VR has been a unique journey so far. It (PSVR) has only been out for 5 months, but I feel like most games can be categorized into two larger categories. They are either fall into the category of games, such as Eve Valkyrie or Rush of Blood, or experiences, like Arkham VR. This isn't to say that one category is better than the other, but so far, the two are almost mutually exclusive. That is until now.
Unearthing Mars begins as the latter, an experience. Unfortunately, it doesn't start off as a very strong one. You begin in front of a hologram of Mars with some cookie cutter copilots who are explaining the mission to you. They will interact with you at an elementary level by asking you for your opinion with a few dialogue options. The voice acting isn't terrible, but it's not going to go down in history either. The good news is, the voice acting progessivly gets better as the game goes on. Hell, the whole experience gets better the more you play.
Once you have successfully landed on Mars, and by land I mean didn't-die-in-a-ball-of-fire, you are given much more freedom to move around. There are several locations that you can "teleport" to that allow you to look around or interact with what's at that waypoint. This is where the game begins to feel more liberating. Again though, every good idea has its' caveats. Rather than just point at your location with your move wand, you have to look at the arc and trajectory of your wand as if you were throwing a ball. It's not inaccurate or really an issue, but it is a bizarre design choice. Why should I aim up and over to get to a point that I'm theoretically walking to, instead of pointing in that straight line that I would be walking?
A few interactions and chapters later, you'll be freed from your VR shackles! You'll be in control of a drone with almost complete freedom to navigate the planet, or at least the area you have access to. And yet again, the controls here are cumbersome. I can navigate freely, but only at the hands of my unintuitively controlled rover.
Shockingly, out of almost nowhere, at the end of your story, you will actually get to kick some alien ass with your blaster. The shooting here is similar to Pixel Gear. This was probably my favorite part of the whole experience. It felt totally natural, even if it was a no frills shooting gallery experience. I wish this made up more of the game. I understand why it didn't (it wouldn't fit the overall narrative at all) but maybe we'll see it in future games.
Unearthing Mars straddles the line between game and experience. For a first crack at VR, the previously mobile exclusive developer Winking Works does a decent job of creating a worthwhile experience. The game delivers on the promise of a virtual "experience with emotional depth", but often times I was pulled away from the emotions due to the clunky unintuitive controls. Winking Works is off to a good start on the platform and hope that they continue to develop for it, but I hope they find a way to expand upon the groundwork they have laid.
I've always been relatively good a sports. Golf and soccer were my jam, I loved street hockey, baseball was never my cup of tea, and unfortunately my parents treated me like a snowflake so I never got past backyard football. Table tennis though. Oh how I hated the sport. I mostly hated it because of how good my friends were. I wasn't necessarily bad (or all that good) per say, but they were awesome. I always got my ass handed to me. It was the Halo of real sports. We still play table tennis from time to time when the squad gets back together, but with higher drunker stakes. Now that there is a table tennis game on the VR market, I was excited to jump at the opportunity to hone in on my table tennis skills so that I could keep up with my buddies in the real world.
As far as table tennis goes, VR Ping-Pong is probably going to be exactly what you expect, but in a Minecraft-esque world. From the table, to the arena, to the AI, to the NPC's in the crowd, everything shines through a decidedly blocky aesthetic. The only thing that is not a block is your ball. I personally don't mind the artistic style of this game. If anything, I think it plays nicely off the fact that the game isn't (or doesn't have to be) ultra competitive.
The game has several modes of play that will help you to get better at table tennis. There is a practice mode that allows you to play against the AI but with a 60 minute time limit. The point of this is just to get used to the difficulty, easy/medium/hard, of the AI. All you need to do is pick up your paddle(Move Controller), serve, and keep the ball alive and do your best to score. There is also a tournament mode where you play to a set score of 11.
While both of these modes are nice, and basically necessary content, it was the arcade mode that I had the most fun with. This category is essentially table tennis mini games. There's a wall mode where you just volley back and forth with it and keep it alive as long as possible - there's a gold trophy for 200 returns. There's also moving targets and goals. These two in particular are excellent for showing off your skills or just practicing. The give you a visual way that really helps provide you with feedback. Being able to serve or return the ball to a specific spot will make or break your winning streak. The most challenging of these minigames is the breakaway table. While all the other minigames have you trying to hit a target where your AI opponent would be, this one puts holes in the table every time the ball hits it. It's not longer a matter of serving hitting an open spot against the AI, it's a game of avoiding pitfalls while still playing against him.
I am glad there is a plethora of extra content in VR Ping Pong, but I feel like the title as a whole needed a bit more quality control or a few more tweaks before it was released. The game froze on me a few times; I had multiple menus pop up at a time, making it impossible to navigate; One of the biggest offenders was the placement of the table. Everything was fine the first time I played the game. However, after I had that menu issue, I noticed that my camera position was 10 feet above the table. I tried adjusting the headset, my camera, reinstalling the game, and nothing worked. I did however realize that there was a setting in the options menu that allowed me to adjust the height and position of my camera within the setting of the game itself. This fixed my issue immediately, but it's a shame that using the start button to recenter the camera like every other VR game had no effect.
VR Ping Pong is a great addition to the growing library of PSVR games. It is also the only option for a dedicated table tennis game. The tracking is accurate, for the majority of the game. There is an occasional hiccup that might frustrate players going for the platinum trophy, but it's nothing game breaking. The occasional menu bugs and freezing are not doing the game any favors. The one thing that is noticeably absent is any form of multiplayer. On one hand, I really want it to be there because this is a two player sport and VR desperately needs more multiplayer experiences. On the other hand, I can't really be mad at an indie developer for focusing on the game and, for the most part, succeeding. Hopefully these bugs will be rectified in future updates, but only time will tell.
On-Rails shooters are perfect fit for VR. When they are done properly, they can offer nostalgic gameplay while dishing it out an immersive setting. Some of my favorite games and VR titles, like Time Crisis or Rush of Blood, are shooters. Dexed takes this tried and true genre but makes you think about your targets before firing away wildly into an abyss.
For the unfamiliar, Dexed also has quite an interesting development story:
"While the announcement of the game and its immediate release might seem surprising, there’s a unique story behind the project to share. DEXED was created during an internal Game Jam here at Ninja Theory a few months back. There were 10 teams in total, each with a handful of people in them and just a month to create a game in Unreal Engine 4. At the end of the month, the whole studio played the games and DEXED impressed the most. The decision was taken to release the game. After giving the DEXED team, a group of eight developers, two additional months to polish the game, we’re proud to be releasing DEXED as its debut VR title."
Dexed changes up the firing mechanics by associating different elements to each of your attacks. The enemies are made of both fire and ice. In order to destroy them, you need to fire the opposite element at them. This can be done with either the Dualshock 4 or the Move Controllers. The Dualshock 4 delegates your attacks to L2 and R2. While I appreciate the addition so that those who do not own Move Controllers can still play, there is absolutely no way to be as accurate as you need or want to be.
This accuracy is crucial to your score. Rather than shooting individual bullets like Rush of Blood, the targets are highlighted in a similar fashion to Rez Infinite. Using the move controllers allows you to weave in and out of the enemies with significantly greater accuracy. This accuracy helps you to build massive combos by highlighting as many of the enemies as possible and rack up a competitive score.
Accuracy is a great necessity. You are penalized for highlighting and shooting the wrong targets. If you highlight all the ice enemies with your fire wand, you're set. If you accidentally highlight a fire enemy somewhere in that combo you can fire away and build a combo for the enemies you did hit but you risk damaging your score. Inappropriate attacks on fire enemies will burn your score away, while an incorrect attack on ice enemies will freeze your score in place. Luckily you can use a shield to defend against your mistakes or you can cancel your attack and try again to line up the targets. You may not have time to line them all up again before they go whizzing by your face. This frantic gameplay is engaging and pushes you to build more combos and replay the levels trying to memorize the enemy patterns.
Ninja Theory has an excellent past in engaging you and encouraging you to build combos and take chances, but in this case that hook may not be enough when there is a lack of content. There are 4 levels that are spread across beautiful and lush environments. This is definitely one of the better looking PSVR titles thus far. After completing all 4 stages, which each take less than 5 minutes to complete, there as a boss battle. The boss uses the same shooting mechanics and penalties as the stages, but there is now a health bar and unique attacks that are separate from penalties. I absolutely loved everything this game offered, but I want so much more. The whole experience takes less than 30 minutes to complete from beginning to end. The first boss could have easily been the ending to the first stage of the game. They could have then had an elemental boss associated with each of the stages. The I personally liked the competitive nature, complete with an online leaderboard for every level of the game. The trophies will add additional incentive to get a higher score or destroy every enemy. However I know that these things may not appeal to everybody, which severely limits the replayability to the audience who just wants to play the game.
Dexed is a beautiful experience that drew me in from the start, but left me wanting much more. The detail and lush environments were a sight to behold. The unique and varying elements made the gameplay frantic and challenge, but for all the right reasons. I just want there to be more. Dexed feels like a brilliant idea that is somewhat unfinished. VR has proven itself as a viable platform and Ninja Theory has proven itself as a competent developer, but this game does not quite fulfill what VR can do or show what Ninja Theory is truly capable of. Hopefully the sales will encourage Ninja Theory to give VR another shot and provide a complete and lengthy experience rather than just another "experience".
If you've been following any combination of our Skye Matrix Plays, reviews, or podcasts, then you'll know that I'm the resident PSVR advocate as well as Rhythm Game enthusiast. I actively seek out new rhythm games, often times importing Japanese titles just to get more music in my hands(ear?). As a musician I have a wide palate of music that I'll listen to, and can appreciate almost anything, even if it's not for me - I'm looking at you "good" country music. That being said, it should come as no surprise that I was instantly drawn to Starship Disco.
If the name wasn't enough, then let me be the first to tell you that Starship Disco is a rhythm game that focuses its tracklist on Disco music. Throughout your time with Disco, you'll most definitely be groovin' to the tunes. They are relatively short and catchy with heavy bass and some serious funk. The set is rather short though, with only 7 tracks in total. However, there is a HUGE incentive to keep playing. You can actually import any song you want… let me give you some time to let that sink it before I repeat myself. Any. Song. You. Want. It's all incredibly easy to do. Simply get a USB flash drive, create a folder labeled "MUSIC", drag your music in, and voila, you're good to go. The importing of the songs is incredibly quick too. I was expecting unbearable load times while it created a track for me to play, but I was up and gunning in less than 5 seconds for a 6 minute song. This insane addition gives you literally endless replayability.
Aside from a strong as well as endless set of songs, Richard Stenson shakes things up with gameplay that is unique yet familiar to anyone who has experience with both rhythm games and wait for it… shooters. The rhythmic part of the game is comparable to almost any rhythm game. You are tasked with pressing buttons in time with a reticle, there is also a circle that closes in on a target to signal when you need to pull the trigger. There are the standard perfect/great/good/good/miss ratings and score multiplyer too. These are all standard fare for a rhythm game, but rather than timing a different combination of buttons, you only have to pull one trigger. The difficulty lies within your rhythmic accuracy in tandem with your shooting accuracy.
In order to hit your colorful spaceship rivals you need to aim the Move controller, which looks like a spaceship in VR, at the reticle that the enemy spaceships are about to fly through. You could also do this through headtracking, but the game loses much of its charm if you choose this playstyle. The targets will appear in almost any position in front of you. They are not on a set track like Guitar Hero or Superbeat: XONIC. There is also a dual wielding difficulty option for more skilled players. If you've come down with a bad case Disco Fever, your targets will now be color coordinated to your spaceship hands. Not only do you have to worry about accurately shooting your target in time, but you must shoot it with the correct hand.
There is also a somewhat random element to your enemy targets too. The beats that you need to shoot will remain the same with the enemy types varying according to the speed and beat of the music. The position of these targets will vary between play sessions. This decision can be frustrating because you can never completely memorize the patterns that are coming. This unnecessary addition prolongs the amount of time you will be playing the original songs, but I kept asking myself, "why"? You have the ability to import any song you want. In turn this makes it difficult to get a truly perfect rating on any given track.
My other concern is the difficulty. The difficulty options only change the number of misses you are allowed before you fail any song. Even on easy I still found myself occasionally failing. This becomes a more noticeable concern when you import your own song. If you want to play that 6 minute track, good luck trying to beat it with only 10 misses, and no ability to practice the spots you missed. I thought I was a veteran with rhythm games but I really needed to practice before I came comfortable with Starship Disco. There is good news and the end of the pulsing tunnel; Richard has been very receptive to feedback and even speaks with the players on Reddit. He is aware of what we want and is looking down every possible avenue to make improvements on his game.
Overall I appreciate what Starship Disco delivers. I was a bit underwhelmed by the short tracklist, but the ability to play any song you want immediately alleviated that. I don't know of any other rhythm game on consoles that gives you the freedom to do what you want. Players are always being nickled and dimed into dlc and bundles for more songs, but Richard laughs in the face of monetization. For a mere $10 you have all the tools you need to play the music you love the most. The difficulty options can be a bit frustrating. It would be nice if longer form songs allowed for more misses or if there was a way to decrease the amount of targets that appear. There is also a tendency for the screen to be a bit cluttered, but with some practice, it becomes manageable. If you want a rhythm game with no restrictions on the content you have access to, and I mean NO RESTRICTION, then look no further.
One of the first shooting galleries to arrive on PSVR was the inclusion of 4 gun ranges in VR Worlds. It was fun while it lasted, but just like PSVR's catalogue of games, it was too short. Since then I have been waiting for a game that can scratch the itch for more gallery-centric content. Three Fields Entertainment sets out to provide you with a game that is dedicated to shooting, and throwing, with a variety of weapons at your disposal.
Lethal VR places you in an FBI Recruitment Assessment Facility. The room is futuristic and plated in chrome, but it also feels like a virtual arcade. The first thing you are tasked with is entering your initials. I am a child and had a chuckle as I shot the letters "ASS" onto the leaderboards. From there you're just a few shots away from starting the first few basic missions. They are essentially a tutorial. You'll be shooting targets, or throwing knives, in quick succession to achieve the highest score you possibly can. There is some variation between target types. You'll encounter the kind seen at a shooting gallery, a black silhouette with a bullseye on the head and chest, a more realistic, but still cartoony, version of these silhouettes, and the circular dartboard kind. Your score will be based on how accurate your shots are and how quickly you can eliminate all the targets. Accuracy for streaks or perfect runs will be rewarded with bonus points.
Dual Wielding is always fun
While this novelty is certainly fun at first, you'll quickly remember that the move controllers are 5 year old peripherals that desperately need a refresh for a more accurate VR representation. The early missions are fine. It's actually pretty exhilarating to look down the sights of your pistol and actually be able to line up shots. It's the later levels that issues run rampant. The inaccuracy of these controllers makes it incredibly difficult to hit the farther targets at the most extreme distances.
The move controllers also make knife throwing frustrating for similar reasons. Initially the knives were my favorite part. Again, the close targets are easy, and fun. The targets that need to be destroyed on the outer limits of the playing field (outside 180°) become noticeably wonky physics. The knives tend to curve back in or just be wholly inaccurate. Trying to hit a target with a knife that is behind a civilian is difficult enough, as is trying to hit weapon specific targets without inaccurate controls. These issues take you out of the experience, reminding you that this is just a game.
Don't shoot Granny!
There are a total of 30 missions that are required to complete your training. They vary in length, but average around 1 minute to complete. There are ratings, high scores, and leaderboards to keep you playing these missions, but they are not as fleshed out as I would like. The initial high scores are set like a default arcade cabinet. The high score is some multiple of 1,000 that decreases from there. These high scores are easy to beat and the only leaderboards are limited to local play. If you don't play with a friend or family member there's no ghost to chase other than yourself. There isn't even an easy way to switch your profile to different initials to challenge others. Whether I get the high score or my girlfriend does, we'll forever see "ASS at the top of the chart.
I enjoyed my time with Lethal VR but I set my expectations too high. The gameplay is strong when the targets aren't at the extreme bounds of the playing field. The knives are a blast to toss. Even trying to achieve a "lethal" rating is rewarding but only because I want to be a deadly assassin. I also appreciated the variety of weapons and weapon combinations. However, don't expect to be competing with your online friends or strangers, to be shooting for a 3 star rating like other module based games, or to have more than a 90 minute experience. Finally, make sure you choose your name wisely.
Pinball has always been something that I appreciated, but was never good at. I'm completely mesmerized by the players who know how to work the mechanics and really dive into the game. Most of my personal experience with pinball harkens back to my childhood. I would drain quarters from my parents while they played in their weekly bowling tournament. It was at this ripe old age of 10 that I really understood the mechanics of the game - hit the ball and make the table light up. Clearly I was a genius. My interaction with pinball has been mostly a passive or historical study since those days. Jumping into Pinball FX2 VR had me instantly hooked and gave me a new appreciation for the medium.
From the very start, you are made to feel at home. Upon starting the game you are presented with an incredibly modern home. You are sitting in front of a massive TV as the game logo and start animation play. You think "huh, am I just playing pinball on a virtual screen?" You quickly find out the answer is a definite "NO". Once you choose to start, you are moved back and are given a generous view of a massive living space, one that even Tony Stark would revel in. If you choose to go back to your seat, you'll see every table you own on the virtual TV. Each table includes a few screens that give an overview, high scores, trophies, and a few other miscellaneous bits of info. You can also choose to jump to a table from here. After a few play sessions I also noticed that you could jump to a table that is already set up in your living room or even to the other rooms from this seat! You just need to look at where you want to go and press "X". This was a welcomed addition and an exemplary use of VR. I am so used to using button commands to navigate screens in traditional games that I didn't think to use VR in a way that simply makes perfect sense.
If you use button commands for the first few hours like I did, "O" will take you back to your initial starting position that allows you to soak in the depth of the room. Look around and you'll see the TV you just came from and the 3 tables included with the core game - Epic Quest, Mars and Secrets of the Deep. To your right side will be another room that is dedicated to your high scores. Aside from providing hours of content through challenge and objectives alone, there is always the incentive to score higher than your friends and the rest of the world. There's also a display case next to the score room for your trophies! They will display as an empty plaque with a description until they are earned. On top of this, Zen Studios even pauses your game for a split second to show you an animation of your accomplishment when you finally earn one of these trophies. This is the first game I have played in VR where I actually see the trophy. For the uninformed, PSVR currently does not have a way to show you when you get a trophy. You will hear the iconic "ding" noise, but nothing else. As a trophy hunter myself, I greatly appreciate these subtle additions. For the first time it feel like I have a(n almost) physical reward for playing video games.
Eventually you'll pick your jaw up off the slick wooden floors and start playing pinball. Simply look at a table, press x, and you'll be transported to your selection. Zen Studios could have just plopped me in front of the table and I would have been set. As long as you have the table and your hands, that's really all you need to play pinball right? But if I wanted to play Pinball in my living room or at an arcade I could easily do that. Even though Zen already made me feel at home in this modern dream home, they go the extra mile and transform your living room to fit the style of the table you are playing. Sure it's superfluous material that is purely aesthetic, but it is an appreciated addition. VR is about immersion and new realities. They embrace this philosophy with an alternate reality within your alternate reality. It's VRception.
Epic Quest is my favorite of the 3 outings. You are essentially playing a turn-based RPG in the form of pinball. I know that sounds crazy but all the components are there and they work quite well. The table itself is fairly linear too. By this I mean almost every ramp and hole is almost perpendicular to the flippers. This makes your looting, turns based actions, and comboing easier to manage. Despite an overload of options, the setup of these ramps helps you to understand your options quickly. If you successfully make it to the end, you will have defeat 12 enemies and a final dragon boss. Yup, I'm still talking about pinball.
The Mars table will send you to, you guessed it, Mars! The music for this table encapsulates you and plays along with the mission and tasks at hand. There will be swift tempo changes that are almost a challenge in themselves. Don't let the intensity distract you. Remain calm and explore the surface of the planet and survive sunstorms. For me, this was the most complicated of the tables to learn. There are several missions and sub-missions to beat. Almost all of the ramps and targets begin a task that require precision. You must first hit the ramp you are trying to activate twice in a row, and then proceed with hitting alternating or static spots on the table. Some of these objects switch rapidly and can only be hit within a limited amount of time. Others require you to hit them in a specific order. These objectives will challenge you, but they will make you a much more accurate player.
Secrets of the Deep is a unique table that features two separate levels of play. There are a set of flippers on the bottom, in the traditional position, and a second set up top. The different playing fields are used for two different functions and have a different set of objectives tied to their area. Amongst these objectives you'll be tasked with fighting eels, collecting samples, saving turtles, and even fighting the dreaded Kraken. An issue that arose with this table was mostly attributed to the low fidelity of VR. I had a harder time seeing the top of the table. This can be marginally alleviated since VR allows you to lean in and see the action, but I really only had to do that for this table in particular. As a novice, I was pretty terrible at this table without the additional challenge of a lower quality image. If you're better than I am, which I'm sure you are, you might just reach the sunken utopia.
Pinball can seem daunting when you are completely unaware of how to conquer the many missions and challenges each table has to offer. Zen Studios provides a guide for each and every table within the options menu on each table. These guides were salvation to my unfamiliarity with these particular tables. I would find myself pausing, reading through objectives, and then leaning in on the tables to get a closer look at all the lights and markers that I needed to hit. As a rookie, I really needed these cheat sheets. On the other side of the coin, this makes me slightly concerned for veteran players. I can't speak to how much (or if at all) these tables have changed since their initial release in Pinball FX/2 or Zen Pinball, so I don't know if these legacy tables have enough, or any, new content for veterans. I will say, that I honestly feel this is the best way to experience Zen Studio's tables, and any video game version of pinball for that matter, but if you've already mastered these tables I might wait for DLC or content that is exclusive to VR. If you're still worried about the difficulty of pinball and want an even more in-depth guide with pictures and step by step walkthroughs, I suggest looking at the links attached to each table in the review. ShoryukenToTheChin does a spectacular job of guiding you through all the ins, outs, and multiballs of each table.
Pinball FX2 VR does an excellent job of going above and beyond what they needed to do in order to provide a solid VR experience. They also showcase a perfect variety of tables by transporting you to land, air(space), and sea. I loved having a virtual living room that put my favorite tables on display. The addition of a trophy case is not only slick, but it keeps you immersed in the world. You are never forced to break away by holding the PS Home button to bring up a menu to manually check the trophies. This is also the first game to show you when you earn a trophy at its moment of completion. The extra touches of ambient lighting and background animations took me into another realm even deeper than this virtual world. The tables themselves are reworked and upgraded versions of tables that have been previously seen in Pinball FX and Zen Pinball, but they now play in a whole new light. Just being able to walk around the table to look at the meticulous detail of each ramp, light, and icon is brilliant. If you have conquered these tables in the past, the upgraded audio and physics may not be enough incentive to bring you back just yet. However, there are already 6 more tables available for purchase and if this game sees even half the support of other Zen Studio titles, there will be plenty more where that came from. The combination of Zen's imaginative and creative tables with the power of VR has made me take a serious interest pinball. There is a whole lot more to pinball than simply keeping the ball alive, and Pinball FX2 VR captures every part of that experience almost flawlessly. I don't know what the future holds for this game, but the possibility of new tables, and maybe even VR exclusive tables, has me on the edge of my seat. I can't wait to see what Zen brings to the table.
The Last Guardian is honestly a mix of things, some aspects of the game are masterful and beautiful, while others felt weak and underdeveloped, where I feel like more could have been done. Your companion throughout the game, Trico, is beautifully designed and the creature actually has a personality. It feels like an actual being that you’re developing a relationship with throughout. Forget about the overhyped Elizabeth AI in BioShock Infinite. This AI actually lives up to technical expectations and potentially surpasses them. While Trico can’t be controlled directly, you can tell him to destroy certain things, call him towards you to have him go a certain way, or even beckon him to jump. You can also climb on Trico and issue commands, harkening back to the moments in Shadow of the Colossus when you could ride the bosses of that game. While the sheer act of climbing and getting off of Trico can sometimes be tedious or cumbersome, ultimately it didn’t become a major bother that really affected my playthrough. I also had some funny platforming moments with the camera, when Trico’s face would take up the whole screen while I try to get on his back. While some would prefer directly controlling Trico, I feel it adds a new level of depth to him, forcing and showing you that Trico is free and independent. He can largely decide to do what he wants.
Fumito Ueda, the creator of games such as Shadow of the Colossus (a personal favorite) and Ico tends to have his games revolve around certain things. Being isolated, on your own. Being forced to make sacrifices in a tough world that is out to get you, while also finding companionship in the darkness surrounding you. The world of The Last Guardian echoes Shadow to me, as it feels like an ancient, old world, beautiful but showing its age, and showing its inhabitants that it needs to move on. While the actual graphics in the game have been divisive (at least in my experience) I feel that the art, not really the up-close graphics, are the standout. That’s not to say the graphics look bad (they really aren’t that bad) but it’s the direction that the studio took that shows the scope of their talent, almost going so far as to rival the art of Ghibli films such as Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.
The main story here, while I did understand the basic themes, is not as straightforward or clear as Shadow’s was. In Shadow, the goal was clear. Kill 16 colossus to save your true love. While there wasn’t a whole lot of backstory, at least the goal was somewhat obvious and the ending could be taken literally or symbolically. In Last Guardian, it’s more like Dark Souls. The story is largely left open to interpretation and the game is rife with symbolism. If you’re like me, and like piecing stories together, and theorizing, then you will find this game’s story to actually be quite good and full of depth.
The Last Guardian has beautiful art, an interesting but vague story, and some of the best companion AI I’ve seen in years. However some issues with the controls, some annoying puzzles, and camera issues affected my experience, and may have affected just how much fun I ended up having.
I’m a huge fan of adventure games, games that involve puzzle solving, exploration, and connecting with characters you’ll encounter throughout your experience. Because I absolutely love adventure games and I honestly feel that the genre is unfortunately dying out ever since its heyday in the 90s, Maize really appealed to me in its unique style and creative premise.
Its Steam Store description follows:
Maize is a first-person adventure game about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the US government and create sentient corn. And that last sentence is pretty much the least ridiculous thing about the game.
Because of how distinct, different, and new that sounded, it got me very intrigued into what proved to be a very cool game. In what other game can you interact with sentient corn with a Russian robot teddy bear as a companion? The writing within the game is sharp and clever, and the developers revel in the ridiculous nature of their game. If you were a fan of Portal’s humor, or the style of the Stanley Parable, then Maize is surely the game for you. The puzzles presented to you are sometimes very clear and direct, while others are just vague enough to require some thinking, but they don’t completely leave you hanging, to the point where you’re just searching for arbitrary solutions. Other adventure games may have that problem, but Maize remains fun and original throughout. While towards the end it takes a bit of an odd turn that isn’t for everyone, I thought it was very unique and fit the game. The level of detail put into the game by the developers is also commendable, as there are posters, sticky notes, and diagrams everywhere, making you feel like you are navigating an abandoned farmhouse, or an underground laboratory overtaken by British sentient corn.
Ultimately Maize’s humor, writing, storytelling, unique approach to puzzles, and its intriguing art style made the game rise to the point where it now stands on my personal GOTY list. Next to The Last Guardian, Dark Souls 3, Final Fantasy 15, and Overwatch. While I do wish the game was longer, I can’t wait to see more from the guys behind this game.
I remember my youth, and my father, quite fondly. I will never forget the fevered gaming session when he was playing Arkanoid. It was one of the rare times where I would much rather watch him play instead of picking up the controller myself. He would methodically break every last brick, snag every power up, and never skip a level. He was a true master of the game, and even had the crazy proprietary paddle for the NES. I will also never forget the screaming after I let a friend borrow it in turn for Maximum Carnage. Either way, Arkanoid and brick breakers hold a special place it my heart. Proton Pulse exploits those memories with callbacks to the greats like Arkanoid, Pong, Radius, and the Amega Computer. Even the promotional video is oozing with 90's character, drawing its inspiration from the Virtual Boy trailer (don't worry, this game is way better than that disaster). Justin Moravetz, the head of Zero Transform, does an amazing job of updating the 90's for a new generation.
Proton Pulse is a fairly straightforward brick breaker, both figuratively and literally. Back in the days of Arkanoid the paddle was beneath the bricks, whereas Proton Pulse is in line with them. The bricks and shapes are also set at different depths rather than on a level playing field. This unique approach allows you to hit the bricks from literally any direction and at any angle, creating much more dimension to where your ball, your proton, is going to bounce. The other aspect of gameplay that sets Proton Pulse apart is the creation of differentiated arenas. Some levels are based on box shaped rooms while others are different sizes of boxes, cylinders, or hexagons. This variety alleviates any fatigue one might feel from playing in the same room throughout its vast campaign.
The control and accuracy of your paddle are comparable to Danger Ball from VR Worlds, and this is largely a good thing. If you are unfamiliar with Danger Ball, it is a pong style game where the ball travels down a playing field much akin to a tennis match, rather than on the side of the screen. You use your head to control the paddle position instead of a controller. Proton Pulse utilizes this familiar concept in a more fleshed out game that includes over 50 levels, separated by 3 worlds. The one big difference between this and other paddle games is that your paddle is divided into 4 equal sections - top, bottom, left, and right. This can make it a bit difficult to center and course correct your ball, but after an adjustment period, you will learn to exploit its strengths.
As you would expect with any brick breaker there are your standard fare of power-ups. These include multiballs(an homage to Amega), metal balls to plow through anything in their path, and lasers. However, some of these powers behave different than you might expect. The multiball, puts a secondary ball in play (duh?). This forces the player to juggle them both, but if you miss your main ball you lose a life. However, rather than resetting and losing both balls, the secondary ball will continue to bounce around until that one is lost, and without penalty. The laser adds two consistently firing lasers to the sides of your paddle. There is no way to control how fast the fire due to the hands free nature of Proton Pulse. There is another added benefit to the laser, other than nearly doubling the size of your paddle and helping you clear out bricks faster. These additional slots are not divided into zones that affect the bounce of your ball. They are entirely flat. I definitely exploited this at any chance I got by trying to keep my ball bouncing on a straight path between my paddle and the backstop while my lasers did the real work. There are also some "power-ups" that affect the playing field rather than your ball or paddle. Some bricks have explosive properties destroying everything in their path. Others destroy the bricks next to it while warping your ball back to the center. Others just provide an obstacle for you to hit around or hit multiple times before they will disappear. There are even some cool Rube Goldberg type bricks that will set off a chain reaction, decimating entire levels in mere seconds.
All of the wonderful shoutouts and references are complemented by the game's use of synth music and neon colors. If you have fond memories of the neon folders from grade school, the angular and abstract shapes plastered on everything, and Devo, then you'll feel like you never grew up during your time with Proton Pulse. Every single one of the levels in Proton Pulse are accented with neon bricks, flashing lights, and a catchy tune. Even the layout of the arena you play in are brightly colored tunnels that overwhelm your eyes. The combination of all of these inherently 90's themes within a 90's genre turns this simple concept into a trip down memory lane.
My biggest and only complaint with Proton Pulse is the lack of difficulty and additional challenges. The inclusion of leaderboards makes this is a solid game for the arcade enthusiast high score chasers, but there is not a lot of incentive to continue playing once you reach the end of your journey. I did not see any options to decrease the amount of lives or speed up the proton. That's not to say that I didn't whiff and lose my fair share of lives when the difficulty ramps up later in the game, but it never makes me feel like there's anything at stake when you have so many additional lives. There are a few trophies that give you some additional challenges, but I know the vast majority of people do not care for trophies and may never see these. I would have liked if there was some kind of challenge list or endless mode that would provide you with additional replay value. Zero Transform did an excellent job of adapting a staple of the past for the future. It's a shame that they didn't complement their achievement with the mainstays of the future.
If you're looking for more games to justify your VR, Proton Pulse is worth your time. Despite missing some key features like difficulty sliders and in game challenges, it's a great experience that is worthy of your time. You'll be instantly transported to the 90's and blasted with nostalgia from your youth but with an updated experience the gameplay of the future. If this isn't from your youth, you should check it out to get a taste of what you were missing. SCHWING!
Disclaimer: I have only played through the game once as Emily, low-chaos.
The original Dishonored was one of my favorite games of the last generation. It was unique, had tons of lore, and was atmospheric with interesting and creative powers. The story was rich with twists and turns, taking you all over Dunwall to hunt down your targets. Dishonored 2 builds upon and improves the concepts that the original had, refining combat and options for non-lethal. In the original game, you really only had the option of choking enemies out or using sleep darts. Here, you have abilities such as Domino and Shadow Walk, allowing for non-lethal to be more viable throughout. In active combat, non-lethal can also be used, as you get a chance to choke enemies out if you stun them. However, lethal is also refined and improved, with sword combat feeling incredibly accessible, and the integration of powers in open combat is nearly seamless.
The maps you explore in the new city of Karnaca are large and intricate, especially the Clockwork Mansion. They are full of hidden rooms, small side activities to complete while you’re there, such as blowing up the back wall of a black market shop to rob it, or stealing a corpse. The enemies are just difficult enough to feel fair without feeling cheap. I like the choice the game gives at the very beginning, to choose between either Emily or Corvo. I can already tell that I'm going to be playing this a bunch, finishing up my first playthrough as Emily, doing a second playthrough as Corvo, playing with no powers, and doing a high chaos run. That sounds like a lot, but since I'm enjoying my time so much, it's worth that kind of time.
The story presented here is entertaining, and builds off the events of the first game in an interesting and effective way. However to understand the state of the world, its characters, and just who the main antagonist, Delilah, is, playing the first game and its ‘Knife of Dunwall’ DLC is highly recommended here. Similarly to the first game, you’ll be seeking to clear your name and seek justice. You will also have a hub to explore between missions, but compared to the original’s Hound Pits, the Dreadful Wale, a boat, feels largely uninteresting and doesn’t really have much to it. As you progress through the game, the allies you make will generally congregate in that one area, allowing you to keep up with their stories, and how they are involved in yours.
To upgrade the mysterious powers you receive early on (which can be refused for a playthrough with no powers), you must find Runes, and to gain random perks or other special abilities, you must find Bone Charms. These can affect your attack speed, damage, etc. However, there are also Corrupted Bone Charms that come with a detriment. For example, you can deal more damage with your sword, but attack speed will be slowed. Or your crossbow will do more damage, but the bolts will break more often when shot at enemies. Ultimately, it is a question of risk vs. reward that can completely change a player’s experience throughout. While these items are definitely important, the sheer amount of them can be almost overwhelming. I look at the area, and the icons for Runes and Bone Charms pop up all over.
Eventually, I just gave up on what I couldn’t reach and managed with what I had collected, but if you’re a completionist, you’re really in for a challenge. Especially considering that to 100% this game, you will have to play it multiple times.
Ultimately, Dishonored 2 ranks at a 9/10.
The game is largely similar to the last but adds a lot of newnesses so it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of the original title. The refined gameplay, interesting world building and powers, along with the vertical and complex map design made this title unique and distinctive from the other games on the market. However, its uninteresting main hub, along with the overwhelming amount of Runes and Bone Charms bring it down slightly for me. But this game is definitely a solid title that more people should pay attention to. It would really be sad if this game went away unnoticed when it deserves more attention than it’s getting.
So what did you guys think of the sequel to Dishonored? Did you want more from it, or were you satisfied in its familiarity to the original? Let us know in the comments!
Titanfall 2’s tech test was lots of fun. Some didn’t like it and were disappointed, but I had a hell of a time. That same enjoyment thankfully transferred into the main game, where I found myself playing Hardpoint and Deathmatch all night with my friends. The multiplayer here emulates the ‘just one more’ mentality. I can’t express how many times I was thinking I’ll just play one more match of Hardpoint, then go to bed. Next thing I know, I’m seeing sunlight. The mobile, fast-paced nature of the gameplay, along with the entertaining Titan battles, are some of the best experiences in multiplayer I’ve had this year. And this is a year that includes Overwatch and Battlefield 1. It’s that fun. Now on to the campaign, I’m happy one was included. In the first game, it felt as if they attempted to develop the world with nothing to really go on, which was one of Evolve’s flaws. They tried to build the world when there was nothing to build on. Thankfully, the campaign here actually succeeds where those failed. The story and characters aren’t on the level of Battlefield 1’s, but they do the job in making me care about just what’s happening. The basic gameplay shines in the campaign, allowing you to have more room to experiment and try out different weapons since you’re fighting AI enemies, not actual players. This game has been getting tons of praise, and it deserves it to me over the same monotony of Call of Duty. This game is unique, interesting, and delivers new experiences. It’s worth it in this crowded year of shooters. With Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1, EA has delivered one hell of a combo that will succeed in spades.
When I jumped back into Dark Souls 3 after a few months of occasionally doing invasions, I was trying to prepare myself for the DLC Ashes of Ariandel by starting a new character and running through the game. I was able to create a SL 120 character that was ready for the New Game cycle of the DLC in no time. However, considering I had that option, I didn’t want to confront the depths of Ariandel on its base level. I jumped to my level 185 original character on New Game Plus 7, the highest enemy scaling in the game. It was the character I sunk more than 200 hours into, and it was the character that had the best equipment all around. Despite his strength, though, the first few hours of the DLC annihilated me. Wolves, orbs of fire, and ancient warriors with javelins chased me down to tear me to shreds as I was frantically searching for a bonfire. This DLC is short, but every minute of it was filled with wonder and tension.
The value Ashes of Ariandel has is based on what you gravitate more towards in Dark Souls 3. If you’re strictly a PvE person, you’ll have fun here with challenging bosses, but considering there are only two, you may feel slightly disappointed. If you’re a fan of PvP, this DLC is a must-buy, as the new Undead Match mode drastically increases the longevity of the PvP in Dark Souls 3, because it was fading fast prior to the DLC. There are 3 types of matches. A Duel, where no healing Estus potions are allowed, a 3 player brawl and a 6 player brawl, where Estus is regenerated on a kill. I have had so much fun in these interesting and versatile arenas that keep the matches going, making them feel like awesome battle royales.
For any lore aficionados, Ashes of Ariandel is rich with dialogue, narrative, and new story elements that pose very interesting and complex questions that could provide hints as to the second, and final DLC. You’ll definitely find its story interesting here.
Ultimately, while the main line of Ashes of Ariandel is relatively short, the weapons, spells, and armor you can receive, along with two amazing boss fights (one of which is now in my top 10 of the series), make this DLC a worthy purchase for any type of Souls player.