Gaming, review

Duck Souls+

Things aren’t quite what you expect them to be with Duck Souls+

If you’re judging by its title, you probably expect roguelike mechanics, clumsy control mechanics, a lot of atmosphere and punishing enemies at every turn. If you take a look at screenshots then maybe you’re thinking a cute little one screen puzzle platformer.

That last one is close to the truth, its also misleading. Yes, Duck Souls+ is cute, its brightly coloured and fun to look at, its also a one-screen puzzle platformer, but don’t let that fool you into thinking its easy as its anything but.

Unsurprisingly you play through the game as a duck, challenged with retrieving the lost duck souls or something to that effect, the plots only really referenced very early on and isn’t important to what follows. Once that little intro sequence is done with you’re plonked on a full-screen level and challenged with getting from one point to the other before being allowed to move onto the next one. As you progress more challenges are thrown in your way. You’re then given a few levels to get used to each new obstacle, first on its own and then mixed with other obstacles you’ve previously had to learn.

Thankfully Duck Souls+ realises that we’re all at differing levels of skill, with developers Green Dinosaur Games providing two difficulty levels, Normal and Hard, the main difference being the former gives you well-placed checkpoints in levels allowing the player to take a breather and figure out the next step without worrying that a mistake will see you sent right back tot he beginning of the level. However, the beautiful thing is, you can drop out and change the difficulty level at will without there being any gateway preventing you from progressing if you choose to chop and change between either of them. Add in that the levels never really outstay their welcome and you have a short sharp, entertaining little game that’s perfect for both long gaming sessions and just picking up and playing.

It’s that last point that I’d like to build on a little. I played the PSN version of the game, which is compatible with both PS4 and Vita, and whilst there’s no Cross-Save feature here, meaning you have to play through each installation individually rather than being able to switch between the two at will (a feature that the Switch version benefits from due to it being one system with two methods of playing it rather than two separate consoles). I tried it on both systems and personally found the more confined screen but smaller controls felt much more accurate than playing it on the households main TV using a Dual Shock 4, in fact, the Vita’s d-pad is absolutely perfect for this game, add in the systems sleep function and I found myself picking it up and playing it in little fits and starts rather than the more dedicated time I tend to have with the PS4.

The games price point is definitely worth a mention, at £4 on the PlayStation Store, its ridiculously cheap, the budget pricing gives the impression that its a budget game, but it genuinely feels anything but. the presentation is nice and a lot of care and thought has gone into the level design, decisions such as the interchangeable difficulty level sitting alongside this price point does make it slightly disposable, but there’s also far less pressure on the player to just “Git Gud!”

Formats: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (version tested), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita (version tested)
Release Date: September 8 2019 (Steam), April 2020 (Other Systems)
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Green Dinosaur Games

Gaming, review

Curious Expedition

You can’t move for retro looking Roguelikes these days. It often feels like almost every other game carries with it the mechanics of earning abilities as you progress but losing equipment and progress, having to start your playthrough essentially from scratch, but with the idea that each time you start over the game is a little easier than the last attempt. Most tie this to a Metroidvania style game, getting you to explore a large 2D environment. This is where Curious Expedition differs.

f9ac19bf-4881-4db6-9fc3-39e187598d45

Curious Expedition isn’t a side scrolling platform action game, no, its developers Maschinen-Mensch, style it as an “expedition” game wherein the player is tasked with becoming a notable person from the 19th Century who embarks on an expedition to find hidden pyramids, return home with treasures and become the worlds most famous explorer, this is all played out with a Civilization Revolution style map that you move your crew across, clearing fog of war, finding villagers, causing volcanic eruptions and running out of Sanity as you “progress”. Games take maybe an hour to ninety minutes to get from your first expedition to your last, provided you get that far, meaning its quite fun to just switch on and not have to really focus on what you’re doing, its fairly light as far as Roguelikes go.

The presentation its quite quirky, every discovery, trade and decision is played out using diary entries that provide the game with its character, sommetimes they really portray the seriousness of any particular predicament (I had someone break a leg and I had to decide whether to leave them or try to heal it, I had to go with the former as I didn’t have the equipment to do the latter, thus making my inventory space smaller so I had to also leave some other items behind) or adding humour at times. It’s a lovely way to portray what looks like quite a static game and each entry is really well written, which gives it the feel of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the Eighties and Nineties.

9dcb2646-2e49-4f08-ba91-6a8cf4df678b

There are a few things that confused me though, I can’t say the game doesn’t try to teach you its mechanics, maybe I just didn’t grasp things well enough. As you explore the map your Sanity meter depletes, this can be replenished by eating consumable items such as chocolate or by sleeping at any villages you find, but both of these can be hard to come by. When the meter reaches 0 you’re crew begin to make mistakes (such as the aforementioned broken leg or they drop items from your inventory, making the rest of the journey even harder) and you’re encouraged to try and make your time walking as long as possible, fewer longer trips results in less Sanity being lost than more frequent but shorter trips.

I couldn’t really grasp the battle system either, its turn based and relies upon dice rolls, but beyond that I didn’t really get on with what the games tutorial was telling me to do, these battles take place against things like wild animals that are patrolling area’s you are walking through or villagers that happened to take offence at your presence (as not everyone is always pleased to see you). It was these moments that led me to getting my Game Over’s as I just didnt have the correct members in my expedition to have the correct dice in order to fight anything off.

0a0d04a5-d895-48dc-a3fa-ea2c857255ee

The games biggest disapointment however is that, currently at least, its missing a multiplayer mode. From what I can tell the developer has been working on one, at least they have been for the PC version thats been out since 2016, but when playing it, there was no sense of competition or urgency to beat the other Explorers and I couldn’t escape the feeling that a turn based game, with players starting at different points on the same map, racing to find the pyramid first, finding ways to make progress harder for the other competitors, would have made this game an essential couch co-op title rather than a fun little distraction.

Formats: PC (Steam), XBox One (version tested), PS4 and Switch
Release Date: 2016 (PC), April 2 2020 (Consoles)
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Developer: Maschinen-Mensch
Code provided by Thundeful Publishing for review purposes.

Gaming, Mental Health

Cult of the Company – The Outer Worlds and Edgewater

To begin with, I’m placing this under both my Gaming and Mental Health headers, the first reason is obvious as its a post about The Outer Worlds, the second is because I’m trying to look at the mindset of the people of Edge Water. I’m only a few hours into the game but will do my best to refrain from posting spoilers. For clarity I have the power regulator I need for my ship but I’ve not yet actually installed it on the ship.

Even at this early stage Obsidian Entertainment’s The Outer Worlds have thrown up some food for though, most notably in the people I have met so far, and most importantly regarding the mental health of the inhabitants of the town of Edgewater. Edgewater is a community that was created by and is owned by a company called Spacers Choice and is set up in order to provide tinned “Saltuna” to colonies throughout space. It’s the first settlement that the player happens across and where you begin to interact with the games inhabitants and whilst there’s a focus on the physical health of the citizens of Edgewater, which is pretty poor due to their diet and working conditions, its the mindset of these people that is definitely where my intrigue lies.

The very first person you can talk to once you have landed in the Emerald Vale sector of Terra 2 introduces you to the motto of Spacers Choice “You’ve tried the best, now try the rest. Spacer’s Choice”, but its not until you reach Edgewater that the mindset of the people begins to show itself. This is most apparent, in my opinion, in the person who runs the Spacer’s Choice Cantina, one Amelia Kim.

Amelia works hard, after all, with how muddy it is outside the doors of her bar, its not easy keeping those floors clean. But there’s more to her than it seems, you see its very easy to get her to start talking. She wanted to be a scientist when she was younger, but it seems at some point she let go of that dream “thats the problem with dreams, you wake up” she says (I may be paraphrasing there). There’s a deadened look on her face, and questions outside of the operation of her bar seem to scare her. This pattern is repeated through the rest of Edgewater, from Silas the gravedigger through to the towns supervisor Reed Tobson, they all do as the corporation tells them and don’t ask questions regardless of the impact this has upon themselves or each other, in the belief that it is for the betterment of Edgewater as a whole.

This means that those who fall ill are quaruntined out of the way, they’re not currently working, and thus dont serve the higher purpose and so aren’t entitled to treatment (even though people work in order to make sure they receive treatment if/when they do fall ill), those who leave Edgewater, for whatever reason, are shunned as deserters, so if you’re not serving Spacer’s Choice by working in the Saltuna Cannery (or one of the more localised jobs like the towns vicar, who himself is treated with suspicion) then you don’t belong within this particular society.

It does feel like a commentary on our own work culture, how many people go in to work unwell or return too early because of the pressure from their boss not to take time off, or the social stigma from their colleagues because they’re “skyving”? Whether its our physical or mental health we return, dutifully, to work, potentially causing others to fall ill and not being able to work to the best of our abilities, all to serve (normally) a company that we’re actually a tiny part of, we prioritise of others over our own health through fear of making things more difficult for others, although its also because time off comes with financial punishment (which for some people also means they may not be able to afford the prescription charge for their medication in order to get better and return to work in a better state in the first place).

The people in Edgewater have become convinced they are a part of something, again this is reflected in the real world. How many of us have worked in jobs where the “benefits” of the job also happen to aid the company you’re working for? I’ll give you an example. I used to work as a cashier in a bank, before I started I was made an appointment with one of their staff members in order to open a current account with said bank with me ultimately switching from one high street bank to the high street bank I was becoming an employer of, my wages were then paid into this account. From talking to other members of staff these was standard practice for this particular chain of banks (though not all of them do this, I believe), and you’re led to believe that your wages have to be paid into the account you’ve now taken out with your employer. This makes you both employer and customer, it enables you to talk to other customers about the benefits of banking with your employer as you have that experience to pass on to the customer (not that they like you referring to customers as customers), but it also helps various elements of that bank beyond those conversations with its customers, it helps the banker, branch and region all meet their targets and also means that that chain of banks also has a customer that other banks may not have (especially if you only use one account or then want to take advantage of the convenience of having your current account, savings account, credit card etc all under one roof).

So, when you’re walking around Edgewater, listening to the likes of Amelia talk, ignoring her dreams and grinding out her menial job for very little benefit to herself, its very hard to ignore the feeling in the back of your mind that this isn’t healthy. Whether thats the developers intention remains to be seen and I think, for those that are also playing The Outer Worlds, you may have already clicked as to what path I took for that first big decision the creators have you make.

 

Gaming, review

Descenders

I think we’ve established by now that I like racing games, so my initial thoughts when I saw tweets regarding RageSquid’s Descenders was “oo that looks like a great racing game”, so once it hit Game Pass on XBox One I gave it a download and have spent the last week playing it and I was wrong, its not a “great racing game”.

I was however to use the term “great” because Descenders is really, really good, but its not a racing game. It’s also not a Tony Hawks style game, which is another assumption it is easy to make when you look at screenshots or watch videos. It actually has both elements, there is a race to the bottom of the hill and you can do tricks, but overall, at least in single player where I’ve spent all of my time, there’s no right way to play Descenders. There’s no position markers, so its not about beating your “opponents” (who, depending on if you’re connected to the internet or not) are all humans, thing is, “opponents” is the wrong term, they all occupy the same space as you, but you’re not pitched against them and people drop in and out of your instance on a consistent basis. Likewise, your Rep score isn’t compared to these players whilst your in a particular event (which are all procedurally generated based upon stats set when you choose an event).

Which makes Descenders difficult to describe to others, but I keep returning to it. Why? Well, aside from it being really good fun, its cathartic too. There’s something to be said about just throwing a Mountain Bike down the side of a hill, popping off tricks whilst the excellent EDM soundtrack plays, its incredibly cathartic and thanks to the fact its only a ragdoll physics based representation of human who’s bones are at stake I don’t have to worry about being rushed to the hospital or being left to die (which is one of a few reasons I’m unlikely to really get into mountain biking as a real world hobby even if I could do with some excercise thats less damaging to my knees than jogging would be).

I mentioned before that the game was instanced, it has a similar kind of structure to RICO that I reviewed a couple of months back in that theres branching paths for each of the games four locations. Each branch leads to a new event that is randomly generated and the map gives you an idea of what kind of terrain to expect using gauges that show you the routes steepness, how twisty it is and whether it is trick intensive or not. You’re given a pool of attempts to get as far through all four environments as you can and you can increase that pool by completing the (also randomly generated) bonus objective for each event. As you progress and also gain more rep (earned via doing tricks) you’ll also build a Team, these are essentially stat buffs that allow you to land from greater heights, loose less life points when you’re bailing, make you spin faster when doing tricks and a whole host of others than you can pick from to tailor the game to your own abilities. Each environment finishes up in a “Boss Jump”, an almost Evel Knievel style jump (i.e. over a viaduct with a steam train going over it) that you need to land in order to move onto the next environment.

What makes all this work though is just how great the game is to control, the weight and momentum of your bike as you hurtle downhill and the speed with which the game can shift along is exhilarating and its rare that the frame rate begins to struggle. It all feels incredibly simple to begin with, RT gets your guy peddaling, LT is your break, left stick steers whilst the right stick allows you to pump and bunny hob the bike in a similar manner to EA’s old SKATE games. Personally I feel that having to hold the left bumper button and then use the right stick to perform tricks is a bit cumbersome but you soon get used to it, although I’ll admit that I was less focused on doing tricks and more on riding as fast as I could down the hills.

Circuits are lined by tape with checkpoints as you go, but you’re never forced to stick to the route, the checkpoints are merely there to give you a new starting point if you crash, and in fact some events do away with a route completely and merely ask you to head in the direction of the finish line as told to you by a compass at the top of the screen, and its this level of freedom that gives the game its almost meditative feel.

Its not perfect though, the load times can sometimes feel a little too long and theres an argument to be made regarding to its repetition, but on that last point, in a medium where far too many games can feel overblown and bulked out Descenders offers a nice counter in that its unlikely you’ll ride the same series of corners more than once and just setting out to “get to the next environment” offers a great 20 minute play thats perfect for just unwinding. I’ll happily admit that I was worried during my first play of Descenders that me getting the wrong impression of the game from its trailers would damage how I felt about the game, but further time with it as shown it to be a hidden gem of a game that I’ve grown to want to recommend to everyone that states there aren’t enough console exclusives on the XBox One, that its (at the time of writing) available on Games Pass means that everyone subscribed to that service, in my opinion, owes it to themselves to give it their time.

Formats:  PC, XBox One (Version tested)
Release Date: 9 February 2018 (PC), 15 May 2018 (XBox One)
Publisher: No More Robots
Developer: RageSquid

Gaming, review

Dangerous Driving

I recently discussed my love of racing games when I did a #ThrowBackThursday for OutRun 2006 and I’ve done some race reports for my attempts at racing online in GTSport. Now I have a brand new racing game to discuss, Three Field Entertainments Dangerous Driving which released earlier this week on PlayStation 4, PC and XBox One.

Dangerous Driving is one of those games thats not shy about its influences, its a pure arcade racer where racing lines and braking points are further down the list than just being outrageously fun. For those that know nothing about it, Dangerous Driving is the latest racing game by Burnout creator Alex Ward, and the pedigree shows. This is Burnout in all but name, albeit it pre-Paradise. Which isn’t a bad thing, not that Burnout Paradise was bad, it was anything but. But like Burnout was prior to Paradise, Dangerous Driving is an incredibly focused piece of adrenaline fueled gaming.

You’ll notice from the very start there’s little in the way of menu’s and options, theres a number of different events ranging from standard races, through takedown events to, my personal favourite, Heatwave mode wherein you chain boosts by using up the full boost bar up without letting go of the controller button. Whilst there’s also a number of different racing class, from Sedans,  SUV’s, Coupe’s and ultimately “Formula DD” or F1 to you and I.

The reason for this stripped back approach is that Three Fields are a tiny team of seven and they’ve put this together in a similar small space of time. Even so, ignoring the lack of polish on the front end, not to mention that theres a distinct lack of in-game music, you can see where all their efforts have gone as the gameplay is pure “in the zone” gaming, and when you are managing to dodge traffic and the persistent wrecks (every Takedown you perform leaves your opponents carcass on the road waiting to take you out on the following lap) you’ll be right on the edge of your seat, not daring to blink as chaos ensues around you.

Things aren’t perfect though. It’ll take a while to get used to the camera position and the sun glare, apparently the team had a discussion over what construes as “dangerous driving” and driving fast whilst blinded by the sun was one of the things that came up which they’ve seen fit to include here. And for what its worth, their goal of making the driving dangerous by including it has been achieved, whether or not it was a good idea is open to debate, after a while its easy to ignore most of the time but sometimes wrecking feels a little unfair due to being blinded. Likewise the chase camera is low to the ground and close to your rear bumper, it does pull back a bit when you’re boosting but its still closer than most games, again, this is a design choice based upon giving the player that sensation of speed. The front bumper cam is even lower. Cars can feel a little unpredictable at times, in particular the SUV’s. Now I’m not a rage gamer, I’ll generally turn a game off through frustration before I’m swearing at it, but Dangerous Driving has driven me close a number of times, especially when in the SUV’s and unfortunately you can progress to a different class without completing the prior one first. Which, whilst being standard progression for this sort of game historically, I can see it frustrating some. Lastly the steering sensitivity is a little high, you can turn it down in the options but at the time of writing the game doesn’t save these changes so you have to change it every time you start the game up.

These are only minor niggles though, and some are definetly done on purpose to provide a challenge for the player and set Dangerous Driving aside from the faux-arcade racers like Forza Horizon. What we have here is an excellent addition to the genre, it may or may not be the case that I’ve given it an easier time due to a lack of anything similar on current hardware, its pedigree and the developers cashing in on nostalgia, but provided this leads to Three Fields bringing us more Dangerous Driving in the future, I’m really happy to recommend that anyone looking for some balls out fun gives this a go.

 

Formats: PlayStation 4 (Version Tested), PC, XBox One
Release Date: 9th April 2019
Publisher: Three Fields Entertainment
Developer: Three Fields Entertainment

Gaming, review

RICO

Buddy Cop movies are great right? All that comedy and action thrown into one roller coaster of a movie! Who doesn’t love Lethal Weapon (well, apart from 3 and 4), 21 Jump Street, Rush Hour and The Other Guys? And now you can play a part in that too thanks to RICO. Because here is a game that takes half of what we love about those movies, the action, and encourages you and a buddy to take on the “Wunza” roles as you bust down doors and burst open some perps heads. Sounds great, right?

Well, it is. It works like this, there are three game modes, Quick, Case Mode and Daily which all sort of intertwine with each other. Case mode is where you will be spending most of your time, here RICO takes on a Rogue-like quality, you’re assigned missions from a mission tree that are progressively harder, you always start in the games Killhouse with only a handgun in your arsenal, as you progress you can purchase better guns, attachments, grenades or heal. However, once you die its game over and you’re back to the Killhouse to start a new case with only your starting handgun available. I’ll admit it took me a while to figure out that you do get to keep your equipment, but not for this mode, it’s all there, waiting to be selected in Quick mode. Which leaves you with the headache of “do I buy that gun again or do I spend money on health”. What does carry over however is the Traits that you unlock by earning experience and leveling up, these cover abilities like quicker reloads or damage multipliers and are assigned to your chosen character where you can pick up to three unlocked Traits depending on your play style. The latter mode is Daily, here the developers upload a handful of different scenario’s, one for each difficulty, with set equipment where the aim is to post a fast completion time to the online leaderboards. Once each scenario is completed your given credits to unlock skins for your guns.

Now like I said, the concept of the game is that you and a mate play this cooperatively, bursting into rooms and shooting the bad guys, There are other mission completion elements too, sometimes you’ll be tasked with collecting evidence, which is just discovering a randomised number of green brief cases, or diffusing bombs. These tasks can be assigned to you from the outset or appear as you work your way through a level and are much of a muchness. The fun ones are when the game asks you to complete a set amount of sliding kills, or clearing a number of rooms whilst still in slow motion, and here is where the co-op play really excels as you are often in a position where you can approach certain rooms from two different entry points, allowing you or your partner to provide a distraction whilst the other applies the skill. However here there’s also the risk that your partner could get in the way which was a situation my eldest daughter and I found ourselves in a few times when we were playing couch co-op.

Whilst all of this sounds great, and when it all works, RICO is genuinely great fun to play in co-op, it definitely doesn’t really work as a single player game as there’s very little meat on the bone here. There’s also a few minor niggles too, for a start it’s really weird playing a first-person shooter that doesn’t have any rumble feature, it makes you feel disconnected from the onscreen action and is a genuine shame when you get your hands on one of the games shotguns as they’re really satisfying to use within the games claustrophobic environments, adding a kick from the pad would have accentuated that further and made them great fun to play with. The sensitivity is also a little off, it feels too twitchy on its default setting, and whilst you can alter this, it initially put me off the game a little to begin with. However one thing that did spoil RICO more than I would normally like to admit was that due to its procedurally generated levels furniture can sometimes get in the way, I got stuck on more than a few chairs and on more than one occasion when tasked with finding piles of money or collecting evidence I was blocked from reaching the item I was searching for by an office desk or changing blind that had been placed in my way.

These are minor gripes though because like I’ve already said, when played the way RICO wants you to play it: sliding through doors, breaking them down and unleashing lead into the heads of bad guys, RICO is gloriously good fun.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (Version Tested), PC, Switch, XBox One
Release Date: 12th March 2019 on PS4, 13th March 2019 on XBox One and 14th March 2019 on PC and Switch
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Ground Shatter
Key provided via Keymailer

Gaming

Apex Legends

Lets get this out of the way, I’m not much of an FPS player, I mean I did used to play them a fair bit, but we’re talking TimeSplitters, Rainbow Six 3 Black Arrow and Rainbow Six Vegas as titles that I played a hell of alot of, oh and Overwatch (on which I used to play either Lucio or Zenyatta). Anything that had a more serious lone wolf style element to it and, well I was useless, so I never put in the time to get better because quite frankly I’m not of the disposition to spend time doing something I’m not enjoying to just get better and be part of the “in” crowd.

A week ago, EA and Respawn surprised everybody (well, nearly everybody, those at EA and Respawn and a select few “influencers” knew what was going on) and released a new FPS with a Battle Royale theme as a free-to-play title, set in the Titanfall universe (a series I’ve heard great things about and I do own the second one, but have never actually played) but not featuring some of the elements that make Titanfall Titanfall, to which everyone (again, except those at EA, Respawn and said “Influencers”) collectively said “Say Whaaa?” (including crossing our arms across our chests) before downloading it and collectively becoming hooked.

It’s totally surprised me that 1. EA have released this in the manner in which they have, and being honest? I’m waiting for the catch, waiting for that mistake thats just round the corner that will send everyone back to Fortnite. 2. That I’m enjoying it as much as I am, dont get me wrong, I’m monumentally shit at it, I think I have over 30 games (not alot compared to some) but only have 8 kills. My accuracy is ridiciulously poor, I panic under pressure and I hang back and am usually the first in my squad to be taken out. So why am I enjoying it so much?

Well, the squad based element would be enough to put me off, its not like Overwatch in that you can blend in to a team, do the job your chosen Hero/Legend/Whatever is designed to do and get by, here you HAVE to be good at FPS games AND be a useful member of the squad using your Hero/Legend/Whatevers abilities properly and not being a burden on the other two members of your squad as the three of you fight to be the last team standing out of 19 others. However, there does seem to be an element of camaraderie amongst the community, and those of us who dont know which end of our weapon is which are (so-far, it has only been a week afterall) accepted.

I think also, that the games ping (you can point at stuff/in a direction and hit a button to alert your squadmates), revival and respawn systems encourage you to stick as a team and after all, if theres three of you versus two of them then the odds are in your favour even if one of you cant hit a barn door even if you’re stood right in front of it, at least that person (me) can act as a distraction to your opponent (or thats how I justify not receiving a slew of abuse through my TV’s speakers, not that many people verbally communicate anyway). I’m assured it gets even better when you’re playing with people you know or have opportunity to play with regularly, but as I find socialising a bit of a challenge and feel really awkward talking over a headset I’m yet to experience that side of the game.