Tagged: game review

Like I mentioned earlier, Pankapu will be released on the 21st of September.

Which is today. Yay.


I have played the game for about 3 hours up until I came to a roadblock that I will explain later. Don’t know if said block was poor design or a flaw that is unique to the pre-build. In either case, expect a timely review now and a thorough review later this week. Once I beat episode one, I will have even more info and insight as to what I think of the “ending”. Yes. There will be spoilers. Not in this review but in the next one. You have been warned.


Before I get into the Good, Bad, and Summary of my gameplay experience thus far, let me recap briefly on how I got this game so early. Like many of the indie reviews I do, the source comes to me rather then the other way around. And as is becoming fairly common for me, the messaging system of choice tends to be through my profile  on LinkedIn.com. I was approached by a representative of Too Kind Games and was asked to review it. Upon accepting, I was given a press kit with the pretty pictures you are about to see and a steam code. Perks of being a game reviewer, I suppose.

If you haven’t read my previous post yet, let me recap what this game is about. Real quick; boy has PTSD, his dad cheers him up with a bedtime story, story is about dreamland being taken over by nightmares until dream god creates a hero to save that world RPG platformer style. There. Your all caught up now.

Pankapu is a kickstarter project of a very small indie studio called Too Kind Games, is the dream product of two talented frenchmen, and has been released for the PC as well as pretty much any next gen console you can afford. There is even hints about it being for NX, so you’ll be able to download it if and when you get it for Christmas.

Okay, as always we start nice and positive. Here’s what went right.

The Good

The game in question can be as smooth and polished as you’d expect. It’s an indie game for sure, but one with low-maintenance graphics that feature beautiful artwork, flowing animations, and responsive control schemes that are intuitive to master. So intuitive in fact that the game manages to keep handholding tutorials down to a bare minimum; a godsend in the age of annoying information blips every time you try something new. All in all, maneuvering between enemies and platform is easy enough, and the challenges can require great precision without being unfair. That in and of itself is a staple of good design.

The narrative seems a little too simple at first, right up until you remember that the game itself is actually a child listening to a bedtime story. The game reminds you of this subtly with characters that resemble people who for the sake of this game’s meta story exist “in the real world”. Even when you level up your hero with new magical abilities, you get sparse flashbacks that tell the story of what exactly happened that made the child listening to the adventures of Pankapu wind up with real nightmares. This promises to come together at the end to provide a real sense of closure to what is bound to be a tragic tale of trauma and rehabilitation.

I wasn’t able to play all three character classes yet, but got a good feel for the one called “Bravery”. Its basically when your hero dressed up like a crimson knight complete with shining armor (beautifully drawn shining armor, I might add) a sword you can throw, and a shield that absorbs attacks to restore your magic. It’s annoying to see places where your hero can’t reach because it lacks the ability to “double jump” as promised by the green archer class, but you can always work with what you are given up to a certain point.

The lighting effects of this game contrast sharply and add subtle effects when needed and dramatic effects when appropriate and impressive. The music is soft and peaceful enough to be engaing without being annoying. The levels are well designed, and while it is sometimes tough to play, the game is always fair in a way that tests your skills rather then your patience.

That’s it for the good. Now for the other stuff.

 

The Bad

Just like I called it, the gameplay narrative is EXTREMELY reliant on cutscenes that aren’t so much cutscenes but slightly animated graphic novels with moving text. The only human voice you can understand is the narration of the father telling the story. Everything else is either mute, or speaks in sound effect gibberish, while you rush through a non-rewindable wall of text that you can easily skip over without meaning too. What’s worse is the annoying habit of the narrator to deviate from the storybook text printed on the page. It’s a minor complaint, especially given the developer’s lean resources, but I can’t help but feel a little confused and snapped out of the moment when I see the game spell one line of text and hear the narrator say something else that is the same but completely different. You never lose the gist of what is happening, but I still would like to hear the father read the story in front of my eyes and not in the designer’s head.

 

Like I said earlier, the story of the actual game is a little bland. If you ever played a video game since the 80s, you know the basic narrative pretty well, and the plot doesn’t get interesting without the flashbacks or the meta underneath. What’s worse is that some of the characters can be annoying. The spider sidekick you get stuck with seems to quote the obvious a lot, and is the kind of annoying guide that hasn’t bugged gamers since Navii. See Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for details on that infamous character.

While the spider has some moments here and there, even the good parts of the game fail to make up for what appears to be a very severe design flaw. I can honestly say I would not be able to complete the game even if I tried. Unless they update this one major flaw or I find a way around it (will let you know if that’s the case), I find that while exploring a deep cave, one with ledges and platforms jutting out of the walls, there is literally one space that is JUST OUT OF REACH. I cannot jump high enough with my current abilities, and the game will not let me progress without making the impossible jump. Literally an impossible jump is blocking me from completing a single level in the game. To call it a game breaking bug is an understatement, and it needs addressing ASAP if its worth even a dollar to play, let alone 5. Hopefully, by the time you read this article, they will have addressed it in time for you to buy the game.

That’s the Bad. Time to wrap things up.

 

The Summary

All things aside, if they can fix that one game-breaking bug this game is worth much more then the five dollars advertised. Even if this is episode one, it promises to be worthy your money and your time. It takes real guts to start an indie project like this, and these guys bang out an awesome product that would make and humble bundle an awesome holiday gift by virtue of gracing it with its presence. By itself, I would pay three times this amount for the experience it offers, and despite having some dark undertones, this game is bound to be a family favorite for the budget conscious. 

The only thing holding this game back from being an instant classic besides that one bug (which they can fix with a 5 minute update) is the fact that the bedtime story narrative is a little weak and some of the narration doesn’t sink up. Both can be fixed easily by tweaking some of the text elements in the game in a way that perfects the already glorious design.

That’ll end this review. Next up on my list is a game from Telltale, about another kind of knight…

Image result for telltale games Batman Logo

See you then!

 

 

Title says it all. I will be hosting another random giveaway for all my loyal followers and subscribers!

Please subscribe to my newsletter on the right and/or click the “Patronize Me!” button here or up above to donate to my Patreon account. Both supporters and subscribers are eligible to win.

New-Banner

This Years Prize: $100 Steam Gift Card!

Geekfest

CLICK HERE FOR LIVE BROADCAST LIVE AT GEEKFEST – 9:30AM TO 5:30PM

Ah, Watch Dogs.

If you’ve been watching video game review sites other then mine, you more then likely saw trailers similar to the one above. If you have, you may also be aware that Watch Dogs was scheduled originally for last Christmas but was delayed up until its current release on May 27th this year. That may be a good thing, since it might mean that Ubisoft is going the extra mile to polish off bugs and nuances in the game before its finished. Then again, it could also be due to the fact that they found something that broke the game and they needed a deadline push to get it sorted out. That would imply the original beta was a horrid abomination and we will get to see the stitches popping out right before summer. Or worse yet, someone with a lot of weight to throw around at Ubisoft wanted to make some “last minute changes” and Watch Dogs was pushed back to accommodate his or her wishes. This is the worst case scenario, since it implies that instead of fixing the game, they needed more time to ruin it. To extend the previous analogy, it would be like taking another six months to let the lead doctor jam in some weird and unworkable contraption after the game’s open heart surgery. Take it from a game dev; stupid ideas that don’t work kill a game faster then anything else. That’s why companies like EA have such a good reputation (word to the wise; they don’t).

Cynicism aside, Watch Dogs does look like an interesting game, despite flaws already popping up. Fun fact; unlike most game journalists who salivate over the upcoming game trailers and fall for their publisher’s PR campaigns like a Halo game on a stick, I tend to try and find flaws first and then save any potential butt kissing that’s left for when the game is already out. That way if a game really is good, it’s a pleasant surprise, and if it’s bad, no one’s disappointed. As much as I want a press past for next years E3, I would be dishonest to say they didn’t cater to this kind of pandering that most game reviewers fall into, and only greats like “Yahtzee” from the Escapist seem to have the guts to go against it. I like to think I provide a more balanced view by putting my Cynicism toward the hype and my praise toward the game. After all, which matters more? The Watch Dogs promo pieces, or the quality of the game itself? I beg to differ.

Instead of bombarding you with excitement, fanboy drool, and biased favoritism, I will instead give you a look at two other trailers straight from the Watch Dogs youtube channel that depict the game itself in action, followed quickly by my analysis.

If you can describe to me where you’ve seen this kind of talk before, kudos to your game rep. If not, be warned that this is the same kind of push trailer released for:

  • Red Dead Redemption
  • LA Noir
  • Assassin’s Creed 3
  • Fallout 3
  • Skyrim
  • and Grand Theft Auto from 3 all the way up to 5 and beyond

The only game on the list actually made by Ubisoft is, at least from that list, the worst. People constantly criticize the poor character quality of its star lead, the gameplay was more then a little stilted, and the “Open World” concept didn’t venture very far AT ALL. These are the guys making Watch Dogs. Yikes. These trailers are harder to find then I first thought, and in the interest of being topical, I will post them in a later Update of this post.

Moving on; While the “Open World” angle has easily become the new cliche’, One thing I will give Ubisoft credit for is approaching the concept differently-at least in a purely mechanical game design capacity. Instead of merely stealing cars and blowing the police away in between network hacks, you actually play in a dynamic environment that has as much people traffic as it does for vehicles. What’s more is that everyone seems to have a computer and/or a smart phone, and you can hack their Wi-Fi space to actively profile them, track them, steal from them, or rescue them. This is really interesting, since it makes the world a lot more detailed, and has the capacity to tell not just one story, but tens of thousands. It tends to oversimplify the actual act of hacking by basically giving you access to CTOS, which is basically the chief surveillance program of “the man”. In short, you become a surrogate big brother every time you tap their systems.

The Way you do tap into their systems is obviously inaccurate, and the dev team missed an opportunity to put a great character from real life into their story, but to get into that is an article in and of itself. To see what I mean directly, here is an extend gameplay trailer that might illustrate a few of my points.

To be clear, the idea of government surveillance and loss of privacy to digital distribution is an awesome high concept. It is the zeitgeist of our times, the thing that is most controversial today in the decades following 9/11. Watch Dogs seems to be grasping feverishly at this concept, making you both a vigilante taking on the system, and a hacker who can be a surrogate big brother unto himself. The stories that come from simply peering into other peoples lives is staggering, and no doubt players will spend just as much time exploring the inside of peoples homes as they will the streets of near-future Chicago.

Thing that worries me thought is that not only would you need a high number of writers to make the narrative of all the NPCs work, but a high number of good writers. Writers who know their craft almost as much as the medium they are writing for. Unless you work for a great company like 2K games or Naughty Dog, both of which have games that are legends in Video Game Narration, you are likely to see a very limited number of writing talent in your studio, and most of them will be hired from outside mediums. While Ubisoft has a fairly good history of making interesting backstories and decent enough writing, as far as character writing goes, I will remind you again that they invented Connor. People hate Conner, mostly because he’s as bland and as boring as you can get. If you watched the trailer I started this article with, you’ll see what amounts to a less moral, much more trigger happy Batman. Batman is a good character, but they seem to be cutting out most of his redeeming qualities and to be frank, his character archetype has been done TO DEATH! If you think I’m wrong, name ten video games that have a vigilante as a main character. Now name ten movie characters that are also vigilantes, and also dark and brooding. Case closed. The fact that they already stuck with such an overused and increasingly unredeemable character makes it hard to care about him. Plus, if they botched the center piece of their story that badly, I shutter to think what would happen when they need to write voice acting or text messages for the 10,000+ minor characters whose privacy we will be invading. If I see more then 100 lols and ttyls with little to no context in between, I wouldn’t be surprised.

To end this first look with a silver lining, I will merely list a number of things it did right. Very right. I look forward to reviewing this game intensely, and will either skewer it for what it’s worth, or be pleasantly surprised. I hope you are too.

List of Good things

  • Excellent Cinematography. That scene with the shopkeep sounding the alarm over you had the perfect camera angle. Lets hope they keep up the good work
  • Awesome Graphics-Not surprising, since it has such a high budget and powerful platforms.
  • Cool reactionary  karma system- having the consequences affect your actions as directly as they did was something that could only be carefully planned.
  • Again, awesome high concept-If indie devs don’t follow the same rabbit hole these guys did, I will be dissappointed.
  • Intuitive hacking system-this is almost a flaw, since it might not challenge some gamers enough, but its perfect for the casual market
  • Good exploration of choice-I can be a gung ho shooter or an unseen hacker. Awesome
  • Interesting upgrade possibilities-I think this will appeal to me more then anyone, since I’m a sucker for RPG stats. Might seem too “skinner box” for some.
  • And Finally, the idea of “tapping” into someone elses game online to hack them is a stroke of genius. That system alone is worth the 70 bucks you will have to drop for this game. I guess online multiplayer is the new playground for AAA games

That’t it for now. I will be updating this post yet again when the Active Critique, review, and adjoining articles are done. Look for the links below during the next two months.

Thieg Logo

Almost seems redundant writing a review I made a two hour video on. But not everyone has a super fast computer to run youtube videos on, and I feel that the game’s lackluster performance warrents further observation. Especially since it’s somewhat of a trend lately.

If you didn’t see the Active Critique I had yesterday, I’ll break it down for you quick and dirty; It was a game that took Stealth games into the FPS zone in the 90s, had three games before this one, and is about a Thief in a weird alternate renaissance that clashes with both medieval Europe and steampunk. You are of course a thief; more specifically an ex-rebel turned klepto who steals from the rich for his fence and with his portage’. Spoiler Alert; she doesn’t stick with you for long, and I’m pretty sure if I played all the way through, I’d have to rescue her. You and her basically spring in on a magic ritual that blasts her into oblivion and you into a coma in which you wake with “flow” vision. Basically gives you superpowers not unlike the one’s in Dishonored. You then go right back into doing jobs while unraveling the mystery behind what happened to you and your partner. If I ever play this game again, I’ll have another broadcast for it. Update on that another day.

I won’t waste your time and convince you not to waste your money with my review. As always, we start with the good.

Faithfully Adapted

 

Thief-Game-2014

I won’t lie to you folks; I had a hard time coming up with positive things to say. If you saw my video (seriously, see the video!) you probably saw this coming. By reading this, you might also see a bad review coming. Before you put Thief back on the shelf, I suggest you keep reading and hear me out on this. There is a silver lining that I was pretty oblivious to that took a small bit of research to confirm After looking up the history of the game and only watching ten minutes of someone’s documentary, two big things occurred to me.

  1. Thief, while revolutionary at the time, was not the first stealth game. Metal Gear was. Thief was published in the 90s while Metal Gear was an old MSX2 game from 1987. MSX2 was a failed console that competed with NES. If you knew that, wear your indie hat with pride. If not, rest assured, cuz I didn’t know that either until I Googled it.
  2. That many of the features I labeled “unoriginal” and “hackneyed” started with Thief to begin with. Loss of visibility in the darkness? Thief started it. Pick pocketing? Thief Started it. Shooting a light source to create darkness? Picking lock mini game? All Thief’s original idea. Splinter Cell didn’t start with these things; Ubisoft just adapted them to their own game. For it’s name, the Thief series is a standup original game that is only affect by age and not much else.

So yeah; if you are a fan of the Thief series as a whole and have followed it since it’s inception or soon after, there is something for you hear. Playing the game and seeing how Thief: the Dark Project plays, it’s obvious that they took almost all the mechanics from that game which works and gave the rest of the game a much needed upgrade. Fanboys, rejoice!

Now that I gave you something to chew on that didn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, let’s address the issues that will no doubt affect those of you who, like me, didn’t play Thief since the beginning. Here is the Bad.

Boorishly Cliche’

John Carter

 

I am feverishly entrenched to the idea that video games are not only comparable to but must exceed the standard of blockbuster movies in terms of narrative and presentation. When they don’t, they prove to all the idiot pundits who ostracize our medium that not only are they right, but they are better for being right. That is why game devs need to stress the quality of their games more then anything, and stop using stuff that was only revolutionary in the 90s.

Okay, stepping off of my soapbox for a minute, I can safely say that Thief is a victim of its age. To go back to the movie analogy, I would compare the game Thief to the recent live action Disney movie John Carter. For those of you unfamiliar, it was originally a pulp novel about an astronaut who went to mars and saved the planet due to being immortal, plus stronger and faster due to low gravity. Superman 0.1, basically. It was because of this that the long awaited movie adaptation didn’t do so well at the box office. Even though John Carter was the original Superman, Superman and others like him have been repeated through the Hollywood business so many times that the original no longer outshines the competition. They say imitation is the best sort of flattery, but it sure doesn’t make you stand out.  Thief encounters the exact same problem; the traditions it started have been adapted throughout the medium. Splinter Cell took it’s Darkness mechanic, Dishonored had a dark Steampunk vibe, FallOut 3 had the lock-picking mini-game, and knocking people out from behind is almost a universal standard not just for stealth games, but games period. Plus, the only things that come into the Thief game that it didn’t invent decades ago was things like Mirror’s Edge parkour system and Dishonored and Batman: Arkham series’ detector vision. So even when they try to catch up with the modern world, the lack of originality shows. I like the classics as much as any nintendo generation nerd, but game mechanics do not age like fine whine. They grow stagnant like sour milk, and Thief is a walking testament.

Now let’s wrap things up here.

Lame Franchise Reboot

Thief-Game-Indoor

You might be a little surprise to see a negative word placed in the Summary. But the truth is, where this game failed to tow in the mechanics and systems and gameplay that made Thief a legend to begin with, it makes all the same mistakes all games make when they don’t take risks. Uninspired cutscenes, lame voice acting, juvenile plot, laughably one-sided perspective, wooden character models, and to boot even a poorly choreographed music score. Square Enix wasn’t trying to resurrect the series, they were using the brand name to make another quick buck. Its the kind of thing that makes schlock like Transformers 3 and the new RoboCop movie in the movie business, but it happens all too often in the game business with little to no one batting an eye. Even guys like me didn’t look twice until games like Uncharted 2 showed us what the industry now was capable of in terms of narrative.

Thief had potential to pick up the slack its outdated mechanics left us with by giving us a fresh look. It’s about as fresh as a rotted corpse with the gloom. While I firmly believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, it seems like our corporate masters in game land didn’t even bother to try. Unless you are a DIE HARD fan of Thief, and want to play a game that hasn’t collected dust in your basement for that fix of Thief’s original greatness, this might be worth at least renting. To anyone who wants to see what video games are capable of being, I recommend Bioshock:Infinite instead. Way better everything, plus its cheaper since it came out a while ago.

To recap:

thief-4-logo

Thief: $25(PC)

 

Faithfully Adapted

 

Boorishly Cliche

 

Lame Franchise Reboot

 

Since I am thoroughly pissed at the video game industry, it is time for me to review something original. This game should fit the bill just nicely. Next review is for a game called

Blind Swordsman

it doesn’t have the best graphics, and it never needed them. It is something you have never seen before! Pun intended 🙂

Okay. Before any of you call me out on this; I know. I am basically using first look articles to go down the list of things already covered at E3. I am climbing slowly but steadily the ladder of the video game blogosphere,  I was not able to attend this year, and its high time I caught up with the rest of the world. On that same note, I will be turning most of the “video projects” that are currently holding me back into written articles. I need to make a habit of streamlining my work by making a tight schedule with a solid backup plan should anything bog down. I am shooting, filming, acting out, scripting, editing, and adding special effects to all my videos by my lonesome. Unless someone out there wants to help me for cheap, it’s going to take a while for me to catch up. I will still try to crank out videos every weekend, but until I can make my own deadline with one, you’ll have to settle for my finely printed words. You guys come first, not the videos.

Don’t worry; I will have everything in full swing by the time Christmas rolls out, and I got a big surprise planned for all of you to reward your kindness and patience. It’ll be worth it. You’ll see.

 

In the meantime, lets continue the first look streak I have going on here, and take a look at the opening trailer sponsoring the upcoming 3D shooter by PopCap games,

 

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Cool, huh? For those of you not familiar with the Plants vs. Zombies game, it was basically a tower defense game made by PopCap games, the same company responsible for Bejeweled and other web arcade classics. To put it bluntly, the game goes like this; your house is on the left of the screen, and the zombies are coming in from the right. The majority of the game takes place on your lawn and the lawn is separated by squares. By gathering “sun” from the sky and from your sunflowers, you can grow plants on each square that can combat the zombies. Pea shooters shoot peas, potatoes act like land mines, chili peppers are like bombs, and like I said earlier, sunflowers produce sun. This is, of course, just a few examples of a continually expanding universe flooded with different plants and zombies that go from disco zombies to flaming stumps that light shooting peas on fire. Really.

The game started out as a web-only computer game on PopCap’s website, then expanded to both a Facebook adventure game and a direct sequel for the smartphone. Come February 18th, Garden Warfare will debut for the Xbox One, followed closely by it’s release on the Xbox 360. The results look promising, as always, but that’s never an excuse to let your guard down. Here’s what I see so far.

The roster so far. Image from PopCap.com

The roster so far. Image from PopCap.com

So far it looks like something that the dev team wanted to do, as opposed to need. With all the speculation surrounding how consoles are becoming the new arcade machines (in the sense that they are becoming outdated and might be replaced), bringing their game from mobile digital distribution to console almost seems like a step backwards. That being said, the characters look just as good in 3 dimensions as they did animated in two, and it looks like almost everything you see in the first game is making their appearance here.

I was a little worried when I first saw this that PopCap was simply making another cheap Call of Duty clone, but from what I read and see in the gameplay trailer, it takes important elements from both their own game and more innovative shooting games like Team Fortress 2. The roster seems set up neatly; you got the classic Pea shoot as a kind of machine gunner/grenade launcher combo. Classic for most shooters in general. We have the Chomper, who is mentioned as a melee fighter, but seems to play almost like a stealth character since it can burrow underground untouched and kill enemies with one bite(much like they did with the game). The Sunflower is a healer with abilities akin to the Medic from again TF2. We have what I think is a new plant called the Cactus that shoots powerful spines over long distances. Can someone say…sniper?

The plants don’t just serve as characters, however. You saw the chili bean bomb, the potato mine by the cactus, and even a “garlic drone” that flys in the air and releases a “corn strike” that works like a missile strike in Call of Duty. Plus you have plants that can be potted to act as “turrets” that give you fire support in addition to your arsenal. Some shoot peas, others throw punches, all are good for covering a choke point in which zombies invade.

Also from PopCap.com. Zombie Engineer!

Also from PopCap.com. Zombie Engineer!

Zombies get similar treatment, but mostly as enemies in this example; we got the regulars, the cone head, the bucket heads, which both seem tougher. Since this is a more traditional-style game, we also got bosses like the Disco Zombie you saw and/or the giant celebrating “bring your imp to work day”. Such a tone is reminiscent of the cartoonish flavor all too familiar with fans of the series.

It’s hard to notice, but if you listen carefully at the beginning, you can hear the team start off by placing a “home garden” before playing. I have no idea what this is, but if my prior experience playing video games amounts to anything, I have a few educated guesses.

First guess is that it is the home base; a vulnerable home base that needs to be protected. Like the briefcase in Team Fortress’ “Capture the Flag” mode, this is something your team needs to protect and the other team needs to destroy. There is already evidence of possible zombie playable characters sporting their own firearms, plus the recent introduction of a “Boss mode” where you can manipulate zombies RTS style on your tablet or console device. Both suggest team based competition, and destroying the enemies garden will probably be on the zombie teams agenda, while destroying the cemetery or mansion will be the plant teams goal. It’s pure speculation, of course, but follows the formula for multi-player modes to the tee.

Second guess is that the garden will serve more as a safe house. Not unlike the other FPS zombie title, Left 4 Dead, the garden will be a place where you can stock up on ammo and gadgets, which probably include extra peas, spikes for the cactus, more chili bombs and potato mines and other good stuff. I didn’t see any ammo gauges for that, though, so its even more likely a place to stock up on health and-or a spawn point when you lose a life. Either way, while it will be seen primarily as a place to “Stock Up”, I doubt it will be safe unless you do the same thing in this game you did in every other Plants vs Zombies game; work hard to defend it.

Third guess is a roster base; i.e. a place where you can switch weapons and characters without pausing the game. You basically play your plant as best you can, and when you need a new weapon or plant altogether, you go back to the garden and switch things up. In this case, you might not even need to protect it, since you can plant another one and you only haver to make sure you don’t run out of lives.

Garden Warfare seems like the type of game that is unnecessary but inevitable. With the rise of online and mobile games, and Plants vs Zombies being one of the crown jewels in both now, it seems only natural that the game franchise expands to one of the few platforms left. Let’s just hope they put the same passion in this game that they did in their previous games, and cross our fingers come 2/18.

Update:

For those of you who are also reviewing video games, take heed; check the source before assuming you know it all. Apparently zombie classes are official in this game and have already been showcased on video at Popcap.com . Check it out!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OydbE1Mb7pg

This is going to be a special kind of article. The first of many, as the game industry has a VERY high turnout rate. As the title implies, this is going to be our first look at a video game that has yet to be released. If you are new to gaming, understand that is the norm, as development for video games is very time consuming and costly, even for smaller and simpler indie titles. As such, developments teams and game publishers alike need to make sure that the time spent building the game is time spent guaranteeing return value for their thousands, if not millions of dollars in investment. If you’ve played video games even for a short while, the title “First Look” might not even make sense to you, only because so much of game journalism in general is about covering big title games and their PR campaigns.

A first look does a little more then this; I basically do my homework, look into what this game has to offer and compare it to my experience both making and designing games. In other words, give you a good idea as what to expect rather then just reporting what was officially announced. Given the relative limited information on this game, and the way features and deadlines are always in flux during the development of games, I might have also a second, third, and maybe even a Release Report, where I detail the results of the release. Today we’ll be taking a first look at

 

Darkest Dungeon-Terror and Madness

 

Pretty cool trailer, huh? As the name, video, and concept suggests, this game is your basic dungeon crawling turn-based RPG; with a twist. Judging from their trailer, mechanics mentioned on their website, it seemed that the whole idea might have actually come from a pretty profound question asked by someone on the Dev team. That question is;

“What would fighting monsters in dark dungeons during the medieval age really be like?”Wallpaper_LosingItBigTime

At least that’s my first impression. The game is made by a small team of very experienced professionals from Vancouver called Red Hook Studios. There are only five of them working on the game and its production, so not surprisingly they addressed themselves much like the adventuring parties within their game. Complete with what looks like a pretty good glimse at how one of the game’s main features would be like; mainly, what they have dubbed the Affliction system. To be blunt, this system seems to be a more detailed and RPG adventure version of the “Sanity” system that has become of many lovecraftian horror games like Amnesia:the Dark Descent and Eternal Darkness. Huh. Come to think of it, a lot of games that have the word “Darkness” in it have a loss to the player character’s sanitkeep-calm-and-play-dark-souls-on-hardy. Except for Alone in the Dark; only the player itself was horrified. Not because it was scary, either. Anyway, the affliction system seems to work like a statistical version of Post Trauma, in which the more unpleasantness a party member experiences, the more emotional and psychological problems they develop in the game. This of course ranges from things like “It stinks in here” to more extreme events like “Holy S#!* that thing just ate our cleric!” kind of deal. If it becomes too much, you get problems like alcoholism, nihilistic rants, and phobias of whatever it was that distresses them. So yeah; this isn’t Final Fantasy.

If I had to compare the game to anything, it would be a low budget and turn based version of the game Dark Souls. Another game titled “Dark”. Go figure. I say that because the game looks like it intends to clamor to an adult audience and challenge them by raising the stakes of combat with things like permanent death of party members, increasing complications to combat, and the added threats of things like plague and discord between characters. If the team can do it just right, it will be the kind of game that is difficult but rewarding to master, not unlike Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls as mentioned above. If they screw it up, people will spend more time breaking their keyboards then experiencing its depth

Scarfed

The Highway Man

I’m still not sure if this is part of the game yet, but apparently your party members speak out their fears with dialogue bubbles that float over their head along with whatever affliction penalty they receive based on circumstances. This runs the risk of become rather repetitive, as it can seem like more of a gimmicky push notice then a feature you would want. Nobody wants another Navii. But at the same time, this shows the promise of providing character development, as not all dialogues are directed as complaints; they seem to communicate to one another as well. Its way too early to make any assumptions, but if they can make these kinds of dialogues infrequent and dynamic enough, this can actually become the cornerstone of the game. Because its one thing to hear someone shout “The Darkness is overwhelming” 15 times every minute you play the game, but a whole different ball game to hear your party members engage in conversation. The results can be real interesting, so long as they exist in moderation.

Another thing that caught my eye was the fact that they weren’t conforming to the standard fighter/wizard/cleric/rouge formula to party classes. They didn’t post all of their classes yet, but the websites hints and points to classes that include:

The Highwayman, who brandishes a Dagger and Flintlock Pistol

The Plague Doctor; which suggests a class for curing diseases.

The Vestal, which I’m guessing is some kind of nun.

And the Barber-Surgeon, which can stitch up wounds while the party camps.

Which brings me to another feature that is both fascinating and somewhat familiar; the game lets you make tactical decisions while camping. This is a pretty innovative feature, as it promises both clever and non-combat ways to deal with challenges, and makes it possible to experience very engaging non-combat encounters. Especially since they are constantly pointing to choices you can make outside of combat to deal with their “Afflictions”. What really strikes a chord is the idea that some of these quirks bring bonuses as well as drawbacks, which promises profound decision making moments for the player.

The art is basically 2D marionettes, albeit very atmospheric and well drawn ones. I have no idea what the complete interface is going to look like, but from the trailer it seems like it will be split between what the party is doing, where on the map you are, and a meter measuring how much torchlight you got. Apparently making sure your torchlight is lit and burning is just one more issue your party needs to deal with besides murderous horrors and PTSD. Sometimes I’m glad I’m not a video game character.

The music is certainly atmospheric, and the sounds are superb. But unfortunately, I am only basing this analysis off of the trailer they made, so there is no guarantee that any of those sounds, music files, or effects will even carry over. If it does, it will make for both an epic and chilling time.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, again, check out their website and be sure to sign up for their mailing list. Apparently they are getting ready for a big debut on Kickstarter, and the trailer and site is just to get us excited. It must be working, because I’m not the only gaming journalist who is watching their moves.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter has come and gone, but you can still buy the game at their website. Game is scheduled to come out in October, and you can expect a full review when it comes out.