Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mechrunner (PS4) Review

Endless runners is a genre usually withheld for mobile gaming platforms that are free to play and offer many microtransactions.  There have been a few released on consoles, even ones that are sold as complete games.  Mechrunner is one of the latter, and you... play as a transforming mech?!


When you start out, you get no real explanation of what's going on.  Just start the game and you're in.  Well, I'd recommend looking at the controls first.  There is a backstory to the game, you just have to play far enough to buy/unlock the movies that explain it.  It's a weird decision, since I would like some context for this game world, but I'm sure many people just want to jump into the action.

As most endless runners do, you mostly move forward, making your way down the war-torn streets, destroying enemies and rescuing civilians (except that poor dude at the start).  When you do encounter an enemy, you stop moving forward and the view zooms.  If you are hit by either enemy attacks or obstructions in the environment, you will take damage.  If you run out of health, it's game over.

You can either be the mech or tank form, and the Triangle button switches between them on the fly.  The mech has melee blades that can cut up enemies, and a gun that you can aim.  Unfortunately, you can only aim while shooting and for a bit afterwards.  It would be much easier if you could aim before hand, so you wouldn't have to waste shots.  Even though you have infinite ammo, the mech's guns overheat as you shoot them, and have to recharge.  It's actually a pretty big pain, simply because its guns aren't very accurate or strong, and just about every enemy is outside of the sword's range.

The tank, on the other hand, is far better.  It can shoot missiles and its dual cannons.  These can't be aimed manually, but the missiles have some tracking ability and it isn't really a problem.  Plus, they don't overheat, so you can spam the triggers the whole time, which is stupidly effective.  Once I quickly figured out the stay in tank mode 95% of the time, the game got much better, and easier.  The only time I change to mech mode is to finish off a stunned target after a battle, since you get more protoenergy (currency) for doing so.  Oh, and to slowly work toward the associated trophies.  You can also hold the tank's shots to charge them up, but I didn't really need to, nor see much reason to, since spamming the shot kills things rather quickly.

There are some random pick-ups scattered through the game, which you can use when you want (you can only hold so many, though).  They are all pretty useful.  There's a healing one, that you have to actually activate.  I didn't know this for awhile, and thought they would replenish some health when you pick them up.  There's one that makes your missiles stronger (I think).  It's a bomb icon, so I thought it gave you a screen clearing attack or something, which would have been cool.  The last one is the shield, which will protect you from damage for a short time.  This is invaluable.  It not only makes difficulty enemies trivial, it helps with some of the cheap hits you get when the endless running speeds up.

Killing enemies and gathering the protoenergy will give you experience and money.  As your level increases, you can buy new upgrades, skins and areas to explore.  Most of the unlockables require the protoenergy, so you will be grinding a lot to get the amounts you need, and to reach the required level.  At least that helps work toward many of the trophies.  Strangely, the movies that explain the story of the game are in the upgrade shop, offering you a small glimpse every 10 or so levels.

There are a few problems I have with the game, though some are minor.  One, you can only pick up civilians in the tank.  Sure, I quickly realized this when it didn't work when I was the mech, but it would have been nice to be told, or have that loading screen tip come up way sooner.  As mentioned earlier, the mech form is almost useless because the tank is so much better.  Plus, having the shooting on the triggers makes sense, but gets to be a real pain if you play for too long.  Spamming them to shoot fast makes the game easier, but cramps your hands after a bit.  I would think an arcade stick would be great for the game, except for needing the right stick the few times you might need the mech's guns, and having to need both the d-pad and the right stick for the menu and moving respectively.  As for mashing the triggers a lot, a turbo controller fixes that right up.  (I won't tell if you won't.)

Being an endless runner, you don't really "beat" the game, as it just keeps going.  There are different areas that you can unlock, but you transition to them during your run, as opposed to being an actual different stage.  It's a pretty neat effect, but having it as different actual stages would have been cool too.  Hit detection for your tank/mech seems a bit off most times as well, which really shows when things speed up.  My biggest problem is the many cheap hits the game has.  As an example, there are many times where something drops in the only place you can go to avoid an obstacle, which means you have to take damage.  Also if an enemy is behind an obstruction and stunned, closing in to slice it up will damage you.  Yuck.

Overall, Mechrunner was pretty fun.  I'm glad the game isn't a free-to-play microtransaction trap, but instead a low priced release.  It's good for a pick up and play game for a few minutes at time, but you might cramp up your hands playing it too long.  It could use a bit more polish, but it was definitely worth the several hours I put into it.

The Good:
Cool mech design, easy to pick up and play.

The Bad:
Mech is nowhere near as good as the tank, spotty hit detection, cheap shots, and can cramp your hands after awhile.

The SaHD:
Can some make an actual transforming toy of the mech in the game?  Maybe on Shapeways?  I'd love to get one.

(Review code for Mechrunner was provided by the publisher)

Friday, April 21, 2017

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (PC/Steam) Review

PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness came out last fall for the Vita, and is now available on Steam for PC fans to enjoy.  It is a visual novel set in an alternate Japan in the year 2112.  There is a computer system called Sybil, which dictates what your future path should be.  Everyone's feelings are quantified, and those with "clouded hue" can be deemed dangerous.  It's used as an indicator for criminals, and Division 1 is tasked with dealing with them.  To do so, they use a special gun called the Dominator.  It can either subdue a target, if their hue isn't too clouded, or, if they are beyond redemption, blast them into tiny bits.  "I am the law" indeed.

As you go through the game, you follow your chosen protagonist (either Tsurugi or Nadeshiko), and together with the rest of CID Division 1, solve some crimes.  From their perspectives, the crimes start out as unrelated, but quickly coalesce into an over-arching story that is pretty enjoyable.  Admittedly, I'd like a little more closure to one of the game's bigger mysteries, but it may be tied into a future game or even the TV show (that I still sadly haven't seen).

At many points throughout the game, there are choices to make, which will affect some of how the story plays out.  The game is great at showing you when the paths diverge, but it's not always obvious how or why certain choices would affect it.  Your choices will also affect a scene in the middle of the game where you get to know one of your colleges better, and the ending.  As noted in my review of the Vita version, my first ending felt very abrupt and out of nowhere, and felt more like an extra scene than an ending to the game.  Still, much of the story plays out similar regardless of choices.  However, there is also a mini-game to play, which lets you earn points to unlock things in the gallery and other bonuses.  It's a pretty fun mini-game, but you will have to get really good at it to get enough points to unlock everything, as the total cost is way too high.

As a visual novel, the controls shouldn't make much of a difference.  The keyboard works, but the controls felt really off, and it took me a few tries to figure out where the menu was.  It's on the "1" key, which, in my limited PC gaming experience, is kinda weird.  Once I found that, I was able to look at the keybindings.  I left them on default, which is ok once I knew where everything was mapped.  To me, the mouse is the best, as left click advances text or makes a choice, while right clicking is the menu.  Pretty much everything you would need is right there.  Plus, you can click the on-screen buttons if you wanted to set the text to auto (which advances for you when the spoken dialogue reaches the end of the line).  The Xbox 360 controller works just fine as well, if you prefer that.

PSYCHO-PASS is a fairly engaging visual novel that takes around 5-6 hours for a first run.  The two main protagonists and the branching paths give good replayability, although I wish some choices were clearer in what it affected.  I imagine the system requirements aren't too high, but the game ran perfectly fine on my i7.  Loaded quickly, too.  I'd recommend the game to any crime drama fans, as the story is well written, and the world is pretty interesting.

The Good:
Good story, lots of choices, and many ending scenes.

The Bad:
How the route changes is rarely apparent.

The SaHD:
I'm glad the real life (non-killing) Dominator sold out so I wasn't tempted to get one.  Not like I could afford it, though...

(Review code for PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness was provided by the publisher)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Torment: Tides of Numenera (PS4) Review

Torment: Tides of Numenera has come to consoles after a very successful Kickstarter for its PC release a few months ago.  It harkens back to the old PC RPGs of years ago, where atmosphere and characters were top billing.  In contrast to most games nowadays, you can talk yourself out of most situations, and rarely have to resort to combat...unless you want to.

The game starts off with some voiced lines that sets up what is happening and helps set up your character with a personality quiz, or something like it.  I found this bit confusing, as I was trying to sort out what this world is, and it wasn't coming together for me.  There is then a brief tutorial before the game properly starts, and that was the point where I started to "get" the backstory.  I honestly felt the game could have started there, then went into the other parts, but I'm sure there are others who are fine with how the game starts.

The idea of the game is neat and unique.  There is an entity called the Changing God, who, in an effort to continuously gain knowledge and also escape a powerful being called Sorrow, creates a new body every 10-20 years, and transfers into it.  This leaves behind the old body, which is then filled with a new soul.  These "castoffs" are known throughout the world by their telltale scar, and this is the character you play as.  You have no real past of your own, except for whatever trouble the Changing God caused in your body, plus memory fragments of previous bodies.

The game has a lot of reading.  In fact, that is an understatement.  It has a near insane amount of text, as first encounters don't just name a person, but describe them in a Robert Jordan kind of way.  By contrast, few lines have voices.  Most interactions have a lot of extra text that sets the tone and scene, describing actions to make things seem more alive.  It's pulled off really well, even if there are a lot of complexities that are almost too much to digest.

Here's an example.  A character you meet is an alien with intricate mechanical arms.  He is studying the mating habits of other creatures because they differ so much from that of his race.  To reproduce, they cut off a limb, which will grow into a new person.  Which part is cut off determines what the person does.  Legs make laborers, arms make more thoughtful people, and the head makes leaders, because of the obvious sacrifice.  Regrowing or replacing a limb is seen as offensive to your offspring, and is frowned upon in their society.  When this particular guy accidentally ended up with mechanical arms, he was exiled from his society.

I should now note that this isn't even a party member.  This is some NPC that you interact with for about 2 minutes.  That is a crazy amount of thought and effort put into something so small, but it really makes the game deeper and more realistic.  It's easy to get absorbed into as you read everything.  It's also easy to spend a ton of time and not really go anywhere...I spend almost 20 hours in the first town alone!  It wasn't all from the loading screens.  They were frequent, and were on the long side, but still not as bad as some other recent titles.

The core system of the game is Effort.  To do something, you must expend your stats.  You want to break something?  Use some of your Might to do so.  Want to catch a fast moving object?  Spend some Speed.  The more points you use, the higher the success percent.  There is a definite balance between using more Effort to guarantee success, and leaving some to use for the next choice.  There are items to restore stat points, and sleeping will also recharge you.  However, sleeping too much can advance some quests, simply because you were taking too long to do it.  Plus, money is pretty hard to come by, especially early on, so you might go broke if you have to spend a few days at the inn.

I actually really like the Effort system, mostly because you can see the percent chance of success, and with multiple party members, you can alternate who spends the points.  Effort also extends to combat, where expending more increases accuracy and damage done.  Plus, you spend the stat relevant to your weapon type.  Speed for light weapons, Might for heavy, and etc.  Once you understand the basics, it works well.

Of course, as alluded to earlier, you barely have to fight in the game if you don't want to.  Many quests have multiple outcomes, which can be brought about by talking, convincing, lying, or maybe even stealing.  I'll give you an example.  In one quest, you meet a trio of ancient builder robots that cannot move, but can talk and think.  So, they help direct people in building and renovating the city above and around them.  One of them is having a bit of an existential crisis and wants to produce offspring.  It has failed several times, but the only way to succeed will ultimately kill this intelligent, ancient and rare being.  Do you help it, or convince it to live instead?  I choose to help it, and it created several robo-babies that scampered about.  You could round them up, or let them run free.  I let them out into the world.  However, there is one that didn't work out.  You can leave it, but I chose to take it with me.  Never would I have thought that an item I would receive in a video game would be a stillborn robot baby, but here we are.

While fighting and finishing quests can give you big chunks of experience, a lot of things in the game give little bits.  Reading things, or learning about people can provide small boosts toward your next level, or should I say Tier?  Instead of a more traditional set-up, your characters will advance toward the next tier, which requires 4 advancements.  At each advancement (level up, basically), you can choose one thing to improve, from a list of four or five.  However, each can only be taken once each tier, so you can't load your characters up with stats or skills, and then do the other later.  The things you can choose from are: increase a stat, increase edge (which basically gives you a free stat point toward effort checks), extra effort (can expend an extra point to increase success %), improved ability (give you a new ability to use), and improved skill (can improve a passive skill).  Several of these are useful, so it's best to think about what you want from your characters when deciding.  I especially like edge, as it helps stretch out your stat points.

One last thing I want to mention is the "tides" system for your character's personality.  Well, I think that's what it's for, the game didn't really explain it.  As you choose responses to the many, many text options, your tides will shift toward different colors.  I would think this effects how others see you, but I'm not really sure.  I only caught on that they are supposed to represent your personality from a random loading screen hint.  Your character screen shows your dominant tides, but you have to use the touch pad to see more detail, then scroll down in the appropriate tab to actually see what those colors represent.  I would have liked a more detailed (and easy to access) explanation, or even just knowing which responses might trigger the shifts, because they don't all fit with their descriptions.  If it doesn't actually affect the game, I'd at least like to know that, too.

The developers tout not being able to see everything in one run of the game, and I believe it.  There are lots of little choices and alternate outcomes to quests that add up throughout the playthrough that I see good reasons to go through the game a second time.  Plus, you could try another character class, or different skills.  Trophies are sometimes awarded for competing quest outcomes, and it is very easy to miss a good chunk of them if you aren't following a guide.

So, Torment: Tides of Numenera is an engaging and deep game to eat up your free time.  It won't be for everyone, but if you are the type to get completely engrossed in a game and its lore, this is definitely a game you owe it to yourself to play.  It's fun, unique, and offers good replay.  It controls well on consoles, too, so pick it up on your platform of choice.

The Good:
Lengthy, deep, old school RPG that can suck you in for hours.  Effort system is a refreshing new way for skill checks and combat.

The Bad:
Might be more text than you can handle.

The SaHD:
"I haven't had this much fun, since...the last time!"

(Review code for Torment was provided by the publisher)