Month: December 2018

Ashen (Xbox One) Review

Ashen (Xbox One) Review

There are a lot of Dark Souls clones out there. Some are good, some are bad, some try to be different, and some shamelessly copy the From Software formula beat for beat. Others, like Ashen, kind of does it all. The best way to think of Ashen is like stripped down Dark Souls with a bigger focus on co-op and more verticality and platforming elements. It’s also a very pretty game, with fantastic atmosphere, level design, and unique (and often gigantic) bosses. Unfortunately, while the combat mechanics are very similar to the Souls games, for the most part, the lack of parrying and backstab elements, as well as a severely restricted depth when it comes to builds, really hold the game back from being a top-tier Souls clone.

Ashen (Xbox One) Review 1
Ashen – Review Images Provided by Annapurna

There are a few elements that make for a good Souls game. Intricate and connected level design, epic and challenging boss encounters, and deep, fluid, weighted combat. Ashen does the first two things quite well, but when it comes to the latter, the game feels quite shallow. It took me hours and hours and multiple playthroughs of the Souls games to finally master the parrying and riposte mechanics, after getting slapped down over and over again by invaders. Learning how to properly time a backstab was another skill that took time to develop, but was incredibly satisfying to pull off. The combat in Ashen instantly feels so familiar—which is a good thing for the most part, don’t get me wrong—that any Souls veteran will feel right at home…until you realize that you can’t kick shields, you can’t parry attacks, you can’t backstab, you can’t cast spells, you can’t change stances, etc.… Again, that’s not to say the combat is bad, just incredibly basic and to be frank, pretty boring. There are also not many ranged weapons outside of the spears, and there are no spells. I understand that this is a smaller scale game from an Indie developer, but if you’re going to essentially copy a winning formula but remove nearly everything but a strong/light attack, at least throw in a new twist or something. In Ashen, the combat feels like it could have been so much more, and fans of games like Nioh and even Surge might get bored after a while. It’s not quite button mashing, as dodging, rolling, timing attacks, and managing stamina obviously require some thought and skill, but after a while it felt like I was doing the exact same thing over and over again.

To make things feel even more bare bones, there are no stats to upgrade, skill trees to explore, or abilities to unlock—in the standard ARPG sense. There are some minor buffs in the form of talismans, but again, it’s very basic and narrow in scope. Same goes with the armour, there are no full sets, no mixing and matching for build variety. There is only one slot. Even the weapon upgrade system only really goes in one direction and there are essentially three basic weapon types. The reason that I, personally, keep going to back to games like Nioh and Bloodborne is because every run can be played in an entirely different way than previous attempts. Even Dead Cells (my personal GOTY) had surprisingly deep and varied build options for what appears on the surface to be a quick and breezy arcade-style experience. Ashen is hands down the simplest and most basic Souls-esque game I’ve ever played.

Okay, now that the bad is out of the way, let’s talk about the good. The game is deceptively beautiful, and while it won’t blow your mind with insane textures and particle effects, the actual art design is fabulous and very atmospheric. Players will still feel that bleak, lonely, and often oppressive vibe Souls fans look for, and some of the bosses are simply epic in size and scope. The areas flow quite nicely into one another, and the fast travel system that becomes unlocked a few hours in makes traversal much easier. The music goes from haunting and just barely there to intense and proud during big fights and definitely does the job.

Ashen (Xbox One) Review 2
Ashen – Review Images Provided by Annapurna

Of course, the main draw and feature touted for Ashen is the co-op. You can play with AI characters or real humans, and this is the one aspect of the game that actually has a tad more depth than its influences. Co-op players not only help you in combat, but can lift you up to higher ledges and revive you when you lose all your health. The AI players are also pretty damn handy in a tough fight and function a lot better than companions do in a lot of games. Playing with another human will always be more fun, but if you don’t have PS+ or Xbox Live the AI does a pretty good job. The verticality and platforming elements are also a nice addition, and something I’ve felt the Souls games have been missing for quite a while now. It’s nice to be able to climb up things and run and jump around.

At the end of the day, I’m okay with a simpler approach to a winning formula, and the tone and ambiance of the game is perfect for the genre, but I really wish that the developers at least attempted to innovate or add some new mechanics to make up for what they removed. It feels too familiar to be lacking these elements, and it feels like Ashen never commits to being either its own thing or a decent clone. Rather than being a refreshing take on a somewhat tired genre, it plays more like a baby’s first Dark Souls, which is a shame because the game does everything else well. It’s atmospheric as hell, has some fantastic and moody set pieces, and the co-op elements are very well implemented. It’s a good game, but unfortunately it’s simply too shallow and too basic to be a great game.

Sega Holiday Gift Guide 2018 5

Sega Holiday Gift Guide 2018

The holiday season is upon us and that means its time to wrap those gifts up. As joyous a time that this can be, it can also be incredibly stressful for those of us who are still struggling to find the perfect gift for friends and family. Thankfully, Sega is looking out for anyone still on the fence about what to buy. Whether you’re seeking out that last minute Christmas gift or trying to get an early start on next year’s shopping plans, Sega offers a variety of options for people of all ages. Here’s a guide to help anyone looking to add some Sega branded spice to the holiday season.

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Kenneth’s Game of The Year 2018 7

Kenneth’s Game of The Year 2018

In 2018 I fell back in love with series that lost me years ago. While my list of games played this year is probably the shortest its been since I started working in the industry, and most of the games I did play didn’t leave the same impression on me as years past, there were a few standouts that showed me new ways of looking at the way old series can reinvent themselves, and the ways the medium can portray things in ways others can’t.

Just Shapes & Beats

Kenneth’s Game of The Year 2018
Just Shapes & Beats

I played Just Shapes & Beats at no less than three events in the years leading up to its eventual launch, and I was never able to forget the amazing collection of music compiled and the way it was able to integrate sound and level design. In my initial review I described it as the game equivalent of trying to survive in a mosh pit, and I still find myself itching to go back into the EDM hellscape Berzerk Studio created to hear all the songs again and see the ways they took shape on screen. After all those times I played it with friends before launch, I still haven’t made Just Shapes & Beats the party game staple it deserves to be. I’ll have to change that in 2019.

Detective Pikachu

Kenneth’s Game of The Year 2018 1
Detective Pikachu

In a way, Detective Pikachu reinvigorated my love for a franchise I’d fallen out of love with several years ago. After years of fighting gym leaders and filling up Pokedexes, I’d been slowly but surely dropping off of what was once my favorite Nintendo series. I never even finished Alpha Sapphire or Moon, getting through Y was a struggle, and I never even got around to buying Ultra Moon. But Detective Pikachu deviates from a formula decades in the making by focusing on a completely different side of its world’s culture and possibilities.

To remember why I loved Pokemon growing up, I had to see its world in a light it hadn’t shown me since I watched the anime. As a mystery adventure game, Detective Pikachu focuses on the cohabitation of humanity and Pokemon in a way that the RPGs never do, and by forgoing the series’ signature competitive sport it creates something more memorable than almost anything to come out of the franchise in years. Here’s hoping the movie carries that same charm and heart.

Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!

Kenneth’s Game of The Year 2018 2
Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!

Not unlike Detective Pikachu, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! finds ways to characterize its world in ways that most Pokemon games don’t. By making Pikachu, the starter Pokemon of my journey, into a character rather than a faceless creature with stats and abilities, Let’s Go underlines the importance of the friendship between Pokemon and trainer. Scaling down the absurdly large Pokedex back to the original 151, putting it on Switch, and making me feel a real connection with my Pokemon made Let’s Go a definitive Pokemon experience for me. Getting to dress up Pikachu, petting and playing with him, and feeling like he was an integral part of my journey through Kanto was the perfect cap off to what was a year of rediscovering my love for one of the definitive franchises of my past 20 years, and I’m excited to take this renewed view into whatever comes next.

God of War

Quinn’s GOTY List for 2018
God of War video game (2018) CR: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Along with trading in the mindless hack-and-slash for something decidedly slower-paced and methodical, God of War’s philosophy surrounding its own violence, past and present, is why Kratos’ first foray into world of Norse mythology stuck with me throughout all of 2018. God of War’s take on its own violence expands beyond a character and a series, and casts shame over the medium of games as a whole. Where once it viewed violence as a means of expressing power and supremacy, it now asks the player and the industry at large to color violence with meaning, whether it’s protection, keeping a promise, or redemption. Kratos and Atreus’ story asserts that who we are is not who we have to be, and it’s never too late to do right by those who expect better of us. For a series that for so long fetishized its own violence to actively condemn what it’s done and move forward is a powerful example of redemption. Kratos may not be done atoning for what he’s done, and he may never truly be able to, but God of War’s willingness to renounce its old ways shows the ways in which video games relate to violence is shifting.

Florence

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Florence

Florence is a game I don’t want to have to keep coming back to, but thinking of all the times in my life when its lessons would have been most important, I wish I’d had it years ago.

The interactive novel, depicting the relationship between two young people, from the mundane moments to the defining ones, doesn’t have a fairy tale ending. In fact, it has a pretty damn bittersweet one. But Florence’s view on love, loss, and the impact those who come into our lives leave on us is unlike how almost any other game I’ve played has portrayed romance. Sometimes the people we love and trust the most don’t stick around in the end. The ones we wanted by our sides throughout our hardest moments drift away. It’s gonna hurt, and it’s gonna hurt for awhile. But there will come a day when you don’t feel it every minute, and when that day comes you’ll still have the memories and lessons you learned.

Florence invests you in a relationship, lets you watch it grow, and forces you to watch it fall apart. But its final moments, where it fast forwards to the aftermath, shows that there’s future beyond heartbreak, and that you can make it on your own, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. In 30 minutes Florence demonstrates a more mature understanding of the connections we make with one another than anything else in the medium, and I’ll carry it with me for years to come.

Preston's Game of The Year 2018 4

Preston’s Game of The Year 2018

2018 in video games was a year where no one game easily took the title of game of the year. There was no Breath of the Wild to rally around, no Overwatch to capture people’s imagination. Instead, we were fortunate enough to simply see the release of a ton of excellent games that ensured that there was always something great to play on a month to month basis, regardless of one’s personal taste.

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Quinn’s GOTY List for 2018 5

Quinn’s Game of The Year 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2

Quinn’s Game of The Year 2018
Red Dead Redemption 2 – Images Provided by RockStar

I love Westerns, outlaws, and grimy and gritty portrayals of that wonderfully violent period in American history. My favourite book of all time is Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and my favourite television drama of all time is Deadwood. Suffice to say, Red Dead Redemption 2 is right up my alley. On the other hand, I love tight, fluid gameplay and quick, responsive controls in my video games. Rockstar created an absolutely stunning and incredibly well realized world with Red Dead 2. Arthur Morgan kicks way more ass and is much more relatable and likeable than his fellow gang member John Marston, and the sheer amount of content, characters, and dialogue is nothing short of epic. However, and I know I’m not alone in this, actually playing the game was…well, tedious. The input lag, clunky movement, and sluggish controls really plagued the whole experience. Because of this juxtaposition of industry-leading scope and depth and strangely outdated controls, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the lowest game on my personal Game of the Year list. It’s pretty incredible, but it’s far from perfect.

God of War

Quinn’s Game of The Year 2018
God of War video game (2018) CR: Sony Interactive Entertainment

You know what’s way cooler than Greek Mythology? Norse mythology. Despite being somewhat co-opted by racists and bikers, the Norse Pantheon and their brutal, violent ways have inspired films, television shows, and music for decades. There are even sub-genres in the metal scene dedicated specifically to the myths and legends of Scandinavia. So when Sony announced the next iteration in the God of War franchise would be leaving the played-out feuds of Olympus and moving Kratos up North, my interest was piqued. My interest was further kindled upon actually playing the game and finding myself engaged and somewhat addicted to the revamped and more visceral combat mechanics. Add to that a huge, gorgeous open world scattered with secrets and collectibles, and baby, you got a stew going. Even the addition of a sidekick character, a gameplay trope I normally loathe, was implemented well. Atreus may have been an annoying child most of the time, but damn if that bow of his wasn’t incredibly useful in a tough situation. If you’ve not played it yet, grab a copy, throw some Amon Amarth on your sound system, and go crack some skulls.

Divinity Original Sin 2: Definitive Edition

Quinn’s Game of The Year 2018
Divinity Original Sin 2: Definitive Edition – Images Provided by Larian Studios

I loved the original Divinity Original Sin. I grew up on games like Baldur’s Gate and Nox, so when a Kickstarter project promised a return to the bygone days of CRPGs but with a robust and tactical combat system, I was stoked. Unfortunately, lacking a proper gaming PC, I was unable to participate in the fun when the sequel dropped last year. But as they say, good things come to those who wait, and eventually us console peasants got our own version—with all the tweaks, upgrades, and changes that players had been clamouring for. Loading times were a bit long, and there were definitely some bugs here and there, but when a game is this good, and this deep, those minute flaws can be overlooked. There is so much to do in this game it boggles the mind. My girlfriend and I began playing at the same time, and within a few days our paths had completely diverged and it was almost like we were playing a totally different game. The tactical combat, endless list of side-missions, deep crafting, and often hilarious dialogue made for one hell of an engaging experience and I am definitely excited to see what Larian Studios has in store for the franchise.

Spider-Man

Quinn’s Game of The Year 2018
Spider Man PS4 – Images Provided by Sony

No game released in 2018 made me feel such childlike glee and straight up happiness. I had a grin on my face right from the get go. As soon as the game opened and I was immediately swinging through a beautiful—although somewhat empty—virtual NYC I knew I was going to love the game. Spider-Man has always been my favourite super hero. He’s a hell of a lot more relatable than Superman or Batman, and in my opinion is the truest definition of “hero” in mainstream comics. He’s also got the best outfits and a powerset that remains unique and groundbreaking even 50+ years later. The most important aspect in a Spider-Man game is directly related to this powerset. If a developer can’t make the actual act of web slinging fun, and most importantly, intuitive, then no matter what else they do the game is not going to be good.

To say that Insomniac nailed this would be an understatement. Traversal in Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 is as good as it gets. It’s fast, it’s fluid (ha!), it feels natural, and you don’t have to input complicated button combos to pull it off. The storyline was also a lot of fun, and featured the best portrayal of Doc Ock we’ve ever seen in the medium. Sure, the Mary Jane and Miles Morales segments were drab and monotonous, but that made it all the more fun to go back to being Spider-Man. It made you aware of just how much faster, stronger, and more agile he is than the average joe. Unlocking all my favourite suits while participating in some rather difficult challenges was icing on the cake—even if I did play the entire game in the Ben Reilly Scarlet Spider outfit. It’s the best, you can’t disagree… if only for the fact the notorious Black Suit is left out for some strange, inexplicable, definitely not planned for the sequel reasons.

Dead Cells

Quinn’s GOTY List for 2018 4
Dead Cells – Images Provided by Motion Twin

If you haven’t gathered by my list so far, or if you’ve never read any of my reviews, I’ll make it perfectly clear right now: in order for me to really rate a game, it has to play well. Tight, fluid, responsive controls that feel like an extension of my own movements are paramount to making a game a favourite. I also really enjoy difficult games, loot, and replayability. Dead Cells has all of these in spades. Spider-Man excluded, it’s the best playing game of the year in my opinion. The combat is initially simple, but grows in complexity as the game carries on. Build varieties are pretty diverse for such a surface level simple game. Getting a hang of sword-and-board mechanics happens fairly quickly, but when the traps and bows and runes and skills and amulets come into play the game gets surprisingly deep.  The controls are snappy, incredibly responsive, and fast.

Simply put, Dead Cells does what you want it do as soon as you think about it. The fast and chargey, arcade-like gaming sessions were both addictive and easy to enjoy for someone with a busy schedule. It’s very much a game you can pick up and play for 20 minutes at a time, but has enough replayability that you can extend these sessions to multiple-hours. The rogue-lite level generation and Metroidesque “get an ability and go back to the first level to unlock a new path” made replaying the levels over and over fun with a purpose. It’s also challenging. Very challenging. Just when you think it’s getting easy or you’ve done all there is to do the game throws another curveball your way. A storyline that’s never in your face but there for those interested adds another layer of depth… and why not add some cheeky Dark Souls references? I am a huge fan of this game, and I love seeing a smaller studio absolutely crush the design of a game from top to bottom without requiring millions of dollars and hundreds of employees. This is the closest to a 10/10 for me in 2018.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures (Nintendo Switch) Review

RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures (Nintendo Switch) Review

The original RollerCoaster Tycoon holds a special place in my heart because it was actually one of the first PC games I ever owned. It was an elegant game from a more civilized time, possessing that 90’s PC charm that only games like SimCity, Starcraft, and Lords of the Realm could have. I never got around to playing RollerCoaster 2 or 3, I’ve heard, for the most part, that they are advanced versions of the original and highly regarded among critics.

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Atari Flashback Classics (Switch) Review

Atari Flashback Classics (Switch) Review

Atari Flashback Classics, for sheer numbers, puts many game collections to shame. Getting one-hundred-and-fifty titles in one place makes for a staggering offering across Atari’s early arcade, 2600, and 5200 consoles. It’s a fantastic chunk of the history of video games, especially with its complete manual scans and box art. It’s a lovely collection, although your interest in the history of games, or feelings of nostalgia towards Atari, may colour just how much you enjoy it.

It’s hard to deny the appeal of the wealth of content in Atari Flashback Classics. From space battles to commanding complex missions to racing firetrucks through town, there is simply a lot to do no matter what mood strikes you.

Atari Flashback Classics (Switch) Review 1
Atari Flashback Classics – Review Photo Provided by Atari

While this huge offering might seem to put many of the more modest collections to shame, the brevity and simplicity of many of these titles almost makes it a necessity to have so many. Many of these Atari titles offer straightforward play that, while demanding if you’re aiming for high scores, aren’t especially compelling. Playing Pong or Saboteur will challenge players, for sure, but they get old in a hurry. As bite-sized experiences, they are fun, but these games feel much better suited to short play sessions of multiple games. As such, it only makes sense to have so many in one place, as the games aren’t appealing enough without having so many.

The choice of games does offer many interesting, if brief, adventures to be had. The arcade game Tempest, which tasks you with circling around an arena and firing shots down aisles of dark blue light, gives an incredible sense of depth for the era, especially as players move to new stages. Haunted House and Return to Haunted House offer some surprising chills despite the inherent silliness of their visual style. The Swordquest series gives a glimpse into the early days of adventure as well, albeit with some limitations that are hard to ignore. Beyond them, there’s also Asteroids, Missile Command, Yar’s Revenge, and many other classics that had to be in there.

Some extremely ambitious titles are also present in Atari Flashback Classics. Stellar Track is a text and tactics title where players must check maps and their scanners to find alien ships to destroy. It’s challenging to work within the text interface, but captures the sense of watching monitors on a space ship as you try to ‘see’ your foes. Return to Haunted House also shows some sharp exploration into how to make a horror game with limited visual abilities, using enemy speed and limited line of sight in interesting ways.

Atari Flashback Classics (Switch) Review 2
Atari Flashback Classics – Review Photo Provided by Atari

With some surprising depth in play, it’s handy that the Atari Flashback Classics includes scans of each of the game’s manuals. There are many, many games within the collection that don’t make a whole lot of sense (especially given some of the console toggles you can play with for many games) without taking a look through these manuals. It’s nice to have all of this information at-hand, and equally pleasant that you can leaf through these often-lost booklets as well.

The box scans and pictures of the arcade cabinets also make for a wonderful addition, completing the artwork for each game. It’s a great touch, and helps capture that old feeling of wonder Atari game covers used to convey. They had to do a lot of the imagination heavy lifting given the visual limitations of the time, so playing these games without their covers just wouldn’t be the same.

The Atari Flashback Classics collection adds some new things to draw players in as well. Many of its multiplayer games can be played online, letting players seek out online opponents if there’s nobody home (plus it’s wild to be able to play Pong online). There are also achievements that encourage players to try new things and challenge themselves.

That said, many of these games still aren’t much fun without an interest in the history of games or a sense of nostalgia for them. As said before, they’re often brief or too overly-simple to keep someone playing them for long, and those that do try more interesting things are still highly limited by what the consoles and arcade could do at the time.

Atari Flashback Classics (Switch) Review 3
Atari Flashback Classics – Review Photo Provided by Atari

Your tolerance for the visual style of the era will go a long way in how much you can enjoy Atari Flashback Classics as well. Many of the games are muddy and dark, or features characters and locations that will require you to really work that imagination hard. While there are some outliers that do look quite nice, this collection captures an ugly time in video game visuals, and it can be quite hard to overlook.

It doesn’t help that some of the game’s control styles don’t work very well. Atari Flashback Classics features some touch screen play and standard control styles players can use, and while these are fine for the most part, some of them can be quite imprecise. Most of the driving games control miserably, with the wheel seeming to have a mind of its own. Red Baron’s flight feels needlessly awkward and hard-to-control. Even guiding your character in Tempest seems needlessly touchy if you use the thumb stick instead of the directional buttons, making for some unnecessary frustrations.

For video game history buffs or those with pleasant memories of Atari’s titles, Atari Flashback Classics offers a ton of good times. It’s undeniably an important look back at some of the founding years in games, and helps show just how far we’ve grown, as an industry, in a short time. That said, with some finicky controls, stark visuals, and far-too-simple gameplay, few of these titles may offer much appeal to anyone not interested in history or replaying memories.

Below (Xbox One) Review

Below (Xbox One) Review

The opening track to Jim Guthrie’s soundtrack for Capybara’s Below is titled “Moth to a Flame;” an apt introduction to the game’s central premise. After nearly twenty hours, I cannot say what it is that pulls me to this game. It is unforgiving, even unfair at times. Its tight, minimalist combat and crafting design is rewarding on its own accord, but not so much as to warrant for the brutality of its survival mechanics and, most unforgivably, its unhelpful checkpoint system.  There’s no discernible story told in Below, no addicting gameplay loop, no rewarding carrot on a stick to trick me into chasing down its endgame. The game tells me at every turn that it is indifferent to my wants, my efforts, and my expectations. The more I raged at the injustices or inadequacies Below presented, the more I realized it doesn’t give a damn about the player. I’m not sure, but I believe this, above all else, kept me coming back to the game.

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Fallout 76 Players Getting Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics For Free Next Month

Fallout 76 Players Getting Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics For Free Next Month

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may be aware that Fallout 76 didn’t launch to what anyone would consider critic acclaim, but worry not, as Bethesda has risen to the rescue by offerings players a free trip to the series seemingly brighter past.

The announcement came directly from Bethesda’s Twitter account, where the company stated “ANYONE who logged into the full release of #Fallout76 in 2018 will receive an entitlement for Fallout Classic Collection on PC. This applies to Xbox One and PS4 players, too. The entitlement is expected to go live in early January.” meaning that wether you’ve played Fallout 76 for 30 seconds or 30 decades, you can get a piece of sweet Fallout of the past.

Fallout’s classic collection includes: Fallout 1, the first entry of the series, Fallout 2, its successor and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, a tactics take on the first person RPG series.

This isn’t the first time the company has offered the Fallout Collection for free however, as not only was this collection a previous pre-order bonus for Fallout’s latest entry, but at one time was available free of charge for Steam players. Furthermore, there have been early bundles in the past that have included the following titles, most notably in the form of the re-release of Fallout New Vegas in the Xbox One format.

While this may have been the company’s first step towards fixing Fallout 76’s flawed launch, not all of its fans are happy. Some fans are specifically happy, as twitter user @GreatForest 111 said “this means i can own every fallout, okay this is epic!” but others, not so much. One fan under the Twitter name of @AndrewSnook11 stating “So if you bought a half assed shit game you will feel less ripped off because you get some good games that other company made like 10 years ago. Cool”

Fallout 76 is a multiplayer take on the Fallout franchise and is currently available on Steam, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.



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