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XIII (2020) Review – Lucky Number

XIII (2020) Review – Lucky Number

“Corrupted by the darkness, now you fall into an endless sleep.”


I don’t even know where to start. You already know. I already know. It hasn’t been a month and already, this is a title that’s going to dominate the Steam Bottom 100. Is it going to take over Flatout 3? It’s looking likely, and it’s more than deserved. This isn’t just a bad game, this isn’t just something that’s been hyped up to a boiling point like Ride To Hell. Folks, I give you the 2020 remake of XIII.


XIII was an FPS from 2003, developed by the now-defunct Southend Interactive and Ubisoft Paris. The game was an adaptation of a Belgian comic from the 80s, chronicling the adventures of one Steve Rowland, also dubbed “XIII”, stuck in the middle of a major government conspiracy. Not only does it involve him as the killer, but it also involves the entirety of the US superpower.


An in-engine screenshot of the XIII remake, showcasing the player fighting against enemies with dual-wield pistols.


See, it wasn’t just a generic shooter campaign with splashes of James Bond thrown over it. This had charm, pizzazz, intrigue, a well-thought-out spaghetti junction of twists and tricks, and it had Adam Fuckin’ West. All of it topped with the jazziest soundtrack this side of Jet Set Radio, and an aesthetic which, to this day remains completely unique. Still, this is all retrospective now. XIII didn’t exactly set the world afire, even though it had every right to, and to this day the cliffhanger of the game has yet to be resolved, even in the graphic novel.


This was an issue the remake could’ve potentially fixed, but as warning signs began to emerge, the build-up to XIII (2020) was like watching someone fall in slow motion. You had to pray that their parachute was going to work, pray that they were going to stick the landing. A trailer showing off the new look? Where’s the cel-shading? Where’s the comic book style characters and world? Pre-order DLC? We’re reaching terminal velocity here. 1,000 feet and counting. Cut to November 10th, and… they’re dead. They’re just straight-up dead.


XIII (2020) isn’t just a travesty of FPS design, this is a mockery of everything that Southend and Ubisoft built up from the original vision. There’s no style, no grace, funny faces, and absolutely none of it is enjoyable. From the moment you begin to actually play this thing, you begin to quickly realize that this is far more different than any other title that reaches such a legendarily awful status.



Take the Brighton Beach opening, for example. In the original, a rather attractive lifeguard finds you on the beach, patches you up the best she can, before she is immediately killed by assassins looking to end your life as well. The “RA-TA-TA” of the bullets, the crunchy smashing of the windows, the entire set piece was a showcase of everything XIII (2003) aspired to be: A comic book come to life.



Here, the attractive lifeguard looks like a Fortnite model made for GMod RP sessions, and the visible onomatopoeia and heavy cel-shaded graphics have been reduced significantly. In fact, it looks more like a Fortnite map than it does a remake of one of the most stylized shooters of all time, what is this? Are we chasing current trends? Why didn’t you just make the game into a battle royale?


If the excuse for reducing the comic book style integrations was so it didn’t clutter the screen, XIII (2003) never had this issue, and even if it was, it was a strength more than anything. The way the screen would shake during explosive fights, the cut-ins of a throwing knife piercing an enemy skull panel by panel, the panels showing a man atop a cliff falling to his death after being shot? This was all rewarding more than it was intrusive.


Now, there’s no reward. Enemy deaths are now awkward rag-dolls, never reacting realistically to their cause of death. It makes Half-Life 2′s Combine soldiers dying look like Pixar. When you hit someone over the head with a broom, or glass ashtray in XIII (2020), you imagine a comic-book explosion, a “BANG!” punctuating it. Instead, the NPC stays still for a second or two, then they register a devastating blow to the head and fall down. It’s like the broom has dial-up.


An in-engine screenshot of the XIII remake, showcasing the player character hiding behind two enemies with a throwing knife.


Gunplay has also been downgraded, morphing into a nebulous shooting gallery akin to the Bulletstorm joke Duty Calls. Iron sights aiming has been added, along with an extremely limited weapon wheel that’ll only let you have one of each weapon category. If this were a less demanding shooter, this wouldn’t be a problem, but a couple of issues crop up.


For one, the iron sights haven’t been tweaked properly, with all of the guns having next to no recoil when you aim down the sights. This makes gunfights an obviously intense match of laser pointing, lacking weight and precision, mostly due to how awfully the game controls. Steve Rowland aims his guns like he slept the night before with his arm hanging off the bed, numb as he attempts to slowly train his sights over an enemy’s noggin’.


XIII (2020) also hosts one of the worst shotguns ever put into a video game. It holds 5 shells, may not reload properly, is extremely stiff when it comes to the fire rate, and is about as accurate as historical events in Call of Duty. If you hit a shot on someone, however, be prepared for it to do absolutely nothing, since one-hit kills only ever seem to register with clear headshots. It makes DOOM 3‘s shotgun look like the VK-12.


An in-engine screenshot of the XIII remake, showcasing a firefight in cargo storage.


As for the weapon wheel, why do the M60, Harpoon, Sniper Rifle, and Bazooka take up the same weapon slot on the wheel? When it comes to the 9mm and .44 Magnum taking the same slot, it makes sense, but there are moments where a Sniper Rifle and Bazooka are both necessary in the same firefight. Forcing the player to choose a single weapon for each slot seems like an artificial difficulty cap, especially when the original title retained a difficulty curve with such a large arsenal.


Speaking of difficulties, this review is based upon a playthrough on the hardest difficulty, dubbed “XIII”, doubling down on muscle memory only to find out it isn’t necessary. Not only is the gunplay insultingly simple, but the A.I has also went through several lobotomies over at Plain Rock. The strategy the A.I possesses isn’t exactly mind-bending either, resorting to a tried-and-tested method of missing the first few shots, then hitting you with a flurry of headshots.


A stealth option is viable, but that’s only because the A.I is so fucking stupid, they won’t notice you walking up to them. You could come in, strapped with an M60 and blowing nearby soldiers to bloody pieces, and they’ll still need a second to register the dead body before attacking. They may not even register it at all, because they’re too busy registering a bullet they heard 10 minutes ago. What I’m trying to say is that the game has some bugs… Jesus Christ, does this game have some bugs.


An in-game screenshot of the XIII remake, showcasing a glitch in the form of a body model stretching.


Sound clipping. No sound during cutscenes. Frame rate dips. Missing music. Broken body models. Clipping through the map. Soft-locking. Failing to climb up or down ladders. Removing your inventory if you reset to a checkpoint. Idle animations repeatedly playing during flashbacks. Spawning you into a floor. Failing to pick up weapons. Game crashes. All of this and more is available to you if you decide to play XIII (2020). No hyperbole is in use when it is stated that this is the most broken game of the year.


The major issue with the performance of this game, however, is that it retroactively taints the original’s performances. In any other light, David Duchovny’s lazy deliveries and quiet voice would be cause for concern, and accusations of a hack job would be thrown. In XIII (2003), it was a personality bought forth by the aesthetic, and the timing of the gameplay. The pacing and the style damage XIII (2020), and not just in how it looks.


Take any glitch from any other monumentally bad game, whether it’s Ride To HellDrake of The 99 DragonsRemothered: Broken PorcelainSHiNYTyler: Model 005Hello NeighborGene Rain— None of these games have even half of what XIII (2020) possesses, and I wish I was kidding. It is extraordinary how pitifully mish-mashed together this game is.



Why not tell me the best glitch you saw in the game? Mine was during the helicopter boss fight in the docks, which saw the helicopter get stuck on overhead cranes, forcing it to spin in place whilst not being able to fire accurately. After several rockets were shot at the chopper, it was freed! Only for it to spin in place once again, except this time it wasn’t stuck on anything. It just died, and there’s no other way to put it.


To call XIII (2020) “dead on arrival” is nothing short of an understatement. Before the door was even opened, the funeral went ahead, and there’s no way Playmagic or publisher Microids are going to be able to resurrect it with patches. This will always be known as a travesty, a mockery, and a pitiful attempt to bring back a title that deserved a spotlight for the past 17 years. Now, it’s in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.


Whether you’re a fan of the original XIII or not, this isn’t a game that’ll make you angry. No, this is more of a dejected adventure through an inferior version of the most stylistic and revered shooter that never got the respect it deserved. What creative decisions have been made to either mute or remove the original vision aren’t for the better, and there is no way that this game can be fixed to be “better”. Whether it’s in 60FPS or 30FPS, whether the audio was consistent or not, this is inferior in every way.


An in-engine screenshot of the XIII remake, showcasing the character ready to use his grappling hook.


One could ask why it even needed to be remade in the first place. A port is not only cheaper, but also a better way of getting a sequel to figure out THAT BLOODY CLIFFHANGER. The effort of completely changing everything seems confusingly delusional, both from an economic standpoint, and when it comes to appealing to fans of the original. Nobody was asking that this game would stop showing off its looks.


Even the multiplayer has been completely butchered. It’s gone from a maximum of 6 players to 4, 14 maps to 3, is local only even on PC, and features no bot support. None of these changes are improvements, moreso when it comes to the baffling omissions on PC. Who huddles around a computer screen for a PC game, especially when one of you are going to be forced to play with a game-pad? Madness.


An in-game screenshot of the XIII remake, showcasing the player character in the FBI meeting room.


Remake-wise, this is the antithesis to Resident Evil 2. Graphically, this is the antithesis to the original XIII. Gameplay-wise, it’s the antithesis to TimeSplitters 2. It is one of the worst remakes ever made, one of the worst FPS’s ever made, and one of the worst games released this year, and will be sure to arrive in a decades-end list in 2030. I don’t write this with rage, I write it with regret, but at least the original is still commercially available.


It goes for pocket change on Steam almost all of the time, and it’s timeless. Great combat, wonderful set pieces, that goddamn jazzy soundtrack, an enrapturing story, a diverse and brilliant cast of characters, consistently entertaining stealth sections, so on and so forth. Not enough praise can be thrown at the original, and the only silver lining to the insult that is XIII (2020) is that more people check out the blueprint.


Thanks for that, I guess.


This Review of XIII (2020) is based upon the Xbox One version of the game.

"Corrupted by the darkness, now you fall into an endless sleep."   I don't even know where to start. You already know. I already know. It hasn't been a month and already, this is a title that's going to dominate the Steam Bottom 100. Is it going to take over Flatout 3? It's looking likely, and it's more than deserved. This isn't just a bad game, this isn't just something that's been hyped up to a boiling point like Ride To Hell. Folks, I give you the 2020 remake of XIII.   XIII was an FPS from 2003, developed by the now-defunct Southend Interactive…


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Remothered: Broken Porcelain Review – Fannibal Lecture

Remothered: Broken Porcelain Review – Fannibal Lecture

“When the demon’s knocking on your door, you’ll still be staring down the floor.”


Well, October has come and gone with the speed of an incontinent cheetah, and the current world situation has left the spooky scenarios lacking. You can’t appreciate a horror film when you’re living in one that’s absolutely boring, and you can’t appreciate horror games when you’re playing the most dangerous one of all: life. Pretentious paragraph out of the way, Remothered: Broken Porcelain


This is the sequel to 2018’s Remothered: Tormented Fathers, a quaint but effective horror title masterminded by Italian game designer Chris Darril. Whereas Tormented Fathers had you playing as not-Clarice Starling, Broken Porcelain has you playing as not-Suzy Bannion, a meek but troublesome girl working at an inn. Spooky happenings occur as the hotel owners begin to become murderous, and soon enough, not-Suzy Bannion can’t trust anyone she sees.


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: Broken Porcelain, showcasing the player in the grips of an enemy.


If you haven’t played Tormented Fathers but like the look of Broken Porcelain, the game has an “ICYMI” video that provides the backdrop and context to the sequel. In short, just know that Tormented Fathers was a title that reached the heights of blisteringly okay. It wasn’t a horror title rewriting the rule book on what needs to be done for the genre, but there was enough going for it to generate interest and hype for the sequel.


Chris Darril has also stated that the Remothered property is intended to be a trilogy as well, which means there’s a giant overarching plot in this, and not just any plot. The thing about both current Remothered titles is that Darril not only wears his influences on his sleeves, he loudly proclaims the inspirations he’s about to wear. It’s a formula that you can spot beat-for-beat in Tormented Fathers, almost to a worryingly prophetic degree.


Bam! The Silence of The Lambs! Bam! Psycho! Bam! Deep Red! Bam! Halloween III! You get the point. While these influences were obvious if you paid enough attention, Tormented Fathers did succeed in feeling like its own idea, like its own property. It’s a benefit that carries on in Broken Porcelain, even if the opening of the game reeks of Suspiria and The Shining.


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: Broken Porcelain, showcasing the player character facing off against the Red Nun.


Even when Darril takes more directly from Western influences and runs with them, it’s the Giallo-inspired sections that work out great for them. In the context of Hannibal, an Argento-inspired piece works out wonderfully due to the juxtaposition and style of it all. Even though it’s not there visually, the one place Giallo films flourish in their aesthetic: you can taste it in the atmosphere.


It doesn’t ring in properly at first, since the game’s horror does seem to be entirely reliant on jumpscares. Even though the game’s atmosphere is ridiculously thick, the audio mixing is so bad that loud noises seem to permeate, no matter how well you tweak the audio options. Your ears will be bombarded with the sound of rushing winter wind, only for the game to scream violins and a scary face, expletive-filled and frothing with hatred.


Still, the threat would be a threat if the A.I. seemed to show consistency. Broken Porcelain has the sheer shitting audacity to make boss fights out of these lobotomized knife-wielders, giving you random tools to end their suffering. The game hosts a fairly extensive arsenal of diversion and defensive items, all of which make sense in a real-world aspect.


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: broken Porcelain, showcasing the player hiding behind a box of meat.


The problem comes when the A.I. doesn’t go to it. Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe there’s an inch-high incline that really spooks their frantic mind. Maybe the A.I. does go to it, but because not-Suzy Bannion is as heavy-handed as one can be without piercing a hole through the Earth, they’ll hear you while you’re mid-animation. The most common issue, however, will be that the game soft-locked you while placing an item on the ground, forcing you to restart.


Broken Porcelain is one of the worst-performing games released this year. With a cavalcade of bugs, atrocious frame rate drops, all-too-common game crashes that require full restarts, soft-locking, repeating dialogue, dialogue that skips, dialogue that doesn’t even play once it’s supposed to be initiated, so on and so forth, this game is a masterclass in sheer shithouse optimization.


There’s no way it doesn’t directly affect your enjoyment. The most common diversion item is a music box that not-Suzy Bannion can place down on the ground, but every time you use it, no matter where you are in the game, the game will immediately soft-lock and cause you to restart. This is a game without frequent auto-saving as well, mind you! So, if you really wanna play Broken Porcelain right now, DO NOT USE THE CARILLON. 


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: Broken Porcelain, showcasing the player hiding behind a washing machine.


Even if the A.I. was tuned up, the game still lacks a battleground that could be considered fair. You can sneak up on your enemies and slap them about a few times with a paper knife, but even in crouching, the game still thinks you make noise, and they’ll turn around. Luck is your most reliant ally in Broken Porcelain right now, and I state that with no hyperbole.


A lot of Broken Porcelain is also caked in smug self-satisfaction, a fair trait to possess, but not when it’s so heavy. It might actually explain the murky visuals. Not-Suzy Bannion’s repeated, frightened lines seem to compliment the game’s attributes more than it seems to build her character. “Oh, blimey, my handler is now chasing me with a pair of scissors while she’s covered in moths! This is all so surreaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal,” she says with 0% irony.


See, the expository dialogue was acceptable in Tormented Fathers if you knew that this was going to be a trilogy. It made sense, but the first game’s ending didn’t leave a lot of openings. Broken Porcelain not only seems dedicated to starting a brand new narrative, but its connection to Tormented Fathers seems forced, and no amount of exposition can fix that. For a trilogy that’s ten years in the making, it seems finicky, lacking in solid footing, like not-Suzy Bannion’s complete inability to approach a set of drawers.


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: Broken Porcelain, showcasing the player trapped in a room with 3 enemies chasing them.


Broken Porcelain loves contextual button presses, and it’s there to provide the game with a lived-in atmosphere. As you hide yourself from poorly explained killers, you’ve gotta scour through shelves, desks, and wardrobes in order to find the materials necessary to beat the killers. Because of just how many desks and wardrobes exist, though, trying to grab items in a five-drawer desk with seven potential contextual button presses has you wrestling with a lethargic camera.


It’s an annoying thing to sit through, and it shouldn’t be. It’s doubly annoying that it can affect the gameplay in such a manner, too. Maybe there’s a realism to frantically searching a drawer for an item to use against someone who’s ready to use your face as theirs, only to slam the drawers closed repeatedly; I don’t know. It doesn’t make for a primarily intense experience though, does it?


It’s weird because even though Broken Porcelain is a bomb in terms of how it performs, plays, and acts, it’s still endearing. It still possesses an allure that may come from the origins of this entire Remothered palaver: a man dedicating ten years and tons of resources to see it through. Is it worth it for you to join me on this journey with Darril? No. No, absolutely not.


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: Broken Porcelain, showcasing the player struggling in the grip of an enemy.


Despite a competent vision, Remothered succeeds only in an atmosphere that’s immediately defused by atrocious gameplay aspects. These boss fights that stink up the air of Broken Porcelain rely on mechanics too broken to compensate for a worthwhile victory. Their threat is gone when the character’s voices keep switching between quality and audio channels. This isn’t fun to play, and it isn’t fun to watch.


The breaking point was another boss fight against a meek man with an unloaded revolver. The game screams at you to use a fire extinguisher against him, but for some reason, when you pick up the fire extinguisher, not only does it equip, but it also takes the spot of a crafting item. If you drop the crafting item, you drop the fire extinguisher, and it disappears.


An in-game screenshot of Remothered: Broken Porcelain, showcasing the player being watched by a malevolent figure.


No. Absolutely not. I refuse. Broken Porcelain is more than just a red-headed stepchild. This somehow kills all tension and chutzpah that Tormented Fathers painstakingly built up from nothing but a terrible name. All of these atrocious, fast-paced mechanics placed into a slow-burn horror, all of these glitchy obstacles, all of these piss-poor lines of dialogue pathetically attempting to establish a threat.


Even though I’ll merrily trek on to see this hodge-podge of different inspirations culminate into a nebulous blob of poor excuses and telenovela plot twists, I’m not going to smile. I’m just going to sink back into defeat, watching as another horror game attempts to out-do everyone else. It’s not just Friday The 13th, it’s Mission: Impossible. It’s not just Phenomena, it’s the opening scene of The Dark Knight.


Read the room.


This review of Remothered: Broken Porcelain was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.

"When the demon's knocking on your door, you'll still be staring down the floor."   Well, October has come and gone with the speed of an incontinent cheetah, and the current world situation has left the spooky scenarios lacking. You can't appreciate a horror film when you're living in one that's absolutely boring, and you can't appreciate horror games when you're playing the most dangerous one of all: life. Pretentious paragraph out of the way, Remothered: Broken Porcelain.    This is the sequel to 2018's Remothered: Tormented Fathers, a quaint but effective horror title masterminded by Italian game designer Chris…


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This is The Zodiac Speaking Review – Colin Fry

This is The Zodiac Speaking Review – Colin Fry

**SPOILER/CONTENT ALERT! Plot elements of This is the Zodiac Speaking will be discussed here for the sake of critique. It also includes a description of the death of a young girl. If either of these factors are troubling, then please tread carefully while reading.**


“Come kill me, I seem so brittle.”


In 2006, a UK TV show called Psychic Private Eyes followed the adventures of three of the UK’s best psychics and ghost whisperers, deducing crimes by talking to the dead. Beyond a general lack of good intentions, the most horrific episode involved the trio attempting to solve the murder of a young girl. This results in the deduction that her remains were buried underneath another grave in an actual graveyard, with pesky human rights laws getting in the way of their vigilante work.


My point is that the art of being a medium, or believing to have some spiritual connection to the dead, is dubious at best and hideously offensive at worst. There’s a vulnerability to the bereaved that some find easy to manipulate, whether it be for the endgame of fame, power, or sick egotistical pleasure. It’s something that resonates in some capacity to a playthrough of This is the Zodiac Speaking, and whether that’s for better or worse? We’ll see.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing a writers award.


This is the sophomore release from Polish developer Punch Punk Games, a video game rendition that depicts the murders of the Zodiac Killer. We play as Robert Hartnell, a potential nod to famous Zodiac obsessive Robert Graysmith, depicted by Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2007 film Zodiac. Mr. Hartnell attaches himself to the case in a rather unhealthy fashion, culminating in dream therapy sessions which see him not solving the mystery, but rather… I don’t know.


There’s an odd agency to This is the Zodiac Speaking, but it fluctuates and dissipates over time. The actual timeline of events regarding Robert’s story are unclear, and the game never explicitly states the impact he has on the chain of events. Given the actual historical context of the Zodiac Killer there’s a lot of fiction you could create, and This is the Zodiac Speaking certainly tries, but in a completely different direction than you’d expect.


For example there’s the murder of one Cheri Bates, which has been disputed profusely as a Zodiac killing. This is the first case Mr. Hartnell latches himself onto, which partially sets off a deep dive not just into Robert’s consciousness, but the work of the Zodiac Killer themselves. Why? Well, it’s complicated when it comes to the narrative, but in gameplay it’s a rather mundane affair.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing a car park dimly lit.


This is the Zodiac Speaking not only has you inspecting crime scenes, but also locations where the Zodiac Killer is setting up for the main event. These locations are usually constructed from witness testimonials, with the dream therapist initiating the scene for you. From there, you begin to piece together the actions of the Zodiac Killer, but only one thing matters.


Despite what the game may imply, there’s no real detective work going on. Clues are merely optional choices for you to find, and the real puzzle is setting up the chronology of what happened when and where. It’s always four specific events, and the game never punishes you for being sloppy, unless you count an arbitrary threat as a punishment.


During these dream sequences, a manifestation of the Zodiac Killer will stalk the maps looking for you. If he catches you, you’re brown bread and you have to start over, so you have to deduce the crime somewhere safe and find a part of his infamous cipher before you can leave safely. It’s an odd execution which ultimately doesn’t pay off due to how half-hearted the inclusion is.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing a surreal vision of the Zodiac Killer.


The whole “you die in your dreams, you die for real” presentation isn’t the bad part; it’s the fact that there’s so little gameplay connected to it. There’s no hiding mechanics or even hiding spots, you can only crouch or sprint for a short time. While the Zodiac Killer isn’t frustrating to play against, it’s the lack of any mechanics that makes it tedious.


A quick side note: if you do end up playing This is the Zodiac Speaking on console, be warned that the game has no stick dead-zones. If your controller suffers from even the slightest amount of drift, then be prepared to drift right into the Zodiac Killer’s view. It’s a negligible albeit annoying problem the gameplay has, but this can be removed via a “story mode” that gets rid of the Zodiac Killer in-game.


As is the case with a lot of these narrative-heavy titles with an obligatory threat, it’s a welcome addition. However, this suffers from the same problems that SOMA‘s “No Monster” difficulty mode has, in which the threat being removed also removes everything the game has, beyond its writing. Does This is the Zodiac Speaking have more than SOMA without the threat? Yes, but not by much.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing an interaction between two phantoms.


Outside of the dream sequences, you’ll also trawl around Robert’s house, watching in vain as it accumulates more rubbish blocking doorways. It’s a sign symbolizing his obsession with a case he has no right to be obsessed in, but it’s not smartly done, it happens off-screen with no build-up or commentary. You’re able to inspect all of these discarded cans, empty cigarette packets, and unfinished TV dinners in their low-poly glory, but there’s no need, as no new info is ever retained.


A good example of this would be when Robert attempts to piece together the events of the real-life murder and attempted murder of Cecilia Ann Shepard and Bryan Calvin Hartnell, respectively. Robert knows the dates, he has the information not just in the level, but it’s been in his journal, yet it feels more like you have to crowbar your way into a solution.


Even if staring at a packet of Rothmans really hard was the answer to finding out whether it was really Arthur Leigh Allen committing the murders, one deduces it’s not exactly a selfless endeavor. This is more of a character study regarding Robert, and it’s a pretty awful one at that, once again lacking agency and any sort of arc beyond worrying obsession. He speaks with a repetitious tone, failing to show any emotion, even as he describes gruesome details and visions of bodies being brutalized.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing the player character getting up close with the Zodiac Killer


It all feels tasteless. Robert supposedly helps his victims before they die, leaving him with a complex that matters ultimately to him and him alone. Soon, it becomes less about the obtuse mystery of the Zodiac and how it haunts Robert, and more about Robert’s past which you shouldn’t care about. Robert is a blank slate, a one-note character with no traits, no quirks, and no motivation beyond what the game promises he has somewhere.


Part of the problem comes down to the lack of NPCs. Aside from the dream therapist lazily enabling Robert’s dangerous mental tendencies, no one is there to comment on Robert’s actions, only Robert himself. He repeats constantly that he’s haunted by the Zodiac, haunted by the victims, all the while still trying to detour the game’s narrative to his own childhood suffering. It reeks of both self-importance and lethargic writing.


The only person who ever comments on just how lost Robert is is his ex-girlfriend, Monica, but she’s out of the picture before he even starts wrecking his house. Everything, from the way Robert repeats several times his suffering and results to the way the story suddenly departs from the initial mystery, lacks focus. This point is amplified tenfold with the aesthetic, but in a good way.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing a mannequin missing several body parts.


This is the Zodiac Speaking sets up an uncomfortable visual style that makes a lot of sense, given the mystery of the game’s villain. No one has a face, just ‘60s hairstyles and concave features where their eyes should be. Every building beyond Robert’s house is both defined and undefined, adding to the dreamscape that Robert sets himself up in each session. It definitely helps, more so than the completely unnecessary film grain added to each dream sequence that cannot be turned off.


Before each level starts you’re treated to an overview of the level, and it’s usually awash in one main color. Suddenly, the environment is covered in a thick fog, and a grotesque layer of film grain removes a good chunk of the surreal. The fog hiding a potential draw distance setback is fine but the film grain is a touch too far, removing a lot of the allure the art style has. That being said, even with these setbacks, the game has some problematic performance issues.


The lack of dead zones for the joysticks is one thing, but the game’s performance is an obstacle more intrusive than that. Screen-tearing, frame-rate drops, dialogue skipping— This is the Zodiac Speaking has some fairly unavoidable problems when it comes to actually playing it. Punch Punk has addressed a lot of the problems the game has with a patch coming soon, but it should be stated that problems do exist at time of writing.


An in-game screenshot of This is The Zodiac Speaking, showcasing the player character hiding from the Zodiac Killer.


One struggles to find a point in This is the Zodiac Speaking. One of America’s greatest mysteries is derailed by a need to showcase a boring character, with a twist you won’t see coming due to how nonsensical it is. This is a game marred by tastelessness, unafraid to exploit a decades-old mystery to make no points, and aims to confuse under the guise of “surreal horror”.


Still, none of this matters. Again, this isn’t about the Zodiac Killer, this is about a man who’s pissed off with his ex-girlfriend and uses his obsession to either justify her murder or attempt to reconnect with her. The primer for this decision depends entirely on your preference in photos, with the emotional climax beforehand being the death of Robert’s best friend, a young black girl named Goose, by the hand of Robert’s father.


It’s a bleak scene. It’s a nihilistic scene. It’s… an offensive scene, one made up completely by the writers and that fails to be a competent catalyst for any decision you make afterwards. It’s grasping at straws for sympathy, and it’s even more sickening to consider it when the game was already trying to do that, implying domestic violence between Robert’s parents.


An in-game screenshot of This is the Zodiac Speaking, showcasing a wall of the Zodiac's cipher.


This is a game about the Zodiac Killer. This isn’t a game about the Zodiac Killer. This is a detective game. This isn’t a detective game. This is a true story. This isn’t even a true story. Robert Hartnell does not exist, and neither do his parents. This is a game excavating sadness from a place it shouldn’t. Goose didn’t have to die. There was no reason for Goose to die. Goose died because the game wants it, not the world. A child died for the sake of a child dying.


What could’ve been an interesting look into the theories surrounding the Zodiac Killer a la Room 237, the game instead goes down an exploitative route, all to justify the existence of a faceless man. A man who doesn’t deserve happiness. A man who doesn’t exist.


Is that the point? Whether it is or not, it doesn’t deserve to have a point.


This review of This is The Zodiac Speaking was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.

**SPOILER/CONTENT ALERT! Plot elements of This is the Zodiac Speaking will be discussed here for the sake of critique. It also includes a description of the death of a young girl. If either of these factors are troubling, then please tread carefully while reading.**   "Come kill me, I seem so brittle."   In 2006, a UK TV show called Psychic Private Eyes followed the adventures of three of the UK's best psychics and ghost whisperers, deducing crimes by talking to the dead. Beyond a general lack of good intentions, the most horrific episode involved the trio attempting to solve…


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GORSD Review – Garth Offered Red Slippers, Dope

GORSD Review – Garth Offered Red Slippers, Dope

“I hate that clown, but not as much as Mr. Far. I think I’ll go smoke a cigar.”


When it comes to learning a new skill, being thrown into the deep end is probably not the best strategy, especially if it involves teaching kids how to swim. A lack of context or a rudimentary understanding of the task at hand isn’t the best place to start, but when it’s an act of deliberation? Who knows, maybe it’s knowledge to a higher power, which is certainly what something like GORSD implies.


This is the latest title from Singapore studio Springloaded, a small team whose small catalog covers a lot of bases already. Whether it’s a casual auto-clicker, chiptune rhythm-action, or an RTS/Tower Defense-hybrid, you certainly can’t accuse Springloaded for sticking to one comfort zone. That thought goes tenfold when you see something like GORSD, and almost immediately, you’ll see what I mean.


An in-game screenshot of GORSD, showcasing three of the spherical dragons sticking their tongues out.


You play as a rather charming, little, squid-like creature who awakens in a forest that doesn’t seem hostile at first. Soon after, you’re subjected to an indecipherable language before the serene nature is immediately interrupted by abrasive gods taking the form of spherically-lined dragons with twisted faces. It’s quite clear they’re not impressed by your presence, and you’re going to have to work to either co-exist or defeat them.


Immediately, the game’s quite reminiscent of Anodyne; Analgesic’s dreamscape looks into a young being’s psyche, but the comparisons go beyond a similar aesthetic. That calming score that seems to pleasantly overthrow the atmosphere, the way your character is spoken to in potentially deserving condescension. It’s a coincidence, a stretch of the imagination, which is everything this game aspires to be.


There’s certainly a vibe that GORSD immediately wants to jump for, and that’s “weird”. With the spherical dragons screaming at you, the visual design being blared at full volume, and how the game plays— It’s clear that they’re trying to tickle the synapse we possess that powers curiosity. Whether it’s ParanoiascapeTamashii, or even the classic LSD Dream Emulator, there’s a market for oddities, especially if they’re trying on all fronts like GORSD is.


An in-game screenshot of GORSD, showcasing a upward spiral lined with red faces.


Does it extend past gameplay? Well, kind of. It’s a mixture of the Light-Cycle game from Tron, and the general objective of Splatoon. You and your adversaries are placed onto a lined grid, with the goal being to color in the entirety of the level with your color only. If the entire level is your color? You win, and curry more favor with these malevolent gods!


It’s not all Jeff Bridges meets schoolgirl squids, however, as trapping someone in your line of color doesn’t destroy them. You’re given a bullet you can fire only once until it hits an objective, whether it’s an enemy or a far-away piece of uncolored land you can’t reach. This bullet can also go around corners, should you press the direction of the upcoming corner as you fire it, which sounds strategic, but in execution, falls flat.


Considering this all relates to right angles and squares within squares, the arena design tends to become more and more complicated, with tactics taking a backseat to luck. Sometimes, the predictive nature of the bullet will work in your favor, but a lot of the time, you’re at the mercy of a bullet that won’t listen to you. In fact, if you don’t pay attention, it can also kill you, which is another decision that adds a degree of unnecessary challenge.


An in-game screenshot of GORSD, showcasing gameplay between four different colors.


Unless you hold a specific button before you’re about to be hit by your own bullet, you won’t be able to recollect and reuse it, instead committing to a respawn. This wouldn’t be an issue if, say, all bullets fired had their team colors on them, instead of white crosses that blaze across the map. It also wouldn’t be an issue if the game speed wasn’t so lightning fast.


This might be more of a preference than an objective issue, but the game speed of GORSD is insanely quick. The characters and their projectiles dart around the arena with phenomenal speed, and even on early arenas, you tend to find yourself catching your bullet the wrong way. Even if the game speed was tweaked just slightly, you also have the issue of playing a game that’s zoomed out way too far.


What is this, a battlefield for ants? The colors are even harder to determine from this angle as well, with your only insight being a vague colored outline above your character. Yes, you can visibly see the trail your squid will make, but the bullets also make trails, and the AI isn’t exactly blessed with tactics, spamming bullets whenever they can. That being said, it’s the game mode without the AI that shines the best.


An in-game screenshot of GORSD, showcasing dialogue from the dragon Probus.


Time Puzzles are dripping in fun and intuitive ways to solve them, even when Springloaded takes a Jackson Pollack approach to how the string of straight lines play out. There is a method to the madness, however, and the mere act of using the bullet to color off the beaten path is smart — Smarter here than it is in a competitive environment, at least.


GORSD doesn’t make sense, both in how it approaches its own gameplay, and in general. The Adventure mode promises a seven-hour stroll through some of its most meticulous maps, but that’s only if you decide to let the game torture you with egregious spawn times. Should you be humiliated enough to tune down the difficulty, the journey is sliced in half, maybe even down to two hours. 


An in-game screenshot of GORSD, showcasing indecipherable dialogue from the ringleader dragon.


After the adventure, you only have more AI fights to follow, in repetitive endless modes involving the same AI. It’s only now that you realize how boring a lot of GORSD is; as unflinching as the pacing may be, it still lacks that certain punch, that variety in how you approach a match, beyond randomly spamming bullets. It seems to talk a big game about strategy, but that strategy simply isn’t there.


At its core, GORSD isn’t bad, there’s no inherent traits that specifically mark it down, but it’s the way Springloaded executed how it would be a multiplayer experience that falls flat. What should be an alluring jaunt through aesthetically foreign lands, can’t keep up with its own odd presentation to be consistently interesting. It doesn’t matter how innovative this dish may be, the plate it’s on doesn’t look clean.


This review of GORSD was based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.

Bounty Battle Review – Ultra Mash Brothaz

Bounty Battle Review – Ultra Mash Brothaz

“I was walking on the ground, I didn’t make a sound. Then, I turned around, and I saw a clown.”


When it comes to fighting games, it’s always the indie scene that comes through with something truly enthralling to watch unfold. The janky physics-based action of Nidhogg 2, the pocket-sized fun of Rivals of Aether, or the infamous Skullgirls; there’s something about a mind free of restraints that brings wonderful energy to the screen. Better yet, why not go full M.U.G.E.N on a project and make an indie-game spectacle not unlike Super Smash Bros? Thank Christ for Bounty Battle, then.


This is the debut game from French studio Dark Screen Games, headed by one François von Orelli. Other information about the studio and its history is hard to come by, save for their upcoming game, Rise, and the publisher, Merge Games, who’re a perfect fit. Despite none of their indie game offerings showing up in Bounty Battle, it’s the eye they have in regards to their publishing catalog that holds promise.


An in-game screenshot of Bounty Battle, showcasing a versus screen of Owlboy vs the protagonist of Dead Cells


There’s no real plot, beyond a disruption in time allowing all of these indie game characters to fight against each other, and the roster is quite staggering. You’ve got Dead Cells, Flinthook, Darkest Dungeon, Guacamelee! — they even got Pankapu! It’s a 2010s dream come true, Superman vs Goku on the smaller screen! So if you’re wondering how powerful Fish from Nuclear Throne is against The Penitent One from Blasphemous, now’s your chance.


If there’s one thing that can be immediately applauded, it’s a diverse roster filled with a lot of charm, unique natures, and an eye for their abilities. Whether it’s Guacamelee!‘s Juan being able to throw further or Flinthook‘s Captain Flinthook using his… uhh… Flinthook to grapple onto enemies and into the fray, it’s all attention to detail. It makes you excited to see what kind of crazy antics one can get up to.


As stated above, the angle Dark Screen is going for with Bounty Battle is the ever-popular Super Smash Bros. format: small arenas, no barriers protecting the edges, up to 4 players, and a few trinkets added that can help turn the tide of battle. More arena brawler than one-on-one, the game has a fairly hefty tutorial attached to it to make sure you know how it is.


An in-game screenshot of Bounty Battle, showcasing the character select screen.


It’s your standard affair, what with the light attack, heavy attack, slam attack, block, grab, and ultimates. Bounty Battle‘s main gimmicks seem to be related to, well, Bounties, a system that rewards players for unique combos or eliminating the best player in the arena. These Bounty points can be used to buy support characters that can… I don’t know, actually.


In theory, it sounds like a good idea, but it seems to mostly relate to eliminating the MVP, and with the washed-out colors, that’s an issue. A lot of the guest characters from other franchises have been redrawn in order to accommodate with aesthetic Bounty Battle provides, but they’ve been drawn to look the same. The arenas are also awash in darkness, so trying to pay attention to what’s actually happening on the screen becomes a mess.


It doesn’t help that the arenas lack bite or any sort of variety. Beyond a wallpaper change relating to some of the indie games who have characters featured, almost none of these arenas have any sort of environmental punch. It all takes place on one straight line, you can’t force a tighter fight on a tighter space, the only way you can take a fight is all the way to the right or all the way to the left.


An in-game screenshot of Bounty Battle, showcasing a fight between Guacamelee!'s Juan, Dead Cells' protagonist, and Nuclear Throne's Fish.


Thankfully, there is small respite in the fact that sticking to ranged attacks is a strategy you can pick. You won’t feel good for doing it, but if you play with more than two fighters on the screen, you have two choices: strategic placement of your character and dodging while they attempt to come closer, or simply button mashing in the middle of the cartoon dust cloud.


It seems like airplay is the name of the game here, since a lot of the specific combos and attacks benefit a more aerial approach. It’s not something you can cheap out either, as air-juggling isn’t viable, and A.I. pays a fair amount of attention as to how everyone plays at all times. It’s fairly responsive, quick to spot flaws in approaches, and in the “Tournament” mode, it shows no mercy.


Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, don’t even attempt Tournament mode. Almost immediately, the game spares no punches on your beginner ass and will instantly task you with specific challenges. Very Hard mode fights, reaching a set amount of  eliminations via throw-out, 1v1 fights with higher health and/or damage scaling… and there’s 150 of these challenges! five for each character!


An in-game screenshot of Bounty Battle, showcasing a fight between Owlboy, and Captain Flinthook.


It’s quite a meaty treat to tuck into, especially since it actively works to cover all of the bases as frequently and as much as possible. The only issue one could surmise from the entire affair is a lack of forgiveness for mistakes. All 30 sets of 150 challenges have 5 skins you can unlock for each character, but they only unlock if you complete a challenge without losing a life. When it comes to challenges like the set amount of eliminations, the game employs a horde strategy, which enforces that cartoon dust cloud inevitably to a point of frustration.


As for other features Bounty Battle has, it’s all glorified training, with the only other option being a straight-up Versus mode that allows for up to four players. It’s a fair amount of preparation for when the current global pandemic ends, since at time of writing, the game hosts no online capabilities, only local. While one cannot socially distance on a couch, this would be a good time for siblings, if it wasn’t the awful performance this game possesses.


All of this praise one could latch onto Bounty Battle is squandered, since every match lags, freezes, and stutters the second a single hit is registered. Every time a character runs out of life, the game stops for a full second as it attempts to register what exactly just happened, and it is absolute hell to play, for the most part. Does this make the game unplayable? Yes and no.


An in-game screenshot of Bounty Battle, showcasing a fight involving the protagonist from Death's Gambit.


When Bounty Battle starts acting up and freezing non-stop, you could always just start button-mashing until the game decides it wants to be your friend again. This isn’t exactly in the spirit, though, is it? When you also take into account just how frequently the game decides to freeze and lock up, you only end up with a game with all of its potential lost.


While a lack of online multiplayer knocks the allure of Bounty Battle down a few pegs, it’s the technical shortcoming that kneecap the entire charade. It lacks tight design beyond smart A.I., it lacks features beyond playing with bots, lacks levels with bite, and feels unfinished, both in what it wants to be and how it should be. Despite a unique roster, it has no unique impact.


This Review of Bounty Battle was based upon the Xbox One version. A review code was provided for this purpose.


"I was walking on the ground, I didn't make a sound. Then, I turned around, and I saw a clown."   When it comes to fighting games, it's always the indie scene that comes through with something truly enthralling to watch unfold. The janky physics-based action of Nidhogg 2, the pocket-sized fun of Rivals of Aether, or the infamous Skullgirls; there's something about a mind free of restraints that brings wonderful energy to the screen. Better yet, why not go full M.U.G.E.N on a project and make an indie-game spectacle not unlike Super Smash Bros? Thank Christ for Bounty Battle,…


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Crysis Remastered Review – Mid-Life

Crysis Remastered Review – Mid-Life

“Picture this, if I could make the change, I’d love to pull the wires from the wall. Did you?”


Truth be told, I’ve never owned a PC built specifically for gaming. Funds always go to that part of life that allows you to continue living, but close friends of mine throughout the years have had the opportunity. I’ll always remember seeing Crysis run on my friend’s £2,000 rig in 2008, at a time when I was still playing GoldenEye and Mission: Impossible on the N64. I’m grateful for Crytek allowing me the opportunity to see if I can make those same sparks fly 13 years later with Crysis Remastered.


Yes, the groundbreaking technical achievement of the late 2000s has been ushered into a new age for current-gen consoles in 2020. Crytek’s second baby that was meant to be a showcase of their brand-spankin’-new engine, the first one being Far Cry, but it was Crysis that saw unmatched memetic energy. This is something that Crytek still smugly know, as they talk the talk in terms of hashtags like “#CanItRunCrysis”, but that was 13 years ago. Do they still walk the walk?


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, se player sneaking behind an enemy at night-time.howcasing th


The year is 2020, both at time of writing and in-game, just in case this year wasn’t already cursed enough, and you play as Nomad, a lieutenant for Raptor Team. Together with Prophet, Psycho, Jester, and Aztec, Raptor Team hot-drops onto an uncharted island that’s being occupied by the Korean military with unusual energy readings being intercepted. With the American forces doing what they do best by sticking their nose into other people’s business, both entities stumble across a presence neither could’ve predicted.


Before we delve into critique, it should be noted that the track record for CryEngine being used on console ports isn’t exactly healthy. We saw Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric on Wii U, along with the infamous console port of Lichdom: Battlemage, and Homefront: The Revolution. While this is the equivalent of 3 birds defecating on your Ford Focus before work, this has to be a case of developers not knowing what they’re dealing with. I say that with such confidence because the 360/PS3 ports of Crysis from 2011 are great!


Well, not great, but competent! They’re locked at 30 FPS, sure, and the foliage pop-in is about 10 meters in front of your face. However, the performance of the game was consistent! Intense action and smart AI dominate the scene, and all without making your console sound like a Boeing 747. Whether it’s a regular Xbox 360 or an Xbox One S via backwards compatibility, Crysis is a job well done on all accounts, so I have just one question, Crytek: What the hell happened with this actual remaster?


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, showcasing a dead body lying on the ground.


Crysis Remastered on this same Xbox One S doesn’t just run worse, it looks worse. Texture pop-in is common, frame rate drops happen anytime a single bullet is fired, the draw distance casts the land in an awkward fog, and that’s just the tip. It’s almost reprehensible a title known universally for ritualistic benchmarking looks like it’s running on a school computer with Windows Vista.


Insult to injury is added when these technical glitches and issues start to directly affect gameplay. The AI has suddenly become lobotomized, frozen to position and blindfire, fire graphics have become dodgy glitches, and moments of wonder and awe have been set back because of how much the game is struggling to keep up. For a quick bolstering of my point, let’s have a look at one certain scene from the mission “Onslaught”, with screenshots from both the Xbox 360 version, and the remaster.


An in-game screenshot of Crysis on the Xbox 360, showcasing a mountain collapsing due to intensifying vibrations.


First off, the Xbox 360 version, which sees the mountain and its surrounding valleys covered in darkness — a common mainstay when it came to the seventh generation of gaming — yet it adds atmosphere. While the original PC version of Crysis saw this mission area covered in an immense fog, this incidental generational setback adds more of a vibe than attempting to copy something superior.


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, showcasing a mountain collapsing due to intense vibrations.


Meanwhile, the same scene running on Xbox One S shows true colors. The foliage, the low-quality mountain, the vague intentions to keep that same fog, and the lack of clouds. It’s all watered down, a cheap knock-off of a scene that should be mind-boggling to the average gamer, and we’re not even accounting for the actual performance during this scene either.


When it comes to Crysis Remastered‘s named objective, it falls spectacularly flat, even when it’s not attempting to do something more stress-inducing, like raytracing. In fact, if you want to see what it’s currently like to attempt ray tracing on an Xbox One X, look no further than this showcase from GameTripper UK. It’s a crying shame that it’s such a letdown performance wise because the actual game mostly holds up for a 2020 audience.


If you’ve never played the original Crysis, it can essentially be described as a slightly less linear version of the original Far Cry meets Ghost in the Shell. You will be in set sections of the island with loading screens, but secondary objectives allow you to feel free in how you approach objectives. Stealth and straight-up brute force are equally encouraged, and playing on harder difficulties is rewarding on completion.


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, showcasing a cutscene involving Nomad, Prophet, and Jester.


The first half of Crysis is exceptional, making up for a fairly lacking arsenal with some brilliant sound design and gunplay. Every contemporary weapon has weight and power behind it, each shot sounding like it could give God himself tinnitus. While stealth from a distance is frustratingly difficult, tagging everyone with binoculars and picking them off one by one is such a satisfying feeling. Whether it’s the precision rifle, the shotgun, or the minigun, it’s all wonderful.


The game only starts chugging in terms of decent pacing and mission structure when you can tell that Crytek are trying to blow your graphical mind. The aforementioned “Onslaught” mission has you controlling one of the worst tanks in video games, with this remaster affecting the controls heavily. Delayed input is the dish of the day, and that also counts for vehicles in general, so it’s a good thing our Nanosuit allows us to reach 60 MPH effortlessly.


The big reveal is an extraterrestrial structure covered beneath the mountain, and beyond the remaster failing to keep up with this turquoise wonderland, it is hell to play. The zero-G angle is ambitious, but attempting to aim in this weightless nightmare is an arse, and the repetitious nature of this crystalline landscape is confusing to navigate. It’s another graphical showcase, but as we’ve already stated, the remaster lacks the same punch the original did.


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, showcasing the player character standing near a beach with a pier.


The story is also quite aimless. While mystery and a small amount of horror are sprinkled across the affair at first, the game can’t help but reveal it all almost immediately. It’s like in Halo 3 where a Cortana jumpscare would always be preset with your HUD glitching. It’s the same thing here, but the game can’t help but reveal the mystery almost immediately.


You could have maybe said that this was brand-new technology that the Korean military has adopted, or maybe the Koreans are already in a struggle we don’t know about, but no. Instead, the Koreans are vaguely planted as the bad guys until they aren’t. While this is expected for a contemporary war shooter, especially one released during the seventh generation of gaming, it’s quite clear that Crytek have no idea how to write the story appropriately. It’s that expected? With an experiment like Crysis, yes, but still.


After the big ol’ spaceship reveal, the game’s tired of attempting to copy Far Cry, and goes for Halo 2 instead, following a path of aggressive linearity and set pieces. Starting off with an environmental gimmick tied to an escort quest, the game’s final weapon reveal is a poor effort. It feels cheap in your hands, sounds like a playing card in a kids bicycle spokes, yet you’re forced to use it due to its infinite ammo capacity. The reason as to why we can use it is half-baked as well, as the nebulous Prophet continues being some omnipotent force who’s never proven to be so.


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, showcasing the player character causing an explosion on a boat.


It’s also here where you’ll come to find just how annoying the side characters are in the game. Prophet whines in your ear about being cold, marines cry and scream constantly, the One Female Support Character From The Seventh Generation Who Knows About Everything™ is in danger because of course she is. It’s all agonizing to sit through, it’s a roller coaster ride filled with the headless kamikazes from Serious Sam.


Top it all off with an “epic” finale on a military ship, and you have a two-stage boss fight submerged in utter darkness and poor mechanics, along with an anticlimactic ending. Prophet continues being inexplicably awesome only because Crytek promises he’s a badass, when the only decent thing he’s ever done in his life is save Alcatraz in Crysis 2.


An in-game screenshot of Crysis Remastered, showcasing the player character driving along a beach-side road.


While it was a nice reminder of what 2007 had to offer us in terms of gaming, almost none of what Crysis is known for is shown off here. In terms of a remaster, Crysis Remastered is an absolutely piss-poor effort lacking any “woah!” moments beyond a lighting engine that screws up more often than not. Is the actual game still worth playing in this state? Hard call, but all signs point to “no”.


Crysis still has moments of wonder and awe, they’re just not present here. The gunplay is still fantastic, the actual challenge one can face in-game is still rewarding to overcome, and almost every other version can be recommended to find out. As it stands, however, it is all buried underneath a technical failure here, and even the Xbox 360 version is a better option than this… or you could get a PC, I suppose. What counted as high-end in 2007 should be cheap now.


Tell you what, though, if we’re gonna keep remastering games from 2007, get to The Darkness already! Jackie Estacado has been ignored long enough.


This Review of Crysis Remastered was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.


Ubisoft Announces Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake

Ubisoft Announces Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake

Just a few hours after making a conspicuous and accidental appearance on UPlay, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake has been formally announced. Quickly becoming one of the more polarizing events at today’s Ubisoft Forward, the remake’s trailer shows a game that may be a bit too faithful to its 2003 source material. The environments vividly resemble the labyrinthine architecture of the original game, but the remade character models have left many players scratching their heads. Prince of Persia was last seen on the market in 2010 and fans have been quick to remark that this remake doesn’t necessarily look current or next gen.

Also of note is the fact that the entire Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time trilogy was previously released together in remastered form for the PS3, whereas Ubisoft have now decided to just remake the first and release it for $40. This is an approach that proved fruitful for Destroy All Humans earlier this year, but could rub fans the wrong way if they view this remake as a cynical way to gauge interest in the IP. Nonetheless, the acrobatic swordplay-platforming balance defining this franchise still remains unique and has strong potential to win over a new audience.

The trailer is primarily cinematic, featuring brief interjections of combat and parkour gameplay. You’re as reliant on wall-running and fast paced puzzle solving as ever, with the classic controls retained or able to be switched out for a modernized version. The titular Sands of Time still allow you to rewind time to undo past mistakes and experiment with your surrounding environments. The Prince’s original voice actor Yuri Lowenthal is once again on board, and time will tell how faithful or modified the game’s narrative will be. Even if Ubisoft didn’t necessarily put their best foot forward with this trailer, we can hope that subsequent gameplay footage wins fans over. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Remake will be available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on January 21st, 2020.

Hellpoint Review – Bla Bla Bla

Hellpoint Review – Bla Bla Bla

“3 inches above the floor, man in the box wants to burn my soul.”


Y’know, Dark Souls really was this metaphorical bag of Doritos the world wanted to snack on. An irresistible formula that many love the taste of, but no one can fully emulate in the correct way. We’ve had different locales, people extracting specific parts of the original flavor and cutting the portions in half, or in the case of today’s title Hellpoint, just seeing if ASDA’s American-Style Tortilla Chips cover the same bases.


This is the debut title from French-Canadian studio Cradle Games, a team of veterans who formed in early 2015, bringing the idea of Hellpoint to the masses on Kickstarter a year later. One successful Kickstarter later, the game did the rounds at various conventions, along with being a part of ID@Xbox’s recent Game Fest extravaganza. You play as a being born of the new age, a melding between procreation and the digital forefront that we’re all afraid of. 3D printed into a pool of ooze, you’re awoken from your sudden birth and pushed into Irid Novo,  a strange space station that’s in the midst of completely breaking down. Spurred on by the voice of your creator, The Author, you now have to find a way off this station… I think.


An in-game screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing a boss fight between the player and The Celestial Beast.


Alright, let’s keep Dark Souls on the brain for a second here because there’s a lot we need to unpack, and a fair chunk lies in what generally appeals in the Souls series. Difficulty aside, there’s also the execution of the story, the locations, the set pieces, the general vibe one gets from the areas they provide, the PvP— it’s a lot of different things that make this work and when it comes to the emulators, from your Surges to your Sinners to your Salt & Sanctuarys, they only focus on one or two of these elements. Hellpoint isn’t interested in merely making things tough for you, however. No, the game has a really strong theory on how the Souls series works and how they can lure the player in with those challenging fights and well-deserved victories. It’s not just being told to “git gud” that’s on the line either, you also have the delight of figuring out what happened to this world with a friend in co-op.


That’s right, this is one of the first games inspired by Dark Souls to also include a co-op focus, and not just for bosses! The game allows for you to carry a partner along for the entirety of the game, from the first boss to the finish! Not only is this a surprising addition, but it’s also a welcome improvement that realistically doesn’t mix things up too much— a burden for many a Dark Souls-inspired title, but there’ll be more on that later.


Honestly, the first few hours of Hellpoint harbor some exceptionally strong first impressions. The mystery peaks at the beginning, but it does stay there for quite some time, especially when the Author is introduced. While the writing is dragged down by some horrendously pretentious moments, along with no actual standout characters, there’s still an air to the game that’s alluring. Hell, even the combat isn’t that egregious at first. There’s a fair few fights at the beginning that can leave you winning by the skin o’ yer teeth, with a lot of weapons to choose from. Naturally, you’ll have to level up your skills in order to wield some of these items, which include “Reflex”, “Cognition”, “Foresight”, and “Strength”… you really couldn’t think of a fancy word for “Strength”, huh? Admittedly, this is one of those incremental changes that fall right into the silly pile.


An in-game screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing a boss fight between the player and the Archon Slaver.


Not to digress too terribly soon, but a lot of Hellpoint‘s writing seems like it’s trying too hard to sound smart or different. It’s not “poise”, it’s “tenacity”. It’s not “Energy Recharge Rate”, it’s “Leech”. While it’s a small thing to make a case about, this really does affect what the world is supposed to be, especially when one of the main enemy factions are labelled as “Thespians”. In what mutated and transgression of a world would we live in where a word to describe an actor or actress is used to describe a large disembodied hand that screams and shoot phlegm-filled balls of blood at you?


Hellpoint is pretentious, there’s no two ways about it. The way characters speak, the items in-game that you’ll be wielding, their context within the world, what exactly happened to this space station? It’s all lost in this sea of big words and attempting to sound more clever than it actually is. Nothing is explained directly, it’s always a case of “oh, you wouldn’t understand, this is a group chat reserved exclusively for the demigods”… they say as I destroy all of them by repeatedly slashing their ankles with a bone blade.


The game also features “ghosts”, and not in the way From Software designed it. If you die in an area, or maybe even in a boss fight, then an NPC version of yourself will start patrolling near where you left your Soul— I mean, “Axions”, your leveling up materials. It’s a decent challenge, and it’s not something that you’d immediately assume is unfair, due to the reward of a health potion refill if you beat them.


An in-game screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing the player character looking towards the void surrounding the game area.


Despite these atrocious attempts at diverging from normal writing, Hellpoint started off phenomenally strong. The combat has weight, the telegraphing on enemy attacks is visible and animated appropriately, and the environmental design at the start helps ease you into this exceptionally hostile station. As soon as you beat the second boss however, the game opens up, and I mean opens up. From here on out, every single new map is a diatribe of walkways, areas with no actual symmetry or focus to them, just random paths that proclaim “inter-connectivity” the same way a serial killer would proclaim “self-defense!”. The Sohn District, the Arisen Dominion, the Alma Mater offices, they don’t feel like places you can navigate, much like how the first half of Anor Londo in Dark Souls is a collective shrug of shoulders when it comes to how you’re supposed to traverse it.


While Hellpoint never reaches the same perverse architecture, it’s an odd anomaly where the maps feel like strenuous mazes yet only have one clear way to the exit. Anything that could be considered a worthy gift is rarely found off the beaten path, and a lot of the time the game will simply grant you powerful items for mere completions. Hell, at the time of writing you can currently kill the first NPC you come across, take his immensely powerful armor, reload the game, and he’s alive once more with a quest available.


When it comes to exploits, crashes or glitches, Hellpoint has more than its fair share. The hit detection on a lot of the reflex-based weapons tends to only work every other time, the game will sometimes decide that you’re no longer allowed to use your ranged weapons anymore and force a reset, and online is a gamble. Credit where credit is due, you can explicitly state your intentions of what you plan to do in-game, whether it be PvE or PvP. If it would actually work, we’re halfway there.


An in-game screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing the split-screen capabilities while the players are fighting with a Consumer.


It’s not just that the match codes are frequently met with invalidity and failed connections. It’s not just that the game doesn’t tell you that you can only post an invite to your world on walls with a handprint, and never tells you if your summon sign has disappeared. If you manage to get past all of this, then you have to pray to the Lovecraftian unspeakable horrors in the black sky that holds our fates that the frame rate doesn’t dip into single digit territory… usually under 5. Hellpoint easily has some of the worst multiplayer of any game released this year. The time it takes to sync is atrocious, there’s no warning for a failed connection to your world, which’ll usually be the reason for your sign disappearing without your knowledge, and the PvP? I wasn’t even able to try out the PvP because I couldn’t connect to anyone.


The biggest problem comes from how combat is portrayed in the later stages. You’ll start fighting bigger dudes in bigger armor, and stunlocking is impossible against anything that can dodge roll. With how temperamental the hit detection can be at times, you’ll usually end up spamming your attacks, and if one of those repeated attacks hit? Your enemy will immediately side step and get a free hit on you while you’re in the next animation. The combat is broken down even further when the camera starts misbehaving, especially in the boss fights. Given that this is inspired by Dark Souls, it’s no surprise that every boss will be eight times the size of your puny 3-D printed body, and to mitigate this you can target individual limbs for attack. The big problem arises when you decide to go in for the kill via a melee weapon, and the camera will inexplicably decide to pan down.


There’s also status effects and debuffs, none of which are appropriately explained in any capacity inside or out of the game, save for Radiation, which caps your health. There’s one debuff however, which increases your FOV to an abnormal amount, which can absolutely devastate you in the later stages of a boss fight. Whether or not it’s intentional, it’s an exceptionally frustrating thing to work around.


An in-game screenshot of Hellpoint, showccasing the player character standing in front of an altar whilst a character is implied to laugh off-screen.


The absolute worst thing this game has going for it though, is the platforming. Hellpoint has decided to try and one-up From Software’s infamously egregious platforming by giving you dedicated controls instead of tying it to the B button. This leads into the game getting carried away with jumping puzzles, most of which entirely fail because of the two-gear speeds the movement is inflicted with. If you jump normally, you’ll do a weak hop towards the next platform. If you decide to do a running jump, however, your character will immediately lurch forward with full strength. There’s no in-between nor any prominent in-air control ability. It’s sticky, it’s awkward, and it all comes to a teeth-grinding climax in what is arguably the game’s worst section, with its only saving grace being that this is optional.


At some point, you can head outside of the Irid Novo, and into the cold dead of space, all while basking in the view of a black hole. You’ll need a functional space suit that you can find in the only other space section of the game. Unrealistic exploration expectations aside, once you do find this space suit and craft it, you’re then tasked to complete jumping puzzles and platforming… in zero gravity… and there’s also fall damage… in space.


The entire second half of Hellpoint reeks of unpolished gristle. Lacking in any sort of energy or cohesion, the games open-ended nature can only extend the player’s patience so far. Soon enough, you’ll reach a brick wall in the form of a boss pulling the manipulate the FOV card, and you’ll be forced to untangle the unrendered mess of Christmas wires that is Hellpoint’s map. There’s one path that goes on for quite a while, a winding slide down these demolished block of… I don’t know, apartments? The game doesn’t really fuse Irid Novo as both a living space for the normal humans that go through the 3-D photocopiers, and one where there’s giant guards and beings rolling around. Sure, the maps are sprawling, vast and deep valleys of H.R. Giger’s dreams— just barely, but even then, this is more in favor of the latter. I guess a lot of these humans really don’t mind living in barren voids with no furniture.


An in-engine screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing the player character standing in front of several people, while a black hole is in view.


The game has you precariously fall down this ruined set of flats in an awkward 3-D platforming section that, like all of the platforming sections, overstays its welcome. Once you reach the end, you come to a door which is locked with a combination unlike the rest. It’s a simple 5-digit lock, unlike the random codes of 2 separate sets of 4 digits you might find around the map, with those corresponding to some silly cryptic puzzle in order to unlock rooms that reward you with… well, nothing. No end-game content, no secret bosses that test your might, just a few items and maybe a platforming puzzle.


Anyway, if this door is locked with a different set of numbers from the rest, then not only is the way to find the combination going to be tricky, but surely the reward is fantastic? Well, for starters, the code is “12345”. No, really, the password is actually what most grandmothers use for phishing websites. After such a trial, your reward is just as meager— 3 dead bodies in bags, two of which are implied to be children, a note emanating that “2 days before retirement” energy, and your character supposedly saying “sad scene”. I just…


I’ve hesitated to talk about the story thus far, because it really is the flavorless cherry on top of this aimless sundae. The aforementioned lack of a middle ground between complex metaphors and knowing exactly what your stakes are in all of this is frustrating, and there’s not a lot driving you to complete it for the most part. Until you collect 100% of the discoveries, you’re not allowed to take on the final boss, so until then you’re stuck repeatedly smacking your head against this obtuse wall that won’t let up.


An in-engine screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing the player character standing in front of one of the demigods, Undisturbed Defas Nemundis.


Is Dark Souls the same? No, not really. Quest-critical items and plot continuations were always approached with an air of importance around them, and there was always an NPC on the visible path to explain things, even if they spoke in obtuse phrasing. Here, you’re lucky if you even get a vague implication of the stakes, or an NPC that even wants to amuse you with the thought of what might be going on here.


The only NPCs that aren’t behind either a jumping puzzle, or an item the game forgot to tell you about, are one who wants you to help him get to his basement, and an out-of-place Native American type who gives you a single gesture. You’re left at the mercy of abstract stupidity, a conga line of being led by the nose with various glimpses into a land that may or may not have dabbled with immortality, may or may not have slaughtered everyone who didn’t abide by their rules. Is not knowing the full extent of the fate of this space station fine? It would be if we knew anything beyond “shit’s fucked”.


An in-game screenshot of Hellpoint, showcasing the player performing an AoE spell, with a polearm in one hand, and a catalyst in the other.


As for the finale, it’s underwhelming. Leaving behind any sort of grandeur, the final boss fight preaches some left-field meta commentary on the point of playing video games, and after you beat it you’re immediately put into New Game+, with an NPC proclaiming your futile efforts. Yeah, they’re futile, alright. Playing a game for 20 hours only to be told that nothing really matters because I have to play the game for another 20 hours, and be subject to more broken boss fights with awful cameras and platforming with no in-air control, but this time everyone has more health… God, I love video games.


The nicest thing you can say about Hellpoint is that it tries. It tries too many things at the same time with next to no focus on how to mesh them all together correctly, but it tries. Wildly different environments that eventually mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, wildly different ambitions beyond how others have attempted to emulate the patented From Formula™. In the end however, the game falls over itself trying to blow your mind and your socks off at the same time.


In short, it’s another Dark Souls tribute, marching towards the abyssal doom these worlds always possess. Just like the rest of ’em.


This review of Hellpoint was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.


"3 inches above the floor, man in the box wants to burn my soul."   Y'know, Dark Souls really was this metaphorical bag of Doritos the world wanted to snack on. An irresistible formula that many love the taste of, but no one can fully emulate in the correct way. We've had different locales, people extracting specific parts of the original flavor and cutting the portions in half, or in the case of today's title Hellpoint, just seeing if ASDA's American-Style Tortilla Chips cover the same bases.   This is the debut title from French-Canadian studio Cradle Games, a team of veterans who…


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Dread Nautical Review – The Haunting of Horatio Hornblower

Dread Nautical Review – The Haunting of Horatio Hornblower

“My mind’s an endless storm out in the cold unknown.”


My relationship with X-Com is one of unrequited love and passionate hatred. Even though I got into the turn-based party quite late with Firaxis’ 2012 version of Enemy Unknown, I still found myself absorbed in an adventure that took a year from my life. It was an astonishing time, albeit the victory was short-lived when I remembered that every battle was one accomplished with save-scumming, which was expected, even if it still took the wind out of my sails.


Even now, 8 years after Enemy Unknown set the AA-market on fire with a vivid reminder as to how intense turn-based combat can be, no other developer has been able to recreate the same fire — not even Firaxis themselves. X-Com 2 lacked the same fiery strategy, even with a stealth angle, Massive Chalice over-complicated how you could approach the enemy, and Phantom Doctrine suffered from being too dry. Let’s see how Dread Nautical can fare from the rest of the squad.


A screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing a lineup of random monsters ready to attack your crew.


This is the latest title from Zen Studios, a team responsible for the 3,452 different pinball tables present in Pinball FX. Varied landslide of over-sensationalized bar games aside, Zen have also seen themselves dabbling in various fun little exercises for casual gamers, like the tower-defense breeze of Castlestorm, or the quite in-depth Infinite Minigolf. They certainly have an eye for easy-to-pick-up games, and Dread Nautical is no exception.


You play as a survivor, lounging about on a ship named Hope with various other hedonistic bastards whose middle names might as well be “decadence”. While everyone is spitting on the workers unlucky enough to reside underneath the Second-Class deck, the capitalism that fueled their cruise trip collapses, and the souls of the damned begin to take over, bringing the ship into an inescapable loop of purgatory. It’s up to you and whoever you can find among the vast ship and its decks in order to find a way out of this madness.


Dread Nautical‘s gameplay is something worth observing, if only for how ambitious it seems to be. From the beginning, you have one premade survivor with a small backstory as to their presence on the ship, and you’re stuck in a small room with an elevator connected to every single part of the ship, inexplicably. If this elevator is to be believed, then the ship is the size of Blackpool Tower using the Sphinx as a skateboard, but nevertheless, you jump into the elevator and begin your journey to freedom.


A screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing a boss enemy surrounded by its own group of monsters.


If those strained opening paragraphs weren’t enough of a clue, then allow me to reiterate that Dread Nautical‘s gameplay is heavily inspired by the meaty dish of X-Com, with a side-order of roguelite mechanics, but we’ll get to that. With a maximum squad of three, you barrel through the abandoned leisurely spots of the ship, fighting whatever nasties come up, until you reach the helm and sound the foghorn. Once the foghorn is sounded, you and your party pass out and wake up once more where you began, with more of the ship opening up.


When you’re in the vicinity of an enemy, you’ll immediately switch to a combat mode, which limits your moves based on your party’s stats. You and the monsters take turns kicking each others’ arses. What you’re given to fight is based on what you’ve managed to find before the battle: bandages, lead pipes, molotovs, and what skills your party has, from stat buffs to AoE attacks.


It’s all surprisingly in-depth, as there’s quite a few ways to dispatch your squad and dispose of your enemies. All of the weaponry available in the game have many factors put into their viability in battle, like the range of an attack, the swing, and how much power it’ll require to use in a turn. The party skills available also offer a lot of approaches in how to eliminate threats.


A screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing a massive horde of enemies ready to attack the player.


There’s even a chance for stealth, which is a surprising element. Say you’ve only aggroed one of a potential three enemies; this means you have the chance to kill them before the rest of the squad realizes and clutters up affairs. Swipe them a few times with a fist or sharp weapon, and they’re out for the count without an issue. What weapons can and can’t cause a ruckus seem like random choices, but the strategy is there to use, refreshingly.


Problems quickly break through the skin, like the size of the battlegrounds. You’re mostly stuck to fighting in exceptionally cluttered arenas which offer no cover, just annoyance. All of these melee weapons offering a wide array of ways to attack don’t do much when you’re mostly fighting in thin ruins that can’t optimize how they work.


Ranged weaponry is also a bit broken. Grab a pistol, some darts, even a set of golf balls, and you’ll be pinging enemies across a battlefield with nary a care, with the enemy none the wiser as to how they’re being beaten. Mind you, this does work the same way for the enemy, and they have more than a few tricks in their roster, which is impressive in size, even if it needs a bit of culling.


A screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing the party characters inspecting a wrecked room.


You’ve got the regular melee fodder, who slowly become more powerful over time in different forms, whether it be in their speed, or their power. Spitters will be the first ranged enemies you come across, and the aforementioned lack of cover leads to your group taking a lot of frustrating and unnecessary hits. Nevertheless, these groups are manageable, and in the case of many of the common melee enemies, the arenas can be suited for them.


There are also Pushers, whose entire strategy seems to be disruption of a well-oiled machine, like your team. As we get further down the line, some oddities begin to crop up, like Rollers and Grabbers. They’re the same monsters in principle, possessing identical stunlocking abilities, with the Grabbers having to be right next to an affected party member. Rollers are vulnerable in the sense that they have to travel to you in order to stun you as well, just… like… the Grabbers… wait.


Rollers shouldn’t exist, as their attitude and playing style consists entirely of another melee variant, the “Runners”, except they can stun. Their role is already being filled by other monsters, they’re more like a gnat lacking a purpose. As you get deeper and deeper into the roster, their own gimmicks are fooled by the game’s own obvious mechanics and the design behind it.


An in-game screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing the player's characters surrounded by monsters.


For example, there are Trappers, who can spawn in 1×1 traps around the arena, potentially stalling your team when it comes to approaching the enemy. These traps never had any reason put into their positioning, however, usually spawning in corners or in wide-open spaces you can simply walk around. Even if you find a trap blocking a path forward, the proc-gen for the arenas usually abides by the rule of having 2 separate entryways.


The most egregious of the roster comes in the form of Blurrs. These are beings of pure air or… something like that, but their big trick is that once you hit them, they’ll instantly teleport the character you attacked with to another part of the map. While you can kinda see where they’re going with this, it’s a monster that the game can barely comprehend itself.


When one of your dude(ttes) gets teleported, the game fails to understand that they’re out of the designated combat zone, forcing them to a strict set of moves like everyone else. It’s a colossal spanner in terms of how its executed, especially since by the time they arrive in the game, monsters will spawn in previous rooms. It drags the pacing into the dirt and the difficulty into the sky. It’s absurd.


A screenshot of the Battle Mode in Dread Nautical, showcasing a fight taking place in a dimly lit room.


The pacing already suffers when you still have to move in grid-specific patterns outside of combat. Forcing this control scheme permanently results in awkward journeys as you attempt to get from one part of the room to the next. Why you couldn’t freely move with the thumbsticks outside of combat is anybody’s guess, but beyond that, it slowly drains on the player.


While exploring, you’ll find various potential upgrades to your equipment and weaponry, and you’ll also find direct upgrade materials that you use outside of main gameplay. These come in the forms of Runes and Scrap. Runes specifically upgrade your characters, and the Scrap is used for everything else. Upgrading and repairing weapons, crafting defensive equipment, upgrading the actual upgrading booths, it all relies on Scrap.


This is where the game’s simplicity clashes with more free-forming goals. The rate of obtaining scrap doesn’t run parallel with the increasing prices of further upgrades. Even later on, as you obtain rarer and more powerful weapons and armor, it feels like you have to replay more and more earlier levels, but this grinds on the mind. When it comes to the difficulty scaling of each deck and your own party’s skills, it’s so dead-on and precise that anything higher is a Sisyphus ordeal and anything lower is a slog.


An in-game screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing a battle taking place in a corrupted hall.


Maybe this would work better as a straight-up rogue-like with X-Com‘s mechanics, and that’s the biggest flaw Dread Nautical possesses. It cannot comprehend the balance of this extremely linear progression with a more haphazard core of danger and difficulty. It causes the game to be unsure of which one to fully commit to, ending with a gameplay loop that slowly falls apart as it gets faster.


There is a difficulty that puts all of its heart and soul into the rogue-like mechanics, but it’s also the hardest setting. There’s no Ironman challenge in Dread Nautical, outside of the hardest setting also possessing it. It wants you to go hard or go home, and if you can’t keep up, sorry little fella. Maybe our more bloated approach will do better for you, which is a shame, because as it stands, this is probably the best X-Com clone to be released yet.


While the difficulty is all over the place in terms of how it wants to directly challenge the player, whether it be resource management or tough odds, the need to save-scum is gone. It’s this accidental mishap of not knowing what genre should take center stage that kind of saves it from being a freak misfit. It’s not without its issues, like the bloated monster roster or the simple currencies being too simple for actual player progression, but this is still fine.


An in-game screenshot of Dread Nautical, showcasing a claustrophobic battle taking place in a green-lit room.


It’s surprising to see a title as modest as Dread Nautical. It’s a fairly beefy game with a surprisingly small price tag, in comparison to its competitors at least. For a gameplay concept so few have grasped as expertly as Firaxis, it’s weird to see the strongest contender so far be the studio more in tune with an overrated pub sport than anything else.


Dread Nautical has several strengths, but it also has several faults, one of which potentially crippling its core. It’s a dastardly monkey’s paw situation; it’s what is arguably the most reasonably-priced, turn-based strategy title to come out since the resurgence of the genre, but you’re paired with the more demanding and imperfect preset conditions of a rogue-like, a balancing act many have yet to grasp.


This Review of Dread Nautical was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided for this purpose.

"My mind's an endless storm out in the cold unknown."   My relationship with X-Com is one of unrequited love and passionate hatred. Even though I got into the turn-based party quite late with Firaxis' 2012 version of Enemy Unknown, I still found myself absorbed in an adventure that took a year from my life. It was an astonishing time, albeit the victory was short-lived when I remembered that every battle was one accomplished with save-scumming, which was expected, even if it still took the wind out of my sails.   Even now, 8 years after Enemy Unknown set the…


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Beyond Blue Review – Underwater Love

Beyond Blue Review – Underwater Love

“Looking down into the water, it’s hard to make out your face.”


You know, it’s crazy how in all of this advancement into making games fun and educational hasn’t led into the two meeting each other for younger audiences. I highly doubt you’re going to find a pre-teen kid who is down for some Civilization or Crusader Kings, so it’s only fair that a more interactive and accessible core is granted for these types of lessons. Thank Christ for games like Beyond Blue, in that regard.


This is the latest fully-fledged title from E-Line Media, a publisher and developer that has been making pretty hefty waves in the name of accessible and pioneering games. Their arty platformer Never Alone was a wonderful little stroll through the stories of the Iñupiat tribe, and their school-ready remix of Minecraft dubbed “MinecraftEdu. These are all the signs of a group ready to make sure that gaming reaches the audience necessary to expand, and each new addition in their catalog makes it much more admirable.


An in-engine screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing the character Mirai staring out into the water.


You play as Mirai, a woman who is eager to high-five whales until they grow human arms. She’s part of a team that includes the timid Andre and the marine biologist Irene, who’re exploring a part of the Western Pacific while streaming it live to the world. On the way, Mirai becomes enamored with a specific family of sperm whales, investigates a phenomenon involving the malnutrition of nearby aquatic life, and deals with her sister, Ren, aiding their aunt, who is suffering from dementia.


This all sounds like a bit of a mouthful, doesn’t it? In actuality, it is, even though it shouldn’t be. Beyond Blue isn’t necessarily a long game, involving several operations and deep dives that are quite linear in their presentation, but the story is fairly dense, although it shouldn’t be for this type of educational gathering. A lot of the time, you’re given dialogue choices that are supposed to determine your actions in how the story progresses, which isn’t implemented properly, but included nonetheless.


It’s an odd inclusion, but it feels like Beyond Blue wants to commit to this dialogue choice cliche purely because Never Alone had a story as well. Although, Never Alone‘s story could easily grasp the notion that what followed was a campfire tale, stories told by generations of this tribe. Beyond Blue doesn’t have that distinction yet still bombards you with irrelevant dialogue, with its only reason to exist being for vague callbacks.


An in-engine screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing a orb made of fish, in what is known as a "bait ball".


The theme of family plays a part in almost every aspect, and those thematic elements are extremely strong throughout. Whether it’s Mirai choosing to live out in the sea to be closer to her dreams, Irene not having a connection to her daughter, or the whales struggle through these turbulent times– They’re there, in full force. It’s just that the game trips up trying to have its cake and eat it too.


At the very least, you can say that Beyond Blue’s story isn’t completely ham-fisted in nature, but the dialogue choices knee-cap it into something that resembles an ego trip. Why not just have Mirai struggle with her sisters inability to care for her aunt and leave it at that? Whether Mirai asks how Ren’s school troubles are going, or how their aunt is, her adventure in the ocean will leave her with the same conclusions, whether she asks her sister about school or not.


It’s a shame the story’s in rocky waters, because Beyond Blue’s gameplay is fairly smooth sailing. It’s swimming dangerously close to walking simulator territory, albeit with a set of flippers attached. You’re plopped into a random part of the ocean, and you’re tasked with inspecting the marine life around you, with various mysteries and objectives cropping up. You inspect a buoy, you tag the sounds, you go to those sounds, and you do your research with a small but nifty set of tools.


An in-engine screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing two drones with flashlights on the ocean floor.


The buoy will be the main way to progress throughout the game, where you’ll highlight noises being made that can be self-explanatory or worrying. In-between those journeys, you’ll find those audio origins, and you’ll also have the chance to scan the local aquatic life surrounding the area, which gives Beyond Blue a hefty exploration aspect. You won’t just be tasked to find one of each species, though. Instead, you’ll be told that there’s an entire group you can scan in various different areas, which dampens the mood somewhat.


While I’m totally fine with charting all different types of fish, jelly-based species or otherwise, the sheer numbers game you’ll have to face isn’t worth the rewards given. Models of the fish and their idle natures are your only payoff for scouring the ocean bed for these creatures. No matter how well-animated they can be, I’m not putting myself through several dives just to find the one solitary Comb Jelly that is stuck in a wall.


As a pure spectacle, Beyond Blue can stun you with the stakes at play. Despite being constantly attached to an earpiece with Andre and Irene, the vibe you feel in this ocean is almost heavenly. While there’s no Call of Duty-certified fish AI, you can almost convince yourself that you’re not intruding on these animals, and instead, you’re a ghost merely seeing what most can’t.


An in-engine screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing a solitary whale barely lit by sunlight.


That being said, I highly recommend you turn off the game’s music. Not the small set of licensed tracks you can listen to outside of missions, because those are pretty fire, but the score that plays during dives. Aside from the pianos and synths whooshing across your ears repetitively, it fails to match the mood present, and instead replaces the true feelings one would attain from feeling weightless on the ocean floor.


After you turn off the soundtrack and let yourself become fully immersed in the experience, the ambient sound design takes a turn to try to blow your socks off, and it does. The whale clicks and creaking of the dolphins, the water rushing past your ears, the bubbling of hydrothermal vents when you get lower and lower into the ocean. It feels fantastic.


The swimming controls translate wonderfully to a controller, and the pacing of the character is just right. There’s no shortcut to travelling across these areas, which is a good choice because it allows you to be that much more attuned to the atmosphere. It’s ethereal, it feels like you’re embarking on an impossible mission, and it could be considered quite horrific.


An in-engine screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing an intimidating fish barely bathed in red light.


As you get deeper into the mysteries of the story, you’ll find the game approaches a darker turn in what is arguably the games peak. You’re given no waypoint markers, and what follows is a haunting swim through hydrothermal vents and underwater volcanoes. Light fails to penetrate the floor, and your own flashlights can’t even give you a vague description of your surroundings. It’s all fairly spooky, to say the least.


All of this does culminate in a bit of a downer ending with no real bright side to it. A vague callback to a previous line of dialogue marks the end of your actual journey with these people, and it felt like a pointless endeavor. Despite some strong thematic associations, Beyond Blue‘s unnecessary narrative ends up flopping around like that fish at the end of Faith No More’s “Epic” video.


Woah, two FNM references in one review… and they’re both thematically relevant! Ahem, excuse me…


An in-engine screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing a single fish being high-lighted in UV light.


Does Beyond Blue retain the education cores that were present in E-Line Media’s previous projects? Yes, but only slightly. In gameplay, the guise of supposedly streaming your diving efforts live is peppered with dialogue that’s essentially watered-down explanations of their efforts. It works really well and helps open up the more complex definitions that’ll crop up over time.


Other than that, the Insight videos that made their mark in Never Alone return here, which also do their job, but in a Discovery Channel format. There are various topics and subjects shown, like the way Jellyfish age and the meanings behind whale songs, but they missed a crucial angle, that being climate change. At this point in Earth’s life, with more knowledge than ever before, we have a threat we need to combat, but there’s only one video on the danger of climate change and pollution?


You’ll see it in the game world as well, although it’s incredibly muted. Certain pieces of litter damaging the natural eco-structure and a failed deep-sea mining operation are some of the sights you’ll be treated to, but the characters don’t mention it. Why is that? It doesn’t matter whether you’d come off as preachy because this is their job, their passion, and their lifestyle that are being threatened, along with the fishes, so why don’t they bring these issues to light?


An in-game screenshot of Beyond Blue, showcasing Mirai swimming along the ocean floor.


Unlike the gameplay’s consistent strength, a lot of these narrative beats and story elements are incredibly hit-’n-miss. When you’re not watching the Insight videos or listening to these characters detour the underwater odyssey, Beyond Blue is an experience worth having. After completing the campaign, you’re given free rein to dive into the regions shown throughout the campaign, without worrying about objectives or otherwise. It’s a nice touch, and it’s great fun, whether you’re crossing species off the arbitrary collectible list or just looking to vibe by yourself.


Despite not having the preachy angle that could’ve helped Beyond Blue‘s message come across to the average player, it’s still a nice time while it lasts. It’s great to see that E-Line Media is still on that hot streak of both teaching players about interesting subjects and putting them in a core that wants to satisfy as much as wants to educate. Beyond a small stipulation of being forced to withstand some unneeded narrative nonsense, Beyond Blue is a delightful little game.


This Review of Beyond Blue was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. 

"Looking down into the water, it's hard to make out your face."   You know, it's crazy how in all of this advancement into making games fun and educational hasn't led into the two meeting each other for younger audiences. I highly doubt you're going to find a pre-teen kid who is down for some Civilization or Crusader Kings, so it's only fair that a more interactive and accessible core is granted for these types of lessons. Thank Christ for games like Beyond Blue, in that regard.   This is the latest fully-fledged title from E-Line Media, a publisher and…


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