Posts Tagged‘playstation 4’

A Way Out: We Gotta Work Together.

Rewind the clock a decade or two and co-op games found themselves in something of a dark age. Most publishers were attempting to get players on the multi-player bandwagon, driven by increasing Internet penetration and a want to keep players engaged for longer on big name IPs. Titles like Left 4 Dead and other small squad based games breathed new life into the co-op playstyle and the indie renaissance brought with it the innovation to keep players interested. For many of the games co-op is an add-on, something to be enjoyed if you and your friends have the time to play together. Fewer are the games in which co-op is a hard requirement like it is for A Way Out. The premise, a co-op prison break, was enough to interest me with the developers (those who brought us Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) sealing the deal. Whilst it falls a few steps short of my must-play games for this year it was certainly an interesting experience, if only for the fact that my wife and I shared a good few laughs while playing it.

Vincent Moretti is freshly incarcerated and sent to jail for murder. In jail, he meets thief Leo Caruso who had been arrested for grand theft. A group of thugs sent in by crime boss Harvey tries to murder Leo, but Vincent intervenes. While the two recover in the infirmary, they get to know each other and Leo requests Vincent’s help to steal a file from the office. Vincent complies. After the theft, Vincent senses that Leo is planning on a prison break and offers to help so he can escape too. Leo initially refuses, but begrudgingly agrees to collaborate when Vincent reveals he also has a grudge with Harvey. So begins their quest to hunt him down and exact the vengeance they crave.

Considering that this is Hazelight Studios first game (although not their first title as a team) the quality of their visual work is quite impressive. Whilst it might not reach the dizzying heights that say Far Cry 5 did it still does manage to do a lot with what its got. For people like me who are playing the game on a single console (original PlayStation 4 for reference) there are definitely some sacrifices being made in order to support the split screen parts of the game. Mostly this comes in from the lack of detail when you get up close which can become quite noticeable in the in-game cutscenes. I haven’t done a blow by blow comparison between my screenshots and the same from PC but I can hazard a guess that they wouldn’t suffer the same fate, given that the Unreal 4 engine is powering everything.

A Way Out is a split screen co-op game where you’ll be tasked with all sorts of different challenges, most of which will require you cooperating with your partner in order to complete. Some of these take the form of the usual co-op puzzle affair, like you holding down a switch to keep a door open while they go through, to some unique and interesting puzzles which I don’t think I’ve ever come across before. All the scenes are also littered with things for you to interact with from people (providing dialogue and story background) to objects which may or may not be related to the puzzle at hand. All the challenges will have multiple ways of approaching them, something which is not always readily apparent. There’s stealth and combat sections as well which will quickly make you realise that even the biggest TV will feel cramped when half of it is gone. If it sounds like there’s a lot to this game then you’re right and one the game’s weaknesses is the lack of focus on the elements which mean the most to the overall experience.

The core puzzle solving mechanics are well done, making good use of the fact that you’re required to work together. Most sections play out in a similar way: you’re given your object, a little spiel about how you might go about it and then are let loose in the room to figure it out. That room will usually have a bunch of things for you to look through although, honestly, most aren’t worth your time. Whilst its nice that some of the NPCs have a background story none of them will ever help you with anything, nor will learning random things about your environment. Indeed the objective you’re given is pretty much all the info you’ll need, all you need to do is find the requisite items and execute the right sequence. If you’re a seasoned gamer you’ll likely breeze through most of them however if, like my wife, you’re not exactly the gaming type things can get…well…

You see my wife, bless her socks, whilst having a solid history of titles she’s enjoyed (Animal Crossing, World of Warcraft and Until Dawn to name a few) she doesn’t have the same twitch reflex muscles that someone who’s invested over 200 hours into Destiny might. So there were quite a few puzzles where we’d fail in spectacular fashion, often with quite hilarious results. To her credit though towards the end she started to perform quite well, even saving my ass a couple times during the shooting sequences. This is, of course, one of the joys of local co-op and A Way Out does ensure that mismatched experience levels are catered for relatively well. Suffice to say if you’re thinking of giving this game a go the only thing stopping you was the experience of your chosen co-op partner I don’t think you have that much to worry about.

Combat could really have used more attention as the shooting feels clunky and unrefined. It’s your typical third person, cover based shooter with infinitely regenerating health but even I was struggling to reliably take down enemies. There’s also not a great deal of room to experiment with the different weapon types as you select one to begin with and there’s only a few places where you can change your selection later on. Combining this with the 50% loss of screen real estate, which makes enemies just that much harder to make out, and the shooting sections are more of a chore than they need to be. I’ll lay the blame for this partly on the fact that there are so, so many mini-games in A Way Out that it’s not surprising that some aspects received a lot less attention than they should have. Given the pedigree of the developers I had expected a relatively high amount of focus on the core elements they wanted to make good. Maybe the combat just wasn’t one of them.

 

A Way Out is a mostly trouble free experience although it does still have a few issues that will crop up from time to time. The above screenshot is a great example of what happens when the physics engine gets confused, rocketing my wife straight up after she rolled into a crate. The cover system is also a little finicky, sometimes not responding in the way you’d expect it. Thankfully these issues are both minor and uncommon so they don’t mar the overall experience too much. We did avoid a great number of the mini games however so it’s quite possible there’s all manner of bugs hiding in places I simply didn’t look.

The story of A Way Out takes a really, really long time to get going enough that my wife wasn’t particularly interested in picking it back up after our initial 2 hour session. I did manage to convince her to come back to it and, whilst the second half is a lot better, it’s probably still a bit too drawn out. Additionally given that a great deal of the story is told in retrospect a lot of tension is taken out of many of the critical plot points. Given the fact that the strongest part of the game, the final hour, is the only part that’s not told in retrospect I have to wonder why it was presented in that way in the first place. All things considered A Way Out’s story is probably best described as interesting but forgettable.

A Way Out brings another unique perspective on what co-op games can be, eschewing the current trend for drop-in/drop-out play. Hazelight Studio’s first release is of a very high standard, especially considering that it’s available on all major platforms. The game is bristling with detail something which is both one of its strongest points and also its greatest weakness. Certain parts of the game that could have used a little more love, like the stealth and combat, don’t feel as polished as they need to be. The mini games and other parts are nice but I’d trade most of them out for more focus on the core elements of the game. Finally the story suffers in its delivery, only finding its feet once it casts off the shackles of its retrospective narration. All this being said I don’t regret giving A Way Out a go and I’m sure more gaming couples could find something to love in it.

Rating: 8.0/10

A Way Out is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with approximately 5 hours of total play time and 29% of the achievements unlocked.

Light Fall: Where Eternal Darkness Reigns.

Once upon a time I found myself elbow deep in the world that was games on Kickstarter. It was the time when many old IPs found new life on the platform with multi-million dollar pledges becoming the new norm. But it was also a place where many smaller, indie titles sought to find validation in their ideas with varying levels of success. Whilst I haven’t backed anything on the platform in years I’m still treated to a small trickle of titles which, back in my backing heydays, are finally starting to come to fruition. The latest of which is Light Fall, a game which, I assume, I backed due the metroidvania phase I happened to be going through at the time. It certainly isn’t a game for everyone but for those who enjoy a good, hard core momentum platformer it’s certainly one to chuck on the list.

In Numbra, one misstep is all it takes to meet a quick end. This harsh world is colossal and ancient; the entire continent permanently shrouded in darkness, lit only by the moon. Its inhabitants live and abide by a simple law: the strongest survive, while the weak are crushed. That did not stop the Kamloops, a small and peaceful Nation, from leaving their homeland for Numbra. Exhausted from the constant wars between rival nations and trapped in the middle of an everlasting conflict, the Kamloops left everything behind. Everything but a hope for better days, a hope for peaceful solitude. Alas, something vile stirs in the dark night of Numbra. Mysterious crystals have appeared out of nowhere and scraped the entire landscape. Houses and entire villages are being razed to the ground. With the world crumbling once again, will the Gods answer their people’s plea one more time?

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that Light Fall was a high end Flash game as its visuals certainly take a level of inspiration from that style. Under the hood it’s powered by Unity which is quite surprising, showcasing just how versatile that engine can be. It might just be me but some small parts of the visual flair also felt like they were inspired by the work of Supergiant Games with some of the effects (like flames, for instance) having an uncanny resemblance to them. Regardless of where the creators drew their inspiration from the resulting art style is quite beautiful, the silhouetted figures contrasted by bright glows lavished with lighting and particle effects. There are some points where your character gets lost in the background however, the small figure blurring into the visual onslaught. They are thankfully rare however, the developers taking care to avoid heavy visuals in areas where timing is key. Performance, as you’d expect, is also good and I can’t imagine Light Fall would struggle even on the relatively meagre power of the Nintendo Switch.

Light Fall is a modern 2D platformer with all the usual mechanical flairs we’ve come to expect from this genre. It’s partly momentum based, allowing you to skip through massive sections of the game if you’re able to keep the pace up. Its main differentiator is the Shadow Core, a box which you can summon which performs a variety of functions. Initially it’s just a box that you can place somewhere in the environment, giving you an extra step to reach new places. As you progress you’ll unlock the ability to use it as a weapon and summon it either below you (saving you from a fall) or in front (useful in gaining height). At the same time the levels will begin to throw new and varied challenges at you, some of which can be bypassed entirely if you know what you’re doing. The idea isn’t particularly unique it’s application in this momentum/twitch based platform is and whilst it can be frustrating at times once you learn its ways navigating the game’s various challenges becomes quite satisfying.

The main platformer sections of the game are pretty straightforward most of the time. The levels, in general, progress from left to right, providing a pretty straightforward path towards the end. For the majority of the game the checkpoints are where you need them to be so deaths don’t set you too far back. However the game doesn’t do a great job of introducing new mechanics to you, especially for the core abilities you have. This is most notable when you’re trying to do the challenge puzzles which, especially early on, require you to make use of the new mechanic in order to complete them. There was one in particular which required the use of the “summon block below me” which I didn’t know about until I went looking for videos on how to complete it. Past the first hour or so this issue disappears but it does make the game’s opening gambit more hostile to new players than it should be.

The main increase in challenge, at least for about half of the game, comes from more complex puzzles requiring more intricate uses of your power. Many of the puzzles have the obvious solution but this is usually more reliant on your skill as a player rather than exploiting the mechanics. Then there’s the second, less demanding solution that requires a bit of trial and error to figure out. For instance there’s one section where you have to fall through a section of lasers. There’s a platform there and, if you stand on it, you can ride it down and constantly summon the shadow core to block them out. However if you simply jump down there and summon the shadow core once it’ll follow you most of the way down, blocking the lasers for you without any further effort. I’m not entirely sure how many of those solutions are intentional but it definitely felt like there was always an easier way to solve the problem than what I saw on first glance.

Unfortunately in the later parts of the game the challenge mostly comes from spreading out the checkpoints further, requiring you to complete longer and longer puzzles to progress. The trouble with this is that many of them are impossible to solve on first go, requiring multiple retries in order to get past them. This becomes annoyingly apparent in the final boss fight as it has 4 phases, 3 of them which introduce new abilities and change existing ones. There’s also no way to accelerate the boss fight either, meaning any stuff up puts you right back at the start, leaving you to endure all the phases over again. I’m all for a good challenge but repetition of this nature isn’t something I find reward in completing. At the very least give me an out after say 30 minutes of trying and deny me an achievement or something. I’d rather that than having to waste upwards of an hour on the same bossfight.

Light Fall also has some hitbox issues which aren’t readily apparent, mostly because they result in instadeath which seemingly comes out of nowhere. Some enemies and mechanics have hitboxes larger than you’d expect, leading to your death when you’d otherwise expect to live. Also any mechanics which move your character in some way will result in death should you accidentally summon the shadow core in front of you. This is most noticeable in the final boss fight where I died several times to it, not knowing how or why died. These aren’t game breaking, especially if you’re aware of them, but it does add a small layer of frustration to an already challenging game.

The story, which should get credit for being well developed and fully voiced, didn’t manage to grab me. I definitely appreciated the background narration, giving a little more flavour to the world that I found myself bouncing through, but nothing about the characters or plot really grabbed me. The final reveals towards the end also felt a little rushed, with numerous points revealed and then resolved in the space of an hour. It’s not entirely forgettable with a few choice moments here or there but it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I recall my time with Light Fall.

Light Fall is a solid first title from Bishop Games showcasing their unique brand of talent in this genre. The art style is reminiscent of the Flash games of yore, albeit with a better flair for lighting and modern effects. The platforming itself is well polished with only a few small niggling details needing further attention. The majority of the game follows a good difficulty curve although it struggles later on, resorting to simply making the checkpoints longer to make the game harder. The final boss is probably the biggest misstep in the whole game, requiring a lot of repetition and luck to make it through. The story, whilst well crafted and fully voiced, doesn’t leave much of an impression. All this being said though Light Fall is certainly a game that fans of this genre will enjoy and is a great opening salvo from this indie studio.

Rating: 8.0/10

Light Fall is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $14.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6 hours play time and 42% of the achievements unlocked. Game was backed on Kickstarter at the $10 level.

Fary Cry 5: God Will Not Let You Take Me.

With the core essence of a Far Cry game perfected Ubisoft has turned to a couple other items with which to differentiate each instalment in the franchise. Most notable is the wide variety settings, each of them driving the narrative and mechanical stylings of the game. This particular choice of location, that of rural Montana in the USA, was an interesting one, generating a lot of conversation of how Ubisoft would approach many of the delicate political topics that are top of mind today. Strangely though little of the conversation focused on what the game itself would be like which, I’m happy to report, is still as enjoyable as ever. There are some choices I’m not a huge fan of however, taking away some of the depth that this franchise was famous for.

You are the Rookie, a new junior deputy in the Hope County sheriff’s department. You arrive at Eden’s Gate to serve Joseph Seed, the leader of a local cult, with a federal arrest warrant on charges of kidnapping with the intent to harm. Although Joseph offers no resistance, he claims that God will not allow him to be detained. As you escort him away the cult members lash out at you, downing your helicopter and your team along with it. You learn that the sheriff’s department has been infiltrated by the cult and they’ve prevented the National Guard from responding. It’s now up to you, deputy, to free Hope County from clutches of Eden’s Gate and rescue your team.

Far Cry 5 continues the series’ use of the Dunia engine, a highly modified version of the CryEngine. The visuals are stunning with obvious improvements in lighting, textures and the attention to detail. This is probably one of the few games, especially in the open world genre, that manages to look good both at distance as well as up close. This does come at a price however and my rig, no longer the towering beast able to take all comers, was brought to its knees more than once. A few tweaks here and there ensured that I was able to get smooth performance but some sacrifices had to be made. Most notably was the draw/level of detail distance which, whilst on foot, wasn’t much of an issue but was readily apparent when I was say flying in a helicopter. All things considered though I think it’d be safe to say that Far Cry 5 is likely to be one of this year’s best looking games.

As I alluded to in my opening paragraph Far Cry 5 maintains the formula that the franchise has perfected over the last 14 years. Whilst the long held tradition of climbing radio towers to uncover parts of the map has (thankfully) been removed you’ll still be liberating outposts, picking up various side quests and working your way up to taking down the Big Bad Boss of the day. Many of the core mechanics and progression systems have been streamlined significantly which, depending on your point of view, could swing either way. One of the most notable additions is the Arcade Editor, allowing you to craft your own levels and experiences within this Far Cry world. The less notable, more notorious, addition is microtransactions allowing you to bypass the built money grind if you so wish. For this old player it has raised an interesting conundrum as I’m typically a fan of streamlining games but in this instance I think it’s taken something away.

All Far Cry games start off with you being someone who really doesn’t have the skills to survive in the situation that find themselves in. Then, over the course of your play through, you begin to build yourself up through the various trials and tribulations the game throws at you. Part of this included a rather in-depth and daunting perk tree which progressively allowed you to build out your character along your desired path. In Far Cry 5 however many of the skills that you would’ve had to previously unlock, like say heavy takedown, are given to you by default. This does mean that you’re far more capable earlier on than you’d otherwise be, something that does help to speed up the pace of the game, but the downside is that the perk tree no longer feels as impactful as it once was.

Many of the talents are simply incremental upgrades to things you already have and a good quarter of them are dedicated to reducing the respawn times of your companions. To be sure there are a few that make a huge difference in how you’ll approach certain challenges the game throws at you but rarely did I feel the same power increase as I did in the previous games. Quite often I was left with a bunch of points and no real desire to spend them on any of the perks as I couldn’t see what advantage I’d get out of them. In fact the biggest power increase I ever got was when I finally got myself a helicopter with machine guns, something that takes a whole lot of pain out of the games more laborious moments. I’d forgive the lacklustre perk system if the other means of progression felt a lot more impactful but, honestly, they seem to suffer from the same sameness problem.

The power of your weapons feels largely determined by the type so that guns in the same category are largely as effective as each other. The higher tier weapons, which you unlock from increasing resistance levels across the board, usually come with more quality of life perks rather than an increase in overall effectiveness. The sniper rifles, for instance, go from bolt action to semi-auto, the rifles semi to full-auto and so on. The bow, unlike other Far Cry games, feels pretty damn useless once you get yourself a silenced gun of any description (which isn’t rare either, pretty much everything can be silenced). The prestige guns are also just unique skins rather than more effective versions of their common counterparts meaning any cash spent on them is ultimately wasted. Once I’d settled on my loadout (pistol, rifle, LMG and sniper rifle) I didn’t change it for the rest of the game.

What this leads to is an overall combat experience that, for a while, is somewhat varied but quickly deteriorates into a repetitive slugfest. It’s a shame really as the slow increase in my character’s power level was something I always enjoyed in the Far Cry series. Being almost untouchable at the end always felt highly rewarding, allowing you to breeze through challenges that were once a complete showstopper. In Far Cry 5 however it feels like after maybe 4 hours or so you’re basically at the limit and there’s little more that will change how you play. Of course it’s still fun to strafe an outpost with a chopper or sneak around with your cougar companion but the lack of variation does start to wear on you after a while. Thankfully the game recognises this and campaign progression gets faster the more you complete, allowing you to blast through the last area in about half the time when compared to the first.

Crafting has been radically simplified and decoupled from the progression system. No longer will you be hunting down rare game in order to craft a new wallet, instead they’ll form part of your cash flow that you’ll funnel into the upgrades of your choice. All you’ll be crafting now is consumables including all your explosives and “homeopathics” which include the usual foray of decreased damage taken, increased speed and so on. This does mean that the progress system is a bit more universal, alleviating the previous Far Cry game’s issue where you could have all the talents in the world but could still only hold 5 arrows at a time. Materials are found everywhere, including on enemies you defeat, so it’s rare that you’ll ever be wanting if you need to crafting something. Overall I think the changes are good from a quality of life perspective but does take away something that was kind of a signature of the series.

Far Cry 5 still retains many of the issues that Ubisoft’s open world games are renowned for like the incredibly janky physics and an AI that’s dumb as dogshit. As /r/gamephysics will attest to there’s a bunch of whacky physics interactions with vehicles, people and the environment. None of these are game breaking and many are great fun to watch. What’s less fun is the AI which, when it’s being used to control your companion, routinely goes completely off the rails. I had one instance when I was in a helicopter (which the AI was piloting) where it would randomly land for 30 seconds before taking off again. It didn’t even seem to understand that it shouldn’t land in the river and proceeded to so, almost killing us both. Similarly characters that are leading you or part of an escort mission get horrendously confused if anything out of the ordinary happens like, say, a fire happening near them which they caused. Of course that also leads to some rather fun times when you can really screw with the enemy AI but with the lack of a quick save/load system it’s not nearly as fun as it could be.

All of this being said though, for all its flaws, Far Cry 5 is still very much an enjoyable experience. Ubisoft has obviously taken a line to make the series more approachable to a wider audience, cutting down on a lot of the elements that would’ve been overwhelming to players just jumping into the franchise now. Whilst long time fans of the series, like myself, may not enjoy those changes I can recognise that a lot of reviewers are seeing these as positives. I couldn’t point you to exactly what made the game fun for me but I certainly don’t regret the time I spent in it and I’ll attribute part of that to the game’s story.

Whilst initially the game felt like it’d hit close to home on a lot of hot button issues the game draws a rather well crafted line straight down the middle, ridiculing both sides as much as the other. Many have criticised the game for not taking a stance one way or the other but, honestly, did anyone expect Ubisoft Montreal to make a political statement on the current state of the USA? Instead many of the side quests and throwaway parts lampoon the stereotypes of both sides with your redneck preppers on one and your new age hippie vegans on the other. Is that a missed opportunity? Sure, but I’m not looking to big name publishers and developers to make a statement. I’m looking for a fun game experience that I can switch off the higher order parts of my brain to. When I want to be stimulated I’ll take a deep dive into the world of indie titles.

Personally I started with John’s area before moving onto Faith’s and finally Jacobs. Out of the three I felt Faith’s was the strongest as it drew me in with a believable tale of how she came to be the person she was. John’s comes in at a close second for his portrayal of your stereotypical televangelist with an empowering catchphrase. Perhaps due to the order I played them in Jacob’s felt incredibly weak, lacking anything to draw me in. Of course it’s a highly predictable narrative (all the way up a certain point, which I won’t talk about) but that’s one part of the Far Cry formula which I didn’t expect to get touched. Overall the narrative and its pace of delivery are well done enough that I was able to forget about the other flaws, at least for a little while anyway.

 

Far Cry 5 is certainly another solid instalment in the franchise, even if the streamlining of some of the games more iconic features didn’t sit well with this reviewer. The game retains the series penchant for high end graphics which are sure to delight fellow eye candy enthusiasts. The progression system, whilst more concise than it ever has been before, feels like it takes away some of the core aspects which drove the growing power fantasy aspect which I felt was core to the Far Cry experience. Couple this with the other lacklustre progression mechanics and the core of the game, whilst still retaining the things that make Far Cy good, just isn’t as enjoyable as it once was. However the game is still worth playing, maybe even more so for those who haven’t played the series before. The narrative, whilst missing the mark for many due to its fence sitting nature, is enjoyable for what it is. For Far Cry fans this instalment is still a must play but it falls short of reaching the same heights as some of its predecessors did.

Rating: 8.0/10

Far Cry 5 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time and 45% of the achievements unlocked.

Surviving Mars: Build it and Force Them to Come.

I’ve started to grow rather fond of these little city simulation games, each of them bringing a different bent on the same genre. Looking back over my gaming history it seems to have started with Anno 2070, a game I never would have played if it wasn’t for a gentle prodding from a good friend of mine. Since then I’ve played quite a few of them (even an Early Access one, breaking my rule!), usually getting to my first victory until I moved onto greener pastures. It’s rare that one manages to bore me into not wanting to play again which is unfortunately what Surviving Mars managed to do.

The premise of the game is simple enough, you’re part of a mission to establish a colony on Mars. You’re given a base set of infrastructure, a truckload of cash and a set amount of time to build the colony up to a respectable level. Mars isn’t a particularly hospitable place though, devoid of much of the resources that you’ll need to keep your humans alive and happy. At the same time you’re still at the behest of your supporters who are keen to exploit the natural resources of this yet untapped world.

Now I’ve never played any of the Tropico series or other titles that Haemimont Games is known for so I don’t have much of a baseline to compare it to. On first glance I thought it had a little bit of that Unity engine feel to it but they apparently have their own, custom built engine which was upgraded for Surviving Mars. It has a similar visual style to that of Cities Skylines with heavily stylized visuals including simple textures and bright colours. There are some cool bits of visual flair like vehicles, buildings and infrastructure all getting dusty after being around for a set period of time. Whilst the simple visuals are necessary, due to the game’s heavy simulation load and potential for a lot of items on screen, they’re certainly not one of the game’s negatives. I only wish the game gave you a little more reason to enjoy them up close (more on that later).

Surviving Mars is a colony building simulator with all the essentials you’d expect from such a game. You’ll be given a starting location and a set of infrastructure to get you started but beyond that you’re left on your own. Initially you’ll just be commanding a drone army, one that needs little more than a stable power source to survive the harsh martian terrain. You’ll use that to build up the minimum set of infrastructure required to start bringing humans down which in turn leads onto bigger and better things. Along the way you’ll research new tech, explore new terrain and grow your colony further. Your win condition will depend on which nation you align yourself to and it could be something as simple as reaching a colony of 200, building multiple domes or researching enough tech. There’s certainly a lot to do and, in true simulation fashion, it may take some time to get to the next thing you want to do. For some that’s part of the charm but unfortunately, for this writer, it was what ended up killing it.

Getting started in Surviving Mars is a bit of a struggle as even the quick game option doesn’t really give you a lot of direction to start off with. It gives you a few basic instructions here and there but unlike other simulation games, which usually give you a simple mission which will help you establish a basic colony, Surviving Mars does no such thing. This leads to maybe an hour or two of screwing around to figure out what you should do, in what order and what each of the mechanics is best used for. I believe this is intended, mostly to keep some mechanics a bit vague in order to generate those desperate moments when you forget to do something and suddenly your colonists are running out of food or something. Whilst I’m all for emergent gameplay elements like that, indeed one of my favourite stories is trapping all my colonists inside their first dome in Planetbase with no oxygen and no power to get out, forcing them takes away much of their charm. Still most of them are easy to avoid even though there’s no base overview panel or similar to keep a track on all the colony’s key stats.

Building up your colony can be done relatively swiftly if you make good use of the resupply mechanic, allowing you to spend capital to get resources from Earth. The limiting factor there will be your research however as the small domes you get at the start are too small to be useful. Making you colony self sustainable is quite the challenge as the specialised buildings you’ll need to fabricate the different resources (like polymers, electronics and machine parts) all require specialised facilities, most only built inside domes, and the requisite resources. Both of those will require colonists and the greater the number and mix of them you have the harder it will be to ensure they all have everything they want. This is somewhat easier in the later stages of the game when you have access to bigger domes of course but it does mean that the first few hours of a game are usually a bit of a struggle. From there though it starts to drag a bit as you get into a repetitive cycle of: ordering new resources from Earth, expanding as much as you can, waiting for some tech to research and repeating until you’ve had enough.

Indeed that’s what killed it for me in the end. I was definitely making progress but I still didn’t have a fully, self sufficient colony that I could depend upon whilst I focused on the higher order things. I did have domes producing each of the resources but the rate at which they did was so slow it was barely enough to keep everything going. So instead I’d be focused on the resource depots (since there’s no page to say you have X units of metal or anything), figuring out what I needed where, ordering enough from Earth and then ensuring they all got transited to the right places. Strangely it feels a lot like one of Paradox’s other games, Stellaris, where you end up getting bogged down in the minutiae of running everything rather than having fun with the big picture.

A lot of this is born out of the lack of quality of life features that would make the game a lot more fun. For example drones have no idea about anything outside of their control zones, meaning that if there’s resources in one zone that are needed in another (even if those zones overlap) they will never get transported there. This makes setting up new areas a real chore as you have to manually transport everything there. The lack of a colony health or overview page makes checking up on resources a real pain with the only indication of a problem being the alerts when things are on the brink of disaster. Worse still the normal notifications like “We have an oxygen shortage” are usually inaccurate, actually meaning that a dome you just built (that doesn’t have people in it yet) hasn’t been connected yet. The research trees are hidden unless you discover it in an anomaly or research up the tree which means there’s no driving motivator to push you along one path or the other. Also there’s no drag to select a bunch of units, a real pain when you want to reallocate a bunch of drones between zones.

All of these things, combined with the dreadfully slow pace of research in the early game, make it really hard to keep going past a certain point. Some of Surviving Mars’ negatives are easy enough to deal with, like the lack of tutorials or quality of life mechanics, but when it takes so long to do so little with so much effort I just end up getting bored. It’s a shame as there’s obviously a good amount of mechanical depth in Surviving Mars but at 6 hours play time I felt like I had been playing for 30. I didn’t even get to check out the “individually simulated” colonists, not that I think that would’ve made much of a difference in anything.

Surviving Mars is a game that feels like it left beta just a little bit too early. The core tenants of what the developer wanted to achieve are there, a colony simulator with a Mars bent, but the things that would make the game actually enjoyable to a wider audience are missing. Perhaps this is par for the course with the developer and the game is perfectly built for their fans, I wouldn’t know as this is the first title I’ve played from them. Still considering their pedigree I had higher expectations for what would amount to their 9th game in the genre. Given that the game has mod support and DLC to come it’s entirely possible that these issues will go away in due time but that wouldn’t be enough for me to recommend the game as it is now.

Rating: 6.5/10

Surviving Mars is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $39.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6 hours playtime and 12% of the achievements unlocked.

Warhammer: Vermintide 2: Left 4 Rotblood.

There’s a fairly predictable cycle in games when it comes to new genres. Typically there’ll be a bunch of relatively unknown titles that will experiment with various mechanics, setting the groundwork for the games that follow. Then comes the breakout hit, now usually an Early Access title, which gets heralded as the next big thing. Then come the clones, dozens upon dozens of clones, all of which attempt to emulate the breakout’s success. Most of these will fall by the wayside although a few will go on to develop the idea further, finding a dedicated niche for their particular brand of the new genre. Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide did exactly that, taking the essence of the Left 4 Dead formula and reworking it into a truly unique experience. I wasn’t aware a sequel was in the works so when I saw Vermintide II, had been released I was keen to see what direction Fatshark had decided to take this IP in. By and large it’s the same game but far more of it; much of it streamlined for a much more enjoyable experience overall.

Following the events of the first game, Grey Seer Rasknitt has successfully captured the five Heroes of Ubersreik. Without the interference of the heroes, the city of Ubersreik fell to the forces of Clan Fester. Rasknitt has since ordered the construction of a massive portal known as the Skittergate, which will allow the Chaos Champion Bödvarr Ribspreader and his Rotblood army easy access to the border-city of Helmgart. However, the Skittergate continuously fails to properly operate, disallowing Bödvarr to summon the entirety of his forces. When the Skittergate disastrously fails to activate again, the resulting destruction frees one of the heroes, Markus Kruber, from captivity. He fights his way through the skaven lair and reunites with the rest of the heroes: Viktor Saltzpyre, Bardin Goreksson, Sienna Fuegonasus and Kerllian. They then band together once again to push back against the Skaven and the Rotbloods.

Vermintide II makes use of the same Autodesk Stingray engine that its predecessor did, albeit with a bunch of modern improvements such as: DirectX 12 support, volumetric lighting and fog, texture streaming and an enhanced fluid system. The levels are noticeably less barren than its predecessor too, brimming with details at nearly every corner. There’s also a lot more variety in the levels than there was previously with not every level taking place in a run down medieval town. There are a few areas which could do with some attention though, like the ones bathed in fog which seem to torpedo your performance no matter how beefy your system is. Whether or not Fatshark will continue developing on this engine though is anyone’s guess as Autodesk has discontinued development on the engine as of January this year. Suffice to say I wouldn’t expect Vermintide III in the next 2 years or so if an engine change is on the books.

The core game mechanics of Vermintide II haven’t changed much from its predecessor, retaining the same game play that made the original fun. It’s still a melee first game, one with 5 different characters and a varying array of loot to change them up a bit, however there’s also now 3 “careers” per character. Each of them changes the passive and active ability of the character whilst retaining your level, giving you an opportunity to try different playstyles without having to change classes and start levelling all over again. The loot and crafting system has been streamlined, making progression a little more clear than it previously was. The mission structure has also been streamlined, making it a bit easier to follow the campaign’s story (if that’s of interest). Overall the Vermintide II experience is very much the same as its predecessor, just refined and polished with the lessons that Fatshark has learnt over the past couple years.

Combat still feels the same with you facing down untold legions of enemies in face-to-face melee combat. With the introduction of the Chaos into the mix there’s a wider variety of enemies although, truth be told, most of them are just different skins on the same kinds of enemies. The same depth of combat remains with the intricacies of dodging, blocking and using the right weapon type all making a big difference in how challenging a particular level is for you. This time around I decided to play as the elf which, whilst incredibly fun, probably wasn’t the best choice given my penchant to get far too personal with large groups of enemies. This was largely negated by her passive (allowing me to heal up to half health) though so I think it worked out in the end. I have heard (and seen) that the dwarf is currently stupidly overpowered but haven’t had a chance to give it a go myself.

The loot system has been streamlined although the same modifier mechanics remain. Hidden throughout each of the levels are 3 tomes (which replace your healing potion), 2 grimoires (which replace your potion slot and reduce your party’s health) and potentially some loot dies. Each of these will increase the quality of the loot box you’ll get at the end of the level, should you complete it. Each of those boxes contains 3 items with the higher grade boxes having a higher chance of better gear. All of the items power is directly related to your current power so, at least in the early stages, its best to just equip whatever the highest power items are that you have. The quality of the items just increases the number of additional buffs and traits they have with exotics, the highest tier, having unique abilities. Just like its predecessor this allows for an insane amount of customisation for your character, granting you the ability to hone your playstyle to its ultimate perfection.

Crafting is best used to replace that one item you’ve had that’s lagging behind all others. Much like the loot boxes crafted items will be rolled at your current power so it’s quite unlikely that you’ll be able to get a big boost from crafting something which is already close to your current max. Instead if say all your gear is at 100 but one is at 90 crafitng a replacement for that slot will likely yield the biggest gains. Similarly, whilst you can upgrade the quality of the items, it doesn’t change their power. This is somewhat unfortunate if you have a build centered on one item and its power starts to lag but such is the loot treadmill in this game. Crafting up to exotic level is possible however, just rather expensive, so you’ll likely be able to re-craft a certain item if you need to bump up its power level. There’s also apparently “veteran” level items which are red and max stat rolled versions of their exotic counterparts but I’ve yet to see one since I’m still a scrub playing around in Recruit difficulty.

The additional polish means there’s fewer issues in Vermintide II than there was in its predecessor but it’s far from bug free. My poor dwarf friend in the screenshot above got stuck in a piece of the environment which, whilst hilarious, left him stranded there. Thankfully we had a boss spawn shortly afterwards which knocked him out but without that he would have had to leave the game completely. Some levels still have the rather irritating bug of enemies spawning behind walls or being able to clip through them, so sometimes you can end up with a packmaster pulling one of your colleagues away to a place where you can’t get to them. We even had a globedier spawn behind a wall at one point, allowing him to lob gas grenades at us unhindered whilst we tried to deal with a bile troll at the same time. If your group is skilled enough issues like this won’t stop you from completing a level but given that this doesn’t feel like intentional behaviour it’s more of a chore than a challenge.

There is a story here, one that I’m sure has some detail to it, but it seems to fade into the background. The banter between your characters is as good as ever, ensuring that I quickly grew to despise the elf I was playing because she’s just an insufferable ass. But apart from that I’d be hard pressed to tell you anything about the game’s overall story beyond the fact that the skaven teamed up with the chaos in order to sack Ubersik and we’re trying to stop them. I’ve also not managed to complete a single chapter either, my attempts at the final boss in Act 1 always meeting with disaster either through players leaving or the not-so-great bots providing little help in those fights. That all being said I have played this game for far longer than I did its predecessor so maybe, eventually, I’ll figure out what’s going on in the story.

Warhammer: Vermintide II is a solid improvement over its predecessor, retaining the core of what made the game fun and cutting away much of the extraneous cruft. The improved game engine ensures that the new, highly detailed environments are able to shine through even if a few of them could do with a bit more optimisation. Combat, levelling and crafting have all been streamlined for the better, making the overall playing experience that much better. Some of the same issues that plagued its predecessor still remain however but aren’t beyond fixing through a few good patches. Overall, for a gaming I wasn’t expecting a sequel to so soon, I’m impressed by what Warhammer: Vermintide II brings to the table and I’m sure I’ll be spending a few more good hours in it over the coming months.

Rating: 9.0/10

Warhammer: Vermintide II is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 12 hours game time and 27% of the achievements unlocked.

Mulaka: We Are With You, Sukurúame.

Games as a medium have matured extensively over the past decade or so. Numerous ideas and stories which would have never previously been explored now find their way into game form. Increasingly we’re seeing games based around cultures and their mythologies, providing a new and interesting lens into these worlds that typically wouldn’t have been explored in this medium. Mulaka, the second game from indie developer Lienzo, explores the lore of the Tarahumara people through a 3D platformer beat ’em up. It’s one of the few examples where I can say that the developer knew their limitations and chose to focus on where to best spend their effort. The result is a simple, relatively short game that achieves what it set out to do with only a few minor hiccups along the way.

You play as one of the Sukurúame, a Tarahumara shaman who has tasked themselves with ridding the world of the corruption that has begun to plague it. To do so you will have to enlist the help of the demigods who will imbue you with their powers in order to cleanse the corruption from the land. The path before you won’t be easy however as many of the normal creatures of the land have been warped and changed by the corrupting magic that now infuses the world.

Mulaka utilises a low poly visual style with bright, solid colours and little texturing to be seen. The art style is somewhat reminiscent of older Nintendo 64 like Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Goemon’s Great Adventure with the NPCs having flat faces with simple textures. Under the hood this is all powered by Unity but, thanks to the customised art style, manages to avoid that trademark look and feel. Consequently the game runs absolutely lightning fast on any semi-modern PC and, given it has a Switch release, would likely run quite well on nearly anything you cared to throw at it.

The game can be largely categorised into 2 major parts: the 3D platforming and puzzle sections, and the now standard “Dark Souls-esque” style of combat. Each of Mulaka’s levels requires you to find 3 stones in which to unlock a door to progress to a small final section, most of which are found via exploration or completing a quest set by one of the NPCs. Initially they’re your stock standard platforming puzzles but as you unlock new abilities they change into more of a traditional puzzle experience. The combat follows a similar progression, starting off with your typical dodge/roll/parry and quickly building into more complex encounters thanks to multiple different types of enemies and the new abilities you unlock. There is a small progression system in the form of currency you’ll receive from defeated enemies but, honestly, I did the vast majority of the game with only buying one (and that was actually a mistake). Overall there’s actually not that much to Mulaka in terms of game mechanics but for things it does do it does them well.

Combat isn’t exactly a challenging experience as most enemies can be defeated by simply spamming one attack at them. Whilst challenge initially comes from trying to figure out how to tackle new enemy types it unfortunately tends towards simply throwing more enemies at once at you. The upgraded enemies you’ll come across later in the game are simply bigger, badder versions of their earlier incarnations and so they don’t really feel like that much more of a threat. The bosses are however all quite interesting, attempting to recreate that same feeling you get in the Dark Souls series of being a very small person going up against an unbelievably giant threat. Suffice to say you’re not going to be playing this for the challenge (or taunting your friends to “git gud” at it) but it was somewhat refreshing to have a combat experience that didn’t feel like it was getting in the way too much for once.

The puzzles are similarly none too difficult with the majority of them being a follow the bouncing ball kind of deal. The 3D platformer puzzles can be solved in numerous ways, many of them I’m sure weren’t entirely intended by the developer. Other smaller puzzles (like the water one shown above) only have a single solution and can usually be solved in a few minutes. Mulaka could do a slightly better job of communicating when you’re not able to solve a particular puzzle due to you not having the requisite ability as this is one of those games where not everything in every level is available to you from the start. For instance you’ll likely find items behind a big rock with red claw marks on it, something which can’t be cleared until you get the bear ability. The game doesn’t tell you this (nor for any of the other blockers) so it can sometimes be a bit of a guessing game as to what you can access right now and what you’ll have to come back for.

There’s also some quality of life improvements that could be made, 2 of which jump immediately to mind. First off the upgrade vendor is only in one map which means you’ll have to trek back there every time you want to purchase one. Since the game already has characters that travel from map to map with you it’s not out of the question to bring said upgrade vendor along with you. Secondly the potion crafting, whilst simple and concise, is needlessly laborious in its resource collection mechanic. In order for you to craft a single potion you’ll need to get 4 of a certain item and then you’ll automatically create one. As far as I can tell those resources will spawn an unlimited number of times meaning that the second you find a resource you can, in theory, fill your potion inventory. However the time taken to do so is a little bit too long in my opinion and instead could take inspiration from the estus flask idea in Dark Souls (I.E. refilling them all at certain points). I admit that there is a small lore reason for the gathering mechanic but I’m sure that could be worked in other ways.

The game is well polished in most respects although there are a few minor issues here and there that could use addressing. As the above screenshot shows there are numerous places on several maps where you can fall through the world. Thankfully instead of outright killing you the game will simply teleport you back to a safe place after you fall for a while so it’s not a major issue when it happens. The hit detection, both for your character and enemies, could do with a little tuning as well as some of the enemies attacks connect when you’d think they’d miss. Thankfully these are minor gripes in the overall scheme of things and I’m sure future patches will work most of them out.

The story is steeped in the mythology and culture of the Tarahumara people with many of the places, stories and even game mechanics taking inspiration from it. With your character being an entirely mute protagonist it is a little hard to engage fully with the story. There are some interesting pieces here and there and the story’s ultimate climax is cool but, overall, I didn’t get that much out of it. Looking at the Steam page there’s a bunch of videos that the developer made diving into the culture and how it influenced the game so had I watched those before playing I might be saying something different.

Mulaka’s greatest strength is that it achieved what it set out to. Too often I’ve seen both indie and AAA developers strive for grand visions that can never be fully achieved, resulting in games with half baked ideas and broken implementations. Mulaka instead had a simpler, narrow vision which helped it focus more on what mattered. The game that came out the other end is simple, short and concise. There’s improvements to be made though with some levels needing a little more polish, a few quality of life improvements here or there and a little more story work could elevate this title to much greater heights. None of these are terminal issues though and, should the developers decide to revisit this world, I’m sure a follow up game could strive for a much greater vision.

Rating: 7.5/10

Mulaka is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 5 hours play time and 50% of the achievements unlocked.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Kickstarter opened the gates to underserved gaming niches, allowing us gamers to vote directly with our wallets and see incredible games come to fruition. Not every game was a hit of course and even looking at my backing history there’s several titles in there that, had I known what they’d become, I would have put my cash somewhere else. Kingdom Come: Deliverance falls somewhere in the middle for me; on the one hand I can remember wanting to back this game as even at the concept stage it looked fantastic. However 4 years after I pledged to the Kickstarter campaign (at the Duke level) much of that hype had disappeared, lost in the some 100+ games I played in the interim. That’s possibly what has led to my lukewarm impressions of the game, even though I can definitely appreciate the amount of effort that Warhorse Studios put into it.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance starts off in the silver mining town of Skalitz with young Henry, a simple peasant, living under his mother and blacksmith father, Martin. After finishing some errands for his father, Henry joins him in completing a commissioned sword for King Wenceslaus’ hetman, Sir Radzig Kobyla. While Henry wishes to explore and see life outside of the village, Martin insists that a quieter life is much safer. Immediately after an army of Cuman and Czech soldiers under Sigismund of Luxembourg’s control attack and raid Skalitz, killing all who do not flee. Henry holds on to the sword and runs but later comes back for his mother and father, and witnesses their murder under Sigismund’s crony, Sir Markvart von Aulitz. Henry flees to the safety of the castle, but is too late, and is forced to ride out to the nearest castle of Talmberg.

Depending on what kind of rig you’re running it might not be immediately obvious that Kingdom Come is running on CryEngine. The reason is that, at least on the PC, the game wasn’t exactly optimised at launch. Now my PC is no slouch although it is just over 3 years old at this point but even it struggled to get things running properly with its default configuration (as the below screenshot will attest). Searching around the forums revealed that the game really, really struggles if it’s running on a traditional hard drive, even if that hard drive is say a RAID 10 array capable of 400MB/s throughput (like mine). Using a custom user.cfg file fixed most of the issues but moving it onto my main SSD fixed the rest. Even with all those fixed Kingdom Come is a game that, strangely, looks a lot better up close than it does from afar. Usually most games are the opposite. These issues run deeper than just the graphics though, something I’ll dive into a bit more later.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a true to its roots RPG, taking its inspiration more from the pen and paper variety rather than its more action oriented brethren. There’s a bevy of different stats for you to build up, each of which will require you to do certain things (like say, running to increase vitality) to level them up. Similarly there’s a lot of skills, many of which will require you to be trained in them first before you can start improving them. There’s the usual array of loot along with the requisite inventory management to go along with it. Combat also takes the form of more “traditional” medieval fights which typically means that taking on more than 1 or 2 enemies at a time is a recipe for disaster. There’s also a bunch of status mechanics like hunger, sleep and injuries, all of which will need to be addressed if you’re to stay in top fighting condition. I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few features in here too as the game is quite massive in scope and I’ve only seen a small fraction of it (for reasons I shall explain). All of this is presented in a period correct medieval setting, meaning there’s no magical powers or fantastical elements.

FPS games that deal in melee combat have always been somewhat awkward and Kingdom Come is no exception to this. The mechanics of it are pretty simple, you have an amount of stamina (tied to your current health, which is an interesting mechanic) which you use to throw punches, swing your sword and dodge/counter/block enemy attacks. With a sword or other weapon equipped you choose the direction of your strike which has a direct impact on your enemy’s ability to block it. What this results in is a game of cat and mouse with the NPCs, trying to figure out which angle to hit them from. I do get that they were going for a more realistic feel to what medieval combat would be like but it just wasn’t particularly enjoyable.

One feature that’s notably missing, and I think one that sucked a lot of the fun out of it for me, was an unlimited, on demand save. Whilst that’s changed in a recent patch (now with a save and exit function) it did mean that the game was a lot more laborious than it would otherwise be. There were a few times where I lost quite a bit of progress, whether due to my own fault or the numerous technical glitches, because the save point was quite a while back. This also meant that one of my more favourite things, quicksaving and then being a total jerk for no good reason, was stripped away. Say what you will about save scumming and what have you but things like that really do help to keep me engaged in games like this. With such a restrictive save system I no longer feel like experimenting or just having fun for 10 minutes before I break for the night. The save and exit feature somewhat addresses that but, honestly, without a quick save/load it’s really only a halfway solution.

This isn’t even mentioning the larger game design issues which made what was supposed to be the games opening hours more frustrating than they could be. You see an early mission requires you to pick a lock in order to get an item. No worries, you’re given some lock picks and a practice lock to work with to get going. So I spent a few minutes honing my skill until, unfortunately, I broke my lockpick. Alright, I thought, I’ll go into town and buy a new one. Not a single vendor in the town I was in had any and, looking up places to buy them showed that I’d probably have to spend another 30 minutes travelling (I didn’t have a horse) to get more. Great, that mission is now dead to me until I figure out a way around it. Sure it’s not like I couldn’t do other missions but these small issues are numerous and they all make Kingdom Come less enjoyable than it would otherwise be.

This isn’t to mention the numerous issues it has with performance, optimisation and game breaking glitches. In addition to the texture pop in issues the game will lag horrendously in cut scenes if you have G-Sync enabled, yet again requiring a custom config to fix. Lock picking, for some unknown reason, enables mouse acceleration meaning that you’ll need a custom mouse profile or something similar to counteract the effects (making that particular mini game incredibly frustrating). Timed events for NPCs will sometimes simply not work, like when I was told to go to the training ground to meet the captain. I waited next to it for 2 days and he never showed up, requiring me to restart the game to my last checkpoint and try again until it worked. I’m not the only one to experience weird behaviour like this either as many of the Let’s Play videos on YouTube will attest. I know that, as gamers, we’ve come to expect this kind of jank from large RPGs but that doesn’t excuse it. For some I can imagine these things are actually a source of fun but, for me, they just soured me even further on the whole experience.

Which is a right shame as the story seemed quite good. Sure it was relatively predictable how things were going to start but it was truly refreshing to play a game from the perspective of a nobody from nowhere with no prophecy or powers behind him. Careful attention was paid to fleshing out the world with bits of story, interesting conversation between NPCs and a range of dialogue options that were all dependant on how you built your character. Indeed I feel that I should probably wait another 6 months or so until the major issues have been patched out and the mods start rolling in, allowing me to mold the core game of Kingdom Come into something I’d enjoy. That way I could experience the story without having to worry about all the other elements I’m not so keen on.

To be sure Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a great game for a certain subset of gamers: those who’ve been lusting after a true to form RPG in a medieval setting. 4 years ago I thought I was one of them, my pledge on Kickstarter a testament to that, but since then it seems things have changed. I’ve become less tolerant of the jank that these large scale RPGs seem to bring with them, no longer wanting to have to deal with troubleshooting performance issues just so I can play the damn thing. I do recognise the amount of effort that goes into producing something like this though as there are many aspects of this game that I can appreciate for their objective quality. The attention to detail in the world and the story are two such elements, ones that I might be able to enjoy at a later date. If this is the first you’re hearing of Kingdom Come: Deliverance then the game might not be for you but for those Kickstarter faithful I’m sure they’ve got their moneys worth.

Rating: 7.5/10

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 5 hours play time and 8% of the achievements unlocked.

The Fall Part 2: Unbound: I Need My Rule.

These games reviews serve a couple different purposes for me. The first is to push me to try things out of my comfort zone as there’s so much more to the world of gaming than just the AAA releases. The second, and one I’m finding increasingly useful as my back catalogue of reviews grows, is to serve as a secondary memory; a kind of online copy of my impressions of the game to augment my own. So when I saw The Fall Part 2: Unbound I had this feeling that I’d played something like it before which, of course, I had. So I felt compelled to give the sequel a shot as, after reading through my previous review, I remember liking the concept even if the implementation fell a little short. It seems that the developers have stayed true to their roots in that regard as Part 2: Unbound keeps the same intriguing story whilst retaining many of the issues that I grated up against before.

SPOILERS FOR THE FALL BELOW

Part 2: Unbound begins where the previous story left off with ARID being dragged away for repurposing. During this process she’s infected with a virus which, interestingly, allows her to redefine her core rule. No longer bound by the need to save her pilot, nor anyone else, she defines her new rule as: I must save myself. However a user on the network is attacking her body, seeking to destroy what is left of her. In order to save herself she must find out who this user is, reaching beyond the confines of her body into the vast network beyond. It is there where she meets others who will help her fulfil her rule, whether they want to or not.

The visuals of Part 2 don’t appear to have changed appreciably in the 3 years since the original’s release. There’s certainly a lot more detail in most of the scenes, especially those that deviate from the original’s corridor-only design. The visuals have the trademark “Unity Engine” feel to them which is especially noticeable when the camera zooms in for close ups. 3 years ago this was a refreshing change from the current trends but now? It feels a bit dated. This is somewhat understandable as the focus appears to have been spent more on the puzzles and level design, given the sequel is almost 3 times as long as the original.

Mechanically Part 2: Unbound is the same game as the original, requiring you to explore your environment to find the solution to the current puzzle. This time around however you’ll be doing the majority of that through others, taking control of other AIs to help you complete your task. Each of these different entities have their own set of capabilities and limitations, both of which you’ll need to exploit fully in order to progress.The game also introduces several new mechanics along the way which ramp up the puzzle difficulty substantially towards the end (although I’ll abstain from describing them as it’s most certainly spoiler territory). Combat makes a return with a couple additional mechanics thrown but it’s mostly a distraction from the core puzzle solving game. It’s clear that the developer has focused more heavily on the parts that were received well (puzzle design and story) whilst defocusing others. The result is a game that I’m sure will delight fans of the first but, for people like me, it does highlight a lack of growth in the developer.

I mentioned in my review of The Fall that it was clear that the developer and I weren’t completely in-sync when it came to puzzle design. That hasn’t changed in Part 2: Unbound as there were numerous puzzles that just simply didn’t make any sense to me. Sometimes it was something simple, like missing an interaction point, but other times the logical leaps required would never come to me. Sure I could try clicking everything in sight in order to find out but that gets tiresome really quick. The worse ones were problems that had an obvious solution that was locked behind some mechanic I simply didn’t understand, preventing me from solving the puzzle until I’d completed some other, seemingly unrelated, task. I’d estimate that about 65% of the puzzles made sense (even if they were challenging), 15% were faults of mine and the remaining 20% were just nonsensical. I’ve played worse, to be sure, but I’ve also played better.

I’d forgive the game for that, as I did for the original, if it wasn’t for the fact that the developer made many of the same mistakes again. The control scheme is still the awkward mess it was before with the game often failing to capture the mouse pointer. For dual monitor users this will result in the game minimizing itself every so often when you click outside of the game’s window. There’s also a few puzzles which you can get stuck in, requiring you to exit to the main menu in order to be able to reset. There’s even a few places where you can fall through the world, like when One is on the train (simply walk to the left, there’s no barrier to stop you plummeting off the edge). That will also require a restart to get you back again. For first games from an indie studio I’m usually quite lenient, it is after all not easy to create a game, but for further titles I expect to see some level of polish. It’s just not there unfortunately which is a real shame. Hopefully I don’t see the same mistakes in Part 3 (this is supposed to be a trilogy, after all).

The story is still great with the addition of 3 extra characters giving you a much broader perspective on the world that you find yourself in. Each of the new characters are given enough backstory to get you invested which helps immensely in driving you through the game’s more obvious flaws. It certainly had its share of climatic moments, the Josephs scene comes to mind, and the little bits of levity sprinkled throughout are a welcome distraction from the dark overtones. The game proudly announces “To Be Concluded” at the end, signalling that the next instalment is coming and will be the finale to the story, something which I’ll always take points off for. It definitely feels like the story I’d be much more into if it wasn’t for the awkward controls and illogical puzzles. It’s a shame really as I always hope to see indie developers grow beyond the confines of their original success.

The Fall Part 2: Unbound, doubles down on what made the original popular whilst retaining many of the things which I’d had hoped they’d change. The story and puzzles were definitely the developer’s main focus as the game is much longer and more in depth than its predecessor was. However things that marred the original, like the awkward control scheme, lack of polish in some aspects as well as puzzle design that simply didn’t gel with this writer, felt like I was playing almost the same game from 3 years ago. For those who loved the original these issues aren’t likely to pose a problem but for me, someone who loves to see indie developers grow over time, it feels like they’re stagnant. In my mind Over The Moon Games has one last chance to prove that they, and their IP, can innovate beyond what they’ve achieved so far. All this being said The Fall Part 2: Unbound is still probably worth playing for those who love a good puzzle and story, I just wish it wasn’t almost the same game as it was 3 years ago.

Rating: 7.0/10

The Fall Part 2: Unbound is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $16.99. Game was played on the PC with 6 hours of total playtime and 43% of the achievements unlocked.

Celeste: We All Have Our Own Mountain.

Ever since I gave myself new, unknown forms of RSI playing games like Super Meat Boy I’ve had an aversion to twitch based platformers. The challenge can certainly be rewarding but the games can be exhausting to play, needing to be put down after an hour or so. Trouble is when I feel forced to put a game down, rather than feeling like I’ve come to a good place to stop, they tend to not get picked up again. That is the unfortunate tale of Celeste for this old reviewer as whilst it’s a very competent platformer I simply haven’t had the drive to go back to it after I last decided to give it a rest.

You play as Madeline, a young woman out on a quest to conquer the mighty Celeste mountain and, in the process, confront her own inner demons. The journey to the summit is fraught with all sorts of fantastical dangers that will push you to your limits. There will be those who belittle you for daring to take on such a challenge, some who support you and those whose intentions aren’t particularly clear. The reason as to why you’re climbing the mountain isn’t particularly clear but one thing is for sure: Madeline will make it to the top no matter what.

Celeste takes its artistic inspiration from fellow low detail pixel art platformers, emulating the style of games of yesteryear that weren’t capable of pushing more than a handful of pixels at a time. The attention to detail is impressive though, using each pixel to convey much more information than would otherwise be from say larger images that had been downscaled. The higher resolution images have that old Flash game feel about them which isn’t surprising given the developer’s heritage in making games on that platform. Overall it’s a pretty stock standard pixel art affair.

As I alluded to in the opening paragraph Celeste is a platformer, one that takes much of its inspiration from the bevy of similar games that have been released over the past decade. Its signature mechanics are simple: a dash and the ability to hold/climb on walls for a limited amount of time. Each level will have its own unique additional mechanic which it will make use of to provide additional challenge, leaving your in-built abilities unchanged. Each of the levels ends with what you could call a boss which typically takes the form of something either chasing you or making your platforming journey just that extra bit more difficult. Scattered throughout the levels are dozens of collectibles, all of which are trapped behind harder than usual platforming puzzles. All in all, from a base game perspective, there’s not much I haven’t seen before and this doesn’t feel like a case where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

The platforming mechanics are crafted well enough, rarely did I find myself in a position where the journey from beginning to end of a particular puzzle wasn’t clear at the outset. Indeed Celeste does a pretty good job of demonstrating the mechanics to you, ensuring you have all the tools at your disposal. Of course using them correctly is where the challenge comes in as, if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to forget which finger does what when you’re in the middle of a complex puzzle. Thankfully all the harder challenge puzzles are completely optional so I never really felt like I was being put up against an unfair challenge. No, instead where I started to lose interest in Celeste was in how it ramped up the challenge.

You see there’s really only so much you can do with a simple bag of mechanics that are augmented with a single additional one per level. So instead the challenge typically comes from extending the puzzles length, meaning the distance between checkpoints progressively gets longer and longer. This means that the later puzzles are more difficult not because they’re more complex but because it takes longer to get to the point to retry that particular section. This is especially true for the boss sections which are the longest by far and include another additional irritating mechanic that makes completing those puzzles just that little bit harder. Sure the sense of accomplishment is very real when you finally complete a level but I could never really push myself to attempt more than one level in a sitting.

For those who enjoy platformers though these things are likely to be what makes a game like Celeste worth playing in the first place. There’s certainly a lot of content packed into Celeste with the strawberries, b-sides and what have you scattered around. I simply don’t enjoy chasing those kinds of rewards and so, when I put down Celeste on Sunday for the final time, the compulsion to go back simply vanished.

STORY SPOILERS BELOW

Had the story found its legs earlier I may have played it through to completion however. In the beginning the game doesn’t do much to build out the greater narrative except for hammering home the fact that Madeline is flawed. There is one incredibly touching moment when Madeline has a panic attack in the cable car, something I think anyone who’s dealt with anxiety before can relate to, but that comes over halfway through the game. Perhaps the story develops at a much faster rate in the sections which I haven’t played yet but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough to keep me engaged to want to see if that was the case. Perhaps I’ll watch a run through on YouTube or something one day but, sadly, I don’t think I’ll ever see it of my own volition.

STORY SPOILERS OVER

Celeste is a competent platformer that is sure to delight fans of the genre. Whilst none of its features stands out as the main reason you’d play it what they have done does fit together well. For me though this is probably one game where my biases against this type of game are showing through as I simply didn’t find enough reward in its challenge. To be sure it’s a well designed platformer, carefully guiding you through each of the level’s signature mechanics before hitting you hard with more challenging puzzles. Good design does not guarantee a fun game, however. Perhaps if I sunk another hour or two into Celeste I may sing a different tune, especially if the story manages to find its feet beyond that point, but for now it shall join the rest of the platformers I’ve laid to rest.

Rating: 7.0/10

Celeste is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch right now for $19.99. Game was played on the PC with 3.5 hours of total play time and 20% of the achievements unlocked.

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris: Simulacra.

It was only last month that I reviewed Destiny 2 and so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bungie was quick to pull the trigger on releasing the first expansion, Curse of Osiris. For us PC only players it is indeed quite a short time, I myself only reaching light level 305 the week prior. However for console players (who I assume make up the majority) there’s been a dearth of content for the past month and many have cried out in anguish over the lack of things to do. For a multi-title gamer like myself that’s a non-issue, there’s always something else to play, but for those who’d like to make Destiny their single game of choice it has become a constant source of angst. This expansion then would hopefully satiate the crowd long enough so that Bungie could implement more wide reaching changes to incentivise players to come back again and again.

Unfortunately for those dedicated players I don’t think Curse of Osiris accomplishes that but, for people like me, it’s a well timed injection of content that will likely keep me around for just that little bit longer.

Curse of Osiris takes you to Mercury, the forward base of the Vex and home to the Cult of Osiris, a group of people who’ve dedicated themselves to an incredibly powerful warlock that was exiled by the Vanguard. He hasn’t been heard from in some time however some of Ikora’s agents relay some information that indicate he may still be alive. This then takes you to Mercury, a world that was once transformed by the Traveller into a lush garden world which was then converted into a massive machine by the Vex. That machine is actually a massive simulation engine called the Infinite Forest, a place where the Vex attempt to gather data in order to formulate strategies to accomplish their goals. Rumour has it that Osiris is alive in there, thwarting all of the Vex’s attempts to simulate their way to victory.

Graphically there’s been no changes but the new patrol area of Mercury and the raid lairs retain Bungie’s signature level design, renowned for its high level of detail and quality. Personally I’ve always been a fan of the Vex artistic direction, the Cabal and Fallen feeling rather boring and routine by comparison. So it follows that this is probably my favourite expansion so far from a visual perspective. The new patrol area isn’t particularly big nor very diverse so it does wear on you quickly. However the other environments retain the typical visual diversity I’ve come to expect from the Destiny franchise so it’s not all bad thankfully.

In terms of new content Curse of Osiris brings with it a new campaign that will run for about 2 to 3 hours, a new “raid lair” which amounts to a couple jumping puzzles and a single boss fight, and a few more progression related mechanics to make a few activities relevant. In terms of how this compares to previous expansions its pretty much as expected, the only one that seemed to drastically deviate from that being The Taken King. For this writer it came at almost the perfect time as I had cleared the raid multiple times (to the point of being able to do it in an hour with the right group), hit 305 and was starting to question whether or not I’d continue playing. So for a casual-core player like myself Curse of Osiris fit in perfectly however, for others, it’s likely too little too late.

Destiny 2 brought with it a lot of streamlining of the original’s mechanics, quite often to the benefit of both players and Bungie. However some of the changes took away some of the reasons that kept old school players coming back. Indeed many of the recent changes that have been introduced were things that were already present in the original, making it feel like we’re simply restarting the development process that was already completed. So for those who made a home in Destiny as their game of choice I can definitely understand where their concerns come from as many of the things that kept them back before simply aren’t there anymore. However for someone like myself these changes have been fantastic, allowing me to do so much more in much less time.

This is, of course, the long running debate of any MMO game: hardcores vs casuals. The hardcore players want mechanics that reward the long slog, things that take time to achieve and put them on a pedestal above those who don’t spend as much time in the game as they do. Casuals on the other hand want to experience everything the game has to offer in a much reduced timeframe. This war is, typically, won by the casuals as they usually make up the majority of a game’s player base. As I’ve grown older and I find myself with less and less time to put into games like this my consumption of these titles has shifted and those that provide mechanics to cater to my more casual-like habits get rewarded with my hard earned dollars. That’s the only reason I still play World of Warcraft from time to time as I know that I can see all the game has to offer without signing my life away. Of course I’m not every player, but I think I’m closer to the average than most hardcore players would like to think.

I mention all of this because it seems that the Destiny community at the moment is at something of a crossroads. Previous expansions typically had a decent honeymoon period where everyone would sing its praises for about 2 weeks. Then slowly the issues would start to emerge and maybe a month or so later there’d be the usual bitching about there being no content or nothing for them to do. Right now we’re just over 3 months into Destiny 2’s live and with the first expansion under its belt we’re already seeing those complaints and Bungie has even cancelled livestreams in order to address them. Regardless of the outcome of the changes the decisions Bungie makes today will set the direction of what the game is to become over the next few years; whether it follows World of Warcraft or becomes a hardcore nice like EVE: Online.

Despite all this however Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris is a fantastic, if a little short, expansion to the Destiny 2 universe. For players like myself it dropped a just the right time, hooking me right back in when I was getting ready to jump out. Fleshing out the world’s backstory through a solid campaign has always been one of my favourite parts of Destiny and this expansion delivers that well. The new progression mechanics are interesting if a little grindy for my tastes. The new raid layer brings with it some of the more interesting and unique encounters we’ve seen to date and, hopefully, that trend continues with further expansions. Overall whilst it might not be worth $20 just on its own as part of the collector’s edition or as a season pass Curse of Osiris certainly provides some good content at a reasonable price point.

Rating: 9.5/10

Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris is available right now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox one right now for $19.99. Total time spent in Destiny 2 now totals 59 hours, approximately 8 hours spent in Curse of Osiris.