Author: Alex Patterson

Review: Prey

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Prey is the latest creation from Arkane Studios, veterans of the FPS genre after the release of the widely loved Dishonored games.  Prey, or Prey 2017 as some people call it, has been trivialised as “Bioshock/Dishonored in space”, and to some extent this is true, there are a lot of similarities in the style of those three games, but also a lot of unique differences personal to Prey.  The main protagonist is Morgan Yu, with a purposely ambiguous name to fit either a male or female player character, you are a scientist aboard the space station Talos 1, and second in command of Transtar, the company that owns said space station and funds all the mysterious and sometimes morally questionable research happening aboard.  You begin your story waking up to a view of a picturesque view of a sprawling city, the sun is shining, this is the day you start your ‘new job’ at Transtar.  Your induction includes doing some trivial tests in rooms as scientists look on, scribbling down notes and talking between one another, confused and dismayed.  Suddenly you get your first shock sighting of the game’s enemy, an alien race known as the Typhon, as a Typhon Cacoplasmus, dubbed a mimic, marks a brutal entrance for the antagonist as it rams one of its 4 limbs down the throat of a scientist.  As the scientists are ambushed and you look on in horror, a gas seeps into your test room and you wake up starting your day again, all very suspicious.  This time around however, there are clues as to the reality of your situation, allowing you to break out of this one simulated day that been turned “into the rest of your life”.

As you move out of your luxury prison with no knowledge as to your life before this, you are contacted by January, an AI version of yourself plugged into the body of an operator, one of the many helpful/annoying robots hovering around Talos 1.  He tells you that you are being experimented on by your brother Alex Yu and that the Typhon have since taken over the station, giving you the pretext needed to gear up and… sneak around, hide and hope you don’t get spotted until you’re strong enough to actually fight back.  Prey lays out the back story of the Yu brothers very nicely, leaving the player’s history a scrambled mess of brain matter and fragmented thoughts and memories, all the while painting Alex in an ambiguous light.  He can be seen as friend or foe depending on how you choose to interpret the game as you gradually piece together your shattered past using the multitude of emails mentioning you, Alex, Transtar, Talos 1 and how all of it ties together.  I could go further into detail but I would be doing the game a huge disservice as it is one of it’s greatest achievements, Prey really creates a great and enthralling narrative that draws you in further and further as the game progresses.

Another thing this game does extremely well is atmosphere, the feel of Talos 1 is amazing and I loved exploring it and discovering every caveat to every single character on the station, alive or dead, each one has a tale to tell, not once will you find a corpse without an interesting and unique back story.  The station itself feels vast, open and desolate.  You start the game believing you are still on Earth, but when you discover you are in fact in space by encountering the same view in the screenshot below (only with a bit less clean majesty and a lot less living people) it really changes the dynamic of the game, for me it already made me feel abandoned and alone, at the behest of the extraterrestrial predators stalking through Talos 1 with an instinctual malice emanating from every enemy.

As you progress through Prey you discover Neuromods. Neuromods are touted as the next step in human evolution, although they have an insidious backstory that I won’t spoil here. They allow you to directly implant the abilities and skills of other notable people in history essentially making you a superhuman.  You can run like an Olympian or think like Einstein, as you can imagine these Neuromods are rare and coveted, usually reserved for the upper echelons of society on Talos 1. Each Neuromod can bolster your ability to traverse Talos 1, or butcher the Typhon, exponentially. This makes for some incredibly fun and diverse gameplay, you can play through the game multiple time exploring different skill trees for many different combinations of play styles.  My first and favourite play through utilised a stealth orientated setup, a fully upgraded shotgun, extra stealth critical damage and silent sprinting is one deadly combination. I felt like one of the Phantoms, darting from cover to cover unseen and occasionally one-hitting an enemy. A little bit further into the game and it is revealed that you can use a psychoscope (a device your amnesiac self developed, unbeknownst to the player) a type of headset with goggles designed to analyse Typhon and various other things in your environment. Once you have scanned in enough of a certain enemy you unlock new powers based on the type of enemy scanned. For example, you can scan the mimics and unlock the ability to mimic items yourself, useful for hiding and overcoming obstacles such as a small window, too small for Morgan the human, but just the right size for Morgan the coffee mug.

Another big part of Prey is the ability to leave Talos 1, or enter parts of the station with the artificial gravity switched off.  This really adds a whole new layer to the game, and I was shocked at how much I found myself enjoying it, thinking it would just be moving from one area to the next.  The lack of gravity makes combat harder, especially when the enemies you encounter in these zero G zones are already used to hovering around and can pick you apart easily if you panic at the sight of them and flail helplessly to your swift demise.  A lot of people disliked the Cystoids which are essentially living proximity mines… that move and chase any movement they detect near them.  I personally enjoyed having them around, it made me act a bit more carefully in space as opposed to just propelling myself into a piece of space wreckage without a second thought, I would take my time to creep around the edges at a low-speed to make sure I couldn’t see or hear any of those exploding black lumps.  On the occasion that I did fly in nonchalantly, I would often come face to face with a group of angry shapes looming out of the darkness ready to martyr themselves for the Typhon cause, albeit by instinct, forcing you to part ways with one of the (thousands) of suit repair kits you can find around the station.  The fabrication machines dotted around Talos 1 also added to the game, it allows you to customise your play through to your gaming style.  Stealth, balls out combat, psi powers, all of these can be aided along by fabricating items to suit your needs.  9mm ammo for your silenced pistol, some neuromods to put into the stealth abilities, or maybe some neuromods to increase your psi potential and some psi hypos to keep you topped up in combat.

Overall, I loved Prey. I thoroughly enjoyed the desolate, empty and isolated feeling Talos 1 gave you as you explored it, a stark contrast to the starting mission as you run through your simulated day, complete with a relaxing helicopter ride with a great view, only to be thrust into a totally different and horrifying reality.  The Typhon were a breath of fresh air for me personally when it comes to alien races.  I thought the fact they were physically present but very focused around psychic ability and being semi-ethereal, from a different dimension and with one goal in mind, the assimilation of the people inside Talos 1, and the subsequent destruction of the station, and then perhaps all human life left in the universe.  I loved fighting the Typhon, they felt like a real and soulless enemy to sink your teeth into, no moral ambiguity to them at all, your goals were whittled down to survive, and destroy them.  I also liked how the game presented you with many different perspectives on your brother Alex.  Some people hated him, some admired him, and regardless of everything else, he was still your brother.  This final fact was hit home many times with him speaking to you about your parents, your life on earth, and as you uncover more transcribes and emails I feel as though the game makes you form your own opinion on Alex, which was a fresh experience as opposed to the usual ‘this character is bad, because we needed a bad guy for the plot line to progress’.  Your relationship with Alex feels unique, organic and realistic and I think it adds a lot to the game personally, what with you trying to scavenge and piece together your fractured past, Alex keeping secrets from you (but potentially with your own good in mind) and the Typhon threat constantly growing and creeping closer, Prey felt alive and exciting for me the entire way through.  I would definitely recommend this game to any sci-fi fan, and anyone who loved the way Dishonored played.

Review: Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Virtual reality gaming is still in its infancy, but so far, the impressive technology has been defined by indie offerings. Few major publishers have released one major title, let alone several, for the exciting new devices. The exception has been Ubisoft, whose habit of supporting new hardware is alive and well. The French publisher has put out some of the best games for the medium, including the fantastic Eagle Flight, and have now released their most ambitious game yet—Star Trek: Bridge Crew.

The premise behind the game is one that will immediately intrigue any fan of Gene Roddenberry’s monumental sci-fi series, as it allows players to operate a space ship. This is a team effort, as the bridge is separated into four different roles: the captain, engineer, helmsman and tactical. With each position comes different responsibilities (such as the helmsman piloting the ship) that must be accomplished in order for the ship to run correctly. The actual interactions are simple, as players use PlayStation Move controllers to mimic their arms, and then choose what buttons they want to press on the monitor in front of them.

Like the iOS hit Spaceteam, this results in a co-op focused experience that relies on proper communication. I spent most of my time as the ship’s captain. This gave me access to an objective list that only I could see, and it was up to me to make sure the team was working together in unison. So, if the game wanted my team to warp from one part of space to another area so we could fix a damaged ally, I had to tell my helmsman what direction to point the ship in. If an enemy ship was attacking, it was on me to make the tough decision to either fight it out or evade combat. Every small task in the game requires cooperation, and this leads to some memorable exchanges.

The gameplay eventually becomes the backdrop of something much more interesting, which is getting to watch people interact. I haven’t used voice chat in a multiplayer game this much in years, and it was refreshing to spend an online experience laughing with others as we either accomplished or failed our goals, rather than muting a Call of Duty lobby filled with vulgarity. Maybe it’s due to VR’s smaller install base, and that the only people who can afford expensive headsets tend to be working adults, but I rarely have had such a positive experience online. It also helped that the game didn’t just encourage us to work together, but demanded it. That’s not to say that there weren’t bumps in the road, as frantic sequences often resulted in some yelling between players, but I was lucky enough to never run into someone that took the game overly serious. After all, our real lives weren’t in danger if we did poorly, just our virtual caricatures.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew can also be played solo, and while I feel like this is clearly an inferior experience, it’s still a pretty good time. I mostly did this when I was getting up to speed with the gameplay, as it allowed me to switch from the captain’s chair to any of the other positions. This allowed me to better understand each of the character’s specific tasks, and choosing to do everything by yourself shows how helpful your teammates are when playing online. Still, nothing beats playing with other players, and I lost all desire to play by myself as soon as I hopped online.

One of the coolest parts about Bridge Crew is that the player does have some agency over how a mission plays out. It doesn’t mirror the television series that inspired it, as you won’t be talking your way out of potential conflicts, but my actions impacted how missions played out. One of the most memorable moments I had was actually an act of cowardice, as I commanded my crew to immediately warp out of an area after a Klingon ship threatened to fire upon us if we stayed in the area. This meant that my crew was unable to save some stranded allies, but by taking my ball and going home, I was able to ensure my crew’s safety. I didn’t feel good about this decision, but I was able to make a few trophies pop due to my pacifist ways. In the end, it was a worthy sacrifice.

It’s a good thing that missions have variations to them, as there isn’t a ton of content here. There’s only a handful of missions for the core campaign, and there’s not a great story to go with it, so them being replayable is a big deal. Beyond these structured levels, players can also go on “ongoing voyages,” which are randomized missions that fall into a few different categories (rescue, defend, etc.). Since the objectives are always secondary to the interaction between teammates, there is just enough content to keep Star Trek: Bridge Crew feeling fresh enough to warrant regular sessions. Players can even choose to use the USS Enterprise, the ship from the original show, on these missions, which makes even the smallest of adjustments a process of clicking a ton of different knobs and buttons. It was simply too complex for me to deal with, but it’s something I’ll try to figure out if Bridge Crew ever becomes too easy for my regular playing group.

Star Trek: Bridge Crew feels like the next step for cooperative gaming. It builds upon the core concept that made Spaceteam and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes so much fun to play, and adds an extra layer on top of it that makes it feel more like a traditional game. It might not offer as much freedom as players would like, and there’s not a ton of content, but it still manages to be one of the most captivating titles for VR.

Review: Friday the 13th: The Game

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Friday the 13th: The Game is arguably one of the most highly anticipated titles for the first half of 2017. Featuring Jason Voorhees from the legendary franchise of the same name, along with the Us versus One dynamic that has become very popular in terms of competitive-and-cooperative hybrid gameplay, this Survival Horror/Multiplayer/Horror hybrid is a fast-paced, highly competitive 7v1 dose of mayhem. And while the game was plagued with some truly debilitating glitches at launch – at least, the PC version had a database sync error that locked players out of play entirely until it was fixed – so far, the majority of troubles Friday the 13th: The Game (F13) comes down to gameplay.

This title launches players into the world of the familiar Friday the 13th movie sagas, with players either playing Jason as the killer, or one of the counselors. One of the best features is the Perks you unlock at random, by spending in-game points you generate by playing games; this currency allows you to try to roll increasingly rare Perks for an even better chance of survival. On top of that, each counselor has different attribute levels; you can choose someone with high Speed, or Stamina, or someone excellent at Repair or Stealth modes. And trust me, if you have low Repair and you’re trying to fix a car battery or a fuse box the skill checks are much, much harder than if you are a high skill counselor. Jason also gains different abilities and minor cosmetic changes. Just like with the counselors, you level up, and the more Perks you roll for, the easier it is for you to customize your character for your particular play-style.

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The trouble is that Friday the 13th: The Game invites an awful lot of griefing and trolling by random players if you choose to enter a public lobby. The counselors have the ability to injure or even kill each other, and beyond that, a low-Stealth character can “sandbag” (sabotage) a high-Stealth character just by chasing after them and things like that. You can create a private match with your friends as long as you have 4+ players; unfortunately, if you don’t have that many people on your Steam list with this title you’re stuck playing with random people elsewhere in the world. The built-in, in-game chat is often rampant with insults and shenanigans, and since players can join a lobby as Jason and a Counselor choice, it’s easy for them to work together to the distinct disadvantage of other players.

However, the balance issues and anti-griefing measures are something that can be developed over time and implemented as the Developers receive community feedback. What F13 does have going for it is the variety of objectives and “ways to win” in place. There are cars to repair, phones to repair and use to call the police, and even the super-secret and highly complicated method of “killing” Jason once and for all. It means that there’s a wide variety of items in each of the maps, and although it gets a bit repetitious over time, the dynamic of random Jason selection in each party keeps things fresh. Additional maps down the road will help with this as well, but I love the fact that there are a multiple means of “Surviving” as a counselor, just like there is a multitude of methods for dispatching your victims as Jason. Also, supposedly “by design,” Jason is extremely over-powered. Given that it’s a 7v1 style of gameplay, it’s no wonder that Jason has obvious advantages; still, it does feel a bit excessive.

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Without a doubt, IllFonic has done a great job of addressing issues and community concerns. And while I disagree with their decision – or that of publisher Gun Media, perhaps – to give big streamers advance access to the title, for the most part, they seem more committed to delivering a quality experience than many similar video games have managed. With Steam achievements, controller support, and even Steam Leaderboards, Friday the 13th: The Game for PC is a nostalgic, fast-paced, chaotic experience full of horrific murders and gory deaths, and there’s a lot of fun to be had. Fans of the Horror genre and online Co-Op/Multiplayer titles especially should consider giving this one a try, even with the steep price tag.

For a title that got its start on Kickstarter, backed by an Indie team, with tremendous popularity and hype before it even went live, F13 stands to be one of the most successful Us vs. One team games currently available if the Devs continue to make the changes required to balance the title fairly. That being said, those imbalance issues, the bugs at launch, and even the dysfunction within the community does make this feel like an Early Access title, so it may be one better for a Wish List and watching rather than paying full price for anytime soon.

 

Review: Human Fall Flat

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If there’s ever a way to make a game enjoyable but also so damn infuriating, then over the top physics are the way to do it. Gang Beasts did it, where you couldn’t help but fall over; but that was all about fighting and pushing other people off, but this game puts those physics powers to good and makes you solve puzzles which will test your wits and your sanity. There is also the option to play with a friend which, although it makes the game easier, can also make you even more stressed out when your mate can’t work out how to open a door properly.

Human Fall Flat puts you (and a friend if you so choose) in various areas in which you have to solve a set of physics puzzles before you can move on. There are very limited controls in the game mainly to make it more difficult to get a half decent grip on something, it also means that you can nab any of your pals to give it a go as it requires basically no gaming experience. So if the controls are easy to understand, what can be so hard about it? Well, you’ve got to put your wits to the test and work out exactly where to push and pull stuff to the exact place where they need to be, then you need to actually get yourself from A to B.

The puzzles aren’t difficult to work out, the main hindrance is your ability to move the objects and putting your physics thinking cap on. Lots of the puzzles require exploring for possible alternative routes and also key objects which can easily missed as they’re right in front of you. Different paths to solve the puzzles can be more exciting so it’s definitely worth looking; while I was playing I saw that I could either unlock a gate across a bridge or launch myself in a catapult over the doors to get in, so obviously I chose the latter because it’s far more fun and there are loads of more choice like that in the game.

One unsettling thing about Human Fall Flat is that there is no music, sure there’s a little bit every time you solve a puzzle, but when you are taking your time trying to work something out there is nothing. As well as being creepy, it’s also so bloody boring. It would be bad enough playing with two people but playing alone with no music would be hellish. At least the game looks decent for what it is, there isn’t much detail or anything too amazing but it is cool to see the large areas that are in the game. My personal favorite is the castle.

One thing to note is that Human Fall Flat as best played with a friend, playing alone is boring and slowly becomes tedious; obviously it’s harder alone as it’s the same levels, but playing with someone makes the game far more fun. As I mentioned about the music, this silence won’t be filled by you and your friend talking; in fact, this silence won’t be filled at all. So if you are thinking of buying the game make sure you have a buddy with you, or if the puzzle need is too strong then the game is completely playable on your ones.

Human Fall Flat is a fun physics based puzzle game, one you can spend a while playing and exploring different ways to solve puzzles. But it does seem to be a game designed for two people so be wary entering alone, and it may be an idea to pop some music or even a podcast on to fill the awkward silence this game throws at you. However, it’s still fun and nice little way to get your brain working while slowly going insane due to the lack of control over your character.

Review: Little Nightmares

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As a kid you play hide and seek for fun. You pick a spot, hide from your pursuer and hope they don’t find you. You quietly giggle under your breath as they walk pass you making you feel accomplished that for just a moment you can never be found.

In Little Nightmares however, hide and seek is a horror game. You run from your pursuer, find your hiding spot, and wait — with only sound of your heavy breathing and heartbeat thumbing in your ears — for a creeping shadow and a pair of heavy feet to pass your narrow view. Once they stop, you stop breathing. They pass, and you’re at relief. And then they come back, you’re caught, and the game is over. It’s a style that horror games are usually built on, but we’re usually most shocked when it’s comes to that split second it being caught, Little Nightmares flips that design to the more frightening moment of waiting to be caught.

Little Nightmares tells the story of a little raincoated girl named six which you carefully and cautiously guide left to right through the sea-swaying innards of the Maw (and ocean facility with a slowly revealed, despicable purpose) is a matter of avoiding instant-death, and gentle puzzling of how to proceed, though for roughly 5 hours or so of actual playing time, it felt slightly too brief to really take in.

Similar to Playdead’s limbo, and Inside (it’s closer relatives) not because of their similar design of a child in a mortal peril, but how well it binds the concept of puzzle design and storytelling together. Every enemy, every room, every meat grinder you use to make a rope of sausages to swing from, contributes to the story of The Maw and Six’s seeming breakout. It’s quietly clever never more so than in the giant, twisted figures of those trying to stop you proceeding. And although Little Nightmares was enjoyable on all ends, it’s wordless style is a little harder to take in when the story seems more straightforward. Getting to know why Six is, well, the way she is feels as though it would have added to the experience, rather than just throwing us into the pit with very little Intel throughout the entire game. Even bit of dialog or hidden notes to give you a more detailed understanding would’ve sufficed.

As you play through you encounter every nightmarish creature that hunts Six’s dreams. A blind custodian who literally sniffs you out with his grossly long arms reaching out to feel for your presence; twin butchers, fattened and deformed by god knows what; and the ghoulishly beautiful woman in kabuki dress and mask. Making your way through the Maw, every creature each owns their own section of the room that you need to pass through which you’ll even learn more about them and their creepy grim habits as Six’s situations start to progress. In all honesty, some, if not, most of the images you see about these creatures are just a little disturbing, but just enough to bear. The final step after that, make your way through without getting caught; you can either creep past, outsmart them by using the room as your way to get out of a situation, or even the most frightening choice of all, as your last resort, just run straight through and hope that you don’t end up being caught in the midst of that’s going on.

For a horror game, you almost always know where your predators are and what they are capable of doing — you’re biggest fear is them knowing where you are. They’re aren’t really any jump scares in Little Nightmares, but you will hold your breath, or squeal every time you think a butcher will find you when they waddle over to check underneath a counter, or when you’re being chased by just a hair away from being snatched.

The Maw is quite large by comparison to your character which in a way kind of exemplifies the idea of being a child in a horrific life-sized doll house reflecting the child’s view of a giant adult world. It’s such a terrifying setting you can’t help but love it as much as you want to hate it. Though you’re forced to be cautious about how to move about in each location, other rooms have giant soft bouncy beds that you’re able to jumpy freely (of course when the coast is all clear) often help forget that you were just being chased down a deformed madman trying to use you so he can prepare you for his next dish. There are even a few little objects that you can throw around seeing that you are a small child it just feels right to do some damage. Another thing to point out is how well structures of being able to use your surroundings are drawn out, allowing you to build your own makeshift stair case by pulling a few filling drawers to make your escape from enemies, or even moving to the next room much more easier.

As much as I enjoyed all the fun tactile puzzle mechanics, and almost near-death moments that had me laughing as I just barely made it out alive, it’s primary problems where a bit boring. Its one-sided angle often causes for several imprecise platforming which can get frustrating when you jump off the side of a ledge at a wrong angle instantly dropping to your death, instant deaths are occasionally simple trial and error puzzles. On top of that, inconsistent checkpoints and long loading times afterwards can kind of drag on you’re the fear to a point where deaths a more annoying and frustrating than terrifying. These are just small minor issues that the game usually makes for its thrillingly weird, grotesque, and smart exploration.

There’s much more to enjoy, from how you can interact with the little gnome children by giving them hugs leading to them following you around for a little while, to the lovely way Six cradles her lighter while she runs to stop it going out, to the point where you simply cower in a dark place trying to hide the creatures that are out for you, just in case their will breaks before yours. Music, animation, and puzzles are all what make Little Nightmares that much more enjoyable. Even for its very brief 5 hours, you’ll still find yourself wanting more out of it than you’d probably would have imaged.

Review: THUMPER

You are a chrome beetle, hurtling unstoppably into a void, zooming through hellscapes on rails at grimace-inducing speed. A screaming, flaming skull hovers in the middle distance, sending debris down the track to end you. If that description reads like a nightmare, know that Thumper looks and sounds like one, too. Most games have you fighting your way out of danger, but Thumper fires you headlong into the abyss. It gave me heartburn, but in a good way.

Thumper is a rhythm game with deceptively simple one-button controls, but one  in which the slightest lapse will finish you immediately. Fail to turn, jump, change rails or smash through barriers in time with the grim industrial soundtrack and death is immediate. There are ways to wring a higher score out of each section with perfect timing, but first time through, your only concern will be survival. Thumper’s nine long, relentless levels are split into short checkpointed sections. Lose concentration for a half-second and careen into one of the obstacles on the track, and your beetle’s chrome wings will be stripped violently from its body, leaving you with one last chance before death.

Thumper stops short of true sadism by giving you two shots at success but good lord, the feeling when you’re on that last try and you’re about to come up on a new section of track is not pleasant. Suddenly you’re battling your nerves alongside everything else that Thumper throws into your path.What’s so interesting about Thumper is the atmosphere of doom and malevolence it conjures. Most iconic rhythm games (Rez, Amplitude) try to lull you into a sense of flow. Their visuals are all expanding and contracting shapes, blooming colours, pretty lights—echoes of the kind of blissy visuals that your brain comes up with on its own when you close your eyes and relax. The colours—blues, whites, greens—are comforting and chill. Thumper beats you into a sense of flow. The visuals are hellish, sharp, with tendrils and right-angles and weird undulating shapes that recall insectoid limbs. Bosses loom menacingly on the horizon as your chrome beetle speeds down its endless rail, taking the form of fiery skulls or abstract, geometric entities with mouths. The palette is dominated by red and black. It reminds me of Devil Daggers, both in the simplicity of its play and the arresting visual style.

The music, too, is brutal and relentless, bordering on monotonous, with little variation in the tempo. It frequently sounds like it’s being banged out on the lid of a trash-can in an echoey alley. This is a perfect match for the visual style, and the beat transforms your feeble button-presses into reverberating shockwaves. It is absolute sensory overload—there is no room for anything in your brain but what Thumper is forcing upon your eyes, ears and reflexes.

All of this is clearly no accident. Thumper’s developers Marc Flury and Brian Gibson have frequently referred to it as “rhythm violence”, which aptly communicates the physicality of playing it: it really feels like being pummelled (especially in VR—Thumper will be patched for VR compatibility on PC in the coming month). The end result, though, is the same as what games like Rezachieve with their gentler, synaesthesic approach: it induces a state of total one-ness with your senses and the game. Playing it well feels like a mind-meld. Just watching it is hypnotising. There are a couple of things about Thumper that annoy the rhythm-action purist in me. It’s extremely fast, but usually you can see far enough down the rail to be able to react quickly enough to survive. Sometimes, though, it will enclose you in a corridor with sharp turns that prevent you from seeing what’s coming up, meaning you have to memorise the pattern of obstacles through trial and error. Speaking of errors, the cacophony of alarming visual and audio feedback when you slam into a wall totally breaks my concentration, and even obscures the screen sometimes. If I lost one life, I’d often lose the other within five seconds. It is a cardinal sin of rhythm-games to ever change the tempo; Thumper only slows down for a split-second when you smash into something, but it was enough to throw me.

Thumper is profoundly unsettling to play, but also quite unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered in this genre—and I have played rhythm games ranging from abstract aural experiments to Rock Band to hyperactive-J-pop-powered arcade machines in the shape of glowing cubes. Thumper requires the same beat-matching skill and quick reactions, but it feels more like a survival-horror game when you’re actually playing it, albeit at 100x the speed. It gave me both a creeping sense of dread and an extreme adrenaline high. I still think about it all the time, and I played it obsessively for a couple of days until I conquered it. Once you’ve stared into the abyss, something about it keeps drawing you back.

Review: HEROES & GENERALS

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Heroes And Generals is a F2P FPS that initially got here out back in 2014. Since then, indie developers Reto-Moto has made fairly a number of modifications to the gameplay mechanics, maps, and added in additional content material to maintain gamers coming again for more. Heroes And Generals has lots of cool features, however it additionally has lots of main game breaking flaws as well. So at this level, are the adjustments really good, and is the game now worth taking part in? Let’s discover out!

Your kill-to-death ratio (KDR) is nowhere close to as essential as holding objectives on the map. The emphasis on objectives is mirrored within the game’s scoring system. Kills award the smallest amount of expertise for ranking up, whereas capturing or defending factors award essentially the most experience. Once you will have secured an objective a ticker begins to climb. Whichever group’s total match-ticker fills first wins. The areas of bases are quite fair. In some maps, every team has one goal situated nearer to its place to begin and should then transfer on to capture an enemy stronghold. Other maps, those I desire, pit each teams in opposition to one another for one objective. When everybody’s attention is concentrated on one base, brazen gamers can sneakily secure one other.

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Objective-based maps require a stage of cooperation that’s not at all times realized. Once your team captures a base they oftentimes transfer on to the following one, leaving the purpose you captured undefended. But in Heroes & Generals, protection is equally essential as offense, maybe much more so. The much less skilled gamers are so itchy to kill that they overlook the purpose of the game. Just wait for them to come to You.

Once you rise by way of the ranks you ultimately unlock the Generals promotion. Alternatively, you may turn out to be a basic by buying the rank with “Gold,” the sport’s money foreign money. Choosing to turn out to be a General renders FPS fight inaccessible with that character. As a consequence, you have to select which faction you need to command earlier than pursuing the tactical position. When you click on “Generals”—situated subsequent to “Staged Battle” on the prepared display screen— you’re confronted with the marketing campaign map, Europe. Hundreds of nodes point out attainable factors of battle. Glowing nodes point out present battle, or an impending battle. In the underside left-hand nook, there may be a counter that tallies what struggle you’re at present taking part in in, corresponding to “Julius – War for Europe 92.” Wars are reset after one nation has dominated the battlefield to make means for the subsequent World War II.

Generals have assault groups that they’ll buy with gold or warfunds. They differ in sort and measurement, corresponding to cellular guard, medium armor, paratroopers, or fighter recon. As a commander, you click on on a selected metropolis on the map the place you view the route of battle, what sort of battle it’s, and who’s taking part. Using that info, Generals determine what number of of their troops, if any, to ship to assist the battle and assert their nation’s dominance.

The actions of different generals are evident on the marketing campaign map, occurring in real-time. They are additionally surveying fields of struggle and selecting the place to deploy their troops.  Depending on assets placed on the battlefield, Heroes will be capable of make the most of what generals present. Perhaps at the beginning of a battle, Heroes are overwhelmed by enemies however Generals present them with air assist to overturn the tide of battle. A companion app referred to as Heroes and Generals: Mobile Command for iOS and Android is obtainable to enhance the Generals portion of the sport. The app offers a real-time overview of the struggle and lets generals dictate their assault workforce actions. Nevertheless, if ways aren’t your forte you may nonetheless dictate the struggle from the bottom.

There are three totally different types of forex within the sport. Aiming down the barrel of your gun rewards credit, paid out in line with rank, that may be traded in for weapons, autos, and upgrades. Warfunds are earned from taking part in the strategic portion of the sport. The higher your assault groups carry out the extra warfunds allotted to you. Warfunds can be utilized to bolster your squad or buy new ones. Then there’s Gold. Gold is bought with actual cash and can be utilized to amass practically something within the sport. Some objects, corresponding to Warbonds and Veteran membership, are solely accessible with Gold.

While you do not want Gold to have enjoyable in Heroes & Generals, gamers trying to advance will rapidly contemplate buying some. The sport rapidly devolves right into a grindfest the place the identical maps, the identical battles, and the identical goals, are repeated again and again simply to rank up or purchase Credits. Leveling is gradual as effectively. Unlocking every part within the sport with out spending any cash will turn into an arduous process that rapidly loses worth.

REVIEW: DARKNET (PSVR)

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Consisting of trite material and some sort of muddled political message, some projects only take a tertiary understanding of the practice and apply it over the course of an entire game. Most of us are familiar with hacking minigames that only take up a few seconds of our time, but when done right, it can make for an engaging puzzle experience. VR helps embolden that engagement for sure, and Darknet is a great little puzzler that never takes itself too seriously.

“Hacking” involves choosing nodes on a grid, with the goal of capturing the core, a giant sun-like shape on-screen. Selecting a node will slowly pulse outward, similar to the popular game “Lights Out,” until you either hit a core or another node.

The former will result in a win, and the latter sends you back to your previous turn to try again. As you progress you’ll earn more viruses (read: tries) to inject into the grid, which eliminates security nodes and allows for an easier time getting to the core. As you start to earn upgrades and the like the solutions open up, and on my second playthrough I ended up tackling nearly everything from the midpoint on in a different way.

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This is Darknet’s biggest strength. Everything looks similar on an aesthetic level, but the “less is more” approach is really all you need. The puzzles themselves are well designed and hold up from start to finish, especially the bigger firewalls, which are almost boss levels that take place on a gigantic grid. Some stages you can just inject one well-placed virus and call it a day, but for others, you’ll need to think about which security nodes to disable first before you make your move on the core. If anything goes wrong you can just reset and be on your way again.

The most obvious hangup with Darknet is its muted tone. The world map is one giant jumble of clusters, so it’s tough to figure out where you want to head next, and more importantly, it seems so insurmountable that it’s not even worth conquering. But the more you play, the more upgrades and cash you’ll earn, and since you’ll basically skirt over the entire background story the entire time, the pacing never gets to the point where it feels bogged down by any baggage. Again, VR works to its advantage here.

Darknet takes the age-old idea of “Lights Out” and re-invents it on a whole new platform. It’s not one of those games that you’re going to use to show off the virtual reality medium in a way that will “wow” anyone, but the subtle use of perspective will help justify the decision to jump into the world of VR.

Review: Dead Rising 4

Dead Rising 4 brings back photojournalist Frank West as its protagonist. We haven’t seen him since Dead Rising 2: Off the Record, a few game cameos, and a cardboard cutout in Dead Rising 3. Dead Rising 4 was previously released on December 6, 2016 for the Xbox One, and was released on Steam on March 14, 2017.

One year has passed since the events of Dead Rising 3, and it’s been sixteen years since the events of the first game. Frank is now a journalism professor who has taken the young student Vick Chu under his wing. He’s still over-confident and self-motivated, and has a lot of quips and commentary throughout the game. Their friendly teacher and student relationship does not last long. Brad Park, from the Dead Rising 3: The Last Agent DLC is now leader of the Zombie Defense and Control agency, and requests Frank’s help to track down his former student.

The controls are straightforward and you are given a variety of melee weapons and firearms fairly early on. Frank is able to combine vehicles and weapons on-the-go without using a workbench. For a man in his 50s, he plays much like the younger Nick Ramos of Dead Rising 3, just with a different voice actor and motivations. Dead Rising 3 was known for being poorly optimized for PC. The FPS was capped at 30, which led to game crashes for several users. Game files had to be modified in order for the game to run smoothly. Fortunately, Dead Rising 4 solved this issue and allows you to play quickly without fiddling.

Capcom Vancouver promised more action and a fun experience with Dead Rising 4. Features such as psychopaths for maniacs and the time limits were removed in order to promote action and zombie slaying. There was an increased amount of gore from the previous Dead Rising installments. By the time you finished slashing through hordes of zombies, Frank was usually covered in a fresh coat of undead blood.

For a game that put emphasis on an open-world Willamette, I found the city the most disappointing part. It was almost too similar to Los Perdidos in Dead Rising 3. The only difference seemed to be the addition of survivor shelters, holiday decorations, and snow. Christmas and zombie slaying sounds like a brilliant idea, but there wasn’t much holiday cheer around this fictional Colorado city.

Though there were reused assets, there were also some new additions. There are now more vehicle models and weapons to choose from. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses, and finding blueprints to create combos continues to be fun. Many of the new combo weapons take advantage of the Christmas theme, creating colorful explosions or electrifying melee attacks. Moving around in the new EXO Suits was a fun experience, but at times, I felt a bit overpowered.

The graphics are a little lacking. Though Frank looks much younger and fitter than his past appearances, his companions can look a bit off. Brad and Vick sometimes appear too cartoony in their cutscenes. While Brad has not changed much since his first appearance in Dead Rising 3, Vick was too similar to Annie. Vick, a hoodie-clad scenester girl, was well-known by both survivors and antagonists. She seemed tough on the outside, but she was really a big softy on the inside. I went into Dead Rising 4 hoping that we would focus on Frank’s story, but it was another game of chasing after a girl in a different city. The rest of the characters aren’t very interesting and seem more like stereotypes often encountered in zombie apocalypse scenarios, but this may have been intentional, such as Dr. Russell Barnaby, an intelligent Scientist obsessed with his cat and Tom Pickton, a formerly friendly farmer, but now an aggressive survivor doing whatever it takes to protect his people. The plot isn’t as important as the action, but the previous installments felt a bit more immersive. There are only seven levels (or Cases) total (including the prologue), so the plot really feels like an afterthought.

Most of the environment can be interacted with. I ran into several glitchy moments when attempting to climb up vehicles. Frank would often get stuck in corners, sink into the vehicle roof, and I would have to constantly jump and move around in order to get unstuck. It became frustrating when groups of zombies would crowd around the vehicles. There is a large amount of running, jumping, and climbing in Dead Rising 4, so it becomes an annoying experience.

The biggest change of Dead Rising 4 is the camera system. Frank is still a photojournalist working for his Pulitzer Prize. When Frank isn’t taking selfies or taking photos of clues, he can take advantage of the new camera modes. Frank’s modified camera not only comes with a normal photo capturing mode, but also has Night Vision and a Spectrum Analyzer. The Spectrum Analyzer allows Frank to easily find passcodes and unlock computers and doors. These new modes make the puzzle-solving and investigation elements of the game almost too easy. Unfortunately, this is not an optional feature and these modes are vital to progressing through the story.

Overall, Dead Rising 4 felt too easy and the story was predictable and uninteresting. If you’re a fan of the Dead Rising series, this is more of the same, but with EXO Suits. New players might enjoy the mindless zombie slaying gameplay. I felt disappointed with the newest addition to the Dead Rising series. Dead Rising 4 was a disappointing Dead Rising 3: Off the Record starring Frank West, rather than a brand-new gaming experience.

Review: Tesoro Excalibur RGB Mechanical Keyboard

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Gaming keyboards are one thing. Mechanical gaming keyboards are an entirely different thing? Why? Because for professional gamers or enthusiasts, the technology under the keys is just as important as fancy macro keys or colored backlight features. This is something that the guys at Tesoro, a perhaps lesser known gaming peripheral manufacturer, seem to completely understand. The Tesoro Excalibur RGB is their attempt to eat a slice from the gaming keyboard market, and combines a budget-oriented price with the advantages of a backlit mechanical keyboard. Is it any good though? Let’s find out!

The Packaging

Don’t expect anything over the top with the Excalibur. The keyboard is well tucked into its box, but other than that, there’s nothing really surprising. You’ll get a small brochure that highlights other Tesoro gaming peripherals, as well as a small manual that explains the basic functions of the media keys. No software is included, so you’ll have to download the keyboard’s software from the official website. The “Sword of King” description for the keyboard’s name is a tiny bit hilarious, but hey, the company isn’t US based, and this is just a minor nuisance, so let’s not nitpick.

The Keys and Software

If you don’t know much about mechanical keyboards, here’s the gist of it: they are loud (generally speaking), but highly efficient, due to the Cherry MX switches that they employ. There are several variants of the Cherry MX switches, from highly sensitive ones to less tactile ones. The advantage of using these switches is that your keyboard will detect individual keystrokes without limit (anti-ghosting), while being extremely responsive. A simple touch of a key will activate its command, without the end user having to push the key fully for the desired effect.

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Now, Tesoro doesn’t use original Cherry MX switches, due to the high cost of these, and instead uses replica switches. This might sound like a turn-off, but it’s really not. After extensive testing, we’ve found no tangible differences in how effective these replica switches are, and they should still last you a few million keystrokes each. Whereas most mechanical keyboards cost way above $100, the Excalibur has a reasonable price-tag of $89.99. The keyboard doesn’t offer a lot in terms of additional macro keys and the like, and has a very standard layout. This can be both a plus and a minus, depending on your personal preference. I personally almost never use macro keys, so not having them doesn’t bother me, on the contrary. It saves space on my desk and ensures I get a layout that I’m highly familiar with. Additionally, the shape of the keys is pleasant, with no chance of your fingers sliding off to adjacent keys by accident. Especially for someone who types a lot, this is a huge plus.

The keyboard provides a 1000 MHz polling rate, meaning it’s highly responsive, and also provides the option to switch between G-Keys and N-Keys. It also includes a 512 KB on-board memory for storing macro profiles, which you can easily set up via the keyboard’s software. While not included in the original packaging, the software is easy to download, and you should definitely consider installing it, as it allows amble macro customization options for all your gaming needs, without the need of additional 3rd party software. With 5 profiles and every individual key being customizable, there’s definitely a lot to play with.

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The Excalibur’s software allows plenty of customization options, with 5 profiles and access to configure each individual key’s function.

The Looks

The Tesoro Excalibur keeps things simple. It’s black, with a standard layout and a rubberized back that prevents the keyboard from moving. The rubber is particularly effective, more so than let’s say my older Microsoft Sidewinder’s, which does on occasion slide in various directions. The only downside of its design is the lack of a palmrest, which can take its toll over extended use. Other than that, The Tesoro Excalibur looks and feels good, with nothing out of the ordinary. If you’re worried about leaving fingerprints or grease stains, rest easy, the keyboard is not sensitive in this regard.

And now let’s get to the good part. The Excalibur is completely backlight. The backlight can be adjusted, from intensity and color, to several templates that allow you to have only some of the keys light up. For instance, you can have the WASD keys, along with the spacebar, direction keys and F9-F12 keys light up, with the rest of the keys remaining unlit. From vivid red to bright blue, there are definitely plenty of versions to choose from in the keyboard’s RGB edition.

Overall

To sum it up, the Tesoro Excalibur brings nothing new to the table. However, what it sets out to do, it does well enough. It’s affordable (you can even find some sales online that take the keyboard’s price down to $69.99 for the holiday season), sturdy and reliable. Once I’ve gotten used to it, it made gaming and typing a breeze, although it does tend to be rather loud, so make sure you adjust your microphone sensitivity accordingly if you’re using Teamspeak or Ventrilo. A good backlight system, combined with a basic but solid design, a long enough USB-based cable and a solid software that allows ample customization ensure that the Tesoro Excalibur is a good investment. You’re getting plenty of bang for the buck, but you have to keep in mind that this is still a budget-oriented keyboard. If you want additional macro keys or original Cherry MX switches, the Excalibur is not for you.

The lack of a palmrest is also felt (at least in my case), and I feel that part could have been introduced without huge additional costs to the overall product. Still, you can’t have it all I guess, and for what it costs, the Excalibur is a solid investment that won’t let you know. It’s basic enough, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Less is sometimes more, and everything the Tesoro Excalibur RGB brings for its affordable price makes it easy to recommend.