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The Cave (XBLA Review)

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

The-Cave-logo

Throughout this console generation we’ve seen a lot of melding of genres; for example, just about every game has some sort of RPG element now. The point and click adventure game is a genre that hasn’t really been involved in this mass melding. We’ve seen Telltale Games change it up a little with The Walking Dead, but now adventure game master Ron Gilbert and Double Fine have decided to try their hand at it. The result is The Cave, an adventure game platformer in which you control a selection of seven characters (though really there’s eight as one “character” is a set of twins) as they enter a sentient cave seeking their heart’s true desire.

After the titular and immensely charming Cave introduces the game, you are presented with a choice. You must select three of the seven playable characters to take on your journey. Each has their own special ability: invincibility for the Knight, telekinesis for the Monk, hacking for the Scientist and so on. These abilities allow each character to enter their own unique region of The Cave, it’s in these themed areas that you will be challenged with helping the characters gain their heart’s desire, for some that means love for others a wondrous treasure. There are also several shared areas that can (and will) be accessed no matter the make up of your party. As you won’t be able to see all seven character’s stories in one run, you will have to repeat these non-specific sections multiple times.

The-Cave-Screen-2

Repetition is the bane of The Cave. If it’s not the entire sections you’ll play multiple times, it’s the frustrating amount of backtracking within each and every section. The ability to skip or streamline these areas in some way would have been welcome. Backtracking is exacerbated by the sub-par platforming and need to constantly switch between characters. As there’s no way to get a character you aren’t directly controlling to follow you, they’ll just have to stand and wait while you move the active character to where they need to be, at which point you have to switch characters and slavishly move to the next spot. In theory co-op might alleviate this issue slightly, but that’s hampered by a single screen camera that is inconsistent in who it focuses on. Platforming just ends up getting in the way of the adventure game aspects. Often you will know exactly what you need to do to complete a puzzle, usually because you’ve done it before, but thanks to the poor platforming it’ll take you far longer than you’d like to execute the solution.

Taking the puzzle solving of an adventure game and replacing the cursor with an avatar you directly control is definitely a smart idea. Heck, platformers have had light puzzle elements almost since their inception. Unfortunately, The Cave slips up on a fundamental part of this: the platforming is bad. Though not the worst platforming ever in a game, it’s clunky, slow and often hard to control. When the core gameplay and navigation mechanic isn’t enjoyable–oftentimes quite the opposite, in fact–you’ve messed up. There’s really no excuse for bad 2D platforming in 2013; Super Mario Bros 3 perfected that stuff well over 20 years ago.

The-Cave-Screen-1

All these shortcomings are made all the more disappointing by the fact it’s immensely charming and well written. As mentioned earlier, The Cave itself (himself?) is great, narrating events with a wonderfully dry, dark wit which sets the tone and atmosphere perfectly. The few other voiced characters you come across are also all very funny, well acted and just generally a lot of fun. Puzzles are also clever and challenging; there are only a few stumpers here and there but you’re certainly likely to stop and scratch your head for a bit at some point. I found myself amused by the cartoon logic many of the puzzles use. Have a battery with no charge? Obviously this pool of water with Electric Eels swimming around in it is exactly what you need.

The Cave is a lovely little world to get lost in, with a beautiful soundtrack, a wonderful art style and writing that’ll constantly make you smile. Unfortunately, playing the game just isn’t fun, simply because it breaks too many fundamental rules. A game should never waste the player’s time, but here we have a game that almost feels designed to do just that, hoping you won’t notice because it made a joke about hot dogs.

Originally published on StickSkills.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

The Walking Dead – Episode 1: A New Day (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The-Walking-Dead-A-New-Day-1

Zombie games: They’re nothing new; some may even argue they’re overdone. We even have our fair share on XBLA already. The vast majority of games featuring zombies use the shambling undead as cannon fodder, the thing players need to mow down with a machine gun to progress.

With The Walking Dead, Telltale Games looks to do something a little different. Much like the comic series it’s based on, this isn’t about killing all zombies in your way, it’s a story about people. What do we do when society collapses and the dead come back to life? It’s a question that’s been the crux of some of the best zombie movies, but one that often falls by the wayside when it comes to games.

So if you’re expecting a game where you must survive the zombie apocalypse by aiming down the sights of your pistol and getting some headshots, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Walking Dead is a fairly traditional point and click adventure game; while you do have direct control over the main character most of your interaction with the world will be through an onscreen cursor or making dialogue choices.

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Here’s what we liked:

Characters you believe in – During the roughly 2-3 hour experience that makes up this first episode you play as Lee, an apparently convicted felon who was on his way to jail when the world started going to hell. During the course of the episode you’ll learn more about his past, but we’ll have to wait for more episodes to find out the whole truth. Whether he’s guilty or not, Lee seems to be a good guy, though you can of course turn him into a bit of a jerk if you want. As the story progresses Lee meets more and more survivors, from a possibly orphaned little girl to an already-established group who have taken refuge in a drugstore. Every character you meet is well-defined, and aside from a few inconsistencies (more on that later), behave in a completely believable way. It makes it easy to get lost in the situation and feel real tension when you are posed with a moral dilemma, or even just having a regular conversation.

Lee & Clementine – Very soon after the game’s opening, Lee meets Clementine. She has been hiding in her treehouse since things went bad; her parents are out of town (and could be dead) and her babysitter has succumbed to the zombie outbreak. Lee takes it upon himself to look after her, though they often seem to be looking after each other. The relationship dynamic between Lee and Clem is by far the most impressive part of The Walking Dead. Wonderfully acted, written and entirely believable, it is a joy to experience. Children in video games are so rarely anything more than an annoyance; not only is Clementime not annoying, she’s charming, tough and arguably smarter than some of the adults you meet. Telltale have managed to make something really special here and should be commended for it.

The zombie apocalypse ain’t fun – Don’t let the unique comic book illustration-esque art style fool you,The Walking Dead is just as nasty and brutal as its comic and television counterparts. People will swear loudly in your face and tell you exactly what they’re thinking and when you kill zombies you won’t feel good about it. Unlike other zombie games, your kill count in Walking Dead won’t reach double digits in a hurry. There are a few big kills throughout the first episode and they are bound to make you uncomfortable. Telltale do a great job of making you smash that hammer into a zombie’s skull just a few too many times. Lingering on your handiwork just a little longer than you’d like, it adds a lot to the already pretty intense action sequences.

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Here’s what we didn’t like:

Technical issues – With all their episodic games Telltale have been working with variations of the same game engine, and unfortunately it isn’t especially robust. Transitions between actions are often occompanied with a brief pause which often breaks the flow of some of the more action-focused moments. We also experienced some noticable dips in framerate during some of the more open areas of the game, though fortunately it never impacted any conversation or action moments so it can be easily forgiven.

Writing inconsistencies – The writing is no doubt the best part of Episode I, but it is not without its issues. There are several prominent moments where characters act or speak in a way which doesn’t make much sense and is wholly in service of gameplay. Perhaps the most infuriating example of this is when one character is made to look incredibly moronic just to give players a “puzzle” to solve. Carley is a reporter and a crack shot with the pistol she always carries, but she apparently doesn’t know what a battery looks like or how to use them. She asks Lee to help her fix a radio, only for him to discover it doesn’t have any a batteries. No one is thinking straight these days so it’s easy to overlook. Lee gets the batteries and hands them to Carley. When he comes back later the darn radio still isn’t working, so he takes another look. Turns out Carley put the batteries in backwards. The puzzle aspect isn’t challenging or fun and the whole sequence does nothing but make Carley look incredibly stupid. It sadly isn’t the only example of this sort of puzzle before dialogue issue; we really hope this aspect of the game is handled better in later episodes.

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A game in which the gameplay consists mostly of conversation and decision-making may not be for everyone. That said, The Walking Dead is fantastic, with a well-told story with believable characters and surprisingly intense and grisly action scenes. Even if you are unsure, we highly recommend you at least try it out. However if the idea of a zombie game that’s about more than headshots sounds good to you then there’s no doubt you need to play The Walking Dead.

Score: Buy it!

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

The Walking Dead – Episode 2: Starved For Help (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The Walking Dead Ep 2 Screen 1

With the first episode of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games gave us something very special. It was a game with a compelling story in which choice mattered. You cared enough about the believable characters and world they had created that the decisions were never easy.

We thought Episode 1 was pretty amazing so Episode 2, Starved For Help, had a lot to live up to. If you’re reading this then you probably already played the first episode, and you will have to own it to play this one. You’ll be pleased to know Telltale has not only met the expectations set by the first episode but easily exceeded them.

Here’s what we liked:

Simple but effective gameplay – As is to be expected, the core mechanics of The Walking Dead remain the same. You have control over Lee’s movement as well as an onscreen context-sensitive cursor. There are less puzzles this time round, and certainly no bafflingly stupid battery incidents, instead there’s a bigger focus on action. This means more quick-time-event sequences, which are used in increasingly smart methods. One extended sequence near the end of the game perfectly illustrates this, connecting you with the action in a very physical way.

Harrowing – The Walking Dead is about as adult as video games get, and Starved For Help takes that idea to new, horrifying places. This is not a game for the faint of heart. In addition to the agonizing choices you’ll make, there are scenes of graphic violence that will have you averting your eyes. This all adds up to give this episode an incredibly tense and paranoia-fueled atmosphere that makes you think twice about continuing.

Unpredictable – You may have finished the first episode and thought “yeah I can see where the next episode is going”, well we can almost guarantee you won’t have expected this. The main plot thread does become obvious after a while, or at least it did to us. But even then the game is littered with shocking and unpredictable moments. It makes every decision you make feel all the more important because you just don’t know what will happen next. What might have seemed like the safest option may lead to you fighting for your life, or put someone else in danger.

Fantastic writing – Once again the writing here is outstanding, though there are still a few inconsistencies present. We wish the writers didn’t feel the need to have characters tell you to “come see me when you’re ready”. But we’re nitpicking, this is still one of the best written games around, with believable characters that are just getting richer with each episode.

The Walking Dead Ep 2 Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Technical issues – We critiqued the first episode, A New Day, for showing the limitations of Telltale’s engine. Sadly Starved For Help does nothing to fix these issues, in fact they seem to be getting worse. As Telltale tries to do more elaborate things with their engine, it shows the strain even more prevalently. The brief pauses and hitches when transitioning between action scenes are still there and now there are also numerous audio anomalies, including syncing issues and stuttering. While these issues are definitely a problem worth noting, it speaks to the quality of the rest of the game that they detract very little from the experience.

Some choices don’t matter – As impressive as it is that big decisions you make, like who lived or died, carry over we can’t help being disappointed that some things happen no matter what. There are a few examples of this in Starved For Help, choices you are presented with that don’t change the outcome. If you only play through the game once you’ll never know, it’s just a shame that those replaying to see other outcomes will be left wanting.

The Walking Dead Ep 2 Screen 3

With this series Telltale set out to make a zombie game that was more about people than the undead monsters they’re running from. We’re now two episodes in to this five episode season and we’d say they’ve executed on that idea almost perfectly.

Games are meant to be fun, sure, but they are also meant to elicit an emotional response. The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved for Help will take your emotions for quite a ride; you may not enjoy yourself during certain parts of that ride, but you’ll be glad you took it. We can’t wait to play the other episodes, but we must express some trepidation towards what heinous things Telltale have in store.

Score: Buy It

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

The Walking Dead – Episode 3: Long Road Ahead (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The Walking Dead Ep 3 Screen 1

Episode 3 of The Walking Dead is not fun, you will not enjoy the experience. You’ll walk away from it with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, and possibly tears in your eyes. It is a harrowing, depressing and almost hopeless tale, even more so than the two episodes preceding it.

The worst part of all that? It is an experience you absolute must take part in, this is a game that will make you feel and think things you’d never have considered a game could. In three short episodes Telltale Games have become masters of the zombie apocalypse, telling horribly believable, shocking stories through an interactive medium.

Here’s what we liked:

Time investment put to good use – By now if you’ve played through each episode at least once, you’ve spent a good five or six hours with this group of characters. It might not sound like much but you’ll be surprised how attached you are. Telltale knows exactly what to do with that information, they’re going to use it to hurt you. Those characters you care about? They’re going to suffer, it makes for a difficult game to sit through but the sheer power of the emotions you’ll experience make it worth playing.

The Walking Dead Ep 3 Screen 2

Technical issues ironed out – If you’ve read our reviews of the last two episodes, you’ll recall one of the main complaints was that the Telltale engine struggles under the pressure. We’re happy to see that with this iteration those issues are all but gone. There’s still a slight, but noticeable, pause when transitioning between some scenes but unlike the past two episodes it’s never in a place that effects the pacing of a tense sequence.

Puzzling – The other episodes of Walking Dead were fairly light on puzzles and adventure game tropes.Long Road Ahead brings in some simple puzzles to engage in, they come at a pretty perfect time too. Just when you and the characters need to distract themselves from the horrible events that take place throughout this episode.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Uneven pacing – Long Road Ahead is packed with huge, game-changing events. The landscape of Lee’s world completely changes from the start of this episode to the end. With so many significant events packed into a small time frame (though this is the longest episode so far), it’s not surprising the pacing takes a hit. Unfortunately the flow of the game suffers a bit for it, there is a point about three quarters of the way through which feels like an ending point. It isn’t though, and the game continues on for a while still. The last section does seem necessary of course, setting up events in the next episode but we feel it could’ve been handled better.

The Walking Dead Ep 3 Screen 3

As we get further into the season it becomes clear that some decisions matter more than others. Ultimately it’s not so much about how much your decisions shape the story but rather how they shape you and the characters around you.

Telltale use The Walking Dead‘s zombie backdrop perfectly, bringing the human element to the forefront in ever more tragic ways. While it may make for a very hard to stomach experience, there is no doubt that everyone should play this game.

Score: Buy It

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Yar’s Revenge (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Yars’ Revenge was one of the best selling games on the Atari 2600, making it somewhat of a puzzle why it has taken so long to come back. To the modern player of games it would appear very simple and, of course, being from that era it is just that, but for some reason it found an audience. The goal was to take out your enemy, an alien known as Qotile, which involved getting through its shield using the weapons at your disposal. Atari have decided to give the game the “reimagining” treatment and have put developer Killspace Entertainment at the helm.

Yar’s Revenge on XBLA sees you facing off against many Qotile, rather than just the one from the original. The game is no longer a single screen shooter either but has been transformed into an on-rails affair akin to Sin & Punishment or Rez.

Since the game is on-rails, Killspace Entertainment always know what you’re looking at, which means they have focused a lot of effort on the art. As a result, there are plenty of very impressive (but perhaps not very varied) painted backgrounds. Lots of lovely cloudy vistas to take in as you fly through levels. The design of Yar herself is also great, a simple but interesting mixture of insectoid robot and slightly generic anime girl.

In contrast, the six or seven enemy designs in the game are dull and uninspired. Plus anything that isn’t part of the background looks plain bad. Low-res textures, poorly animated enemies (even the bosses) and visual effects lacking any flair or substance make Yar’s Revenge feel very low budget. Each enemy is constantly repeated throughout the levels with occasional colour changes to add a little variety. This wouldn’t be quite as big an issue if the unique types of enemy had differing or interesting attack patterns. While the painted backgrounds are great to look at, the same can’t be said for the rest of the game.

Yar has three main weapons: A pulse laser, railgun and missiles. The railgun has a cooldown time and the missiles have limited ammo (which can be replenished from pick-ups). Points and multipliers are what drive Yar’s Revenge; as enemies are dispatched the multiplier climbs. The strategy comes in knowing when to take out enemies. There are often brief lulls in combat which will leave just enough time for the multiplier to tick down to zero. So the battles become a balancing act of staying alive while trying not to clear the screen too quickly. When to use the game’s several power-ups also figures into this, especially the shield as using it means Yar can’t fire any weapons. All these options during combat make the gameplay a bit more interesting than it initially appears.

To beat all six of Yar’s Revenge‘s levels will take a couple of hours, max. With very few deaths and enough continues that you won’t be forced to restart the level, it doesn’t take very long to get into the rhythm of knowing which weapon to use and when. Challenge seems to have been shifted to figuring out the multiplier system with the actual combat taking a backseat.

It’s difficult to call Yar’s Revenge a bad game, it’s just very mediocre. Killspace have tried to add replay value by making the main modes all about high score. But when the gameplay is so boring and lacking in challenge, it’s hard to see anyone caring enough. The ideas behind Yar’s Revenge are good but the execution is lacking, whether that’s due to a lack of budget or some other unknown reason. While it’s cheap and easy to get hold of, there are far better examples of this type of game available elsewhere.

Originally published on Square-Go.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Dream Chronicles (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dream Chronicles logoYou’d be forgiven for having not heard of Dream Chronicles, a port of a 2007 PC game released with little fanfair on the same day as Super Meat Boy and Costume Quest. Dream Chronicles is a hidden object game for the most part with some puzzle and adventure elements thrown in for good measure, with a style very reminiscent of Myst and similar games.

You play as Faye an occupant of the Village of Wish which has had a spell cast over it causing all humans to fall asleep. Faye’s husband (Fidget who we discover is actually a fairy) managed to awaken Faye before being captured by the Fairy Queen of Dreams, Lilith. It is Lilith who is responsible for Wish’s current slumber. You must find your way to Fidget but Lilith uses her magic to slow you down at every opportunity.

As a result you will find yourself searching a single screen/room for objects to help solve puzzles that will allow you to proceed to the next area. Inevitably that area too will have a puzzle to hinder your progression

Dream Chronicles Screen 1

What we liked:

Light, generic but adequate motivation – The story above sounds like fantasy fluff, and it is, but it remains interesting and intriguing enough to make you want to solve each screens puzzles. Upon finishing a chapter you will unlock more messages from Fidget in which he often reveals more back-story. It’s certainly not the most well written or deep fiction but it serves it’s purpose well. This is negated somewhat by the fact the game ends with a fairly abrupt cliff-hanger however.

Soothing soundtrack
 – The music throughout the game won’t win any awards but it certainly helped create a relaxed atmosphere. And that’s exactly what one would want while playing a game like this, something to put the mind at ease so you have a clear head for puzzle solving.

Dream Chronicles Screen 2

What we didn’t like:

Too simple for it’s own good – Dream Chronicles lacks any real challenge, most of the time it ends up being nothing more than a pixel hunt. Searching out objects in itself could be a fun challenge if things were hidden in a crowded screen but often items will be fairly obvious or irritatingly placed on the very edge of the game screen. The ability to lean into the room does add a little bit of depth to the searching, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Once you have the objects you need to complete a puzzle, the actual puzzles themselves require very little thinking on the players part. Simply placing items in the right spot or in a specific is usually the extent of the puzzles challenge. The difficulty is further reduced by the fact you will only encounter the items you need for the part of the puzzle you are currently engaged in. So while some screens may have multiple puzzles to solve the items for each one will only (“magically”) appear once those preceding it have been completed.

The only puzzles that pose any challenge at all are arguably not even puzzles and the challenge they give isn’t particularly fun. They are memorisation games. You’ll be played a sequence, perhaps music on a piano or a series of lights and then you must repeat them correctly to proceed. Thankfully they only appear a few times throughout the game but when they do they are simply tedious

Ghastly graphics – Some of the visuals in Dream Chronicles bring to mind bad CGI from a late 90′s TV show. They’re bright and colourful enough but they lack detail and have an odd sheen to them which gives the whole game a low budget feel. The graphics are also notable for their almost complete lack of animation. This is a game only 3 years old and yet it lacks even the most rudimentary animation, the most sophisticated thing you will see is a piano key being pressed. You certainly won’t see anything as complex as a crank being turned. Perhaps this is acceptable in the casual PC space but when a game is put up against the standards of other XBLA titles a shortcoming such as this really stands out.

Dream Chronicles Screen 3

Dream Chronicles may appeal to people who enjoy hidden object games but better versions of the genre no doubt exist elsewhere. It may be unfair to judge it so but when a game is released on the same day as the fantastic Super Meat Boy and the wonderful Costume Quest one can’t help but think it doesn’t belong. Much like the objects you must find throughout the game, Dream Chronicles feels out of place.

Score: Skip it

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Beyond Good & Evil HD (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD-Logo

Beyond Good & Evil is considered by many to be a cult classic. It was well received by critics and gamers alike during the last generation of consoles. However it didn’t sell particularly well and as such the apparent sequel has been in limbo for a while.

The game tells the story of Jade, a photo journalist living on the planet of Hillys. Jade also runs an  orphanage for children whose parents have gone missing during attacks from the Domz, an alien race who currently have the planet under siege. A group known as IRIS soon recruit Jade to help expose a conspiracy between the Domz and the Alpha Sections who rule Hillys.

Ubisoft Shanghai were tasked with porting the game to current-gen consoles, which in this instance also meant reworking some of the games graphics. It’s this extra work that sees the game add the ‘HD’ moniker. To sweeten the deal the game has been released for the lower price point of 800 Microsoft points (with most big releases lately costing 1200). It seems Ubisoft is trying to give this game more of a chance than it got before, but does it deserve it?

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Charming, character – The first thing that becomes immediately apparent when loading up Beyond Good & Evil is its charm. Hillys is a very interesting world to behold, with an array of odd and unique wildlife. And its inhabitants, most whom are various types of anthropomorphic animal, have a lot of character in their stylized designs. It makes for a good first impression. The game is often very cinematic, cranking up the slow-mo and pulling the camera around for grand sweeping shots. It doesn’t always work quite as planned but most of the time coupled with the soundtrack it leads to some dramatic action sequences.

Delightful diversions – Outside of the main missions there are a variety of mini-games to partake in. The most notable of which is the games photography mechanic. Early on Jade is tasked with taking pictures of all of Hillys’ wildlife, which is currently in danger due to the Domz attacks. A lot of the wildlife won’t be too hard to find but some require a little more exploration and occasional puzzle solving. While very simple, figuring out how to capture a picture of certain creatures proves immensely amusing and addictive. There are also various challenges presented by select characters which range from races in Jades hovercraft to an air hockey style game. Players are encouraged to try their hand at the mini-games as they often award pearls, the games most precious currency, for completion.

Unique and endearing soundtrack – The music in Beyond Good & Evil is varied and unique but almost always a joy to listen to. From odd up tempo pop during mini-games to almost ethereal and soothing background music during down time. While it could flow a little better there is no denying that the music is well cued, if it’s an action scene the music will get the blood pumping. If it’s a poignant emotional moment then your heart-strings will be tugged. There are few game soundtracks that can claim to be as eclectic as what you’ll find here.

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

HD isn’t enough – While it’s great to see that Ubisoft decided to put a bit of effort into this port it’s hard not to feel like they could have done more. The graphics look good for the most part, though they clearly aren’t quite up there with the best looking XBLA games. The texture work done by Ubisoft Shanghai is impressive, although occasional graphical glitches do crop up especially toward the end. That being said there are lots of instances where little or no work appears to have been done. The games controls or camera seem untouched for example, and both could have been greatly improved.

When every game needed stealth – Back in 2003 when Beyond Good & Evil was first released there was a trend in which many games included stealth sections. While stealth in games isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does have to be well implemented and executed. Here however the stealth sections, of which there are many, are tedious and often infuriatingly obtuse. Sadly a lot of the gameplay consists of these stealth sections which really leaves a bitter taste when particularly irritating parts need to replayed over and over. These parts usually involve instant death upon being discovered by enemies.

Puzzling endgame – The tale of the liberation of Hillys is an interesting and often intriguing one and the cast of characters you meet throughout while shallow are usually good fun. However this all seems for naught once story comes to a head at the games conclusion. Everything takes a rather odd turn quite out of the blue and it’s jarring to say the least. On top of that the game ends on a cliffhanger of sorts which leaves much of these twists completely unexplained.

Beyond-Good-Evil-HD Screen 3

Beyond Good & Evil HD is a commendable attempt to give the game a chance to reach the audience it failed to the first time round. However it seems half-hearted, the original game is not without its shortcomings which could and should have been improved for this release. Those two little initials of ‘HD’ really do only apply to the visuals.

For those who have played the game before there’s little reason to jump in again unless you really want a slightly better looking version. Anyone who has yet to play Beyond Good & Evil and is looking to see what all the fuss is about would do well to be aware of what to expect. There is a lot to like here but it is marred by outdated mechanics and sensibilities.

Score: Try it

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Battle: Los Angeles (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Battle LA Logo

Battle: LA continues a recent trend of movie license games coming to downloadable platforms. It’s a strategy that has been met with some success – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World took the spirit of the movie/comic it was based on and created a great game with it. Smaller downloadable games often have shorter development time and small budgets so it actually makes sense for publishers to target the market for these types of games.

With Battle: LA developer Live Action Studios appears to be trying to bring the big budget shooter experience, a la Call of Duty, to XBLA. It’s an idea that seems good in theory, most of said shooters have fairly short campaigns which would be well suited to an XBLA game, but does it work in practice?

Battle LA Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Impressive visuals
 – Considering it’s an XBLA game Battle: LA is a surprisingly good looking game. It won’t give Call of Duty or Halo Reach a run for their money but it does have some nice visual effects, with impactful explosions and fluid character animations. The game also manages a few moments of arresting scale which you rarely see in XBLA games.

Set-pieces – For a game about an alien invasion you’d expect lots of interesting action set-pieces. There aren’t many (for reasons outlined below) but there are a few cool set-piece moments throughout the game. Aliens will constantly be falling to earth, complete with a cool streak of smoke and fire, billboards will be shot down and land nearby with appropriately grand crashes and debris and there are some other little moments involving planes being shot and the like. These are generally will executed and do add some atmosphere that the game otherwise lacks.

Battle LA Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Can you say short? – Battle: LA has three difficulty levels, the standard Easy, Medium and Hard. Each one can be played through in less than an hour. This would be acceptable if there was some replay value to be had. However there is very little reason to replay the game, even though there are unlockables. By completing the game on each difficulty (unlocks and achievements do not stack so you will need to finish each difficulty separately) you will unlock concept art, small behind the scenes videos and “mods” (essentially cheats). None of these unlocks are particularly interesting and they certainly don’t warrant the three separate playthroughs required to acquire them.

Unoriginal and generic – At this point we have a countless amount of first person shooters, and in order to stand out from the crowd a new FPS needs to bring something unique or interesting to the crowded genre. Call of Duty has its bombastic blockbuster campaign and expertly executed multiplayer model, Halo has its grandiose sci-fi storyline and unique multiplayer gameplay. Battle: LA does absolutely nothing that hasn’t been done before, there are no unique weapons, the combat scenarios require almost no skill or strategy and the gunplay is weak, boring and just plain not fun.

Battle LA Screen 3

Battle: LA is an interesting experiment, unfortunately it seems half-hearted. The insultingly short and shallow campaign will do very little to sate most FPS players’ needs. Production values are all over the place; while the game’s engine is mildly impressive, the cutscenes (essentially a motion comic) and voice overs are of shockingly low quality.

There is simply not enough content here to warrant anyone paying 800 points. Even at half the price it would be a difficult game to recommend with so many more interesting and fulfilling experiences to be found on XBLA.

Score: Skip it

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Castle Crashers (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Castle Crashers

The Behemoth have quickly become a developer to watch. After starting life with the flash game Alien Hominid on Newgrounds they expanded the game to consoles and eventually to XBLA with Alien Hominid HD. The game had a unique and striking art style created by artist Dan Paladin, and breathed new life into the almost forgotten side-scrolling shooter (complete with punishing difficulty).

After Alien Hominid The Behemoth moved onto a completely new game in Castle Crashers. This time they decided to have a go at another classic genre, the side-scrolling brawler. Dan Paladin’s unique art style remains, but Castle Crashers is a much bigger and more ambitious game than Alien Hominid. The Behemoth took the basic 2D brawler gameplay and added a few things on top, with an RPG-like (or lite?) leveling system and a little more depth to the brawling itself.

Castle Crashers Screen 1

Here’s what we liked:

Clever childish humor – Not everyone can appreciate a good ‘ol poop or fart joke but The Behemoth knows there is a place for that kind of humor. It may be childish and immature but there’s something to be said for seeing an adorable cartoon deer being propelled along a level by explosive diarrhea. Castle Crashers is littered with this kind of visual gag, although they aren’t always quite so vulgar. It’s this childish charm that can keep you going forward, with every level filled with lots of new amusing things to discover, it’s hard not to eagerly anticipate every new level.

Unrivaled presentation – Dan Paladin’s art style is a joy to look at, Castle Crashers is filled to the brim with character as a result. The game looks like a cartoon, with the wonderfully animated player characters and enemies brawling in lovely high definition. Castle Crashers is how we all expected games to look back in the day before we even thought about 3D. For the games music The Behemoth turned to their roots and sourced the Newgrounds community, the result is a varied and outstanding soundtrack. There’s everything from mellow old timey sounding tracks for walking in the woods to straight up techno as you fight off ninjas on a boat.

More than a brawler – As awesome as the art, music and humor are they don’t count for much if there’s no actual game to play. Castle Crashers takes the traditional side-scrolling brawler gameplay and adds a few pretty compelling systems on top. First up is magic, each character has several unique magic attacks which do varying amounts of damage. When you combine this with the usual light and heavy attacks, not to mention a few items like a bow, it really does make the combat interesting for far longer than most similar games. These systems also change as you level up which you do by gaining experience from fighting enemies. Once you reach a new level you might unlock a new power and you will earn points to spend on improving your stats. The RPG elements are fairly light but they add even more depth to an already packed game.

Content, content, content – This entire review could very easily just be a huge list of all the great content stuffed into Castle Crashers. The single player is a pretty decent length and has an insane amount of replay value. Almost all the levels contain some kind of secret, whether it be a new weapon, new animal orb (little creatures that follow your character and have their own special abilities) or just a cool easter egg to check out. As you progress you will also unlock new characters to play, 28 in total, each with their own unique magic abilities and attacks. To see and unlock all this content will take most gamers weeks of dedicated play time.

Castle Crashers Screen 2

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Difficulty – Castle Crashers can be punishingly hard at times, continuing the tradition started with Alien Hominid. The majority of the game is challenging but not too tough, however there are a few spikes. Oftentimes death will come very unexpectedly as you get surrounded and are quickly overwhelmed by a mob of enemies. Some of the boss battles also become more difficult due to unclear patterns or methods of attack, and they occasionally drag on a little too long.

Just a little bit more… – It seems crazy to ask more of Castle Crashers, there’s just so much to the game. That being said (magic aside) the games combat system is fairly basic with only a few very simple combos, it would’ve been great if characters had more moves. It’s not something that brings the game down too much but extended play sessions do bring on that lingering thought that things would get less repetitive with a bigger combo library.

It should speak volumes that there are so many positive things to say about Castle Crashers but coming up with complaints is a struggle. There are few games on XBLA that offer such amazing value for money. One could easily have bought Castle Crashers on release and still be coming back to it now to unlock new things or check out the great DLC packs that have been released.

Castle Crashers is a classic, you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise. It can compete with many disc based games in terms of content and sheer fun-factor. Thanks to it’s awesome art-style it will no doubt stand the test of time far better than those games. And while it may not be for everyone the brawler gameplay, complete with excellent additions, will definitely remain fun for years to come.

Score: Buy it!

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,

Iron Brigade/Trenched (XBLA Review)

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Trenched boxart

Double Fine has found great success so far with their downloadable titles. Costume Quest and Stacking were well received, critically and commercially. Each title has been unique in gameplay, setting and style. Trenchedis no different, a mech-based tower defense game set in an alternate history with all the charm and character you’ve grown to expect.

A signal of unknown origin is broadcast across the world killing a large portion of the population. The signal has a different affect on WWI veterans Frank Woodrof and Vladamir Farmsworth who gain increased intelligence. Vladamir invents the TV but is soon driven mad and builds an army of TV based robots (called Monovisions or “Tubes”) with which to spread the mysterious signal. Woodrof, who lost his legs in the war, uses his new found intelligence to build mobile trenches (mechs essentially) to help other soldiers like him. These Trenches become the de facto weapon against the Monovisions. It’s certainly a unique premise and it sets up the world well. As a Marine serving under Woodrof you’ll use your Trench to hunt down Farmsworth and discover the mystery behind the strange signal.

Trenched-Screenshot-2

Here’s what we liked:

Trenches, TVs and turrets. Oh my! – Trenched isn’t the first game to combine third person shooting and tower defense, heck Monday Night Combat already did it pretty successfully on XBLA, but we’d dare say it’s the best. The action is fast, fluid and often very challenging. It’s incredibly satisfying too, laying down turrets (known in-game as emplacements) takes mere seconds allowing you to get straight back shooting Tubes. You’ll want to get stuck in too as those emplacements require scrap to build, which you’ll need to collect from dead Tubes.

Just rewards – Trenched rewards you for completing missions and it does so in abundance.You’ll get cash to spend in the shop, experience points to level up and new equipment to upgrade your Trench. You can also sell your loot if you don’t want or need it. It can be a tad overwhelming at first, as you often get six or seven new pieces of equipment for each successful mission. Once you get into the flow of things though it makes the post-mission screen almost as gratifying as the actual gameplay.

Top hats for everyone – Our character is currently rockin’ a Tuxedo with a pair of stylish sunglasses straight out of Top Gun. His Trench has a giant artillery gun which fires a rather hefty explosive on one side and a combination of machine guns and shotguns on the other. It’s also sporting a rather sleek black paintjob. The only drawback to our current setup is that we can only carry one emplacement. We could easily trade all that firepower for more emplacements or choose a chassis that’s somwhere in the middle. There is no right way to play Trenched, even when playing alone you can decide how action or strategy orientated you want things to be.

Sure sounds sweet – The sound design in Trenched, especially considering the game is a downloadable title, is absolutely amazing. The voice acting is solid, charming and funny. The Tubes make suitably otherworldly noises. The loud thunderous thumps of your Trenches weapons leave you with no doubt as to how powerful they are. It cannot be stressed enough how high the quality of Double Fine’s audio is in this game.

Large scale on a small scale – Trenched manages something that you rarely, if ever, see in an XBLA game — it feels epic. For a game with such a small playing area it manages to combine it’s various excellent visual and sound design elements to create an incredibly exciting atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of exhilaration you experience facing off against a screeching behemoth boss character while the crashing and flashing of an electrical storm explode all around you.

Trenched-Screenshot-3

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Could you repeat that? – While the sound is one of the highlights it can occasionally be one of the low points too. This is the first of Double Fine’s downloadable titles to feature proper voice acting. The voiceover work itself is great but there’s not enough of it and as such you’ll hear the same few voice clips more than you’d like. It’s a small annoyance in the scheme of things but when the rest of the game is so polished it’s the little things that stick out.

Please sir, can I have some more? – Once you’ve completed your first run through Trenched‘s 7-8 hour campaign you will have likely reached the level cap (currently 10). You’ll also have the majority of the best weapons and upgrades. All this means you don’t have much reason to replay levels other than to get gold medals. We would’ve liked to have a little more to unlock after you’ve finished the story. The ending does heavily hint that there will be more Trenched so presumably we will get some downloadable content somewhere down the line. It’s especially likely considering Costume Quest and Stacking both received DLC after release.

Trenched-Screenshot-1

It should speak volumes that one of the few things we didn’t like about Trenched is that even with a 7-8 hour campaign there just isn’t enough of it. There’s plenty to keep you entertained here, especially if get three friends to join you. There is still plenty of fun to be had playing alone though, in fact it adds a lot more strategy to the proceedings. Solo play just means you’ll have to play several roles at once, which is often an exceedingly satisfying challenge. The addition of other players makes things a little easier to manage but also far more hectic; it’s a different but equally fun experience. If you like mechs, tower defense and if you like taking part in epic battles against robot televisions then there’s no question, you need to own Trenched.

Score: Buy it!

Originally published on XBLAFans.com

Categories: Games, My writing Tags: ,