Impressions | Forza Horizon 4

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If you’ve ever played a Forza Horizon game, the core of Forza Horizon 4 is pleasantly familiar. Its most important aspects — its cars and locations — are as impressive as you would expect. FH4 refines the classic Horizon open-world gameplay and extends it across even more environments, taking you from muddy cross-country treks to snowy hills and frozen lakes.

Showcase races, which place you against showstopper competitors like planes and hovercraft, also return. Although these are fun displays featuring ingenious opponents, the showcases occupy an awkward middle ground between a setpiece spectacle and a race. Showcase races are focused on putting you and your opponent in the right positions for dramatic jump scenes and conflict points, which detracts from their stated role as a race. I have a game clip of myself trailing a Showcase opponent yet suddenly being switched to first place as a race ended. It’s a minor gripe, but that kind of switching makes Showcases feel somewhat dishonest — I believe the Showcases would have been better if they were purely a spectacle, rather than being a mixture of race and setpiece.

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Impressions | Spec Ops: The Line

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Last week, I finally played Spec Ops: The Line (only 6 years late!). I’d heard about its ambitious, ethically challenging story, but I’d tried to avoid spoilers. Going into the game, I knew one thing; I would have to make choices that I wouldn’t want to make.

I was expecting tough choices from The Line. However, I wasn’t expecting false choices. The Line contains a mid-game scene where protagonist Walker (and by extension, the player) is treated as if they can choose between two actions, even though the game mechanics allow only one. In the next dilemma, the game lets you continue assuming that only one choice is possible; this time, you could have done something else.

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Review | Onrush

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The ingredients of Onrush are simple. Start with the frenzied speed and crashes of Burnout: Revenge, and mix in the co-operative objectives of Overwatch. Add cartoonish, Fortnite-styled character models and emotes, then finish with cosmetic loot boxes.

Onrush is a co-operative racing combat game, where players succeed by carrying out team-based objectives. It promises relentless speed and chaotic battles. It vows to keep you in the action at all times. So, how does Onrush achieve the goal of continual speed? And what does it feel like to play?

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Impressions | Three Fourths Home

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Three Fourths Home is about that conversation you always wish you’d started, and that regret you might not be able to repair. More literally, it’s about talking, driving, and closure.

TFH is a piece of interactive fiction with a simple premise: protagonist Kelly is on her way home from visiting her grandparents’ now-empty house when a storm approaches. Kelly’s mum calls to locate her, and their struggle to communicate forces their complicated family dynamics to unravel there and then. The entire game is held within this one conversation; as Kelly, all you can do is keep driving and keep talking.

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Tony Hawk’s Project 8: A Child’s-Eye-View of Skateboarding?

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Recently I spent a few days on Tony Hawk’s Project 8 for the Xbox 360. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Although many reviews described Project 8 as a realistic return to form for the Tony Hawk series, I perceived it as strangely unrealistic; busier, sillier, and closer to the jackass-inspired THUG2 than I recalled*. However, I couldn’t describe why I felt this way- something about the level design and gameplay just seemed “odd”.

While thinking about this, I remembered a video I watched months ago. The video, from the channel Errant Signal, discussed why the author found Burnout Paradise more appealing than other racing games.To the author, Burnout Paradise represented the childlike aspects of enjoying cars: rather than being a serious reproduction of aesthetically pleasing supercars, it instead felt like the world of a child playing with their toy cars.

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No Man’s Sky – Who was to blame?

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Just like the rest of the internet, I’m going to talk about No Man’s Sky...

More specifically, about the 1.1 update announced today.

1.1, known as the Foundation update, will add two new modes (Creative and Survival) to the main game, and will begin the Base Building feature, while adding features to existing mechanics like farming. Foundation also promises to improve multiple parts of the resource management side of the game, by making resources easier to store, automate and use. The patch list is one of the longest I’ve ever seen.
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The Psychology of Freemium Gaming: Energy and Action

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You have full energy!…

While boxed game releases used to mean one large payment for one large game, that idea isn’t a certainty any more.  Episodic games often occupy the midpoint of the price-content spectrum, while some AAA games aim for everywhere on the spectrum at once; a full game for a full price, a season pass on top, then microtransactions on top of that.

For AAA games, microtransactions rely on keeping the momentum of playtime going- for longer, either by unlocking new items early, or by increasing rewards. However, major freemium games instead aim for “micro-gaming”- limiting people to short, regular chunks of gameplay. Transactions can act as  micro-monetisation -exchanging a little bit of money for a little bit of time saved.
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Watch_Dogs

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I’ve finally got my hands on Watch_Dogs and had time to give it a fair play-through, so thought I would post up my first impressions. I’m currently on Act 2 of the 5-act story, and at approximately 20% game completion.

The most obvious queston when talking about Watch_Dogs is of course, what is the hacking like? Thankfully, it works really well, and is fully-integrated into the game rather than an afterthought:  it actually is the backbone of the game, as the trailers claimed.

Simple elements, such as switching traffic light colours and opening gates, are hacked by pressing X, while more complicated challenges such as important plot-related hacks require solving a hacking puzzle, such as in the picture below.

An early-game hacking puzzle

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Game Dev Tycoon

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This week I’ve been celebrating finishing university by playing Game Dev Tycoon. This is a Steam game, developed by Greenheart Games and available for £6.99.

Progression

When I Initially loaded the game, it seemed quite linear and simple. The first stage of levelling – going from a one-man-band in my garage, to moving into my own office – went well, and made it seem like the game would be quite easy to complete.

Once I got to the middle stage of the office, and started employing people and making larger games, the game opened up a lot more. So much more, in fact, that I then realised I was only looking at a narrow area of the game. Levelling up staff and unlocking extra elements to include in created games are both set up by the same thing, Research Points: as it isn’t always clear how to get more research points, I didn’t have enough to unlock many things that in a real-life scenario would be company-destroying.

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Developer-Fan Interactions: What can go wrong?

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Something I’ve been thinking about this week is how game developers and fans can now interact so freely, and what this means for games and the gaming community.

There are some situations where this ability is unambiguously good, and some studios who balance their interactions really well. Most notably, Valve. For example, when fans loved Left 4 Dead, but were upset that its content had run over the expected release time, Valve responded by producing a completely revamped sequel a year later.

And when a group of college students began making a puzzle game in 2007 based on Valve’s Source engine , Valve responded not by suing them but by hiring them, providing the students with resources so they could continue making their game. Considering this puzzle game became Portal, Valve’s method was the epitome of win-win situations.
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Remember Me

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In the last few months I’ve picked up a fair few games for myself, as well as being given some. I’ve only just started catching up on this backlog, and the first one  I started with was Capcom’s Remember Me.

Remember Me is set in Neo-Paris, year  2084. In this timeline, memories can be stored digitally, medically traded and sold. This commodification led to the introduction of  Memory Hunters, elite agents who can steal memories; Memorize, a corporation using memory hunters to create a 1984-style surveillance state; and Errorists, a rebel alliance formed to take down Memorize.

RM is described as an action-adventure game, though in play it turns out to be a bit of everything- there’s combat, puzzles, stealth, collectibles, hacking, acrobatics, and even more combat.
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The Wolf Among Us

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Last month I posted about my liking for cel-shading. I already said I would play The Wolf Among Us because of that. However, I’ve also found two other very good reasons to play it.

In terms of game settings and aesthetics, I really like cel-shaded looks, cyberpunk looks, and Film Noir settings. The Wolf Among Us manages to wrap all of those things up into one distinctively-styled game, without it feeling like a mess or being over the top.

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Mass Effect 3, Part 2

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One important thing I should mention about my experience with Mass Effect 3 is my propensity to glitches. The isn’t the fault of the game itself, as it was usually very reliable. However, I do have a tendency to accidentally cause bugs and glitches in most games I’m playing, even when other people playing it don’t experience these bugs. When playing ME3, this ability is increased to weird levels. (It’s because of this game that my Xbox tagline is now “the accidental glitcher”). So I couldn’t really write about ME3 without explaining some of the strange things that have happened to me while playing it.
 
1)      I’ll start with the most minor glitch. At the start of each wave, the enemies will appear from certain locations, depending on where the team members are. Normally, you don’t see them spawn- at least, most of the people I play with say that. However, I always end up right by where they spawn. Seeing as they usually appear by flying/jumping down from a point above the map, that means I’ve occasionally had enemies jump down almost on top of me, which  isn’t supposed to happen.

2)      Another minor glitch is an unfortunate consequence of a useful part of the gameplay.  Some multiplayer classes have stimpacks or temporary skill boosts that are accompanied by visual effects. For example, human Soldiers have Adrenaline Rush, which increases rate of weapon fire and damage, and when this is active everything is brighter and colours are more saturated. Another effect is on Krogan characters, whose Rage mode tints the screen red to show their increased attack damage.

While these effects add a visual extra to the game, they are often inconsistent- sometimes the skill can be active without the visual effect activating, and other times the visual effect will remain even when the power isn’t active. Normally, these don’t cause too much bother: the only one of these that I’ve found annoying is the visual glitch caused by some of my favourite characters, the Volus species. Voluses (Volii?) have incredibly low health and shields (150 health/ 250 shields as opposed to a default 500/500), so rarely survive a direct fight. However, they excel in a pure support role, relying on their Shield Boost ability to refill their own shields and those of  nearby fireteam members. The “Volus glitch” comes from using this ability just as you’re about to die. At very low health the screen goes dark red as a warning, but using Shield Boost to recover your health often locks the screen onto this colour, which can only be fixed by losing health and shields again. This means it’s a lot more difficult to see what’s going on, which has caused me to die unnecessarily before. Continue reading

Mass Effect 3, Part 1

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As I promised, I’m going to start with my favourite co-operative game- Mass Effect 3. However, I should probably clarify one thing first though; I haven’t played the single-player campaign yet. That’s mostly because the games are so good that I know finishing the story will kind of be the end of an era- the gaming equivalent of finishing the last Harry Potter book.  My love for this series is therefore based on just how awesome I’ve found the multiplayer to be- and also on completing the first game, which I bought after playing the third. Below is my explanation of just why I find this game so appealing.
Characters

In multiplayer, there are 64 available characters (originally 25, with new ones added throughout the year after release) – split across 12 alien races and various humans, in 6 attack classes.  Each race has different health and shield levels, and different weapon preferences. Each character has three abilities, which can be for attack, self-defence, or team support.

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