The current torrent of AAA releases makes for an overwhelming selection for a reviewer like myself. There are titles that we’re simply expected to play, like one I shall not mention until this time next week, and others which only appeal to a very certain demographic. Indeed that’s exactly why all these games can all launch at the same time and still find the financial success they were looking for. However most of these games are incredible time sinks and my one review a week schedule simply can’t accomodate them. Thus I look to the poor indies who found themselves in the mix with the giants of the industry to fill the gap with their shorter, more concise experiences. Refunct certainly fills the first requirement aptly clocking in as probably the quickest game I’ve ever fully completed.
Refunct is a first person platforming game, something which I’m sure strikes fear into the hearts of all gamers. You see platforming in first person has always been somewhat of a hit and miss affair, both in the literal and figurative sense. Judging distances in first person mode is a flawed endeavour as there’s no real way (apart from trial and error) to figure out how far your character can move or whether or not you jumped too early. Refunct however has billed itself as a game that everyone can play, meaning that the developer must think they’ve addressed the first person platforming problems. To an extent they have, but not because of any new or clever mechanics.
Instead Refunct is incredibly generous with its hit detection when it comes to near misses on ledges and the height that you character can jump. For the first few jumps I was expecting the normal platforming behaviour, you don’t make it you fall flat on your face, however if you’re within a certain tolerance your character will pull themselves up. Later on, when its revealed that you can push yourself off walls, you can exploit this somewhat as even full misses can result in a successful jump if you bounce yourself off the wall. For new players this means that jumping puzzles, which typically rely on pinpoint precision, are much more forgiving. For power players like myself though it’s an easily exploitable system that significantly reduces the play time of Refunct.
Refunct uses the Unreal engine and, judging by the world effects it makes generous use of, must be running on the latest version of said engine. Whilst it’s one of the most basic games you’re ever likely to come across, pretty much everything is a block or cylinder, it does look incredibly nice. The subtle day/night cycles, clouds gently passing by in the background and the accompanying soundtrack do make for a rather pleasant experience. That being said in terms of graphics it’s not much more than a demonstration of Unreal’s inbuilt capabilities. I guess where I’m going this is: I like the way Refunct looks but it feels like a low amount of effort went into making it look that way.
From a game play perspective Refunct is pretty seamless with the generous platforming mechanic smoothing over what could have been many frustrating moments. At the same time however this means that for any kind of regular gamer Refunct is likely to be little more than a curious distraction as I was able to complete the whole thing, to 100%, in no less than 22 minutes. For some this might be a problem, especially in the age of numerous other $2 games that give many more hours of play time, so it’s something to bear in mind if a simplistic first person platformer is sounding like something you’d like to play.
Refunct is a succinct first person platformer that is far more forgiving than its genre would lead you to believe. The generous platforming mechanics means that a wide variety of players would be able to play it start to finish without the frustration that accompanies nearly every other title that incorporates such mechanics. It simple and clean aesthetic does make for a kind of zen experience which is only heightened by it’s great soundtrack. However it is a brutally short experience, almost shorter than the time it will take many to download it. Overall I’d recommend it but only if you’re looking for an after-AAA mint to clean your pallet before you set yourself up for your next meal.
Refunct is available on PC right now for $2.99. Total play time was 22 minutes with 100% of the achievements unlocked.
The 3 year, 3 developer cycle that Call of Duty switched to has meant that it’s been a little longer between drinks for Treyarch, once considered the poor step child to Inifinity Ward. For players like me, who enjoyed Treyarch’s slightly more story oriented style for the single player, it’s been a bit of a wait but all hopes were that the extra polish would be worth it. After spending the last week with Call of Duty: Black Ops III I can definitely say the wait has been worth it, although Treyarch might need to come down from the giant ivory tower that they’ve crafted themselves.
The year is 2065 and you’ve been sent to rescue hostages from the NCR, the latest terrorist organisation to begin its war against the western world. You, along with your partner Hendricks, have been sent to Ethopia to rescue hostages and a VIP who’s been captured by this group. Whilst the extraction was a success you were left behind and mortally wounded by one of the NCR’s combat robots. You’re transported back to the Coalescence HQ for emergency medical treatment, bestowing upon you cybernetic abilities that elevate your combat capabilities far beyond that of any normal soldier. What follows is your exploits as a CIA black operative following a terrible conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.
Considering that Black Ops 3 was released on nearly all platforms (including 2 last gen ones) it’s great to see it able to use all the grunt of a modern PC to render some truly stunning graphics. On first release though this was unfortunately at the severe cost of performance as smoke and other particle heavy systems would drag an otherwise buttery smooth experience down to a slideshow. Thankfully this was a bug and was fixed in a patch last week, allowing me to once again ratchet all the settings up to maximum. Unlike other Call of Duty titles though you’ll rarely have any time to stop and take in the view as the game is all about action all the time (save for the last section which I’ll dive into more later).
Black Ops 3 is the definition of a corridor shooter, putting you in tight spaces with hordes of enemies that you’ll need to mow down in order to progress. Like Advanced Warfare before it though there’s a few extra mechanics thrown into the mix to keep things fresh, most of which come in the form of various powers granted to you by your cyber augments. Also, unlike most Call of Duty games where your load out is specified for you, Black Ops 3 gives you the option to build out your own kit for each mission. You’re even given a briefing panel which allows you to judge which kit would be best for each engagement. Apart from that (and the multiplayer, of course) there’s not much more to say about Black Ops 3 as it really does feel like Advanced Warfare with the trademark Treyarch psychological twist.
The buttery smooth, fast paced FPS combat that’s a hallmark of the Call of Duty series is back once again in Black Ops 3. The additional enhancements you’re given as part of your cybernetic upgrades goes a long way to alleviating some of the issues that plagued previous instalments in this series. Notably this includes things like target highlighting, “danger zones” shown on the floor to give you an idea of what might happen if you go there and the vast array of powers you have to devastate your enemy. However one piece of advice I’ll give is that, if you’re just looking to enjoy the single player, avoid the higher difficulties. Instead of making the enemies tougher it essentially makes you weaker with the hardest difficulty allowing any enemy to one shot you. Sure that does provide some form of challenge but, honestly, it’s just more tedious than anything.
For all its polish though there are still some rough bits in the single player. Quite often enemies will be able to shoot through or glitch through walls which, if you’re playing on anything above normal difficulty, will mean your instant demise. This became painfully clear on the final mission when you’re storming the last building and mechs, flying drones and anything else would just pass through terrain to get to you. I can handle getting nailed by unseen targets, that just means you need to be aware of where they are for next time around, but when you literally can’t do anything to stop them it really does grate on you.
The story retains Treyarch’s signature psychological thriller style, this time around with a sci-fi twist. To begin with it’s interesting as the characters deal with the implications of technology and the enhancements it brings them. Things start to come unstuck a bit as they dive deeper into the (highly predictable) conspiracy aspects of it and it comes completely unglued towards the end when the symbolism gets dialled up to 11. Probably the worst part about it though is that, if you read a couple specific things in game, the whole thing is basically naught anyway. In all honesty it started off strong before it tried to M. Night Shyamalan everything and completely disappeared up its own ass with that one piece of text.
The multiplayer is your mostly standard Call of Duty affair with levels, unlocks and customizations galore. It uses the familiar “choose 10” system, allowing you to create a character that fits your play style perfectly. The biggest change that comes with Black Ops 3 is the inclusion of “specialist” classes which are essentially base character models that come with abilities. These can be either a weapon, which can be incredibly devastating when used right, or an ability which usually gives you a tactical advantage over the enemy. This combined with Call of Duty’s typical huge array of weaponry makes for some incredibly varied combat, something which can be a bit overwhelming when you first start out.
Probably my only gripe is that the levelling is a bit too slow for casual-core players like myself. I’ve played about 4 hours at this point and my main weapon, the Kuda SMG, is no where near unlocking all the mods that I want to use. This means that, for nearly all of my current multiplayer time, I’ve been using the Vanguard starting class since it has a fully customized Kuda as part of the loadout. Treyarch is aware of this and is making up for it by making this weekend a double XP weekend but that feels like a bandaid solution on the problem honestly. Having a rested system or something similar would make the experience a lot better for players like myself as otherwise the longevity of the multiplayer will be severely limited.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III maintains the level of quality we’ve come to expect from the series, adding the Treyarch signature psychological thriller style to the future combat motif that has permeated the last few instalments. The single player is pretty much as you’d expect, maintaining the same fluid FPS experience even if it does overstay its welcome a little bit too long towards the end. The multiplayer, whilst suffering from a rather slow levelling system, is just as good as it ever was. As always the Call of Duty series might not be for everyone but for those of us who enjoy a spectacle, along with a few solid hours of multiplayer fun, then there’s really no other title to turn to right now other than Black Ops III.
Rating: 8.75 / 10
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79, $59, $79, $59 and $79 respectively. Game was played on PC with a total of 43% of the achievements unlocked.
I, like many of my generation, spent far too much of my time in Games Workshop stores as a teenager. I’d go there to gawk that the miniatures, painted in such exquisite detail that I tried and failed to replicate. That was only half of it though, the sense of community among those of us who’d spend as much time as we could at these places was far and above anything else. Thus the rather tumultuous path that the Games Workshop has walked these past few years has been tough as many of us felt they no longer cared about us, their biggest fans. However one good thing has come out all this and that has been Games Workshop’s more generous attitude towards licensing out its IP. The latest such incarnation comes in the form of Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide, a Left 4 Dead-esque co-op survival game that breathes new life into the genre.
You are a band of warriors in the town of Ubersreik, a city that has been overrun by the Skaven, a race of devilish rat people. With the town in peril everyone has been looking towards you to save them and there are numerous quests you must complete to keep the town safe. Some of these are simple, stopping the Skaven from poisoning the wells or destroying the food stocks, others will require you to climb to the top of massive towers to stop powerful magic from falling into Skaven hands. These will not be easy quests, dear warrior, and you’re likely to face much more than just hordes of rats along the way.
Vermintide comes to us care of the Autodesk Stingray engine, essentially a revamped version of the BitSquid engine that powered titles like Gauntlet and Magicka: Wizard Wars. In terms of capability and performance the engine really does shine, with great visuals that don’t drag your system down when the action heats up. The visual style is also very distinctive, being slightly stylized but still feeling as if it was pulled directly out of the Warhammer universe. Of course there have been some sacrifices in order to ensure performance remains consistent, meaning that some areas do feel a bit barren with little detail, but you’re usually too busy dealing with rats to notice. Considering the rather low asking price for the engine I hope to see more indie titles make use of it and the capabilities it can provide.
As I alluded to earlier Vermintide is a co-op survival game modelled directly on the framework Left 4 Dead so successfully created. You’re a band of four heroes who must make it from the start to the end whilst completing objectives along the way. You’ll be beset on all sides by hordes of Skaven including various special versions which have abilities to disrupt your team and take them out of the fight. Unlike Left 4 Dead however this is not a PVP game, instead Vermintide’s variety comes from the various character classes you can choose, the RPG like levelling and loot system and the rather deep combat mechanics that make the game much more than a simple hack and slasher. Honestly the first hour had me thinking I was simply playing the latest version of Left 4 Dead but once I dug under the surface I was incredibly impressed by the level of complexity that Vermintide has.
Unlike other survival games where melee is a last resort in Vermintide it’s your primary damage dealing mechanism. You still have a ranged weapon, limited by ammunition, but they’re usually reserved for special situations like dealing with special vermin or clearing a path through swarms. This melee focus means you have to be much more aware of what is coming at you, when its attacking and when you should either dodge or block. Sure you can ignore all of that and just go charging in however you’re likely to find yourself running out of health very quickly, something which is at a premium in this game. Indeed we were barely able to finish the first mission on easy by using that tactic and it was only after a more seasoned friend of mine showed us the ways did we start to appreciate just how complex the combat was.
The different character classes have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, all of which you’ll need to take into consideration when crafting your party. Each character class isn’t locked into a specific role either as different items can change the way you play. I was playing the Empire Solider for the most part and could change from a damage dealer/special slayer into a front line tank by equipping a sword and shield. For other classes weapons can change them from single target to AOE focused or impart some insane abilities like arrows that are guaranteed headshots. Suffice to say there’s a lot to keep you coming back to Vermintide over and over again as the loot and character variety ensure that there’s dozens of hours of gameplay to be had.
That’s not to mention the loot system’s ingeniously evil risk vs reward system. Essentially there are various loot bolstering devices hidden around the map and each of them will reduce your ability to survive the rat onslaught. However should you make it all the way through with them you’ll get bonus loot dies at the end. Some of them are innocuous, like taking away your healing slot (but you can just drop the tome and use the healing then pick the tome back up) to others which reduce the entire parties health by 25% permanently. Suddenly a simple run becomes a balancing game of how much loot you can get vs how well you think you can survive.
There’s also a crafting system, allowing you to upgrade, salvage and “forge” better weapons for yourself. The forge is essentially just a dumping ground for all the loot you don’t want as you’ll get, at most, 2 weapons per run (1 from the roll and 1 from a level up) and you’ll need 5 to make it work. Green and higher tier items have upgrades on them which need to be unlocked using certain coloured rocks. Those rocks will come from salvaging other items that you no longer want. Overall it’s a pretty simplistic crafting system but at least it gives you the opportunity to make something of the drops that you’d otherwise get nothing from.
For all its polish though Vermintide still has a couple issues which could do with fixing. The hit detection can get a bit crazy at times, resulting in strange behaviour like pack masters being able to pull players through walls. It works two ways though so sometimes you can get special rats, like the gattling gun one, stuck in a place where they can’t hit you but you can hit them. There’s also some lag induced issues which can cause rats to flit all over the place, fall through the ground or randomly spawn out of no where. I’m assuming this is born out of its P2P hosting nature which means that game sync can get a bit weird if one or more people have a tenuous connection to the host.
Vermintide would be easy to write off as a Left 4 Dead clone but after a couple of hours you quickly realise it’s anything but. Sure the combat and core mechanics are definitely inspired by the grand daddy of this genre but the extra elements that Vermintide has makes it on its own. The character classes and loot system help keep the game fresh, even after you’ve played the same map a dozen times over. The combat retains that same high tension feeling that we all grew to love in Left 4 Dead whilst distinguishing itself with a bunch of Warhammer inspired mechanics. The crafting system and few rough edges are the few let downs of vermintide but it says a lot that those are the only negative things I have to say about it. For those who were let down by Evolve Vermintide could very well be the game that resells you on the genre.
Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is available on PC right now for $29.99 and coming Q1 2016 to PlayStation4 and XboxOne. Total play time was 6 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked.
I was always of the opinion that the health trackers on the market were little more than gimmicks. Most of them were glorified pedometers worn by people who wanted to look like they were fitness conscious people rather than actually using them to stay fit. The introduction of heart rate tracking however presented functionality that wasn’t available before and piqued my interest. However the lack of continuous passive heart rate monitoring meant that they weren’t particularly useful in that regard so I held off until that was available. The Jawbone Up3 was the first to offer that functionality and, whilst it’s still limited to non-active periods, was enough for me to purchase my first fitness tracker. After using it for a month or so I thought I’d report my findings on it as most of the reviews out there focus on it at launch, rather than how it is now.
The device itself is small, lightweight and relatively easy to forget that it’s strapped to your wrist once you get it on. The band adjustment system is a little awkward, requiring you to take it off to adjust it and then put it back on, but once you get it to the right size it’s not much of an issue. The charging mechanism could be done better as it requires you to line up all the contacts perfectly or the band will simply not charge. It’d be far better to have an inductive charging system for it however given the device’s size and weight I’d hazard a guess that that was likely not an option. For the fashion conscious the Up3 seems to go unnoticed by most with only a few people I knew noticing it over the time I’ve had it. Overall as a piece of tech I like it however looks aren’t everything when it comes to fitness trackers.
The spec sheet for the Up3 has a laundry list of sensors in it however you really only get to see the data collected from two of them: the pedometer and the heart rate monitor. Whilst I understand that having all that data would be confusing for most users for someone like me it’d definitely be of interest. This means that, whilst the Up3 might be the most feature packed fitness tracker out there, in terms of actual, usable functionality it’s quite similar to a lot of bands already out there. For many that will make the rather high asking price a hard pill to swallow. There’s been promises of access to more data through the API for some time now but so far they have gone unfulfilled.
What the Up3 really has going for it though is the app which is well designed and highly functional. Setting everything up took about 5 minutes and it instantly began tracking everything. The SmartCoach feature is interesting as it skirts around providing direct health advice but tries to encourage certain, well established healthy behaviours. All the functions work as expected with my favourite being the sleep alarm. Whilst it took a little tweaking to get right (it seemed to just go off at the time I set for the most part initially) once it’s done I definitely felt more awake when it buzzed me. It’s not a panacea to all your sleep woes though but it did give me insight into what behaviours might have been affecting my sleep patterns and what I could do to fix them.
The heart rate tracking seems relatively accurate from a trend point of view. I could definitely tell when I was exercising, sitting down or in a particularly heated meeting where my heart was racing. It’s definitely not 100% accurate as there were numerous spikes, dips and gaps in the readings which often meant that the daily average was not entirely reliable. Again it was more interesting to see the trending over time and linking deviations to certain behaviours. If accuracy is the name of the game however the Up3 is probably not for you as it simply can’t be used for more than averaging.
What’s really missing from the Up3 and it’s associated app is the integration and distillation of all the data it’s able to capture. Many have looked to heart rate monitoring as a way to get more accurate calorie burn rates but the Up3 only uses the pedometer input to do this. The various other sensor inputs could also prove valuable in determining passive calorie burn rate (I, for instance, tend to run “hotter” than most people, something the skin temperature sensor can pick up on) but again their data is unused. On a pure specification level the Up3 is the most advanced tracker out there but that means nothing if that technology isn’t put to good use.
Would I recommend buying one? I’m torn honestly. On the one hand it does do the basic functions very well and the app looks a lot better than anything the competition has put out so far. However you’re paying a lot for technology that you’re simply not going to use, hoping that it will become available sometime in the future. Unless the optical heartrate tracking of other fitness trackers isn’t cutting it for you then it’s hard to recommend the Up3 above them and other, simpler trackers will provide much of the same benefit for a lower price. Overall the Up3 has the potential to be something great, but paying for potential, rather than actual functionality, is something that only early adopters do. That was an easier sell 6 months ago but with only one major update since then I don’t think many are willing to buy something on spec.
Freelancer was a seminal game, one that managed to pull Microsoft Game Studios’ reputation out of the gutter and set the bar for any space based game that would follow it. However instead of a glut of similar titles following it, like what seems to happen to any mildly successful idea these days, there was nothing. The decade that followed was devoid of any titles that could hold a candle to Freelancer, both in raw gameplay terms and story. DarkStar One and Evochron Mercenary came close to replicating the feel but, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, were easily forgotten titles that lacked the staying power that kept Freelancer relevant for so long. Rebel Galaxy then is another attempt to rekindle the magic that once was and, whilst it does a fairly good job at that, it falls short on some key aspects which stop it from achieving the same greatness.
It all starts with a panicked message from your aunt. You need to come meet with her she says, sending you the coordinates of a ship you can use and the place you should head to. You’ve always known that your aunt was some kind of big trader but this is out of character for her. Begrudgingly you climb aboard the relic she’s left you and make your way to the destination. However upon arriving you find she’s not there although there is someone who can help you locate her. So begins your journey in the wild side of this galaxy where you’ll deal with all manner of aliens, scum and villainy in order to track down your aunt.
On first blush you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rebel Galaxy was another Unity as it’s actually powered by a heavily modified version of the OGRE engine, made famous by the Torchlight series. It may seem like an odd choice however Double Damage Games is the brain child of the co-founders of Runic Games who were the developers of that series. In that regard it’s easy to see the visual similarities with bright lighting and visual effects abounding. It’s not going to bring a bleeding edge gaming beast to its knees, nor will it win any awards for being the most pretty game, but it does feel fitting for the type of game that Rebel Galaxy is.
Rebel Galaxy is a space trader and combat sim, drawing influence from all the obvious places. Whilst there’s a campaign to play through, and something that you should probably do on your first time around, you’re basically left to your own devices when it comes to choosing your path. Want to play the spreadsheet game? There’s a full economy simulator in there allowing you to buy and sell your way to riches. That a little dull for you? There’s a whole host of different types of combat missions available for you to pursue. All of these help further the aim of upgrading your ship with better weapons and gear so you can take on ever bigger contracts to make even more money. How the game unfolds is completely up to you, allowing you to become the space cowboy you’ve long dreamed of.
Combat is halfway between Freelancer’s full 3D, 6 DOF style space dogfighting and EVE-Online’s point your ship and things and shoot them on timers style combat. Everything takes place in the same plane (with a couple of exceptions) and you’re likely going to be spending most of your time aiming your broadside canons. You’ll be facing up against enemies ranging from small fighters all the way to large capital ships with devastating arrays of weaponry. For the most part it’s serviceable, even fun when you start to outrank your current enemies firepower, however it falls short of being really satisfying for a couple reasons.
The everything in one plane constraint seems fine at first until you start meeting enemies that are allowed to violate that constraint with reckless abandon. I understand why this choice was made, smaller fighters would just get one shot otherwise, however later on when those fighters start getting capital class items and weapons it feels more like tedium than challenge. Additionally the broadsides are rather finicky about when they’ll switch into precise aiming mode, forcing you to wrangle the camera and fire randomly in an effort to get them to lock on. I can deal with pretty much everything else easily (like making sure you’ve got weaponry to deal with numerous situations) but these two issues took the combat down from “great” to just good.
Trading seems like it can be a worthwhile endeavour according to what many of the users on /r/rebelgalaxy are reporting. There’s a complex event system which drives prices on certain commodities in certain directions so, if you know what does what, there’s potential profits to be made all the time. Trading in single player games has always felt like a waste of time to me however so I really didn’t bother getting into it too much. Still if hauling cargo is your thing then Rebel Galaxy has a complex enough economy system that I’m sure there’s more than enough for you to enjoy here.
Like many open world games whilst there’s lots to do a lot of it becomes very same-y after a short while. Bounties, blockades and all other types of combat missions are largely the same in the way they play out usually requiring you to knock out all the small fighters before taking out the capitals one by one. The smuggling/trading runs are profitable however you should make no attempt to fight as you’ll likely lose due to the insane number of ships they throw at you. Escort missions are like any other escort mission, mostly boring but interspersed with a few moments of combat action. There’s a lot of exploring you can do but, again, the lack of variety makes that a dull prospect. All in all, whilst I can appreciate that this is the kind of thing some people thrive on, I just get bored after a while, preferring to pursue the campaign.
Unfortunately in that regard Rebel Galaxy isn’t anything to write home about, the story feeling really rudimentary and failing to grab me at any point. Whilst everyone is projecting their Firefly ambitions onto the character (spurred on only by the developer’s choice in music, which I did like) the story of your actual character couldn’t be any further from it. Indeed your sudden escalation from nobody to swashbuckler is so fast that it borders on ridiculous, breaking any idea of relatability that your or any other character might have had. If you ignore it to find your own path in the game then all the more power to you but for me, someone who enjoys a well crafted story, I found little to praise in Rebel Galaxy’s story.
Rebel Galaxy is the space sim that many have been waiting for, allowing them to live out their Firefly fantasies out on the edge galaxies. In that regard it delivers much of what is expected of it having all the trimmings that is expected from a game in this genre. The combat is unique however it suffers from a few key problems which quickly turn the challenge into tedium. Its open world nature is likely to appeal to many however the lacklustre campaign left this reviewer wanting. All in all Rebel Galaxy is a solid game, one that’s sure to delight both Freelancer and Firefly fans alike, however it’s not a great game like the ones it seeks to imitate.
Rebel Galaxy is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 8 hours with 14% of the achievements unlocked.
For some reason the gaming community has thrived on titles that are, for want of a better word, incredibly brutal. The trend started to take root after the first Dark Souls game which prided itself on not holding the players hand, nor caring if it proved too difficult to be enjoyable. On first look such games were the antithesis to the base ethos of games: that they be fun above all else. However such games, when played well, provide a sense of satisfaction beyond those who are perhaps a little more forgiving. Planetbase is a city building game in this vein, putting you in control of an offworld colony which, if managed incorrectly, will have dire consequences.
You are the invisible hand that will guide these colonists to establishing a viable colony. Upon landing on your planet of choice, with your colony ship full of resources and a handful of aspiring colonists, it’s up to you to give them everything they’ll need to survive. In the beginning their needs are simple, oxygen and water being all you’ll need to make it through the first night, but after that you must find a way to provide them everything they need. Like all closed ecosystems though these things need to be created in balance and should that not be done you will quickly find yourself facing catastrophe. Will you be the leader that leads your colony to success? Or will you become the agent of their destruction?
Planetbase has that Unity-esque feeling that most games developed on the engine have. It’s hard to quantify exactly what it is but like Flash games before them they all seem to share a similar visual style that became something of a trademark. This is especially true for Planetbase which feels like the colonist version of Kerbal Space Program. The simple visual style is partly due to performance reasons, something which could become a concern with larger bases. The visual simplicity also helps a lot with making sure you can keep track of your base layout, something which becomes increasingly difficult as your base grows. Overall, whilst Planetbase won’t win any awards for its graphics, they are far more than sufficient and are perfectly suited to the type of game that it is.
Your goal in Planetbase is simple: you have to build a self-sustaining colony on a new world. As you click your way through the tutorial this seems rather easy, there’s a logical progression to the structures you need to build in order to satisfy the growing needs of your colonists. However once you’re in the real game it’s easy to forget a critical step which leads to the untimely demise of your entire colony (like the above screenshot, taken not 5 minutes into my first game, can attest to). Like all city building games there’s numerous resources that you need to collect, create and manage in order to ensure that everyone in the colony has everything they need. A lack of resources in one place ultimately leads to issues in other areas of your colony and, without proper treatment, life ending consequences. The game may warn you of your impending doom every so often but that can often come too late, the alarm bell serving only to inform you of the inevitable.
Getting through your first night sounds like an easy enough challenge but it’s one that’s incredibly easy to get wrong. Should you fail to build your power array and storage too late you won’t have enough to make it through the night. If you forget to build your water extractor you won’t be able to generate enough oxygen, asphyxiating everyone before they have a chance to build the life saving solution. Thankfully once you’ve figured out these challenges (which are all addressed well enough in the tutorial) surviving the first night becomes child’s play, but the game past that point still provides a significant challenge.
Past the first night your goals turn towards building all the components you’ll need for self sufficiency and that means generating many of the required resources yourself. The first two major ones you’ll need to create are metal and bioplastic which allow you to create all the structures you’ll need. For most players metal is the first roadblock that they’ll encounter as it’s the first thing you run out of and one of the harder ones to produce. There are several strategies to deal with this (and I’ll talk about my approach a bit later) however it’s likely to be the main resource which keeps you back for a long time. Once you’ve got a production line of these two resources going the pace of the game slows down significantly as you look towards planning your future expansions.
Typically the next issue most people run into is food as your colony gains more and more people. What was interesting about this though is how many factors can influence the simple problem of not having enough food for everyone and every single one can mean people start going hungry. Not enough biologists to tend to the plants? They won’t make enough food. Not enough mealmakers in the canteen? People will have to wait for meals and there might not be enough to go around. Didn’t monitor the number of colonists you have? Keeping the landing pad open to colonists constantly might not be the greatest idea as your food production might simply be unable to cope. It took me a good 3 hours to get food working sustainably and even then it wasn’t the most efficient process.
Indeed if you really want to succeed at building a colony then you have to start thinking in much broader terms from the very get go. Whilst the smaller structures are far cheaper and quicker to construct they are by and large incredibly inefficient. The greatest example of this is the biodome with the smallest one only allowing you a third of the number of plants of the largest but costing far more in relative terms. This means that, if building a big colony is your goal, you’ll have judge which buildings to build big right off the bat and which to hold off on. For me it took a good 6 hours of play time before I reached this point and that’s when I was able to finally build a colony that wasn’t always at the brink of disaster.
Once you’ve got that all sorted then the final challenge you’ll face is getting the layout of your base right. Whilst this isn’t as impactful as the other resource challenges I’ve mentioned before it is something you’ll need to consider as your base grows in size. Placement of things like oxygen generators, processing plants and high traffic areas like bunks and canteens can radically impact the efficiency of a single colonist. If you get the layout wrong most of the time it just means progress is a lot slower than it can be but can sometimes lead to base destroying issues. One of the best examples I had of this was having one of my bunkers too far away from an oxygen generator which, when it got full at night when people went to sleep, meant that it ran out of oxygen.
Despite all these challenges though Planetbase managed to grip me in a way that few games have, tapping into that part of my brain that needs to know how this complicated system works so I can exploit it. Indeed whilst it took me 8 hours to reach 100 colonists I barely realised I had spent that much time in it, forgetting myself for hours at a time whilst I watched my little puppets go about their daily lives. There were some frustrating moments of course but they are the kinds of stories these games thrive on, those moments where a lapse in concentration or missing component ends up having unintended consequences. It may not be for everyone (unless a brutal version of Sim City is your cup of tea) but for those of us that thrive on challenges like this it’s definitely worth playing.
Planetbase is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 8 hours with 25% of the achievements unlocked.
We gamers sometimes forget how personal games are for their creators. Often they’re a reflection both the creator’s intent and the creator themselves, especially for games that are created by one person or small independent studios. I think this is partly due to the arms-length relationship most of us have with games due to the developer/publisher ecosystem, something which removes much of the potential for a personal connection. The Beginner’s Guide however is a game that attempts to connect with the player on a very personal level and, I feel, is the developer’s way of working through some of the issues he endured after the success of a previous title.
The Beginner’s Guide is a narrated collection of games from the developer’s friend who’s named Coda. They’re a loose set of quirky titles, many of which defy conventional gaming standards by having things like unsolvable puzzles, areas of grand detail that are completely inaccessible and mechanics that are actively hostile towards the player. The narrator wants to show you these titles because he wants to encourage Coda to start making games again and feels like the only way to do so is to show his craft to the wider world. Whether that will be effective or not is something we might never know, but that might not be the most interesting thing about The Beginner’s Guide.
Graphically The Beginner’s Guide certainly feels like a group of cobbled together games with varying art styles permeating throughout the course of the game. Knowing that it’s built on the Source engine gives you some insight into where the aesthetic is coming from as it does feel like an overgrown set of mods for Half Life. Apart from that there’s not much to speak of in terms of visual aesthetic as the game is much more about the levels themselves, rather than how they look.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
Now this is usually the point in the review where I give you an overview of the mechanics and gameplay before I delve into each of them to give you a feel for what you can expect. However with The Beginner’s Guide, whilst there are mechanics which I could discuss, I don’t feel that’s the real point of the game at all. Instead The Beginner’s Guide is a well crafted narrative, told through the medium of games, about how the game’s developer (Davey Wreden of The Stanley Parable fame) struggled with the burden of success. Indeed it becomes very clear towards the end that Coda is a fictional character and these creations that we’re playing through are actually the product of the narrator who is dealing with his issues through the creation of this game.
I’ll admit that for the vast majority of the game I played along, figuring that this was just a quirky set of games that was cobbled together for the fun of it. Indeed there was a part of me that was annoyed at Wreden for doing so, charging me $10 for the privilege of playing games he himself did not create. However towards the end, where it’s revealed that Coda had abandoned Wreden because he simply couldn’t be around him any more, it becomes clear that this is a story of fiction. At that point though the game changed for me, instead of wondering who Coda was and why he left now I wanted to know why Wreden would create something like this. It didn’t take long to find out.
After rifling through numerous discussion threads I eventually landed on his blog, specifically the most recent post which is about The Stanley Parable’s widespread acclaim. In it he details what the success of that game has meant to him and the burden which he feels he carries for everyone who’s played it. Whilst I might not have reached the level of fame and acclaim that he has I can very much relate to the burden that success can bring to you; how success is supposed to negate all feelings of doubt or worry and erase all problems in your life. Indeed success can do quite the opposite, often dredging up issues or exacerbating current ones.
The Beginner’s Guide then serves as a catharsis for all these feelings, an expression of all the mixed feelings that a creator feels when their work is recognised and praised widely. The not-so-subtle hints towards Coda’s creative machine no longer working, the fear of being public, wanting to recluse himself away from society, all these take on new meaning when you realise they’re actually about the developer himself and not the fictional being of Coda. In that regard The Beginner’s Guide is one of the most personal games I’ve ever played and I’m very glad I did.
The Beginner’s Guide is a personal journey, both for the player and the developer. It’s Davey Wreden working through his trials and tribulations that the success of The Stanley Parable brought him and you’re along here for the ride. Indeed The Beginner’s Guide shows how games can be used as a medium to work through things like this, just like more traditional mediums have been in the past. It might not be a game for everyone, especially for those expecting something more along the lines of The Stanley Parable, but it’s a wonderful experience all the same. One that had me playing long after I closed the game down.
The Beginner’s Guide is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 1.5 hours.
Long time readers will know that horror and I don’t really get along. As a genre I don’t find it particularly engaging although there have been several examples which have managed to break through my disdain. Still even those few examples haven’t been enough to change my base dislike of nearly everything that bears the horror tag. Indeed that’s the reason why I deliberately avoided Until Dawn for as long as I did and it was only after thumbing through numerous reviews of it did I change my mind. Whilst Until Dawn might not be the title that finally gets me to see the merits of the horror genre it is an exquisitely built game in its own right, one deserving of all the attention it has received.
It was just like any other winter getaway when eight close friends went to one of their parent’s mountain lodges for a weekend of partying. They were to spend the week revelling like all teenagers do, indulging in things that their parents would likely disapprove of. However their night quickly turns sinister as they are reminded of the tragic past that brought them here that seems to haunt them at every corner. Your decisions will guide them through this night and determine who makes it to the end and who meets their untimely demise at the horrors of the mountain.
Until Dawn makes good use of the grunt of the PlayStation4, bringing graphics that are far beyond anything that the previous generation of consoles was capable of. Whilst most of the time the graphics are hidden behind the dark horror movie aesthetic There are still numerous moments that allow you to appreciate the level of work that’s gone into crafting the visual aspects of the game. There are a few rough edges though with performance taking a dive regularly, especially in outdoor scenes or action heavy sequences. The game isn’t unplayable because of it however you can definitely tell that the priority was aesthetic over optimization, meaning a constant 30fps experience isn’t guaranteed. Considering this is Supermassive Game’s first PlayStation4 title I’m willing to give them a little leeway however I’d expect future titles to not make the same mistake.
In terms of game play Until Dawn is in the same league as other interactive fiction titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. For the most part you’ll be wandering around the mostly linear environment, looking at various objects and interacting with other characters to further the story. Until Dawn’s flagship feature is the “Butterfly Effect” system which chronicles most of your decisions which will have an impact on the story down the line. There’s also collectibles called Totems which when found show you a glimpse of a possible future event, allowing you to get some insight into how they might unfold. Finally for all the action parts of Until Dawn you’ll be using a pretty standard quick time events system. All in all at a mechanical level Until Dawn is pretty much what you’d expect when it comes to an interactive fiction game.
The walking around and looking at things part is mostly well done (with some issues I’ll discuss later) with interactive objects that are in your character’s field of view being highlighted by a small white glowing orb. This typically means that as long as you do a full 360 of a room you’re likely to find everything in it which is good as I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to try and figure out sometimes in games like this. Until Dawn does reward exploration, meaning that if you think you’re going down a non-obvious section chances are you’ll find something juicy at the end of it. Thankfully the walking speed can be sped up some as well, meaning you’re not going to double your play time just because you wanted to explore a little bit.
Whenever you perform an action or make a certain dialogue choice the screen will explode in a cascade of butterflies, indicating that your choice will impact on future events. This is a more extravagant version Telltale’s “X will remember that” feature with the added benefit that you can go back and review your choices at any point. Unlike most other games though, where decisions that will have major impacts on the story will usually be showcased as such, Until Dawn rarely makes such a distinction. If I’m honest I found that to be a little frustrating as it was hard to tell when what seemed like a minor decision actually had major consequences. In reality though that’s much closer to a real world experience so I can definitely appreciate it for that reason.
The quick time event system works as you’d expect it to, giving you a limited amount of time to respond by pressing the right button or moving the control stick in the right way. It’s broken up every so often by having you make decisions, like taking a safe route vs a quicker one or hiding vs running, which can have similar butterfly effect impacts as dialogue choices do. The one interesting differentiator that Until Dawn has is the “DON’T MOVE” sections which can actually be something of a challenge when your heart is racing and your hands are shaking the controls. So nothing revolutionary here, not that you’d really be expecting that from games in this genre.
Whilst Until Dawn does show an incredible amount of polish in most regards there’s still some rough edges in a few key areas. The collision detection is a bit iffy, being a little too wide at the character’s feet which makes you get stuck on objects that you’d think you could just walk past. This also extends to things your character holds like a burning torch which seem to lack collision detection, allowing you to put your character’s hand through walls. There’s also the performance issues which I noted previously which, whilst not degrading the game into a slideshow, are definitely noticeable. Still for a first crack at a game of this calibre it’s commendable that Supermassive Games was able to put out something with this level of polish, especially on a new platform for them.
Now being someone who’s avoided the horror genre it almost all its incarnations I don’t feel entirely qualified to give an objective view on how good the story is. Certainly it seems to share many of the tropes that you’d associate with a teen horror movie but whether they’re well executed or not is something I’ll have to leave up to the reader. To me it was a predictable narrative, one that attempted to use jump scares and triggered music to try and build tension. Whilst it didn’t bore me to sleep like so many horror movies have done I still wouldn’t recommend it on story alone.
Until Dawn is a great debut title for Supermassive Games on the PlayStation4 showing that Quantic Games isn’t the only developer who can create great interactive fiction. The graphics are what I’ve come to expect from current generation titles, making full use of the grunt available on the platform. Mechanically it plays as you’d expect with only a few rough edges in need of additional polish. The writer’s aversion to horror though means that the story didn’t strike much of a chord although it’s likely to delight horror fans the world over. In summation Until Dawn is a superbly executed game one that both horror fans and interactive fiction junkies can enjoy.
Until Dawn is available on PlayStation4 right now for $78. Total play time was approximately 7 hours.
Destiny was the first game to break my staunch opposition to playing first person shooters on consoles. Being a long time member of the PC master race meant that it took me quite a while to get used to the way consoles do things and had it not been for Destiny’s MMORPG stylings I might not have stuck it through. However I’m glad I did as the numerous hours I’ve spent in Destiny since then were ones I very much enjoyed. The time between me capping out at level 32 and the release of the House of Wolves expansion though was long enough for me to fall back to DOTA 2 and I missed much of that release. The Taken King however promised to completely upend the way Destiny did things and proved to be the perfect time for me to reignite my addiction to Bungie’s flagship IP.
Six of you went down into that pit, looking to end the dark grip that Crota held on our Moon. His death rung out across the galaxy, sending ripples through the darkness. His father, Oryx, felt his son slip from this plane and immediately swore vengeance upon you and the light. Oryx has appeared in our system aboard a mighty dreadnought, capable of decimating entire armies with a single attack. Slayer of Crota it is now up to you to face Oryx as he and his Taken are swarming over the entire solar system and threaten to snuff out the light once and for all. Are you strong enough to face this challenge guardian?
Graphically Destiny hasn’t change much, retaining the same level of impressive graphics that aptly demonstrate the capabilities of current generation console hardware. There has been a significant overhaul to the UI elements however with the vast majority of them looking sharper and feeling a lot more responsive. It might sound like a minor detail but it’s a big leap up in some regards, especially with the new quest/mission and bounty interface. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in expansions like this and I doubt we’ll see any major graphical changes until Destiny 2.0.
The core game is mostly unchanged, consisting of the same cover based shooter game play with the RPG elements sprinkled on top. Every class has been granted a new subclass meaning that each of them now has one that covers each of the elements (fire, void and arc). The levelling and progression system has been significantly overhauled, providing a much smoother experience to levelling your character up both in level and gear terms. Many of the ancillary activities, like the Nightfall and Exotic Bounties, have also been reworked to favour continuous progression rather than constant praying to RNGJesus. Additionally there’s been many quality of life improvements which have made doing lots of things in Destiny a lot easier, much to the relief of long term players like myself. This is all in concert with a campaign that’s about half as long again as the original, making The Taken King well worth its current asking price.
The new subclasses might sound like a small addition but they’ve given new life to a lot of aspects of Destiny. Each new class essentially filled a hole that was lacking in the other two, allowing each class to be far more versatile than they were previously. The only issue I have with them so far is that the new subclasses feel a lot better at more things than their predecessors do which means pretty much everyone is solely using those classes now. Sure the Defender Titan’s bubble is still the ultimate defensive super however it pales in comparison to the toolset that the Sunbreaker has at their disposal. This might just be my impression given my current playstyle (mostly solo) and may change when I finally attempt the raid this week.
The revamp of the levelling system is probably the most welcome change. Unlike before where your level was determined by the light your gear had the new maximum level is now 40, achievable through grinding XP like any other RPG. Then once you hit the maximum level you have your Light Level which is an average of your gear’s damage output and defensive capabilities. As it stands right now that’s pretty much the only thing that matters when you’re attempting an encounter and so the higher your light level the easier it will be. Whilst it’s not a huge change from the previous system it does mean that there’s quite a lot more variety in terms of what gear you’ll end up using. This also means that a lot more pieces of gear, even those lowly blues which we used to disassemble immediately, are now quite viable.
This comes hand in hand with a revamp of how you can obtain gear in the game. Whilst there are still guaranteed ways of obtaining gear through marks (now Legendary Marks which are slightly hard to come by) you’ll mostly be looking for engrams. The engram rate has been significantly increased and when you get them decrypted they’ll roll a random light level in a +/- range of your current light level. This means that, in order to progress, it’s best to equip your highest light level gear and decode engrams. Doing this I was able to get myself to light level 295 in a relatively short period of time, more than enough to attempt the raid. This, coupled with the new avenues to better gear, mean that progression is far smoother than it was before.
The revamped quest and bounties system has everything in it that guardians have been asking for from day one. There’s now a separate tab that has everything in it, allowing you to track objectives so you can quickly see your status without having to pop out into the menu. This has allowed Bungie to include multiple questlines that all run simultaneously, something which was just not possible before. Many of these quests will help you get solid boosts in your light level and, if you follow some of the longer ones, unlock some of the best gear in the game. By far the stand out piece, in my mind, is the heavy sword which (when fully levelled) makes PVE encounters a breeze and the crucible a punchbro’s dream.
The Taken King expansion also gets massive kudos for fleshing out the lore of Destiny significantly. Part of this comes from the extended campaign missions that take you deep into the world of the Hive and the Taken but there’s also dozens of new bits of information scattered throughout the world (accessible through ghost scans). The Books of Sorrow provide a lot of background detail to all the races and their involvement with the Darkness as well as providing some insight into the events that led up to the Traveller’s current state. I’m still picking through it myself but it’s honestly great to see Bungie fleshing out this world as there’s so much potential here and I’d hate for it to go to waste. Additionally Nolan North replacing Peter Dinklage as the voice of your ghost is a welcome change, as is the addition of many more hours of voice acting from all the central characters.
Destiny: The Taken King is the expansion that all guardians had hoped for, bringing with it all the improvements that were sorely needed. It’s a testament to Bungie’s dedication to this IP as the amount of extra content they’ve released for Destiny in just one year is, honestly, staggering. The changes they made with this latest expansion have improved the experience dramatically, both for casual players and the hardcore alike. If you’d been staving off playing Destiny then now would definitely be a great time to give it a whirl as this is the game many are saying it should have been at launch. For long time guardians like myself it’s what was needed to bring me back to the fold and keep me playing for a long time to come.
Destiny: The Taken King is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, XboxOne and Xbox360 for $79, $79, $79 and $79 respectively. Game was played on the PlayStation4 with approximately 20 hours of play time, reaching light level 295.
All gamers have an idea of a game they want to make. It could be anything from a novel mechanic through to a fully fleshed out story, but it’s there hanging around in the back of our minds. However for those of us who’ve attempted to bring that idea into reality we often come crashing into the cold hard truth of the games industry: making games is hard. For the precious few that make it through the process (and fewer still who see success from it) the scars of game development are forever burned into their psyche. The Magic Circle is a game that chronicles this journey, with all the dark humour and self-loathing that permeates much of the game industry.
To its fans The Magic Circle was a brilliant example of interactive fiction, a game deserving of the title of cult classic. The sequel however has been one of the most beleaguered projects in the history of gaming, having been in development for some 20 years with little to show for it. The creator’s perfectionism has kept the sequel in a perpetual state of unfinishedness, never being satisfied enough to ship anything. You are one of the games’ long time fans who’s been hired as a playtester for the current iteration of the game. Whilst your experience confirms that yes, there is a game, it’s no where near complete. However when you finish the small section you’re contacted by an AI from a previous generation of the game who shows you how to take control of this unfinished world.
The Magic Circle looks and feels like an unfinished game, although under the hood it’s anything but. The choice of a bleak black and white aesthetic for one world (and a low-res, 8-bit colour palette for the other) reinforces that unfinished feeling. Interestingly though the whole world is properly textured as evidenced by the fact that your character brings colour wherever it steps. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in a pre-alpha or similarly beta indie game although there’s an obvious layer of polish that would otherwise be missing from such early stage games. Suffice to say Question Games have done a good job of creating a “finished-unfinished” world.
Like most early stage games The Magic Circle is a mishmash of different ideas that are all cobbled together. The initial game starts out as something of a walking simulator with you just viewing the scenery. However it quickly transforms into a kind of puzzle game where you can modify the behaviour of enemies and objects within the world. This can be something as simple as making something your ally instead of your enemy or completely changing the way an object moves or interacts. This is how you start breaking the game, changing things around so you can access more areas that you shouldn’t be able to. Finally at the end you’re put in charge of actually developing a game level and you’ll get reviewed on how fun it is. This is all the while you’re privy to commentary from the game’s developers, giving you an insight into the creator’s vision and why it’s never quite managed to be released.
The initial game modification section of The Magic Circle is quite fun as there are numerous different ways to approach many of the puzzles when you first start out. These start to thin out a bit as you get towards the later puzzles as most of them really only have one solution. Still the rudimentary control you have over the NPCs does present some rather fun opportunities like sending wave after wave of rats at the Hive Queen in an attempt to defeat her. Of course there’s only so much mucking about you can do before you’ve found all the secrets and want to move on. Thankfully that’s not hard at all and it’s at that point the game takes on a very meta twist.
It’s at this point you’re thrust into a demo game for E4 and given the choice of whether or not to muck with it. This then leads onto you watching them playing the demo live on stage whilst all chaos breaks loose. Then after that you’re given the task of creating the sequel with a rudimentary level editor. It’s actually pretty interesting to try and figure out how to maximise the review score at the end and the commentary given to you by Old Pro is quite entertaining. You’re then thrown back to your desktop where you’re able to replay the game, redo your level or simply click around to find out some more details about the game.
It’s interesting to see a satirized version of events that are familiar to many gamers, namely sequels that seem to be forever in development due to its creator’s perfectionism. Indeed it feels like a game more for developers, industry insiders and observers more than anything. If anything the story is more like a 3 hour long treatise on the pitfalls of developing a game and the potential boons for those who manage to stick it through. Whilst I enjoyed it, even Ishmael’s long rant about how it’s all about the player and their destructive wishes, I know that kind of story isn’t for everyone.
The Magic Circle demonstrates in a beautifully satirical way the agony that is game development. The world is expertly crafted to resemble a pre-alpha game that’s a mash of too many ideas, all coexisting in the same code base which end up mashing together in unintended ways. This is reflected in the game play which is based around messing with things and changing up behaviours so you can access things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The story is one that definitely has a specific target audience in mind and, whilst it might not be for everyone, definitely plays to its strengths as a piece of commentary on the industry. It might not meet my criteria for a must-play game for everyone but if, like me, you feel like a part of the greater games industry, then there’s definitely a lot to like in The Magic Circle.
The Magic Circle is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 3 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.