Sunday, August 28, 2016

Deadlight (Xbox 360) Review

I decided to take a look at Deadlight, one of the many games that has been given away during the Games with Gold promotion on Xbox.  Deadlight is a 2-D side-scrolling action platformer set against a zombie apocalypse.  Hey, it's also set in Seattle!  Neat!

Well, ostensibly the game is set there.  It really doesn't look super accurate, or much different from other big cities, but it gets the point across.  Even so, I really like the presentation of the game.  It is somewhat stylized in the actual game, and the story scenes are like motion comics.  Pretty much all of the lines are voices, and the voice acting is solid.  I actually didn't expect that.

The platforming in the game is workable, but not as responsive as it needs to be.  There is a run command that is necessary for many of the jumps.  However, it takes a second after you run while holding it for the running to actually kick in.  This might be fine, but there are many times where you have to do this on a small platform with just barely enough space to pull it off.  The character's jump isn't always as high as it seems, making some jumps much more of a pain than they should be.  Couple that with the fact that he won't always grab ledges that he is supposed to, and you have a recipe for annoyance.

You also get a wall jump.  It would be useful, but I just can't get it to respond half the time.  I do it exactly as instructed, but sometimes it just won't respond, and you just fall down and have to start again.  Another thing that bothers me is how well foreground and background objects can blend together.  There were a few times that I was sure something was a ledge, only to have it not be, sending my character plummeting to their death.  There were other times I though something was part of the background, only to have it actually be something I could stand on to proceed.

So is the combat any better?  Not really.  Melee combat (with a fire axe!) starts off passable, but is much worse when you are allowed to do it again further in the game.  Enemies just take too many hits to die, and when multiple are sent at you, it is that much worse.  Sometimes you won't even hit them if they are too close.  Each swing of the axe takes some of your stamina, so you have to be careful.  You can't do many swings before having to rest, so fighting more than 2 zombies at a time is, like many things in this game, more annoying than it should be.  If a zombie grabs you, you can mash a button to get out, but others can take cheap shots at you while you are escaping, so you can lose the health regardless.

Shooting in the game is much better than melee combat.  Ammo is fairly limited, but you can use the guns to quickly clear out zombies in your path.  I tried to only use the gun on enemies in my way, and I had enough shots when I needed them.  Just aim for as many headshots as you can, and you should do fine.

As for difficulty, the game just loves to kill you in cheap ways.  It didn't really happen at all to me in the first half hour or so, but then the game kicked it in to high gear.  Plenty of spike traps, pits and other instant kill nonsense made me wonder why they even bothered with a health bar.  Many times I would die while trying to figure out where to go (either the aforementioned foreground/background problem or getting swarmed by zombies).  The developers also threw in some running sections where you have to stay ahead of some catastrophe or another, otherwise you die.  While solid in concept, the flawed platforming just turned these into rage sections.  Now that I think about it, even though the concept is solid, I'd like it if all games stopped trying to do these sections...they just aren't fun.

Overall, the game would take about 3 hours to beat.  However, the frequent deaths and then reloading the game extends that time frame considerably.  There are collectibles to find if you want, but most of them are easy to find, or right in your path.  Other than than, there are three Tiger-like handheld games you can find and unlock.  It's a neat throwback to people old enough to remember them, but they only offer a few minutes of distraction.

Deadlight was a game that I didn't know much about before I played it.  That was for the best, since even then, the game was pretty disappointing.  The visual style of the game is the best part, but the inconsistent platforming, ineffective melee combat and cheap deaths drag the game down into the sewers.  Maybe they can dodge The Rat's traps while they are there.  It starts off fine, but quickly gets worse, which is not good, even for a short game such as this.

The Good:
The visuals and comic book-like story panels are great.

The Bad:
Sadly, the core of the game (platforming and combat) just aren't very good.

The SaHD:
I feel like the Remastered edition on the current gen systems won't actually fix any of the issues with the game.  If it doesn't, there was no reason to "remaster" it.

(Deadlight was obtained with the Games with Gold promotion)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Caladrius Blaze (PS4) Review

Caladrius Blaze (English website link) recently released on PS4.  After seeing it was a shmup (shoot-em-up), one of my favorite genres, I had to try and review the game.  The game is a vertical shmup, meaning the screen scrolls up and down.  Yes, this works better in arcades, since screen dimensions are different, but plays just fine on a normal TV.  Here, the side bars are used with the "shame break" system discussed below.  You move your ship around and shoot at enemies while making your way through the game.  There are also limited-use screen clearing bombs to get you out of tight spots, or to add extra damage to bosses.  The biggest unique element of this game, though, is the elemental shot system.

Each of the 8 different ships gets three different alternate abilities, designated by type: attack, support and defense.  Attack element shots are either strong shots or spread shots (usually the opposite of what the character's default shot is).  Support shots tend to hit set areas of the screen or do something else unique.  Also, some of them can be changed by ship position or how you are moving when you use it.  Defense shots are probably my favorite, since they shield your ship from enemy shots.  There are separate meters for each at the bottom of the screen, and using one will drain the meter a bit.  The meter fills over time, based on the character's stats, or by picking up a crystal item during the stages.

Each character has a different element, which is reflected in their elemental shots.  I don't know if enemies are particularly vulnerable to any specific elements, but it does help differentiate them from each other.  Killing enemies with the special shots will eventually drop an elemental chip.  Collecting enough chips will reward you with an upgrade point between stages.  You are free to choose which elemental shots you upgrade, which is pretty cool.  Every few levels, the look of the shot will change to reflect its more powerful state.

The main mode is story mode, which has three different options in it: Original, Evolution and Arcade.  The only real differences between them is the number of stages, as one only has 5, where another has 6 plus the two extra stages, and the third is in-between.  Plus, the special attack (pressing all three elemental shots at the same time when your gauges are over 50%) slightly differs in each mode, too.  The main stages are straightforward, fight through the enemies and then beat the boss after some dialogue (yes, there is actual plot!)  One of the extra stages tasks you with trying not to let enemies leave the bottom of the screen, and the other requires you to destroy certain enemies before they leave the top.  Stage bosses each have three phases, where they change up their attacks.

If you perform well enough, or end each phase with an elemental shot/bomb (I'm not sure which, as it seemed either worked), you will destroy some of a boss pilot's clothing.  These are called "shame breaks", and award extra points plus an image of the character.  Whenever your character loses a life, some of their clothes are also ripped.  The portrait of each pilot in their current state is shown on the border of the screen, which can actually be used to approximate how many lives you have left without looking in the upper corner.  The whole system seems like some fan service throw in to the game.  I don't mind it, but it does feel a bit unnecessary.  Although, it is funny to see Lilith not care at all that her clothing is getting evaporated (as the embodiment of hatred, she is kind of weird).

Each run through story mode takes about 30 minutes per character, depending on which story mode type you choose.  I found Caladrius Blaze to be harder than other shmups I've played, and I only had it on the normal setting.  It's possible I am really bad at it, or just off my game, but I died a lot.  It was a little embarrassing.  I'm not sure that all shot patterns can be evaded, or maybe shots traveled quicker than I am used to in these types of games.  Slower ships where much more difficult to use, but I suspect all of this is because of how good the defense elemental shot is.  Thankfully you get infinite continues in the story mode, and each death gives you another bomb.  This is good since bombs are per continue, not per life.  Even so, I was able to persevere through each story mode type.  2 player co-op is also present in the game, in case you have a friend that wants to help out.

Besides story mode, there is an unlockable Boss Rush mode, which does not give continues.  There is also a score attack mode, which is a great way to practice a particular stage, try out a new configuration, or try for a trophy.  Most trophies aren't hard, but a few are for experts only.  Pictures seen during the game are also added to the gallery.  I'm not sure it always works, however, since there are some pictures I should have, but aren't unlocked.  The best unlockable in the game is the customize option.  Beating the game with a character allows you to swap out any of their elemental shots with any other elemental shot from another character you have completed the story with.  Theses aren't restricted by type, so go wild and create your best character!

While Caladrius Blaze feels harder than other shmups I've played in recent times, it is still a genre I enjoy and I had lots of fun playing the game.  8 different ships with different shot patterns and elemental shots, plus three different story modes and some nice unlockables make this a definite play for shmup fans!

The Good:
Elemental shots are a great unique addition to the shmup formula.

The Bad:
Either the game is harder than the typical shmup I play, or I'm not good at the game.

The SaHD:
Before playing around with remapping the controls, I had a claw hand for using the support shot quickly.

(Review code for Caladrius Blaze was provided by the publisher, H2 Interactive Co, Ltd.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

We Happy Few (Xbox One) Game Preview

We Happy Few had a very attention-grabbing trailer at E3 that appropriately sets the stage for this first-person procedurally generated game.  The game starts off the same as that trailer, where the player character decides not to take his Joy, a happy-making medicine.  After that he escapes the authorities, and wakes up in an underground safehouse.

That's it for the story, so far, as the game is still in alpha.  A screen of text at the start of the game warns about this, so it wasn't a surprise.  It also notes a few other things, like that certain things might not work, or that the game might crash.  Fun!

I have had some of the stuff not work.  I didn't have a main quest the first time I played, which made the opening minutes much more aimless.  I just pretty much walked around and grabbed items.  I wasn't sure what else to do.

Luckily, I came upon some sidequests after about 20 minutes.  These, too are randomly placed in the world.  One tasked me with repairing the valve on a water pump.  Once I did it, the nearby people attacked me.  I'm really not sure why.

This was my introduction into the game's combat.  You attack with the Right Trigger, and each attack takes stamina.  The Left Trigger allows you to block, and you can even parry with correct timing.  Thankfully the enemies attacked one at a time so I could figure out what I was doing, and it is strangely satisfying to stab them with a long stick.  I was victorious, but not unscathed.

A few times I had to eat some food because my hunger was low, and at one point I had to sleep.  Finding a bed was a lot harder than I would have thought.  I couldn't get back into my safehouse (another bug), so I looked around until I found another bed.  The person who owned it wasn't too happy with me, and this started another fight.  Being critically wounded from some trapped treasure chests, I was quickly put down.

That was the end of my first foray into the game.  Since I had accidentally left the "permadeath" box checked when starting up (I didn't see it was an option until I had already hit "ok"), I had to start again.  This time, I had a main quest, and was allowed back into the safehouse.  I also turned off permadeath.

Items you find around the world can be weapons, food, or ingredients for crafting.  The menus aren't the most intuitive, but I was able to craft a few things and figure out where various things were, like my inventory and the quest log.  Your inventory is made of connected boxes, like the first Diablo game.  It is expandable, but I'm not sure yet how.  You can also somehow gain another weapon slot.

What there is of We Happy Few is promising.  The unique and stylized world stands out from the crowd, and the random nature of the world and quests should give a lot of replay value.  My only real complaint is how little they tell you at the start, and how aimless the game can be.  Other than that, I am looking forward to trying out the game when it is finished.

The Good:
Lots of replayability in a unique world.

The Bad:
The game is very much still in alpha.

The SaHD:
You can sneak around, but it seemed like everybody could easily see me.

(Early access code for We Happy Few was provided by the publisher)