Like their previous iOS game, Device 6, Simogoâ€™s The Sailorâ€™s Dream begins with text that you can touch and feel and shift around. Very quickly, however, the experience becomes something else entirely. Lightly choppy water comes into view, and you can glide along it by swiping left and right. Whether this water is the sea of the sailorâ€™s hermitage or the ocean of the sailorâ€™s mind, or whether youâ€™re the sailor revisiting these islands of memories or merely the discoverer of his piecemeal storyâ€”well, those are exactly the kind of distinctions Simogo refuses to make. And theyâ€™re only the beginning of the double meanings.
Continued swiping leads one to discovering an islet. It hangs in the cold, blue-green water. Its greenery and earth look rich and wet from something like the melt of an Icelandic spring. Built upon the first isle is a lighthouse, ruined and battered by the relentless ocean spray. You reach the top of the lighthouse and youâ€™re asked to go higher, to â€śsurface.â€ť As you pull the screen down to rise up, the words â€śLet goâ€ť appear and you hear the whoosh of an all-consuming wave. If these places are, in fact, the memories of a mind, is that mind entering consciousness or leaving it? It seems that, in The Sailorâ€™s Dream, waking and sleeping wade inside one another.
Before surfacing, though, exploring the rooms of these abandoned buildings can yield small bits of prose discerned from left-behind relics. But just as often, a room may offer only a few glowing, suspended baubles, which, when tapped or plucked, pushed or stretched, produce warm, electronic pitches and tones in bursts and drones. No words can be discerned from them; theyâ€™re merely instruments, and unwieldy ones at that, rudimentary and experimental. This is play with no goal in mind. The Sailorâ€™s Dream is as much a â€śsound gameâ€ť as it is a video gameâ€”if it is a game at all, a proposition its own developers have posed.
Exploration and discovery offer their own rewards, but the audio is just as vital to the success of the work. The Sailorâ€™s Dream delivers magic in visuals and sound in equal measure. Specifically, its songs, written for the game by Jonathan Eng, take center stage. The seven songs, backed by a light piano and guitar, are sung by Stephanie Hladowski, a woman with a chipper, ghostly voice, not unlike Joanna Newsomâ€™s. Engâ€™s songs are breezy and familial. The panning shot across the slowly jostling sea during each songâ€™s playthrough enhances this effect, but Hladowskiâ€™s voice adds their true flair, making each song distinct, homey and folky, somber, wistful.
Much of the grounded, desperate feeling of The Sailorâ€™s Dream is communicated through the sailorâ€™s hourly radio logs. He begins to talk of the many wondrous things heâ€™s seen: world-drowning waves, a crewless self-navigating ship, a crying whale, to name a few. His voice is warmed with a touch of static. He doesnâ€™t forget a thing, he saysâ€”except her face. It remains the object of his dreams, whether he wants it to or not. â€śThe sea is beautiful from land; the land is beautiful from sea,â€ť he notes restlessly. Whether heâ€™s dreaming or awake, the other is always calling and he canâ€™t stay silent. The Sailorâ€™s Dream is restrained in this way: Hear him out not to piece together the puzzle, but to wade in the sea, the water, the mind, the dream.
Simogoâ€™s The Sailorâ€™s Dream is available on the App Store for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
Review: Godâ€™s Trigger Deliriously Gratifies the Playerâ€™s Thirst for Schlock
The game takes delight in its over-the-top violence, cheesy monologues, and nonsensical plot.3.5
Some games donâ€™t aspire to be sprawling epics, like Witcher 3: The Hunt and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as they have a different idea of greatness, if not pleasure. Take, for instance, Journey and David Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s Mountain, which suggest miniature art-house films for the way they lean heavily on atmosphere or aesthetics above all else to stoke our curiosity. Others are unabashedly joyful aberrations, evoking the feverish intensity of a B movieâ€”content with just being offbeat. They revel in schlock for its own sake, not unlike Godâ€™s Trigger, a top-down action game thatâ€™s closer in spirit to the campiness of the violent House of the Dead than the more thoughtful, neo-noir cool of Hotline Miami.
Mechanically, the game still functions more like Hotline Miami, where most of the actionâ€”planning, looking, and slaughteringâ€”is viewed from an overhead perspective. As a fallen Angel and a banished Demonâ€”both of whom go by the amusingly mundane names of Harry and Judyâ€”players have to save the world from certain annihilation at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence. True to the threadbare plot of most B movies, Harry and Judyâ€™s grand plan to cancel the apocalypse is brutal and straightforward: Rampage through the highest heavens, the bowels of hell, and everywhere else in between, and pulverize every corrupted being standing in your way. But whereas Hotline Miami sets out to make a statement about violence, Godâ€™s Trigger dispenses with such pretenses, wanting above all else for you to savor that endorphin rush that comes from fighting violence with bigger, badder forms of itâ€”a spectacle thatâ€™s often capped with the cheesiest of one-liners, like â€śI never thought Iâ€™ll be fighting alongside a demon like her.â€ť
Godâ€™s Trigger can be played as single-player or co-operatively, and if you chose to storm through the campaign by your lonesome, that means having to switch between Harry and Judy at opportune moments. Conversely, the gameâ€™s co-op mode not only shows more relish as you exact unholy justice against your enemies, it channels the most clichĂ© of tropes from your average buddy-cop film along the way. For one, Harry and Judy are prone to trading barbed quips like â€śAm I doing this alone?!â€ť in the midst of near-death scenarios.
The game is exceptionally good at empowering you with the means to enact such violence, and in a satisfying variety of ways. On one side we have Harry the melee warrior, armed with a celestial blade and an aura of righteous anger that grants him the strength to storm through crumbling walls. On the other we have Judy and her infernal chain-whip, which allows her to attack grunts from afar; she can also teleport a fixed distance between rooms that are separated by prison bars, incinerating her opponents when she re-materializes. Between levels, youâ€™re awarded experience points, letting you fine-tune these skills and unlock even more techniques for bludgeoning your way through mobs of foes.
Given its emphasis on teamwork, Godâ€™s Trigger is a far more gratifying experience as a co-op shooter. The protagonistsâ€™ abilities are highly complementary; one is a close-combat fighter, while the other is a ranged hunter. Beyond that, the puzzles strewn across the levels often require players to coordinate and strategize with one another, such as having Harry and Judy pull two levers at the same time in order to open up a new route through a level. And at more challenging levels, they even have to keep their movements perfectly in sync, so as to avoid triggering deadly traps like spiked floors. Meanwhile, synchronizing Harry and Judyâ€™s kills rewards players with additional experience points and perks, such as a bullet-time effect.
Coordinating and strategizing with a second player is so rewarding that the single-player feels beside the point, lacking as it does the thrilling unpredictability and momentum that the co-op mode delivers in spades. The solo approach, which requires overthinking oneâ€™s moves or taking a stealthy approach, flies in the face of the riotous fun found in the co-op mode.
In the vein of so many B movies that seek to provide the campiest of thrills, Godâ€™s Trigger takes delight in its over-the-top violence, cheesy monologues, and nonsensical plot. Itâ€™s what makes the game so memorable, even if that means it never defies genre expectations. Godâ€™s Trigger is no rousing masterpiece, nor does it want to be. Only time will tell if it will land in the pantheon of B movie-inspired gaming classics. Until then, sit back and enjoy how much fun and violence it lets you extract from obliterating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by fortyseven communications.
Developer: One More Level Publisher: Techland Publishing Platform: PC ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Partial Nudity, Strong Language Buy: Game
Review: Ghost Giant Is Adorable in Small Doses but Clumsy with the Big Stuff
This VR title boasts an endearingly goofy premise, but itâ€™s one thatâ€™s executed in bumpy fashion.2.5
In Ghost Giant, players take on the role of an enormous and comforting specter thatâ€™s been accidentally summoned by the tears of an 11-year-old kitten named Louis. Unfortunately, this spirit is as clumsy as the boy turned superhero from Shazam, and in trying to calm the understandably frightened cat down, almost ends up killing him. Itâ€™s an endearingly goofy premise, though one thatâ€™s executed in bumpy fashion by this VR title, as using the PlayStation Move controllers to lift and poke physical objects rarely goes as planned.
The gameâ€™s unwieldy control scheme should come as no surprise to those whoâ€™ve played previous titles from developer Zoink!, such as Flipping Death, in which players fumble around as a spirit possessing living creatures, and Stick It to the Man, where the human protagonist comes equipped with a wacky spaghetti-like third arm. But Ghost Giant also suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, in that it canâ€™t quite decide whether it wants to be an adorable, low-stakes exploration game or if it wants to be about capital-B big issues.
The game looks like Night in the Woods and plays a bit like Beyond: Two Souls but lacks the gravitas of either. Louisâ€™s mom is suffering from severe depression, and Louis is rightfully terrified that if he canâ€™t hide her ailment from the neighbors and cheer her up, she might be taken away. But thatâ€™s as far as the game goes in addressing mental illness; for the majority of the game, itâ€™s just a puzzle to be overcome. Ghost Giant understands that not all problems can be solved by, say, baking Momâ€™s favorite apple pie and restoring her beloved cello, but it doesnâ€™t respect us enough to acknowledge that most problems require hard work to resolve.
If Ghost Giant avoids similar issues of insincerity or exploitation with the other villagers in the gameâ€™s French-inspired Sancourt, itâ€™s only because these characters lack any sort of interiority at all. Theyâ€™re all plagued with low-stakes problems, all directly solved. A melancholy bird, for instance, isnâ€™t depressed so much as it simply refuses to singâ€”that is, until its favorite hat is returned. And that birdâ€™s owner doesnâ€™t have some deep-seated issue preventing her from writing; she just misses the birdâ€™s song. Satisfying these needs can be humorous, as when youâ€”an actual but sadly invisible spiritâ€”must create a bedsheet poltergeist that you can dangle in front of a ghost-hunting photographer. And some of the tasks make clever use of your size: After pulling wilted sunflowers out of the ground and reseeding a farm, you have to reach up and grab two clouds and squeeze them together to make it rain. What these literally odd jobs donâ€™t provide is room for growth, either in the characters or in the gameplay.
Thatâ€™s a shame, because itâ€™s so obvious that more vivid, elaborate stories could have been told using these anthropomorphic denizens, like the goat landlord whoâ€™s desperate to catch some shut-eye, the avian scuba diver who dredges up trash, or the confidence-lacking lion who sets out to become a confectioner. These are well-designed characters, and theyâ€™re nicely voice-acted, which make it all the more frustrating that the playerâ€™s interactions with them are largely limited to single scenes, entirely within the context of puzzles. The same goes for the districts of this model-sized town, which donâ€™t feel lived in so much as designed around cheap and often repetitive gimmicks, from using a magnet to fish through a creepy, cemetery-adjacent junkyard, to operating a crane in a sunny, seaside harbor.
Ghost Giantâ€™s puzzles are as precise as the clockwork machinery around Sancourt thatâ€™s used to rotate and raise some of the varied buildings. Creative or brute-force solutions are restricted, as players are allowed only to manipulate copper objects (though you can carry and throw just about any loose inanimate object) and can only rotate around a fixed point. Why allow players to be a giant freaking ghost and give them the wider range of movement offered by VR if youâ€™re just going to restrict that freedom? (I wish I could say this was an intentional manifestation of Louisâ€™s motherâ€™s depression.) Thereâ€™s only one way to accomplish each task, so when players are asked to clear a bird out of a pedestrianâ€™s path, youâ€™ll have to lean in and physically blow on it, because nothing else is designed to frighten the bird. In another nonsensical situation, youâ€™re required to paint a picture to get a crowdâ€™s attention, as if slathering paint on these individuals wouldnâ€™t make them move.
The gameâ€™s most enjoyable aspect is how you get to pull apart the walls and ceilings of miniature homes, so as to get a better look inside them. But itâ€™s baffling that so few fixtures are detachable, and that they hold only meaningless, disparate collectibles like hats, insects, basketballs, and pinwheels. In the moment, you feel the thrill of spying on some hidden interior world, but then youâ€™re just clumsily activating what are essentially animatronic displays. However impressive some of these dioramas and mechanisms may be on the surface, like so much of Giant Giant, theyâ€™re ultimately lifeless.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Thunderful Games.
Developer: Zoink! Publisher: Thunderful Games Platform: PSVR Release Date: April 16, 2019 Buy: Game
Review: Heavenâ€™s Vault Is a Refreshingly Cerebral Take on Navigating History
The game is ambitious for its translation mechanics and its big-picture look at the evolution of culture through the ages.3.5
Archaeology in video games is descended almost exclusively from the Indiana Jones School of Marauding, where puzzles help players raid tombs or pilfer uncharted temples in competition with gun-toting rivals. Heavenâ€™s Vault, however, has no such trappings of the violent colonialist adventure. Your primary engagement with the game is through language, as you must decipher the hieroglyphs of a fallen ancestral empire, making for a refreshingly cerebral take on navigating the remnants of history.
In Heavenâ€™s Vault, you play as Aliya, an archaeologist who travels the flowing rivers of a spacefaring setting known as the Nebula, a network of moons containing dusty villages, farms, and more. Throughout, she sifts through the fallen empireâ€™s ruins to the dismay and suspicion of many around her, who believe in a fatalistic doctrine, The Loop, that touts cyclical patterns in history. That which has happened will happen again, so they see no point in unearthing the past, especially when sailing the rivers is said to strip away the soul. Undeterred, Aliya continues to explore in the company of a fussy robot she calls Six, morbidly christened after the loss of his five predecessors and the presumed inevitability of a Seven.
Much of the game involves steering Aliyaâ€™s ship around those rivers, translating an ancient language she finds carved into crumbling structures and objects strewn throughout ruins. Aliya and Six are free to wander these environments, bouncing theories off one another and bickering while they piece their history back together. Deciphering the glyphs is something of a guessing game, with each wordâ€™s definition narrowed down to several possibilities that you choose by extrapolating from context. What are the glyphs on? If theyâ€™re on an object, where was it found? What are the other words? The long phrase on what you believe to be a makeshift grave, for example, might nudge you toward a tombstone-appropriate vocabulary.
If this process sounds impossibly daunting, the game mitigates the sheer enormity of the task by not keeping score. There are no end-of-level tallies to track your accuracy, and many of the possible translations remain just that: possibilities, denoted with a question mark. Some are eventually confirmed or debunked by repeated use or consulting another character; most never are. Each individual translation doesnâ€™t matter so much in a pass/fail sense except in how they inform your continued understanding of the ancient language and culture.
The past in Heavenâ€™s Vault is never totally clarified and much of your progress is theoretical, so itâ€™s astonishing that the game provides any sense of accomplishment at all despite dealing mostly in ambiguity rather than absolutes. You really do begin to understand the more you play, learning which glyph denotes a place and then easily guessing the new word when itâ€™s paired with one you recognize to mean, say, a liquid. Combined with environments that task players with using their growing knowledge to uncover possible functions for a building or a mechanism, the gameâ€™s sense of discovery feels truly immense. You share Aliyaâ€™s excitement, or perhaps her horror, as youâ€™re totally enveloped in her cosmic search for answers.
But for as much as Heavenâ€™s Vault emphasizes the futility of diminishing the messy past into something simplistic and easily digestible, its mechanics never quite escape doing so all the same. The fact that everything works out into a coherent English phrase (sans maybe a preposition or two) built from four options per word feels impossibly neat and composed. To some degree, these concessions are what makes Heavenâ€™s Vault playable at all. When taken next to the gameâ€™s emphasis on translations that are mere possibilities and functions that are only theories, however, theyâ€™re something of a tear in the curtain meant to conceal a world thatâ€™s been neatly gamified yet making every effort to conceal itself as such.
The most challenging opposition comes less from piecing history together than simply navigating the gameâ€™s unwieldy interface, which works well at the start before buckling under the translationsâ€™ growing complexity. Hieroglyphic text youâ€™ve found drops onto a timeline menu for whatâ€™s supposed to be easy access, until the translations clog the menu to such a degree that it borders on unusable, while the translation screen fails to hold longer phrases without asking you to scroll repeatedly back and forth. Most galling of all is the total exclusion of any sensible search function. Indeed, thereâ€™s simply no way to search the phrases by word or glyph, while paging to a â€śrelated wordâ€ť is too limited to be of much use. Some amount of repetition would have set in anyway with these mechanics, yet the interface issues only ensure it arrives quite ahead of schedule. The gameâ€™s sailing is dull and saturated with similar-looking environments, to the point where you might bypass whichever nondescript rock youâ€™re meant to find if the game didnâ€™t automatically stop you, but itâ€™s outright preferable to the sheer headache of stopping for even a single moment to go back to any old translations.
Despite how these issues range from irritating to outright infuriating, though, they never totally dampen the considerable accomplishments of Heavenâ€™s Vault. This is a hugely ambitious game, both for its translation mechanics and how they provide a big-picture look at the evolution of culture through the ages. Itâ€™s an achievement that the game realizes any of those ambitions at all, and that such a rewarding sense of discovery emerges from them.
Developer: Inkle Publisher: Inkle Platform: PC Release Date: April 16, 2019 Buy: Game
Review: Dangerous Driving Does the Bare Minimum to Earn Comparison to Burnout
Though itâ€™s abundant in hyper-realistic visuals, that isnâ€™t enough to disguise its lack of polish in almost every other way.1
Because Dangerous Driving comes to us from the former Criterion Games co-founders who developed Burnout, it was natural to expect a high-octane, edge-of-your-seat experience. But while this ostensible spiritual successor to that long-dormant series can be effectively tense as you barrel down tracks at upwards of 200 m.p.h., crashing and taking down your AI rivals on the way to first place, it isnâ€™t long before the game slips into cyclical repetition of its core gameplay loop. Dangerous Driving riffs on the Burnout formula in only superficial ways, and though itâ€™s abundant in hyper-realistic visuals, that isnâ€™t enough to disguise its lack of polish in almost every other way.
Dangerous Driving features six car classes with about 10 races each. The monotony starts here. Each car, from souped-up formula cars to tuned coupes, handles the same way. Drifting in a sedan feels identical to drifting in an SUV. The bombastic, fiery end to a 200 m.p.h. sprint lacks exhilaration because the cars look like pristine, still-sealed Hot Wheels. The races also wear the same mask of familiarity. Of the 10 or so races per car class, the choices are identical, just in varying orders, and regardless of race type, the tracks are indistinguishable.
Worse, though, is the haphazard change in seasons during these races: One minute, players are speeding through autumnal vistas draped in oranges and reds, the next driving beside frozen fields blanketed in white and leafless trees. Yet somehow, the tracks remain unaffected by the changing seasons. The sudden, inexplicable season change would be forgivable if the scenery werenâ€™t so excessively bright. Because the color contrast is so high (and no settings exist to adjust the gameâ€™s display), players will end up wrecking their cars more often than not because of the obnoxiously bright sun rays bouncing off the bright silver cars.
Dangerous Driving isnâ€™t mechanically difficult to understand, but the AI makes the game impossible to enjoy. Rubberbanding exists in many racing games, but Three Fields Entertainment takes this frustrating feature to new and unfortunate heights with this game. The AI respawns immediately after crashing and appears right behind the player. Should players regain their position after falling behind or crashing, the AI will magically boost just five or so miles faster to maintain their lead. Your competitors turn corners perfectly, dodge oncoming traffic with ease, and maintain high speeds all while swerving through lanes. Unless players chain together boosts to get ahead, theyâ€™ll often find the computer AI no less than a carâ€™s length behind. Thereâ€™s no gratification in coming in first when players can never really pull far enough ahead and always fall annoyingly far behind.
The game, handicapped by stiff and imprecise controls and riddled with bugs, also lacks for the extras that might have allowed it to stand out from just about any other racing game. Thereâ€™s an alt-rock song that plays during the menu screen, but no music to soundtrack your racing, though Dangerous Driving does allow for Spotify integrationâ€”that is, if you happen to have a premium membership. Thereâ€™s no free race or time attack modes, no local split-screen, and the game has shipped without online functionality, a feature supposedly coming in the ensuing months. Which is to say that the folks at Three Fields Entertainment were only too eager to push a game into the marketplace without it possessing the bare minimum necessary to even allow it to sensibly be called a kindred spirit to Burnout.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Three Fields Entertainment.
Developer: Three Fields Entertainment Publisher: Three Fields Entertainment Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: April 9, 2019 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Mild Violence Buy: Game
Review: Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain Misfires After a Provocative Start
It’s a special kind of frustrating sequel thatâ€™s too inconsistent to realize its potential as an incisive comedy or exciting shooter.3
The Earth Defense Force series specializes in spectacle and literally gargantuan tasks, putting players in the shoes of human soldiers trying to take down enormous alien invaders. Yukeâ€™s Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain doesnâ€™t stray from this over-the-top premise, but unlike its Sandlot-developed predecessors, which were primarily influenced by campy sci-fi flicks, this sequel injects the proceedings, at least for a time, with a biting wit that recalls that of Paul Verhoevenâ€™s Starship Troopers. This shift in tone is both unexpected and welcome, with the script at various points focusing on the economic struggles that result from war and taking aim at the mediaâ€™s attempt to manipulate peopleâ€™s emotions.
Iron Rainâ€™s first mission brings to mind the start of prior games in the Earth Defense Force series, as you find yourself in the middle of a city as part of an infantry going toe to toe with humongous ants. The difference here is that, after the final threat has been taken down, your protagonist appears to be dead meat. Itâ€™s then that Iron Rain jumps forward in time and to your playable character waking up from a seven-year coma. Since youâ€™re apparently okay, an official says, itâ€™s time to get back to the battlefield, as the war against the alien invaders continues unabated on our planetâ€™s streets. The insensitivity of this casual command from a superior announces the gameâ€™s intent to comment, both seriously and mischievously, on the consequences of the world being controlled by EDF, a military-based de facto government.
In terms of third-person shooting action, Iron Rain follows the lead of its predecessors, with the player, before each mission, choosing two main weapons from a wide variety of options: shotguns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, laser blasters, and more, all with their own ammo capacities, reload times, and other features. Most missions task the player with simply destroying all enemies on the stage, but the earlier ones stave off repetition with an impressive range of scenarios. During one level, you might drive a nondescript pick-up truck, searching for giant machines to destroy. In another, you might don heavy armor to block countless projectiles as you attempt to dismantle all the legs of a humongous crab robot that unleashes waves of smaller foes via trapdoors in its appendages.
In its first half, Iron Rain regularly introduces new threats for you to terminate. This sequel distinguishes itself within the Earth Defense Force series with uniquely intimidating imagery, such as disgustingly gaseous beetles that sometimes crawl on their towering robotic allies. More significantly, the enemy AI has never been as dangerous in a Earth Defense Force game as it is here, even on normal difficulty. Single bugs will relentlessly assume flanking positions as you attempt to blast away other enemies who run straight at you, flying drones are peskier now that they can teleport, and larger foes require careful management of your evasive abilities, lest you run out of energy and open yourself up to a series of crushing attacks.
Between levels, Iron Rain outlines the numerous ways that EDFâ€™s reign impacts life on the planet. After the player beats a mission, the game features a few lines of voiceover dialogue to flesh out its story. These skits are only accompanied by stock loading-screen imagery, in line with the seriesâ€™s overall budget-game aesthetic. Despite the cheap feel of these segments, the gameâ€™s script often conveys a sophisticated sense of class awareness. At one point, a soldier reveals that he has a family who lives in an area that receives less protection from EDF, and that he needs to earn three more badges to move his loved ones to a safer location. In a later exchange, one soldier tells another that his energy core, an essential part of any fighterâ€™s gear, is only 12 percent intact, but it will have to do since core replacements are deducted from a soldierâ€™s salary. In such scenes, Iron Rain paints EDF as an institution that barely cares for the well-being of the very people tasked with saving humankind.
Other between-stage skits adopt a wryer tone as they go about illustrating the mediaâ€™s role as manipulators. During one interlude, you hear the voice of Olivia, a radio personality who tries to hype up EDF soldiers with a sort of childish excitementâ€”and as if she werenâ€™t patronizing enough, Olivia also markets a brand of coffee. In some segments, youâ€™ll listen to a reporter from the Universal News Network, and at one point the broadcaster announces that EDF has defeated a critical threat, which results in regular news programming being halted for four hours to celebrate the historical significance of EDF. Such bits satirize the mediaâ€™s complicity in creating distractions from the harshest of realities, which is to say that Iron Rain marks the first time an Earth Defense Force game has struck an intellectual and ironic chord.
Regrettably, the storytelling and action begin to suffer to a significant degree at around the gameâ€™s halfway point. The dialogue between stages loses much of its sting, with characters sharing fewer remarks about working-class struggles. Inexplicably, Iron Rain sometimes features no spoken lines from characters after a mission is completed, raising the question of why it dedicated so much time to developing a critique of EDF through dialogue early on.
What hurts the game the most, however, isnâ€™t the lack of follow through on its initial critical gumption, but rather a lack of compelling drama in its later levels. Missions that take place in caves not only dully recall multiple similar stages from Earth Defense Force 2017 but also require little strategy (just fire rockets into the recesses of the cave where bugs congregate and be on your way). Objectives that require you to protect certain targets fail to apply any distinct pressure on the player, as the targets are rarely in danger of destruction provided you continuously attack foes. And similar to select missions in Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair, certain levelsâ€™ emphasis on a Godzilla-sized monster is anticlimactic and wishy-washy: In some instances, the monumental threat hightails it after you wipe out smaller adversaries. After a promising start, Iron Rain becomes a special kind of frustrating sequel thatâ€™s too inconsistent to realize its potential as an incisive comedy or exciting shooter.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by ONE PR Studio.
Developer: Yukeâ€™s Publisher: D3 Publisher Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: April 11, 2019 ESRB: T ESRB Descriptions: Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes Buy: Game
Review: Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World Turns the Mundane Into the Stuff of Dreams
To enjoy the game is to believe that there can be purpose or joy in peeking around the most distant corners of our world.4
In a gaming landscape that doesnâ€™t lack for vast, sprawling epics, mercenary time-wasters, unspeakable horrors, and indomitable challenges requiring nothing short of spiritual discipline, thereâ€™s perhaps nothing more revolutionary than a game where you collect smiley-faced flowers across a world made out of discarded cereal boxes. Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World is nothing short of a delight, and thatâ€™s because and not in spite of its ease and relative emptiness in terms of what it asks of the player. Itâ€™s a firm reminder of the value games can have beyond putting your skill to the test, or pushing you to only earn or collect countless stuff, exhibiting the value of a well-imagined game world that exists for its own sake.
Of course, the game is still built on a basic platformer framework. Bowser Jr. and Magikoopa leader Kamek sneak onto Yoshiâ€™s island to try and steal the Sunstone, a wish-granting tablet made up of five Dream Gems. When this thievery causes the Sunstone to break, scattering all the gems across the island, Yoshi and his buds must trek across the island to grab them before Jr. and Kamek do. Itâ€™s standard fare, but playing a Nintendo platformer for the story is like listening to Taylor Swift for the insight into Bolshevik influence on modern socialist ideology. The â€śwhyâ€ť is a trifle in Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World. Itâ€™s the â€śhowâ€ť and â€śwhereâ€ť thatâ€™s everything.
Yoshiâ€™s solo platformers have always been an outlet for Nintendo to play with aesthetics, and this time, the series has gone the next logical step from the yarn-based Yoshiâ€™s Woolly World into full-on DIY arts-and-crafts territory. Itâ€™s an aesthetic weâ€™ve seen before in games, primarily from Media Moleculeâ€™s delightful Tearaway. The comparisons end there, though, and only mildly to the detriment of Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World. Thereâ€™s no opportunity to craft things that are used in the game and can be shared in real life. The game is simply a well-crafted romp through a wide assortment of worlds literally held together with glue, tape, and string.
Despite running off the Yoshi seriesâ€™s same old game mechanicsâ€”running, jumping, eating enemies and making eggs out of them, throwing the eggs at other thingsâ€”Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World isnâ€™t a platformer thatâ€™s about stopping the player from reaching their goals. Itâ€™s about the active, gentle encouragement of players to interact with and explore their environment. You never know whatâ€™s behind some bit of cardboard, whatâ€™s hiding in a papier-mĂ˘chĂ© house, or how the bits of trash youâ€™re picking up will come together to make other things.
That last bit is truly the meat of this blissfully pure game. Thereâ€™s no time limit on its stages, all effortlessly charming worlds awash in tiny, clever details, from train engines powered by soda cans, to stars and asteroids made out of aluminum foil, to all the little felt-covered creatures who wander around the place. Your sole duty is to see it all, peek behind every leaf or cardboard bush and collect whatâ€™s inside, which is hopefully one of the seven or eight Smiley Flowers hiding around. Anyone can get to the end of each individual stage, but the only way you can proceed into a brand new area on the overworld map is to find as many Smiley Flowers as you can. That means truly exploring your environment, which can be perilous, sometimes tricky, but rarely tense. You lose hearts when you get hit, but nothing in Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World feels like itâ€™s actively gunning for the player. Enemies are mostly there as a means for Yoshi to make more eggs; theyâ€™re a tool more than a hindrance. Even falling into a bottomless pit just means that you float back to the last checkpoint in the stage.
To enjoy Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World is to believe that there can be joy in a long stroll, in being curious enough to peek around the most distant corners of our world. Aside from the occasional wacky boss fight, thereâ€™s not much more to the game than that, and doesnâ€™t need to be. One of the greatest tests of that fact comes a few stages in, where Yoshi comes across a mother dog whose puppies hide in the stages you just beat. To find them, players enter â€śflip sidesâ€ť of the stages, in which the perspective is reversed, meaning you see firsthand how every obstacle and background object is put together from the back.
Itâ€™s here, for a brief moment, that you marvel less at the objects themselves than the madcap imagination behind it all. These are joys that a great many games tend to obscure, for fear that the magic will be dispelled. But the light, breezy, and welcoming Yoshiâ€™s Crafted World is all the more magical for showing us, confidently and unpretentiously, that even the mundane can turn into the stuff of dreams when laid out in the open by the most talented and careful hands.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Golin.
Developer: Good-Feel Publisher: Nintendo Platform: Switch Release Date: March 29, 2019 ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Mild Cartoon Violence Buy: Game
Review: The Punishing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Coasts on Borrowed Moves
Its boss fights highlight the contrived lengths that FromSoftware has gone to in order to satisfy playersâ€™ thirst for difficulty.2
After the release of 2011â€™s Dark Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki became one of the most respected names in the gaming industry, and with good reason. After all, Dark Souls is much more than a difficult action title with a fascinating semi-open environment, as its tense purgatorial trials and the ambiguity of its dread-inducing journey leaves one with a sense of ennui. Now years later, Miyazakiâ€™s latest game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, offers the best opportunity yet to question the mediaâ€™s worship of this undoubtably talented artist. While Dark Souls represents a distinctive landmark in game history, Sekiro is more like an uninspired contemporary clone of 1998â€™s Tenchu: Stealth Assassins in which the stealth gameplay largely comes down to you watching little awareness meters above the heads of enemies and running away with ease when youâ€™ve been spotted.
In a fictional 16th-century Japan, you play as the eponymous shinobi, who must rescue a young lord named Kuro from danger. Thereâ€™s more at stake here than Sekiroâ€™s loyalty as Kuroâ€™s official bodyguard, as Kuro carries a bloodline that can grant immortality to those who can harness its power. Though this premise is more straightforward than the quest in Dark Souls, which refrains from giving the player an explicit direction or motivation, Sekiro still borrows ideas from that 2011 masterpiece, including, most significantly, the notion of restoring oneâ€™s health at a checkpoint in exchange for the resurrection of almost all defeated threats.
This double-edged mechanic feels more obligatory in Sekiro than it was in Dark Souls, as the player can fast travel to avoid repetitious combat or, in quintessential ninja style, silently destroy nearly every foe with various stealth tactics. Sekiro can also, under certain circumstances, come back to life on the spot immediately after being killed, further reducing the probability that players will be troubled by resurrected obstacles.
Sekiroâ€™s shinobi protagonist knows a few melee tricks, but the game is best conquered by picking off guards one by one without being seen. Such killing can be satisfying in the moment, particularly when you feel as if youâ€™re just blowing through a complex route without much issue. Right down to how the gameâ€™s grappling-hook tool allows the player to perch on top of gorgeous Japanese buildings to spot potential prey, Sekiroâ€™s emphasis on sneaky, cold-blooded executions owes an obvious debt to Tenchuâ€™s style and gameplay.
Yet Miyazaki and his team betray the point of following in the footsteps of a title like Tenchu when they also subscribe to the forgiving nature of modern stealth games. In Sekiro, you always know how aware a person or even an animal is of your presence, thanks to the tiny indicators hovering above them. On top of that, the hero is very quick, perhaps inspired in part by Snakeâ€™s over-the-top speed in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Such factors translate to a reasonable amount of comfort for players, which distances the game from the uncompromising Tenchu. As long as youâ€™re willing to be unrelenting in your approachâ€”like fleeing a group of enemies after murdering one of them, hiding, and coming back to dispatch another poor bastard from behindâ€”your adversaries will fall like dominoes, as they, unlike smarter AI opponents in other games, are prone to forgetting that you were in their space within a few seconds of your escape, sometimes even when youâ€™re still within sight.
Sekiroâ€™s draining boss fights not only seem to contradict the idea of the player feeling like a furtive ninja but also highlight the contrived lengths that FromSoftware has gone to in order to satisfy playersâ€™ thirst for difficulty. The recipe for success in these melee contests, which can initially appear unfair, tends to be similar to that of so many other violent skirmishes within Miyazakiâ€™s catalogue: lock on, dodge (a lot), parry, and counter during openings. You do have to keep an eye on the heroâ€™s posture bar to prevent bosses from completely piercing your defense, but you donâ€™t have to worry about a stamina variable as in the Dark Souls series.
In the end, the gameâ€™s combat system lacks a truly innovative hook such as the Ki Pulse dynamic from 2017â€™s Nioh, the boomerang axe from 2018â€™s God of War, or the total dependence on defensive technique in last yearâ€™s Way of the Passive Fist. Even though Sekiro does sport a prosthetic arm that can be equipped with non-sword weapons, the items are hardly inventive: axe, spear, flamethrower, shuriken, and so on. Thereâ€™s simply little in Sekiro to make it stand out in a vast ocean of releases, rendering it more of a footnote in the gaming market than the product of a distinguished auteurâ€™s imagination.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by PMKâ€˘BNC.
Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: Activision Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: March 22, 2019 ESRB: M ESRB Descriptions: Blood and Gore, Violence Buy: Game
With an Injection of Youngblood, the Wolfenstein Series Looks Fresher Than Ever
Did you get chocolate in my peanut butter, or did you get peanut butter in my chocolate?
Did you get chocolate in our peanut butter, or did you get peanut butter in our chocolate? Thatâ€™s the question on our mind looking at Wolfenstein: Youngblood, the upcoming collaboration between MachineGames (makers of the last two Wolfenstein games) and Arkane Studios (developers of the Prey and the Dishonored series). Though the newly released gameplay trailer looks every bit as gratuitous as Wolfenstein II: The New Colossusâ€”at one point, a Naziâ€™s head pops off like a pimple, accompanied by a hearty â€śFuck yeah!â€ťâ€”the game also boasts a variety of first-time features for the franchise.
Beyond the new alternate-history settingâ€”1980s Nazi-occupied Parisâ€”the nonlinear structure allows players to tackle the gameâ€™s missions as they best see fit, light RPG elements provide options for deeper weapon modification and cosmetic upgrades, and a co-op campaign (whether with an AI companion or a friend) will yield potentially refreshing new ways to slaughter fascists. As MachineGamesâ€™s Game Director Jerk Gustafsson notes of the collaboration between studios, â€śSharing [our] respective expertise has not only resulted in a truly great and completely new Wolfenstsein experience, but it has also brought our two studios closer together in a friendship that will be of tremendous value in our continuous efforts to craft beautiful, original, and fun video games.â€ť
Not to bury the lede, but the feature that has us most intrigued is the â€śBuddy Passâ€ť feature thatâ€™s included with the gameâ€™s deluxe edition. Essentially, if youâ€™ve bought the game, your friends can download and play it with you for free, which is good, because there should be as few barriers to entry as possible when it comes to killinâ€™ Nazis.
For a glimpse at the blood-drenched story, which involves BJ Blazkowiczâ€™s daughtersâ€”the so-called â€śTerror Twinsâ€ťâ€”searching for their missing father, check out the trailer below:
Bethesda Softworks will release Wolfenstein: Youngblood on July 26.
Thereâ€™s Nothing Shaky About the Launch of the Firmament Kickstarter
The launch trailer seeks to cover every angle of Cyan Inc.â€™s pending project, and the funding theyâ€™re seeking.
In the Kickstarter video that introduces us to Cyan Inc.â€™s newest venture, Firmament, a narrative adventure game built from the ground up for VR, the companyâ€™s long-time CEO, Rand Miller, notes that they â€śdonâ€™t just build games, but build worlds.â€ť Thatâ€™s a lofty proclamation that nonetheless feels accurate, based on Cyanâ€™s 25-year-plus development work, from Myst and Riven to their previous Kickstarter-funded project, Obduction.
That experience shows in Firmamentâ€™s launch trailer, which seeks to cover every angle of the companyâ€™s pending project, and the funding theyâ€™re seeking. A small proof-of-concept segment shows how the game will appear both in VR and on flat screens, and though it focuses largely on a wintry setting, also shows off concepts for a variety of other worlds. So far as such Kickstarter ventures go in gauging audience interest, in under a day, Cyanâ€™s already raised more than 20% of its $1,285,000 goal.
Perhaps that crowdfunding is due to the apparent trustworthiness of Cyan (given their previous two successful Kickstarter projects). Or, as weâ€™d like to wildly speculate, maybe thereâ€™s some cross-genre intrigue, given that the mysterious little puzzle-solving device/companion at the heart of Firmament looks a bit like a Ghost from Destiny. More factually, Firmamentâ€™s worldbuilding looks engagingly complex and the brief story trailer sounds suitably dramatic, with three-time Emmy Award-winning sound designer Russell Brower (from World of Warcraft) serving as lead composer.
To hear and see the magical-steampunk aesthetic of Firmament in action, and to get a cryptic taste of its puzzles and storyline, check out the teaser below.
Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness
If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.
The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation thatâ€™s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that somethingâ€™s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he â€śseems to have a situation hereâ€ťâ€”you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.
As with Dead Space, itâ€™s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasnâ€™t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupĂ§on of H.P. Lovecraftâ€™s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.
If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.
Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.
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