Month: August 2014
As I write this I have only actually played about 25 minutes of the game. I had to stop because oh my goodness my head is now spinning. What caused this cranial conundrum? Read on to find out…
I picked up The Bridge because it was 69p on Steam’s midweek madness. Last time I got a game for that price I was extremely pleasantly surprised (see Tiny and Big review). Published by Quantum Astrophysicists Guild and developed by Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda, The Bridge is pretty much everything you would expect from an indie title – innovative art style with thought provoking gameplay. You play as an unnamed inventor-type fella who awakens from a nap after an apple falls on his head à la Isaac Newton style. From the level hub that is his house, you navigate your way through a series of puzzles to…well, I’m not sure why because I stopped playing…
The reason I stopped was because after completing the first of the four chapters my head was screaming at me to lay down. See, The Bridge utilises a physics engine, and the primary gameplay has you rotating each of the levels to manipulate gravity in your favour. It’s a cool concept, and allows you to traverse the M. C. Escher style designs by moving giant balls or swinging chains in your favour. But, for my poor little head, this trippyness proved too much, and I had to stop. I was enjoying myself though, so I will definitely scuttle on back later after digesting a few more litres of water. For you, dearest read o’ mine, it may be different, and your head may survive the disorientating gameplay. I hope so.
The game’s art style is completely hard drawn, and compliments the gameplay. Each level begins with your character being sketched into the puzzle, and that (along with the ability to rotate the levels at will) gives the player the feeling of an omnipotent being. Perhaps that will become more apparent in the game’s story as it progresses? Get all meta ‘n shit.
The accompanying soundtrack is nice too. It isn’t too distracting, but jut apparent enough to create an almost ominous atmosphere throughout the game (that, and the looming threat of a ball-like foe named the Menace…he is the thing of nightmares).
It’s clear that The Bridge has taken inspiration from other successful indie games, notably Fez, Super Meat Boy and Braid. Coincidentally the three games featured in the must-see Indie Game: The Movie. That’s probably irrelevant. The level design is somewhat similar to that of Fez in the manipulation of space. The Super Meat Boy inspiration comes from the kind of cool idea that you can see everywhere you have died. And finally the game is very reminiscent of Braid in its drawing stlye and the fact that you can essentially rewind time if you die. These are not criticism in any way – if something works, why not utilise it? I’m just making an observation – if you enjoyed those games, you will probably like The Bridge.
There isn’t really much more to say about The Bridge. It’s current full price is £6.99, and whilst I will probably attempt to continue playing at some point, and although it’s pretty pretty and quite innovative, I think that the overall experience will become a little tedious eventually. I may be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But we’ll see. A lot of indie games do now seem to just implement a unique art style and call it a day (I’m currently playing through a game called Secrets of Rætikon that seems to be doing pretty much that…review will come soon).
I’m so into pirates right now. Like, seriously. Also, I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, so this review is for the single player campaign only.
If we’re not going to get an Assassin’s Creed game set in Victorian England, then I guess playing as pirates is the next best thing. A prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has you playing as AssCred III protagonist Conor’s grandfather, Edward Kenway – a Welsh eighteenth century sexy pirate who finds himself caught up in the ongoing Assassin/Templar War. The game opens with the ship that Kenway is on being attacked. After being marooned on an island, he ends up chasing down and killing an Assassin – thus, Kenway’s induction into the Assassin club is a lot less…traditional than previous protagonists, including Conor’s. Despite this chance encounter with an Assassin, Kenway is still an ancestor of dull Desmond, and is therefore related to Ezio and Altair too. So, even though he just happened to stumble on to becoming an Assassin, which I think is kind of cool, it was always in his blood. Perhaps that accounts for his unexplained super agility, skill with weapons, dashing good looks, parkour skills and Eagle Vision, like all the other members of the Desmond bloodline? Perhaps…
If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game before, which you should have, you’ll know what to expect from Black Flag. The game is actually a reconstruction of Kenward’s memories, thanks to the Animus. At any point in the game, you can get out of the Animus and explore the ‘real world’ (to an extent). In this scenario, you play first person as a faceless, nameless Abstergo employee, aiding the company in creating the ultimate entertainment experience after the success of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (yeah, it gets pretty meta.) But this is Abstergo, so I don’t trust them for a second and assume they’re actually trying to take over the world.
Back playing Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll spend most of your time climbing up buildings, towers, ships and trees with little-to-no difficulty. You’ll dive from ridiculous heights into conveniently placed hay bails without so much of a scratch. And you’ll kill so many guards in the name of JUSTICE that any morals you had before will be thrown out the window. You’ll also, obviously, see how many ‘innocents’ you can accidentally-on-purposley kill before you are desynchronised. Yes, Black Flag follows the same formula as previous AssCred games, but adds entirely new elements in its open world exploration. Previous Assassin’s Creed titles have had large open maps, but Black Flag’s world is set in the West Indies, and as such about 75% of the map is water, speckled with numerous little islands. This may sound like a boring waste of space, but Black Flag’s naval exploration is where the game really stands out. A couple of hours or so into the game, you gain command of your own ship, the Jackdaw, which can be upgraded with new weapons, armour, figureheads, steering wheels and sails throughout the game, enabling you to create the ship o’ your dreams! Controlling the Jackdaw is a welcome change from the clunky controls that burden Kenward on dry land – you can alter between different speeds, face wind residence, currents and must think quite tactically about how you steel, lest you end up ramming into a small island. There’s no real consequence for this (the ship only takes a small amount of damage from rock-ramming) it does add a few seconds onto your travel time. So if you’re busy and important like me, you’re going to want to steer quite clear. The naval combat is also superior to its land counterpart. Not much has changed in the latter since the last AssCred game – you still pretty much just have to stand there until someone attacks you, then counter it, then win. It gets very stale. But out on the deep blue sea, naval combat demands a whole different pace. The Jackdaw can be equipped with numerous weapons including cannons, fire barrels and giant bolas which must be used systematically to incapacity your watery foe. Weapons have a recharge time, so you can’t just fire them willy-nilly, and you and your enemy are pretty much constantly moving and circling around each other, so timing is very important. Not to mention that they are probably trying to ram and shoot you too. It’s just very satisfying, and weirdly doesn’t get that repetitive. The weather also poses another challenge, and changes dramatically: one minute you might be enjoying a tan on the deck, and the next you’re confronted with an angry maelstrom that’s throwing rouge waves and tornado at you. It’s very atmospheric! And you feel pretty epic navigating your ship through tidal waves and probable death.
Going back to the map, there is a large number of places to explore. From big towns like Havana, to tiny islands hiding a treasure chest, the world has an awful lot to offer. Too much…some might say. I mean, it’s great, but there are so many tiny islands scattered around with Animus Fragments or chests on that getting them is definitely going to take some time, if you’re a completionist. There are also dive spots that are unlocked further on in the game, allowing Kenward to dive into ruins of sunken ships and underwater caves huntin’ fer treasure. These side missions are an interesting change of pace and scenery, although I have to applaud Edward’s talent to be attacked by sharks, jellyfish, eels and sea urchins all whilst retaining his gigantic lung capacity. It gets a bit silly but I’m sure that can all just be put down to Animus trickery! Also, from the beginning of the game, you can find pretty much all of the collectibles, which is weird when they are then introduced in the story in sequence 3 or 4. It just seems a little bit like the story writers didn’t correspond much with the collectable planners. Additionally, (and this is just a little peeve) at the very beginning of the game you can go around freeing captured pirates, who ‘thank ya, Captain’…but you’re not a captain yet! You’re just a nobody with a hood! But, ah, details…
The story itself is quite compelling, and I am interested to see where it goes (at point of writing I haven’t actually completed the game yet…). I’m also curious to explore the ‘real world’ and see what the aforementioned Abstergo are actually planning. The characters throughout the story are quite fleshed out, with Edward being a lot more likeable than Conor, even if he is a morally gray scallywag. Like previous Assassin’s Creed titles, and one of the things that draws me to the series, Black Flag‘s alternate history features many real life historical figures, including infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But I tend to spend most of my time pursuing the side missions and the dynamic quest system. As well as the aforementioned collectables, there are also Assassin contracts, Templar hunts, whaling (which I always feel very bad about), naval contracts and a few mini games to privilege yourself with. The story and side missions themselves mostly follow the basic Assassin’s Creed principles: following someone, eavesdropping, chasing someone, assassinating someone, infiltrating a restricted area etc. Unfortunately these do become a tad tedious, and whilst many of the missions encourage a stealthy approach in their optional objectives, there is no real consequence if you’re seen; you don’t desynchronise, and as I said the combat itself is pretty easy so you can easily fight off a horde of enemies quite quickly. Also, there are some missions that require you to ‘stealthily’ follow another ship…which is stupid because on the open sea I’m pretty a fat off pirate ship isn’t the most inconspicuous.
One thing that the Assassin’s Creed games do well is create an atmospheric environment, and Black Flag is no different. The rain and water graphics look amazing, and it’s great to go from running around a tropical island to a busy port town. The weather is brilliant, and on numerous occasions I have found chills running down my spine as I’m chased through foggy waters by a ghostly looking ship. Black Flag is definitely a welcome addition to what is generally a great series. It corrects what Revelations and AC: III did wrong and is definitely up there with AC: II and Brotherhood in my humble opinion. There’s lots to do in a beautiful world, and it just highlights the fact that there really aren’t enough pirate games out there!
Oh, and as it’s Ubisoft, you’re forced to play via uPlay. “What’s your uPlay name?” said no one ever. Gah! Though, I must say, it’s nice that achievements and accomplishments can actually be used to enhance your experience of the game. You have that going for you, uPlay. Well done. But that’s it!
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was released in 2013, developed by Swedish company Starbreeze Studios (who also did the Payday games, which is kind of odd) and directed by Swedish director Josef Fares, who wins the handsome smolder competition. Like Child of Light, we’ve got a real European feel goin’ on here. Also like Child of Light, one could instantly dismiss Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as being ‘indie-bait’ – the art style, gameplay, type of story and unique elements that make up the game are all those that make game reviewers rave about what an outstanding experience this is. But don’t let that deter you. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is truly a unique game, and only taking up about three hours of your time, it’s definitely one that you should check out. I can only rave about what an outstanding experience it is.
One of the aspects that makes Brothers a stand-out game is the control system. You play as two brothers, believe it or not: the younger Naiee and the elder Naia. A controller is required to play this game, as you, the player, manoeuvres each brother individually using the two analogue sticks. The shoulder triggers are also used to enable each respective brother to talk to other characters, grab ledges and generally interact with objects. That’s it for the controls. Simple? Non. As the game is played from a third-person overlooking view, you must keep the two brothers within a certain distance of each other at all times. This means, more often than not, controlling both Naiee and Naia at the same time. Believe me when I say you’re going to have to take numerous pauses throughout the game to reassess your bearings. Controlling one brother with one half of the controller and the other brother with the other half is difficult enough, but then you get an instance where they cross over and suddenly the right half of the controller is controlling the brother on the left and ahhhhhhhhhhhh. As such, rushing through this game is pretty difficult, which is great because if you take your time and absorb the surroundings you will get a much richer experience. Which leads nicely onto another aspect that makes Brothers such an outstanding experience.
Brothers is presented in an entirely fictional language that sounds a lot like Simlish (NOT SWEDISH!), an as such, the immersive story is told and interpreted pretty much entirely through gestures. Some critics have argued that this distances players from the characters and restricts you from really caring about them, but I disagree. By interacting with NPCs, exploring and really making the most out of the game, you can get a real feel for the brothers’ personalities: Naiee, the younger, is a bit of a mischievous dick but means no harm really, whereas Naia is a bit more gawky/cool in a Zac Efron in High School Musical kind of way.
The game opens with Naiee mourning at the grave of his mother, who drowned when she seemingly fell out of a boat, and Naiee was unable to save her, thus living with the guilt of her death. Naia beckons his brother over, as they must take their ill father to the village doctor, who then sends them on a mission to retrieve water from what is probably called the Tree of Life in order to save him. Thus their quest begins! Throughout their quest, the brothers must traverse through various lands to reach their goal. It’s these atmospheric environments that makes the game really feel alive. At first I thought the game was just set in your standard medieval work, but oh-ho I was wrong! The journey is an adventure, and along the way you’ll meet an array of interesting characters and settings that will make you want to just sit and appreciate how populated this world feels. It also really made to want to play Minecraft. There are various benches scattered across the world that allow you to just sit and enjoy the view for a while. This was a game that was meant to be enjoyed, not rushed. To make the world even more immersive, there are also several little side-quests along the way. These are very short, but offer a greater insight into how this world works, and how its inhabitants live. It’s an outstanding experience.
Ultimately, the Brothers is a puzzle game. To get from point A to B, Naia and Naiee must overcome various obstacles using teamwork and brains. These puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, but are still enjoyable for the most part. Some get a little tedious at times, but they always politely excuse themselves and leave when they have overstayed their welcome, like a good house guest. My personal favourite was climbing a giant tower, using momentum and PHYSICS to aid me along the way. Such an outstanding experience.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game about relationships, overcoming fear and moving on from death. It would be cool to offer a co-op option, where one player controls one brother, which I’m sure would lead to some hilarious hi-jinks, but then I think that that would deduct from the overall impact and point of the game. Whilst at times I did get a teency weency bit bored, the environment and atmosphere sucked me right back in and made me want to play more. The Steam price of £10.99 is a little high for the three hours or so of gameplay that you will get out of it, but if it drops down to around £6 or so, I definitely recommend playing. Also you can abbreviate the title to Brothers: ATOTS, which is fun. It’s a real outstanding experience.