Tag Archives: game reviews

Rad Review – Welcome To The New Age

It’s a tale as old as time: The maniacs have blown it all up, and the few unlucky survivors are forced to pick up the pieces and begin civilization anew. Double Fine’s Rad, however, takes it one step further. A second apocalypse has happened, and according to the omnipresent narrator, the survivors’ one-word reaction is actually the correct and logical one: “Seriously?”

From the second pile of ashes, however, a new hero arises. You, the Remade, a blunt weapon-wielding child of the endtimes who has been tasked by the Menders–the new architects of the age–with going forth into the treacherous radioactive hellscape armed with nothing more than a baseball bat and a host of ungodly but powerful bodily mutations to find a new source of power for humankind.

On paper, that sounds dreadfully serious. In practice, however, it’s Double Fine, a developer that seems physically incapable of making a game that’s a downer. The Menders give the Remade their powers using a magical keytar, for crying out loud. Indeed, right off the bat, the most striking and engaging thing about Rad is the look of the apocalypse. Earth is most certainly ruined, nuclear-blasted several times over, but it’s reached a point of being overgrown with luminescent plants, snaking, sentient vines, and neon shocks of pinks, greens, and purples. This is less the dead worlds of Fallout or Rage and more like a bizarre Saturday morning cartoon of Alex Garland’s Annihilation.

Rad, however, is a double entendre of a title for the game referring not just to the irradiated nuclear landscape, but to the overwhelming 1980s nostalgia. The booming narrator could be ripped out of any number of classic action movies. The hub world where the last humans make their home is an oddball microcosm of early ’80s bric-a-brac, right down to the humorous, smart-alecky characters all bearing the names of famous characters from ’80s movies (Biff, Lorraine, Sloan, etc.). The soundtrack is full of incredibly catchy off-brand riffs on famous tunes like Van Halen’s Jump, Michael Jackson’s Beat It, and Stan Bush’s The Touch. You can push the ’80s vibe even further with some of the CRT filters in options, but It makes an already busy aesthetic look nearly indiscernible.

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And best you believe, you need all the advantages and awareness you can get. As cool and fun and inviting as Rad appears on the surface, it becomes clear very early on that Rad is, above all else, aggravatingly hard. It’s a roguelike, so the levels are all randomly laid out, but it’s otherwise a deceptively simple old-school, top-down action game. When you first make your way into the wasteland, you can jump, hit stuff with a bat, and dodge. There are some unique tricks you can employ that can help, like a jump kick, an aerial smash attack, and a distance-closing lunge, but the game doesn’t tell you about any of this at the outset. There’s no real tutorial or in-game hint system. Instead it just drops occasional new tips during its extensive loading screens. It was hours into my playthrough before the tip came up informing me about the lunge attack, and it felt like hours prior had been wasted not knowing it was there.

A mild learning curve would be fine if the wastelands weren’t so unforgiving, but despite a wide variety of enemies, with fairly predictable attack patterns, you’re just far too fragile for far too long in this game. When things kick off, you get three hearts. Enemy hits strip away half a heart generally, and once they’re gone, you’re starting over. There are power-ups you get after every boss that grant extra hearts and/or split one of your hearts into thirds instead of a half, but you’ll be surprised how little a difference that makes. If there’s more than one enemy onscreen at any given moment, cheap hits are a constant danger, and no matter how well you’re doing on your run, walking into the wrong area and into the wrong group of enemies all striking at the wrong time means it could be game over in seconds. In the instances where it’s not, health is such a frustratingly rare commodity that even taking extra care from then on means possibly going for quite some time with only half a heart, bleeding to death all over the cracked pavement. Yes, that’s a staple of the genre at this point, but in the best examples of it there’s a level of preparation you’re able to have where you at least feel like you have a fighting chance. That doesn’t happen often in Rad.

What you do get is this: Every enemy you kill generates a certain amount of radiation that you can soak up, essentially acting as XP. Once you’ve leveled up, your body gains a random new freaky mutant power. This is Rad’s biggest hook. The powers themselves are wildly imaginative and wonderfully animated. You could wind up with something as simple as a set of bat wings, allowing you to essentially gain a double jump and glide ability, or being able to throw your arm like a boomerang. Or you could end up with something just bonkers, like having a deformed twin grow out of your weapon arm to extend your range and attack power or the ability to give birth to two spider-baby versions of you who’ll run into combat and attack enemies. When you go back to the hub world with them, the NPCs’ reactions are some of the most hilarious dialogue in the game. As conceptually imaginative as those powers are, some are vastly more useful than others, and given how swift death comes for you in this game, getting a lame one at the outset basically means your entire run is doomed.

That’s generally the case for just about everything meant to help you in Rad: A bit too much of your success is dependent on sheer luck more than skill. You can collect cassette tapes–the game’s currency–and either deposit them at the bank between stages or spend them on items with some of the scattered merchants around, but not knowing what new creatures to expect in an area or what attacks the boss will throw at you means running the risk of spending money on a powerup that’s essentially worthless during your current run. There are on-the-fly powerups called exo-mutations you can find in some of the underground areas of the game, and while they’re generally helpful at first, you can wind up drawing a handicap like extra vulnerability to attacks or a distorted screen, and that, too, can spell the end of a good run faster than it should.

The good news is that the longer you play, the better your chances of finally earning permanent upgrades that make the early stages more of a breeze. There’s a completely separate pool of permanent XP that you earn after you die that unlocks new characters, game variants, and upgrades. You earn the ability to buy items on credit after you’ve deposited enough tapes into the bank, and the local shopkeep gets better and better stuff the more you buy. There are just so many blind, stupid, aggravating deaths to be had to get to that point, though, and it’s not hard to imagine throwing in the towel long before then.

There are certainly things that make fighting the good fight worth it. The story does take some subtle twists and turns as the largely teenage population of the hub world starts wondering about the point of all these legends. The boss fights get increasingly audacious in design as you go along. I’m still discovering new mutations even on the first upgrade after playing for hours. And despite an element of visual clutter, this is a compellingly colorful world to hang out in for a while. It’s just that the joys of Rad require more work than necessary to obtain, and that work can feel awfully thankless at times. Double Fine’s hyper-colorful take on an ’80s synthpop apocalypse makes for some gratifying nostalgia at the best of times, but there’s a reason why, eventually, we all moved on to grunge.

Source: GameSpot.com

Darq Review – Beast Under Your Bed

Sleep is meant to be a rejuvenating and relaxing part of your daily routine, but in Darq, it’s a gauntlet of danger that repeats night after night. Taking place in the lucid dreams of its main character, Lloyd, Darq is eerie and unsettling, its contorted world home to shocking figures of pure body horror. But it’s also a world held together by some intriguing puzzles, each of which delicately builds upon another to provide satisfying solutions to uncover.

Darq’s main mechanic is the ability to manipulate gravity. When pressed against a flat surface, you can shift gravity towards it, flipping whole rooms onto their side and letting you explore a familiar space from a whole new perspective. Obscure passageways and interactable objects are hidden from certain angles, which makes getting around a puzzle in itself. Exploration is at the heart of Darq, as you hunt down items you’ll need to solve specific puzzles throughout its seven chapters.

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Your progress through a chapter is inhibited by your ability to find the right item for the job. There aren’t obscure solutions for the most part, either, allowing you to focus instead on the challenge of finding ways to change your perspective. A cog, for instance, is used on machines where it is evident that they are missing, while a key will be labelled for the object it’s meant to unlock. Given the dream setting, there are a few instances where the items you need to solve a puzzle don’t make sense–a wristwatch grows and bridges a gap in the floor, or a snake is used to mend a broken electrical circuit–but given that you never hold more than just a handful of items at a time, it’s easy enough to eliminate ones that won’t work and experiment with the rest without getting frustrated.

Each of Darq’s chapters is themed around a new mechanic, which is then carried through to subsequent levels. You start by only having to worry about shifting gravity, but it’s not long before you have to consider levers that rotate whole rooms or switches that throw you backwards and forwards through an otherwise 2D plane. Each of these is introduced with well-constructed puzzles that gently show you the possibilities, eventually culminating in later levels where all of them are used together to create tricky conundrums. A just-out-of-reach gear suggests to you that there must be a new mechanic that allows you to reach it, for example, eventually teaching you that you can walk on walls without the need for tutorialized text. Darq isn’t incredibly challenging, but after learning the ins and outs of different mechanics over the course of the game, it’s satisfying to solve a puzzle that combines the principles you’ve mastered.

Navigating levels and figuring out their multiple routes is a joy, but exploration is occasionally tripped up by enemy encounters. The few monsters in Darq are shocking figures with contorted appendages and bizarre experimentations that are quick to attack, tearing you apart violently should you get too close. Stealth is your only option in these instances, but it’s limited in execution. Most of the time you simply wait for an enemy to pass an obvious hiding spot before darting into it and waiting for them to pass back around, stripping you of any creativity to your approach. These sections are little more than forced frustrations, some of which you’ll have to repeatedly engage with when backtracking through levels. In contrast to the thoughtful puzzles that surround it, Darq’s stealth is underwhelming.

The haunting monsters present a real threat in what is otherwise an entirely made-up world, with the underlying premise of lucid dreams allowing for all the otherworldly mechanics that Darq offers. Its vision of the subconscious can easily be compared to classic Tim Burton films. Your character features stick-like appendages and empty black eyes which match well with the gloomy, dreary world filled with oppressive grey hues and a pervasive industrial revolution theme. The variety in levels, from an abandoned hospital to a coal-drenched locomotive, does a lot to flesh out the world. Darq runs the gamut on cliché spooky spaces, but it realizes them so well in its visual style that they feel fresh rather than cheesy.

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Part of what makes each of these spaces stand out is the exceptional sound design. Darq can be terrifyingly silent at times, with only your footsteps echoing into the distance for long stretches at a time. But the silence only accentuates the quality of a creaking wheelchair moving slowly towards you or the sharp screams of enemies alerted to your presence when entering a room. Interactions with puzzle elements are often accompanied with loud, sharp sound effects that pierce through the quiet halls of the levels they’re in, always instilling a sense of unease when you’re poking around Darq’s dreary world.

It’s a shame then that with all this delightfully spooky atmosphere, there’s not much else to do once Darq’s seven chapters are over, which took me just over two hours. Each stage barring the finale contains a single collectible to find if you’re itching for an additional challenge, which can make return visits mildly rewarding. The brevity of Darq is, however, disappointing because of the potential left on the table. The beginning chapters are too short and the finale breaks the structure of every chapter before it, leaving most of Darq’s most compelling pieces in its middle. On top of that, each level isn’t given enough time to really explore the breadth of its unique puzzle mechanics, bringing about the end just as it feels like momentum is starting to form.

As brief as it is, Darq does offer well-designed puzzles that are incredibly satisfying to solve on your first playthrough, each one building upon the last in intelligent ways. Darq never fully stumbles into frustration, even if it is tripped up slightly by underwhelming stealth sections. But its gloomy atmosphere and exceptional sound design enrapture you in its dreary world of dreams. Darq is full of great ideas that contribute to a tight and brief package, but it’s hard not to want for more once it’s done.

Source: GameSpot.com

Metal Wolf Chaos Review – Mindless Mayhem

From Software wasn’t always the renowned developer it is today, but by and large it still produced interesting, worthwhile games in the early PlayStation and Xbox days. The studio’s rich history is absolutely worth exploring, and once you start down that rabbit hole, 2004’s Metal Wolf Chaos is sure to catch your eye. A game starring the fictional President of the United States is an intriguing setup. The fact that he pilots a mech stuffed to the gills with an arsenal of giant weapons is a near-irresistible premise. Metal Wolf Chaos is one big schlocky joke at the US’ expense delivered in the form of an action game, and because there aren’t many nations or cultures that are fit to be mocked with such gusto, it feels like a rare opportunity that warrants investigation.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, Metal Wolf Chaos never completed its planned journey westward back when Bush was in office and the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put us on more international shitlists than usual. Fifteen years later, amid very different (though arguably worse) political and cultural climates, From Software’s tongue-in-cheek parody of US stereotypes is finally open to widespread interpretation. There are aspects of its bombastic campaign that coincidentally bring to mind the worst of our current predicament, but the Metal Wolf President Michael Wilson, his secretary Jody, and the main villain, Vice President Richard Hawk, never let you forget that this is first and foremost a series of surface-level jokes played up with B-grade voice acting.

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“Jody: Mr. President, I haven’t been this happy since…Since that supermarket going-out-of-business sale, when I was searching for my favorite candy and…I found the last bar all covered in dust at the back of the rack! And the expiration date was still good!

Michael Wilson: I know the feeling, Jody.”

Once you dive into missions, any goodwill earned by these ludicrous exchanges–in the face of a coup d’etat–eventually fades. The Metal Wolf mech is a bullet-belching powerhouse that carries four weapons on each side (from a wide range of pistols, bazookas, flamethrowers, you name it), and cycling through its arsenal quickly becomes second nature as you need to contend with limited ammo and a small variety of enemy types. Wreaking havok and causing massive explosions is gratifying for a while, and the only argument for actually playing the game versus watching a recap of the cutscenes online.

Otherwise, the missions you face are largely rote and devoid of merit. Optional tasks like rescuing hostages–by destroying cages with small-arms fire–and poking around levels for unlockable weapons aren’t much of a draw either. Perhaps they would be for a completionist looking for an excuse to get more out of the experience, but the net gain from these activities never makes them feel essential or worth deviating from your path of destruction. The variety of locales and scenery is appreciated and does help renew some curiosity, but the look of a stage only takes you so far, and a new map layout doesn’t mean a whole lot without clever moments to make it shine.

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Some stages try harder than others, but seemingly without the intended results. Heading into the mission based in Arizona puts you in the middle of a dense Old West town with streets just big enough for some happy-go-lucky mech action. It’s also one of the few missions that puts you toe-to-toe with another mech–three at once, in this case. Doing battle in the confined corridors is more interesting than fighting out in the open (as experienced in other missions), but it also means that you can find ways to trick the shallow AI into getting stuck on the corner of a building. It’s easy pickings at that point as you fire away on your hapless foes. It’s neither challenging nor enjoyable, perfectly illustrating the fact that gunplay and explosions alone can’t resolve Metal Wolf Chaos’ consistently mediocre designs.

A lot of time has passed since the original release, and there’s reason to expect that certain aspects could have been ironed out in preparation for Metal Wolf’s formal reintroduction. That’s not to say the entire game should have been reconsidered, but there’s definitely room for less-intense changes that could make a major impact, such as adding mid-level checkpoints. Simple as they are, Metal Wolf’s levels can be very long and drawn-out, coming close to the 15-minute mark in many cases. So often there are either surprise difficulty spikes or threats of instant death, and if you fail to survive because of a momentary lapse of judgment, you will have to play the entire level from the beginning. Fall off a dock mere meters from the shore? You’re dead. Accidentally cause collateral damage at the wrong time? You’re back at square one. When death can come in a flash, to have to go back to the beginning of a long level that’s achingly routine feels like a great excuse to put the controller down and walk away.

Metal Wolf Chaos is an old game with a wild reputation, and though it lives up to it in some ways, it’s not good in general. At best, it’s a curio that helps inform the story of From Software’s trajectory over the years. At worst, it’s a frustratingly shallow experience that fails to capitalize on it’s best qualities. The From Software of yore deserves applause for punching up so confidently, and in style, to a degree, but Metal Wolf Chaos doesn’t live up to the hype that’s been building for well over a decade.

Source: GameSpot.com

Metal Wolf Chaos Review – Red, White, And Blue Tinted Glasses

From Software wasn’t always the renowned developer it is today, but by and large it still produced interesting, worthwhile games in the early PlayStation and Xbox days. The studio’s rich history is absolutely worth exploring, and once you start down that rabbit hole, 2004’s Metal Wolf Chaos is sure to catch your eye. A game starring the fictional President of the United States is an intriguing setup. The fact that he pilots a mech stuffed to the gills with an arsenal of giant weapons is a near-irresistible premise. Metal Wolf Chaos is one big schlocky joke at the US’ expense delivered in the form of an action game, and because there aren’t many nations or cultures that are fit to be mocked with such gusto, it feels like a rare opportunity that warrants investigation.

Perhaps for obvious reasons, Metal Wolf Chaos never completed its planned journey westward back when Bush was in office and the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put us on more international shitlists than usual. Fifteen years later, amid very different (though arguably worse) political and cultural climates, From Software’s tongue-in-cheek parody of US stereotypes is finally open to widespread interpretation. There are aspects of its bombastic campaign that coincidentally bring to mind the worst of our current predicament, but the Metal Wolf President Michael Wilson, his secretary Jody, and the main villain, Vice President Richard Hawk, never let you forget that this is first and foremost a series of surface-level jokes played up with B-grade voice acting.

No Caption Provided

“Jody: Mr. President, I haven’t been this happy since…Since that supermarket going-out-of-business sale, when I was searching for my favorite candy and…I found the last bar all covered in dust at the back of the rack! And the expiration date was still good!

Michael Wilson: I know the feeling, Jody.”

Once you dive into missions, any goodwill earned by these ludicrous exchanges–in the face of a coup d’etat–eventually fades. The Metal Wolf mech is a bullet-belching powerhouse that carries four weapons on each side (from a wide range of pistols, bazookas, flamethrowers, you name it), and cycling through its arsenal quickly becomes second nature as you need to contend with limited ammo and a small variety of enemy types. Wreaking havok and causing massive explosions is gratifying for a while, and the only argument for actually playing the game versus watching a recap of the cutscenes online.

Otherwise, the missions you face are largely rote and devoid of merit. Optional tasks like rescuing hostages–by destroying cages with small-arms fire–and poking around levels for unlockable weapons aren’t much of a draw either. Perhaps they would be for a completionist looking for an excuse to get more out of the experience, but the net gain from these activities never makes them feel essential or worth deviating from your path of destruction. The variety of locales and scenery is appreciated and does help renew some curiosity, but the look of a stage only takes you so far, and a new map layout doesn’t mean a whole lot without clever moments to make it shine.

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Some stages try harder than others, but seemingly without the intended results. Heading into the mission based in Arizona puts you in the middle of a dense Old West town with streets just big enough for some happy-go-lucky mech action. It’s also one of the few missions that puts you toe-to-toe with another mech–three at once, in this case. Doing battle in the confined corridors is more interesting than fighting out in the open (as experienced in other missions), but it also means that you can find ways to trick the shallow AI into getting stuck on the corner of a building. It’s easy pickings at that point as you fire away on your hapless foes. It’s neither challenging nor enjoyable, perfectly illustrating the fact that gunplay and explosions alone can’t resolve Metal Wolf Chaos’ consistently mediocre designs.

A lot of time has passed since the original release, and there’s reason to expect that certain aspects could have been ironed out in preparation for Metal Wolf’s formal reintroduction. That’s not to say the entire game should have been reconsidered, but there’s definitely room for less-intense changes that could make a major impact, such as adding mid-level checkpoints. Simple as they are, Metal Wolf’s levels can be very long and drawn-out, coming close to the 15-minute mark in many cases. So often there are either surprise difficulty spikes or threats of instant death, and if you fail to survive because of a momentary lapse of judgment, you will have to play the entire level from the beginning. Fall off a dock mere meters from the shore? You’re dead. Accidentally cause collateral damage at the wrong time? You’re back at square one. When death can come in a flash, to have to go back to the beginning of a long level that’s achingly routine feels like a great excuse to put the controller down and walk away.

Metal Wolf Chaos is an old game with a wild reputation, and though it lives up to it in some ways, it’s not good in general. At best, it’s a curio that helps inform the story of From Software’s trajectory over the years. At worst, it’s a frustratingly shallow experience that fails to capitalize on it’s best qualities. The From Software of yore deserves applause for punching up so confidently, and in style, to a degree, but Metal Wolf Chaos doesn’t live up to the hype that’s been building for well over a decade.

Source: GameSpot.com

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw Review – Space Truckers

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw sits at a crossroads somewhere between American Truck Simulator’s slice of trucking Americana and the iconic combat of Freespace 2. It’s a highly competent, single-player space combat sim complete with warring factions, pirates, corrupt cops, and dubious sectors filled with all manner of undesirables, a nicely detailed trading system, and stellar combat. While intense difficulty spikes and lacking mission information leaves some scarring on the hull, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw delivers a worthy payload.

You play as Juno Markev, a pilot stuck between the search for her husband’s killer, her need to make cash to cover the debt of replacing her recently junked ship, and her shady past. Told largely through comms messages and cutscenes between missions, many of the characters you meet are fairly archetypal, but share a sense of relatability and groundedness that lends them a lot of their charm. Character animation in story cutscenes can feel quite stiff, lending them an uncanny valley vibe, but these moments are short and don’t distract from the wider storytelling. Juno herself is a big highlight; her endearingly grounded sense of self-belief and her inability to suffer the fools she finds herself constantly dealing with always makes for fiery dialogue.

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Story threads are easy to lose track of due to the sheer number of things to do. When it’s just you and your ship, it’s all about surviving the hustle of being a space trucker; trading and smuggling goods, taking mercenary jobs, mining and selling resources–anything you can do to keep those credits rolling in so you can upgrade or outright replace the colossal junker of a ship you’re given at the game’s outset. In the opening hours, your travel is limited to one system and a handful of local missions, but once you get your hands on a jump drive you can start making your way across the galaxy, and things start to open up some more.

There are five ships you can purchase from various stations, each with traits that make them suitable as freighters or as fighters. While some ships are better suited for certain tasks than others, you’re not locked into a playstyle because of your choice. Fighters can add cargo bays to move more items, and you can take a freighter fully kitted out with advanced weapons pirate-hunting and it’ll still feel pretty good.

The beautifully detailed cockpit is the default view, and it is daunting at first–though you can also play in third-person–which seems weird given that you play an experienced pilot; the numerous switches, lights and dials each flicker away, and you’re not really sure what they do at first. There’s no tutorial to help with this, so it can feel like you’re being thrown in the deep end. But while it takes some time to understand what the ship systems are telling you, it’s not long before you’re fluent in reading the controls and gaining a better grasp on any given situation. There is support for a flight stick and a HOTAS, but I found it best with a gamepad as everything you need is right at your fingertips.

Stations are where everything outside of combat happens, although you don’t hop out of your ship and wander around. Instead you browse a handful of menus to get what you need before setting off on your next journey. This is where you make repairs or ship upgrades, handle commodities trading, sign up to one of the guilds that offer side missions, or browse the standard side missions for that station. It’s an elegant way of handling station traversal, and the nice visual shots and animations of the station internals give you a sense of what type of station you’re in and the kinds of things you might find there. You can bother the local bartender for helpful gameplay tips, sector news, or other information or play one of the handful of trite but fun mini-games like slots, 8-ball, or Star-Venger, a simple take on an Asteroids-based sprite shooter.

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Missions are either picked up from stations or, in the case of story missions, given through dialogue. They generally amount to going to a waypoint and finding or killing something for varying factions. Some of these have an effect on your standing with different factions, which can change who treats you as hostile when out amongst the stars as well as the stations you can land at. Missions also show a level of risk from mild to extreme, but these aren’t a great benchmark, as countless times I warped into a mission zone of mild-to-low risk only to be completely overwhelmed within 10 seconds of my arrival. At least a reload after death is super fast, returning you to the last jumpgate you took or station you’d left and allowing you to do something else for a while before coming back to try again. But this is also a huge source of frustration as the only way to push through these difficulty spikes is to grind for credits and ship upgrades.

The tension in a good firefight is wonderful. When you’re not tuned in to one of the seven different radio stations that broadcast throughout the galaxy, the game’s southern hard rock soundtrack kicks into overdrive as the lasers start flying. Firefights will sometimes offer up instant rewards, either as bounty credits or loose cargo that’s been freed from the breached hull, and you can freely engage the tractor beam to suck these up in order to sell on yourself and reap the benefits. In some cases you may also find an ejected pilot who you can haul in for detention, or you can enslave them and sell them on the black market, though doing so will put you on the wrong side of the space cops, which can make life in the outer rims much harder than it needs to be.

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The cockpit views on each of the game’s crafts are tight, and there’s no option to move your head around, so you rely heavily on your radar to know where to go and what’s around you. It’s invaluable when in the thick of the action, which can very quickly get overwhelming unless you act decisively. Power management is a big part of this, and it’s a system that adds a nice slice of tactical thinking to the visual feast of the combat. Weapons fire has two modes, linked and staggered, and while linked fire will unleash the full power of your hardpoints, it’ll drain your available power quickly and severely limit your ship’s capabilities. Staggered fire only fires one hardpoint at a time, meaning it uses less power overall, but can be sustained for longer. You can also quickly reroute power between the engines, weapons and your shields, but as there’s only so much to go around you’re always settling on a compromise between offense and defense, so the system as a whole works wonderfully well as a test of situational awareness.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw’s gorgeous visual design is one of its biggest strengths. There’s a huge assortment of stations, ships, planets and other things to see while out in the vastness of space. From the huge casinos of the Nevada sector to the glass-capped atriums of Hobbes Station, there are postcard moments to be found almost everywhere in the galaxy. There’s also a wildly in-depth and excellent ship painter that lets you completely redesign the paint job of your ship, so you can customize to your craft’s look down to minute details. That extends to the combat, too, with under fire shields flashing in protest and hull plating falling apart as its struck by cannon fire before bursting into a flaming wreck in front of you. Distant firefights look like a laser light show.

There is a lot to do in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, so much so that it’s easy to lose yourself among the myriad of activities beyond flying around and shooting things. Juno is a great character despite her sometimes jarring movements, as are much of the rest of the charming cast. The combat is fast, frenetic and consistently challenging, although that challenge can sometimes feel impossible without stepping back and grinding out some progress elsewhere, which quickly gets frustrating. Thankfully the core of the game–its combat, trading, and space flight–are all superb and had me launching into the stars for many hours of galactic trading and explosive firefights.

Source: GameSpot.com

Dicey Dungeons Review

Dicey Dungeons, from Terry Cavanagh of VVVVVV and Super Hexagon fame, is a roguelike deck-building dungeon crawler framed as a game show presented by host Lady Luck. You play as one of the show’s six adorable contestants, all of whom are anthropomorphic dice, because this game really is all-in on loving dice. But while the game’s clever combination of cards and dice make for an entertaining gameplay system, it can’t escape the occasional frustration that is inherent to rolling a die.

In each episode your chosen die heads into a six-level dungeon to defeat enemies, opening chests and visiting stores while building up a deck of cards capable of defeating an end boss. The dungeons are presented as a series of nodes you can move between, with shops, health-restoring apples, and enemies placed on several of them, and to progress you need to fight enemies and reach the node that features the trap door to the next floor.

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Each character can equip between three and six cards (you have six slots on your inventory screen, and some cards take up two of them), all of which are powered by dice. Each card requires something different; some are affected by how high the number on the die is, or have maximum or minimum numbers, or will only take odds or evens. Still others might introduce effects or buffs. A card might “shock” your opponent, for instance, meaning that one of their cards will be locked next turn unless they spend a die to unlock it, or induce a “freeze” effect that reduces their highest dice roll down to a 1. A good deck will let you be adaptable depending on what you roll, but there’s not a huge number of cards and enemies in the game, meaning that the same ones will pop up frequently–10 hours in I would still occasionally encounter something new, but not as often as I would have liked.

A charming art style works wonders in glossing over this sense of repetition, however, with each character having a distinctive personality despite the game being light on dialogue. And although their animations are limited, the enemies are charming, too. The character designs and poses are consistently delightful, so you’ll always feel a little bad taking down a direwolf puppy because of the huge grin on their face. The gameshow motif doesn’t stretch that far, but the upbeat soundtrack and the little check-in scenes with Lady Luck before each adventure is an effective way of giving you a sense of purpose.

The six characters each have a unique playstyle, which helps to give the game some sense of variety. The thief copies one of its opponents’ cards in each match, for instance, and the inventor will always sacrifice one of their cards at the end of each fight in favor of a new ability for the next round, which can be activated just by clicking on it without needing to worry about dice. Some get more radical still, like the witch, who attacks using a “spell book”–when you roll a die you can either spend it on one of the four spells you have selected on your screen, or you can throw it at the spell book in lieu of using an ability and get whichever spell is assigned to that dice number. It’s a great system because each character feels completely different, and while the central combat system of laying dice onto cards doesn’t change, the mechanics by which you acquire those dice and cards do.

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For the first few hours, as you’re moving through the initial dungeons for each character and getting to grips with how they play, Dicey Dungeons is a delight, albeit one that’s light on challenge. But once you’ve played a round as each of the first five characters and unlock each character’s more difficult episodes, there’s a steep difficulty curve to overcome. Each one introduces modifiers that make the game more challenging–you might lose health instead of gaining it every time you level up, duplicate dice might immediately disappear, or you’ll only roll 1s on your first roll of a fight, 2s on the second, and so on.

These episodes are where you’ll really start to learn the different strategies and combos that are essential to mastering Dicey Dungeons. Using your Limit Break ability (a character-and-episode specific ability that is usable only after you’ve taken a certain level of damage) and making sure that you’re making good use of buffs and/or debuffs are vital to success. After a while, you start to figure out which abilities work best against which enemies–freeze is particularly useful against creatures that can only roll a single die, for instance, whereas shock is useful if an opponent has few cards. Some enemies are also weak to particular elements, so if you see an enemy on your level who you know is weak to shock attacks, you can plan accordingly. You’ll need to remember these details yourself, though, as the game will not remind you of an enemies’ abilities and weaknesses until you’re actually in the battle.

Whether or not Dicey Dungeons becomes too difficult after the initial episodes will depend on your patience and your willingness to play through the same scenarios repeatedly. It can feel like butting your head against a wall at times, though, because if a single episode takes you multiple attempts to beat (and many of them will), you’re going to end up rolling through the same enemies several times. You might try out different card combinations, but it’s going to be from the same small pool of potential cards and facing off mostly against the same enemies that got the better of you last time. A loss can sometimes feel out of your hands, too, if an early enemy just rolls too many sixes or the final boss just happens to be immune to the debuff you built your deck around.

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But this also means that figuring out and implementing a winning strategy can be very satisfying. It took me six attempts to beat the second episode for the Warrior (the easiest character), but once I built a deck that was high on freeze cards I was able to deal with the later enemies easily enough, even if the end boss who was immune to freezing almost tripped me up (ultimately I got lucky on dice rolls). In a game so heavily themed around dice there’s always going to be an element of luck, which can be gratifying or exhausting depending on whether it goes your way or not.

The charm of Dicey Dungeons can start to wear thin when you’re stuck, but when you bypass an episode that was giving you grief, it feels great. I found myself frequently quitting out of the game, pacing around my house, and returning to it again 10 minutes later for another go. No matter how annoyed I might get, it’s never difficult to come back to Dicey Dungeons, and the challenges never feel insurmountable–it’s always plausible that your next attempt could be the one where you crack it. Dicey Dungeons is a charming and often rewarding game, as long as you learn to accept that sometimes the dice won’t roll your way.

Source: GameSpot.com

Age Of Wonders: Planetfall Review

The fifth and latest in the long-running Age of Wonders series is the first to trade in the staple high fantasy setting for a sleek and shiny sci-fi theme. Despite the change of scenery, it remains true to its roots, delivering a very good hybrid between turn-based tactics and 4X strategy game that is at its best when it focuses on people–both the people you meet and the people you send to war.

4X strategy games tend to present the lands they ask their players to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate as uninhabited. It’s common to begin a new game with a settler unit and the implicit promise that this is a world yet to be settled. It’s there for the taking. The colonialist fantasy extends to indigenous populations, if they exist at all, being treated as incidental. At best they are neutral props without any ambition of their own; at worst they are nothing more than vermin to be eradicated.

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Age of Wonders: Planetfall offers a different perspective. Instead of conquering a new world, you are returning home ages after a calamity drove your ancestors away. There is still war to be had, there are still peoples to displace–this remains a 4X game in the Sid Meier tradition. But in the light narrative touch of a quest system that gives voice and purpose to everyone you meet, there are moments of reconnection and rediscovery. In a sense it becomes a 5X game, allowing you to exhume and reclaim traces of your civilization’s history.

This emphasis on archaeology is more prevalent in the surprisingly substantial campaign mode than in the randomly-rolled maps of the scenario mode. The 13 campaign missions, which let you play as all six of the game’s half-dozen factions, are peppered with scripted story beats that succeed in fleshing out the history of and relations between the various civilizations. Visit a foreign colony and you might trigger a conversation between your commander and another faction leader in which you’re asked to perform a quest to gain their favor. Later you might encounter a third faction who promises you some vital insight into your own objectives in return for betraying the friendship you recently forged.

Such choices are fraught. Each faction, even the minor indigenous ones, is busy cultivating relationships with the others, and it soon becomes clear that every new decision you make will ripple out and meaningfully affect your standing in the world.

The random scenario mode can’t rely on the scripted story of the campaign, but each procedurally generated map still supports the same dynamic quest system. One faction might task you with helping them complete some important research, while another urges you to hunt down a pack of troublesome enemies pillaging their lands. Such quests not only keep you engaged with interfactional diplomacy but also serve to provide clear motivation for exploring new areas and expanding your borders in specific directions.

Regardless of whether you opt for the campaign or a scenario, you begin with a single settlement and gradually take over adjacent sectors to secure access to their resources. You build military units to go to war or to protect your newly acquired holdings. You colonize unclaimed sectors and upgrade them to specialize in supplying your colony with food, energy, research, or production. You have to get your head around the unintuitive sci-fi names of many technologies, structures, and units, but hover the mouse over Kinetic Force Manipulation to bring up the tooltip and you quickly realize it simply means “Better Guns.”

Indeed, it’s all fairly straightforward for anyone who has played Civilization or dabbled in the strategic layer of a Total War, though sometimes it does feel like expansion decisions are not really choices at all. When faced with the prospect of expanding into one of two possible sectors, you’re always going to pick the one that receives bonus production from its quarry over the one that offers no bonuses of any kind. Occasionally you’ll have to weigh the benefits of one resource over another, but they aren’t genuine either/or choices–they’re more akin to whether you need that food-rich river sector now or whether you want it a little bit later.

Among the structures you can build with a colony, there’s also a disappointing lack of variety. Most of what you can construct are incremental upgrades that boost resource production while unique buildings, like the world wonders in Civilization, or anything that truly changes your style of play (rather than merely accelerating it) are felt only in their absence.

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More interesting decisions arrive in combat. Armies can contain up to six units and are lead by a hero unit commander. When two or more hostile armies meet on the world map, combat is resolved via a remarkably full-feature XCOM-style tactical battle. Every unit can move individually, take partial or full cover, attack in melee or at range, and call upon a number of specialized abilities. The range of options at your disposal here is dizzying.

Each unit can be outfitted with primary and secondary weapons and up to three ability mods earned through quest rewards or unlocked on the tech tree. You can apply a template to all units of the same class, so that newly recruited infantry, for example, will all have increased accuracy and healing. But if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy rolling up your sleeves to customize every single unit in your army. Adding to the complexity, hero units can learn skills that not only enhance their own abilities but confer buffs to the units they lead.

I loved having the authority to develop specialized armies. In my current game, I have one army composed of snipers led by a commander who uses mind control debuffs and a second army focused around a melee tank supported by defensive grunts who can throw down portable cover anywhere on the battlefield. The degree of customization allowed is both flexible and powerful.

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This sort of specialization matters because you can bring multiple armies into the same fight–and indeed, it becomes essential as you encounter tougher armies into the mid- and late-game. Any army on the world map that is situated adjacent to the hex where combat is initiated will be drawn into the conflict. Thus, a huge part of the tactical considerations at work here comes from maneuvering your troops to outnumber the enemy. Combat can be auto-resolved, allowing you to either watch the AI simulate the tactical battle or skip straight to the outcome, but doing so results in unnecessary losses in all but the most lopsided contests.

Overall, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a robust package for 4X players who want to test themselves against a more in-depth combat system than is typically found in the genre. It suffers a little from its sci-fi setting making things just that little bit harder to relate to than, say, actual human history, but it compensates by creating a cast of fictional alien civilizations that are worth getting to know. It might not quite feel like home at first, but you’ll quickly settle in.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review – Old Fashioned

With MachineGames at the helm, Wolfenstein has enjoyed a resurgence during the last couple of years. Wolfenstein has managed to captivate with its strong characters and intriguing world-building, giving you a glimpse into an alternate future where the rules are rewritten and whole new terrifying possibilities are waiting to be explored. None of this is present in the series’ first venture into VR, however. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot isn’t just lacking the elements that make its universe intriguing, but it’s also dated by recent VR standards, with flat, unexciting action and little reason to return after one short playthrough.

Set in 1980s, Cyberpilot puts you in the shoes of a pilot working for the French Resistance at the same time as the events in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Your piloting skills are alluring to two French hackers who have managed to smuggle away a few Nazi war machines, giving you the chance to aim these monstrosities back at their creators. If you’ve ever cursed at being mauled by a Panzerhund, Cyberpilot initially seems like a great opportunity to flip the script.

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It doesn’t take long for that feeling to fade, though. Three of Cyberpilot’s four missions give you control of a new machine to pilot. The Panzerhund lets you dash towards enemies before melting them down with a mouth-mounted flamethrower, a small airborne drone makes sneaking around a Nazi bunker simple, and the more straightforward Zitadelle arms you with a high-powered machine gun and rocket launchers. Despite these varied abilities, Cyberpilot doesn’t provide interesting challenges for you to test them against. Each mission is linear and frustratingly one-note. You keep moving forward through cramped and visually bland spaces, mowing down enemies in your way and occasionally taking a breather to heal up before the next encounter. The drone mission at least tries to shake things up by pivoting from all-out action to stealthy engagements, but the unresponsive AI and cramped level design don’t allow you the satisfaction of a well-planned stealth kill.

Since you’re using machines armed with flamethrowers and unlimited rockets, combat should presumably be explosive and adrenaline-pumping. But Cyperpilot gives so little feedback to your actions that it’s difficult to feel their impact at all. Enemies, for example, make no sounds when engulfed in flames or blown back by nearby explosions, and they almost always use the same animations when dying before disappearing from sight. The devastating weapons at your disposal offer no satisfying animations and subsequent sound effects that give them a real kick, which makes action feel limp and uninteresting.

In between each mission, you can explore a multi-floored resistance bunker, using a lift to transition from a spacious loading bay to a dimly lit reception area adorned in abandoned Nazi regalia. These spaces look great and do a good job of reminding you of the imposing grip your enemies still have on European soil. Although this bleeds into the handful of missions you’re sent on, Cyberpilot doesn’t offer anything new or interesting to say about this alternative perspective on the resistance. The only other characters are your resistance handlers, who occasionally engage in some quirky banter between each other, but outside of that you’re nothing but a tool to them, and you disappointingly get no new insights into Wolfenstein’s world as a result.

These brief interludes between missions also introduce you to each new pilotable machine in intimate fashion. Before being able to remotely control them, you need to hack your way past their security, which Cyberpilot makes out to be far more complicated than it really is. While you’re being fed descriptions of intricate wiring and defensive subroutines, all you are doing is using motion controls to remove a chip from the machine in question, plugging it into a nearby monitor, and then replacing it after a brief pause. Getting to see the details of each chillingly monstrous Nazi machine up close, in VR, without fearing death is surprisingly fascinating, but there’s not much else to do during these sequences. That makes each of these forced interludes feel drawn out and unnecessary.

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Cyberpilot can be played with either the PlayStation Move controllers or a DualShock 4, and neither is great. With a DualShock 4, combat feels more familiar. You use the thumbsticks to freely move around and rotate (either smoothly or in adjustable segments) while using motion control to aim. In this configuration, your two hands move as one, which makes activities outside of combat a chore. The PlayStation camera can only track the front-facing light from the DualShock 4, so reaching for objects on either side of you is borderline impossible in some cases.

Using the Move controllers changes that immediately, and also gives you more freedom in combat. Moving your arms independently from one another lets you bash on your special attack button and heal at the same time, which is impossible to do when you’re tethered together by a seemingly invisible set of handcuffs. As a tradeoff, movement is trickier using the Move controllers. Rotation is mapped to face buttons while lateral movement is controlled using the big, mushy PlayStation button on the face of the controller. It’s far less ideal than the DualShock 4, leaving you with a decision to make between the lesser of two evils.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world.

You won’t have too much time to adjust, either, given that Cyberpilot’s four missions can easily be finished in less than 90 minutes. Beyond reaching its flat ending, there’s nothing else to do to make what time you do have more engaging. There are no collectibles to find, alternative mission routes to explore, or exciting mission set pieces to replay for the thrill of it. It gives Cyberpilot a distinct tech demo feeling; since VR games have become increasingly more adept at using the hardware in unique ways, Cyberpilot feels outdated by comparison.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world. This straightforward shooter lacks the punch to make its action exhilarating and breaks up combat with even more repetitive and slower-paced interludes where you’ll do the bare minimum with motion controls to achieve simple and mundane repair tasks. Beyond looking striking for a VR game in some places, there’s nothing about Cyberpilot that warrants your time.

Source: GameSpot.com

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot Review – Falling Short

With MachineGames at the helm, Wolfenstein has enjoyed a resurgence during the last couple of years. Wolfenstein has managed to captivate with its strong characters and intriguing world-building, giving you a glimpse into an alternate future where the rules are rewritten and whole new terrifying possibilities are waiting to be explored. None of this is present in the series’ first venture into VR, however. Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot isn’t just lacking the elements that make its universe intriguing, but it’s also dated by recent VR standards, with flat, unexciting action and little reason to return after one short playthrough.

Set in 1980s, Cyberpilot puts you in the shoes of a pilot working for the French Resistance at the same time as the events in Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Your piloting skills are alluring to two French hackers who have managed to smuggle away a few Nazi war machines, giving you the chance to aim these monstrosities back at their creators. If you’ve ever cursed at being mauled by a Panzerhund, Cyberpilot initially seems like a great opportunity to flip the script.

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It doesn’t take long for that feeling to fade, though. Three of Cyberpilot’s four missions give you control of a new machine to pilot. The Panzerhund lets you dash towards enemies before melting them down with a mouth-mounted flamethrower, a small airborne drone makes sneaking around a Nazi bunker simple, and the more straightforward Zitadelle arms you with a high-powered machine gun and rocket launchers. Despite these varied abilities, Cyberpilot doesn’t provide interesting challenges for you to test them against. Each mission is linear and frustratingly one-note. You keep moving forward through cramped and visually bland spaces, mowing down enemies in your way and occasionally taking a breather to heal up before the next encounter. The drone mission at least tries to shake things up by pivoting from all-out action to stealthy engagements, but the unresponsive AI and cramped level design don’t allow you the satisfaction of a well-planned stealth kill.

Since you’re using machines armed with flamethrowers and unlimited rockets, combat should presumably be explosive and adrenaline-pumping. But Cyperpilot gives so little feedback to your actions that it’s difficult to feel their impact at all. Enemies, for example, make no sounds when engulfed in flames or blown back by nearby explosions, and they almost always use the same animations when dying before disappearing from sight. The devastating weapons at your disposal offer no satisfying animations and subsequent sound effects that give them a real kick, which makes action feel limp and uninteresting.

In between each mission, you can explore a multi-floored resistance bunker, using a lift to transition from a spacious loading bay to a dimly lit reception area adorned in abandoned Nazi regalia. These spaces look great and do a good job of reminding you of the imposing grip your enemies still have on European soil. Although this bleeds into the handful of missions you’re sent on, Cyberpilot doesn’t offer anything new or interesting to say about this alternative perspective on the resistance. The only other characters are your resistance handlers, who occasionally engage in some quirky banter between each other, but outside of that you’re nothing but a tool to them, and you disappointingly get no new insights into Wolfenstein’s world as a result.

These brief interludes between missions also introduce you to each new pilotable machine in intimate fashion. Before being able to remotely control them, you need to hack your way past their security, which Cyberpilot makes out to be far more complicated than it really is. While you’re being fed descriptions of intricate wiring and defensive subroutines, all you are doing is using motion controls to remove a chip from the machine in question, plugging it into a nearby monitor, and then replacing it after a brief pause. Getting to see the details of each chillingly monstrous Nazi machine up close, in VR, without fearing death is surprisingly fascinating, but there’s not much else to do during these sequences. That makes each of these forced interludes feel drawn out and unnecessary.

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Cyberpilot can be played with either the PlayStation Move controllers or a DualShock 4, and neither is great. With a DualShock 4, combat feels more familiar. You use the thumbsticks to freely move around and rotate (either smoothly or in adjustable segments) while using motion control to aim. In this configuration, your two hands move as one, which makes activities outside of combat a chore. The PlayStation camera can only track the front-facing light from the DualShock 4, so reaching for objects on either side of you is borderline impossible in some cases.

Using the Move controllers changes that immediately, and also gives you more freedom in combat. Moving your arms independently from one another lets you bash on your special attack button and heal at the same time, which is impossible to do when you’re tethered together by a seemingly invisible set of handcuffs. As a tradeoff, movement is trickier using the Move controllers. Rotation is mapped to face buttons while lateral movement is controlled using the big, mushy PlayStation button on the face of the controller. It’s far less ideal than the DualShock 4, leaving you with a decision to make between the lesser of two evils.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world.

You won’t have too much time to adjust, either, given that Cyberpilot’s four missions can easily be finished in less than 90 minutes. Beyond reaching its flat ending, there’s nothing else to do to make what time you do have more engaging. There are no collectibles to find, alternative mission routes to explore, or exciting mission set pieces to replay for the thrill of it. It gives Cyberpilot a distinct tech demo feeling; since VR games have become increasingly more adept at using the hardware in unique ways, Cyberpilot feels outdated by comparison.

There’s no reason to jump into Cyberpilot if you’re looking for another avenue to explore more of Wolfenstein’s world. This straightforward shooter lacks the punch to make its action exhilarating and breaks up combat with even more repetitive and slower-paced interludes where you’ll do the bare minimum with motion controls to achieve simple and mundane repair tasks. Beyond looking striking for a VR game in some places, there’s nothing about Cyberpilot that warrants your time.

Source: GameSpot.com

Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden Review – Nintendo Switch And Seeds Of Evil Update

Mutant Year Zero took me by surprise. When you tap the space bar to switch from the real-time exploration mode to the turn-based tactical mode, it’s not considered activating combat. You’re not entering into battle. The word “Fight!” doesn’t leap out of the centre of the screen. Instead, the space bar is labeled “Ambush” and, while pressing it does indeed initiate a turn-based XCOM-style encounter, the semantics make all the difference.

Road to Eden is all about using stealth to thoroughly scout dangers ahead, then applying that knowledge to maneuver your squad into position for the perfect ambush. Do your research and plan well, and you can take out your target without them (or their cohorts) even realizing what has happened. Proceed without caution and you’ll soon be bleeding out, your impatience severely punished. Approached properly, Mutant Year Zero isn’t a difficult game; it’s a tight, cohesive tactical masterclass that rewards the diligent player.

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Road to Eden depicts a post-apocalyptic Scandinavia where resources are scarce and knowledge of what the world used to be is even harder to come by. Stalkers are sent from the Ark, one of the few remaining hubs of human civilization, into the Zone to scavenge for scrap and fend off the bandits, ghouls, feral dogs and worse that now occupy the ruined towns and suburbs. Everyone, even those safe in the Ark, has been touched by mutation. But Dux and Bormin, the two starting playable stalkers, are different; they’re mutated animals, a duck and a boar, respectively.

At first glance, there’s a lot you can do to customize each stalker and gear them up to specialize in certain fields, letting you mix and match your active squad based on the task at hand. The limited number of weapons and sheer expense of upgrades means you’re forced to make tough choices. Should you spend literally all your weapon parts on the close-quarters effectiveness of Bormin’s scattergun, or are you better served improving the ranged potency of Dux’s crossbow? You can only afford one right now and, since there’s no capacity for grinding, it may be some time before you can afford the other.

Sometimes the decisions are easier. Up against robots? You’ll want at least one stalker, probably two, with an effective EMP attack. Up against dogs? You’ll want at least one stalker, probably two, with crowd control abilities to prevent their melee rush. If you’ve done your scouting properly, you’ll know what’s coming and know which stalkers to swap in and out before you tap that spacebar. But don’t tap that spacebar just yet. You’re not quite ready.

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The Zone is divided into a couple dozen maps networked across southwest Sweden. They’re not especially large–bigger than an XCOM map, but hardly sprawling–and typically centered on an identifiable feature: a scrapyard, a school, a subway station, a fast food restaurant, and so on. When you first enter an area you’re in exploration mode and free to walk around in real time. When you spot an enemy you can enter stealth mode by switching off your flashlight, thus slightly reducing your visibility but also greatly reducing the distance at which the enemy will spot you. You’re still moving around in real time, just slower and more discreetly.

The tension is ratcheted up during this pre-combat exploration phase, as you’re tip-toeing into hostile territory, identifying how many enemies await you, what types they are, what levels they are, whether they’re patrolling, where those patrol routes take them, where their vision cones intersect, and so on. You’ve noticed one enemy’s patrol route takes him away from the others. You hit F to split up your party and guide them individually into position. Bormin has his back to a tree, Dux is on the roof of a nearby building, and Selma is crouched behind a rock at the end of the unsuspecting enemy’s patrol route. He’s there now. Time to hit the spacebar.

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It’s all about the ambush. It’s about analyzing each scenario in the exploration phase and identifying which enemies you can eliminate, one by one, without alerting others. But pulling off a series of clean hits isn’t always possible. Inevitably something will go wrong–you’ll miss that 75% chance shot you were counting on or fail to do quite enough damage before the enemy gets its turn and calls out for reinforcements–and suddenly the whole area is on alert and you’re scrambling to improvise a new plan. In these moments of high chaos, when the rug is pulled out from under you, this is where the game really shines.

The tactical combat engine borrows a lot from Firaxis’ revival of XCOM and offers as much depth alongside a presentation that ensures all critical information is clearly communicated at all times. And you need to be well-informed, because most of the time–outside of the odd simple skirmish that introduces a new element–there’s an awful lot to think about. Enemy variety is key; there are basic brutes who charge you in melee, snipers who hunker down on overwatch, shamen who can call in reinforcements, and medbots who can revive enemies, pyros who flush you out with molotovs, and that’s just the early stages. Later, there are high-HP tanks who can ram your cover, priests who can buff fellow enemies or deliver chain lightning attacks, giant dogs who can knock you over and maul you for multiple turns, while others possess mind control powers and more. Tackling groups of enemies drawn from several of these types can be hugely challenging, even when you’ve culled their numbers with some decisive early stealth takedowns.

The stakes are high, especially on the harder difficulty settings. Your stalkers’ health will be measured in single and low-double digits for much of the game, meaning it only takes a couple of direct hits to put them down. Similarly, your weapons can only fire once, twice, or if you’re lucky, three times before you need to use up valuable action points to reload. These limited resources echo the post-apocalyptic themes of scarcity and survival while also raising moment-to-moment tactical considerations in combat.

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Juggling all the demands of combat, from patiently surveying the field beforehand through to learning how to best counter each enemy type and improvising a new strategy when it all goes horribly wrong, make for an immensely satisfying tactical experience. But as enjoyable as the predefined encounters on offer over the course of Road to Eden’s mostly linear story are, it’s still a linear story. On a new playthrough, that same map will still feature the same enemies standing in the same spots or running the same patrol routes. Outside of testing yourself against the hardest difficulty and a permadeath mode (assuming you don’t opt for these first time through), there’s not a lot of replay value to be found.

It’s a shame, because the combat engine is so robust I would love to continue pitting myself against some sort of randomly generated map long after completing the main story. Mutant Year Zero’s clever focus on stealth and pre-combat preparation reward your diligence, its turn-based combat encounters are complex, and they help bolster its all-encompassing post-apocalyptic atmosphere. It is a superb tactical combat campaign that you shouldn’t let sneak past.

[Update, 08/01/2019: Mutant Year Zero: Deluxe Edition is now out on Nintendo Switch, and it includes new expansion, Seeds Of Evil. While this version runs smoothly, it exhibits poor visual fidelity compared to its console and PC counterparts. Whether in handheld or docked mode, a low resolution and blurry overall look reduce the luster of post-apocalyptic Sweden. It also makes scavenging areas for scrap and weapon parts–essential to keeping your Stalkers well-equipped, and already difficult items to spot–a lot harder.

The Seeds Of Evil expansion, also available on other platforms, expands the game’s story past the somewhat abrupt ending of Road To Eden. Additional map areas and new enemy archetypes introduce challenging new scenarios; a new character, additional weapons, and upgraded perks give you more options to consider as you plan your ambushes. Seeds of Evil also adds a system that will occasionally repopulate existing map areas with enemies and items, which effectively adds a continual stream of optional encounters and mitigates the base game’s issues with replayability. These new additions feel like a natural continuation the game’s already robust tactical offering, both in terms of its plot and difficulty scaling, and comes recommended.]

Source: GameSpot.com