Superhot (2016) PC Review

 

Superhot is a very simple, yet innovative first person shooter. It’s mechanics involve having time slowed down to almost a standstill when you are not moving. And it moves at normal speed when you do. Enemies and yourself are one shot kills if you shoot them or smack them with a melee weapon. You can stagger them by throwing your weapons at them, or other items placed throughout the levels to make them drop their gun which you grab in mid air and shoot them in the face. Then, once you’ve cleared the level of enemies, you get a replay of you clearing the level at full speed and it truly makes you feel like some kind of action hero because it looks really, really cool. Essentially, it plays like almost like how a first person version of Hotline Miami would play.

The aesthetic of the game is a very minimalist one. Levels are white and untextured,weapons are black and very obviously lower poly than models from your typical modern FPS and enemies are red and also low poly. It is a striking visual style that aids the game by making all information the player needs all the information it prevents, with no clutter.

The levels themselves, which are typically quite small (and there are about 32 of them) are largely interesting and well designed, with excellent enemy and weapon placements (with the elevator pitch level a particularly good example.) However, if you’re in any way decent at the game, the game is quite short. You might be able to beat it in 2 hours or less. But the last level feels as if they ramped up the difficulty astronomically to the point of it being genuinely frustrating and seemingly unfair, with bullet that appear to be going past you actually hitting. It’s as if the developers of the game knew they made something really short so they just made the last level so much harder than the rest of the game to pad it’s length so as to reduce the amount of steam refunds it gets.

In terms of story, the game has a sort of amusing tongue in cheek metanarrative that frames the game which I didn’t mind. There’s not much else to say about that however. One thing I was disappointed with was it’s lack of music. And considering the length of the game, I think including a basic level editor would’ve helped to justify the price of the game since it’s standard price is USD $24.99. I got it for USD $16.74 and I’d say it’s worth it at the price or less, but even that might be a stretch for some. Still, if you complete it in 2 hours or less, you can just refund it. There are challenge modes and an endless mode, but they don’t add much worthwhile longevity to the game, with some of the challenge modes just being stuff like a permadeath mode or a mode that makes every punch a one hit kill, kind of like the Tony mask in Hotline Miami. 

All in all, Superhot has a bold visual style and is a total blast to play (up until the final level) with a highly focused and expertly executed and highly original premise. Completing each level and watching your normal speed replay is incredibly satisfying. However, it has a lack of any meaningful longevity that something like an easy to use level editor would do for a game like this. All these aspects makes this a game that troubles me in the sense that it’s hard to recommend yet hard not to recommend, especially considering the asking price. If you can get it cheaply, especially at a price lower than what I purchased it at, go for it.

8/10

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Final Fantasy X: HD Remaster (2016) PC Review

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Final Fantasy X is definitely a blast from the past, coming from a time in which the traditional styled of JRPG was still popular and had big budgets (for the time) behind them as opposed to the relatively niche position to occupy today. This HD remaster, which comes bundled with it’s sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, the latter of which will be reviewed separately because these games are pretty long.

The job Square Enix have done with this remaster are incredible. The models are higher poly than the original and the pre rendered backgrounds look astonishing, as you can see with the image at the top of this review. The CGI FMVs of which Square was known for back in the day return here at a surprisingly high quality looking very nice on my 1440p monitor. The quality of these remastered FMVs surpass those of many modern FMVs, such as the few in Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Metro: Last Light, which often look blurry and blocky at higher resolutions. It comes with a decent set of graphics options, which I maxed out easy. There are also two soundtrack options, original and arranged and the choice between the two will come largely down to personal preference, but I gravitated towards the original. There are only two real drawbacks to the remaster: the models on Tidus and Yuna can at times look a bit doll like as supposedly the original facial animations aren’t properly synced up at all times. The second is that the game has a frame rate limit of 30 FPS, which is not a deal breaker considering this is essentially a spruced up version of a game from 2001.

Another good additions to the remaster is toggle able cheat codes, such as turbo walking which is handy if you ever need to backtrack, or the ability to increase or disable random encounters.

Now to the game itself. The story of the game has you, Tidus, star blitzball player survive an attack on his city, Zanarkand. After the attack, Tidus finds himself 1000 years in the future in the land of Spira. It’s a classic fish out of water set up that persists throughout. The game even takes this literally with Tidus actually being fished out of water. Soon, Tidus finds himself with a varied cast of characters, from the pious but friendly Wakka, the level headed and pragmatic Auron and the upbeat Al-Bhed, Rikku just to name a few. Soon you find yourself attached to the pilgrimage of a summoner named Yuna (who is the real protagonist of this story).

In regards to the voice acting, it’s definitely a bit hokey and a bit cringeworthy with the infamous Tidus Laughing scene being a prime example even when viewed in full context. But for the most part, it’s not too bad although the line delivery is sometimes a bit rushed or not terribly great. Still, at it’s worst it’s a bit cringeworthy but still tolerable.

As for the combat of the game, it is a classic turn based system. You have three characters on the field at a time,which can be switched easily for others, creating a good flow. There’s your classic buffs and debuffs, magic and so on. One thing that is different about the combat compared is the overdrive system, which is a meter that fills up for each character during combat, allowing special attacks. Then when you use these attacks, they usually require a button combination or a timed press in a small yellow bar, which enables higher damage.

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The levelling system here is quite unique. It is a system called the sphere grid and it looks daunting at first but it’s really quite intuitive. How it works is each character starts at a point on the grid and when they level up are granted movement points to move along the grid so that you can then use attribute spheres (eg; power spheres for health and strength upgrades, mana spheres for magic, ability spheres to learn new abilities, etc.) to improve your characters. You also don’t have to be right on an ability or attribute node to enable them, you must at least be adjacent. You can also move back on your grid fast as previously used pathways can be traversed quickly if you want specific abilities or to multi class. The multi classing is also quite intuitive as characters tend to cross over on other grids once they’re done with their sphere. As a whole, it’s a very enjoyable and intuitive system to use.

As for the pacing of the game, well it’s incredibly linear. The type of linear that Final Fantasy XIII gets shit for. However here it doesn’t take 30+ hours for it to open up as you’ll be very close to the end of the game by that time. Plus, different times have different expectations. FFXIII was released years after the more open XII. Plus, back in 2001 when the original version released on the Playstation 2, open world games were far less common as they are now. Grand Theft Auto III had yet to release and the world was still a year out from Morrowind. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a very linear game but in my view not painfully so.There are also occasional puzzle sections which can be a bit trial and error and a tad frustrating, but only on a few of them.

The biggest problem of for the game’s pacing comes in the last third where, if you’re an absolute purist, requires grinding. The end game bosses for example have one shot kill moves and very high health that no matter how good you are with your formations and buffs and debuffs, will destroy you if you’re not properly levelled. Some of the side quest bosses, like the Dark Aeons, have absurdly high health and immunities that they are impossible to beat unless you have weapons that break the damage limit (which is a hell of an annoying mechanic) in addition to having grinded for many hours. If you’re like me who just played through and did most random encounters without searching for them, then you’ll be underlevelled towards the end. The grinding here involves nothing interesting except for the reward, but that just turns the game into tedious busywork. Thankfully the cheat codes help get you over that last stretch to the finish line, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the grinding is a chore that exists as padding.

This HD Remaster of Final Fantasy X on PC, despite a couple issues, is currently the best way to experience the game. And while the game itself was generally enjoyable with wonderful music, likeable characters, touching story moments and wonderful visuals, the game is held back by archaic technical design (ie; the reasons why it can’t go beyond 30fps without the game breaking) and a padded with grinding third act. The game is definitely dated, but it’s still by and large and enjoyable experience.

7.5/10

The Last Guardian (2016) PS4 Review

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In 2016, the impossible was made possible. An outsider political candidate won an election with all odds stacked against him. The Doom reboot actually ended up being pretty awesome. The long awaited Final Fantasy XV (and ended up being pretty good) actually came out and so did The Last Guardian, just in the nick of time after being announced for the PS3 many years ago and suffering a troubled development. So did The Last Guardian turn out to be good? Let’s find out.

Coming from gen Design and Sony’s Japan Studio, The Last Guardian comes as the successor to Fumito Ueda’s PS2 classics Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, which I played and deeply enjoyed a few years back playing on the remastered editions for the PS3. This game is a mixture of both titles to some extent, although leaning heavily towards Ico.

The game starts out with you, a nameless boy finding himself with strange markings and inside a cavern with a chained beast named Trico, who looks like a mixture of a dog and a cat. With Trico laden with spears, the boy decides to remove them and unchain the beast, which begins a growing friendship between the two as they navigate these massive ancient ruins. So the premise is simple: the boy and the beast work together to escape this seemingly insurmountable prison. The story is very simple, but wonderfully presented with minimal dialogue of the sort of fictional but vaguely Japanese sounding language found in this game’s predecessors. It also features narration from the boy grown up and the overall presentation of the story is simple and manages to be very touching, working in tandem with the core mechanics and design of the game.

Most of what you will be doing throughout the game is solving platforming puzzles and other rather simple spatial puzzles sometimes by yourself and sometimes with the aid of Trico. This game does not hold your hand nor do you hold its. There’s no HUD (except for the occasional pop up early on reminding you of the controls in certain contexts) and hints are rare and occasionally a little bit opaque. Instead of holding Yorda’s hand and taking her to where you need to go, here you command Trico with R1 and pointing in a direction. You can also pet him, which gives him the extra go ahead. However, like any untrained animal, Trico will at times fail to heed your commands and just kind of stare at you confused. This helps sell the idea that Trico is an independent creature, but it can also lead to frustration in the course of playing the game. That said, Trico does get better, especially later in the game at knowing what to do in certain circumstances. He also does follow your commands most of the time but he doesn’t always do so instantly. I would say that this is all worth it for it is part of the emotional connection forged with the beast, but whether or not it will be worth it for you will depend on your patience for this sort of thing.

The way Trico looks is also absolutely incredible, the way the light shines through his many feathers and the purple like hues of his furry ears. The way he moves, the way his body gets soaked and many other little details are incredible to behold. Trico, whilst clearly a fictional creature, looks and behaves like something that could or could have at one time or another actually existed; as if the developers of the game had privileged access to a hitherto secret creature and observed it with many sharp eyes.

As for combat, well, there isn’t any. Sometimes you have a shield that you can aim and a lightning type bolt will explode and take out wooden platforms and such (this is of course also used in puzzle solving). Additionally, there are enemies that look kind of like teracotta samurai which function similarly to the shades that try to drag Yorda down to darkness in Ico. You can’t fight them, but you can wriggle free of their clutches and you can shove them. To take them out, you need Trico to be there and he tends to tends to go wild and really smash these animated suits of armour.

Visually, you wouldn’t think this game originated as a PS3 title. Whilst the textures aren’t always the highest res and the environments might seem repetitive looking to some, through excellent animation, cohesive and highly appealing art direction, combined with the incredible lighting and use of colour, the game manages to very frequently look quite stunning.

With all this praise, I must address the elephants in the room for this game because while I did enjoy the overall experience, these are technical issues I cannot ignore. First is the controls. Whilst the control scheme is fine, the controls were often quite fiddly, especially when climbing on and off Trico (which you will do a lot of) and dropping down didn’t always work the way I expected. There is also, even after patch 1.03, some very noticeable input latency on the camera.

The camera can also be a hassle. Sometimes you have to wrestle with it, especially in certain corners and it can spaz out and become quite the annoyance, especially combined with the input latency.

Perhaps the biggest technical issue with the game is the frame rate. The Last Guardian targets 30 fps and while it’s around there most of the time, the frame rate drops can be quite severe. One section, which was a collapsing bridge, the frame rate dropped tremendously. Even in less strenuous circumstances it could drop rather noticeably. This isn’t some minor 1 or 2 fps drops here and there. While not constant, these drops to levels that are Blighttown in Dark Souls level of slideshow or even more comparably, the 15 fps average during battles on the PS2 version of Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a very serious problem that might definitely be a deal breaker to some. It got so bad that at one point my eyes were feeling strained and I had to put stop playing that session.

After a long wait, The Last Guardian turned out to be a very simple game with wonderful visuals and storytelling that can be frustrating at times.For anyone who has enjoyed Ico or Shadow of the Colossus or both in the past, this is a must play and the type of game that rarely comes out from major publishers these days. It’s just a shame that it has serious technical issues that diminish it’s excellence.

8/10

Angry Goy: The Ethnic Cleansing Video Game (PC) 2017 Review

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Wew lads. This game is bound to be one hell of a controversial free release when the mainstream news press catch wind of it for it’s violence and political nature. Indeed, this is a political game, although meant to be more as catharsis and satire than deep and original political commentary. I cannot really say the political aspect of the game, which will be appealing to people who agree with the motifs in the game and horrifying to those who don’t, ruins the game since the political aspect is inherent. Indeed, for this type of game, the right wing politics makes a good framework for this kind of ultra violence.

But putting the politics aside, especially since there is likely to be no shortage of kvetching about from mainstream news press, we should focus on the game itself.

So, what is Angry Goy all about? It’s a very simple set up: a young man gets angry at the state of his country and goes out to massacre every black, arab, jew and leftist he sees.  The creator of the game describes it as “one big shitpost”. Simple stuff. The actual gameplay is a very simple 2D sidescroller in the vein of Streets of Rage type beat em ups. However, the melee combat here is banal tapping of space until the enemy dies. The shooting is similarly basic and consists of holding space at the enemy until they die and occassionally reloading. This simplicity, whilst repetitive could be fine if not for sudden difficulty spikes,most notably when AK 47s start appearing. The levels around this point have unpredictable health kiosk placement and the game starts to swarm you with enemies to the point where it becomes very frustrating and trial and error. I almost feel like as if the game was balanced around a control scheme that the game does not possess, like say, mouse aimed shooting . You can also crouch but it seems random since there is no control over when it happens. Enemies can crouch too. The animation is also there. Why it’s not a part of the mechanics of the game I have no idea.

Also, when you die, the game plays clips, such as the infamous Barbara Spectre clip where she talks about jews being at the forefront of Europe’s “multicultural transformation.” Clips like these explain the 1GB file size of the game. Thankfully for those that have already seen these videos, they can be skipped.

There are a good variety of enemy types, at least in terms of sprites and sound bites. But their variety of behaviours is limited to: guy with melee weapon that whacks you repeatedly, guy with gun that stands and shoots you and guy who crouches and shoots you. Considering the game’s use of ethnic stereotypes, not having more enemy types, such as the stereotypical suicide bomber that should function like those AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH guys from the Serious Sam games, is a seriously missed opportunity that could heighten the type of offensive, humorous tone the game is going for, as well as the variety and overall fun factor.

In terms of the aesthetics of the game, it rocks a simple retro 2D aesthetic that looks a little like Hotline Miami as far characters are concerned. On the whole, it’s a clean look with good animations for the most part and fairly solid sprite work, as well as gore effects. There is also a good soundtrack in the synthwave style layered on top which falls short of elevating the carthatic feeling of the moment to moment play, not through any fault of the soundtrack, but because of the rigidity of the controls. As for the voice acting, the protagonist sounds like a discount version of the Postal Dude, but it’s fairly consistent. The humour of the game is also hit and miss. The backgrounds are often funny plays on jokes prevalent in the alt right, but the jokes in the dialogue fall flat more often then not; whether due to the script or delivery I do not know.

Overall then, Angry Goy is a political game that is fairly certain to gain it’s share of controversy, but when all is said and done, it is at best a competent release that could become a much more enjoyable one with mouse aim, more polished controls overall and a re balance in difficulty. For now, you’re better off playing the Postal games.

5/10

Final Fantasy XV (2016) PS4 Review

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Final Fantasy XV had a long road getting here, originally being announced as Versus XIII and supposed to come out on the PS3, the game has had a troubled development. At one point, then game director Nomura even considered making the game a musical. There was plenty scepticism going around before the release of this game and there was every possibility of it being a disaster. I am pleased to report that after finishing the story mode, the game is far from a disaster.

The latest entry in this long running franchise has you playing as Prince Noctis who is on a road trip to get married to his betrothed, the Lady Lunafreya, as part of a peace deal. So he sets out with his retinue and friends. Prompto, Noctis’ happy go lucky and energetic school friend who is also the photographer of the group, the baritone voiced Gladiolus who is stern muscle and Ignis, who is the straight and narrow intellectual type. Noctis himself is also quite moody at times, but he is not without a sarcastic sense of humour.

Once you first get control in the game, it has Noctis and his party pushing down their broken down car and the crew are having banter and joking about it. Then, a Florence and the Machine cover of Stand By Me is played. It is a rather strange way to start the game, but an endearing one. Of course, things soon go awry and Noctis with the help of his friends are on an adventure that involves riding chocobos, hunting monsters and gaining the blessings of the deities so that Noctis can defeat Niflheim and reclaim his throne. This main plot, without spoiling anything isn’t terribly original but it is more often than not, incredibly well told and with it’s core cast of characters, aided by very good performances are elevated and the emotional payoff is tremendously executed. The pacing of the narrative is also quite tight as I completed it, without any real rushing, in about 26 and a half hours. This alleviates the typical bloatedness of campaign length that traditional JRPGs have a reputation for, but this by no means means I’ve done everything. There is plenty of post game content of difficult dungeons and bosses in typical Final Fantasy fashion.

As to the game itself, this is the first mainline entry to the series which has not used a turn based or pseudo turn based combat system. Instead, this is a real time hack n slash type system that includes a tactical menu for potions and issuing of commands for Noctis’ friends to perform special attacks that are unlocked through the levelling system called the Ascension grid. This grid is separated into multiple categories, such as exploration, combat, teamwork and so forth, so there is plenty of ways to choose how to build the party.

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Back to the combat itself, I have seen some reviewers compare this game’s combat to the Devil May Cry series. And whilst this game’s combat certainly is comparably flashy in appearance, it does not have the same depth. Landing attacks amounts to essentially locking on to and enemy and holding circle to combo and pressing triangle to warp strike, whilst also changing weapons with the d pad, holding R2 to open up the tactical menu to access potions or to command special moves from the party. You can also press square to dodge or block attacks. So it is much more simplistic and doesn’t have terribly much depth in terms of the mechanical mastery of combos and the like, but the game is presented and balanced in such a way that it somehow remains engaging and often challenging. Still, I would’ve preferred just a bit more depth to the combat and making it a bit more like Devil May Cry by opening up opportunities for juggles and other moves. Boss fights, especially towards the end are all parts challenging and lengthy, but never frustrating and feel constantly exciting and epic.

Each character also has their own speciality. Noctis, for example, has a rather simple but relaxing fishing minigame, Prompto acts as an automatic posed screenshotter for you, Gladio is a survivalist whose level is increased by resting at camp fires and levelling this up allows increased loot pick ups in the field. Ignis is the chef of the group, whose cooking from ingredients found (such as fish caught by Noctis) or bought create dishes which act as buffs. Characters also only level up once you find a place to rest.

As for the exploration, the game takes an open world approach, but not in a sandbox Grand Theft Auto kind of way. The first comparison that comes to my mind is The Witcher 3. You can go wherever you want when you want, but the open world acts as more of a framework and connective tissue for the narrative. Still, it is a very impressive world, with a tremendous sense of scale, such as the fight against the Hydraen or being in the centre of the Disc of Cauthess. However, the driving mechanic is rather on rails and restrictive, but the piloting of chocobos are fun.The day night cycle also plays into the game too, with night time giving rise to the daemons, which are more powerful monsters, so you don’t want to be too far from a rest location in the wilderness.

As to the side quests, most of them that I have done have fallen into either the categories of monster hunting, which are usually fun and a good challenge or fetch quests, which are usually quite routine. There are some that are base infiltration or optional high level dungeon crawls. These side quests aren’t terribly impressive and don’t typically have much in the way of narrative drama, so they don’t run the risk of overshadowing the main story like what occurs in some contemporary western action RPGs these days.

As for the aesthetics of the game, well this game is beautiful. The original soundtrack is excellent as always and while cruising in the regalia,you can play the music from old Final Fantasy games, which is an added bonus. The visuals are also quite tremendous in motion too, with excellent lighting at at all times, the glowing of the meteor and the gigantic geological arches in Duscae, the wetlands of the Vesperpool or the Venetian inspired Altissia and much more locations, the game has a nice variety of environments. It has an art direction that has an eclectic array of influences fused with the creatures and overall style of the Final Fantasy series, as well as being technically impressive too. On the technical side, there are aliasing issues sometimes and the texture filtering and LOD is not always the best. The game also runs at 30FPS, which is stable most of the time and never drops to a level that is persistently detrimental to the experience. On the whole, it is a pleasure to look at and I’d love to see how much further an eventual PC release could take it.

Every time you boot the game, a screen comes up saying ‘A Final Fantasy for fans and first timers.’ With this series, I would not consider myself either of those. But even with this game’s quirks and flaws, the legacy of it’s troubled development and the expectations that come from such a release; Final Fantasy XV is an absolute joy to experience and comes highly recommended.

9/10