Tag Archives: impressions

Playing Ori And The Blind Forest On Switch Is A Little Strange But Brings Back Great Memories

It’s weird seeing the Microsoft Studios logo appear on the screen as I load a game on a Nintendo console. It’s also odd to have see my Xbox Live avatar and Gamertag displayed on my Switch screen. Everything else about about playing Ori and the Blind Forest on the Switch is pretty much perfect.

Moon Studios’ gorgeous platforming adventure, originally released in 2015 for the Xbox One and PC, is a very significant game for our family. It’s one of the first games we all played together. My wife and I would pass the controller back and forth on the couch while our twin boys, then four or five, watched until we got to the hard parts and the cursing begun. They knew those instances, when their parents would cooperatively bash themselves against Ori and the Blind Forest’s most challenging sequences, could last for hours.

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Those tougher moments are what define Ori for us. It has the look and feel of a casual indie game. Wandering through a lush, hand-drawn forest as moody symphonic music plays, the mysterious hero white and glowing, like the negative version of a Limbo silhouette. While the mood and atmosphere carry throughout the game, Ori is anything but a relaxed stroll through the woods.

The rabbit-like hero jumps, swims, and eventually teleports through the forest of Nibel on a quest to restore the elements and restore the great Spirit Tree, facing fresh challenges at every turn. One sequence will test the player’s ability to perform precision jumps. A massive blast of energy that fires at regular intervals tests the player’s timing and patience as they scoot between safe areas. There are moments of respite, periods where it’s more about exploring and finding hidden secrets than weaving through deadly danger.

And then there are moments like the Ginso Tree flood, one of the aforementioned hard parts. Ori and the Blind Forest is punctuated by these lengthy, grueling platforming sequences that put everything the player has learned to the test. In order to restore the element of water, Ori must unblock the water veins inside the massive Ginso Tree. Doing so, however, causes water to quickly fill the once lifeless trunk, giving Ori less than a minute to climb to its apex and escape.

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I cannot tell you how many times my wife and I attempted this sequence while playing the Xbox version in 2015. I can tell you it took me over a dozen tries on the Switch version, even though I was already familiar with the event. Behold my triumph.

The video above is taken from the Switch version of the game, which runs at a constant 60 frames per second in both handheld and docked mode. I was playing in docked, using one Joy-Con. That’s not how I normally play, but it felt really good in Ori for some reason. It felt exactly the same as the Xbox One version, right down to the warm rush of relief and accomplishment I felt when I unlocked the achievement for completing the sequence.

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Seeing “Achievement Unlocked” pop up on my Switch screen is weird. Not quite as weird as having my Xbox avatar portrait and Gamertag in the corner of the game’s main menu, but weird.

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Though it does connect to my Microsoft account, Ori Switch achievements don’t show up on my feed, and I could not tell you if they affect my gamerscore. It feels very cosmetic, just Microsoft Studios making sure I don’t forget where the game came from, as if I could forget.

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A lot has changed in the four and a half years since Ori and the Blind Forest launched for PC and Xbox One. My wife and I don’t play games on the television as much, since that’s where the kids play their games and watch their YouTube videos. Hopefully we’ll be able to wrestle back the TV in time for February’s Ori and the Will of the Wisps. In the meantime, she and I have our own Nintendo Switches—mine original, hers Lite—and we rarely pass them back and forth. We are, however, still playing Ori and the Blind Forest, thanks to this very good port and Microsoft’s strange, continuing dalliance with putting its exclusive games on Nintendo hardware.

Source: Kotaku.com

Crying Suns Is Like FTL But With A Better Story

Screenshot: Crying Suns

After raising over €72,000 in crowdfunded donations last year, Crying Suns is set to arrive on Steam tomorrow, September 19. Its art style and core mechanics both draw obvious inspiration from similar, years-old releases, with a narrative that constantly makes promises of answers over the horizon. Despite a dizzying opening determined to beat players over the head with a Wikipedia page’s worth of information on its fictional universe, Crying Suns eventually reveals itself to be a fairly competent strategy game with a few roguelike elements and a compelling story.

Crying Suns opens with the protagonist, Ellys Idaho, waking from hibernated sleep. Idaho, an automaton named Kaliban explains, is an admiral of the Imperial Fleet, sworn to defend the territory of the Empire’s deified ruler, Emperor Oberon. After a catastrophic event led to the death of Idaho and his entire crew, he has been “resurrected” by way of cloning. His memories have carried over, and they’ll continue to be transferred through hundreds of thousands of clones that have been created for just this purpose.

Players are given the chance to pick the Kaliban’s brain about the people, places, and concepts it’s mentioned. Emperor Oberon, it’s explained, is credited with inventing highly intelligent robots known as OMNIs (of which Kaliban is just one type) as well as Neo-N, the advanced compound that fuels everything from ships to Folders, structures that allow ships to travel wormhole-like through the universe over massive distances. Admiral Idaho must travel to the heart of Imperial territory to unravel the mystery of what happened to his original fleet and, eventually, why OMNIs have completely shut down, leaving civilization in a state of chaos.

Got all that? I took notes, personally.

It’s hard not to draw direct comparisons to 2012’s FTL: Faster Than Light, but Crying Suns does add enough novel layers to prevent it being a flat-out clone. The game hands over control to a huge battleship, which players must equip with officers and squadrons of fighter pilots. The officers are crucial, as they each come with their own unique set of skills. One, for instance, might give your fighters a little extra oomph in battle, while another ensures your battleship remains in one piece with constant healing. Still, the core loop of travel, deal with encounter, fight, avoid an enemy pursuing you on the star map, repeat echoes many of the same systems introduced in FTL, just with a more inventive narrative tying everything together.

Screenshot: Crying Suns via Kotaku

Crying Suns revolves around three separate resources: fuel, scrap, and commandos. Fuel is necessary for continued exploration, and scrap acts as a sort of currency now that the Empire has gone to shit. Commandos allow players to transition from spacefaring missions to those on the surface of the various planets they discover. While you don’t control these expeditions directly, which officer you send to lead the commandos determines the amount of scrap you can hope to find and how many commandos might be lost to terrestrial perils. At certain points in these missions, the squad can tactically retreat if the losses are too great at the expense of leaving behind either all the scrap you collected up to that point or the commandos who have been injured. These soldiers are mostly faceless grunts that act as a currency all their own, but when I realized one was named Ian, I tried my hardest to ensure they all got home safely.

Because this is a roguelike, however, danger lurks around every corner. Space battles, which play out on a hexagonal grid between the two opposing battleships, start out rather tame but quickly ramp up in difficulty. Several systems need to be monitored during these skirmishes, including the squadrons being deployed, on-board weaponry, and hull strength. Officers play an important role in these battles, and they can be switched around to different positions on the battleship depending on where they’re most needed, as can fleets of fighter pilots and armaments. Strategy is derived from what objectives are prioritized. Do you hold your squadrons back in defense, waiting for the enemy to approach your battleship before engaging, or do you meet them in the middle of the map before pushing on to attack the opponent’s flagship? Some of the difficulty also comes from the chaos of battle, wherein tiny ships can often become lost and hard to direct, but the ability to pause the action and get your bearings is helpful in this regard.

The time I’ve spent with Crying Suns has been engaging. I love digging into world-building lore, and the random encounters show promise in the ways they allow players to approach situations like pirate ambushes, civilian disputes, and territorial posturing. But even with its unique spin on FTL-like mechanics, I’m not sure there will be enough novelty to hold my attention. Like Ellys Idaho and his series of clones, tasked with carrying the mantle of their predecessors, Crying Suns is a too-familiar memory of past adventures.

Source: Kotaku.com

Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers Log One: There’s A Dancer In My Bunny

Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers launched in early access this morning, and as it is with every FFXIV expansion, players are of two minds. Half are flooding into the expansion’s new area, The First, eager to begin their journey as the Warrior of Darkness. I’m with the other half, a rolling horde of Gunblades and Dancers, rapidly levelling the expansion’s two new job roles before tackling the new lands.

After a couple of years as a Miqo’te (kitty person) Red Mage, my character, Clan Destine, is reborn once more. My first stop after launching Final Fantasy XIV this expansion morning was the city of Limsa Lominsa, the starting point for the quest to become a Dancer. Unable to handle the pressure and responsibility of tanking as a Gunblade, I opted to stick with my specialty—causing damage from afar. The Dancer is a job that mixes buffing party members with ranged combat using circular, Xena-esque throwing blades. Becoming a Dancer is as simple as watching a cutscene and saying yes to a revealing gold and maroon dress.

Along with two new jobs, Shadowbringers adds two new playable races to Final Fantasy XIV, the rabbit-like Viera and the powerful lion-like Hrothgar. Both races are gender-locked, meaning Viera can only be female and Hrothgar can only be male. This bothers me, but I spent the $10 in the Square Enix online store for a potion to change my race, and it would be a pity for it to go to waste.

Behold, my new bunny Dancer. Note the she isn’t wearing the hat she was before I changed her race. That’s because the two new races don’t have headgear modeled for them yet. Every other race in the game can wear whatever on their head, but it was too complicated to do all that for a pair of rabbit ears. That’s ridiculous. I mean, they could have at least made the hat for the new job fit, right? Bah.

Rather than starting over at level one, like some of the other classes, Dancer and Gunblades start at level 60. Unlocking a whole new job at such a high level is daunting. When playing a job from level one, players slowly unlock new abilities. New skills unlock gradually, giving players a much greater sense of how everything comes together than, say, dumping more than 20 fresh skills into a group of hotbars and letting them have at it.

From what I have figured out through playing a couple hours and running through a short tutorial battle, Dancer combat has two phases. First there’s the actual dancing. That starts by hitting the “Standard Step” skill. There are (initially) four additional dance skills that activate at random once the Standard Step is pressed. This mid-steps amplify the effects of the dance. The “Standard Finish” ability ends the dance, doing damage to the player’s enemies and a 60-second damage-increasing buff to the player and their chosen partner. A partner is a party member designated as the recipient of the Dancer’s buffs using a skill called “Closed Position.”

In between dances, which each have a 30-second cooldown, the Dancer uses combat skills to do damage from afar. There is a chain of combat skills for single opponents and one for groups of mobs. It seems pretty clear cut, but I might be missing some nuance. There are some utility skills I’ve not used yet, like a group shield and group buff, and there’s a nifty dash the Dancer can do to maneuver out of danger quickly. I need to get some more dungeon time in, but for now I’m cautiously pleased with my leaping lapin.

As I said, Dancers start at 60. The new story content for the expansion starts at level 70, leading players to the new level cap of 80. That means in order to enjoy the new content as one of the two new jobs, players have to grind 10 levels. The best way to do that looks like this.

Some of the fastest experience point gain in Final Fantasy XIV, outside of running random dungeons, is participating in FATEs (Full Active Time Events). These are special events that pop up across adventuring zones at regular intervals, requiring large groups of players to complete and rewarding large amounts of experience points. Players can form parties and travel from one FATE to the next.

In situations when a substantial fraction of the game’s player base finds themselves at level 60 needing to make to level 70 as fast as possible, the organized chaos is gorgeous. Enemies spawn in massive waves only to be rapidly wiped out in a hail of special effects. Pulling the camera back a bit reveals it’s not quite as hectic as it seems.

But where is the fun in that? Look how beautiful this mess gets.

That’s where I am as I embark on my Shadowbringers adventure. Or that’s where I was before I disconnected and tried to get back on and started getting lobby connection errors. I managed to make it halfway to level 62 in my rolling mob of Dancers and Gunblades. I’m sure it’ll still be there when I get back on.

Source: Kotaku.com

Phantom Brigade Is A Mech Strategy Game Where You Can See Into The Future, And I Love It

E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.  

In Phantom Brigade’s very first encounter, I immediately found myself severely outnumbered—just two mechs against an enemy force of one mech and seven tanks. And yet, I emerged from this mechanized showdown with barely a scratch on either of my big stompy boys. It was over in seconds, but I had all the time in the world to plan. Also, I could see into the future. That definitely helped a little.

Though I only got to play a brief demo during the E3-adjacent Indie Mix event in Los Angeles, I’m extremely psyched about Phantom Brigade. Originally an XCOM-inspired mech game, it got revamped into something much more unique after its lead designer Chad Jenkins started working at Crypt of the Necrodancer and Cadence of Hyrule studio Brace Yourself Games. Now it’s a hybrid of turn-based and real-time strategy where you decide what moves you’ll make before you make them, but you can see what your enemy is going to do on their turn by scrubbing through a video-editing-like timeline. This causes holograms of your opponents to go through their planned motions. You then slot your actions—movements, attacks, defensive stances, and so on—into the timeline as you please. Actions cannot overlap, but otherwise, you’re free to go wild.

I cannot overstate how cool this is. Let me give you an example of how it played out during my demo: The enemy mech and his tank battalion had ambushed my aforementioned handsome stompy boys. In one turn, every tank would open fire on one of my mechs, and the enemy mech was set to slam right into mine, a battering ram of armored steel. This would’ve spelled doom for my mech—or at least severe, limb-based damage—but Brace Yourself Games’ founder Ryan Clark pointed out that I could dart out of the enemy mech’s movement path and then move alongside it, using it as a shield. I could also, while in motion, blast the enemy mech, leading to an oh-so-satisfying situation in which it would get pelted by my bullets and its own friends’ tank shells. Chef kiss emoji, friends. Chef kiss emoji.

Using the timeline interface, which allowed me to see both my own timeline and my enemy’s, I dragged my movement and attack commands so they’d be in lockstep with the enemy’s decidedly less handsome stompy boy. I also timed my other mech’s movement to nearby cover so that its line of sight would intersect with the enemy mech while in motion. Then I hit the “execute” button and watched it all play out.

It was glorious. Everything went exactly to plan, minus a few stray shots that pinged off my mech’s armor. The enemy mech was reduced to a smoking heap, its gun wrecked and one of its legs irreparably damaged. Suddenly, things didn’t look so bad for my giant robo duo. Two fast, mobile, future-seeing mechs versus a handful of slow-moving tanks? I liked those odds. The enemy mech’s pilot, meanwhile, elected to eject in hopes of saving his own skin. This, in the final game, is where a Shadow-of-Mordor-like Nemesis System will come into play.

“We want to make it so that they will land somewhere in the world, and you can capture them,” Clark said. “And if you don’t go and capture them, they will return to their base and perhaps give intel on your position, and then they’ll return someday and fight you again and be pissed at you, or know it’s you… We want it to feel like Shadow of Mordor where you have those encounters, and it feels meaningful to you. You know that if you don’t go recover that pilot, it’s gonna come back to bite you in the ass.”

That’ll play into Phantom Brigade’s larger campaign layer, in which you play as a lone squad of mech pilots tasked with retaking their homeland. It’s very much a last-ditch effort, so you’ll have to capture enemy mechs, supplies, and structures to turn the odds in your favor. You’ll also have to manage pilots and mechs, who can permanently die or be destroyed in the field.

“There’s always gonna be trade-offs,” said Clark. “As you choose missions, you might be like ‘We’re short on armor,’ or ‘We’re short on weapons,’ or ‘We need another chassis.’ So you might choose missions that allow you to get what you need.” You might also find yourself in situations where you simply can’t afford to lose a mech, so you decide against ejecting a pilot, even though they’ll probably die in an act of mech-salvaging desperation.

Phantom Brigade is about a year out at this point, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. However, as an enormous fan of XCOM, mechs, and Shadow of Mordor, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already dangerously close to core-reactor-meltdown levels of excitement. I went into the demo with zero expectations and came out with a new addition to my list of most anticipated games. If you have my exact taste in video games—or if you just like turn-based strategy games—this is one to watch, for sure.

Source: Kotaku.com

State of Decay 2: Heartland Gives Me What I Wanted And It Still Isn’t Enough

I really wanted to like State of Decay 2, last year’s zombie survival game about fending off the undead and also building a community of survivors. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to connect with it the way I wanted to, and I could never connect with the community I was working so hard to form.

I thought I knew what it would take for State of Decay 2 to win me back: just a little more story. A little more holding together its array of systems to mind and maintain, a few more authored threads tugging me out into the world, giving me motivation to do things beyond the day-to-day housework of keeping my community of survivors afloat.

State of Decay 2: Heartland gives me what I was asking for. The new expansion brings players back to Trumbull Valley, the setting of the first game, and lets them choose between two different sets of characters with very clear reasons for going back there. Larisse and her Aunt Fi are on the hunt for Larisse’s father, Mickey Wilkerson. Quincy is an ex-con, his partner Helena is a former cop, and they’re looking for an old associate.

Each narrative hook is pretty simple, with strong ties to the story of the first State of Decay. It does what I hoped a little more story would do for State of Decay 2: provide a little more of a push to go out in the world, brave the zombie masses, build a hardier community of survivors. It’s also not enough, I’ve learned. I think my problem is that I just don’t like State of Decay 2.

This is not to say the tweaks made to Heartland are bad ones. Every change the expansion makes is for the better: Recruitable survivors are no longer procedurally generated, every zombie has the blood plague, and you’ve only got one large base to work with that’s unlocked within moments of starting. And each story (Larisse’s or Quincy’s, depending on which you choose) has an ending, which is nice for anyone left listless by State of Decay 2’s perpetual open-endedness. All together, these tweaks work to make State of Decay 2 a little more cohesive, a little more dangerous, and a little more thoughtful. It’s just still so extremely dry.

You spend missions in Heartland doing much of what you did in the base game—going out on supply runs, managing your base, recruiting new survivors, making sure everyone is fed and well-rested and not infected with a horrible disease. There are always tasks to do, and Heartland is eager to give you more, with a healthy side of super-zombies dedicated to making those tasks very difficult. Even with the loose stories attached to your starting characters, it just feels like wheel-spinning after a while, as the systems shunt you into one loop after another, each no more nor less compelling than the last.

I’m not averse to games that are purely systemic, and the ideas behind the systems in State of Decay 2 are still good ones. Surviving the zombie apocalypse alone is nigh impossible, but building a community to withstand it takes hard work. But even with its expansion, State of Decay 2 feels built in a way that makes it feel too committed to its own processes for players to really get their hands dirty. It’s not a game for hatching plans or expressing much creativity. It’s there to put you to work. Despite adding the one thing I wanted for State of Decay 2, Heartland only makes that clearer.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr Adds A Shot Of Cat Charisma And A Lot Of Dragons

The Elder Scrolls Online has always seemed strangely reluctant to get weird. Even though Elder Scrolls games are at their best when they’re at their strangest, the opening hours of ESO’s main quests have always been surprisingly low-key. But ESO’s latest expansion, Elsweyr, takes us all to the eponymous home of the series’ beloved cat people, the Khajit, and it’s plenty weird. While it’s not an expansion that makes ESO a better game, it’s definitely one that presents a better version of itself.

Elsweyr resembles a fantasy take on what I, an ignorant American, imagine Australia to be—80 percent scenic wildlife and 100 percent trying to kill me at all times. Starting with 2017’s Morrowind expansion, ESO has established an update rhythm that works pretty well: Each year brings a big marquee new zone with a self-contained story, followed by three updates with quest and endgame content between. You can pay for all additional content individually or subscribe to ESO Plus and have everything available to you at once. It’s a pretty good system that lets you buy into as much or as little as you like, with each expansion feeling like a fully fledged game of its own.

Welcome to Elsweyr.

The best thing about this approach is the way that it’s allowed developer Zenimax Online Studios to streamline the onboarding process every year. If Elsweyr is your first time in ESO, then you’ll be given a brand-new tutorial quest, just like in Morrowind or Summerset. Elsweyr swiftly teaches new players the fundamentals of combat and immediately throws them into a fight with a big-ass dragon. (If you already have a character and create a new one in Elsweyr, you’ll begin at level 3 just outside of the tutorial area in Northern Elsweyr.)

Elsweyr wastes no time getting to the stranger, more colorful aspects of Elder Scrolls games. Part of this is just due to the Khajit, who are furry shots of charisma in what can be an otherwise stodgy fantasy world. They’re easily the most fun of the series’ fantasy races, which are mostly the sort of poncy humanoids and unloved orcs that are a staple of fantasy fiction—the Argonian lizard-people are the only other exception. If you imagine a bunch of cats walking, dressing like people, and talking like Antonio Banderas, you have a good idea of what the Khajit bring to the table.

If you need more of an idea, meet Mizzik Thunderboots, a self-styled (and very stylish) private detective you’ll meet in the village of Riverhold.

Or this dude, which my girlfriend dubbed a “hookah jungle cat.”

The story in Elseweyr is as narratively tight as ESO has ever been. When you arrive in Elsweyr, you’ll find a notice calling adventurers to Riverhold, a small hamlet in Northern Elsweyr. Once you show up, you get the main quest: An usurper queen has used her power to take over the capital city of Rimmen and, you’ll eventually learn, has been subjecting the Khajit to subtly discriminatory policy. Fantasy species as a stand-in for real-world marginalized groups will never be as good a fit as RPG writers seem to think it is, but considering the limits of storytelling in online RPGs, I appreciate Elsweyr’s gesture at depth. Then you get the good stuff: undead hordes on the march. A goofy soul shriven named Caldwell who can walk through portals and seems displaced in time. A disembodied head that might also be Caldwell, but evil, somehow. Also, dragons. Chatty dragons. If you wanted to lay out the Elsweyr trifecta, it’s this: cat people, dragons, and necromancy.

There’s also fun to be had with Elsweyr’s side stories and characters, which embrace the weirdness of The Elder Scrolls early on in a way that I appreciate. Agree to help dapper detective Mizzik Thunderboots, for example, and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a missing person case that only gets more and more absurd as you progress. It’s good, bizarre stuff, if you can roll with the goofy theme-park approximation of Elder Scrolls that ESO trades in.

The last part comes courtesy of both the expansions plot and the new Necromancer class, the first new class since Morrowind added the Warden. The Necromancer class brings the total number of playable classes to six. Early on, it’s fine. I’m about eight hours and nine levels into a new Necromancer character, and it feels like a few of the other classes rolled into one, with the added edge of Necromancy being a criminal act—so if you summon a skeleton in the sight of civilians, they’ll report you, and you’ll have a bounty on your head.

One of the Necromancer’s ultimate abilities lets you turn into this massive bone ghoul.

The Necromancer skill lines are varied enough that you can build a character around any standard party role—tank, healer, or damage—with a few undead quirks to navigate and optimize. I’m a little lukewarm on it, but that’s mostly because I’m lukewarm on combat in ESO in general. I come to these games for story, and putting together a satisfying character build isn’t really compelling until the endgame.

Elsweyr doesn’t fundamentally change ESO, but it does make it much easier to fall into. It is still an online game that takes a series defined by an intimate, solitary experience and asks you to do it again, but in public. For that, it’ll always feel uncomfortably dissonant, even as its pleasures are roughly the same: slipping away into another world that is wholly open to you, where you can explore caverns and temples or just take on a fantasy day job in a guild. Having fun in ESO is just a matter of acclimation, and Elsweyr is better at that acclimation than any previous iteration of this game. It’s still early goings for me, but I feel more invested in ESO than I have for a long time.

Source: Kotaku.com

Void Bastards Is Good But Getting A Bit Repetitive

I fell in love with Void Bastards before I even played a moment of it. The art style just instantly clicked with me in a way that rarely happens. I didn’t even know what kind of game it was until I started playing it earlier this week. It turns out this beautiful and stylish game is like a randomized Bioshock mixed with Rogue Legacy.

The basic gameplay loop in Void Bastards is simple and easy to understand. Players control a space prisoner who is sent out to gather things or complete objectives. To do this players explore a randomly generated map filled with space stations, starships, and other cosmic things and events. Each ship and station you explore is also randomly generated and filled various enemies and loot. My favorite enemy, by the way, are the small ones called juves. They just chase you around and call you a buttface constantly.

Essentially, Void Bastards breaks down into two quests. A larger and longer quest to collect something in the galaxy map and a smaller quest found in each ship to collect a specific part, which can be used to make new gear or weapons. Traveling around the map costs fuel and food. Run out of food and you will starve, run out of fuel and you are stranded.

This means you need to stop at ships to get more resources to continue your journey. Once you enter a ship, you can leave whenever you want, but it is usually smarter to first find the specific part that the game has marked before leaving. But these ships can be dangerous places.

For starters, each ship only contains so much oxygen. Every second you explore, your oxygen is ticking down. With smaller ships, this isn’t usually a problem. But bigger and more elaborate vessels become harder to fully explore and with more enemies to dodge and rooms to search, it can become very easy to stop monitoring your oxygen. Then suddenly you might end up in a situation like I was in, where I was surrounded by tough enemies, low on health, nowhere near the exit and almost out of oxygen. Things didn’t end well for me in that scenario.

But like Rogue Legacy and other roguelikes (or whatever the term is, I don’t care.) death is just part of the game. Each time you die, players keep their gear and weapons. But the in-game currency, Merits, are lost as well as food, fuel, and ammo. You respawn, as a new prisoner with some new traits and begin your adventure again from the start of a newly generated star map. These traits can be helpful, like finding more ammo or being more accurate with weapons. They can also just be silly, like a character calling everyone by their last name.

After a few deaths, I found my desire to push forward diminished. I also found the excitement of exploring ships began to lessen as I started encountering the same ship sections over and over within my first hours of play. As players put more time into the game, I could see this becoming very tedious and boring.

Luckily, the ships are gorgeous, even if you’ve seen them before. Different companies and factions have totally different styles. Some ships are very fancy, while others are dingier and reminded me of something out of the first Alien film.

While exploring these ships, players need to loot containers and deal with baddies. Players have a lot of options to deal with enemies and it heavily reminded me of Bioshock or the new Prey. You can sneak around enemies and use quiet weapons to take out any in-the-way enemies OR you can bring a heavy staple-shooting-shotgun and explosives, going full Rambo style. If you are chased, you can run away and hide or lock doors to stop enemies from following you.

As I pushed forward, I unlocked new pieces of gear to build, which helped make ships easier to explore. More health, to take more damage. Better boots, which helps stop players from sliding after stepping in oil and other gadgets and gizmos. All of this gear can be upgraded and all of it stays with you, even if you die. This makes each new character a little easier than the last time you played.

Unfortunately, the randomness of ships and enemy placement can cause some really weird spikes in difficulty and fun. Playing Void Bastards made me miss the handcrafted worlds of Bioshock.

Void Bastards really leans into its comic book art style in some great ways. Enemies make sound effects, which are represented in the world via comic book inspired text pop-ups. Menus all feel ripped out of a digital comic book too. Void Bastards just looks and feels cool in more ways than a lot of other games I’ve played this year.

I want to spend more time with Void Bastards, but I can also feel my excitement for the game starting to dwindle with each death and repeated ship layout. Though I’ll never get tired of the way this game looks, I might get tired of exploring the same rooms soon.

Source: Kotaku.com

New Pet Sim For Switch Is No Nintendogs But It’s Still Better Than My Real Dog

This is Pootie, my Shiba Inu from Little Friends: Dogs & Cats, which is out this week for Nintendo Switch. He’s not the best frisbee catcher in the world and often misbehaves during walkies, but I still like him better than my actual, real-life dog, and not just because he has no butthole.

Despite how perfect Nintendogs + Cats would be on the hybrid console, Nintendo has yet to announce a new version of its pet sim for the Switch. That leaves a kitty-and-puppy-shaped hole for developer Imagineer to fill with Little Friends. It’s a virtual pet sim in which players can adopt, train and dress up to 12 different dogs and cats.

I feel like some of you might still be stuck on the “no butthole” thing. It’s not a huge omission, just something I couldn’t help but notice while circling Pootie during our early petting sessions. I suppose the butthole is implied. I just don’t want children to be surprised when going from Little Friends to a live animal.

Which brings me back to my point. Despite being a relatively limited pet sim, with only six breeds of dog (Toy Poodle, Shiba, Chihuahua, French Bulldog, Labrador Retriever and German Shepherd) and three cat breeds (Japanese Cat, American Shorthair and Scottish Fold), the animals in Little Friends are better than real live pets. They do not smell. They never poop on the carpet. And they never, ever nip at the faces of my young children, like this jerk right here.

Not the cat. Or my parents. The blonde one. Wallace. What an ass. My parents obviously love him, as do my wife and kids, but I see through his cute and fluffy facade. This is a dog that poops and occasionally smells. Also, back when we first got him five years ago, my son Seamus accidentally stepped on Wallace’s tail. The understandably startled canine nipped at the boy’s face, drawing blood. He’s been nothing but sweetness since then, but that one interaction set the tone of our relationship.

But who needs Wallace. I have Pootie. Pootie hangs out in my virtual living room, which I can decorate by purchasing new decor and furniture in the Little Friends’ in-game shop. I can buy him clothes to try and cover up his missing butthole. Since one of the main ways to earn in-game cash is winning frisbee tournaments, I bought him glasses so he could see the damn frisbee and maybe catch it now and then. (The glasses don’t actually help.)

Little Friends: Dogs & Cats is a game that’s meant to be played a little every day. Hop on, take your dog for a walk. Make sure the water, food, grooming and fun meters are full by feeding, brushing, petting or playing with dog toys. Each pet has a friendship level that can only be increased by ten levels each day. That means there’s no point in playing with your virtual friends past a certain point on a given day. Well, aside from basic enjoyment.

It’s a very basic pet sim. The music is nice and festive, and the animals are on the cuter side of the uncanny valley. The game does feature excellent support for Joy-Cons; when detached, you can use them to throw frisbees, pet and play with animals. It almost feels like a Wii motion control game at times.

While the name says Dogs & Cats, the focus is definitely on puppers, who can be taken on walks and entered in competitions, while cats stay home and do what cats tend to do: nothing much.

Before playing Little Friends: Dogs & Cats, I wanted a version of Nintendogs + Cats for the Switch. Now I want one even more. This is like a proof of concept for the game I really want, something to remind Nintendo how it’s done and how good it could be.

My feelings on Wallace remain unchanged.

Source: Kotaku.com

American Fugitive Is A Small Town Version Of GTA

I was driving fast in a ugly sedan. The police were chasing me and I was trying to lose them. I had robbed a home and got caught in the process. Now the cops were hot on my trail. I flipped a corner and they lost me. I quickly jumped out of my car, hopped a fence and found some clothes drying in a backyard. Jackpot! I grabbed a new outfit and quickly put it on then hopped another fence and watched police whiz by, still looking for some dude in a black shirt.

This kind of stuff happens often while playing American Fugitive, a game heavily inspired by top-down Grand Theft Auto games but set in the Midwest.

And unlike the bigger and newer GTA titles, American Fugitive is more focused on small-town crimes and hijinks. You won’t be robbing multimillion-dollar government superjets or selling jetpacks to domestic terrorists. Instead, American Fugitive is all about breaking into homes, knocking over convenience stores, ditching cops in dirt road pursuits and small-town politics. Like, for example, how the Sheriff is corrupt and a member of a rival family.

The mission design in the first few hours reflects this smaller and more grounded world of rural crime. Most missions take only a few minutes to finish and are fairly simple. Maybe too simple? I really felt the missions, like stealing a police car or blowing up some rivals, never felt very involved in the first hours of the game. Maybe later missions add more depth? I really hope so.

Even still, the main draw of American Fugitive is the open world and all the different ways players can interact with it and the citizens living there.

Nearly every building can be broken into or entered. This is done via a mini-game using a blueprint of the building. It may not be as impressive as creating and rendering hundreds of individual homes, but it works well enough and casing a joint before hitting it is tense. You need to be patient to commit a perfect robbery. Check each window, make sure nobody is home, bring a rock or crowbar to break the window or lock, then quickly search around for loot. Get too lazy and check only a few windows and you might climb into a house and right into the eyes of its owner, who is now calling the cops.

Unlike Grand Theft Auto games, the world reacts more to you and your crimes. Walk around with a gun? People will call the cops. Crash into some street lights or parked cars? Cops get called. Trespass onto someone’s lawn? Cops are coming, buddy. This might sound annoying, but it actually makes the world feel more intense and every mission and activity can be screwed up by breaking a small law.

At one point I participated in the mandatory open world video game activity of “racing around the map in a short amount of time.” But unlike most open world games that don’t let police chase you during these side activities, American Fugitive does. I was about to get a fast completion time, slammed through a fence and someone called the cops on me for dangerous driving. Suddenly my race became a high-speed pursuit.

After playing games like GTA and Saint’s Row for years, American Fugitive feels very different. Having to worry about traffic laws, keeping my guns hidden, etc. made nearly every mission and moment a bit more exciting.

Sadly, American Fugitive feels unfinished and cheap in some spots. This is a smaller game from a smaller studio, so I understand there are limits. But I really wish the game ran better. On my PS4 Pro I found the framerate to be all over the place and ran into some audio bugs. The menus and cutscenes also feel like the fell out of a mobile game from a few years ago. Camera controls are also messy and I would love to see a patch to improve them.

But I still enjoy playing American Fugitive. I like an open world crime game that actually makes committing crimes feel exciting and even like a small puzzle. Should I cut this corner and risk getting cops called on me? Should
I use guns in this mission and get police sent to my location? These are questions I never really asked myself while playing GTA and I like having to worry about these smaller details of committing crimes.

I just wish the game had more interesting missions, felt a bit more finished and had better performance on consoles.

Source: Kotaku.com

One Night In Darkwood Will Ruin Forests For You

“Respect the woods,” Darkwood cautions you before you start playing for the first time. It’s part of a warning that mostly uses more practical language, letting players know that they’re about to play a “challenging” game, and that they “will not be led by the hand.” It’s a single evocative line in an otherwise perfunctory note. Respect the woods. What a perfect little warning. What a classic way to start a horror story: with a single rule that I have no choice but to violate.

Initially released in 2017 after a three-year early access period, Darkwood makes the leap over to consoles this week with ports to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. In the game, you play as a man who wakes up deep in the woods of Soviet-era Eastern Europe, which have grown wild and twisted by supernatural forces, swallowing up everything within. If there’s a way out, you have to find it, but first you have to survive.

To do that, you’ll have to make the best of the ramshackle hideout you wake up in. You’ll scrounge for resources like wood planks, rags, and gasoline, craft them into makeshift weapons, barricade doors and windows, get generators running, and prepare for the night, where you have no option but to hide indoors and fend off anything that gets inside. Survive until morning, and you do it all over again—except maybe this time, you’ll get to explore a little farther, perhaps find a little more. Or maybe you’ll get swallowed up by something horrifying.

When it was first announced in 2013, Darkwood was unusual for being a 2D horror game with a top-down perspective, bundled with a lot of ideas that were exciting at the time: procedural generation, survival mechanics, and a distinct art style. Those things are all still there and part of its appeal, but after six years of other games that have embraced those features, they’re also the stalest part of Darkwood. After a gripping, linear prologue, the game opens up to become a more traditional survival game where the tension mostly comes from the risk and reward of venturing out into the unknown in the hopes of finding new, interesting things.

It’s fortunate, then, that there are a lot of inexplicable, unsettling things to find in Darkwood. Like strange humanoid creatures worshipping a glowing stone. Or a man with a wolf’s head that is open to talking and trading with you, even if he regards you with considerable disdain. Or that one night, when I heard a knock on my door and found an invitation that told me to go to a location on the map the next day. I went, and found a wedding celebration full of ghosts—ghosts that had been waiting for me.

These are incredible moments, brought to vivid life by Darkwood’s distinct animation style. The way characters move feels earthy and full of weight, as if they were animated by hand with heavy pencils. It makes you think of Ralph Bakshi films and illustrations in very old books. Which is fitting, because Darkwood feels like a rumination on the dark and macabre folklore that forms the basis of fairy tales. Stories about simple things in the real world that scare us—the woods, wolves, shadows twisting in the dim light—given strange and deadly life.

If there’s a drawback to all this, it’s that Darkwood’s structure can make it terribly slow at times. Hiding really is the only real option you have at night, and in the early stages of the game that means for every 30 or so minutes you spend exploring, you’re gonna spend about five minutes doing more or less nothing while you wait for night to pass. The game mitigates this a bit by having some sort of haunting trigger in your hideout most nights, and later on enemies get more aggressive about breaking in, but still, hunkering down is a great way to kill momentum, as is scrounging for materials to craft a torch in order to go check out one of the more pitch-black areas.

But based on a few hours with the game’s PlayStation 4 port, Darkwood does enough right to suck me in and accept the slow pace as an occupational hazard. So much of this game breathes slowly—the way the trees above you appear to throb, or fungi seem to audibly quiver and inhale, never really moving but not quite static. Most life moves slowly, outside of the clumsy perception of humans. The forests of Darkwood are here to remind you of that life, and how deadly it is. Respect the woods.

Source: Kotaku.com