Ziggurat

Standard

zigguratZiggurat is the latest FPS dungeon crawler from Milkstone Studios. Released on Steam and XBox One in March 2015, it combines Rogue-like mechanics with the twitch shooter styling of the old classics Hexen and Heretic.

Rating: Buy it. (3.5/5)

Dixon’s Thoughts: Ziggurat is difficult to explain to people who have never played a Rogue simulator and haven’t experienced ID Software and Raven Software’s Heretic series. To save time, you can check out the Rogue concept here. Briefly, these types of games feature things like a single life, procedurally generated (read: randomized) dungeons, and punishing difficulty curves. The Heretic series, on the other hand, are some of the earliest examples of Golden-era 90’s PC shooters, with the added twist that the entire series took place in a dark fantasy setting, using magic, crossbows, and other weird ritual magic devices. Ziggurat lovingly combines the dark, brutal atmosphere of that series with the unique elements of Roguelike games to form a coherent, tight indie title that only has a few minor flaws. It’s a rewarding experience, full of monsters and frustration and eventual triumph.

You begin after choosing your character. Initially you have only one choice, but there are several unlock-able characters, each with their own specific abilities that will change the way you play through the Ziggurat. The first character is the most balanced, with no specific specialties.

Hello, I'll be your generic starter character today!

Hello, I’ll be your generic starter character today!

To unlock new characters one must complete specific challenges, which are laid out for you in advance when you select a character. This allows you to shoot for specific character unlocks should you want to do so.

"I'll only help you if you shoot this wand a specific number of times. I'll keep track!"

“I’ll only help you if you shoot this wand a specific number of times. I’ll keep track!”

The gameplay itself is relatively simple and easy to grasp. As a first person shooter the interface is fairly basic. Your Right and Left triggers fire your weapons’ primary and secondary attack, respectively. I’m not sure how many weapons there are, however, the game itself has 3 resources aside from health, and they correspond to three different weapon “types”. These types are Spells, Staves, and Alchemy. Staves are typically lower damage but very easy to aim (the projectiles for staff weapons seem to have some homing capabilities), while spells are usually slower moving but cover large areas, as well as carrying some status effect utility like freezing or burning. Alchemical weapons usually manifest in the form of grenades or crossbows that launch odd projectiles such as hell arrows or other grenades. Overall, I found the Staff weapons to be the most useful on boss monsters, while Spells seemed to be the trick to managing the large packs of two-legged pink dildo monsters that the game seems so fucking fond of.

Now just imagine endless rooms of them spitting acid at you and jumping around.

FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFU…

The procedural level generation is nice. While they do tend to recycle room “building blocks” frequently, there is enough variation in the monsters and traps in each level that it only feels stale after playing for several hours. The game’s real depth can be fully explored in it’s leveling and item discovery system. When you die, and occasionally while playing the game, you’ll discover new “items”.

A must have item for any internet debate.

A must have item for any internet debate.

This item does not go to your inventory. Instead, it gets put into a “deck” of items and abilities that are randomly selected and presented to you when you level up.

Choose wisely. No, seriously, this is one of the most important aspects of the game.

Choose wisely. No, seriously, this is one of the most important aspects of the game.

Some choices will be more obvious than others, say, more ammo capacity for a weapon that you don’t have yet versus more maximum health. Others, like the one pictured, are less obvious. Personally, I always chose Bookworm when it comes up. This is a bit of an RNG trick, as this game only really lets you personalize your character through the leveling up system, and this perk gives you 3 options to choose from instead of two. As a whole, the leveling and specialization portion of the game is both simple and engaging, as it encourages you to explore as far as possible but rewards you for both leveling up AND dying a lot. (At the time of this blog, I do not understand the mechanics for item discovery when you die. I’ll update this post should I ever figure it out.)

At the end of every level is a Boss fight. These, too, are randomly selected, though I’ve only ever seen a handful of the same bosses per floor.They are generally giant versions of your least favorite enemies from the floor, and are almost always accompanied by a horde of lesser minions intent on fucking up your day.

ALLRIGHT ALLRIGHT ALLRIGHT!

HEY THERE! I’m just a big old lovable slime!

Just Kidding! Fuck you!

HAHA JUST KIDDING! FUCK YOU, DIXON!

Should you manage to make it through the entire floor, collect the portal key (which unlocks the boss room), clear all the rooms of minions, AND beat the boss, you’ll be presented with a portal to the next floor, as well as all of the loot from the boss and his crappy-shitty-no-good minions. If you’re lucky, some of them will have dropped health potions, and you MIGHT be able to get to the next floor with 50% health. At this time there are only five floors, and I’ve only made it through the first three. While five doesn’t seem like a lot (it’s not), the replay value and difficulty curve of the game has kept me playing on and off for weeks.

Ziggurat is a fun, engaging, indie shooter with a lot more depth than you’d expect. It offers an enjoyable, if not overly unique, reward and leveling system, and it’s difficulty curve and quirky, humorous art style and design have all come together perfectly in this game. I only find a few things lacking, like the number of floors and a sparse approach to explaining game mechanics (there is no tutorial and item discovery isn’t explained anywhere), but overall the game’s strengths outweigh it’s few weaknesses. Pick it up!

Advertisements

Minecraft: Stables

Standard

Minecraft Stables Front ViewWhen you’re creating an entire sprawling Kingdom in Minecraft one thing to not overlook is an area for your outdoor animals: a stables! We created The Stables project on the back side of a mountain. Specifically the Castle East Mountain, so that it lies nestled between Castle East, the Wizard Towers (Castle West), and is contained within the Sea Wall. The above photo is a mostly finished exterior picture of the stables; keep reading to see how it was created!

Minecraft Stables In ProgressYou can see from the above in-progress photo how the area started to take shape. Dixon did most of the labor intensive beginning build for the mansion exterior and barn areas. Part of the mountain was shaved off to create the stables mansion front, and two barn areas come out from the house. When we started developing the area it was fairly sparse, so trees and decor were added as we went along to create more of a village forest feel.
The barn area is broken into two wings, each with the capacity to hold five horses each. The stables were eventually filled with beautiful horses I found and tamed from thousands of blocks away. There is a small horse staging area built out of fencing you can see in the above photo off to the upper left. The first few horses lived over there while we built out the stables for them.

Minecraft Stables In Progress from WindowAnother in-progress photo, but this time looking directly out the loft window of the stables mansion, toward the Wizard Towers (Castle West). If you look closely you can even see part of the village area that is mostly off screen on the left.
The small hill directly in front of the stables was larger at one point and was whittled down over time to create a small overhang area with trees. Stone was replaced with dirt to allow for tree and plant growth, plus animals don’t want to hang out on rocks all day.

Minecraft Stables and TreesAbove you can see the hill (with trees and a sculpted overhang) from a different angle. You can also see the fence line in the background that went around the entire Stables area. Keep the animals in, keep the monsters out!

Minecraft Stables Interior shot from Bottom FloorThe stables mansion was built on a sheer mountain/cliff face, so the interior was carved out of the mountain to create a multi-level room with a secret passage leading into Castle East.
The above photo is of the stables mansion entrance area from the bottom floor. This was prior to decorating, so it is a little sparse but we had completed the layout design. There are second floor loft rooms with windows that look out over the stables and village areas. On the left side of the above photo you can see stairs leading behind the wall, which led to a second floor area as partially seen in the below photo.

Minecraft Stables Interior shot from Top FloorHere we have the same angle, but from the second floor view. This was further edited to include a library and the secret passage to Castle East. You can see the ‘exposed beam’ finish throughout the mansion better in this photo; I tried to purposefully make the stables feel like a really big, grand log cabin.

That’s it for the Stables walk-through! Next time we’ll take a look at building an entire village, including an awesome darkness sensing light-up clock tower.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Standard

PVZ Garden WarfarePlants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is an online multiplayer third-person shooter game, released in March of 2014 by Popcap and EA Games. The game offers multiple modes of play, including co-op (split screen), garden defense (tower defense), and many multiplayer modes where you can choose to be either plants or zombies.

Rating: 5/5

Dixon’s Thoughts: Garden Warfare set out to do something that seemed impossible and almost pointless. The original Plants Vs. Zombies is a basic tower defense game with a very specific art style and sense of humor. With Garden Warfare, Popcap set out to translate this entire experience to a 3rd person, over-the-shoulder shooter, which, why? In my limited experience, the prime demographic of the original Plants vs Zombies was women over 50 and children. Odd pairing aside, PvZ: Garden Warfare is engaging, fun, accessible, and has almost infinite replay value. The game has two different play styles: Garden Ops, a mode where you can only play plant characters and fight off waves of zombies, and Multiplayer PvP, which itself has several different modes and allows the players to play either plants or zombies. Garden Ops is the only mode of the game that supports split-screen co-op play, which we’ll discuss later.

Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay is very simple: shoot the other team. Sometimes you need to do this in specific ways, or while accomplishing team based objectives, but at heart that’s all there is to it. When you first start playing the game, you start with the basic versions of each characters’ abilities. You will eventually also unlock the alternate versions of these abilities as well, allowing for some (albeit minor) character ability customization. As usual, some of the upgrades are must-haves, and others are actually worse than their counterparts.

For instance, if you use this thing, you are an asshole.

For instance, we have never found a situation in which this thing is useful.

In Garden Ops, a single player can search for other groups of players looking to join forces and defend the Garden base from increasingly difficult waves of Zombies. This mode most closely resembles the original PvZ game, as players can only control a Plant character and it involves randomly generated waves of specific zombie types. Every so often, a boss wave event happens, which itself has an element of randomness to it.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

Boss waves consist of 3 randomly selected mini-waves.

If you successfully complete all waves, you’ll have to rush to a location where Crazy Dave (the game’s only human) picks you up in what can only be described as a “Space RV.” This mode of play also supports split-screen co-op, however, there are significant problems with this aspect of the game. While it does allow you to play split screen, you cannot play online in this mode. The garden-ops games are geared towards groups of 4 players, so you’ll automatically start the game two players short. In addition, the “second” player is unable to use any of the game’s Potted Plants (items that you use as tower-defense like towers to automatically attack zombies). This is a pretty significant aspect of the game, and between that and the lack of online play, split screen garden ops is really not very fun. Not everyone agrees, however, so be sure and give it a try.

Fortunately, the game’s online multiplayer more than makes up for this flawed aspect. Multiplayer mode consists of several sub-modes. All the familiar game modes are here, deathmatch, capture the flag, and node control. The last mode, Gardens and Graveyards, is a bit different. In this mode, plants must defend a series of control points. The Zombie team’s only objective is to have more characters on the “flag” area, which will eventually capture it. Once captured, the garden turns into a graveyard and zombie players respawn from this new location, while plant players fall back to the next graveyard and attempt to defend that. This game mode has by far the largest maps, and it is here that strategy and map knowledge make a lot of difference for your team.

gardensandgraveyards

As does “slowly walking backwards”.

While the gameplay is both fun and engaging, PvZ: GW’s greatest features is arguably it’s extensive character customization. This is also where the game’s micro-transactions come into play. Win or lose, every player participating in a game gets in-game currency (coins) which can then be spent on a variety of “card packs”. These packs contain everything from consumable items such as summonable zombies or potted plants (both of which play off the Tower Defense roots of PvZ) to customizations like clothing and weapon skins, weapon upgrades, and new character pieces. There seem to be a phenomenal number of customized items.  We’ve been playing the game for well over a year and consistently see other players wearing items that we’ve never seen.

pvzgwsunflowerThere are 4 main plant variants and 4 main Zombie characters, each of which have a total of 5 class variants, so there are plenty of new characters on which you can spend your hard earned coins. Each class variant is significantly different, and as usual some are better than others. Almost all of them are more powerful than their original class, though the original All Star is extremely powerful in the hands of someone who isn’t terrible. Some of the variants seem almost broken after using them for a long period of time.

To expand on the game’s currency/reward system, there is a default value that every player will get for winning or losing matches. You are awarded bonus points for actions such as kill streaks, critical kills, repeated kills, killing an enemy while they are fighting someone else, killing an enemy who is on a kill streak, killing your nemesis (someone who has killed you at least 3 times in a game), healing party members, and resurrecting fallen players before they respawn. Additionally, players can earn “boasts” for having the most kills in a session, the longest kill streak, the most heals and resurrections, and the most assists.

endgamescreenIf all of that sounds boring to you, but wasting your money doesn’t, you can chose to simply purchase in-game currency to then spend on card packs. We’ve never done this, however, it hardly seems worth it as the currency you can purchase is exactly what you get in-game, and does not unlock anything you can’t otherwise unlock by just killing a lot of people.

There’s something about this game, a certain charm or irreverence that makes it seem like almost a giant middle finger to the modern gaming industry. It’s managed to both refuse to take itself seriously (there is no single play mode and no plot to speak of) while simultaneously being a challenging shooter with a lot of fun elements. It’s got a dedicated player base, at least on Xbox One, and you will come to recognize and hate certain key players that you run into repeatedly. The core gameplay is so simple that anyone can enjoy it, but complex enough to reward effort and skill, and combined with fresh content and consistent updates, the game always gives you something to come back to.  It’s easily one of our favorite games on the Xbox One, and you owe it to yourself to at least give it a shot. Who knows? We might see you there.

The game actually looks like this on the Xbox One.

Child of Light

Standard

Child of LightReleased across multiple platforms in 2014 by Ubisoft, Child of Light is a beautiful combination of a 2-D platformer and RPG rolled into one. It follows the story of Princess Aurora, who is mysteriously kidnapped away from her family in the middle of the night.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mindy’s Thoughts: We begin with Aurora, a girl from 1800’s Austria, who wakes up in Lemuria. Lemuria is a mythical land ruled by the Dark Queen, who has stolen the sun, moon, and stars from the world. Aurora is told if she manages to recapture the celestial bodies, she can go home to her family and most importantly, her beloved father the Duke. We spend the rest of the game exploring Lemuria and all its different areas and inhabitants.

On a high level, Child of Light is a side-scrolling, 2-D platformer with RPG elements. Throughout the game you gain interesting new allies that will join your party, some that specialize in certain things (white/black magic, physical attacks, healing, etc). There is a leveling system for each character, with a talent tree that allows you to personalize everyone to your preferred play style. You gain experience and items by doing battles with monsters, like your average RPG.

High level aside, the most stunning thing about Child of Light is the art style. Playing through this game feels like playing a beautiful, living, watercolor painting. The game is constantly moving, the trees, the air, monsters, even Aurora’s hair and dress are constantly fluttering in the breeze. I wish I could include a hundred more photos of the background landscape for this review, because I feel that it is such a strong selling point on it’s own, but you can just take my word for it. The art director, Thomas Rollus, stated in an interview about the game, “we really put forward the watercolor effect. We wanted to give the impression of being awake in an underwater dream.” It worked, Thomas!
If you upgrade to the deluxe version of the game it comes with a 24-page art book as an accompaniment, because the art is so distinctive and beautiful. The deluxe version also comes with a poster and a keychain; full disclosure, I did not get the deluxe edition.

Child of Light art styleChild of Light’s battle sequences having a learning curve to them, but as you learn, they become easier. This is not a game that will have you grinding levels all day long, your battle interactions are pretty sparse unless you go looking for a fight. The basic idea is that two people within your party fight 1-3 monsters in each battle. Most of the monsters are pretty nasty and have specific ways they prefer to be attacked. Attack a magic monster with their elemental magic type and at best you will only hit them for a few points, at worst they could counterattack and kill you. Most physical monsters have some kind of counterattack as well.
The game also includes an active battle timer, which you can influence with spells and Igniculus. Learning how to properly use this timer system is the most crucial part of battle engagements within Child of Light. While in battles you will need to control Igniculus plus your one or two other characters (that can be switched out mid-battle), all at the same time, so get ready to multi-task!

Child of Light battle sequenceA second local player can co-op play Igniculus while you run around as Aurora. This might seem like a throwaway mechanic at first glance, because why not allow co-op play as a different character instead? However, I think that Ubisoft took a chance with incorporating Igniculus as a fun and important part of the game. Even during solo play, you use him constantly, to slow down monsters, to light up dark pathways, to solve puzzles, etc. I played a short amount of time with another player as my Igniculus and the reaction was mixed. The game pacing seems non-ideal for most kids (or adults with a limited attention span) as it involves some coordination between players.

Like any good platformer/RPG game, Child of Light has puzzles incorporated into the game at certain points. These puzzles are challenging, but not impossible. In my experience, it was fairly easy to figure out what they wanted me to do, but sometimes challenging to get that accomplished. One of my favorites is in the below screenshot, where you are lining up colored gems with Igniculus as the light source. I really enjoyed the puzzles and thought they added a thoughtful touch to the game.

Child of Light PuzzlesDespite being a shorter game, Child of Light really packs in a condensed story, full of very vivid images, characters, and emotions. I don’t want to get too far into the story as it could spoil it for some, but I’ll say that there were a few times where I was genuinely happy/sad/angry/elated by events in the story line. It manages to draw you in, especially if you had/have a close relationship with your father. Child of Light is a fairytale, and as such the story gave me flashes of other fairy tales like The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. Hey, don’t act like I’m the only one that ever cried to The Little Mermaid because Ariel had to leave King Triton at the end!

Overall, Child of Light is a very fun, unique, gorgeous, and heart felt game. I was not happy when I finished the game, not because it wasn’t enjoyable, but because it was over and I wanted to keep playing in the world of Lemuria. My only actual complaint with the game is that it isn’t full length (I clocked about 20 hours of play time), but Ubisoft is aware of that and it is priced to reflect the shorter game time (when I purchased it, it was ~$20 from the Xbox store, versus $60 for a full title release). Unfortunately Child of Light doesn’t have a lot of replay value but it’s possible that we may see a sequel, eventually. However, if you are interested in beautiful imagery and side scrolling RPG type games, you need to play Child of Light. You will not regret it!

Minecraft: Castle East

Standard

Minecraft Castle EastWhile in the finishing stages of Castle West I started scouting locations for my next build, and didn’t need to travel very far before I found the chunk of mountain pictured above. Lava flows, connecting bits between spires, waterfalls, it was perfect.

I went to work on the bridges first and let them shape the building of the castle. The top tier bridge you can see barely changed from the raw to finished versions (above and below), while I added a middle tier bridge and a bridge/entrance to the main floor.

Minecraft Castle EastThe ground level bridge actually extends backwards so you can approach it from either direction (pictured below). Once the bridges were in place I started carving out the insides; a process that included many, many revisions and a lot of time. In the end, I carved three floors out of the western spire of Castle East and two floors carved out of the eastern spire.

Minecraft Wizard tower East on the backBelow is the grand entrance to Castle East; this is on the ground floor and is the only direct entrance to the castle, so I spent a lot of time tweaking it to perfection. In the picture below you can see a doorway (with torches surrounding it), which is a secret passage into the stables and village area. If you go up the stairs (on the right) you will gain access to the bedrooms (see the glass windows in the above few pictures? Those are bedrooms!) and throne room. Behind the central pillar is a ladder to the second and third floors, as well as the rail hub leading to Castle West.

Specifically for the decoration and lighting of Castle East I used a lot of lava; you can see here that it is behind colored glass and acts as my main light source throughout the castle.

Minecraft Castle East Grand EntranceUp the stairs into the throne room, I love this room! I went a little crazy with it, but it’s Minecraft, so why not? The “throne” itself is made of various cuts of quartz, the floor tiles are carpet/wool, and again I have lava lighting throughout — though each room had a different pattern for the stained glass.

Minecraft Castle East Throne RoomFloors two and three were mainly built out into giant storage hubs for my entire world. All materials from previous locations were painstakingly transported through nether rail and regular rail hubs to the central storage here. I also included an indoor food garden, utility blocks, and more lava lighting on the second floor (below).

Minecraft Castle East Storage and Food area

On floor three you can see more storage, utility blocks, the alchemy sets and even a small plot for netherwart to grow. If you look closely at the “back” of the picture (central) you can see additional lava lighting and the doorway to top bridge. The tube of lava lighting went through both floors two and three, very cool.

Minecraft Castle East Storage and Potion areaI unfortunately do not have many pictures of the East spire, but I do have one from before anything was built there, taken by a friend on the server (below). I included different kinds of stained glass, giant lava flows that were used for lighting, and several entirely glass/lava floors. This was also the area I ended up using for a library/enchanting table.

Wizard Tower East - InteriorThat is all for this entry; I hope you enjoyed my walkthrough of Castle East. Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve been building lately!

Evolve Beta

Standard

EVOLVEBETA-620x350Evolve, set to release Feb 10th 2015, is the latest character driven, level-up shooter from Turtle Rock Studios and 2k Games.

Rating: 4/5 Giant Lumbering Monsters

Rawwwwwwwwr!!!!

Rawwwwwwwwr!!!!

Dixon’s Thoughts: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Evolve beta. While Turtle Rock’s bread and butter has been online, class based, level-up shooters such as Countersrike and Left 4 Dead, I didn’t really know how they’d pull off a sci-fi shooter. After dealing with the recent letdown of Destiny, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very accessible, fun-to-play game that was as engaging as it was rewarding. Fans of past Turtle Rock productions won’t be disappointed, but there isn’t a lot of new ground broken with the basics of Evolve. You play a character, leveling it up as you gain experience and unlocking variants of whatever class you are currently sinking time into. The beauty of Evolve lies in it’s inherent, natural feeling teamwork aspect. Evolve is a primarily online-only game, much like Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare. There are 4 Hunter Types available to players, Assault, Medic, Trapper, and Support. In any match, all 4 character classes are required.

Evolve-Assault-Trapper-Medic-Support-ClassesThe four of you must work together in what is essentially a giant battle arena to track the fifth player, the Monster. The online matchmaking interface focuses on your preference of Hunter or Monster, and which Hunter class you wanted to be. To find a game, you would list your preferences in a 5 item, first-to-last list. The game then attempts to find 4 other people who’s preferences allow you to play your preferred class choices. In about 50 matches or so, I almost always got my first 2 choices right away.

The dynamic between each class is pretty important to the gameplay of Evolve. Each class has a very unique and diverse set of abilities. The medic, for instance, has a healing “gun”, as well as an oh-shit AOE heal. Additionally, it’s given a long-range sniper rifle that punches holes in the Monster’s armor, giving the rest of the team a huge advantage over an otherwise very difficult enemy.

christie

His other weaknesses involve invisible pizzas and speaking in public. RAWWWWWWR!!

Despite the cool teamwork aspect, there isn’t really much that’s groundbreaking about the classes that I was able to play. The Assault class…assaults things, meaning you get TWO guns that can dish out damage to the Monster class, as well as an AOE invulnerability ability. Support class is actually my personal favorite, as it’s a hybrid DPS and buff class that can shield other players from damage. The Tracker is the game’s most unique class. It’s primary role is to track down the monster in the huge battle arena, which is done through an amazingly adorable hunting “dog” pet. Each Trapper variant has a different pet, but they all serve the same purpose, which is allowing the team to actually find the Monster.

While every class is different, they all play relatively in the same manner. Each class has a primary attack/function, as well as a secondary attack or utility ability, and a longer cooldown button that either dishes out damage or prevents it from happening. Playing the monster, on the other hand, is completely (and refreshingly) different. When you play as the monster, your primary goal is to stay undetected long enough to eat as much wildlife as possible and to evolve to the highest level possible. Doing so gives you massive upgrades to your health, strength, and abilities, and makes you much harder to kill. The monster class itself had 2 variants in the Beta, the Goliath and Kraken. The Goliath was a land-based, lumbering hulk who grew to fantastic proportions. A sort of King Kong/Godzilla hybrid, his main attacks were jumping on people’s faces, throwing huge rocks, and breathing fire on people.

chrischristie_ap_img

Barely edging out “shouting rudely and aggressively pointing”

I didn’t get the chance to play the Kraken, but I did play several matches against it and it was kind of insanely terrifying. It was a lot like being assaulted by a flying, electrically based squid demon, but with more shrieking directly from the seventh level of the underabyss.

"Horrifying sea monster that haunts your waking life" was too long for the Ad campaign, but was considered.

“Horrifying electrical sea nightmare that haunts your dreams” was just one of it’s rejected names.

The Beta allowed us to play 2 kinds of games. The first type was a single-game type campaign in which the 4 hunters fought against a single Monster in a one-shot game. At the end the player’s preferences can be adjusted, and a new arena/match area can be selected along with your own character customization. While players wait in the lobby, a top-down battle map displays a sped-up display of the battle that you just finished, complete with deaths and beast movements. It’s fun to watch, but also allows you to observe your opponent’s strategies as they move across the map. Clever players will note other player’s patterns and adapt.

The other game mode was a 5-game mini-story. Here, the hunters play 5 successive rounds on various map spawns against both the Player Monster and a small horde of mini-monsters, and are aided by several environmental bonuses such as automated turrets, extra NPC hunters, and drones. In this mode, winning or losing changes the next match. For instance if the hunters win a match, they might get a bonus to all of the NPC drone or Turret damage, or a 5th hunter player. If the hunters lose, however, the Monster gets dangerous bonuses to strength and damage, or an even larger horde of NPC monsters, along with other map-based bonuses. It’s a high-stakes game that spans a long period of time and is a lot more engaging than the single shot missions. I found that having 2 very different game modes, on top of the ability to play as the Monster or one of several hunter classes results in a game with a lot of replay value. We put together a short set of class-specific playlists that highlight some of the basics of each class. Unfortunately, the Monster footage was lost, but there are dozens of gameplay videos at this point and if you’re really interested, you’ll find them.

Graphically, the game was very enjoyable, with a large variety of alien environments and arenas. The game definitely has it’s own style and aesthetic, which I would place somewhere between Borderlands and Destiny. In a lot of ways, this game IS what Destiny should have been. It has an easy party system, and while it does have quite a few loading screens, they never feel boring or forced. Instead of looking at space ships fly endlessly into night, you’re presented with instant replay maps, short dialogue cut-scenes, and hint screens that are actually useful.

This game has a lot of promise and I personally enjoyed every second of it. There is a tendency for the cut scenes to be repetitive in the single-game mode, and sometimes there is so much going on in such a small area that playing strategically, otherwise required for success in Evolve, is almost fucking impossible. Aside from those minor setbacks, the game is a lot of fun to play. I’m looking forward to playing the full version, which will probably be reviewed here as well. If you’re looking for a solid, class-based shooter that offers short OR medium-to-long style matches, blended PVE and PVP, and a rewarding skill curve, this might be the game for you. Don’t come looking for a well-written story, or much in-depth character development. This game is clearly about shooting your friends in the face or eating them to death, and in that respect it delivers.

The Evil Within: Part Two

Standard
The Evil Within

When you finish this game, you still won’t understand this picture.

Welcome back to our review of The Evil Within! In Part One we spent a lot of time discussing the game-play and mechanics, so now I’d like to focus on its other elements. The Evil Within is a game that turns out to be more than the sum of its parts, but we’ll start with discussing it’s story before moving on to the visual and design elements.

Dixon’s Thoughts: You are Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, a tough, take-no-prisoners type of guy who is so hard boiled that he might actually be on loan from John Woo.

“I play by my own rules.”

You have embarked upon a strange journey through, as it turns out, the mind of a serial killer/brain surgeon/cenobite/all around mad scientist guy. Or not, because as it turns out, the ending of this game is completely ambiguous and wraps up both jack and shit equally. As far as other cast members there are you two partners, Juli “My first name is not a typo” Kidman and Joe “The Guy with Glasses” Oda. There’s also the Nurse we mentioned in our last review, a very irritating mental patient named Leslie, who might also be the game’s antagonist, and a greedy, self-serving scientist. Two of them, actually. They all ostensibly have a part to play, but the game does not explain what that part is in many cases. Kidman is constantly talking about her “orders”, which are never explained, while Joe’s sole purpose in life seems to be to get lost and then randomly show up later to endanger people and make things difficult.

The game opens with you in a car with both partners, heading to the Beacon Mental Hospital to investigate reports of some serious murdering. Within a few minutes, your partners are gone, and what ensues is a relatively simple plot involving rich landowners, barn burning, some guy named Ruben who is also named Ruvik, and brain surgery. At face value, it’s a typical, uninspired video game story about loss and revenge, with a heavy helping of the old “Resident Evil Megacorporation doing Evil Things” thrown in at the end. The problem is that this does little to explain what you, the player, are actually doing at any given point. The game is obsessed with throwing backstory at you, yet you are continuously faced with a never-ending barrage of blood-and-guts horror that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the events that you’re being led to believe have unfolded. The game does not explain why there might be zombies, or giants with chain saws, or massive human rendering plants. As you progress through the game you are witness to a multitude of atrocities, implied or otherwise, including giant vats full of body parts boiling in their own blood, a huge industrial facility that appears built for the sole purpose of processing human bodies and rendering them into more vats of boiling blood, and various other shock-value set pieces that, while totally bad-ass looking, are ultimately just confusing as they lead nowhere and have no explanation.

“We thought you might be tired of looking at real body parts, so here are some mannequins instead”.  -Bethesda

“We thought you might be tired of looking at real body parts, so here are some mannequins instead”. -Bethesda

After several hours of being barraged with confusing (yet badass!) level design, monsters, and plot, I eventually came to the conclusion that The Evil Within is not actually scary. It’s not even a little bit scary, outside of a few times where there were Jump-scare setups. The environment was designed to be creepy, and it accomplished that goal as long as you are not curious about your surroundings.  Instead it’s generally confusing and gross, a maze of questions and prop pieces meant to shock you into moving on to the next room. Shock value is the name of the game, and the “why” has clearly taken a backseat.  It’s also pretty obvious that large sections of the story have been left out purposefully, to be explained later in the assuredly multi-part DLC. This is what we at FYMFB call “fucking horseshit”.  For your enjoyment, edification, or simply to save time, here’s the last hour of the game, including the last level, Boss fight, and end game dialogue.

Visually, The Evil Within is extremely good. This may be actually be its strongest area, with excellent lighting and particle effects, gorgeous environment texturing, and very little noticeable lag. Crappy-shitty-no-good story aside, the game is quite fun to either play or watch as an observer. One of the most annoying features of early survival horror games is that they all lean heavily on backtracking, especially when it comes to save points and storage crates. Hardware and design have both come a long way since those days, and as a result Evil Within doesn’t rehash a lot of content. This is refreshing when compared to past installments in the genre. Forced backtracking can be a good element to storytelling if it serves a purpose, but often it’s just extra padding.

On top of being mostly original, the environments and chapters or levels of the game are all very good at portraying emotional tension, or downright creepiness. Again, almost in spite of the story’s vague hand waving, the design stands on its own as a decent storytelling device. You’ll find yourself stopping to check out the environment more often than not, as the eye-catching details are often just too tempting. The only problem with the game’s visuals is that certain areas are left intentionally dark, for atmospheric reasons. Lantern or no lantern, often it’s impossible to see the detail, which is unfortunate. While the game’s color palette isn’t exactly stimulating itself, most survival horror games are dark and claustrophobic on purpose, and this game is no exception. It moves past the dark atmosphere with its excellent and often subtle lighting and shading, and some very good overall direction. The different worlds feel fresh and interesting, and a minimum amount of level recycling means you look forward to each new chapter.

At least the parts of it that you can see.

At least the parts of it that you can see.

The Evil Within, as mentioned earlier, is a game that is more than its individual components. Its fun to play, enjoyable to watch, and offers a solid difficulty curve that feels correct in the context of both the genre and its predecessors. It is not, sadly, very well written, and this combined with the seemingly intentional decision to leave out key story elements for “later” only further weakens it’s overall impact. On a personal note, I was really looking forward to multiple endings, but as it turns out this game doesn’t do that. While it’s not a required element for the Survival Horror genre, the fact is that most of the major players in this sandbox DO have multiple endings, specifically games previously created by this game’s director. It’s interesting and a little disappointing that the endings are static, as this again feels like something that wasn’t possible if they wanted to sell DLC season passes. This, and the game’s decision to focus heavily on the first person shooter aspect combat, would normally completely kill a game for me. In this case, however, I feel like the game’s good components are so good that they make the game not only playable, but enjoyable. I just wish they had focused more closely on cohesion within the storytelling, instead of providing a flawless graphical performance.