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)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2 (Xbox One) Review

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance joins a long and growing list of games being tweaked to release on current generation platforms.  With each offering being a hit or miss, where does Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 fall?

Before we look at how the games have translated to the newer systems, let's look at how they play as games.  Both games are action RPGs that play from an isometric point of view.  You play as a team of four heroes (or villains!), attacking and using your super powers to fight off various enemies.  You control one character at a time while the AI handles the rest.  You can jump (some characters can fly), pick up and throw objects, and in general, cause a lot of mayhem in your quest to save the day.  The games are fairly linear, moving you from one location to the next as the story dictates.

Both games play largely the same, but Ultimate Alliance 2 adds team up special moves and healing items.  The healing items are self-explanatory, although it can be tough to know who to heal since it only shows your current character's HP.  The team up moves are pretty cool, coming in several flavors (aimed, AoE, etc.) and differing depending on which characters you team up for the attack.

Combat is pretty fun, but there are a few minor quibbles I have with the game.  In the first Ultimate Alliance, it can be hard to keep track of your character.  There are times when there are swarms of enemies, explosion effects, and even parts of the environment clogging your view.  Even with the colored ring at your character's feet, it can be very easy to lose yourself.  Plus, with no healing items it is a huge pain to resurrect fallen allies, as you have to wait out a timer and retrieve them from a save point, or reach a save point and swap them out.  It's kind of a bummer when you have characters you want to use, but can't since they are still injured.

The second game's problem is more the interface.  Switching character is still on the d-pad, but their position shifts on-screen when you switch.  It doesn't actually change which direction you press, but there is a disconnect with the direction their portrait is displayed versus the direction you select them with.  I don't have this problem in the first game.  To heal or use a team-up move, you hold a button and then press another to choose who to use it on/team up with.  The problem is the button is displayed over the character, not their portrait, so it is really hard to make out which button to press when it is displayed as a tiny picture over the head of a moving character.  These aren't game-breaking, but they can be really annoying.

The Xbox One and PS4 versions are smoother than their last-gen counterparts.  Beyond that, there isn't much extra flair added to the visuals.  The pre-rendered cutscenes look the same as they were before.  Character models, areas and visual effects don't appear to be beefed up in any way besides looking smoother.  Both games ran really well with no hangups, even after playing several hours in a row.  So while they haven't been changed in any significant way, at least they run really well.

Both games each offer 12-15 hours of content, with multiple characters to use and unlock.  You can play them with others online and off.  Couch co-op players will all need to sign in, which can be a pain.  That's mostly a symptom of current gaming rather than the game, though.  Also, since the game is several years old, keeping all characters on the same screen feels a bit more restrictive than something like Diablo 3.  Strangely, the Ultimate Alliance 1 DLC is not included, but it is for Ultimate Alliance 2.  Activision has confirmed that a patch will be en route fix this, which I am hoping comes soon.  I really want to use Venom and Doom in the first game!

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2 are still fun games, whether you play by yourself or with friends.  Gameplay and content hold up well to current games.  Visually, they aren't much different from their previous gen counterparts, which is a bit of a shame, considering the price tag.  If you have played them before and would like to go through them again, or are now interested in trying them out, both games hold up well and are worth playing, but maybe not at the current price.  Digital copies of the games for the previous generation of systems have been much cheaper in the past, making the pricing on this release a bit on the high side.

The Good:
The games are still really fun and have some good character choices.

The Bad:
The games look slightly better, but that's about it.  No other real changes.

The SaHD:
I'd really like to know how they missed the first game's DLC coming with it.  The version on the 360 marketplace has it in.  Did they not use that file?

(Review code for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Bundle was provided by the publisher)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ben 10 Alien Force: The Rise of Hex (Xbox 360) Review

Ben 10 was always a concept I liked, but thought would work even better as a video game.  While looking through my backlog of games to play, I finally set on trying out Ben 10 Alien Force: The Rise of Hex, which I had acquired years ago.

Being a downloadable TV show tie-in game, I have to admit my expectations were lowered.  The game is a fairly simple action-platformer, where you can change into various alien forms as you unlock them.  Ben has health denoted by green bars at the top of the screen, and energy denoted by yellow bars underneath that.  Pressing the right trigger will bring up the wheel that shows your alien forms, and allows you to choose one.  Each alien has special abilities.  Unfortunately, they seem mapped to either the Y Button, B Button, or Right Bumper.  Sometimes you can use more than one of the buttons for different abilities.  It's kind of a mess.

The game starts off fairly easy, but definitely gets harder as you go.  Most of the difficulty is the spotty hit detection, clunky combat and inaccurate platforming.  Yes, that is pretty much most of the game.  Invincibility time after taking damage seems short, and there are times when I'm not even sure the enemy is taking damage, even if it looks like they might be.  It's also way too easy for enemies with projectiles to hit you because Ben's hit box is bigger than each of his forms.  It does change based off the form, which is at least a plus.

It just feels like a lot of the difficulty is just the cheap damage.  Ben has no real defensive moves, so you are stuck killing an enemy in your way, or trying to avoid them.  You will get damaged by even touching an enemy, as if the game was made back in the 80s, which makes running around them less appealing than it should be.  Many times there were instances where it felt like the game was requiring me to take damage to proceed.

Jumping from platform to platform was also hit or miss, as many times throughout the game I would attempt jumps that the game needs you to make, only to have them not work over half the time.  I imagine most of these instances again stem from the larger than the model hitboxes getting stuck on parts of the environment.  Many of these areas also had instant death pits or spikes just for good measure.  Oh, did I mention that there are some spikes that are instant death and some that just damage you?  Yup, consistency is definitely not an alien Ben can use.

There are 15 stages in the game, plus three boss fights.  Each stage lasts from about 5 to 15 minutes.  It is possible to take some extra time if you get stuck in a stage, which admittedly happened to me once or twice.  Dying on a non-boss stage sends you back a bit, so it's more an inconvenience than a punishment.  This actually helps balance out the bad aspects of the game, so I'm okay with it.  The boss fights are probably the hardest parts of the game, since you have to do them all in one go.  Figuring out exactly what to do is more annoying that it would seem, and can easily cause you a few extra attempts to figure out what silly thing the game isn't communicating to you.

Besides the main game, there is a survival mode and a time attack mode.  Survival pits you against endless enemies to see how long you can last.  Harder enemies spawn the longer you last, but there is only one stage for it.  It also has instant death pits, which feels counter-intuitive to the survival idea.  It's an okay addition, but doesn't offer more than a few minutes of extra content.  The time attack mode is just the story mode again, but you can post your completion times to the leaderboard.  Again, not really substantial content.  The biggest reason to replay the game or the other modes is to get the game's achievements, which of course varies in importance person to person.

I still think the concept of Ben 10 would make a great game.  The Rise of Hex just isn't it.  Sure, I could cut it some slack since it is a licensed downloadable game, but much of the core elements of the game just don't work right, which is a big negative to any game.  It might appeal to fans of the show, but I imagine that it might be too hard for some younger fans.  I wouldn't recommend this for people like me that haven't really seen the show, as it will probably give you a bad impression of it.  Maybe it's for the best that the game was de-listed from the Xbox Marketplace.

The Good:
Solving some puzzles by switching alien forms quickly (or mid-air) is pretty cool.

The Bad:
Wonky hit detection and combat, plus the platforming doesn't always seem to work.

The SaHD:
I think having more than 3 songs in the entire game would have been a step in the right direction.

(Ben 10 Alien Force: The Rise of Hex was obtained for free on the Xbox Marketplace.  It has since been delisted)