The Surge – You got robots in my Dark Souls!

Robo-Souls? Dark-Bots?

Have I mentioned that I like Dark Souls?  I’m pretty sure I’ve said I like Dark Souls on at least 804 separate occasions on this blog.  Which is impressive considering I haven’t posted that many times.  That’s one of the reasons why I eagerly picked up Deck 13’s Lords of the Fallen when it was released in late 2014.  And whilst it certainly had a lot of similarities (read: had no identity of its own), it was unpolished and bland.  Since then they’ve…well they’ve not done much.  Anyone heard of TransOcean 2: Rivals?  But they have attempted to return to the Souls-like sub-genre with The Surge, and I’ll be damned if they haven’t made a pretty damn good go of it this time.

The Surge really is sci-fi Souls with a couple of little twists.  The combat system is similar with a couple of additions, scrap is used for leveling up and is handled in a similar way to souls, and equipment is improved by gathering the necessary resources and enhancing it at your bonfire equivalent.  Whilst it may not be terribly original in mechanics, it does just enough to differentiate itself from its source material.

The Surge
Unlike Dark Souls, you can find audiologs (because you gotta have those collectibles) that fill in some of the lore.

You play as Warren, arriving at his first day of his new job at Creo, a (totally not evil) company with plans to save the Earth’s atmosphere, where he will be fitted with a powered exo-skeleton (think power loaders from Aliens if you like).  The intro played with my character expectations nicely, although Warren’s apparent reason for wanting an exo-suit isn’t referenced again until the end of the game.  Anyway, Warren gets fitted for his suit (in a somewhat harrowing scene) but his neural interface that connects him to Creo fails and he is cast out on the (literal) scrap heap to fend for himself.  It seems that the neural interface has screwed up a lot of people in their exo-suits, sending them utterly insane and causing them to attack anyone who isn’t connected.  And so Warren is sent to find his way to the centre of Creo to find out what’s going on and to try to stop it.

The Surge
Most of the enemies shamble towards you before striking, but some will charge you down with surprising speed.

Even the plot plays out in a Dark Souls fashion, with snippets of information passed on by NPCs (many of whom have little side quests) that don’t give too much away.  The movement and combat mechanics are also very similar, with dodges, blocking attacks and running consuming stamina that regenerates over a short time.  Combat is very slow and deliberate, with committing to an attack at the right moment being crucial lest you suffer an enormous amount of damage from a single strike.  Weapons come in an array of shapes and sizes to suit your taste, from quick two handed weapons to slow, powerful hammers.  My personal favourite ended up being the staves (bit thanks to Drakulus for suggesting them to me!) for their ability to stagger enemies and knock them off their feet.  Armour also comes in lighter and heavier varieties that will alter your damage and stamina consumption in various ways.

The Surge
Whatever’s behind this door is bound to be friendly.

So far, so Souls.  But the selling point here is how you acquire new weapons and armour.  During combat you can target specific limbs of the enemy, and each hit fills an energy bar.  Once a certain amount of damage is done and you have enough energy, you can perform a finisher that will sever the selected limb and unlock the armour attached to it for your own use.  This is also how you gain resources to upgrade those armour pieces.  It’s an interesting approach that forces you to not hit too hard lest you kill the enemy and lose the equipment you wanted.  The energy bar also allows you to use certain buffs as well as your drone to attack opponents from range.  It’s an additional meter to manage, but its addition is an interesting one, as it drains very quickly when you aren’t attacking thus promoting an aggressive style of play more akin to Bloodborne.  A thumbs up from me on this addition.

The Surge
The finishing moves that sever limbs look impressive and are pretty quick so tend not to get old quickly.

Scrap, your souls equivalent, is collected by killing enemies and lost upon your death.  Like in Souls, you can reclaim them by finding your body, only this time you have a time limit to reach it.  Killing enemies on the way extends this time limit, but I rarely found myself running out of time.  These are used to create and upgrade equipment as well as level up your power core.  Rather than level up specific stats, this allows you to plug in more powerful augments to define your character.  The augments you can install are limited by your total level/power, meaning you can’t just jam in all the most powerful ones.  You may only be able to afford a few low level ones or one high level one and this creates an interesting balancing act.  You probably want some healing items to take with you, but that means you may not have enough power to install an upgrade for your stamina.  Each augment will increase in effectiveness (up to a limit) based on your over all core power so you can still get a decent buff from weaker options.  I really like this feature.  Not only does it force you to make some difficult choices, but it also allows you to completely respec whenever you return to the Medbay (your bonfire equivalent) as you can slot augments in and out as you see fit.

The Surge
These ones killed me so many times. I found the standard enemies more challenging than the bosses at times.

The environments suit the game well, but after the opening area (a gorgeous, open scrapyard area) it becomes little more than industrial areas with a slightly different colour scheme.  There are a couple of nice changes towards the end, but on the whole the game was rather stuck with what it could offer.  It does allow for some rather tense moments journeying through tight, dimly-lit corridors in which an enemy with a flame thrower could ruin your day at any moment.  These corridors often act as shortcuts that lead back to the Medbay when needed most which is a good thing considering how large some of the areas are.

The Surge
Get used to these sort of environments. Sci-Fi games can suffer from this, as there are only so many ways to do “industrial” locations.

Enemies aren’t hugely varied, with many of them being people in suits of lighter or heavier armour, wielding one weapon or another.  The occasional ranged drone or annoying pouncing walker will show up, but for the most part you’ll be fighting the same few enemies until the final area.  The showpieces are the bosses of course, of which there are 4 (5 if you count an upgraded form of one of the ordinary enemies).  Whilst these certainly look interesting, they aren’t all that challenging.  In fact, I managed to defeat 3 of the 5 (including the final boss) on my first attempt which was a little disappointing.  I get the feeling that The Surge wanted the journey to the boss to be the big challenge, as I died during my exploration of areas far more.  Sometimes these deaths felt a little cheap as I would dodge back and end up passing through barriers and falling to my death.  These little moments indicate that this is a little less than polished in places which is a pity.

The Surge
Some of the bosses have impressive scale, but they really aren’t all that challenging compared to the series it tried to imitate.

However!  I enjoyed The Surge rather a lot.  It may be a little bland in places and lacks the polish of its source material, but it really did scratch that Dark Souls itch for me.  The change from light and heavy attacks to horizontal and vertical strikes forces you to learn the best move to use to damage each body parts and the overall combat feels weighty.  Whilst this isn’t one I’m going to be rushing back to straight away, it certainly is an adventure I enjoyed for its 20 or so hours.

The Surge was developed by Deck13 and published by Focus Home Interactive.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it lovers of Dark Souls and their ilk.  Whilst unpolished, it provides good, tense fun throughout its campaign.  Well played Deck13!

E3 2017 Wrap Up – Games and such

I don’t think I’ll ever go to E3 in person, and that’s just fine by me.

I’ve never been to E3, and I doubt I ever will. That’s mostly because it looks like there are far, far too many people in a big, hot hall. I’m more than content to read about and watch the games in comfort, and not have to go near crowds of humans who may be infected with a dormant form of the zombie plague.

So here are a few thoughts on the bits and pieces from during the event.  I’m sticking to the games and tech mainly, and avoiding the god-awful, cringe worthy presentations.  Stop with the faux YouTuber nonsense!  Anyway, enjoy!

EA

EA Logo

Sports, innit!  Madden has a story mode now, just like most of EA’s other sports franchises.  FIFA will also have a continuation of its story mode, The Journey, which my wife will be fairly happy about.  There’s more content for Battlefield 1 coming, which I don’t really car about much.  Seems to be a lot of night time maps, so if you like that sort of thing then brilliant I suppose.  Need For Speed is back.  PAYBACK in fact.  It’ll have a story mode once again which is the one thing it has over Forza/Horizon.  It looks pretty but I’ve never really been interested in racers for their plots.  If the racing is good then I may take a look, but it seems to be full of scripted sequences which may break the flow of the racing.  I’ll keep an eye one it but I’m not holding my breath.

There’s Battlefront 2 on it’s way as well.  It looks pretty, and there’s a single player campaign now too.  Basically this looks like what the previous game should have been, but then we knew that already.  Then there’s A Way Out, which is the one thing here that actually grabbed me.  A co-op (only) prison escape action adventure.  THAT HAS LOCAL CO-OP!  That last bit alone is enough to interest me, but it looks gorgeous, is from a developer with a good history, and it seems to stand out somewhat from many games.

Verdict: Lots of “Meh” with a little bit of “Oh, now that’s interesting”.

Microsoft

Microsoft logo

Microsoft needed games, and I suppose they had some.  They also needed to show off the Scorpio (or Xbox One X as it’s now called) well, and I’m not so sure about that.  I suppose the new system is powerful, and the Forza 7 trailer certainly looked good running on it, but it’s not really a system seller, and that’s what was really missing.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Forza a lot, but I won’t be buying a new (expensive) machine especially for it.  The original Xbox backwards compatibility was a great thing to show people though!

Anyway, games aplenty here!  A new Metro game, named Exodus (which may be exclusive, I’m not too sure) has me interested.  Dark, scary, and very serious.  It’s a series I like and I’m glad it’s back.  Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the battle royale style game, is a bit of a Twitch darling right now, and is heading to the console.  The Darwin Project seems to be in a similar vein but more light-hearted.  I’m not too fussed about either.  Skipping a few (seriously, there were a lot),  Dragonball Fighter Z looks fun, The Last Night and The Artful Escape have interesting art styles, Sea of Thieves is something I don’t care about, Cuphead still looks cool but really should get around to coming out and Crackdown 3 still exists.  There were a ton of other indie games, before getting to see Ashen, which seems to be trying to fill the void left by Dark SoulsOri is getting a sequel which is nice, and Shadow of War looks great too.  Then we got to see Anthem, which seems to be EA wanting to take on Destiny, which is pretty brave.  It does look good though!

Verdict:  Xbox One X is a thing now, too many games but very few system sellers.  Microsoft seem to be aiming at current users rather than new ones.

Bethesda

bethesda logo

This was about as safe as they get.  Bethesda took few risks, with VR versions of DOOM and Fallout 4, which will probably be pretty cool, and more Elder Scrolls.  We had Skyrim on Switch (again, and not looking brilliant if you ask me), and extra stuff for Elder Scrolls: Legends, their card game.  DLC for Dishonored 2 (honour has a ‘u’ in it!) is fine for fans of the series I’m sure, and a sequel to The Evil Within (which I didn’t like much) had a pretty great trailer.  Then we got the only bit I was really interested in, Wolfenstein 2, which looks pretty great.  The New Order was excellent so I’m hoping for more of that quality.

Verdict: Safe.  Very few risks here which is a little disappointing.

PC

XCOM 2 content!  Everything else can go home as far as I’m concerned, this wins.  It looks like a sizable expansion too, in the vein of Enemy Within.  Very excited!

I suppose I should mention other things too.  BattleTech seems to be coming along nicely, which is nice considering I backed it on Kickstarter.  Mount & Blade 2 and Total War: Warhammer 2 look fine too.  There were a few VR games too, but I’ll leave those to better qualified people to discuss.  Lawbreakers was mentioned too, offering some serious looking competition in the hero shooter genre.  Wargroove looks quite interesting, seeming to bring back the strategy of the classic Advance Wars.  I’m interested in this one.

Verdict: Go home everyone.  There’s more XCOM 2.  Life complete.

Ubisoft

Ubisoft New Logo

This one surprised me more.  I expected a lot of stuff we already knew, but there were a few unexpectedly interesting games.  So, forgetting about Assassin’s Creed: Origins having a trailer (that looks to be playing it safe with the series), Far Cry 5 still looking interesting, and the bizarre Mario/Rabbids crossover game, there were some cool announcements.  The Crew 2 exists (not interested), South Park has a release date (let’s hope it sticks this time), and Steep has some DLC (did that sell well enough).  Then there was Skull & Bones which is a pirate game!  Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was great so I’m expecting a top pirate themed adventure here.  I know piracy is often frowned upon in gaming (ZING!), but I’m pretty excited by this.  Transference could be brilliant, terrible, or mad as a bag of cats.  It’s some something to do with VR I think?  There’s Elijah Wood in it which is…good?  Maybe?  It was bizarre enough to get my attention.

We had a game called Starlink, which seems to combine No Man’s Sky style space exploration, with the toys-to-life mechanics seen in Lego Dimensions and co, and an actual story.  I like space shooters so I’ll keep an eye on this one.  Then the one that people have been clamouring for for years: Beyond Good & Evil 2.  It’s been so long since the original that I’m not sure if I’m interested anymore.  Also, it’s a prequel so that trailer from years ago will still go unresolved.  Still, the trailer looks pretty cool so here’s hoping the franchise can finally be resurrected successfully.

Verdict:  Better than I expected!

Sony

Sony Logo

A problem I had here, was just seeing more trailers for games that had had trailers last year.  Spider-Man, God of War 4, Detroit, Days Gone, and so forth had been shown before.  I think this is a problem with E3 generally, showing games way too early leaving me to burn out on them before they get close to release.  Anyway, enough of that.  Gran Turismo is back, which is great although it will need to do well to compete with Forza for my racing attention!  Crash Bandicoot wasn’t really a surprise, but it’s nice to see.  Knack 2 is a thing that exists.  Hidden Agenda looks interesting, from the people behind Until Dawn.  It seems to a similar choice based progression but with multiple players using their phones to progress and interact with the game.  I like the look of this!  Superhot VR is a nice thing to have on the console, but I was very happy to see Undertale on a console.  Such a tremendous game deserves to be played by as many people as possible.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy had a trailer appearance and looks good (I’m not that into the series though).  A console based Monster Hunter game is a great thing to see.  It feels right at home on a big screen.  I’ll probably pick this one up.  Speaking of ones to buy, Shadow of the Colossus is getting a PS4 remaster (or remake?) which means I may finally get to play this classic that I missed out on.  Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite got a story trailer (and a good one at that), but I’d like to see some gameplay in it.  Call of Duty WWII had a trailer too and very much looks like a Call of Duty game.  I think everyone knows what to expect here.  We got some Destiny 2 as well, which is fine if you’re interested in the series.  I don’t think it’s going to sway me though.

Verdict: A lot of what we’d already seen, but some pretty good stuff all the same.

Nintendo

Nintendo Logo

I haven’t been big on Nintendo for while now.  I feel for every innovation they push, they make 2 boneheaded moves that ignore modern innovations.  Still, the Switch seems to have done well for them!  Most of their stuff gets shown in the Nintendo Direct stuff they do, but they had some nice presentations here.  Xenoblade Chrinicles 2 looks fantastic, pity I haven’t played the series at all.  A new Kirby game is nice, but I suspect a lot of people were very excited to see Metroid Prime 4.  Whilst it’s only a logo for now, it’s a great series to try to bring back.  I think I’d have rather they try to create a new Metroid series, but Prime was an excellent trilogy so I understand their thinking.  Yoshi.  Yay.  Fire Emblem Warriors.  Also yay.

Rocket League is coming to the Switch which is nice.  It has cross play too which makes a lot of sense in this era.  Throwing in Nintendo items is a smart move.  Then, there’s Mario Odyssey.  Damn that trailer is good.  Suitable song, fun looking gameplay (I want to possess a koopa!) and frankly stunning visuals.  This and Breath of the Wild are pushing me towards buying a Switch.

Verdict: Nintendo forever relying on their established franchises.  Still, what they have looks pretty good.

So what did you like most from the show?  Would you rather go there in person?  Let me know!

 

Injustice 2 – Stop Batman’s Murder Spree!

Batman seriously needs to cut out all that murder.

Look, even if we pretend Batman vs. Superman didn’t exist (and a lot of people would like to), Batman has been killing for a long, long time.  I’m sure he justifies it to himself:  “The fall killed him, not me.”  “He died of electrocution!  I didn’t make the electricity!”  “The Batmobile was on autopilot.  Not my fault!”  Can someone do something about it?  Does he need a therapist to deal with his serious denial issues?  Probably.  But that’s not what we’re here for.

Injustice 2
I found Harley Quinn to be my character of choice. Here she is shooting a gorilla.

Injustice 2 is the follow up to 2013’s rather good fighter: Injustice.  On an alternate Earth Superman was tricked by The Joker into killing Lois Lane and setting off a bomb, killing millions in Metropolis.  Superman kills The Joker in his rage, and decides that he will rule Earth with a regime of his creation, filled with other superheroes.  Batman, amongst others, manage to take him down and lock him away, thus saving the world.  Enter Injustice 2, in which Brainiac has come to wipe out the last Kryptonians as well as Earth.  Batman and co. try to stop him, but it quickly becomes apparent that the only one who may be able to best Brainiac may be the imprisoned Superman.

Injustice 2
Superman activating his character power to gain extra damage. Don’t worry though, I’m sure Batman will just murder him.

Normally story in fighting games isn’t really important, but NetherRealm have continued their tradition of crafting a well put together story, with excellent cutscenes and a chance to play as a large variety of characters.  Occasionally you can select between two characters and it even includes multiple (well, two) endings.  A single playthrough takes around 5-6 hours, and feels like a good length for the story it tells.  I enjoyed the campaign a great deal and got a good feel for which characters would work well for me (I settled for Harley Quinn).

Injustice 3
The cutscenes look great in most situations.

Beyond the campaign, there are the usual training and single fight options for the solo player.  There’s also the excellent Multiverse mode that provides different challenges every few hours meaning there’s always something new to try.  Perhaps there’ll be bombs falling from the sky, or the level will undulate, or maybe the whole stage will be upside down.  Not all of them are hits, but they’re all different and keep things fresh.  On the multiplayer front, there’s local and online as you’d expect.  There’s also an AI battle mode in which you select a team to take on another player’s AI team.  It’s a nice distraction that helps you unlock items, but it doesn’t really add much.

Injustice 2
Batman shooting people with machine guns. Did Zack Snyder direct this?

Items!  As you play, you’ll gain boxes that contain gear and colour schemes for your heroes.  Many of these have benefits to your character, from increased health and attack, to specific effects such as increased ranged damage.  This was a nice addition in the Multiverse mode, but in online matches (Player matches anyway, I didn’t notice it in Ranked) it becomes a little irritating.  Whilst this option can be turned off, most online players use this gear, meaning you can easily end up against someone with a more powerful character than you.  Also irritating is the fact that the boxes are seemingly random, meaning there’s not guarantee that you’ll get any items for a character you like.  Whilst it does encourage you to look into other characters, it can be frustrating to open 5 boxes and find not a single useful item for your level 18 character.

Injustice 2
The background often contains weapons, such as this crocodile…

The controls are as you’d expect for a fighter, with light, medium and heavy attacks, as well as a character specific ability.  I like the character abilities, as they play into each personality.  Green Lantern powers up his ring, Supergirl fires lasers from her eyes, whilst Aquaman can form a water shield to slip out of combos.  Special moves can be powered up by spending meter earned from fighting.  Meter can also be used in a Clash, which is one way of breaking out of a combo.  Players will bet chunks of their meter, with the one spending the most gaining an advantage.  Super moves can be carried out by hitting both triggers when you have a full meter which involve a brief cutscene of the attack that look excellent but can become tiresome after you’ve seen them a few times.  Also, Batman’s involves the Batwing firing missiles at his opponent.  How is he not murdering people with this?!  Robin doesn’t even have super powers!

Injustice 2
Superman getting his own back after being bullied by Batman for so long.

Speaking of how things look, this game looks beautiful.  The characters are fantastically well animated with lots of incidental detail, even when they aren’t the focus of attention.  The animation quality carries through into battle as you might expect, with moves looking fluid whether in the air or on the ground.  Apparently some of the animations are recycled from Mortal Kombat X (well done to Drakulus, Cheap Boss Attack, and Counter Attack on the CA Podcast for spotting that) which is a little disappointing.  It makes sense as they are basically the same fighting system, but it would have been nice if it had been all new.

Injustice 2
The Joker looks surprisingly spry considering he’s supposed to have died. Mind you, this is comic books were talking about.

The sound is also excellent, with great voice acting throughout.  The battles open with the two competitors threatening each other, and these change based on who is involved.  This also happens with Clashes, and it comes across as excellent attention to detail when Batman says something different when he’s fighting The Joker or Cyborg.  It certainly helps make the battles more dramatic and helps maintain that comic book style.  The music is…present.  I didn’t really notice it a great deal, so read into that what you will.

Injustice 2
Superman looks angry. Probably annoyed about Batman keeping all the murdering to himself.

Overall, this is one hell of a package, with tons of content for solo or competitive players.  It looks and sounds great and above all it’s fun!  And when it comes to games, whether it’s fun is kind of important.  More than that though, the fights are satisfying, with weighty feeling attacks that can smash opponents through walls or damage the scenery.  It’s just a shame that the gear system felt a little weak at times.

Injustice 2 was developed by NetherRealm and published by Warner Bros.  I played the game on Xbox One and you recommend it to anyone that has an interest in fighting games.  It’s accessible enough to allow beginners to have fun (you should have seen us the first time we tried it!) but has enough depth to challenge veterans.  Give it a go.  Just don’t get on Batman’s bad side.

Halo Wars 2 – A full priced game with BS micro-transactions?! Sign me up!

I was a bit torn over whether to include this in the “Games I like” or “Games I didn’t like” category.  On the one hand, the campaign is pretty good and the core multiplayer isn’t too bad either.  On the other hand, Blitz mode is just flat out BS with poor matchmaking in which you can buy power and steamroll your opposition.  And that’s not just because I suck at it.  But more on that later!  Oh, and just so you know, I put it in both categories.

Halo Wars 2
Spartans are suitably tough and can pretty much hold their own against most enemies.

I didn’t play Halo Wars.  It just didn’t interest me at the time and I couldn’t see how an real time strategy (RTS) could work with a controller.  But here I am, many years later fancying an RTS that I can pick up and play quickly.  I’ve not really played much in the genre for a long time, so a light strategy game was right up my street, plus I quite like the Halo universe.  We play…someone who is ordering UNSC troops to fight the Banished, a offshoot of the Covenant, because they are bad and live on a space station.  I didn’t follow the story at all (maybe because I didn’t play the previous installment?) but the cutscenes were nice.  I’m not playing my RTS games for plot though!  I just want to order tanks to blow stuff up!

Halo Wars 2
It can get a little busy at times, but for the most part the controls help you keep it together.

The game controls surprisingly well with a controller, with button holds and presses selecting groups of local or global units and button shortcuts allowing you to move around the map quickly.  Pressing X will send your soldiers to an area (there is no attack-move here, characters auto attack en route) or to attack a target, whilst Y will activate the most suitable ability for your current group (take over a tank, throw grenades at infantry etc.) Selecting a building on your base opens a radial menu to build troops and buy abilities.  This was the weaker part for me as I struggled to tell the buildings apart at times, meaning building an anti-air vehicle in the heat of battle resulted in me moving around the different buildings until I found the garage.  That aside, it controls better than I expected.

Halo Wars 2 cut scene
The cutscenes are as cool as most of the ones you’d see in the previous Halo games.

The campaign is good fun, with 12 missions (don’t expect the campaign to last much longer than 8 hours) ranging from traditional building a base and attacking the enemy, to guiding a rag tag group of survivors through enemy territory.  The units are based in the Halo universe as you’d expect, with Scorpion tanks, Hunters, and Warthogs aplenty.  Combat works on a loose rock/paper/scissors system with vehicles beating infantry, infantry beating aircraft and aircraft beating vehicles.  There are variants on this, with some vehicles being anti air and so forth, so picking the right set of units for the job is essential.  Making sure your giving the right orders to the right set of units in the heat of battle can be tricky, so getting comfortable with button shortcuts and who-beats-what is important on higher difficulties.

Halo Wars 2
Hijacking a Scarab to level an enemy base is something of a highlight…

The core multiplayer is fairly good too, pitting players or teams of players against each other in a race to build their base and eliminate their opponents quickly, or a more slow paced objective driven mode such as Domination.  These modes were fine, and facing higher level opponents didn’t guarantee they were any tougher than you, often leading to a fair(ish) fight.  Blitz mode is a different matter though.

Halo Wars 2
…but fending them off can be pretty tough.

I should love Blitz mode.  An RTS with card game and deck building elements?  Yes please!  You play cards (using energy as a limited resource) to summon units or special abilities to capture and hold control points which earn you points to win.  In theory a good deck and smart resource management should lead to victory!  But here’s the thing, you can buy card packs (with real money of course) to get new cards.  In itself this isn’t such a problem, but duplicate cards will be leveled up making them more powerful (somewhat like Clash Royale, you know, that FREE to play game?) meaning that people who spend money will have more powerful cards.  Not only that, but as your account levels up, you are given free packs meaning that a higher level player will have a distinct advantage over a lower level one.

Halo Wars 2
Getting in close to the action means you can quickly recognise the characters from the series. I remember Hunters being far tougher though.

I’ve complained about micro-transactions in full priced games before.  I can understand it in free to play games, and I get selling cosmetics in full priced releases.  But as far as I’m concerned, you do not sell power in full priced multiplayer games.  It will harm your online community and drive away new players.  I played several Blitz matches and was regularly put up against players at least 20 levels higher than me, meaning they had objectively better cards.  No matter how you spin it, a level 4 tank will always beat a level 2 one.  The poor matchmaking and power selling card packs drove me away from this mode and very much soured me on my experience of this game.  It’s a pity, because the other aspects of the game are actually pretty good, but free to play business models have no place in full price titles.

Halo Wars 2
There’s a lot happening here! And this was just on Normal mode…

Halo Wars 2 was developed by 343i and Creative Assembly and published by Microsoft.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend some aspects of the game.  There’s a decent enough campaign and some fun to be had in the multiplayer.  But Blitz mode is a shambles because of how the card economy works.  If you do give it a try, consider yourself warned!

Yooka-Laylee – It’s not terrible!

Quick note, I backed this on Kickstarter.  Ok, that’s out of the way.  On with the proper words!

Colourful characters!  Pretty animations!  Jokes clearly aimed at grown-ups (such as a snake called Trowzer.  Trouser Snake. PENIS JOKE!)  No, it’s not the latest movie from Pixar, it’s Yooka-Laylee, the well publicised collect-a-thon revival from (most of) the people who made the genre what it is (was?), funded through Kickstarter.  The team is mostly comprised of people from Rare, those clever sods behind Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country and Conker’s Bad Fur Day.  Those games have something in common, and it’s not just that they’re very successful collect-a-thons.  They’re also from around 20 years ago…

Yooka Laylee
The first world you enter is bright and vibrant. Each environment is completely different to the last.
I’ll get this out of the way: Yooka-Laylee is far from perfect.  But it is fun in spite of the flaws it contains.  Most of those flaws are hangovers from the games that it is so clearly trying to imitate.  It’s great to play a game with the same gameplay style and sense of humour as those classics, but it’s not so great to be struggling with some of the same issues that those games suffered with.  It’s nostalgia without taking into account how gaming has evolved since the glory days of the genre.

Yooka Laylee
The characters look great, but the incredibly annoying sounds instead of voices means there is no lip syncing. It’s a shame as I think the animation here could have been excellent.
Anyway, we play as Yooka and Laylee, a heroic duo like so many others before them.  Their peaceful days beside their shipwreck they call home is spoiled when the local business start sucking up all the books in the area, including their special golden book they found in the shipwreck.  Of course, this book is the true target of the corporations scheme, as the One Book’s pages allow the owner to rewrite the universe!  During its theft however, the pages escape and are scattered throughout the business’ tower.  Cue our heroes leaping into action to find the pages and save the day from the dastardly Capital B!

Yooka Laylee
I don’t know why, but this boss’ utter hatred of double-glazing salesmen really gave me a good chuckle.
The story is all fluff really, although the characters in it are mostly fun to read the dialogue of.  The “voice acting” though is as it was in Banjo-Kazooie et al. with silly noises rather than actual words.  It made sense 20 years ago, but these days it made me want to skip all the dialogue (you can’t) just to avoid horrible sounds.  The characters are all unique in design and often poke fun at one thing or another.  Kartos the God of Ore (a mine kart), Shovel Knight (of Shovel Knight fame) and Trev the Tenteyecle (amongst others) all stand out as being quite different to each other and offer unique challenges in each world.

Yooka Laylee Glitterglaze Glacier
Obligatory ice level!
The worlds are contained in books hidden in the tower’s hub area (which is horrible to navigate due to poor signposting) and each one is quite different to the last.  From the bright forests of Tribalstack Tropics to the grimy swamp of Moodymaze Marsh, everything looks very distinct and fits within its environment.  The Marsh contains broken old shopping trolleys as characters whilst the casino has anthropomorphic slot machines.  These characters will give you tasks to earn more pages that will allow you to access and expand further worlds.  Ranging from simply completing a race against the clock to complex platforming puzzles and the occasional boss, there are plenty of different challenges to undertake, and its easy enough to find one to do in any given level.  Some are a bit irritating though, such as navigating slides using you roll skill (tough and a bit annoying) or using physics to guide a ball into a hole (unbelievably frustrating).  If you’re going for 100% completion, which is something a lot of people like to in collect-a-thons, be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.

Yooka Laylee Shovel Knight
Totally want this guy’s autograph.
Special mention must be made to the absolute ARSE of a final boss.  I’ve already mentioned that relying on old fashioned gaming tropes is pretty hit and miss here, but this was certainly a miss.  A multi-stage boss battle that lasts nearly 15 minutes, with easy early stages and very difficult final phases and NO CHECKPOINTS!  I cannot stress how annoying this was.  Unless you’re Dark Souls, put checkpoints in your multi-phase boss fights developers.  Don’t make me waste another 10 minutes redoing the early parts to get to where I screwed up last attempt.  Don’t waste my time!

Yooka Laylee
I’ll be honest, if I’d spent long in this area I’d probably have developed a headache.
The thing is, in spite of the silly design decisions, the often cheap humour, the final boss debacle and all the other nostalgia driven features that have been ironed out through years of progress in the industry, I still found myself having fun.  Perhaps it was a return to that childlike enjoyment of a brightly coloured environment, or each mini open world having mini challenges in them to find all the items.  Maybe I’m a closet kleptomaniac.  whatever it is, for me this game was fun in spite of the missteps.  I’d read the negative early reviews and expected utter toss, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable experience.

Yooka Laylee
This was a rather cute find: Laylee’s (the bat) TV and arm chair on the ceiling.
Yooka-Laylee was developed by Playtonic Games and published by Team 17.  I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it if you’re feeling nostalgic and don’t mind some of those old irritations still being present.  It’s far from perfect, but it’s nice to have an updated Banjo-Kazooie to play through, dodgy camera and all.

5 Games From 2016 That I Regret Missing – Not enough hours in the day.

There’s an expression which has come to mind more and more for me lately.  When you’re young you have the time but not the money; when you’re older you have the money but not the time.  This applies to so many things in life, gaming included.  When I was younger, I missed out on a lot of games simply because I couldn’t afford them.  Whilst disappointing, it made a lot of sense.  Also, it wasn’t difficult to acquire games by *ahem* other means.  Not that I would advocate that (specially not now).  If my younger self could see the number of games I’ve bought and not got around to playing though…

Lol Limewire
This song still make me laugh.

I find myself buying fewer and fewer “epic” games simply because I won’t have the time to enjoy them.  Work, family and life in general are all more important (to varying degrees…screw work!) meaning that hobbies have to give way.  Regardless, it is still disappointing to intend to play a game but never get around to it.  So here are 5 games from last year that I had every intention of playing, but probably never will.  Oh, and Overwatch isn’t here…

Epic Games
No, not this sort of Epic. Their games tended to be of a sensible length.

Rules are different this time!  Obviously these have to be games I haven’t played that were released last year.  I’ve not included games from last year that I’ve bought and not started yet, as I probably will play them.  Onwards!

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy 15
Final Fantasy XV (2016)

I’ll start with the big one.  I dearly wanted to play this.  It looked gorgeous, had a fun tone, unusual mechanics for the series and a huge world to explore with meaningful content.  Monsters!  Swords!  Magic!  Kick-ass sports car!  Silly hair!  Everything I could want in a Final Fantasy game.  Even an indecipherable story (probably).

Final Fantasy XV
It really is quite pretty.

But the size of it moved it further and further down my wish list.  That ever present issue of time ate away at my desire to finally pick it up.  Even seeing how much reviewers and other bloggers loved it wasn’t enough to save it from the slide.  It’s still on my wish list, so maybe some day.

Super Mario Maker (3DS)

Super Mario Maker 3DS logo
Super Mario Maker 3DS (2016)

I don’t own a Wii U, so Mario Maker was off the table, but the idea of near limitless Mario levels was quite appealing!  Whilst I’m not the most creative of people, seeing and playing the levels other people would make sounded great to me.  So when I heard that there was a 3DS version on the way, I was certainly interested.

Super Mario Maker Bundle
Nintendo have tried to port a few Wii U games to 3DS, but the loss in quality is a problem for me. This is also the reason I did pick up Hyrule Warriors Legends.

Then it turned out the feature set was going to be severely limited by comparison.  You couldn’t access all the levels you could imagine, only the ones that were “featured”.  Levels could be exchanged via street pass, but browsing through the tens of thousands (or more?) of levels that people had created and picking out one that looked and sounded interesting was part of the appeal to me.  Maybe it will get patched in some day, but with the Switch being released, I doubt it.

The Turing Test

The Turing Test Logo
The Turing Test (2016)

I may, may still play this one.  A sci-fi puzzle game with a (supposedly) interesting mystery story certainly sounded appealing!  An interesting twist on the “weapon” as a puzzle solving device (a la Portal and it various imitators) along with inventive challenges made this something I was very interested in.  In fact, Vahrkalla made a very convincing argument for playing it, and I still very much want to give it a go.

The Turing Test
Robots! I want to play this even more now.

This one came along a few weeks after I’d played a few other first person puzzle games in the form of Pneuma and The Talos Principle, so the idea of another one put it to the back of my mind for a long time.  Some day I may well be in the mood to give this a try, but as it stands it’ll just have to wait its turn.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction

BlazBlue Central Fiction Logo
BlazBlue: Central Fiction (2016)

I like fighting games.  A lot.  I am terrible at fighting games.  Whilst I can pick up mechanics well enough, I struggle to put them into action during an actual match.  This is even more of a problem in anime style fighting games most often associated with Arc System Works due to them being so insanely fast.  But they’re so gorgeous!  And the action is so fluid!  Varied characters and bizarre attacks!  Things like Guilty Gear, Chaos Code, and BlazBlue really appeal to me.  Mostly for single player though.

BlazBlue Central Fiction.
A witch is fighting a cat lady and I have no idea what it happening.

The thing with BlazBlue: Central Fiction is that it came out about 6 months after I’d picked up Continuum Shift, the previous installment.  More fool me (perhaps) for not waiting for the newer version, but seeing as I was playing mostly offline, having the most up to date version wasn’t a huge concern.  Having said that, I would have liked to have seen the online community before everyone switched back to playing as Noel and using her silly endless combos.  Like I do.

Salt & Sanctuary

Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary (2016)

I was put onto this one because I love Dark Souls far more than is healthy.  Salt & Sanctuary was sold to me as a 2D Dark Souls, and if you watch it in action it’s pretty clear why.  Every action needs to be planned out to avoid silly mistakes and a resulting death.  The grimy art style is also reminiscent of its inspiration’s medieval world.  I should have picked this one up straight away by all rights.

Salt and Sanctuary.
This really does remind me of the Undead Burg.

I feel that at the time I was a little burnt out on super challenging games.  Since then, Nioh has come along and rekindled my love for those sort of games, but at the time I needed a break from them.  With that in mind, now may be the time to look into giving this one a go.

Some honourable mentions as always.  Hitman didn’t interest me during its development, nor upon its initial release.  But since then I hear all sorts of stories about hits gone wrong, elusive targets and bizarre successes.  I regret not giving it a go when it came out.  The Bunker was a really interesting one, being a throwback to the “interactive movies” of days gone by.  I like a good horror, but I feel this one may be more suited to a Let’s Play for me.  I loved the Attack on Titan anime, so the game was something I really liked the look of.  I got the feeling it may get repetitive quickly though, so I passed it by.  This one’s also still on my wish list though, so maybe someday I’ll pick it up on the cheap.

How about you?  Are there any recent releases you regret missing out on at the time?  Let me know!  I hope I’m not alone on these ones…

 

 

The Evil Within – More aggravating than scary

I’m going to cut to the chase here.  I did not like this game.  It’s certainly not a bad game (although it has its flaws), but I didn’t enjoy it for a number of little reasons rather than a single big one.  Certain aspects of the games difficulty, controls, and story weren’t perfect but as a whole it should have been more enjoyable.  Let’s have a little dig into it!

The Evil Within
The letterbox effect can be left on throughout the whole game, but it’s quite intrusive.

We play Sebastian Castellanos, a detective sent with his partners to investigate Beacon Mental Hospital where a massacre has taken place.  During their exploration of the hospital, the team are attacked and rendered unconscious by a mysterious hooded figure.  Sebastian awakes, alone, in an insane version of his world with the task of reuniting with his friends and figuring out just what the hell is going on (spoiler: I still have no idea).

The Evil Within
Running through a field full of sunflowers (which just so happen to be my favourite flower). Why is this happening? I have absolutely no idea.

The early game has us sneaking around to avoid a chainsaw wielding monster that culminates in a chase down a corridor and confronting The Haunted, humans covered in barbed wire (because HORROR).  We’re introduced to stealth kills, traps, general combat and the usual array of survival horror tropes.  Combat should generally be avoided at early stages in favour of stealth to conserve health and ammo.  As the game progresses, more weapons become available including the usual shotguns and rifles and the pretty cool Agony Crossbow which can use a variety of different bolts, from harpoons to freeze shots.  The crossbow was probably one of my favourite aspects of the game, but the limited carrying capacity for bolts (understandable for a survival horror) meant using it wasn’t an option in most situations.  We carry on, fighting bosses, avoiding traps and not understanding the plot until the comparatively easy final boss fight.  Cue final cut scene and set up for a sequel!

The Evil Within
It’s a horror game, so giant spiders are pretty much a given. This section was pretty intense, but certainly not scary.

So here’s the thing, the game sets up the rules for you early on.  Avoid combat!  Stealth kill enemies!  Disarm traps!  Then it starts screwing you by having enemies that inexplicably can’t be stealth killed, invisible monsters (a gaming no-no unless very well implemented) and traps that Batman would struggle to spot.  The bosses are creative in most cases, but they have surprise attacks that can, and will, one shot you.  There are so many aspects to this game that just felt cheap and lead to the game replacing its horror with irritation.  Knowing there was an invisible enemy nearby didn’t fill me with dread but annoyance that I would have to put up with another irritating section.  Unpredictable stealth sections with enemies that occasionally can see through obstacles or out of the back of their heads lead to more than a few of my near 150 deaths.  Controls that don’t feel quite sharp enough cause precious ammunition to be wasted.  As a package, this should be great, but so many little annoyances put me off.

The Evil Within
Stealth kills are a must. Apart from when you’re inexplicably not allowed to. Or an enemy sees you through the back of their head. Or it just doesn’t work as intended…

On a positive note, the game looks gorgeous (although I noticed a few framerate drops on the Xbox One version) and is well voiced.  The bosses are fairly inventive if you ignore their cheapness and the run up to fighting some of them can be genuinely tense and unnerving.  The build up to confronting one of them was quite unsettling; seeing (and hearing!) it scuttle around inside a cage and knowing you’d have to release it to continue was excellent.  Environments are varied and interesting, although seemingly disconnected (for plot reasons I think) with urban environments quickly followed by crumbling medieval European architecture keeping the world fresh from moment to moment.

The Evl Within
Some of the environments are creepy and well put together. Still no idea what’s going on though.

The key thing with any horror game really comes down to whether or not it’s scary or unsettling.  The Evil Within goes mostly for body horror with its unpleasant monsters and gallons of blood and gore which certainly can work.  If there is an intention to have moments of foreboding and dread then they were few and far between, and this is its main problem.  Due to the regular (cheap!) deaths, the horror aspect rapidly disappears.  The fear of the monsters rapidly became a fear of repeating sections, which descended into annoyance.  I realise Shinji Mikami defined survival horror through the Resident Evil series (side note: I loved Vanquish too), but gaming has moved on in the decade since he last created a game in the genre.  This feels like an attempt to recapture his glory days whilst avoiding looking at how horror gaming has evolved in the interim.  Or maybe I’m just playing it wrong…

The Evil Within
One of the occasional chases in which you run towards the screen. Looks cool, but not being able to see where you’re going is irritating. There’s one towards the end of the game in which I died due to not being able to see obstacles.

The Evil Within was developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda.  I played the game on Xbox One and I’m not sure how to recommend this one.  If you can overlook the flaws then maybe you’ll enjoy this for what it is.  I was not a fan though, and found myself wishing the nightmare was over for all the wrong reasons.