All gamers have an idea of a game they want to make. It could be anything from a novel mechanic through to a fully fleshed out story, but it’s there hanging around in the back of our minds. However for those of us who’ve attempted to bring that idea into reality we often come crashing into the cold hard truth of the games industry: making games is hard. For the precious few that make it through the process (and fewer still who see success from it) the scars of game development are forever burned into their psyche. The Magic Circle is a game that chronicles this journey, with all the dark humour and self-loathing that permeates much of the game industry.
To its fans The Magic Circle was a brilliant example of interactive fiction, a game deserving of the title of cult classic. The sequel however has been one of the most beleaguered projects in the history of gaming, having been in development for some 20 years with little to show for it. The creator’s perfectionism has kept the sequel in a perpetual state of unfinishedness, never being satisfied enough to ship anything. You are one of the games’ long time fans who’s been hired as a playtester for the current iteration of the game. Whilst your experience confirms that yes, there is a game, it’s no where near complete. However when you finish the small section you’re contacted by an AI from a previous generation of the game who shows you how to take control of this unfinished world.
The Magic Circle looks and feels like an unfinished game, although under the hood it’s anything but. The choice of a bleak black and white aesthetic for one world (and a low-res, 8-bit colour palette for the other) reinforces that unfinished feeling. Interestingly though the whole world is properly textured as evidenced by the fact that your character brings colour wherever it steps. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect to see in a pre-alpha or similarly beta indie game although there’s an obvious layer of polish that would otherwise be missing from such early stage games. Suffice to say Question Games have done a good job of creating a “finished-unfinished” world.
Like most early stage games The Magic Circle is a mishmash of different ideas that are all cobbled together. The initial game starts out as something of a walking simulator with you just viewing the scenery. However it quickly transforms into a kind of puzzle game where you can modify the behaviour of enemies and objects within the world. This can be something as simple as making something your ally instead of your enemy or completely changing the way an object moves or interacts. This is how you start breaking the game, changing things around so you can access more areas that you shouldn’t be able to. Finally at the end you’re put in charge of actually developing a game level and you’ll get reviewed on how fun it is. This is all the while you’re privy to commentary from the game’s developers, giving you an insight into the creator’s vision and why it’s never quite managed to be released.
The initial game modification section of The Magic Circle is quite fun as there are numerous different ways to approach many of the puzzles when you first start out. These start to thin out a bit as you get towards the later puzzles as most of them really only have one solution. Still the rudimentary control you have over the NPCs does present some rather fun opportunities like sending wave after wave of rats at the Hive Queen in an attempt to defeat her. Of course there’s only so much mucking about you can do before you’ve found all the secrets and want to move on. Thankfully that’s not hard at all and it’s at that point the game takes on a very meta twist.
It’s at this point you’re thrust into a demo game for E4 and given the choice of whether or not to muck with it. This then leads onto you watching them playing the demo live on stage whilst all chaos breaks loose. Then after that you’re given the task of creating the sequel with a rudimentary level editor. It’s actually pretty interesting to try and figure out how to maximise the review score at the end and the commentary given to you by Old Pro is quite entertaining. You’re then thrown back to your desktop where you’re able to replay the game, redo your level or simply click around to find out some more details about the game.
It’s interesting to see a satirized version of events that are familiar to many gamers, namely sequels that seem to be forever in development due to its creator’s perfectionism. Indeed it feels like a game more for developers, industry insiders and observers more than anything. If anything the story is more like a 3 hour long treatise on the pitfalls of developing a game and the potential boons for those who manage to stick it through. Whilst I enjoyed it, even Ishmael’s long rant about how it’s all about the player and their destructive wishes, I know that kind of story isn’t for everyone.
The Magic Circle demonstrates in a beautifully satirical way the agony that is game development. The world is expertly crafted to resemble a pre-alpha game that’s a mash of too many ideas, all coexisting in the same code base which end up mashing together in unintended ways. This is reflected in the game play which is based around messing with things and changing up behaviours so you can access things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. The story is one that definitely has a specific target audience in mind and, whilst it might not be for everyone, definitely plays to its strengths as a piece of commentary on the industry. It might not meet my criteria for a must-play game for everyone but if, like me, you feel like a part of the greater games industry, then there’s definitely a lot to like in The Magic Circle.
The Magic Circle is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 3 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.
Movie tie-in games are some of the most derided games ever to grace our presence and with good reason. Often they’re given a woefully insufficient amount of time to come up with a playable product and quality is the first thing that hits the chopping block, leaving them bug ridden messes of half finished dreck. The last few years have seen a few titles rise above the filth however and whilst none of them have been game of the year material they have been pleasurable surprises. Mad Max is one such gem, taking the essence of the movie and distilling it down into a very playable experience.
The world lies barren, scorched by an intense nuclear war. Those that survived the collapse struggle to survive, scavenging what they could from the remnants of society that lie scattered about. This world now belongs to the ruthless and violent with gangs and war bands patrolling the sandy dunes looking for people and places to pillage. You are Max, a survivor who has lost everything since the collapse and wants nothing to do with this world any more. So he has resigned himself to cross the Plains of Silence in his Black on Black, an Interceptor capable of making the long journey. However his plans are foiled by Scabrous Scrotus, son of the warlord Immortan Joe who steals everything from him. You are not so easily beaten however and you turn your eyes to recovering your Black on Black and making Scrotus pay for what he did.
The wasteland setting for Mad Max is quite beautiful with the plains stretching out to the horizon in every direction. It’s the definition of an open world game with nearly every bit of scenery that you can see being accessible and part of the game. There’s definitely been a lot of effort put into crafting certain aspects of the scenery, like the dust you kick up when going offroad and the slight changes in the howls that each engine emits. It’s also got enough visual variety that you don’t feel like you’re driving through the same place all the time as each area has its own distinct theme. Thankfully this all comes to you fully optimized, something which games with lots of open space like this often get wrong.
On first blush Mad Max is your typical open worlder, with all the standard trimmings of campaign missions, side missions and a lack of direction of which one you should do when. If I was to compare it to recent open world titles it’d be somewhere in the middle between Far Cry 4 and Batman: Arkham Knight. You’ve got your typical progression in the form of skills and equipment, both for your vehicle (the Magnum Opus) and Max himself, some of which are locked behind story missions whilst others through open world objectives. There’s camps for you to capture, places for you to explore and hordes of enemies bounding around for you to take out or avoid. Combat comes in two flavours: the stylized beat ’em up hand to hand combat while on foot as Max as well as some in-car combat which is a little more rudimentary. Suffice to say I was surprised at just how much was crammed into this game given its origins as a movie tie-in.
If you’re a fan of the Arkham series of combat then Mad Max is right up your alley with the controls and style being instantly familiar. There’s not as much variety in moves and finishers however it’s still quite a challenge to rack up long combo streaks without getting interrupted. There’s a few rough edges on the combat though which really start to show in the later stages of the game. Essentially you can get yourself into a situation where there’s no way for you to block or counter an incoming move, ruining your chain (and potentially losing you an upgrade point). Usually this happens when you’re doing a finisher which triggers a mini-cutscene which, when interrupted, feels unfair. There’s also a heavy reliance on consumables which aren’t readily available or farmable in the world for a lot of the big finisher moves so they often go unused. Overall it’s a good emulation of Rocksteady’s combat style, just in need of a little more tuning.
The car combat is pretty simplistic by comparison, usually involving you ramming the other car into submission. As you progress through the story missions there are weapon upgrades that allow you to more effectively dispatch your enemies, like a harpoon that can rip wheels off, but the heavy investment requirement means you’ll have to forgo quite a few other upgrades to get them. Additionally for the most part you don’t really need all the bells and whistles, just having the fastest car (both in terms of top speed and acceleration) is all that’s needed for most encounters. The final boss battle is the only exception to this as you’ll struggle to finish it in a timely manner if you don’t have at least a Level 4 harpoon and another similarly upgraded weapon. It’d probably be made a lot better if the driving controls were a little more refined as the slightly janky steering, even on cars with the top handling, makes things more difficult than they should be.
As you’d expect from an open world game there’s numerous activities for you to do most of which will provide you some form of benefit. Clearing out camps for instance will net you a periodic amount of scrap, the currency that underpins the economy of Mad Max. Doing “projects” in strongholds will unlock certain benefits like giving you a full water canteen or opening up new types of missions for you to complete. Winning races will unlock a permanent location where you can fuel up your car whenever you want. For people who like to meander through games, picking and choosing whichever mission takes their fancy, this kind of thing is probably what they’re after. For me though these little side distractions just didn’t feel rewarding enough for me to bother with them for long. In the end I’d only go on scrap hunting missions if I needed it to unlock the next campaign mission which I only had to do a couple times.
It’s not a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagination as the above screenshot will attest to. You see there’s no jumping in Mad Max but there are multiple heights and in some instances you’ll find yourself trapped in a place you can’t get out of. Some of them aren’t even as obvious as the one pictured above. In one particular mission I managed to roll over some pipes which I couldn’t roll back out of. It’s clear what’s missing here, the movement system isn’t coded to deal with situations where the difference in terrain height is above a certain threshold. Whilst not every game needs to have the parkour stylings of Assassin’s Creed a more robust move system would be key in alleviating the unfortunately frequent problems that arise from the current simplistic implementation.
The story, if it were standing on its own, is fairly rudimentary although since it serves as a kind of prequel to the world of the movie it’s a little more interesting. Strictly speaking it’s a separate story in terms of canon and indeed Max’s character is quite different to the one portrayed in the cinema. However it does give you a little bit more insight into the reasons why Max ends up the way he is in the movie. Still it’s not much more than your typical action script, albeit it bereft of some of the more common components in favour of more talk of cars as a religion and all the craziness that the movie demonstrated.
Mad Max is an example of what tie-in games can achieve if they have more than a token effort put into them. The barren wasteland world is beautifully realised with the landscapes reaching out from horizon to horizon. The core game mechanics are mostly well realised, often getting close to their more mature brethren from which they draw inspiration. For fans of the open world genre there’s more than enough activities to keep you going for numerous hours on end. For people like me though who aren’t so interested in the distractions the game is still readily playable if you do pretty much campaign missions only, you’ll just have to use your skill rather than your scrap to win fights. Suffice to say I was surprised by just how playable Mad Max was, especially given its tie in origins. If you’re one of the many raving fans of Fury Road then Mad Max is probably worth a look in.
Mad Max is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 13 hours of total playtime and 29% of the achievements unlocked.
The hivemind of the gaming community collectively looks towards indie developers as the innovators. We praise them and put them up on pedestals because they dare to buck trends, trying out new concepts, mechanics and stories that big AAA developers would never touch. Sometimes this works out well, spawning new genres or revamping old ones, other times however the concept fails so hard to achieve its goals that the idea is burnt forever more. Indeed the risk is even higher when the developers attempt something that’s extremely high concept, much like what The Flock attempted to be. Unfortunately this time around the risk won’t be rewarded as The Flock is set to be a ghost town that will never achieve its vision.
The world is a shadow of its former self, great cities lie in disrepair and what remains elsewhere has been long abandoned. All that remains now is the Flock, a race of subhuman creatures who skitter through the darkness searching for one thing: the Artefact. It is that sacred thing that can transform a member of the Flock into a Carrier, able to wield the power of the light and bring about the next phase of this world’s existence. However creature of the Flock wants the Artefact and will do anything to obtain it, even kill their own. There is limited time left for members of the Flock as their population is dwindling, every murdered carrier putting their entire species one step closer to extinction.
The Flock might not be the most pretty game in the world, thanks mostly to its drab aesthetic, but it does manage to punch above average in the graphics department. For the most part things look great from afar, especially when you’re on top of a building in the city overlooking everything, but up close it’s clear that detail is scant. The various bright and shiny things help break up the visual monotony a bit, as well as provide visual cues for some of the game’s core mechanics. Apart from that there’s really not much else write home about as the game’s focus isn’t purely on graphics.
The premise of The Flock is an interesting one: you’re a member of The Flock’s race and you want to get The Artefact. Once you have it you’re transformed into The Carrier who can wield The Artefact’s power which is essentially a high powered torch. If another member of The Flock kills you they’ll then become The Carrier however if you shine the light on them, and they’re foolish enough to move even an inch while you have it on them, they’ll be burnt to cinders. It’s not as simple as standing still once you’ve got The Artefact however as you need to move to power it. There’s also objectives for you to complete, charging up blue glowing things with the light of The Artefact, which tempt you to come after them. Underpinning all this is the limited population that The Flock has and, once that’s exhausted, the game itself will no longer be on sale and only those who had purchased the game will be able to participate in the next stage.
In raw game terms The Flock is quite playable, that is if you can manage to scrounge together a game with more than just one other player. Each of the maps has numerous routes and places for The Flock to hide in, something which can make your life as The Carrier quite hard. The Artefact needing movement to be powered means that you’ll always be on the move, further increasing other Flock member’s chances of hunting you down. Indeed I can imagine that in a full game of 6 people it’d be quite the chaotic affair as even with just 3 it was hard to hold onto the artefact for any long stretch of time, especially if you went after objectives.
However the number of people playing The Flock is so abysmally poor that you’ll be lucky to ever see another person playing it. I spent probably half my time in game simply waiting for someone else to join me only to be disappointed nearly every time. Checking the population every 5 minutes or so revealed that yes, I was the only one playing since there were no other deaths happening anywhere else in the world. In the time I’ve been playing it the population has dropped by a paltry 1200 meaning, on average, there’s been one death every 30 seconds. At this rate the population will reach 0 sometime in the next 200 years, not exactly what the developers had in mind I’m sure.
This severe drop off in interest can probably be traced to The Flock’s lack of replayability. Those three maps in the screenshot below? Those are the only three maps you’ll have to play, meaning that after 3 games you’ve likely seen everything there is to see in The Flock. This would be fine if the game play was interesting enough however since all the objectives are the same and there are no different modes the longevity of The Flock is severely limited. Thus after the initial fervour there’s only going to be a handful of people playing at any moment. That’s not going to improve any time soon. especially with the developers being tight lipped about the whole thing.
The Flock will never achieve its ambition, the lack of variety in the game play not enough to sustain it until the huge population reaches 0. At a technical and mechanical level the game is sound, playable even at high pings that often happened due to the lack of players. However this game had grander visions, of enticing players in with the notion that they could be part of something exclusive. something that no game had attempted before. Unfortunately that vision will never be realised, the population set too high and the interest in the game too low. I would say I’m disappointed but, honestly, the developers grossly overestimated how popular their game would be and have been subsequently punished for their hubris.
The Flock is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was 1 hour.
There are few games that manage to grab me with just a concept. Put simply it’s because I’ve seen it all, the vast swath of games I’ve played over the years covering the far reaches of the gaming spectrum. To put it in perspective over the 4 years or so that I’ve been doing this I’ve played some 200 different games and it’s easy to see the patterns emerging when you play that many games. However there are still exceptions, games that bring new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas. Such games are of instant intrigue to me and Beyond Eyes, whilst not being the greatest experience overall, certainly sold itself to me just on its concept alone.
You are Rae, a young girl who wants nothing more than kids of her age do. However, one day, she’s unfortunately struck blind, her world now one of total darkness. As she comes to grips with her new reality she meets a new friend; Nani the neighbourhood cat. Rae and Nani become the best of friends, the ring of Nani’s bell the ever present reminder that her friend is there with her. One day though Nani stops coming to visit Rae and so she sets out into the world to find her lost companion.
Beyond Eyes is one of the few Unity games that manages to avoid the same aesthetic that many games built on the platform have. Beyond Eyes has a kind of watercolour style to it, almost as if it was ripped straight out of the children’s books of my formative years. The watercolour aesthetic is taken one step further by the reveal mechanic which feels like water creeping across paper. Probably the most interesting thing about the look of Beyond Eyes though is just how deceptive the mostly white environment is, making you feel like you’re in a much larger world than you actually are. This is most certainly intentional and is something I’ll dive into deeper shortly. Suffice to say I feel Beyond Eyes is one of the most unique looking Unity games I’ve seen in a long time.
Beyond Eyes is essentially a walking simulator at heart as all you do is trundle through the various environments, making your way around blockages until you move onto the next section. You can’t see everything that’s around you however, only the things that you’ve been near or, in the case of later levels, only the things that are right next to you. This is a powerful way to evoke the same feelings that a blind person would have as you really have no idea of what’s in front of you or if the sounds you’re hearing are coming from what you think they are. It’s an incredibly well executed concept in my mind as it does a great job of putting you in the mindset of someone who’d recently lost their sight.
There are some puzzles to speak of but they’re mostly just a function of finding the right thing to unblock your next path. Most of these can be as simple as taking an alternate path whilst others will require you to find an item in order to progress. They’re really not hard by any stretch of the imagination with most of them putting the solution right in front of you if you explore far enough. In all honesty though there’s not a whole lot of point in exploring too much as the rewards for doing so are minimal and don’t progress the story much beyond the little snippets of text you get every so often. I think even the most hardened achievement hunters would struggle to find much reason to go after them, honestly.
The various mechanics employed to emulate the world that the blind “see” is by far the strongest aspect of the game. The world being revealed to you, styled in a childlike fantasy, as you walk by everything is truly inspired. The replacement of objects, like a fountain turning into a drain pipe, gives you an idea of the struggles that people without sight go through. Even small things like barking dogs making Rae upset take on a new perspective when you realise that she would have no way of knowing if that dog was being aggressive or simply chasing a toy. It was this initial concept that sold me on Beyond Eyes and I’m glad to say it delivers aptly in that respect.
However whilst the mechanics are great the story is just too basic to take the whole experience to the next level. Games in this genre live and die by their story and the emotional engagement they can evoke with its players and, even though this might be based around a true story, is too short to have any meaningful impact. The ending was also just a poor attempt at tugging at the heart strings when, in reality, the character had absolutely no reason to come to the conclusion they did. The epilogue then feels like a ham fisted attempt at a bitter-sweet ending but, due to the lack of character development, just feels hollow. It’s a real shame honestly as I completely appreciate the goals they set out to achieve here, and in terms of replicating what it’d be like to be blind I feel they’ve achieved that, however the story they’ve used to demonstrate that experience is just not up to scratch.
Beyond Eyes set out with the ambitious goal of giving the sighted a portal into the world of the blind and, at a mechanical level, they have achieved that. The dreamy, watercolour aesthetic is a beautiful backdrop for the small pieces of the world that are revealed to you. How that world is revealed to you, through all the sights, sounds and smells of the world, is fantastically implemented, able to evoke what I feel are the feelings that the blind would have venturing out into the world. However the story simply fails to deliver, leaving this game to simply be a mechanical masterpiece rather than the emotional journey it strives to be. For any other genre this would still make it a game I’d recommend to a wide audience however, for Beyond Eyes, it’s really only a game for fans of the genre.
Beyond Eyes is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 1.5 hours with 30% of the achievements unlocked.
The Trine series has captured many people’s attention over the years, mostly thanks to the incredibly inventive physics based game play. It’s been a long time between drinks for the series what with the previous installment, Trine 2, being released almost 4 years ago. This can be partly attributed to Frozenbyte focusing some of its efforts on their iOS platform Splot, however most of the long development time has been spent on Trine 3 itself. Indeed when you hear that Trine 3 incorporates 3D into the mix, after the last 2 being 2D platformers, you can get a feel for why it stayed in development for so long. However Frozenbyte’s ambition may have been its undoing as it’s clear that Trine 3 fell short of its ultimate goal.
Once again our heroes: Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya, are trying to live their lives as they were before the Trine started interfering with them. Amadeus was finally spending time with his family, taking them to see the giant turtle migration. Pontius continued to be a hero of the people, ensuring that no thief or neerdowell went unpunished. Zoya continued her quest for treasure, tracking down a giant emerald. However, just like always, the Trine showed up at the most inopportune time to whisk them away on an adventure. Little did they know that this one would take them to the heart of the Trine itself and the darkness which lied within.
Trine 3 makes use of Frozenbyte’s own custom engine and, whilst I’d warn most indie developers about doing that, what they’ve managed to create is, put simply, absolutely stunning. Trine 2 managed to have some great vistas however, due to the 2D nature, they were always somewhere off in the background. With the inclusion of 3D in Trine 3, and the addition of the vastly improved artwork, Trine 3 is yet again another step up from its predecessor. The art style and direction is retained, with vibrant colours and effects everywhere, along with the great soundtrack and voice acting. Indeed Trine 3 feels like a AAA title in almost all respects as there are few indies who can produce such quality work.
The core of Trine remains largely the same with the platforming, puzzle solving and emergent, physics based game play all making an appearance. The abilities of the three heroes are largely the same as well although the game has been radically simplified when compared to its predecessors. Amadeus can summon just one box, Pontious’ abilities have been reduced to a charge and slam and Zoya’s arrows are merely garden variety now, although she can now attach things together through the use of her grappling hook. The talent system is completely gone and progression now comes in the form of collecting shiny triangles which you’ll use to unlock further story and side missions. All in all Trine 3 feels like a far more streamlined game, one that would be far more welcoming to newcomers to the series.
The introduction of 3D changes the core platforming and puzzle mechanics significantly as now you have a whole extra dimension to contend to when attempting to solve the puzzles. It’s not true full 3D in all aspects however as it seems, for simplicity’s sake, that there are some constraints on your movement. If you jump off a wall in one direction you’ll essentially be locked to moving in that direction. For things parts of the environment that spin or move this can lead to some unpredictable behaviour as mistiming your jump means you move in a completely different direction to the one you intended. The same rules seem to apply to using the grappling hook as well, locking you into one direction to swing across (I.E. you can’t say, swing around in a loop). I’m sure I’m not explaining this well enough but once you play Trine 3 you’ll see what I’m getting at.
Combat feels largely the same, being one of the few times that you’ll use Pontius for something. You’ll be able to complete most combat sections by just mashing buttons and jumping around randomly however some of the later fights do require a bit more finesse. The only really challenging combat encounters are the boss fights (of which there are 2 from memory) and the various side quests which lock you into a single character requiring you to figure out how to best use them in combat. For long time fans of the series this will feel largely in step with previous games in the series as combat was always something of an also-ran, a curious distraction to break up the platforming and puzzle solving.
The emergent gameplay is as rampant as ever with most puzzles having numerous unintended solutions. Most of these are born out of their basis on physics, allowing you to exploit various things in order to make the puzzle think it’s solved. One of the most egregious things you can exploit is, yet again, the wizard’s ability to move boxes and other objects around. Whilst you can’t box surf like you once could you can, say, jump off a box and then lift it up with blazing speed, launching you far above whatever obstacle was in front of you. It’s certainly not as crazy as previous Trine games were but you can still pull off some rather crazy feats if you put your mind to it.
Emergent gameplay does have a dark side however, coming in the form of glitches and unintended behaviour. You’ll more than likely come across your fair share of glitchy enemies, puzzles that don’t work for whatever reason or deaths that don’t feel like they’re entirely your fault. There’s nothing in there that I’d consider game breaking, indeed most of the time you can work your way around whatever glitch you’re stuck on, however it does mean that some of the puzzles are far more frustrating than they need to be. Some of the glitches are hilarious too, like when enemies clip through the floor and then rocket back out. I guess when you think in terms of the overall Trine series Trine 3 is the least glitchy of the lot, which is saying something.
The story is where Trine 3 falls down, not for the content mostly, that at the very least retains it’s mostly passable qualities, the real issue comes with its length. You see Trine 3 was Frozenbyte’s most ambitious game getting triple the budget of its predecessor. Whilst this is most certainly reflected in the quality of the game it still wasn’t enough for them to finish the game in the way they wanted to. Thus the game ends at what feels like the first third of the story, leaving you on a cliffhanger that feels like it should’ve been somewhere in the middle of the game rather than at the end of it. This is what has led to much frustration from the wider gamer community, something which Frozenbyte has acknowledged and provided some insight on. In my mind the quality of the game they’ve created isn’t in question however it’s obvious that Trine 3 has fallen far short of their vision.
Trine 3 is an absolutely stunning game, one that keeps true to the Trine roots but unfortunately fell prey to the sin of ambition. The artwork, soundtrack and cinematography are still top notch, showcasing production values that I’ve come to expect from the series. The core mechanics and gameplay are still there, just streamlined a bit in order to reduce friction. However the game is clearly only a third of the creator’s original vision, with numerous levels and story left undeveloped, never to be explored by us gamers. It’s really quite unfortunate as parts of Trine 3 we’ve got are just incredible but that quality has obviously come at a cost. Hopefully this isn’t the death of the series as it would be a real shame to see it go just as Frozenbyte was reaching its peak.
Trine 3 is available on PC right now for $21.99. Total playtime was 4 hours with 64% of the achievements unlocked.
In my review of Cradle (which I meant to get out last week, apologies!) I noted that I’ve found two distinct types of exploration games. Some are guided, wanting to gently push you towards some goal, others are more free form, wanting you to roam and discover your own story. With Cradle more in the guided camp it was serendipitous that Submerged came right after I finished it as it takes the opposite approach, plonking you in a wide open area and letting you have at it. Whilst my preference for these types of games still tends towards the guided Submerged is a decent little exploration game, even if it errs on the simplistic side.
You are Miku, a determined young girl who’s come to this sunken city in the hopes of finding help for you brother, Taku. He is gravely injured, suffering from a might slash across his chest that threatens to take his life. You must explore this city, clambering through ruined buildings and scaling crumbling towers, looking for supplies to restore Taku to health. You can’t help but feel you’re being watched however as this wild city seems to have eyes on every corner. Still you push forward, your love for your brother driving you forward.
Submerged runs on the Unreal 4 engine and, whilst it’s not going to bring your PC to its knees with the graphics, it does have a great style and aesthetic. It’s one of those games where it’s best visual moments are the ones when you’re in a wide open space, the sprawling ruined city laid out before you. Up close it starts to lose its magic as there’s a lot of repeated asset use without a lot of variety. Still there were numerous times when my wife would peek over my shoulder and exclaim “Pretty!” at my screen so that has to count for something.
The core game play of Submerged is one of exploration as you’re set free in a ruined city to look for supplies, secrets and upgrades for your boat. You could say that there was a platforming aspect to Submerged as well, since you have to scale buildings and ferret your way through their innards, however it’s quite limited in nature. Thankfully you don’t have to stumble blindly through every building to find what you need as your telescope can highlight things on your map for you. Other than that there’s really not much else to speak of in Submerged as it really is quite a simple game.
Whilst you’ll be scaling great heights there’s no threat to falling off and having to start over as the platfroming is strictly controlled. You can’t accidentally let go form a platform, leap to your death or walk off the edge to fall down onto another platform. This does mean that there’s really no tension in any of the climbing sections however, unlike nearly every other platform game I’ve played. At the same time it is kind of nice to switch off and just meander through these sections and it does give you something of an incentive to explore a little more. Still if you were looking for a platforming challenge Submerged isn’t the game you’re looking for.
Submerged behaves pretty much as expected however there are a few little quirks that I feel bear mentioning. There’s obviously something a little off about the day/night cycles as, whilst they seem to work fine, the sun and moon don’t move in a smooth motion. Instead they seem to move in fast increments, something which is readily apparent when there’s long shadows cast on a building. Additionally some of the visual clues for climbing, like the vines and whatnot, aren’t exactly clear on what you can and can’t climb on first blush. A wall covered in small vines? Climbable. A wall covered in large vines? Not climbable however you can climb pipes which are roughly the same size. Of course once you figure these quirks out it’s easy to spot them but it does make for some frustrating moments.
In terms of story Submerged opts to tell it primarily through the use of hieroglyphics that are revealed to you when you complete an objective. Whilst it’s a novel approach I can’t help but feel that it was done mostly in the aid of easing the localization of Submerged more than anything, kind of like why The Sims speak gibberish rather than an actual language. Thus the story, whilst a little touching at some points, lacks any real depth or development that would draw you in. The history of the city is somewhat interesting however the fact that you only have a few pictures to go on means that there’s really not a whole lot to explore, in story terms.
Submerged is a decent experience with a wide open world to explore through stress free platforming. The above average visuals and soundtrack, combined with the relatively low challenge, do make Submerged one of the more relaxing experiences I’ve played in recent memory. However that simplicity and lack of challenge means there’s not much to really draw you in as the story, whilst serviceable, does little to draw you in. Overall whilst I’d recommend giving Submerged a go if you’re into exploration type games there’s just not a lot in there for the general gaming populace.
Submerged is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $19.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours of total playtime and 30% of the achievements unlocked.
Exploration games fit into two major categories: those that guide you along a pre-determined path, allowing you to wander off to your heart’s content, and those who simply drop you in a world and let you have at it. For the purists the latter is more desireable as you’re free to uncover the world as you see fit. However for those looking to tell a story the former is a much better approach as it gives you control over what parts of the story are revealed when. Cradle, though indicating that it was a more of a unguided adventure, fits into the latter category, guiding you along a predetermined path whilst revealing its story to you.
The year is 2076 and the advances in science have been numerous. Age and death have been conquered as people can now transfer their consciousness from their physical form into synthetic bodies, granting them immortality. However this technological marvel brought with it a terrible plague as some people rejected the technology at a fundamental level, causing them to violently explode. You, however, have no knowledge of this, waking up in a yurt in rural Mongolia without any memories of who you are. So begins your journey to rediscover who you are, why you found yourself in this place and what part you have to play in its future.
Cradle is a decidedly pretty game, especially from a game studio whose entire team consists of four people. It has a muted aesthetic which helps with the kind of post-apocalyptic feel that permeates most aspects of the game. On first look it reminded me of the numerous games that have been built on the Unreal engine but in fact it’s built on Unigine, a relatively unknown platform. Suffice to say it’s definitely capable of producing some top quality visuals although there were a couple unexplained slowdowns from time to time.
As I alluded to earlier Cradle is a guided exploration game, plonking you in a seemingly huge world to explore and discover. The world is littered with remnants of its past like articles, brochures and books, all of which will help you in understanding the world you now find yourself in. Interestingly Cradle wants to make you think it’s an unguided adventure however, should you play it as one, you’ll likely run up against numerous obstacles as many things have to be done in a very specific order. Additionally there’s a rather peculiar mini-game which you either need to complete, or fail at least once and then skip, several times over in order to progress the story further. Overall once you get past the idea that this is supposed to be an unguided adventure Cradle starts to come into its own, despite some of its more glaring faults.
You’ll spend the vast majority of the game travelling between two main points in the game: your yurt and what appears to be a nearby amusement park. Whilst the core of the story will be revealed to you by following the path that the “hint” system (which it really isn’t, it’s really an objective tracker) sets out for you there’s quite a lot more that’s revealed in all the various artefacts that are scattered around the place. Thankfully most of these things aren’t giant walls of text that have become common in games like this, making it a little easier to digest the wealth of information at your disposal.
The mini-game, which you’ll have to play several times over, is honestly quite confusing when you first play it. The rules are simple enough to understand but their implementation is just a little confusing. It’s not entirely clear on whether using the blocks you need to reach the goal for other things, like making bombs or platforms, will actually consume that block. After a couple tries though it’s easy enough to get the hang of it and, thankfully, should you fail once you can simply skip the game entirely. I can see why the developers included this minigame, it’s good to have a break from all the reading/talking/walking from time to time, however it wasn’t what I’d call one of Cradle’s standout features.
Whilst the whole “I’ve lost my memories and need to figure out who I am” trope might’ve been done to death the backstory of Cradle was interesting enough that I was able to let it slide. Your relationship with the woman you find, whilst feeling a little stilted thanks to the rather flat voice acting by the main character, develops rather well as both your backstories are fleshed out together. The game does feel like it ends somewhat abruptly as the main character seems to know something the player doesn’t but it does at least wrap up most of the loose ends. There is some rather lively discussion going on in Cradle’s community forum about the various aspects of the ending and, honestly, it was actually kind of nice to trawl through it and figure out what I thought the ending really meant.
Cradle is a beautiful game, both in aesthetic terms and the story it crafts. Whilst you’ll spend your time in a small area you’ll quickly find it brimming with details, building up the world which your small slice of post-apocalyptic paradise resides. The mini-games and the flat voice acting are Cradle’s two major failings however they’re both quickly forgotten as you dive deeper into the narrative that developers has crafted. For lovers of the exploration game genre there’s plenty to love in Cradle and for a first game from an indie studio it does credit to the talent at Flying Cafe.
Cradle is available on PC right now for $12.99. Total play time was approximately 4 hours with 44% of the achievements unlocked.
Sometimes a game is responsible for the creation of a new genre. The most often reference example of this is the MOBA genre, one that was spawned out of the DOTA mod for Warcraft III, but there have been numerous other examples before and after it. One often less talked about example is Limbo as it spurred on so many titles in a similar vein that I think they bear classification under the same banner. Feist is one such game, using the same silhouetted aesthetic and platform mechanics to produce a short but eminently sweet title that’s been a long time coming.
You are a small little ball of fuzz in a giant forest, one that’s filled with many other fuzzy creatures. Many of these creatures are much bigger than you and, unfortunately, this has led to you and your mate’s capture. You are left to rot in a cage hanging from a tree, the big fuzzies wandering off into the distance with your mate in tow. They’ve underestimated you however as you quickly manage to escape from your prison and begin your pursuit, hunting the big fuzzies down one by one. It’s not going to be easy though as this forest is riddled with traps and creatures that are out to make a meal of you…or worse.
Drawing the comparison to Limbo is easy because, well, compared side by side you’d be forgiven for thinking they were made by the same developer (or at least, the same artist). The minimalistic visuals, mostly done in silhouettes, with the white pinpoints for eyes piercing through the darkness are a trademark of these kinds of atmospheric platformers. Since platformers live and die by you being able to distinguish what you can and can’t jump on this visual style can be a little frustrating however after a while you get good at figuring out what you will and won’t collide with. This visual style is accompanied by some quite incredible music, something which I’ve really come to appreciate in titles like this.
Feist is a 2D platformer with the main gameplay mechanic being your never ending quest to get from the left of the screen to the right. Whilst there’s only a few minor hints to guide you along at the start the controls will likely be familiar to you, allowing you to run, jump and interact with various objects that are scattered around. Unlike previous titles however Feist relies more on emergent gameplay than scripted events, meaning that it’s quite likely that your solution to the problem isn’t the only one available.Indeed many of the achievements encourage you to engage in behaviour that’s born out of this style of gameplay, something which you don’t usually see in games of this type. Overall whilst it’s not revolutionary in terms of mechanics or style Feist does manage to carve out its own little niche, one that it’s quite comfortable in.
One of the more interesting things Feist does that others don’t is combat. Much of the emergent gameplay comes from you doing battle with the various enemies that you’ll come across and how they interact with each other. Many of the enemies can’t be fought head on instead you have to lure them into traps, use the environment to crush them or, and this is great, use other enemies to fight them for you.This leads to all sorts of interesting behaviours with enemies sometimes running amok amongst each other whilst you just quietly go about your business. Other times it’s a fierce battle between you and a single enemy, testing your rock throwing prowess and stick weilding skills.
As with any physics based game though there are quirks that make themselves known from time to time, usually in the form of your character dying or getting flung off screen because of some strange interaction. Most of the time this comes in the form of getting crushed by something even though you weren’t fully under it, like when you’re next to a boulder and you get crushed even though you weren’t fully under it. For the most part this seems like a design decision, erring more towards the unforgiving side, however it can be frustrating when you get crushed by a log that only one of your little spines seemed to be touching. Apart from that Feist, which uses the Unity engine, runs absolutely brilliantly without nary a hiccup or crash to be seen.
Feist’s story comes without a hint of dialogue, told entirely through small cutscenes that happen between levels. As such there’s really not a whole lot of depth to it, in fact unless you read the achievements you wouldn’t really know what your ultimate goal was. Still since this is a game that is priding itself more on the atmosphere and physics based gameplay it’s hard to fault it for a lack of story development. This is also why its short play time, on the order of 2 hours or so, isn’t so much of a negative either as the story really didn’t need much more time to develop.
Feist may take inspiration from from other games in its genre but it manages to define it’s own space; one that’s filled with emergent gameplay, gorgeous visuals and a superb soundtrack. The combat mechanics and platforming combine together to make for a game that’s challenging enough for gamers like me but approachable enough that a wider audience won’t be turned away. It’s short timeframe and rudimentary story might be a turn off for some but it helps to make Feist a short and succinct experience that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Whilst Feist might not spawn a genre of its own like its predecessors did it does manage to create a great experience none the less.
Feist is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was approximately 2 hours with 30% of the achievements unlocked.
Before the days of ubiquitous broadband many of us would have to wait until the monthly LAN event to get our fix of multiplayer gaming. Of course this was also the time when the vast majority of games didn’t include some form of multiplayer so the long time between drinks was easy enough to handle. However since then the inclusion of some form of multiplayer in many games has diluted experiences that used to be specifically crafted for that purpose. Indeed the most rare of rare kind of multiplayer game, the one where you and bunch of mates would crowd around a TV to play, have shrunk down into a very specific niche. However there are still titles that come out every once in a while that exemplify that multiplayer-first experience of years gone by and Rocket League is one of them.
Rocket League is the sequel to the 2008 game Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars which was met with a rather lukewarm reception upon its release. Being a PlayStation3 only game, one with niche appeal at best, it’s easy to see why. Rocket League takes the same basic idea, rocket powered cars playing soccer, and modernizes the idea slightly, packaging it up for today’s gaming market. The reception this time around has been far more welcoming but looking back through videos of game play from its predecessor it’s hard to see the differences that make Rocket League that much more appealing. Still the buzz was more than enough to convince me that it was worth a look in.
On first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rocket League runs on something other than the Unreal 3 engine as it does manage to do a lot with so little. Psyonix, the developer of Rocket League and its predecessor, does have something of a history with the engine having co-developed Unreal Tournament 2004. That experience has definitely come in handy as Rocket League looks great and runs fabulously, admittedly on my incredibly over-speced PC. One thing I did note however is that it doesn’t look anywhere near as good on the PlayStation4 as it does on the PC, even when running at the same resolution. That’s just my anecdotal experience however and I’m sure it’d look great on a much larger screen (I run my PlayStation4 through a HDMI capture card to my main PC monitor)
At a basic level Rocket League is a simple game: get the ball into the opposing team’s goal. However instead of human players you’re driving around in what looks like an overgrown remote control car, one outfitted with a rocket boost system that allows you to reach incredible speeds and heights. You’ll start out by driving around on the ground, attempting to crash and bash your way through your opponents in order to score a goal. After a while though you’ll start to get a little trickier, flying through the air to intercept the ball and bringing it crashing back down to earth with incredible speed. Of course no multiplayer game is complete without a treasure trove of cosmetics behind it, allowing you to customize the look of your little racer however you see fit. For the ultra-competitive amongst us there’s ranked matchmaking and an inbuilt league system, allowing you to set up tournaments for your friends and foes alike. Taken as a whole it’s got the makings of a game with aspirations to be an eSports contender, although whether it will become one is up to the community at large.
All matches have a 5 minute timer on them meaning that, for the most part, a full game won’t take you much longer than that to complete. Of course if you or your opposing team is dominating you, and the entire team doesn’t skip the goal replays (which seems to happen all the time), it’ll take a lot longer than that as you watch every goal repeated for 30 seconds. Still it’s not the kind of game where you’ll start a game an hour before you have to do something and then find yourself running short on time. For the most part you’ll spend most of this fervently chasing the ball around the court, trying to pry it off your opponents and ramming everyone enthusiastically. You’ll get points (which are just used to determine who the MVP of the game is) for doing things like scoring and stopping goals which are a good way to encourage you to actually play properly rather than just playing like a ball obsessed puppy.
At the start the matches are chaotic and fun, with everyone racing around everywhere trying their best to wrangle their car to hit the ball in the right direction. However it didn’t take long for the matchmaking system to breakdown somewhat, often paring me with opponents who far exceeded my (and my team-mates’) own abilities. This is partially due to me being a little late to the party, coming into it almost 3 weeks after its initial release, however a good matchmaking system would ensure that, for any given match, we had a 50/50 chance of winning. So now, with the initial wave of players starting to dwindle, the people that are left behind are the ones who are more than a couple steps above rookies like myself. It’s a challenge that faces any multiplayer game that has aspirations of running for years past its original release date and unfortunately one that doesn’t have a great solution. Rocket League will still be a blast with friends, you can pick up the core mechanics in 10 minutes, but the online may end up being just as difficult to crack as other long term multiplayer games.
Whilst I didn’t get enough time on the PlayStation4 version to comment on how stable it is (although tales of PlayStation4s overheating while playing it don’t bode particularly well in my book) Rocket League on PC is stable during regular play. However I had numerous, inexplicable crashes to desktop that seemed to occur randomly during the game. Sometimes it was during the initial part of the game where I was revving my engine, others whilst a bunch of us crashed into each other. Looking through the Steam folder I can’t seem to locate any crash dumps or debug logs so I can’t comment as to what’s causing it but it’s definitely an issue that I’ve yet to see a resolution for.
Rocket League demonstrates that sequels can outshine their predecessors as it took an idea that was met with lukewarm reception and turned it into the game everyone is talking about. The core game play is fun and frantic, made even better when you throw a few friends into the mix. The online multiplayer works well for the most part however newcomers might be greeted by a wall of players who are far more skilled than they are. Still that doesn’t detract from the fact that playing this game with a bunch of mates is tons of fun, something that will keep it alive for many years to come.
Rocket League is available on PlayStation 4 and PC right now for $19.99 (currently free for PlayStationPlus subscribers). Game was played on both platforms with a combined playtime of approximately 3 hours with 31% of the achievements unlocked on the PC.
Time waster style games were once the bastion of Flash games hosted on sites like Newgrounds. Since the introduction of smartphones they’ve slowly transitioned themselves away from the web and instead found a comfortable home on everyone’s mobile device. Thus it seems kind of odd these days to play a time waster style game on the PC as they’re no longer the platform of choice for this genre. Still when deciding on whether or not I should get Hook on my mobile or my PC I opted for the latter, if only because I rarely find time to play games on my mobile these days. Interestingly though Hook seems simple enough that it can service both platforms without needing to make any concessions with either.
Hook has a very simple premise: you have to pull all the wires back without any of them colliding with each other. You do this by pushing a trigger that initiates the pulling and, if you done everything in the correct order, it’ll slide all the way back. Other than that there’s not a whole lot more to speak of and the base game comes with a grand total of 50 levels to make your way through. If you’re a power gamer this won’t take you much longer than an hour to accomplish although I’m sure if you got this on the mobile you could stretch out that play time over the course of weeks if you were so inclined.
Hook, like many other minimalistic puzzlers, has a very clean and simple aesthetic. I’m sure part of this was an artistic choice but later on it becomes obvious that the lack of distinction between visual elements is actually a key element of the game play. The background music is similarly simplistic, swelling and fading as you solve puzzles or make a mistake that triggers the level to refresh again. I’m sure some would like the option to change the colour palette but in all honesty I don’t think I’d bother.
As I described before the mechanics of Hook are pretty simple, pull all the wires back without any of them colliding with each other. The puzzles start out pretty simple, literally just clicking any of the buttons in any order will solve them, but after that new mechanics start getting dropped in every 10 puzzles or so to spice things up a bit. Most of these additional mechanics come in the form of ways to block off paths however there’s also a few that break the line, forcing you to retrace the paths again. It would be easy enough to brute force the puzzles however if you make one mistake (or 3 in the later ones) the puzzle refreshes, forcing you to restart from the beginning.
There’s a pretty simple algorithm you can use to beat every one of the puzzles contained within this game although executing it may be a little easier said than done. What you first need to do is find the line that can be moved first, usually one without anything blocking it. Then you need to block off all other paths so that only it gets moved. Then from there it’s simply an iterative process to eliminate the rest of them. Using this process I was easily able to breeze through all 50 puzzles in just over an hour, something that many other reviewers have been able to do. This is probably one of those games that could benefit immensely from a level editor and Steam Workshop integration as I’m sure the community would be able to come up with infinite puzzles that would be orders of magnitude more difficult than the default set.
Hook is a great little puzzler with an unique mechanic. The puzzles, whilst not especially challenging, are rewarding enough that I felt compelled to blast through them all in one sitting. It’s shortness is something of a detraction, especially considering that the addition of a level editor and a way to share user created levels would ensure a near endless supply of content. Still for the asking price I don’t think anyone will really mind the lack of content as $1 for 1 hour of entertainment is pretty good by anyone’s standards.
Hook is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone and PC right now for $0.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with a total of 1 hour playtime.