Category Archives: Adventure

Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale

COUB1

Kill hundreds of rival shoppers in the name of holiday consumerism.

PC Release: December 16, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Welcome one and all to the 2017 Art as Games Christmas Special! As usual, thanks to everyone who read the reviews that were posted all year, and a huge welcome to newcomers just stumbling into this particular corner of gamedom. Tonight’s title celebrates that most venerated of American holiday traditions. Family? Nope. Friends? Nope. Being thankful for things? Not likely! No, the holiday tradition being alluded to is, of course, un(hinged)bridled consumerism, with Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale!

____________________

Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale (let’s just call it COUB, easier on the tongue and the eyes and the lips), is a high-octane shopping simulator that seeks to capture the quintessential American holiday spirit. Players spawn in as an everyday shopper whose goal is to get into the mall, find a list of randomly generated items, and leave the store. The game sounds like a perfectly innocent shopping trip on paper, until players consider that there’s only one TV left for dozens of shoppers to fight over.

COUB is far more than a trip to the mall: it’s a vicious battle royale in which dozens of shoppers bloodily compete for that last item on the shelf. Sure, players can find the item that they need easily enough, but getting out of the store ahead of the dozens of other customers who also want it is another story. Players who hope to escape the mall alive need to pack much more than a shopping cart. Luckily, being in America, this mall has plenty of gun stores.

COUB2

Santa baby, why don’t you go buy a new gunnnn, for funnnn…

Players control their shopper in third person and can meander around the mall at their leisure. Each round of COUB brings with it a different gallery of items for players to find. Players can bet that beer’ll be at the convenience mart and the TV’ll be at Not-Best-Buy, but sometimes COUB spawns its stuff in weird places. It’s probably not every gamer’s first thought to look for a VR headset in the women’s clothing department.

Grabbing a shopping cart and finding the items on the list is simple enough, but what about paying for them? In the event that the shopper forgets their wallet, players can find other ways to make money. Cash can sometimes be found in hard-to-reach areas of the mall… other times, it can be plucked from the bodies of fellow shoppers. Whatever it takes to get those gifts, right? COUB seems to agree.

COUB3

GET BACK! Or you’re all going on the naughty list!

Anyway, once players have the cash, they can purchase presents and leave the store. The catch is that, much like grabbing a key in a horror game, the purchase turns all the NPCs around the player immediately hostile. The more items the player collects, the bigger the angry mob that chases them around the mall. Sometimes the crowd can get alarmingly big; players who’ve crossed out their entire list can expect upwards of 40 customers to chase them to the exit. It’s social Darwinism meets ‘murican capitalism!

Even the most nimble players will find that outrunning rival shoppers is only a temporary countermeasure. The only way to truly deal with the throngs of crazed consumers in COUB is to mow them down with a gun or get choppy with a sword. The mall is loaded with plenty of melee and ranged weapons, allowing players to make quick work of bloodthirstily thrifty shoppers. Most customers jump into the fray armed only with their bare fists, but be careful; a few are packing some heat of their own.

COUB4

Two asscheeks full of buckshot and he’s still running like a champ… go Santa!

While COUB has no problem encouraging players to mow down swarms of shoppers, aiming is another story. It’s hard to tell if COUB‘s guns shoot directly forward or if they lock onto the nearest enemy shopper… perhaps a bit of both? In any case, aiming and firing weapons in COUB is much more of a chore than it should be. It’s certainly more difficult than it should be to hit a giant, hard-to-miss rabble of shoppers. Players’ best hope for killing bad guys is to wait until they’re almost brushing up against them before firing. Luckily, most shoppers go down in one hit.

Killing enemies with a melee weapon is marginally easier than using a gun. Players can jump into the fray with their fists if they want to get immediately killed by the horde, or keep their distance with a weapon and swat shoppers as they get close. No matter if players use a gun or a sword, they can count on COUB to cook up one hell of a bloodbath. The amount of gore that can be spilled in this game is comparable to Postal. Lord.

COUB5

You better not pout, you better not cry, you better say your prayers, you’re all gonna die…

It’s a bit jarring to see so much blood coat a cartoon aesthetic, but that’s what COUB goes for. The game’s visual design is all bright colors and block-shaped characters, with an impressive amount of object detail to boot. The mall is absolutely jam-packed with both colorful items and huge crowds of people, so good luck running out of things to glance at. The game’s character animations are a bit wonky (especially since NPCs ragdoll upon death), but remain serviceable.

COUB‘s sound design is a little less amusing than its visuals. Some of the game’s sound effects, like footsteps, come through just fine, but gunshots are extremely muted. COUB‘s “soundtrack” is a single, looping piece of elevator music that sounds alright the first time around, but quickly gets annoying the longer players are trapped in the mall. Hell, the music is probably what drives all the NPCs to such violence.

COUB6

I need your biggest frickin’ waistline, lotta cookies to eat tonight!

Much like a bearded fat man who’s had a hundred cookies too many, COUB struggles with running well. Players might find that the game chugs a bit on their machine, which is a joke considering its simple visuals. This problem also feeds into COUB‘s framerate, which has an annoying tendency to slow down even when there aren’t dozens of characters in frame. Most annoying of all is a bug that occasionally prevents players from leaving the store even when they’ve gotten everything on their list.

As is to be expected, these bugs weigh down the fun of driving a cart ’round the mall, collecting presents, and shooting bad guys. Even though COUB‘s been out for almost a year, the developers don’t seem to have done much to address these issues. Hopefully they consider a patch, because COUB‘s shopping adventure is bizarrely addicting. It is truly the tobacco of video games.

COUB7

Negotiations are breaking down…

Players should bear a few other things in mind when considering COUB. In addition to being slow with a patch, the developers are terminally Russian; ergo, the game has a few spelling and grammar errors (also, the devs’ names are listed in Cyrillic). Most of these comprehension errors, like “beer case” are funny, while others, like “system unit” are too opaque. Oh well; all the more reason to hit up (or shoot up) every store in the mall.

Additionally, despite its cute and cuddly appearance, COUB is not for the under-18’s. That should be a given considering how much gore is in this game, but there’s no shortage of other controversial sights in the mall. For some reason the game allows players to collect nudie cards, but that salaciousness is somewhat broken by the fact that all the models are also block people. It’s a random design choice but, frankly, so are nearly all of COUB‘s design choices. That’s what makes the game work.

COUB8

(inoffensive shopping mall music)

COUB is one of those games that was definitely built on the cheap and with a bit of duct tape, but that’s also what gives it its charm. It’s one of the weirdest games to come this way in a while, but it works as a title because of its absurd gameplay and painfully accurate satire of American consumerism. Sure, gun battles don’t break out every Black Friday (at least not yet), but COUB‘s humor works because it brings the real-life tension of the shopping season to a furious, hilarious boil.

And with that, this year of reviews draws to a close. As always, huge thanks to everyone who’s been along for the journey. As long as there are more video games releasing, players can always expect more reviews to appear on this page. Have a happy holiday (whichever one that might be), and don’t drink too much nogshine. Actually, scratch that; there’s no such thing as too much nogshine.

Or too many video games.

____________________

You can buy Crazy Oafish Ultra Blocks: Big Sale here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Origins1

Witness the rise of the Assassins.

PC Release: October 27, 2017

By Ian Coppock

Well, well, well, look what’s back after two years away! It turns out that Ubisoft has at least a modicum of self-awareness; the publisher decided to give the Assassin’s Creed series a break when it became clear that everyone was all assassin’d out. Indeed, Ubisoft now seems devoted to this revolutionary concept of not releasing annual sequels, and Assassin’s Creed Origins is its first proof of that concept.

____________________

The Assassin’s Creed series made a strong showing with its eponymous 2007 debut. Despite its flaws, millions of fans fell in love with the saga’s tale of freedom-loving Assassins and power-hungry Templars duking it out throughout the course of history. From the Italian Renaissance to the American Revolution, there was seemingly no setting that Ubisoft’s new flagship series left untouched. When Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag released to universal (and well-deserved) acclaim in 2013, the series was at its zenith.

Then… Assassin’s Creed Unity happened. Released in 2014, Unity‘s high-flying tale of French Revolution intrigue was one of Ubisoft’s ugliest displays of hubris. In addition to being released in a broken state across all three platforms, Unity was stuffed with such bizarre design choices as needing a mobile app to unlock certain treasure chests. Unity‘s release made Ubisoft the laughingstock of the gaming world and even slowed the sales of 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Origins2

ARE WE HAVING FUN YET, AMI?

After Syndicate (which was an alright game, by the way) failed to sell anywhere near what Ubisoft wanted, the company realized that rushing these games out year after year was probably a bad idea. As a result, no Assassin’s Creed game was released last year, as Ubisoft elected to take more time on this year’s release: Assassin’s Creed Origins. As implied by its title, the game is a soft reboot of the franchise that seeks to explore the hitherto untold origin story of the series’ hooded killers.

Assassin’s Creed Origins takes place in ancient Egypt over a thousand years before the events of even the first game. Players assume the role of Bayek, an Egyptian Medjay (think sheriff), who’s out for revenge after a cabal of masked figures kills his young son. The part about avenging the death of a loved one should sound instantly familiar to any Assassin’s Creed fan, and Origins tows that part to a T.

Origins3

Revenge is a dish best served sweltering.

Bayek may not be an Assassin on paper, but few would suspect that after watching him scale a pyramid. Like his many series predecessors, Bayek is an apt gymnast who can cross towering buildings and treacherous chasms in the blink of an eye. Players can put these abilities to good use attacking foes from above, or creep through some conveniently arranged bushes.

Origins also gets rid of the parkour-up and parkour-down system established by Assassin’s Creed Unity in favor of the more free-form system seen in earlier games. The result is a climbing system that feels more organic and allows for more movement (even if that means that players may unintentionally leap to their death every so often). Between the Pyramids of Giza and the numerous citadels and temples throughout ancient Egypt, players will never want for things to climb on.

Origins4

The Sphinx, pre-nose job.

Bayek’s sneaking and climbing is nicely complemented by his Eagle Vision. Like all of its predecessors, Assassin’s Creed Origins gives players a sixth sense for detecting bad guys and treasure, and it’s not dissimilar to the Batman: Arkham games’ detective mode. Unlike previous AC games, Bayek’s Eagle Vision is tied to the eyes of his pet eagle Senu, whom players can use to spot bad guys and points of interest just like the drone in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. How Bayek can see through his eagle isn’t ever quite explained… perhaps he’s a descendant of Takkar from Far Cry Primal?

However, neither organic free-climbing nor a telepathic murder-bird can hold a candle to Origins‘ greatest gameplay strength: its combat. Past Assassin’s Creed games tended to make combat too simple or too complicated, but Origins‘ fighting is silky smooth. As Bayek, players can fight foes with a variety of tight maneuvers like dodging and parrying, or snipe from a distance with a deadly longbow. Origins‘ combat makes it one of the most fun third-person melees to come this way in a while, and is a far cry from the tedious fighting of Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Origins5

You can also ride a camel. 11/10 would camel again.

Origins‘ preference for straightforward weapons over convoluted stealth tools gives the Assassin’s Creed series a badly needed breath of fresh air. Whereas past Assassin’s Creed games bogged players down with a riot of weird tools, Origins simply hands players a sword and a bow and says go get ’em. Bayek does obtain a few stealth gadgets (like the hidden blade), but most of these are context-specific tools that can be deployed on the fly. All of this comprises the series’ tightest gameplay since that of Black Flag. Naval combat also makes a welcome return, albeit restricted to a handful of linear missions.

Origins‘ neatly stratified gameplay is put to great use in its vast open world. Origins‘ rendition of ancient Egypt is by far the largest map the series has ever produced, comparable to Skyrim in both size and number of locations to explore. Players can sink dozens of hours into raiding Egypt’s tombs or hunting animals that prowl the oases. Origins also has more cities than any other Assassin’s Creed game, allowing players to explore Alexandria, Memphis, Cyrene, and other famous ancient world locales. It’s a rich, seamless realm that offers up no shortage of exploration and fun.

Origins6

Whadya mean there are no jazz clubs here? It says Memphis on the sign!

Players can also bet that Origins‘ Egypt is as beautiful as it is deep. The game’s environments comprise a gorgeous quilt of wilderness, towns, and cities; even Assassin’s Creed II‘s Renaissance landmarks can’t compare to the intricacies of Alexandria or the stark color of the desert. Origins make use of strong colors and plentiful object detail to bring its world to life. The game features dozens of environments ranging from dunes to forests (in stark contrast to the notion that Egypt is nothing but desert). Players can traverse this land on a horse, a camel, or in a boat.

Though Origins‘ environments are pretty to look at, its character models are much less impressive. Assassin’s Creed has never done well with its characters, and Origins‘ ancient Egyptian denizens look just as much like mannequins as the NPCs in previous installments. NPCs do look much more detailed during cutscenes, but all that detail quickly fades back into obscurity once the gameplay resumes.

Origins7

Would you look at that?

Origins rounds out its detailed level design and varied color palette with some of the series’ best sound design. The music borrows heavily from that of the very first Assassin’s Creed, relying on fast percussion and electronically modified horns to build a novel soundscape. Origins‘ other sounds are similarly rich; everything from Bayek’s footsteps through sand to the unsheathing of his blade sounds satisfying. The voice acting is hit-and-miss, but the characters who matter to the story are all well-voiced.

Yes, though Assassin’s Creed Origins continues the series’ tradition of historical figure cameos, they’re not as obnoxious as those of previous installments. Whereas Assassin’s Creed Syndicate rather pathetically shoehorned a nine-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle into its Victorian world, Origins presents a few famous faces and leaves the rest of the storytelling to the Assassins. Origins‘ decision to reign in the cameos is a welcome change over stuffing them awkwardly into the story. The game’s storytelling also benefits from the presence of meaty side missions instead of the usual story-free side activities.

Origins8

NOBODY MOVE! I dropped a scalpel!

While it’s fun to see Cleopatra and Julius Ceasar on the gaming screen, Origins‘ story is made on its original characters. Bayek is the most likable Assassin yet produced by the series; not even the legendarily affable Ezio Auditore can compete with this character’s wit, charm, and humanity. Bayek’s likability stems from the dichotomy of his infinite compassion for his fellow Egyptians… and his infinite hatred for the ones who killed his son. The character suffers crises of faith and fits of savage rage just as he plays with children and tells genuinely funny jokes.

Bayek is also an altogether different character than the many Assassins before (or after?) him. In stark contrast to most Assassin’s Creed protagonists, he is ardently religious, and it’s fascinating to see him try to reconcile his faith with all the blood on his hands. The game’s writing pulls off that inner conflict beautifully, without all the proverbial detritus that’s slowed the cogs of past Assassin’s Creed games. Aya, Bayek’s wife, is similarly torn between her desire for revenge and for Egypt to reclaim its past glory. Players can switch over to her for a few missions and rather emphatically prove wrong the notion that women can’t fight (or ignite lighthouses).

Origins9

Heaven help those who tempt parents’ wrath.

It’s because of its strong characters that Assassin’s Creed Origins sticks the story landing despite using the same premise as other titles. Origins is hardly the first AC game to send a protagonist off to avenge a loved one’s demise, but it is the first since Black Flag to portray characters’ emotions so candidly. Those portrayals go a long way toward encouraging players to once again kill their way through a list of greedy fat cats, and add fresh context to what would otherwise be a tired routine.

Because of its attention to detail, decent writing, and instantly likable characters, Origins‘ story is one of the best Assassin’s Creed tales yet. The story does suffer occasional pacing issues (especially toward the end), but Bayek’s quest for justice in an Egypt being torn apart from within is compelling stuff. The game’s ancient world setting is also the series’ most vibrant since the Renaissance set pieces; hopefully a future AC game sees players off to Greece or the Roman Empire.

Origins10

Don’t slip!

Origins has a lot to offer gamers on every platform, but the title has a special present for PC players: great system performance. It seems ridiculous to type onto this page, but even as of launch, Assassin’s Creed Origins suffers almost no performance issues. Occasionally the game may crash, but the title launched bereft of the character pop-in and other problems that have plagued Ubisoft titles for years. Origins comes up with a clean bill of health for PC gamers, and that’s marvelous.

Assassin’s Creed Origins has saved the Assassin’s Creed series, and is second only to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as the best game the franchise has ever produced. Whether it’s delving into the pyramids or igniting one of the most emotionally charged narratives that triple-A gaming has ever produced, Assassin’s Creed Origins is a resounding success that gamers everywhere should try. Origins has broken the shadow cast by Assassin’s Creed Unity and made being an AC fan fun again.

____________________

You can buy Assassin’s Creed Origins here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Destiny 2

Destiny1

Save humanity’s last, best chance for survival.

PC Release: October 24, 2017

By Ian Coppock

After much hooting and hollering from console fanboys to try this game, try this gameDestiny 2 has landed on PC. Most PC gamers (especially the ones who game only on that platform), have reacted to the launch in ways ranging from mild interest to complete indifference. Those reactions could be chalked up to gaming’s long and sad history of broken PC ports, but it might just be because few PC gamers have ever played a Destiny game. Destiny 2 is out to change that, and to make a big splash in the world of PC gaming.

____________________

Destiny 2 is a massively multiplayer shooter and the second installment in Bungie’s new flagship series. The legendary developer, best known for creating Halo, began work on the first Destiny shortly after escaping Microsoft’s clutches. The game released in 2014 to mixed reviews; critics and gamers praised its gunplay but took everything else (especially its “story”) to task. The game eventually straightened up and flew right, but only after releasing multiple, overpriced expansions that gamers were only too happy to throw money at.

Originally, Destiny was supposed to be a 10-year endeavor, but Bungie’s publisher, Activision, isn’t known for not releasing sequels all the time (cough*Call of Duty*cough). Destiny 2 shot out of the gate barely a year after its predecessor’s last expansion. The title has been hailed by console gamers as a major improvement over the first title, but PC gamers have no such point of reference, so reviews like these will have to suffice.

Destiny2

HAVE AT THEE, ALIEN-KNAVE!

For those PC gamers who need a quick primer, the Destiny games are sci-fi shooters set in a universe of both spaceships and magic. After enjoying centuries of peace and prosperity across the Solar System, an apocalyptic event called “the Collapse” forces humanity to retreat to Earth ahead of a foe called “the Darkness.” Humanity’s sole hope for survival is the Traveler, a sentient globe that gives certain humans a magic power called Light. These warriors, the Guardians, serve as the Destiny series’ player characters and are the only thing standing between mankind and a myriad of alien threats.

Destiny 2 takes place a year after the last Destiny expansion and opens with the Cabal (one of those aforementioned alien threats), invading humanity’s last city and taking the Traveler for themselves. The player’s Guardian rushes home to help repel the invaders but gets their Light stolen by Ghaul, a Cabal leader who seeks the Traveler’s power for himself. As the Guardian, it’s up to players to get their mojo back, assemble humanity’s scattered forces, and retake the city before the Traveler’s Light is snuffed out forever.

Destiny3

So I’m guessing that deflector shield didn’t work out…

As a Guardian, players can employ a diverse mix of magic powers and sci-fi weaponry to take the fight to humanity’s foes. Players can find and equip ever better armor, as well as a wide range of pistols, rifles, rocket launchers, and other killing implements. As players regain their Light, they can also unlock special abilities that even the odds on the battlefield. Players can pick from a few different classes that each emphasize guns or magic or a mix of the two, and branch out into sub-classes as the game goes on.

As players level up and gain new abilities, they can also explore dangerous areas all over the Solar System. The Cabal are hardly the only threat to humanity; a wide variety of other alien species are happily squatting in the ruins of mankind’s solar empire. These include four-armed bug pirate things and a race of creepy robots that are basically Geth in all but name. Players can face these threats by playing through the story or teaming up to embark upon MMO-style dungeon raids.

Destiny4

And here we have a fossilized parkour gym…

Destiny 2‘s first-person gunplay is the foundation upon which the rest of the game is built, and boy is it identical to Halo. Anyone who played Halo back in the day will instantly recognize how Destiny 2‘s weapons handle. Grenades float through the air as if borne on the backs of butterflies, while light weapons feel more like Super Soakers than actual firearms. Thankfully, Destiny 2‘s mainline guns pack much more of a kick than the weapons in Halo, which helps players feel like the powerful space warriors that the game wants them to be.

Destiny 2‘s other big gameplay feature is its powers, which players can level up and earn like in most RPGs. Different classes offer different powers; the Titan class, for example, focuses on brute battlefield strength, while the Warlock emphasizes devastating magical powers. As players pick and choose these powers, they can branch out into sub-classes that offer further specialization. These powers are a mixed bag: some, like the Hunter’s double-bladed melee pandemonium, are awesome. Other powers… not so much.

Destiny5

Oh my God it actually IS a Super Soaker!

Players can use these guns and powers to undertake story missions (most of which are relatively brief) or explore pseudo-open world areas in pursuit of items, quests, and timed events like boss battles. These areas are fun to explore and are also apparently much larger than the ones found in Destiny. Neither of these activities holds a candle, though, to going on Strikes and Raids. Strikes are small-scale dungeon adventures meant to be completed in just a few hours, while Raids (much like their World of Warcraft counterparts) are involved marathons that can support huge fireteams.

Of course, any game involving Bungie also features PvP multiplayer. Destiny 2 introduces a few modes for the multiplayer enthusiast to try, including the time-honored deathmatch and a fun best-of-ten mode called countdown. These bouts are some of the most fun multiplayer shooting to come to PC so far this fall, as teams of four players fight viciously for supremacy. Players can also compete in weekend-long competitions called Trials of the Nine, or in the Iron Banner, a tournament that randomizes each player’s equipment without unbalancing anyone.

Destiny6

SING, MY ANGEL OF MURDER!

With that rather exhaustive list of shooter features out of the way, it’s time to ask a more fundamental question: is it fun? The answer is that yes, Destiny 2‘s shooting is indeed fun; the caveat is that it’s not shooting that hasn’t already been done a million times. Destiny 2‘s shooting is a very “safe” amalgamation of all the shooter trends popular in the industry these days, so players hoping for something more novel might be disappointed. Destiny 2 also has a vicious appetite for grinding, and players who don’t share that appetite might get bored by gunning down alien waves over and over.

Additionally, while Destiny 2‘s gameplay is polished on the front end, its underpinnings could use some work. The game’s menus are a jumbled mess that juxtapose player powers, maps, locations, and arsenals. For some reason, prompts to start missions on a given world sometimes appear away from that world. Destiny 2‘s menus can be hard to follow, and that assessment is coming from someone with a great deal more patience than the pathologically impatient shooter fans this game is presumably aimed at.

Destiny7

Does anyone else see a Krogan, Darth Revan, and Garrus?

Destiny 2‘s story is a similarly “safe” space odyssey that doesn’t break any notable ground for the genre. If this game’s narrative is an improvement over the first game’s, that might just be because the first game didn’t really have one (at least the vanilla version). Destiny 2‘s narrative goes through the typical paces of a space opera: a big bad guy appears, someone gets captured, the hero needs to believe in themselves, and an epic battle ensues. There’s even the monologue about saving the galaxy, and a planet-destroying superweapon to boot.

None of these things are bad, per se, but the game’s singular focus on plot comes at the expense of the characters. No one evolves along with the story or changes in a meaningful way; the NPCs are just there to yell missions into the player’s ear. Sorry, but even Destiny 2 poster boy Cayde-6 is funny for only so long. Destiny 2‘s focus on scale instead of narrative is no surprise coming from an Activision studio, but it still represents a missed opportunity to inject some Mass Effect-style nuance back into space adventuring.

Destiny8

Darth Ghaul, Dark Lord of the Space Hippos.

Then again, perhaps it’s a bit naive to take a game so obviously built for multiplayer to task for having an underwhelming story. Sure, the narrative is what binds Destiny 2 together, but its multiplayer scene is where the game truly comes alive. No, the real stories of Destiny 2 are the ones of friends getting together to take out hellholes full of alien creatures, not a silent Guardian’s fight against an obese space turtle.

What’s more, Destiny 2 runs well on PC, so players seeking those great multiplayer stories can do so without having to worry about crashes and too much lag. It would seem that that extra month or two that Bungie took to port this game was well spent, as Destiny 2 can maintain a consistent framerate and has been praised by many gamers for running well even on subpar rigs. Players might experience occasional lag, but that happens on any multiplayer game with a heavy server load.

Destiny9

Oh God, a Space Toaster! TAKE COVER

While the Destiny fanboys may have exaggerated how fresh and novel the game’s shooting is, they certainly weren’t kidding about the scenery. Destiny 2 is a gorgeous game that weaves thousands of colors into epic space paintings. The game’s environments are layered with rich colors and object detail, which helps Destiny 2 give off that space opera vibe. Many times, players will also have the opportunity to behold jaw-dropping vistas, especially anytime the Traveler is within view.

While on the subject of art and immersion, it’s also worth pointing out that Destiny 2 has one of the prettiest soundtracks of any 2017 game. Bungie is well-known for its musical chops and gave Destiny 2 a spine-tingling OST driven by strings and deep horns. It’s a set of music that moves at about the same pace as the tracks of the original Halo, but abandons Gregorian chant in favor of a more diverse sound. This is definitely one of those titles whose soundtrack is also worth buying.

Destiny10

(drool)

In conclusion, Destiny 2 is one of those games that’s built to the scale of everyone’s favorite space epics, but it relies on the players to spin the story instead of a team of writers. The game’s subpar central narrative is not the star of the show; the stars are the great tales of battle that players pass from Discord server to Discord server. While Destiny 2‘s gunplay isn’t anything new, its curious post-apocalyptic excitement adds enough novelty to keep the fun going for a long time.

The bottom line for PC gamers is that Destiny 2 is worth taking more than a glance at. It won’t replace Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Team Fortress 2 in anyone’s library of favorite multiplayer shooters, but it might just be a worthy enough companion for even those vaunted titles. Get some friends together and give the game a try, because while Bungie explores little new ground when it comes to shooting, the stars are the limit in its mesmerizing space fantasy universe.

____________________

You can buy Destiny 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Whole1

Wage superhero warfare across the town of South Park.

PC Release: October 17, 2017

By Ian Coppock

In an age when people take offense more easily than ever before, there’s never been a greater need for South Park. Biting social satire isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as long as programs like South Park fearlessly lampoon everything under the sun, then maybe, just maybe, a few people might remember not to take everything under that sun so damn seriously. Video games have also provided a platform for satire and absurdity, and the boys who provided so much of it in South Park: The Stick of Truth are back with another digital jab at the universe in South Park: The Fractured But Whole.

____________________

South Park: The Fractured But Whole is a role-playing adventure game set in the universe of the eponymous TV show. The game was originally slated to be released in December of 2016 but was delayed by over 10 months. To hear publisher Ubisoft put it, more time was needed to ensure that the game met “the high expectations of fans.” The title was originally going to be called South Park: The Butthole of Time, until South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker learned that retailers wouldn’t sell a product with the word “butthole” in its name. South Park: The Fractured But Whole is their workaround.

Like South Park: The Stick of TruthThe Fractured But Whole was created with the close involvement of Parker and Stone. Television’s edgiest duo did far more than provide the main characters’ voices; they also served as executive producers and writers for the title. Such involvement is the right way to do a licensed game, and it sets The Fractured But Whole apart from so many uninspired tie-in games that also borrowed a license.

Whole2

To battle!

South Park: The Fractured But Whole picks up soon after the events of The Stick of Truth and once again casts players as the New Kid, a mute fourth grader who moved to South Park at the start of the previous game. Players can customize the New Kid with a wide variety of accessories and hairstyles. Fantastically, The Fractured But Whole also allows players to play as a female character (Stick of Truth was no-girls-allowed). Parker and Stone didn’t waste any time implementing their biting humor, as the game’s difficulty and skin tone sliders are one and the same.

The Fractured But Whole makes another big shakeup by swapping out The Stick of Truth‘s fantasy role-playing motif for the capes of South Park‘s long-running superhero subplot, Coon And Friends. When Cartman shows up with a missing cat poster promising a $100 reward, the boys quickly embark upon a quest to get that money and launch their cinematic universe. The New Kid decides to join the hunt as well, in a story that simultaneously parodies the film Captain America: Civil War and lampoons the long running Marvel-DC rivalry.

Whole3

Don’t forget Coon vs Supercraig: The Return of Tupperware!

Like The Stick of TruthThe Fractured But Whole is a class-based RPG. After creating their character, players can also build a superhero persona from a variety of classes and powers. There’s something for every fighting style; players who like brute force can pick superhuman strength, while those who prefer a defter touch can go after psychic or cyborg powers. Players can add more powers to their arsenal as they progress through the game, but choose carefully; with great power comes great responsibility.

Also like The Stick of TruthThe Fractured But Whole‘s combat is turn-based. Players can summon allies to their side and engage groups of foes with offensive and defensive moves just like in the last game. They can also make use of items like snacks and potions to restore health and revive fallen comrades. The one big change this system offers over The Stick of Truth is the incorporation of movement squares. Players can now move around the combat space to inflict more damage to foes or dodge attacks that take more than a turn to charge.

Whole4

This is super cereal.

The addition of movement to the South Park series’ combat is a mixed bag. While it is fun to be able to move closer to enemies and inflict more damage on them, it’s also easy for players’ teammates to get in each other’s way. Characters can’t unleash superhero moves if an ally is standing in front of them, which is made all the more problematic by the game’s small battle spaces. This also makes it easy for characters to box each other in or funnel foes through debris to pick them off one by one.

To be fair to The Fractured But Whole, the game also makes some refinements to what The Stick of Truth introduced. Just like in the last game, the New Kid can unleash devastatingly powerful farts. These fart move are far better explained and far easier to use than the ones in The Stick of Truth and require holding down only two buttons instead of executing hokey keyboard/mouse maneuvers. The New Kid’s farts are also much more powerful; ripping a big one sometimes means ripping the fabric of time.

Whole5

I can smell your fear… and your farts!

The Fractured But Whole lets players manage all this combat and chaos from a wide selection of menus. Using the New Kid’s phone, players can manage everything from their superhero’s appearance to the number of followers on Coonstagram. The Fractured But Whole is a little too eager to throw all of these menus at new players, but they’re reasonably streamlined and do an admirable job of letting players manage their character. Players can also call upon the power of the options menu to tweak the game as needed; this menu is a solid one, with plenty of toggles to play around with.

The Fractured But Whole‘s character management system is deeper and more streamlined than that of The Stick of Truth. Tethering power bonuses to clothing made sense in The Stick of Truth‘s fantasy RPG landscape, but The Fractured But Whole changes things up by chaining buffs to artifacts instead of outfits. These artifacts can be slotted to the New Kid and allow for bonuses like increased attack and hit points. This system allows players to retain a powerful character while also being free to dress them up in whatever superhero garb they find coolest.

Whole6

Phone menus! Phone menus everywhere!

When player aren’t busy customizing their character or taking on gangs of Professor Chaos’s goons, they’re busy exploring the town of South Park. Just like in The Stick of Truth, players explore the town from a side-scrolling perspective and can take a glance at everything from the boys’ neighborhood to downtown. Exploring South Park remains as fun as ever (especially for fans), but the town hasn’t changed all that much since The Stick of Truth. Indeed, with the exception of only 4-5 new buildings, the town map looks pretty much identical to that of The Stick of Truth.

Additionally, the side quests around town feel less inspired than those in The Stick of Truth. Their design seems mundane in comparison to something truly novel, like the last game’s Al Gore/Manbearpig story arc. Rather than diving headfirst into prolonged references to the TV show, players typically engage in more ho-hum tasks like finding Jimbo’s wallet. Even the funnier side quests tend to be similarly short and shallow, feeling more like the repeatable radiant quests in Skyrim than anything else.

Whole7

(yawn)

Even though The Fractured But Whole‘s side quests and world feel a bit stale, its main narrative is one hell of a lot more interesting than that of The Stick of Truth. For all the comedy gold The Stick of Truth struck, its plotline about Nazi zombies felt lazy and outdated. The TV show’s satire is known for its timeliness, so to see a 2014 game adopt a zombie meme that stopped being funny years ago was unusual (the part about Randy being the New Kid’s fart sensei was pretty funny, though).

The Fractured But Whole has a more interesting story that meshes the boys’ Coons And Friends mythos into a narrative about crime, law, and farts (what else could anyone want?). The only issue with this story is that for all its satire and potty mouth, it runs mostly on plot threads recycled from previous South Park episodes. It feels less like an original story and more like a smashup of some of the show’s most popular moments; rarely does it contrive its own comedy. The story that’s there is coherent and funny, but… it’s not very original.

Whole8

Yeah, Randy passed out drunk isn’t new story territory.

Even though The Fractured But Whole‘s story is by and large cogent, it does face the threat of being undone by one simple foe: bugs. As of writing, The Fractured But Whole suffers a wide-ranging gambit of performance issues and other problems. The game is subject to crashing (especially to the black screen of death) and freezing up on players. Cutscenes have an unfortunate tendency to freeze or stutter.

Players may also experience other bugs that are more trivial but no less frustrating. Sometimes characters’ spoken audio will cut out. Other times, the game’s text boxes contain no text at all. These issues make more sense when remembering that The Fractured But Whole was developed by a branch of Ubisoft, a company whose previous games have also exhibited problems like these. Oh Ubisoft… when will it produce a video game that only has more functions than bugs?

Whole9

This must be Ubisoft’s quality control office.

The main takeaway that fans of South Park: The Stick of Truth should bear in mind is that The Fractured But Whole represents the best and worst of video game sequels. The game’s high point is its story, which is funnier and more succinct than that of The Stick of Truth despite being built out of previous South Park story points. Less admirable, though, is the game’s cadre of uninspired side missions and little-changed world. Additionally, while The Fractured But Whole gives players more power than ever to create their own South Park character, that freedom comes at the price of too many menus and the clunky incorporation of movement into combat.

None of that is to say anything of The Fractured But Whole‘s numerous bugs, which mar the game’s core experience and may leave players quite frustrated. These bugs are more than likely a product of the game’s prolonged development. A game being delayed by a few months is one thing, but The Fractured But Whole‘s 10-month delay points to problematic development. That theory is far more believable than Ubisoft’s vague notions of ensuring only the best for South Park fans. Then again, given that all of the games Ubisoft produces these days are buggy, perhaps fandom really was the reason.

Whole10

What happened here?

Despite its deeper character customization and improved main plotline, South Park: The Fractured But Whole isn’t as good as The Stick of Truth. Fans should still at least try the title; just be ready to hit that refund button if the aforementioned bugs or the scourge that is Uplay verification prove problematic. Newcomers to the South Park game scene should first try The Stick of Truth before considering this game. Even though The Fractured But Whole provides the satire that’s so dearly needed in today’s hyper-charged climate, its numerous drawbacks preclude getting the full South Park experience.

____________________

You can buy South Park: The Fractured But Whole here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition

Distraint1

Decide how far one man is willing to go for that promotion.

PC Release: September 29, 2017

By Ian Coppock

The cutthroat world of corporate ladders inspires as much depression as it does opportunity. For every person who’s willing to ascend that ladder through honesty and hard work, there are ten more who are willing to do it by any means necessary. DISTRAINT is unusual in its psychological examination of corporate culture and the pursuit of that almighty promotion. Whereas the media and pop culture tend to see unabashed ambition as a moral good, DISTRAINT is decidedly more… unsettling in its own portrayal of that ambition.

____________________

Single-handedly created by indie dev Jesse Makkonen, DISTRAINT is a side-scrolling horror game that puts the psychology of greed under a microscope. The title was originally released in October of 2015, but the recently unchained Deluxe Edition of DISTRAINT packs the game with a streamlined UI, improved environmental lighting, and better animations. DISTRAINT is all about psychological horror, with a few adventure game elements thrown in for flavor.

DISTRAINT casts players as Price, a young attorney who makes his living evicting people from their homes. Though Price empathizes with the people he’s come to throw out, he keeps going in the hopes of making partner at his superiors’ law firm. DISTRAINT follows Price as he meets the last three people on his list, each of whom have a different reason for being thrown out and none of whom are too keen on meeting the attorney.

Distraint2

Welp, I feel like a dick.

DISTRAINT is a side-scrolling title, but it isn’t a platformer. Players progress through the game primarily by solving puzzles. Getting to some of the residences on Price’s list is surprisingly difficult, and because he has at least a bit of a heart, he’s willing to help people out with the odd job or two in exchange for a slightly clearer conscience. DISTRAINT‘s puzzles are a throwback to the golden era of adventure games; got a locked door? Try using that coat hanger in the inventory.

The other, much more unsettling gameplay element informing DISTRAINT‘s design is gruesome psychological horror. As Price sacrifices more and more of his soul for that promotion, he suffers an onset of horrifying hallucinations and exhausting nightmares. These sequences are rife with all sorts of unpleasant sights and sounds, and sometimes put the player in mortal danger. Price can’t hide from the demons inside his own head; all he can try to do is run.

Distraint3

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Because puzzles are the means by which players advance through DISTRAINT, it’s best to tackle them first. For the most part, DISTRAINT is refreshingly good at offering up logical puzzles. Unlike so many adventure games that chide players for not thinking to combine the spaghetti and the body powder into a key, DISTRAINT‘s puzzles follow a logical order. Got a locked door? Find the key! The most opaque option players might be confronted with is thinking to use a hanger as a TV antenna.

Not all of DISTRAINTs puzzle sections are so cut-and-dry, though. There’s a rather ludicrous puzzle toward the end of the game that involves getting high, tearing pieces of paint off of paintings, and using them to make a door. That Price is huffing mushrooms during that part of the game only does so much to make the challenge less outlandish. Fortunately, puzzles like that are the exception rather than the rule, as players can expect almost every other challenge to follow some order of logic.

Distraint4

Mkay… how do I MacGyver my way outta watching TV with old people?

DISTRAINT‘s horror is as terrifying as its puzzles are satisfying. Players can slip into one of Price’s fierce visions at any moment, which alter the game world in unsettling ways. Apartment complex corridors might suddenly become full of bodies, or that chair that was empty a second ago might now have a headless corpse occupying it. These sections are almost purely psychological and rarely place the player in actual danger, but that sure doesn’t make them any less startling.

DISTRAINT accompanies its macabre visuals with equally morose audio, including industrial-sounding grinding noises and distant screams. Occasionally, though, the game is a little too enthusiastic to leverage jumpscare violin strings. Those same strings can also screech at unbearable heights, going beyond being scary and indicating unbalanced audio mixing. It pays to keep the game’s audio at a manageable level, which players can only do so much to accomplish with DISTRAINT‘s limited options menu.

Distraint5

What was that noise?

DISTRAINT‘s visual morbidity is at its most acute during the horror segments, but the game also gets a lot of help from its general aesthetic. The entire game world is built out in crunchy, fluidly animated pixels that convey a strong sense of creepy to the player. Maybe it’s that all the characters have spooky facial features or that the backgrounds’ pixels make environments look murky, but something that Jesse Makkonen did makes the world of DISTRAINT forbidding as hell. Even DISTRAINT‘s most brightly lit sections feel morose.

Speaking of lighting, Jesse did a great job leveraging that in the Deluxe Edition of DISTRAINT. The title is one of the few horror games that’s lit in almost every color of the rainbow… yet still feels unwelcoming. Jesse’s use of near-monochromatic background colors also helps set the mood of each scene. The cabin that Price visits is made scarier with its palette of dour yellow lights, while the nursing home is done out in sterile, uncaring tones. This close attention to lighting does wonders for DISTRAINT‘s heavy atmosphere.

Distraint6

(shivers)

A lot of games have fluidly animated pixels and good lighting, but what truly sets DISTRAINT apart from its peers is its narrative. Price is a fascinating character: a person whose regret makes him sympathetic but whose greed makes him morally repugnant. He’s one of the most complicated characters to pass through the horror-adventure subgenre in recent years. The character is pushed to his breaking point over the course of the game and reacts convincingly to events in both his waking and nightmare lives.

DISTRAINT‘s plot also benefits from good pacing. The game is patient enough to not throw all of its terrors at players at once, preferring to let the horror simmer in tense inter-scare dialogue exchanges. Price’s moral dilemma is instantly relatable to any players (especially young ones) who have had to tow the corporate line at someone else’s expense. The resulting drama is potent and the dialogue feels organic despite having the occasional spelling or grammar error.

Distraint7

Heh, well, at least Price has THAT going for him.

DISTRAINT‘s frank examination of ambition and morality makes it one of gaming’s keenest studies of those concepts in a workplace context. They illustrate how cutthroat and, frankly, depressing the working world can be. DISTRAINT shows that many opportunities for advancement are more Faustian bargains than anything else, especially in the case of Price. That game-long existential crisis is where the title’s true horror resides; the hallucinations just give it a face.

Because of its uncommon attention to moral crises and its fluid adventure gameplay, DISTRAINT deserves a try from every gamer. It’s a curious odyssey into the mind of someone who has a weighty decision to make, and it’s written organically enough to feel pertinent to any working stiff. The game’s terror is also brought to life in more literal ways, with unsettling imagery and sound design straight out of a slasher film. With Halloween right around the corner, there’s no better time to give DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition a try.

____________________

You can buy DISTRAINT: Deluxe Edition here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Miasmata

Miasmata1

Discover the cure to your illness on a dark and dangerous island.

PC Release: November 28, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Tonight’s review marks the final installment of September’s survival game lineup. FarSky was a game about finding tranquility in survival, while Adrift examined outlasting a disaster of one’s own creation. Sky Break was an attempt at surviving for the sake of others rather than just the self. Miasmata is about none of these things: it is the basest of survival games in that the player is out for their own skin and nothing else. If they’re not careful, that skin will get ripped right off.

____________________

Miasmata is an open-world survival horror game created by brothers Joe and Bob Johnson, who also work under the moniker IonFX. The title was released in November of 2012 in a state unlike virtually any other survival game on Steam: complete. Yes, just like FarSkyMiasmata forwent being an early access title and skipped on over to finished product. Hell, FarSky and Miasmata might be the only two open-world survival games to do such a thing on Steam.

Anyway, Miasmata is implied to take place in the early 20th century and stars botanist Robert Hughes as its player character. Robert has fled to the mysterious island of Eden to discover a cure to his illness: a debilitating plague that has physically weakened him and will probably kill him sooner rather than later. Robert has arrived to Eden hoping that he can synthesize a cure from the island’s native flora. That mission is the goal of the game: explore the island, study its flowers, and make a cure if possible.

Miasmata2

Time to put all that work in my mom’s flowerbed to use!

Even though Robert is an expert botanist, he has his work cut out for him finding the cure. Eden is home to dozens of flowers and fungi, all of which could help bring about a cure but need to be carefully studied first. Each region of the island is home to different flora and demands careful exploration. Some plants only appear in hard-to-reach areas or during specific times of day, making exploring the entire island a must for players who hope to find the cure.

Fortunately for Robert, he’s got the equipment he needs to succeed. Eden was once home to a thriving community of scientists, all of whom conveniently left a string of houses and laboratories for players to make use of. Being scientists, most of them also left a ton of notes behind, so players who are up for a bit of reading can speed things up by plagiarizing from their peers’ observations. Players can use these labs to study plants and recover from the rigors of exploration.

Miasmata3

Ah, perfect!

Because Miasmata is a survival game, players have to take care of themselves while out in the wilderness. Robert apparently photosynthesizes his food, but still needs to drink water every so often before becoming dehydrated. Additionally, Eden is riddled with cliffs and hidden pitfalls for players to watch out for. Robert’s also not a very good swimmer, so don’t go out too far on those sunny beach days. Better to stay on the shore and just glance at the sea from afar.

There’s another, much more sinister danger to Eden. Though a game about gathering plants may not sound scary at first glance, Robert is being hunted. A monster stalks the forests of Eden looking for human prey, and will kill Robert if it so much as sniffs the botanist. Robert has no means of self-defense should the monster show up, so players who hope to survive can only do so by hiding until it passes. Who knew picking flowers could be so dangerous?

Miasmata4

There’s something in the trees…

Miasmata starts out with the same conventions as many other survival games, giving players a first-person perspective and a handful of meters to manage. All players really need to do to stay alive is stay hydrated; Robert carries a canteen that he can refill at most camps and there are plenty of sources of fresh water on the island. Some players might prefer calling this system “survival-lite”, but they’re are still being challenged to maintain their character’s health in a wild environment. Close enough.

Miasmata forks off on its own path by attempting to model realistic movement physics. Robert doesn’t stop or turn on a dime, moving more like a real human would in a wild environment. The game also attempts to simulate momentum; players that run toward a slope too quickly may tumble and fall to the ground. The system sounds neat on paper but often feels clunky while actually moving around. Robert has to take wide turns to get around, and it’s surprisingly easy for him to hurl himself off of a cliff. This is one of those titles where a few small, deliberate movements are better than mindless running, even if it’s only because Robert sometimes feels like he’s walking on jelly.

Miasmata5

Geez, is this dude drunk?

Robert’s lack of coordinated physical movement could be chalked up to his illness, but Miasmata‘s clunky controls feel more like a gameplay shortcoming than a story point brought to physical life. Robert’s character animations are similarly amateurish; his arms and hands are visible in the shot and sometimes bend at… interesting… angles when he’s refilling his canteen or doing some science. The character is quite frail, so take it easy when walking near precarious drops. Miasmata also allows players to map the island via triangulation; this mechanic too is clunky, but the attention to realism is nice.

Far more interesting than Robert’s movement is Miasmata‘s focus on botany. In order to find the cure, players have to gather plant samples and bring them back to a nearby laboratory. They can use the equipment therein to study different plants and their properties. Some plants are necessary to craft the cure, while others are useless. Still other plants can be synthesized into lesser kinds of medicine, allowing players to restore their health or gain temporary buffs like increased movement speed. Miasmata‘s lab work is some of the coolest science-ing in video gaming.

Miasmata6

From this daisy I shall create… ibuprofen!

As fun as it is to stay in the lab playing mad scientist, Miasmata truly comes alive through exploration. Eden’s environments are verdant and vary considerably from region to region. Some parts of the island bear tropical coasts while others are rainy groves reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest. Still other regions encompass swamps, plains, and canyons. All of these areas are meticulously detailed with doodads like fallen logs and thick undergrowth. When paired with wildlife like birds and butterflies, these details help Miasmata‘s world feel alive.

Miasmata successfully conveys that vibe even though its visuals are basic. The Johnson brothers can work wonders with object placement, but that doesn’t stop those objects from being rough around the edges or bearing noticeably aged textures. The textures on flowers are particularly rough. Miasmata shouldn’t be glossed over because it looks a bit old (even by 2012 standards), but the game’s proprietyary MILO engine was definitely built on a budget.

Miasmata7

Hmm…

Miasmata also has one of the kookiest lighting setups in recent gaming memory. Seriously, this title’s lighting is all over the place; players can be walking around in the sunlight but the area around them will be lit with flat light. Contrary wise, it’s not uncommon to see areas that should be shadowed lit unnaturally brightly. The lighting also seems to change when players glance at the sun; one look toward ole big blazey and the environment suddenly becomes pitch black. It’s a strange setup.

Fortunately, neither dated visuals nor wonky lighting can stop Miasmata from looking pretty. Despite the smudgy textures, the game still looks like a verdant island paradise thanks to its use of bright, strong colors. Additionally, the game’s water and sky boxes look impressively realistic even by contemporary standards. Miasmata’s environmental features are a mixed bag, but the negatives don’t stop the game from giving off a wild, unexplored vibe.

Miasmata8

Ooooooh…

That vibe of being on an uncharted island is part of what lends Miasmata its intoxicating atmosphere. It’s easy for players to get lost (both figuratively and literally) in Eden’s wilds while out looking for the cure. Miasmata builds its atmosphere by foregoing music; what few tunes the game has are pretty, but the title is usually content to leave players alone with the sounds of nature. This design choice reinforces the game’s nature vibe and makes the environment all the more engrossing.

Of course, leaving players alone in nature also makes Miasmata more tense. Players never know when the monster is going to show up, and there’s nothing more terrifying than wondering when the sound of birds chirping will be shattered by a distant roar. Avoiding the monster isn’t all that difficult, but wondering when it’ll show up and making sure that Robert is close enough to a hiding spot keeps players on their toes. The sight of Miasmata‘s wilderness inspires both awe and fear.

Miasmata9

Yeah, no, I ain’t going in there.

The capstone of Miasmata‘s chilling atmosphere is its storytelling. Robert doesn’t talk and there’s no truly active storyline that exists outside of gathering flowers, but there’s plenty of exposition to be found in the scientists’ settlements. Players can expect to find bits and pieces of conventional world-building, but there’s also a hidden story about previous events on the island and their implications for Robert’s quest for a cure. Sans the occasional spelling or grammar error, it makes for interesting reading.

What’s more, Miasmata structures its exposition and environments to tell a story. As Robert makes his way around the island, it’s implied that his trip to Eden is more than just a quest to find the cure. Miasmata makes chilling use of environmental storytelling, leaving corpses and telltale signs of destruction around the island. Funny thing about the dead scientists; a lot of them seem to have been killed with a knife, not the beast’s claws. What’s going on out there?

Miasmata10

What happened here?

There’s no denying that Miasmata is rough around the edges. Its visuals are dated, its movement is spongy, and its lighting is on drugs. None of these things, though, stop the game from being one of the best survival experiences available on Steam. The title has a thick atmosphere befitting a horror game and an engrossing world that players will want to explore every inch of. It runs well on computers new and old and comes complete with a decent options menu. More than that, though, Miasmata confers the tension of surviving in an uncertain, dangerous environment in a way that few survival games (Early Access or not), can. It delivers tense exposition and environmental storytelling that, at times, are as frightening as its monster. That’s why everyone should buy it.

____________________

You can buy Miasmata here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Zeno Clash 2

Clash1

Put ’em up against dozens of enemies on a quest to discover the truth.

PC Release: April 30, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Few feelings match the anticipation of the final encounter. There’s something special about waiting in the wings for one last battle… and a chance to overcome an enemy. Those who are truly lucky may even discover higher truths about the world around them, sometimes as a direct result of defeating that foe. This is the motif and the final rallying cry of Zeno Clash 2.

____________________

Zeno Clash 2 is the direct follow-up to Zeno Clash,  a first-person puncher and ACE Team’s debut title. After taking a break from Zeno Clash to develop the fabulous Rock of Ages, ACE returned to the fold of its weirdest world to continue the story of Ghat. Like its predecessor, Zeno Clash 2 takes place in a surreal land full of anthropomorphic animals… and emphasizes punching, kicking or throwing any that stand in the player’s way.

Zeno Clash 2 begins shortly after the end of the previous game, in which protagonist Ghat returned to his home city of Halstrom and defeated its baby-snatching ruler, Father-Mother. Ghat didn’t come home alone, though; he brought with him a blue-skinned Golem intent on giving law and order to the city. “Law” and “order” being foreign concepts to Halstrom’s colorful inhabitants, Golem’s arrival has sparked unrest in the city and made Ghat rethink his decision to bring him home.

Clash2

Anyone else getting a “Dr. Seuss meets Alejandro Jodorowski” vibe?

After punching his way out of the local watering hole (since punches count for currency in Halstrom), Ghat bumps into Rimat, the woman who led the effort to hunt him down in Zeno Clash. Rather than put him in handcuffs, though, Rimat proposes teaming up with Ghat to investigate what Golem really wants in Halstrom. The pair do a little detective work and discover that, yes, Golem’s mission to provide law and police to Halstrom is much more than a random act of philanthropy.

Golem doesn’t take too kindly to snooping, though, forcing Ghat and Rimat out of Halstrom and back into the wilds of Zenozoik. Once again Ghat is forced into exile, and once again he must punch, fight and headbutt his way to the truth of a grand conspiracy. This time, though, he’s got Rimat by his side, a woman who may have once been his most persistent enemy but is now intent on exposing that same truth. Together, the pair strike out to fight their way across Zenozoik.

Clash3

Ah, good to be back in the land of freaks.

Like its predecessor, Zeno Clash 2 is enthusiastic about first-person fighting. Ghat is an accomplished pugilist, and solves most of the problems thrown his way with a pair of bare fists. Players can also use guns and other ranged weapons on occasion, but they’re pretty rare; Zeno Clash 2 scales back Zeno Clash‘s enthusiasm for firearms to focus more on punching. Players can also use grenades if they want to make a real show of force (and if the opponent is too slow to move out of the blast zone).

Zeno Clash 2 is also more faithful to ACE Team’s original vision for the series. The developer initially planned to make Zeno Clash an open-world title but didn’t have the resources to do so. It would seem that ACE found the cash to make the Zeno Clash experience that they always wanted to, because Zeno Clash 2 is set in a small but vibrant open world. Players can tackle the main story or take on side quests at their leisure. There’s all sorts of fun to be found in Zenozoik.

Clash4

What even is that thing?

Zeno Clash 2 is chock full of refinements for the series, including some meaty improvements to the fighting system. The original Zeno Clash‘s arsenal of punches and kicks was serviceable, if simplistic, but Zeno Clash 2 streamlines Ghat’s abilities to allow for more advanced combos. Ghat can more quickly string up combos, and it’s also easier for players to throw punches of varying power. The controls are smoothly implemented on a keyboard and mouse as well as Xbox gamepads, so swing away.

Additionally, Zeno Clash 2 throws a wider variety of foes at the player. Enemies of the same weight class often have different attacks; a far cry from the original Zeno Clash giving each weight class the same roster of moves. Ghat also encounters these foes in a much more random variety than in the first game, which keeps the combat feeling fresh and keeps players guessing what malformed bird-creature will jump out of which oddly colored tree.

Clash5

Put ’em up, lobster-man!

Even more dramatic than Zeno Clash 2‘s improved fighting is the game’s visual upgrades. Whereas the original Zeno Clash benefited from strong colors but suffered from rough graphics, Zeno Clash 2 kicks Zenozoik into overdrive with exquisitely rendered objects. Everything the game throws at Ghat from environments to characters look wonderfully detailed; certainly much more so than in Zeno Clash. ACE Team made these improvements while preserving the weirdness that gives the series its kick.

Zeno Clash 2 also runs well on PC. The game allows players to punch to their hearts’ content without throwing bugs or glitches into the gears. Zeno Clash 2 has a great options menu for addressing any potential concerns and, unlike the original game, it can run at a standard 1920 x 1080 resolution. Occasionally players may see a bit of texture pop-in, but it’s a are phenomenon. It certainly doesn’t obstruct Zeno Clash 2‘s bright visuals and smooth performance.

Clash6

The hills are aliiiiive with the sound of puuuunchiiiiing…

As previously mentioned, Zeno Clash 2 abandons its predecessor’s linear format in favor of an open world. Players can visit regions over and over to find hidden items or take up side quests for Zenozoik’s eccentric inhabitants. Some regions are entirely optional to explore and contain only side quests. Finding all of the corners of Zenozoik (both for the main narrative and side missions) is highly recommended. It’s an open world that features Zeno Clash at its best, with a range of diverse environments and even more diverse (and crazy) characters.

The liveliness of Zeno Clash 2‘s environments goes beyond their being bright and open. Each region is inhabited by its own brand of crazies, most of whom are happy to get into fisticuffs with Ghat if the player gets too close. Additionally, though Ghat starts out with Rimat at his side, players can accrue a small but deadly pool of other side characters to tag team wrestle with. A handful of these are returning characters from the first game, including Ghat’s original companion Deadre. The voice acting and music are hit-and-miss, but both are better than the first game’s.

Clash7

Damn. Someone filled the sky with fruit punch again.

Even though Zeno Clash 2‘s fighting improvements and transition to an open world are where the game gets the most fun, the narrative is perhaps the title’s most important improvement for the series. Whereas Zeno Clash‘s narrative was a scattershot collection of flashbacks and stilted dialogue, Zeno Clash 2‘s plot is infinitely more cohesive. Ghat’s new quest to discover the origins of Golem is much more cleanly written than his flight into exile in the first game. The dialogue inevitably benefits from much better storyboard organization.

Zeno Clash 2 also does what all good sequels do by massively expanding the scope of its predecessor’s lore. The world of Zenozoik is given much more backstory and mystery than it had in the original Zeno Clash; the result is a world that recontextualizes the original title and makes the story of Ghat feel more epic for doing so. Zeno Clash 2 drops its hints and its climaxes at an even tempo (despite a slow start), culminating in an ending bout much livelier than a Mayweather-McGregor matchup.

Clash8

Guess I’m not allowed to go to the rave.

Zeno Clash 2 is more than a sum of improvements to the original Zeno Clash. It’s one of the most novel beat ’em up games of the last five years and a shining example of what a sequel should do. A sequel shouldn’t just retread paths trod by a preceding game with little to no change; instead, a sequel should strive to expand the scope of what the previous game set down. It should use the preceding installment’s narrative and world as a springboard for a new, grander experience.

Zeno Clash 2 accomplishes that in spades. It’s a game with streamlined, fun fighting set in a world that players want to explore. Its story is a cogently arranged saga of fighting and  truth-seeking with interesting characters. Its dialogue, while occasionally awkward, carries itself with more passion and enthusiasm than that of the original game. For all these reasons, it’s a game worth picking up,  and not just by fighting fans. Its trippy visuals and world may also very well serve as a viable substitute for acid.

____________________

You can buy Zeno Clash 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

Outsider1

Join your former mentor on a mission to kill a god.

PC Release: September 15, 2017

By Ian Coppock

The standalone expansion is back in vogue, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. In an age when devs hack pieces out of their own games to sell separately and studios launch their titles with hundreds of dollars’ worth of skins (*cough*Evolve*cough*), a more substantial piece of additional content is a welcome change. Bethesda seems intent on leading the expansion pack charge, first with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood in 2015 and now with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

____________________

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a standalone title that started out as a piece of DLC for last year’s Dishonored 2. Plans changed when Dinga Bakaba, Dishonored 2‘s lead designer, advocated for making Death of the Outsider its own title instead of an add-on. That decision proved to be a good idea because it gave Death of the Outsider the chance to foster its own identity that’s independent of Dishonored 2.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is also meant to serve as the end to the “Kaldwin era” of Dishonored titles, wrapping up the Dishonored world’s current plot threads and character arcs. According to industry scuttlebutt, if Arkane elects to make more Dishonored games, they’ll feature new characters and storylines. Death of the Outsider is thus intended to be an encore, a final hurrah of the Corvo Attano/Emily Kaldwin arc (even though neither of those characters feature in this title).

Outsider2

Dance, you ruffians! Dance, I say!

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider takes place a few months after the end of Dishonored 2 and stars Billie Lurk, former assassin-turned-boat captain. Having helped Emily/Corvo on their journey in Dishonored 2, Billie turns her attention to finding her old mentor Daud, the guy who killed the Empress in the original Dishonored. Daud hasn’t been heard from in over 15 years, but Billie has it on good authority that he’s in Karnaca, the one and same city Dishonored 2 took place in.

Sure enough, Billie finds Daud in the city’s least reputable corner and watches him use the same awe-inspiring powers he wielded in Dishonored. It turns out that Daud has been out and about studying the Empire of the Isles on a deeply personal mission, one that he needs Billie to help him execute. Daud’s noticed that a lot of the bad stuff that goes down in the world of Dishonored is due in no small part to the Outsider, and makes Billie a bold proposal: kill him.

Outsider3

You out of your mind, old man?

Wait, the Outsider? That black-eyed supernatural entity who floats around in the void, bestowing terrible and amazing powers upon whomever he sees fit? The guy who can see into the past, present, and future? The kid who’s basically a god? Yep, that Outsider. Billie is rightfully skeptical that it’s possible to kill him, but Daud thinks that he’s found a way to do so deep in Karnaca. Billie decides that she’s willing to risk her life to see the Outsider gone, and picks up her old assassination tools for one last job.

Like previous Dishonored titles, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a first-person game that emphasizes stealth and subterfuge. Even though Billie’s out to end his life, the Outsider decides to give her her own set of deadly powers to use. Players rely on a combination of skill with a knife and supernatural abilities to navigate levels and complete objectives. Usually those objectives involve ending the life of some heavily guarded fat cat, but Billie can perform other missions too.

Outsider4

Billie’s out to hunt the devil himself.

Unlike previous Dishonored titles, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider gives players all the powers, all at once. Billie is given a small but potent set of abilities that are all fully upgraded and ready to use from the get-go. These include a Blink-like ability called Displace as well as a much more novel power that allows her to assume the guise of any unconscious NPC (for a limited time). Players can also use a magical scout wisp to scope out the area ahead.

Death of the Outsider also features an even more far-reaching formula shakeup than immediate power: removal of the chaos system. The endings of previous Dishonored games were affected by how many NPCs the player murdered; no such penalty system exists in Death of the Outsider. Players are thus free to sneak or kill as they see fit. Billie’s story gets the same ending no matter whether she sneaks past everyone or leaves a trail of corpses.

Outsider5

THE GLOVES ARE OFF, GENTLEMEN!

Both of these fundamental changes to the Dishonored formula are quite refreshing. Getting all of the powers at once conveys the fun of the new game plus mode onto Death of the Outsider, which doesn’t feel all that out of place considering that this is an expansion to Dishonored 2. The design change gives players as much freedom as possible to traverse maps and kill enemies, and emboldens them to experiment with different abilities. What’s more, Billie’s mana recharges over time instead of relying upon elixers, so magic away.

Additionally, it’s nice to see an end to the chaos system. Sure, it served as a way for players to challenge themselves and make as little noise as possible, but a game about assassination shouldn’t give players an adverse narrative because they, well, assassinate people. Dishonored: Death of the Outsider recognizes this and makes the narrative and gameplay two separate entities. Some might say that the chaos system’s removal negates the player’s impact on the story, but Billie is still doing plenty of story-moving stuff.

Outsider6

I summon the powers of a contemporary sculpture!

Another refreshing departure that Death of the Outsider marks from Dishonored 2 is that it actually runs well. Even though almost none of the big-budget titles that released last fall ran well on PC, Dishonored 2‘s PC performance was particularly dishonorable. Between the crashing, the stuttering, and the FOV bugs, there weren’t many facet of Dishonored 2‘s performance that didn’t need patching. Luckily, Death of the Outsider runs just fine. Arkane managed to sidestep all of the performance issues plaguing Dishonored 2 and Death of the Outsider is much, much better for it.

Additionally, players who do experience performance issues while running Death of the Outsider should check out its comprehensive options menu. The menu allows players to adjust virtually everything about the game from key bindings on up to visual effects like shadows. The result is a title that, even if by chance it doesn’t run well the first time, actually allows players to try to remedy issues. Props to Arkane for including an in-depth options menu.

Outsider7

“My… look at that DASHING options menu!”

Death of the Outsider‘s decent system performance does more than make the game playable; it also makes it more beautiful. Dishonored 2‘s rendition of Karnaca was always marred by the poor performance, but players can now experience the city in all its proper glory. Karnaca espouses beautiful Greco-Roman architecture and bright colors, giving players no shortage of things to gawk at even as they’re slitting throats and stealing purses. Objects are well-placed and the game’s Void Engine-powered textures are sharp as ever.

Death of the Outsider also benefits from more varied level design than past Dishonored games, sending Billie through the customary multi-leveled city streets as well as more constricting spaces like caverns. Levels in Death of the Outsider are sizable, and though their design isn’t all that different from past Dishonored games, there’s still lots to find. Death of the Outsider also adds a contract system in which players can complete side jobs for extra coin. Just take care to read the job postings carefully.

Outsider8

You want me to cook WHAT for dinner?

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider succeeds in creating the series’s most fun gameplay experience to date, but the same can’t be said of the story. The narrative sounds like compelling stuff at face value: find a way to kill a god and bring an end to an era of Dishonored. The problem with Death of the Outsider‘s narrative lies not in its jaw-dropping backstory nor its lore, but in how breakneck of a pace this story is delivered at.

Worse still is the game’s ending, the most rushed and anticlimactic of any Dishonored narrative. It’s difficult to elaborate without spoiling, but suffice it to say that the ending does not befit the premise of setting out to kill the Outsider. The narrative just quickly peters out with a vague epithet about the future and leaves it at that. It’s not quite Mass Effect 3-levels of abrupt, but that example’s mere usage is not a good sign for Death of the Outsider‘s ending.

Outsider9

What the hell is this place?

Luckily, Death of the Outsider saves its story’s mediocrity from seeping into the gameplay by keeping the two untethered, resulting in a title that has the series’s most meh story but also its most fun gameplay. It’s a shrewd use of the expansion format, as Arkane was able to shed the mediocrity of Dishonored 2 and still have enough elbow room to try new things. Death of the Outsider is the Dishonored saga’s gameplay at its purest, giving players the most freedom of any Dishonored game to sneak and to stab. Players who enjoy both of those kinds of gameplay should pick the title up, and series fans keen to see how the Kaldwin era ends should as well. Happy hunting.

____________________

You can buy Dishonored: Death of the Outsider here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Sky Break

Break1

Search a storm-ridden planet for the cure to a deadly plague.

PC Release: October 21, 2016

By Ian Coppock

The next title in this month’s pack of survival games is Sky Break, a game about staying alive more for the sake of others than the self. Unlike FarSky, a game about tranquil survival, and Adrift, a game about outlasting a disaster of one’s own creation, Sky Break is a game about pegging the fate of millions to the survival of a single person. It presents the need to save others as being just as much of a pressure as finding food or shelter. Where the game goes from that premise is the subject of tonight’s review.

____________________

Sky Break is a third-person adventure game and the sophomore effort of FarSky Interactive. With Sky Break, FarSky swaps out the underwater setting of its titular debut with that of an alien world far, far in the future: a future in which humanity has been driven to the brink of extinction by a deadly plague. The player character, an anonymous explorer, is sent to the stormy planet of Arcadia to find and synthesize a cure. If they fail, so too does the human race.

The character starts Sky Break out being one of many explorers sent to Arcadia, but the planet’s aforementioned stormy weather wreaks havoc on the fleet and leaves the player the sole survivor. Bereft of their colleagues and armed only with what they can scavenge from the world around them, it’s up to the player to find a cure, repair their ship, and avoid falling prey to Arcadia’s fierce storms and killer robots.

Break2

Wait, WHAT?!

What’s that? Killer robots?! Yes indeed, Arcadia’s fierce storms are hardly the only obstacle players have to keep an eye out for. The planet is also swarming with animal-like robots that exhibit all the feral ferocity one might expect of actual animals. It turns out that Arcadia was settled by humanity long ago, but had to abandon the planet when these mechs turned on their creators. Before anyone starts screeching that Sky Break is a Horizon Zero Dawn clone, bear in mind that this game released about four months before HZD. Checkmate, fanboys.

Luckily for the player, killer animal robots weren’t the only things the colonists left behind on Arcadia. They also happened to leave behind chests full of supplies and, oh yeah, a fully functional sky base that can move wherever the player needs it to go. This high-tech sky-loft comes packed with a medical room, a greenhouse, and other necessities for surviving on Arcadia. The station also comes with a landing pad for the ship… if players can fix it.

Break3

Now THIS is what I call moving on up!

With all of these resources at hand, players are well-equipped to explore Arcadia and find the cure. Sky Break is played from a third-person perspective and outfits players with a laser rifle, a repair tool, and other devices useful for navigating Arcadia’s wilds. Players are also accompanied by a drone that can emit sonar pings and reveal nearby items. Finding the cure is pretty simple: just walk up to a nearby plant, gather a sample, and the let the character’s built-in synthesizer start cracking away at it.

Of course, Sky Break doesn’t actually tell players most of this. The game gives general directives like finding the sky base and locating nearby islands, but doesn’t otherwise inform players how to proceed. It doesn’t divulge that having gathered plant material sit in the inventory is sufficient for making a fraction of the cure. Sky Break‘s abject lack of hints is a needless frustration that can make it difficult to discern what to do next or how best to explore Arcadia.

Break4

A wild robo-tiger appeared!

Apart from its lack of detailed information, the other wearisome element of Sky Break‘s gameplay is, well… its gameplay. The only way to complete the game is to collect plant samples for the cure, but each sample only yields about .20% of the final product. Sky Break attempts to dilute the botany monotony by splitting the world into islands and across wilderness, but the end goal is the same no matter which chunk of rock the player is traversing. Occasionally the player may try to reclaim a signal tower and fight off hordes of robots, but those are by and large the only instances that things shake up.

Not that Sky Break‘s shooter gameplay is all that remarkable either. There are lots of robotic animals prowling the wilds, but they all go down the same way: just shoot until they die. The enemies in Sky Break have rudimentary AI, typically only barreling straight toward the player much as the sharks do in FarSky. Unlike FarSky‘s sharks, though, these enemies can at least be dodged. Far more novel than shooting the robots is the ability to tame and upgrade them, making them valuable wilderness companions.

Break5

Down, boy! …Or girl? Or it? Down, thing!

Sky Break‘s most novel gameplay feature is the weather. As previously mentioned, Arcadia is perpetually rocked by thunderstorms, and the severity of those storms affects finding the cure. Most times the storm is reduced to rain and light wind, which is hardly a bad thing. Other times, though, the storm kicks up to a fever pitch, unleashing deadly tornadoes and frequent lightning strikes. Sometimes the storms can get so bad that the player’s minimap can short out, forcing them to take shelter until it passes. Fortunately, players can usually reduce the storm’s ferocity with a nearby lightning rod.

Sky Break‘s weather gameplay is cool, but its other gameplay elements leave much to be desired. Players can bet that most of their time will be spend gathering plants and shooting any robots that attempt to obstruct them from gathering said plants. Compound this with the fact that players don’t have any resource needs, like food or water, to maintain, and Sky Break feels less like a survival game and more like an adventure demo.

Break6

Heel, catdog!

To Sky Break‘s credit, the game attempts to break up the routine of alien gardening by featuring several different biomes. Players start out in a lush forest but can go on to explore a scorching desert and an unforgiving arctic wasteland. Each of these environments is brightly colored, but the game’s object design and graphical rendering are… rudimentary. Likewise, character animations for both the player and the robots are painfully stiff.

Sky Break also suffers from several interesting notions of how to render weather. FarSky Interactive did a good enough job animating wind-rustled tree leaves and grass, but for some reason elected to animate gales of wind that shoot upwards from the ground. It’s a bizarre-looking eyesore, one that suggests either lazy effect implementation or that the wind was animated to flow in the wrong direction. Sky Break does marginally better with its world’s sound design; a lot of the effects are muffled but the music is pretty.

Break7

WHAT IS HAPPENING

The nail in Sky Break‘s coffin is its large load of bugs. Robot animals will simply glitch through physical obstacles if they charge the player hard enough. The game is subject to random crashes that no amount of tinkering in its options menu seems to fix. Why Sky Break is so prone to this performance issue is a mystery; its graphics constitute a minimal system performance burden.

Finally, Sky Break is also prone to some of the worst character and object pop-in of any game reviewed on this page… even the Ubisoft ones. This problem is at its most dire when players fix their ship, which they can fly around the world much like they could the mini-sub in FarSky. Astoundingly, the ship can fly faster than the world around it can load, meaning that players have to wait for the world to spawn in around them once they reach their destination. If the player is waiting in a space that’s supposed to be occupied by a landmark like a rock formation, that cliff or butte will spawn around the player and trap them (and their ship) inside it. What a farce.

Break8

Faster! But not TOO fast!

There’s not a whole lot else to say about Sky Break. Its sound design is muted, its world is scattershot… the entire production feels more like an Early Access build than a finished product. The game presents an interesting world and concept, but its execution is slipshod in almost every game design department. As such, it’s better off avoided. Sky Break represents a surprising step back for FarSky, whose eponymous debut was a much better game. Hopefully the studio can recapture FarSky‘s sense of fun with The Free Ones, its upcoming island escape adventure, but until then… skip Sky Break.

____________________

You can buy Sky Break here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Adrift

Adrift1

Discover what destroyed your space station… and how to get back home.

PC Release: March 28, 2016

By Ian Coppock

Sometimes the key to surviving a difficult situation lies in realizing one’s own role in it. That motif is rarely explored in survival video games; oftentimes the protagonist is simply thrust into a disaster and expected to survive it for as long as possible. Adrift is different. It’s a game that encourages players to discover the truth as they’re fighting for life… and to accept that truth even as they may be fighting to deny it. These and other fights inform Adrift, the subject of tonight’s review.

____________________

Adrift‘s concept has unorthodox origins. When the Xbox One was first unveiled back in 2013, gamers and critics were rightfully outraged over the dumb stunts Microsoft was trying to pull at the time. The most infamous of these was that the Xbox One required an Internet connection to even function. To make matters worse, studio head Adam Orth took to social media to belittle those concerned, infamously typing “why would I live there?” in response to one concerned user who was in the sticks and didn’t have access to steady Internet. When someone else opined that the constant connection requirement was a bad idea, he simply replied, “deal with it.”

Orth’s comments weren’t the stupidest things a Microsoft exec could say to angry gamers… but they were still pretty damn stupid. They certainly evidenced how out of touch Microsoft was with both its customers and reality. As for Orth, the backlash against his comments was so severe that he quit his job at Microsoft and took some time to think about how people recover from disasters of their own creation. To Orth’s credit, he was innovative enough to take that life experience and turn it into a tangible product: that product is the video game being reviewed here and now.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

THAT’S SO META

Adrift kicks off as player character Alex Oshima watches a piece of the space station she was in charge of fly right past her head. She quickly realizes that she’s floating in space, all by herself, in the midst of a debris field that was once the rest of the station. With no recollection of what happened, Alex quickly floats to an intact piece of the station to find a way out of the debris. Unfortunately, the escape vehicle is locked off behind a broken computer core, and the components needed to fix it have been knocked all over the place.

If Adrift is any indication, humanity will not have mastered keeping spare parts close at hand by the year 2037. It also seems a bit peculiar that the station needs to be functioning in order to escape from it (if it’s functioning, why would someone need to escape?). Whatever; it’s the impetus for exploring the station’s modules, keeping an eye out for details, yadda yadda yadda.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

Something tells me I’m gonna need more than a pipe wrench to fix THIS… thing.

The entirety of Adrift is played in zero gravity, and the game does its best to simulate moving in that environment. As Alex, players can air-thrust around the game world, as well as rotate in circles and come to a complete halt. That last feature may not sound all that noteworthy on paper, but remember that this is zero gravity; players who don’t pay attention to their own trajectory risk slamming into walls or careening into the void.

Adrift caught a ton of flak for these movement controls, and to be fair, they could stand some refinement. Even when Alex’s suit is repaired, she moves at a snail’s pace. With respect to the fact that Adrift is meant to be played at a slow pace so as to soak up the atmosphere, it doesn’t need to be played at the speed of tar going uphill in January. Eventually Alex can upgrade her thrusters to move at a somewhat fast pace, but don’t go into this game expecting to jetpack around like Diddy Kong.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

Come onnnnnnn… just a little bit further… eeeeeeee….

The rest of Adrift‘s gameplay revolves around survival and exploration. Alex’s suit sprung a leak, so it pays to make sure there’s a floating oxygen container nearby whenever possible. Players who don’t stock up on good ole O2 risk suffocating. This survival challenge is compounded by the fact that the suit draws air for both breathing and movement from the same supply. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that Adrift encourages moving slowly (especially if asphyxia is the alternative).

Players also have to keep an eye out for more visceral obstacles. There are lots of live wires floating around the station, as well as chunks of debris that all happen to have at least one pointy end. Alex’s suit is also apparently made of Styrofoam, because one brush against the wall and bam, WE GOT A BREACH! Luckily, players can upgrade and repair their suit as they go along, and these upgrades are presented at an even pace so as not to create crushing difficulty. These elements comprise a subtle but vicious survival challenge.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

Cotton ball inbound! BRACE FOR IMPACT!

Another element informing Adrift‘s vicious survival challenge is its level design. Though most of the space station’s modules are intact and linear on the inside, Alex also has to navigate hazardous debris fields to get to where she needs to go. Floating through these fields can be very tense, especially when players jump at getting hit by an unseen obstacle. Navigating deep space is brought to terrifying heights in Adrift, which is probably why this game gets compared to that movie Gravity all the time.

Unfortunately, Adrift‘s enthusiasm for debris fields is also where its level design is at its worst. Certain sections of the game are easy to get turned around in, and even Alex’s built-in scanner is only so good at pointing out the way forward. It’s annoyingly easy for players to get lost in space (without even The Robot to chide them) and run out of oxygen before reaching a close enough module. When this happens, the nail-biting tension of these space crossings is replaced with something much more rote: irritation.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

HALP

Luckily, players can also lose themselves in a less literal, less frustrating sense. Adrift is an absolutely gorgeous title; in fact, it’s one of the most graphically sophisticated games ever developed. Adrift compacts thousands of colors into its visual design and its textures are so sharp that they may very well cut players’ eyeballs. The level of detail on everything from Alex’s gloves to a floating pack of space-rice is insane; more insane is how masterfully the game’s lighting is implemented to interact with and give volume to these objects.

The price that players must pay for all of these high-end visuals is Adrift‘s equally high-end system requirements. The game runs well on PC, but anything less than a powerful gaming rig might shed tears and/or explode when running it. For players who have a big rig and still experience problems, Adrift provides a top-tier options menu with customizations for everything audio, visual, and in-between. Toiling away in the options for a few minutes is worth the experience.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

That is f***ing beautiful.

Adrift is worth experiencing for more than just the visuals, though. Sure, it also has stellar voice acting and a creepy soundtrack befitting a graveyard in space, but the narrative makes for an enjoyable sci-fi thriller. The “thrill” lies not so much in the game’s insistence that Alex go get backup floppy disks (which is a bit repetitive), but in navigating the broken station and learning about the lives of its inhabitants. As so many games in this vein do, Adrift leaves audio diaries and open email accounts just drifting around for players who are hungry for backstory.

Adrift‘s story is told through those diaries and emails. It’s a tale that revolves around not just pure survival but also unchecked ambition and, ultimately, guilt. This isn’t spoilers territory, by the way; the game makes it clear from the get-go that Alex isn’t just an innocent bystander in the destruction of the station. Not only does this narrative give off a creepy vibe; it’s well-paced and dispenses details just around the next corner.  The tension of Adrift lies in uncovering what Alex’s exact relationship is to the world around her… much like what Adam Orth contemplated following his departure from Microsoft.

ADR1FT Screenshot 01

Oh thank God, the turnip garden got s***housed.

Provided that players have a decent rig and are willing to put up with slow controls, Adrift is a sci-fi thriller worth experiencing. It looks great, sounds great, and does a good job at delivering a suspenseful story about being marooned in space. As for Adam Orth, it sounds like he’s not only learned from his mistakes, but turned those mistakes into a genuinely good game. Adrift is a game worth getting, and Orth’s future endeavors are worth paying attention to.

____________________

You can buy Adrift here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.