A game based around any of the world wars is usually an instant turn off for me. The number of games that have been based around those events are so numerous that there really doesn’t feel like there can be any more angles to tackle it from as pretty much every story from it has been done to death. The alternate reality and fantasy versions of it, like those in Wolfenstein, get away with it since they’re not wholly dependent on war stories for inspiration but they’ll still need a little something extra to pique my interest. Valiant Hearts, which comes to us care of Ubisoft Montpellier, has been receiving wide praise for it’s touching story. As someone who’s just come off 2 rather lacklustre story based titles I wasn’t hoping for miracles but Valiant Hearts managed to surprise me, bringing this writer to tears as its conclusion.
The year is 1914 and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand caused Germany to declare war on Russia. France, anticipating that this war will escalate far beyond those two countries, deports all of its German citizens back to their home country. Karl is one of those citizens, torn away from his wife and young son he is sent to the frontlines of the war to fight for his home country. Not long after his wife’s father, Emile, is called to duty as well and sent to fight for the French army. What follows is a tale of how the war drives families apart and the never ending quest for them to be reunited once again.
Valiant Hearts reminds me of the flash games of yesteryear, albeit with production values far exceeding that of any of its predecessors. It was developed on the same framework that powered Ubisoft’s recent release Child of Light and it’s easy to see just how heavily the choice of that platform influenced the art work. In contrast to Child of Light however Valiant Heart’s art style is far more dark and monotone with infinite shades of brown and grey being the primary colour palette. This does mean that when colour is used it’s quite striking and the art team does a fantastic job of using it to great effect. This also extends to the beautiful soundtrack that accompanies the game, ebbing and flowing at all the right moments.
In terms of actual game play Valiant Hearts is much like other story-first games in the sense that it usually takes a back seat to progressing the story. For the most part you’ll be doing elaborate fetch quest missions that require you to find one item in order to progress through the next session. Sometimes you’ll have to make your way through various different people in order to get to the final objective and try as you might there’s no clever way to bypass certain things. There’s also a bevy of quicktime-esque events that will require you to either guess correctly or simply memorize the sequence in which events happen in order to move on to the next part of the story.
Thankfully Valiant Hearts didn’t fall into the trap of putting far too much game play in between sections of the story like both the recent titles I played through did. In all honesty I didn’t think it was a major hurdle for games of this nature to get past as many of them are done by indie developers and so ancillary mechanics are usually on the bottom of their to do list. However with 2 games falling prey to the same problems I have to commend Valiant Hearts for getting the pacing right which helps immensely with keeping the player interested in the story. There were some sections that could use some tuning but compared to my recent experiences it was heaven.
Most of the puzzles are fairly intuitive as your inventory space is limited to a single item, limiting the amount of complexity that the game can throw at you significantly. There’s a pretty good variety of puzzle mechanics so you won’t be redoing the same thing over and over again but most of them shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes or so to figure out. A couple of them will require you to think laterally about what you’re doing as some of them lack obvious cues as to what might interact with what. This did lead to a couple confusing moments when I wasn’t quite sure if I was doing the right thing but most of the time you’ll get there through trial and error.
One issue I did find with Valiant Hearts was that since there’s not a lot of visual differentiation between different parts of the environment it can be sometimes hard to find a path you’re meant to go down or what elements are interactive. This meant that in some of the more visually busy sections I was wondering just where exactly I was meant to go as I couldn’t find the particular path to go down. I also had some deaths that felt like they were more due to visual confusion more than anything else. This might just be a fault of the writer however but it’s still an issue that should be pointed out.
Of course what really makes Valiant Hearts worth playing is the story. Overall it’s a pretty typical story of a family torn apart by war, almost Romeo and Juliet like in the star crossed lovers from different houses idea, and the story of them trying to reunite with each other. The main characters all receive the background and development they deserve, which helps immensely when it comes to scenes that rely on engaging your sense of empathy with them. Some of the elements of it are a little on the fantasy side, which can be a tad distracting from the overall message that the game tries to put forth, however they’re only there as aides to the plot so they’re easily pushed aside.
I’ll have to admit that for probably the first half or so of Valiant Hearts I wasn’t too emotionally invested with the characters or story. Whilst the opening was gripping enough to draw me into playing the game further there’s a bit of dearth in the early game as the characters are seemingly just going through the motions. However as each of their back stories is developed in detail you find yourself becoming attached to them and each tragedy that befalls them starts to cut into you. The final climatic scene is by far one of the most bittersweet endings I have endured in recent memory and whilst it might lean on the cheesy/predictable side that didn’t stop me from bursting into tears, overcome with a sense of grief.
Valiant Hearts is a beautiful story masterfully told through the medium of video games. The art style and music direction are some of the best I’ve experienced in their category, taking the traditional flash styled game and ramping it up to the next level. The game mechanics are simple, enjoyable and thankfully stay out of the way of the story, leaving the player to enjoy Valiant Hearts for what it truly is. Finally the story is by far one of the best examples I’ve come across this year with all the characters receiving the right amount of screen time and development required for it’s ultimate emotional climax. If you, like me, have been feeling let down by the offerings of story based games of late then I can wholeheartedly recommend Valiant Hearts as the cure to what ails you.
Valiant Hearts is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $14.99, $22.95, $22.95, $19.95 and $19.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time.
Ever since I had my first taste of a story first game all those years ago I’ve been hooked on finding that same experience again in modern titles. Whilst Quantic Dream has always managed to deliver a solid experience in this regard newcomers to this field are very hit or miss, often not achieving what they set out to do. The struggle between just how much game makes it into the final product is what usually trips up most first time developers with the story suffering because of it (or vice versa). Murdered: Soul Suspect treads carefully enough to avoid some of these potential pitfalls whilst unfortunately falling prey to many others.
In the sleepy town of Salem, Massachusetts a murderer walks in the shadows. The killings seemingly have no relation to one another except for the victims always being young girls. The case has become something of an obsession for one of the local officers, Ronan O’Connor, a reformed criminal looking to make up for his questionable past. When he gets word of the Bell killer’s location he disregards all calls to wait for backup and pursues the criminal himself. However things don’t go as planned and in an instant things take a dark turn with Ronan thrown out a window and his life unceremoniously ended by his own weapon. Now, as he lies trapped between this world and the next, Ronan is compelled to find out who his killer is.
Visually Murdered: Soul Suspect is a dark and dreary place with the whole game taking place during the course of a single night. The graphics are about average when you compare it to similar titles of its time, a lot of the style still rooted in the previous generation’s console limitations. This might also be partly due to the use of the Unreal 3 engine which always seems to have a similar visual feel no matter the art styling. The styling of the UI elements seems to be of much poorer quality than the rest of the game, to the point of being quite distracting. I understand that at least some of this was done to enhance the “supernatural” feel of the game but since it’s not consistent throughout the various elements it just ends up sticking out more than anything.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is a puzzle game, one that requires you to gather up all the clues you can find and then use them in order to piece together what happened at a particular scene. Typically the clues are just things lying around the room, waiting for you to interact with them, although some will require a little more detective work in order to unlock them. Whilst the world isn’t particularly big you are free to explore pretty much all of it at your leisure although some places will be unavailable to you until you’ve unlocked some of your ghost abilities further down the line. There’s also numerous side quests and collectible missions which unlock various other stories that aren’t related to the main campaign, something which bolsters Murdered: Soul Suspects otherwise drastically short play time.
The puzzles that you’ll solve really aren’t that difficult at all considering that you’re told what area you need to look in to find them (moving out of an area where a clue might be removes the clue counter, indicating you’ve wandered too far) and that relevant clues typically come with a “memory flash” of what happened. These flashes sometimes come with another word puzzle element which has you choosing a few words to describe the picture you’re seeing. The hardest part then comes from selecting the right clues to complete the investigation or figuring out how to influence someone in order to get the clue you need. Indeed the only time I struggled to finish investigations was when the game decided not to spawn the required objects for me to interact with, something I’ll touch on later.
There are open world aspects to Murdered: Soul Suspect as well, allowing you to run around Salem looking for collectibles and helping out other ghosts that find themselves trapped in this realm. You can also posses people and read their minds, which sounds fun to begin with, however after a while you start to find that many NPCs are reused throughout the game and, despite their different circumstances in which you find them, they always have the same few lines to say. I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity here as it would’ve added a little something more to the world to be able to influence the random people on the street or if there was another story you could unlock by reading enough minds. Sadly there isn’t and so after the first hour or so you’ll likely find yourself skipping all non-essential ghost power use.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is also rather glitchy as the screenshot above will attest to. There are numerous times when NPCs just won’t spawn or will spawn but won’t be visible or in the location where the game wants them to be. You can often resolve this issue by restart from a checkpoint but other times, like during an investigation, you’ll be left wandering around in circles wondering where the last clue is or clicking on clues you’ve already discovered hoping they’ll trigger something else. For a game that struggles with pacing at the best of times this isn’t a great glitch to have and it definitely had a negative impact on my experience.
However Murdered: Soul Suspect’s greatest failing is that the story just fails to captivate you in any way. On the surface the concept sounds pretty amazing, you’re a ghost detective solving your own murder, however I simply failed to empathize with the majority of the characters. There was massive potential here to give the characters incredible depth using the mind reading mechanic which unfortunately seems to be used to pad the game time out. Worst still the characters that were seemingly given the most attention, in terms of backstory development, are the ones with the least amount of presence in the actual game, being constrained to journal entries. Honestly my hopes weren’t that high for an emotional rollercoaster but I have to say that the overall story felt very lacklustre which is only amplified by the sub-par mechanics.
It’s a real shame because the side stories, typically the ones you unlock from collecting a bunch of artifacts in a particular area, are actually quite good. This was probably the only reason I pursued most of them down as they are the shining moments in Murdered: Soul Suspect, both in terms of their stories as well as the voice acting behind them. Again it feels like another one of the game’s missed opportunities as these stories are a part of the history of this game’s world and yet they’re limited to 5 minute reading sessions that are only unlocked through a tedious collecting mechanic. I don’t have a good idea as to how they could be worked in but suffice to say that Airtight Games would do well to replicate what they did in those stories in the main campaign.
Murdered: Soul Suspect unfortunately fails to achieve the goals it set out to do, delivering a mediocre story behind trivial puzzle mechanics whilst hiding its best aspects in a tedious treasure quest. I won’t deny that I had my hand in this as when I heard about the concept I immediately started drawing comparisons to Heavy Rain in my head and there are few games, in my mind, that come close. Still even taking that into consideration Murdered: Soul Suspect feels like a decidedly average game, failing to evoke the kind of emotional investment required by a game of this nature.
Murdered: Soul Suspect is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $49.99, $79.95, $99.95, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 7 hours of total play time and 83% of the achievements unlocked.
The evolution of open world style games has been pretty interesting to watch. The gold standard has (and likely will be for a long time) the Grand Theft Auto series which grew from a humble 2D car stealing simulator to the vibrant organised crime simulator today. Indeed this is how most open world games progress, starting out with a core idea that then has a bigger and better world built around it as the successive titles roll on. Watch_Dogs is no exception to this, with its core idea focusing heavily on hacking, enabling your character almost superpower like qualities. Whilst the execution of this idea has drawn ire from those who bought heavily into the hype Watch_Dogs is one of the better first entries into the open world genre, something which should be expected from the veteran open world developer Ubisoft Montreal.
Aiden Pearce is a man tormented by his past, the guilt of his niece losing her life instead of his in a botched assassination attempt has weighed heavily and he’s spent every one of his waking moments since then looking for answers. He’s not beyond reproach however as the guilt has clouded his sense of right and wrong, instead dealing out his own brand of justice wherever, and to whomever, he deems fit. Inevitably this comes back around to him and he is forced into doing things lest more harm befall those he cares about. The tale of his journey from here on out is one of obsession fueled by a passion to right what’s wrong with the world with no regard to the cost to himself.
If you’ve read anything about Watch_Dogs recently there’s been numerous complaints about how the graphics don’t seem to be up to the same standard as they were in the E3 demo. As someone who’s playing on a 3 year old PC I felt the graphics were around the same standard as what I’ve come to expect from most open world games which is to say that, compared to the video, mine certainly don’t look as good. However I feel we should most likely temper our expectations since that was shown as a demo and was likely running on a hardware system that few would have running. That follows on to why it probably looks sub-par on consoles as whilst they’re powerful machines for the money you’ll spend they just can’t match a PC for raw grunt. That being said my console playing brother said it looked great on the XboxOne and had no graphical issues at all so it seems your mileage may vary considerably.
True to its open world genre Watch_Dogs has a lot of things packed into it, from mechanics to skills to the numerous side missions, mini-games and unlockable content. The star mechanic of Watch_Dogs is, of course, the hacking which is best described as a real world superpower that allows you to do all manner of things that regular people simply can’t. The hacking also extends to your car, something you’ll be making heavy use of since you won’t be able to use your guns whilst driving. The combat is your typical 3rd person shooter affair with your arsenal of weapons being extremely varied and including hacking inspired augments that can give you the edge when you’re grossly outnumbered. Should you find yourself bored with the campaign you can take part in the numerous NPC side missions or, if you’re so inclined, invade another player’s game and battle against them for notoriety points. There’s also dozens of unlockable cars, weapons and even songs for you to listen to in your car, enough that even the most venerable achievement hunter will likely give up before they get them all.
One of the biggest aspects in open world games is how the world feels as early versions of Grand Theft Auto had a very lonely vibe to them, almost post-apocalyptic like given the lack of people and cars that were around. For me Watch_Dogs felt about as alive as Grand Theft Auto did although I’ve heard many say that it feels no where near the same. Whilst the city does have a lot of detail in it the variance of the people is a little on the low side as I can’t tell you how many times I ran into the same group of beatboxers throughout the city. On the flip side the little profile descriptions you get for everyone are extremely varied which is a nice little touch. Indeed I think the lack of detail in some areas is due to the wide variety of detail in others which is a classic symptom of time constraints, something Watch_Dogs was unfortunately plagued with.
You’ll be doing a lot of driving in Watch_Dogs which is a little bit unfortunate as it’s probably one of the lesser aspects of the game. The initial cars you get access to all feel like boats, being incredibly sluggish to respond and even less so when there’s several police cars ramming into the back of you. Thankfully the later cars go a long way to improve this but then it becomes a choice of driving a flimsy, well handling car and something that can take a beating which retains that god awful boat like feeling. In all honesty I’m not that surprised that the driving is sub-par, it’s an incredibly hard thing to get right, however if you’re going to rely on that to be your player’s main way of getting from point A to point B you’d better make sure it’s enjoyable. I’m sure subsequent sequels of Watch_Dogs will improve on this dramatically as this is Ubisoft Montreal’s first game to prominently feature driving as a mechanic.
Combat feels much like any other 3rd person shooter with your typical infinitely regenerating health and aiming systems I’m sure need some assistance when used on a console. Most encounters are done in 2 phases: the first being the part where you stealth around, take out as many enemies as you please and generally cause havoc. Most of the time this will result in you getting detected and a firefight will break out although if you’re careful there are numerous times when that can be avoided altogether. To Ubisoft Montreal’s credit the stealth system is well thought out and the majority of the times I was detected were due to me not being careful enough, rather than the NPCs having eyes where they shouldn’t. For the most part it’s challenging and satisfying, with the short reload times ensuring that you’re not left waiting long to fix your mistakes.
The “hacking” mechanic is essentially a power that your character has, enabling you to do certain things to the city due to it all being interconnected via a giant system called ctOS. Your powers are rather limited to begin with, being able to hack cameras and traffic lights, but as you level up all manner of crazy powers will be bestowed upon you. Some of them are plausible, like the ability to raise/lower road blockers, whilst others, like blowing up steam pipes, are almost enough to be called magic. The hacking mini games are just an elaborate puzzle sequence, one which can usually be figured out rather easily through trial and error. All in all it’s a solid idea to base the game around however having one button to execute everything makes the powers feel a little too easy to use. Maybe a short quicktime event (I can’t believe I’m writing this) would be sufficient to make the powers feel a little more impactful as right now they make you feel like a script kiddie rather than an elite hacker.
The levelling and progression system strikes the right balance of progression and choice, giving you enough points to get something in everything very quickly and then forcing you to make hard decisions about which way you want to build your character. The unlockable system also feels rather well done as should you want to unlock the new abilities typically it will be the first or second one you’ll get, meaning you don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time grinding missions to unlock them. Achievement hunters on the other hand will have a lot of work ahead of them as the myriad of guns and cars available to unlock will likely have them clearing out whole city sections before finishing off a chapter in the campaign.
Like most open world games there’s a bunch of emergent behaviour in Watch_Dogs, some of it good and some of it bad. There’s always the hilarious situations you can cause by changing traffic lights (even when you’re not being chased by the police) and the AI sometimes reacts in the strangest ways to your presence, like random NPC cars running each other off the road should you come a little bit too close to one of them. At the same time I’ve had several missions that I had to restart at a checkpoint due to things like destructible terrain blocking my path, my character’s ragdoll physics glitching out causing him to get stuck on the ground or things not spawning (or the wrong things spawning) preventing me from going on. It probably happened about half a dozen times throughout my playthrough so it’s nothing major but I’ve heard the issues are magnified somewhat on older consoles.
The story of Watch_Dogs deals with a lot of very mature themes however some aspects of it do feel like they ring hollow. Thinking back on it there were a lot of characters that the story seemed to assume that I’d have some kind of empathy for but, and I’m not sure if this is a function of me playing mostly campaign missions, I feel like they didn’t have sufficient screentime to justify it. There are some shining moments though with Aiden embracing his anti-hero qualities with gusto however they seem to get undone almost instantly in the scenes that follow. The lack of player choice and influence on the story will also annoy some but that’s not something I’ll fault Watch_Dogs for. All being said it’s passable, especially for a first entry into a new IP and genre for the developer, and hopefully future instalments can build on this in order to make the story much more engrossing.
Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into a new open world IP, building around a solid core mechanic and adding in all the things that we’ve come to expect from games in this genre. The combat, progression systems and hacking mechanics are all well done, providing dozens of hours of challenge and rewards for even the most seasoned achievement hunter. The driving leaves something to be desired and will likely be the biggest let down for open world fans who are still coming down from their GTA high. The story reaches a little far beyond its grasp, lacking the appropriate amount of buildup to elicit the emotional conclusion they were looking for, however it should serve as a decent base for the subsequent releases. All in all Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into this new series, one I feel that’s only going to get stronger as time goes on.
Watch_Dogs is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $89.95, $99.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with approximately 16 hours of total play time with 44% of the achievements unlocked.
Nearly every gamer of my generation would have grown up with the classic FPS Wolfenstein 3D. I was just 7 years old when it first came out and my parents, not wanting to expose me to violent games that involved killing people, forbid me from playing it. Of course this didn’t deter me one bit and through an ingenious floppy sharing and copying system my brother and I managed to get our hands on a copy. However it was clear this game was beyond my skills at the time as I can’t remember ever getting past the first level and my guiltily acquired pleasure was soon ditched for more entertaining games. The Wolfenstein series has made many reappearances since then with varying levels of quality. The sentiment among my friends for this latest instalment wasn’t particularly high but, in all honesty, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game in its own right.
You are agent Blazkowicz, Nazi killing extraordinaire who is taking part in a large allies raid on the axis forces. It’s been 3 years since the events of the previous game and the Nazis have developed highly advanced technology, turning the tide against the allied forces. Your mission is to strike directly at the heart of the Nazi war machine: your old nemesi: General Deathshead. Unfortunately your plane is shot down before you can start your mission, putting you deep in the trenches facing off against some of the technological horrors of the Nazi army.
The New Order is one of the few games to be based on the id Tech 5 engine with the last one being it’s debut game, Rage. It’s most certainly worthy of its next generation status as the visuals are top notch, even on an aging computer like mine. There are some notable performance issues, especially during the opening scenes, which required me to tweak several settings to get them working satisfactorily. That being said once I was past that initial scene and into the more corridor-esque parts the performance issues seemed to die down somewhat. It’d be interesting to contrast this against a similar machine with a NVIDIA card, considering the amount of optimization The New Order has for it.
In terms of actual game play The New Order is your typical corridor shooter that’s been augmented with a few RPG characteristics here and there to give you a sense of progression. The New Order avoids the current pitfall of infinitely regenerating health, instead allowing you to regen up to a certain point before requiring you to seek out health packs. You can still carry a ridiculous number of guns, although you won’t be able to carry them across chapters, and all of them will get augmented in one (or several) ways, opening up many new opportunities for taking out Nazis in the most glorious ways. There’s also a stealth system which, whilst functional, loses much of its sheen when it’s unceremoniously ripped away from you. Still the combination of all these parts makes for an interesting, if not entirely unique, experience.
The combat is fluid and highly polished, comparable to that of other AAA shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield. The aiming does feel a little on the generous side as you’ll be able to easily nail headshots from the hip at great distances. For the most part though the combat isn’t exactly difficult, indeed you’ll likely not die for much of the first half of the game, but the later stages of the game do require you to employ a little strategy in order to progress without dying repeatedly. Often it’s just remembering when/where the strongest enemies appear as they’re usually the ones who’ll cause your unexpected demise.
The stealth system is pretty basic, you can crouch down and then sneak around and take out enemies one by one and they’ll be none the wiser to your presence. Indeed the bodies of taken out enemies don’t seem to phase them one bit, allowing you to take out great swaths of enemies without much of a thought to the order in which you do it. On the flip side there’s very little leniency with getting spotted and most likely the second you’re in a guard’s line of sight you’ll be spotted and everyone will know exactly where you are (even if you move away from that spot out of sight). It’s much better than other games that have tacked on stealth mechanics however it could still do with a little more fleshing out.
I really quite liked the talent system as instead of it being based on XP or some other arbitrary value or event it’s tied to you completing certain objectives in the game. This means that should you favour one style of game play over another that particular way of playing will get strong over the course of the game. Of course this can backfire on you completely if you say, choose to complete things in a mostly stealthy manner, as most of the time you’ll have the opportunity for stealth completely removed from you. Still even with that limitation I was able to unlock the majority of the perks without trying too hard and those few that required something special could usually be done in the space of a single chapter.
Unfortunately the 3 years between the release of RAGE and The New Order haven’t seen the larger issues with the id Tech 5 engine sorted out. Texture pop-in is rife in almost every environment, something which is highly noticeable if you spin around at even a mild pace. Combine this with the frame rate issues at the beginning and it’s not a great experience, one that had me searching for solutions for quite some time. Updating to the latest beta drivers seems to be fixing that for most people but texture pop in will still remain. Hopefully a couple patches will be able to sort these issues out as whilst they don’t stop the game from being playable it does add frustration where it’s not needed.
The New Order’s story does shine through as one of the better aspects as whilst it’s not exactly Oscar winning material it does make you empathize with the characters. You will have to ignore some of the obnoxious plot holes in order to fully enjoy the story but it’s one of the first FPS games in a long time to do tragedy right. Of course you could still play The New Order, completely ignoring the plot, and still get a lot out of it however.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a well polished evolution of the Wolfenstein series, combining the classic FPS game style with modern elements that results in a very solid experience. The combat is fast paced and well polished, the stealth system actually usable and the story punches above its weight. However the id Tech 5 engine seems to still show signs of not being fully baked yet, mostly due to the fact that this is only the second title to be released with it. Nothing about those issues aren’t fixable however and hopefully they’re resolved in future patch releases. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game that both long time fans and newcomers to the series can enjoy, a feat few long running series like this can lay claim to.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $79.95, $79.95, $99.95, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC on the hard difficulty setting with 10 hours of total play time and 62% of the achievements unlocked.
The last couple months have been a little barren in terms of releases which, whilst it gives me some time to plunder the vast depths of the numerous indie releases, does leave me hungering for a more traditional type of experience. During my usual stumble through the new releases on Steam I happened to come across Bound by Flame, an action RPG that managed to impress me on its trailers alone. However it was hard to miss the rather damning Metacritic review score on the store page that indicated that this title was probably less than stellar. Still the short bits I had seen seemed to indicate that it was worth playing and so I sat myself down to see if I was right.
The world is under siege, a massive army of the undead shambling its way across the land and devastating everything in its path. Each battle with this terrible army, under the command of powerful magic wielders called Ice Lords, only serves to swell their ranks even further. There is not much hope for humanity however a group of scholars called the Red Scribes believes they have a way to turn the tide of the war. You are Vulcan, member of the Free Born Blades, a mercenary group who has been hired by the Red Scribes to protect them while they attempt to complete the ritual. However not everything goes as planned and suddenly you find yourself being far more involved in this conflict than you’d first anticipated.
Visually Bound by Flame has the look that many similar previous gen RPGs did with an extremely muted colour palette and somewhat simplistic looking graphics. The screenshots are a little misleading as on their own they look quite good but once you see everything in motion it becomes apparent what the limitations are. Indeed the whole thing feels like a fantasy version of Mars: War Logs, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it’s from the same developer, but this means that all the issues that plagued that game are present in Bound by Flame as well. Considering their close release dates I’m assuming that they didn’t have much time to take the lessons learned from their previous title and apply it to this one, which is rather unfortunate considering they seem like a studio who wants to make a decent game.
Bound by Flame is an action RPG at heart, taking the majority of the traditional mechanics and wrapping them up in a real time combat system in order to keep the pace up. All the usual elements you’d expect are there: levels, a skill tree system that you use to get new skills and improve old ones, various perks that can be unlocked, loot galore and a crafting system to augment items you’ll find. There’s a main story quest that will be your main way of progressing forward but there’s also a handful of side quests to do should you feel the need. You’ll also have a variety of party members to choose from, each with their own set of skills and story lines which you can pursue at your leisure.
The combat is reminiscent of Mars: War Logs as you’re just whacking on an enemy until they try to attack, at which point you’ve got to block or somehow get out of the way. Bound by Flame differs through the use of “stances” which are essentially different ways of doing combat. The warrior stance lets you use your 2 handed sword but stops you from being able to quickly dodge attacks. The ranger stance on the other hand is focused on quick attacks but the ability to parry incoming attacks is greatly reduced. Just like any RPG you’d better focus on one or the other as trying to mix the two will likely lead to a sub-par experience. There’s also the pyromancer abilities which are essentially augments to the other two as the game doesn’t seem to have the itemization to support someone being a full time mage.
Unfortunately the wild flails in difficulty that plagued Mars: War Logs remains in Bound by Flame meaning that you’ll likely struggle at the start of a section until you find an upgrade or two at which point the game becomes a breeze again. The bosses are also on a completely different difficulty scale to the rest of the encounters you’ll have meaning you’ll likely blow through most of your stash just to get past them. I understand the need for challenging the player, hell I’ve criticised games for not being able to do this, but the disjoint in difficulty isn’t a challenge to overcome, it’s poor game design. This is made all the more obvious by the final boss fight which is, in all honesty, an absolute travesty as unless you’ve built your character specifically for that fight you’ll likely be unable to do it without sinking an disproportional amount of time into it.
The crafting system seems well thought out on the surface however it only serves to highlight just how little differentiation there is between most items in Bound by Flame. In the beginning you’ll have to carefully choose your upgrades in order to get the maximum benefit however about half way through you’ll be drowning in materials, allowing you to get the best upgrade for each of your items. The game seems to hint at the idea that you should change your gear constantly to fit the situation but even if you do that you’ll still find yourself with more materials than you know what to do with. Honestly if they had a crafting system that let you make weapons and armour I think the amount of materials that drop would be justified. Maybe then I could craft myself a pair of boots (seriously, I had to buy an upgraded pair of boots in the second to last chapter because I never found any).
Bound by Flame is also riddled with bugs and strange quirks that mar the whole experience. I had several occasions where, if I dragged a NPC out of their normal roaming area, the enemies would flit between being invisible and invulnerable to being visible but disinterested in me. Other NPCs would sometimes inexplicably face the walls or get stuck on things which would incapacitate them. This is not to mention your party members AI which is beyond useless most of the time, even when you use the order commands to try and modify their behaviour. Reading over my Mars: War Logs review reveals that many of these issues were present in that game as well, something that Spiders needs to fix lest they be forever labelled as a B grade RPG developer.
I could forgive pretty much all of this if the story was passable however it’s not. The core idea is solid, you’ve got to choose between your humanity and power, but the execution is sorely lacking in character depth, motivation and just general coherency. Hell even the developers themselves can’t get it completely straight as I note several differences between the story on their main site and the one in the game. Worst still are the romances, if you can call them that, as many of them come down to just choosing one right dialog option at one point, rather than actually cultivating any kind of meaningful depth between the characters.
Bound by Flame continues Spiders’ unfortunate history of producing B grade RPGs, seemingly being unable to learn their past mistakes to make their future releases better. It has all the makings of a good RPG, the combat system works most of the time (despite it’s wild changes in difficulty), the levels are meaningful and the crafting system is halfway to being worthwhile. Still the story is well below mediocre and Bound by Flame has numerous glitches and behaviours that do nothing but ruin the experience. I’d love to say I’m looking forward to what they’re doing next but it seems that they have no interest in learning from their mistakes.
Go on Spiders, prove me wrong.
Bound by Flame is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Xbox360 right now for $39.99, $79.95, $89.95 and $79.95 respectively. Total play time was 10 hours with 54% of the achievements unlocked.
Reviewing a game every week has been a great way to discover my internal set of negative biases towards certain types of games. Indeed I wouldn’t have known that survival horror games just aren’t my thing had I not attempted to slog through several of them, something which is contrary to the fact that I played through many of the original Resident Evil series. Turn based combat is another mechanic that I’ve found myself avoiding but recent examples of how it can be done well, like for South Park: The Stick of Truth, have started to break down that barrier. It was the main reason I didn’t jump on Child of Light right away and whilst I might still not be a convert to the turn based combat system I can at least begin to see its merits when applied properly.
You play as Aurora, daughter of the king and heiress to the kingdom of Austria. One night though you are struck down with a terrible illness that, strangely, sends you into a mystical world quite unlike your own. This new land you find yourself in has had its moon and sun taken from it by the evil queen Umbra, plunging the world into darkness and enslaving its population. You soon find out that there’s only one way home: you must restore the moon and the sun back to its people so that the way between your worlds can be opened once again. Time is of the essence too as the visions of your world that leak through show that it is in danger, and needs your help just as much as this strange new one you find yourself in.
Child of Light has a delightfully well done art scheme, with everything for the characters to the environments having that whimsical feeling about them. The art style is done as if everything was painted with watercolours with the wide and varied palette bleeding and fading into each other. It’s also done in a 2.5D style with the backgrounds being largely static and the characters being cel shaded 3D models. This allows Child of Light to have some pretty impressive effects as well as some nice little touches (like Aurora’s hair) that really help to build up the whimsical feeling. Ubisoft Montreal has definitely taken a page from the Blizzard book here the visuals are rarely boring, especially with the large amount of variety in the environments.
From a core game perspective Child of Light is a best described as a side-scrolling RPG with turn based combat that uses a system similar to the Final Fantasy time active combat system. All the classic RPG elements that you’d expect to find are there including an experience system, talent trees with multiple arms and specializations, item progression and, of course, numerous party members to manage. Whilst the systems that have been implemented are probably more on the simplistic side (at least from a veteran RPGer’s perspective) there’s still enough depth in all of them that 2 playthroughs are unlikely to unfold in the same way. Finally there’s a crafting system for augmenting your character in certain ways, something you’ll need if you don’t want to spend hours fighting battles.
The combat system works well as it encourages you to think strategically about what actions to take when and whether or not you’ll be able to complete them. Once you’re in the “cast” section of the bar you get to choose a skill to use which all have a varying amount of time associated with them. Should someone attack you during the cast you’ll be interrupted and sent back to halfway through the “wait” bar. There are ways to speed yourself up and slow your enemies down but you can also judge how long their abilities are going to take to cast and react accordingly. The AI, for the most part, is predictable enough (it will most likely attack whichever of your party can attack the next) but working around the various abilities that they have is what provides most of the challenge.
Like most games that use elemental damage types every enemy has strengths and weaknesses meaning that it’s nigh on impossible to build Aurora, or any of your characters, as a jack of all trades. This is made even more complicated by the fact that some enemies are weak to magic and not physical attacks (or vice versa) something which isn’t readily apparent from just looking at the enemies. Indeed whilst you can kind of work out what they’re likely to be weak to given their appearance (things on fire probably don’t like water) there’s no way to inspect the enemies and have that information presented to you. Worse still there’s no health bars for you to look at and the only indication that you’re close to finishing an enemy off is when they slump down. Considering you can be having an encounter every minute or two small things like these start to wear a bit as you’re never quite sure of just how powerful you are (or aren’t).
The levelling system feels like it needed a little more attention as whilst it’s always nice to have a sense of progression Child of Light is light a desperate friend trying to impress their new date, constantly begging for your attention. At least one of your characters will level up after each fight, normally multiple ones of them, necessitating that you switch over to the character screen in order to allocate their talent points. Sometimes this leads to a meaningful upgrade, like a new version of a spell, however most of the time it’s just more stat building. Honestly it would’ve been far better to have fewer levels with those stat upgrades built into the levels themselves. That way I wouldn’t have spent a good 20% of the game simply managing my party, making sure I’d spent all their points.
The Oculi crafting system is a pretty neat idea as it allows an alternative means of progression which is totally under your control. Whilst there seems to be some obvious choices for certain slots (the extra XP from the diamonds seems like a no brainer) some of the more advanced gems, weapon slots seem to be a lot harder. Whilst you can chop and change as many times as you like it can be somewhat annoying to have say a fire gem equipped and then end up facing water enemies. Essentially this means that you’ll often find yourself pushed into sub-par fights which, whilst not impossible, are usually quite tedious. Being able to change Oculi as an action during combat would be a happy medium and would go a long way to removing a lot of the repetition present in Child of Light.
If I’m honest the rhyming couplets style of dialog really annoyed me as whilst some of it was done to great effect much of it just made comprehending them that little bit harder. I feel that the story would stand on its own quite well however the method of its delivery ultimately detracted from it. It’s a shame really as the rest of the things that go into building that story (like the music, foley and art style) are really top notch. Perhaps this is the more cynical side of me coming out as I’m typically not a fan of whimsically styled things, such as the Studio Ghibli animation which this is apparently inspired by, but honestly try sitting through 8+ hours of people rhyming incessantly and let me know if you feel any different.
Child of Light is a beautiful game that, despite its simplistic approach mechanically, provides a very satisfying experience. The art style is unique and gorgeous, bringing to life the whimsical world that lives in many a child’s minds. It’s not without fault however as the simplistic nature has been taken too far in some respects making some parts of the game laborious, confusing and repetitive. These are not things without fixes however and I’m sure Ubisoft Montreal will be able to rectify this in subsequent titles released in this genre. There’s a lot to like in Child of Light, something that I’m sure will delight RPG fans out there, and I definitely count it as time well spent.
Child of Light is available on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3, PlayStaion4 and the WiiU right now for an average price of $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 9 hours of total play time.
I’ve been aware of the many games that have bore the South Park name and nearly always they’ve looked like half-assed attempts to cash in on the brand. Couple this with the game being censored in Australia and media tie in games almost always being tragic meant I wasn’t in a real hurry to play it. However after weeks of cajoling from my friends who said The Stick of Truth was genuinely good eventually broke me down and I secured myself an uncensored copy from good old DLCompare. I can say that rarely do I go into a game with such low expectations only to have them completely blown away as South Park: The Stick of Truth is a genuinely fun and captivating game.
Your family has just moved to the quiet mountain town that is South Park , Colorado. The reasons as to why you’ve come there are something of a mystery that neither of parents will let on about and before long they’ve sent you out into the streets to make new friends. The second you stumble outside you cross paths with Butters Stotch who recruits you into their fantasy game of humans vs elves. What starts out as an innocent game however quickly turns into a larger battle between two factions that divides the town’s children as they all clamour to secure the most priceless relic in all the land: The Stick of Truth.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is done in the exact same art style as all the episodes using simple, flash-like graphics with a few embellishments like simple lighting effects here and there. This is in stark contrast to the snippets of the other South Park games that I’ve seen which tended to have their own take on the art style which made them feel like they were set in a universe apart from that of the show. In the Stick of Truth however it feels like you’re playing through an incredibly long episode and this is in no small part due to the religiously faithful art style. I believe this is also the first game where Trey Parker and Matt Stone were directly involved in its creation which definitely comes through in the end product.
The Stick of Truth takes its inspiration from the classic turn based RPG format including a wide variety of mechanics that will be familiar but with the South Park twist applied to them. In the beginning you’ll choose between 1 of 4 different classes which will determine the primary way in which you’ll do combat. Along the way you’ll defeat enemies, pick up loot and level up your character using 2 different talent systems that unlock different abilities and perks. You’ll also engage in the tried and true puzzle sequences that will require you to use a range of different abilities, some of which you won’t have right away. As someone who’s not usually a fan of this style of game I have to say that The Stick of Truth does an excellent job of bringing all of this together, especially with the excellent writing that South Park is known for.
Your choice of class is from one of the 3 typical archetypes (fighter, mage, thief) and the additional Jew class which appears to be a monk/ranger kind of deal. Which one you choose will greatly vary the way combat usually goes however since all items aren’t class specific it’s completely possible to build a mage as a fighter, a thief as a mage and so on. Of course playing to the class’ strengths will make your job a lot easier but the flexibility is there should you want it. If you’re a min/maxer like myself you will not be disappointed with The Stick of Truth’s progression system as you can create characters that are well broken should you have an eye for which stats stack with which.
Your character will progress in several different ways all of which take inspiration from traditional RPG titles. You’ll gain experience through finishing quests and defeating mobs of enemies, eventually levelling up and giving you access to new abilities and additional points to upgrade them. Making friends, which can be done in numerous ways, gives you access to permanent perks which give subtle but useful buffs to your character. Lastly there’s the loot which, whilst not being completely traditional in the RPG sense (I believe it’s pretty much all pre-determined), provides some of the biggest upgrades to your skills and damage. Your weapons and armor can also be upgraded through the use of patches which can add damage or grant you abilities that aren’t available anywhere else.
As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of turn based games I was surprised at how solid The Stick of Truth’s combat felt. Initially I started off by building my character around the use of a weapon with gross damage (makes your enemies throw up and stops them healing) and a patch that granted me PP whenever I dealt said damage. This allowed me to stunlock pretty much any enemy through the use of roshambo, something which was definitely required when I was facing off enemies that were a lot harder than I’d first anticipated. That strategy stopped working towards the end however as many enemies start becoming immune to tactics like that which is when I switched to a high damage build that allowed me to attack again after killing an enemy. In the end I could hit for 8000+ damage repeatedly, clearing out an entire encounter without the enemy being able to get a single turn.
The Stick of Truth does have some technical and usability issues however, although a lot fewer than I first expected. I had a couple crashes that sent me straight back to the desktop for some inexplicable reason. This wasn’t a massive drama however the checkpointing system is a little weird, seemingly transporting you back to the last save point but not completing resetting the world to that point. So essentially you can be transported back but still have all the loot, even if the enemies are still there. It’s not game breaking, you never get double ups of anything but trash items, but it does make the first 5 minutes after the crash a little confusing. Additionally the junk item screen needs to be reworked with a “Sell All” button or at least made spammable as you’ll have hundreds of dollars worth of trash to sell which will likely take you a couple minutes just to get through.
The story is done true South Park fashion with pretty much every character from the TV show making an appearance throughout the course of the story. Most of the quests are based around the relationships that were developed in the show like City Wok and the Mongolians or Al Gore and ManBearPig. Playing the uncensored version was worth it as well as whilst I struggled to explain what was happening on screen to my wife and her friend who saw me play (yeah Randy is getting violated by aliens, no I don’t think I can explain why) it did make for some funny moments that made me question what kind of human being I am. Still in the end the story is very satisfying both in terms of comedic value and story content, something which few games manage to pull off successfully.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a prime example of how games that are based around a non-game IP should be done as it accurately captures the essence of the show whilst remaining a solid experience in its own right. The RPG gameplay is fantastic, taking the tried and true styles that were made famous by the Final Fantasy series and reworking them into the South Park world. The story is witty, funny and satisfying, a true testament to the writing talents of the South Park studios. Honestly I went into this game with the lowest of expectations only to have them completely blown away, something that rarely happens these days. For anyone who’s a fan of this show and feels like an 11 hour, self directed episode would be up their alley then South Park; The Stick of Truth is for you.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $54.95, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
The origin story of Respawn Entertainment is one that’s cemented in many gamer’s minds. Not long after Infinity Ward released Modern Warfare 2 tensions between some of the executive team and Activision began to escalate. This eventually led to Jason West and Vince Zampella being fired from Infinity Ward for “breaches of contract and insubordination”, a line not many in the industry believed. However not long after that the former employees announced that they were starting a new games company (with blackjack and hookers, obviously) called Respawn entertainment. It didn’t take long for many current Infinity Ward employees to follow them but after that they went dark. Last year Respawn announced their first title would be called Titanfall, a sci-fi FPS that would be an Xbox exclusive. Thankfully that, and a few other things, have changed since then and Titanfall has shaped up to be a great first title, even if can’t hide its Call of Duty roots.
It’s the distant future and mankind has succeeded in building warp technology, opening up the universe for our exploitation. Humans have expanded far and wide however with distance became a growing disconnect and resentment began brewing between the core worlds and those that live on the frontier. Over time this has escalated into a full scale war between the core world’s military force, The IMC, and the frontier’s Resistance. Neither side has any intentions of backing down and battles continually rage on multiple planets, devastating their colonies and turning paradises into giant fuel depots and factories dedicated to the war effort. You’re a pilot, one of the elite 2% who make it through the notoriously fatal training programs, and it’s up to you to fight for your cause.
For a game that’s based on a modified version of the Source engine (the same one that powered Half Life 2 all those years ago) Titanfall is surprisingly pretty with all the eye candy I had come to expect from games like Crysis or Far Cry. The initial settings that Titanfall selected for my system had me a little worried that it’d run like a dog once I started tweaking it but, surprisingly, it runs incredibly well with only a few things like shadow detail turned down. Still, as you can see in the screenshot below, those tweaks don’t appear to have a lot of impact on the overall visual quality something Respawn are to be commended for. You won’t be spending much time looking at the scenery however as Titanfall is designed to throw you head first into the action and it doesn’t let up until the round is finished.
Typically I’d go over most things from the view of the single player campaign first before talking about the multiplayer experience but Titanfall takes the interesting route of blending in single player elements into multiplayer matches to facilitate the story. It actually works out really well as a gentle way to introduce you to how Titanfall plays as you’ll likely be matched up against other people just starting out with it, ensuring that you’re not stomped by max level players who’ve already amassed hundreds of hours. The game’s story is also passable however since you’re always in the middle of the action when critical things are occurring it’s kind of hard to pay attention to it which is probably the only major letdown of the multiplayer campaign experience.
Titanfall has 2 distinct modes of gameplay, each of which has its own unique tech tree for you to customize to fit your playstyle. The first is a traditional style FPS experience with the added benefit of lots of mobility, including parkour style wall running and double jumping, and an array of weapons that are distinctly different to anything you’ll find in similar deathmatch style games. The second one happens when you call in your Titan from the sky, giving you a giant battlesuit with high powered weapons to take on both players and other Titans alike. How you customize your loadout, both for Titan and Pilot play, will determine how effective you are in certain situations and whilst there’s no one build to rule them all there’s definitely going to be one that suits you perfectly.
At first glance you’d figure that everything would revolve around Titan based combat because, come on, they’re giant mechs. Whilst this is partly true you’re given a heck of a lot of tools to deal with Titans as a Pilot. This isn’t to say that Titans are your biggest threat on the field however as you’ll likely spend quite a lot of time facing down with other pilots. Thus the larger strategic decision you’ll have to make when customizing your Pilot load out will be: do I want to be anti-Titan or anti-Pilot? The same choice applies to your Titan load out as well and will determine when you’re most effective in the game. Since you’ve got multiple loadouts to choose from this usually isn’t too much of an issue as you can build for multiple situations but each of them will need to be geared towards either one of those objectives otherwise you’ll likely find yourself ineffectual at both.
For me I chose to go for a primarily anti-Titan build for both my Titan and Pilot. I kind of fell into it as I kept tweaking my build throughout the campaign missions, trying out things that were used against me that I felt were pretty effective. The main exception to this is the smart pistol which is like having a sanctioned aimbot and is very handy in showing you where enemy Pilots are hiding. Of course its stopping power is somewhat limited, given its aimbot nature, but if you’re able to dance around someone long enough you’re guaranteed a kill. Walking around a corner into someone else will likely see you dead first, however.
However once I got past level 20 or so (which doesn’t take long to do, I think I got there in about 3~4 hours) my build remained largely static. Whilst I did encounter some other builds that were particularly effective at one thing or another they all seemed to be pretty limited outside of that. Indeed the best one I came across, the light Titan with the Arc Canon, wouldn’t last long after I landed a couple hits on it. Couple that with the Vortex Shield nullifying their fully charged shots most of the time and it made it hard for me to want to try anything different, lest I start getting owned. This is in stark contrast to the way I play Call of Duty where I’ll typically have 4 completely different builds loaded up just for variety’s sake, all of which I feel are viable. Maybe my build just fits into the way I play best but, honestly, whilst the initial customization options seem large they pale in comparison to similar games in this genre.
This, I think, is probably the one thing that could be Titanfall’s… downfall. There’s just not enough variety in the game to keep you going past a certain point as you’ll unlock most things relatively quickly and will tend towards things that work. There’s a whole mess of things in the game that just aren’t worth using, shrinking the pool of viable builds considerably. Whilst 15 maps sound like a lot you’ll get familiar with them quickly and apart from attrition all of the game modes are the same kinds of modes you’ve seen dozens of times previously. Thus in order to keep Titanfall new and engaging Respawn needs to keep releasing content, something which they’ve planned to do but I have no idea how well it will work should it not come out soon.
Titanfall is a gorgeous, action packed game that delivers a great multiplayer experience reminiscent of the Call of Duty series but with an identity that’s uniquely its own. The blended single/multiplayer campaign works well, functioning as an extended tutorial that ensures you know what you’re getting into before diving into the multiplayer in earnest. It’s let down a bit by the lack of variety which is exacerbated by the fast levelling process, which could affect Titanfall’s longevity for some. All that being said it is an incredible amount of fun to play and is a solid first title from Respawn entertainment.
Titanfall is right now on PC and XboxOne for $49.99 and $99.95 respectively with a Xbox360 release due in the near future. Total play time was approximately 7 hours, reaching level 31.
The gold standard for stealth game play has, and probably always will be, the original Thief series. It wasn’t that it was one of the first games to get stealth mechanics right, I believe that title belongs to the Metal Gear series (even though I’ve never played any of them), more that the blend of mechanics, cues and emphasis on finesse rather than force made the series stand out amongst its peers. It’s been a very long time between drinks for the series though with the last title, Thief: Deadly Shadows, being released almost a decade ago. The latest instalment, Thief, is an attempt to reboot the series for a modern audience something which may be at odds at the long time fans of the master thief Garret
After taking a job from Basso, Garrett’s only friend and contact for all this nefarious and underworldly, you find yourself atop a glorious manor accompanied by your former apprentice Erin. However something doesn’t feel right about this particular job as you witness something strange, an otherworldly ritual that shakes the very world. You’re just about to pull out when Erin, who was watching the ritual from on top of a glass dome, falls. You try to save her but it’s too late and she falls down right into the middle of the ritual, disappearing from sight. Suddenly it’s a year later and you have no recollection of what has happened.
Thief certainly impresses graphically as all the environments pack in an incredible amount of detail, something which is key to the core game play mechanics. There’s atmospheric and lighting effects everywhere which can turn some of the most dull environments into wonderful screenshot bait. Having said all that I feel like it could’ve been better as whilst they’re definitely on the upper end of the scale there are some sections where it’s obvious that sacrifices had to be made for the large number of platforms that were targeted. This did mean that I rarely had any performance issues but I’m usually happy to sacrifice that for a little more eye candy.
Unsurprisingly Thief is a stealth game, one where the objective of your current quest can be completed in a variety of different ways. The tools you have at your disposal are wide and varied, ranging from tools that will help keep you concealed to weapons of massive destruction. There’s also two different upgrade systems that allow you to tailor Garrett’s abilities to your play style of choice allowing you to become the master of the shadows or a brutal predator that lurks around every corner. Indeed whilst Thief’s pedigree is in stealthy game play either play style seems viable, even a mix of both if either one of them starts to wear on you.
In terms of retaining the trademark feel that all Thief games have this latest instalment does it quite well. Whilst the environments aren’t exactly massive open world sandboxes like Assassin’s Creed there’s enough back alleys, secret pathways and rooms with tantalizingly locked doors to make the maps feel a lot bigger than they actually are. Thief certainly rewards players who take the time to go over everything with a fine tooth comb which I’m sure a lot of players will find rewarding. On the flip side it never feels like this is a necessary part of the game as you’ll find more than enough resources to keep you going if you just meander off the beaten trail once in a while. Whilst this might annoy the purists the inclusion of a custom difficulty mode turns this optional but rewarding task into a necessity, something which should keep them at bay.
The combat in Thief is understandably lacklustre, mostly because it’s obvious that out and out fighting isn’t the game’s preferred way of completing objectives. This is in stark contrast to other similar stealth games of recent memory (most notably Dishonored) where both paths were somewhat viable. You’ve still got the choice of killing or knocking people out to achieve your objective but should you find yourself discovered there’s really no way to get yourself out of that situation without finding a nearby hidey hole. I don’t necessarily count this against Thief as out and out combat is not what the series, nor the genre itself, is usually about. The option is there but its a blunt instrument in comparison to all the other tools you have at your disposal.
The stealth, on the other hand, is quite marvelous. With the highly detailed maps peppered with vents, corridors and passageways it’s guaranteed that every obstacle you encounter has multiple ways to bypass it. Indeed every time I found myself struggling with a particular section it was always because I wasn’t noticing the alternate path that was right before me, opening up options I didn’t know I had previously. There are some situations where trade offs have to be made though which can lead to some frustration but realistically it’s just about making the choice that’s right for your particular playstyle.
The game is well executed for the most part with no major bugs or glitches to report however the control scheme does feel a little bit awkward. Using the lean out ability can be a real exercise in frustration, especially if you wanted to pick something up from a chest or box instead of peeking around it. The same can be said for cancelling things, which can be right click or another key, leading to some heat of the moment confusion. Additionally dropping off a rope can’t be done with space if there’s no nearby ledge and instead must be done with X. It just feels like the interface lacks consistency and makes the more routine parts of the game harder than they need to be. This is somewhat excusable in survival horror games but it’s also one of the reasons that I have a tendency to dislike that genre.
Thief’s story is decidedly middle of the road sharing some similar threads to those of previous instalments in the series (secret society conspiracies laced with bits of magic) but there’s nothing particularly memorable about it. The initial build up in the opening scenes is far too short for us to have any emotional investment in the main characters and seems to rely on our previous experiences with the series to derive most of its impact. It simply doesn’t work as the vast majority of people playing this game haven’t been involved with the Thief series for the better part of a decade and much of the detail is lost to the ages. I’m a firm believer that a good story can make up for nearly any shortcomings that a game might have but unfortunately for Thief that isn’t the case and it’s lucky that it’s so strong mechanically.
F or a series that hasn’t seen a release in 10 years Thief delivers a solid game play experience, modernizing many mechanics without incurring the usual penalty of simplifying them too greatly for mass adoption. Thief doesn’t rely heavily on its pedigree in order to deliver a good experience, being able to create its own distinct identity through it’s well executed game mechanics. Unfortunately the story is the giant black mark on an otherwise highly polished experience, leaving this and many other reviewers wanting. Still it’s hard for me to recommend against playing Thief as it really is a solid game, just don’t play it for the story.
Thief is available right now on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3 and PlayStation4 right now for $49.99, $79.95, $99.995, $79.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC on the Thief difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 35% of the achievements unlocked.
The indie dev scene seems to go through periods of obsession with different genres. In the past it was with platform puzzlers as it seemed that every other week brought to me several new titles attempting to put their own twist on the tried and true genre. More recently it seems to have shifted to survival horror as many seek to replicate the success of DayZ. So when Contrast, a platforming/puzzler from Compulsion games, I felt a distinct twinge of nostalgia, harking back to the indie renaissance that was built on games such as this. Like many from that time it’s taken the puzzler/platformer genre and placed its own unique style on top of it resulting in a game that’s quite interesting, even if it has its faults.
It’s not quite clear who, or more importantly what, you are when the game starts but all you know is that only a small girl, Didi, can see you. In fact this bond seems to be somewhat mutual as you can’t see anyone else but her and the shadows of others that are in the room with you. You and Didi seem to share a bond however as she’s always getting into mischief, usually with your assistance, much to the chagrin of her mother. Still, Didi’s mother tries hard to support her, hoping to rise to fame as a wonderful singer and actress. Everything starts to change when Didi’s deadbeat father comes back into the picture, promising to make everything right.
The art style of Contrast feels like you’re in the mind of a child with many typical elements, such as houses, having a very whimsical nature to them. It’s all heavily inspired by the art deco movement of the 1930s and 40s with many of the environments having a really distinct BioShock-esque feel to them. They do feel a little dead and empty however which I do believe was done deliberately however it means you feel compelled to not stay in one area for too long, even though the game tries to encourage you to explore. Potentially this could have been solved by adding in more light sources that had shadows walking past it which wouldn’t seem out of place and would make everything feel a little more alive.
As I alluded to earlier Contrast is a platform/puzzler that has an unique mechanic to spice things up a bit. The puzzles are all fairly basic in nature, usually consisting of getting yourself from one place to another or moving an item into another spot that’s not exactly obvious when you first start out. Contrast’s twist however is that when a wall is lit up you can “shift” into it, becoming a 2D shadow on the wall that allows you to move in ways that would be impossible otherwise. This leads to some rather intriguing puzzles where you’re always looking for where the source of light is and how the shadows you can create will help or hinder you in your goal.
There’s also a set of collectables called “Luminaries” which are hidden in various locations throughout the game. They function as an exploration mechanic as well as a kind of in-game currency to progress past certain obstacles. Their presence isn’t fully explained however, although Didi is aware of them for some reason, so the motivation to collect them really only comes about if you’re a natural explorer or you happen to see one that isn’t far out of your reach. Indeed there was only once when I didn’t have the required luminaries on me to immediately continue a puzzle and then it took me less than a couple minutes to find the requisite number.
Unfortunately whilst this mechanic is indeed novel it suffers heavily from glitchy behaviour. True flat surfaces with light projected onto them appear to work quite well however anything with a ridge or a bump in it, like the numerous columns that dot the landscape, have a tendency to shift you back out of the shadow plane. It’s hard to tell if this is expected behaviour or not as you can walk through them, some times, and you can also blast past them again only randomly. The shadow detection itself can also get a bit buggy as Dawn’s hitbox appears to be significantly bigger than the character model, leading to some puzzles either being more complicated than they need to be or being trivialized.
Indeed there were quite a few puzzles where I figured I’d be restarting from the checkpoint again only to find myself standing on air next to the ledge I was trying to jump onto. Whilst I was somewhat appreciative of this at the time it does mean that the game doesn’t function as you’d expect leading to some rather undesirable behaviour. Worst still there are many places where you can find yourself caught in the environment for some inexplicable reason and while I never had to reload to get unstuck it certainly didn’t endear the game to me when it happened.
Contrast’s story, whilst clichéd, does help to smooth over some of the more rough edges of the game. The majority of the voice actors are great with the notable exception of Didi who’s lines seem to be heavily disjointed between sentences. The music is quite good, suiting the art deco environment aptly. Whilst it might not have the depth of other indie titles it certainly has a little bit of charm to it with everyone being able to identify with the idea of giving someone a second chance.
Contrast is a unique concept, filled with brilliant ideas that are unfortunately hindered by a less than ideal execution. The story, music and scenery are all above average, crafting a whimsical art deco world that’s incredibly delightful. However the core game mechanics suffer from inconsistent behaviour and glitchy collision detection turning the otherwise novel idea of moving through shadows into a laborious experience. Lovers of indie puzzlers will find a lot to enjoy in Contrast however I think that’s the limit of its appeal, at least in its current state.
Contrast is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Xbox360 right now for $14.99, $14.99, $21.49 and $14.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 3 hours of total play time and 68% of the achievements unlocked.