Month: September 2014

Playing a Joke: A Look at the Difficulties of Creating Interactive Comedy 3

Playing a Joke: A Look at the Difficulties of Creating Interactive Comedy

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of CGM.  A copy of the full issue can be purchased via our webstore or a digital copy through Pocket Mags or the Apple App Store.

 

Being funny isn’t easy. For every comic genius who succeeds in the worlds of film, television, or stand-up, there are countless others who try, and fail, to make audiences laugh. Comedy is a multi-faceted art and, even though someone may be absolutely hilarious in casual conversation, there’s no guarantee that they possess all the other traits necessary to entertain a crowded club or cinema audience. It’s not enough just to have a few good jokes. A master comic is someone who is capable of controlling their environment, whether this means commanding a room or being able to react quickly to unexpected changes to a conversation or situation. The best comedies are also created with complete authorial intent at their foundation. Scripts are penned with cues as to how and when the actors should move or deliver lines; cinematography is used to frame each moment the right way; directors and editors exercise control over how and when the jokes are presented to the audience in order to maximize their effect. These factors make all the difference between a good and bad comedy—basically, something that does or does not make people laugh.  

Considering all of this, it isn’t too surprising that there are so few truly funny videogames. Successful humour hangs so much on the elements of timing and authorial control that making a comedy interactive is extremely difficult by its very nature. Just the same, game development is constantly evolving and there is no lack of talented artists experimenting with genre and style. Some—not many, but some—videogames have been funny before, after all. By taking notice of what has and hasn’t worked in the past it’s possible to imagine a future where the genre multiplies and comedy finds a comfortable place as an important part of the medium.

Day of the Tentacle

It’s impossible to talk about humour in videogames without mentioning the work of Tim Schafer, first as a writer/designer at Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts and later with Double Fine Productions. Schafer, in a medium almost completely devoid of outstanding comedy titles, looms large. The influence of the “point and click” adventure games he was instrumental in creating—The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango—are cornerstones of videogame humour. This is because Schafer, with his immense talent for characterization and witty dialogue, has shown that videogames are capable of being just as funny as any other medium. The creativity and intelligence in Schafer’s early work has made the LucasArts games he wrote and designed (often in collaboration with Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman) modern classics—they firmly established comedy as a viable genre for the medium to explore.

Part of Schafer and LucasArts’ success is due to the fact that the adventure game is well suited for comedy. Puzzles and conversation paths are metered, progress through them gated by logistical processes that give the player little room for true mechanical freedom (and all of the potentially joke-ruining messiness that too much freedom entails). The adventure writer can construct “living” jokes that, though interactive, are tightly controlled. The founding of Double Fine Productions—and the subsequent release of games like the wonderfully surreal Psychonauts and fantastical metal send-up Brütal Legend—showed that Schafer was capable of transitioning to other game genres without losing his ability to write hilarious titles. The adventure genre has seen many of the most successful comedies to date, but the cornerstones of Schafer’s humour writing—slapstick, quick visual gags, and sharp dialogue—work well in other game types. Despite this, from the early 2000s onward, comedy games began taking a backseat to more serious fare. Notable exceptions like  Valve’s Portal games and Volition’s Saints Row series stand out among a flood of releases concerned more with providing audiences with blood-soaked action than belly laughs. Even the light-hearted tone typically found in all-ages action games like Sucker Punch Productions’ Sly Cooper and Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot has found itself relegated to a niche.

Why is this?

Videogames’ ongoing acceptance into the pop culture mainstream may be responsible for the enormous growth in self-serious narratives and the dearth of light-hearted ones. This is, in a lot of senses, only natural. Games have long been derided as a pastime for either children or emotionally stunted adults. Developers wishing to advance games as a more nuanced form of expression have therefore had to show that it is possible for interactive entertainment to have real artistic merit. As a by-product of these advancements, though, a “serious” studio is more likely to attempt a tone of dramatic gravitas than humour with their games. And as if this wasn’t enough of a problem, there’s also the fact that audiences will be far quicker to bag on lousy humour, with its tendency toward either being pretty annoying or downright offensive, than they will to enthusiastically grouse at the details of a badly told drama. It is, after all, a lot less complicated to write the easy beats of a doomed squad of Spartan heroes than it is to craft the off-hand quips of Nathan Drake. Combine the difficulty of humour writing with the desire for videogames to achieve their artistic potential, and the result is clear. The race to legitimacy has had a remarkably positive impact on games, showing that they can be just as socially and emotionally important as any other form of media. It may also be responsible for a lull in comedic titles, too.

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Alpha Protocol

For the last several years it seemed like anyone looking for funny games would have to be satisfied with offbeat indies or the occasional mainstream title. Then, Obsidian Entertainment—a team best known for the narrative driven Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas, and (as Black Isle Studios) Planescape: Torment and Fallout 2— released South Park: The Stick of Truth. In a partnership with South Park Digital Studios, Obsidian, a developer with a proven track record of creating quirkily written role-playing games, has continued its company tradition in collaboration with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The resulting game captures, for better or worse, the spirit of the long-running animated TV show. The same (mostly high) calibre of joke writing is in place; the same iconic voice acting is present; the same audiences who like South Park‘s style of humour now have a videogame that distils it through an interactive medium. The Stick of Truth, when looked at in this way, is a pretty big accomplishment. South Park is a cultural institution in North America because it is a series that has managed to make people laugh for nearly 20 years of shows, without any really sustained dip in quality during its run. In the past, videogame adaptations of successful TV shows have led to either flat-out bad games or fun experiences that failed to offer the same kind of laughs as the material they were based on. The Stick of Truth is different, though. Not only does it feature all the aesthetic trappings of the show (the recreation of South Park‘s lo-fi construction paper animation is, I think, a key part of what makes the humour work), but the decision to develop the game as a fairly traditional RPG enhances its tone. Parker and Stone’s love of absurdity and gross-out jokes (which, admittedly, cross the line into socially irresponsible territory a few times throughout the game) are accentuated through the genre’s reliance on turn-based battle commands and an item inventory packed with text descriptions. Giving Butters, the tormented sweetheart of the group, a healing move where he rubs the player character’s back is a funny spin on familiar RPG tropes. Making the junk picked up from defeated enemies objects that reference the show’s extensive fiction makes buying and selling equipment an opportunity for a throwaway gag. This kind of design just goes to show that RPGs are a lot like adventure games in that they offer a lot of chances to craft funny dialogue and control the timing of jokes with mechanical restrictions. The Stick of Truth makes excellent use of these stylistic conventions to metre out the jokes and direct the pacing of its humour, even in an interactive medium. The game’s success may be partially attributed to the financial resources made available to the creators of a popular TV show, but Obsidian and the South Park team’s smart design choices can’t be discounted either.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

It’s this same type of understanding of how comedy and interactivity best intersect that has led to another of 2014’s funniest titles, Necrophone Games’ surrealist Jazzpunk. As if in response to the legacy of Tim Schafer’s classic work, Jazzpunk uses the adventure game genre as a template for what amounts to two hours of rapid-fire gags. The player explores a series of open environments, full of bizarre characters who each act as a treasure chest of flippant one-liners. The game works because its jokes are quick and, for the most part, self-contained. Instead of presenting material that could easily be tampered with via poor timing on the player’s part, Jazzpunk takes a Rodney Dangerfield approach to comedy. Every joke explains itself. From the hilarious non-sequiturs spoken by each level’s non-playable characters to the slapstick exaggeration of enemy agents barrelling down a hill after being whacked with a fly swatter, the pace is tightly controlled in a way that seems to solve the problem of bringing interactive comedy to the more open environments prevalent in modern games. Considering just how hilarious the experience is, it seems quite likely that this approach to humour represents the future of interactive comedy. Without the benefit of a recognizable cast of characters, pre-existing fan base, or the deep pockets of a major publisher, Jazzpunk manages to provide just as many laughs as The Stick of Truth. That it does this with an entirely original premise demonstrates that there is more potential to be mined from the genre by savvy developers with a knack for humour and the ability to explore how it can best be employed in an interactive context.

The basic problem remains, however, that the kind of comedy that works well in videogames isn’t easy to market. Even as the medium and its audience continues to evolve at a rapid pace, many developers will continue pursuing the dramatic potential of games while publishers fund action-centric “summer blockbuster” titles that appeal to the most buyers possible. Trailers showing thrilling chases, gunplay, and explosions will still be easier to show off at press conferences than ones that make us laugh. Like most topics and genres currently underserved in videogames, comedy is likely to gain a greater foothold in the years to come due to the efforts of independent developers. Those with the liberty to create outside of the pressures that come from the traditional publishing model and its stifling market demands will always seek out areas of the medium that haven’t been fully explored. Comedy, with its history of underrepresentation, is definitely one of them. Barring the occasional mainstream success like South Park: The Stick of Truth, the best humour games are likely to be found outside of the bigger development studio’s catalogues. Whatever the result, the rise of comedy games is inevitable. Everyone loves to laugh and there are always talented comics who understand how best to make that happen. As more of them find a voice in videogames, the genre has a shot at achieving just as much prominence as any other.
                                                                                                                            

  Get the full April 2014 issue of CGM:

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Anomaly 2 (PS4) Review 2

Anomaly 2 (PS4) Review

11 Bit Studios is one of those developers that has been producing impressive and diverse games for a while now, but has yet to get the level of acclaim they really deserve. Anomaly 2 is a perfect example of their eye for quirky, unusual game play. The sequel to Anomaly: Warzone Earth, these games take the familiar and overdone tower defense genre and turn it on its side.

Essentially a tower offense game, where militant Earth forces must destroy alien towers along their path, the Anomaly games have been remarkable for a few reasons. The first is that they fit as well on consoles as they do on mobiles. A solid graphics engine ensures the games look excellent on all platforms, but 11 Bit has also done a remarkable job of making sure the control mechanics fit the platform in a way we seldom see.

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Beyond that, the game does an excellent job pacing the tactical action. A prime mechanic is the ability to switch to a tactical map at any time, pausing the action and letting players map out their path and buy or upgrade new units. In addition, Anomaly 2 features an array of power-ups that let you repair units, create decoys, or lay down a fog of war, among other nifty tricks.

For those who played the original, the sequel isn’t an overhaul by any means. 11 Bit stuck close to the first game’s template. Given that there is virtually nothing else like Anomaly 2 except the earlier games, however, the game still feels remarkably fresh and innovative.

It’s also incredibly hard, just like the first. Even on the default difficulty, the game’s learning curve is steep. Since the only direct control you have over your squad is dictating what path they take, understanding and properly utilizing the tactical map and power-ups is vital to survival. Constantly monitoring what paths are available for your troops is a key part of the game play.

There’s more variety to units this time, including cool transforming tanks that allow the squad to adapt to close-range quarters by turning into flame-spouting robots. There are shield units as well, and several other variations on standard RTS units. Creative touches abound, like the Hell Hound, whose damage rate starts out low, but increases the more it continuously attacks.

Even on the default difficulty, the game’s learning curve is steep.

Enemy towers are just as varied. Some can track and shoot in any direction, whiles others are single-direction attackers with massive, damage-inducing beam attacks. The game does a great job of adding new elements over time and, as the maps expand, the ability to experiment with different play styles and routes adds a strong sense of replayability.

Unlike the mobile version, you do have direct control over the squad commander, who takes the place of the touch controls (as in, your finger). He can be hurt and even killed, so the PS4 version has the added element of real danger when the commander is laying down a power-up. He must, literally, move to the area to set off a power-up, which adds a minor, but fairly significant difference between this version and other platforms.

Also intact from the earlier games is the incredibly over-dramatic, cheesy dialogue and storyline, which is so overdone, it’s oddly entertaining. Thankfully, plot is a slight aspect to the overall game, and the overall sound work is very well done. Anomaly 2 is hardly one of the best looking games on the system, but it’s sharp and engaging to watch.

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One area we wish they had put a bit more effort into, however, is taking advantage of PS4-specific control elements. The game doesn’t use the touch pad at all and the map could be easier to manipulate. There was no attempt to really adapt to the hardware beyond the basic controls, which is a bit disappointing.

Anomaly 2 has also introduced multiplayer to the series and the results are surprisingly interesting. The two-player matches task one player with playing as a squad commander, just like the single-player game. Player 2 takes control of the tower-dropping aliens in traditional tower defense style. Multiplayer matches work well and are impressively balanced, offering up tactical battles unlike anything seen on the PS4.

Anomaly 2 is a unique game, especially on a console platform. It was a great game on PC and mobiles, yet manages to feel very at home on the TV. The mix of challenging and intelligent tactical game play is excellent, the single-player campaign is fun, and the multiplayer is really distinctive.

Super Smash Bros. For The Nintendo (3DS) Review 2

Super Smash Bros. For The Nintendo (3DS) Review

15 years after its initial mascot-smashing debut, Super Smash Bros. remains something special in the good ol’ Nintendo lexicon. The company has been wise in how they dole out each chapter, waiting until a new console comes along for a single release that’ll have fans frothing at the mouth without hopes of a sequel. Now after literally years of hype, Smash Bros. makes its first ever appearance on a handheld console with this delightful 3DS title that offers crack levels of addiction for players. The titles plays just like the Wii chapter in the palm of your hands, offering the same cavalcade of gaming references and the simple-to-learn, difficult to master unique fighting style that made gamers giggle on the N64 15 years ago. Somehow the game still feels special and still plays unlike any other fighting game on the market. Are there problems? Sure, but nothing close to a game killer. The fact is that this is easily one of the greatest games to ever grace the 3DS and a new chapter in a franchise that somehow resists aging.
Super Smash Bros. For The Nintendo 3DS Review
On the most basic gameplay level, Super Smash Bros. For The Nintendo 3DS is more of the same (as the cheeky title suggests). Controls are limited to two attack buttons that have different variations for every direction on the circle pad. There are also jump, block, and grab commands. It’s the same for every character, with different commands offering different styles of attack for each character. Learn how to use one character and you can use them all, but to master any specific character still takes time. You’ll start off with over 30 characters and unlock more over time (just like the Wii version, it’s designed so that you’ll be unlocking characters, items, levels, and rewards for months). All of the old staples return with essentially the same attacks as before.

[aesop_quote background=”#ffffff” text=”#3caee6″ width=”250px” height=”240px” align=”right” size=”2″ quote=”Customization in general is a massive part of this game’s appeal and longevity.” parallax=”on” direction=”left”]

In terms of new developments, you can also customize your own Mii fighter, with a variety of alternate attacks and costumes. They slot into the battles well and also fit into that strange mandate the big N has been imposing over the last generation, making player avatars part of the extended Nintendo universe. Customization in general is a massive part of this game’s appeal and longevity. Virtually everything can be customized to suit each player’s preferences. Any aspect of matches can be changed, levels and items can be altered, replays can be edited and saved, even the move list for all of the 51 characters can be toyed with (once you unlock the alternate moves over time of course). That seems to be the primary mandate of this latest chapter in the series and it’s completely appropriate for the first ever handheld Smash Bros. This is the first version of the game that you can take with you anywhere, so it only makes sense that it’s the first version of Smash Bros. that you can make entirely your own.

The only other complaints that can be tossed at this absolutely excellent game are technical. It’s incredible how the developers were able to transfer over the look, feel, and style of the Wii Smash Bros. onto a single 3DS cartridge with so many modes of play, customization, and a cast of 51 total fighters. However, there are small places where the little system can’t quite handle the game. When the camera zooms back to incorporate a full four fighter brawl, it can be tough to track the tiny figures on the screen. Likewise, the levels had to be simplified to accommodate the smaller system, cutting back on the Power Stone-style elaborate morphing level design. Also, the system can occasionally chug through black screen loading times that will cause momentary fear that your little 3DS can’t handle the full Smash Bros. experience and might become a brick in your hands.
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Those problems all exist, yet rarely ever impede the pure joy that comes with carrying Smash Bros. in your pocket. This isn’t just some handheld approximation of a console classic. It’s a full and satisfying next chapter of a beloved series that just happens to be available portably. Super Smash Bros. For The Nintendo 3DS lives up to every expectation fans possibly could have and then surpasses a few just for fun. It’s not just one of the best titles on the 3DS, it already feels like a classic that will be fondly remembered. I can’t imagine what they have planned for the Wii U version given that everything teased to date showed up on this 3DS edition. Yet, it’s safe to say Nintendo has some big surprises in store when they unleash the console partner for this pint-sized masterpiece. That’s just how they roll. Bring it on.

 

Heavy Bullets (PC) Review 6

Heavy Bullets (PC) Review

The strength of Heavy Bullets is found in its simplicity. Really, it’s nothing more than a shooter in its most basic form; a pistol resides in the middle of the screen, enemies approach you with vicious speed and intent, various items offer rewards for several situations, and the end goal is to reach the exit door at the end of the level.

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But its distilled nature is exactly what makes Heavy Bullets so compelling. It doesn’t need endless amounts of customizable machine guns. It doesn’t need foul-mouthed characters shouting directions to you over the din of battle. All it needs is to arm you with the basic necessities, relay the rules, and turn you loose. And it does this extremely well. 

Heavy Bullets is all about combat. As an expendable janitor, you’re sent into a private corporate hunting ground where the security systems have gone haywire and are now turning on the facility patrons. For $5000, your job is to wade through plant-laden corridors, firing bullets at hostiles and shutting down everything to ensure the safety of everyone in the building.

Like the name Heavy Bullets implies, ammunition is of great value. Rather than walking over boxes of ammo and accruing hundreds of rounds to fire off at will, pick-ups are limited to one bullet. Yes, one.

Armed with a six-shooter, the player has to manually reload every individual bullet in the gun as they go, causing one’s eyes to constantly glance at the bottom screen to check that the magazine hasn’t gone dry and keep tabs on a limited health bar. Thus, it becomes a game all about extreme resource management.

Firing bullets that only come in limited quantities already demands a great deal of accuracy, and this is only made worse thanks to Heavy Bullet’s insistence on being a frantically-paced game in which precision shooting is key. From a slow, calculated approach to hurriedly backtracking, varied enemy types require different tactics, and its frenetic energy is enough to cause one to unknowingly grind their teeth with anxious energy while avoiding attacks and lining up the perfect shot.

And that’s what makes Heavy Bullets great. It takes many cues from the classic shooters of old, cutting out the more superfluous mechanics and flourishes of today’s shooters and instead focusing on brutal combat. Roguelike elements strip a player of all progress and send them to the start after death, and a wide range of items with varied abilities allow the player to feel just powerful enough to succeed in a level where virtually everything is pitted against them.
HeavyBulletsinsert2Looking a lot like a neon-ridden psychedelic fever dream, Heavy Bullets’ visceral and extremely satisfying shooting owes a lot to its creative art design. When hit, enemies burst into thick, brilliant pieces, littering the floor with money, ammunition pick-ups, and blocky remains. Enemy design and coloring plays a large role in their functions, and the game is even cruel enough to occasionally use camouflaged enemies to give pause to the player’s individual steps.

Heavy Bullets is the rare kind of difficult that inspires one to continue to inflict pain on themselves in order to improve upon their last run. It’s fast, precise, and well-designed, never allowing one to grow tired of its mechanics and arming the player with just enough to give them the edge they need while still reminding them of their mortality. It’s brutal, it’s tight, and it’s nothing less than pure shooting bliss.

Starship Troopers:  The Black Vault - Episode 03 - These Warriors Are Terrible

Starship Troopers: The Black Vault – Episode 4 – These Warriors Are Terrible


Subscribe to the PodcastStarship Troopers: The Black Vault - Episode 4 - These Warriors Are Terrible

“Someone asked me once if I knew the difference between a civilian and a citizen. I know now. A citizen has the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility”

It is five years after the battle of Klendathu and the Federation’s mobile infantry still fights the Arachnid empire across multiple fronts for supremacy and survival of the species. The mobile infantry reconnaissance unit now known as “Nemo’s Outlanders” finds themselves trapped inside the “Black vault” and there is one possible chance to escape the prison planet.

Our troopers, Privates Joker, Chaos, Corporal Gerbil, Specialist Deadshot and newly promoted Lieutenant Nemo are hatching a plan that involves possibly stealing the prison “bus” and working with the very criminals they came here to bring to justice. The “Black Vault” still has many secrets within it’s depths and some of those secrets will change the face of the war forever…

Get ready for a surprise!

VERY SPECIAL THANKS to the voice of FedNet
Billy Smith aka Dr Gonzo from Nerd to the Third power podcast

Also, are there any settings or RPG systems you’d like the Terrible Warriors to visit? Do you have your own shameful, awesome or just plain silly RPG adventures? Tell us with a comment below or e-mail us at [email protected] With your permission we’ll share these stories and play your suggested settings for upcoming games for the Terrible Warriors.

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CGMPodcast Episode 126: Did Someone Say Trains - 2014-09-29 14:44:38

CGMPodcast Episode 126: Did Someone Say Trains

On this week’s CGM podcast, Destiny gets nerfed, which is probably for the best, but it does make getting some of that sweet, sweet legendary loot a bit more difficult. Boxtrolls is a new stop motion film that’s actually good for the young and the young at heart, at least according to Phil, and Train Simulator 2015 is game that has choo-chooed its way into our collective warm and fuzzy feelings. No. Not really.

Gauntlet 2014 (PC) Review 2

Gauntlet 2014 (PC) Review

There’s something to be said for an arcade-style button-masher. I barely spent any time in my local arcade, due to my largely rural upbringing and the short lifespan of mall arcades (they were all but extinct when I went to university). However, such games have a certain freedom to them – they’re repetitive, but honest in their presentation and addictive. Why else would you feed quarters to a machine that usually broke down or froze? This game captures some of that feel well. Where it not for some design flaw, it would be a truly stellar game. I didn’t play the original Gauntlet, but I am familiar enough with it to know what to expect – and I expected somewhat more overall.

The plot is traditional arcade fare – enter a dungeon, find the three shards of a mystical sword, acquire wealth. There’s little to talk about and little need to worry, there are no twists you won’t be able to see coming. The character designs and personalities, however, are made distinct through the brief dialogues with the mocking narrator, Morag, and responses to various situations. They’re archetypal characters – the muscular Conan-esque warrior, a scarred and grim Valkyrie, the bearded and arrogant wizard, and the flippant, green-clad Elf. They even compliment and insult each other over the course of co-op play, adding a sense of camaraderie that I appreciated.
gauntlet-insert2Play-wise, each character has their own style and motif, making use of the left and right mouse buttons, spacebar, and shift. These moves enable various strategies to allow any character to survive encounters – The Valkyrie can use her shield to block attacks and reflect projectiles and can use a spear-charge to move about quickly and kill lines of enemies, the Elf’s arrows are fast but do no damage to enemy spawners, requiring him to use his Bombs to detonate them. Each moveset has distinct utility, and require different playstyles.

The odd one out, however, is the Wizard, whose mechanics work decidedly differently – he attacks only with the left mouse button, and can change which attack he uses by pressing any combination of the two other buttons. For example, pressing spacebar twice activates the default fireball, while pressing it once followed right mouse gives you a short-ranged lightning blast. This gives him a huge degree of versatility and allows him to control a battlefield – and, in my experience, makes all of the fights far easier. Balance wise, both the Wizard and the Elf have a far easier time with enemies due to their range, and I found that they required far less finesse; I also found it far harder to find co-op matches when I was playing a wizard.

Co-op is the core idea of the game – or it would be, if it wasn’t so hard to get groups. Everyone seems to play the Wizard, because of his range of abilities and how he can generally chew through everything. Even if you do get a full group, it becomes difficult to keep track of oneself in the mass of enemies. The game scales for multiplayer by adding more foes, and the result leaves the screen crowded and hard to pick out where you are. The camera doesn’t actually focus on you when you’ve got a group, but rather keeps centered in the general area of the party, due to the party being locked to a certain maximum proximity. The result often leads to players getting stuck as they go in opposite directions, or one gets stuck, and adds to the confusion. Quick reflexes are required to fight and it the perspective hinders that in multiplayer.
gauntlet-insert1On top of this, the most glaring flaw is the level design. As good-looking and distinct as everything is, it gets old fast, because the actual scope of puzzles and levels are limited and extremely formulaic. Every level consists of three stages – a longer, initial stage, a hazard stage where an environmental obstacle complicates matters, and an “arena” stage, the last one, where you fight in a small area against hordes of monsters. This gets repetitive quickly, especially since the maps are largely the same. There are three different styles of stages, and you have to go through each three times, in that same pattern above. The distinctions between each stage are minor. There are also three bosses in the game, two of which are actually rather interesting and entertaining fights – the second one, however, is somewhat weak, amounting to a straightforward waiting game for his invulnerability to drop.

The thing is that, this could be a fun arcade-style homage to the original game and a worthy game in its own right, but its lack of variation kills it. Difficulty increases mean more gold and those with achievement fever might want to collect all the items, cosmetic pieces, and special goals, but they’d have to grind over the same levels to do it. The potential is there for some rather ingenious puzzles, for some challenging enemy situations and even some more stage hazards other than the three presented. As such, it feels like you repeat slightly harder versions of the same level three times before you fight a boss, and that doesn’t do the game justice. It also needs some work with the co-op – making it easier to join other players would greatly help, and an option to anchor the camera to your player (or at least enable better, more distinct markers) would be fantastic.

At 20 dollars, this isn’t too bad, but I would have liked more.

Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One) Review 5

Forza Horizon 2 (Xbox One) Review

It’s not uncommon knowledge that the Forza series is one of the best in racing. It has built up a vast following and garnered positive review after positive review all the way up to its fifth iteration with Forza Motorsport 5. When Microsoft enlisted Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios for 2012’s Forza Horizon they wanted to take racers off the tracks and into the open world. Colorado was the backdrop for the fictional Horizon Festival which combined fast music and faster cars. Critical reception of the first Forza Horizon was hugely positive and without a shadow of a doubt the bar has been raised with the sequel Forza Horizon 2.

If one was to describe a game like this to someone they’d inevitably call it a racing game but in reality this is much more of a driving game. Sure, there are the championships available but in order to complete all of the game you’ll spend most of your time in free roam. Free roam allows you to partake in all the extras that make Forza Horizon 2 such an entertaining experience.  When you do choose to compete in championships you’ll find that they are always tailored to whichever type of car you’d like to drive. You can take a Ford Raptor or Subaru Impreza on an off-road rally championship or sprint race your favourite supercars like the Bugatti Veyron or McLaren P1. Hell you can even upgrade a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle and race in retro car championships. No matter your vice, there’s a championship that suits you.

forzahorinsert1When you choose to leave the championships behind that is when the game really opens up. As you drive around from city to city there is so much to encounter that it will make your head spin. First and foremost you’re going to be encountering a lot of Drivatars. You’ll not only race against them in the championships but anytime you feel like it you can challenge them to a head-to-head on the open road. Unless you’ve played Forza Motorsport 5 you probably won’t know what a Drivatar is so let me explain. As your friends and other people play the game their play style is saved and sent up to the cloud which can then be dropped right into your game. When you race against a Drivatar you’re not racing an AI opponent with a set line but a true representation of the way these other gamers race their cars. Your own  Drivatar will be dropped into their games as well earning you credits even when you’re offline.

Other activities you’ll find out there are XP boards that you can smash for extra experience or Fast Travel boards that will reduce the cost of fast travel to previously visited destinations, Bucket List items will have you driving a certain car and completing a task, there’s Barn Finds where you discover an abandoned car that can be fixed up and taken for a spin too, and there’s Speed Traps where you can compete against your rivals to have the fastest speed. All in all between these and all the championship events there are over 700 to try your hand at. Add in the ability to join car clubs to compete with and against as well as car meets where you get to show off your ride and even purchase versions of other people’s cars and it’s no surprise that the estimated 100% completion time of this game is over 100 hours.

Forza Horizon 2
One of the most highly touted features of the game before its release was its dynamic weather and while it’s certainly noticeable in game and pretty to look at it isn’t the new holy grail of racing games. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid feature with a full day and night cycle where you’ll come across rain, fog, drizzle and more but what’s really cool is the fact that it affects the way you need to drive makes it better. One of the most impressive things about FH2 is that every car feels different and you’ll need to adjust your driving style to it. Add in weather with wet roads and sliding out on corners and it adds another layer of depth to an already complex system. It’s no small feat that Playground and Turn 10 managed to make nearly every car out of their 200+ feel unique on the road. My point is that the driving mechanics are way more impressive than the pretty weather!

Just as each car feels unique to drive they all have a full suite of customization options available to make them stand out even more. If you’re a gear head you can custom upgrade everything from the air filter to the engine to the drivetrain and then fine tune it to your heart’s content. If you’re less mechanically inclined (like me for example; I could screw up an oil change) you can always choose the auto upgrade option and the game takes care of all the work behind the scenes. Of course you also have more visual features like rims, spoilers, skirts, bumpers and paint jobs to tinker with too. The ability to download popular designs from other gamers is a plus for the less artistically inclined too (again just like me) and gives everyone a chance to drive a badass looking car.

Forza Horizon 2Forza Horizon 2 is essentially the crazy younger brother to its counterpart in Forza Motorsport 5. It takes itself far less seriously and gives you a massive world to enjoy in whichever way you like. Fast cars, fast music and a festive atmosphere make FH2 the perfect way to waste away hours of your day without feeling like it. If you’re looking for the perfect blend of simulation and arcade racing then this is where your hunt ends.

To read Shawn’s extended review of Forza Horizon 2, check out the October issue of CGM.



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