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Author: Jon Armer

Labyrinthine: A Preview

Labyrinthine: A Preview

So as you are all no doubt aware, I have my grubby little mitts in a number of different pies. And I hear things. So, when I got the chance to try Valko Studio’s new game; Labyrinthine I jumped at the chance. It’s pre-Alpha and not many people have got their mitts on it yet, so i’m clearly the man for the job.

Jump to the cut to find out what I thought. 

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XCOM: Chimera Squad – First Impressions

XCOM: Chimera Squad – First Impressions

Here at Reticule towers I’ve been reviewing Firaxis’ new XCOM game; Chimera Squad. Luckily for you lot I’m a huge XCOM fan so I grabbed the title as soon as it came out to bring you the only definitive review….

However it’s not going to be as simple as I thought. I’ve put 9 hours into it already and feel I need to spend more time on it before I can give you a fair evaluation of the title. As such i’m going to do a ‘first impressions’ piece with.. erm… my first impressions (and perhaps some context as to why I want to spend more time on it), and then I’ll follow it up with the final review late this week/early next. 

So jump to the cut for my initial thoughts.

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Mechstermination Force: The Verdict

Mechstermination Force: The Verdict

Mechstermination Force wants you to fight off towering robots on your own. No Army, no Air Force, just you, your bandanna and a big gun. You’re seriously out gunned, out matched, and you know it. But is it fun to play?

Mechstermination Force (henceforth MF) is a side-scrolling boss shoot-em-up from Bertil Hörberg – the Swedish developer behind Gunman Clive. It consists of nothing but boss fights. Boss Fights against humongous killer robots with ridiculous weaponry.

The world is under attack from killer robots you see, and you’re tasked to stop them. That’s pretty much the entire plot and to be honest, it doesn’t need much else as you’ll soon be too busy dodging a ridiculous amount of firepower from skyscraper-tall killer robots.

The enemies are varied, with some unique and interesting attacks. These range from giant centepedal robots that wrap their body around you in an attack, to giant robots that try to punch you… and then turn into a giant crocodile when you deal them too much damage.

Each is an utterly ridiculous, yet wonderfully designed mini-puzzle for you to beat. You learn the attacks, their movements and how they react and, often with split-second timing, you dodge and attack yourself. There’s a huge amount of satisfaction to be had in peeling off an enemies armour piece by piece, often to find sections you climb into to deal more damage, to eventually get to a point where you can deliver the coup de grace and save the day. Well at least until the next robot attacks. And there are a LOT of robots.

It is worth commenting on the difficulty of the game. I’m usually a PC-orientated player so sometimes struggle with the analogue sticks, so found this game to be ridiculously hard. Part of that will be my unfamiliarity with the controller for sure, but a larger part will be just how genuinely difficult this game is. You are going to Die. A lot. Yet, at no point did I find this frustrating. The sheer spectacle and size difference between yourself and the giant robots just keeps you engaged, and there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be had from finally finishing off that boss who’s been beating you for days.

This is further helped by the fact you can purchase upgrades for your character (health, magnetic gloves etc) along with a selection of varied and deadly weapons. A particular favourite of mine being a beam weapon that bounces off surfaces. Very useful when inside a robot. All this is achieved through the base that you visit in between missions. It’s an interesting location, but I can’t help feeling they could have done more with it, and to be honest there’s little incentive to linger past repeating missions or upgrading your weaponry.

Often when I’ve finished reviewing a game I put it down and (often) never pick it up again. However with this one, despite it’s difficulty, I just keep coming back. It’s a difficult, utterly unforgiving, but fantastically rewarding game, and I just can’t stop playing it. I recommend you give it a try.

The Verdict – Headshot

Platforms Available/Reviewed – Switch

Review based on media copy. Read here for more on our scoring system.

Noita: Preview

Noita: Preview

This. Watch this.

Now, that all looks rather good doesn’t it.

Noita is a rogue-a-like wizard exploration game with a difference. I mean, not that that’s a massively overused genre, but still. The difference here is that they are simulating every single pixel.

Now this is a rather big thing. it means fire can spread. It means water can freeze. It means electricity can electrify water. It also means giant explosions can destroy half the level… and that is something i’m keen to explore. The developers list the following:

  • Pixel-based physics: Every pixel in the world is simulated. Burn, explode or melt anything. Swim in blood of your foes!
  • Your own magic: Create new spells as you delve deeper into the caverns. Use your magic to crush your enemies and manipulate the world around you.
  • Action rogue-lite: Death is permanent and always a looming threat. When you die, don’t despair, use what you’ve learned to get further on your next adventure.
  • Procedurally generated world: Explore a unique world every time you play. Discover new environments as you adventure deeper.

I love games where you can play around within a set of rules and physical laws. you can combine spells and phenomena to devastating effect. Acid rain can eat through levels, setting off explosive barrels. you can freeze water with enemies in it. You can redirect magma flows towards people…. it just looks like a ridiculous playground filled with spells of mass destruction and i cannot wait to have a play. You can also cause a rain spell to put out your burning robes….

The game is currently listed on Steam and will be released ‘when it’s done’. And when it is done, i’m going to be playing it- so check back for more updates, and the review when it’s live!

Fimbul : The Verdict

Fimbul : The Verdict

Fimbul is a Norse comic action-adventure game by Wild River and Zaxis games. It follows Kveldulver after an attack on his home village and his quest for justice. During the attack Kveldulver is mortally wounded and is brought back to life by the Norns, female beings who rule the destiny of gods and men. Apparently.

The game is pretty heavy on the Norse mythology, and i’m not entirely sure the comic-book style gels very well with the actual gameplay. I also found it pretty hard to follow in places and if i’m honest, just started forwarding through it to get back to the game proper.

The game itself is actually very good looking. the Art style and the way the characters move and interact all looks good, and the snow in particular can be quite beautiful. I found it quite nice walking around the world looking at the scenery. That is when the camera isn’t trying to hide everything behind a tree.

Granted you don’t often get long to enjoy the scenery, as you’re pretty much constantly under attack. Be it from raiders, natives or giant trolls- there’s seemingly always someone who wants to split your noggin open. Luckily the combat is one area where this game excels. It’s fast, intuitive, and you can manage large encounters quite easily. The special attacks you can unlock often result in limbs and heads flying through the snow leaving stark patches of blood on the pristine white floor. The fact that that kind of damage is limited to the specials means it’s not overused and the sight of a limb or head tumbling through the air is always gratifying to see.

Yet again though, the opaque nature of the game starts to get in the way . You’re often left to figure out things for yourself, such as how to heal. I spent 20 minutes repeating one section because i’d managed to get into it with only a sliver of health and had 3 large group encounters to get through where I literally couldn’t be hit once. Granted, by the end of it I was very good at the combat, but I still had to resort to re-loading an earlier save to try it again with more health.

Turns out you heal by plonking down a giant banner which gives an area-of-effect healing increase because of course it does. Now there is a section later on in the game where it tells you how to spend these action points you earn, and in there you can see how each stat works; So you’d realise about the healing then, but unless I missed it, you’re not actually told about this earlier and that is a big issue. If we were told about it then it certainly wasn’t highlighted enough.

This is a bit of a misstep and I feel it is endemic of the game as a whole. The art and style has gotten in the way a bit of the game. The gaming tropes of tutorial levels and easy run-through of each skill you’ll need early on to let you get used to them are there for a reason; they’re needed. And don’t even get me started on the giant monsters with searchlight-eyes. As I literally have no idea what those sections are about, or why they’re there.

The boss fights though are really good. You’re given weak areas to exploit, attacks to avoid and they all feel pretty organic and well pitched. I enjoyed the Troll fights enormously for example. And that there is the pattern of the game, good things at regular intervals with periods of confusion and fighting against the interface or design. There’s enough there to make it worth playing, but just be prepared for a certain degree of frustration.

The Verdict – On Target

Platforms Available – Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, STEAM

Platform Reviewed – Switch

Please head here to read about our scoring policy. Review based on code supplied by PR.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 announced

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 announced

It’s not often I get excited about a new game announcement- certainly a sequel to an old IP, but this one had me ‘squee-ing’ like a little school girl. You see, in 2004 a game called Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (V:MB) came out on PC, and it was glorious. Sure it was a buggy mess, with slightly janky combat, utterly broken latter levels and met decidedly average reviews upon release, but it soon turned into a cult classic and is arguably, one of the best RPG’s ever made.

One of THE most memorable game characters ever.

V:MB was something special. It’s one of the few games i’ve played that managed to build a world so successfully around it. It felt like a real world. It felt lived in, and more gloriously, what you saw of it (including huge character arks and complete levels/location sets) depended entirely on the type of Vampire you selected.

You could play as a Toreador (cultured), Venture (nobility), Brujah (fighters), Malkavians (insane), Gangrel (bikers), Tremere (secret society) and Nosferatu (hideous half-bats) and your take on the game, the locations you visited and how people reacted to you depended entirely on which clan you were. Play as a Venture, and you can bluff and bully you way through most conversations, but would struggle in a fight. Malkavians (by FAR the most fun to play), were utterly insane- so the conversation choices you made never quite matched-up with what actually came out of your mouth resulting in some incredibly memorable moments. Or, if you played as the Nosferatu even being seen in public was enough to breach the Masquerade, and have all local vampires trying to kill you.

This is what the game centred around; the titular ‘Masquerade‘. These are the rules that bind Vampire society as a whole and keep them shielded from the humans at large. Revealing your true nature, or killing too many people in one area was classed as a violation of the Masquerade, which pretty much always resulted in your death. An in-game meter told you how close you were to violating it, and it would move up and down depending on your actions and choices in game.

It was utterly utterly brilliant. Some of my best gaming moments (the haunted motel, the werewolf escape in the park) and best plot twist (Jeannette) in any game i’ve played. The announcement of a sequel has me very excited indeed.

The release trailer can be found here, and while it doesn’t show much it does set the scene and it looks like they’re going for the same foreboding and claustrophobic aesthetic that worked so well in the first game and if they can capture even a fraction of what made the first game so special, then we’ll be in for a very real treat indeed. I’m going to be following this one very closely folks, and will add updates and previews as I get them.

Feature: A Parents perspective on the Nintendo’s Switch

Feature: A Parents perspective on the Nintendo’s Switch

So as you may or may not know I am a Dad, and I have two young boys. As such I’m often walking that tightrope between trying to introduce them to gaming (one of my major often involves wrestling little ones off ‘screen time’ (any digital device- i.e. phones, iPad’s, handheld gaming devices etc), and then dealing with the inevitable (nuclear) fallout of such parental directives.

I grew up with gaming in the 90’s when it was new. And I mean new. We’re talking pre-(widespread)-internet here and then the heady-days of dial-up. As such my parents had no real reference to compare what I was playing to, and as a result I’d end up with my grubby little hands on titles such as Doom and System Shock…

Now it’s my turn to make those kinds of calls and I’d like to think that there is a lot more information out there and that the ‘they’re just games’ mindset that see’s little Timmy’s beating prostitutes to death in GTA is no longer as prevalent, or indeed an acceptable excuse.

I like to think that I can recognise just how ‘adult’ games can be and how unsuitable they can be for little-ish eyes. The certificates are there for a reason folks. Fortnight for example, is a 12 certificate. Yet it seems like every child in my son’s school plays it. Given my eldest is in primary school, you can perhaps see the issue with that. That said, as far as games go, Fortnight isn’t that bad for kids- you know, competitive violence and one-man-upmanship aside, but it doesn’t change the fact that the certificate is sometimes a good 6 years above the age of a lot of children playing it.

Now I thought I’d have this nailed. You just don’t go into the shop and buy them the 18 certificate game. Easy. Dad-1, World-Nil. Suck it. Unfortunately the internet and more specifically digital downloads makes that harder. Now of course, you can restrict their ability to set up accounts etc, but again, with voucher codes and pre-paid cards, even that isn’t foolproof. Seem’s I’ll actually have to be a ‘parent’ and watch what my kids do. The humanity….

That was until my son got a Nintendo Switch. Nintendo have long been at the forefront of innovation and user-experience, but the parental controls around the Switch have left even a jaded old man like me happy.

The parental controls are accessed through my smartphone. I’ve set up his gaming account through it, and by using my email any communication he gets comes to me also. This nicely side-steps THAT other worry of letting your kids online; unsolicited external contact. But wait, there’s more. I’ve set age-limits into the switch that can only be changed through my phone. No matter how tech-savvy he gets, he’s not worming his way around that one.

I also see what he plays/does and for how long, I can get notifications whenever he picks it up and I can (and have) set hard-wired time limits into the device that i can change on the fly. The parental controls  literally switched the game off after the allotted time. No if’s, no ‘5 more minutes dad’, it just stops. It’s glorious, and it makes parenting that much easier.

More importantly it allows me to give my eldest a bit more freedom with his tech. Knowing I can monitor and review anything that happens on it, should I wish, gives me more confidence that he is safe and that he’s not accessing anything he shouldn’t. And what’s more, it’s all highly intuitive, easy to control and (as you’d expect from Nintendo) very well thought out.

I didn’t know about this aspect of the Switch until after i’d bought it, but you know what? I think nintendo are missing a trick here- this is a REAL differentiator and something more parents should know about. If I were undecided over which console to get, this sort of thing would push me nintendo’s way.

It’s clearly something that they thought about from the start of the design process of the Switch (at least for the software), and I think it shows just how important this is to Nintendo.I’ll tell you one thing, it’s certainly made my life easier.

Hats off folks.


EDIT: Since drafting this article my son’s school received a number of warnings about the ‘Momo challenge’ through the parent-email system While I couldn’t do much about the iPad’s, I have been able to disable the browser on the switch to protect from that particular aspect too- at least until it all blows over. Another point for Nintendo.

A Plague Tale- Innocence lost : Preview

A Plague Tale- Innocence lost : Preview

NEWS!

Oh I love a good bit of news. Don’t you? No wait! It’s not Brexit, it’s Games! No. Not a game about Brexit either; it’s something filled with squalor, disease, peril, the threat of starvation and a plague of killer rats. So if anything, it’s WAY nicer than Brexit…

The title in question is ‘A Plague Tail: Innocence’ which is a new episodic game by Asobo Studio’s that is due to come out on May 14th for PC, PS4 and XBox One.

It centres around two orphaned siblings, Amicia and Hugo, as they try to flee the Inquisition in 14th Century France. Oh that and a pack of supernatural Rats. The gameplay blends action, adventure and stealth phases, and if the video is anything to go by, some pretty hefty ethical dilemmas too.

Check out the video here.

Just how far will Amicia be willing to go to protect Hugo, and as one intriguing line in the video below asks, just how much of Hugo’s innocence will be left at the end of it? This seems like it could be a nice take on the typical ‘morality’ scale that we see in some games. It’s harder to justify, you know, murdering someone if there’s a child watching. And in the game.

The graphics and art style immediately pull you in and I like the level of detail that is on display here. It looks, at least from what limited footage that i’ve seen, that this is going to be a game that gets you right in the feels, with what looks like an intriguing plot and two very likeable and relatable characters. I’ll be interested to see how they navigate some of the more adult themes that the setting will throw up from the perspective of two young siblings as this could be a great filter in which to view the period and to add some real emotional weight to some well-worn themes and stories. That and the pack of supernatural rats.

Tell me you’re not as intrigued as I am…