Good Morning Kids!
It’s April, which means that PAX East 2016 is right around the corner! Sub Cultured will be descending upon Boston from April 22nd through the 24th like a pack of geeky vultures, bringing you all of the latest the gaming world has to offer. The sprawling floor of that massive convention center will have everything from consoles to tabletop to PC.
Of course there will be the big time “huge-booth” studios that will be in attendance like Blizzard, Square-Enix and Bethesda. But the great thing about PAX events is that it’s not just the big guys that get spotlight. The Indie Showcase will be featuring some more bite-sized offerings for your mobile devices, and the Indie Megabooth is boasting 87 games so far from 83 indie developers. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of creative things these devs come up with – there’s a PAX mainstay Dragon Fin Soup, a horror mystery in Night Cry, and crossdressing and social manipulation as themes in Ladykiller in a Bind.
… Yeah. And that’s only 3 out of the 87.
If the trend of gaming shows I’ve been to holds up and combines with recent developments in hardware, I’m expecting to see a lot of VR demos. The Gear VR is a device becoming more mainstream because of its affordability and and the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are granting new higher-powered VR platforms for development.
Make sure to keep up with Sub Cultured during PAX East to keep up with all the PAX East happenings – and if you’re there or see us on the floor give us a shout!
That was what Square-Enix’s Adam Phillips had to say about the luxury of choice in their current series Life is Strange. And that statement is 100% correct. I’m in my second playthrough now of episode 1, Chrysalis and am not having any less fun trying different choices I take with Max in her exploration of her newly found powers over time. The beauty of it is that there’s no correct answers in the game, and even though the short term results of the decisions made are simple enough to see, the long term and meta effects aren’t so easy to spot.
Just like life. Strange… right?
I was able to sit down with Square-Enix and DONTNOD Entertainment at PAX East last week to get a preview of Life is Strange episode 2, Out of Time to see some spoiler-free gameplay. We were able to see some of the longer-than-short-term consequences of one of the pivotal decisions from Chrysalis – whether or not to take the blame for Chloe’s stepfather finding her smoking weed, resulting in being in hot water yourself or Chloe taking an angry backhand.
The game picks up on the day after Max finds discovers her gift (1 episode, 1 day) and the scene we got to play through was Max meeting Joyce, Chloe’s mother, at the diner where she has been working for years. You have the choice of telling Joyce or not that Chloe’s stepfather struck her, but not every playthrough has that option. We were playing episode 2 using the input from episode 1 that Chloe hid in the closet and watched Chloe get struck, and that’s why this and other choices are available to us now. The game keeps track of every decision you’ve made, and offers shifts in the storyline accordingly, guaranteeing a number of playthroughs which are all different. “It really is a network,” was how the choice system in the game was explained to us. “There are in this game some binary switches, like if you do this that happens, but in this game there are actually combination switches as well.” This won’t affect the overall story of the game but it will affect the way the game progresses. “More like branches they’re vines going up a tree, so they all go in the same direction, each one is just slightly different.”
To get used to the “keep your knowledge and stuff” part of the time rewind mechanic, you’re forced to guess everything that happens within 10 seconds at the diner and everything that’s in Chloe’s pockets. Of course you’re not a mind reader so the only option is to guess wrong, see the real answer, rewind and prove the Chloe your “superpowers” are real. It works as this game’s take on quick time button events, where you have to get the whole sequence right or rewind time and start over.
I’m really looking forward to see how my different savegames affect my playthrough for episode 2, and the way this is set up we’ll be getting increasing levels of meta consequences for seemingly small choices we made earlier on.
The soundtrack which thoroughly impressed me in Chrysalis maintains its deliciously modern indie feel, with artists like José Gonzaléz, Syd Matters and alt-J on the score for both background music and the tracks Max listens to. “It was really important when Max put her earbuds in that you heard the sound dull down as she pressed play. What happens when you hear a licensed track? It grounds you in reality.” It’s true, and goes a long way in helping continue to set the tone and emotion of Max and Chloe’s adventures in Arcadia Bay.
I asked creators Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch from DONTNOD about why episodic games are finding so much success next to huge triple-A 80-90 hour behemoths. “It’s the way we’re playing games nowadays. We have less time I think, and a short experience is something you can really enjoy between two stations of one really huge game. Sometimes those short experiences of an episode of a game or a short game like Journey can be interesting to play because you can play it in one session.”
Of course they mentioned that also inherent in episodic games is the anticipation and expectation for the next one to come out to see what happens. And that part is working.
Thankfully we don’t have too much longer to wait. Life is Strange episode 2, Out of Time will be released this month on March 24th, and I’ve got my season pass ready to pull it down and see what happens to Max and Chloe next.
[oh, and P.S., I asked about porting this to tablets because I think it would work great with the UI and control scheme – and I can officially say it hasn’t been ruled out]
There are a number of fantasy and sci-fi worlds that have been created over the years, each with their own mythology and following. But without question, the Star Trek universe is one of the most massive from that long list. Spanning multiple worlds with a deep culture in both mythology and fandom that’s seldom outdone, Star Trek has inspired six television series, twelve films with a thirteenth on the way, and a near countless number of books, comics and games in multiple mediums. Bringing the entire universe together, Star Trek Timelines is basically the ultimate mashup for any fans of the franchise, be it all or in any part. You can take your ship, and man it with any crew from the Star Trek universe. Each character can be assigned to different jobs like Ops (we found that Bones was just atrocious at ops). Characters assigned (not to mention the ship, the ship’s kind of important) determine what kind of skills are at your disposal as well as learning new things and what kind of bonuses are available for your crew.
My first mission was dealing with Regent Worf from the mirror universe. Assembling your crew you’ll find that everyone has different sets of skills and abilities. Sisko, for example has high points in diplomacy and command (as well as a bonus trait for Bajoran reputation), like a captain would, but Worf of course had high points in security. Janeway was originally a science officer so she has a high science skill along with command. So putting your mission crew together, you amass a number of skills and bonuses that will help you solve missions in different ways. Each mission is a choose your own adventure style story, where there are multiple paths to successfully finishing. Depending on what skills and traits your crew has, your team will traverse through a different path to the end – one success or failure opens additional nodes that you can choose based on what skills you have at your disposal.
Because let’s face it – in a jam, Worf would look for a weaponized strike while Picard may soothe his adversary with that brilliant speech of his and bring them around to his side. Both of them are solutions to the same problem. And as such, in this game they would have different skillsets and open up different paths.
Outside of the choose your own adventure style gameplay, Disruptor Beam made made sure the game looks really good. The ships can be admired at all angles with a flick of the finger on screen all around, and from what I’ve seen so far (A Bird of Prey and I believe an Enterprise D) the ship designs look great. On top of that was the pure mashup fun. I’m pretty sure at one point I had Locutus, Archer and Sisko together on a mission team – something we’d never see in any of the shows or movies. So all of your “what if…” scenarios? Play them all out in Star Trek Timelines.
(Just watch out for the purists who I’m sure will slam your crossovers on the web)
Platform: iOS, Android, Web browsers
Release Date: later this year
When you look at a lot of combat games, there’s a crazy number of skills involved. Maybe there’s a tech tree and maybe you have to respec your entire skillset for a particular battle. Jotun counters all of that with some honest-to-goodness, hit-em-with-an-axe Norse badassery.
You play as Thora, a Norse warrior that has unceremoniously died an inglorious death. For most people that sounds like a peaceful way to go, but in Norse mythology, that kind of thing would keep one out of Valhalla, a hardcore form of heaven where spirits of dead warriors can feast all day and more importantly fight to their heart’s content. Now Thora has one mission – to prove to the Gods that she is worthy of Valhalla. And how do you do that? By killing frost giants like a boss (by the way, that tiny speck there next to the giant? That’s Thora).
… I know, right?
Jotun starts Thora off immediately waking up a frost giant for mortal combat with three moves – a roll, an axe strike combo, and a charged axe swing. And that’s it. Dodging and counterattacking your enemy as he goes after you with all sorts of ice attacks when you’re about 1/100th the size of him is … well I’ll say it, hard. There’s no button mashing here. You have to be patient, see openings, and time things to win against these big guys. That kind of fight that requires some thought is a refreshing change of pace to a lot of the button mashers we see out there. These fights are like poker games, watching for the giants’ telegraphs and tells and acting accordingly with some speed. It’s exciting, as one misstep can cost you a sizeable chunk of your life bar – not to mention as giants lose more health the field of battle becomes more treacherous. On my first try I got the giant down to under half health before succumbing to a ridiculous ice-based slaughter, and in my shock was actually told that I did better than a lot of people that tried the game. Awesome.
In between the badass fights are environmental puzzles that Thora must navigate and get through, which serve as a lighter less intense experience and contrast pretty sharply with the combat. There’s a good balance between the two.
The fun play style is made even more so by the fantastic character design and hand-drawn art, which tie the whole thing together for me. Jotun was incredibly fun (and mildly addictive) to play, and I can’t wait to play more and see some more of what Thora can do. It’s like Shadow of the Colossus put on a Viking helmet, went hand drawn, top down, and added a lot of fun factor. Take a look at the announcement trailer below with some more footage and commentary by creator William Dubé:
Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux
Release Date: Fall 2015 on Steam
Halo 5 Guardians Arena Multiplayer
Yup, that’s right, Halo 5 Guardians has a demo-able multiplayer and I got to play it. And guess what? I’m still as bad as I remember.
In this version of multiplayer, you’re playing 5v5 last man standing with the magnum pistol and assault rifle/battle rifle. Essentially, the rifle is full auto when you’re not aiming with the scope, but burst fire when aiming, which is a nice settlement to the age old question of which rifle was better, Halo 1’s or Halo 2’s .
The map was rather boring and looked more like an American Gladiators map than Halo. Glassy polygons with ramps and a few hallways punctuated by laser edges in space doesn’t really scream Spartan to me. That aside, the combat feels better than it did in Halo 4, but still a little slow. The controls are the same millenium-era FPS controls of B for grenade, but that’s for sake of legacy and kind of gives it a nostalgic feel. Speaking of nostalgia, this game mode didn’t let you select your starting weapons and there were no loadouts. I’m not sure if that’s how the rest of the multiplayer will be, but that was almost a welcome restriction. The last thing I need is Call of Duty in space.
Overall, it seems Halo multiplayer is still intact. A little different than before, but then again it always is. What I really want to see more of is Master Chief in the desert with that chip necklace that makes me tear up. You know the one.
Platforms: Xbox One
Release Date: 2015
One of the most exciting new IPs coming to Wii U is the competitive third person shooter title Splatoon. The objective is simple — over a map with more of your team’s paint color than the other’s. It’s a third person shooter featuring humans/squids.
That’s a weird sentence.
Your human form has your ink gun, which you use to splatter the field and shoot your enemies, and your squid form can travel quickly through your ink color and recharge your ink gun. Since you’re hidden inside the ink while in squid form, this adds another layer of strategy so you can lie in wait to surprise the enemy. Your squid form can also traverse ink that’s on walls, and go under barriers, allowing for more maneuverability and varied terrain play.
The concept and ideas behind this game are great, but I found myself getting killed a lot. And I mean a lot. It was only toward the end of my second round that I realized why — I kept screwing up my aim. The demo I got to play set up aiming with the gyro controls on the Wii U gamepad, with the second joystick acting like a slow camera. This strange waggle motion was incredibly disorienting for someone who’s used to camera being on the second joystick and having it be responsive. I’m kind of a panicky Pete in games like this, so when the fighting starts, I lose all thoughts and just try to shoot as much at the other person as possible. Accuracy is not my forte. As a result, I was pointing down with the gamepad, but moving the joystick around so I could focus on the top screen instead of the map on the bottom and I ended up dying almost every time (or at least that’s what I tell myself).
Overall, the game is incredibly fun and fast paced. The sneaking elements on it, surprise attacks, power ups, and quick gameplay make it an awesome game to play with friends either online or in the same room. I just hope they realize some of us are very disoriented by gyro aim so I can go back to flailing about and shooting wildly a little better.
Platforms: Wii U
Release Date: May 2015
Local multiplayer puzzlers seem to be making a bit of a resurgence, diversity also seems to be growing as the internet understands what it means to be an inherently global community and its members request more representation in all media.
Together is the story of a mother and child on a quest through the mysterious forest to find the cure for an illness that has befallen one of their loved ones. The story of the game was written by Arab-American author Saladin Ahmed, known most recently for his novel The Crescent Moon Kingdom.
The game features an overworld system kind of like Super Mario World in that you walk around a world map, choose a puzzle to solve, and are warped to the puzzle. Once inside, your objective is to collect all the white, glowy butterflies in each level to proceed onward. The transition between world map and puzzle is a little jarring, and the game’s style of narrative delivery, standing on a circle on the world map and reading text, also leaves something to be desired. Unlike Chariot, there’s no real flow between levels or areas, and everything seems pretty well separated.
The puzzles themselves are pretty interesting, featuring standard mechanics like pushing something to one area or pressing a button to allow another, but there’s also things like poison projectile immunity for both mother and son if they are standing together. It’s a bit like Goof Troop on the SNES or Legend of Zelda Four Swords in that both players have to work together to enable the way for each of them.
Together is an interesting game that offers up to five hours of gameplay and provides perspective of a culture not often explored in this medium.
Release Date: TBD
The first game I checked out a PAX East was right up my space nerd alley. Inspired by the the 2012 landing of the Curiosity rover on our neighboring red planet, Random Seed Games has created a 25 square mile slice of Mars to set the scene for their exploration survival title Lacuna Passage. In the role of Jessica Rainer, sole survivor of the crashed Heracles mission, it’s up to you not only to survive, but to investigate the disappearance of the crew that landed there before you. Using what you can from the environment and other clues like logs and audio files scattered around the crash site to find the truth, equally important is watching your own resource levels so you can stay alive to find it. Keep an eye on your meters and make real on the fly choices to conserve your resources. Is a flashlight worth the battery drain? Is running worth exerting yourself and using extra oxygen? The game keeps you paying attention to your own heads up display as much as the vast world around you.
Sitting down to play the game, the first thing that struck me was the landscape. If I really wanted to I could just walk around refilling my oxygen every once in a while and checking out some of the rock formations and surprisingly nice vistas Mars had to offer. The playable area and terrain is actually created from NASA terrain data, giving the scene not only accurate markers but some great resolution. Jessica’s armed with some tools that include a camera, and the player can take pictures of terrain or the crash site or any sort of clues they find for that matter. The fun part about the pictures is that they’re all geotagged, letting you send them to your friends and other players to jumpstart more clues for them to work on. As the game progresses the sense of panic starts to set in – not just because of the falling oxygen meter prompting you to get to the base site airlock – but in the combination of the desolate surroundings, Jessica’s hurried and panicked tone, and her heavy breathing while she moves making you question whether or not she’ll make it.
It just makes you feel… well… delightfully uneasy. Well take a look at the prologue trailer:
That progression isn’t really based on picking up items and putting them together like a traditional adventure game either. The story’s driven by the environment and Jessica’s narrative, and reminds me a little of the type of gameplay we saw in Gone Home – using clues in the environment and all of the information in the logs you can assemble to drive the story forward. As I mentioned before you can photograph all these things and store the information on the tablet you’re equipped with. This tablet not only compiles your photos, logs and clues but also serves as an interactive soundtrack, letting Jessica turn her music on or off as she explores – both options add their own kind of ambiance for the game.
When I asked about how Curiosity Rover inspired him, Creative Director Tyler Owen had a pretty simple answer: “All that I could think about at the time was I just want to take control of that rover and go around and take pictures. So I thought If I’m going to do that I might as well make a game about it.”
Nice job, guys.
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: When it’s Ready
Ever wonder what’s happening inside Shrödinger’s box while we’re not looking at this dead and alive cat? Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark answers that question with gusto. Now those who know me know that I’m a huge science nerd by both education and interest. That and I love comedy. And puzzles. And hijinx. OK, especially the hijinx. And as it happens, Team17 and Italic Pig combined all of those things into this title – Even having background material of a super deep study in physics, Lost Quark manages to keep it light, colorful and fun as you and the Cat traverse through platform puzzles in the Particle Zoo using up, down, bottom and top quarks that can be combined to help with movement or knock out bad particles. Need a lift? 2 up quarks helicopter you up. need to bust through the floor below? combine two downs to get through. A lot of the fun of the game was experimenting with different quark combinations to see what they could do. Gameplay is fast and addictive, with a quark being on each trigger and bumper on the Xbox controller I was using to play the demo. This scheme, and even on just a keyboard, makes the gameplay incredibly smooth and intuitive, and is reinforced by the excellent tutorial level.
Not only is the gameplay smooth, but adding to the fun factor is the plethora of particle physics puns and jokes – not to mention that the characters have a lot of character! The voice acting is absolutely superb and really makes this game what it is, giving SC his cavalier attitude and the rest of the cast that science-y comedy bite. The game begins with “We don’t have any neutrinos, but they pass through here all the time.” Brilliant. The art is great too, giving us that modern smooth cartoony look, really doing a great job capturing details and expression on our characters, including the quarks themselves.
This game reminded me a lot of a modern day, more fast paced, science themed A Boy and his Blob. Which let’s face it, is fantastic. Check out the trailer below:
Release Date: out now
Back in the day I used to love playing those point and click adventures. I was practically addicted to the Monkey Island games and later on series like Quest for Glory and King’s Quest. That list can’t be complete though without mentioning their darker Voodoo cousin Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. Now you guys know me, I’m generally not a big fan of remakes unless it’s well done, so I was skeptical when I sat down with Phoenix Online this past weekend at PAX East to take a look at the 20th Anniversary Edition of the game.
What’s great about those old adventure games is that the interface is such as can be used in modern platforms. Point and click can be updated to tap and swipe, and when it’s done right it works well. I got a chance to see the iPad version of the game, and I’m comfortable saying the remake more than holds up to its ancestor. Phoenix Online found a way to upgrade the game with modern graphics but still stay true to the 90’s author/voodoo killer hunter we all knew and loved.
(And full disclosure no, Tim Curry was not in the voice cast this time around. And I know, while we all universally hail the awesomeness of Mr. Curry, I think we can all understand why he’s absent and not count it against the game).
Gabriel is still paced evenly in “days” to progress the story with some minor changes so it makes a little more sense, requiring the player to finish certain tasks before they move on to the next chapter. There’s a few new puzzles that have been added to the game, and being an Anniversary title it comes full of extra bonuses – concept art, interviews, and especially for nostalgia hunters, comparisons of scenes between this version and the original from 1993.
An interesting thing about games that dominated this market back in the 90’s is that they’re smaller in scope than one of today’s multi-million dollar budget cinematic adventures, and because of that have found a resurgence in today’s gaming market on newer platforms like iPad and Android tablets, where an adventure game doesn’t have to be 80 hours of gameplay and 30 hours of cinematics to be fun.
Here’s the trailer below:
Platform/Release Date: PC, Mac (available now) / iOS, Android (Coming Soon)
You know what was also one of the most fun online games I’ve played in years featuring a color array of characters and objectives? Overwatch. Some people say “I’m not too sure about this. Blizzard is good at RTS games and MMOs. They have no experience in FPS. This sounds sketchy.” But this is a classic example of a wildly popular video game company picking something new and knocking it out of the damn park.
I remember how refreshing, new, and interesting TF2 felt when it was first released. That feeling is back in a big way with Overwatch. The map I got to play was a combination of capture-the-point and push-the-cart types, both pretty standard. The real standout features of this game, though, are the characters. From people who can rewind time to areas that can only be accessed by certain types of characters, Blizzard seems to have put a lot of thought in to how to breathe new life in to the classic FPS VS gameplay style.
It’s only fair to compare it to TF2. Cartoony graphics, familiar map types, different classes, unique humor. Hell, the heavy in both games has the same accent. Granted, Overwatch’s heavy is a badass Russian woman with a ping mohawk and a sweet scar and TF2’s heavy is a sandwich-wielding brute whose has Dr. Robotnik legs, but they’re both pretty similar. It feels as if Overwatch is what TF3 would be if there was one. Minus hats (so far).
This is really a game to look forward to. Put it on your watch list, set aside money, buy a high powered mouse, and get ready to obsess over another FPS because Blizzard is doing what they do best — suck up your time.
Platform: PC, Mac
Release Date: 2016
Dragon Fin Soup
Full disclosure, I backed this game on Kickstarter. And I mean how could you not? The dev team wanted to bring the Grimm Brothers stories to life as gritty as they were meant to be. You play as Red, an alcoholic mercenary in search of the man who killed her parents. Accompanied by her wolf Big Bad, you’ll do quests for money and gather information on your parents’ murderer on your quest for vengeance.
The game play is very interesting, something I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s like a combo of a strategy game and an action game. Each action you take from moving forward to swinging your sword is one turn and when you take a turn, your enemies also take a turn at the same time. Sometimes, this doesn’t matter. Like when you’re a village, you just move around at will and do stuff with reckless abandon. When you’re out in the field though, you really take time and care with each move you make. It turns in to a strategy game whose pace is entirely up to you very quickly. It’s a bit like Crypt of the Necrodancer without the catchy music, but with really interesting characters.
The game is also procedurally generated, so depending on the seed, you get different layouts to the whole game. It’s highly likely that the starting village of my playthrough would look nothing like the starting village of a second playthrough. As a result, there’s a few interesting modes to try out when you don’t want to play the story. You can try your best at a rogue-like dungeon crawler to grab loot and level up, or you can choose an infinite dungeon and keep going until you can’t go no mo’.
The game is nearing completion, with finishing touches coming and just a few more bugs to work out. Look out for this game coming your way
Platform: Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: Spring 2015
Rogue-likes have been multiplying for the past few years and this year is no exception. Necropolis is a 3D third person action puzzler Rogue-like and if that’s not enough identifiers, I don’t know what is. You play as an adventurer plundering Armistead the Mage’s castle in search of loot. As you acquire more loot, you’ll also find more weapons, better upgrades, etc. You know, the Rogue-like formula.
The art style has very simple textures against mute colors and dark backgrounds, producing a really cool environment to explore. The monsters you encounter can also be encouraged to hit each other by out maneuvering their attacks, making one attack another which makes the victim mad and he counter attacks, so the aggressor attacks back and this goes on until they realize “wait a second, weren’t we killing that guy?”.
Each area of the castle is generated differently each time, adding almost infinite replayability to the game. For those who can’t stop their dungeon-crawlin’ fever, Necropolis is a title you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
Platform: Steam, Consoles (undetermined)
Release Date: TBD