I’m not one to talk about my most anticipated games but long time readers will know that I’ve been hanging out for The Witness. Braid was one of the most amazing titles of its time, demonstrating that it was possible for an independent developer to make a game that would delight and enthral thousands of people the world over. So when I heard he was working on another title of his own making, his magnum opus that would consume his entire Braid fortune, I was sold instantly. The screenshots and tentative pieces of game play only drew me in further and made me excited for its release early on the PlayStation4. However that day came and went but here we are, 2 years later, and I’ve spent the last week playing through it. Whilst it may not evoke the same level of feelings in me that Braid did it’s hard not to respect the craftsmanship of The Witness, a true masterpiece from one of the leaders of the indie game developer community.
The Witness starts without a lick of dialogue or even a starting screen. Instead you’re placed in a long corridor, a bright light at one end beckoning you to come forward. What you find when you open that door is a bright and vibrant world, one that seems to be locked behind a series of line drawing puzzles. These puzzles strictly adhere to the idea of “show, don’t tell”, guiding you through their mechanics slowly so you can feel your way around them. What happens in this world is up to you however as you are given no direction, no purpose and, above all, no restrictions bar the puzzles in front of you.
Visually The Witness feels like a cross between the cartoonish stylings of games like Team Fortress 2 and the low-poly look that’s quite trendy among the indie scene currently. The resulting visual landscapes feel like something out of a dream, lovely and beautiful to look upon but strangely devoid of detail when you get up close. The wide and varied landscape of the island means that you won’t be wanting for lack of visual variety as there’s everything from a wide desert to a swap to a snow capped mountain top for you to explore. Of course this simplicity belies the breadth and depth of the game world, something which I feel will only be fully revealed to players who invest dozens of hours into this game.
Mechanically The Witness is easy to explain at a high level although as the mechanics pile on things start to get extremely complicated. Essentially the base puzzle is drawing a line from one end to another, simple right? Well how about having to solve a maze whilst going through certain points? Or possibly having to separate different coloured blocks into 2 sections that don’t overlap? Those are just some of the simpler mechanics and, as you progress, you’ll begin to find that the puzzles cross-pollinate with each other. So a solution you’ve learnt in one puzzle might be needed to figure out another or, and this is where it gets really tricky, you’ll need to figure out how both of those mechanics combine in order to solve it.
In the beginning this process of mechanic discovery is incredibly rewarding. Each of the puzzle sets has its own language, a way of expressing to you the player what you need to do in order to solve it. For all of the mechanics these are shown in a tutorial like puzzle which demonstrates it in the most simple way possible and then progressively introduces new variables which give you the bounds of how it works. I can clearly remember after stepping out of the first area finding what looked like a secret path that was blocked by a puzzle that, on first look, was completely impossible. However after finding a tutorial near by it became clear what I needed to do and I was able to unlock my first secret, something which I had literally no idea what to do with. Still knowing that I had uncovered something that would be used later was pretty cool and kept me playing for a while longer.
Probably the most inspired part about The Witness, and this is mildly spoilery (skip to the next one if that bugs you), is that the very world you live in is actually a puzzle. I was fooling around in the desert puzzle area when I noticed that, from a particular angle, parts of the scenery looked like one of the puzzles I could solve. Sure enough by clicking on it I was greeted with an actual, solvable puzzle, one that has the most satisfying noise when you first discover it. Knowing this is both a blessing and a curse however as from then on you will be forever questioning what is part of a puzzle and what isn’t. Of course that adds yet another layer of complexity onto an already complex game and this, unfortunately, is where the wheels started to fall off the experience for me.
After I spent a good hour or so on solving the desert puzzle I was keen to dig into a new challenge, one that would engage a different part of my brain. Sure enough I found it however after a while I started stumbling across a symbol I hadn’t seen before and couldn’t figure out how it worked. So, of course, I went searching for other puzzles but it would often come to a point where I’d find yet another mechanic which I wasn’t familiar with. Now I’m the kind of player that hates leaving things unfinished and having to trudge around the whole island to find the right mechanics didn’t really enthuse me. So I did what anyone would do in that situation, I looked the mechanic up on the Internet.
While I’m sure that’s tantamount to heresy for The Witness purists the fact of the matter was that, after spending 8 hours stumbling around solving puzzles I was still coming across new mechanics and, frankly, I was getting bored. Whilst the mechanics are novel and inspired the fact of the matter is that it always boils down to getting a line from one side to the other. So sure, there’s different things to think about, but you’ll be staring at the same grid again and again for hours on end. It was at this point I felt I just wanted to see the ending and hopefully dredge up some semblance of a story out of the game that had barely uttered more than a handful of paragraphs at me.
However if there’s story in The Witness it’s buried so deep in all the secrets, recordings and imagery that you’re really going to have to enjoy exploration and puzzles to find it. After playing The Talos Principle I was incredibly excited for the prospect of a deep narrative in The Witness, one that would pull me along through the puzzles. What I found instead were quotes and snippets from famous scientists and, if the people I’ve been reading on Reddit are to be believed, a strung out metaphor about the development of The Witness game itself. Honestly this was my biggest disappointment with The Witness as Braid managed to do so much more with less. Perhaps someone will post a synopsis that changes my mind someday but after 10 hours of searching I’m still left wanting.
The Witness is an absolutely beautifully crafted game, both from an aesthetic point of view and the novel craftsmanship of its puzzles. It’s amazing to see how such a simple idea, drawing a line from one point to another, can be given such mechanical complexity. Taking that one step further and including the very world itself as part of the mechanics is an inspired achievement, one that blew me away when I finally figured it out. However the repetitive nature of the puzzles, coupled with the lack of narrative to drive you forward through those puzzles, makes it hard to keep coming back after a while. The Witness is most certainly a testament to Jonathan Blow’s dedication to perfection in all things he sets out to create however it falls short of acquiring the “must play” status that his seminal title did. Overall I believe The Witness is certainly worth playing, just maybe not to its ultimate conclusion.
The Witness is available on PC and PlayStation4 right now for $29.99 on both platforms. Game was played on the PC with 10 hours of total play time and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
Games have been rapidly maturing as a medium, going from a distraction that was only for kids to the canvas upon which many artists now create their wares. As the medium has matured it has taken on the attributes of the others that preceded it, meaning games have been used for things beyond simple entertainment. More recently I’ve begun to see more games that are a kind of therapy, not for the user but for the game developer themselves. That Dragon, Cancer (the first title from Numinous Games) is a deeply personal journey for the developer, one that surely resonates for many, represented in a game that deals with many issues that come from battling this terrible disease.
That Dragon, Cancer follows the true story of Joel Green who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when he was only one year old. You’ll take on many forms throughout the journey although primarily you’ll be put in the shoes of Ryan Green, the father. Throughout the 2 hour journey you’ll walk alongside the Green family as they deal with the incredibly difficult and trying experience that is childhood cancer. What you make of the story will be as personal as the story itself as I’ve yet to read an impression that was identical to any other.
Visually That Dragon, Cancer is striking with its low poly art coupled with bright pastel colours and lighting. The minimal aesthetic is purposefully designed to have you focusing on the key elements that are on screen at any particular time (like the chemo bag in the screenshot below). Whilst it’s not exactly an unique style it is well executed, running flawlessly on even mediocre hardware. Things do seem to come unstuck a bit when the 2D and 3D elements are mixed together however I get the feeling that’s part of the developer’s intentions.
Mechanically That Dragon, Cancer feels like an exploration with the game ebbing and weaving through various different styles of games over its short duration. Each of them has been crafted for a particular part of the narrative and for the most part they fit, however their implementation can be somewhat lacking in parts. Since this is a narrative first game however that doesn’t matter too much as they’re not designed to be blockers to progressing the story. Overall the mechanics were an ample backdrop to the main story of the game which is really the only reason you’d be playing this in the first place.
As to the story I’m in two minds. So often I was caught up in Joel’s tale, his stories echoing with my own experiences with my dad who’s currently battling cancer. However after a while the muddled progression of the story lost me, making me wonder just what exactly was going on. That coupled with the fact that I’m not exactly the religious type meant that the latter parts of the story, which are very faith heavy, meant that it began to grate on me heavily. However as a chronicle of Joel’s and the Green family’s life it is more than apt.
That Dragon, Cancer is an extremely personal journey of one family’s battle against cancer and the challenges that it brings. As a game it is simple, favouring minimal looks and mechanics over anything else that might distract from the story. It most certainly achieves its vision of being a memorial to Joel’s life, capturing his personality and the effect he had the people he interacted with. The telling of that story though can be somewhat muddled and, if you’re not the praying type, may rub you the wrong way towards the end. Still if you or someone you know is facing the same challenges as this game describes then it’s definitely worth playing, if just to know that you’re not alone in your struggles
That Dragon, Cancer is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 2 hours.
I always have a slight feeling of cognitive dissonance when it comes to narratives that are player controlled. On the one hand I love that it allows me to imprint myself upon the character, crafting them into the person I want them to be in the game’s world. On the other hand however I sometimes feel like doing that runs contrary to what the true nature of the character might be, especially when I’m operating on imperfect information about said character. Oxenfree, the first title from Night School Studios (who count former Telltale Games and Disney staff among them), falls somewhere in the middle but still provides a great player driven narrative experience.
Oxenfree puts you in control of Alex, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood who’s heading out to an end of year rager with a bunch of her friends. Among them are your best friend Ren, his current crush Nona, a girl who used to date your brother Clarissa and your newly minted step-brother Jonas. The night starts off normal enough with everyone engaging in a rousing game of “Truth or Slap” however things start to quickly come unraveled as Ren beguiles you into investigating some of the island’s more paranormal features. From then on the night changes from being one of drunken revelry into a fight against a paranormal force.
The visual style of Oxenfree harks back to a time of pre-rendered backgrounds with simple 3D visuals layered on top of them. The backgrounds have a kind of textured paper look about them, as if they’re part of an arts project. The character models are quite simplistic, obviously done in that way to blend in more seamlessly with the backgrounds. However unlike the games which this art style pays homage to Oxenfree makes heavy use of lighting and visual effects, both in terms of aesthetics as well as forming part of the plot mechanics. Overall, from a visual perspective, Oxenfree is very well crafted and is done in a way that amplifies the story rather than distracting from it.
In terms of gameplay Oxenfree is primarily focused on the narrative and the dialogue choices you make as a player. You’re usually given 3 different options when responding, each of which can direct the story in a certain way. The main puzzle mechanic comes in the form of a radio which you tune to different stations, either to listen in for clues or to resonate with objects which will cause something to happen. There’s also some other puzzles which range in the form of simple to nigh on impossible although thankfully the latter, even if failed completely, will not stop you from progressing the narrative.
Oxenfree gets credit for keeping the story linear in nature whilst giving you the freedom to explore should you choose to do so. Too often I’ve played similarly styled games which lock core story elements behind inordinate numbers of puzzles, detracting from the narrative. The puzzle mechanics might be simple but they’re enough to keep you engaged through the times when there’s less dialogue about. One criticism I will level at them however is the “improved” radio which just doubles the number of frequencies you have to cycle through. Honestly that just adds tedium as you have to scroll through far more things in order to find the right frequency.
Oxenfree’s narrative deals with a lot of heavy subjects and does so through the lens of a teenage coming of age story. The paranormal aspects, whilst being downright scary in their own way, are used more as a mechanic to explore these issues rather than just being a license to do whacky things. You, as Alex, have quite a lot of control over how the story develops and this can radically change how you feel about the characters and, most interestingly, how they feel about each other. I really can’t say much more without wading into spoiler territory but suffice to say that Oxenfree delivers a solid narrative that deals well with issues that the video game medium is still coming to grips with.
Oxenfree is a powerful narrative driven game, one that shows how simplicity in all things but story can still add up to a great experience. The visual style pays homage to simpler times where pre-rendered backgrounds were a tool to get around the limitations of thte day. The mechanics are simple and do their best to get out of the way of the story. The story is what makes Oxenfree worth playing, both from the core story aspect as well as the level of control that the player is given over shaping it. For those who love a good story, or just a decent thriller, then Oxenfree is definitely worth a play through.
Oxenfree is available on PC and XboxOne right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with around 3 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
Reaction based games have never really been my strong suit. Ever since the brutality that is the Battletoads bike level I think I’ve been left scarred, the flashbacks of the nigh impossible stretch haunting my thoughts whenever I face a similar challenge. There is something to be said for those kinds of challenges though as, given enough tries, you will eventually succeed. However there are other reaction based games which have no such safety net, forcing you to develop strategies to cope with the unknowable path that lies before you. Linea is an example of these kinds of games, one where a random set of obstacles must be overcome in order for you to be victorious.
The idea behind Linea is simple: avoid all the obstacles for 60 seconds. This is, of course, much harder than it sounds as whilst the objects you need to avoid a telegraphed before they’ll reach you it’s not like you have forever to make up your mind. Hesitate, or make a wrong move that you try to correct, and you’ll likely collide with something, sending you all the way back to the start. However once you start again the pattern of objects will change which means there’s no amount of memorization that will help you succeed. Instead you have to learn to understand the visual cues being given to you and, critically, translate them into the right kind of movement.
This is where Linea’s minimalistic aesthetic is both a blessing and a curse. Whilst there’s little extraneous stuff to distract you there’s just enough to trigger you to react in the wrong ways. The level below, for instance, has obstacles that you will avoid automatically if you do nothing. However should you only look at the top or bottom half of them chances are you’ll think you need to do something to avoid them and, unfortunately, hit them. Whilst there are some repeating patterns within the randomness (or that could just be me noticing patterns in RNG, I’m not 100% sure) you’ll need to hone your reflexes in order to beat Linea, something which I simply haven’t had the patience for over the past week.
Although this doesn’t count either way in terms of my review one thing I did think would be cool would be to code an AI to play the game for me. The games simplicity lends itself well to a first time project and would cover all the basics of visual processing, input management and look-ahead algorithms. This could also just be me thinking it’d be easier for me to code something than to actually, you know, beat the game myself but it’s one of the few games in a long time where I thought that would be an interesting thing to do. (For the record the last one I can remember wanting to do that for was Super Meat Boy).
Linea is a challenging reaction based game that’s sure to delight fans of the genre. The core game is fast paced with minimal downtime, ensuring that you’re not doing much else but bashing your head against the game’s primary challenge. The minimal visual aesthetic is great to look at but also a punishing part of the core game, making it that much more difficult to visually distinguish everything on screen. Whilst it might not be my usual cup of tea I was surprised I played it for as long as I did, especially when I started craving after a few achievements.
Linea is available on PC right now for $1.99. Total play time was 1 hour with 62% of the achievements unlocked.
Ah the post christmas drought, where everyone is still reeling from the barrage of AAA titles that were released just in time for the holiday season and nothing else is scheduled to come out for weeks. Often this is the time where I catch up on titles from the previous year that slipped my grasp but this time around I managed to do much of that over the christmas break. So I wandered the Steam Winter sale (something which is incredibly disappointing when half of the titles are already in your library) and came across Hocus, a curious little game whose puzzles take inspiration from the mind bending drawings of M.C. Escher.
The principle of the game is simple, you have a red cube and you need to get it into the little red ditch. Of course it’s not as simple as clicking on it however as the path to get to the goal isn’t as straightforward as it might look. Instead you’ll have to figure out which pieces cross where, how your perspective is being twisted and which parts of the impossible drawing are real. It’s a mind bending exercise in throwing away your preconceived ideas of geometry and figuring out just how all the bits and pieces actually fit together, something that can be a quite complex challenge once you’re in the thick of it.
Whilst Hocus most certainly started out as a mobile game I really have to commend the amount of work the developer put into the steam version of their title. The game has been fully reworked to make use of the PC platform rather than just being a straight port dump like so many others are. This goes hand in hand with the beautiful minimalistic stylings, both in terms of the game itself and the background music. This just seems to be the start for Hocus too as the developer has promised to deliver a level editor in the not too distant future.
In terms of actual game play Hocus is most certainly a satisfying challenge, providing you with numerous puzzles to try your wits against. The difficulty curve isn’t entirely linear though as some puzzles, even though they look complex on first glance, are by far the easiest. Indeed it was the seemingly simple puzzles which presented me with the most grief, probably because they really only had one true solution. Hocus’ puzzle design also fits the mobile platform better than the PC, due to the fact that it starts to feel a bit repetitive after a longer session.
Hocus is a great puzzler, one that benefits greatly from the developer’s commitment to the game and the community that has cropped up around it. The minimalistic stylings are a perfect fit for this kind of game, focusing you directly on the challenge at hand. The puzzles themselves are no trifle either and are sure to provide a challenge for even the most non-linear thinkers among us. If you’re looking for another time killer for your phone or just enjoy a good non-Euclidean styled puzzler then Hocus is definitely a title you should check out.
Hocus is available on iOS and PC right now for $0.99 and $1.99 respectively. Total play time was approximately 1 hour.
It’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan, as this writer is. Whilst the IP has never really been left alone it’s seen new life breathed into it with the latest movie and the hubbub that has surrounded it. Released just before the movies the revived Star Wars Battlefront game had promised to bring the big screen action to your home PC or console, putting you on the ground in some of the key battles that defined the franchise. However the controversy surrounding the game’s release has been strong with many long time fans (and the game’s original incarnation) simply straight up boycotting the game. I’ve finally managed to get some time with the title and, in all honesty, I can’t disagree with many of the issues that have been raised, some of which are made even worse by some horrendous design choices.
Battlefront takes place on the various iconic sets that defined the Star Wars triologies. You’ll be down on the ground during the battle of Hoth, fending off imperial AT-AT walkers from the base’s power supplies. Next you’ll find yourself on the forest moon of endor, dodging and weaving through the trees to do battle with the opposing force. There’s even numerous maps on the new desert planet of Jakku where the ruins of an imperial fleet play host to numerous skirmishes and large 40 v 40 battles. There are a few single player challenges for you to try your hand at but they mostly function as a way to introduce you to some of the mechanics and to give you credits to spend on in-game unlocks. Suffice to say in terms of settings EA got a lot right, focusing on the things that fans of both the franchise and the original game wanted to see.
Battlefront stands out as the pinnacle of graphics in 2015 with the expansive environments filled with incredible amounts of detail having no rival. This should come as no surprise given its pedigree with the developer, DICE, being responsible for previous graphical marvels in the Battlefield franchise. This no doubt helps with the larger than life feeling that the game strives to create as no environment feels more alive than the ones that DICE created for this version of Battlefront. Of course if you’re wanting to see this game at its peak you’ll need to pay admission price, something which even my recently upgraded rig struggled to achieve at some points.
Mechanically Battlefront is your typical multi-player shooter set in the Star Wars universe and many of the mechanics take their inspiration from it. There’s a variety of weapons at your disposal, the choice of which largely determine by your play style. The star card system, which allows you to pick 3 different power ups, allows you to customize your character further. The unlock system feels like the original Black Ops online mode with credits being awarded at the end of each match which you can spend to unlock gear (most of which requires a certain rank to attain). There are handful of different game modes most of which will be instantly familiar with a number of them that make use of Battlefront’s more unique mechanics like the hero powerups. Suffice to say Battlefront has all the trappings of a decent multiplayer only shooter however that’s only half the battle and, unfortunately, it’s that other half which it loses hard.
The FPS combat mechanics are a little odd, tending more towards the current console shooter trends more than its PC roots would have you believe. There’s a 3rd person mode which strangely imposes no penalties (which means you should be using it, no question) and the ADS system doesn’t provide an accuracy bonus. As someone who’s played far too many hours of Call of Duty recently this took a little getting used to but it’s serviceable once you get settled. Battlefront, like the Battlefield games before it, is one that rewards players with more powerful weapons and powerups the longer you play. This means that you’ll often come up against opponents that have far better gear than you. Whilst skill can overcome that gap in most situations it does mean for latecomers like myself you feel at a significant disadvantage for a decent period of time. This is somewhat made up for by the relatively fast levelling system, however that’d only work if the matchmaking of Battlefront wasn’t so horribly broken.
Among the various questionable choices made (I won’t touch the DLC debacle, that’s already been done to death) Battlefront’s matchmaking does away with dedicated servers in favour of its own matchmaking service. On PC though this system simply doesn’t work 90% of the time, failing to find games or putting you in an empty lobby which never gets past half full. It’s not limited to the big game modes either as every time I’ve opened up Battlefront I’ve tried every single mode at least once to see if I can find a game. Should Battlefront have the option to queue for a full game (like its Battlefield predecessors did) this wouldn’t be an issue but alas there isn’t one. Worst still is the fact that the teams aren’t balanced or randomized after every game, meaning that should one team completely destroy the other that will likely continue indefinitely. Sure you can try and leave and rejoin, but you’ll likely get stuck trying to find another game for 30+ minutes again.
It’s a real shame because it’s these kinds of frustrations that up and kill most of my motivation to play Battlefront. The game itself is a great bit of fun, even if it’s not balanced well like other shooters are, but when it’s locked behind so much waiting I find myself drifting back to my old haunts. Sure some of these problems are due to the relatively small PC player base (some 10% of the XboxOne or PlayStation4) but even 10,000 players should be enough to ensure near instant queues for games. Unfortunately it seems like a solution to this problem won’t be forthcoming any time soon and will likely be hidden behind the dreaded season pass paywall.
Battlefront has all the makings of a great Star Wars game, one that faithfully pays homage to the original IP, but unfortunately falls short of attaining it. The graphics are simply marvellous, easily the best of any game that was released in 2015. The game play, whilst feeling a little unpolished when compared to other similar titles, does have a certain charm to it even when you’re facing off against foes who are far beyond your own level. The matchmaking brings the whole show down, ensuring that half your play time will be spent waiting for a game which will inevitably end up being an unbalanced horror show, either in or your favour or against. Whilst I’ll likely return for a bash every so often I can’t see myself forking over the extra cash for the privilege of doing so, at least not until EA and DICE get off their collective asses to fix it.
Star Wars Battlefront is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with approximately 8 hours of total play time.
Even with my 1 per week review schedule there are still some games that manage to slip by. My little notepad with games I’ve flagged to review lists no less than 30 titles which I didn’t manage to get to in their year of release, some of them which received wide critical praise. Every so often though I get a chance to go back through that list and pick one lucky title to play through. On a whim I installed The Talos Principle before a recent trip down to the coast, figuring I might have a couple hours spare to see what everyone was talking about. Now, 18 hours of solid game time later, I’m incredibly glad I did as The Talos Principle really isn’t the kind of game you’d expect from the same development team behind the mindless shooter Serious Sam.
You awake to find yourself in what looks like a courtyard of a ruined castle. A disembodied voice booms, announcing itself as ELOHIM: your creator, protector and guide through this world. Should you do your tasks diligently, he says, you will be granted eternal life alongside him. The trials he has set out before you are curious ones and the various terminals dotted around the landscape contain data that seem to speak of a world beyond this one. ELOHIM only has one restriction which he has placed upon you: the grey tower that extends into the sky must not be climbed. Will you be his diligent servant and attain eternal life? Or will you defy your god and seek out what truth lies atop the tower?
The Talos Principle certainly has a nice aesthetic to it, even if the environments are somewhat barren of detail upon closer inspection. The various worlds you’ll be solving puzzles in are certainly something of a contrast to the mechanics that reside in them. The worlds often being somewhat decayed, like they’d been there for centuries, whilst the puzzle mechanics are things straight up sci-fi. You’ll probably be spending the better part of 3~4 hours in each section (more if you’re going for stars) and so they do start to feel a touch monotonous after a little while. However you don’t need to 100% complete a section to get to the next one so you can always mix it up a bit if you’re seeking more variety.
From a raw mechanics perspective The Talos Principle is a puzzler, requiring you to collect various “sigils” which are trapped behind gates or located somewhere inaccessible until the puzzle is solved. In the beginning you only have one tool at your disposal however each section comes with additional mechanics to ramp up the challenge. The Talos Principle is also not hard and fast when it comes to solutions either, allowing you to make use of some emergent game play in order to solve a puzzle in unintended ways. Many of the mechanics that you’ll learn early on, like the fact that 2 jammers can be taken pretty much anywhere, will come into play again and again. How you learn these tricks though can be an exercise in frustration as they seem incredibly obvious once you’ve figured them out.
However the “game” part of the Talos Principle is really just a medium for the much larger part of the game: it’s story. Whilst I won’t dive into details yet (I’ll save that for the spoiler section below) suffice to say that the game’s expertly crafted story, which is woven into nearly all aspects of the game, is what will keep driving you forward. Indeed if The Talos Principle was just the mechanics described above it’d be another puzzler in the vast sea of that genre however it’s the story which elevates it far beyond that. There are few games in which I’ve worked so hard in order to unlock all the endings and apart from one of them I’m very glad I did.
The puzzles are mostly rewarding exercises in figuring out how to exploit all the mechanics you have at your disposal in order to open the requisite gates. The beginning puzzles for each new mechanic start off easy so you can get a feel for them without a mountain of frustration. However they quickly ramp up to the point where you have to constantly question your approach to solving them. So many times I would be attempting to solve the puzzle in the way I thought it should be solved before realising that was what was stopping me from solving it. The Talos Principle is also probably one of the most devious and deceptive games I’ve ever played in that respect, playing upon the player’s assumptions in order to make the puzzles far more challenging than they really are.
That’s probably one of the most genius aspects of The Talos Principle as just as you think you’ve got them figured out they’ll throw another curve ball at you. When you figure out some puzzles actually involve other puzzles it feels revelatory, until you realise that knowing that can send you down so many wrong paths it’s not funny. Indeed you can never quite know when knowledge granted to you is going to be a blessing or a curse. Considering the game’s underlying philosophical theme, which forces you to question the very reality you find yourself in, that seems quite fitting. Even if I sometimes cursed them for leading me astray.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW
I liked that, early on, you’re given a pretty good sense of what the world is and what led to its creation. Of course the nuances of the world are much harder to figure out like who ELOHIM is, who that mystery voice is in the terminals and just why exactly you’ve come to be in this world. Discovering all those facts, intertwined with various bits of philosophy and legend, give you clues towards what the ultimate truth is. For me the puzzles were simply a means to the end, hoping to find the next tidbit of information that could lead me to a better understanding of the world I now found myself in. The philosophy parts felt like a bit of a cheap shot sometimes, the voice in the terminals needling you on any inconsistency (although doing the same to it was incredibly satisfying), but it does make for some good thought provoking discussion. Still since this is a video game there is obviously one “correct” answer when, in reality, that very concept is something that should be up for debate too.
Of the three different endings my favourite was by far the transcendence one as that feels like the fulfilment of your original purpose which now leaves you to define your own. The first and easiest ending definitely felt unsatisfactory, at least from the point of view of an outside observer. I have to admit I judged the gray sigil ending incorrectly, figuring it would have you taking over as ELOHIM, but knowing what I know now becoming one of his messengers seems like the a fate that no one should choose. Perhaps this is something that’s explored in a bit more depth in the story DLC, something which I unfortunately haven’t had the time to play. Still overall The Talos Principle does an exceptional job in telling its story, even if 2 of the endings felt a little lacklustre.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
The Talos Principle is an absolute gem of a game, expertly weaving a deep and enthralling story into a mechanically complex and rewarding puzzler. The core game is a great example of a physics based puzzler, taking inspiration from many similar titles but creating its own unique experience. Behind this though is a story which has you questioning nearly all aspects of existence, from what it means to be a person through to whether or not you can really empirically prove anything. For a game which I had only thought would get a few hours of my time The Talos Principle did an amazing job of sucking me in and ensuring I could not leave until I had completed its every challenge. For that I commend it and sincerly regret not getting to it sooner.
The Talos Principle is available on PC right now for $9.99 ($49.99 usually). Total play time was 18 hours with 68% of the achievements unlocked.
Most single player games are played either for relaxation, escapism or a combination of both. However there are some that feel more like running a marathon, igniting your mental faculties in such a way as to leave you exhausted by the end of it. StarCraft and other RTS are like this, requiring concentration far beyond that of any other genre I’ve played. Anno 2205 requires a similar level of concentration however, instead of RAW APM and macro, it instead requires you to constantly recalculate the finite balance of the numerous resources you have to manage. One wrong move can send you on a downward spiral that can be hard to pull out of, or send you on your trajectory to corporate supremacy.
Anno 2205 predictably takes place in the future, some 135 years after the previous instalment in the series. In this future the Earth has become starved for energy and other precious resources and thus has turned towards the Moon in order to save it. You are the head of a fledgling new corporation who has been accepted into the Lunar Licensing program which aims to free Earth from its current energy bonds. Your goal is to establish a fusion reactor on the moon and transmit that energy back to Earth, no small goal for a company that just established its first warehouse. Along the way you’ll have to establish global trade routes, fight off those who would thwart you and ensure that your company remains financially viable so you can continue expanding your empire.
The graphics of Anno 2205 are a marked step up from its predecessor with a whole new engine powering a complete overhaul of the graphics and UI. Gone is the semi-dreamlike aesthetic which has been replaced by a crisp, detailed world. The typical Anno stylings are still present however so if you’ve played any of the preceding titles it will still feel familiar. These upgraded visuals do come at a cost however as even my machine would start to sputter and spurt whenever I hovered over a particularly dense part of the world. Still it rarely became unplayable but for those who might be on lower end hardware long games are certainly going to be a struggle.
Anno 2205 retains the same RTS/city building hybrid game play that its predecessors had however many changes have been made in the name of streamlining the experience. Instead of managing trade routes within a single map everything is shared instantly. You still have trade routes to manage however they’re at a more macro level between areas. Anno 2205 also guides you through the various trials and tribulations that it will throw at you, telling you what critical shortages are impacting you and when you should investigate something. There’s also some new mechanics included to make sure that you don’t find yourself in an unrecoverable situation, however it’s still up to you to get yourself out of it. The combat has also been relegated to its own separate encounter, meaning you don’t have to manage your military and trade all in the one spot. Other than that however Anno 2205 plays out much like its predecessors did, requiring you to make sure you have enough of everything so your employees stay happy so you can remain profitable.
Like most similar games Anno 2205 feels extremely overwhelming on first play as there is just so much you need to learn and understand. Thankfully though the tutorial is great at stepping you through the various goals you need to meet in order to reach the next objective. You are, of course, free to ignore that completely and pursue your own objectives independently however Anno’s rather linear progression means that you’d be wise to follow its instruction. After a while you start to get a feel for the impact that your actions have on your world and that allows you to start building out a plan of attack for progression towards the next goal.
For instance your advanced resource colonies (Arctic and Lunar) are almost always going to be loss-leaders. I tried extremely hard to make them profitable however they just never seemed to get into positive territory. The main tropical ones however can have you rolling in cash in no short order, meaning you should focus on building them out as much as you can whilst only building the minimal components in the others in order to support them. Then, once your cash reserves are high enough, you can look towards building them out a bit more in order to support the next goal or tech tier which will then allow your main colony to thrive further. Attempting anything else seemed to lead to me running into negative cashflow territory quickly, something which torpedoes any kind of growth you were experiencing.
Thankfully when that happens the game, at least on its default settings, is generous with the bailouts it gives and the conditions that are imposed on you when they’re given. This means that, should you find yourself in a dire situation, you’ll get lump sumps of cash from the Lunar Licensing program in order to continue your work. Gone are the days when a downward spiral in Anno meant you’d be restarting your game, something I was thankful for given I flirted with bankruptcy more than once. Past a certain point though credits no longer matter and it all comes down to the resources you can generate.
In the beginning this all comes from simply building as many things as you can, however that will quickly have you running out of credits and space. After that point you’ll need to engage in combat missions in order to get upgrade materials to make your resource generation more efficient. These missions are essentially micro exercises, pitting your combat fleet against a torrent of enemies and objectives. They’re not especially difficult although they do have a gear check requirement for the higher levels which can’t really be overcome with skill alone. Still whenever I found myself wanting for resources it didn’t take long to get them, something I was thankful for given the rather huge time sink requirement games like Anno have. Removing this aspect from the core game is a welcome change too as it always felt far too fiddly having to manage all those aspects together all in the same map in previous instalments.
Indeed whilst many Anno purists where crying foul over the streamlining I feel like it was the best thing about 2205. 2070 always had far too much going on with so many variables to track in order to make sure that everything was working as intended. 2205 by contrast keeps you informed of what’s going on without being too heavy on the information side and shows you exactly where the deficiencies are coming from so you can address them directly. Sure it might be a simpler game, one that’s not so mechanically complex, but there is such a thing as too much complexity and that’s definitely how I felt with 2070.
Anno 2205 is a great evolution of the series, bringing with it streamlined gameplay and updated visuals that really ramps up the Anno experience. The core game remains largely the same, with the resource balancing act still being the key to everything, however it’s a lot less mentally exhausting. The various other aspects have been carved up into their own little sections, further reducing the mental burden. You’ll still be saddling up for quite some time however as reaching the ultimate goal took even this seasoned gamer numerous hours to complete. For fans of the series or just this type of game in general Anno 2205 is a great title, one that’s sure to provide countless hours of addiction…I mean entertainment.
Anno 2205 is available on PC right now for $59.99. Total play time was approximately 9 hours.
The time has long since past when it was taboo for a game to not take itself seriously or take a hammer to the fourth wall. Indeed many titles have made their fame and fortune on just such a premise like the Saints Row and Just Cause series. The latter series longevity can almost wholly be attributed to the modding community that sprung up around it, allowing you to engage in rampant carnage with your friends at your side (along with other fun things). Expectations were then high for the sequel to include many of these improvements into the core game. Whilst not all of them made it in you can definitely see the influence the modding community has had on Just Cause 3, even if those improvements can’t cover some of the more lacklustre aspects of this latest instalment in the series.
6 years after the events of Just Case 2 Rico Rodriguez makes his triumphant return home to Medici. His island has fallen under the iron fist of General Sebastiano Di Ravello, a not-so-benevolent dictator. His return home sees Rico pairing up with his childhood friends and some familiar faces from previous games all in the hopes of overthrowing Di Ravello. Of course his plan of attack is a simple one: cause as much chaos and destruction as possible, weakening the infrastructure upon which Di Ravello relies. It’s no small task but Rico is not one to shy away from a challenge like this.
Compared to nearly any other current generation game Just Cause 3 feels behind the times graphically. Indeed this contrast is no more stark than when compared to another recent release from Avalanche studios, Mad Max, which makes use of the same engine. After some initial tweaking I got it to look a little better however there’s really no hiding the fact that the graphics were simply not a priority. They’re serviceable, and to some extent expected given the level of chaos that can be on screen at times, but Just Cause 3 feels like it has more in common with the B-grade titles I’ve played rather than the rest of the AAAs it was released with.
Staying true to its roots Just Cause is an open world game where there’s little difference between running missions and simply blowing up stuff at random for the fun of it. You’ve got a long campaign to follow if you so wish, but if you’d prefer to just have a bit of fun there’s more than enough to keep you interested. There’s various challenges which unlock mods for your gear, towns to liberate and an endless supply of collectibles and novelty items for you to scrounge up. Realistically though we all know what people are buying this game for: destroying anything and everything they set their eyes on, something which the game wholeheartedly enables and encourages. Everything else that’s contained herein is just icing on the destruction sandwich.
Combat is like any other 3rd person shooter with an incredibly generous infinite health mechanic. You can literally run and gun your way through entire army bases without having a care in the world, only needing to grapple away for a second or two when things go really south. It’s initially limited to aim-assisted console style shooting, which feels a little weird on the PC, but unlocks later change that up if you so wish. However killing enemies is really only a distraction from setting things on fire, blowing things up or making things fall on other things. This can be incredibly satisfying when you manage to pull off massive chain reaction, unleashing explosion after explosion as you sit back and watch the carnage. Other times it can be an exercise in frustration, searching for that one last thing you need to blow up in order to move to the next mission or objective.
This is certainly fun for a little while however once you’ve liberated the 30th town things really do start to feel incredibly repetitive. There’s literally no variety to be found at all as once you’ve done a couple towns the rest are simply a different mix of the objectives you’ve seen. Worse still most of them feel visually identical, just the buildings rearranged slightly. Sure you can tackle the challenge in different ways but there’s only so many times you can drive a tank through the middle of a town and still be entertained. In all honesty I had thought that I had conditioned myself to be able to tolerate this for the sake of the main storyline. For Just Cause 3 though I was honestly so bored by the end that I just couldn’t be bothered to open the game up any more.
One thing that did keep me playing for longer than usual were the little challenges that popped up in the right hand side. Shown above is my failed attempt to beat one of my friend’s long standing wing suiting records, only to miss out by a mere 7 seconds right at the end. Whilst many of them are easy to game if you go on YouTube it can be quite a bit of fun to figure out how to maximise a certain thing in order to get to the top of the list. Less useful was the “X beat you 1 hour ago” pop ups which mentioned dozens of random players who I don’t know as I really couldn’t care if they beat my record or not. Still it’s a good mechanic, even if it isn’t the first game to use it.
Of course no review of Just Cause 3 would be complete without mentioning the numerous glitches, bugs and annoyances that are permeated throughout the entire game. You’ll likely get stuck more than once trying to grapple to something, either resulting in your instant death or necessitating a reload. Wingsuiting anywhere close to terrain can result in your untimely death as well, often without any obstacle near you. Probably the worst thing though is the insanely long loading times which are especially frustrating when you’re trying to max out a challenge or going through a rough patch of crashes or glitches. Suffice to say I, whilst my expectations weren’t exactly high for Just Cause 3, I certainly wasn’t expecting the Bethesda levels of jank in Avalanche’s latest title.
Similarly Just Cause has never really been known as a game with high aspirations for the story and Just Cause 3 is no exception. The plot is paper thin at best with all of the characters being thoroughly 2 dimensional. Most of them are outrageous stereotypes that border on being racist with none of them being even remotely believable. This time around I couldn’t even be bothered to look for a mod to get me past the main missions so I could finish the main campaign, it was really that uninteresting. The one thing it has going for it is that it fits the whole B-grade feeling the game has, although I’m not quite sure that counts as a positive.
Just Cause 3 is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: a destruction sandbox and little else. The combat and destructible world, whilst not exactly inspired, does the job it was set to do. The world is large and expansive however it starts to feel repetitive very quickly given the lack of variety. It is unfortunately a bug and glitch ridden affair, something that is only made worse by the lacklustre story. Had Just Cause 3 come with multiplayer by default I may have been more forgiving as with all things B-grade they’re far better when enjoyed with a few beers with your mates. However Avalanche have left that task up to the modders once again, forgoing an opportunity to capitalize on the frenzy that they had created. Just Cause 3 might be worth the asking price for some, but for others it might be worth waiting until it goes on sale.
Just Cause 3 is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 8 hours of total play time with 32% of the achievements unlocked.
As a long time Protoss player I can’t tell you the disappointment I initially felt when I heard that they’d be the last race in the StarCraft II trilogy. After the amazing experience I had with Wings of Liberty (and subsequently Heart of the Swarm) however I was far happier; knowing that having the Protoss bring about the ultimate conclusion of this near 2 decade long franchise. Whilst I may have snoozed on the actual release date, meaning my collector’s edition trilogy will have to be completed with a trip to eBay, I’ve since spent a good chunk of time with Legacy of the Void and I’m glad to say many of my expectations have been met.
Legacy of the Void takes place some time after the events of Heart of the Swarm with Zeratul following the trail of the Xel’Naga prophecy. His quest has led him to the home world of the Tal’Darim, a brutal race of Protoss loyal to the dark lord Amon. Upon destroying the void catalyst, a crystal which allowed the Tal’Darim to commune with their dark lord, he is shown a vision of Tassadar who instructs him to retrieve the Xel’Naga keystone. With this information he returns to Artanis who is beginning the raid to retake his home world of Aiur. Zeratul warns him against this however the young Executor proceeds anyway, playing right into Amon’s hands.
It might just be the fact that I’ve upgraded my PC significantly since I last played a game of StarCraft but Legacy of the Void is an absolutely stellar looking game. For the most part the in-game graphics appear to be largely the same, possibly a little more textured, but the graphics outside that are just stunning. Blizzard’s trademark lower poly, highly stylized aesthetic is in strong force here, done so well that their in-game engine cutscenes feel on par for many pre-rendered scenes in other games. This does come at a cost however and even my relatively beastly machine started to struggle when I hit 200/200 supply and started moving my deathball across the map. The game ready drivers from Nvidia did improve this noticeably however, something I had been neglecting to update for far too long.
Once again the core game of Legacy of the Void is the trademark RTS game play, putting you in control of vast armies which you’ll be using to slay countless hordes of enemies. You’ve got your regular build your base and throw your army at the enemy style maps whilst others are focused on small teams or more strategic ones that focus on hero units. The unit upgrade system makes a return, allowing you to choose from 3 different factions which imbue a unit with additional powers and abilities or grant you an entirely new unit to build. The real difference in Legacy of the Void however comes in the form of the Spear of Adun, your arkship which can be upgraded with all sorts of abilities that will aid you in combat. Overall it’s the kind of game we’ve come to expect from Blizzard, exactly what all of us fans were wanting from them.
I’ll have to admit I struggled at the start to get engaged with Legacy of the Void as the missions (and the story, more on that later) just simply failed to grab me like the last 2 instalments did. I think this is partly because at the beginning there’s not a whole lot going on and you spend a decent amount of time building up your cast of characters that will join you along the way. Past a certain point though it’s easy to lose long periods of time, the missions flowing into each other seamlessly and the desire to get more solarite (to upgrade the Spear of Adun) forcing you to try and retry missions to get it right. Towards the end though things start to drag a bit and I think this is probably Legacy of the Void’s biggest flaw for me.
Unlike the previous 2 instalments (and this may just be me looking back on them with rose coloured glasses) Legacy of the Void doesn’t provide the same kind of rewarding challenge at higher difficulties. Indeed there are many missions where higher difficulties (and I did test this) just means more enemies, like any one of the “protect your ally’s base” missions. In those particular missions it doesn’t feel like you’re being challenged so much as worn down by near insurmountable odds, forcing you to cheese encounters or, if you’re just done with a particular encounter, cheat. Since I’ve always played on hard and found the challenge rewarding it was odd to feel this way with Legacy of the Void but it was definitely one of those things which soured my experience towards the end.
The Spear of Adun upgrade system is great, allowing you to select a variety of abilities and passive bonuses that you can use during the missions. For the economy focused missions things like the chrono warp (1000% faster building/upgrading) are amazing whilst others, like the warp in reinforcements ability, make resource constrained maps a breeze. It’s definitely not a one size fits all kind of upgrade system as you’ll be trading off between other potentially valuable upgrades. The encounters are built around you actively using the abilities however so whilst the benefits are awesome it does add another layer of complexity onto this already intense game.
You’ll be making similar trade offs for your unit choices as, whilst some of them are noticeably more effective than others, sometimes the situation will call for a switch. The Zealots, for example, are typically best placed to be upgraded with the stun however there are numerous AOE situations where the others are better suited. The one unit which I don’t think has an equal among the other choices was the Havoc as extended range and +30% damage is just impossible to beat. Other than that though I found myself often switching between different combinations for whatever the mission called for. This is most certainly a departure from the previous 2 instalments which had a very clear “best” option for pretty much everything. It shows that Blizzard has put a lot of effort into making all the choices viable which makes for a far more interesting single player experience.
As I mentioned before the story takes some time to get on its feet, mostly because it’s introducing a lot more plot elements which aren’t exactly interesting when you’re first playing through. However they start to rapidly build on each other as the game progresses and there are some really enthralling moments both in and out of the missions. Whilst they kind of reveal the ending early on in the campaign it’s still interesting to follow it along to its ultimate conclusion. Indeed it’s something I still feel like I’m processing as this is the conclusion of a story that’s been running for almost 20 years. Thankfully though it finishes well, not leaving any loose ends that scream sequel. I’m sure we’ll see more in the StarCraft universe as time goes on though.
StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void is a brilliant conclusion to the story of Blizzard’s flagship RTS, bringing with it the kind of polished experience that they’re famous for. The game play is exactly how you’d expect it to be with the RTS experience just oozing polish at every corner. The upgrade system, along with the Spear of Adun, are great additions to the game, adding another layer of variety and choice that allows you to play out each mission in incredibly unique ways. The story may take its time finding its feet but once it does it ramps up quickly to an ultimate conclusion that’s predictable but enjoyable all the same. It’s always bittersweet seeing a long story arc like this come to its final conclusion but I can say wholeheartedly that I enjoyed the journey that brought me here.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void is available on PC right now for $54.95. Total play time was approximately 15 hours with 46% of the achievements unlocked.