Friday, February 9, 2018

Iconoclasts (PS4) Review

Iconoclasts is an action/adventure game in the vein of Metroid. Robin, a mechanic, just wants to fix things and make life better for people.  As the game progresses, she gets caught up in a giant battle between classes and ideologies.  However, much like the triangle motif prominently displayed in the game, the first half is a climb toward greatness, while the second half is a slide to rock bottom.

First off, though, the game looks great.  It's very colorful, enemy designs are solid, and the animations are awesome.  Some of the music is pretty good, too.

Exploring starts off fairly basic, but you learn a few new tricks along the way, and gain new abilities to make it much more intense.  Sadly there is no double jump, but Robin can use her charge shot to get a little more height on a jump.  This is a useful maneuver that is easily forgotten.  Robin's trusty wrench (spanner for those of you across the pond) will also be used many times throughout the game to open doors, hang from things, bop enemies on the head, and swing across gaps.  It took me a bit to get the timing/range for this, but after an hour or so I was traversing with it like a pro.

You will also be fighting enemies as you make your way around the world.  Robin's gun gets a few different shots, each of which can be charged, and are used for exploration as well as combat.  The basic shot also has one of the best functions I've seen in a game like this.  The shots will automatically angle at opponents that are close, but not in, one of the four cardinal directions.  This is super useful, and a great addition to the genre.

Further in the game, there are plenty of enemies that have to be taken out in specific ways.  For instance, maybe only a certain shot will work, or having to stomp on them first.  While it does add complexity, it gets annoying more than it is inventive.  Using the wrench to reflect back the occasional shot can be fun, but having to use it to parry a boss' sword attack is not.  Things like this make some boss and enemy fights too gimmicky, which readers may remember is one of my gaming dislikes.  The difficult parts are often annoying, not "challenging".

This is also true of the puzzles the game throws at you.  Some are easy to figure out, as they are simple, or look more complex than they end up being.  Some are able to be worked through, as a little trial and error will have most people figure them out.  The rest just had me stumped for minutes at a time.  There are unfortunately boss fights that are like that, too.  The game gives you a bit of information, but has no help if you are stuck.  I know that some old school gamers love that kind of thing, but I'm against too much or too little instruction.  If it isn't built in a way that someone can figure it out quickly enough, then it needs to be more clear.

All of the game's main power-ups are story-based, but there are treasures to find.  These all contain materials that are used for the game's crafting.  I'll admit that I have no idea how to get some of the treasures.  Robin can craft several different bonus skills that do things like allow an extra hit, or make the wrench attack stronger.  Up to three can be equipped at a time, and there are multiples for stacking purposes.  These bonus effects will quickly disappear when you take damage, but can be repaired as you destroy enemies and small statues.  It's a fairly nice skill system overall, even if they are overly fragile.

The story of Iconoclasts is actually pretty good.  It's a tale of oppressive religions and how cultures clash, which may lead to everyone's demise.  This story is much more of a focal point than I thought it would be.  However, it feels a little sporadic at times.  It's a lot heavier and gorier than I would have suspected, and at times a little too realistic.  Most of the characters are huge jerks that just don't learn their lesson or change their ways, much in the way many people refuse to improve themselves.  I'll give the game bonus points for letting you control other characters at a few points in the game, even if it forces you to re-learn a few basics.

Going through the game without much backtracking (or getting stuck) takes about 10 hours.  It will be a few more than that if you track down every treasure chest.  As strange as this is to say, I think the game could have been a bit shorter.  There are several times, especially near the end, where the game just throws out-of-place things at you to pad its length.  It's not The Return of the King's many endings, but more like moving the goal posts.  The first half of the game wasn't that hard, as you had time to learn boss patterns.  The second half got devilishly difficult, filled with inescapable damage, multiple hard enemies at the same time, and gimmicky boss fights.  Again, it was more annoying than hard.

I'm torn on Iconoclasts.  On one hand, the game looks awesome, and I really liked the game for awhile.  On the other, it got very annoying and the fun just disappeared.  It has some really good ideas, but also flounders on others.  If you are one of those people that still has fun while getting smacked around trying to figure out what to do, then you should play Iconoclasts.  While the game is impressive for its eight year development, I think it needs a few more tweaks to be as great as it could be.

The Good:
The art and animations of the game are wonderful, and the first half of the game is really fun.

The Bad:
The second half is loaded with annoying "difficulty", and stretched out a bit too much.

The SaHD:
Each culture having its own save statues was a nice touch.

(Review code for Iconoclasts was received from the publisher)

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