will be sure to create tales that will be retold for years to come as Evolve is broken out at LAN parties everywhere. The match-made multi-player experience is, unfortunately, quite varied although it’s not beyond saving and hopefully Turtle Rock is watching these first few weeks carefully to see what tweaks are needed to make it a much more fair experience. Overall though Evolve is a game that’s incredibly fun to play and one I can see myself coming back to when I need a break from the typical FPS drudgery I find myself in.
Evolve is available on PC PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 7 hours of total play time and 27% of the achievements unlocked.
For gamers who’ve been craving solid stories where the player has real agency the last couple years have been a real boon with dozens of titles being released. Telltale remains the king of this particular genre and their style can be seen influencing nearly all others, for better or for worse. Life is Strange, the second game from Dotnod Entertainment who’s only previous title was the rather lukewarmly received Remember Me (although I quite liked it), definitely draws inspiration from the Telltale style but strives to stand out through their use of mechanics and more down to earth setting. For the most part it pulls this off however there are a few key things that, unfortunately, get in the way of the story.
Max had always dreamed of this and it was finally happening: she was going to Blackwell Academy to study under one of her photographic idols. It was so surreal coming back to the place she left 5 years ago, her home town having changed in subtle ways. Everything was going well, or as least as good as it could be given her shy and recluse nature, until she found herself in the grips of a strange nightmare in the middle of class. Upon waking however it appeared that she wasn’t asleep and events that had happened before seemed to be happening again, like the strongest case of deja vu you would have ever experienced. Her return home was about to take a turn for the supernatural.
The art style was described by the developers as “impressionistic rendering” which essentially boils down to them using hand painted textures. In some parts this works well, especially in the wider shots where the detail isn’t so important, however up close the stylization loses its lustre very quickly. This lack of detail is present in almost all scenes from the character models to the environments to even the animations which, jarringly, never seem to line up with the character’s speech. Indeed out of all the aspects of Life is Strange the visuals are the weakest, often getting in the way of the story coming across due to how jarring they are.
Life is Strange is your typical story-first adventure title where the focus is on developing the story and characters whilst giving you some real agency in sculpting how the story develops. However you’re given the unique ability to rewind (but not fast forward) time, allowing you to do things that would otherwise be impossible. Interestingly this ability is extended to all the key decisions within the game, allowing you to see how each of your choices would have played out. You can’t rewind infinitely though but it does give you an indication of how a particular decision would’ve played out and the potential consequences that could arise from it. Apart from that there’s a few rudimentary puzzles thrown in here or there, all of which make use of the rewind mechanic, but they’re a minor distraction from the rest of the game however.
For those of you who played Remember Me the rewind mechanic will be somewhat familiar as it’s very similar to the memory replay mechanic. Most of the time you’ll be rewinding to try and catch some kind of detail or figure out a series of events that needs to unfold in order to progress to the next stage. Interestingly items you pick up and your position in the world don’t change when you rewind, something which takes a little getting used to since that’s different from most other time travel games I’ve played in the past. Suffice to say the main mechanic is novel and definitely makes Life is Strange stand out a little more from the current crop of story-first games.
Thankfully Life is Strange does avoid the common pitfall of attempting to put in too many game mechanics that many story first games do, usually to avoid being lumped in with the walking simulators. The puzzles are relatively simple and the game usually gives you an indication of what you need to do through audio cues or visual prompts so it’s unlikely you’ll get stuck on them for any length of time. Instead Life is Strange encourages you to explore around your environment, uncovering bits of back story for all the characters you’ll come across and gaining insight into what Max is thinking. It’s a good balance, one that I’m hopeful more games like this will be able to achieve so their stories can shine rather than being hidden behind needless tedium.
As this is the first episode of what’s shaping up to be a 5 part episodic game it’s hard to get a complete picture of the story however this first instalment is a strong one. Life is Strange does require you to explore quite a bit in order to get the full picture and there’s a treasure trove of back story hidden in the journal that’s never really made reference to. However if you spend the time to explore, read and soak in the various details of the story it’s clear that there’s a rich world of detail that the writers are drawing on and the supernatural aspects are simply an aside rather than the main draw card. Overall this first episode sets up the game with a strong base, now all that’s left is to see if they can build on that and, potentially, give Telltale a run for their money.
Life is Strange is an interesting change of direction for Dotnod Entertainment, casting off their action roots in favour of a story first experience that, for the most part, achieves what it set out to. It’s quite clear where the majority of their focus was however and unfortunately some aspects of the game suffer because of it. I’m often of the mind that graphics don’t matter if the story is strong however Life is Strange’s art style and simplistic lip syncing detracts heavily from its well crafted story. This is somewhat made up for by the novel time rewind mechanic and strong story but it’s hard to escape it when you’re constantly reminded of the rather below par visuals. I am interested to see where this story goes however as it has the potential to set up Dotnod as one of the few developers able to execute well in the episodic game space.
Life is Strange is available on PC right now for $4.99. Total play time was 2 hours.
It’s an unfortunate fact that creating a new IP is always fraught with danger. The wider gaming community is incredibly hard to judge and seemingly minor decisions on certain mechanics can have a huge reaching impact on how they perceive your game. There is a good chunk of this community that hungers for new and innovative content however and should you touch a nerve with them a new IP can quickly turn itself into a dynasty of its own. Dying Light is Techland’s most recent new IP, taking the lessons learned from Dead Island and using them to craft a better experience in a new world. For the most part they pull this off although the key differentiating mechanic is both its greatest and worst asset.
The city of Harran is in chaos. Months ago a mysterious outbreak occurred that turned people in ravenous monsters, feasting upon the flesh of others and spreading the contagion at a rapid pace. The city was quickly walled off however, containing the spread ensuring it wouldn’t cause a worldwide apocalypse. An organization called the Global Relief Effort has been instrumental in ensuring that some semblance of order remains, appointing a man called Kadir Sulaiman to keep the peace. However a tragedy involving his brother has sent him rogue and he is threatening to release a file that could put thousands of lives at risk. It’s up to you, Kyle Crane, to stop him and save not only the people of Harran, but the world at large.
Dying Light is built on Techland’s own Chrome Engine 6 which is exclusively for PC and next gen platforms. There’s a notable step up in graphics, in everything from textures to lighting to the detail of the models, which predictably sent my rig into slideshow mode in the more action heavy sequences. It’s definitely an evolutionary step rather than a revolutionary one as it still retains the same feel that Dead Island had in terms of graphics and effects, something which I noted early on before I found out that it was the same developer. That being said the environments are much bigger and broader in scope with a lot more attention to detail given the exploration heavy nature that the game has now taken on. In a nutshell it’s a solid amount of progress for Techland and it will be very interesting to compare and contrast it against Dead Island 2 when it debuts.
Dying Light is an open world, first person survival horror game that blends in a lot of RPG elements including talent trees and crafting. Those of you who’ve played Dead Island will find many of the mechanics to be very similar however many of them have been streamlined so you spend a lot less time diving through menus. Unlike its predecessor however Dying Light includes a heavy exploration aspect, allowing you to clamber all over everything in the world in good old fashioned parkour styling. This radically changes how the game plays out, giving you a vast array of options in how you tackle each situation. Finally you’ll engage in good old fashioned melee combat using crude tools like pipes and wrenches all the way up to fully automatic weaponry. All in all it’s best summed up as an improved version of Dead Island although some of the improvements aren’t without their drawbacks.
The combat in Dying Light will likely be an unique experience for everyone as there’s a huge number of combinations of weapons, modifications and talent builds that all affect how you hack and slash your way through the game. The melee aspect is the most polished although it still suffers from the trials and tribulations that is first person melee combat. Quite often you’ll find weapons (especially big 2 handed ones) not connecting like you think they should, requiring almost frame perfect timing to get them to land properly. The guns are by far the weakest aspect of the combat as they just don’t feel polished enough, especially when compared to the melee weapons. The parkour aspect allows you to alter the dynamic quite a lot, often allowing you to use the environment to gain a significant advantage.
Indeed, as I alluded to earlier, the parkour/exploration aspect of Dying Light is simultaneously the best and worst aspect of the game. The good of it is that it adds a whole new layer onto the trope that Techland set up in Dead Island, significantly opening up the map to an incredible amount of exploration that is quite rewarding. There’s still a fair chunk of jumping puzzles which only have one proper solution to them but other than that you’re free to find the best angle of attack for your current challenge, something which can make the difference between a mission being a complete breeze and a total nightmare. Once you get the grappling hook upgrade it gets even better, enabling you to travel across the map at inhuman speed and get you out of jams that would’ve otherwise resulted in your death. Suffice to say the good of the parkour is really good but it’s marred by its less than stellar aspects.
There are numerous points in the game where the parkour simply doesn’t flow like you’d expect to. The visual cues to what you can and can’t climb on aren’t terribly consistent and judging whether or not you can make a particular jump is more of an art than a science. Worst of all the hit detection for your character to latch onto things fails way more often than it should, often sending you plummeting to the ground with no indication of why that failed. Worse still when you do get the grappling hook it will likely be disabled with the cop out message “You’re too exhausted to use your grappling hook right now” making the upgrade worthless. These are fixable issues, and undoubtedly something that will get patched in later versions, however it doesn’t detract from the fact that some of the parkour heavy sections can be seriously frustrating.
The talent system is well thought out, splitting out your character’s progression into 3 main categories: survivor, agility and power. The survivor tree is levelled up by completing objectives and gives you access to ancillary skills that will help you survive in Harran. Agility is progressed by simply moving around the world and enables you to move easier around the world. Finally the power tree is all about zombie killing, turning you from a schmuck wielding a pipe to a whirling death machine. With 3 different things to level up progression is consistent and constant, ensuring you’re never too far away from unlocking something to make you just that little bit better. Honestly though apart from the grappling hook most of the upgrades aren’t hugely impactful but after a while the sum of their parts starts to add up to something greater.
The crafting system is very rewarding and retains many of the characteristics from Dead Island. All crafting reagents, bar the base weapons, can be held on your character in unlimited quantities, ensuring that you always have all your materials on you to craft things. Gone is the requirement for using a bench or other things enabling you to craft whatever you need whenever you need it. The only issue I have with the system is that weapon upgrades (not modifications) cannot be crafted and so most of your weapons will likely have their upgrade slots unused. I’m pretty sure this isn’t me missing a key mechanic in the game either as my numerous Google searches on the issue came up blank. Suffice to say whilst I think the crafting system is strong in Dying Light it seems like one aspect was overlooked.
Dying Light was a relatively smooth experience for me, free of any major issues like crashing or game breaking bugs. However there were numerous quirks where things happened that shouldn’t have like the picture above where my safe zone was somehow infested with zombies despite me having just cleared it out. There was also the rather unsettling thing of my character screaming, yelling or saying something random every time I loaded in which often made me think I had been dropped into the middle of combat before realising it was just him making noise for no reason. It kind of feels like a Bethesda release if I’m honest, where the core game is solid but stuff around the periphery is a little wonky and will likely take a couple patch cycles to sort out.
The story feels, at best, mediocre due mostly to its predictability and pacing issues that a present throughout most of the campaign missions. Now I’m willing to admit part of this is likely due to my campaign-first playstyle for these kinds of games (putting me at least than half of total completion by the end) however I’ve played several other games that have managed to get that right without relying on side missions to flesh things out. Combine that with the obvious plot twists and highly predictable emotional climaxes and you end up with a story that’s enough to drive you along but not enough to make you empathize with the characters. Indeed it’s one of the few aspects that doesn’t improve on Dead Island at all, a right shame considering that it was one of the more heavily criticised aspects.
Dying Light is a solid new IP for Techland, taking the essence of what made Dead Island great and translating that into a whole new game which stands well on its own. There’s a lot to love in Dying Light, from the parkour to the visceral combat to the crafting system that allows you to create weapons of untold destructive power. However much of the experience is marred in varying issues ranging from the fixable game play variety to the mediocre story which doesn’t add much overall. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing just maybe not by yourself, instead with a bunch of mates and a few beers to take the edge of the more frustating aspects.
Dying Light is available on PC, PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $71.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 15 hours played with 46% of the achievements unlocked.
Games aspire to be many things but rarely do they aspire to emulate another medium, especially a physical one. The burgeoning genre of cinematic style games and walking simulators have their visions set towards emulating the medium of film but past that the examples are few and far between. You can then imagine my intrigue when I first saw Tengami, a game that seeks to emulate a pop-up book, lavishly styled to look like it was set within feudal Japan. It’s an ambitious idea, one that could easily go south if implemented incorrectly, but I’m happy to report that the whole experience is quite exceptional especially when it comes to the sound design and music.
Tengami is probably the first game in a long time where I can’t sum up the opening plot in a single paragraph as whilst there’s some skerricks of story hidden within the short poems between scenes there’s really not a lot in them. As far as I can tell you’re searching for the blossoms to restore your cherry tree back to life although what your motivation for doing so isn’t exactly clear. Still the environments provide enough atmosphere and presence to give you a kind of motivation to move forward, if only to see more of the paper-laden world you’ve found yourself in.
The art style of Tengami really is its standout feature, done in pop-up book style using real paper textures that the devs scanned in. Initially it had a bit of a LittleBigPlanet feel to it, with the real world textures and 2D movement in a 3D world thing going, however it quickly moves away from that and firmly establishes its unique feel. All of the environments look and feel like they’re straight out of a pop up book, complete with the stretching and crumpling noises when you move various elements around. Tengami is simply a joy to look at and fiddle with, evoking that same sort of feeling you got when playing around with one as a kid.
Coming in at a very close second is the original soundtrack done for Tengami by David Wise. The music seems to swell and abate at just the right times and the score is just incredible. I’m more than willing to admit that my love of the soundtrack might stem from my interest in all things Japanese but looking around at other reviews shows that I’m not the only one who thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not sure if he was in charge of the foley as well since the soothing sounds of waterfalls, the ocean or just the breeze on quieter sections was just beautiful. If you’re playing Tengami on a mobile device I would wholeheartedly recommend you do so with a pair of headphones as otherwise you’d really be missing out.
With all that focus on the art and sound it would be somewhat forgivable if Tengami was a little light on in the mechanics department but thanks to its unique pop-up book style it’s actually quite an innovative little title. As you make your way through the world you’ll encounter parts which can be folded in and out of existence, between two planes or between different states. It’s like a pop-up book that’s able to exist in a higher dimension, able to shift elements in and out as it pleases. It’s quite intuitive and for the most part you’ll be able to quickly figure out what you need to do or, at least, stumble your way through by trying every option.
The puzzles are pretty straightforward, often only a couple slides or folds away from being completed. The challenge ramps up gradually as you progress through every scene and towards the end they actually start to become quite challenging. However the one fault here is that new mechanics aren’t introduced in a logical fashion and, if you’re like me and know a little Japanese, you can find yourself trying to solve a puzzle in completely the wrong way. The hint system (and the full official walkthrough) are enough to make sure that you won’t be stuck at these for too long but it’s still a mistake that a lot of these minimalist type games make.
The only drawback to Tengami’s incredible design and polish seems to be its length as the game is incredibly short, clocking in at just over an hour and a half for my playthrough. This is not to say that I would’ve preferred for them to cut corners on other things in order to extend the play time, far from it, more that the focus is on quality rather than quantity. For some this can be a turn off, especially when you consider the current asking price, but for me the price admission was well worth the short time I got to spend with it.
Tengami is a beautifully crafted experience, recreating that tactile feel of a pop-up book in a new medium and elevating it with impressive visuals and an incredible soundscape. It’s a short and succinct experience, choosing to not overstay its welcome in favour of providing a far more highly polished experience. As a game it’s quite simple, and suffers a little due to its minimalist practices, but overall it’s a great experience one I’m sure multitudes of players will enjoy.
Tengami is available on PC, iOS and WiiU right now for $9.99, $6.49 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 1.5 hours of total playtime and 100% of the achievements unlocked.
Far Cry releases have been like clockwork for the first 3 instalments, coming out every 4 years at roughly the same time. That made it something of an oddity in recent times as nearly every other game that had its level of success transitioned quickly to the yearly release model and most suffered for it. The most recent release of Far Cry however came just 2 years after its predecessor, signalling that either the developers had found a way to cut 2 years from their dev cycle (not likely) or the pressure to release more often had finally got to Ubisoft. Whilst I tend to think the latter is more possible (especially given Ubisofts penchant for frequent releases) Far Cry 4 doesn’t seem to have suffered much due to the shortened development cycle and even manages to improve on its predecessor considerably.
You play as Ajay Ghale, a native of the land of Kyrat (most likely Nepal) who has returned to his birth land to fulfill the last dying wish of his mother: to scatter her ashes in Lakshmana. This is not as easy as it sounds as Kyrat has been in the grip of a brutal civil war for decades, ruled over by a dictator who has crowned himself king of all things. Upon trying to sneak into Kyrat you’re stopped at a military checkpoint and it doesn’t take long before things start going south. Then, for some unknown reason, the dictator himself shows up and takes you away to his palace high in the mountains of Kyrat. It is there you find out why he is so interested in you and why it is you who must free Kyrat.
Even though Far Cry 4 shares an engine with its predecessor I have to say that the graphics do feel like a big step up. Part of this might be the difference in scenery which now contains numerous sweeping vistas rather than the dense jungles of Far Cry 3. My rig also struggled with the default settings (something which I don’t recall happening previously) which is partly due to its age but also speaks to the higher graphical fidelity that Far Cry 4 has. Some of the issues I experienced previously did come across again (like they extremely noticeable tearing) however they were solvable and so they didn’t impact my game experience too much. If anything Far Cry 4 highlighted the fact that the new PC I’ve been fantasizing over would be a worthy investment, especially if I could run a game as pretty as this on max settings.
Ubisoft appears to have settled on the formula for the Far Cry series with the vast majority of this instalments mechanics being taken directly from its predecessor. You’ll be running around a large map, taking over radio towers, liberating outposts and doing all sorts of odds and ends type missions that will get in your way when you’re trying to travel between two points. There’s dozens of weapons available at your disposal, some of which you will only be able to access after completing certain missions or objectives. The talent system makes a comeback with a slightly tweaked progression mechanism which makes it slightly more relevant than it was in Far Cry 3. There are also some notable quality of life improvements made that vastly improved my enjoyment of Far Cry 4, some of which I think should make their way into other open world games.
Combat feels roughly the same as its predecessor with the aiming down sights still not feeling as accurate as it should be but overall retaining a highly polished feel. Whilst stealth is always an option (more on that in a bit) you’ll often find yourself in the midst of an out and out gun fight, tearing your way through wave after wave of enemies before you can move forward. For the most part these encounters are laid out well, giving you various routes to victory. Some approaches are far better than others of course but it wasn’t often that I found myself without the requisite firepower to make it through a section. In-vehicle combat, whilst improved, still feels a little janky although I can see it being passable in a co-op scenario.
The stealth mechanics are, again, largely similar to Far Cry 3 with a meter filling up until you’re detected and all hell breaks loose. On first pass the stealth doesn’t work as expected as there are numerous times where you can’t see an enemy but they can easily see you. From what I can tell this is because leaves and bushes don’t block their line of sight, necessitating you to hide behind something more “solid” in order to block it. However once you’ve worked out the boundaries of their detection it becomes quite easy to pick off everyone in an outpost with the crossbow with the few heavies easily taken care of with a suppressed sniper rifle. Overall it felt like an improvement even if it did require me to adjust my playstyle a bit for it to be useful.
The talent system is the main way you’ll progress your character, spending your talent points on various skills and enhancements. The levels come fast enough that you usually won’t be waiting long to unlock that skill you want but at the same time none of the skills are exactly game breaking. The unlocking of additional skills being tied to campaign missions and side quests is a good way to encourage players to do things that they might not otherwise do and does provide a more organic approach to progression than Far Cry 3 did. The crafting system is pretty much identical to its predecessor, providing an ancillary progression system that’s still more of an also-ran than anything else.
However there are 2 standout features of Far Cry 4 that made my experience with it so much better: autodrive and the home base. I can’t tell you how tedious it is to have to drive everywhere in these open world games, especially ones like Far Cry where you’ll likely encounter have a dozen events along the way (most of which attempt to kill you). Autodrive allows you to just set it and forget it, taking a ton of tedium out of the game whilst still allowing it to retain that large open world feel. The customizable home base is a godsend once you upgrade it to have a helicopter there permanently, ensuring that you’ve always got the best means of transport at your disposal. These two things together were enough to see me come back far more often than I otherwise would have as they removed nearly all the tedium from the game.
The story however suffers from the almost trademark confused execution that plagues the Far Cry franchise. Whilst it thankfully retains a consistent antagonist throughout (unlike Far Cry 3 which lost all of its impact halfway through) it seems to be caught between not taking itself seriously and taking itself far too seriously to do the underlying story justice. I think the main problem is that your character isn’t given the requisite build up before he’s thrust into the action, unlike in Far Cry 3 where your initial escapades are fuelled by luck and naivety. It’s a shame because there are some really brilliant scenes dotted throughout the main story (the opium factory raid and the Shangri-La missions stand out with this) but there’s just that missing element that binds everything together into a cohesive whole.
Far Cry 4 is an evolutionary step forward for the franchise, improving on nearly all aspects of its predecessor which results in a far better title overall. The decreased development time between Far Cry 4 and its predecessor shows that Ubisoft has settled on a formula for the franchise one which, in my mind, seems to be working quite well for them. There are still some rough edges however, ones that I’m sure can be smoothed out with further polish, and hopefully the next instalment in the series can get the story right which would greatly elevate the franchises station within the open world genre. All that being said Far Cry 4 is still a solid game, even for people like me who typically aren’t fans of the genre.
Far Cry 4 is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79.95, $89.95, $99.95 $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total play time of 17 hours.
Whilst games have matured a lot as a medium in the last decade or so they’re still finding their feet when it comes to telling stories that deal with mature themes. Sure there are many great examples I can point to however the notion of interactivity drastically changes how certain aspects of story impact upon the player making it a lot harder to craft an experience in a certain way, especially if you want to include some form of player agency. The medium itself can even distract from your story with everything from glitches to bad animations or models breaking player immersion and ruining their experience. Unfortunately for 4PM, a story driven cinematic experience, this is exactly what has happened and any impact the story might have had is lost in the extremely sub-par execution.
You wake up in your apartment, head throbbing as the last tendrils of alcohol work their way unceremoniously out of your system. For Caroline it’s just another boring day in her life, one where she’ll repeat the same process of making a show at work before punishing her liver again after she clocks out. Unknown to her however this is the day when everything will break and she will be forced to make some tough choices in order to face what she’s been running away from for many years. Will you face these problems head on? Or will you continue the downward spiral into alcoholism, hoping your troubles will fade away.
4PM heavily touts its cinematic aspects in the marketing blurbs on Steam and from an aesthetic point it delivers on this somewhat. This is mostly achieved through the overuse of depth of field blurring which does a relatively effective job of hiding the decidedly below par visuals that make up the majority of the game. Most of the cut scenes do well with their camera work with some well framed shots and swooping cuts however anything done in the player perspective feels incredibly awkward. I’m hoping this was done deliberately to emulate the main character’s struggle with alcohol but even in scenes where they’re sober walking feels like you’re pushing a bag full of snakes with a broom. It’s all wiggly and not quite right.
The creator has billed 4PM as an interactive experience that’s “without the complexities and reflex based natures of classic games”. That almost places it in the same category as the walking simulators of new however 4PM doesn’t want you to explore, rather it wants you to go through the motions of the story whilst engaging in some routine game mechanics every so often. There’s a few places where you’re given a choice between two options however there’s really only 2 outcomes and the differences in dialogue are, to be blunt, minimal at best. The one thing 4PM has going for it is its extremely short playtime, clocking in at 45 minutes if you decide to play through all the alternate options.
Often in games you’ll find things in them that speak to the developer’s learning process, things that are in there because the developer created them as a proof of concept for something and it then made its way into the final product. 4PM feels like a collection of these things, a collection of developer experiences mashed together. Some of these are obvious, like the breakout game on the PC in the main character’s office, to other things like being able to rotate objects in front of the character’s face. This distinct lack of polish might be charming to some however it just gave me flashbacks to Velvet Sundown, not a game I think anyone wants to be compared to.
All of this is made worse when you actually get to see characters without the copious amounts of motion blur as they are, to be frank, horrendous. Your boss looks like a store mannequin brought to life, something which is only exacerbated by the jerky, stilted animations. It gets even worse when you’re talking to John in the penultimate scene as the canned animations he goes through seem to be highly incongruent to the words he is speaking. For a game that took up 3GB worth of space on my hard drive I was expecting a lot more but, unfortunately, it seems that’s just what happens when a game isn’t optimized at all.
I can see the potential in the story and indeed the final climatic scene almost managed to drag me in past all the crap the game had thrown at me to that point. However the way the final scene plays out is so highly confusing (both in player terms and that of the main character) that much of the impact is lost. Sure there are some hints as to what had happened if you hunt around in the opening scenes, but all you’re able to glean from that is that you’re a drunk and you’ve met this guy once before. It definitely feels like the length of the game is to blame for much of this as the story simply didn’t have the time it needed to develop to the point where the final reveal would have the kind of lasting impact it needed to overcome all of 4PM’s shortcomings.
4PM is a game that reaches far beyond its grasp, attempting to build an evocative story driven game but simply fails to deliver. It’s easy to see what the sole developer was attempting to achieve with this however there really isn’t any aspect I can point to which I could consider average. 4PM feels like a game that, given some more time and resources, could have been a real gem. Unfortunately the finished product is far from it and isn’t something I recommend to anyone.
4PM is available right now on PC for $4.99. Tota play time was 45 minutes.
My stance on game streaming services has been well known for some time now but for the uninitiated let me sum it up for you: I think they’re rubbish. The investment in capital required to get them to work well at scale seems incompatible with the number of potential users who’d want such a service and nearly all offerings in this space priced the games similarly to their full blooded, non-streamed cousins. Sony doesn’t share my view on this however having invested several hundred million dollars into buying game streaming service Gaikai and committing to providing a sort-of backwards compatibility service using that platform. Since I wasn’t entirely interested in the idea I hadn’t looked into it much further but at a tech level it’s quite interesting, even if I think the service won’t be the cash cow I’m sure Sony thinks it’ll be.
I’ve mentioned in the past that there weren’t too many ways for backwards compatibility to make it’s way onto current generation consoles even if some form of streaming service was going to be offered. I postulated around the potential ways of doing it, either by running a whole bunch of old consoles in a data center or developing an emulation framework, neither of which I felt was going to be particularly scalable due to my percieved lack of demand for the service. As it turns out Sony has gone with the former option for their streaming service, opting to run a bunch of PlayStation3s in the cloud and providing access to them through their new PlayStation Now service. However they’re not consoles as you’d recognise them, they’re in fact all new hardware.
Sony has developed a custom motherboard that contains on it 8 PlayStation3 chips allowing them to achieve a pretty incredible amount of density when compared to simply racking consumer units. Some back of the napkin calculations puts this at about 384 PlayStation 3s per rack, quite a decent number although I’m sure the cost of that hardware is going to be non-trivial. This custom solution does have its benefits though like them being able to throw in a new network interface and hardware video encoder, reducing the latency between the customer and their PlayStation3 in the cloud. This might not be enough to make the service feasible but it’ll do a lot to make the majority of games on their far more playable than they would be otherwise.
Right now the service offers up about 200 titles for individual rent or an all you can eat subscription that has a selection of 100 titles for $15 per month at the cheapest option. That’s a damn sight better than pretty much every other game streaming service I’ve seen before but it still suffers from the same restricted availability (only select US and Canada areas currently) issues which hamstrung other services. The one thing the service does have going for it though is the veritable cornucopia of devices that PlayStation Now can run on, including Sony’s recent range of TVs and even DVD players. That’s definitely an advantage that other competitors didn’t have since they all required another hardware purchase but I’m still not sure there’ll be enough demand even if the barrier to entry is low for Sony’s more loyal customers.
With the average cost of producing a PS3 apparently down around the $280 mark (which I’ll assume is relatively similar for the custom solution) it will take Sony around 18 months to recoup the costs invested in hardware based on the current subscription fees which doesn’t take into account the licensing arrangements for streaming. There’s potential for them to make up a bit more margin with the single rentals which appear to be quite a bit more pricey but it still seems like a long time for the investment to pay off. That being said with the life of consoles now getting dangerously close to 10 years there’s potential for it to work but I still think it’s a bit of a gamble on the part of Sony.
My gaming life started with a mouse and keyboard.
It was the late 80’s and I, still a youngster in the low single digit age range, was thrust in front of a PC and taught how to access the one thing I’d be interested in: the games. For the most part these games were solely keyboard based affairs but as time went on more and more mousey titles made their way into my gaming library. Whilst I did spend much of my pre-adolescent life playing numerous games on consoles once I was granted my very own PC it became my gaming platform of choice and has been for the better part of 2 decades. This has meant that playing games on a console/controller has become somewhat foreign to me, feeling clusmy and awkward. However after spending an inordinate amount of time with a particular console based title I’ve managed to become quite competent, so much so that playing the same game with a mouse and keyboard felt incredibly weird.
The game is, of course, Destiny which is a first person shooter. FPS titles, whilst not being the worst games for controllers (I’d probably go with RTS for that one), are one of the games I feel are much better played on a mouse and keyboard. This is mostly due to the quick and precise movements you can accomplish with a mouse and keyboard, something you really can’t achieve on a controller. Whilst my feelings on this matter haven’t changed much after spending 150+ hours in Destiny I have come to appreciate the skills required to use a controller effectively and, more importantly, the design requirements for making a FPS title work well on a controller.
The fundamental difference between a controller based FPS and a mouse and keyboard one (apart from the obvious) stems from the difference in muscles required to perform the same functions. When you’re using a mouse and keyboard many of the motions are completed using your wrist and rest of your arm. By comparison the controller uses your thumbs, a drastically different set of muscles that share almost no function between the two platforms. This is why jumping between your preferred platform and the other feels so clumsy, you’ve lost all the muscle memory you’ve built up and have to redevelop all those habits all over again. Suffice to say the span of most games doesn’t give you enough time to accomplish this and I only found myself becoming competent after 40 hours or so of dedicated practice.
There are compensations made for the platform however, most notably in the form of the subtle (or sometimes not-so) auto-aim which attempts to smooth over the imprecision and slow response times of the analog thumbsticks. Over time you get to know when it will kick in and how to use it to maximum effect but it’s definitely one of the harder aspects to get used to if you’re transitioning from a mouse and keyboard. Each game implements their own version of this differently as well which can make developing proper muscle memory difficult if you’re playing a number of games. There are others of course (like deadzones and turn rates) which factor into it as well which, as I found out, can actually preclude a title from working well with a mouse and keyboard.
I know this because I bought myself a CronusMAX adapter which allows me to use my PC mouse and keyboard as an input to my PlayStation4. Since I have a capture card in my PC this allowed me to play Destiny like any other PC game, albeit with some noticeable ghosting in high action scenes, but it’s very playable. This was well after I had managed to become somewhat decent with the controller however and I quickly realised that attempting to transition to the mouse and keyboard at this point was likely a lost cause. I had simply gotten used to playing it a particular way and no matter how hard I tried to get the mappings and sensitivities just right I simply couldn’t do so. Once another console FPS comes out that, for some reason, doesn’t see a PC release I might give it a go again but for now I’m far more comfortable playing Destiny with a controller than I am with a mouse and keyboard.
It’s been interesting to see how my skills on the controller have developed over the past couple months as it was honestly something I’d never overcome and necessitated the purchase of the CronusMAX to alleviate it. The awkwardness I felt using my mouse and keyboard then was incredibly surprising and was what spurred me to continue plugging away with the controller in the hopes of getting better. Since then I’ve been able to compete quite well in all aspects of Destiny, even some of those which I thought were just going to be beyond me (read: PVP). So whilst I haven’t become a full convert to the controller world I do see where it fits into the grand scheme of things and appreciate it when it’s done well.