Category Archives: Xbox Reviews

SuperEpic: The Entertainment War – Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of  SuperEpic: The Entertainment War was provided free of charge by Numskull Games


SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, an indie-developed sidescroller, successfully delivers a best-in-class Metroidvania adventure that confidently mocks the slew of AAA games it has managed to supersede.

In the world of SuperEpic, greedy corporate pigs (literal pigs might I add) have bought out every game developer and are now pumping out mass-produced highly-addictive mobile titles that have entranced the populace and are draining their wallets at about the same rate as a Steam Christmas Sale. The adorable raccoon protagonist Tan Tan and his facially deformed llama steed, Ola, must whack, slap and thwack their way through swathes of RegnantCorps’ evil employees to put an end to their vile videogames for good.

Conveyed through cutscenes of pleasing animated slides and walls of text, the plot is certainly not one of subtlety. Although it does little to reinvent the wheel in terms of its retro presentation and simplistic writing, the plot of SuperEpic provides a decent number of chuckles and more importantly creates a perfect unobtrusive skeleton upon which the game’s excellent gameplay can be hung.

A classic Metroidvania, SuperEpic boasts large hand-crafted levels that can be explored in a non-linear fashion. The handy minimap is an excellent addition, and one that would have greatly benefitted other games in the genre. Being able to avoid confusion makes exploring levels and finding the plethora of hilarious hidden secrets dotted throughout levels even more rewarding.

20191207165230_1.jpg

Exploration is littered with enemy encounters and gripping boss fights. Revolving around three attacks – a quick attack, guard break, and uppercut – the combo-oriented combat is deceptively simple. Whilst button mashing may get you through most levels, far more rewarding is the intricate mastery of each induvidual move and learning of unique button combinations.

The combat is also extremely satisfying, largely due to the brilliantly meaty sound effects and neon hit indicators. Furthermore, the impressive variety of unlockable weaponry – raning from household cleaning tools to comedic hammers allows the combat to retain a fresh feeling throughout the game and leaves you thirsting for more by the time the credits roll.

Handily, SuperEpic also includes an unlockable “roguelite mode”, a procedually generated challenge which gives you an even greater opportunity to amass huge quantities of the coins dropped by every enemy.  These coins can be used to further upgrade your weaponry and armour and add an additional satifsying dimension of progression.

20191207165252_1.jpg

SuperEpic is also jam-packed with minigames. Scanning QR codes scattered throughout levels opens webpages containing short flash games on your mobile phone. Tongue in cheek parodies of popular mobile titles like Flappy Bird, these minigames are presented in-universe and provide an awful lot of world building. The use of QR codes also ahad me surpsingly immersed in the games’ universe, although I can’t help but feel such technology would be of greater service to a more plot-oriented title. Nevertheless, I would highly recommend going out of your way to try and exploring thouroughly in order to experience all of these optional extras.

screenshot_20191207-165449.png

In addition to your mobile phone, for PC players I would also recommend bringing a controller to your play session. Whilst the developers have done an adequate job of mapping the 4-button control scheme to your keyboard, a controller really helps recapture some of the button-mashing nostalgia of your childhood.

Alternatively, the Nintendo Switch version of the game works like a dream. Speedy loading times and smooth-as-butter performance make curling up in a warm bed with the switch in handheld mode and therapeutically punching pigs to a pulp an absolute treat. The handheld version also helps you to appreciate the sublime 32-bit sprite animation, which is beautifully detailed and clearly the recipient of a great deal of love and care.

It’s not just the animations that have recieved love and care either. Everything from the pause screen in which you can practise your combo attacks to the detailed and varied enemy designs seems meticulously crafted and as such can offer a game that has as much, and often times far more, polish than the majoirty of AAA titles. This sustained superiority helps emphasise the importance of the games’ overriding message.

SuperEpic is in its very execution a commentary on the modern gaming market. In an age of over-inflated budgets and multi-million pound videogames stuffed to the brim with predatory microtransactions and vicious payment models, it’s really heartening to see a good old-fashioned indie title that is able to so severly outclass its competition.

Overall, SuperEpic: The Entertainment War is able to comfortably fulfil its lofty ambition to deliver a satisfying parody of the modern games. Although its writing may be too on-the-nose for some, this is more than made up for in the game’s gameplay which is the absolute pinnacle of indie sidescrolling action.

If you’re interested in playing SuperEpic: The Entertainment War, the game will launch on the Steam Store later this month in addition to the Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store and Playstation Store.

 

Road to Guangdong – Early Access Review


Disclosure: To aid this review a copy of Road to Guangdong was provided free of charge by Excalibur Games


Jalopy, the recently free-to-grab DRM free via Humblebundle, is a game very close to my heart. A delightful little road-trip-them-up which took you through the gloomy vistas of East Berlin to Turkey behind the wheel of your mysterious uncle’s beaten up Laika brand car, aka. the crapmobile.

Despite holding an extremely engaging and unique premise, and letting you explore a setting rarely seen outside first-person shooters, Jalopy always felt like something was missing. It certainly wasn’t heart, which the game held in heaps with its endearing minimalist art-style, its charming little soundtrack and just the sheer nostalgia factor that arises from tapping into a well deep long-forgotten memories of family road trips. What Jalopy lacked was one of the elements from which most of its appeal arises: a sense of family.

Sure, you did have the option of bringing your uncle along for the ride but he never really adds much beyond some canned dialogue, a little guidance and, quite frankly, a lot of dead weight. The spiritual successor Road to Guangdong aims to rectify that void and, by the end of early access, perhaps offer come to one of the most heartfelt familial journeys in gaming today.

As previously mentioned, Jalopy took you from the dull dregs of a grey post-war Berlin to the sunny splendour of Turkey. Road to Guangdong on the other hand, as the title suggests, takes you across the bright and scenic Guangdong, China.

This new setting is presented with a delightful and extremely colourful art-style; which is very reminiscent of modern evolutions of Chinese woodblock painting techniques, in a manner that is altogether simply breathtaking. Almost any screenshot taken in game wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of trendy coffee shop.

Ironically, the visual presentation of the characters themselves can ironically only be described “blocky” – and not in a good way. They seem stiff, jumping around the screen much like the terrifying department store mannequins from Condemned: Criminal Origins and whilst in that game it added to the atmosphere, in Road to Guangdong it does nothing but detract from it.

I attributed this to a result of a general lack of animations; with the game only being released into early access this week it makes sense for the characters to have only a handful of stock shared loops. I expect that this and the apparent jarring lack of scene transitions will be rectified in a future update and preferably as soon as possible.

The reason these stiff animation issues are such a problem is that they really interfere with the narrative that they are trying to convey. As mentioned previously, Road to Guangdong is really about family. The plot itself revolves around your attempt to save a failing family business and you’re presented with a tonne of dialogue-driven interactions which have you repairing damaged relationships on top of your damaged car.

In the gameplay department, Road to Guangdong is  predominantly a visual novel and quite a good one at that, focused on your relationship with your eccentric aunt. Slices of the visual novel are delivered in between arcade-like driving sections. The driving mechanics are fairly surface level, although the car itself certainly feels very satisfying to drive with its loud engine and definite weight, you’re only really allowed to drive in a straight line in a manner only comparable to Desert Bus. The simplicity of the driving mechanics do allow you to focus more heavily on the dialogue however, which is probably how it was intended to be, but just a little bit more interaction with your vehicle would be nice and provide some much needed entertainment when the dialogue begins to slow.

Judging from an update released just today however, it seems that this wish is being very promptly granted, adding more detail to the dashboard and making some of the previously redundant dials and meters actually mean something. The game also offers some repair mechanics, but they’re very surface-level. You buy parts and repair you vehicle so it can keep going until you need to buy more parts and repeat the whole process again.

For now, that’s basically all there is to comment on – the game is certainly still in its infancy. Despite its flaws however, I would certainly recommend keeping a close eye on Road to Guangdong. It’s a brilliant story that has the potential to be a beautiful experience, despite being at the moment hampered by some characteristic early-access teething problems.

If you are completely sold on the premise alone, and don’t mind a fair bit of early-access jank, by all means buy the game at once. For those sitting on the fence, it may just be worth waiting until the story can be told at its best in 2-3 months’ time when it is fully released and luckily for you; you can expect a follow-up to this review reflecting on the finished product when it’s finally out.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die Season 1 – Review

Coming from legendary Japanese game designer SWERY, who most notably wrote and directed the supremely bizarre Twin-Peaks inspired cult classic Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die has quite the boots to fill.

Related image

Although certainly not identical to Deadly Premonition, D4 does bare many of the same hallmarks as its predecessor. The protagonist is yet another quirky investigator who also comes across a host of weird and wonderful characters in the hunt for a mysterious killer. Both games involve a red narcotic and even share some characters.

The times where D4 distinguishes itself to its predecessor however are where the game is at its strongest. Whilst D4 is still notably weird, it’s not quite as weird as Deadly Premonition and this does the overall experience a huge service. Whilst it was extremely difficult to relate to the uncanny citizens of Deadly Premonition‘s Greenvale each with their jarring stock-sounding motifs spouting head-scratching borderline-nonsensical dialogue, the characters presented in D4 felt considerably more real. As a result, I found myself genuinely invested in the struggles of D4‘s protagonist David Young far more than I was ever engaged in the actions of Francis York Morgan and his imaginary friend Zak in Deadly Premonition.

Don’t get me wrong, the characters of D4 are still for the most part a bunch of complete weirdos but their quirks and personalities seemed far more believable. They felt like real people, odd real people but real nonetheless. Perhaps this was due in part to the far sleeker presentation of D4. Whilst Deadly Premonition housed awkward looking characters who shambled around a plain environment repeating simple dialogue while perpetually looping stock animations, D4 is smooth and stylish. With a pleasing cel-shaded filter and a delightfully over-the-top anime inspired set of fluid animations, which I only caught blatantly looping on one or two occasions, D4 is an absolute joy to look at.

Gameplay wise, D4 is a point and click adventure broken up by simple mini-games or David Cage style quick time event action sequences. On PC the game is controlled by solely the mouse, but the XBOX ONE variant offers both controller and Kinect support – Kinect support that is unprecedentedly good. To my amazement, the Kinect ended up the best way by far to experience D4, the polar opposite of my expectation. The controls on the Kinect mode are engaging, responsive and shockingly accurate. You also have the option to swap between Kinect and controller modes fairly quickly, so for Kinect owners I’d recommend certainly using the Kinect for the action sequences and then maybe switching back to controller for the slower investigation portions. Gameplay wise the experience without the Kinect is very similar to the experience with the Kinect, although certainly with less flailing around, as what would have been the position of you left or right hand is simply mapped to a cursor instead.

I don’t want to spoil any details so I’ll be fairly vague here, but story-wise D4‘s prologue and first episode are deeply interesting and very engaging, offering an intriguing mystery with fun and rewarding twists and as a stand-alone experience one of the best mystery games I’ve ever played. The issues with D4’s story begin in the second (and final) episode. Whilst the first episode certainly created a lot of unanswered questions, it was fairly standalone. Had the game ended after episode one, I would have been not only supremely satisfied but clamouring for more just to tidy up a few threads, the big overarching questions that were set up in the prologue may not have been answered but the ones relating to that specific case had and the ones that didn’t have conclusive answers were certainly hinted at.

Episode Two did nothing to enhance the story and felt like a couple of hours of total filler. It was a linear slog through a dull environment before taking a colossal narrative nose-dive with a sudden twist ending which makes very little sense and sets the stage for a follow-up episode to clear everything up. The problem is, there is no follow up episode. D4 ends two episodes in and over four years later has no plans for continuation. While for many this may seem a total deal-breaker, for me I don’t feel continuation would have really benefited the game. It definitely peaked at its first episode (and it’s a very high peak) and with the direction the plot was taking in Episode two, I don’t feel future episodes would have ever been able to live up to the standard the first one set.

Despite not being technically a “finished game” per se,  I would wholeheartedly recommend D4 but with a big caveat. For PC make sure you buy it on sale, the £15 regular price is a little too steep for three hours of entertainment, and for XBOX ONE make sure you own a Kinect – it’s not worth buying a Kinect over but if you’re an existing owner it would give you a good reason to get some use out of the damn thing.

Mirror’s Edge – Review

Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge was certainly groundbreaking at the time of its release back in 2008; offering an extremely unique three-dimensional platforming experience which pioneered first-person parkour game-play, impacting games for years to come. However, although Mirror’s Edge may have been a breath of fresh air when it released almost 11 years ago into a market with zero first-person parkour games, does it still hold up when compared to the likes of modern parkour experiences like Titanfall and Dying Light?

Image result for mirrors edge

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that it was not game-play alone that made Mirror’s Edge so groundbreaking. Mirror’s Edge boasts an impressively unique art direction, especially for its time. For many the 2000’s is a time remembered by its countless brown and muddy looking FPSs. Mirror’s Edge however, defies this trend. Aesthetically, Mirror’s Edge is the antithesis of muddy, offering a crisp and clean pristine white cityscape dotted with the occasional vibrant primary colour. While at the time of its release its running requirements were quite taxing, it is no challenge for even the most modest of modern PCs. Setting graphics settings to the highest possible settings and selecting the very best anti-aliasing mode is definitely recommended. With everything set to max, Mirror’s Edge is nothing short of stunning and its iconic visual flair absolutely still stands out from the crowd today.

Related image

This visual style is not only beautiful but also extremely practical. The white aesthetic of the city allows for greater focus when running, yet not being so minimalist as to not allow for the occasional beautiful vista when you stop to breathe. The colour red is also extremely significant as it is rarely found natively in the world. Instead, it is used for “runner vision”, a kind of inherent intuition which colours ledges or surfaces bright red to help funnel you in the directions you need to go.

This is extremely useful, and definitely helps to reduce the number of times you will stop dead in your tracks trying to desperately work out where to go. This still happens however, and a little more often than it probably should. This is a particularly prevalent problem in the later interior missions, which involve a lot of verticality, often requiring you to make blind leaps of faith to ledges you can’t quite see. There is also the option to hold left alt to forcefully point your cone of vision in the direction of the level’s end point this however, is not as useful as it would appear. Knowing the location of the exit of a level is completely pointless when you still can’t find the ledge which will facilitate you getting there. Having your control taken away so violently also breaks immersion, I would only recommend resorting to this option if you really are massively stuck (although looking up a walk-through would be just as immersion breaking, and certainly more useful).

Mirror’s Edge is divided into levels, separated generally by cut-scenes, and levels often take place on rooftops in vastly different areas of the city. The game still manages however, to have a profound sense of geography. The city in Mirror’s Edge is cleaved in two by a river. Two extremely tall and distinctive buildings are cleverly situated at either side of this river (these can be seen in the last picture). This allows you to always gage vaguely your location in the city, and helps you piece together the journey between the previous location and your current one – which is not often shown in cut-scenes. By the end of Mirror’s Edge, you’ll probably be able to navigate the white city better than your hometown.

Mirror’s Edge also boasts a unique and very fitting score, which makes a great companion to rooftop running and helps bring the cut-scenes to life. Visually however, the cut-scenes are divisive. They have a very cartoonised hand-drawn style, and are quite contrary to the extremely clean look of the actual game-play. Personally, I am a big fan of the cut-scenes and believe that the hand-drawn look is certainly better than anything that could have been 3D animated with the technology limitations at the time.

Unfortunately, the story told by these cut-scenes is extremely lacklustre. With plain characters following a basic conspiracy type plot-line with all the predictable story beats and the obvious eventual twist.

Mirror’s Edge also feature rather pathetic combat sections. Combat in Mirror’s Edge is simply completely un-enjoyable. Whether guards manage to land a hit on you or not seems utterly random. Luckily all combat is avoidable, although due to the random nature of hit-detection your guaranteed to die at least a few times as you attempt to escape. Admittedly it was novel at first to disarm a few lightly-armed officers on a rooftop, later portions of the game which force you into tight indoor environments jam-packed with trigger happy machine-gun toting guards were anything but.

Stealth could also be considered an option, although it is so inconsistent as to be downright annoying. Guards have no cones of vision, you get too close and they become aggressive and open fire – triggering the arrival of more guards from around the level. You can allegedly disarm unsuspecting guards form behind, although I never managed this as they were always four clips into a barrage of fire by the time I got anywhere close.

The first five or so hours of Mirror’s Edge are incredible; a freedom-filled rooftop race around a stunning city. The game just becomes too bogged-down in its boring story, eventually devolving into awful combat sections and restrictive building interiors. Despite all this, for me, Mirror’s Edge definitely still holds up today. Whilst no other parkour game has managed to better it, they have managed to make its few flaws just a little bit more apparent.

Hitman: Sniper Challenge – Review

Hitman: Sniper Challenge is an unusual entry in the Hitman series, and one that many people don’t even know exists. Despite being given away as part of the many pre-order bonuses for the incredibly divisive fifth entry to the series Hitman: Absolution, I’ll save my opinions on that game for another time, Sniper Challenge is a surprisingly robust experience and certainly worth a play.

Hitman: Sniper Challenge came entirely stand alone from Hitman: Absolution. If digitally bought on Steam, it has its own little tab in your game library page (similarly it had its own icon with download purchases on consoles) and when purchased physically, came as a special disk with its own box complete with specific cover art. This not only facilitated the clean menu aesthetic found in both Hitman: Absolution and Hitman: Sniper Challenge, but also makes the whole experience feel more like its own thing instead of just feeling like a mode for Hitman: Absolution (which I suspect it would have done if merely placed on the menu of that game).

Gameplay wise, Sniper Challenge is very different from the previous entries in the series; and even very different from the game it accompanied, Hitman: Absolution. Instead of surreptitiously sneaking into secured sectors whilst donning disguises at the drop of a hat (or more accurately, the drop of a guard NPC’s body), Sniper Challenge is (as the name would suggest) focused on sniping. This gives the game a more relaxed feel, fitting of a pre-order bonus – it is, after all, just the entrée for the full game of Hitman: Absolution.

Image result for Hitman sniper challengeThe physics, which is the predominant feature of all sniping games, is very solid. Bullets have drop over distance and a fair bit of travel time. Although, not entirely realistic (this is certainly not the sniping experience of found in an ultra-realistic game like ARMA III) the arcade type feel is fun and gives shooting just enough skill to feel satisfying but not overly frustrating.

One of the key features of a Hitman game is its locations: extravagant parties, lavish buildings and bustling highly public events. In this regard, Sniper Challenge is certainly lacking. It is completely excusable, as a pre-order bonus, for the game to have one map there is, however, no reason for said map to be so boring. An annual company party in Chicago hardly compares to an international fashion show at a French Palace, an Italian vineyard turned drug factory or even the shady underbelly of Hong Kong. Still, despite its small scale, the essence of a good Hitman map is there.

The mission takes place over a rigid 15 minute timescale (counted in the bottom left of the screen) with events set to happen at certain times, such as the deployment of guards or the target taking a phone call. This allows a true Hitman fan to approach the level similarly to how they would a level in a previous game – with meticulous planning. The inclusion of a timer on the UI is also handy, in Hitman: Blood Money I’d often find myself having to jot down the times things happened on a map by pen and paper with a stop-clock.

Speaking of the mission, Hitman: Sniper Challenge has what is probably the best pre-mission briefing in the series so far. Beautifully rendered, voice acted and timed to a very fitting score; the pre-mission cut-scene gets my blood pumping every time. If you are at all a Hitman fan, and missed your opportunity to play this game on release (and don’t intend on tracking down a key on shady sites) I would completely recommend watching the cut-scene on YouTube. It perfectly encapsulates all things Hitman and is like a little love-letter to the series. Ironically, I’m sure if Hitman: Absolution had been approached in the same kind of way as Sniper Challenge it would have been far better received by series fans.

What Sniper Challenge really lacks is replayability. Yes, there are numerous easter-eggs which can be unlocked for a score modifier and a fair few number of sniper upgrades up for grabs there is little else in the way of incentive to come back for more. Despite this lack of replayability however, it’s a very nice addition to your library (certainly a must-have for any self-purporting Hitman fan) and I do still find myself occasionally booting it up for just a couple of minutes more of sniper fun.