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‘Subnautica’: A Fresh Take on the Survival Craft Genre

What makes Subnautica unique however, is the elements of crafting put into a new world. In many survival games, you are put in a perilous position of having to look for food, shelter and avoid dangers as you try to survive. Now imagine this concept set on an alien planet.

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Subnautica Survival craft alien

Survival crafting games aren’t exactly a new genre. They’ve been around for a long time, but despite having such a simple premise, they can prove to be a source of wildly successful and endless entertainment, especially in the case of games such as Minecraft. What makes Subnautica unique, however, is the new world in which the crafting occurs. In many survival games, you are put in a perilous position of having to look for food, shelter and avoid dangers as you try to survive; now imagine this concept set on an alien planet.

Subnautica has players assuming the role of a worker on a large spaceship, the Aurora, that is shot down while flying through the cosmos. You manage to deploy from the ship in an escape pod mere seconds before the main vessel explodes, descending to a mostly-aquatic alien planet. The game begins when you crash land in an area dubbed the “safe shallows,” a protected area which contains a large variety of game to catch, as well as important crafting resources, such as copper, titanium, and lead. Immediately after coming out of your pod and entering the waters beneath, you are met with incredibly beautiful imagery. The shallows are decorated with bright, vibrant colors in regards to both flora and fauna, with clear blue water and a sandy seabed closely resembling those of the tropics. Even without considering game-play elements, the world of Subnautica itself is a thing of beauty to look at.

This is an advantage Subnautica has over other survival crafting games, as the setting gives the developers more freedom to play with various aspects of the game’s biome. They’re able to create beautiful foreign landscapes and peculiar creatures that pique interest by either amazing or terrifying you, but are always intriguing in their design. A game set in a place such as a forest or an ocean can be good, but the mystery of an alien planet just adds so much more freedom and intrigue to the game. Now, while Subnautica is beautiful to look at, I also need to mention that it is goddamn terrifying as well. After all, you’re on an alien planet, trying to survive with the few resources you have. Initially, I thought this was a charming and almost cute sort of experience — that is, until I left the safe shallows and went into the open ocean.

Ooooh boy.

The familiar chirping of peeper fish and background music die off as you head into unknown waters. All around you is a seemingly endless ocean, and the absence of familiar noises, or even any sound at all, is terrifying. It’s like the world around you is holding its breath in fear of something lurking in the deep, but you have no idea where it’s going to come from, or when. You just know it’s there, and it can get you. Moments like these really hammer home the fear element of Subnautica. You are, after all, on an alien planet, with no current means of escape and no living crew members in sight. However, as the game progresses, whether its due to your own curiosity or the need to create resources, you will eventually need to abandon the safe shallows and head into foreign territory. What’s scary isn’t so much the sight of a monster, but rather the ambiance. You’re stuck in a constant state of unease and fear, where the feeling of dread is killing you before you’ve even been attacked.

If you see one of these things, I suggest you swim like a madman. It’s called a reaper leviathan for a good reason.

Hazards are a commonly strong element of many survival games. After all, it’s not much of a survival game if you’re just leisurely strolling along; you need to actually feel like you’re trying to survive, and to elicit that the developer needs to give the player obstacles. Subnautica pulls this off extremely well. The horrible feeling of being completely exposed in the midst of the ocean is terrifying, but in order to progress, you must overcome it. Even at the very start of the game, you need to craft a knife in order to obtain coral for making drinkable water. However, the materials to do that are in a kelp forest, surrounded by leech-like creatures and beasts known as Stalkers. Due to the fact that I’m an absolute wimp, I was terrified to go near the scary-toothy crocodile fish, but I still had to so I wouldn’t die of dehydration for the fifth time in a row. Thankfully though, you don’t have to fend off monsters of the deep and various hazards completely by yourself. Being a human means you have one advantage they don’t: technology.

This is another aspect of Subnautica that I love so much. Their futuristic technology gives the player a means to not only fight back, but also to craft amazing items such as sea vessels, living compartments, and tools to aid you in your adventure. There is a device onboard your life pod known as a fabricator. This tool supplies you the means to create useful items from it, such as a computer chip from silver ore or batteries from acid mushrooms, and a host of other useful implements. When voyaging outside, you may come across scraps of machinery from the wreckage. If you scan these items, you can obtain blueprints to craft all sorts of things. I’ll never forget the first time I created an aquarium within the game and practically shrieked with excitement – not because I now had a place to store excess fish to eat later, but just because I really like fish tanks. The tools in this game can be used to fight off monstrous creatures, alter terrain or create settlements for yourself. Or, you know, just act like a twit and catch random fish with a propulsion cannon before firing them into rocks and laughing as they get completely obliterated. That’s what I did for like half the game anyways. Geez, no wonder I died like five times at the start. My point, however, is that the terrain, creatures, and technology within this game are all very unique and inventive, which adds strongly to the player’s enjoyment. I already liked Subnautica as it is, but when I found out hints to there being a mystery behind the game, I was overjoyed.

What makes Subnautica even more enticing beyond the gameplay is that there seems to be an underlying story that is slowly unraveling as the player advances. In a fashion similar to picking up tape recorders in BioshockSubnautica has PDA entries, digital diaries left behind by previous survivors who have written about their discoveries. While many of these entries can be small tutorials on how to obtain certain objects within the game, there are hints of the back story behind certain journal entries that indicate a bigger picture. Subnautica is still in early access at the moment and has no actual ending as of yet, but it is clear that there is a mystery to unravel as to who shot down the Aurora, and why. While other survival games may also have these elements, Subnautica supplies them with such an intriguing delivery that it makes even simple aspects of the game all the more engaging.

I personally don’t have much of an interest in survival crafting games, but Subnautica is one that seems to be a bit of an exception for me. If you like the idea of exploring an alien planet, unraveling the mystery of how a spaceship got shot down, or getting your socks scared off by terrifying sea beasts, then I really can’t recommend Subnautica enough to you.

Katie Soden is a games design student/author who has a tendency to cry over cartoon characters and watch cat videos as opposed to doing important things, like eating or sleeping or keeping on track with assignments. Despite her tendency to forget how to function as a human being and general laziness she still occasionally updates her blog and makes an attempt at having an online presence.

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Game Reviews

‘Borderlands 3’ Looks to the Stars While Stuck on the Ground

After a long hiatus, Borderlands returns… pretty much the same as it always was, for better or worse.

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Borderlands 3

Borderlands 3 is one of the most bizarre gaming experiences of this generation, a highly-anticipated, long-awaited sequel clearly feeling the pressure of living in its predecessor’s enormous shadow. Both beholden to its past and searching for its future, Borderlands 3 is a strange amalgamation of abundantly familiar elements and a few new ideas, most of which never truly find harmony with each other during the game’s lengthy campaign.

Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy.

In its attempts to look forward and backward at the same time, Borderlands 3 ends up feeling like a series of half-measures, a collection of systems and story beats that, in the few moments they’re able to take evolutionary steps for the franchise, feel like there’s still room for the now decade-old series to grow. Unfortunately, across the 50+ hours I’ve spent traversing, shooting, and constantly marking items for junk in my inventory, Borderlands 3 hasn’t offered those moments nearly enough, too often falling victim to its old habits, using its legacy as a crutch, rather than a device to propel the franchise into its (admittedly uncertain) future.

Borderlands 3

It doesn’t help Borderlands 3 front loads some of its worst writing; the opening act of the game is gratingly awful, hammering away at the same few punchlines for its characters as players embark on the series of fetch quests that comprise the game’s opening hours. Beginning some unidentified amount of time after Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3 opens on a war-ravaged Pandora enraptured by its inhabitants latest obsession: the Calypso Twins, who have seemingly galvanized the majority of the Crimson Raiders in their quest to… well, we’ll talk more about the Calypso Twins, and their role in the story, a bit later.

Early on, Borderlands 3 is desperately trying to prove to the audience it is still the same ol’ Borderlands, interrupting its genitalia references to break the fourth wall and acknowledges that yes, we’re once again beginning with a series of annoyingly spread-out fetch quests to introduce characters and establish tone. But the delivery of the game’s typical blend of meta humor and pop culture references feels stale on arrival; the lengthy fetch quests just feel like simplistic mission design, and “big dick energy” jokes just don’t hit like they used to in 2019.

(There’s also an entire plot line built around Ice-T as a sentient teddy bear, who calls his in-game wife a bitch constantly, in between dick jokes. It’s as terrible as it sounds.)

Borderlands 3 quickly establishes these abundantly familiar rhythms – and then, surprisingly, doesn’t do much to expand upon them through the rest of the game’s main campaign. Though Gearbox has called this title “the big one” in the past, it doesn’t feel like a major step forward in any sense of the word – and at worst, Borderlands 3 occasionally feels like a regression of what it does best, a slow burn of slight disappointments which add up to a confounding experience.

Borderlands 3

There’s also Borderlands‘ absolute dismissal of Twitch culture; as the introductory chapters of the game catch players up on the Calypso Twins’ sudden accrual of power, Borderlands 3 has a strangely “old man yells at cloud” feeling to it (to myself borrow an overused meme for a moment), an odd feeling for a game that prides itself on its own (debatable) edginess and camp.

The Calypso Twins are built around the stereotypical cult of personality associated with the biggest streamers of the world – and boy, does Borderlands 3 not spare an ounce of vitriol for the admittedly complicated, often disturbingly regressive world of streamer culture (though they do have a weapon that is a direct Dr. Disrespect reference, and also feature some of the most elaborate Twitch integrations of any modern game). But Borderlands 3 admonishes creator and follower alike with an empty dismissal of the “influencer” – in a rather bleak application of its signature nihilism, it buries any kind of interesting exploration of the Twins- as either characters or societal critique – under a thick layer of cynicism.

It never really even contemplates their place as unifers in a galaxy full of corporations addicted to war profits, under a thin, cynical veneer of disregard for their place in any culture, Pandorian or human – its critique of streamer culture ultimately just feels empty. At times, it even feels hypocritical; unsurprisingly, Borderlands 3’s consistently been one of the most-watched games on Twitch since before its public release last week (plus again; there are multiple streamer-related references sprinkled through the game). It’s contradictory at best – and when considering how thin the public personas of Troy and Tyreen are actually defined outside of “shitty streamer people and their shitty followers”, it just feels weird.

Borderlands 3

Like the story, the shooting and looting of the game is immediately familiar, though it is a much more welcoming feeling: the single biggest improvement to Borderlands 3 is the shooting, which feels tighter and heavier than it has the previous three entries in the series. If there’s a truly transcendent evolution of the game’s formula, it’s found here: the shooting is simply magnificent from the word go, especially with the new traversal elements of mantling and power sliding, movement options that do wonders to bring life to the game’s many, many, many, many engagements with massive groups of enemies, hidden baddies, and massive (-ly lengthy, though mostly well-varied) boss encounters.

The class selection is also fantastic; there’s a distinct rejection of Borderlands 2‘s semi-linear class system, with each of the game’s four characters featuring multiple unique skill trees players can utilize to create an impressive diversity of builds with. There are hints of old characters in Fl4K, Zane, Amara, and Moze, but those elements are welcomely remixed and expanded upon, in creative ways I just wish the rest of Borderlands 3 would take a hint from; I’ve never had so much fun switching between characters in a previous game, experimenting with the intersections of their diverse ability sets, and seeing how the game’s Legendary and Anointed equipment rarities can further those builds is easily the most satisfying part of the game (though admittedly, all four classes take until about level 30 before they truly unlock their mechanical potential).

Borderlands 3

It is worth noting the game’s technical performance is as inconsistent as its narrative; for a game that’s been in development for so long, Borderlands 3 feels particularly unpolished for a finished product – hell, between writing and editing this review, I lost a collection of 50 legendary items out of my storage bank because of a widespread bug, kind of an unforgivable mistake for an entire game built around loot hunting.

Outside of the major performance issues widely-reported since the game’s release – including the virtually unplayable “Resolution mode” on Playstation 4 Pro – Borderlands 3 is ripe with the glitches of the past: broken mission objectives, inconsistent AI companion pathing – and, as an added bonus, the expected bevy of Unreal Engine quirks (like falling through the map multiple times). Though it seems like a small complaint, waiting 5-7 seconds for your in-game menu to load in every few minutes in a 2019 video game quickly becomes frustrating, one of many examples of Borderlands 3‘s many rough edges.

(Playing as Moze in multiplayer was a particular low light: from the gravitational physics of my character completely breaking, to glitches that rendered my player utterly unmovable, Borderlands 3‘s co-op modes are frustratingly janky, to the point split-screen co-op is almost unplayable in its current state.)

But the most frustrating part of Borderlands 3 is (outside of the character classes, of course) how risk-averse the entire affair is; in terms of mechanics and systems, it is mostly an integration of Borderlands 2 and the new elements of The Pre-Sequel, with a couple of light improvements around the edges. For example, there are now gear scores attached to every item a player picks up; there’s still no way to effectively manage an inventory, or even a consistency to how the scores are formulated, but hey, at least there’s kind of a way to compare gear (which one will do constantly, since inventory management is a still a hot mess).

Borderlands 3

For every tiny improvement, there’s a concession attached to it; a great example is the game’s map and mission tracking systems. While the map now shows the topography of each area, a useless mini-map and a thoroughly aggravating menu UI make juggling multiple missions an absolute chore (even though one can switch missions on the fly with a touch of the button, there’s no way to see multiple objectives on the map, or even switch between them while in the map menu).

This persists across the entire Borderlands 3 experience: and as the tale of the Calypso Twins and the Great Vault lurches through its interminably lengthy second and third acts, it begins to wear on the experience. For better or worse, Borderlands 3 further entrenches itself in the habits and rhythms of Borderlands 2 – which, after seven years, begins to feel stale in areas, frustratingly reluctant to change, or even reflect on its well-established sensibilities (or on itself; there are literal jokes made about CEO Randy Pitchford’s many controversies, which are… uncomfortable at best). And while the game certainly demonstrates the effectiveness of carefully refining its (rightfully celebrated) mechanics, its absolute reluctance to take creative risks begs the question of why it took so long to bring this game together (or, at the very least, begs the question of whether Gearbox really wanted to do a Borderlands 3 at all, and only green lit the project after the overwhelming failure of Battleborn).

As the game moves through its middle chapters, it just feels lacking in a way Borderlands 2 never did, even with its predecessors own inconsistent humor and pacing. Though ostensibly a journey spread across the galaxy, featuring a massive cast of familiar and new characters, so much of Borderlands 3 feels small and isolated. Every area of the game is broken up into tiny segments, covering small areas of these seemingly massive planets – an experience itself constantly broken up by lengthy loading screens and regular back tracking, which doesn’t exactly vibe with the game’s epic, world-hopping scope.

Borderlands 3

The absence of the player-characters in the central narrative is another head-scratching omission; despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, the four main personalities of Borderlands 3 feel underdeveloped – a problem that persists considering how little they’re seen during the most important moments of the game. They’re explicitly excluded from so many of the game’s cinematic moments, they almost feel absent from the game’s actual story (despite the inclusion of unique dialogue for every character throughout the game, an experiment that pays off to mixed results).

I think about the ending of Borderlands 2, and how much potential it held for the future of the series: the promise of exploring entire planets with friends, finding Vaults and hidden pop culture references was almost breath-taking in its ambition. With its series of linearly-designed, stunted “zones” and limited planet selection at launch, Borderlands 3 never really harnesses the long-gestating potential for growth; and as the story begins building towards its climactic moments, it only further highlights the creative dissonance that plagues so many aspects of the game.

The clearest distillation of Borderlands 3‘s identity crisis is found in the game’s story, which struggles to justify itself as something more than just “another” Borderlands game. It is torn between its desires to attempt something new (at least, at times), and the emotional attachment it knows the audience has with the characters, rhythms, and memorable moments from the first three games of the series. It leads to a story that often follows a template: travel to new area, meet familiar old character for a mission, fight through a series of gently-guiding corridors while constantly staring at the map, rinse, and repeat for thirty-five hours.

Borderlands 3

Save for the occasional interlude and amusing side story – though that often finds itself stuck in its own loop, with a collection of ancillary characters who either wants to remind you how funny poop is, or how much people in this world enjoy murder and death – to the point its cynical nihilism is no longer humorous, and eventually becomes exhausting.

Sure, there are a couple new characters introduced, but they’re left to the fringes of the main narrative, which is, for all intents and purposes, a retread of Borderlands 2‘s major beats. Yes, it occasionally attempts to subvert expectations, but mostly by presenting a mirrored version of the series’ previous events – where Borderlands 2 was about an evil father manipulating their disgruntled child and the Vault Hunters, Borderlands 3 is basically about mad children manipulating their father and the Vault Hunters – but it is satisfied to simply just be that story, and not much more (and at times, even becomes wholly illogical… remember The Watcher and their foreboding warnings? Neither does Borderlands 3, apparently).

There is one particularly strong section of story, however, and it comes in an unexpected place: after serving the role of enigmatic mission giver (and named member of the Borderlands 2‘s lamest DLC), Sir Hammerlock’s arc in the middle section of Borderlands 3, while disappointingly divorced from the central events of the game, is emotionally propulsive in ways none of the other story is, a moment where Borderlands 3‘s themes find their voice for a too-brief amount of time.

Part love story, and part exploration of the intersections of family and legacy, Borderlands 3‘s tale of Hammerlock and the Jakobs family is so satisfying,the one time Borderlands 3 stops screaming at the player in its desperation to be funny or surprising. For a few hours,the overwhelming nihilism of Borderlands‘ eternally cynical world view melts away, and the series truly offers something akin to hope and possibility in its world. It represents the beautiful essence of Borderlands expansive set of characters, companies, and legacies, and is the rare moment where Borderlands 3 finds harmonic brilliance between its shooting, looting, joking, and genuine attempts at emotional beats.

Borderlands 3

But like most of the other familiar faces in Borderlands 3, Hammerlock’s story is contained to his few chapters on his home planet; for a game that ultimately turns on a story of family and shared purpose, there’s so much of Borderlands 3 that just feels like it is missing the mark, or ignoring it altogether. Outside of Lilith and Claptrap (and for a brief time before her quickly-forgotten disposal, Maya) none of the game’s previously playable characters factor into the narrative in any way – hell, most of them, like Axton, Gaige, Salvatore and Krieg, don’t appear or are barely mentioned at all, which kind of takes away from the game’s attempts to be an all-encompassing adventure through the history (and theoretical future) of its surrogate family of bandits, adventurers, scientists, and adventure seekers.

Instead, there’s a lot of focus put on a handful of underwhelming new characters (including Ava, the game’s single biggest missed opportunity relegated to Whiny Teen tropes), only occasionally interjecting those sequences with familiar faces: multiple major characters of the series have precisely one mission dedicated to them through the story, which again feels like Borderlands 3 lacking confidence in its own identity, unable to commit to forging new paths, and instead peppering serotonin-laced doses of nostalgia across the story as a half-measure to cover up that Borderlands 3 really has nothing new to say about its world, its people, or the story it’s been telling now for a decade.

Borderlands 3 is perfectly content to just be more Borderlands, with all the expected thrills and frustrations one would expect from that philosophy. That doesn’t make it an abject failure, of course: it’s still a game I’m going to play for hundreds of hours with my friends, thanks to the sheer diversity of gun play and character builds (it is a sequel to one of my favorite games of all time, after all) – but there’s a distinct feeling Borderlands 3 could’ve been so much more than… well, just more of the same Borderlands. Seven years after its last mainline entry (and five after its forgettable, under cooked “pre-sequel”), just being Borderlands one more time makes it feel like a series stuck in the past, retreating to safe waters by simply remixing the old game… with a strangely newfound (and ultimately, superficial) hatred of streamer culture layered on top to feel relevant in 2019.

Borderlands 3

That allegiance to the past ultimately comes at a cost; it makes the few moments Borderlands 3 tries to evolve stand out in stark contrast to the rest of the game, complete 180’s in emotional tenor that are never met by equal risks taken in gameplay design, or the construction of the main narrative. When the dick jokes and meme references subside, there is an emotionally satisfying core deep inside Borderlands 3, one that highlights the spaces in between the game’s consistently enjoyable shooting and looting gameplay loop (there’s a particular photo I discovered in the game’s later moments that literally brought me to tears, a quietly poignant and beautiful moment this game desperately needs more of).

But that version of Borderlands 3 only comes out in fits and starts, often hindered by the series’ allegiance to its old identity, one that time, and most of the gaming industry, has passed by (at least, during the main story; I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the post-credits/endgame experience). There is a great version of Borderlands 3 somewhere, a more driven action-RPG with a tighter campaign experience, a more ambitious, fully-formed story, and a true expansion of its celebrated mechanics to marry to the game’s wonderfully diverse class set and enhanced movement options. It’s just not this inflated, safe iteration of the series, one that drowns its few iterative innovations in a sea of repetitive familiarity.

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Game Reviews

‘Heave Ho’ Review: Us & Chuck

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Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise is a very similar task that involves swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. The game is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there are a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Couch co-op is a phrase that’s used pretty infrequently these days. In fact, it seems that couch co-op wasn’t even a phrase at all until it wasn’t the norm anymore. With the modern emphasis on online experiences, the delights of a room full of screaming maniacs stumbling through a party game is largely a lost remnant of generations past. This, however, poses a difficult conundrum to any reviewers unfortunate enough to be unable to fulfill the most vital component for a couch co-op game review: a full couch. Treading in the wobbly footsteps of party classic Mount Your Friends (and clasping at the slippery tentacles of Octodad), Heave Ho is a game fundamentally for social people.

Its premise involves the very similar task of swinging your wacky avatar’s limbs around, desperately trying to grab hold of any nearby surfaces. But Heave Ho is more concerned with getting your character to the end of an obstacle course than clambering over your opponents like in Mount Your Friends, and there is a distinctly smaller number of limbs to control (and appendages to laugh at).

Fingertips count in ‘Heave Ho’

There’s really not much to Heave Ho that warrants more explaining, as expressed via the world’s shortest tutorial at the beginning of the first level. Use the left analog stick for moving both of your character’s arms, press L or ZL for grabbing with the left arm, and press R or ZR for the right; that’s it. At least, that would be it, unless — and this is admittedly a somewhat niche bugbear — you’re a user of the neon red/blue launch Joy-Con, because their colors are flipped on the game’s assistance gloves. You can tell yourself you won’t be affected, but if you’re playing handheld and staring at bright blue and red in your own hands, you’re naturally going to associate those colors with the in-game hands.

A lot of the game feels flat solo, but these moments are still great

Upon acknowledgement of the incredibly basic controls, players are promptly (and literally) dropped straight into the level, left to fumble your way around the various objects and pitfalls en route to the goal. Striking a balance between careful, methodical navigation and reckless flinging is the key to success, with the former being more reliable and the latter being a hell of a lot more fun.

Heave Ho does feels a little forced in terms of its attempts at humor; it’s all very noisy, colorful and silly, which is obviously the point, and playing a game where you chuck a gangly anthropomorphic blob around with little-to-no coordination is never going to be the way to get your fill of sophisticated chuckles. I guess goofy wigs and obnoxious voices are funny to some people, but as the game gets harder and the challenges begin to frustrate, the humor is less of a mood lifter and more of an annoyance.

It all looks like fun and games here, but this world is horrific

The strength of a game like this will typically be measured in the number of laughs emanating from a packed living room, but its longevity will always be judged on how it endears as a solo experience. This is even more vital in the absence of online multiplayer, meaning you’re either playing with a house full of mates, or by yourself. I don’t have a house full of mates all that often, so the majority of my time with the game was playing solo, and that really doesn’t feel like the optimum way to get the most out of Heave Ho. The wacky, party-gaming hijinks sharply degenerate into a frustrating, often tedious slog when played alone.

The moments of intense satisfaction when nailing a long swing to a distant platform, or completing a particularly tricky level, shouldn’t be ignored, but they are too often mired by either boredom or anger. Easier levels require very little thought or technique to complete, and late-game ones are rage-inducing. This is exacerbated by the inexplicable decision from the developers to force players to complete all of an area’s levels in one run. There are no checkpoints after individual levels, so if you find yourself at a wall on the final level of a run and need a break from the game, you’re going to have to go back and complete all its preceding levels just to get yourself back.

I ain’t even gotta look!

This is a real mood-killer, and I found myself apathetically averse to trudging back through older levels to merely match the progress of a previous day’s attempts, especially when that previous day ended in frustration anyway. The type of game that Heave Ho is — one that builds itself on rapid-fire, bite-size challenges — just cannot benefit from forcing players into marathon sittings, especially when multiple people are required for optimum enjoyment.

Having online options would help, and it’s baffling as to why couch co-op and online co-op are mutually exclusive in some games. Playing an online game of Worms back on Xbox 360 was one of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had in any multiplayer game, and it’s such a shame to be denied even the potential for this with Heave Ho instead of being left to drag my tired fiancé to the TV for some forced hilarity. It might have been the worst possible litmus test for a party game, but were she writing this review it would have consisted largely of how “stressful,” she found it. I saw a few smiles, but perhaps the game isn’t as inclusive as it tries to present itself.

Two heads are definitely not better than one here

With the fiancé out of the potential player pool, I may bring Heave Ho out at a more receptive social occasion in the future, as the potential for communal hilarity is definitely there, but solo play is definitely not going to be something to engage in again. Perhaps if the necessary quality of life improvements were made — chiefly, being able to swap the colours of the assist gloves around and having a checkpoint after each level — then players might be more inclined to hammer away at it, but unfortunately, it’s likely to be just squirreled away as a potential curiosity rather than a go-to source of fun.

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Game Reviews

‘The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series’ Review: A Bittersweet Swan Song for Telltale’s Defining Game Series

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When Telltale Games released The Walking Dead game back in 2012, there was no telling as to how the point and click interactive adventure game was going to be received. But the game became more than just a success. It became a critically acclaimed and commercially successful phenomenon that transformed Telltale Games into an A-list game development studio overnight. Winning countless awards- including a huge amount of Game of The Year awards from various publications– The Walking Dead proved that games that focus on delivering engaging narratives and well-developed characters can be just as good as big and bombastic games.

However, the closure of Telltale Games in September 2018 meant that several projects were cancelled and The Walking Dead: The Final Season, which had just released its second episode, was suddenly thrown into a state of uncertainty. With the fans desperately wanting to complete Clementine’s story, Skybound Games stepped in, took on the challenge, and managed to finish the series with the critically acclaimed final episodes. Now, a year later, a compilation of all the games has been released and it’s a huge accomplishment. There is a sense of achievement surrounding this collection and whilst it is not without issues, it is a perfect package for fans of The Walking Dead as well as a poignant ending of an era.

Unused concept art of Clementine’s house doesn’t go to waste as it acts as the setting for the main menu.

The Definitive Series is a collection of all four seasons of Telltale’s The Walking Dead as well as the Michonne miniseries and the 400 Days DLC, plus a ton of new bonus material and additional features. A short documentary on how Skybound Games saved The Final Season is available as are developer commentaries from some of the cast and developers of the games for some various episodes. There is also an art viewer which shows off concept art from all the seasons and a character viewer where you can look through various character models and animations as well as listen to voice lines from across the series. The final bonus feature is a music player, which allows you to listen to Jared Emerson Johnson’s origianl score from each season.

The bonus content is definitely a must-have for diehard fans of the series such. The ten-minute film The Return of The Walking Dead is a short but fascinating look into Telltale’s rise and fall and the effect it had on the staff as well as the fans. The developer commentaries also provide an insight into the game that fans would not otherwise have. For instance, the voicemail from Clementine’s mother Diana in the first episode of Season One is revealed in the commentary to have been the audition tape for actress Rebecca Schweitzer. They found her performance so impressive that they did not ask her to record any more dialogue for the role of Diana. Instead, they used the audition in the finished game as well as in the trailer for the game. It is little facts like this that I found really fun to hear when listening to the commentaries.

The art viewer provides some brilliant concept pieces from the team behind the artwork of the games. It also gives an insight into some scrapped ideas. There is concept art for an unused gym setting in Ericson Boarding School from The Final Season as well as a dilapidated version of Clementine’s house. The house concept gets some use in the form of the menu for The Definitive Series, but a return to Clementine’s home could have been a fascinating addition to the game. The character viewer is definitely fun to play around with too as you can mix up voice lines and animations to create some weird and wonderful sights. My personal favourite animations are the Rosie model with AJ riding on her back and the updated Lee model with AJ perched on his shoulders, joyously shooting a machine gun. The music player is a great addition as well as Emerson-Johnson’s score hasn’t been readily available since now (except the music from Season One which was previously released as an album). It’s great if you want to let the music play in the background but one problem I did find is that you can’t jump from one song to the next automatically. All the songs have to be selected manually so you cannot let the albums play out. Despite this, the music player is still a good addition to the collection.

One of the most noticeable features of The Definitive Series is the improvement to the graphics. After playing through the first episode of Season One, the graphics update is incredibly noticeable. The world looks crisper and clearer, with more attention paid to background details that were barely noticeable when the game first released in 2012. For instance, when in the drugstore that is owned by Lee’s family, you can clearly see the pictures on the wall in the background and you can read the signs dotted around the drugstore easily. It is a nice touch that makes the world more believable and immersive. There is also more shading included, mirroring the style of the comic books even more than it already did. The improved visuals are very similar to the visuals in The Final Season, with more detail put into the aforementioned comic book style. It greatly enhances the experience of playing the game, adding more depth and elegance.

There is a significant improvement to the graphics in the remastered version of Season One.

The game isn’t without its problems. The release on the PlayStation 4, the platform on which I played it, was marred with a wealth of technical problems. The only working parts of the PS4 version when it first released was the art viewer, director commentaries and music player. The character viewer did not work at all and neither did the actual games (obviously the most important part). To be blunt, the PS4 version was pretty much broken upon release. Skybound Games has since released a patch to fix the issues, but my download of this patch took me an entire day.

I wasn’t able to actually play the game until three days after I received it. This was incredibly frustrating but kudos to Skybound Games for acknowledging the problem quite quickly and keeping PS4 players informed of the patch progress.  The actual game also has some technical bugs and glitches and they are the sort that has come to be expected from Telltale titles. Awkward lip-syncing, dead-eyed characters and jarring animations are still present but I also got some new issues such as dialogue suddenly cutting off or characters missing out half of their voice lines. Although these kinds of glitches are known in these games, I am disappointed that these couldn’t be fixed in The Definitive Series. The game may look better, but it still has numerous hiccups that can take you out of the experience.

The player can listen to music from all four seasons as well as the mini-series and DLC. The music player in Clementine’s pool is a also a nice touch!

Despite the technical hitches and the broken PlayStation release, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is a must-have for hard-core fans of the game series. The behind the scenes insights are interesting for those invested in these titles and the various art and music available can make you truly appreciate the hard work that went into creating this world and these characters. Admittedly, The Definitive Series has little to offer to those who aren’t aware of the series or for casual fans who already own the games.

That being said, there is a community of fans out there (myself included) who have loved and supported Telltale and The Walking Dead game for years who were genuinely devastated by the studio closure. It is those fans who will get the most out of this collection. The game encapsulates a nine-year journey and it is a bittersweet sendoff to the series and to Clementine, who we have seen grow throughout the series. No matter whether Telltale Games makes a comeback or not, the studio will always be remembered for this defining title which introduced us to Lee, Clementine and A.J and made us care about their struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.  The Definitive Series marks the end of The Walking Dead Game– and the end of Telltale Games as it once was- and although the ending is certainly bittersweet, it is wrapped up nicely with this collection.

Somewhere in a much happier alternate reality…

The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Edition is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows.

Can’t get enough of The Walking Dead? Season nine of the popular AMC television show is available now on Blu-ray and DVD in the US and will be available on September 30th on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK. The show will be returning for its tenth season on AMC on October 6th, 2019

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Game Reviews

‘Creature In The Well’ Review: Dungeon Crawling Pinballing

‘Creature in the Well’ is a unique blend of genres, and an absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle games.

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Creature in the Well Review

A top-down, pinball-inspired, hack-and-slash dungeon crawler? That certainly may be a genre combination never done before. But in reflection to the sciences of chemistry, sometimes grouping elements into a mixture can create something that is definitively unique and distinguishable from its initial ingredients. Creature In The Well is a whole new breed of game design — by blending various genres, developer Flight School has created one of the most distinctive and satisfying puzzle games in recent years. The closest comparison you can probably make is if Hyper Light Drifter collided with a classic pinball cabinet and Breakout.

Acquiring a New Beat

Creature in the Well tasks the final remaining BOT-C unit in a mysterious world to venture into the desert mountain that lies in wait next to the imprisoned city of Mirage, a land captured by a deadly sandstorm. Inside the mountain rests an ancient facility in need of power; but there’s also a fearsome creature who stuck in a state of despair. It is the bot’s job to reboot the machine, stop the monster, and save the city of Mirage from the never-ending storm that shrouds the land.

Creature in the Well hub

Although it may sound like a hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, Creature In The Well is not a test of strength against all odds; it’s a quest of knowledge that utilizes timed actions. The BOT-C unit is not on a bloodlust to its goal; it’s in a fight for survival through various puzzles that demonstrate adaptability. The game is a test against the active mind.

After obtaining a sword and learning quicker means of movement through dashing, it would be easy to assume that fighting comes next. However, the reality of the situation is that the BOT-C unit’s sword and secondary weapon are never swung directly at an opponent — not once throughout the entire journey. Instead, weapons are used as flippers in a sort of active pinball game, continuously knocking around orbs of energy at various machines that will grant voltage. This energy must be spent to open hydraulic doors throughout each dungeon that block progress, but it can also be used to upgrade the BOT-C unit’s gear via a blacksmith, or to find upgrades secretly scattered behind different pathways. The more thoroughly a dungeon is explored, the more voltage there is to claim from conquering puzzles of higher difficulty.

The environment then ends up becoming the greatest threat, as there are no true enemies to wield weapons against. A variety of projectiles can cause damage, forcing players to move around. Well-placed shots and timely swings are the keys to progression, and the only way of reaching the endgame. Adapting and using creative ways to solve puzzles is the foundation of Creature In The Well. Mastering Breakout and Pong-like movements for multiple projectiles at the same time is the recipe for success.

Creature In The Well makes magnificent use of the Unreal Engine, showcasing a nightly overcast atmosphere with a bleak, dark color palette, but it also manages to remain bright and colorful thanks to the illuminating projectile lights and flashy animations. This ultimately amounts to a game that is not only satisfying to play, but satisfying to watch. It’s a distinct art style that is welcoming to the eyes rather than a confusingly chaotic bunch of unrecognizable firefights.

Repetition Recognition

Creature in the Well urges players to progressively think smarter as they traverse the eight vastly different dungeons. Each puzzle room slowly improves upon the last, as the game consistently and smartly reuses mechanics while introducing new gimmicks to accommodate the metronome-action movements. These gimmicks can range from the way in which energy orbs damage to adding new obstacles like electrical flooring or spiraling death traps.

Puzzles can progressively become more and more challenging, but most are either not mandatory or don’t need to be completed immediately, as there are branching paths and enough energy to skip some roadblocks. This ultimately comes off as a negative or positive aspect depending on the individual player, as puzzle difficulty drastically changes depending on the order in which dungeons are played. Creature In The Well’s lack of a recommended dungeon order might make you work harder in the early-game, which results in a rather carefree late-game that sees you blasting through puzzles with ease — or vice versa.

On the other hand, this gives the player breathing room, allowing them to experiment with routes and return to previous challenges. Skipping or leaving puzzles unsolved lessens opportunities for rewards, so a handy in-game map system allows players to keep track of exactly where they have not completed rooms on designated paths. An unyielding challenge can become an underwhelming enigma with proper dedication and practice. That said, although the endgame can become less challenging than the beginning, the pinball-inspired mechanics are so entertaining that a decline in difficulty never truly becomes an issue. Creature in the Well is never a slog to play through, even when revisiting old dungeons in the latter half of the game.

All of these dungeons conclude with thrilling matchups with the main power sources, as well as the creature who lives beneath the land. Creature In The Well does not have what many would consider traditional dungeon crawler boss fights, but simply sticks to a its puzzle gameplay and challenges players with a larger and more complex version. These battles involve the creature, who extends its arms from beneath the dark abyss in an attempt to attack you.

Embrace The Storm

Creature In The Well is a captivating case of a fresh experiment gone right. Flight School took risks in attempting to dabble in multiple genres at once that seemingly don’t correlate to each other. Yet, the end result is a fascinating concept built on the gorgeously-used Unreal Engine, with the potential to be further expanded upon. Albeit short, the journey to delve into the deepest parts of the mountain to solve new high-speed kinetic puzzles while avoiding a mysterious, calamitous creature never grows stale over the 5-7 hour journey. It is by far the most distinct ‘break the mold’ type game to be released this year, and an absolute must-try for audiences of both the pinball and puzzle game genres.

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Game Reviews

‘Daemon X Machina’ Review: Beautifully Bombastic Mech Action

With its customization and accessibility, ‘Daemon X Machina’ is a refined action game that should please mech fans of all types.

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Daemon X Machina

There’s something beautiful about Daemon X Machina. More than just its striking visual style, however, the game’s mere existence is special in its own right. It’s been some time since a classic mech-based action game in the vein of mainstays like Armored Core has burst onto the market, and given that much of the original staff of that monumental series have moved on to Daemon X Machina, this has long seemed like a noteworthy release for fans of robotic action.

However, it’s no secret that Daemon X Machina has had a bumpy road to release. Between its sub-par initial demo and its severe lack of pre-release hype, it hasn’t been easy for Marvelous’ Switch exclusive to get the spotlight. Thankfully, the result largely overcomes these roadblocks to create a refreshingly polished and much-needed revival of the genre. Daemon X Machina certainly has its share of issues with story and mission structure, but overall it’s a refined action game that should please both new players and genre veterans alike.

For the most part, Daemon X Machina checks off every box for ideal mech action It wastes no time in putting the player in control of a massive, customizable, explosive robot suit called an “Arsenal,” which allows players to zip recklessly around the post-apocalyptic environments to wreak destruction with wild abandon. There’s a delightful simplicity to this; with its easy-to-grasp controls, there’s no excessive complexity, allowing for the visceral joy of blasting enemies out of the sky with extravagant missile launchers to shine through.

Daemon X Machina

But that is not to say that Daemon X Machina is merely a mindless romp. Instead, the plentiful variety of different mission types ensures that you’ll have to think on your feet with every objective. Some missions will have you simply gunning down every foe you see, while others task you with protecting specific units, and still more pit you against massive bosses — which are easily the game’s most memorable missions. With so many different objectives, each mission becomes an enticing prospect.

Unfortunately, this variety gets a bit strained towards the end of the fifteen-hour campaign. Far too often, late game missions merely stick you in an arena with a few other full mech fighters then make you fight to the death — and considering that these are easily the most tedious fights in the game due to how chaotic and difficult it is to attack fast-moving robotic suits, this gets frustrating fast. Likewise, the enemy variety leaves something to be desired, with the vast majority of foes consisting of mere drones or tanks, with the occasional mech thrown in for interest.

Daemon X Machina easily stands out for its polish, style, and accessibility.

However, these negative factors only partially distract from what makes Daemon X Machina so special: its ludicrous action. There’s also plenty of customization available to wreak havoc, allowing you to tweak your Arsenal to your liking. Want to focus on hand-to-hand combat? Install some new legs optimized for speedy ground maneuvering, and some arms for katana-wielding. Taking to the skies? Lighten your load, increase your memory capacity, and pack on the guns. The game presents the options to fight with your mech the way you see fit, allowing for action-packed scenarios straight out of your mechanized fantasies.

Daemon X Machina

But Daemon X Machina doesn’t entangle itself in unnecessary complexity, unlike so many other mech-based RPGs or action games. None of the customization mentioned previously is strictly required to complete the story; instead, the only thing that matters is your ingenuity. In fact, you can likely make do exclusively with the weapons you pick up on the battlefield, and never have to bother with the game’s weapon shops or factories. Daemon X Machina ensures that the most important thing in each of its battles isn’t the weapon you wield, but rather your ingenuity in using it. If one gun isn’t working in the current mission, just head back to the hangar and try a new loadout.

For instance, one point in my playthrough saw me stuck against one boss with a seemingly endless HP bar that was difficult to whittle down, no matter how many shots were fired. However, after numerous frustrating failed attempts, some new types of weapons made short work of this previously daunting adversary, turning the boss into a shattered wreck. Daemon X Machina might be an action game, but by no means is it mindless. This freedom of strategy, combined with the flexible customization and accessibility, is what makes the gameplay loop so addictive.

Daemon X Machina is a balanced, deep, and approachable experience that should please players new and old.

It’s a shame that this excellent action is obscured by the game’s truly dreadful story. Of course, action games aren’t necessarily known for their poignant narratives, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but in Daemon X Machina’s case, the poor storyline distracts from the action. The story begins with a simple premise: a portion of the moon has exploded, and its remnants have corrupted the world’s robots to rise up against humanity. Beyond that beginning, the story devolves into a complex feud between different corporations and mercenary squads, often acting less like a sci-fi adventure and more like a political drama — and not a particularly good one, either. Worse yet, this story is populated by one-note characters who often spend minutes at a time musing upon the nature of warfare and humanity, using dialogue that would fit right in with any generic fantasy novel. At the very least, the voice actors all do a great job, bringing their cardboard characters to some degree of life.

Daemon X Machina

Thankfully, there is respite from the dismal narrative in the form of side content like the ‘free missions’ and multiplayer mode. By forgoing the confusing and uninteresting story, these features focus solely on the strong gameplay loop. That said, it is nonetheless disappointing that one of the game’s most significant modes is tarnished by such shoddy execution.

However, the visuals don’t suffer in this way. Instead, Daemon X Machina features a breathtaking cel-shaded graphical style with a vivid color palette of stark reds, oranges, and greys that makes much of the game look like it flew straight out of a particularly stylish manga. The Japanese rock soundtrack does provide a fitting backdrop, but the tunes generally don’t manage to be quite as memorable as the graphics.

Daemon X Machina easily stands out for its polish, style, and accessibility, giving players the freedom to choose whether they want to focus on the best customization or craft the most creative strategies of their own. There a few rough edges due to its repetitious missions and uninspired story, but when the core content of the game is so enticing, most players should be able to overlook them. All told, Daemon X Machina is a balanced, deep, and approachable experience that should please players new and old.

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