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.
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.
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.