Did you know that Mercury Steam, the Spanish developer behind the recently released and critically acclaimed Metroid Samus Returns, also released a free-to-start third-person shooter last year? Apparently, neither did a lot of people, because the servers are practically dead, which is honestly a shame, because I think Mercury Steam made a dang fine game. Dang fine game indeed.
Nelo looks beyond slick. Rushing through arenas filled with enemies at blinding speed while firing four machine guns looks like something you’d want to be a part of. However, the alpha build currently available to players shows a game that needs a ton of work, showcasing cramped arenas, incredibly awkward platforming, and many other design decisions that all seem built around making the players regret their great speed.
In video, it looks fantastic. Players act as Nelo, an alien cyborg with telepathic powers and four guns with which to blast aliens. This cyborg can also move extremely fast, allowing players to rush through arenas of enemies as they pepper them with laser blasts. It’s quite tense to play through as well, staying ahead of your enemies while aiming shots at high speeds turns combat into a frantic event.
The problems in Nelo don’t take long to start showing up, though. Considering the speeds at which players can move, they require lots of open space to really take advantage of it (like Vanquish’s large arenas), but when enemies show up, players tend to get blocked into tiny arenas. Not only are these areas small, they tend to be filled with buildings and tiny structures that get in the way and prevent the player from running around. They’re all manageable to get around, and their varied heights offer different vantage points for combat, but at the speeds the player will be moving, these structures get in the way and block running far too often.
It doesn’t help that platforming is a chore. Nelo can wall jump to hop up onto taller buildings, but can only do so a limited number of times. However, this jump is quite floaty and clumsy, resulting in absurd hang-times that can make it nearly impossible to land on even a decent-sized platform. Nelo can be irritatingly fussy about whether your wall jump connected with the wall correctly, and since players can only wall jump a few times in a row, they may find themselves stuck in an area while trying to leap up a wall that should be a snap to scale.
Players can concentrate on fighting back instead by using their four guns. These fire at a high speed, allowing players to cleave through the dozens of robot foes who show up, but they also chew through ammo quickly. Periodically, enemies will drop more, as well as other guns (which oddly switch out some of the weapons you’re already using with little rhyme or reason, at least in this build), but Nelo still mostly requires players be precise with their shots. That’s not necessarily bad, and the ammo limits are high enough that players can often spray shots when running.
The issue that hurts the core of what Nelo seems to be building is that running around and blasting foes at high speed is not actually advisable. Players need to track their ammo counts and choose their shots. They can’t rush around without tripping over environments, and they can’t use the terrain to their advantage due to the clumsy jumping. Players will always be stumbling into things, forced to stop shooting, and will have trouble getting up the structures that get in their way.
Some of these issues can be fixed by switching into top-down mode. Players can swap viewpoints to get a better look at the battlefield, moving from first person to a twin-stick shooter style, which does make it simpler to hit enemies. However, the spectacle of running around at ridiculous speed while blasting enemies is the big draw to this game, and swapping to this viewpoint to deal with it cheapens that draw.
These are just the problems players will see in combat. The game also features platforming segments where players will have to precisely land those floaty jumps (which are clumsy enough to make scaling a basic wall nearly impossible at points), or run around at super high speeds and somehow keep your character from careening off a cliff. The speed just doesn’t mix with the precision of these platforming moments, and when you’re slowly hopping around, you’ll just wish you were in a fight again.
Nelo can’t seem to stop tripping over its own speed mechanic, as if it is looking for ways to stop the player from using it in any fun ways. The speed that makes the game look so appealing is a constant hindrance, whether by having players stumble around arenas that are too small to fight in, something they need to shut off to get combat under control, or making clumsy platforming even more difficult. When players are freely running and blasting enemies, it’s a delight, but in its current state there is too much taking away from the freedom to move and shoot that makes Nelo special.
Nelo was previewed using a retail Steam download code provided by Magic & Mirrors. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.
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Hot off the heels of the Xenoblade X special Direct about a week ago, Nintendo has announced, Splatoon is scheduled to have its own Direct Thursday, May 7 a.m. PT/ 10 a.m. ET/ 3 p.m. GMT.
The idea that Sunset City—the locale of Sunset Overdrive—is someone’s personal carnival is a metaphor that works pretty well; especially since the world is full of colourful things to see, set pieces with unique game mechanics to experience, and colourful people to blow up. Like carnivals, Sunset Overdrive also relies heavily on humour, but in Sunset Overdrive everyone plays the clown. Comedy is certainly a pillar that tries to hold up this game, but like a list of the games made by Insomniac it is hit or miss. There are a number of times that Sunset Overdrive is unbelievably funny, but often you’ll watch the game’s protagonist utter common memes like “boom goes the dynamite” while breaking the fourth wall over and over. Trust me when I say that the worst Sunset Overdrive has to offer is pretty hard to watch without cringing.
Sunset Overdrive also relies a little too heavily on referencing pop-culture things that are funny; which can still be a rewarding comedy form if done with finesse. Often it feels like Sunset Overdrive nails the timing, but they’ve landed on the wrong part of the timeline. I’ll buy that there are early 20-somethings out there that will have seen The Big Lebowski, but what audience will get references to 1985’s Gymkata, starring American gymnast Kurt Thomas?
Unfortunately, the problems with Sunset Overdrive do not stop with movie references you will have to look up. For example, the movement system of Sunset Overdrive is a lot like that of Jet Set Radio. You can easily attach and endlessly grind along railings, power lines, fences, rooftops, and more. You can also bounce off of canopies, umbrellas, sky lights, and so on. Many of your character’s buffs will also only operate after pulling off a long chain of grinding and jumping tricks. That said, the problem with the Sunset Overdrive movement system is that there are gaps at ground level that are hard to get out of. The best way to play Sunset Overdrive is to stay high and constantly grind on objects, but there are times when you’ll get knocked off your chosen path. This is annoying by itself, and usually you just jump back up onto the object you were grinding along to continue. Unfortunately, there are also pockets around the game-space that are devoid of the items you can use to restart your grinding. When you find yourself in one of these areas the fast pace nature of the game grinds to a halt as you scramble to find some place your character will grab onto. To be fair, you can still grind the ground level railings that flank every road, but they are tactically unsound because they have breaks in them every few feet; also, you are always in danger of being mobbed by mutants at ground level.
Another big focus of this game is what Insomniac likes to call the amps. In common videogame nomenclature, these amps are buffs that increase your power or give damage boosts to your weapons. One thing I will credit Sunset Overdrive with is the inventiveness of their games. Many boss battles and major set pieces offer game-play that is unique to the rest of Sunset Overdrive (and gaming as a whole in specific cases). The elemental add-ons that some amps offer are also pretty cool. That said, the missions that create amps are by far the worst part of the game. In basic terms, they are always the same tower defense mission that forces you to babysit one or more stills that are “brewing” your amps. Most of what you do in Sunset Overdrive is fun and imaginative gameplay that focuses on your grinding and your general travel capabilities. Brewing new amps comes down to setting up traps and defending the area from waves of mutants. It makes sense from a story point view, especially since Sunset Overdrive loves pop-culture references like Breaking Bad; however, these repetitive tower defense missions are just not fun.
That also explains why I am not a big fan of the game’s multiplayer. The main multiplayer mode that Insomniac is trying to push is called Chaos Squad. You and seven other people join a match with the look and the items you have collected from the single player campaign. Your team of eight then goes through a number of different missions inside Sunset City with different goals, and the activities you complete will determine how hard the end of the match will be. The end of the match turns out to be another round of the same tower defense game that wore out its welcome during the campaign; however, this time seven other people join you. If you like those tower defense missions from the campaign, Chaos Squad will let you play more of them online. People who dislike the tower defense mini-game will not be a big fan of this flagship multiplayer mode.
In the end, Sunset Overdrive sets out to constantly stay in motion from the moment you start, and somehow it manages to produce unusual and unique set pieces on a regular basis. However, the game is not perfect and will trip a few times (metaphorically speaking) when it is trying too hard to be funny or as a result of making you play that tower defense mini-game over and over again. That said, Sunset Overdrive is fun and it deserves the time of anyone who is willing to play an open world game populated with references that flip between 30 year old movies and modern day memes. Most of the game’s elements or mechanics are good separately, but no single element/mechanic is strong enough to carry the game on its back. Luckily the parts come together to create a decent contraption worth sitting down and experiencing.
I am currently in the middle of an internal struggle over Nintendo’s thought process. I can’t decide if Splatoon is the most original idea that the Japanese platform holder has had in about a decade, or if Nintendo has officially joined the long line of companies trying to steal Activison’s Call of Duty money. At the moment I am leaning heavily towards the former, especially since Nintendo completely refused to acknowledge the concepts of death or killing when I saw Splatoon in action. For the uninitiated, Splatoon is a 3
person shooter that Nintendo announced at E3 2014.
When playing, each player is grouped up in a team of four, and that team faces off against another team of four in a small battle arena. Once in the game, each player is given a super soaker full of squid ink, and you can use these super soakers to “kill” the members of the opposing team; however, it’s a Nintendo game so no one cares about your kill/death ratio.
Instead, the object of the game is covering the floor of the “arena” with your team’s ink. Each side of this ink-warfare is given a unique colour at the beginning of the round, and the team with the most ink on the ground will be declared the winner. The ink has other benefits as well, but there are two things you need to know before I can explain them. The first thing to note is that everyone on your team will be sharing the same colour ink, and the other is that you’re some sort of human-squid hybrid when playing Splatoon. Instead of some horrible looking Squid child mutant, the human form looks like a human and the squid form is a squid. Basically you’re the worst transformer in the universe, but in the universe of Splatoon both forms have something to offer you. The human form has all of your combat capabilities; the squid has ink based capabilities.
The most useful of these ink based capabilities is the ability to grab more ammo (aka – ink) for your human form. Your super soaker isn’t able to carry infinites amounts of ink, so there are two ways to get more. You either “die” and respawn with a whole new tank, or you change into a squid and somehow collect some from the ink that your team already sprayed on the ground. I’ll admit at this point that I was a little sad to see that the ink you picked up from the ground did not take away from the quantity of ink that you already put down. I thought it would add an element of strategy to take a percentage of ink off the floor each time you pick up more ink ammo, but in the game’s current form, a single drop of ink on the ground will allow you to resupply the entire team forever.
The only way to get rid of the ink on the ground is to have the other team spray their ink over it. You’ll wish to avoid this for many reasons, the most obvious being the fact that you will lose; however, your squid form can also use your team’s ink to fast travel. If you need to, you can run around the map until you’re blue in the face, but changing into a squid will allow you to swim through the ink at twice the speed. You can even hide in the ink if you’re sneaky enough, but make sure you avoid the ink of the other team. The second you hit it, you’ll be forced into your human form again. You’ll also walk slower when on the enemy’s ink.
In terms of quality judgments, I felt that the game-play was solid and the controls were remarkably tight for a shooter made by Nintendo. I am not too worried about that because when was the last time a first party Nintendo product launched without high quality levels? But, I am not without concerns. For example, each of the eight players in the rounds we played was on their own Wii-U console and tablet controller. Nintendo has always handled the online elements of their products with the finesse of a bull in a fine china shop and, historically speaking, if there is any place that this product might fall apart it will be the online area. Splatoon gives the impression that Nintendo is open to new ideas, but will one of those ideas be a contemporary match-making system that is common to shooters of all shapes and sizes? We will only truly know that when we get our hands on the final product.
The Boys Are Back
Kane and Lynch are the eponymous pair of the sequel to the 2007 3rd person, cover based shooter about a sociopath and a psychopath bringing gunfire and chaos wherever they go. This time the action moves to Shanghai and with it, one of the most interesting choices in art direction seen in this entire generation of games. But art direction can only go so far, and while it creates a palpable, more engaging environment, it is undermined by some problematic game design.
Welcome To Shanghai
The sequel puts players in the shoes of Lynch, the psychopath. He’s settled down in Shanghai, shacked up with a nice local girl, and seems to have life under some semblance of control with the local underworld. Then Kane shows up, ostensibly brokering some kind of shady job, and things quickly go downhill as the pair screw up a routine “disciplinary measure” that has the entire Chinese mob gunning for them. Narratively, there’s little to care about here, as the game frequently cuts out any meaningful character development in favour of the simple anxiety of two criminals on the run. Both of them are still largely unsympathetic, although it seems like the game has put more emphasis on making Lynch, the main character as unappealing as possible. There are no twists or turns in the story, no development to make the characters interesting, and the conclusion ends on a ludicrous note that I won’t go into detail about here.
On the other hand, the art direction for the game is bold, risky, and for the most part it works. Forgoing the usual glossy, cinematic look, Kane & Lynch 2 goes for a hand-held documentary feel, with artificial compression artifacts, blown out lighting, even digital mosaics super-imposed over nudity and gore, such as headshots. The “doco feel” is unique and well executed, giving even more authenticity to the impressive efforts that have gone into creating Shanghai itself. It’s obvious Io Interactive had art teams that spent a lot of time Asia as they get little details right, such as the seedy look of a street hawker center, or mess of cables and air conditioner units that line the building exteriors.
The audio also makes the bold choice of forgoing music entirely, relying only on voice acting and ambient environmental noise to create the soundscape. It adds to the doco/user-generated content feel of the game, and for the most part, it works. Mandarin Chinese abounds in NPC dialog, and the performances of Kane and Lynch themselves, while minimal, are functional. The weapons are nicely represented in the audio as well, bringing a punch that makes the average living room sound like a warzone if the volume isn’t monitored. All in all, an impressive package in terms of presentation.
Come For The Shooting Gallery, Stay For The Multi-Player
It’s unfortunate, but the weakest link of Kane & Lynch is the foundation, the campaign experience. It’s available in three flavours, single player, local co-op and online co-op. It quickly becomes obvious that the game is not well suited to sustained play. The biggest culprit is the lack of variety in activities. There are plenty of 3rd person, cover based shooters now, from Gears of War to Uncharted and they provide great examples of varied gameplay, whether it’s the platforming of Uncharted to the switching up of tactics in Gears when boss characters show up. Kane & Lynch has none of that, funnelling players from one arena to another to take cover, shoot, rinse and repeat. Outside of one vehicular, on-rails sequence, the rest of the game relies entirely on the same mechanic, with the only variation coming from the layout of the levels themselves. The weapons too lack that uniqueness and distinction that other games have, and are more or less disposable, although this could be argued that it also means they are balanced with no obvious advantages outside of shotguns versus rifles. The enemies you encounter boil down to three varieties, thugs, police and paramilitary forces. There are no bosses, and even the lowliest of these enemies has an amazing “bullet sponge” capacity, able to soak up hits—and get right back on their feet momentarily—that could only be explained by having Kryptonian parents. On the other hand, the controls are phenomenal, feeling tight, fast and responsive. They work well with the game, and make the otherwise mundane level design more palatable to navigate.
The game is also buggy. The Xbox 360 version slowly “degrades” as time goes by, with the game eventually freezing for up to five seconds at a time after every shot of a gun before it resumes action. On the PS3 version, local co-op is prone to freezes at regular intervals, necessitating a complete reboot of the console. These are large, obvious bugs that should not have gotten through their Quality Assurance testing and yet here they are in a full-retail copy.
For all of its flaws though, Kane & Lynch 2 manages to deliver in the multi-player department. This is where the game manages to get its legs. The Fragile Alliance mode is back, opening up the possibility for betrayal amongst players that lends the sessions an air of tension and outright paranoia just not present in other games. This is also supplemented by a similar mode called “Undercover Cop” that randomly assigns one person to be said cop, tasked with trying to shoot—and loot—the other players and prevent the crime from occurring. There’s also traditional team based game-play in the form of Cops & Robbers, but it lacks that same visceral tension as the other modes. There is a built-in excitement that comes from knowing at any second someone on the team could turn on you. It’s a brilliantly executed form of officially sanctioned griefing that adds unpredictability to every round. The only real weakness in the multi-player right now is a small number of maps, meaning it easy to learn general strategies quickly. People will quickly begin to realize which parts are best for an ambush from a traitor, sucking out some of the dynamism from the sessions.
In the end, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is a strong multi-player game wrapped around a problematic campaign. There’s a lot to like about the online experience, but a mediocre campaign hurts the chances of this game building up a decent community. It doesn’t achieve its lofty goal of telling a compelling, gritty, crime story, and is saddled with some unacceptable bugs, but this is offset by a compelling multi-player experience that really shines.