Wednesday, December 31, 2014

3 days of...Awesomenauts!

Action platforming MOBA at it's finest

I have been a fan of MOBAs for most of the year now. My work doesn't take me near human contact for most of the day. So when I get home and look for some qualifications of the games I want to play, multiplayer is a definite attractor. Thus, MOBA is a natural genre for me to ease into and get some much needed human contact, no matter how venomous the comments. 

Honestly though, I was suprised when I picked up Awesomenauts by Ronimo I jumped right into a game after lightly reviewing the mechanics and controls. The game lends itself to a fast learning curve at least at first. Much of the game is fast and twitch reflexes are necessary, but a basic knowledge of MOBAs and action platforming are all the basis you need to have fun in your first games. 

During my first game, I felt as though I wasn't even playing with humans. You are constantly moving and jumping, controls which take both your hands, and every second counts since the arena is much smaller than most MOBAs. So there wasn't much time to type, and as far as I could tell there wasn't voice activated from allies mics. It is quite a different experience to play with the basic communications that are provided by the game. Each of the several number different buttons that are quickly accessible allow you to communicate ideas that are basic to every MOBA. Retreat, attack, help, and the like are all communicated through generic terms to your teammates instantly. Fortunately there aren't sarcastic or abrasive comments that can be communicated so quickly so the entire thing turns out often to be relaxing and fun, even if you end up losing. There is of course a chat option, but I found it unnecessary and not often used by others either.

The mechanics of battle remind me of platforming action akin to Smash Brothers. Though unlike that genre, special abilities have cooldowns. So you can use them as they come available, but are disabled for some time after their use and you are left with just a simple attack button. Fusing the two concepts actually works very well. The most important aspect to combat then is positioning and timing. This allows for a very gradual learning curve after beginning to learn the game, eventually breaking into the concept of meta and having to change your tactics based on the current trends of combat and the game. So even though the game might be more simple than say DOTA, it still has a sense of depth. 

I will thank the creators for breaking down the timing of modern MOBAs because the constant stress of being put against other humans, and having to remain evasive for more than 20 minutes in an action platformer can be very strenuous on my hands. Luckily, rarely did a match extend beyond that time. It seems to be the median time that you can spend in a game, many ended before that as pushing strategies were involved.

Other great things that I enjoyed about the game: The reduced dependance on items (though there are some tactical choices in your purchases), faster respawn times, unique characters, and a great system for cosmetics. Cosmetics are a big attractor to me for a MOBA, as they are a way to customize the game to your preferences. I think the art style is very appropriate, and many of the cosmetics are either comical or very well constructed for the character type. Some immersion is broken for some of the cosmetics, like the minecraft model for one of the characters. However this is a game that never takes itself so seriously as to not allow for such concessions. 

I enjoyed my time with Awesomenauts and I will be glad to come back to it as a game that has a lot of replayability. Not only that but the development team are still working on creating new and interesting characters and cosmetics. Even developing the AI to be better on a consistent basis. So even if you purchase this game now, you won't be disappointed with the future prospects. This is definitely something to look into if you enjoy MOBAs but need a break from the seriously competitive play that pervades the attitudes of their populations.

You'll like this game if: you're tired of more serious MOBAs but don't to leave the genre entirely behind. Great gameplay, fun characters, and quick matches are the star qualities of this game.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )

Saturday, December 27, 2014

3 days of...Call of Juarez: Gunslinger!


Westerns are a touchy subject for me. I never desired to marathon through spaghetti westerns or the American classics involving smoking guns in the title and the action sequences. I was lost when actors donned makeshift rope and cast iron armors at high noon. As a matter of fact my introduction to the setting was Red Dead Redemption on the PS2, so naturally my critical eye was ruined with a glorious example of how a Western SHOULD be made. 

Even though it's a few years old, the game still looks great.
Yet those precedents didn't prevent me from enjoying Call of Juarez: Gunslinger by developer Techland. I hadn't known many of the historical outlaws that were referenced, and was not familiar with the character tropes that scattered the mythology. I was good at arcade shooters though, and by the time I was done, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story of Silas Graves. Playing the part of a great mercenary and involving myself in the legendary stories made everything feel larger than life. 

There are a great many details that are paid attention in Gunslinger, but few stand out as amazing decisions on the developers part. The well balanced combat, bullet time feature, duels, and arcade style all stood out to me as the best part of the game. The rest of the game was very well put together, had a quality finish and a narrator that was very entertaining. The narrating is done by the main character over a game of poker and a few drinks, so while you're shooting away at outlaws and Apaches, you may be stopped to make corrections in the story. Set pieces fly from the sky, the ground opens up, and enemies are replaced or multiplied on a regular basis. This keeps you on your feet and makes the game much more interesting than most story-based shooters that I've ever played. 

The narrative can be both engaging, and erratic at times.
That being said, the quick bait-and-switch of the narrative combined with the quick reaction required to create combos makes for frantic game-play. It is not constantly frantic however. The fights are placed well apart so the attention required to create massive combos is staccato and focused in intense portions that are manageable. Narrative is delivered mostly in the slower gaps between combat so you don't miss any important story elements. Still though, the combination of arcade gameplay and the constantly changing landscape and narrative is fresh and personally I laughed every time my slightly sloshed memories were changed.

There are likely 2 ways that you might approach Gunslinger. The game encourages long-distance cover to cover sniping, and quick running reactive close-range game-play. The best part is that both are viable, and you aren't incentivized or punished too heavily for choosing one over the other. The bullet time feature is one of the ways they balance this. There is both a bullet time feature for combat, and a final bullet survival dodge that is activated when you are about to be hit for the last time. So you don't have to worry while your bullet meters are filled when you can run and gun. However you are risking life and limb once you dodge the bullet (literally) and need to recharge those meters!

These duels really make you feel like you're racing to draw.
This design choice both makes the stories more faithful to the stories of larger than life personalities and makes sniping and close-range combat both rewarding and effective. Instead of applying MORE armor like most games do, they increase or decrease these bullet-time features to give closer-combat more flair and effectiveness.

After playing this game for just a few days, regardless of how high I am on the leader-boards, everything becomes smooth and natural. Bullets fly, enemies fall, and my tally increases. I am not the best in the world, but it feels as though I am the best in the world I am playing in. This feeling that the game bestows on it's user is unique and gratifying. The only word I can use to describe it is "bad-ass". Yes, I feel like a bad-ass after playing Gunslinger. 

You'll like this game if: You want to be John Wayne and Clint Eastwood on steroids, mix in a bit of matrix, and a dash of space-invaders. Cook at 350 for 4 hours, and consume like nails at breakfast because you feel like such a beast.

(If you had a different opinion or a new video game to suggest, leave a comment below! If you want to recieve regular updates, follow me on Twitter @SimonGolden. )

Monday, December 22, 2014

3 days of...Assassins Creed III!

A Lesson in History and why NOT to repeat it.

The British are coming...
With the impending annual schedule of the Assassins Creed series, I decided to continue on my way through the episodes. I've already played up to the 3rd in the series, including Brotherhood, and I wanted to see how the series was holding up before moving on to the fourth. To be honest I am sincerely looking forward to play a pirate assassin in the Caribbean, regardless of the technical issues associated with the game. Slogging through what has a reputation as being the most flat game of the series is just something I had to do for continuities sake.

No spoilers, but you kill a bunch of redcoats.
It is very flat. The opening sequence was surprising, but it takes too much time for the sake of the story. The main character should induce some emotional reaction in me, but he is distant and inhuman. His reactions are inappropriate for the circumstances most of the time, and I believe this is the biggest problem with the character. Let's be honest, if I can't relate to the main character and his struggle it becomes more and more difficult to pick the game up time and time again.

There are other ways of doing this rather than introducing emotionally drawn out sequences that are meant to be motivational food for the character. Countless other games have a silent protagonist that I identify with more, probably because I can introduce my own voice as I play the character. No, the dissonance that is established by the time real game play comes around is so pronounced it is impossible to recover from.

Here was the first glitch I came across.
Floating Cannonball!
The reactions of other people to the main character are also unbelivable. Names like Sam Adams, George Washington, and Benedict Arnold are commonplace. But their reactions to a Native American running critical messages, assassinating leaders, and commanding troops is unbelievable. Not that a Native American isn't capable of these things, it's that at the time there was such cultural stress that the looks and attitude in the game don't match what I would expect. Shattering my expectations from history destroys my immersion. I know that since it is a game it isn't supposed to be accurate, but accuracy in some things is necessary for immersion. Especially for an alternate history series no matter how they may change things around. It is a difficult balance to hit, but missing the target all together isn't an option for a major studio like Ubisoft.

So there you have it, my two biggest complaints with the game. I'll leave it there, because there are so many articles about the technical issues plaguing the series. Hopefully I can be more enthralled by future installations of the series, and get back to the feelings of wonder that the second game left me with.

3 days of...Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

A Lesson in great Design

I have had my eye on Binding of Isaac for quite some time, being a fan of roguelikes. I played the original version a while ago and fell in love with the concept. The way that Edmund McMillan integrates the Biblical mythos in a way that is both coherent and creepy. Not many games can pull that off so obviously, and even though it may be offensive to some modern day Christians, I still find it a refreshing departure from the revisiting of greco-roman mythology that invades the market these days.

However, I want to talk more about the design of the game. It is done in a way that is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda two-dimensional dungeon crawling. Each room has its own dedicated screen and the screen moves as you move between rooms. The combat is a mixture of bullet-hell and top-down shooting mechanics. There are power ups, boss fights, and secret rooms. Everything that makes up the standard dungeon crawler.

The real treat though is that the randomized synergies between weapons and items are just in-depth enough to both keep old-time fans coming back, and amaze newcomers alike. There was one run through the game recently that I had floating, piercing, explosive tears (the bullets the characters use) that expanded while they were mid-air. This is just one run and I guarantee I will never have another like it.

These synergies keep you coming back over and over to see how you can combine items or break the game every time. The excitement that you may over the course of 45 minutes become so powerful you can kill anything with your sweep of bullets is so strong that the fight to get there is worth it. And that's basically what the game boils down to. The fight to become overpowered.

Due to random chance and the game generating seeds though that isn't always possible. It doesn't keep you from turning around and trying again to crawl your way ever closer to being "carried" through the game by the right combinations of items. This feeling is one of the reasons I kept coming back to Binding of Isaac. It's strangeand addictive, and even when you're losing, very very fun.

The rest of the game has the same theological feel of the first Binding of Isaac game, something I enjoyed immensely. The current remake is 3 times the price, and after playing it for some time, I have to say the added items, characters, and the improved efficiency make the price tag worth it. If you're a fan of rogue-likes then this game is a definite must-play. It even has a multiplayer element if you don't want to shell out the money to check it out.

You'll like Binding of Isaac Rebirth if: You enjoy bullet-hell style shooters and want an infinitely variable game that never shows the same iteration twice.